This story is by Lorraine Hurley and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Liz looked over the file once more trying to find any type of clue yet to be uncovered from the surveillance footage of Elevator no. 3, Park Towers. It was the same each time, she thought, as she watched the footage of visitors entering the elevator before the screen would go black. The noise accompanying the blacked-out vision was like the static sound of an old television set searching for a signal. Liz found it unnerving but knew they were getting closer to solving this case recently dubbed by the media as the `Park Girls Case’.
Liz had been a detective for almost five years in Australia when she had accepted a transfer to the famous Big Apple to join an expensive private security firm. The parents of missing intern Valerie May were the first to enlist the help of the firm when the New York Police Department had stalled in the investigation. As insensitive a thought, Liz knew breaking this case could be her career crescendo, so she dove right in.
She had already proven her worth by ruling out all the other elevator occupants who had travelled with the missing girls as suspects. She and her partner John had meticulously conducted interviews and could now place all five victims at the Park Towers with all of them entering via the upper floor elevator, no. 3.
“Do you see how the victim was always the last to remain in the elevator which means that no one else is able to account for what happens next?” Liz asked, not realising anyone was listening.
“You still watching those videos Liz?” baited John. “You know we’ve watched them hundreds of times now”.
“I am trying to work out if any of the girls left the building after the video blackouts” replied Liz with her eyes still glued to the vision. Play- rewind- stop- repeat.
“I still think our perpetrator might be using the black outs to move the girls out somehow” mused John.
“You don’t think they are still at Park?” countered Liz and received only a shrug of John’s shoulder.
He had spent the day triangulating the historical locations for what the firm now called `The Park 5’ hoping that it might lead to where the girls were taken. This had left Liz to concentrate on her theory that the girls were still inside the building. To her right sat a pile of architectural schematics with every floor of the 36-storey tower crossed through with yellow highlighter. Each room, conference room, janitorial closet, toilet block, stationery cupboard- crossed off.
The computer logs had showed that the Park Towers security program had been hacked but the culprit had been clever to preserve their anonymity. Declaring it a dead end, the police detectives were barely investigating at this point and the emotion of the families was reaching boiling point as a result. Liz was reaching her own limit of frustration. She knew that the longer this dragged on, the more likely the victims were dead. She also knew there was a fate worse than death and this idea tortured her. As a teenager, she had been abducted walking home from school. Although she had been found the next day, the horror of being held captive was ever present in her nightmares. She blocked it out every day but then also knew it was the very thing that made her the best at breaking these cases- she never wanted anyone else to go through what she had.
Just then her eyes caught something in the black snowy footage where the images from the elevator stopped. A small horse head of about 3mm by 4mm appeared for a split-second during the blacked -out vision in the deep right corner. What the hell? she thought as she stopped and rewound the footage for the millionth time. As it played back, she could clearly see it. She opened at least a dozen more files to check for the horse head and there it was. This whole time it had been staring back at her in the darkness of the voided footage where no one would look. Liz flipped through countless folders of interviews, pictures of staff, profiles and backgrounds. Where had she seen this before? she begged of her memory.
After at least an hour, John tapped her shoulder. “I’m off. Don’t stay too late Liz. Obsessing won’t solve it faster” he said wryly. John had been non emotional from the start, keeping himself unaffected and logical which was a strength of his, Liz conceded, but obsessing was her strength. It was around 4am that she wiped her tired eyes and tried to refocus. John’s voice grew louder in her head as she realised she was due back at work in three hours. Maybe I will try this again with fresh eyes, she pondered to herself. Just then, the horse head revealed itself. Liz had been flicking though pages of statements with headshots attached when the tiny logo, a horse head, appeared on the shirt pocket of one the building contractors. Before she could leave the office, Liz was dialling John’s cell number, but it went straight to voicemail. She had left a quick message without too much detail but had left John with no doubt as to where she was going.
Liz pulled into the parking garage for the Park Towers just before 4:30am and gingerly exited her car before heading to Elevator no. 3. As she pushed the call button, an intuitive shiver flooded across her neck and shoulders causing her to recoil. Should she wait for John? Liz considered for a moment. Just then the elevator doors opened. She stepped in and before she could spin around to look back at the garage, the floor of the elevator gave way to reveal a concealed compartment beneath the elevator. She couldn’t stop herself and fell in only to have the elevator floor reform over her like the lid to a coffin.
John awoke that morning well rested and hit STOP on his alarm at 7am. As he wrestled himself to the shower, a missed call notification went unnoticed on his phone. He was halfway to the office when he played through his message bank and heard Liz had headed to Park Towers without him. He glanced at his watch. That was nearly three hours ago, he thought as he turned his car around. As the car dialled Liz’s cell repeatedly without connecting, John felt concerned for probably the first time on this case. Why does she always go it alone? he asked himself. As he swiped himself into the parking garage, he saw Liz’s car parked a short way from the elevator entrance. He called Elevator no. 3 as he continued to try her cell phone. The doors opened and he got in unsure of where to go to next. He turned and pressed the button for the lobby.
Liz felt like she was a schoolgirl all over again. Captive. She was laying horizontal in a steel sided compartment that formed the floor of the elevator. The floor which had seemed solid when she first stepped in, was actually one-way glass. She could see straight into the elevator at the people who, like sheep, were flowing into the busy office for the day. She kicked and pounded, screaming for someone to help her but apparently no one could see or hear her. The movement of the elevator up and down for hours was sickening leaving Liz to periodically battle not choking on her own vomit. Just then a sinister voice cut the thickening air like a blade.
“I’ve been waiting for you Detective” the voice hissed.
Liz’s body instantly felt prickly. She wondered if because she had figured out his identity that this somehow gave her some negotiating power. It did not. Her pleas to her captor were ignored which further taunted her. With the signal on her phone dead, she became increasingly desperate to escape. She couldn’t stand to be stuck in here any longer. Just then John stepped into the elevator. Hopeful, she watched with tears running to the back of her neck as he went to the lobby then got back in carrying his phone in hand. She knew he was looking for her. She let out a gut-wrenching scream till the lack of air felt like a bus was parked over her chest then watched in agony as he walked out to the garage.
Back at the office, John’s attention was caught by the arrival of an email with a particularly disturbing subject line – ‘The Park 6’. Horrified at what he might see John tentatively played the video attached. He watched as Liz entered elevator no. 3 of the Towers but then just like the others, the footage cut out and was replaced with a black screen accompanied by an eery static soundtrack. His mind raced then simplified to one thought –Fuck!