Jennifer Colington stepped out of her car and inspected her surroundings. This was not what she had imagined. The building looked more like a run-down warehouse that had been abandoned years ago. The only signs that it was not completely abandoned were the tire marks that went to the back of the warehouse.
“What now?” She wondered.
Left with little choice, she was late already, Jennifer hoisted her bag higher on her shoulder as she trailed the tire marks. Three cars parked in an even formation greeted her eyes. She looked around and noticed the warehouse door was slightly open. Darkness invaded as she entered despite her brain desperately warning her not to. Light dimly could be seen in one corner and Jennifer made her way cautiously over. Fear jolted through her as her phone rang.
“Hello? Who is this?”
“Hi, my name is Will Scott. I’m your new partner. You are late and I was given your number to check up on you.”
“Oh, um, I’m in the warehouse at the location given to me. What is this place? I was expecting a more suitable work area.”
He chuckled over the line. “So did I. Believe me, it gets better. Give me a moment to get to you.”
Mr. Scott hung up before Jennifer could put in another word.
“Ok, I’ll just wait.”
She didn’t have to wait long as the light grew towards her.
“Hi. Sorry about the light. If you’ll follow me?”
She followed Will to the corner of the warehouse. There, she could clearly see a small elevator. It hardly looked functional.
“Climb in. Boss is waiting. You don’t want to keep her waiting.” Will stepped on the platform and waited.
The ride was surprisingly quick and quiet. Jennifer was expecting something longer and full of screeches from a machine hardly used. The door slid open to reveal a brighter and more lived in office.
“Hello. We were expecting you.” A bright, cheerful face appeared behind a desk.
“Hi, sorry I thought I was lost. Ms. Black?”
“Oh, I’m just the secretary. Ms. Black is in the back in her office. This is the entrance.” She pointed to a hallway.
“Just a moment,” she tapped on her phone,“Ms. Black, our new employee is here. Shall I send her in?”
“Yes, about time.” A curt voice answered.
Jennifer couldn’t help but feel nervous. She was late on her first day. That was not good.
“It’s ok. She’s just a bit stressed. It’s been a long day and it hasn’t even started.” The secretary got up from her chair.
“I’ll help you. This place can be a maze if you aren’t careful. Took me years to get the hang of this place. I’m Patricia, secretary and psychologist.”
As they went down the hallway, Jennifer tried to see all around her while paying attention to Patricia.
“Yes. But mostly just the secretary.”
The hallway opened up to a more comfortable looking room. Two couches, a love seat, and a TV occupied the room. She could see a few offices from here.
Patricia led her through the room to another hallway. Jennifer passed many doors, some with labels, others without. Finally, near the end of the hallway, a door clearly marked : BLACK.
“Good luck.” Patricia knocked before leaving Jennifer by herself.
“Come in.” The curt voice sounded again.
Her mind cleared a bit as she drew in a deep breath. This was it. She entered.
“Ms. Colington, I hope you don’t make a habit of being late to work. Here we have many strict rules and regulations. Being late is one of them.” A 20-something-looking woman sat behind a black desk. The room seemed to be tied to the feeling in the air. If it wasn’t for the window, the whole room would feel like a cave. Even with the window, the place seemed colder. Jennifer’s attention snapped back to her new boss.
“No, I’m sorry. I got lost and then I wasn’t sure if I was at the right location. The warehouse didn’t look inhabited. I try to always be early or on time if I can help it.”
“Very well, seeing as it is your first day, I will allow it as an excuse. You should have called the person who interviewed you or me. They did give you my number, correct?”
“Y-yes, but I don’t like asking for help until necessary.”
“Get used to it. This is a whole new environment. You will need to learn it and fast. I will have Ms. Frances show you to your office. You will be next door to your new partner. I assume you already met. You both are new, he already heard my speech, but since you are late I will repeat it.” She leaned forward.
“This is a government secret job. You are not allowed to even breathe a word of what you do. You will have a file on your desk of the rules and regulations. I suggest you memorize it and keep it with you at all times. Now, any questions, which I’m sure you have.”
“Um is not a question. It isn’t even an answer. Um is only a thinking word.” She narrowed her eyes before motioning to continue.
“Well…what am I even supposed to do? I mean, what is the job for? What is this place? Why am I here?”
Ms. Black held up her hand. “One at a time. Alright, this job is quite hard to explain here. Come with me.” She rose from her chair.
They went down another hallway and she opened an unmarked door.
“This is the file room. Only I and a few others are allowed to enter. For the sake of answering your questions, I’m allowing you to enter. Do not touch anything.”
The room was filled with file cabinets and boxes. Jennifer walked over to a file.
She read the label. “The Black Dahlia.”
She flipped through it a bit. Pictures of Elizabeth Short, the woman known as the Black Dahlia, media headlines, and witness reports.
“What’s this?” Jennifer asked.
“A case we recently closed. This is what we do. Come.” Ms. Black was not one for conversation.
“This room is the case room. When a case is in progress, it is here.” She handed Jennifer a black stick with buttons.
“This will be given to you every time you are going on a case. There is a timer that shows how much time you have to solve the case. If you fail, that is it. The main priority is to make it there and back, safely. The button on top transports you to the case and the button below transports you back here.” She took the stick back and put it in her pocket.
“Now, any questions?”
“Um, I don’t know. I don’t think this was the job I wanted. This is all confusing.”
“That is understandable. Give yourself some time to adjust. In the end, it is your choice.” Ms. Black left her in the room. Jennifer viewed the room suspiciously.
“Why is it so hard? This was not the job description. Why am I even here?”
“Hey, I thought I would find you here. Lot to process, huh? Definitely not what I was expecting.” Will interrupted her thoughts.
“Yeah, none of this makes sense. What are those black sticks and why do we need them? She didn’t explain anything.”
“Well, we have the day free to roam and get used to the place. I heard that the other team members are coming back from a case soon. Maybe we can ask them questions that Ms. Black wouldn’t answer?”
“That’s actually not a bad idea. They would probably know more.”
They explored the warehouse, learning the different hallways and rooms.
“I think that’s it. The rest are locked. There are a lot of suspicious secrets.” Will broke the silence.
“I have to agree. Maybe we can ask the secretary if the others have come back yet.”
Making their way to the front desk, Ms. Black intervened.
“I know you are still adjusting to everything here. I just received a case and the other team has not returned yet. I made sure to make it as simple as possible. Here are the case notes. Read carefully before going. Remember you have a limited window of time to solve this.” She started leading them to the case room.
“Wait! I don’t understand anything yet! We aren’t ready.” Jennifer protested.
“We need to solve cases as they come. We don’t have time. Sometimes the best way to learn is to jump right in, so here we go.”
Ms. Black moved them to a desk and put a file and two sticks.
“Once you are done reading the case notes, press the top button like I explained. Keep the Nitros with you at all times.” She started leaving before turning around.
“Oh, and don’t speak or breathe until you are on the other side.”
“Whelp, that’s it I guess. Shall we start?” Will sat down on one chair and offered the other one.
“Sherry Lynn Marler. Disappeared on June 6, 1984. She was 12 years old and went with her step-dad to do some business. Went to buy a drink at a vending machine. The next few days, she was seen by several witnesses near a man. B.J.” Jennifer summarized what she read.
“1984, that’s old. Why are we trying to investigate?” Will asked, more to himself than Jennifer.
“41 years ago. I doubt there is much left of the case. How does our new boss expect us to solve this?” She directed the question to Will.
He shrugged before looking at the two sticks or “Nitros” as they were called.
“I’m not a gambling man, but I believe those have something to do with solving this.”
Jennifer picked one and examined it closely. Nothing special.
“Looks like there is only one way to find out.” She tossed one to Will and hovered her finger on the top button.
“Ok, on the count of three, we’ll click. On my mark: 1…2…3!”