“Good morning. Coffee?” David offered as we prepared for our visit to Twinbrook Retirement Community.
“Yes, please” I gladly accepted one of the two cups of the steaming drink. It was my idea to visit Ailene, but now that the visit was happening, I felt super jittery about it. A sugary energy boost was most welcome.
“I’ve checked out their website – it says visitors are welcome at any time. And generally, older people tend to make up earlier. I think we won’t be intruding if we go there around 10 am. Besides, I think we’ll need to ask the staff where to find Aileen, right? Unless Roman told you which room is hers as well. Did he?”
“No, just the address of the building, but we’ll find her when we get there…” I began to reason when a thought occurred to me, making me frown.
David noticed. “What’s wrong?”
“I’ve just realized that I have no idea what Aileen looks like right now. I’ve seen a couple of old family photos of her from the time when she was married to my grandfather, but that was years ago and I don’t even really remember what she looked like young. I literally will need to be told which one she is, because I won’t recognize her,” I explained.
“I see,” David nodded. “Well then, we really should hope their staff can point us in the right direction.”
“I thought we decided I’d be the only one to go in?” I asked. I thought it would be less suspicious to Aileen if only one person came to visit her. Besides, we still didn’t know if she was connected to the events happening to David’s family. “I don’t want her to feel like we’re trying to intimidate her. And a one unfamiliar woman seems less threatening than two people coming in to see her.”
“I suppose that makes sense. I’ll wait downstairs for you then. But keep your phone on yourself, just in case,” he agreed.
“Will do. By the way, did you hear back from the police station about anything?”
“Not yet. But we left the station pretty late last night, I don’t know if they’ve had enough time to check everything out. Their plate looks pretty full these days.”
“Agreed. Well, it’s past 9. We should go, right?” I put away my finished drink and readied myself for the trip. Today was going to be busy, indeed.
Finding the retirement home proved to be an easy task – it was located in a good part of town and the place looked more like someone’s mansion than a nursing home. It looked like a very pricey place to spend the twilight years. Whoever was paying for Aileen to live here certainly wasn’t sparing any expenses for her.
David must’ve thought the same, since he let out a low whistle. “That’s a pretty upscale place, I’d say. I wonder how an abandoned ex-wife has enough money to pay for a stay here.”
“I guess she could be our culprit after all,” I warned him quietly. A good hacking ability could certainly bring in a significant income. And Aileen did have a history of questionable activities in the past…
“Are you sure you don’t want me to go see her with you?” David asked once more.
“I’m sure. We don’t know for sure if she is involved yet. It’s better if she doesn’t see you yet,” I reasoned with him, which he reluctantly accepted.
Parking on the curb, we entered the building which, despite the undeniable grandeur, looked the way one would expect a retirement home to look. The wallpaper, the carpet, the sofas and armchairs… everything was very “elderly”. A few old men and women could be seen in the large living room, watching a soap opera without really paying attention. Another old man seemed to be staring into space.
To be fair, despite the outward grandeur, the place seemed quite depressing. The residents present didn’t seem happy or unhappy. To be honest, they didn’t seem to really care about anything anymore, or to know what was going on.
Inwardly, I thanked whatever deity was looking over the world for my parents’ sharp state of mind and for their never-ending energy. I knew they won’t be around forever, but I was glad that they were doing so much better than these people in was seeing here.
“Is everything ok?” David asked, noting my concern.
“Yeah, it’s just this place,” I admitted.
“It gets to a person, doesn’t it?” he agreed.
“How do we find Aileen?” I wondered.
At that moment, a younger woman entered the room. “Hi! Can I help you with anything?”
“Yes, actually,” I turned to her, while David took a seat in one of the sofas, “Would it be possible for me to speak with one of your residents? I’m working customer support for Twinbrook Central Pharmacy and we’re checking up on our long-time customers, to see if they like our service, if their medications arrive on time, this kind of thing. I’m supposed to speak to her and have her sign a form where she verifies that I actually talked to her, instead of just saying I did.”
The lie about the survey form came pretty easily to me – all that time working with papers at Collier Enterprises must’ve rubbed off on me. Now the worker just had to believe it.
She frowned “Well, today is not really a good day for that – as you can see, most of our residents are out on a field trip to the beach. We generally provide nature and shopping excursions several times a month. Most of the residents who are still in good health are out today. The ones you see here today are the ones who didn’t feel well-enough for a trip.”
My face fell. “I see. So, I guess Aileen Johnson is out today?”
“Aileen?” the lady, whose nametag read “Holly” looked surprised. “Of course she’s here. She never goes on these trips. For the same reason as them,” she nodded at the present residents. “I don’t know whether she’ll be able to answer your survey. She might, she might not.”
“What do you mean?” I asked for clarification.
“Alzheimer’s disease. An acute case of it. Most days, she barely recognizes the staff. Her niece pays for her stay here, since she never had her own children, and the girl visits her often enough, but I don’t know if she even recognizes her half of the time. It’s quite sad really. But she is in room 23, if you want to see her. She might be sharp enough today, after all. ”
“Thank you,” I mumbled and headed up the stairs. The place really did seem dedicated to making its residents’ lives comfortable. There were books, music players, chess sets, easels, and other hobby-related paraphernalia all over the place. Aileen’s room was right in the center of the hallway.
I knocked to no response. To my surprise, when I tried it, the door was unlocked. But since this was a good neighborhood, I supposed there would be no need for heightened security. And it was safer if the door was open, in case of an emergency.
Despite my previous idea, I did recognize Aileen, but barely. She did not age well and she looked even more unfocused than the guy downstairs. She was resting in bed, and she looked very frail. It was actually hard to believe that this was the same person who caused my mother’s family so much trouble.
“Hello?” I called out tentatively. No response. I suspected she didn’t even hear me. “Hello? Aileen Johnson?”
She turned to look at me this time around, smiling to herself. Perhaps she could talk to me after all…
“Celeste? Is that you?” her frail voice asked.
I stopped in my tracks: she called me by my mother’s name! She thought I was Mom! It wasn’t completely unreasonable – we did look alike enough, but still…
“I know it was you who put dirt in my shoes yesterday. Did you think I wouldn’t know? You really need to start acting your age, girl,” she continued.
And her mind was seemingly still in the past… there was no way this woman could have committed a huge server hack. And I doubted she’d be able to help me out much with any information. Perhaps we were following the wrong trail, after all.
“Celeste, why aren’t you talking to me? Are you angry at me?” she asked. “I know you’re angry at me. Well, of course you are. You miss your mom. I can’t replace your mom. You don’t even let me try.”
This sounded pretty accurate to what really happened in Mom’s family. I recalled her reminiscing about how she and Aileen had disagreements up until Mom moved away.
“Never accepted me as one of their own. At least I got enough money from that old fool, Brandon. Held me over for a while, until I found something better,” she continued.
Seeing someone who reminded her of Mom seemed to have set off a chain of memories in her head.
“Those dogs… they set off such a ruckus in there. Had to drug them to shut them up. They were certainly guarding their property. Ha! Not well enough…”
This got my attention. Our dogs were drugged on the night that Dad’s garden was destroyed and his research stolen. Was she the one responsible? But then, why was there information about this in Lionel Collier’s server?
“…knew I should’ve kept what I had to myself, but no, I wanted more money. And he never paid up. Said, he could put me in jail for breaking and entering if I made more demands… should’ve kept the plants and the research to myself. Stupid Aileen… so very stupid…”
Aileen was the one who robbed us all those years ago, I realized. And while the details were as clear as they would get, it seemed like she got cheated out of big money by Lionel.
She had the motive to be going after the Colliers, after all. But did she have the ability?
After drifting off once more, Aileen was again starring into space, my presence in the room completely ignored. It didn’t seem like she would say anything else.
It also didn’t seem like she had enough wit about her to be able to hack into a heavily-protected computer, no matter how much motive she had to do so.
Perhaps I could stay until she started talking again?
My phone went off with a message from David. “Get out of there, her niece is coming up to her room!”
I completely forgot the woman’s niece! Of course, she’d choose to come here today, when I was trying to pull out information from Aileen. Murphy’s Law!
I didn’t have time to get out of the room before I heard the door open. As fast as I could, I ran into the bathroom, hoping that they wouldn’t need to use it while I was hiding out. As soon as the door was shut behind me, I heard another woman enter the room.
“Good afternoon, auntie, how are you doing today? I brought some tangerines for you! And those chocolates you love so much!” I heard her say.
“Hi, sweetie! Thank you. They are so delicious!” Aileen responded, once again alert.
“Do you know who I am?” the female asked.
“Marilyn, sweetie, of course I know who you are,” Aileen sounded happy. I figured her niece was one of the few people who still got a reaction from her.
“That’s wonderful! You’re doing very well today. The last time I visited, you thought I was grandma,” the woman seemed sad about this.
“You look so much like your grandma, dear. You have her eyes and her hair. She would’ve been so happy to see you born, sweetie,” Aileen continued fondly.
“She did, aunt Aileen, she did. She lived till I was 12, remember?” Marilyn reminded her aunt patiently.
“She did? That’s wonderful. So, how was your day? Did you get married yet? You should get married while you’re still young and pretty. It is much more difficult when you are older,” Aileen advised.
Marilyn laughed. “Not quite yet, auntie, not quite yet. But we will eventually. You know Sam, he always keeps his word. Just like I do, auntie.”
“That man who wronged you, he finally got what he deserved,” Marilyn whispered so quietly that I had to press my ear to the wall to hear her.
“Who did?” Aileen asked her niece.
“Lionel Collier. He is exactly where he should be- dead. And the whole world knows what a scumbag he was.” Marilyn paused before added “You’ve taught me well, you know. They all think that stupid bitch of his did it, too. There isn’t anything that can point the investigation to me.”
I regretted not choosing to record this conversation, but I could barely make out Marilyn’s words out and I knew my phone’s recorder wouldn’t have caught them either. But I now knew who was responsible for Lionel’s death. Too bad I didn’t know what she looked like. But at this moment, my biggest concern was getting out of the room without the woman in the next room finding out about my presence.
“But you don’t need to concern yourself about this any longer. Just rest now. Do you need anything? A bath perhaps? Or a makeover?” Marilyn asked.
“Oh no! The nice nurse gave me a bath earlier. And she gave me some of her eyeshadow! See?” Aileen enthused.
“Yes, it is very pretty on you,” agreed Marilyn.
“And the bath is occupied anyways. Celeste is there!” Aileen finished, making my heart catch in my throat.
“Oh, I see. Is she alone today or with Roger? Well never mind, if you see grandma or grandpa, tell them hi. I’ll visit you in a couple of days, ok?” Marilyn dismissed her aunt’s talk, making me think it wasn’t the first time that Aileen “saw” someone from her past here.
“Take care, dear. And tell that Sam of yours that he should hurry and put a ring on it before you leave him for someone who does,” Aileen called after her niece, before the later left. Soon afterwards, I head unmistakable loud snores coming from the direction of Aileen’s bed. It was safe to leave my hiding space.
Descending down the stairs on legs that seemed to be filled with lead after hiding out scared for the duration of Marilyn’s visit, I mused over this whole situation. I knew who the culprit was, but I had no proof of it. Nor did I know how the crime was accomplished, since Marilyn didn’t mention it.
“Irene, there you are! Are you ok? She didn’t catch you in there, did she? Please tell me she didn’t,” David rushed to me, pulling me into a bear hug.
“Calm down, it is fine! She didn’t see me. Why are you so shaken? What happened?” I calmed him down while taking in his worried appearance.
“You are not going to believe this,” he sighed, starting to explain what happened while I was gone.
Since we agreed it would be best for me not to see Aileen with her, as soon as she went upstairs, since I didn’t need a cigarette yet, I sat down in the common room with the residents and tried to pass the time surfing the web on my phone. I was trying to look up information about that detective guy that my mother was duped by, but I wasn’t finding anything. There was no information about a Detective Beau Henderson at all. Whoever set this whole thing up had their head in the game.
Just as I was about to give up and try watching some of the TV show playing, I got a call from the number I recognized as belonging to Twinbrook PD. Not wanting to bother the elderly residents with my conversation, I headed outside to their pool are to speak with the detective.
“Hello, David Collier speaking,” I picked answered the phone.
“Hello, David. This is Deputy Rosswell from Twinbrook PD. Are you free to talk right now? I have some information for you,” the older man’s familiar voice informed me.
“I can talk right now. Did you make any breakthroughs?” I felt a surge of excitement.
“Yes and no. We asked one of the local computer geniuses to scour the web for a detective Beau Henderson. It wasn’t an easy job, but it looks like your mother wasn’t lying about his existence. Or rather about her belief in his existence. She really shouldn’t have done business with the guy without ever meeting him, you know,” the deputy scolded.
“So, who was it?” I urged.
“Well, whoever she was in contact with, it wasn’t the guy in the photo from the website, which we barely managed to find from some cached information, since someone did a good job of trying to erase of signs of its existence from the world wide web. The picture on the website seems to be from some failed obscure TV show about a detective. Anyways, now that the existence of this website is verified, your mother has some leg to stand on, but it still doesn’t explain a lot,” he finished.
“I see. Is there anything I could do to help her?” I asked. I didn’t want my mother to end up in jail because of someone’s skill at framing.
“Only if you could find the real killer, really. But there is another reason for my call. We’ve heard back from Hidden Springs PD. They received our notice about the fake Deputy Westen and they are absolutely horrified that this man was able to have them fooled. Captain Vanderburg especially was furious. Also, he tells us that Fake Westen flew out of town already, before they were able to take him into custody. So, be on the lookout, Mr. Collier – this man could be here, for all we know. Also, keep our number on speed dial for the duration of your stay here. I’m liking this case less and less and I would hate to have another murder happen while I’m the deputy here, am I being clear?”
“Yes, sir! Both Irene and I will do our best to stay alert while we’re here,” I assured the older policeman.
“Good. Now take care, young man.”
As soon as Rosswell hung up, I felt like having a cigarette. So much for trying to quit in college…
However, before I could light up, I heard the voice of a worker different than the one who talked to us earlier addressing who I could only suspect to be Aileen’s niece:
“Hello, Marilyn! Here to see Aunt Aileen again? You know, I wish more of our residents had relatives like you. I feel like Aileen gets more visits than any other resident here.”
I made my way back indoors and peered around the corner at Marilyn. She wasn’t anyone I’ve seen before, as I would’ve recognized such bright red hair instantly. Her smile was infectious.
“Oh, thank you, …. You know Aunt Aileen has always been like a mother to me. I hate to think she won’t be with me for much longer, but I’m trying to make the most of my time with her. Even if her mind isn’t as great as it used to be. Is she awake yet?” Marilyn beamed at the nurse.
“She should be. I hope you don’t mind that I gave her my eyeshadow – she seemed to love it so much and it’s not every day you see her smile.”
“Of course not! I was thinking of buying some baubles for my aunt soon anyways. I’ll go see her,” Marilyn smiled at the worker once again before heading up the stairs.
This was a disaster – if this woman saw Irene questioning her aunt, there would be a lot of explaining to do. I texted Irene to get out as soon as I realized what to do, but I didn’t know if she received the message or got out in time.
The most I could do now was wait, which was exactly what I did.
After what seemed to be an eternity, Marilyn came downstairs with, what I could only assume to be, a smile on her face. I was staying out of her line of sight, trying to figure out why, despite her pleasant appearance, this woman gave me the creeps. As soon as she exited the building, I made my way to the closest window with a view of the walkway outside, and doing my best to hide, tried to see where she went.
I didn’t need to look hard for her – she wasn’t going anywhere just yet. Instead, she was busy making out with her boyfriend, who looked only mildly familiar, until they pulled away from one another and I could see him clearly – it was the fake Deputy Westen.
A chill and a realization ran through me. This man impersonated a police deputy to get me to come to Twinbrook and here he was, making out with the niece of the woman we suspected to be involved in the crime. Irene and I were on the right trail. Irene! She was still upstairs and I had no idea if she was alright or not…
I ran back inside, fully planning to run up to Aileen’s room at this moment, but Irene was coming down herself, to my immense relief, and she didn’t look harmed. She did seem very deep in thought, though.
That I could deal with. But I would hate for anything to happen to her, especially because of me.
As soon as I told her who I saw Marilyn with, she nodded and muttered:
“Sam, his real name must be Sam. Marilyn mentioned she was seeing a guy named Sam to her Aunt. I spent the duration of her visit hiding out in Aileen’s bathroom. By the way, Aileen isn’t our culprit – she is really sick these days. And also, you might want to sit down for this one,” she urged me.
“Why, did you find out anything in there? Did Aileen mention anything?” I was curious. I did sit down though.
“Not Aileen, but Marilyn sure did. It’s her, David. She’s the killer. She told Aileen about it. Apparently, Aileen was cheated out of money by your father – money for robbing my father! And now, Marilyn considers it her duty to exact some weird revenge against your family. She did it, David. She admitted it,” Irene managed to get out before her legs gave out and she caught the couch to steady herself. Once on the couch, she started shaking.
“Irene, what’s wrong?” I tried to figure out why my best friend was in this condition now.
She gave a weak chuckle before explaining “It just hit me that I was literally in the same room as the killer. You should’ve heard her. She talked about it like killing someone is such a normal thing. I’m sorry, I’m babbling now, but I guess I never imagined a situation where I’d actually run into the person who did it. I’m sorry.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for. I’d feel the same in your shoes. Well… that explains why that woman game me such creeps, then,” I reassured her.
“What does she look like?” Irene asked suddenly. “I was hiding out in the bathroom, I didn’t get a glimpse of her.”
“Kind of tall, slender, very red hair. Pretty, if you ignore the major creep vibes she gives off,” I tried to describe the woman to the best of my ability, wishing that I had snapped a picture of her. “I know I can create an identikit for her, if I have to, for the police.”
“That’s good. We should do that. We should go there right now, to tell the police what we know,” Irene jumped to her feet.
“Ok,” I wasn’t sure how we would prove anything to the police without solid proof, but we had to let them know that Fake Westen was in town and that he had an accomplice. If we had to tell them more about our involvement and investigation into this, so be it.