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

Chapter 1

madeleine-ragsdale-691073-unsplashFaint light from downtown made its way into the third story apartment through the glass sliding doors leading to the balcony. Streaks of lightning occasionally flooded the living room with light as they made their way across the night sky. Rain washed over the newer buildings of steel and glass that towered over the city. Six months ago, the sounds of rain and thunder would have been relaxing to Jeremy LeBlanc, but his life had changed drastically since that time. Filled with hurt and sadness – he couldn’t remember what it was like to be relaxed and calm.

Jeremy sat in the dimly lit living room of his apartment. Tonight, the rain suited his mood more than usual. He was in a dark place, unable to sleep, and several glasses into a bottle of Macallan scotch. Music played gently through large speakers in the corners of the room – a beautiful piano melody accompanied by a woman’s smooth and sultry singing. It was a familiar and soothing voice – that of his fiancé, Nicolette. Listening to her voice brought tears to his eyes and he wished he could hear her laugh just once more.

His heart was heavy in his chest as he forced another glassful of scotch down his throat and refilled the glass from a bottle resting on the black upright piano dominating half of the room. The drink was warm all the way down, but the more he drank the more numb he became to his memories. He stumbled away from the piano and fell back into the couch on the opposite side of the room, doing his best to not spill the glass.

The coffee table in front of him was a mess, with pictures and pieces of paper strewn all over its black top. There were photographs of he and Nicolette – happy, smiling on the left side. To the right – copies of the police report detailing Nicolette’s accident and information on the drunk driver who had hit her car. In the center, just out of reach, were his fiancé’s death certificate and a response from the police department – terminating his employment. A black handgun laid on the seat of the brown leather couch next to him. A lot had changed in six months and Jeremy was ready to be done and imagined himself back in the arms of his love.

Jeremy spent the next half hour sorting through all of the documents and putting them into two small boxes next to the coffee table. Nicolette’s soft voice was still singing from the speakers and Jeremy couldn’t help but think about how the world would never get to know her angelic voice. Not as much as it should have anyway. It didn’t matter anymore – nothing did. He had lost his fiancé to a drunk driver, on a night like this. Then, he was put on administrative leave after nearly putting the driver into a coma. The leave became a suspension and the suspension became termination. He no longer had love or any sort of goal in his life.

He would end it. His eyes swept the room, even though he knew the whole apartment was clean with what little remained packed away. On the surface of the coffee table there was only the half empty bottle of scotch, his drinking glass, a single bullet, his gun, and a piece of paper with only the words “I’m sorry” scrawled on it. No words had come to him to help him explain. Even if they had, there was no one left in his life to care. No Nicolette, no family, no one. This was the only way.

“I have no reason to face the nights ahead,” he scrawled down quickly and then dropped the pen on the coffee table once more. Lightning flashes sent shadows reaching across the room as he reached forward and picked up his gun. His hands moved over the black gun and pressed the magazine release button. The music ended and he sat in silence, loading the single .45 caliber hollow-point cartridge into the magazine and slid the magazine back into place with a sharp click. He racked the slide backwards, looking down into the ejection port to ensure the round had loaded in and then closed his eyes.

The cool steel of the gun’s slide rested against his cheek for a moment, before he opened his mouth and put the barrel between his teeth at an upward angle. Tears welled in his eyes and he struggled not to cry and back down, his breaths short and quick as he laid his finger onto the trigger and started to apply pressure. He could feel the trigger start to move as a wave of calm came over him. He closed his eyes. Soon it would be over.

“Jeremy, I’ll always love you,” Nicolette’s voice whispered through the speakers surrounding him. His eyes shot open, at first doubting he had heard her voice. His finger slowly moved away from the trigger as the sound of her laughter came through the speakers. She was talking to someone in the recording booth while she was working on her album and he could hear her smiling as she repeated once more that she loved him and then a subtle beeping tone as the music clicked off. He had always stopped the album when the music ended and never guessed that she would put something at the end, just for him.

The gun clicked again as he decocked the hammer and put the gun back on the table. His body shook for a few seconds as he tried to fight the stream of tears flooding from his eyes. This wouldn’t deter him, but the last thing he’d ever think of was her smiling and saying those words. Smiling and sobbing, he wiped his face off with his hands and reached forward to pick the gun back up.

Then there was a knock.

It became more than just a single knock. A series of hard, hurried knocks against his door desperately begged to be answered. A muffled woman’s voice called his name out from the other side. In the confusion, he had stopped sobbing.

Jeremy called out a grunting response as the knocks continued. He stood and tucked his gun into the back of his pants’ waistband. He stopped at the door, rubbed his face dry with his hands as best he could and opened the door.

His neighbor Sarah stood in the hall, face red and smeared with black eyeliner. Her hair was a blonde mess of stray strands swept away from her face. She was fighting to breathe and not succumb to breaking down, though from the irritation around her eyes, it was obvious she had been crying a lot. Thankfully, she was in such a shambled state, she didn’t seem to notice that he had been crying as well. Sarah was a college student and a nice person – they had spoken many times in passing and in the laundry room on their floor. Something was wrong and Jeremy felt only the urge to comfort her or protect her.

“Jeremy,” she managed through choking sobs. “You were a cop, right? I need your help.”


Photo by madeleine ragsdale on Unsplash

The Bard is Back!

That’s right.

It’s been a long time and a busy two years but I give my word I have been at least mildly productive. More on that below.

So then, what is new in life? Let’s see…

I have married my greatest friend in the world and it’s been an amazing time together. I’ve also undertaken a new profession. Of this, I am gruntled. The Lady and I left our old estate, and after traveling a bit, we finally settled down in yet another brittle state ablaze with fire.

And then there are the beasts…

The demonic beasts of our household are all faring quite well. The dire wolves are both happy to howl at the moon and slumber at our feet. They patrol the corridors and estate … always on the prowl. The winged visage of death and destruction still looms overhead, shrieking curses at any who would get too close or show weakness.

All of this brings me to now.

I have always wanted to be a storyteller and writer and have often shared the characters and stories I have created with a few friends. Now, I want to share with more people.

So, here’s what I’m going to do. There’s probably only going to be 1-2 posts a month featuring my fiction, but it’s here for all to read.

Hopefully, I manage to create an entertaining story that will interest a reader other than myself. I have all of these ideas – some written, some still up in my head. For now, I have one story that I am working on to share, but I have others in various levels of existence.

To start, I’ll be telling a modern supernatural/suspense tale I’m calling “The Nights Ahead”. This story will follow a man, named Jeremy LeBlanc, who is ready to give up on life, only to realize that others will always be in need of help and protection. It’s a shadowy tale about finding darkness in the world and will involve the discovery of a serial killer that isn’t human. Join me as Jeremy searches and shines light on the shadowy parts of the city.

In the future, I also have a story somewhere near heroic fantasy or sword and sorcery. If all goes well, I’ll be including that as well – in time, of course. It features Desmond Pierce as he struggles to find out about his previous life while also hunting down the most dangerous mages in the world.

I’ve got a lot of ideas – short stories or longer ranging from science fiction and fantasy and also the game related topics I’ve written about in the past. The idea is simple, I’ll write and post. You read.

This shall be my repository or archive and you have a key.