“Once again, for you thick-headed coppers,” a pretty, frustrated young mother drummed her perfectly manicured nails rhythmically on the table. “Two nights ago I tucked Tomas into bed at a quarter nine, locked all the doors and retired to my room. In the morning, he was gone.” Her voice had taken on the forced sing-song quality that breeds from familiarity. “Go ahead and tell me that I’m an unfit mother, Lord knows you wouldn’t be the first in this neighbourhood.” Ms. Hayston glared hostilely at the detective with smoldering fiery eyes from underneath her long eyelashes. The neighbourhood ‘fan mail’ had begun to accumulate on her doorstep yesterday morning, deeming her, by the medium of crudely cut out letters from the local newsletter, a ‘crude jezebel’, an ‘unfaithful tramp’, claiming that she had gotten rid of her son as he was simply a barrier to her sexual freedom. But Sheldon knew that just wasn’t the case. He saw her as a woman wrapped in white tape, ‘Fragile-proceed with caution.’ She was harmless, and the first crime ever to be committed in perfect Cornelia with its green lawns and white picket fences just had to be at the hands of a sinister outsider.
Officer Ryan Shelton nodded and lay his hands openly out on the table, running through protocol- empathise, reason, make connections. “I understand that this has been a draining and emotional ordeal for you, Ms Hayston. You must be at your breaking point. I know that my wife certainly would be, especially without a man in her home to make her feel safe and secure.” His comment was met only with a snort of derision and a dismissive puff of her cigarette, but Shelton could perceive that beneath her hard exterior lay overwhelming waves of motherly protectiveness that were just waiting to engulf him. She is like a hard toffee with a caramel centre, Shelton noted in his journal. It was astute observations such as these that would doubtless prove vital to the investigation. Having collected all of the evidence he needed here, Shelton rose to leave, striding purposefully towards the door to allow the woman to properly grieve. Ms Hayston pleaded, “Tell me when you turkeys get it right, will you? He’s out there somewhere.” Shelton nodded solemnly and left the room with the words, “Certainly. Everything will be alright, madam.” While he already feared for the worst, it was necessary to put on a brave face for this grieving widow in the draughty white negligee.
Whilst meticulously photographing all unnatural prints in the damp earth to be analysed later, Shelton pondered meaningfully. Hayston certainly didn’t seem willing to speak of the boy’s father; making him suspect number one - he only required evidence. He noticed what seemed to be a white hair caught beneath his cheap leather shoes. ‘Funny,’ he thought to himself. ‘I should have at least another five years before going grey,’ and continued on his way, self-consciously running his fingers through brown hair. Whilst checking his reflection in a shop window across the road, a newspaper article tacked to the window caught Shelton’s eye. “BILL DICKEY, MEMBER OF THE NEW YORK YANKEES, MISSING. ANY LEADS, CALL 888-1234.” His eyes welled up with promise. An outside force, a suspicious character, perhaps a past lover, it follows that they were one and the same. This was, without a doubt, his culprit, a violent ex-lover. “The pursuit of the truth is not always pretty” he declared loudly to no one in particular, “But it must be done!” he added, startling an elderly man who was presently leaving the malt shop.
Shelton had only just set foot in his dark, smoky office and hung up his tattered coat, puffing and out of breath, when the phone rang- a monotonous, repetitive drone. Shelton glared suspiciously at the receiver, sensing that it was the bearer of bad news.
“Officer Shelton here, solver of mysteries. Have any bodily fluids been found?” Shelton winced in anticipation of the reply. Poor, poor, helpless boy. His concern was met by a moment of awkward silence on the other side of the line.
“Uh, no Mr Shelton. It’s Ms. Hayston. And, I think I would prefer if you don’t attempt to explain who exactly you were expecting…” she spoke with saturated waves of ridicule. Shelton scoffed at her incompetence - evidently; the woman was unfamiliar with the importance of the discovery of bodily fluids on a crime scene- the backbone of any investigation. He was up to date with his private eye literature. “I just thought that I should inform you,” she began slowly, as though speaking to a small child, “That after you left, I searched my son’s room, only to find that his handkerchief and baseball bat were missing, along with his teddy bear, flashlight and Easter eggs. Their wrappers led out into the backyard, all the way to the back gate. I hope that you realise that your investigation is now defunct,” Ms Hayston claimed.
“Oh Au Contraire, sweet dearie. I now hold all of the missing pieces of my investigation. The evidence, it is speaking to me, but I fear, based on the evidence you have provided me, that at this point we are no longer searching for a living breathing boy but a corpse.”
“Mr. Shelton, you buffoon, would you just listen to yourself? The answer is so apparently obvious it astounds me that even you don’t-”
“Never fear, poor grieving mother!” Shelton interjected. “It is clear to me also. Your former lover, Bill Dickey, prized batter of the New York Yankees, is so distraught that you left him and had a child with another man; he has come after you, wishing to exact revenge on your son in order to make you realize the error of your ways. Obviously, the baseball bat would be his primary choice of weapon. The teddy bear could have been held as a lure to provoke the child outside, the deal obviously being sweetened with the Easter eggs. The handkerchief, a touch of class, to wipe the sweat off the murderer’s forehead after such hard work.” He congratulated himself on his brilliant deduction, adding hurriedly “Thank you for your insignificant input. Now leave the real work to the professionals,” before promptly hanging up the phone with a smug simper, to the utter speechlessness of Ms. Hayston.
Only days later, sitting idly in a hospital bed, lay a young boy, his cherub face slightly tinged with red, while his mother stared at him in complete loving adoration. His deep red hair matched the stain that remained around his lips.
Allured by the promise of rebellion one night, Tomas gathered his belongings and headed out on an adventure, tying his handkerchief to his baseball bat, to house his stash of chocolates, which hardly lasted further than the back gate. Some stuffing of his well-worn teddy bear got caught in the catch of the gate, leaving threads on the ground below. Using his flashlight to guide him through the streets, he had noticed the sign claiming his favourite baseball player was missing, and took it upon himself to find him. The mysterious aura of the woods told him that that was a good place to start.
Once the novelty wore off, however, along with a disillusioned realization that he would never find his hero, he soon found himself lost and starved and so searched for nourishment. With but six years of life experience, he had chosen the deep berries that reminded him of the ones his mother would put on his ice-cream at night. Sickened with nausea, Tomas had curled himself into a ball of comfort, waiting for somebody to find him.
As if by some cruel cosmic joke, Officer Shelton entered the scene, believing that the woods would be a doozy for body disposal. He had intuitively spotted a handkerchief upon a tree branch, which he soon placed into a zip-lock bag. Looking up to praise the gods for such a finding, it was then that Officer Shelton believed he had found the boy’s corpse up ahead, the “blood” around his mouth and head obviously due to the baseball bat murder weapon. All his worst thoughts had been realised. The things a child will do for chocolate and stuffed creatures, he would never understand. He had sent a squad car to send the boy to hospital, tearfully adding, “It may be too late,” to the horror of his colleagues as the boy moaned disorientedly, proceeding to throw up red berries all over the red velvet upholstery.
Puffy eyed and confused, as soon as Tomas awoke, his mother promptly bundled him up in her arms and whispered in a childish tone, “Good morning honey, how about we go and live with your grandparents for a little while?”