Chapter 8

madeleine-ragsdale-691073-unsplashKatherine Nilsson watched everything from her office on the second floor of her club, Eternity, as she waited for Christian to return from his errand. Looking down at the club through walls of mirrored and tempered glass, she could see most of the club without having to worry about anyone being able to see into her office. Her grey-eyed gaze rolled over the masses of people on the dance floor and then turned toward the bar.  The strobing lights and pulsing music below barely affected her senses. It was a good night. The club was packed, and most of the people working below were rushing around or at least they should be.

Katherine’s eyes fixed on Shyanne as she interacted with a man at the bar. Standing alone in the darkness of her private office, she folded her arms across her chest in disapproval. Shyanne was at the bar, talking to a man who had passed her something on a piece of paper. She could not see the man’s face from her viewpoint, but he seemed out of place and still had Shyanne’s constant attention. This wasn’t a good thing, especially since it was obvious she was trying to captivate him. She did not seem to understand restraint, but Katherine hoped to help her as she grew more used to the world she had recently joined.

As Katherine continued watching, the man turned to leave and made his way through the crowd. She watched as he made his way awkwardly through the club and smiled as he turned and walked right into whom she had been waiting for. Her arms unfolded as she studied Christian’s reaction to the man bumping into him. Christian seemed upset, but not threatened and that was enough for her to look back over to the bar. Shyanne was leaving the bar with a look of concern, and it seemed as if she was headed directly toward the office.

With a sigh, Katherine turned and smoothed out the sleeves of the black leather dress that clung to her tall and lean frame. She began moving toward the door of her office and paused in front of a mirror. She swept her long blonde hair over one shoulder and then walked from her office and into the relatively private area that was reserved exclusively for club members.

There was no one else in the room at the moment save for two men hired for security. Two guards stood next to the elevator and stairs that led up to the room, and another two were downstairs to make sure that only approved club members were permitted upstairs. It ensured the sheep did not know of the predators among them.

The room was illuminated by recessed lighting that cast dim red and blue light across everything. Ornate French Rococo sofas and daybeds were spread about the large open area. A sleek, black grand piano was in one corner near the long, dark oak table where Katherine held meetings. With red walls adorned with several baroque paintings, the room was different from the club downstairs. There were some things from her past she had been unwilling to part with over the years, and so she kept them either here or at her home.

Katherine felt a craving inside her building but knew she would have to be patient and tend to business concerning the city first. The elevator dinged and the doors opened slowly. She met Shyanne’s eyes as she stepped out of the elevator.

She folded her arms over her chest again as Shyanne walked over. The leather of her dress creaked softly as she nodded at the guards and they both moved out of view into the curving stairwell.

“Who was the blood bag?” Katherine asked in a flat tone.

“He was asking a lot of questions around the club, so I thought it best if I talk to him,” Shyanne replied defensively.

“It looked as if you wanted to do more than talk to him…” Katherine intentionally let her comment trail off.

“I don’t know, there’s something about him. I can sense it on him.” Shyanne tried to hide the smile sneaking across her face.

“Is he a cop?” Katherine asked.

“No. At least I don’t think so.” Shyanne paused. “He’s looking for a missing friend who he says has come into the club.”

“You should have just turned him away,” Katherine began. “I’m not concerned about one person asking questions about missing people. The cops leave us alone because I tell them to.”

Shyanne nodded but pressed the issue. “I think you should look into it.”

Katherine walked over to the small bar, and Shyanne followed her.

“Why do you think I should do that?” Katherine asked as she uncorked an unlabelled bottle and poured herself a drink. The amber liquor flowed into the glass, and she replaced the cork on the bottle and let both items sit on the bar. She looked at Shyanne from behind the bar with emotionless eyes.

“His friend looks a lot like the others,” Shyanne said as she placed photographs on the bar top between them.

“The others?” Katherine asked as she looked down at the photos with insincere curiosity. She knew what Shyanne was hinting at, but did not want to hear the answer.

The photographs showed a young and attractive woman smiling at the camera. She had long, blonde hair, blue eyes, and vibrant skin. The woman in the photo was beautiful, without a doubt. Katherine sighed and felt her rage mounting, but forced her emotions deep into the darker parts of her mind. Self-control was necessary in front of those who swore loyalty to her.

Katherine looked back up to Shyanne. “I see.”

“Is there anything you want from me?” Shyanne asked.

Katherine studied her for a long moment. Shyanne was young and searching for her place in a world of monsters masquerading as their former selves. Katherine was no exception, though, over centuries, she had learned the importance of composure. To lead the city, she knew she had to be someone others wanted to follow. Her focus was turning more and more toward identifying the killer amongst their kind.

Finally, Katherine replied, “Not at this time, Christian has been out looking into what we know so far. I am appreciative that you brought this to my attention so quickly, perhaps he knows something we don’t.”

Katherine lifted the glass up to her face and inhaled through her nose. The notes of honey and berries in the mead reminded her of a time long ago, and she closed her eyes briefly allowing herself to be lost in memories from lifetimes ago.

“Jeremy.”

“What?” Katherine’s eyes snapped open bringing her back to reality. Shyanne was now sitting at the bar and had flipped over one of the photos, showing where his name and phone number had been written down.

“His name is Jeremy LeBlanc,” Shyanne added as she tapped the photo.

Katherine could hear the rising tone in Shyanne’s voice as she said the man’s name. She was about to respond when a soft ding came from the direction of the elevator. Both women looked in the direction of the elevator and Katherine smiled softly as Christian exited the elevator, moving toward the bar.

Katherine called out a greeting to Christian in Japanese, to which he nodded his head in response. She knew he was of Japanese descent and that was all she knew of his history before the two of them met. He did not offer, and she did not ask. He had been at her side for a long time, and she knew the one thing that mattered most. He was the closest thing to a trustworthy ally in a world of deceptive predators.

She watched Christian as he moved. His was impeccably well-dressed in a black suit and the leather trench coat wrapped around his wiry, athletic frame nearly touched the floor. He had a swagger to his walk as if he had nothing to fear and as far as Katherine knew – it was true. Somewhere within him, underneath his calm demeanor was a storm of ferocity and ruthlessness.

Christian leaned up against the bar next to Shyanne without a word. Katherine noted the subtle shift in Shyanne’s posture as she angled herself slightly away from Christian. Shyanne was always uncomfortable around him, and Katherine watched as she seemingly forgot that the two of them were having a conversation. She wondered if Shyanne would ever get past her uneasiness around him.

“Shyanne?” Katherine asked as she leaned down against the bar to look her in the eyes.

“Yes?” Shyanne replied as she met her gaze.

“If there is nothing else, you are dismissed. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.”

Shyanne nodded silently and quickly turned to leave.

Katherine glanced over at Christian as he ran his hand gently over the stubble of his short beard. His face was expressionless, and she shook her head at him in disapproval.

“One more thing, Shyanne,” she called out as she looked down at the photos and flipped them back over to see the young woman in them.

“Yes?” Shyanne turned fully to face her as she paused at the elevator. She forced a smile as she met Katherine’s gaze.

“Stay away from this human, Jeremy LeBlanc. Christian will look into him.”

The smile vanished from Shyanne’s face, and she nodded in silence once again before turning and heading back downstairs.

With Shyanne out of the VIP area, she turned to Christian and sighed. “Why do you always have to do that?”

Christian shrugged as he finally took a seat at the bar. “I do not mean to intimidate her.”

“We both know that is a lie,” Katherine responded flatly and drank the glass of mead in front of her and let the taste sink in. “I think you enjoy making her uncomfortable.”

“Perhaps she is concerned I will come for her one day?” he replied.

“That is possible,” Katherine paused before changing the subject and sliding the photos on the bar over to him. “There may be another one.”

His face was calm as he studied the photos for a moment and then looked up to meet her gaze. He shook his head slowly. “You will not enjoy the news I have.”

“That is dependent on if you actually have news.”

“Nothing,” he said as he shook his head. “The police have nothing new, but they are at least keeping the deaths unlinked and off the news. I have not been able to find anything linking to anyone, but I am certain it is one of us.”

“Everyone in the city knows better than to cross me.”

“It could be someone new or someone acting out against you.”

“All the more reason to know who is violating my rules,” she replied as she gripped the glass in her hand and rotated it slowly, watching the mead gently slosh. She weighed the possibilities of it being someone new who didn’t know her orders or someone in her circle that was potentially making a move against her.

“I agree. When we find out who is responsible, they will see their last sunrise.”

“I need another favor, Christian,” Katherine said as she looked back down at the photos on the bar and copied down the phone number written on the back onto a napkin from the bar.

Christian leaned back in his seat, listening calmly.

“A human came in tonight who did not belong. He was asking about this missing woman and said he knew she had been in Eternity. In case she is the latest to be taken, I want you to have someone review the archived footage for her. If she has been here – I want to know when and who she was with.”

He nodded. “Anything else?”

“Find out what you can about this Jeremy LeBlanc,” she said as she tapped the phone number on the back of the photo.

“Do you want me to be direct?”

“No, I doubt there’s a need for you to pay him a visit,” she replied. “I think I will go see him. Shyanne said she sensed something was different about him. You should have seen the way she was throwing herself at him at the bar.”

Christian sighed. “She reads them like a crystal ball and goes through them too quickly for such a small girl.”

“That’s not what concerns me,” Katherine began. “He seemed completely unaffected by her and left of his own free will.”

“He’s lucky. Shyanne has drugged the last two because she’s figured out she can feel the effects when she feeds from them.”

“Nevertheless,” Katherine said as the faint smile disappeared from her lips. “I think I will introduce myself and see what he knows. I want you to call a meeting, all club members must attend. They have two nights to respond.”

Christian nodded and excused himself, taking the photos with him and leaving her alone at the bar. She moved over to lie down on one of the daybeds, relaxing against the soft cushion and pillows.  She could still hear the pulsing beat of music coming from the club below. As she lay there, she wondered what it was that Shyanne had sensed in the human from earlier that night. She refused to trust Shyanne’s ability to read others but decided she would see for herself how he could resist Shyanne’s supernatural allure.


Photo by madeleine ragsdale on Unsplash

Chapter 7

madeleine-ragsdale-691073-unsplash

The fluorescent lights were bright against the white painted concrete walls of the parking garage. Voices echoed throughout the structure as people came and went. The weekend was here, and the city was vibrant with energy, despite the cold. Just outside of the city’s center, this district of the city was colorful and illuminated by lights from the businesses that came to life at night.

Jeremy’s footsteps echoed softly as he exited the garage and stopped on the sidewalk and looked around. The center of the street was divided by small trees, and the sidewalk was wider here than in other areas of the city. Groups of people moved along the paths on both sides of the street as they made their way to whatever bar or club had their interest. It had been a long time since he had come to this area and he had nearly forgotten how many people were down here at night. There was a jazz lounge down the block where Nicolette had played frequently, and he had not gone back since she passed. There were too many painful memories that came to his mind when he remembered how happy she was while playing piano and singing.

After crossing the street, Jeremy found himself standing in front of a building at the end of the block. It didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the area. Most of the buildings in this part of the entertainment district were brightly lit and colorful structures that were either recently renovated or newer construction altogether. This building was old brick and two stories tall, with all of its windows looking as if they had been blacked out. Uncertain if he was in the right location, he double-checked the address he had written down. The building matched the address to a club called Eternity. From the looks of it, Jeremy was almost convinced it was an abandoned warehouse – until he heard laughter.

Following the sounds of laughter toward the corner of the building, Jeremy moved through a crowd of people walking in the opposite direction. As he rounded the corner, he knew he must be in the right place. This must be Eternity. Halfway down the side of the structure, there was an arched entrance leading inside. There was a line of people stretching all the way to the end of the building, and he guessed there were at least a hundred people crowded together in the cold night waiting to file inside for their nightly entertainment. He had no luck finding any information at Stone’s Dance Hall or Club Majestic – the other two locations on his list from the last charges on Andrea’s bank statement. This was his last stop for the night, but he dreaded the thought of waiting in a line again.

He approached the trio of bouncers at the head of the line directly. All of the bouncers were tall, well-built, and well dressed in suits. As he stopped in front of the entrance and waited for one of them to acknowledge him, people waiting near the front of the line began to grumble about letting him in before those who had been waiting. The closest doorman – a burly man with a short, military-style crew cut, looked directly at Jeremy with a piercing stare.

“Whatever it is, piss off and go to the back of the line like everyone else,” the bouncer said gruffly before Jeremy could get out a greeting. The other two briefly looked in his direction and went back to checking the line of people and allowing some in and telling others they would have to wait.

Jeremy was about to respond when a soft laugh came from beside him. He turned to see a woman approaching the doorman from the direction he had come. The woman had a long mane of vibrant purple hair swept over to one side of her head with the exposed side of her head shaved down to the skin. She was wearing a black corset and skirt, and Jeremy was sure she must be in a rush to get in from the cold. Jeremy stepped out of her way as she flashed him a thin-lipped smirk.

“Aw, sorry honey… maybe next time,” the woman said in a mischievous and mocking tone. She reached up to gently stroke his cheek as she passed by and then stopped as her cold hand ran over the stubble of his five o’clock shadow. The smirk briefly disappeared from her and reappeared as she pulled her hand back and looked at the doorman.

“Hey Shy,” the doorman greeted her. “Go on in.”

“On second thought, why don’t you let this one in. He’s delicious.” the woman said playfully. She turned, and her light blue eyes fixated on Jeremy, and with a nod, she gestured for him to follow her inside.

“Welcome to Eternity,” the man said as he pulled the door open for them both.

Without hesitation, the bouncers moved to let the woman lead Jeremy in. He heard grumbles from people still waiting in line, but the voices faded as the woman took his hand and led him into a dark corridor. It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the barely lit corridor and he realized that the only light was sneaking through the small gap between large wooden double doors at the end of the hall. A pulsing rhythm of bass got louder as they moved down the hall. The woman released his hand and pushed open the double doors, which held open for a moment and slowly closed.

Inside the club, the music was unhindered and flowed throughout the whole of the open floor. The whole club pulsed with the distorted bass and rapid percussion of industrial music. The woman turned back to him with the same smirk she had initially greeted him with.

“Have a look around and then come find me at the main bar,” she said in a voice raised just enough for him to hear her over the music.

Jeremy nodded and mouthed thanks to her, although he wasn’t sure she could actually hear his voice. She leaned in close, and he felt her soft lips press against his cheek. He was disoriented by her kiss, and before he could pull away from her, she stepped back. Without another word, she walked off smiling and disappeared into the crowd of people inside the club.

Jeremy took his time walking around the club. He would have never guessed it was here if not for the throng of people waiting to get in. In the center of the club, there was a large open dance floor. Blue ambient light poured over everything with red accent lights illuminating booths, tables, and dancer cages. Along the edges of the dance floor, there were white leather lounge couches and tables. Large mirrors were spread all around the walls, and the ceiling was covered in mirrored tiles.

A DJ wearing a bronzed tragedy mask entertained the dancing mob from behind a booth in the center of a small stage. The dance floor was a mass of clubgoers scantily clad in dark velvet, leather, and lace grinding and writhing against each other to the beat of the music. Those people not dancing were carousing and cheering from the tables and booths encircling women spinning and dancing in cages.

In twenty minutes of squeezing his way past people, Jeremy had spoken to almost a dozen of the servers moving in and out of the lounge areas. He had shown the photograph copies of Andrea that he had brought with him, and each time he had no luck with gaining new information about her. He had gotten looks ranging from disinterest to irritation. One of the women he had spoken to had even looked him up and down and told him he clearly didn’t belong in the club and that he should leave. He was done for the night. He’d been in stranger situations when he was a beat cop but it was almost two in the morning, and he was exhausted.

Jeremy meandered back through the crowd and squeezed between a cluster of people to thank the woman who had helped him get in. After that, he resolved to get the hell out of the deafening club and go home. The only problem was that he couldn’t see the violet-haired woman near his side of the bar. As he leaned against the bar and looked down the other end, the nearest bartender, a pale-skinned man dressed in a red-vested Victorian suit, stepped over to help him.

“What can I get you?” he asked Jeremy.

Jeremy didn’t have a response, he wasn’t in the mood to drink in a place like this. Deciding he would try once more, he showed the man a photo of Andrea.

“Sorry man, do you have any idea how many people come in here?” the other man said as he stroked his hand through his painstakingly shaped mustache.

“You finally decided to come see me?” a woman’s voice called out. It seemed clearer to him than any other voice through the cacophony of sound in the club.

Jeremy turned to face the voice and saw a flare of violet hair as the woman who had helped him moved next to the other bartender. It was the woman he had heard the doorman call Shy, but she seemed anything but shy.

“Hey, I meant to say thank you,” Jeremy began. “Shy, right? I’m Jeremy.”

“Nice to meet you. It’s short for Shyanne, but you can call me whatever you want,” she said as she stuck the tip of her tongue between her lips and leaned against the bar toward him.

Jeremy pushed himself up and away from the bar, putting distance between he and Shy only to realize that either way he had a candidly personal view of her cleavage. He was damned if he did lean close to her on the bar and damned if he didn’t.

“What’s this?” Shy asked as she studied the photo of Andrea on the bar top. She rotated the image to view it right-side up. “You’re looking for her? Are you a cop?”

“No. I’m not a cop – she’s a friend, and I’m just trying to find out what happened to her,” Jeremy began. “Her name is Andrea Wynn. Do you recognize her? She would have been here a few weeks ago.”

The other bartender walked off to help people at the bar, leaving Jeremy and Shy at the bar in their conversation.

“I don’t recognize her, but I see a lot of faces,” Shy replied. “Not everyone comes up to the bar though. Did you talk to any of the servers?”

“Yeah,” Jeremy’s voice trailed off and was drowned out by the music. He shook his head.

A server came up to the bar next to Jeremy and laid a tray down. It was the same woman who had told Jeremy he didn’t belong in the club. She rolled her eyes at him as he moved to give her more space at the bar.

“Shy, my VIP table needs more glasses for their bottle service and mixers. He said to surprise him.” the woman called out over the music. She slid a folded stack of what Jeremy guessed were hundred dollar bills to Shy.

“No prob,” Shy replied as she began grabbing glasses and bottles and putting them on the tray. She glanced over at Jeremy and then back at the server. “Hey Hannah, did you check out the photos he has?”

Hannah made an expression that Shy obviously didn’t enjoy. Jeremy was surprised to see Shy slap her hand hard on the bar top in front of the server to get her attention.

“Hey! Don’t be shitty to my friend!” Shy shouted over the music. “Look at the pics, or I will give your section to someone else.”

Startled, Hannah’s entire demeanor shifted, and she began apologizing profusely to both Jeremy and Shy.

“I’m so sorry! I didn’t realize you knew Shy.” Hannah exclaimed as she moved closer to Jeremy and spun both pictures around to look at them.

“Her name’s…” Jeremy started but was interrupted by Hannah.

“Andrea,” Hannah said matter of factly.

“Yeah, do you know her?” Jeremy asked as he felt hope creep back in from the back of his mind.

“Not really but she’s been here a few times,” Hannah replied. “I was serving a group she was with, and she drew a picture of me on a coaster and signed it. I don’t have the coaster on me, but I took a picture of it.” Hannah pulled her cell phone out from the waistband of her skirt and swiped through several photos before showing Jeremy a sketch of herself drawn on one of the club’s stark white coasters. It definitely looked like Andrea’s style.

Shy clapped her hands together and smiled at Jeremy. She went back to stocking the tray and then slid it to the edge of the bar next to Hannah.

“When was the last time you saw her?” Jeremy asked.

“It’s been… a couple weeks,” Hannah guessed. “I haven’t seen her, but I’ve seen the guy she was fawning all over back in here a couple times with a new girl. He’s damn hot and oh my god, his accent.” Hannah shivered as she added the last part.

“Do you know his name or remember what he looks like?” Jeremy leaned in as he questioned her.

After a few moments of pondering, Hannah slowly shook her head. “You know, now that I think about it I can’t remember exactly,” she said and paused. “Weird, I can’t actually remember his face. He’s tall and always wears dark suits. He was definitely British though.” she added.

“That’s it?” Jeremy asked with a heavy shrug. He pulled the pictures of Andrea up and held them in front of Hannah. “She’s been missing for a month. You’ve got to give me more.”

Hannah took a step back. “I’m sorry, for some reason I just can’t picture his face,” she began. “I remember his eyes though. They were this piercing, dreamy gray.” She shrugged blankly as she began to pick up the tray and shuffle the glasses and bottle around to balance evenly.

“Damnit,” Jeremy said and slammed his hand on the bar.

Hannah stepped back and excused herself, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to get back to my tables. I’m sorry for being rude earlier. I hope you find her.”

Jeremy turned back to face Shy and slid the photos of Andrea back into his jacket. Hope was beginning to fade again, and Jeremy could feel the frustration building back up inside him. He tapped his hand on the bar and nodded to Shy as he got ready to leave. “Thanks anyway, I appreciate it.”

Shy’s hands reached out and caught his before it left the bar. Her hands were still cold as ice as she cupped them gently around his. “Don’t lose hope. Why don’t you leave the pictures with me and I’ll ask around? I might get better answers than you did.”

Jeremy nodded and fought a reflex to jerk his hands away. This woman was friendly – maybe a little too much, but she had been more helpful than anyone else. Shy seemed genuinely concerned, and that was a rare trait in most people as far as Jeremy was concerned. He slowly pulled his hand away and reached back into his jacket to remove the copies he had made of Andrea’s photographs. He handed them to her and then picked up a nearby pen and coaster and began writing his phone number down for Shy.

“I would really appreciate it,” Jeremy said. “If you find anything out, please get in touch with me.”

“Sure thing. I hope you find your friend.”

“Thanks. It was nice meeting you Shy.”

Shy winked as she slid a folded napkin into Jeremy’s hand. She held his hand for a few seconds before finally letting go. “Now you’ve got my number too. Don’t be a stranger.”

Jeremy took in a breath and decided not to say anything in response. Instead, he smiled and stepped away from the bar as he pocketed the napkin. As he walked away, Jeremy forced himself not to look back over his shoulder. He couldn’t explain it, but somehow he knew she was still watching him. It was an uncomfortable feeling, and something about Shy seemed off.

As he walked around the edge of the dance floor, he found himself wondering what his next step would be. Running through steps in his mind, he began making plans to start going through Andrea’s sketchbooks and talk to Dillon. Now that he could confirm there was someone who remembered seeing her with someone, maybe the police could get more information where he couldn’t. If anyone cared to try.

As he rounded the corner of the dance floor to head out the large wooden doors through which he had entered, he bumped into a man in a black suit and trench coat. Jeremy apologized and caught himself before getting completely off-balance. The man he slammed into was silent and unphased – solid in his footing. He brushed black shoulder-length hair back away from his face and looked at Jeremy for only a moment before continuing on into the crowd. At that moment, Jeremy saw a threat in his eyes – as if every fiber of the other man’s being wanted to end Jeremy’s existence. He felt threatened and suddenly wished he had his gun on him. Then the man and the feeling were gone.

Jeremy continued to watch the man walk deeper into the club. He watched as inexplicably, the rest of the crowd in the club moved away from the man, like a school of fish calmly parting for a shark to pass through without incident. Jeremy shook his head and turned to leave. It had been a long night, and he was looking forward to getting back to his dark, quiet apartment and getting some rest.


Photo by madeleine ragsdale on Unsplash

Chapter 6

madeleine-ragsdale-691073-unsplash

The rhythmic sounds of rock music poured out of the speakers surrounding the living room. Rays of sunlight poured in through the glass sliding doors that separated the balcony and the living room. The towering structures of steel and glass of downtown dwarfed the surrounding areas of the metropolis. Shadows stretched over the city as the sun lowered beyond the high-rise buildings and skyscrapers that made up the downtown skyline.

With one hand resting against the wall next to the glass doors and his other holding a glass of ice water down to his side – Jeremy looked down at the city. His green eyes scanned the city below in disinterest. Cars stuck in traffic as people impatiently attempted to make their way home. Horns honked off in the distance, and if he stepped out onto the balcony, he was sure he would hear someone shouting below. The city seemed so much different at night, and he realized how much he preferred it. It wasn’t nearly as loud except for the areas that lit up and came alive when the sun went down.

Ice clinked against the side of the glass as his hand trembled. He pushed away from the wall and turned back to the mess in his apartment. He hadn’t had any alcohol today, and already he had the shakes. He needed to focus, so, for now, water and ibuprofen would have to do.

Boxes were scattered around the kitchen and living room with their tops torn open. He had decided to pull out essentials as he was rolling over the details of the missing person reports. Glasses, plates, and silverware were now stacked on the counter of the kitchen. Mail and bills were fanned across the bartop separating the kitchen and dining area and pages and photos from the case file sorted on the otherwise undecorated dining table.

Three of the four photos were of women who had gone missing and subsequently been found dead roughly a month after. All but the final picture – the photo of Andrea Wynn. Andrea had been missing for over two weeks now, and there hadn’t been any sign of her coming back or where she could have disappeared to. Dozens of scenarios played through in Jeremy’s mind. What could have happened? It seemed most likely that she had met someone and mistakenly trusted them too much.

If she had not been found yet and had not returned on her own, something terrible had happened to her. Jeremy felt it deep down in the pit of his stomach, every time he thought too much about it. She had been lonely, recently single, and looking to fill the new void that had crept into her life. It took effort from him not to give up and write her off as dead, but something was driving him to find her. He hated seeing bad things happen to good people and Andrea Wynn was as good and deserving of help as people got in this shitty world.

With all of the details laid out on the table, Jeremy’s eyes scanned each of the documents and handwritten notes that were included in the folder. Almost every document lacked significant details that would be relevant to the cases, but the handwritten notes shined a light where the reports and documents cast shadows. The original investigating detective assigned to the cases, Enrique Santos, had done as best he could to stitch together details from friends, family, and coworkers. Santos’ notes allowed Jeremy to weave together the narrative that wasn’t being told about each of the women in the official reports.

All of them shared strong similarities to each other. Physically, they were all just over five feet tall, with long and naturally blonde hair, and blue eyes. They were all in good shape, although Jeremy couldn’t find anything in common relating to them going to the same gym or anything similar. One liked to jog, one did yoga, the other two apparently just ate right or had good genetics. Their facial structure was similar, and Jeremy guessed that if he had to pick one out of a group, the only one he could tell the difference in was Andrea and then, only because he knew her.

The real details came out when Santos started talking to the people in their lives. Old reports and conversations with friends, family members, and roommates had combined to draw a bigger picture of the similarity in the women’s lives. That picture was of abuse. All of the women had been exposed to violence on multiple occasions, and Jeremy refused to see it as a coincidence.

By the time, he had started reading the information and notes about Andrea’s life, the stories were all seeming to blend together. As he read through Andrea’s portion of the file, he found out more about her than he had in all of the time they had been neighbors. Andrea had been in trouble before she turned 18, though a lot of it was only known through Andrea’s mother and her roommate, Sarah. As he read through the notes, a narrative of an early life filled with abuse and neglect began to build itself.

Andrea had run away multiple times as a child, well into her teenage years. According to Sarah, Andrea’s father had been physically abusive to both Andrea and her mother, with Andrea having to visit the hospital at least twice for bruising and stitches. The two women lived in fear of her father’s rage until her mother finally got the courage to leave. Notes from Andrea’s mother document that things went well for a year, and she eventually remarried. That was when Andrea was 13.

More notes from Sarah indicated that at 16, Andrea was done running away. With the assistance of her high school guidance counselor, she went to the police and reported that her stepfather had been sexually abusing her for years. Her mother had been ignoring the signs, and that had driven the two of them even further apart.

By 17, she had graduated early from high school, gotten a job, and had herself emancipated as a minor. Her father was out of her life, her stepfather went to prison, and she seemingly never spoke to her mother again. That was when Andrea’s life seemed to have finally turned around. Sarah had met her shortly after as they both worked in the same department store. The two had moved in together, and Andrea had been accepted into college on an academic scholarship. Jeremy remembered Sarah saying that she had been working on a degree in clinical child psychology. It made a little bit more sense now. Andrea’s sheer will and drive impressed him.

Everything had turned away from the horrible life she had in her early years. She had dated someone off and on for a year, and by all accounts, the recent breakup between her and her boyfriend was mutual and amicable. She had a part-time job, was almost done with her degree, and was also selling her own artwork and photography. At 24, she had damn near everything going for her… except that she was now missing.

Jeremy stood at the table and took a deep breath as he tried to make sense of it all. Eyeing over the details, the similarities, the physical appearances of the women – it was more than a coincidence. Someone was taking and killing women that Andrea had all too much in common with. Questions continued to linger in his mind though.

Why were their bodies always found a month later? Were they being kept alive that entire time or were the bodies being dumped after a buffer period for some reason?

The coroner’s reports weren’t any help. The only helpful details mentioned were bruising to the wrists and severe lack of blood in the desiccated corpses that had been found. Jeremy couldn’t even find details in the reports about where the other three women’s bodies had been found – only that they had been found. He could see from the lack of information that someone was obviously holding back on working the case. From his talk with Dillon, it was apparent that whoever was stifling the case – they were high up in the chain of command.

One detective had already been placed on leave and Dillon said his retirement was threatened. Someone was using a lot of power to sway things to keep this out of the news and unsolved. Jeremy couldn’t even begin to imagine why but knew that he had to figure it out. No one else was going to and if there was a chance Andrea was still alive – he had to find her in less than two weeks.

A tapping sound broke him out of his trance, staring over all of the pieces of paper scattered over his table. It wasn’t part of the music. Jeremy walked over to the stereo and turned down the volume. Someone was knocking on the door. He slid his glass onto the table and quickly swept all of the papers up and replaced them back in the folder he had gotten from Dillon.

“Who’s there?” he called out as he hurriedly walked back to his bedroom and stashed the folder.

The knocking stopped.

“It’s Sarah,” a muffled feminine voice replied from the other side of the door.

Jeremy opened the door to find Sarah standing on the other side, clutching a new handful of papers. She looked disheveled and was still wearing her work clothes. Jeremy guessed she had just gotten off work.

She pushed her way in, uninvited, and it was all Jeremy could do to keep up with her as she moved to his dining table and began sorting the new papers on the table.

“So, I remembered this thing where Andrea had a lot of logins and passwords to keep track of between school and work and home. She was awful about remembering them.” Sarah began.

Before Jeremy could respond, Sarah began again.

“I remembered her having this little notebook she wrote them down in, and it turns out she keeps basically everything but her computer and phone password in it.” Sarah continued.

“Okay,” Jeremy said flatly, not sure where she was leading him.

“Probably illegal, I know, but I found her banking info and printed up her card statement,” Sarah said.

“Oh,” Jeremy paused. “Oh shit!” he straightened with the realization that he may not have had that information anytime soon – if ever.

“Yeah,” Sarah began, “I figure you can look at it and maybe it’ll help. I printed up the last two months.”

Jeremy leaned forward and quickly sifted through the pages. They were individually numbered and organized by date of their transaction. Each entry gave information on the amount charged and details about the transaction or business name.

“Sarah, this is great,” Jeremy said as he flipped to the most recent statement period. “Have you given this info or that book to the police?” he asked. There were charges for groceries, food, coffee – the things one would usually expect to find. Later in the month, however, he saw a charge from a dating site and several different bars and clubs listed.

“No, I remembered while I was at work and just got home to find it,” Sarah replied. “Also, it’s not like they’ve been of much help this far.”

“I wouldn’t access it again if I were you and definitely don’t change anything, but if I can get that book from you – I’ll pass it to someone I trust,” Jeremy suggested. He flipped to the last page and looked at the latest charges on Andrea’s bank statement.

“Okay, yeah. I can go get it now.” Sarah replied. She turned to rush over to her apartment next door.

“Thanks,” Jeremy called out as he heard the door swing closed. His eyes were still on the final page’s charges. Someone at one of those places might know where Andrea went or what happened to her.

He glanced down at the bottom of the page and grabbed a pen that he had left on the table. He would check out the last three places and show photos of Andrea. Maybe he’d have some luck, and someone would recognize her. At this point, it was all he had. He circled the last three charges that looked like bars or clubs.

Stone’s Dance Hall

Club Majestic

Eternity


Photo by madeleine ragsdale on Unsplash

Chapter 5

madeleine-ragsdale-691073-unsplash

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.

“What?”

“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?


Photo by madeleine ragsdale on Unsplash

Chapter 4

madeleine-ragsdale-691073-unsplashJeremy awoke on his stomach with his head hanging over the side of his bed. Light from the city outside had snuck its way into his bedroom, and he could make out his arm hanging out in front of him, fingertips lightly brushing the floor with each breath he took. From what Jeremy could see, the dark, wooden floor of his apartment looked clean. As a test, he ran his hand over the floor beneath him and sighed in relief upon realizing he hadn’t thrown up on the floor. His head was pounding and felt like it was about to split open. The feeling only got worse as he rolled over onto his back and looked through squinted eyes around the room.

He reached over and grabbed his watch to check the time and groaned as he realized he’d slept almost twelve hours. He sat up slowly and looked around the room. His mouth and lips were dry – he needed a glass of water, and it looked like he was going to have to go to the kitchen and unpack one. The screen on his cell phone lit the room with a muted phone call notification – probably another debt collector. Nicolette’s death and funeral had cost him more than just the woman he loved, and since then, he had struggled to find a steady job. It was just the latest problem that he was trying to avoid, but Sarah’s plea for help had brought out the need for him to help in any way he could. Even now, he was still considering eating a bullet.

It was dark out and raining again. The bed creaked as Jeremy planted his feet flat on the cold, wooden floor and stood up. Sirens from a police car passing by echoed from the city street below his window. Jeremy stumbled groggily into the kitchen to look for something to take for his headache and then remembered everything was boxed up. He would have to go to the pharmacy down at the corner of his block or spend the next hour hunting through boxes. He quickly rinsed out one of the coffee mugs from last night and filled it with water from the sink tap and walked back toward the bathroom to take a shower.

An hour later, Jeremy was cleaned up, dressed, and had a small list of things to pick up from the pharmacy. He walked into the living room and noticed several stacks of sketchbooks along the wall near the front door. As he reached his arms into his pea coat and shrugged it onto his shoulders, he saw a small note from Sarah on one of the piles.

Hey! You didn’t shut your door last night!

I hope you don’t mind me leaving these here.

These are all of Andrea’s sketchbooks I could find.

I also printed some photos of Andrea for you.

I hope they help. Thank you so much!

Stop by for coffee any time. – Sarah

At the bottom underneath her name, Sarah had left Jeremy the address to the coffee shop where she worked. Underneath the note, there were also a couple printed copies of the same photograph of Andrea.  She was smiling and looking directly at the camera, and it looked like she was leaning up against a pier or dock on a beautiful day. She was a beautiful young soul, and it weighed down his heart to know that something terrible might have happened to her. Jeremy looked at the note for a few seconds before laying it back on top of a stack of sketchbooks. His eyes glanced around the apartment looking for any sign of something out of place. Everything was still in boxes. Nothing seemed out of place, but if someone had wanted to steal something, he didn’t care as long as they left him alone. As he turned to head out to the pharmacy, he slid one of the photos into his jacket pocket and made a mental note to talk to his friend Dillon about Andrea.

~

Jeremy made his way through the cramped aisles of the small pharmacy to the liquor shelves in the back and grabbed another bottle of scotch and put it in his basket. As he began winding his way through the store, he remembered he needed to call his friend Dillon and pulled his phone out. He continued walking through the store as the phone rang to the police precinct he had worked at before losing his job. He tossed a few more items from the medicine shelves into the basket as it continued to ring. He stopped at the end of an aisle when he heard someone pick up on the other end.

“Missing Persons, Detective Randall,” the gravelly voice said in a monotone voice.

“Hey, Dillon. It’s Jeremy.”

“LeBlanc? Damn. How have you been doing?” Dillon’s voice wavered with surprise and concern.

“I’m breathing,” Jeremy responded. He caught himself shrugging even though Dillon couldn’t see him.

“I guess that’s better than the alternative,” Dillon replied.

Dillon and Jeremy had been friends since going through the police academy together. They had briefly been partners before Jeremy became a Detective. A year later, Dillon made Detective, and the two went to different divisions of the precinct. They used to have beers together and discuss their cases or what was bothering them. It had been a good friendship until the night Nicolette was killed. Everything had changed for Jeremy. He pushed everyone away. This phone call was the first time the two had talked directly since Nicolette’s funeral – not for Dillon’s lack of trying. Jeremy just needed to be left alone.

“Yeah,” Jeremy replied flatly.

“What’s going on?” Dillon asked.

Jeremy could still hear the concern in his voice.

“I’m looking into a missing person and wanted to see if you could tell me what the status of her case was,” Jeremy said. He hated asking for a favor and felt like an asshole for pushing away someone with as much heart as Dillon.

“Jer, you know I can’t get into that. Who the hell are you looking into anyway?”

“I know the protocol. It’s my neighbor, Andrea Wynn. Is there anything you can give me?” Jeremy asked. He continued moving through the pharmacy until he had reached the counter.

“Christ,” Dillon muttered. The line was silent for a few seconds. “Andrea Wynn? Did her roommate come to you about it too?” Dillon’s tone changed to one of irritation, giving Jeremy the impression that Dillon had been the Detective interacting with Sarah.

“Yeah,” Jeremy replied. “She said she was getting nothing from the PD.”

“Look… I can’t talk about it,” Dillon whispered into the phone. “There’s nothing to talk about, and she’s not exactly a high priority.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Jeremy asked. His voice raised from the vague response and the older man behind the checkout counter looked at him with raised eyebrows as Jeremy began setting things on the counter.

“It means, there’s nothing to talk about, Jer,” Dillon replied coldly. “Please don’t call back.”

Jeremy heard the audible click of Dillon hanging up and the beep on his phone telling him the call had ended. He looked down at his phone for a few seconds, wondering what had just happened. It was uncharacteristic of Dillon to be cold to someone, but Jeremy asked himself if he had indeed burned the bridge between them.

He put his phone away and paid for his goods using the only credit card that he still had that wasn’t maxed out. As he headed out the door, he looked back and nodded his head to the man behind the counter.

~

After half an hour in the small pharmacy, Jeremy stepped back out into the cold night with a bag full of the things from his list. He began the short walk back to his apartment, thankful the rain had stopped. As he walked, he heard shouting from across the street. He turned to see two drunken friends yelling at each other as they exited a small bar sandwiched between two closed businesses. He stopped and stared for a moment, his brow furrowed as he wondered if Andrea had started close to home in her nights out. He fought with himself on what to do next. He could walk across the street to the bar and ask around or go back to his apartment and medicate himself with scotch, Dramamine, Tums, Tylenol, and more sleep. The headache wasn’t getting any better, and he still hadn’t taken anything for it.

“Damn it,” he sighed as the former won out. He looked both ways before making his way across the street. He reached for the handle of the door to the bar, only to have the door swing quickly out toward him. He barely managed to sidestep the door as a heavy set woman came stumbling out. She laughed and excused herself as she continued past him. Shaking his head, Jeremy stepped inside, pharmacy bag still in hand. It was much smaller and darker in the bar than he expected.

He squinted as his eyes adjusted from the harsher city lights outside to the mellow and subtle lighting inside the bar. There were a handful of booths along the left wall and the bar lined the wall to the right. At the back of the bar, Jeremy could see a worn looking pool table and old dart board with no one playing at either. Out of the dozen stools at the bar, only half were filled, and most of the people seemed content to drink in silence or watch the sports highlights on the tv mounted behind the bar. Jeremy was surprised the tv was even a flat-screen. The whole place smelled of stale cigarettes and cheap liquor. It could’ve been a dive bar in any city.

The only thing that stood out to Jeremy in the place was the giant of a man standing behind the bar talking to one of the patrons and laughing. The bartender had a big belly, and Jeremy could only guess that he was somewhere over six and a half feet tall. His laugh was deep and genuine, and he nodded at Jeremy as he slid up to the end of the bar and set his bag on the bartop.

“Hey man, how’re you doing?” the bartender greeted him.

“I’m okay. You?” Jeremy forced himself to respond.

“I’m great. I’m Eddie. What can I get you?” the man asked as he moved down to the end of the bar closer to Jeremy.

Jeremy waved his hand as he drew out the photo of Andrea from his jacket pocket. He slid the picture along the bartop to the bartender.

“Thanks, I’m not drinking though. I’m just curious, have you seen this woman in here at all in the past couple weeks?”

Eddie looked down at the photo before lifting it into the light behind the bar. He laughed as a look of familiarity flashed over his face.

“Yeah man. I remember her.” Eddie began as he handed the photo back to Jeremy.

“She came in once a couple of weeks ago,” Eddie continued.

“You’re sure?” Jeremy asked.

“Oh yeah and I figured she wouldn’t come back,” Eddie continued.

“Why’s that?” Jeremy asked as he slid the photo back into his pocket and leaned against the sticky bar.

“Most nights I get the same regulars in here, but one night she came in and sat at the bar. She asked how busy we got and if there were a lot of guys coming through the bar. She hung out for about an hour and talked about her being recently single and wanting to get out more.”

“So what happened?”

“Nothing,” Eddie explained as he refilled the drink of the man seated quietly next to them. “I told her we got the occasional bar hoppers or holiday traffic, but other than that it’s my regulars.  She seemed disappointed, so I said she should go to a club if she wanted to be around crowds.”

“So she didn’t meet with or leave with anyone from here?” Jeremy asked.

“No. Hey man, is she okay? Are you a cop or something?” Eddie asked as he rested both hands on the bar and leaned forward.

“Or something…” Jeremy began.  He didn’t feel like trying to explain the situation – it wasn’t necessary. “I’m just a friend trying to check up on her.”

“Well I hope she’s okay, she was nice. Good tipper too.” Eddie smirked.

“Yeah, I hope she is too,” Jeremy began. “Can I leave you my number and have you give me a call if by some chance she comes back in?”

Jeremy reached into his pocket and pulled a twenty dollar bill out of his wallet as thanks to the man behind the bar.

“Sure,” Eddie said with a nod as he took the money and stuffed it into his pocket.

Jeremy wrote his phone number down on a bar napkin and watched as Eddie tucked it under one corner of the cash register. Jeremy backed up from the bar and shook hands with the man before turning to head back to his apartment.

After getting back to his apartment and taking the mixture of over the counter medications he had grabbed with a glass of scotch, Jeremy climbed back into his bed. He reached his hand into one pocket and put his wallet and keys on the nightstand. As he reached into the other pocket to grab his phone, he saw he had a message notification. It was a text message from Dillon Randall.


Photo by madeleine ragsdale on Unsplash

Chapter 3

madeleine-ragsdale-691073-unsplashJeremy was standing in the living room of Sarah and Andrea’s apartment holding a cup of coffee and listening intently to Sarah. The inviting aroma of freshly made cappuccino filled the kitchen and living room. From the living room, everything within view was clean and bright, with light from the rising sun beginning to come through the kitchen windows and glass door of the balcony. Splashes of warm colors and art adorned the walls, illuminated by subtle rays of sunlight trying to peek in and growing taller with each passing minute. It seemed cozy, the kind of place Nicolette would have loved.

Sarah was moving around in the kitchen, pacing as she tried to get out as much information as possible. She had already finished cleaning the kitchen and the machine she had used to make drinks for the two of them. All of the details were a repeat of everything she had mentioned a couple hours earlier in Jeremy’s apartment. She had stopped crying but had become much more manic in her summary of events – moving her hands constantly as she spoke.

Sarah’s unexpected boost of energy only reminded Jeremy of how tired he was. He turned slightly around the room, studying everything in view from top to bottom as he took his first sip of the cappuccino. It was delicious with a hint of caramel, and he instantly regretted the numerous times he had made fun of others at his old precinct for drinking the stuff. The small coffee table was cleared off except for a fanned stack of art and fashion magazines. Jars and a spice rack were perfectly organized and positioned on the counter in a line. Nothing was out of place in the kitchen or the living room – it all seemed too perfect to Jeremy.

“Is your place always like this?” Jeremy asked as he glanced toward Sarah. As he looked around, he couldn’t help but wonder – how had he ever gotten by in his life drinking coffee black?

“Yeah. I clean a lot, especially when I’m stressed.” Sarah responded matter of factly.

Jeremy took another sip as he leaned back against the counter and listened.

“Andrea was kind of the opposite. She wasn’t a slob, but a little mess never really bothered her like it does me. Aside from the police coming in and looking around, her room is the way she left it.” Sarah added.

“Two things,” Jeremy began. “One, god damn this is good,” he said as he pointed at his drink, awkwardly trying to lighten the tone. “Two, do you mind if I take a look at her room?”

“Thanks,” Sarah replied. “I work at a coffeehouse a couple blocks from here.”  She shook her head softly in response to Jeremy’s question and ushered him down the short hallway off the living room. She opened the door to Andrea’s bedroom and stepped back out of the way, waving her hand into the room – inviting him to enter.

He stood in the doorway for a full minute. His eyes scanned the bedroom and occasionally darted at something new or of interest to him. An easel with a cloth draped underneath it stood in the center of the room where light from the window would hit it directly. Dozens of paintings and photographs were hung on the walls of the room. Windows facing out into the city were covered with bright, patterned curtains casting the whole place in pastel colors.

“Most of the artwork in the house is hers. She was pretty optimistic for an artist despite how she grew up.” Sarah spoke as Jeremy’s eyes focused on the easel and paintings near the wall.

“She’s good,” he replied. He nodded his appreciation as he studied a blurred and vibrantly colored self-portrait Andrea had painted of herself. In the painting, she was smiling with her arms crossed triumphantly or defiantly – he wasn’t sure. He looked at the unfinished work on the easel. There wasn’t much to it, but he could tell that the subject was a man sitting down somewhere. The scene so far had been depicted in a deep blue with the man seated at a table washed in crimson. The only feature that had been put into detail of the man’s face, so far, was his eyes.

“Sarah, I need you to think real hard. When the officer came in here, did you come with them?” he asked as he looked back at the woman, now in the doorway. He turned slowly around the room, his eyes still searching.

“Yeah,” she said with a shrug. “I stood right here.”

“Okay. Do you remember what they touched or moved?” he asked.

“Um,” she hesitated as she looked around – her mind recalling what it could. “I’m pretty sure he just opened her desk and closet.”

“Just the desk and closet?” Jeremy repeated back.

“Yeah. Then he wrote some stuff down on a notepad and said he’d get back to me,” Sarah replied.

Jeremy made mental notes. The bed was unmade, but only on one side. Two outfits were laid out on the other side. The desk was scattered with sticky notes, sketchbooks, and photos of Andrea with a man Jeremy recognized as her former boyfriend.

It was a large room, with the bed centered against the wall opposite the door and a small desk pushed into the corner next to it. Angled in the corner nearest the door, was a white dresser and mirror. A closet faced the windows, its door wide open with clothes hanging from the doorknob.

Jeremy remained silent for a minute as he stood in the room, slowly turning around in the room as he glanced at everything once more. He stopped abruptly, facing the desk and then moved over to it. His eyes scanned everything in plain view, and then he reached out to lift a sketchbook from the top of the desk’s pile. He slowly thumbed through the drawings and sketches, brief glimpses of faces and objects disappeared with each page flip. The last page’s picture was dated several months prior.

“She’s got tons of those things scattered all over,” Sarah began. “She’s almost always drawing something, but she doesn’t have an order to them. She just grabs whichever is closest and flips to an empty page.”

Jeremy nodded and set the sketchbook back down on the table.

Sarah remained silent as she watched him move about, her eyes pleading for hope – for anything.

Jeremy stepped into the doorway of the closet and saw the shelves of the closet had several stacks of sketchbooks as well. The garment rods were bowing, stuffed with Andrea’s clothing and aside from a lack of organization, nothing stood out to him. The closet was filled with colorful clothes, including several shirts with splotches of paint that refused to ever wash out. A small laundry basket was pushed into the corner behind the door.

Aside from clothing left out and art supplies scattered around the room, it seemed to be devoid of any clues and gave Jeremy no feeling that anything could be wrong. Indeed, aside from the fact that Andrea had apparently not returned – there was no indication of foul play. The only thing that honestly bothered Jeremy about the whole situation was the easel sitting in the middle of the room. Perched on the easel, facing the window – there stood an unfinished painting. Having lived with an artist, albeit Nicolette had been a musician and not a painter, Jeremy knew that anyone with that much passion about something would hate to leave something in an unfinished state. It was obvious she had spent quite a bit of time on it, but there it was – incomplete.

For the next half hour, he studied everything again, retracing his thoughts and casually sipping his cappuccino until it was gone. The bed. The desk. The closet. The dresser. The easel. The painting. The damned painting. It just seemed wrong.

“So her boyfriend broke up with her?” Jeremy began as he turned back to face Sarah.

“Yeah, about two months ago,” Sarah replied as she stepped into the room.

“How’d she take it?” Jeremy continued.

“She was kind of moody at first, but she seemed to snap herself out of it,” Sarah shrugged.

“How so?”

“She started trying to meet guys online, but never went on any dates. She wasn’t really interested in anyone that she had talked to.”

“Are you sure about that?” Jeremy asked as he set his empty cup on the desk.

“Oh yeah,” Sarah started. “She and I would look at profiles, and she’d show me some of the crazy shit guys would say to her while we were drinking wine and watching tv.”

“So, what happened?”

“Eventually, she got fed up with pervs, and she started going out at night to get out of the house.”

“Any idea where she was going?” Jeremy asked.

“Not specifically, no,” Sarah said with a shake of her head. “ I just know she went to bars and clubs. I never went with her, because I have to be up early either for school or work – depending on the day. She always got a ride home, though.”

“Until a week ago?”

“Yeah,” Sarah replied flatly.

“Do you know if anything changed?”

“She met somebody, but she never told me his name, and he never came over. I don’t think so, anyway.” Sarah’s uncertainty was apparent on her face as she spoke, even as her voice trailed off.

“What did she say about him?” Jeremy questioned. His interest was piqued at the mention of someone new potentially in Andrea’s life.

“She practically daydreamed about him, but she never really went into much detail. Usually, she would just say she couldn’t wait to see him again or how entrancing and dreamy his eyes were.”

“She never said his name though?” Jeremy stressed the question.

“No,” Sarah shrugged again. “She would joke that he was her secret and she wasn’t allowed to tell.”

“Christ. Did you mention that to the police?” Jeremy asked as he massaged his temples. He could feel a headache coming.

“Of course, but without any idea what his name was or what he looked like…” Sarah trailed off.

“Yeah, I see where that’s headed,” Jeremy paused. “So, any idea who this is?” he asked as he nodded at the painting.

“I’m not sure, but I think that may be the guy she started seeing,” she said as she moved next to him and looked at the painting.

“The eyes are the only thing she’s really given detail,” he began as his hand waved in front of the unfinished painting. “Not a whole lot you can do with that.”

“Do you think he had something to do with her disappearing?” she asked as she wrapped her arms around herself.

“I don’t know,” Jeremy replied as he glanced around the room. “It could be something, it could be nothing.”

“It’s got to be someone she actually knew though,” Sarah said as she stood, fixated on the eyes of the painting. “She draws pretty much anyone she knows. I’m sure if you flipped through enough of her sketchbooks, you and Nicolette are in there somewhere. It’s just the way she was.”

Jeremy looked around Andrea’s room one last time as Sarah spoke. His gaze searched for all of the stacks of sketchbooks in view, between the bedroom and closet. There had to be at least twenty sketchbooks, right next to a pile of bills and junk mail.

“Hey Sarah,” Jeremy paused as he tried to figure out how long it would take him to get through them all. “Do you think you could get me Andrea’s last bank statement and round up all of her sketchbooks for me?”

“Sure, I can grab them and drop them off later,” she began. “Do you think it’ll help?”

“It might. I’m going to try to get some rest and then look into a few things this evening. I’ve got a friend who works the night shift still, so I’ll hit him up.” he looked at the watch on his wrist and sighed at the time. It was nearly eight o’clock in the morning. It was going to be a long day considering the fact he hadn’t planned on seeing another day. Now, all he could do was roll questions and scenarios around in his head about what had happened to his neighbor.

“Hey. You should probably not drink so much when you’re alone too,” Sarah warned with a smile. “Next time, just come over, and we can have a glass of wine or something.”

“Am I that obvious?” he looked at her and sighed.

“I was crying, but I’m not blind” she started. “Also, you left the bottle out.”


Photo by madeleine ragsdale on Unsplash

Chapter 2

madeleine-ragsdale-691073-unsplashJeremy invited Sarah into his apartment and closed the door behind her. He tried his best to study her and guess what could possibly have her so upset, while he walked her over to sit on the couch. He flicked a light switch and the room flashed with the warm yellow glow of the lamps on either side of the couch.

The light was brighter than he expected and it caused him to squint while his eyes adjusted. Outside, the rain continued to pour and he realized that Sarah was not just crying – she was soaked. She had just been outside, Jeremy noted, though he still hadn’t figured out why. Realizing he had left the piece of paper that was about to become his suicide note still on the coffee table, he quickly grabbed the paper and crumpled it up before throwing it at a file box next to the coffee table. The piece of paper missed and rolled toward the kitchen. He ignored it for the time being.

Jeremy sat down next to Sarah as she sobbed uncontrollably. She still hadn’t said a word since coming inside. It seemed almost as if everything was happening in slow motion for a few moments as he felt the scotch catching up to him, blurring everything. It was moments like this where he regretted drinking. He felt powerless to do anything at first, but pulled her close to him and wrapped his arms around her. She buried herself in his arms as her small frame shook.

“Sarah, it’s going to be okay,” he said. He couldn’t tell if he was slurring his words, but with her sobs he doubted it would be noticed. Her clothing was damp and cold from being out in the rain, but Jeremy continued to hug her and hold her as her weeping began to slowly subside. He held her close and rubbed her back gently in an attempt to comfort her. It was almost a sobering moment, where he could see himself in a mirror leaning against the wall by the front door. Minutes ago, he had been ready to end it all and here was someone else literally crying for help.

“Jeremy,” Sarah bawled as she tried to stifle the stream of tears. Her body shuddered in his arms and it seemed like she was starting to get herself under control. No other words came immediately.

“Come here. I’ll make us some coffee and get you some tissues,” Jeremy said as he stood up, half-lifting her with him. He’d never seen her like this and didn’t know how to react. He hoped coffee would at least counter the scotch working its way through his bloodstream, though he knew it wouldn’t.

Sarah nodded, her long blonde hair was a wet and matted mess. She swept damp strands of her hair away from her face as Jeremy guided her to a counter chair at the bar facing the kitchen. Jeremy disappeared around the corner and when he came back, he had a handful of tissues that he offered to her. She thanked him as she began to wipe her eyes. She watched as Jeremy walked around the edge of the bar counter into the kitchen and shoved aside a box so that he could get to an open one. From inside, he pulled out a coffee maker, coffee, and filter and set the items on the counter.

“Okay,” Jeremy said to himself in a low voice. “Coffee cups,” he mumbled as his eyes glanced around and his hand pointed at all the boxes on the floor of the kitchen. He tore the top open of the first box he moved and pulled two blue coffee mugs out.

Sarah glanced around as she wiped at her face. “Are… are you moving?” she asked as she looked at all of the packed boxes around the kitchen and living room.

“Uh,” he hesitated as he tried to think of a response. “No, not exactly,” was all he could manage. He fumbled for a few seconds to get the coffee maker plugged in and brewing and then turned back to her. He didn’t want to have to explain that he had packed his entire house to make it easier on the people who would have to come process his body and the scene when he killed himself and his stuff had to be cleared out. He cleared his throat and just looked at Sarah in silence.

A few minutes later, the sharp scent of coffee permeated the open spaces of the apartment. Jeremy poured a cup for Sarah and then carefully poured as much as he could into his own cup without causing it to spill. Jeremy slid the cup to Sarah and she wrapped her hands loosely around the cup but didn’t lift it. She seemed content to just have the heat of it near her.

“So…” Jeremy began in an attempt to break the silence. He took a long sip of the coffee and instantly regretted not waiting for it to cool. He made a clicking sound as he put the mug back down. Give it a few minutes, he thought to himself.

The woman in front of him stared down at the coffee mug for a long while and took a long breath before she spoke. “Andrea is missing,” she said. She continued to wipe away tears and move her long blonde hair from her face, revealing her soft features and pale blue eyes.

“Andrea? Your roommate, Andrea?” Jeremy asked in a need to clarify, his brow furrowed with concern. It was not an intelligent question and he already knew the answer. Sarah’s roommate was the only Andrea they both knew.

Jeremy thought back to the first time he met Andrea. She was singing and dancing in the laundry room with headphones on for almost a minute before she turned to realize anyone else was in the laundry room with her. She had been shaking her butt and bumping it against the edge of a washing machine as she sang off-key and folded her clean laundry. The two shared a brief fit of laughter after she turned to see Jeremy watching with a confused look on his face. Andrea passed by and stopped to introduce herself. She was an attractive and bubbly college girl who could’ve been Sarah’s sister they looked so alike. It wasn’t until several weeks after meeting both of them that Jeremy realized they weren’t actually sisters.

“Yeah,” Sarah said as she wiped tears from around her eyes with a tissue. “She’s been missing for a week now and the police won’t do anything.”

“Did she say anything to you about leaving or going anywhere? Did you file a missing person’s report?” Jeremy’s mind instantly began running scenarios, albeit slowed down by the effects of the alcohol. He knew the statistics, though, and missing persons typically showed up within the first couple of days or things got complicated.

“I’ve done all that,” Sarah said. “They say they’re looking into it but they haven’t found anything suspicious. They tried to say she may just be staying with someone else, but her phone goes right to voicemail and she would’ve told me something. Anything.”

“Okay. You know I’m not a cop anymore, right?” Jeremy said to her. It wasn’t really a question. He wanted her to know there might not be much he could do, but he didn’t want to say it aloud. He reached down and picked up the coffee mug and took a sip, testing the temperature. It was the perfect temperature now, but it tasted too bitter. He forced himself to take a long drink of the coffee, hoping it only tasted horrible because he was halfway to drunk.

“I know,” Sarah replied. “I already spoke to them and filed a report. I made a statement and someone came by our place – then, nothing. I have to go down to the police department just to talk to someone about it. I’ve been there three times now and gotten nothing.” Her hands trembled in frustration and she finally took a sip of the coffee. The face she made told Jeremy the coffee was awful.

“Yeah. Sorry, I don’t have any creamer or sugar,” he said in reaction to her expression. Jeremy was unable to think of anything else he might be able to do to help Sarah or her missing roommate beyond what the police would have already done. He knew it also depended on the person who took the report and that the odds were they half-assed it due to a heavy caseload. He wanted to help, he just had to sober up and figure out how he was going to.

“Look, I know we don’t know each other that well,” Sarah began. “Andrea isn’t close to her family and her boyfriend broke up with her two months ago. She was lonely and looking for someone. Anything you can do will be more than what the cops are doing right now.”

He nodded silently and then finished off the mug of coffee. “I can come over and look around, but I doubt they missed anything.” He went back to the coffee pot and poured himself another nearly full cup, knowing it was a mistake.

“Let’s go,” Sarah said. She put her coffee mug back on the counter and pulled Jeremy’s slowly out of his hand, also resting it on the counter. “I can change into something dry and also show you what good coffee tastes like.”

“What? Now?” Jeremy asked half-expecting, half-hoping she would leave and give him time to get his head cleared.

“Yeah, why not? You have anything else to be doing this late?” she asked sarcastically.

Jeremy snuck a look down at the crumpled piece of paper on the floor. He turned his gaze back to Sarah, who was already headed for the door. It seemed like fate had something different in store for him.


Photo by madeleine ragsdale on Unsplash