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January 2013

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vonnegut quote

Save the Date, Chapter Three in The Unusual Suspects

Title: Save the Date, Chapter Three in The Unusual Suspects
Author: CelesteAvonne
Disclaimer: For Fun and Fun Alone!
Spoilers: References to all 10 episodes of The Unusuals.
Pairing/Characters: All canon pairings, including Shraeger/Davis, Walsh/Beaumont, Delahoy/Crumb, and Banks/Demopolis
Rating: PG13
Word Count: ~10,000 (split between posts)
Summary: The situation intensifies as the Second Squad learns that the Hand Writing Killer is now targeting the people connected to them rather than random strangers.



"It was a train," Delahoy said. "That metal on metal sound. She's on a train."

"That's—that's great," Alvarez said. His eyes darted to each of them. "You know how many trains there are in this city? There must be... Thousands. Thousands and thousands of trains!"

"Yes, but, think about it. We can rule out passenger trains," Shraeger said. "Someone would see a person-sized wooden box—"

"—A coffin, she said coffin," Alvarez moaned.

"Probably not a coffin," Walsh assured him. "Coffins are padded inside. She said wooden, like a trunk."

"Yes because that's so much better," Delahoy said. Alvarez glared at him.

"He's right, Eddie," Walsh said. "It's bad either way. But it helps to know what we're looking for."

"And where to look," Shraeger said. "Amy's phone doesn't have GPS—"

"—No," Cole said. "We couldn't afford it, what with all the wedding expenses..."

"But Nicole must have lost cell reception right after the train started moving," Shraeger said. "Maybe a tunnel?"

Delahoy shook his head. "Not necessarily. It's weird she got reception at all. Freight cars are like tin cans on wheels." Banks knuckled his shoulder. Delahoy said, "What?"

Shraeger said, "She may have lost consciousness—"

"—Maybe she lost power?" Cole said. "Amy's phone was always running out of battery."

"Make a memo to get your girlfriend a better cell phone, eh, Blondie?" Delahoy said.

"Okay," Walsh said sternly. "We need a freight yard within two hour's drive of the city. It's right at eleven and Nicole was taken around 9:30."

Banks initiated a search on the laptop he'd brought in.

"If it's a signal issue, she could call back," Delahoy said. "Provided she has battery and, y'know, wherewithal."

"Wherewithal?" Alvarez growled. "She's in a box on a train headed to god knows where. How much wherewithal would you have?"

"Eddie. Calm down," Walsh said.

"How can I calm down, Walsh, that's my wife! Why has he taken my wife?"

"We're gonna find her," Shraeger said. "And then we'll find the person responsible. Okay? Let's just try to keep focused."

Cole stared at the phone as if willing it to ring.

"Will she run out of air?" Eddie asked. "I mean, is it sealed up tight? Will she—"

"—Here," Banks cut in, turning the laptop to face them. "Two possibilities. Oak Point Yard and Fresh Pond Junction. Oak Point is a freight yard near the Bronx. Fresh Pond runs out of Queens and handles solid waste transport out of the city. It temporarily shares lines with the subway."

"It's the second one," Shraeger said.

"We'll check 'em both," Banks said.

"No, it's the second," Shraeger said, nodding sadly. "I'm sorry, Eddie, but it's a message. Queens is a chess reference. And our guy's telling us he's taking out the trash."

XXX

A few minutes later, Walsh ended his call and returned to the briefing room. "Cole, trade the phone to Eddie. Beaumont's gonna meet us at the railyard, so you need to get to the hospital. Banks phoned the Long Island Rail Line; they had six outgoing trains in the last hour. They've radioed a complete stop on all freight traffic so we can get down there and search. I called the 44th; they're sending some guys to help out."

Cole placed the phone in Alvarez's cold hands. "I called all Amy's family from my phone and told them not to try her cell. They already knew her phone was stolen, but I made sure the line stays clear. Also, they want me to tell you they're all praying for you and for Nicole."

Alvarez nodded. "Thank you."

"C'mon, Eddie," Walsh said. "Time to go."

XXX

"We have a situation." Sergeant Brown caught Shraeger and Walsh on their way out.

"We'll get the cars," Banks told them, and he, Delahoy, and Alvarez continued downstairs.

"Sir?" Walsh asked.

"Just got off the phone with HQ. The DA's office called the FBI—"

"—But this is our case," Shraeger whispered. "Those are our people out there."

"That's what I told HQ. They told me they think that's part of the problem," Sergeant said.

Shraeger wilted. "Oh."

"I bought us some time, but not much," he said. "We have until 5 p.m. tomorrow to bring this guy in – that's a little over twenty-four hours – before we have to hand the case over to the Feds. You got that?"

Shraeger glanced at Walsh. He looked as sick as she felt. "Yes, sir," she said.

"Good, now go find Nicole, and then let's pin this freak to the wall," Sergeant said.

XXX

Eric Delahoy pulled out his phone, checked it, put it back into his pocket.

"That's twelve times," Leo said.

"Twelve times what?"

"You've checked your phone twelve times," Leo said.

"Pay attention to the road, Leo," Eric said. Leo corrected, and they narrowly skirted a moving van. "Why's it you always drive again?"

Leo's eyes narrowed. "Because last time you drove, you forced a rickshaw driver into the Hudson."

"Oh, right." Eric chuckled. "To be fair, he was peddling 30 kilos of coke."

"Heh. Pedaling." Leo grinned at the memory. Eric checked his phone.

"You could call her—"

"—No."

The traffic thinned ahead. Lights and sirens blaring, Walsh buttonholed through a gap to cut hard onto Highway 278. Leo hit the gas to keep up with him. Eric gripped the door handle and swore. They drove in tense silence for several long crawling minutes before Leo said, "I've never seen you this way over a girl."

Eric cut his eyes at him. "I'm worried, is all."

"Dobbs is with her," Leo assured him.

"Yeah, well, ten thousand people on the street this morning, and Nicole's still locked tight in a wooden box," Eric said.

Eric's skull throbbed, but he resisted the urge to massage his forehead because it elicited a particular worried-sick look from Leo, and Eric just didn't think he could take any more of that. Leo's puppy-dog eyes were a large part of why Eric had elected to keep this whole brain tumor thing to himself. Enter, then, Monica, with all of her life-altering proclamations, and within twenty-four hours, everything had changed.

Before he could curb the impulse, he checked his phone again.

"Fourteen," Leo said. Walsh's car sped into the shoulder lane, cut a sharp right, and fishtailed into the gravel parking easement of the Fresh Pond Yard. Leo followed with less finesse and bumped into the lot with a jolt and a thud.

They leapt from the car and jogged over to join the others, but before they did, Leo caught Eric's arm.

"Take a second and call her," he said quietly. "See how she's enjoying the room service. Ask her how her day's been. Tell her you're all right."

"Leave it alone, Leo," Eric said, his scowl deepening. "I'm not gonna call her," he muttered, and they joined the team.

XXX

Charlie Beck, the railyard foreman, and Officer Marek, of the 44th precinct, fell in with them as they crossed into the yard. A sharp wind bit down, towing with it a bank of matte gray clouds that threatened rain.

Marek said, "I've got three teams at work on the northwest hub, cracking open freight cars and checking the contents. We have nine lines northbound, six southbound. Right now, all traffic in and out has stopped. The six outbound trains didn't get but a couple of miles up the tracks before we got your call."

"Good, thanks," Walsh said. "Mr. Beck, did you or any of your guys hear or see anything out of the ordinary?"

"This is a big yard, Detective," Mr. Beck said. "We're always short-handed. Why you think these cars get all tagged up? Most of the time, this place is a graveyard."

Alvarez shuddered. Shraeger looped her arm in his.

Walsh said, "We'll start with the outbound trains and go car by car. Keep in radio contact. Officer Marek, we'll meet in the middle. Let's go while the weather holds out."

As they entered the rail yard, Banks staggered to a halt at seeing the rows and rows and rows of nondescript freight cars spread out like beads on strings across the railyard, as far as their eyes could see.

"There are thousands of them..." Banks marveled miserably.

"Yeah," Delahoy said, "So let's get started."

XXX

The work wore down to a rhythm. Twist the crank, slide the door back, climb inside, sweep the contents. They left the doors open on the cars they'd checked. Banks and Delahoy kept a count, calling out numbers as they went.

They marched along the dual set of tracks where the outbound trains had been stopped. Banks and Delahoy took the eastbound track. Shraeger took the westbound with Walsh and Alvarez.

Shraeger's eyes streamed from the stinging wind. Her hands ached inside her gloves. She'd lost count of the cars she and Walsh had cleared. And how many cars did one train have, anyway? Alvarez plodded diligently, skipping ahead of them, pressing his ear to a car. He'd call her name and then crack the car open to climb inside. Working alone, like always. But this time, she understood.

She hoped he'd be the one to find her.

As Shraeger cranked open another lock and heaved against the door, Walsh jogged up. "Beaumont's with Marek's team. They've finished one of the southbound trains."

"Anything?" Shraeger asked.

"Nothing," he answered.

"It's getting colder," Shraeger said as she dropped down to the gravel. "This one's clear."

"Guys," Banks shouted, "I think we got something!"

Shraeger darted to the eastbound lane and climbed between couplings. Banks stood back, staring up at the broadside of the car. Delahoy was at work on the crank. Shraeger joined Banks and felt her pulse quicken. There, painted in ornate blue letters three feet high, was the number 143.

"Eddie! Walsh!" she cried.

Delahoy shoved the door back and hauled himself inside. Seconds later, they heard his muffled voice. "How sweet it is," he said. Then, louder, "Hey, Eddie, we're gonna need some bolt cutters!"

XXX

"So what do we have?" Allison Beaumont said. They huddled together at the front doors of Memorial Hospital, each warming their hands on paper cups of stale waiting room coffee.

"You mean other than two women in the hospital and twenty-one hours left to solve this case?" Shraeger asked.

"What do you mean, twenty-one hours?" Banks asked.

"Nicole's position in the DA's office plus the nature of the crime drew the attention of the FBI," Walsh explained.

"He put her in a box," Delahoy said for perhaps the thirtieth time since they left the railyard.

"We know, man," Banks said, glancing nervously at the others. "Chill."

"No, listen," Delahoy said. "Who would do that to a person? To a human being? What kind of brain job works out that plan? Hm, what will I to do today? Maybe have some eggs, some toast, and then I think I'll put a woman in a box and ship her to Jersey. Who does that?"

"Eric. Man," Banks said quietly. "You all right?"

For a moment, Delahoy appeared confused. He palmed sweat from his forehead and uttered a weak laugh. "Yeah, no, 'm fine. Go on."

"We got Hancock coming in to relieve Cole's watch on Amy," Walsh said. "I think it's best if Eddie stays here, with Nicole. Once she's conscious and responsive, we'll see if she can remember anything."

"And find out who might have known about that tattoo," Shraeger added.

Delahoy leaned into the huddle. "Look, it's clear this was all a diversion, okay. Think about it. While we were out in Queens, chasing the Assistant DA-in-a-Box, our Hand Writing Killer was busy doing something else."

"So what was he doing?" Beaumont asked.

"Bank heist?" Banks suggested. "Bombing? Jailbreak?"

"It really is that wide open, isn't it?" Delahoy said.

Shraeger felt like a bowling ball had rolled into her stomach. "He's setting up for the end game, and we don't even know what board we're playing on."

"Then let's get back to the shop," Walsh said. "See if we can figure it out."

XXX

Casey Shraeger was at the drawing board. Literally. No matter how far back she stood, she still only saw random splodges of color. Nothing coalesced. Cole was in the media room, still sifting through traffic cam footage. Banks and Delahoy volunteered to search Ryerson's apartment again. Beaumont was on the phone to a processing clerk at Attica State Penitentiary.

Shraeger had been through her files three times and still had nothing.

Walsh came in to stand beside her. "Jeff Blanch is in federal custody. We've got clearance to question him this evening," he said. "Also, Sergeant Brown issued an 11-59 to all precincts, letting 'em know there's something afoot and to double patrol."

"Good. That's good," Shraeger said. She covered one eye.

"What are you doing?" Walsh asked.

"I've tried everything else," she told him. "I'm just trying to shake up the perspective, see if I'm missing anything here."

"Hey, you remember those big-ass jigsaw puzzles from when we were kids, the ones with the ten thousand jelly beans or a ship out on the ocean—"

"—where most of the pieces are various shades of blue?" she interrupted.

"Those ones."

"Hated those," she said. "Never had the patience to finish the whole thing."

Walsh breathed out a tired sigh. "Yeah, me neither. But I remember that fitting some pieces together makes it easier to solve the whole thing."

"It also helps if you start with all the edges and corner pieces," Shraeger said, "Not sure how that helps us here."

"Well," Walsh said. "Let's start with our edge pieces. Cynthia Patronelli and Lupe Carbajal."

"Chosen at random," Shraeger said. Then added, "Seemingly?"

Walsh shrugged. "Chosen because they always move in the same way."

"Like pawns," Shraeger said.

"Then we have the pieces closer to us: Amy Burch and Nicole Alvarez," Walsh said.

"Frank Lutz and Cole, too," Shraeger added. "And the pieces he didn't move, Dr. Crumb and Ms. Kowalski."

"Because we blocked him, Casey," Walsh said.

"With Hannah Kowalski, yes," Shraeger said. "With Crumb it was stupid luck. According to the statement she gave at her apartment, she'd taken an unplanned trip to visit her Mom yesterday afternoon. She broke her regular routine. Otherwise, there might have been two women in boxes heading out of Fresh Pond Yard this afternoon."

Walsh massaged his eyes. "It's Ryerson that doesn't fit," he said.

"If we can find out where he fits," Shraeger said, "We may have a square one."

Beaumont stepped up beside them. "Then I just might have some good news for you," she said. "The fax came in from the prison. Look what I found."

She showed them the highlighted space on the roster.

"Noel Blanch," Shraeger said. "As in, related to Jeff Blanch?"

"His nephew," Walsh said.

Shraeger and Beaumont snapped their attention to him.

"You know him?" Beaumont asked.

"He was an outfielder for the Yankees," Walsh said. "Batted clean-up—"

"—Went to prison," Shraeger said.

Beaumont said, "According to the records, Blanch served four years for drug trafficking."

"Always wondered what happened to him," Walsh said. "Now I know."

"This is a link, Walsh," Shraeger said. "And I bet that Noel Blanch was the one harassing Ryerson while he worked at Attica. It's a connection. Ryerson knew Kowalski, ergo..."

"Kowalski knew Blanch," Walsh said. He shrugged. "Maybe."

Something shifted in Walsh's posture, something subtle about the way he squared his shoulders and squinted his eyes. Shraeger studied him for a moment while questions bubbled over in her mind. She could read him well enough to know that he wasn't sharing everything. Walsh had a secret.

But Shraeger also trusted him, so she knew better than to blow his cover. Instead, she turned to Beaumont and asked, "Where is Noel Blanch now?"

"I pulled his file," Beaumont said. "He's living on Long Island. Married with a kid. Owns a screen printing business. Not exactly the drug lord type. But you know how it goes..."

"Yes I do," Shraeger said. "Let's find him, bring him in."

XXX

Eric Delahoy sliced the cordon tape sealing the door to Ryerson's apartment, and they stepped inside.

"I always hate the smell in crime scene places," Leo said. "Smells like..." he trailed off and stepped into the tiny tiled kitchen.

"Pine Sol?" Eric ventured. He pulled on a pair of latex gloves. Leo, as usual, was already wearing his.

"No, not Pine Sol," Leo grumbled.

"You can say it, Leo," Eric said. He rifled through some papers on an entry table. "It's one of your favorite topics of conversation."

"It was never my favorite," Leo said under his breath. He opened each kitchen drawer and sifted through old circulars, pizza coupons, soy sauce packets, and rubber bands. Ross Ryerson had cabinets cluttered with plastic cutlery and a pantry stocked with Raman noodles.

"We gonna talk about this?" Leo asked. "Or are we gonna continue to pretend there isn't this giant elephant in the room?"

Eric pulled open the refrigerator. It was empty except for one fuzzy onion in the back.

"You saying my tumor's an elephant? 'Cause I'm pretty sure it's not that big," Eric said. "Not yet, anyway."

"Ha ha," Leo said. "The man is hilarious, ladies and gentlemen. He thinks death is just this cosmic joke."

"See, that's where you're wrong," Eric said. "Life is the joke. Look around us, Leo. What kind of life did this guy lead? He's got dry noodles. No beer in the fridge. Nothing but bills in his mail. His TV's sitting on a stack of blocks. I mean, how old was he?"

"Like it matters, right?" Leo snapped.

"Right," Eric said. "And he's dead, Leo. No chubby baby photos on the walls. No house plants. No pets. He may as well have never lived. Seems the most interesting thing to happen to him was his murder."

"That's... brutal," Leo said.

Eric arched his brows. He checked his phone. Leo pretended to not notice.

"Everything in this place suggests temporary living arrangement," Leo said. They moved into the living room/bedroom area and heaved up the futon mattress. There they found a few pennies, a pizza crust, and a pencil.

"File said he'd been here half a year," Eric said. He kicked up the edge of a filthy braided rug. "What's it we're looking for, exactly?"

"Gaming piece of some sort," Leo guessed. "Playing cards, a puzzle. Something the forensic team would have missed."

"See, our perp's a smart guy," Eric said, bending to examine the rug. "He didn't kill Ryerson here 'cause he knew the forensic guys would only do the basic sweep without the body."

"And since Ryerson doesn't have any family," Leo said, "This place could sit seventy-two hours—"

"—Or more—"

"—Yeah, or more, before the team could do a proper search. If then."

"Another sad New York statistic," Eric said. "Ready?"

Leo nodded. Eric rolled the rug back. Leo assisted by nudging it with his foot. When they'd pushed it against the wall, Leo pointed at a slot of darker wood near the corner.

"Loose floorboard," Eric said. "Not the most original, but I'm game."

They pried it up with little effort to reveal a small compartment about the size of a shoebox.

Eric knelt and reached into the hole. He pulled out a bundle of cash.

"Oh, nice," Leo said.

"Cliché but nice," Eric agreed.

Next he pulled out a Hoyle playing card. He palmed it and said, "Take a guess, Leo. I'll bet you that stack of cash you can name it in one."

Leo gave him a tight smile. "I'm gonna go with... Ace of Spades."

Eric flipped over the card and shouted, "The Ace of Spades! The death card for Ross Ryerson."

Eric reached back in to the compartment and withdrew a rectangular cookie tin with a Santa Claus embossed on its lid. Sitting back on his heels, he popped it open, and they stared at its contents for a several long moments before Eric said, "Those are fingers."

"Those are fingers," Leo agreed.

After the shock dissipated, Leo saw a stack of cards and photographs beneath them.

"Uh, Eric," he said, gesturing at the fingers. "You mind?"

Eric tilted the tin and the fingers rolled dryly to its back edge. Leo plucked a few photos from the stack and spread them across the floor.

"There we go," Eric said. It was pictures of them, of Second Squad. Cole with Frank Lutz at a hot dog stand. Walsh and Beaumont sipping coffee at the diner. Shraeger and Davis eating ice cream at Rockefeller Center. Eric outside Memorial, with Monica in the frame but slightly blurred. Leo and Bridget at Michelo's, holding hands. A picture of Hannah Kowalski smelling a rose in her garden. Then there was a photo of Eddie with a bikini-clad Nicole on some white-sand beach.

"And there's her secret tattoo," Leo said.

"Now we know how they knew," Eric said.

Leo poked at the remaining cards stacked in the tin. "What are these?"

Eric pulled out six credit cards, an ID badge, and a driver's license, all in Ross Ryerson's name.

"Okay, so maybe his death wasn't the most interesting thing to happen to him," Eric said.

"Only one problem, though," Leo said.

"Yeah, what's that?"

"Guy in the picture..." Leo said, pointing at the ID badge. "...that's not Ross Ryerson."

Eric rattled the fingers in the tin. "Maybe these are?"

XXX

The moment they pulled into traffic, Walsh said, "I know Noel Blanch."

"I figured that out," Shraeger said. She stared hard at him and waited for him to elaborate. He switched on the dash light and sped through the intersection.

"Walsh..." she began.

"Look, Beaumont doesn't know about Cole, all right," Walsh said. "And there are a few things she doesn't know about me."

"Like your girlfriend's murder?" Shraeger said, keeping her tone gentle.

He glanced at her. "She knows that part," he said. "She doesn't know why."

"But all this is related to that incident, right?" Shraeger guessed.

Walsh gripped the steering wheel. "I... suspected that Noel Blanch was connected to Becca's murder." He cleared his throat. "But I couldn't prove it; the Blanch family is well-protected. When I came to Second Squad, I was assigned to Kowalski. Now, Kowalski, he was a connections man. His informants had informants. He built this whole network of information—"

"—Which explains his storage unit," Shraeger put in.

"Right," Walsh nodded. "So, one night on stake out, we got to talking, and he mentioned Jeff Blanch. Burt referred to Blanch as his Moby Dick—"

"—Ah, White whale," she said. "Nice." They shared an appreciative smile.

"Yeah, so, Blanch was always getting off the hook," Walsh said. "Technicalities, bribes, loopholes – you name it, Blanch used it. So that night, I brought up Noel Blanch, and somehow I wound up spilling my whole story, just like that—" Walsh smiled at the remembrance. "—Kowalski was good at that: getting people to talk. It was a gift."

"Good one to have in our line of work," Shraeger said.

"Yeah." Walsh stared through the windshield. Shraeger watched and waited, knowing that he'd continue when he was ready.

"Half a year later, Noel Blanch was convicted for drug trafficking," Walsh said. "Kowalski told me he'd taken care of it. We never spoke of it again."

"Was Blanch guilty?" Shraeger asked.

Walsh shrugged. "I didn't ask." He dragged a hand across his face. "C'mon. He must have been. The case was sealed so tight not even the Blanch family litigation team could save him."

"Okay," Shraeger said. "Kowalski put Noel Blanch away. Four years later, he's released on parole. Gets married, has a kid, moves to Long Island and buys a mini-van. Meanwhile, Uncle Jeff's ensnared in legal turmoil of his own. How did Jeff Blanch feel about Noel's prison term, do you know?"

Walsh shook his head. "Can't have been happy about it."

They drove on, cutting across the Brooklyn Bridge and heading south toward the Metropolitan Detention Center. Fog banks drifted like ghosts across the river, obscuring the Manhattan skyline. Shraeger pulled at the edge of her scarf.

"Ryerson links Blanch to Kowalski," Shraeger said, thinking aloud. "If we can find proof that Blanch harassed Ryerson, we may have ourselves a suspect."

"It's all circumstantial, Casey," Walsh said.

"But think of it, Walsh," she said. "Blanch had four years in prison and mob connections like a Francis Ford Coppola movie. He's part of a crime family, for heaven's sake, who else could've put this plan into action?"

"No, I'm with you," Walsh agreed. He pulled the charger into the parking lot of the MDC and shut off the engine. He turned to face her. "It's finding proof that's the problem."

"Well," Shraeger said. "Let's go see what Uncle Jeff has to say, shall we?"

XXX

Eddie Alvarez held his shoulders back when he walked into the precinct office. He ignored the eyes of his uniformed co-workers – Leech was the only one he could name out of all of them, anyway – and came to stand behind Detectives Beaumont and Cole, who were spreading out a series of 8x10s on her desk.

Blurry 8x10s. Whatever they were, they were inadequate.

"What are these supposed to be?" he asked. Both jumped at the sound of his voice.

"Eddie," Beaumont said. She pulled him into a stiff hug. Then Cole clapped him on the shoulder and muttered something about Jesus watching over him.

"You're supposed to be at the hospital with Nicole," Beaumont said.

"Nicole is still unconscious, Detective Beaumont. I feel... useless just... standing at her bedside. I can better serve her here by finding the man who did this to her, before he can hurt someone else," Alvarez said. "Officer Whitaker is standing guard, with orders to call me the moment she wakes."

"You look horrible," Cole said.

"I assure you, fatigue will not hamper Eddie Alvarez's ability to do this job," Alvarez told them. "Now what are these pictures?"

"They're the images from the traffic cam footage," Cole said. "We have a computer program that recognizes repeating patterns, such as facial features, stature, and articles of clothing, like a jacket or a scarf."

"Right now, we're just trying to pick out individuals the program isolated," Beaumont said. "Wanna take a look?"

Alvarez picked up the corner of a photo and scrutinized it. The grainy image showed a crowded crosswalk at midday. Yellow rectangles highlighted the heads and shoulders of five different men. "One of these guys could be our killer?"

"That's what we're checking," Beaumont said. "Three of these men appear in the same crosswalk at the same time each day for five months—"

"—That doesn't tell us anything," Alvarez interrupted. "The whole city follows a pattern, home to work, work to home, every single day—"

"—You're right. But," Cole laid out a series of four more pictures, all just as pixilated as the first, but featuring different city blocks. "The program identified the same three men in these locations during the same five months' time. Our next step is to get the sketch artist to rough out a composite. From there, maybe we can get an ID—"

"—And this could really be our Hand Writing Killer?" Alvarez asked.

"Possibly," Beaumont said. "This intersection is West and Clarkson, about two blocks from Dr. Crumb's apartment, and this one is..."

Alvarez turned slowly, moving as if in a daze. Still pinching the photo's edge, and drifted to his desk. He pulled out his manila file folder and slapped it clumsily onto his desk. Cole and Beaumont watched him with growing alarm as he doddered around in search of a pen.

"Eddie...?" Beaumont asked. "What are you doing?"

"Oh, this?" He met her gaze briefly before returning to his file. "I've been keeping track of everyone's hours. Kind of a field log. It's part of a report I'm preparing to present to the city's Budget Review Board, to see if we can't get some better equipment and up-to-date technology around here. This is a prime example of ingenuity and determination even in the face of inadequate resources. Cole, how many hours did you spend compiling this information?"

Cole looked genuinely surprised. "Hours?" he asked.

"You did count your hours?" Alvarez said.

"Um, no," Cole said. "I took Amy home, then came up here around noon and got started right away. Is that what you've been doing all this time with that file?"

Alvarez looked confused. "Well, yes."

"You're not keeping track of our personal phone calls?" Beaumont asked.

"I don't see how that would help us secure additional funds for the next fiscal year, Detective," Alvarez said. "Sergeant Brown put me in charge of this report..."

"No, no." Beaumont patted his shoulder. "It's good, Eddie. You're doing a great job."

Alvarez gave her a weak smile. "Yeah?"

"Yes." She passed him a pen.

"It did take an eternity to download those graphic files over our servers," Cole said. "We truly could use some up-to-date technology around here."

"And a coffee maker that doesn't brew sludge," Beaumont said. "Put that in there."

Alvarez's smile broadened, and for one panic-inducing moment, Beaumont thought he might actually cry. Instead, he said, "It certainly would help."

"We're gonna catch him, Eddie," Beaumont said.

"Oh, I know we will," Alvarez said. "We'll catch him, and he's gonna pay."

XXX

"Knock knock," Eric said as they entered the morgue. Other than the secondary lighting and a green lava lamp on the desk which provided an ominous X-Files glow, the place appeared empty and dark.

"So, you spent a lot of time here?" Leo asked conversationally. Only, it sounded more strained than conversational.

"Nah, not really," Eric said. He scanned the scatter of files strewn across a desk. There was an open bottle of Mountain Dew and a half eaten jelly bagel on the blotter. "Though the place did seem a bit more cheery with her in it."

"Cheery? I can't imagine a less cheery place," Leo said. "I'm telling you, we have to page for an ME after six. No one's here. This is a waste of time."

"Don't get antsy. I'm just gonna check the freezer section." Eric crossed to the lockers and began to read off the names of the bodies stored there. After the first half dozen, he said, "That's a lot of bodies."

"Can we go?" Leo asked.

"We gotta find Zimsky," Eric said. "He was in the middle of a snack before we came in, so..."

"Who could eat down here?" Leo wondered.

They heard a hollow scrape from behind them. Leo reached for his gun.

"Office, in back," Eric muttered.

They slipped soundlessly to the office door. "This is Detective Banks," Leo said. "Come out with your hands up."

The door flew open and a screaming figure lunged at them. Eric hauled Leo behind him and turned back just as the weapon slashed down and caught him full in the face.

XXX

Jeff Blanch wore a perma-smirk that had Casey's palms itching to smack it off his face. He was a tall guy, thin and blade-like, with pale eyes and short-cropped hair. He wore his orange jumpsuit the way James Bond would wear a tuxedo, and when they sat across from him at the small metal table, he stared at them without saying a word.

"You know why we're here," Walsh said.

Blanch spread his hands. His shackles rang tunelessly against the table top.

"You're right," Shraeger said. "You don't have to say anything without your lawyer present, but you should know that your nephew, Noel, is our primary suspect in a murder case and the kidnapping of the Assistant DA, Nicole Alvarez."

"Who, by the way, is the leading prosecutor in your conspiracy-to-commit-fraud case," Walsh added.

"Yes," Blanch said, in an unexpected British accent. "Noel's been trying to worm his way back into the family's graces for years."

"Is that what he's trying to do here?" Shraeger asked. "Impress you so you'll admit him back into the family business?"

"I've no idea what he's trying to do," Blanch said. "Detective Shraeger, is it?"

"Yes."

"And Jason Walsh." Blanch folded his hands on the table. The smirk deepened.

"We found Assistant DA Alvarez in a box on a train, Mr. Blanch," Walsh said.

"That's... novel," Blanch said.

"She was kidnapped outside her office just before she was due in court for your preliminary hearing," Walsh continued. "You see where we're going with this?"

"I do," Blanch said.

Shraeger leaned forward. "Linking you to the kidnapping of the Assistant DA can add up to fifteen years to your sentence, Mr. Blanch. If you know anything about your nephew's involvement..."

"I know nothing of Noel's comings and goings," Blanch said. "Nor do I wish to."

"Are you married, Mr. Blanch?" Shraeger asked.

Blanch's smile grew into a leer. "You've really got nothing, do you?" He chuckled softly. "See, I know police. I know how you work. A detective sees something broken – a clock, for example – and he devotes all of his time, sifting through pieces to put it back together. What he never understands is that once it's broken, what good is it to anyone? It's nothing but a useless collection of broken pieces. It can never go back to being a clock. Isn't that right, Mr. Walsh?"

"Beg your pardon?" Walsh asked.

Shraeger decided to play dumb and held out her hands in mock surrender. She said, "Hold up, wait, I'm confused by your metaphor. Are people the clocks here? Are the crimes the clocks? And what does that have to do with Noel?"

"A clock is a clock, Detective Shraeger," Blanch said.

Walsh stood up. "All right. It's time to go," he said.

"I agree," she said, following his lead. "Big waste of time."

But there was something predatory in the way Blanch watched them go, something triumphant in his smile that made her skin crawl.

XXX

Back outside, Shraeger stuffed her hands in her pockets. "Well—"

"—He knows," Walsh said.

She jogged to catch up to him. "Knows what?"

"He's not playing the game, Casey," Walsh said. "That's why he didn't answer any of our questions. He doesn't have to. He's an observer. He's watching..."

"...And all the cryptic clock talk?"

"That was aimed at me, I think," he said. He leaned his elbows on the car roof. "When you shatter something – really shatter it – it can't ever go back to being what it was."

"Like...?"

"Like a guy who plays ball can never just go back to playing ball..."

Shraeger nodded. She understood. "He called you Mr. Walsh."

"He called you Detective Shraeger. He knows," Walsh said again. He unlocked the car door and dropped heavily into the driver's seat.

"And he's not talking," Shraeger said, following suit. "Which means we're back to Noel. And we have," she checked her watch. "Nineteen hours before HQ shuts us down."

Walsh started the engine. "Let me ask you this," he said. "Did it seem to you that Blanch was enjoying this?"

Her stomach rolled. "Yes," she said. "Savoring it, more like."

Walsh backed out of the parking spot and pulled into the street. "That's what I thought," he said. "Who doesn't enjoy watching a good game?"

(Continued in the next post)

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