C is for Cold Case
For the 2006 Alphabet Challenge
Disclaimers: The only character I own is Edna Rush
Description: Insinuation of really bad things.
The hollow feeling in my chest gave me the impression that all the air had been vacuumed out of the room.
"Don, are you okay?" David Sinclair asked. I couldn't blame him for being worried; I must have looked like I'd been gut punched.
I sat down abruptly, but didn't answer. I couldn't take my eyes off the damn photo. We had dozens of photos spread out over the table of the conference room that we had appropriated for this cold case.
As far as crime photographs went, this batch was rather innocuous. Just a lot of pictures of children, ages from seven to early teens.
Not one of the children displayed any distress or dismay, much less injuries. They were all smiling and mugging for the camera. Not one appeared to have a care in the world.
A casual observer wouldn't have thought anything other than "how cute." However, said observer would have no way of knowing that seven of the ninety-three photos were of murder victims. The known victims of a serial molester known as the Laundromat Murderer, due to his habit of disposing the bodies of his victims by stuffing them into dryers.
That left us with the daunting task of identifying eighty-six children who may have been murdered. The task was made more difficult by the fact that the photographs were over ten years old; some could have been as much as twenty. Our forensic team was going over the originals. Our computer techs were running scans against databases of missing children.
The picture I was holding was seventeen years old. I knew this for a fact. Wordlessly, I held it up to David. "This is Charlie," I said.
An argument I had with Charlie came back to taunt me. You need to understand the reality of this crime!" I shouted. "I do understand the reality," Charlie retorted.
How could he understand? I knew that he'd been upset about his friend, Jessica. Had he meant that he'd once been a victim himself?
The background chatter in the room hit the wall and died.
David walked over, took the picture out of my hand and tilted it, as if to get a better angle. He did not, however, question my statement.
Megan leaned over from where she was sitting and gasped. Colby craned his neck for a look but didn't get up. David tilted the picture a different way so that Colby could see it without coming over.
Edna Rush, the agent in charge of this cold case stared at us as if we had all grown antennas. She moved her gaze from the team back to me with an unspoken question clearly on her face.
"Charlie's my brother," I explained to her. I took a deep breath and let it out very slowly. I could feel blood going back into my face.
Her eyes went wide. "Your brother? I didn't know you had lost a family member…" she trailed off as I shook my head.
"Charlie is one of our consultants," David said hurriedly, as if affirming Charlie's presence at our workplace would somehow deny the implications of the picture.
"Larry and I had lunch with him… two days ago," Megan said. She was so rattled that she broke her rule about not discussing any of her interactions with Larry Fleinhardt.
"Well, then some of these other kids might still be alive," Colby said, seizing on a possible bright spot. He picked up a picture of an adorable six year old girl. He looked at me and frowned. "Um, Don, wouldn't you have known if…?" He let the question trail off, possibly because my face must have taken on that punched-in-the-gut look again.
Or possibly because Megan had kicked him under the table.
I shook my head. "I wasn't on very good terms with Charlie when this picture was taken," I confessed. I gave the picture a shake.
I closed my eyes and tried to remember if I had heard anything about Charlie being sick or hospitalized. Hadn't there been something about his leg?
Megan squeezed my shoulder. "Your parents might have decided to spare you that… from that horror," she said. "Assuming it happened at all."
"Since we don't have any matches for these photos," David said. "Perhaps none of them were attacked."
"Whether he was attacked or not, your brother is now an official lead," Edna said gently. "Where does he live? How often do you see him?"
"Close and lots," Colby spoke up.
I shot him a quelling look.
Colby came very close to almost looking abashed. Or maybe that was a pained expression caused by somebody kicking him again. Not that I'm accusing Megan or anything.
"Right," I said. I tried to steady my breathing. Of course my parents would have tried to protect me as well as Charlie. I looked at the picture again. Charlie looked to be thirteen, maybe fourteen. I'd have been a lower classman in college and reveling in the fact that I was no longer shadowed by my bratty genius brother.
I winced at the memory of how I used to think of my brother. What if he had died when I still didn't like him? I shook that thought off and checked my watch. Friday afternoon in the middle of summer usually meant that Charlie wasn't in class. That's not to say he wasn't working, as I once assumed. Charlie can never seem to leave math behind.
I whipped out my cell. Charlie's number one on my Nextel. If you had told me ten years ago that I'd want to talk to my brother that much, I would have laughed in your face and called the men with the butterfly nets.
I could only reach Charlie's voice mail. "Chuck, return this call or I am going to have to hurt you," I snarled.
My team looked at me in undisguised shock.
"What? Haven't you ever heard diplomacy in action before?" I tried Dad's landline next. Yeah, I know, technically, it's Charlie's house and therefore Charlie's landline. However, I still think of it as my Dad's.
Try to sue me, my girlfriend's a lawyer.
I got the answering machine, but Dad picked up as soon as he heard my voice, bless him. "Hey, Donnie. Charlie's not here, he's gone to the grocery store. He has a recipe he wants to try, so that means no brisket tonight."
He paused, but not long enough for me to respond.
"Unless you really had your mouth set for brisket, in which case I can wrest control of the kitchen away from your brother."
I was taken aback. "Do I really only call to talk to Charlie or bum a meal?" I blurted without thinking.
My team exchanged smirks. Oh, that was going to bounce back on my head. That's okay, I'm a big boy. Besides, they know who hands out their assignments.
"Nah," Dad said cheerfully. "But I decided to go with the odds."
"Oh." I hated to disrupt his good mood. Especially since I didn't have anything solid.
"Really, I'm glad you call your brother so much," Dad assured me. "It makes him happy that you want to talk to him, even if it is just business." Another pause. "So, are you coming for dinner?"
"I have work."
"You always have work, you still need to eat."
"Well," I tried to interrupt. It never works.
"Bring your team."
"Actually, I need to talk to Charlie. Do you know when he'll be back?"
"No, but I expect if you come over, he'll be back by then."
I decided this was a topic better handled at home. If Charlie had been assaulted, I wanted Dad there to help me cope. Him cope, I mean. Help Charlie cope.