Flashback 1986, part four

You can read part one here

You can read part two here

You can read part three here

The next day at work was startlingly normal. Juan left the apartment before Laura awoke and drove to the airport. Pilots came and went as they usually did on a bright sunny day. Some walked past him without a word; others exchanged pleasantries with him. None of them mentioned Laura Kinser. Even Juan’s supervisor did not ask him again about Laura. It seemed to Juan that she should still be at the center of everyone’s attention—after all, she was at the center of his—but her tragedy seemed forgotten. The woman running through the airport thinking that she was Laura Kinser also was apparently forgotten.

Juan pondered the situation. He had already thought of various ways for the woman to prove that she really was Laura. Fingerprints should help—surely some of the actress’ fingerprints could be found in her home and compared to those of the woman back at Juan’s apartment. Dental records could also be consulted and compared. A DNA test was not out of the question, but fingerprints and dental records should suffice. If Juan believed that the woman was telling the truth, he would have suggested these things to her. As it was, he feared that they would prove that she was lying, and Juan was not prepared to handle her reaction to that discovery.

When Juan returned home from work the next afternoon, he was surprised to see the apartment door open wide. He was even more surprised as he entered the apartment to find two uniformed police officers inside. “We’re sorry to disturb you, sir,” one of the officers said. “We have a warrant.” He showed Juan the search warrant. “We’re trying to find a girl who escaped Monday from the mental ward of the state hospital. She thinks that she’s Laura Kinser. Unfortunately, she also looks a bit like Miss Kinser.” Juan stood mutely in his living room as the officers thoroughly searched his four rooms and his two closets. He expected any minute for them to find his guest, for them to drag her, kicking and screaming, from a closet or some other hiding place. When the officers had completed their search, she still had not appeared.

“We’re sorry for the inconvenience,” he officer said again, disappointment in his voice.

“Whatever made you come here to look for her?” Juan knew that it was a bold question, but it seemed to him that quietly accepting their search would be suspicious.

“One of your neighbors phoned this morning. She described a woman she thought she had seen in the apartment. Obviously she was mistaken. Have a good day.”

After they left, Juan collapsed into a chair. He gazed around his apartment, now a bit disorganized, and wondered where the woman who claimed to be Laura Kinser had gone. After resting for a minute, Juan got up and began putting his things back into place.

The apartment door was still open. Juan looked up with surprise when he saw Laura standing in the doorway, clutching a stack of folded clothes so high that she had to hold it with both arms and her chin. “I hope you don’t mind,” she said as she walked into the living room, setting the clothing on the chair where Juan recently had been sitting. I decided to wash the clothes I’ve been wearing, and I grabbed some of your dirty clothes too, to make a full load.” She looked down at the floor, a little flush creeping across her face. “I filched some of your quarters, too. I’ll pay you back—I promise—just as soon as I can reclaim my identity.”

Juan wanted to laugh. “I don’t mind,” he assured her. He saw that she was wearing one of his flannel shirts and a pair of his blue jeans. The jeans were double-cuffed to keep them from dragging on the floor. He realized that he didn’t mind her borrowing his clothing either; in fact, she looked fine in it.

“You didn’t tell me about the washer in drier in the basement. I went exploring,” she said. Juan didn’t know what to say, but he didn’t have time to form a response. “What’s this piece of paper?” Laura asked, picking up the search warrant that was lying on the table. “This wasn’t here before.”

Juan tried to sound casual as he said, “Oh, it’s just a search warrant. Some police stopped by apartment looking for you while you were down in the basement.”

She frowned as she read it. “It doesn’t look like a search warrant,” she said.

Juan stepped next to her to examine it with her. “It’s the paper they showed me when I came home,” he said.

“But, look, half of it isn’t even filled out, and there’s no signature on the bottom. This looks like something someone printed off the internet.”

Juan shook his head, ashamed that he had been fooled by a clumsy forgery. But they were already in his apartment when he got home; there wasn’t much he could have done. After all, they were wearing police uniforms, complete with guns….

Juan turned away, striking his forehead with his hand. “Of course! I knew he looked familiar!”

“What? Who looked familiar? The police?”

“Yes—the tall one, the one who didn’t speak to me today. The uniform distracted me, but he’s the man from the airport yesterday, the one who was chasing you.” Juan sucked in his breath with another realization. “He was also with you at the airport the day your plane exploded!”

As Juan looked at Laura with renewed recognition, his telephone began to ring.

Juan and Laura jumped, glanced at each other, and then both of them stared at the phone. It rang a second time, then a third time. Finally, hesitantly, Juan picked it up. “Hello?” he said. His voice crackled; his throat was suddenly very dry.

“Well, it’s about time,” the voice of his landlady hissed at him.

“Yes, Mrs. Cook,” Juan said, his tense shoulders relaxing. “What can I do for you?”

“I’m calling to warn you,” she growled. “There was a pair of phony policemen looking for you about an hour ago. They asked all kinds of questions about you—when you’re home, if you have guests often, things like that. I saw through them right away. I asked for badge numbers, and when they didn’t produce any, I told them to leave the building and never return. I think they might be thieves, casing the place to try to rob you.”

Juan smiled. “Thank you for the warning, Mrs. Cook. I’ll be sure to keep the door locked, and I’ll ask the neighbors across the hall to keep an eye on the place.”

“And another thing,” she continued. “I don’t like the looks of that tramp you brought home yesterday. My building has a good reputation, you know.”

“Yes, Mrs. Cook. She’ll be gone before nightfall,” Juan said. “Good-bye, Mrs. Cook.” He set down the phone.

“’Gone before nightfall’?” Laura repeated. “Juan, are you kicking me out?”

“Not exactly,” Juan answered. “You and I are leaving town together as quickly as we can. Grab what you need for a trip. I’m due for some time off, and I’m going to take it now.” He picked up the phone again and called the security office.

Laura waited until Juan had finished arranging his vacation. “Where are we going?” she asked as he set down the phone.

“Somewhere safe,” Juan replied. Without another word, he began grabbing clothes and toiletries. Laura shrugged and went into the kitchen, where she found two bags and started filling them with food that would travel well—crackers, fruit, breakfast cereal, raw carrots, and granola bars. By the time she finished, Juan had filled a suitcase, including Laura’s clothing that she had just washed. “Quickly!” he whispered, ushering her to the hallway. He locked the door, and they took the stairs down to get to his car.

First Juan drove to the bank. “Walk with me,” he invited Laura as he got out of the car. At the ATM, he said, “I don’t think we’ll be overheard here. It’s possible that your friends had time to bug the apartment. Possibly they bugged the car too. I think it’s best for us to get out of town, a hundred miles or more, and find a place to stay. You’ll want to buy some more clothing, I think. Then, tomorrow, we can find a private investigator who will listen to your story and figure out how to help us.” Juan put his card into the ATM and withdrew the maximum amount of money allowed. Then he took out a credit card and got a cash advance from that as well. “That should cover the next few days,” he said. “I’m counting on you to be able to pay me back when this is over, you know.”

Laura stepped next to him and lay her head on his arm. “Absolutely,” she guaranteed.

“OK—let’s go,” Juan said. They returned to the car, and headed to Westfield.

To be continued… J.

Flashback 1986, part three

You can read part one here.

You can read part two here.

When his shift ended, Juan did not furtively smuggle the woman out of the airport. He knew how to avoid looking suspicious. Confidently he took her arm, escorted her to his car in the employee parking lot, unlocked the passenger door, and invited her to take a seat. The woman was trembling the entire way, but she managed to stand straight, to walk as if with confidence, and to keep her face calm. The exit gate of the parking lot opened in response to Juan’s magnetic card, and soon they were in traffic, driving just like every other vehicle on the road.

At his apartment building, Juan adopted the same nonchalant manner. He even held the woman’s hand in the elevator and as they walked down the hall. He pulled out his keys, unlocked his door, and invited the woman to have a seat on the couch while he got them each a can of soda from the fridge.

He sat in a chair. Each of them sipped from their cans of soda. The woman—Juan was increasingly thinking of her as Laura—began to thank him again, but Juan waved his hand through the air. “Remember—this is for a very short time, until you come up with a better plan,” he told her.

Then the telephone rang.

The call was from his supervisor. “Juan, this afternoon at work, did you see a young woman with dark hair, running? About five-three, well endowed, maybe thirty years old?”

Juan hesitated only briefly. “A woman matching that description ran past me a little after noon. A man was following her.”

“That must be her. Did you see her again after that?”

“No,” Juan said. He reasoned that technically he was not lying—she had not left his sight, so he could say that he hadn’t seen her “again.” “Why do you ask?” Juan said.

His supervisor sighed. “She escaped from a mental institution. Evidently, with all this talk about the event at the airport two days ago, she’s become convinced that she is Laura Kinser. I gather that there is a similarity in appearance. Either she’s still roaming around the airport, or she slipped out through one of the employee exits. We’re all being told to keep an eye out for her.” He paused, and then added, “She’ll probably be found before you’re on duty tomorrow, but if she’s not, do remember to watch for her. Let me know if you see her or get any news about her.”

Juan agreed that he would do so, then hung up the phone, deep in thought.

She let a couple of minutes go by before softly saying, “That was about me, wasn’t it?”

Juan nodded.

“What did they tell you?”

“He said that a woman escaped from the hospital and somehow got to the airport. They say that she thinks she is Laura Kinser, who we all know died in a plane crash two days ago.” He pointed to the morning paper. “You can read all about the crash if you wish.”

She began to reach for the newspaper, then stopped. “You read it,” she said to him. “You tell me what it says.”

“Your plane took off, and then it exploded. They found your body—well, part of your body—in the wreckage. Your purse was there with your ID.” He gestured again toward the newspaper. “It’s all there in black and white.”

“Things are not always as they seem,” she said in a mysterious tone of voice.

“Laura, I was on duty at the time. I saw the explosion. No one could have survived it, believe me.”

“All you know is that someone flying my airplane died in an explosion. They had my purse with them. Someone is going through a great deal of trouble to make it seem that I have died, to the point that someone was willing to die in the charade.” Her voice trembled as she beseeched Juan, “Please believe me. I know it’s a lot to swallow, but I really am Laura Kinser, and I am very much alive.”

Juan shook his head. “You’re right,” he said. “It is hard to believe what you say. No I’m not accusing you of anything, and the offer still stands—you can stay for a night or two. All the same, it’s even more important now that you find a place to go afterward.”

She sighed. “I don’t look like the Laura Kinser you see on TV,” she acknowledged. “I’m missing all the make-up, the jewelry, and the bright-colored clothing. I guess it doesn’t matter whether or not you believe me. But if I can’t convince you, when you saw me at the airport, how am I going to convince anyone else now?”

“Surely there must be someone who can recognize your voice, or who knows things about you that no one else knows. You must have some friend, some family member, who can identify you.”

She shook her head. “My parents have been dead for years. No brothers, no sisters. The people at work only know me as an actress—they’re not friends. And as for dates… well, ever since high school I haven’t been out with the same man more than twice.”

Juan didn’t know how to respond. After a minute or two of awkward silence, Laura—that is, the woman who claimed to be Laura—shyly inquired, “May I ask another favor?” When Juan nodded, she said, “I really need a shower—it’s been a couple of days. Do you mind?”

“Of course not,” Juan replied. “I’ll get you a washcloth and a towel. You can use my soap and my shampoo. Oh, and there’s a new toothbrush in its wrapper I can let you use. The toothpaste is in the medicine chest.”

While she showered, Juan turned on the television to watch a ball game. Three innings later he heard her voice again. “Juan?” she said quietly. He looked away from the TV. She was wearing nothing but the towel.

“Do you have a t-shirt I could borrow? I hate that shirt they gave me to wear.”

Juan wanted to ask how her kidnappers had forced her to change her clothes, but now was not the time for that. He tried not to stare at her, but he noticed how her clean hair was beginning to curl as it dried. “Any particular color?” he asked. Laura shrugged, then grabbed the towel with both hands to keep it from slipping. Juan went into his bedroom, found a red t-shirt, and brought it to her. She retreated to the bathroom to get herself dressed.

A few minutes later she was out again. “One last favor,” she said. “I’m starving. Set me free in your kitchen—I’ll see what you have, and I’ll whip up a supper for both of us.”

Juan watched the rest of the baseball game while she cooked. She put together a surprisingly tasty casserole of ground beef, macaroni, canned tomatoes, and cheese. Juan envied Laura’s talent at blending herbs and spices; he had a fairly good selection, but he always followed recipes. What she had produced was noticeably more flavorful.

After they had eaten, Juan told her, “I have to be at work early in the morning, so I have an early bedtime. I hope you will excuse me.” He locked the door of his bedroom, hoping that she would not be offended. Juan read for more than an hour before turning out the light and going to sleep.

To be continued… J.