The Thousand Words

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Chapter 15

Saturday morning came after a solitary, restless night of sleep at my house. I was frustrated and unable to turn my mind off. On one end, the complete lack of progress being made on the missing person case was upsetting me and the twins’ call to the paper had me seething. On the other, the additional work and exposure of my column were great news, and the possibility of a published book was a dream come true. There was also Kelsey. We were getting close and I just couldn’t stop thinking about her. Realizing you are truly in love with someone is the best feeling in the world. Period.

Getting out of bed well before dawn was something I had been doing since I was little. Initially, my dad made sure I was up while it was still dark outside, getting me up early every day to start school or any chores that needed to be completed. The trend continued when I started taking photographs to ensure I was in the right location during the time around sunrise. Over time, I had found the sunrise is generally better for photographs for one simple reason. The usual lack of people. Parks, beaches, streets, nature reserves, and public areas all tend to be void of anyone as the sun is coming up, while at the same time, wild animals tend to be their most active.

I left my house and went directly to my SUV forgoing the car as I didn’t want to sit in it at all today. Not after putting in close to ten hours in it over the past few days. The plan for the day was simple. A quick stop at Sarah Jacob’s apartment and then off to take some pictures for a few different The Thousand Words submissions. I had all of my equipment with me from yesterday so there was no need to stop off down at the office. This ensured I wouldn’t be tempted to do any other work at all. Jane said she was going to stop by for a little while this morning to take care of a few things.

With empty streets, I arrived at her apartment a few minutes before seven AM. Somewhat early for most people on a Saturday morning. The parking lot was definitely fuller than the previous times I had been there. Everyone who lived in the complex was home with possibly a few overnight weekend guests. I parked in an empty space a few buildings down and got out to walk directly to her apartment. The place was quiet as most people were sleeping in from the long work week. The only other person I saw was an older gentleman in his pajamas walking his twin dachshunds.

I walked directly to Sarah Jacob’s apartment as I was well past the point of trying to remain unseen and unobtrusive. This case needed to be closed. I banged on her door loud enough to wake anyone up and tried looking in the window next to it. No one answered, no sounds could be heard from the apartment and nothing could be seen through the crack in the shades as all of the lights were off. Not surprising the way my luck had been going, but worth a shot. All of the lights were off in the apartment so the change was something new. The lights being off meant that someone had been there since yesterday. A stakeout might be in order on Sunday night then. The vast majority of the working world doesn’t do much on Sunday night as they are getting ready for the work week. The Sunday night blues.

On the way back to the car, I called the client, John Burns. The call went straight to voicemail indicating his phone was turned off. Not being able to get a hold of the client had me a bit concerned for two reasons. First off, he was too busy or sleeping to answer his phone from either his fiancée or me. He said his work was important to him and he could need some privacy or time to catch up on sleep but this is his personal cell phone. Why would he ever turn off my only method of communicating with him in this situation? The other possibility is he turned it off for some uninterrupted personal time with Sarah after she came back. I wouldn’t put it past him. He seemed like the kind of person who thought only of himself and wouldn’t think to call someone helping him once his issue was resolved. I left him a message telling him to call me back as soon as possible.

I got back in my car and updated the case notebook with my activities for the morning and headed downtown. It was one more crisp and cool October morning. Another great day for taking photographs. I had a listing of places I wanted to try and get some images of depending on the conditions, all of which were in or near downtown. Right after I arrived at Fountain Square for the popular The Genius of Water fountain, my phone rang. It was Bruno.

“Morning, Bruno,” I answered. “How are you today?”

“Not bad. Not bad. Just wanted to give you a quick call to update you on a few things and ask you a question. First off, Zoe Burke. Did you think of anything else that might be of interest to the investigation?”

“Nothing I can think of.” The fact she reminded me of Hannah popped into my head but their similarities in appearance were in no way relevant to this case. “I hadn’t given it much thought, though. Everything is in the case notebook I gave you. Why are you asking?”

Bruno sighed. “We are just at a bit of a standstill on the case. There was no physical evidence to speak of at the crime scene. She was killed somewhere else and dropped there. We are busy checking security cameras in the area but there aren’t any in the vicinity covering the street or really the whole area, to be honest. We talked to the ex-boyfriend and he is a dead end as well. He has moved on and is living with a new girlfriend out in Forrest Park. They had literally just gotten back from visiting her parents up near Columbus so he has a solid alibi. Seemed pretty shaken up when I told him as well. Hard to fake shock and astonishment.”

Bruno often used me as a sounding board for his cases. I didn’t end up saying much most of the time, as he only needed to talk out loud to someone. With me being a part of the police force in some capacity made it easy for him to talk with me.

“So what’s next?” I asked.

“Not sure other than the usual checking and double checking of everything. The only real topic I wanted to discuss further is the additional phone calls to Zoe Burke after the case was closed. You mentioned them when we talked but there is nothing in the notebook.”

“They were nothing other than a routine follow-up. Didn’t think there was anything important to include in the notebook, so I never bothered to record the call. I usually follow up like this when there is not the outcome the client requested. She asked me to take pictures of her ex-boyfriend stalking her. I followed him for almost a week without finding what she hired me to document. We decided to end the surveillance and I was calling to make sure everything was still fine. She was nice and I wanted to see if she was OK. Nothing more.”

“I figured as much,” Bruno said. “I thought I would check. Secondly, keep me in the loop if you hear anything more from your boss at the paper on anyone calling him. I think you are right it being the twins trying to sabotage you. It’s just like those assholes to attempt to damage your career and reputation. I am not happy they are talking to someone at the paper about my case. Call me right away if you hear anything else along this line.”

“Will do,” I confirmed. “You said you wanted to ask me something. What is it?”

“This is going to sound strange coming from me, but I was wondering if you and Kelsey would like to come to my place for dinner one night? I have a hankering for a good low country shrimp boil before the fall is over and winter sets in. We can crank the burner up in the backyard and sit by the fire while we wait for the food to cook. Hopefully, we can eat outside.”

This was a surprise coming from Bruno. I can’t think of the last time I had been to Bruno’s house and eaten for entertainment. There have been a number of times I have eaten at his place but it was more about necessity than socialization. We would get pizza while helping on some house project or make some burgers while reviewing a case together. Food for fuel is what Bruno and my dad used to do a lot, so it must be a holdover from those days. Needless to say, I was pleased. In truth it simply meant he really liked Kelsey because Bruno had never invited me over for a social dinner.

“Sounds like a plan,” I said. “I will talk to Kelsey and let you know our schedules. Let’s do it soon before it gets too cold.”

“Perfect.” He simply hung up as was his style.

I went back to the task at hand by taking some photographs of Fountain Square. There were a few tents set up for some event taking place over the weekend so wide-angle shots of the area were out of the question, but I could get some decent close-ups of the fountain itself. Even though this statue is one of the most defining pieces of Cincinnati and is often regarded as the city’s symbol, I hadn’t gotten around to making it the subject of a column. Now was as good as time as any.

My phone rang again a few minutes later. I figured it was Bruno calling again with another question, but the caller ID said it was Jane.

“Skyline Chili. How may I help you?” I answered.

“Not today, Alex.” She sounded very upset. “I just got to the office. Someone has broken in.”

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