Hey, for once, I wrote more than I needed to on the first day! No editing, and very little sense is being made. I have ZERO idea where this is going. NONE.
Okay, honestly, I never meant to do it. The words just slipped out of my mouth, and suddenly, the dead girl was me and I was... someone else. Wait, hold on, I realize that makes no sense, let me back up just a minute.
My life has recently become, how should I put it? Complicated. Very, very complicated. To give the entire back story would take too long and it's not that interesting of a story. All you need to know right now is that I was slightly desperate, made some bad deals, and now some very bad people were after me. And it seemed, at the time, that I would be better off being absolutely anyone else. This, of course, is not true, but, hey, hindsight. In the moment, I didn't even stop to think why this other 27 year old girl was dead, just figured she'd run up against a bad element while out walking. It's not a horrible neighborhood, but not the best. Things happen to good people all the time.
And if it seemed like claiming to be someone you don't know that much about is rash and stupid, well, that's because it is. Sure, I knew a little about her from meetings on the stairs, and chats at the mailboxes. I knew she had no family, no friends, had just moved to the city. Just like me. Unlike me, thought, she seemed like she lived a very quiet, hermit-like existence. It seemed perfect.
So when I stumbled over her body in the alley behind our apartment building, a thought struck me. Why couldn't I just have her life? Suddenly be her, and have all my problems disappear? According to her, no one would miss her. We didn't necessarily look terribly similar, but were close enough. We were about the same age and roughly the same height. Hair and eye color could be changed cosmetically, something I did all the time anyway. And I could move and start over. And not be such an idiot this time. Easy enough.
Did it occur to me to wonder why, if it was a robbery or assault, her purse was right next to her for me to pick up? No, of course not. It just seemed like serendipity. And then the cops asked me if I recognized her, it just came out. Yes, I said, she was a neighbor of mine, Sarah, who lived in apartment 4C. I told them what I knew about her - me - and maybe played up the friendship a little to explain how I knew so much. We'd had chats at the coffee shop about her bad life choices, I'd tried to talk her into getting help, that sort of thing. In the end, I was sobbing on a Sergeant's shoulder about what a fuck-up I was.
The super didn't live in the building, so they asked if I had a key to her - my - apartment. I lied, and said I didn't, that she'd recently had the locks changed because she was paranoid and hadn't gotten around to giving me a spare yet. They said they'd be back in the morning to search her apartment - my apartment - for clues, though I could tell they were just going through the motions. She was obviously victim of a mugging gone bad, so very sad, what can you do? They didn't hold out much hope that this case would go any further than any of the other random bits of violence that dotted the city.
And so I trudged up the stairs of the building, past my floor, and into my new life. A new life that would start tomorrow, as it suddenly occurred to me what I had done, and how easily it could all fall apart. I'd never been arrested or fingerprinted, but what if she had? At least the papers would report that I had been the one that had been killed, the one bored-looking news guy would at least get that published. That would get my demons off my back, at least for a minute. They might all now be getting a celebratory drink, and this was my chance. I had a temporary identity, and some breathing room, and it was time to run. Tomorrow.
Tonight was for figuring out who I'd just become, however temporarily. And that meant riffling through her belongings, quickly. It felt like an invasion, but I didn't have a choice. I really didn't. First, though, as soon as I was sure the cops were gone, I went back down to my apartment, backed up my most prized and personal possessions (my purse and phone, personal papers, a laptop, two journals, and a few favorite clothes, if you must know) and tidied a bit. No use having the police think I was a slob, even if I was. Since I lived in a miniscule studio apartment, this did not take long. I left it looking lived in, but neat.
Her apartment even smaller, and more of a mess. Heaps of paperwork cluttered the small desk shoved into the corner. Dirty dishes and empty take-out containers were piled on the small bit of kitchen counter. Dirty clothes lay scattered on the floor. As I said, I'm not much of a clean freak, but this place set my skin crawling. I started in the kitchen, then the bathroom, and four hours later the level of filth was something I could live with, at least as long as it took to sit down and sift through the paperwork on the desk.
And this is where is all got very interesting, indeed. Because I saw my name scribbled, not just once, but in a bunch of places. All in conjunction with those aforementioned very bad people who were after me. Who she was apparently investigating. For someone, for some reason. Neither of which were clear. Was she part of a rival group, or with the authorities? Was either of these choices really better than the other? It wasn't looking good, that was for sure. And when the phone in her purse beeped, I nearly jumped out of my seat.
It was a text message. It simply said, "Sub A dead, move Sub B."
Did I reply? There weren't any other, older messages on the text, so I checked her other texts. There were only two, each with a cryptic line and a reply of "K". Which I promptly texted back to the most recent texter, praying it would buy me just a little more time. An hour, even. Properly motivated, I can get a lot done in an hour, and threat of death, or worse, is a pretty good motivator.
My head was swimming from trying to decipher all the paperwork, and I had not come across any computer. Her phone had vanishingly little information in it. I decided to finish cleaning the bathroom to clear my head. This should tell you just about all you need to know about my state of mind at the time, that I thought cleaning would be soothing and relaxing, a steadying force in my life. I hate cleaning. Loathe it. But right now, the thought of immersing myself in the Herculean task of getting every square inch of that apartment spotless seemed sublime. And so, rubber gloved firmly on and scrub brush in hand, I went to tackle more of the grimy bathroom.
You can say it was fate, or fortune, or luck, but I think coincidence might be a better term for it. Some people believe in a cosmic plan, or that the universe has something in store for them, or that a divine being is helping them out. I think it was a shear bit of coincidence that caused the toilet handle to stick, causing me to remove the tank lid to try to unstick it, which led me to finding the enormous amount of money stashed there. I mean, who does that? Who honestly puts money in the toilet tank? Isn't that the first place people who search houses would look? Wouldn't it be safer inside a carefully opened, then resealed frozen pizza box in the freezer? Or under a partially eaten bag in a box of cereal in the cupboard? Or in a tampon box?
I know you're not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but I lost a little respect for her right there. How uncreative was that? And it was quite a wad of cash. One I wouldn't want it to be easy to find. On the up side, I was now leaps and bounds above the $32.19 I'd had to abandon in my own checking account. Which technically meant I'd profited from my crime. Impersonation, not murder. I wondered when you'd start to ask that. No, I did not kill her. She was very dead when I found her in the alley. Even if I'd known she was investigating me, I wouldn't have killed her. Hell, I might have been able to ask her for help. If she was working for the police, I certainly would have given any evidence I could to get myself out of this. But I never even suspected.
Suddenly I was really, really hungry. It had been at least seven hours since I'd found the body, and before that, it had been hours since dinner. One thing nice you can say about this town is that, if you're brave enough, even at 4 am there are places to get food. I quickly combined the contents of her purse into mine, then hung up her empty purse in the closet. I collected up all the paperwork on the desk and shoved it into my large tote with my possessions, then did one final search of the desk. Taped to the bottom of one of the drawers was a jump drive, on another was a small journal. Again, no points for creative hiding. I wasn't even in the espionage business, and I could have done better.
Shaking my head, I stuffed it in my bag and looked around the tiny space once more. I'd take everything with me, but if the police weren't there when I got back, I'd come up for one more search. This really couldn't be all she'd left behind, could it? I mean, she'd had a jump drive but no computer? That seemed odd. I headed out the door, grabbing the cardigan she had hanging on my way out. It was getting nippy, and I'd always admired that sweater. Okay, mostly the latter, but I was trying to justify it to myself. Even though I'd already stolen so much from her, the sweater seemed somehow worse than even the money. Don't ask me to explain it, though I'm sure some of you will think it was some cosmic force at play. I'm never going to be able to convince you otherwise.
I closed the door and carefully locked it, pocketing the key and heading for the stairs. The hallway takes a ninety degree bend about halfway down, so five apartment doors open onto one section, and four onto the other. I always thought it would suck to have the corner unit, because drunk people were always stumbling into that corner and you'd hear thumps on the wall all the time. But then, those two on that side were far larger apartments, so maybe the trade off was worth it? Least you think I'm rambling about something so far off topic it's ridiculous, let me assure you that there was a reason this all came to mind. As I was rounding the bend, I bumped into, then off of and into the wall, two very large men. They stared hard at me for a moment, then brushed past me. I shook my head and mumbled under my breath, but they ignored me and went straight to the apartment I'd just left. They were quick, it really looked like the one stopped just long enough to pull out a key to unlock the door, and it swung open. No noise, no breaking down the door, nothing. Maybe he did have a key, for all I knew. I hustled down the stairs and out of the building. Returning was now out of the question, and I might as well go get something to eat and plan my next move.
There are plenty of places open in the middle of the night, but not a lot of good places. I ended up in a grubby dinner just down the block, where I knew the food was far better than the decor would lead you to believe. I nibbled on a BLT and searched through her phone, trying to find anything I'd overlooked. She played a lot of silly internet games, didn't text anyone other than the cryptic mystery texter, and had no email account set up. There were a few very generic pictures on her phone, mostly of the park, trees, and artistic architectural shots. I shoved the phone back in my purse, then rummaged in my enormous tote bag until I found the journal.
It was crammed with tiny handwriting, lists, numbers, initials, things that didn't make a lot of sense. Based on what I'd learned, I'm guessing these were her noted about what she'd observed, but without more context, or a key, I wouldn't be able to decipher it. Key. I should probably toss out her apartment key. There was no real reason to keep it, but then, no real reason to throw it away. It's not like it was sending off a GPS signal. Was it? Suddenly, I was extremely paranoid. Anything seemed possible. I fished around in my pocket until I pulled out the key. Except it wasn't. It wasn't the apartment key, which I now remembered I'd put in my pants pocket, but a key that had been in the cardigan pocket. A key that was a lot like the apartment key, but it had a tiny metal tab on a key ring on it. And engraved on that was "4B". The apartment next to mine. My stomach clenched.
I paid the bill and went back to the apartment building, the feeling of dread mounting. I vaguely remember my neighbor being an older, nondescript lady. She'd moved in some time after me, taking the place of the young stoner guy who'd lived there when I moved in. The only reason I really ever noticed the change was that the smell of weed stopped seeping through the walls, and then one day it was the little old lady coming and going. Not often, I'd probably one seen her three or four times in the months since the stoner had moved out. I just assumed she was a bit of a hermit, I guess. It never paid to wonder too much about your neighbors around here. And what was I doing now? Wondering far too much for my own good. But hey, I was already dead, how much worse could it get? Yes, I know, a lot.
At least the apartment next to mine offered up a lot of explanations. Unlike the apartment a floor up, this one was neat to the point of zen. A state of the art laptop set on a neat desk, with wires running to... yes, there was indeed a camera and some listening equipment plastered to the shared wall. Son of a bitch. My cheeks flamed as I tried to recount how often, and what kind, of porn I'd watched in the last few months. It was pretty mortifying. I sat down at the computer and giggled the mouse, hoping the computer wasn't password protected. But of course it was. No one would leave something like that to chance. And it was probably something horribly complicated, like a ninety character phrase including numbers and half a dozen special characters. I sighed and rubbed my eyes, my hand smacking the keyboard as I dropped it. I watched in horror as the side of my hand hit the enter key, everything seeming to slow and yet I was unable to stop it. I closed my eyes, hoping the computer wasn't programmed to explode the first time the wrong password was entered. Best case, I'd just lost one of the tries I'd get before it locked up.
I opened my eyes slowly, and realized that wasn't the best case. The best case was that the computer had been unlocked. The password was... blank. Which was just a little bit brilliant, I grudgingly admitted. Who would have thought of that? You'd assume there was something there if it was prompting you, and yet you'd never be able to guess it. So maybe she was bad at hiding physical things, but clever at the high tech. One point back, but she'd really have to work to get the other one. Maybe if she'd very tactfully deleted the porn watching marathons, it'd even put her in the plus column. It would definitely put her in the plus column.
There wasn't a lot on the computer, and it was neatly organized, just like the apartment was. Audio files neatly stored and labeled in one folder, video files in another. None were labeled "perverted goings-on", so it was looking up. Most were labeled with other people's names, people who had visited me or called me. Even the times I'd ordered pizza were carefully stored, every second of those encounters preserved. I clicked on one of those audio files, wondering if you'd only be able to hear my side of the conversation. But no, this was no rinky-dink glass-to-the-wall operation, obviously the phone conversations were from a tapped phone line. The microphone to the wall must be for the video files. And sure enough, those files contained sound, me making small talk with the pizza delivery guy as he made change, or my shouting match with the handyman over the leaking radiator. In my defense, it had been broken for a month, and they kept promising to fix it. I didn't look at any of the files labeled with the names of the people I was running from, those encounters were firmly seared into my brain. I did not want to relive any of them, no thank you.
I sighed and sat back, absently scrolling through the files. There wasn't time to dawdle, and in the back of my mind the worry that those guys would come looking for me here, or rather, looking for the equipment and files here, was buzzing around. But I didn't want to move. I was tired. I hadn't slept all night, and the weeks of fitful, fearful sleep were catching up with me, too. There was a pretty solid looking deadbolt on the door, and a very comfortable looking couch on the other side of the room. Just a few minutes of sleep, that's all I needed. Just a few...
A loud thump on the wall woke me, my brain still fuzzy from the deep sleep I'd been dragged from. The computer screen was alive, showing a the camera's view of my apartment. The police were half-heartedly poking about, finding nothing of interest, and looked about ready to give up. My watch said it was 2 pm. I'd been asleep for a solid eight hours, and it felt good. I stretched, went to the bathroom, and poked around in the tiny, neat kitchen until I found some instant coffee. A minute later, a steamy mug of caffeine was in my hand as I sat down at the computer, watching people sort through my life in a rather detached way.