Category: suspense

The Carseat in the River: Part Five

The Carseat in the River: Part Five

               As soon as I was cleared for the case, the captain called for a squad meeting. Everyone except the desk jockeys, the rookies, were asked to sit in.

               When we were all seated, the chief stood at the front of the room, hands folded in front of him, lips turned down and eyes grave.

               “Now, ladies and gentlemen, I don’t think I need to tell you just how urgent this situation is.”

               Silence met this declaration, and Luna, sitting next to me, grabbed my hand and squeezed, as if to remind herself that I was still there beside her.

               “Now, we have little to go on. Any forensic evidence was washed away when the carseat in question was thrown into the river. And we don’t want to alert the public yet; rumors are already spreading.” He frowned, running a hand thoughtfully through his goatee.

               “I’m going to divide you into groups to tackle different aspects of the case. Luna and Ella, I want you to do another search of the crime scene, see if anything was missed by the first team. Take one of the forensic techs with you.” I nodded, happy to be given something to do.

               “Mensch and Emerson, you two are to canvass the neighborhood around the marsh. See if anyone saw anything suspicious on the days before the carseat was found.”

               Emerson, sitting in the back, nodded silently. I was glad that the captain had paired those two together. Avery Emerson didn’t screw around; she took her job seriously and was one of the best detectives I’d met anywhere. She would keep Kit in line.

               “All of you on desk duty, I want you to comb through all recent missing persons reports, Amber alerts, anything that looks like it might be related to our case. No detail is too small. We need to start piecing things together, and quickly. There’s someone who might be living in this very town who did something horrible. Unforgivable. The sooner we catch this bastard, the better.”

               His voice was calm, but his neck and face swiftly grew red, a vein beginning to throb in his temple. The captain didn’t often lose his temper, but things like this got to him. Hell, he had a wife and two kids at home, a son and a daughter, and he adored all three. So clearly, I wasn’t the only one rattled by this.

               “All right, everyone, dismissed,” He said, and went to Kit and Avery, telling them where to start looking. He was calming down, I thought, but then I saw his clenched fists.

               One of my favorite things about my boss was that he cared. He didn’t just sit at his desk, barking orders. He was always in the thick of everything, always involved. It made him a damn good cop.

               “Come on, Ells, let’s head over in my car,” Luna said, smiling at me. I could see the relief all over her face, and I knew that she’d been just as afraid as I had been, that I’d be boxed out and excluded.

               A forensic tech named Gabby walked over, smiling shyly. “Can I tag along?” She asked. It didn’t matter that the Captain had ordered someone from her department to come along; the girl was so quiet and timid that she was half-afraid of her own shadow.

“Of course, you can, Gabby,” Luna said, and I smiled at her, trying to be friendly. Like Kit, she was brand-new, fresh out of college and eager to get into the field. Though she was practically a ghost, she was a good kid who wanted to help people.

               Pretty good reason to get into this line of work, in my opinion.

               Luna insisted on stopping for coffee on the way over. Even though she’d had the day off, she’d insisted on coming into work, telling the Captain that all hands were needed on deck, all-nighter or not.

               “I’m exhausted,” She moaned as we pulled up to the window. “Of course, an urgent case had to pick up as soon as I pulled an all-nighter.”

               Luna bought coffee for all three of us: two iced coffees with extra espresso shots for all of us, and hot chocolate piled high with whipped cream and sprinkles for Gabby.

               “Thanks!” Gabby chirped at Luna, grinning as she took it from me. She took a sip and her eyes lit up; evidently, she had a sweet tooth.

               **

               We drove out to the marshes, where a large section had been taped off with yellow police tape.

               Despite the croaking of frogs, the quiet rush of the river, the birds calling and the insects singing, a pit of dread opened up in my stomach. It was all too easy for my imagination to fill in the gaps, and I shuddered, trying to appear normal. I’d been included in this by the skin of my teeth, and if it got back to the Captain that I was losing it before we’d even begun, I’d be back on desk duty quicker than you could say ‘Miranda rights’.

               “Are you okay?” Luna asked me, putting her hand on my back. Much to my own surprise, I flinched away from her, spooked.

               “Ella?”

               Gabby was sitting in the backseat, looking between us, eyebrows drew together, but she said nothing.

               “I-I’m fine,” I stuttered, putting my coffee in the cupholder and unclicking my seatbelt. I couldn’t crack up now, not after I’d worked so hard to be included. I had no choice but to keep calm.

               Frowning, as if she knew what I wasn’t telling her, she unbuckled and put her coffee down, climbing out of the car. Gabby scrambled after us, grabbing her bag of tools.

               I set off toward the taped-off area, making sure to put on a pair of gloves before I got close. Things were already fucked up enough without any foreign DNA involved.

               It turns out, though, that there was a clue waiting for us. Something that had been felt behind.

               “Guys,” Gabby said, moving close to the bank. “Check this out. I think the first team missed it,” She added, and her face was pale green, as if she were about to be sick.

               In her gloved hands, she held up a ribbon, bright purple, stained brown with looked like blood.

**

The Carseat in the River: Part Five

The Carseat in the River: Part Five

               As soon as I was cleared for the case, the captain called for a squad meeting. Everyone except the desk jockeys, the rookies, were asked to sit in.

               When we were all seated, the chief stood at the front of the room, hands folded in front of him, lips turned down and eyes grave.

               “Now, ladies and gentlemen, I don’t think I need to tell you just how urgent this situation is.”

               Silence met this declaration, and Luna, sitting next to me, grabbed my hand and squeezed, as if to remind herself that I was still there beside her.

               “Now, we have little to go on. Any forensic evidence was washed away when the carseat in question was thrown into the river. And we don’t want to alert the public yet; rumors are already spreading.” He frowned, running a hand thoughtfully through his goatee.

               “I’m going to divide you into groups to tackle different aspects of the case. Luna and Ella, I want you to do another search of the crime scene, see if anything was missed by the first team. Take one of the forensic techs with you.” I nodded, happy to be given something to do.

               “Mensch and Emerson, you two are to canvass the neighborhood around the marsh. See if anyone saw anything suspicious on the days before the carseat was found.”

               Emerson, sitting in the back, nodded silently. I was glad that the captain had paired those two together. Avery Emerson didn’t screw around; she took her job seriously and was one of the best detectives I’d met anywhere. She would keep Kit in line.

               “All of you on desk duty, I want you to comb through all recent missing persons reports, Amber alerts, anything that looks like it might be related to our case. No detail is too small. We need to start piecing things together, and quickly. There’s someone who might be living in this very town who did something horrible. Unforgivable. The sooner we catch this bastard, the better.”

               His voice was calm, but his neck and face swiftly grew red, a vein beginning to throb in his temple. The captain didn’t often lose his temper, but things like this got to him. Hell, he had a wife and two kids at home, a son and a daughter, and he adored all three. So clearly, I wasn’t the only one rattled by this.

               “All right, everyone, dismissed,” He said, and went to Kit and Avery, telling them where to start looking. He was calming down, I thought, but then I saw his clenched fists.

               One of my favorite things about my boss was that he cared. He didn’t just sit at his desk, barking orders. He was always in the thick of everything, always involved. It made him a damn good cop.

               “Come on, Ells, let’s head over in my car,” Luna said, smiling at me. I could see the relief all over her face, and I knew that she’d been just as afraid as I had been, that I’d be boxed out and excluded.

               A forensic tech named Gabby walked over, smiling shyly. “Can I tag along?” She asked. It didn’t matter that the Captain had ordered someone from her department to come along; the girl was so quiet and timid that she was half-afraid of her own shadow.

“Of course, you can, Gabby,” Luna said, and I smiled at her, trying to be friendly. Like Kit, she was brand-new, fresh out of college and eager to get into the field. Though she was practically a ghost, she was a good kid who wanted to help people.

               Pretty good reason to get into this line of work, in my opinion.

               Luna insisted on stopping for coffee on the way over. Even though she’d had the day off, she’d insisted on coming into work, telling the Captain that all hands were needed on deck, all-nighter or not.

               “I’m exhausted,” She moaned as we pulled up to the window. “Of course, an urgent case had to pick up as soon as I pulled an all-nighter.”

               Luna bought coffee for all three of us: two iced coffees with extra espresso shots for all of us, and hot chocolate piled high with whipped cream and sprinkles for Gabby.

               “Thanks!” Gabby chirped at Luna, grinning as she took it from me. She took a sip and her eyes lit up; evidently, she had a sweet tooth.

               **

               We drove out to the marshes, where a large section had been taped off with yellow police tape.

               Despite the croaking of frogs, the quiet rush of the river, the birds calling and the insects singing, a pit of dread opened up in my stomach. It was all too easy for my imagination to fill in the gaps, and I shuddered, trying to appear normal. I’d been included in this by the skin of my teeth, and if it got back to the Captain that I was losing it before we’d even begun, I’d be back on desk duty quicker than you could say ‘Miranda rights’.

               “Are you okay?” Luna asked me, putting her hand on my back. Much to my own surprise, I flinched away from her, spooked.

               “Ella?”

               Gabby was sitting in the backseat, looking between us, eyebrows drew together, but she said nothing.

               “I-I’m fine,” I stuttered, putting my coffee in the cupholder and unclicking my seatbelt. I couldn’t crack up now, not after I’d worked so hard to be included. I had no choice but to keep calm.

               Frowning, as if she knew what I wasn’t telling her, she unbuckled and put her coffee down, climbing out of the car. Gabby scrambled after us, grabbing her bag of tools.

               I set off toward the taped-off area, making sure to put on a pair of gloves before I got close. Things were already fucked up enough without any foreign DNA involved.

               It turns out, though, that there was a clue waiting for us. Something that had been felt behind.

               “Guys,” Gabby said, moving close to the bank. “Check this out. I think the first team missed it,” She added, and her face was pale green, as if she were about to be sick.

               In her gloved hands, she held up a ribbon, bright purple, stained brown with looked like blood.

**

The Carseat in the River: Part Four

The Carseat in the River: Part Four

               “Please sit,” The chief said formally, which immediately put me on edge.

               Starting out that way was never a good sign.

               “Was there something you wanted to discuss, sir?” I asked, after I had sat down in the hard-wooden chair, opposite his desk. As if I didn’t know what this was about already. But he didn’t know that, nor did he need to.

               “I’m sure you’ve seen the news over the weekend. About what was recovered from the river.”

               I nodded, my throat so tight I didn’t trust myself to speak.

               His eyes, so dark that they reminded me of coffee, bored into my face, as if searching for something I was not willing to yield.

               “I’m sorry to tell you this, Officer LeVaux, but I don’t want you anywhere near this case.”

               Even though I knew it was coming, I still flinched.

               I knew that it wasn’t anything personal, that my boss was trying to protect me. But God damn if it didn’t hurt like a bitch.

               “Why?” I asked anyway, and I was proud of the fact that my voice did not quake. “You know that I’m a good cop. That I can handle this.”

               “I can agree with you on the first point.” He replied, not unkindly, smiling sadly. “But I don’t know about the second. You get too emotional.”

               I was getting really tired of hearing that. Just because I was a woman didn’t mean that I couldn’t control myself. Ever since the Academy, I’d been hearing a variation of that same speech, and it pissed me off. But I couldn’t afford to lose my temper, not when I was already on thin ice.

               “With all due respect, Chief, I disagree. I think that my empathy is what makes me a great cop.” I said calmly, taking deep breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth.

               “You absolutely are a great cop,” He said, and though it was a compliment, it came off as patronizing, an empty platitude. “But I don’t think you should be risking your mental health. We’ve got plenty of manpower.”

               “Are you putting me on desk duty?” I asked, struggling to remember my breathing exercises.

               This wasn’t fair, and I didn’t care about where it was coming from. This was my job on the line, and before I’d even been given a chance, I’d been sidelined.

               “Not necessarily,” The chief said finally, sitting back in his chair and giving me a once over. “I just want to make sure that you’re not in over your head.”

               Why, all of a sudden, was everyone treating me like I was a rookie? Like I was delicate and made of glass? I hated being treated differently just because I was a girl.

               But it seemed that the cards were not in my favor where this case was concerned.

“I’m not fresh out of the Academy anymore,” I protested quietly, doing my best not to sound like a petulant child.

The chief reached into the fridge he kept behind his desk and pulled out a bottle of water, setting it in front of me.

“I promise you I know that,” He replied. “I just want to make sure that you’ll be all right. If I put you on this case, with Luna, can you promise me that you’re going to keep calm? That you’re not going to read into this?”

I opened the bottle of water, mostly to buy myself some time before I answered. I took a big gulp, wincing when the cold liquid hit my throat.

“Yes, of course, Chief. I promise. Professional as possible. Got it.”

“If I catch even a whiff of impropriety from you, you’re off the case and chained to your desk for the remainder of the investigation. Have I made myself clear?”

“Crystal. Thank you, Chief. I’ll make you proud.”

I’d been granted clearance for a lie. And under any other circumstance, I would’ve felt guilty.

But I was already in too deep. It was too late to turn back now.

**

The Carseat in the River: Part Four

The Carseat in the River: Part Four

               “Please sit,” The chief said formally, which immediately put me on edge.

               Starting out that way was never a good sign.

               “Was there something you wanted to discuss, sir?” I asked, after I had sat down in the hard-wooden chair, opposite his desk. As if I didn’t know what this was about already. But he didn’t know that, nor did he need to.

               “I’m sure you’ve seen the news over the weekend. About what was recovered from the river.”

               I nodded, my throat so tight I didn’t trust myself to speak.

               His eyes, so dark that they reminded me of coffee, bored into my face, as if searching for something I was not willing to yield.

               “I’m sorry to tell you this, Officer LeVaux, but I don’t want you anywhere near this case.”

               Even though I knew it was coming, I still flinched.

               I knew that it wasn’t anything personal, that my boss was trying to protect me. But God damn if it didn’t hurt like a bitch.

               “Why?” I asked anyway, and I was proud of the fact that my voice did not quake. “You know that I’m a good cop. That I can handle this.”

               “I can agree with you on the first point.” He replied, not unkindly, smiling sadly. “But I don’t know about the second. You get too emotional.”

               I was getting really tired of hearing that. Just because I was a woman didn’t mean that I couldn’t control myself. Ever since the Academy, I’d been hearing a variation of that same speech, and it pissed me off. But I couldn’t afford to lose my temper, not when I was already on thin ice.

               “With all due respect, Chief, I disagree. I think that my empathy is what makes me a great cop.” I said calmly, taking deep breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth.

               “You absolutely are a great cop,” He said, and though it was a compliment, it came off as patronizing, an empty platitude. “But I don’t think you should be risking your mental health. We’ve got plenty of manpower.”

               “Are you putting me on desk duty?” I asked, struggling to remember my breathing exercises.

               This wasn’t fair, and I didn’t care about where it was coming from. This was my job on the line, and before I’d even been given a chance, I’d been sidelined.

               “Not necessarily,” The chief said finally, sitting back in his chair and giving me a once over. “I just want to make sure that you’re not in over your head.”

               Why, all of a sudden, was everyone treating me like I was a rookie? Like I was delicate and made of glass? I hated being treated differently just because I was a girl.

               But it seemed that the cards were not in my favor where this case was concerned.

“I’m not fresh out of the Academy anymore,” I protested quietly, doing my best not to sound like a petulant child.

The chief reached into the fridge he kept behind his desk and pulled out a bottle of water, setting it in front of me.

“I promise you I know that,” He replied. “I just want to make sure that you’ll be all right. If I put you on this case, with Luna, can you promise me that you’re going to keep calm? That you’re not going to read into this?”

I opened the bottle of water, mostly to buy myself some time before I answered. I took a big gulp, wincing when the cold liquid hit my throat.

“Yes, of course, Chief. I promise. Professional as possible. Got it.”

“If I catch even a whiff of impropriety from you, you’re off the case and chained to your desk for the remainder of the investigation. Have I made myself clear?”

“Crystal. Thank you, Chief. I’ll make you proud.”

I’d been granted clearance for a lie. And under any other circumstance, I would’ve felt guilty.

But I was already in too deep. It was too late to turn back now.

**

The Carseat in the River: Part Three

Part Three

               The weekend ended shortly, though I couldn’t tell you what happened in it. A shadow hovered over my shoulder the entire time.

               By the time that Monday arrived, I hadn’t quite been able to shake it. But I was determined to walk into work with my head held high and my coffee close at hand.

               Being away from Doc disquieted me, now more than ever.

               Someone who was capable of great harm was among us, hidden.

               It scared the hell out of me, and I wasn’t even a civilian.

               I parked and headed inside, head bowed against the wind. The rain still hadn’t let up, and it hadn’t helped my state of mind.

               At the door, I noticed several of my coworkers already at work. Luna wasn’t there; she was probably at home, sleeping off her long night.

               I walked to my desk and sat down, shrugging my jacket off and hanging it on the back of my chair.

The room was abuzz with low chatter, and as much as I wanted to join in, I had work to do.

I was a little behind, and for a while, it was just my work and my coffee; it was pretty easy to block out.

But when lunch time rolled around, that was a different story.

**

I went to the fridge in the break room and pulled out my food, leftovers from the night before.

I’d intended to go back to my desk and eat there, maybe call Doc. But I was intercepted near the door by a colleague.

“Hey, Ella! You hear anything about the new case? The whole town’s talking about it!”

There was only one person who could refer to something horrific with such relish.

The junior police officer, fresh out of trade school, as green as could be: Kit Mensch.

“I haven’t heard much, no,” I fibbed, shrugging my shoulders and sitting down at the table. There was little to no chance of me returning to my desk, so I might as well suck it up. I opened my container and began to eat, thoughts swirling in a frenzy in my head.

It was as if the universe were determined to nudge me toward this mystery, not away from it. The irony wasn’t lost on me.

“It’s awful, of course,” Kit replied, though his smile could’ve fooled me. Any opportunity to learn more on the force and he jumped feet first, without looking. “I hope they can find whoever is responsible. If…” He trailed off. It didn’t take a genius to hear what he wasn’t saying.

If the poor kid is dead.

I smiled wryly, taking another bite of food to avoid answering. If Kit knew better, he wouldn’t say such things. The Captain often took meals in his office, the better to pore over files. But nothing of that sort could be said within his earshot.

For my part, I was glad that he hadn’t chosen to join us that day. I was still steamed over being booted off the case, before it had even begun. It wasn’t fair. He’d had no right to do that.

He didn’t even know how I was already invested in it, a mean little voice in my head pointed out. Maybe he thought that I couldn’t handle it. The thought made me nearly crush my fork in my grip.

I caught myself just in time. Here I was, judging the rookie for being unprofessional, and I was about to let anger rule my head. I knew better than that. Or at least I should have.

Talk about being off balance.

“What do you think happened?” Kit asked, giving me a nudge. Underneath his usual smile and bravado, he was worried. He was unusually pale, and he drummed his fingers against the table, restless. He looked about as sick as I felt.

“Can I plead the fifth on that one, pending more information?” I asked in turn, and he smiled for real this time, nodding.

I finished my food, unable to manage more than a few bites.

“I’ll see you later, Mensch,” I said, putting the container back in my bag in the fridge.

I made a beeline for my desk again, eager for more work and some distraction.

But once again, it was not to be.

The Captain’s door opened, and he walked out, standing on the threshold to his office.

“Officer LeVaux? Can I see you in my office for a moment?”

The chief was a tall, thin man with a dark, curly goatee and olive skin covered in tattoos, though he often wore long sleeves to hide them. He’d been my boss for over three years now, and we’d never stopped butting heads. He said that I was a cop with sharp instincts, but much too reckless. It could get me, and my brothers and sisters, killed.

But I didn’t care about his approval or anyone else’s. I had to do my job and I wasn’t able to ignore my hunches, regardless of proof.

It was an unorthodox method, but so far it had worked for me. And what was the point of fixing something that wasn’t broken to begin with?

“Yes, sir.”

**

The Carseat in the River: Part Two

The Carseat
in the River: Part Two

For
a little while, we were quiet, digging into our food: a salad for me, and a
burger for Luna. She always craved comfort food after a long day or night at
the office, and I could hardly blame her.

But
I couldn’t focus on my food; I chewed mechanically, not tasting a bite. But it
made me feel more awake. The coffee was the real lifesaver, though. It gave me
something to do with my hands.

“I
know you’re dying from your questions,” Luna said at last, smiling at me
grimly. She wiped her mouth and set her napkin beside her plate. “So why don’t
you have at it?”

“I
wanted you to eat first, at least,” I said indignantly, frowning at her over
the rim of my mug.

She
looked like shit; she was pale under her olive skin, and dark circles stood out
prominently under her eyes. She hadn’t even changed out of the clothes she’d
worn to work the night before: a crumpled black shirt and high-waisted jeans,
and worn gray high-tops. Her hair was gathered in a high ponytail.

“What’s
got you so concerned about this?” Luna asked, refusing to be diverted from the
conversation.

“I
just have a bad feeling. I can’t really explain it,” I said, shrugging it off.

But
I could feel her scrutiny regardless.

“What
kind of bad feeling?” She asked, and relief made my stomach unclench slightly.

If
I’d been talking to anyone else on the force, I’d been branded as
overemotional. Hysterical. Told to call my kids, check on them, return to my
husband and take a few days off.

But
I should’ve known better, with Luna. She listened to me, cared about me, and
cops were taught to go with their gut feeling, but only if they had hard
evidence to back it up.

“I
just have a feeling that this one isn’t going to be clear-cut. I can’t explain
it. But when I saw it on the news…”

She
frowned at me thoughtfully, waiting for me to finish.

“This
one is gonna be rough, Lunes.”

She
finished off her coffee and asked for another cup. I got the feeling that she
was preparing herself for what she was about to say next.

When
the waitress turned away to get us our refills, she frowned at me; I could tell
that she had the same feeling as I about this.

“There’s
not a lot to go on, as I said. They just fished the car seat out of the
marshes, and much of the physical evidence was destroyed as a result.”

Of
course, I’d guessed this much, but said nothing.

“We’re
going to be conducting a search tomorrow morning,” She murmured quietly, making
sure to keep her voice down; the town busybodies didn’t need any concrete
reason to scare people.

Fear
was something that spread like wildfire, especially in a small town such as
this one, and the flames were already beginning, fueled by rumor and lies.

“The
chief said that he didn’t want you on the case, Ells,” Luna murmured, and her
eyes flashed. “He said that you always involve yourself way too much.”

That
arrogant son of a bitch, I thought, my heart sinking to my toes.

It
was almost as if our boss saw through me, to my tender core, and used all of my
insecurities, as a woman and a human being, against me.

“Well,
fuck him. He has no idea what he’s talking about,” I spat, and blushed when the
waitress returned to the table, setting down our mugs of coffee.

Besides,
it was too late. I had a personal stake in this, and I couldn’t just forget it.
Even if I had to ask Luna to keep me informed, I would get to the bottom of
this, even if I had to do it on my own.

**

The Carseat in the River: Part One

The Carseat in the River

The night that they found it was balmy and hot, so humid and sweltering that it felt like everything was sweating.

Doc and I were sitting on the porch, unable to bear staying in the house any longer, even with all the windows open, hoping to coax a nonexistent breeze into stirring the still curtains, he holding a sweating beer, and I nursing a tall glass of peach iced tea. Odd, the kind of little details that stick in the memory.

It was quiet, the silence only broken by the cicadas chirping in the trees and the occasional slurp from the two of us. After you’re married for a certain number of years, you find that you don’t have to fill the moments of silence with idle chatter, and so we just enjoyed the night, what we could of it. The screen door was open, and our German Shepherd puppy, Jax, barked sharply, and Doc rumbled with quiet laughter, the sound reminding me of a cello.

“Crazy pup,” He murmured, shaking his head as the puppy ran a few laps around the house, chasing an angry, chattering squirrel out of its perch in a tree.

“I do wish you’d be nice,” I told Jax, taking a sip of tea. “What did that poor creature ever do to you, you mad dog?” I held out my hand, and he came running, leaping up so quickly that he knocked the glass out of my hand. I scrambled to catch it, but wasn’t quick enough: with a merry tinkling sound, the glass hit the wood of the porch and shattered. For my part, I fell beneath Jax’s girth, massive even though he was still a baby, and was rewarded by a series of wet kisses; pinned beneath him, I tried to shove him off of me.

“I need to clean up this mess! Come on, Jax, let Mommy up,”

I looked around for my husband, who had disappeared, probably to get a broom. But when I finally managed to get Jax off of me and walk into the house, he was standing in the living room, his alcohol and the mess promptly forgotten, staring at the TV.

“What’s going on, Doc?”

“Shhh!” He said sharply, not looking away from the screen. “It’s the news. They’ve found a carseat in the river, over by the marshes.”

For a moment, I didn’t understand his words; it was almost like he was speaking another language entirely. Then it sank in, the words hanging heavily in the hot, humid room like the blackest, most toxic smoke.

“Wait, what?” I asked, the broken glass forgotten. “A carseat? I don’t understand.” My stomach lurched; who would abandon a baby at all, let alone in such a brutal, primal way?

“There was no body, Ellie. But they’re thinking that it was a homicide.”

I stared at my husband in confusion; Jax’s loud barking echoed in my brain, as though I were hearing it from underwater. It made no sense. A homicide, here? In a place where no one even bothered to lock their doors at night, or while they were out of town? And of all things, the disappearance of a child? Someone small enough to sit in a carseat?

What kind of human being—what kind of a monster—was cold and callous enough to do such a thing? The very thought was incomprehensible, chilled my blood.

“Maybe it isn’t,” I finally managed to say, around a lump in my throat the size of an orange. “Maybe it was an accident. They could still be alive.” As soon as I said those words, they floated in the air, as weak as flat soda. But I just could not reconcile the awful possibility that someone would do something so terrible to anyone, let alone a child.

“I don’t know, Ells.” Doc replied, and at last, crossed the distance between us, wrapping his arms around me. But it could not quite erase the dark fear that seemed to infect my mind and skitter long fingers down my spine. “They don’t very much yet, but I’ve just got a bad feeling about this. Maybe you should call into the station?”

In my haze of shock and horror, it hadn’t even occurred to me to call any of my coworkers to see what was going on. Doc’s suggestion made sense, but when I turned to look at the phone, dread buzzed at the base of my neck, climbing up into my skull like an angry swarm of bees.

I didn’t know if I could bear it, if something had happened to that child, whomever they were.

“Here, bring Jax inside,” I said, handing him a broom and dustpan. “After you clean up the broken glass.” Too late, I realized that I’d forgotten to so much as say please, and blood rushed to my face. Doc frowned, his forehead wrinkling, and he put his hand to my cheek.

“Are you all right, Ell? You look so frightened.”

I leaned my cheek into his hand, despite the irritational urge to snap at him.

Of course, I’m frightened! A child may be dead, lost without a trace, thrown away like garbage! If I had any children that still lived at home, I’d lock the doors and windows and never let them out of my sight again!

The darker side of humanity was a constant companion for me, an occupational hazard. I did my best to leave my work at home, but that wasn’t to say that I was not haunted by my own share of demons and ghosts. And whatever lay up there knew I wasn’t looking to add another to my ever-growing collection.

“Please. While you do that, I’ll call the station and see if I can get more information.” I said, forcing myself to swallow the vicious, poisonous words that had sprung to mind, conjured by my fear.

Doc looked at me again, hard, but did nothing but step back and go to the porch to sweep up the mess, calling for Jax in the deepening twilight. I heard Jax’s excited barks, and turned to the phone, dreading what waited for me on the other side of the line. The mere suspicion was enough to make me paranoid; to confirm it was almost too much for me. But I couldn’t just leave it; I had to know for sure.

I picked up the phone, cradling it between my head and shoulder, not trusting myself to hold it with my hands shaking so badly. The iced tea I’d drank roiled in my stomach, and I dialed the number of the station, hoping and praying that no one would pick up. Maybe Doc had misheard; maybe the news station had been mistaken.

It was a long shot, but I just didn’t want to think about the alternative, at least not until I had some concrete proof to this dark deed.

There was, finally, a click on the other end of the line, and my partner, Luna, breathed into the phone.

“Hello? Mackintosh Falls Police Department, how can I help you?” Her voice came across as raspy and weak, as if she’d been up all night, and it wouldn’t have surprised me, had that been the case.

“Sasha? What’s going on? Doc and I just saw the news,” I said, and the words all flew out of my mouth in one breath.

“Is it true? You found a carseat in the marshes?”

There was a short, pregnant pause. “The chief says that I can’t give out too much information. Doesn’t want to set off a public panic.”

“Oh, come on, Sasha. That’s not good enough. I need to know. I mean… Who could kill a kid like that?”

“They only said on the news that it might be a homicide,” She countered, and I could picture her, standing in our shared office, twitchy and worn out from yet another long shift.

“I have a really bad feeling about this, Lunes. Come on, give me something. I mean, God. A kid.”

“Don’t jump to conclusions. Tell you what; I have the day off tomorrow. We’ll get together for lunch and talk about it then, all right? For now, you need to get some rest. And so do I; I’ve gotta stop doing these long shifts. When I was fresh out of the academy, it wasn’t a big deal. But now… Well, I’m older.” She laughed, and the sound carried an edge of bitterness.

“Make sure you get a good night’s rest. You’ve been working too much.”

“Hey, you’re the one who called me on your day off. I’ll pick you up tomorrow, okay?” We ended the call with a quiet farewell, and I helped Doc finish cleaning up the remains of my broken cup. Soon after, we retired to bed, retreating into our air-conditioned bedroom.

But sleep eluded me, and I spent the night tossing and turning, dreaming restlessly, up and down all night, haunted by the gruesome discovery. Granted, it might not mean anything, but that wasn’t what my gut was telling me.

Something felt deeply wrong, and I frowned, biting my lip. Staying up all night would not be good for my fragile mindset at the moment, so I went back to bed, snuggling into Doc and wrapping myself around him, as if that would chase away the malignant thoughts that had taken root in my mind.

Eventually, I fell asleep with my face buried in his back, and this time, my sleep was as dark as the river, and it swallowed me whole.

**

I awoke to Doc gently disentangling himself from me, dropping a kiss on my lips and forehead before tucking me back in.

“I love you,” He whispered, rubbing my back for a moment before he went to go get ready.

With how awful I’d slept the night before, I needed no other incentive to go back to sleep. Besides, lunch wouldn’t be until eleven or so. I still needed to take a shower, but I didn’t feel like getting up after my long night. I turned over and fell asleep, almost as soon as Doc left the room.

**

I awoke to my phone ringing shrilly, and I looked at the clock: just after twelve thirty.

“Son of a bitch!” I swore to myself, kicking the blankets off and hopping out of bed.

I picked up my phone and answered it; Luna’s voice came through clearly.

“Ells? Where are you? I’ve been waiting for the last fifteen minutes, at the café down the road. You’re not getting sick, are you?”

“No, of course not, I just overslept,” I said honestly. “Be there in ten.”

“I already got you some coffee. Be careful on the way, the roads are still nasty, what with the rain and all.”

I hung up and changed into a pair of comfortable jeggings and a plaid button-up, and my combat boots. I grabbed my bag on the way out of the room; in my haste, I’d almost forgotten it.

If I was really being reckless, I’d go to the damn crime scene and do my own little investigation. But it would be wiser to wait, see if we could take the legal (fussy) way of things and get some information that way.

Running to the bathroom, I quickly threw my hair up into a sloppy bun, still swearing under my breath. Of course, today of all days, I’d sleep in well into the afternoon. Feeding and watering Jax and letting him go to the bathroom, I kissed him on the head and locked the door, walking out to the car.

It was just a plain black four-door, inconspicuous and unassuming. I put my bag in the front seat and pulled out. The drive throughout the neighborhood was slow, but when I finally arrived at the café, it was packed, full of people gossiping. I was so foggy that I could barely process what was going on.

I spotted Luna at a back table, next to a window. She waved, beckoning me over. True to her word, she had gotten me a coffee, thick with cream and sugar, but she hadn’t ordered any food; I felt a flash of guilt in my stomach. She’d been waiting on me forever.

“I don’t have very much to tell you, I’m afraid, since the case just broke.” She said, shrugging apologetically. “But let’s get food first, and we’ll talk.”

**

Quirky and interesting!Strange Practice by Vivian ShawDr Greta…

Quirky and interesting!

Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw

Dr Greta Helsing is a monster doctor, she serves London’s undead and otherwise non-human population. Vampires, ghouls, and demons, oh my. And when some rampaging monks start killing off humans and monsters alike, Greta is on the case!

This fun little mystery revolves around Greta and her ensemble of monster friends. What I really liked was that Greta was not a kick-ass, take no prisoners, all-powerful, all-magical heroine. No, she was a doctor. When there was a medical emergency, she kicked ass because that is what she was supposed to do. When there was a monster emergency, she was human and did her best within the limitations being human imposes. I loved the cast of characters around Greta, the relationships she built with both humans and monsters, and the very vivid London scenery that Shaw built in the narrative. I had a lot of fun reading this book and am looking forward to the next one in the series.