Crisscrossed

by Tony Harris 10 months ago in fiction

What if you could stop 16 murders that already happened? One boy could be the missing link to solving the Crisscross Murders.

Crisscrossed

PART ONE

JANUARY 2ND- 12TH 2020

Thursday, January 2nd, 2020

Police presence throughout San Jose scarcely matched the usual circumstances. Less than 20% of the daily force assigned to beat duty walked or patrolled the streets. The remaining officers sat patiently watching the clock march towards 9 AM in front of make shift terminals constructed the previous week. A room that typically housed 30-40 detectives now held close to 200 men and women.

Captain Smith squeezed his way through the masses conveying instructions. "We have over 5,000 open cases, many of them cold. In about 15 minutes, the national DNA registry will release its database to police stations across the country. You each have 15 cases and at 9:00 o’clock, you will begin cross-referencing your cases with their database. Our goal is to match DNA obtained through the DNA registry to DNA collected at crime scenes.

Once you identify a match, you are to find the last known whereabouts of the suspect and attach it to the file and place it in a green folder signifying an urgent investigation. If no match is made, then place the file in a red folder.

Any questions," he paused briefly, and then continued before anyone could raise hand or voice, "good. Let’s catch some bad guys.

Chatter began filling the room as the clock ticked closer to 9 AM. Each detective had 6-7 officers assigned to help them sift through the data. Many of them had cases they'd long given up hope of closing, but the DNA registry rekindled some semblance of it.

Detective Chalmers had been counting down to this day since the president signed it into law the year before. Most citizens had cringed at the thought of its passing and eventual initiation; however, they supported this action more than the alternative, which had been microchip implants. Chalmers held similar reservations personally, yet the 16 unsolved murders assuringly committed by one person outweighed his bias.

The murders had started less than five years ago and each body found was naked with the exact same wounds, laid in the exact same position and scattered throughout the city. The only anomaly was the final body, found alongside the final murder victim. This one died from a gunshot wound to the chest and was fully clothed. Chalmers believed this man must have witnessed the last murder and the suspect silenced him. With no other bodies discovered, the killer likely retired or relocated to avoid capture. Chalmers felt in his gut that this last man held the key to the investigation.

"Davis," Chalmers said speaking to the officer closest to him. "This one first, bring me the file as soon as you get any hits."

Davis nodded and turned back to his terminal. Ten seconds later keys clattered through the room as records released into the police database. The pace was furious as potential suspects popped up on dozens and dozens of screens. Dispatch calls went out to the remaining officers on the streets to pick up people for questioning. Chalmers watched over his small crew seeing them feverishly plug away. When he saw Davis pull a page from the printer, place it in the folder and stand up, Chalmers rushed to meet him.

"You got something?"

"I'm not sure. I think there's a glitch in the database."

"Let me see it," Chalmers said opening the folder. On top of the notes from the investigation lay a photo of a child, 8 years old. "What the hell is this? You're telling me an 8 year old is our murder suspect?"

"Well, technically he was 6 when the last murder vic was found and 3 for the first. But he's not our suspect?" Davis stated.

"Next of kin?"

"No, he's our last victim."

Friday, January 3rd 2020

Detective Chalmers sat outside Captain Smith's office with his stacks of cases ready to give his brief. Inside another detective presented his results but certainly didn't have the same conundrum as he.

He could hear laughs and a chair sliding on the floor alerting him his turn was approaching. The door swung open as Detective Ramirez thanked the captain.

"Chalmers, how'd you fair?"

"Good, some oddities, but hoping to close a good portion of cases," Chalmers answered.

"I got a bunch of runners. Most bolted their last known address within a day or two of submitting their DNA. We'll find them though. Brought in about 25 people yesterday though, so things are moving along."

"Chalmers," Captain Smith's voice boomed through the office and hallway.

"He's in a pretty good mood," Ramirez said, then added, "I guess possibly closing a couple thousand cases lifts his spirits."

"Good to know," Chalmers answered. Wonder if that'll be true after my visit, he thought to himself.

The captain's office was immaculate, everything in its place and positioned perfectly. His meticulous methods and relentless drive led him to the highest closure rate the department had ever seen which fast tracked him to captain by his 34th birthday. He was younger than half his squad and only a couple years elder to the rest of the detectives.

Chalmers entered the office and waited for orders to sit, standing straight and eyes forward.

"Relax, Chalmers. I've told you a dozen times this isn't the army. Take a seat," Captain Smith said.

"Yes, Captain," he responded.

"So, more of the same?" He asked and continued when Chalmers seemed confused, "catching the bad guys?"

"Oh, yeah. Here," he said handing copies of the green folders to the captain. "The DA is gonna be busy. I'll probably have to re-interview some witnesses and call in some line ups, but all the physical evidence is solid and once we pick up the perps our work should be done."

"How many runners?" The captain asked.

"Not too many, about 15. Most of my cases were lower class felonies who probably figured we wouldn't worry about them or thought they didn't leave any DNA. I've forwarded my list to the most wanted department for tonight's broadcast."

"Great. And how many cold remaining?"

Chalmers looked down at the remaining folders and pushed the white folder below the red ones.

"I've still got about 20 cold cases left. Most of these are gang related hits or drivebys so there was no DNA at the scene for us to collect. A few, I believe the prime suspect to be dead, which is why the database didn't give us a match," Chalmers explained.

"Not much hope in solving those unless we can flip someone or if a witness suddenly becomes less frightened to come forward," Captain Smith surmised. After a sip of coffee and a brief pause he continued. "You saved the Crisscross murders for last. Either you got something big or absolutely nothing, judging by your body language I'd say nothing."

Captain Smith knew the Crisscross murders haunted Chalmers since the last body appeared two years prior. The detective would occasionally run theories by the captain but the trail had gone cold. What he had now, he wasn't sure how to explain.

"We got something, although I don't know what to make of it," he started placing the folder on the captain’s desk. Chalmers opened the file and placed five of the victim's autopsy photos in front of him.

Pointing at the picture to his left he stated, "This is Pamela Ferris, this is Richard Town, that's Trevor Parker, this is Sarah Thompson and that is Gretchen Werth."

"I thought we couldn't ID any of the bodies, did you find missing person reports matching these five?"

"No and it's not just these five. I have ID's on all 15 bodies plus the last one," he explained then pulled out five more photos lying them on top of the others. Again starting from the left, he repeated the names, "Pamela, Richard, Trevor, Sarah and Gretchen."

"I don't see how their childhood photos will..."

"Today," Chalmers interrupted. "These photos are all current, within the last year, when their DNA was collected in accordance to the DNA Registry Act. You can see the date and time collect here," he added pointing to the date printed at the bottom of the page.

Chalmers saw a look of confusion he'd never seen the captain wear before, then continued. "I thought there was a glitch so I called the registry. They confirmed the identities. I resent our samples to the lab in Langley and they confirmed our results. Well, five of them, I didn't want the expense for 16 expedited DNA tests," Chalmers explained.

The perplexed look hadn't faded from the captain’s face. Finally he spoke. "So we've got 16 bodies buried in Oak Hill Memorial Park as John and Jane Does and you're telling me that for each one there's an identical DNA match living AND they're somewhere between 5-15 years old. What's that? About 20-25 years younger than the bodies we found?" the captain asked shaking his head. "This is some kind of a mistake. Exhume two of the bodies, try to get fresh DNA and run each of them through different labs. If they come back the same then we request new DNA from the victims...children."

"Got it, thanks Captain," Chalmers said rising from his chair to exit the meeting.

Before he could open the door, the captain added, "Let’s keep this between us for now."

Chalmers nodded his head in agreement knowing the captain didn't want any possible mistakes known outside his office until he'd had a chance to come up with solutions. The press would have a field day if they somehow got wind of the police I-Ding 16 dead bodies as living children.

Chalmers had his orders but what he didn't have was cause to exhume and rerun the DNA tests. Or to order new samples from the children. At least not believable cause. The truckload of new cases consumed the DA’s office, leading Chalmers to believe they wouldn't pry much. Still, better to have a reason handy, especially since it pertained to the Crisscross murders.

Back at his desk, Chalmers began researching possible DNA labs. There were dozens within a few blocks of the station now that DNA testing could be done within hours and relatively cheap. Private testing assured confidentiality since they would not have access to the department database. A police tech would automatically cross the results within the database and would start asking questions. Beside the captain and him, only Davis knew about the current results.

Chalmers scrolled through the names of possible choices: ABC DNA, DNA Tech, Dr. DNA, Test Now and Who's your Daddy. Fast food style labs promising 99.9% accuracy in 24 hours or your money back. As Chalmers scrolled through less commercial companies the last one drew his attention, giving him an idea. Who's your daddy? He thought. Paternal testing? Familial traits? The ideas formed in his mind and he immediately called the assistant DA.

"Brenda, hi it's Chalmers," he said when she answered.

"Hello Detective. Quite the caseload you guys dropped on us this morning," she responded.

"There's more where that came from, wait till we catch the runners."

"Can't wait, kinda busy over here if you couldn't guess. What can I do for you?"

"I need an exhumation order for two bodies buried out at Oak Hill," Chalmers requested.

"From the Crisscross murders? Don't tell me you guys got DNA on that bastard."

"Not quite, although I bet you'd love that case. Would lift you right into whatever firm you wanted."

"Or black listed if I lost. So why do you need the bodies?"

"We got a hit on a couple victims, possibly a family member of someone in the system. We just want to make sure the DNA is a familial match before knocking on any doors," Chalmers said not totally lying.

"Ok, send it over and I'll sign it. I guess we don't need permission from the next of kin since we don't know who that is."

"Thanks, Brenda,"

"Anytime Jim."

Monday, January 6th, 2020

A cold rain lightly fell in the morning as Chalmers stood 20 yards from the backhoe next to Sarah Thompson's unmarked grave. Next to him were lab techs from Genetrax and Bioforce. Once they raised the casket, the grounds crew would open it and John from Genetrax would inspect the decaying body. They hoped enough of the body would be intact for a useable sample. Then they'd walk six or seven slots down for Richard Town.

Chalmers was relieved Brenda didn't join the recovery mission for fear of further explaining. Fortunately, she could barely break for lunch, let alone a 2-hour detour to babysit an exhumation. The backhoe reversed after scratching the top of the casket and two men with ropes climbed in to secure the casket. A third man wheeled the lift over to the edge of the newly dug hole, harnessing the ropes to a large hook.

The man operating the backhoe shut down the engine after parking near the second site, then trotted over to help raise the dead. Finally clear of the grave, the men worked together to push the coffin over solid ground and finally resting it just a few feet from where it came.

"Show time," Chalmers said to John.

A brawny gravedigger pried the coffin open with a crow bar letting a stiff waft of dead air escape. John stood too closely and nearly wretched after breathing in a lungful of stale, decaying air. Chalmers held in a cough, covering his nose at the stench.

"That was pleasant," John said as the top fully opened. "The body seems to be in good shape. Plenty of hair for samples and while the skin has decomposed considerably, there's enough remaining for a swab."

The tech gathered his samples quickly while the backhoe operator returned to his vehicle. Chalmers jumped when the engine started, then returned to his thoughts. Looking down at the body that had been dead for almost four years he could see the resemblance to the photo of the child attached in his folder. The high cheekbones, dark eyebrows and long, thin nose all but confirmed the identification for him. He suddenly knew the newly collected DNA would match the records, as would the child's once obtained.

"That's all I need, I'll get this to the lab and have the results sent over in the morning," John said.

"I'd prefer to pick them up myself, will 10 AM be enough time," Chalmers asked.

"Plenty."

John excused himself and Chalmers turned to Jessica from Bioforce, "You're next."

"I was afraid you'd say that. Think I'll wait over here until they've fully opened the casket," she responded then rubbed Vic’s Vapor under her nose.

The next coffin rose even quicker as they'd barely returned the first when the men had to scurry over to help lift Richard from his grave. A similar process followed with Chalmers agreeing to come by Jessica's lab around 10:30 the next morning.

Jessica followed the path to her car ahead of Chalmers, thankful she was leaving. The detective slowly entered his car, then sat before turning over the engine.

It’s them, he said to himself. I don't know how and I hope to God I'm wrong, he added as he started his car.

Tuesday, January 7th, 2020

Chalmers arrived at Genetrax at 9:45 AM and patiently waited in the lobby. He'd already briefed the captain on the exhumation and had a followup meeting scheduled for 11:30. He had hoped the results would be waiting for him when he arrived, but the nurse behind the desk informed him the doctor wished to speak with him. This was a little frustrating beyond the additional time it would take. Chalmers thought he made the need for discretion plain to John, but apparently not. Still, there's no way they could have matched this DNA to anyone living so the breach wouldn't be that difficult to deal with. Still, Chalmers made a mental note of John's lack of trustfulness.

Finally, at 10 am sharp, the nurse escorted Chalmers into the doctor's office. John perched opposite the doctor and Chalmers was invited to sit next to him.

"Thanks for stopping by, Detective. I'm sorry to keep you waiting, but I felt compelled to speak to you about this sample," the doctor said.

"It's part of an ongoing investigation, so you'll understand if I can't say anything," he responded.

"That's what John here said, wouldn't tell me anything, not even where he was yesterday morning."

Perhaps I misjudged little Johnny, Chalmers thought. "I requested his complete confidence in the matter, Doctor."

"Once the investigation is complete, then may I question you about its origin?"

"Perhaps. What has drawn your attention to this sample?" Chalmers asked.

"There's nothing odd about the DNA itself, its map is entirely readable and intact. What's strange is the deterioration. It's almost as if this person was microwaved."

"Are you saying they were cooked?" Chalmers asked.

"Not quite. A microwave works by speeding up the molecules in the food. As they gain speed they bump into each other creating friction, which produces heat. It's the friction that essentially heats up your leftovers."

"So molecularly, this person is different?"

"Precisely. I'd love to see the body, once the investigation is closed, of course."

"Who said there was a body?" Chalmers asked, looking at John.

"Nobody, detective. No one could survive this type of realignment," the doctor stated.

*************************************************************************************

Chalmers had just placed his coat on the back of his chair when Captain Smith turned the corner.

"Detective, let’s go for a walk," the captain ordered. Chalmers quickly put his coat back on and followed the captain out of the precinct. "What did you find?" he asked once clear of lawful ears.

Chalmers opened the folder he was holding and compared the results on file with the paperwork he picked up that morning. "It's an identical match, no error on our side."

"So I guess you're making a trip to the kids' homes? Have you come up with a reason?"

"Not yet? Any suggestions?" He asked the captain.

"You did pretty well with the DA, although she's gonna want to know what we've found. I guess I can tell her the results were inconclusive, which isn't entirely untrue," the captain paused for a second. Chalmers was about to speak but was cut off when the captain stopped and faced him.

"Jim, you've only been in my unit a few years," he started.

"Five, sir," Chalmers interrupted.

"You've done great work in those few years," the captain continued without recognizing the exact total. "You scored extremely well on the detective's exam and had a stellar record as an officer. You're closing rate is highest in the department, although not quite as high as mine was," he said adding a smile at the end of that statement.

"Thank you, sir."

"If I wasn't so damn young, you might have a chance at captain yourself in the next 10 years. Regardless, this is the kind of case that will define your career. I've never seen anything like this and I don't like the evidence, or lack of, that we currently have. I don't want to see this bring you down. Tread carefully. I'm behind you as long as you keep me in the loop and keep your theories respectable. I don't understand the circumstances and I honestly don't think the DNA from the children is going to clear anything up. When people don't understand something, they clutch for answers that seem impossible to others. There's no shame in letting an unsolvable case go. The shame would be seeing this one take your career into obscurity with it."

Chalmers nodded his understanding and appreciated the captain being so frank with him. He did wonder why the pep talk since he'd always investigated cases by the book, but like the captain said, this wasn't a typical case.

"Now, let’s grab a coffee and get back to the shit show."

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020

Another chilly, but sunny day greeted Chalmers as he left his modest apartment. During dinner the previous night and through breakfast he wondered how he'd approach the parents of the children he needed new DNA samples. He obviously couldn't tell them the truth and they wouldn't willingly agree without justification. He had the luxury of a few more hours as he wouldn't attempt to contact the families until early evening, once the children were home from school and the parents from work. Until then, he'd try to track down his runners and follow up leads on his current caseload.

Chalmers filed through solvable cases, contacting witnesses, robbery victims, calling the lab for results along with other routine work. Underneath it all, his mind churned on the Crisscross murders. He began wondering if the captain was right; would this be the case that ruined him? He tried pushing it out of his mind and barely noticed the time when his fellow detectives started packing up for the day.

"Shit, 6:30 already," he said to no one. He wrapped up the paragraph he was typing for another case then began placing the other files back in his drawer. He still hadn't thought of a reason to request DNA from those children. In his mind, he'd hoped a break in the case would allow him to skip that step. Finally, Chalmers gathered his things and left the station.

The drive to the first family took nearly 20 minutes and Chalmers came up blank on reasons for his presence. He felt unprepared, but also confident he'd succeed. Lights glowed from the living room window as he approached the door and voices whispered on the other side.

He took a deep breath then rang the bell. It was one of those custom rings playing Bach or Beethoven. A fair-skinned average looking woman answered, opening the door only enough for her face to peer through.

"Hi ma'am, my name is detective Chalmers. Are you Alice Thompson?”

"Yes, is everything ok?" she asked.

"Yes, ma'am. Just wondering if I may have a minute of your time."

"Sure. Honey, the police are here," she announced, opening the door for Chalmers to enter.

"Thanks."

"What's this about?" she asked leading him into the kitchen. Her husband sat next to who Chalmers presumed was Sarah and across from an empty chair in front of a half-eaten plate of spaghetti.

"I'm sorry to interrupt, should I come back after dinner?"

"That won't be necessary. Was there a robbery in our neighborhood?" she asked.

"No ma'am," he said still wondering what he'd say. Suddenly his mouth took over. "I was hoping you guys could help me out with something. It's a little embarrassing, but we need your help."

The family seemed confused, but also intrigued with the request.

"As I'm sure you are aware, the DNA registry was released a few days ago," Chalmers stated trying to read their opinions. When their faces didn't seem to object, he continued. "Well, it seems there was an error with some of our samples. One was with Sarah's here. When the data was entered, it matched a 42 year old woman's."

Sarah was oblivious while Alice and her husband exchanged glances.

"They grow up fast, but I think maybe there was a mix up," he continued with a forced smile. "The lab work was done at the same facility so we think the tech mixed up the samples. We just need to a fresh sample from Sarah."

Alice laughed into her napkin to hide the snicker, unsure if she had offended Chalmers.

"I wish this were a joke, ma'am," he answered. "But we just want to correct the mistake. I've brought a kit with me and you can administer it. I thought it would be less invasive than bringing a tech along with me."

"I'm sorry," Alice said recovering from her laugh. "It's not often you get the police admitting to wrong doing. Caught me off guard."

"Why didn't they just send us a request to come down to the clinic?" her husband asked.

"The other woman was involved in an incident and we're trying to clear this up as soon as possible," Chalmers admitted.

"Ha. First an apology and then speedy detective work," Alice said smiling again. "Honey, we're on some weird hidden camera show," she said turning to her husband.

"You must excuse my wife, we had a break in a few months ago and since the police came out we haven't heard back from them. We've left dozens of messages, but no one calls us back," the husband explained.

"Who was the officer on scene?" Chalmers asked.

"Davis, I believe."

"I'll speak with him tomorrow morning and have you fully updated on the investigation," Chalmers promised. "Now, here's the kit. If we can take care of this now, I'll be on my way and out of your hair."

The father took the DNA test from his hands and asked Sarah to scoot closer. He unscrewed the lid, removed the swab from the sealed bag and asked her to open wide. Gently he scrapped the inside of her mouth with both ends and placed the samples in a smaller bottle inside the original package.

"Here you go," the father said handing the kit back to Chalmers.

"Thank you very much, again. Sorry for the inconvenience," he said rising from the seat across from the child.

"Detective?"

"Yes, ma'am?"

"What did the other woman do?"

"Excuse me?"

"The 42 year old that matched Sarah's DNA, what did she do to have the police department looking for her?"

"Oh," Chalmers paused. "Nothing serious, writing bad checks," he added.

Chalmers thanked them again then showed himself out. The family watched him leave the room then returned to the dinner conversation. He hoped the next home would go as well...maybe without the laughing.

Thursday, January 9th, 2020

After two quick stops to retrieve the results from the swabs he had collected the evening before, Chalmers arrived at the precinct. The captain had meetings downtown so he examined the findings himself. To his disappointment, the results matched the bodies they had unearthed just a couple days before. The break in the case of identifying the victims had become a brick wall. He felt there was nowhere to go. Chalmers placed the new results in the file and turned his attention to cases he could actually solve.

When Chalmers returned from lunch, he found a note from the captain on his desk. He had returned and wanted an update as soon as lunch was over. Chalmers snatched his file and proceeded to the captain's office without removing his coat.

Captain Smith waved him in with one hand while the other held the telephone to his ear. Chalmers heard him answer the other party, “Yes. I understand. Absolutely. Thank you Chief". The captain replaced the receiver then greeted his detective.

"How'd the meetings go downtown?" Chalmers asked.

"About the same as always. Some praise, but mostly complaints. We can never do anything fast enough. I guess handing over thousands of cases this week was hardly worth noting. Anyway, what's the verdict with the children’s’ samples?"

"An identical match. Our murder victims, supposedly, are still alive and at least 20-30 years younger than their bodies we discovered."

"I've been stumped before on cases, but this one takes the cake. We're missing something. I'm not sure what and like I said, I don't like the circumstances here. The mayor asked about this case this morning. Ms. Fisher must have told her boss about the exhumation order who then told the mayor. He expects a report by the end of the week," Captain Smith said.

"Capt., I don't know what's next. Without the DNA evidence, the case was already dead in the water. This just adds more questions than answers," Chalmers confessed.

"Run a security breach protocol on our networks; see if we've been hacked. Someone must have somehow gotten into our system and changed records. Send a similar request to the DNA registry with the victim list to see if they can find evidence of tampering in those records. Then, pour over everything you have on this case. Look at it from a fresh perspective, there's something we're missing. You've got two days."

"And if nothing turns up?" Chalmers asked.

"Then I have to tell the district attorney and mayor that the Crisscross murders are officially a cold case," the captain answered.

"That'll go over well, I'm sure."

Chalmers collected the paperwork he'd placed on the captain’s desk, and then returned to his own. Two days didn't seem possible for him to comb over the hundreds of pages in notes and evidence logs. Even with a team of five, it could take a week to thoroughly examine everything. With his current workload, the task was even more daunting. I need to sequester myself, he thought.

Chalmers reached for his phone, then decided a face to face with the captain would be more convincing. Captain Smith's door was still open and he rapped on the jamb as he entered.

"That was fast," the captain said waving him in.

"If only," Chalmers responded. "I think it would be best it I locked myself inside my apartment the next couple days to submerge myself in this and only this. Is there anyone that can take on my caseload for the next 48 hours," he asked.

"Give half to Johnson and half to Ramirez. They've handed over most of their investigations to the DA."

"Thanks captain," Chalmers said exiting the office again.

Returning to his desk, Chalmers collected his current folders, split them in two piles, and delivered them to his fellow detectives. He received little resistance, mostly because he explained the order came down from the captain.

Chalmers returned to his station and packed his computer and folders. As he boxed everything he'd need, he felt as though he was foreshadowing his future if he couldn't break open this case. Chalmers loved being a detective and vowed not to let this be his undoing.

Once at home, Chalmers organized a workstation at his coffee table, spreading out files pertaining to victims around his computer. Not all 16 would fit on the table, so he began spreading them out on the floor surrounding it. He brewed a large pot of coffee, ordered take out and put the Discovery Channel on as background noise.

Chalmers decided to start from the beginning, hoping to find some sort of mistake the killer had made before perfecting his trade by the later victims. The first body, found inside a train depot at 5 AM, caused quite the commotion. A security detail patrolled the premises every thirty minutes keeping the grounds locked down from 1 AM until opening at 4:30 AM. The killer had to have had a key and known the security protocol to gain entrance and leave undetected. Furthermore, he or she must have had access to the security tapes, as the surveillance seemed to have a glitch when the body first appeared. At 2:37:43, the room was completely empty and in the next second, the body appeared as if it had been there the entire time. Chalmers scrubbed the video back and forth to find the edit, but couldn't see any break in the continuity. Additionally, when he searched for the gap in missing time through the last few days of footage, it seemed as though there was none. He guessed the killer looped some footage from a previous period to make up the time he'd cut out to drop the body. The lab scrutinized the video and found it to be untouched, but Chalmers considered that impossible.

Aside from the video, there was little other evidence. Not just in this location, but in every one. The medical examiner had determined asphyxiation as the cause of death in each victim, except the last one, which was a gunshot wound to the heart. Time of death had been established about 10-12 hours before they were found. Every body, save the last, was naked and positioned on their backs with their legs crossed at the ankles and arms folded across their chest and hands placed around their necks as if they'd strangled themselves.

The ME found no evidence of sexual assault and absolutely no DNA on the body other than their own. Beside random bruises not attributed to a struggle, the bodies were devoid of any injuries below the neck.

After searching through the first three victims’ files, Chalmers decided he needed more coffee if he was to get through at least half of his reports that evening. He turned the volume up on his television while he ground some beans and prepped the coffee maker. Ten minutes, he said to himself, just a little break. He returned to the couch while he waited for the coffee to brew, taking a moment to check messages on his phone. An announcer spoke over images of the cosmos and asked theoretical questions he'd heard dozens of times.

"Is time travel possible? Einstein's theories say yes, but our own limits in technology suggest otherwise. Still, that doesn't stop these quantum physicists from continuing their research in search of the ultimate achievement in mankind."

Chalmers watched the open and initial interviews with a skeptic view and a sort of lament towards these scientists. While the theory seemed interesting to him, he felt the time wasted on such an improbable invention was ludicrous. Couldn't they use their intelligence to cure cancer or something useful he thought as he got up to pour his coffee.

The TV continued its dialog while Chalmers poured a touch of milk into his cup. He had decided to change the channel, hoping to find a replay from the basketball game. But as he entered the room and looked for the remote, a man sitting in a classroom claimed time travel wasn't only possible, but that real world application could be feasible in the next 20 years.

"It's not a matter of if," the TV said, "but when? I believe we'll see successful trials by 2030. My team is working on some very promising formulas and..."

Chalmers finally located the remote and changed the channel before the man could continue. "Wish I could travel back to these bodies being dropped and catch the son of a bitch red handed," he said to himself. Suddenly, he changed the channel back to the show. The same man was still speaking about his lab at UC Santa Barbara, only a few hours from San Jose.

"The key is breaking the light barrier and creating a vessel that can withstand that type of travel. It seems nearly impossible for the human body to withstand the type of speed needed for successful time travel. Hence a vehicle is needed to take us," he paused for effect, "when we want to go."

The program teased the next segment of the show before fading out to a commercial. Chalmers began rolling a new theory in his head. He didn't like it and wanted to find anything to lead him away from its path. His dislike for the idea however, didn't make it less possible than any other thought he'd had about solving this case.

In order to fully understand if this new theory was plausible, he'd have to take a day trip to UC Santa Barbara in the morning. Until then, he had at least another six victims to get through before he could retire. Chalmers sipped his coffee as he moved the third victim's file aside and opened the fourth one. Another body found in a secure location with video of the body absent one second and there the next. This is going to be a long night, he thought to himself.

Friday, January 10th, 2020

The campus in Santa Barbara was relatively quiet, as most of the students hadn't returned from winter break. Fortunately, Chalmers had called the professor before making the trip to make sure he was available. He had some difficulty securing an appointment; however, the professor finally accepted when Chalmers used the detective card.

On the long drive, Chalmers contemplated which questions to ask the quantum physicist. He feared giving too much information and revealing his far out theory. But, he didn't know enough about the subject to ask pointed questions. He didn't think the interview would reveal any new information and felt incredibly silly to be making the trip. Perhaps a phone interview would have sufficed, he wondered. Still, after looking through 10 of the victim's files the previous night and coming away with no new theories, Chalmers hoped something would come of his meeting.

The detective arrived 15 minutes early as usual and took a seat outside the professor’s office. The lights were off and he guessed no one had been there before him. The halls remained mostly empty with an occasional student passing by to wait outside another empty office.

Finally, a few minutes before his appointment time the man he'd seen on his television the night before turned the corner, heading in his direction. Chalmers stood up to greet him, extending his right hand and removing his hat with his left, "Dr. Chaznik, thank you for meeting with me on such short notice.”

The doctor held out his hand and answered, "No problem, detective. Although I'm still not certain how I can help the San Jose PD."

The doctor opened his door, entering first followed by Chalmers who closed the door behind them. His office was wall-to-wall smart boards with a jumbled mess of letters, numbers and symbols foreign to the detective. From the ceiling hung planets and spacecraft models from the first Apollo crafts to theoretical commercial space ships. There was little furniture, only a desk and two chairs, but the remainder of the office was jammed with cabinets that lined the walls under the boards.

"Have a seat," Dr. Chaznik said setting his bag down on the desk and taking his seat. Chalmers sat where directed, placing his coat on the back of his chair. "So, what can I help you with?"

"I saw a program you were on last night and I had some questions about some of your theories," Chalmers began.

"If it's quantum physics you're interested in we have some great courses available online. Some of them are even free, although you wouldn't receive a grade or credit," the Dr. answered.

"Honestly, I'm not the student type. But I have some specific things I'm trying to rule out and I felt like you may be just the person to do that."

"Ok, but you have to understand, a lot of what we do is theoretical. Ruling out isn't as easy as it seems."

"That's fair and I don't even know what I'm expecting you to help me with. I'm a little perplexed as to why I'm here," Chalmers admitted.

"Well, let’s see what you've got and I'll help if I can," Dr. Chaznik responded.

Chalmers searched his thoughts seeking a starting point. After putting roughly a 25-30 year timeline between the children’s current age and the suspected age of the bodies, he decided to start with the outlandish.

"In your opinion, do you feel there will be significant progress towards a working time machine in the next 20 years?"

"In theory, absolutely. These formulas littering the walls are nearly complete. I expect us to make exemplary leaps in the next decade alone. However, actual trials may take another decade and we may never find a way to successfully travel ourselves. But that doesn't mean we won't achieve man's greatest quest."

Chalmers listened as the doctor passionately spoke about his work. Although everything he's ever felt told him the quest was more useless than searching for the cup of Christ, he did believe that this man would find a way if it was indeed possible.

"So you don't believe you will find a way to transport humans, especially without a vehicle?"

"Given our current technological state, I don't feel we have the equipment necessary, no. But, the advances we've made in the last century in all regards is ten thousand times what we'd achieve in the previous 100,000 years. I like to be forward thinking, but I have no idea what means will be available to us in 15 or 20 years."

"Breaking the light barrier is the key, or at least that's how I understand time travel?"

"Yes. If you can travel faster than light, then time travel is possible."

"And what if you could speed up the molecular make up of our body, to that speed," Chalmers asked, then added, "like a microwave?"

Dr. Chaznik searched the detective's eyes. It was an odd question that he wouldn't suspect someone of asking without some type of prompt. "Interesting," he said under his breath. "If you could somehow get the body to keep its structure while ramping the molecules to light speed, then perhaps. But a microwave, as you said, would instantly kill its subject. Still, there may be other technologies that could produce a similar result, especially in a vacuum," the doctor trailed off as he finished the last sentence and began scribbling on his note pad.

"So it could be possible to send a body back, without a vehicle or leaving any trace?" Chalmers asked.

Dr. Chaznik continued scratching out formulas, barely looking up to answer, "Sure, I mean it’s highly theoretical and there's no certainty the body would survive."

"What about clothing? Could a person travel with clothing?"

"I don't see why not. I've theorized that time travel is only possible in a vacuum; otherwise the traveler would bring everything they touched with them through time therefore sucking the universe into a void. That is part of the reason we've focused on vehicle driven theories that would travel from space."

Chalmers had hoped clothing would be impossible, but perhaps the killer didn't want them to find futuristic clothing. He proceeded with more detailed questions since the doctor seemed preoccupied with his new doodling. "Would it be possible for someone to send a person through time without traveling themselves?"

"I don't see why not, although without a vehicle the person would be stuck in that era. Unless there was a second device in said era."

"Dr. Chaznik," Chalmers began realizing there was nothing more to ask, "thank you for taking time to meet with me this morning. I'm sure you've got more important things to do besides talking to me," he added as he stood up and extended his hand.

The doctor placed his pen on his pad, lifted his glasses to his forehead and looked deep into the detective’s eyes, then asked, "What did you find?"

"Excuse me?"

"I'm guessing you're not writing a sci fi novel. You've found something," Dr. Chaznik stated.

More like somethings, 16 one of them to be exact, thought Chalmers. "I can't discuss an open investigation, but I can tell you our little chat here today cleared up many wild theories a colleague came up with. It's obvious he's played some kind of trick on me and unfortunately, you as well."

"Ok," Dr. Chaznik said slowly nodding his head. "But if you ever do find something, I hope you'll come back here. The scientific findings could be life altering to my work," he paused, closing his eyes for a second then continued. "Although, if you did show me something and it impacted my work in a way it wouldn't have normally, it could change the course of the future, which could be bad," he finished by closing his eyes and shaking his head left to right.

"Good thing we didn't find anything then," Chalmers said as he stood from the chair. "Thanks again Dr. Chaznik, I'm sorry if I wasted your time."

"Not at all, this microwave idea is fascinating," he said with a smile. "I'm not sure if I would have come to that theory at this time, it’s almost like divine intervention, if I believed in that type of thing."

"Glad one of us got something out of it. Good day to you, doctor," Chalmers said as he collected his coat from the back of the chair and started towards the door.

"One more thing, detective?" Chalmers turned half his body to face the doctor. "What prompted the microwave comment? Professional curiosity?"

"A bad sci fi movie," he calmly answered then left the office.

Sunday, January 12th, 2020

Chalmers spent 48 hours immersed in the details of the Crisscross murders and came up with nothing new to share with his superiors. He did have a hair brain time travel theory that exactly no one would believe. Hell, he didn't even believe it, but it was the only thing he had. And it was either follow that lead or let the case die.

He knew what Captain Smith would say which is why he did not intend to mention his only idea until he met with the commissioner and mayor. Chalmers considered that approach may very well end his career or land him on traffic duty the next 12 months, but as an investigator, he felt he had a duty to present every possible shred of evidence, no matter how far-fetched.

Earlier in the morning, Chalmers had sent the captain his latest brief on the case and as he drove into the station, he wondered how the captain would present the new evidence. In only a few days, he had identified the murder victims as living, confirmed no hacking against our system or the DNA registry and verified the authenticity of nearly a dozen videos that captured the body appearing out of nowhere. It would almost seem better to say nothing, which is what he anticipated the captain would do.

Chalmers phone echoed through the corridor as he walked towards the detective's pen. It was the captain number. He checked his watch before answering and saw he still had 25 minutes before the meeting.

"Hey Captain?"

"How close are you?"

"Just about to my desk."

"Ok, head upstairs to conference room 1003. Everyone’s early and they want to get started."

"Yes, sir," Chalmers disconnected his phone and turned left to the elevators instead of his usual right turn to the pen. He quickly hit the sixth floor and waited for the doors to close.

After a few seconds, the doors opened again revealing a half dozen conference rooms used mostly for training sessions or union meetings. Chalmers could hear the captain’s voice coming from room 1003 and quickly entered. Sitting at the far end of the 10-foot long table was the mayor. To his left the district attorney and to his right the police commissioner. Captain Smith placed small folders in front of each of them then returned to his spot next to the commissioner. Chalmers took a seat across from the captain and next to the DA.

"Ok, Captain where are we on the Crisscross murders?" the Mayor asked.

"As you know we'd hope to break many cases open with the release of the national DNA registry. And we were able to hand over nearly 2000 cases to the district attorney in the last week," Captain Smith started. "We still have a few hundred cold cases, but we are working on finding new leads on these as well as working on the dozen or so new cases that come in daily."

"Captain, I can't argue the success we've had recently and it's great news for the department. And while I know we can spin these new numbers into a positive public safety outlook, the Crisscross murders leave us with a large black eye," the district attorney commented. "It's been two years since the last murder and we've gone nowhere. Every chance the press gets; they use this against us. Are we any closer to naming a suspect?" he asked.

"Unfortunately, the DNA registry gave us nothing new to help solve these murders," Captain Smith stated.

"What about the exhumation order earlier this week?" the DA asked.

"Yes, clearly you had new evidence to warrant such an action?" the mayor added.

"We received some faulty data that led to that order. After collecting new evidence we found nothing significant," Captain Smith said.

"So you've got nothing? No new theories or possible suspects?" the mayor asked.

"No sir."

The district attorney turned to Chalmers then asked, "And you agree detective Chalmers, we've hit a dead end in the case?"

Chalmers looked down at the files, including the one he'd brought into the meeting. Then he looked across to the captain whose eyes seemed to tell him to refrain from making any outlandish claims or theories. Inside, however, Chalmers felt a sense of duty to protect the still living victims and it was stronger than his sense of self-preservation.

"Gentlemen, allow me to present the evidence we've examined the last few days. While Captain is accurate in his statement that nothing new has cropped up as it pertains to solving this case, I feel I should share some of the odd details with you all and offer a plausible theory of the murders," Chalmers began stating his case. When no one objected he continued, "I've always believed if you follow the facts, you will find the answers you seek and here are the facts as we know them. First, we were able to ID all the victims when the DNA registry released its data. Second, all of the victims, based on DNA results, are still alive and range in age from 5-15 years old. Third, we have confirmed that our database and the DNA registry have not been compromised. Fourth, we have authenticated video collected from the crime scenes. Fifth, one of the bodies suffered molecular damage unseen in the original autopsy not attributed to cause of death or any current technology in which I am aware. It is my theory that if we examined each body, this would be a uniform discovery. And finally, the bullet pulled from the last victim was a .45 slug; however we are unable to match it to any known existing weapon."

"So you've got nothing," the district attorney answered.

"We've got nothing to solve these murders, but what if we can prevent them?" Chalmers asked the group.

"I'm not sure I follow," the mayor answered.

"I spoke with Dr. Chaznik at the UC Santa Barbara. It is his belief that within the next 20 years we may be able to break the time barrier. Given the facts of this case I feel we have a responsibility to treat each person still living as a potential victim. We must protect them," Chalmers stated.

"Gentlemen, excuse Detective Chalmers. He's obviously under a lot of stress. This department believes in honest, fact based investigating not fantasy scenarios. We will continue on with this investigation," the commissioner said pausing to look at Chalmers before adding, "with a new lead detective if necessary."

"If anyone else can explain to me the extraordinary circumstances of this case and offer another theory, then please do. I'd rather not feel this is the only plausible theory, but until we can rule it out, we need to prevent these terrible crimes from happening by creating a watch list."

"I think we've heard enough detective, you are excused from this meeting," the commissioner said.

Chalmers looked to the captain for support, yet he knew he'd gone too far. He wondered if he'd be suspended for embarrassing the department. Before walking through the door the commissioner said, "You can wait for us in the Captain's office, we'll be done in a few moments."

Chalmers nodded his answer and exited the conference room. Back inside, the commissioner apologized on behalf of the police department and vowed to have another detective look over the case files.

"We have one problem though," the DA started. "If it’s true the DNA from the bodies matches people still alive today and we can't find any evidence of tampering, it will compromise every conviction we've ever gotten based on DNA evidence. This information cannot ever be leaked."

"What are you suggesting?" the mayor asked.

"The evidence must be destroyed," the DA calmly stated.

"I agree," the commission added.

"Isn't that illegal?" Captain Smith asked.

"The evidence is obviously falsified and if we ever get to the point of a discovery hearing, then we can discuss the legalities of this decision," the DA answered.

"I'm not comfortable with this, but in light of the situation I don't see any other way. I'm not willing to put my name on any of this so if you gentlemen wish to go this route I am distancing myself. Plausible deniability is key for me," the mayor said.

"I'll take full responsibility, don't worry about your career, Mr. Mayor," the DA said. "What do we do about detective Chalmers?" he added.

"I'll bury him so deep in the department, no one will see him again," the commissioner said with a degree of disdain.

"He's a good cop and an irreplaceable asset to my team. Let me talk with him," Captain Smith requested.

"If you're willing to stake your reputation on him, then so be it. But if I get wind of any further time travel theories it will be the end of both of you, understood Captain?" the commissioner stated.

"Yes sir."

"Then we're done here?" asked the DA.

"What are we telling the press?" the mayor asked.

"There's nothing to tell. It's an ongoing investigation," answered the DA watching the mayor shift uncomfortably to his right. "I'll field any questions, ok?"

"Great."

"Captain, I'd like a word in private with the mayor and DA. I'm assuming you can handle Chalmers?"

"Yes sir, thank you for allowing me to take care of this situation. Gentlemen, until next time," he said tipping his hat to the men still seated.

Captain Smith left the conference and took the stairs down four flights to his office. He hated the position his detective had put him in, but admired the courage it must have taken to come forward. Still, he knew he must be careful for both their sakes.

Chalmers was sitting outside the captain’s office as he emerged from the stairwell. He greeted Chalmers’ eyes and directed him inside with a nod. Chalmers began to apologize, but the captain only held out a hand to halt his speech. Quietly, the captain opened a cabinet near the window grabbing two short glasses with one hand and a whiskey bottle with the other then sat behind his desk.

"Time travel, Jim?" was all the captain could muster.

"Sir, I can only imagine..." Chalmers started before the captain interrupted.

"It's not the theory or the way you arrived at it. Shit, given the evidence I'm even willing to consider it. But to announce it for the first time in front of the most powerful men in the city? You understand how crazy it seemed?" the captain said pushing over the three quarter filled glass.

"Thank you," Chalmers said before drinking half the glass. "I should have told you first," he added.

"No, no you shouldn't have. You shouldn’t have said a thing and just let this case slowly go into the night," the captain responded.

The two sipped their drinks in silence for a few minutes. Chalmers wanted to convince his captain somehow he was right, but knew that even if he could, the captain would never publicly admit to it.

"So now what?" Chalmers asked.

"The commissioner wanted you shoved in the darkest corner of the department. It took some convincing, but he's allowed me to handle this."

"Great, let me keep digging into this, quietly obviously. I won't make any moves without speaking with you first," Chalmers said.

"I think you know we're beyond that, detective. You've worked the last of this case. You're to turn over all your files regarding this case to me and I will reassign the case."

"To who?" Chalmers snapped.

"To whomever damn well I see fit," the captain responded to his tone.

Chalmers shrunk a little in his chair at the lashing, then raised his head and lowered his voice, "You're gonna bury this."

"Not entirely, but we can't have conflicting DNA from this case opening the flood gates in thousands of others. The data is tainted and we're going to dispose of it."

"But captain, we might be able to save these people," Chalmers pled.

Captain Smith downed the remaining whiskey, letting out a small sigh then answered, "Take the rest of the week off, paid leave, and bring in all of your files on Monday. I want all hard and digital files on my desk Monday at 9 AM."

"Captain," Chalmers began.

"And, you're to report to Dr. Granderson at 9:30 AM for psychiatric review during which time you'll be reassigned to the evidence room," Captain Smith interrupted. "I wish it didn't have to go down like this Jim," he added.

Chalmers swallowed his feelings as to not invite further discipline. As absurd as he knew his theory sounded, he couldn't shake the feeling in his gut.

"Yes, sir. I'm sorry for the headache I've caused," Chalmers finally answered.

"You are a good cop, Jim," Captain Smith commented as he stood up from his desk signifying the end of the reprimand.

"I know," Chalmers said rising from his seat. He saluted the captain then exited the office. He stopped quickly at his desk to gather a few items before leaving the pen wondering when he'd be back.

PART TWO

June 15th, 2030 through July 20th, 2035

Saturday, June 15th, 2030

Detective Chalmers gathered his keys from the oak chest near his front door. "I'm heading out for a bit," he yelled down the hall. The voice returned was faint, yet he knew what it had said. "Love you too," he responded as he walked through the door.

The air remained thick and muggy as summer began its cycle. He wore khaki shorts and a plain grey t-shirt as he always did whenever on surveillance. Tonight's subject was the one he had particular interest in seeing since he started tailing his list nearly ten years before. The mark was an 18 year old boy about 5'10" and nearly 185 pounds. Blue eyes and dark hair blended well with his high cheekbones and full lips. He was a good-looking kid and had finally started resembling the man Chalmers found 12 years earlier with a bullet in his chest.

On several occasions, when the boy was younger, Chalmers had made small talk with the child. He'd happen to be at a place the kid would show up. He'd introduced himself as Mr. Thomas, but it had been at least five years since their last interaction. Chalmers feared continued contact with the boy could jeopardize the discretion he’d taken to hide his activities from his superiors.

Just after seven, Chalmers crept to a halt a few blocks from his target's home. He popped the top off his soda and patiently waited for the boy to appear. As usual, the dark haired kid left his yard, turned towards Chalmers and walked past the car on the sidewalk opposite of the car. The detective watched him in the side view mirror until he turned the next corner. He started his car and made a quick three-point turn, but found the child standing in the middle of the street, blocking his path. Chalmers slammed on the brakes and narrowly missed taking him out at the knees.

The boy slowly approached the driver's side window and Chalmers rolled down the window to apologize and then get the hell out of there.

"Who the hell are you?" the boy shouted through the window.

"Relax, kid. I didn't see you, was just trying to pull out of my spot," Chalmers said hoping to end the interaction quickly.

"Bullshit. You've been watching me for months. Now, you better tell me who you are before I call the cops."

"Ok, settle down, no need for that," Chalmers said revealing his badge. "I'm just watching the neighborhood. We've received some reports about criminal activities in the area and I've been spending a few hours a week monitoring things."

"You think I'm responsible?"

"Of course not, you’re just a kid, Tom," Chalmers said not realizing he used the name.

"How the hell do you know my name? What the fuck is going on?"

"Hey, it's fine. You're not in any trouble," Chalmers said trying to defuse the situation.

The detective parked his car then got out to speak with Tom to avoid a scene. The last thing he needed was the police responding to a possible dispute. Carefully, he divulged some information to gain Tom's trust. After nearly 45 minutes, Chalmers was able to develop something of a bond with the young kid. He was eager for information as it related to police procedure and even offered to help in any way possible. Tom's only request was that the detective would stop secretly following him. Tom agreed to meet with him occasionally to discuss anything the detective needed. The two shook hands and parted ways.

On the drive home, Chalmers wondered if he should share his encounter. He had foolishly told Brenda where he vanished in the evenings when she accused him of cheating on her. Chalmers loved his wife and was willing to throw out his career to save his marriage. However, the truth was nearly as damaging to their relationship. As the assistant DA, the whole situation left her in a difficult position. If the DA caught wind of his secret stakeouts, he'd surely bring down all the fury he could muster. She liked to hear about the surveillance; Chalmers speculated she wanted to keep an eye on him. In recent years, he even believed Brenda was starting to share his theory, although she'd never admit as much. As he pulled in the driveway, he decided to tell her about the whole encounter.

Brenda had finished tidying up their home and retired to the study to look over a few notes for her opening statement in the morning. She heard her husband come in and counted to 15 in her head then said a sexy hello as Chalmers was opening the door.

"Hello to you," he responded. "Leave your glasses at work?"

"Yeah, but I know how much you love my back up set," she said wincing her face to match the hideousness of the glasses.

"I've seen more stylish handcuffs."

"Me too, in that drawer over there," she said winking at him.

"Ok missy, you look busy, I can come back."

"No, this is boring. It's a slam dunk, just being overly thorough as usual. He'd it go tonight?" she asked.

"Well," he started then paused. He continued to explain the whole event and she interjected questions and sound effects at the right moments.

"So he thinks you’re out to catch some bad guys based on a snitch, but you have a list of a couple dozen people because the information was compromised during the transfer?"

"Yeah."

"And he believed it?"

"You make it sound much less likely than I did, but yes he did."

"Oh to be a naive teenager again," she replied with a twinge of sarcasm and nostalgia. "Just be careful, honey. Don't forget, if you get carted off to the loony bin, I'm pretty much done for too."

"Don't worry, I've got everything under control...so which drawer are those handcuffs in?" he said lunging towards her and planting kisses all over her neck and shoulders.

Sunday, June 16th, 2030

Detective Chalmers sat at his desk looking over a few open cases. Years had passed since anything exciting crossed his path and he continued to receive chiding from his fellow investigators. Captain Smith had kept the reasoning behind his six month banishment secret; however when he finally returned to the pen, everyone seemed to know why.

"Who's gonna win the Superbowl this year?" detectives would ask him in January. Or if the Powerball lotto jumped up to 200 million, they'd ask him for the winning numbers. His tarnished image jumped from the squad to the prosecutor’s office to defense attorneys. His work was scrutinized more than any other detectives, leaving Captain Smith little choice but to assign him lower profile cases.

Most days he investigated break-ins, fraud complaints or bar brawls, but recently caught a few cases of animal mutilation, which of course his colleagues also chastised him about. The carcasses started showing up nearly six months earlier in various places throughout the city, most badly beaten with either large sticks or stones. All of them had their necks broken. They ranged in size and species from pigeons to stray cats and even small dogs. Chalmers wasn't able to narrow down the suspect to a specific part of the city since the reports came in from everywhere, but he was certain it was the same culprit.

As he poured over the evidence, his phone rang, calling him into the captain's office.

"We've got another one, Jim. Over by the abandoned train station. This is the worst yet," Captain Smith said handing him the paperwork.

"Thanks, Captain," he answered, before turning to walk out. The he stopped, turned around, "Sir?"

"Yes?"

"You know I'm ready for bigger cases and the mocking has died down significantly."

"Let’s worry about your current caseload and we can come back to this in a few months. I've got to keep the department's image in mind before making any changes."

Chalmers nodded, then left the office. Back at his desk, he grabbed his keys and signed out to the address the captain handed him. Another animal tortured and this time at a scene he thought about constantly. The train depot had been shut down for years, but was operational 15 years earlier when the first body of the Crisscross murders was found. He pushed the details of that case from his mind and focused on driving.

Captain Smith hadn't lied about this being the worst. The dead body of a large dog was still smoldering around a pile of crushed cinder blocks when he arrived. The flames caught the attention of a local vagrant who had called the fire department. An officer had placed the man in the back of his car with a hot cup of coffee while they waited for Chalmers.

He surveyed the scene, walking the perimeter to search for evidence. Several of the concrete chunks had blood and fur embedded in them. The animal's legs had been broken and bent in opposite directions. Its teeth gleamed through its charred lips and the tail was missing.

Once the crime scene photographer captured the body as it lay, two men stepped into the ring wearing large yellow rubber gloves that covered their arms to the elbow. Carefully, they lifted the dog out of the pit and into a body bag. Underneath was a license plate still warm from the fire. Chalmers bagged the plate as well as the dog tags lying next to it.

"Which car is the witness in?" he asked the closest officer. A young woman pointed to the one near the gate.

"Hello sir, my name is Detective Chalmers. You reported the fire?"

The man shook his head.

"Did you see anything else? Someone standing by the fire or leaving the area?”

He squinted his eyes, looked towards the roof of the car then answered, "I heard kind of an explosion. But not like the movies. Kinda sounded like a loud whoosh, then I could see the flames from the corner of my eye. There was a fella, over there," he said pointing to a small ticket window. "He was crouching down, like he was pickin somethin up. I looked over at the fire again and when I turned back, he was gone."

"Are you sure it was a man?"

"Think so, girls don't usually play with fire. I thought it was just some kids messing around until I smelled the smell."

"Where were you when you saw this?"

"Over there," he said pointing again. "I was just sneaking in through the hole in the fence. I stay in the terminal sometimes. I'm not in trouble, am I?”

"No sir, as far as I'm concerned you were walking the outside perimeter of the fence. Can you tell me what he was wearing?"

"Looked like jeans and a black t-shirt."

"No hat or anything?"

"Don't think so, but he was wearing gloves...remember thinking that was weird since it’s about 85 degrees today."

"Anything else you can remember? Which direction he went? Was there another person? Anything?"

"No, afraid not. I only saw him a second before I used that old pay phone to call the fire department, was surprised it still worked."

"Ok, thank you so much for your time. Can I have one of these officers take you someplace?"

"No, but if you've got $5 for lunch I'd sure appreciate it," the man asked smiling through his toothless grin.

Chalmers opened his wallet and handed the man a $20, "Lunch and dinner."

Chalmers instructed the officers on site to search by the ticket window for more evidence and hand over everything to the lab techs. They had more pressing cases than a brutalized dog so Chalmers returned to the precinct and processed the evidence he could at his desk, namely the tags and license plate. Both belonged to someone named Gene Apple at 3492 Topeka Avenue. He phoned Mr. Apple, who confirmed the stolen plate and missing dog. The home was walking distance, about 1.5 miles from the train station, which meant the suspect may live in the area. Chalmers informed him, without the grisly details, of his dog's fate and that he'd have to order a new plate since his current one was being held in the evidence lockers.

Mr. Apple was oblivious to any enemies or persons wanting to do him harm. There was no punk kid to point towards or anything else remotely criminal going on in the neighborhood. Aside from very little evidence, all Chalmers knew was a rough time line. Mr. Apple noticed the missing plate before leaving for work at 8 AM, although he couldn't confirm it was there the night before. It's possible the plate and the dog were taken at the same time two days before. The suspect obviously wanted the police to find out where the dog belonged, otherwise why leave the evidence. Chalmers began suspecting another serial killer was rising and this one liked taunting the police. He considered speaking with the captain, but decided his "reputation" couldn't take another outlandish theory. Instead, he shut off his terminal and shut out the details from his mind. His wife was expecting him within the hour and he didn't like to keep her waiting.

Tuesday, December 10th, 2030

Chalmers jumped ahead of a woman about to enter the coffee shop to hold the door for her. As she passed in front of him, he noticed Tom sitting at a table along the back. He was impressed the kid had arrived before him since he was 10 minutes early himself. He waved to Tom then stood in line for the usual black coffee.

With brew in hand, Chalmers approached the table pulling out the chair facing the door. They exchanged hellos and pleasantries before Tom began drilling the detective. They'd been meeting on and off over the past 6 months and while it started as surveillance for Chalmers, he began enjoying their time together. Tom also eagerly awaited their conversations because each time, the detective revealed a little more information about his stakeouts.

"So tell me why you're spying on all these people? It's gotta be something big."

"I think it's better if I don't. It's pretty gruesome and also unbelievable," Chalmers explained.

"Come on, I just turned 18 and have seen every horror movie made. I'm sure I can handle the details. I'll be a college student in a few weeks; I'm not a kid anymore."

"College, that's great. I didn't know you'd finished high school," Chalmers said avoiding the other topic.

"I wanted to start for the January semester at UC Santa Barbara to get a jump on my classes. I doubled up my core classes the last year of high school and officially graduate next week. I'll miss the prom and won't get to walk with my classmates, but I don't really like too many of them."

"That's too bad. I know a professor at UC Santa Barbara, Dr. Chaznik?" Chalmers said seeing if Tom had heard of him.

"Oh my god, how well do you know him? I'm hoping to get into his program after my sophomore year. Can you write me a letter of recommendation?" Tom asked with excitement.

"I doubt he remembers me, I spoke with him about 15 years ago about an investigation," Chalmers admitted.

"What would quantum physics have to do with a police investigation?" Tom asked. Then seeing the anxious look on the detectives face, his mind began to fit everything together. "Holy shit, you're watching us because something bad happens to us and you're trying to stop it!"

"What?! No," was all Chalmers could think to say.

"Then what?"

"Listen, I've already told you more than I should have and I'd be in deep shit if anyone found out."

"I'm not gonna tell anyone," Tom butted in.

"It's just, well, hard to explain," Chalmers stuttered.

Tom replied with a look of dissidence and Chalmers knew he'd have to give up something or the kid wouldn’t stop pestering. Reluctantly he explained how they found DNA in the past that matched children. Without revealing the nature of the discovery, he explained it was physically impossible for the records to be accurate.

"So what, you found our blood or something?" he asked when Chalmers finally stopped talking.

"I'm not going to discuss this further. It's a dead end...ask my career," the detective replied.

Tom let that be the end of the discussion and allowed the conversation to steer back to his college enrollment. Chalmers admitting he would miss their meetings and made Tom promise to stay in touch when he was home on break. Once they'd exhausted the topic, Tom excused himself, leaving Chalmers to ponder whether he would relay this meeting with Brenda. As he downed the last few sips of his now cold coffee, he decided some mystery is always good in relationships.

Sunday, December 15th, 2030

Chalmers stormed into Captain Smith's office after seeing photos posted on the white board in Detective Summers office. "What the hell is going on?" he yelled as he slammed the door behind him. The background noise silenced with the rattling of the windows. "When did they find that body?" he continued then added "Sir," in a slightly less insubordinate voice.

"Detective. I think you may want to revisit your tone," the captain said barely looking up from his paperwork.

"When?"

"Two days ago," Captain Smith answered signing some document, then putting the pen aside and looking at Chalmers.

"And I'm not involved? He's back, this is the beginning."

"DA Granger is on his way down. I don't think you want to be here when he arrives."

"Do we know who that is?"

"Yes, her name is Megan Peters. 35 years old, strangled and placed in a field near Route 87 and W. Taylor Street."

"Captain, I should be on this. I know the Crisscross murders inside and out."

"No, this is obviously a copycat. What you need to do is leave my office now." Chalmers searched his feet for answers, but before any came the captain added, "That's an order."

Chalmers stormed out without slamming the door or even gently closing it. It was a small act of defiance since what he wanted to do would surely get him suspended. The detective walked by his chair, grabbing his coat in stride and hit the front door as the DA walked in. No words were exchanged but the fumes could nearly be seen leaving Chalmers ears.

He reached into his pocket and dialed Brenda's number. She answered on the third ring. "How long have you known?" he asked without saying hello.

She sighed into the receiver and answered, "Just this morning. Granger didn't want you to know until after he'd spoken to Smith. I'm sorry, I wanted to call you but he forbade me."

"Me too," Chalmers said as he disconnected the call. He ignored the next four calls coming in from Brenda and walked until he felt the world closing in on him. He found himself standing outside the southwest fence of the San Jose Airport as planes roared over him. The metal chain links chilled his fingers and reminded him he hadn't actually put his coat on, but was carrying it over his arm. He quickly put it on and his badge flew out of the inside pocket. The gold shield lie face down on the concrete as he stared at the empty black leather backside.

Tuesday, June 5th, 2035

Tom sipped his coffee as Chalmers watched Helen Dilfer, through a pair of binoculars, order an ice cream. Tom asked a few questions about her, but already knew why they were there.

"So why did you quit if you think these people are in danger?" Tom asked.

Chalmers places the binoculars on the dash then faced Tom. "I just couldn't sit back and watch them do nothing."

"But what can you do as a private citizen? Wouldn't you better serve them as a detective?"

"No one will let me close to this case and if I were to interfere as an officer of the law, I could face charges. They can't touch me now," he explained.

Tom remained quiet for some time before asking, "What if you stumble upon something? Then they'll just take over. Worse, what if you catch this bastard in the act? You don't have a weapon or a permit to carry one as a civilian. And if you get caught carrying one illegally you're looking at 1-3 years."

"I'm employed by a security firm and can have a locked firearm in my car while traveling to and from work. That's why I watch you all before or after my shifts."

"What kind of a gun?" Tom asked with piqued interest. "Is it under my seat?"

"Don't worry about that. So what happened with your interview?" Chalmers asked deflecting the talk. He didn't like speaking so much about the case for fear of telling the boy what would happen to him.

"I got the job, I started a few weeks ago as one of Dr. Chaznik's lab assistants. It's pretty amazing stuff. I really think he'll make a breakthrough in the next 10 years," Tom explained.

"Nothing sooner? Not even in testing?"

"I mean, I'm just a lab assistant so I don't totally know what's going on, but that would be pretty huge. I'm sure I'd hear," Tom explained.

Chalmers backed off the interrogation and pulled away from the curb. The two grabbed a quick bite at a nearby deli and spoke more about Tom's plans for the summer. After finishing up, they parted ways with Chalmers driving into work.

*************************************************************************************

Chalmers examined the schematics of a local bank, developing the most efficient and secure system he could. There were many points of entry and the building's many angles provided an abundance of corners for possible robbers to hide from traditional cameras. He had just begun filling out his recommendation when his phone vibrated in his pocket.

Slowly, he took it out to see his wife's face appear on the screen. "Hello, dear."

"Hey, not a lot of time but wanted to check a name with you. Does Pamela Ferns ring a bell?"

"That's the first body we found, has something happened?"

"I don't know. I heard Granger scream to get Smith on the line and overheard him say that name before closing his door," she said.

"Where is he now?" Chalmers asked.

"He rushed out a few minutes later, didn't tell anyone where he was going," she admitted.

"Ok, thanks for letting me know."

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

"It's not my case, remember," he responded.

Thursday, June 7th, 2035

Chalmers hadn't spoken to Frank in nearly three years, shortly after their last high school reunion. But they'd teamed up that whole night to fight off unwanted conversations together and vowed to not let another 15 years pass between encounters. Frank worked as a software design engineer during the day, but moonlighted as a free-lance hacker. He mostly did low profile breaches that rarely alerted the authorities, but he'd "done some risky jobs" as he put it after a few drinks.

A couple days before, Chalmers invited Frank to lunch around the corner from the software firm with the intention of catching up and asking a favor. After Brenda asked about the first murder victim, he wanted to watch the missing persons database. However, without access it would be difficult to follow reports without involving police presence.

When Frank walked in, Chalmers had a beer waiting for him at the bar. They spoke for a few minutes while they waited for a table to clear. Once they finally sat down, Chalmers got down to business.

"Listen, Frank, I need a favor."

"Sure, anything. Although, I don't have a ton of money...divorce and all," Frank said.

"Oh, sorry to hear about you and Janus. What happened?"

"My co-worker," he plainly stated.

"Oh, you strayed?"

"No, she did. Met him at one of our company outings. I guess they were fucking within a week."

"Shit, I'm sorry man."

"Don't be, actually kinda glad she did it because I may have if she didn't. Anyway, what's up?"

"I need access to the missing persons database. Eyes only, nothing like entering or changing records."

"You can't get it from any of your cop buddies?" he asked.

"No, I've kinda been blacklisted," Chalmers admitted.

"Well, I can tell you it's possible and it’s pretty low risk. But it's not a slam dunk. It'll take me a couple hours, which I won't even charge you. But for security reasons, I will have to buy a decoder and reroute the transmissions to a few different IP addresses so they can't trace the hack back to me. Think it'll run you about $300 to cover my costs." Chalmers began reaching into his wallet when Frank stopped him. "Let’s make sure I can do it before you hand over the cash. When you want the link?"

"Today?" Chalmers asked.

"Wow, no time like the present I guess. I'll shoot it over to you tonight sometime. I know I probably don't have to say this, but if you get caught, we didn't have this conversation.”

"Nope."

"Good. Next time how about just some beers and reminiscing about the good ole days?" Frank asked with a crooked smile.

"Which would those be?"

"Touché."

Sunday, June 10th, 2035

Jackie Lomus' home wasn't exactly in route to the office for Chalmers, but it wasn't totally out of the way either. Brenda had left early for a deposition so he decided to check in on the fourth victim early that morning. Since gaining access to the missing persons database, the first three victims had disappeared without any trace.

Jackie was next on the list and Chalmers desperately wanted to speak with her, but would have to settle for a quick check up. As he approached the home, Chalmers noticed an unmarked police car two blocks away and another parked down a side street closer to the house. A squad car parked in the driveway with an officer standing outside the front door and presumably another inside along with a detective.

Chalmers decided to keep going after slowly creeping by the address. When his eyes left the house and glanced into his rear view mirror, he noticed a third unmarked car behind him. He calmly sped up and turned left at the next intersection. As soon as he made the turn, the lights flashed behind him and he promptly pulled over.

After a few minutes, the plain-clothes officer approached the driver's side window.

"Chalmers, out for a morning drive?" the detective asked.

"Just on my way to work," he calmly stated.

"Looked like you were checking out that house back there. I'm sure that's not it since, being a civilian, you have no reason to be near a crime scene."

"Crime scene? Is she missing?" Chalmers asked.

"I didn't say that, but we have had a few people go missing that you identified 15 years ago. How do you explain that?"

Chalmers didn't want to be dragged down to the station and decided to wiggle his way out as quickly as possible. "Listen, I happen to like the coffee at Joe's a few blocks away so I stopped there this morning. The main roads are fucked this morning so I cut through this subdivision. Being an old cop, I naturally slowed down when I saw the two unmarked cars and squad car in the driveway. The curiosity never dies down. I'm running late, so if there isn't anything else, I'll be on my way."

"Where's the coffee?" Davis asked.

"I drank it there. Brenda left early this morning so I decided to stop in and read the paper," Chalmers answered.

"I don't want to see you anywhere near here or the other victims. And I'll make sure the chief hears of this," Davis said.

"All right, good luck with your obvious stakeout," Chalmers said pulling away before Davis could step back from the car. Wish I would have run over his damn foot, he thought to himself.

Chalmers sped to work hoping to finish what little he had to accomplish within a couple hours. As the victims began disappearing more frequently, he knew they'd eventually reach out to all of them to explain what was happening. Or at least tell them they were in danger. He wanted to speak to as many of them as possible before the police, especially Tom. He'd grown fond of the boy and felt he deserved a straightforward explanation as opposed to whatever the cops would tell people.

*************************************************************************************

Chalmers rang the buzzer then waited a few seconds for Tom to answer. After the door hummed his acceptance, he walked through the complex and down a flight of stairs to the basement apartment. At the bottom, a hallway led about 10 feet to the entrance. The walls were thick with a musky smell, but it seemed to be extremely clean as if someone bleached the walls regularly. The large steel door barely made a sound as Chalmers knocked. Finally he saw the bell to the left of the door and rang. Seconds later, he could hear latches unbolting, a large bar retracting and finally the door swung inward revealing a smiling Tom.

Chalmers walked in slowly, casing the space as he would at a suspect's home. An old habit he'd yet to kick. Tom kept his home immaculate, everything perfectly placed.

Chalmers looked back at door, admiring the security before commenting, "Got quite the locking mechanism on that door."

"Well, being that someone could easily get buzzed in and there's ten feet of hallway for people to hide from anyone's eyes, I felt I needed some extra security."

"That's good thinking. How you doing?" Chalmers asked.

"Fine, was just killing some time."

"Well, thanks for letting me come by. I think it's time you know everything," Chalmers said.

Tom mostly listened, occasionally asking questions. Chalmers explained the bodies arriving with no leads for the police until the DNA registry. He told of his mistake in admitting his theory to his superiors, even though it seemed he was now right. Chalmers explained how he continued the investigation himself and his belief that the cops will inevitably take action too late. And finally he told Tom which body was his.

"You were the anomaly. We found your body fully clothed and with a gunshot wound in the chest," Chalmers said waiting for a reaction but received none. "The forensics are in the system so as soon as that gun is purchased and registered, I'll know who we're looking for. Unless it's a black market pistol, which could be, but it’s so hard to get a hold of them these days. Anyway, we know you're last, so until another 12 people go missing, I know you're safe."

"Not necessarily," Tom said. Chalmers didn't understand and raised his shoulders. "If you're right and this guy has a time machine he could have sent the bodies back to any time. I could be next, but he sends me to the later date just to fuck with you guys," he explained.

"Shit, I never even thought of that. Which also means..." he started.

"That who you think is fourth, might not be," Tom finished.

"We gotta find this guy, Tom."

"I might have a lead," Tom answered. "A guy we work with in the lab went missing. He works pretty closely with Dr. Chaznik. One day he stayed late and the next some files were destroyed and he never returned. No one's seen him in months. When did the murders start?" Tom asked.

"A couple days ago," Chalmers said in disbelief. "Can you get me a meeting with Dr. Chaznik?"

"Sure, we could drive up there Monday."

"Not tomorrow?"

"It's Sunday, Chalmers. I like you and all, but I'd like to enjoy my weekend."

"Monday, then."

Monday, June 12th, 2035

Chalmers disclosed more of the case to Tom as they drove down to the university lab. Arming Tom with knowledge gave him a better chance of fighting off a potential attacker once the day final came. Tom seemed unbothered by the possibility of a mystery man shooting him. Chalmers continued to press upon him the seriousness of the situation, but he figured Tom suffered from the typical immortal feelings of a 20 year old.

"I'd like to speak to Dr. Chaznik alone, if you don't mind," Chalmers stated.

"Sure," Tom answered then continued, "He's been pretty secretive about his work since Phillip disappeared. I think he's a little paranoid someone is going to steal the credit, or something."

The last thirty minutes of the drive was relatively silent, but occasionally Tom would ask a question in which Chalmers couldn't answer. The detective dodged the questions by pretending to make a phone call. While the other end was dead silent, Chalmers grumbled answers and questions as if that wasn’t the case.

Tom escorted his friend through the laboratory lobby and security desk. Chalmers received a visitor's badge and access to the lower level of the complex. Tom phoned Dr. Chaznik the day before to alert him of his guest, making the process go smoothly. Once in the interior of the building, Tom left Chalmers outside of the doctor's office as he retreated to his workstation a few hundred feet down the hallway.

The corridor reminded him of a hospital with its bright fluorescent bulbs and spotless appearance. Many of the people in the halls wore full body white suits to shield them from something. He felt somewhat invisible as he watched each person pass by, not one acknowledged his presence. The entire complex felt more like a morgue than a scientific facility.

Chalmers expected Dr. Chaznik to greet him from the hallway and was startled when his office door opened just to his left.

"Detective, I suppose I expected to see you again. Come in," Dr. Chaznik said granting permission to enter.

"You remember me, I'm flattered," Chalmers joked.

"Hard to forget the man that placed the last piece of the puzzle in my mind."

"How so?" Chalmers asked.

"The ‘microwave’ comment. It led me to reevaluate my calculations and finally find the right formula. Of course, I did the work, but I can't say I would have gone that route without our encounter. At least not so soon in the process. So," Dr. Chaznik said waving to the chair in front of Chalmers, "what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?"

Chalmers began questioning him about his employee that had gone missing, being more direct than his last interview with the doctor. He explained the nature of the crimes, how the bodies had been discovered and when the victims started disappearing.

The entire scenario confounded Dr. Chaznik and he found it highly unlikely to be true. Chalmers had expected this, bringing with him the DNA sample from one of the bodies he had dug up some 20 years earlier.

"Fascinating," Dr. Chaznik exclaimed. "We found the same deterioration in our test subjects."

"So you've completed a trial?" Chalmers asked.

"Detective, my work is highly classified and is a government contract. I can't discuss the specifics," Dr. Chaznik stated.

"Listen, I'm not a detective and anything you tell me is hearsay. I'm not trying to accuse you or your facility of wrongdoing. All I want to know is this...after listening to my story and taking into account all of the evidence, is it possible that someone has built a working model and is using it to get rid of bodies?" It was the first time Chalmers had said that thought aloud to anyone other than his wife and Tom. It felt absurd; however, he could find no other explanation.

"Yes," Dr. Chaznik simply stated.

Friday, June 22nd, 2035

"Do it for me," Brenda pleaded.

"They just expect me to walk in and hand over everything? After years of being the laughing stock of the department?" Chalmers asked.

They'd been having the same conversation since Brenda hung up her phone 45 minutes earlier. Granger called her to request Chalmers’ presence at a meeting downtown to game plan the upcoming disappearances. They knew he continued the investigation independently and sought information he undoubtedly had. Chalmers feared prosecution; however, Brenda reassured him it was a friendly invite.

"I'll only go if you come with me," Chalmers stated.

"Of course," she replied.

“And,” he quickly added, "as counsel."

"Jim, you know I work for the city and that would be a huge conflict of interest," she interjected.

"If they want to use you to get to me, than I'm using you to get away from them."

"I will advise you from a legal standpoint, but that is all I can offer."

Chalmers nodded his approval and began getting ready to meet with the task force. He assumed that with eight of the victims missing and only eight left, including Tom, they were likely planning on assigning one detective and three two-man surveillance teams to detail the remaining victims 24 hours a day. He wondered if they'd spoken with any of remaining victims and if these poor bastards had any idea of the shit storm coming their way.

As Brenda ran ahead to get the car from the garage, Chalmers laced his black dress shoes and checked his tie. He'd envisioned this moment for years, wondering what he'd do. For now, the goal was to save lives, but if the opportunity arose, he'd find a way to burn Granger. Brenda sounded the horn alerting him she was ready and so was he.

****************************

Chalmers and his wife entered to mostly smiles and warm regards. Some greetings felt forced, but the fact they needed to pretend made Chalmers feel slightly validated. Granger walked in shortly after them and asked everyone to take a seat. He started the meeting by introducing himself and thanking everyone for being there. Then he introduced Chief Smith to bring everyone up-to-date on the facts.

Very little evidence presented by his former chief was unknown information to Chalmers. Mostly because the evidence was circumstantial at best from 18 years ago…possible this or probable that, nothing concrete. Smith cycled through the two-decade-old data and then named the victims who had gone missing and who remained.

"We've asked the detective that initially investigated this case to come in as a consultant, Mr. Chalmers, please fill us in on your findings over the past few years," Chief Smith said nodding to his former detective.

Chalmers slowly stood up and rounded the table to face everyone seated. Brenda gave him a warm, accepting glance as he composed himself.

"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your time. As Chief Smith stated, I was the investigating officer when these people who are now disappearing were found nearly 20 years ago. The facts supported a theory that was highly unpopular at the time. But now we must face the possibility many would not then," Chalmers said as he looked directly at Granger.

"While I am no longer on the force, I have been methodically following this case and have information I believe will prove helpful, however," he paused. "I'm not willing to share this information with everyone in this room."

"If you have evidence in regard to this case, then you must present it," Granger demanded.

"As a member of the civilian population, I am under no such obligation," Chalmers protested.

"I will subpoena you as a material witness," Granger countered.

"On what grounds? You know not what evidence I have. What will you subpoena? If forced into a hearing I will claim to know nothing more than what's been discussed here and you can't prove otherwise."

"This is ludicrous," Granger stated.

"No, this is a complete clusterfuck, thanks to you," Chalmers said pointing out Granger. Whispers filled the room while Granger stood up.

"It's obvious this man has nothing to offer, remove him from this meeting," Granger instructed.

"That's one option," Chalmers said before two officers could reach him. "The other is for you to leave and perhaps we stop more people from disappearing."

"I'm the district attorney of this city and insist on being involved at every step of this investigation."

"That's the problem," Chalmers said. The room silenced and the officers charged with removing the speaker looked to their chief for orders.

"It's obvious you want something," Granger responded.

"You've got two options. First, you resign, effective immediately and allow us to try to catch this bastard," Chalmers started.

"Absolutely not," Granger defiantly said.

"Two," Chalmers said cutting off his last word, then slightly pausing, "I go have a chat with a friend of mine down at the Mercury News and tell them everything I know."

"This is blackmail," Granger gasped.

"Perhaps. Or maybe this is a citizen exposing a politician that cared more about his career 20 years ago than saving people. Guess it will depend on how the reader interprets the story," Chalmers said.

"Chief?" Granger said looking at Smith.

"You're the one that wanted him here."

"Well, I," Granger mumbled while all eyes looked upon him.

Sunday, July 15th, 2035

Detective Chalmers removed his pistol from the holster as he led his team towards the back door. Four SWAT members approached the front door and two positioned themselves on each side of the house. The home belonged to Phillip Sparks, Dr. Chaznik's longtime assistant. He'd been missing for months, but an anonymous tip led the team to this location just outside the city.

With the most recent victim disappearing the day before, they'd hoped she was still alive and inside with Sparks. Officers had been watching the home for the last 6 hours, but viewed no activity within. Chalmers had asked Brenda to expedite the warrant to search the premises and she ran it to the judge herself for the signature. He quickly assembled the SWAT team and put them in position while he awaited confirmation from Brenda.

As he waited in the back of the home, he could only hear the breathing of the men around him. If the suspect was inside, his movement was limited or deep within the basement. Finally he received the go ahead and signaled the advance. Two men swung in front of him with a battering ram, splintering the back door simultaneously as the men in front. Chalmers entered the house behind the third man, clearing the corner to his right. The men quickly swept through the first floor and converged by the basement stairs. Chalmers ordered three of the men to search the upper level, two to remain at each point of entry and the last six to search the basement with him.

Slowly they opened the creaking door to the basement. Darkness engulfed the bottom half of the stairs. Two officers descended the steps shoulder to shoulder, stopping at the bottom with one turning left and the other right. Just as they left Chalmers view from the top, the next two followed down and remained at the base. A light flipped on and an all clear order given. Chalmers took two steps at a time until he reached the white tiled floor.

Beyond the steps, the basement opened into one big room lit with a half dozen overhead two-foot long fluorescent bulbs. To one side lay a table with photographs of all the victims, including pictures of Tom and Chalmers together. Victims that had already disappeared were marked with a red X. There were only five photos remaining unmarked. In plastic bags under each photo, Chalmers found driver's licenses, personal effects such as necklaces or rings, and clips of hair. The five victims not yet abducted had a piece of paper below them with a schedule that he assumed was their daily routine with four to five dates for each underlined and/or circled. Chalmers guessed these to be possible dates Sparks would abduct the remaining five.

"Detective," one of the SWAT members said. Chalmers replaced the evidence on the table and walked across the basement to the chamber tucked away in the corner. "What is this?"

Chalmers inspected the exterior of the machine then slowly opened the door. An overpowering bleach smell poured from the open door. He closed the door and turned to the console to the right of the chamber. It appeared to operate the machine, but he couldn't risk turning it on.

"Get Dr. Chaznik here immediately," he said to the man lingering behind him. "And a hazmat team. Who knows if this thing is radioactive. And we might as well get the bomb squad too in case it's wired."

Chalmers turned to the desk further to the right of the machine and rifled through the drawers. Inside were folders with the UC-Santa Barbara insignia. Chalmers opened the folders to reveal what looked like schematics to a machine. He finished inspecting the rest of the room then instructed the crime scene techs to bag everything. Only the machine was to remain untouched.

****************************

Chalmers waited outside the chief's office as he had so many times. This time he was ready to deliver the news he'd been hoping to break for over two decades. He'd finally nailed down a suspect and they had the evidence to link a real person to these terrifying murders.

Spark's photo reached every police station in the Pacific Northwest as well as airports, train stations, border patrol, rental car agencies and more. If he were still in the city, Chalmers would find him and if he fled, some other agency would pick him up.

Chalmers ordered protective details for the remaining victims, but with Spark’s machine in their possession, Chalmers couldn't see how he could discard the bodies. They had cut him off, now they just had to finish the job.

Chief Smith finally called Chalmers in and the detective sat down across from him, releasing a proud sigh.

"So, you've got him," the chief said.

"It appears that way," Chalmers said with his chin high.

"The bomb and hazmat teams cleared the sight so we're just waiting on Chaznik to confirm the authenticity of the machine, yes?"

"Affirmative. In the meantime we've got word out everywhere about Sparks. It's only a matter of time before we find him."

Chalmers was ready to discuss the evidence when an officer burst into the room. "We've got some complications."

"What is it?" Chalmers and Smith said in unison.

"The Feds have shut down the house, none of our guys can get in and they’ve seized most of our evidence."

"That’s bullshit!" Chalmers screamed.

"They claim the machine is government property. When I called Chaznik he said he'd be right over but the suits showed up first with a court order. We had to vacate immediately."

"Fucking feds fucked us. But at least we've got Sparks. And with our guys on the remaining victims, we still have the upper hand."

"That's the other problem," the officer said. "Victoria Wilde is missing."

Wednesday, July 18th, 2035

Tom argued against the officers staying in his home while Chalmers pushed the idea. In the last couple days two more victims had disappeared, leaving Tom and one other, the body found next to him twenty some years before. The police persuaded the other man to take time off work and let officers live with him around the clock until they were able to track down Sparks. He had snagged the other victims right under their noses and must still be in town.

Tom agreed to police presence outside of his apartment, yet wouldn't totally give up his privacy. He wouldn't submit to house arrest or anything else that would limit his life. Chalmers tried bargaining for just a couple days, but Tom would only give him one. The detective relented under the provision Tom would alert them of his schedule for the coming days.

Chalmers assigned his two best men to escort Tom home and stay outside his basement apartment. With any luck, the long corridor would provide enough cover to nab an unwanted visitor. Once Tom departed, Chalmers returned to the conference room to continue the manhunt.

"Sorry, chief. Where were we?"

"We were trying to figure out how this guy is getting to our vics even though they are under 24 hour surveillance."

"I've pulled the phone logs and don't see anything popping up right before they were taken. None of them have received calls from the same number. There's no evidence showing Sparks contacts these people before taking them.”

Another possibility is he has help. Sparks is extremely wealthy and could be paying someone inside to find our weaknesses. I've pulled financials on all our officers and will be looking for anything suspicious, but that doesn't feel right. Likely, he's paying someone to hack into our system and is seeing what we are doing in real time. I think from here on out we need to work on that assumption and continue offline. All orders will be verbal and our radio communications coded in some way.

I think until we can figure out how he's getting to the victims we need to put every available officer on this case. It's possible this will be our last chance to catch him. I think after Tom is shot, he'll disappear himself. Otherwise we would have found more bodies."

"So we sit and wait?" the chief asked.

"Unfortunately. But he's got to be running out of steam. We've frozen his accounts and confiscated the funds we found at his home, close to a half a million dollars. Now, there is another $500,000 unaccounted for, but we have to assume he's down to about one to two hundred K."

"He's not exactly broke then," one of the other detectives said.

"No, but with his picture all over this city, he'll be forced to find other means to sleep and get around. He's bound to slip up," Chalmers stated. He was about to start his next line item on the whiteboard when the conference phone rang.

"Chief Smith here."

"Sir, you may want to hear this. A call patched through from 911 claiming they've seen Sparks," the voice on the other end said.

"Connect the damn call!"

"Yessir," the man answered then another voice cut in.

"Where did you last see the man?" a woman asked.

"He was coming out of a small coffee shop and crossed the street to a hotel. I thought that placed had been closed down, but he had a key and went into a room," a young man stated.

"Did you see which room number?"

"No, he went inside the lobby then I saw a light turn on over the driveway on the second floor."

"What's the name of the hotel?" the dispatcher asked.

"Arena Hotel, it’s out by the old train depot."

Chalmers pressed a button and then asked, "Sir, this is detective Chalmers with the San Jose PD, have you been watching the room?"

"This is highly unprofessional, detective," the dispatcher said.

"I don't give a shit. Sir, is he still in the room?"

The voice wavered for a second then answered, "I think so. I only looked away for a few minutes while I looked for my phone, but the light is still on."

"Can you stay on the line with the dispatcher until we get a unit there?" Chalmers asked.

Quickly the operator chimed in, "Sir, that is not necessary. If you feel in danger, I must advise you to leave the scene."

"Damn it, stay there and do not hang up until an officer arrives." Chalmers screamed into the phone. Then he turned to the man nearest to him and ordered, "Jones, radio to dispatch to get the closest squad car there. They are to hold back and observe until we can get a tactical team out there. No one moves on that room until I say so." Chalmers returned to the conference phone, thanked the tipster for coming forward and for holding tight at the scene.

"Chief?" Chalmers said looking for orders.

"Get everyone we can spare out there and secure a perimeter a mile around the Hotel. With the Pavillion and train station right there it's pretty open. I don't want a mouse getting past the line without knowing about it. You brief SWAT and lead the raid."

"Yes sir," Chalmers answered.

The conference room phone rang again before they could leave, "Is he on the move?" Chalmers asked.

"No, sir. Well I don't know, that's not why I called. We have a second sighting coming from someone at the coffee shop. Out of fear they waited to call until they were a safe distance away."

"We'll be there in 5 minutes," Chalmers said with one foot out the door.

Chalmers rode shotgun with another detective and dialed Tom's phone while he looked at the layout of the hotel. It rang twice before Tom answered.

"I think we've got him. We tracked him to an old hotel and are minutes from setting up a perimeter. Hopefully in a few hours we'll nail this bastard."

"That's great, but," Tom paused.

"What is it?"

"Well, if you do catch him and I don't die, it creates a paradox."

"What the hell does that mean?" Chalmers asked.

"It means this may be the last time we speak. If you prevent my death, then you never find my body, which means we never meet."

Chalmers didn't know what to say. Despite the reason for watching Tom these past 15 years, he enjoyed the time with him. The possibility of not only never speaking to him again but of having his entire memory of Tom wiped saddened him.

"Well kid, if that's what it takes, then it's been nice knowing you," Chalmers said at last.

"Good luck, detective. Thanks for everything, maybe I'll see you around" Tom said taking the phone from his ear.

Chalmers tossed the idea of losing his friend around his head before returning his attention to the road. The car quickly approached the coffee shop near the mobile tactical headquarters and he pushed his feelings for the boy out of his mind.

Chalmers jumped out of the car before the driver had placed it into the park position and approached the detective coordinating the other officers. "He still in there?"

"We've seen no movement, sir."

"Great. Everyone should be in place in 30 minutes. They got coffee in there?" he asked pointing at the diner. The officer nodded and Chalmers instructed, "I want to know the second you see anything.”

Friday, July 20th, 2035

Chalmers paced the hospital floor waiting for the discharge paperwork with his arm placed in a sling. A bandage covering his shoulder hid another wound left from the blast and a concussion left his head hazy. Just before losing his last iota of patience, his doctors rapped the door, chart in hand.

"You're clear. The head trauma seems to have subsided. Here's some migraine tablets. If the headaches become too severe, you'll need to come back. For the next day or two, I don't want you sleeping for more than 4-5 hours at a time," he instructed.

"What about the other men?" Chalmers asked.

"Two are still in pretty bad shape, but we've moved three others to recovery."

"So only the three died?"

"So far. Your wife is outside and will take you home," the doctor said as he signed something and handed it to the nurse.

Brenda threw her arms around her husband, holding back tears. "How you feeling?" she asked regaining her composure.

"Fine, don't really think it was necessary to be here almost two days," he answered.

"Well, we can go home now crabby cakes," she smiled.

"I have to stop by the station," he demanded.

"Honey, you need to rest."

"This won't take long," he said leading her out of the lobby.

*************************************************************

Chief Smith examined the files on his desk while Chalmers sat patiently. The explosion took out the entire south wing of the Arena Hotel, but they still found plenty of evidence. The lab swiftly processed most of the remains to decide if Sparks was in the building at the time.

Chief Smith flipped the last page and mumbled something under his breath.

"Is it over?" Chalmers asked.

"I don't know. Everything seems wrapped up in a pretty little bow," he admitted. "Too good to be true?” he added pushing the paper work to his detective.

Chalmers read through the documents, nodding occasionally, then asked, "What's bothering you?"

The chief took the paperwork back and singled out the report from officer Tagert, pointing at his statement. Chalmers reread the notation.

"Caller had left premises when we arrived. All we found was a cell phone still connected to 911 dispatch. Staff at the coffee shop does not recall a man standing out front making a call or seeing our suspect." Then he handed Chalmers another paper.

"The second call confirming Sparks’ location was traced to a pay phone near Butterfield and Main Ave in Morgan Hill." Chalmers shook his head at this statement.

"It's nearly 30 minutes away from the coffee shop. The caller would have had to have seen Sparks and immediately sped away, arriving at this phone within 25-35 minutes of the suspected sighting," Chief Smith explained.

"It's plausible; this guy’s face was all over the place. Could have frightened the witness," Chalmers said.

"Perhaps, then there's this," he said handing over the initial autopsy report.

"While no body was found, we have identified teeth found near the blast radius as well as waste in a toilet still intact that matches Sparks’ DNA. We will need further time to review and piece together the remaining limbs for a full report, but we can determine that Sparks was in the room at the time of the explosion."

Chalmers didn't find anything glaring about the report and handed it over to the chief. "You don't think it's all too convenient?" The chief asked.

Chalmers considered the evidence and the speed at which everything happened that night. They had surrounded the hotel, announced their presence and watched as several lights flickered from room 207. Chalmers saw the curtain move and asked Sparks to surrender once more before they approached. He watched as the room lit up in intervals as though a high watt strobe light flashed. He gave the command to move in and when the first team got to the lobby, the windows of the second floor exploded outward as a thunderous boom knocked over anyone within 40 feet of the building. His head slammed against the concrete driveway and his gun flew from his hand as his arm flung backwards smashing against a nearby light pole. The next thing he remembered he was sitting in the back of an ambulance asking whether they'd found Sparks.

Finally, Chalmers spoke, "It makes sense. I saw them pulling scrap that looked similar to the machine we found in his home. He built another one there and when he tried to use it to get away, it blew. As for the witnesses that led us to him, perhaps they were scared. They'll come forward eventually."

"What about the two bodies we still have from 2018?" The chief asked.

"I don't know, I thought my knowledge of them would disappear once we found this guy, but maybe it’s some type of parallel universe we created by changing the present? After all this, I don't know what to believe."

"Well, we may never really know. The Feds are flying in tomorrow morning and we're to hand over everything we have. They want to sweep this under the rug."

"Anything to protect their secrets, I guess," Chalmers said. "Honestly, I think I'm finally ready to let this go. After two and a half decades, I'm exhausted. We got the guy chief, I know it."

"I guess we can call off the details then?"

"Pull them back, not totally off. Put a car outside those residences the next few days, just to be safe."

"Thought you were sure?"

"Can you ever totally be?"

"I guess not," the chief conceded. "Thanks for coming down, how's your head feeling?"

"Fine," Chalmers answered. "Ready to get back to it," he added.

"Take today and tomorrow as paid leave and see how you feel. We've got things covered here," the chief said collecting the paperwork sprawled on his desk. Chalmers nodded and started to rise from his chair, but the chief stopped him. "Here," he said pulling a firearm from his desk. "Your other piece in evidence is being examined. You were overdue for a new one anyway."

"Thanks, but I'm gonna miss that old one," Chalmers said, feeling the lighter handgun.

"Just sign this and drop it off on your way out," Chief Smith said. Chalmers quickly signed his name and started for the door. "Jim, nice work these last few weeks. We couldn't have done it without you."

Chalmers smiled, nodded his head in agreement then added, "I guess I wasn't so crazy after all."

The detective side armed his new weapon and carried his release form to the basement for processing. The man working the counter congratulated him on finding the Crisscross murderer before processing the paperwork. Chalmers took the stairs two at a time up to the first floor, busting out the door to Brenda waiting just outside.

"Well?" she asked.

"It's done. Now I got two days off. What ever shall we do?" he said winking at her.

"We shan't do anything because I have to work. Thanks to you forcing my boss out, I'm the new DA and have a ton of work."

"You're welcome," he answered. "Can we at least take the day off? I’m exhausted."

"I'll take you home and hang out for a bit, but I have to be in the office this afternoon," she answered.

*************************

Brenda left her husband sleeping on the couch around 1:30. They discussed their future a bit and the possibility of his retirement. She believed he considered it at the time, but knew that within a week he'd be ready to get back to work. She kissed his forehead before grabbing the keys and heading out the door.

Shortly after she left, Chalmers awoke following a nightmare. The vivid dream turned his mind to Tom and he immediately dialed the number. The other end rang once and then connected to voicemail. Chalmers left a brief message and followed up with a text. After 15 minutes and no returned messages, he decided to go check in on him.

Instinctively, he called the dispatch to put him through to the car outside Tom's apartment. When he couldn't reach them, Chalmers asked when communication broke. The dispatcher verified the last check in and it had only been 30 minutes. He ordered her to continue trying every five minutes until they responded.

Chalmers sped through the subdivisions, weaving in and out of traffic and pedestrians. He didn't notice a squad car anywhere in sight and quickly called the chief. A back up car would arrive within 15 minutes and wait for Chalmers’ orders.

He rushed to the gate hitting Tom's apartment number, but no one answered. After five seconds he hit every button on the board until someone buzzed him in. As he approached the basement, he received a text message from the chief that the last victim, Francis Porter, had just been reported missing. Chalmers sprinted through the corridor and stopped just outside the hallway leading to the basement apartment. Slowly he peaked around the corner looking for signs of a break in. Daylight seeped down the hallway and lit the majority of the space except for a blind spot right by the door. With his weapon drawn, he slowly walked down the three steps and towards the door. As his eyes adjusted, he realized he was alone. In ten rushed steps he was knocking on the large steel door, yelling Tom's name.

From the other side he heard steps and lowered his weapon, but remained ready to fire if necessary. Then Tom's voice answered the knocks and Chalmers identified himself.

"Hey Chalmers, what happened to your arm?" Tom said greeting him.

"Is there anyone here?" he asked.

"No, you ok?"

"Has anyone contacted you? When's the last time you heard from the officers downstairs?" Chalmers asked as he surveyed the apartment.

"They stopped down just before I jumped in the shower which is why I didn't answer or text you back. What's going on?" Tom asked as he locked the heavy bolts behind them.

"Francis Porter was reported missing 30 minutes ago," he said, finally holstering his gun. "And I'm not leaving your side until we figure out what the hell is going on."

"Shouldn't we go to the station or something?" Tom asked.

"Too risky, we'll wait here until back up arrives."

"How long will that be?"

"Hopefully about 15 minutes."

"That's not a lot of time. You mind if I finish getting dressed?"

Chalmers started to answer when his phone rang.

"Detective, this is Harris down at the lab," the voice said.

"You got something new from the hotel?"

"No, but we got a hit on the gun that killed Tom Sullivan"

"Is it registered to Sparks?"

"No," the voice hesitated. "It's your gun. The one issued to you, today," the tech said. "I'm not sure how that's possible," the voice continued on deaf ears.

Chalmers dropped his phone when he heard "today" and reached for his gun. Suddenly everything was clear. He called out to Tom, but received no answer. To his left the apartment opened up to the kitchen, no doors or rooms beyond. Chalmers put his back to the safe space and wiggled out of the sling. He thought Tom entered the room to the right, but couldn't be sure. He'd never gone beyond the kitchen/living room area and had no clue what was behind either door. It could be one big room, for all he knew. Both rooms were closed off with what looked like sliding metal doors, the left one slightly ajar. He decided to start there and work his way through the apartment. Calmly he called Tom's name as he approached.

"So, a false alarm with Francis. Turns out she was having an affair with a coworker and never came home last night," he said trying to lure him out.

No answer as he stepped within grasp of the door. "You in here Tom? Just wanted to say goodbye," he said slowly sliding the door with his bad arm. It was heavy and the pressure left him wincing. Light from the living room spilled into the dark space revealing a bedroom and bathroom at the far end. Unless he was hiding under the bed or in the bathroom, Chalmers couldn't see Tom. He couldn't risk a thorough search and allow Tom to come at him from behind so he backed away from the door and closed it, hoping he'd hear it open if Tom emerged.

Chalmers walked against the wall connecting the two doors until he stood in front of the opposite side. With this door shut, he couldn't hear anything on the other side. Chalmers braced himself for a horrific scene inside as he slowly opened the door. Inside he could barely make out another entrance. The space between seemed about the size of a closet. He advanced quietly, listening to signs of Tom's presence. The handle turned down and the heavy door resisted his weakened arm strength. Chalmers switched his gun to his left hand and used the stronger arm to open the second passage. Little light peaked through the two doors but he could finally hear something, a muffled groan. He replaced the gun in his right hand and felt along the wall for a light switch, but was unable to lift his arm above his waist. He felt for his phone then realized not only had he dropped it but he couldn't hold it and his firearm. He tried speaking to Tom again, "Tom, hey buddy. A little help with the light." No answer.

He assumed there to be a light switch somewhere near the door so he placed his back square against the wall and slowly moved down the right side of the room. Eventually he felt something poke through his shirt and he used the pinky side of his gun hand to run up and down the wall until the switch flipped. A narrow light filled the hallway behind him and revealed two more switches. He hit the next one and a light towards the middle of the room illuminated another machine, similar to the one found at Sparks’, only bigger. Again, he heard the groans coming towards the back of the room and he turned the final switch. Taped to a chair sat Francis Porter, gagged and blindfolded. Behind her was another door. Chalmers put a finger to his mouth and crept along the wall towards the door. Only half the room had been alit by the switches and he needed to check the other side before safely helping Francis.

Once at the door, he tried the handle to find it locked. He assumed Tom fled through there and was either long gone or stuck in some kind of panic room. Light from the right side spilled just about halfway to the left side. It wasn't complete darkness as he could make out shadows of objects, but he couldn't risk Tom hiding in plain sight. If Tom was watching, it would be obvious he knew Chalmers was no longer "just looking" for him. "Tom, it doesn't have to end this way," he said. Still no answer.

He carefully walked along the wall, occasionally bumping into things and moving around them. When he'd gone back towards the front of the room he finally found the three switches. Quickly in one motion, he lifted all three as lights from the middle and back of the room illuminated. He also heard a shuffling from behind and turned, gun drawn, in time to see the door close and lock. He ran over to the entrance, trying to open it, but it had been pressure locked. He ran back to the three switches and flipped them down hoping to release the mechanism, but to no avail. Finally, he left the switches up and walked over to the victim once he saw Tom was not there. He first took off the blindfold so she could see help had finally arrived. Then he began working the gag from her mouth. She yelled something and Chalmers assumed he had pulled her hair while undoing the knot, but knew he was in danger when her pupils doubled in size. The pounding blow knocked him forward and Francis’ tears were the last image his eyes registered before he blacked out.

*************************

Chalmers heard footsteps behind him as his eyes opened and adjusted to the light. His head thundered again after consecutive concussive blows two short days. He breathed through his nose and realized why when he tasted the cloth in his mouth. His eyes regained focus, showing Francis in the same position as he found her, minus the blindfold. He could tell by the pressure on his arms and legs, he too was bound.

Tom came into his line of sight and smiled. He'd seen that smile dozens of times, but never as a psychopath. His ears still rung from the headshot, but he could make out what Tom was saying as the gag was removed.

"I'm afraid it does have to end this way, detective. You made it tougher, that's for sure. You really did care," Tom said.

"Tom, I'm your friend. Whatever you've done we can work through this."

"Yeah. You gonna get your wife to let me walk on 15 murders. Although if you count the cops I killed, there's another half dozen. And there's Sparks. Plus we can't forget about my first, the one you quit your job over, Ms. Peters. You gonna sweet talk her to drop the charges and send me to a mental hospital?" Tom said mocking Chalmers. “Did you even link the animal mutilations to me? And you think you can help me?”

Before he could answer, Tom placed the rag back over his mouth and turned his back on him. Then he removed the cloth from Francis mouth and whispered something into her ear. He stepped away to the table behind her, returning with black leather gloves on his hands. Chalmers began screaming, begging for Francis’ life while she protested with tears and snot. Gently Tom placed his fingers around her throat, caressing her skin for the perfect hold. Then suddenly his entire body tensed up as he squeezed the life out of her. Her legs kicked, but remained taped to the chair. Her shoulders thrashed and her head snapped back and forth as she fought for air that wouldn't come. Just before she blacked out, Tom removed his hands and stepped back to watch her gulp at the air, filling her lungs with all they could take. Chalmers watched the muscles in her neck spasm as the veins in her eyes spilled their load.

After a minute or two, Tom stepped in front of her again, gripping her neck as she omitted a muted scream. He looked back at the detective as his hands tightened. Francis fought much less this time and her eyes rolled back within a minute of his death grip. Tom held his hands to her neck after she expired for effect. When he finally released her, Chalmers had turned his head away and closed his eyes. Tom shook his head at the weakness displayed then began cutting Francis from the chair. Chalmers returned his gaze to the activities as Tom stripped her clothes, placing them and the tape in a small plastic bag. The red hand marks began fading while Tom meticulously wiped her body clean of any possible DNA with large cotton balls soaked in rubbing alcohol. Once he cleaned up his mess, Tom removed his gloves, tossing them in the same bag. Chalmers watched as he walked across the room, placed the evidence in a large metal bin, and pushed a small red button. Instantly, the contents incinerated, leaving no trace of its existence.

Tom walked back to the body, put on rubber surgical gloves and silently pulled her naked body over to the machine. He laid her body on her back, placing her arms across her chest and her hands over her throat. From the corner of his eye, Chalmers watched Tom turn on the machine and punch the pad to the right. He disappeared from his sight for a second and reemerged with a gun pointed at the detective.

“Here’s how this is going to go down,” Tom said. “I’m going to remove your gag and I’m going to let you ask your questions or plead for your life or whatever usually happens at this point. Then I’m going to stand behind you and cut the tape from your body. Your gun will be aimed at your skull and if at any moment I don’t like your movements, I’m going to put a bullet in your head. Then you’re going on a one-way trip with Francis there. Nod if you understand,” Tom explained and Chalmers answered with a slight up and down. “Good,” Tom said removing the rag.

“There are officers waiting outside. They’ll be busting in at any moment. There’s no way out, Tom.”

“I’m counting on that. But it’ll be a while before they get in here. That front door is eight inches thick of pure steel. And even once they get through that, the door to this chamber will withstand everything short of a small charge. I figure I’ve got another 45 minutes before they’re even close to interrupting us.”

“And when they get in here, how do you think you’ll explain all of this?”

“I don’t intend to,” Tom answered.

“You’re just going to kill yourself? After all the lives you’ve taken and that’s your big finale?”

“Of course not, I have much more work to do. I’ll be taking the tunnel in that room,” he said pointing to the door that Chalmers found locked from the outside. “I’ll be long gone when they finally get in here and the room is rigged to blow to cover my tracks. So as far as they’re concerned, I won’t be alive to explain anything.”

“They know who you are, what you’ve done. There’s no where you can go they won’t find you,” Chalmers retorted.

“This is a nice little set up isn’t it? I mean, with all this equipment and secluded location. It was really smart of you to purchase this space,” Tom answered.

“What do you mean?”

“The mortgage, it’s in your name and riddled with your signature. Isn’t it obvious? You’re the Crisscross murderer. The call placed to 911. They were made on a phone you purchased. The credit card receipts are in that safe over there that will survive the blast. Sparks’ body will also be found in that freezer over there,” Tom said pointing to a large rectangular appliance in the far corner. “At least what’s left of it. And the final piece is the $250,000 deposit made into your account this morning. They’ll be so busy framing you up for this; they won’t even think to look for me. As far as they’re concerned, I’ll just be the final body that you made vanish.”

“Why?” Chalmers simply asked.

“Really? Are you hoping for some terrible childhood that shaped my behavior? Sorry pal, nothing of the sort. But what’s really going to have you guessing, at least for the next few minutes, is if I would have done all of this if you hadn’t shared so much information with me. Was it your actions that caused all of this?” Tom said raising his eyebrows.

“I loved you like a son and I still do. It’s not too late. Let me go and we’ll walk out of here together,” Chalmers pleaded.

“You know what, I actually believe you. Thing is, I don’t want to go to jail. Sorry, Chalmers. Anything else?” Tom asked moving from the front of Chalmers towards the back. The detective shook his head side to side remaining silent. “I’m gonna cut you free now. You’ll stand up slowly, step away from the chair and gradually turn around to face me, got it?” Tom instructed. Chalmers nodded once. Tom first cut the tape around each foot then moved up to his hands placed behind him. In one motion, Tom severed the tape and stepped away from the chair. Chalmers stood up as instructed and took three small steps away from the chair. “Slowly,” Tom reminded him as he turned to face his captor. Tom kept the pistol trained on Chalmers chest as he backed up a few paces. “Now, one step at a time, walk towards the machine. Nice and slow,” he said watching for any sudden movements. When the detective was even with the machine, Tom instructed Chalmers to face him.

“I did enjoy our time together Jim, I wish it hadn’t been you that showed up this afternoon,” Tom admitted.

Chalmers dropped his eyes, almost accepting his fate. Tom, tired of the game and needing time to escape, moved a step closer to expedite the final voyage. Before his foot landed Chalmers launched his attack, throwing his body into Tom’s midsection. A shot fired off, thundering in the small space, but Tom held his grip on the weapon. He used the butt of the gun to deliver a blow to Chalmers temple, knocking him back towards the machine and then delivered a punch in the shoulder of his bad arm.

Chalmers absorbed the pain and lunged towards Tom, getting his hands on the gun. They wrestled for control of the weapon until two shots squeezed out of the chamber. One shot missed, the other landed squarely in the chest. The bullet tore through flesh, leaving the victim clutching at the entry point before falling into the machine. Flailing hands reached for something to break the fall, grasping the inside handle of the machine. The door tightly closed, trapping both bodies inside. Seconds later the machine began humming and emitting a blinding light until its passengers disappeared.

EPILOGUE

Thursday, January 2nd, 2020

The murders had started less than five years ago and each body found was naked with the exact same wounds, laid in the exact same position and scattered throughout the city. The only anomaly was the final body, found alongside the final murder victim. This one died from a gunshot wound to the chest and was fully clothed. Chalmers believed this man must have witnessed the last murder and the suspect silenced him. With no other bodies discovered, the killer likely retired or relocated to avoid capture. Chalmers felt in his gut that this last man held the key to the investigation.

"Davis," Chalmers said speaking to the officer closest to him. "This one first, bring me the file as soon as you get any hits."

Davis nodded and turned back to his terminal. Ten seconds later keys clattered through the room as records released into the police database. The pace was furious as potential suspects popped up on dozens and dozens of screens. Dispatch calls went out to the remaining officers on the streets to pick up people for questioning. Chalmers watched over his small crew seeing them feverishly plug away. When he saw Davis pull a page from the printer, place it in the folder and stand up, Chalmers rushed to meet him.

"You got something?"

"I'm not sure. I think there's a glitch in the database."

"Let me see it," Chalmers said opening the folder. On top of the notes from the investigation lay a photo of a man, 34 years old. "What the hell is this? You're telling me I’m our murder suspect?"

"You’re not our suspect?" Davis stated.

"Then what?"

"The last victim."

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Tony Harris

Just a dude who likes to write short stories and poetry from time to time

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