Malcolm Carson backed into the revolving door and pushed it with his elbow.
Fake candle. Check.
Sparkling cider and plastic champagne flutes. Check.
Bud vase with one pink Gerber daisy, her favorite. Check.
Grease stained tablecloth from Pepo’s. Check.
Soggy pizza from Pepo’s. Check.
We’re good to go, he thought, as he stepped out onto the polished marble floor. Malcolm looked for Charyse’s smiling face at the reception desk, but she wasn’t there. A sour-faced temp sat in her place.
“Hi. I’m here to surprise my wife.” Malcolm indicated his full hands and added, “It’s the anniversary of the day we met.”
“Lovely,” said the woman in a tone as sour and unwelcoming as the expression on her face. “Key her name into the computer and follow the prompts.”
“Got it,” said Malcolm. He’d always waited for Laura down here; he’d never actually been upstairs. He set the pizza box on the desk and the bag with the sparkling cider by his feet.
The woman looked pointedly at the pizza box and scowled, but said nothing.
“Is Charyse out sick?” asked Malcolm, as he keyed his wife’s name into the computer.
“Who?” asked the woman.
The computer beeped and an error message appeared on the screen.
“The lady who normally works reception,” said Malcolm, as he read the error message.
“You’ll have to try again. Remember: last name, comma, first name. And to the best of my knowledge there’s never been a Charyse here, just me.”
Malcolm was only half-listening, he was staring at another error message. Her maiden name maybe? He tried her maiden name, but the same message appeared:
NAME NOT FOUND.
PLEASE CHECK SPELLING AND TRY AGAIN.
“Who are you looking for,” demanded the receptionist, any pretense of patient and welcoming was now gone.
“Laura Carson,” said Malcolm, staring at the pizza box and hoping there was a microwave in the lunch room.
“I’m sorry, but there’s no one here by that name,” she said, without bothering to check the computer.
“You’re a temp, how would you even know?” His tone betrayed his frustration.
“Sir, I don’t know who you think you are or where you think you are, but I have been here for the last ten years. I know exactly who comes and goes and I know there is no one here by that name.”
Malcolm took a deep breath and tried to remain calm. He had no idea who this woman was or what she was trying to pull, but he wasn’t amused. “Let’s try her maiden name, we’ve only been married for a month. Try Laura Peterson.”
“There’s no one here by that name either, sir. I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” she said, her hand hovering over the phone’s keypad.
“Okay, I don’t know what’s going on, but look,” he said, retrieving his wallet from his back pocket. Malcolm flipped it open and pulled out a picture from their honeymoon. “Look,” he demanded, shoving the picture under her nose, “does she work here?”
The woman’s left eyebrow ticked up slightly and she allowed a barely perceptible scoff as she leaned in to examine the photo. “That’s Andrea Martin. She hasn’t worked here in weeks.”
“Andrea Martin,” he repeated.
The woman nodded.
“Andrea Martin,” he said again under his breath. That’s not possible, he thought, as he turned and hurried out.
Malcolm hailed a cab, slid in and replayed the scene in his head.
“Here you are,” said the cabby.
He looked up, startled, stuffed a wad of bills through the slot and ran inside. The elevator seemed to take forever, its perky music adding insult to injury. When Malcolm finally pushed the door to their condo open he found things exactly as they had been before he and Laura met. The soft, sweet touches she had spread throughout the place were gone. His chest tightened. He ran to the bedroom and threw open the door to her closet. A solitary dress hung in the empty space, the blue one with light pink flowers he had bought for her.
Andrea Martin, he thought. It isn’t possible.
Malcolm grabbed his car keys and headed to the cabin. No one knew about the cabin. It was two and half hours away and no one knew about it, he assured himself.
At the small, dilapidated cabin, Malcolm found everything as he’d left it. Nothing appeared to have been touched. He was being ridiculous. Still, he took the flashlight and walked around back. He stared at a pile of rotting wood that covered the cellar door, it took a couple of minutes to move it all. Once he’d cleared away the wood, Malcolm lifted the heavy door and descended the warped, uneven stairs. The cobwebs and dust were thick and undisturbed. He walked over to the trunk in the corner and opened it. “Andrea, I knew you’d never…”
A creak on the stairs pulled his attention away. Malcolm turned to find three sheriff’s deputies, guns drawn, descending the stairs. He let go of the lid to the trunk and it clapped shut with a thwack. Dust plumed around it. A small piece of faded blue fabric with light pink flowers poked out.
As Malcolm and his escort reached the patrol car he was to be shoved into the back of, Laura stepped out of the shadows. The woman from the reception desk stood beside her, a badge clipped to her belt.
“I told them they were wrong,” said Laura. “That all of this would prove they were wrong.” Tears streamed down her cheeks. Malcolm wanted to wipe them away, but his hands were cuffed behind him.
Red and blue lights swirled all about them, distorting her delicate features. Still, she is beautiful, thought Malcolm. “You look so much like her,” he said. “If only you’d have let your hair grow a little longer.”
Chanacee Ruth-Killgore is a wife, pup wrangler, book lover and writer. She is author of the Alphabet Soup adventure-fantasy series for middle-grade readers as well as a new cozy mystery series, Hart of the Smokies. Chanacee lives in East Tennessee with her husband, Michael, and their two wild pups, Wrigley and Arkkis Pond. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.