Interview with the Badge is the story of an eager Investigative reporter, Charlie Cooper, trying to prove herself in the competitive and merciless career that she has chosen.

After a string of young girl’s disappearances, goes unsolved, Charlie dives head first into the investigation and chaotic crime scenes. Being an over achiever, she steps on a few toes along the way, angering some of the local law enforcement.

She stumbles upon a rookie cop, Sam Sandler, who delivers some tangible information and he becomes somewhat of her informant on the cases, even though she suspects he is unaware of how much information he is giving away.

Charlie has a few run-ins with the handsome, but brooding Detective, Brock Ledger. A love hate relationship blossoms and they realize that through their past and family background they have more in common than they thought.

The closer Charlie gets to finding the missing piece of the puzzle the more dangerous her situation becomes. The killer begins contacting her from an unidentifiable location. He gets too close for comfort and Charlie is forced to go into hiding.

Meanwhile, Charlie’s long lost brother shows up after being absent for a few years and after being caught up on the latest events he decides he wants to help, but Brock is leery of his coincidental arrival to town.

Chapter 1

The day that would mark the turning point in Charlie Cooper’s career started off with something every woman dreads but knows is a necessary evil. Her annual pap smear. And much to her dismay he was a chatty sort, felt the need to make mundane conversation while he was eye level with her lady parts. She had come to him on Alex’s recommendation which she was now questioning severely. Now she was staring at a crack on the ceiling as if it was the most interesting thing she had ever seen. The silver haired MD was almost completely hidden on the other side of her medical gown. All she could see was the crown of his head as it bobbed up and down to the tune of jingle bells, which he was whistling rather loudly behind his mask. She curled her toes self-consciously, in the stirrups, as he inserted the cold probe covered in jelly and she started to wonder if her candy apple toenail polish was still intact.

As she was contemplating how long ago her last pedicure was, the sound of her phone ringing cut through her idle thoughts. It was the third time in a row that she had silenced the shrill ring since the doctor had finally come in to do her exam. He had made her wait fifteen minutes in the room, giving her enough time to decide that she had to pee making it yet even more uncomfortable. She glanced down at the lit-up device and saw that it was Alex again. She smiled politely at the nurse practitioner and the medical resident whom she agreed to allow in the room to observe, he had to learn sometime right, and this was the most action she had gotten in months.

“I’m sorry, I am going to have to take this. Carry on with what you are doing. It is just my friend Alex.”

“Alex Thompson?” the good doctor asked.

“Um, yes.” Weird he would ask.

“Tell her I said hello. She should be in here soon. I always look forward to seeing her, she is one of my favorite patients.”

Wonderful, it just gets creepier, Charlie thought. She hesitated only a moment before she flipped open the phone and decided there was so many things wrong with that statement she wasn’t going to bother trying to decipher where to start. “Hey, this better be important. I’m kind of busy.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot you had an appointment with Dr. Witten. How do you like him? He’s totally great, right?”

Charlie glanced down at the patch of silver she saw between her legs and rolled her eyes. “Yeah it is just fantastic. By the way we will talk about that later,” she said between clenched teeth. “But I know that you haven’t been calling me incessantly to discuss my female appointment. What’s going on?”

She heard Alex’s sharp intake of air as she was gearing up to launch into full detail. She was a high-strung individual. The only problem was she had one setting no matter what the situation was and that was fast. It didn’t matter if she was excited about a sale at Nordstrom’s, if she thought she had met yet another love of her life, or if it was a dire emergency. You’d never be able to tell the difference because she had the same intensity under any situation.

“Mr. Wilson is calling a mandatory meeting, of the entire staff, in less than an hour. He isn’t letting on what it is about, but Charlie, I received a tip this morning. The buzz is that they’ve found a young girl’s body. The details were sparse. What I overheard while I was getting my morning coffee at Joes, sounded presumptuous from some overconfident gossips but either way you know what this could mean. I figured I would call you for the umpteenth time because if you want to get in on this one you will want to strike fast.”

“Yeah, yes of course. Stall them as long as possible. I will meet you just as soon as I can. I’ll call you when I’m close.” She clicked her phone shut and lifted herself up, on her elbows, so she could peer down between her legs, “Hey doc, we are going to need to speed this up, ok, I’ve got somewhere I need to be.”

With her new clean bill of health Charlie tried to hurry still feeling the pinch in her nether regions from the recent exam. Charlie rushed through the parking lot, careful to avoid any slick spots. They’d just had a heck of a snowstorm that had kept almost everyone at home. It had been somewhat of a ghost town after the sun went down which, at this time of year, was not much later than five o’clock. Charlie went to work in the dark and came home in the dark. The snow had melted and had since frozen making the morning traffic unbearable. Regardless, she was in a hurry and already getting a later start because of her doctor’s appointment, so she hoped the journalism gods were on her side.

She sipped her green tea and flipped through various morning radio stations as she tried to outmaneuver the traffic in her charcoal gray SUV. “And in today’s sports….” “Be the first caller and win free tickets to Aerosmith.” “And that, my friends, is the hottest show in country.” So far nobody was reporting anything on the radio. She drummed her fingers on the stirring wheel as she waited impatiently at a red light.

Twenty minutes later she pulled into the parking lot of Mason’s Messengers, pulled down the visor, and checked her game face. She fluffed her hair a little with her fingers, a useless gesture against the bitter wind. She pulled open the heavy double doors and was greeted with the sounds of the hustle and bustle. The paper always had a certain hum of productivity but today it sounded different, it was the sound of preparation for something important and had an air of urgency.

Charlie was afraid she hadn’t gotten to the paper in time and someone had beaten her to the story that she felt was rightfully hers. But just then Craig Montgomery ventured his way towards her. “Hear about the big meeting?”

 She smiled politely giving a slight nod of her to head to indicate that she had. He followed her as she made her way to her corner cubicle and turned on her computer monitor.

“I wonder what it could pertain to.” Chief sounded stressed. “I was wondering where you were, you are usually one of the first ones here.” He chuckled.

“Doctor’s appointment,” she said absently as she started to sort through the countless emails. She tried to block out Craig’s rambling, for a few more minutes, as she focused on deciphering which emails were junk, which were of interest, and which deserved a response. Eventually he realized that she had quit responding to him and he mumbled something as he found his way out.

Alex approached her desk, leaning over the standing walls secretively. “Awe you left Craig looking a little dejected today. That boy sure does try hard.”

Charlie rolled her eyes and tucked the pencil she had been gnawing on behind her ear. “I wouldn’t be so rude to him if he could read my signals better. I feel like I can’t respond to him at all without encouraging him.”

“Yeah well he is a bit socially awkward but with a little fine tuning, he wouldn’t be that bad.” Alex tilted her head in mock position to check out Craig. “And don’t forget about the trust fund. It could be worth a second glance.”

Charlie knew better than to take her seriously. “Yeah you know, lowering my IQ, upping the designers in my closet, and hanging on the arm of one of the most pretentious underserving but richest men in the county. Totally sounds like something I would do, doesn’t it?”

“Well, no it doesn’t, unless I underestimated you and don’t know you as well as I thought I did,” Wilson interjected. “Meeting in my office in five minutes.” A voice came from behind her, startling her.

She whipped around in time to see Mr. Wilson walking away but he left his nicotine stench hanging around them.

She looked over at Alex, “Seriously, you couldn’t have warned me? How long have we been friends, not so much as even a head nod?”

Alex stifled a laugh, “Sorry friend, by the time I saw him you were already proudly professing your true feelings for your coworker Mr. Montgomery. Besides that, what do you think he wants to talk to you about before everyone else? He is going to assign you the story. It’s your big break, lead investigative reporter. Charlie why do you look so pale? It’s exciting.”

“I know. It’s everything I wanted but now that the moment is here, I feel like I could vomit. Whew.” She took a deep breath. “Do I look like I am nervous?”

Alex started to answer her honestly and then realized that this was a moment her friend needed a little false confidence. “Not at all. You look like you are ready to rock this story.”

Charlie squeezed her hand. “Thanks, but you are a terrible liar. I’ll see you in the meeting,” she said as she grabbed her notepad and made her way to Wilson’s office.

Mr. Wilson was the editor of Mason’s Messengers, the largest newspaper in Mason County. He was a demanding, pushy chain smoker, who lived and breathed the paper. Yet this sharp-tongued man had also become a friend and dear colleague.

She turned the knob on his office door and quickly wiped her damp palm, on her pant leg, before taking a seat on one of the plush chairs in front of his desk. A cigar hung out of the corner of his mouth and he periodically switched it from side to side while he proofread through some of the articles on his desk.

Charlie knew better than to interrupt the master while he was at work. Instead she looked around the office walls she had studied a thousand times, trying to focus on anything other than what he might say to her. From ceiling to baseboard, the walls were covered with pictures from the paper, over the years, and the best written stories made it to the frame.

Charlie wondered to herself if one of hers would be up there someday. She showed promise but until now she had only written smaller pieces: birth announcements, wedding details, and obituaries. She was grateful for even that. She knew that the last couple of months her work was being scrutinized even more. Charlie was being tested to see if she was capable of being the top-notch journalist that they both wanted her to be.

Wilson slashed his red pen feverously across the stack of papers before him. The crease between his salt and pepper eyebrows deepened, on his already wrinkled face, and he let out a growl deep. Wilson looked out the window and appeared to be deep in thought.

“Charlie, as you know, the town was in a state of panic when Callie Smith disappeared and even more so when they found her body, a few days later, in the woods. And you also know that Christy Morris was reported missing a couple of days ago.”

She held her breath willing him to hurry up and get to the punch line. “Well I received an anonymous tip that another body was found late last night, early this morning.”

She let out the breath that she had been holding, and the blood rushed back to her head.

“And as terrible a tragedy as this is, we need someone on the story. Jason McGee was in charge but with his mother’s sudden illness he has been forced to take a leave of absence. I’ve been paying extra close attention to your pieces lately and I think that you are ready. I need someone very detail oriented who can sympathize but tell the facts and manage a degree of confidentiality. Knowing when to report the facts is just as important as getting them.”

“Do you think that you ready for the challenge? This is too important, of a case, to hand out to a new reporter if you don’t think you have the confidence to get in there. Police will be staying very tight lipped until they have more information and can organize a press release. So, you will need to be able to push your way in and create relationships with these people. If they are going to divulge any information you want them to think of you.”

Charlie cleared her throat. This was the opportunity her career had been waiting for. She couldn’t however shake the feeling that she should not be excited, at the prospect of furthering herself professionally, when another young woman had lost her life. It didn’t seem right that one’s family’s worst nightmare was the big break that she had been waiting for. Still she knew that she was interested in this line of reporting from the beginning. She had wanted to be in the field, helping to find the perpetrators respon-sible for the crimes he or she committed. She had dreamed of writing brilliant pieces that inspired justice. Now was that time. There was no time for nerves to take over. She licked her lips and spoke as calmly as she could. “I’m ready Mr. Wilson. You tell me what you want me to do and I will do it.”

“That’s what I thought you would say. An investigative reporter needs to have instincts. You either have it or you don’t, and I’ve got a feeling, kid, that you’ve got it. Now we just have to see if my instincts are right. So, you are on the story.”

He reached across the table to shake her hand, and as his leather ones enveloped her petite delicate fingers, she hoped that he couldn’t feel the perspiration that had accumulated on her damp palms.

“Thank you, Sir.”

“You are welcome, I’m going to call in the others and brief you all on the details that I have. Then I will send you out to the crime scene.” He pushed a button on the intercom and his voice bellowed through the building. “Please come to my office for a short briefing.” He called out to the other reporters and photographers.

She would be going out to the crime scene today. Today she would be doing real field work. She would investigate a possible triple homicide and would be writing about it for all of Mason County to read. She started the day off with her legs in stirrups and with her private parts on display, but would end it as a real investigative reporter. You just never knew where the day would take you.

From somewhere else another woman was feeling anything but hopeful about her future. She wept softly in a cold, damp and musty smelling vault. She didn’t know where she was. She was blindfolded when she arrived. She couldn’t even really tell how long she had been there. At first, she tried to keep track of the hours by counting down the minutes. She literally counted in her head and sometimes out loud, but that angered him and he had yelled at her to stop. She had lost track some time ago and, since it was constantly pitch black, until he turned on that one yellow, eerie light bulb that would flicker periodically as if it was just waiting to die out. She couldn’t even tell if it was day or night anymore. She had found an area close to her on the floor that had a small puddle of water. It must have come from a slow leak through the ceiling. She was able to reach her hands far enough from the metal pole, to which she was handcuffed, to dip her fingertips into the water that accumulated every couple of hours and wet her tongue. She had never known what it felt like to go without water, food, a shower, a bathroom until now. She had to relieve herself right there several times but the more dehydrated she became the less it mattered.

She wondered if anyone was looking for her. She knew they must be. Her parents would be hysterical. This wasn’t like her to just disappear. She knew better than to put herself in risky situations and she avoided anything that was clearly dangerous and still here she was. She hadn’t seen this coming in a million years. And now she wondered if she would ever see daylight again, wondered if she would die like this.

The heavy door scraped against the concrete and the old rusty hinges creaked. She went completely still. He was back. Maybe if she just laid there and tried not to breathe, he would think she was dead. Would he leave her alone then? His footsteps got closer until she could feel his overbearing stature leering over her and his evil presence standing inches away from her face. She practiced the tactic and kept her eyes closed and tried to appear limp. She wasn’t sure if he was buying it. He stood for a long time without moving. The anticipation of his next move was almost worse than death itself.

He reached down and touched her face softly, running the pad of this thumb over her bottom lip. It took everything in her power not flinch in disgust. She tried to go to a place deep within herself and concentrated on not letting her chest rise and fall visibly. Suddenly he yanked on a handful of her, what was once, wheat colored hair and pulled her head upright. Her act had failed. Her eyes flew open in pain, though she did her best not to cry out. He knelt right in her face. She could feel his breath on her cheeks. It invaded her nose. It was warm, and had the stench of coffee and cigarettes. It repelled her and she had to swallow hard to push the bile back down her throat.

“Are you going to make me screw a dead fish now? You are so much better than that sweetheart.”

The meeting ended abruptly and a kind of organized chaos ensued. It was made clear that Charlie would be the lead reporter, on the case, but the overtime would be affecting everyone. The staff was to keep their eyes and ears low to the ground and absolutely everything was to go through Wilson himself.

The only information that had been leaked thus far was that a young woman’s body had been found at a local hangout called Edge Point. It was thought to be a college student, but they wouldn’t know for sure until they had a positive ID on the body. This was eerily similar to the girl found a couple of months ago. The cadaver from this morning was found in her car at Edge Point, by a couple of students.

Edge Point was kind of a modern Lover’s Lane. Young couples would park there for make our session or more, teens and college students would sneak alcohol or drugs, and during football season there would be parties and bonfires.

Charlie looked at Alex and said, “Okay we need to get a game plan going. We will need to interview the witnesses, see if the police are releasing any information, and talk to other students, see if anything out of the ordinary has stood out to them lately. Wilson wants us to reconvene later in the day and go over what we’ve learned.”

The girls were quiet for a moment as they pondered what this could mean. This was a fairly quiet town and things like this certainly didn’t happen every day.