NYCM 2016 Short Story Challenge. Round one, Group 12.

This year I drew:

Genre: Drama. Subject: On-line bullying. Character: An organ donor.

Feel free to comment. Thanks for reading.

Quid Pro Quo
A United States Senator trades favors in order to secure a future for his daughter.

  Soft lighting and subdued beeps of health monitors greeted Detective Laura Cole as she entered the critical care unit. Walking to the bedside of an unconscious teenager, she paged through the medical chart hanging on the end of the bed. Every few seconds, the patient’s chest would rise and fall aided by a respirator, otherwise she lay still.
At six foot two, Laura stood above most of her male counterparts. Coupled with her general abhorrence for members of the opposite sex, she had been able to succeed when most of her fellow female officers quit early in their careers. She commanded respect—if not outright fear—from witnesses and suspects alike. Earning a reputation for being a cop who always got her man, she rose through the ranks.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” the ward nurse said. “Can I help you?”
Cole put the clipboard back, handed the nurse her card, and said, “I’m Detective Cole, Wayne P.D., I need to speak to this girl. Any idea when she’ll wake up?”
“You shouldn’t be in here.” The nurse moved in-between the detective and the bed.     “As long as Miss Pine is on my floor, she won’t be speaking to anyone who isn’t family or medical staff. She’s been through a lot the last few days.”
“Last few years from what I understand” Cole backed away from the bed, but made no move to leave the area. She pulled a black notebook from her breast pocket, jotted down the nurse’s name from her nametag, Louise Hennings, then read from her notes. “Amalia Pine. Eighteen years of age. Daughter of Colette and U.S. Senator Jordan Pine. Born with a bad ticker, wasn’t she?” Cole looked up from the pad to gauge the nurse’s reaction.
Hennings pursed her lips and nodded. “She’s been on the transplant list for five years, a donor became available a few days ago.” She held her hand out toward the door. “I shouldn’t be talking to you, I’m just the shift nurse, you’ll need to speak to her family.”
Standing fast, Cole said, “Funny thing, Nurse Hennings, I did and they directed me to their lawyer. Their daughter, literally, gets a new lease on life and they refer questions to their mouthpiece.”
“But, Detect—”
“Look, Hennings, I’m not cold-hearted about this.” Cole moved around the nurse to the bed. “I understand the family is happy their princess will live to give them entitled little grand-babies. But—and I know you’re aware of this—for someone to get a heart, someone else has to lose a heart.” Cole flipped to the first page of her notes. “Ted Wagner. Sixteen years of age. Formerly a junior at Wayne High School. Suicide attempted by hanging.” Pausing, she stared into the nurse’s eyes. “Tough way to go. He didn’t fall from high enough up to snap his neck. Paramedics who cut him down said that it took him ten minutes to pass out. By that time, he’d deprived his brain of so much oxygen that it shut down permanently, freeing up his organs for transplantation.” Cole saw a shine welling in Henning’s eyes.
“I never met these people before this, I only know what’s in the chart.”
“When a child’s life-saving spare part came from a suicide,” she nodded to the bed, “I’d think you’d want to help clear up any cloud of suspicion. Maybe we can learn something from it.”
Cole paged through the chart. She pointed to a note regarding the transplant list. “It says here that Amalia had been moved to the top by the governor. How does that happen?”
“Her father is a senator, maybe he pulled some strings?”
“Well, he did endorse the governor’s presidential bid last week, that’s a fairly hefty string.” Cole closed her book. “When she wakes up, call or text me, the number’s on my card. I’m sure there’s nothing out of the ordinary, but we’ll both feel better when we’re sure.”
“Of course, Detective. I’ll let you know.”
Cole left. She had a funeral to attend.

***

  The window of her unmarked cruiser cracked open to prevent fogging, Detective Cole wrote observations into her notebook as the mourners for Ted Wagner’s memorial left the marble and glass mausoleum.
She noted an older couple left in a limo with custom state-seal license plates before the service had completed.
Her running count of students who came to pay their respects stood at a half-dozen. Piss-poor turnout for a school with a student body numbering over a thousand.
She watched Ted’s family leave in a brand new Volvo sedan. She wondered how they could afford a new car and an upscale cemetery with a home address in the lower-class section of town.
She finished her notes, opened her glove box, and pulled out a flask. On one side, the silver container had a detective badge, the other had a rose with the words, ‘To Laura, From Dad. Congratulations, Slugger.’ She opened it and held it up to the heavens, “Need your help on this one, Dad. Miss you.” She kissed the side, took a shot, then closed and put it away.
She knew that someone here could help her solve the mystery. She just had to wait until the very last person walked out to know who that would be. Five minutes after the Wagner family left, a middle-aged woman in a tailored black pantsuit walked out of the building. Cole drove over and got out.
She flashed her badge and handed the woman her card. “May I ask who you are and how you knew the deceased?”
“I’m Tina White. I was Ted’s driver education teacher.”
Cole began a new page of notes.
“Were you close, or are you a school delegate or something?”
White replied, “I’m only here because I’ve been recently promoted to Vice-principal. Honestly, Ted wasn’t very popular, or bright for that matter. He never showed any ambition to do anything but play with his smart-phone. Not surprising that he was bullied.”
Cole flipped through her pages, “No one has mentioned a bully before, and his parent said he didn’t have a phone.” She returned to the first page, “Ted didn’t leave a note, but did scratch a name into his desk before he climbed up and stepped off. Mia Mériter. We don’t know if there is any significance to it yet. Is she a student at your school?”
“Not that I’m aware of. It’s a unique French surname, I’m sure I’d remember it.”
“Did Ted have any friends who he hung out with?”
“Just Helen Chiles and Kate Booker.” She pointed at a car on the far end of the parking lot, “They’re sitting in Kate’s car.”
“Is there anything else you think would be helpful? Any reason he’d have been targeted?”
“No, Detective. May I go?” White asked.
Cole closed her book. “If you think of anything, use the number on my card. Thank you.”
Walking toward Kate’s car, Cole noticed thin trails of smoke coming from the half-opened windows. The harsh, sweet smell of marijuana stung her nose.
She used her badge to knock on the driver’s window. The girls panicked, waving their hands in a vain attempt to clear the smoke. Cole chuckled when the passenger ate the joint.
Cole said, “Can I ask you both to please step out of the vehicle?”
“Yes, officer. Please don’t arrest us. Our friend just died…,” their voices overlapped. Cole held up her hands. But their pleas only grew louder and higher-pitched.
Cole shouted, “Stop! I don’t care if you’re getting high. Just stop talking.” She pointed to the other side of the car. “Helen. Come over here.”
Helen looked behind her, then pointed at her own chest. “Me? How do you know my name?”
Cole mumbled, “Potheads,” then pointed again. “You, walk your stoned ass over here.”
Helen came and stood by Kate.
She put her badge away, pulled out her book, and handed each a card. Kate studied the card’s embossed police shield as if it were made of real gold. Cole flicked the card to bring Kate’s buzzed brain into the present.
“Who is Mia Mériter? How do I find her?”
The girls stepped back as one and bounced off the car.
“We don’t know who she is, but she’s a real bitch,” Helen said.
Kate nodded. “She’s why Ted killed himself. She trolled him everywhere, Facebook, Twitter, got his personal phone number and sent him the most awful messages. Once word got out that he had someone epically trolling him, the other kids started piling on.”
Cole hated bullies. She had always been the tallest in her class; taller than most of her teachers by freshman year. With her dark sepia skin and close-cropped nappy hair, her appearance gave the class bullies plenty of ammunition to mock her. She’d learned to shield herself against verbal attacks while training her body to fight back at those who got physical.
Helen said, “She wanted us all to die.”
Cole asked, “The three of you?”
“  I’m sure of it.” She replied.
Kate choked back tears. “The messages to us were constant, but Helen and I aren’t as sensitive as Ted, he couldn’t handle it. And once Ted was dead, the messages stopped. Like she didn’t care which of us did it. One of us died, she accomplished her goal.”
“Did you have anything else in common? Neighborhoods, friends outside of school?” Cole asked.
Helen said, “Before this, we didn’t even hang out. I overheard Kate say she was being trolled too, and we knew about Ted because well, everyone did. The only other thing the three of us did was fill out an organ donor form in Miss White’s class.”
“Tina White knew you all filled out donor forms in her class?”
Kate nodded, “Most of the class did when that lady from the state talked to us.”
“Who?”
They shrugged. Kate added, “She was here. It was nice of her to come to his memorial.”
Cole stopped writing. “Today?”
Helen nodded. “She left in a fancy limo before it was over.”
The questioning continued, “Tell me about the form you filled out.”
Kate returned to running her finger over the business card’s raised shield. Cole snapped her fingers in Kate’s face. “Focus Kate. The form?”
She shook her head to clear the internal fog. “Name, address, easy stuff.”
“Not all easy, Kate,” Helen said. “We had to fill in what we’d be willing to donate. Eyes, lungs, kidneys. I guess Ted checked yes to heart. I did.”
Kate nodded. “I don’t think anyone else did heart.”
Helen continued, “There were some answers we didn’t know: blood type, past or current medical conditions. Miss White said that it was okay, she’d find out from our school medical records.”
Cole finished writing and said. “Okay, just give me your stash and you’re free to go.”
The girls exchanged a glance but didn’t move.
“Ladies.” Cole stood straight and opened her coat to flash her badge.
Helen pulled a baggy out from between her breasts and handed it to Cole.
“You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” Cole laughed, then realized they were too young to get the musical reference. “Just leave before I change my mind.”
Cole returned to her car and opened her glove box. Instead of reaching for the memento from her late father, she grabbed a pack of Zig-Zag rolling papers.
As a light plume rose from her open window, she flipped through her notes sure that she had all the answers she’d need but one in her little black book of clues.
Who the hell is Mia Mériter?
The chime of her phone alerted her to a text from Nurse Hennings. ‘She’s awake. Parents here.’

***

When the elevator opened, Detective Cole recognized the woman sitting alone down the hall as the one who had left in the limo.
Cole approached and spoke in a quiet voice, “Mrs. Pine?”
“Yes?”
Cole opened her coat to show her badge. “There are a few things that we need to clear up.”
Without a word, Mrs. Pine stood and walked into her daughter’s room.
Cole followed and found Senator Pine sitting on the edge of his daughter’s bed. They stopped talking when they saw her.
He rose and stood by his wife. “We have nothing to say to you.”
“I think you do, senator. You both do.” She approached them.
“Which one of you uses the name, Mia Mériter?”
Amalia’s eyes flicked to her father. “I’m sorry, Daddy. I—”
He stopped her. “Hush, Mia.”
“You?” Cole whispered turning to face the girl.
“Our daughter deserves this life.” Mrs. Pine said. “Those cretans won’t amount to anything. We simply did what’s best for everyone.”
Cole rested her palm on her gun. “But you killed that boy. Might have killed all three if Ted had died quickly by properly hanging himself.”
The senator laughed. “You’ve just proven our point. The idiot couldn’t even succeed in suicide.”
“You’re all involved?” Cole looked at Mrs. Pine. “You found potential donors and your husband got your daughter to the top of the transplant list.” Turning to Amalia. “You bullied Ted until he couldn’t take it anymore. How can you live with yourselves?”
“We’ll all live just fine, especially Mia. “Senator Pine said. “You have no real evidence.” He motioned to the door. “Please see yourself out. We have Mia’s future to plan now that she’ll have a long and healthy life.
“You won’t get away with this.” Cole turned as the door opened.
Her police captain walked in.
“Captain Fredericks. I was just going to call you to say I’d be arresting the entire Pine family.”
Senator Pine greeted the captain with a handshake. “James, you received my recommendation for the State Police Commander position?”
“Yes, Jordan, thank you. The new Head Nurse, Hennings, called and told me that my detective had returned. Thought I’d come and straighten all this out.”
Cole stared at the men. “Captain, they killed a boy.”
“Nonsense. He lacked a will strong enough to put up with a little ribbing. Just look at what you’ve accomplished when faced with personal adversity. You rose above it and became the woman you are today. Strong and proud. Now hand over your notebook.” He held out his hand. “Now, Detective Inspector Cole.”
Transported back to grade school, she felt the familiar pressure building behind her eyes, as though she had no defense against the bullies.
From that same past, her father’s voice came to her, “Never let them see you cry, slugger.”
It may have been all for naught, but Laura swore she’d find a way to get justice for Ted, for all the victims of these bullies. Even if she had to ruin herself in the process.
Squaring her shoulders, she handed the notebook to her Captain and said. “It’s just, Detective, Laura Cole. I’ll earn my title on merit, sir.”