Chapter 7

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Chëpter Sefee (Chapter Seven)

MARTY STU ate his sandwich before walking to Hedestad, where he found the address he had seen on the driver's license in the photos. He knocked on the door and an old woman answered.

He held up his press pass. "My name is Marty Stu Bonkvist. I'm here on Swedish financial journalist business."

She nodded. "Of course. Everyone's heard of you for some reason. How can I help you?"

"I'm investigating a disappearance from forty years ago. You were at the Swedish Appreciation Day parade here in town, and you took a picture. It was at a specific moment, in a specific location, when this was taken. I know it's a long shot, but I was wondering if you still happened to have that photo. Here's the photo taken from the other side of the street."

He held out the photo of Harried he had discovered.

Her face lit up. "Oh, yes. Come in, please."

He stepped inside the warm and cozy house.

She held out her hand. "Please, sit. Would you care for a sandwich?"

He sat down. "Yes, please. I'll have a turkey club with sliced avocado and pickles."

The old woman left the room and came back with two sandwiches, and two cups of coffee. They drank the coffee and ate the sandwiches while they talked.

She said, "My name is Millie Burrrrrrrrrrrrrrrdogen. I was born in Germany, but moved to Sweden after I got married to a Swedish soldier in World War II. I ran a local laundry for forty years. My husband died--"

He held up his hand. "I'm sorry, but can we skip the unnecessary back story just this once? All I need to know is whether you have that picture."

"Yes." Millie reached under her coffee table. "I remember when I took that picture, I thought to myself, 'Even though this is one of a thousand pictures I took this day, for some reason, this photo seems important.' That's why I preserved it, despite losing all my other pictures in a fire, having to wrestle it from the jaws of a rabid dog, and hiding it from an alien invasion three years ago."

She took out a photo album and set it down on the table. "I had it laminated, sealed in a titanium frame, reproduced a hundred times, and had various copies enlarged to focus on different areas on the photo."

He took the photo album, and flipped through it to find the same photo on every page. It showed the other side of the street, where a crowd had gathered. The various photos zoomed in on different people in the crowd, indexed by the angle from which the original photo had been taken.

He used the original photo to get the right angle, showing a blurry image of a man in a distinctive sweater.

Millie sighed. "Yes, I'm sorry about that. I tried to have that photo cleaned up, but the computer lab couldn't enhance the image any further, since the resolution is only 72dpi, which caused considerable pixelation in all four quadrants, even using the Venni Core algorithm for processing."

"That's okay. This gives me a start. Thanks, I appreciate your help."

"You're welcome. Anything for Marty Stu Bonkvist. I only ask one thing." She unbuttoned her blouse and leaned forward. "Will you sign my boob? I can't wait to show the other ladies at the bridge club."

* * *

Marty Stu returned to his cabin to find a young woman standing next to his front door, shivering.

He hugged her. "Pernilla, my only daughter. What a surprise to see you. What are you doing here?"

She wrapped her arms around herself. "Freezing. I didn't dress for this weather."

"Like father, like daughter." He unlocked the front door. "What are you doing here?"

His daughter shrugged. "Just wanted to establish that you actually have a daughter to humanize you a little bit. Oh, and to solve any mysterious clues you might have lying around."

"Oh, good." Marty Stu went into his cabin and spread out his notes on the table. "Have a look at this, see what you find."

His daughter looked at the pile of clues, and fished out Harried's old journal. She flipped to the list of numbers and pointed. "Hey, those are scriptures from the Bible. Leviticus, specifically."

He took the book and stared at the list. "How could you possibly know that from a bunch of random numbers?"

Pernilla tapped her forehead with her fingers. "Because I'm vaguely religious. That gives me 'Bible-sense.' It's like Spiderman's Spider-sense, only it allows me to sense Biblical passages."

"Hey, thanks for solving that clue. You can go now."

His daughter walked out of the house, never to be seen again.

He sighed. "Well, that's real progress. I should probably tell the person who's paying me that I actually achieved something."

Marty Stu returned to the Avenger mansion, and knocked on the door.

Heartsick opened the door, leaning on a cane. "Oh, hello, Marty. How goes the investigation?"

"Oh, pretty good. I just found a major clue. I think I have a photograph of the man who killed Harried." Marty Stu held out the blurry photo he had taken from Millie.

Heartsick looked at the photo.

He collapsed on the front porch of his house.

* * *

As the paramedics wheeled the stretcher with Heartsick on it into their ambulance, Marty Stu stood off to one side with Birch Frodo.

"Wow," Marty Stu murmured. "I didn't think the shock of finding the first real clue to Harried's whereabouts would cause him to have a heart attack."

Birch sighed. "It didn't. It was the incredibly hard-to-believe circumstances that led to your obtaining the photo, combined with trying to accept the concept that a blurry photo taken across the street from where his niece happened to be looking when she frowned forty years ago could have any possible significance."

"So what happens now?"

"Well, nothing, really. We didn't need him, anyway. You get back to work."

"Okay, but I can't keep doing this all by myself. I need an assistant."

Birch raised an eyebrow. "An assistant? For what? All you're doing is sorting through photos and papers, and you have a whole year to do it."

"Well, it's a lot of work. Plus, it's cutting into the time I usually devote to seducing women and feeling sorry for myself."

Birch sighed. "Well, there is one person we hired when we investigated you that might be suitable. A woman named Elzbeth Salamander. Here's the file she made on you."

He handed a file folder to Marty Stu, who flipped through the pages.

"Good grief," he whispered. "This amount of personal information is insane. She must have hacked into my computer."

Birch smacked his forehead. "A hacker. Really? I never thought of that."

"How could you not have thought of it? I mean, how else would she get files from my personal computer? These are my emails. Here's a printout of the file directory on my hard drive."

Birch shrugged. "I dunno. Maybe she's psychic."

"And you think that makes more sense than her being a hacker?"

"Look, let's just say you're the only man in the world smart enough to figure out Elzbeth's secret, even though all the evidence points that way, and let's move on." Birch handed him a card. "Here's her information. Let's get her involved in this story."

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