Tie Died

Frozen

I remember the day I found her. She was lying by the stream in Montgomery Park, where I always go when I'm out running, just lying there as if taking a nap. But it was November in Utah and it was odd that someone would be taking a nap in the snow. The water itself – was practically frozen, white glossiness covering most of the stream where I'd dipped my toes in just this past summer. The leaves were already gone from the trees and I felt suddenly as if I was somewhere I shouldn't be. My skin was cold and yet I didn't shiver as I looked down at the girl wearing the red running shoes.
She must have been running because she wore sweat pants – dark black with a white stripe down the legs, a tie dyed sweat shirt – and a scarf, still around her neck. It looked like wool. Her eyes were open – brown – and her hair, blond – no, more like a light brown with golden highlights. It lay crusted against the snow, glued to it almost; fanned out like the sun.
I didn't scream.
I reached for my cell phone in my back pocket and dialed the police, all the while watching the girl, her skin a light blue, her lips – white. How long had she been there? How had she been killed? Why had she been killed?
And then I looked at the bottom of her shoes. There was no mud. No snow. They were as clean as paper that hadn't been written on yet. The path was at least 20 feet from this frozen stream. She could never have jumped that far.
There were no tire tracks. Just one set of footprints coming to the stream and then away from it. They were large, much larger than her own and had diamond shapes on the bottom. . .
"Hello, Hello?"
"Oh, yes, sorry.”
"Do you have something to report?"
"Yes. Yes. . . I found a girl at Montgomery Park. She's dead.”

***

My mother is a worry-wart. Worse, she doesn't see that I'm old enough to make my own decisions. I'm old enough to go out running by myself at 6:30 a. m. before school, and I'm old enough to take care of myself.
But you know how mothers are; all ruthless and worrying, struggling to fix everyone's life without blinking an eyelid.
I sound cruel. I'm not. I love my mother, love that she took me and my brother, Oscar in – adopted us, grateful that we both have a safe house to live in and plenty of food and a place to sleep. And I'm grateful that there's more to life than searching for food when there's not enough – my past life – and keeping warm when there isn't a blanket and the heat is off – also my past life.
When I began running it was just a good way to find time for myself. I'm not overweight or anything, it was just nice to get out by myself for a while. Mom is always neck and neck next to me, and though Oscar couldn’t care less since our move to Utah, Dad is getting sicker by the minute. I worry about him constantly, worry that he'll die and I'll be a sort of half-orphan all over again.
And so, I began running.
It started in the summer. Things were hot but if I got out early enough in the morning, before the kids came to the park and before the rays felt like melting magma, I could get in at least a half an hour or so before going back.
I could think about all sorts of things; boys, how I hated them, loved them. School; it sucked, it was cool. Friends; I hated, I loved them, and even my dad, though I tried to keep my thoughts brief where he was concerned, not because I didn't love him, not because I don't still, but because I would always have to stop and wipe my eyes so I could see in front of me.
Five months after beginning my running goal I was getting better. I could run almost an entire 45 minutes without getting so winded I felt as if I was going to pass out. Instead of returning home and lying in bed because everything hurt, I suddenly had more energy. Though my goal had never been to lose weight, you could say that my body was more toned than when I'd first begun, and I liked the way I looked in my clothes. That pooch of a stomach that had begun was becoming a distant memory.
The thought of my quickly fading stomach was the thought I had when I looked to the stream and saw the girl. It was almost ethereal at first, as if she was merely a vision or something, a beautiful addition to the quickly dying plants. But a person doesn't lie there, still, in the dead of winter, unless they're really – dead. And somehow, I knew the girl was dead even before I reached her.
Ever had that prickly thing on your arms when something is true?
Well, that's how it was for me when I saw the girl. I suppose I shouldn't be calling her that still. She has a name. Audrey. Audrey Wilkins. Sort of a prissy name if you ask me; the sort of name cheerleaders have, and beauty queens that get handouts all the day long.
Still, she was beautiful, even that day, with her frozen skin and frozen hair. She must have been there overnight at least or perhaps more than one night. How long did it take for the skin and lips to turn blue and waxy like those fake lips you get at Halloween, the hands to turn blue in the dead of winter? I looked at Audrey's head but could see no blood, though there was some dark liquid – almost black – pooled near her feet.
I looked it up, that day, after the ambulance arrived and took her away. After the police talked until I was blue in the face. Only then, near afternoon – I'd missed school because of it but didn't really care – did I have the time to look it up.
I had my own computer, though most of the students in my school did. Still, it was Oscar's old one, and that sucked. I planted the words, "How long does it take for a dead person to turn blue in winter?" hit the button and found this forensic site that told me some pretty cool stuff. Evidently, when a body has been lying around for about two hours, rigor mortis s them – making them as straight as a board – though not a very attractive one. As for the blue lips and white face, the stupid site said nothing; almost as if the internet folks were hiding stuff they really didn't want me to know.
But that was stupid and so I searched until I found it.  The information was in this cool, stages of death chart.  So, Audrey had been dead for about 30 minutes when I found her, so the killer may have been in the area when I was running the track, a true fact I didn't like.
What if he'd come for me?
I thought it was probably a he because of the big foot prints that went clear down the side of the path to the parking lot. When the cops arrived and after they'd asked me a million questions, including wanting my phone number in case they had anything else to ask me, I took off in the direction of the footprints as if I was going home, though home was the opposite direction. I followed those large prints all the way to the parking stall near the large oak. I studied the prints for a long time, placing my hands in my pockets for extra warmth, and then taking a picture of the large footprints with my phone camera. It was bright out so I took many pictures, hoping that one of them would turn out. The car was gone, but I took a few pictures of the tire treads too, hoping beyond hope that I could at least learn the make of the tires, connecting me with the sort of car the man had been driving. But even here I could see that the treads were slim; that whatever the killer had been driving, the car had been in need of a new set – they were practically bald.
Mom was already at work. She had her license now and worked with Dad at Team Shadow Incorporated, having finally sold her business to Jane Dove. The move had been scary for all of them, but they’d needed a new start. And besides, what better way to start a new business than in a new place where they could start fresh?
But in Utah?
I remember laughing at the thought of coming to Mormon town, but Mom wasn't laughing as we packed the last box and put it in the moving van. Oscar was furious. He hadn't yet started college, not really, unless you counted going for about two weeks and then dropping out because of boredom – as starting. He wanted to move out, but he'd had no job upon leaving our place and he had no job now.
I spent the rest of the afternoon to evening doing detective work on the internet, and had finally come to the conclusion that I would never figure out the tires, and I would never know about the shoes with the diamond soles the killer wore, when I found it. Because I'd also taken a photo of the girl's shoes and anything else I could think of to photograph surrounding her body; the trees leaning into the cold stream, their branches crusted and stiff, the water, still and frozen to the banks, even the girl before the police arrived. I had a slew of things I could check out, and wasn't afraid to do so.
No, I didn't do anything illegal in taking those pictures, at least not that I know of. I was at a public place, not on someone's private property, and anyway, I'd taken the photos before the police arrived so I felt pretty safe.
By the time dinner hit, Mom and Dad were returning home, though Oscar was someplace nameless. He went out a lot now, more so than he'd been out before, and a lot of the times he wasn't even home for dinner. I wondered if he was still into drugs – that had been part of the reason we moved – but I didn’t dare ask him, when I saw him, that is.
"How was school?" Mom asked.  Mom always had this way about her that made you cringe a bit.  She could look deeply into your eyes, and almost read the thoughts written behind them.  I could never lie to her and get away with it." I didn't go.”
Of course, Dad wasn't like that.  If wool could be pulled over his eyes, he'd be the first one to experience it. He peeked around the door.
"What have you been doing all day?" He smiled at me, walked in, and plunked himself on my bed.
The room hadn't yet been painted, but I'd purchased a new black and white comforter for the bed and the place looked great – considering.
"There was a dead girl at the park.”
"Montgomery?" Dad asked.
"How did you guess?"
"It's the only one you run at as far as I know," Mom said, standing next to the computer and leaning in. “Are those pictures of the crime scene?"
I'd already downloaded them onto the computer, along with my notes about what I'd witnessed.
I nodded, turning back to watch Dad. He was grinning over at me. “And I suppose, you're going to solve this crime, if indeed there was one.”
"What do you mean?"
"Maybe she committed suicide.”
"Probably not.” I pointed to the blood near Audrey's feet, to the pictures of the shoe prints walking away from the body.
"Okay, so what do you think happened?" Mom was curious now. I could feel her breath on my back like a wild animal puffing.
"I think she was killed somewhere else, taken in a car with bald tires to the park, lifted out of the back seat or the trunk by a large man, or at least a man large enough to carry a teenage body, and carried over to the stream at Montgomery Park where she was deposited.”
"Why would someone do that?" Dad asked.
My skin prickled at his words.” I think she was kidnapped and the kidnapper couldn't get anyone to give him the money he wanted," I said. “And the man, whoever he is, had to dispose of the body somewhere. It's cold out; probably thought he could do it without anyone seeing him.”
"I see she is wearing a jogging outfit," Dad suggested.
"So that ‘other’ thing probably didn't happen," I said. I knew what I was thinking but I couldn't bring my mouth to say it. If the girl had been naked it would have meant something entirely different to my mind.
"Well. . .” Mom paused, took a deep breath, and placed her hand on my shoulder. “It might have happened earlier.”
Darkness filled my soul.
"She didn't have any bruises that I could see," I said. “She was just white and blue and dead.”
"I bet that scared you," Dad said.
"No. I was just curious about what had happened.”
"You weren't even scared – a little bit?" Mom asked, removing her hand from my shoulder and squatting down near me. Her breath smelled suddenly of onions and I wondered if she and Dad had already had their dinner.
"Okay, maybe a little. It was creepy, but I was more interested than anything else. Do you know that it takes about 30 minutes after death for a corpse's skin to change color?"
"What do you think I do for a living?" Dad asked, walking to the other side of me.
"Oh, right. So, do you think I can solve it?" I asked, hoping against all hope that there wouldn't be any problems with doing my own detective work, that Mom would let go for more than a second, and that Dad would realize I was pretty serious about this.

As an 18-year-old senior I was finding it difficult to make new friends at the new school and it was just my luck to find something intriguing to take my mind off my sucky life. It was time for a change, and my first case was going to do it for me…