#52weeks52stories: Week 12
Word prompt: assailant
Word Count: 2698
Find Part I here.
Exhausted and annoyed, Sally Bennett wanted answers.
Two hours after fighting a masked attacker for her life, three different detectives approached her three different times asking the same questions.
But no one would answer her questions.
Who was the attacker?
Had he been arrested?
How did he get inside the Ramirez home?
Why did he seem familiar to her?
She understood they had a job to do but it didn’t annoy her any less.
Sally was comforted knowing Graciela was safe.
She interrupted the attack on Graciela before the intruder could do any real harm, but at Sally’s urging, the gutsy senior citizen allowed paramedics to take her to the emergency room at the hospital where Estelle worked.
Her adrenaline rush gone, Sally sat like a leaden weight on neighbor Nina Ahrens sofa wrapped in a blanket.
The kind woman who’d pulled Sally and Graciela inside her home misread Sally’s earlier shivers for cold instead of fear and had been trying to keep her warm ever since.
Two of Sally’s interrogators stood near the door taking furtive glances in her direction as they spoke.
The embers of anger smoldered in Sally’s chest.
This was their job.
They did this every day, but violence in her life was something new to Sally and she didn’t appreciate being treated as though she did something wrong.
She wanted to go home.
No, that wasn’t true. Frankie was away, and she’d be alone with her thoughts at home. She needed her husband, or one of her children, or at least one familiar face who knew her before the worst day of her life began.
A third detective joined the two watching her.
Sally didn’t recognize him, but he also stared at her while trying to act like he wasn’t.
Her jaws tightened as her anger grew.
He walked toward her, taking a pad and pen from his jacket pocket.
“Mrs. Bennett, I’m Det. -”
“No, I didn’t know the man. No, I don’t know how he got in, and no, I didn’t notice anyone watching the house earlier in the evening.”
She smirked at his surprised reaction.
“I guess my detectives have been pretty thorough tonight.”
“Only at asking questions. They suck at giving answers.”
Sally knew she was being rude, but her frazzled nerves were at the breaking point.
He sat down on the sofa next to her, resting his elbows on his knees.
“I’m Det. Sgt. Gavin Marks and I do apologize if it’s seemed like my squad is ignoring you, Mrs. Bennett. We’re still trying to sort things out.”
His apology did nothing to calm her.
“Well, the city’s been on edge ever since the attacks on elderly women began. At first glance, Mrs. Ramirez’s case fits.”
“At first glance?”
“Yes. While the other victims were alone in their homes, they were all senior citizens in poor health or recovering from illness or surgery. This case fits… except for your presence.”
“Me? What’s this got to do with -” She froze, realizing what he meant.
“So, you’re saying the attacker expected Graciela to be alone? But how? I was subbing for another woman from our service. And we were only needed because Estelle Ramirez couldn’t change her shift.”
Det. Marks considered her before continuing.
“That narrows things down even more.”
Sally let the blanket fall from her shoulders as she scrubbed her hands over her face. Confusion wasn’t mixing well with her fatigue.
Then she got it.
Her mouth gaped open at the thought. No, it wasn’t possible.
“Det., you think Graciela was targeted through Angels Assist? That’s crazy.”
“Like I said, we’re still sorting this out, but I’m trying to keep an open mind.”
“But there aren’t many men associated with the agency—no male volunteers, and all the male staff members are up in age too. They work as drivers and deliver meals.”
He made a few quick notes.
“No one’s mentioned that to me tonight. It’s worth looking into.”
Sally bit her lip lost in thought, trying to figure out the connections.
Marks cleared his throat.
“I’m sorry, Det., did you say something?”
“I’m sure you’re exhausted, ma’am, and I promise to get you home soon. But, please, walk with me through this to see if we’re missing anything. Okay?”
She exhaled roughly. “Okay. Fine.”
He glanced at his notes again before beginning.
“Estelle Ramirez made the eye surgery appointment for her mom twelve days ago. She also put in a request for the week off from her job the same day.
Human Resources approved her time off the next day, with the exception of the current shift because the other two charge nurses were already scheduled off. The HR department posted the shift on the hospital extra-duty website for three days, with no takers. Before committing to the rest of the time off, Estelle called the eye clinic to if it was possible to move her mother’s appointment. It couldn’t be done, but one of the nurses there told her about Angels Assist… and that’s where you come into the story.”
“Well, not me exactly.”
Marks frowned, puzzled. “I don’t understand.”
“I work part-time as a services scheduler for the agency. There are two of us. Mona Ingram set up Graciela’s overnight with Kristen, one of our volunteers. After the last attack, her husband insisted she quit. Her call was routed to me yesterday and when I couldn’t find anyone… I took the position.”
Marks was silent for several minutes, adding to his notes before continuing.
“You do that often, Mrs. Bennett… cover appointments?”
Sally shrugged. “Once or twice a month—depends on the workload versus personnel.”
Gavin Marks rubbed his brow, mulling over these new details.
“Is something wrong, Det.?”
“Remember I said this case fits the attacker’s profile at first glance?”
“Well, it’s a wide glance. After two months, we still haven’t found a connection in the first four attacks… or a lead.” He stood. “But I’ll get my people on this when the city wakes up.”
He signaled to a uniformed officer in the foyer. The large African-American man walked over standing next to Gavin Marks, acknowledging Sally with a nod.
“I know you’ve declined medical treatment, Mrs. Bennett, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea for you to go in and get checked out.”
“I’m fine, Detective, really. He didn’t hurt me. Just rattled my nerves.”
“Then I’ll let you go, but I’ll try to answer some of the questions you asked my detectives.”
“Your attacker was carrying no identification, so we don’t know who he is. Crime scene techs found the framing around the dining room window stripped away. He probably used a crowbar or screwdriver. And no ma’am, he hasn’t been arrested because he’s dead.”
Her stomach dropped. The slight buzz humming behind her ears since she ran from the Ramirez home roared. Sally thought she was going to pass out.
“I don’t understand. How? The two neighbor guys who ran into -”
“No ma’am. You fought him with a cane? Mrs. Ramirez’s cane?”
“This isn’t official yet, but the coroner believes the cane fell to the floor during your struggle. When you ran from the room and he tried to come after you, his foot hit the cane. His body rolled forward and he tried to break his fall, forgetting about the butcher knife in his hand.”
Sally shuddered and pulled the blanket tighter around herself, not for warmth but more as a shield to ward off the panic threatening to consume her.
Marks continued. “He fell on the knife, piercing his aorta. By the time Parley and Fulcrum, the two guys from the neighborhood, entered the house, the guy had bled out.”
The horror of such a violent death rose up in Sally, bringing the metallic bitterness of bile and waves of dizziness.
The detective bent towards her. “Are you okay, Mrs. Bennett?” He and the uniformed officer exchanged concerned glances, unsure if the woman would become ill or pass out.
Sally couldn’t respond, the buzzing behind her ears blocking everything but thoughts of the man lying dead on the floor of Graciela Ramirez’s bedroom.
The man who tried to hurt them both killed himself.
Her emotions warred with each other as her sense of justice was met head on with heartfelt sympathy.
For the dead man.
The man who tried to kill her.
Parting her lips, Sally slowly drew in air in deep gulps as she tried to calm her racing pulse.
She looked up into the detective’s face.
“You really should let the EMTs take you in.”
“No… no, I’m okay. It’s just… just finding out the man who tried to kill me killed himself is almost as big a shock as finding him in Graciela’s room.”
“Please. At least allow them to check your vitals in the ambulance… just to be safe. You’ve been through a lot tonight.”
On cue, the churning in her gut quickened, accompanied by a tightness in her chest. Knowing she wasn’t fine, Sally relented. “You’re right, of course. I will let them check my vitals.”
“Good… good.” He gestured toward the uniformed officer. “This is Officer Brian Holland. He’ll take you out to the ambulance. If you’re cleared by them, Officer Holland will escort you next door to get your things. If you can drive, he’ll follow you home. If you can’t, he’ll drive you and arrange to have your car delivered to your home. If you want him to stay with you a while, he will. He might even cook if you ask him.”
Detective and officer shared a short chuckle. Sally glanced back and forth between them, confused but calmed by their easy manner. Marks explained.
“This is Officer Holland’s last week in uniform. He’s earned his detective shield and joins my squad on Monday.”
“Congratulations, Officer Holland. I guess I’m in good hands.”
He tipped his head toward her. “Thank you, ma’am. Just let me know what you need. But, Ma’am… you don’t want me to cook.”
She joined the men’s laughter this time, feeling normal for the first time in hours.
“Someone will contact you by late afternoon, Mrs. Bennett, to come in for a formal statement and signature. Officer Holland will leave his cell number with you and can get you to the station if you’re not up to the drive.”
Sally admonished herself for her earlier anger and annoyance. These people dealt with violence and death on a regular basis, but they were treating her with kindness and compassion.
Detective Marks reached his hand out to Sally and she allowed him to help her up from the sofa.
Caught off guard by stiff joints and a wave of vertigo, Sally stumbled. “Guess I need to get to that ambulance sooner than later.”
Marks watched her with concern as Brian Holland offered her his arm. “Ma’am?”
She gripped his arm with two hands, grateful for the assistance.
Holland led her to the front door, but Sally stopped abruptly, glancing around until she saw Nina Ahrens standing behind Det. Marks.
“Thank you so much for helping us.”
Nina smiled. “You’re welcome. Take care and I hope all of this is cleared up for you soon.”
Sally returned her smile and allowed Officer Holland to lead her from the residence, unsure if it was possible to clear up her night.
Sally tried to relax as she sat on the tailgate of the ambulance.
The paramedic who’d introduced herself as Ruby, frowned while taking Sally’s blood pressure.
Sally attempted to lighten the mood. “Will I live?”
Ruby continued to frown.
“Your blood pressure is running low and your pulse is rapid. Not unusual for what you’ve been through, ma’am. But add the nausea, fatigue and enlarged pupils, and I believe you’re suffering from mild shock. You should be seen by a doctor.”
Overwhelmed and on the verge of tears, Sally Bennett pleaded. “I believe you, Ruby and I’m not trying to be difficult, but I just need this night to end. I don’t think I can handle anymore sitting, waiting and endless questions.”
Ruby glanced from Officer Holland to her partner, Mackie and back to Sally. Her face softened. “I understand, ma’am. But you should also know shock can mean blood isn’t reaching your organs the way it should and can trigger a cardiac episode hours or even days after a traumatic event.”
“I understand, but I just want to go home. I promise if I feel worse, I’ll get to the hospital. And even if I don’t, I’ll call my doctor as soon as his office opens.”
Ruby held the clipboard while Sally signed the refusal of transport document, then turned to Holland. “Take care of her and don’t let her drive.”
“No driving. You got it.”
He helped Sally from the tailgate and they approached the Ramirez home. “I’ll find an officer inside to follow us in your car when I take you home.”
Sally didn’t hear him.
Three feet from the front door she froze in her tracks and Officer Holland felt her body trembling.
“You don’t have to do this, Mrs. Bennett. Tell me where your things are, and you can wait with Ruby while I get them.”
Several minutes passed before Sally responded, staring at the front door.
“I’m going in. Graciela and her daughter have to come back here and live. I can go in long enough to get my things.”
Allowing her to set the pace, Officer Holland entered the home behind Sally.
She was floored by all the activity.
Sally had only seen the Ramirez home in the muted and subdued lighting required by Graciela’s vision problems. Now, every room light and lamp appeared to be on. People moved around rooms, drawing on notepads and taking pictures. She entered the hallway, finding it also full of members of law enforcement. However, all eyes focused on Sally and moved to the side, allowing her to pass.
Making sure Officer Holland was right behind her, Sally headed for the guest bedroom.
Sally swiped a hand over her ear as the buzzing returned.
The hallway appeared to stretch out in front of her, making it take twice as long to cover the short distance.
As she passed Graciela’s room, Sally’s stomach rumbled, and she pursed her lips staving off another wave of nausea.
A flash of light from inside Graciela’s bedroom caught her attention and before Sally could stop herself, she turned and looked inside.
Her attacker’s body still laid on the floor at the foot of Graciela’s bed surrounded by the coroner and his staff.
Sally’s view was obscured by the crowd and all she could see was his head.
His face was turned away from her as more photos were taken to identify him.
She looked at the thick, wavy chestnut hair with fine strands of gray and a sense of familiarity returned.
She knew this man.
Sally entered the bedroom, but Officer Holland grabbed her by the hand. “Ma’am, you don’t want to do that.”
She pulled from his grasp. “I have to,” and before anyone could stop her, Sally Bennett pushed her way through the crowd and stared down at the dead man.
The buzzing in her head roared.
She opened her mouth to scream but there was no sound.
Crime scene techs tried to cover the assailant’s face, but it was too late.
Brian Holland strode through the crowd trying to get to his charge, but Sally backed away into the corner.
The boiling bile in her gut would no longer be denied and erupted from her as she turned and faced the wall.
Sally slumped to the floor clawing at her chest and the burn left by the offensive acid.
Officer Holland tried to help her up, but she scooted away… toward the still body.
The small crowd looked on in confusion and horror as Sally stroked the dead man’s hair.
Her voice returned, and mournful, pitiful wails filled the room.
Sally’s mind snapped and surrendered to the comfort of the darkness as she stared into the lifeless eyes of her husband, Frankie Bennett.
©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved