A woman watches herself in a diner from outside, looking through the eyes of another woman
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Bea enjoyed a good coffee in the mornings, even more so at weekends, and was often found Saturday mornings in her favourite diner, cappuccino in hand. Today 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.
Working as an advertising agent took up much of Bea’s time, both physically and mentally. As the owner of the company, still in its infancy, it was hard work. The company wasn’t yet big enough to warrant paying for an office, so Bea worked from home; it meant escaping at the weekends was essential for her. However, ideas always buzzed around her head, so there were still notes to be made, ideas to get down. Bea always knew it wasn’t a job to be done within regular hours; it needed more flexibility.
Her phone beeped, a text, it broke the idea trail running in her mind, raising her eyebrows a little. Finishing the last entry needed, she opened the message; her face grew pale, the words burning into her mind.
‘Just watch what I can do!’ An angry emoticon followed it.
Her eyes were now fixed on the shocked look on her own face; nothing made sense, how was she watching herself holding a cup of 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, preventing it from spilling across the counter; her mind sharpening again. Shooting a glance at the window, Bea found herself lost, briefly, in the eyes of a woman, watching her from the other side of the glass; the woman then turned and walked away. All Bea remembered was she had been tall, wearing a long camel coloured coat.
‘Breakfast, Bea!’ a voice exclaimed from behind her. Lyn stood on the other side of the counter, balancing two plates of food on one arm and carrying a tray of various beverages with her other hand. Bea wavered for a second, then smiled.
‘Thanks, Lyn.’ Bea took the plate, got up and headed over to a table by the same window she had been looking through, from the other side, just moments before.
Eileen stopped by a diner, her pantyhose driving her mad, this was already a bad day, and it was hardly past breakfast time. The morning had begun with a text from her boyfriend, dumping her; this wasn’t devastating news. It was coming; Eileen was angry with him for being such a coward and doing it by text. Once Eileen's pantyhose was sorted, she intended to continue on her way; but, the scene through the diner’s window distracted her; ordinary people were going about their day. A police officer having breakfast, an older 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, what's with people always on their gadgets.
As Eileen pondered this scene, her head seemed to fade away from her, a migraine, she thought. Having always struggled with them, this was nothing new. However, they had been under control and had never started this way, not until a few months ago. She steadied herself, only to find the eyes of the woman at the counter, now fixated on hers. Disturbed by the woman’s face, now ashen grey, Eileen walked away, leaving to meet a friend for coffee.
Bea considered what just happened, her diagnosis; she was working far too hard, so was determined to have the whole weekend off if possible. After staying at the diner for a while, heading home seemed a burden, her head still full of ideas for several current projects. The plan was to get them down as quickly as possible, then chill out for the day. As usual, this didn’t happen, work took much longer than planned, 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 well since the incident, but no way would her mother find out; she’d whisk her off to see Dr James before Bea could protest. Her mother stayed for tea and left just after six. Now a headache was developing, so she grabbed some pain killers, deciding to lie down for a while.
Bea sat bolt upright in bed, awoken, startled, at first having no clue as to why; her heart was pounding, sweat had soaked her clothes. Disorientated, she felt for the clock; it seemed to say 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, so Bea put her dramatic waking down to the pain. Gradually pulling herself together, she went downstairs and grabbed a coffee, hoping that would help!
Eileen enjoyed her coffee with Tiffany, a friend from work, it had been years since there had been anyone she could genuinely confide in, but an instant bond had been forged between the two 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, then marketing their books.
Eileen returned home about three that afternoon. Her headache had subsided, but having taken so many tablets for these recently, she admitted to being concerned. Eileen was tired, so rest seemed the best option on arriving back at her flat. Around five, the headache returned, so Eileen took more tablets, but to no avail; this time, it wasn’t shifting, so she gave in and went to bed in an attempt to sleep it off.
Seven hours later, Eileen awoke, lying on the living room floor wearing her coat over the clothes she’d fallen asleep in; it was just as if she'd come in through the door and dropped there. Consciousness came slowly, as did her ability to move. Eileen tried to make sense of her surroundings, seeing her coat sleeves, a gun propped up against the sofa. However, as her body was able to move a little, panic set in; she could see blood spatter on her coat. At this point, her mind became more alert, managing to sit up; Eileen looked for the source of the blood; no injuries! Then whose blood was it?
Bea sat in the kitchen that evening drinking coffee, determined to take a holiday from work as the headache stung behind her eyes. Bea wasn't well; this all pointed to her seriously overdoing everything, having recently worked several twelve-hour days. As so many 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 lost themselves in the distance.
Bea walked with great pace down a darkening street, the moon had risen, the shadows growing longer. There was purpose in her stride but no obvious clue to her destination. Something was tapping at her shins, one side was soft, the other side was cold against her skin. Her breath felt heavy, her hands cold and clammy, she was warming up as she continued walking with a certain determination in her step. Streets began to look more familiar, then ahead, across a familiar road stood an iconic building. Large, with deep red bricks, everyone recognised Jocelyn’s Publishing House, both because of its size and colour; it stood out in the small town.
Bea didn’t only know the building, but also the people inside, through her work. It was the sort of business where people may still be working this late. Heading towards the building now, Bea headed for the entrance. As she walked through the main door, unchallenged, her heart rate sped up; opening a blue door ahead of her showed there were six people still working. They were getting a book ready for publication, and all looked up as the door opened, none of them expecting anyone else to join them this evening.
Bea reached below what felt like a coat and lifted something heavy; the cold, hard thing against her leg was a rifle. Shots rang out, one for each person in the building, a scream of no was coming from somewhere. Bea didn’t know where from; she just calmly walked away.
Bea didn’t surface with a start this time; she drifted back into consciousness with tears streaming down her face. Surely this wasn’t her, or was it? Maybe it was a memory; what if it was sleepwalking from earlier and the memory of it was only returning now. No, it had to be a dream, that was it, a dream, one of those waking dreams. It was the only explanation which made sense. Spotting the broken cup and its contents on the floor, she summoned up the energy to clean it away before retiring to bed and attempting to sleep.
Eileen didn’t know what to do. She had gone to bed, woken up like this, what did it mean? Now sitting on the floor, Eileen stared at the gun, too scared to move any further; so many questions whirled around her head. Whose gun was it, how did it get there, why was she wearing her coat? Where had she been and what happened? Gradually an idea formed, still in shock, both the gun and her coat would have to go into the back of her large wardrobe, behind the sheets and duvets. At least nobody would find them immediately. It was a long while between her deciding what to do and being able to do it.
Now she was pouring herself a whisky to steady her nerves and heading to the living room. Wrapped cosily in nightwear and a thick dressing gown, after showering, Eileen felt a little better. However, not knowing what else to do, that's where she stayed for the rest of the night.
Eileen awoke the following morning, confused at being on the sofa, then the realisation of the night before hit afresh. Eileen put the tv on, turning it to the news channel; the voice telling the story drifted slowly away as Eileen watched the pictures, appalled; an attack on the building she worked in; how could this be? Her mind was screaming the answers, but there was no response, just denial. Then reality and denial collided; Eileen ran to the bathroom! Swaying a little on her return, Eileen could see the news still repeating the same footage; it wasn’t in her to murder her friends; it all seemed so unreal. No memories of the night before had surfaced, the migraine was at least gone, 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 the previous evening. Still shaken, knowing something was wrong, it wasn't hard to figure out she wasn't guilty. Bea didn’t own a long coat or a gun, although, admittedly there was the possibility of dumping both before returning home; but where would they have come from to start with? Bea could see her keys and bag were where they’d been left on her arrival home from the diner; everything seemed the same, there was no sign of a panicked re-entry. Bea was sure there would have been after committing an act like that for the first time.
Bea, like Eileen, switched on the news, and there it was, her worst nightmare, a shooting at the Jocelyn Publishing House; six people were confirmed dead. What now! Despite Bea being assured of her innocence, there was a need in her to figure out what was happening. Odd pieces had begun to merge into strange ideas. The episode in the diner came to the forefront of her mind; the only link, the woman in the window. Why did this seem so important? It was the coat and the weird experience; surely, it can’t have been a coincidence.
Bea didn’t know where to start but knew the first step was to find this woman, a woman wearing a long coat. It seemed ridiculous even to begin, but Bea couldn't go on like this; something bizarre was going on, and before getting dragged into something she had nothing to do with, Bea needed to start the search herself.
Eileen was deep in thought, a mix of terror and despair, the police would come knocking at her door, she had to be ready for them when they did, to know exactly what to say. 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, a little too sternly.
‘Hello Eileen, it’s me, Tiffany, did you see?’, her voice trailing off.
‘Sorry, Tiffany, yes I did. I can't believe what I'm looking at,' Eileen was trying hard not to throw up again. ‘Do you know who was there? They aren’t giving names?’
‘No,’ Tiffany sounded upset now, ‘they haven't released any yet; I’m assuming Jane is among them, she would have been there; it was a big book deal, so would have wanted to see it through herself.’
After the call ended, in which each of them had said they were glad the other wasn't there when it happened, Eileen headed for the bathroom again. Her face was now white; the shock setting in. She wasn't the criminal type and had no idea what to do now. What just happened? What should have been a comforting phone call between two friends had one telling the other they had no idea what was happening, when maybe they did.
That morning, Bea took the basics of what most people know about this sort of shooting, trying to find a thread, somewhere to begin. It was usually someone with a grudge, maybe because of the company publishing a book someone disagreed with, possibly a disgruntled employee, or even someone with a personal axe to grind. Bea had access to their staff files because of her previous time working on an advertising project; it was a place to start, the opportunity to look through the various photos to see if one of them stood out. Bea didn't remember the woman's face from the day before, but there was no harm in trying.
The password, to her surprise, still worked, so Bea was able to access the company's personal files. There was a whole folder specifically for staff photos; Jane was organised making it much easier. Sifting through hundreds of pictures still took a long time, though, but then there it was, the jackpot. A group photo, with names, taken in a garden; they seemed to be at an event, probably launching a new book. The scenery behind the group was stunning, but it appeared to be cold as all were wearing coats and there was the woman! At the right side of the photo and towards the back, Eileen Baker stood taller than many of her colleagues. Wearing the distinctive, long camel coloured coat, this had to be her. Bea needed her home address, so decided to look at the other folders; there were eight altogether, the obvious one to start with was the HR one. Sure enough, the folder had the names and addresses of all the staff, past and present. Finding Eileen Baker's address was easy. It was there and then Bea decided to go and see her despite the fact the woman could be a killer.
Eileen had done nothing except keep going 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. It must be the police coming to question her. Opening the door carefully, Eileen didn't find who she expected; instead, there stood the tousled haired woman from the diner.
‘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,' Eileen snapped back.
‘I may know something about last night; what happened where you work!’
The woman was still talking, something about last night; Eileen descended into her own mind. What could this stranger possibly know about what happened, could it be more than she knew? Now there's something about speaking to the police instead of her. What to do? The police will come soon enough, no need to draw attention before it’s necessary!
So, Eileen gestured for the young woman to come in, Bea went into the upmarket flat, immediately admiring it, hoping one day to have a place of her own like this instead of renting.
‘Drink,' Eileen enquired, appearing uncomfortable.
Coffee please,' Bea had the impression this wasn't what Eileen meant; however, she shuffled off to the kitchen and returned 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 the previous night.
Bea wasn't sure where to start but decided to start by reminding 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 this strange woman 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.
Eileen replied a little shakily.
‘Yes, I saw you in the diner yesterday. I had the beginning of a migraine, so wasn't feeling well. I looked away for a moment when it started, I glanced up again, and you were staring at me; you looked dreadful. I was a bit disturbed by it, so I went on to meet my friend. What has that to do with last night?’
Bea wasn't sure how to answer; they didn't appear to have had the same experience. How do you explain an event like that? It all felt so science fiction? Bea decided to tell Eileen straight.
Eileen felt somewhat bemused at Bea's story, at first thinking the woman was nuts, but it might explain the look on Bea's face, how disturbed it made her feel at the time. But, even if that did happen, what had this got to do with what occurred the previous night? Where was the link?
‘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 what I'm talking about, or you wouldn't have let me in.' Bea snapped!
‘The thing is, I don't, as far as I'm aware, I was here if you're talking about the office shooting.'
‘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 now there it was, 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 a box on a sideboard 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, wearing my coat, now stained with blood.’ 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 had no idea how.
The women began talking from that point and ended up exploring endless possibilities over the next several hours. They discussed all the odd things happening to them, including the strange text Bea saw, and the increase of Eileen’s migraines, how they now started differently, but only since the time when Ed moved into the flat, about three months previous. Could it have been a coincidence, this awful thing happening the day he dumped her? The only reason for any suspicion of Ed was because he’d let slip to Eileen just once; his research field was in neurology. 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 vowed to meet up the next day if possible. Bea had work to consider, she had been determined to take a break, but this wouldn't be a break. The trouble was, whoever was messing with Eileen, somehow was messing with her as well, but how and why? There wasn't likely to be an improvement in her health until there were more answers, so Bea decided to focus on this, sending emails to her clients to say she was taking a few days off sick.
Eileen wasn't home when Bea rang the next day, a man answered, stating Eileen wasn't available and he was a police officer; she didn't register his name or rank, just that Eileen could be in trouble. Discussions around what to tell the police had come up the day before, both of them knowing Eileen would be questioned. They decided the best thing to do was go with what felt to Eileen to be the truth; she was home all night. Bea knew the best way to help her was to get stuck into researching Edward Paignton, Eileen’s ex. She collected a lot of information. A fascinating fact 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 specifically what that research was. Bea found the phone number for the facility, and with a bit of smooth-talking, worked her way through to the boss, Joanna Savage.
‘How can I help you, Miss Barnes?’ asked the woman on the other end of the phone.
‘I’m phoning you about a previous staff member of yours you let go a few years back, Edward Grant. I wonder if you can tell me more about Mr Grant's research. I’m asking as he may be attempting more unorthodox work, and could 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 research Edward was doing, then you might know more than I do. I will say, there's the likelihood, whatever the research was, it appears he’s been doing human trials here. If you can't tell me, please let the police know, so they can look into him and stop this happening again; I may be wrong, but I'd rather be wrong and say something than be right and ignore it.'
Bea had no idea what the research was, just that it felt as if it could have 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, also her phone call to Joanna Savage. They decided it was going to be a waiting game for a bit, in the hope Joanna would come forward. This was all dependant on whether 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 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 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 quite go to plan, the pair hadn’t realised someone else was involved, they wouldn’t have gone ahead had they known. It was done using a type of virtual reality and a mix of drugs, the work Jane fired him for initially was mind manipulation. It wasn’t the concept that was the problem; after all, the government would jump at the chance of having a weapon like that; it was the use of these particular drugs, many weren’t legal, even to use in animal testing, let alone in human trials. Ed had been drugging Eileen since he moved into her flat, Tiffany had done the same whenever she could, so Eileen’s brain would be suggestible when they used the virtual reality on her; also, other drugs were used to make her tired. That lunchtime, Tiffany had dropped a slow-acting dose of Ed’s drugs into her coffee. The pair had done a quick test run that morning; they could see on the computer Eileen was standing by a diner. They knew exactly where she was, so they ran the test, it appeared to run correctly, so they assumed the trial had been a success.
The problem was, they tapped into Bea's brain instead, who happened to be extremely sensitive to the sound waves they generated, and the two got entangled. Ed sent a text to Eileen’s phone, but from an unrecognised number, Bea saw this text, but on Eileen's phone, not her own, as they accessed her mind. It appeared to be on her phone but explained why it had gone afterwards. Ed deleted it remotely; the police later found it on Eileen’s account after getting a court order to access her phone records. It was supposed to help ensure her insecurity; they imagined her trying to explain it all to the police with no evidence. However, she never saw it.
While Eileen was passed out from the drugs that evening, Ed and Tiffany sneaked into the flat, Ed still having a key. He stayed there to set up the equipment and keep an eye on Eileen in case there was a need to administer more drugs. Tiffany put on Eileen’s coat and ventured out with the gun hidden beneath it. The plan was partially born out of Tiffany’s hatred for the people at the office for a perceived rejection of her. So, it felt right when Ed said it had to be her who would shoot them, Eileen needed to see a woman’s hand holding the gun.
Ed and Tiffany were a couple when Jane fired him, they moved south together. Theirs was a twisted, forever relationship, Eileen was a test subject for Ed, no more.
Tiffany had gone back to the flat after the shooting. Between her and Ed, they put the coat on Eileen, moving her to where she awoke, propping up the gun before they left so it would be the first thing Eileen saw. What should have happened was the footage Bea saw, Eileen should have remembered on waking up, but she didn't. This would have convinced her of some kind of breakdown involving shooting her friends but having no idea why. The plan backfired somewhat because of her lack of memory; it hadn't stopped Eileen from assuming it was her, so their plan still nearly worked. If it hadn’t been for Bea, Eileen would undoubtedly have gone to jail.
Eileen passed the evidence onto the police, and both Bea and Eileen gave testimony in court. It was one of the strangest murders 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.