Criminal, p.43
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       Criminal, p.43

           Karin Slaughter
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  “Well.” She adjusted the sling again. “No one really enjoys those trips. You talk to fifty people and half of them are illiterate.” She smiled at him. “Not that that’s a bad thing.”

  “Did I get it from him?” He couldn’t look at her. Amanda knew about his dyslexia. “My problem?”

  “No.” She spoke with certainty. “You saw his Bible. He was constantly reading.”

  “That girl—Suzanna Ford. She saw—”

  “She saw a tall man. That’s all. You’re nothing like him, Will. I knew James Ulster. I talked to him. I looked him in the eye. There’s not a drop of your father inside of you. It’s all Lucy. Everything about you comes straight from your mother. You have to believe me on that, at least. I wouldn’t waste my time on you otherwise.”

  Will clasped his hands in front of him. The grass was lush beneath his feet. His mother would be fifty-six years old now. Maybe she would’ve been an academic. Her textbooks were well read. Words were underlined. Asterisks were scribbled in the margins. She might have been an engineer or mathematician or a feminist scholar.

  He had spent so many hours with Angie talking about the what-ifs. What if Lucy had lived? What if Angie’s mom hadn’t taken that overdose? What if they hadn’t grown up in the home? What if they’d never met each other?

  But his mother had died. So had Angie’s, though it’d taken longer. They’d both grown up in the home. They’d been connected to each other for nearly three decades. Their anger was like a magnet between them. Sometimes it pulled them together. Most times it pushed them apart.

  Will had seen what it took to hold on to resentment that long. He read it in Kitty Treadwell’s emaciated body. He saw it in the arrogant tilt of his uncle Henry’s chin. And sometimes, when she didn’t think anyone was looking, he saw it flash in Amanda’s eyes.

  Will couldn’t live like that. He couldn’t let the first eighteen years of his life ruin the next sixty.

  He reached into his pocket. The metal of the wedding ring was cold against his fingers. He held it out to Amanda. “I want you to take this.”

  “Well.” She pretended to be embarrassed as she took the ring. “This is rather sudden. Our age difference is—”

  Will tried to take it back, but she wrapped her hand around his.

  Amanda Wagner was not an affectionate woman. She rarely touched Will in kindness. She punched his arm. She smacked his shoulder. She’d even once pulled back the safety plate on a nail gun and feigned surprise when the nail shot through the webbing between his thumb and index finger.

  But now, she held on to his hand. Her fingers were small, her wrist impossibly tiny. There was clear polish on her fingernails. Age spots dotted the back of her hand. Her shoulder leaned into his. Will gently returned the pressure. Her grip tightened for just a second before she let go.

  She said, “You’re a good boy, Wilbur.”

  Will didn’t trust himself to respond without his voice cracking. Normally, he would’ve made a joke about crying like a girl, but the phrase was a contradiction to the woman sitting beside him.

  Amanda said, “We should go before Kitty turns the hose on us.” She dropped the ring into her purse as she stood from the bench. Instead of hefting the bag onto her shoulder, she gripped it in one hand.

  Will offered, “Do you want me to carry that?”

  “For God’s sakes, I’m not an invalid.” She pulled the bag onto her shoulder, as if to prove a point. “Button your collar. You weren’t raised in a barn. And don’t think we’ve had our last conversation on the subject of your hair.”

  Will buttoned his collar as he walked with her to her car.

  Kitty Treadwell stood at the open front door, watching them carefully. A cigarette hung from her lips. Smoke curled up into her eye.

  She said, “I paid the property taxes.”

  Amanda was reaching for the car door. She stopped.

  “On the Techwood house.” Kitty walked down the stairs. She stopped a few feet from the car. “I paid the taxes. Worth every penny. It chapped Henry’s ass when James sold it.”

  “Mine, too,” Amanda admitted. “Four million dollars is quite a profit.”

  “Money’s the only thing Henry understands.” Kitty took the cigarette out of her mouth. “I thought it would go to Wilbur.”

  “He doesn’t want it,” Amanda said.

  “No.” Kitty smiled at Will. It gave him a cold feeling inside. “You turned out better than all of us. How on earth did that happen?”

  Will couldn’t answer her. He couldn’t even bear to look at her.

  Amanda asked, “Hank met Ulster at the soup kitchen?”

  Kitty reluctantly turned back to Amanda. “He was looking for Lucy. He wanted to make sure she wouldn’t lay claim to their parents’ estate. It must’ve seemed like a match made in heaven.” She held the cigarette to her lips. “They struck a grand bargain. Hank gave him Lucy, no strings attached. In return, Ulster got me off the dope. Though I don’t recommend his methods.” She smiled as if this was all a joke. “I suppose James thought Lucy was a good trade. A fallen angel with no parents or family to make a stink.” She huffed out some smoke. “And besides, Mary wasn’t really doing it for him anymore.”

  “Why did he kill her?”

  “Mary?” Kitty shrugged. “She couldn’t be broken. Something about being pregnant changes you. At least it seems that way from the outside. Commendable, but look where it got her.”

  “And Jane Delray?”

  “Oh, they fought constantly about Jane. Henry wanted her out of the way. She wouldn’t shut up. She kept telling anyone who would listen about Lucy, about Mary, about me. I suppose I was lucky I didn’t meet the same end. I was constantly throwing around my father’s name.” She stuttered a laugh. “As if anyone in the ghetto gave a rat’s ass who my father was.”

  “They fought about it?” Amanda echoed.

  “James didn’t care who that little slut talked to. He got quite high and mighty about it, unsurprisingly. He was doing the Lord’s work, after all. He wasn’t a hired killer. God was going to protect him.”

  Amanda made the obvious connection. “You were kept in the house with Lucy.”

  “Yes. I was there the whole time.” She seemed to be waiting for Amanda to ask another question. “The entire time.”

  Amanda said nothing.

  “Anyway.” Kitty tapped some ash onto the driveway. “I reconciled with my father at the end.” She huffed a bitter laugh. “More money for Henry’s coffers. What’s the saying? God doesn’t close a door without first nailing shut all the windows?”

  Amanda offered, “If you testify, I can—”

  “You can’t really do anything. We both know that.”

  “You can leave him. You can leave him right now.”

  “Why would I do that?” She seemed genuinely perplexed. “He’s my husband. I love him.”

  Her matter-of-fact tone was as shocking as anything Will had heard today. She really seemed to want an answer.

  Amanda asked, “How could you? After all he did?”

  Kitty snarled out a long stream of smoke. “You know how it is with men.” She flicked the cigarette into the yard. “Sometimes it’s criminal what a woman has to do.”


  Present Day


  Sara’s greyhounds had been spoiled rotten. Will had started giving them cheese, which Sara had discovered the hard way. Apparently, it was an ongoing thing. The dogs were obsessed. The minute they recognized Will’s street, they started pulling on their leashes like huskies running the Klondike. By the time she got to his driveway, Sara’s arms felt as if they’d been ripped out of the sockets.

  She gripped the leashes in one hand as she dug around in her pocket for the key to Will’s house. Thankfully, his Porsche pulled up behind her. He waved as he pulled past. The dogs pounced.

  “Look at you,” Will cooed. He rubbed the dogs up and down. “Aren’t you good boys?”

They’re nasty,” Sara said. “No more cheese.”

  Will was laughing when he stood up. “Dogs need cheese. They can’t find it in the wild.”

  Sara opened her mouth to counter his argument, but he kissed her so long and so well that she didn’t care anymore.

  Will smiled down at her. “Did you hear back from your cousin?”

  “We can have his beach house the whole week.”

  His smile turned into a grin. He took the leashes. The dogs were considerably better behaved as they led Will up the walkway. Sara couldn’t help but think how much better Will looked. He was back at his real job. He was sleeping through the night. He wasn’t so shell-shocked anymore.

  Will waited until Sara had closed the front door to let the dogs off their leashes. They bolted to the kitchen, but Will didn’t follow them. He told Sara, “Henry’s arraignment is next week.”

  “We can postpone the beach if—”


  She watched him empty his pockets, putting his keys and money on the desk. “How’s the case going?”

  “Henry’s fighting it, but you can’t argue with DNA.” He slid his paddle holster off his belt. “What about you? How was your day?”

  “I need to tell you something.”

  He looked wary. Sara couldn’t blame him. He’d had enough bad news lately.

  “Your father’s tox screen came back.”

  Will straightened the pen on his desk. “What did they find?”

  “He had Demerol in his bloodstream. Not a lot.”

  He gave her a careful look. “Pills?”

  “Medical grade, injectable.”

  He asked, “How much is not a lot?”

  “He was a big guy, so it’s hard to be sure. I’d guess enough to make him relax but not knock him out completely.” She said, “They found the vial in the refrigerator under the bar. There was a syringe in the disposal box with residue. His fingerprints were on both.”

  Will rubbed the side of his face with his fingers. “He never used drugs before. That was his thing. He was against them.”

  “You know how bad prisons are. A lot of people change their minds about drugs when they get inside.”

  “Where would he get liquid Demerol?”

  Sara cast about for an explanation. “The prostitute who visited him the night before could’ve brought it. Did the police ever find her?”

  “No,” Will answered. “They never found the nail polish, either.”

  Sara knew Will hated loose ends. “Maybe she stole it. Most of those girls are addicts. They’re not having sex with twenty to thirty men a day because it’s fun.”

  “What was the cause of death?” He seemed wary of saying the word. “Overdose?”

  “His heart wasn’t in great shape. You know these things aren’t always conclusive. The medical examiner listed natural causes, but he could’ve had other drugs on board—inhaled something, swallowed something, had a bad reaction. It’s impossible to test for everything.”

  “Did Pete handle the case?”

  “No, he’s taken medical leave. It was one of his assistants. He’s a smart guy. I trust him.”

  Will kept working his jaw. “Did he suffer?”

  “I don’t know,” she admitted. “I wish I could tell you.”

  Betty barked. She pranced around Will’s feet. “I’d better feed them.”

  He headed toward the kitchen. Sara followed him. Instead of picking up the bowls and getting out the cans from the cabinet, Will stood in the middle of the room.

  There was a padded envelope on his kitchen table. A bright red lipstick print kissed the center. Sara instantly recognized Angie Trent’s handiwork. She’d found a note with the same lipstick kiss on her car every morning this week. She doubted very seriously that Angie had written “Whore” inside, but she asked Will anyway, “What does she want?”

  “I have no idea.” Will sounded angry, then defensive, as if he could control his wife. “I changed the locks. I don’t know how she got in.”

  Sara didn’t bother to respond. Angie was an ex-cop. She knew how to pick a lock. Working vice, she’d learned how to skate back and forth across the lines with impunity.

  Will said, “I’ll throw it away.”

  Sara tried to quell her irritation. “It’s all right.”

  “No, it’s not.” Will picked up the envelope. It wasn’t sealed. The flap opened.

  Sara jumped back, though what clattered onto the table was hardly dangerous. At least not anymore.

  The prostitute at the Four Seasons had been the last person to see Will’s father alive. She knew the regular girls. She knew how they dressed, where they picked up their johns. More important, she knew that adjusting her hat in full view of the elevator security camera would draw attention to her recently manicured fingernails.

  And that still wasn’t enough.

  Like a cat leaving a dead animal on its owner’s doorstep, Angie Trent had taken a souvenir from the crime scene so that Will would know exactly what she’d done for him.

  Glass bottle. Pointy white cap.

  Bombshell red.

  It was the missing bottle of Max Factor nail polish.

  to Vernon—

  for directing my sails


  Ben Hecht said, “Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell time by watching the second hand of a clock.” With that in mind, I perused many 1970s editions of both the Atlanta Journal and Atlanta Constitution, whose archives offered a fascinating glimpse into the daily lives of Atlantans. The Atlanta Daily World offered a sometimes countervailing and often more in-depth take on the same events. Atlanta magazine provided a great source for historical context, including their “best of” issues as well as a shockingly hilarious profile of the swingin’ Riverbend apartment complex. Back issues of Cosmopolitan magazine gave tips on hairstyles, celebrities, and achieving sexual satisfaction—so different from what they focus on today. Newsweek, Time, Ladies’ Home Journal, and the Sears catalogue were also great guides for apparel and decorating. showcases myriad before and after photos of city hotspots. There are an alarming number of 1970s TV commercials on YouTube that sucked away hours of my life that I will never get back. My only consolation is that the posters spent more time uploading them than I did watching them.

  I enlisted Daniel Starer at Research for Writers to help pull material I needed for this story. I thought this was a brilliant cheat on my part until the volumes of research arrived on my doorstep and I realized that I would then have to read everything. (A full list can be found on my website.) Dan also located a man named Robert Barnes, who filmed a documentary on the Atlanta Police Force in 1975. Robert, an Atlanta native, was kind enough to send me a copy of the film, which shows much of the Atlanta skyline and features lots of helicopter shots of Techwood Homes and downtown. He also shared his memories of growing up in Atlanta, for which I am very grateful.

  I spent many hours either online or in person at the Atlanta History Center, the Auburn Avenue Research Library, the Georgia Tech Library, the Georgia State University Pullman Library, and the Library of Congress. (Hey, didja notice all these places have “library” in their names? Maybe we really do need libraries after all.)

  To say I hit paydirt at the Atlanta History Center is an understatement. It was there that I first found mention of Patricia W. Remmington’s Policing: The Occupation and the Introduction of Female Police Officers (University Press of America, 1981). This dissertation is based on Remmington’s year-long field study of the Atlanta Police Force in 1975. She rode along on beats. She often watched interrogations. They even trusted her with a revolver. From Ms. Remmington’s work, I was able to cull staff rotations, statistical data, organizational structure, and socioeconomic details of the Atlanta force. As the focus of the study was on women officers, there were several transcripts of interviews performed with both male and female police officers regarding women
on the force. Many of the ten-codes, slang (“hummy,” “trim,” and “crack”), and often horrendous practical jokes officers played came from Remmington’s observations.

  Though I used the dissertation as a starting point, I also spoke with several women police officers who came up in the 1970s. Marla Lawson at the GBI is as entertaining a storyteller as I’ve ever heard. I would also like to thank law enforcement officers Dona Robertson, Barbara Lynch, and Vickye Prattes for driving all the way into Atlanta to talk with me. SL, EC, and BB gave me insider knowledge on how things still work (or don’t) in various Georgia forces. And, though men don’t exactly get the star treatment in this book, I would like to thank, as always, Director Vernon Keenan and John Bankhead at the GBI. Actually, I would like to thank all the officers out there who take care of the rest of us. Y’all are doing the Lord’s work.

  I feel I should mention Reginald Eaves, who features prominently in this story. Eaves has long been a controversial figure in Atlanta politics. A 1978 test-rigging scandal forced him out of the police force. In 1980, he was elected to the Fulton County Commission. By 1984, he was under investigation for extortion and eventually imprisoned in 1988. And, yet … there’s no denying that under Commissioner Eaves, Atlanta saw its crime rate drop significantly. He increased recruit training, instigated a formal path to promotion, and made all officers take “crisis intervention” classes to learn how to better deal with domestic cases. He focused most of his resources on black-on-black crime, saying, “No matter how poor you are, there is no excuse for knocking a lady in the head or stealing her purse.” To me, this makes Eaves a quintessential Atlanta politician.

  Though some still think of the 1970s as a decade of love and freedom, women of that time were generally still facing an uphill battle. Opening a checking account, getting a car loan or mortgage—even signing a lease—were out of reach for many American women unless their fathers or husbands co-signed. (Don’t get ahead of yourself, New York City. It wasn’t until 1974 that gender discrimination in housing was legally barred.) In 1972, it finally became legal for unmarried women to use the Pill, though some still had a difficult time finding a doctor who would write the prescription and a pharmacist to fill it. The Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, meant to put a finer point on the Equal Pay Act of 1963, highlighted the fact that women were earning only 62 percent of men’s salaries. The APD, as all police forces, had to follow the law, so policing was one of the few jobs for women that gave them both economic and social power.

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