“We’re looking for a white van,” the policeman said.
I. The Haystack
“We’re looking for a white van,” the policeman said, looming out of his patrol car in with a glare. His face was made for frowning and he had the weight and bulk of a boxer in his full and violent prime.
“Well,” the attendant said nervously, “y-you’ve certainly come to the right place…”
“Excuse me?” The policeman hand not slept in over forty-eight hours. He was tired, bleary, and borderline homicidal.
“Collins,” his partner whispered. “Collins!”
Sergeant Collins blinked and followed his diminutive, equally exhausted partner’s finger. They were surrounded by a sea of white.
The police would later count precisely fifty-three white vans in the parking lot that day, glinting in the hazy, cloud choked sun. Some were new and gleaming, others splattered in mud.
“Oh,” Collins said, turning to his partner. “Shit.”
II. The Needle
It was unseasonably cool summer that year, but the lower temperatures did little to help the growing fever that had set into the town. Lake Wilbert and the surrounding area had a population of only 40,000 and there had not been a serious crime in four years, nine months, and thirteen days. For a given definition of serious, of course. There had been twenty automobile accidents and five incidents involving a bear.
But that summer there were five murders in as many days. Motiveless. Ruthless. And utterly senseless.
Chief Wogram was young for his position, barely forty, but he had an engaging smile and a calming temperament. Both were stretched to the limit as panic tore through Lake Wilbert like a plague. On the third day he was forced to reassure the mayor’s office, the local mason’s lodge, and a hastily arranged delegation from The Purple Hatted Ladies of the Lake, otherwise known as the local knitting circle.
When they were gone, Wogram admitted to his secretary, in confidence of course, that the knitting ladies were the scariest of them all, and that if he had his druthers, Wogram would simply unleash them on the suspect. They had been sharpening their knitting needles for just such an occasion.
Cooler heads ultimately prevailed and he assigned Deputy Rye Lindstrom case.
Three bodies. All stabbed with an ice pike. All left along the lake in various states of undress. None of them women.
Lindstrom and Wogram were stumped. And soon enough the fourth body was found and then the fifth.
It was on the sixth day, however, that they received their first and only break in the case. A white van had been seen driving away from the scene of the crime with blood on the back doors.
Immediately, the entire Lake Wilbert City Police Department had been mobilized to find the van.
Sergeant Collins and his partner had just been about to finish their shift when the orders came down over the radio, and with a sigh they began their day-long search for the van.
A search doomed to end in utter confusion and a sea of white.
Somewhere in that parking lot was their van and their killer. Finding her would take days.
A needle in a haystack.