Late that night
Streets of Seattle, WA
Detective Julius Ransic took a slow drag of his menthol cigarette as he scanned the street in the rental car—a car where smoking was clearly labeled as forbidden.
He leaned his head against the window and sighed with the knowledge that something was terribly and irreparably wrong.
There was a voice recorder on the seat next to him. He grabbed it and began to record a monologue to use later in his screenplay. “The night air mingles with the swirling nicotine and danced as if sugarplum fairies were engaged in their familiar ballet. The masses twiddled about, their stenches mixed into the musk of life—”
There was a loud knock at the window that startled the detective something terrible.
“Mother f—” he swore, rolling down the window for Chloe. “Oh, it’s you again. Here to tell me that one of the other cops I work with is Sherlock Holmes, are ya?”
Chloe shook her head and checked to make sure John was still within shouting distance. “Sherlock Holmes wasn’t a real person.”
“What do you need?” He said back with a clear lack of patience. “I’ve been sitting in this car for an hour and a half.”
She whistled to John to come over. “We got stuck on the runway when we landed. Ransic, we don’t have a lot of time.”
“And why is that?”
Chloe put her hand on the car window. “Eliot and Harriet got taken by the killer. We are already out of time.”
That can’t be,” Ransic paused. The detective turned to the dusty windshield and stared off into the fresh rain turning the street into a refracted collection of mirrored images. “Eliot’s an asshole, but he’s a fantastic cop.”
The rear door swung open and John Quincy jumped into the backseat, shaking off the fresh rain as it tracked down the side of his jacket and onto the cloth seats below. “Take us to the boyfriend’s house.”
Ransic’s eyes rose to meet John’s in the rearview mirror. “Who the hell are you?”
“I’m the gentleman that’s going to slam your head into the steering wheel if you don’t start driving.”
“I am a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department!”
Chloe leapt across the hood of the car, sliding along the wet surface in a way that looked entirely accidental but alarmingly cool, before grabbing for the door to the passenger side of the car. Her wet coat slammed down onto the rental seat and her attention turned once again to the man driving it. “You’re not a cop anymore. You haven’t been since Kansas.” She took a moment to catch her breath. “What happened?”
“I met you, Chloe.” He murmured as he spread his mouth, revealing a crooked bottom row of teeth nervously biting back over the top lip. “I got kicked off the force when I didn’t show up for an entire week.”
She put a wet hand kindly onto his shoulder. “At least you’re alive, Ransic.”
His smile was as wry as it was fictional. “I’m pretty sure Jessup is following me. He didn’t see me, but I know it was him—was traveling with a group of oddly dressed triplets.”
Chloe stifled her laughter in such a way that she began to cough as the air fought in her throat for which way to go.
“I’ll take that to mean something really scary is going on here.”
“You take that correctly,” she said and returned his manufactured smile. “Please, take us to the boyfriend’s house.”
Ransic fired up the engine and threw the vehicle into drive. The old rental lurched forward and began its three-mile journey across the downtown area. “I need information.”
John Quincy leaned in from the backseat, coming alive at the request. “What kind of information?”
The fired detective ignored John and accelerated above the speed limit as the car moved up the hill. His eyes slid across the interior and fall directly onto Chloe’s. “Who are you?”
“Chloe,” spilled forth from her lips lacking any of the trademark gusto.
“I’d much prefer it if you could answer me for real, my dear Chloe,” he murmured as the rental car continued to gain in speed as it traveled up and down the hilly downtown Seattle area. “You told me Jessup was Napoleon. Surely the subtext of such a thing was lost on me.”
“Would you mind slowing down?” she sheepishly spoke before throwing a nervous glance back to John in the backseat.
“I lost my job for you lot!” said Julius Ransic with explosive and unexpected rage. “The least you could do is let me in on it!” he screamed as his foot mashed further down on the accelerator pedal.
John Quincy sat forward in his chair, readying his old hands to subdue the driver. With one glance into the rearview mirror, he slammed the brakes and put John’s head squarely into the headrest—sending him back onto the seat in a thick haze.
“I’m not going to hurt you, but I’m afraid I do need answers,” Ransic spoke as a collected person again. His voice was smooth in timbre, controlling, assessing. That is, until he felt the cold plastic of Chloe’s Glock press against his temple.
Ransic swallowed hard. “What? So you can murder a cop in broad daylight?”
Chloe could see his nervous sweat begin to collect on the end of the barrel. “Firstly, you’re not a cop anymore. Secondly, we both know the sunlight in Seattle is anything but broad.”
John came to in the backseat and sat up. He took off his seat belt and turned back to the front seat only to be greeted by Chloe’s free hand warning him away from any sudden movements.
“My name is Joan,” Chloe spoke to the man driving the car like a maniac through downtown.
Ransic slowed down to make a right turn and headed up the hill away from the bay. “Yeah, I already picked up on all the fake names you guys were using.”
“Joan of Arc, you clod.”
The vehicle turned, but he did not attempt to bring it back up to speed, choosing instead to idle up the incline. “I don’t understand.”
“We’re the returners and that means exactly what it sounds like. We haven’t found everyone, but someone is certainly trying to kill us—and succeeding.”
Ransic looked up once more into the rearview mirror. “Then who are you?”
“John Quincy Adams—and about four hours late on a double of Macallan to boot,” the man in the backseat hastily mentioned.
The car slowed to a stop in front of gas station that was no longer in use. “And Eliot?”
“Eliot Ness,” the two passengers said in unison.
Ransic’s eyes lowered and shame fell across his face. “Figures I would constantly shit on one of the greatest police officers of all time.”
Chloe smiled and tussled his hair. “Don’t beat yourself up about it.”
“Why?” He replied with cold insistence.
“No good reason. Just—don’t and maybe you’ll be of some use yet.”
“I have not been entirely honest with you two. This isn’t the boyfriend’s apartment.” Ransic’s head arose from the steering wheel and focused on the section of town not up to the standards of the neighborhoods and buildings around it. This was a section of downtown Seattle that had not risen to prominence over the years but instead had fallen into disrepair from abandonment. “I’m quite afraid I’ve put us all in substantial danger.”
Her eyes darted over as the door locks slammed down in the car. “Ransic—” she trailed off. “Where are we?”
The man’s voice began to drop and break as it wallowed in the substance of regret. “There was a van outside of Francis Martel’s apartment. It was there for days and days—it didn’t move over the four days I monitored the building.”
Chloe’s fingers curled back around the firearm she had lowered earlier. “Ransic, where the hell are we?”
He ignored her question for the second time. “The van was simple. White—with the name of the company painted onto the side in black letters.” Ransic let a modest laugh escape his lips. “It said, ‘Grey Area Deliveries’ and at first I just figured that it went out of business and that’s why the owner never moved it.”
John tried to pull the handle in the backseat but found it had been detached from the child safety locks. He looked up to Chloe who had a similar concern growing on her face.
Ransic leaned back in his chair, hands on the wheel of a car that wasn’t moving, and began to slow down his breathing. “I figured that Eliot and Harriet went into Francis Martel’s apartment and found nothing. The police were not notified so I just figured they hadn’t found anything and went home.” His eyes were glassy, like he was forgetting to blink—his throat was hoarse, like he was forgetting to swallow. “I—I don’t know why I went back that night. That last nagging shred of the detective you write stories in your mind about because you wish you were that person. That hero.” His head turned to Chloe. “That legend.”
There was a shuffling in the backseat as John tried to open the door on the other side of the vehicle.
“That same van was parked backward in the alleyway—back doors ajar as if attempting to make a delivery.”
Chloe put her arm on Julius’s shoulder, giving it a tender rub to bring him back to reality. “Ransic. You gotta let us out of this car.”
He again ignored the words that were coming from his passenger. “The van that had refused to move for four business days, suddenly has an emergency delivery to cross town at four in the morning?”
She grabbed his chin and forced Ransic’s glassed over eyes to stare back into hers. “What were they loading into the van?”
“I followed the van across town—doing my best to stay a few blocks behind and even guessing where to take turns early to arouse no suspicion.”
Chloe squeezed on his face harder, eliciting no change in tone or subject.
“We ended up down here. He parked it a few blocks down in a deserted fashion boutique. There were mannequins crowding up the front window so I didn’t get a good look inside. I didn’t even know something was wrong. No one told me something was wrong.”
She handed the gun back to John and motioned with her head toward the nearest window. “What did they load into the van, Ransic?” She yelled over the sounds of shattering glass in the background.
“I just wanted to be a cop again. The good cop,” he held back a sob.
He swallowed. “It was trash bags! He was loading trash bags into the van!”