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.
While it's a tired cliché, the only thing Whelan really wanted right now was a cup of coffee. The break room machine was on the fritz, however, so he was stuck with the gas station brand he picked up on the way in. It left a bad taste in his mouth; like a lot of things these days. Though part of him was excited to finally have some cases to work on for himself, he didn't like the fact that he'd probably never actually get anywhere with them before he passed him on to the next new detective. When you have little to nothing to go off of, where are you supposed to start? He let out a sigh, and picked up one of the folders from the middle of the pile. This one was marked “Kyle” and looked as though it was one of the oldest. Upon opening the front flap and reading the date, Shane let out another sign.
“That bad, huh?” he heard from behind him.
It was the not-yet familiar voice of his new partner, Detective Laura Culver. She had that sterilized attractiveness about her that you can only find in an office setting. She was short of stature, but had a determination about her that made her a great officer. She had been a detective for about two years, even though she was a couple years younger than Shane. Though she was part of the Sex Crimes Unit, she had been working on a few of the missing persons cases now stacked up in front of him.
“This one is from five...no, six years ago.” he said as he spun his chair slowly to meet her gaze.
“Is that all? There's probably a few in that pile that have been in this office longer than you've been alive.” she said with a look of both passiveness and humor.
“Yeah, well, we've got to start somewhere, I guess. Want to try and stick to this decade at least?”
“Hmm,” she said. “That's not the worst idea I've heard so far today.”
“Oh yeah?” he replied; this time it was Shane looking passive. “What won that honor already?”
“Rodgers asking me if I wanted to share his box of Quickpit coffee.” she said with a crinkled nose, as if she had just taken a sip of it.
As she went to the other side of the desk, Shane spun himself back around to face the looming work the two of them would be starting together. He had met her back when he was working the streets, having helped out on a number of prostitution stings. The two of them seemed to have a good connection when it came to work, and part of him was glad that she'd be helping. Even if he didn't think they would be getting very far on any of these cases. His plan was to work as hard as he could on these dead-ends, and then hope that they bring on another new guy after a few months. In the meantime, he'd enjoy the time spent with Detective Culver. There was something about her that he liked.
“Morris J. Kyle. White Male. Age 38. An unemployed teacher, with an estranged wife, and no kids. Missing since late 2009.” he reads off the cover sheet.
“Sounds like a great guy.” she said.
He shrugs, and continues to flip through the pages; reading various reports and write-ups taken by officers and detective from when Mr. Kyle first went missing.
“The wife seemed to have no clue where he had been for the previous few nights.” he reads. “The two of them weren't speaking at the time.”
“Sounds kind of convenient, doesn't it?” she said as she perked up in her chair.
“Sure, but there was never any signs of foul play on her end. They checked her phone records, email, and all that stuff. No “Hit-men for hire” calls and she wasn't cheating on him.”
“What about him?” she asked.
Shane read a few lines, turned a few pages over, and read some more. Though the initial Missing Person report was in-depth, the follow up investigation was a bit lacking. There wasn't much of an attempt to find out anything other than possible places he may have ran off to.
“It doesn't seem like it.” he said with a slight curl in his lip. “But, to be honest, the original Detective did a pretty poor job of following up on this from the look of it.”
“It's something to look into, I guess.” said Laura. She reached across the desk, and picked out another folder from the stack. This one didn't seem as old. She bit her lower lip, as she read through the pages of the initial report.
This time, it was Laura who let out a small sigh.
“That bad, huh?” he said.
She just smiled, and shook her head.
“William Belton, or Billy Belton. Black Male. Age 23. A student at SPU. Last seen April 2014.” she read. “He was on Year Six of a four year degree path. Sounds like an overachiever.”
“What was his Major?” he asked.
“Let me see,” she thumbed through a couple of pages, before finding what she was looking for. “Computer Engineering.”
There wasn't much to go on. But that was true for all of the cases labeled with “COLD” on the folder. The reason they had gone unsolved up to this point was because there wasn't much to go on when they first disappeared. Still, there must have been something they all left behind. Some sort of clue that the original officers had missed. Every other cold case in the office at least had some leads to work with. Shane wondered if perhaps there was a connection between these missing men that they just weren't seeing. What if there was another serial killer, this time targeting men? Neither of the two cases they were looking at seemed to have any sort of connection, besides the fact that they both vanished without a trace. But what if they dug deeper?
“I have an idea,” he said, after thinking a moment. “Let's check the location of all of these and see if we can pinpoint some sort of central location.”
“Central location of what?” she said in a puzzled tone. “You think these two are related? What about these other ones?”
“I'm not sure yet, but I just want to see something.” he said as he ran a hand over his sandy-brown hair to the back of his neck. They rounded up the folders on the desk, and took them to one of the side rooms down the hall. It had a number of bulletin boards, and more importantly, a map with a collection of thumbtacks. He placed the stack on a table beside the map, and began to pick up and place pins in the homes of those missing. Laura looked on, while leaning against a different table with her arms crossed loosely in front of her body. She was still unsure about just what they were hoping to find with this technique.
“You know, my phone has an app that could probably do this.” she said, this time her tone had far less passiveness and much more humor to it.
“You're right,” came his reply. “But then we couldn't do this.”
At that moment, he had placed the final pin and took a couple of steps back; his hands in front of him as if he was taming a wild animal.
“That's very professional.” said Laura. “But...”
He quickly made a turn, and a gesture with his hand for her to stop mid-sentence. He then made a circular motion with his other hand around the map.
“Don't you see?” he said, still waving his hand around, only now looking back at the map. “All of these men lived and theoretically went missing from this general area. They make a circle. Which would make the epicenter somewhere around here.”
He placed another pin in the middle of the others.
“While I will agree that it's odd that they all lived that close to each other, and it is surprising that nobody else ever noticed, I still don't see what that means to us.” she said.
“What it means,” he says he turns to look back at her. “Is that I think we need to take a deeper look into the backstory of these guys. Find out what they were doing when they disappeared. See if we can't make a connection that's just been hiding from everyone else so far.
Laura pondered this as she glanced at the various pins on the map. Chasing wild speculation was never something she made a habit of doing, but she did appreciate the effort Shane was putting into it so far.
“So, what's the first step?” she finally replied.
“We need to learn more about all of these guys. We should look back over the cell phone records, and see if any of them had their computers checked. And I think it might be a good idea to try and track down some of their next of kin for another interview.” he said, with a bit of excitement in his voice.
Or maybe the caffeine from his awful coffee finally kicked in.
“Won't that just reopen some old wounds for them?” said Laura.
“If it helps find their loved ones or allows us to bring them some closure finally, wouldn't it be worth it?” he said, this time locking eyes with Laura.
Oddly enough, it was in this moment that he first noticed that she had green eyes.
She gave him a sly grin and said “I guess you're right, Rookie.”
He hated that term back when he was a brand new cop and even more so now that he was a new detective, but for some reason he didn't mind so much when she called him that. But that would all have to wait. Finding a link, a connection, was all the more important now. What started as hunch could either make or break his reputation on the department. He'd either be known as the guy willing to waste time and energy chasing dead ends or the guy who lead them to new serial killer. He was willing to take the risk if it meant getting a killer off the streets.