Lines blur every day. Sometimes that line is smudged and other times the line is completely crossed. Sometimes the line stays straight and holds like a stone wall. Other times, the wall cracks and that thick wall turns into rubble and that once pronounced line is now nothing. The line changes everything. Sometimes lines need to be crossed to get the job done. Sometimes lines need to be forged to protect yourself from mess and uncertainty. Sometimes, as much as you try to stop it, there’s a hammer that breaks down that wall, and the line fades away.
She was crying. Sobbing, really, and I didn’t have the words in me to comfort her. She repeated the same words over and over again and anytime I tried to interrupt, she would only say them louder.
“He didn’t do it,” She shouted desperately as if the words that escaped her mouth were somehow keeping her tethered to reality. “He’s my baby boy. He’s just a boy.”
I wanted to apologize. Stupidly, I wanted to apologize even though there was nothing for me to be sorry for.
Besides, my partner didn't feel any empathy to the woman. In fact, every time she said anything, he sighed, rolled his eyes, and checked his watch. He was not a patient guy and he hated not being in action. I was similar, in that way, but I understood the importance of doing this. Still, interviewing family members of perpetrators or victims usually brought out his nasty side.
“Mrs. Palka,” I almost pleaded as I tried to sound firm, yet understanding. “Do you have any idea where your son is?”
“Mark is a good boy,” The mother cried out and grabbed my hands. “He’s my son! A mother knows these kinds of things! Can’t you understand? Are you a mother?”
No. I wasn’t. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t sympathize with the woman. She raised a killer and didn’t know it (or was in denial). Either way, her whole life was being turned upside down.
“No, ma’am, I’m not,” I informed her quietly, slightly shaken by her personal question. “Look, Mrs. Palka. We have evidence that your son committed the murder. We have an eye witness. But if your son didn’t commit the murder, then we still need to talk to him. If he’s really innocent like you claim, we need him to be able to prove it.”
She sniffled and seemed to take my words into careful consideration.
After wiping her eyes and taking a deep breath, she said, “My husband died two years ago. I wanted to stay home with my son, but I had to pay the bills. I worked. I thought I had to. But maybe he needed parents at home. Maybe I ruined everything for him.”
I wanted to tell her that it wasn’t her fault. But I couldn’t. It wouldn’t be a lie, but it wouldn’t exactly be the truth, either. Because the truth was, I didn’t know Mark Palka or her mother. I only knew his murder. It was cruel, vindictive, and almost sadistic. The kind of crime that others would suspect only a monster could commit. And monsters were something I knew very well.
“Where is he?” I interrogated again, pushing harder as I watched her break.
Her eyes began to water again and I watched as she had to make the most difficult decision of her life. Going against every maternal instinct, she had to give up her son.
“They won’t hurt him, will they?” She whimpered anxiously.
“No, ma’am,” I said with fake confidence. There could be no certainty with these kinds of things. The cops that my partner and I were working with didn’t seem vengeful or dirty. But Mark Palka killed a fourteen-year-old girl after brutalizing and raping her. I definitely wasn’t assured of his safety.
“He’s staying at my mother’s old house. It’s abandoned now. He—he’s there.”
I wanted to sigh from relief. Not that her son was going to be arrested, but from the ache of this case. I immediately turned to my partner who nodded and jumped up. Part of me worried that he would leave without me to capture this son of a bitch. But Dolls was a loyal partner, despite his faults and our problems. He knew how much I wanted to catch this guy.
“What’s going to happen to him?”
I snapped my head toward her again, startled by her voice as if I had forgotten I wasn’t alone in the room.
I cleared my throat and answered, “He’s going to be processed and questioned. We’re going to check DNA samples against his. But we already have enough to book him.”
She started to sob again. And all I could do was watch. I was an agent, not a caretaker. My job wasn’t to comfort the family. It was to hunt down monsters. Even if it meant breaking a mother’s heart in the process.
“Can’t he— isn’t there a chance he’s innocent? I mean, what if he’s being set up? Mark had a lot of friends. Maybe one of them planted evidence.”
I wanted to tell her ‘he didn’t have any friends, nor was he capable of having friends ’ but I didn’t want to push the knife in any deeper. She was going to lose her son. Her son was a murderer. Telling her that her son was a narcissist wouldn’t have helped anything. Besides, I needed her to still tell me things about him. I still needed to understand.
“Did Mark ever have friends over?” I asked her.
She shook her head and said, “Oh, no. Not that I know of. But I knew he spent a lot of time with his friends out of school. He would tell me about them. They did everything together. And the girls loved him. Maybe that’s why a friend framed him. They’re jealous.”
She was looking for anything, anything, to convince her that her son wasn’t a killer. Even if it meant diving into conspiracy theories. I’d seen this a lot with parents. Usually, they don’t give up on their kids. Which, would normally be a good thing. But in this case, it usually hurt both the parent and the kid more in the end.
“Do you have any names?”
She thought about it for a few seconds before answering, “I don’t remember their names. But I do remember there was a leader. He taught the boys a lot of things.”
That piqued my interest. Usually, these kinds of killers were leaders. The idea of someone that taught him… it was confusing.
“What do you mean? What did he teach the boys?”
The mother frowned and shrugged as if she didn’t believe that it mattered. “He wouldn’t tell me exactly. All he said was that he taught him how to hunt. He really looked up to this boy. My son… he didn’t have many friends until he met him. He changed, really, once he met him, he did. He became confident. Happy.”
This changed everything. I started to dig into my files to try to find any information about his childhood that I had, but I wasn’t finding the answers I was looking for.
“I have documents stating where you and your family lived when he was a child, but nothing from ages sixteen to eighteen. Where did you all live?”
She rolled her eyes and muttered, “I didn’t want to move to that godforsaken town. But my husband insisted. That was when we moved to a little town called Purgatory. When my husband died, we moved. Do you know the town?”
I gulped, letting the wave of shock ride through me. Did I know the town? I almost laughed at the absurdity. She had no idea how well I knew that town. A boy learning to kill in a town where the murder rates for young girls have skyrocketed? That wasn’t too hard to believe. But that only drew in more questions that I knew she couldn’t answer. But at least now I knew now why I was put on this case. Lucado’s name was written all over this.
“Thanks for coming in,” I told her abruptly as I stood up, causing her to crease her eyebrows in confusion. “That’s all I need. One of the rookies can escort you home if you like.”
“Can I stay to find out what happens to my son?” She asked me softly.
I nodded and cursed myself. At the name of the town, I completely forgot she was a mother who was afraid of losing her son. I put on a smile and told her, “Stay here. I’ll find someone to keep you company and talk to you about next steps with your son. Thanks for your time.”
Before I could leave the room (I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible to track down Lucado), she said, “Agent? What’s your name again?”
I stared at her, wondering if she somehow knew . I cleared my throat and finally answered, “Earp. Special Agent Wynonna Earp.”
She raised her eyebrows in recognition and opened her mouth to say something. I’d never get to hear what she wanted to say, however, because I left the room before I had the chance. My breathing became unsteady and I knew the smartest thing to do was go to the bathroom to get myself under control. But I wasn’t known for doing the smart thing.
My pace quickened as I headed for Lucado’s office. At some point, I realized that Dolls was trailing behind me calling my name, but I ignored him. Without knocking, I barged into my boss’ room as she was on the phone.
“I’m going to have to call you back,” She grunted into the phone before hanging up and smiling at me. “Earp. What can I do for you? You know, the door is there for people to knock on. Might want to learn that someday.”
I was not in the mood to take her shit. I slammed both of my hands on her desk and waited for the small traces of fear to enter her eyes even though a tight smile still stretched across her aging face. Lucado wanted everyone to think she had big game and was tough as hell, but there were some things she couldn’t hide from me. I could see through that cold exterior of hers.
“You knew, didn’t you?” I questioned furiously, my eyes not leaving hers for one second. I felt Dolls tense up behind me, ready to pull me back if he had to. Always the loyal partner, even when I didn’t want him to be.
She laughed and touched her blonde bun anxiously. She was preparing herself to lie. Everyone had their tell. Lucado’s was just more obvious than others.
“Knew what, Earp?” She asked as if she had no idea what I was talking about.
“Palka,” I answered with anger. “You knew it was him all along. You gave us this case to find out where he came from. You knew that once we found out he wasn’t the only monster, that I’d do anything to catch the others. Even if that meant going back.”
Lucado didn’t deny it outright, which was new for her. Instead, she leaned back into her chair and crossed her arms and looked like she was debating her options. As much of a pain in my ass as she was, I had to give her credit that she was methodical.
“You’re the only one that I want on this case, Earp. You know this town better than anyone else in the division. The others could read about it and make a profile, sure. But you know this town. You’re the only one that can solve this case. More than twenty girls have gone missing or been found murdered in the past four years. There are different MOs and signatures. There isn’t just one perp, here. This town won’t just open up to anyone. Especially not big city agents from the government. You have to do this.”
A bitter laugh roared out of my throat, causing her to flinch. “I don’t have to do anything. I left that town years ago without looking back. That town doesn’t want me back. They’d prefer a stranger than me.”
“I hired you three years ago because of your background, Earp. You understand the criminals better than anyone I know.”
I smirked at her. “I thought you hired me for my undercover expertise, Lucado.”
She narrowed her eyes at me much like a disappointed parent would. “You have solved more crimes than a lot of people in this division. But I can take this away from you faster than you can say you’re sorry. Because I am your boss, Earp. You can continue with that smartass attitude, but I will always be above you. And I can stick you into a prison where we all know you belong.”
I grimaced and looked away. This whole conversation reminded me of the first time that we met.
I could smell the alcohol sweating off my skin. The box I was being held in might not have had any windows, but I could tell there was a source of heat coming from inside the room. Miami was warm enough. Adding additional heat to the room made it torture. But then again, I had no fucking clue where I was. It wasn’t the normal police box I was normally stuffed into.
The door opened and a blonde woman sat down across from me. She was in a pantsuit and stared at me like I was below her. It made me angry.
“Can you take these off of me?” I asked her, holding my chains up so that she realized that I was being kept like I was an animal.
She laughed and replied, “You aren’t in any position to ask me for anything. Do you know where you are?”
“A fucking military base or some shit?” I asked with a shrug. “I’ve been in worse places.”
“Oh, I know,” She commented with smugness. “You’ve been in more cells than there are palm trees in Miami. Don’t look so surprised, Wynonna Earp. You’re still in Miami. So here’s what’s going to happen: you’re going to go back out into the world with a little microphone on you. You’re going to pretend like everything is normal. You’re going to talk to your pimp and get him to admit what exactly he and his friends have been doing to the missing girls. And if we get enough to lock him and his friends away, I won’t arrest you for solicitation and dealing. Do we have a deal?”
There was no way out of this, but I didn’t want her to think that she had the upper hand. I placed my hands onto the metal table and smiled at her.
“Don’t you want to know where Garrett Hayes is?”
“So, what?” I asked her as I got off her desk and stood up straighter. “You want me to go to Purgatory and find out who’s killing these girls? That it?”
Lucado smiled that tight smile of hers and replied, “I’m glad you still have some sense in you. Yes, find out who is killing these girls. But make sure you know everyone that this teacher has taught. Some may be like Palka and have moved. You and Dolls will be going there alone and I expect updates every twelve hours.”
I nodded, but there was still a nagging possibility that bothered me. “What if they don’t allow me to stay?”
“You stay anyway. Besides, you’ll have jurisdiction. No one can stop you both from investigating. And if they try, they’ll have to fight me and the rest of the government.”
Sometimes I forgot I worked for the government. I somewhat despised myself for doing it. Working for the thing I once fought so hard against. But I kept my enemies close and ended up here. Fate was funny that way.
Dolls silently followed me to the locker room so that we could grab our go-bags that were always prepared for something like this. We had to work across the whole country with sometimes no notice beforehand.
My partner wasn’t the kind of guy to ask a lot of personal questions. I had known him for three years, and in the span of those years, we only had a few conversations that didn’t have to do with a case. We had what Lucado called ‘good chemistry.’ It was more like we could bounce ideas off of each other and we were generally on the same page. Working with him was easy. He was sometimes frustrating with how often he followed the rules, but after working with me for years, even he relaxed on a few of them.
“What kind of problems are we going to face here?” He asked when I woke up after a long nap in the car on the way to Purgatory.
“I ran away when I was seventeen,” I informed him vaguely with a shrug of my shoulders. “The cops weren’t a fan of me. Got arrested a few times. Haven’t spoken to my family in years either. I pissed off probably every person in my high school. People think I should have been charged with my father’s murder.”
He looked at me briefly and I couldn’t read the emotion that ran across his face. Dolls barely let me see what he was feeling (if he was feeling anything at all).
“It was an accident,” He stated firmly, purposefully being careful about not making it a question.
“Some people didn’t care. Look, Dolls. You’re probably going to find out some stuff out about me that will make me seem like shit. It’ll be hard for you to ignore. Because I have done things that are absolute shit.”
Dolls remained silent for a few seconds as if he was soaking that information in. “You were a kid, Earp. I’m going to judge you for the things you have done as an adult instead.”
A small grin found its way to my lips. He may be an emotionless ass sometimes, but that somehow made it easier to be around. He wasn't offended or afraid of me. Despite how rocky our partnership began.
This stranger looked me up and down as if he was trying to understand how someone like me could be in the same room as someone like him. He was stiff, controlling. And I knew this before I even heard a word come out of his mouth.
“You want me to work with… this?” He asked Lucado as he pointed to me from top to bottom.
I looked down at my crop top and shorts and smiled at him devilishly. “Are you afraid of being distracted? I get that a lot. You’re just going to have to hold in the horniness, ‘kay, sweetie? Look, Lucado, maybe I should work alone. I work best that way.”
Lucado rolled her eyes and said, “You both aren’t going to act like children about this. It’s my decision.”
“She’s a criminal!” He spat out and crossed his arms. His veins popped out of his head. He was angry. I was somewhat entertained.
“She’s a special agent, now,” Lucado countered with stern eyes. “Don’t question me on this. You and your partner have needed a third person for a while now. I found her. Earp, you’re going to have to learn to work with others. And that starts with appropriate dress attire. Now, you have a case.”
It took a while for us to warm up to each other. We both learned early on that it was hard for us to trust each other. Trust took some time to be earned, but once it did, everything else seemed to fall into place. It surprised me in a lot of ways. A guy who worked for the government was one of the first people I had trusted in adulthood.
“Have you warned your family about coming?” He asked as we passed the ‘Now Entering Purgatory’ sign.
I snorted and admitted, “I don’t have their numbers.”
“You could have looked them up,” A voice called out from the back seat. I looked around to find Jeremy staring at us with apprehension.
The tech wizard had joined us only a few months ago. Him being an asset to the team would be an understatement, not that I’d ever admit that. I didn’t know how Lucado found him, but he was the kind of guy that made the character from Criminal Minds, Penelope Garcia, genuinely seem realistic.
He was excited when we told him we were going to my hometown and started asking questions that made me want to stab myself with a pencil. He was a nice enough guy, but he wanted to know everything about me and Dolls. We didn’t take that kindly. After shutting him down about his questions, he soon fell asleep in the back seat. Jeremy Chetri wasn’t the normal kind of guy I’d hang out with. But seeing him sleep back there gave me the sudden urge to keep him safe at all costs. He was too good for this world. Too good for this job. It was annoying.
“I could have,” I gave in with a sigh. “But I didn’t. I didn’t leave on good terms with my aunt and uncle. If they even say a word to me I’ll be surprised. My sister on the other hand… I fucked that up too.”
“Families be crazy,” Jeremy commented with an awkward chuckle that caused me to roll my eyes. “At least you have me and Dolls.”
I ignored his words and felt my heart sink once we drove through the town. The police department was our destination, but every building brought back memories that I didn’t want to remember. It was like reliving the past. Or some horrible nightmare.
We all got out of the car once we arrived. It was odd being back and not being detained in the back of a police car. Then again, it was almost satisfying. Especially seeing the look on Randy Nedley’s face once we entered the building.
“Special Agent Xavier Dolls from Black Badge Division in the FBI,” Dolls announced before Nedley had a chance to say something to me. “Our boss said that she already spoke to your team. You have a room for us with all the files and computer systems that we need, right?”
Nedley didn’t look away from me once he reached out and shook Dolls’ hand. “Sheriff Randy Nedley. Yes, Sir, I got the call. Can I ask why you’re looking into my case? With Wynonna Earp of all people?”
I grinned at him and said, “Long time no see, Randy. I’m surprised to see you have been promoted. Still harassing troubled teen, eh?”
He glared at me and crossed his arms. “You’re not welcome here, Wynonna. If you’re here that means trouble. Agent Dolls, maybe you should be looking at the person next to you as the culprit. She has the longest rap sheet in this town.”
My hands curled up into fists and I noticed other cops slowly make their way toward us. Champ Hardy, a deputy no less. It made me shudder at the thought of that pea brain helping the town. There was also this mysterious redhead who looked full of confusion. I didn’t recognize her, nor did she seem to recognize me. It was refreshing. She was attractive. Different. Intriguing.
Dolls cleared his throat and threatened, “I’d appreciate it, Sheriff , if you didn’t speak to Special Agent Earp in that way again. We have jurisdiction here. If you have any questions, you should ask my boss. The secretary of state is on her speed dial, I'm sure she can ask him to talk to you. Now, please show us the room so that we can get this done as quickly as possible. We really don't want to overstay our welcome.”
A smile stretched across my face as I watched Nedley's fall. It felt like sweet sweet revenge.
I swiftly turned around to find a girl dropping her box of doughnuts, staring at me with complete and utter awe. I felt my breath escape my chest. The last time I saw her was when she had braces and would flinch when I cursed. We both stood there, frozen to the spot. I didn’t know what to say, how to apologize, or how to change the shit way I left things all those years ago.