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by Jennifer Davis
She had been told, as a rookie, that there was always one unsolved case that stuck with you, the case that you never forgot, that you were never able to forgive yourself for failing to solve. The older cops, the retired cops at the bar, they said that no matter how long you worked with that hanging over your head, in the end, that case will be the reason that you quit.
It rained the day she came across hers. The weather was almost like the murderer had planned it to be so, like the sky cooperated to make everything look even more muted and gray.
The apartment the victim had been found in was one of those colorless modern numbers, all black and white, metal and glass and hard lines. It was the sort of pristine apartment where you can’t imagine anyone with mud on their boots, a dog on the sofa, toddlers running around, or any of those dirty things that inevitably come with living. It was too sterile for that, for anyone to actually live in. There hadn’t even been any food in the refrigerator.
The crime scene was as sterile as the rest of the place. Not a fingerprint to be found. The victim was naked, but whatever she’d worn to get to that place had disappeared, everything except a silver bracelet around one wrist. She was beautiful and as pristine as the apartment, not a mark on her and nothing to mar her perfect skin. She lay there, white against steel grey sheets, her dark hair spread over the pillow like she was sleeping. There was no blood, no body fluids at all, not on the sheets and not anywhere else. The only two splashes of color in the apartment were the red of her lips and a single granny-smith apple sitting on the piano keys.
She always wondered after that why the murderer would leave that one apple in an apartment with no other food. It hadn’t even been tasted. No fingerprints. No saliva. Just a perfect apple, green against the black and white. It didn’t make sense why it would be there.
The coroner's report said that poison had been the murder weapon. They never identified the girl, and they never found any scrap of evidence to point to a suspect. A week after she had been found, the body disappeared from the morgue. The murder became almost immediately legendary. Never had anyone in the department seen one so skilled at leaving no forensic evidence. It was bandied about that only someone familiar with forensic techniques could have done it—but that led to no suspects.
They only had one suspect in the entire case—an older woman, as vile and cold as she was beautiful—but they could never prove any relationship to the Jane Doe who still, even years later, had no name. No relationship, and an alibi as rock solid as they came. She had been at a charity dinner the night the Jane Doe died, seated at a table with the mayor, dancing with his deputy.
The apple that they'd found at the apartment was their only clue. It was a rare hybrid, one that only grew in one orchard in the whole state, and that orchard had belonged to the socialite. It was a flimsy link, anyone could've gone into that orchard and stolen an apple, but it was the only clue in a case that was as bare of leads as the apartment had been bare of life. Even when the body disappeared from the morgue, there had been nothing, not even the slightest fragment of a fingerprint.
So the case was filed away, cold from the start.
But she couldn't put it out of her mind. Each year, she would pull out the file, go over the evidence, look at the autopsy photos. Once, twice, she thought she found a lead. She had been staring at the reports on the day she put in her retirement papers. By then she had the entire case file memorized, the face of the Jane Doe as familiar to her as her own daughter's. She filed the case away with the cold cases and stepped back, turned her back and walked out, but she didn't leave it.
The old timers had been right, after all.
She grew old, and the memories of her husband, her daughter, her grandchildren faded away. She couldn't put names to their faces anymore, but the face of her Jane Doe always remained there, in the jumble of her mind. It was a puzzle still waiting to be solved, and even in her confusion, her mind could not let it go.
And then, one cold winter day, while being led from a taxi by her daughter, she saw a beautiful, fair-skinned woman with dark hair on the arm of a handsome young man. The face was familiar. She reached out, she pointed, tugging at her daughter's sleeve. Her mind was screaming, but she couldn’t form the words. She could only point desperately, willing her daughter to understand. It was her! It was her Jane Doe! Alive!
She kept pointing desperately as her daughter patted her hand and shook her head. To the taxi driver, as she paid, her daughter muttered an apology and something about Alzheimer's. The old woman sighed and looked back at where she'd seen her Jane Doe.
There was only a small, bearded man sitting on the street, rattling a can. Coins for the poor?
She fiddled clumsily with her coin purse and dropped a few coins into his can. Her daughter admonished her. “You shouldn't encourage them, mother,” she said.
But the dwarf looked up at her and smiled.
Jennifer Davis is a geek, a writer, and a crafter who lives on a farm in Southeast Georgia with nine cats and one very large dog. She primarily writes speculative fiction and is currently querying agents for her first novel, while working on her second. When not writing Jen is usually playing video games, working on yarn-crafts, beadwork, or sewing her latest costume. She blogs about all of the above at Semi) Intellectual Blathering. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.