|“Oh my God!”
Monroe clumsily put her mug of coffee down on the kitchen table, and held her magazine closer to her face with both hands. For some time she studied the picture that had drawn her attention, frowning, shaking her head and occasionally muttering, “It can’t be.” She was startled when her boyfriend, Nick, suddenly slumped down in the chair opposite her.
“Thank God it’s Friday!” he said, pouring himself some coffee. “That idiot Jason ordered the wrong parts for Atkinson’s car AGAIN yesterday! I’ve had the bastard on the phone all week giving me shit. How can it be so hard to read the order form and actually order what’s on there? Jesus!”
Monroe was not listening. She held the magazine out to Nick. “Look at this. That girl on the right of the picture looks just like my friend Rosie.”
Nick half-heartedly grabbed the magazine and glanced at the picture. “Who’s Rosie?”
“She used to be one of my best friends. She died in a car accident three years ago.”
“Well that was before you met me!” Nick threw the magazine back onto the kitchen table in frustration and grabbed some toast from the rack. “How am I supposed to recognize a photo of her now?”
“That’s not my point. She died three years ago, so how can she be in this picture?”
Nick sighed and rolled his eyes. “Well either it’s an old picture, or she’s not really dead, or you’re seeing a ghost.” He stood up and walked over to the refrigerator. “Where’s the butter?”
Monroe did not answer. She was staring at the picture, thinking about what Nick had just said. They had never found a body. Could Rosie really still be alive? But if that were true, where had she been all this time?
Nick was banging around in the tiny kitchenette. “Where’s the butter?”
“We’re out, I’ll pick up some more today.”
“Great. If I know you you’ll just sit around all day looking at that stupid photo!”
Monroe immediately felt the familiar anger rising in her, and the fireworks started. “Nick! She was one of my best friends and she died in a tragic accident! Of course I’m a little preoccupied to find a photo of her in a magazine three years later! I’m so sorry there’s no butter for your toast! I promise I’ll be a good little girlfriend and pick some up today so you don’t starve, ok?”
“Oh get over yourself Monroe! Listen, I work hard all day! All I ask is for a little attention when I’m home, and instead you’re sitting around on your ass staring at a picture of some girl who looks like someone you used to know. It probably isn’t even her in the picture! Get real Monroe.”
“Yes that’s right Nick, I sit around all day painting my fingernails and watching Oprah while you work hard at your manly job to bring home the bacon. I don’t do anything at all to contribute to the bills or the rent or the food. Where would I be without you? I probably wouldn’t survive at all!”
Nick reacted predictably, grabbing his jacket and heading to the door. “I’m going out with Dale after work tonight. I’ll probably crash at his place. Don’t wait up.”
“I never do!” shouted Monroe as Nick slammed the door behind him, shaking the small apartment. She put her face in her hands as the tears came, angry with herself for getting so upset yet again. Things had been getting worse and worse with Nick for a few months now. Deep in her heart she knew it wasn’t going to last. She suspected it wasn’t really Dale’s place Nick was spending his nights when he didn’t come home. Suddenly the absence of Rosie struck almost as hard as when she had first died. Wiping her eyes, Monroe picked up the magazine and looked at the photo again closely. The girl in the picture looked so much like her old friend, she couldn’t believe that it was not her. But it had been a long time since she had last seen Rosie, and she knew that her memory might have faded a little. Holding tight to the magazine she went into the small bedroom she had shared with Nick for just over a year now.
On a high shelf in her closet Monroe found what she was looking for, a small shoebox. She took the box and the magazine and settled herself on the big bed. Opening the box she carefully pulled out its contents. There were several newspaper clippings and photos, as well as a memorial service program and a few other trinkets. Monroe put the program and the clippings aside and started looking through the photos. She stopped at one showing herself, Rosie and another girl, Ali. The three of them had been best friends through high school and college. They had stayed close after leaving college, and often went out together at the weekends, usually without any respective boyfriends who happened to be on the scene. The picture Monroe was holding had been taken just one month before Rosie died, on Ali’s birthday. It was one of the last photos she had of them all together. Rosie was the tallest of the three of them, with long, curly, blonde hair and hazel green eyes. She was always the one the guys gravitated to whenever they were all out together. They always made a striking trio; Rosie the tall blonde, Ali the mysterious dark haired beauty, and Monroe, the typical fiery red head. Strangely they all had nearly identical eyes, something that made many people assume they were sisters, not just friends.
Monroe held the photo in one hand and the magazine in the other and compared the two girls. The image in the magazine wasn’t as good as her photo, but it was clear enough to show that the two girls were indeed incredibly similar. She looked back and forth between the two pictures for a long time before sighing and putting them down. She wasn’t sure. It was impossible that the girl in the magazine could be Rosie, but she just couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow it was her.
She picked up the magazine again and tried to think of any possible explanation for the picture. The most logical explanation was that it was not Rosie in the picture at all, but just someone who closely resembled her. Another possibility was that it was her, but the picture was an old one. Or maybe it was her, and it was a recent picture, which meant she was still alive. Nick’s sarcastic remark about it being a picture of a ghost also sat on the edge of Monroe’s conscience, but since she didn’t believe in ghosts she didn’t pay it much attention. Instead she wondered if there was any way she could prove or disprove any of the other scenarios. She figured she could call the magazine and find out when the photo was taken. She might even be able to get the name of the girl in the photo, or have the magazine pass a message on for her.
Monroe quickly finished her breakfast and dressed, then booted up her laptop. She worked from home as a freelance copywriter, but right now she did not have much work on. After checking her email for any important messages she got on the internet to look up the magazine’s contact details. She dialed the number with slightly trembling fingers, and was relieved to get straight through to the customer service department.
“Good morning, California Scenes, Customer Services. Marie speaking, how can I help you?”
“Hi. My name is Monroe MacKenzie. I’m trying to find out some more information about a photo that appeared in your magazine this month.”
“Which article was it in relation to?”
“It’s called ‘San Jose’s Best Family Parks’.”
“And who is the photo credited too?”
Monroe picked up the magazine and squinted at the tiny print along the side. “Tony Masterson.”
“I’ll put you through to you Tony and you can talk to him about it,” said Marie, putting Monroe on hold before she could reply.
The extension rang for a long time, and Monroe was just about to give up when a breathless voice finally answered.
“Oh, hello Mr Masterson. My name is Monroe MacKenzie, and I’m trying to find out some more information about a photo you took that appeared in this month’s issue.”
“Right. Sorry, I just got in and ran to get the phone.”
“Oh I’m sorry, I was put through from customer services.”
“No problem, just let me get myself organized for a second.”
“I could call back later.”
“No, no, it’s fine. I’ve got my coffee, I’ll be with you in a second. Right, now, which photo are you talking about?”
“It’s the one in the article called ‘San Jose’s Best Family Parks’. It’s of the river Adelaide in Green Tree Park.”
“Ok, let me pull that one up on my computer. What is it you wanted to know?”
“Well, I think I recognize one of the people in it, and I was wondering if you could tell me when it was taken, and whether you have the names of any of the people in it.”
“Here it is. Yes, I remember that one now. That’s a nice park. I wish I lived nearer, I would take my son there at the weekends. Actually, that was one of my first assignments for the magazine.”
“So it’s a recent picture then?”
“Well it was taken in the spring obviously, so it’s a few month’s old now.”
“But it was taken this spring?”
“Oh yes, just after I started here in April. Now, let me see if I have any names on file for this.”
Monroe tried not to hold her breath as she waited.
“Wow, bad timing. It looks like the model releases we had for this shoot were destroyed just a couple of weeks ago when our server crashed. Sorry.”
“Oh no, really? Do you have any paper copies or backups?”
“No, everything is stored electronically. I’m really sorry.”
“It’s ok. It was a bit of a long shot anyway.”
“Which person was it you were interested in?”
“The girl in the jeans and white t-shirt standing by the river. Do you remember seeing her when you took the picture?”
“The one with the blonde hair? No, sorry. I didn’t pay much attention to the people, I was just trying to get a shot that best showed off the park,” said Tony. He paused, then asked, “Is she a friend of yours?”
“She used to be.” Monroe hesitated, wondering whether to go on. “She died three years ago, drove her car off the road in bad weather into that river. Her body was never found.”
“You’re kidding!” said Tony, unable to hide the intrigue in his voice. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound so insensitive. It’s just the journalist in me taking over.”
“That’s ok,” said Monroe. “I was just curious that’s all, but I guess it can’t be her after all.”
Tony was inclined to agree with her, as he believed strongly in Occam's razor, the principle that stated that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. However, his journalistic instinct forced him to keep all options open until they were ruled out, and he felt a little sorry for the woman on the phone who was obviously disappointed that he couldn’t help her. “Well you don’t know for sure that it’s not her,” he said. “If no body was ever found who knows what really happened.”
“I suppose,” said Monroe reluctantly.
“What are you going to do now?”
“I don’t know. I guess I could start looking into the accident to try and find out what really happened, but I don’t know where to start.”
“Well, if you ask me, your best bet is to hire a private investigator,” said Tony, a little excitement still in his voice. “They can find out all sorts of stuff you’d never have a chance of getting, and they’re fast too.”
Monroe hadn’t thought about that. “That sounds like a good idea,” she said. “Where do I find one though? And aren’t they expensive?”
“I have a friend who’s just started his own business. He’s good, but he’s looking for clients so he’s not as expensive as some of the more well known guys. Tell him I sent you and you might even get a discount.”
“That’s really nice of you Mr Masterson, thank you.”
“Call me Tony. And do me a favor will you?”
“If I can.”
“If anything interesting comes out of this, give me the first scoop on the story will you?”
“Definitely,” said Monroe smiling, suddenly full of hope again.
“It’s a deal then. His name is Foster Hunter, he lives in San Francisco, and his number is 555-1172.”
"You're kidding. His name is Hunter and he's a private investigator?"
"Yes, I know. We teased him so badly when he told us what he wanted to be! It's his real name though."
“Well, thank you Tony, you’ve been a really big help. I’ll be in touch to let you know how I get on.”
“Good luck,” said Tony.
“Thanks,” said Monroe. “Goodbye.”