“Hey, Cassidy, you’ll never guess what popped up on social media an hour ago.”
Houston Cassidy grunted in response to his coworker, but didn’t bother glancing up from the report he was typing. He’d been awake for close to forty-eight hours now, and was so fucking exhausted he might be better off curling up under the desk to sleep instead of driving home once he finished.
“Did you hear me?”
“The whole fucking precinct heard you.” Homicide Detective Annie Walters was one of those officers other cops loved to hate. She was fabulous at her job. But when there was no one around except her fellow cops, she bragged too much, and overplayed the tough female detective routine to the point she came across like a clichéd character on a TV show.
“You wanna know which one of your inactive cases is alive and kickin’ again or not, smart ass?”
Not really. He had more than enough work at the moment to keep him busy for two lifetimes. But he also knew Annie wouldn’t shut the fuck up until he gave her the attention she wanted. “Okay.” Houston pushed back from his desk and swiveled his chair to face Annie. “I’m listening.”
Annie grinned, showing her missing front tooth. For fuck’s sake. She had dental insurance, the same as the rest of them. Get a damn implant already. “Picture this…”
Anytime Annie started a sentence with the words “picture this,” it proved to be a long-winded story that was designed to piss off the person listening to it. Houston suppressed a sigh and braced himself. His much-needed sleep would be delayed for a while. Everyone else had gone home hours ago. The place was practically deserted. He was Annie’s unwilling captive, and she knew it.
“Some late twenty-something tweeting about her college days and the traumatic event she still thinks about. With me so far?”
“Yeah.” Telling her to get to the point was useless. She lived to torture them all like this.
“Her Case Western Reserve University college days.” Annie’s dark eyes gleamed. She knew damn well he only had one inactive case surrounding an event that had occurred near the CWRU campus. She also knew any leads for said case would make him sit up and take notice.
But if she didn’t spit it out soon, he might have to kill her. After the other detectives in the Third Precinct testified on his behalf, no jury in Ohio would convict him. “I got it, Annie.”
“The year was 2005, and she attended a frat party off campus on a snowy night in January.”
Fuck a duck… If Annie was right, it was the first real lead they’d had in eleven years. “All right. You know you have my attention. What did you read on Twitter about my case?”
One of the reasons Annie did her job so well was because she followed tens of thousands of people on social media, and spent time reading Twitter and Facebook posts every single day of her life. She had uncovered countless leads with this practice, although Houston didn’t even want to imagine how lonely a life she led that gave her time to do such a thing. His own had been almost that pathetic, until recently, of course.
While he let images of Rosanna Selim, the beautiful, amazing woman he’d been dating for the past two months, race through his mind, Annie made a show out of rising off her chair and carrying her laptop over. After plopping it down in front of him, she pointed a beefy finger toward the screen. “Read for yourself.”
The conversation went back and forth, with several followers advising the woman to talk to someone. One lone troll told her to consider jumping off a bridge if she couldn’t get over something that had happened so long ago. In other words, the usual social media bullshit. And even though the Twitter handle wasn’t one he recognized, the coincidences were too powerful to ignore.
“This is quite a find, Annie. Thank you.” Houston wrote down several user names and pushed the laptop toward Annie. “Will you keep looking for anything new on this for me?”
“Sure thing. Told ya it would pop back up again.”
“Yes, you did, and once again, you were right.”
Her smug face didn’t bother him this time because he was already back at his keyboard, determined to finish this report now so he could revisit the first case he’d ever caught. The excitement coursing through him was mixed up with the frustration of never discovering who had killed Brian Wayside, or why.
“You really need to be on Twitter.”
“Yeah. I know.” Like he had time for that shit. And besides, every spare moment he had these days was spent with Rosanna. He had promised to be at her apartment an hour ago, but now it would be delayed even more. He should let her know.
After he sent the text, explaining they had a lead on an inactive file, and he’d be no more than two more hours, his mind wandered back to the Wayside case. When it had been sent to the inactive files, Houston’s Commander at the time, Deke Kowalski, had his own theory. Deke had long since retired, but until the day he did, he’d been convinced the nineteen-year old freshman hadn’t been murdered.
Deke had taken everything they knew about the incident into consideration and deemed it an accidental death. The kid had fallen, hit his head on a rock, and bled into his brain before anyone could find him.
The obvious drag marks in the snow, which stretched for nearly a quarter of a mile, hadn’t convinced Deke that someone had pulled the body to another place after killing Brian. Houston agreed with him on that point, as had the ME. The only extra boot prints in the snow had been near where Brian struck his head, not where he’d eventually been found, or along the drag path.
But where he and Deke differed was on how Brian had struck his head to begin with. Deke believed he fell, because the autopsy found a hefty blood alcohol level plus cocaine on board. The bruise on his left cheek, made by an object such as a purse or backpack, according to the ME, had been inconsequential to Deke.
Houston had maintained that whoever struck the kid had left the other prints in the snow. The blow to his face hadn’t killed him, but falling and landing on that rock buried in the snow had. The ME also indicated the poor kid had probably taken hours to die. He had lain in the snow for four days before anyone found him.
While Houston and Annie, who had worked the case with him, believed Brian had been struck in the face just before he fell, given that the ME indicated the bruise was the same age as the blow that had killed him, Deke theorized anyone could have slapped him on the cheek or hit him with a handbag at the party that same night.
“Thought you were going home to sleep?”
Houston glanced up at Ty Abilene. His current Commander was as stubborn as Deke had been, but in Houston’s humble opinion, Ty had more brains in his little finger than Deke had housed in his entire body.
“Annie found something on the Wayside case.”
Ty’s eyebrows shot up. “No shit?”
“No shit. I want to go over it again before I head home.”
“You’ve been working for forty-eight hours straight. Go home now.”
“I will, boss. Promise. Just a quick overview first.”
Ty walked away, muttering something about insubordination and how none of his detectives understood the term, but Houston knew Ty didn’t mean it. Working these long hours was one of the reasons this unit solved so many crimes. They also had an affinity for ignoring union regulations, a Commander who understood their passion for what they did, and the ability to go without sleep, yet still be able to think clearly.
After Houston finally finished the report and submitted it, he stood up and stretched for a few moments before returning to the chair. There was a paper copy of the Wayside case, but Houston didn’t feel like going to retrieve it, so he brought it up online instead.
This one still haunted him for so many reasons. His first case. Just a kid at a party who had tangled with the wrong person, or who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. And parents who had broken Houston’s heart.
His phone pinged with an incoming text, pulling Houston’s focus away from the file. He didn’t mind once he read the message.
Hey lover, when you say two hours yet do you mean two, or four? Only asking because I’m keeping dinner warm for you. Don’t want to burn it, although I’m fine with you eating me instead.
Rosanna had added a NSFW emoji, which made Houston laugh out loud. Fortunately for him, Annie was in another room, or she’d have come over to have a look at his phone for herself. Houston texted Rosanna to assure her he’d be there in two hours or less, no matter what.
Now that his dick was rock hard, his concentration was shot, but he skimmed through the notes anyway, desperate to connect the Twitter user names he’d jotted down with someone they’d spoken to from that party.
Most of the kids they’d interviewed had been no help at all, and Annie had told him that was likely because they were afraid. Not only had Brian’s parents been well-known physicians at University Hospitals of Cleveland at the time, but they had taken their son’s death public to ask for help.
They had put up flyers and taken out ads in local papers. They had gone on TV and YouTube, pleading for anyone with information to come forward. They went to the frat houses at CWRU and nearby Cleveland State University, begging for people to go to the police with anything they knew. Anything at all that might help them find out why their only son had died alone in a snow-covered field.
From what he and Annie had been able to gather, Brian wasn’t quite the golden boy with a bright future his parents had made him out to be. No one liked him, for one thing. He had a reputation as a player and a frequent recreational drug user. There had been more than one allegation of abuse by a girlfriend or casual dating partner that never went anywhere because of his parents’ influence.
Since then, Houston had seen similar scenarios. At the time, Annie had told him it was all too common a pattern. Rich kid with love-is-blind parents lives away from home for the first time and sheds all his inhibitions, and his sense of decency.
But most of those kids don’t end up dead from a skull fracture, in a crime scene with no DNA other than the victim’s, no credible leads, and no witnesses to anything at the party that might help.
When he yawned, Houston wrapped up what he was doing and shut down his computer. The sexiest woman he’d ever met was waiting for him with dinner and dessert. He was not going to fall asleep on that.