“Leslie, meditation is done now.” Sasha’s voice is unusually gentle. Leslie snaps to the present and is astonished to find that her face is wet with tears. Two of the other students, longtime classmates of Leslie’s, make a point of not looking at her. The third, a relative newcomer is staring at her with an open mouth. Leslie flushes in embarrassment as she tries to stem her tears; they continue to fall.
“Excuse me.” Leslie walks over to the table in the corner of the room and picks up a tissue. She uses it to dab her eyes, but she continues to cry silently. She grabs a handful of tissues and walks outside. Sasha lets her be because she knows that Leslie needs a minute to collect herself. If she doesn’t return in a few minutes, Sasha will go outside to make sure she’s OK.
“I miss you, John,” Leslie whispers as she huddles by the door. It’s not exceedingly cold out—twenty degrees—but Leslie feels a coldness that cuts straight through her heart. Leslie aches to hold John one last time, to feel him inside her one last time, to kiss him one last time. She couldn’t tolerate the idea that she would never see him again. She had known him a relatively short amount of time, and yet, he had become indispensable in her life. She counted on him to be there for her, and now—he isn’t. He will never be there for her again. Leslie hugs herself in a futile attempt to stave off the despair. How can she bear it that she will never ever get to hear him call her lover again?
After several minutes, Leslie returns to class. Sasha is leading the class in chi gong, but she glances quizzically at Leslie as Leslie gently shuts the door behind her. Leslie nods once, not trusting herself to speak. She sits on her chair, drinks her bottled water, and skips the chi gong. When it’s over, she rejoins the class for the first section of the solo form. She is able to stumble through it with minimal mistakes. She endures the rest of the class, counting the minutes until it’s over.
“How you holding up?” Sasha asks Leslie after class. All the other students are gone, and Leslie and Sasha are purportedly deciding on where to go for lunch.
“Not well at all.” Leslie doesn’t sugarcoat the truth because she doesn’t like to bullshit her good friends. “I miss him so damn much.”
“Talk to me.” That’s all Sasha says, but it’s enough to open the verbal floodgates. Leslie tells Sasha everything that has happened in the last few days along with the results of her snooping around. Sasha listens attentively, asking a question periodically to clarify matters. When Leslie is done, she sags in her chair, exhausted from the effort. She waits to hear Sasha’s thoughts on the matter. Sasha thinks about it as she changes from her tai chi pants into her jeans. She is a slim brunette with junk in the trunk but not much on top. Her signature trademark is the bright red lipstick she wears and her dead-white skin. Her green eyes are intense as she chews over all the information Leslie has given her. Finally, she speaks.
“Amy’s affair. I think that’s the important angle.”
“Yes. Her affair with the married man. What about it?”
“It has to be more than that,” Sasha says, narrowing her eyes in concentration. “I mean, it’s not exactly uncommon for a married man to have affairs, and even if we speculate that Amy was going to tell his wife, that really isn’t a reason to kill her. Yeah, I know it happens, but if we accept that John’s death is connected to Amy’s, then the theory of her having an affair with a married man who killed her doesn’t make sense. You said that the papers all but placed a ribbon around John’s neck, making a present of him to the cops. Not only was he the main suspect—he was the only suspect. How realistic is that in a case where the murdered woman is the daughter of a well-known politician?”
“He’s a powerful man as well as a married one,” Leslie blurts out. She can’t believe she hasn’t connected the dots before this.
“You got it!” Sasha beams at Leslie proudly. “It makes sense if you think about it. Her father was a powerful man with powerful friends. She grew up around power. It stands to reason that it’s someone with power who orchestrated this whole thing.”
“You’re a genius.” Leslie impulsively hugs Sasha. “Can I take a rain check on lunch? I have to do some more research.”
“Go. I’ll talk to you soon.” Sasha hugs Leslie back, and then Leslie leaves. She’s careful not to exceed the speed limit by more than 10 mph because the last thing she wants to do is talk to the cops. She hastily throws some Greenies on the floor so Josephine won’t whine, and then Leslie makes a beeline for her computer room. She remembers that she needs to reserve a flight to Chicago for later that night or early the next morning. Miracles of all miracles, she finds a flight compatible with her frequent flyer mileage—a red-eye—and promptly books it. Then, she emails the flight information to Rose who immediately responds to say she’ll pick up Leslie at the airport. They exchange photos so they’ll be able to recognize each other. Leslie stares at Rose’s portrait. Even though they are roughly the same age, Rose looks years younger. She has skin so pale, it’s almost translucent. Her fluffy auburn curls and cornflower blue eyes only add to her delicateness. Leslie can’t deny that Rose is beautiful.
Leslie also fires off an email to her friend, Priscilla, because Priscilla is her designated cat-watcher when Leslie is out of town. It’s only fair as Leslie watches Priscilla’s two Rotties whenever Priscilla is out of town, and dogs are way more work than cats. Besides, Josephine is extremely picky as to which human can take care of her and which can’t. Basically, the can list is a very short one with only Priscilla on it. Priscilla responds that it’s no problem, and hey, what about lunch when Leslie gets back from wherever she is going, and speaking of which, where is she going? Leslie hesitates. Does she have time to fill in Priscilla? She decides she does, so she calls.
“Hey, Sis. What’s going on?” Priscilla’s voice is warm, vibrant, and bouncy. She is a bundle of energy, moving from one thing to another with her brown curls bobbling on top her head as she races through her day. She is a successful web designer, and she has her pick of clientele. She is also someone Leslie looks up to and has called Sis from fairly early on in their friendship.
“John’s dead. Murdered.” Leslie states it bluntly, feeling the hurt in her heart as she does.
“What the hell?” Priscilla is shocked, and it takes a lot to shock her.
“Look it up.” Leslie waits while Priscilla does just that. Leslie realizes once again that she will never see John again, and the pain hits her in the gut. Once Priscilla is done reading, Leslie tells her the rest of the story.
“I’m so sorry. Tell me what you need.” How like Priscilla to be both sympathetic and pragmatic at the same time.
“I’m going to Chicago to talk to Rose. She’s John’s oldest and best friend. I’m hoping what she says will help me find out who killed John. I don’t know how long I’ll be out there. You watch Josephine while I’m gone. That’s what I need from you.”
“Can do. Love that little girl of yours, though she is so damn spoiled.” Priscilla says this every time she is solicited to watch Josephine. Josephine has two litterboxes in the basement. She has a Drinkwell water fountain plus two bowls of purified water. She has a deluxe cat-tree with four levels, and she likes to perch on the top level, staring disdainfully down at her minions. The cat-tree is placed to the living room window so Josephine can stare outside at the kitty TV all day long. It also has a house in which Josephine likes to take her late-afternoon nap. In addition, she only eats organic food; she gets groomed twice a month; she has five cat beds and enough toys for three cats. She plays with them from time to time, her favorite being the crinkle balls and the wand toys. However, her absolute favorite toy of all is Leslie.
“Who else am I going to spend my money on?” Leslie retorts, using the same answer she does every time. Priscilla laughs, but there’s something preoccupied about her manner. After a minute of silence, Priscilla says what’s on her mind.
“You’ve told the cops about Rose and John’s past life, right?” Leslie remains silent as she does not like to lie to her friends. She will if absolutely necessary, but she rather not. “Leslie! Why haven’t you told them?”
“They have his laptop. They’ll figure it out.”
“It would take much less time if you just told them what you know.”
“No.” Leslie isn’t completely sure why she’s so antagonistic about going to the cops. She has no personal animus against the homicide detectives, and she desperately needs to know what happened to John. However, something inside her says that this is something she needs to do for herself—and for John. Priscilla argues with her for a bit, but finally backs down. With an admonishment to Leslie to be careful and a promise that she’ll stop by every morning Leslie’s gone, Priscilla hangs up the phone and returns to work.
“Shit. The mail.” Leslie has forgotten to check the mail as she often does, so she trudges down her driveway to see what advertisements have been sent to her today. She frowns as she pulls a thick manila envelope out of her mailbox. It has been sent to her by some lawyer in downtown Minneapolis. Leslie waits until she’s in the house to open it. In it, there’s a brief note from the lawyer saying he’d been instructed to send this package to Ms. Leslie Chang in the event of the death of Mr. John Smith. John! Leslie’s heart beat faster as she read John’s name. There is another manila envelope inside the outer envelope, and Leslie opens that as well. Josephine has materialized out of nowhere and is staring at the envelope in Leslie’s hand. Josephine’s nose is twitching as she sniffs the air. It’s clear that she can smell John and is puzzled as to why she can’t see or hear him. Leslie opens the second manila envelope, and a letter falls out of it. Leslie gasps out loud when she sees a familiar handwriting. John’s. His writing is instantly recognizable because he prints firmly and signs his letter with a flair. She glances at the top of the letter and notes that it’s dated October 3rd. Four days before his murder. Sitting on the floor, Leslie begins to read.
My Darling Leslie,
If you are reading this, then it means I’m dead. If so, then I am so sorry for causing you this pain. By now, you have probably found out that my name is not John Smith—it’s Freddy Amato. And, you’re probably feeling hurt and betrayed. I don’t blame you. I want you to know, however, that what I felt is not a lie. My love for you is not a lie. Even the name John is not a complete lie as my middle name is Giovanni—the Italian version of John.
There is so much I want to say. I don’t have much time, though, so I’ll make it quick. In your hands, you have an envelope filled with information on the murder of Amy Robertson. I am trusting that you know who she is. I know you, my Leslie. I know that you would not let me die without investigating it on your own. And, because you are so smart, you probably figured out the password to my “Irish Black Rose” Gmail folder.
Have you talked to Rose yet? I hope so. I think you two would like each other. I know you’re probably not inclined to trust her. You probably are wondering as to the exact nature of our relationship. We are very good friends. I love her, and she is one of my oldest and dearest friends. However, she is not…you. She is not the woman I love or want to spend the rest of my life with. YOU are that woman, Leslie. I knew it from the moment I met you.
I never proposed to Amy, by the way. I did love her, but something always held me back from making the ultimate commitment. I think I knew, deep down inside, that she was no good for me. And she wasn’t. And I ultimately wasn’t good for her.
I did not kill her. I need you to know that. Near the end of our relationship, I began to hate her, yes, but I did not kill her.
I love you, Leslie. I was going to tell you the truth and then propose to you for real. And, if you’re reading this, that means I never got to do either, and for that, I am so very sorry.
Love, Your John