From a distance, no one would be able to tell that the towel tied over her skirt was not part of the dress. To anyone walking the beach she looked like a normal girl, maybe a university student, who’d found a sunny part of the cliffside to relax on. It was not the smartest thing to do, out quietly alone and napping, but it wasn’t unusual.
The police got their first call as the sun went down. The girl was still there. People were getting concerned. The dispatcher offered the normal platitudes, they’d send someone to check on her and remind the student that the shore wasn’t the safest place to doze.
At the station the news spread fast. There was another one.
Detective Lauren Aguilar took a deep breath and knocked on her partner’s door before pushing it open. As usual an impressive stack of work blocked most of Cole from view. He looked up. “Hey. I can meet everyone there. I’ll actually show up this time.”
She shook her head. “No happy hour tonight.”
“How long do we have before the press picks this up?” Lauren was driving, Cole was listening to the dispatch as those first on the scene swept the area. No one had found anything yet and they were not optimistic. At this point it sounded like the officers were waiting for the detectives to get there and let them get back to less grisly jobs.
“A week maybe. A few no-name blogs are reporting. Some have already named him.” He grimaced, remembering the tongue in cheek suggestions. No doubt the authors thought they were being clever.
Lauren didn’t bother calling him on the gender specific pronoun. Serial killers were male, its how these things went. Still, her jaw tightened. “Don’t tell me what they came up with.”
They drove in silence until she broke it. “I still don’t know why you asked to be switched to this.”
It wasn’t the first time she’d needled him about it. He wasn’t the type to seek out this type of case. Serial killers were big press and a lot of recognition when the killer finally slipped up, which they always did. But while she was eager to work high profile, Cole kept his head down and away from the sensational cases when he could.
“Cole?” She pressed when he didn’t answer. “I’m not complaining. Brass is tired of me going after the hot cases. I think your request is why we got it.”
He pointed to the turn off. Lauren turned the plain grey sedan down the sandy road and into the makeshift parking lot. Outside the headlights the only illumination came over the rise where the crime scene waited.
“I don’t think this is a serial killer.” He said they started the short hike up to the cliffs, flashlights bobbing as they walked.
The doubt caught her attention. “Really? Three, now four, bodies, all pale small young women, long dark hair, wearing skirts or dresses with heels. Four girls with their legs covered to hide the wounds and left out for people to find.” Tension straitened his back at her description. She continued as if she hadn’t noticed. “This is textbook.”
“Except the cause of death, it’s been different each time.” He said.
Lauren nodded. Serial killings were not the common occurrence every detective show painted them to be. Cole was right to be skeptical. “Okay. But everything else points to a serial killer. What do you think it is?”
Cole sighed, his mouth a grim line. “Right now, a message probably.” They’d reached the edge of the tape. A few deputies trudged over to welcome them.
She didn’t get a chance to ask to whom, or what else Cole knew, because it was obviously more than he was saying. Her partner showed the police officers his badge and ducked under the tape. Lauren frowned and waved her own badge in the officer’s face impatiently. She bowed under the tape gracefully and followed Cole over to the body.