“Is that her?” Detective Walsh asked, talking around the wad of gum in his mouth.
Ryan Donatelli tugged at the neck of his old football jersey while he looked everywhere but at the body on the steel examination table. The morgue walls were closing in on him. “I don’t know.” Even to him, his voice sounded tinny, far off. “Shelley’s small, but this woman seems much smaller. It’s hard to say.” The obvious resemblance struck him, but he looked for any reason he could to deny it.
“Dehydration, from the burns,” the gray-haired coroner said. “It changes the facial appearance.”
Ryan glanced up and noticed the older man’s immense nose and his astonishing resemblance to the comedian and singer, Jimmy Durante.
The detective shrugged. “Well, if you can’t be sure, I guess we’ll just have to . . . wait a minute! What about this?” Walsh removed a small envelope from his jacket pocket and extracted a plastic bag containing a necklace that had been tagged for evidence.
Ryan’s stomach spasmed. Acid scorched his throat. Every conscious thought screamed denial, yet his trembling hand reached for the bag. Under the fluorescent lights, the ruby pendant glowed like a hot ember. He squeezed it in his palm, trying to feel its pulsing warmth–like the warmth of Shelley’s smile.
Oh, God! It was as cold as the body on the table.
“You okay?” The detective’s voice was muffled.
Ryan wanted to laugh at the stupidity of the question, but at this moment, mirth was a foreign emotion to him. With his index finger, he traced the outline of the small stone before turning it over to read the inscription he knew he would find. Unshed tears blurred his vision, but there it was. Happy B-day, Love, R.
“It’s Shelley,” he said and turned away. He could no longer deny the evident truth, or hang onto the tiniest thread of hope that this was a terrible mistake.
Sweet, stubborn Shelley, his baby sister. She’d never argue politics, movies or anything mundane as the weather again. Shelley loved to challenge him. She’d made him think in new ways and consider new options. What would he do without her?