Happy weekend, everyone! It’s Preview Friday, and I’ve got your first peek at my upcoming release THE COLD CASE! And for those of you who’ve been asking, I’ll have more of Terrence’s short story for you in the coming weeks, too–I’m so glad you enjoyed the first chapter of this unpublished short and truly appreciate your thoughts and feedback. Have a fabulous Friday & be well– Lorhainne
The feeling of being unprotected was one he knew well, a feeling no one should have to live with. Mark wondered when his instincts had become so deeply embedded, the warning that sent the hair on the back of his neck standing up whenever anything was off.
It was a feeling that just wouldn’t fade.
Mark could never be vulnerable, and though he would never be willing to admit to his weaknesses, he didn’t take kindly to the familiar sense of unease. After his fellow officers suddenly turned on him, everything he did had gone under a microscope, with problems coming at him in a way he couldn’t have explained reasonably.
That had been a painful lesson that he was the only person he could count on.
Maybe it was why his lone-wolf mentality had become so deeply entrenched.
He took in Gail’s empty desk, aware that it had been a few days since he’d seen her, and listened to the chief on the phone in his office.
“What are you doing?” Carmen said, suddenly standing in front of his desk in her light brown deputy uniform, her dark hair pulled back as it always was.
She never smiled.
“I’m on phone duty,” he replied, just staring at the phone on his desk, which hadn’t rung in a while. He glanced back over to the chief in his office, who was leaning back in his chair. Whomever he was talking to, Mark didn’t have a clue.
“So you’re planning on just sitting there?” Carmen said, holding a stack of files. She could be quite direct.
“I’m doing as I’m told. Chief said watch the phones, so here I am.” He gestured toward the chief’s office, not missing the twist of her lips and something else in her eyes before she nodded.
Okay, maybe there was some humor buried deep there—at his expense.
“I’m sure he didn’t mean for you to just sit there and stare into space. So come on, give me a hand. There is such a thing as multitasking. Pick up the portable phone and carry it with you. See how easy that is?” She didn’t wait for him to follow.
Mark couldn’t shake the feeling that the chief had been keeping an especially close eye on him as of late, putting him on what was beginning to feel like a very short leash.
“So what are you doing, anyway?” he asked, grabbing the portable phone and following her through the open door into the back, then down the stairs, old and creaky, to the basement, which was a place he didn’t go often. The shelves there appeared dusty.
“Cleaning out files,” she said. “We have to make room for cases. Some of these go back years.”
Boxes were stacked high on the shelves, labeled with black ink handwriting on the front. Carmen had a box out on the floor now and was shoving the files she had held inside.
“What is all this?” He gestured toward her.
Carmen didn’t look up from where she squatted. “All the case files. The current closed ones are in the first row. Gail is usually down here, moving the closed files. Those four sets over there are all the cases that were never solved.”
He took in the shelves she gestured to, seeing the sheer number of boxes, and wondered whether he’d heard right. Why didn’t he know this? “Are you saying more than half the files down here are unsolved?”
She stood up and slid the box back on the shelf. “I’d say a little more, but that’s why you’re helping me. Seems some of the cases are mixed up, some cold and unsolved in with the closed and solved. The chief also wants to make room by pulling out everything more than ten years old.” The way Carmen talked was so matter of fact at times.
“Excuse me? Pulled out and put where?”
She lifted her gaze to him. Even though Carmen was hard to read, something about the way she’d said it had him pausing.
“Someplace to make room, as the chief said. Once a case is that old, the probability of it ever being solved reverts to just about zero. You know the stats. With us being an island with limited resources, all these old case files are just collecting dust.” She tapped the box.
It had him looking at each one, and he felt that off feeling again. Something had happened to someone in each of those files, and he had the sense that justice hadn’t been served. “Are you talking about destroying the files? You realize you can’t do that.”
Carmen pulled a box out and shoved it at his chest, forcing him to take it. “You really do love to stir things up,” she said, and he wasn’t sure she was teasing.
He set the box down on a side table. “Carmen, laws are in place for exactly this reason…”
“Who said anything about destroying files? The chief just said they’re to be moved out. We need the room. So go through the box, make sure everything is filed correctly and closed, and then mark the file with your initials to say you checked it. The year is marked on the box. Anything older than ten years is to be stacked by the stairs. The chief is having them picked up.”
She didn’t look his way. He realized Carmen seemed to understand the underbelly of this island better than anyone, how the law seemed to be implemented. She was rifling through a box, and he couldn’t help but wonder what she was looking for.
“Picked up by who?” he said. “Or should I not ask? There are supposed to be procedures in place for safekeeping—you know, evidence you don’t want tampered with. You can’t exactly have this getting out to the public.”
She hesitated but didn’t look up. Mark was suddenly more aware of the files he’d closed and tossed on a cabinet by Gail’s desk. That was the first thing she had told him about how to handle a case file. She had always put the files away, and he’d never considered for a moment where they went after that.
Carmen didn’t appear to be listening.
“You know,” Mark said, “it’s not lost on me that you won’t elaborate on this. So tell me, are the files being moved to storage someplace? Where? For an island this size, there’re a lot of unsolved cases going back years.”
Carmen was now squatted down at the end of a row of shelves, and he could hear her rustling. Again, she didn’t answer.
“Hey, what are you doing?” he said.
She appeared around the corner, holding another box, and he had to remind himself that she had never felt the need to fill any kind of uncomfortable silence. He thought she did it purposely.
“You really do talk too much sometimes,” she said. “Here’s a thought: Sometimes you may not want answers to the questions you ask. Just have a look through this one, too.” She dumped another box beside him.
He took in the unlabeled front. Why did it seem Carmen knew something he didn’t? He found himself looking over to her. He wasn’t sure whether she hadn’t heard his question or just didn’t want to answer, but the latter seemed more and more likely.
He opened the box, hearing footsteps squeaking above his head on the floor upstairs in the old building. After taking in the thick files, he pulled one out that was thin, with not much to it, labeled Martin. There were only two pages inside, and he flipped them over and took in the file again. It had been closed, apparently an easy case.
“Carmen, this one is dated four years ago, and there’re only a couple pages in here. It’s a missing toddler, a kid…”
He was reading the report, by a Detective Singer, open and shut. His stomach knotted with a sick feeling at the knowledge that a little kid had been killed, but where were the crime scene photos? It seemed a lot of details were missing. His brow furrowed as he closed up the file and rummaged through the others.
He pulled out another thick one, listening to the silence. When he glanced up, Carmen was standing by the stairs, and he wasn’t sure what to make of the way she was watching him. He gestured toward the thin file. “Were you here four years ago? You know about this case? Then there’s this Detective Singer.”
Carmen walked over to him and took in the file, looking over his arm.
“There has to be something missing, another file,” he said, lifting each one out. He didn’t know why this bothered him, sloppy filing, sloppy work.
“I doubt it,” was all she said, flipping through the two sheets. When she closed the file, her expression was matter of fact again.
Mark pulled out yet another file from the box, seeing a different case on each one.
“Paperwork wasn’t really the detective’s forte,” Carmen said. “He always seemed to keep everything up here.” She tapped her head, and it took him a second to realize she was serious.
“Really? You’re messing with me. That file has no crime scene photos. Where’s the body, a confession, a few notes?” He took the file from Carmen, who seemed more than happy to let him have it. One page was labeled Interview, and a note at the top said Open and shut. “Come on. You have to give me something, here. Who was this Detective Singer, anyway?”
She shot him a heavy stare, and he wasn’t sure what was behind it.
“Who is this? There’s a note in here about a Crazy Carla.” He took in the name underlined in red. “So are these the kinds of files we’re packing up and moving out of here? This is sloppy. How many more are like this?” He found himself reaching for another file, seeing Detective Singer’s name in there. Again, the paperwork was lacking, but all Carmen did was shrug. “I know you worked with him. Come on, Carmen, seriously, what is this?”
“Look, Detective Singer was here before me—long before me, if you get my drift. I was just lucky he didn’t train me. The chief did. So go through the files there and have a look. Make sure nothing’s missing.”
He couldn’t pull his gaze from her, even when the chief called from upstairs, “Mark!”
Carmen pulled in a breath and pressed her lips together, glancing back to the stairs.
“Downstairs,” Mark called. He heard footsteps, and the chief appeared in the doorway, looking down.
“Have to make a run out,” the chief said. “What are you doing down there?”
He realized Carmen had stepped away. He made himself take a step over to the stairs and looked up, still holding the file. “Giving Carmen a hand with all these old files,” he said. He didn’t know why he didn’t bother elaborating.
The chief only nodded. “Fine, shouldn’t take long. Just stack them and leave them. Gail’s on her way in, and then you can get out there and make rounds,” he said. Then he just stood there for a second, and Mark wondered what was on his mind. The chief just inclined his head and walked away.
Odd. He had been sure the chief was about to say something. He listened to the footsteps and the door closing. When he turned back, there was Carmen with an odd look on her face.
“You know, sometimes when a case has been mishandled, you can’t say anything if it’s not yours,” she said, pulling her arms across her chest and nodding at the file he was still holding.
He wondered if that was a question. “Sure,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I work out here. So what are you getting at?”
Her eyes were brown. She didn’t look away. “That feeling you have when something isn’t right… Not all cops have it. You know what I mean?”
He knew. It was that feeling he had, which seemed to always be there.
“Let me ask you this, Carmen. Did you hand me this box with this file because you know something was mishandled?”
She blinked and stepped back, then looked away just as he heard the door upstairs. “You know, why don’t I do rounds for you?” she said. “Sometimes it feels as if the walls are closing in on me here.”
There it was, her unwillingness to answer. Another complex woman who seemed to live and breathe secrets.
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