Here’s my story to meet the challenge from the picture below. I had first thought we’d keep these stories pretty short but then the more I thought about it, the more I realized that a picture like this almost demands a good bit of detail. So I extended the rules to allow each writer to use his own discretion. I did suggest trying to stay below 2500 words, but I have to admit that I wasn’t far from that limit myself. There’s still two days to take part, so if you’re interested, here’s the link to the original post that explains how to participate.
When Inspector McGregor arrived at the scene, he found the car, empty, with the driver’s door standing open, exactly as the caller had described. Refusing to give his name, the caller had simply reported what looked like an abandoned car sitting on an abandoned street, across from the printing plant.
The plant was shut down for the night, but security lights were on in the front, and evidently someone was still working in two of the offices upstairs. Inspector McGregor looked at his watch. They were certainly keeping strange hours. It was 3:30 in the morning. Even the bars across the street and in the next block had been closed for an hour and a half.
McGregor stood looking toward the plant, thinking, when suddenly he saw a face in one of the dark first-floor windows. The outside security light, with its eery blue cast, threw enough light on the window that even the split-second appearance of the face was clear enough to tell it had a fragile look about. It almost had to be a woman or a child.
Time to call for backup, McGregor decided, and radioed the station to pass on the information he had, get two more units on the way, and get a phone number for the printing plant office. “Look up Peter Hampton’s home number as well,” he said into the phone. “Whoever’s in the office now may not answer the phone, and I want him down here with a key immediately.”
When he signed off, he punched in the printing office number first. The street was so quiet he could actually hear the office phone ringing, but after five rings, the answering machine picked up. He hung up and immediately called Hampton’s house.
The machine picked up at the house as well, but before the message played through, Hampton had picked up the phone. “Yeah, Hampton here,” he said, his voice thick with sleep.
“Mr. Hampton,” this is Inspector Alan McGregor with the metropolitan police department.”
“Police! What’s going on? What’s wrong?”
“I don’t want to alarm you, sir, but we have an unusual situation going on at your plant right now, and I need you to get down here and open up the door so we can get in and take a look around.”
“What do you mean unusual situation? And how do I know this is really the police?”
McGregor gritted his teeth, but at the same time, part of him was glad that Hampton didn’t just take off running in response to a call from someone without positive identification.
“I’m going to hang up, Mr. Hampton. And I want you to look up the number of the 7th precinct and call it. Ask them if they have an Inspector McGregor working on a case that involves your plant. They’ll verify everything I’ve told you, and then you get yourself down here. Understand?”
“Yes … yes … I can do that.”
“Don’t waste time, Hampton. I need you here now.”
“Yes … alright. I’m looking up the number now. I’ll hang up.”
“Fine,” McGregor answered. “And thank you.”
By the time he’d ended the call the other two patrol cars had joined him. He had requested no sirens, but their lights were flashing. Whoever was inside looking out had to know they were about to get a visit from the police. “Any ideas at all about who or what, Alan?” one of the other officers asked him.
“Well, I’d bet a month’s salary the face I saw belongs to a woman or a child. She could be in there with a couple others, and they could be in the middle of a burglary. Or she could have run inside for protection from something else. This car door standing wide open tells me the second possibility is more likely.”
“Sounds reasonable. But why would somebody running for safety park on this side of the street if they were going into that building?”
McGregor shook his head, deep in thought, and just then Peter Hampton drove up, slammed on his brakes, and jumped out of the car. McGregor met him at the front door of the building, and Hampton unlocked the door, all the time emphasizing that the lights upstairs should not be on. “No one is supposed to be here at all, Inspector,” he insisted.
“Okay, it helps to know that. Now, you go back to your car, Mr. Hampton. We’ll take it from here. We don’t want you in the middle of anything that could be a threat to you.”
Hampton gladly obeyed, and McGregor and two of the officers eased through the front doorway. The other two officers had gone around the back to make sure no one left from that direction.
McGregor flipped on the overhead lights in the front reception area. “Police!” he shouted. “You need to come out into the open and identify yourself. The building’s surrounded. Come out where we can see you now!”
“Please! Please don’t shoot,” a thin shaky voice answered. “It’s only me, Carla Watson,” the voice continued, and slowly a young woman raised up from behind a desk on the right side of the room. She held her hands up as if in surrender, and she was shaking with fright. “Please, I was only hiding from some men who were chasing me. Honest. I didn’t mean to break in.” Her voice broke then and she began to sob.
McGregor told the other two officers to check out the rest of the building, and he walked closer to the girl. “Are you here alone?” McGregor asked.
“Yes,” she answered, trying to stifle her sobs. “Could I please get a tissue out of my pocket?” She asked, looking at him pitifully.
“Sure. You can put your hands down and come out here and sit down.”
She obediently moved from behind the desk and walked to a chair in the waiting area, at the same time digging into her sweater pocket for her tissues. When she had blown her nose and managed to get control of the tears to some extent, McGregor propped himself on the corner of a desk and asked her for her story.
“I was coming out of the Family Savings store and three men were standing out in the parking lot. They started to make suggestive comments to me and when I just hurried on to my car, they started following me. I jumped in and locked my door and got my car started, but they were right beside my door, banging on the window. I managed to take off though, but they jumped into their car and followed me.
“It was awful, I tried to go fast enough to lose them, but they kept up with me. Finally, I came to a red light and just ran through it. I should have known they would do the same thing. There was almost no other traffic on those streets, and I kept turning abruptly, trying to lose them. Finally, when a truck came across the road between me and them, they had to come to a stop, and I managed to turn two more corners and found myself on this street.
“A friend of mine works at the printing plant, and I remembered her saying that sometimes the ink odor is so strong they often open one of the windows on the back side of the building — one on the alley. I saw the lights on upstairs, and I just hoped that maybe I could find a window open. I pulled the car up on the other side of the street, hoping that if the men found the car, they’d think I had run in that direction and would start looking for me there. That would give me more time to get away. I ran faster than I’ve ever run to get to the alley, and I prayed the whole way that the window would be open. It was. I crawled in and closed and locked it behind me.”
“But you didin’t go upstairs to get help?”
“Well, after I’d gotten in and walked toward the front of the building, I realized I didn’t hear anything upstairs that sounded like people moving around or talking. I figured someone had just left the lights on by mistake, so I decided to stay down here — at least until I could glance out the window a time or two and make sure I wasn’t followed.”
“And did they follow you?”
She nodded her head and then shivered. McGregor stepped over to her and patted her shoulder. “You’re safe now, Carla. Just tell me everything you can about them.”
She nodded. I glanced out once and saw that they were getting out of their car and heading down the street the other direction as I had hoped they would. I didn’t think they’d try to get into any buildings that were locked, so I thought I was probably safe in here. But I did try to glance out another time or two to see what was happening. They finally came back and got into their car. But while they were gone from it, I managed to look at it long enough to get the license number.”
“Good girl!” McGregor said now, patting her shoulder again. Then he pulled out a pen and pad and took down the number she gave him. She also gave him a fairly good description of two of the men.
McGregor nodded his head as he wrote out what she said. “Yes, I think I many know one of these guys already. And if it’s who I think it is, he’s out of prison on parole, and this is going to go down hard on him.”
By that time all four of the other officers had scouted out the entire building and reported that no one else was on the premises. McGregor sent one man out to get Peter Hampton, and when he had checked out the situation himself, he came to the conclusion that the janitor had evidently left a couple lights on. “He’s new and, frankly, I’m not sure how reliable he is.” He thought for a moment. “Well, evidently, from what I see now, he’s pretty unreliable. I’ll have a serious talk with him tomorrow. But I don’t see anything out of place – and nothing seems to be missing – so I’d say he’s probably the one who left the lights ——” He stopped abruptly and looked at Carla. “Hey, how did you get in here anyway!”
She explained about the open window in back and then added. “I’m just so grateful it was open, and so glad the lights were on,” said Carla. “I don’t think I would have thought about trying to get in here if they hadn’t been. So … please … Mr. Hampton, don’t be too hard on your janitor.”
Hampton couldn’t help but grin. “Well, Missy, I guess if his leaving those lights on and the window open saved you from some serious harm, I’ll have to give him another chance to prove he’s dependable.”
McGregor chuckled, as did a couple of the other officers. Then he turned to Carla. “Is there someone at your home so that you won’t have to be there alone for right now?”
“Yes, my sister lives with me there,” she said. “And, as a matter of fact,” she added, looking at her watch, “I bet she’s starting to worry about me right now. My cell phone was dead, or I would have called her and told her to send help. I picked up one of the office phones here, but I couldn’t get it to give me an outside line. I couldn’t figure out all the buttons in the dark.”
“Well, I’m going to follow you home right now, and I’ll go in with you and talk with your sister. Then tomorrow, I’ll get in touch with you and let you know how we’re doing at making sure those men don’t get it into their heads to pull the same stunt with some other young lady. We may need you to identify a couple of them if we can bring them in. Are you willing to do that?”
“Can I do it without them seeing me?”
Carla nodded her head. “Then I’ll be glad to.”
“Good,” McGregor said, taking her arm gently. “Now let’s get you home.” They started for the door, and McGregor looked back at Peter Hampton. “Thanks for all your help Mr. Hampton. I hope you can still get a little sleep before you start your work day.”
Peter Hampton chuckled. “I don’t know, Inspector. When I get home, I’m going to have to fill my wife in on all that’s happened. And she’s not one to be satisfied with a summary. Like any good woman, she wants all the little details, and she wants them in chronological order. I figure I’m up for the day, but, all in all, I feel good knowing I could be a little help in keeping crime off the streets of our fair city. ”