Old lady in her early sixties searching for her missing son.
That’s what the subject of the email said that arrived in my inbox a couple weeks ago.
It was a job offer sent by the nurse of the said old lady. Her contact data was included.
I’d been working as a private detective for a year and a half by now. Yet I’m still surprised when someone actually contacts me.
To tell you the truth, the job’s not as fancy as it sounds. In movies private detectives are always portrayed as desperate outcasts, going after the cases the police won’t or can’t touch for some reason. Reality though is different and much more mundane. At least half the cases I handle are about missing pets. The rest usually involves people suspecting being cheated on by their significant other. I rarely get any serious work.
As you can imagine, I’m always strapped for money.
Of the few real cases I get, missing person cases are by far my least favorite. You never know if you’ll actually find out anything. Sometimes a missing person is long dead, sometimes they’ve got a reason for hiding from their family, and in other cases, you come up with a big, fat zero. If any of these is the case, it’s always a hassle to get the client to pay up.
When I looked at my empty time table, and of course, my similarly empty bank account, I knew I couldn’t be picky.
I gave the nurse, Stephanie, a call, told her I’d accept the case and arranged for a visit.
It was a few days later that I made the long, three hour trip to the old lady’s distant home. I arrived in front of a huge, old mansion in the middle of nowhere. Looking at the place and thinking about my shitty two-room apartment, I couldn’t help but be jealous.
After I’d rang the bell, Stephane, a friendly, middle-aged nurse greeted me.
“Oh, it’s so nice to finally meet you, mister…”
Her gaze turned upwards, and she furrowed her brow, obviously trying hard to remember my name.
“Siebert,” I helped her out smiling.
“Oh dear, I’m so sorry, I don’t know how-”
“It’s fine, it’s fine. So where’s the old lady?”
“Mrs. Annelies isn’t doing well, unfortunately,” she said as she led me down a long, luxurious hallway.
She opened the door to our right and to my surprise, led me into a small study. Stephanie was quiet for a moment before she sighed audibly.
“To be honest with you, Mister Siebert, I took the liberty of offering you this job before consulting Mrs. Annelies.”
I gave her a questioning look.
“Her son’s disappearance has never been easy on Mrs. Annelies. As the years, no the decades passed, her condition has worsened. By now, she’s almost catatonic,” the nurse said shaking her head.
“We can pay her a visit, but I doubt she’d be in any condition to even talk to you.”
I really didn’t know what to say. I already had a bad feeling about the case as I followed Stephanie to another room. This one was huge and richly furnished as well. Paintings lined the walls, but my attention soon wandered to the old lady at the end of the room. She sat in an expensive arm chair. She didn’t look up when we entered. Instead, her eyes were almost entirely empty as she stared out of one of the mansion’s huge windows.
“Mrs. Annelies?” Stephanie called out, but the old lady gave no sign of hearing her.
While I waited near the door, the nurse approached the old lady. Stephanie whispered something into her ear, but there was no reaction at all. For a moment, the old woman’s head moved, and her tiny, dark eyes focused on me. When our gazes met a strange feeling washed over me. For a few seconds, she stared at me before her head turned back towards the window. She said nothing at all.
Stephanie returned to my side after a few more moments and led me back to the study.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Annelies has given up hope long ago and,” she broke off shaking her head in pity.”
“Excuse me, Stephanie, but then why this whole investigation?”
“Oh, it’s simple, really. I’ve worked for Mrs. Annelies for the better part of a decade now. She might not talk much anymore, but she’s never mistreated me. You wouldn’t know, but she’s such a good person. When the doctors told me she doesn’t have much longer, I thought I’d be able to give back to her. I know the chances are slim, but maybe her son’s out there. If she could at least see him once, I think it would help her make peace.”
I gave her a weak smile and nodded.
“Now then,” Stephanie started as she picked up a small stack of old photographs.
“That’s her little boy, Marcus,” she started and handed them to me.
I frowned when I saw them. The boy in the picture was young, almost a toddler, no older than three. When I looked back to Stephanie, she looked at me expectantly, but then spoke again.
“He went missing on the seventh of April in 1988.”
“I tried talking to Mrs. Annelies, but it wasn’t much use,” she went on. “This folder here though is where she gathered all her private research over the years. It contains anything she thought could be related to little Marcus’ disappearance. I’m not sure how helpful it will be, but here you go.”
With that, she pushed the folder towards me. I had a quick look at the contents. There were a birth certificate, some old police reports and an almost infinite number of newspaper clippings.
“Thank you, I’ll see what I can do,” I told her as I picked up the folder.
“So, about the payment, I usually get paid by-”
“Oh, don’t worry about that, Mr. Siebert. I already arranged for you to be paid in full.”
I gave her a surprised look but bit my tongue to not speak up. Clients usually paid once a contract was fulfilled, but damn I could really use the money.
“Thank you, I’ll try my best to find out what happened to the boy,” I finally said, even though I was less than enthusiastic about the whole case.
“You can call me any time,” Stephanie said as she led me to the front door. “Or send me one of those emails you young people use these days,” she added laughing.
Back in the car, I thought about the few bits of information I’d gotten so far. That little boy went missing more than thirty years ago. My eyes wandered to the massive folder on my passenger seat. Staring at it, I couldn’t help but frown. I had quite the night ahead of me.
Once I was home it was already early in the evening. I considered having myself something delivered, but then I settled for a quick microwave dinner.
Afterward, I made myself a terribly strong cup of coffee and started to go through the folder of documents.
The birth certificate told me the boy was born in 1985, the same year as me. He’d be in his mid-thirties by now, of Caucasian ethnicity, would have blue eyes and most likely brown or blond hair. Great, I told myself, that description fits pretty much half the guys my age. Hell, even I had blue eyes and dark blond hair.
The first thing I did was to check Social Media. I knew it was most likely futile. There’d been a case that would’ve proven much easier if I’d started with a Facebook search. So by now, it had become pretty much a routine to see if I could find anything on there. Of course, there was nothing, exactly like I’d anticipated.
After Facebook, I checked a few other, public databases. I searched for both the birth date of the child as well as his name. There was nothing again.
It was long past midnight when I finally finished going through all the documents. My hint had proven to be correct, most of it wasn’t helpful at all. It only painted a terribly desperate and sad picture of old Mrs. Annelies.
As I lay in bed, I started to wonder what the boy’s life would be like today. If I ever found him, would he even remember his real mother?
I was adopted myself, and I remembered nothing of my biological parents.
Mom and dad had told me about being adopted when I was still a child. I always respected them deeply for it. Yet I often wondered who my real parents were, at least as a child. I wasn’t unhappy, but my parents and I were so different. They were both driven people, sometimes a bit too driven. Mom had been a toughened businesswoman in her time. Dad had worked his way up to become the chief of the local police station before retiring. Compared to them, I always felt like a bit of a loser.
Would little Marcus even want to get in contact with a woman he’d not even remember? Or was he the type who’d ignore the whole thing?
As memories returned to me, I was reminded that I was the latter type. Years ago, when I was attending university for a few semesters, I’d found a letter in my mailbox. It was supposedly written by my biological mother. It said she wanted to get in contact with me. For days I was an emotional mess, trying to figure out what I should do. Eventually, the letter ended up in the trash. I told myself it was better that way, but even now, I know that I simply wasn’t man enough. For a while, the letters kept coming, but I didn’t even open them anymore.
I wondered how little Marcus would react if he’d get those same letters. How’d he handle it? Would he meet his mother, or would he discard them like I did?
The next day I went on with my work. It was time to get serious about this.
I had a look at the documents again and read through the few that I thought might be helpful. There was that first police report Mrs. Annelies had filed after the child’s disappearance. As much as I searched the folder, I couldn’t find any details about it, or if anything had ever come of it.
Eventually, I decided to pay the station a visit. Quite a few people there knew me. I was the son of the former chief of police, of course, but there was also my failed attempt at joining the force a few years ago. Well, let’s just say I’d become a regular at the station.
It didn’t take long before I found an old acquaintance, Michael, who was happy to help me out.
“New case, Daniel?” he asked when I handed him the copy of the police report.
I nodded. “Going to be a tough one.”
He gave me a questioning look, but when I pointed at the data of the report, I could see his face change to a deep frown.
“1988,” he said, “damn. You think you’re going to find anything?”
I shrugged. “No clue, but that’s why I’m here.”
“Well, I’ll see what I can find.”
With that, he took the report from my hands and went over to his computer.
A few minutes later, he printed a few pages and walked over to me again.
“You really got yourself quite the case,” he said, scratching his head as he handed them to me.
“What do you mean?”
“Just read it, seems you got yourself involved in an old kidnapping.”
Without another word, I started reading the pages he’d printed.
The kidnapping took place on a Thursday afternoon. Mrs. Annelies had picked up her son at a kindergarten in a small town near her mansion. On the way back, a car had stopped next to them in a small street. Before Mrs. Annelies could react, someone jumped out, dragged the boy inside, and drove off.
I looked up and stared at Michael. He gave me a ‘told you so’ look. I cursed to myself. There’d been no mentioning of a kidnapping or anything like it. Why the hell had Stephanie not told me about that? This changed fucking everything! As I read on I learned that the description of the kidnapper was vague at best: Strong, tall, most likely male. That was all. The whole thing had been over in a moment, and there’d been no witnesses at all. Even worse, the man had been wearing a disguise, so she hadn’t even seen his face.
I read on and learned that the car she’d described had been identified soon after. As it turned out though, the vehicle had been reported stolen a few days prior.
One thing was obvious, I thought, as I reread the file. This thing had definitely been planned. A small street, a disguise, and a stolen vehicle. No, this was no random kidnapping. The question was, why? An obvious reason that came to my mind right away was money.
I read the file once again, searching for any mention of a ransom note. There was none, however.
Finally, I thanked Michael and went on my way with the files.
Once I was back in my car, I gave Stephanie a call. She was as friendly as always. After a quick greeting, I cut right to the chase.
“Why didn’t you mention the boy was kidnapped?”
“Kidnapped?” the woman asked.
“Yeah, little Marcus didn’t disappear, he was kidnapped!”
“Goodness no,” she said surprised. “I had no idea. Mrs. Annelies’ notes said nothing about any of that, are you sure?”
“I was just at the station. I got the whole damn report right in front of me. There’s no doubt. So, Stephanie, do you know if Mrs. Annelies and her husband had any enemies?”
She gasped, and for a moment, she was quiet. When she spoke again there was an audible concern in her voice and something else… was it apprehension?
“What do you mean Mister Siebert? I mean, Mrs. Annelies has a lot of money, so I’m sure lots of people are jealous of her, but I’ve never heard that anyone… goodness, I mean I’ve only worked here for a decade or so. I wasn’t around when that terrible thing happened to Mr. James and-”
“Wait, what terrible thing?” I cut her off.
“Oh, maybe I should’ve told you before, but I didn’t think it was important so-”
“What are you talking about Stephanie? Out with it!”
“There was an accident. I think you’ve read that her husband, Mr. James, died years ago, right?”
I had indeed read it, but I never gave it much thought. People sometimes died. I guessed he must’ve been sick. What she told me next, however, changed everything.
“It’s such a terrible story. Mr. James was out for a walk and run over by a car. He only died a year or so after little Marcus was born. Worse even, it was a case of hit-and-run, and they never identified the driver. It’s just terrible…”
“Hold on, are you serious? You never thought any of this might be important or related to the boys kidnapping!?”
“I didn’t know about the kidnapping, Mister Siebert, so I never thought, my god if I-”
She broke off, and I could hear her breathing heavily.
After a few more moments, my anger at the poor woman subsided. She was right, how could she have guessed that any of this was related.
“No, Stephanie, I’m sorry. You couldn’t have known. But, ehm, I got to hang up, alright? I’ve got a whole lot of things to think about. I’ll call you again, in case I got any news or need anything.”
She gave a weak reply and wished me good luck with the investigation before she hung up.
Sitting in my car, I was rubbing my temples. This whole case was getting stranger and stranger. Was this even something I should get myself involved in further? Shit, what was I getting into, I cursed.
Once more I returned to the station. Michael wasn’t exactly psyched to see me again so soon, yet he still handed me the report of Mr. James’ accident. When I read it, I learned another important detail.
They had indeed identified the owner of the hit-and-run vehicle. It was revealed yet again though, that the car had been stolen a few days before the accident.
I started at the paper for a long while. Another stolen car. This was no mere coincidence. No, there was no doubt, this was all related.
For the next days, I tried to uncover more details about the kidnapping as well as the hit-and-run. I found nothing. It had happened much too long ago. Hell, I even tried to find the owners of the stolen vehicles. Even this proved to be futile. I’d hit a total dead-end.
After a while, I decided to approach things from a different perspective. I knew it would most likely not be worth much, but I decided to dig a bit into Mrs. Annelies’ and her husband’s past.
I found quite a bit on the two of them. They’d both been born to wealthy parents and married in their early twenties. An old article described as a match made in heaven.
Their riches didn’t just come from their parents. Mr. James owned at least half a dozen enterprises and was involved in at least twice as many. His reputation though wasn’t the best. There were quite a few rumors about him, I learned.
It didn’t stop the two of them to make a big show about themselves. A public appearance here, a fundraiser there, a big lavish party at their mansion, and so on.
It was after hours of digging through old newspapers that I found something that made me look up.
It was an article about Mrs. Annelies and Mr. James. It was published in a small, shady tabloid that I’d never heard about. The paper seemed to specialize in badmouthing people and spreading rumors. It might very well have been a predecessor of those internet blogs that focused on celebrity scandals and shitstorms.
The title of the piece made me read on.
Drunk rich couple runs over pregnant woman.
As I read it, I learned that the couple had attended one of their disgusting gatherings of the filthy rich. The two of them had supposedly gotten drunk beyond belief and drove their car through my very city. When a woman tried to cross the street, the husband in a drunk stupor didn’t realize what was happening. The car crashed into her.
From the way the article was written, I’d assumed that it was a deadly collision. However, the woman had barely been grazed and only got minor injuries. What made the whole thing much worse, was that she’d been pregnant. While she hadn’t been hurt badly, she lost the child later that night at the hospital.
I read the article once more, but of course, no names were mentioned except those of Mrs. Annelies and her husband.
I dialed the station right away and had them put me through to Michael. By now, he was clearly starting to get annoyed at me. When I asked him yet again to look something up for me, he told me outright that I couldn’t keep pestering him all the time. After a bit of pleading on my end, he obliged. I gave him the names of Mrs. Annelies and her husband, as well as the date mentioned in the article. He told me he’d have a look, but it might take a while. He was quite busy at the moment. Real police work, he added in a condescending voice.
Real police work my ass, I thought. I knew damn well that he’d got jack-shit to do most of the time.
As if to prove me right he called me back not even an hour later. He was quick and to the point. He’d found the report in question and forwarded it to my email. He hung up before I could even thank him, not seeming to care one bit about the whole thing.
When I read the report, I was dumbfounded. It was a completely different story.
It said Mrs. Annelies and her husband had been sober and the woman had crossed the street without any regard for their car. Something was weird, though. The report was sloppy at best. There was no mentioning of pregnancy and neither of the name of the victim. The only information about the woman was that she wanted to stay anonymous.
I reread the last line. She wanted to stay anonymous? It was a freaking police report, right? Could you even ask for something like that? It sounded more than a bit fishy to me. And what about the damned story I’d read in the tabloid? Was it all a smear piece? Why though? Why’d someone turn an unimportant little accident into a tragedy of such magnitude?
I needed answers. All I’d got so far were what-ifs!
It didn’t take long for me to get an idea. If I wanted to know why this article existed, then there was one person who’d definitely be able to help me out.
It wasn’t too hard to get the name of the tabloid’s chief editor. The paper might not have been too popular with the general public, but it was notorious in other circles. It had run for years before it eventually went out of business. The reasons were both monetary and publicity related. Guess you can only write smear pieces for so long before you get into trouble. I was lucky enough, though, to find out that the man was still living in the city. By now, he was reduced to live in an apartment much like my own.
It wouldn’t take long to get to his place, I found out.
Once I was there, I rang the doorbell for long minutes before an angry old man opened the door. He was small, almost withered, but he surprised me with his flaring anger.
“Goddamnit, what in god’s name do you want?”
“Am I talking to Mr. Meier?”
“Ringing the doorbell for ten whole minutes and now you’re asking this? I ought to throw that door right in your ugly face! Either way, I’m not interested in whatever it is you’re trying to-”
“Mr. Meier, hold on, I’m not here to sell anything. I came here because of an article in that newspaper of yours.”
The man’s eyes turned wide, and for a moment, I prepared for another assault of insults. Instead, he broke into bursting laughter.
“Newspaper! Now that’s a good one. Never had anyone calling that piece of shit something like that! Hah! Now then, who was it I smeared? Parents? Grandparents? Come on now, out with it, I haven’t got all day!”
“No, it’s not about that. I’m actually interested in finding out more about a traffic accident you covered.”
For a moment the old was quiet, apparently surprised I wasn’t here for some sort of legal action. When I handed him the article in question, a smirk appeared on his face.
“Heh, now that’s a story alright. Got in some real trouble for that one, almost cost me the paper then and there. That damned rich bitch and her crook of a husband!”
“Well, the things you wrote, are they true?”
“It damn well is! All the articles are true one way or another. This one though, I swear by it! Got themselves drunk and ran her over! Just like that! Those damned rich folks and their-”
“Yeah alright, but I’ve got the police report right here. I can show it to you. It says it was the woman’s own fault and-”
“And you believe it? You are as dumb as they come, aren’t you? Isn’t it clear what happened? They covered the whole thing up! Bought the police, the newspapers, everything! Couldn’t risk a story like that getting out! It would hurt business, wouldn’t it? Why do you think I printed it?”
I was quiet, biting my lip from stating the obvious.
“Oh, I know damn well what you’re thinking! That it’s nothing but dirt, right? Let me tell you something. You might have that internet of yours now, but back in the day, there wasn’t anything like it. Throw the chief a few grand, pay of the reporters and that’s it! Especially those two, god knows what else they were involved in!”
“Alright Mister Meier, do you have any information on the victim? I’d really like to talk to her about all this.”
Once more the small man burst into bouts of laughter.
“Damned if I know! Couldn’t care less about her. Forgot the name the moment I printed the story. Hell, I might not have known it to begin with! Who knows, it’s been thirty damned years!”
A curse escaped my lips. The man noticed it, but he said nothing. Instead, he gave me an expectant look and extended a hand. I was about to take it and thank him, but he cut me right off.
“Now then, mister private detective, I’m sure you’re going to pay me for that information you just got, aren’t you?”
I stared at him for a few moments before I sighed and handed him a twenty. The man frowned before he grabbed the note. He mumbled to himself about me being a cheap bastard before he closed the door without another word.
I was left there, staring at the door. In a way, I thought, as I walked back to my car, this guy was the absolute worst.
Sitting in my car, I massaged my temples. Yet another mystery added to the list.
As I drove back home, I wondered if any of this was even relevant. What was I even trying to figure out at this point? God if I knew.
Once I was home, I wrote down all the things I’d found out so far and put them in the order they’d happened in:
Mrs. Annelies and her husband run over a pregnant lady. She loses her child.
Two years later her husband dies in a car accident. The perpetrator is never caught. The car was stolen.
Another year later, her child is kidnapped. Yet again, a stolen car was used.
Read over the events once more I started to wonder if little Marcus was even alive. What if the kid had been murdered right after being kidnapped? There hadn’t been any mention of a ransom note or anything. Shit, I didn’t even want to think about something like that.
One thing was clear, I needed to find out who that woman was. There was no doubt that she was related to all of it.
Once again I called the station, much to the displeasure of Michael. This time he made it no secret that he wasn’t even supposed to give me all this information. I mumbled an excuse and told him it would be worth his while. The moment he heard those words, he was once more happy to comply.
I approached the topic of the car accident involving the woman once more.
“Don’t you think there’s something fishy about it?”
“What do you mean? It’s a freaking police report.”
“Well duh, but the name of the victim isn’t even in it.”
I heard him sigh before he typed something on his keyboard.
“Tell you what, I hadn’t even taken a look at it, but you’re right. Wants to remain anonymous? It’s a freaking police report, that’s what it is!”
“You think you can find out the name?”
He gave me a short laugh. “No way. First, it happened more than thirty years ago. Second, if there’s no name in here, there’s a damn good reason for it. The whole thing stinks. Wouldn’t be surprised if the whole thing’s nothing but bullshit.”
“So, what are you going to do about it?”
“What do you mean? You think I’m going to start some investigation over something as old as this?”
Once more, he laughed, and I could almost see him shaking his head.
“Yeah, guess you’re right. So there’s no way to find out the victim’s name?”
“Nah, none, nada.”
Well, that was that I thought and hung up. Freaking useless, the whole bunch of them! No clue why dad ever wanted me to join this shithole of a station!
For the rest of the day, I tried desperately to find out who the mysterious woman was. I called hospitals all over town, but no one was able to help me. They either told me it happened way too long ago or they flat out refused to provide any help.
During the night I continued my futile attempts. I coursed the internet, desperate for information. Yet, nothing seemed to exist about the woman. I was at my wit’s end.
The next day my desperation drove me to Mrs. Annelies’ mansion once again. If anyone would know the name of the woman, it was the old lady herself! I knew Stephanie wouldn’t be too pleased about it, but there wasn’t anything I could do.
The moment I turned up at the door, Stephanie was surprised to see me. She invited me in, asking why I’d driven all the way here instead of giving her a phone call.
“Well, Stephanie, to be honest, I don’t even know where to start. This whole thing has turned into something entirely different,” I started.
“Is this about Mister James’ accident and little Marcus’ kidnapping?”
I sighed and shook my head. “I wish, but I guess it’s just another part of the puzzle.”
With that, I started to tell her about the night that Mrs. Annelies and her husband supposedly ran over a pregnant woman. Stephanie listened intently, but I saw her face contort by shock and disbelief.
“There’s no way,” she started. “You think any of this is the truth? That Mrs. Annelies and Mister James did,” she broke up shaking her head.
“Tell you what, Stephanie, I don’t even know anymore. What I know for a fact though is that this police report here’s fishy as hell.”
With that, I showed her the report. She did barely give it any notice and only glanced at it for a few moments.
“Even so, it sounds like there’s no way to figure out who that woman was.”
“That’s exactly why I’m here. There’s one person who should know something about her.”
For a moment she looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face. After a few seconds, she realized what I was implying.
“No, there’s no way we can talk to her about something like that! Being reminded of a thing such as that, no, even being reminded of her husband, good god, no! There’s no way we can do anything like-”
“Damnit Stephanie,” I cursed, “there’s no other way! I tried everything! Every fucking las thing!”
Stephanie didn’t say a thing, but her face turned into a hard mask.
In a moment I stepped past her, and before she could react, I was already out in the hallway.
“Mister Siebert, what do you think you’re doing?” she called out after me, but I didn’t stop.
The moment I’d put my hand on the door handle of the old lady’s room, she made it into the hallway as well.
“Don’t you dare open that door!” the nurse shrieked at me. “If you so much… I’m going to,” she broke up, her voice trembling.
When I turned around, her face was as white as a sheet. “Please, Mister Siebert, if you talk to her about those things, we don’t know what,” she broke up once more.
My hand was still on the door handle, but finally, I took it away. What the hell was I even doing?
Finally, I turned away from the door and faced Stephanie.
“Alright Stephanie, I won’t talk to her. If you truly think it will put her in danger, then there’s nothing I can do.”
When I said this, she finally relaxed, and color slowly returned to her face.
“My god, what were you thinking, you can’t just-”
“I’m sorry, it’s just… I guess this whole thing is getting to me. It’s so freaking complicated, yet I feel that I’m just so damn close to figuring it all out.”
When I said this the hint of a smile showed on Stephanie’s face.
“Oh, I’m so glad to hear that and thank you for being so understanding!”
“Yeah, but what about that woman. If I want to make any progress, I need her name. Could you at least try to talk to her? Or, I don’t know have a look at her documents? God knows, if Mrs. Annelies and her husband really covered something up, then maybe they still have some sort of info on that woman.”
“I can take a look, but I doubt I’ll find anything. I gathered all the things related to little Marcus already, so…”
“Still Stephanie, please give it another try. Every tiny bit of information helps,” I said giving the devoted nurse a warm smile.
Finally, she nodded and agreed to have another look. For a moment, her eyes focused on me, and she mumbled something to herself.
I looked up expectantly, but she shook her head. “Oh dear, it’s nothing, just a lot chores left for the day.”
As I made my way back outside, I chuckled to myself. What chores could she have to do around the place? It was all in pristine condition. Well, what do I know?
The next few days were nothing but one disappointment after another. I spread out in any and all directions, grasping at even the tiniest of straws. I rechecked the information about the stolen vehicles, paid all the hospitals in the city a personal visit and worked my way through stacks upon stacks of old newspapers. There was still absolutely nothing. It was starting to drive me insane.
On the fourth day, after returning from yet another trip to the library, I checked my email. It was more a habit than anything else. Suddenly I looked up. Between spam and newsletters, I found a single email from Stephanie.
When I read the subject, my eyes grew wide.
I found something on the woman.
In a few quick lines, Stephanie explained that she’d rummaged through Mr. James old study. The room was still in the same state after all those years. After hours of searching, she’d found a document on the woman that had been in the accident. There were notes by Mr. James accompanying it, but she didn’t feel comfortable sharing those. Instead, she’d taken a picture of both the document and a photograph of the woman. She’d attached both files to the email.
I quickly downloaded both files. The moment they were finished I opened up the first one, the photograph. When I looked at it, I was confused.
Shit, I was too tired, I must’ve mixed things up somehow. I quickly closed it, went back to my download folder and tried again. I got the same result.
The woman in the photograph open on my screen looked exactly like my mother in younger years. I laughed and shook my head. What the hell? The resemblance was almost uncanny. I leaned in closer and focused my eyes, but there was no doubt. The woman was an exact doppelganger of my mother.
I closed the picture. What a strange coincidence.
When I opened the document and started reading it though, my world began to spin. A thought from a week ago returned to my mind.
This was no mere coincidence.
The name of the pregnant lady that had been hit by Mrs. Annelies was stated as Lisa Siebert, my mother.
I sat in front of the computer, utterly dumbfounded. Then I rechecked the email. I looked at the sender, read it once more, downloaded the files again, and opened them one after another. This had to be a mix-up. There had to be some sort of explanation for it. Hell, shouldn’t she have noticed something about the name? It was the same damned last name as me!
I took out my phone and dialed Stephanie’s number right away. I tried once, twice, and then a few more times, but for some reason, I couldn’t reach her. Fuck, was it that late already? A look at the clock told me it was barely ten in the evening. Was she already asleep at a time like this?
As I sat there, staring at mom’s picture, my thoughts wandered back to the birth certificate of little Marcus. He was born in the same year as me, had the same skin color and the same eye color. It would all check out, I realized with a shudder.
I’d been adopted though. That meant there was an easy way to disprove this strange implication that had started to come to my mind. With shaking hands, I picked up the discarded phone and dialed my mom’s number. It rang for almost half a minute before she answered.
“Daniel? Why are you calling at this time of the night?”
For a moment I almost blurted out what was on my mind, but I bit my tongue in time.
“So I’m investigating this case right now, and it’s about-”
“Again with this? Why can’t you finally get a normal job? You know this sort of work isn’t sustainable! If you’d just ask your father, you might get another chance at the academy. I’m sure he can put in a good word for you. It would be so much better than this, this,” she broke off, scoffing in frustration.
“Mom, that’s not important right now. I can’t tell you the details, of course, but I need the place you adopted me from.”
“What? Why’d you need that? Can’t you look it up on that internet of yours you spend so much time on? Why do you even need that right now? It’s already this late!”
“Mom, I can’t waste any more time. I need it now, please. I think this case is related to one of the people who were working there when I was a kid. There was this middle-aged lady you told me so much about. What was her name again, Schneider?”
“And how’d I remember something like that? Really Daniel…”
It was obviously a lie, but in her annoyance mom didn’t even think twice about the story I’d told her. Instead, she put the phone away. The sounds of her rummaging through shelves and drawers, only interrupted by her annoying mumbling reached my ear. It was minutes before she returned to the phone. She quickly gave me the name of the place, clearly fed up with me.
“Thanks, mom! You really helped me out a lot. Goodnight.”
She mumbled a “Goodnight, Daniel,” in return and hung up.
I checked out the adoption center’s page right away. I was pretty damned sure they didn’t have any sort of public database. Even though I tinkered with the page. Soon after I tried to call them and even thought about writing them an email. When I saw the time, however, I quickly discarded those ideas. There’d be no way anyone would answer me any time soon. So instead, I decided to pay the place a visit first thing in the morning.
I don’t know for how many hours I lay in bed, but sleep simply didn’t come. My mind was too occupied. Could it actually be true? No, I told myself over and over again. Hell, even if mom had been hit by them, it didn’t have to mean a goddamn thing!
It was five in the morning when I gave up trying to sleep. I got up, took a hot shower, and made myself a strong cup of coffee. For the next hour, I made up all sorts of scenarios. Maybe the woman they’d hit really looked like my mother, and they’d mixed things up. Maybe Mister James had accidentally gotten the wrong name. More and more ideas flooded my mind. Yet somehow they all felt contrived, silly or even more unbelievable than what I’d figured out. Eventually, I gave up and went on my way to the adoption center.
When I parked my car, it was almost an hour before the place would open up. I was antsy, shuffling in my seat and tinkering with my phone. It was all I could do to keep my thoughts from lingering on that same topic.
The moment the center opened up I was out of the car and stepped inside. The lady behind the counter looked up in surprise.
“Well, good morning, mister early bird!” she greeted me with a laugh. It was the first pleasant thing in what seemed to be ages. “Are you by any chance interested in finding out more about adoption?”
I tried to return her smile, but from her reaction, I could tell that I hadn’t succeeded.
“Sorry, but no. I’m a private investigator, and I’m here to have a look at your database.”
Once I’d identified myself, she led me to the office of their IT specialist.
“Tell you the truth, I’d be happy to help you out myself. The problem is, everything’s digitized these days and well,” she laughed again, “I’ve never been good with computers. I’m sure Sam can help you out though, he’s really into this whole internet thing.”
She led me up to a small backroom that might well have been a janitor’s closet once. The lady opened the door and introduced me.
It turned out that Sam was an older, balding man. He was stuffed behind a huge desk and sat in front of a computer that might very well have been from the early 2000s.
“Well, this is Mister Siebert, he’s a private investigator here to find some sort of information about a case he’s working on.”
Sam didn’t say a word. Instead, the man just stared at me. For a few painful seconds, there was nothing but silence, then I decided to speak up.
“Alright, Sam. This might sound a bit strange, but I actually was adopted in this very center myself. I need to have a look at the data on it.”
Same gave me a short, puzzled look before he shrugged.
“Sure thing, just hit me up with a name and anything else important and we should find you right away. Let me open this thing up.”
While he opened the database, he started to tell me all about this new system he’d put in place. It made finding information way easier than before. I only listened halfway and quickly told him my full name, the date of my adoption and the name of my parents. It wasn’t long before my entry popped up on the screen.”
“Well, here you are, Mister Siebert,” he said, moving a bit to the side to allow me to have a look.
“Are there any pictures?”
“Sure thing,” he said, and after a few clicks, I stared at a boy that looked almost exactly like little Marcus.
My eyes grew wide, and I felt myself getting sweaty. No freaking way!
The man next to me didn’t seem to notice a thing. Instead, he sat there, scratching his head while he scanned the rest of the file.
“Man, this is weird,” he mumbled to himself.
I looked up. “What’s weird?”
“This entry, I mean, your entry. There’s a good part of it that’s missing. No idea why though.”
He moved the cursor to a few empty lines to show me.
“Probably a mistake,” he said shrugging. “I bet Clara didn’t enter the data correctly again. God knows she’s terrible with computers. Hold on a moment.”
With that, he fought himself out of his chair, pushed past me, and left the room. I looked after him, but he was gone before I got even the chance of asking what was going on.
For a while, I sat there awkwardly and scanned the file. He was right, half of it really was missing.
After a minute or two Sam returned, holding a huge old folder in his hands.
He fell back into his chair, haphazardly created an empty space in front of himself and opened the folder. He started to go through it and after a bit of searching found a copy of my file. This time his frown was serious.
“The hell’s going on,” he said wondering.
“What’s it now?”
“Well, this one here’s just a reproduction, a shoddy one at best. See this?” he asked pointing at the copy. “There’s no information on your biological parents, no real date of birth, nothing at all. See? Just your name, the adoption date and the name of your adoptive parents.”
I stared at him, but before I could even ask him a question he went on.
“Tell you what, bet the original file got lost or someone spilled some coffee over it. God knows it happens to me all the time. Bet someone tried to make a copy but forgot to fill out half of it.”
I gave him a weak nod but didn’t say anything. The word reproduction tied itself around my neck, almost strangling me.
“How about this, I give the old archives a call, ask around a few other places, and once I find the real deal, I give you call? Not like I’ve got anything to do here anyway. Might take a while, but if you’ve been adopted, I’ll make sure to find that file.”
“Great, thank you,” I mumbled in a weak voice. I was about to leave, but then I stopped. “Do you mind printing a copy of that picture?”
“Sure, no problem.”
A few seconds later, I was holding a picture of a three-year-old me in my hands.
During my drive home, I still tried to convince myself I was wrong. You know the truth, a voice in my head said, the evidence is all there. Yet, a part of my brain desperately kept refusing it. As my hands gripped on to the steering wheel hard, I kept laughing and shaking my head.
The moment I was home, I put the picture from the adoption center next to little Marcus’ one. Right then, even this last bastion of refusal broke away. There was no doubt anymore. It was the same child.
I was little Marcus.
I sat there stunned, not able to move or do anything. My whole life, my entire world, had just come tumbling down. Everything was a lie, wasn’t it? There was no alternative for this truth, was there?
If my parents had indeed taken me from Mrs. Annelies and if this was all connected, then what about the murder of her husband?
I thought about dad, about how protective he’d always been about mom. How hard and drive a man he was. No, if anyone would hurt mom, he wouldn’t let it slide.
Dear god, dad, what did you do?
The stolen cars, I remembered. The identity of the driver had never been discovered. There had been no evidence to speak off. And there was this futile police investigation.
Wouldn’t it be easy for a police officer to get rid of all the evidence? Even if anyone had a hunch, without anything to prove… holy shit.
I was already on my way to my parent’s house when my phone started to ring. It was almost by habit than by a conscious decision that I picked up. The moment a male voice reached me I was confused, only now realizing what I’d done.
At first, I had no idea who I was talking to, but then I recognized Sam’s voice. In a few words, he told me he’d checked up the adoption data. He was a bit embarrassed to say it, but there was no entry anywhere else about my adoption. Not in any of the other databases, nor the archives.
“What does it mean?” I asked in a shaken voice, already knowing the answer.
“Well, it means the file I’ve shown you has to be a fake.
“And how the hell’s that possible? You’re telling me someone doctored up a file about me and,” I broke off, not sure what I was even going to say.
“As strange as it sounds, guess there’s no other way.”
“But who’d even be able to do that?” I yelled at the phone.
“Guess someone with connections. Don’t know, our database is connected to some of the hospitals, one or two of the foster homes, well and the police of course, but I’ve got no clue who’d…” as he continued on I didn’t listen anymore. Of course, the police would be able to access their database. That meant anyone there would be able to enter some fake data, wouldn’t it?”
Sam was still going on, but I cut him off.
“Well, thanks, that’s all I needed,” I said, and without waiting for a reply I hung up.
No shock overcame me, no grief, nothing at all. It was just another tiny bit that added on to what I already knew.
The moment I arrived at my parent’s house mom was surprised to see me.
“Daniel, what are you doing here? Don’t tell me it’s about that case of yours?” mom asked.
“Where’s dad? Is he home?”
“He’s in the back,” she said. Without another word, I pushed past her and made my way to the backyard.
“Daniel? What’s going on?” she called out to me before she followed.
The moment dad saw me he got up and walked over to me. Before he could say so much as a word, I spoke up.
“I know about Mrs. Annelies.”
Dad didn’t show any reaction to the name, but I heard mom gasp. I couldn’t hide the sad little smile that appeared on my face.
“Now son, what’s this about a Mrs. Annelies? Can’t you at least give your old man a hug?”
“And who’d that be, you?”
In an instant, his face turned dark.
“I know the adoption documents are fake,” I started.
“Is that why you wanted the name of the place?” mom asked from behind. “We’ve been over this so many times, I don’t even know why-”
“Quiet Lisa,” dad cut her off. “Now what are you trying to say, son?”
“I know all about what happened thirty years ago, about mom’s accident and… everything else.”
With that, I turned to face her. “That rich couple ran you over didn’t they?”
Mom stared at me with wide eyes. “No, there never was an accident,” she started and shuffled around nervously. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about, Daniel!”
Oh, how her eyes betrayed her. Mom was always bad at lying.
“Daniel? Don’t you mean Marcus?”
She cringed back a step as if I’d hit her and put her hand over her mouth. A faint ‘how’ escaped her mouth. I was about to confront her further, but at that moment dad got a hold of my arm and turned me to face him.
“I don’t know what you think you’re talking about, boy, but you better stop,” he said, his face red with anger.
“What about her husband? He was run over, wasn’t he? You remember that little detail, right?” I asked not bothering to hide the accusation in my voice.
He stared me down, but this time, he said nothing.
“It was you wasn’t it? After mom’s accident you-”
“Be quiet, son! You don’t know a damned thing!”
“I know enough,” I spat at him.
“Tell me one thing, mom,” I said turning back to face her. “Why did you kidnap her child, no, I mean, why did you kidnap me?”
Mom stood there as tears filled her eyes. I thought it was shock or sadness, but I saw her face distorted by anger.
“It would’ve been a girl,” she said in a low voice.
“The day she took her from us… and then I learned she had a boy of her own. I wanted she to feel the same thing, I wanted to… oh but you were such a cute little boy, there was no way-”
“Goddamnit, Lisa!” dad screamed and pushed himself between her and me.
“And you! You don’t know anything! Not even in the slightest! There was nothing we could do! She and that husband of hers, they covered it all up. There was no pregnancy, and of course, they put all the blame on Lisa. A bit of money here, a bit of money there and everyone was happy enough to trust them. Even those assholes at the station!”
“And so you decided to take things into your own hands, right dad? Oh, that’s so like you!”
The slap he gave me was hard, but it was nothing compared to the knowledge that all I’d said, all I’d guessed, was true.
The woman behind him, the woman I’d called mom for more than three decades, was shaking and mumbling to herself. Tears streamed down her face as she stared at me, pleading with me.
I looked from her to the man who’d just hit me. His hands were shaking now.
“Son, I didn’t mean-”
“So it’s all true,” I said more to myself than to them. I gave them both a long, hard look.
“Goodbye,” I said, and then, in a sarcastic voice, I added, “mom, dad.”
As I turned to leave, they didn’t follow me. Neither of them said a single word. There was nothing to be said anymore. There was nothing words could do.
Once back outside, I jumped into my seat and drove off. I didn’t get far. I’d barely made it a few blocks before my emotions started pouring out.
I hit the brakes hard, stopped the car and screamed at the top of my lungs. The freak-out lasted for god knows how long. Once it was over, I was panting and utterly exhausted. My hands hurt and I realized I must’ve beaten the inside of the car in sheer outrage.
After it was over, I just sat there, breathing heavily. So it was all true indeed. All of it. I took out my ID and grinned at the name. Daniel Siebert, I read and laughed.
“Just another part of their damned lies,” I said as I threw it out the window.
Then I remembered something. Siebert, my name and of course mom’s name.
That damned email Stephanie had sent me.! The email with my mom’s picture and the document about her. Why had she not said a single word about it being the same name as mine? Wouldn’t she have wondered about that?
Why had she never answered the damned phone?
In a moment I redialed her number and waited for her to pick up. It rang and rang and rang before I was notified that the recipient was not available. I tried again, but the same thing happened. Then once more only to get the same result a third time. She’s not picking up, I realized. I dropped the phone and started up the car again.
The drive to Mrs. Annelies mansion would normally take you about three hours. That day, in the state of rage I was in, I arrived after barely more than two hours. It was pure dumb luck that I wasn’t stopped by the police.
The moment I’d parked the car I was out of it. I rushed to the front door and started switching between beating against it and ringing the doorbell.
I didn’t take long for me to hear something inside. The moment Stephanie saw me, she gave me her usual warm smile. When she saw the state I was in, the hint of a smile showed on her face once more. It was gone in a moment.
“Mister Siebert, are you alright? You look terrible! Is it because of-?”
“You knew didn’t you, Stephanie?”
For a moment her eyes probed me before the same smile from before appeared again. This time it was a mixture of pity and mockery.
“And what might you be referring to Mister Siebert?”
The way she pronounced my last name, the thick sarcasm coating it, made clear that there was no need to even say it.
“When did you figure it out? The moment you saw my mom’s name on that file?”
For a moment she looked at me before she started to laugh.
“Good god, a fine detective you are. Even if there’d been a file like that and if it had contained your last name, it wouldn’t have been enough to give anything away.”
“Even if there’d been a file like… What the hell are you talking about?”
My voice grew louder, and I took an angry step towards her.
She flinched, alarmed at my outburst, but then spoke again.
“I knew right from the start who you were. Long before you even appeared her for the first time!”
“How in the hell did you-”
“You forgot them, didn’t you?”
“The letters,” she said in a voice filled with nothing but disgust.
“What letters,” I started, but right away, the memory returned. The letters that had been sent to me all those years ago. If Mrs. Annelies really was my mother, then she’d been the one to send them to me.
My eyes grew wide with realization as I stared at Stephanie.
“Does she know?” I asked in a broken voice.
Stephanie shook her head.
“No,” she started. “God, it was so long ago. Back then I’d barely started working here. One day I stumbled upon a picture of a little boy. When I asked her if it was her son, she broke into tears. She told me the whole story. The accident, her husband’s murder and the kidnapping of the child. Yet, she’d never found out what had happened to the boy. There were no hints, no evidence, nothing at all. And that’s when I told her we had to look for you.”
“And of course you found me and then she sent me those letters, right?”
The nurse nodded. “You’ve got no idea how happy she was when I told her about you. I’d never seen her like this before and never have since. She cried for hours, but it was tears of pure happiness. I felt for her so dearly that day. And then we waited. With each passing day, she got more excited, but no answer arrived. I told her the letter must’ve been lost, so we sent another one. And then another. And another. I saw her wither away as the days passed. Her happiness turned to grief and eventually to indifference. I told her I’d call you, visit you, drive her to your home, but she’d already given up. That boy, she said, he’s not my little Marcus anymore. He doesn’t want to see me and probably doesn’t even know who I am.”
As she stared at me, throwing those accusations and condemnations at me, I couldn’t face her. I couldn’t face what I done simply because I didn’t care at the time.
“So why now? Why after all those years?” I mumbled, not looking at her.
“Because your mother is dying! That part is the truth! But I knew what would’ve happened if I sent you more letters. You’d ignore them just like before and throw them away. If I were to call you or came to visit you, you’d probably ignore me as well. When I saw your occupation, though, I knew there was a way.”
“If I’d figure it out on my own… if I knew what my parents had done, what I’d done, you thought I’d,” I broke off.
“Can you forgive them for what they did? Can you?”
I said nothing, shaking my head. Then I felt a burning rage growing inside of me.
“And to make me meet her, you had to ruin my life. You had to bring it all crashing down, hadn’t you?! You had to show me all of it, every single, last bit, right? Yet what makes HER so different from THEM? She and her husband were the ones who ran over a woman, killed her unborn child and then covered it all up to save their reputation. They didn’t care one about what they’d done, right? And you really think she’s any better than them?”
“That’s not,” Stephanie started, but I didn’t let her speak.
“She’s the same! They’re all the same! And you, you’re as well!”
“But Marcus, she’s waiting for you! If you’d just speak to her, just told her who you are… Can’t you at least give her that?”
For a while, I looked past her. I stared down the long corridor that led to the room in which my real mother was sitting. Even now, she was most likely staring out that one single window. Then I looked at Stephanie once more before I shook my head and turned to leave.
Stephanie called after me, her words a mixture of pleas and accusations. I gave them no heed.
They were all terrible people, each and every one of them.
I started the car and drove off. I knew I’d never see any of them ever again.
As I left my dying, biological mother, as well as the people who’d raised me as their own behind, I knew, I was as terrible a person as all of them.