McGee braced himself before getting out of his car and walking into the precinct. He’d heard all the jokes before, all the mindless digs at his name, and he liked to think that he’d grown a thick skin in response, but part of him still flinched every time.
Plus, there was a reason he’d been sent to Amity Park. That reason being the incredibly suspicious crime rate. That is, the just shy of nonexistent crime rate. Also, the billionaire mayor that had popped up out of nowhere. And the high road repair and park maintenance bills.
Oh, yeah, and the giant murder investigation that had just. Disappeared.
The county wanted answers. So, they sent McGee. Of course, they didn’t tell the Amity Park Police Department that. As far as they knew, he was just a transfer. Someone being shifted from one department to another.
So, yeah. Bracing. Just like the wind. Ouch, it was cold. McGee wrapped his coat more closely around himself and began jogging through the otherwise deserted parking garage.
The… underground parking garage. Wind?
McGee stopped and turned in place, trying to see where the breeze could have possibly come from. There weren’t exactly any windows down here.
Feeling more cautious, but not knowing why, McGee made his way more slowly to the elevator door and hit the call button. The doors opened immediately. Inside, a speaker tried to play music, but what came out of it was mostly ear-tearing static.
Well. If APPD was getting paid off by a mob or the town was skimming from road funds, they certainly weren’t using their ill-gotten gains on the elevators.
When the doors opened, McGee was hit with a blast of warm air and Christmas music. He kept his face carefully blank. It had only just become December, and the police station was… it was… Well. McGee would have to call it ‘decked out,’ no matter how much he abhorred the phrase.
… Why were there so many menorahs?
“Hey, are you John McGee?”
“Yes, that’s me,” said McGee, turning to face a remarkably plain man in a button-down shirt and a pullover sweater.
The man had a pair of novelty felt antlers on his head. They were decorated with bells. How unprofessional.
“I’m Collins. We’ll probably be working together at some point. Same department.”
Collins raised his eyebrows. “I don’t know what you were told, but we don’t have enough homicides to warrant a dedicated homicide department. We get a one or two mysterious deaths every month, but it always turns out to be, like, anaphylaxis or something.” He brought a mug to his lips and sipped slowly. “Mostly we do vice, theft, fraud, and missing persons. Not much of that last one, either. Oh, we had an arson one time. But it turned out it wasn’t really arson. Anyway, let’s get you checked in, and hopefully Patterson will be here by the time Captain Jones is done with you.”
“My partner. You know, you being here gives us an odd number of detectives. That’s going to be weird.” He sipped from his mug again. “Maybe we’ll promote someone. Not Cameron Daily, though.” Collins stared into the middle distance. “No. Not Cameron Daily. Love that man. He’s got to stay in tech support.”
“The captain?” prompted McGee.
“Hah. Yeah. You have to brave the secretaries, first.” Collins patted McGee on the shoulder, and McGee suppressed the impulse to shake him off. “Good luck. At least this is going to be a quiet month, right?”
McGee spent what was probably far too much time pondering what Collins had meant by ‘it’s going to be a quiet month.’ Did the APPD’s arrangement with the local criminals (because there had to be an arrangement) include forewarning concerning the crimes they did deign to investigate? Or did they have statistics that indicated December was a low-crime time for Amity Park?
Orientation was highly typical, as far as these things went. The only oddity were the advertisements and promotional pictures for the local tourist trap tapped up all over half the captain’s office. Was the man a fan? Did he believe in that ghost nonsense? Was it some kind of bizarre joke?
At least the Christmas plague hadn’t made it this far.
“Right, now that we’ve got that part out of the way, let’s move on. We normally like an even number of detectives, but the county moved you over so fast we couldn’t get you a partner, and no one is retiring.” Jones rolled his shoulders and fixed McGee with a very sharp gaze. “Do you know why the county was so… insistent with your transfer?”
Ah. So, the captain was suspicious. Time to put that backstory to good use.
“Honestly, sir, I embarrassed someone, and I think they just spun the wheel on how to get rid of me.”
“Mhm. See, usually when they do that, they pick from departments that actually put in requests for extra personnel. We haven’t.”
“I think the main concern was just to keep me away.”
“I see.” The level of suspicion in the man’s eyes did not change. “You’re going to be with Patterson and Collins until you get your feet under you and we decide what to do about the partner situation. If the county will even let us out another detective on payroll. Consider yourself on probation as far as whatever it is you’re doing with the county. Don’t put my detectives in danger.”
“Whatever excuse you have, I don’t want to hear it. Go talk to Collins. I know you met him. Patterson probably isn’t here yet.”
Collins stood next to a woman in a coat with a long dark braid. Both of their backs were to McGee. He could see that they were talking to one another, making tight little gestures with their hands near their chests. All the other occupants of the room stared at them without a modicum of shame.
“—until he sees his first fight? We’re supposed to babysit him until January? We won’t be able to talk about anything!”
“Well, if you’d been on time, maybe we could have convinced the captain not to—”
Someone behind McGee cleared their throat. Loudly. Collins and the woman turned, sheepishly.
“Oh. McGee. McGee, this is Patterson. Patterson, this is McGee. You’ll be working with us, apparently.”
“Hopefully, I’ll be able to get out of your hair before too long,” said McGee.
“Don’t count on it. How long have you been in town?” asked Patterson.
“Only since yesterday. Why?”
“We’re showing you around,” said Patterson, snatching the antlers from Collins’s head.
“Consider it your last bit of freedom before you’re condemned to paperwork,” said Collins.
Amity Park was odd, McGee decided.
It wasn’t just the clashing but equally enthusiastic Halloween and Christmas decorations, the omnipresent construction, and the worrying number of holes in the road (really, there was no way the road repair budget was actually getting used on the roads). There was something else. Something McGee couldn’t put his finger on. Something—
He did a double-take. Were those two cosplaying the Ghostbusters? Why?
How seriously did these people take their tourist trap nonsense?
“What are Jack and Maddie doing out?” asked Patterson.
“I don’t know,” said Collins. He tilted his head to one side and pulled into a nearby convenience store parking lot. “You’d think they’d be told; December is a quiet month.”
“Mhm. Maybe they didn’t believe it?”
“They can be stubborn sometimes,” mused Collins. “But it would be nice if there was some action.” He pulled the parking brake. “You want to introduce McGee to the local celebrities?”
A look of indescribable disgust appeared on Patterson’s face. “Why don’t you introduce them?”
“I did that last time.”
“No, you didn’t. You rang their doorbell and then ran like the coward you are.”
Collins, without any hint of repentance, shrugged. “Wouldn’t you do the same?”
“This is different,” she protested. “This isn’t just any new resident. This is a coworker. A coworker who isn’t going to see that kind of action for a whole month.”
“Action?” asked McGee. This felt perilously close to what he’d been tasked to find out.
“You’ll find out in a month,” said Collins. “Assuming you last that long.”
McGee frowned, and decided to take another risk and prompt the pair further. “I know you have a low crime rate here,” he said, “but I’m sure there will be something for us to investigate before the end of the month.”
“Well, yeah,” said Collins. “We don’t get paid for doing nothing.”
There was a sharp rap on the window, and everyone jumped. God. It was just some kid. McGee put a hand over his heart and tried not to think too hard about the time he had almost been killed in his car by a dirty cop and his gangster friends.
Collins rolled the window down, letting in a gust of frigid wind.
“Hi, detectives!” chirped the teen. “I heard you got a new guy!”
Oh. That was interesting. Was the local gang using children as in-betweens?
“Yep,” said Patterson. “This is McGee. McGee, this is Danny, the only sane Fenton.”
Danny tipped his head to the side and squinted. “I think that title needs to go to Jazz.”
“Danny, I hate to break it to you, but your sister is a lunatic,” said Patterson, completely serious.
“Come on, you’re just saying that,” said Danny, staring openly at McGee.
Did this kid blink?
“Anyway, I’ve introduced McGee to one Fenton, you get to do the others,” said Patterson, poking Collins in the ribs.
“Danny doesn’t count,” protested Collins, squirming. “He’s sane, like you said.”
“You’ll have to be fast. Mom and Dad are like three blocks down the street chasing…” He trailed off. “Well, they think they’re chasing something, anyway. Transient noise on their latest EMF reader.” He rolled his eyes and finally blinked.
“Think they might actually get anything?” asked Patterson.
“Nothing with a mind,” said Danny. “Might have to play animal control soon, though.” There was a loud crash and a squeal of rubber, followed by distant but still deafening engine noises. Danny winced. “Can you please give them a fine for driving around in that thing?”
“They have a special permit,” said Collins, shrugging. “Straight from the mayor. Nothing we can do.”
“I will bribe you to do something.”
“With what?” asked Collins. “You’re a penniless middle schooler.”
“Excuse you,” said Danny, crossing his arms. “You know I’m in high school.”
There was another crash.
“Are you sure they haven’t found anything?” asked Patterson, leaning forward.
“Absolutely positive,” said Danny. He sighed. “I should probably go, though.”
“Okay, have fun, Danny!”
“Don’t think you’re getting out of introductions, Patterson,” grumbled Collins.
“Alright,” said Collins, opening a narrow door and turning on the buzzing yellow light within. “Your kingdom awaits!” He gestured grandly, disrupting clouds of dust. “You’ll be entering old cases into the system. Did Cameron Daily show you how?”
McGee’s lips twisted at the memory of the computer tech. “Yes,” he said.
“Yeah, Cameron gets that reaction,” said Collins, thumping McGee on the back. “If it makes you feel better, he’s usually in charge of keeping track of the cults. Did he tell you about the VHS evidence?”
“Yep. You’ll learn about those later. VHS?”
“Yes, he told me how to handle the VHS.”
“Great. So, Patterson and I will be working on case paperwork in the main room, if you have any questions, come get us, okay?”
“I will,” said McGee.
Collins nodded. “If we wind up being assigned a case, we’ll come get you.” He absentmindedly rubbed his shoulder. “The captain probably won’t give us anything today. Oh, and if Mayor Masters drops in, redirect him to the front desk. There’s no reason for him to be back here.”
There was a good deal of hostility in Collins’ tone. Interesting.
“Do you not get along with the mayor?”
“We get along fine,” said Collins. “He just oversteps his authority, sometimes.”
“Not yet you don’t,” said Collins, softly, before turning to walk away. A “Good luck” was tossed casually over the man’s shoulder and seemed to echo in the air despite the hall being far too small for that to happen.
McGee turned to his work and smiled. They shouldn’t have left him alone with the records. This was where he did his best work. There was always a paper trail somewhere.
He opened the department-issued laptop and brought up the digital filing system.
It was odd, though. He’d spent years in the police, and he’d never heard of Fenton & Foley Information Systems.
The department computer filing system was a miracle. McGee meant that completely, as a connoisseur of filing systems. He wondered if he could get the county to adopt it, assuming it didn’t tie back to the mob or something equally unsavory.
On the other hand, it was only a couple months old, by the looks of it. It was, therefore, mostly empty, as compared to the almost infinite number of filing boxes in the record room.
The record room was not well organized. In fact, it was barely organized at all. Several of the boxes looked like they’d been beaten with a bat, others were singed. A few dripped with something sticky and green. One or two looked as though they’d been drenched in water and then left to dry in a dark, damp room. Only about half of them were labeled.
To top it off, towards the beginning he’d found a post-it that had said: Boxy, if you steal these again, I’m going to leave you in the thermos for a week. -Phantom
The people here were way too into their tourist trap shenanigans. Unless they weren’t just tourist trap shenanigans. Unless they were a front.
He’d put that on his list of things to investigate.
But first, first, he was going to find the records for the murder that was recently swept under the table.
The newest boxes, despite being reasonably intact and therefore unique, weren’t easy to find, but he was able to drag them out and sit down with his laptop. He could enter as he searched, and thereby give the illusion that he was a completely normal transfer more credence.
Except. The records for that murder didn’t seem to exist. Not even in the cold case box.
McGee jumped. Patterson was standing behind him, holding two paper coffee cups.
“How’s it going?” she asked. “I know these records are hell.”
“Fine,” he said.
“Sure.” He took the offered cup from her. “Forgive me if I’m wrong,” he said, “but when I was working up at county, I heard that you had a murder case here, recently? You dug up a teen’s body?”
“Oh, yeah.” Patterson was unperturbed. “Yeah, that was pretty exciting. Collins and I were on that.”
“I can’t seem to find the records for it.”
“Yeah. Well, there wasn’t any foul play.” Patterson shrugged.
“Wasn’t he found buried in a public park?”
“Well, aren’t you informed,” said Patterson. She sipped her coffee aggressively through the plastic stirring straw.
“So, you found an illegally buried teenager’s corpse and just… dropped it?”
“We investigated it,” said Patterson. “There wasn’t anything there. Case was cold even without that.” Another long, aggressive sip. She couldn’t possibly be getting any coffee up through that straw. It had to be mostly air.
This was the most bizarre intimidation tactic McGee had ever come across in his entire life. This was saying something. Once he’d worked with a man who’d pretend to have the flu during interrogations.
“You should still have records for the investigation.”
Patterson shrugged. “You’d have to ask Captain Jones about that. Anyway, I brought a bunch of tapes for you, too. You’ll have to rewind them by hand, though, when you finally get to them.” Another sip. “Are you planning on doing the salvage boxes?”
“The salvage boxes. The ones that got fished out of the lake. Wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t. Just curious.”
“I’m- They were in a lake? Why?”
“Stick around and find out,” said Patterson. “Did Masters come bother you yet?”
“The one and only,” said Patterson, raising her coffee in a mock toast.
“Why would he come here?”
“Because you’re new, and theoretically a weak link. Oh, yeah. One more thing. I know your check-out time is in half an hour, but come back around eight, okay?”
“Are you hazing me?”
“That’s what the salvage boxes are for,” said Patterson. “Come back at eight. Bye.” She waved as she left.
Great. What was he supposed to do about that?
He didn’t go home after checking out. Instead, he walked around town. Patterson and Collins’ tour had been… interesting. Not terribly informative. They had given him an overview of various restaurants, ‘paranormal hotspots,’ and places where dumb kids gathered to experiment with drugs of dubious legality.
But they had avoided certain parts of town. McGee had noticed.
True, some of that was likely coincidence, but McGee had never heard of a public cemetery that wasn’t the site of something shady. Sure, a good caretaker would chase off anyone messing around in daylight, but cemeteries and graveyards just attracted trouble. Even if that trouble was just the local goth kids running around while high out of their minds.
But this cemetery, evidently, is different. Because there’s an unholy amount of people there for something that supposedly hallowed ground. Is this also part of the weird ghost-theme the place had going for itself? Were those tourists? In the graveyard?
That seemed to be in remarkably poor taste.
McGee pushed his hands deeper into his pockets and lengthened his stride. This whole town was in poor taste.
Oddly, everyone seemed to be gathered around the same grave. Maybe it was a funeral? No, the ground in front of the headstone was long since patted firm, and the headstone, while obviously fairly new, had some evidence of weathering even from a distance.
Had there been a celebration today? Memorial Day wasn’t today, was it? McGee always lost track of those fiddly little holidays.
Huh. The headstone was blank.
“Excuse me,” he said to a nearby woman. “Do you know who was buried here?”
“You… don’t know?” she asked, eyes wide with surprise.
McGee grinned. “I’m new in town, I’m afraid, and I just saw all these people here… I’m curious, I guess.”
“Oh,” said the woman. She looked away, every part of her body language screaming that she was coming up with a story to feed him. A lie. Or, at least, deciding which lie to use. “Well, there was a body found a few months ago? No one ever identified him, so… He was buried here? We just, um. It was sad, you know? You’ll probably hear more about it if you stick around.”
Despite almost everything she said being a statement, she still managed to make everything but the last sentence sound like a question.
Even if it was a lie…
“I hadn’t, actually. Can you tell me what happened?”
… Maybe it was just what McGee needed.