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Chapter 3: All in the Family

It was near to a quarter past eleven at night when Cassidy and Alan gave up on the search. Don Stafford was committed to rotating more officers in to scour the vicinity for another full day. He was under orders to search as much of this wildlife refuge as he could within that time. Cassidy and Alan knew that any new find would be referred to them, but it was their suspicion that all the buried corpses to be found in the area had been recovered. The last corpse was removed from the ground more than two hours earlier. All total nine bodies were recovered and sent to the medical examiner’s office. When Cassidy and Alan left the excavation site it was their plan to go there next.

By this time the entry point outside of the wilderness refuge was gridlocked with onlookers and the news media. Two news helicopters were hovering high overhead along with one police helicopter. The parade of bodies being hauled away in medical examiner bags and the M.E. vans that hauled them away triggered intense interest in what was occurring inside the wilderness area. When Cassidy and Alan arrived at their car several reporters attempted to question them about what was happening in the refuge. They gave a standard no comment reply and got into their vehicle. A mob of people and parked vehicles at the entrance prolonged their departure until uniformed police officers could open a path. The collection of vehicles in the narrow street outside created an additional hindrance to their departure. Movement above the pace of a slow walk was delayed until they were a block away from the entry point. It took them ten times longer to exit the refuge in their car than it did to enter despite the assistance of uniform police officers.

During the ride to the medical examiner building Alan was in a state of bewilderment about what had happen that night. This was by far the largest event to happen to him as a lead detective. He had participated in large investigations in the past as part of a team, but he had no direct responsibility for the outcome of those. The discovery of these bodies had him considering the effect this case would have on his record as a NYPD detective. Considering his soon to be retirement, his hope was that the find would elevate him to Detective 1st Grade, but he suspected that this would only occur if he solved the case. Alan had no illusion that this would happen anytime soon. Experience told him that serial killer cases were never easy and that it often took years to find the perpetrator.

“This is big,” Alan chattered introspectively from the front passenger seat of the car. “This is going to get us noticed by some higher-ups. We need to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s on this one.”

Cassidy was in a completely different frame of mind than her partner’s. At this moment, she did not see nor care how this would affect her career, and she cared nothing for the attention it was bound to attract. What she saw was the beginning of a puzzle that had to be figured out. This was her job. Figuring out what happened and why was what she was paid to do. Failure to accomplish this would be a personal failure and not a public one. Her mind was already entertaining theories and analyzing scenarios. She gave no note to Alan’s vocal musing. Her brain was too busy guiding the course of the vehicle they were in and assessing the facts as she knew them so far. In short order, she had taken Alan and herself from the excavation site to the Medical Examiner Building and was out of the car. Alan, as usual, was two steps behind.

“You know detectives; it’s not like we don’t have enough work to do already,” Dr. Ethan Coulter complained with an emphasis of snide humor.

Cassidy and Alan had just entered the autopsy lab when Ethan spoke these words. Ethan was in the middle of examining one of the bodies from the excavation when he noted their entry with a glance up. He turned his attention back down to the corpse on the table a second after speaking.

“Hey, think of it as job security,” Alan countered without hesitation.

“I am a New York City Medical Examiner, Detective Mercer,” Ethan returned dryly. “How much more job security do I need?”

Alan gave this response a brief laugh before conceding with a, “yeah you got a point there.”

Cassidy was giving this exchange no notice. When she entered the lab, her attention went straight to the desiccated corpse in front of Ethan. The work of the doctor at removing extraneous material provided her with a far better image of the remains. For the first time, she could derive the sex by the physical features of the person rather than their clothing. It was clear to her that the body on the table was female. This new level of recognition stunned Cassidy for a moment. The body became a person and not just an excuse for an investigation. A need to get justice for this person quickly welled up within her and she expressed it with a sharp and humorless inquiry to the doctor.

“What can you tell me about the bodies?”

Ethan took a second to note that there was no jest in Cassidy’s inquiry and then responded to it in a sober voice.

“Not much, six of the nine remains are female. There is no obvious cause of death, but that is not completely surprising since all but one of the remains have or is in the process of transitioning into dry remains. The remains of the ninth is too far along in its decay for fingerprinting. What I can tell you, based upon my preliminary examination, is that they are adults but not elderly and their clothing appears to be rather high end. They’re over there.”

Ethan pointed to a display of clothing on a long countertop along the wall. Cassidy turned and hurried over to a long countertop and began examining the clothing. Periodically she would photograph the clothing with the camera in her tablet. Alan followed behind with less enthusiasm. While they did this, Ethan continued with his report.

“My guess is that the women are between the ages of 20 and 35 and the men between 25 and 45. The date of death of the first victim is more than six years, and the last victim died about eight months ago.”

An instant behind this Cassidy called out a new query without looking up from the tablet that she was writing in and the display of clothing that she was examining one by one.

“When can we expect to know how they died?”

“Dr. McCullough may have something on that tomorrow before the end of the day. She’ll need to do a detailed examination that I don’t have the time to complete. If death was caused by some form of traumatic injury then she should be able to get some idea on that, if not the specifics.”

“So, we don’t know when, we don’t know how, and we don’t know who,” Alan enunciated sarcastically.

Cassidy paid no notice to the remark. Her thoughts were tasked with finishing her notation of clothing labels. Ethan reacted to it without a second thought.

“Well, learning who they are shouldn’t be a problem,” Ethan casually declared just before directing his attention back onto the corpse in front of him.

“Why is that?” Alan challenged after noting that Ethan was not planning to share that detail.

Ethan looked up with a start in response to Alan’s stern query and then began his reply with an expression of surprise.

“Oh well, they all took care of their teeth. I found loads of dental work, all totaled, and one of them had an operation—a broken arm. He’s got medical pins just below the left elbow.”

Cassidy and Alan spent another twenty-minutes notating information and evidence that was available at that time. After this they rushed off for the 122 Precinct. During their brief time there, they opened a file on this investigation, logged the disposition of their efforts up to that moment and then set off for their respective homes. For Cassidy, this meant going home to an empty house. It was 1 a.m. when she climbed into her bed. At 6 a.m. she was up and preparing for another day. At 7:00 a.m. she was walking through the kitchen door of her parent’s home.

“Hi, Mom,” Cassidy greeted.

“Hi,” Margaret Tremaine acknowledged with a look over her shoulder. “You want some breakfast?”

Margaret was in the process of preparing the morning meal.

“No, just coffee,” Cassidy answered as she began to trudge her way through the kitchen with a large shopping bags full of clean clothes for her children. “Are the kids awake?”

“Just barely,” Margaret returned. “Are you taking the day off from work?”

“No, I’m going in late,” Cassidy answered in a tired voice. “I brought some clean clothes for the kids and I’ll take them to school before I go in.”

“You didn’t have to bring clothes for them. We still have the clothes they left behind from their last sleepover. They’re all washed and ironed.”

“I’m sorry, Mom, l forgot to get those.”

Cassidy was out of the kitchen an instant after speaking those words. She passed her father on the stairs to the upper level.

“Hi, Dad.”

Daniel Tremaine acknowledged the greeting with a grumbled out, “good-morning.”

Daniel gave little note to the presence of his daughter beyond those words. He anticipated seeing her there at the start of the day, and he was never in his best mood before his morning coffee. Cassidy was all too aware of this and gave him no never mind. She passed him by without hesitation and went to her old bedroom where her two children, Cynthia; seven and John; six, were struggling to get their day started. She joined in on this effort.

Cynthia and John hurried into the kitchen twenty-minutes later all dressed for school. After cleaning up behind them Cassidy followed her children downstairs and into the kitchen five minutes behind.

“This you?” Daniel questioned as held up the morning newspaper.

Cassidy noted the headline, ‘9 Bodies Found,’ before responding with a “yes.”

Daniel returned to his reading of the article behind a brief disapproving shake of his head. Cassidy took note of her father’s disapproval and then turned her attention to the coffee percolating on the counter. Cynthia and John were seated at the table with their grandfather munching away on pancakes and bacon.

“What time did you get in last night?” Margaret asked while cleaning up behind her cooking.

“It was too late for me to come here,” Cassidy evaded.

Cassidy knew that her mother would worry about her if she told the exact time. Margaret noted the evasion and was familiar enough with her daughter to know that the time was very late.

“Should you be going into work today?” Margaret questioned with a look of concern.

“I’m fine, Mom,” Cassidy returned as she snagged a strip of bacon from the serving plate at the center of the table before going back to her cup of coffee on the counter.

“Well, at least eat some breakfast,” Margaret pleaded.

“I’m good, Mom. I’ll get something at work.”

Margaret shook her head in resignation and went back to dishes and cleaning. Cassidy continued to lean against the counter and drink her coffee while her children ate, and her father ate and read the newspaper. This went on in silence for a few minutes and then Jared came down the stairs and stepped into the kitchen. He was attired in sweat pants, a tee shirt, and he looked as if he was newly awakened from sleep. Cassidy noted him with a look of confusion.

“There she is, the detective of the hour,” Jared mumbled at first sight of his older sister by three years.

Jared was NYPD Patrol Officer, and he worked the 4 to 12 shift. He had his own apartment in Brooklyn which is what made his presence at his parent’s home in the early morning unexpected for Cassidy. The oldest child of Margaret and Daniel’s was Aaron. He was two years older than Cassidy, married with three children, his home was in Harlem and he was a NYPD Patrol Officer also.

“What are you doing here?” Cassidy questioned with a surprised expression. “I thought mom and dad kicked you out,” she attached with an intonation of humor.

“We did,” Daniel grumbled from behind his paper.

“We did not,” Margaret quickly disputed and with a sharp retort.

“I stopped by after work and decided to spend the night,” Jared explained in a manner that suggested it was no big deal.

“You mean you came over to raid mom’s refrigerator,” Cassidy extolled with a sudden look of awareness.

“I was hungry, and I didn’t have anything at home,” Jared explained with an inflection that suggested he did not have another choice.

“Have you tried buying groceries?” Cassidy admonished more than questioned.

“I’ll have to give that a try,” Jared returned sarcastically.

“This isn’t the first time he has gotten your mother up in the middle of the night to fix him something to eat,” Daniel tossed out with indifference.

“Mom!” Cassidy blurted out with a look of astonishment. “I think it’s about time you set some boundaries with your youngest child.”

“I’m happy to do it,” Margaret countered as she continued to clean.

“Mom, can I get some pancakes and eggs?” Jared asked as he stepped over to the empty chair opposite Cynthia and John.

“Yes,” Margaret answered with a smile.

Jared sat in the chair and then turned his attention towards his niece and nephew.

“Hi munchkins,” Jared called out to his niece and nephew with an exaggerated smile.

Cynthia and John returned his greeting with giggles, waves and a “hi Uncle Jared.”

“You know, if you keep treating your mother like a short order cook I’m going to start charging for the meals,” Daniel admonished behind this greeting from his position at the head of the table.

“No you won’t,” Margaret corrected with a stern inflection.

“Good morning, Dad,” Jared spoke after that with a smile.

“Good morning,” Daniel responded as he put down his newspaper and examined his son. “How was your night?”

This interest in Jared’s night and not hers had the effect of being irksome to Cassidy. She more than halfway expected her father to have some interest in this new case she was working.

“It was quiet for the most part. You know how it goes,” Jared answered with a shrug.

“Yeah,” Daniel agreed with a smile and an attentive expression. “But don’t let your guard down. The streets will turn on you just like that.”

Daniel emphasized this point by popping his fingers. Daniel was a proud retiree from the NYPD Patrol Officer Force. He spent his entire thirty-year career patrolling the streets of New York City. He was more than a little proud that his two sons had chosen to follow him into this profession. This was not true for his daughter. He feared for her safety in this man’s profession, as he saw it. The only solace he got out her becoming an NYPD police offer was her transfer into the detective division of the force. In his mind being a detective was far less dangerous than the job of a patrol officer.

“So, how was your night, big sister?” Jared questioned with a smile. “Your find was the talk of the department last night. Is it true that they’re still out there digging?”

Daniel immediately lost interest in the conversation and returned his attention to the newspaper. Cassidy took notice of her father’s reaction to the change in the topic of conversation.

“We don’t think they’re going to find anything more,” Cassidy advised softly.

It was customary in the Tremaine family to avoid using certain words around preadolescent children. Because of this rule the family made efforts to avoid using the words murder, kill, shoot, stab, body and their like around their preteens.

“So, what was the final count?” Jared questioned with enthusiasm.

Cassidy almost whispered back, “nine.”

“Nine what, Mommy,” Cynthia questioned while looking back over her shoulder at Cassidy.

“Cars, Baby,” Cassidy quickly answered. “We found nine cars that were stolen.”

Cynthia accepted this answer and went back to finishing the last of her breakfast.

“Hey, nine cars are nothing to sneeze at,” Jared returned after a delay and with excitement in his expression. “You solve this case and they just might bump you up a grade.”

“No chance of that,” Daniel proffered introspectively from behind his newspaper.

Cassidy took a moment to give note to her father’s remark with a look, and then she turned her attention back to her brother.

“I’m not thinking about that right now,” Cassidy dismissed with a shrug. “I just want to know what happened.”

“You’re not going to know what happened,” Daniel declared with a turn of his head toward his daughter and a stern look. “Cases like these are almost never solved by the detective that opens the case file. The investigation just keeps getting passed down for months and years until the perp makes a mistake or stops for reasons unknown. You’re just spinning your wheels.”

“I’m good at my job, Dad,” Cassidy argued back. “Don’t tell me I’m spinning my wheels.”

“Honey,” Daniel began in a conciliatory tone. “I’m just saying that being a detective is all clerical and lab work now. It’s not the exciting adventure that is depicted in paperback novels. You spend your day trying to attach names to the worst acts that people do to people. It’s not something that anyone should see. It’s nothing that I ever wanted my daughter to see.”

Cassidy chose not to respond to this remark. She knew that the conversation was straying into verbiage that she did not want her children to hear, and this was not what she wanted. The tension between her and Daniel did not escape the notice of Margaret and Jared and both thought to change the subject after a moment of silence. But before either of them could Daniel elected to speak again.

“You could have been a teacher like your mother, or a nurse, or even a homemaker,” Daniel expressed with frustration.

“So, could Aaron and Jared,” Cassidy rifled back with more than a hint of annoyance. “Come on, get your coats on,” she instructed Cynthia and John an instant behind her last remark.

The two kids were done eating and were listening to the conversation when Cassidy gave them this instruction. After hearing it they climbed out of their seats and raced out of the kitchen. Daniel waited until they had left the room before responding to Cassidy’s heated response in an apologetic tone.

“I can wrap my mind around you divorcing that jerk, okay. You should have never married him in the first place, but joining the force, I don’t understand that.”

“I have an associate degree in criminal justice,” Cassidy returned with a look of astonishment.

“Just a waste of money,” Daniel mumbled back with a shake of his head.

“Well, Dad, I’m just trying to get you value for your dollar.”

“Okay, come on you two,” Margaret interceded. “This debate never gets resolved. Let it go.”

Cassidy and Daniel said nothing behind this admonishment from Margaret. After a few seconds of silence Cynthia and John raced back into the kitchen attired in their coats. Cassidy promptly instructed them to say their goodbyes to their grandparents, which they did with hugs and kisses. After Cassidy opened the kitchen door and the kids ran out of the house.

“Bye, Mom, bye, Dad,” Cassidy spoke with a hint of regret in her tone.

As she turned for the doorway Margaret responded with a “good bye honey.”

By the time Cassidy got one foot through the doorway Daniel spoke up with a closing remark for his daughter.

“I just want you to be safe, Cassidy.”

“I know, Dad,” Cassidy turned back to say with a sympathetic expression. “But I don’t want to be safe. I don’t want to live my life being safe.”

Cassidy gave her father a momentary look of sorrow, turned about and went through the doorway.

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