How to save a life: A non-fiction murder mystery

My friend was in conflict with her boyfriend. It was nothing new. And as my friends seemed to do so often at the time, her complaints were all being directed to me instead of their deserving recipient — her boyfriend. I don’t know where the annual Shitty Boyfriend Conference meets every year, but I need to contact them and tell them to remove me as their forwarding address.

Well this time it was a bit different. She was telling me that she was starting to get a little afraid of him. The argument was escalating. He’s shouting at her. That did seem pretty unusual.

Then she stopped texting altogether. No contact. I tried calling: phone is off. I don’t like the sound of this.

I’ve seen too many episodes of “24” and “Law and Order: SVU” to not put two-and-two together: An agent has gone dark.

And I need to save her.

(For the purposes of this story, their names will be Joanna and Trent. To protect the innocent or something exciting-sounding like that.)

I needed to find her, and fast. What if he’s going to hurt her? What if he already has? What if something even more dark and sinister is about to happen? These are the times that try men’s souls: What if something would have happened, but I arrive in time to save her from whatever Trent has planned? What if I could prevent something but fail to?

Got down to my car about 20 seconds after my attempt to call her. Joanna’s last known location was at Trent’s apartment. I’ll start there.

Trent’s Apartment

Arrived there, and right off the bat, there were no obvious signs of catastrophe. As in, the apartment hadn’t blown up or anything. I don’t really know what I was looking for.
Trent’s car wasn’t in its usual place, or anywhere in the immediate area of where his apartment is. I searched around the building, around the corner, and everywhere in the surrounding neighborhood. It was important to know whether he was there or not, so I’m prepared with enough information to attempt to enter the house.

Since he didn’t seem to be there, I decided to investigate what I could around or inside the apartment. At first glance, I did not notice any blood spatters or blood trails in the parking lot or on the sidewalk next to the building. It wasn’t winter, so I couldn’t look at the snow and see if anyone had been there recently. A glance inside the window to the entry way revealed nothing knocked over or anything out of the ordinary.

Got up to the actual door to his apartment. Still, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I listened carefully, and didn’t hear any sound from inside the apartment. I slowly and quietly tried the door, but it was locked.

Building up some bravery, and holding my improvised weapon in my hand, I knocked hard on the door. No answer. Pounded. No answer.

Time to look elsewhere.

Joanna’s Apartment

After performing some comms recon while en route to Joanna’s apartment (texting people while driving), I determined that nobody else had been talking to her tonight. I also couldn’t get a hold of Trent’s roommate. This means that I’m the last person to have spoken with her.

Arrived, and saw nothing. There was no sign of her anywhere. Her car was gone, and his was nowhere to be found either. Could this mean he had driven her car somewhere else to make it look like she disappeared of her own accord? Why would both their cars be gone at the same time? They were attached at the hip; only a need for one vehicle.
Drove around town. Went to a couple mutual friends’ houses, but neither of their vehicles were there. I didn’t have time to go inside and chat; only drove by. I went back to Trent’s apartment, but still nothing.

Decided to stake the location out and just wait for them. They have to come home eventually. At least… one of them does. But which location? I decided that Trent’s was the obvious choice, since he’s unlikely to return to her house after the crime. Unless he still needs to clean up the crime scene. Pick up broken lamps.
Either way, I should check her apartment again even if I do stake out Trent’s apartment. I should drive across town again and check her apartment. So I did.

And I saw that his vehicle was there. At her apartment.

Joanna’s Apartment, revisited

Didn’t see anything unusual inside the car, but I didn’t have time to dance around any longer. I needed to get in the apartment, and fast. He can’t have been here for longer than 15 minutes, because I was just here. Whatever is going on is happening right now, and it’s up to me to put a stop to it. She could still be alive.

[Planning] I drew up the schematics in my head. The complex is four floors, total, has a first-floor lobby, and no basement. She lives on the second floor, in the eastern wing of the building. I’ll need to go up the west stairs and approach from that angle. I have a key to her place from when I was house-sitting, so if I play everything correctly, I may be able to get the jump on him.

Entered the building silently, but quickly. I made my way down the hall to the west stairs, being cautious for things seeming out of the ordinary. Or for Trent standing somewhere with a gun, waiting for me. Anything, really. Adrenaline makes you paranoid.
Went up the stairs, bouncing lightly on each, as to avoid making noise. It’s an art I’ve perfected but have no way of teaching via blog. I arrived on the second floor, and made my way down the hall slowly, listening carefully to anything that I could hear.

Couldn’t hear anything. Kept going forward through the hall toward her apartment door, slowing my speed as I approached.

And that’s when I noticed that I would not be able to approach the door from the west. The hallway was lit with ceiling light fixtures.
Between my current position and Joanna’s apartment door was one of these such lights. This meant that if I get up to the door, the light will then be behind me. I would be between the light and the door.
I would then be casting a shadow, which would be visible under the door crack if anyone was able to see the door from inside the apartment.

It was vital that I remain undetected.

[Planning v2.0]

First, I needed to throw off my scent. The human subconscious is a lot more reliable than people think. If I had made any floor creaks, if I had been breathing at all, or made any noise whatsoever, there is a chance that he subconsciously picked up on it, and is mildly aware of the presence of someone moving slowly through the hall even if his conscious mind isn’t aware of it.

Now I needed to completely exit the situation and erase his brain’s potential subconscious awareness of me by creating some other thing for his brain to pick up on. I’ll use the elevator for that. I’ll press both the elevator buttons as I pass by on my way to the west stairs.

I need to approach from the east side of the door, instead of the west side. This was problematic, as her apartment was two doors from the eastern edge of the building. The only door on that side is the eastern stairs, but it’s close enough that anyone in her apartment would hear the door.

I also should probably———

I heard something in her apartment. It was only for a brief moment, but it definitely sounded like a shout or scream. Sounded female, mid-20s. She’s still alive. And my fears were realized – all my ridiculous paranoia was correct.

She really is in danger.

Backed away from the door, and went back down the hall the way I came. I moved as quickly as I reasonably could without making noise. Did I mention I wasn’t even wearing shoes anymore at this point? I abandoned them in the lobby. Socks only for me.
As I passed by the elevator, I pressed the button to call it. But did not wait for it.

Arrived back at the west stairs and sprinted down the stairs to the ground floor. If it is possible at all for him to hear me on the opposite side of the building, then it is possible for him to hear the elevator in the middle of the building. The elevator is louder. I can make noise.
Ground floor. Sprinted to the elevator and called it. It came down from the second floor, where I had called it 20 seconds ago. I went in the elevator up to the third floor, one floor above hers. Before exiting the elevator, I pressed every button, to ensure that the elevator stays nice and active (loud) while I sneak around to the other side.

From the elevator, I walked at a brisk, but normal pace toward the west stairs (again). Someone on the third floor can make some noise. He’ll think I’m just a normal third-floor-dweller. I couldn’t walk over her doorway on the third floor though, because my footsteps will show concern and hurry whether I want them to or not.
So I went up to the fourth floor, two floors above Joanna’s apartment. On the fourth floor, I did the same — walked at a brisk pace. Went across the entire building’s hallway to the eastern stairs, calling the elevator as I passed by.

In the eastern stairwell, I went down two floors. To the second floor. Where I would be just a couple doors away from her apartment. On the east side. And I would not cast a shadow on the floor in front of the door because of how the lights were situated. I had wasted probably about 1 minute 30 seconds doing all this, but it was worth it to remain undetected so I could analyze the situation. He’s already had a potential of 20 minutes alone with her in this apartment, so an extra two is worth it if it means concealing my presence.

I opened and closed the stairwell door completely silently. Another thing I’m an expert at when it comes to sneaking around. I was going to take no chances that Trent would be aware of my presence here.

I inched closer to the door.

And that’s when I heard it again — some sort of muffled scream. It was faint, but distinct. It even definitely sounded like her voice. I could hear something else, but couldn’t determine what it was. Possibly something from another apartment; I don’t have time to care about what it is. I just need to get in there.

I crept a bit closer to the door.

Heard another muffled shout of some kind from her. Something seemed odd, though. I instinctively didn’t feel as panicked as I did just a few seconds ago.

I got a little closer to her apartment door.

I was now near enough that I could put my ear on the door itself to listen into the apartment. I situated my head near the ground (away from the door’s eyehole), but not too near the ground (above the crack at the bottom of the door to avoid any potential shadow).

I could now hear inside the apartment. I could hear her “muffled screams” very clearly now.

I rolled my eyes and walked away.

They were having sex.