Teddy reclined in her office chair. She needed to go. Her eyes were starting to blur from paperwork, from staring at her screen. She exhaled as the shutdown tune of her computer signaled the end of her day. She looked up to the pinboard above her desk, once again checking the details of the missing woman. Her stomach churned as she stared at the smile of the familiar face in the missing person’s photo. A week had passed with no leads. London Hawkins, 28, Hair: Shoulder length, Color: Brunette, Eyes: Blue, Height 5’5, Weight 132 Lbs. Missing since 9/2/2022. Last seen at her place of work, Sierra Nevada Urgent Care. If anyone has information, please contact the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office.
A wave of heat washes over her face as the rhythm of her heart sped up. The first two women to go missing were chalked up as runaways in the department. Women trying to run off and ditch their husbands or shirk their responsibilities, convinced to do so by their “women’s group.” This was the name given to the women’s community outreach programs shortly after they were organized. It did not help that Sheriff Water’s reelection campaign was in full swing. Foul play had no place in a campaign--it would only cause a stir; maybe even sow distrust in a man who wanted to be the representation of justice and the law.
London was not a runaway. She had a tight family, a good career. None of it made sense. They found her Dodge Neon in the Parking lot outside of the Airport. Her purse was not found in her apartment or vehicle. Yet, there were no clothes missing from her apartment and her cat was inside with an empty bowl. Conflicting evidence, not so easy to write off. At least, not easy if you were Teddy.
Her wall clock ticked to 5:20 p.m. Her knees clicked and her hip popped as she savored the stretch of her muscles in her legs. She packed her bag but continued to look at the two missing women. Their faces did not haunt any other desk in the precinct. Sure, they loomed over on the wall with all the faces of the disappeared. Some dating back years. They didn’t stand out there. They belonged there. Everyone had special pictures, cases they wanted solved; faces that turned into ghosts.
Teddy’s footsteps echoed as she made her way to her car in the parking garage. She reached into her jacket pocket and hooked her finger through her keyring and pulled them out. Beep beep. She opened her car door and flopped inside. The radio came on as she backed out of her spot. A man’s voice boomed into her car, confident and self-assured in his ranting.
“I am getting sick and tired of having to be “Sensitive” or “woke” or whatever about every damn thing women come up with! You’re gonna tell me that I need to be PC about our women and wives going missing? No, not me, it is a cult, and all these sheeple-” Teddy snorted as she smiled and changed the station.
“Thunder only happens when it’s raining” She smiled again, “That will do.” She assured herself.
She sank deeper into the seat of her car. This is the first witch from the coven to go missing since the 90’s--1999 to be exact--a year that she should look back to fondly, her first year on the force. But it was that first year of traffic stops and domestic disputes that pulled her away slowly from the one person who needed her protection the most, a woman who had dedicated her life to the outcasts and downtrodden in a nonjudgmental manner to a fault. She pushed those thoughts back down where they need to be for now. This time would be different.
After pulling into her driveway, she stepped out of her car. She stretched her arms above her head and became lightheaded as her spine aligned. She approached her mailbox and grasped the cool metal tab as the lid creaked open. “Dammit” she whispered to herself. Just Junk, coupons for all the local grocery stores, and a free whopper with a purchase of another.
She tossed her bag and keys on the entrance table as she entered her home and checked her phone. It was 5:36, enough time to squeeze in a nap before her coven joins for the night. She dropped onto her couch and set her three alarms for “one hour from now, one hour and 5 mins from now, one hour and 10 minutes from now.” She sunk her tired bones into her couch and propped the couch pillow up under her neck. She closed her eyes, the thought of London’s whereabouts fading as she drifted.
“LONDON CALLING TO THE FARAWAY TOWNS” Robby jolted awake as his phone alarm rang, telling him to get ready for work. He fell asleep again, reading the newest book in his true crime collection about Ted Bundy. “CAUSE LONDON IS DROWNING AND I, I LIVE BY THE RIVER!” He reached over and swiped the bar on his phone screen, checking the time, 5:36 p.m. About an hour and a half before his shift at the River Theater would start. Thursday nights were his Friday, making it easier to get ready. These nights were the nights, where after work, he would get home, find his sweats, and binge Forensic Files or the newest crime series that is streaming--a passion that others found rather morbid, but to Robby, was his safe place.
Robby never knew his mother outside of vague memories. She had gone missing when he was three. The case remained unsolved, which is where his passion for true crime began. A type of therapy for him, seeing how cases are solved, and how murderers are caught, gave him hope that one day he will be equipped to put the pieces of his mother’s case together.
Robby lowered his legs to the plush blue rug he set up before his mattress. He hated cold feet on the hardwood. He stood slowly and admired the two new posters he hung in his room. Mick Foley as Mankind from the 90’s WWF era, and an Anthrax flyer he ordered online from a concert that happened before he was born.
He walked over to his chair and pulled the slacks and button down off the back, sniffing the shirt to test whether it was alright that he forgot to wash his uniform last night. He walked over to his hamper of laundry that he had finished and began digging through the clothes to find a matching pair of socks, at least two similar ones. After a few minutes of digging, he found a pair and slipped them on.
He stepped into the hall as he pulled his hoodie over his heavier set frame, looking in the mirror and flattening his brown wavy hair. He untangled his headphones, and peered through the door at his roommate Marty, still asleep in bed.
“It’s 5:55 bud.” Robby informed him, cramming the headphones into his ear as he made his way to the door. A shoe flew into the hallway behind him as Marty grunted and groaned, unhappy to be awoken.
He shuffled down the stairs of his apartment and headed onward to Food Mart, the convenience store two blocks down that he frequents before work for smokes, energy drinks and a shooter of something before his shift. He passed the election signs of the politicians smiling at the passersby and arrived at the store. The bell chimes as he opened the door and stepped into the shop. The musky air intruded into his nostrils as he made his way to the fridge in the back.
“Robby!” Kate called out.
The clerk behind the counter was a stout older woman, a little red in the face, from a rougher upbringing in Amargosa Valley.
“Kate!” Robby smiled as he waved.
“What’s the word?” he asked. He loved the ramblings of this old woman. There was something tough about her – the leather skin, the hardened dialogue – that he admired.
“I’ll tell you what, boy, I’ve just about had it with my son and that ding bat wife of his.” She shook her head as Robby stepped up to the counter and set his energy drink down.
“Why?” he asked cocking his head to the side.
“Let me get you taken care of and the folks behind ya and I’ll tell you all about it” she replied.
“Alright, pack of blues and one of those cinnamon whiskeys” he said pointing behind Kate.
Robby stepped outside, reached into the grocery bag and grabbed the little plastic bottle. He twisted the cap and felt the plastic crack between his thumb and finger. He threw the bottle back and winced as the burning liquid traveled to his stomach, relaxing his shoulders. Tossing the bottle into the trash, he pulled out his smokes and slapped it into the palm of his hand a few times. The door chime rang as Kate stepped outside to join him.
“So, as I was sayin” she paused to light her cigarette.
“a couple weeks ago, he calls me askin’ if it would be alright to come up here to Reno for a bit, for some help with the kids. I tell him, that’s all fine, but, if you’re gonna be stayin’ with me and your pops--you’re gonna be workin’ and contributin’ this time, you can’t keep gettin’ by on these food stamps with three kids and that lazy wife of yours.”
“Huh” Robby agreed as he lit his smoke.
“So, they get up here, the kids have bird nests on their heads, and their pajamas smellin’ like cigarettes. I told him you start lookin for work tomorrow,” She said.
“Yes ma’am he tells me, but a week goes by, that wife of his hadn’t left the room ‘cept to get all up in my fridge, while my husband has the kids outside playin and what not. I tell him, The kids ain’t got milk. Go get your kids some damn milk. He goes to the store, comes back with two Monster Energy drinks, a jerky, a 6-pack of ‘rona and no damn milk.”
“Unbelievable!” Robby conceded incredulously.
“Yessir. Well some days go by so I go up to my son and said ‘It’s been two weeks now, you’ve been in and out of this house as you please, leavin your kids here with us and zero help from their mother, you don’t have a job and your wastin’ me and the husbands damn time. We’re the ones buying your kid’s milk!”
“Unbelievable” Robby said shaking his head.
“He turns around all scratched up and bloodied, goin’ on about seeing zombies at night, that he’s been attacked, but that’s the last damn straw for me, he’s at the casinos too damn late and hangin’ around the wrong people, crammin’ god knows what up his nose.” She said, throwing her arms up from her sides.
“I told him, he had two options, find a job this week and stay as long as you need. Or you pack your family up and catch a bus on back down to Amargosa, and you know what he did?”
“Went to a job fair?” Robby shrugged.
“He packed everyone up and caught a bus to Amargosa.” She nodded as she flicked her cigarette away.
“Damn, Kate that sucks.” Robby replied, crushing his cigarette out into the metal ash tray on the wall.
“Well, only so much you can do for a person, ya know?” she responded.
“Well I better get back in there. Have a good shift Robby, stay safe out there! Stay away from the casino zombies.” She chortled and grabbed her side. Excited at her own cleverness.
“Will do!” Robby chuckled and waved as she stepped inside.
He situated the tab of his energy drink under his fingernail and pssst. He took a long swig and looked across the street. There she was again, that woman he sees every Thursday, walking toward the side of the Hotel El Cortez. The historic building, iconic for Hollywood stars and other Californians to stay and enjoy the perks of Nevada’s quickie divorce law, now reverted to flexible-stay apartment rooms. However, she did not look the type to be needing one of those. Her strawberry blonde hair whipped around as she looked behind her and disappeared.
Bewildered as usual, he turned and started walking the two more blocks to the theater. As he placed his headphones back in his ear, he stopped dead in his tracks. A humming came from behind. He turned around slightly to peek, to see he was alone. He couldn’t shake the feeling that it was familiar and oddly comforting. Something about it that made him feel rather warm. He continued walking just in case that feeling was wrong. Well, wrong about the feeling or wrong that someone was there.
“Clyde” Robby nodded as he walked past his manager at the ticket counter. “I know you switched me from usher to concessions tonight, asshole.” He muttered under his breath. Customer service was never Robby’s forte. He’s always felt that there are bigger problems than waiting a couple extra minutes for food, or god forbid, wrong orders. “You want me to quit, don’t you?” He whispered again behind his teeth.
Clyde waved back lazily as he rose from the counter. Robby could never tell if that blonde mustache he wore was him being ironic or serious. They started working at the River Theater the same month, four years ago. If Robby knew that turning down the manager position would result in Clyde being his boss, he would have taken it. Then again, he doesn’t have to deal with the irate customers upset at not receiving five-star service from the low-level theater employees.
As Robby arrived at concessions, Sophie sat waiting on the counter beside his register as he approached to clock in, her short legs hanging off the side. She had always been able to smile at him with her big blue eyes, making him feel genuinely cared for. She started about a year before Robby and Clyde. They became fast friends over a love of horror movies and nerd culture. It also helped that, unlike Clyde, Robby didn’t forget how to be a functioning human around women.
“Did you get my text?” she asked excitedly, pulling a hair band out of her vest pocket.
“No, I’m sorry, I was reading this book, and then passed out.” He explained, placing his energy drink under the counter.
“Must have been a pretty boring book” She teased as she swung her feet and pulled her brown hair back into a ponytail.
“Well, I was finally able to save up and get that Saturn V Lego set, so I hope you’re not busy after work” She said, leaning in, the faint smell of her perfume radiating.
Robby smiled as he took in the floral scent, and promptly invited her to hang out after work.
“Deal!” she slapped her palm on the counter, hopping down, smiling as she looked back at him as she walked away… and into Clyde. Robby always enjoyed watching Clyde’s tactic of being a dick disguised as confidence in an attempt to get laid blow up in his face. He’d been adamant since they started at the theater that that is what would get Sophie in bed with him.
“Sophie hi… I’m going to need you to button up the top button on your shirt. Maybe save a little for me after work, huh?” Clyde creeped as Robby winced.
“I’d rather be gagged by a fucking knife, Clyde.” Sophie replied as she walked to the ticket booth.
Clyde looked at Robby and smiled as he rolled his eyes and shook his head. Robby had a hard time untwisting his face as he finished counting his drawer. He leaned his elbows over the counter, still warm from where Sophie was sitting.
It could be burnout, but mainly, Robby always preferred being an usher at work. On his own, walking around, theater to theater, catching bits and pieces of movies, maybe even hide in the darkness to see the last 20 minutes of a movie he wouldn’t pay to see. He enjoyed the simplicity of his job and how the hours allowed him to delve into his interests outside of work.
Around eight o’clock, the Thursday night rush started to pour in. Plenty of first dates, families of five or six, loners, groups of high schoolers and retired couples began to line up at concessions.
“$10.50 for a bucket of popcorn?” remarked the man in the MMA shirt, as if this were his first time in a movie theater.
Robby shrugged as he took the man’s twenty-dollar bill. They always bought the stuff anyways, some people just needed to be better at sneaking food, not that Robby or anyone he knew would stop them--they don’t get paid enough for those kinds of headaches.
After a few hours of hearing what clever things people could buy with their money instead of movie concessions, Robby checked the clock on his computer, 37 minutes left. He always counted down the time to the minute when working concessions. He began his cash out as Sophie hopped back onto the counter next to him and smiled.
“Let’s get outta here” she motioned to the exit.
They hopped into Sophie’s bronco down the street and she turned on the heat, rubbing her hands together vigorously in front of the vent. Robby enjoyed the smell of old metal and leather whenever she gave him rides home. The Cranberries CD that had been stuck in her cd player began to play as Robby cranked down the window and lighted a cigarette.
They found parking about a block down the street from the apartment complex. Since Robby, or his roommate, did not own a car, their spaces were always stolen by someone’s party guest, one-night stand or drug dealer. They walked down the block, speedily, trying to kick each other’s feet out from under them. They arrived at the stairs and shuffled up to the apartment. Sophie set the box of Legos down onto the coffee table as she squatted onto the floor beside it, adjusting the two coasters under the table leg, keeping it from rocking.
Robby emerged from the kitchen with his pipe and a bag of weed. He flopped onto the secondhand couch he and Marty had found at a thrift store, set the pipe on his lap and opened the bag. The dry leaves crunched under his thumb into his bowl. He rubbed his thumb and finger together over the bowl and lit up. He passed the pipe to Sophie as he held in the urge to cough. Sophie examined the pipe.
“Is this a new one?” She asked inspecting the smoking glass.
“Yea, from that head shop in midtown.” He coughed and smiled proudly at his new find.
“Well, it kind of looks like a stormtrooper helmet. They tried though,” she teased as she expelled her smoke and dumped the Legos onto the coffee table.
Robby clicked on the T.V. and scrolled to the movie he had rented earlier, a new B movie creature film. Sometimes the campier, the better. As the movie started, Robby looked around his apartment, wondering if Sophie thought he should do better. Marty and him put more effort into decorating their rooms, however, Sophie had never seen Robby’s room. It wasn’t that he didn’t want her to see it, he just didn’t want to creep her out or make her feel uneasy.
He watched Sophie piece the Lego rocket together, periodically looking over the instructions. The thought of asking her out on a date had always loomed in the back of his head, like a call of the void. She had been single the whole time he had known her. Plus, she was ambitious, studying for her bachelor’s in biology to go to med school and become a doctor. Robby sighed, thinking “I’m 28 and I have no fucking clue what I’m doing”. Maybe she just saw Robby as a friend, and he would respect that if it true. He didn’t want to get in the way of her goals or turn their friendship into awkward pleasantries.
Robby rocked himself off the couch and ambled to the fridge.
“Dammit” He sighed holding the fridge door open.
“What’s wrong?” Sophie asked, whipping her brown ponytail behind her as she looked back at the kitchen.
“Marty drank all my beer again,” Robby exhaled as he shut the door.
“He’s never even here, how does he always polish it off?” She asked, turning back to the coffee table.
“Pre-games before his bar shifts probably.” He replied, leaning onto the counter and pulling out his phone to check his bank account.
“Well, at least he doesn’t have a car either.” She laughed as she pieced a few Legos together.
“I’ll head to the store and get some more.” He said as he pulled his hoodie over his head.
“Well, I would give you a ride but I’m pretty stoned, and we would have to walk a block to get to my car anyways.” She said.
“It’s okay” Robby smiled, “you can crash here,” as he gave a thumbs up.
“I know” she smiled back as she turned back to the coffee table.
Robby started toward the Food Mart, feeling static in the air as the warm wind juxtaposed the cooler temperature on his face. A storm was rolling in. The humming returned to him. He looked behind him, but as usual, nobody was there. It began to concern him, and uneasiness set in. Uncertain of where it was coming from and why it is happening, suddenly, he began to double time to the store. Something about 3 a.m. made that humming a little more eerie. Relieved at the site of his familiar haunt, he stepped under the dim fluorescence, inhaling the musky air and making his way to the fridge in the back for a six pack.
“$6.49” the tired man droned as he set down the scanner gun.
Robby paid and inspected his surroundings as he stepped back outside. He looked to his left, then his right, and a purple flash from under the river bridge grabbed his attention. The humming grew louder as curiosity got the best of him. Toward the bridge the light grew in intensity. Purple-flashing, “Comic book purple”, he thought to himself, eyebrow raised in the deep strangeness of it.
The river was raging as he made his way under the bridge, stepping over and around large rocks. The mist from the river kissed his face, as he began to hear a man moaning and pleading over the rush of the water. Crack! The purple light flashed in his face and overwhelmed his senses. He tried to process how he ended up on the ground. The tinnitus began to fade as he sat up. His eyes readjusted as he froze. He recognized her, the missing woman from the posters standing on the other side of the river. Something bizarre in her stature.
“India? No wait, England? Ah shit… Are you ok!?” he shouted as he steadied himself on one knee.
She smiled as she turned her back to him. She stepped up onto a boulder above the vagabond lying between the large rocks under the bridge. It appeared as if she was wearing some type of face paint, as if she came from a Halloween party, but it was hard to tell from where Robby was kneeling.
Robby attempted to process the situation unfolding in front of him.
“Did something happen!? Do you need help!?” Robby shouted over the river as he rose to his feet.
She did not hear him, and her hands raised over her head, making a swirling motion as the wind picked up. A purple ribbon ensnared the man’s body as he let out an agonizing scream. He began to writhe and twitch before falling motionless and silent. Robby felt the blood rush back to his legs as the humming returned to him.
“Fuck all of this” he yelled, scooping the six pack and ran.
Robby is not a runner; he has managed to avoid it since he graduated high school, but he felt light on his feet as the adrenaline coursed through him. For a moment, he contemplated making it a habit. His chest tightened and pulled him back to the situation at hand. Before he realizes how little time it took him to reach the stairs of his apartment, he rushed his door and barged in.
“SOPHIE!!” He yelled, as he threw himself into his living room.
“FUCK!” Sophie jumped as Legos flew and scattered across the floor.