The Thousand Words

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Chapter 25

My mind was so consumed with processing the latest awful news, I couldn’t remember how I got back to my car in the lot near the Ohio River. My once promising and positive life was now spiraling completely out of control. Every news received is worse than the last. Every phone call makes the situation worse. Every bit of information digs the hole deeper.

Still, I needed to talk to someone. Recent events demonstrated to me discussing events and sharing news truly helped. I had clawed my way out of years of self-loathing and depression not by dealing with it all internally but together with close friends.

The question of who to talk to was a tough one. Kelsey was the obvious first choice but she was at work. Her job in the pediatric cancer section of the local children’s hospital made it difficult for her to talk while at work. We rarely communicated while she was working as her hectic responsibilities rarely allowed for any meaningful conversations. The call the previous day was a fluke and I didn’t want to get her in trouble.

Jane was a possibility as the loss of the column and most likely additional photographic work would impact her and the amount of work she could perform for me. She was also fairly busy today going through more of the paperwork which was thrown on the floor during the break-in at the office. The review of the contractual and billing documents was critical in determining a motive, and I wanted to give her the maximum amount of time I could before distracting her with the news.

Bruno was the only person left. I had talked to him the day before but with everything going on, we needed to meet on a regular basis. I texted him to see what he was doing at the time and if we could talk. He responded immediately and said he was about to contact me anyway for some more news. He left out any sort of detail, so I expected even worse news. We agreed to meet at the serpentine wall at Yeatmans Cove Park along the riverfront.

The park was an easy walking distance from where I was parked so I headed over on foot. I lamented to myself the entire way over about the horrible past few days knowing it was going to get worse after talking to Bruno.

I found a spot in the middle of the tiered concrete wall where it snaked along the river. The design of the flood control wall was brilliant, allowing for function as well as form. The structure kept the water at bay when the river crested but allowing for use as a gathering place to sit and enjoy the scenery during normal times. Watching the river flow gently by on a crisp fall day helped clear my mind and calm my nerves, at least for a little while.

Bruno arrived about ten minutes after I sat down. “You look like you are having a rough day. Anything to do with the murders?”

“Everything appears to be connected to the murders,” I said trying to remain calm and not lose it. I proceeded to tell him about my meeting at the newspaper and being fired from the column.

“I am sorry, Alex,” Bruno said truthfully. “Getting fired from the newspaper really sucks. Maybe the column will come back as an option when all of this blows over. The murder investigation will end at some point, but unfortunately, it will take some time.”

“I can’t and won’t come back to the paper. Never. It became really apparent the main reason they wanted me there was not the column but rather my connections within the police department and first-hand knowledge of certain crime scenes. They were using me for access to sensitive information. Pure and simple. I would never betray the work you and your colleagues perform simply to get higher readership and sell a few more papers.

“It’s just a blow to my ego. Honestly. I thought I was finally turning the corner on my photography career with a popular column, higher sales of my prints, and the possibility of a book. Together it would have been a dream come true. Now it feels like I am back at square one.”

“It may feel like you have lost everything, but you and I both know it’s not the truth. So you lost the column and some of the content. You still own the concept and your blog where it all started. You made sure of that when you signed the original contract. So what if a few articles are lost. You can always create more and change the concept slightly. Your prints will continue to sell. You just need a different way to get your name out there.”

“I know. It’s still tough. Photography is such a feast or famine line of work with no guaranteed income stream. Speaking of a cutthroat business, what’s with the police confirming to the paper I am the prime suspect in the two murders. Me murdering anyone is complete bullshit and you know it.”

“Calm down,” Bruno said holding his hands up as in surrender. “You know the confirmation didn’t come from me. Every police department across the country is horrible at keeping information secret. There are just too many people working on these investigations whose integrity is swayed by a dinner out or a decent bottle of alcohol. Not to mention you have both of the Thompson twins gunning for you. My guess is it was those two who, at a minimum, confirmed you are a person of interest. They were most likely more proactive and actually made the call on their own to put some pressure on the force to not hire you in the future. They have been looking for something to hold over you ever since you hired on.

“And before you start ranting and raving again,” Bruno continued. “You are a person of interest in the two murders. There is no way around it. There is only one thing we have found that connects the two victims and it’s you, unfortunately. You link the two victims together. No one believes you had anything directly to do with the murders but we have to investigate. If I didn’t know you as I do, you would be my best lead and I would be going after you hard. Tough to hear but it is the reality.”

“This situation is just such a mess,” I responded.

“What I am about to tell you stays between us,” Bruno continued. “I am not technically allowed to talk about an active investigation, especially with a person of interest, but I promised to keep you in the loop. First off, the cell phone number you gave me for John Burns is a dead end. It was a burner phone bought at some travel station way out in Warren County. It’s untraceable. The only calls made to or from it was to your cell phone. The phone has been turned off so there is no method of locating where it is unless it is turned back on.”

“Wonderful. Just wonderful. Why would he buy a burner phone and turn it off after talking to me?”

Bruno stopped me from saying more. “Let me continue. Secondly, we have been looking into Sarah Jacobs’ life. Phone call logs. Texts. Credit card purchases. Her apartment. Talking to her mother, brother, friends, and a few colleagues, one thing is consistent. There is no evidence of her being engaged to anyone and having a fiancée. I did confirm her brother does drive a red Mustang and was the one who put the meals in her apartment on Wednesday night. Does it weekly from where he works since he gets a discount.”

“What the heck is going on, Bruno? This is fucked up. A guy comes in without an appointment to my office, hires me to take pictures of his missing fiancée, pays in cash, and wants me to call when I find her. Now you are telling me he was never engaged to her in the first place and the number he gave me is to a burner phone. I just don’t get what is happening.” My latest vocal tirade generated a few curious looks from people nearby.

“I don’t either, but whatever is going on, I am very concerned. I need some more time to get to the bottom of this. There is a meeting scheduled tomorrow morning with the coroner on Sarah Jacobs. The preliminary report should narrow down the time she was killed to a more specific window. Hopefully, you have a solid alibi for the time window to fully clear you.”

“What if I don’t?” I asked truthfully. “It’s not like any of the news lately has been in my favor. Everyone I talk to these days keeps piling it on. I can’t even process the last hit that happened before the next strike comes in. Not to mention the blows keep getting nastier and nastier.”

“Let’s worry about clearing your name if your alibi isn’t strong enough. Until then, be careful. The last thing you need to do right now is something stupid that digs a deeper hole for you. When this is all over and the smoke has cleared, I will make sure everyone on the force knows you refused to give up any information to the press about the crime scenes you worked and was fired over it. Your dedication to the police force will drive more employment your way in both documenting crime scenes and other investigative work. I know it’s not your photography business but it will help pay the bills.”

“Thanks,” I said rather dejectedly. It was all I could muster at that point in time.

“Now go home and tell Kelsey to come over tonight. Crack open another nice bottle of wine and turn on something mindless to watch. She is a hell of a lot better at cheering you up than I ever am. No idea why, though.”

I looked over at Bruno and he had a big smile on his face. He patted my back and headed off not bothering to say goodbye as usual. I watched the cold river flow by for a little while longer before heading back to my car.

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