As he greeted them and invited them into his office, Mike introduced his partner, Jenna Smith, to Juan and Laura. Laura barely acknowledged Jenna. Her face was pale and her hands were shaking. When the four of them sat, Laura put her feet on the seat of the chair and wrapped her arms around her legs. For a brief time, no one spoke.
Juan broke the silence. “Were you able to get Laura’s dental records? Do they match?”
Mike shook his head grimly. “I did get Laura Kinser’s dental records. They do not match the ones Doctor Welz took.”
A loud, long, anguished “No!” burst from Laura’s mouth. She began to weep—not quiet tears, as Juan had seen before, but noisy sobs, occasionally broken by a gasp for breath.
“I’m sorry, Martha,” Mike said kindly. “It was a matter of time before the truth appeared. This is just about the best way it could have happened.”
Juan sat in his chair, stunned. Jenna rose to her feet and crossed the room to give the woman Juan knew as Laura a hug. “There, there, Hon,” Jenna cooed. “Things will be fine. It’s not so bad. You’re gonna be alright.”
Laura continued to cry, and Jenna continued to try to comfort her. “Let’s switch to the other office,” Mike suggested to Juan. As if in a dream, Juan stood on his feet, followed Mike across the hall to Jenna’s office, and found a seat.
“Where should I start?” Mike asked himself after he had closed the door and settled into Laura’s desk chair. “It struck me as strange that the woman was so hesitant to see a dentist and denied having seen one any time recently. Hollywood people generally are faithful to their dental appointments. It’s a professional necessity.
“It had already occurred to me that the federal investigators working at the airport probably had requested dental records for Laura Kinser. That guess was correct. I contacted them and traded the information about Ron Lawrence for a copy of the records. They came digitally, of course, and over lunch I took them to Doctor Welz. In next to no time he found three clear differences between the two sets of images—fillings in different places, wisdom teeth present in one set and missing in the other, and, um, I’ve forgotten what the third difference was.”
Laura’s sobs still rang through the building, even through the closed door. Juan found it difficult to concentrate. He clenched his fists. His heart ached for her.
“The crash investigators called me back about an hour ago. They were able to find Mr. Lawrence, and he surrendered peacefully to them. I guess he was having a hard time with the insurance companies—or rather, they were having a hard time with him. He wanted his money quickly, and they were waiting for the results of the investigation. So Ron opened up and told them the whole story.
“That woman across the hall is named Martha Jones. She and Laura met while they were both receiving in-patient treatment in the same ward. Both of them noticed the similarities in appearance, and for a while they were both equally amused. They exchanged contact information and promised to keep in touch.”
While he spoke, Mike was toying with a bottle of water. Now he stopped and took a sip. “Martha became obsessed with Laura. She pumped her for every scrap of information about her life. When Laura stopped responding to her questions, she began reading everything she could find about Laura. Her doctors could see that she was identifying with Laura in a way that was not healthy. They tried to work with her, but they had little success.
“Ron had met her once while Laura was still in the hospital. Now he went to visit her again. That required her permission, but of course once she knew who he is, she accepted. Without any details, he asked her if she would be willing to double for Laura. She accepted quickly. Monday morning he returned and signed her out of the hospital for the day. I don’t know how he convinced the doctors to let him do that, but he managed. From there, I think you know the rest.”
Juan nodded. “I wonder what his plans for Martha were after the explosion. And I also wonder what’s happened to the real Laura Kinser.”
“The real Laura Kinser is out of the country on a long vacation. I gather that wherever she is, they aren’t paying attention to news from America. I wasn’t told the details of why Ron wanted so much money or what he was going to do when Laura returned.
“As for Martha, he said that he was planning to return her to the hospital on Wednesday when she escaped him. We’ll never know whether or not he told the truth about that.”
Juan nodded again. Martha’s weeping was becoming quieter. “What’s to be done with her?” Juan asked, gesturing in Martha’s direction.
“Just before you got here, I made arrangements with the hospital. They’ve been searching for her all week. They will find transportation to return her; I said they could pick her up here.”
Juan thought for a minute. “I can drive her to the hospital, so long as she stays calm—and if she wants me to.”
“That’s mighty generous, under the circumstances. Are you sure you want to, though?”
Juan nodded yet again. “Yes. I want to.”
“Well, let’s check with her then.”
The men crossed the hall. Laura had stopped sobbing, but her eyes were red from crying. She looked up at Juan. “I’m so sorry,” she said, her voice catching in her throat. “I’m terribly, terribly sorry.”
Juan shrugged. “I’m not going to hold any grudges. In fact, it’s probably better this way. I don’t know if I could handle being friends with a real celebrity.”
“You actually want to be my friend… after all the lies I told you?”
“I do indeed. This week has been quite an adventure.”
Martha smiled weakly. “I had you fooled the whole time, didn’t I?” Juan nodded. Martha sighed. “For a little while, I actually got to be Laura Kinser.”
Juan didn’t stop to consider whether his next words would help her recovery or slow it. He truthfully told her, “In my heart, you will always be Laura.”
The End. J.