Friday Fiction is hosted this week over on Karlene A. Jacobsen’s blog. If you came here first, make sure you get over there to find the Linky widget and the other submissions for your weekend reading pleasure.
Starting sometime in the next week or two, “Marta’s Pod” will get the professional editing in preparation for publication. When I first wrote “Cardan’s Pod,” I finished that story, but the characters just wouldn’t leave me alone. I immediately launched into writing the sequel, which not only became “Marta’s Pod,” but also ended up as the longest single story I’ve written to date. At one time, I considered trying to divide it into two stories, but there were so many things happening concurrently in that time span of the tale, that any attempt to make it into two books would inevitably result in spoilers. One book would reveal key outcomes of the other. I elected to leave it as one book, though I have pared it down by around 15000 – 20000 words from its peak length.
This week, I thought it would be fun to post a “teaser,” with the opening events of the book. This is about five years after the closing events of “Cardan’s Pod.”
Trouble is the common denominator of living. It is the great equalizer.
~ Soren Kierkegaard
Gerald Lawton removed the mail from the box, and sorted through the stack. The junk mail was gathered together beneath the important pieces, which included several bills and statements from insurance companies. An envelope from a County Recorder was held separate from the other mail, as he stepped back through the open front door.
He glanced momentarily at his son. Mark Lawton sat in a wheelchair, silently watching a television talk show. The young man’s expression revealed nothing of his thoughts on the program. Mark had the same reaction regardless of what was on the screen. “You want me to change the channel?” Gerald asked.
Mark shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. I doubt there’s anything better on, anyway.”
He shook his head. “Up to you,” he said. “You could do something else besides watching junk.”
“Sure, Dad. Maybe I’ll go for a run. Oh wait - I can’t. I don’t have any stinkin’ legs.”
I know, son, Gerald thought. You remind me every chance you get, it seems. What happened to the smiling, upbeat kid we raised? Did they have to amputate your sense of humor after the accident, too?
Entering the kitchen, he dropped the junk mail in the recycle bin without slowing his step, and took the bills to the sorter by the refrigerator. Once his hands were free, he used his pocket knife to slice open the end of the remaining envelope, and removed the document inside. He unfolded it, and looked it over as he reached for his mug of coffee. “Linda?” His hand stopped shy of the cup handle.
“Is that Mark’s Birth Certificate?”
He shook his head. “It’s not his.” He handed the document to his wife. “They sent us one for some gal named Marta Lawton. You’d think they would have checked the parents’ names and seen that they didn’t match.”
“Gerald?” She handed the certificate back to him. “They do match. We’re listed as Marta Lawton’s parents.”
“What? How?” He read over the form. “This lists Anthony Marcel as the delivering physician, too, but this one is dated six years after Mark was born. I know we used to have a copy of Mark’s birth certificate, and everything was correct. Where did this one come from?”
“I don’t know.” She turned her head in the direction of the living room. “I would certainly remember if I’d ever had any other children besides Mark.”
He slapped the certificate onto the dining table. “I’ll have to call them today, and get them to send the right certificate. They’d better not charge me for the correct copy.”
A week. That was all it had taken for what should have been dismissed as a stupid clerical error to turn into a family crisis. I got a thirty-four year old son acting like his life is over, and now I have to deal with Linda wondering if I’ve cheated on her, because some suspicious friend of hers suggested maybe I’d fathered a child with another woman, and tried to hide it by using her name. I don’t need this stress. Retirement was supposed to be relaxing.
Gerald read over the listing of Private Investigators on the computer, and selected one that specialized in searching for people. This is going to be expensive, I know it, but it’s gotta be cheaper than a divorce, which is where we’re headed if we don’t figure out who used our names and why.
Mothers are fonder than fathers of their children because they are more certain they are their own.
Linda and Gerald sat on the couch, facing the Private Investigator over the coffee table. A gap large enough for another person remained between them, which would not have been as likely before the suspicions and doubts caused by the wrong certificate.
The investigator looked over the notes in his hand. “The County Recorder’s Office had no explanation for how you received the wrong birth certificate in the first place.” He flipped to another sheet. “Errors of this nature are not supposed to happen. They verified that it is genuine, though they expressed confusion. About eight years ago, they changed formats, and while Mark’s certificate is the old style, Marta Lawton’s is the new. Considering it lists her birth date as almost twenty years before the new form was even considered, let alone adopted, it suggests this certificate was issued well after her birth.” He dropped the papers on the coffee table. “I explored several options on this, not the least of which is that both of your identities were ‘appropriated’ by someone for whatever reason. The easiest way to have verified that would have been to talk to Dr. Marcel and determine if he recalled the parents of Marta Lawton and what they looked like. Unfortunately, Dr. Marcel was killed in a lab accident almost ten years ago. However, his former associates all attested to his remarkable memory for names and faces. If he had strangers claiming to be you, they say he would have known immediately, especially considering how much time you say you spent with him. I would say this also tends to rule out that another woman was posing as you, Mrs. Lawton, since Dr. Marcel would have spotted that as well. He might have accepted that Gerald had divorced and remarried, but he would have questioned the coincidence of both wives having the exact same first and middle names. It’s not impossible, but the likelihood is very slim. I found it odd as well that, according to one person I spoke with, Dr. Marcel was no longer practicing obstetrics when Marta Lawton was supposedly born; he was working strictly research at the time.”
He sat back and folded his hands together. “I thought maybe Marta Lawton had been a non-entity, created for the purpose of defrauding the government or something. It wouldn’t be unheard of for someone to falsify birth records to try and gain some kind of funding for either their personal or departmental usage. However, no records existed of any such claims made on her behalf. In fact, I could find no childhood records of Marta Lawton at all. I considered that Marta Lawton was a new identity created for someone for purposes of hiding, explaining the lack of any records of her youth. That’s still a possibility, but in cases like that they usually take the name of someone who died in infancy, instead of creating a whole new personage. After all, if you’d had a daughter named Marta who’d died as a baby you wouldn’t be suspicious to find her birth certificate, would you? Now, finding her marriage license after you’d thought her dead? That would raise eyebrows. You’ll find a copy of that particular document in the stack I just gave you.”
He gave them a moment to look it over. “The pastor who married them would not tell me anything about her either, claiming confidentiality issues. Whoever she is, she apparently exists and is now married to Joshua Cardan, a rather wealthy if somewhat reclusive man. He gets out in public, but he doesn’t play the typical social scene much. I can find plenty of information about him, including a rather juicy story of his first wife trying to kill him for his money, and loads of pictures and records of his life. Marta Lawton Cardan, however, is a phantom. Their marriage license was issued without her present; no newspaper carried any mention of the wedding, even though Cardan would certainly merit scrutiny from at least the local gossip columnists. Marta Lawton Cardan does not have a driver’s license, though she does have a Social Security number. Even talking with some of Cardan’s associates, none of them have ever seen Mrs. Cardan, though they report that Mr. Cardan speaks lovingly of her and seems happier than he’s ever been.”
“What do we do now?” Gerald leaned back and crossed his arms.
“Every avenue I tried in contacting Marta Cardan was closed to me. I tried to find out where they live, but wasn’t able to get any clear answer. Joshua Cardan owns a number of properties, but he sold his house soon after the murder attempt. I tried contacting him, but he refused to take any of my calls. Very shortly thereafter, I was contacted by an FBI agent who advised me very strongly to drop my investigation. I might have narrowed down where he lives with a bit more time, but frankly I’m not going to call the FBI’s bluff on this. If the government’s involved, my hands are tied and I can’t even really give you advice; however, the number for Joshua Cardan’s office is in my report in your hands. Maybe if you get this wild idea to call and tell him you’re his wife’s parents, he might talk to you.”
“But we can’t be his wife’s parents.” Linda looked from the investigator, to Gerald, and then back. Say something, Gerald. Give me something reassuring.
The investigator gave them a smile. “My curtailed investigation was inconclusive, so maybe he doesn’t know whether you really are or aren’t. If he knows you’re just two people whose names got tagged onto his wife’s birth certificate, he may talk to you in order to figure out how to get you to drop this inquiry. Or, he might just talk to you because he thinks you are his in-laws. The worst that happens is you don’t get anywhere, in which case you’re in the same boat you’re in right now. But, of course, I can’t tell you to try anything like that.”