"You know, breakfast is supposed to be the most important meal of the day."
I look up to find my assistant Penny, walking into my office with a slice of her homemade coffee cake in one hand and a large mug of coffee labeled with a picture of the Rocky Mountains in the other. Placing them down atop my desk, she looks down at me and smiles.
"Yes, and if I continue to eat the breakfast you give me each and every morning, you're going to have to wheel me out of here with a dolly." I push the papers to the side and immediately take the mug. I have been here for over four months, and I still don't know what Penny does to the coffee each morning to make it taste so wonderful.
"Oh please, I see those pecks and muscles, you don't have to worry about any old gut until you are older than me." Smiling at her, I stand and take the casework she is holding under the cusp of her arm.
I moved back here to Telluride over six months ago. After my father had passed, my mother practically told my brother and I, that it was time to come home. Cobi and I worked for the same Ground Task Force agency for the FBI back in Boston, but we knew one of us would have to be here for mom. With certain circumstances, I traded my bullet proof vest for an itchy office suit and came back home to work as a cold case detective.
"Penny, you are as young as you want to be. Trust me, I've battled terrorists that you would put down in shame." She giggles and playfully slaps me on my shoulder.
Everyone was shocked when I hired Penny on. At the age of seventy-three, she wasn't the clear and obvious candidate, but I wasn't looking for someone who knew how to suck up to me and do fifty pushups at the drop of a hat. I was looking for a hard worker that knew the area and had the experience. Penny was an assistant for the police force for over thirty years. The police force was ready to make her retire but she fought them. I gave her a better selection. If anyone knew this town and how it worked, it was her.
"Thought you were told to take a few days off." She asks as I look through the files for the newest case. "Normally, one who finds the body of a young boy after ten years, would go on some kind of vacation."
She's not wrong. After getting my first cold case of a missing ten year old boy, I was able to track his remains down in just two weeks. Everyone assumed he was kidnapped or had runaway; little did they know it was the boys stepfather that would wind up being behind it all.
"Need to get moving. There are too many cases that need attention." Her smile is followed by a frown. Penny remembered calling Mr. Wildon in for questioning after his stepson, Jonathan, had gone missing. Finding out it was him all along, chipped at her confidence.
"Right you are." She whispers then looks up with a plastered fake smile on her lips. "So here are the contacts for that case. Missing seventeen year old girl, last known whereabouts, her prom at the local high school. Her boyfriend, Curt Johnson, was the one that noticed she was gone after she told him she needed some air and never came back inside. Parents have spent a lot of their own money, looking for her over the years."
I look through the casework and pull out the picture of Whitney Donaldson. Blonde hair, bright green eyes. She's beautiful. If she was kidnapped, she could be anywhere. I had read up on the case but had Penny bring me the details of what was filed that day and soon after.
"Any other abductions around that time and area?"
"None. Which is why the detective at the time, led with a runaway case."
Narrowing my eyes, I stare at the image of her. She has both arms around her parents and it looks like they are right Infront of a beach. Looking over at Penny, I take in her demeanor, she looks tense and agitated, as if she is about to combust unless she speaks openly.
"Penny, you have anything to add to this case?"
Blowing out a deep breath she gives me a stern look. "You know me too well boy. Guess I need to work on my poker face a little more." She states then continues. "I remember this case Michael. I remember the look of her distraught parents when they had to come in for interview after interview. I remember her peers with the look of shock written all over their faces. This girl was the cheerleader, the social butterfly, but she was also the book worm and the intelligent beauty. Her plan was to go to school for Microbiology. Her father was an orthodontist, mother an interior decorator. Every photo, every single picture that everyone brought in, was a photo she was smiling brightly in. It just doesn't seem like this girl would run away from her life."
Looking down I stare at the photo once again then look up to address Penny.
"Thanks Penny, I'll buzz you if I need anything. For now, let's contact the parents of Miss Donaldson and let them know I'll be doing a soft investigation." Penny nods her head and walks out the door, shutting it quietly behind her.
Once alone, I look into all the information for this report. The former detective considered it a runaway, but it was still filed as a missing persons. I pull out the photo of her and her boyfriend the night of their prom. The report says he was considered a suspect but was later released due to an alibi of prom, which begs to differ. How can anyone go missing from prom and no one notice. Half the school is there, plus numerous amounts of faculty.
My phone buzzes against my hip and I take it out and blow out a breath of frustration.
Pressing the ignore button, I place the phone atop my desk and stare at it as it buzzes instantly once again. Victoria has been calling since I left Boston. Telling your current fiancé that it's over is much easier after you find out that she has been cheating on you with your friend for over a year. Although that was over six months ago, I haven't heard anything from her until recently.
A knock at the door interrupts my thoughts and when my boss walks in, I welcome the intrusion.
"Mr. Lamino, thank you for coming by." I stand walking around my desk to shake his hand.
After finding out my father's cancer was becoming worse and his body was no longer responding to the chemotherapy, Cobi and I made a trip down to help him get ready for his passing. My father was a former police officer for over thirty-seven years and his best friend and former partner George Lamino was still in the game. He offered me this position, knowing I would be coming home to help my mother. I was grateful for the opening and knew I needed something that would allow me to be home to help out mother. She and Cobi have a great relationship, but I knew I could never take him away from his passion in life.
"I was a little surprised to hear from you so soon after solving the Wildon case. Which case have you taken up?" He states shaking my hand in return then placing them back into his pockets.
"The Whitney Donaldson case. I have a few interviews with the family that Penny will set up this week and I have a friend that could help move this case along. If this is just a runaway case, I should be able to tell."
"I won't stand in your way. I remember that case all too well, it will be nice to be able to give her parents a proper story for what happened to their daughter."
"I'd like to speak with you about that." I state gesturing with my hands to the two guest chairs sitting directly in front of my desk. Mr. Lamino sits while I walk around my desk once more, taking my seat as well.
"You need some intel?"
"Yes. George, you were one of the ones that worked the case, what made you guys determine it may be a runaway?"
"We couldn't rule anything out, but between you and me, I never thought that girl ran away. I have two daughters, both of which I think bankrupted me when their prom came. I looked at the Donaldson's bank records for the weeks leading up to her prom. Her dress was expensive, shoes the same, and they paid for a limo. She wanted the perfect prom and they gave that to her. Why runaway that night, and not any other."
"But, we had no evidence of a kidnapping. Her phone was missing but her purse was left with her best friend Sara, inside. Her phone never turned off and we had a witness that saw her leaving on her own that night. We couldn't prove otherwise, and we were running out of resources."
Nodding my head I look down at the photo once again. Whitney would be around the age of twenty-one. Only six years younger than me. I've been in this field long enough to know that if she was kidnapped, she is most likely dead, but there is something about this case that is calling to me.
"Do yourself a favor Mike. Take a day and go over the details. If you see anything off, then take the case. If everything points to a runaway, like it did four years ago, then take the next one that crosses your desk." George says standing. "Something tells me if anyone could find out what happened to this girl, you can."
With those last parting words George leaves my office, shutting the door silently. Pulling out my phone, I ignore the three missed calls form my ex, and find Deek, my former technical analyst's, number. He answers on the first ring.
"Well, well, well. Mr. Taylor, I never thought I would hear the day that you have official hung up your gun and grabbed a clipboard instead." I smirk, listening to him rant and rave about my transfer. I had heard it from all the guys on my former team, including my younger brother.
"Yeah well, this job gave me everything I needed, including the ability to hire you on for a case." I'm met with silence as I hear Deek walk into his office and start up all computers. At six foot four, three hundred pounds of raw muscle, one would never assume Deek played with computers for a living. He's a brute, but is attached to his machines so much so, that the bureau allows him to work mostly from home.
"You know I hate when you leave me wanting more."
"Well you're going to want to help with this one."
"Why? I heard you were doing just fine on your own." I roll my eyes. I knew it wouldn't be long before everyone on my old team knew about the case I had just solved.
"Yeah, yeah. Your engines fired up yet?" I ask knowing damn well they are.
"I need all the intel you can gather on a Whitney Donaldson. Disappeared over four years ago on prom night. I have all the basic details, but they went in the direction of a runaway. I need intel on everything that wasn't in this report and intel on everyone she crossed paths with. Focus on her cell phone, it was never turned off."
Another round of silence greets me but then his voice comes on.
"I'll see what I can do."
"Thanks." I say. ending the call. Pulling up my messages, I send my brother one then head out for my meetings.
Me: I may need you on this one.