How do I know her?
The conversations flowing around the table receded to indistinct murmurs as I studied the young woman across the room. She was so familiar yet I couldn’t place her. I was usually pretty good with faces but somehow she remained elusive in my memories. I’m not even sure I’d actually met her before yet she was so recognizable to me.
Who are you?
She’s wearing the uniform of the catering service my family utilizes for all these fund raising events. But she’s never worked one of them before I’m sure. This isn’t how I know her – she seems almost out of place here, at least in my memories. The memories I can’t seem to access.
Across the room she finishes delivering a tray of drinks to one of her tables. I watch as she smiles briefly and nods at one of the women seated in her section. She hesitates as she starts to turn away scanning the room until her eyes meet mine.
Her face shows no sign of recognition which immediately raises my suspicion. Everyone in this room knows who I am. My name was on the invitation right under the $2500 per plate minimum donation to get in the door. Her utter lack of reaction either means she’s new in town or well practiced at hiding her emotions.
If she’s new in town, how do I recognizer her?
If she’s pretending not to know me, why?
She turns away smoothly, following other staff through the doors to the kitchen.
Where did you come from?
I gesture subtly to the nearest server, bringing them to me. “That woman over there, what’s her name?”
“The brunette?” He cranes his neck for a better look. “That’s Sloane something. I’m sorry I’m pretty new. I’m not sure what her last name is.”
Nodding with a small smile of appreciation I dismiss him.
Her apartment building is in a poor but fairly safe neighborhood. It hadn’t taken me long to find her once I had a name. Money and influence tended to keep my wait times short. I was able to get her last name from the owner of the catering company. My family is one of her best and wealthiest clients so while she hesitated, ultimately she gave me the information I needed. I could have gotten it on my own but ever since I was sixteen, I try not to hack into the lives of my friends.
I should have brought Erik with me. My twin is better with people. I’m a genius with a computer, but I’m not great with people. I tend to come off arrogant and cold. Erik is just as arrogant but for some reason he wears it better.
I’m stalling. I don’t know what I want to happen on the other side of this door.
I knock. No point in putting this off.
I hear steps approaching on the other side and the rattle of the chain lock after a moments hesitation.
The door opens and there she is. Sloane Reed. She’s beautiful, no doubt about that. She has wavy light brown hair falling midway down her back, slender, average height, fair skin. Her features are what caught my attention at the fundraiser the other night. She’s younger than me – I’d guess around twenty. She has soft green eyes under brows a shade darker than her hair, a narrow nose just a tad too long to be ‘perfect’ and a wide generous smile.
She’s not smiling right now.
I think I’ve seen her face before.
“Can I help you?” she asks. It’s more of a demand actually. She doesn’t seem happy about me showing up at her front door.
“Sloane, I’m Ethan Abbott.” I hold my hand out as I introduce myself. She hesitates long enough I think she’s going to leave me awkwardly hanging but finally accepts the greeting.
“Can I help you with something?” There is still no look of recognition on her face. My curiosity is piqued.
“I’d like to ask you a few questions. Can I come in?”
“Are you a cop?”
I grin at that. “No. Definitely not a cop.” No one has ever accused me of that before.
She looks me up and down. “You can’t come in.”
I try to hide my surprise. It’s been a long time since someone has denied me anything. I’m too stunned to even be annoyed about it. For a brief moment it occurs to me how boring that’s made my life that last few years.
I’ve seen her face before. Who are you?
“Do you know me?” I ask her. I’m usually a more savvy negotiator but I’m honestly so confused by my reaction to her I don’t bother with any strategy.
Her expression remains impassive. “You’re Ethan Abbott.”
I laugh, I can’t help it. Clearly she’s an excellent negotiator – only giving me back the information I know she has since I gave it to her myself a few minutes ago.
“I am.” I try another approach. “Are you from Chicago?”
She shakes her head. “I’ve only been here a couple years.”
“Where did you live before that?”
“All over. I moved around a lot growing up.”
“What brought you to Chicago?”
“What do you care? What is this about?”
“I was at the event you worked last night. You seemed familiar.”
She rolls her eyes. “Seriously? The have we met before line? You don’t seem like the type of guy who needs to stalk waitresses to get a date. Unless you’re some serial killer or something.”
“Not a serial killer.”
“Don’t you think that’s what a serial killer would say?” she demands.
I burst out laughing again. I like this girl. She’s fun. “I’m just curious. Not a killer.”
“Well, sorry, but I’m not that interesting. Just a waitress. And I’ve never met you before now when you’re creepily showing up at my apartment. I’m also not interested in a date, so… bye.”
She closes the door and I hear the lock turn. I stand there for another beat totally dumbfounded.
Did she seriously just shut the door in my face? Erik would be laughing his ass off.
“Evelyn from Elegant Events is on the line for you, Mr. Abbott.”
I jam my finger on the speaker button. “Evelyn. To what do I owe the pleasure?” I ask still partially focused on the computer screen in front of me.
“Sloane came and quit today. Out of the blue. I find it an odd coincidence this happens just days after you come asking about her.”
I lean back in my chair. What the hell?
My silence only encourages Evelyn to continue berating me. “I told you not to cause her any trouble. She’s one of my most reliable staff, has been working with me for almost two years now. What did you say to her?”
“That was just a misunderstanding,” I assure her, mind spinning. “I thought she was someone else.”
She scolds me a few more minutes before I assure her I’ll fix it and hang up. I convince her to give me Sloane’s cell before she goes.
I try her number from my own cell and immediately get the tell tale tones of a disconnected line.
I feel my body start to vibrate with energy. I knew she was pretending not to recognize me. But I still have no idea why. Or why she would then immediately quit her job and cancel her phone. I’ve got to talk to her again. And this time I’m not leaving without answers.
Her apartment is empty. The landlord said she left in the middle of the night, left a note apologizing for the short notice with two months rent, in cash, for his trouble. No number or forwarding address.
How a waitress has two months of rent laying around is only one of a million questions I want to ask her.
Back at my condo I set up my second secure server, excitement coursing through me. I may not hack my friends anymore but Sloane isn’t protected by that label.
I start with the basics. Work records, arrest records, school, birth certificate, parents basic info, credit report. I find shockingly little information, most of which is from the last three years. I do manage to get a lead on where she might have gone.
My phone buzzes on the desk next to me, breaking my concentration. I look down and see my little sister’s name on the screen.
And it slams in to me.
Why Sloane looks familiar. How I know her. Who she must be.
I silence my phone, ignoring the call. I feel a small pang of guilt knowing it’s been too long since I’ve talked to my sister but I can’t right now. I’m still reeling from my revelation.
Could this be possible?
I grab the potential addresses I’ve found. A leasing agency just started a credit check for Sloane but they manage three different buildings. I could wait until the morning and call them, assuming again that my name or money would get me the answer I want but I don’t think I can wait that long. I grab my keys and my cell.
The first building was still under renovation, no new tenants there. I’m standing across the street from the second address on my list. Nerves are starting to mix with my adrenaline. Once again I’m not sure what I’m going to say when I confront her. What if she has no idea? What if I’m totally insane?
No, I argue. I’m not insane. I don’t understand how everything fits together yet but I have enough unanswered questions to form a picture. I know more from my lack of information than most – it’s almost like the negative space is starting to create an image.
I smirk. Ilyssa would be proud of that reference.
Someone is approaching the building across the street and I jog over hoping I can catch the door after he enters. This neighborhood isn’t quite as nice and the last one and lurking on the sidewalk for an extended period of time feels unwise.
There’s only one mailbox without a name. I’m guessing if she’s here, that’s the apartment. 3B. I hit the stairs.
The door to 3B is partially open when I get to the third floor. That’s disappointing. It must still be vacant. I’m distracted by my thoughts as I wander inside. I pause when I spot two boxes sitting in the middle of the room.
Suddenly the world is spinning and I’m struggling to get air into my lungs around the dull pain throbbing through my torso. I blink, disoriented and still unable to breath normally. Somehow, I’m on my back, staring up at the ceiling. I see the gun right before I focus on Sloane holding it.
Guess I found her.
And find out a little about Ethan’s twin Erik here.