The Devil You Know, Part X #52weeks52stories

Intruder

#52weeks52stories: Week 20

Word prompt: mania

Word Count: 1570

~~~~~

Part I    |     Part II    |    Part III    |   Part IV   | Part V

Part VI   |   Part VII   |   Part VIII   |   IX   |

(All links open new windows.)

Adrenalin and exhaustion warred inside Sally Bennett. She was dead tired. Just a few hours ago she was a patient in this same hospital, making deals with her doctor to escape the confines of her hospital bed and go home.

To face life without her husband; to understand why he’d attacked her and Graciela Ramirez; to understand how he ended up dead on the floor of Graciela’s bedroom.

Now everything had changed.

Frankie wasn’t dead, nor was he her attacker.

But according to this doctor, she could still lose him.

Fighting the mania in her mind, Sally swallowed deeply, pushing the burning bile back into her empty stomach.

“Dr. Stanley, please. What does that mean? How serious are his injuries?” She clutched at her stomach. “How did he get injured?”

“Mrs. Bennett, I cannot say for certain how your husband sustained his injuries. I can tell you from the bruising on his hands and face he was involved in a physical altercation—a fight—and ended up on the floor. As he tried to stand, he was hit with a large, heavy object twice, fracturing his skull.”

Sally swayed and teetered on her feet.

Carolyn screamed out, “Mom!”

All the detectives raced to catch her, but Brian Holland reached her first.

She struggled to stand on her own but found she couldn’t and leaned against the brawny police officer. Tears streamed down her face as she turned to Gavin Marks.

“The man. The man in the morgue. Did he do this to Frankie?”

Wary of admitting how little information they had in the case… now cases, but knew she deserved the truth.

“We don’t know ma’am, but it is the leading theory due to his resemblance to your husband. He must have been trying to switch identities but until we can find out who he is, it’s just a theory.”

She turned back to the doctor. “Take me to him?”

“Of course, just understand his appearance is unsettling.”

He opened the door to the critical care suite behind him and Holland escorted the distraught woman into the room, closely followed by the Bennett children.

Sally froze in her steps at the foot of the bed, covering her face with one hand in horror.

With the head of the bed elevated, Franklin Bennett appeared to be napping, but the large pressure dressing covering half of his head and dipping to just above his right eyebrow told a different story.

Purple bruises near his left eye and on his chin stood out against his ghostly pale complexion.

Officer Holland tried to maneuver Sally around the bed to the only chair in the room, but she pulled free, navigating around humming and beeping medical equipment to get to her husband’s side.

She bit her lip to muffle her sobs as she slid her hand under the snapped sleeve of the hospital gown and pulled it free.

Her chest heaved in a combination of relief and agony seeing the crossed rifles tattoo on his upper arm.

Sally raised her hand, tentative at first, but then smoothed his right brow.

The sebaceous cyst was there.

This was her Frankie… and he didn’t even know she was in the room.

She looked across the bed at Dr. Stanley, her eyes full of sorrow.

“There’s nothing you can do?”

He responded, keeping his tone low and even.

“It is a life-threatening injury, and to be honest with you, Mrs. Bennett, I’m surprised he’s made it this far.”

He motioned to Frankie’s hands and face.

“The coloring of his bruises leads me to believe his injuries were sustained seventy-two to ninety-six hours ago.” He paused. “He… lost a lot of blood. But I believe the position of his body and the cooler seasonal temperatures played a part in keeping him alive. That and he has the heart of a lion.”

She looked down at the love of her life in awe. The heart which almost failed him two years ago was now the only thing keeping him alive.

She reached out to caress his cheek before realizing Dr. Stanley was still speaking.

“Excuse me, Dr.?”

“I said his blood pressure is the issue. It’s far too low for your husband to make it through surgery right-”

“What? Surgery? For what?”

He sighed, glancing over his shoulder at the three detectives standing in the doorway before continuing.

“As far as we can tell, Mr. Bennett’s brain activity is normal and that’s a miracle in and of itself. But bleeding in his brain has caused swelling and pressure. If we don’t get that pressure released soon… there will be brain damage and it will be permanent.”

Sally swayed on her feet and sagged against the bed. Brian Holland was ready this time, having moved the chair to the side of the bed.

Gently gripping Sally by the shoulders, he pulled her backward until he had her in the chair.

Darrin, Carolyn, and Joanie were huddled at the foot of the bed, each with a hand touching their father. The officer got Carolyn’s attention, gesturing for her to take his place with her mother before he stepped away, joining the detectives in the doorway.

Sally didn’t notice the activity around her. With her gaze focused on her husband’s face, she addressed Dr. Stanley again.

“Is he scheduled for surgery?”

“No. We’d lose him on the table.”

She slumped in the chair and suddenly realized Carolyn was at her side. She gripped her daughter’s hand, looking for strength.

“So, what’s going to happen to my husband? He’s just going to die?”

“That’s not going to happen if we can help it, Mrs. Bennett. He’s made it this far because he’s a fighter.” He pointed to the multiple I.V. poles attached to the bed. “We’re giving him fluids, antibiotics, vitamins, and that is his third unit of blood. We have three more on standby. Once we get his blood pressure up and stabilized for one hour, he goes into surgery. The two top brain surgeons in our area have examined him and are just waiting for our call.”

A spec of optimism began to bloom in Sally’s chest.

It wasn’t the end of them… yet.

“Dr., I’d like to donate blood for my dad.” Darrin didn’t bother wiping the tears from his face.

“Yes, all of us will,” Carolyn added after exchanging looks with her sister.

“Of course, I’ll get someone to take you down to the lab for typing and matching.”

He stepped back from the bed and pulled out his phone, but Sally stopped him before he could dial.

“Until then, Dr…. until then what happens?”

“We wait, Mrs. Bennett, and pray for the best.”

She stood. Returning to Frankie’s bedside, she slipped his limp right hand between both of hers and bowed her head. Carolyn moved closer bowing her head too.

Darrin and Joanie joined hands at the foot of the bed and followed suit.

Dr. Stanley brushed past the detectives in the doorway and they followed him into the hallway.

“Doctor, what are Mr. Bennett’s chances?”

He turned to Gavin Marks.

“Det., I really-”

“Just tell us what we’re working with…please.”

The doctor removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes before responding.

“I’m being cautiously optimistic when I say 25-30%, Detective”

“Damn.”

“But he has a lot going for him… no life support needed and he’s not in a coma.”

“What? He’s not?”

“No. Mr. Bennett has responded to testing in every way… except for waking up. I’m encouraged by his strong brain activity and strong heartbeat. But the clock is ticking and the window of opportunity to save him is down to 6-8 hours.”

“Thank you, doctor.”

Brian Holland stepped back down the hall, peering into Franklin Bennett’s room. His family still stood around him with their heads bowed.

Pete Hill scrubbed his hand through his salt and pepper buzz-cut.

Gavin Marks leaned against the wall, hands shoved deep into his pockets. Marks’ head was also bowed, but he was deep in thought.

Ganson finally said what they were all thinking.

“If he doesn’t make it, we may never find the answers we need to solve our cases.”

“It’s time for some good old-fashioned police work, gentlemen.”

The law enforcement officers all exchanged knowing smirks.

“Your trial by fire continues Holland. Tell Lothern to do another search on the name Gary Sievers but include a search for the last name alone too. Ask him to pay special attention to smaller towns and to put names on the info requests… make someone sit up and take notice.”

Holland pulled out his cell and stepped away.

“What are you thinking, Marks?”

“The answers are staring us in the face. I think once we confirm the identity of Sievers or whomever he is, everything will fall into place. We’ll solve our case, your case, and there’s a real chance we could learn the identity of the Senior Citizen Rapist.

Let your captain know we’re working together, Ganson, then we need to pay a visit to your crime scene.”

*

The detectives never got back to the apartment where Franklin Bennett was found that night.

An alert patrolman spotted a late-model Ford reported as stolen abandoned two blocks from the Ramirez home.

A routine retrieval and impound became evidence when an inspection of the vehicle’s contents turned up a name on the priority list.

Sievers.

 

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

The Devil You Know, Part IX #52weeks52stories

Intruder

#52weeks52stories: Week 19

Word prompt: task

Word Count: 876 (Reading time: 1 min, 55 sec.)

~~~~~

Part I    |     Part II    |    Part III    |   Part IV   | Part V

Part VI   |   Part VII   |   Part VIII   |

(All links open new windows.)

Apprehension hung in the air as Sally Bennett and her children huddled into the small conference room.

Joanie and Carolyn sat side-by-side at the end, clutching hands and watching their mother.

Det. Marks took a seat at the other end of the table.

Darrin stood behind his mother’s chair, curious why the large uniformed officer was standing so close to her.

“Detective, please, what is all this about? Why did you insist I return to the hospital?” Sally’s voice was hoarse from exhaustion and stress.

“Mrs. Bennett, Dr. Lacey updated his report to rename the man we first believed to be your husband John Doe 417.”

Sally held his gaze. “No, it’s not Frankie.”

“Your husband was adopted as an infant, correct?”

“Yes.”

“And he had no information about his birth mother? Never went looking for her? Anyone ever come looking for him?”

“All he knew was she was an unwed teen, and he was adopted by an older couple from Maine.” She glanced back at her son then addressed the detective again. “But I remember Darrin telling me no record was found of Frankie’s adoption. How is that possible?”

Gavin stared at his clasped hands, choosing his words carefully.

“Ma’am, I wish I had answers for you, But I promise you, we’re exploring every possibility.”

“What does that mean… exploring every possibility, and why did you demand my mom come here.” Darrin stood behind Sally, his hands clenched in anger.

“Mr. Bennett, we-”

“Enough!” He motioned toward his sisters. “Their nerves are frayed, and hearts broken.” Darrin rested his hand on Sally’s shoulder. “Whether or not you find my dad; whether you find the answers to this case… I have to protect my mother and sisters. If you know something we don’t, tell us. Otherwise, I need to get my family as far from here as possible, so they can rest their bodies… and their minds.”

Gavin Marks saw the fear, anger, and defeat in the faces of Sally and her children.

Swallowing his pride and the rest of his questions, the detective stood and walked toward the door.

Though his face was devoid of expression, he narrowed his eyes at Brian Holland as he passed and knew the uniformed officer understood.

Marks paused at the door and turned to Sally.

“Mrs. Bennett, please come with me… your children too.”

Sally and her daughters left their seats, following the detective without question, but Darrin hesitated.

“Mom?”

She paused in the doorway, half-turning to her son.

“What else can we do, Darrin? We need answers.” She left the room with Officer Holland close behind.

Marks stood at a large gray door just down the hall. As the small group caught up to him, he peered through the window and waved his hand. A door release buzzed, and the detective pulled the door open just in time for Carolyn and Joanie to walk through. A glance over her shoulder brought Sally relief when she saw her son was the last person through the door.

A lone nurse sat at the large nurse’s station. She exchanged looks with Det. Marks and placed her hand on a file next to her.

He knew the task was done and motioned for the family follow him again.

Just past the nurse’s station, three men were standing in the hall. Marks stopped when he reached them and turned to Sally.

“Mrs. Bennett, this is detectives Ganson and Hill from Baxter, and this is Dr. Stanley.”

The men all murmured greetings.

Marks nodded for Ganson to continue.

“Ma’am, we answered a call earlier this evening after a lady found her neighbor dead in his apartment.”

Sally gasped, clutching her chest.

Ganson held up his hand. “I apologize for saying it that way but let me finish. The man wasn’t dead but critically wounded. Paramedics got him stabilized enough for transport and due to an emergency at the closest hospital, we ended up here.”

“Detective, what does this have to do with our family?” Carolyn was now showing the same anger as her brother.

“The neighbor and the landlord identified the man as Gary Sievers. Is that name familiar to you?”

Sally glanced at each of her children as they shook their heads, weary and confused. “No, it isn’t, detective. So, what does he have to do with all this?”

Ganson looked to Hill, who spoke up.

“Mrs. Bennett, after the doctors worked on the victim, I went through his clothes looking for a cell phone… business card… anything that could lead us to family or friends. I found a wallet and the driver’s license identified the man as Franklin Bennett.”

His sisters emitted twin screams and Darrin moved to their sides, holding on to them both.

Sally grabbed the detective’s arm. “Where is he? Where is my husband?”

“Mrs. Bennett-”

She cut Gavin Marks off with a glare.

“I want to see him now! You should have told me he was here the second I walked in. Where is he? Tell me now or I’ll check every room on this floor!”

Dr. Stanley stepped in her path.

“Ma’am, you don’t know everything yet.”

“I know he’s alive!”

“Yes… he has a pulse and a heartbeat, but it may not be enough to save him.”

 

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

The Devil You Know, Part VIII #52weeks52stories

Intruder

#52weeks52stories: Week 18

Word prompt: ranch

Word Count: 1181

~~~~~

Part I    |     Part II    |    Part III    |   Part IV   | Part V

Part VI   |   Part VII   |

(All links open new windows.)

Darrin Bennett drummed his fingers against the steering wheel. Marbury, Pennsylvania wasn’t a large city or even a business hub. But as one of four cities that shared the interstate exchange, evening traffic was always headache-inducing as suburbans scurried back to their ranch-style homes.
He glanced at his mother in the passenger seat. She’d been quiet since they left the coroner’s office.
“How are you holding up, mom?”
Just like she’d done in Pax Lacey’s office, Sally Bennett sat with her back straight. Her seat belt strained against her as though trying to push her back in the passenger seat.
“Tired. Confused. Pissed off. Scared.” She fingered the small handbag in her lap. “It was horrible enough being attacked in the Ramirez home. But we both lived through that and are so grateful.”
Tears pooled in her eyes.
“Then to see your dad… my husband lying dead on the floor…”
Sally leaned her head back, causing the tears to run down the sides of her face.
“… and now we know the man is not your father. No one knows who he is, or what has happened to my Fran-”
Her voice broke as her husband’s name disappeared inside a deep sob.
With his eyes still on the road, Darrin reached over, gripping his mother’s hand. Exhaustion bore down on him and his nerves were as frayed as Sally’s.
He and Merri should be busy packing up their kids and dropping them off with Merri’s parents before heading to Carolyn’s for a hang-out weekend to plan Sally and Frankie’s thirty-second wedding anniversary dinner.
But instead, he was living out the plot of some bad movie-of-the-week melodrama.
Sally’s deepening sobs synced with the throbbing in Darrin’s head.
He knew she couldn’t take much more. Since the week began, his mom had: sent his dad off on a business trip; been attacked in a client’s home; found out the attacker was her husband… and he was dead; now knew the attacker was not her husband but shared his face.
Darrin needed air, but with one hand on the wheel and the other still holding his mom’s hand, increasing the air conditioning or opening a window would have to wait.
His mania calmed as he passed the Limerick Avenue ext. The next exit would lead to Colon Regional Hospital.
Apprehension tugged his mind. Why was his mother ordered back to the hospital not by her doctor, but by a police detective?
He did not understand what they were walking into, but he would demand full disclosure from the police. They had the right to know. Is mother needed to know. He wouldn’t risk losing her to hysteria again. After this meeting, he would find Sally’s doctor and get her re-admitted… at least for the night.
Darrin flipped on his turn indicator as he approached the exit and glanced in his rear-view mirror to make sure his sisters were still behind him in Joanie’s Ford Escape.
Sally’s sobs had turned into pitiful moans. Darrin gripped her hand tighter, determined to do right by his mother and for his family.

*

Ganson and Hill were incredulous as Marks and Holland recounted the week’s events involving the Bennett family.
Pete Hill whistled long and low while staring through the unit window at the comatose man.
Lennie Ganson rested his hands on his hips.
“Well, you guys have seen both men. What do we have here? Doppelgangers? Twins? A bad remake of The Boys from Brazil?”
Gavin Marks leaned against the wall, his arms folded across his chest.
“I wish I knew, but nothing has added up in this case from the start. Pax confirmed the ID of the body in the morgue fell through before we stumbled upon you guys.” He tilted his head across the hall. “Your guy’s ID says he’s the real Bennett, and his family will be here shortly to confirm, but that still doesn’t tell me who’s lying in the morgue.”
Pete pulled out his notepad.
“The landlord who called 911 and the woman who found this guy gave his name as Gary Sievers. Said he kept to himself, didn’t go out much, but only at night when he did.”
Brian Holland took out his own notepad and copied the details from Hill.
“His injuries were life-threatening so the paramedics were focused on stabilizing him for transport, not searching his pockets.”
Marks addressed Officer Holland.
After we speak with the Bennett family, we’ll need to visit the crime scene and speak with the people who found him,” he grinned at Det. Ganson, “if you don’t mind us visiting your county?”
Ganson threw his hands up.
“With everything I know… and don’t know about our cases we need each other to put the puzzle pieces together. Visit away!”
The men shared a laugh while a young orderly approached them.
“Detectives, we have a small conference room set up for you just past the nurse’s station.”
The small group followed the orderly down the hall. Marks paused before entering the room.
“Holland, the Bennett family should be here soon. Go down and wait for them and get them up here as quickly and quietly as possible… without telling them too much.”
“You don’t think any of them are involved in this do you?”
“Oh, no. They’re as much in the dark about this as we are. But Mrs. Bennett… well, after what she went through the night of the attack and just being discharged from the hospital today, I wanted her seated and calm as possible… and a doctor close by, before we tell her about her husband. Of course, she’ll be glad he’s alive, but his condition isn’t stable and he does require surgery… if he ever gets strong enough.”
Holland’s large frame sagged.
“She gets good news, then bad news, then even worse news.” He grimaced. “Bet a week ago, she never imagined her life taking a turn like this.”

*

Darrin eased into the parking space and cut the engine when he saw he sister take the space next to him.
Still holding his mother’s hand, he gave it a gentle squeeze.
“Ready for this, mom?”
She didn’t respond and he turned toward her, and his heart broke more.
For the first time since Tuesday night, Sally Bennett was asleep without the aid of emotional shock or prescribed medications. It wasn’t a peaceful sleep, however. Her furrowed brow and tight jawline proved her mind was not at ease.
Carolyn tapped on his window and Darrin opened the car door.
“Wish I could just let her sleep.”
“I know. I wish we all were asleep and could wake up from this nightmare.”
“Nothing is ever going to be the same again, is it?”
They both glanced at their baby sister standing near the back of Darrin’s car.
“We’ll get through this, Joanie, one way or another.” Carolyn’s faint smile did little to encourage her sister.
“No, we’ll get through this together.”
They all turned at the sound of Sally’s voice.
“I just hope that includes your father.”

 

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

The Devil You Know, Part VII #52weeks52stories

Intruder

#52weeks52stories: Week 17

Word prompt: cell

Word Count: 1513

~~~~~

Part I    |     Part II    |    Part III    |   Part IV   | Part V

Part VI   |

(All links open new windows.)

“What? When was she discharged?”

“It’s been at least two hours.”

Gavin Marks hung his head while rubbing his brow in frustration.

“Ma’am, Mrs. Bennett is a victim and a witness in this case. The department was to be informed of her release.”

Donna Marcus was at a loss.

“I know, detective, I know. It’s on the patient chart and in the patient care system, but I just came on duty. I know there were emergencies on the floor in the afternoon and the shift was understaffed. Any number of things could have happened, including one nurse thinking another made the call. I’m sorry.”

Gavin understood how a well-planned day could go south in a matter of moments.

He reached out and shook her hand.

“Thanks for your time. I apologize for my rudeness. This case has stonewalled us, and Mrs. Bennett is our only lead. I hope your shift is an easy one.”

“Thank you, detective.”

Gavin walked away, pulling out his notepad and cell phone. His call to Sally Bennett’s home went unanswered. He swore under his breath when he realized he hadn’t gotten her cell number too.

As he reached the elevator, the doors opened and Brian Holland stepped out.

“Got the message to meet you here but you don’t look happy to see me.”

The detective smirked at the uniformed officer.

“The hospital discharged our only witness over two hours ago. Just called her home… no answer.”

“She’s had a rough couple of days… could be asleep.”

“True. But three of her five children are in town and I doubt they’d drop her off and head back home after finding out their father tried to kill their mother and her client and now he’s dead.”

It was Holland’s turn to smirk. “Good point.”

Gavin pushed the button for the elevator.

“Let’s take a ride over there… see what’s going on. This case is dead in the water. There must be something Mrs. Bennett has forgotten that will point us in the right direction.”

“Sure thing. Let me call Lothern.” The officer reached for his radio.

“Not necessary, dude. I talked to your sergeant and had you re-assigned. Hope you don’t mind, but you’re on my team in four days, anyway.”

The elevator doors opened and the big man grinned as he stepped inside.

“Nope, I don’t mind at all.”

“Welcome to the Special Investigations Unit. Your first case is a real cluster.”

*

It only took a few minutes for Connie Pierce and Walt Stokely to tell the police what they knew about Gary Sievers.

Neighbor Jill Vick had nothing to add. The forty-seven-year-old disabled woman lived right across the hall but spent most of her days wearing headphones or ear-buds.

Noah Lambert lived across the hall from Connie but had been at work all day, then spent the night at his girlfriend’s.

Lead detective Leonard Ganson was pissed.

“Someone tried to commit murder and no one heard anything. That’s just great. That’s just freakin’ fantastic.”

He lit his third cigarette since arriving at the scene.

“Man, calm down and stop acting like it’s the first time we’ve had no witnesses. Pete Hill had been Ganson’s partner for fourteen years.

“And stop smoking like a chimney. If the captain shows up and sees you, it won’t end well.”

“Just once I’d like to have a willing witness or a repentant suspect who fears for his immortal soul and confesses.” He took a long drag on the cigarette before continuing. “It’s gonna be a long night.”

Connie stood in the evening twilight watching the paramedics stabilize Gary Sievers for transport.

Attached to the gurney, a short I.V. pole held twin bags for O positive blood and simple saline. A light compression bandage was wrapped around his forehead “to keep his brains from falling out” she’d heard one paramedic say to the other.

The small case tracking Gary’s vital signs showed they were impossibly low.

Walt slipped an arm around Connie.

“I’m sorry, Pierce. I should have opened the door when you asked me to.”

Surprised by the gruff man’s sincerity, she offered him a sad smile.

“Don’t blame yourself, Walt. We didn’t know. Gary kept to himself so much, not seeing him daily wasn’t a big deal.”

The paramedics lifted the gurney into the back of the ambulance. One jumped inside, administering aid to Gary while the other packed aware their medical gear.

“Will he make it?”

“I can’t say, ma’am. We’ve stabilized him the best we could, but his pulse rate hasn’t improved. If he can last through the ride to Colon Regional, the docs there may be able to improve his odds.”

He closed the back doors of the ambulance and hurried around to the driver’s side. Connie followed.

“Wait. Colon Regional? Trinity Memorial is right down the street.”

He opened the door but paused long enough to respond.

“Yes, ma’am, but their ER is closed down. Some guy rushing his buddy in after an accident lost control of his truck and plowed into the emergency room. They’ve got dozens of injuries to deal with.” He climbed inside the vehicle. “Baxter General is seventeen miles across town through evening rush hour traffic.”

He radioed in his departure time and started the ambulance.

“Colon is in the next county, but it’s only six miles away, a straight shot… and this guy’s best chance.”

The ambulance pulled away with sirens on, and Connie’s tears returned.

*

Seated back in Pax Lacey’s office, Carolyn and Joanie clung to each other, sobbing. Darrin sat next to his mother, exhausted and defeated.

Sally sat perched on the edge of the sofa watching the coroner as he placed first a call to Detective Marks—which went straight to voice-mail—and another to check on the status of the fingerprint search for the man he now knew wasn’t Franklin Bennett. He completed the call and scrubbed a hand over his face.

“Still nothing on the fingerprints.”

“How is that even possible? Everyone is fingerprinted for something these days.”

Anger marred Carolyn’s tear-stained face. “I was fingerprinted for a background check before I could volunteer at my daughter’s school.”

Joanie nodded. “I had to be fingerprinted when I worked at the bank.”

“Don’t forget our driver licenses,” Darrin added while staring at his fingers.

Pax stood and approached the family. “That just means this man has been off the grid for some time. But we’re just getting started We will find out who he is.”

“Please. You have to… soon.” Sally’s voice was shaky and stilted. “Finding out who this man is may be the only way of finding my husband.”

The distraught woman wavered and her son slid closer to support her.

“I can’t make any sense of this but that man isn’t Frankie. And we know Frankie didn’t go with Bill Reynolds. But, he wouldn’t have lied to Bill about me being ill. That means the man lying in that room talked to Bill… and he’s done something to Frankie.”

*

After exiting the elevator, Det. Marks and Officer Holland took the shortcut through the emergency room to reach law enforcement parking.

Marks pulled out his cell phone to check his messages.

“Hey, Marks! How’s it going?”

He stopped and turned to see Leonard Ganson standing in the doorway of an exam room.

“Lennie, hey man, what’s up? Aren’t you in the wrong county?”

The wiry older detective snickered. “Yeah, yeah. I’m on your turf. Gotta follow the case, right? Assault victim found unconscious in his apartment. Trinity’s ER is shut down. Colon was closer.”

“Tough break. Heard about Trinity too. Anything good happen for you today?”

“My wife told me she loved me.”

Marks laughed. “That’s gotta count for something.” He motioned to Holland. “This is Brian Holland. He joins Special Investigations Monday. Brian, this is Leonard Ganson, a senior detective in the Baxter major crimes department.”

The two men shook hands.

“Congrats, Holland. Now you’ll get to work double shifts and drink bad coffee in a suit.”

Brian chuckled. “Thanks, man.”

Pete Hill rushed toward the men panting. “Got an ID on our vic! Franklin Bennett… has a Marbury address.”

Marks and Holland exchanged quick glances. Before either could speak, Holland’s cell phone rang.

“Holland.”

“Yes, I’m with him now.”

“Okay, I’ll let him know. Thanks.”

“That was Lothern. Says the coroner’s trying to reach you.”

But Gavin Marks didn’t hear the officer. He walked past Ganson and Hill into the exam room.

A nurse was washing up the unconscious man lying in the bed.

“I’m sorry, sir. No visitors.”

Gavin opened his jacket to show his shield clipped to his belt.

“Oh, sorry. But like I told the other detectives, he’s still unconscious. We’re prepping him for surgery and hoping his blood pressure rises enough for him to live through it.”

She said more, but he didn’t hear. Standing at the foot of the bed, Gavin just stared at the man.

Holland joined him, his mouth gaping open when he looked at the unconscious man.

“What the hell is going on?”

 

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

The Devil You Know, Part VI #52weeks52stories

Intruder

#52weeks52stories: Week 16

Word prompt: tuna

Word Count: 2167

~~~~~

Part I    |     Part II    |    Part III    |   Part IV   | Part V

(All links open new windows.)

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.

Jackass!

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.

Dammit!

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.”

“Momma!”

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.”

“What?”

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.

Connie panicked.

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.

“Gary?”

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!”

 

 

 

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

The Devil You Know, Part V #52weeks52stories

Intruder

#52weeks52stories: Week 15

Word prompt: decor

Word Count: 1462

~~~~~

Part I    |     Part II    |    Part III    |   Part IV   |

Sally sat on the edge of the hospital recliner, her back ramrod straight.

The nurse was nearby completing Sally’s discharge orders.

Joanie, Carolyn, and Darrin stood by in silence, each casting worried looks at their mother.

Carolyn knelt at Sally’s side.

“Mom, please reconsider. The doctor said your vitals are stable, but you still need to be careful. He’d signed off on one more night’s stay in the hospital.”

She reached out and caressed her daughter’s cheek.

“And what good would that do, Caro? Laying in that bed for another night would change nothing, including me. The police have questions and so do I.”

The nurse walked over with a clipboard of documents and went over the doctor’s discharge instructions. Sally signed the forms, and the nurse left to retrieve a wheelchair.

“At least let us take you home, ma. There’s no need for you to go to the morgue…” Darrin’s voice was pained and broke on the last word.

“Yes, there is.”

She knew her children were dealing with lesser degrees of shock of their own, but she had to be firm.

“If my losing consciousness from the sight of your father dead on the floor of Graciela Ramirez’ bedroom floor isn’t enough of a positive identification, then I will walk into the morgue and make it official.”

Joanie stood at Sally’s other side.

“Any of us can do that, mommy. It doesn’t have to be you.”

“It does, baby. For this… it does.”

“Your chariot has arrived, Mrs. Bennett.”

Sally smiled at the young aide and moved to the wheelchair. She glanced at her children giving them a smile full of confidence she did not feel.

“Let’s get this over with.”

*

The entrance and waiting area of the county morgue could have been mistaken for a lounge in an upscale hotel bar.

The modular black and chrome sofas had a European flavor. Sally sat down, surprised by the sofa’s comfort.

Carolyn walked around inspecting the room. “This is nicer than what I have at home and Dave almost keeled over when he saw the cost.” She caught herself at her choice of words, but her mother gave her a knowing smile.

“Definitely expensive,” Joanie added while trying to lift a chrome floor lamp. “This thing must weigh a hundred pounds.”

Sally stroked the arm of the sofa. “I tend to tune out politicians, but the next time Commissioner Yancey is on the evening news whining about the county going broke I’ll believe him… and know why.”

“Nothing but the best when taxpayers are paying for it,” Carolyn quipped.

Sally smiled, taking in the rest of the room.

The area was beautiful. But, despite an attempt to marry trendy and upscale with comfort, the nasal-stinging scent of disinfectant and the sickly sweet smell of death still joined together and broke through the haute decor facade, refusing to be masked.

Darrin returned from the check-in window carrying a clipboard.

“They’re preparing the body for viewing, mom, and you don’t have to go into the actual room. There’s a camera setup and you can view from a monitor across the hall.”

“I’ll go into the room.”

“Mom- ”

She cut him off. “What’s the clipboard for?”

Frustrated, Darrin exhaled roughly.

“They need… d-dad’s information. The only thing they have is his name and your name.”

Sally held out her hand. “I’ll fill the papers out.”

“You don’t have to do- “

“Yes, I do.” Her words came out harsher than she intended.

“Listen. I am thankful to have you all here. My world has been turned upside down and I don’t know why. But my children cannot shield and protect me from this. You can’t babysit and coddle me when you have families who need you.”

Her eyes filled with tears.

“I’m not superwoman or made of steel. This thing has shaken me to my soul, but it’s not going away…ever. I need to deal with it to find some answers… some understanding. Or, maybe one day, some peace.”

Darrin gave his mother the clipboard and planted a kiss on her temple. “You always were the strongest woman I know.”

Sally smirked. “I had to be strong. You were no walk in the park growing up. And military school was a real option during your teen years.”

Carolyn and Joanie covered their mouths to hide grins as Darrin hung his head, embarrassed.

“Go, all of you. Check-in with your families while I handle this.”

Pulling out their phones, the Bennett children separated, each claiming an isolated seat. Within seconds, they were all involved in conversations. Sally was relieved for the normalcy.

She looked over the intake documents. Date of birth. Place of birth. Military service. Surgeries. Injuries. Body marking/tattoos. Daily medications.

Sally entered the information that spanned a lifetime.

Frankie’s lifetime.

A wave of emotion threatened to surface, but Sally took several quick breaths to calm herself and stay in control.

She didn’t know what to believe anymore. What part of her life with Frankie was true? Was any of it?

Sally returned the finished papers to the receptionist. Carolyn and Joanie both had ended their calls when she reached her seat. Darrin rejoined the group sitting on the sofa’s arm next to his mother.

“Merri sends her love and support, mom, and she said just say the word and she’ll pack the kids up and be here in a couple of hours.”

Joanie nodded. “Rick said the same thing.”

“Dave said you could come stay with us for as long as you want… move in even,” Carolyn added.

Sally Bennett closed her eyes, so overcome with emotion. When she opened her eyes, Sally looked at each of her children.

“I am a blessed woman to be surrounded by so much love. I’m not saying I won’t visit with each of your families, just not now, but soon.”

Just as Sally finished speaking a middle-aged man dressed in surgical scrubs exited a door next to the reception booth. He looked over the stacked clipboards, chose one, and walked toward the waiting area.

“Bennett family?”

Sally almost bolted from her seat. “I’m Sally Bennett.”

“I’m Pax Lacey, Mrs. Bennett, the county coroner. I appreciate you being here to do this. I know you’ve not only suffered a loss but the circumstances which led to it.”

Sally couldn’t imagine the number of the times this man had said those same words to another grieving family, but the warmth in his dark brown eyes proved his sincerity.

“This has to be done, Dr. Lacey… by me.”

Her children gathered around her and Sally reached out and squeezed Joanie’s hand.

“But I have the best support on the planet to help me get through this.”

She introduced her children to the coroner, then he led them all through the door and across the hall.

Remembering Darrin’s words about the monitor, Sally turned to the coroner.

“Dr. Lacey, this won’t be necessary. I’ll go into the viewing room.”

He didn’t respond, distracted by what he was reading on the clipboard.

“Dr. Lacey?”

“Hm? Oh, excuse me, I’m sorry, Mrs. Bennett.”

Turning abruptly, he walked down the hall and opened a door several feet away.

“Could I speak with you and your family in here?”

Sally and her children followed, exchanging curious looks.

The decor of the room matched the modular furniture in reception area except for an over-large, walnut desk. Several framed diplomas covering the wall behind the desk announced Paxton William Lacey had met or exceeded school requirements to receive a degree.

Dr. Lacey motioned toward a small sectional couch and two upright Victorian chairs in the corner.

Sally sat in one of the chairs, and Darrin, Carolyn, and Joanie all gathered around her, as though to shield or absorb bad news.

Pax Lacey sat on the edge of the couch, leaning toward Sally. The clipboard lay on a low table in front of him and the coroner held a file folder in one hand.

“Mrs. Bennett, the coroner’s office, like any business entity, is far from perfect and has made its share of mistakes.” He gestured to the clipboard. “But there are serious discrepancies between the information you provided,” he held up the folder, “and the findings of my autopsy examination.”

Sally frowned, holding his gaze. “Serious discrepancies? Like what?”

“I knew our meeting this afternoon would be difficult, but for very different reasons.”

Frustrated, Sally chuffed. Darrin gripped her shoulder firmly and glared at the coroner.

“Dr., is something wrong? Please just say it. My mom can’t take much more.”

Pax picked up the clipboard.

“You’ve listed a tattoo under body markings and a bypass procedure under surgeries.”

He looked at each of the Bennett children then focused on Sally.

“The body I autopsied had neither.”

 

 

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

The Devil You Know, Part IV #52weeks52stories

Intruder

#52weeks52stories: Week 14

Word prompt: military

Word Count: 1090

~~~~~

Part I    |     Part II    |    Part III 

Seven hours and two attempts later Sally Bennett sat up in bed. Though she’d vetoed any further sedation, a low dose of Xanax flowed through her I.V. to stem any new bouts of hysteria.

Joanie and Darrin were still at her bedside, joined by oldest daughter, Carolyn.

The tear-filled eyes of her girls and the devastated look on Darrin’s face broke Sally’s heart. When she thought of the cause of their misery, her chest tightened, and she thought each breath would be her last.

Sally focused on Darrin’s words and not how flat and strained his tone was.

“The police are still trying to sort things out, mom. There’s still so much unknown, by them… and us.”

When Sally didn’t respond, Darrin cleared his throat and continued.

“We’ve always believed…d-dad… was given birth to by a fifteen-year-old girl in upstate New York and adopted by a middle-aged couple from Maine. Mom, no record has been found of a Florence and Bob Bennett anywhere in Maine. An initial search on dad’s fingerprints also found no record. The police are baffled.”

Sally rested her head back on her pillows. “That’s not possible. Your dad served in the military, had a driver’s license, and had been bonded.” She looked down, fidgeting with the bed covers. “When we met, he told me both his parents had passed on.”

“We know, mom.”

“So, they don’t know why he…” Her voiced trailed off. She couldn’t say the words.

“No. And it’s still not certain he committed the other attacks.”

Her head throbbed. This was insane. Why would Frankie attack elderly women? Her husband wasn’t some deranged psychopath, was he?

Sally caught herself when she realized the man she’d been married to for almost thirty-two years was probably in a drawer at the morgue waiting for the coroner’s scalpel.

How had she not known? Had she missed obvious signs? Except for business trips with Bill, Frankie was always home. No unaccounted absences. She raised her head, addressing Darrin.

“Has anyone talked to Bill?”

“His flight lands in a couple of hours. Wish I could meet him. Poor guy seemed as hurt and baffled as we are.”

Sally’s pulse raced. She wanted to scream, grab her hair, claw at her skin… anything to wake up from this nightmare. But the Xanax had a gentle, but firm hold on her. She squeezed her eyes shut, concentrating on her words.

“Did Bill say why your dad wasn’t on the trip with him?”

“He said you were sick.”

She remembered Frankie’s offer to cancel his trip and stay with her because the Senior Citizen Rapist was still free.

What a joke.

He’d never intended to stay home with her.

He’d fooled her.

But how?

She wasn’t some empty-headed drone going through the motions of life. She could read people and was a fair judge of character. Her years as a military recruiter, teacher in the classroom, and working with the public taught her much.

But not enough obviously.

Sally shook her head, frustrated. There had to be more to this! People don’t wake up one day and decide to become criminals, do they? Frankie had been a wonderful husband and attentive father…

Sally bolted upright. It was too fast for her medicated system and empty stomach. She gagged, then leaned over the edge of her bed. Carolyn was right there with the emesis tray.

“Mom? Should I call the nurse? Are you going to be sick again?”

Joanie cleaned her mother’s face and Sally sagged back into the bed.

“The twins. Has anyone talked to the twins?”

“We haven’t been able to reach them yet, but their unit commanders are aware of what’s going on.”

Twenty-six-year-old twins, Cameron and Cheryl, were both on active military duty. Cameron, an Army warrant officer, was somewhere in the middle east.  Cheryl, a sergeant with the National Guard, was due back in two weeks from a support mission to the Horn of Africa.

Despite her sedation, Sally could feel the dull roar begin behind her ears. She breathed through her mouth fighting against more nausea.

She didn’t want the twins to hear about their troubles through some abbreviated news report or offhand remark.

Born premature, Frankie had sat at their incubators for three solid weeks, stroking their backs, pleading and encouraging them to fight and breathe on their own. When Cheryl and Cameron improved and were moved to cribs, Frankie was still there—cuddling, rocking, and singing to them.

The bond formed when they were only weeks old was unbreakable. It withstood the arrival of baby Joanie two years later and starting school and making new friends. Even the rebellious teen years never found the twins at odds with their dad.

The news about their father would break them both.

*

Connie Pierce knocked on her neighbor’s door for the fourth time in as many days.

Where is he?

Gary Sievers had only moved into the quadplex of studio apartments a few weeks ago. The shy, middle-aged man kept to himself, and Connie didn’t think he ever left his apartment.

Unable to pry any details from complex manager, Walt Stokely, the bold insurance agent knocked on Gary’s door late one afternoon and introduced herself.

She thought the tall, broad man was handsome, but the haunted look in his eyes made him appear pensive and frightened.

After thirty minutes, Connie still didn’t know anything about Gary other than he hoped to get a laptop computer soon. Thinking it a way to get to know her neighbor better, Connie ran next door to her apartment and returned carrying a laptop.

“It’s not new. I bought another one about a year ago and this one’s just collecting dust. You’re welcome to use it until you can get your own.”

This won Connie her first smile from Gary.

While he still wasn’t forthcoming with much personal information, they settled into an easy friendship and had shared an early dinner twice in Connie’s apartment. That’s how she found out Gary wasn’t a night owl and went to bed early every night, usually before eight.

She glanced back at his door.

How does someone who appears to never go out suddenly disappear?

Connie decided to check with Walt in the morning. Losing her laptop to a computer virus put her in a bind. She needed to retrieve her old one from Gary. Even if Walt had no information on the man, she hoped he would at least enter the apartment to get her laptop.

She’d deal with her absent neighbor later.

 

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

The Devil You Know, Part III #52weeks52stories

Intruder

#52weeks52stories: Week 13

Word prompt: narcotic

Word Count: 606

~~~~~

Find Part I here and Part II here.

Sally laughed as Frankie spun her around in circles, elated over the news she was expecting their first child.

The scene changed before a confused Sally… and she and her husband were sitting in Mañana’s. She remembered that’s where they had dinner to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary.

Her head throbbed as the scene changed again and she was staring at herself in the mirror of a large bath.

She knew this place too. The linen wallpaper covered in delicate coral shells and the porcelain wash basins covered in the same shells had been two of the things she most admired at the Montage Kapalua Bay resort on Maui.

Sally didn’t understand what was happening to her. Seven years had passed since she and Frankie celebrated their silver wedding anniversary in Hawaii.

Frankie.

Sally rushed into the bedroom, breathing a sigh of relief when she saw her husband resting in bed.

His back was to her and she snuggled up close behind him.

“Sorry, I took so long, honey. I’m back.”

Receiving no response from Frankie, Sally rose up on one elbow and peered over his shoulder.

“C’mon, Frankie. You can’t be asleep already.”

Annoyed, she grabbed his shoulder, rolling him onto his back.

The scream froze in her throat as she stared down into her husband’s lifeless eyes.

Sally couldn’t get away, she couldn’t move, and she couldn’t look away from Frankie.

 

Her head throbbed as her hysteria built. Trapped, Sally knew death was about to take her too when she felt someone touch her.

“Mom? Mom, it’s okay. Calm down, mommy. You’re having a nightmare.”

Joanie?

The sound of her youngest daughter’s voice helped soothe Sally Bennett. Her breathing slowed as she worked to open her heavy eyelids.

Bright lights assaulted her eyes and Sally jerked her head to the side, causing the pain in her head to worsen.

She heard other voices in the room and felt Joanie take her hand.

“Try again, mommy. Slowly.”

Fighting her panic, Sally raised her lids and exhaled. The lights were dimmed.

She looked up into Joanie’s face.

Sally’s vision was blurred, but she recognized her daughter.

She tried to speak, but no words would come from her parched throat.

“It’s okay, mommy. You had a nightmare. Don’t try to speak yet. Give it time.”

Sally frowned, confused. She mouthed the word where. Joanie understood.

“You’re in the hospital, mommy.”

For the first time, Sally noticed the machines next to her.

She mouthed the word why.

Joanie hesitated.

Sally squeezed her hand.

“Tell her, Joanie.”

Sally recognized the new voice as her oldest child, Darrin, but she couldn’t see him. She squeezed Joanie’s hand again.

“You… you went into shock and lost consciousness, mom, after daddy… after daddy…”

Joanie couldn’t say the words, but she didn’t have to.

Memories flooded Sally’s mind and her hysteria returned.

Frankie. Dead. The Ramirez home.

Her husband had tried to hurt Graciela Ramirez, and then her.

Unable to sit up or speak, Sally’s body convulsed. Her silent sobs rose to become pitiful wails. She tried to pull away from Joanie, but her daughter tightened her grip.

Someone else grabbed Sally’s right hand. She yanked and pulled, but her weakened conditioned worked against her.

Endless streams of tears blurred her vision even more and Sally didn’t see the nurse inject a sedative into her IV.

The effect was instant. Sally slumped in the bed, knowing she couldn’t fight the narcotic numbing her brain and her body.

She made one last attempt to look at her daughter, but sleep took her back into the dark void before she could even turn her head.

 

 

 

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

The Devil You Know, Part II #52weeks52stories

Intruder

#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.

“Touché`.”

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.

“Like what?”

“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?”

“Yes.”

“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.”

Sally frowned.

“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?”

“Y-Yes.”

“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.

“Mrs. Bennett?”

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.

“Mrs. Bennett?”

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

 

The Devil You Know, Part I #52weeks52stories

Intruder

#52weeks52stories: Week 11

Word prompt: assailant

Word Count: 3634

~~~~~

“I don’t like leaving you alone with that maniac still on the loose. I’m calling Reynolds to cancel.”

“You’ll do no such thing, Francis Bennett!”

Sally grasped both of her husband’s hands in her own, clutching them to her chest.

“You and Bill have worked hard for this. No one believed a couple of baby boomers could compete in today’s marketing madness of social media. You’ll proving all the naysayers wrong. You two beat out national companies to get this meeting and you will not miss it.”

She kissed his hands.

“And besides, even though the thought of this guy still out there in the shadows unnerves me, I’m more concerned for my clients, the poor dears. I don’t fit his profile.”

The list of women attacked by Marbury’s Senior Citizen rapist now numbered four—all 69 to 89 years of age; all widowed; all in poor health or recuperating from illness.

Francis ‘Frankie’ Bennett pulled his wife into his arms.

“I know, honey, I know. But no one knows what drives these sickos… better safe than sorry.”

“And I promise I will be safe. Now go finish packing. If you miss your flight, you know Bill will have a mental break.”

Husband and wife shared a laugh before Frankie kissed Sally’s forehead and left to pack.

She retook her seat at the breakfast nook. She gave the article about the Senior Citizen Rapist another read before closing the browser on her tablet.

Sally didn’t know Pearl Wright, but her heart went out to the eighty-one-year-old grandmother of twenty-three.

Plagued with heart problems, Pearl was a regular client of Angels Assist, the home-care agency Sally worked part-time for as a services scheduler.

It was Angels Assist volunteer, Leanne Brinkley, scheduled to prepare breakfast and do light housework, who discovered Pearl’s battered and bruised body.

Awed the elderly woman survived the brutal attack, Sally also worried about Leanne.

After calling police, paramedics, and Pearl’s family, the perky volunteer went into mild shock and was hospitalized overnight.

Angels Assist staff and volunteers were all concerned with their safety. Staff was requesting security escorts and volunteers were canceling late evening and early morning assignments. Any more schedule changes and Sally would have to add herself to the schedule. She didn’t mind though. With Frankie away, she liked to keep busy, but there was no way Sally would tell him she may have to do home visits. He’d cancel his trip for sure.

 

After completing her weekly reports, Sally emailed the new schedule to supervisors and Blanche, the owner. She uploaded all the documents to the office server and powered down her tablet, grateful for the technology which allowed her to do most of her job from home.

Pouring another cup of coffee, Sally opened her journal and went to work on their upcoming anniversary banquet plans when the phone rang. The name ‘Kristen’—an agency volunteer—flashed on the caller ID.

“Hey, Kristen. How are you?”

“I’ll be a lot better when I know you don’t hate me.”

Sally’s brow knitted in confusion.

“Hate you? What’s going on, Kristen?”

“I-I… have to cancel my hours of availability.”

Sally’s hand shook as panic gripped her. The thirty-something Kristen was pregnant, expecting her first child after she and her husband tried for years.

“Are you okay, Kristen?”

I’m fine, Sally. Midway through my second trimester without morning sickness or heartburn anywhere in sight.”

She paused.

“It’s just… these attacks on elderly women.”

Grateful mother and child were fine, a hint of annoyance niggled at Sally while Kristen continued.

“I don’t know Mrs. Wright—was never scheduled with her and I only know Leanne as another agency volunteer. But my husband knows Leanne’s family. Her dad was his supervisor years back when he first got hired into the fire department. After he heard what Leanne went through… well, he kinda lost it and insisted I stopped volunteering.”

“Kristen, it’s okay. We’re all unnerved by these attacks and to have one hit so close to home is terrifying.”

“I know, Sally, but – “

“No buts. I hate to even think what could have happened if it had been you instead of Leanne who found Mrs. Wright.”

“That’s what Rory said. We’ve tried so long for this baby, and at my age, the shock alone might – “

“Enough, sweetie. Don’t allow your mind to go there. We’re all grateful Leanne is better and pray for the same for Mrs. Wright.”

“Thanks, Sally. I only had one assignment on this schedule—an overnight tomorrow with a woman recovering from eye procedures for glaucoma. I took it because it was light duty and Rory was scheduled for a four-day shift at the fire station.”

“We’ll get this covered, Kristen, please don’t worry over it.”

Sally pulled up the current schedule.

“This was your only assignment this week. I’ve got next week’s schedule done and you were on for two four-hour respite visits near the end of the week. I’ll have no problem getting those covered. You just concentrate on that sweet baby you’re carrying and putting your hubby’s mind at ease. We’ll all breathe easier when this psycho is caught and behind bars.”

She could hear Kristen exhale over the phone.

“I agree, Sally, and thank you. I’ll be in touch when I can help out again. Take care.”

Sally Bennett smiled as she ended the call. While she hoped the maniac terrorizing the city was caught soon, she doubted Kristen would be volunteering again anytime soon. She’d be a new mom in less than four months, and free time would no longer exist for her.

Sally red-lined the two shifts under Kristen’s name on the new schedule then opened the staff database looking for someone who could cover tomorrow’s overnight assignment on such short notice.

Sally entered the hours of coverage needed, pressed enter, and groaned when no names appeared on the screen.

She’d have to take the assignment.

Sally was good with it, though. She subbed once or twice a month, and Frankie would be away, it would give her time to keep her own caregiver skills sharp.

She was jotting down the address and contact information for Graciela Ramirez when Frankie bounded back into the kitchen.

“I can take you to the airport.”

Frankie Bennett pulled his wife from her seat into his arms. “We are not going to start that again, Sal.” He kissed her forehead. “It’s an hour’s drive one way, parking costs a small fortune, and you can’t go past the security check-in.”

“I know, I know. It just seems as though I’m always telling you goodbye lately.”

“Well, this is the last trip for a while and you know what happens when I get back, right?”

He began to lead her around the kitchen in an exaggerated waltz. “We have an anniversary to celebrate.”

Sally giggled as he spun her around.

“Yes, thirty-two years and we’re still on speaking terms.”

“And don’t forget the fabulous five.”

“As if they’d let us. I know they’re cooking up some big surprise for us. Joanie called, and I could hear it in her voice.”

Frankie laughed. “Five kids and the one who can’t keep a secret is the one who calls the most.”

Sally laughed, but stopped suddenly, running from the kitchen.

When she returned, Frankie was closing a browser on her tablet.

“Doing my job for me, Bennett?”

“No, my sweet sunflower. Just making sure my flight’s on time. Where you run off to?”

She held her hand up, a medicine bottle balanced on her palm. “I knew you forgot these—one bypass surgery is more than enough. We don’t need to go through that again. And what did I tell you about calling me sunflower? Can’t you think of a more feminine flower?”

“Ah, yes, my love. There are more feminine flowers, but they’re also fragile and wilt under pressure.” He stretched his arms toward the ceiling. “But the mighty sunflower is strong and resilient, rising up in the field to provide beauty, shade… and a tasty little snack.”

Giggling, Sally threw the medicine bottle at him.

Frankie caught the bottle of Lipitor. Stashing it in a side pocket of his suitcase, he backed toward the door leading to the garage. “I’d better get out of here while I’m still breathing.”

Sally Bennett grabbed his lapel, kissing him deeply. “Good luck with your meeting. You guys got this. And stay out of trouble.”

He wiggled his eyebrows. “Aw, sweetie. Don’t I always?”

 

Estelle Ramirez showed Sally around the large well-kept home.

“Mom’s vision is still blurred from the surgery, so even though her television is on, she can’t see the screen. She never misses her Spanish-language novellas, though.”

Sally smiled and nodded once as they approached Graciela’s bedroom.

“I made her favorite dinner—albondigas soup—but she didn’t eat much. There’s sliced fruit in the fridge and sweetbreads on the counter.”

“You done all the work, Estelle. What did you leave for me?”

Estelle Ramirez smirked.

“Trust me, Sally. The queen will keep you busy. She’s independent and spirited. My grandmother and great-grandmother lost their sight to glaucoma. Mami knows she is blessed new medical procedures may help her avoid that.”

Reaching for the doorknob, Estelle tilted her head toward Sally. “That doesn’t make her any less grouchy, though.”

She opened the door and Sally followed her into the darkened room. Even with the low lighting, she could tell it was beautifully decorated in golds and reds with a Latin flavor.

The large queen-size bed was empty, but looking past the bed, Sally saw her charge for the evening.

Graciela Ramirez sat in a gold brocade high-back chair. Sally pursed her lips to hide her grin as Estelle’s reference to ‘the queen’ came to mind.

Despite her diminutive size, the senior Ramirez was regal in her appearance. Her iron-gray hair, swept over one shoulder, was long enough to reach her lap. Long, slender fingers rested on the arms of the chair. Already dressed for bed, Graciela’s winter white robe could put some ball gowns to shame.

Sally’s grandson, Mark, would say Graciela Ramirez was large and in charge.

“Mami, this is Sally Bennett, from the home-care agency. She’s going to stay with you tonight.”

“I do not need a babysitter.”

Sally was struck that despite the thick accent, Graciela’s voice was strong, deep, and clear—not frail and wispy like most of their clients in their seventies.

“Do not start, mami. We’ve argued about it enough. This was the only shift I couldn’t switch this week, and I’m not leaving you alone. I’m grateful for places like Angels Assist. You should be too.”

“I don’t need a babysitter.”

Dragging her hand through her short, dark curls, Estelle then gestured at her mother.

“As you can see, she’s stubborn.” Estelle turned her head, speaking in Graciela’s direction. “But I’m sure she will be show all the grace of her name and the manners she instilled in me.”

“I’m sure we’ll be fine, Estelle.” Sally’s voice held a confidence she didn’t feel. Graciela was a force to be reckoned with, even with limited sight.

“Mami is tricksy too with her language. She likes to play poor old Spanish lady and will refuse to speak English. Ignore her until she does.”

Sally covered her mouth too late and her giggles escaped.

An indignant Graciela raised her hand and pointed in Estelle’s direction.

“Oh, mi hija.”

Resting her fists on her hips, Estelle shot back, “Don’t you ‘oh my daughter’ me.”

Estelle went to her mother and knelt at her feet. She cupped Graciela’s cheek while speaking in a low hushed tone. The senior Ramirez smiled and leaned into her daughter’s hand.

Sally could see the love between mother and child. Their banter was part of that love.

Rising, Estelle kissed her mother’s cheek and turned to Sally.

“She’ll be good… for the most part.” The two women shared a laugh as Graciela feigned a look of innocence.

“Her next meds are due at nine and she must take them all.” She picked up two small bottles from the dresser. “Two drops of each in each eye. They sting and blur her vision even more, but the stinging passes quickly.”

Replacing the bottles on the dresser, Estelle reached for another containing pills.

“She also gets two of these… no matter how she feels. Mami doesn’t have a blood pressure problem, but it has been elevated since her procedures. The doctor doesn’t want to risk any break-through pain exacerbating the problem and wants her to take these as prescribed until he sees her on Thursday.”

Graciela crossed her arms, mumbling and pouting like a petulant child.

Estelle threw her hands up. “I’m going to work, she’s all yours. Call me if you need anything.” She headed for the bedroom door but turned before leaving. “Thank you, Sally. You’re a lifesaver.”

Removing her cell from her back pocket, Sally opened the Angels Assist app and entered the names, dosage, and time for Graciela’s meds.

Sally didn’t have to look up to know the senior citizen was staring at her, sizing her up. Closing the app, Sally gazed out the window at the beautiful twilight caused by the setting sun and knew she was in for a long night.

 

Graciela Ramirez did not disappoint.

Between numerous requests for snacks and drinks, Sally had caught the spry old woman stumbling through the house three times.

Saying a silent prayer, Sally was grateful when the hall clock chimed at nine.

A new argument started when Sally sat Graciela on the edge of her bed to put in her eye drops.

The client refused to open her eyes.

Sally snapped at the old woman before she could catch herself.

“Mrs. Ramirez! Didn’t your mother and her mother both lose their sight? Is that what you want to happen to you? It seems to me someone as independent as you would do everything they could to keep their sight. And that includes taking your meds.”

Sally saw the look of shame on Graciela’s face as she opened her eyes.

“I-I… am sorry, Sally Bennett. I’m acting like a sullen child. But the drops do burn, and those pills make me fuzzy in the head. I don’t like not being in control of myself.”

Sally Bennett’s heart broke at the sadness in Graciela’s eyes.

“So many of my friends have passed on. And the one who are still here? They wear diapers and have to be spoon-fed. They use mobile chairs and hospital beds.”

She pointed to the foot of her bed.

“There’s a cane there somewhere near the foot of my bed. I stumbled over my house shoe a few weeks ago and Estelle rushed out and bought it for me. I feel like I’m being rushed to the grave sometimes, and I’m not ready for that.”

“Sounds to me like Estelle doesn’t want that either.”

The older woman squinted, trying to focus on Sally’s face. “How so?”

“I don’t think Estelle bought that cane because she thought you were getting old and frail. I believe she bought it for support—to help you with your balance and keep you from falling and injuring yourself… to keep you here with her longer.”

A lone tear slid down Graciela’s cheek, betrayed by the huge grin on her face.

“You are a wise woman, Sally Bennett. I’ve been so busy arguing with everyone, trying to get my way, I never stopped to consider anyone else’s feelings. Especially my sweet Estelle. Thank you, Sally Bennett.”

Graciela then tipped her head back and waited for the eye drops. After Sally finished, Graciela held out her hand for the pain pills and water, taking her meds without argument.

She crawled up into the center of the large bed and Sally was struck by how much the septuagenarian looked like a child in her parents’ bed.

“If you’ll hand me the remote, Sally Bennett, I’ll listen to my novellas until the pills make my brain thick.”

Laughing, Sally passed her the remote.

“Estelle put me in the guest bedroom two doors away. I’m going to read a while then come check on you. If you need me before then, just call out. I’ll leave the door open.”

“I like you, Sally Bennett. I hope you’ll come visit me when I’m not a client.”

“Is that an invitation?”

“I suppose it is.”

“Then I’ll be here.”

Sally smiled as she made her way to the guest bedroom. Graciela Ramirez was a lot like Carol Jean Munson—Sally’s mother. Strong, proud, and independent, she felt both women saw accepting help as weakness.

Grabbing her reader from the side of her overnight bag, Sally snuggled in the easy chair next to the closet. The muted lighting of the Ramirez home had grown on Sally and she reached over and turned off the lamp, choosing to read by the illuminated light of her ereader.

 

Startled and disoriented, Sally bolted upright. She looked around the dark room, trying to get her bearings.

She laughed at herself after glancing toward the hallway.

Real good, Bennett. What kind of caregiver are you falling asleep on the job?

A swipe of her ereader provided light and the time.

12:50 am.

My word! Has it been almost four hours since I gave Graciela her meds? I’d better see if she’s sleeping or needs them again.

Sally held the reader over the edge of the chair, looking for her overnight bag. She reached for it but froze when she thought she heard a large thump.

What was that noise?

She sat motionless on the edge of the chair listening for the sound again. Hearing nothing, Sally grabbed the bag and tossed it onto the foot of the bed. Reaching for the table-side lamp, she heard the noise again, louder and closer.

No, no! I hope Graciela isn’t up trying to get her own meds. Why didn’t she call out for me? Damn it! Maybe she did, and I was asleep.

Feeling her back pocket for her cell, Sally raced the few steps down the hall to her client’s room.

She froze in the doorway.

A dark figure was on top of Graciela.

Without thinking, Sally charged the bed, launching herself at the assailant. She heard a sharp intake of air as the intruder fell toward the foot of the bed.

Sally took the few precious seconds to drag the small woman from the bed. Not able to tell if Graciela was wounded and too terror-stricken to speak, Sally pushed her toward the bedroom door, screaming one word, “Run!”

With her arms out in front of her, the spry senior bolted for the door, feeling her way down the hall.

Before Sally could follow, she felt a hand grab her arm, pulling her back to the bed. She whirled around, swinging blindly with her free hand. Her punch connected with the intruder, but he didn’t let go. As he pulled her closer, Sally bit the hand clutching her arm. Muttering a curse, he let go and Sally flipped onto her back, kicking her legs wildly.

Her attacker leaned down, grabbing the front of her shirt and flung her from the bed. She crashed into the dresser, slumping to floor.

Praying Graciela had found her way out, Sally knew her time was growing short. Her heart raced as she looked up at the shadowy figure approaching, blocking her path to the door.

His breathing was hard and labored.

Sally froze. Something about him was familiar.

She could see him raising his arm and the hallways light behind him allowed Sally to see he wore a ski mask… and the glint of his knife.

Adrenalin barreled through her body. Sally Bennett would not hand this killer her life.

She kicked out both legs, catching the masked figure in the knee.

As he doubled over in pain, Sally leaped from the floor, throwing herself across the bed and toward the door.

Her assailant recovered quick enough to grab her ankle.

Clawing at the bed, Sally struggle for purchase. As he dragged her across the large bed, Sally grabbed at the low bed railing, but its surface was too smooth to hold on to. Sally still clawed and groped until her fist wrapped around something.

Graciela’s cane!

The middle-aged woman was tiring, but holding tight to the cane, she swung around towards her attacker. The blow made him let go and allowed Sally to turn and get in two more good swings. The intruder stumbled backward to avoid the blows.

Sally launched herself across the bed one last time, this time falling to the floor on the other side.

She popped up, threw the cane toward her assailant and dashed out the bedroom door. She heard the cane clatter to the floor and knew the man was rounding the foot of the bed, but she refused to waste time looking behind her.

Barreling down the hallway, Sally thought she heard the killer stumble and fall, but it was Graciela’s screams that guided Sally to the front door.

Graciela Ramirez had made it out the house and stood in the front yard screaming. Lights came on in several houses, and Sally grabbed her client and headed for the closest one, still not looking behind her.

A woman opened the door and called out to Graciela by name.

It was only then Sally looked behind her… and saw two men from the neighborhood run into the Ramirez home.

She called out to them. “Be careful he has a knife!”

The woman pulled the two women inside and closed and locked her door.

Sally Bennett and Graciela Ramirez stood in the foyer clutching each other tightly, grateful their nightmare was over.

 

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved