by Peter DiChellis
This mystery short story by Peter DiChellis has never before been published.
Olivia felt sick with worry. Something awful had happened. She just didn’t know what.
She’d called the police. Oh, what they must have thought of her. A lonely old woman in a wheelchair, imagining the worst. Kidnapping or murder. Or at least a horrible accident for goodness sakes! All because her dear friend, Ted Strosen, was missing.
The police officer had been nice at first, Olivia remembered. Yes, they investigated missing persons, he said. But after Olivia told him everything, the policeman said Ted was not considered a missing person. A grown man like Mr. Strosen, the officer concluded, might come and go for lots of reasons.
But Olivia knew Ted. Knew him well. Knew that he wouldn’t just come and go and…be gone. So she’d called the FBI too. Do something, she pleaded. He’s missing, really missing. The FBI woman was nice at first too. Yes, they investigated kidnappings. But unless there was a ransom demand or a witness…
Outside Olivia’s apartment, two men with callous stares and determined faces sat and watched. The wiry man in the passenger seat absently rubbed his nose, hard eyes fixed on the building’s front door. The squat weight lifter sat behind the wheel, scratching his shaved head, peering at Olivia’s windows.
They shared the same unspoken thought. She shouldn’t have made those phone calls. Nothing good could come from those phone calls. And they both knew that nothing she or anyone else did would bring Ted Strosen back. Ever. The boss had wanted Ted Strosen gone, gone for good. And so it was done.
But what would the boss want next? He’d text them soon enough. And whatever he wanted, they’d do.
Inside her apartment, Olivia sat alone and empty, but knew what to do next. Her part time work for the bank, done from home, barely paid her bills but gave her access to major national credit databases. Surely Ted had credit cards, and she could track when and where those cards were used. Then she’d email the police and FBI. That would get somebody’s attention.
Her reflection looked back from the darkened computer screen. People always thought her plain looking, she knew. Short brown hair, mostly gray now. Brown eyes, long nose. Her mouth was too big and went a little crooked when she smiled. She was tall enough that sitting didn’t mask her height. She wondered if Ted would think her plain looking too.
She knew what Ted thought about nearly everything else. Of all Ted Strosen’s 36 Facebook friends and 28 Twitter followers, none were as dedicated as Olivia. She was a friend, a follower and a faithful reader.
So she knew all about Ted. His favorite foods, movies and Seinfeld episodes. How mad he got when the Red Sox lost a close game. How his weekend went. Where he’d traveled and where he dreamed of visiting someday. That he liked his job, but not his boss. That he had nobody, no family, worrying about what might have happened to him. She knew as much about Ted as she knew about anyone.
And what did the police officer say to this? That Olivia had never even seen Ted in person. That maybe Ted’s not really who she thought he was. Maybe he’s not even real. Well, hardly anyone saw Olivia in person these days, she told the policeman, and she was real.
And she told him and told him, over and over, that she knew something awful must have happened. Ted always tweeted at least once a day and updated his Facebook page on Wednesdays and sometimes Mondays, too, after a fun weekend. Even if he was out of town. But now, nothing for two weeks.
Olivia logged onto the bank’s largest credit card database and searched. That’s all it took. Ted Strosen’s credit card usage stopped cold…two weeks ago.
What would the police and FBI think now? She detailed her findings in emails, praying for help. She hit send and waited.
Minutes later, the squat weight lifter looked at a text message and nodded his shaved head at the wiry man, who rubbed his nose again. The boss had decided. No more watching.
Inside a dull Washington, DC office building, the man who’d sent the text, the agency’s assistant deputy director of security training operations, was royally pissed off. How many goddamn times did he need to go through this with these goddamn FBI people? He’d sent them email after email.
Yes, the Strosen identity had lapsed. No, nothing had been compromised because there was nothing to compromise, it was a goddamn training exercise in goddamn false identity creation for goddamn first year trainees. How the hell can my people learn if they don’t train?
Well, he thought, at least all the goddamn interagency static wasn’t a total goddamn waste of time. He’d sent that skinny nose-picker and his pecker-headed training buddy out to get some surveillance experience. Usually have to wait until second year training for that. So what the hell. Just goddamn static, no harm to anyone.
Four days later, an exhausted and despondent Olivia left her apartment for the first time since she’d reported Ted missing. Her wheelchair rolled off the curb and a city bus hammered straight into her. The police called her death a tragic accident, a vulnerable old woman in the wrong place at the wrong time.
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