"Jon, I haven't been able to make any headway with Crey, but the publicity you've been creating has at least one result," Janet Kellum told him.
"What's up, Jan?" Jon asked.
"A woman named Pamela Thompson contacted me today and asked if you could help her find her missing daughter, Julianne. The catch is, the trail's more than a decade old. Julianne disappeared when she was twenty-five, shortly after a brief stint in the slammer. Her mom's been watching your coverage, and she told me she thought you might have what it takes to finally solve this case. She gave me the address of the old building where Julianne used to maintain a loft. Maybe you can find something there. According to her mom, Julianne was a good kid who wound up in jail after she tried to make waves for a crooked politician. It's a pretty sad story.
"Since we don't have any leads on Crey at the moment, could you look into Mrs. Thompson's story for me? I have an odd feeling about this one, Jon. I'm not sure why Mrs. Thompson contacted me in particular, but I'm getting the feeling that she knows a lot more than she told me, and I think it might be important."
Expecting a simple search, Jon found he had been anticipated. When he arrived, noises coming from the supposedly empty loft caused him to pull up, edge to the already-open doorway. A furtive glance through the doorway revealed men in Crey guard uniforms boldly ransacking the apartment, their backs toward the doorway.
Good instincts, Jan, he thought to himself. I wonder if Mrs. Thompson knew Crey was involved. It would explain why she contacted you.
He decided to stay out of sight and listen to whatever snatches of conversation he could catch from his hidden position. It had paid off, unintentionally, when he had gone to Janet's lab...perhaps he could learn something else by staying low and keeping his ears open.
".....don't know why we don't just kill this Pamela Thompson," one guard muttered as he passed by the doorway on his way around the room.
Bingo, Jon thought. He strained to hear any response.
"Orders. We keep killing her hires, she'll get the message."
There was the sound of furniture being over turned, something glass shattered on the floor.
Another voice called, apparently from deeper in the loft. "Jon Smith got way too close. All these papers have to go."
"Got it." "Roger," the men in the front room responded.
Moving back down the hallway, Jon called Janet on his cell, explained to her what was going on. "I'm going inside, Jan. Have the police come down here, I'm going to have some arrests for them to pick up."
Jon waited until the immediate noises had faded before he slipped inside, followed the searchers down the hall.
The only object in the loft of any relevance was a well-worn diary, with the name "Julianne" embossed on the cover in gold. Jon thumbed through it, looking for anything that might be a worth-while lead.
It was pretty mundane, at least in the front, the sort of personal writing that any young girl might reveal to her diary. Toward the back, however, the tone shifted, as political musings and activist sensibilites began to push aside the descriptions of high school boys and fantasies about actors.
The final part was no longer a diary at all, but a business plan. Incisive plans for social welfare and crime prevention were recorded in impressive detail, as well as a series of steps to attempt to gather some heroes to her cause, all but one marked with lines drawn through them, as if eliminated. The last entry mentioned a planned trip to see a hero listed only as the Night Fox.
A search of the last known residence for the man who had once been the hero Night Fox led to yet another home empty except for ransacking Crey.
This was getting to be a habit, Jon thought. Somehow, Crey was staying one step ahead of them. Just how much did Crey know about the missing Julianne Thompson and her movements? Even if any of the ransackers had read Julianne's diary, they had been kept incommunicado since their arrest, not even allowed the luxury of an outside phone call until Janet and Jon could learn more about the missing girl.
Somehow, someone in Crey already knew about her connection to the Fox.
None of the arrestees would talk, of course, but one of Janet's collegues noticed a flurry of movement outside a known Crey detention center and notified her.
When Jon went in, he found Night Fox, an aging, balding, but distinguished-looking man in his late fifties being held prisoner, and pulled him out.
The Fox was more than willing to reveal what he knew. "Yeah, I remember Julianna Thompson. Bright kid, wanted me to work with her. In fact, she wanted to gather a whole cadre of superheroes to fight for her causes: the war on drugs, government reform, stuff like that. Lofty goals, but I had to turn her down. I mean, it's hard to trust an ex-con, you know? Julianne went to England, looking for more heroes, I guess. In fact, I heard she died there."
It took a while, down time that ate at Jon's equanimity, but Janet was eventually able to confirm the Fox's story.
Shortly after the last date in her diary she had gotten a passport and taken a flight to London. Beyond her arrival at Heathrow, there were few records of her time in the city, a single listed address before she moved, leaving no forwarding address.
There were no further records on Julianne Thompson, American citizen, until her body was brought in to a London police morgue. Toxicology reports revealed both drugs and alcohol, both in such quantities that either could easily have been fatal.
It was a sad fate for the once-determined crusading teenager.
Jon was only grateful that Janet took on herself the grim task of explaining Julianne's fate to her mother.
"I don't know, Jon," the FBSA agent told him afterward. "There's still something about this whole situation that I just don't like. There is absolutely nothing to tie Julianne back to Crey. What was their interest? There's something we're missing. If Crey wanted to bury something, they're going to succeed, unless we follow up on it."
"Yeah, I agree, but what other leads do we have? It looks like a dead end," Jon pointed out.
"Dead end....." Janet mused, a hand curled in front of her mouth as she stood staring into space. "Dead end. You know, that just might be it."
"What do you mean?"
She smiled. "Dead men tell no tales...until after you dig them up," she said, enigmatically.
Janet went to her partner, Maxwell Christopher, and the two FBSA agents put their heads together over the problem. With Pamela Thompson's blessings, encouragement, and thanks, they arranged to have Julianne's body exhumed and shipped back to Paragon City.
After so many years, there was little left of Julianne's body, but what tests could still be run confirmed the London police report. Janet and Max went over and over the little that was known of Julianne's movements in London, then searched her personal effects, finally running extensive tests on them before returning them, along with a brief summary of their findings, to Pamela Thompson.
Late that evening, Janet received a frantic phone call from Mrs. Thompson.
"LISTEN TO ME," she almost shrieked into the phone.
"Mrs. Thompson, please calm down. I'm listening to you, just tell me what you need."
"THAT ISN'T MY DAUGHTER!"
Janet stopped, thought hard. "All right, Mrs. Thompson, tell me exactly how it is that you know it isn't Julianne."
There was a strangled silence for a few second, followed by a sob. "Those are not my daughter's things...."
"Mrs. Thompson, she probably bought them in London...."
"LISTEN TO ME! The report says this woman was five feet, two inches tall!"
"Julianne....she was five feet, six inches tall......HOW THE HELL COULD SHE HAVE SHRUNK FOUR INCHES?!"
"We've got her....!" Janet said with satisfaction, her eyes glowing as she told him about the call.
"Got who?" Jon asked. "The Countess?"
The FBSA agent laughed. "Never mind. There's still a long road ahead of us, Jon. But we can do it. It's going to happen. We're going to take Crey down, in a big way."
Jon walked through the bustling FBSA office, watching a flurry of activity. It seemed as if every agent in the office was hurtling at breakneck speed from one desk to another, phone calls and paper files flying back and forth, questions and answers being shouted across the room, across the noise.
He walked into the small conference room to find Janet and her partner leaning over the table, pouring over the papers that seemed to be scattered everywhere.
Janet looked up, nodded to him. "Have a seat, Jon, I've got something to show you."
He did so.
Janet and Max each grabbed a chair, pulled them up to the table.
"It took a while, but we finally found a possible connection," she began without preamble. "It turns out that Julianne actually had a travelling companion on her flight to London."
Jon sat forward in his chair, trying to peer at the papers on the table. "Do you know who it was?"
"Yes," she nodded. "It turns out that Clarissa van Dorn was on the same flight."
"Clarissa....you mean, Countess Crey?"
"She's not Countess Crey, Jon," Maxwell Christopher inserted.
"Excuse me for sounding stupid, but.....huh?"
Janet grinned wickedly. "I don't know when or how Julianne Thompson met her, whether it was before or on that flight, but somehow, she pulled a switcheroo."
Jon blinked. "You mean....the woman who died in London...."
"Was Clarissa van Dorn." Janet nodded. "Once we made a connection between the two women, we were able to pull some of those finger prints we couldn't explain from the jewelry on the body. Clarissa was never fingerprinted, but her family still had some personal items of hers, and we were able to pull some partial prints from them. The van Dorn family identified the same pieces of jewelry that Pamela Thompson said didn't belong to Julianne. I understand now why she was alarmed....the kind of jewelry that Clarissa wore as a habit was way too expensive for Julianne to ever have been able to purchase on her own, unless she was doing something illegal.
"Drugs and alcohol....the police assumed that it was either a wild American girl who didn't know what she could handle, or possibly a suicide," Max told Jon. "But I'm guessing that it was murder, plain and simple. Either way, Julianne planted her ID on the body, and took Clarissa's ID and passport. With Clarissa's money, it would have been simple to make contact with the London criminal underground, and pay someone to have her passport altered so that the difference in their height and appearance wouldn't be an issue.
"And the rest we know," Janet continued. "As Clarissa van Dorn, high-living American heiress, Julianne toured Europe, avoiding Paragon City and the van Dorn family, until she met Count Crey and married him....under a false name."
"And it wasn't even a year later that he fell into a mysterious coma," Jon mused aloud.
"Exactly. If she was capable of murder, she was certainly capable of utilizing Crey's own pharmaceutical company to find the exact drugs she wanted. She could keep Crey in a coma for decades, and no one would be the wiser, and even his family couldn't touch her or any of his holdings. As long as he's alive, his will has no relevance."
Jon whistled, then stopped and stared off into the distance. He shivered suddenly.
Janet noticed it. "What? What is it, Jon?"
"Oh, nothing. Just something about being unconscious for decades...."
"Oh." She sobered. "Your lost years, Jon?" she said gently.
He signed, shook his head. "It's not important. It just....kind of hit me, there, for a second."
"Jon, this is the biggest break we've ever had against the countess," Max pointed out. "We may even be able to convict her for murder."
The scrapper pushed his feelings aside, smiled at the two agents. "Good. Excellent. Let's go get her.
"You two are the brains of this operation, I'm the legs. What do you want me to do?"
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012