John smiled. He didn’t know whether or not the mechanic meant the statement as a joke, but a smile seemed safe.
“Keep me updated,” he said.
“Will do,” said Jaworski.
John turned towards Stantz and tapped the investigator, who was now leaning into the Dodge through its shattered window, on the shoulder. “What about you? Have you found anything?”
Stantz pulled himself out of the car and stood to face John. “There is no shortage of evidence, but this is a complex process with multiple stages that must be performed in order to obtain useful results.”
“Of course,” said John. “I’m not rushing you. I just wanted to know if the evidence suggested any preliminary conclusions.”
Stantz pursed his lips and gave John an appraising look. “You said your name is Mellanger?”
“John Mellanger, that’s right.”
“Are you of any relation to the local Mellangers? To Stacey Mellanger?”
“My family,” said John. “Stacey is my grandmother.”
“Oho!” Jaworski’s voice boomed from behind John. “We’ve got ourselves a member of local royalty, here.”
John tried not to grimace.
“Does that mean you are from Ducksburg?” John heard officer Handy call from the other side of the scene. Apparently he’d been listening.
“Oh yes,” said Chi loudly from her spot near Handy. Apparently none of these cops had anything better to do but listen in on his conversations. “He grew up here, didn’t you, detective?”
“That’s right,” John called back to Handy. “You and I went to highschool together. You were a sophomore when I graduated. I was the captain of the fencing team.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Handy. “I think I remember that. Lead us to state, didn’t you?”
“Right.” He turned to face Chi. “Did you follow the fencing back then? Hotter than the lacrosse team this last year, even. Never would have thought you’d be able to drag me to a match, but we all went.”
“Oh no,” said Chi. “I was a bit young for that. But I do remember…”
John stopped listening. He turned back to Stantz, who was staring at him, waiting for his attention.
“Are you close with your grandmother? Would you say you see the world in the same way?”
“I’m not quite sure what you mean,” said John, although he was fairly certain he did.
“Let me put it a different way. Do you consider yourself open minded, Detective Mellanger?”
“I try to be.”
“In my work, it is rarely possible to construct a narrative that explains one hundred percent of the findings. There is always something—an unidentified scuff mark, a drop of unknown liquid—that does not fit the ultimate explanation of the incident.”
“It’s the same with police work,” said John. He thought he knew where Stantz was going with this, but he decided to let him finish.
“This occurs,” Stantz continued, “because the world is complicated. Noisy. Not everyone who ever walked through a crime scene was involved in the crime, and no matter how careful the investigators, if they don’t contaminate the scene, the universe will. We just have to hope the noise is not so loud that it obscures the signal.”
“The truth is hard to find, even when no one is trying to hide it.”
“Indeed. All of this makes it tempting to dismiss any unusual or conflicting findings as outliers. Irrelevancies, particularly if doing so allows for a logical and coherent narrative. Most of the time, this is the correct approach.”
“But not this time?”
Stanz pursed his lips again, but didn’t say anything.
John could tell Stantz didn’t want to say what he was thinking. He was probably afraid of being labelled a crackpot. If John was any judge, he’d probably been labelled one before. It would explain why someone with his credentials was in Ducksburg. Or at least, it would half explain it.
“Listen,” he said, “I know that all of your findings will be in your reports. Right now, we’re just throwing out ideas. We’re just two investigators mixing the pot to see if we can stir up any leads. Nothing has to leave the scene of the accident.”
Stantz nodded. “Take a look.” He leaned towards the open window and gestured for John to do the same. He pulled a UV flashlight from out of his lab coat and flicked it on. She shone it inside the car.
“It looks clean,” asked John. “Did you spray for blood?”
“Yes,” said Stanz. “But I’ll do so again.” He bent down and picked a spray bottle up off of the ground and spritzed the inside of the car. There was no change.
“So the driver wasn’t injured,” said John.
“At the very least, they did not sustain any injury that resulted in lacerations,” said Stantz. “Unlikely in an accident of this magnitude.”
“Unlikely, but not impossible.”
“Indeed. Their clothing also did not leave any trace of damage on the inside of the cab. And look at this.” He pulled his arms out of the window and pointed to the door. “Do you see where the compression of the collision warped the frame?”
“Yeah,” said John. “This door isn’t opening any time soon.”
“It’s even worse on the other side. Now look at the window.”
John eye followed Stantz’s finger as he traced along the inside of the shattered window frame. It was safety glass, and so all that remained were some rectangular fragments jutted out from the edges.
“The hole is almost large enough for someone of small build to crawl through, although you expect more disturbance of the glass” said Stantz. “But there is no blood, no fibers, nothing to indicate that the window was traversed or broken subsequent to the collision.”
“So how did the driver get out?”
“That is the question.” He paused, and after a long moment John spoke.
“You think that, what, there was no one in the car when it crashed?”
“As for that,” said Stantz, “it’s too soon to say. But right here, at this point, that’s what the evidence is saying. Now look at this.” He marched towards the rear of the vehicle and pointed to the road. There was a thick layer of rubber skid marks leading back from the tires.
“Consistent with a car braking at 60 miles per hour,” said Stantz, “although I’ll need labwork to be sure.” He gave John a significant look.
John grimaced. He didn’t need Stanz to spell it out for him. It there was no one driving, who slammed on the breaks. He glanced over at Stantz, and saw the man’s intense gaze aimed right at him.
“This means something to you?” Stantz asked.
“Yeah,” said John, as much to himself as Stanz. “It means it was time to come back. It means my damn grandmother was right.”
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