Troy Bradley casually lounged in the break room hut chatting with his colleagues while enjoying his morning coffee before work. It was the end of the working week and none of them was overly enthused about another day shifting garbage, especially not on a Friday.
He was not the most motivated of employees. At twenty-six, Troy has long matted straw-like brown hair jutting out from under a black woolen beanie that resembled something worn by the Seven Dwarfs.
With his full-face, unkempt black beard and old dirty, well-worn jeans, he appeared more suited to be roaming the Rocky Mountains than working in the city’s landfill dump.
After his morning coffee he was assigned to operate the front end loader for the day. It was his responsibility to move the piles of accumulated rubbish from the public dump sites to level out the area for the landfill compactor.
All he required when working alone in his operator’s glass cube cabin was his head phones pumping out his favourite tunes to drown out the relentless engine revving. The music also helped get him through the tedium of moving around other peoples’ discarded trash.
Troy lifted the front end bucket and drove it deep into the accumulated rubbish. The machine’s engine revved as he reversed to drag the dislodged rubbish away from the pile.
With the revving of his engine once again to operate the hydraulics, he lowered the front bucket and scooped up the loosened rubbish and relocated it to a low lying area to his right. He was to spend the day repeating this action, over and over again moving to his right along the rubbish face with each new lift.
Troy had been working about thirty minutes and had just dragged the next load of loosened rubbish clear from the pile. He was about to lift and relocate it when he noticed his Supervisor standing to his left waving his arms over his head, like a shipwrecked survivor trying to signal a passing plane.
Three other colleagues stood behind the Supervisor. Their attention was firmly fixed on the dump pile in front of front-end loader.
‘What the hell does he want…?’ Troy blurted.
When the Supervisor noticed he’d successfully caught Troy’s attention, he held both hands up to Troy, signaling him to stop.
Troy killed the loader’s engine and plucked out his head phones. By this time his Supervisor beckoned to him to come down from the loader.
Troy climbed down and moved towards his Supervisor.
‘What’s going on…? Where’s the fire…?’ Troy asked.
His Supervisor quickly approached Troy without saying anything. He placed his hand on Troy’s shoulder, guiding him towards the rubbish face.
‘There’s no fire Bradley…’ His Supervisor replied. He gestured to the rubbish pile in front of the loader. ‘But there’s that…’ he said. ‘You just uncovered a body in a garbage bag.’
‘Oh shit…are you sure?’ Troy scanned the mass of rubbish. A leg protruded from a green garbage bag. Troy flinched, taking a backward step. ‘Oh shit,’ he said, cupping his forehead. He turned and walked away a few steps before turning back to face the body. He dragged off his beanie and swept his hand over his knotted hair. ‘Oh shit,’ he repeated while staring at the exposed leg.
‘It’s OK…’ the Supervisor said, trying to calm Troy down. ‘The cops are on the way. You haven’t done anything wrong, son.’ He placed his hand on Troy’s shoulder and turned him and gently directed him towards the break room hut. ‘Go and take a break… have a coffee or something until the cops get this sorted out. This is a crime scene now… so we won’t be doing any more work here for a while.’
Tom and Frank had finalized their investigative formalities at the City landfill site by mid-morning. The photograph they brought with them was all they needed to unofficially confirm the body was that of missing woman, Felicity Chapman.
Her naked body was found bound at the wrists by black duct tape, with strips of the tape placed across her eyes and mouth. Her mobile phone, property and clothes were yet to be located. Her body had been placed in a large green colored heavy duty industrial garbage bag and dumped at the landfill waste site.
Crews of police working in lines had begun the mundane task of sorting and sifting through the garbage piles looking for her property and any possible evidence.
The uniform officers arranged for formal ID of the body ahead of the unenviable task of notifying the victim’s grieving parents of the gruesome discovery.
Prior to leaving the dump site, Tom confirmed Felicity’s parents had been notified. He then approached the producers from the various television crews gathered around the City Dump perimeter and requested an interview.
At his request, the networks broadcast a recent photograph of Felicity, while Tom made a plea seeking public assistance from anyone who may have seen her prior to, or since her disappearance late last Sunday.
Anyone with any information at all, regardless of how insignificant they may think it was, was asked to contact police.
After returning to the Homicide office Tom and Frank sat perched on the front of Tom’s desk. Their arms were folded as they studied the whiteboard, which had been updated with the new inclusion – Victim number three.
Concerns were growing. The killer appeared to have moved from selecting victims who lived alone, and attacking them inside their home, to taking them in full view from the streets. This acceptance of greater risk suggested the killer was becoming more desperate.
‘How is it no-one heard or saw anything Sunday night…? The bus stop is in a residential street, surrounded by houses,’ Frank said.
‘We don’t even know if she made it to the bus stop on Sunday night, Frank,’ Tom said. ‘There are two possible scenarios…’ Tom continued. ‘She was grabbed on her way to the bus stop…which I think is highly unlikely…or she made it to the bus stop, but while she waited, she was coaxed into a vehicle.’
Frank nodded once. ‘True. But what if she actually got on the bus and was grabbed after she arrived in Del Mar…?’
‘All possible scenarios, aren’t they?’ Tom said. He rubbed his chin while he studied the whiteboard. ‘Let’s start with the bus stop…’ Tom said. ‘Let’s work on assuming she made it to the bus stop and boarded the bus.’
’If that’s the case then someone on that bus must’ve seen her get on…’ Frank said. ‘Maybe the driver might remember her. I would expect Sunday nights would be quiet for the buses. We need to check with the bus line and then pay a visit with the boyfriend in Del Mar, to see what his movements were Sunday night,’ Frank suggested.
Tom lifted his jacket from the back of his chair, Frank moved to his desk and did the same.
‘Is the MTS office still down on Imperial?’ Tom asked.
’As far as I know they’re still there... down near Petco Park…’
‘Yeah, that’s it.’ Tom checked his watch. ‘If we hurry we can catch the Bus Company before they go to lunch,’ Tom said.
Frank and Tom approached the front reception at the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. They were greeted with a pleasant smile from the middle-age woman at the counter.
‘Good morning…’ Tom said. He unclipped his badge from his belt. My name is Detective Tom Carter and this is Detective Frank Williams.’
‘What can I do for you gentlemen…?’
’Can you tell me please, what buses ran from Grand Avenue in Pacific Beach to Del Mar on last Sunday evening?’
The woman checked her computer. ‘Ah, it looks like the bus you want is the 101,’ she said.
‘We were hoping to speak to the driver of this bus from last Sunday. Is there someone we can speak to who can assist us with this?’ Tom said.
‘Just one moment.’ The woman made a phone call. After speaking quietly to someone on the phone, she hung up the phone and said, ’someone will be with you shortly.’
A short time later a woman in her forties with salon styled blonde hair, who introduced herself as Sally, escorted the Detectives to her office.
Sally gestured to the visitor chairs, while she moved around and sat at the desk opposite. She clasped her hands in front of her. Her eyes flicked from Tom to Frank. ‘Now, what can I do for the SDPD?’ she asked.
’We’re investigating the murder of a young female, who we believe caught your MTS 101 bus from Grand Avenue Pacific Beach to Del Mar on Sunday evening, before she went missing…’ Tom began.
‘Oh, how horrible.’
‘I was hoping to find out who was driving the bus, so we could speak to him, or her about whether they remember the victim boarding his bus at Pacific Beach.’
Sally checked her computer. ‘The driver on Sunday was Malcolm Bates, but he is not working today…’ Sally said. ‘But I may be able to do one better, gentlemen,’ she smiled confidently.
‘How so?’ Tom asked.
‘Well, all our buses have digitally recorded security cameras to protect the drivers, and to record customers boarding and alighting from the bus, mainly for slip and trips claims and the like,’ Sally said. ‘At the end of each shift all security footage is downloaded and electronically stored as a file on the company’s computer mainframe.’
Tom’s eyebrows arched as he exchanged a brief glance with Frank. ‘So, you’re saying you have a recording from the 101 from last Sunday night?’ Tom said as a question.
Sally smiled. ‘That’s exactly what I’m saying.’
‘Are we able to review the footage?’
Sally escorted the Detectives to a small dark room; too small to accommodate three adults. A table with a computer screen and keyboard and two chairs was the only furniture in the room. Sally called up the footage the Detectives were seeking.
‘When you’re finished…leave everything here as it is and I’ll shut everything down and close it all up…Just come back and see me at my office.’ She jabbed her thumb over her shoulder.
‘Thank you,’ Tom said.
Both Detectives slid into a chair each where they painstakingly reviewed and re-reviewed the camera footage from the 101 bus for last Sunday night.
It was a quiet night for passengers. Six people boarded the bus from Pacific Beach to Del Mar. The only person who boarded the 101 bus at the stop where Felicity was supposed to pick up the bus, was a middle-aged female.
Frank pointed to the review monitor. ‘I wonder who she is…’ He thought out loud. ‘You would think she would know if Felicity even made it to the bus stop.’
A quick review of the footage revealed the unknown middle-aged woman left the 101 bus in La Jolla.
During the stroll back to their vehicle, having completed their reviews, Tom said, ‘Well the reviews show conclusively that Felicity never boarded the bus Sunday night...’
‘So was she grabbed off the street as she walked to the bus…or did she accept a ride…?’ Frank said. ‘Each scenario presents different challenges and possibilities, don’t they?’
When they arrived back at their parked vehicle Frank’s stomach audibly protested the lack of sustenance since breakfast.
Tom unlocked the driver’s door. He grinned across the roof to his partner. ‘Was that your stomach…?’
‘I’m starving here man.’ Frank checked his watch. ‘It’s almost 2.30pm and we haven’t stopped for lunch.’ Frank opened the car door and slid inside. ‘Next stop, before we do anything else, is for food,’ Frank insisted.
Tom fastened his seat belt. He lifted his chin at his partner’s expanded waistline. ‘By the looks of that stomach of yours buddy, you could do with missing a meal or three.’
Frank patted his corpulent stomach with both hands. ‘Better than being built like a celery stick…’ he retorted with a smile. He flicked a hand out the front of the car. ‘Come on…Let’s just get something to eat.’
Tom dropped it into Reverse. He looked behind to start reversing from his parking space when his mobile phone vibrated in his pocket. He rolled his eyes and dropped the shift back into Neutral. He left the car idling while he answered his phone.
‘Tom Carter.’ He smiled when he saw Frank tap his watch then simulate eating from a plate.
Tom quickly removed his pen from his shirt pocket and clicked the end. With his phone wedged between his shoulder and ear, Tom flicked open his folder and scribbled down notes.
Frank leaned over to try and read what Tom was writing.
At the end of the call Frank said, ‘I don’t give a shit who that was… We are not missing out on getting something to eat. Whatever that was…it can wait. Let’s go.’ Frank jabbed a firm thumb over his shoulder.
‘Don’t you want to know what that was about…?’
Frank folded his arms in protest. ‘Right now, I don’t care. Ask me again when I have a full stomach.’
Tom had not driven far when Frank identified the next available café. Such was his hunger, Frank was almost out his door before Tom had parked the car.
The Detectives strolled into the café. They stood inside the doorway scanning the restaurant. Apart from two men seated at separate ends of the counter, the diner was empty at that time of the afternoon.
Neither had been here before, so they remained where they were to examine the large menu on the wall.
Frank waved a hand. ‘This’ll do,’ he said.
The men selected a table overlooking the street and placed their lunch orders with the table waitress. While they waited, Tom placed his folder on the table and flicked it open to his recent notes.
‘That call I took related to a woman who rang the station. She says she saw my news appeal on Felicity Chapman. She claims she saw Felicity on Sunday night at the bus stop in Pacific Beach.’
Frank’s eyebrows arched. ‘Interesting...’ he said. ‘Where does she live…?’
Tom grinned, but he didn’t respond.
’Wait… that wasn’t the woman who got off the bus at La Jolla…?' Frank said.
Tom shrugged. ‘Could be…certainly sounds like it. She wants to speak to us, so I said we would drive up there this afternoon.’
It didn’t take long for their lunch orders to arrive. Tom watched his partner start to devour the first of his two hamburgers like he hadn’t eaten for a week, pausing only long enough to wash down each mouthful with a sip from his large chocolate milk shake.
‘Better count your fingers on each hand when you’re done there, buddy,’ Tom said.
Frank paused from shoveling food into his mouth to flip his middle finger at Tom before biting down on his burger.