Flash Fiction: “Ricky’s” Shell Game

Noir Body Horror. That’s the subgenre combo I got for this week’s flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig. With that in mind, I’ve left you a bit of something to puzzle out through implications and scant description. It’s in the same setting as When Dawn Broke, so brain transplants and advanced surgery and donation practices are the norm… as are criminal tissue transplant enterprises and such business establishments as “chop shops.” I’m afraid I went a tiny bit over the word limit, but it’s very nearly 2k.

***

“Ok Sunny,” Detective Salosso leans forward into Sunny’s line of sight, “I need you to tell me what you know. Everything you can remember about how you got here.”

Sunny blinks, rolls his eyes around, fixates on the detective. “I don’t even know where I am! How am I supposed to tell you how I got here?”

Salosso sighs. “What’s the last thing you remember?”

“Lights. I had been dancing. We were,” Sunny’s looking at somewhere that isn’t here, “clubbing. It was down by Merris and 4th, close to the harbor.”

Salosso jots notes on her pad. “Is that Gnosis? The new warehouse spot?”

Sunny tries to nod, can’t. “Yeah.” Salosso makes a little motion with her hand, and he continues. “It was the third place we’d been. We’d already had a few drinks at the last two spots, everything was going great. Ricky, she was friends with the bouncer at Gnosis, she got us in.”

“Can you describe her?” Salosso cuts in.

“Yeah, tall, elegant you know? Not wispy thin but fit. She’s a dancer.” Salosso stares at him a bit longer. “Oh, yeah, brown hair down to her collarbone, blue eyes, maybe kind of pointy nose. About as tall as me.”

Salosso raises an eyebrow. “And how tall are you exactly? I don’t,” she pauses, considers, “have a tape measure.”

Sunny smiles. “Just past six feet. Like I said, she’s tall. Anyway, she got us in. She introduced me to some of her other friends there, people that she knew from work, people who danced there pretty regularly. It was great.

“You know how it is when you’re on the floor in the middle of a bunch of people who are really, you know, happy to be dancing? It was that. We had the space, god, Gnosis has a beautiful dance floor, so we weren’t crowded out by too many people. I mean, the club was totally full, but we had this little spot to ourselves. It was pretty great.”

Salosso nods, makes quiet affirmative noises.

“But I finally got a bit tired, not like I wanted to stop for the night but like I needed to have a drink, you know? I went over to the bartender, Ricky came with me, and she waved to the bartender and we both got drinks. She knew him too, you know? God, it was the best. I don’t think I’ve had a night like that in a while. Some nights out are better than others, you know?”

Salosso’s mouth turns down at the corner. “I don’t get out much. Busy.” She looks Sunny in the eyes, “But maybe you can tell me about what I’m missing?”

“Oh, well I can’t tell you much more about last night.” Sunny finds something in Salosso’s eyes that leaves him uncertain. “It was last night, right? I haven’t missed a day, have I?”

Salosso looks back down at her pad. “What day were you out clubbing?”

“The tenth.”

Salosso nods, eyes still on her pad. “You’re fine.” She looks back up. “Anything else from later that night?”

Sunny glances sideways, bites the inside of his cheek. “Not really. I had that drink, we went back out to the floor… I don’t really remember anything after that.”

“Hmm.” Salosso swaps her pad around to display an image. “Is this a picture of you, Sunny?”

Sunny looks at the picture. It’s a security camera still, showing him in the middle of a crowd, stepping into the Grand National past medics in scrubs walking an occupied stretcher indoors. He’s wearing an older suit, and carrying his messenger bag. His security badge dangles from his breast pocket.

“Yeah? When was that? I don’t think I’ve been there since work on Friday.” He frowns as Salosso pulls the pad back, and stares at it. She swipes something, and starts typing.

“Uh, detective?”

“Sorry.” The detective taps the pad a few more times, then turns it back around. “Is this your friend Ricky?”

There’s a woman lying naked on bare concrete, eyes closed. Sunny tries to swallow, “Yes.”

Salosso nods. “Right. Thank you very much Sunny. I’ll leave you to the medics. I’ll have some more questions for you later, but for now you should just sit tight and do as they say. Okay?”

Sunny’s brow furrows. “Sure, but… is Ricky okay? Am I okay? When is that stabilizer you gave me going to wear off?”

Salosso waves goodbye, and takes a few steps back. “Sorry Sunny, I’ll let the professionals answer that. All yours doc.” Quieter, “He doesn’t realize the switch yet. Take it easy, okay?”

The medic nods and steps forward, gesturing the others forward as well. They bend down to talk to Sunny, and begin gathering the listless body up and prepping it for a stretcher. Sunny’s questions are increasingly unhappy.

“Shit Salosso.” Marty, Salosso’s bodyguard, leans back up against the door to the abandoned warehouse space. “He still thinks we gave him a stabilizer?”

Salosso grimaces. “He doesn’t even realize that she swapped bodies with him yet. Or that it’s been two days.”

Marty sighs as he turns to lead the way back to their transport. “Rough. They didn’t leave his brain on the floor, that’s something, right?”

Salosso shrugs. “Maybe she just wanted the body around in case she wanted back in later. Autonomics were enough, no need to connect anything else. Surprised they left him able to talk.”

Marty shakes his head. “Leave a kid paralyzed in a body he doesn’t know isn’t his. Classic Marigold.”

Salosso grunts. “No. Wrong. Marigold was way more consistent. Punitive. Best known for that cleaver. Whoever this is, whoever they may claim to be, they’re not Marigold.” She ducks to get into the armored passenger compartment. “Besides, Marigold never bothered body swapping to break security protocols. Or they didn’t do it themselves, that we know of.”

Marty folds himself into the other side, service weapon still at the ready.

“No, whatever is going on with this, we’ve got to find out what ‘Ricky’ wanted with Sunny’s body at the Grand National.”

“Didn’t the kid work in the donation and tissue samples section?”

Salosso nods. “Yeah, that’s what’s worrying me.” She stared out the window as Marty tapped in their destination. “Can you imagine the trouble she could cause with all the bodies there? They. Whoever they are.”

When Salosso and Marty arrive, the Grand National Hospital and Tissue Bank gleams in midday sunlight, looming high above the street, clad in glass and steel. Orderly streams of people flow in and out, and Salosso and Marty make their way to the front desk.

“Hi. Detective Salosso.” She flashes a badge. “I need to see your security footage from yesterday. Can you direct me to the security center?”

The receptionist nods, pointing towards a subtly marked door a short way down the small hall marked STAFF ONLY off to her side. “Right through there.”

“Thanks.” Salosso nods once, keeps walking. Marty tags along behind her.

One terse look and Salosso’s badge are enough: the department had already called ahead. The security staff set them up with a viewing station, and give them access to all the footage that they ask for.

Marty sets up shop in the back corner of the viewing station, watching down the corridor of cubicles. Salosso’s eyes burn and glaze over as she watches hour after hour of footage, trying to find where it is that Sunny’s body has gone. The cameras for each hallway aren’t linked to each other in the database by intersection, it’s some rat’s nest of a number system that must have made sense to someone at some point before it was put in place. Finally, Salosso tracks Sunny to a room from which he doesn’t emerge on any cameras that she can see. Some time last night, shortly after his shift ended.

She jots down the room ID, then hunts down a security guard.

“Where is this room? What’s in there? Do you have footage from inside? What was scheduled for that room at 2300 yesterday?”

The guard stumbles to answer the questions, jumping between them piecemeal. “That’s an operating theater, uh, with operation stuff I guess. There should be footage somewhere, let me check the schedule.” He starts pulling up files, staring into the screen. “The schedule says it was clear last night. Not in use at 2300, just finished being cleaned from an operation at 2200. It was cleaned up again and prepped for an op this morning?” He hunts through the labyrinth of security footage. “The camera should be right… here.” The timestamp reads 2200. There’s someone on the table, doctors and assistants performing a dance of surgery around them. “You want me to fast forward?”

Salosso looks at the operating table. No one she recognizes. She nods.

The footage speeds up. A manic pantomime of health through tissue removal. The patient is wheeled out, and clean up starts. The room empties at 2255 and is left dark, a faint glow of equipment on standby the only sign that the camera is reading anything other than total blackness. 2300 comes and goes. The room remains dark.

“Hold on.” Salosso looks at her pad. “Switch to camera S0224. At 2250.” She looks back up, seeing the hallway outside the operating theater. People filter out of the room, cleaning supplies moving away on their trolley. Sunny walks up to the door and enters at 2300.

The security guard swears. He pulls the room’s footage up again, scrolling back and forth to either side of Sunny’s entrance. He never shows up. The guard looks up at Salosso. “I’m very sorry detective. This is really fucking screwy. I don’t know—“

Salosso cuts him off with a wave of her hand. “Who else has undergone extensive surgery within the last twenty four hours? And, and…” she runs a hand through her short hair. “Fuck. I need someone to check all the tissue sample entries in your bank for Sunny Delovo’s markers. If it doesn’t show up on your database, I need you to check everything again by hand.”

The security guard sputters. “I, that, I can’t do that all—“

“Get someone.” Salosso’s eyes are wide, looking at the wall and seeing something else. “No, wait. I’ll send a team over, you’ll lead them through the records and give them the tests they ask for.” She looks down at the guard. “And no matter what, unless I’m there to introduce you, they’re not my team. Do you understand.”

The guard stares up at her, aghast, and nods. “Yes detective.” He looks down at his terminal, hits several keys. “I’ll need you to enter any code you have, these personal records are all sealed, but…” the screen floods with data. “Here’s all the major operations from the last twenty four hours.”

Salosso leans forward, punches in several keys, lets the terminal read retina, fingerprint, badge, and feeds the information to her pad. She scrolls down through it, and freezes. “Shit.”

There’s a commotion by the door to the security room, then a figure in hospital gown and wheelchair is pushed in by a uniformed officer. He’s older, balding, solid rather than fat. Glistening seams run around the top of his scalp and down the back of his neck.

“I know damn well I’m supposed to be resting in bed.” He growls to the orderly who dances around in front of him. “So get the hell out of my way why don’t you, and make my life easier.” He looks up. “Salosso! What is this I hear about you running around a hospital with a hair up your ass?” He’s smiling, friendly.

Salosso shrugs. “Following leads sir. I thought I could keep the trail from going cold. How was your,” she checks her pad, “regenerative nerve treatment?”

“Eh, they tell me it took longer than expected, but,” he holds up a hand, watches it. It’s steady. “Good? How’s your investigation?”

Salosso meets his eyes, then looks away. “I’m afraid I’ve hit a dead end.”

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