We were on the road when Louisa asked if we should stop in Baltimore. I knew this was coming, we had talked about it before, and I told her then I didn’t care to stop. She was determined to change my mind and brought it up again as we were driving down i95.
“It just seems wrong to drive through.” She says.
“There’s nothing there for me anymore. I’ve moved on from my old life.” I tell her.
Washington, DC is only an hour and a half further than Baltimore, so it made sense to me that we drive through Baltimore and continue on to Washington.
Louisa was persistent. “Well even if you have moved on, we might still want to talk to whoever became you. Isn’t our plan to talk to as many victims of the Inn as possible?”
She was curious, and I can understand that. She’s been trying to get me to open up about my past life for days as we spent time on the road. I’ve been side stepping her questions, not because I am trying to be mysterious or keep a secret; it’s just too hard to talk about my past.
“There’s nothing new to learn!” I say forcibly. “Don’t you think I had already made contact with whoever took over my life?” I snapped at her and I instantly regretted it; I always worry I come off as the petulant teenager when I have angry outbursts.
A couple of hours later fate conspired against me. Between the need for gas, a bathroom and dinner, we had to stop in Baltimore.
“How about pasta?” I ask Louisa, “I know a restaurant in Little Italy if it is still in business...”
She gives me a sideways glance. “If it is still in business… so you haven’t been here in a while?”
I groan, realizing she wasn’t going to give up trying to dig into my past. I decided to come clean.
“Alright, I give. Let’s stay in Baltimore tonight, and tomorrow I’ll take you to see the old me.”
We decide to put the trip to Little Italy off until the following day and get right to a hotel; we were both looking forward to a shower.
The next morning Louisa was excited about meeting the old me. We had found a little café near the hotel for dinner the night before, and we were revisiting it for breakfast. Louisa was having coffee and a blueberry muffin; I decided to get a short stack of pancakes.
“So after all these years, is the idea of meeting yourself still strange?”
“You are going to be so disappointed.” I said taking a bite of pancake. “I thought I was doing the smart thing by showing you rather than telling you, but now that I’ve had a shower and a good night’s sleep, I’m beginning to have second thoughts.”
“Oh, you can’t change your mind now.” She says.
“I doubt you would quit digging if I don’t do this.”
“So are we going over right after breakfast?” She asks.
“I just want to stop at a florist first. I’d like to get some flowers.”
30 minutes later I parked the car near the main gate of cemetery.
Louisa is smart, she figured out why we were there quickly. “The person who became you is dead?” She was shocked.
I nodded. It had been over seven years since my old life came to an end but it still hurt like hell. My throat was tight as I fought back tears.
We get out of the car and I walk through the cemetery, heading toward a particular grave. Louisa quietly walked beside me.
“So you know I was a Police Detective on a missing person’s case when I stayed at the Trading Post Inn.”
Louisa nods. “You were looking for a man who was tricked by his wife into staying at the Inn and became a young woman.”
“Yeah, he became Stormy Myers, a stripper. Also his wife rigged it so someone of her choosing became her husband. Because of this I realized very quickly that the Inn could be manipulated, and if you set things up just right, you could get your life back.”
“Okay.” She said, following my thinking.
“Unfortunately, I was a ten year old girl. I had very limited resources before I convinced my mom I wasn’t who she thought I was. Worse, a 30 year old accountant named Bill Danvers took over my life. Everyone who goes through the curse has an adjustment period, but Bill Danvers…”
We had reached the grave and stood in silence for a moment. I laid the flowers I brought on the grave.
“Bill Danvers,” I continued, “Was thrilled to be a Police Detective. We exchanged several letters. In his letters he went on and on about how exciting it was to live my life. I guess the grass is always greener; I always thought real detective work wasn’t like anything in movies or television. I always thought real detective work took lots of patience.”
I pulled a few weeds from the ground and tossed them aside.
“Bill kept promising me he was going to make arrangements with the Inn, but he kept coming up with excuses for not getting it done. In my letters to him, I stressed that my work was dangerous, that it wasn’t a game; but he wouldn’t listen.”
I turned and looked Louisa in the eyes. I wanted her to understand how important my next words were.
“It wasn’t just my life he was playing with. I had a partner; he and the rest of my squad counted on me to know my job and have their backs. Bill didn’t understand that. One day he and my partner Mike were doing a standard door to door canvas of a neighborhood, interviewing people, looking for possible witness to a homicide that happened in a nearby park. Something went horribly wrong and both Bill and Mike ended up dead. I only know the details that were in the paper, but I can imagine what really happened; Bill didn’t have the training, the knowledge it took to do my job. It got them killed.”
“I’m so sorry Jessica.” Louisa tells me.
“It was a long time ago.”
“Thanks for sharing this with me.” She read the tombstone. “Conrad Mancini. That’s a nice name.”
The epitaph on the tombstone read “Friend, Brother, Police Officer and a man we could count on.” It made me sick to think that Bill Danvers made that not true.