Katie walked into the crowded lobby of The New York Times and made her way towards the elevators. She had a lot of work to do today. She was finishing up her latest investigative report about the influence of lobbyists on government officials and the final draft was due by lunchtime. She was glad for the work. It would keep her mind off of the call she received early this morning.
She was still seething over the attempted contact. Brandon had made it perfectly clear once she arrived in New York that they were done. At first Katie had been heartbroken. The first few weeks at her new job had been an emotional roller coaster. During the day she was riding high, enjoying the fast paced and exciting world of investigative reporting at The New York Times, but at night she would sit huddled in her posh, company sponsored apartment and cry herself to sleep. Coming to New York and getting her dream job should’ve been the happiest time of her life. Instead it had been a nightmare.
Fortunately, within a few weeks of arriving, Katie had made several good acquaintances both at work and at home. Her neighbors, Jane and Andrew Osbourne, along with their adorable five-year-old daughter Bella, had welcomed her into the small apartment community. There were plenty of nights she would find herself at their place for dinner and vice versa.
Then there was Nicole Irvine, a fellow reporter at The Times. Nicole was one of the star reporters for the New York politics section of the paper. Almost daily she was rubbing elbows with the most influential politicians in the state.
In the year since she had moved, Katie had become a rising star in the field of investigative journalism. Both Katie and Nicole’s bylines regularly appeared on the front page of The Times, much to the chagrin of some of the ‘good ole boys’ as they called them. Her success seemed bittersweet. Brandon should have been here to enjoy it with her—at the very least he should still be a part of her life.
Katie pushed the unpleasant thoughts out of her head. She had a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it. It was already eight-thirty. Focusing on the task at hand, Katie put her earbuds in then began writing.
Coroner’s office Columbia, MO 8:30 A.M.
Rebecca Harmon-Hughes plopped down on a padded stool. She had been working meticulously on the young woman they had found this morning. For the past four hours she had combed, scraped, and vacuumed every inch of the body. She had just finished the rape kit and several evidence jars of varying sizes lined the edge of the examination table. Satisfied that she had collected all the physical evidence possible, the next step was to scrub the body. She needed it clean to examine the wounds and begin the internal autopsy. But first, she needed a break.
“Ugh, I’m getting too fat for this,” she grumbled then put her hand on her heavily swollen belly. “You’re killing me, junior. It’s time for you to vacate my stomach.” Right after she finished her statement, junior decided to kick. “Hey, don’t you get smart with me,” she scolded.
Rebecca stood up from the stool and headed down the hall to the restroom. She gazed at herself in the mirror. She looked tired. Her brown eyes were surrounded by dark circles, something that was not at all common for her. Her blonde hair, which was usually done flawlessly, was pulled up into a tight ponytail. She hadn’t had a chance to wash it before she left early this morning. But right now those things didn’t matter. Dead people didn’t care what she looked like. Once she was done in the restroom, she grabbed a bottle of water from the break room fridge then headed back to finish the autopsy.
Rebecca loved her job, loved that she helped solve crimes and bring murderers to justice, but there were certain aspects of her job she hated. This was especially true in rape-murder cases.
Autopsies were, by their very nature, invasive. There was not a single inch of the body that wasn’t scraped, poked, cut, or scrubbed. Rebecca always felt that she was somehow degrading the victim even more. But in the end, although her examination was intrusive, it was through this process that the killer was caught and convicted. At least, in this sense, the intrusion would help, not hurt.
Rebecca pulled out her camera and began photographing the young woman’s body. It was covered with a combination of cuts, bruises, and what appeared to be some sort of electrical burn. She made sure to take several detailed pictures of the burns so she could send them up to Forensics later. Hopefully they could identify the type of tool used. As she photographed, Rebecca turned on the audio recorder and spoke.
“Subject is Caucasian female in her early twenties. Height is one hundred and sixty-eight centimeters,” Rebecca said as she measured the body with a tape measure. “Weight is sixty kilograms. Brown hair, blue eyes.”
Rebecca paused the recorder and took a deep breath. She couldn’t help but think how much the woman resembled her dearest friend, Katie Quinn. At first she thought it was a coincidence, but then she had found the ID. Brandon tried calling Katie but was unsuccessful, not that she was surprised. They had not parted on the best of terms. In fact, after Katie had called and told her what happened, Rebecca had been furious. The fact that he had the gall to dump her over the phone enraged her. Had it not been for the unfortunate fact that she was married to his brother,
Rebecca would have pretty much cut him out of her life. But now, a year later, Rebecca knew the cause of his insensitivity. She still had not forgiven him, but she was trying.
Rebecca pushed the thoughts out of her head. There would be time for that later. Right now she would finish the autopsy. After that, she and Brandon could talk.
With a sigh, Rebecca pressed the record button and continued her examination.
New York City 11:58 A.M.
Katie submitted her article two minutes before her deadline. Her stomach growled loudly—a reminder that she had not eaten breakfast that morning. She was considering where she would eat lunch when a perky, round faced blonde popped her head over the cubicle divider. “Hey, office bestie. I’m starving.
Want to grab lunch?”
Katie smiled at the energetic woman. “You read my mind, Nicole. Let me grab my things.”
Nicole nodded then disappeared behind the divider. Katie smiled. She had liked Nicole within moments of their introduction. When she first saw her she had been wary. Nicole looked like she was one of those typical, bubbly, ditzy blondes. However, she found out quite quickly that stereotype could not be farther from the truth. Underneath that bubbly exterior was a shrewd and intelligent reporter.
“Want to go to Shorty’s?” Nicole asked as they entered the elevator. “I’m dying for a Philly,”
“Sounds great. You know I’m always down for a good Philly.”
“Accompanied by an Irish Stout.” Nicole giggled.
Katie merely smiled in return. “I hope you don’t mind walking, I need the steps today,” she said as she tapped her Fitbit. She’d bought the device when she’d moved to New York. She knew she would be walking far more her than she had in Columbia, but she was curious to see exactly how much more. The model she’d bought also kept track of her GPS coordinates, so she was able to see exactly where she’d been. She always compared it to the world map her grandparents had when she was a kid. Pins of different colors dotted the surface, marking the places they’d traveled together. This was her twenty-first century version of that.
“You and your steps,” Nicole sighed.
Katie chuckled as they stepped out into the pleasantly cool spring day. The bright blue sky and sunshine were a welcome replacement to the fluorescent track lighting of the office. “Thank goodness for sunshine. I was about to go crazy sitting in that cubicle.”
“Me too,” Nicole agreed. “I hate it when we have stories with little to no legwork.”
Katie nodded. “But hey, on the bright side, it gives us time for a real lunch.”
Despite the boredom of being confined to a desk, Katie was genuinely happy that they had time for a real lunch. During their usual work week, they did make an effort to eat lunch together at least three times, but those lunches were usually rushed due to their busy schedules.
They arrived at Shorty’s five minutes later and grabbed a table towards the back. A waitress quickly took their food and drink orders then scurried away. A couple of minutes later, she returned with their drinks.
“I should feel guilty about drinking a beer before heading back to work,” Katie confessed.
“But you don’t,” Nicole stated.
“I don’t.” Katie laughed. “Plenty of the guys do it, why not
“Exactly.” Nicole giggled. The two women clinked their glasses and smiled. “So, have you finished your story yet?”
“Yeah. I submitted it right before you asked me to lunch.
“Yup. I actually finished it last night. Now I’m just searching for new topics.”
“That’s my plan for the afternoon.” “Do you have anything in mind?”
“Not yet, but I’m sure I’ll figure something out. I always
“Yeah, you’re a brilliant researcher.” Nicole smiled. “Thanks,” Katie returned the smile just as the waitress set
down their food.
They took their time eating the messy yet delicious sandwiches. It was nice to be able to enjoy their lunch for once. Eventually, with their sandwiches done and the plates cleared, Nicole spoke. “You look tired. Did you have a late night?”
“More like an early morning,” Katie mumbled. “Having trouble sleeping?”
Nicole stared at her with a confused expression. Katie debated telling her about Brandon’s call. She had never really talked to Nicole about him. The only time he had come up was when Nicole asked if she was single. When Katie said yes, that she and her boyfriend had broken up when she moved to the city, Nicole was quick to condemn his callousness. In the end, Katie decided not to tell her about the call.
“So what woke you up?”
“My neighbors were at it again,” Katie supplied. The statement was not entirely untruthful. Katie had excessively loud neighbors that lived above her. More times than not, she could hear exactly what was going on above her, which translated into several sleepless nights.
“So was it elephants on parade or a porn studio last night?” Nicole snickered after the question. They had discussed her upstairs neighbors on many occasions.
“Neither.” Katie smiled. “It was early morning cleaning service. They were running the vacuum at three-thirty.”
“Honestly, what is wrong with your neighbors? Do they not realize that people can hear them?”
“I guess not. But I have decided the next time I hear them doing the nasty, I’m going to step out on the fire escape and cheer them on.”
“Oh my gosh! You totally have to do that! Hell, call me over. I’ll join you.” Nicole’s eyes danced with mischievous laughter. Katie knew that she was being serious.
“Okay. I promise to call.”
“Good,” Nicole replied then looked at her watch. “It’s two o’clock. We should probably go.”
“Okay. Let me get the check,” Katie replied. “Katie...”
“No, I insist. It’s my turn,” she stated firmly. Nicole did not protest.
Twenty minutes later, the two women were back at their desks working. Katie stuck her earbuds in her ears, turned on her MP3 player, and began her research.
Columbia, MO 4:30 P.M.
Brandon dropped his keys on the kitchen counter of his house. His boss told him to leave early and get some sleep. Right now the forensic techs were processing the evidence from the scene. Rebecca was conducting the autopsy. As for Brandon, he had spent the entire morning and the better part of the afternoon questioning students and professors alike. The questions had led nowhere. A few people recognized her from class, but no one knew her name. He had been about to look through the class rosters when his boss told him to leave.
As much as Brandon wanted to put a name with the face, he was glad to be released for the day. He was exhausted and, quite frankly, worried. He couldn’t help but recall the viciousness of the attack. More importantly, he couldn’t forget the paralyzing terror that incapacitated him immediately after seeing the ID. For the first time since Katie had moved, he was glad that she wasn’t here in Columbia. She was safe in New York, a statement that he never thought he would make.
He walked into the bedroom and changed from his work clothes to his workout clothes. A nice run would help to clear his mind. Once he had changed, he grabbed his MP3 player and keys then left the house.
The combination of his workout playlist and physical exertion helped calm him. For just a short time he could forget his troubles, his pain. Brandon focused only on the feel of his muscles working fluidly to move him forward. His breath was even and deep. His heart beat steadily, only slightly above its normal tempo. He ran for about thirty minutes then turned back towards his home.
He stepped into the house and tried to figure out dinner as he looked at the refrigerator, which was empty as usual. His cabinets were bare as well. That was fine with him. Ever since Katie moved, he had lost all of his passion for cooking. He ended up deciding on pizza. Brandon quickly called up Emo’s and ordered a large meat lovers thin crust pizza then hopped in the shower.
Once he got in the shower, all of his troubles came crashing down on him. The last few months he had been largely successful in getting over Katie. Sure, he still missed her natural exuberance and masterful use of sarcasm. He missed her smile and her goofy sense of humor. He missed pretty much everything about her, even the things he had once found annoying, like her bad habit of eating ice cubes. But at least in the last few months he had been able to function like a normal adult. He no longer cried himself to sleep or became depressed at the mention of her name. He’d even been able to look at her picture without going to pieces.
Brandon got out of the shower still thinking about Katie. He had met Katie his last year of grad school and was instantly smitten. She was a year behind him. He had already decided to go into the academy when he graduated, so he knew he would be here when she graduated. After that they had both worked hard on their careers. Brandon quickly moved through the ranks of the Columbia Police Department and Katie became a star reporter for the Columbia Daily Tribune, eventually heading their investigative journalism department. Brandon was not surprised by her success. She was a wonderful writer, that was true, but she was also great at developing strong, lasting relationships. Everyone that she worked with admired and respected her.
About a year and a half ago, one of her feature pieces on the misuse of state funding caught the eye of an editor at The New York Times. He invited her to New York for an interview and offered her a job on the spot. Later that night, Katie flew home and shared the news with Brandon. He had been thrilled for her.
Writing for The Times had always been her dream. Deep down, the thought of her leaving was unbearable, but still, Brandon urged her to go. He knew Katie intended on making a long-distance relationship work, and at the time, he had fully intended the same. But after she got on the plane he developed a bitter resentment. As he drove back to Columbia he felt that Katie had abandoned him for bigger and better things. She just left him in the dust. That night, when she called to say she arrived he dumped her over the phone. She had pleaded that he at least give the distance thing a try, but he ignored her. Only later on that night, while he was lying alone in bed, did he realize what an epic mistake he had made; by then it was too late.
The doorbell rang, pulling Brandon out of his self-loathing state. He quickly pulled on some shorts and a t-shirt then answered. Once the delivery man left, he plopped down on the couch and searched for something to watch on TV—something that would erase the memories of the body this morning.