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BarbaraHelene Smith

Dark as Chocolate

CONNIE MURPHY ENTERED the Southside Hospital Emergency Room. After maneuvering her way around coughing, sneezing and moaning bodies, she held her credentials against the glass window and announced she was with the FDA. Moments later, a woman in green scrubs opened the door and motioned her to enter.

"Four people arrived within the last twelve hours with stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea," the charge nurse began. "Two have been released. The others remain hospitalized." She gave Connie the names and addresses of each person who left the hospital and the room numbers of the two remaining patients.

One name caught Connie's attention. Stacy Wallis was a former high school classmate. She pictured the willowy blonde and frowned. Stacy was always flirting with someone else's boyfriend. Connie took a deep breath. I may as well start with her.

AS SHE ENTERED room S403, Connie got a hint of bleach and rubbing alcohol. She looked around, then focused on the patient lying in the bed next to the window.

"Hello, Stacy. Connie Murphy. Remember me from Lake Ronkonkoma High? How are you feeling?"

Stacy's eyes widened. "Shitty. How should I feel after being poisoned?"

"I'm an investigator with the FDA and here to interview you about the food poisoning."

"Food poisoning? What makes you think it was food poisoning?"

"Because several people have been hospitalized with the same symptoms." Connie dragged a chair next to the bed and opened her notebook. "I need to know where you ate and exactly what you consumed during the last 12 to 24 hours before getting sick. I don't want this to take any longer than necessary. Just tell me what you had to eat and drink and I'll leave you to rest."

Reluctantly, Stacy gave Connie the information. When she finished, she took a sip of water, then said, "I think I was targeted. Someone deliberately tried to poison me."

Connie pushed a strand of brunette hair behind her ear. "What makes you think that?"

"I've gotten threatening phone calls."

"Have you told the police?"

"At first, I thought it was a joke and if I hung up and ignored them, they would stop. I didn't want to scare my mother by getting the police involved." Connie gave her a quizzical look. "Mom's been staying at my house since her accident. She's been through enough and doesn't need to worry about me."

"What kind of threats?"

"Nothing specific. That's why I don't understand. Things like 'Keep your mouth shut' and 'Don't tell anyone'. I have no idea what they're talking about." Stacy struggled to straighten the pillow behind her back. "You said you're an investigator. Can you look into the calls?"

"I'm not that kind of investigator." Connie closed her notebook. "If you get another threat, I suggest you contact the police. They may be able to tap your phone and trace the call." Connie rose from the chair. "I have other people to interview. Nice to see you again, Stacy. I hope you feel better soon."


ALTHOUGH STACY WALLIS was not one of her favorite people, the conversation with her former classmate continued to bother Connie. After contemplating the alleged threats for a couple of days, she decided to follow up with a visit to Stacy's home.

As she pulled up in front of the house, Stacy drove out of the driveway. I guess she didn't see me. Connie looked at her watch. It's after nine o'clock. I wonder where she is going at this hour?

Connie followed Stacy onto the Long Island Expressway. She headed east and exited ten miles later. After weaving through several isolated downtown streets, Stacy parked in the back of Dirty Harry's, an adult entertainment establishment.

Curious, Connie entered Dirty Harry's through the front door. Except for the flashing neon signs, lighting was almost non-existent. It took a few minutes for her eyes to adjust. Several customers were sitting at the bar to her left and more at tables scattered throughout the room. It was obvious from the noise level that most patrons had been there for several hours. Table tops were slopped with spilled beer and peanut shells scattered on the floor. Connie looked around, but didn't see Stacy.

Suddenly, lights flooded center stage and the audience began hooting and hollering. Two wire cages containing scantily clad women descended slowly from the ceiling. The crowd roared louder.

Connie leaned against the wall mesmerized as nearly naked figues slithered down poles and began dancing. Spotlights focused on each one individually. Connie gasped. Stacy was wearing a scarlet wig and introduced as 'Flame'. Connie watched in amazement as Flame bumped and grinded her way around the stage.

After several hours, when the show was over, Connie headed backstage. A man with a Paul Bunyan beard and tattoos covering both arms blocked the door and growled, "No one's allowed in back."

Connie considered flashing her badge. She was a law enforcement officer, but this was not within her jurisdiction and it would be considered false impersonation. She decided to wait outside in the parking lot.


WHEN STACY EMERGED from the back entrance sans the red wig, Connie approached as she opened her car door.

"Hello, Stacy, or should I say Flame?"

Stacy gasped and the color drained from her face. "What are you doing here?"

"A better question is, what are you doing here?"

"How did you know where to find me?"

"I followed you. I wanted to ask you some questions about the telephone calls, but this is far more interesting."

Stacy put her hands on her hips and stared at Connie. "You have no right to poke your nose into my business."

"Didn't you ask me to investigate at the hospital?"

"I meant the threatening calls. Please don't tell Mom. She thinks I'm a waitress and would be mortified. I need the extra money to pay her medical bills. The insurance didn't cover everything and she hasn't been able to work since the accident."

"Could the threats you received have anything to do with this job?"

"I doubt it. Management keeps tight security and I've never had any trouble with the customers."

"Did the callers use your first name?"

Stacy thought for a moment. "No, I don't think so. Why?"

"Did the phone calls start before or after your mother moved in with you?"

"After. Could the threats have something to do with my mom's accident?"

"Your mother's name is Stella and your telephone number is listed as S. Wallis in the phone book. Maybe the calls were meant for her."





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