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Long Story, Cut Short

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Her heart was beating hard as she descended the dark stairway. The first gunshot had sent her down here and with each step she was more certain her intuition was right. She could hear a distance sound of angry talking and the unmistakable voice of Henry made her heart beat even faster. He seemed to be shouting at someone although she couldn’t make out his exact words. He needed her. She quickened her pace yet she still was unsure where he was. This would all have been so much easier if he had just told her why that dagger was so important to him! If he had just trusted her, she could have helped him.

She tried to make out the rest of the conversation but the voices were softer now. And then that vibrating boom that echoed through her soul sounded once more. She didn’t know how but she knew without a doubt that it was Henry at the receiving end of that bullet. In her mind’s eye she could clearly see him helpless on the floor in a pool of his own blood.

“Henry!” She cried, not liking the fear she heard in her own voice. She had to find him, now! With gun at the ready and not much more light to search with than what came from her flashlight she stepped onto the abandoned subway platform. Where was he? She turned to the left and could see nothing and just as she was about to advance forward she saw a flash of light that must have originated from behind her. She spun around but it was gone and she could not determine what had caused it. She stepped cautiously forward. There in the middle of the platform lay something glinting in the light of her flashlight. Something that was so familiar to her and yet out of place, all alone on the dank floor.

“Henry.” She said again, only this time with a mixture of defeat and confusion. She bent down to pick it up and felt how it was warm, as if its owner had only just left it behind. She looked up again but he was nowhere to be found. How could this be? She had heard his voice; he should have been here. She knew that he would not have hid himself from her, and he certainly would not have willingly left his watch behind. But as certainly as she knew he had been shot she also knew without a doubt that he had been here but wasn’t any longer.

“Where is he?” With the eye of a detective she scanned the space around her, looking for clues. She was desperate for anything that would tell her where she could find her partner. The beam of her flashlight caught on to something small and white laying a few feet away. She bent to lift it up and a gasp escaped her. There on the small photograph she held in her hand was the very man she was seeking. Henry’s eyes looked out at her, happier than she had ever seen them in real life. He was standing very close to a beautiful blonde woman holding a baby. It seemed like a typical family photo. It should have been a unique insight into the life that Henry was so averse to sharing with anyone, except for the fact that this photo gave every indication of being from a time decades before he was even born.

She didn’t know how long she stood staring at that photo, with her mind and heart jumping through a gambit of emotions ranging from surprise to disbelief to an unexpected but fierce longing to find a way to put a smile that big on Henrys face again. This photo confused her, but it also made a crazy kind of sense, more than many of the half-truths that Henry had told her over the past few months. So many of her questions, so many of his comments seemed to take on a new kind of clarity as this photo filled in the gaps.

She shook her head, and willed herself back to reality. It was impossible for the man in this photo to be her Henry. For that to be true Henry would have to be at least ninety years old. Slowly and deliberately she took the insane thoughts and reigned them in. Speculation would do her no good at the moment. Only one person could explain this photo to her and he was still missing. She pocketed the watch and the photo and with a head more level than she expected searched the rest of the platform. When she came up empty she got above ground and decided to call Abe. He picked up after two rings,”

“Oh Hi, Jo.”

“Abe… have you seen Henry lately?” She was afraid of the answer he would give.

“Why yes. He and I just got back into the store.” She noticed a sense of relief in his voice that belied his nonchalant manner. “You see we were uh, just out for uh lunch.” She knew he was lying about lunch because of his uneasy tone, and also because it was only just then 11 in the morning, but she was also fearful that he was lying about his knowledge of where Henry was. But then she heard Henry’s voice in the background of the phone call and she let out a breath she didn’t even know she had been holding.

“So he is with you?” She breathed.

“Yeah, Yeah! Oh did you want to talk to him?”

“No, that won’t be necessary. I just needed to know he was…” What was she going to say? Safe? Alive? “It’s not important. I will talk to him later. Thanks Abe.” She hung up. Relief washed over her. He was ok and safe at home. How he had managed that she could not explain, seeing how she had just seen him on a subway car heading the opposite direction of the Antique shop. She pulled out the picture to look at once again. For the first time she turned it over and on the back she saw some writing, in a neat flowery scrawl.

First day In New York! – October 2, 1946

That didn’t help with the mystery of who the people in the photo were, but it if was to be believed, than it did shed some light on the when. She was beginning to feel overwhelmed with all of the confusing evidence laid before her. She needed to talk to Henry but wasn’t sure what to say to him. How could she approach him with this photo and not risk scaring him away to hide behind that façade which he so fixedly held up for all the world, even her. She might not know all the secrets of his past but she knew him well enough to know that she needed to be prepared for what she was certain would be his immediate response. He would undoubtedly try to cover this up with some noncommittal story and highlight some eccentricity to throw her off track. The watch he could explain away but the photo was something else.

Her detective training began to kick in and she knew she needed to arm herself with more information. As much as she hated the idea she needed to treat this like an interrogation of a suspect. Her first step was to gather all the information on Henry that she could so that she would at least have an inkling if he was lying. She made her decision and with determination, and a little bit of guilt in her heart she headed to the precinct.

Jo made her way to her desk and sat down with a sigh. When she first met Henry she had looked him up. She wanted to know what kind of background he had and where he had come from. But it had been a cursory search, nothing more. What she was planning on doing now was on a whole different level. She would now be scouring his past like she would do for any suspect in a case. It felt wrong to do it to a friend, and an intensely private one at that. She hoped he would forgive her. But she needed facts and she was hopeful that the NYPD databases would supply her with more than Henry had in the time she had known him.

As soon as her first search loaded she began scouring the screen hungrily for anything that could help her make sense of this photo, or the last 24 hours, or her entire partnership with Henry. However 20 minutes into her search she had come up with more questions than facts. Aside from his diplomas from Oxford and Guam, which truthfully could have been altered if he had had a reason, and his work history as a grave digger, his past was fairly nonexistent. There were no records of a previous wife or children, nor a single record for any parent or grandparent or any family whatsoever, though Jo knew he must have had them. She knew at least that Henry had had a father who had been business partners with Abe, and there was not a shred of evidence that linked Henry and Abe’s families together aside from their address. Jo hated to admit it but if Henry had been a suspect in a case she would have all the evidence she needed to seriously question whether he really was who he claimed to be. His past seemed masterfully and purposefully scrubbed of detail.

Hours went by and still her searches came up empty, so with blurry eyes and a shaky breath Jo looked back down at the photo. She was still so confused, but a search yielding no results was still something she could use. If he didn’t want to divulge his past to his friend that was his right, but he would have no choice but to answer his partner’s concerns about the gaping holes in his background.

She didn’t think she could get any more information on Henry’s past without going to the source himself. If she waited now she would only be stalling out of fear. She didn’t know what Henry could possible tell her that would make this photo, or the other many mysteries that surrounded him make sense. She was also afraid of hearing what exactly had happened today. She was still feeling effects of being certain he was in mortal danger and only seeing him alive and well would change that. She wanted answers and she was determined to get them. She was prepared to hear whatever it was he had to tell her, she just hoped it would be the truth.

She decide to make the walk to the Antique shop instead of taking a cab in an effort to clear her mind but by the time she approached the door her heart was racing from nerves. She saw Henry and Abe together at a small table and relief filled her when she finally saw him, healthy and unharmed. Her heart did a sudden and unexpected flip flop in her chest when he turned toward her with that dazzling smile and charm, so much so that she almost lost her nerve. But as he opened the door she found her resolve once more.

“Hello Detective. Do you have a new mystery for me to solve?” He looked happy and almost light hearted. Something had changed in him since the last time they spoke, like a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

“Yeah you could say that” she said presenting him with the watch. She saw the smallest flicker of trepidation on his face before the familiar mask covered it up and he went on to spout some story about it being stolen.

“You know I thought you might say that. I also found this.” She held out the photo to him. And there it was. If she’d had any doubt that this photo meant something important to him it was undeniably erased by the look that overcame his face. The mask was gone and she could see his fear and vulnerability clear as day. She had presented him with something he could not explain away and it clearly terrified him. She couldn’t help the small, smug smile that came to her lips.

“Tell Her.” Abe said simply. Henry looked from Abe and again to Jo. He looked lost and scared, but also strangely relieved. As if he had both long awaited and long feared this very moment.

“It’s a long story.” He said to her, almost in a whisper. His eyes were locked on her and hers on him.

“I would expect nothing less from you Henry.”