#52weeks52stories: Week 16
Word prompt: tuna
Word Count: 2167
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Connie Pierce stormed across the walkway to her apartment.
Walt Stokely could be such a dumbass!
She fumed as she slammed her front door.
It wasn’t a big deal. All she asked him to do was go into Gary’s apartment and retrieve her laptop.
And he refused, spouting privacy concerns and the probability of getting sued.
Walt has also proposed the idea the laptop may not be in the apartment but with Gary, wherever he was. He needed a better reason to invade the man’s privacy.
Connie wanted to smack the man. He wasn’t worried about privacy when she caught him outside her bedroom window.
She paced around her dining area praying Gary would show up any moment.
Privacy was a major concern… and problem for Connie Pierce.
She was okay with falling behind on blogging and missing out on group chats. But when her boss announced a security breach during the staff meeting this morning, Connie had to school her features when she realized she was the breach.
Or rather, her old laptop was.
The laptop she’d loaned to Gary Sievers.
She knew there was no actual threat to client information as Gary would have no interest in the senior care file database stored on the laptop. All he had to do was turn the laptop on and the access point connected with files in the local Medico office.
Harlan Woods had ranted and railed during the staff meeting about the breach. Hackers and the Dark Web were making billions of dollars selling stolen identities. If an employee of Medico Insurance is found to be engaging in such illegal practices, the result would be hard prison time.
Connie shuddered at the thought of going to jail even though she knew she’d done nothing wrong.
Yes, she should have deleted Medico’s access point from the old laptop, but she didn’t see it as a big deal. The old laptop could serve as a backup… just in case.
Not only had just in case arrived, it bought its ugly sister, you’re-screwed.
Connie had to fix this.
Sally Bennett paced around the small seating area in the coroner’s office.
“There has to be some mistake. You’re wrong, Dr. Lacy. The first thing you said was this office made mistakes.”
“Mom, please calm down. We just left the hospital.”
Sally glared at Carolyn but turned her attention back to Pax Lacey. “Tattoos and surgical scars don’t just disappear, doctor. Explain yourself.”
The coroner stood, his head bowed. He tapped the file folder against his thigh, weighing his options. He didn’t know how or why, but the truth of the situation was growing at a rapid pace in his mind. At last, he met Sally’s angry gaze.
“Mrs. Bennett, did your husband ever break any bones? Arms? Legs? Ribs?”
Sally couldn’t have reared back faster if he’d slapped her.
“Never! Up until Frankie’s bypass surgery, he was healthy as a horse. What do broken bones have to do with this?”
“The body you autopsied had multiple past breaks, didn’t it?”
All eyes turned to Darrin.
“How do you know this Darrin?” Sally’s head swiveled back and forth between the coroner and her son. “Someone please tell me what is going on!”
“Your son is correct. The body I examined had suffered multiple breaks in the past. The right arm was broken several times… as many as four. The legs were broken but from the wear and tear, I could tell they weren’t broken at the same time. And the ribs… all the ribs were broken at some point… many times.”
Sally collapsed onto the couch. “You are not listening. My husband… Frankie never broke any bones.”
Darrin approached his mother and knelt at her side. “I think what Dr. Lacey is trying to tell us, mom, is the man he examined… isn’t dad.”
Connie massaged her stomach. The tuna-on-rye sandwich she’d called dinner refused to cooperate, churning and bubbling, preparing for a revolt.
She was making herself sick with worry.
Dusk was approaching and there was still no sign of Gary Sievers.
Connie knew she was out of time and options and needed to do whatever it took to save her job.
She grabbed her cell phone, opened a browser and did a search on breaking and entering. She found the credit card method to be the easiest way to bypass a locked door. Probably too easy. She didn’t have that kind of luck. After reading through a handful of results, Connie created her burglary toolkit: screwdriver, ice pick, a spray can of vegetable oil, a dishcloth, and rubber gloves.
Steeling her nerves, Connie opened her door and peeked out for signs of her neighbors or jackass Walt.
Satisfied the coast was clear, Connie grabbed her toolkit, headed for Gary’s.
Before closing her door, she paused, looking at her own lock and door frame.
No way. It cannot be that simple.
She ran back into her apartment and grabbed her wallet. She removed a credit card… thought better of it and took out a supermarket rewards card instead.
Taking her keys, Connie stepped outside her apartment and locked the door. Holding the doorknob, she slipped the plastic card between the door and frame and swiped down.
The door opened!
Oh my god, I’ve so got to move! Is it this easy to break in? So quick and silent?
Focus, Pierce, focus!
She closed her door and took the few steps to Gary’s apartment.
I cannot believe I’m doing this.
Repeating the steps, she’d taken to open her own door, Connie swiped the card downward… and the door opened.
For a fraction of a second, she hesitated feeling guilty.
Then she entered her neighbor’s apartment.
Sally stared at her clasped hands laying in her lap. She spoke without raising her head.
“I fell to the floor next to Frankie’s body in Graciela Ramirez’s bedroom. I stared into his face. It made me violently ill to find out the man I loved was the man who tried to kill me. Now you’re telling me I don’t even recognize my husband.”
She raised her head, glaring at Pax Lacey.
“I want to see my husband. Now.”
Joanie’s anguished cry filled the office.
Sally was unmoved.
“I want to see my husband.”
The coroner went to his desk and made a call, speaking in low hushed tones. He hung up and walked to his office door.
“Follow me, please.”
Sally was behind him in an instant without a backward glance to her children.
She knew she couldn’t handle the looks on their faces.
She followed the coroner down the same hallway, in the opposite direction. Perspiration trickled down the back of her neck.
A tingling sensation raced up her arms to meet the throbbing sensation in her head. Her legs threatened to give out with each step, but she forced herself to keep up with Dr. Lacey.
They stopped in front of a set of double stainless-steel doors.
Sally knew her children had caught up from the sound of Joanie’s soft sobs.
Pax glanced back at Sally, his eyes apologizing for what he was about to do.
He pushed opened the door and stood aside for the family to enter.
Everything in the room was stainless steel, glass and sterile. But the lingering scent of death Sally remembered from the reception area was strong and pungent here. Several empty gurneys lined one wall and stainless-steel drawers filled the rest.
A gurney sat in the center of the room covered by a white sheet. A young African-American woman stood on the other side of the gurney.
Pax Lacey introduced her.
“Mira, this is the Bennett family.”
A silent, respectful nod was her only response.
Sally approached the body, but Darrin jumped in front of her. She squeezed his arm and smiled. “He can’t hurt me anymore, sweetie,” and she stepped around her son.
She stared down at the covered body, then pushed her shoulders back and returned Mira’s silent nod.
The coroner’s assistant folded back the sheet, revealing only the face.
The Bennett family gasped in unison.
Darrin, Carolyn, and Joanie gathered around their mother to stare down at the man who’d given them life… or so they thought.
Sally’s mind somersaulted.
She wasn’t sure what she expected, but it wasn’t a ghostly yellow version of her husband. She looked around for Dr. Lacey.
He approached from a corner desk, having donned a lab coat and gloves.
“Why is he yellow?”
“This man was severely malnourished and jaundiced. Only recently, had he began received adequate nutrition.”
All fear and doubt left Sally and she grabbed the sheet, uncovering the right arm and shoulder.
There was no tattoo.
“Fortis et Certus. Over a pair of rifles. It meant Brave and True. Frankie got the tattoo after his first deployment.”
“Mrs. Bennett, I don’t even know where to begin with this. There have been mix-ups with bodies before, but only because a tech wasn’t paying attention to body tags and identifying features. We still don’t have a fingerprint match. We began this case based solely on your identification from the crime scene.”
She pulled the sheet down farther. There was no bypass scar, only the remains of the internal examination by the coroner.
Sally dropped the sheet and began to step back but froze and stared at Frankie’s face.
The nose was bigger, and the lips were thinner.
Was that because of death?
She reached out a hand to the face, and Darrin grabbed her arm.
She gave him another motherly smile, and continued on, caressing Frankie’s face and running her fingers through his eyebrow. Her heart leaped into her throat.
“Frankie had a sebaceous cyst on his right brow. His doctor said it was non-cancerous and non-life threatening and best left alone. There is no cyst. No tattoo. No surgical scar. This isn’t… my Frankie.”
She broke on the last word, getting caught by Darrin before she could collapse to the floor.
Sally looked into her son’s face, new tears blurring her vision.
“Who is this man? How did he get my Frankie’s face?” Her tone rose as hysteria threatened to overtake her. “Darrin, where is your father?”
Connie flicked on the wall light just inside the door of Gary’s apartment and froze.
The room had been destroyed.
Gary didn’t have much but whatever he did have was broken and overturned.
Someone had a terrible fight in this room.
The apartment was a mirror image of her own, and Connie could see everything but the bedroom.
Watching her step, Connie went to the small bedroom and peered inside.
Her face scrunched up in confusion.
The room was immaculate, the bed unslept in.
She retraced her steps to the front door, wondering what had happened here… and where was Gary Sievers?
The small dining table where Gary used her laptop was upside down near the kitchen counter.
Connie took hesitant steps toward the table, looking over the debris-strewn floor for the laptop.
She reached the table and her heart sunk.
The laptop wasn’t there.
Wherever Gary was, he had the laptop with him.
A wave of clarity hit Connie as she backed toward the door.
She was going to lose her job, and after she reported the state of Gary’s apartment to Walt, she’d be out on the street.
Goodbye, Marbury, Pennsylvania. Hello Cheboygan, Michigan, population, five-thousand. That number included Gladys Pierce, Connie’s overbearing, controlling mother who would be thrilled to see her only child return with her hand out.
Already mentally packing, Connie turned to leave and froze at the sight of a pair of feet sticking out from just beyond the love seat.
She wanted to get the hell out of there, but her curiosity won, and she approached the feet. As the body came into view, she could tell it was a man lying face down.
Steeling her nerves, Connie reached down, grabbed the man’s shoulder and rolled him over.
It was Gary.
His face was bruised and swollen from the obvious fight, but it was the large, open gash over his forehead that drew her attention. She knelt next to him.
“Oh, Gary. Who did this to you?”
Her hand rested on his chest as she hung her head, tears flowing for a man she hardly knew.
Connie thought she heard a low moan and raised her head.
She heard the noise again, but this time, Gary’s chest heaved once.
Startled, Connie fell backward.
She scooted back over to him, replacing her hand on his chest and two fingers on the pulse point in his neck.
Gary’s heartbeat and pulse were faint, but he was still alive.
Patting her pockets, Connie realized she left her cell behind in her own apartment.
“Pierce! What the hell? What’s going on in here?”
Connie said a silent prayer, grateful for once to see her grouchy landlord standing in the doorway.
“Shut up, Walt and call 911! Now!”
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