a/n: Just a little warning-ish type thingy :) This is my attempt at writing a neo-noir crime-fiction fic. There will be times when things might seem a little bleak, for lack of a better word. But if you stick with it, I promise you a lot of sweet moments too and a happy ending :) Also, I'll be taking a lot of liberties in describing the geographical and topographical particulars of Cincinnati in order to fit the demands of the story. This 'version' of Cincinnati should be regarded as almost entirely fictitious. Hope you like the it! :)
Nobody was paying attention to me. I knew that, and I guess I wasn't paying attention to them either. Everything seemed decidedly far away. There was a woman two seats away from me who was yelling in a language I didn't recognize. It was unsettling – despite how far removed I felt - and I dug my fingers into my thighs to distract myself.
"You okay, Ma'am?"
His voice startled me more than it should have considering it was barely audible over all the commotion. I was sitting, so he towered over me where he stood and he was looking down at me with a goofy smile. He ran his hand over his buzz cut as he waited for my answer.
"Um, yeah, thanks," I croaked. My voice was a little hoarse from not speaking for so long.
I was expecting him to leave after that, but he didn't. He sat down in the seat next to mine, between me and the yelling woman. He was braver than I was.
"Can I get you anything?" he asked, "Coffee?"
I glanced to my side and looked at his chest rather than his face. His name badge said Puckerman but for some reason that I couldn't quite fathom, I didn't want to call him that. "No thank you, Officer," I mumbled.
"I've seen you before," he informed me, "You've been around here a lot lately, huh?"
It had been a month and I'd lost count of the number of times I'd been in that damn building, so I just nodded in response.
"Have you been to the desk?" he asked.
I nodded again.
"You should go back up there," he told me. He was so matter-of-fact that I looked at him again. "They've probably forgotten about you."
I glanced away from him and towards the desk. I knew he was right; I wasn't stupid and I'd been in there enough times to understand how it worked. By that point I was pretty low down on their list of priorities and there were other people who needed their help too. I would wait my turn.
"I'll wait," I told him.
"Suit yourself," he replied. When I looked at him, he was still smiling.
A door opened on the other side of the room, adjacent to the front desk, and I recognized the dark-haired woman who came out of it; I had seen her around there before. She always looked so serious and I wondered if it was because she had a serious job.
Officer Puckerman jumped out of his seat as soon as he noticed her and made his way over there without another word to me. He smoothed out the creases in his uniform with his hands and when he was close enough, the woman handed him a piece of paper. She wasn't wearing a uniform like he was, just a white blouse tucked into black pants, and it made me wonder if she was his boss. Schuester and Hudson didn't wear uniforms either and I knew they both had people they were in charge of. They were too far away for me to hear what they were saying, but as they spoke, the woman glanced at me - and for reasons I wasn't sure of, I felt compelled to look away.
"Miss Pierce?" A man's voice called. It was Schuester again and my heart sank a little – I should have known right then that I wasn't going to get anywhere. I grabbed my purse from the floor and stood, regardless. My butt was cold and numb from sitting in the same place for so long and when I walked I was a little stiff.
He ushered me into an interrogation room - at least that was what it looked like. It had a black and white checkered floor like my Grandma's kitchen and a mirror that took up most of one wall. I'd been in that same room before and I knew Schuester was going to ask me to take a seat before he actually asked me. Detective Hudson followed us and stood with his back to the door wearing blank expression on his face, but Schuester sat opposite me.
"What can we do for you today, Miss Pierce?" he asked me with a smile that was, at best, insincere. He didn't want to be there, or rather, he didn't want me to be there. The tips of my ears burned.
"You said not to come back unless I could prove my sister's note was a fake," I mumbled. Sergeant Schuester's jaw tightened as he gave me a curt nod. "Well," I opened my purse and pulled out the notebook I'd been carrying with me all day, "I found her diary." I handed it over to him but he didn't open it. "The note's inside, so you can compare," I prompted.
He huffed out a breath and ran a frustrated hand through his hair before finally opening the book. The note fell out onto the table and he picked it up and laid it flat over one of the pages so that both sets of handwriting were side-by-side, but he barely looked at them.
"I'm sorry, this isn't enough to go on, Miss Pierce," he told me, shaking his head.
"What?" It came out louder than I was expecting. My heart rate picked up. Thump, thump, thump, it went. Like an egg bumping up against the side of a saucepan. "How can you tell just by looking at it for a second? Don't you need to get the forensics people to look at it and compare the handwriting and all that stuff?"
Schuester chuckled mirthlessly, which only made my heart sink further, before turning to Hudson. "Hey, Hudson," he drawled, "Don't you love it when these kids watch a couple episodes of CSI and think they're experts?"
"Sure do, Sarge," he responded. I didn't look at him but I could tell he was smiling too. They were laughing at me.
"I'm not a kid. I'm twenty-five," I muttered.
"I'm sorry?" said Schuester. He was making a conscious effort to keep a straight face.
With as much confidence as I could muster, I placed my hands palm-down on the table, "You promised," I told him. I held his eyes for a moment and I watched him make the decision to humor me.
He sighed and turned to Hudson again. "Go get Hummel," he ordered. Hudson left the room and Schuester and I sat in uncomfortable silence for the few minutes it took him to return, accompanied by a large, bald man with eyes like a basset hound - all droopy and kind. He was wearing a nicer suit than the other two men in the room; his tie was fastened right to the top and his jacket actually matched his pants.
Hudson returned to his former position by the door while the man – Hummel? - took the empty seat next to Schuester. "Miss Pierce, this is Police Lieutenant Hummel," Schuester introduced us.
"I understand your sister's missing," said Hummel. He offered me a small, sympathetic smile and I felt decidedly more at ease with him talking to me.
I nodded. "Yeah."
"I'm sorry to hear that," he told me, "Detective Hudson informed me that the night she went missing, you also discovered most of her possessions were gone, too? And that there was no sign of forced entry or any kind of struggle and that she left a note explaining that she was leaving."
I gulped because I knew where this was headed already. "That's r-right," I stuttered.
"But you believe she was abducted?" He wasn't secretly making fun of me the way the others did. Even if he didn't believe me, I was grateful for that.
"Yes," I nodded again.
"Why is that?" he asked.
"Because she would never just leave," I told him.
Lieutenant Hummel shifted in his seat and rubbed at the back of his neck. "Look, I know this probably isn't what you wanna hear," he said gently, "But the people we're closest to are usually the ones who are most capable of surprising us because we think we know them – what they would do, what they wouldn't do. But the truth is, you never really know what's going on in someone's head. Maybe your sister just felt like being impulsive for once."
I shook my head and looked down at my hands. Hearing that probably didn't hurt me the way he thought it would, simply because I didn't believe it. Hell, it's not like I didn't want to believe it. Didn't they understand that?
"That note isn't her handwriting," I mumbled.
I watched Schuester slide the diary and the note towards Lieutenant Hummel, who picked up the piece of paper and glanced between it and the book a few times. I watched his hands as he did so. They looked like roots of trees, all dark and well-used. Far more aged than his face. "These look pretty similar to me," he said. My eyes snapped up.
"Similar isn't the same!" I pleaded, getting up out of my seat. I slammed my palms down flat on the table. "She didn't leave. She wouldn't! She could be out there right now with some psycho. Hell, she could be lying in a ditch somewhere for all we know-"
I stopped short because my chest started to tighten and the last thing I needed in that moment was to have a panic attack. The three men in the room were already looking at me like I was crazy. My pulse was still thumping and I hated it. I hated my own heart for reminding me it was there when it would have been so much more practical to forget.
"I'm sorry, Miss Pierce," Lieutenant Hummel said. I believed he was genuine but it didn't make me feel better. I watched him get up and leave the room with a heavy heart because that was the closest I had come to getting somebody to actually listen to me.
As soon as he was gone Schuester turned back. "You should leave now, Miss Pierce. I think you've wasted enough of our time," he told me.
He unceremoniously slid the book and the note towards me and I gaped down at them for a moment before scooping them up and stuffing them back in my purse. Hudson escorted me out of the room and the contrast in noise levels made me feel like I was stepping into a wind tunnel. That lady was still yelling. I should have been used to it by now, really, the place was always like that at night.
Hudson tried to take me all the way out of the station but I told him I could leave by myself so he let me go. It was still raining outside. It was always raining, and it made me cold even through my jacket. I took the steps down to the sidewalk at a snail's pace. Everything was heavy. My legs felt as if they were being weighed down by concrete blocks.
When my feet touched the bottom step I wasn't sure what to do. I knew I should go home; I was cold and wet and tired and I'd never felt more hopeless. There were cop cars everywhere, and police officers running between the cars and the station so that they didn't get too wet. They all seemed so busy but some of them still looked at me curiously.
I saw a bench on the corner where the sidewalk met the steps so I headed for that and sat down, hugging my purse to my chest. I stared down at my shoes and my hair fell forward so I watched drops of water fall from the ends and onto the pavement by my feet. There was a never-ending line of them and it made it seem like time wasn't moving, somehow. That was my problem – I never had enough time.
I heard her heels clacking against the sidewalk before I saw her but I didn't look up because it didn't occur to me that she would want me to. I didn't even realize who it was until she was crouching in front of me: the woman I saw talking to Officer Puckerman before. Suddenly the rain wasn't pounding quite so hard against my body because she was sharing her umbrella with me, holding it up over both of us. The way she was crouching looked awkward because she was trying to keep the bottom of her beige overcoat from touching the ground, but when I looked at her face, her lips twitched upwards at the corners and it was obvious she didn't care that much. Her eyes were the kind of dark that could have been really cold or really warm.
Hers were really warm.
"Are you waiting for a ride?" She had to yell a little to be heard over the rain and traffic and sirens.
I shook my head, "No."
She frowned at me. "Why?"
"My roommate had the car today." I wasn't sure if I'd said it loud enough for her to hear me, but she nodded regardless.
"Miss Pierce, right?"
"Brittany," I corrected. I was sick of being called Miss Pierce.
"I'm Detective Lopez," she told me, "I saw you before." I think she was trying to justify talking to me. She was a cop, so her concern was normal. I tried to force a smile. "Why are you sitting out here in the rain?" she asked.
I just shrugged in response. I honestly didn't know.
"Are you okay?"
I nodded and answered, "Yeah."
She frowned again, and then she looked up and down the street a couple of times before focusing back on me. "You don't look okay."
She wasn't asking this time, it was a statement, and it made my heart clench and my throat tighten. Suddenly I wanted nothing more than to lean forwards and rest my head on her shoulder. Maybe she would wrap her arms around me and tell me nice things, or maybe she would push me away. I didn't do it, of course, I didn't do anything - this woman was a stranger. But for the first time in a month, I felt something other than frustration. Sitting there looking at her, I wasn't frustrated; I was empty – I could have died from how relieving it was.
"C'mon," she said as she stood, "I'll take you home."
I went with her because I didn't have the energy to argue.
Detective Lopez drove a brown Ford Taurus. It suited her, somehow, because it managed to be fancy and understated at the same time. It was the kind of car I would have imagined a detective driving when I was little.
I slid into the passenger's seat and I had to move a bunch of fast food wrappers and Styrofoam cups and old newspapers to make room for my feet. It made me smile – a genuine smile. Detective Lopez looked a little sheepish as she closed the driver's side door and threw her umbrella onto the back seat.
"Sorry about the mess. I kinda have to eat on the go," she mumbled as she fastened her seatbelt.
"It's not that bad," I said. I smiled at her as she turned her key in the ignition.
"Where d'you live?" she asked.
"Clifton," I answered, "Bleaker Avenue."
"That's a nice street," she stated as we eased away from the curb.
"I dunno, we've been robbed three times," I mumbled in response.
I heard Detective Lopez snort a laugh but when I looked at her she was shaking her head and definitely not smiling. "Yeah… welcome to Cincinnati," she muttered.
"I think the people who do it think we're rich or something 'cause it's sort of a nice neighborhood. But our house is pretty small so who knows." I shrugged and began picking at my fingernails for something to do.
"Why don't you move if it's that bad? Somewhere else would probably be cheaper."
I hesitated for a moment before I answered. Not because I minded telling her, just because I wasn't sure if it was appropriate. And then I remembered that I was too tired to care.
"It was my Grandma's," I told her, "She died last year and left the house to me and my sister. We thought we were gonna have to sell it at first 'cause we couldn't afford the mortgage payments, but then my friend moved in with us and… we manage, I guess." I sucked my lips into my mouth when I'd finished speaking and Detective Lopez was quiet for a moment, glancing at me quickly before looking back at the road.
"Your Grandma must've loved you a lot, if she left you her house…" she said softly.
I looked down at my hands in my lap. "Yeah, she was the best," I murmured. "My sister still lived with her and I think she just wanted to make sure we had somewhere to go."
She nodded, and then she did that thing where she looked quickly at me and then back at the road again. "I'm sorry about your sister," she said quickly.
"Thanks," I almost whispered. I wasn't surprised that she knew, exactly. I was sure everybody at the police station had a good laugh at my expense every time I left.
"I… believe you," she added quietly, almost hesitantly, when I didn't say anything else. Her words seemed to cleave right through my chest.
"You do?" I looked at her but she didn't look back, just nodded.
"Scheuster and Hudson are assholes," she muttered. We paused at some stop lights and then she let out a heavy breath, relaxing back in her seat. "I would help you if I could, but it's not really my department."
I shrugged in response. "It's okay," I told her. And in that moment… it was. It was enough that she believed me.
"Brittany, this is gonna sound really stupid," she said, "But you have tried her cell phone, right?"
I frowned at her but she looked like she was expecting it. "That was the first thing I did."
She nodded as the light turned green and we eased forward again. "I'm sorry. We have to ask the obvious stuff first."
I didn't say anything else, but I kept looking at the side of her face as she drove. She was asking me questions because she believed me and she wanted to help, even if she couldn't. It was more than I could possibly have hoped for.
"Her name's Jessica, right?" she asked, gentler than before.
"Yeah… Jess," I said with a nod.
I nodded again, "Uh-huh." Detective Lopez nodded back and I looked back down at my hands.
"Does she have a boyfriend, or anything?"
"No," I shook my head, "She was kinda seeing this guy, but I don't think it was serious. He's only called like, once since… it happened."
"So, there's no chance she could be with him?"
I shook my head, "No."
"Okay," she sighed and we were quiet again for a few moments, so I watched the wipers as they swished back and forth across the windshield. The rain hammered really hard against the roof of the car and being able to see and hear how awful the weather was outside, but not actually feeling it, made me warmer.
"What about work?" Detective Lopez asked, "Have you spoken to any of her co-workers?"
"No," I shook my head, "She doesn't work. She's a senior in college."
"Right," she said, "So her classmates? Have you tried the dorms?"
"I talked to her classmates when it first happened. None of 'em knew anything. And she doesn't live in the dorms. She lives at home with me and Sam."
"Sam's your friend who moved in?"
She nodded. "Okay," she said quietly, "And what does Sam think happened?"
I swallowed down a gulp and glanced over at her, but again, she didn't look back. I knew what she was really asking. "You mean, does he believe me?"
She hesitated before nodding. "I won't think you're any less credible if he doesn't," she assured me.
I shrugged. "He says he does, but I think he's just trying not to hurt my feelings," I told her.
"And what about the note?" she said.
My heart jolted right through the middle of me, even though there was nothing accusatory about the way she said it. "She didn't write that note," I told her, "I know she didn't."
"Okay," she bobbed her head up and down, "But was there anything significant in it? Any hints as to where she might be going?"
I shook my head. I didn't see how it was relevant, what it said, if my sister didn't even write it – but I trusted Detective Lopez had a reason for asking. "It was pretty short. It just said she needed to get away for a while."
She didn't say anything again after that; I don't think she knew how to respond, so I decided to ask what I'd been wanting to ask since she'd first brought it up. "How d'you know about my sister?" I said.
She squirmed a little in her seat and huffed out a breath before answering. "I looked at your file," she replied. I looked at her with a furrowed brow and she gave me a quick shrug. "I heard people talking about you and I was curious."
I guess that made sense. I would have been curious too if I'd heard people talking about somebody the way they probably talked about me.
"Which house is it?" she asked a few moments later.
I was a little thrown by the question at first, but when I looked out of the window I realized we were on my street. My heart sank. I didn't want to be home yet because I didn't think she'd asked me enough questions to be able to help.
"Uh… the little green one on the end," I told her reluctantly.
Detective Lopez pulled the car over outside my house and cut the engine. She took something out of her breast pocket as I unbuckled my seat belt and then held it towards me. It was a card. "I want you to take this," she said as she handed it over. It had her name on it - Detective Santana Lopez - as well as a phone number and the Cincinnati Police Department logo.
Her name was Santana.
Her fingers grazed mine as I took the card and my stomach flipped. I was so surprised by it that I made a quiet, muffled noise that I then tried to cover up by clearing my throat. "Um, thank you," I said.
"That's my cell phone, so you can call me whenever. I know I said I can't officially help you, but if you were to find something yourself…" She didn't finish. I think maybe she was a little afraid to and I didn't blame her.
I nodded. "What kind of a detective are you?" I asked.
"Homicide," she told me, "So I wouldn't be assigned to your sister's case even if they took it." Her eyes were soft and I knew she was saying that to make me feel better, but it didn't work. I didn't want to think about the reason why.
"Thank you," I told her, turning the card over in my hands.
"You already said that," she replied. When I looked back at her, her lips twitched upwards almost imperceptibly and my face suddenly felt very hot under her gaze.
I nodded and wrapped my fingers around the straps on my purse. "Right… g'bye," I stammered as I opened the door.
Her smile grew a little and she turned her head so that she was facing forwards again instead of looking at me. "Bye," she returned.
I got out of the car and the engine started up again as soon as I'd slammed the door shut. I heard her drive away as I trudged up the path towards my front door. I wanted to watch her leave but I didn't; the rain was so heavy by now that I probably wouldn't have been able to see her car properly through my squinted eyes anyway.
Sam was on the couch playing his X-box when I got inside. It was the one he'd bought right after his PlayStation got stolen the last time we were robbed. I peeled off my jacket and shook my hair out like a wet dog.
"Hey. I've been trying to call you," he informed me without looking away from the TV screen.
"My phone's off," I replied.
"Where've you been? Didn't you finish work at like, nine?"
I went and dumped my purse on the coffee table before answering. "Police station," I told him. I knew he wanted to say something back, but he didn't. "I'm gonna go change," I said.
I went into the bathroom and pulled yesterday's pajamas out of the hamper because I hadn't had time to do my laundry yet. When I'd changed out of my wet clothes I stepped in front of the mirror and immediately regretted it. My skin was sallow and pale and my eyes were sunken. As I poked at my face I figured I shouldn't really have been surprised. I couldn't remember the last time I'd got a decent night's sleep.
I walked back into the living room and dropped down on the couch next to Sam and he immediately paused his game and wrapped his arm around my shoulders. I didn't feel it as much as I usually did. My drooped onto his chest and I closed my eyes.
"Any luck this time?" he asked.
I didn't want to tell him about Schuester and Hudson and Lieutenant Hummel and how I was practically laughed out of the room, just like all the other times, so I decided to tell him about Detective Lopez.
"I met this cop who believes me," I murmured.
"You did?" I think he tried – unsuccessfully – to keep the surprise out of his voice. It was sweet.
"Yeah. She gave me her card."
"Well, that's something," he said. He scratched my head affectionately and I nodded, then we were quiet for a few moments. I think he was waiting for me to elaborate but I wasn't sure how to explain. "We'll find her, Britt," he mumbled.
He was so certain. I wished I could be like him sometimes. "You promise?" I whispered.
He nodded and I felt it against the top of my head. "Yeah, I promise."