Crisis of Identity
by Denise Moncrief
Genre: Romance, Suspense
Publication: January 2013
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I dropped onto the cot at the far end of the locker room, struggling to remove the stained smock the state so generously provided. Forget about sleep; it wouldn’t come. I had too many memories that begged to become nightmares. I closed my eyes anyway.
The springs in the cot next to mine creaked. “I’m Jake.” Why had it taken him so long to introduce himself?
I released an internal sigh. “Tess.” I told the truth, because I had to say something and I was out of lies.
“Yeah.” I wanted him to shut up and leave me alone.
“Why would someone like you volunteer for this?”
I opened one eye and glared at him. “I didn’t volunteer. I was strongly encouraged to help. Why are you here?”
He hesitated. “I’m a U.S. Marshal. It’s my job. Part of the oath and all that.”
I opened the other eye and assessed him. “Why would you move here—” He smiled, cutting off my question. “I can tell from your accent you’re not from Texas.”
“I followed a fugitive here from Illinois.” He leaned forward, his knees not quite brushing mine. “She’s accused of murder.”
“Stabbed her boyfriend…in the back…in cold blood.”
My reaction gushed from my mouth. “How can you be sure it was cold blood?” I sucked back a gasp at my gaffe. My question probably seemed strangely timed and oddly constructed. “I mean…it could have been self defense.”
He offered me a cold, hard stare with unblinking eyes. “I just know.”
“I guess I followed my lead at the wrong time. I got trapped riding out the storm…just like you.”
“What makes you think I got trapped?”
“If you’d had any choice, you would have left.”
My brother Tony forced me to stay, but he left me. A storm surge so strong it pulled the house out from under us knocked him into the sea. The Gulf of Mexico spit me back onto the beach as if the ocean didn’t like the way I tasted.
I survived, but I had no time to grieve. The realization impaled my heart.
Jake stretched out on his cot. “There’s a boat out of here tomorrow. It’s taking volunteers back to the mainland.” Galveston was in ruins. The thin strips of concrete that once connected the island to civilization lay scattered on the beach looking somewhat like a child's building blocks.
“There is?” I tried not to appear too interested.
“You didn’t know?” A different question danced in his eyes—a challenge of sorts. “So how long have you lived in Galveston?”
“Not long. My brother found a job. So I moved here a few months ago to be with him.”
“Where’s your brother now?”
I blinked at him. “He’s gone.”
His stern countenance wavered, but before I could embrace his presumed compassion, his expression settled into severity once again. “Now you’ll have to start your life over…again.” His eyes captured mine. A shiver of dread slithered down my spine. It was as if he knew me, even though he didn’t seem to know me. “Are you going to sleep?” He nodded toward my pillow as if he didn’t think my conscience would allow rest.
“I never sleep.”
Within minutes, he emitted soft puffs of breath, in and out, obviously lacking any guilt to keep him awake.
The shadows lengthened and receded over the locker room, drifting in and out of the grimy, shattered windows as if the world was still revolving around its axis on schedule. But I was sure it had stopped turning. I was the fugitive he sought.
The unrepentant sunshine streamed through the cracks, jubilant in its victory over the storm. Only five days since the devastation of Hurricane Irving and the sun acted as if nothing had ever happened. I turned away from the brightness with an ill-tempered snort.
Jake caught up with me on the gym floor. “Did you get any sleep?” His question hit me as a trifle vindictive.
“No. But you did.”
“I snore.” He grinned. Then his smile faded. “I thought you’d be gone this morning.”
“Why? I have to finish the job.”
The thought that pestered me all night erupted from my mouth. “What happens to that woman when you catch her?”
“She’ll go back to jail.” He stopped by the double doors and folded his arms over his chest, blocking my path. “Then she’ll go to trial.”
“What if she did what she had to do?”
“There was no evidence it was self defense.”
I stared hard at his implacable façade. How could the man be alternately warm and cold, compassionate and hard, flexible and unyielding? I stepped around him and entered the gym. There were already bodies lined up waiting for our initial inspection, so I began the task of collecting information from my column of the dead. The hours passed as I searched pockets and noted identifying characteristics on those with no papers or markings. I glanced toward the open door as two men begin loading the last group onto a waiting truck.
One more victim to notate. I squatted next to her. Even in partial decay, her features were enough like mine it pushed me back on my heels. I lifted her arm. My breath hitched. Her Social Security number was so nearly like mine. I scanned the gym. Jake, the one man who might care if she became me or I became her, was absent. With a few strokes of the pen, I could die and live again.
My heart pounded with the possibility I might get a chance to start over without the baggage of my past dragging me down. I changed her identity with a few swipes of a permanent marker. The number went onto my log with an unshaken hand, and I was free to escape the woman I used to be…the woman I didn’t want to be any longer.
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