Everyone around her jumped, as Lauren’s fist met its target. Again and again she threw all of her weight into her punches. For a solid ten minutes, she pounded the target of her frustrations. Once she was satisfied, and with sweat dripping off her forehead, she stopped and reached for her towel.
“God, you don’t go easy on yourself do you, girl?” Daniel, her personal trainer, asked, impressed how energetic she could be, given the ungodly hour of the morning.
“What’s the point in a morning workout, if you’re easy on yourself?” She shrugged, panting, wiping her face and neck with the towel. She lightly stepped round the punching bag, still slightly swaying from the force she exerted on it, and walked briskly to the showers.
She let her body relax, as the hot steaming jets flooded over her.
Her day was long and vigorous.
She was up from four, and out the house between the hours of five in the morning and seven in the evening, and that was providing she wasn’t pulling an all-night-er or on a stakeout.
Her morning and evening workouts were the only way she could burn off the stress of her case load, and settle her body after practically main lining caffeine day after day.
Despite the fact that they very rarely even had time to stop when they had anactive case, her Captain always made sure she sat down for a proper lunch. When they didn’t have a case, he’d take her himself.
She was convinced that if she didn’t work out the way she did, she’d be four hundred pound within a month. Thankfully, however, her perfectly formed, constant one-hundred-and-twenty-six pound, five foot seven figure showed no signs of letting the job get to it. In fact, as Liam kept pointing out to her, she hadn’t gained a single pound since college.
She tore herself away from the warmth of her shower and wrapped herself neatly in her towel.
She dressed quickly, while she let her mind ponder the day ahead.
She had a case meeting with said Captain at seven, to see what, if anything, had happened in the night. Dispatch would call the team in current rotation, but that hadn’t been her team last night.
Her phone rang just as she was throwing her gym clothes into the back of her metallic black 2014 Toyota Camry.
“Lauren speaking.” She answered sharply, her cell tucked between her shoulder and her ear as she shut the back door and made her way to the driver’s side.
“Most people answer the phone with ‘Hello’.” Liam laughed, exhausted but awake enough. His day was just starting.
“Well, I’m not most people, and this is my personal mobile. What do you want Liam, I’m busy?” She replied, slotting her keys into the ignition, before sitting back in her seat and taking a hold of her phone again.
“Only my baby sister could be busy at six in the morning.” He chuckled. “I just wanted to check that you were still coming to Emma’s birthday party tomorrow-?”
“Of course I am. I wouldn’t miss it.” Lauren checked her watch. “Was that it, only I really am busy?”
“That was it. Have a nice day.”
Lauren sighed; the thought of a ‘nice day’ was lovely but usually unachievable. “Thanks, you too.”
Liam reiterated her sigh, a full day in court was rarely considered ‘nice’.
“See you soon. Bye.” She rang off before her brother could draw breath.
He had a habit of talking more than was healthy when she was in a rush.
Lauren shook her head as she pondered how stupid her brother’s question was. Of course she was going to be at her only niece’s sixth birthday party. What possible reason could she have to miss it? It wasn’t like there was a significant other on the scene, and she had already booked tomorrow off.
Admittedly, if they caught a case, that would impede on her day, but Emma’s birthday was Lauren’s first priority; she’d brought the gift already.
A fifteen minute drive later and Lauren arrived at work.
She walked swiftly through the lobby, ignoring everything around her and headed directly to the Homicide floorsquad room.
Coffee, her first priority.
She put her badge and gun in her drawer, before throwing her jacket and bag on her seat, and making her way to the break room for the coffee maker.
She inhaled the deep aroma, trying to wake her mind up.
The room was quickly filling up, no one even remotely surprised, not any more, that the only person that ever beat the detective to work was their Captain.
Once she had blinked the last residue of sleep from her eyes, she made her way over to the office at the end of the corridor for her morning meeting.
“Come in, Detective.” The voice from within answered after her signature double knock. She opened the door and raised her eyebrows quickly in greeting, as she took a deep swig of the steaming liquid in her mug, the only thing standing between her wakefulness and her drifting off in this meeting. “How are you?” He asked, his hand indicating that she should sit.
“Not bad, Sir.” She assured him, taking the proffered seat. “Something tells me my day is going to tumble from here though.”
Captain Oliver Hale leaned back in his seat and ran an aged hand through his salt and pepper hair.
“Not good, Sir?” She asked quietly, noticing the soft grief in his eyes.
“Early yesterday morning, Isabelle Mackintosh was abducted from her bed. There were no signs of forced entry to the home, or her bedroom. Nothing was misplaced or stolen. The only thing amiss was Isabelle’s absence.”
Lauren sighed. “Is it possible she just ran away?”
Hale shook his head. “Highly unlikely. She’s six.”
The bottom dropped out of Lauren’s stomach as she sat back in the chair with a thud. She turned her face to the ceiling as she shook her head.
“She was reported missing at three fifteen yesterday morning.”
Lauren looked at her watch, running the other hand through her hair nervously.
“Sir, she’s already been missing for just shy of twenty eight hours, if missing children aren’t found in the first three to four hours…” She trailed off, unable to say it, knowing full well she didn’t have to. Hale had been in the force for almost as long as she’d been alive.
“I know.” He paused and took a breath before considering her with kind eyes. “Detective, you work in Homicide.” He murmured patiently. It took a moment for her tired overworked brain to obtain the significance.
“Too late, huh?”
Hale nodded solemnly while she sighed.
“Where was she found?”
“At a play-park five, minutes from her house, by her mother. We just got the call.” Lauren closed her eyes in horror, her heart going out to that poor woman.
“Take Phillips, get Dr Lennox, go get her and find the bastard who did this.”
Lauren nodded as she rose from her chair. Her hand was on the handle before she spoke again. “How’s Sam?”
She couldn’t face him when she asked. She knew better than to bring it up really, but he visited more often than her and she found herself unable to stop the question today.
“No change.” Hale replied softly, gently.
“Good luck, Ryder.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
Lauren stepped out of the car and tightened her coat around herself, the weather still unseasonably cold.
Dr Lennox, the assistant chief medical examiner, was quick to join her, along with her partner, Detective Phillips.
“Ready?” Phillips asked quietly, as he laid a grounding hand on Lauren’s shoulder, waiting for her nod before they all fell into step.
Once they had identified themselves to the uniforms guarding the scene, the three of them ducked under the crime scene tape, both detectives trying to ignore the distraught screams from the parked marked squad car where someone was comforting Mrs Mackintosh, the poor victim’s mother, while Dr Lennox went straight to the body.
“Single gunshot to the back of the skull, severed the brain steam. She would have died instantly, wouldn’t have suffered, if that’s any comfort at all.” Lennox turned towards his grave faced colleagues. “I don’t suppose it is though.”
Lauren shook her head in disbelief. “What kind of sick person takes a baby from her bed, holds her for twenty four hours, murders her in cold blood, and then poses her corpse on a kiddies’ roundabout?”
“This one.” The medical examiner murmured.
They all took a moment to compose themselves, to get back the emotional distance they all had to maintain to keep themselves sane on the job, before getting to the job in hand.
While Dr Lennox took Isabelle back to the morgue, all gentle hands and heavy heart, Lauren and Phillips went to speak to her distraught mother.
Lauren crouched beside the back seat of the uniform’s car, where the devastated mother sat, head in hands.
“Mrs Mackintosh, my name is Detective Lauren Ryder.” She started, her voice low and gentle, but never patronising. “This,” she motioned at Phillips, who was leaning against the passenger door opposite her, “is my partner Detective Steven Phillips. We will be investigating your daughter’s case, are you okay to speak to us?”
Mrs Mackintosh nodded. “Angela, please.” She choked.
Lauren nodded. “Okay, Angela,” she smiled sadly, “can you walk us through what happened, in your own words?”
Angela sniffed as she nodded, before taking a deep breath.
Lauren let her gaze flit from Phillips to Angela, noting that the former had his note book ready to record the latter’s version of events.
“I,” she stuttered, paused, caught her breath, “I woke up around three, maybe five minutes to three. Not long before, Bethany, my youngest, she’d woken up for her bottle.” She took Lauren’s eye, searching for reassurance, something she apparently found enough of to continue. “I fed her and put her back down. I was just going to go back to bed. I never usually check on Izzy, she’s a good sleeper, always has been. I don’t know why I did, but I just popped my head around the door. Something in me wanted to see her, y’know? Mother’s instinct, I guess.”
Lauren nodded, catching Phillips’ eye quickly. He nodded once, assuring her that he was getting this all down.
“Her, her bed was…empty.” Angela dissolved into tears and screamed sobs.
Lauren closed her eyes and swallowed the lump in her throat quietly; she really hated child killers.
“It’s okay Angela, no need to apologise, we can take as long as you need.” The detective reassured her kindly. “What happened next? What happened after you discovered she was missing?”
Angela was hiccuping through her tears. She took a deep breath and her voice took on an air of the robotic, Lauren understood the detachment.
“I thought she might have fallen out of bed, it wouldn’t be the first time; she’s a fidget.” Her laugh was hollow and humourless. “I checked the other side of her bed, under her bed, her wardrobe, I couldn’t find her. I checked the bathroom, and then I checked our room, to see if she’d got in with us, y’know? She’s still only a baby, we don’t mind really. She wasn’t there. My heart dropped and I woke my husband. I told him that Izzy was missing and he told me to calm down… ‘She has to be somewhere’ he said.”
She stared into the middle distance as she became serenely calm. “We searched the whole house but we couldn’t find her. Mike phoned the police while I went outside to see if I could find her. The police arrived soon after and took our statement. I couldn’t sleep. We kept calling everyone we knew, anyone that might have seen her. She’s our baby, Detective.”
Angela gulped and shook her head. “I came out this morning just to see if she was here, y’know? In case, I don’t know, in case we missed her the first time. I…I came down the road…she always liked the park, and then, I, I saw her…” Tears streamed down her face silently for a moment before she snapped her gaze to Lauren’s. “Find the monster that did this to my daughter, Detective. Please. Let us bury her knowing the bastard who did this is serving time for taking our angel.”
Lauren nodded and gently squeezed the woman’s knee. “We will do everything in our power to find them, Angela.” She smiled gently. “Where’s your husband?”
“He’s at home, he couldn’t just sit here any more. He’s got Bethany.”
Lauren nodded before turning to face Phillips. They had a silent conversation, wherein they established that they were both satisfied for now with the information provided.
“Okay, Angela, thank you.” Lauren removed her card from her jacket pocket. “Here’s my number, you can call me if you think of anything else, or if you have a problem, okay? We’re going to go talk to your husband. We’ll be in touch.” She smiled gently before standing and straightening her shirt. She motioned at Phillips, who said his goodbyes and gave his sympathies before they both fell into step towards the Mackintosh house.
“Ruled her out?” He asked in a low voice, a slight knowing undertone to his words.
“It seemed to be genuine emotion Steve; she struck me as the distraught mother. I’ve basically ruled her out, as far as I can without corroborating evidence from the husband. You haven’t?” She asked, surprised.
Phillips bobbed his head. “Yeah, I have too. I’m also, probably prematurely, thinking that the father wasn’t involved either.” He continued.
Lauren nodded slowly. “‘There were no signs of forced entry and nothing was misplaced or stolen. The only thing missing was Isabelle.’ That’s the how Hale introduced me into this case. If it wasn’t either of her parents, it was either someone she knew or someone that’s very skilled.”
“The latter scares me more than the former.” Phillips murmured.
Lauren shuddered and pulled her coat closer around herself. “Yeah, me too.”
After speaking to Mike Mackintosh, and both agreeing that it seemed likely that neither parent was involved, but obviously keeping them in the back of their minds, both detectives made their way over to the Morgue.
“Hi guys.” The doctor greeted them, removing his face shield and turning to face them. “The head shot was indeed the cause of death, forty five, severed the brain stem; killed her instantly. She died approximately four hours ago. He kept her alive for the missing twenty four hours.”
Lauren sighed. “Okay, so we’re looking for someone trained right, a professional?”
Lennox nodded slowly, regretfully.
Lennox turned back to the body on his table. “It gets worse.” He warned them gravely.
Phillips gulped. “Oh jeeze, man. She’s six, would have been seven in November. How much worse can this case possibly get?”
Lennox turned to them both with sad eyes. “She was raped…post-mortem. The perpetrator wore a condom, no DNA evidence.”
Both detectives paled exponentially.
“Oh god.” Phillips whispered, clamping his hand over his mouth in an attempt to not be violently ill at the thought. “A lot worse then, huh?”
The doctor shook his head. “There’s more.”
“Aw hell, what?” Lauren almost didn’t want to ask.
Lennox lifted the sheet covering the little girl’s torso, folding it in line with her hips.
“Tell me that isn’t what I think it is. Please.” Lauren begged, turning away from the sight as quickly as she could.
“He carved stuff into her?” Phillips was now really struggling to keep his breakfast down.
“It’s worse than that Steve.” Lauren murmured, fighting much the same fight as her colleague. “He carved ‘Prima Hostia’ into her.”
“And that is, what?” Phillips looked between his colleagues and the tiny child on the slab before him.
“Latin.” His colleague paused, trying to find the courage to say the next bit. “For ‘first victim’.” Lauren shook her head, battling tears and the bile creeping up her throat. “I’m gonna brief Hale.” She all but croaked, practically running from the room.
Captain Hale exhaled deeply and fell into the backrest of his chair with a soft thud. Lauren had just finished telling him what they had found, and was now sitting silently in the chair opposite him, pale and unable to maintain eye contact. He ran a hand down his face before looking across to her.
“Ryder, if this is too much because of the familial resemblance…”
“Sir?” She questioned as she looked up sharply, not expecting that as his reaction.
Hale sighed. “Your niece, she’s about the same age as the victim, isn’t she? If this is too close to home…”
“No, Sir. This case will affect me professionally, it will affect everyone professionally Sir, I would personally be more worried if it didn’t, but neither my personal feelings, nor my niece’s age, will affect my judgement on this case. I will maintain a level and clear head.”
Hale nodded, he knew it wouldn’t be a problem- only very occasionally did she get personally involved in a case- but it was still reassuring to hear it once in a while.
“Okay. At this point in time, do we have any leads?”
Lauren shook her head, eyes downcast. “Neither parent struck me, or Phillips, as suspect, and Lennox has found exactly no physical evidence to point in a particular direction. Either to our killer or where he was holding her prior to killing her.”
Hale sighed before answering his ringing desk phone.
“Hale.” He listened to the information he was being given before sighing and pinching the bridge of his nose.
Lauren’s heart started sinking, ‘bad news’ was written all over his face.
“Not good news, I guess?”
Hale shook his head. “They just found Marie King, abducted twenty five hours ago.” Lauren had already started to collect her things. “They found her, on a swing in the play park, no more than ten minutes from her home.”
Hale nodded. “Be careful with this one, Ryder. I don’t like it.”
Lauren smiled sadly. “Dislike noted, Sir.”
She left the office and met Phillips in the garage. The two of them were thrumming with nervous tension. They had a serial killer who liked kids, and this was only just beginning.