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Weston Tamrick had barely set his coffee and donuts down on the one corner of his desk unencumbered with paperwork when he heard his partner's voice behind him.
"Good thing you're here early, Wes. We got another one."
Weston turned around. His partner, Jimmy Thang, was already halfway across the precinct room, coming toward him from Lieutenant Ward's office where the door was just swinging shut. He didn't have to ask what Jimmy was talking about. The set expression on his blandly oriental face was tinged with the frustration they both were feeling since being assigned to the disappearances.
"Where this time?" Weston asked.
"Northpark Hospital. In the parking lot, sometime after midnight." Jimmy pushed some file cases toward the middle of his own desk, clearing a corner of it to sit on. The only time he used his chair was when he was forced to sit in it in order to type case and activity reports into the computer.
Weston glanced at the map of the northern environs of Houston tacked to a large bulletin board set against a wall behind their adjacent desks in the corner of the precinct room they called their office. The board had seen better days. Its frame was weathered and stained with smudges from frequent handling. On the map were sixteen small red circles, scattered seemingly at random, each with a date written neatly beside it.
"That's what the Lieutenant thinks. He's getting pissed, too. He wants some action."
Weston shrugged. He couldn't blame Lieutenant Ward. He and Jimmy had made absolutely no progress since being assigned the cases after the seventh--or was it the eighth?-- abduction. Hepicked up a marker from the narrow trough running along the bottom of the board and scanned the map until he found Kingwood Avenue, then traced the street line to the hospital location. Carefully, he made a seventeenth red circle on the map then stood back to see if it made any difference in establishing a pattern. It didn't, other than the fact that all the marks were located north of the Beltway. He turned away from the map and pulled his chair away from his desk and sat down. Jimmy Thang leaned forward and handed him a hard copy of the latest report. Weston scanned it briefly, picking out the high points in hopes that something would stand out and give him a hint of an abnormal datum, something different or in addition to the other cases.
"You see anything?" Jimmy asked, rummaging in Weston's sack for a donut.
Weston dropped the printout to his desk and pulled the lid off his coffee. It was black and not overly strong. McDonald's might not make very good burgers but he preferred their coffee even if it did mean two stops on the way in, one for coffee and another for donuts. He glanced down at the sparse report while he sipped at the coffee, cursing silently at the old woman who had sued and won a huge settlement from McDonald's over hot coffee she had spilled in her lap. He liked his coffee hot, but now they had lowered the temperature and by the time he got it to the precinct it was only lukewarm. He traced down the report with one finger.
"Same as usual." Jimmy agreed.
"No sign of a struggle?"
Jimmy shrugged. "Not so far as we've heard. We've got uniforms holding down the scene til we get there."
Weston moved his finger down the page and found the time of the disappearance and stopped there. He dropped his half eaten donut back into the bag. He looked up at his partner. "Jesus Christ, Jimmy, the woman disappeared at midnight. Why weren't we called in earlier?"
"Read on. There was a security guard involved who was supposed to have escorted her to her car after she got off. He didn't turn up until after one o'clock. They found him in a linen closet diddling one of the housekeepers. After that, the hospital folks spent an hour reaming his ass out then wasted some more time searching the grounds before they called us."
Weston turned that over in his mind, feeling his pulse increase. "You think there's a connection with the guard?"
"Could be. At first he claimed he had escorted her, then finally confessed that he hadn't."
"Maybe we're finally going to get a break."
Weston stared at his partner. Jimmy was new to homicide. He still wore his suits as if he missed his uniform, every now and then feeling about his waist as if still wearing a gun belt rather than carrying his weapon in a shoulder holster. For all that, Weston was beginning to like him. Jimmy tended not to speculate without cause and worked as if he had memorized the procedure manual. His tone of voice hadn't been very convincing, though.
"You don't think he was in on it?"
"Doesn't seem likely, unless her body turns up on the premises. I don't think it will."
Weston ran his finger along the next paragraph. "Keys still in the car door. Purse on the ground. No sign of a struggle. I don't think so either. Shit. Well, maybe something will turn up at the scene."
"I hope to hell something turns up somewhere. Whoever is doing the snatching must be one smart son of a bitch."
Weston couldn't agree more. He had been working the disappearances the last six months, ever since it had been decided that there was probably a serial killer involved and a task force had been formed, with himself as the lead detective. Jimmy had been assigned as his partner shortly afterward, but they had made absolutely no progress so far, other than agreeing that the snatcher's MO matched most of the disappearances they were working on. It was always the same. A young white woman or a very young Hispanic or Caucasian girl, finding herself momentarily alone, sometimes only for moments, abruptly dropped off the map as if she had fallen into a black hole.
Weston pulled out a new folder and slid the report inside the covers then marked the case number and name of the victim on the outside. He looked up at is partner, still sitting on the edge of his desk. "You ready to go?"
Copyright © 2006 Darrell Bain.