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.
After a few more close calls on the road, he turned off into the subdivision that the missing man was from. It was an upscale, affluent area with very little crime and a steady growth rate in terms of real estate. At first glance, it didn't look to be the kind of place that people “run away” from, at least not to Laura. It wasn't the kind of area that bred the desire to flee in a person and that only made her wonder more about where the guy had actually been the past few days.
“How does a kid working at a grocery store afford to live in a house like these ones?” asked Shane, though he likely already knew the answer.
“Rich parents, and they never bothered to kick him out, from what I read in the file anyway.” she said as she used the sleeve of her coat to clear her window to look for the correct house. “His fiancee has a good job too, which helps.”
“That's who we're meeting with, right?”
“Yeah, the parents are out of town. I don't even know if they know he's missing.” she said, as she spotted the house. “It's right here, stop.”
Though the walk from the car to the front door was short, the snow made it an eventful hike. It looked as though someone had tried to shovel the sidewalk, but gave up halfway through. The two of them stomped their way to the door and rang the bell. An average, unassuming woman in scrubs opened the door and greeted them. She invited them into the house, and to the dining room table, so that they had a place to sit and talk.
“Thank you for coming over so soon, the lady on the phone said that it might take a few days because of the snow.” said the woman in scrubs, Lindsey Schroeder, the fiancee of the missing man. “I would have called sooner, but I've been working a lot of overtime and hadn't even really noticed that he was gone.”
“You're welcome, and we understand how it can be when things are busy.” said Shane as he worked on taking off his gloves. “The two of us have been all over the city the past week or so.”
“That makes sense, we've had a bunch of people coming in to the ER thanks to violent crimes and accidents. Guess it's the weather.” she said, as she sat down and crossed her arms and legs simultaneously.
“So you work in the ER? That must be a pretty intense career.” said Laura.
“Probably not anymore than being a cop, I'd imagine.” came the reply from Lindsey. “But I do work a lot of hours, and have a bad habit of covering everyone's shift when needed.”
“I know how that can be, I used to do the same thing.”
The next few minutes were spent going over general questions about Lindsey's personal life, her work life, and having her fill out a paper that would serve as her official missing person report. Laura's hands had that burning sensation that comes with warming up after being in the cold, and she rubbed them together as Shane pointed out the different boxes of information that Lindsey would have to fill in. Once they finished, Laura was ready to move onto more important questions.
“So, you said you last saw your fiancee a week ago?” she asked the woman. “Is that normal in terms of the amount of time you two go between seeing each other? Seems like a long time for a couple that is planning on getting married.”
“Not a week, usually, no. But our schedules line up pretty bad in terms of having time to spend with each other. I don't live here, so between the hospital, my apartment, and our schedules, it's been pretty hard to see each other a lot.” she said, as she shifted in her chair to place her hands on the table. “But it's never been this long, and we'd always at least send each other texts. But I haven't gotten one from him in days, and that's unlike him.”
“So even if you two weren't able to see each other, you'd text often?” asked Shane.
“Right. And he always has his phone on him, and is always on the thing, so I don't think he'd just ignore all the messages I've sent him the last few days. I even drove to his work and they said that he hasn't clocked in the last couple of days.” she began to sound more and more sorrowful with each word. “It's just not like him at all to not stay in touch. He's big on habits and stuff, so it's just weird.”
“So he's never gone someplace else for awhile and not told anyone?” asked Laura, this time.
“No, never. And even if he was going to, I think he'd at least have told me or his parents.” now it seemed like she was close to tears. “I'm really worried.”
“Were you aware of any kind of bad situations he might have been in? Like owing someone money or something along those lines?” asked Shane, in an attempt to trigger any kind of oversight in the woman's memory.
“Nothing that I ever knew about, no.” she said, after pausing a moment to think. “He kept to himself a lot, and most of his friends are people that he has known since high school. None of them are that bad kind of guys you hear about, either, as far as I know.”
From all they could gather, and all it seemed to Laura, Chase Northcraft was a boring guy with a boring job who had a fiancee that seemed way too goal oriented to be with him. They continued to ask questions that might lead to some sort of tip or hint to his whereabouts, but they weren't getting anywhere. That is, until Laura noticed the computer on the desk in the dining room.
“You said before that he was on his phone a lot, browsing the internet and all that. Did he use the computer here too?” she asked, hoping for a positive and productive answer for a change.
“Actually, he was always on that thing.” she said, motioning towards the computer in the corner. “Since the two of us haven't had the time to do anything, he'd just come home and surf the web all night.”
“Do you think we'd be able to look on there while we are here?” asked Shane, clearly already understanding of where Laura was getting at with her question.
“I mean, sure, but it's not really my computer to give permission. It's his, and his parents.” said Lindsey, with just a hint of apprehension. “I looked on there yesterday already.”
“And did you happen to find anything that may have shown where he went?” Shane's interest was now clearly peaked. “Any notes, or website visits, or something like that?”
Lindsey took a deep breath, and put a hand to the side of her face. After another long pause, she finally spoke again.
“Chase liked to check out porn sites. Not like, illegal ones or whatever, but just a bunch of regular ones. It was like a hobby of his, I guess. Which I always knew about but just thought was kind of odd since he's never really been an overly sexual kind of guy in our relationship.”
“Any other websites along those lines?” asked Laura, since the talk seemed to finally be going their way in terms of gathering usable information to profile his disappearance.
“Just, um. Like a couple of those dating websites, I guess.” she replied, again with a sigh after a length pause. “He was still logged into them on there, and I looked through his inbox. I know that's wrong and only leads to getting hurt, but I had to know.”
“You saw this stuff yesterday? Did you have any idea he may have been on there beforehand? Or meeting other girls some other way?” Shane asked, and part of Laura knew that he began to see her as a suspect, the jilted lover angle.
“No, yesterday was the first time I've ever thought to look. But it seems like he's been on there for awhile, and he was giving out his cell number to some of them.” she was crying now, as she spoke, but Laura couldn't determine if it was because of his infidelity or his disappearance.
“So he was probably communicating with them on his phone, too?”
“I guess. The messages seemed like it.”
Laura knew that they needed to get the records on his phone back as soon as possible. Not only would it give them an idea of who he had been speaking with that his fiancee and family didn't know about, but it would also pinpoint the last places that he used the phone. She decided to wrap up the interview, and let Lindsey know that they would do what they could to track Chase down. She couldn't say whether or not anything bad had happened to him, or if he had simply ran away for awhile. But she ensured her that the two of them would be working hard on finding him.
A few hours later, after they had returned to the office, and gotten the phone records expedited to them, the two spend the rest of the evening looking through them. As they suspected, the missing man seemed to have an unusually large number of girls he'd text with other than his fiancee. The most recent, however, seemed to be a local girl. One that used a prepaid phone and that he met on a dating app. The same dating app the other men who went missing were using. This looked to be the major break they were hoping for. It was just a matter of finding out more now.
One thing of note was the screen name the person used: TheWretchedQueen.
The Princess sat on her throne, nervously watching out across the Grand Hall of her castle. No matter how often her Knight went off to war, she knew he would return. But she still worried. But he was due back on this day at any moment. Everyone in her kingdom anticipated his triumphant return, and like always, a banquet would be held in his honor. Lavish decorations, a hearty meal, and all the noble people as esteemed guests was the norm for such occasions. She couldn't wait to see him; she couldn't wait to hug him again. He would bring her riches from across the land and all he desired in return was her hand.
“Your Highness, please, hold still. I must finish your hair before Sir Gregory returns!” Her favorite Maiden was always quick to pull her out of her moments of being unfocused. “You don't want him seeing you looking so...unladylike, do you?!”
“Of course not, Maiden. I thank you, once again, for reminding me of such.” said the Princess.
“Naturally, your Highness, I'm here to serve you!”
Her Maiden was always there for her, to help her with her royal duties, to help her with her looks. She knew, that as a princess, and a member of the royal house, she had to look the part. The Princess found that to be the hardest, as she much preferred riding horses and climbing trees to being prim and proper.
“What does your Highness think Sir Gregory has brought as a gift this time? More treasure? Perhaps new, exotic fabrics for me to sew new gowns with?” asked the Maiden as she continued to struggle with the Princess' locks of messy hair.
“Hmmm, that is a wonderful question, fair maiden. Perhaps a lovely painting from one of the masters.” said the Princess, once again finding herself thinking about her Knight. “Maybe even a new species for my menagerie.”
Just as she began to lose herself completely once more in thought, a voice spoke up among the nobles in the throne room. A terrible, harsh, evil sounding voice that drained the color from her face and froze her in total fear. It was a voice she knew somehow, but she didn't know from where.
“He will bring you nothing of the sort, foolish girl! Just dread, horror, anguish....terror.” the voice grew louder as it grew nearer, until it was booming throughout the entire room. “He will simply bring you torture, agony, fear, and death!”
Near the back of the throne room, the shape of an old noble woman, the source of the voice, was turning into that of a younger, slender woman in a black dress and veil that barely covered much of her figure at all. The Princess knew who she was, but had no voice to speak. The woman, almost a creature in her own right, cackled in a manic way as she slowly walked towards the throne.
“The only gift he's bringing you, Princess, is the pain you'll feel as he tears through your body with his blade.” the witch was nearly at the foot of the stairs that led up to the throne. Her voice was like torture in it's own right, as each word pierced through the Princess' head. “And when he's done with you, he'll tear through you even more with his giant, rigid, hard cock!”
The Princess had not taken her eyes of the wicked being standing before her, and failed to notice that the rest of the nobles, and her Maiden, had vanished. The once bright walls of her palace were now blackened, burnt, and bleeding. Vines with awful, puss filled barbs wormed their way around every pillar and every statue inside the castle walls.
“Rise, girl, and give me your hand. He will be here soon, and I shall be the one that presents you to him.” the woman reached out a long, slender hand. The hand was tipped with blackened fingernails that were as sharp as daggers. “Your sacrifice will finally show him just how much I love him and need him. And you too, will learn to love him.”
The Princess, now completely under the control of the witch, rose from her throne and slowly walked down the steps to place her hand in the outstretched one before her. She wanted to cry, but could not. She wanted to flee, but could not. Fear was tearing her apart on the inside but she could do nothing but walk along side this horrible woman. What was waiting for her outside? Her mind was adrift and she felt as though the entire world was coming apart at the edges. The witch led her to the tower at the front of the castle; the tower that gave them the best view of the road that lead from the forest to her drawbridge.
The two of them stood there, a fierce and terrible wind ripping the fabric and flesh off them both, for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, somewhere in the distance, the sound of the Knight's familiar horns began to emerge. But, it wasn't the sound the Princess knew and adored. But rather, an unearthly and terrible sound. Each time it erupted from the forest, it got more sinister and awful sounding. Her kingdom was eroding before her very eyes and he was powerless to stop it.
“It won't be long now, girl.” said the witch, once more breaking into a horrifying laugh.
The Princess managed to look at her, and saw that the wind had nearly stripped her completely naked and had caused many small tears in her skin. She thought that may have been the pain she felt too, but she didn't dare look at her own body. She hadn't even realized that the witch had been holding her hand so hard that the knife-life nails had dug into her flesh. It may have upset her, but nothing mattered at that very moment. The treeline exploded with a thunderous boom and she finally saw what had become of Sir Gregory.
He was riding a giant, jet-black horse, and seemed to have grown three times his usual size. He had on a version of his normal helmet, only this one was much more terrifying in appearance and twisted in black strips of metal. He had no shirt or plate armor on, and had huge bulbous muscles that rippled with each trot of the horse beneath him. It was almost as if he grew in size with each passing moment that he neared the castle walls.
“What if I don't want to love him?” said the Princess, surprising even herself.
The witch turned to look at her, the veil and parts of her face had torn away, and she could only smile. It was a disturbing, horrid smile. But there was something in her eyes that seemed as though she was surprised by the question too.
“Then he'll fuck you so hard, you'll have no choice but to love him.”
The Princess didn't want to know what that meant. She shouldn't have known what that meant.
Because she's experienced it before. And she loved him before.
And she would much rather just die than ever love him again.
She couldn't just die though.