THREE MONTHS LATER
A metal garbage can chimed as another crumpled paper joined the heap, Vance Deveraux’s arm retracting from its curved position as one of the desk agents wheeled in a new load of files to his pathetic excuse for an office.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me, Allison,” Vance said as he sat up in his chair. “I’ve already got a million cases to digitize.”
The older blonde gave a light shrug, leaving the three boxes next to his messy desk among the thirteen others strewn about the room. “Sorry, Vance. Don’t shoot the messenger.”
Deveraux closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Did Dorian at least say why?”
Allison only gave Vance a look, her eyebrows slightly raised. “You know why.” She lightly tapped the top box, evident sympathy in her eyes. “Have fun,” she offered as she headed out of the cramped, barely air conditioned office.
“All fun all the time,” Vance mumbled as he ran a hand through his hair. He sighed, not touching the newest boxes and instead returning his eyes to his computer.
But there was nothing new. They were cold cases for a reason.
A knock sounded on the open door, a woman with arched eyebrows and a neat chignon leaning in.
Vance practically jumped up from his relaxed position, “SSA Phillips.”
“Relax, Deveraux,” Phillips said as she walked into the messy office space. Her sharp pant suit lines only grew sharper in the distress of the room, humble superiority radiating off of her. “There’s only so much you can do with a shit stack of cold cases.”
Subsiding from his minor alarm, Vance adjusted his tie before motioning to the head of the LA Criminal Investigation Unit. “What can I help you with, ma’am?”
“I actually need to see one of the files you’ve been given.”
Vance only smiled without much emotion before taking a sip of coffee, pushing the assistant director for the only amusement he could get out of his situation. “You’re going to have to be a little more specific.”
Marina Phillips lightly shook her head, her tamed, chestnut hair not moving an inch. “Should’ve passed through about a month ago. Missing persons case, filed 12 years back. Name should be Emily Morrison.”
“Sure thing,” Vance replied as he set down his coffee mug, pulling his keyboard closer to jump back into the database.
SSA Phillips held no reservations against the special agent that had been assigned to her floor three months prior, rather thankful for the help in filing but concerned that his skills could be used best outside of the building and actually in the field. She, however, had no say in the length or terms of the agent’s punishment. Dorian told her what to do with Deveraux and Jones no less controlled Dorian.
“I’ve got it,” Vance announced, causing Marina to go around his desk to see the screen. “Emily Morrison, missing at age 12 when she went out to play with a friend but never made it to the park. No suspects, barely speculation.” Glancing up the senior agent, he grew curious. “Why do you need this if there’s nothing we can do? They claimed it cold six years ago and it’s spent another six sitting in a box.”
“Because,” Phillips produced her tablet from her suit, it thinner than the material of her blazer, “we might have something.” Angling the technology towards Deveraux, Marina bubbled with the chance of justice. “A girl ran through the woods and into a police station claiming that she’d been kidnapped five years prior by a man named Neil Hunter. He’d been keeping her in his basement the entire time. Hunter didn’t even think to leave, but LAPD found him and got stuffed into County, no bail. Thing is, right now he’s only on one count. When the girl, Eliza, was questioned about the basement itself, she said she could tell there was another if not multiple girls that had been held there before her. He even told her about one - Emily - and that Hunter killed her. Apparently, he told her about it to scare her out of trying to escape, like she did.”
Vance watched the images of the suspect slide by, revealing a photograph of a red hair collected from the floorboard. “Emily had red hair,” he mildly said as he looked back to the photo on his computer of the 12 year old girl. “Do you think they can match this?”
“I already spoke with Mrs. Morrison on the phone,” said Marina, “and after a long conversation she’s agreed to bringing in a of hairbrush of Emily’s that still has strands in it.”
“Ma’am, if I may, I’d like to ask to be put on the case,” Vance almost immediately requested. “Officially, I mean. Not just inside the office. If there’s a chance we can figure out what happened to this girl, I want to help.”
Senior Agent Phillips gave a half smile, “You’re on the team, Deveraux. I’ll pull you later for our interrogation down at LA County Jail. They’re letting us talk to Hunter to see if we can get him to admit to killing Emily Morrison.”
The sleek FBI regulated sedan slid through traffic with ease, Vance tucked in the back with a to-go coffee in hand as Phillips and Agent Colton Ramos resided in the front. LA’s August weather remained warm, tourists still roaming for their last hit of summer and clothing seeming rather optional.
Ramos, a field agent based out of LA since his first assignment twelve years prior, drove with ease towards the jail currently holding Neil Hunter. His dark eyes stayed on the road while his ears focused in on Phillips giving what information she had on the case.
“Apparently, he isn’t talking,” the SSA announced as she set down her work phone in her lap, a folder open in her hands.
“Would you?” questioned Vance as he lowered his coffee cup from his lips. “The guy’s just been caught for kidnapping girls and keeping them in his basement. I wouldn’t talk either.”
Phillips lightly shook her head, still trying to understand the situation in its entirety. “It’s not like he can deny it. We’ve got enough evidence to put him away for years.”
“But not to death,” interjected Agent Ramos. “That would come with admitting to killing all of those other girls.”
“We only have insight on one potential.” Agent Deveraux’s eyebrows knitted together slightly, leaned back on the vinyl seating.
“Our witness said there looked like there could be one or more, likely it’s more. Dude’s psycho. There’s got to be more, and if he talks,” Ramos made a noise in the back of his throat, representing none other than death itself.
“He doesn’t have any infractions with the police,” Phillips said as she leafed through Hunter’s file. “He grew up in Anaheim, went to UCLA in the 80s, and there’s never been a complaint to his house. He even paid his taxes on time, every year. Neighbors say he’s quiet, but the block that he lives on isn’t a very big community type. Most people keep to themselves anyways.”
“Clearly a real standup guy,” commented Ramos sarcastically. “Look, everyone can keep a secret. Some do it better. Just because they seem normal enough doesn’t mean they aren’t keep young women hostage in their basement for some unbeknownst, perverted reason.”
“Does he have any family?” Vance questioned underneath Ramos, looking towards Phillips.
“None living,” she replied with a light sigh in her voice. “Both parents deceased within the past ten years. No wife, no kids. No siblings, either.”
Deveraux hesitated a moment, doing what he could to read the paper man with a mere paper history. “Hire his own lawyer?”
“County appointed, D.A. Finstock, I think. We’ve worked with him before.” SSA Phillips turned her head, looking to Vance over her shoulder. “What’s going on up there in that brain of yours, Deveraux?”
Seemingly as perplexed as the other special agents, “I’m not sure yet.”
“That’s helpful,” Ramos mockingly said under his breath as he flashed his badge at the front gate to the county jail, ignoring the camera crews vigorously trying to get a clip. “What’s our play?” he questioned as he took a parking spot close to the main building, it surrounded by barbed wire.
“I’ll go in with Deveraux to talk.” SA Phillips shut the file in hand, sliding it into her briefcase as she exited to FBI vehicle. “Ramos, you’ll get anything you can from guards about Hunter. First impressions, whether he’s talked or not. You know the drill.”
Ramos locked the car as the trio headed towards the building entrance, nodding without hesitation. “Yes, ma’am.”
Brought through the LA County Jail and into its depths with ease, a thin yet intimidating man named Officer Hudson stopped the special agents in front of the questioning room currently holding Neil Hunter.
Marina looked from her agents to Officer Hudson, hiding her mild confusion with a flat expression. “Is there a problem, officer?”
Running his fingers along his dark mustache, Officer Hudson hesitated to reply. “Just try not to look at his eye, he’s sensitive,” he simply said before sliding his key card along the authorization panel.
Ramos remained outside as Phillips and Deveraux went in, nodding almost cockily to the escort guards incase Hunter made a break for it. A chrome burner phone was hidden behind his back, Ramos’ eyes scouring the guards with no sign he was doing anything out of the ordinary. “Hunter given you any trouble?”
Officer Price, young blood not yet broken by the system, gave a light shrug. “He doesn’t talk much. Or ever, really.”
Hudson stepped forward, moving the attention of the hall to him. “Look, Suit, Hunter’s just a quiet guy. He’s not done anything to wrong us.”
An eyebrow of Ramos’ raised, his thumb hesitating to send the message on the hidden mobile. “Does the kidnapping a young girl and holding her in his basement for three years not a reason to be bothered by him?”
“Lots of people have done a lot worse, sir, you’re in a prison. Ask one out of ten of these guys and they’ve got blood on their hands-”
“Do you have any kids, Officer Hudson?” Ramos interrupted, his voice blunt. He could tell from the look in the officer’s eyes that he did, an instant guilt rippling across his worn face. “How would you treat a man who took your child? Kept them away from you for year - possibly forever. Would you just shrug it off?
Officer Hudson didn’t speak, averting his eyes from the FBI agent.
“Exactly.” Ramos slid his phone discreetly into his slack pocket, folding his arms over his chest as intimidating eyes crossed the line of security guards. “So, tell me. What’s Hunter been like?”
“When he talks, if ever,” began the blonde officer behind Hudson, moving out past her boss, “it’s always a name.” Fowler did her best not to look at the glare Hudson was giving her. “We looked into it, but it doesn’t make sense.”
Ramos’ eyes narrowed inquisitively, “Go on.”
“He says, ‘Karen,’ over and over again,” said Fowler.
And the only thing more confusing than Hunter’s choice of word was the lack of surprise on Agent Ramos’ face.
Neil Hunter was a man of many things, few which people knew, even less which they understood.
The box of a room held limited furniture, a single guilty body sitting in a chair, dressed in tan scrubs with his head bent low.
His short hair was graying, slowly fading out from what was once the fullest head of auburn hair in his family. Neither tattoos nor piercings graced his body, a clean slate of age and misfortune. His lowly pigmented hands were folded together, eyes searching for anything but the special agents taking their places across from him like the typical TV crime case it had become.
Marina stood with folded arms at the end of the metal table, voice calm and collected beyond belief. “Mr. Hunter, I’m Supervisory Special Agent Marina Phillips, this is my associate Special Agent Vance Deveraux. We’d like to ask you a few questions.”
Neil remained quiet, eyes on the handcuffs that bound him to the table. The ones that bound him to his grief.
“We can’t help you if you won’t let us,” Vance said, an arm resting on the metal surface as he studied Hunter.
Phillips pulled a school photo of a redhead little girl from her file, sliding it across the table to Hunter. She stayed silent for a moment, watching his body language for any indication of familiarity. “Do you recognize this girl?”
Again, there was no answer.
“Emily Morrison, missing at age 12.” Marina removed a second photo, a close up shot of red hair found in Hunter’s basement. “Emily Morrison’s hair, found in your basement, matched it.”
Vance kept quiet, aware that the call hadn’t come in yet confirming that the hair was Emily’s or not. He knew Phillips’ tactics, ones he’d seen used countless times.
Phillips tried again, her tone unwavering. “Eliza said you told her a story about the girl before her, a girl named Emily, who tried to run away from you. She told us that you killed her. Is the Emily you used against Eliza the same girl in this photograph?”
Neil Hunter’s brown eyes slowly rose to Marina, leaving the glassy ones of Emily’s photograph. A bruise seemed to be painted across his left eye, swollen and puffing with showing signs of large knuckles from none other than an inmate.
“Well?” Phillips questioned with an undertone that could scare a grown man.
Hunter simply held up his hand, fingers spread. He pled the 5th, and that was it.