Another death - of someone too young, too healthy.
Another full-page ad in the New York Times.
Except this funeral was in Austin, Texas - not even upstate NY.
A few phone calls got the same back-trail: Cremation, ashes spread with no witnesses - only a video as "evidence".
This was the same modus operandi used when my lover was "disappeared". Only, she was still alive - somewhere.
I never got over how she left so quickly - without even a goodbye.
All this new ad meant: someone was sending me a message to solve these serial "deaths".
And if I solved these, I might finally reunite with the only woman I had ever truly loved...
I didn't know if it was a dream, a nightmare, or a bad memory.
The inside of my mouth hurt from chewing on it to disguise my reaction to the answers I was getting. I had to keep my professional appearance, and keep my head clear from being emotionally involved with the “victim”.
Especially when Tessa got Judy's avatar to appear on top of that rolling “toaster” in her office – the day after that funeral ad was run.
Fortunately, I played a lot of poker in college, so had a pretty practiced neutral face. Although Judy knew my tells...
We'd first met when I was investigating a missing person's report about someone in a freelance computer company working on AI. Judy was one of the part-owners of the firm, so got my questions about when and where she was at the time. She answered all my questions perfectly – a little too perfectly. But her honest smile won me over. The case went into dead files, as no body ever turned up or even real proof of a violent crime. We only started two weeks after the first report, as usual, so the leads were cold.
The next time we met was when her offices at that computer firm and also her apartment were ransacked. And she called me – from the card I'd given her months before. She wanted to officially inform the NYPD of the crime, but also wanted it wrapped up quietly. And again, that winning smile made me take her side. But her distraught face at her apartment also made me bend some department rules. She had no other place to go, and didn't want to tell anyone of what happened. It being a Friday, I let her have access to my apartment – while I took the couch – over that weekend. She spent most of that time repairing her apartment and installing security measures. Although she also made time for dinners each night with me.
I was able to help her by consulting and also helping to install some of the wiring. She had someone else bring in special electronics to monitor her rooms.
That is how I got that key. And my own set of passcodes to let myself in.
She knew from that weekend that I wouldn't go further than she wanted. And I knew I couldn't go any further than she would let me. Rules of engagement.
By the end of that weekend, we were both back to work, but that key was burning a hole in my pocket to find a reason to see her again.
Too soon, that ad appeared. And so did my poker face.
Inside, I'd lost a true friend, and a true love as well – even though I hadn't told her.
She probably knew, though. From the long kisses we shared.
Yes it hurt me to find out she had faked her death. But I had an inkling of what she was into from that office break-in, so she was probably keeping everyone nearest to her safe in the only way she knew how.
At least that's what I told myself.
Another bump showed me the reminder for the cheek-chewing was real. That thin armrest of that tiny commuter plane seat had me resting my cheek on my fist to support my drowsing head.
Just as the announcement came over the tinny plane speakers that we were coming in for a landing.
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