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People of Interest - Part Two

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As you will recall, Hazel's old friend Amy had disappeared. She had not been seen for several weeks, and to Hazel fell the task of relaying this news to the members of the walking group.

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The next day was Monday and, though she had little desire to leave the house, Hazel set our for her weekly walk. The group was waiting at the meeting place, and before anyone could begin the usual round of speculations, Hazel blurted out, "Amy's missing."

It was as though a bomb had been dropped. Everyone talked at once. They all knew it and everyone had a theory: death by misadventure, a kidnapping, a murder. The murder theory led to panicked squealing from Amy's neighbor, old Mabel Withers. She was sure it was murder. The night of Amy's disappearance, she had seen a stranger lurking behind her house, though he disappeared quickly enough when Mabel opened the door a crack and screamed "Police!"

"If only I had actually called the police." she moaned, "Amy would be alive today."

Bert, a retired veteran, the youngest, and only male member of the walkers, quickly spoke up.

"Let's not jump to conclusions. There could be a perfectly reasonable explanation for Amy's disappearance. Mabel, when you get home, just phone the police and report what you saw. They'll look into it. Now let's just have a nice walk and chat pleasantly without dwelling on morbid possibilities."

The rest of the walk was unusually quiet, and it was obvious that the ladies remained worried. Voices were hushed, and when they reluctantly separated to return to their homes, several were close to tears.

That evening as darkness fell, the ladies closed their curtains tightly, and checked their door locks one last time.

A lone figure, drifted like a shadow, through backyards, checking doors - especially Hazel's.

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Several months later Amy's mysterious disappearance was finally explained. According to the authorities, Amy's purse had been found, caught in reeds, at the edge of the river. It was assumed, no doubt correctly, that the elderly woman had gone walking alone, lost her footing, slipped into the fast moving water, and ultimately drowned. It was sad, but such was life. It was probably just a matter of time before her body would be found, either somewhere along the riverbank or in the lake beyond.

Though saddened by the news of the tragic accident, the walkers finally resumed their weekly routine and life returned to a semblance of normal.

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Some weeks later, on a lovely spring morning, Mabel Withers hurried to join the waiting group and revealed that she had heard some strange news. It seemed that another person, also an elderly woman, had been reported missing. The woman's disappearance had been reported by a neighbor. Apparently the neighbor had become concerned as warm weather had arrived, and the woman, an avid gardener, had not been seen in her yard for several days. The neighbor had knocked on the door, and called out several times, but received no reply.

"And," added Mabel dramatically, "she was a gardener, not a river walker".

Mabel's news distressed the group, who had just become resigned to the fact that Amy would not reappear.

Another member of the Walkers had also hear the news and added that, although the missing woman was elderly, she was considered strong and fit, not someone to merely wander off. Her name was Cindy Clements, and she lived alone on a large property, just outside the city limits.

The name Cindy Clements sounded strangely familiar to Hazel.

As before, the ladies offered their opinions of the disappearance. Unsurprisingly, the walk that day was not a pleasant one, and Hazel was glad to get home to her peaceful little house, and dear Archie. She tried to push the news of another missing woman to the back of her mind. It was just too distressing.

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The next week as she prepared for her weekly walk, Hazel was cheered by the fact that warm spring weather had finally arrived to stay, and little Archie would now be able to accompany the walkers. They had all been looking forward to seeing Archie again, and Hazel knew that some would probably be bringing treats for the little fellow.

Everyone was indeed cheered to see Archie and he happily greeted each member of the group, accepting treats and snuggles with equal pleasure. As the group walked along, the little dog's antics were comical and caused much laughter. In spite of having a belly full of treats, Archie still tried to grab at any bit of garbage he saw along the way. Having been left at home alone, throughout the long winter months, he was ready to cause mischief in any way he could.

As she bent to remove yet another bit of refuse from Archie's clenched jaws, Hazel jumped back. Archie had actually growled at her. "Bad boy," said Hazel sternly, and, holding the little dog firmly, pried from his jaws a small bone.

As she tossed it aside, Hazel realized that it was not just one bone, but two small ones, with tissue connecting them. Noticing something odd about the bones, Bert came over, bending down to examine them more closely.

"Ladies," Bert said firmly, taking out his phone. "I'm calling the police. These are finger bones, and I see a small ring, embedded in the flesh."

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The next few hours were bedlam. The path and the edge of the river were being searched, and the elderly walkers were corralled together, peppered with questions from police detectives. Mrs. Withers had a panic attack and fainted. Medical personnel were soon in attendance. It wasn't long before news of the find reached the media, and as soon as the walkers were released by the police - cautioned not to speak to the press - they were quickly surrounded by reporters with more endless questions. Mrs Withers was whisked away in an ambulance and, after deciding on an unscheduled walk next day, the elderly group slowly, and reluctantly, disbanded.

That evening, Hazel checked all her locks several times, then slept little.

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As planned the group met the following morning. Even Mabel Withers, fully recovered from yesterday's fainting spell, was present. No one felt like walking, and some even looked with suspicion at poor little Archie, as though he was to blame for the horror of yesterday. The walkers finally abandoned any thought of walking, and decided, instead, to head over to a nearby outdoor restaurant for coffee.

Once seated, the group placed their orders and began, in hushed voices, to discuss the events of yesterday and what it could all mean.

"I know one thing." said Gloria, "That was not Amy's finger. Remember she had some kind of allergy to metal, and never wore any jewelry."

"That's right." said Mabel, "I'll bet it belongs to that Cindy woman."

Theories flew around the table as all possibilities, both reasonable and extreme, were discussed. Silence fell over the group. It was Bert who finally spoke up.

"DNA will tell us whose finger it is. I'm sure we'll be hearing more news from the authorities soon enough."

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The next day's news carried a full report based on the latest police findings. A thorough search of the river area had revealed no new information, but the finger itself had. It was revealed that the finger was not that of Amy Withers, nor that of Cindy Clements. It was definitely a woman's finger, but existing DNA records found no match.

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To be continued.