The music was loud; blaring. She turned the knob clockwise. The dash thumped with the steady drum beat flowing under the voices of Krewella. The car sped down the long forest-lined highway. It was a temporary escape from the rest of the word; the office, her life, even her boss, Matthews. Here she barely penetrated her thoughts for more than a few fleeting seconds. Lanie glanced in her rear view mirror at the empty road behind her. The sun was rising over the hills. Soon, the morning traffic would crowd her from her sanctuary. She turned her car haphazardly in a wide u-turn, and headed back to her apartment for a few hours of sleep before going back to work. Cases came and went. She had put more to rest than most in her district. She was used to the nightmares she sometimes got after a particularly gruesome case, but nothing like this. Was it burn out? Had she finally reached that point they all flirted with after a week of heavy overtime, and another unsolved case? Somewhere there was a family who desperately needed closure, but none was to be offered from the state crime labs. She felt the familiar pang of guilt that always came when she couldn’t pin down the bad guy. There was that feeling that the answer was right in front of her, but she was blinded to it. For Lanie Sanders every case was personal. If it was unsolved, she had failed. The bad guy got away, and she had let him.
Lanie felt her phone vibrating in her coat pocket. She turned the music down quickly.
“Lanie?” Alicia Matthews was relieved to finally reach her.
“Hey. What’s up?” Lanie detected a bit of a frantic tone to her voice.
“I’ve been trying to reach you for over two hours. Where are you?”
“I must’ve been out of range. I sometimes lose the signal out here.”
“Out here?” Her tone was now one of irritation.
“I’m on my way home, Matthews. Something up?” Lanie could tell she was perturbed, but this was Lanie’s free time. It was none of Alicia’s business where she was, or what she was doing.
“I need you back at the office right away. We have a new suspect. I could really use your help.”
Lanie smiled despite herself. A break always lightened her mood.
“I’m on my way.” She shoved her phone back on the dash, and cranked up the music.
. . .
Lanie strode through the halls of the Columbus police department’s crime labs in search of Allie Matthews. After first stopping at trace, and then Mathews’ office, she finally found her pouring over photos on the labs huge light table. If not for the serious circumstances, she might have enjoyed the view. Her glasses were halfway down the bridge of her nose, as she gingerly worked her hand through her thick, dark hair. Lanie liked this latest cut. She was glad she had kept it.
Lanie gently knocked on the door frame as she entered. She motioned for her to come closer, and handed her the magnifier.
“Look here. What do you see?”
Lanie studied the photo from the crime scene.
“How’d we miss that?” She was stunned. She frowned in dismay.
“Fresh eyes. We’d been at it for hours.” Matthews tilted her head to the side, and looked up at her.
The photo showed the figure of their Jane Doe stretched out across the hood of a car on the edge of the highway. The plates, and VIN number were both missing, and they had been searching for the murder weapon the previous shift. The photo clearly showed that her antenna was missing.
“Could’ve been the murder weapon.” Lanie nodded to Matthews who was looking pleased.
“We need to find an antenna for a 2002 Grand Am.” Matthews stood, and turned to face her. “Doesn’t Pruitt drive a Pontiac?” Matthews sported a mischievous grin.
Lanie smiled, nodded, and followed Allie out the door. Bill Pruitt was the resident grumpy know-everything, hate-everyone lab tech. An opportunity to rile him up on the clock was eagerly accepted.
. . .
“It’s the right diameter.” The county coroner, Dr. Hawkins rolled the woman’s body over on her side, as the two criminalists, examined the body.
“So, he stabbed her twice with her antenna.” Lanie spoke softly, and looked up at the monitor. “That explains the small puncture wounds, but we still haven’t found the murder weapon.” She looked over at the table once more. Jane Doe stared into eternity with a perfect clarity that Lanie felt suddenly envious of.
“Lanie?” Matthews waved a hand in front of Lanie’s face, bringing her back from her ruminations. “Did you get that?” Matthews leveled a stare at her with concern. Lanie had been gazing at the dead girl for several quiet moments. It was unsettling for Matthews.
“Yeah. Sure, why?” She shook it off, and glanced up at her. She looked worried.
“Let’s get going then. Thanks, Doc.” Matthews smiled as they walked out, but grabbed Lanie’s arm gently as they exited the morgue. “Are you ok?”
“I’m fine. Just a little tired.” She yawned as if to show how tired she truly was.
“Breakfast?” She looked at her hopefully.
“My turn to treat.” Matthews’ broad smile returned, and Lanie couldn’t help but smile in return.
They grabbed their coats, and headed for Matthews’ car. It had been several weeks since Lanie spoke with Matthews regarding her leave of absence. Several weeks since Allie held onto her as she cried on her shoulder. She proved to be more than willing to listen to her, and comfort her when she truly needed her. To the rest of the world they were simply colleagues. To each other, however, so much more was true. Still, there was so much Lanie had yet to tell her about herself. Certain things she simply couldn’t talk about yet.
“Lanie? You still with me?” Matthews glanced over at her as she pulled into the Waffle House’s parking lot. Lanie seemed distant today.
“Sorry. Guess I need some coffee.” She grinned sheepishly, and shrugged.
Matthews didn’t quite believe her, but decided to let it be for now.
“Let’s get some food, and then go over that evidence again before Pruitt sees his car.” This evoked a rolling laughter from them both.
Back at the office:
Pruitt’s lower lip couldn’t have hung lower if they’d placed a lead weight over it. He stared dejectedly down at the shiny antenna in his gloved hands.
Chris gave him a sympathetic grin, and shrugged it off.
“It should snap right back in place, Man. No harm done.” He grabbed the print off of Pruitt’s desk, and followed after Jake leaving Pruitt making small whimpering sounds.
. . .
Matthews dunked her tea bag a few last times before setting it aside to enjoy the hot liquid. She breathed in the fresh aroma before taking a cautious sip. Lanie watched her actions. Matthews’ every move seemed to intrigue her, and calm her ragged nerves. She loved that she could study her leisurely without the fear of being caught. Matthews looked up. Lanie grinned, and sipped her coffee. The crowded restaurant bustled around them, oblivious to the two silent patrons. Matthews squinted her eyes at Lanie, as if something of interest had suddenly come to her.
“What?” Lanie set down her mug.
“Where were you this morning when I called?” Her curiosity needed to be quenched.
“I was driving out towards Hocking Hills.” Lanie looked into her coffee mug, and shrugged her shoulders. “It helps me relax. I turn up the music as loud as it’ll go, and drive fast.”
“Hmm.” Matthews seemed satisfied by this answer. She leaned back in the booth. “Any thoughts on our missing murder weapon?”
Ah! Back to reality, and work.
“Several, but I’m more interested in finding the primary crime scene. She bled out. There was blood all over the inside of the car, but not nearly enough.” She took another long sip of coffee.
The victim in question had been found sprawled across a car hood with multiple post-mortem puncture wounds. There were gashes across her chest where someone has sliced her horizontally with a sharp, thin object; likely a knife, but none were found at the crime scene. Also, the lack of blood at the scene pointed to this as the secondary scene.
“No word yet from Pam on our prints. She’s still a Jane Doe.” Matthews watched as Lanie stiffened at the words. It was one thing not to find the murderer, but not being able to get the victim home to their family was something that Lanie couldn’t stomach. She set down her mug, pushed it forward, and grabbed the check.
“I’m getting this one. You get dinner.” She made her way to the counter, not waiting for Matthews to follow. She felt the sudden need to be on the case, and not just talking about it.
Lanie walked quickly towards the trace lab, Matthews fast on her heels. Allie was growing more concerned. Neither had really slept since the previous shift. Despite her own need to find closure for this case, she was feeling the effects of sleep deprivation. Lanie wasn’t telling her what was eating away at her either. It was upsetting for Allie, considering their new openness with each other. She was holding something in. She knew the look that had come over Lanie’s face at the diner upon the mention of their Jane Doe. Allie had felt it herself many times in her past, but never with the ferocity that Lanie acquired. She rounded the corner to find Lanie calming a very miffed Pruitt.
“Don’t be such a baby. No harm done, and you helped us with an important part of the case.” Lanie grinned.
“Does that mean I get a raise? No. Does that mean you people respect me more? Not really. Am I gonna get taken along on little field trips like the other techs? Unlikely! So . . . what do I get out of these constant annoyances in my daily life?”
“The satisfaction of a job well done?” Matthews’ voice over his shoulder caused Pruitt’s eyes to widen with sudden fear.
Lanie chuckled, and walked past Pruitt towards Pam. Matthews gave him a lopsided grin, and shook her head. For his part, Pruitt stood there opening and closing his mouth as if the perfect comeback was fighting its way out, but not quite winning the battle.
“Anything yet?” Lanie stood next to Pam who was hunched over a folder, examining a print.
“No hits yet on your Jane Doe, but we got a match on one of the sets on the outside of the car. From the hood.” She handed the print out to Lanie as Matthews approached.
“Matthew Grottwahl. Has some B&E’s in his past. Whoa. Attempted rape? Looks like his ex has a restraining order on him.” Lanie handed the page off to Matthews. “Sounds like a good suspect.”
“I’ll call Detective Nugent. See what else he can dig up on our guy. Let’s make sure he didn’t break that restraining order.” Matthews looked over at Lanie.
“I’ll check the missing person’s database for our victim too.” Lanie waved Matthews off as she headed back to her desk.
“Ok. I’ll page you as soon as I talk to Nugent.” Matthews’ voice was soft with concern, and she wanted so much to reach out to offer Lanie some reassurance, but this was not the place.
Pam glanced up at the two criminalists, and shook her head. If she hadn’t valued her job, she’d have told them to get a room.
Through the two-way glass of the interrogation room, Lanie watched as Nugent led the suspect in, motioning for him to have a seat at the large, metal table. Matthews walked in behind them, taking her place across from Matthew Grottwahl. He was a short, thin man in his mid-thirties with an unshaven, sunken face, messy dark-blonde hair, sweat-marred white t-shirt, and what seemed to be a permanent scowl. He sat hunched over the desk examining his oil-stained nails, and tapping his foot rapidly.
“There someplace you gotta be?” Nugent eyed the man’s fidgety hands.
“I got work to do, Man. I’m late, I could get fired.” Grottwahl’s eyes darted between the two men, searching out a sympathetic face.
“You late a lot?”
Nugent stood to Grottwahl’s side to up the intimidation factor. Matthews studied the suspect’s face, and noted his stature. This was not a very strong-looking man. She opened the case file in front of him, and read in silence as Grottwahl eyed her suspiciously.
“What’s the deal? I’m on probation. That bitch say I did something? Cause I didn’t! I don’t want anything to do with her, Man! She’s nuts!” He looked pleadingly up at Nugent, who rolled his eyes. He’d heard it all before.
“Then why’d you try to rape her, Man?” Nugent placed his hand on the back of Grottwahl’s chair. Jim Nugent wasn’t a very tall man, but he was substantially larger than their suspect.
“She’s crazy! We were dating. She just got a little drunk, and copped an attitude. Then the next day she goes off on me about how I forced her. She’s nuts, Man!”
Lanie could feel her jaw tightening as she watched from behind the two-way glass in the small hallway.
“So, because she was your girl, she should give it up, no questions?” Nugent pulled a chair up close to their suspect, and sat down.
“I didn’t do anything wrong!”
“Then why did she have a restraining order on you, Matt?” Nugent shook his head.
“I tried to see her. I wanted to talk to her, and explain my side, but she wouldn’t let me. She went all psycho about how I violated her and all that crap. What’s up with that? We were dating for like three months!” Grottwahl clinched his fists tight on the table.
Matthews narrowed her eyes.
“You seem to have a problem with boundaries, Matt.” Matthews dropped a set of photos on the table in front of him.
“Where’d you get those?” Grottwahl grabbed up the photos in shock.
The images were of the suspect’s ex-girlfriend tied up, and not enjoying herself. Lanie had seen the photos earlier, and was surprised by the suspect’s shock at seeing them now. The last photo showed the victim with a long cut across her chest. Not deep enough to have caused her death, but obviously horribly painful.
“Where’d you get these?” He held them up in the air at Nugent.
“You should know. You posted them on the net right?” Nugent glanced over at Matthews.
“No way! I never did that to her. That’s sick! I don’t know what all she told you guys, but I never did THAT!” He tossed the photos at Matthews in disgust.
Nugent eyed Matthews, genuinely surprised to find that, unless he was a really great actor, Grottwahl hadn’t taken these photos that seemed to show the victim just before her death.
“Yeah, well you won’t mind if we search your home computer to back you up on that then will you?” Nugent stood up, nodding to Matthews.
“I don’t even got a computer. I work on cars, Man. I ain’t into all that geek shit.” Grottwahl put his head in his hands, exasperated.
Lanie stared at the scene in dismay. They thought they had their guy. She had thought closure was right in front of them. At least they had a name for their Jane Doe now; Karlie Daniels, twenty-three, and studying to become a nurse’s assistant. Now that they knew who she was, they could look at who else knew, and why she ended up dead on that car hood out in the woods.
“Sanders.” Lanie answered her cell from the security of her couch. She was wrapped up in her favorite comforter, trying desperately to hide away from the rest of the world for just a few hours. Her cell phone brought an end to that.
“Lanie? Where are you? I was a little concerned after you didn’t check in after shift.” Matthews voice was low, and Lanie felt at first guilty for not having her usual check-in with Allie to review the day’s finds, but she was also a little angry. It was her free time, and it was no one else’s business where she was; not even Allie’s.
“I’m at home. Where are you?” Lanie bit down on her lower lip as she realized that had come out a bit more snarky than she had intended.
“Whoa. You ok? I’m at the diner down the street from your place if you need me.”
Lanie felt awful. She had no excuse to be hard on Matthews simply because the case was getting to her. It wasn’t even the worst case they had dealt with recently. She was used to suspects in rape cases claiming the woman was overreacting, wanted it, or any other excuse that flew from their mouths. Lanie knew all too well how men, and women could twist assaults to look like the victim’s fault. It always sent her on a bit of a tailspin for a few days. This time, at least, she chose to vent by means of a comfy couch, blankets, and old reruns of Once Upon a Time.
“I’m fine.” Lanie said, half-heartedly.
“Yeah. How about I bring over some coffees? We need to talk.” Matthews ended the call without waiting for an answer.
We need to talk? Well, that couldn’t be good. That was never good. Was Allie finally done with her? She knew it was only a matter of time. People always left her. She had practically raised herself because her parents were both classic narcissists. Everything was about them. They didn’t have any time to spare for Lanie, and certainly couldn’t be bothered to notice if she was missing, or hurting.
After about fifteen minutes, a loud knocking on her door rattled Lanie from her sleep. She hadn’t even realized she dozed off. It had been days since she had a decent night’s sleep. She got up, still wrapped in her comforter, and opened the door.
Matthews looked her over with more worry than amusement at the disheveled appearance of her lead investigator. Lanie’s long, auburn hair was a tangled mess, and there were dark circled under her red, puffy eyes. Had she been crying?
“I brought your favorite. Toasted hazelnut.” Matthews handed the warm cup to Lanie, who ushered Matthews in towards the couch.
“Thank you. I’m fine, Allie. Just really tired.” Lanie sighed as she set the coffee down long enough to fold her comforter up, and join Allie on the couch.
Allie glanced around the room, noting that it was messier than usual. Books were laying around a reading chair, piled up on the end tables, and case files were haphazardly strewn across the kitchen table.
“You’ve been studying.” Allie sipped her coffee, and nudged Lanie’s arm. “Have you given yourself a rest at all?”
“I was trying, but then someone called me.” She glared at Allie.
“I’m worried about you. The past few cases have really hit you hard. I can’t make you. I don’t have the right to ask, but if you could trust me, I’ll listen. Please tell me why these cases have been hurting you so deeply lately. Please don’t tell me you’re fine, or just tired. What you are is exhausted, and hurting. I want to help, Lanie.” Allie pleaded.
Lanie’s heart clenched at the site of Allie Matthews begging her to trust her; to let her help her. She had pushed so many others away. She had tried to push Allie away, but she kept coming back for more. Why? What could Allie possibly see in her? She put down her coffee cup, took a deep breath, and looked over at Allie, catching her eyes with her own.
“I do trust you. I just feel like a loser talking about my past. I feel like I should be over it. It was years ago. Why shouldn’t I be over it?” Allie took another deep breath, and sighed again, trying to control her breathing so she wouldn’t cry, or more likely, sob in front of Allie.
“If I knew what ‘it’ was, maybe I could help you decide if you should be over it or not. My guess it not.” Allie was a little scared of what she was about to hear. The past two cases had been brutal rapes. Both resulted in deaths of the victims. “You don’t have to tell me, but I want you to. I want to help you any way I can, hun.”
Allie kept taking deep breaths, trying to focus on her breathing. Allie’s gentle voice nearly broke her heart.
“My parents weren’t the best, you know? They were pretty much self-absorbed assholes. Mom was always at work, and Dad was always drunk, or at some sporting event after his shifts at the auto factory. He was a security guard. Mom was an engineer. They both had raging egos, and fought constantly. They were never home, and I had to fend for myself. Sometimes I had babysitters that Mom had hired. She didn’t really care who she hired so long as they did their job. One sitter named Tammy would have her boyfriend over so they could fool around in our basement instead of watching me. He was a total creep. He even asked Tammy if they could include me. Tammy just thought he was joking around.” Lanie looked down at her hands, which she was wringing together self-consciously. She couldn’t look at Allie.
“One day, Tammy was late, but her boyfriend showed up in his beat up, huge van anyway. He came to the door, and when I answered, he told me he was taking me to Tammy. He lifting me into the back of his van, told me to sit down, and be quiet, and left with me.”
Allie’s heart was in her stomach. She could feel where this was headed, but she prayed she was wrong.
“After a while of driving, I asked him where we were going. He ignored me, and turned his music up. That van smelled so bad. It had carpeting on the walls, and flooring, and no seats other than the front, and passenger seats. There were things hanging from the walls. I realized they were cuffs, and ropes. I was scared. I didn’t know what was going on. I was only eight-years-old.” A small sob escaped Lanie’s throat. She wasn’t crying yet, but her breathing was ragged. She couldn’t believe she was telling Allie her secret.
“Oh, Lanie.” Allie scooted over, and put an arm around Lanie’s shoulders. Lanie leaned into her, and held tight.
“When we finally stopped, we were at some kind of farm. He pulled into a large barn. There was hay, and tools everywhere. I remember the smell of the hay. It was wet, and smelled sickly-sweet. He threw open the back of the van, and dragged me out by my feet. He told me that if I behaved, I’d be fine. Two older men were there also. One had a camera. The other one had cuffs. They put the cuffs on me, and told me to take off my clothes.” Lanie was now sobbing against Allie’s chest. Allie could feel the dampness from Lanie’s tears. She held her tighter.
“It’s ok. I’ve got you. You don’t have to tell me any more if you don’t want to.” Allie looked down at her. She could piece together the rest of the story. Child trafficking. Her Lanie had been a victim of child trafficking, and so young; just a little girl.
“They had me for two days. After that, they dumped me off back at my house like nothing had ever happened. My folks were out of town. Tammy had been staying with us, but she’d left the night before I was taken, and never returned. I never saw the men again. I never saw Tammy again. No one did. She was reported as missing that week. It was all over the news when they found her body at a farm in a neighboring county. They never caught the guys. They never found who killed her. I never told anyone about what happened to me, but a few months ago, while reviewing the files for the Ramirez case…”
Allie’s eyes widened. Oh, dear god. That case was a child trafficking case. They had had to go through thousands of photos to find their girl, and try to find the perps. Allie had had nightmares herself. She couldn’t imagine how it must have affected Lanie.
“I saw them. I saw the photos they had taken of me at that farm.” Lanie sobbed.
“Oh, my god. Why didn’t you tell me? Honey, you should have told me. I’d have done the reviewing.”
“I know you would have. That’s why I didn’t say anything. I have to be able to do my job, Allie.” Lanie sat up, and shyly looked up at Allie.
“What did you do about the photos?” She wasn’t sure she could ask, but her curiosity was killing her.
“Yes. I kept the photos. I wasn’t able to erase them from the internet. They are pervasive, and I couldn’t erase them from the federal website either. They are part of the case. No one knows that little girl is me. There are thousands of other little girls. It’s still happening. It’s why I do this job. I want to find all of these bastards, and lock them up. I want to catch the people buying this shit too. If there isn’t a market, there wouldn’t be need for victims. It’s sickening. I know I was supposedly one of the luckier ones. I lived. There have been so many times that I wish I hadn’t. I don’t’ know why they just let me go. I guess they correctly surmised that I wouldn’t talk. I couldn’t talk. I spent the next few years as alone as I could be. I had no friends. I just read, wrote in my journal, and people started saying nasty things about the strange girl who wouldn’t talk. Pretty pathetic huh?” Lanie shrugged.
“Pathetic? No. You were a little girl. You were so strong. You lived through something at such a young age that no one should ever have to suffer through. I am so proud of the amazing woman you are. You have helped solve more cases than anyone else at the department. You make people’s lives better, and safer while they are going through some of the hardest times in their lives. You helped find some of those little girls, and rescue them from that life. They’re getting help because of you, and me. Don’t ever let me hear you call yourself pathetic, Lanie Sanders.” Allie pulled her into a warm hug. It was exactly what she needed, and Allie’s words were perfect. It was all true. She knew it, but having someone else know, and not revolted by her meant the world to her.
“Thank you.” Lanie pulled back, looking up into Allie’s eyes. “You’re the only one who knows. I’ve never told anyone that before.”
“I’m honored that you trust me with it. I’m not going anywhere. Whenever you need to talk, I’m here.” Allie leaned over, and placed a gentle kiss on Lanie’s forehead. “You know that right?”
“Yes,” was all Lanie could say. She smiled, and reached once more for her coffee which was now cool.