The boss lady is scrolling through her palm computer. "Jason and Rodrigio can do that. Download their records, Kayla."
"Yes; Ma'am." Kayla walks over to the table. "I need to download your records."
"I thought medical records were confidential."
The boss lady snorts indignantly. "That was a relic of the old free world. We got rid of that nonsense when we took over. Medical records are transparent, so health officials can determine if people are engaging in unhealthy activities. Give Kayla your bracelet."
There is a pleading look in Kayla's eyes as she makes eye contact with Zack.
Zack doesn't want to make things difficult for her. He removes his bracelet and turns it over to her to download. The bracelets were originally worn by seriously ill senior citizens and automatically notified ambulance crews of heart attacks or other medical emergencies. Their funct
Healthy or Else
Published by A.B.R. at Smashwords
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
ISBN 978-0-9866053-1-4 ebook
All Rights Reserved
© 2010 Allan B. Regier
This is a DRM-free ebook and may be copied and shared with your friends, provided it appears in its entirety, without alteration, and the reader is not charged for it
Healthy or Else
Zack feels his transportation card vibrating in his pocket, and walks carefully through the crowded bus, as it pulls into his stop. He steps out of the bus and glances up the hill, unaware of vague feelings of dissent. His house is near the top of the hill, the bus goes right past it and there is a stop half a block from his front door, but government regulations decree that every citizen must walk a minimum of ten blocks every day. Like everyone else, his transportation card is programmed to notify him to get off the bus four blocks from home; failure to comply is transmitted automatically and results in the issuance of a substantial fine. He no longer owns a car; the fees for driving in Vancouver are prohibitively expensive.
He feels a chill wind blowing off the inlet, zips up his coat, and looks up at a threatening November sky. At least it’s not raining yet. The bus pulls back onto the road and drives up the hill. He starts trudging uphill after it. It is a steep grade, and he is getting to the age where he feels the effort. It starts to drizzle and is raining hard by the time he turns into his abandoned driveway. Zack sees his six-year-old daughter sitting on the steps, looking up at the front door. Why is Ashley outside in this rotten weather?
He walks up the stairs, and doesn’t need to see his daughter’s face to know she is crying. He instinctively picks her up. She burrows into his arms. “What’s wrong, Ashley?”
“When is Mommy coming home Daddy?”
“She should be home anytime, Pumpkin.” He says in a soothing voice. Ashley is trembling; he can literally feel how upset or scared she is. Where is Zoë? She should have been home hours ago. His wife is always home by 3:00, so she will be there when Ashley gets home from school. It is almost 6:30. “Have you been sitting on the steps since you got home from school?”
“Yes; Daddy. It was a long time.” She says, choking back her tears.
“Did Mrs. Rodgers walk you home?”
“Yes; Daddy.” Ashley has her head buried in his arms and he can’t see her face, but she has stopped trembling, at least.
Zack fumbles in his pocket for his magnetic key wondering what could have happened to his wife. I’ve got to take care of Ashley first, he thinks, as he opens the door. He puts Ashley down. “Hang up your coat and take off your shoes. I’ll see what I can find to eat. You must be hungry.” He hands her a coat hanger from the open closet beside the front door.
Ashley smiles at him in anticipation. “I haven’t ate anything since recess.” She hangs her coat on the hanger and gives it back to him and removes her shoes while he hangs her coat in closet. He repeats the process with his own wet coat and shoes. “Let’s go into the kitchen and see what we can find to eat.”
“Is it supper time Daddy? I’m really hungry. It feels like supper time.”
“Almost. How about I find us a snack for now, and wait for Mommy to come home before we eat supper.”
“Can I have juice?”
“Sure, Pumpkin.” They walk together into the small kitchen in their old house. “Sit down at the table Ashley. I’ll get your juice.” Zack gets a plastic glass from the cupboard and pours Ashley a glass of juice from the refrigerator. “Is cranberry juice okay?”
Ashley’s smile lights up her face. “I like cranberry.”
Zack feels a little better seeing Ashley acting normal and looking happy now that she is inside. He starts looking through the cupboard to see what he can give her for a snack. It has never occurred to him before, but he doesn’t know what his wife usually feeds Ashley after school, and he doesn’t want to ask her and admit his ignorance. He opens a cupboard door and sees all the boxes of tofu snacks. Those will do. Zoë should be home any time now.
“What kind of tofu snack do you want Ashley. Blueberry?” It is his favorite.
Ashley pulls the glass of cranberry juice away from her mouth, shakes her head vigorously, and resumes drinking, without saying anything.
“Okay. What else is here? Strawberry?” He looks expectantly at Ashley, but she doesn’t respond. Zack shuffles the boxes of tofu snacks around, and sees cheese, orange and peanut butter flavored tofu snacks. “Peanut butter is good,” he says, hoping to entice her.
Ashley’s nose wrinkles in distaste. “I don’t like tofu Daddy!”
“Sorry, Pumpkin. I’ll see if I can find something else.” Zack can’t find anything else to give her, and is soon reduced to rummaging through the cupboards at random. He bumps a stack of microwave containers and a couple of packages fall out from behind the containers. He pulls one down from the top shelf. Popcorn. We haven’t had that in … I can’t remember the last time we made popcorn. He tears the plastic wrapping off the package and puts it in the microwave. “Do you like popcorn?” He asks while setting the timer.
“Popcorn. What’s that?”
“Your mother and I used to eat popcorn when we were watching movies. I’m making some. You can try it. It only takes a couple of minutes.”
I should go all out if she hasn’t tried it before. Zack gets margarine from the fridge and melts it on the stove. The timer goes off, and Zack empties the popcorn into a big bowl and pours melted margarine over the popcorn. He takes his government regulated salt shaker out of the cupboard and checks the gauge; he hasn’t used up his monthly allotment yet, so he sprinkles salt on the popcorn, shakes it, and carries the bowl to the table. He scoops out a handful and slides the bowl over to Ashley. “Try some popcorn.”
Ashley picks one kernel from the bowl and cautiously tastes it. “I like this popcorn Daddy.” She reaches into the bowl and scoops out a handful, in imitation.
Zack takes another handful and watches Ashley eat. She really is hungry. I better find out where Zoë is and if she has any plans for dinner. It’s almost 7 o’clock. What can she be doing? He is starting to worry.
He calls his wife’s cell phone. It is turned off. That’s strange. She never turns her cell phone off. Zack thinks for a moment and calls Caitlin, a friend of his wife’s from work. After exchanging the normal phone pleasantries Zack asks Caitlin if she has seen Zoë.
“I saw her this morning. She had a doctor’s appointment, so we didn’t go out for lunch today. Why do you ask?”
“Zoë is late getting home. I wanted to ask her what I should give Ashley for supper.”
“I didn’t see her after work, had to rush home to take my girls to figure skating practice. Hang on a second; I’ll get you Mrs. Pringle’s home number. You can check with her.”
“Who is Mrs. Pringle?” Zack can’t remember hearing that name before.
“She is the new head of our department. Maybe Zoë is working late.” Zack writes the number down and calls.
“Yes. Who is it?” A frosty voice answers.
“Mrs. Pringle. My name is Zack Forester; my wife Zoë works in your department. I was wondering if she is working late.”
“She left us in quite a lurch Mr. Forester.” The disapproval in the woman’s voice is unmistakable.
“What happened Mrs. Pringle?”
“She never came back from her lunch break.”
“She had a doctor’s appointment. But she isn’t home. I found our daughter waiting on the steps.” Zack winces, and wishes he could retract his last sentence.
“Hmph. I’m not surprised.”
“It has never happened before,” Zack says in his wife’s defense.
“Your wife is your problem Mr. Forester. I’m feeding my terrier. Good evening!”
Her attitude is annoying, but there are more important issues at the moment. “How’s the popcorn, Ashley?”
“Good. Can I have more juice?”
“Sure, Pumpkin.” Zack refills her glass. “You don’t have to eat all the popcorn. We’re going to have supper pretty soon. Don’t spoil your appetite.”
“Can I have popcorn for dessert?”
“If you don’t eat it all now, you can.” Zack gives her a half-full glass of juice. “I have to look up a phone number Ashley. I’ll be back in a couple of minutes.”
Zack goes to the bedroom to look for the number of Zoë‘s doctor, and calls from his cell phone. “The offices of Doctors Jaspar, Winkelman, Chan, and Hunter are closed. Call again tomorrow. Office hours are from 10:00 A.M. to 2:30 P.M. The office is closed from 12:30 to 1:30 for lunch.”
Not knowing what else to do he tries calling his wife’s cell phone again. It is still turned off. What can she be doing? Zack is getting worried now; this is totally out of character for his wife. He tries to think of someone else to call. Her mother. Zack immediately calls her. “Zoë‘s cell is turned off. Have you talked to her, or know what she is doing?” Zack asks, after exchanging greetings.
“No. Zoë hasn’t called me for days. Where is Ashley?”
“She’s with me, at home. Zoë hasn’t come home yet, and it’s getting late.” Zack can’t keep the concern out of his voice.
“Maybe she is out with friends,” his mother-in-law says, trying to be helpful. “I wouldn’t worry about her too much.”
“You’re probably right.” He tries to sound relieved. But he isn’t, and looks up the phone numbers of her closest friends, and calls them. None of her friends know where she, and he is getting more worried with every call.
I’ll try the hospital. He looks up the number for the Fraser Municipal Hospital, chooses what he hopes is the right department, and asks if Zoë Forester-Holmes has been admitted. “Wait a second while I look it up,” a friendly female voice says.
“I have the admittance records in front of me now. Just a second.”
The voice is silent for an uncomfortably long time. “Is anything wrong?” Zack asks, growing uneasy.
The voice hesitates noticeably. “I don’t see her name on the list of walk-in patients. Or emergency admittance,” she adds. “Sorry.” A click on his cell phone tells him she has terminated the call.
Zack is at a loss for ideas. He calls the police but is told he can’t file a missing person’s report until his wife is missing for 24 hours. Something about the call to the hospital bothers him. The receptionist was friendly enough, but there was something about her voice, about the call. Zack decides to call back, maybe talk to a different receptionist. He calls and a different voice answers. He starts to ask about his wife, but is