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Death in the Fort - Chapter Nine

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Jan Hoffman | The Journal Gazette

Chapter 9

Shay came through for us, naturally. And after rattling off a bunch of databases "we should know how to use by ourselves by now," she finally forked over her research - mostly copies of newspaper articles she'd found.

"This ... is ... insane," Jessica said, thumbing through the pages.

She was right. First of all, Darleen wasn't from Fort Wayne. She was from Auburn, a town about 30 minutes north of here and home to the annual Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival. (Why would you lie about that?) But that was just one of the lies she'd told us. There would be more to come.

Over a pizza and a couple beers at The Acme, Jessica and I read through the newspaper articles, covering them with sauce and our greasy fingerprints. (At one point, Edna - our favorite server - flung a stack of napkins on the table and said, "Please? The other customers are complaining.")

The first article was from the local paper, The Journal Gazette. Darleen had been involved in a pretty serious-sounding car accident back in 2005, apparently. A moving company truck had smacked into her while she was walking out to her mailbox on the side of the highway. The driver, it turned out, was drunk.

"It says 'intoxicated,' " Jessica said. "That makes it sound classier."

The other articles weren't about Darleen. Not specifically, anyway.

Woman finds body inside home

Cleveland police are investigating the death of a woman who was found dead Wednesday night inside her east-side home.

Nikki L. Statler, 32, was found face-down in a puddle of blood inside her kitchen, the victim of an apparent puncture wound to her chest. Her body was found shortly after 8 p.m. by a cousin, Darleen Fitz, from Auburn, Ind., who was staying with Statler. No weapons were found near the body.

Police are calling the death suspicious.

The next article followed up, saying the death was ruled a suicide by the coroner. And there was Darleen again - quoted in the story - talking about how Nikki had been depressed for months, had broken up with her boyfriend and wasn't handling it well.

"So meth guy doesn't know Nikki's dead," Jessica said. "They must've been close."

"What luck," I said, accepting another stack of napkins from Edna. "Darleen visiting her cousin the same weekend the woman decides to puncture herself to death."

I sat there for a while, staring at the articles and absentmindedly folding and refolding my napkin. My dad used to tease me about stuff like this; about being too methodical. Mostly because I was a creature of habit - the type of kid who ate her peas first and only then moved on to the rest of the food on her plate - potatoes second, fish sticks third.

"Martha, you're killing me," he'd say. "You eat like an Englishman."

But I liked my routines. They helped me avoid stress, and with a brain prone to over-loading, I needed all the help I could get. And I still like things to be orderly. This information about Darleen? It was getting sort of jumbled in my mind by this point. Coming at me too fast, I guess.

The articles Shay had given us told us who Nikki was - Darleen's dead cousin. But we still didn't know much about Darleen herself, except that she was from Auburn and had been hit by a moving van. And neither of those things seemed to warrant visits in the middle of the night from crazed drug addicts.

"I know how we can find out more," Jessica said, wagging her eyebrows and talking in this sort of sing-song voice. "Road trip. To Auburn."

It sounded like a good idea. Of course, if I would've known then what we were going to discover in Auburn, I would've stayed home and vowed to mind my own business from then on.

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