Sunday, November 1, 2009

Part One, Chapter Two

There were only two possible explanations, and one got ruled out pretty quick. Either the boss ran off with her employee, or he did her and ran off. There didn't seem to be a lot of room for other explanations after a week had gone by and the cops and combed through Elizabeth Wilson-Reilly's office. The other employees at Stafford Mental Health seemed pretty emphatic that Liz and Jerry Cambuto had not been big fans of each other, so foul play seemed to be the order of the day.

Liz had worked as a transcription manager for a conglomerate of psychologists and psychiatrists. She oversaw 12 typists who all worked from home, coming in every day or two to trade out files. The typists worked from home with mp3 audio files of patient interviews. It was a high-stress position for Liz, and one particular young lady, Esther Kirke, who worked as a receptionist and file clerk, seemed to feel that Liz had it in for Jerry. “She was always riding him,” she was quoted as saying. She didn't believe there was any possibility that Jerry could have had any part in Liz's disappearance.

Liz's husband, Lance Wilson, on the other hand, was outraged. He refused to consider that his wife may have left him, whether it was for another man or not. The presence of her car in the parking lot seemed to suggest that if she had left her husband, she hadn't planned on doing it alone. Lance threatened to sue the office park for not having better security in the parking lot.
Everything became moot quite quickly once the police ran the information from Jerry's resume. Yes, there was a Jerry Cambuto. Unfortunately, poor Jerry had died of crib death 32 years prior in Lincoln, Nebraska. The idea that Liz might have ran away was dismissed and the investigation now focused on whoever Jerry Cambuto actually was.

His cell phone was disconnected. There were no credit cards issued to his name or social security number. The address he had given Stafford was a P.O. Box. There were no other addresses associated with his name or social security number. The only known photo of Cambuto was of the back of his head from last year's Christmas party.

There were, fortunately, plenty of people who knew what he looked like. A composite sketch was assembled that all the Stafford employees agreed was an excellent license. It ran in the local newspapers and on the TV news. A response came up within two days.

Police visited Erma Applegate at Mercy General in Portland on Thursday. She'd been admitted the previous Saturday with smoke inhalation. She was a 72-year-old widowed retiree and she reported that Cambuto had been her tenant, renting a basement apartment from her for two and a half years. He had his own entrance and came and went as he pleased. He also had a key for her back porch which allowed him to use the washer and dryer. She didn't see him much, he kept to himself, but he was polite and he paid the rent on time. She fed his cats when she went to visit her family for Thanksgiving. She couldn't believe he would have set the fire that started in his apartment and consumed most of her home. The fact that it destroyed all his belongings and any physical evidence the police might have been able to gather to determine who Jerry Cambuto really was made them think otherwise. There was nothing suspicious found in the remains of the basement, just furniture remnants. The apartment had clearly been largely emptied before the fire started.

The fire was determined to have started from what appeared to be a scented votive that had been placed in an accelerant, like denatured alcohol or turpentine. The candle served as a crude timer and likely burned for several hours before igniting the conflagration that destroyed Ethel Applegate's home.

Cambuto's image continued to be circulated, and police lines were deluged with reports of sightings and associations with the man. A gas station clerk reported selling him fuel the weekend of the disappearance. A pizza delivery clerk remembered delivering him a pizza because, “The freak ordered anchovies. We fuckin' hate that shit, man.” Hundreds of calls were logged and responded to, most of them worthless. Cambuto's name and image was circulated on police wires. Cambuto was briefly one of California's 10 most wanted.

After just four days, there were 10 criminals wanted more than Cambuto. After a week, the image was pulled from television news. After two weeks, it stopped appearing in the newspapers. Three days after that, phone tips trickled to a minimum.

And after that, Jerry Cambuto was forgotten for five years.

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