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Cotton FBI - Episode 06

Contents

  1. Cover
  2. What is COTTON FBI?
  3. The Author
  4. Title
  5. Copyright
  6. 1
  7. 2
  8. 3
  9. 4
  10. 5
  11. 6
  12. 7
  13. 8
  14. 9
  15. 10
  16. 11
  17. 12
  18. 13
  19. 14
  20. 15
  21. Next on Cotton FBI

What is COTTON FBI?

Your name is Jeremiah Cotton. You are a small-time cop in the NYPD, a rookie that no one takes seriously. But you want more. You have a score to settle with the world. And anyone who calls you “Jerry” will be sorry.

A new time. A new hero. A new mission. Experience the birth of a digital cult-series: Cotton FBI is the remake of JERRY COTTON, the most successful series of German novels with more than one billion copies sold, and it tells an entirely new story in e-book form.

Cotton FBI is published twice a month, with each episode a self-contained story.

The Author

Peter Mennigen was born in Meckenheim near Bonn. He studied art and design in Cologne before he turned to writing fiction. His novels have been published by Bastei Lübbe, Rowohlt, Ravensburger and other publishing houses. He also writes scripts for graphic novels and audio dramatizations as well as screenplays for TV shows and series.

1

It all began when a couple of hikers found human remains on one of Chappaquiddick’s beaches. The small island lies about a hundred and fifty miles northeast of New York City, is around 6 square miles in area, and is inhabited by fewer than two hundred souls. Two ferries and a bridge provide access to the neighboring island of Martha’s Vineyard.

The discovery might never have happened if some tourists hadn’t ignored the sign forbidding trespassing on this stretch of coastline. But another significant factor aiding the unearthing of the remains was the fall storms that had raged over the islands during the previous weeks. Wind and water had exposed the bones that had been buried beneath the sand all this time.

And so, the Dukes County Sheriff’s Office started an investigation. At first, they assumed that there was a single dead body. The advanced stage of decay suggested that it must have been buried in the sand for several years. After the bones of at least a half dozen other victims were found within a radius of about twenty feet, the case grew beyond the capabilities of the tiny sheriff’s department. And then eleven more skeletons were uncovered over the following four days. The individual remains were at times less than four feet apart.

It seemed that there was no end in sight.

*

“My God, Cotton,” Special Agent Philippa ’Phil’ Decker exclaimed when she saw her partner. “What happened to you? You look like you fell into a shredder.”

“That’s how I feel,” Cotton muttered as he lifted his suitcase into the trunk of the FBI car and closed the lid. The sound of it slamming shut caused an eruption of pain in his head. Carefully, as if he were walking on raw eggs, he headed over to the passenger door. With a bit of effort, he managed to open the car door almost noiselessly. He slowly let his body slide into the seat. He had a terrible hangover, right down to every last strand of his hair.

While Cotton was dressed casually in a T-shirt, jeans, and leather jacket, Decker’s slim body was clad in an elegant dark pantsuit.

Cotton was suffering from the aftermath of an undercover operation the night before. Vodka had flowed freely during a meeting with terrorists from Azerbaijan. It had taken hours before he had managed to gather enough evidence and could finally give the FBI agents hiding nearby the agreed-upon signal to strike.

“You have no idea how much high-proof alcohol some people are capable of consuming,” he groaned, closing the door as quietly as he could and buckling his seat belt.

Decker’s brow furrowed as she shifted gears and drove out of the G-Team garage. The vehicle’s windows were darkly tinted to keep the sun out. But the light that did manage to seep through was enough to make Cotton’s eyes ache as soon as he looked outside. He pulled out a pair of sunglasses and put them on.

He breathed a sigh of relief when New York City was finally behind them. Traffic had been heavy, and in the city they had been forced to go at a snail’s pace. Now at last they were heading north towards Massachusetts at a reasonable speed. If it had been two months earlier, they could have enjoyed the Indian summer in New England with its brightly colored fall leaves.

“Would you be so kind as to tell me again what exactly it is we’re supposed to do on this island, Philippa?” he said after some time had passed. “After yesterday’s blackout, my memory is suffering from some significant gaps.”

“Does the name ’Martha’s Vineyard’ mean anything to you?”

“Sure. Half the East Coast money-bags spend their vacations there or move there when they retire. What are we supposed to do there?”

“We’re following up on a call for assistance that the local police department lodged with the FBI. It seems they made some mysterious discovery in the form of a number of skeletons. We’ll find out more when we get there. To be precise, it’s not Martha’s Vineyard we’re going to, but the smaller neighboring island of Chappaquiddick. I’ve heard that the inhabitants there are a bit more rustic and not very open to strangers.”

“Well, I guess there aren’t any famous people there!”

“Everyone on the island is a longtime resident, except for a few actors. Even though most make a living off of tourism, they don’t like strangers that much — they don’t really trust them.”

The agents drove along the coastline on Interstate 95. They passed through Bridgeport with its white painted churches and decorative houses that looked like scenes from old-fashioned christmas-cookie tins — typical of New England. About forty miles after New Haven, they turned onto Interstate 395, heading towards Providence. After driving for almost three hours, they came to the harbor town of North Kingstown, Rhode Island. From there, a large ferryboat went out to Martha’s Vineyard several times a day.

They parked the car on the ship’s car deck. Ten minutes later, the ramp closed up and the ferry edged away from the dock to make its way out to the island.

Despite the bitter cold, Cotton spent most of the journey above deck. The fresh sea air did him good; it helped clear away some of the fog from his head. He took hold of the railing and peered out over the greenish-gray waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

“I wouldn’t mind a nice hot toddy,” a woman’s voice suddenly said beside him.

Cotton turned and saw Decker, who had put on a coat before joining him. Leaning her forearms on the rails, she also peered out over the rough sea.

“Didn’t you say that we’re going to a vacation island?” Cotton asked. “It looks like we’re the only passengers on board.”

“Just be glad that the busy season is over. You should see the bustle on Martha’s Vineyard during the high season in summer.”

“How did the inhabitants of Chappaquiddick react to the skeletons?”

“They didn’t, because they know nothing about them. The local police are keeping things quiet to prevent any hindrances to the investigation. The official statement to explain the excavations is that they’re recovering barrels of toxic waste that washed ashore. This has been convincing enough to keep even the nosiest people away from the mass grave.”

The two agents spoke very little during the rest of the passage. The closer they got to Martha’s Vineyard, the more uptight Decker seemed to become, as though unpleasant memories from her past were on her mind.

2

Leaving the ferry’s dock in Vineyard Haven, Cotton and Decker drove east to Edgartown. The FBI had reserved two hotel rooms for them in this community, the largest on the island. But before they checked into the hotel, they first wanted to take a look at the site where the skeletons had been found.

They made their way along the winding, bumpy road that skirted the coastline of Chappaquiddick. After passing some large beach houses, they came to the part of the coast that was free from human habitation. The beach sloped gently towards the water; behind it stretched acres of low sand dunes.

When they saw the yellow tape that marked off the excavation site, Decker reduced the vehicle’s speed and eventually stopped the car. Cotton got out and scanned the sand dunes around them. Every few yards, there were heaps of sand piled beside holes. Seagulls sat on top of some of the piles, watching two young men wearing coveralls over their police uniforms shoveling sand.

The sheriff himself was supervising the work of his two deputies. He was a large, overweight man in his late forties; the large belly hanging over his belt made him look like a pregnant manatee. He watched the newcomers approaching with a grim expression on his face.

Decker went straight towards him.

“Hey — stay behind the tape!” Pearce bellowed at her angrily. “This section of the coast is off limits, and that goes for journalists, too!”

“We’re not journalists,” Decker called back, pulling out her ID. “I’m Special Agent Philippa Decker and this is my partner, Special Agent Jeremiah Cotton.”

“FBI?” Pearce studied the cards dourly. “What do you want here?”

“We’ve come here from New York to do our job. In case you haven’t been informed, the authorities on Martha’s Vineyard requested our assistance. We’ll take over from here on out.”

The sheriff’s body seemed to inflate as he heard this. With his face reddening with anger, he said, “Oh, yeah? You’d be better off getting your cute ass back to New York. My boys and I know how to do our job.”

“Oh, really? Then why can’t I see anyone from forensics around here supervising the excavation? Who’s looking for traces of evidence and securing them?”

“What evidence?” the sheriff barked at her. “Lady, there are only rotten bones around here. There aren’t any traces of evidence anymore … except maybe a few rotten rags still hanging on the ribcages.”

“For you, they may be only bones and rags, but for an expert, they’re evidence that must be properly secured.” Decker looked hard into the sheriff’s eyes without blinking. “And that’s why you’re going to stop your bulldozing immediately and leave the work to the FBI’s experts.”

“Oh, yeah?” he retorted angrily. “Spare me your so-called experts. Up here we do things our way. If you don’t like it, then you can …”

“With all due respect, Sheriff, we didn’t come all this way to watch you dig around this beach like it was a sandbox, destroying everything.” The bickering about jurisdiction was starting to get on her nerves, so she pulled out her phone. “I’ll just call the County Commission, and you can set things straight with them right now.”

Her threat had the desired effect. The sheriff relented, but his eye was still twitching.

“All right — let’s quit playing around, then. After all, we’re here to try to solve a mass murder,” he told her, though still reluctantly, “and as fast and as discretely as possible. If word got out that we’ve discovered a virtual cemetery here, the reporters would be on us like a swarm of locusts. My dad saw that happen back in the sixties, when Ted Kennedy had an accident up on Dike Bridge and his mistress was killed. That was quite a scandal.”

“How many victims have you found so far?” Cotton asked.

“Eighteen, but there could be more out there. We’re still combing through the dunes. The site has increased in size from twenty square yards to about a hundred now.”

“The suspect must be knowledgeable about the local geography,” Decker said. “He chose a part of the coastline that has no settlements and is usually off limits.”

“That’s why the remains weren’t found sooner,” the sheriff said.

“Do you have any suspects yet?” asked Cotton.

“No.”

“Do you have any idea of when the killings may have occurred?”

“Some of these bodies have definitely been buried here for decades, and a few others maybe three or four years.”

“It seems safe to assume that we’re dealing with a serial killer,” Decker said.

“Who may still be active today,” the sheriff added.

“Has it been possible to identify any of the victims?”

“No. All we know is that they’re all women. Although the clothes have pretty much rotted away, you can still tell that they were dresses, skirts, bras, and so forth.”

“Have there been any cases of missing women on the island over the past few years?”

“No. We haven’t had anyone missing here for decades.”

“That could mean that the victims were vacationers,” Decker deduced. “Where have the remains been taken?”

“To the pathology lab in Edgartown,” the sheriff answered.

“Please see to it that all the remains are sent to the FBI in New York. Our experts will conduct the necessary examinations there.”

“Will do.” The lawman lifted his head and looked sullenly out over the ocean. “Anything else, ma’am?”

“It would be nice if you would tell us your name,” she said icily.

“Pearce. Edmund James Pearce.”

“Thank you. That’ll be all for now, Sheriff Pearce. Get your things together and go home. Agent Cotton and I will return to Martha’s Vineyard, and tomorrow we’ll begin our investigation.” Decker handed him her business card. “If anything important comes up, call me. My cell phone number is on the card, and the address below is where the remains should be sent.”

Pearce put the card in his pocket without even glancing at it. He turned away, jaws clenched, and walked over to his two deputies.

“Now that’s what I’d call a constructive conversation,” Cotton said as they went back to the car. “I’m afraid that we’re not on very good terms with the local law enforcement.”

“If I didn’t show him who’s boss around here right from the start, that hillbilly lawman would do whatever he wants.”

Cotton looked into one of the holes as they walked past. He saw an odd-looking object with a curved shape. Taking a closer look, he saw that it was part of a human spine.

3

The two FBI agents drove back over the bridge to Martha’s Vineyard. Their hotel was in the middle of Edgartown, a picturesque village with Victorian homes and cast-iron street lamps. Decker parked the car in a nearby underground garage, then they checked in at the hotel and had their baggage brought to their rooms.

An hour later, the two met in the small bistro next to the hotel’s reception desk, they were the only guests there. Lounge music spilled out of a speaker in the ceiling. The agents sat at a table and ordered espressos.

“The news channel is forecasting a snowstorm for this area over the next few days,” Decker told Cotton. “That’ll put some pressure on us to speed up our investigation.”

“How are we going to proceed?”

“I’ve just gotten off the phone with Mr. High. I briefly brought him up to date on the situation. Unfortunately, it’s impossible for him to send a forensic team at the moment. He’ll only be able to do so in about three days at the earliest. But he’ll have the FBI databanks checked to see whether any vacationers have ever been reported missing from Martha’s Vineyard or Chappaquiddick. It’ll be a difficult task with the older cases. Most of the evidence has probably disappeared over time but that’s all we can do for right now. You and I will take a look around Chappaquiddick tomorrow and discretely question some of the locals there.”

“One question I have is why no one became suspicious over all those years when so many women didn’t return from their vacations.”

“Don’t forget, there were never any indications of wrongdoing,” Decker said. “There are many reasons why people suddenly disappear. It isn’t always murder or kidnapping. Some people simply leave everything behind to start a new life elsewhere.”

Cotton’s expression reflected his skepticism. “If your theory that the victims are vacationers is correct, then the murderer would have chosen them, killed them, and buried them on Chappaquiddick. Have you considered the possibility that the women were not necessarily killed on the island?”

“Are you saying that the killer brought them from the mainland onto the island by car or boat — in the dead night, so to speak?”

“Why not?”

“That would complicate things a bit for the killer, don’t you think?”

“True, but it seems to have been effective. If it hadn’t been for the coincidental discovery of those first few bones, who knows how many more years would have passed before the ...

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