Cold-Case Headcase

cold case“You need to jump start your life, Cassie! Get out of this rut. You like to write, so I think it’d be a good idea for you to join this single pen pals club I saw in ‘Digest Magazine,’” my therapist told me, handing me a clipping.

I was too depressed to enjoy anything. I’d told my counselor I always felt lonely. I consistently balanced to the penny, but didn’t like my accounting job anymore.

It had been years since my last intimate relationship, and I wanted to connect with others. I longed to find someone special.

With a deep sigh, I read the ad: “Singles Pen Pal Club: Tired Of Meeting All The Wrong People? Turned Off By The Bar Scene? Get To Know People Just Like You—From The Inside Out! Join Our Pen Pals Network. Meet Interesting Folks From All Walks Of Life And All Over The Country. Respond Via Snail Mail Or E-mail.”

I responded. That one small deed seemed to uplift my entire world. I began to feel excited about the possibility of making new friends. And I just knew that I’d encounter somebody worthwhile.

The first few letters I received were nothing spectacular. One was from an orderly, who was trying to overcome a serious drinking problem. I received another from a quadriplegic, who was intent on telling me how the world owed him because he’d suffered so much.

Then one day, I came home from work to find a very intriguing note in my mailbox. I sucked in my breath as I read:

“Dear Cassie,

I read your pen pal form and would like to get to know you because I think we have many things in common. However, I’d like for us to correspond via the postal service mail for a while, since I’m shy about meeting women. I’m an average-looking guy who happens to be very lonely. I work long hours as a truck driver, but I’m longing to find my soul mate.

I enjoy many hobbies. I love reading books from the early 1950’s and old mystery novels. I also like bicycling, hunting, and dancing.

I know you love books and dancing, too. Maybe we can meet one day. However, you must feel more comfortable with my surroundings and me first. You and I both need change. Let’s share good times together, Cassie.

Yours Truly, Alan Wright”

I sat at my kitchenette table pondering this letter, noticing how the odd-colored stationery smelled like onions. Why do we have to send letters instead of e-mails? Alan sounded very intriguing, but he also sounded a bit too particular. However, I did write him back immediately.

That night I dreamed I was dancing with a tall, dark stranger who wouldn’t show me his face. I woke up with a fright. The next day I could feel my heart palpitating at work because I was constantly thinking about my new pen pal. Should I send my photo or ask him to send his?

I wasn’t sure what to do, but something told me to be patient and keep writing him. I was dying to get to know Alan better.

I began looking forward to coming home each day, praying to find a letter from him. His letters were so humorous, warm, and sincere that I began to feel like I’d known him forever. Then one Friday, I almost had a conniption after reading his letter.

“Dear Cassie,

I’m glad we’ve become friends, but I really hope you like rats. My pet rat, Nellie, seems to always cause a stir. But I still adore her.

I found your last letter incredibly sweet and touching. You sound like a sincere person, and I can relate to your apprehension about receiving counseling for depression. I, too, get help for mood swings. But right now, I love my job, and that really makes a difference.

Do you have any pets, Cassie? You seem like a cat person. I used to have a cat to keep me company. Get yourself a pet, Cassie, please. (I hope you’re not offended by my blunt suggestion).

Love, Alan”

Well, I did think a cat would be nice. So I went right to a shelter and adopted a little, black kitten named Seymour. I brought him home and kept him by my side always, even when I sat down and wrote letters to Alan.

Suddenly, my interest in power walking and keeping myself in better shape renewed. So I started strutting through the local park each morning, holding littleSeymourin my arms. My job performance also improved, and I received a promotion. Then I mustered up the courage to send Alan my photo.

I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to get his picture in return. He was very cute with a thin, blond mustache and wiry glasses, dressed in a fifties-style leather jacket and jeans. I was so excited to be connecting with a good-looking Prince Charming.

Whenever I described my childhood to him, he understood my sadness about being an only child. He also loved dancing as much as I do. I mentioned how we’d waltzed together in my dream. Eventually, we exchanged books. He sent me a romance novel, and I sent him a thick Civil War mystery. Alan promptly wrote back a seven-page letter, telling me how he’d read it in two days.

However, Alan constantly talked about how unhappy he was with his small town life. He only enjoyed the farms bordering his Maryland suburbs because he loved riding horses and petting animals. He also talked about Nellie like she was his roommate.

I laughed at his tales about the multi-colored rat. Alan was such an unusually interesting man that it seemed appropriate for him to have an odd pet. Fortunately, Nellie lived in a cage, so she’d never bother Seymour.

We corresponded for months before he left me a message on my answering machine, begging me to call. He also kept saying he was older than he looked. I didn’t care—hearing that deep, baritone voice excited me beyond belief. My legs turned to jelly as I fantasized about him holding me in his arms.

My heart was pounding when I called him back that night. “Alan, I’m really glad you called. I’m always thinking about you. You’ve brought sunshine to my life.”

“Well, you sound very sexy and endearing yourself, sweetheart,” he replied, clearing his throat. “How about meeting this Friday night? I don’t know how good you are at waltzing, but I thought we could meet for the local bar’s Night Dance Hop at eight. It should only take you a couple of hours to drive down here from work.”

“That sounds fantastic!” I shouted into the phone, grabbing a pen and paper to jot down directions.

All week I thought about what I’d wear and spent hours fixing my long, thick hair into several different exotic styles. I even experimented with makeup and bought a new fragrance. Finally, I picked out a slinky, black dress and stiletto heels for my big date.

I’ll never forget the minute I walked into the Smokey Tavern, and his eyes met mine from clear across the room. His smile was intoxicating. His bright, blue orbs sparkled with enthusiasm. He slowly walked over to embrace me.

“Cassie, you’re even more beautiful than your picture. I can’t believe we’re finally meeting.” He brushed a lock of hair off my forehead before bending down to kiss my cheek. “Let’s not waste any time. Let’s dance.”

Leading me onto the dance floor, he held me close, pressing his cheek against mine. His arms were warm and tender. We talked about our pets. I told him all about Seymour while listening to him rant about Nellie for almost an hour.

Alan asked how my job was, declaring that I should be making a six-figure salary. He also kept saying that he’d never met anyone like me—I was too special.

I felt his grip tighten around my waist as he pulled me closer. My pulse was racing, and I felt a trickle of sweat roll down my back. Is it really this hot outside? It was so cold earlier. Or am I just feeling overwhelmed?

“Cassie, I’ve never met any woman as wonderful as you on this earth. I don’t ever want our relationship to end. I love you.”

His lips pressed against my cheek and his body hardened, rubbing against mine. I could smell his musky, spicy aftershave. Does this man really love me? And am I in love with him?

“Alan,” I whispered still tasting the beer on his breath. “Please keep in mind that we’re on a dance floor. Don’t you think we should go somewhere else where we can be completely private?”

His throaty chortle sounded in my ear after I suggested we leave. He drove me to his favorite location, beneath an oak tree in the back of a park. At first, we kissed softly, but soon, it became passionate. Then we fumbled with each other’s clothes. I was panting heavily, desperately wanting to do more than just kiss.

I was glad it was my safe period of the month. When he gently pushed me down and started to undo my dress, it seemed right. I couldn’t remember when I’d felt so happy and whole. Our lovemaking was tender and sweet, although the penetration was intense. He thrusted hard before we both climaxed.

Afterward, he held me in his arms while he talked about our future. I lay perfectly still in the car’s back seat. He suggested I make plans to move in with him right away and even volunteered to help me find a new job if I sent him a copy of my resume.

I swallowed hard, asking him if this meant that he wanted to marry me, to always have me as an integral part of his life. And he heartily replied, “Yes.”

All the plans we made that one short evening convinced me that we were meant to be. I saw a videotape fast forward in my mind. I envisioned myself cooking magnificent Sunday dinners in our perfect, white,Cape Codhouse. My dreams were coming true; I just knew it. His loving desire for me was exactly what my life needed.

We ate breakfast in the local diner the following morning, and I gobbled down my pancakes with great fervor. Love is grand. Why should I think anything odd about the situation? We’d soon live happily ever after with total fulfillment. From now on, I will praise God each day, thanking him for bringing me my soul mate.

So I returned home with a long “to-do” list, feeling right with the world. I gave a notice of resignation from my job the following Monday morning, explaining how I was getting married and moving to a new town. My boss, Mr. McCoy, was thrilled for me and agreed to give me a glowing letter of recommendation.

I should’ve thought something was strange when I later dialed Alan’s phone number and didn’t hear his voice message recording. But I assumed he’d turned the machine off. Then I got a vague call from him the next day, saying he’d phone later.

One day, I came home after work to hear another voice message from him. “Cassie, I’m so excited about you moving here. And I just can’t wait to see you again! We’ll have an eternity to be together now. I’m sending you some accounting job ads!”

He rambled on, making my day with a love declaration. The following Wednesday, I received a packet of newspaper clippings. So I immediately called several highlighted classified ads to set up interviews.

Alan phoned my machine a few more times to say he loved me, but I could never reach him whenever I called back. On my last day, my coworkers threw me a party. I had such mixed emotions that I cried. A few young women asked to see his picture. I remember several ladies commenting on Alan’s cute appearance when I showed his photo.

After packing a rented U-Haul to the hilt, I drove south on the interstate highway, singing love songs. I couldn’t imagine feeling happier!

When I got to his apartment and opened the door, I almost had a heart attack when I saw that it was completely vacant. Something was wrong. I searched the premises but found no note. There was only an empty rat cage labeled MY PET in a corner. So I was sure I had the right address. I noticed the apartment felt unusually hot.

Several seconds later, a plump, black lady came out from the unit below the stairway and said, “That strange man sure knows how to do a disappearing act. I simply came home yesterday and all his things were gone! Then I went to small claims court today. They told me he’s just a low class drifter!”

I couldn’t scream, cry, or do anything except gulp. “Didn’t he say where he was going?”

“No. Like I said, he just left. But the local sheriff says he’s a no good con artist. Sheriff said he’s wanted for petty crimes everywhere.” I watched the woman shake her cornrows and scratch her chin. “When he first moved here, he had a mustache. But last week, he shaved it off and started acting funny.”

As she placed her hands on her hips and widened her stance, I felt my blood curdle. Where is Alan? This can’t be happening! I couldn’t have been so stupid and wrong about our love for each other.

My mind raced. I had to find out the truth. I’d given up too much now to drive away empty handed. I recalled seeing a small motel with a bar and restaurant near the town’s edge. I decided to go there, grab a meal, and think.

Hours later, I sat pondering my dilemma in a booth in the bar, when a waitress came over to take my order. She showed some genuine concern as I sat nervously, fumbling with my purse like a drug addict.

“Honey, you look like you’ve been through hell! Let me get you a beer.”

After she brought it, she slid into the booth across from me. She reached over to touch my forearm and introduce herself. I began pouring my heart and soul out to this fat, bleached-blond woman with an overly made-up face. She cracked her gum and listened to me tell my saga of Alan. While I babbled, I noticed that several other people sitting at the bar were eavesdropping.

While I spoke, I tried to act calm, cool, and collected. But I wasn’t sure how to handle this small, gawking crowd.

Then one older man approached the table and said, “So what did this guy look like?’

I described him as the waitress’s eyes brightened. “He sounds just like Jared down at the local county lock up, doesn’t he, Marty?” Leaning forward, she continued, “I think you should go down to the prison and ask to see Jared Palmer. He sounds like he’s your man. Jared’s a regular con artist and done all sorts of pranks, and—”

“Not so fast, Suzy!” Marty, a beefy man, shouted so loudly I could feel my eardrums pop. “I had a classmate who fits Alan’s description. He died in a trucking accident ten years ago. He was a lonely fella’ with some strange pet, and he used to dance.” Marty stood up and began to pace while my heart tightened. “Before he died, he talked about meeting some woman through a letter club. My office cleaning lady told me about it. But he got killed right as his life was turning around.”

I watched Suzy blanch. “I don’t believe in supernatural experiences. I think this is Jared Palmer up to one of his cons.”

“Suzy, I think this woman’s clearly in love with the man she met. And she seems far too intelligent to fall for a fraud like Jared.” Marty scratched his gray beard while talking. “This Alan guy sounds just like the guy I knew. I also believe he intended to follow through with his proposal.” Then he turned to stare at me. “You do believe in inexplicable things happening, don’t you, lady? Maybe he had to lead you to this new place before he could cross over into that world beyond. Since he couldn’t marry the woman he loved before dying and change her life, he had to show you love and lead you here somewhere where you could change and grow.”

I swallowed, not knowing how to respond. This was too bizarre. But I now realized I really didn’t know much about Alan before coming here.

While Suzy voiced objections, Marty cleared his throat. “You can consider me and Suzy your new friends, lady. We hang out here often, and you can hang out with us whenever you want.”

“Marty, knock this off now. She needs to go to the county jail and see Jared. She’ll know instantly if Jared’s the guy who promised her the world,” Suzy said, jumping to her feet and slapping my shoulder. “Marty’s right though, honey. You can consider us your new friends. Now let’s drive over to the county prison.”

So we drove there, and I met Jared Palmer. Yes, he somewhat resembled my Alan. But I really didn’t believe that he was the same guy. His mannerisms were too creepy. Of course, I could’ve been so dazed I just wasn’t paying close attention. But I just didn’t feel any connection to this prisoner in the orange jump suit.

Then I asked Suzy to drive me to the local library. “Honey, I don’t think your Alan’s a ghost. I think he’s probably just some low life who fled town.”

Suzy watched over while I scanned through old library files, stopping when I came across a newspaper article from a decade ago. It was titled: “Local Drifter Killed Behind Truck’s Wheel.”

I stared at the face of a man I swear was Alan. The article was vague, talking about how he’d been engaged to someone. It described how he’d lived in a rented duplex inside town. Is the man I loved really dead, or is he the con artist in prison I couldn’t stand to face?

I don’t know the answer to this day. But Suzy and I talk about it often. She helped me find a job here. And Marty once invited me out dancing and started to talk about life, the after life, and strange, supernatural phenomena.

Jared Palmer has never been released from prison. Last year, Marty introduced me to one of his friends, Toby, who I’m about to marry, since I truly love him. As Suzy always says, God has a strange way of working things out for the best, even when you doubt it.

But I’ll always wonder about Alan and one question will forever haunt me: Was Alan a con artist who took me for a fool or a ghost who tried to show me love?



Comments are closed.