Friday, the 6th of May.
Of all the cases she had had to work on, Tia had never really felt this much tension, and this was not the kind of tension that came from your boss or from your superior to hurry up and close a case, no, this was tension from herself. Something about this case made her feel uneasy, maybe it was the fact that it was even more puzzling or maybe it was the fact that DNA samples were popping up ad appearing in the oddest of places. No, it was the oddest of DNA samples popping up in the crime scenes, or… she breathed.
“Relax Tia. Aiden said, relax. So relax.”
But relaxing was not something she could really do right now as it was a kind of luxury she could not afford. She had promised a mother that she would find the killer of her daughter soonest. Whatever she must have been thinking when she had made that promise, she did not know, but what she knew now was that she had made that promise and now was not the time to be relaxing or slacking.
She leaned against the stone bench as she waited to spot her daughter coming out of the school while keeping her mind occupied with work and the boggling case she had at hand. The killer was strategic, she had to give that to him, but just how good was he? He had managed to remain anonymous from the Clarissa Jan’s killing, so much so that not even a profile could be made of him, not a trace, not a witness. Nothing. Not even a motive. And although now, they still could not figure out his motive, at least now they had a suspect - Stacey Rohn.
Tia was convinced that she was least likely to be the killer but then, nothing could be thrown away. She was connected to this case somehow and it was up to Tia and Aiden to figure out what that was. She sighed and moved away from the bench, pacing along the walkway. Clarissa Jan, Pamela Neil, and Stacey Rohn all had one thing in common - they were associated with the Skyline company. Tia snapped her head sharply to the side and paused in her steps, why had that not clicked? Why had she not seen it? Somehow Skyline was entangled in this as both the victims had a connection with the company or were there more? Were there some things she was not piecing together?
One thing Tia did not like was not knowing something that she really had to know and right now, this was eating her up. She brought her fingers to her temple and massaged slowly, closing her eyes and taking deliberate breaths to calm her nerves and repeatedly telling herself to calm down and relax.
She bolted out of her thoughts and turned to see her daughter running towards her and she smiled, getting down on both knees to embrace her baby.
Tia almost tumbled down to the ground when her daughter jumped into her open and waiting arms in the tightest hug Tia had received in a while. She had come to her daughter’s school to surprise her and pick her up and she could tell that it had made her daughter ecstatic. She was down on both knees in front of her daughter’s school with her daughter squeezing the life out of her neck with neither of them caring much about the stares they were getting from the other students as they walked past them.
“Oh, mummy! I was not expecting to see you here!” Zara said excitedly, slowly releasing her mother.
“I know baby, I just thought I should come to surprise you.” Tia winked.
“And I love the surprise.” She giggled.
“I have got another surprise.” She said in a whisper with got her daughter all excited and giddy-up. “How about we skip going home early and take a detour around a few places.”
Tia winked. “Really. Come on, let us start. Where do you want to go to first darling?”
“To the park!” Zara replied excitedly, handing her bag over to her mother. “But first, we get ice cream.”
* * * * *
Duane park was the closest to Zara’s school and it was usually the busiest around this time of the day, it was also Zara’s favorite. She had been here on countless occasions with both her mum and her grand mum and it had always been a struggle trying to get her to leave by the end of the day. Only after they had crossed the entrance gate into the park did Tia realize that she might need some extra help in getting her to agree to go home but as she watched her daughter run around and the excitement on her face, she decided that when they got to that bridge, they would find a way to cross it.
This was a great way to unwind and Tia had the distraction of her daughter to keep her mind from wandering too far into work, but then Pamela’s body had been found in a park like this, South Cove park not too far from this very one, along the hiking trail on the island, she being here was enough motivation to want to go and try to dig up around the site but the park was not a walking distance away. She watched her daughter skip ahead of her and suddenly felt a kind of fear rapidly wash over her. The feeling lasted for much lesser than a second but it was something she could not ignore and she knew she would not be forgetting that feeling in a while.
She looked around as the people went about their normal life and she could not help but think, one of them might be the killer they were hunting for and some of them if the killer was not apprehended on time, would have to be his next victim. The thought made her alert and suspicious as anything could literally happen right at this very moment.
“Mummy, come on!” Zara called, waving to her mother to hurry up. She stood beside a free booth, holding the curtain open and gesturing to her mother to quickly enter, they would be taking a picture together.
Tia smiled and jogged to the booth, snatching her daughter up in her arms, earning a scream and a giggle from her before they both disappeared into the booth.
“Mummy, I want to go to the waterfront.” Zara told her mother, pulling on her hand and at the same time, eating her ice cream.
“We can not go too far in baby, we might have to leave soon.” Tia replied her.
“But mummy…” Zara protested, stopping and looking up at her mum.
“I know baby, but we can not stay here till it gets dark.” Her whole mind would not be at peace if they were still in here by the time it would get dark, and call her paranoid but it was just the way she was feeling. She hated it.
Zara’s face fell and she looked down at her fingers. “But you promised…”
Tia got down on her knees in front of her daughter. “I promised you that I would take you to the park and I did bring you to the park, right baby?”
“But you want us to leave.” Zara whined, twisting her toes into the ground.
“No. No. Not right away, look…” Tia held on to her daughter’s forearm firmly and shook her slightly so that she faced her fully. “We are here now, why don’t we just forget about leaving for now and have some fun? Huh?”
Zara shrugged her shoulders, still looking to the ground. “I guess…”
“Come on Zara.” Tia shook her, trying to get her smiling but it was of no use.
“Come on Zara, now do not stress your mother.” Someone said.
Tia turned to her right where the person stood and she was greeted by a smiling face, one she recently just knew and she smiled, getting to her feet. “Chester?”
Chester winked at her before he got down on his knees in front of Zara who stood very close to her mother but faced him curiously, wanting to know what this handsome stranger was up to. Even Tia watched him keenly to see what he wanted to do, she noticed the pink stuffed toy he held behind hid back and she smiled, folding her lips in and trying not to laugh out.
“Hi Zara,” Chester said, holding a hand out to her. “I am mummy’s friend, Chester.” He introduced himself to the little girl.
Zara looked up at her mother innocently for a sort of confirmation, of what he was saying was true as she had been taught not to listen to strangers, let alone touch them or allow them to touch her. Tia looked at Chester with a “what are you trying to do” expression, but he only smirked at her with raised eyebrows, waiting for her to say something. She nodded slowly as she looked back at Zara who in turn turned back to Chester and placed her small hand in Chester’s, smiling at him.
“Hi.” She replied. “If you are mummy’s friend then you can be my friend as well.” She beamed.
“Really?” Chester faked a surprised look and let go of her small hand, bringing his hand to place on his chest. “Then you would not mind me giving this to you?” He said, bringing his other hand out from behind his back, revealing the stuffed pink teddy he was holding behind him.
Zara squealed and immediately snatched it from him, hugging it tightly and close to her while rocking her body left and right. “For meeeeee?!”
Chester smiled at the girl’s innocent behavior, her excitement was contagious and she was cute, he stole a glance at Tia, she was as cute as her mother. He looked back down and chuckled.
“If I did not know any better, I would say that you are stalking me.” Tia said with her arms folded across her chest below her breasts, watching him with a coy smile.
“Stalking?” He chuckled nervously as he got up. “No, no, I was not. I just… happened to be around the same place are you are and coincidentally, we met. That is in no way stalking, or is it?”
Tia raised an eyebrow at him. “Coincidentally?”
“Well… yea…” Chester replied, rubbing his palms together and smiling nervously.
Tia sighed. “I am a cop Chester, I can easily detect a lie.”
He laughed. “Okay that was not the total truth but…” He held up a finger when he saw that Tia wanted to say something. “I honestly did not follow you in here but I may have seen you and decided to stick around for a long while.”
Tia bent her head slightly to the side and raised an eyebrow. “Stalking.”
“Tia, don’t be difficult right now, please.”
“Difficult?” she opened her mouth in mock surprise. “Difficult?”
“This is for her, right?” He asked, stretching his arms towards Zara who paid no attention to the adults as they bickered, but focused on the conversation she was having with her new stuffed toy. “This is not about me, it is about her.”
Tia waved one hand in surrender. “Fine, fine. Yes.”
He smiled and took a step towards her. “By the way, I never knew you had a daughter.”
“Well, you do now.”
“She is cute.” He praised and looked her straight in the eye, his wide smile beginning to soften. “Just like her mother.”
Tia blushed. “There are a lot of things you do not know about me Mr. Coffee shop owner.” She said.
He took another step closer to her and reached for her hand. “And I intend to try to know more if she would let me.”
Tia blushed harder and looked away, folding her lips in and looking everywhere but at his face. She cleared her throat and pulled her hand away from his hold. “We have the whole afternoon..” She took hold of Zara’s hand and began to walk away, giving Chester a soft look. “…let us not waste it.”