My mother was late.
My flight landed forty-five minutes ago after two connections and a bitch of a layover in Atlanta. I’d collected my checked bag, and patiently – or maybe not so patiently – waited in the below freezing November air. The town of Harebrook, Connecticut had a tiny regional airport which was to say that it had one terminal with one gate and closed at nine pm on weekdays. The only reason the town had an airport at all was because the rich people who owned half the place needed somewhere to store their Leerjets.
But I knew I could count on my mother to do the exact opposite of what she said she was going to do. Despite promising me up and down she’d pick me up, she was nowhere to be found. I debated the merits of hailing one of the two cabs outside or heading inside to rent a car. The portly cabbies perched on their cars, one on the hood and the other on the trunk, smoking cigarettes and shooting the shit. While they seemed genial enough, wading through the cloud of smoke to get into one of the cabs seemed like a major pain in the ass and a good way to get my clothes musty.
The rental car desk was small just like the rest of this place, manned by a lone customer service rep who was probably aching to go home. She was young, maybe my age, but maybe not and had goth-black hair – the kind you can only get out of a bottle. Her natural color was probably blonde or a mousy brown, but she rocked the black hair, pale face routine.
I focused on the details of the customer service rep, on everything – anything – else to stave off the sinking pit of grief in my belly. I knew it was there, festering in my gut, just waiting to poison me if I let it go free.
But I couldn’t do that just yet.
I had to make sure. I had to find out the truth. Mom said what happened to Genevieve was an accident, and a part of me wanted to believe her. The idiotic to-stupid-to-live part of my brain that said ‘sure your little sister was dating a guy she wouldn’t tell you about and then magically has a fatal accident, but that’s pure coincidence, right?’ Yeah, that was the part I wanted to slap. Mom didn’t have the experience I did. She hasn’t seen the same things I had – or maybe being a detective’s wife for as long as she was maybe she had. Maybe she should know better and was trying to stick her head in the sand. My father treated me like spun glass, but at twenty-one, I’d helped him close more cases than he would probably like to admit, and if there was something to find in my sister’s accident, I was going to sniff it out.
I checked my watch, readjusting my current wait time clock, and seethed. After an hour and some change of waiting, the likelihood of my mother actually showing up was slim. Giving up on her, I trekked back through the automatic doors to the rental car counter, rented a modest but necessary for the snow four-wheel-drive SUV and drove miserably into town.
I hadn’t been to Harebrook in a hot minute, but the town hadn’t changed much since I left as a child. My childhood home, however, hadn’t faired as well. The two-story colonial stood tall against the mounds of snow like the proper rigid spine of an aging lady. My grandfather left the stately mini-mansion to my mother when he passed long before I was born.
As a child, I remember my dad sanding the fading siding and repainting it together, fixing the shutters, and raking leaves. Now one of the shutters hung from a single hinge, the white paint now yellowed with age and peeling. I doubt my mother had taken even the smallest measure of care for the place.
Using my old key, I unlocked the front door. The TV blared from the living room, the blue light flickering against the dining room wall. The house smelled musty like it hadn’t been cleaned in ages. I followed the sound to find my mother passed out on the couch, a nearly empty bottle of cheap gin still clutched in her hand as if it were a teddy bear.
Real fucking healthy, mother.
The pushover fixer part of me wanted to get her upstairs to bed and then start attacking the house one room at a time until it didn’t smell of old booze and unwashed bodies. The other part – the one I frequently listened to – wanted to leave this room and this house and head to the morgue. Wanted to look at the police report and see what really happened.
I picked door number two, glad I hadn’t even bothered to bring my suitcases inside. I guess the smart part of my brain decided staying with my mother was probably a horrible idea. Why I thought she would have it together enough to even pick me up must have just been wishful thinking.
Darcy Clareborne was nothing if not consistent.
The heartbreak of it was almost too much to bear. Still, I managed to lock the door behind me and get back into the SUV without crying, but my stiff upper lip act wasn’t going to last much longer if I didn’t do something productive. Two deep breaths later, I managed to start the engine and point towards the local hospital.
Harebrook General was a small local hospital that only boasted three floors and two wings, nothing like the state of the art one we took Genevieve to when she got sick down in Fairhaven. Granted there was a newer cancer wing, but none of that was here fifteen years ago. The stinging thought of Vivi lashed at my heart, and it was another several deep breaths before I could walk through the emergency room entrance to the elevators. Proof enough that I wasn’t in Texas anymore, the ER waiting room only held two people, janitorial staff and a nurse behind a counter. The nurse was reading a book and didn’t pay me any mind which I appreciated greatly.
The last thing I needed was some dragon lady barring the gates.
I’d done my research on the plane, planning my route to the morgue, rehearsing what I would say to the attendant. I might be immediate family, but Genevieve didn’t need to be identified anymore. My mother had already done that. They might not even let me in, and more, if I needed to look into something hinky, I’d give myself away as family.
The elevator doors opened, and I slipped inside managing to press the basement button despite my swimming vision. One of my first memories was of my dad and me in this elevator on the way to go see Vivi for the first time.
She was this fragile little ball of screaming, red-faced awesomeness that only calmed down when my dad put her in my arms. Her scrunched face softened, and she blinked up at me cooing. And now I’d never see her again.
I gripped the rail in the tiny box of an elevator and waited for the worst of the pain to pass. It would at some point, right? I wouldn’t feel this horrible, ripping ache every single day, right? The doors slid open, and I managed to gather myself together enough to breathe through the worst of the tears, refusing even for a second to let them fall.
The morgue office was miraculously un-morbid. The attendant – or someone with a good eye –decorated it with vibrant watercolors and bright orange chairs in what looked like a small waiting area. The modern coffee table had more than a few magazines, and they weren’t from three years ago either. The newest InStyle and Vogue sat in the middle of the table along with a couple of paperbacks and the usual gossip mags. On a few side tables were reed diffusers with a beachy scent. Whoever was in charge of the place took care to make it at least palatable, but nothing could quite take away the smell of death and desperation.
“Can I help you?” a woman asked, the attendant nothing like I thought a morgue attendant would look like. She was my age or possibly younger with bubblegum pink hair, vibrant blue eyes that were so bright they had to be contacts, and a beauty mark dermal piercing. The stone in it winked at me in the light.
“Yes. I would like to view the body of Genevieve Clareborne,” I managed to choke out, the word ‘body’ catching on my throat.
“Are you family?” she asked, her tone sympathetic but firm. I can’t imagine what kind of crazies she must see on a daily basis. She held a file to her chest as if she were protecting it. Was that Vivi’s file? Or was Pinky that cagey with all her records? I had a feeling she wouldn’t let me see her without some ID and a damn good reason if I weren’t family. Choosing to out myself this early wasn’t part of the plan, but I didn’t see any other way around it.
“I’m her sister. Has the coroner released the body to the mortuary yet? I can go there instead,” I offered hoping she didn’t say yes.
“No, she’s still here. I can take you back, but wait here for a bit so I can take her to the viewing room,” Pinky gestured to the waiting area before setting the file down behind the counter. I took my seat and waited for the double doors to quit swinging behind her before I hopped up to inspect the file.
Sure enough, it was Genevieve’s. Yanking out my phone, I frantically took picture after picture of all the pages I could before I heard footsteps. I snapped the pages shut and put the file back where I found it.
But when I turned back to haul ass to the waiting area, a man was standing at the entrance.
And he’d seen me messing with the file. I just knew it.
Thank you for reading this chapter of Seek You Find Me! New episodes will release on the last Tuesday of each month. If you enjoy this story, you should check out the Shelter Me Series.