Against All Evidence ~ Eric Laster


I stare at myself in the mirror above the sink. Eyes like pits sunk in bruised fruit. Skeletal cheeks. Parentheses framing my mouth as if I only voice the inessential. I’ve been awake for twenty-six hours.


KAY sits at the breakfast table with her head in her hands, a cup of cold coffee at her elbow. DETECTIVE GUZMAN and TWO PLAINCLOTHES COPS lean against the counter, eating breakfast burritos and talking in low voices. They drop silent at the sight of me.


                                        I’ve got a meeting.


                                        A meeting?

How it’s been since Jennie disappeared: Kay repeats what I say, swallowed up in her own grief, slow to comprehend. The dialogue of poorly written TV shows.

I could cancel the meeting but need to keep busy.


I drive through the neighborhood, all four windows open, passing the same front gates and hedges, trees and lawns I always pass. I look at the houses and imagine the more or less comfortable lives going on inside them—so many people untouched by what’s happened to my family, completely unaffected. My suffering, as great as it is, turns small, which makes it worse.

I stop at a crosswalk to let THREE SCHOOLGIRLS pass. One of the girls elbows another, nods in my direction.


                                        Fuck off, perv!

Laughing, the girls run down the street. Tears have started. I pull over until my vision clears. My meeting isn’t for another hour.


The schoolbus dropped Jennie off at the corner not twenty yards from here, as it does every weekday afternoon. A couple of kids on the bus claim to have seen a white van around the time she was abducted. The police brought in dogs, forensic teams. Found a button that Kay says belongs to the shirt Jennie was wearing. Also, a Juicy Fruit wrapper, a venti Starbucks cup (no lid, nothing written on it), four cigarette butts, an empty Tic Tacs container, a quarter, and two soda cans—one Coke and the other Orange Crush.

I take a latex glove and a pair of tweezers from my pocket, put on the glove and search the area. I find what looks to be part of a white cotton sock. My gloved hand working the tweezers, I place the sock in a brand-new paper envelope. There might be blood on the sock. An airtight plastic bag would rot the blood, making it impossible to analyze.


Idling in a line of cars, waiting to enter Paramount Studios. I call home on my cell, imagining the plainclothes officers in our kitchen suddenly alert to their surveillance equipment.

KAY (O.S.)


My wife and I have always argued over the typical things: dishes left in the kitchen sink, what we “need” to spend money on, the methods of raising a child in this increasingly suicidal world. I assumed that our silences at the dinner table were expressions of the deep comfort we felt in each other’s presence, bred from our years together.

KAY (O.S.)


I hang up.


KEVIN, Donna Ruskin’s assistant, sits behind a laptop at his desk. He rises to shake my hand. I’m still wearing the latex glove.



I don’t take off the glove. Kevin usually talks at hyper-speed, but today he’s tentative, unsure of himself. Do I want something to drink? I don’t. He opens his mouth and closes it again. I nod, as if thanking him for his concern.


                                        It’ll be a few minutes.

Producers always let writers wait. Protocol doesn’t make allowances for my loss and I’m momentarily thankful: it’s almost possible to believe that some things are as they have always been.


DONNA greets me as she always does—a woman with too many important things to do. She looks at my hand, the latex glove.


                                        You should’ve canceled.

Kevin enters carrying an iPad; he’ll be taking notes of the meeting. Associate Producer HUGH BROWN hurries in, and we all sit.


                                        You’ve looked over Gwen’s comments?

The movie is called “Rx”—Gwen, the lead, some teenage ingenue, former star of a show on the Disney channel I’ve never seen. She plays the character Lindsey McGregor who finds a dog running through Pan-Pacific Park, dragging a leash. Lindsey asks around but can’t find the dog’s owner. She takes the dog home, hangs signs around the neighborhood that read FOUND DOG. She receives a weepy phone call from a woman who says the dog’s owner was murdered at the park and she hopes Lindsey will keep the dog. Lindsey meets with the woman and soon winds up in the middle of a big-time insurance scam run by a network of wealthy, murderous doctors. She threatens to expose the scam, so the wealthy, murderous doctors want her dead. I have my own private slug line for this project: Rx — a prescription for crap.


                                        The motivation that draws her character into this thing is
                                        still sketchy. And what exactly the doctors are doing                                         and why they went so far as to kill this guy with the dog,
                                        none of us can exactly figure out.

In my initial draft, Lindsey was a documentary filmmaker, but Donna said that being a documentarian wasn’t enough to account for her officious curiosity about the dog owner’s murder, or her inclination to investigate it on her own instead of going to the police. Through later drafts, Lindsey morphed from bored housewife to what she is now, a cop-in-training.


                                        Gwen also wants you to make her character
                                        stronger. We’re wondering if she shouldn’t have
                                        a superpower. Something subtle.

I’m expected to say something.


                                        If you’re too stressed, I don’t think anyone 
                                        here would blame you if—


(suddenly exploding)


My outburst surprises all of us. I’m standing in the middle of the room. Kevin taps furiously at his iPad.

Donna needs the new pages by tomorrow.


White vans are everywhere as I drive home. Siennas. Caravans. Sedonas. Odysseys. Vanagons. I follow an Econoline 350.


The Econoline pulls into the station. I park at the self-serve pumps and sit in my car, making no move to get out.

THE DRIVER steps from the van. He’s white, heavy set, 30-35 years old, about six-feet tall, with (sandy?) hair cut like a marine’s. Using my cell, I take pictures of him as he throws a crumpled bag and a plastic cup from McDonald’s into a trash can. He goes to the CASHIER’s window to pay in advance for his gas.

Out of my car, tweezers in gloved hand, I remove his McDonald’s cup from the trash. Back in my car, I place the cup in a brand-new brown paper bag—which, unlike plastic, will keep any prints from being rubbed out. I drive away, but not before taking a picture of the Econoline’s license plate.


REPORTERS out front. News helicopters hovering above. I drive into the garage and the reporters crowd in behind me so that it’s impossible to shut the electric garage door. Surrounded, I can’t make sense of their shouted questions.


                                        Please. Not now.

(I don’t feel like being reasonable)

                                        Get off my property, scumbags! Get off!

They fall back to the sidewalk with their cameras and microphones, staking out the closest available public space, where, under the aegis of Free Press, the law says they have the right to remain without a thing I can do about it.

In the solitude of my closed garage, I put the envelope containing the shredded sock and the bag containing the McDonald’s cup into my briefcase. I remember to take off the latex glove.


I expect to find Kay in our daughter’s room, surrounded by Jennie’s things, exhausted from sorrow. Instead, she’s sitting on the couch in the living room, wrapped in a blanket and scribbling in a blue Mead notebook. Since starting therapy, she’s became a compulsive list-maker: daily lists of the number of times I annoy her in a twelve-hour period, each broken down into sub-lists based on the causes of her annoyance—my obtuseness, my tone of voice, my being lenient with Jennie when I should have been strict, or vice versa. I haven’t handled the list-making well.

She doesn’t look up as I pass through the room. If not for the police in the kitchen, I would snatch the notebook off her lap.


The McDonald’s cup and the sock in front of me on my desk. I take a fiberglass brush from a drawer, a tin of fingerprint powder, fingerprint tape, and a lift card. I twirl the handle of the brush between the palms of my hands to fluff out the bristles. I dip the brush into the powder and lightly dust one side of the McDonald’s cup. Three prints become visible and I dust lightly in the direction of the flow of the print. I press the fingerprint tape carefully down on one of the prints, making sure to leave no air pockets. I peel off the tape in one quick motion and press it against the lift card. I do all of this again, lifting the other two fingerprints. I spray the sock with luminol, checking for blood. Negative.

I turn on the television, mute the sound. Flip from channel to channel, news program to news program. I see the reporters standing outside my house, footage of me yelling at them in my garage. A school photo of Jennie appears onscreen and before I can stop myself I’m hiccuping with sobs. I cover my mouth to prevent Kay from hearing me.


I stare out the window at the journalists on the sidewalk, swarming a box of donuts sitting open on the rear deck of a News 4 van.

It’s been nearly impossible to keep the police out of “Rx” long enough to endanger Lindsey’s life. She’s a cop-in-training, for Christ’s sake. Wouldn’t she tell other trainees what she was investigating? Or her instructors? As the story stands, she keeps quiet because she wants to solve her first case on her own.

I decide to make Lindsey McGregor an investigative journalist for the LA Times. She’s never had a big story and her boss is threatening to fire her. Uncovering the insurance scam could fast-track her career. Maybe her father, whom she’s never been able to please or impress (he wanted a son), will turn out to be the doctor running the scam.

I make the changes, substituting one bunch of crap for another, and email the pages to Donna’s office. The doorbell rings.


Kay answers the door, blanket over her shoulders like a giant shawl, ballpoint tucked behind her right ear, in one hand her stupid Mead notebook. It’s Guzman.


                                        A jogger found a girl’s body. Off a fire road
                                        in Griffith Park.

Kay gasps.


                                        What was a jogger doing off the fire road?

Guzman is practiced in the art of the silent stare: the narrowed eyes, the slight flare of the nostrils, the vertical crease in the center of the forehead. No doubt it’s a stare that has brought many guilt-ridden criminals to confession.


                                        The body was spotted from the road.

The dead girl isn’t Jennie. I go into my office and come back with the fingerprints lifted from the McDonald’s cup.


                                        Check these against your database.

Guzman, frowning, pockets the envelope containing the lift card.


                                        We need one of you to come to the morgue.

Kay knots her hands together. I cover them with one of my own. I feel her stop breathing. The girl isn’t Jennie. This whole thing is ridiculous. But Kay won’t be put off. She’s coming, too.


A cold room of stainless steel and tile, commonplace in thrillers and police procedurals. Most of the dead are kept along one wall, in vaults resembling oversized file drawers, but six bodies lie on gurneys in the center of the room, bare feet poking out from underneath the sheet, I.D. tags hanging limp from big toes. A MAN IN A LAB COAT waits for us at the last body in the row.

Guzman nods. The technician lifts the sheet. Kay has been a tightly wound presence till now.




She laughs—relieved, hysterical laughter. The girl can’t be older than nine or ten. Her death is a tragedy, but it’s someone else’s tragedy.


Guzman looks troubled.




                                        No one else has recently called in a missing
                                        girl fitting her description.

In other words, he’s got a body with no case.


                                        I had someone check those prints you gave me.
                                        No match.

He doesn’t say what I already know: that the longer Jennie is missing, the less likely it is she’ll be found alive.


There is nothing like the quiet of a suddenly childless home. Kay and I listen to voicemail messages from friends who offer words of hope. The phone rings. Kay makes no move to answer it. I remember a quote but not who said it: to have a child is to forever have your heart go walking around outside your body.


(into the phone)


The voice on the other end—robotic, disguised—says Jennie’s name. An officer steps from the kitchen and gestures for me to talk, but I’m going to skip this part because no one wants their life to devolve too far into tired tropes. Besides, the voice is full of shit.

When the connection is cut, an officer takes the receiver from me and hangs it up.



                                        What do we do?


At my desk, staring at nothing, on a conference call with Donna Ruskin and associate producer Hugh Brown.


(via speaker phone)

                                        The changes you made are great. Absolutely great.


(via speaker phone)

                                        There are still a few details to discuss. Like we 
                                        don’t ever find out why the guy with the dog
                                        is killed.


                                        And you definitely made Lindsey’s character less 
                                        reactive, but now we’re worried that she’s sort 
                                        of almost recklessly ambitious, and we’re still 
                                        wondering about superpowers…

I stop listening. They’re suggesting changes, revisions, which aren’t suggestions at all but requirements. If I don’t rewrite accordingly, I’ll be fired. I’ve already been fired three times from this project.


                                        …and the pay-off of Lindsey’s father having 
                                        wanted a son isn’t all it could be.

I envision myself standing over Donna in her office, venting everything at her, demanding that she offer suggestions for me, my life.


The site of Jennie’s abduction. I bring the Volvo to a stop at the curb and turn off the engine. Out of my car, I lower myself to hands and knees and spread apart the blades of grass to get at the dirt, the buried roots. I touch my forehead to the damp, cool ground.


Home after driving around for hours. Kay groggy from a Vicodin-induced nap. Guzman and an UNDERCOVER OFFICER are waiting.


(brushing at his forehead)

                                        You have…dirt.

I wipe the crumbs of dirt from my forehead. What I’m about to do is pointless.


Northeast corner of Figueroa and 5th Street. Per the disguised-as-a-robot-full-of-shit voice on the phone, I drop a backpack full of police cash into a trash can at exactly 3:30 a.m., and I’m walking away when a red Jeep Grand Cherokee speeds into view. A YOUNG MAN jumps out of the front passenger side and retrieves the backpack from the garbage can, the Jeep already rolling again before he’s back in his seat with the door closed.

Squad cars with flashing roof lights block Figueroa in both directions. I should have known this was going to happen. I sprint toward the MEN stepping from the Jeep with their arms raised, the POLICE with their guns drawn, standing behind the open doors of their cars.

Somebody grabs me from behind. I keep surging forward until I’m wrestling more than one person. Guzman points his gun at me.


                                        Hold it! Just fucking HOLD IT!

I stop, breathing hard, a cop on each arm.


I pace the hall. Guzman comes out of an interrogation room.


                                        It’s not them.

One of his detective stares: gauging, interpreting. He’s no doubt adept at reading microexpressions. I don’t try to feign surprise.


                                        They’re just a couple of rich asshole kids from the 
                                        Palisades who saw the kidnapping on the news 
                                        and thought it’d be fun to hit you up for cash.

He doesn’t say there are statistics to contend with: hundreds of thousands of children abducted every year in America, thousands never recovered.


                                        I’ve stopped watching movies and most TV. Do you know

No expertise in reading microexpressions necessary: he’s confused.


                                        Too often, what’s supposed to be emotionally 
                                        searing is crudely manipulative, maudlin, and 
                                        deals too heavily in the redemptive power of love, 
                                        which I find it hard to believe in, as much as                                         I wish I could.




                                        C’mon, I’ll drive you home.


Guzman orders the reporters to keep their distance. They ignore him, jostling me as I struggle up the front walk. The door to the house opens and Kay emerges, wrapped in her blanket, anxious, straining to see if Jennie is behind me. I shake my head, and the reporters take pictures as my bawling wife runs up to me and punches my arms and chest, blubbering things through her grief-twisted mouth that I can’t understand, punching and swatting at me, and I let her.