Jessica Silva – “Murder at Christmas”

The door of the bar swung open as three friends in their 20s trotted in contently, chattering about their week and their weekend to come. The bartender flashed them a grin and asked them what they’d like to drink. They took a seat at the bar and ordered. Nate, Tyler, and Curtis received their drinks and let out a sigh, almost in unison. They each shared laughs, conversation, and were looking forward to the upcoming 3 week long winter break after the long week. Nate ordered drink after drink, carefree, despite Tyler and Curtis’s warnings of drinking too much. After some time had passed, Nate started to feel his drink a bit too much. Nate was pretty out of it, and felt his stomach twist and turn, and his most recent drink start to come back up. He got up and staggered in the direction of the side door, swaying side to side, his limp arms barely catching himself as he crashed softly into various nearby obstacles. He eventually made his way out the door to the alley way, and shoved the door open. He half jogged half hobbled his way to a trash can and puked a few times. As he slowly lifted his head from the trash can, his stomach felt a little better, but not much. His vision was a bit blurred, but he noticed a tall dark cloaked figure standing further in the alleyway. He focused his eyes intently on the thing standing before him, and he noticed it grasp a small object which looked to be knife, and thrust it violently into another smaller figure who appeared to be mouthing “help,” but no sound came out. Soon enough, the small person fell to the cold uneven pavement and laid there unmoving. The tall cloaked figure turned toward the sound of clambering near the trash cans. Nate saw it make its way swiftly toward him, and Nate made a failed attempt to run back inside. He ran straight into a trash can and stumbled to the ground. Nate watched in horror as the dark cloak stood towering over him, the only thing noticeable about him was his piercing glare that stared into Nate.

Tyler and Curtis waited patiently inside the bar for Nate’s return. They scanned the room for Nate’s face, but only found a couple of the regulars that they had seen the few times they had been to this bar, the worn down pool table that always sat in the far corner of the bar, and the old dart board that had probably never been replaced in all the years that it had hung on the wall. Tyler and Curtis waited and waited, but there was no sight of Nate. Soon, they became worried and stepped out into the alley way to check on Nate. They stepped through the door and to their shock and horror, they saw Nate leaned against the wall of the building clutching a knife with blood on it, a growing black eye on his face, and standing over a motionless man with his shirt stained red.

The three friends were completely frozen. Tyler could not take his eyes off the motionless victim laying on the cold, rough pavement. Curits’ eyes were racing between the victim, his friend, and the knife with a rusting silver blade that was covered in the deep red of the victim’s blood. Nate turned so he was facing down the long, dark alleyway to shun his face from the horror-stricken looks he received coldly from his friends, as well as from the the eyes of the victim, which haunted him. Tyler was the first to move. He forced himself to look at his friend and away from the victim.

“Nate,” Tyler began shakily, “what have you done?” Tyler finished sharply. Nate simply stared blankly, first down the alley, then at victim, then at Tyler, then back down the alley. At once Nate stood up, and holding back tears tried to explain what happened, but the words barely came out.

“I… I didn’t though. I s-swear, not me, him, he grabbed me, and-and he hit me, and-and-and,” but his voice got choked up, and he finally broke down in tears. He wept as quietly as he could, but he couldn’t contain himself. He looked at the knife in his trembling hands and dropped it suddenly. He put his head in his hands and continued to emotionally let himself go. He didn’t like crying in front of other people, especially his friends. He kept a straight face for as long as he could muster, but he felt his face tense, get beat red, and let hot tears flow down. He did this as he kept repeating, “why, why why” to himself while crying. Eventually he regained his composure slightly and he lifted his head up, still letting out a few tears, and felt a headache grow from everything that had just happened.

Finally Tyler grew impatient. “We’re going home to the apartment, right now, and Nate when we get there, you are going to tell us everything,” said Tyler, “everything,” he reiterated. Nate nodded solemnly as he continued to cry very quietly.

This was where things got tricky. Tyler and Curtis knew that it looked as clear as day that Nate had killed an unarmed defenseless man with a knife, but they also knew Nate. They knew the person who would help them with their homework when they were struggling, who would do all the little things for strangers like holding the door, and he would never, not in a million years, harm anyone, even as intoxicated as he was. As Tyler and Curtis shared this thought with each other, they began to worry. Tyler was freaking out over the crime itself. The thought of murder made him shiver and shake with fear, and to think that there was even the slightest possibility that Nate had done it made him terrified to even be near his friend. This was a fear he had never felt before. Curtis’ mind was racing. He mainly thought logically of those who had seen Nate run out into the alley, and once it was discovered that there was a body out there, it would not have been tough to put two and two together. Curtis made a quick decision to grab the knife and hide it in his overcoat before riding in the taxi with Tyler and Nate.

Nate was shaking as he sat down onto the worn down leather taxi seat. He felt a pit of fear right inside his stomach, like butterflies, but so much worse. His eyes were still watery, as if someone had hit him in the nose, and his eyes uncontrollably watered. If someone said anything to him right now, he might break down and lose it again. Curtis had tried to remain calm throughout it all, but now that he had taken the knife, he too had a pit of fear in his stomach. Tyler was concerned with the idea of murder, and that Nate may have in some way been involved, even if it was an accident. At this thought he quaked and shivered as the cab pulled out onto an always-busy street in Brooklyn. As they told the driver the address of the apartment, they watched a police car with its lights on stop right in front of the bar they had just fled. “Lucky us,” the driver began, trying to be innocently comedic, “we almost had to go through a full police investigation of two drunk guys going at it.”

“Yeah,” Curtis responded with a forced laugh after he processed the severity of what this meant. He turned to Tyler and whispered in his ear as quietly as he could, “If only he knew the extent of how terribly lucky we are right now.” Tyler nodded disbelievingly.

They arrived at home and paid the driver for his service. As soon as Nate got out of the car he broke down again crying, this time not as loud or as out of control, but still crying his eyes out. They entered the apartment complex, and went upstairs to the third floor where their apartment was. Curtis unlocked the door, trying his hardest not to appear as worried as he was in front of the other two. They went inside where Curtis and Tyler sat on the brown leather couch and Nate at their small dining table. They sat in bitter silence for what seemed like hours upon hours, when in reality it was only about fifteen or twenty minutes. Finally Tyler spoke.

“Nate tell us the whole story, we know and you know what it looked like, and if that’s not true, then you better tell us the truth right now.”

Nate looked up at Tyler with watery eyes, he took a few moments to calm himself as best he could. He attempted to form words, but no sound came out. He restarted. He calmed himself, attempted to form words but again, no sound was spoken. Now Tyler had grown frustrated and also began to despair over his friend. Tyler’s eyes started to water. At this he turned away from Nate, and failed to hold back tears. He stormed out of the room and slammed his door shut. Curtis sat close to Nate, right next to him, and put his arm around him. Now Nate let himself go completely. He didn’t try to cover his tears, he embraced them. He put his head onto Curtis’s shoulder and let himself cry as much as he needed at the moment. Curtis said nothing because he knew that anything he said wasn’t going to help.

About another thirty minutes went by, and Nate finally stopped sniffling. He got up, blew his nose, wiped his eyes and attempted to make them look less red, and then with his hands brushed some of his shaggy chestnut brown hair out of his face and to the side. He went out into the room. He took up a pen and paper, and started to write as quickly as possible what had happened in the alley way. He cried softly through most of the writing, but he got through it. He knocked on Tyler’s door. No answer. He slid the sheet of paper under the door and sat back down on the couch next to Curtis. A few short minutes later Tyler came out of his room, stood in front of Nate, and threw his arms around him in a loving embrace. Tyler still asked to hear the story aloud from Nate. Nate calmed himself, and was prepared to tell the story.

“I wasn’t feeling well, so as you saw in the bar, I ran out into the alley to get sick. I threw up a couple times and leaned against one of the walls. That was when I saw him. Some tall guy in dark cloak and dark clothes having a confrontation with some other smaller guy while threatening him and asking him for money. When the little guy started to put up a fight, that’s when he, when—when” his voice started to break, he trailed off, took several deep breaths, reminded himself that the guy wasn’t there, and repeated a mantra to himself a couple times. He focused, and resumed his story. “That’s when he stabbed and killed the smaller person,” once again Nate took a few deep breaths, and quickly resumed, “I saw everything happen even through my drunkenness. The tall guy started coming towards me. I tried to run away, but I was too out of it so I stumbled and fell. He was standing over me, and he grabbed me up and slammed me against the wall. He punched me a couple times, one of which gave me a black eye and knocked me down. I wasn’t unconscious, but I could barely function at that point, so he grabbed my hand and put the knife in it. I became in touch with my limbs and feeling came back to them, and that was when everything kind of set in. I realized what had just happened, and I was, I was, I was petrified.” At this point he stopped and the room fell into silence once again.

Curtis was first to break the silence after several minutes went by and the emotion in the room had lessened. “But wait, if it was his knife that he put into your hands, won’t his fingerprints be on the knife too?” “No,” Nate began solemnly, “he was wearing gloves.”

Next Tyler chimed in, “guys, we have to go to the police. It’s the only option.”

“And what am I supposed to say? That I was drunk, and someone guy framed for murder, but no one saw this happen and I don’t have any proof so just take my word for it? I would be handing myself over to the cops,” Nate retorted.

“Well there’s not another option, we’re in college, we’re not detectives. It’s not like we could figure out how to solve a murder investigation with no witnesses and no proof. No one even knows the guy was there. And you don’t even know what he looks like!” Yelled Tyler,  raising his voice before calming down. He looked at Nate with pleading eyes. “Nate, we have to go to the police. They’ll know what to do. Plus, if we don’t and the cops think it’s you, it’ll be too late.”

Curtis now gave his input, “guys hang on a minute before we talk to the cops.” Curtis looked at both Nate and Tyler sternly, “we are going to do that eventually, but I think we should talk to my cousin. He works for a small law firm in downtown Brooklyn, not far from here. I will tell him I am speaking to him as our lawyer, and then even if he wanted to, he couldn’t tell anyone without getting his license taken away.”

Nate quickly responded, “yes definitely that sounds like what we should do. We’ll go to the cops at some point, but we should know how to go about this from a lawyer first.”

Tyler was hesitant, but he eventually agreed that it wouldn’t hurt to talk to a lawyer first. At this point they had stayed up well into the morning and the sun began to rise. They sat down and had a small breakfast with some coffee. Then they set off to downtown Brooklyn to Curtis’s cousin’s law firm.

They pulled up to the uneven sidewalk in front of the firm. It was a small firm alright. They entered through the creaking wood and glass door and walked on the hardwood floors to what appeared to be a secretary’s desk. “Do you have an appointment?” The woman asked. “No,” Curtis began, “you see I’m Curtis Thompson, and my cousin Brian Thompson works—” but he was cut off by the woman. “I’m sorry sir but if you don’t have an appointment we can’t get you in. We’re very busy.”

The three of them looked around the empty law firm, and grew agitated at the woman. “Please just let Brian Thompson know that his cousin Curtis is here about something really important and we could really use his advice for something that…” but he trailed off because the woman stopped listening and went back to work at her computer. Curtis rolled his eyes and took a seat on the couch in the waiting room. He called his cousin several times, left him voicemails and texts, but he could not contact him. Tyler then spoke, “If he doesn’t show up within the next half hour or so, we are going to the police.” Nate opened his mouth to protest, but closed it at the realization that that was what needed to be done.

About twenty minutes went by, and Nate grew more and more worried. He prayed for Brian to come out and help. Then, almost as if his prayer had been answered on the spot, Brian walked out into the waiting room. “Hey Curtis, how’s it going man?” Brian went over and Curtis gave him a half-hug. Curtis responded firmly though, “Brian, thank God you’re here, we really need your help.” “Well come into my office, sorry about the wait I just finished with a client, but I have break between clients for about an hour right now so you’re in luck.”

They went into his office and sat down. Curtis told Brian that he could not repeat this to anyone, and proceeded to tell Brian everything that happened to Nate. “Wow guys, this is not looking good.” Brian responded after the long story. “Yes thank you we’ve established that Brian,” Nate retorted sarcastically. “I’m sorry, I’m just pretty on edge. What can we do?” “I would say going to the police is definitely the right thing to do. Put the knife in a ziplock bag and take it with you. All three of you tell the police everything you know, everything you saw, and everything you heard. Tell the police whose fingerprints of yours are on the knife and exactly how and when they got there. Offer to help the police in any way you can.”

“But what if the police can’t find the real killer and blame it on us, since we had the murder weapon, and everyone saw us at the bar and saw us drive away after. Can you guarantee that we will not get nailed for this?” said Curtis. “No Curtis, I cannot guarantee anything. I can’t even guarantee that the police will let you leave the station after this. But it’s the right thing to do, and if the investigators do their job, the real killer will be caught” said Brian.

Afterward Curtis, Tyler, and Nate thanked Brian several times for talking to them. They went home to discuss their next move. When they got home they got serious about what to do next. Tyler continued to pitch his idea to go to the police, which Nate of course continued to disagree with. They thought long and hard about whether to follow Brian’s advice and Tyler’s original idea to go to the police, or to try and gain some answers on their own first. After a long conversation, some arguing, and several non-unanimous votes, they came to the conclusion that they would put the knife in a ziplock bag and put it in an old shoe box in between some magazines just for a few days while they searched for the true perpetrator.

First they needed a plan for how to catch the killer. Unfortunately they had no leads, and didn’t even know what the killer looked like. The only lead they had thus far was the victim. The three of them had gotten a good look at the victim.  Plus the three of them majored in computer science and cyber technology. In high school they had run-ins with hacker groups and had learned a lot about hacking. With their knowledge of computers, they hacked into the police department’s computer and looked at the victim’s case file. They found out the victim’s name, as well as some personal information about him. Curtis didn’t think this information would really help them since they couldn’t exactly walk back into the bar and ask questions. However, Tyler and Nate thought of a plan to find out information without being seen at the bar. They couldn’t immediately talk to Curtis about because it involved his girlfriend. They needed to get into the bar and ask questions but they could not return to the scene of the crime because they would be recognized. They needed someone else, preferably a girl to go and ask questions for them. Curtis was the only one of the three with a girlfriend. Her name was Sarah and they were all good friends with her, so Tyler and Nate decided to go to Sarah’s apartment the next morning and ask her for help.

Tyler and Nate left to Sarah’s apartment the next morning. They went to Sarah and told her everything in confidence. She was shocked, and felt terrible for Nate. After her initial reaction, they told her how she could help. “We need you to go to the bar and pretend your the victim’s friend, that you heard what happened to him, and that you needed to find out what happened for yourself. Do you think you could do this?” Tyler asked with pleading eyes.

Sarah was a little shaken up from all she had just heard but agreed to help as much as she could. She also agreed that she would be the one to tell Curtis and convince him to let her help. Tyler and Nate gave her the information about the victim that they had gained when they hacked into the police case file, and left the apartment to let her look through it. She would stop by later at their apartment and they would go over the plan together.

After Sarah reviewed the file, she went to the guys’ apartment to tell Curtis that she could and was willing to help Nate. At first Curtis was not onboard with the idea, and was upset at Tyler and Nate for asking her and for not telling him first. However, after Sarah relentlessly assured Curtis of her safety and knowledge of the victim and case, he eventually agreed to let her help as long as they waited in the car outside the bar. After Curtis was onboard with the idea, they started to plan out what exactly they were going to do. They decided that Sarah would wear a wire so they could hear and record everything, and they also came up with an emergency word in case she felt unsafe. They waited until evening that night to go to the bar, and in the meantime, Sarah reread the case file, preparing for the night to come.

Evening came, and they went to the bar. “Remember, if you feel unsafe, use the word, and here, brush up on the questions you’ll ask one more time,” Curtis said to Sarah. Sarah reread what she would say, and entered the bar. She walked directly toward the back and took a seat at the bar. The bartender came over and asked to take her order. She ordered a drink and began a conversation with the bartender.

“I remember my friend Mason recommended this bar to me. And now it pains me so much that I was not able to come here with him. This was where he had his last drink.” At this the bartender became intrigued. They continued the conversation, Sarah faked a tear here and there and soon she pulled out a picture of the victim, and asked if the bartender remembered him. “Oh yeah, I remember that guy. I’m sorry for your loss, he seemed like a good guy. It’s tragic how he passed. I remember the day he came in and the terrible thing that happened to him outside” the bartender said to Sarah. She then questioned him further on the topic of how it happened, and what happened prior to his untimely passing.

“Well,” the bartender began, “he ordered a drink and sat down, but after a few minutes some big guy in a dark overcoat started to get in a heated argument with him. It seemed like more than an argument though, the big guy was yelling and sayin threatening things to Mason, while Mason tried to explain things to him. Eventually Mason stood up to the guy and held his ground, but then the big guy asked him to settle it outside. At first I was thankful for that because I didn’t want them tearing up my bar, but if I had known what was coming, I would have stopped it, and kicked the big guy out” the bartender said remorsefully.

“What happened while they were outside? Was that when it happened?” Sarah asked pretending to hold back tears. “Yes unfortunately. But I don’t think he did the actual killing, despite what it sounds like so far. There was this other drunk guy who fumbled out there shortly after looking like he was gonna puke, and his two friends followed later to check on him. That was when someone called the cops and yelled that Mason was, you know, and those three guys got a cab and drove away right after. It was awfully suspicious. I think a bad mix of alcohol and who knows what else caused it to happen,” the bartender responded solemnly.

“Back to the other guy, the big one, do you know what they were arguing about? Could you hear what they were saying?” Sarah questioned once more. “Yeah, it was hard to tell exactly what it was about despite how loud they were, but it sounded like Mason owed the big guy money, and a quite a bit of money. That seemed like the only thing they talked about, something about how Mason asked for more time for some reason or another, but I’m not really sure about that part. I know for sure it was about money though.” The bartender responded. Sarah had one final question for the bartender and it was the most important question. “We’re able to see the big guy, do you know who is? Would you be able to describe him?” “I do think I recognized him. Now this isn’t proof so don’t quote me on this, but based on what the conversation was about and what the big guy looked like, I’d say it was Lenny Pizzo. He’s a relatively well known loan shark who takes out people who don’t pay up. He doesn’t try to kill them, just tries to rough em up a bit, but it has ended badly a couple times. In this case I think he knocked Mason around quite a bit and then the other drunk guy finished the job. I also hear the police looked for Lenny at one point, but there’s no evidence against him, which is why I haven’t reported anything, plus I don’t want my head in his sights.” There was a somewhat long pause between the two as the bartender filled her drink again. Eventually he spoke again, “I hope this has helped you gain some closure, it’s an awful thing, what happened to your friend, and I wish I would have stopped those drunk guys from hurting him and you like this.” She nodded quietly along with him, and after he finished talking she thanked him for the “closure,” tipped him well, and left the bar.

The three guys had been listening this whole time and were extremely happy to see Sarah. Curtis gave her a tight hug and they all told her how great she did as they drove back to the apartment. Meanwhile, the police were making their own rounds. They had also talked to the bartender and several patrons at the bar and had much evidence that it was Nate. They were missing the murder weapon so they could not prove this yet, but all this circumstantial evidence was enough to grant them a warrant to search the friends’ apartment. The police had talked to the cab driver who drove them home to find their address, so now they just needed the sketch artist to finalize a sketch based off the bartender and the other patrons’ descriptions of the three boys to take to the apartment complex manager to find out the apartment number, and they would be able to search their apartment, which is where they would inevitability find the knife with the boys’ prints on it. The police were closing in fast, and the boys needed to hurry and find proof that Lenny Pizzo was the true killer.

After their long but successful night, the four friends slept in and discussed their next plan the following morning. Sarah had spent the night in celebration of their minor victory and because it was really late when they got home. She now went home but asked the boys to definitely keep her in the loop. The three of them made coffee, ate, and decided that they would use their computer skills to find Lenny. One of the things briefly mentioned when the bartender was talking to Sarah was that Lenny had recently started using a phone instead of doing things more off the grid and old-fashioned like he used to. This was the perfect opportunity to track him down and find proof that he was plotting to take out Mason. They got on their computers and started researching Lenny, finding ways to track him, and spent the rest of the day trying to get into Lenny’s phone. At the end of the day, they finally broke through and were able to get into his phone. By this time it was late at night, so they called it a day, and were determined to finish tracking Lenny the next day.

Very early the next morning they heard loud bang on their door. One of them looked through the peephole and saw that it was the police. They rushed to save their data and close down their computers quickly while Curtis stalled the police. They successfully saved and closed everything on the computers, but they did not have time to grab the knife that they had stashed in the shoe box. After Curtis had thoroughly read through the warrant while trying to buy them time, the police turned the apartment upside down looking for anything incriminating. Soon enough, they looked through the old shoe box. In between some magazines was the murder weapon. Nate was horrified. He knew what this meant for him and for Curtis because as soon as they got the prints back they would come for Curtis as an accessory. At the moment they arrested Nate, and took the other two in for fingerprinting. Luckily, they had no proof that Curtis and Tyler were directly connected with the murder, so they were released for the moment.

Tyler and Curtis rushed home and started hacking and tracking Lenny’s phone. Several hours later, as they were just beginning to break through, they heard more pounding at the door. It was the police again. This time they had analyzed the prints and they arrested Curtis as an accessory to murder. However, by this time Curtis and Tyler had finished tracking Lenny’s current and past locations, and they had broken through to his text messages. Now Tyler just had to make a mad dash to print out the text messages and show the police Lenny’s current location so they could make the accurate arrest. Tyler’s heart was racing the whole time. He knew that he was Curtis and Nate’s only hope of being proven innocent.

Tyler hacked through the phone and came to the texts, which he immediately printed out.  They showed Lenny saying that he had waited long enough, and that Mason needed to pay him. Other texts were about past beatings and murders of other innocent men and women, as well as texts about the plotting of Mason’s murder. Tyler rushed to the police with everything he needed to bring in Lenny, and the police looked it all over. The police were impressed the boys’ work, and proceeded to look into the possibility of Lenny Pizzo as the killer. With additional witness statements, as well as the bartender’s statement and the new found information, the process of proving Nate’s innocent became a reality. It would take a little bit of time with paperwork and whatnot, but the police made it clear that Lenny Pizzo would go to jail for a long time, and the Nate and Curtis would come out of it scot free.

Later, Nate and Curtis were released from jail. They celebrated their work together to save Nate, as well as their good work putting away a killer. At this moment they knew nothing could stop them in life, and felt happy and satisfied. They also remembered it was the beginning of Christmas break, something which seemed usually normal for them, and they proceeded to enjoy Christmas just in time, together as friends and a family.

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