Her Last Whisper – Jennifer Chase

A heavy evening mist clung to the windshield of the police car, obscuring the view of the forgotten neighborhood. In the few occupied houses curtains were drawn tightly leaving only thin cracks of light seeping around the edges. Some homes even had bars across the windows. This small rural community had been ignored by the rest of the lively, growing town around it for too long. It was in desperate need of attention and restoration. Deputy Stan Miller flipped on the wipers to clear his view, only to smear streaks of dirt across the windshield. He let out an annoyed sigh and turned the wipers to a higher speed—making it worse—and then off again. “Now you’ve done it,” said Deputy Karl Windham beside him, and Miller laughed in spite of himself after a long and uneventful night shift. “You’re going to criticize me?” Miller joked. “Me? The guy who has your back?” He sat up straighter, sucking in his waist and adjusting his seatbelt; it was no use pretending he hadn’t put on a few extra pounds recently. “It’s the kiss of death out here tonight,” complained Windham watching out the side window as the mist turned to light rain. “I bet it was Sheriff Scott’s idea to double us up, with all those recent ambushes on cops around the state.” “It probably has something to do with the mayor’s office. Who knows? You know how they don’t tell us anything, even though we’re the ones putting our asses on the line every shift.” Still gazing out of the window, he watched a dark figure dart around a garbage can and disappear into the darkness, then he turned his attention to a skinny cat scurrying along the sidewalk, nose close to the ground tracking something.

The rain got heavier as they drove deeper into the Basin Woods Development. There were no other vehicles on the road. No lights in the distance. Only darkness. “You hungry?” asked Miller. “I wouldn’t turn down a cup of coffee,” replied Windham. “Me neither.” Deputy Miller took his eyes off the road for a moment to check the time and looked back just in time to see a slender woman stagger into the road ahead of them. She stopped still in the headlights. Her long hair, wet from the rain, was plastered against her head and around her face.

She wore only a pair of panties and a tattered tank top. She looked terrified, dark eyes pleading in the glare of the lights, her mouth forming words they could not hear. “Hey!” yelled Windham to his partner. “Stop!” Miller jammed on the brakes, making the patrol car bounce to a stop inches before hitting the young woman. Weak and unbalanced, she fell to her knees. In the glare of the headlights, both men could clearly see the dirt embedded on her face and neck, the blood seeping from wounds on her hands, elbows, legs, and feet. Deputy Miller turned to his partner with wide eyes. “What the…?” Jamming the vehicle into park he picked up the radio. “Dispatch, this is 3741, we have a possible 10-16 at Lincoln and Travis. Will keep you updated.

Copy.” “Copy that,” replied Dispatch. He nodded to Windham who swung open the car door and ran to kneel beside the woman. “Miss…” he spoke gently. “Are you alright?” She shook uncontrollably. Her head and shoulders drooped while her mouth tried to form around a word. “Can you tell us what happened?” Windham said. He gently touched her shoulder and she flinched away from him. “It’s okay. You’re okay now,” he reassured.

“Truth… truth… the truth… you don’t understand… otherwise…” she finally managed between gasps for breath. “I told the truth…” she muttered. “What truth?” asked Deputy Miller who had retrieved a blanket from the trunk and now stood a few feet away. She stopped speaking and slowly looked up at the deputy, her eyes filled with fear. Then she whispered, “I told the truth… I told the truth… told… the truth.” Both deputies carefully helped the woman up and gently wrapped the blanket around her. “What’s your name?” asked Windham. “A… Aman… Amanda,” she said slowly. “Okay, Amanda. We want to help you.

Can you tell us what happened?” “I tried…” she whispered. “It was…” Her voice trailed off. Deputy Miller opened the back door to the patrol car as his partner gently guided her to sit down in the backseat. Miller handed her a small bottle of water and, after a few moments, her eyes focused on the officers and her breath began to steady. Deputy Windham kneeled down to her eye level and asked, “Amanda, can you tell us what happened to you? Do you remember what happened? Anything?” She shook her head as more tears welled up in her eyes. “It’s okay.” “A blue door with white trim,” she said quietly. “A big box…” “What else, Amanda? Can you remember anything else?” “There was a fantasy tree…” Confused by the description, the deputy tried to make sense of it, pushing gently to pry out any more details from her. “Can you tell us what happened?” Taking a couple of deep breaths, she finally spoke: “I was k-kidnapped.” ONE SIX MONTHS AND THREE DAYS LATER… MONDAY 0705 HOURS Detective Katie Scott drove her Jeep into the Pine Valley Sheriff’s Department parking lot and turned off the engine.

She sat for a moment gathering her thoughts as she stared through the windshield at the rusty chain-link fence in front of her. She took several long, deep breaths to steady her anxiety. Today was her first day in her new job and her nerves were jangling. Am I good enough to head the cold-case unit? Katie had always wanted to be a police officer and ultimately a detective. This was her chance to prove, not only to herself but to anyone that doubted, that she could. Can I mentally handle the caseload? Katie had been through tough times, losing her parents, losing friends on the battlefield, but she never backed away from a challenge even when she knew it would leave a scar. She would do everything possible to find the culprits responsible for their crimes. Two years as a patrol officer and nearly four years as an Army K9 handler had brought her to this moment, to this job. Today was finally the day when she would lead the cold-case unit. Angst tingled through her body, calling distant memories of the battlefield; images filtered into her brain, her senses heightened, the faint smell of expelled gunfire filled the air.

Though she had a better handle on it now, her PTSD was a burden she would most likely carry with her forever. She’d purposely never been officially diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder, afraid of the burden and stigma that came with it. For now, she pushed those images from her mind. After the missing person’s case she’d been involved with barely six months ago, Sheriff Wayne Scott had ordered her to take some personal leave before beginning her new position. She didn’t want to admit it, but the rest had done her some good. Though her now elevated pulse told her otherwise, she was refreshed, rested, and ready to take on any assignment, no matter how big or small. Glancing down at the passenger seat, she smiled at the sight of her new leather briefcase, coffee thermos filled with extra-strong java, and her freshly pressed suit jacket. She wanted to take a moment before everything changed. Her cell phone buzzed with the arrival of a text from the sheriff: Go to forensics first. Sink or swim… she thought to herself as she grabbed her things, making sure her holstered gun and detective badge were secured properly at her waist.

Exiting her car, she hurriedly slipped on her jacket. She might not feel like a detective yet, but at least she was going to look like one. Quickly walking through the main entrance, she waved to the receptionist and crossed a large open area to the farthest corner where there was an unmarked door guarded by a small video lens, now directed at her from above. She pressed a button and waited for the door to unlock. Hearing the click, she pushed through the door and made her way down the narrow wooden staircase leading to the main room in the forensic division. Katie figured that the sheriff must already have a case for her and wanted her down here to see some of the physical evidence first. She had spent some time in forensics working the missing girl case, so the area was familiar to her. “Hello?” she called out as she hit the last step. Silence. “Hello?” she said again.

“John?” She addressed the forensic supervisor. “Sheriff Scott?” Again, no answer. Katie let out a breath and looked around, her enthusiasm fading. “Anyone around? Hello?” Walking down the long hallway with closed office doors lining both sides, she looked back and forth, calling out again. She was just about to turn around when a yellow sticky note on a door caught her attention. DETECTIVE SCOTT ==>>> Katie smiled. “Okay, what’s going on?” She knew something was up. She didn’t immediately recognize the handwriting, but thought that it most likely belonged to John. There were two doors at the end of the hallway, opposite one another. She had never been to that part of the forensic lab before and assumed it was more offices or storage areas.

When the department had originally built the forensic unit, it was slated for a larger staff than it had currently. “Okay, no one better jump out at me,” she said, grabbing the handle of the door on the left and pushing it wide. The room was empty except for the custom built-ins at the farthest side of the work area and a sink. Disappointment and confusion flooded through her. She had imagined her first day would start with combing through old and new files, matching evidence, and reading through folders filled with detective reports. This was definitely not how it was supposed to go—a cryptic scavenger hunt. Glancing at her watch, she was now officially twenty minutes late for the first day on the job. Putting down her briefcase, she reached for the other door and opened it. “Surprise!” yelled the group huddled in front of her. Katie stood in complete shock staring at all the friendly faces including the sheriff, Deputy McGaven, Denise from records, John from forensics, and a couple of other deputies.

“Look, she’s speechless!” laughed Deputy McGaven who had worked with her during the previous missing girl cases. “Now that’s a first,” replied Sheriff Scott. “What is all this?” she asked gaining her composure. “I don’t understand.” She gaped at the dusty old office, which had two large work desks and two chairs, several tall filing cabinets, a bookcase, and a few storage areas. A large freestanding ink board stood in the corner. She took in the desktop computer, laptop, and miscellaneous office supplies beside two extra-tall stacks of boxes, which she assumed were filled with unsolved case files. The room must have been a storage area before the furniture and boxes were moved into it. Sheriff Scott came forward and announced, “This is your new office, Detective Scott.” “Here?” she said.

“Over the past two months, there has been some rearranging of the detective division, including a new person joining the staff,” the sheriff explained. “But I thought—” she began. He continued, “So we thought working in the forensic area would be perfect for you. You would have all the cold-case files and evidence closer to you, and it’s a much bigger office, so we could add another person if needed. But that would be a little further down the road.” “I really don’t know what to say,” Katie said. “This is… this is absolutely amazing. Thank you.” Everyone expressed their congratulations and began to file out of the room one at a time. Denise gave Katie a hug and said, “Congratulations.

You deserve this. Now remember, I’m just up there if you need any searches done that you don’t have time for.” She laughed and pointed upward to the administrative level. “Hey, great office,” stated McGaven and gave her a high-five slap. John approached her and smiled. “Well, I guess I’ll be seeing you a lot more around here. Congratulations.” He left. Katie was left alone with the sheriff. She took a quick look around to make sure everyone had gone before she said, “Uncle Wayne, this is amazing.

I can’t believe I get to work here.” “Well, by my calculations you will probably be out a lot following leads.” “You’re probably right,” she said. “At least this way you don’t have to turn your spare room at home into a crime scene office anymore.” Katie looked around again, now seeing a vase of spring flowers sitting on one of the shelves with some cards lying next to it. “What case do you want me to work first?” “Detective, that’s entirely up to you. The top boxes are the ones that I’ve pulled out for first consideration, but after that I’ll just let you follow your nose. Keep me up to date. I would like an official report on my desk at the end of every week, unless there’s something that I need to know about immediately. If you’re going anywhere out of town or rural, please let me know so we can keep track of you.

” “You got it.” “I have several meetings to get to. And I don’t have to remind you how much your parents would have been so proud of everything you’ve accomplished,” he said. “I still feel like they’re here in spirit.” He paused for a moment, and then he was gone. She retrieved her briefcase from the hall, shed her suit jacket, and stood alone in the middle of the large musty office. It was time to get to work bringing closure and justice to as many victims’ families as possible. TWO He traveled through the crowd with confidence, causing people to make way for him as he walked. It always gave him a thrill; the brush of a shoulder, the light graze of a fingertip, the distinct odors that proved everyone was truly unique. Sweet perfume.

Day-old Scotch. Fresh laundry. Sweat. All were part of the fantasy he held close; his personal collection of what made each individual who they were. Their truth. He felt the tension of the lunchtime crowd— hunger; desire; loneliness; hatred; longing; wanting—and craved the unadulterated reality they hid from everyone else. Their most personal secret. He smiled at a pair of women as they casually passed by him. One smiled back and the other, more interesting to him, looked away. Curiosity burned inside.

What was she hiding? What did she dislike about him so much? What did she dislike about herself? The questions piled up, but he knew how to keep his insatiable curiosity in check. Standing in line for a coffee, he noticed ahead of him a brunette with honey-colored highlights clipped into place with an elegant gold barrette. He watched her lips, doused with a carnation pink lipstick, move gently as she ordered her drink. Leaning closer, he took in her dark gray suit and pale pink blouse, unbuttoned to give a little hint of what was underneath. He inhaled. Lilac. Clean oatmeal soap. He heard the coffee kiosk employee call her Tess. Tess, beautiful Tess. I wonder what deep dark secrets would come tumbling out of you at the right time? He shadowed her as she walked away, careful not to draw attention to himself.

Following. Learning. Finally on the hunt again… Tess… THREE MONDAY 1300 HOURS Looking around at her new office space, it dawned on Katie that with no windows, there was no sound or natural light. The room was in desperate need of something living— perhaps a couple of plants would help. She wondered if the forensic division—John and his two technicians—minded her taking up space in their area at the police department. It was somewhat unorthodox, but she felt that it was going to work out well for her. She was a bit of a loner, so the quiet suited her just fine. In fact, she felt rather at home. Sitting at her desk, perching on the edge of her too-big leather chair, Katie felt she needed to do something physical to calm the flurries in her stomach and slightly shaky hands. She rolled her chair back and swiveled toward the two towering stacks of boxes.

A mismatch of sizes and styles, the boxes looked ready to fall at any moment. Splitting them into four smaller stacks, she noticed that a couple of the boxes had the distinct musty smell of old paper. It saddened her that these were some of the oldest cold cases, those that had little hope of ever being solved. The quietness of the basement wrapped itself around her. No voices. No whoosh of air conditioning above her head. No sound of cars rattling outside. The only noise she could hear was her own breath as she adjusted the furniture in the room to better suit her needs. She turned the two five-foot desks to face one another—that way she could use the extra space when she opened evidence boxes. She pushed the ink board over to the other corner where it would be easy for her to begin making her notes and wouldn’t take up any more precious space than necessary.

Along the back wall were long Formica counters and a sink. Originally designed for a forensic technician, they were now cluttered with yet more cold-case boxes. She opened the cupboard beneath the sink and found some paper towels to wipe away the heavy dust around the room. The old cupboards had a sharp sour smell as if they hadn’t been opened in a decade. When everything was set up, Katie decided to start by getting all her new employment paperwork out of the way so she could get to work on the case files without interruption. She quickly initialed each page to indicate that she understood the regulations of her duty as a police detective. It included the insurance coverage, back pay, vacation time, overtime, and union information. She recorded her previous work experience as a patrol officer at Sacramento Police Department as well as her time in the military. Most sheriff departments required a minimum of four years’ law enforcement experience to apply for a detective position, but her previous experience, college degree, and military time were more than sufficient. It also helped that the department had received glowing letters from her previous supervisor at Sacramento PD, her co-workers, and even the mayor for her dedication and hard work on the missing girl case.

Just as Katie’s vision was beginning to blur from tedious box checking, there was a knock at her door. Chad Ferguson appeared in the doorway and walked directly into Katie’s office. His infectious smile, light sandy hair, and his immediate warmth made him the center of attention in any room. “Hey there,” said Katie as she rose from her chair to greet him. She had known Chad since they were eight years old and he was her closest childhood friend. There were very few childhood memories that he wasn’t in. They had dated in high school, but then life had taken them in different directions. Both had left Pine Valley for a while and had returned recently at around the same time. She wasn’t exactly sure how to define their relationship now. “I wanted to see you,” he said.

“I’m glad you did.” She couldn’t keep his constant gaze. Since seeing him again, after the last terrifying outcome with a serial killer, she still felt a surge of attraction. “Interesting office…” He gazed around. Katie laughed. “It’s different. I was just trying to rearrange it so that it didn’t feel like I was in someone’s basement.” “Well, I won’t keep you from your work.” He glanced at the well-worn boxes. “I wanted to say congratulations in person and invite you out to dinner tonight.

” Katie leaned against her desk, taken aback. She had wanted to keep things between them unromantic until she’d settled in to her new job and civilian life a bit more. And even then, she wasn’t so sure if she should jump into a serious relationship. “I can see you’re hesitating. Maybe we can go out to dinner another time?” “No, no. Dinner sounds nice,” she countered, trying not to let her voice rise another octave. “Well, actually…” Katie knew that look, had seen it many times when they were growing up; his blue eyes twinkled irresistibly and signaled that he had something really important to share. “Spit it out,” she said. “C’mon, how long have I known you? You have something important on your mind.” “I thought we could celebrate both of our new jobs.

” “What? You finally were hired full time?” “Yep, you are looking at an official full-time firefighter for Sequoia County. No more picking up short gigs here and there,” he said with some relief to his voice. “That’s great. I’m so happy for you.” She gave him a quick hug. “So that means we both have something to celebrate,” he said. “Absolutely.” “Pick you up around 7.30 p.m.

?” “Uh,” she hesitated. “Sure. See you then.” He walked slowly to the door, barely turned the corner, and then leaned back into the room and said, “Detective Scott, I think this job agrees with you. I wouldn’t have left here with anything except a yes for dinner.”

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