The Case of The Dead Mary

"Roy? What's this?" Johnny went into the kitchen, where his partner was getting ready to make lunch for the shift. They'd returned from a morning call an hour ago and things had been fairly quiet since.

His partner glanced over. "What's what?" Johnny held out the card he'd been given. "Looks like a card."

"I know that." He waved it, as if that would make it easier to identify. "But what's it for?"

"Have you opened it?" Roy's tone was much like the one he used with his kids. 'Well, did you hit her first? Then what'd you expect?'

"Yeah! That's what I don't get." Johnny ignored the look of exasperation he got, and continued. "It's a Hallmark card, says 'Looking forward to seeing you.' But it's signed Marcia."

"And you don't know any Marcias?" Roy had returned to his meal preparations, digging food stuffs out of the fridge while he continued what passed for a conversation.

"I know plenty of Marcias!" Johnny leaned against the counter, stealing one of the carrots from the pile. Roy half-glared, but said nothing. "But only one of them would send me a card like this."

"Only one who went out with you, huh?"

"Yeah..." Johnny looked up from where he'd been studying the card. "No, I dated two of them. But that's what's weird!" Why didn't Roy get it? He could be so obtuse sometimes.

Roy sighed. "Why is that weird that you dated two of them?"

"One's married, she lives in New York now. And the other one died about two years ago. You remember?"

"Died of cancer, didn't she? The two of you were dating about a month before she broke up with you-- er, before the two of you called it off. She was diagnosed about six months later, wasn't she?" This time the resignation in Roy's tone was tempered with a hint of sympathy.

"That's right! So you see why this is weird."

"You know, for once I do. And that's what worries me. You don't know any other Marcias?"

"No! None that are still talking to me, anyway. If this is a joke it isn't Marcia Stansen's style... she's more of the rabid dog type, if you know what I mean."

"Fortunately, I don't."

"So who sent this card?" Johnny held it up, hoping Roy could finally help him figure this out, now that he'd spelled everything out.

"There's no return address?"

"There is! But it's just an LA postmark. It could be from *anyone*."

"Johnny, why don't you forget about it? If this Marcia really wants to see you again, she'll get in touch. She obviously knows where you are. If it's a joke, then why get worked up about it?"

"Huh..." Johnny thought that over. "Maybe you're right. I wonder if she's cute...." He wandered away, leaving Roy to finish making lunch.

Three days later, Johnny rushed into the station looking for his partner. He finally found him in the locker room, changing clothes. "Roy!" Johnny came skidding to a stop beside him.

"What's wrong?"

"I got another one! Look!" He held out the card.

"From Marcia?"

"No! This one is from Marlene. I only know *one* Marlene, Roy. And she died in a car wreck nearly seven years ago!" He waited while Roy took the card and read it. The exterior was a simple roses in vase, inside it was embossed with 'let's be together forever'. It was signed Marlene.

"Huh. Who do you think it's really from?"

"*I* don't know! But this is getting spooky! Two cards from dead girlfriends... if it's a joke it's in very poor taste." That meant it was probably Chet, except Chet hadn't known about Marlene. No one at 51 did, as they'd stopped dating before Johnny even filed an application to join the LA fire department.

"I agree with you there, John. I wonder what *is* going on?"

"I don't know, but if I get another of these I'm moving and leaving no forwarding address!"

Things were quiet, relatively speaking, for the next week. Johnny tried to question Chet about any new pranks he was setting up, trying subtly to discover if somehow he *had* managed to find out about Marlene. But Chet wasn't having any, walking off without saying a word about anything the "Phantom" might be doing.

It was still possible, of course, but for some reason Johnny didn't think so. It didn't feel like Chet's style. He wouldn't joke around with something like this. If he *had* found out about Marlene he would have also found out that Johnny had at one time considered -- fairly seriously -- marrying her. He'd decided to wait another year, to make sure, and of course they'd ended up splitting up. When she'd died it had been no more traumatic for him than it was losing any old friend.

He still missed her, and these cards had stirred up a lot of memories. No, Chet wouldn't be behind this. He would play jokes that made Johnny look like an idiot but he would never do something like this.

In fact, Johnny realised as he was thinking over the matter of who *had* sent the cards, he'd been wondering at one point whether Marcia was Miss Right. She'd been beautiful, funny, and was extremely taken with him. They'd clicked almost immediately and if it hadn't been for that cat in her tree they might have stayed together... until she'd died.

When a week went by and no new cards arrived, he decided that maybe it was a case of misdelivery. Someone *else* was supposed to get the cards, maybe some guy named Johnny Cage or Donny Gage or, for that matter, Fred Sinclair. He put it out of his mind as he headed to work.

"Hey Johnny, you've got a visitor." Mike called out to him as he parked his truck. "She's in the breakroom, waiting for you."

"Thanks." Johnny grinned. From the smile Mike was trying not to give him, it was a sure bet the visitor was a pretty lady. He checked himself in the sideview mirror, and headed inside with his best charming smile.

"Johnny!" The woman launched herself out of the kitchen chair and into his arms.

He barely had time to catch her, and realise that yes, indeed, she *was* pretty. He let her hug him for a bit -- she had a nice body, that was for sure -- before he untangled her gently. Then he gave her a smile, and tried to remember her name.

"Johnny? What's wrong?" She tilted her head slightly, making her long blond hair fall over her shoulder. She looked like a swimsuit model. Her accent was Midwestern, which didn't help him at all.

"Um, I'm afraid you have me at the advantage. Not that I mind, you understand. But I--"

"You don't remember me?" She looked disappointed, but not surprised. "I should have realised, when you didn't call, didn't even write. I wondered if you were too embarrassed or if you'd just forgotten." Her worried expression vanished, and she smiled. "That's all right. We can start over."

Johnny found himself smiling back. He'd be perfectly willing to start anything with this woman. If only he knew what she was going on about. "Uh, miss...?"

"Oh! I'm sorry. My name is Maria Debonis." She held out her hand.

Johnny shook it, pleased to see Marco and Chet hanging on her every word. Obviously jealous of him. "Pleased to make your acquaintance."

"Oh!" She laughed. "We've met, Johnny. You just don't remember. I saved your life, a month ago."

"You what?" He dropped her hand.

"Saved your life. Don't you-- oh, right. The concussion must have been worse than I thought. My fault, I only made it through my third year of medical school before they called me up for the judgeship. I *really* am sorry. I wanted to carry you down the mountain to the nearest hospital, but you woke up before I finished the travois and you insisted I could care for you, myself."

Johnny stared at her, not believing he was hearing any of this. For that matter, he couldn't believe Marco and Chet were hearing it. "Um.. just what exactly are you talking about? Mountain? Concussion? I never even left town last month." Maybe she was crazy. Suffering delusions. He wondered where Roy was, and if he could get someone to call Rampart without upsetting her.

"You were hiking near my summer cabin where I have a small silver mine. You fell, and I found you and cared for you." At this she began to pout, slightly. If he hadn't been so confused Johnny would have melted and offered her anything to make her happy again. "You said..." Her voice dropped. "You said you wanted to see me again. You told me you'd been waiting for someone like me all of your life."

"I *what*?" Well, it wasn't entirely surprising. He'd said a lot of similar things to ladies in his day, especially to ones this pretty. He just wished it had actually happened. He'd feel guilty about taking advantage of someone who only *thought* she adored him.

"You asked me to come to Los Angeles, so you could introduce me to all your friends." She looked at him, woefully. "You said--"

"All right! I get the picture." Johnny extricated his hands and stepped back. "Look, miss, I think you're a little confused. I've never met you before in my life!"

Before he could say anything further, she let out a cry and turned. Head in her hands, she ran directly for the side-door -- navigating around the kitchen table and two interested firemen with uncanny accuracy -- and disappeared. Johnny stared after her.

"What the *hell* was that all about?" Johnny looked at Chet. "Was that a friend of yours?"

"You think I'd have introduced her to *you* if she was?" Chet returned.

"Good point. Huh.. I wonder who she was."

"Strange last name," Marco mused.

"What's so strange about it? It's French, isn't it?" Johnny looked back at the door. "Maybe I should go after her. She might need our help."

"Please don't."

Johnny turned at the unfamiliar voice that came behind him. Another stranger, male this time. He looked like a fireman, young and healthy, but it was no one Johnny had ever met. "Why not?"

"Well, she'd only get in the way."

Johnny began to get a very bad feeling. "In the way of what? Who *are* you?"

"My name's Sam. Mary Sam...."

The stranger glided closer, smiling.