Her father told her never to let them know they’ve gotten to you, that they’ve shaken you. Piper had learned in her twenty-eight years that if you didn’t take business personally, you could be successful and prosperous. At least if that’s what you appeared to be. When the stress of the job really got to you, you waited until you got home. Then you could let the tears fall over a bottle of wine if you needed.
Looking around the conference room table, she wondered if anyone could tell how badly she was sweating under her expensive suit. Could they hear her heart slamming against her ribs?
The chairman of the First Seattle Bank and Trust was droning on about something that wasn’t holding the attention of anyone else in the room. At least that meant her own inattention would go unnoticed.
Piper was scared. Normally she took pride in her ability to handle anything that was thrown her way. Today, the delivery of a box that was still sitting on her desk had set her blood running cold.
She’d been distracted, her phone tucked between her shoulder and her cheek, multi-tasking as usual. Her desk faced the door to her modest-sized office, the windows behind her looking out over the sprawling Seattle skyline.
The only thought she had while talking to her mother was that she didn’t want to cut herself opening the box. Her mom was talking about getting together on the weekend. Her dad was going to be BBQing and it was a big affair that would most definitely include football, too much food, and a bevy of friends and neighbors.
She’d gotten the box open without incident, and then pulled open the lid and lifted the bubble wrap on top, her hand pausing in midair.
What she saw inside didn’t make sense. Her mind went through a number of possibilities all trying to make the object at the bottom of the box have a purpose.
Her strangled gasp let her suck in the scent of the raw flesh. It was a heart. A large one wrapped in a piece of barbed wire. The sharp metal pierced the muscle adding to the metallic smell coming off it.
“Mom, I need to call you back.”
“Of course, let me know about next weekend.”
Piper hung up the phone and stared at the horror in the box. Her name was on the box, she knew that for sure. Someone had sent her something so horrible that it defied an explanation.
Knowing she had a meeting to go to, she closed up the box, and added a heavy paperweight to the top to keep it closed. The chance the heart was going to start beating was slim to none. But she didn’t want to deal with it at the moment, nor could she.
Attending the meeting and making a plan was the logical thing to do. Unexpected and sometimes confusing deliveries weren’t uncommon. She’d been receiving them since she was a senior in college. It had started as letters, flowers, and even heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. All signed ‘from an admirer.’ As a young woman she’d ignored it. No one she knew or dated admitted to being the anonymous sender, and she didn’t want to make a fuss. Over the years, through boyfriends, jobs, and moves, her admirer followed her.
After several years she had contacted the police but they hadn’t done much. Some officers had taken a report but told her that without more to go on or a direct threat against her, there was nothing they could do except file the report. She had changed phone numbers several times, but it didn’t take long for her admirer to find her again and then the hang-up calls would begin again. It had become a part of her life that didn’t really scare her, it was just an annoyance.
But this was different. Now that she was seated in the conference room with her boss and colleagues, her mind was somewhere else. How in the world would she ever forget what was in the box? Letters could go unopened, flowers could be thrown away, what the hell did you do with a heart?
“Piper, do you agree?”
Turning her head to the end of the table she blinked. “I’m sorry, I was thinking of something else, can you please repeat your question?”
“Can you get me the numbers for our quarterly reports back to Thayr Corporation by tomorrow morning?”
“Yes, of course. No problem.”
Piper knew that she needed to call the police, but she didn’t want anyone in the office to know what was sitting in her office. She’d kept her little problem to herself for too long to start becoming the topic of rumors or gossip.
Even her family didn’t know that her secret admirer had continued their attentions after she’d left college. She’d thought it best not to worry them. As the youngest child she always felt that she had to prove herself and make her own way. Her parents didn’t need added stress in their lives either. Piper wasn’t going to be the one that made them worry and lose sleep.
The meeting adjourned and she hurried back to her office, rushing past her assistant Libby who tried to raise a finger to ask her something. Inside her office she didn’t hesitate, grabbing the box and her purse and flying out the door again before Libby could say anything.
“I’ll be back after lunch,” she called over her shoulder as she dashed for the elevator.
Hoping the package wasn’t leaking, she caught a cab outside her office building and went straight to the police station.
Seated on a hard, uncomfortable chair, she waited for the policeman to call her name, her leg bouncing nervously. She’d placed the box on the seat next to her. Her mind started playing tricks on her. For a moment she could have sworn that she heard the thump of a heartbeat. Then she gave herself a mental slap. There was no possible way that lump of dead flesh was making noise.
Standing, she saw a woman about her height dressed in a pantsuit much like hers, holding a piece of paper. “That’s me.”
“I’m Detective Klein, why don’t you follow me to my desk?”
Grabbing the box, Piper obediently followed the detective into a crowded bullpen. They stopped at a desk and the detective gestured to the empty seat beside it.
“I’m a little confused by this complaint you’ve filed,” she asked, taking a seat.
Piper sat down and cleared her throat. “Look, it’s a... complicated. I’ve been getting anonymous gifts and letters for years... but this time I’m freaked out.” Piper lifted the box and put it on the edge of the desk. “It’s a heart. I don’t know if it’s human.”
Detective Klein looked at the box suspiciously. “A heart?”
Piper pushed the box towards her on the desk with one finger. Detective Klein used a pen to open the lid. As she lifted the bubble wrap, the detective’s eyebrows rose.
“Well, that’s gross. Do you know who sent it?”
“It can only be one person. Like I said, they’ve sent me flowers, cards, letters, candy, and a fair share of frequent hang-up phone calls. It’s been going on since college.”
“But never anything like this?”
Piper shook her head.
The detective sat back in her chair and threw the pen onto the desk. “Have you ever made a report before?”
“Often enough. I’m always told that there isn’t much that can be done. Whoever this is has never made physical contact with me. Apparently, I have to be assaulted or killed for anyone to care.”
The detective sighed. “I’m sorry. You’ve probably heard this before, but there really isn’t much we can do. The resources to follow up on something like this are out of scope for most departments. So you have no idea who would do this?”
“I really don’t. Over the years I’ve racked my brain trying to come up with an answer, but there wasn’t anyone that I thought would be obsessed with me like this. It’s always been small stuff... easy to ignore. The heart, though, that scared me. You don’t think it’s really human, do you?”
“I’m going to say it’s probably a pig heart, but we’ll need to have it tested.”
“And if it isn’t?”
“Then we are dealing with a homicide and it will be investigated as such.”
“And if it is just an animal heart?”
“Then someone is sending meat through the mail without proper refrigeration.”
Piper sighed. “So, basically nothing.”
“I’m sorry, like I said, there isn’t much we can do. Have you tried relocating?”
“Why is it every time I ask for help someone tells me to move? Like it’s on me to run away? I’ve moved, multiple times. I’ve had more phone numbers than I can count. I’m not leaving my job. I’ve worked too hard to get where I am.”
The detective shrugged sympathetically and gave Piper a look she’d seen all too often. The detective’s hands were tied and Piper was back to square one.
Piper wasn’t surprised; she hadn’t gotten much support over the years. “This one scared me,” she said, trying to get the woman to understand.
“I can see that. This is bullshit and sick. I’d offer to run it for prints, but again, the illegality of it is iffy. Plus, there have probably been a lot of hands on this box.”
“I had a break-in once and they didn’t find anything. Whoever it is appears to be smarter than that.”
“I would suggest personal security. Is that something you can afford?”
Piper could, her job paid her very well. And if she told her family, they would do anything to keep her protected if she couldn’t afford it.
“Ms. Armstrong, whoever this is seems to be escalating their attentions towards you. They’re making it clear that they want to control you. They want you afraid and nervous. You have to decide whether you are going to run and hide, or live your life. I think you can guess which one I would tell you to do.”
Piper sighed; she didn’t want to open any more boxes containing animal parts. She was just getting her life back on track and feeling like there was a little hope on the horizon, but it had only taken one afternoon for it all to come crashing back down again. When was she going to get a break from the misery?
“Do you have any recommendations?”