The Deep End – part 7

He pulled up in front of his office. A yellow furniture van sat in front of his office. The back end was open, with boxes and a few large crates waiting on the ramp to be rolled into his office. Dean unlocked the door and pushed both glass doors wide. A couple rocks held the doors for the movers to bring the new furniture in.

As the movers shifted items into the proper rooms, Dean looked over the paper sheets he’d gotten. The two girls were close to the same age, and only a grade apart from Maren. Both were last seen by friends talking on a cellphone to someone, supposedly their new boyfriend.

That information fits with my case. It’s unusually close to what I’ve got as information. He read further through the first report. The girl’s car had been recovered, wiped down with bleach.

Why not just chop it and have it disappear? that’s what I’d have done. Maybe they can’t? What would stop them from just taking the car to a chop shop? Oh! If they didn’t have a contact. So this is a different group from established ones maybe? Or maybe just a single person is doing the work? That’d explain the car being abandoned. Maybe he parks another car out there to transfer to?

He placed the papers on the receptionists desk, then went to the first crate, and started pulling it open. He wanted to get everything set up and then move a cot into his office so he could sleep in it when he stayed too late.

The receptionist’s office now had it’s own set of upright 4-drawer files, a laptop and printer, an in-house hot spot, and a paid link into police open case files that were allowed to be perused. He sat down in the new swivel chair and powered up the all-in-one screen with a quick triple tap on the face. The machine lit up, with a welcoming display of it’s operating system. A few more taps set up the automatic link to the database, and a few more got links to public information such as wanted posters, lost and found, and missing pets, and missing persons.

All this still works. It’s amazing how much survived all that chaos years ago. We lost half our population in The Change, and yet stuff like the internet keeps on humming. We still have trade across the ocean, though the west is locked up until the government can figure out how to get a safe passage there and back.

He looked up the missing persons, to make certain Maren was on the list (she was) and checked on the car the officer said that had been found (it was there, with detailed information about the condition). he checked it once more against the other two vehicles, and found it similar enough to warrant him putting in a comment showing his belief of a link between the three.

He wrote up notes, then copied them off to the printer, and stuck them in a folder. Electronic records are great, but nothing in his mind makes up for something solid, like a paper copy. It was easier to carry and reference. While they were vulnerable, no one could hack paper for it’s information, like a person could hack a cellphone, or an internet-linked computer. Dean hummed to himself as he finished up, and put the first folder in the new file cabinet.

This sure beats working out of my car, or my house.

Dean went back to his house, retrieving his hunting cot, a pair of blankets, and his pump shotgun. He didn’t own a pistol, and the cost and time to get a license was not something he wanted. Shotguns were legal to own, and could be used on a person’s place of business, or their home, as defense. The Change had changed laws too. With so many dangerous things around, people often went armed. After getting the cot set up, Dean pulled the file again from the cabinet, and sat down at the receptionist desk to look through it once more.

He read through the girls information twice, doing his best to commit it to memory. He dozed off in the middle of reading. The next morning, Dean went back out to the Kwik-Way, hoping to catch Jeff in. Who he found was someone else at the counter, Vlad. The big man straightened up as he spotted Dean. “Hey, anything I can getcha?”

Dean nodded, and said pleasantly, “Good Morning, and yeah, got any vanilla flavored coffee for sale? I’d like a half-pound if you’ve got any.”

Vlad nodded, saying, “Last rack back there. Coffee’s on the bottom. If there’s any, that’s where it’ll be.” Vlad watched Dean until he disappeared behind the row, then put his ear plugs in, and began cleaning behind the counter. Dean stood up, and saw Vlad busying himself with a mop bobbing his head to whatever he was listening to.

I wonder if he’s really involved. He doesn’t seem like a kidnapper. Luka Magnotta didn’t look like a cannibal, but there you are. He strode to the counter, then rapped on the surface to get Vlad’s attention.

The young man pulled his ear buds out and glanced at Dean’s hands. “No luck, eh? Sorry, I don’t know if we’ll be getting any in. Our next delivery’s in two days. Come back then and check it out. The guy usually drops by just before seven in the a.m.”

“So, two days from now? How does that help me now?” Dean countered.

“Uh, well, we have vanilla latte available at the coffee station. You can come by here for a caffeine fix if you need one.” Vlad seemed flustered, but he did try to find an answer, which surprised Dean. Most people don’t think of answers that way, and just tell folks to wait. He’s a quick thinker. I think I’ll leave it alone and come back this evening to talk to Jeff.

Dean thanked him for the suggestion, and got himself a large coffee. Once he was back to the office, he dumped the coffee on the grass, and took the empty cup into his office to toss in the recycle can in the office. He puttered around, re-reading the file again, and when six p.m. finally rolled around, he drove back to the Kwik-Way.

He parked behind Madge’s Yarn Store, and walked to the edge of the large window. Jeff was behind the counter. Here’s hoping I can find something.

Jeff’s face soured when he saw Dean. He said gruffly, “You talked to Vlad?”

Dean shook his head. “No, I wanted to talk to you. About Vlad actually. You said he is a pretty conscientious worker. Were there any times he called in sick suddenly or didn’t show up for any reason?”

Jeff glowered at Dean. “I don’t have to answer nothing. You want to talk to Vlad.”

“I want to talk to you. Vlad may be involved. If he is, talking to him would just let him know I’m looking into things. If he puts that together, he’s gone, and so is my chance at finding the girl.” Dean took a step towards the counter. “You remember why I came here the first time? I’m looking for a girl. She’s an official missing person now. The most likely person to see her last was Vlad. Plus, two other girls in the area are missing. All the…,” Dean shut his mouth as two women entered the store.

Jeff went from irritated to friendly in the blink of an eye. “Welcome ladies, Is there anything I can help you find in your local Kwik-Way?”

The two girls whispered quickly, and one smiled shyly at Jeff. “Umm, is Vlad on later tonight? I was wondering if I could talk to him.”

“Well now. He’s not on tonight, but he’ll be in here every morning at five a.m. to work. If you’re up that early, there’s hardly a crowd until seven. You could catch him then, eh?”

The young woman nodded then walked back out of the store whispering and giggling with her friend as they walked off. Dean waited for them to walk out of the lot before turning on Jeff, who was clearly upset with Dean’s questioning. He also acted uncertain, as though that last talk with the girls had reminded him of something.

“Hey, Jeff. Earth to Jeff. I have three missing girls. Each one has nearly the same M.O. to their disappearance. Now, can you answer my question. It’ll be the last one I ask you.”

Jeff grunted, then palmed a hand down his face. “Fine. I’ll tell you just to get you out of here. He called in twice, once because he got a bug, the other because his car broke down.”

“Do you remember when those times were, off the top of your head?”

“I can do you one better, just to get you out of here.” He pulled up an archaic loose leaf notebook and dropped it on the counter. He opened to the beginning, moved to a tab labled ‘May’, and opened the book. A few pages later he said, “Here, May fourteenth. I covered for him.” It took a minute more to find the second time, which was in September, on the twenty-second.”

“Once moment.” Dean pulled out his cellphone, then linked to the missing persons site, and pulled up the first girl. Her missing date was May sixteenth. The second girl was listed as missing on the twenty-fifth.

“The girls are right in that time window. Take a look.” He handed his cell to Jeff, who took it, and as he looked at the two files, a haunted look came to his eyes. He grumbled and handed the ‘phone back to Dean.

“Doesn’t mean nothing. It could be coincidence.”

“What about four days ago? He call in not able to show for work?”

Jeff’s eyes grew more haunted, and a little fearful. He took a breath and exhaled it slowly. “Yeah, he called in saying he’d be late that day. Something important came up and he’d be in around eleven that night.”

Dean nodded. This kid seems to be an amateur. You’d think he’d use a day off to pull the kidnappings. It all fits together too cleanly. It IS the simplest answer. I’ll get copies of the log, if he’ll let me, and send everything to the police after I follow this up. No use in telling them something until I’ve something more than just circumstance, because Jeff is right, it could be just a weird coincidence.

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