Nearly Out of Time

"Ellie, I think you're going to want to wear a mask for the smell" said a quiet voice on the other end of the phone.

Ellen Hartley had not been on the homicide task force in her home of Owensboro, Kentucky for very long, but she had already seen some things that would send anyone with a weaker constitution than herself off vomiting. In fact, she remembered, almost bemusedly, that at least one of the responding officers on her last two cases had lost their lunch over the sight and smell of dead flesh. Even more entertainingly, on the most recent case her partner, Brady Gregory, had been one of the sick.

Coming back to reality, Ellie dismissed her partner's grave tone and responded as gaily and sweetly as possible.

"You just want to ruin my tough-girl reputation. Don't worry about me, just work on not losing your lunch, okie-dokie? See you in a minute"

She hit the end call button before he could respond. The happy-go-lucky-sicky-sweet tone was the exact opposite of Ellen's normal personality. In fact, most of her colleagues on the homicide task force were kind of afraid of her. All except for Brady. He understood her sarcasm and was able to absorb most of her more heated and ornery moods with his own unique personality. Where Ellen was regarded as an unpredictable ball of sarcasm that was quick to anger, Brady was seen as the biggest conundrum to ever enter the station.

Ellen mused on her partner a bit as she continued to drive. He had a way of making everyone around him either feel one of two extremes. The way he made people feel almost solely rested with their gender. Males would be extremely uncomfortable, while females would almost immediately trust him with their deepest secrets. Of course, this made most people assume that he was homosexual, but Ellen knew otherwise. Brady was always dating some extremely attractive girl. Sometimes he was even dating multiple gorgeous girls. When explaining this, some people tried to use the excuse that some gay men use fake girlfriends to cover up their real selves. At this point in conversation, Ellen would usually just drop it, as she would not be willing to share her proof. There just isn't a tactful way of telling people that you had found your partner having…relations…with a pair of definitely female twins in the back of your squad care, really.

She remembered that event a little too well, she thought. Even still, she found that position mind-boggling…

She snapped her mind back to safer topics as she pulled off the side of the road just behind a patrol car and parked. She had arrived at the crime scene. She quickly noted that this was a good dump site for a body. Easily accessible by road for a quick drop, but also secluded by the thick woods that lined both sides of the roadway and seemed to stretch forever. As she exited her vehicle, flashing her badge at an officer who was standing watch outside of the makeshift barrier of yellow crime tape, she loudly declared her arrival.

"What have we got here, girls?"

None of the male officers spread across the scene answered her jibe, and Ellen decided it was because she hadn't been quite loud enough.

"Well, kids? What is it? Who have we got?"

At this point Barry emerged from a particularly thick section of trees to her left, and began making his way towards her, wearing a grim expression, stopping occasionally to say something in hushed tones to officers in his path. This action alone should have keyed Ellen into the idea that something was wrong, as Barry is never quiet. He is never serious either, for that matter. Despite these clues, Ellen noticed nothing. She was still frustrated that no one had responded to her insults. She loved riling people's tempers.

"Barry! My main woman! None of these jokers appreciate me, would you believe it? What have we got? Druggie? Prostitute? Maybe a-"

Barry cut her off by raising his hand. Normally, she would have ignored him or raged at his ''nerve'' for cutting her off, but something must have finally tipped her off that this was not a light situation because she merely fell silent.

"Ellie…it's another little girl. She…" his voice broke and he had to start again "She looks just like the last one Ellie. Just like the first one…she's been out here almost as long too…almost a month by the looks of it. God…her parents…" This time, when his voice gave out, he didn't try to speak again. He just looked imploringly at Ellen, as though she could make the pain of seeing such corrupt and utterly wrong things go away.

In that moment, Ellen wished that that power was in her hands. However, lacking it, she could only stare into Barry's searching eyes with her own helpless ones.

She couldn't believe that just moments ago she had been making light of the situation, and guilt began to fill her stomach with a lead heaviness. She quickly started feeling sick to her stomach, and had to reach out for Barry's shoulder to steady herself against the wave of nausea that threatened to bring the earth a bit closer to her face.

After a few moments that stretched like an eternity, Ellen straightened and visibly shook herself. She would not allow herself to be helpless. Not now. That's why she took this job in the first place. So that she would never be helpless again.

Now Ellen was completely straight-faced. When she spoke, her voice was that of one going about grave business.

"Let's go have a look, then.''