For a long moment, Jake blinked slowly at the white ceiling with bleary eyes, content to just be. He felt heavy with an odd grogginess and lassitude that turned every thought into a serious effort. Only gradually, his mind seemed to wake, thoughts coming slightly faster now. He realized with some delay that he wasn’t in his apartment. This confused him at first, until the events of the previous few days came back to him. They seemed foggy and distant, almost like a dream and for a moment, he wasn't sure if they'd actually happened of he'd merely dreamed them. The reality of it all came back to him however when he felt a sharp twinge in his shoulder in response to moving his right arm. The pain not only brought him back to reality, but also appeared to clear some of the cobwebs from his mind. Using his good arm, Jake pushed himself up into an upright sitting position. He looked around the now familiar hospital room, feeling like there was something else that he should remember but which for now was eluding him. He was pondering this mystery when the door opened and Dr. Gibson entered.
"Good morning, Mr Doyle. How do you feel?" she asked cheerily.
"Groggy," Jake replied slowly, his mind and senses still somewhat dulled.
"That's to be expected. There is someone from the police here to ask you some questions. Do you feel up to that?"
Jake nodded, as another piece of the puzzle slid into place. The kidnapping, he'd almost forgotten about that. Maybe someone would finally take him seriously, he thought. He was so lost in his thoughts that he never noticed Dr Gibson leave and Leslie enter.
"Hi Jake," a familiar voice tore him from his thoughts.
"Leslie," Jake looked up, a smile spreading over his features. "Let me guess, you've changed your mind?"
Leslie merely frowned at that and Jake got the sense that this wasn't a social call.
"I'm here on police business, so don't even start, Jake. I'm in no mood for your antics," she said wearily, and pulled a pen and notebook from her pocket.
"So, what did you find out?" Jake asked all business now.
"About what?" Leslie seemed confused which in turn only added to Jake's own confusion.
"The kidnapping?" Jake asked.
"That's not why I'm here, Jake," Leslie said, her voice filled with a gentleness like it was rarely directed at him.
"Not that I don't welcome your presence any time, but then why are you here?" Jake asked.
"Someone shot and killed a nurse yesterday on this ward," Leslie explained.
Jake thought back to the previous day. He was surprised to find that aside from the events of the morning, he had no memories of the rest of the day, he frowned mightily, before asking:
"I didn't know. When did that happen?"
"That's not surprising," Leslie replied. "It happened yesterday between 1.15 and 1.45 p.m. while you were unconscious after an overdose of Barbital. Someone tried to kill you, Jake, so you better take this seriously."
Jake had not seen that coming and for a rare moment he was speechless. He recovered quickly however and asked: "Did you get the guy?"
Leslie shook her head. "We're still looking. Now is there anything..." she said but Jake interrupted her. "Can you check that cabinet over there? I need my clothes."
"Jake, you're not..."
"Yes, I am," Jake interrupted her his voice firm. "Look Leslie, I'm not going to sit here on my ass while someone out there wants me dead," he argued.
"Have you ever considered that the police might be fully capable, not to mention better equipped to deal with a case like this?" Leslie asked, but her voice was resigned. Jake only looked at her in his 'you can't be serious' fashion.
"At least do the doctors the favour of actually signing yourself out this time," Leslie said. "And by the way, I'm not going to call an ambulance if you fall flat on your face again."
Leslie had known that trying to persuade Jake to stay in hospital would be fruitless, so she hadn’t even tried beyond a token protest. She had been able to convince him to sign himself out properly, even if it was against medical advice and to fill the prescription for pain killers and anti-biotics Dr. Gibson had written for him.
"Where are we off to now?" Jake asked as they were walking out of the hospital building.
"You are going to show me where exactly the kidnapping happened," Leslie said. She hated to give in to Jake like that, but she had always been powerless against him when it counted. It didn't help that he had a point when he'd argued just now that the attempt on his life was likely connected to what he'd witnessed earlier that day.
Jake seemed surprised at her answer, as if he hadn't expected her to take him seriously. He said nothing however and led the way towards the parking area. He looked around briefly, then headed towards an empty spot.
"Here, the pick-up was parked here," he told her. He looked up at the hospital building behind them, then shook his head. "It's impossible to tell if anyone is watching from one of those windows," he said after a several seconds of close scrutiny.
"Then how could the kidnapper know that you saw him?" Leslie wondered, more to herself than to Jake.
Jake shrugged, but ended up wincing with pain instead.
"Stop that!" Leslie reproached him, the words coming out more harshly than she'd intended.
Jake raised his hands in a defensive gesture. "You were worried about me," he stated with a triumphant grin.
"No," Leslie replied, but her heart wasn't in it.
"You were worried about me," he repeated, grin even wider.
Leslie barely heard him. She had just spotted something - a security camera fixed to a sign post.
"Leslie?" Jake asked, then, in following her line of sight, caught on.
"CCTV footage," he said. "We might have the abduction on video."
The security chief remembered Leslie from the previous day which fortunately didn't seem to have done his opinion of her any harm. "Sergeant Bennett, what can I do for you?" he greeted her cordially.
"I would like to have a look at your security footage of the parking lot from yesterday morning," Leslie said.
The security chief, a big burly man with a pleasant open face, replied: "Of course, if you think it'll help you clear up this nasty business. Do you want to look at it here or should I make you a copy? It's all digital these days," he added in the way of explanation.
"We'll look it at here," Jake replied before Leslie could speak. The security chief looked questioningly at Leslie, who only nodded.
"All right, if you'd follow me please." Leslie and Jake followed the man to the security office on the first floor. In a backroom of the office, a lone security guard was situated in front of a desk full of monitors, each showing four different camera feeds.
"Tucker, can you bring up the video from yesterday morning, cameras 13 and 14," the chief instructed his employee. "Those are the cameras covering the car park," he explained to Leslie and Jake. "What time do you need?"
Once again it was Jake who replied: "Can you start playing from 11:45 a.m.?"
"Sure," the chief nodded. "Tucker, cue it up." Tucker clicked a bunch of keys on a keyboard sitting in front the central monitor. A moment later, a black and white video started playing on screen.
"That's camera 14." The chief explained. "It covers the entrance to the parking lot."
"Can you bring up the other one?" Jake asked quietly.
The angle was far from ideal, but the spot was visible on the video captured by the second camera.
"Fast forward a bit," Jake said. Right there was no car in the spot where the van had been when Jake had looked out of the window.
Keys clicked and the video sped up. After a few seconds had elapsed, a dark van pulled into the space, unfortunately, the driver's side door wasn't visible on the video. For a good few minutes, people and cars were coming and going.
Suddenly, Jake spoke: "Slow it down please."
Leslie closely regarded the screen, trying to zero in on what Jake had seen. A moment later, a girl who'd just entered the frame walked around the car towards the passenger door. A few feet from the door, she stopped turning into the direction of the cameras blind spot. For a few moments, she stood there, then a man joined her, grabbing her roughly by the arm as the two stood there, clearly having some sort of argument, judging by their angry gestures. Suddenly, the man seemed to have enough and bodily dragged the obviously resisting girl towards the door. He used one hand to open the passenger door before shoving the girl roughly inside. He then shut the door behind her and walked out of the frame. After a few seconds had elapsed, the door pulled out of the spot, driving off camera.
"We'll need a copy of that," Leslie said, then turned to the chief. "You said there was a camera covering the parking lot entrance. How about the exit?"
"That would have been camera 16. Some vandals broke it the other day and it's not been fixed, I'm afraid," he said apologetically. "Do you think this is connected to the murder of that poor nurse?" he asked, gesturing towards the monitor where they' just witnessed the kidnapping.
Jake opened his mouth to reply, but Leslie beat him to it: "It's one of the possibility we're investigating at the moment." She shot Jake a dark glance that clearly told him to keep his mouth shut.
"Well, if there is anything I can help you guys with, let me know."
"I say we go pay Alonzo Sanchez a visit next," Jake suggested eagerly as soon as they'd left the security office with a copy of the requested footage on a disc.
"How about I drop you off at home and then I get back to work?" Leslie asked sarcastically, already knowing what Jake's answer would be. Jake didn't dignify her question with a reply, and simply ignored her and kept walking in direction of the parking lot.
When they arrived at Leslie car, Jake spoke: "If you want to drop me off at my place, go ahead, but we both know that I won't stop investigating this case."
"All right," Leslie agreed grudgingly. It went against her better judgment, but by sticking with Jake, she'd at least be able to keep an eye on the private detective and keep him from getting into too much trouble. "But I need to drop by the station first."
"Whatever you say," Jake replied with a grin.
"Morning, Dan." The familiar voice made Hood look up from the screen of the monitor of his office computer.
"Mal," he nodded in acknowledgment. "What can I do for you?" he asked figuring that Mal wouldn't just be paying him a social visit.
Mal handed him a folder. Hood opened it. Inside were two cream-colored mailing envelopes and two letters on the same kind of paper. He was about the examine them more closely, when Mal said. "Careful, there might be fingerprints on them."
Hood raised his eyebrows and dug out a pair of disposable gloves from his jacket pocket. Putting them on, he examined the letters.
"Okay," he said at length after he'd finished. "I guess these are hardly the first anonymous letters you've gotten. Nor the first threats, if that's what they are."
"They aren't," Mal confirmed, "but I'd appreciate it if you could run them past forensics."
"Really?" Hood queried in mock astonishment. It figured. "Listen, Dan, I wouldn't be asking this if it weren't for what happened to Jake yesterday," Mal said.
"Yeah I heard," Hood said. "Bennett is working that case, so you better show these to her."
"I would, if I thought she'd listen," Mal said impatiently.
"I don't blame her," Hood muttered under his breath while making sure Mal heard it.
"Please, Dan, just have forensics have a look at them, okay? I'll owe you one."
"Like that's new," Hood commented, but Mal was already leaving.
The folder and its contents were still sitting on Hood's desk. Great, now what, he thought. Then he had an idea. He grabbed a sticky note, scribbled down a short message, affixed the note to the folder and deposited the whole lot on Bennett's desk. Let her deal with the Doyle's and their crazy shenanigans. It was her case after all. Contrary to what Mal and Jake seemed to think, the police didn't solely exists to help them out in their investigations.
He had a case, as it is happened. As a matter of fact, it was a humdinger of a case. After a tedious and rather wet afternoon spent in the woods, one victim had turned into three. Three bodies belonging to three young girls, all buried in the same clearing. According to the coroner’s preliminary opinion, they had been buried their during a period of several years, with the first victim they had discovered most likely having been there the longest. Right now, however there wasn't much he could do save wade his way through the missing person's database to see if there were any potential matches while he waited for DNA testing to be carried out. If that failed to identify their victims, they' have to rely on dental records and would need something to compare them to, hence his trawling of the huge missing person's register. Without a definite time frame however, it was proving difficult to narrow the list down to a manageable size. It didn't help that he had no details about the physical appearance of the victims.
Help however wasn't long in arriving. It did so in the form of the coroner's preliminary report delivered by the man himself. Hood grabbed the file and eagerly scanned it for any detail that would help narrow his search.
"Anything I should know?" he asked when Dr. Thorn didn't leave immediately, but instead remaining standing in front of his desk.
"I just figured you'd want to cliff's notes version," Thorn suggested.
"All right, victim number one is a Caucasian female, approximate age at the time of death, eight to ten years. She's been buried for at least five or six years, but my estimate would be rather upwards of ten years. Victim number 2, also Caucasian, same age range as the first victim, but buried for only approximately three years. Victim number 3, same age and race as the other two, buried between maybe eight to ten years ago. You're dealing with a serial killer, sergeant."
"Any indication of how they were killed?"
"Broken hyoid bones on two of the three victims indicates that they were strangled. The oldest victim showed no signs of having been strangled, but I did find a rotational fracture to her left forearm. Someone grabbed her arm and twisted it hard. Also, she suffered a skull fracture. Neither of the fractures showed signs of healing, so they must have occurred around the time of her death. and before you ask, I cannot determine with absolute certainty of the wound that led to the skull fracture was the cause of death. The fracture on its own isn't enough to have caused death, but she could have easily developed bleeding on the brain as a result and that, if left untreated, could have resulted in death."
"What about the fabric shreds you found?"
"We work fast, but not that fast," Thorn replied. "I'll let you know once they've been analyzed." he paused, then went on casually: "Any luck on missing person's yet?"
Hood shook his head. "It's incredible how many kids go missing. I hope your finding will help narrow down the list."
"Good luck, sergeant," Thorn bade him good-bye and left.
Hood shook his head, thinking that it had to be a slow day at the coroner's office if the man had the time to come here and chat, but at least it had saved him from having to wade through pages and pages of report to get to the pertinent details. He would read the rest later. Right now, he had three dead girls to identify and a massive list of missing persons to sift through.
Over the course of the next few hours, he managed to find a total of five missing person's cases that were possible matches to the three bodies. The first victim had proven especially challenging as here the date range was the largest. He had gone back fifteen years in his search. He would have to pull all five the case files to get a better idea of the circumstances of each disappearance. But first, he decided, he needed a bite to eat. Strolling out of the office, he nearly bumped into Leslie Bennett walking rapidly along the hallway, looking tired and harassed.
"Bennett, I heard you caught that murder at the hospital," he greeted her.
"Don't remind me," Leslie grumbled. Then brightening a bit, she said: "Anything else turn up at the scene from yesterday?"
"Two more bodies," Hood sighed. "Also little girls, around the same age as the first one."
Leslie's fave grew thoughtful. "How did they die?" she asked.
Hood was slightly surprised at the interest she was taking in a case she wasn't investigating anymore, but answered nonetheless: "Two were strangled, the other might have died from a blow to the head, but the doc couldn't be sure."
Leslie's face took on an intent expression. "There's something that's been bugging me, every since yesterday," she began. "I don't know what exactly, but all this seems very familiar."
"Familiar how?" Hood asked.
"I can't put my finger on it, but I think I've read about a similar case. I just can't remember the details," she shrugged apologetically.
"I hope you're wrong on that," Hood said. "But I'll have a look and see if there have been any similar murders in the area."
"Thanks." Leslie hurried away and was gone before he could reply.
"Wonder what's up with her," he muttered to himself.