This piece is titled Missing Pieces.
It's around 1,900 words long
Brandon Miller stared at the sparse whiteboard. Something was wrong. He’d only nipped down to the basement to pick up some files, with the hope to find a case that related to their current one. He hadn’t had any luck. There was no pattern, nothing that could give him insight into the killer’s next move.
He glanced at his watch irritably, Sheppard was two hours late.
The case had been a strange one to begin with. It wasn’t often a body was found on the banks of the River Thames without any skin, hair or organs…
The pen slipped from his grip and clattered loudly on the tiled floor. He bent, wincing as his back muscles protested. Pen in hand, he caught the eye of his Detective Sergeant, standing at his desk. Mark Harrison had his arms folded across his chest defensively and his jaw was set, reminding the DCI of an angry bulldog.
Scanning the lines of neat handwriting, Miller looked at the facts again. He knew them off by heart, like song lyrics.
“You’re getting obsessed, you know that don’t you?”
Miller clenched his jaw, not bothering to answer Harrison’s question. They both knew the answer anyway.
Yesterday another body striped of flesh washed up. Some students found it, five miles from where the first body had been found by a couple of fishermen. That made two bodies in a week. No identification. No way of knowing if there would be another victim. No suspects.
And DC Matt Sheppard was still late.
Miller turned his head. Detective Constable Callum McKenzie silently handed him the pathology report.
“Doctor Palmer confirmed there wasn’t any drugs or toxins in the blood. Nor was there any alcohol,” McKenzie said, with a grimace on his face. Miller grunted and carried on reading.
Most main organs had been removed. The heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas and intestines. Most ripped or cut jaggedly from the body. Several ribs shattered with brute force. Collarbone fractured, along with right arm, both legs and ankles. Defensive wounds to the hands and face. Ligature marks and bruising around the neck.
“Palmer said the latest victim had been skinned alive, just like the first. The cause of death however, was asphyxia. There are ligature marks around his neck and fractures to both ankles suggesting the victim was-“
“-strung up and skinned like an animal,” Miller finished, pinching the bridge of his nose. He stared at the report in his hands and could feel the beginnings of a migraine on his periphery. All they knew about the victims was that they were both male, both in their twenties, both tallish, with the same coloured hair and eyes. Nothing else. The trail stopped dead.
“Where the bloody hell is Sheppard?” He snapped, tossing the report on the closest desk, which happened to be the man in question.
“I think he was out last night sir, probably hung-over,” McKenzie said and studied the whiteboards without another word on the subject.
Miller sighed and rested his hip against Sheppard’s vacant desk. He looked down and swept his eyes over the unruly surface. There was a framed photograph near the computer monitor. Carefully, he picked it up and studied the photo of a young Sheppard and two other men attending what looked like a graduation party at UCL.
“We still haven’t got ID’s on the victims’ sir,” McKenzie continued, tapping his biro on the side of his leg. Miller was tempted to stop him as the movement kept catching his eye. “It’s taking a while to get hold of their dental records. We’ve been pushed to the back of the queue.”
“Sounds about bloody right,” Harrison said, walking over to the first whiteboard and shoved his hands into his pockets. “Where’s Sheppard? He’s the one who usually tries to sweet talk the techies.”
“No idea skip. I’ll give him a bell in a bit,” McKenzie said, shuffling papers into a neat pile.
Miller scanned the board again and rubbed his forehead in order to relieve the tension. “No, ring him now. We need him here.”
McKenzie silently pulled out his phone and stepped into the shadows. The door to the incident room opened and DC Sally Addison shook her head as she walked towards them. Miller picked up the pathology report and reread it, maybe he had missed something first time around.
“I take it, the interview didn’t go well with the students?” Harrison asked, still leaning against the whiteboards.
“No skip,” Addison sank behind her desk with a sigh. Quickly she flicked through her notebook and suddenly stopped. “The students said they didn’t see anything when they first walked past the river at around 8pm. But when they walked back, the body was there. They had been at the student union bar and left when it closed. The university have provided CCTV. Uniforms are going through it now.”
Miller hummed and methodically wrote the times next to the witnesses’ names. It annoyed him-it annoyed everyone-when they had unreliable witnesses. The team clutched at straws if they kept changing their minds. He felt satisfied that the empty white spaces were slowly being filled. The blank spaces mocked him, reminding him on how little evidence they had
McKenzie sat down and caught his eye. “No answer from Sheppard sir.”
An exasperated sigh escaped Millers’ lips. He would be having serious words with Sheppard when he decided to show his face.
“The doctor confirmed the time of death was around 11-2am so their statements fit so far,” McKenzie added. “There weren’t many people around, someone must have seen something. Perhaps we should put out an appeal?”
Miller shook his head as he stepped back to examine the lines of information. The room fell silent for a moment, everyone lost in their own thoughts. He could hear McKenzie tapping his pen against his leg. He had found it annoying at first, but now the sound was oddly soothing, it allowed him to shift smoothly through his endless thoughts.
“What if the killer and the victims knew each other?” Miller asked aloud. He turned on his heel to face his team. Blankly, they stared back at him.
“Why, because the victims were skinned?” Harrison asked. “An act of revenge?”
Miller nodded and tapped the board with a pen. “By skinning them, he gets rid of fingerprints. And any other evidence. There’s no other ID on the bodies,” he said. He tried to keep his gaze off the stills. His stomach lurched every time he caught a glance of them. It was like something out of a horror film.
McKenzie suddenly leant forward and read aloud from his computer screen. “The lab has ID’ed the victims’ sir.”
Sighs of exasperation and relief echoed around the room. Miller felt a weight being lifted off his shoulders. There were only so many times they could question witnesses, examine crime scenes. Now they finally had something.
“The first victim is a Thomas Williams. 25 years old. Lived in Richmond,” McKenzie said to the silent room. “The second victim is a Rowan Cole. Also 25. Lived in Bloomsbury,” the DC jumped to his feet and waited by the printer as it struggled to come to life.
Miller could feel the tension building and his teams’ eyes’ burning into his back as he noted the facts down. He straightened his back and turned on his heel. “Addison, I want you to look into Williams’ profile. Flag up anything that looks suspicious. Look into family and friends,” he said. Addison nodded and turned to her computer. Miller shifted his gaze. “McKenzie, do the same with Cole. Find out who his friends are, where he shopped. Everything you can,” McKenzie nodded as he waited by the ancient printer to spit out paper.
Miller turned to face his DS who hadn’t moved. “Harrison, I want you to track both victims’ last movements. Their bank accounts, social media, everything. Find out when and where they disappeared. And I need someone to contact their families for a formal identification…” He didn’t have the heart to say it, but Harrison nodded and managed to collar a passing PC. Miller felt relief wash over him. He always struggled to break the bad news to the victims’ families.
“Report back at three,” Miller finished, walking into his adjoining office that was barely large enough to swing a cat. He settled down behind his desk and opened the file carefully so none of the notes and scraps of paper fell out.
He glanced up as Harrison approached his office and leant against the doorframe, shoving his hands deep into his pockets and resumed his trademark stance. “Still nothing from Sheppard?”
Miller sighed and shook his head.
“He’s late most days, probably been on a pub crawl with his mates. I’m surprised he’s not immune to alcohol by now,” Harrison said with a slight curl of his lips. “I’ll give him another ring in a while, hopefully he’ll have woken up by then,” The DS stepped back into the incident room without waiting for an answer and sat at his desk.
Miller stared down at the files in front of him and rubbed his forehead, trying to ease the headache that was threatening to erupt into an incapacitating migraine.
They had to find some kind of connection. There had to be one.
The rest of the day passed silently. Everyone was engrossed in their own work to make idle chit chat. They had a job to do, a murderer to catch.
Miller rose to his feet and stood in the doorway of his office. He glanced around the room, no one looked up. His eyes settled on Sheppard’s desk. There was still no answer. Even by Sheppard’s standards, it was peculiar. The photograph caught his eye. “What have we got so far?”
Addison grimaced. “It looks like Williams was a very private man. We can’t find any immediate family. He worked at a post office, but no one reported him missing. He’d graduated from University College London a couple of years ago, he was friends with Cole though. But it doesn’t look like they stayed in touch.”
Miller exhaled through his nose. There were so many people who slipped through the net and disappeared. They were ten a penny in London.
“It’s the same with Cole, sir. We can’t find anyone who was immediately close to him,” McKenzie said, organizing the papers on his desk. “Cole worked in an office dealing with contractors for a building firm, he wasn’t reported missing either. Apparently his colleagues thought nothing of his absence. They put it down to a hangover. Cole also went to UCL. We have managed to track down some old photos of them on social media,” McKenzie handed him a photo with an anxious look in his eye.
On the end of the group was Sheppard.
A phone rang behind him and Harrison answered it. Miller half raised his eyes and focused on Sheppard’s desk, he reached for the framed photo. Silently, he compared both photographs. They were identical.
“Right, find out what courses they did and the years they graduated,” Miller said.
“Cole graduated in 2000 sir, studied forensic science and passed with a first,” McKenzie answered, glancing up from his computer screen.
Addison hummed in agreement. “Same with Williams. Same year, same course, even the same grade,” she said stepping over to the printer.
Miller frowned as he stared at the photographs in his hand. “Sheppard graduated at UCL too.” The three men in the photo stared back at him, their eyes wide with excitement and their arm slung around each other. They were all blonde haired, green eyes, tallish…
Miller turned his head, still clutching the frame. Harrison was stood at his desk, the phone cradled against his jacket. Their eyes locked and Miller was instantly filled with dread.
“There’s been another one,” Harrison whispered.
The photo frame shattered on the floor.