Chapter eight – Going down
I don’t know how I got back.
After finally turning off the computer and leaving the Town Hall, I just wandered around. My feet marched on their own, since my mind was too confused to take control. The image of myself on that video-record was permanently burned into my eyes. The look in my eyes there… it was different. That person was different. Her expression was cold and heartless. Calculating, even.
Had that really been me? The me from before I lost my memory? Could I really be a person with such an evil expression? What in the name of mother plumbob did I do at that house, anyway?
Eventually, I noticed myself heading for Ashley’s cabin in the mountains. I guess the road was so familiar to me by now that it had become a final stop.
That’s right… Ashley didn’t even know about all this. I never got around to telling her.
There she was, tending to her children on her day off as usual. I walked over to the fence and watched her work for a while, until she noticed me. With a bright smile, she turned around and waved.
‘Hello… Cathy. You don’t have work today. What are you… doing here?’
I couldn’t help myself. I entered the garden and walked over to where she was, ready to tell her everything. About my memory loss, the files, Julian, everything.
Before I could even finish my first sentence, though, Ashley cut me off.
‘I already… know that.’
‘You do?’ I said, surprised. ‘How?’
‘Lara told me. I know you’re trying… to find out about your past. You went to the Town Hall to find out yesterday, right? With the Marquet boy.’
‘Oh… yes, we did.’ I completely lost track of time wandering around, but that was yesterday indeed. Where on plumbob did I walk off to before finally ending up here?
‘So… what did you find?’ Ashley asked eagerly. I looked at the ground and sighed.
‘Nothing… there wasn’t any information on who I am. Julian left to chase after a lead… but maybe I should just stop searching,’ I muttered.
‘Are you so down because… you don’t have enough information yet?’
‘No. I just… I just wish I didn’t have to go through all this. It’s so hard to do by myself.’
‘But you’re not by yourself… aren’t you?’ Ashley said. ‘You’ve got… Julian to help you out. And Lara and me are here, too.’
Was she trying to cheer me up? She’d never acted like this before, and the words sounded a bit strange coming from her. But Ashley was right. I wasn’t trying to do this all by myself. From day one, there had been people helping me. First Lara, and then both her and Julian, in their own way. With them supporting me, it would be impossible not to find out the truth… even if it was as bad as that video suggested.
As if that was a sign, the cell phone in my pocket began to buzz. It was a message from Julian.
‘In front of the Town Hall. Twenty minutes.’
‘See? I bet he… figured it out already,’ Ashley said, reading the text over my shoulder. ‘Everything… will be okay.’
‘You’re right,’ I finally smiled. ‘I was getting too worried. Thank you for cheering me up, Ashley.’
‘No problem. I’m a friend, too…’
That simple line made my heart melt. ‘Come here,’ I said, and pulled her into a big hug.
‘It will be fine,’ Ashley muttered. ‘You’ll… see.’
And so I went. Off to the stairs in front of the Town Hall. I was eager to hear what information Julian had found by talking to his family. Or, even if it was nothing at all, I would still be happy to see him. Maybe, after this all was over, we could go on a real date sometime…
It appeared we got there roughly at the same time. Julian was just climbing the stairs when I saw him.
‘Julian! Hé, Julian! Wait!’ I yelled, running after him. He didn’t turn around to greet me, but just walked all the way up and faced the white building in front of him.
‘Julian! It’s me, Cathy,’ I tried again. ‘How did it go?’
He ignored me again. Something was odd… he was acting out of character. Normally he’d turn around right away and greet me before I could even say hello, with that playful sense of humour he had. But now… what was going on?
I found out quickly enough.
Julian finally turned around, and when he did, I could see the hateful expression on his face.
‘You’re lying, aren’t you?’
‘Don’t act like you don’t know what I mean. This is all a scam, isn’t it?’
‘What are you talking about?’ I asked, clueless of what was going on.
‘My folks had some interesting information about you. Very clever, taking out the Moon family and trying to let us take the fall for it.’
What was he talked about? Taking who out? And why was he supposed to take the fall for something?
‘I trusted you, Catherine! I pulled all the strings I had to let you into that file room and this is my thanks?!’ he yelled. ‘You altered the file to put me at the scene!’
‘What? I did not!’ I yelled back, starting to get mad as well. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about!’
‘DON’T LIE TO ME! I’ve seen the recording, too. And the fake documents you added after that. What are you planning, Catherine? If you have any dignity left, you’ll tell me what you’re trying to do!’
‘I DON’T KNOW!’ I screamed. ‘I HAVE NO MEMORY!’
The second I finished yelling, I already regretted it. Julian looked at me with a hurt and betrayed expression in his eyes. It was heart-breaking to look at, and I just couldn’t believe that the reason for that expression somehow was me. What happened?
Please… don’t look at me with such hurt eyes…
‘I can’t believe I trusted you,’ he whispered.
‘Julian, please… I would never lie to you…’
‘I’m done with this.’
It took over ten seconds for those words to be translated in my mind. My eyes widened a fraction and I tried to speak, to convince him I didn’t do anything, but the words got stuck on my lips.
‘No, wait,’ I muttered, but it was already too late. Julian turned around and walked away, without even giving me a second glance. I saw his profile getting smaller and smaller and eventually disappearing around the corner.
‘Don’t leave me…’
Ashley was cleaning up her house when I finally arrived. She still had her lab coat on, meaning she must have been working until a few minutes ago. When she heard the door open, she turned around and greeted me with a smile.
‘Welcome… back. How did it go? Did you figure it out?’
Her happy expression was what pushed me over the edge. Water flooded my eyes and before I knew it, I flung myself into her arms, sobbing and crying like a child.
‘He… he left me,’ I finally wept, barely understandable because of the crying. ‘He yelled at me and he said he didn’t trust me anymore and he left me!’
‘Easy, easy,’ Ashley muttered, putting her arms around me in a nervous attempt to comfort me. ‘What… happened?’
‘I don’t… I don’t even know,’ I sobbed. ‘What did I do to deserve this, Ashley?’
‘You didn’t… do anything,’ Ashley said. She put her hands on my arms and slowly pulled me back up, until I was facing her again.
‘I’m sure we can… work this out,’ she continued. ‘Just tell me… exactly what happened.’
A small smile almost appeared on my face. Now look who was doing the commanding. But the hate in Julian’s eyes was still fresh on my memory and made new tears fall.
‘Okay… I’ll try.’
I took a deep breath and started to talk. From the moment I saw his back going up the stairs in front of the Town Hall until the moment he finally walked away from me again. I repeated every word, every sentence that was said in those eight minutes. Ashley listened, quietly, not daring to interrupt me for I might have another crying fit.
Looking back on it now, I realised I was way more upset than I should have been… Why was I hurting over it so much? Why was it that when I remembered Julian’s face when he said “I’m done”, it hurt like a knife being jammed into my chest?
‘I don’t understand it,’ I finally concluded. ‘I didn’t do anything. I don’t understand why he is so mad at me…’
‘I… can’t answer that either,’ Ashley said, shaking her head. The loose knot she decided to keep as her new hairstyle danced on her shoulder. ‘But you did say that was talking about… putting blame on his family, right?’
‘Well… that’s not hard to imagine,’ Ashley said, after thinking it over for a bit. She guided me over to the table, sat next to me and grabbed a piece of paper and some pencils. I was still devastated, but also a bit curious. Ashley pulled the lid off a black pencil and started to scribble, after which she shoved the paper to me.
‘We have three… main families in Bridgeport and the… smaller villages around it,’ she explained nervously. ‘They’re called… Foxworth, Marquet and Moon. We’ll call them A, B and C.’
Ashley wrote the letters down, circling them neatly. She sounded a bit like a kindergarten teacher, explaining to me. I looked at her with a surprised expression. I had no idea Ashley was into politics… or that she even knew the powerful people in town. This was a new discovery.
‘The Foxworths are the… most powerful of the three,’ Ashley continued, while drawing a yellow star atop of the A. I watched with interest. ‘After that come the Moons,’ (she gave them a red circle) ‘and then the Marquet family.’
‘I see… what does that have to do with things, though?’ I asked. Ashley grabbed the pencil again.
‘You said that Julian said something about… putting the blame on his family,’ she explained while drawing. ‘Now just imagine… politics in Bridgeport are harsh. If the police looked into Bryce’s murder… they would probably think the Marquets tried to get rid of him to get more power.’
‘But think of this… possibility. What if the Foxworths did something… shameful? Bryce could have noticed it when he was working…’
‘And the best option for Foxworth would be to get rid of him completely,’ I nodded, grabbing a pencil myself. I put a cross through the circled C. ‘Then no one could tell whatever secret they have.’
‘Yes,’ said Ashley. ‘But that alone would be too… dangerous. They would need to keep themselves from being suspects…’
‘And so they somehow tried to put the blame on Julian and his family,’ I said, finishing her sentence. ‘That way, when the police arrested Julian’s family, both them and the Moons would be gone and they’d be the only ones left with power. But how did they do that?’
‘This is just my speculation,’ Ashley said in a serious tone. ‘But they would need someone that knows the Moon family and answers to the Foxworths at the same time. Someone that’s not suspicious… someone like…’
Before she could finish her sentence, the doorbell rang. We both looked at each other.
‘Did you invite someone?’
‘No. Did you?’
I shook my head, and got up from the chair. Ashley followed behind me, nervous as she always was around strangers. I decided to put the memory loss matter at a hold for now… it couldn’t get any worse than it was now, anyway.
Boy, was I wrong.
‘You’re under arrest for the murder of Bryce Moon.’