Detective Richard Nolan Series (Book #1): The Badge
“This is a world where nothing is solved. You know, someone once told me time is a flat circle. Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again.”
– Rustin Cohle/Nic Pizzolatto
Richard stood in his bathroom, staring at himself in the mirror. He looked tired. He was tired! It had been a while since he’d worked a case. Being called back from retirement was flattering, but it also meant this was no ordinary case. He had been briefed a couple of days ago and went through all the evidence collected. He needed coffee, or a beer, but coffee was probably the more responsible option. As he walked into his kitchen, he passed a table of files, spread out in his own type of organized chaos. He made himself a cup of coffee and a bagel, then sat at the table. Missing person cases were always the hardest for him. Not only was it gut-wrenching watching families go through it, but there was also a very small window of time available to locate the individuals. This case was eerily like a past case he had worked with his partner, Thomas Walters. Tom was not only his partner, but a good friend. Life certainly had been different since Tom’s passing four years ago. Richard thought about one of the first cases they’d worked.
They were called out to a crime scene that had been reported as a hunting accident. They drove to the site and stopped right at the property line, where a small cabin sat. The property itself was huge. There was an area of flat grassland, but the bulk of the property was wooded. On the porch of the cabin sat a woman with two young children. Since there were already a couple of officers talking with her, Richard and Tom decided to check out the crime scene before talking with her themselves.
The accident occurred about half a mile into the woods. So, they had a bit of a walk ahead of them, careful not to step on anything that may be pertinent to the case.
“So, where did you meet that lovely woman that you brought to dinner last night?” Tom asked, looking at him out of the corner of his eye.
Richard laughed. “She wasn’t that bad! She loved Samantha’s cooking.”
Now it was Tom’s turn to laugh. “Well, who doesn’t love Samantha’s cooking? I do have to admit, she has been one of the better women you’ve dated.”
“Not all of us can find a beautiful and intelligent woman, like you did,” Richard responded.
Richard never wanted to be tied down. He liked his bachelor lifestyle, but there were times when he was a little jealous of Tom. His wife, Samantha, was one of the nicest people he had ever met. His daughter, Jessica, was the cutest little hellion.
“In fact,” Richard started. “I can take her off your hands for a bit if you want.” He elbowed Tom and gave him a wink.
“In your dreams!” Tom punched him in the arm as they both laughed.
There were quite a few people at the scene when they arrived. At first glance, it did look like an accident. It appeared the man had fallen off his tree stand and, unfortunately, hit his head on the rocks below.
The coroner was just finishing her examination. As soon as she saw them walk up, she started telling them what she knew. Rachael was one of the best coroners in the area, and the guys really appreciated her expertise. According to her findings, the cause of death was the blunt force trauma to the head. He also had a broken leg and wrist, which was most likely due to the fall.
“Do we have a time of death?” Richard asked.
“He’s been here for a little while. I would put it around nine hours ago,” she replied.
“That would make it about four o’clock in the morning,” Richard said out loud, not talking to anyone in particular.
“Who found him?” Tom asked.
One of the officers spoke up. “The wife, Tracy Hill. They were up here for the weekend and when he didn’t come back to the cabin, she went looking for him.”
Richard stood with his arms crossed, looking up at the tree stand.
“What’s up?” Tom asked, seeing the look on his face.
“The tree stand appears to be fine. There aren’t any broken boards or anything indicating a fall.” Richard walked around it to see if anything was out of place. “And where is his gear? Rachael, was there any sort of hunting equipment on or around him?” Richard yelled over. Rachael confirmed his suspicions. There wasn’t anything to suggest he was hunting.
His thought process was if this man really was hunting, there should still be hunting equipment, if not down here then up there. Equipment wasn’t the only thing not present; he also wasn’t wearing any hunting apparel. Since no one had gone up yet, Richard started to climb the ladder. This is a nicely built tree stand, he thought to himself, impressed.
Once at the top, Richard started to look around. Nothing. There was no sign anyone had been up there at all. He looked down at where the body was. Not that it was impossible, but where the body landed did not completely match up to the location of the tree stand. This was starting to look more like foul play than an accident.
On the way back to the cabin, Richard explained what he was thinking to Tom. Neither of them was convinced, one way or the other. Hopefully, talking with the wife would help clear things up.
“Alright, how are we going to play this?” Richard asked.
Tom just stared at him.
“Good cop, bad cop?” he continued, all excited.
Tom rolled his eyes. “So, you want to do good cop, bad cop to the wife who found her husband dead?”
“Okay…point taken,” Richard replied. “If she really found him,” he added under his breath.
“Maybe I should take the lead on this one.” Tom smiled and shook his head. Richard was always goofing off, but when it came down to it, he was an excellent detective. Tom would not trust anyone else with his life.
Once they arrived at the cabin, they saw the wife, Tracy Hill, was now alone on the porch.
“Mrs. Hill?” Tom started. “I’m Detective Walters and this is Detective Nolan. We are deeply sorry for what has happened. I know you’ve already been over some of this, but we need to ask you a couple of questions.” Tom paused. When there was no response, he continued. “Would you please go over what happened one more time for us?” Tom was good with people. He had a way of gaining their trust.
Tracy began her story. It was clear she had been crying, but did seem oddly calm. To be fair, she probably had been saying the same thing over and over all morning.
“Mark decided to go hunting. He usually came home late morning to have lunch and would go back out for a little bit. When he did not come home, I decided to walk to the tree stand.”
“And around what time was that?” Tom asked. They figured out early on, it was better to have one person doing the interviewing. People did not seem to feel as “attacked” that way.
“Um, a little after noon,” Tracy answered. It sounded more like a question than a statement.
Tom took down a few notes. Richard never was a note taker. It’s all up here, he would say, pointing to his head.
“What happened once you got to the tree stand?”
Tracy looked a little irritated and tired. She let out a sigh. “I saw Mark lying there, ran up to him, and saw the blood. It was clear what had happened. I ran back to the cabin to call the police.”
“Do you think he fell?” Tom asked.
“He didn’t jump off, if that’s what you are asking!” Tracy was getting visibly upset.
Tom spoke calmly. “That’s not what I am saying. I just wondered what you thought since you were the first to see him. Did he have any of his hunting equipment with him?”
“This is getting absurd! Of course, he had his equipment.” The way she was answering, Tom knew he needed to ask his questions quickly because he was going to lose her.
“The only reason I’m asking is because we didn’t see any at the scene.”
Tracy looked straight at him with no emotion. “I brought the equipment back with me.”
Tom looked right back at her. “You did? That wasn’t mentioned before.”
“Are we done? I’d like to be with my children.”
Tom handed her his card. “Of course. Thank you for your time. If you need anything or think of anything else, give me a call.”
She grabbed it and stomped inside. Trying to be discrete, they took a quick look around the cabin as they returned to the car.
Richard wondered, “Why would she take back the equipment? There is no purpose for that. Seems like an odd thing to do before reporting your husband has died.”
Tom nodded and started the car. Between that and the fact there was no hunting apparel, something was off. They both knew it, but proving it would be a challenging task to complete.
The ring of his cellphone brought Richard back to the present. He answered it, “Detective Nolan.”
The caller was Ethan Jacobson, the detective he partnered with for this current case. Jacobson was a young detective. This was his first major case, but he was a smart kid. He did his research and knew his stuff.
Jessica Walters and Connor Stevens were also helping on the case, so to speak. Both were in the process of completing the field work part of training. He did not know much about Connor, other than the fact that he had a lot of growing up to do.
Richard knew Jessica was going to be in law enforcement ever since she was little. He was so proud of her. He knew Tom would be too. Since her dad passed, Richard had been there for Jess and Samantha, available whenever needed, and would come at the drop of a hat. Although, that wasn’t really anything new. When they were not working, Richard was always at the Walters’ house. He smiled at the thought, packed up his things, downed his coffee and left for the Academy Training Center.
The house was exceedingly small and dark, but that was the way he liked it. He was never good at socializing and hated unwanted attention.
Keep quiet and blend into the background, his mother always said.
Since his mother had been gone, he had not done much with the place. All the family pictures still sat on the fireplace mantel. The furniture was old but still in decent shape. The long sectional sofa and the reclining chair occupied most of the small room. Both were dark blue; Mother loved blue. The living room was connected to the kitchen, which had the basic appliances. Since he was not much of a cook, there were old takeout containers and dirty plates everywhere. He started to think what a mess the place was. After looking around for another minute, he decided that it didn’t matter.
The people I bring here will not be worried about the mess. He smiled to himself. He kept that smile as he opened the basement door and heard the muffled screams.
Jessica sat at a large metal table, patiently waiting, filling out paperwork. She wanted to be a detective for as far back as she could remember. She would watch her dad get ready every morning. He would put on his uniform, grab his badge, and kiss her goodbye. Jessica knew she always wanted that badge and the respect that came with it.
Taking a break from the tedious paperwork, busy work was more like it, she looked around the room. It was a large room, drab, colorless, and seemingly uninviting. Jessica was used to this room, though. She had been there at some point every day for the past four weeks. There was a small podium in the front, with a huge whiteboard behind it. When Richard was the instructor, he liked to stand at that podium. He said it made him look like a terrifying giant. She laughed at the thought. He could never look terrifying to Jessica, but she understood why others thought so. Even though he had been retired from the force for a few years now, everyone knew who he was: Detective Richard Nolan, known for all the suspects he apprehended and the way he “bent the rules” doing it. He was like a second father to Jessica, but she wanted to keep it professional during training. She didn’t want anyone to think she was getting special treatment because of how close he was with her family.
Jessica saw another trainee arrive. She knew who he was. Their first meeting was far from forgettable.
It was the first day of training. When Jessica walked in, she saw him leaning against the back wall, arms crossed with a scowl on his face. He immediately introduced himself.
“The name is Stevens. Connor Stevens.,” he said as he looked Jessica up and down.
Great, she thought as she rolled her eyes. He speaks in Bond. There are few people who could pull off the Bond introduction and this guy wasn’t one of them.
Another trainee spoke up, “He is related to the Chief of Police.” The statement sounded more mocking than informative.
Connor “Bond” Stevens added, “That’s my mother and the fact that I need to go through this training is ridiculous!”
Jessica shared a look with the other trainee. Now she understood the mocking tone.
She shook her head at the memory.
Starting to get a little fidgety, Jessica pulled her long black hair into a messy bun and put on the jean jacket she had with her. She felt nervous and excited at the same time, but the excitement took over the nerves. She was confident and knew she had it in her to be a good detective.
When Connor walked into the training room, he sat at a table near the front. He leaned back with one leg set on top of the other and looked around. Currently, it was just Jessica and himself there, which was fine with him. The only person he was able to tolerate was Jessica Walters. They both came from police backgrounds, and her dad had been one of the best detectives to work on the force. Plus, she was hot! He winked and gave her a little head nod. She totally wants me, he thought.
Richard arrived, followed closely by another detective, who looked like he’d just stepped off the set of Hawaii 5.0, Detective Ethan Jacobson. He was tall, dark-skinned, and muscular. He was wearing jeans with a black, form fitting, t-shirt. His gun and badge were both attached to his hip, and he carried a stack of files with him.
“Stevens! Sit up!” Richard said as he knocked Connor’s leg off, kicking it to the ground. Both detectives walked to the front of the room.
Detective Jacobson was introduced, and Jessica stood to greet him. He looked down at her. Mostly because of his height, not his rank.
I bet this guy could pull off the Bond introduction. Jessica smiled to herself.
He was extremely good looking, she had to admit that, and intimidating. With his ego, Conner was sure to hate him. Jessica remained very professional on the outside. Inside, she was fanning herself like Scarlett O’Hara in the middle of summer.
“So…” Jacobson said, breaking her away from her thoughts. “You are the daughter of Detective Walters. I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but know what a dedicated detective he was. A genuinely great man.”
“Yes, and a great father.” She smiled. “He always prided himself on the cases he worked and criminals that were put to justice.”
They all walked over to sit at a larger metal table.
There must have been a sale on metal tables, she thought, half sarcastic and half serious.
Jacobson set down the files and started to go over the case.
“Four women have gone missing within the last couple of months. Kelli Weston, Stephanie Davidson, Jamie Williams, and our latest victim, Melanie Thompson. All four were last seen at Jefferson University, where they attend school. They are all vastly different, so it’s hard to figure out how this person is choosing their victims.”
Jacobson started to set out pictures.
“They all range in age, weight, ethnicity, and even majors. They don’t appear to have known each other. They live in different dorms and aren’t in any of the same academic clubs or activities. We weren’t able to find any evidence on Kelli or Stephanie. They seem to have vanished into thin air. With Jamie, on the other hand, we did discover her wallet, which had her ID, credit card, and some cash. So it was easy to rule out a robbery. No cellphones, tablets, or laptops were found, but we were able to get those records without actually having them. There didn’t seem to be any odd communication; no unusual texts, numbers, contacts, and the social media accounts had normal activity. It was strange to find some of Jamie’s belongings in comparison with the first two. We started to worry this was turning into a sick game. We haven’t found any of Melanie’s belongings yet, so we are hoping that’s not the case.”
“Maybe they were rushed with Jamie?” Jessica thought, looking at the pictures. Well, she wanted to think it but accidentally said it out loud.
Jacobson looked at her. His deep brown eyes almost looked black. “Or rushed. That could be another possibility.”
He began opening another file and gave more specific information about Melanie, since she was the latest victim. She was twenty-two years old and going to college to be a lawyer. The basic facts stated:
Last seen wearing faded jeans and a blue t-shirt
Richard watched and listened as Jacobson went over the information they had so far. Not that he needed to, since that’s all he’d looked at in the past couple of days. They needed to figure out a plan and execute it. There was not much time, and he felt they were not even close to finding Melanie or this lunatic. He didn’t even want to think about the other girls. It made him sick to his stomach, knowing they were out there somewhere. Alive or not, they needed to be found. His mind went to the missing persons case he had worked on with Tom. He just couldn’t shake the idea they were linked somehow.
It was 1987. Richard was still looking into the Hill case. It was officially ruled an accident, but Richard knew it wasn’t.
Around mid-day, a call came in from a frantic mom. Her son was a student at Jefferson University, and she hadn’t heard from him in three days. He usually would call at least once every couple of days. Living out of state, it wasn’t as easy as just driving over to see him. She tried calling the university, but according to the mom, they weren’t helpful at all. She was giving information too fast, and she seemed to be all over the place. Richard tried to calm her down. At least enough to ask questions and get straight answers.
“Ma’am. Ma’am, please. I need to you take a breath for me. I am going to help you but can’t get the information I need when you are talking so fast.”
Hearing the tone in Richard’s voice, Tom looked up from his desk. He grabbed a pad of paper and pen, then waited patiently. He knew Richard would repeat any essential information for him to hear.
The boy was in his second year. He was, by all accounts, a good student—got good grades, never missed class. The mom was going to drive over, but it would take her a few hours. Richard asked her to bring photos but got a fairly good description in the meantime.
Always wore blue running shoes
“They are so old and dirty,” his mom said, half laughing, half crying.
Richard gave her his information and made her promise to have someone drive her. She wasn’t in any condition to drive. Not that anyone would blame her.
“What do you think?” Tom asked as he stood up and grabbed his coat.
Richard wasn’t sure, but the lady was clearly upset, and people know their kids. So, they headed out to Jefferson University.
Richard and Tom got as much information as they could before heading back to the precinct. They talked with a couple of people and looked at some security footage, which was grainy at best but at least in color. A team came in to look for fingerprints, but databases weren’t as elaborate then, and DNA testing wasn’t even close to what it is today. Only one year before, 1986, was the first time that someone was convicted of murder using DNA testing. Even then, it took about six to eight weeks to get DNA results, and you still needed an actual suspect from which to get a sample. Unless someone saw something, it would be hard to locate the boy.
Richard didn’t get much sleep that night. Between that and the Hill case, their first couple of cases had been doozies.
Tom was already there when Richard arrived the next morning. The smell of coffee when he walked into the office was wonderful, which meant he was clearly tired because the office coffee was terrible. Before he could even get a cup, Tom came over. “You won’t believe this!”
Richard was relieved. “We found him.”
“No.” Tom shook his head. “There is another boy missing.”
This went on for the next few weeks. It seemed as soon as they collected information on one, another one went missing. In total, five boys disappeared, seemingly without a trace. The guys just couldn’t understand how there was nothing to go on. They brought on other detectives, officers, and forensic teams, and they searched for months. As time went on, they started to lose their resources, but Richard and Tom never stopped searching. That case haunted Tom until his death and still haunted Richard. Although they did all they could, they still felt like they had failed. All they wanted to do was bring those boys home.
When Jacobson was done talking, Richard stepped in. “Here’s the plan. Jacobson and I are going to check out the university where Melanie was last seen. Jessica, go with Connor to the archives and find a case box labeled Jefferson nineteen eighty-seven. Then go to the Meet-N-Eat diner and wait for us there.” He loved the Meet-N-Eat. He used to go there with Tom and Samantha during college. Come and meet, we’ll give you something to eat. How can you go wrong? he thought with a small smile.
Jessica packed up the few things she had and watched as Richard finished talking to Detective Jacobson. Sometimes, looking at him reminded her of her dad. She could picture them all hanging out in the backyard having a barbecue. She wished she could talk to her dad. She missed him. She knew her mom missed him too, even if she didn’t talk about it. She did not get to visit her mom as much as she would like. Her time was mainly spent in school or training. Luckily, Richard was around to keep her mom company. He stopped over there often, and that made Jessica feel better. He was a great guy, and they were both lucky to have him in their lives.