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.
His partner, Laura, had been at his side every step of the way. He wasn't sure why she was showing so much faith in him, but he appreciated the fact that she did. She was clearly the more experienced of the two, but she was allowing him to go about it the way he felt was the right way. He may have appreciated the advice and little nudges that she did give him more, however. The two of them worked well together, and had seemingly bonded in the short few weeks they had been working directly. She wasn't required to give him as much leeway as she was, he was brand new after all, but it didn't seem to bother her. Just like she didn't seem to mind accompanying him down to Evidence Lockup first thing in the morning.
“Why have a sign saying you open at nine if you don't actually open at nine?” said Laura as she grabbed a hold of the window cage and gave it a sturdy shake. “Hello? Anyone alive back there?”
“Maybe if you shake it a little louder.” he said in daring voice. “They didn't hear you upstairs.”
“Hey, I'm doing this for you, pal. Don't you forget it.”
“Forget it? How could I? You keep bringing it up.”
“Ahhh ha!” she said as she raised a finger to point his way. “Now you're learning. That will come in handy down the road, trust me.”
Just then, a weathered looking Officer came through the door adjacent to the Evidence window. He was holding a giant coffee mug in one hand and was dangling through a key-chain with his other.
“Well aren't you two a couple of eager beavers.” he said as he moved past them both to unlock the window. “You're going to have to wait for me to get settled.”
“Oh, don't worry, we've got all day. Right, Whelan?” she said with a look of amusement directed at him.
“Uh, sure. All day.” he wasn't really sure how to respond to that. He was never quite sure what her angle was or the type of response she was looking for. She was an infusion of sarcasm and empathy.
“That's lucky for me than. This place is a mess. Those NARC boys keep bringing in loads of shit for me to try and sort.” the Officer continued to rant as he made his way around to the opposite door to let himself in the back. “Not to mention I've got people from your office coming down left and right looking for a bunch of old shit. Or stuff I don't even have.”
“I'm hoping you at least have what I asked you about yesterday?” asked Shane.
“The, uh, what was it?” the man looked disinterested and confused all at once. “Cameras or some shit, wasn't it?”
“Cell phones, actually.” said Laura as she took a step forward to peer around the messy room through the window.
“Oh, that's right! Yeah, I pulled them things before I left yesterday. Have them over here.” he disappeared somewhere behind a row of shelves before coming back out with a manila envelope. “Make sure you sign these damn things out. And bring them back when you're done with them. Nobody ever wants to bring shit back, but oh they're sure make a fuss about taking it out.”
Laura took hold of the envelope containing the phones and began to walk away from the window. As she passed Shane, she handed him the pen he'd need to fill out the paperwork.
“You're going to need that.” she said as she was heading towards the elevator. “I'll see you upstairs, Rookie.”
The two of them spent the rest of the afternoon looking through the phones histories. They each had a phone and a print out containing the last activity on the records. None of the missing men had called any of the same people. They weren't visiting explicit websites, nor were they involved with anything suspicious at first glance. It seemed like they were all as completely average as they had first appeared in their case files.
“How is it that someone can send and receive over three thousand texts in a single month and have absolutely nothing to say?” said Laura as she dropped the printed out record of one of the victims back onto Shane's desk.
“You should ask some of the guys from my old shift. All they'd ever do is find someplace to park and run radar while screwing around on their phones.” he said as he picked up the paper to quickly scan over. “Half of them were cheating on their wives with people they met during traffic stops.”
“I don't miss those days.” she said, in a much less joyful tone as before. Shane wasn't sure if she was referring to being a street cop or if she had been part of a failed marriage. He didn't feel it was appropriate to ask. Instead, he went back to looking over the record.
“Hey, what is this?” she asked, pointing at a different list that contained messages sent and received from a dating app. “This is the same thing that the other guy was using. Choose Yes, right?”
He scanned over the list he had in his hands and found the same listed as she did. He scrambled to find another print-out of a different person. He felt as though this was the thing he'd been missing this entire time; the thing that everyone who's worked on these cases had missed the first time around. Excitement began to well up in him for the first time in a few days. It was the feeling that he had been waiting for and the break that he knew he'd find sooner or later.
“Look here! It's on this guy's list,” he said explicitly and with a hint of furor. “And this one here too!”
“Are you serious?” she asked.
“Yeah, look, you said Choose Yes, right? The last two missing men were on it, along with this guy.” he said pointing to the different lists.
“I've never heard of it. But maybe one of us should download it and take a look?” she offered. Shane pulled out his cellphone and quickly found the app.
“Hmmm, seems like this one is pretty new, actually. It hasn't even been out a year yet.” he said.
“That doesn't really help us with it being a connection, other than the last few guys. Are there any others though that maybe they all had?” she replied.
She seemed to be back in that focused mode he'd see her in sometimes. He wasn't sure if he liked it more than when she was in a sarcastic mood. The two of them sorted through the rest of the files but found no direct link to them all.
“It doesn't seem like there's anything going back as far as the first guy, but did you notice this?” she asked as she placed another paper on the desk in front of him and pointed to the list. “Every one of these guys got text messages from those temporary phones you can buy at the supermarket.”
“Are any of them from the same number? I'd imagine not since that would have been easy to catch when they looked over everything before we got to it.” he said as he scanned the numbers she was pointing towards.
“It's gotta be something though, doesn't it? Nobody uses those things anymore, since anyone can get a cellphone plan. Is there a way to trace those numbers?” she asked.
“I think the only way you can is if the phone is still active, but I'd have to check. We could see if any of these are still in use. None of the temp phone conversations seemed to be for longer than a week or two and almost always before the person went missing. It's got to be somehow involved in what we're looking for.” he said. Now it was Shane who had a determination to his voice.
At that moment, a knock came from the doorway. It was their supervisor, Detective Lieutenant Burchill, in his hands a single blue folder and a big grin on his face.
“You two are gonna love me, I bet.” his words were dripping with sarcasm.
“But what if I already do, sir?” said Laura in an equally sarcastic tone.
“You wish. So, this here just came down the pipe.” he said as he tapped the folder against his free hand. “Of course, normally one of us would deal with it, but I think it's likely going to end up on your desk eventually anyway. So I figured I'd just skip to it and let you two deal with it now.”
“It's another missing person case?” asked Shane.
“Sure is, Rookie. Except the guy is recently lost; his fiancee reported him missing a couple of nights ago. She says it's not like him and as far as we can tell, he wasn't up to anything illegal beforehand. Boring kid who worked at a grocery story.” said the LT, finally down to business. “I want the two of you to head out and interview her, and the parents, he was living with them. Last anyone saw of him, he was leaving the parking lot of his work. Let me know what you're able to find.”
“We'll get over there right away, sir.” said Shane, standing up and pulling his coat from the back of his chair to put on.
“Good, maybe if you get there soon enough, we'll be able to find something we can work with on these kinds of things. If word gets out that a bunch of average men are missing, people are going to start getting worried. Take care of this one, Culver.” said the LT as he turned to leave the office.
“Yes, sir. Looks like you're driving.” she said to Shane as she put on her own coat and gloves.
“What, no 'rookie' remark this time?” he asked.
“Eh, it loses it's meaning right after that asshole says it.” she said with a smile he'd yet to see from her. It seemed much more genuine.
With that, the two of them would be on their way to the newly started investigation and both held with them a hope that this was the work of the same person they suspected in the other cases. They had a chance to follow the tracks before they melted, figuratively speaking.
Waves crashed around the bow of the ship like furious thunder as the ocean mist engulfed the deck of the fierce Brigantine The Thorn of the Sea. The brave Captain stood firmly at the ship's helm, fighting off the urge to flee the deck and seek the safety of her cabin. She knew that her crew looked to her for guidance and would follow her to the end of the world if she needed. Just as long as she stayed strong and weathered the storm.
"Captain, we've got to break through, else we run ashore!” came the call of her worried First Mate behind her.
“Have no fear, matey, as long as I'm at the wheel, that will never happen!” she said, turning her head just slightly enough so that the First Mate would hear her as she continued to battle the ever growing waves that came crashing down on her ship.
“But Captain, shouldn't the skies have cleared by now?! I don't understand what's happening, the crew is worried too!” he insisted that she listen.
And she did.
He was right, this wasn't what usually happened when they faced bad weather. She'd take the wheel and power their way through the storm with just a hint of danger to add to the excitement, to the adventure. Something wasn't right with any of this though, but she only just now realized it. That's when the ship's wheel jerked from her hands and the boat went with it. She tumbled to the deck on her rear, and turned to her head to face her First Mate. He looked as worried as she must have in that moment; it was a look she had never seen from the man. He was always so steady, but so was she. What was happening?
“Captain, we've got to abandon ship while we still have a chance!” he yelled over the sound of the water crushing the masts and tearing down sections of the sails.
She wasn't ready to give that order yet. It was something that she never had to worry about before and she couldn't understand what happened to the strength she so gallantly had before.
Indeed, something was astray now. As her ship tore apart around her and the screams of her crew were muffled by the sounds of the wind and relentless ocean, she could only muster enough courage and energy to grab the wheel and stand again. When she did, she saw that the water was a blood red color that she'd never experienced before. The harsh, swirling clouds in the sky were also a deep, dark red color only being lit slightly by the bolts of angry lightning crashing around it.
“Captain, what is that?!” yelled her First Mate, who was now standing directly behind her, using her for balance as he pointed off past the front of the ship with his other hand.
Above the ever rising and violent waves of blood and off in the distance was something or someone. Someone who seemed as though they were floating above the water, arms stretched out, black tails of fabric swirling around their nearly bare form just as the sails were of the ship in the wind.
The Captain felt her First Mate's grip tighten on her shoulder as the figure began to float towards them over the ocean. But as the being approached, she felt the hand on her shoulder loosen and let go completely. When she turned her head to look, he was gone. The entirety of her crew was gone, in fact. She was alone at the ship's wheel. The ship was being ripped completely apart and she was alone.
The howling wind and thunderous waves were nearly deafening, but she still heard it. The sound of that maniacal cackling coming from the floating apparition like a banshee. The closer it got, the louder the laugh got until the Captain could feel it in her bones. She was afraid and alone.
She was afraid.
And that is exactly what they wanted.
Exactly what he wanted.