All That Remains by R.J. Scott

One





Lucas





Lancaster Falls was much as I expected it to be. A grid of roads with neatly spaced houses and one main shopping street with storefronts and bright awnings on either side. The town had an air of disuse—probably due to the heat and drought—and like many other towns, it was also struggling financially. The council records, the mayor’s report, the addition of PD information, all painted an image of a town in transition. Kids had moved away, businesses closed, and the opening of a new road north of town had cut down drive-through traffic.

Lancaster Falls had once been a tourist trap for the nearby Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, but now it was on its way to being a ghost town. However, its one redeeming income earner was that it did have a regular Christmas festival, which began in November and went straight through to January. I wondered if that would ever replace the new title of Home to the Hell’s Gate Serial Killer, or the equally distressing title of Murder Town, PA.

It wasn’t the FBI’s job to help a town through a crisis, but we did have robust protocols for positive marketing that we ran alongside any case. Avery was good at that, and I hoped that Bryan would release her from the current case they were wrapping up in Philadelphia and send her over to work Lancaster Falls with me.

She’d be all “Sure there’s a serial killer, but whoa, look at that Grand Canyon and Christmas Event you got going on!”

Of course, it was always possible the town might aspire to play on the uncovered horrors with guided tours, hotels with themed rooms, and guest speakers. Although the very detailed three-page memo we’d received from one Mayor Stokes had told us that our presence was not to exacerbate the issue.

Because finding a killer, apparently, would make things much worse than bodies in a sinkhole.

My satellite navigation took me to the Falls Hotel, shabby but welcoming, with a tended front yard that was a mix of stones and planters. The front yard space meant it was set back from the road, and an antique sign proclaimed that this was Falls Hotel, Lancaster Falls, home of the Famous Christmas Festival.

I counted twelve windows at the front, including one on the left ground floor that was large enough for me to see through to reception, currently manned by a young boy who stared right back at me. This could well be my home for the foreseeable future, and the pressure in my chest was enough for me to rub there, as if that would help. Fear and nerves fought and itched under my skin. I picked up the ice water next to me and took a gulp. I’d been so nervous that I’d stopped at a gas station ten miles out of town, just to give myself an excuse to delay arrival.

The irony of fighting to be the one here, the point man, away from the safety of my desk, wasn’t lost on me when my chest tightened. I’d told my boss I was ready, that I wanted the liaison role, that I’d even take a damn pay cut if they needed me to. I’d said it was because I wanted the challenge, but therein lay the issue. I didn’t want or need a challenge, but I was desperate to be in the middle of this case, and Senior Special Agent Bryan Dupuis, my boss and friend, knew precisely why. From a professional point of view, at twenty-nine and with very little experience in the field I was nervous I wasn’t ready, but guiding information flow was one thing I could do, and this was just a cold case.

A cold case that meant everything to my grandfather, whose health was failing.

I’m ready to do this. I had to give up on being the one working behind the scenes—for Grandpa Toby. The safety of information-gathering and dissemination with the team in Washington, at my desk, helping to solve cases in different ways, was a real thing.

Only this case wasn’t easy; it was a cold case involving human remains discarded postmortem into a vast sinkhole. To date, they’d been identified as women, plus one unfortunate young man named Casey McGuire, but that had been a more recent find, and might not even be connected.

I was here to be on the front line to find out if the woman my grandpa had loved, Carmen Kreuger, was one of those sets of remains. The Carmen issue, as my grandpa referred to it, had only come to light after Grandma Louisa had passed away. Then it had all been revealed, how he’d loved another woman, had gotten involved in her life, how he’d nearly destroyed his marriage.

Carmen had last been seen, just a few days after her fortieth birthday, in West Falls, a town not more than a twenty-minutes’ drive from Lancaster Falls. She’d once taught at a college in West Falls, but hadn’t been back to town for years. That day, she’d been in a sedan driven by a man no one seemed to be able to identify. There was no evidence as to why she’d been driving through West Falls, but she’d never been seen again. Grandpa’s notes spoke of a corrupt system of officials in Lancaster Falls, a police department that wasn’t any help at all.