But There’s a Catch

Photo by Viviana Rishe on Unsplash

Today marks the publication of the fourth of our top five stories in the 10th annual Voorheesville Short Story Contest. Our second place finalist, Felicity Heckler’s “But There’s a Catch,” is a story that approaches the theme of this year’s contest, “But There’s a Catch,” by transporting the reader into a complex detective story. As our judge put it, Felicity did “some great work on exposition at the start. Laying the groundwork is not an easy thing to do. [She was] also able to maintain a suspenseful pace throughout that kept me engaged.” Us, too! We hope you enjoy it!

Is there anything outside of literature that is considered a fatal flaw? I believe there is, but I haven’t always thought this way. My name is Chase Andrews. I’m a 34-year-old Detective, and the story takes place in Sacramento, California. Anyone employed in law enforcement must take the oath of honor stating, ‘On my honor, I will never betray my integrity, my character, Or the public trust. I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our actions. I will always maintain the highest ethical standards and uphold the values of my community and the agency I serve. I knew I wanted to work in law enforcement and seek justice since I was 8. My father was a victim of a hit-and-run. The person driving was never caught, and my father suffered too much brain damage by the time he reached the hospital and didn’t make it. In a broad sense, justice is achieved when interpreting what an individual  “deserves”  and is drawn on various fields like ethics, rationality, law, religion, equity, and fairness. 

Growing up, I was always a big reader of moral theories. I’ve studied the idea of justice under ancient Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, who believe god upholds justice, and 17th-century philosophers like John Locke. John Locke believed justice derives from the natural law advocated by thinkers like Jean-Jaacques Rousseau, which led to more modern concepts such as distributed justice and egalitarianism. The most interesting ones are retributive and restorative justice. Retributive justice theories claim that wrongdoers should be punished to achieve justice. In contrast, restorative justice, commonly known as “reparative justice,” is a method of achieving justice that prioritizes the interests of both victims and offenders. I have always believed in pursuing justice before anything, and perhaps my fatal flaw is dishonesty. I am dishonest with myself, my beliefs, others, and, above all, the law. 

Four years ago, I investigated a reopened cold case and followed up on a lead. I was confident in my assessment of a man named Liam Hemming. Six years ago, there was an abduction of a 28-year-old woman named Gwen White, who was coming home late one night from work and never reaching her car parked in the back of the building. Her body wasn’t found until four years later, which reopened the case. The autopsy helped develop a more assertive profile of the suspect. The cause of death was stab wounds. The unsub was assumed to be a shorter middle-aged white man considered a wound collector. The characteristic of a shorter man came from the fact Gwen was 5’10 and had straight-inserted stabs that caused her wounds. The cuts would usually be downward if an unsub is taller than the victim, and a wound collector uses a lifetime of grievances and wrongs to justify violence. 

 Gwen’s family always asked about a necklace. They said Gwen had always worn it and never removed it; the family wanted it back. Our primary suspect, Gwen’s ex, Liam Hemming, had practically matched the profile. Liam and Gwen had been in an on-off relationship for three years before her abduction. It put him at the top of the suspect list. He was initially taken out of question when his father, a war vet, gave him an alibi, saying they were home all night. He was brought into re-questioning. This case had always been slightly personal to me because my sister, Lisa, who lives in an apartment across from me, works in the same building as Gwen. I believe I met Gwen once when my sister was promoted and threw a party for everyone on the floor. 

Ultimately, Liam was again ruled out because of his alibi. But I could tell. Something in me just knew. Without new evidence, the case would have gone cold. That night, I couldn’t stop thinking about how unjust and unfair it was to Gwen, her friends, and her family. They needed closure. That was all I wanted when my Father died. I was restless and needed the person who did it to be charged and convicted.  I scattered the evidence along my living room table and floor. I just stared at the floor for a while when it hit me. I knew a Judge wouldn’t find probable cause to get me a search warrant to Liam’s house since there wasn’t enough evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. What happened to Gwen was a mystery, and mysteries have a way of driving people mad. I looked up the files to see where Liam Hemming lived. This would turn out to be a very terrible idea.

One day off duty, I drove to the house and watched outside from a distance of Liam’s until the house was empty. I had waited a few minutes before approaching the house. I went around the back and found an open window I managed to climb through. I quickly put on gloves and began searching, beginning with Liam’s room and then traveling down to the garage. The dryer was running, so I didn’t hear a car’s tires against the pavement, the unlocking of the door, or the footsteps on the floor, but I did hear the “Who are you? Why are you doing here? How did you get in?”  Gary, Liam’s father, swung by for a reason I’ll never know, and to my surprise, I was met with a 30-30 Winchester, a classic deer cartage for hunting. I froze. I hadn’t the slightest idea what to say or do. Gary was in great shape for an older man, and I, a detective, just broke into a house without a warrant. Honestly, it’s hard to piece together what happened next. Did he jump at me first? Did I attack him? I just remember the sound of a gun going off. My vision was white and was slowly coming back. I saw puddles of blood. But the blood wasn’t mine. I quickly ran out, leaving behind the mess. I drove away, freaking out in my car, pulling up to my apartment. Honestly, things began to blur together. 

Hours later, Liam’s arrest was on the news for the murder of his father. 2 weeks later would be his trial, where he pleaded not guilty while also being charged with the murder of Gwen since it was believed his father could have lied on his behalf. The prosecutors requested that I be put on the stand for our profile, interviews, and conversation with Liam. I was the lead detective. I had to. I began thinking of all of the outcomes. If Liam isn’t found guilty of the murder, the investigation will continue. They’d know someone broke in. I coudn’t go to jail? That wasn’t just? Putting the man behind bars for the murder of Gwen was. But he hadn’t murdered his father? I have to pledge affirmation to testify the truth. But the truth may lead to my undeserved downfall. But then It requires me to purge myself and my beliefs. I told myself that I had to purge myself to put away Liam and give proper justice to Gwen, but there’s a catch. A potentially innocent man could be punished by death for crimes he didn’t commit. That’s not justice? I was lost. I needed someone. I asked my sister the night before the trial about her thoughts on justice, and she’s always had a different outlook on life than mine. Her motto throughout life is that “sometimes you have to treat others wrong to treat yourself right.” The next day, that was my motto. I stood on the stand and fabricated potentially misleading evidence of Liam’s guilt. In the end, he was charged with the murder of Gwen White and His Father, Gary Hemming. 

Three days ago, Liam was given the death penalty. I felt miserable for the past four years. I had lost it. I quit my job because I was no longer worthy. I broke an oath, I broke the law, I broke my own beliefs, and overall myself. I spiraled into drinking and other bad habits and moved into my sister’s apartment. I had become a monster I’ve always put behind bars. Yesterday, bored, I moped around the apartment. I never went into my sister’s room because I never needed to, but her door was cracked open, which aroused my curiosity. I wasn’t searching or looking at anything in particular; I just began to look around to see what she had. I opened her closet when I came across a box of childhood memories. Looking through old phones, I slowly began to cry. I flipped through a book of photos of our family, ones with our father present. There was another box I reached up to grab from her closet and laid it down on the floor. I had this eerie feeling in my chest just looking at it. As I lifted the lid, chills ran through my body. Inside was only a heart-shaped locket I had never seen my sister wear. I knew it couldn’t be Lisa’s, but it looked so familiar for some reason. That’s when I realized it was. I flashback from the night of my sister’s promotion. I remember Gwen sipping a drink while one hand playing around her neck as I focused in on trying to member the neck, a glimpse of her moving her hand revealing the heart locket. The same locket in my hand. I immediately pulled out my phone, looked up Gwen’s old social media account, and scrolled through her posts. In every one, was she wearing the damn heart necklace. I was always close with my sister; we bonded over the trauma of our father. Although it still affects me, and I chose my career path because of it, it always seemed to hurt Lisa more. Lisa went to years of therapy for it, and almost every time they were together, she brought up how much bad luck in her life she’s had. No matter what we did, she’d always find a way to complain about our father’s death, not getting into her dream college, being unable to hold down a steady relationship, and not getting the job she’s always wanted, she stressed over interviewing and complaining to me for weeks, dreading it. It was the job Gwen had landed over her. It was the job Gwen had gotten over her. Gwen got. I began to think about it. How did she get Gwen’s Necklace? Maybe she simply stole it? I’ve never known Lisa to do such a thing, but if so, why hide it? Afraid it might make her look guilty? I thought about it more and more, wondering how it couldn’t be Lisa, but the more I thought about it, the more the profile fit. A wound collector, a height estimated to be between 5’5-5’9. My sister was 5’7. Thinking of how to process this, I must have been lost in thought because I did not hear the unlocking of the apartment door nor the footsteps around the floor, but I listened to the “What are you doing?” Coming behind me as I sat blankly looking at the box. I slowly stood up with the locket,

“Did you-, did you do this?”

“Chase, it isn’t fair-”

“DID YOU DO THIS?” I screamed

“Would you calm down?” Lisa replied

“Calm down? Y-you killed her, Lisa, you murdered her”

“What, you’ll turn me in, you think? What about the catch?”

“A catch? What do you mean by a catch, Lisa? This isn’t the time for games; this is serious.”

“Oh, I know! I know you know as well. You know how serious committing murder is, don’t you? You turn me in, I turn you in. What’s it like obsessing over justice and not being able to uphold your own personal standard?”

Was my fatal flaw being abused with justice? How far I’ll go to pursue it? So far, I committed perjury and sent an innocent person to death row. With my phone in my hand, I knew what had to be done. I called Lisa and myself, both arrested for first-degree murder. Imprisonment, what a curious principal. We confined the physical body, yet the mind is still free.

About Felicity Heckler 452 Articles

Felicity Heckler is a senior at Clayton A. Bouton High School.

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