New Mystery: Who Are You?

With the new year will come new stories to write…and this is the first of the crop!

In this next installment of the College-Time Mysteries, Bryan and John are asked to help a young man whose identity was not only stolen, but completely changed! Can they dig to the bottom of this confounding caper?

Who Are You?
Story by J.R. Underdown

The night was young and the moon was full, but Martin Monterey was clocking into 8 hours of labor. He worked the 3rd shift at LBP Logistics, which stood for Low-end By-Product (or, as the employees affectionately said, Lacking Brain Power), a company that manufactured items so cheap (and cheaply), you would think it was made in China. Martin worked as a materials handler and was the only one for the oft-underworked graveyard shift.

On the particular fateful night in question, Martin walked into the back shipping dock where the two material handlers from 2nd shift were hiding while the floor changed hands. This was routine enough. As their workdays ended, they preferred hiding away where no one could find them and talk about mundane topics like Darwin Awards, theoretical science, construction, and politics. On this particular night, they were talking about age. Martin didn’t know how it started, he never did.

“Martin! How old do you think I am?” wondered Chris Chapel, the veteran handler with a small but formidable build and even more formidable beard.

Martin looked at him awkwardly and couldn’t make up his mind. “Eh, late 20’s?” he ventured.

“Late 20’s?” Chris repeated. “Hear that, Brett? I like this guy.”

Brett Bonds, a man about the same height as Chris, but bald with a sandy goatee and small eyes, smiled and shook his head. “Okay Martin, how old do you think I am?”

Martin let out a breath and stared at the ceiling. “Um, mid to late 30’s?”

“I look older than Chris??” Brett exclaimed.

Chris laughed. “Told you I liked this guy!”

“Well, how old are you two?” Martin asked.

“I’m 45,” Brett admitted.

“Forty five?” Martin said. “Well then, what are you upset about? I undershot your age!”

“You undershot both of our ages,” Chris cut in. “I’m a solid 40.”

“Forty? Get out! Really? You don’t look it.”

“I appreciate that, Marty, but I really am 40, here’s my driver’s license.”

Chris whipped out his license and presented it to his coworkers. Indeed, the birth date proved the truth of his age. Martin whistled.

“Wouldn’t have guessed it,” he confessed.

“So Martin, how old are you?” Brett pressed, trying to move the topic away from his advanced years.

“Guess.”

“I’ll say 30,” Chris declared.

“That’s too high,” Brett reasoned. “I’ll say 25.”

Martin smirked. “You’re both wrong, I’m 21.”

“Don’t believe it,” said Chris. “Show us proof!”

Martin continued smirking as he pulled out his wallet and showed them his license.

Brett laughed a little uneasily. “Looks like that is your age, Martin…or is it really Jeffrey?”

Martin gave him a quizzical look.

“Hey, I didn’t know you went by a…a sumoname,” Chris laughed.

“Pseudonym,” Brett corrected.

“Whatever…”

“What are you guys talking about?” Martin wondered as he turned the wallet his direction. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped. While everything on his license was the same as he had known it— same picture, date of birth, even height and weight—yet the name was new: Jeffrey Jameson.

*              *              *              *              *

Bryan sat in the middle of his dorm room in his desk chair and a cello positioned between his legs. A sweet melody filled the air and brought calm to Bryan’s mind, which of late was filled with Greek and Hebrew symbols.

Suddenly the door burst open and a young student about Bryan’s age stood wide eyed in the threshold.

“Do you play cello??”

Bryan paused and contemplated a sarcastic answer before smiling slightly and answering, “Yes.”

“Sweet…Wanna play in our praise band on Friday night?”

Bryan cocked his head. “Sure. I think I’m free.”

“Awesome! The others will be so thrilled to have a CELLO with us!”

And then the anonymous student walked away, leaving the door wide open. Nature abhors a vacuum and soon that void was filled with John’s presence.

He shook his head and shut the door. “It never ceases to amaze me how people geek out when they find out you play a cello.”

“It’s because it’s not a common instrument. Everybody plays guitar, almost everybody plays piano, but hardly anyone plays cello.”

John, who played guitar, frowned slightly. “Wisely put, Bryan. But it makes me feel like everyone else.”

“Do you not want to feel like everyone else?”

“A true artist is different from the crowd…”

Bryan laughed. “Then there is no true artist. Even iconoclasts fall into a box.”

“People who destroy sacred images in Catholic churches?”

“No, people who go against traditional thinking…who go against the crowd.”

John almost pressed the point, but a knock sounded on the door. Bryan bade the unknown to enter and before them appeared a tall, skinny student with short curly hair and glasses hanging down on his nose.

“Is one of you Bryan?” he queried.

“That would be the man with the cello,” John pointed out. “Though I have a feeling you’ll want to address me, too. Is this a mystery?”

“No, I was wondering if Bryan could tutor me in Greek. I’m having a hard time grasping a dead language.”

“Ah, then you don’t want me as a part of this conversation. Bryan?”

“Well, first of all,” Bryan began, “I’d be happy to. Second of all, it helps if you don’t view it as a dead language…maybe just a dormant one.”

The student smiled. “Thanks! I’ll figure out a time that works.” And then he bowed out, shutting the door.

“Man Bryan, you are a sage tonight!” John exclaimed.

Bryan laughed and opened his mouth for a pithy response, but another knock on the door cut him off.

“This is a night for interruptions,” John declared. “That can be my wise saying.”

Bryan thought about noting that was not, in fact, a wise saying, though it was true. He instead called for the next guest to enter.

Now a seminary student stood before them. They didn’t need to be detectives to know that this young man was out of place. His blond hair was neatly trimmed and stylishly slicked aside, his sweater vest kempt and possibly dry cleaned; his khaki pants were without wrinkle or blemish and his brown shoes recently polished. Clearly, this was a man of status and responsibility…unlike the boys and clutter that surrounded him.

“Is one of you Bryan?” he wondered.

“The cello guy,” said John. “You can ignore me.”

The student surveyed him, took his advice, and addressed Bryan.

“I hear you solve mysteries.”

John’s eyes lit up. “Ah, then you do need me!”

“Are you Bryan?”

“No, but I kinda got him started on this business. You can trust me.”

The student seemed to second-guess that opinion, but, upon seeing Bryan nod in an approving way, sallied forth.

“I come on behalf of a friend, Martin Monterey, who is in need of your assistance. He has taken his case to the police, but they laugh it off as none of their business. I have heard of your prowess in solving puzzling cases and perhaps you could help him with this one.”

“What is his problem?” Bryan asked, setting his bow on his bed, accepting the fact that his cello playing was done for the night.

A wry look crossed the guest’s face. “You could say it is a case of identity theft.”

“Wouldn’t that be for the banks, then?” John stopped.

The wry look remained. “Well…it was not simply his identity being stolen…but it was completely changed.”

John was immediately baffled and turned to Bryan for sanity. For his part, Bryan tilted his head and processed what he heard.

“So you’re saying…” he began.

“If you are interested in the case,” the student interrupted, “I can take you to see him tomorrow night. He could probably explain it best.”

Bryan stared down at the floor. “Well, I think it’s safe to assume we’re interested. Any objections, John?”

John shook his head. “None that I can think of. Though I’m sure if I had one, you’d have a pithy saying to refute it.”

Bryan laughed. “Tell your friend he has our attention. We’ll see him tomorrow night.”

The next night, the student, named Willard, brought Bryan and John to the Jackalope Crossing apartment complex. It had been a tense day for the two college students as they mulled over the possibilities of the case they were taking. They took two flights of outside stairs and knocked on a beat-up blue wooden door. A young 20-something male with light brown skin, big brown eyes, and short black hair let them in. His apartment was a small studio and was currently in disarray with boxes everywhere.

“Just move in?” Bryan asked after introductions were made.

“Yeah, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks,” Martin replied.

He had them sit down around the kitchen table, mostly because the seats were the only ones available at that point in time (even the bed was covered with junk). He passed out waters in reused plastic cups from the local gas station.

“So how do you two know each other?” John wondered, striking up conversation.

“We go to the same church and share a few beers sometimes,” said Martin.

“But there is no need to mention the beer part to anyone at the seminary,” Willard quickly added.

“They keep you all on a dry covenant, too, eh?” John joked.

Willard frowned and looked away. “Yes.”

“Anyway, Martin, we hear you are having an identity crisis,” Bryan cut in, trying to leave the awkward place.

“You could say that,” the client answered. “So Will told you two I’m Martin Monterey, right? Do you believe that?”

John and Bryan exchanged glances and nodded their heads.

“Well then, look at this driver’s license. It says I’m lying and I’m actually Jeffrey Jameson!”

The two detectives examined the piece of plastic and found the name to be as he said.

“So…someone changed your driver’s license on you?” John concluded. “Or are you actually Jeffrey Jameson?”

“No, I’m not Jeffrey! I’m Martin.”

“Is it genuine?” Bryan added. “It’s not a fake?”

“It’s genuine, alright,” Martin continued. “I went to the courthouse, asked them what to do. They verified it as genuine, saw that my name in their systems was this Jameson fella. Told me to go see the county clerk. I did. She said she saw me come in a few days previous and legally change my name. I didn’t believe her. She said she could look it up on the cameras and prove it.”

“Did you have her do that?” Bryan asked.

“No, I didn’t have time for that. Ain’t nobody got time for that! I work 3rd shift, I sleep during the day. And I need my sleep. I went first thing after work, after I discovered it.”

“You discovered it at work? How?”

Martin relayed the story to them.

“So after visiting the court house,” Bryan resumed, “what did you do next?”

“Well, I figured someone impersonated me and changed it. I went to the cops hoping they’d look into it, but they wouldn’t do a thing. I called my mom and told her and she was just as baffled as I was. That’s when I called Will and he mentioned you two. Do you think you can solve this?”

Bryan leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head. “Oh, it seems like a simple enough investigation. We’ll go verify at the courthouse that it was indeed you changing your name. We may need a written note of consent or something.”

“I’ll get that for you,” and he immediately began scribbling down a note.

“Then…hm…was anyone with you when you made your discovery?”

Martin paused and looked up at Bryan. “Yeah, Chris Chapel and Brett Bonds. The two material handlers on 2nd shift.”

“Interesting. We’ll go talk to them. Where do you work?”

“I’ll write that info down for you, too. Think they might be involved?”

Bryan shrugged. “Worth looking into.”

Martin nodded slowly.

“One question though,” John popped up, he, too, had a notepad he had taken notes in. “Why didn’t you try changing your name back?”

Martin grimaced slightly. “I will…that’s just a headache I’d rather not tackle now. I’ll let you guys find the culprit first.”

“We’ll need a car,” said Bryan, gazing at the ceiling.

“You can use mine during the day,” Martin offered. “I’m asleep anyway. Just as long as you return it at night.”

“I think we can arrange that. Now we’ll just need to find a way here.”

“I can bring you before my morning class,” Willard cut in.

Bryan nodded in a satisfactory way. “Well, I think that covers everything, then…for now at least. We might have more questions after a day of investigating.”

“Sounds good,” Martin replied. “I’ll help all I can…no one wants to get to the bottom of this more than me.”

“That’s probably true,” John noted.

They looked at John awkwardly and moved to leave.

The next morning, Willard dropped the two students off at Jeffery’s Martin’s apartment. They chatted with the victim briefly, took the car keys, and searched out the vehicle in the parking lot. It was an older Jeep, faded black, with a worn look about it.

“Are you driving, Bryan?” John wondered.

“Yep.”

“Do you know how to drive?”

“I may be homeschooled, but I’m not a caveman.”

“Well, do you know how to drive around Louisville?”

“Do you?” Bryan paused. “Are you wanting to drive, John?”

John hesitated. “Well…I may have more experience.”

“Do you know where we’re going?”

“No…”

“I have directions.”

“So…you’re offering to let me drive and you’ll be my wingman?”

“Your what?”

“Nothing. Direction giver. Tell me what turns to make.”

Bryan laughed a little. “I studied the map to our locations. I’ll drive there…you can drive back.”

John crossed his arms and stared at his partner. “Very well…but I chose what we listen to on the radio.”

“Fair enough.”

The drive to the courthouse was an arduous trek, especially for Bryan who was unaccustomed to the nightmare that was Louisville rush hour traffic.

“Could be Atlanta traffic,” John remarked.

“When were you in Atlanta?”

“Never. But I hear it’s bad.”

Bryan smiled slightly and they continued. Matters were made worse for Bryan after John found a country station playing a song about fried chicken and cold beers on Saturday nights and Bryan unfortunately confessed to having heard the song played during his summer job. John then made Bryan sing along to the chorus.

They finally arrived at the county courthouse a little harried from their long wait and nearly pulled their hair out when they found a 2 hour wait inside. When they made it to the front of the line and asked to speak with the county clerk on an important matter, it took another hour before they were given admittance.

“This is the worst 4 hours of investigation in my life!” John declared when they sat down in the office and waited another 15 minutes while the clerk used the restroom and grabbed a cup of coffee.

“We technically haven’t begun investigating yet,” Bryan noted, gazing out the lone office window.

John sighed. “Truly it’s been said, ‘All is vanity and a chasing after the wind.’”

Bryan turned his head to respond, but Diane Dreery, county clerk, entered the room. She was a somewhat rotund woman, short blond hair, squashed face, bearing the demeanor of one who hates the drudgery of life, yet can’t complain of the wages she earns.

John stood up instinctively. She examined him, trying to understand what he was doing, then smiled slightly. “Sit down, boy, I’m not a judge.”

When all were seated, she glanced between the two and, using years of experience in reading people, determined that Bryan was the smarter one and addressed him.

“So you’re here for that Jeffrey Jameson boy? Are you private investigators or something?”

“We’re actually two college students who get roped into solving out-of-the-ordinary mysteries, but yes, we’re looking into things for Martin Monterey.”

Ms. Dreery held up a hand. “The state of Kentucky doesn’t know him as Martin Monterey anymore, so let’s refer to him as Jeffrey.”

“But, he didn’t change his name to that,” John interjected.

The clerk shot him a look that would fry a fish. “Oh? Is that so? I personally handled that process and can tell you that the same boy who came in here a day or two ago demanding an explanation for how he changed his own identity was the same boy who changed his identity just a few day earlier.” She nodded, then, in a way that said, “Put that in your soup and eat it!”

John slouched a little in his seat and then looked at Bryan for backup.

He cleared his throat and leaned forward. “Martin…Jeffrey…said you mentioned you had proof on the cameras it was him. Could we see that footage?”

Diane Dreery’s left eye twitched a little, but she acquiesced, pulled up the file on her computer, and turned the screen so the boys could see with their own eyes Martin/Jeffrey approach the desk and ask for a name change. Bryan scrutinized the whole footage and neither said anything until it was over.

Upon completion, John leaned back with a whistle. “That does look like…our guy.”

Ms. Dreery raised her eyebrows in a satisfied manner. Bryan meanwhile leaned back into his chair with eyebrows knitted together in a scarf.

“Yes, it looks like him all right…” Bryan slowly admitted.

Dreery frowned for she now anticipated a question. It quickly came.

“Was he acting different to you, Ms. Dreery?”

“I never met the boy before, so I wouldn’t know.”

“But you know normal human behavior when you see it. Was he acting normal?”

The clerk pursed her lips and crinkled her nose in an effort not to sigh. “Who’s to say what is normal these days? He seemed tired, maybe more tired than people who usually come in first thing in the morning. But he was coherent enough. Certainly nothing worth calling the police over.”

Bryan frowned and rubbed his chin. “Are you sure it couldn’t have been a doppelganger? Someone who looked nearly identical to him?”

“I know what a doppelganger is, boy. I suppose that’s possible. Maybe he has an identical twin that was separated from him at birth and has returned to make his brother unknowingly join his adoptive family.”

“Hey, that’s pretty good!” John complimented. A glower from Dreery silenced any further comment.

“Listen,” she continued, “I’ve been doing this type of work longer than the two of you have been alive and I think I’d be able to tell if he wasn’t the same person. He had more than enough to prove his identity the first time around; driver’s license, birth certificate, social security card, heck, even his baptism diploma! I have no doubt Jeffrey changed his own name. Now why he’s bothering you two young gentlemen over the matter is beyond me…and it’s probably beyond you.”

The two boys stared at her quizzically. Finally, Bryan roused himself. “I suppose you’re right, Ms. Dreery. Thank you for your time.”

She couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or genuine, but she nevertheless acknowledged his salutation and shook their hands when offered. After they exited, she sat immovable for some time mulling over these curious circumstances. Somewhere, buried beneath the rubble of fallen years, was an inquisitive little girl who wanted to know the answer and secretly hoped that these two boys would return when and if the solution had been discovered. But her modern, cynical self sneered that wonder away and returned to her work.

Bryan and John, meanwhile, sat perplexed in the parking lot in the comfort of their borrowed Jeep.

“This may be a more complex case than I thought,” Bryan declared.

“I’ll say,” John agreed. “I mean, when she said she’s been in the business longer than we’ve been alive, did she mean our ages individually or combined? Because that would put her in the profession for over 45 years! She didn’t look that old…maybe she started when she was 5…”

Bryan smirked. “That isn’t the most pressing question, I’m afraid, John. There are several directions this case can go now.”

“North, south, east, or west?”

“Something like that. While I trust Ms. Dreery’s ability to read people, I still think a doppelganger is a possibility.”

“But what’s his motive?”

“Probably an elaborate prank on some level. Perhaps some of his friends met someone they thought looked like Martin and figured it’d be a great joke to change his identity on him.”

John shot a Bryan an odd look.

Bryan shrugged. “It’s a stretch, I’ll admit, but it’ll be the next step in our investigation.” He started up the vehicle and pulled out of the parking lot.

John kept looking ahead and thinking. “But how would they get all that information from him, like the license and certificates and whatnot?”

Bryan cocked his head. “Well, he just moved. Maybe his friends found the things while helping him and hatched their plot then.”

John nodded slowly. “Do you think this could be malicious at all?”

“Possibly. I’d like to rule out the prank conjecture first.”

They drove on and John thought some more. “What about the identical twin possibility?”

Bryan laughed a little. “I think Ms. Dreery shot that down with a reasonable explanation. We’ll keep it on the bookshelf, though, just in case.”

By now, traffic was lighter and more navigable, so they arrived at LBP Logistics just as Chris Chapel and Brett Bonds clocked in. The interview was a particularly difficult one to conduct. One, they tried to work while giving answers; two, they thought the situation humorous.

“So let me ask you an odd question,” Bryan threw out during a temporary lull. “Have you ever met someone you thought looked exactly like Martin?”

“Like a Doppler Radar?” asked Chris.

“A doppelganger, yes.”

Chris thought. “No, can’t say that I have.”

About now, Brett pulled up on a forklift and hopped off. “You all still here about poor old Jeffrey?”

The two handlers snickered.

“Yeah, hey man, have you ever met Martin’s doppelgranger?” Chris wondered.

“His what?”

“His lookalike,” said John with a hint of annoyance in his tone.

“No, but I met someone who looked like Burt Ward once. You know, the guy who played Robin on the 60’s Batman show?”

The two now sang the theme song together. For once Bryan looked clueless at John, who smiled and shrugged.

“Okay, so do you hang out with Martin outside of work?” Bryan interjected between another round of “na na na na na na na’s”.

“With Martin?” answered Chris. “Nah.”

“We’re not his types,” Brett added, leaning on a pallet jack.

“Yeah, we’re not church people. Are you church people?”

“Yes…” said Bryan.

“Oh, then he’ll like you.”

“So wait, you’re saying Martin doesn’t like you?” John pressed.

“Oh, no! We get along just fine with Martin, don’t we, Brett?”

“Of course, we love Martin. We just never hang out with him outside of here.”

“Yeah, besides, he kinda lives a dramatic life, especially for a church-going guy.”

“What do you mean?” Bryan wondered, his curiosity piqued.

“Well, he’s always moving, it seems like. Brett, how many times has he moved since he’s worked here?”

Brett looked up at the ceiling and counted. “I think twice.”

Chris shrugged, as this wasn’t the number he expected, but carried on. “He hasn’t been here long.”

“He also had trouble with that one chick,” Brett remarked.

“That’s true! Oh yeah, that sounded like a nasty breakup.”

“Who is this chick?” John asked.

“What was her name, Brett? Meghan?”

“Sounds about right.”

“What happened between them?” Bryan cut in.

“Not sure on the whole details,” said Chris. “You’d have to ask Martin about her.”

The interview was cut short here as the supervisor came back and yelled at his material handlers for acting like politicians conducting interviews to anyone and everyone, and then turned on the interviewers and gave them a drubbing for taking his men away from work and helping the plant meet its daily quota.

Bryan and John skipped out quickly after that. They felt like they had enough information anyway. They returned to Boyce and crashed in Bryan’s room to regroup and hash over the case. Now Bryan was willing to admit foul play could be involved, perhaps by this Meghan girl, but another conversation with Martin that night could help clear the waters a little. Finally, John retired to his room down the hall for study and a nap, while Bryan studied and did some investigating online.

As afternoon transitioned to evening, Bryan and John returned to the Jackalope Crossing and knocked on Martin’s door. His room looked just the same as the night before and Martin seemed just as tired. They sat down at the cluttered table while Martin fixed a supper for himself.

“So, any good news? Any progress at least?” he wondered, while peeling back the plastic film of a TV dinner.

“Some progress, I think,” Bryan admitted. “I think we have more questions for you, though.”

“Me? Sure, whatever I can do to help. By the way, do you guys want anything? I don’t have much beyond frozen dinners and Ramen. I do have some frozen sausage.”

“I’ll take one!” John jumped in.

“Okay, I’ll cook it up.”

“No, just give it to me frozen. It’ll last longer that way.”

Martin eyed him for a moment and then handed him the frozen link, which he immediately began gnawing.

“You certainly are a college student,” Martin murmured. Then to Bryan, “You want anything?”

“I think I’m good. As to our investigation, I’ll start with the county clerk. We met with her and she seemed pretty determined you were the one that changed your identity.”

“But how could she?” Martin shot back, powering on the microwave. “She’d never met me before!”

Bryan nodded in agreement. “True. I think there are two possibilities open to us, a doppelganger or somnambulism.”

“Was sat?” John asked with the sausage between his teeth.

“Sleepwalking,” Bryan explained.

“Sleepwalking?” Martin repeated incredulously. “Could a sleepwalker get in a car and drive to the courthouse to change his own identity?”

“It’s rare and not as probable, but there are cases of sleepwalkers doing complicated things like driving cars.”

“But driving to the courthouse and doing something as specific as changing my name!” Martin protested, pulling his steaming meal out and sitting down at the table.

“I’ll grant that it’s far-fetched,” Bryan said, “but this whole case is a little far-fetched.”

Martin scooped up some cheesy noodles with his plastic fork, blew on his food, and thought for a second. “Okay, well, let’s put sleepwalking on the backburner for a second because that thought is kind of scaring me. You mentioned a doppelganger?”

“Yas, iss a luckalike,” John defined while gnawing on the frozen sausage (he wasn’t faring too well with it).

“I know what it is, but who would send a doppelganger of me to change my identity? What would be the purpose?”

Bryan stared at the table and played with a pen, seeming awkward about where he had to go next in the conversation. “Well, I first thought it was a prank. But, after talking with your coworkers, we found out about someone who may have malicious intent. We found out about Meghan.”

Martin’s jaw clenched tight before he dropped his eyes to the still-steaming cardboard dish. “I guess Chris and Brett told you about her.”

“They mentioned her name and something about a nasty breakup, but they didn’t know any details. What happened between you two?”

Still staring at his dinner and twirling noodles with his fork, Martin slowly began, “That breakup is the reason I just moved here. You see, I moved to Louisville with my mom almost a year ago. We were up at Indianapolis before then. I lived with my mom for a couple months until I found a good job at LBP and an apartment. That’s when I met Meghan Morgan.”

“Meghan Morgan?” John clarified, finally pulling the gnawed sausage from between his teeth. “What a name!”

“Yeah, but what a girl!” Martin declared. “Well, we had a couple months of bliss until one day I went to visit my mom with Meghan. Shortly after arriving, my mom pulled me aside and told me to break up with her as soon as possible. I asked her why, and she kept saying she was good at reading people, being a psychologist and all, and could tell Meghan wasn’t right for me and would turn out bad. Needless to say, the rest of the visit was awkward, and so were the next few weeks. Finally, I listened to my mom and broke up with Meghan. Like you said, it was a nasty breakup. My mom suggested moving and I did since there were a couple times I thought Meghan was stalking me or hanging around my old place. I guess my mom was right…”

Bryan leaned back in his chair, cocked his head, and rubbed his chin. Martin silently consumed his food. John considered his slowly defrosting piece of meat and now had second thoughts about eating it.

After Martin finished most of his dinner, he looked up at Bryan. “So you think Meghan is behind this? She found a doppelganger and had him change my name? But why? What could be her gain in that?”

Bryan shrugged. “Perhaps a subtle poetic form of revenge. Maybe she felt like you became a different person after meeting with your mom and so did this as a way of venting her anger. Maybe there’s something deeper. Do you have a picture of her handy?”

Martin shrunk a little, embarrassed, and pulled out his phone, soon showing them a picture of him with a smiling girl with black hair tinged with gold dye, a small petite nose, and skin slightly darker than his.

“She is a pretty girl,” John commented, nodding with approval at Martin in spite of the fact they were no longer together.

“Yeah, but I guess there’s a crazy psychopath underneath that beauty,” Martin confessed glumly.

Bryan frowned. “She doesn’t seem like the type to go off the deep end, though.”

“Broken love can do monstrous things to people, Bryan,” said John. “I’ve been reading Frankenstein, and believe me, people can go off the deep end!”

Martin sat back in a slump, seemingly accepting that, but Bryan stood and began pacing. “Something’s not adding up here. There’s one element of this case that we’ve overlooked. One clue that’s been staring us in the face waiting to get our attention almost from the start.”

“The possibility of Martin having a malicious identical twin?” John posed.

“I have a what?” went Martin.

“No, no twins,” Bryan stopped. “Where is the birth certificate?”

He stopped pacing and looked at the two seated. They exchanged glances and returned the stare.

“The birth certificate!” Bryan exclaimed. “Whoever has the birth certificate is the one culpable for changing Martin’s identity. We need to find that birth certificate. We’ll start here. Do you think you have the certificate here?”

Martin scrunched up his face trying to recall where he put it. “I don’t know. Everything is still kind of mixed up from the move.”

“Then let’s try to find it!” Bryan commanded, and the three scoured the small apartment (John was glad of this for it excused him from the lonely link on the table).

After 10 or so minutes of searching, they came up empty.

“It must not be here,” Martin concluded.

“Could someone have taken it mid-move?” Bryan pressed. “That would’ve been the most likely time to steal it.”

“The only people who helped me move were Willard and my mom.”

“Willard!” John declared. “Of course!”

“I don’t think it’s Willard,” said Bryan.

“Well, you’re not suggesting my mom then, are you?” Martin clarified.

Bryan nodded awkwardly. “If she has the certificate…How far away does she live?”

“About 20 minutes away in the country.”

“Then I think we should pay her a visit.”

Within minutes they were in Martin’s Jeep and on the road, Martin driving, Bryan beside him in the passenger’s seat, John crammed in the back with a stack of dirty clothes and a toolbox.

“Does your mother live alone?” Bryan wondered at the first stoplight.

“Yeah, my dad cheated on her when I was a baby and left us,” Martin explained. “Since then, it was just the two of us.”

The light turned green and they carried on.

“Why’d you move to Louisville?” John asked, leaning forward a little.

Martin shrugged. “Why we always move—Mom finds a better job somewhere, convinces me to come with her.”

“Isn’t that kind of annoying?” John pressed.

“Yeah…I was kinda hoping to stay in Louisville longer than a couple years.”

In 15 minutes, they were driving down an unkempt country road that turned into an uphill gravel driveway.

“Why does your mom live out in the country?” John queried.

“She says she loves the outdoors. It looks kinda dark up there. Hopefully she’s home.”

Bryan frowned at the dark country house looming up before them, John began worrying about every possible worst-case scenario including, but not limited to, a Sasquatch invasion.

They parked on the drive and approached the bi-level house. In the darkness and pale light from the stars and full moon, it appeared as a haunted house. In the daylight, it would’ve seemed more cheerful in its yellow siding, baby blue window shutters, and inviting white porch complete with a wicker rocking chair.

The closer they came to the door, the slower they walked until halting before the portal and taking a few seconds to breathe. Martin tried the door; it was unlocked. As they entered, Martin called for his mom, but only silence responded. Not a light shone in the abode save what came from the outside. Martin kept a small LED flashlight on his key ring and flipped it on. To his surprise, boxes lined the hallway greeting the entryway; a few were knocked over.

“That’s strange,” Martin said quietly, “I’d say my mom was packing up to move, but she hadn’t said anything to me about that!”

“Why do I suddenly have a bad feeling about this venture?” John worried.

Bryan stooped down to inspect one of the toppled containers. He examined some books and then pulled out a picture. “Martin, could I see that light?”

“Sure. Oh, that’s a picture of my mom and dad right before they had me. I haven’t seen that in ages! I coulda swore my mom got rid of it.”

They didn’t need Martin to explain the couple in the frame. Martin was clearly their child, with the father bearing the most resemblance save a bushier mop of hair.

Bryan stared at the photo, and then closed his eyes.

“Martin, I think I know why your mom wanted you to break up with Meghan,” he declared suddenly. “I believe she’s your dad’s daughter.”

Martin (and John) stood agape. Before they could respond, the front door whooshed open and crashed into the wall. Standing in the threshold was Meghan Morgan…holding an assault rifle.

“Okay, hands up!” commanded a voice from behind. The three spun around to see the silhouette of a tall, slender man holding a shotgun standing in the kitchen. It was Martin’s dad.

Soon the three were being marched downstairs into an unfinished basement, they turned a corner where a lantern threw off a bright patch of light and saw Martin’s mom slumped against the wall, tied by her wrists, with the rope nailed into the cement above her head.

Martin let out a cry and his mother lifted a forlorn, black-eyed face to her son. She smiled slightly. “Oh, son, you picked a bad night to visit…”

Morgan Monterey, now bald and resembling a scarecrow, cursed at her to keep her silent and then had Meghan keep the boys in line while he tied them one-by-one to the wall like Martin’s mother. Martin went first, and then Bryan.

While Bryan quietly let the rope wrap around his wrists, he looked to Martin, who seemed despondent and perplexed. “I suppose you see now why your mom changed your identity.”

The speech shook everyone present. Martin awoke as from a stupor and stared at Bryan with wide eyes. Then he looked slowly back around at his mom.

“Is that true?” he asked her, “Were you the one who changed my identity?”

Tears were already coming out of Patricia Monterey’s eyes. She glanced sheepishly at Morgan, who replied with a glare. Though he wanted silence, he was also intrigued to know the answer.

“Martin,” she began, “it was me. But, son, I did it for your safety!”

“But how? Was it a doppelganger?”

“A what?” Morgan interjected gruffly.

“A lookalike,” John sighed.

“Shut up, four-eyes! And get over here! It’s your turn.”

“She used hypnotism,” Bryan answered. “One of the books in that overturned box I examined was on hypnotism. You probably gave her a spare key to your apartment in case of emergencies, correct? Well, on that morning, after you fell asleep, your mom snuck in, hypnotized you, drove you to the courthouse, and instructed you on what to do.”

“Is that true?” Martin exclaimed, his neck hurting from snapping back and forth.

Patricia tearfully nodded. “It’s true. How he solved all that, I don’t know. But all of it is true.”

“Why?” Martin demanded, water now gathering in his eyes.

“Martin, you know how I always told you that…your father cheated and left?”

Morgan grunted disapprovingly.

“Well, that’s not entirely true,” she continued. “A year or so after your birth, your father…snapped. I came home from work one day and found him holding a steak knife over you in your crib. I couldn’t trust him anymore and told him to leave. He did and soon I realized it wouldn’t be so easy to be rid of him. I caught him following me and watching our apartment. So we moved, beginning a long, long life of moving from city to city across this country to outrun your father, but he would always find us…and we would always have to move again.”

Morgan sneered and laughed as he stood up and surveyed his prisoners. “Can’t outrun the devil, huh Pat?” he jeered.

While his mom withered a little, Martin writhed to find out more. “But why such extremes this time?”

Patricia cautiously paused and answered, “I knew you wanted to live your own life without following your mother around. I decided now was the time to do that since you seemed happy here and wanted to stay. When you brought…Meghan to visit, I didn’t know…he…he had a daughter. But the resemblance was unmistakable to me. I realized he now knew where I lived and you as well. I had to impress on you to move but I couldn’t ask of you to change your identity completely…so I used other means. I planned to move away before you had a chance to find out, hoping that he’d follow me and leave you alone…but I was too slow in all of this…”

An evil smile curled Morgan’s lips. “That’s right, my little rabbit! Even the hare slows down eventually and is eaten by the fox!”

“So…now that this reunion is in the books,” John cut in, “what’s the plan now? Let us go?”

A low laugh gurgled in Morgan’s chest. “No…I’ve waited too long for this. No! Next comes torture!”

“With what?” John poked. “You have nothing to torture us with.”

Perplexed, Morgan twisted his face toward the table holding the lantern and saw this to be true. When he gazed back toward them, the maniacal visage had returned.

“A minor setback soon to be remedied! Come, Meghan! We must find the tools for our trade.” Picking up his shotgun, the two tramped upstairs and slammed the door shut, applying a bolt lock.

After a moment of silence, John whistled. “Lady, when you said that man snapped, you must’ve meant he snapped like a two-by-four under a semi!”

Patricia didn’t reply, but hung her head. Martin stared into space, processing the many revelations of the evening. Bryan cocked his head and gazed at the floor beams overhead.

“There’s one thing wrong about your story, Mrs. Monterey,” Bryan remarked. “One thing that’s not being said…”

“There’s more to this?” Martin cried, eyes bulging in shock. His mom feebly raised her head.

“You’re a psychologist, Martin mentioned,” Bryan continued. “But you’re not a certified hypnotist…or at least, you weren’t when Martin was born. Perhaps the allure of that field intrigued you and you decided to practice it at home…on Martin’s father.” The other three stared at Bryan, who now looked toward the opposite, dark wall.

“Bryan, how in the name of Sherlock’s beak nose did you come up with that?” John asked.

“The books were older, for one,” he explained. “They were also kept in the same box as a picture of the young, happy couple, a picture Martin thought long gone. Its presence in that box seemed to suggest that was a box of things she’d rather forget.”

“It seems all my sins are coming to find me tonight,” Patricia sobbed. “Yes, I experimented on him…I always wondered if that’s what drove him mad.”

“But he’s not entirely mad,” Bryan corrected. “He seems somewhat lucid enough at times, and then monomaniacal at others. I wonder if the effects of it fade in and out…”

“It’s possible…”

“And I wonder if Meghan is hypnotized.”

A moment of heavy silence and then Martin spoke, “I could see that. Meghan would never harm me!”

His mom prepared to answer along the lines of, “she is your father’s daughter,” but John interrupted with a groan.

“Ugh! I can’t take all this depressing gloom!” And with a small effort managed to yank the nail from the wall.

“John, you’re free!” Bryan proclaimed.

John looked wildly at his hands and then helped the others loose, helping Martin raise his mom from the floor. Using a pocketknife of Martin’s, they discarded the ropes and stood wondering at their next move.

“I say we get out and call the cops!” Martin insisted.

“I agree,” said Bryan, “but we should try to contain them here so they don’t escape.”

“Are you mad?” John entered. “They have guns! And they’re probably loaded! The guns, that is…though I wouldn’t put it pass the snapped board to also be—”

“We need to help the Monterey’s put an end to their ceaseless running about the country,” Bryan reasoned.

“If you’re right about Meghan,” said Patricia, “then I may be able to bring her from her trance. That would leave us with just one to worry about and give us a weapon.”

“Good, then we’ll divide and conquer,” Bryan resolved. “John, you and Martin’s mom will try to de-hypnotize Meghan. Martin and I will think of a way to incapacitate the crazy one.”

“Great, but how do we get out without them seeing?” Martin posed.

“There’s a cellar door on the other side of the steps we can climb out through,” Patricia noted.

With a final word of caution, they rushed to the escape hatch and poured through, John and Patricia peeling off toward the backyard, Bryan and Martin toward the driveway. A yell from within showed they had barely eluded their captors’ grasp.

Both captive parties raised a clamor, drawing a confused Morgan to launch his daughter through the backdoor, while he raced out the front.

Before Meghan stood a helpless John, hands raised.

“Don’t shoot! I’m unarmed,” he declared.

Slowly Meghan inched across the whitewashed lawn, gun leveled at John’s chest. Suddenly fingers snapped in front of her. The rifle dropped from her hands and she felt herself again. But then the world went black as a rock smacked the back of her head.

“Why’d you knock her out?” John asked. “I think the finger snap thing worked.”

“Didn’t want to risk it,” Patricia answered, taking up the weapon.

“Whoa, do you know how to use that?”

“Of course. I have a concealed carry permit.”

“I don’t think assault rifles fall into that category.”

Meanwhile, in the front yard, Morgan roved about, practically frothing. He gazed up at the full moon and back down on the ghostly lawn. A sound in the nearby woods drew him in that direction, leaving his back open to the two figures sneaking through the front door.

Inside, they crept into the front dining room and almost ran into their allies.

“I see you took care of Meghan,” Bryan remarked, eyeing the rifle.

“Yep,” answered John, “I used my belt to hog-tie her. She’s out back. If we manage to bag the scarecrow, we’ll need another belt.”

“I have barbwire in the tool shed,” said the mom.

“Violence seems to run in your family,” John murmured to Martin. “Just something to be aware of.”

Just then, a cry of frustration from the front yard told them Morgan was returning.

He stormed into the front hall and into the dining room, hearing a noise. He saw the four-eyed kid and raised his gun. Then he became aware of another presence beside him, a form that also carried a firearm.

“This ends tonight, Morgan!” Patricia gritted through her teeth.

The man smiled ironically. “I believe those were the words you used to me the last time we stood in a dining room…”

Suddenly he stepped away and whipped his gun to bear on his wife. The room lit up in a flash as a horrified Martin watched from the kitchen doorway.

*              *              *              *              *

Several cop cars were parked on the hill leading up to the house. An ambulance bearing a wounded Morgan drove down the path and back to civilization. A second ambulance, parked as close to the door as possible, admitted a wounded Patricia into its womb. Both adults wounded each other in the shoulder; both were expected to live.

On the steps of the house sat Martin and Meghan, nestled close together, united in trauma and disturbed parents. John, having just finished giving his statement to the authorities, stood and watched them quizzically. Bryan walked up from the direction of the cruisers.

“One of the officers is willing to give us a ride back to school,” he informed. “Ready to go?”

“Yeah,” John answered quietly and turned to follow his friend. As they neared the vehicle, John stopped, “Bryan, do you think we should remind Martin that Meghan is technically his sister?”

Bryan and John returned to school, quietly shared a couple Ale8 drinks together, and tried to go to bed. Bryan eventually returned to the busy courthouse and divulged to a pleasantly surprised Ms. Dreery how the case turned out. The two became friends after that. John decided to up his diet of frozen meats in order to strengthen his teeth and lose weight. Bryan’s roommate, Gus, pointed out to John that uncooked meat was unsafe to eat and he couldn’t afford to lose any weight. Thus, John gave up his fruitless task.

Martin and Meghan eventually did realize that they were technically related, but thought about keeping it up anyway since it was Kentucky. A counseling session with his pastor put an end to that. His mom and dad survived their injuries and added those scars to the innumerable invisible tears made to their souls. Morgan was sent to prison for 10 years, Patricia moved to Venice Beach, California.

And so, the moral of our story is, don’t play with fire…or amateur hypnotists…

 

 

 

 

*college-time mysteries. ’16.

________________________

What’d ya think?

Come back soon to find a post about how a Western novel illustrates patriarchy done right!

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