“You want to investigate this death? Why?”
I clear my throat, and repeat my statement. “After reviewing the file, I feel as though there’s something about them that’s missing. I think that, with time, I could find out what that is, and bring it to light.”
My name is River Garland. I’m a private detective, and I’ve been looking through files of recent deaths, and a certain one caught my eye.
My boss, Charles Areg, sips from his mug, the dark drink staining his gray streaked beard. He leans back, the chair creaking under his weight. The room is silent otherwise. “Is it something illegal?”
“I don’t believe so, no.” I reply, shaking my head. Crime isn’t really my area of choice. I research personal affairs, instead. “Though I suppose it could be.”
“So why is it so important? Is this going to benefit us in any way?”
“No, but I’ve seen other cases like this. I’d really like to be able to investigate further, at least for a little while.”
“Hm.” He strokes his beard, considering it. “Read me the file.”
I open the folder. “Alexe Geary, age 35 at death. They died in a car accident on Christmas, right before that ice storm that hit.”
“What about them is odd?” He asks me.
“Their wife passed the year before, on that exact day. The last year of their life was very off the record. Very low contact to other people. I’ve seen other cases where people seem to be missing years of their lives after a traumatic incident, and I want to see if I can go deeper into this.”
“I want a full report on what you find.” He says. “If you don’t find anything in a month, you drop it.”
“Thank you!” I exclaim, excitement brimming. I clear my throat. “Thank you very much, sir.”
He waves me off, and I stand, gathering my things, then go out the door. I’m grinning as I go back to my office.
I hear a chime echoing through the building as I pull my finger away from the button. I shift my thick notepad in my hands nervously, waiting for someone to answer.
I’m dressed in a casual suit under a coat, my dark hair tucked beneath a warm hat. Starting an investigation always makes me anxious, because I could miss out on important information if I do this wrong.
Finally, after an excruciating wait, the door opens. A woman stands in the doorway, with smooth brown skin, and dark hair pulled into thick twists on her head, eyeing me suspiciously. Her eyes land on my badge, and her eyes grow cold.
“Hello, are you Charlotte Malarkey?”
She nods stiffly. She doesn’t trust me, obviously.
“I’m Detective River Garland.” I tell her, giving a smile. “Is this a good time to ask you some questions?”
“Questions about what?”
“Your child, Alexe, that passed on Christmas. I’m investigating their death.”
I can see her body tense at their name, and she purses her lips. “What is there to investigate?”
“Their lifestyle before they passed may be similar to several other peoples, and I’m trying to see where my search will lead. Are you comfortable answering some questions?”
“I suppose that’s alright. Come in.”
She lets me inside, and we go into the backyard to talk. There are patio chairs around a table, and we sit there.
“What questions did you have for me?” She asks. “I have a meeting in an hour, and I’ll need to leave in thirty minutes.”
I can tell already- they weren’t close at all. She’s too dismissive about it, already ready to leave.
“What was your relationship with Alexe?” I ask her.
Her fingers tap lightly on the table as she speaks. “Fine. I mean, once sh-they left the house, we didn’t talk as much. And then when Clementine died, they barely talked to anyone.”
I make a note of that, nodding. “Why is that?”
“I’m not totally sure. They just had a hard time accepting the fact she was gone.”
“Were you fond of Clementine?”
“Not particularly. Alexe was too attached to her, and stayed out with her a lot when sh-they were still living at the house.”
She’s opened up a bit once realizing this isn’t an interrogation, and is more relaxed as she talks to me.
“How often did you talk after her death?”
“I called about once a month, just to check on them. They would always talk about her though, always talking about their memories with her.”
I write that down, too. “Do you know anyone they talked to during that time? Any friends, or other family members?”
“They worked at an office.” She tells me. “I assume they would’ve talked to somebody there.”
“Do you know the name of the office?”
She tells me, and I write that down, as well.
And, a bit of a stretch, but I need more information: “Did they see a therapist after Clementine’s death?”
“Yes, they did. They told me they saw Jace every week.”
“Do you have the name of the facility they went to by chance?”
“I’m afraid I can’t remember. I’m sure they told me at some point...”
“That’s alright. Do you think you can tell me a bit about them?”
“They were pretty quiet most of the time. They had four older siblings, so they grew up in a loud house. I never got complaints from teachers or anything. They were just a quiet, obedient kid.”
“Did they have any social media?”
“Not that I was aware of. Though I think Clementine did.”
“Alright. Just a few more questions.” I look up to meet her eyes. “When they first asked you to use, they/them pronouns, what was your reaction?”
She stiffens, eyes flicking away from mine. “It was fine. We adapted.”
“Did that make your relationship with them better or worse?”
“It was fine.” She repeats. “We didn’t really...talk about it.”
“Okay.” I say, letting it drop. I have enough information about that, just by her stiff body language. “Thank you for your time. Here’s my card, in case you can think of anything else that may help me.”
She nods, closed off and cold once again. I stand to shake her hand, and she leads me back to the front door.
Next on my list, is Alexe’s neighbor, Jill Berming. She has a headful of bright red hair, barely contained in a ponytail. We talk on her porch, drinking lemonade. I can already tell she’s going to be helpful after five minutes of talking to her.
“They never left the house.” She tells me, sipping her drink. “It was unnatural. But,” She lowers her voice. “Sometimes, at night, I’d hear them. The bedroom to their old house is right next to mine.”
“What did you hear?”
“Screaming. Like they were being tortured. Their wife died a year before them, you know. Word around the neighborhood says...it was on purpose.”
“You...heard them screaming. Did you tell anyone that?”
“Well, I confronted them about it once. They said it was just nightmares. Understandable. Seeing poor Clementine in the snow like that must have been traumatizing.”
“They’re the one that found her?”
“Well, I assume. Jack, from across the street, saw them crying over her body, and called the police. I think he thought they killed her, but either way, the police got there, but it was too late.”
I didn’t think about that. If they found Clementine, they could’ve been a whole other level of traumatized.
“But you never really socialized with them?”
“No, not really. They weren’t very social. I know several people tried to, but they never went out, not even to the neighborhood dinners. They did with Clementine, though.”
“So, you don’t know much about their personal life?”
“Not much. They went to work at eight every morning, and got back around four thirty. Oh, but I know they talked to themselves. Sometimes when they were in their backyard, and sometimes when they were going to their car. They were talking to themselves like someone was there.”
I decide not to bring up how she has this information. “And this was after Clementine’s death?”
“Yes. Sometimes they’d wave at the front door like Clementine was still there. Probably force of habit.”
“Okay, that’s good to know.” I tell her, looking over my notes. “Here’s my card in case you have any other information.”
She takes it, thanking me.
“I hope to see you around again.” She says, waving as I walk off the porch towards my car.
“You too, ma’am. You’ve been very helpful.”
Next up is Alexe’s office. I called ahead, and scheduled a time I’d be able to talk to different employees.
The first guy is named Robert, but insists I call him Rob. He sits with his feet up on the desk, an unlit cigarette hanging from his lips.
“Alexe? Oh, man, I haven’t talked about them in a while. Yeah, they were pretty quiet. Did their work, went home. They weren’t really close to anyone.”
“They never talked about their personal life?”
“Nah, not really.” He shakes his head, chewing lazily on the end of the cigar. “Oh, but once, on a business trip where we stayed at this hotel, they were up in the middle of the night, talking to someone on the phone. I think it was a girlfriend, or something. I can’t remember the name they said...”
He snaps, and points at me. “Yes! That’s it. They said, ‘I love you, Clementine. I’ll be back home soon.’ I don't know if that’s important at all, but I didn’t know they were with someone.”
“When was this trip?”
“Uh...mid-September? I can’t remember exactly when, but it was a couple months before...you know.” He makes a finger-slitting-the-throat motion.
“Thank you, this information is really helpful. One more thing, did you all share rooms on this trip?”
“Not all of us, but I think Alexe roomed with...Darla during that one. Yeah, I think so.”
“Darla? Do you think you could ask her to come talk to me next?”
“Yeah, sure. Hope you find what you’re looking for.”
After a few minutes, a woman, Darla, walks in.
She’s a small woman with loose, graying hair in a small ponytail. She seems nervous to be talking to me, so try not to sound rude.
“Rob told me you worked with Alexe?”
“Yes.” She nods.
“And, on a trip, maybe mid-September? You two shared a room?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
So, she’s not a talker. I’ll get straight to the point then.
“That night, were you aware that they got up in the middle of the night?”
She bobs her head quickly. “Yes. They woke up screaming.”
“They did?” I write that down. “Did they say anything before they woke up? Like, sleep talking?”
“They were saying something about fruit, I think.”
Clementine. “Do you remember anything else about that night?”
“They got their phone, and left the room. I fell asleep before they got back. Is this...important to their death?”
“Not exactly. There was nothing wrong with the cause of death, I’m just investigating the last year of their life. It may help with another case. Can you think of anyone else here that may be able to give me some information on Alexe?”
“Um...maybe Tanner? He’s the only person that really tried to talk to them.”
“Is he here today?”
“Do you think you could get him sent in here, please?”
She nods, and I smile.
“Thank you for speaking to me.”
Tanner is a tall, attractive man, that leans forward on the table, eyes set on me. I explain why I’m here, and he agrees to answering questions.
“Darla said you talked to Alexe?” I ask.
“I tried.” He sighs wistfully. “They always turned me down.”
“What did you try to discuss with them?”
“I asked them out a few times. Even just dinner as friends. They always said they needed to get home after work. I even offered to dive them once, but they were always so persistent.”
“You...didn’t harass them, did you?”
“What? No. I wouldn’t. I asked maybe once a month, just to see if they changed their mind. I stayed away when they told me to stop asking.”
“When was that?”
“I don’t remember.” He admits. “But I stopped. I’d never harass them, I swear.”
“What exactly was it that made you ask them out?”
“They used to be more vocal.” He says, glancing out the window. “They talked about Clementine all the time. Then she...you know, and they got closed off.”
He gives me some more information, and I thank him, and ask him to see if anyone else has some important information. I look through my notes as I wait, frowning at the words.
This doesn’t add up. I’m missing something big here, but I can’t see it.
I review my notes, trying to match up stories. Clementine seems to be in the middle of all of this, but I just don’t see how. She died, and it makes sense they get closed off. But I know there’s something more.
Or...maybe it was just depression. Seeing your wife, dead, could definitely cause that. From what I’ve been told, Clementine seemed like a person Alexe depended on, so if they totally broke down after, that’s understandable.
But I’ve seen pictures of their house after they died, and they seemed moderately normal at work, so they seemed to be functioning normally. There were no signs of physical harm to their body. But why would they call Clementine, who was dead?
A recording of her voice? Talking to a dead person’s voicemail is certainly normal.
Nightmares make sense. But what were they about? Clementine, from Darla’s information, which, again, is understandable.
In the end, I think I need to talk to their therapist.
“I’m sorry.” The woman behind the desk says. “We are unable to give out that information.”
I sigh. “That’s what I figured. Can I at least talk to Jace?”
“He’s unable to give you that information.” She repeats, firmer, her smile a tight line.
All I need to know is if they showed up for appointments or not.
I thank her, and drop that trail, and instead visit a storage unit to search through the things kept inside. Charolotte had called a few days ago to tell me Alexe’s things were being kept there for the time being, and I was free to look through it.
There are a lot of clothes-from beautiful dresses to pajamas. The boxes are labeled neatly, stacked on top of each other. There are also trinkets, I find a typewriter, and an old leather-bound journal.
The journal’s pages are filled with neat cursives, and I skim through them. It’s Clementine’s, I discover. But then I find something that changes it all.
Instead of stopping on the day she died, it’s been continued. The date is about four months after, and the handwriting is different-with wider letters filling only half the page. They’re just daily notes about what happened that day. But what they say is odd.
Clementine and I rewatched our favorite show again. We made popcorn, and stayed on the couch almost all day. I fell asleep, but was woken up by a nightmare. She was able to calm me down, as always.
This doesn’t make sense. I flip back a year to see if it was just a memory perhaps, but it doesn’t match up.
I read the first page after her death.
I hate it. I hate all of this. I want you back so badly, Clem. I miss you so much. I can’t keep going without you. I want to die.
I have several theories:
One, Clementine wasn’t dead, and was staying in the house, and never left. But her body was found and buried, and she had an open casket.
Two, Alexe wrote about things they would’ve done, as a way to get over her.
Three, they tried to kill themself. The next entry carries on like nothing is wrong, so maybe...they somehow really believed that Clementine was there with them.
That would be a really effective grief hallucination, if they believed all of these things happen. And for almost a year?
I continue reading, and it slowly starts to make more sense. They did stop seeing the therapist. They didn’t talk to anyone but her.
This would explain why they cut off people that told them she was gone. And it explains why they called her that night. Was their brain really able to ignore all the signs that she was dead?
And on top of that, nobody knew. They may have had a serious mental illness, and never got it treated.
But...at least she was there with them, up until the end.