“Good morning,” a uniformed brunette greeted me as I approached the window, a Bostonian accent evident in her brisk voice. “Can I help you?”
“I’m Detective Brooke Chandler, on loan from Chicago PD.” I flashed her a friendly smile. “I’m reporting to Captain Randall.”
“Ah! Yes, he said to expect you.” The uniform snatched up the phone on her desk. “Just a moment.”
A couple of minutes later, the uniform cleared me, then gave me the passcode to enter the doorway that led to the rest of the precinct. I punched in the code, then followed her directions, trotting up the stairs to the second floor. I went down a hall, into a room marked ‘support services division’, then stopped outside a closed door on the opposite side. I eyed the brass placard on the door that said ‘Captain’s Office’, then glanced around the room to make sure I had the right place. If not for the uniform jackets draped on the backs of chairs, and the map on the far wall stuck with pins and riddled with pictures of suspects, I would have thought nobody worked here. But then again, they might all be off doing something.
Never mind that, I scolded myself, knocking on the door. You’re not here to criticize the precinct. You’re here to look into Tom’s case.
“Come in,” called a deep, male voice.
I pushed open the door and stepped into a rectangular office that was half the size of my bedroom. Maps, artwork, and certificates of achievement hung on the walls above file cabinets and shelves, and the majority of the space was dominated by a cherry-wood L-shaped desk. Behind the desk sat a large, broad-shouldered man in uniform with blocky features, a crew cut, and a stern, unfriendly expression on his face.
“Detective Chandler.” He jerked his head down once in what I imagined was an acknowledgement of my presence. “You’re late.”
“Sorry, sir.” My spine stiffened, but I forced myself not to sound defensive. “It was a long trip.”
“Maybe, but I was expecting you last night, and I don’t appreciate having my time wasted.” He gestured to the blue visitors’ chairs impatiently. “Have a seat.”
I did as instructed, resisting the urge to grit my teeth. The Chief of the Salem PD, Mary Spencer, had been more than friendly on the phone, and I’d assumed Captain Randall would be the same, especially since he’d been friends with Tom. But there was no such luck on my part, and if the way the skin around his mouth tightened was any indication, he looked as though he wasn’t very happy to see me.
So much for rolling out the welcome mat.
“All right, well now that we’re here, let’s get this over with.” The Captain reached into a drawer and drew out a substantial stack of forms. “These are from HR. You’re to fill them out and turn them in before you’re allowed access to anything in this precinct. I’m assigning Detective Guy Baxter as your buddy, so you can go on and get cozy with him in the bullpen. He’ll answer any questions you have and show you around the building.”
He pushed the papers at me, then turned back to his computer, fingers already poised over the keyboard as if there was a burningly urgent email he just couldn’t wait to reply to. I stared at him in disbelief, unable to fathom how casually he’d dismissed me.
“Excuse me, sir, but this isn’t right.” I straightened in my seat. “You can’t just drop this on me and then toss me into the bullpen.”
Captain Randall scowled, turning his attention back to me. “Are you telling me what I can and can’t do, Detective?”
I bit back the retort that sprang to my lips—the look in his dark eyes was growing dangerous, and I was trying to get things back on track, not make them worse. “No, sir, it’s just that this is my first day here. I expected a little more from our first meeting.”
The Captain fully turned his body toward mine now, swiveling his chair around. “What, did you want a pep talk? Because the last time I checked, nobody was forcing you to come out here. I didn’t think I’d need to hold your hand since you’re an experienced detective.”
“No, you don’t,” I agreed, my voice growing tight despite my efforts to rein in my temper. “I’m an excellent detective, which is why I came here. I want to find out what happened to Tom, and I also want to take over the kidnapping case he was working on for you.”
Captain Randall blinked. “Kidnapping case? What the hell are you talking about?”
“The missing kids from the orphanage Tom grew up in.” Incredulity crept into my voice. “He said a couple of the cases were connected to Salem, which was why you called him, and that he came out because he felt personally connected. And now he’s dead, and I feel personally responsible for letting him come out here by himself. I want to take over his case and find some answers.”
Captain Randall shook his head, looking at me as though I’d grown a second set of eyes. “Look, Detective Chandler, I don’t know what kind of problems you and Tom were having where he felt like he couldn’t be honest with you, but he didn’t come out here to look for any missing kids. I called him up to help me with an old murder investigation he’d been working on years ago. There were no kids involved, and no orphanage, either.”
“W-what?” I gripped the arms of my chair so hard that my fingernails scratched the wood. “That’s ridiculous. Tom wouldn’t lie to me.”
Annoyance flashed in Captain Randall’s eyes, and he bared his teeth at me. “Again, I don’t know what kind of relationship the two of you had—”
“We were getting married.” I surged to my feet, unable to hold my anger in any longer. “That’s what kind of relationship we had. Tom was my fiancé, and we told each other everything. If he said there was a kidnapping case, then there was.”
“Look, Detective,” the Captain said, his voice hard. “Tom was a good man and a good detective. Unfortunately, we can’t ask him why he told you what he did, but I’m sure he had his reasons.”
“I can’t accept this.” Anxious now, I yanked my phone from my pocket and pulled up the article I’d found in Tom’s email. “Look, here’s an article on two of the missing kids. You can’t tell me that’s not real.” I shoved the screen in Captain Randall’s face.
The Captain’s eyes narrowed, eyebrows furrowing in concentration as he read the article. He shook his head. “I don’t know where you got this article, but your information is wrong. I’ve never even heard of those two boys.”