Friday – May 8, 2026

-Chase Kramner-

I unexpectedly received an invitation to a memorial service in Wisconsin last week. When it arrived in my mail, I believed it was spam before I read the return address more closely. The invitation was sent by Francine Hopkins, the mother of Amanda Hopkins. It was a memorial service for her daughter’s birthday. I gave her a call and let her know I would attend. Lauren is concerned this could be a rough experience for me, but I am insistent this is something I need to do alone.

Lieutenant Eastland approves my leave on short notice, and I begin travel early on the seventh. I have a layover in Milwaukee, then board a flight to Eau Claire Wisconsin before driving my rental car approximately sixty miles to a town called Ladysmith. I check into my hotel and try to relax, but I am too restless.

I return to my rental car and drive to the downtown area of Ladysmith. I park in front of a single-story building being renovated and across the street from a movie theatre. It’s called the Miner Theatre, which is likely homage to either the street it is on being Miner Avenue, or the town’s history in the mining industry. After I exit the rental car, I just walk. I try to put myself in the shoes of Amanda when these were her stomping grounds. Seeing movies on the weekends or Friday nights with her friends. Maybe she even once worked at one of these family stores before going to college.

It was an hour to darkness when I left the vehicle and it is well after dusk by the time I return. The few people I saw when I walked were polite enough, but overall it was quiet around town. Perhaps tomorrow would be a little different being Friday and all.

I drive from the downtown area and travel to her high school. There is no security gate, so I roll straight in and park. I do not leave the car and just look at the school Amanda Hopkins went to. It is so normal and unremarkable from the outside. I know Amanda was in the culinary club but was going to college for business management. After she dropped out because of her rape, she went to culinary school after recovering for several years. What she had learned from business management likely aided in her later fiscal responsibility.

When I look at the rental’s clock, I see it is nearly eleven at night now. I finally decide to go back to the hotel.

I have been invited, but I feel like I do not belong in Amanda’s home. As her family and friends talk to each other, I know some of them are looking at me, wondering why I am here. Some go to her mother and discretely point to me, and she explains it to each person. Francine had graciously greeted me when I arrived to her credit.

I would excuse myself if I had someone to excuse myself to before going to the bathroom and locking the door. My hand is shaking so hard my shoulder is vibrating. I grip the edge of the sink to still it, but that nervous energy transfers itself to my foot which starts tapping. I take panicked breaths, then run water to rinse my face, but I am losing control of my body. I want to punch something. I have no way to release this tension. The anxiety spills over to my stomach, and I immediately push the toilet lid up and vomit.

I heave until I’m dry and cough the rest out. My face is still wet from the rinse, and I slide over to the wall and lean against it while sitting on the ground. I think I got it all in the bowl, but I unravel some toilet paper and wipe my mouth with it. I take my still wet hand and swipe off the pieces of paper that broke off.

I must look like a huge pile of useless shit right now.

The door knocks from the other side and the door jiggles. “Detective, are you okay?” I hear Francine say.

“I…” I start, but my throat is sore, so I end up coughing. “…I’m fine. Give me a minute.”

I force myself to my feet and flush the toilet. I rinse my mouth with water and spit it into the sink. The water runs until it’s all down the drain. I dry my hands and face and then examine if I look as bad as I feel before leaving. Francine is still near the door when I close it.

“Detective…” she begins.

“Please, ma’am, Chase,” I say, and she smiles a little.

“As long as you call me Francine,” she says, and smile back. “Are you okay? You look very uncomfortable.”

“Honestly ma…Francine, I am,” I admit, and she puts her hand to my elbow.

“The people who murdered my daughter are gone. That is because of you,” she says, and it takes every fiber of my being to not scream. “You bled for her.”

I cannot think of a response, and I feel my hand involuntarily rub my stabbing scar. Francine sees how out of it I look, so turns my attention to a young boy looking at pictures of Amanda. A large cork board has been arrayed with several dozen pictures of Amanda from the time she was baby to her shortly before her murder. I am standing to his side, and he looks absolutely transfixed by her.

“Is he?” I ask, and Francine nods.

“My grandson. Luke. His adoptive mother Gillian and I met a few months after her death. She told me he is nothing like his father. There is so much of her in him. Luke’s smart, he figured out who Amanda was by himself,” Francine explains as I look at Luke.

Luke does resemble his biological father Travis Breckinridge. The man who raped Amanda with several others and stabbed me. The man I killed in self-defense in a dirty motel room. I do not see Travis in him; I only see Amanda. A girl who the first time I met her, was a corpse in a back-alley parking lot behind a bar. His hair is her hair, that perfect hue of milk chocolate brown I look at every time I open the folder in my desk drawer.

Francine gently encourages me to meet him, so I do. I approach him slowly, like a bird watcher trying to not startle his subject. I am finally close enough to touch him, but instead look at the pictures as well.

Amanda was a joyful baby, a cute little girl, a moody teen, a beautiful young woman, and then a proud high school graduate in her gown and hat. Then nothing. It was like she stopped existing when she arrived at college. This gap is punctuated further when the pictures resume, and Luke is there. He looks maybe four or five years old in them. And she is smiling again.

Luke brought her back, even though so many things about him should have destroyed her. Instead, it was like he gave her something back that she lost. Luke was the innocence that was taken from her. Amanda looked at someone that some in society would cast aside, and only saw his innocence. Luke did not do anything wrong, and he does not need to be burdened by the crimes of others. I cannot even comprehend the decisions she had to make, or how she arrived at their resolutions.

“Did you know her?” Luke asks me, and I look down at him. Those brown eyes are hers.

“Not as much as I would have liked to,” I say, and he looks at the pictures again.

“Me too,” he says, and I feel like my gut was punched. “She was my mom.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, and he nods.

“My other mom. Mom adopted me, because mom wasn’t ready to have me,” he says, and I admire how he does not put any distinction between them.

“Which one is your favorite?” I ask, and he scans the pictures for nearly ten seconds before pointing at her in a prom dress.

“She is very pretty in this one,” he says, and I grin. He then points to another one of her with a dog at maybe sixteen years old. “She looks happy in this one.” He then points to another, one with him. “I like this one too, because I remember it. She visited and we went to a park to play. We went down the hill on sleds and built a snow man.”

Amanda and Luke were building a snowman, with the carrot for the nose and coal for the eyes. The top hat is on Luke’s head. The picture caught them mid laugh, and I laugh a little myself. It looked like a near perfect day.

“What’s your favorite?” he asks, and I exhale a little and look. So much to choose from. I kind of feel creepy because she was younger than eighteen in most of them. After a moment of thought, I think I see my favorite.

Amanda looks like the picture caught her off guard. Likely during a camping trip she took with her friends in high school. It was dark and the only light is the fire in front of her. She is sitting on a chair with a book light and one of those cheap romance novels she would still be reading in ten years. I like the picture because I already had a feeling that part of her had never changed.

“I like this one,” I say, touching it with my index finger.

“She liked reading to me,” Luke says, and I say I thought she might have.

“Luke,” I hear a voice say. I turn to see who I assume is his adoptive mother Gillian. “We’re about to do a prayer, come on.”

“Okay. Nice to meet you,” he says, and offers me a handshake. “I’m Luke.”

“Chase,” I say, and wrap my hand around the entirely of his. “I’ll be right in too.”

“See you soon,” he says, and runs off to his mother. That child is nothing short of a miracle.

I am about to leave, but I want to take one last look at the pictures. I hover over a few and stop at the last one of her with Luke and the snowman. I smile at it, until I notice something.

I remove the tack holding it to the cork board and look at it carefully. In the frame behind them, is a parking lot. My eye focus to one car. An orange mustang convertible parked with the driver side door facing the camera. The driver is still in the passenger seat, and I can see her clear as day as if she is standing in front of me. I know that car, and I know that person.

Marlene. I told her I would find her mistake. I put the picture back on the board and leave for the prayer. I will be a detective as soon as I can, but for now, I am a guest.

I enter the living room where the group is about to begin a prayer in the memory of Amanda Hopkins. Her family priest leads.

“Let us pray,” the priest begins. “Lord, watch over this family who has lost so much these last few years. Watch over the spirit of those who have departed and guide their souls to an eternal place of rest. May you bless this family and its friends with the strength to persevere through these trying times. We trust in your divine plan and trust in your judgement against the wicked who do harm to the innocent. For this we pray in Christ’s name, amen.”

I remember a joke someone once told me. Or I saw it in a movie, I do not quite recall. Imagine a man is on a sinking boat, and he prays to God to save him. When the water is to his knees, another boat arrives and offers to save him.

“No, I’m waiting for God to save me,” the man says, so the boat sails away.

When the water is to his waist, another boat arrives, and another offer of salvation is given. He refuses, because he is waiting for God to save him. When the water is to his neck, a third boat arrives to save him, but he refuses again. The boat finishes sinking, then the man drowns, and dies.

The man goes to Heaven and is furious at the creator for not saving him. God replies, “I sent you three boats.”

I have never been a particularly religious man, but I do not believe God works in mysterious ways. I think he works in plainly obvious ways. We are just so caught up in his grand design, we do not seize opportunities because we expect something greater than him merely sending a boat. Or a detective who knows who did it, but cannot prove it, finding a picture of his suspect at a place she has no reason to be.


Friday – May 15, 2026

-Lauren Hill-

Since Chase got back from Wisconsin, when I wake up he is already out of bed. I pull my shirt off the ground next to the bed, and slip it over my body before leaving the room. Chase is at his computer in his office. His attention is consumed by his work, so he does not notice me as I walk across the doorway to the kitchen to start making coffee. At least he thought ahead of time about how occupied he could be, because a coffee mug is under the spout of the Keurig, with a note saying ‘Just hit size, love you.’

I lean on the counter as my coffee fills, and I take my phone from the charger on the counter. No new messages from my partner, and I check the time. It’s six thirty, so I wonder when Chase woke up.

I finally passed the detectives exam. Barely. You cannot even participate in the oral interview process unless you pass the written exam. Public speaking is the most common fear for a good reason. Three Lieutenants and a Captain pepper you with questions for nearly a half hour. For some reason the hardest part for me was my own introduction statement. Finding that fine line of brag and humility was nerve racking, and I found myself stumbling over my own statement. I thought it was over when I was asked to leave the room and come back in ten minutes after I shook myself off.

I sat with my head in my hands for five minutes, trying not to cry in public, because nothing says a qualified, strong woman like checking the box of everything men hate about women in this career field.

“You okay?” I heard a voice ask, and I looked up to see Jill Whitaker in her lab coat and a burrito wrapped in tinfoil from the food trucks outside.

“Hey, yeah, interviews for detective’s exam are happening right now,” I said, and she sat next to me.

“Waiting for your turn?” Jill asked.

“My interview is ongoing,” I said, and Jill looked at the door, then at me in confusion. “Yeah.”

“That bad?” she asked.

“I was told to leave, calm down, and come back in ten minutes. It’s been five,” I said, and Jill giggled a little. “I’m already not getting it.”

“Stop,” she said, and I looked at her.

“You had a perfect score. I can’t even begin to stress how much credibility you gave women in the police,” I said, and she shrugged. “What makes you, you?” I asked.

“Short answer? I don’t give a fuck,” she said, and I laughed. “It’s true, I don’t. I don’t care what other people think about me personally, except my family. I let my record speak for itself. I never once made it my goal to be an example for women. Quite frankly, there aren’t many women I like. That number is probably single digits. In that room, they care about three things: Competence; commitment; credibility.”

“Competence, commitment, credibility,” I said back, nodding rapidly.

“Stand up,” Jill said, standing up herself. I stand up, and Jill straightens my uniform a little for me. “You get back in there. Don’t start by apologizing for this, just get in, sit down, and start over. Do not talk about it if they don’t. Smile a little,” Jill said. Did Jill Whitaker just say I need to smile more? “Don’t take that the wrong way. If a guy went in there with a stick up his ass and resting dick face, he would be kicked to the curb too. Smile is polite, personable, and a display of confidence.”

I tried to smile a little, and her smile back made my smile real.

“Just like that. You don’t need to act like a man to get this job. You’re a woman, you bring something men just can’t. Knock on the door, get in that chair, and get the job you deserve,” Jill said, and I exhaled one last time before facing the door. For good measure, Jill gave me a solid slap on the ass which makes me laugh.

I knocked on the door, came back into the room, and had a seat.

“Feel better Sergeant?” the Captain asked, and I nodded, then said yes. “Let’s start over. We’re going to give you a few minutes, to just, talk about Sergeant Hill.”

“Thank you. Captain, Lieutenants, my name is Patrol Sergeant Lauren Hill…” I begin with a renewed level of confidence and clarity. When I walked out twenty minutes later, I was a detective.

While Chase was first assigned to Homicide, I have been assigned to Property Crimes to investigate identity theft, criminal fraud, and arson. I have mostly been doing larceny, but I am just happy to be there.

My coffee is filled, and I go back to the office and see Chase’s intense focus has not faltered in the slightest. I just watch him work. I cannot even describe how sexy he looks when he works. Going from the computer to writing notes, then digging through a few things then resuming where he left off. I wonder what he is working on.

I take a sip of my coffee loudly to alert him, and he looks up from his computer.

“Morning,” he says, and all the energy he had exhausted in who knows how long hits him all at once, and he instantly looks tired. He yawns and covers his mouth, then stretches with his arms upward.

“Morning,” I say, and he stands up from his computer chair and walks around his desk. He is wearing a pair of exercise shorts and a white t-shirt with a coffee stain near the collar. “When did you get up?”

“A few hours ago,” he says, and kisses me before leaning back to his desk to grab his coffee cup. “What time is it?”

“Time to shower and go to work,” I say, and I leave the doorframe so he can walk through. He puts his mug next to the Keurig then walks into his room. “What are you working on? It obviously isn’t that sensitive if you’re working it at home.”

“Doing some research,” he says, and peer into his office to see how much stuff is on his desk.

“On what?” I ask, and he walks out again with his towel he left on the floor and enters the bathroom. “What case is it?”

“I had a closed case last year, and I think I might be able to get it reopened,” he says, then turns on the water for the shower.

“Homicide case?” I ask, and he does not reply. I enter the bathroom where he is stripping down. “A case from homicide?”

“Yeah,” he says. Chase sounds evasive right now. I have to repeat questions and he is pretending to be in a hurry.

“What case?” I ask.

“An old case…”

“…Victim’s name,” I interrupt. Chase pauses at the shower curtain, then steps in and slides them shut. “Nope, uh uh,” I say and yank the curtain open. “What the fuck is going on? You’ve been acting weird since you got back from Wisconsin.”

“I’m not acting weird…” he starts.

“…what case, is it?” I ask slowly. Chase sighs before finally telling me.

“Amanda Hopkins,” he says, and I am at a loss of words. Chase had sworn to me he moved passed it.

“You promised,” I say.

“I know, but…”

“…but nothing. You promised me that case was over. That you just needed to accept she got away with it. Every cop has the fuckers who get away, and it eats them up inside too.”

“I have a lead,” Chase says. I slide the curtain back in anger and slam the bathroom door behind me. The water stops running and Chase comes out a few seconds later with his towel around his waist.

“We are not having this discussion. You fucking promised!” I shout at him, and Chase takes a deep breath.

“Let me show you…”

“…No. It’s done…”

“…just let me show you,” Chase says, and I curl my fist into a ball, then release it.

“You have sixty seconds,” I compromise and he walks to his office and shuffles some papers around then returns. “Fifty seconds.”