Allie yawned, glancing for what felt like the five hundredth time at the clock as the hours dripped by at a sluggish, standstill pace. She glanced at her work phone again, in case she’d missed a notification, but there was nothing. Then she glanced at her own phone: there was a new text from Stan, “miss you” with alien emojis next to it. Allie smiled. Stan was just learning the emoji language, and now every text was littered with them, however unrelated to the actual conversations they were. If they could be called conversations anymore. Mostly they were watered down driftwood pieces of language. Though at least, Allie thought, they contained full words and not abbreviations. Being of a certain age had saved them from that travesty, at least. Still, Allie’s heart curled and morphed and dripped with dread at the boredom that being a detective in a small town caused. No one had warned her, but that’s how all jobs went, right? No one tells you a goddamn thing. You learn it for yourself, and by then it’s too late. You’ve tied your own noose.

She took a cursory yet mandatory glance at the news. The first thing that came up was a story about a young Native woman in her early twenties who had gone missing up north. Though she hadn’t been seen by anyone for over a week, it was only now that local police were finally declaring her case as suspicious and appealing to the public for help. Allie stared at the eyes of the young woman gazing back from the screen, and seethed at the echo of injustice that seemed to keep repeating itself, year after year after year. Such cases nearly always landed at the bottom of the crime food chain, while those involving someone even slightly Jon Benet-ish soared to the top.

The day slid by like so much sulfuric ash until the late afternoon, when her boss Frank sidled up to her desk.

“Bored out of your mind, huh Allie?” he boomed, startling her.

“Me? Never,” Allie lied plainly, swiveling around in her chair.

“Well, I’ve got an assignment for you. We’ve been asked by the Feds to take a look at this case that’s going on near Shannonsville.”

Shannonsville. The name rang a bell, if slightly muted and out of tune.

“Two and a half hours east,” Frank said, as if reading her mind. “There’s been reports of quite a few men going missing in that area, on the outskirts and around town. Well, more than a few- a lot. Some of the men are from Shannonsville, others aren’t. The Feds want an independent investigation, but don’t have time to do it themselves. They think someone removed from the situation will be more observant et cetera, et cetera.”

“Men?” Allie asked skeptically. “You sure you don’t mean women?”

“Nope. Some guys passed through who’ve never been seen again. Feds figure it warrants an investigation at this point. You’d go up there for a few days, a week maybe. The most recent person went missing three weeks ago. They want us out there ASAP.”

Allie fought back a nauseated laugh. “So all the missing women, they’re okay out there, fending for themselves. But men go missing and it’s practically a national crisis?”

Allie stepped inside the house she shared with Stan and their cats. “Hello?” she cried out, but the only reply was the pitter patter of tiny footsteps from her two black cats, Alfred and Mabel. “Hello, my sweethearts!” The existence of cats made the world an infinitely more bearable place, and Allie was thankful for that. Alfred and Mabel wrapped their tiny bodies around her legs, and cooed for their dinner. First thing was always first. She headed to the kitchen, and grabbed a can of cat food. There was a note from Stan on the table saying that he was picking up a shift at the hospital. An on-call nurse, Stan almost never knew when he would be working or not. It meant another dinner alone, which wasn’t a big deal in itself except that Allie loathed cooking and would often end up eating just a bag of chips, sometimes with a side of Skittles.

The next day, the skies were thick with greyness and the threat of rain no matter which direction you went. Allie slowed down as she spotted a fast food restaurant called Burgertown at the edge of Shannonsville. She was starving, and she’d been driving for almost three and a half hours- Frank had underestimated the time it took to get to there. By the time she rolled in, food was the only thing on her mind. Most of the other fast food places along the way had been shut down a long time ago, usually part of some long abandoned strip mall. She pulled up to the drive thru, its peeling stucco façade a throwback to the fast food restaurants of yore. The car stuttered as it reached the speaker, a sign of department cutbacks. It was all Allie could do not to break out in Hail Marys in an attempt to make sure it didn’t break down on this trip. She ordered food from a pale, freckly, red headed sixteen-year-old, someone who grinned with so much pleasure that it made Allie wondered if she had ever been like that herself, so jubilant and free of existential crises. Probably not. The boy handed over the brown paper bag full of food, and just like that, the transaction was over. Another stranger come and gone, never to enter her life again.

Shannonsville was nothing special; that could’ve been its motto even. It was placid and non-descript, mostly short buildings and houses that had long deteriorated from being anyone’s dream home, if they’d ever been. Allie shoved the last of the fries her into her mouth, and turned into the driveway of what she hoped was the Hilltop Motel. There was no official sign announcing the name of the elongated blue building, nothing even to note its vacancy or lack thereof. The parking lot was all but empty. Perhaps it too had fallen to the pressures of harsh economic times, and closed up. But none of the windows were boarded up, and the office appeared to be in good condition.

Allie parked her car next to the office, which was quaintly decorated with pale flower print curtains hanging in the windows. The door clanged open when Allie pushed it, setting off a series of chimes that announced her entrance. She surveyed the scene: the interior looked like an untouched artifact of the 80s that could have been pulled out of a catalog. It featured tawny carpet, neon accented artwork hanging from the walls, oversized fake plants, and an exercise bike off in the corner. No one came out. Allie cleared her throat, not quite purposely but still hoping that it might draw attention. A lone tall figure moved around in the shadows of a back room. Finally, an older Chinese woman emerged through a beaded curtain.

“You need something?” the woman asked curtly, as though Allie was there for no particular reason. The tone in her voice almost caused Allie to doubt herself.

“I was hoping to get a room,” Allie offered. “I’m Allie.” She said her name like it was some kind of peace offering.

The woman raised her eyes skeptically. “They call me Louise. Technically we’re under long term renovations, but I suppose you can have a room.”

The suite itself was a bare mausoleum save for an ancient TV that’s pile of dust suggested it hadn’t been touched in decades. Allie found what looked like a pubic hair on top of one of the pillows, and blew it onto the floor before heading out. Dressed in plainclothes, she drove straight to the Shannonsville police department, passing what looked like it was the main centerpiece of the town and turned out to be merely a bowling alley, a giant brown building oddly and almost mis-shaped with a slanted roof.

Inside the non-descript police department, the walls were plain with cracked beige paint, lined with photos of previous police chiefs. The last five had been women. Allie thought about how amazing this was, how truly forward thinking this seemingly middle of nowhere town was. She approached the front desk, behind which sat a young Native woman whose name tag read Jacqueline.

“May I help you?” Jacqueline asked noncommittedly. Allie detected an air of indignation at being bothered by a stranger.

“I’m here to see Chief Alexis,” Allie explained, taking out her badge. Jacqueline raised her eyebrows at the demonstration of authority.

“You got an appointment?”

Allie fumbled. “Not exactly, but-.”

Jacqueline nodded her head, already on the phone. “There’s someone here to see you, a cop-”

“I’m a detective,” Allie cut her off.

“A detective,” Jacqueline explained into the phone, barely holding back an eye roll, then hung up. “She has time to see you now. Her office is through there.” She extended her arm, and pointed vaguely in the direction of the hallway.
“Great, thanks,” Allie smiled. Jacqueline only blinked, returning her attention to her computer.

Allie headed into a dimly lit narrow corridor that opened into a larger area with cubicle seating, where heads bobbed up and down. A large glass paneled office caught her eye. Inside, a tall Native woman dressed in a purple pantsuit stood watching her. The woman nodded, and Allie walked forward. As she passed by a cubicle, a balding white man looked up and gave her an unimpressed look. She smiled anyway, though whatever pleasant feeling she had conjured up dissipated when she spotted the pile of nail clippings on the corner of his desk.

Allie and Georgia sat across from one another. “The men who’ve gone missing from here and around here, they’re able, capable men. They’ve likely left on their own accord, of their own free will. It’s not something we see fit to investigate. Marital strife, men leaving their families, starting new lives, perhaps in some cases joining secret second families, what have you. It’s their choice, and it’s none of our business to interfere,” Georgia finished explaining. “We can’t make such cases a priority. We simply can’t afford to, in more ways than one.”

“But don’t you worry that it’s something else?” Allie asked, taking notes as she spoke.

“Ours are some of the lowest crime and murder rates in the country. People are happy here. We don’t have reason to be concerned about grown men who choose to leave.”

An hour later, Allie drove back to the motel through tall green pine trees that seemed to frame every corner of the town, again passing the odd structure that was the bowling alley. On the back seat, mounds of paper were piled high, copies of records and archives from the police department as it pertained to the missing men. Some of them had never even been in Shannonsville, this just happened to be the closest jurisdiction for reporting. Beyond those reports, what Georgia had said held true: there wasn’t a lot of crime. The most recent report of anything going awry had been a shoplifting incident a few months ago. There was the occasional car accident or noise complaint, but it really was quiet overall. Eerily so.

Back at the motel, Allie sat on the bed atop the flimsy burnt orange duvet, and pored through the documents. Her mind twisted and turned, somersaulting inside itself as she struggled to peel away the layers and identify a clue that had been missed, something that would take her to where everyone else had failed to go before. But so far it was all dead ends.

There was a reason no one had pursued these cases further- there was not so much as a faint glow of light to lead anywhere beyond the initial cases. Over and over again it was the same thing. A man left his house late at night and never returned. Or a man was last seen taking the bus to work and never returned. Or a man was hitchhiking as he always had, and never returned. In one of the more recent cases, the last sighting of one man had been when he told a woman he didn’t know to smile. Georgia did notice one thing- the men were predominantly white and heterosexual.

By the time three am rolled around, Allie had analyzed the most recent cases over and over, trying to link them together in any way possible. Each one seemed to be a little bit further from Shannonsville than the last. Could it be the work of a serial killer? Targeting able bodied, heterosexual men was rare, sure, but it could happen. It wasn’t entirely impossible, though it was unlikely considering such victims would be presumed to be capable of warding off an attacker through strength alone. Then again, that could make them the perfect targets, never once suspecting that anything could happen to them. What a luxury that must be, Allie thought, to never worry of being harmed.

Allie woke early the next morning, sunlight sneaking in through the small cracks between the curtains. She made a pot of coffee and drank two cups, even though coffee she made herself never tasted that great and made her wonder why she drank it in the first place. Still, she needed something that would force her mind to come to. She thought long and hard about the mounds of paper in front of her, and the day that lied ahead.

Her first stop was at the outskirts of town, at the home of the man who had most recently gone missing. Eddie was a short, pudgy white man with mousy brown hair, and he had last been seen at a diner that he frequented. Despite being forty, he still lived at home with his mom, Wanda.

“Tell me what happened,” Allie asked after introductions had been made. “When was the last time you saw him?” Wanda leapt right in. Nothing odd had happened that day, and he hadn’t said anything unusual, or acted out of the ordinary. He didn’t say anything about not coming home later. Wanda chuckled and thought maybe he’d met a woman he fancied and hightailed it out of town. “He was always a dreamer,” she said, seemingly not too worried about the fate of her only child.

Next Allie visited the friends and family of four other Shannonsville men who had last been seen in perfectly innocuous seeming places. At work, in a grocery store, fishing by the river, and walking along a neighborhood road, respectively. One of them had vanished during a delivery run, which made his disappearance seem especially suspicious. Still, none of their cases really stood out, and none had been treated criminally by the Shannonsville police, whether they’d been within the jurisdiction or on its fringes.

Allie noticed other similarities too. In each case, the family members and friends didn’t seem particularly concerned. Most of the family members were female, save for the two sons of one of the victims. The few friends she interviewed were both men and women, but none seemed especially distraught. The overall feeling was that these were men who had upped and left because they wanted to, because they simply felt like it. They were perfectly capable and confident men, their friends and families said, who knew how to take care of themselves. Most everyone Allie interviewed was relaxed, though one wife teared up at her own theory that her husband had left her for another woman. Time had passed in most of the cases, so perhaps all the hours gone by had placated them. Allie couldn’t help but feel there was a rehearsed air about the quality of the interviews, as though they had known long beforehand that she was coming.

It was close to six thirty by the time Allie pulled up to the police station, and only Georgia’s car was left in the lot. Allie headed straight to her office. Georgia was on the phone, but hung up when she spotted Allie. “I was just about to leave.”

“Can we talk for just a minute?”
“Have a seat.”
Allie went over her interviews, and felt her voice rising as she demanded answers from Georgia. “Why has so little been done? Why haven’t these cases been fully investigated?”

Georgia sighed. “Same reasons as usual: lack of time, lack of budget, lack of public interest. We’ve done what we can, but overall there’s little to nothing for us to trace, or reason to believe foul play was involved.”

“But there’s been so many, you can’t help but wonder if it might be the work of-”

“There’s no evidence to suggest a serial killer. Unless you’ve uncovered something new?”

“No.”

Georgia shook her head. “These men are people who had control over their decisions. It’s not our place to intervene if they decided to go elsewhere.”

“But how can you be so sure they vanished of their own volition?”

Georgia shrugged. “Lack of compelling evidence otherwise. And some of these men, well, between us, they had criminal tendencies. They’re not the kind of people we’re really worried about if they decide not to come back.”

Back at the motel, Allie logged onto the police database. As it turned out, many of the missing men had dealt with the law in some way or another, however large or small, from misdemeanors and petty crime to larger charges including rape and attempted murder. Eddie didn’t have a record per se, but his name had been included in a list of potential suspects in a sexual assault case. So there was a common thread after all, and primarily the victims had been women. What Allie couldn’t figure out was why the missing persons files didn’t reference these incidents.

The next morning, Allie set out to interview more people who knew the missing men. She spoke with a group of construction workers in Shannonsville, all of whom were women. One of the missing men had been their foreman. At first nothing notable came up, but as she was leaving a woman approached her and told her that he had been sexually inappropriate with her at work. She’d complained to their superior, and a week later he was gone from the job. Apparently, gone from the town too. “I never meant for nothing to happen to him though,” the woman drawled. “Sure hope he’s okay.”

Next she spoke with a dentist (the brother of a missing man), the local mortician (a woman) to see if there’d been an increase in suspicious deaths, and a manicurist (the daughter of a missing man). But the interviews failed to shed light.

Afterwards, Allie headed to lunch at the diner Eddie had last been seen at. She sat in a booth, and waited for someone to come over. A metal sign featuring a coffee cup and the words “til death do us part” hung over the long kitchen window. “Hiya, what can I get you?” an older black woman with wispy silver hair asked. Her nametag read “Margaret”.

Allie ordered a coffee and a slice of pumpkin pie. She looked around at the other patrons, mostly women who appeared content. As Margaret returned with her order, it dawned on Allie that Shannonsville seemed full of women, almost lacking men altogether.

“There you go,” Margaret said, placing Allie’s order on the table. “Anything else you need, just let me or my husband Fred know.” Margaret gestured to a tall black man standing in the kitchen.

“Thank-you,” Allie said. “Actually, I have a question for you.”

“Oh?”

“How long have you lived here?”

Margaret hesitated, wary of the question. “About fifteen years. Why do you ask?”

“I can’t help but notice that the population is mostly women.” Margaret followed Allie’s eyes as she again looked around the room. Save for a teenager, and a couple of children, all the patrons were female. Margaret shrugged.

“Perhaps my diner’s just not that appealing to men,” Margaret laughed.

“You don’t think there’s more women than men in Shannonsville?”

“What difference would it make?”

“None, I suppose.”

“You a cop?”

“Detective”.

“Ah, no one else would ask those kind of questions.”

“I’m following up on some missing men, and I heard one them was last seen here.”

“That right?”

“No one came to talk to you?” Allie asked.

“Nope.”

Allie pulled out her phone and showed a picture of Eddie. Margaret nodded.

“Eddie used to come around here a lot, but from what I understand he just skipped town. Probably got a job somewhere. He’s been bumming off his mom for a long time from what I hear. She used to come in and pay his tab.” Margaret turned and gestured at Fred. “Come over here, hon!”. Fred sauntered towards them.

“You remember Eddie, don’t you?. Apparently he’s gone and got himself missing and was last seen here. You recall anything?”

“No,” Fred shook his head. Allie noticed a small C tattooed on Fred’s wrist. He didn’t look like the type to have tattoos.

“Thanks anyways. I’ll give you my card, just in case something jogs your memory.”

Margaret took the card, as Allie got up to leave. “Sure thing, sweetie. We don’t want no trouble though,” she smiled insincerely, and turned away.

Allie’s last stop of the afternoon was the bowling alley. From what she could tell, it was the main centerpiece of the town. While not exactly a hub of activity, it was centrally located in the heart of Shannonsville, and Allie had driven past it more than a dozen times already. It had an air of antiquity to it, as if preserved from days gone by. Allie felt drawn to it, though she she didn’t know why.

Inside, the bowling alley gave off the same long lost vibes that emanated from the entire town. It was like a shrine to the past, decorated only in items that belonged neither to this century or this decade, and filled with pop culture references from 1975 and earlier. There weren’t many people inside, aside from the staff. A small group of teenagers and a pair of middle aged woman occupied two lanes. An older white woman sat in a darkened corner, hunched over some notebooks. Perhaps she was the owner, Allie surmised.

Allie approached the bar, which was staffed by two older men. Both were rough around the edges, and appeared to be between forty and sixty. One of them smoked openly off to the side, watching a muted television. The other one turned to Allie as soon as she reached the counter.

“What can I do ya for?” the man asked, the timbre of his voice matching the rugged edges of his plaid shirt. He was curt, though not unpleasant. More to the point than anything.

“I wanted to speak with the manager, is that her over there?” Allie pointed to the woman.

The man let out a gruff, reluctant yes. She noticed a tattoo on the man’s wrist, another small C, almost exactly like Fred’s.

“Mind if I ask you a question?” The man shrugged, showing disdain.

“What does your tattoo mean?” Allie asked, and the man stared at her with scrutiny before answering.

“Nothing,” he answered brusquely before abruptly turning around.

As Allie approached the woman, she could see that although she was diminutive in stature her face had feisty written all over it. She looked up as Allie neared.

“Can I help you?” the woman asked in an ever so slightly surly drawl.

Allie introduced herself, and explained that she was looking into the cases of the missing men. The woman looked nonplussed.

“Have you seen anything unusual around here? Noticed any strangers hanging around or any odd activity at night?” Allie asked. The woman snickered.

“Never,” the woman replied curtly. “You’re barking up the wrong tree.”

Allie could tell she wasn’t going to get anything further from her, so she turned to leave. As she walked towards the exit, she could feel the woman’s eyes on her. There was something odd, she thought, about how a bowling alley had managed to stay open for so long in such a small town. Indeed, it hadn’t gotten any busier since Allie had arrived, and the teenagers had already left. Though maybe, she surmised, its success was just because there was literally nothing else.

Allie headed back to the police station to discuss further the fact that so many of the missing men had some kind of criminal record. She also brought up the mysterious C tattoos. At this, Georgia raised her eyebrows with deep skepticism.

“I’m afraid I don’t have an explanation for people’s tattoo choices here,” Georgia intoned.

“Not people though, just men,” Allie countered.

Georgia shrugged. “I still couldn’t say. We don’t govern people’s personal lives. And the fact that these men have criminal records might explain why they went missing. A high risk lifestyle makes a person more likely to disappear.”

“You didn’t think that was important to note in the missing persons case?”

“Typical big time detective trying to interfere with the work of a small town police department.”

“But people don’t just disappear.”

“Sometimes they do.”

Allie returned to the motel feeling frustrated. She headed straight for the bed and turned on the TV, hoping for a rerun of some half decent sitcom that she could lose herself in. The phone rang, and it was Stan. He told her all about the cats’ daily hijinks, and said he missed her. Afterwards, Allie went back to the TV. This was life, passing by. There was something eerie about the bowling alley though, and she couldn’t get over it. Her instincts had always been right before. She had to go back.

The sky was drenched in darkness as Allie drove through the frosty air of the now all but dead town. As she pulled the car up to the bowling alley, she decided to hang back and observe from a distance. She killed the headlights and waited an hour, but nothing happened. Her eyes began to droop. And then almost out of nowhere, a windowless white van appeared. Allie forced her eyes open, and leaned forward on the steering wheel. She watched as two women got out of the front part of the van, and unlocked the back door. A man jumped out, apparently in handcuffs. Alarmed, Allie slowly got out of her car, her hand on her holster the whole time.

She watched the scene unfold with such interest that she didn’t hear anything as someone came up behind her and tazed her in the back, knocking her unconscious.

When Allie came to she was in a pristine, windowless white room. She rubbed her head, confused and growing more and more anxious as she recalled what had happened. She noticed a camera in the top corner of the room. Someone was watching her.

“What the hell?” she said under her breath, knowing that whoever was watching her could likely hear her too. She felt her pockets for her phone, but it was missing. Her attention turned to the only door in the room. She got up and tried it, expecting it to be locked. It wasn’t though, and she stepped outside into a long, white hallway.

“Hello?” Allie spoke loudly and apprehensively as she navigated the long corridor. As she reached what she thought was the end, an opening appeared to her right. She turned the corner into another anxiously white room, and spotted Georgia and the woman from the bowling alley sitting at a long table. They ignored her as she walked towards them.

“What’s going on?” Allie asked as she approached them. “Where am I?”

Georgia turned towards her and smiled. “You were asking so many questions, we’d thought we’d give you an answer,” Georgia was more pleasant than she’d ever been.

Allie shook her head, confused. “What is this place?”

The other woman answered. She was wearing a long white lab coat with a nametag that read Peggy. “Welcome to the Centre for Men,” she said coyly.

“What?” Allie looked around. There were doors that lead elsewhere, but no windows or signs.

“All the men you’ve been searching for, they’re here,” Georgia stated, gesturing at endlessly white space.

“What do you mean?” Allie asked, debating whether she should make a run for it.

“I’ll give you a tour,” Georgia offered.

Georgia led the way to one of the doors, accessed by a fingerprint security code. Inside was another long corridor, this time filled with room after room with large paneled windows. “Don’t worry,” Georgia said pre-emptively. “One way mirrors- they can’t see us.”

As they walked along, Allie saw that the rooms were filled with men, some single occupancy, some double. Some were resting, others appeared to be engaging in small tasks, reading, writing, simple carpentry, knitting.

“What is this?” Allie could hardly get the question out of her mouth. She followed Georgia along the corridor, viewing room after endless room. The men appeared to range in age from twenty to sixty odd years old.

“Here at the Centre, we retrain men. When they do something that harms or threatens another person, we bring them to the centre. They’re given the opportunity to relearn how to live in a constructive and useful manner in society. For some of the men, relearning can be accomplished quite quickly. Others spend extended periods in virtual reality retraining modules. It’s rehabilitation that benefits all of society.”

“I don’t get it. Is this a jail?”

“Jails don’t work…you of all people should know that,” Georgia said.

“How long do they stay here for?”

“As long as it takes.”

“And if they don’t rehabilitate?”

“They remain with us for as long as necessary. Our success rate is ninety-eight percent. We teach them important skills that they’ve often never learned, such as loving, nurturing, caring for others, being considerate and honest, and doing no harm.”

They paused in front of the room of a man who appeared particularly old and frail.

“That’s Harry. He likes being here. We’re pretty sure he’s failed his tests on purpose just so he can stay. He was out at one point, but then got pulled back in after an attempted robbery with a water gun.”

Allie noticed a small C on his hand. “The C tattoos…they’re related to here?”

Georgia smiled. “Yes, that’s a sign of success at the Centre for Men. It means you’re ready to be reintegrated into society, whether its in Shannonsville or elsewhere.”

“Why take me here? Why show me at all?”

“We didn’t want to take any chances.”

“Why hasn’t anyone reported this once they’ve gotten out?”

“We don’t hurt anyone, we help them feel better about themselves and therefore their lives. We only ask they take the same care towards their fellow humans.”

After the tour, Georgia made Allie sign a confidentiality agreement.

“Some people know, of course,” Georgia said, “but we can’t take any chances.”

Allie stopped at the motel only briefly to pick up the rest of her belongings, and then started the midnight journey back home. When she finally arrived, she climbed into bed next to a snoring Stan, but she wasn’t really there. Her mind was back in Shannonsville, obsessively wondering what had gone wrong. Or right. Alfred and Mabel climbed on top of her, and she fell asleep.

The next morning, Allie sat across from Frank in his office. This was it. Time to report on what had happened, on everything she’d uncovered.

“Well, whaddya got for me,” Frank asked, eyes wide, almost interrogating her.

Allie cleared her throat. “Well, it’s really quite complicated, and you probably won’t believe it.”

“Oh?” Allie took a deep breath, and prepared her speech. She looked through the glass panel of Frank’s office, and thought of all the missing women posters she’d seen throughout her career, throughout her life. So many women. Where were they all? Who were they? What were their lives meant to have been?

“Yes. But it’s quite simple too- there’s nothing going on up there. Certainly nothing we can really investigate.” Frank raised a lone, furry eyebrow, incredulous. “There’s no leads, no connections. The men that have gone missing, they’re half bit or even full-time criminals. They’re leading high risk lives, and it’s to be expected that they disappear. Onwards and upwards to the next town. It’s just part and parcel for their lifestyles.” Allie had prepared her speech, rehearsed it in her mind all morning.

“You mean to tell me you found not one bit of credible evidence that would lead you to believe there was something larger going on, be it foul play or alien abduction, even?” Frank looked at her hard.

“No. I’ll give you all my notes, the files. But really…it’s a dead case.” Allie looked her boss straight in the eye.

“And now you’re even using the rhetoric of “high risk” that you loathe when it’s applied to missing women?”

“Well, you see,” she explained, “it was always the men who were living high risk lifestyles, in both situations. They’re high risk to society, whereas the women never were.”

Allie caught a glimpse of Frank’s hand as he scratched at his ear. There, too, was a tiny, now faded, C tattoo. She turned her head sharply before Frank could catch her shock, and gazed out the window at the pigeons coming to roost.

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