15 - Day Sixteen

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Geri, Victoria, and Mel sat in abnormal silence on the couch in front of the cameras and lights that had been set up. News sources from around the world had been hounding the girls constantly for an interview to get the first interview with them since the accident. Emma was still too distraught to leave the hotel, but the other three girls agreed to do a single interview with four news sources in hopes of getting them to leave them alone until Melanie was found.

Four separate interviews sat across from them. They would each get to ask three questions and then the girls would be free to leave. Among the interviewers was Barbara Walters, Dan Rather, Eamonn Holmes, and Andy Coulson from The Sun. Simon had a running agreement with Andy that he could have special access to the girls in exchange for his promise to not write tabloid garbage about the girls. It made life easier for himself and the girls to just give Andy a few good interviews and pictures from time to time.

With everyone ready, the interview began in full force. Each interviewer asked their first questions, keeping it light and asking what the morale was like in Spice World, what had happened on the day of the accident, had there been any sightings of Melanie, and what steps were being taken to find her so late in the search?

The girls were nowhere near as animated as they normally were during interviews. All of them were clearly upset and they kept their answers short to keep from crying. As they neared the end of the interview, the questions were becoming harder to answer and emotions were beginning to run even higher.

Andy Coulson was left to ask the final questions and all of the girls were tense and on guard. They knew he would be ruthless, wanting his money question. He'd been relatively tame with his other two questions, but the girls knew better than to let their guard down with him. He cleared his throat and shuffled his papers as he prepared to question the girls.

"It's been nearly two weeks since Melanie went missing," Andy began. "Have any of you started to think that she might be gone?"

"I need to go," Victoria whimpered, bursting into tears as she stood up and left the set. The girls' assistant, Camilla, quickly wrapped her arm around her and led her out of the room, leaving the other two girls to answer the question. Geri set her jaw and Mel looked intensely at Andy.

"No," said Mel fiercely. "Melanie's well hard and can take care of herself." She looked directly at Andy's camera, not wanting to let him get the reaction he was hoping for. "Melanie, we know you're out there and we're going to find you. Hang tight, babes. We're coming."

-0-0-

Officer Shaw walked solemnly through the hotel corridor toward one of the suites used as a common room for the two bands and their families and crew. He tapped softly on the door and tipped his hat at the occupants before walking into the room. "Is everyone here?" he asked, looking them over and doing a quick head count.

"Brian, Emma, and Victoria are in the other room," Geri replied. "I can go get them." Officer Shaw nodded and watched as Geri went next door to retrieve the other three.

"You don't have good news," Mel stated, scrutinizing the expression on Officer Shaw's face.

Before he could say anything, Geri led Victoria, Emma, and Brian into the room. They all found places to sit and looked at Officer Shaw expectantly.

"We ran into a bit of a problem," Officer Shaw explained, leaning on the cupboard next to the door. "Our search team found a few articles that we believe belonged to Melanie, but I'm afraid the trail went cold."

"What do you mean 'went cold'?" Nick asked.

"It means the dogs can't track Melanie anymore," Geri replied softly, still staring up at Officer Shaw who nodded in agreement.

"Why would that happen?" Victoria asked. "I thought the dogs can pick up her scent for a few miles. How can they be on a trail and suddenly lose her. She's obviously gone somewhere."

"I don't think it would be appropriate to start making assumptions about how she's disappeared," Officer Shaw explained carefully. "The dogs are remaining in one area, but they can't seem to find a trail that leads in any specific direction and with the weather conditions being as hot and dry as they have been the last few days, the scent doesn't last as long."

"So, what do we do now?" Victoria asked. "Is that it? Are the search people just going to stop looking and leave her out there?" Emma looked at Victoria tearfully and shook her head desperately.

"I'm afraid with no leads we have no choice but to call off the search," Officer Shaw replied. "We're going to do two more full sweeps of the area with the full search party before pulling everyone out."

"No!" Emma sobbed. "You can't leave her out there!" Melanie's mum, Joan, quickly pulled Emma close, too shocked by the news to cry. Each of the girls joined her in breaking down and were quickly comforted by the boys, Simon, and Sam, who were all fighting back their own emotions. Brian went pale and quickly left the room, followed by Kevin. Melanie's brothers, her dad, her stepdad, and Emma's mum, Pauline, were also consumed with mixed emotions.

"I'm so sorry," said Officer Shaw sympathetically. "I was really hoping to keep the search going for at least a few more days, but unfortunately there's protocol we've got to follow. There are a few volunteers that have said they want to keep looking and there are lots of cabins in that area. We can still hope she'll eventually wander into someone's yard. Everyone in that area has the number to call if they see her. We'll keep her case open until she's found, but I'm afraid the active search will stop."

"Thanks so much for keeping us in the loop," said Howie. "We really appreciate it. Thanks for everything you've done for us."

Officer Shaw nodded and dismissed himself, leaving the group to digest the recent news. As the elevator opened, Geri rushed out of the suite and called out to him, waving him over to the door of her own hotel room.

"You're probably going to think I'm completely mad," Geri sniffed, trying to pull herself together after breaking down over the news. She opened the door to her room and rushed inside to retrieve something. Officer Shaw remained at the door, holding it open so he could see what she was doing. Geri dug through her purse and cursed, looking around the room and wracking her brain to try to remember when she'd put the item she was looking for.

She gasped suddenly and ran over to the table where she had a stack of library books that she'd had Camilla, pick up for her. She pulled a piece of paper from between two pages and unfolded it as she walked back toward Officer Shaw.

"Maybe this might help you find her," Geri stated hopefully, handing him the paper with the symbols the medium had drawn. "Mel B and I went to see a psychic," she confessed, not meeting his eye and looking away sheepishly. "She told us we're looking in the right place, but Melanie's hidden in plain sight. While we were there, she sort of zoned out and started drawing all of these." She started to ramble and speak quickly, but Officer Shaw had tuned her out as he stared at the symbols with shock.

"Officer Shaw?" Geri asked. She was looking at him worriedly, having realized he wasn't listening to her. "They mean something to you, don't they?"

He looked at her and quickly tried to compose himself, not wanting to worry the girl. He cleared his throat and shook his head. "I don't know for sure," he replied gruffly. "I'll run these down to the station and see what I can find out." Geri nodded and watched as Officer Shaw walked back toward the elevator. He looked back at her and smiled sadly. "I'm going to do what I can," he assured her before disappearing into the elevator. He waited until the doors of the elevator closed before pinching the bridge of his nose, feeling the beginning signs of an imminent headache.

He'd tried to convince his superiors to continue the search for Melanie until the eighteenth, based on his speculation that her disappearance could be connected to the three previous bodies found in the area, but they doubted his theory and denied his request. He wished Geri had given him the paper with the symbols a few days earlier. He knew them well. The very same symbols had been haunting him for months. They were identical to those that had been drawn on the skin of the woman they'd found while searching for Melanie, and the bodies of the two women they found before that. They symbols had been drawn in animal blood on the arms and face of the women and had been cut into the skin of their torsos before each of the women was gutted. All of them had died the same horrible deaths.

He deeply hoped they wouldn't be finding Melanie's body in two days.

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