“What the hell is going on here?” I can’t take my eyes away from Dead Emma’s face; it almost matches the face in my nightmares perfectly. Almost, but not quite - the nose is slightly narrower, the hair a less vibrant red.

“A message, maybe. Maybe a case of mistaken identity.” Living Emma shrugs and rises from her crouch, trying to look nonchalant, like she sees dead bodies that could be her twin every day. “What I do know is that we’re in the middle of a crime scene and it wouldn’t take much detective work to pin this on us.”

“Well the alarm’s not going off any time soon and it doesn’t look like Joel has been around for a while,” I say, remaining crouched down but finally tearing my eyes away from Dead Emma. I cast a quick glance around the living room, my eyes resting on two large pieces of art on the wall. “Do you know if he has a safe hidden around here, somewhere he might keep important documents?”

“Behind the Kitaj,” she replies without hesitating. I raise an eyebrow at her and wait for further explanation. “It’s the mostly blue one over there, with all the athletes on it. He never meant for me to know about it but I caught him sliding the painting back into place once when he thought I was asleep.”

I move to the indicated wall and grasp the dark oak frame on either side, shifting it off its setting and placing it gently on the floor. The black wall safe is maybe six inches high, a foot wide at most, and is protected by a silver combination lock that goes from one to one-hundred. I swear, louder than I had intended.

“Forget the dynamite in your other jacket?” Emma asks and I laugh despite where we are and what’s on the ground behind us.

“There are two types of combination locks on the market,” I tell her as I press an ear to the safe. “Group 2 locks require, at most, three numbers to open them. Group 1 locks can go as high as six. I’ll let you guess which kind this one is.”

“Joel is not one to settle for second best,” she says and for some reason that finally pushes me over the edge.

“So what’s the full story between you two? I think I’ve been kept in the dark long enough, don’t you?” I don’t look back at her. I focus on the dial and begin to turn. In the heavy silence that follows my questions I hear my first click.

“It’s… a long story,” she finally says and I know she doesn’t want to talk about this.

“We’ve got time - this isn’t the movies. Here, I’ll start us off: Puppy is not, nor has she ever been, nor will she ever be my girlfriend.” Click numbers two, three, and four.

“She… it took you this long to tell me that?” I have to smile at the indignation coating her words. Click five. “Don’t look so pleased with yourself - you’re going to have to work to make up for that one.”

“Mmm hmm,” I say as click number six reaches my ear. I pull my head back and check the dial. This is not good. “So go ahead. Did you meet in a coffee shop, grocery store… morgue?” I return my ear to the safe and continue to turn. Almost immediately I hear number seven.

“Does it really matter how we met?” Emma moves to the window and rests her hip against the frame as she looks down to the street. “We dated for a couple years, things were getting pretty serious until his family decided they didn’t care for me. Supposedly.”

“You don’t believe that anymore,” I say as I get click number eight just before the dial completes it’s rotation. Damn it. “But you used to - I’d ask what’s changed but I imagine it has a lot to do with what’s happened recently. Returning briefly to the present moment: the combination is eight numbers, between one and a hundred. Any ideas?”

“I’d ask how you know it’s eight numbers but I imagine that would require a chalkboard and two jugs of coffee to explain,” she says with a tender smile. “We can rule out birthdays, he’d never be that obvious. But it would have to be something he’d easily remember since there’s no way it’s written down anywhere.”

I move away from the safe and make a quick circuit of the room, hoping for inspiration. There’s no way I’m getting that thing open without knowing the combination. If I knew how to do that sort of thing I’d be retired in the Caribbean by now, not walking around a dead body whose stink I’m actually starting to get used to. I stop suddenly as I pass the bookshelf.

“Does he have any favorite bible quotations?” I ask as I run my finger down the spine of a well worn copy of the Good Book. “Eight of them, ideally.”

“Bring that over here,” Emma tells me, her expression hidden in shadow and her tone unreadable. I do as I’m told and she begins flipping through it with lips pressed tightly together. I look out the window and stifle a yawn. The sun will be up soon and I have no idea when or where we’ll be getting any sleep.

I do know that we need to be in and out of the mayor’s house before dawn, otherwise we’ll have to wait until night to fall again. That might not be a bad idea, actually.

“Here we go,” Emma whispers and moves to the safe. I watch as she bends at the waist and grabs hold of the dial with the fingers of her right hand, her eyes flicking between it and the open pages resting in her left. She begins spinning the knob, left then right, left then right, while I stretch my arms above my head.

I’m so tired that when the safe swings open I wonder if I’ve fallen asleep and am now dreaming the most wonderful dream I’ve ever known. Dead Emma aside.

“We’ve got two envelopes and one small binder,” she tells me with a smile bordering on smug. A noise from outside causes me to turn my head. The source sends much needed adrenaline shooting through my veins and less needed fear somersaulting around my stomach.

“Grab them and let’s go,” I say as I push away from the window. “The cops just showed up.”

The End

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