Obscura – Chapter 4
Chapter 4: Last Train to Clarksville
Max was sitting on the passenger’s seat of Victoria’s BMW, when her roommate was speeding through the streets of Seattle the best she could. Her head was still throbbing from the hangover. Luckily, her stomach wasn’t upset, so she could handle Victoria’s driving.
“Easy now, Vic! I’d like to get there in one piece,” Max said to the blonde behind the wheel.
“Zip it, Caulfield!” Victoria raised her index finger angrily. “If I keep this pace, then only one of us will be late!”
They were rushing through Denny Way, towards the corner of 1st Avenue and Stewart Street, where Max’s internship was.
The La Vida was a relatively young lifestyle magazine, which had begun to gain popularity throughout the Northwestern USA with its timely and trend-setting articles. The popularity of the La Vida was not the least due to their lead photographer, Julia Bennett, who had won the National Photography Award two times in a row in 2010 and 2011 and who had held several acclaimed exhibitions. Julia was also one of the founding members of the La Vida. And Max was her personal assistant.
Julia had been a guest lecturer at the Seattle University on Max’s freshman year. Max had always admired her work and had stayed after the lecture hoping to exchange a few words with her idol. Max had been surprised, when Julia had all of a sudden come to her.
“Maxine Caulfield, I am Julia Bennett,” she had introduced herself.
“Y- you know my name? – And it’s Max,” Max had stammered.
“Max, I saw your entry to the Everyday Heroes contest,” Julia had said. “You really have an artistic eye.”
“It’s an honor to meet you Ms. Bennett,” Max said. “I just love your work.”
“Please, call me Julia.”
It had taken a long time for Max to believe that it had actually happened, when Julia had given her card and told Max to be in touch, when her internship period was due.
Max had now been working as Julia Bennett’s assistant for little over two months and it certainly had been different compared to the regular student life. Julia was very demanding and somewhat moody but she was fair and gave credit, when credit was due.
Well, I won’t be getting any patting on the back this morning, Max thought, when Victoria turned on Stewart.
“So what was that guy with the suit all about?” Victoria asked as she barely missed a parked delivery van.
“I’m not sure,” Max said. “He was staring at my truck, when I arrived. When I asked, if I could be of help, he first told how cool my truck and the plates were and then all of a sudden went speechless and disoriented, like he didn’t know where he was.” Max shrugged her shoulders. “Go figure.”
“There are all kinds of nut jobs out there these days,” Victoria remarked.
“Yeah,” Max agreed. “I don’t know. There was something about his posture and how he talked, like…” she thought out loud. “Naah!” she shook her head at the thought.
“Okay, we’re here!” Victoria parked in front of a tall office building. “Now, get your ass and gear out of my car, otherwise I’ll be late too!”
Max stepped out of the car and took the tripod and her camera bag from the trunk. “Lunch today?” she asked from her roommate.
“Sure, I’ll text you,” Victoria answered and revved away.
Max rushed to the elevator and picked her floor. Come on, move faster! She thought as the elevator slowly went upwards.
The elevator chimed and the doors slid open. Max stepped into the lobby space of the editorial office of the La Vida magazine.
“Morning, Max. Julia’s been looking for you,” the lady at the desk said to her.
“Thanks!” Max responded as she paced hastily to her desk.
“Maxine Caulfield, you’re late!” A stern voice startled her as she was putting her bag on the desk.
Max turned to see Julia Bennett standing behind her with crossed arms and a stern look on her face. Julia would only use Max’s full name, when she was disappointed at her.
“Sorry, I had car trouble.” A little white lie but a plausible one. “I’m sorry, it won’t happen again, “Max said apologetically. Sometimes I really wish that I still had my rewinding powers.
“Better not to,” Julia said. “You can thank your Irish luck, as Ben Marney just called and said that he can’t make it until ten.” Julia referred to the famous decorator, who had been scheduled for a photo session at 8:30 and who had a reputation of expecting everything to be ready for him when he arrived. La Vida was doing a feature on Ben Marney and the photos were needed for the article.
“You know you really should get rid of that rust bucket of yours and get a modern, environmentally sound car,” Julia said in a more relaxed tone, accompanied with a hint of smile.
“Yeah, probably,” Max admitted. This wasn’t the first time they’d had this conversation and Max wasn’t really in the mood to start to defend the sentimental value of her truck.
“Okay, we have just enough time to go through the setup for the session, before Ben arrives,” Julia said. “Come to my office.”
Max followed Julia to her office. On their way, Max took a moment to observe her boss. Julia Bennett was in her mid thirties, although she could’ve easily passed for twenty-five. In the office she always wore straight wool and cotton blend pants, a silk blouse and a jacket. Simple and stylish. She was determined and quick-witted. According to office gossip, Julia had the final say on the monthly issue, rather than Jim Thompson, who was the editor-in-chief of La Vida.
Max didn’t really care about the behind the scenes politics. She was glad to be the assistant of a renowned photographer from whom she could learn a lot and it would certainly look good in her resume.
John Korhonen was filling a travel request form. He planned to fly to Salem, Oregon this evening and visit the Oregon State Penitentiary the following day before returning to home. He wanted to question Mark Jefferson, if he had an idea who might possibly be copycatting him.
On the other side of the room, Stacy Kowalski was going through what they had on Mark Jefferson. Born in Arcadia Bay, graduated from the Academy of Arts in Chicago, became recognized in the 90’s, published one book, accepted teacher’s position at Blackwell Academy…
There was one interesting fact, though. Mark Jefferson had lived in Seattle from the late 90’s to mid 2000’s. He had been doing mostly freelance work as an entrepreneur. Jefferson had had an assistant, Joseph Adams, a photography student at the Seattle University. What was also interesting that around the same time as Jefferson had moved away from Seattle, Joseph Adams had vanished from the face of the Earth. There were absolutely no records of him anywhere after 2005.
“Finn, take a look at this!” Stacy asked her partner to come over.
Korhonen walked to Kowalski’s desk and looked at the document. The document included a photo of Adams in his early 20’s.
“What do you think?” Stacy asked. “Could he have been Jefferson’s victim?”
“That’s one possibility,” Finn answered. “Or we could be looking at our copycat, or even both.”
“If he’s still alive, he seems to have gone completely under the radar,” Kowalski remarked.
“I’ll ask Jefferson tomorrow, when I question him,” Finn said.
“Should we interview those two women, before your flight leaves?” Stacy asked.
“We should,” Finn answered. “They seem to be living in the same address, so let’s call one of them and ask if they both could come here.”
The photo session with Ben Marney had just ended and Max was cleaning up the room. Marney had actually arrived even later than he had originally said, so Julia had had to reschedule another session to another day, which left the whole afternoon open. She had given Max the rest of the day off so that she could get her truck sorted out. After she was done cleaning, she was free.
As Max was putting the last items away, her phone chirped.
Victoria: Yo, Maximus! U free?
Max: Just about. U hungry?
Victoria: Change of plans. We need to go to the East Precinct. Seattle’s finest want to ask some questions.
Max: What about?
Victoria: No clue. Pick you up in 20?
Max walked back to her desk, wondering what the police might want to ask from them. Max hadn’t been involved with the police since Chloe’s shooting. She and Victoria had also been called in because of the empty files that Mark Jefferson had prepared of them. Max remembered Victoria being quite devastated after the truth about Jefferson came out. Her experience of the matter had of course been more first hand, not that she would ever be able to tell it to anyone.
Max packed her stuff and got dressed. She made a quick stop at Julia’s door.
“I’m leaving for today. I need to go to visit the police station,” she said to Julia.
“Has something happened?” Julia asked.
“No, they just want to ask some questions,” Max assured her.
“Ok, see you on Monday, then!”
Max and Victoria stepped inside the East Precinct building and went to the info desk.
“Hi, where could we find detective Korr-hou-nenn?” Victoria tried to pronounce the strange sounding name.
“Oh, Finn?” the clerk said. “Just a second, I’ll call him. You can wait for him over there.” He pointed at a bench.
They had barely sat down, when a man in his late fifties came to them.
“Ms. Caulfield and Chase?” he greeted them. “I am Detective Sergeant John Korhonen. Was it you I talked with on the phone?” He looked at Victoria.
“Yes, I’m Victoria Chase,” Victoria answered. “This is my roommate Max Caulfield.”
“That’s an interesting name you have, detective,” Max said to Finn.
“Yes, I’m of Finnish ancestry,” Finn said. “My great-grandfather immigrated here in the late 1800’s. Unlike many other Finnish immigrants, he chose to stick with his family name. – But if you’ll follow me…” He led them in through the door.
They walked into a room, where there was a small table and four chairs. A woman was sitting on one of the chairs. She rose to greet them.
“Hello, I’m Detective Stacy Kowalski. Please, have a seat,” she said and smiled. “Do you want something to drink? Coffee, water?”
“We’re fine, thanks,” Max and Victoria said almost simultaneously.
Everyone sat down. Kowalski turned a clean page on a notepad and took a pen. Finn cleared his throat.
“The reason, we called you in, is that you both were targeted victims of Mark Jefferson four years ago in Arcadia Bay.” Finn paused for a moment to see both of the women nodding in consent. “Can you tell in your own words, what you recall of the incident?”
Max and Victoria turned to face each other briefly, before Victoria turned to face the two officers.
“I really have not much to tell,” Victoria started. “Next day from the shooting, the police came to arrest Mark Jefferson. I was surprised and I couldn’t understand why they would come to arrest him. Later, rumors started spreading that he’d been working together with Nathan to drug and photograph those girls.” Victoria let out a deep breath. “Next week, Max and I were called in and they showed us the empty files with our names on them. It was a terrifying thought that we could’ve been his next victims.”
“I’m sure it was,” Finn said. “Luckily, they were caught before that. – What about you Ms. Caulfield?”
Max also let out a deep breath. “You probably know that I was in the girls’ restroom, when Nathan Prescott shot Chloe Price, right?” she paused. “Chloe was my childhood friend, who I had not seen in five years and we never got a chance to reconnect before-, before she was killed.” Max closed her eyes and Victoria put her hand on Max’s shoulder.
“I was there to see, when Mr. Madsen, the security guard apprehended Nathan. Otherwise, it pretty much went the same way as Victoria described.” Except that it didn’t. Both Victoria and I were caught and tied up. Victoria ended up dead and I almost did too.
“Why are digging into this old case after all these years? Victoria asked.
“Because-,” Finn started. “-a young woman’s body was discovered in an alley, near the campus area, and the M.O. appears to match Jefferson’s.”
Max gasped. “Are you saying that Jefferson is on the loose?”
“No, he is safely in the Oregon State Pen,” Finn assured. “We’re suspecting a copycat, possibly someone from the time Jefferson knew, when he was living in Seattle.”
“Did Jefferson ever talk about his time here?” Kowalski asked.
“Nothing specific,” Victoria answered.
“Not that I recall, no,” Max said. Except that he dealt with enough punk girls in his Seattle days, she thought.
“All right,” Finn said. “If you could take a look at these pictures, in case you might be able to recognize the victim.” He passed two photos, a face shot of the dead girl and the one that was found from the scene.
“I think I may have seen her in the image processing classes,” Victoria said, when she had taken a look at the face shot. “I think her name is Gwen Purdeau.”
Max had taken the other picture that was showing the victim drugged and tied up. Cold sweat rose on her forehead as the memories of herself lying on the floor, drugged and tied up while Jefferson was taking pictures of her, came back. She felt how her heart started pounding as she remembered how Jefferson in turn had taunted and raged at her. Then the unexpected happened, as the picture in her hands began to pulsate and she started to hear ambient sounds.
Max’s face went completely pale and her stomach turned upside down. She dropped the picture and dashed up. “Excuse me, I need to…”
“Down the corridor, second door on the left,” Kowalski said when she saw what was happening. Max rushed out of the room, covering her mouth with her palm.
Max barely made it to the restroom before all the contents of her stomach came out. She was leaning over the restroom sink, gagging and panting, when Victoria arrived.
“Max, what happened? Are you all right?” Victoria put her hands on her friend’s shoulders.
Max turned to look at Victoria with watery eyes. She has the right to know, doesn’t she?
“Look, I need to tell you something about the day Chloe was shot and what happened after but it’ll have to wait until we get home,” Max said with a quiet voice.
“Oh, okay,” Victoria said slightly bemused but did not ask any more.
Victoria helped Max to freshen up her appearance and accompanied her back to the room, where Kowalski and Korhonen were waiting.
“I’m so sorry,” Max apologized for her sudden pullout. “I suppose I still haven’t got over my friend’s death. The photo brought back some unpleasant memories.”
“That’s all right,” Finn said. “I know that these photos can be unpleasant to view sometimes.”
“I hope you don’t mind me asking but can you tell us your whereabouts from last evening?” Finn raised his eyebrow in surprise, when he heard Kowalski ask the question. “It’s standard procedure,” Kowalski added.
“Oh, not at all,” Victoria said. “I was on a date and returned around eleven. Max was already sleeping, when I got home.”
“And you Ms. Caulfield?”
“I was home for the whole evening,” Max answered.
“And no one can confirm that?”
“Well, no. I texted with my mother at some point but I was alone until Victoria returned.”
“Very well,” Kowalski said, closing her notebook, after she had written down the phone number of Victoria’s date. “I think we’re done for now.”
“Here are our cards, in case you remember something,” Finn said and passed his and Kowalski’s card. “Thank you, ladies! I’ll see you out.”
Finn walked Max and Victoria to the front door and they stepped outside.
“Now, can you please tell me what that was all about?” Victoria said sternly. “I’ve never seen you freak out like that!”
“I will, but in the evening, when we’re home,” Max assured her friend.
“Very well,” Victoria settled. “I need to go back to the office. I’ll be home in a couple of hours.”
“I’ll take the bus home,” Max said.
“Later, then,” Victoria said and walked to her car.
Chloe was inside the apartment, when Max came home. She watched her friend to put her jacket and handbag away and walk to the living room window.
Chloe observed Max as the small brunette was gazing out the window. In the last few years, Max had developed into a beautiful young woman. She had let her hair grow slightly so that it landed on her shoulders. Max still dressed like a hipster but maybe slightly more grown up. She was still pretty natural, when it came to using make up, but she really didn’t need it. She looked just about perfect.
Well, I guess I should get it over with, she thought as she closed Max. It was hella amazing knowing you, Maximus.
Chloe phased into Max’s body and got control of it. Chloe had done this hundreds of times before but now, when she was in Max, she raised her hand and looked at the back of her palm, like it was the first time.
Chloe walked slowly in front of a mirror and saw Max reflecting from it. She touched Max’s cheek with her hand. For some reason, she felt like she was at some level connected to Max, to her soul and emotions. She could feel the hurting and grieve that the small brunette was going through.
“Oh Max,” Chloe said out loud. “I wish could’ve been there for you.”
She stepped away from the mirror and walked to the shelf, where the photo album was. She opened the album and took the picture of the butterfly in her hands. She held it but she wasn’t able to tear it into pieces.
“No! You deserve closure, and so do I!” Chloe said out loud.
She put the picture back in the album and put the album back. She then walked back to the window and left Max’s body.
The small brunette stood slightly bemused, like she had drifted away with her thoughts and suddenly woken.
Chloe watched Max, as she walked to the kitchen and wrote a note which she left on the kitchen desk. Max then put her jacket on, took her handbag and walked out of the door.
Chloe didn’t follow her. She had other plans.
“I called the girls’ dormitory at the campus,” Stacy Kowalski said. “Gwen Purdeau hasn’t been seen since the night before yesterday. The picture matches our victim.”
“Well, at least she’s no longer a Jane Doe,” John Korhonen remarked.
“When’s your flight departing?” Stacy asked Finn.
“In three hours,” Finn answered.
“I can drop you off if you want to,” Stacy offered. “I’ll be working late so I thought I’d grab something to eat.”
“Sure, thanks,” Finn said. “One thing, though. Why’d you ask the women about their whereabouts? Do you think that one of them might be behind this?”
“Probably not,” Kowalski answered. “There was just something about Max Caulfield’s sudden reaction to the picture.”
“What do you mean?” Finn asked.
“I have no firsthand experience but Max Caulfield’s reaction was a textbook example of PTSD,” Stacy answered. “I’m pretty sure she isn’t the murderer but she’s definitely not telling all she knows about the Jefferson case.”
“Well, try to see if you can find something,” Finn said. “Shall we?”
“Sure, let me grab my keys.”
Victoria opened the door to their apartment.
“Max, I’m home!” Victoria shouted but no one answered. She walked into the kitchen and found a note on the desk.
Went to get groceries, be back soon. -M, read on the note.
Victoria put the note back on the table and walked into her room. She had had a hard time concentrating to work because of what Max had said. What could she possibly have on her mind about the Chloe’s shooting and the following events that she needed to tell after all these years?
“Hello, Victoria,” a woman’s voice behind her back startled her.
“You.” Victoria turned to look at Chloe’s spirit, who was standing in the corner.
“Let’s talk bidness.”
Previous chapter: https://lifeisstrangefans.com/obscura-chapter-3/
Next chapter: To be published…