When the guys went to town later, they did not have much more luck. They were able to find a few new people to interview, and even got some people to agree to a second one. However, the answers did not really change. Josh returned, agreeing with Riley that even those that seemed to distrust the group truly did want the answers found, although none of them could experience the feeling Riley claimed to have.
Riley was starting to feel the same frustration as everybody else. She wondered if every case left them feeling as though they were making no progress. The library made everybody tense, and there was almost nothing until suddenly Abigail reached out. This case had special circumstances but still no real movement. However, Riley began to question if this was just their normal operating procedure while on cases. Either way, she needed a break and went outside.
As she watched the sunset, she once again found herself missing Jack. She heard soft footsteps approaching her.
“Do you need anything?” Mrs. Perez asked.
“No, thank you,” Riley said with a soft smile, but one that was easily readable as not real.
“If you don’t mind me saying you don’t seem as comfortable as the others.”
“I am new to this, it’s only my second official case.”
“Ah,” Mrs. Perez was silent for a moment. “You are an interesting young woman from what I have observed.”
“You seem to keep yourself on the edge of the group yet look saddened at the idea that you might not be part of it.”
“You also have this keen ability to read people. Not normal body language but something else, something more. Yet you do not seem to care for this ability.”
“That is a lot of observing.”
“And the occasional eavesdropping, purely by accident, of course.”
“Of course,” Riley said with a chuckle. She knew it should bother her but found it didn’t.
“Like now,” Mrs. Perez continued, “Almost anyone else would be offended at a relative stranger poking their nose into their business and being, at the very least, mildly rude about it. Yet you smile.”
“Your intentions are good.”
“If your ability can tell you that, then what is it that makes you hesitate so?”
Riley furrowed her brows and thought. “It feels like a violation. Like I am taking advantage of people. It’s also just a lack of trust in it.”
“The trust is difficult, but I think time will help you with that. As for it being a violation, it is all in how you use it and why. Sure it might be crossing some sort of line, but don’t you think most of the townspeople would be happy that you can pick up on their desire to see the case closed and justice brought.”
“And if I sense someone was not being forthright? How would they feel then.”
“Then you would be helping two murdered children.”
Riley didn’t have an answer to that.
“People call you on these cases because they need help. Maybe not all of them do to the extent that we do, but nonetheless. Yes, you can cross lines and take advantage of people, but I think you’ll know the difference between when you should and shouldn’t use it.”
Mrs. Perez nodded. “I’ll bring some tea, it is good for reflection,” she said while going inside. After she gave Riley her tea, the older woman allowed her to sit alone and think over what had been said.
Once again that night, they took turns sleeping and watching the base. Riley preferred her time in the base, struggling to sleep when she was in the room with the other women. Miller took the bed with the rest of them sleeping on the floor, not that it bothered or surprised Riley. It was more that sharing the space made it difficult for her to relax. She hoped that she would adjust quickly because the stress of cases was bad enough without the added lack of sleep.
The routine persisted for another day, and the stress was starting to weigh on everyone. Ethan had taken to constantly pacing when he was in the base, and Riley and Emily were completely stalled on research. Gabrielle, Riley, and Emily had even gone to town again to try to interview more people but with no luck. The odds of it being a gross prank were looking more likely, which meant it was also more likely the culprits were hiding.
Finally, Emily was frustrated enough that she turned to Ethan. “You know, boss, there is one group we haven’t looked into.”
Ethan turned to Emily and frowned. Emily’s response was to point at her computer screen, and Ethan’s eyes grew wide. If she was right, it would make things difficult for them. “Do what you must, but be careful and warn me before you do anything too deep.”
Riley had been watching the exchange and stood to join Emily when Josh grabbed the back of her shirt. “Emily’s got this,” he said simply.
“I was hired to help her.”
“Yes, and you will most of the time, but trust me on this,” Josh reiterated.
“Emily is a bit better with computers than we normally talk about,” Mike added cryptically.
Riley was no less confused, but could understand enough to know that she needed to leave it be. It didn’t help with Riley’s struggles with feeling worthless, though, and the nagging feeling came back as she was relegated to just helping with temperature readings and going over the same research she had already completed.
It had been a long day with Emily focused most of the time and everybody else in the same state of boredom and frustration they had been. Suddenly Riley noticed one of the monitors flicker.
“Ethan,” she said softly, moving closer.
“In the middle of the afternoon?” he asked but joined her to watch. The two were watching the monitors when they saw a person walking by one of the cameras.
“One way to find out?” Riley suggested, and at Ethan’s nod, they both quickly left the base and raced out.
“Crap!” Josh called, knowing he needed to go after them. He grabbed as many of his supplies as he could and ran after them. Gabrielle shook her head and took extra time in gathering her supplies. If something was out there, neither Riley nor Ethan were going to be able to deal with it, so she wanted to be certain at least one person was properly prepared.
The group ran towards the camera they had seen the figure on but noticed nothing around them. “I need to get in shape,” Riley panted out, but kept her eyes peeled for anything around them. The area was so wide open that they couldn’t believe someone would already be able to hide.
“Where could they have gone?” Josh asked as he caught up.
“Do you feel anything?” Ethan asked Riley.
Riley stood straight and worked on slowing her breathing as she had at the morgue and the library, and tried to reach out with her mind. She kept focusing and tried to pick up something, anything, but there was nothing there. She slowly shook her head.
“Damn it!” Ethan yelled, stalking away.
Riley’s heart sank as she watched him, and she noticeably deflated. “He just wants to solve this Riley, he’s not mad at you,” Josh said softly.
“No, just disappointed,” she said with a small smile. She walked in the opposite direction, also looking for signs of anything.
“Footprints, a presence, voices, anything!” Ethan was still yelling. His frustration building as he growled and searched around the ditch.
Josh was torn, he knew Ethan was upset, and the pressure was mounting, but he watched as Riley seemed more and more defeated with each exclamation from their boss. They all also knew this was odd. There should have been no possible way for someone to be on camera then gone in this space.
Ethan was far too in his own head to notice how his anger was affecting Riley, not that he was entirely in control of himself to stop if he had noticed, though. He just wanted one damn clue. “You two,” he said angrily to Josh and Riley, “We need readings. I am going to town.” He growled and stormed off.
Josh and Riley looked at each other for a while, and Josh realized he would need to step in. “Let’s go back and get Emily, I didn’t bring all the equipment.”
Riley nodded, and the two began walking back. On their way, they ran into Gabrielle and Miller. Riley shook her head at the two, and Gabrielle gave her a sad smile. The group watched Ethan drive off before getting back to the business at hand.
After they had finished taking all their readings, which showed nothing, the group remained mostly in uncomfortable silence. Riley sat by the door outside, waiting for Ethan to come back, worried about him and how upset he seemed when he left.
“Maybe there will be activity tonight, given this afternoon?” Riley said quietly when Josh joined her.
“I hope so. Ethan is not the most patient person at the best of times, but with the deaths, it has gotten worse. This afternoon also threw a wrench in our suspicions.”
“What do you mean?” Riley asked.
“Well, we were fairly certain that it was humans doing a fake haunting, but there is no way a person should have been able to hide from us out there, especially that quickly. So either they tricked our cameras which is no easy feat, or we are back to suspecting a spirit.”
“A spirit that also left no evidence,” Riley said with a sigh. “I can understand how he feels,” Riley added.
“Me too,” Josh admitted.
“I got a text from Ethan!” The two heard Emily call out to them.
“What did he say?” Josh asked, walking into the base with Riley following behind.
“He said he wants Mike to go over the video and see if it was faked somehow, and then told me to keep digging on my idea.”
“Can I help at all?” Riley asked Emily, then added, “Please.”
“Yes, actually. I’ve been looking at the social media posts of a lot of the high school students, do you think you could take over for me? I am going to try to do some deeper diving?”
“Sure,” Riley agreed and took her laptop back to her haunt outside to wait for Ethan. Her worry for him made it harder for her to focus and be of much help. Still, she was able to spot a few high school students that might fit their suspect list and sent them over to Emily.
Riley understood why Ethan was so stressed but did not think he was handling it the best, not that she had much room to talk. She also knew he needed rest, although doubted very much that he would get it on this case. A few hours later, Riley saw the van in the distance and went inside. She was glad he was back, but was unsure how he’d feel about her waiting for him.
When Ethan entered the base he studied Riley for a brief moment, leading her to wonder if he had seen her outside. He moved over to Emily, though, and leaned over her shoulder. After watching for a bit, he gave her a quick squeeze, “Good girl,” he said quietly.
“Not a girl.”
“No, but good woman does not sound right, and as I have known you since you were rather young, it is how I will always see you.”
Emily briefly chuckled at the response but kept working.
“You seem to be in a better mood,” Mike commented.
“I have a theory which is something. Hopefully, tonight we will be able to get more and see how sound that theory is.”
“Theories always seem to make you happy,” Mike replied.
“No, they give me a sense of progress and control.” Before he could continue, Emily’s stomach let out a loud rumble causing Ethan to turn to her sharply.
“Sorry, we skipped lunch,” Emily said with an embarrassed look.
“Must be kismet,” Mrs. Perez said, walking into the base. “I was just about to call you to dinner. We have enchiladas with sauce on the side again, plus beans, rice, and tortillas.”
“You wonderful person you!” Emily said, jumping up and hugging the woman briefly before racing into the kitchen.
“Forgive her manners,” Ethan said to their host.
Mrs. Perez laughed. “Not at all. I can appreciate a healthy appetite. I had forgotten to check on you for lunch. So please feel free to help yourself to anything in the fridge in the future, I don’t want you going hungry.”
The group quickly sat down and dove in with enthusiasm. While they tried to contain just how excited they were, the whole team was hungry, and the food was amazing.
“You all act like you are never fed well,” Mrs. Perez observed. They weren’t being unmannerly, but the excitement was clear.
“Honestly, we rarely are,” Emily admitted. “Hosts understand that providing food is part of the deal, but more often than not, we are fed in pizza in and takeout.”
“So much fast food,” Gabrielle said with a groan. “I feel as though I am constantly having to work this job off.”
“The last time we were treated to a real homecooked meal was,” Emily paused to think, “Nope, can’t remember the last time.”
“You do remember I was the rude host not properly feeding you not that long ago, right?” Riley asked.
“No, you were someone who happened to live in town that helped us. We would have just been giving the receipts to the mayor instead of using you as a go-between,” Josh replied.
“That is awful.” Mrs. Perez looked genuinely distressed by what she was hearing. “You are so kind to help people, the least they can do is help make sure you are properly cared for.”
“The sad truth is most people do not want our help, not really. They will call us and pay us, but they would rather we not be around,” Ethan said.
“Clients prefer to avoid us as much as possible. We’ve had some that will only speak to us when directly approached,” Gabrielle added.
“It is still a shame. If you need help, you should not be so dismissive of those providing it,” Mrs. Perez said firmly.
“Honestly, we have been surprised by how well you’ve treated us,” Emily said but flinched when she was kicked under the table.
“Forgive Emily, she has a habit of speaking without thinking,” Ethan said, narrowing his eyes at her.
“What does she mean?” Mrs. Perez jumped in quickly.
Gabrielle let out a deep sigh. “That when the town hired us, we assumed whoever we were staying with, drew the short stick, so to speak. Located close to where we need to be so were forced to house us.”
“My team does not mean that as a judgment of you and your husband as hosts,” Ethan said, scowling at the group. “Just a bi-product of our experiences and behaving as though they have completely lost control over their mouths.”
“Sorry,” Emily said quietly, and the group looked shamefaced.
“It’s alright,” Mrs. Perez said with a kind smile, and her husband nodded in agreement. “I understand you did not mean any offense to us. I am sorry your experiences have jaded you so.”
The group finished the meal in mostly silence. They all did appreciate the effort of cooking for such a large group, and the food was delicious. When they were done, they helped a little with the clean-up before returning to the base.
Ethan was on edge, hoping that his theory was correct. He might go mad if they had to wait much longer for a hint of what was happening.
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