OKAY. QUICK PRIMER on pan-dimensional cosmology:
It turns out that we don’t move through time, from birth to death, in a straight line. We’re more like twigs being carried along a stream. When we make a decision, or a major event happens, the stream forks. Sometimes the twig that is you goes into one stream, sometimes another. But both streams continue to exist.
And so do you. A version in each of the streams. Your consciousness rides one or the other, but both “yous” continue to exist as well.
I’m sure you’ve read the books or seen the endless movies and TV shows that tell parallel reality stories. None of them have ever gotten it right. Which is funny, because each and every one of us have experienced the shift to a parallel universe.
Here’s the proof: Have you ever been looking for something–your car keys or maybe a book? You look everywhere, and can’t find it. Then all of a sudden, there it is. In a place you could have sworn you already searched. Or even more unnerving, maybe you were staring right at it, but for some reason, didn’t see it.
Congratulations. You just experienced a shift from one parallel reality to another.
It happens to all of us. Dozens, even hundreds of times a day. But the reason we don’t know it is that our minds smooth over these incongruities to keep us sane.
When the book you were looking for shows up in the pile where it was not, you shrug, hope you’re not suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s, and move on. And this can happen no matter how big, or glaring, the aberration.
Yes, even one as big as a dead version of yourself you had to leave in the closet.
I had suspected I could not trust my brain to keep the dead body in my closet front and center. Which was why I had entered a reminder in my phone before I left Dead Trav. Every couple hours, it was to chirp so I didn’t get busy with my regular life and forget the trouble lurking just outside the realm of my perception. Of course, I hadn’t counted on Sam resurrecting the MTV era for anyone within earshot.
“Trav? Is something wrong?” Leon’s words were solicitous, but his tone was hard.
“Sorry,” I said, pocketing the phone. “Should have put that on vibrate.”
“Sure it can wait?” Kelly asked. “If you need to get your oil changed, or pick up milk, we don’t mind putting the case on hold.”
I shook my head. She gave me the kind of look you give the cat when it coughs up a hairball in the middle of your living room, before finally looking down at her tablet.
“Anyway, Special Agent Matthew Ward. Detectives Becker and Yount.”
We shook hands all around.
“I won’t kid you guys,” Kelly continued when we had finished. “This is one of the most frustrating kidnappings I’ve ever worked. As you know, despite what you see on the morning news shows, off-the-street kidnappings by strangers are rare. Nine times out of ten it’s a non-custodial parent or boyfriend covering up some atrocious act. Less often, a neighbor or friend of the family.”
“We’ve cleared the family. And the neighbors,” Adam said.
“Exactly. Two weeks and we have exactly nothing to show for an investigation that has involved two municipalities, state DCI, and the Bureau.”
“So, the three of us are supposed to succeed where fifty investigators failed?” Adam made no attempt to hide his sarcasm.
“I know how this looks, Detective,” Kelly replied. “I can only reiterate what I said out there. We are not giving up.”
“Tell that to the Patels and the Days.”
“Adam,” Leon said. My partner wisely clammed up.
“We will all stay professional here,” Leon continued. “Bottom line is, Kelly is right. We can’t throw unlimited resources at one case forever. But you three are on this full time. Start at the beginning. Read Ward in. Maybe a set of fresh eyes will jar something loose. We’ve moved all the case files to Interview Two. Work out of there. Anything else you can think of right now?”
We shook our heads.
“Get to it.”
We filed out, waited for Ward to collect his laptop case from the conference room, and led him to the room Leon had set aside for us.
Our station had four interview rooms. They look exactly like you’ve seen on TV. Square box with a beat-up table and a few chairs. The only thing missing in Interview Two was the huge one-way mirror you always see the other cops watching interrogations through. Instead there was a small video camera which sat in a bracket in a corner of the ceiling. It was linked to a monitor in the adjoining room. Because it didn’t have the two-way glass, it served more as a multi-purpose room, only used for interviewing witnesses or suspects when no place else was available.
The whiteboard from the conference area had been moved into the space, and there were a couple of binders on the table, along with a laptop.
“Home, sweet home,” Adam said as we arranged ourselves around the desk.
“You guys have Kelly all wrong,” Ward said. He had fairly recent Middle Eastern ancestry. Olive complexion, short, dark hair, slight and about my height.
“Yeah. The regional office wanted the Bureau out of this completely. Kelly went to the wall to keep us in. She’s serious. We come up with something concrete, I can have a full contingent back here in an hour.”
“Then the thing to do is find something,” I said. “And do it soon. Kelly was also right that every day that passes makes it less likely we find the girls alive.”
“All right,” Adam said. “I’ll leave it alone. Let’s get to it.”
For the next hour and a half, we went back through every note, photograph, interview, tip, and theory about the case. The table quickly became covered with papers we unclipped from the binders and re-arranged. The whiteboard was filled with enough notes, circles and arrows to teach organic chemistry.
As the ancient HVAC system labored unsuccessfully to keep the room from getting moist and stuffy, Ward–proving he was in fact, human–tossed his coat in the corner and loosened his tie. We switched out empty coffee cups for water bottles, or in Adam’s case, Mountain Dew.
The FBI agent proved to be a quick study, and while he didn’t talk about himself, it was obvious he was not some accounting major recruited into the Bureau to fill out the diversity goals. In fact, I noticed that he kept rubbing the back of his neck and cheeks. The room wasn’t that warm.
“You just come out from undercover?”
His eyes narrowed. “What makes you say that?”
“You rub your neck and face like there used to be a lot more hair there.”
“Can’t talk about it,” he replied, giving me a long look. “You did some undercover work yourself last year, didn’t you?”
I frowned. Why would an FBI profiler know anything about my activities from a year ago?
“Yeah,” I said after a pause. “Didn’t last that long.”
“But it did result in us taking down one of the biggest organized crime rings in the Midwest,” Adam put in.
“We had a CI inside,” I said. “It was mostly about keeping him alive. He did all the heavy lifting.”
I wanted to get off this topic, so I asked, “You’re a profiler. Can you work up anything that might help us?”
“There’s not a lot to work with yet,” he replied. “Anything I would say now would be pretty general.”
“Anything might help,” Adam said.
Ward thought a minute. “On average, we’re looking for a white male, thirties or forties. Trouble in a relationship, or a history of troubled relationships. Other than that, as we discussed, kidnappings like these are rarely executed by strangers. Particularly in broad daylight in a quiet neighborhood.”
“That points to a family member or friend,” I said.
“Who, as you say, you’ve cleared. Although we should go back and look again.”
“You don’t think we know how to do our jobs?” Adam asked.
“I know how to do my job,” Ward replied calmly. “And that means looking at everything myself.”
Adam started to object some more, but I quieted him with a raised hand.
“Assuming family comes up dry, what then?”
“We widen the net. Chances are it’s someone the girls knew. But it might be an acquaintance we aren’t aware of. Someone they might trust who wouldn’t be obvious to us. The guy who volunteers as a crossing guard after school. Or someone who would present themselves as a trusted figure, even if they were not well known to the girls.”
Adam and I exchanged a confused look. “You lost me,” I said. “A trusted figure who is not well known by them?”
“Someone who would be trusted as a result of their job or position,” he explained. “Someone from school or church. A teacher or guidance counselor. Or some other authority figure in the community. Anyone like that turn up in your investigation?”
I shook my head. “No one comes to mind that we haven’t already mentioned.”
Ward tapped a paper he had picked up out of the interview pile.
“This guy. Uhh… Alan Taggert.”
“The guy who saw the girls bike past his house,” I said.
“Either of you guys do the interview?”
I took the paper and glanced at the initials at the bottom of the report. “No, it was Stevens.”
“Should we try him again?”
“All he said was he saw two girls bike past his house,” Adam said doubtfully.
“He’s the only person who saw them,” Ward pointed out. “If nothing else, it’s the one location we know for sure the girls were at, at least briefly. I’d like to get a look at it. Then maybe we can talk to the parents.”
“Okay,” I replied. “You want to go now?”
Ward looked at his phone. “Sure, but let’s drive separately. I’ll probably leave right from there to check in to my hotel.”
“Sounds good. Adam, you want to drive or want me to?”
“Uh, actually, I was going to meet Kim over lunch. We have to look at flowers. Or maybe it’s flowers on the invitation. I’m starting to lose track.”
“Doesn’t sound like something you need the best man for.”
“Congratulations,” Ward said. He shrugged back into his suit coat.
“Thanks… I think.” Adam shook his head. “It’s a wonder any groom ever goes through with a wedding. It’s like the entire process is designed to make the man run as far away as he can.”
“That’s what engagements are for,” I said lightly. “If you can stay with her while she’s a bride, you can make it through anything.”
“The only thing keeping me going is the anticipation of watching you go through the same thing,” Adam said, chucking me on the shoulder.
I didn’t reply.
Ward broke the sudden silence. “I’ll, uh… meet you at Mr. Taggert’s residence at one-thirty?”
We nodded and went our separate way–Adam and me to the staff lot, Ward to wherever he had parked his Feebmobile.
“Did I say something wrong?” Adam asked as we descended the stairs.
“Just leave it alone,” I said.
“Something I should know about you two?”
“I said, leave it alone.”
“Okay! Okay.” He held his hands up in surrender. “I’ll see you over there.”
I fished in my pocket for my car keys as we split, hitting the unlock button.
My pocket vibrated as I opened the door.
Two hours since my last reminder about the body in the closet. Not that I needed one right now.
Because curled in the cramped back seat of the Mustang lay a bleeding Trav Becker