By Ruth M. McCarty

Mackenzie Miller pulled into the near-empty parking lot of the Towne Credit Union. She finally had a day off from her stressful job as a 9-1-1 operator, and although she did the majority of her banking online, she had a birthday check from her mother that she wanted to deposit into her savings account.

The New England air held the promise of the upcoming snowstorm that the overexcited local weathermen were predicting, and Mackenzie wanted to get her errands done, get home and get cozy before it hit. As she crossed the parking lot, she heard four loud "pops." She paused while trying to figure out what it was that had made that distinct sound. A car door closed somewhere up the street, a dog barked, and she heard the noise of children playing, but all were too far away to be the cause.

Mackenzie headed toward the bank, guessing the popping sounds she'd heard was a car backfiring. As she neared the glass door, it flew open. Two more "pops" and a grunt left no doubt. Gunshots. A man barreled into her and yelled, "Out of my way!" But before she could react, she felt blinding pain as something hit the side of her head.

* * *

Mackenzie woke, but kept her eyes closed and her breathing steady as she listened to the sounds around her and until she could get her bearings — a phone ringing in the background, an intercom system scratching out sounds and finally the antiseptic smell registered as a hospital setting. She turned her head, slowly opened her eyes, and winced in pain as she looked around. What was she doing in a hospital?

"Well, you're awake," a gentle voice said from the right side of the bed.

Mackenzie braced herself as she turned to the sound. The first thing she noticed was the color blue. She always looked at the clothes first so she'd remember. Blue scrubs. The person wearing them was now lifting Mackenzie's arm and wrapping it in a blood pressure cuff.

"You have quite a nasty bruise on the side of your head."

Mackenzie looked closely at the woman. She had a slender figure, and auburn colored hair that although cut short, curled around her ears. She wasn't wearing earrings, and Mackenzie noted, no holes — she didn't have pierced ears.

"Where am I?" Mackenzie managed from a throat so parched it hurt to swallow.

"You're at Mercy Hospital. Do you remember being brought here?"

"No." Mackenzie shook her head. She didn't remember. "How long have I been here?"

"Since this morning." The nurse — she could see her badge now, Emily Borden RN — pulled the cuff off her arm and made a note on her chart.

Mackenzie felt her panic rising. It was already dark outside. She grabbed the nurse's arm. "Please, tell me why I'm here."

The nurse gently pulled away. "I'll get Dr. Mayo. He'll be able to answer your questions."

* * *

Mackenzie heard the soft shuffle of someone coming down the hall toward her room.

"Ms. Miller, I'm Dr. Mayo."

At the sound of his voice, she looked in his direction. He was wearing the usual white coat. His hair was black with strands of gray filtering through it and he had a well-trimmed beard that sported much more gray. He had nicely formed ears, and he smelled like Eternity from Calvin Klein. A stethoscope dangled around his neck. She read his hospital badge: Timothy Mayo, MD.

"Why am I here?"

"You were smacked in the head by a handgun."

"A handgun?"

"Do you remember going to the bank?"

Mackenzie nodded. "I remember hearing popping sounds."

"Well, those popping sounds were gunshots. You got there in the middle of a robbery. The gunman fired wildly inside the bank, hitting two employees and killing an off-duty police officer. By the time the shooter got out the door and ran into you, he'd fired all his bullets. You're one lucky woman. No gunshot wounds and no facial fractures, but you do have a concussion and a subdural hematoma."

"Did they get him?"

The doctor shook his head. "Not yet." He looked at both pupils, then held two fingers in front of her face. "How many fingers do you see?"

"You're holding up two. Doctor Mayo, I think I'd better tell you I have a rare neurological condition — prosopagnosia. Have you heard of it?"

Before he could answer, two people walked into the room, a man dressed in a brown corduroy jacket and tan pants and a woman in a cropped black jacket, black pants and heeled boots. The man flipped a badge open and said, "Dr. Mayo, we're here to talk to Ms. Miller."

Mackenzie tried to sit up, but it hurt too much, so she lay back on the pillows and moaned.

"Ms. Miller has just awakened. I'm not sure she's ready to talk yet."

"Well, it's real important that we talk to her now," he said. "I'm Detective Barons, and this here is my partner, Detective Alicia Crosby."

"Well, it's too soon. I haven't finished my evaluation. I need to do more tests."

Mackenzie felt the tension in the room. She'd been in hospitals before, had every test possible, ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRI's. Every doctor wanted to be the one to find a cure for her prosopagnosia. None had succeeded. None had figured how she came to have it. She could have been born with it or it could have been from a blow to her head as a child.

The detective in the black clothes spoke. Mackenzie noted the slight but curvy build and her blonde hair brushed back from her face. "We need to get a description of the shooter. He killed one of our own."

Mackenzie felt her pulse quicken. Her breathing became fast and her hands began to tingle. "I can't breathe," she managed to say.

"Here, take this."

She turned, startled at the new person in the room. "Do I know you?"

The woman nodded. Mackenzie recognized her ears. No earrings. It was Emily Borden, her nurse.

"It's okay," Emily said. "You're hyperventilating. Breathe into the bag."

Mackenzie reached out for the paper bag offered to her. She knew the drill. Ever since she was eleven and a half and realized she didn't see what others saw. She put the bag over her mouth, breathing in and out, trying to calm herself.

"You must leave now," Dr. Mayo told the detectives.

"Please," Detective Crosby said, "he had a wife and twin girls! We need to find his killer."

Mackenzie heard the pain in the detective's voice and felt the pain she knew would come when she spoke. "Dr. Mayo. Please, let me talk. They need to know."

"What?" Barons said. "What do we need to know? Look, I know you must be hurting, and I'm sorry that we have to question you, but you're the only one who saw his face. The only one who saw him after he took off his ski mask. You're the only one who can identify him. Tell us what he looks like."

"Detective Barons," Dr. Mayo started, "Ms. Miller can't help you."

"Can't or won't?" Barons said. "The shooter's face had to be inches away when he clocked her with his gun."

"Can't," Mackenzie said. "I have...well, I have a vision problem."

"What do you mean, you have a vision problem. You drove to the bank. Your car is still in the lot."

"I have a rare neurological condition. Prosopagnosia. Face blindness. I may have seen the shooter's face, but I can't remember it. I won't remember yours after you leave this room. If you changed from your brown corduroy suit and came right back in to talk to me I wouldn't remember you."

"You're kidding, right?"

"I'm not. I don't even recognize my own mother's face."

"That's crazy."

Mackenzie shrugged. She was used to people calling her crazy. How could she not know her own mother's face? Or her own? Sometimes, when she was walking through a store, she'd see her reflection in a mirror and not know it was hers until she recognized her clothes or her hair or sometimes her jewelry. "I grew up with this. I thought everyone was like me until I got older. I just can't remember faces."

Barons put his fingers to his forehead, closed his eyes and sighed. "Well, he'll remember yours. Here's my card. Call me if you think of anything. We'll be back in the morning."

* * *

Mackenzie lay awake after everyone left her room. Because of the concussion, they were going to keep her overnight to wake her every two hours, and she was going to have another CAT scan in the morning for the hematoma. Dr. Mayo wanted to be sure that she was okay. How could she be okay? She'd seen a murderer and couldn't remember his face.

She called her supervisor first, explained what happened and felt relieved when he told her to take the rest of the week off. She knew she had to be alert to take emergency calls, and she couldn't be with the pain in her head and the still shaky feeling from the ordeal.

Next, she called her mother. Mackenzie knew her mother would worry if she called her apartment and didn't get an answer. It had taken a lot of fighting to get out from under her well-meaning parent's protection, and she wasn't about to go back there. So when her mother said she'd come stay with her, Mackenzie had to be strong and told her no. Told her that she'd be fine alone — even though she wasn't so sure she would be.

She turned the television on at eleven o'clock and tuned it to the Channel 7 news. She figured the bank robbery and murder would be the headline and was right when they dove into the story. Mackenzie watched transfixed as they showed the bank, her car in the parking lot, photos of the injured employees and the murdered police officer in his formal uniform. Then they showed the grainy bank photo of the shooter.

Mackenzie leaned forward, wished she could pause the television so she could study the picture. His black hoodie covered his head and a ski mask hid his features. When had he put the mask on? Right before he went into the bank? Maybe a security camera had caught him before then. Or maybe he'd put it on in the car and had pulled up his hood and walked in with his head down. She'd heard that some banks now posted signs on their outside doors asking patrons to remove hats and gloves and wondered if her bank had the same policy. The sequence was over too quickly. She'd have to watch it again in the morning.

* * *

The sound of an elevator stopping on her floor woke Mackenzie from a sound sleep. Her heart accelerated as someone headed toward the room. Taking a deep breath, she tried to calm herself. The light was dim in the room, and she panicked as she saw a dark figure enter and head towards her bed.

Blue scrubs.

"Emily?" she whispered.

No answer.

Couldn't be Emily, this person was taller, wider in the hips.

"Who's there?" She grabbed the call button and pressed it repeatedly.

"Whoa. Hey. It's okay. I'm Derek. I'm your night nurse." He reached over her head, turned the call button off, and turned on a light. "I thought you were asleep and was just about to wake you."

Mackenzie had never heard his voice before. She read his badge — he was an RN, then looked at the white board hanging on the wall across from her bed and saw his last name printed right below Emily's name.

"I'm sorry," Mackenzie said. "I didn't..."

"My fault," he said. "I should have said something when I came in. I have some pain medication for you."

"I don't want anything for pain."

"It's acetaminophen. Dr. Mayo ordered it for you."

"All right, I'll take it," she said. After he left, she looked at the clock. It was only two a.m. She felt like she'd been sleeping longer than that.

Awake now, Mackenzie tried to recall what she could about the shooter. The blur of the black hoodie and gloves popped into her mind. Gloves. He had on black gloves, too. She remembered him reaching for the ski mask, pulling it off, and then stuffing it into his pocket as he came out the door. He was so close when he spoke, she remembered. Then what?

Then nothing. She couldn't remember his face. The detective's words rang out in her head, "Well he'll remember yours."

She felt like she was going to be sick. Could he find out who she was? Would he have watched the news and noticed her car in the parking lot? Did he have a way of finding out who the car was registered to? Would he know she was here?

She slept fitfully, listening to every sound, waiting for morning to come.

* * *

Emily, her nurse from the previous day, came in to check her vitals. Mackenzie had recognized her by her clogs and wedding ring, and the gentle sound of her voice. Emily told her Dr. Mayo would be in soon to release her.

The bank robbery and shootings were the top story for all three major channels. They repeatedly showed the grainy photo of the gunman, while asking for the public's help in identifying him.

Reporters stood in front of the credit union's parking lot while shooting video. They panned from the bank to her car and back. If the shooter hadn't noticed her car before — he would now. It was in the same spot as the previous day.

"Ms. Miller? It's Detective Alicia Crosby."

Mackenzie jumped at the sound from the doorway and turned toward the detective. "Thank you for speaking," she said. "I recognize your voice, but that's about it. You've obviously changed your clothes, and your hair is loose."

"Yah, well it's supposed to be my day off, but I'm not taking any time off until I find out who murdered Officer Kendall."

"So they haven't found the shooter yet?"

"No, ma'am. They have not. Have you remembered anything else about him?"

Mackenzie shook her head. "No. I've tried to remember, but all I can picture is his hoodie, and gloves. But, I did remember that when he took off his ski mask, he stuffed it into his pocket. Not that it helps you any. I still can't remember his face."

"Look, I know you're being released this morning. Let me take you home. I'll have your car driven home from the bank for you."

Mackenzie's head ached and she still felt nauseated, so she decided to let the detective drive her home. It would save her from calling her mother. "Okay," she said, then reached for her pocketbook. She took out the keys to her car and handed them to the detective, who handed them to someone waiting in the hall.

"Do you think the shooter will be watching my car? He could find out who I am and where I..."

"I'm sure he's long gone," Detective Crosby interrupted. "You don't need to worry. But if it makes you feel better, we'll send a patrol car around to check on you."

* * *

The bright sunshine seemed to bore a hole into her head, so Mackenzie kept her eyes closed on the way home. So much for the snowstorm they were predicting. The detective asked her the same questions every which way, but it still didn't make any difference in her answers. She just couldn't remember faces.

Mackenzie was relieved to see her car in the driveway as they drove in. Detective Crosby walked her to the door. "Can you do me one more favor? Just check out my apartment for me. I'll feel safer knowing no one was here last night."

"Sure. I'll get your keys. I told my officer to leave them on the front tire."

After a thorough search, the detective gave Mackenzie her card and said, "If you think of anything, no matter how trivial, call me. And like I said earlier, we'll have cars coming by every so often. But don't worry; I'm sure you'll be fine."

* * *

Mackenzie made sure she locked the door before she headed for the shower. She couldn't wait to get out of the clothes she had on from yesterday and the hot bullets of water helped ease the tension in her muscles. After dressing, she headed to the kitchen to fix something to eat. She hadn't been to the grocery store in a couple of days, but she did have eggs and milk and a green pepper, all the fixings for an omelet.

After she finished eating, she put her dishes in the sink, and turned on the twelve o'clock news. The story ran again, this time with an interview of the victim's sister-in-law. "Colin Kendall was a good man and a wonderful father to his twin girls. He's a hero. A real hero," she said before bursting into tears.

Mackenzie shut off the television and played the messages on her phone. Her mother had called, told her to turn on her cell phone so she could reach her. "Are you home?" she'd asked the machine on the second call. Mackenzie knew she'd better call her soon, or she'd be showing up at her door.

The next voice on the machine was unfamiliar. "Ms. Miller? This is Jillian Demers from cable news. I'd like to ask you a few questions about the shooting at the bank."

A chill ran down Mackenzie's spine. How had she known how to get a hold of her? Not one station had mentioned her name on their videos. They'd only said an eyewitness had been injured. How did this Demers woman get her name and number?

She called her mother first. "Mom, I'm home. I'm fine."

She sighed when her mother answered, "I've got a chicken in the oven." She knew there was no arguing with her now. Her mother was famous for her chicken deliveries. To the sick, to the lonely, to her daughter, who Mackenzie supposed, could use some comfort food right now.

"Okay Mom. But bring it by at five. My head still hurts and I'm going to take a nap this afternoon."

Next she called Detective Crosby and told her about the message on her answering machine. Let her deal with Jillian Demers and find out how she happened to get Mackenzie's number.

Mackenzie pulled down the blinds in the living room and got comfortable on the couch with a pillow and blanket from her bed. How had that woman gotten her name?

She was nearly asleep when she remembered the check. The birthday check from her mother. She'd taken it out of her pocketbook on the way into the bank. She'd had it in her hands. It had her deposit slip attached to it. With her name and address on it!

She jumped up, and nearly fell from the sudden pain in her head. Maybe she should have stayed in the hospital one more night. Or maybe she should let her mother coddle her this one last time.

No. She'd worked too hard for her independence to go running back home now. She made her way to the kitchen, where she'd left her pocketbook and took everything out as she looked for the check.

It wasn't there.

She picked up the phone to call the bank, but realized it probably was still a crime scene. She dialed the detective's number again, but this time it went to voicemail, so she left a message to contact her and headed for her laptop. After pulling up her online accounts, she saw the deposit had never been made. So where was the check? Had she dropped it? Had someone picked it up?

Now she'd have to have her mother stop payment on it and she'd never hear the end of it. She closed the laptop, took two Tylenol, then headed back to the couch.

She tossed and turned, and finally fell into a deep sleep, only to be awakened by the doorbell. She glanced at the clock. It was only four. What was her mother doing here early? She'd told her to come at five. She was a whole hour early. She never listened. The doorbell rang again. Mackenzie yelled, "I'm coming."

She yanked open the door, expecting to see her mother, but instead a deliveryman stood holding a bouquet of chocolate dipped fruit. "Delivery for Mackenzie Miller," he mumbled.

She looked out at the street. A white van sat idling across the street, and a cruiser drove slowly by. She waved an okay to the officer and watched as he drove away. Mackenzie took the fruit and said, thanks, and started to close the door.

"Wait," the deliveryman said. "I need you to sign for this."

"Okay. Let me put it down." She turned and walked toward the table. The door slammed behind her. She spun at the sound and saw the man rushing toward her. She threw the fruit at him. It hit his arm and shattered on the floor.

"Stupid bitch," he said.

Mackenzie tried to scream, but nothing came out. Oh God, it was the shooter. She'd know his voice anywhere. She grabbed a kitchen chair and threw it in his way, then ran toward the living room, picked up her cordless phone to dial 9-1-1.

He knocked the phone from her hand, and backhanded her. She fell backwards, and tripped over the coffee table. God it hurt. She rolled to the side and reached for an andiron but he grabbed her ankle and pulled her to him. She kicked at him with her other leg but he brushed it off like nothing.

"Let me go. I can't identify you," she cried, trying to break his hold on her foot. He let go, but only long enough to grab her throat with both his hands.

She couldn't breathe. She pulled at his arms, but they wouldn't budge. She raked her nails across his face, which made him only squeeze tighter. Then she poked both his eyes with her thumbs and pulled. He howled, and let go long enough for her to get a breath. She twisted around and tried to get up. He yanked her hair and pulled her back down. She cried out in pain, but managed to reach the phone he'd knocked out of her hands. She dialed 9-1-1. Heard it ringing. Threw the phone across the room.

He uttered a guttural sound, and let go of her hair to get the phone. She knew he'd be too late to hang it up. She ran to the fireplace, picked up the poker and hit him on the side of his head. He crumbled to the floor, moaning.

He wouldn't be down for long. So she pulled back the poker and came down hard on the top of his head. He slumped to the side, didn't move. She kneeled down beside him, the poker still in her hand for protection, grabbed his wrist and felt a faint pulse. Crossed the room, picked up the phone, reassured the 9-1-1 operator on the line, then walked out the door to wait for the police.

* * *

Mackenzie recognized the fear on her mother's face as she left her car door open and ran past the police cars and ambulances. It was the first time in years she'd recognized her mother before looking at her clothes and hair. Maybe it happened because she expected her mother to come along with her chicken delivery, but all she knew was it felt good. And she felt good.

"Mom," she said. "I'm okay."

Ruth M. McCarty's short mysteries have appeared in several anthologies and online magazines. She received honorable mentions in AHMM and for her flash fiction and won the 2009 Derringer for BEST FLASH STORY for "No Flowers for Stacey" published in Deadfall: Crime Stories by New England Writers. She is former editor at Level Best Books, a past president of the New England SinC, a member of MWA and a founding member of the New England Crime Bake.

Copyright 2014 Ruth M. McCarty. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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