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An Unhealthy Death
About the Author: Michael Bracken is the author of several books, including the private eye novel All White Girls, and more than 1,100 short stories, including crime fiction published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Espionage Magazine, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly Magazine, and many other anthologies and periodicals. He lives and writes in Texas.


The seven of us had been challenging one another every week, letting the data uploaded from our wrist-worn fitness trackers determine each week’s winner. There was no prize beyond the knowledge that we were all improving our health. Even so, I had taken more steps than the other six group members for three consecutive weeks. My only real competition was Chad Parker, a man I had never met, but who had out-walked all of us more weeks than not since Sylvia Featherstone invited him to join our group. So, I was surprised when the challenge week ended and his numbers had not been updated since the previous day.

I was eager to learn if I had bested everyone again, so I sent Chad a reminder that the week had ended and that he needed to synch his fitness tracker. He did not respond.

The next day, when his numbers still had not changed, I sent a message to Sylvia, asking if she had heard from him recently.

When she said she hadn’t, I suggested she contact Chad and find out what had happened.

An hour later my cell phone rang. When I answered it, Sylvia said, “You need to get over here.”

“Where’s here?”

“Chad’s.”

She gave me the address and I drove across town to a bungalow at the edge of Rainy Park, a neighborhood in the process of gentrification. Sylvia was standing on the porch, her face the color of chalk.

She didn’t say anything when I climbed the wooden steps. Instead, she opened the screen and held it as she motioned me inside. I didn’t know what to expect, but what I found made my stomach do flips. I returned to the porch and asked, “Have you called the police?”

“No, I—”

“No” was all I needed to hear. I used my cell phone to dial 9-1-1 and I told the operator what I had seen inside Chad’s home office.

“How well do you know him?”

“I don’t.”

Two plainclothes officers had joined the uniformed officer who had first responded to my call. One was talking to me; the other had taken Sylvia some distance away and was talking to her. Detective Delano Smith, whose card I held in my hand, had already written my name, address, and phone number in his notebook, but he lowered his pen and looked up. “You’re the guy who made the 9-1-1 call, aren’t you?”

I told him I was.

“So, why are you here?”

“Sylvia found this,” I said, indicating the house and what was in it. “She called me.”

“Why did she call you?”

“Because we hadn’t heard from Chad in a couple of days and I wanted to know why.”

“I thought you said you don’t know him.”

“I don’t,” I said. “Not in real life.”

He appeared annoyed. “You’ll have to explain that.”

I told him about our group, how we were all connected through our wrist-worn fitness trackers, and how we had weekly challenges. “I only know two of the other group members in real life—Nick Lipman and Sylvia. Gary, Andrea, and Laurie are friends of Nick. Chad is a friend of Sylvia.”

Nick and I had been friends since high school, and I had exercised several times with Sylvia after Nick introduced us at a charity walk benefitting cancer survivors. I had hopes that our relationship would develop into something more.

“If you don’t know Mr. Parker, why were you concerned that you hadn’t heard from him?”

“I wanted to know if I’d won this week’s challenge, and I won’t know until Chad synchs up.”

“There some sort of prize for winning?”

“Personal satisfaction,” I said. “Nothing more.”

“You a pretty competitive guy?”

I shrugged.

“You must be,” Detective Smith said. “You liked beating this guy and wanted to know if you’d done it again.”

When I was growing up, I was always the last kid picked for any team. On my fortieth birthday, after hearing me complain about the results of my annual physical, Nick gave me a fitness tracker. After extolling all the virtues of the technology, he invited me to join his challenge group through the tracker’s app. I was the fourth member, joining Nick, Andrea, and Laurie. We added Gary, Sylvia, and Chad in subsequent months.

I don’t know exactly when I became obsessed with out-walking the other members, but I’m certain my change of heart happened after Chad joined the group and consistently out-performed the rest of us.



This story appears in our AUG 2016 Issue
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Reader Discussion

24
Aug
I enjoyed this story and the insight into new technology (well it is new to me!) which it gives.
By Derek McMillan

24
Aug
Super story, Michael. Younger readers will love the technology aspects. Sometimes it scares me to think how we've all become addicted to this stuff.
By J. R. Lindermuth

1
Sep
Great story as usual, Michael. I love the way your protagonist used new tech to solve the crime. Those of us who are - ahem - tech challenged learned something by reading (-:
By Cathy Seckman


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