Criminal, p.16
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       Criminal, p.16

           Karin Slaughter
 

  He considered for a moment not answering the call, but if the last twenty-four hours had taught him anything, it was that Amanda always knew how to track him down.

  Will grabbed his car keys and flipped open the phone. “I’m on my way to the airport.”

  “Stay where you are.” Amanda’s tone was off. “We found a body. Faith is on her way to pick you up.”

  Will braced his hand on the desk. His head started pounding. “Where?”

  Amanda hesitated, something Will had never heard her do before. “Faith will loop you in on the details.”

  “Where?”

  “You know where.” Will made her say it. “Techwood.”

  nine

  November 15, 1974

  MARY HALSTON

  Mary had been robbed at the Union Mission last night, which was not unusual, but still annoyed her. It wasn’t money that was stolen—her pimp kept all of that—but a locket that her high school boyfriend had given her. Jerry. He’d gone to Nam straight out of school. He’d held his own against Charlie, but got hooked on H so bad that he couldn’t pass the drug test to get back into the U.S. Took him six more months of rotting in the jungle before he could get clean, then the minute the plane touched down, he grabbed Mary and a bag of H, and another six months later, Jerry was dead with a needle in his arm and Mary was face down in an alley gritting her teeth, praying for it to be over fast.

  She preferred not to look at their faces. Their beady eyes. Their wet lips. Their brown teeth. She felt like their images were etched into a part of her brain that she would be able to access one day and then—puff. She would ignite like a Roman candle and flame out forever.

  Mary had read a crazy book one time about scientists slicing off your retinas and sticking them into a big TV that showed everything you’d ever seen in your entire life. The book was a gas, but creepy, because Mary didn’t want to think about her life. Strange she’d read the thing in the first place. Mary’s speed was more the Dana Girls and Nancy Drew. She’d been on a sci-fi kick after watching 2001: A Space Odyssey. Not really watching it, because Jerry’s hands were down her pants the entire time, but she got the gist of the movie: human beings were totally screwed by 2001.

  Not that she would live to see it happen. Mary was nineteen years old. When she wasn’t sleeping on a cot at the Union Mission, she was trolling the streets for trade. She’d lost some teeth. Her hair was coming out in clumps. She wasn’t good enough to stand on the street corners. She had to walk around during the day looking for lawyers and bankers who turned her around and smashed her face into the wall while they did their business. It kind of reminded her of the way you held a kitten. Grab it by the back of the neck and it goes limp. None of these assholes were limp, though. That was for damn sure.

  Mary darted into an alley and sat down by the Dumpster. Her feet hurt. There were blisters on her heels because her shoes were too tight. Not really her shoes. Mary wasn’t just a victim at the Union Mission. She took what she needed, and she’d needed shoes. White patent leather. Chunky heel. They were very stylish, the sort of thing Ann Marie might wear to an audition on That Girl.

  She heard heavy footsteps making their way toward her. Mary looked up at the man. It was like staring up at a mountain. He was tall with broad shoulders and a pair of hands that could easily snap her neck.

  He said, “Good morning, sister.”

  And that was the last thing she heard.

  ten

  July 12, 1975

  SATURDAY

  Amanda had never been particularly adept at lying, especially where her father was concerned. Since childhood, Duke could look at her a certain way and Amanda would burst into tears, pouring out her soul no matter the consequences. She couldn’t even begin to predict how angry he would be if he found out Amanda was spending the afternoon at Evelyn Mitchell’s house. It reminded her of all those stories from the Nixon scandal. The cover-up always brought you down.

  And this one was a doozy. Not only had Amanda completely fabricated a church function, she’d dragged Vanessa Livingston into the mix, exacting a promise that the other woman would support the story no matter what. Amanda could only hope that Duke was too wrapped up in his court case to dig too deeply into her story. He’d been on the phone with his lawyer all morning. The state supreme court’s decision for Lars Oglethorpe had shifted the winds at police headquarters. Duke had barely registered Amanda’s presence as she cleaned his house and ironed his shirts.

  All she wanted to do now was see Evelyn with her own two eyes to make certain the other woman was all right. After leaving Techwood yesterday, neither of them had said a word to each other. Evelyn had dropped off Amanda at the station and driven away without even saying goodbye. What Rick Landry had done to her in the hallway seemed to be stuck in her throat.

  Amanda pulled out onto Monroe Drive. She wasn’t often on this side of Piedmont Heights. In her mind, she still thought of it as barren farmland, though the area had been given over to industry some time ago. As a child, she’d visited Monroe Gardens with her mother, where they’d peruse the nursery for hours picking out pansies and roses to plant in the backyard. The land had been turned into office buildings for the Red Cross, but she could still recall the rows of daffodils.

  She took a left onto Montgomery Ferry. Plaster’s Bridge narrowed the road to one lane. The Plymouth’s tires bumped over the rutted concrete. A cold sweat came on as she passed Ansley Golf Club, even though she knew her father wasn’t playing today. She followed the dogleg to Lionel Lane and went right on Friar Tuck, which cut straight through the heart of Sherwood Forest.

  Evelyn’s house was one of those ranch-style homes they’d built by the thousands for returning veterans. One story with a carport on the side, just like the house next door, which in turn was an exact duplicate of the next house, and the next.

  Amanda parked on the street behind Evelyn’s station wagon and checked herself in the rearview mirror. The heat had done her makeup no favors. Her hair was flat and lifeless. She had planned on washing it today, but the thought of sitting under the dryer was nauseating and she couldn’t let her hair dry naturally because it would sour.

  She cut the engine and heard the whir of a circular saw. The driveway was taken up with a black Trans Am and a convertible Ford Galaxie like Perry Mason used to drive. As she approached the house, Amanda saw that a shed was being built on the open side of the carport. The wall supports and roof were up, but little else. There was a man in the carport leaning over a piece of plywood resting on a pair of sawhorses. He was dressed in cutoff jeans and no shirt. The logo on his orange sun visor was easily recognizable, though it wasn’t until Amanda was halfway up the drive that she could make out the Florida Gator.

  “Hello!” he called, setting down the saw. Amanda guessed this was Bill Mitchell, though she realized that somewhere in the back of her mind she had imagined a more glamorous man. He was plain looking, about Evelyn’s height with wispy brown hair and a bit of a belly. His skin was bright red from the sun. There was a welcoming smile on his face, though Amanda felt immensely uncomfortable talking to a man who wasn’t fully clothed.

  “Amanda.” He held out his hand as he walked toward her. “I’m Bill. So pleased to meet you. Ev’s told me a lot about you.”

  “You as well.” Amanda shook his sweaty hand. Sawdust was stuck to his chest and arms.

  “Let’s get out of this sun. It’s a scorcher.” He cupped his hand to her elbow as he led her into the shade of the carport. Amanda saw a picnic table laid out in the backyard. The Weber was already belching smoke. She felt a brief flash of guilt. She’d been so worried about Evelyn’s state of mind that she’d forgotten this was a party. She should’ve brought a hostess gift.

  “Bill?” Evelyn came into the carport holding a jar of mayonnaise. She was barefoot, dressed in a bright yellow sundress. Her hair was perfect. She wasn’t wearing any makeup, but she didn’t seem to need any. “Oh, Amanda. You made it.” She handed the mayonnaise to
her husband. “Sweetheart, put a shirt on. You’re red as a lobster.”

  Bill rolled his eyes at Amanda. He popped open the jar before handing it back to his wife.

  Evelyn asked Amanda, “Did you meet Kenny? Bill, where’s Kenny?” She didn’t give him time to answer. “Kenny?”

  “Under here,” a deep voice called from beneath the shed. Amanda saw a pair of hairy legs, then cutoff jeans, then a man’s naked torso as Kenny pushed himself out from beneath the plywood floor. He smiled at Amanda, said, “Hello,” then told Bill, “Looks like we could use some more bracing.”

  Evelyn explained, “They’re building a shed so we have a safe place to keep my gun.”

  “And potting soil,” Kenny added. He held out his hand to Amanda. “Kenny Mitchell. I’m this character’s brother.”

  Amanda shook his hand. It was warm. The palms were rough. She felt herself blushing in the heat. Kenny Mitchell was the most beautiful man she’d ever seen outside of a Hollywood movie. His chest and stomach rippled with muscles. His mustache was trimmed above what could only be called sensual lips.

  He said, “Ev, you didn’t tell me your friend was so pretty.”

  The blush ignited into a raging fire.

  “Kenny!” Evelyn chastised. “You’re embarrassing her.”

  “Sorry, ma’am.” He winked at Amanda as he dug into his pocket and pulled out a packet of cigarettes. Amanda forced herself not to look at the trail of hair that started at his navel and worked its way down.

  Evelyn said, “Kenny’s a pilot with Eastern. He looks like that hunk from the Safeguard commercials, doesn’t he?” She motioned for Amanda to follow her into the house. “We’ll leave the boys to it.”

  Bill stopped them, telling Amanda, “Thanks for taking care of my girl yesterday. She’s an awful driver. Too busy checking her makeup to look at the road.”

  Evelyn spoke before Amanda could. “I told him about almost hitting that man in the street.” She put her hand to her chest, the exact spot where Rick Landry had jabbed her with the Kel-Lite. “The steering wheel left a terrible bruise.”

  “You should be more careful.” Bill patted his wife on her bottom. “Now, get inside before I ravage you.”

  Evelyn kissed his cheek. “Be sure to drink plenty of Coke. You don’t want to get dehydrated in this heat.” She hugged the mayonnaise jar to her stomach as she walked across the carport. Amanda followed her into the house. Her plan was to ask Evelyn why she had lied to her husband, but the cool temperature inside left her momentarily speechless. For the first time in months, Amanda wasn’t sweating.

  “You have air-conditioning?”

  “Bill bought it when I got pregnant, and neither one of us can give it up.” Evelyn put the jar on the counter by a large Tupperware bowl that was already filled with chopped potatoes, eggs, and peppers. She stirred in the mayonnaise, saying, “Potato salad is the only thing I can make. I’m not a fan, but Bill loves it.” The smile on her face seemed almost rapturous. “Isn’t he wonderful? He’s a perfect Libra.”

  Bill was a very happy Libra, judging by Evelyn’s beautiful home. The kitchen was extremely modern—white laminate countertops with matching avocado green appliances. The chrome handles on the cabinets gleamed in the sunlight. The linoleum had a subtle flower pattern. The Perma-Prest ruffled curtains on the window filtered a soft light. There was a room off the kitchen with a washer and dryer. A pair of toddler’s jeans hung from the indoor clothesline. It was the sort of thing Amanda thought only existed in magazines.

  Evelyn put the potato salad in the refrigerator. “Thanks for not telling Bill about—” She put her hand to her chest. “He would only worry.”

  “Are you all right?”

  “Oh.” She sighed, but she didn’t add more. She put the mayonnaise by the salad, but stopped shy of shutting the refrigerator door. “You want a beer?”

  Amanda had never tasted beer in her life, but obviously Evelyn needed something. “All right.”

  Evelyn took two cans of Miller out of the door. She pulled the rings and tossed them into the trashcan. She was handing Amanda one of the cans when the circular saw started up again. “In here.” Evelyn waved for Amanda to follow her through the dining room, then into a large foyer.

  The living room was a step down. The temperature was almost frigid, courtesy of the large air-conditioning unit mounted into one of the windows. Amanda felt the sweat on her back start to chill. Her shoes sank into the lush ocher-colored carpet. The ceiling was beautifully textured. There was a chintz green and yellow sofa. Matching wingback chairs framed the sliding glass doors. The hi-fi was softly playing a track from McCartney. One wall was taken up entirely with books. A console television the size of a baby carriage served as a centerpiece. The only thing out of place was the large tent in the middle of the room.

  “We sleep in here because of the AC,” Evelyn explained, taking a place on the couch. Amanda sat down beside her. “We had the unit in the bedroom, but that wasn’t fair to Zeke, and his crib is too big to fit in our room, so …” She took a healthy drink of beer.

  Amanda grasped at conversational straws. She was awful at small talk. “How old is he?”

  “Almost two.” Evelyn groaned, and Amanda gathered this was a bad thing. “When he was little, Bill would stick him in the bottom drawer of the bureau and shut it when we needed privacy. But now that he’s walking around—” She indicated the tent. “Thank God he’s a heavy sleeper. Though you wouldn’t know it this morning. He was screaming his head off. Bill took him off to his mother’s before I started screaming, too. I’ll change the record over.” She got up and walked to the stereo. “Have you heard what John Lennon’s doing?”

  It sounded like he’d put a cat in a bag and swung it around a small room, but Amanda mumbled, “Yes. It’s very interesting.”

  “I think Bill loaned the album to Kenny.” She started thumbing through the records, talking to herself. Or maybe she was talking to Amanda. It didn’t seem to matter that Evelyn wasn’t getting a response. “Simon and Garfunkel?” she asked, but she was already putting on the record.

  Amanda stared at the cocktail table, trying to think of a good excuse to leave. She could not remember a time in her life when she’d ever felt so out of place. She wasn’t used to socializing, especially not with strangers. There was church, work, school, and her father. Not much else fit between. Evelyn was obviously fine after yesterday’s experience. She had her husband and her brother-in-law. She had her living room sex tent and her beautiful home. She had her Cosmo magazine on the cocktail table where anyone could see it.

  Amanda felt her cheeks burning again as she scanned the lurid headlines. It would be just her luck that lightning would strike them both right now and her father would find her in Evelyn Mitchell’s house with a can of beer in her hand and a Cosmopolitan magazine in front of her.

  Evelyn sat back down on the couch. “You okay?”

  Amanda said, “I should leave.”

  “But you just got here.”

  “I just wanted to make sure you were okay after what Rick—”

  “You smoke?” She reached for a metal box on the cocktail table.

  “No, thank you.”

  “I gave them up when I got pregnant with Zeke,” Evelyn admitted. “For some reason, I couldn’t stand the taste anymore. Funny, I used to love it.” She returned the box to its place. “Please don’t leave, Amanda. I’m so glad you’re here.”

  Amanda felt embarrassed by the statement. And trapped. Now she couldn’t leave without being rude. She returned to the subject of Evelyn’s child because that seemed the only safe topic. “Is Zeke a family name?”

  “It’s Ezekiel. I tried not to let Bill shorten it, but …” Her voice trailed off. “Bill’s only criteria for picking a name was asking how it would sound coming out of the stadium speakers when he’s playing for Florida.” Instead of laughing at her joke, she went uncharacteristically quiet. She studied Amanda.

  “What is it?”
<
br />   “Are we still going to do our thing?”

  Amanda didn’t have to ask what thing. They were going to stake out the office building to find Mr. Blue Suit. Amanda was going to make a call to the Housing Authority. Evelyn was going to check missing persons reports at the other zones. Yesterday, this had seemed like a solid plan. From this distance, it appeared amateur and dangerous. “Do you think we should go through with it?”

  “Do you?”

  Amanda could not answer her. After what had happened with Rick Landry, she was scared. She was also worried about all the snooping around she’d done thus far. They had both made calls to people they had no business talking to. Amanda had spent a full morning reading back issues of the Journal and the Constitution. If Duke was right about getting his job back, the first thing he’d do was find out what Amanda had been up to. And he would not be happy.

  Evelyn began, “You know, I was thinking …” She put her hand to her chest. Her fingers picked at one of the pearl buttons. “What Landry did to me. What Juice tried to do to you. It’s funny how, black or white, they go straight for what’s between our legs. That’s the sum total of our worth.”

  “Or lack of it.” Amanda finished the beer. She felt lightheaded.

  Evelyn asked, “Why did you sign up for the job? Was it your dad?”

  “Yes,” she answered, though that was only partly true. “I really wanted to be a Kelly girl. Work in a different office every day. Go home to a nice apartment.” She didn’t completely sketch out the fantasy. There would be a husband there, maybe a child, someone she could take care of.

  Amanda admitted, “I know it sounds flighty.”

  “It sounds better than my reason.” Evelyn sat back against the arm of the couch. “I used to be a mermaid.”

  “A what?”

  She laughed, seemingly delighted by Amanda’s surprise. “Ever hear of Weeki Wachee Springs? It’s about an hour outside Tampa.”

  Amanda shook her head. She’d only been to the Florida Panhandle.

 
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