Samantha goes to retrieve the briefcase from Portia Obinger’s hotel, and uncovers some disturbing evidence. She also finds a decapitated doll – that resembles the late Portia – which holds a vital clue linked to the identity of Portia’s killer
Felix was riding his bicycle down the road to Siobhan’s country house, located in the suburbs. Of course, the first person to come out of the house was Katrina. She greeted him in the yard. ‘Have you seen my mum?’ she asked, her young eyes filled with curiosity and concern.
Before Fee was able to come up with an answer, Siobhan came outside. She spoke in a harsh Irish accent, and ordered Katrina to go upstairs. ‘Well, well, Uncle Felix,’ she said sharply. ‘You’ve got some explaining to do.’
In the kitchen, Siobhan made a pot of tea for herself and Felix. ‘I might have guessed it was too good to be true,’ she began. ‘Sam’s too tough to commit suicide. Most feral mutt I ever took in.’ She turned to face Felix. ‘Why would you of all people help with such a stupid plan as staging a funeral in order to escape from Vincent?’
‘It’s pretty obvious,’ Fee declared. ‘Vincent is a twat, and an unreasonable one to be honest.’
At the top of the stairs, Katrina listened in as Siobhan and Felix talked about me. ‘Sam was plagued from the very start,’ she heard our foster mother say.
‘What do you mean by that?’ Fee asked, bemused.
Siobhan didn’t answer his question. She simply said to him, ‘Tell Sam that she hasn’t seen Katrina in almost a year and it’s best if it stays that way.’
As Katrina creeped down the steps to hear better, Fee objected that Siobhan should tell Sam herself. ‘I’m not going to play “Felix in the Middle”’, he protested.
‘You are there at Sam’s beck and call,’ Siobhan sneered. ‘Therefore, it is up to you to take part of the responsibility for her actions and yours.’
‘It was only to make sure that Katrina didn’t think that her mother was dead,’ Fee mansplained. ‘And oh good, look. She doesn’t.’
Katrina was standing in the entrance of the kitchen, having overheard every single detail. Anybody could tell she wasn’t at all impressed.
Fee’s heart went out to little Katrina. After all, she didn’t ask for any of this. ‘You and Sam can work out the rest between yourselves,’ he said to Siobhan stiffly.
‘Years of my life,’ Siobhan recounted sorrowfully. ‘Leaving London and everyone I knew to give the two of you a fresh start. All the cop visits, all the missing person reports. If I could go back in time I’d do it all again, only because Katrina is a gift.’
‘I think Sam already knows that,’ Fee insisted.
‘No. That’s the problem,’ Siobhan said wistfully. ‘She hasn’t a clue.’ This just went to show the wealth of distrust I had by now earned from everyone – Siobhan especially.
‘She is trying,’ Fee asserted. ‘Badly, granted, but in her own way.’
Finally making herself fully present, Katrina sat on Fee’s lap. ‘When is Mummy coming?’ she asked Siobhan.
‘You know when,’ Siobhan explained to her gently but firmly.
‘When she’s ready,’ Katrina reiterated, suddenly having remembered.
‘Sounds fair to me,’ Siobhan replied in a hard voice.
After my official meeting with Ant, I cautiously entered the townhouse, calling for Lee. When there was no response, I barrelled straight in, only to be surprised by Lee coming out of the bathroom. ‘Do you mind telling me where the hell you’ve been?’ he demanded, still thinking that he was talking to Claire.
I had to come up with a reasonable explanation. ‘I was at the station catching up on backlogged work,’ I half-lied. Even though I wasn’t really at the station, the part about working on the Bonnie Chen case was in fact true. I spread the files out on the table as proof.
‘But you’re suspended,’ Lee reminded me.
I quickly tossed it off. ‘They reconvened the hearing,’ I said to him rather dismissively. ‘I have to get on top of this stuff.’
‘First you screw me wild for the first time in months and then you don’t even bother to call me to tell me that you’re out all night? And why the fuck are you suddenly dressing like a punk rock hoe?’ Lee was starting to sound paranoid.
‘Say again?’ I challenged him, pretending not to notice what I was wearing.
He narrowed his eyes at me, realising that this was not ‘Claire’ behaviour.
I decided to ignore his hoe shot, but felt a slight chill down my spine. What if he already knew who I really was? He was bound to find out eventually.
‘Something’s definitely wrong,’ Lee quietly said. ‘I’m worried you’re losing the plot again. We’ve been here before. Or haven’t we?’
‘No Lee. We’ve definitely never been here before.’ I responded defiantly.
I could immediately tell by his tight expression, Lee knew that it wasn’t a way Claire reacted.
‘If you don’t buy my story, I can take you to the station to prove it, yeah,’ I offered.
‘But you need to take more time,’ Lee suggested, suddenly having softened a little. ‘You’re not ready for any of this.’
‘I already have professional help,’ I snapped. However, as soon as I noticed the aggressive tone in my voice, I regretted it.
‘Baby, please,’ Lee sighed wearily. ‘I can see the shooting is killing you, but you stopped talking to me months ago. What am I supposed to do?’
‘Listen, it’s my problem,’ I insisted gently. ‘You don’t have to take it on.’ That was when I realized I had unintentionally developed my own feelings for Lee in spite of myself.
‘Well I have,’ he said sharply. ‘And I can’t keep waking up at night, checking your breathing, worried you’re mixing your meds, booze, God knows what else.’ I closed my eyes and shook my head, amazed to hear what a mess Claire had become.
‘I’m going back to Cody’s for a while,’ Lee decided, by now completely fed up.
‘Yeah, maybe you should leave for a while,’ I agreed quickly.
‘You’re ready to get rid of me ASAP, huh?’ Lee sneered. ‘Fine.’ Disgusted, he stalked away, snagged the jacket and suitcase already waiting at the door, and left. Relieved, I leaned over the counter and exhaled heavily.
Not long after Lee walked out, I received a phone call from Felix, asking me to come over to his flat. And so I made my way over there as quickly as I could. It had to be about Katrina.
I arrived at Felix’s flat where Fee was waiting for me expectantly. ‘You’re not dead to your daughter,’ he assured me.
We tearfully embraced each other. ‘I can actually feel Katrina,’ I gasped emotionally.
‘She is asking for you this very moment,’ Felix informed me.
‘What about Siobhan?’ I wondered. I was still thinking about her, even though we weren’t on good terms.
‘Don’t worry about Siobhan. Just promise to take us with you when you leave again.’
While Felix made tea for us both, I downloaded him about Ant’s refusal to give me back the money until after the shooting is cleared. Much to my exasperation, the PinkMobile started to ring. I slammed it down on the counter. ‘The way I’m feeling right now, the hearing for the shooting is the least of my worries,’ I admitted, trying not to show how stressed out I was.
‘Is that Portia Obinger?’ Fee asked, recognizing Claire’s PinkMobile.
I looked up at him. ‘No. That is definitely not Portia Obinger, seeing that she’s dead.’
‘Can you please explain to me what’s going on?’ Fee demanded.
‘Okay,’ I replied. ‘Claire was investigating her twins too, at the same time I was. Whatever Claire found out made her top herself, I suppose.’
The PinkMobile rang on undaunted. This time, I couldn’t ignore it, although Fee objected.
It was the same female caller from earlier. ‘Thank heavens you’ve finally answered, Claire,’ she said, relieved. ‘What have you been up to, anyway?’
‘Busy solving mysteries, obviously,’ I responded.
‘Did you get Portia’s briefcase?’ she asked, almost as though she had requested it.
Damn, the briefcase. Having had way too many things on my mind, of course I was bound to have forgotten all about it. ‘Unfortunately, no,’ I admitted.
‘Well then you need to do so,’ she instructed. ‘Go straight to Portia’s hotel room to get it before they do.’
I just wished she would explain to me who those people were. I had no idea who she was referring to.
‘It’s best you don’t ask what is in the briefcase just yet,’ she continued. ‘I promise to call back around midnight.’ She hung up.
What was in the briefcase that was so bloody important? Why the secretive behaviour?
Fee was just as bemused as I was. He demanded to know the identity of the caller, but I couldn’t tell him because I didn’t even know who the hell this woman was.
‘Every time I think I know something, I’m wrong,’ I sighed.
Fee pulled out the birth certificates and Portia’s driver’s license. By process of elimination, he wondered if the caller was Alison Hendricks. It soon dawned on him. ‘Wait a second,’ he exclaimed. ‘You not seriously going over there?!’
‘I haven’t got a choice.’ I donned a Portia wig, a floppy hat, large sunglasses, and a furry jacket. ‘If you don’t want to know what’s in the briefcase, then fair enough.’
‘Hopefully, it’s cash.’
‘I doubt it. It’s still a hustle, Fee.’
Fee was not amused by that remark. I turned around to look at his dreaded face. ‘Don’t worry,’ I reassured him. ‘I know exactly what I’m doing.’
Disguised as Portia Obinger, I hurried as fast as I could through the hotel lobby, ignoring the furious calls from the hotel manager for Portia. ‘Miss Obinger!’ he called sharply. He was angry about something that Portia had or hadn’t done, but I had no idea what it was. And quite frankly, I didn’t have any time to think about it.
I rushed straight upstairs to Portia’s hotel bedroom only to find it completely trashed. There was a decapitated Barbie doll that resembled Portia and eerily had the same hair colour as Portia’s hair. The doll’s hair had been hacked off, and its body covered in multiple cigarette burns. An open bible lay loosely with the hair strands spread out over the battered pages. The words ‘TRUTH’ and ‘FIVE DOWN. SEVERAL MORE TO GO’ were written across the pages with a passage blocked off in the same red marker.
There were photos plastered all over the wall. They were autopsy photos of all the European clones that had been brutally murdered by the same crazed shooter, and each of the autopsy photos were labelled with the following names of the deceased clones. Their names were Adele Fournier, Tracie Giordano, Dawn O’Sullivan, and Janae Zeelen; they were from France, Italy, Ireland, and the Netherlands, respectively.
Adele’s and Tracie’s corpses had been burnt beyond recognition, while Dawn’s had been hacked into pieces. Janae’s body had received multiple stab wounds, even after she had been shot and killed. Like her sister clones before her, Portia Obinger had been killed outright – in true execution style!
I felt sickened by the sight of their corpses and the horrific manner in which they died. And for them to have all been discarded like rotten pieces of meat! Bile began to build up in my mouth.
I began to paw through Portia’s destroyed belongings until a knock on the door paralyzed me with fear. Unable to ignore it, I adopted Portia’s brusque German accent and opened the door to the insistent hotel manager. The security guard was with him.
‘We need you to come downstairs with us,’ he said sternly. ‘Now.’
At the reception’s desk, the guard informed me in a vexed tone that he had received noise complaints and that Portia’s room had been trashed.
‘The sink is broken also!’ he exclaimed, exasperated. ‘What the hell is wrong with you?’
‘What the hell is wrong with you, more like?’ I barked in Portia’s aggressive Germanic accent. ‘Why did you go into my room, anyway?’
‘Because we were required to carry out a security check,’ the hotel manager claimed sharply. ‘And you’ve been ordered to pay $6400 in damages.’ He thrust an itemized bill in front of my face.
I fished out Portia’s cash and credit cards from my own wallet, but to my horror and dismay I realized there weren’t enough funds on any of the cards. I had no choice but to come up with an urgent solution. ‘You have my card on file, Ja?’ I confirmed obnoxiously. ‘And my briefcase.’ I suddenly remembered without hesitation.
The outraged guard reluctantly went off to retrieve the case while I nervously waited to see if the charge was authorized after it had been processed.
With the bill paid, the hotel manager calmly passed over the slip that required my signature. Just then, the moody guard slammed the briefcase on the counter. ‘Thank you,’ I said frostily.
‘Are you enjoying the city?’ the landlord asked, seeming a lot friendlier than the other staff.
‘It’s killing me,’ I replied flatly. ‘Danke Schoen.’ Which was basic German for ‘Thank you very much’. Wasting no time, I took the case from the guard and exited the hotel.
On the abandoned top level of a parking garage, I pulled Claire’s car over and dragged out the briefcase. Only God knew what was inside it. I forced it open with a screwdriver.
There were x-rays and several labelled test tubes of blood. One tube had Adele Fournier’s name printed on it. Inside a file was a copy of Portia’s passport on the top of a stack of other passport photos, each one of the deceased clones whose autopsy photos were pinned up in the hotel room. I also found a scrap of notepaper from the top of the case on which was written Claire’s address, along with that of Alison Hendricks from Scarborough. ‘You’re practically local,’ I said quietly. Maybe Alison was the caller, the same woman who had asked for the briefcase. And maybe I should head there now.
Alison Hendricks was a self-described suburban housewife and soccer mum. Married to David, she also had two adopted children. They were ginger-haired boy-girl twins named Oliver and Emma Louise. And Alison was… you guessed it, another doppelganger! Except that her hair was a lighter colour than mine, somewhat mousy brown with a fringe, and she had her hair in a ponytail. Maybe that was the typical type of hairstyle that most Canadian women had. But then again, what did I know about Canada or their fashion? It had been up to eight years since I had left this country and gone back to England, and I had only been back here for a few months.
I was shocked at how much we both looked one hundred percent like each other. At first I thought I was seeing myself in the mirror. Except that I wasn’t.
I watched from my car as Alison got out from the driver’s side of her minivan before letting her kids out. She was dressed in sports coach gear, so I was guessing she was meant to be running a high school sports event. Alison’s kids were at their school’s soccer field, playing football with the other neighbourhood kids when Alison’s pink mobile rang. She answered the caller while waving at another soccer mum. She then hung up in a terse manner after her one-sided conversation with the unknown caller, and took a net full of oranges to nearby equipment shed as a requested favour.
In order to hide my resemblance from Alison and avoid being seen, I pulled my hood over my face before hurrying after her. She was busy chopping up the oranges into quarters when I entered. ‘I just want some answers,’ I quickly assured her, but to no avail.
‘What the actual hell? Are you out of your mind?’ Alison was shocked and angry at the same time as she slammed me up against the wall, much to my horror and bewilderment. ‘How dare you show your face around my family?! How the hell did you even find me anyway?’
‘Portia Obinger had you address!’ I slapped her hand away from me in a defensive manner. ‘Anyway, I have the precious briefcase,’ I informed her coldly. ‘The briefcase you asked for, remember?’
‘Idiot,’ Alison scoffed. ‘Do you even know who you’re talking to?’
I then realized that this wasn’t the same young woman from whom I had received the phone call. How the hell she knew I wasn’t Claire was beyond me.
Alison’s expression suddenly turned from angry to bemused. ‘Where is Claire?’ she demanded.
‘I’m sorry, but Claire is dead,’ I admitted forcibly. ‘She killed herself.’
‘No, that’s not right,’ Alison said in disbelief. ‘Or possible. Claire wouldn’t have done that.’
‘But I saw her do it,’ I tried to convince her that I was telling the truth. ‘She jumped in front of a train.’
‘Why are you saying all these things?’ she barked. ‘Why are you doing this?’
‘A close acquaintance of Claire’s sent me here,’ I blurted out. ‘My name’s Samantha Branning, and…’
‘I don’t give a shit who you are,’ Alison cried angrily as she waved the knife at me in an antagonistic and threatening manner.
‘So what are we to each other, then?’ I pleaded emotionally. I was terrified of how sharp the knife was. What if she threatened to stab me there and then?
Alison glared at me with a hostile demeanour. ‘I’m not going to be the one to explain that to you. After all, it’s not my responsibility.’
Bitch! Was that the best answer she could give me?
Alison picked up the perfect bite-sized oranges, her back turned to my face. ‘You need to go now and wait for a call,’ she said icily. ‘Because if you don’t leave, I will not hesitate to call the police.’
‘Fine,’ I snarled. I started to head out of the shed.
‘And while you’re at it,’ she concluded. ‘Hide your ugly face on the way out.’
I headed back to Claire’s car, feeling extremely offended. ‘Fucking bitch,’ I thought bitterly. ‘I just hope not to ever come across her ever again. Or any of those other women, if God forbid they’re all like her.’
My phone rang as I was about to drive off. And who should be on the other end but Ant Bell!
‘Claire,’ he began. ‘Has it not occurred to you that I’ve been knocking on your house door for God knows how long?’
‘Oh,’ I replied, feeling slightly edgy. ‘Well, maybe because I’m out. I had to go into town and visit someone.’
‘Whatever you say,’ Ant responded, unconvinced. ‘Because Doctor Bowers has just declared you unfit for duty. That can only mean one thing. No hearing tomorrow.’
Brilliant. This was the last thing I needed on top of everything else. I sighed wearily. ‘Maybe I should see the shrink again.’
‘Unfortunately, it’s too late for that.’ There was a hint of disappointment in Ant’s voice. ‘Unless I can get Doctor Bowers to change her mind.’
Maybe that would work. After all, who knew if they didn’t try?
Doctor Bower’s immediate response was: ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t recommend you for duty.’
Not what I was hoping to hear. ‘But I’m making real progress,’ I said convincingly. I could tell the doctor didn’t believe me judging by her dubious expression.
‘Back to the last conversation we had,’ she stated. ‘About seeing cell phone and thinking gun.’
‘I made a mistake,’ I countered. ‘And I’ve admitted to blacking out. Read back the part about being “glitched”. Does that sound stoned to you?’
I observed with wide eyes like a hawk’s as she opened Claire’s cop notebook and read off the names of the psychotic meds Claire had in her cabinet. ‘I think I’ve remained on these meds and stimulants for far too long, and they’re affecting my immune system. Anti-depressants. Anti-anxiety. SSRIs. Maybe I should come off at least one or two of them for a while.’
The doctor raised an eyebrow. ‘Is that for you to decide, Claire? We’ve known each other for a while now.’
‘Yeah, that’s where you’re wrong,’ I protested. ‘Why don’t I just explain to the board that I shot this civilian after almost overdosing on all your overlapping scripts?’
‘Are you trying to be funny, Miss Richards?’ the doctor spat. I hated the hostile tone in her voice.
‘No, actually I’m not,’ I replied sharply, proving by the tone in my own voice that I wasn’t joking.
For once, Doctor Bower was actually taken aback by my equally frosty response.
After having put in more effort than I needed to during that shrink’s appointment with Doctor Bower, I once again found myself attending the reconvened hearing. Back at the precinct, the board reconvened the hearing, which meant only one thing. I’d won that pissing match, much to my delight and satisfaction.
As instructed by the suit, I stated my name for the record as ‘Detective Claire Richards,’ with conviction, as everyone exited the conference room. Claire’s union rep was impressed and complimented me on a job well done. He informed me that they would have a ruling in a couple of days. Surely that had to be good news, right?
Ant came up to me, smiling slightly. ‘Not bad, Richards,’ he said to me as we left the precinct. ‘Not bad.’
When my pink mobile rang later that day, this time it was Alison. I was at the local café with Felix.
‘I need you to come over to Bailey Downs tonight,’ she demanded brusquely. ‘And whatever you do, don’t be late. You are to arrive at nine o’clock prompt. Bring whatever you got from Portia Obinger and use the basement entrance at the back of the house.’ She stopped to glance at her watch. ‘Since you already know where I live, simply punch my address into your GPS,’ she instructed me. ‘Knock quietly so as not to wake the kids.’ She then abruptly hung up.
‘She’s not going to make you drive all the way to Suburbia just for a meeting, is she?’ Felix said in dismay. ‘Who is this Alison, anyway?’
‘You won’t believe me if I tell you,’ I said to him solemnly. ‘But she’s another sister clone. ‘This one’s an uptight housewife.’
‘You are joking.’ Felix’s face dropped.
I sighed. ‘I wish I was.’
As I drove to Alison’s house – located all the way in the middle of Suburbia – I made a fast phone call to Felix. ‘I just thought I’d warn you that this lady is far from welcoming,’ I told him ominously. ‘So therefore I will need you to be my backup. Do you reckon you can do that?’
‘That is the problem, Samantha,’ Felix complained, agitated. ‘I don’t do backup! I don’t even know what backup is!’
I pulled up to Alison’s house at almost exactly nine in the evening. This was where the real conspiracy of events would begin to unfold…