Notes and disclaimers: Without A Trace and the characters herein aren't mine. No profit garnered ever. Title from Michael Ondaatje. Thanks to Mosca for beta action. For Circusgirl.
DIE IN THE ETHER PERIPHERIES
Bridgette Myers disappeared somewhere between work and her apartment. Twenty-eight year old administrative assistant, live-in boyfriend worried and crying for her. "Ran, snatched or other?" Danny glanced at Martin as they drove to her work.
"Don't assume anything," Martin said.
Danny would have said "ran," because he felt like they'd had this case five hundred times in the last six years. Same lipstick smile in the picture, same contact lens solution in the bathroom. Funny how they all used the same brand. Women falling off the radar. But Martin was feeling official, not philosophical, so Danny kept his mouth shut.
"She didn't run away," said the secretary. "We were talking about For Better or For Worse. She wanted to know who Lizzie would end up with. God," the woman said, sniffling. "She would answer her cell-phone."
Danny nodded. Martin said, "This is her cubicle?"
"She's really neat, you know? She always leaves it like this." The woman turned on her heel and ran to the break room. Martin glanced at Danny and Danny sighed as he followed her.
"See? See?" The secretary held up a white cardboard box. "She brought Pad Thai for lunch today. Something bad happened to her."
"Well-liked at work, probably getting a big raise next month, no signs of anything unusual or illegal," Martin said, frowning.
Jack turned to look at the picture on the board and stared. Danny never wanted that job. Martin glanced at Danny. Martin had a lot of questions. He liked to ask himself questions, over and over again, figure out the rules, where things were going. Danny only had time for the questions that smacked you in the face and had to be answered. He waited for Jack to tell them their next move.
"Viv, do we have the phone records?"
"Did you go to this many meetings before you started coming to check up on me?"
Danny leaned back in the chair and smiled. "Does it matter?" He wasn't checking up on Martin. No need. He went to a meeting a day for one hundred days, he got a sponsor. He was a better recovering addict than Danny had been. Super recovery man. He wouldn't even date. He said. Danny wondered what Martin was calling it in his head.
Danny said, "Think we'll find anything on that girl tomorrow?"
Martin shook his head. "I don't want to think about it."
Martin tasted like coffee but he didn't kiss more than once. No kissing meant no dating and Martin wasn't dating anyone right now. He pulled off Danny's belt like it was an enemy. He licked Danny's hip while his fingers dug in and left marks. He pushed and shoved on the bed and only closed his eyes for a minute and only when he came. Danny meant to say, "We can go slower, you know."
Instead he got his first words out as Martin was getting dressed. "See you tomorrow?"
"Of course," Martin said. Like he wouldn't come into work.
"I'm just trying," Martin said, looking at his coffee. "I'm just trying to get things right."
"Gotcha," Danny said. He thought getting a few things wrong didn't hurt too bad. He didn't know for sure. Martin liked sure.
Bridgette Myers was off the board. Follow up calls were scheduled but there was no answer, no indication. She probably didn't run away. She was probably dead. Martin kept the file on the top of his in box anyway. Danny moved his to the middle.
"Fifty year old man, hasn't come home in two days," Sam said. She pointed at the board.
"He likes to sing when he's drunk and he sounds awful," the wife said. "He sounds so awful. I can't even describe it. Oh, wait, fucking awful. Horrible. Like dead cats except they're zombies so they're even worse than real cats. It's that bad." She slammed her hand on the table. "So I said, get out and make that noise somewhere else. Anywhere else. Cause I'm not fucking tolerating it. And he said, Oh-fucking-kay. But I didn't say, don't come back. So he better fucking come back."
"Yes, ma'am," Danny said. "That was the last time you saw him, then?"
"He went to his brother's house, broke the brother's phone throwing it down the stairs, threw out his cell phone by dropping it in the garbage and passed out. When he woke up, it was two days later. So he has to walk to the local drugstore and call his wife from the payphone outside." Viv snorted. "I wish they were all so easy."
Danny grinned. "We'd be out of a job. Wait two days, miss, he'll sober up."
"Sounds boring," Sam said. She shook her head and smiled at Martin. "Don't you think?"
"Boring isn't so bad," Martin said.
"Quiet day," Danny said, removing his tie with a tug. "I like those days."
Martin leaned against the elevator wall. "Want to get dinner?"
"No," Danny shrugged. "I want to go home and watch baseball. Pitchers and catchers and balls, oh, my," he said.
"National pastime, right?" Danny shoved his balled-up tie in his pocket.
"Are we talking about something else?" Martin looked pained, like decrypting was too much for him.
"I'm talking about having a night to myself and watching the Mets win," Danny said. "Nothing else, man."
Martin blinked and shrugged. "See you tomorrow, then?"
Danny played baseball, center field, as a kid. He was good enough to know he wasn't good enough to be anything greater. It wasn't a tragedy. Danny'd had enough of those to know what they were for real, even at sixteen. So now he watched baseball at home or at Shea. He used to have a few beers, too; now he didn't, and that wasn't a tragedy either. He put his feet up and did paperwork for two straight hours. All caught up and the Mets even managed to win. He didn't miss the conversation because there usually wasn't any.
Danny went to an early morning meeting, one he knew Martin didn't go to. He never shared, but he liked the people. He liked the break from watching. He hadn't even liked him at first. Danny wasn't sure why that was reassuring to remember some mornings.
A woman was speaking and Danny thought for a moment he'd found Bridgette Myers but it was only a slight resemblance. She talked about work and craving relief from boredom and the monotony and the endless tasks that were never challenging. She made a joke and everyone laughed. "Drinking was never boring," she said.
He made it into work before Martin and had time to deal with all the paper generated by the last three cases. "Organized," Sam said, smiling.
"I'm just that good," Danny said. She walked to her desk, humming.
He thought of the woman at the meeting and took out the Bridgette Myers file. One round of phone calls, one round of checks on phone records and bank records. She had to be somewhere. Her boyfriend had called the office twice already, wondering. It didn't seem suspicious, it seemed like he had no idea and still had hope. Danny admired hope.
Martin said, "Did you find something?"
Danny shrugged. No one had heard from her, no bodies resembling hers had shown up at the morgue, and there were no calls coming from her cell phone. "But the bank sent this," he said, pushing the sheet over to Martin.
"Withdrawal from her savings account." Martin frowned. "Ten minutes after work. Maybe she ran."
"On a hundred bucks? She has two thousand in there. Why not withdraw it all? Also, look here. She's never withdrawn from that account. She only deposits." Danny cocked his head to the side. "Maybe it was someone else."
Jack put the captures from the ATM video on the board. Bridgette Myers had her photo back up. "This isn't her," Viv said. "It might not even be a woman."
"Short and thin," Sam said. "How tall is Bridgette?"
"Five feet eight inches," Martin said. "According to her license."
"She wore heels to the office," Elena said, "She'd be about here." She pointed at the photo, above the dark head in the capture.
"So someone has her ATM card ten minutes after she's last seen," Jack said.
"They had one of her ATM cards," Danny said. "One she never used."
Danny and Martin got to case the area around the ATM. "It's a good thing you checked," Martin said. He smiled. "I thought you'd given up on her."
"Her boyfriend called," Danny said. "I don't think he's connected."
"Me neither." Martin looked at the ATM. "He could still be. Where do you think the PIN came from?"
"It's a card she never uses. Maybe it's buried in the bottom of her purse. Back of her wallet. Maybe she wrote the PIN down because she never used it."
"So maybe Shorty just found the purse and decided to try it out."
They found the purse stuffed under a dumpster in an alley one block over. The fingerprints came back quicker than they had expected and they found a loser who'd been busted once for misdemeanor assault and now worked at a bodega one block away from the alley.
"I just found it," he said, sweating. "I found the purse. There was nothing but some lady junk and lipstick and that ATM card with a slip of paper right next to it with the PIN number. I was fucking stupid, I know. I didn't see any lady. I didn't see any lady!"
Martin said," We're making real progress." He smiled and even patted Danny's hand. Danny nearly smiled back. Maybe there was a reason for hope. Keep plugging, he thought. One day at a time. He smirked at that.
Danny said, "Maybe we'll find her." He couldn't bring himself to say whether she'd be alive or dead when they did.
But Viv walked in with a sharp snap of her heels and stopped to talk to Jack.
Danny took a deep breath and watched their faces. Neither looked happy. Martin started to say something and then licked his lips and looked away.
Bridgette Myers's boyfriend rubbed his forehead and then cried ugly. Danny thought he might even fall down and stepped closer. Martin was saying something, vague comfort, but all Danny could hear was the crying.
She was taken before she ever got to the subway, strangled, robbed. She'd fought back. But it hadn't lasted longer than three minutes from grab to death. It took two days to find the body. They didn't know why the perp hadn't tried to use her credit card or her ATM card yet. The police didn't think there was enough evidence to narrow down any suspect.
"Do you," Martin said and then sighed. "They'll never find that guy."
Danny sipped his coffee and leaned back in the plastic chair. "Stranger kills a stranger. Without evidence, they're fucked. No matter what they show on TV."
Martin put his cup down, lining it up carefully with the edge of the leg of the chair. "At least her family and friends know what happened to her."
"They know something." Danny rubbed his forehead. "It is something, I guess."
The woman leading the meeting stood up and cleared her throat. "Welcome," she said. She didn't look anything like Bridgette Turnrick.
Maybe they were dating now. Martin kissed him twice as they walked into Danny's apartment. Danny hesitated as Martin reached for his belt. He gripped Martin's wrist and then let go. Fuck it. When they tumbled onto the bed, he kissed Martin's neck and held his jaw so they kissed again.
Funny how they both had scars. But Danny had been there for Martin's, all the bad ones. Martin ran his hand over Danny's stomach, almost skimming. It felt like comfort.
They still didn't talk until morning when Martin said, "I'll have coffee for you when you get to work."
after parading in the sky
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