Authors: David McLeod
The early morning sun was coming up over Los Angeles. The traffic was gridlocked, smog covered the city, and the temperature was already sitting in the low seventies. Despite air-conditioning, frustration was pushing temperatures inside cars well above the hundred mark and the commuters were choosing horns and abusive hand signals over indicators.
The Travicom building stood tall and proud among the concrete giants of downtown Los Angeles. Its dominant position offered views of the city in all directions, and the bright blue and white colours of its corporate logo could be seen from the homes of the uptown rich on
Mulholland Drive all the way to the ghettos of South Central.
Simon Travis was Travicom's founder and CEO. His office was in the penthouse of the building. The space was wide and open; a large dark brown mahogany desk dominated the side of the room that faced the ocean. When things got too much (and smog permitted), he found the ocean view — even that far up — more effective than any yoga or meditation class could have been; it soothed his soul and calmed his spirit.
Travicom, a world leader in corporate communications — specializing in computer and internet technology — had focused much of its recent attention on the emerging science of teleportation. This was a concept that had intrigued Travis since his childhood addiction to
Star Trek. Hearing 'Beam me up, Scotty,' still brought a wistful smile to his face. Travicom's research lab in the Sorrento Valley had already managed to teleport protons, and the company was rapidly becoming a Wall Street favourite, recently making it into the Fortune 500 list.
State-of-the-art technology was displayed around Travis' office. On one wall several screens with up-to-the-minute CNN worldwide news and stock reports were continuously displayed — for effect rather than any real purpose. Travis had seen a display like it in a movie once and thought it impressive. But the wall of clocks showing the time all around the world were definitely not just for show.
For as long as he could remember, Travis had been obsessed with time. He liked to blame his premature birth. 'Couldn't wait to get started,' he often joked, but it was a compulsion that regularly spilt over into his business life. No one was ever late for a meeting with
In the centre of the room a glass display cabinet held a three-foot model of Star Trek's USS
. Its glossy white shape gleamed under spotlights, never failing to draw comment from visitors. He had built it himself — so long ago. The kit had been a present from his parents — one of the Travis' few positive remaining links to them.
'It's your job to make it work!' Travis barked into the phone. He was a tall, athletically slim man with short-cropped brown hair and brown eyes. A dark goatee compensated for his lack of jaw line, and a California tan and pearly white teeth ensured he got more than his share of female attention. He was dressed impeccably in a royal blue suit, custom-tailored for him at Armani's Beverly Hills boutique; his shirt was whale-bone white, his silk tie blood red.
Pressing the receiver to his ear, he was listening intently. Colour was beginning to rise in his face and his lips were tightly pursed. His eyes slowly scanned the room before focusing on his motto:
The Meek shall inherit the world,
But the When is up to me!
His attention returned to the conversation on the phone, and the tapping of his pen on the desk began to increase in pace and volume as his frustration with the caller rose. His ear throbbed as blood struggled to get past the blockage the receiver was causing. Travis flicked the phone to loudspeaker and replaced the handset. Leaning over the microphone, he broke his silence.
'What do you mean it can't be done by then? My patience is stretched as far as I intend it to go. I realize I originally said I needed it by the last week of the month, but now I'm saying I need it by the end of this week. You've already had three months to work on it, what could possibly take so long?'
He listened to excuse after excuse from the man at the other end of the phone. 'Uh huh, uh huh,' he snapped, dismissing the man's justifications without regard. 'We're messing with time, and as you well know, patience is a virtue I do not possess! You have your new deadline and I expect to see the results by then, if not before!' Travis disconnected the speakerphone with a swift jab, and immediately pushed the intercom button to call his PA.
'Yes sir?' Her voice was soft but professional.
'Where's my coffee? Why the hell does everything in this city take so fucking long to happen?' Again, a sharp stab at a button concluded the exchange. Travis turned towards the ocean view. After a long time, he took a deep breath and began to relax.
There was a gentle knock at the door. Taylor, petite, in her early forties, immaculate in a chocolate-brown business suit, quietly entered the room. Her blue eyes were vivid and her light brown hair was pulled tightly back from her face. Her makeup hid a few early wrinkles but not her freckles. She was carrying Travis' favourite Star Trek mug filled with freshly brewed black coffee, and a copy of the
As she set them down and turned to leave, Travis swivelled his chair around. The expression on his face was apologetic.
It seemed Taylor had been his PA forever, and that for Travis meant she was a rare find. After a string of PAs who were too fat, too thin, too clever, or too stupid, he thought he'd never find a good one. He liked the fact she'd been raw when she first joined him. He felt he'd raised and nurtured her himself, moulding her to perfection. The reality was no one but Taylor had been willing to put up with his mood swings, and over the years she'd become his confidante and — he guessed — his friend. 'I'm sorry,' he offered, knowing he'd overstepped the mark.
Although Taylor didn't seem overly upset, there was some satisfaction in making her squirm a little. 'It's been a long night and a very early morning. I'm trying to get our resident mad scientist, Dr Androna, to finish his part of a project way ahead of schedule because . . .' Aware that she was less than impressed, he trailed off and changed tack. 'You know, you look very nice today. Have you had your hair cut?'
Taylor's hand immediately rose to her head. Her hair was in a tight bun — he'd got her. She blushed a little and smiled; he knew she never could manage to stay mad at him for long. She turned again to go.
'No, wait. Come and sit with me for a while.' The frustrations of the past few weeks were beginning to get to him, and maybe a chat with Taylor would help put him back on track.
Taylor pulled the black leather chair closer to his desk, positioning herself on its front edge. Had she sat back in the chair she'd have sunk below the desk line, giving Travis the superior position. This was something he'd had in mind when he ordered the office furniture; it was an ideal strategy for him in his day-to-day business dealings. Once again, something he'd picked up from the movies.
'What's on your mind?' she asked.
'I was thinking of you, really. Are you happy here?'
Taylor thought about the question for a while. 'I'm still here, aren't
I?' She had a little smirk on her face.
He realized she was in a playful mood, and they would need to spar a bit before he could take the conversation where he wanted it to go. 'There's a position available in the mailroom; I'm sure someone with your talents would fit in perfectly there, do you want me to have a word?'
She was far too bright to bite on such a feeble attempt to goad her.
'Sounds very interesting. I'd be more than happy to find you a suitable replacement. There must be someone in LA who hasn't heard about you!'
He was definitely losing this round. His tone changed. 'It's my parents' wedding anniversary today.' His face was deeply serious.
'Your parents? Aren't they . . . ?' She stopped mid-sentence, a little abashed.
'I'm sorry. You've never told me how they died.'
Images of their deaths flooded his mind. 'It was an accident,' was all he would say. 'Taylor, are you religious?' He was wrestling in his mind, debating whether or not to tell her about his current project.
Would she understand what he was doing or why he was doing it?
Or would she judge him? He looked into her blue eyes, trying to get a handle on her mood.
'This is a deep conversation for this time of the morning,' she said.
'What's going on?'
'I'm not sure what's going on, exactly. I could just be tired.'
No, today was not the day to let her in. Travis shook himself out of his mood, and changed the subject again. 'What do I have on today?'
Taylor recited the day's appointments and, although she still seemed concerned about his attitude, left his office and returned to her desk.
Travis stared at the closed door. He wondered again, briefly, if he should have told her what was really on his mind. Maybe later, he thought.
The strong coffee coated his taste buds and he felt the rush immediately; wondering if it was a basic placebo effect or if caffeine really worked that quickly, he picked up the paper and began to scan the headlines.
The morning sun flooded Malone's living room. Once again he'd slept the night on his recliner. On any other day he'd have changed his position and gone back to sleep, comforted by the chair's warm embrace.
But today was different; today he got up willingly.
As Malone opened the door to his daughter's bedroom, he reopened the door to his memories. There she was, at the desk doing her homework; she looked up, smiled, and then returned to her work.
Nothing came between Mary and her schoolwork, a rule laid down by his wife, and a rule that Mary herself enforced. He shook the images out of his head; he didn't need her ghost returning at this moment.
The room looked exactly as it had five years ago, still waiting for her return. As he gazed around, the room's pink and white colours seemed to flood his mind; once again he shook himself free of it. He knew what he had to do, and he didn't want to be distracted.
Ripping down the posters of Justin Timberlake, he started to clear the wall furthest from the door. He moved the bed to a side-on position and opened the door to the closet in order to house the room's soon-to-be-evicted teddy bears and bright cushions.
Once the room was cleared, he pinned the picture of his daughter in the middle of the wall and stood back. For the first time in years he felt a sense of achievement; this feeling was tempered with a small amount of trepidation. Yesterday, re-opening this wound had been the furthest thing from his mind.
From one of the desk's drawers he pulled out a notepad and some pens. The first few pens refused to work, even his vigorous scribbling failed to get their dried ink to flow. Sorting through the rest, he found a pen he recalled his wife ordering from the shopping network; the advert boasted that it would even write in space. I wonder if it works in hell? he thought as he ran it over the pad. The pen worked immediately.
He pulled the chair up to the desk and started to recall the events of five years ago; some information came to him as if it was only yesterday, and some . . . well, some he knew he would have to wait a while to retrieve. He did his best to sketch a picture of a van, and in thick letters wrote About Plumbing on its side.
He pinned a few sheets of notes next to his daughter's photo and directly below, pinned the picture of the van. He repeated the exercise with Mary Salinas' details and the About Plumbing van. Once again he stood back from the wall. The glaringly obvious links were the girls' names and the beige vans — not much to go on, but he believed there was enough for him to take it further.
After showering, he went to his wardrobe to find something to wear — something smarter than his usual bar attire, something suitable for the day ahead of him. The odour of mothballs hit hard as he pulled the door open; the thought of smelling like that for the rest of the day made him close it immediately. Rummaging through his chest of drawers, he picked out an old pair of chinos and a polo shirt. After checking his new look in the mirror, he decided he'd have to do some shopping.
Malone took a cab to the police station. It had been a long time since his cab journeys had deviated from the Dog Box and, as he looked through the window at the city, he felt a small tug of nostalgia. After paying the driver and stepping from the cab, Malone felt relieved that the man hadn't started a conversation. He was in no mood to pass the time of day, and he certainly didn't want to talk about his reason for going to the police station. Still, he felt a little abandoned as he watched the cab slip into the daytime traffic and disappear. A feeling of déjà vu hit him as he walked into the station. How many times had he stood in this lobby hoping for some — any — information?
His thoughts were shattered as the front door hit him violently from behind. A handcuffed man was being bundled through the door by a very large policeman whose shoulders filled out his uniform and whose face showed discontent combined with a hint of an apology.
The big cop forced the handcuffed man up to the main desk and was quickly buzzed in. All this commotion did nothing to settle Malone's nerves.
His legs felt heavy and he wondered if it was nerves, or the fact that they weren't used to being away from a barstool so long. He moved to the front desk where, without looking up, the desk sergeant asked him what he wanted.
'I'm looking for Detective Logan,' Malone said nervously.
'Is he expecting you?' the officer asked impatiently.
'I don't think he'd expect me . . . ever again.' Malone gave a small laugh.
The desk sergeant looked up from his paperwork. He looked
Malone up and down, and then seemed to recognize him. His expression immediately turned hostile. 'I'll see if he's in,' he said uneasily as he reached for the phone. He tapped in some numbers and waited for an answer. 'Logan, yeah it's the front desk, I think you need to come down here.' He spoke with his hand around the mouthpiece.
The desk sergeant's uneasiness was clear to Malone but the reason for it, however, was not. Hazy memories ebbed and flowed. The last time he'd been in the police station he was drunk and pissed with the whole world; that was something he recalled for sure. Having spent hours in some bar, another lead had no doubt sprung into his head. It had been a vicious cycle; the drinking sessions had uncovered lots of leads he was sure would help find his daughter. Unfortunately, every clue he brought to Logan failed to get him any closer to recovering her. This increased Malone's frustrations, and his drinking — and so the cycle continued.
Looking back, he couldn't actually remember what great lead he'd brought to the station that last day, but he started to recall the expressions on the officers' faces. His frustrations had often turned to rage as he tried to convince the detectives his leads were valid.
Malone surveyed the room; there was still a small hole in the wall by the door where, if he remembered correctly — before he was handcuffed and dragged through to the cells — he'd managed a few kicks, causing damage to both the wall and . . . ahh, now he had it, damage to the desk sergeant.
In defence of the LAPD, he felt now they'd put up with the ravings of a drunk for far too long, but at the time, well, that was another story. Malone began to feel a little embarrassed and thought about apologizing, but was interrupted by a loud voice.
'Well, well, well! Good afternoon, Father Malone.' Detective Logan was standing in the doorway that the burly officer and his catch had been buzzed through, but Logan hardly filled it the same way. He stood only one metre seventy and was dressed in a faded brown suit that looked two sizes too big for him and was as wrinkled as if he'd slept in it for a week. He had salt-and-pepper hair hanging shabbily over his ears and large bags under his dark eyes. Logan looked tired, but oddly pleased to see Malone.
Malone walked towards him, and the desk sergeant began to stand up. Logan waved him away and offered Malone his hand to shake.
'You look sober.'
Malone took the proffered hand in a firm grip. 'Almost a whole day now,' he said.
Logan held the door open and invited Malone in.
They made their way through a labyrinth of partitioned cubicles.
The atmosphere felt charged, alive with activity; officers were everywhere, on phones or typing up reports. Malone followed Logan down corridors and along aisles, taking left and right turns as each path ended.
I should drop a trail of breadcrumbs, Malone thought.
Seeming to sense his disorientation, Logan said, 'Don't worry, someone will escort you out.'
They stopped at the coffee machine where two officers were talking about a case, or it could have been the football results; either way, they went quiet and moved off.
'Black, please.' Malone realized it had been some hours since his last caffeine fix and wondered if that was why his mind had been drifting.
Logan grabbed two polystyrene cups from the stack, placed them on the desktop and poured the coffees. He picked up both cups, handed one to Malone and blew onto his own. 'Help yourself to sugar.'
Malone declined with a wave of his hand and they walked towards
Logan's desk. As they moved away, the two officers returned to the coffee machine and resumed their conversation.
Logan's desk was as disorganized as his clothing. Papers, pens, and half-empty coffee cups littered the surface. To the far left sat an old computer monitor. Although the screen was small, the bulky grey plastic case seemed to take up the whole side of the desk. The keys on the computer keyboard were blacker than their identifying markings.
As Logan took a seat behind the desk he moved a small pile of paperwork, putting it onto a bigger one to make room for his coffee.
Malone slid a metal chair closer to the side of the desk, took a sip of the bitter, stale coffee and sat down. Once again he felt uncomfortable
— and it wasn't just the chair. Finding eye contact with Logan difficult, he looked deep into the blackness of the coffee. After what seemed an age, he looked up and slowly began. 'Did you see the news yesterday afternoon?'
'I don't get to watch much TV nowadays, but I can only assume you're referring to the Salinas kid's abduction.'
Malone nodded and continued, 'I know, in the past, some of my theories and leads have been a little off-base . . .'
off-base,' Logan interrupted.
'I guess I deserve that, but have you looked into the similarities?'
'What do you mean?'
Malone proceeded to tell him what little he knew so far. 'Well, there's the same coloured beige van of course; there's the fact they're both plumbing vans; both the girls' names are Mary and both girls are about the same age and physical profile. I realize the abductions are five years apart, and on opposite sides of the city, and I also know it's too early to say whether Mary Salinas has been kidnapped or abducted — or even if she's run away — but . . .'
Malone was starting to listen to himself, and the tenuous link he was making between the two crimes. 'Listen, Logan . . . I know it's not much; in fact, the more I say it out loud, the less I feel I actually have. But all I can say is I feel there's something in this. There's just something that makes me feel the two girls' cases are related in some way.' A hint of desperation had appeared in Malone's tone.
Logan sat and listened, watching Malone's body language for signs of looming aggression. He saw none. All he saw was a man who seemed to be awakening from a coma, a man with a new lease on life.
'So, the best you have for me is a van and a couple of coincidences?
Not much, my friend.'
Malone leaned forward and was about to interrupt.
'But . . . you've come to me with worse, and I've chased down leads that have had less going for them, so let's see if this one has legs.' Logan turned to the computer and slapped the side of the monitor. 'Technology! I'm told it's the future of police work, but I think the jury's still out on that one. But let's see what it's got to offer.'
The computer took a while to come to life, its electrons struggling desperately to hit the inside of the glass screen with enough energy to give information to the viewer on the outside. Logan should have upgraded to LCD long ago, but he claimed to like the old CRT. He often said it matched his crime-solving techniques; it might be slow to start, but always came through in the end. Logan shrunk his hand into his sleeve and rubbed the screen clean, then began to type in his ID and password. Once in the system, he used a mixture of tab keys and typing to get to the case file he wanted. The Salinas missing person report was basic, and he scanned down the pages and drilled through to the witness statements, finally stopping on the page he was searching for. His eyebrows rose as he digested the information and then he backtracked to the title page.
Logan got up and went to the filing cabinet. He pulled open the middle drawer and started to run his fingers towards the back. The filing tabs appeared to have dates on them and Malone wondered how many unsolved cases were in there. Logan got to the file he wanted and pulled out a large manila folder. Returning to his desk, he dropped it loudly; the folder looked solid and heavy, like an encyclopaedia.
Malone knew a lot of work had been done on his behalf, and there'd been no result.
Logan opened the folder and started moving the basic missing person forms to the left-hand side. This was followed by reams of witness statements; he flicked through these until he got to the one he wanted.
Jack Bellemy, also known as Mad Jack, was Malone's neighbour.
He was a retired schoolteacher who'd earned his nickname by cutting his lawn with a pair of nail scissors. Not just trimming the edges, either — as if that would make it all right. No, he spent hours on his hands and knees, manicuring his entire front lawn. He'd always been odd, but only a generally accepted — talking to himself as he walked down the street — type of odd. Sometimes he'd be seen at his window conducting a symphony orchestra on his stereo, his arms flailing and a pencil for a baton. But it was the lawn-trimming stunt that promoted him from eccentric to mad.
In his statement, Mad Jack said that on the day of Mary Malone's disappearance, he'd been walking his dog around the neighbourhood, something he used to do every day around three in the afternoon.
He'd walked out of his gate, taken a right down Vine Street to the end, then right again into Avril Road until he got to the park. He liked the park because he could sit and watch the people, and his dog liked the run. Then it was back home for dinner. On his way home, he'd seen a parked van, a beige one with About Plumbing on the side.
He'd remembered the name of the company because his dog's name was Costello.
The immediate problem with this story was that he had no dog; his Jack Russell had died a few years back. But other neighbours confirmed that he did continue to take himself for a walk every day.
Despite the witness's lack of credibility, there was a note on the file saying they'd followed up on the van's company name but had got nowhere.
As Detective Logan was reading the statement aloud, he slowed at the part about the van.