Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday shorts - Part 4 of "By Any Other Name"

So, what is going on with Denise? Who's stalking her? More drama in Colorado!

4

“I wouldn’t believe this if I wasn’t staring at it myself.” Steve Lofgren shook his head as two officers wearing white vinyl gloves carefully bagged and tagged the items in the room. “That woman is the spitting image of you, Ms. Richardson. She even has your voice down pat.”

Denise just nodded, still taking in the sheer number of individual bags covering the bedspread. Her face flowed with so many emotions — anger, confusion, relief and worry. Dan could understand them all. If this had all been happening to him instead, he couldn’t even imagine what he would be thinking.

“So you agree with me that this is more than a simple case of identity theft?” Dan crossed his arms over his chest and then followed Lofgren as he stepped outside into the chilled night air.

Steve’s face glowed red for a moment as he touched a flame to the end of a cigarette and then took a deep pull. “Oh, yeah. I don’t quite know what it is, but the few cases of identity theft I’ve seen are usually just taking someone’s name and social and then getting a job or kiting a few checks. Yeah, those are here too, but this person has been making a real point of wandering around town, making friends and then burning them. Looking back, it feels very planned.”

“So, what do you—” Dan’s question was interrupted by Denise’s startled voice inside the room.

“Wait! Wait, pull that back out for a second!” Steve quickly dropped the cigarette onto the asphalt and ground it into pieces with the toe of his boot. Dan had stepped into the triangle of light from the doorway and watched Denise stare at a large black coffee table style book being held by one of the officers.

She glanced up as Steve entered, with Dan right at his heels. “This is my book.” She motioned for the officer to flip the book over and open the front cover of the volume, entitled Painted Ponies. Inside, Dan could see a bookplate with Denise’s name glued inside the cover. “It’s been missing for nearly a year. I couldn’t find it when I moved into my new place, but I figured it just got misplaced and would turn up. It’s probably got my prints all over it.”

Lofgren nodded. “And hopefully hers right alongside. Thanks, Ms. Richardson. Do you have any idea who this woman might be?”

Denise shook her head and walked to stand next to Dan. “I’ve been thinking about that. My first thought was that it must be someone that I know, but I don’t have any enemies that I’m aware of, so maybe it’s random.”

Steve nodded. “Hawk explained that you’ve got to get back to Vail for court on Monday, but I’d appreciate it if you could stay as long as possible tomorrow. We might want to talk to you again since we don’t have any leads on a vehicle. I’m certain that with all the activity in this room, the woman and her companion have probably already noticed and fled the area. I’ve got a general description out to the state patrol, but maybe we’ll find something in here that will jog your memory.”

***

Back at the motel, Denise paced in a tight circle in his room — from the door to the dresser and back — around and around with arms crossed. Her face was a study in concentration, from the furrowed brows to the corner of her lower lip tucked between her teeth. Dan sat just out of range of her intense movements in the room’s single cloth-covered chair, watching with amusement. He didn’t know if she’d figure out the answer, but he could tell that the mystery was intriguing her to no end. And she was intriguing him as a result.

When he spoke, it broke her concentration. She bumped into the corner of the bureau and looked up, startled. “This isn’t a puzzle you have to solve, Denise. The police will do their job. There will be fingerprints, DNA samples and probably clues to where they might have gone.” He shrugged. “Maybe you need to back off for a little while, think about something else. Sometimes your subconscious will solve it for you when you’re doing other things.” He crossed his own arms and sighed. “I just wish we’d considered watching the place to see if they showed up before going to the police, though. It would have really helped if we’d been able to provide a vehicle description or a plate number.”

The change in her was abrupt and grabbed his attention. Her jaw dropped and her face went slack, but her green eyes started moving from side to side quickly, as though she was processing something. He knew that look, because he’d been accused of having same one too often by others.

“You’ve thought of something, haven’t you?”

Denise shook her head and smiled at the floor. When she raised her eyes, the smile was all for him. “You’re brilliant! I’ve been pacing back and forth, trying to figure out where the woman might go next, what she might be driving — trying to get into her head. But you just made me realize that I don’t need to think like her. I need to think like me!”

It took a moment, but only a moment, before he understood just what she meant. “She’s trying to live your existence—”

Denise nodded and sat down on the corner of the bed, facing him. “She’s using my looks, my voice, my whole personality. So why wouldn’t she use—”

A chuckle rose from Dan’s chest. “Your car!” He reached for the telephone. “And it might even be easier than that. You already know that she’s following you, taking photos, bits and pieces of your life—” He dialed a familiar number, watching Denise try to follow his train of thought as he dialed too many numbers for the call to be local.

Justin was understandably grumpy due to the hour, and Dan’s request stopped him cold for so long that Dan wondered whether he’d hung up the phone in sheer annoyance. “Justin? Are you still there?”

The young investigator yawned, but his voice sounded thoughtful. “Yeah. Y’know, I don’t know that I’ve ever checked my own plates for that, Dan. It’s just simple enough to make sense. But can this at least wait until morning?”

Dan’s hand tightened on the phone, but he tried to think of it from the other side. “I’ll let your conscience be your guide. How far do you think they could get by then?”

A long pause, and then a sigh. “Fine. I’ll go over there now.” A dark chuckle crept into his voice. “Maybe I’ll wake Barbara and have her go along with me. She keeps complaining we don’t do things together. Driving down and breaking into a business in the middle of the night should be a real bonding experience, don’t you think?”

Dan’s voice held a bit of reproach. “That wasn’t what I had in mind, Justin. It might be easier to just call the owner and ask to be let in, you know. Or drop by the police station and get an escort.”

Justin laughed, and it sounded like old times back in New York. “Hell, Hawk — where’s the fun in that? Don’t worry. I’ll be careful.”

His light growl caused a second round of laughter over the phone, but he didn’t know what it meant. “Uh-huh. Well, call me back, regardless of the time, or if you can’t get through, call the police and leave a message for Steve Lofgren. Do you need to write that down?”

Another yawn was followed by a sleepy, “No, I’ve got it. Hotel or Lofgren. I can call information for the number. But I really need to go grab a cola to wake myself up now. I’ll call you back.”

Dan turned to Denise as he hung up the phone. “There’s really no reason for you to stay, if you want to go back to your room and hit the sack. In fact, it might be a good idea. If I’m up all night, you might wind up driving us back to Vail tomorrow.”

Her eyes were shimmering with excitement, and he didn’t think it was because of his idea with the license plates. “I know where she’s going.” At his questioning look, she continued. “Remember what I said about the carousels? There’s one other town in Colorado where I’ve wanted to go. Why wouldn’t she go there too?”

He smiled in return. They were going to have a lot to discuss with the police in the morning.

...[more next week!]

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