The Thing about Tree houses
They were running down the street with a reckless abandon that only the young had. It was just another day without having much to do. There was no school, their chores were all done and their mother had let them leave without telling her where they were heading. When they entered the woods they had one goal in mind, their tree. The path they were following was worn and could be navigated with their eyes closed; they had been going down it for years now. They reached their tree house in what they thought was record time. It had taken most of a summer to build it, scraps of wood they had found or liberated from someone’s backyard, panes of glass from the remodeled house down the lane from their home. It sat far enough up in the tree that unless you were looking for it you would not notice the little structure. Climbing up to it was easy, the way the tree had grown made for a simple route around the tree, twice around to reach the bottom, then through the trap door into the tree house. They closed the trap door and went to the little windows just as a precaution, to make sure they weren’t followed. This was their world up here in the tree; they didn’t want any others to find out about it.
Michael motioned for Danny to join him at one of the windows without looking at him. They looked out at a view that had Michael shaking slightly. A man was down there, in the clearing they usually played Frisbee or catch in. He was swinging a baseball bat against one of the trees, but they could not hear the sound echoing as it hitting the bark. There was a slight mist covering the grass from the early morning air.
“So there’s an old fogey with a bat, so what.” Danny said and turned around to grab a comic book off a little shelf.
“No, keep watching,” Michael grabbed his arm.
The man had finally stopped swinging the bat and the body he had been hitting fell down, away from the tree it had been up against. Neither of the boys was breathing at this point. They continued to watch as the man took another couple of swings at the head and then wiped the bat off on the person’s clothes. He looked around and then walked off through the woods towards the town. The two boys stayed there watching for the man to return for almost an hour, both of them were too afraid to move. Finally they turned and opened the trap door, sticking their heads down they looked all around for almost five minutes before climbing down and running at full speed home. They told their mother about what they had seen and asked her what to do. At first she didn’t believe them, but seeing that they were trembling with a fear that she had never seen in them before, she walked over to the telephone, called 911 and asked for an officer to come to the house.
Fifteen minutes later a large burly sheriff arrived and knocked on the door. “What seems to be the problem, ma’am,” he asked through the screen door.
Their mom stepped out on the porch and had a quiet conversation with the sheriff, and then motioned for the boys to come out on the porch. The sheriff’s deputy sat down on the top stair of the porch and motioned for the boys to sit down with him.
“Alright boys” He started off, “What is it you think you saw.”
Michael stood up, “We don’t THINK we saw anything, we WATCHED a man beat someone with a baseball bat. He hit him so many times he had to have killed him.”
“And just where did this take place then?” The deputy asked.
“Down the road there’s a trail into the woods, we have a tree house and we saw him from it. We can show you.” Michael walked down the stairs and Danny followed him. After a couple of seconds the deputy stood and started to follow the boys with their mom at his side. They followed the two boys down the road and then into the woods.
“There’s our tree house,” Danny pointed up into one of the trees, “and the clearing is down this way.”
The two adults followed the boys to the clearing where the two boys stopped and pointed towards a tree on the far side of the little clearing. The deputy walked across the tall grass in the clearing and then stopped about half-way there. He turned looking back at the boys and then reached for the microphone at his collar. “This is Sheriff’s deputy Bannon; I need back-up on Raintree road, send the coroner, Homicide, and CSU.”
They walked back to the road, where ten minutes later the whole area filled up with cars and vans. Deputy Bannon told the boys and their mom to wait at one of the cars and led a rather large group of officers, a couple medical examiners and the CSU team that had arrived down the path. Two other officers started to unroll and tie crime scene tape down the path following the group. A couple minutes later they came back and both grabbed three more rolls of tape and headed back down the trail. It was ten minutes after that when two unmarked cars pulled onto the street, four people climbed out of the cars and walked up to where an officer was standing, they stood there chatting for a couple of minutes and then two of them walked down the trail. The other two walked over to where the boys and their mother were standing.
“Mrs. Grandiff, I’m Detective Marks and this is Detective Shein. Could you tell us how you found the body please?” The man asked. He was a tall, slightly overweight man with a couple days beard growth and balding grey hair. His partner, Detective Shein was a woman almost as tall, but with a slender body and dark red hair that fell almost to her shoulders. While Detective Marks had a dark grey suit on, Detective Shein had a Leather jacket covering a bright blue blouse and jeans.
“I didn’t find the body, my boys did. They saw it happen.” Their mother replied, at which both the Detectives looked at the boys with a sudden change of attitude.
“So, could you please tell us what you saw?” Detective Shein asked the boys.
“We saw a man swinging a bat at a tree, when he stopped the body fell over and he hit it a couple of more times and then wiped the bat off on the person’s clothes and walked off toward the town.” Michael said.
“And where were you when you saw this happen.” She asked them again.
“In our tree house, it was really scary; we had to sit up there for a while to make sure he didn’t come back.” Danny said.
“Could you show me where your tree house is?” Detective Shein asked them both with a little smile.
“Sure it’s down the path there.” Danny said.
The boys led the two detectives down the path and then pointed out their tree house. “Great, no friggin’ way am I climbing up there.” Detective Marks said.
“Could one of you show me how to get up there please?” Detective Shein smiled at the boys, at which both of them almost ran at the tree and started climbing up it. She followed them quickly and when they opened the trap door and climbed up into the tree house, she stuck her head in and looked around. Then she reached down and the two boys stared wide-eyed as she placed her holstered gun on the floor of the tree house. She squeezed up into the boys little getaway and smiled, the two boys were overwhelmed with the perfume she was wearing. At thirteen and fourteen their hormones were raging. “This is great guys,” she smiled at them. Looking out the little windows on her hands and knees, they couldn’t take their eyes off her butt. She looked out all four of the windows ending up at the one that looked at where the murder had taken place. “So this is where you were when you saw it?” she asked.
“Yeah, we were making sure that no one had followed us.” Michael said. “That’s when I saw the man swinging the bat.”
“Ok,” She turned around and then sat down crossed legged on the floor. “So what happened after that, Oh, and you can call me Sarah.”
“Well we watched him for a little bit and then he stopped, that was when the body fell over and he hit it on the head a couple more times.” Michael said with a dumb grin on his face, just like the one Danny had.
“Then he wiped the bat off on their clothes,” Danny added, “and he walked off towards the town.”
“Sarah, why would somebody do that, and then just walk away?” Michael asked her.
“Well, I don’t know. That’s what we have to figure out; it’s kind of like a puzzle.” She answered. Turning back to the window she pulled out a long thin flashlight and checked that it worked and then reached into a jacket pocket and pulled out a phone. She hit a couple of buttons and spoke into it. “Murphy, are you there.
A couple of seconds later a voice came back “Yes, what do you need Sarah.”
“Look into the trees to the west, do you see my light?” She asked the voice, shining her flashlight out the window.
“No, where are you?” the voice asked.
“Sarah, the sun’s behind us, this might work better.” Danny said.
She turned around in time to see Danny reaching into a little box and pull a large flashlight out. It had to be at least five times bigger than the one she had. He hit the button and almost blinded her with the light.
“Alright Murphy, what about now?” she asked pointing it out the window.
“Gotcha, how the hell did you get all the way up that tree?” Murphy asked.
“The boys have a tree house up here.” She replied. “This is where they saw it happen from.”
“Must have been a hell of a thing to watch,” the man replied.
“Could you do me a favor and wave something in the air for me to see?” she asked.
“Sure, hang on a sec.” He replied. “Ok how about this?”
“Ok, I see you, keep waving it a little more.” She replied and then turned to the boys, “Can you see the man waving the flag down there.”
Both boys looked out the window and nodded their heads.
“Ok, which way did the man go when he left?” She asked them.
Both the boys pointed across the clearing to the right.
“Murphy, head to the south side of the clearing.”
“Roger,” his voice came back.
They watched as a man separated from the group in the clearing and started across it. Danny looked at Sarah, “Tell him to go farther that way,” he pointed further to the east.
“Murphy, head East now,” she said into the phone.
“Tell him to stop,” Michael held up a hand, “Now.”
“Ok, stop Murphy.”
Both the boys looked at the man for a couple of seconds and then nodded. “That’s where he went into the woods at.
“Murphy, that’s where the perp went,” Sarah said.
“Yeah, Ok, I’ll get the guys on it, thanks.”
Detective Shein turned back around and sat back down, she handed the flashlight back to Danny who put it back in the box.
“Ok guys, do you remember anything else about the man you saw. You know, like what he was wearing, could you tell what color of hair he had, anything like that.
The two boys looked at each other and then Michael spoke up, “he had a brown jumpsuit; at least it looked like one. I think he had blond hair too, but I can’t be sure of that.
“It looked more grey than blond I think,” Danny added.
“You could always see if one of the cameras have him on it.” Michael said.
“Cameras?” Detective Shein asked them with a look of surprise on her face.
“Well, yeah Sarah, we have cameras up in the trees to take pictures of the wildlife that goes through the clearing. Our dad helped us put them up before he left for the war.” Danny said. “We were going to check them later, but then this happened. They are motion activated, two have nightvision lenses and the other four don’t. They go all around the clearing.”
Detective Shein looked out the window again, and then pulled her phone out. “Murphy cover the body for a moment, I’m bringing the boys down.” She said into it, looking at the boys, “Can you show me where those cameras are?”
“Sure,” Danny said and disappeared down the trap door followed by Michael. Detective Shein took her time climbing down the tree, looking all around as she did. When she got back down, Danny shook his head and almost flew back up the tree closing the trap door and then came back down. “Squirrels get in if we leave it open.” He said looking at her with a little disappointment in his eyes.
“I’m really sorry, I wasn’t thinking.” She said, “So will you show us where those cameras are?”
“Yeah, but somebody is going to have to help us get them down,” Michael said. “They are high enough we usually have to stand on each other’s shoulders to get them.”
“I think that can be arranged,” she smiled and looked at Detective Marks, who just frowned.
The group walked down to the clearing and grumbling beneath his breath, Detective Marks raised Danny up on to his shoulders and carried him to each of the cameras. Danny pulled the little Sim card out of each one and handed them down to Detective Shein.
She plugged each in turn into her phone and scrolled through them, the one near where the assault took place had the whole thing, as it happened, on it. The one near where the killer left had clear pictures of him on it, both coming with the victim and then him leaving alone.
Two months later the two boys were standing on a podium with Detective Shein, as they were each given citizen awards for bravery, and their mother was given a five thousand dollar check for the arrest of a suspect that they had helped in the capture of. It turned out that he was actually wanted in three states for over twenty killings, all of which were unsolved until now. As they later found out, he had kept souvenirs from each of the killings and they managed to link him to all of the murders. Without the boy’s help they probably would never have caught him, the murders were all so random.
A little while after that, Detective Shein dropped by the boys’ house early one evening, she handed them both a large bag. In the bags were large outdoor cushions, a pair of Binoculars, some books on local wildlife, a battery powered lantern, and a bag filled with comics. “I thought that since you helped us out so much, I would return the favor. Now you guys can be comfortable up in your tree house, and you can learn a little bit more about the wildlife out there or just relax and read a comic book.”
“Gee, thanks Sarah,” Michael said, and both boys looked at their mother who just nodded with a little smile. They turned and were gone.
Their mother came over and smiled, “they haven’t been up there since all of this started. I think they are still a little scared. You’re the second person today to try and help them get over it. A man from the Fish and Game department came and installed new cameras out in the clearing for them. He left them a laptop and told them to send him pictures and videos of anything interesting they run across.”
“Yeah, I know,” Sarah replied. “That was David, a good friend of mine, I showed him some of the pictures from the cameras they had out there. He said some of the critters the boys got pictures of are supposed to be gone from this area. He wants them to keep track of them for him. If they get more pictures of them he can put in to have the area preserved from development. That way the boys will always have their tree house.”
“My husband let them build it before he left for Afghanistan; he said it would be good for them to experience nature.” Mrs. Grandiff said. “I was more worried about them getting hurt though. Now I almost wish they hadn’t built it.”
“I can see your point,” Sarah said. “But, they helped catch a serial killer who might never have been caught otherwise. I think they have a much greater respect for life now, which could be a good thing.”
“Their dad always tried to teach them right from wrong.” Mrs. Grandiff said with a touch of pride. “He said they would do the right thing when the time came. He was right in this case. I just worry about them though.”
“You shouldn’t, they each have a good sense of things, and I think they will be just fine.”
Fifteen years later, Sarah was standing at the window looking down at the river that went by the station. The door to her office opened behind her and two young men entered into the room. “Good morning, Sarah.” One of them said.
She turned to the young men, “It’s Chief Shein, and may I help you?”
“We’re tracking a killer that may be in your town, thought we should check in with you, Sarah.” The other said. They both pulled out their FBI badges and showed them to her.
She glanced at the badges, “I said it’s Chief,” then her mouth dropped open. “Michael, Danny,” she exclaimed and threw her arms around both of them. You could hear a pin drop in the squad room as everyone just stared at the normally reserved Chief of Homicide. “Alright, get your asses back to work.” She said looking at the detectives in the room. She kicked the door closed and then hugged the men again. “What the hell are you two doing here?” she asked.
“Like I said we tracked a killer to this area.” Michael said, “Its standard protocol to check in with local law enforcement, Chief Shein.”
“Like hell, it’s Sarah.” She replied with a grin, “You two are always welcome to call me that. However, if you could refrain from that in the squad room I would appreciate it.”
Daniel walked over to the window looking out at the view. It was early winter and the leaves were off the trees. In the distance was a stand of trees, with a structure in the top of one. “Always bothered me that you could see it in winter,” He almost whispered.
“That’s just one of those things about tree houses.” Michael said and then with a grin, “So shall we get down to business, Sarah? We have another bad guy to catch.”