Chapter 2:

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 75

6 Years Later:

 

Amanda Cooper sat at her kitchen table eating an early morning breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast. It was the final stage of her morning routine that included taking a shower, getting ready for work and all of the normal things that came with that.

 

But because it was this time of the year again, she also spent a lot of the morning staring at the letter holder on the counter. This letter holder in particular only held one piece of paper; a letter that was written to her from her father just before he died. She didn’t even have to read it to remember what it said anymore. So many times had she looked at it that she could now recite it from memory:

 

‘Miss Cooper,

 

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the team as the newest detective in the Homicide division. You have reached this position in your career through sheer hard work and dealing with new challenges. You have achieved the pinnacle of success due to your determination and vision. You are a real idol to young women who want to have an illustrious career. And I’m sure if you apply yourself, you can make it even further in the Houston Police Department.

 

Sincerely,

Capt. Charles Cooper’

 

It was a very professionally written letter congratulating Amanda on her new job promotion. Very political. Very impersonal. You wouldn’t even know that they were related by looking at the way this note was constructed. No where did it say ‘I’m proud of you, honey’ or anything like that.

 

Was he even proud of me? Did he know who it was that he was talking to? She wondered to herself.

 

The more she thought about it over the years, the more she came to the conclusion that he probably delegated this job to his secretary, who most likely just had a ‘Welcome to the department’ letter on file. All she would have to do was put Amanda’s name in the greeting and send it to her boss to sign it.

 

After six years she wondered why she even kept the letter around. But every time she thought about throwing it away, she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. Maybe it was guilt. After all, this was the last communication she had with her father before he died, even if the relationship between the two of them had been non-existent.  Maybe it was a weird way of motivating herself to be a better detective. It was something for the shrinks to figure out, she decided. If she ever decided to see one.

 

The ringing of her cell phone brought her back to reality. It was probably work calling letting her know there was a case.

 

“Hey, Cooper. We have a DB on the west side of town off of Highway 6 by Buffalo Bayou and we need you over there. You know where that is right?” said Lieutenant Anders on the other end of the line.

 

“I’m on my way, I know where it is.” she said, hanging up before giving her boss a chance to add anything else.

 

The drive took a little while for her because she lived on the other side of Houston. She forced herself to appreciate the peace and quiet of the extended car ride because she knew as soon as she got out of her car it might be awhile before she got to experience it again. She arrived on the scene eventually. Driving down Highway 6 until it intersected with Buffalo Bayou on the west side and then it was just a matter of following the police lights until she found an area by the bayou that had been roped off with crime scene tape.

 

“It took you long enough, Goody.” Detective Green said to Cooper as soon as she arrived. “Did you have to stop and rescue a cat along the way?”

 

‘Goody’ was a name that her colleagues in the homicide department had given her after her first year. Short for ‘Goody Two-Shoes’, she had earned the nickname because of how much she went out of her way to help others. It was a nickname she was honored to have, except for when people like Detective Green tried to use it as a way to cut her down.

 

“No, it took the normal amount of time. I’m sorry, Green, you have to give me an extra half an hour because I’m not joined at the hip with the Lieutenant like you are.” Cooper shot back.

 

Detective Green visibly cringed as the words hit home. Green was the type of person that liked to suck up to his boss because he knew it would be better for his career. He could be sarcastic and insulting when it was just his coworkers around, but as soon as the boss showed up he put on the political mask and was on his best behavior.

 

“What do we have here?” Cooper asked, changing the subject. Fortunately for her, Green knew when to cut the sarcasm and do his job. He wouldn’t risk messing up and jeopardizing a case.

 

“We have a guy that has been dumped in the bayou. No sign of what killed him just looking at the body, so we’ll have to get the medical examiner to look him over. But that’s not the weirdest part.”

 

“What?”

 

“After he was murdered, the killer cut off his fingertips.” Green mentioned.

 

“That’s not too out there. Some killers do it because it makes it harder to identify the body if--” Cooper was cut short.

 

“-and his head was cut off as well.” Green added.

 

“His head? Really?”

 

“Yeah, Marie Antoinette style and everything.” Green took this opportunity to show Cooper the dead body of the victim.

 

It was exactly how he described it. The fingers and head were cut off post-mortem. She could tell when the limbs were removed because of the way the wound looked. After six years of seeing dead bodies, she knew the difference between a wound that was created before death verses one made afterwards and so did Green. But when she moved in closer, she could see the tool marks that were made in the bone when he tried to cut through the spine.

 

“Marie Antoinette was guillotined, but this guy was cut up with a hand saw it looks like.” Cooper pointed out.

 

“Ok, show off. You know what I meant.”

 

They both agreed to take a look around the scene a little more until the medical examiner showed up. So Cooper started walking in somewhat of a zig zag pattern away from the body to see if there was any evidence of what happened to this headless body.

 

Why was it headless in the first place? She wondered.  The fingerprints made sense if the killer wanted to keep the identity of the body a secret. Cutting off the head though? It’s not that easy to identify a ‘John Doe’ from just his face. DNA or fingerprints are far more conclusive.  

 

Usually when a detective like Cooper couldn’t figure out who the victim was they turned to far more alternative methods of identification. Dental records were of course out of the question, but if the victim has had any other surgeries, some implants now contained serial numbers that were traceable. If he had any distinguishing marks on his body, it would be easier for a close friend of family member to identify him.

 

Fortunately for Cooper, the victim had been dressed in a nice dress shirt and slacks with an expensive pair of loafers. The nice clothes meant it was a lot more likely someone would be missing him and there are only so many reasonably wealthy missing males in the city of Houston.

 

Cooper tried to think for a minute what the motive might have been for this crime. Usually something as cold and calculated as cutting the limbs off of someone pointed towards organized crime or maybe even a serial killer. It didn’t seem like someone dressed up this nice would ever have to deal with anyone in a gang. Unless the victim was a part of the gang; maybe he was one of the leaders. She could probably contact the gang unit to see if there had been any news about someone disappearing after last night.

 

Of course, take away the chopped off head and fingers and Cooper could imagine that this was a case of a crooked businessman that finally got what was coming to him. Rich people tend to draw the scorn of the people they take advantage of. But would they go as far as to cut off their fingers and head? It didn’t seem that likely. Then again, it was still possible. All of these scenarios were in the realm of possibility.

 

All of this conjecture reminded Cooper of something the Lieutenant always said: there was no point in making assumptions without evidence. Any of these scenarios could be true, or it could be something else entirely. Starting an investigation with an idea in mind about what happened will only make a detective try to fit the evidence around the idea. Cooper forced herself to clear her mind and concentrate on looking for hard facts.

 

As she started to run up against the side of the highway, she noticed something that she almost missed: a disturbance in the dirt and tire tread marks. It wasn’t unusual to see those on the side of the road, but the marks on the road were headed in the same direction of traffic. This meant that they weren’t made from someone skidding off the road trying to avoid a collision, but rather they were made by someone accelerating very fast to get onto the highway from the side of the road.

 

“Green? I might have something here.” Cooper yelled at her colleague.

 

“Oh yeah?” he quickly trotted over to where she was. “Tire marks?”

 

“Yeah, I mean it might be just a coincidence but from the impression made in the dirt this probably happened within the last few days. The person that made this mark could be our guy dropping off the body.”

 

“Ok. I can get a few photos of it and a mold to send to the forensics people. That’s probably all we’re going to get from this crime scene.” Green said. “We basically just have tread marks and a whole lot of nothing.”

 

“Well, you know how these things go when we can’t ID the body. We can take a closer look at his outfit, maybe we get lucky and get a lead that tells us who the guy is and we go from there. Or maybe the ME will give us something, who knows?” Cooper said.

 

“We’re counting a lot on luck.” Green said with a tinge of sadness in his voice.

 

“It’s the job. We just keep poking sticks at things until we get a bite.” She said, trying to be funny. He wasn’t laughing.

 

The medical examiner eventually arrived and that meant they could head back to the station. But she left the scene of the crime not really feeling any better about catching the guy. All she could do was hand off the mold of the tire treads to the lab guys and go back to her desk hoping that they were able to turn that into a lead. Meanwhile she had a few hours to fill out all the paperwork she had let pile up the last couple of days.

 

Cooper was used to paperwork back from when she was just a patrol officer. She had to fill out documents for every call she went out on. It was easy to do but exhausting because there was so much of it. I guess she hoped that as soon as she made detective the paperwork wouldn’t be as bad, but she was wrong about that. With every case a detective was involved in they needed to write detailed reports on what happened, what evidence they collected and who they talked to.

 

A lot of police officers complained about paperwork. Cooper knew why it was necessary that all the details of a case were filed away. It made it much easier for someone new to the case to just look at the file and it would be just like they had been there when everything happened. Still, sometimes she wished she could just do her job without all of the red tape holding her back.

 

“Hey, Goody. You have a customer.” said Green from his desk.

 

The open area that contained the desks of all of the detectives in the homicide department was walled off on one side with a bullet proof glass doorway that led out into the hall that also doubled as a waiting area. Sometimes civilians would come directly to the station for various reasons and when they weren’t with a police officer they had to wait in that area for security reasons.

 

Cooper didn’t know what Green was talking about at first, but then when she looked up she saw a little girl sitting in one of the seats in that hallway. She couldn’t have been older than twelve and it looked like she was crying into her hands. Cooper glanced at the clock and saw that it was a little past four in the afternoon. School had been out for not even an hour.

 

“What’s your name?” Cooper asked in that over-enthusiastic voice that adults use when they address kids.

 

“Ash-ley” she said, taking a sharp breath in the middle of her name.

 

It was very unusual for a little girl to be left unattended at this time of day. Cooper’s initial assumption was that she had gotten lost somehow and someone directed her to the police station, knowing they would help. That’s probably what Detective Green thought when he told Cooper about the little girl in the hallway. Cooper was far better than Green at handling these kinds of things.

 

“That’s a pretty name, Ashley. My name is Detective Cooper. Are you lost?”

 

“No.”

 

“How did you get here?”

 

“Bus.” was all Ashley could get out between bouts of tears.

 

“It’s dangerous to be in the city by yourself, you know.” Cooper began to say. But then she realized that Ashley was crying for some reason, and it wasn’t because she was lost. This was the homicide department after all. “Sweety, can you tell me why you are here then?”

 

“I think something happened to my brother.”

 

This is serious, thought Cooper before telling Ashley, “We should talk somewhere more private.”

 

They both walked toward a nearby conference room that wasn’t being used. Cooper got Ashley settled in and asked if she wanted a drink or a snack from the vending machines; she told the detective that she would like chips and a coke. Cooper got the food and drinks and on her way back picked up her notepad, a pen, and a box of tissues from her desk.

 

“Ok, Ashley, everything is going to be okay. Just tell me what happened.” Cooper said when she sat down. The comforting manner in which the detective spoke seemed to calm Ashley down. After wiping the tears off her face with a few tissues, she looked up and went into her story.

 

“Last night we were getting ready for bed. My brother’s room is next to mine so I can sometimes hear what he is doing. And sometime in the middle of the night I heard his window open. I didn’t think much of it until I woke up the next morning and...” she had been able to speak normally up that point, but she suddenly couldn’t control herself and started crying again,” …he was gone!”

 

Cooper had interviewed emotional witnesses before. It happened all the time in the homicide department, and she knew what to do to both comfort the person she was interviewing as well as get important details. The first step was to get a generalized description of what happened from their point of view. Some people couldn’t handle reliving a traumatic event and they might break down during the questioning. That’s when she would start asking for specific details to take their mind off of what just happened.

 

“Can you tell me about your brother? His name? How old is he and all that?”

 

“His name is David Romero, and he’s 16.” the little girl replied. Cooper paused for a second. Romero was an ethnic last name, and Ashley didn’t look even a little Hispanic.

 

“Is he your step-brother then?” Cooper wondered.

 

“We’re both foster kids.” she explained.

 

They went through a lot of other details. She found out what her last name was, where they lived, who their foster parents were and what they did for a living. Then she asked about who their friends were, where they went to school and where they liked to hang out. Cooper knew that with kidnapping cases like these it was usually someone that was close, either a friend or a family member, that was responsible.

 

“You said you heard a window open. Did you hear a noise? Maybe footsteps or some kind of struggle?”

 

“Maybe. I was still half asleep. I didn’t really think much of the noise at the time.” She recalled. And then she started to tear up again when she realized that she missed an opportunity to perhaps end this before it even started. “If I had checked in on him when I heard the noise, maybe I could’ve done something-“

 

“Don’t blame yourself. It’s not your fault. You’ve done everything you could, even coming all the way up here to report this. If we find him it will be because of your determination.” Cooper reassured her. This little girl had come all the way to downtown by herself to report the kidnapping. Come to think of it, that was kind of odd. So she asked a follow up question to satisfy her curiosity. “Is there a reason why your parents didn’t come up here to report this with you?”

 

“They think he ran away like he usually does.”

 

“He’s run away before?” Cooper asked in disbelief.

 

“Yeah, he doesn’t get a long with his foster dad. So he’ll leave without telling them. He’ll be gone for a few days but he always comes back.”

 

“Do you know where he goes?”

 

“To a friend’s house usually. I know all of the places he usually goes.”

 

“Is it possible he’s at one of those places right now?”

 

“He wouldn’t. He’s never run away without telling me before.” Ashley was certain he wasn’t with one of his friends, but she still gave Cooper names and as much information about these locations that she knew.

 

“I think that’s enough information to open a case file. Unless you have anything else to add?” Cooper said as she closed her notepad, placed the pen through the spiral on the side and then placed both items in her pocket as she stood up.

 

“No. I can’t think of anything.” she replied. Cooper led her to the door, but before they left Ashley turned back around and added. “So, do you think you can find him?”

 

Cooper realized she had a hard decision to make. The proper protocol when someone reported a crime was to first gather details and put them into a report so that a case could be opened. She certainly had enough details. She had a statement from a witness detailing what had taken place from her perspective. She also had the pertinent information about the victim and the people involved in the case. She even had a few leads to start off the search for the girl’s foster brother.

 

All new cases would go to the Lieutenant for review and he would assign a detective to go check it out. Cooper wouldn’t get assigned to the case because she was already on a case, and she was a six year veteran in the department. They would give such a simple case to someone with less seniority. Their first move would be to talk with the foster dad. He would explain to them that he had run away many times before and always came back.

 

Then they would look at all of the information objectively and realize that the little girl who helped file the report had only claimed to have heard a window open. No struggle. No shouting for help. With no other solid leads they would have no choice but to leave the case unsolved. So if Cooper opened an official case file, in all likelihood she was closing the door on David Romero ever being found.

 

“Ashley…” Cooper began to say. “You really think something might have happened? There’s no other reasonable explanation?”

 

“I’m really worried that someone took him and he’ll never come back. I might never see him again.”

 

Cooper could’ve just lied and said everything would be okay. The girl would’ve gone back to her foster parents thinking that something was being done about it.  That’s what other officers would have done; just pass the baton to someone else and know that their ass was covered. Maybe she would luck out and he would come back on his own without any help from the police. It was possible the whole thing was a big misunderstanding and her brother wasn’t really lost. After all, everything about her story suggested that he had just runaway once again.

 

She could believe what the circumstances were telling her. That there wasn’t anything odd about this situation to warrant anything other than routine follow-up questions. Or she could believe the little girl’s tear-filled cries for help. Ashley had taken a bus all the way to downtown so that she could report what she thought was the kidnapping of her foster brother. Was there really any other choice?

 

“Ok then. I’ll help you find him.” Cooper told her. “I promise I’ll do whatever I can to bring him back home safely.”


Submitted: June 04, 2013

© Copyright 2020 agentkirb. All rights reserved.

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