Obscura – Chapter 2
Chapter 2: Subterranean
“Congratulations, Class of 2014!” The big banderol declared boldly above the group of people wearing graduation gowns and caps. Max was sitting on the couch and going through one of her photo albums. She took a sip from the wine glass that she was holding in her hand. A bottle of chardonnay was on the living room table, standing by for a possible refill.
Max remembered the day she had graduated from Blackwell Academy like it had happened yesterday, even though it had been over three years ago. The weather had been quite windy and they had had to hold on to their caps so that they would not have been blown away with the gusts.
During her senior year, Max had managed to push her GPA up to a respectable 3.4. After Chloe’s death, she had concentrated on her studies to keep herself busy, allowing only short moments to grievance as she was afraid that the loss of her best friend and the love of her life would be too overwhelming to cope with.
Max turned another page on her album. There was a picture of her sitting on the hood of a truck, a 1979 Ford Ranchero. Max had somewhat broken out of her hipster mold, when she had bought that old, gas-guzzling hunk of junk. She had seen it from the bus window by a used car dealership. The somewhat faded metallic blue color had reminded her of Chloe’s hair, and the truck itself reminded her of the banged up truck Chloe used to drive.
Max had stepped out of the bus at the next possible stop and ran back to the dealership. The Ranchero had seen better days but it was in running condition and the price tag was reasonable. After a quick negotiation over the phone with her parents, which included a lot of persuasion and solemn swears that she would improve her grades, she had the funds to buy the truck and the title changed owner. She didn’t even try out the truck before buying it.
When Max’s parents had seen the first picture of her new car, they had demanded that Max would return that “heap of junk” back to the dealership immediately, and demand a full refund. It had required some more persuasion and reassurance to convince her parents that, despite its appearance, the truck was indeed roadworthy. The last wasn’t exactly true but Max figured that her parents wouldn’t come all the way from Seattle to do a car inspection.
After Chloe’s passing, Max had kept in touch with Joyce and her spouse, David Madsen, who had been kind enough to make the Ranchero actually roadworthy, despite his own car being in pieces in the garage. He had even installed a lockable accessory box in the back, where she could store her photography equipment.
Max turned another page and felt something grasping her heart as she saw the picture on that page. It was the only picture of Chloe that she had of her that wasn’t taken before Max moving to Seattle. Chloe was sitting on a rest stop bench with a backpack. She had not yet dyed her hair blue.
Max had taken a lot of pictures of Chloe during their time together after their reunion but they all had been wiped out of existence, when Max had undone everything.
Today was the third anniversary of the day, when they had bid their farewells to each other and shared one final kiss, before Max had wiped the last five days out of existence. Max never commemorated the day of Chloe’s death, but this day instead, because it felt more right.
Oh, Chloe, I miss you so much! Max laid her fingers gently on the picture. Life is so fucking unfair!
Max emptied her glass and poured some more. She was starting to feel the slight buzz caused by the alcohol. Not that it really would take the pain away, maybe just make her slightly numb, but the hurt would still be there.
Max turned the page again, knowing what the next picture would be. A blue butterfly was standing on the bucket edge. That was the picture she had taken on that fateful day, just before Chloe had bled to death just a few feet away from her hiding place. It was the picture that she had used to undo the happiest and worst days of her life.
Max didn’t really know why she had kept the picture. It would’ve been wiser to just destroy it, but here it was, carefully placed in the photo album.
She wiped another tear from the corner of her eye and took the picture in her hand. It appeared slightly blurry. Must be the wine, she thought and tried to focus her eyes. The picture became sharp again but almost instantaneously, it began to pulsate and she started hear ambient noise.
Max stared at the picture in a trancelike state, until she realized what was happening. She gasped and dropped the picture on the floor, trying to catch her breath.
Oh fuck! It’s happening again! Max thought. She was shivering. Can it be…? She reached out for her almost empty wine glass and tipped it over. The remaining chardonnay was spilled on the table.
Max then stretched out her hand and concentrated. As hard as she tried, the glass stayed tipped over and the wine spilled on the table. Max let out a sigh of relief.
“Okay, get a grip, Caulfield. You’ve just had enough to drink for the night,” she said out loud and picked the picture up from the floor.
Max looked at the picture again and found it still to be blurry, so she focused on it again and as soon as it became sharp, it started pulsating.
Max dropped the picture again. “Oh no, no, no!” She gasped out loud. She could feel the anxiety taking over her.
“No! I can’t let it happen again!” Max picked up the picture again from the floor with the intention to tear it to pieces. Just as she was about to rip it apart, she stopped. She held the picture in hand for a moment then she carefully placed it back into the photo album.
She clenched the album tightly in her arms and curled on the couch and began to cry.
“I’m so sorry, Chloe…”
“Max, I’m home!” Victoria Chase shouted as she closed the door behind her. “My mystery date turned out to be a complete douche.” She put her coat on the hanger. “You still have some of that chardonnay left?” she asked, when she walked into the living room.
Victoria saw the freckled brunette sleeping, curled on the couch, holding a photo album. She looked at the table, where there was a nearly empty bottle of wine and a wine glass tipped over in a puddle of wine.
“Oh, Max,” Victoria whispered, shaking her head. She carefully removed the photo album from Max’s grasp and placed it on the bookshelf. She also took the bottle and wine glass to the kitchen and finally tucked her sleeping friend with a blanket.
Victoria took a few steps back and looked at the sleeping woman. Who would’ve thought that I’d end up sharing an apartment with Maxine Caulfield. She smiled at the thought.
When the shooting of Chloe Price had happened that had triggered a chain of events that had unraveled a lot of things. In addition to shooting Chloe, it had turned out that Nathan Prescott had been drugging several Blackwell students, including Kate Marsh and Rachel Amber, latter of whom he had accidentally overdosed to death.
It had been a shock to Victoria that Mark Jefferson, her photography professor and a man that she admired, had been manipulating Nathan to drug all those girls so that he could fulfill his perverse fetish. Even more shocking was, when she was told that Jefferson had had empty files of Max and her, ready and waiting.
Now knowing the reason to Kate Marsh’s behavior at the Vortex Club party, she had swiftly removed the video of Kate from the social media. Soon thereafter, Max had come to her and literally pushed her back against the wall and told her to remove the video. When telling that she had already done that, Max told her that she needed to do more. She needed to go and apologize to Kate. When Victoria had looked into Max’s eyes, she had seen a determination and attitude like never before. Before Max let her go, she said something that would be later defined as the turning point of their relationship. Max had told her that she wouldn’t need to conceal her insecurity behind bitchiness and belittling others. Instead, she should have confidence in her own talent and just be herself.
Victoria had placed split first place with Max in the Everyday Heroes Contest. The entry to be submitted had then been drawn from the two winners. Max’s entry had won the draw, but they both got to go to San Francisco. Even though she hated to admit it, she felt that Max’s entry should’ve won hands down. Not that she minded a free trip to San Francisco.
While in San Francisco, they had got an opportunity to build some rapport. Victoria realized that she was beginning to admire Max’s not giving a shit about what others think of her attitude. Max, on the other hand, seemed to sincerely admire Victoria’s work. Victoria was starting to feel safe to let her guard down with Max and open up, which was answered with genuine kindness.
During the trip, a bitter rivalry had evolved into a budding friendship, and when they returned, their classmates were amazed about the sudden change of atmosphere between the two.
Even more amazed they would be about the change of attitude in Victoria. She was still posh, but not with the expense of others. She tried to conciliate and at least create formal relations with all her classmates. She put extra effort to make amends with Kate, who eventually started to warm up on her.
Victoria was still good friends with Courtney and Taylor, who also noticed the change in her but wouldn’t mind. They also noticed that Victoria started to spend more and more time with Max and the two were really beginning to bond.
By graduation, Victoria and Max were almost inseparable. They’d have long conversations in the wee hours in either’s room and go on weekend trips together. They were thrilled, when they heard that both had been accepted to the Master of Arts program at the Seattle University, Max with full scholarship.
They had found a furnished two bedroom flat from Capitol Hill that had had a reasonable rent. In addition to the two bedrooms the flat included a spacious kitchen-living room and a shared bathroom between the two bedrooms. Capitol Hill was a trendy neighborhood, offering live music, awesome food and a brisk nightlife.
They had stuffed all their personal belongings into Max’s battered truck and moved to Seattle in the summer after the graduation. They’d driven in two cars as Victoria had her BMW with her and, as much as she liked Max, she would not be seen in that rust bucket of hers.
So they had settled in Seattle, enrolled into the university, gone to classes, gone shopping, visited both of their parents, done weekend trips, the works. Pretty soon Victoria had discovered that she had feelings toward her roommate that went beyond friendship. She was slowly falling in love with the freckled brunette.
At first, Victoria was slightly confused of these feelings. She had had her experiments in Blackwell but she had always considered herself straight. After a thorough process of self-examination and some sleepless nights, she came to a conclusion that the gender really didn’t matter. In the end it was all about the person she was in love with.
The thing was that Max didn’t seem to share the same kind of feelings towards her. Max cared a lot about Victoria and she’d done anything for her but she didn’t seem to be able to express any deeper emotions. Art first Victoria thought that she just needed time to get over the loss of her childhood friend but when time passed, Max seemed to still be grieving over Chloe, like she had lost her soul mate. But that would have been a foolish thought, as they haven’t kept in touch for five years and they never got a chance to reconnect before Chloe died.
Can’t believe, it’s already been three years, Victoria thought as she turned to look at the sleeping brunette. I don’t know how much longer I can wait for you, Max Caulfield.
Victoria was about to go to her room, when she suddenly saw something, someone in the corner next to the dining table. When she blinked her eyes to take a closer look, the mysterious figure was gone. Victoria gasped. She walked into the corner but there was nothing there. She felt a cold shiver going down on her back, as she knew exactly what it was that she had seen.
Detective Sergeant John Korhonen turned off the engine. A couple of patrol cruisers with flashing lights were blocking the entrance to an alley between two buildings.
“I guess we’re in the right place,” John said to his partner, Detective Stacy Kowalski, who was sitting next to him.
“Sure looks like it, Finn,” Stacy answered, using John’s nickname, which referred to his Finnish ancestry and which was commonly used of him throughout the East Precinct.
Finn was in his late fifties. His mousey hair had gracefully grayed from the temples and a few select wrinkles here and there on his face gave away his age. A loose shirt covered his budding belly mound but he was quite healthy for a man of his age. He was wearing a coal gray single-breasted suit and black loafers. He’d figured he would have a good five years in the force before retirement. He could have made lieutenant or even captain a long time ago but he had preferred to stay out of the administrative work and in the field.
Finn took a look at his partner, when they stepped out of the vehicle. Stacy Kowalski was in her early thirties. She had majored in criminology and minored in forensic psychology at the Seattle University before joining the force. She was just about to take the Sergeant’s test and she had Quantico in her sights in a few years time.
Kowalski had been Finn’s partner ever since she had got her Detective’s badge and without a doubt she was his best partner so far. Despite their age difference they got along fine, even though Finn had a tendency to treat her somewhat paternally from time to time. Not that Stacy would mind, though, as her father had fallen in the Gulf War, when his fighter had been shot down.
Stacy was in top shape. The navy blue jacket and trousers didn’t really do justice to her slim but slightly muscular figure. Her naturally red hair landed just above her shoulders. Every now and then Finn had to remind himself that he was old enough to be her father, and that he was happily married.
“Shall we?” Kowalski asked as one of the officers raised the streamer to let the two detectives in.
“Ladies first,” Finn lend his hand.
They had been dispatched to a homicide scene in the First Hill district, just a few blocks down from the Seattle University campus area. Some students had been taking a shortcut through the alley on their way back to the campus, when they had discovered the body.
A patrol unit nearby had been dispatched to the scene. Immediately after arrival, they had isolated the scene and requested reinforcements and a forensics unit.
When Korhonen and Kowalski arrived, CSI Jason Tanaka had already photographed the scene and body and was examining the body more closely.
“Morning, Jason,” Finn said, well aware that it was just past 2 a.m. “What have you got for us?”
“Kowalski, Finn,” Tanaka greeted the two detectives as he stood up.
Finn and Kowalski took a look at the victim. It was a young woman, tied from the wrists and ankles. She was fully dressed up and looked like she was just sleeping on the plastics that she had been wrapped into.
“Female, caucasian, in her late teens or early twenties.” Tanaka began as he kneeled down to feel the arm of the body. “Based on the rigor, I’d say she’s been dead from 12 to 24 hours.” Tanaka stood up again.
“Besides the ties, there’s no visible sign of physical trauma. – With the exception of what appear to be needle marks on her neck.” Tanaka pointed at the small puncture marks with his flashlight. “I have to run a tox screen but I’d dare to hazard a guess that we are looking at her cause of death.”
“So is this the primary scene of crime?” Kowalski asked.
“Definitely secondary,” Tanaka answered and pointed his flashlight to the ground. “There are tire tracks impressed on the goo that has leaked from the waste bins.” He took one step backwards. “Someone backed up here, dropped the body here and left.”
“Any ID on the victim?” Finn asked.
“No, but there was this.” Tanaka passed an evidence bag containing a photo.
Finn took the photo. It was a picture of the victim, tied and dressed up the same way as she was now. There was one exception though. When the picture was taken, the victim was clearly alive, even though she appeared drowsy, like she had been drugged.
“So the unsub has kidnapped, drugged and photographed the victim and then killed her?” Finn asked.
“It would appear so,” Tanaka said.
“Let me see that,” Kowalski said to Finn and took the picture from his hands. “I remember reading about a similar case that happened in a small town, down in Oregon a few years ago,” she said, looking at the picture. “The victims were drugged and photographed, although only one of the victims was killed.”
“The perpetrator was a photography professor at the local private school, apparently a renown photographer, whose work has been exhibited nationwide,” Kowalski continued. “One of the students was his accomplice. The whole thing was unraveled as the kid accidentally shot a former student of the school in a middle of a school day.” She ended her lecture, passing the photo back to Tanaka.
“I take both of them were apprehended?” Finn asked.
“Yes, both should be in the Oregon State Pen, serving a pretty long sentence,” Kowalski answered.
“So we may have a possible copycat here,” Finn said and sighed.
“How do you know all that?” Tanaka asked from Kowalski, when he had recovered from the lecture.
“Stacy is aiming to be a profiler,” Finn answered. “Getting familiar wit old cases is part of the job. – How long until you have the autopsy results?” Finn asked back.
“I should have the preliminary results by noon,” Tanaka answered.
“Ok, let me know, when you have them,” Finn said and turned to one of the uniformed officers. “Are the students, who found the victim still here?”
“No, we took their contact info and let them go,” the officer answered and passed a piece of paper containing the names and numbers.
“Thanks!” Finn looked at his watch. It was almost three. “What do you say, want to get some shuteye, or shall we get coffee to go and head to the precinct?” He asked his partner.
“Won’t be getting more than an hour’s worth of sleep, if I go all the way to home. Let’s go to the precinct,” Kowalski answered.
Finn covered a yawn with his palm. Had to ask.
“Ok, you start to look into that Oregon case and contact the local law enforcement first thing in the morning. I’ll interview the kids, who found the body.”
They walked back to their car and headed out for the nearest Starbucks.
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