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Absent Without Official Leave

He stopped at five other apartment complexes, three restaurants, and two drugstores. No one had a clue about Jade Bennett. All they had to say was that she relocated or had been fired years before.

A few hours had gone by before Mack decided to take a break. He didn't call Donnie. Something was wrong with the whole situation, and he needed to piece together what he knew thus far.

He returned to the Market Diner and sat at the counter this time. He decided to skip on the panini and just ordered a coffee. It took him a while to recall that he had noticed Jade's photo on the bulletin board just last night. He had to ask.

"Excuse me," he began, waiting for someone to turn around.

The same lady from the night before stopped in her path. "Welcome back. How can I help you, son?"

"Do you happened to know where that girl on your board is? A family member is looking for her, but we can't seem to contact her. Her name is Jade Bennett."

The lady's expression went solemn and she took a seat next to Mack, as if she was going to deliver bad news.

She sighed before beginning. "Jade Bennett passed away from a heart attack a few years ago."

Dead? Heart attack? Donnie didn't mention anything about her having a heart condition. Maybe she never told him. Or maybe he never told Mack. So many questions needed answers.

"When exactly did she pass away?"

"Four years ago. A close friend of hers found her in her apartment and called the hospital immediately, but there was nothing they could do once they got there."

"Is there any place I can find this friend of hers?" Mack had to find out what was going on. Something was definitely not what it appeared to be.

"He moved to Vancouver a few months after her death. I could try and contact him for you if you'd like." The waitress was ready to get up and head out back to get the contact information for Mack, but he stopped her.

"No, thank you. That won't be necessary. Do you happened to know where she was buried?" He had to be sure that the person he was looking for was really no longer alive. Unintentionally or not, Donnie led him into a dead end, and he wanted to know why.

Mack arrived at the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn and looked over the burial ground for a grave with a tombstone that read "Jade Bennett". There were an assortment of trees varying in height that were placed randomly throughout the graveyard. He only noticed one other person there: a man with a bouquet of flowers in one hand, paying a visit to his lost one.

There was no way Donnie could have gone all these years without knowing his own niece was dead. The report of someone's death would've gotten to their family members one way or another, just as he recalled from his personal experience.

Jade's grave was only a few feet from where Mack had entered the cemetery from. He walked directly to it and knelt down to examine the headstone. The grass was extremely vibrant, green, and dewy that Mack had to reposition his feet ever so slightly so that he wouldn't spoil his shoes.

As Mack read the gravestone, he ran his fingers across it to feel the engraving:

In Loving Memory of
Jade Thuy Bennett
September 28, 1988 - February 3, 2011
"The world was a brighter place because she once lived."

This was really it. Mack couldn't believe that what he was sent to do something seemingly harmless for his best friend only to have it end like this. It was almost too familiar to him to visit someone's grave after seeing them so alive and free only moments earlier. Did he even trust Donnie at this point?

If Donnie truly didn't know what was going on, he had to know now. This was more for Mack to figure out what exactly was going on rather than to let his friend know of a family member's death.

Mack slipped his phone out of his shirt pocket and clicked the 'call' button under his best friend's name. He tried several times in hopes of getting an answer, but there was nothing. There was too much on his mind in the moment to even think about what he intended to do in New York initially.

Mack headed back to his hotel after an hour or two of sitting in a restaurant, contemplating what he could've been thinking by taking up the offer.

Donnie was a generous guy, but he had never done favors for him. He couldn't even remember if that was because Donnie had never asked him or if he had never agreed to doing them.

He kicked off his shoes and sat on his bed at the suite. He flipped through the TV channels to get his mind off of the mess that was unraveling in front of him. What the hell are you up to, Donnie?

Mack was unconcerned with the shows and movies provided, but he had too much time to sit around unoccupied in a city that had so much to offer. It was almost seven o'clock in the evening, and the sun was still glowing in its orange, saturated state.

From outside his window, he could hear the songs of a bird; more particularly, a hummingbird. That was enough to put him as ease for at least a brief second as he focused on the bird's soothing melody instead of the inconvenience at hand.

When he realized that he had been dwelling for long enough, he stood up from his bed and began taking off his coat and unbuttoning his dress shirt. He needed a hot shower after today. So much for an extended break, he thought.

Right before he got to the last button of his shirt, his phone abruptly began buzzing. He thought that it had to be Donnie, but once he flipped the cellular device face-up, he perceived that it was a text from a blocked number.

He unlocked his phone and opened the message:

Check your email.

He looked back and forth around the suite and eyed outside the windows. The sun was beginning to set, and he glanced outside to be sure no one had gotten up onto the balcony to keep an eye him. There wasn't a sign of anyone around, but if there was, Mack would have sensed them instinctively.

He followed what the text ordered and made his way over to the desk where his laptop was sitting, opened, with a browser window already accessible. Mack logged onto his email account and discovered one unread mail sitting in his inbox from an anonymity.

Before he even read the contents of the email, he expanded it and attempted to track it back to whoever delivered it, but he couldn't get past the encryption. Damn it, he cursed.

The email contained the name "Emilia Paul" and four image files that couldn't be previewed, so the only choice Mack had was to download them. Once the files were loaded onto his laptop, he opened them all simultaneously.

What he viewed were photos taken from a security camera in what appeared to be a hospital. He saw what a normal day there would be like and inspected all four of the pictures entirely. The name attached to the email was something he had to look deeper into.

The date in the corner of each photo stated that the photos were taken earlier that day. Mack examined through all of the photos to find any similarities when he noticed a brunette woman.

In three out of the four pictures, her back was faced towards the camera, but in the final one, Mack saw her face distinctly, and he knew that things had gotten even more eerie.

The woman he saw was none other than Jade Bennett. She was dressed in a white doctor's coat. Her hair was shorter and wavy. Due to the camera's ability to pick up color, Mack noticed that her hair was a lighter shade of brown than in the photo he viewed at the diner. If the photo wasn't of her smiling, Mack wouldn't have ever guessed that it was her. But now he was positive.

But Jade? Alive? What part of the puzzle was he missing?

Who did the name attached to the email belong to? Did it belong to the person who sent him the email? Was this the name of someone who could help him? Or was this something he could not fathom for time being?

He examined the photos more and more closely as minutes elapsed and the sun gently descended. He finally caught the name of the hospital located on a business card that he could easily zoom into and view with clarity.

New York General Medical Center

Mack opened a new tab on his browser and immediately entered the name of the hospital into the search bar. He located the official website, and he tried his best to look through and confirm if Jade really was working there. If she was really alive. Or if she ever died at all.

When 'Jade Bennett' didn't come up in the search, he entered in 'Emilia Paul' to see what would appear. Bingo.

There was one doctor by the specified name, but unlike the other doctor profiles, this one did not contain a photo of Emilia Paul herself.

Mack's phone suddenly buzzed again, and he eyed down to see the caller ID read, 'Donnie'. He decided to ignore the call and let it ring until the end because there was no way he was going to follow what Donnie said until he knew exactly what he got himself into.

His best bet was to head to the hospital in the morning and see what he could dig up. Jumping to conclusions was way out of his mind at this point. It all simply didn't add up.

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