All the Time in the World: the mystery of the Lancelot Murders

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Chapter 4: The Girl in the Polaroid

Angelina looked up from her latest cadaver at Trinity. “What do you want?” she asked. Angelina was not one to mince words; When they first met, she had considered Trinity a fool, given her propensity to come up with remarkable theories that did not appear to have any evidence at first. She had since begrudgingly revised her opinion of Trinity, but she still felt somewhat uneasy around her.

“I thought you’d be happier to see me,” Trinity said.

“Really?” Angelina retorted, looking back down at John Doe’s bloated face.

“No,” Trinity said. “I know you’d prefer to talk with Patrick,” she continued, “but I’ve been told I need to work on my people skills.”

“And you wanted to practice with me, someone who talks to dead people for a living?” She spread his ribs apart with a grunt, revealing John’s water-bloated, marbled lungs.

“Exactly,” Trinity joked. “I’m working my way up.”

“Sure.” Angelina made sure to take note of the froth present in John’s upper and lower airways.

“I wanted to ask if you could look back in your records; I’m looking for cases of young women like Anita who died under similarly suspicious circumstances. We know he had at least one other victim.”

“Dark hair, pale skin, murdered women?”

“Yes.”

“You’ve got to narrow it down some more,” Angelina said. “Do you have a time frame?” With a gloved hand, she reached into his body cavity and removed his liver. Fatty and cirrhosed, she wrote.

“Maybe anywhere in the last two years?”

“I’ll try my best,” Angelina said. “But don’t get your hopes up.”

“Thanks,” Trinity said gratefully. As an afterthought, she added awkwardly, “There’s a new bookstore that just opened up a block from here, and there’s a forensic anthropology section I think you’d enjoy.” She darted off before Angelina could ask any questions.

********

Back at the office, Patrick handed Trinity the evidence bag containing the watch. “They couldn’t find any prints on it, or any DNA other than Anita’s. But it was kept in great condition, except for the fact that it runs backwards.”

“Backwards?”

“The stator probably broke,” Patrick said. “That’s what happened to my mom’s watch. The leather strap is also quite worn, despite the watch face being in impeccable condition, so we know she had it for a while.”

“Anita wouldn’t wear a watch that ran backwards,” Trinity said impatiently. “He put the watch on her.”

“It does have her initials,” Patrick said. “Engraved onto the back - A.W.”

“It’s pink,” Trinity said. “Nothing in her home was pink. She would’ve chosen white for the leather strap if it was up to her, or black.”

“You can’t assume that,” Patrick reminded her. “And it’s a muted pink - if it was a shade closer to magenta I would be inclined to agree with you.”

Trinity sighed. “Work with me for a second. Let’s assume this watch is another girl’s, and her initials are also A.W., just like Anita. Let’s also, for a second, entertain the notion that this girl is the same girl in the polaroid. I’ve got Angelina looking through her old reports; you could look through the database for reports of missing girls with those initials and that physical description.”

Patrick looked at her incredulously. “You’re taking a lot of leaps.”

“We don’t really have anything else to go on, do we?”

“I’ll spend some time going through the missing persons database,” he said. “What will you be doing?”

“Looking at the security tapes,” she replied.

He grimaced. “Good luck,” he said. “Hopefully you find a lead.”

She nodded grimly. Turning to her laptop, she located the video files that Patrick had sent her. There were fifteen days worth of footage. Sighing, she pulled out her earphones and clicked play. There were three security cameras - one managed to get the wide angle of the seating area, another was positioned at the registers, and the last was positioned at the door, capturing the customers who came in.

Clicking through the footage of customers, Trinity noted that while baristas were reportedly only supposed to work for four to six hour shifts, the clocking-in-and-out seemed rather flexible and loose. She also noticed that there were five employees that worked at the register the most, though the manager told her that he had seven staff members in total. In terms of customers, as expected of a coffee shop near a busy workspace, foot traffic was highest in the mornings at around 8:30 and died down by 10, although it picked up again at noon. Customers were also pretty regular; most days at noon a diminutive blonde girl would pick up a dozen coffees (probably an intern), and the same crowd of office workers and executives appeared at 8:50, though none of them lingered.

In fact, while many frequented the establishment, the Starbucks was always pretty empty, except for a few stragglers. Most looked around high-school or college-aged that would sit down in Starbucks for hours at a time, ostensibly to study (evidenced by the Kaplan and Princeton Review books they carried). No one stood out as a potential suspect. She rewatched the tapes again, eyeing the office workers, trying to pick out individuals that matched their eyewitnesses’ description. Yet the footage was grainy, and the description was too vague.

Well, there wasn’t any real reason to believe that he would frequent his old hunting grounds. You rely too much on your hunches, she chided herself.

“Any luck?” She looked up, startled. Patrick gazed back down at her, his ever-present thermos in his hand. “It’s already 5,” he added, helpfully.

“No,” she said. “Couldn’t see anything helpful.”

“Well,” Patrick said, “I didn’t find anyone missing in the last five years that matched the girl in the photo or with the initials A.W.” He paused. “But, I did find a match for girls that disappeared within the last 10 years, from Queens.”

“Ten years is a long timeframe,” Trinity said.

“I know. There was a missing persons report filed for Ashley White, seven years ago. She was 17 at the time, and her parents believed she had run away. They reported that she was missing a week after the fact. She had run away to live with her boyfriend when she was 15 only to return after a week, and she had threatened to run away three months before disappearing, when she said she wanted to go find her real parents.”

“Real parents?”

“She was adopted from Korea when she was 18 months old.”

Trinity closed her eyes. “Where was she last seen?”

“Her parents told the officer that they last saw her on a Saturday, when she said she was going to take her shift at Paris Baguette. Her co-workers said she was fired a few weeks before for not showing up to work on time - they had a three strikes policy - and a friend said that Ashley would often hang out around the park or the shopping mall nearby instead, where she would wait until her shift was over and get picked up by her parents from the bakery. They didn’t know about this.”

“Wait,” Trinity said. “The Paris Baguette that was just three blocks away from Anita’s office building?”

Patrick nodded. “The shopping mall, the park, the bakery - they’re within a five mile radius from Anita’s office building and the Starbucks she frequented.”

Trinity’s brow furrowed. “Curiouser and curiouser,” she said. “They must be linked - somehow.”

“That,” Patrick said, “I’ll agree with. What do we say about coincidences?”

She rolled her eyes. “If by we, you mean Sherlock, then we say the universe is rarely so lazy.”

“Exactly. I’m going to look for more information on the Ashley Wilson case.”

“I think we should look for an artist to do an age-progressed image of Ashley,” Trinity said. “And we should look for Jane Does in the past year - I’m pretty sure Ashley died recently.” She got up hurriedly, shoving her laptop back into her bag.

“Slow down.” Patrick placed a calm hand on her shoulder. “I want to get to the bottom of this as much as you do, but relax, ok - you’ll get burned out. We can’t do anything further until I get Ashley’s parents’ addresses, so just take some time off.”

She sighed. “It feels wrong to sit around and wait,” she said. “What are you going to do now?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “What do you think I should do?”

“Well,” she said, “I think I’m going to go home and make myself a cup of tea. But you should definitely go check out the bookstore that just opened a block away.”

“Grey Matter Books?” Patrick asked, curious.

“Yes! They have a great fantasy section, and I remember you saying how much you enjoyed Game of Thrones…”

Patrick’s eyes widened. “I have been wanting to buy the boxed set for the longest time,” he said.

“Sometimes I forget you’re a giant nerd,” Trinity laughed.

“You love it,” he retorted. He was right. She’d come to treasure his rare, genuine smiles. It wasn’t the friendly face he used to put witnesses at ease, but the blissful expression that lit up his face every time he found a new world to explore in his books; the shy wonder and trepidation that gave way to an eagerness to consume a new novel, cover-to-cover; and the perfect happiness that remained long after the book had ended. For all his pragmatism, she knew with conviction that Patrick was a child at heart.

“Sure you don’t want to join me?” Patrick asked expectantly.

She shook her head. “Mittens needs me,” she said. “He gets cranky if I’m not home by 6.”

He rolled his eyes. “Alright,” he said. “See you tomorrow.”

********

Angelina stood in front of the bookshelf, weighing her options, her eyes gliding over Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan series to finally alight on The Bone Woman, by Clea Koff. Her eyes lingered on the spine for a while; she was intrigued, but she didn’t want to make a hasty decision based on the cover alone.

Suddenly, she heard a cough behind her. “The Bone Woman is about Kloff’s investigation into the physical evidence of the Rwandan genocide.” She turned around - it was Patrick.

“What are you doing here?” She frowned.

“Just stopping by,” he said. He gestured to the Game of Thrones box set tucked under his arm. “I came for this but I saw you standing here. You hadn’t moved for a while so I wanted to make sure you were alive.”

She laughed. “So you enjoyed The Bone Woman?”

He nodded. “My niece is really into forensic anthropology these days - I blame Bones - so she’s really gotten into the genre.”

Bones is a gateway drug,” Angelina replied. “But it’s definitely not as glamorous a job as they make it seem.”

“Oh really?” Patrick said. “You mean to tell me that looking at dead bodies all day isn’t glamorous?”

“Definitely the most glamorous job I could think of,” Angelina joked, “especially if you don’t want to talk to people for days on end.”

“In all seriousness, though,” he said, “I think you do amazing work - I don’t think I could do it.”

“Well,” she said, “once you get used to the smell, and the sounds, the rest sort of comes naturally.”

“Looking at dead bodies too long gives me goosebumps,” he said. “I just start picturing myself, dead; there’s a world of difference between life and death, and yet the line is so thin.”

“I do that too,” she confessed. Then, to lighten the mood, she said, “But I console myself by remembering that I’d probably be a pretty good-looking corpse.”

Patrick looked her up and down. “You’re right,” he said, laughing, “that is a comforting thought. I’ll use that myself.”

She glanced at him, sizing him up. Her eyes trailed over his broad shoulders and his tight-fitting slacks, noting the way his button-up shirt skimmed over his prizefighter build. “You’re alright,” she said, “but I’ve seen better.”

“Ouch,” he said, placing a hand over his chest in mock pain. “Trinity was right, you are mean.”

“Only mean to people who deserve it,” she said snidely. She grabbed the book and headed for the counter.

He sidled up behind her. “Hey,” he said, “if you ever do want to talk to someone, I’m always available.” She sensed that he was serious.

She nodded. “Of course,” she said. “And tell your niece that she can email me with any questions she has about my line of work.”

He waved goodbye, watching her lithe figure slip out the door and into the cherry-red Citroen BX parked by the street. She was an odd one, he thought, but he found himself smiling long after he got home.

********

Trinity smiled amusedly as Patrick rushed into the office the next morning, the hint of a 5-o’clock shadow on his cheeks and in a complete disarray.

“It’s 9:05, Patrick,” she scolded. “How could you be so late?”

“I forgot to set my alarm this morning,” he muttered, “I stayed up last night re-reading Game of Thrones and I lost track of time.”

“Oh great! You went to the bookstore yesterday,” she said happily.

“Why are you so surprised? I asked you to come with me.”

“Just happy to help local businesses,” she said. “I told Angelina to go as well.”

“Oh right, Angelina,” Patrick said. “She was there, I helped her choose a good book.”

“Sounds like you guys hit it off,” she replied pleasantly.

He creased his forehead. “I suppose,” he said, “she’s pretty funny.” He shook his head, getting his thoughts together. “Right,” he said, “are you ready to go find Ashley’s parents?”

Trinity got up with a jolt. “I was born ready,” she said.

The White’s had moved to Astoria five years ago. They had not had any children since Ashley was reported missing, and the two sizable and disposable incomes lent well to their upper-crust lifestyle. Mr. White’s years as a day-trader on Wall Street were evident in the stoop of his neck and his hunched shoulders, but most of all in his disarmingly charming smile and his confident stride as he took Patrick’s hand and welcomed him in. Mrs. White’s personality was the perfect complement to her husband’s; she was a demure and unassuming presence, much like the muted earth tones she wore.

With a smile to put them at ease, Patrick began. “I’m sure you’re wondering why we’re here, Mr. and Mrs. White,” he said.

“You’re here to talk about Ashley,” Mr. White said. “And you can call me Jim. My wife, Joanne.”

“Jim, then. Yes, we’re here to talk about Ashley. You see, there’s a homicide investigation underway that appears to have links with your daughter’s disappearance.”

Mrs. White stifled a gasp and buried her face in her hands. Her husband shot Patrick a look.

“We’ve told the police everything,” he said. “You must’ve seen the case file. Besides, it’s been seven years since Ashley disappeared, how could we remember anything?”

Patrick nodded sympathetically. “I did read the case file,” he said. “But there have been new developments since then. For instance,” he took out the watch, “do you know if this belonged to Ashley?”

A shadow passed over Mr. White’s face. “We bought that for her, for her sixteenth birthday. She never took it off.” He reached with trembling hands. “Could-Could I?”

Patrick passed him the watch. Mr. White ran his hands over the worn leather, before offering it to his wife. Turning it over in her hands, she said softly, “I remember when we got this engraved.”

Mr. White turned to Trinity. “You must understand,” he said, “they never found her body - where did you find this?”

“At the latest crime scene,” she said gently, sparing them the details.

“We have something else,” Trinity said, fishing out a photocopy of the polaroid. “Do you recognize anything in this photo?” She handed it to Mrs. White, who immediately turned away and wordlessly passed it onto her husband.

His mouth quivered. “That’s Ashley,” he said. “I didn’t know she had clothes like that, and I don’t know when that photo was taken, but it’s Ashley.” He wrapped an arm around Mrs. White, who was quietly sobbing.

“Joanne,” Trinity interjected softly, “would you like to get a breath of fresh air?”

Mrs. White nodded and stood up, holding onto Trinity’s arm for stability. As soon as Mrs. White was out of earshot, Patrick pressed Mr. White for more details.

“Jim,” he said, “I’d like to ask if Ashley ever expressed any feeling that she was being followed, or if she ever seemed on edge in the months leading up to her disappearance?”

“Not that I know of,” he said wearily, taking off his spectacles and wiping them on his shirt. “I wasn’t very present back then, and I paid the price for it.” He sighed heavily. “Certainly she seemed like she was acting out a lot, but my wife and I- we chalked it up to teenage rebellion.”

“Do you know if Ashley kept a journal, or if she had made any online friends?”

“My daughter kept her life very private,” he said, “I know she kept diaries religiously all throughout the second to fifth grade, but afterwards she never mentioned it to me again.” He shook his head. “When we realized she was gone we tore her room apart trying to find any clues to her whereabouts, but we didn’t find anything.”

“What about her computer?”

“We handed that over to the police,” he said. “They couldn’t find anything.”

Patrick hesitated before pressing further. “Why did you wait so long to call the police?”

Mr. White turned to him. “Like we told the police at the time - we thought she had run off with her boyfriend again.”

“And you didn’t call to check if she was with him?”

Mr. White’s demeanour shifted, Patrick sensed - he was still the same bereaved man, but there was a chill in the air, a wall where previously there was none. The moment passed in a heartbeat, but the feeling lingered.

“I was a busy man,” Mr. White said. “Busy and arrogant. I thought if we acted like we didn’t care she would come back to us. I was wrong… regrettably so.”

“Thank you, Jim,” Patrick said. “This has been very helpful.”

Trinity met him at the door, Mrs. White trailing behind her. “Joanne,” she said, “stay in touch.”

Patrick nodded. “We’ll tell you if there are any further developments,” he said.

As they got back into the car, Trinity turned to Patrick. “I learned some interesting things from Joanne today,” she said.

“Oh? Like what?”

“Seven years ago Jim was coping with unemployment and was drinking a lot. He’d gotten pretty bad in the three months leading to her disappearance; when it got really bad, he hit Joanne and verbally abused Ashley. The morning of her disappearance they had a fight, and Jim slapped Ashley. She says he apologized but Ashley was running late to work anyway and left.”

“But she wasn’t going to work,” Patrick said.

“They didn’t know,” she said. “Anyway, Joanne said that she and Jim were worried that Ashley would tell someone about their domestic problems, so they hoped Ashley would just come home without making a fuss.”

“So all that about her trying to find her real parents?”

“Joanne said they made that up,” Trinity said. “It was a credible story to give the police at the time… they didn’t want to tell the police about Jim’s outbursts.”

“They withheld facts from the investigation,” Patrick said, shocked and angry. “They must know that they are partly responsible that Ashley was never found.”

“I know,” Trinity said. “Joanne’s guilt was immense.”

“Did Joanne notice that Ashley was more on edge than usual?”

“She said that Ashley had been trying to earn money to move out and be financially independent. That’s why it was a surprise for her and Jim when they found out Ashley’d been fired weeks ago… she took her work seriously and she always left the house on time.”

Patrick pursed his lips. “We should talk to her co-workers then - and her friends.”

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