A John Doe fan fiction by Booklovr
Disclaimer: The television show, John Doe, and all of the associated characters, ideas, and concepts are owned by Fox network, with which I am not affiliated, which will probably be blatantly obvious at nine o'clock Friday night, so read up!
This chapter is dedicated, once again, to the reviewers, and also to the other fan fiction writers with their awesome ideas. Also to Encarta and the people who bring you ask.com. I couldn't do this without my info! :-)
A/N: Alright, I know this one took forever, but I promise that it's worth it. The body of this chapter weighs in at just over sixteen pages—a goliath even by my standards! JD turned out to have more to say than I thought he would, so as you can see I went with the one chapter plan rather than any other idea.
Studies on sleep have shown that the thought processes of the brain never completely shut down. There is a difference in the brainwave activity seen in someone who is awake versus that of a sleeper, plus there is variation between the different stages of the sleep cycle, but the cerebral cortex itself continues to operate, or at least it seems to. Some have theorized that this is an indication that our brains continue working in our sleep—that they continue to attempt to solve problems left from the day, continuing to search for an answer as you dream. Certainly the electroencephalogram tracings of an alert person are similar in frequency and amplitude to those of a person in the Rapid Eye Movement stage of sleep.[i] While this might not prove anything, many people have claimed to have gone to sleep thinking about a problem, and woken up knowing the answer without remembering how they arrived at it.
Well, unfortunately, it did not work for me. But I did wake up with the idea of going directly to the local police and finding out what they knew. It was a last chance effort, but I only had Thursday and Friday left to learn anything. I supposed that I could at least try asking how they had come to their somewhat illogical conclusions; perhaps they had uncovered something I'd missed. Not unlikely, considering how little I had found. I thought the worst they could do was throw me out.
Well, we're all wrong sometimes.
Before heading out, I managed to convince Roger to let me make another call, though still not privately. Once again, I was overcharged, and once again, I got Frank's voice mail. "It's Doe again. If you can stay near the phone, I'll try to call back around five." I turned to the inn owner. "Don't you ever let people make private calls?"
"The only people who make private calls are the ones who have something to hide."
I didn't know what to say to that. Well, I did, but I had the feeling that any sentence starting with "statistically speaking" was not going to help my situation very much.
I went down to the police station at ten thirty. It was a small building, hardly a hundred feet on each side, though I didn't really stop to measure it. Southburg's police force consisted of Russell and two deputies. Morse was still staking out the abandoned SUV. The other was a young woman, sitting behind the front desk when I walked in.
"And you are?" she demanded.
"I'm John Doe, the Private—"
"Yeah, so I heard," she snapped, grabbing the card I held out. She scrutinized it before giving me a rather shocking look of pure disgust. "And what do you want?"
"Well, I was looking for Officer—"
"What a coincidence, he's been looking for you, too."
She looked at me as if waiting for a response. Possibly just so that she could cut me off again.
"This way." Apparently, she was determined to prevent me from ever completing the object in any of my sentences.
Russell's office was, similar to the rest of the station, in fact, similar to the rest of the town, almost too small to be believable. There was only the desk and a chair opposite it, a file cabinet crushed into each corner, and barely enough room for the door to open into the room. It was organized to use every inch of space to its maximum potential. There was not a loose paper to be seen anywhere, not a used tissue on the ground. It vaguely occurred to me that no one might have noticed why the inside of Theresa's car was so wrong if the entire town was full of compulsively clean people. It certainly matched the condition of this room.
"Caroline, could you leave us?" Russell asked the deputy. She gave me the kind of look that for centuries had reminded people of daggers—though, personally, I thought that was rather an understatement in this case—and stormed out.
"I suppose you're here to ask if you can see the case file, aren't you?"
"Uh-huh. And I understand that yesterday you were asking questions of everyone in town?"
"I was running an investigation."
"Really? Is that what they call it now? Because I call it disturbing the peace."
"Well, I needed to get information for—"
"Yes, your 'investigation.' I know. And who, exactly, are you investigating for?"
"A private p—"
"Party that wishes to remain anonymous? And that's what I call avoiding a question."
"My client has the right to—"
"Privacy, yeah. You'd think so, wouldn't you?"
"That is, if you were a real private investigator."
"Not the only one that can do a little research. There's no private eye named 'John Doe' in Seattle, and the address and number you gave are for a residence—a loft behind some bar. Not to mention that you apparently don't exist."
I really hate when people bring that up.
"I suppose you tried to research my personal history," I said evenly.
"And you found?"
"Nothing. Not a single thing."
"Funny how that's exactly what I found when I was looking into this case."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I think you're hiding something, something that's a little too well hidden."
"Or there was just nothing to be found, did you think of that?"
"I doubt you did. I'm sure you thought the same thing as me."
"So you're telling me there's nothing to be found about you before eight months ago?"
"Would you believe me?"
"Then I won't bother."
For a while we just stared at each other in silence. I knew he was hiding something. But what?
"I want you out of my town."
"I've told you. My bus comes five o'clock tomorrow. Can't leave before then."
"Well, I can't have you wandering the town that long."
"Because you're a nuisance. You're disturbing the peace. I've gotten calls from nearly every house in town about a strange man bothering them and asking questions. And you obviously aren't who you claim you are. And you're interfering with a police investigation."
"So what do you plan to do about it?" I was already thinking out how I could regain entry to this building after he threw me out. The only doors were the front door, which was too obvious, and the back door, which was most likely a fire exit attached to an alarm, though I could disarm it by—
"I'm going to keep you locked up until you can remove yourself."
"What?" I jumped to my feet, and for a few seconds, my brain completely turned off.
"I'll keep you here until three o'clock tomorrow. That'll give you two hours to get out of town, and I don't want to see you again."
"But—keep me here on what charges?"
"I told you. Disturbing the peace, obstructing an investigation, lying to the police—"
"But you can't just—"
"It's my town," Russell said, rising to his feet. "If I say I can, I can."
I looked him straight in the eye. He couldn't do this. I could prove it. He might be stubborn, but I was confident that he was no match for me.
Ninety minutes later, we stood outside the Southburg jail cell.
Now, despite the fact that everything else about the town had been completely stereotypical, the jail cell was not the wooden room with the row of bars set-up usually seen in westerns and other such media. That would have been preferable.
The cell was a room, roughly seven feet to a side, with a cot along one end, and a bench on the other. The floor and walls were concrete. The door was blue and heavy and metal. There was a small window, about face height, in the door, and no other. And that was it.
"You can't put me in there for twenty-seven hours! I'm claustrophobic!"
"Well, you should have thought of that before, shouldn't you?"
"Isn't there anything else? Some kind of deal we could make?"
"Can you get yourself a ride out of here today?"
I considered. I still had my phone call. But whom could I call? This was exactly what Frank had warned me against, so he was out. Anyone else from the Seattle PD would be a progressively worse idea. The only real option was Digger, and I knew he would come right up and not ask any questions, but—some part of me hesitated. I thought of twenty-seven hours in a room hardly bigger than I was. Then I thought of the two hours I would have afterwards. I wanted to get into Theresa's apartment. In the time I'd been inside the police station, I'd seen that there was no place they could have removed either the contents of her car or, hypothetically, her rooms, which meant that everything had to still be there. If I left town, I might not have been able to get back in for a look. But if I stayed, I might be able to slip in during those two hours. Maybe. Would it be worth it?
"Remaining in that room for more than a full day could be severely psychologically traumatizing."
"Oh, really? Do you have a different idea?"
But this town was hiding something. The whole town was. I didn't know what, but I had seen enough things in my short memory to trust that paranoid feeling I was beginning to get. If Digger brought his car up here, they'd identify the car, and him, and if there was even a chance that these people had a connection with Phoenix Group—any chance at all—I couldn't risk them connecting anyone with me.
"You have no place else you could possibly keep me?"
"I want you where I can see you."
"Well, if you really want me where you can see me, I'll sit in your office. I'll sit there all day, won't make a sound, you can handcuff me to a chair—"
No other choice.
I walked into the cell, took a deep breath, and turned to take a last look out the door. Russell pushed it shut, cutting off my view, and locked it.
Okay, I thought. I can handle this. The room is seven feet by six feet six inches. It will remain seven feet by six feet six inches. The walls are not closing in on me. Nothing is spinning. I can breathe just fine. See? Nothing's wrong.
Except that I'm hyperventilating. That's not good.
I sat—or fell, depending on how you looked at it—onto the cot, gripping the mattress as if it was the last solid object in the world. I closed my eyes and continued to gasp. Somewhere in the back corner of my mind, a thought shouted, "Deep breaths! Lower your head! Between your knees! Don't look at the room! Relax! Keep breathing!"
Somehow, I managed to follow those instructions. To distract myself, I started saying the first thing that came into my head. "Seven feet by six feet six inches…by the Imperial System of Measurement. The foot was originally a measurement…of the length of the human foot, but…not standardized. First standardized Imperial unit for the measurement of distance…the Saxon gyrd, based on the measure of the circumference of human body…standardized to the length of the arm of King Henry I in 1101. This is the basis for the modern measure of a yard, divided into three feet, subdivided into twelve inches. An inch was determined to be…the length of three round, dry barley corns, laid end to end."[ii]
After what seemed an eternity, my breath had returned to normal, the blood wasn't pounding quite so loudly in my ears, and the sense of vertigo had faded. This wasn't so bad. I stood up and walked to the door. If I pressed my face against the window just right, I could see the clock at the end of the hallway. Find out how long I had been in here, how much longer it would go on for.
Twenty-six hours, fifty-five minutes.
I sat down again. "Alright," I said to myself. "I've been in tighter spots than this before. I can get through it. Just a few weeks ago, I was crawling through the air ducts of the Seattle PD, and I was fine then. Of course, I was a little…preoccupied at the time." I got up and tried to pace. Not really possible in a room just over one stride in length, but I tried. I was starting to calm down. Somewhat. I needed to keep myself as distracted as possible.
Distractions. What had worked before? I thought back to some of the previous times that I'd been forced to face my claustrophobia. Of course, there was the trip through the Seattle PD air ducts, but there was no terrorist or danger to think about now. There was the time I had to hide in a coffin, in order to catch Lenny Pesco—but that was an experience that I did not want to relive. And before that…
Before that was a much more pleasant memory. The long flight to England and the woman who had sat next to me…
I'm sure most people can't say that one of their best memories involves a murder investigation and nearly dying a horrible, painful death, but I don't have that many to choose from. The flight when I met Rachel Pembroke was probably not the best day I'd ever had, but meeting her had been worth it.
I've never been sure what draws me to her. Maybe it's the way she makes me see the world in a different way, I don't know. But right from the beginning, she had my attention. Well, once I managed to get past the raging claustrophobia, anyway. I remembered the acupressure massage she had given me, calming me down, allowing me to relax and later to focus. I honestly don't think I'd have been able to do anything on that plane without her help.
I sat down on the cot, thinking of Rachel and wishing, rather illogically, that she were there. I knew that she really couldn't help with anything, not this time, but a familiar, friendly face would. Well, anything that could occupy my mind would help.
So, I stretched out on the cot, and thought back. I began with meeting Rachel on the airplane, and simply remembered all the events that had followed. The murder…the investigation…the days I had spent afterwards in London…
It was something of a shock, later, when I woke up. I hadn't realized that I was asleep, and hadn't even been tired before. Or perhaps I had been. Too many nights that week, I'd fallen asleep, worrying about the investigation, thinking about Theresa, and had consequently not been sleeping well. A distraction had been good on more than one level. I now felt refreshed, well rested, and more relaxed. I was still in the seven foot by six foot six inch cell, but I didn't feel as panicked about it as I had. I went to the door again, to find out how much time I had left.
Twenty-two hours, thirty-eight minutes left to go. I'd slept the better part of the afternoon away. Well.
I sat down again, because standing and pacing weren't really preferable options. What was I doing up here anyway? I'd spent the entire week searching for a woman I'd only seen once, who I'd never met, who had only ever said two words to me: "Tommy! Tommy!" For all I knew, she'd mistaken me for someone else, or had been looking at someone behind me, or…
Could I be wrong? Was this all just another dead end, just another case of me looking everywhere for an answer, whether there was a real connection or not? Maybe it didn't mean anything at all that I saw her in color, maybe she was part of some completely unrelated mystery, maybe there was no mystery at all and she had just gone with her boyfriend back to wherever they had come from. Maybe Phoenix Group only knew about her from my mentioning the mysterious woman on America's Most Wanted. Maybe they had just invented her as they'd invented the story of my life before, maybe the pictures of her that I'd found in the fire had only been put there to throw me off…After all, people had lied to me before.[iii] Maybe this was just another case of lies and manipulation.
But, there was still a chance that they did have her, and, no matter how remote the chance, I could not forget that. Because if Phoenix Group did have her, they had her because of me. They only knew about her because of me. And if anything happened to her, it would be because of me. Like Karen's death was because of me. It had to stop here, and I had to stop it. By finding Theresa.
But what if they didn't have her? What if Phoenix Group knew about my supposed connection to her, but they hadn't been able to find her, either? What if…God help me, what if they were planning to use me to find her? Then all my work would have been for them. If this was the case, then I had to stop now, and maybe, just maybe, they would give up. Maybe that was all that I could do for her.
But what if…?
Around eight o'clock, for lack of anything better to do I tried to escape. Well, I didn't really try, but I spent about an hour pacing around the tiny cell, trying to decide how I could break out, if I had really wanted to. I'd gotten as far as making a mental list of objects that could be used to break the glass of the window on the door, and was working out a method of unlocking the door that mainly revolved around my shoelace when I was interrupted by the arrival of dinner. It was brought by Deputy Morse, who was apparently finally off sentinel duty. He appeared to be nervous, so I sat as far away as possible and tried to look non-threatening.
"So you do plan to feed me after all," I commented. "Is there going to be breakfast, too?"
"Why?" Morse demanded suspiciously. "Are you planning an escape?"
"Yes, but only a theoretical one."
"Well, I don't have anything else to occupy myself with."
Morse hesitated, looking confused. "Well, I could get you a crossword puzzle, if that would help."
I shook my head. "I'd need…quite a few crossword puzzles."
"Right," he said unsurely. "I'm not supposed to give you things like that, anyway."
"Oh, I couldn't escape with a piece of newspaper or a pen. Though a paperclip would help a little."
That was actually an attempt at humor. I promise, I wasn't really trying to make him even more nervous.
Eventually, I managed to convince him to leave the food. After I finished eating, I spent about an hour attempting to line up the crumbs according to size—without a doubt the most useless activity I have performed for as long as I can remember.
But it competes very strongly with my attempts to see how many knots I could tie in a single hair before it broke—I made it all the way to thirty-seven before I dropped it by accident.
At one o'clock in the morning, I tried going to sleep. I gave up at four o'clock, though if I subtract the amount of time spent tossing and turning, I probably got forty-five whole minutes of sleep.
Eleven hours left to go. Well, at least I was past the halfway point.
The lack of sleep, combined with the lingering effects of claustrophobia, was making me edgy. I needed something to do, but had nothing.
At four thirty-eight, I began experimenting with different ways to lace my shoes. Considering each string-eyelet combination as a pulley, a quick mental analysis of all the possible combinations determined that the traditional crisscross lacing method was the strongest, but not the most efficient method. After some calculations and a few experiments, I found a method combining horizontal, vertical, and crisscross lacings that saved allowed several more inches of free lace to be left for tying my shoes.[iv]
At five eighteen, I completely unlaced my shoes and used the shoelaces to practice Cat's Cradle and other string figures. While I already knew how to make them all, it was mildly amusing because a few of them were tricky and took two or three tries. You know, string figures are a form of entertainment that developed on virtually every continent (except, of course, Antarctica), and may have their origins as far back as the Stone Age. No one really knows who invented them or when, but to date over two thousand different figures have been published since the anthropologist Frank Boas first described the instructions for an Intuit figure in 1888.[v] Cat's Cradle is the most well known of string figures, in fact a series of figures that forms a game, as the string is passed between two or more players.
In Kurt Vonnegut's novel Cat's Cradle, the narrator, Jonah, is only called by his name once in the entire book.
Really, it's no wonder people think I'm boring.
At six o'clock I tried sleeping again, and eventually succeeded. I don't know when I fell asleep, and I don't really remember sleeping, but when I got up again it was eleven thirty-nine, so I must have. Three hours, twenty-one minutes left to go.
This is pointless, I thought. Twenty-seven hours in a prison cell, and then I had two hours in which to get myself out of the town. What had I thought I could accomplish in that time?
I slowly ran over the facts in my head. I considered Theresa's sudden disappearance from this town, her abandoned car, everyone's silence…something was going on, I was sure of it, but what? I wasn't doing anything but hitting my head against a wall. If there was something to be found here, could I find it? In two hours?
I tried to think up a plan. Usually, this isn't a problem—if it needs to be done, I can always think of a way to do it. "Physically impossible" has never been a problem for me. But this was a completely different kind of impossible—it involved people. If the information had been sealed inside of any kind of locked room or vault or anything of that sort, I could have gotten it. But if the abandoned Isuzu Trooper was anything to go on, all the evidence had long since been destroyed, and the information I needed was locked in the heads of the townspeople, where I had no chance of retrieving it. At least, not on my own.
I considered the other possibilities. I could try to come back with someone else who could help. But who? The list of people I could ask was pretty short; Jamie probably wouldn't, Frank had already said he couldn't…Digger might. If he thought it could help, which was a little questionable. Would the people of Southburg react any differently to another stranger? Especially if he came with me?
I could just give up on the town. Everyone seemed to think she had headed to Seattle. I could return there, maybe pick up the trail again. It wouldn't be easy, but I figured I could handle that better than this. I should be able to find something there…eventually…
When Russell finally came to let me out, I was standing eagerly, ready to leave as soon as possible. I had pretty much resigned myself to giving up on Southburg. My hopes lay in what little I had managed to gather, and the possibility of finding her again in the city. If I couldn't do that…well, I didn't want to think that way. I would find her. If nothing else, I would find out, once and for all, who she really was. And I planned to find that out soon.
At one twenty-eight, I had packed up the few belongings that I had brought and was ready to catch the bus. Except that it was still an hour and thirty-two minutes away. Then I remembered that I had promised to call Frank.
"Look," I said to Roger with annoyance, as he stood stubbornly next to the phone, "it's just one call. One five minute long call."
"So you won't mind me standing here for another five minutes."
"I have a right to privacy, you know!"
"Not on my phone you don't."
"I'm leaving town in one hour and twenty minutes! Whatever I say after that won't be important to you anymore, will it?"
"Depends. What are you planning to talk about?"
"Nothing that should worry you. I just want a few minutes to talk privately with a friend."
I was pretty desperate at this point. "Look, I'll pay you another twenty dollars if you promise to leave for five minutes."
He considered this idea. "Twenty-five."
"What?" I demanded. "I'm already paying seven fifty for this call. I'll give you twenty two dollars and fifty cents more, making it thirty dollars, total."
He took the money and left.
I called Frank and, thankfully, he was there.
"John? What happened? You were supposed to call last night, I was starting to get worried!"
"I…couldn't get to a telephone before now."
"Don't you have a cell phone with you?"
"No reception up here, and it apparently costs thirty dollars for a five minute call in this town."
"Thirty dollars? That's got to be some kind of record—wait! Don't say it."
"Don't say what?"
"You're about to tell me what the most expensive five minute call in history was, and I don't want to detract any time from your telling me what the hell is going on."
"Not much to tell. Just been investigating, but I've found exactly nothing."
"You? Found nothing?"
"Hard to believe, isn't it? And then I lost twenty-seven hours while I was in jail…"
"Excuse me? I'm not going to have to start denying all knowledge of your activities, am I?"
"No, they just want me to get out of here."
"Great. Well, if you still want that information you asked for…"
"It probably won't help at this point, but I've still got four minutes, eight seconds left of this call."
"Alright, I put Stella on it—I'll send you over to her. She was worried too, you know."
"Really?" That was a surprise. To me, at least.
"Yes, really. Hold on…"
A moment later, a different voice came on. "Hello, Stella here."
"Hi, Stella, it's—"
"John! Finally, I was so worried!"
"Why does everybody worry? I've gotten out of worse situations before!"
"Yeah, but with you, anything could turn into a worse situation."
"Well, never mind. Everything is fine now, I'll be back soon."
"Good. As for that information you asked for…"
"Red 1992 Isuzu Trooper, license plate 101-JDF?"
"Yeah, I found it. Registered to a Mrs. Veronica Kelly."
"Veronica?" I wondered out loud. Well, I supposed it might make sense. Perhaps Theresa hadn't been able to afford her own car and had used Veronica's. Only that didn't seem to fit with what people had been saying.
"Friend of yours?"
"You could say that."
"And then I found…"
"Wait, I didn't ask for anything else!"
"Well, um, I didn't have anything else to do…"
"Do you want this or not?"
"Alright, what did you find?"
"Well, I tried to see if there was anything on this Theresa Small, and here's what I've got: a driver's license."
"No other forms of ID, no lease on the apartment, not even a birth certificate."
"No kidding. I even ran a check on her social security number."
"Let me guess: fake?"
"That it is! It apparently also belongs to the same Mrs. Veronica Kelly."
Now things were really not adding up. "Can you get anything on her?"
"Who do you think you're talking to? I've already done it."
"Good job. I've got…three minutes, so talk fast."
"Three…? Never mind. For starters, she's definitely got everything I looked for—phone records, credit card bills, apartment, birth certificate…"
"You did a thorough search," I complimented.
"I learned from the best."
"You, of course."
"Oh." I didn't know what to say to that. "Thanks. I think. So, what did you find?"
"Well, she's lived in that apartment for four years, and has had…three different addresses in town in the last fifty-eight years."
"What? Wait, how old is she? When did she move to Southburg?"
"She's…fifty-eight, so she's lived there her whole life."
I didn't like the new way that things were falling together.
"John? Is something wrong?"
"Okay. Credit card records show that she made a lot of big purchases right after her last move—it looks like she was buying enough to fully furnish the apartment. I mean, furniture, clothes, utensils, everything. That car as well, which wasn't particularly cheap. And bank records show that just a month or two before, someone deposited quite a bit of money in her account."
"Enough to cover all that?"
"And then some. After that, she never made another big purchase with her credit card, but she kept withdrawing on a regular basis, so pretty much anything else she bought must have been with cash. Except for bills, of course. And she paid enough to cover two apartments, even though she was officially only paying for her own."
"Wait, so who's name was the other apartment leased under?"
"Here's the confusing part: no one's. Records from the town's realty indicate that both were unoccupied and for lease for about three years, then Mrs. Kelly moves into the ground floor and the top just goes off the market."
I thought for a few seconds, trying to connect what Stella was telling me with what Veronica had said just a few days before. It didn't add up at all.
"Who was she married to? When did he die?"
"A…George Kelly from Olympia, and he's not dead, they divorced ten years ago, and he currently resides in…Los Angeles."
I looked at my watch. Fifty seconds.
"This doesn't make any sense," I told her, trying to think fast. "That large deposit into her account—?"
"It looks like…she did it herself, so she must have been given the money in cash. Huh, that's quite a lot to just be carrying around."
"Alright, one last thing, Stella—what's her maiden name?"
"It's…Veronica Russell, born July eighteenth, nineteen forty-five."
"Russell? Veronica Russell?"
"Yeah, and before you ask, it appears that her only relative currently residing in Southburg is her nephew Fredrick Russell."
I was at a complete loss for words. Which didn't matter, because at that moment, Roger Harper came back in the room. I still had eleven seconds, but I had had enough. "Thanks, Stella, but I need to go…"
"Get yourself into a 'worse situation'?"
"Um, don't worry about me."
I dropped the receiver and ran, almost knocking Roger over. I had only an hour and fifteen minutes before the bus arrived, and there was no way I was leaving the case like this.
I reached the Oak Street duplex in less than five minutes, and slammed open the door. There was no time for subtlety. I ran to the top apartment, now convinced that there was something up there. Something that Veronica had been trying to keep me from. I knew that the door would be locked, so I didn't bother testing it. One well placed kick later, the door was open and I was in.
I knew instantly that this apartment had been Theresa's. I could almost see it in color—it's hard to explain, but the color was there, only misty and almost subliminal. She had lived here for three years, and it was as if a part of her was still in the room. There wasn't much. A table and two chairs, the kitchen set…
I quickly determined that I was not the only person to enter in a year. Unlike the car, there was no even layer of dust. In fact, it seemed that someone came into the room quite regularly.
I began searching, but quickly, because I knew I didn't have much time. There was nothing that I could see in the kitchen, or in the small living room, that was out of the ordinary at all. In near desperation, I ran into the bedroom. I looked around quickly, and didn't see anything, but just as I was about to give up, something caught my eye. A glimpse of real, full color.
I looked again. It was on the bedside table, under the lamp. Clearly, someone had tried to hide it there—if it hadn't been the only true color that I could see in the room, I wouldn't have noticed it either. It was the very bottom corner of a picture. Someone had put it under the base of the lamp, but it had slid out the tiniest bit. I carefully moved the lamp and picked it up.
The photo was of a young girl, pre-adolescent, and in full color. She was probably ten to fourteen years old, wearing blue jeans and a white t-shirt, and she had brown hair and eyes. The picture was very amateurish—it was off center, with the girl positioned in the bottom left corner. There must have been a good deal of background, but someone had cut it down so that it only showed her, though some was still visible. She was standing in some kind of field, and her arm seemed to be around someone much shorter, standing next to her. Whoever it may have been was almost completely cut out by the un-centered shot. All I could see was the top of a head—either the other one had black hair, or I just didn't see it in color.
I stood there, staring at the young girl's face for…I honestly don't know how long. I was brought back to reality when I heard a familiar voice demand, "So, you just couldn't stay away, could you, John?"
I turned to see Veronica standing in the doorway. No longer a bent and unsure old woman, she stood perfectly still, with a gun pointed straight at my head. It was a Browning 9mm Hi-Power.[vi] Just so you know.
"Don't even think about moving."
"Okay," I said slowly. It appeared that I had gotten myself into a "worse situation."
"There was a reason," she told me, "why I shouldn't kill you, but I can't seem to remember what it is."
"Well, it would be first degree murder," I offered. "I don't think your nephew would want to have to arrest you, either."
"Oh, you figured that out? Then you're not as stupid as I thought. Though we've given you plenty of hints…"
"Yeah, leave town, or else! You won't find anything here." She sighed. "Some of them wanted to believe you were just an innocent PI that didn't know what he was getting into, but the truth's pretty obvious now."
"Truth? What truth?"
"Don't play stupid, you know perfectly well. It's obvious, with all the personal interest you have in this 'case.' What kind of people do you think we are? Did you expect with that story, that we'd just tell you everything? Did you think we wouldn't know?"
"You apparently know more than I do," I said as evenly as possible. "What do you know? Tell me everything about what?"
"What you came for, of course. If you really thought that we knew where Theresa is, didn't you think we'd protect her, not just tell the whole story to everyone who came through?"
"Wh-what whole story—protect her from who?"
"From you and all the rest! Theresa told us they would be looking for her."
I stopped breathing at this point. "They…?"
"A group," she said, "called Phoenix."
The symptoms of shock include sudden weakness, shallow breathing, rapid heart rate combined with a weak pulse, low blood pressure, cold skin, reduced awareness, and even fainting.[vii] Well, I managed not to faint, but besides that I perfectly fit the clinical description of "in shock."
"Phoenix…?" I managed. My legs simply stopped working, and I fell onto the bed. "You—I—Bu—Wh—How—Phoenix?" I couldn't say anything more coherent than that for about a minute.
"That's what I said. And don't you—"
"How do you know about Phoenix?"
"I said, Theresa told us you would—"
I realized what she was saying. "Y—Me? You think I work for Phoenix? How—Why?"
The tiniest hint of doubt crossed her eyes, but the gun never wavered. "You came into town to investigate a perfectly uninteresting disappearance case. You repeatedly ignored orders, advice, and hints to leave town. You persistently searched for clues wherever you could get them. Not to mention that you seem to have assumed an invented identity. And then there was the symbol on your cards."
For a second, I just sat there, taking it all in. Then, suddenly, I started to laugh. I didn't even know what was funny at first, but slowly my mind wrapped around the reality of the situation. And it was so ironic, it was funny. For the first time, I had finally found people actually knew anything about Phoenix, and I hadn't even known, had gone about it all wrong from the beginning!
"And the entire town knows about Phoenix?" I managed to ask.
Veronica nodded, beginning to look rather confused.
Suddenly, the situation made perfect sense. They were trying to protect Theresa from the people who were after her, and they thought that included me. I rethought the entire week with this new information, and realized exactly how horrible of a mess I'd gotten myself into. If I didn't know any better, I would have been suspicious of myself!
Then it occurred to me that without a doubt, these people were quite willing to kill for this secret if necessary, and Veronica looked like she thought it was. That stopped the rather hysterical laughter pretty quickly.
"No," I finally said. "No, I definitely do not work for Phoenix. This is all just a misunderstanding."
"Like hell it is, you think I'm an idiot or something? How do you know about Phoenix if you don't work with them?"
"That's…a long story. Which," I added quickly, "I'd be more than happy to share with you if there wasn't a gun pointed at my head."
"Well, get used to it."
"Okay. I've known about Phoenix for several months—since November—but I haven't been able to find anything out about them. That's why I put the phoenix picture on all those business cards—considering how my search for information has gone, I thought it would be, well, safest. If no one knows anything about Phoenix, they wouldn't associate it with anything. I never expected—"
"How do you know about them?"
"They're after me, and I don't know why or…to what purpose, or…all I know is that they know more about me than I know about…them." I had nearly said about myself. "And two months ago, they killed someone very close to me." I looked Veronica straight in the eyes. "I would not work for Phoenix even if—even if there was no other choice."
"And what about your lack of identity?" But Veronica seemed less sure of herself now.
"That's…the long part of the story. I…" Well, might as well tell everything to the woman with a gun pointed at my head. "I have complete amnesia. I have no memories before September of last year, so I don't know who I am or why Phoenix is so interested in me. But they are."
Veronica hesitated. "And why did you come up here?"
"Because…because I saw Theresa. Back in September, in Seattle. I saw her, on a ferry and…she recognized me." Might as well say everything. "I'm colorblind. But I saw her in color. By the time I got to the ferry, she was gone, and I couldn't find her again. Two months later, Phoenix tried to contact me. They told me a false past, they were trying to…I don't know. But they had pictures of Theresa, and they told me her name. I promised myself that I would find her but…well, I never had a chance to. Last week, I saw the missing person report, thought I finally had a lead. But I didn't think…well, I guess I just didn't think."
"You could just be lying."
"You know I'm not."
"How can I be sure?"
I thought for a minute. "Have you ever actually dealt with Phoenix? No? Well, if I were one of them, you wouldn't realize it until I'd gotten the information I was looking for and left. And I would have gotten that information by any means necessary. We would not be having this conversation right now."
Veronica considered. "That does fit what Theresa told us about them. But…"
"Who is this?" I asked, holding up the picture I had found. "This girl—is she Theresa?"
Veronica nodded. "How did you know?"
"I told you, I see her in color. Plus, of course, her room, educated guess. When Phoenix contacted me, one of the things they showed me was a picture of Theresa when she was young…she didn't look like this. They also had more recent pictures. Some looked like…like they had been watching her, surveillance of some kind. And then two months ago, when they…when they took Karen, my assistant…" I took a deep breath. I didn't want to think about the connection I was about to make, but it seemed possible, and at the very least, Veronica had the right to know. "Karen managed to get away, she called me before they…before they caught her again. That's how I found her…or found where they…" I had to stop and take another deep breath. Amazing how fast you can run out of air sometimes. "Anyway, she said that they had her—her and another woman." Again, I gave Veronica a straight, unblinking look. "I don't think Phoenix is going to come looking for Theresa around here."
"They…they…" Veronica seemed to see that I was telling the truth. Slowly, she lowered the gun. "They have her?"
"It seems…very possible."
Slowly, she walked forward and collapsed on the other side of the bed. "Oh…no…oh, God, no, no…"
She began to sob, and I could only watch helplessly.
"The rest of the town won't believe you," she told me some time later.
"I don't have the time to convince them."
"They…probably won't believe me if I told them."
"I wouldn't expect them to. I don't even expect you to. But, before I leave…"
Veronica slowly shook her head. "There's not much to tell. Fredrick met Theresa when he was still working in Boise. How he gained her trust, neither of them ever said, but eventually she told him about Phoenix being after her, and needing protection. He brought her here."
"To all of us. The people in town all contributed, and I took care of everything she needed. Apartment, clothes, food, the fake driver's license—you probably figured out that "Small" isn't her real last name—everything. She was grateful for it all, of course, but she never said anything about her past. She told us we would just be in more danger if we knew. So her entire past was a secret; we only knew that she wasn't the only one, there was at least one other, who used to occasionally contact her. I don't know who it was, never a return address or a signature, but whoever it was, they were important to her. The letters were fairly regular—one every month or two—but then they stopped coming. Six months she waited, and then she said that something had gone wrong. That her friend wouldn't ever go this long without contacting her. She was leaving to look for this friend, and none of us could stop her. So we agreed to help, planned out an official story for where she had gone, a back up story in case anything went wrong, and parts to play if anyone ever came looking. We had that old car of hers fixed up as good as possible; so any one who found it couldn't discover anything about her through it. She seemed to think that she would be in danger if so much as a hair was left in there, which is why everyone was so nervous about what you found."
I nodded. "So the original story was that she had gone to visit her boyfriend? And the car being found meant that you needed to change?"
"Right. Terrible, nosey city people found it. At least they're keeping quiet now, I think Fredrick pretty much scared them silent with his tale of what happens to people who get involved in small town murder cases. All made up, of course, but they didn't know any better. We knew it would attract attention, and sure enough, you showed up. We tried all our plans to get you to leave—including having Jim from the market talk to you. He was fond of her and didn't like pretending to be stupid enough to slip up, but we hoped that you would just take whatever he told you and leave with it."
"Was everything that everyone said lies, then?"
"Don't know what everyone said."
"Well…the part about the piano?"
She smiled sadly. "That much was true. And she did love that song."
"And that's…all there is to tell?"
"I could tell you so much more about who she was…but you don't have the time."
I looked sadly at my watch. No, I didn't; thirty-six minutes until the bus came, I had to leave right then. "Just when I'm finally starting to get somewhere," I lamented. "One last question. This picture…?"
"She tried to pack up all her personal belongings before she left, and destroyed whatever she couldn't take. Didn't want to leave anything that could be definitively traced to her. But that one she must have dropped. It was her favorite picture of her childhood, she said, and I know she would have wanted to keep it. I couldn't bear to get rid of it, or take it from her room. It didn't belong to me, so I hid it. Tried to, anyway."
I hesitated, not knowing how to phrase my request. "So I guess, well, you'll want it back…"
This time the smile reached her eyes. "I'll tell you what. You keep it. Then, you can return it to its proper owner when you find her."
I didn't know how to thank her; she really had no idea how much this picture meant to me. "I can contact you, if I ever—"
Veronica shook her head. "No. If you find her, that means either you've rescued her back from Phoenix, or they never had her in the first place. Either way, contacting me is just what they would expect her to do, so it's what you mustn't. I suppose I'll find out eventually."
"I'll find her," I said, slowly and forcefully. "I promise you that. I will find her. And this time…this time, I won't be too late."
As the bus slowly found its way back to Seattle, I looked at the picture and considered what I had learned. Not much. I had spent an entire week convincing a small town that I was the last person I ever wanted to be, and all I had to show for it was some scarf fibers, scraps of paper, a strand of her hair, and more questions. And the picture.
It was a Polaroid instant picture. Judging by the quality, I would say Sun 640, a camera produced from 1981 to the 1990's, and to be on the original 600-style integral print film, which was sold during roughly the same time range. Of course, Sun 640 cameras still exist today, and the film can keep for several years if stored properly, though the evenness of the exposure indicated that the film had not been very aged when the picture was taken.[viii] Which put the time of the photograph between 1981 and the mid 1990's, and meant Theresa's real age could be anywhere from twenty to thirty-seven. So, no help there.
In the background, I saw what appeared to be Ambrosia artemisiifolia—common ragweed. One time, I had remembered the smell of ragweed while listening to My Funny Valentine. Theresa had loved My Funny Valentine. Was it all just one big coincidence?
I don't know what Veronica told the people of Southburg. Whether she ever tried to explain what had happened in Theresa's apartment, or whether she just went on believing, or pretending to believe, that I was part of Phoenix. Perhaps she had never believed me, and everything in the end had been one elaborate plan to satisfy me and get me out of the town. But I didn't think so. There was something very sincere about Veronica, and I'm sure that I believe her.
I didn't know where to go next. I had reached another dead end, as far as my search went. I could only hope that soon, another clue would find its way to me. They had a habit of doing that sometimes. Sometimes they even got to me before it was too late. I hoped this would be one of those times.
I had promises to keep. I had promised myself I would find out who the woman on the ferry is. I had promised Karen that I would find the people who…that I would find Phoenix. I had promised Theresa, mentally at least, that I would find out what had happened to her. And just then, I had promised Veronica that I would find her friend. That made for a lot of finding to do.
And I knew one thing: this time, I would keep my promises.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Washington:
Two deaf men casually meet each other at a city corner. While waiting for the traffic to stop, they begin conversing in sign language.
Well? Did he learn anything?
That is not what we wanted.
Perhaps, but it does not matter. The rest of the plan will take care of it.
I am not certain that this is a wise idea.
It will work. It cannot fail. He will do as we expect. It is in his nature.
You should hope that you are right. We will not tolerate another failure.
The traffic light changes, and one man walks across the street. The other suddenly remembers something important, and returns the way he came from.
End part one.
A/N: Did you make it? Congratulations!! As I said, this is the end of part one. Parts 2 through 180-ZZ-Omega-Zed will be posted later, starting after the season finale (exactly how long depends on how many of my original ideas get completely shot down by those bombshells we're supposed to get in the next two weeks). Oh, I loooooove writing epics! :-) If you want to see more of "Theresa" this summer and beyond, leave a review to let me know! I promise to update quicker in the future (there were issues this time, wherein Theresa didn't want Rachel getting a mention in "her" story, and Rachel refused to be left out if all the other "JD-gals" were finding their way in…and then JD got mad about my leaving him locked in the jail cell for a week while I dealt with those two…) if you promise to provide feedback! And, of course, criticism is always appreciated, too, if I have glaring grammar/logic/plot errors. Or just about anything. Really. Not desperate after two weeks of review deprivation at all…;-)
Take care, and enjoy tomorrow night's episode of John Doe!!
[i] Thank you, Encarta, for the thorough explanation and interesting pictures that allow me to allow JD to keep talking about this stuff…
[ii] Once again, thanks to Encarta. Encarta rules! :-)
[iii] See: "Episode Five: John Deux" and "Episode Eight: Idaho". This is the easiest man in the world to manipulate. Offer him answers, and he comes along and does exactly what you want. :-)
[iv] Hats off to mathematician Burkard Polster of Monash University, Australia who actually determined this after analyzing the 400,000,000 different ways of lacing your shoes. He gets a mention in the May 2003 issue of Discover Magazine, page 14: "One, Two, Tie My Mathematical Shoe" by Rachael Moeller Gorman.
[v] From the International String Figure Association website www.isfa.org There's a website for everything these days…
[vi] Favorite gun of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter (by Laurel K. Hamilton)…can never pass up a reference to one of my favorite series! :-)
[vii] Encarta strikes again!
[viii] Thanks to the Land List for all the Polaroid info! (For some reason, the address isn't showing up when I upload this chapter. My apologies!!)