A/N: This is an unconventional epilogue.
March 21st 2007
New York City Crime Lab
New York, New York
I hate Missing Persons cases.
It's the not knowing that kills me. The wondering. It's all theories and speculation. I like facts. I like having something to work with, something to hold in my hands, to touch, to smell.
I remember September 11th, waiting for that call from my wife to let me know she was okay, that she had gotten out of the North Tower safely, that she was walking home in the fog of debris with thousands of others. I remember staring at my phone and waiting for the call. Waiting, and never getting one. Everyone at the lab, they'd clap their hands on my shoulder and say the rescue workers would find her, that she was just waiting to be saved.
I was the one waiting. Waiting in a long line at the morgue to identify her lifeless body.
The pain was unbearable, but I needed to feel it. I let it consume me. She was no longer one of the missing. Her death was no longer an abstract. It was real. Tangible. It was mine.
So many cops lost their lives that day and here I am, Detective Mac Taylor, breathing. Breathing while my wife is underground.
She should be mourning me. I should've been in the towers. I should've been one of the missing.
It didn't work that way.
So here I am. Like some kind of cosmic joke, I have to relive that feeling of not knowing every time a Missing Persons case comes across my desk. I look at the label on the file in my hands: Sally Carpenter. Her photo is paper-clipped to the inside of the folder and I sigh in disgust. She's pretty. Blonde. Big smile. Disappeared on her way home from a friend's thirtieth birthday party in the Village.
Her mother reported her missing.
I flip through the Missing Persons report and stop cold on the third page.
Sally had worked in the South Tower on 9-11. She had been there. She had survived.
And now she was missing.
I reach for my phone and dial Stella's number. "I need you to take this case for me."
"Mac, I would, but I'm in the middle of that cop shooting. The commissioner is breathing down my neck and I—"
"Stella, please," I say quickly.
"I…I'll see what I can do, Mac," she sighs.
August 19th 2007
Fresh Kills Landfill
Staten Island, New York
I hate going to Staten Island. It's so disconnected from the rest of the city. Whenever I'm there, I feel like I'll never be able to leave, like I'm sinking in quicksand and can't quite get out of it.
Still, Staten Island, here I come. A dead body has been found just outside of Fresh Kills. Foul play is suspected. A dead body plus an old landfill always equals foul play. No one just wanders up to a two-thousand acre landfill and kicks the bucket unceremoniously.
The crime scene is being guarded by a local cop, a green rookie who looks ready to puke if he has to spend one more minute with the corpse. "Why don't you take a breather, son?" I tell him, flashing my badge. "Get a drink of water."
"Thank you, sir."
I watch him run off before I turn to take in the sight. She's naked. Young – probably mid-twenties to early thirties. In good shape, too. There's a bag over her head, but by the extensive bruises that mottle her pale skin, I can't be sure if suffocation did her in.
She's got no I.D. – obviously. I lean in close, crouching down to get a better look. Damn, it's hard on my knees, but I'm not complaining. Marines don't complain.
Robbery obviously wasn't a motive: there's a delicate chain circling her throat, just below where the bag is tied. I tilt my head and notice a little charm that had slid down to the back of her neck. With a fine pair of forceps, I grasp the gold charm, twisting it so I can get a better look.
"S.C.?" I say out loud to no one. "South Carolina? Saint Catherine? S…Sally Carpenter." I almost lose my balance then and there. I carefully untie the black plastic bag around her head, adrenaline pumping through my veins with a fury I've known only once before.
"Sally," I breath. "Sally." There she is. Beautiful. Dead. I think back to her Missing Persons file. When did she disappear? March? April? Either way…either way she hasn't been dead long. Not long at all. "Oh, Sally."
I stand up quickly and squeeze my eyes shut. Oh shit. I de-glove and reach for my cell phone, dialing Stella's number. "Hey, what's up?"
No time for pleasantries. I talk fast: "Do you remember that Missing Persons case I handed over to you a few months ago? Sally Carpenter."
"Remember…you said you were too busy for it because you were working the cop case. Remember?" I ask desperately.
"Oh…oh that," she says, and I breath a sigh of relief when I hear recognition in her voice. "I gave it to the new guy."
"The new guy?"
"Yeah. The professor. You know…the one who's over at NYU training new recruits. Dr. Grissom."
"I never met him."
"Well, neither of you seem gung-ho for faculty functions," she remarks. "Call him. He worked it."
I get the number from her and punch it into my phone.
"Dr. Grissom, this is Detective Mac Taylor. I understand you worked the Sally Carpenter Missing Persons case."
I hear him suck in a breath. "Yes."
"A body's been found outside of Fresh Kills. It's Sally. I'm almost positive."
"Are…are you sure? She's been missing for months."
"She may have been missing for months, but my guess is she's been dead less than a day," I tell him as I squint into the hot sun. "There was a plastic bag over her head but I'm not sure if she suffocated. She's covered in bruises – some fresh, some not," I say, grimacing as the words leave my mouth. "And she's got a necklace with—"
"An S and a C on it?" he asks.
August 19th 2007
New York City Morgue
New York, New York
This Grissom guy doesn't talk much. I'm guessing we're about the same age, though his hair is practically white. He looks old, tired, and I'm not sure if it's the case or that's just how he is.
Upon seeing Sally on the slab, he notes that her body had been washed prior to being dumped, and that there'd be little to no physical evidence to go on.
Dr. Grissom is a buzzkill.
I'm pumped. I'm ready to solve this thing, to bring Sally's killer to justice. The facts may be few and far between, but at least we have facts now, and not theories. I want him to talk me through his notes, through the evidence he had gathered after Stella gave him the case.
He only says, "We need to tell her mother."
August 20th 2007
Home of Patricia Carpenter
Whitestone, New York
Mrs. Carpenter greets us at the door. Before we can open our mouths, she leads us into her living room and runs to the kitchen to make us coffee.
I sit on the plastic-covered couch, and Dr. Grissom follows suit. "So…" I begin, "how are you liking New York?"
"It's good," he says.
"Where did you come from? Arizona?"
What a skilled conversationalist. I hear Mrs. Carpenter banging around the clutter in her kitchen. The old woman sounds like she's cooking a four course meal. "You live in Manhattan?"
"Upper East Side."
We sit together in silence until the dotty Mrs. Carpenter comes in carrying a tray with cake and coffee. "Here you go," she smiles, setting it down on the coffee table.
I look at Dr. Grissom, unsure who should start the talking. It's his case and I'm willing to let him take the lead, but he just sits back.
"Mrs. Carpenter," I begin, "the last time you saw Sally—"
"Was my birthday," she smiles. "March 17th. My sixty-eighth. She gave me this," Mrs. Carpenter says, reaching up to her throat to grasp a pearl pendant. "Isn't it lovely?"
"It is," Dr. Grissom nods.
"Just what I always wanted. She's my youngest, but she knows me the best," the woman says dreamily. "Sally was a surprise. Don – my late husband – and I had two girls and two boys and thought we were done having kids, but then Sally came along. My little surprise," she says wistfully.
I frown. This poor woman speaks as if Sally is about to walk through the door. It happens sometimes. Some family members just can't live with the notion that a loved one is gone, so their brain masks the obvious and they go on as if their loved one is just a phone call away. "Mrs. Carpenter…"
"Did I tell you what a great swimmer my Sally is?" She reaches over to an end table and plucks up a picture frame. "This is her at one of her swim meets. She came in first place. She always does." Mrs. Carpenter puts the picture back down and regards us with a smile. "Do you have children?"
I hate that question. "I, uh…no."
We both turn to Grissom.
A/N#2: I've watched CSI: New York all of two and a half times. I read the wiki entry on Mac Taylor and realize that his wife's remains were never found, but…I don't care. I apologize to anyone from Staten Island. "Working Girl" was on when I was writing. If you've never seen that movie, well...Harrison Ford takes off his shirt in it. Incentive enough?
A/N #3: Just as I finished this last chapter, I turned on SPIKE and "Blood Drops" had begun. How's that for weird? I want to thank everyone who has stuck with this story for two and a half years. I want to thank everyone who encouraged me. I want to thank my beta extraordinaire, SBT, who guides me in the right direction. Oddly enough, after all the twists and turns I took writing this fic, it ended up exactly where I had planned it. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. It's a little bittersweet posting it. I was happy that I was finished, but now I'm a little bit sad that it's over.
Thank you all for being a part of this journey.