Chapter 12: Cold Case
Chapter 12: Cold Case
Lt. Chelli and his squad were called into the Commissioner’s office at 9 a.m., three days after Christmas. He delivered the word to them that the investigation of the disappearance of Leah Emerson was to be put into inactive status. Chelli’s squad was to disassemble and be put to other duties, and Chelli was to oversee them as per the usual.
“This is a missing child case. We can’t just let it go,” Chelli argued, swallowing thickly. He remembered his promise to Lucy Emerson and was not prepared to give up the search.
“This is a drowned child case. The Coast Guard is as certain of it as they can be without actually having a body. Let the family know so they can put her to rest,” Erickson ordered.
“With all due respect, sir, they will never be able to put her to rest without…”
“Sadly, some people have to. We have some family crisis counselors we can set them up with. But, we’ve done all we can. Our officers are needed elsewhere now.”
Chelli knew the Commissioner’s word was final, and even one last argument wouldn’t sway him. He felt embittered; obviously, Erickson didn’t know what it was like to lose a child. All the crisis counselors in the world wouldn’t be able to mend the hole in the Emerson’s hearts. Critical stitches were missing.
Erickson hadn’t been the commissioner when Chelli’s daughter, Star had gone missing. Her disappearance was treated as a run away teenager case, but her whereabouts had still been investigated. Then, the Thompson kid had vanished. Though missing persons reports were the norm in Santa Carla in those days, kids were rarely reported missing. The town had been shaken up by the sudden disappearances of a high school junior and a third grade boy within the same two week span. Suddenly, Star’s disappearance was looked at as a possible abduction; for certainly, the eight year old boy’s case was.
For months, nothing concrete turned up. A few yokels called in to the police station from time to time saying they spotted one or the other (or sometimes, even both of them together) late at night on the boardwalk. Yet, when questioned, the witnesses could rarely pull together enough details to make the investigators believe they’d done anything more than glimpse at the Missing posters that were plastered all over town.
The strain had been too much for Chelli’s marriage. They had already been on thin ice to begin with. Susan had a hard time dealing with the varied shifts that Chelli worked. Often, she felt alone, especially when Star and her younger sister Serenity became teenagers. Suddenly, the girls were more interested in their social lives, and Susan found she had no one to talk to. Chelli remembered how distant he’d been back in those days. Police work wasn’t something one could discuss with the wife. Eventually, the couple began to fight. During the height of their marital distress, Star went missing. Rather than deal with his disintegrating family life, Chelli did the one thing he was familiar with: Police work. He scrutinized every detail over and over, trying to solve the puzzle. While trying to find the one missing member of his family, he neglected the ones that were still there. Before long, Susan asked for a separation. She also took custody of Serenity, who’d been fourteen at the time.
Once Star had been found, Chelli had hopes that he could reunite his family. Unfortunately, it was too late for their marriage. Despite that, he and Susan decided to put away their differences for the good of their daughters. As a result, the divorce was as peaceful as possible, and both remained committed parents to Serenity…and to Star when she came back home. Today, he and Susan could talk quite civilly, even if they didn’t consider themselves close. One never stopped being a parent; even when the kids were grown and out of the house.
Chelli was living proof of how tragedies like this could pull families apart. Fortunately, the Thompson family had better coping skills than he and Susan had. They had remained a united front throughout the entire investigation of their son’s whereabouts. Chelli would hook Lucy and Sam Emerson up with them for support during their ordeal if both the Thompson’s weren’t dead. They had met their untimely ends in a bus accident while taking a casino tour to Reno nearly two years ago.
Crisis counselors didn’t know squat. It was people that had lived through an experience like theirs that could help the Emerson’s cope with whatever outcome resulted…..and all of the uncertainty and waiting in between.
Chelli was forced to obey the Commissioner’s orders up front, at least. No more officers would be dispatched to look for the kid. Furthermore, any investigations he did would have to be off the clock. Still, he’d made a promise, and he was a man of principle. He didn’t break his promises. If the kid really had drowned, Chelli wouldn’t rest until he had sufficient facts to give to the family. One soggy shoe didn’t seal a case in his book.
And, if some other fate had befallen Leah Emerson, Chelli vowed he wouldn’t rest until he learned what it was.
Sam Emerson clutched the phone tightly, holding it to his ear while he vainly tried to seal out his mother’s sobs. The cops had come and told them that they’d turned over every leaf, but it was time to admit the inevitable. Sam bit back his retorts to suggest to them that they hadn’t considered EVERY possibility. Somehow, suggesting to the officers that a werewolf had mangled his daughter would likely get him locked up in the Rubber Room.
“No, Mike, no word yet, except from the cops. A pair of dumb shit officers came over this afternoon and told us that they’re putting the investigation on the back burner.”
“Sammy, are you sure you don’t need me out there? I can catch the first flight and be there by morning…”
“No, Mike, why? There isn’t jack you can do….”
“What about Mom? I can hear her back there…she’s falling apart!”
“Mike, just stay put. Mom’s stronger than you think, but if she starts losing it, I’ll send her out to you guys. Maybe a change of scenery would do her some good.”
“What about Grandpa? How’s he taking this?” Michael asked.
“He’s in la-la land. Total denial. He keeps muttering stuff about ‘all the damn vampires’, if that gives you a clue.”
“He’s really starting to lose touch, isn’t he?”
“What do you expect? He’s 84 years old,” Sam replied.
“If you send Mom out here, what about Grandpa? Can he travel?”
“I’m sure he could, but he won’t. You know him. No TV, no electric clothes dryer, no dishwasher…no airplanes. I’ll keep an eye on him,” Sam said.
“How long are you going to stay in Santa Carla?” Michael asked.
“As long as it takes. I’ve made arrangements with my contractors, so I can work at home. I went home the day after Christmas and got what I needed in case I’m here for awhile.”
He had also stopped in to check on Jennifer, who was a wreck. For once, she had looked happy to see him. He’d also made contacts to supply himself with an adequate amount of ‘coping dust’.
“Star wants to know if her old man is in charge of the investigation.”
“Lt. Chelli? Yeah. He is…I mean, was before the department reassigned him,” Sam answered.
Suddenly, Sam could hear movement on the other end of the line.
“Sam, it’s me, Star. I just want you guys to know that my dad won’t give up, no matter what the department tells him. Let Lucy know for me, will you?”
“Yeah, I will,” Sam agreed.
The phone call ended a short time later, and Sam exhaled a huge sigh of relief. It was important to keep Mike out of Santa Carla. He didn’t need to run into David again. One family tragedy was enough.
Some time after the pair of officers had informed Lucy and Sam of the status of the investigation, Lt. Chelli stopped by. He was off duty now, and wore plain clothes. Lucy allowed him in. Her tears had stopped by then, but her face was still drawn and pale.
“I don’t know exactly where I’m going to go from here, but I just want you to know that I meant what I said when this whole thing started. I won’t give up until we have an answer,” he reaffirmed.
“Star said you wouldn’t. I just talked with her a few minutes ago,” Sam said, taking a seat in the living room where Lucy and Lt. Chelli were sequestered.
Lt. Chelli smiled.
“She would know.”
“You don’t know what a relief it is to hear you say this, Lt. Chelli. I can’t believe everyone else is just giving up!” Lucy cried.
“The bottom line is funding. It gets expensive chasing dead ends, I’m afraid. But, my work won’t cost the department a thing. By the way, you can call me Stan. We are family, after all,” he told them. Though he implied such to both of them, his gaze primarily rested on Lucy.
Sam gritted his teeth. A ghost from many years ago stirred in his mind, resurrected by Lt. Chelli’s words: “We are family after all…”
His mind flashed back to a scene from twenty years ago. Max, standing in the living room, gone all fang-glory, leering at Lucy and explaining the plans he’d made for her, himself and Michael…
‘Just like one big happy family…’
Did Lt. Chelli believe in werewolves? Vampires? Did he know how close his daughter had come to being a creature of the night?
“I have some leads I’m going to investigate. I’m still in contact with Gabriel Thompson. He told me that one of his employees had a run in with someone on the beach on the 22nd of December, and reported it in the log book. She’s been off the last few nights, but tonight, she’s reporting back to duty, so I’m going to ask her some questions,” Lt. Chelli was saying.
“Will you let me know what comes of it?” Lucy asked.
“I’ll keep you posted on everything. I know it’s frustrating when things are so slow, but I just wanted to let you both know that I’m on your side, and I’m not giving up.”
“Thank you so much, Lt. Chelli…I mean, Stan,” Lucy said as she wiped away a fresh set of tear tracks. Only this time, the tears she shed were more of relief than grief. Someone was still holding out hope.
“Yeah, thank you. This means a lot,” Sam told him.
Lt. Chelli left a few minutes later. Then, Sam looked at Lucy.
“I’m glad he’s on our side. He said he has some leads, and I have a couple of my own. I won’t be out late.”
“Sam? What leads? Where are you going?” Lucy asked.
“I don’t know if you’d really call them leads. I just want to talk to Laddie myself. He might be able to give me a ‘missing kid’s’ perspective on things. He was gone an awful long time and never contacted his folks, you know. Maybe he could tell me why…it’s one of the things that’s been eating at me. If Leah’s alive, why hasn’t she tried to call” he explained.
“Just be careful, Sam. You know the police might not like it if you go sticking your nose in the middle of their investigation…”
“Mom, there is no more investigation, remember? I’m Leah’s father, and I’ll stick my nose where I damn well please.”
After he revitalized himself with his ‘coping powder’, Sam climbed into his car and headed down to the boardwalk. Instead of stopping in to talk to the head of boardwalk security, he went to Frog’s Comics. Both of the brothers were there, as usual.
“The cops have called a stop to the investigation. Well, the official word is that they’ve put it on the back burner,” Sam informed them angrily.
“Bullshit. The Commish is just pulling the mortal cops off that particular beat. He doesn’t want any more humans poking around, in case they get wind of something other than human,” Edgar told him stoically.
“The Commish? Is he…?”
“He’s a werewolf, according to Ed’s wife. She knows…she has to work with the bastard,” Alan explained.
“Your wife is a cop?”
“No. She’s the mayor. You knew that, didn’t you?” Edgar asked.
“Well, I knew you got hitched, but I didn’t know you married the Mayor of Santa Carla,” Sam replied.
“She wasn’t the mayor when we first got married, but she is now and has been for the last two years. Anyhow, Shelby knows who’s what in the City Council…and she also knows what Commissioner Erickson is.”
“Besides ‘full of shit’,” Alan added.
“So, then, what’s the deal with Lt. Chelli? He’s the one that told us that the investigation was being stalled, but he also told us that he plans to investigate on his own. Is he one of them…or one of us?”
“Lt. Chelli. Shelby’s never mentioned his name when talking about ghouls and werewolves. And, if the dude gets around in the sunlight, it’s pretty safe to assume he’s not a night stalker, either,” Edgar said.
“Has he seen anything? Given you any leads to suggest that he knows anything more than what the papers are spewing?” Alan asked.
“Not really…He did mention that one of the boardwalk security guards saw someone out on the beach a few nights ago and logged the incident down in the record book.”
The three men gazed at each other apprehensively.
“No…couldn’t have been us the guard saw. We haven’t been out there for over a week.”
“Someone else then. Maybe the wolf,” Edgar stated.
“Hey, they have surveillance cameras that do regular sweeps. I wonder if there’s anything recorded? If so, we might get a possible ID on the suspect-” Alan suggested.
“Yeah, and then we’ll be able to see if the ‘perp’ is listed in our ‘Werewolves, Vampires and Ghouls directory,” Edgar finished.
“You guys have a directory on the werewolves, ghouls and vampires in this town?” Sam asked.
“Damn straight we do.” Edgar replied.
“Next question, then. Do we clue Lt. Chelli in to the fact that we’re doing our own investigation, or should we just let him do his own thing?”
“Hell no, we don’t clue him in. Let him investigate to his heart’s content. Meanwhile, we’ll be watching him. Just because he’s not in our book doesn’t mean he might not be a future candidate. One never knows about people in this town,” Alan replied.
Sam had to agree.
“When did he say he was going to question the guard?” Edgar asked.
“I got the impression he’s going tonight,” Sam replied.
“If it wasn’t Laddie that saw the perp, then it had to be one of the two grave shift guards. Either the big, bald Jamaican guy..”
“Jules, I think his name is,” Edgar said.
“Yeah, either Jules or Maria’s daughter, Alexandra,” Alan stated.
“Yeah, you know, Maria. The chick that works with your old lady at Video Max.”
“I know who Maria is. I just didn’t know she had a daughter,” Sam said.
“Now you know. Anyways…”
“Wait,” Sam interrupted, “It has to be her, then. Lt. Chelli specifically mentioned that the guard has been off for the last few nights, and is returning back tonight. He referred to the guard as a ‘she’…and, it also means that he is planning to talk to her tonight.”
“Well, then so will we. The night guard comes on shift at 11. He’ll probably question her first. We’ll stick around and question her after he leaves,” Edgar said.
Just as they thought, Lt. Chelli was waiting for Alex as soon as she came on shift. The three men waited patiently while Chelli asked his questions, but from their distance, they could not hear the conversation. He stayed for about fifteen minutes, and then he left Alex to finish the rest of her shift in peace.
Or so she thought. Ten minutes after the police lieutenant left, Alex saw the Frog brothers heading straight towards her. With them was another man she didn’t recognize.
“Hey, guys, how’s things with the shop?” she greeted casually, although the look in her eyes suggested that she knew they weren’t there to discuss store security.
“Things are groovy. Say, this is Sam Emerson, little Leah’s father. He heard from Chelli earlier tonight that you saw someone on the beach a few nights ago, and that he planned to question you about it,” Edgar opened.
“Yeah, Lt. Chelli stopped by here a few minutes ago,” Alex answered. She studied the trio carefully. Having the Frog brothers around asking questions made her nervous. What should she say to them…and to the girl’s father, who stood not three feet away from her.
“What about this guy you saw on the beach?” Sam prodded, “Did he act suspicious?”
“Anyone that is out on the beach by themselves past midnight looks suspicious in my book, so I approached him when he was coming back to unlock his bike from the stair rails. I hate to disappoint you guys, but he was just a kid…a teenager, really. He said he couldn’t sleep and that when he gets insomnia, he walks on the beach.”
“And you believed his load of crap?” Edgar voiced.
“Excuse me? What was I supposed to think? It’s not like he was wearing torn, bloody clothes, and it’s not like I caught him dumping a lump wrapped in a tarp off the side of the pier,” Alex snapped.
She knew she had to watch her temper, but Edgar’s comment pissed her off. Suddenly, she wished she could pull her new shades down over her eyes in case they flared.
“Chill out, Edgar. Let me handle this, please,” Sam interjected. Then, he turned to Alex. His eyes had a pleading expression, but Alex thought she noticed something else about him, too. His eyes were glassed over, just like Paul’s got when he’d been getting high on coke or crank. His pupils were very wide, too, even though they were all standing in a fairly well lit area.
“So this guy was a teenager?” he asked.
“Yeah, maybe fifteen or sixteen, if that. He was Hispanic and smallish for his age, but I could tell he was well into his teens because his voice was deep; and he had a bit of a caterpillar moustache on his top lip. He was on a bicycle…a silver mountain bike. No helmet. He wore a black ‘Harbor High’ sweatshirt and a pair of dark blue jeans,” she answered.
“Did you ID him?” Alan asked.
“He didn’t have an ID on him, but he told me that his name was Jake. I told him that he was trespassing, and the idea seemed to scare the shit out of him, so he bailed.”
“It didn’t seem odd to you that a teenaged kid was out on the beach by himself?” Edgar pressed.
“Actually, you’d be amazed how many teenaged kids I see skulking around the boardwalk at night. They make up at least half of the trespassing incident reports I write. The other half is bums. But, I already told you that anyone I see walking around on the beach alone, late at night, will arouse my suspicions. He wasn’t supposed to be there, plain and simple. What surprised me is that I didn’t find any evidence on him to suggest that he was there to spray paint graffiti on the walls.”
“Did you notice anything else odd about him? Was he unusually pale, have bad breath or long fingernails or anything like that?” Alan asked.
“Christ, the kid was not a vampire, okay? But…come to think of it, there was one strange thing I noticed, but I don’t know if it had anything to do with the boy or not…”
“What?” the three of them asked in unison.
“I kept smelling ‘dog’. Like maybe he lives in a house with lots of pet dogs or something,” Alex answered.
The three men exchanged glances. Then, Edgar regarded Alex again.
“Dog….or werewolf?” he asked.
“I’d have to say ‘dog’, simply because I don’t know what a werewolf smells like.”
“Any chance we could view the surveillance tapes from that night?” Alan asked.
“You’d have to get permission from my supervisor. He’s the only one that’s allowed to handle them.”
They all nodded in understanding.
“Thanks, Alex. You’ve been a big help,” Sam told her sincerely.
She nodded to him soberly.
“I hope everything turns out okay. My supervisor comes on shift at 3 o’clock in the afternoon tomorrow. You can talk to him then,” she offered.
Then, she dismissed herself to start her rounds. Sam reviewed what she’d told him in his mind. He knew that ‘dog’ smell, and he couldn’t wait to see the tapes the next day. Finally, after all this time, he dared to hope that a real lead had surfaced.