Though the weather was an ever growing force of wind, ice, and snow outside the Detective’s office, the fervor that the new lead brought had warmed things up indoors. What seemed like dead-end after dead-end had suddenly come together into a possible link that neither Shane nor Laura had anticipated; which lit a fire under them both. The days had grown long and cold with doubt, but this clue seemed to give them something to go after. There was a sense of hope in a task that had felt so hopeless originally. There was a very real possibility that they could solve some of, if not all, of their missing person cases.
And solving those cases would have many consequences, all of them good, regardless of if they were linked together by something sinister. The families involved would finally be able to have some kind of closure and could grieve without holding back that little bit of hope that their loved one would be found. It’s a harsh reality, but one that police know is for the better. When there is a chance that you’ll see them again, you’ll never truly heal from the loss. Shane hadn’t been a Detective for long, but he was in Law Enforcement long enough to know this truth. And as sad as that thought was, he knew that it would ultimately help those suffering with the “what ifs” move on. They could never truly do that if the only thing they know is that for all intent and purposes their family member vanished into thin air.
The ebb and flow of the water gently moved his body back and forth, like an infant in a cradle. And for all Chase knew, he was once again a child in his mother's womb. He could feel himself floating effortlessly among the warm stability of the tide; suspended underneath without an urge to breath. It was though he had always been there, in that moment, and nothing seemed to be so wrong. This existence meant peace for him; comfort like none other he'd ever experienced. The methodical movement of the water around him was like a comforting stroke of the cheek from someone he loved. Someone that he'd always loved and needed to be with, forever. Never had he felt so welcomed and wanted. Never had he felt so protected and secure. He knew with every fiber of his being that this was where he was meant to be. And this is where he'd always be.
A voice echoed through the water on a ripple that he felt more than heard. A welcoming voice that only deepened the sense of belonging he felt in this place.
Chase. Open your eyes for me.
It felt good to be back on the road again, even though the weather had become nearly unbearable. The snow had not stopped relentlessly falling for the past few days, and didn't seem destined to end any time in the near future. But Laura was more than happy to brave the bitter cold if it meant getting away from her desk and the menial task of looking through old cell phone records. She wasn't cut out for that sort of work; it was the one thing she always feared when attempting to make it to the detective desk. Working the streets allowed her that perfect amount of professional freedom that she needed in life. It's what helped her deal with all the stress that's brought on by being a police officer. And though she had excelled as a detective so far, she could feel the stress creeping up on her. It bit at her heels and there was nothing that could be done to stop it.
But those feelings were something that she had become accustomed to pushing aside; she'd become astute at bottling them up and doing her job to the best of her ability. She knew that detective work was an important part of the force and was the kind of stepping stone that she needed to move up the ranks. That was a compromise that she was willing to make; her personal well-being and her job were not on equal grounds. At least not until she had made Lieutenant. Then maybe she could relax and deal with all the bullshit that seemed to always hovering just around her. There was no time for it now, though, since she was on the way to another interview. This one was different, the missing person was only just recently reported missing, which gave her hope that they might actually find him and crack all the other cases in the process. She was letting her mind wander too far off that goal, and off her surroundings. Shane, her partner, was driving poorly in the freshly fallen snow.
“We won't actually find out any useful information if the two of us are left sitting up in the hospital, you know?” she said to him, as he had to pump the breaks to keep from sliding into the tail-end of a stationary truck stopped at a traffic light. “Unless of course that is your master plan.”
“No, not really a master plan. Just a really bad habit of not focusing on the road.” he turned his head and looked directly into her eyes. “It's why I wrecked three cruisers my first two years on the job.”
“I don't know whether to be slightly impressed or majorly worried.” she kept a deadpan look on her face in response.
“Oh, worried for sure, and it shouldn't even be close. I'm terrible.” he replied with a grin tugging at the corner of his mouth.
“And bad at driving.” she said.
“Well that's harsh, but I guess I'm getting used to that.” he said, this time his grin was in full effect. “Still, it would be nice if you let up once in awhile.”
“That would totally defeat the purpose though, being nice and all that.”
“There's a purpose to the insults?” he asked.
“Naturally, it's to toughen you up. You seemed pretty soft.” she said with her own smile peering through her stoic look. “ But I think it's working already.”
“Thanks. I think.” he said as he once again had to pump the breaks to avoid sliding into the back of another vehicle.
The wait was finally over, but the anticipation was as persistent as ever. In fact, the air was thick with it. Though that may have been something else; much less pleasant. Chase used that awkward moment when someone first lets you in a house to pull out his inhaler. He deeply breathed in twice, as he used it, and instantly began to get control of his breath.
His nerves, on the other hand, were still very much out of control. The Sad Girl's house wasn't what he was expecting, it wasn't a house at all, but at least she seemed to be the one from the pictures. The light in the kitchen only managed to illuminate the front of the trailer, and his eyes made a futile attempt at adjusting to the living room area as he took a look around him.
“Are you cold still?” her voice startled him, though he wasn't sure why.
“Hmm, sorry, what?” he said as he turned to take a look at her.
“Your hands are shaking.” she pointed at them while walking past him towards the darkness of the other room. “Still, I guess.”
He hadn't realized it, but he was indeed shaking. It wasn't so much that he was cold, which he was of course, but rather that he war far more nervous than he had anticipated being. For weeks, he had been fantasizing and romanticizing meeting this girl, but it could never prepare him for just how he would feel following through with it. Live for the moment. Enjoy it. With that thought, he followed her into the living room and she gestured for him to have a seat on the couch next to her.
Another early morning; another trip to Records. That had become a daily ritual in the life of Detective Whelan as he attempted to gather all the evidence he could in relation to the cases that he was working on. He hadn't yet found just what he was looking for, but he felt like he was getting closer. In his mind, he began to see patterns as they developed around him. He was able to narrow down the cases that appeared to be connected in some way via electronic means. Each one of those cases made reference to either heavy computer use or communicating using smartphones more than the average person. They also indirectly seemed to show a pattern of disconnect from normal society. This wasn't unusual in and of itself in today's society; plenty of people dedicated a large chunk of their day to phones and computers. But these men all had that in common along with vanishing in thin air without a single trace.
Today, he was picking up the cellphone records from the last few men to go missing, starting from most recent back to the last three. All of them disappeared within the past year and a half. Nothing in their case files mentioned anyone having searched through their phones for clues. That seemed like such an obvious thing to look at to Shane that he wondered how the other detectives working the cases before him missed it. Perhaps they were just out of touch? Maybe they knew that eventually somebody else would pick up the cases? He wasn't sure what the answer was, but it didn't really matter. He'd be sure to find everything that they missed. Besides, he wasn't alone in this.
Tonight was the night. Tonight was the night that Chase would finally be meeting the Random Sad Girl, Molly. It had been a couple of weeks since the two of them first started talking on the dating app and in that time, they had gotten to know each other well. He knew that she was only fifteen, but there was something about her that made him not care so much about that. She seemed so mature for a girl her age. The way she talked wasn't like how most teenage girls talk. She was intense, passionate, and sexual like no woman he had ever spoken with online. Or in person for that matter.
That was the only reason he had even considered meeting her when she asked him to come over. He didn't ever plan on actually cheating on his fiancee, but there was just an allure to this girl that he had never felt before. He had to see just what was driving him so crazy about her for himself, in person. She had been talking about the two of them having sex together, but he wasn't sure he could go that far. Not just because he was engaged, but because she was so young. That didn't mean that he didn't want to at least meet her. He knew that he had the sort of self-control needed to not cave in that kind of situation. He was a deliberate guy who made plans for everything he did, including this.
What once seemed to be a fruitless venture suddenly had a focus. It started as a flood of senseless information that, with a bit of guile, became sensible. Workable. It was a nice turn of events for Detective Whelan after brooding over the complication of it all just a few hours before. Now he was on his way to what could possibly be a new lead on a dead case. Instead of a thousand different pieces separate from each other, things began to appear as one. Something deep inside of him knew that there was a connection between all of the cases he had been assigned. It just made sense in some way; though he couldn't say for sure why.
He found himself on the way to house of the former Mrs. Morris Kyle, whom originally stated that she hadn't heard from her husband for days before his disappearance. They had been on the outs, but still lived together. That didn't seem to make sense to Shane, and he wondered why the previous Officers assigned to the case hadn't found it odd. Two people live in the same house, one of them vanishes, and the other claims to have no clue where they are? It just didn't add up.
Chase Northcraft wasn't a lonely guy, but he liked to make new connections. That's all it really was, he told himself. He loved his fiancee dearly. He didn't see what was so bad about talking to people and getting to know them. Sure, sometimes the talking would take a sexual turn, but it's not like he ever actually met up with anyone. And besides, most of the time, the conversations would only last a few days at most. He'd get to know the person, they would flirt, and eventually talk about sex. He'd then get himself off to whatever chat or photos that were sent. Then he'd ignore them and go about his business like it never happened. This has become a regular thing for Chase. It wasn't really that big a deal; his fiancee would understand if she ever found out.
With his fiancee working yet another double shift, he finds himself home alone and bored. That has become a recurring theme as of late. His parents, a retired couple, were out of town. It feels as though he's watched every movie he's ever wanted to see and beaten every video game he owns twice over. The internet hasn't been able to peak his interest much either; it feels as though he's visited every interesting website possible. It didn't help that the only computer in the house was the one in the kitchen that the entire family uses. He couldn't wait to save up enough money to move out, but it's a slow go of it thanks to only working part time. That meant that if he wanted to go online, he'd have to share the computer with everyone else in the house. Of course, he could always just use his smart-phone, but all the constant texting and messages from apps were too much of a distraction to browse the net at the same time. Instead, he'd just do both.
Though the day started off the same as any typical day does for a thirty two year old career Police Officer and Rookie Detective, the morning briefing was far from typical. Detective Shane Whelan would be tasked to overtake the most important cases of his entire life today, but he wouldn’t have guessed it initially. They were disguised as simply a spattering of missing person cases; none of which had much of any leads to follow and all of which happened to have nothing in common, spare a few coincidences. They were the kind of not quite cold case files and dead ends that often got passed around the office from new guy to new guy until they reached the lowest possible point on the totem. And since Whelan had just recently joined the detective desk, it was passed off on him by the guy who was now considered his senior, a guy who had only been a Detective for about six months longer than himself.
It was a stack of plain, unassuming blue folders labeled with a simple white sticker containing the date opened and the name of the missing person. Cooper, Belton, Martinez, Kyle, and a few others. Some of them were in worse condition than others, but none of them were older than a few years at most. The only thing they had in common seemed to be the folders themselves. Each person seemed to be leading different lives, completely unconnected to each other in any way. And yet, they now found themselves stacked upon each other on Shane's desk.
A man awakens from a deep, coma-like sleep. He’s lost and confused about where he awakens and has to fight through the feelings of dizziness and nausea to even sit up. He reaches up to place a hand on the side of his head in order to try bring some sort of balance to his brain. That’s when he notices something more strange than that waking up with a splitting headache on what feels like dirt; he’s completely nude. That confuses him even more, because the last thing he remembers was that he was wearing his favorite leather jacket. The cool one with the blue stripe down the left side. That’s when he remembers why he was wearing it; it’s the one he wears to impress girls. He was wearing it tonight to impress a girl that he had yet to ever meet in person. But now, he was naked and in a strange place. It didn’t seem like anywhere near Seattle that he’d ever been. No, this place was much more tropical than that. And it was humid, like you’d expect from a jungle, not the Pacific North West. That’s what it was, a jungle. But what the hell was he doing in a jungle? How long was he out?