The Journey Home Ch. 02bysweeteuphoria©
Meanwhile at home, Ben's friends had to drag him out because he was missing Laura so much he didn't feel like doing anything. Joe took him to a strip club and he just sat there. After a while they went and shot some pool and drank a few beers at Duggan's Irish Pub then Joe took Ben back to his house and called it a night. Ben drifted off to sleep holding Laura's picture against his chest. He loved her so much.
The three days planned for Laura's trip with the girls passed slowly. Monday morning Ben arrived at the airport as scheduled and waited over an hour for Laura's plane. He was becoming upset because of the delay and went to the counter to inquire about her flight.
"I'm sorry sir, but that plane landed earlier than expected and all the passengers have exited the plane. Would you like me to page her?" The woman behind the counter asked and then paged Laura. "Ms. Habernack, Laura Habernack, your party is waiting for you at the Delta ticket counter." The announcement echoed through the terminal twice, but still no sign of Laura.
Ben continued to wait over thirty minutes longer then was advised to go to the luggage area that perhaps she is waiting for him there. He did as the woman suggested, but no luck. Laura wasn't there either. Ben returned to the counter and asked them to page Laura's friends that took the trip with her; still, no answer. Ben phoned Sara, but she hadn't heard anything from her sister since the day before she left for the trip.
Ben was in a state of panic now. He had no idea what happened to Laura. "She couldn't have just run off, could she? I can't see her doing that to her family, or me for that matter." Ben mumbled as he roamed the terminal, his heart pounding ferociously out of fear and anger.
Sara tried to calm Ben by telling him they probably just took a cab seeing their plane was so early. "She's probably on her way home to you as we speak," she said. Ben hung up the phone and immediately dialed her cell, but it went directly to voicemail.
"Honey, It's Ben, where are you? Call me when you get this."
Ben had no idea that Laura and the girls took a different flight when they stopped over in Chicago. Ben returned home without Laura and waited patiently by the phone for her call.
In Florida, the clean up of flight 347 continued. Plane parts as well as personal belongings from passengers and crew alike were strewn for miles. Bodies were floating face down in the water as the recovery crew investigated the scene searching for survivors; certain there weren't any, they ended the search.
Laura miraculously survived. She was found by a couple boating as the tide carried her lifeless body toward the shore. They called the police and an ambulance and she was rushed to the community hospital in Miami. The couple told the police, "She was unconscious when we found her. Her life vest had snagged on a piece of driftwood that stuck out from the shore and that kept her afloat. It appears as though she had a wedding or engagement ring on her finger because there's a tan line there; it must have slipped from her finger as she lay in the cold water.
Laura didn't have identification on her and was registered as Jane Doe when admitted into triage. She remained at the hospital for about a week before she regained consciousness and was able to talk to the doctors.
"What is your name miss?" One doctor asked. "You had us very concerned for quite some time," another one said as they examined her.
"My name is Laura. Where am I?" She questioned as he looked around the room, her vision blurred.
"You are in a Florida hospital, miss." A nurse informed her as she stood beside the bed holding a cup of water for Laura.
After Laura drank her water she talked to the nurse for a while. Laura was confused about what had happened to her. She said she remembered being on a plane, not sure where she was headed or where she was coming from. The nurse then asked if she had any family and Laura said, "no, just my sister and she didn't make it. I couldn't save her." Then she began to cry.
The doctors discussed Laura's condition with her. "It appears as though you are suffering from retrograde amnesia."
"What's that?" She asked with a concerned look on her face.
The doctors tried to explain it so she would understand, "It is when part or all of your memories you had before your brain injury are now gone. Well, not necessarily gone, but forgotten. Sometimes they do return after the swelling from the brain injury has reduced enough. We will just have to wait and see."
Laura remained in the hospital for another week, the doctor's making sure she was healthy enough to be discharged. The following week Laura was released to a state run home for impaired residents. The residents of the home were able to hold jobs and go out if they wanted; they just needed a little assistance with certain things. Laura, for instance, suffered from amnesia and with no family to inform of her accident she was sent to the home until she got back on her feet with a job and money in a bank account so she could survive on her own in society.
Laura discovered she was good with numbers; not recalling she had an MBA in business. She got a part time job at a bank. Her boss said she was a natural and soon promoted her to a full time teller. After a few months she was promoted once again and given her own desk as well as a big raise. Laura was settling into her new life quite easily. She was beginning to make friends and go out. After she had enough money saved in the bank, the doctors agreed it was time for her to be on her own.
Laura found an apartment near the bank where she worked. She enjoyed living in Florida, but something deep inside told her she didn't really belong there. Her apartment was small, yet cozy. It was a studio apartment; one large room divided into areas by folding bamboo screens. As she furnished her new place she was drawn to a particular painting at the local furniture store. The painting depicted a nature scene of autumn trees and a winding road. Every time she looked at that painting a warm feeling caressed her and made her feel at ease.
Eventually she purchased the painting and hung it over her bed. That first night as she slept she dreamt she was driving in a car with a handsome man, though she couldn't see his face, he knew her name; she didn't know his.
When she woke in the morning she yawned and smelled the autumn air. "Impossible." She thought to herself, yet remembering she had smelled that scent before somewhere. She began recalling small things about her past as the weeks passed. For instance, she remembered she has a sister but couldn't recall her name or where she lives. Laura had forgotten about telling the hospital staff that her sister didn't make it. She kept fidgeting with the ring finger on her left hand, but there wasn't anything there.
Back in Michigan, Ben was worried sick about Laura and her friends. He couldn't figure out why he hadn't heard anything from her. He phoned her sister one more time. "Hey, this is Ben. I'm worried sick about Laura. It's been three days and I still haven't heard a word. The airline said she didn't check back in when the plane took off from Chicago. If you hear anything please call me right away," he said after the beep of the answering machine.
The wedding date was just around the corner and Ben was hesitant about canceling the plans, but knew with the circumstances that it was probably for the best. He contacted Laura's sister one more time to ask for her assistance in phoning all the guests to tell them the wedding is off. Ben called his friends and relatives as Sara called hers.
The wedding day came and went, still no sign of Laura or her friends. He wished he knew more information about her friends so he could call their families, but he didn't, not even last names. Sara wasn't any help to Ben regarding that information either, but she thought perhaps she could get some information from Laura's office, where two of her friends also worked.
Sara phoned Laura's office and asked to speak to the manager. "Hello, this is Sara Whitfield, Laura Habernack's sister. I am calling to inform you that she is missing. She never returned from her trip to the Bahamas. Ben and I are frantic. We don't know where else to turn and were hoping you could help us." Sara paused to catch her breath and continued. "We would like to know the last names and phone numbers of her friends that went with her on this trip."
There was total silence on the other end of the line then the bank manager replied to Sara's request. "I'm very sorry about your sister ma'am, but we are unable to release personal information to anyone other than immediate relatives or those mentioned on her emergency card that we have in her file. Your name is no where on here, so I'm very sorry to say we can not be of any help to you." The manager said in a deep, very business like tone of voice. He continued, "We will keep Laura in our prayers and please keep us abreast of the situation, Sara."
After the manager stopped talking Sara immediately slammed the phone down hard on the table and began to cry. "That bastard! Why does he have to be so damn difficult at a time like this?" She felt helpless; she didn't know where else to turn and with two children at home and one on the way she was in no condition to be traipsing off to go search for her.
Ben's law practice was booming and like Sara, he couldn't go off and search for her so he hired a private detective. Max was referred by one of Ben's colleagues. "This guy is great at finding people that don't want to be found!" Ben's colleague told him.
Ben phoned Max the next day and gave him all the information he knew about what happened to Laura. Max told Ben not to worry about anything, "I will let you know things as I learn them. This sounds like a great case and since I have nothing else to do right now and need a vacation anyway, this one's on the house!" he concluded.
Max began at Metro airport and was given the same information Ben had; the flight number as well as the layover time in Chicago. Max then flew to Chicago's O'Hare airport and inquired there about Laura's flight. An airline representative told him that Laura and her friends missed their connecting flight but were seen boarding a different one. The man left for a moment only to return with a somber look on his face. "What? Please tell me what you know!" Max shouted, urgency in his voice.
"Well it seems the women took the next available flight to Miami." The rep said then paused, looking down at the paper he was holding.
"Okay, that's not so bad, but there's something you aren't telling me." Max said then slammed his fist down on the counter. "DAMNIT!" he shouted, "Just spit it out man!"
The airline rep continued, "It shows here that the flight the women were on went down a few hours after takeoff. It also states, no survivors. Sir, I'm very sorry. I know that's not what you were expecting to hear."
The airline rep jotted a number down for Ben to contact with inquiries about Laura's personal belongings and identifying the body. Max took the number and put it in his wallet then with anger in his voice asked the rep, "why wasn't anyone notified about this earlier?"
The rep replied, "It seems as though there was a mix up with the tickets after the flight departed. Because we are short staffed, the tickets were collected at the counter as the passengers boarded. The rep on duty that day went through them and noticed some were from a different flight and without thinking he put those tickets into a different stack."
"Well that's one mighty big screw up isn't it?" Max asked, aggravated at their incompetence and then continued, "Our lawyers will be contacting your lawyers about this as soon as I return to Michigan! You can bet your misplaced tickets on that!" Max turned in a huff and walked away.
As Max walked he heard the rep tell him to have a nice day and a safe flight home. "Fuck that!" Max said still in a huff and continued, "I'm drivin' back home! I don't want to risk my flight goin' down and those incompetent assholes losing my ticket, fuck that."
Max ran into the first car rental place he saw and told them what he needed. The manager himself set Max up with a nice economy vehicle. Max filled out all the necessary paperwork, paid his bill and then headed back to Michigan to talk to Ben.
Once Max was back in Michigan, he phoned Ben immediately and relayed all the information to him; including the future lawsuit as well as the phone number for the county morgue in Florida. Without taking the time to thank Max, Ben hung up the phone and dialed the morgue.
As he choked back the tears, Ben identified himself and why he was calling. The woman on the other end told Ben that the remains had to be verified by a blood relative or spouse, unless he had written documentation from the surviving blood relative or spouse. Ben hung up the phone and without looking at the clock began to dial Sara's number.
"H-h-h-hello", Sara said, answering the phone with a yawn.
"Hello Sara, it's Ben." He said then paused trying not to cry into the phone then continued. "I have some information about Laura, but I need your signature on a letter I'm typing. Can I come over and talk to you? I don't want this to wait until morning." He finished and waited for Sara's response, hoping she'd say yes.
"Give me a few minutes to wake up and I'll start a pot of coffee," Sara said and then the line was silent.
Ben hung up the phone then gathered the letter for the morgue for Sara to sign. He also grabbed the envelope Max had sent him containing the information he learned from both the Chicago and Metro airports. Ben stuffed all this into his briefcase then left the house through the kitchen, which connected to his garage. He pushed the button for the automatic door opener and got in his car. Once his ignition started Ben backed out of the garage and headed to Sara's house. He sat out in front trying to collect his thoughts before walking up to the door.
Sara and her husband Peter met Ben at the door. "Please come in Ben." Peter said calmly.
Sara tried so hard to confine her emotions, but the moment she looked into Ben's blood shot eyes she lost it and tears poured out of her already swollen eyes. "She's gone, isn't she?" Sara asked as she sobbed into Peter's shoulder.
"Well Sara, I won't know that until I verify that one of the unidentified females they have at the morgue is actually Laura. Before I can go down there I will need your signature and a copy of your birth certificate proving you are who you say you are and your signature will be your verification that I am who I say I am. I have a flight scheduled first thing in the morning." Ben said then paused to catch his breath.
As Ben tried to compose himself and Sara read the document she was to sign, Peter went into the kitchen to get them all some coffee. Peter returned with a tray containing three mugs of steaming black coffee, three spoons, a small dish with several sugar cubes on it and a decanter for the cream. He placed the tray on the coffee table in front of the couch where Ben and Sara were sitting, then grabbed a mug for himself before sitting back in his chair beside the couch.
Sara signed the document then told Peter to get a copy of her birth certificate for Ben as she took a mug of coffee off the tray and handed it to Ben. "The cream and sugar's there if you want it," she added as she took the last mug of coffee from the tray.
Peter returned quickly with the paper for Ben and handed it to him as Sara's questions began. "So what did that private detective find out about what happened to Laura and her friends?"
Ben started telling Sara and Peter everything he knew so far about the missed plane and the ticket mix up and everything else Max told him. Sara listened intently as the tears began to flow once more. When Ben finished talking Sara grabbed her stomach and sobbed, "Oh dear God, why did you take her from us so soon?"
Ben and Peter were getting worried about Sara and the baby. "I had best be getting home so I can get up in the morning," Ben said as he righted himself then turned to hug his brother and Sara, before walking to the door to let himself out.
Peter took Sara back to their bedroom after Ben left and as she lay on her side, she sobbed. Peter wrapped his arm around her waist to comfort her as she drifted off to sleep once again. "God, I wish there was more I could do to help my brother," Peter thought to himself.
Ben drove home as quickly as possible to get his things ready for the trip to Miami. After he packed a couple changes of clothing, socks, briefs and some shorts in case it was hot, he headed to bed. He tossed and turned the entire night as nightmares of what he might see when he got to the morgue filled his sleep. His rest wasn't peaceful at all and when the alarm awakened him he was still very tired.
Ben was always a 'breakfast first thing in the morning' kind of guy, but with Laura missing, food was the last thing on his mind. He got out of bed and took a quick shower to help himself wake up then he dressed quickly in a pair of light khakis, a blue tee shirt and his sandals. He combed his hair and brushed his teeth before pulling up his shirt and rubbing the deodorant stick in each armpit one more time.
Grabbing his wallet, shoving it in his back pocket with one hand, Ben grabbed for his briefcase with the other, picked up his car keys and carry on luggage and then headed to the airport. He arrived just in time to grab a coffee after going through the security inspection. He drank the rest of his coffee as he walked up to the woman taking the tickets for the flight to Miami. He boarded the plane and took his seat.
All during the flight visions of what Laura must have gone through when her plane was crashing flashed through his mind. He was horrified for her and began to sweat profusely. His flight was non-stop, but he couldn't get off that plane fast enough as he pushed past other passengers. Once out in the terminal he asked the first person in uniform where he could find the car rental counter.
Ben ran in the direction the woman to whom he'd spoke told him. Not paying attention to where he was going, he passed the Avis car rental counter, but realized he'd went too far and turned around, backtracking his steps. Once at the counter he picked up the vehicle he reserved after speaking to Max. He picked up his keys then asked for directions to the county morgue. The sales rep drew him a map of step-by-step directions so he couldn't get lost and handed it to him along with a map of the city of Miami. Another sales rep escorted Ben to his vehicle and after the brief inspection while handing him the keys said, "Have a nice day sir."
Ben tried to be pleasant, but in his state of mind he found that difficult as he answered the woman. "I don't think that's possible today, but thanks anyway," he said with sadness in his voice as he put the car in drive and headed out of the lot.
He drove for what seemed like hours following the directions and the map the woman at Avis handed him. Actually Ben had only driven about forty-five minutes from the time he left the airport to the time he pulled up at the county morgue entrance. Ben took the first parking spot he could find, grabbed his briefcase from the back seat and slammed the car door then quickly walked to the front door.
Once in the door he glanced around the large room quickly in search of the office or information desk; something, anything, so he could take care of what he needed to take care of and get out of there. Ben was nervous and trembling as he walked up to the guard he noticed standing only a few feet away from him.