Chapter 1 — Going Back to Forks
My name was Isabella Swan, and I was thirty-four years old. I had never been married, but I had had a daughter — had being key, because she was no longer with me. Her name had been Carlie Elizabeth. I had protected her the best way I could, including giving her the last name of my pseudo-parents, Carlisle and Esme Cullen.
My father, Charlie, loved me. It pained him that I couldn't talk to him about Carlie, that I never visited him, and made excuses as to why he couldn't visit me. The reasons all boiled down to one — I was scared of what he would say if he knew the truth. The truth being that I had lied about sleeping and moving on from the loss of my daughter.
I had friends: Alice, Emmett, Jasper, and Rosalie. My friends would do anything and everything in their power to protect me. I also constantly lied to them about my well-being, but they were not as easily fooled as Charlie.
I had two regrets: walking away from the love of my life, Edward Cullen; and causing my best guy friend, Jake, to walk out of my life. I could have fixed both easily, but I felt it was too late. Why would Edward or Jake talk to me ever again? I had hurt them both. Had they done what I had done, I wouldn't have readily forgiven them.
I sighed and leaned my head back against the cool granite wall, closing my eyes, but images of Carlie assaulted my overtired mind. Groaning, I opened my eyes back up, keeping them trained on the ceiling. I tried not to think. Tried not to give in and let exhaustion take me to the land of slumber, to the land of nightmares. I was tired of all the nightmares. Weary of the stress of not knowing why life had handed me such a rotten hand. I was sick of my one question going unanswered. Why did Carlie have to die?
"Commandant Swan," my boss at Star Command, Commissioner Vance Long, called. His voice woke me from the reflective trance I had fallen into while waiting for him. His grey eyes bored into mine, a frown creasing his brows and turning down the corners of his mouth. "You look exhausted."
"I haven't been sleeping well," I supplied, following him into his office. I was truthful. It was pointless lying to him. He knew me. Knew what had happened.
After we both sat down, he slid me a file folder. "You're needed in Forks, Washington."
I blanched but said nothing as I opened the folder.
"There have been four teenagers kidnapped, only to be found two or three days later, dead."
I nodded. Charlie had told me as much. He was flustered and didn't know what to do.
"Two more have gone missing," Vance said, drawing my attention again.
His eyes spoke volumes, staring at me with a haunted look. He knew of my aversion to returning to Forks. Knew I was about to argue. His hand went up, stilling the words I was about to speak.
"Your father called and requested you, specifically. According to Charlie, these kidnappings and murders are the first in years to hit the small community. Not to mention, they have hit the news, but it hasn't been released that they are related."
I nodded again. A profiler was needed, that was why I suggested the FBI to Charlie. "It would cause panic."
"Charlie has said as much. I trust you won't let your personal feelings for the town get in the way of doing your job."
"I won't. But why me?" I knew the answer, but needed to hear it from Vance.
"You're the best. Hell, Bella, you're more than that. You're the expert. You wrote the new standards and procedures on profiling. The FBI is even using them." He beamed at me, proud to have me working under his tutelage.
It bothered me that I wasn't able to react to his praise, however undeserving I felt.
"Why isn't the FBI stepping in?"
"Let me repeat myself. You. Are. The. Expert. And the FBI turned his request for help down cold. All their teams are locked in high profile cases."
I sighed. Forks didn't really register on the FBI's deserving-of-help meter. They'd even tried to recruit me. I sighed.
"How long before I leave? And how long will I be in Forks?"
"You leave in two hours. I can't answer how long you will be there. You'll stay until you are no longer needed. Charlie said you could stay with him, but I also made sure there were quarters available on base."
I remained silent. Waiting for the other shoe to drop; it didn't.
"Go and pack, Swan. You can review the case files on your flight. I've already sent the boxes to the shuttle area."
I let out a long breath as I got up to do as ordered. I stopped at his door, turning back. "I'm working alone, right? No team."
"Yes. Unless you find the situation warrants more than you."
I nodded, leaving him sitting in his office.
~~ SIB ~~
Duty brought me back to Forks — a place I had fled from after high school graduation. Duty would kept me in my hometown for an undetermined time frame no matter how much I wanted to flee. Standing beside the car an ensign had just given me the keys to, I was afraid to get in and drive off base. I had no choice. Forks Police Department was the lead agency in the investigations, and I had come to advise and help in any way I could.
Only Charlie knew I was coming, but one name had stood out on the list of officers he had sent to the base: Mike Newton. I shuddered. I already knew he was on the force. He wasn't one of my favorite people from high school, but from reading his case reports he was good at his job. I took a deep breath and got into the car, sitting there for a moment before starting it up. I drove slowly toward the front gate.
Five minutes later, I was walking into the police station; it was a little after noon and the smell of pine needles hung in the air. I'd arrived late last night, opting to stay on the base for the night, not knowing what Charlie's schedule was and not wanting him to know the depth of my exhaustion. I hadn't slept much, fearful of what other nightmares or memories would surface if I got more than a couple hours of sleep at a time. "I'm Commandant Isabella Swan —" I started, only to be interrupted by someone coming in.
"Bella, is that you?" I turned to find Mike standing behind me. He was astonished to see me, a wide smile on his face as he stared at me.
"Hi, Mike," I said, pulling at my suddenly tight suit jacket. He was giving me the creeps, like he had in high school. It was as if he wanted to devour me in one bite.
Before either Mike or I could say anything else, Charlie pulled my attention away from Mike.
"Bells, I am glad you're here," Charlie said, giving me a hug.
"You know how I feel about being here," I whispered.
He nodded when he stepped away, eyeing me in his fatherly way. He frowned but said nothing about my appearance.
"Let's get you set up in the conference room."
I nodded but didn't move. I turned back to Mike and threw him my keys. "Can you grab an officer or two and bring in everything that's in the trunk and backseat to the conference room?"
"Sure," he said, catching my keys. "Do you need anything else?"
I shook my head and followed Charlie to the conference room. I had already told him everything else I required and, sure enough, it was fully equipped. Several corkboards were hung around the small room, along with a large map of Forks, another of the Olympic Peninsula and a white board. It was just as I remembered, having sought solace here when Charlie had run for Chief of Police a year after he retired from Star Command. He'd won in a landslide; well, if you could consider it one. He was the only candidate.
"Have there been any other kidnappings or bodies found?" I wanted to immediately get down to business.
"Yes, one kidnapping. Mike will give you a full report."
"I thought you would have a full team." Charlie ran a hand over his face. These incidents must be difficult for him. The mayor was probably demanding answers he couldn't provide.
"I work better alone on these types of cases."
"I know. It's just such a huge case, a lot of victims; a team would come in handy." I shrugged as the door opened, and Mike, along with three other officers, brought in my laptop, other equipment, and the six boxes.
It was for me to determine how big the case was, and not Charlie. I'd request a team if need be, but for now it was manageable.
"Mike, can you take a seat?" I asked, starting up my laptop. I'd worry about the rest of the equipment later. "I'd like you to walk me through the latest kidnapping."
I watched as Mike sat heavily in one of the chairs. "Crystal was taken from her home." He passed me a small photo. Crystal was a green eyed, auburn haired beauty. I glanced at it, setting it aside. "There were no signs of forced entry or unexplained prints." He slammed his hand down on the table. "No evidence or contact from whoever is doing this. She just went missing like all the others. Why would someone — anyone — do this?"
"That is why I'm here, Mike, to help find whoever is doing this. I need you to stay focused. Is there anything you can think of to connect the victims?"
"Other than they all were Forks High School students, no. They had some classes together, but it's a small school; you know that. They were typical students, never in trouble."
"Okay, let's go back to Crystal. How old is she?"
"She's eighteen and was to graduate in December, starting at Washington University in January."
I typed the information into my laptop, thinking about what else I needed to ask Mike, but not wanting to stop and dig out my list of questions; they could wait.
He leaned forward as I tried to recall my questions, touching my arm. I flinched, and he removed his hand, but he got me to look at him. "Bella, I know it has to be hard for you to be back here. When I first saw you, I was shocked, but we all know you have to be the best if your boss sent you. I'm glad you're here to help us."
"That means a lot coming from you, Mike, it really does. All the law enforcement teams I've worked with were always afraid that I was going to come in and take over."
"We asked for help, and I'm guessing they asked, too. Everyone here is at a loss as to what to do next, or who we are looking for; we need help. Your father called us all in and told us Star Command was sending someone to help us. You can't imagine how the mood changed. You'll get no guff from anyone. If you do, just tell me and I'll deal with the problem. Are there any other questions you have, or can I get back to work?"
"I only have one more question. Not case related. Do the Cullens still live in Forks?"
I expected him to be taken aback, but he wasn't. "I was wondering when you were going to ask." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Yes, all but Edward. He visits every two weeks." He stood, walking to the door. Pausing, he turned back. "Come to think of it, Edward will be in town later tonight." I looked up as he left the room.
Mike missed the look of shock on my face. Sure, I knew there was a chance I would run into someone I knew, like the Cullens and Mike, but knowing Edward was coming into town in hours did not sit well with me. I shook off thinking of how he would react if I did indeed run into him.
I can't think about him. It's time to get down to work, I thought. I'm here to solve these murder cases. I will not let personal feelings get in my way. I will do my job. If I run into anyone from my past, I will be cordial, like I was with Mike.
I stood and opened the first box, taking out a picture from each series of file folders and pinning them to the wall around the maps. I then placed flags on the map indicating where each victim had been abducted from and pins at where they were found, tying a string to each pin and connecting both to the white pin holding the picture of the victim. I also wrote the details — name, age, birthday, physical characteristics, and education — of the victim on the white board before moving on to the next. At the bottom of the white board, I wrote that all victims were found barefoot, with minimal defensive wounds, and ligature marks at the wrists and ankles. The cause of all deaths was an overdose of acetaminophen. Reading more of the coroner's report, I found that each victim had a blood alcohol level of .24, three times the legal limit. I recorded that on the board, too.
I had been at it for over three hours, even though there were only five victims, when the conference room door slammed open. I almost dropped the pin and crime scene pictures of the last victim. "Bella, another body has been found," Mike said in a rush when I looked over my shoulder at him. When I heard that, I dropped the pictures and pin and grabbed my kit, running out of the room.
"You're riding with me," Charlie said, meeting me at the station entrance. We rushed out. I climbed into the cruiser, and we were silent as we raced to the scene with the siren blaring.
We were moments away when I broke the silence. "What's the procedure?"
"We wait for Doctor Cullen to arrive and clear the body before we do anything with it, but the surrounding area can be searched for evidence."
"Carlisle?" I said, more to myself than for Charlie's benefit. I guessed I had no choice in when that reunion would take place.
"Yes. He took over when Doctor Moore retired three months ago. The hospital has yet to find a new coroner, so Carlisle is doing double duty — coroner and overseeing the ER." He stopped the cruiser near a heavily wooded area, shutting it off before looking over at me. "My guys will collect any evidence. You're here to observe."
"Hands off, got it," I said, getting out. I set my case on top of the cruiser. Opening it, I pulled out my digital camera, checking it for the memory card and battery life, and put it around my neck before pulling out a pair of latex gloves and a small, spiral notebook, slipping them in my pocket.
"Chief," I heard Carlisle say as he approached. "I wish we would stop meeting under these circumstances." I turned as they shook hands. "Bella?" he said with a questioning and wide-eyed look.
"It's Commandant Swan," I corrected, an air of professionalism and cordiality to my demeanor, extending my hand. "I'm a criminal profiler with Star Command. Chief Swan asked for me directly to come and to consult on these cases."
Instead of shaking my hand, Carlisle drew me into a hug, surprising me. He held me at arm's length and took me in. He leaned in once again and, in a whisper, told me, "I'm not taking no for an answer. Dinner tonight; you can ride with me once everything is wrapped up."
I just stood there and watched as Carlisle walked off with Charlie. "Are you all right?" Mike asked, putting a hand on my shoulder. I startled, but not enough to warrant him removing his hand.
"Yes," I responded in a weak whisper. Looking around, I noticed the crowd gathered behind the tape. "You had better get to work." I checked my camera once again before following him. I approached the scene watching the ground ahead of me for any evidence — a footprint, a tire tread, a snapped twig, or drag marks — I found nothing. "Chief Swan," I said, keeping a professional air. "I hope you don't mind, I'd like to take my own pictures. I won't get in your way."
"No problem. Just let my guys collect if you find anything."
I nodded and started taking pictures of the wooded area and the crowd. The kidnapper and killer could be watching. Mike was close by when I found a torn piece of cloth; it looked like it could be from a plaid shirt or jacket. "Mike," I yelled. I pointed out the piece of cloth when he joined me. "I don't recall anything from the case files of this nature. Has anything like this been found before?"
"Not to my knowledge. I wasn't at the all the scenes, though," he answered, putting the piece of cloth in a plastic bag.
I checked the ground — still no indication of disturbance — as I moved over toward where Carlisle was still examining the body and began taking pictures. I could feel the bile in the back of my throat from the smell; that was not normal. Though I had never gotten used to the decaying smell, I'd never gotten sick from it.
"Breathe through your mouth, Bella," Carlisle instructed, glancing at me. "You look a little green around the gills."
I glanced over at him. He didn't look convinced, his blue eyes moving over my face and a worried look to his expression.
"Really, I'm fine. Can you tell me anything?"
He sighed. "She has been dead for about three to four hours and was moved to this location afterward. There are very few defensive wounds, telling me she was overpowered and couldn't defend herself. Anything more will have to wait until I get her on the table." He turned her hand over. "This is interesting," he said, motioning for one of guys with a camera to come over.
I took a step closer and knelt next to him. "What is it?"
"You've reviewed the other photos," he stated, motioning to the young woman's arm. "Do you recall seeing anything like this?"
I looked down and gasped at the note written on her arm. This makes 8, and you haven't caught me yet. Eight? I only knew of five victims; well, now six. Were there two more out there rotting or ravaged by animals? Had I not been told something?
I snapped a few pictures, got up, and walked away from the scene, pulling out my phone. "Vance," the voice of my boss came from the other end.
"It's Swan, sir. Was I given full disclosure? Nothing withheld?"
"Yes, everything was sent. Why?"
"There are eight victims, but I was only informed of four and two missing. When I called Charlie before leaving, he told me there was another found. I'm at the scene of the sixth."
I saw Charlie approaching from where I stood. I motioned for him to stay back. "Eight? I had no idea. Have you asked any questions?"
"No, sir. I wanted to check with you first to ensure I was given everything."
"I packed each of the boxes myself and sealed them. Were any of the seals broken?"
I thought back to when I opened the first box. "No. All were intact. I'd better get to asking questions."
"Keep me informed, Swan, especially if you need a team."
"I don't need a team, sir, but I will keep you informed." I ended the call and turned back to the scene. I walked over to Charlie, ready to ask him questions.
He held up his hand before speaking. "I had no idea there were more victims."
"Okay, that answers that question. I need to go over all your homicide case files. I'll start with the oldest first —" I started, only to be cut off.
"It can wait until tomorrow," he said, putting his hand on my shoulder. "When is the last time you put yourself first, kiddo? Taken a break from your job? These cases aren't going to get solved overnight. Plus, you have dinner plans with Carlisle."
I threw my head back and looked up through the forest canopy at the grey sky. Closing my eyes for a moment, I let myself relax some, but not enough to allow images of Carlie to enter my mind. "You're right, Chief Swan. But I'll want to get an early start tomorrow."
"Good. Here." He handed me a key. "It's to the front door."
"Charlie," I whispered. "I plan on staying at the base."
"Not tonight," he said. "I'm worried about you, and this way I can make sure you sleep."
"What did Vance tell you?"
"Only that you've been overworking yourself, refusing to take any vacation time, and didn't look like you'd been sleeping."
I dropped my head. Sure Vance would tell Charlie. He and Charlie went through the Star Command academy together and were close friends. Even after Charlie retired from Star Command, they'd stayed in touch. "Nightmares," I said, looking up.
"We can talk when you get back to the house. I'll have Mike drop off your car," he said.
Carlisle was on the phone as we joined him. "I'm bringing someone home for dinner," he said, smiling over at me. He spoke quietly for a moment. "No. I'm not going to tell you who. We should be there in twenty minutes. Love you." He placed the phone back in his pocket before turning to us. "The young woman is being taken to the morgue. I'll send you both a copy of my preliminary findings tomorrow afternoon and a full report by the end of the week."
"That's fine," Charlie answered. "If you can get it to us any sooner, it would be appreciated, but no rush."
"Bella, are you ready?" Carlisle asked.
"I guess. Can we stop by the base so I can change?"
"It's part of the plan, Bella." He winked at me before leading me over to his car and opening the car door for me. I slipped inside and buckled up.
"How have you been?" he asked after we were about three miles from the crime scene.
I didn't respond. I didn't know what to say or what he'd been told. I heard him sigh and was grateful when he didn't ask again.
I knew I was in a funk, and that was probably why Vance had sent me here in the first place. A place where he knew I wouldn't be allowed to overwork myself. We were briefly stopped at the gate of the base; he and I both showed passes. I wasn't surprised he still had one, having gained access rights as a doctor.
"It'll take me just a few minutes," I said, getting out with him following.
"I hope you don't mind."
"Not at all," I said, unlocking the door to the quarters I'd been temporarily assigned.
My bags were in the front room, exactly where I had left them. I grabbed one and walked out of the room. "Please, have a seat," I called over my shoulder, placing my suitcase on the bed and opening it.
"Here, I thought you might need other bags," Carlisle said, entering. I pulled out a pair of skinny, blue jeans and a dark blue sweater that reached mid-thigh, pairing the outfit with a pair of flat knee-high, black boots.
I rejoined Carlisle, who was waiting patiently in the living room. "All ready?" he asked, standing. I grabbed my handbag and followed him out.
He again opened the car door for me. I smiled at him in what I hoped was a warm way as I slipped in. I was nervous. I didn't really know how I felt about seeing Edward so soon after returning to Forks.
I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. I was exhausted and just needed to rest. However, I just couldn't without seeing images of my baby girl. I jumped when the door was opened again. I looked over and saw we were at the house. How? How had I kept the images of Carlie away? I unfastened the safety belt and took hold of Carlisle's hand.
A/N: Thanks to all the betas who help me get this chapter solid: AnthroBug, Alice's White Rabbit, Batgirl8968, and jennej.
I hope you enjoyed this chapter.