It was the 29th of November and faint snow had started to fall, covering every inch of the city with a white layer. It looked like nearly every person in the city was outside running about with their winter holiday worries. That is, everyone except Detective Erin Lotters.
The small white apartment living room was surrounded by newspapers scattered all over the floor, dirty tea mugs on every piece of furniture, and blankets and pillows left all over the room.
Erin was sat right in the middle of the pale room with a blanket wrapped around her body, and her laptop sat on a few old textbooks in front of her. The room was dead silent except for her furious typing, that was until her roommate Lars Schmidt walked in and immediately did a double take at the state of the room.
“Erin, we talked about this.” He exhaled tiredly, letting his head fall backwards in exhaustion.
“We did, but we also talked about how you moving in with me wouldn’t be any picnic in the park. Not to mention, it’s not like you could take care of yourself any better,” Erin retorted instantly, giving Lars a sarcastic look
Lars silently rolled his eyes and stormed out of the room and up the little stairs.
This was normal in their household ever since Lars was booted out of his parent’s house for college and with a few complicated events, he ended up just moving in with Erin.
The day was looking pretty ordinary and normal so far. Mornings start off with Lars leaving for his lectures while Erin is either speaking to a client with a new case, or working on an ongoing case, then around noon he comes back and either the living room is spotless or it looks like a tornado passed by. The only thing that was slightly surprising this day was when a frantic knock was heard at the door in the evening. Erin jumped up at the sound of a possible new case at her front door and swung the door open to be face to face with an extremely distressed woman. The woman was wearing a dampened green jacket with a grey sweater underneath; her dark curly hair speckled with the outside snow complimented by her wide eyes and a face full of panic.
After Lars had managed to calm the woman down enough and sit her down on the couch, Erin started interviewing her.
“My name is Jamia Carlson and I’m here because my friend has gone missing” The girl breathed out and fidgeted with the hem of her jacket.
Erin squinted her eyes at Jamia and leaned slightly closer to her.
“And why do you think this is too important than to just leave it to the police?” She questioned with slight aggression in her voice.
“I decided to come here because my friend wasn’t the only one who randomly went missing. This past week, the average amount of people that normally go missing has nearly tripled. I believe that one of my friends is part of this weird pattern.” Jamia looked down with worry in her eyes.
Lars turned around back to his computer, where he was viciously typing.
“She’s right, the numbers have tripled in this city and nobody knows why.” He looked up with a concerned look on his face.
The next day made Lars and Erin’s brains hurt. After they asked Jamia several questions regarding her missing friend, they learned that every day after classes he would walk home and usually stop by a few shops on the way. The night he went missing he had gone with some other friends, including Jamia.
“We were all walking home from school together and we stopped by a few shops on the way. There was a clothing store, a bakery, and a Christmas decor store we went in.”
Erin hummed to herself, thinking about how her clues could help the case.
“He bought a sweater from the clothing store, a croissant from the bakery, and a Christmas card from the decor store. After that he just went back home and then he didn’t show up to class today. We all tried to message him but he wouldn’t reply so we went back to his house and looked for him there; but he was gone.”
She scratched her scalp with the back of her pen, coming up with theories.
“He never was a suspicious guy, he was like an open book, he had no secrets with us. He would always tell us what he was doing and he was always on social media.”
Erin suddenly stood up and slammed her book shut.
“Lars! We’re going out to solve this case” She called down the hallway.
They drove to the address of the missing boys’ house that Jamia had left for them. Erin used the key she was given to unlock the door and turned on the lights. Nothing seemed out of place there was no blood or anything knocked over like there would normally be in a kidnapping case. That was until they investigated the bathroom. Lars lifted up the toilet lid which was previously down, but suddenly dropped the lid causing a loud ceramic crashing sound. Erin scurried over to the toilet and immediately covered her nose.
“This doesn’t make sense, it’s ridiculously obvious that he’s a single man.” Erin announced to Lars with disgust and shock on her face.
“How does that relate to anything?!” Lars practically yelled at Erin.
“Well, his bed is a single one, and this bathroom doesn’t have anything that shows that two people live here, because there is only one of every toiletry. Also, in his kitchen, the fridge is practically empty and he literally only has one of each utensil. His TV has at least three different types of game consoles attached to it which haven’t been switched off yet, and back to his bedroom, there is dirty men’s clothes scattered everywhere and the ridiculous posters he has would repel anyone who was interested in a relationship with him. There are many other clues that show how single this man is but the blood and vomit in the toilet is definitely suspicious. Also, not very related to the single clues, but his name is Miles Oakley and he also enjoys tea.” Erin calmly explained to Lars.
“Well, what makes you think the blood has anything to do with relationships?” Lars innocently asked.
“Christ Lars, you’re literally studying to be a doctor! How do you not know these things?” Erin gave a miffed look at Lars and continued investigating.
They ended up not finding any clues leading to his disappearance, so they started to investigate the 3 shops Jamia told them about.
They first went to the clothing store in hopes of any of the employees acting suspicious in any way. Lars was taking notes of anything strange that could be helpful, while Erin was asking employees about the missing boy.
“Did you by any chance see this man in here?” She pulled up a photo of Miles and showed the employee.
“Yes, he came in here with a few other people, bought a sweater, and left.” The employee replied casually.
“Was he acting strange in any way at all? Or did he say anything out of place or anything?”
The employee looked at Erin with a puzzled expression and shook her head with one eyebrow raised.
“Alright, that’s it. Thank you for your time, I must be gone now.” Erin kindly thanked the still dumbfounded employee.
On the way to their next destination Erin asked Lars if there was anything suspicious in the store.
“Well, there was a giant gumball machine in the middle of the store” Lars shrugged.
Erin stared at Lars with a look of pure disdain, and sighed.
“Well, I’m afraid that if we can’t find any clues in these shops we’re going to have to speak to his family and other friends.”
They reached the bakery and swung open the heavy door, being engulfed in the scent of fresh bread and cookies. Erin asked for a croissant to be microwaved for her, and a gingersnap cookie for Lars. She rushed off to the bathroom to wash her hands from the ‘toilet incident’ from earlier. As she was washing up she noticed there was someone in the farthest stall door. The person was motionless and dead silent. As she got closer, she saw that at the person’s feet were drops of blood surrounding the toilet and covering the left wall of the stall. She slammed open the door in one swift kick and saw what had happened.
“Mister Miles Oakley, your friends have been worried sick about where you are… how am I going to explain this?” She said to herself as she gazed in sorrow at the body of the missing friend, a gun in his right hand accompanied by a hole in his head.
She wrote a note on a paper towel about the body and stuck it to the stall door, then walked out to meet Lars.
“I’m afraid the case is over, Lars. Suicide in the bathroom.” Erin said with downcast eyes.
The look on Lars’ face was full of gloom and disbelief; he was speechless.
“I’m also afraid that I’ve lost my appetite for this croissant.” She rolled up the baked treat and stuffed it in her pocket.
After a few hours back at the apartment, Lars called out to Erin asking if he could have the uneaten croissant. Right as he was about to take a bite out of it he paused and looked at it with a perplexed look on his face.
“Does this croissant have garlic in it?” Lars asked.
Erin leapt off the couch, causing her laptop and notes to fall slide onto the carpet floor. She snatched the treat from Lars’ hands and started sniffing it in panic.
“Just as I thought, thank god you didn’t eat this” She sighed in relief, but still having her tensed up shoulders.
“I believe that this croissant contains large amounts of arsenic. A deadly element that causes the most awful symptoms when ingested, such as: vomiting, diarrhea, excessive sweating, cramping everywhere, blood in urine, hair loss, I could go on but you get the idea. The garlic smell is caused by the powder being heated, and I asked for it to be microwaved. Why the hell was this in the-”
Erin stopped herself mid-sentence before sharply looking back to Lars.
“We have to go back to the kid’s house.” She said in a rush while frantically putting on her boots and the nearest jacket she could find.
When they arrived back to the house, Erin rushed through the door and sprinted into the bathroom and frantically lifted the toilet lid. Nothing.
“I don’t get it, the mess was just here a few hours ago!” Erin panicked.
She stepped out of the bathroom and realized the whole house looked different. The video games and controls were all put away, the kitchen was organized, all the dishes had been put in the cupboards, the bed was made, even the gross posters from earlier seemed like they were dusted off.
“Somebody was here and got rid of all the evidence.” Erin stated to Lars.
“The body!” She suddenly remembered and ran out of the house once more, dragging a clueless Lars by his hand.
They arrived at the bakery once again, but then realized it was closed.
“We can just come back here tomorrow right? It’s not like anyone’s gonna remove a body from the bathroom stall since you found it.” Lars tried to reason with Erin, but she was stubborn.
“No, it’s going to be cleaned up tomorrow and I need to examine it now!” Her voice was coated with determination.
She reached for her pick gun to unlock the door and find the body. After an unnecessarily long time trying to pick the lock with shaky hands, she finally opened the door and raced into the bathroom. She swung the door open to be met with an empty stall and perfectly clean toilet and floor. She was in disbelief, realization hit her that this wasn’t a normal suicide; she wasn’t even sure if it was a suicide.
“Lars, we need to get out of here right now!” Erin demanded, grabbing his hand tightly once again.
“Why, what happened?” Lars asked in confusion.
“Someone is following us and knows we’re trying to solve the murder of this kid” She quietly explained while sprinting back out of the bakery.
“Wait, a murder?!” Lars whisper-yelled, his eyes widening when Erin nodded her head frantically.
They ran back to their apartment and collapsed against the door, sliding down and breathing heavily.
“That bakery has something fishy going on about it, removing a body as fast as that. I should’ve known that it was a murder the second I walked in and saw his body.” Erin slapped her forehead in irritation.
“The gun was in his right hand, and when we investigated the house I saw pencils on the left side of his paper, the coffee mug handle on the left side of the coffee table. Hell, the kid even had a left handed mouse for his laptop.” Erin continued, slightly calming down at the touch of Lars’ hand on her shoulder.
“It’s okay; at least we know this was a murder, and you love solving murders!” Lars excitedly remarked, trying his best to cheer Erin up.
“Thanks Lars, I’m going to attempt to sleep now. I’ll be ready to prove that that bakery isn’t what it seems to be.”
The day started off with Erin turning the living room upside down doing research while Lars was at his morning lectures. When Lars returned, he saw Erin had brought Jamia over to help the case, obviously after they told her what happened. It was a mess.
“Lars, I’ve come up with a plan with Jamia. She has agreed that she will buy a croissant and innocently ask why it has a garlic smell, and just casually mention that arsenic powder has the exact same scent as the croissant. Sound good right?” Erin smiled enthusiastically at Lars.
“Sounds good, but what if they don’t put the powder in it?” Lars questioned.
“There is no way they won’t put the powder in, I’ve noticed they only put it in croissants. If they put it in the other baked goods, you would either be suffering right now, or dead” Erin smirked at Lars and raised her eyebrows.
They put the plan into action and had Jamia ask for the croissant microwaved.
“Here’s your microwaved croissant, Miss!” The man behind the counter smiled and handed the baked good wrapped in a napkin to Jamia.
“Ah, thank you,” she took the croissant to her mouth and stopped right before biting into it.
“Um, why does this smell like garlic?” The man slightly jolted at her question.
“Oh sorry about that, we just microwaved a slice of garlic bread and the scent kind of sticks to other food.” The man explained apologetically while scratching the back of his neck.
“Oh, that’s…that’s ok, it’s fine!” Jamia stammered, unsure of what to do next, so she just returned to where Erin and Lars were standing outside.
“So, what’s the scoop?” Erin was lightly bouncing on the balls of her feet, excited to hear what happened.
“They just said that the smell was from microwaving garlic bread in there.” Jamia calmly remarked.
Lars turned his head to Erin to hear what she had to say, but looked away when he saw she was staring blankly at the ground.
“No, they’re lying. And I’m going to prove it!” Erin confidently yelled.
She violently turned her back to them and started speed walking back to the apartment, letting her long jacket whip around behind her.
“Do not eat that croissant, I know exactly what will happen!” Erin called back to them.
After Erin stormed off, Lars knew she needed space at times like these, and watched her walk across the road, fists still clenched.
When Erin arrived back at the apartment, she was definitely not expecting a woman who looked like a supermodel standing in the middle of the living room. She was dressed in a tight black dress with a long flowy jacket reaching past her knees, with her dark hair draped over her shoulder and falling over half her face. She made sudden eye contact with Erin and slowly walked over to where she stood.
“I’m sure you’re curious as to why I am in your home,” She spoke in a smooth French accent.
“Yes, yes I am. But this is my property so please get out!” Erin sternly commanded her, pointing to the door she had walked through. The woman only chuckled and continued getting closer.
“I’m here because I was sent to speak to you about doing business with you.” The woman slyly spoke. “I’ve seen you’re trying to solve the case of Miles Oakley, and I was going to ask you about it.” She continued.
“Firstly, you just broke into my house so if you don’t leave I will call the cops. Second, why would I tell you anything about the case?” Erin was too mentally exhausted to deal with this woman and just wanted to curl up and sleep.
“I’m afraid that I cannot leave until you hand over all your evidence about the case.” The woman smiled and immediately pulled Erin towards her and pressed a pocket knife to her neck.
“If you as so much try to yell for help I won’t hesitate to stab this into you.” The woman softly whispered in Erin’s ear, causing her to shudder and slightly squirm.
“I think I should go back to the apartment now, I’m pretty sure she’s sleeping right now.” Lars was tired and Jamia was getting bored so he waved goodbye to her and started to head back to the apartment.
Once Lars opened the door, he was ready to fall asleep straight away. That was until he saw his roommate being shoved against a wall by a woman who was taller than both of them, and holding a knife dangerously close to Erin’s neck. Lars didn’t really know what to do except stand back.
“Who the hell are you and why do you have my friend pressed up against the wall with a knife?!” Lars shouted out to the woman.
“How rude of me to not introduce myself properly! My name is Sabine Aris and I know exactly what happened to Miles and the rest of the missing people.” She spoke with aggression in her voice.
After about ten minutes of Erin and Sabine yelling at each other, Lars attempted to rescue Erin. His plan backfired harshly which resulted in him getting a deep cut in his face. The mistake made it easy for Sabine to tie them up with the lamp wires.
“If you’re going to destroy all the evidence and most likely kill us, can you at least tell us what happened to all those people and the bakery?” Lars asked Harshly.
“The business I run is a very professional and secret organization, in the black market,” she started off but what interrupted by Erin suddenly.
“Let me guess, the bakery was just a cover-up story for the whole plan to work here. All the bakery employees were all from France, hence the accents I heard from them, and all of you are in some giant gang comunity on the market. It’s constructed of the best criminal hackers in France who also have experience in the black market. The whole procedure is fast and quiet; I’ll use Miles as an example for explanation. My original hypothesis was that all of your food contained arsenic powder, but I only realized it was just the croissants because of the garlic smell and Lars not having any reaction to his cookie. You chose to poison all of the croissants as a reference to France, your hometown. Also, if you’re a gang of the best hackers in France, then obviously you have to have some sort of way of knowing if a customer is dead or not. A microscopic tracking device, and a device that keeps track of the person’s heart rate was constructed by your group and implanted in all the croissants. The arsenic kills them any time between two hours to two days, and that’s when you break into their home and remove the body when nobody is around. You then would hide or disguise it, clean up the evidence, find a buyer, and sell the body. I did a little research and learned that bodies on the black market can go from a couple hundred, to the most expensive price of forty five million. Transporting a body is also a couple thousand to pay up and I bet it’s a great business to get into and definitely pays off well.” Erin finished with a smug smile on her lips.
“You are a very wise detective Miss Lotters, I am willing to give you an opportunity to join us in the black market business” Sabine moved closer to Erin waiting for her reply.
“I think I’ll pass on that one!” Just as Erin finished, police officers and SWAT members started barging in and immediately cuffing Sabine.
“I know this is really cliché, but I forgot to mention how at any moment I could press this tiny button on my ring and a tiny microphone I have in this other ring will live stream the surrounding sounds to the police, FBI, and the SWAT in this city,” Erin explained to a now handcuffed Sabine while smiling proudly.
“It was my idea at first but then Lars helped me set it up, and I obviously got agreement from all the officers. There’s been way too many moments where this city could’ve been blown to smithereens if it wasn’t for this button.” Erin’s smile and pride kept growing wider and wider by the minute.
“Oh yeah, and also the amount of police and SWAT members here, are almost triple the amount there is down at the bakery. The bodies you haven’t sent and are still stored in the back room of the bakery will be given to the families of the customers you murdered.” Erin finished and while passing Sabine, patted her on the shoulder.
“You put in a good effort to murder me I’ll give you that, but I’m harder to defeat as the final boss in all you video game. Better luck next time!” Erin smiled back at Sabine who was still restrained by the guards.
“I will somehow kill you! One day you will be murdered, and it will be me who will commit it.” Sabine spat at Erin.
“Hmmmm, good luck with that.” Erin casually walked down the hallway to her bedroom and got her well-deserved rest.
“Do you think I look cool with this scar?” Lars asked while gently caressing the wound from the night before. It was Saturday morning so Lars spent the morning organizing the apartment with Erin.
“Well, you look like you fought someone armed and dangerous, so yes. Just make sure the stitches don’t open or else we’ll be back at square one with the hospital.” Erin reassured Lars.
After that crazy night, Lars had gone to the hospital to get stitches from the deep cut on his left cheek. He was slightly self conscious about it, but wanted all the reassurance he could get.
“Thanks Erin, I still can’t believe what happened last night. We could’ve actually died!” Lars gazed at Erin, hit with the realization that this was the closest they had ever been to dying.
“Well, we didn’t thanks to to the rings. Don’t think about it too much, that’s just going to make you feel uneasy for the rest of the day,” Erin shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “I’ve dealt with too much death this week.”