Prompt: Your partner passed away and left a locked black box with instructions “If you received the box it means my death was staged. Meet me where it all started. Bring the box.”
When I open the closet door his scent overwhelmed me, I hadn’t been able to touch any of his things since the police officer had knocked on my door. When they told me they had found Richard’s body smoldering in his black BMW I couldn’t believe it. My Rich, murdered? They spent hours asking me about any enemies and all I could do was shake my head. Everyone loved him. He was funny, talented, and put the people around him at ease. For goodness sake; he saved people’s lives every single day and no one could save him.
They wouldn’t even let me see him…said he was so badly burned the only reason they had made an ID is that his wallet had fallen out in the struggle. The credit cards and cash were gone…but I just couldn’t believe that a mugging could turn quite so deadly. Mostly people just got stabbed and shot, right?
I fingered one of his shirts longingly. They all sat perfectly color coded- when I first met him I teased him about it constantly. Even going so far as to purposefully put his laundry back wrong; his nostrils would always flare with annoyance and he’d give me that special look that said I was lucky he loved me. I’d give anything to see that look again.
I chose a suit and shirt quickly not really worried about which one. Any of his suits will do- it’s not like it will be an open casket or anything.
The doorbell chimed throughout the house- I groan as I glance at the clock. I guess Bec had gotten an earlier flight. While I know she wants to help I can’t help but wish I had just one more hour to myself. I’m not ready to bury him…I’m not sure I’ll ever be.
I force a smile on my face and open the door, no one is there. I glance around confused. I definitely heard the doorbell but there’s no one there. I step out onto the patio and stumble over a hard black box. What is it?
I scoop it up and pull off the stark white envelope labeled with my name. Clarissa. I pull at the top gently but it doesn’t budge. A small keyhole sits directly in the center of one side. Why would someone send me a locked box?
I open the envelope and only two lines mark the page…written in the sloppy handwriting of my late husband. How? Did he know he was going to die and send me a message from beyond the grave? Maybe it’s a clue to the bastard that took him from me.
If you received the box it means my death was staged. Meet me where it all started. Bring the box.
All of the sudden I feel as if the air around me has been stolen. I choke on nothing, a deep pounding of blood in my ears. What the hell is happening? Is this some sort of joke? A sick, horrible joke. It has to be. Why would Rich have his own death staged and why wouldn’t he tell me about it befoe? My fear and disbelief turn to anger. I’m going to find this bastard and make them pay for this. I throw the box in a cabinet as I hear a car pull into my driveway. For now I just have to get through the funeral and then I can deal with this.
The funeral came and went so quickly, I don’t even remember what anyone else said. The black box consumed my thoughts, burning so brightly that nothing else could get in. What if this isn’t a joke….if I go to our spot and he’s there. I’m not sure if I’ll slap him or kiss him. The clock strikes midnight…far too late to go out there now. But what if he’s just standing there waiting for me? Will he leave if I take too long?
I throw on some clothes without thinking- I need to get out there now. I need to know. I’m on the road within minutes black box tucked safely in the passenger seat; just in case.
It takes me an hour to reach the University- it’s quiet, only a few lights speckling the sidewalks. At night it looks almost lonely. I park right next to my old dorm…where I met Richard for the first time. It was Halloween night- one of those lucky ones where it actually falls on a weekend and the parties were in full swing. I’d escaped to the roof as the smell of cheap liquor, piss and booze became overwhelming. He was standing there wearing a white power ranger costume. Later that night I found out that him and his friends decided to go as the characters from an older Power Rangers movie. The memories threaten to take me under and I climb the rickety staircase. It had only become more unstable with age.
The roof looks empty and my heart sinks. The little bit of hope that I had been holding onto vanishes. I sink to my knees, clutching the box close sobbing loudly. He really is gone.
“Clary?” his soft voice comes out of the darkness to my left and I jump slamming my elbow into the metal door. “It’s me.”
Next thing I know my fists are pummeling into his stomach. I think I’m screaming but the rage fills me. He stands there with a sad look on his face letting me hit him over and over again. Waiting as though he has all the time in the world.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I didn’t even know about it myself until the officer was on our doorstep.”
“How could you do this? I thought you were dead! I’ve been crying myself to sleep every night and you’ve been what? Hiding out?” I whisper, gasping and stuttering like a complete fool.
“I had no choice. It had to be convincing for both our sakes. I just want to keep you safe.” His look is full of pity but no remorse. I stay silent waiting for his explanation; unable to form any helpful words. “I’m not actually a doctor, well, I am but not in the sense you think. I work for the government in an agency that investigates illegal medical trials. I’ve been undercover for the last seven years. They tried to reassign me when I started dating you but I refused. I just couldn’t let you go.”
“How…what?” I stutter again…trying to take it all in. “Why would some silly medical trials make you fake your own death?”
“It’s complicated. I wish I could explain it all now but we don’t have much time. We have to reach the extraction point before they leave.” A quick flash illuminates the alley below and he looks around nervously. “Where you followed?”
“I…I don’t think so. Who would follow me?” I crouch when he does…following his movements. Emotions of all kinds flow through me so fast I don’t know which is worse. Fear? Anger? Happiness that he’s alive?
“Dr. Edmonington. He’s one of the heads of the latest operation. We’ve got to go!” He pulls gently on my hand head tilted towards the staircase.
“I can’t just leave. My friends, family.” I can’t just disappear. “Won’t these people know that you’re not really dead if I just vanish?” Even though he is not the man I thought he was I can’t help but be concerned for his life. I want him to live.
“No. I’ve got a plan in place to explain your disappearance. It’ll start with a letter that says you decided to follow our lifelong dream of moving to London.” He rattles on about his plan and a dread fills me. It will never work. It’s too unbelievable. No one who knows me would believe I’d just up and left.
“Rich. I think you need to go without me. Give me some time to stage a real exit, then when we are both safe I can find you.” I can’t believe the words that are coming out of my mouth. My body shudders at the thought of losing him again.
He starts to object but when I refuse to budge he pulls me close and sighs into my hair. “I will send you the key when it’s time for you to join me. Please stay safe.”
In a flash he is gone. The loss of him is so complete my knees give out. How could he have gotten me in this mess? I turn to the sound of the door opening behind me, “I told you to…” And the world goes black.