Friday, June 28, 2013

Friends Still - Week Six of Continuing Saga

Each week 1000 words or more, of a continuing story, will be posted Friday 
(equivalent to approximately 3 paperback pages).

Part One - Chapter Six

(Saga began with original story post one / chapter one - on May 23rd- see archives on this blog) 

Friends Still


We left Keaton Hakes’ house and headed back to the cruiser. I was confused. I knew Rory had strong judgments about Hakes, but I was out of the loop as to why.
“What the hell was that all about?” I asked.
He shook his head and shrugged, but didn’t answer me. I was still bewildered. I felt my brows wrinkle as I thought about Rory, and what was happening to him. I noticed his stance was strong, and combative, and he looked like he was ready for a war. He needed to find this killer, not just because it was his case, but because he had a deep belief in right and wrong, and justice. That was one of the qualities about Rory that I held dear. Rory also knew something about this guy that he wasn’t sharing with me. The not knowing was driving me batty.
“Where are we headed now?” I asked.
“Back to your place.”
I must have reacted with a surprised look because he instantly corrected himself.
“Your office. I need your help looking up these names. It seems you have the knack for working social media that I lack. I hope you don’t mind if I use your talents? It will help the case, which I know you are dying to solve.” he said. “I’m sorry, bad choice of words.”
“No problem. And yes you’re right, I want to help.”
We got into the car and drove off in silence again. My nerves were jumping and I felt butterflies in my stomach. Spending all this time with Rory was bringing back feelings that I thought I had pushed away. Rory drove like he wanted to get away from Glen Falls as fast as possible. The streets were getting dark already, so there wasn’t much to see out of the window. I got lost in thought, wondering how Jennifer got there in the middle of nowhere. What she must have felt and thought, and the fear she must have experienced. Jennifer had scrapes on her hands, maybe some forensic evidence will give answers to the pile of questions. The crime was senseless, heart breaking, and needed to get solved.
It was complete darkness by the time we reached the cabin. Adrenalin was pumping in my veins full force. I was ready to get to work. The sky was pitch black, so I walked cautiously to the door and unlocked the cabin. Once inside, I switched on the lights and zoomed straight to the computer and started keying in the names from the document Keaton Hakes supplied. The people listed seemed to have nothing in common. Some were kids, like Jennifer our victim, others were business people and even a Senator.
The chair scrapped against the floor, as Rory pulled it up to sit next to me, and he read the information over my shoulder, as it was being pulled from cyberspace. Rippled with a wave of excitement, I was surprised when I saw the name of Mr. Simpson, the owner of Sal’s General, displayed mid sheet.
“Look here. Why do you suppose Simpson is listed?” I said.
“Why would an old guy like him be playing role playing games? Maybe he was one of the people in on it, you know, along for the hoax? Maybe they pay people to go along with whatever live game they have going on? Lord knows he needs the money.” he said.
“Money. Hmm. Most crimes are about money, right? Why does he need the money, what’s going on with him?” I said.
“I will check into things and ask the questions tomorrow.” he said.
There was a finality to his words, so I moved on to the next name. Exasperation filled my every move. I had hoped we would get some answers but the list had much to be desired. It didn’t reveal the roles played, or if the people listed were an actor or a participant in the game. I knew that we needed to go back and ask Keaton more questions. I hope Rory can keep his temper checked. Maybe after looking up these people’s profiles, it will help zero in on the right questions for Rory to ask Keaton Hakes. Interrogation 101, know what to ask.
We had stopped at a Chinese food place on the way back to the office, and cartons of take out littered the desk. I felt deflated. We had spent a few hours Googling names, and pulling up some basic info. Nothing jumped out at us as being suspicious. Rory gathered all the notes I took, and filed them into his bag. He stretched out his long arms and yawned, squinting his big dark eyes as he covered his mouth. His sculpted facial features stood out like fine lines on an etching. Rory was a handsome man, there was no denying that fact.
“Well, I think we had enough for today.” I said.
I needed to get my thoughts off of him. I was flustered. This was bad, I knew it, and I did not plan on getting hurt again. Keep things professional, I said to myself. I turned the computer off, and cleared the food cartons, stood up and walked over to the waste basket, and tossed the garbage.
I turned around and saw that Rory had been watching me. My face flushed, I could feel the heat fill my cheeks, and then more so, when I felt the embarrassment of my reaction. He kept watching me, and smiled. The sparkle found its way back into his eyes, and I was reminded of all the wonderful times we had together. All those years we were so close, how could I just forget I knew this man so well. I wanted to forget, but couldn’t. I smiled back, and felt like I had just gotten over a hurdle.
“Friends?” he said.
He looked so comfortable. The tension was gone from his face and the old Rory I had known for years was there waiting for my answer.
“Yes, friends. We have so many good memories, and I don’t want to lose them.” I said. Internally I was panicking. My stomach was flip flopping. Keep your cool, I thought.
He shook his head, then got up from his chair. I was suddenly in the Sahara. My entire body was a flame, from anticipation, embarrassment, and guilty flash thoughts. For a moment I thought he was going to come over and kiss me, but he didn’t. Instead he headed for the door.
“I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll be here early with fresh eyes.” he said.
It took a moment for his words to reach my brain, the meaning was lost, floating in the air somewhere. A twinge of regret shot through me when I realized he was leaving. I shook my head, got my faculties back, and then followed him out, locking the door behind us. He watched as I got in my truck, then he followed me out of the reserve area.
I headed west, and he headed east. Exhaustion filled my mind and body. I went home, took a long cool shower and crashed, cursing myself for being such a romantic jerk. After tossing awhile I must have fallen asleep, because next thing I knew, I was being assaulted by my alarm clock.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Real Horror Games - Chapter Five of the Continuing Saga

 Each week 1000 words or more, of a continuing story, will be posted Friday 
(equivalent to approximately 3 paperback pages).

Part One - Chapter Five

(Saga began with original story post one / chapter one - on May 23rd- see archives on this blog) 


Real Horror Games

We rolled to a stop and parallel parked in front of Real Horror Games’ storefront. It was located on Elm Street in downtown Glen Falls, which was a small city, not too far from the college town where the victim, Jennifer Taylor, had lived. There was a line of storefronts on this street, older buildings with large glass windows from ceiling to floor, built during the Industrial Era that once grew this community with jobs at local mills, which busily created fabric and paper. The industries have left now, and most of the structures that managed to remain are homes to the new up and coming restaurants, that seemed to attract the younger crowd to the streets, and created the only current industry still vital, tourism. Like most old towns and cities in this hillside county, the business owners struggled to make ends meet, so any new customers were pampered. They tried to cash in by using WI-Fi friendly cafes and lounges, to give the new digital generation what they wanted. This store was a niche for gamers. The store had the old front glass, large and ornate with yesteryear trim, but painted over with colored modern twists and design. It was attractive for the crowd they sought - young nerds.
“Well this is quaint.” I said sarcastically.

Rory smiled for a second and then got right to business.

“Tell me what you know about this place.” he demanded.

I explained all I knew, which wasn’t much, and then he reminded me this was his investigation, and that he would ask the questions. I was welcomed to tag along, but merely as spectator. I shook my head in agreement since that was better than nothing. I internally decided I would be the eyes and ears, and try to notice everything possible, about the people and the place. Maybe that was my way of deluding myself that I was important, and could solve this murder case. Boy, in retro spec, I had no idea what I - I mean we - were up against.

Rory got out of the car and I followed like a good little Ranger. The door to the shop had a bell that tingled as we entered, with an yesteryear sound that matched the store structure. The floor was old wood, that swayed and creaked underfoot, as we made our way to the counter that was positioned to the side. The ceilings were high and still showed off the old tin panels, but the walls clashed with murals of colorful swirls and modern scape of game worlds, abstract design, and cartoon characters with exaggerated features. I wished I had a figure as busty and curvy as the girl drawn on the wall, touting a gun in one hand and giving a super hero peace sign with the other. At least my hair was as wavy, when I let my hair out of a ponytail after work. I wondered if Rory still thought I was beautiful, and then I internally snapped myself out of that revere. There was no time to reminisce about our old romance. It was over a long time ago, and there was no hope to relive the past.

Rory leaned over the counter and tapped the young man’s shoulder to get his attention. He was wearing a pair of noise reduction headphones and didn’t even notice we were there. This clerk was any thief’s best friend. He turned with a start and quickly took off the head gear when he noticed Rory’s uniform. He was intimidating, wearing the gray blues of a state trooper. Rory smiled and the clerk seemed to ease his nervousness a bit.

“How can I help you Sir?” the clerk asked.

“I need a list of your clients. Everyone who bought games at your place.”

“Sure, no problem. I can run a sales report; it will only take a few minutes. Just give me the time frame you need.”

“The past month.” Rory said.

The young man turned around and started the task. I knew this wasn’t what we needed, but was told not to say anything, so I gently kicked Rory instead. He turned and looked down at me with his forehead crunched in a frown. I couldn’t tell if he was angry or wondering, what the hell. I murmured through my teeth, but he didn’t hear me, so he bent his ear close to my mouth and I whispered again.

“We need to know about the real life role playing games. Maybe she got into trouble participating.” I suggested.

His cologne wafted up to my nose and a sweet memory of him was sparked. A warm thought. Rory’s face lit up after my mumbles. He turned his attention to the clerk and clicked his fingers to get his attention again.

“You know, what I really need also, is a list of all your role playing games, and the members, and of course the players.”

Rory smiled. The clerk looked scared, his face turned red and he started fidgeting with his hands, rolling his fingers back and forth on the counter top. The thumping of his fingers sounded like a small drum roll, as he stammered a moment, then he said,

“Sorry, but I can’t give you that information.”

Rory looked confused, then disappointed and then angry. It all passed through his face, and those big dark eyes of his, in an instant flash. I felt myself losing it, knew my resolve was slipping away, I was still infatuated with him. Every facial emotion stirred a memory. No wonder I never dated anyone since, I was still in love with him, even though he broke my heart. I kicked myself internally for feeling this way, and reminded myself I couldn’t let him know. I had to keep my secret to myself. What a fool I was!

“Listen young man, this is an investigation. I need that information now.”

“I think you need to talk with the owner. He promises to keep everyone’s anonymity, you know, everyone doesn’t even use their real names anyway. I don’t have that information, only he does.”

“How can I contact him? The owner I mean.”

The young clerk scrawled a number and address on a pad that was near the register, tore off the sheet and handed it to Rory. Rory’s face lit up red as he read the the note. He turned and went back to the cruiser. We left and went directly to the residence of the owner, Keaton Hakes. Rory was quiet while driving to our next stop, and I wondered what was going on in his mind.

“Sorry I kicked you back there.” I said.

“He shook himself out of his thoughts, and looked over puzzled, and then said,

“Don’t worry about it. Thanks for the reminder. Maybe we can get some real answers now.”

He smiled half heartily. He still seemed upset. The cruiser made it to the residence in record time. The car crawled up the slope of the long, steep driveway, which opened up into a car port area, once on top of the hill. The house was huge, a three story old Victorian, with fancy details and a tri-color paint job. In the world of houses, this was a classic. We both got out of the car and stepped up to the porch. The front door opened before Rory could ring the bell.

“Please come in Sir, Miss.”

A house maid opened the door wide, and bowed her head for us to enter. She was wearing a uniform and apron, something you only see in movies on the late show. Her face was timid and small, a petite figure, and she had shoulder length brown curly hair. I noted in my head that she resembled the dead girl, and hoped that it meant nothing.

“Mr. Hakes is expecting you. Follow me.”

We followed her through the grand marble floored hall and into a great room. The room was decked out with antique satin and velvet furniture, highly polished woods, oriental carpets on the gleaming floors, and lots of flowers in crystal vases. We both heard rattling and looked across the room, where there was another doorway. The glass doors opened and a man entered.

“Well hello officer. What can I do for you? My employee called and said you would be stopping by. Please have a seat.”

The man waved his arms towards the sofa and chair arrangement. Then Keaton Hakes held out his hand to shake, but Rory didn’t take it. Instead he went right to the questions. He flipped open a notebook and had a pencil in hand.

“Mr. Hakes, we need a complete list of all the live role players that have been using your services, as well as the descriptions of said games.”

Rory looked straight into the man’s eyes, without a blink, as he listened to his response. The man shook his head and started talking about protecting his clients rights. Rory let Mr. Hakes ramble a bit, a technique often used, hoping some information might leak through the gibberish, and offer leverage into the questioning. Rory had heard enough and interrupted him.

“Sorry Mr. Hakes, but that argument does not apply, and if you don’t cooperate, you will be charged with interfering with an investigation, and not cooperating with an open case. We need the documents.”

I had never heard Rory so firm and hard. His voice was almost dangerous. I realized then, that these two already know each other. There was some kind of history between them that I wasn’t privy to. Keaton Hakes walked to the desk in the room, his eyes still staring at Rory with hatred, as he opened a drawer. He pulled some papers out, and briefly looked through them, and then he held out his hand with a few sheets of white paper, flapping in the air.

“I think this is what you want. I hope you don’t harass my clients, I pride myself to do business with discretion.” Keaton Hakes said.

“Let’s hope that’s all you need to worry about.” Rory said.

He turned and walked out; I followed, like a good little Ranger.

Until next week - happy reading!  and writing.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Finally A Lead! The Saga continues - week 4

  Each week 1000 words or more, of a continuing story, will be posted for Friday morning -(equivalent to approximately 3 paperback pages).

Part One - Chapter Four

(Follow up from Chapter Three -  posted June 6th on this blog)

A Lead!

I brought my groceries home to a one bedroom apartment in a small old Craftsman style house, on the second floor, where the rooms sported slanted ceilings. I dropped the bag on the counter, placed the veggies in the fridge, and then went straight back to the office, where there was more room to work. It was late afternoon and the sun was getting ready to set. Shadows of the trees cast across the road, like long finger mirages, reflecting the branches still half barren as they struggled to bud their new spring foliage. I reached the cabin and headed for the door. The guys went home already, and I was the only one within earshot. I was fine with that, and wanted some peace and quiet. I felt compelled to do more research on Jennifer Taylor and her family. There must be a clue somewhere, or a reason she was taken and killed, and then dumped in the middle of the forest. I was determined to keep searching for the missing piece to the puzzle. I always found working the edges was the best approach, so I decided to work this case the same way.

I unlocked the cabin door and switched on the overhead lights. All the computers were shut down for the day, and the space was void of noise except the drip of water hitting the sink in the break room every fifty seconds. That was my white noise. I walked to my desk and switched on the desktop and within seconds the screen brightened. I sat down in my old desk chair, its seat permanently sunk in the middle, and offering little comfort or support. I was compelled, and started surfing the web right off, hoping something would turn up. I Googled her name, and found her Facebook account. I hacked in, using the obvious user name and password combos. It didn’t take long, jtaylor 1994, her birth year. She had over 400 friends on the site. I clicked on the active friends who had posted on her wall.  They were mostly fellow students, and kids she had known in high school. Then I checked out the groups she visited, all of them were pretty much ‘have a great day’ type of pages. There were lots of rainbows and cats on the page sites. All her posts were upbeat, and she didn’t seem to have any problems, other than what purse to buy. I was intent on doing a thorough job, so I kept digging into every site listed on her page or wall.

At last, I checked out the pages she liked. Pay dirt! There, within her list of hundreds of pages she liked, was one obscure page called ‘Real Horror Games’. At first I was taken aback by the gruesome icon, and then thought it must be just one of those crazy on-line games. I decided I needed to check it out because it was so different from anything else listed on her page. It just didn’t seem to match her personality. I clicked on the link and was brought to an open web page. The website offered game services, just like I thought. It also advertised live role playing.

Now my interest was piqued. Adrenalin flowed through my veins, excited with this new discovery, and I knew this was important somehow. The feeling kept me looking for more, and then I let my imagination go wild. What if she had joined this group and had done a real life role playing game? I wondered. Could she have done something dangerous? Or maybe she was forced to do something she didn’t want to do? My thoughts started down a spiral road, as I kept dreaming up scenarios in my head.

I decided the people who ran this business needed a visit, and then I realized I didn’t have that kind of authority. My spirits fell instantly, and I got a sick feeling in my gut, knowing I had to have Rory handle this lead. He would probably laugh at my intuition and dismiss the whole thing. I decided the heck with protocol. There was no law saying I couldn’t go down and check the place out as a concerned citizen, or maybe even a potential client. It was still a free country after all. Maybe I wanted to play a real horror game myself, who knows, it might be nothing more than fun.

I got up from my chair and turned off the monitor, opened up my desk drawer and took out a small pistol that I kept for emergencies. I tucked it into the back of my belt. I grabbed my jacket and pushed my chair in. Focused on the task, I decided to undertake this lead myself. I was headed for the door, lifted my head to watch where I was going on my way out, and was startled by someone standing right in front of me. I jumped and a small screech came out of my mouth, in a very high and undesirable way. I nearly wet myself; I was scared shit-less. Rory stood there, now laughing his head off at me.

“God! Don’t do that!” I said.

My stomach was doing flip flops as my blood rushed through my veins.

“Do what?” he said between outbursts.
“Very funny! Do you always sneak into other peoples’ offices and scare them to death?”

“Sorry, I knocked but you were so engrossed, you didn’t hear Me.” he said.

He still had a wide smile across his face and his eyes sparkled, more like the way I remembered them. Every other second he covered his mouth, still suppressing a snicker. This was one more thing he could hold against me. Well, I resigned to the fact I seemed foolish for the moment, because he was not letting me forget my reaction.

 “Okay, that’s enough. Can I help you? Did you come here for a reason?” I asked.

Rory’s face suddenly fell, the smile wiped off in a mere second. My voice must have seemed harsh. I felt bad about that, but I had more important things going on in my mind, like what I was going to do once I reached the Real Horror Games’ office.

“Do you mind telling me where you are going with that pistol tucked into your belt?” he asked.

His eyes were determined, and I felt like a school girl caught in the act of a forbidden prank, going against the rules.

“Okay, you got me. I was just going to do some practice shooting.”

“I don’t believe you. Tell me the truth Karen.”

I gulped hard. I tried to think quick, but that was always my downside. I could think of grand retorts hours after a conversation, but I could never come up with a quick comeback, on the spot, that sounded real. I knew there was no choice except to tell the truth.

“Okay you got me. I was just going to check out this place called Real Horror Games. Jennifer Taylor had visited the site, so I thought it might be worth checking into, just in case.” I said.

I looked directly into his eyes, and tried to determine if he was going to let me continue with my hunch.

 “How did you come across this?” he asked.

“Her Facebook page.”

He didn’t answer right away, but instead thought about what I just said. His eyes stared past me, and I could tell he was deliberating it in his mind. He was not the type to use social media and probably had no idea about liking pages, and the crazy advertising that went on in the social media sites, but at least he was thinking about it.

“Okay, let’s go check it out. I assume you have the address.” he said.

I showed him the piece of paper I had in my hand. He nodded and we headed for the door.

“We are taking my car, to make it more official.” he said.

Then he led the way to the car. I locked the office door behind me, and then sat in his car, shotgun. It felt strange to be seated near him again. It was even stranger being in a state police car. I wondered if he would turn on the lights, but he didn’t. We drove towards the city in silence. Finally I got the nerve to talk.

“Where’s your partner today?” I asked.
I tried not to put any emotion into my voice, and to sound just friendly. He looked over at me briefly, and then shrugged.

“She’s working another case right now. We aren’t usually partnered together. She and I went through training at the same time years ago, and stayed friends, but my steady partner, for the past five years, just passed away. Sargent Thomas was just covering.” he said.

I gulped, embarrassed that I asked anything about his business. Who did I think I was to pry, after all these years? I could see he was still upset over the loss, and it was probably something he would never get over, if he was still the same Rory I knew. I wanted to kick myself for my weakness and yearning to know how he has been.

“I am so sorry.” I said.

 “It happens. He had cancer.” It was silent for a moment. “I miss him, but he would want me to go on, and do my job.”

He did a half smile, and I could tell he experienced a flash of a good memory of his late partner. At that moment I remembered one of the reasons I admired Rory - he was loyal. So why did he have that other girl in his bed? The thought leaped into my head from my subconscious. I felt the hurt again, it was piercing my heart. I decided not to say anything else for a while, and took the time needed to forget the thought, and composed myself again. I was committed to act businesslike
Like the man said, we have a job to do.



Thursday, June 6, 2013

Week Three of the Continuing Saga

  Each week 1000 words or more, of a continuing story, will be posted for Friday morning -(equivalent to approximately 3 paperback pages).

Part One - Chapter Three

(Follow up from Chapter One & Two -  posted May 23rd & 30th on this blog)

Who's That Girl

We followed the trail that we had left for ourselves, and found the body dump site without difficulty. Sargent Thomas secured the area with yellow crime scene tape, but there was really no point to it, no one ever came into this section of woods, except of course unless you were intending to dump a body. Rory asked Kevin to go back and escort the M.E. to the site when he arrived. He was more than happy to leave the scene.

The sun was brighter now that it was about noon. I felt my brow sweat and I wiped my forehead, then put my hat back on. I wanted to look as professional as possible, which was extremely difficult with Rory so close. We searched the entire area looking for anything out of place, but there was nothing found. No strange footprints, no drag marks, no bottles, boxes, wrappers or anything else that didn’t belong in the forest. It was just the girl’s body covered with some leaves, and the trees. She didn’t appear to have many insects crawling on her yet, so it seemed as if her body had not been there long. I decided to spill my thoughts, even though no one asked.

“It looks like she wasn’t here too long. Her flesh is visible. Even though there are some leaves covering her, if she was here for any length of time, some animals would have gotten at her.” I said. “Add to that, it is spring, and all the animals out of hibernation are out now looking for food. She couldn’t have been here long. I know once the Doc takes a look at her, we will have a better idea of when she died. I just wonder though, how did she get here? There are no traces of her being placed. It seems very odd. She is too young to have a heart attack while walking. This definitely seems like foul play.”

Rory and the Sargent shook their head in agreement, and that was about it for my contribution. Soon the Medical Examiner was there, old Doc Hayward. First he took some pictures, then he knelt close to the body for a more thorough inspection, a few more close up pictures, and then he took a temperature reading.

Her body was barely discernible until the leaves were pulled away from her frame. She was wearing a pair of jeans and a light pink sweater, that was fluffy cashmere or a knock off of cashmere at least. When the M.E. turned her over, her face looked unreal. It was small framed and frail in structure, but her skin had swelled from something, and she had a bloating look. Her hair was brown and went to her shoulder, and curled in the humid spring air and moisture. There were no visible bruises on her face, but her hands looked like they had clawed at something, they were scuffed and scratched. They placed plastic bags over them to preserve any evidence.

He looked around a bit, then ordered for the men who assisted him to take the body back to the coroner’s vehicle. I followed the men back with the body. As we walked out from the woods I wondered how she got there. We had been busy for the past few weeks getting ready for the spring hikers, and had been around the area everyday and nothing ever seemed out of whack. No one had been using the Reserve area yet. It was truly a mystery, and I internally vowed I would figure it out. It was my park, my responsibility, and I wanted to make sure our slate was cleared of any foul play. I only hoped that working with Rory would not be a deterrent. I decided to put my other emotions aside, and concentrate on the case, on the poor dead girl. Justice needed to be served.

We had determined she wasn’t local. None of us recognized her face, and there was no missing person’s report for the area. Rory was going to extend his search, hoping that she matched a description of someone already missing, and listed in the state data base. These kind of cases were always sad. Someone out there was missing her. If Rory finds out who she was, then the poor family would mourn this girl’s death, another parent had lost a child, the deepest of human sadness. I didn’t envy his job of telling the parents. He was always a pillar of strength, but everyone has their limits. I quietly prayed for whoever she belonged to, and for Rory too.

The excitement lasted the rest of the day. There were more officers scouring the area looking for anything to use for forensic evidence. They didn’t find much. The body was taken to the morgue and the Doc said he would let me know what he found. Rory and his Sargent combed the woods the rest of the day and then finally left. He said he would let me know of anything that might turn up, if it concerned me. He was polite and professional, but had no spark in his eyes, like he used to have when he looked at me. There were no surveillance tapes or the like, to go over. We were strictly a nature lover only kind of place, no security video, so I had nothing to add to the investigation. Still I hoped he meant it when he said he would let me know. I really wanted to find out what happened to that poor girl. I was sad with the knowledge that something horrible happened to her, here in these peaceful woods.
Kevin was shaken up pretty bad by the time everyone left. I could see his tall frame was slumping, and it looked like an effort for him to stand at all. I suggested that he go home, but he insisted on staying with us. Josh noticed his weakening too, and made an effort to keep him occupied with other things. Still no one could get the sight of the girl out of our minds. Death was real today.
It only took a day to find a match. The girl was a nineteen year old student who attended a local college, and was reported missing by her family. Her name was Jennifer Taylor. She still lived at home with her parents in a nearby small college town. Her father ran a small bookstore on the Main Street and her mother was a nurse at the County Hospital. They said she had gone to the movies with some friends but never made it home. Her car was found locked in the parking lot. There were no signs of struggle, and no video available to see anything that might have happened. Her friends said they all left at the same time, but they had parked on the Main Street and not in the back parking lot. There was still no glimpse or lead about what happened to Jennifer.
Life continued on, in our small town. Everyone who stopped into the Sal’s General had a twist on the story. The store was the only one in town on the main road, which was nothing more than a route between hill towns. This was the place for gossip, and many versions about the girl, her friends, about her parents, about how bad things happened to good people, filled the small watering hole with imagination. I have always found that people love to talk about other’s troubles. They have good intentions, but somehow it seemed selfish to me. It was as if talking about it eased their mind somehow, and helped them process the situation. I wish it worked for me too, but it didn’t. No matter what people said, how sad they were, how much they wanted to justify what happened, it still troubled me. There was no way to explain how she got there, and nothing yet pointed to what happened to her. Jennifer Taylor deserved justice.
It was the second day after the body was found, a Thursday, my payday, and my usual day for stopping by to get some groceries for the week. The store only had a few people milling around, and I internally thanked God that I could shop in peace. I took a hand basket from the stack near the door and headed for the produce display. There was some fresh lettuce, so I picked out the greenest and placed it in my basket. I grabbed a few tomatoes too. I went to the cooler and found some hummus and pita bread. I got an uneasy feeling and felt like I was being watched. I walked to the isle and reached for a few cans of tuna and some black beans. The feeling of being spied on got more intense, as if someone’s stare was searing my back with their burning eyes. I looked up and turned around, moving my head in all directions, to find out who was watching me. The only one I saw was old Mr. Simpson, who was idly paging through the newspaper behind the counter, patiently waiting for the next customer, which was in fact me. No one else was in the place.
I wanted to get out of there, get some fresh air and clear my head. I went to the check out.
“Is that all you’re getting today?” Mr. Simpson asked.
His face was drawn and he looked like he had a different question going on in his head.
“Yes, I’ll have to come back later. I’m in a hurry now, I have some work I need to get done.” I said.
He turned and started to ring up the produce and busily bagged my things. He rang me up pretty quick and watched me as I slid my card through the card reader.
“Is everything all right Karen?” he asked.
I looked up and noticed for the first time his hair was receding so much that he was almost bald. His complexion was pasty white, and he looked older than I remembered.
“I’m fine. Just want to try to figure out what happened to that poor girl.”
“Ayah. Sad thing happened there.” he said.
He seemed preoccupied, as he stared out of the window now, but he wasn’t really looking at anything.
“Mr. Simpson, how are you doing? Is everything all right?” I asked.
“Couldn’t be better. Thanks for asking.” he said.
I took my bag and left the store, but somehow was unconvinced things were all right for the old man. He seemed more than sad, more than older. He looked like something was wrong. Maybe he was sick, and didn’t want anyone to know, I thought to myself. Looking back now, I realize I was more right than I knew. But that day, I just wanted to get back to the office and research a few things.

More of the story on next week's post, as the saga continues. If you have any ideas of where this story should go, or any comments in general, please post a comment - would love to hear from YOU. Until next week - cheers!