The Thousand Words

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Chapter 20

Bruno and I searched everywhere for the notebook. It simply wasn’t in the car. I had kept it close to me in case I decided to try and find Sarah Jacobs or if I received a call and wanted to add any information. Copious note taking was my standard practice. The notebook for any case was always with me wherever I went. No exceptions. It had always worked well for me up until this point. Now it was a disaster. Bruno was not happy at all. He told me to go retrace my steps over the past day and to try and find it. The notebook was simply gone, but spending any time looking for it in the car wasn’t going to make it magically reappear.

I drove back to my house in a daze, getting home a little after three AM. Going back to sleep was simply not an option after all of what transpired that night. I quietly walked up to my bedroom anyway. Kelsey was on her side, wrapped up in a blanket, laying in the middle of the bed, sound asleep. She looked peaceful. I had no intentions of disturbing her sleep. Life had finally started to go my way and then this happened. For as much as I trusted her, I was nervous about what she would think.

I headed back down the stairs after changing clothes, writing a note for Kelsey telling her I was going out early this morning since I couldn’t sleep. The message was vague as not to concern her. I locked up, went outside and over to my office. The automatic lights surprised me for a moment as they turned as I approached. Everything was locked up soundly.

Going inside to make sure, I unlocked the door and headed in. It was cool in the office with the thermostat set low for the night but the office looked as expected. The desks were put back together and there were stacks upon stacks of paper to be reviewed and refiled. After a quick trip upstairs to grab some camera gear to help pass the time, I left, driving north wanting to get away from everyone.

I ended up arriving at the Little Miami bike path that follows the river of the same name, parking at an old abandoned factory used to make ammunition back in World War I. The lot was empty as it was still a few hours before sunrise. My thought was to find an out of the way location to both take some photographs of the river with the rising sun as well as to be left alone.

The path was paved for more than twenty miles in either direction. I headed north for no other reason than it put me farther away from downtown and the horrors from earlier. A bright full moon hovered overhead, so there was plenty of light for me to navigate. After walking for about half an hour I found a small hill about twenty yards off to the side where it overlooked the river below. It was out of the way and had the potential to produce some decent images if the sky and wind behaved. Sunrise was still hours away but I would be able to get some twilight images well before then.

All of my equipment was ready within about fifteen minutes. The actions required for setup were down to a science and all of the gear could be made ready in near pitch black conditions. Years of practice setting up equipment in the pre-dawn light made a quick state of readiness. The only task to complete was to wait for the sky and heavens to brighten above. In reality, being able to think was the real reason why I was out here.

I was still having a difficult time wrapping my head around what Bruno said. The two murders were connected and so far I was the only association between the two. It was still early in the investigation. True, but being a person of interest in any murder was still very distressing. How could each of the victims be connected? If it was either victim on their own, the significant other would be at the top of the suspect list like normal. Both of the murders together made the approach completely different. Other than myself, there was nothing obvious at all. Then again, I didn’t have any in-depth knowledge of either one of them. They could be best friends for all I knew. Not very likely but one could hope. I would have to leave it to Bruno to hopefully find a connection.

The alternative was much worse. Something to do with me. Someway. Somehow. Kelsey was simply not a possible source or even Jane. Nothing there could be related. Same thing with the photography business and the column for the paper. Both were benign and uncontroversial as possible. All of those exclusions left only the work I performed for the police department and my private investigations. Either was a possibility, but neither likely.

My work for the police department mainly consisted of taking pictures of crime scenes. I was called out multiple times a month to help document a scene when the full-time techs were unavailable for any number of reasons. My involvement in those situations ended right there. I would give them the digital images and fill out some paperwork. Nothing more. Once I had to come back in to sign an affidavit before a case went to court due to some objections the defense made, but I never had to testify. The images often spoke for themselves.

The police had all of the images. I do have copies of everything as a part of my standard backup procedures when shooting pictures out in the field. No one other than Jane knows image archiving methodology. Bruno must suspect something as he has seen me doing it a few times but he has never said anything.

I have been involved in a fair number stakeouts and investigations when pictures need to be taken from far away. No police station has the equipment and skills of a professional photographer. With a physically stabilized thousand millimeter lens and teleconverter attached to a professional grade camera, you can take crystal clear images from a few football fields away. They come to me for support when the situation demands it.

The private investigative work was most likely the source of what was driving whatever the hell was going on. Nothing was obvious at all. Most of the cases were either cheating spouses or insurance fraud investigations. There were a smattering of missing persons and business-related investigations as well. The deliverable to the client was basically the same each time. Photographs of the subject doing what they shouldn’t be doing. Either being romantically involved with someone other than their significant other, being physically able for work after an accident while suing to say otherwise, doing something other than the job you were being paid for or any number of related illicit activities.

The independent cases related to the two women were completely different. Zoe Burke wanted proof the ex-boyfriend was stalking her. Sarah Jacobs was missing after a fight with her fiancée over finances. Nothing jumped out to what could possibly be driving all of this. One was the client and one was the subject of the investigation. Both of the victims were female and both cases were about lovers who were having some degree of difficulty. It just didn’t make any damn sense.

I was developing a headache that threatened to put me down for the count if I didn’t do something to prevent it from getting worse. The pre-dawn sky was beginning to lighten, bathing the trees lining the riverbed in a subtle light that brought out the fall colors. The subject matter was average at best and the probability of getting a usable image was next to none. Still, I spend the better part of an hour taking pictures out a habit. My mind was clearly focusing on the job at hand, ignoring the bikers and occasional runner that past behind in the early dawn hours.

A little after eight AM, Bruno called. I was reluctant to answer but not doing so really wasn’t an option.

“Did you find the notebook?” he asked by way of greeting.

“Nope. It’s just gone. Nowhere to be found.”

Bruno sighed obviously frustrated. “Keep looking. What contact information do you have on the fiancée?”

“Nothing more than I gave you. Just a cell phone number and email address. Why?”

“I went and did the notification to Sarah Jacobs’ parents over in Milford early this morning around five. There were obviously distraught. I won’t go into any details, but the main problem is they said she was not engaged and have never heard of a John Burns.”

“Goddammit, Bruno, could you give me some good fucking news for once?” I roared back to him.

“I tried calling John Burns a number of different times,” he said ignoring my outburst. “The number you gave me just goes directly to voicemail, so the phone could be off. Some people turn theirs off over the weekend for privacy, so a call going directly to voicemail might not mean anything. We are looking up the service provider now to get an address. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any John Burns in the area who fits the description you gave me. It’s Sunday, so we won’t be able to try tracking down through his work until Monday.”

“You are just one big good news ray of sunshine.” I was beyond mad.

“Doing what I said I would do and keeping you in the loop. Contact me immediately if he calls but don’t answer the call for any reason. Let it go directly to voicemail.”

“Anything else?” There was more.

“This case is blowing up quickly. Single women being slaughtered is a dream come true for any news organization. I am the lead but it is being watched closely by many sets of eyes. It needs to be done by the book. My chain of command is also assigning me additional help, regardless if I want it or not.”

“Let me guess, the Thompson twins.”

“Exactly. They are going to be an integral part of this investigation. I can’t do anything about it. Regardless of your level of involvement, they are going to go after you for no other reason than they despise you. That’s putting in lightly.”

“Wonderful. Just wonderful.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“Look, Alex. This will all blow over. Hopefully soon, but it’s going to be a rough ride no matter what. Have you told Kelsey yet?”

“No. She was sleeping when I got back to the house and I didn’t want to wake her. This is not exactly something I am going to enjoy telling her. She should be at work now. I let her know we need to talk right after she gets off.”

“Talk to her and let me know anything that happens related to this case. I will call you with updates when I can. Being careful with your head on straight is the best thing you can do right now. It’s going to be just fine.”

Little did I know then how wrong Bruno was.

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