A year has passed since the incident at the alley. One of a Kind Investigations has a new employee, Vito Venticelli. The former SEAL sniper has adapted well to the life of a private detective, spying on cheating husbands and tracking missing persons like he did Taliban insurgents. In his spare time Vito researches the strange creatures that killed his squad in Afghanistan.
As for Frank Brooks, the old detective’s condition has improved slightly under the watchful eye of Trevor Sorenson. Frank has fewer incidents of hostility though he still shows signs of anxiety and vocalization. Dr. Sorenson now believes Frank may not be a danger to others, though he still requires constant attention. The older man also still clings to his delusions that the Sandmen did this to him, delusions Trevor is beginning to suspect contain a grain of truth.
Dr. Ilyes has been unable to find any signs of prions or any other known disease. Franks’ brain cells have been destroyed and in some places his cerebrum has been smoothed out, the wrinkles removed. Thankfully the progress of the disease has halted. Whatever the cause, it is no longer present within the patient.
Despite his slow recovery, Frank is making new memories which is making it easier on his wife Mavis. To learn more however the investigators need to find more cases. Unfortunately the populations most at risk, the homeless, are also the least likely to be reported.
Seattle, Hillcrest Mental Health Center, Morning of January 27th 2010
The cold winter mist blows through the gnarled moss clad trees. Inside the white halls of the Hillcrest Center, Dr. Sorenson hurries down the hardwood floor to the patient examination room. He quickly flips through the case file.
Dr. Sorenson notes the proximity to where Frank was found. Intrigued he thinks, is it possible this is a related case?
Georgia is seated in a chair in the examination room, eyes fixated on a corner. “How are you today, Georgia? Are you feeling any better?”
Dr. Sorenson’s question receives only a blank look.
“No, alright.” Sighing he begins a quick medical assessment. The professor is relatively unresponsive, only minutely tracking the movement of his hand. She seems healthy though. He checks her arms finding some bruising on there and on her shoulders. More disturbingly old scars crisscross her arms and hands. “What happened to you Georgia? How did you hurt yourself? Do you remember?”
Dr. Sorenson begins to question her about her past hoping to provoke a reaction. “Where did you go to graduate school?”
The blond haired woman doesn’t respond. “Do you remember what university you teach at? Which classes you have this semester?”
After a few minutes of this. Dr. Sorenson tries a different avenue. “Can you tell me the last thing you remember, Georgia, about why you were on the street? And where we found you?”
The woman shudders slightly.
Encouraged, Trevor decides to goes out on a limb. “Do you know anything about the sandman?”
Trevor finds himself on his back. He shields his face with his arms as the patient pounds at him with her bare hands. Gasping he tries to calm her. “Calm down Georgia. I’m Dr. Sorenson. I am not one of the Sandmen. I’m here to help you.”
The words only infuriate her. She snatches up his fallen pencil and stabs it into his arm. The orderlies drag her off of him. Her blows and scratches leave him wincing in pain.
“I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine,” Dr. Sorenson says, waving off the one of the nurses treating his wounds. Once alone in his office, he turns to complete his notes for Georgia’s case file, noting everything he said, including his sandman query. He notes that he suspected a connection to the case of Frank Brooks.
“One of a Kind Investigations, this is Shaw.” She glances at the display on the phone. “How are you doing Dr. Sorenson?”
“I’m doing…well I’ve done better. A few cuts and bruises.” He quips, “being stabbed with a pencil was not as pleasant as I had hoped.”
Concerned Shaw asks, “has there been a change in Frank’s condition?”
“No, there actually hasn’t been a change in his condition. But there was a new patient brought in. Her background and physiological symptoms seem similar to Frank’s. On a hunch when I was questioning her, I asked her about the sandman and she attacked me.”
Dr. Sorenson leans forward at his desk. “I think this is the closest thing to a lead we have on Frank. I think it would be a good idea to look into her background and question her friends and relatives. Also we should check out where she was found. To see if there are any information we can tie into Frank’s case.”
“Certainly, what information can you give me?”
Dr. Sorenson relays the details of Georgia’s case. The only police involvement was with her discovery collapsed in front of a Mexican restaurant in SoDo. Despite being missing for two weeks, the professor was never reported as a missing person. She was last seen by her friend Luara Schaeffer on the 10th. Single, white, 43 years old and with no history of violence or drugs, it isn’t clear why she should be there late at night. “Her background is very different from Frank’s but both are established individuals in the area with no reason to disappear, both found on the streets in a catatonic state. She is even more withdrawn than Frank.”
“Dr. Sorenson, thank you for contacting us. Will you be at your clinic for the rest of the day?”
“Definitely. I’ve already ordered some tests to be run on her. If my hunch is correct, I expect to see a very similar brain deterioration to Frank.”
“Okay. Unfortunately I won’t be able to look into this personally at the moment. But someone from the office will be by shortly. Could you check her personal effects?”
Dr. Sorenson agrees to have a look. Shaw thanks him and hangs up.
Office of One of a Kind Investigations
“One sec,” Robert says putting down his orange juice. He locks his computer, hiding whatever he was up to.
Inside Shaw’s spartan office, she informs them, “I just had a phone call from our old friend Dr. Sorenson.”
“Alright,” Robert says glancing at the sole decoration on the desk, a picture of Frank.
Shaw turns to Vito. “You are familiar with the case history of Frank Brooks?”
The young man nods.
Shaw continues, “Just today, Dr. Sorenson has reviewed the case history of a new patient who is displaying almost exactly the signs that Frank did.”
“Really?” Robert says surprised.
Shaw give the two detectives a brief rundown of Georgia Chaney’s case.
Robert Mill recognizes the name. “Professor Chaney? I vaguely know her. I’ve been to a seminar by her once. I never had a class with her though.”
Shaw checks the time. “I have a new client coming in this afternoon but I’d like you guys to hit the pavement and see what we can find out. Dr. Sorenson is running some tests on her right now and should know more in the afternoon. But I’d like you check out where she was found and check with the last person who saw her. There is an open police file on this, so watch your steps. However, it might be worth looking over her home and office. I’ll touch base with you guys around 5.”
“Should we divide this or go together?” Robert asks.
“First check out where they found her together. The cops who picked her up didn’t seem to know what they were doing.”
Vito speaks up. “We can check out her house and check out the university.”
“If you want to split up, fine,” Shaw decides. “But I think you should stick together for the moment. If you think need to cover more ground use your judgement.”
“Sure we’ll get right on it,” Robert replies, getting up.
Robert Mill and Vito Venticelli jog the half mile down to north SoDo. The area borders the CenturyLink Field stadium. Filled with pubs, galleries, and small local restaurants, it seems fairly safe. The Mexican restaurant, Vince’s, has a small fenced off patio under an awning. The tables and chairs sit empty in the cold wet weather.
The two go inside. A smiling waitress approaches them, menus in hand. As they are seated, Vito asks, “is the manager available?”
“Let me check,” the young woman hesitantly says. A couple minutes later an older Mexican woman comes over to their table.
Vito smiles at her. “We heard a lady was found in front of the restaurant the other day.”
The manager relaxes a bit. “Yes. I was opening in the morning and she was collapsed in front.”
“Did you observe her approach?”
“No, no,” the woman protests. “I told the police, she was there when I arrived.”
“Did you notice anything around her at all?”
“She was…clutching a knife,” the manager says slowly.
“Was it a plain clean knife? Or was it a combat knife?”
The woman shrugs. “It was a large knife.”
Robert asks, “did it look bloody at all?”
Vito thanks her for her time and asks for a couple cups of coffee to go. They get their coffee and quickly pay.
On the way out Robert grumbles, “usually you get free chips and salsa at these places. See if I come back to this place again.”
As they begin to head up the street, he asks, “so I wonder if we should come back in the evening and see if there are any locals, homeless people or drug dealers, who might be have been here late at night. Perhaps they saw something?”
Vito nods. They decide to head to the university next. On the way back to the car, Vito calls Shaw, telling her, “not much at the restaurant, we’re headed to the university.”
University District, University of Washington, 1:30 PM
The pair of detectives soon arrive the university. The wide lawns and stately building stand mostly empty, awaiting the beginning of the spring semester. A few professors and graduate students hurry from one building to another attempting to escape the cold wet weather.
Vito walks into the secretary’s office in the Biology building. He explains to the secretary, “just got out of the service, I’m thinking about resuming my studies in marine biology. I understand you might have some professors here that I might want to study with.”
The woman fiddles with her glasses. “Oh, yes. I can arrange an interview with one of our professors.”
“I’ve heard Dr. Georgia Chaney is working on some of the things I’m interested in.”
“Well, um, I’ll see, but Dr. Chaney is currently on sabbatical.”
“Ok, are there any other professors who would be available?”
“Well Dr. Hicks will be in next week.”
Vito arranges for an interview with Dr. Hicks. The secretary tells him he should receive an email soon with a potential date and time.
Dr. Chaney’s door stands out due to the police tape across it. Robert quickly opens the door and ducks under the tape. He closes the door as best he can, given the broken lock. Books and papers lie scattered across the floor. A quick glance tells Robert that the toppled computer is missing its hard drive.
Taking his time the detective carefully surveys the scene. The initial impression is of a simple break in, perhaps an angry student trying to get revenge for a failing grade. But Robert’s practiced eye picks up subtle clues. The books toppled behind the door show signs of damage from when it was forced open. The papers are haphazardly tossed about the room in a fashion that suggest the vandal wasn’t looking for anything, or least anything they hadn’t already found.
He concludes the break-in is an obfuscation. Checking the lock more closely, he sees signs that someone carefully picked it. He thinks to himself, they must have sneaked in, grabbed what they were looking for and then vandalized the area to cover their tracks.
He checks the desk for photos. He find several of fish and one of a woman, presumable Chaney, on a boat somewhere sunny and warm. There is nothing to suggest what else they took.
With nothing left to find, Mill walks out of the office as if there was nothing strange about it.
He runs into Vito coming down the hall. Quickly he relays the details. “It looks like they wanted us to think it was a simple break-in.”
Vito texts Shaw. ’Doctor’s office tossed, heading for residence.’
Robert tells him, “I think I’ll spend a little more time here. See if there any professors who might know more about Chaney.”
Vito tells him he will be back soon and heads off.
Windermere, Dr. Georgia Chaney’s house, 2:30 PM
Vito drives over up to Georgia’s house. The two story Craftsman building has a view of Lake Washington. Large upscale homes surround it to either side.
The detective quickly checks the mail box, noting the piled up mail. The oldest is dated the 9th. Glancing around, he heads up the open lawn. The backyard is verdant. As he checks the windows, he notices that the back door is open a crack.
Vito takes the clip off his knife. He opens the door. Inside things are quiet. He steps into the kitchen. A loaf of bread sits on the counter, moldering in its plastic packaging. Quickly he scouts the rest of the house. There are no signs of theft or vandalism.
Upstairs he finds an office. The drawers are all pulled open. He checks the computer, waking it from sleep mode. There doesn’t seem to be anything interesting there. He quickly checks the rest of the upstairs. The bed is still made.
Vito walks back to the office. He flips through the files, looking for any gaps and memorizing the labels. Then he goes downstairs and locks the back door. He returns to the office a final time, unplugging the computer. Taking it under his arm he leaves out the front door.
Offices of One of a Kind Investigations, 3 PM
As her meeting approaches Shaw looks over her background checks on Donald and Stephanie Thomas. The pair has been divorced for 12 years. Stephanie works locally at a clothing store while Donald is a banker currently living in San Diego.
The pair is looking for their son, Kenneth. He was a Anthropology Graduate student until last year. He still is living near the university, or least was until he went missing.
Mavis rings Shaw that Don and Stephanie have arrived. As they come into her office, Shaw extends her hand. “Hello Mr. and Mrs Thomas.”
Stephanie takes her hand and shakes it. But Don quickly sits down and gloomily looks out the window into the rain. Shaw studies but is unable to determine the source of his foul mood.
“How can One of a Kind Investigations be of help?”
Stephanie sobs, “I sure hope that you can help. Our son has been missing. He hasn’t talked to me or talked to Don here in over two weeks. He is not at his apartment.”
“I see. What can you tell me about your son?”
The overweight woman sniffles. “Ken is such a nice kid. He’s always trying to help people. I know, I know he’s been having difficulties with his studies but he always calls me regularly.”
“When did he last speak to you?”
“I last heard from him on the 9th.” Stephanie looks pleadingly at Shaw.
“When did you last see your son in person?”
“Not since New Years.”
“So…he’s a student at the university?” Shaw looks expectantly at the parents.
“He was…but he was having difficulties.” Stephanie makes excuses. “Grad school is really hard. It just didn’t work out.”
“You had mentioned his studies? Was he pursuing another degree?”
“Well he was still working on his thesis. He was trying to finish. It has been very hard for him.”
“I see. What about his friends?”
“He was sharing an apartment with a friend of his. Uh, I don’t really know his last name. Ben.”
“Hm-mm, Ben.” Shaw says jotting everything down. “I assume you’ve spoken with his friend?”
“I haven’t been able to find Ben.”
“So Ben is missing as well.” Noting down the extra missing person, Shaw asks, “when did you looked at the apartment?”
Stephanie says she stopped by over a week ago. The landlady, a woman by the name of Ezra Wasch, told her she hadn’t seen the two in two weeks.
Shaw asks for the keys to apartment, which Stephanie quickly digs out of her handbag. She turns to the father. “How about you, Mr. Thomas? When was the last time you spoke with him?”
The pudgy balding man grumpily says, “I haven’t talked to him in years.”
“I see. This must be very hard for you.”
“Yeah,” the banker says, focusing on the growing gloom outside. Shaw reads his lack of concern and fidgeting to get done with this.
Shaw turns the conversation to Ken’s other contacts, his friends and possible romantic interests. It seems his mother had already talked to all of his friends, many of whom had not spoken to him in years. She is however able to tell her that Kenneth’s thesis adviser was Dr. Baker.
“What exactly was he researching?” Shaw asks.
“He’s an anthropology student, looking into the Native American myths. He was talking to the Dowam-”, Stephanie struggles for a moment, “Duwamish tribes.”
Shaw gets the name of the police case officer and case number from Mrs. Thomas. She asks if he had a job. Stephanie isn’t sure. Kenneth had told her that Ben had gotten him a job someplace several months ago.
“So he was supporting himself through student loans so far?” the detective asks, glancing at Don.
Stephanie replies, “Yes. Though I had been helping him a bit.”
“Has his troubles been recent?”
“Well, he was having trouble in school and he was forced to drop out.” Tears well up in her eyes. “I’m really worried about him.”
“I understand. Please know we will do everything we can to find him.”
Stephanie thanks her. Shaw quickly runs them through the business paperwork. Mrs. Thomas takes care of all the signatures and makes a check for the basic retainer.
As they go to leave, Shaw asks Donald where he is staying. “At the Holiday Inn. By the airport.”
She makes a quick call to the University of Washington. With a bit of fast talking she gets an administrator there to send her his transcripts and class schedule. Ben was taking a lot of upper level biology courses as well as lot of drama classes. It seems he wanted to be an actor. Interestingly his academic adviser was Dr. Georgia Chaney. He switched this year to Dr. Hicks for some reason.
Shaw calls Ezra, the pair’s landlady. She confirms the last time the woman had seen the two students. “Is now a good time to come over to look at the apartment? I have a waver from the parents.”
“I suppose,” Ezra replies. “I’ll be here till 5.”
Thanking her, Shaw hangs up and calls Mill.
University District, University of Washington, afternoon
Robert Mill wanders the well lit halls of academia. He talks to the few biology professors there, to graduate students, and the staff. He approaches them straightforwardly as an investigator from One of a Kind Investigations, looking into the mysterious ailment that Dr. Chaney came down with.
The disease comment draws some worried looks, but he is able get them to open up. None of them have seen her in several months. As the winter sun descends, he eventually finds himself in the office of Dr. Hicks.
The old man mulls over a comment on Chaney’s mental decline. “Well that explains something. She was very erratic last year.” He continues, explaining that she had been missing classes and how her research funding had not been renewed. “I guess that’s why she went on sabbatical.”
“When did you last see her?” Robert asks.
He strokes his chin for a moment. “Over the summer.”
“Do you know where she went on sabbatical?”
“I believe she was going to be taking time for her own research.”
“So she was staying locally, doing research on fish?”
“Right.” He snorts derisively, “She was investigating a new species of fish in the area.”
“And the funding she lost was on this species?”
The gray hair man nods. He explains that the fish was found by a student of hers, Benjamin Miner. “He found this unusual fish. I do not believe it was actually a new species but rather that it was a Southeast Asian Snake Head expanding into new territory. It was probably brought into the area by one of those container ships in Tacoma.”
Robert asks, “do you know if she has any close friends I can contact or family that you know of?”
Unfortunately Dr. Hicks only knows of other professors, most of whom Robert has already spoken to. He can only vaguely suggest that she has family in California.
Robert concludes his interview by checking that he is not familiar with Frank or any of the details of his case. Hicks gives him an incredulous look at the mention of Sandmen and brain spiders. Robert hastily concludes, “Thank you very much Dr. Hicks.”
They shakes hands and he leaves the office. Heading downstairs and planning his next move, Robert Mill is interrupted by a call from Shaw.
“Hi Mill,” his boss says.
“Oh hey, how’s it going?”
“Well interesting development, I think the missing person’s case might intersect with Professor Chaney. It turns out his roommate, Ben Miner, is also possibly missing. From my research it seems he is a senior year bio student who worked with Chaney. She was his old adviser. His new adviser is a Professor Hicks. I’m about to go and look over their apartment but they both apparently went missing two weeks ago.”
Robert stops at the bottom of the stairs. “So Benjamin is missing.”
Robert continues, “I just talked to Dr. Hicks. Do we need more details on this case or the missing persons case?”
“Well we need to solve both of them. Have you found any connection to Frank?”
“No connection to Frank at this point. Beyond what Dr. Sorenson already discovered.”
“Well Chaney, Ben and Ken all disappeared around the same time. So there is at least an outside chance they are connected. I kind of hope you could look into Ben and Ken. Sounds like you are already on that track.”
“A little bit.” He hesitates. “On Benjamin. I don’t know Ken.”
Shaw fills him in on Kenneth Thomas. “Ben’s probably his closest friend right now.”
She mentions that Kenneth hasn’t been enrolled for over six months.
Robert mutters, “six months…” He relays his information on Chaney, noting the loss of her funding and her own absence from the university. As an aside he mentioned the fish species.
Shaw is curious. “Any clues on what the fish was? Dr. Sorenson might be able to have a look at the research.”
“I just found about it but I’ll take a look at it.” Robert continues with the details of the office break in, including his suspicions that someone was covering their tracks.
“I look forward to meeting up with guys around 5,” Shaw says.
“Yeah, and I’ll look into the fish. Vito went to her home to check that out.”
“I received a text from him recently. I assume you’ll regroup with him and we’ll meet back at the office at 5. Don’t forget to run by the Hillcrest Center and see Dr. Sorenson.”
Hillcrest Mental Health Center, Late Afternoon
A leather purse catches his eye. Slowly he empties it. He sets aside her identification, credit cards, and cash. Obviously she wasn’t mugged, he thinks.
He glances at a collection of pictures of unknown people. Further down he pulls out a flashlight. Intrigued, he digs deeper. A large key chain is next. In addition to car and house keys, there are lot of similar looking keys, perhaps for the university. He doesn’t find a cell phone, though.
Near the bottom, he pulls out a cluster of lipstick and similar items and then he grasps the heavy handle of a stun gun. She was a lone woman out at night, he thinks. The stun gun has almost no charge left.
He shakes out the almost empty bag. There is some loose change, a paperclip, and two 9mm rounds. Dr. Sorenson ponders the bullets. She wasn’t found with a gun.
He double checks the police report. There is a description of the hunting knife she was clutching but nothing else noted.
Dr. Sorenson looks over her clothes. They are warm and dark colored. The shoes are sensible, good for jogging in. Definitely not a night on the town but not camping in the woods either. There are no obvious signs of dirt on the shoes.
This woman had a lot of defensive items, he thinks to himself, what was she expecting to find? She obviously expected to be someplace dangerous and dark.
Looking over the report as well as his own observations, the only current injuries he can find are bruising on her arms and shoulders. She was struggling with something.
He glances at the calendar. He still has a few days before he can expect the tests to be complete.
Northern Seattle 4:00 PM
Robert quickly calls him back. “Hey Vito, how is it going?”
Vito summarizes what he found at the house. “Oldest postmark was the 9th so I figure the 12th was the last time the mail was picked up.”
He also tells him that the rear door was unlocked and he grabbed her computer. “Didn’t want to lose another hard drive.”
Robert winces at the admission of the theft. “When you were looking through her notes did you notice anything from a Benjamin Miner? Or anything about a new species of fish?”
Vito thinks back. There were many student records but none on a Benjamin Miner. “No.”
University District, Benjamin Miner’s apartment, 4 PM
Shaw drives into a neighborhood of low rent apartments north of the University of Washington. As she pulls up to Ben Miner and Kenneth Thomas‘s apartment, she is reminded of her days on the force. Situated in one of the highest crime areas in Seattle, the building shows signs of ill repair. It’s discolored paneling is stained with graffiti. The tag “ENE – VI” is unfamiliar to Shaw and she snaps a picture with her phone.
She checks her details. The boy’s apartment is 3C. But first she turns into the property office in 1A.
The landlady Ezra Wasch is there. She puts down a book and gets up from the couch. “Oh you’re Lillian Shaw.”
“Yes I spoke to you a few hours ago.”
The fat woman sits back down and says, “I still haven’t seen the boys.”
Shaw finds a chair. “It is disturbing. I know you must work with a lot of students. When was the last time you saw them?”
Ezra struggles to remember. “Ben had come by on the…10th? It might have been the 11th.”
“Do you remember what you were doing that day?” Shaw says trying to jog her memory. With a little help she is able to confirm it was the afternoon of the 11th. “Everything was fine with him then?”
The gray haired woman nods.
“Has he been renting from you for long?”
“Ben? Yeah, he has been renting from me for two years. He’s a good tenant, he always pays on time.”
“Well I’m hired to help find Ken but I’m concerned that Ben hasn’t been reported missing. Does he have any family or friends that you know?”
“I met his mother once. I believe she lives down in Rainier Valley.”
Shaw convinces the landlady to let her into mail, hoping it will help reveal when they vanished. There is a lot of junk mail which she carefully puts into a briefcase.
“Has anyone else come by looking for them?” Shaw asks, watching her closely.
Ezra struggles to remember. “Well there was the someone…” She puts a hand to her head. “Somebody came by looking for them. I think maybe Ben’s mother…no wait Ken’s mother.”
“When was this?”
“A week and a half ago,” she says more confidently. “Oh and there was that girl. Elizabeth or Liz or something like that. She said she was Ken’s girlfriend.”
“I bet these college kids have lots of friends coming and going.” As Ezra nods, Shaw continues,
“so you’ve met Elizabeth before?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“What was her last name?” Shaw inquires.
“I’m not sure. I don’t think she told me.”
“But she didn’t seem concerned?”
The older woman quickly says, “No, she was looking for him.”
Shaw gets a description of Elizabeth. Blond haired and well dressed, she impressed Ms. Wasch as a well mannered young woman. She suspects she was a college student, probably a sophomore.
Shaw asks if they had any friends or visitors. Ezra replies, “I believe I’ve seen an older woman come by occasionally.”
“What did she look like?”
Ezra describes a woman matching Chaney’s description.
“So she came by a lot?” Shaw asks.
“Well I’m not here in the evenings, but she came by several times.” Ezra explains the last time she saw her for sure was before Thanksgiving.
Shaw checks that they were paid up until the end of the month. She also asks after the cosigner on the lease. With some prompting Ezra pulls out the file. Shaw quickly notes Ben’s mother, Sarah, and her address.
“Ms. Wasch you’ve been a big help to me. I’m going to go up to the apartment and see what I can find. I’ll likely be back a couple times in the next few days. I’ll certainly keep you up to date if I do find anything about either them.”
Shaw leaves the office. The only way up and down from the third floor is the stairs. She glances into the laundry room where few battered appliances hum in the darkness. Shaw heads up the creaky stairs to the third floor. Four battered doors open into the landing. One has a welcome mat. A window lets in some fading light.
Shaw tries the door. It swings easily open, the lock broken by a heavy blow.
Shaw’s first impression is of smoke and salt. The darkness makes it seem even more cold.
She makes the most of the fading light quickly sweeping the apartment for any people. The main room is dominated by an ash filled trashcan in the center. Two 100 gallon fish tanks take up two of the walls of the room while a well used a futon takes up another. There look to be hookups for a TV and other electronics but that they were recently removed.
She moves to the left of the main room, into the dining area. She makes her way past the scratched wooden table and three mismatched chairs into the kitchen. The cupboards of the kitchen and the refrigerator door hang open.
Shaw backs up to the main room, glancing out at the empty balcony on the way. She quickly checks the coat closet. A few coats and shoes fill the small space.
The only other way out is a short hallway. At the end are doors into a small bedroom and bath. She looks in the bath making sure no one is behind the shower curtain.
The bedroom is decorated with posters of movies and movie stars. An unmade bed takes up much of the room. She opens the closet taking in the large and varied wardrobe.
The apartment cleared, Shaw returns to the front door and closes it as best she can with the chain. She carefully looks around. The futon has been slept in. There are no computers and no electronics. The entertainment center has been stripped. As she looks at the brown muddy water of the tank, a nasty looking fish smacks against glass. The 14 inch fish seems to have a head full of teeth. Shaw takes a picture of the ugly thing. The other tank seems empty or at least nothing reacts when she taps on it.
She turns to the trash can. Amid the ashes and wreckage she finds a few papers still partially intact. She notes the lack of smoke detectors. Carefully she takes pictures and gathers up the material. Underneath are the remains of a hard drive. She gathers it up and puts it safely away.
She scours the kitchen, looking under shelves and tables. The food inside is long spoiled except for a few can of beans. Moving on the bedroom, it seems nothing has been packed or moved. There are some pictures of African Americans. Shaw concludes this must have been Ben’s room.
In the bathroom there is only one set of tooth brushes and toiletries. Bare spaces attest that there was another set. In the trash she finds two used needles as well as two ampules marked BNSX-7. With care she picks up the needles and ampules.
Her investigation complete, she heads out, closing the door carefully behind her. She walks across the hall and knocks on the apartment door with the welcome mat. No one answers. She pulls out a business card and writes a note on it: ‘Looking into missing person’s case involving Ken and Ben, please call me.’ She slips it under the door.
Heading back down she picks through the bundle of mail she took. No personal correspondence, no bills, nothing from this mysterious Liz. The latest postage stamp is from the 11th. So they must have picked up the mail around the 13th. She leaves the pile of junk mail with Ms. Wasch and heads back to the office.
Hillcrest Mental Health Center, 4:30 PM
Robert and Vito drive up past the gnarled old trees and the well manicured lawn to the stately East Wing of the Hillcrest Center. Peering out from the thick glass windows into the gloomy rain are few wheelchair bound patients.
The two detectives head inside.
Robert approaches the receptionist. “We’re hear to see Dr. Sorenson.”
“Oh yes, let me ring him.” The young woman picks up the phone and presses a button. “Dr. Sorenson? you have some guests here.”
She puts the phone back down. “He’ll be right down.”
A few minutes later, Dr. Sorenson comes down the hall, his face still bruised from Georgia Chaney’s attack. He quickly greets them. “Its good that you came by. I have something I want to show you. Come back with me to my office.”
The detectives join him in his somewhat spartan office. “I took the liberty of looking through Dr. Chaney’s effects when she was brought in. Let me share what I found out. Unfortunately the medical tests won’t be done for several days. I still expect them to reveal similar damage to her brain though. And that there will be no chemical traces.”
“However, it looks like she was expecting trouble.” He relays the details of the contents of her purse and the knife she was found with. “I don’t know what to make of it, except she was investigating something and ended up in contact with the same person or substance Frank did.”
“Did you get any response from her at all?” Vito asks.
He gestures to his wounds. “Only a violent response when I mentioned the Sandman to her.”
Robert turns back to the evidence. “Anything in the purse of use to us?”
Dr. Sorenson shows them the pictures in her wallet. “Unfortunately there was no cell phone. She’s not responding to questions at all but she can hear things that are said to her.” He rubs his bandaged arm. “Perhaps after her sedation, we might be able to question her.”
Robert ask, “are you sure the attack was in response to what you were saying?”
Dr. Sorenson is very sure. “I had tried to elicit a response earlier by talking about her work, her studies, her family and so forth with absolutely no response. Then when I asked her the question ‘Do you know anything about the Sandman?’ she attacked.”
Dr. Sorenson suggests talking to her friends and neighbors to learn what sort of trouble she was involved in. “Nobody carries a knife, a stun gun, and a pistol unless they are expecting to get into trouble.”
Robert tells the doctor, “we think she may have been with a younger man named Ben Miner. But she probably won’t recall him.”
Dr. Sorenson writes the name down just in case. He also checks the name in the center’s database to make sure he isn’t also a patient. Robert mentions Kenneth Thomas as another ‘companion’. He also is not in the database. He mutters, “I don’t understand what could have done this to her.”
Vito asks, “has anyone come to see her?”
“No, no one has come to see her. She wasn’t even reported missing.”
Just then Robert gets text from Shaw: ‘bring Dr. Sorenson back with you to the office.’ He flashes it to Vito.
The former military man tells the doctor, “Shaw would like you to come down to the office if you have the time.”
“Sure I’m finished with patients for the day.” He grabs his coat and briefcase and heads out with the detectives.
Office’s of One of a Kind Investigations, 5:10 PM
Vito and Robert arrive at the office with Dr. Sorenson. Mavis‘s desk is unoccupied with a couple case files sitting in the inbox. As they head to the boss’s office, Shaw exits, a thick stack of papers in her hands.
She notes the computer under Vito’s arm and directs them to the meeting room. She joins them a moment later, carefully placing a pile of smoky burnt papers on the table. “These are the originals. But I did find some very interesting case files at the apartment.”
“Whose apartment?” Robert asks.
“Ben Miner and Kenneth Thomas,” she answers. “I believe Ben Miner’s things have been relatively undisturbed, though he hasn’t been there in at least two weeks. Kenneth seems to have left. There is also a young woman named Elizabeth or Lizzy looking for him.”
“Yes. In the middle of the living room, which I think also doubled as Ken’s place, I found these.” She picks up the photocopies and hands a copy to each of them.
The assembled investigators quickly read over the papers. Trevor’s expression grows distraught upon reaching Case #8.
After several long minutes, Robert asks, “so you found this just lying in their apartment?”
Shaw quickly responds, “no, there was a trashcan bonfire in the middle of the living room.” She smirks. “The place wasn’t up to code. But I was able to retrieve this much.”
“So they tried to burn all the files?”
“Yes. I also found a hard drive from a computer that was not on the premises. I’m not sure if you’ll be able to do anything with it but I brought it back as well. I also found some used syringes and vials of a substance labeled BNSX-7.”
Trevor snaps, “that’s Verdant tech.”
“Well there’s reference here to a pharmaceutical company, Keystone Pharmaceuticals.”
Trevor uncomfortably thinks back to his former career. “That name means something to me. It was a secret compound I assumed they were working on. I ran across it before I left Verdant’s employment.”
They quickly research Keystone, learning that it is a locally based pharmaceutical company. It’s headquarters are in Seattle’s Lake District.
Shaw notes another detail of the apartment. “When I left there about an hour ago there was a specimen of some sort of fish in a tank.”
Robert asks, “the fish was alive?”
“Yes. Now there is a reference to a fish god. It seems to me that that could be where Kenneth and Ben’s research intersected. Since Ken was an anthropology student.”
They mull this over as they complete their readings.
Finally Dr. Sorenson asks, “I don’t suppose the police have seen any of these documents yet?”
“I didn’t see any evidence that the police had been there,” Shaw explains. “Someone had obviously broken down the door but this was not confiscated nor were the pharmaceuticals.”
Robert ask, “So Ken was studying the Duwamish tribes?”
Shaw confirms that information based on her interview with his mother.
Robert muses, “Dr. Hicks mentioned the snake head, he thought it was not a new species.”
“We might want to confiscate the fish. I could call Dr. Ilyes.”
As he looks over conspiracy theory ridden papers, Dr. Sorenson says, “This is crazy. All of this. This is crazy.”
Shaw agrees, “I would like to find some intact copies or corroboration of these case files. Especially given the damage. Perhaps we can find more on the hard drive.”
Dr. Sorenson suggests investigating the case of Ben and the old lady Ella Mae. “We can look and see when she died and that will put a date to these files. We also have an address for where Ella Mae lived.”
Shaw smiles and muses, “We can finally bill for this Sandman research.”
As this goes on Vito boots up Georgia Chaney’s home computer. He scans through her documents finding lots of pictures of large ugly fish as well as scientific writings about the species. As he goes he makes copies for their own records.
Dr. Sorenson looks at the vials. They are bone dry but one still smells faintly of rubber. “I’m certain some sort of chemical analysis could be done to find what compounds were in here.”
Shaw calls Dr. Ilyes, asking him to retrieve the fish. Dr. Sorenson calls out, “there maybe dead fish in the tanks as well, that our doctor friend could dissect. I was never much for dissections myself.”
As Shaw puts down the phone, Robert reluctantly says, “We should probably contact the police. Since we have evidence of a murder. This case could be tied to a murder investigation.”
Shaw agrees, “I’m familiar with whose handling Ken’s case. He’s not that thorough a detective. Obviously. But I should probably bring this to his attention.”
Vito shows them the details he has extracted from the computer. There is much on the fish but nothing on these cases.
Shaw tells them what else she found out at the apartment including what Ezra told her. “But the landlady did have some problems remembering things. Like there were some gaps in her memory. She was able to remember the girlfriend Lizzy and gave me a description. She was pretty young, possibly a student. Mills, do you think you could do a search of the university files and find a student name Elizabeth who is connected to either the drama, anthropology, or bio department?”
“Drama?” Robert asks.
“Yeah Ben had a big interest in drama as well. So its possible they met through there.”
Dr. Sorenson carefully says, “these papers imply, that Ken and Ben were actually working together on this.”
“Yeah, I think they intersected,” Shaw explains. “I mean Ken was investigating this religion that centered on a fish god and Ben was working with Professor Chaney on marine research, at least until last year, involving this new species of fish.”
She thinks for second. “There’s also a chance we could follow the money trail here because Keystone apparently offered them 20 thousand. We can check if any of this was deposited into their accounts.”
Robert theorizes, “maybe I’ve watched too many sensational news shows but it kinda sounds like we have Professor Chaney as some sort of temptress of something, getting Ben and Ken to do some sort of murder spree, killing people for her.”
Vito interjects a question, “did Professor Hicks know where Ben had found the snake head? The physical location?”
Robert says no.
Shaw returns the speculation of motive. “Who knows what was in those syringes. Those boys could be high as kites.”
Dr. Sorenson disagrees, “I don’t think the intent of these chemicals is to get one high. My suspicion is they might be mutagenic. But that’s just of my observations of what I saw at Verdant. I don’t have any evidence for it.”
Shaw looks over the papers. “What I do find interesting is the fact that these reference the Sandman in a cogent way. Before they disappeared.”
Dr. Sorenson considers the idea. “They all seem to be all working together. They found this Sandman but he got to them before they could bring him to Keystone.”
“Why did the pharmaceutical company want to talk to the Sandman?”
“Perhaps because Mr. Sandman got a hold of some of their research and was using it in his occult practices. That or he’s got some mutagenic psychedelic substance that the company wants, a substance that they use in their fish cult.”
“What does that have to do with what has happened to Chaney and Frank?”
“Maybe Frank stumbled upon this cult and narrowly escaped but not before they were able to inject him with this chemical. It altered and damage his brain.”
“I will look into this Elizabeth,” Robert says. “They seem a little crazy here and a little bit of disconnected from reality. Maybe I can also find out why Dr. Chaney lost her funding.”
Dr. Sorenson asks, “is there something I can help with?”
Shaw directs him to look into analyzing the chemicals. She’ll liaison with the police.
Vito thinks back to the letters he saw in Dr. Chaney’s mailbox. He offers to grab her bank statements as a possible clue to the Keystone connection. He asks if Shaw saw any bank statements at the apartment.
“No or I would have taken them.” She glances at Dr. Sorenson and winks at Vito. “Next time take the bank statements. I’d also like you to do footwork on the Ella Mae case. Research it from our side while I follow up with official channels.”
Robert adds, "one thing we want to look into, is it says “my friends on the street.” It sounds like he has some contacts on the street. They might know what happened to him."
Shaw replies, “I certainly think its possible but I’d really like to know a bit more first. This all sounds so crazy.”
Dr. Sorenson launches into an analysis of their mental state. “I’m also going to make an assumption based on the psychological profile of people involved in this kind of activity, that they see this Dr. Chaney as a kind of authority figure. Perhaps she is the leader of this group of kids. It is likely you will find she is the point of contact.”
“Possibly,” admits Shaw. She asks Vito about the state of Chaney’s residence, “did it look like she was leaving?”
“No,” Vito explains, “it looked like she was planning to come back soon. There was bread out on the counter.”
“I saw the same thing in Ben’s area of the apartment. However the apartment itself had been tossed. Everything from the kitchen had been taken and they had tried to destroy this evidence. And all of Ken’s things were gone.”
Dr. Sorenson posits, “So Ken is hiding, Ben’s missing, but Ken is in hiding.”
Discussion turns to the supposed girlfriend Liz and her true intentions. Dr. Sorenson tells them, “kids like this, when they are in trouble they never would trust their family. But they would turn to former girlfriends and that sort of thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned up where she lives.”
Shaw quickly divides up the work to do. Vito will head out to investigate Ella Mae. Robert will start the search for Elizabeth. Dr. Sorenson gets the job of investigating Keystone and the vials. Meanwhile Shaw will contact the police about Ella Mae and the missing persons case.
Dr. Sorenson’s house, 8 PM
Dr. Sorenson pours over the financial records for Keystone Pharmaceuticals. The publicly traded R&D company has numerous stockholders but the largest seems to be a 31% stake by Magadon Industries. Trevor knows the health care giant as a major subsidiary of Pentex. He notes the other major owners include Weide GmbH and the Chieron Group, also large pharmacology businesses.
Keystone seems to have been in business since 1975, though it only relocated to Seattle in 1996. Originally formed to find a cure for aging, their focus has shifted to consumer drugs, designing new compounds which they then license out to major drug producers.
Intrigued Dr. Sorenson digs deeper. The original aging research was looking for a magic bullet, a chemical compound to halt or reverse the aging process. That work never really paid off and they spun off that research division in a separate company, Pancea Pharmaceuticals, about 2 years ago, in a joint venture with Verdant Technologies.
He think to himself, ‘Its beginning to make sense. Verdant and Keystone both own stocks in Pancea which is a spin off of Keystone. So Verdant might have shared some of their research with Keystone via Pancea.’
Turning his thoughts to the analysis of the mysterious substance in the BNSX-7 vials, he determines he doesn’t the contacts to get access to a mass spectrometer. But Dr. Ilyes might. He gives the doctor a call.
Northern Seattle, 6:30 PM
Vito drives up the dark winding streets of Windermere. The glow of big screen TVs pour from most of the houses. He stops by Dr. Chaney’s mailbox and grabs the mail. He quickly sorts out the bank statements and puts the rest back. Ripping open the letters, he finds the last transaction was by credit card on the evening of the 12th at the McDonalds at 1122 Madison Street. The charge was for about 22 dollars. He carefully notes the location, east of the 5 in the east end of Downtown.
next he drives up to Pine Street in Lake City. Only a few homes are lit at this late hour. The house of Ella Mae is a charred ruin. A solitary bulldozer sits on the lawn and a sign advertises a construction company called Ajax Construction.
Vito gets out and explores the uninhabited property. The few standing walls are crumbling from months of water damage. Poking amid the ashes he uncovered some small bones that might belong to cats as well a pile of larger bones that could only belong to dogs. They have been gnawed by very small teeth.
The ex-SEAL spots no living cats in the area. He quickly scouts the perimeter of the property before returning to his car. Checking the hour he decides to put off questioning the neighbors until tomorrow. He drives south.
Offices of One of a Kind Investigations, 6:30 PM
Robert looks through college rosters for women matching Liz’s description. He find matches that are close but jots them down anyway. After he has a short list put together, he stretches and checks the clock.
Realizing it is too late to call these women now, he decides to go out and check the area around the Mexican restaurant, Vince’s. He walks down the 6 blocks to the area, hoping find some street people who might have seen something. Unfortunately the area is fairly deserted at the late hour.
He does however spot something on an alley wall near where Georgia Chaney was found. Someone has spray painted “Sandman – VI” at some point during the day. Robert takes a quick picture of it and heads home.
“Hey, I recently caught a case that was one of yours originally.” She rattles off the case number.
“Yeah, yeah,” Jack says bringing up the case details. “Right. Kenneth Thomas has been missing about two weeks. I suppose the mom’s been after you too?”
“Yup, except she pays me. Want to catch dinner, compare notes?”
He muses for a moment. “Sure.”
“How about the Chinese place?”
Shaw says goodbye and hangs up. She grabs her notes as well as some of the surviving cases from the apartment. Then she heads out.
The Jade Garden, International District, 7:00 PM
She sits down beside him. They exchange pleasantries and make their order. As they wait for their food, Jack bring up business. “So you are looking for Kenneth too.”
“Yeah, though I’ve only been on the case for half a day,” Shaw says.
“Found the car yet?” He replies knowingly.
“Ah no,” she replies. “I’ve been looking into other things.”
Jack savors the moment. “He left it at a parking lot north of Dearborn by that strip mall. No signs of anyone breaking in. Wherever he went, he left on foot. We canvassed the entire neighborhood but no one saw anything.”
“You narrowed down the times?”
“Sometime between the 13th and the 15th. The store owners said it had been there about a week. To bad none of the security cameras in the area covered that part of the lot.”
“I’m kind of surprised you guys haven’t tagged his apartment.”
Jack glances through the case file in front of him. “Damn Jim. He was supposed to check that last week.”
Shaw watches Jack’s smug look disappear with some satisfaction. “Someone seems to have cleared it out. Has there been an official report made for his roommate?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Well I went down there. Looks like the boys were keeping some sort of big fish in a pair of tanks. Perhaps the most disturbing thing is someone tried to burn some their research. The reason I felt I needed to contact you officially is this partial record I found amid the ashes.”
She hands him the charred papers. As he reads their food arrives. Jack carefully puts the papers down.
“Really?” he says disbelievingly. He picks at his food as he double checks the information on his smart phone.
Shaw pulls out another rescued paper. “And this is the one that seems to be the most recent and might indicate where they were headed. It starts to get a little bit crazy. Obviously they are bit unbalanced.”
Shaw digs into her food. “Mmm, tasty.”
Jack puts the papers into his case folder. “You don’t have any idea who their street contacts are?”
“No, not yet,” she says taking another bite. “Like I said I’ve been on the case half a day. I don’t know. Have you heard anything about the Sandmen?”
“Sandmen, that -”
“Could be a gang,” she interjects.
“No, I haven’t heard of any gang or anyone else by that name.”
They eat for a while. Finally Jack comments, “I would like to talk to the mother again.”
Shaw dryly says, “I’m sure she’d like to know the police are taking an interest in the case.”
“Yes,” he replies hesitantly. “She gave you her number, right? I gave her a call the other day, but no one picked up.”
“What number did you use?”
They compare the contact information. Shaw says, “that’s interesting, that’s the same number I have.”
Jack comments, “I was hoping to get some more details. The father doesn’t know much.”
“Yeah he said he hadn’t talked to his son in years.”
“Oh you gave him a call too?”
“No he’s up here.”
Jack knits his brow in puzzlement. “I called him yesterday.”
“Well I talked to him today, maybe he just flew up?”
“Hmm, he didn’t say he was flying up that soon. I expected him in a few days.”
“You called him in San Diego?”
Shaw asks, “what number did you have there?”
Jack hands over the contact information. “He seemed very concerned.”
As she ponders this, Jack asks a question. “Do you really think a pharmaceutical company is putting prices on people’s heads?”
“I don’t know, like I said.”
“It looks crazy.”
“Yeah, it sounds pretty crazy. I think its more likely these boys are a bit insane. Either they have killed somebody and are psychopathic or they think they’ve killed somebody and are delusional. But legally I’m required to inform the police about this development.”
Jack ponders. “Yes. I suppose it fits with the picture we’ve got so far. Kid drops out of grad school, ends up staying with his friend and working at a coffee shop.”
“What coffee shop was that? The mom didn’t know.”
“Oh.” Jack checks his case folder. “Cafe Equinox. Nobody has seen him there. At least
Jim checked that out.”
“Where is that?”
Jack gives her the address.
Shaw asks, “heard anything about a girlfriend named Elizabeth?”
Jack thinks for a moment before saying, “there was a woman that Jim was going to check up on.”
“This is Jim Tacker?” Shaw crinkles her nose. “He’s the one you mentioned last time?”
“Yeah that’s the guy. Detective Tacker.” He sighs, “they seem to be handing out of detective badges these days.”
“Yeah I remember them hard to come by,” she says bitterly.
Shaw breaks the awkward silence. “So what did Jim have to say about this?”
“He said she was some kind of angry ex-girlfriend who had stopped by the coffee shop.”
The two exchange more details. Shaw learns the missing persons report was filed on the 17th by Kenneth’s mother. Jack learns about the apartment. When he hears the state of the apartment door, he quickly gets up and makes a phone call.
“Jim get down to Kenneth Thomas’s apartment,” he barks. “Take a squad car right now and secure the apartment!”
Hanging up, he sits down again to finish some fortune cookies. “Thanks for the information. Seems like you already know everything.”
“This place is just as good as I remember,” she says wistfully.
They pay their bill and head for the door. “Let me know if something turns up,” Shaw says.
“Good seeing you,” Jack tells her.
Downtown, 7:30 PM
Vito drives downtown to the McDonalds where Georgia Chaney made her last purchase, presumably with her friends Ben Miner and Kenneth Thomas. He walks inside and checks the prices. $22 gets one a lot here. Too much for one person, plenty for three.
His curiosity satisfied for now, he heads back to the offices of One of a Kind Investigations. Robert is still hunched over his computer, pouring over the student directories for the University of Washington.
Vito pulls up the DMV records on Chaney’s car. It seems she owns a 2008 midsize Nissan Altima. He checks if Ben or Kenneth had a car and finds a 2004 Honda Civic in Ken’s name. Digging deeper, he finds police reports for both vehicles. They were found abandoned in a parking lot north of Dearborn in the International District. The report is dated the 20th.
Vito turns his attention to the deaths in the Ella Mae case file. The trail isn’t hard to follow. Sue Riodan, the first supposed victim, was killed in 2007 while jogging in Jackson Park. The death was determined to be caused by coyotes. Flora Lawhorn, the next victim, went missing last spring. As for Ella Mae, the old lady did die in a fire in May of last year. She apparently had been cited for fire hazards and the numerous cats she kept at her house. The fire was believed to be accidental. As for the lot, Ella had no heirs and so it reverted to the city. They sold it to Ajax Construction.
He checks the clock in the darkened office and then looks at the damaged hard drive. It clearly needs to be rebuilt. He quickly makes a shopping list so he can work on it the morning. He also types up his findings and leaves them on Shaw’s desk. He turns off the lights and heads home.
University District, 8 PM
Shaw drives up to Ben and Ken‘s apartment building. The lights are on in the third story neighbor’s window. She walks up the warped creaky steps to the dirty welcome mat in front of the door. She knocks.
The door opens, a sickening stench of weed joining the young bearded man’s greeting. “Hey.”
Keeping a straight face, Shaw says, “Hi, I was wondering if you saw my card in your door.”
The young man glances about. “Yeah. Yeah, right, the card. Yeah.” He calls back into the room. “Where did we put that card?”
Shaw interrupts him, “that’s okay. Here is another one. Have you seen Ben or Ken?”
“Ben or Ken, right, right. Cool. No we haven’t seen them since…” He calls back into the room. “When did we see them last?”
Someone shouts something incoherent. The man scratches his greenish stocking cap, “I guess. Yeah since before the break.”
“So during the break, you guys were out of town?” she asks.
“Yeah, out of town. Went down to Oregon.”
“I’m also looking to find Liz. Do you know where she hangs out?” The man stares blankly at her. “Ken’s girlfriend?”
The guy smiles. “Ken’s got a girlfriend. Good for him.”
“I thought she came by.” Shaw tries describing her.
“I never met her.”
“Okay, maybe I’ll try the Equinox then.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s where Ben works.”
“Okay, well let me know if you see Ben or Ken.”
With that she leaves. As she pulls out of the parking lot she passes a squad car pulling in. She shouts out, “Hey Jim!” But the man in side seat just glares at her.
Airport Holiday Inn, Georgetown, 8:30PM
Purple clouds illuminated by the city lights cover the sky. Shaw parks her car in the Holiday Inn’s parking lot.
On her cell phone, she calls the number Jack gave her for Donald Thomas in San Diego. A man answers, “Hello?”
“Hi, is this Mr. Thomas?”
“Hello Mr. Thomas, this Lillian Shaw from One of a Kind Investigations in Seattle.”
“Okay,” he says uncertainly.
“I understand your son Kenneth has gone missing.”
“Yes. Did-did Stephanie hire you?”
“Yeah, Stephanie hired me earlier today. We’ve just started looking into it. We haven’t gotten too far but I wanted to touch base with you.”
“Sure, anything I can do to help,” he responds with more confidence.
“That’s so kind,” she says masking her confusion. “When was the last time you heard from your son?”
As Shaw think about who it was she met earlier, Mr. Thomas replies, “Its been a while. As Stephanie probably told you we’ve been divorced. I haven’t actually spoken to Stephanie in…it must be 6 or 7 years.”
“Sorry to hear about that. So what business are you in, sir?”
“I’m a banker.”
“What about your son, have you spoken to him recently?”
“We talked last year, almost a year ago actually.”
“I see.” Shaw probes, “around the time he was dropping out of grad school?”
“Yes, he was having a very difficult time,” he says with some sadness. “I tried to talk to him. Obviously he was troubled about something.”
“Did he tell you what?
“I’m not really sure, but he seemed to be under a lot of stress. There seemed to be a lot of things he wanted to talk about but couldn’t bring himself to say.”
“I understand, well did he perhaps mention a friend named Ben or Benjamin Miner?”
There is a pause. “I believe he mentioned a Ben…yes.”
“Apparently he moved in with Ben recently.”
“But Ben has also vanished as well. I’m hoping that wherever they are they are there together. Safety in numbers.” Shaw hesitates. “This is a delicate question sir, but do you have any financial connections to your ex-wife or your son?”
Mr. Thomas admits, “I was paying alimony to my wife for several years but nothing recent.”
“And Ken has been paying his own way?”
“As far as I know.”
“I see. Thank you very much, sorry to disturb your evening. I’ll be sure to contact you if I find anything.”
Putting away her phone, she decides to find out if the man really is at the hotel. She heads inside and approaches a tired receptionist.
“Hi, I’m meeting with a client,” she says handing him a card advertising a law firm. “He told me he was staying here but hadn’t checked in yet. Could you tell me what room he is in?”
She gives the hotel worker a description of the man she met earlier in the day. “I haven’t seen someone of that description. Let me check with my manager. He was here earlier today.”
A few minutes later the manager arrives. “Sorry we haven’t had a man of that description check in.”
“Sorry, maybe he decided to go with another place,” she apologizes. “I recommended this hotel for him.”
“We appreciate the recommendation,” the manager says.
Shaw leaves planning a final stop for the night.
Stephanie Thomas’s house, Delridge, 9:00PM
Shaw drives slowly down the street. In the gloom she can barely make out Stephanie’s house. There is a Honda Civic parked in front of the garage. She quickly notes down the plates as she drives past.
She parks a few houses down. Several of her neighbors’ lights are on but all is quiet as Shaw approaches the house. The middle class neighborhood is lush with old moss covered trees lining the street.
She reaches the car. Touching the hood she can tell it has been there a while. She knocks on the door. There is no answer. The cold night air chilling her, she tries the doorbell. Again no answer.
She glances around but at this late hour there is nobody about. Quietly she circles the house. The mailbox is filled with old mail, dating back to the 15th. Reaching the backdoor, she carefully picks the lock.
Inside, things are dark. A few dying houseplants decorate the kitchen. They haven’t been watered in weeks.
As she approaches the front door, she finds a small table toppled over, papers and knick knacks scattered across the floor. To her trained eye she reads signs of a struggle.
A blinking answering machine catches her attention. She listens to the 19 messages. Her boss is the first, on the morning of the 15th, asking where she is and that she is late for work. Then come friends asking after her. Then on the 19th there is a message from Kenneth saying, “Mom, are you ok? If you hear this get out of town, its not safe here. I think they know about you. I don’t know how. I think they know. I gotta go. I’ll see you. Bye.”
Shaw checks the rest of the house. There are no signs that she packed and no signs that anyone else was living there. As quietly as she came, she leaves, locking the door behind her.
Offices of One of a Kind Investigations, Downtown, 10:00PM
Stephanie is certainly the woman she met this morning. Donald doesn’t quite fit the DMV picture. He’s younger, fatter, and balding, like a bad recollection of someone.
Shaw pulls up the security camera footage from the afternoon. She finds the couple claiming to be Kenneth Thomas‘s parents. Strangely they are blurry. Just them, not the walls or other features. She prints them out anyway as she mutters, "Damn, I’m not getting paid for the Sandman case."
Then, finally, she goes home.
Offices of One of a Kind Investigations, Downtown, 8:00AM
“That what the landlady supposed,” Shaw explains. “She does have a lot of experience with students. I got some more information on Liz last night. The police have heard that there is a girl, who is an angry ex-girlfriend of Ken’s, and that she’s been at Cafe Equinox, which is where Ben and Ken worked.”
As the arrive in the bullpen Shaw say, “but things have gotten a lot more complicated.” She looks at Vito. “Want to take a break from that for a second?”
“Sure,” the young man replies.
They go into the meeting room. Shaw turns to them. “So after talking to Detective Lawrence, I found out he had been talking to the father recently and he was surprise that he was up here already. It seemed odd to me so I decided to check out our clients.”
“This is Ken’s father?” Robert asks.
“Yes, who I met with. Here’s a picture of them.” She shows them the blurry stills from the security camera. “Very odd there, I’m not sure what going on with our optics. Here’s the picture of them from the DMV.”
She gives them another set of pictures and described her trip to the Holiday Inn by the airport including her call to San Diego. Then she tells them about Stephanie’s house, the signs of struggle, the 2 week old mail, and the message from Ken. “Now the report for Ken was filed on the 17th. As far I can tell that was after she vanished from her house.”
Discussion swirls around who these people really are. An idea comes up to check if Stephanie has made any other purchases (besides hiring them) in recent days.
Shaw returns to the man claiming to be Mr. Thomas. “The identity of this man who claims to be Donald might be a bit more interesting. I think I’ll call a contact of mine down in San Diego and see if I can’t get a visual on Mr. Thomas.”
She continues, “this woman could be some brainwashed version of Stephanie that is actually Stephanie. That’s something I could get my head around. But this guy who sat in my office yesterday can’t be Donald Thomas. If he isn’t then we either have doppelgangers or fraud.”
“Why call us in on a case on something that they don’t want to bring attention to?” Vito asks.
“Well obviously they do,” Shaw says. “They reported it to the cops. What’s interesting is they didn’t report Chaney’s disappearance or Miner’s.”
Robert posits, “perhaps their friend is still at large.”
“That’s true. Perhaps he escaped and they are asking us to do their dirty work.”
Conversation to turns to the mysterious Liz. She could be an agent of whoever is behind this. Robert asks, “Can I involve Erin in this and have her help me track down the potential Elizabeths?”
Shaw okays it and Robert continues, “also I went back to the restaurant where Chaney was found and there was some graffiti that said ‘Sandman’ in the alley. It wasn’t there earlier yesterday. It was signed VI.”
Shaw pulls out her phone and brings up a picture. “Like this?”
They compare images. It is the same style and the same signature.
Vito tells them, “I almost have the hard drive up and running. I’d like to head up to Pine street and talk to some of the neighbors.”
Shaw tells him to make sure it runs first and then go. Robert goes back to his desk and digs into the data recovery. An hour later when Erin gets in, he splits the calls with her. Vito meanwhile makes his way north.