A woman watches herself in a diner from outside, looking through the eyes of another woman
Bea enjoyed a good coffee in the mornings, even more so at weekends when she would often be found in her favourite diner, cappuccino in hand. This Saturday was no different, she was perched comfortably on a stool at the counter of Lyn’s Diner, drinking fresh coffee and inputting ideas into her phone for one of her latest clients.
Her work as an advertising agent took up so much of Bea’s time, both physically and mentally. She owned the company which, still in its infancy, was based in her home. This was why getting out at the weekends was essential. However, ideas always buzzed around Bea’s head, so she was never free of work completely. Her phone beeped, a text, she thought, raising her eyebrows a little. She finished the last entry she needed to do and opened the message; her face grew pale, the words burning into her mind
‘Just watch what I can do!’
Her eyes were fixed on the shocked look on her own face, nothing made sense, how was she watching herself holding her coffee, hand shaking, staring at that text. What the hell was going on? Bea blinked the text was gone; she lowered the cup of coffee slowly, preventing it from being expelled across the counter. Bea shot a glance up at the window finding herself lost, briefly in the eyes of a woman, tall, wearing a long camel coloured coat, before she turned and walked away. All Bea could remember about her was the coat, sticking with her, as it suited the woman because of her height.
‘Breakfast Bea!’, a voice exclaimed from behind her. It was Lyn with a plate hovering close to her. Bea wavered for a second, then smiled.
‘Thanks Lyn’ she said, taking the plate, getting up and heading over to a table by the same window she had been looking through, from the other side, just moments before.
Eileen stopped; her panty hose was driving her mad, she’d already had a bad start to the day, and was hoping for an improvement. She had awoken this morning to a text from her boyfriend, dumping her. She wasn’t devastated by the breakup, it was definitely coming, no, she was angry with him for being such a coward and doing it by text. As her adjustments were done, Eileen realised was standing by the window of a diner, and glanced in to see several people just going about their day. A police officer having breakfast, a woman at a table drinking tea, weird she thought, never did understand drinking tea, and a woman at the counter with tousled hair, dressed in jeans and a t shirt, staring at her phone, young people these days, always on their gadgets, she thought.
As Eileen pondered this scene, she felt her head fade away from her, a migraine she immediately thought. She’d always struggled with them but for a long time they had been reasonably under control, and they had never started this way, not until Ed came on the scene, her now, ex. She steadied herself, the woman’s eyes, sitting in the diner were now fixated on hers. Disturbed by the woman’s face, now ashen grey, she walked away, off to meet a friend for coffee and to take a tablet fast to stop the migraine before it took hold.
Bea had pondered what she’d seen and decided she was working far too hard, so was determined to have the whole weekend off if possible. She stayed at the diner for a couple of hours, before heading home, already full of ideas for several projects she was currently working on. Her plan was to get them down as quick as possible, then chill out for the day. As usual this didn’t happen, work took much longer than she had hoped, and her mother dropped by for a chat.
‘You look dreadful Beatrice’ was her mother’s first comment on walking through the door.
‘Thanks mum’ Bea retorted with enough sarcasm to annoy her mother.
‘Darling, I was only saying, I worry about you’
‘I know, but I’m fine, overworked a bit that’s all’
Bea had to admit to not feeling so well since the incident, but no way would she tell her mother, she’d whisk her off to see Dr James before she could say I’m good. Her mother stayed for tea and left just after six, Bea was beginning to get a headache so grabbed some pain killers and decided to lie down for a while. It wasn’t long before she drifted off, but was woken, startled, at first having no clue as to why; her heart was pounding and sweat had soaked her clothes. She glanced at the time, nine o’clock, just a couple of hours sleep, what could have woken her this way? The headache she’d had earlier was now much worse, Bea put her waking that way down to her headache and pulled herself together, went downstairs and grabbed a coffee, surely that would help!
Eileen enjoyed the afternoon with Tiffany, a friend from work, they got on so well, it had been years since she’d had a friend she could genuinely confide in, Tiffany seemed to feel the same way, an instant friendship had been forged when Tiffany joined the company. They were equal in their status, so no issues with hierarchy, Eileen was able to show Tiffany the ropes and help her settle in. They both worked for a publishing company, looking for talent in small, hidden places, and marketing their books.
Eileen returned home about three that afternoon, her headache having subsided once she took a tablet, she had taken so many of these things recently, and was planning to see the doctor the following week to get checked out; she was a bit concerned. On arriving home, she pottered about, catching up on housework that needed doing in her small, but comfortable, two-bedroom flat. Around five her headache returned, she took more tablets but to no avail, this time it wasn’t shifting. At six she lay down to sleep, six hours later she awoke lying on her living room floor wearing her coat. She was confused, how did she get here, why was she wearing her coat; had she been out, if so where and why couldn’t she remember?
Gradually Eileen grasped reality and began to survey her surroundings, still lying on the floor, but taking in everything she was seeing. A rifle stood a few feet away, propped up against the sofa, her hands and wrists hurt, she wondered if she’d been in a struggle. But where had the gun come from, she didn’t own a gun, she moved and as she did her heart dropped, panic set in as the sight of blood spatters could be seen on her coat. At this point her consciousness was alert, she sat up to see if she was hurt; no injuries, then whose blood was it?
Bea sat in the kitchen that evening drinking coffee, determined she would take a holiday from work for a bit as the headache stung behind her eyes, she obviously wasn’t well and she had been seriously overdoing it recently, working twelve-hour days, mostly on the computer, that surely can’t be good for me, she thought. As these thoughts permeated her mind, a severe pain shot through Bea’s head, the coffee cup dropped to the floor, shattering. Her face turned grey and her eyes seemed to lose themselves, appearing to be looking elsewhere. Bea was walking with great pace down a street she didn’t recognise, it was beginning to get dark, it felt as if there was a point to where she was going but Bea had no idea where that was. It was cold, a coat tapped against her shins along with something cold. What was going on? Whatever it was she couldn’t stop, she just had to keep walking. Then she appeared to arrive at her destination while she was still trying to figure out what the coat was all about and what the cold part of the coat was which kept brushing her leg? She had stopped across the street from Jocelyn’s Publishing House, she knew it well, had some dealings with them from time to time, but why was she here now, it was late, although she knew people would still be working. She began walking again, she was seeing it as if through a body cam, but one set over her eyes, she didn’t seem to look down, just ahead at where she was going. She walked through the door, there were six people still working, getting a book ready for publication.
It was only then Bea discovered what the cold thing beneath a coat she couldn’t see was, a rifle; she saw it now, felt it too as she lifted it and shot each person in the building, then calmly walked away. Bea didn’t surface with a start this time, it appeared she drifted back into consciousness with tears streaming down her face. Surely this wasn’t her, she hadn’t been out, or had she, how would she have known, was it a memory, had she been asleep when she did it, it had to be a dream, that was it, a dream, one of those waking dreams people talk about. She must be more unwell than she thought. She spotted the broken cup and its contents on the floor and she summoned up the energy to get up and clean it away before retiring to bed and attempting to sleep.
Eileen didn’t know what to do first, call the police, why? She had gone to bed, woken up on the floor like this, what did this mean, had she done something, had someone done something and framed her for it, how? So many questions whirled around her head, she was still sitting on the floor staring at the gun, too scared to move. Eventually she decided to put both the gun and her coat into the back of her large wardrobe, behind the sheets and duvets where people couldn’t immediately find them until she could figure out what to do with them. It was a long while between her deciding what to do and her being able to do it. Now she was pouring herself a whisky to steady her nerves and heading to her living room wrapped cosily in nightwear and a thick dressing gown, after showering, not knowing what else to do. That's where she stayed for the rest of the night.
Eileen put on the news the next morning, her reaction was one of horror, an attack on the building she worked in, how could this be. Her mind was trying to tell her something but she was denying it, eventually reality and denial collided. Eileen ran to the bathroom! She walked slowly back to see the news repeating the same footage, surely, she wasn’t able to murder her friends, it all seemed so unreal. She still didn’t remember a thing, her migraine was at least gone this morning, so her head was clear, yet it wasn’t. She remembered her coat, the gun and could only ask herself, what if?
Bea awoke the next morning after a fitful night full of bits and pieces of her experience, so, still very much aware of what happened the night before, still shaken, but feeling something was wrong, it wasn't hard to figure out it wasn’t her last night, she didn’t own a long coat or a gun thankfully. She switched on the news and heard what she had dreaded she would, there had been a shooting, it was at the Jocelyn Publishing House, six people were confirmed dead. What could she do now, it wasn’t her, but the episode from the morning before at the diner made her wonder, the woman in the window had a long camel coloured coat, what if?
Bea didn't know where to start but knew she would have to find this woman, it seemed unlikely the two events were unconnected, but how do you find a woman wearing a long coat, as that was all she had to go on, it seemed ridiculous to even start, but Bea couldn't go on like this, something bizarre was going on and she needed to find out what, before she got caught up in something she had nothing to do with.
Eileen knew the police would come knocking at her door, so she was ready for them when they did. What if they had cctv footage of her, someone would recognise her wouldn't they? The phone rang, jolting her out of her headspace, she grabbed it.
‘Yes' she answered just a little too sternly.
‘It's me Eileen, Tiffany, did you see?’, her voice tailing off
‘Sorry Tiffany, yes I did, I can't believe what I'm seeing', she said trying hard not to throw up again. ‘Do you know who at all?
‘No’, Tiffany replied, ‘they haven't released any names, I'm assuming Jane is among them, she would have been there, it was a big deal and she would have wanted to see it through herself’.
After the call ended in which each of them said they were glad the other wasn't there when it happened, Eileen headed for the bathroom again. Her face was white when she came out, shock was setting in, she wasn't the criminal type, had no idea what to do now, she had just pretended to her best friend, she had no idea what was happening, when maybe she did, but no idea how or why.
Bea had a hunch that morning, she knew that this sort of shooting was either someone with a grudge because of either a book having been published they disagreed with or possibly something personal by an employee. Bea had access to their staff pages because of the previous advertising work she did with them. She could look through the various photos she had and the staff pages and see if one of them stood out. She didn't remember the woman's face from the day before, but there was no harm in trying. Bea started by looking at the photos she had, but nothing triggered a memory, it didn't mean she wasn't there, plus she might be on the wrong track. After this she used her password to get into the company's staff web pages, she found a whole folder specifically for staff photos, Jane was organised which saved a lot of time. Sifting through the hundreds of files though, took a long time, then she hit the jackpot. A photo of a group of them at an event, taken in a garden, obviously not so warm as they were all wearing coats, and there she was! At the right side of the photo and towards the back, Eileen Baker stood taller than many of her colleagues. She was wearing a long camel coloured coat, this had to be the woman from the day before at least. It meant a place to start, tricky thing was, getting her address. She looked at the other folders alongside the one she'd already searched. There were eight altogether, one was named HR, she wondered. Opening it, sure enough, there were the names and addresses of all the staff, past and present, she found Eileen Baker's address and decided to go and see her, despite the fact the woman could be a killer. What was she thinking, going to a suspected killer's house, she thought as she grabbed her bag and keys, then left the house?
Eileen had done nothing except go over what happened the night before, who would believe her if she told them the truth, she might have done it, no idea why, had no motive, and couldn't remember doing it. They'd lock her up for sure, the doorbell rang, scaring her half to death, she wished people would stop doing that. This must be the police coming to ask me questions, she thought. Opening the door carefully, she didn't find what she had expected, it wasn't the police, it was the tousled haired woman from the diner the day before.
‘Sorry, I know this is a bad time, but I think we need to talk’, the woman said.
‘I don't understand, what do you want, you're right, this is a bad time' snapped back Eileen.
‘I know something about last night, what happened where you work’.
Eileen's mind drifted into itself. The woman was still talking, something about last night, what could she possibly know about last night, well it could be more than she knew herself. Now she was saying she could speak to the police instead of her, couldn’t have that, better let her in.
Eileen gestured for the young woman to come in, watching her as she walked past. Bea went into the upmarket flat, she immediately admired it, hoping she would one day have a place of her own like this instead of renting.
‘Drink', Eileen enquired.
‘Coffee please', she got the impression this wasn't what Eileen meant, however, she shuffled off to the kitchen and came back with two steaming cups of coffee and a plate of biscuits on a tray. Bea thought this was very pleasant from a woman who could be a murderer. Once they were both seated, Eileen asked Bea what she meant about what happened last night.
Bea wasn't sure where to start, she decided to remind Eileen of their first meeting, despite not knowing whether she even recognised her or not.
‘Firstly, do you recognise me Eileen', Eileen was shocked at her using her first name, it seemed impolite when they had only just met. But Eileen assumed this woman recognised her, they were both working on assumptions the other didn't know about.
‘I saw you in the diner yesterday, you were using your phone and drinking coffee, I had the start of a migraine, so wasn't feeling well, but when I looked again you were staring at me, you looked dreadful. I was a bit disturbed by it so I went on to meet my friend, I assume that’s what you mean, what has that to do with last night?’ Bea wasn't sure quite how to answer this, now she was here, faced with this woman, who obviously didn't have the same experience she did, how was she to tell her what happened. She just went for it, explaining how she saw herself as if she was Eileen, looking at herself in the diner, thinking that was enough to start with.
Eileen appeared somewhat bemused at Bea's story, at first thinking the woman was nuts, but it did explain the look on Bea's face, how disturbed it made her feel at the time. But, even if that did happen, what had that got to do with what occurred the previous night, it would keep coming back to that.
‘Even if I believe you, not sure I do, but, if I did, what about last night, what exactly are you talking about?’
‘You know exactly what I'm talking about or you wouldn't have let me in'.
‘The thing is, I don't, as far as I'm aware I was here, if you're talking about the office where I work'.
‘You know I am, what do you mean, as far as you're aware? I saw you do it’.
Bea hadn't meant it to come out this way, but it was there now, and Bea was ready in case she needed to get out in a hurry. Eileen burst into tears and sobbed, great heaving sobs, this wasn't what Bea had expected, she got up and retrieved a tissue from the box and handed it to her.
‘I, I don't remember a thing, I went to bed with a migraine and woke up lying on the floor facing a rifle propped up against the sofa. My coat had blood on it’. This wasn't how Eileen expected this to go either, she wasn't planning on telling anyone, but somehow, she got the feeling this young woman could help her, but she had no idea why.
The two women exchanged the information they had between them over several hours. They put together a timeline of odd things happening to Eileen over time including the increase of her migraines, and how they were starting differently from before, and this apparently began around the time she started seeing Ed. It can't have been a coincidence this all started the day he dumped her. Ed was in neurological research, it wasn't hard to put the pieces together, however getting someone to believe Eileen had been forced to do this against her will was almost impossible, how would they do it? They went their separate ways for the day, but vowing to meet up the next day if possible. Bea had work, although, she had been determined to take a break, but this wasn't what she meant. Trouble was, if Ed was messing with Eileen, somehow it was messing with her as well, she had no idea how. She wasn't likely to be well again until she found out, so Bea decided to focus on this, sending her clients emails to say she was taking a few days off sick.
Eileen wasn't home when Bea rang, a man answered, stating Eileen wasn't available and that he was an officer, she didn't register his name or rank, just that Eileen could be in trouble. They had discussed the police coming, knowing she would be questioned at some point, and she would stick to her story she was home all night but with no witnesses. Bea hoped she was ok, and got stuck into researching Edward Paignton, Eileen's ex. She collected a lot of information, especially interesting was his name, he hadn't always been Edward Paignton, before this he was Edward Grant, a researcher at another lab up north, he’d been suspended from there for unorthodox research, although it didn't say what that research was. She found the phone number for the facility, and with a bit of smooth talking worked her way to the boss, Joanna Savage.
‘How can I help you Miss Barnes?’ asked the woman on the other end of the phone.
‘I phoning you about a previous staff member of yours you had to let go a few years back, Edward Grant. I wonder if you can tell me more about Mr Grant's research, as it appears, he may be attempting more unorthodox work, and he may have become dangerous in the process’.
‘All our work here is confidential Miss Barnes; you should know that’.
‘I do; however, this might have something to do with the shooting last night’.
‘In what way?’
‘It's hard to explain, but if you know what kind of research Edward was doing, then you might know more than I do. I will say, there is the likelihood, whatever he's been doing, he's been testing it on people, I'm certain they would not be approved trials. If you can't tell me, please let the police know what you know, so they can stop this happening again'.
Bea had no idea what the research was, just that it must have had something to do with this mess, she hoped Joanna Savage would do the right thing.
She tried Eileen again, this time she answered, sounding tired.
‘Are you ok Eileen?’ Bea asked gently
‘Yes, I'm fine, the questioning was a bit intense but I think all is good for now, did you find anything?’
‘Can I come over, or are you too tired?’
‘Please do, I need a distraction right now', Eileen hung up and Bea headed her way. When she arrived, Eileen was holding a large whiskey.
‘Do you want one Bea?’
‘No thanks, I need a clear head’.
‘Fair enough, what did you manage to find out?’ asked Eileen tentatively. Bea explained about Ed and his past behaviour, they decided it was a waiting game for a bit, in the hope Joanna would come forward, of course this was all dependant on if what happened then was even linked with what was happening now.
Neither of the women slept well for several nights, then an announcement came, there had been a breakthrough in the case and a thirty-five-year-old man and a twenty-two-year-old woman had been arrested on suspicion of murder. The two women got together, not yet feeling that Eileen was clear of this, and wondering who the woman was. They both assumed it must have been one of Ed's lab assistants. They were shocked when the two were named, Ed's name wasn't a surprise, but Tiffany's was. This was Eileen's friend, or so she thought. At the trials it all came out, how it had been done.
It would have been genius, the trouble was, it didn't go quite to plan, but they didn't know that. They used a type of virtual reality and a mix of drugs. Ed had been drugging Eileen since they started dating, and Tiffany had done the same whenever she could, so her brain was suggestible when they used the virtual reality on her, also other drugs were used to make her sleepy at times, but that lunchtime Tiffany had given her a slow acting strong dose in her coffee when she wasn't looking. They had done a quick test run that morning; they could see on the computer Eileen looking through a diner window. They knew exactly where she was, so assumed the test had been a success. The problem was, they tapped into Bea's brain instead and the two got entangled.
While Eileen was passed out from the drugs, Tiffany sneaked into the flat to steal her coat. It was Tiffany who shot Eileen's friends, she hated the people at the office, Ed and her were already seeing each other, theirs was a forever relationship, Eileen was a necessity for both of them. Tiffany went back after the shooting, and between Ed and Tiffany, they put the coat on Eileen, and left her where she woke up, propping the gun up where it would be the first thing she would see. The idea was that the footage Bea saw, Eileen should have remembered when she woke up, but she didn't. She would have thought she had done it because she recalled doing it, but she had no memory of it as Bea had those memories, it hadn't stopped Eileen assuming it was her, their plan still nearly worked out right.
Eileen passed the evidence onto the police and both Bea and Eileen gave evidence. It was one of the strangest murder cases the police in the county had ever investigated. Both Ed and Tiffany were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Despite their many differences Eileen and Bea became firm friends from then on, linked by an unexpected event.