It’d been two weeks since I’d last seen Carmen, and approximately one week since I’d contacted the police to report her missing. Still, we knew nothing. Barnard held fast to his story: Carmen walked out the house on her own her own volition, and he was moving things in the middle of the night because she demanded he be gone before she returned.
Except…Carmen was a routine kind of woman. She didn’t do things “out of the ordinary” and it took a lot for her to deviate from her plans. Even if she did walk out of the house in the middle of the night, she wouldn’t have gone far. If anything, she’d have gone to her sitting place – hidden near a small pond in the middle of the thicket behind her home. It was her “sanctuary” a place to “get away when everything was driving me mad” she’d once confessed as she showed me the place.
She wasn’t there though. She wasn’t anywhere I expected her to be. We’d contacted her parents and sister in L.A., clients, and fellow associates – none had heard from her. Carmen was the type of person who would call someone to tell them she was jogging around the block; she made a point to always let someone know where she was and who she was with. I refused to believe she’d disappeared on purpose.
Since she’d gone missing, I’d spent the bulk of my days plastering the city with missing person’s posters and scouring the woods around Carmen’s home praying we didn’t find a body. Derrick Micheal was by my side every step of the way, he hadn’t even mentioned the unresolved fight we’d had the night I’d found out Carmen was missing. Barnard, on the other hand, was missing in action. He was cooperating with police, but he hadn’t bothered to show up at any of the searches; and when my father held a prayer vigil at the church for Carmen’s return, Barnard declined to attend.
I knew he’d done something to her. I could feel it. We’d never gone this long without talking to one another and I missed her. I just wanted to know where she was…what he’d done with her. I wanted her home.
The police started questioning me in a way that caused concern. Someone called in a “tip” about Carmen yelling about the affair with Barnard outside my home a few weeks back. I hadn’t mentioned it because there was no affair, so I deemed it irrelevant. To the police, however, my lack of disclosure came across “suspicious”.
I tried telling them the truth – I wasn’t trying to hide anything, ther wasn’t anything to tell. It wasn’t me, but a twin sister, or identical cousin, I wasn’t sure which because I didn’t quite know her, it was all complicated, but had nothing at all to do with Carmen’s disappearance – at least on my end. Of course, they didn’t believe me.
“So, you’re saying you…weren’t…having an affair with Barnard?”
“…and your twin sister, whom you don’t know, was?”
“Yes…I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. I can give you her information and everything. You can even check with the hotel. We made such a scene, I know someone saw us.”
“…I’ll verify your story.” I could tell she didn’t believe a word I was saying. “But…in the meantime, maybe you can help me clear up something else.”
I shifted in my seat and narrowed my eyes. I’d been here long enough and wasn’t in the mood to play more games.
“Look, whatever you need to know just ask. I have nothing to hide. I told you that.”
“Have you ever had an affair with Carmen?”
“WHAT?” I sat up in my chair, “Why would you ask me that?”
“Because I need to know. Don’t avoid the question. Have you, or have you not, had an affair with Carmen?”
“No, you’re not having an affair right now…or no you’ve never had an affair?”
“We’ve never had an affair.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” I responded, indignant. “I think I know who I’ve been with.” I stared her in the eye, attempting to sell my truth. She wasn’t buying.
“Well, see…that’s where things get sticky. Maybe your memory has failed you?” She opened the folder on the table, pulled out several papers, and shoved them in my face.
I tried to hide my shock. There were text messages, emails, and messenger conversations between me and Carmen going back for several months. They even had a few undelivered letters from Carmen to me – all professing their love, sometimes explicitly. I cringed inside.
Carmen had a pension for expressing herself through words. I’d asked her to stop numerous times, “No paper trails…” I’d always caution, “…paper trails get you caught.” Still, she wouldn’t stop.
“And what about this?”
The detective smirked and opened a folder. She pulled out a plastic evidence bag with a crumpled paper inside and slid it my way, then watched as I examined the document. It was a letter, in what appeared to be Carmen’s handwriting, dated one day before she went missing. It was addressed to me:
You have 24-hours to end it, or I’ll expose everything. I’m starting with your mother, father, Derrick Michael, your girls, AND the CHURCH! EVERYONE WILL KNOW ABOUT US AND YOU!! STOP PLAYING WITH ME OR I WILL EXPOSE YOU FOR THE FRAUD YOU ARE. DON’T MAKE ME DO IT – YOU KNOW I WILL.
I slid the letter back across the table, sat back and folded my arms.
“I’ve never seen this.” It was true. I hadn’t seen that letter, but I had heard those words. They didn’t need to know that though.
“Interesting, considering we found this letter un-crumpled in the trash can with her iPad, credit cards, and phone…”
I stared, unmoved.
“Are you sure you don’t recall seeing this when you removed her phone and credit–“
“I’VE NEVER SEEN IT.“ I reiterated , almost yelling.
“OK…” She replied, unbothered. She ran chubby fingers through the bob cut decorating her head and forced a smile. “…and, I suppose you can explain why you just happened to be in Carmen’s neighborhood around the time she went missing, so early in the morning?”
I sighed, we’d gone over this several times in previous meetings. My story was not going to change.
“I told you, I got into a fight with my husband and I was going to stay the night in her guest house. I do it all the time.”
“So you…often leave your home in the middle of the night to sneak over to Carmen’s guest house?”
“What? No, that’s not what I—”
“Well what are you saying then, Amya?”
“I’m saying, I’ve told you everything I know! You’re wasting time looking at me when my best friend is stuffed in some hole, somewhere dead and alone! Why aren’t you questioning Barnard?!”
The detective sucked her teeth and slouched back in the chair, I could see her brow fill with concern.
“So…why would you say she’s ‘stuffed in some hole… dead and alone’” I thought we were looking for a missing person here, not a …corpse?”
I didn’t mean it that way…but I knew she’d run with it. Especially the way she grinned at me with those coffee stained gapped teeth. She was enjoying this. The pudgy freak.
“I didn’t mean it that way”
“Of course you didn’t. No one ever does.”
“I’m telling the truth. Call my husband, he’ll confirm it! Hell call my neighbors, since they hear everything, I’m sure one of them heard the fight we had outside our home that night.”
“Oh, we will.”
“Good. Can I go now?” I didn’t come down here to be treated like the main suspect. If they had nothing on me, I was ready to go home.
“Of course, but…just…one more thing, before you go…?”
“What is it?” I responded impatiently, one hand on my hip.
She shot me a checkmate grin, “Who is Otto Bronson?”
It felt like my heart was stuck in my throat. I was prepared to explain a lot of things, but my connection to Otto Bronson wasn’t one of them. His was a name no one wanted to be connected with. Contract killers don’t make for good associates, especially when you’re under investigation for the disappearance of your best friend…and you’ve already eluded to her murder.
Before you judge me. You’ve got to understand, it was a dark time in my life. Right before I’d found Dr. Sanchez. I was miserable in my marriage, Derrick Michael and I were fighting all the time, and we were stressed about money and practically every other aspect of life. I wanted a divorce, he refused.
I fell into a deep depression and joked to my masseuse about killing him. Next thing I know, I was talking to Otto.
Despite his profession, Otto wasn’t a cold-blooded guy. He refused to take my money on the spot, instead making me wait a week before he agreed to the hit.
“You must take the time to understand the magnitude of your request. Is taking this life worth your soul?” His voice was chilling, as if the devil himself were telling me to walk away. I deleted his information and didn’t go back. That was the first, last, and only time I’d seen him.
They’d never believe this. Even if they would, snitching on Otto didn’t seem like a good idea; but, neither did confessing I almost hired someone to murder my husband for the monstrous offense of “getting on my nerves”.
“Derrick Michael might be right, you are pretty damn selfish.” I thought to myself, then quickly shook the thought out of my head.
Selfish or not, I was innocent; but I knew nothing I’d say would make me look any less guilty than they already believed I was. If I was going to make it out of this a free woman, and find my best friend, I needed to protect myself. I needed to lawyer up.
Thankfully, I knew exactly who to call.