The sky above the city was cloudy and moonless, and the lights from downtown cast a strange glow in the low hanging clouds. It was colder out, and Jeremy was thankful that the bar was warm and cozy, even despite the masked smell of spilled liquor and stale cigarettes. From his booth in the back of the bar, he could see the entirety of the front portion of the bar – only the bathrooms and empty pool tables were behind him. He sat and shifted impatiently in his seat as he waited for Dillon to show up. A vague message from his friend the night before had left a burning need for information in his mind.
Eddie’s Bar wasn’t nearly as dead as Jeremy had expected it to be. Business looked to be slow but steady with a dozen people in the bar including Jeremy. People trickled in and out of the bar casually, while he sat in his booth watching the door intently. The soft red and yellow lights of the bar cast a relaxing glow and the headache and hangover from the day before were slowly receding. Sitting in the back of public places so he could see the door had been a habit he had kept from his days as a uniformed police officer. If something bad happened, he always wanted to see it coming.
Two glasses of scotch sat on the table – one in front of him and one in front of the seat opposite him. He had ordered drinks at the bar and sat down. Eddie had welcomed Jeremy back with a nod of recognition as he set the glasses on the counter in front of him and then went back to helping patrons at the bar. Aside from two older men drinking together and watching television, the majority of the people in the bar seemed to know each other and looked to be twenty-somethings celebrating the beginning of the weekend in their favorite dive bar.
Jeremy looked down at his cell phone and unlocked the screen. He tapped and slid his way through the menu to get to his recent message from Dillon.
“We need to talk. 8 pm tomorrow. Pick a place, but it can’t be a regular cop stop.”
Jeremy’s response was an easy decision. He sent Dillon the address of Eddie’s Bar, right across the street from his apartment.
Dillon’s reply was short and without explanation. “I’ll be there.”
Now, Dillon was late. He pushed his phone off to the side of the table. Dillon was only a few minutes late, but Jeremy could do nothing but wait and drink. He lifted the glass in front of him and took a small sip of the bright amber liquor. Jeremy savored the oak and sherry notes as the scotch warmed his throat. As he continued to look at the door, he slowly rotated the glass on the table with his fingertips.
Finally, the door opened, and a familiar figure stepped into the bar, glancing around for Jeremy. Dillon Randall. He was a black man who stood a couple inches taller than Jeremy, with a muscular build that pushed the limits of his suit. Dillon was a man in peak physical condition, and he enjoyed his intimidating appearance. Jeremy wasn’t surprised to see he still had his signature shaved bald head and carefully sculpted beard; Dillon was a man of habit, from his workouts to his appearance.
Jeremy waved his hand and stood up as Dillon began walking over to the booth. Dillon was wearing a gray and white suit and carrying a folder in his hand.
The two men shook hands, and Dillon slapped Jeremy on the shoulder and flashed a smile.
“Hey Dillon,” Jeremy greeted him, uncertain of anything else to say to start off the conversation.
“It’s good to see you again, brother,” Dillon replied as Jeremy motioned for him to join him. Dillon unbuttoned his jacket and slid into the booth’s seat, setting the folder on the table.
“Yeah, you too. Sorry, I kind of disappeared from the world.” Jeremy said. Now, face-to-face with Dillon, he felt even worse for not returning his calls.
“You needed time. I understand.” Dillon shrugged. “How are you doing?”
“I’m alive,” Jeremy said flatly and forced a laugh.
“It’s better than the alternative,” Dillon said matter of factly.
Jeremy nodded at the glass sitting in front of Dillon on the table.
Dillon picked it up and studied it for a moment, waving the glass slowly under his nose as he sniffed at it. “Scotch?” he asked.
Jeremy nodded in silence as he picked his own glass up and raised it in a mock toast.
“Predictable,” Dillon started. “I’m sorry for being a prick last night on the phone.”
“It’s no problem. It just seemed strange to get that reaction,” Jeremy replied. He studied Dillon and took a drink. Dillon was obviously nervous, which wasn’t a trait he was used to seeing in him.
As if to confirm Jeremy’s thought, Dillon glanced back over his shoulder at the entry of the bar and quickly looked over each of the people inside.
“Yeah, a lot of that has been going on lately,” Dillon said as he turned back to face Jeremy.
“Strange shit,” Dillon responded.
“What’s going on?” Jeremy asked as he leaned forward, placing his forearms onto the table.
“That case,” Dillon said in a hushed voice. He looked around once more, and Jeremy was confident his friend was checking to make sure no one in the bar was paying the two of them any attention. No one in the bar was interested in them. Dillon slid the unlabelled folder toward Jeremy and tapped his index finger on it.
Jeremy moved the folder closer to himself and rotated it. He opened it and inside were several photos of women. One of them was Andrea, and the others all looked very similar to Andrea. Paperclipped behind each picture was a missing person report and notes taken by an investigating officer. The notes bore the signature of a different detective named Santos.
“Officially, this report and the others like it are a priority for the police department,” Dillon began explaining as Jeremy thumbed through the reports and notes.
“And unofficially?” Jeremy asked as he looked up briefly.
Dillon took a long drink from the glass of scotch in front of him and set the glass back down as he shifted in his seat to lean forward. He kept his voice low enough for only Jeremy to hear as he spoke. “Unofficially, we are not permitted to link those cases or any similar ones together.”
“Why the hell not?” Jeremy asked as he continued skimming through the documents.
“You’ve fucking got me. Someone is using a lot of favors to make sure these cases are not linked and that the idea of a serial killer in the city is not mentioned. Anywhere.” Dillon explained.
Jeremy looked at the photos of each of the four women who had been reported missing. Andrea’s picture was the first, and each woman after her bore a striking resemblance to her – not only physically, but also in the details of their lives. He looked up at the man across from him, unable to think of anything to say.
“As far as I could find out, Andrea Wynn and at least three other women of similar descriptions have gone missing in the past four months,” Dillon began. “Word came down from the Chief and then the Captain, that no one is to give out details or look at these cases as anything other than missing persons.”
“What the hell…” Jeremy began to ask, but his voice trailed off as he got to the reports on the other three women after Andrea and realized there was a vague coroner’s report attached to each.
“I don’t know, but that’s what Santos and I were working on together. Santos found these half-assed coroner’s reports and made the connections. He took it to the Captain after getting nothing from the Homicide division.”
“What did they say?” Jeremy asked as he struggled to make sense of the lack of detail for each of the coroner’s reports.
“The next day Santos was placed on administrative leave. I was warned to keep my mouth shut and not do anything like try to link the deaths and disappearances of the women to each other to avoid ‘inciting an unnecessary panic.’” Dillon made air quotes with his fingers at his last words.
“Yeah, but I haven’t heard anything about the deaths or the disappearances,” Jeremy wondered aloud as his mind tried to come up with a reason that no one had heard of them.
“Exactly. It hasn’t hit the news and it won’t. Only a handful of people know about any of the others after the first victim was found and I’m not even sure she was the first victim.” Dillon said as he took a long drink and emptied the glass of scotch. “They’re keeping a tight lid on it. One a month since the first victim was found and that’s just that we know of. Those are the three that I could confirm so far and if your friend Andrea Wynn isn’t lucky – she’s probably the fourth.”
“How the fuck can they just sweep something like that under and expect no one to connect the dots?” Jeremy exclaimed. He had to force himself to lower his voice.
“Jer, they are literally threatening to fire people and fuck with their lives. I’ve been warned that I could lose my job and retirement. As far as the police department is concerned, Andrea Wynn, based on her history, most likely ran away from more problems in her life.” Dillon explained as he tapped the folder with his fingertip once more.
“That’s why you hung up on me,” Jeremy said. He suddenly realized precisely why Dillon had been so short with him when he had called the police department to ask questions.
“I’m not supposed to be talking to anyone about it or looking into it any more than I have,” Dillon began. “I’m taking it seriously, not just because of the statements from her roommate and ex-boyfriend, but also because of what has happened the past couple of months. There’s a chance she could have just decided to up and leave, but all this bullshit leads me to believe otherwise.”
Jeremy nodded as he closed the folder and slid it off to one side.
“It’s not much,” Dillon said. “Take a look at it when you get home. That is literally everything I could manage to pull and make copies of without getting noticed. I think the coroner reports are fake too, but I couldn’t get any further.”
“Dillon, I’m sorry man. I didn’t know.” Jeremy tried to apologize but was cut off by Dillon raising his hand to stop him.
“I can’t do anything about this without putting a target on my back, but maybe you can,” Dillon said in a solemn tone.
Jeremy took a deep breath and finished off his glass of scotch and set it back down on the table.
“I’ve got to get back to work,” Dillon said as he slid out from the booth and stood up. He pulled a twenty dollar bill out of his wallet and set it down next to his glass. “Keep in touch.”
Jeremy quickly stood, and the two men shook hands once more, this time with Dillon pulling Jeremy closer and patting him on the back.
As Dillon pulled Jeremy into a loose hug, he whispered, “Text me if you find anything out and if anyone finds that shit – you say whatever you have to, but you didn’t get it from me.”
Jeremy nodded and then watched as Dillon turned and left. He grabbed the folder and made sure all of the contents were tucked inside before he headed home with it tucked tightly under his arm. He had so many questions.
Why was everything being kept a secret?
Was there a serial killer in the city, somewhere?
Where was Andrea and was she okay?