Carolina moon, p.33
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       Carolina Moon, p.33

           Nora Roberts
 

  "What in the hell's wrong with you? It's not breaking and entering, for Christ's sake. I'm just going to poke my head in."

  "Don't go in there. Don't go in." Tory's fingers dug into Faith's shoulder.

  She'd already seen. It had slapped in front of her face, jumped there almost gleefully, and the copper penny taste of blood and fear pooled in her mouth.

  "It's too late. He's been here."

  "What are you talking about?" Faith gave her arm an impatient jerk. "Would you please let go?"

  "She's dead," Tory said flatly. "We have to call the police."

  Hope

  "Hope" is the thing with feathers—That perches in the soul—And sings the tune without the words—And never stops—at all—

  — Emily Dickinson

  21

  She couldn't go in. She couldn't make herself leave. The deputy who'd answered the call had been both skeptical and annoyed, but he hadn't been able to hold out against what he considered two overreacting females.

  He'd hitched at his belt, tugged on his cap, then had knocked loudly on the glass panel of the door. Tory could have told him Sherry was incapable of answering, but he wouldn't have listened or understood.

  But two minutes after he'd stepped inside, he was back out again. And the irritated smirk was no longer on his face.

  It didn't take long to get the wheels rolling. When Chief Russ arrived the scene was closed off with yellow police tape and those who moved in and out carried the tools of their trade and their badges.

  Tory sat on the ground and waited.

  "I called Wade." Since there was nothing else to do, Faith sat down beside her. "He has to wait until Maxine comes to look after Mongo, but he's coming."

  "There's nothing for him to do."

  "There's nothing for any of us to do." Faith stared at the tape, the door, the shadows of men moving around behind the blinds. "How did you know she was dead?"

  "Sherry? Or Hope?"

  Faith clutched the puppy to her breast, rubbed her cheek against warm fur for comfort. "I've never seen anything like this. They wouldn't let me near where Hope was. I was too young. You saw it."

  "Yes."

  "You saw it all."

  "Not quite all." She pressed her palms together, squeezed her hands between her knees as if they were very cold. "I knew when we got to the door. There's a darkness about death. Violent death especially. And he left something of himself behind. Maybe just the madness of it. It's the same as before. He's the same." She closed her eyes. "I thought he would come for me—I never considered .. . I never imagined this."

  And that was the guilt she would live with now. "You're saying whoever did this to Sherry killed Hope? After all these years?"

  Tory started to speak, then shook her head. "I can't be sure. I haven't been sure of anything in a long time." She glanced over as she heard Faith's name called. Wade ran across the grass toward them.

  It surprised her when Faith leaped up. It was rare to see Faith bother to move quickly. Then she watched them take each other. One long, hard embrace.

  He loves her, Tory realized. She's the center of things for him. How odd. "You're all right?" He put his hands on Faith's face, cupped it there.

  "I don't know what I am." She had been all right. Everything had seemed to hold at a distance, far enough away not to touch her. Now her hands wanted to shake and her stomach jump. The same way she'd reacted after the surgery when there had been blood on her hands. "I think I need to sit down again."

  "Here." When she lowered to the grass, he knelt, his hand still clutching Faith's while he studied Tory's face. Too calm, he decided. Too controlled. It only meant when she broke, she'd shatter. "Why don't y'all come back with me. You need to get away from here."

  "I can't, but you should take Faith."

  "So you can see it through and I can't? I don't think so," Faith said. "It's not a competition." "Between you and me? It's always been.

  There's Dwight."

  People had started to gather in small pockets of murmurs and curiosity. Word traveled lightning fast in Progress, Tory thought dully. She watched Dwight move through the gatherings and head straight for Sherry's door.

  "Maybe you can talk to him, Wade."

  Faith gestured in Dwight's direction. "Maybe he'll be able to tell us something." "I'll see." He touched Tory's knee before he rose. "Cade's on his way."

  "Why?"

  "Because I called him. Just wait here."

  "There was no need for that," Tory said, frowning at Wade's back as he slipped through the crowd of onlookers.

  "Oh, shut up." Annoyed, Faith dug in her purse for a chewy bone to keep Bee occupied. "You're no more iron woman than I am. It doesn't make us less to lean on a man."

  "I don't intend to lean on Cade."

  "For Christ's sake, if he's good enough to sleep with, he's good enough to hold on to at a time like this. I swear, you just hunt up things to be bitchy about."

  "Why don't we all go out on a double date later? We can go dancing."

  Faith's smile was scalpel sharp. "You're a real pain in the ass, Tory. I'm starting to like that about you. Well shit, there's Billy Clampett, and he's spotted me. That just makes it perfect. I was nearly pissed off enough, and drunk enough, one night a thousand years ago to have sex with him. Fortunately I came to my senses in time, but he's never stopped trying to finish things off."

  Tory watched Billy stroll toward them, thumbs tucked in his front pockets, fingers beating out a tune on either side of his zipper. "There couldn't be enough liquor in the county for that."

  "Finally, a point of agreement. Billy."

  "Ladies." He crouched down. "Heard there was some excitement 'round here. Some girl went and got herself killed."

  "Careless of her." Faith didn't shift away, wouldn't give him the satisfaction, though she could smell his evening beer on his breath.

  "Heard it was Sherry Bellows. She's the one who runs around town with that big shaggy dog. Wears little shorts and low-cut tops. Sort of advertising the wares."

  He took a cigarette out of the pack he had rolled in the sleeve of his T-shirt. He thought the effect made him look like James Dean. "Sold her some annuals a couple weeks back. She was mighty friendly, if you catch my meaning."

  "Tell me, Billy, do you practice being disgusting or is it just a gift?"

  It took him a minute, but his smile went sour as old milk as he struck a match and puffed the cigarette to life. "Aren't you Miss High and Mighty all of a sudden."

  "Nothing sudden about it. I've always been high and mighty. Isn't that right, Tory?"

  "I've never known you to be otherwise.

  It's a bit like a birthmark."

  "Exactly." Delighted, Faith slapped a hand on Tory's thigh. She took out a cigarette of her own. "We Lavelles," she began, lighting it and blowing smoke, coolly, into Billy's face, "are destined to be superior. It's just stamped on our DNA."

  "You weren't so superior that night behind Grogan's when I had your tits in my hands."

  "Oh." Faith smiled, blew more smoke. "Was that you?"

  "Ever since you grew tits you've been a slut. You better watch yourself." He glanced deliberately at Sherry's door. "Sluts end up getting just what they ask for."

  "I remember you now," Tory said quietly. "You used to tie firecrackers to cats' tails and light them, and then you'd go home and masturbate. Is that still how you spend your leisure time?"

  He jerked back. There was no smile on his face now, and fear had replaced the sneer in his eyes. "We don't need you around here. We don't need your kind."

  He might have left it at that, he was frightened enough to, but Bee decided his pant leg was more interesting than her bone. Billy sent her flying with the back of his hand.

  With a cry of outrage, Faith scrambled to her feet to scoop up the whining dog. "You yellow-bellied, beer-soaked, half-peckered asshole. No wonder your wife's shopping for a new man. You can't get it up with your own fist."

  He starte
d to lunge at Faith. Tory didn't know how it happened, and it seemed to be happening to someone else. But her fist popped out of her lap and connected with his eye. The force and shock of the blow knocked him on his ass. Dimly she heard shouts and squeals and running feet, but as Billy leaped up so did she.

  All of her rage rolled into one hot ball inside her. She could already taste the blood.

  "Fucking bitch."

  When he charged she planted her feet. She wanted violence. Welcomed it. Even as he swung back, he went sprawling.

  "Try me," Cade suggested, and hauled him to his feet. "Stay out of it," he snapped, as people rushed up to interfere. "Come on, Billy. Let's see how you handle me instead of a woman half your size."

  "You've had this coming for years." The sneer was back. He crouched, burning with the need to restore himself in front of the town, desperate to pound his bunched fists into the haughty face of one of the Lavelles. "When I'm done with you, I'm going to have some fun with your whore sister and your cunt."

  He came in hard. Cade simply sidestepped. It only took two blows, an uppercut that snapped Billy's head back and a fast, vicious jab to the gut.

  Cade bent down and, pressing his thumb on Billy's windpipe, whispered in his ear, "If you ever touch my sister or my woman, if you ever speak to them, ever look at them, I'll wrap your balls around your throat and choke you with them."

  He dropped Billy's head back to the ground and walked toward Tory without a backward glance. "This isn't the place for you now."

  She couldn't find her voice. She'd never seen fury burst, then retreat so easily. Almost elegantly, she thought. He'd battered a man to the ground without breaking a sweat and now he was speaking to her gently. And his eyes were cold as winter.

  "Come on away with me now."

  "I have to stay."

  "No, you don't."

  "Sorry to say, she does." Carl D. walked up, turned his gaze down at Billy, rubbed his chin in a thoughtful manner. "Have some trouble out here?"

  "Billy Clampett made insulting remarks." Instantly soft tears swam into Faith's eyes and turned them the color of dew-drenched bluebells. "He was—well, I can't even begin, but he was very offensive to me and to Tory, then he . . ." She sniffled delicately. "Then he struck my poor little Bee here, and when Tory tried to stop him, he .. . If it hadn't been for Cade, I don't know what might have happened."

  She turned to Tory, sobbing quietly. "You could've taken him," she murmured. "Fat, puss-faced asshole."

  Carl D. tucked his tongue in his cheek. After what he'd seen inside, this little comedy was an entertaining relief. "That about how it was?" he asked Cade.

  "More or less."

  "I'll have him taken in so's he cools off some." He glanced around, making eye contact with faces in the crowd as he gently chewed his gum. "Don't think anybody wants to press charges here."

  "No, we'll let it lay."

  "Good enough. I'm gonna need to talk to Tory here, and Faith, too. We can be a little more private down at the station."

  "Chief." Wade joined them, stepping so casually over the half-conscious Billy, Faith had to disguise a snort of laughter with a wet sniffle. "My place is closer. I think it'd be more comfortable for the ladies."

  "We might could do that, for a start, anyway. I'm going to have one of my deputies take you on over. I'll be along directly."

  "I'll take them," Wade said.

  "You and Cade know most of these people. I'd appreciate if you'd give me a hand getting them to go on home. One of my men'll see to the ladies here. I need to get their statements," he said, before Cade could object. "That's police business."

  "We can get there by ourselves."

  "Well now, Miss Faith, I'll just send one of my men along with you. It's procedure." He signaled, and set the wheels in motion.

  "Jesus, how does something like this happen in the middle of town?" Dwight rubbed at the tension in the back of his neck.

  They'd managed to nudge most of the curious away from the building. Now it was darkness that gathered as he stood with his two oldest friends on the quiet lawn outside the apartment where death wore the symbol of yellow police tape.

  "How much do you know?" Wade asked him.

  "No more than anyone else, I expect. Carl D. didn't let me past the edges, and I only got that far because I'm mayor. It looks like somebody broke into her place sometime yesterday. Maybe it was a robbery." He pinched the bridge of his nose, shook his head. "Doesn't seem like it. Didn't look to me like she had a lot."

  "How'd they get by the dog?" Wade wondered. "Dog?" Dwight looked blank a moment, then nodded. "Oh yeah. I don't know.

  Maybe it was someone she knew. That makes more sense, doesn't it? Maybe it was someone she knew, and they had an argument that got out of hand. She was in the bedroom," he added on a sigh. "That much I know. The—well, the bits and pieces I heard said she was raped."

  "How was she killed?" Cade asked him.

  "I don't know. Carl D. was keeping a tight lid on most of it. Jesus, Wade, we were just talking about her the other night, remember. I ran into her coming out of your place."

  "Yeah, I remember." He got a picture of her, bubbling over, flirting, while he examined Mongo.

  "There were some murmurs in there." Dwight jerked his head toward the sealed door. "About Tory Bodeen. Edgy talk," he added. "I figure you'd want to know." He sighed again. "This shouldn't happen in the middle of damn town. People ought to be safe in their own houses. This is going to worry Lissy sick."

  "There'll be a run on the hardware store and gun shop tomorrow," Cade predicted. "Locks and ammo."

  "Oh Christ. I'd best call a town meeting, see if I can calm people down. I hope to God Carl D. has something on this by tomorrow. I've got to get back to Lissy. She'll be in a state by now." He shot one last look at the door. "This shouldn't have happened here," he repeated, and walked away.

  "I only met her once. Just yesterday."

  Tory sat on Wade's sofa with her hands neatly folded in her lap. She knew it was important to be calm and clear when talking to the police. They picked at emotion, used weaknesses as levers to pry out more than you wanted to say.

  Then they made you ridiculous.

  Then they betrayed you.

  "You only met her the once." Carl D. nodded, made his notes. He'd asked Faith to wait downstairs. He wanted his interviews, and the facts he gleaned from them, on separate pages. "Why'd you happen to go by her place today?"

  "She applied for a job at my store."

  "That so?" He cocked a brow. "I thought she had herself a job. Teaching at the high school."

  "Yes, so she told me." Answer the questions exactly, she reminded herself. Don't add, don't elaborate. "Not full-time until fall, though, and she wanted something part-time to supplement her income. And to keep her busy, I think. She seemed to have a lot of energy."

  "Uh-huh. So you went on and hired her." "No, not immediately. She gave me references." Wrote them down, she remembered, along with her address, on the clipboard. The clipboard that she'd left on the counter when her father had come in. Oh God. Oh God.

  "Well, that's a sensible thing. Didn't know you were hiring at your place."

  "I hadn't really thought about it, until she came in. She was persuasive. I took some time to go over my budget and decided I could afford light part-time help. I checked her references this morning, then I called her. I got her machine and left a message."

  "Um-hmm." He'd already heard her message, and the ones from Wade's office. The one from her upstairs neighbor, the one from Lissy Frazier. Sherry Bellows had been a popular lady. "Then you decided to go on over in person."

 
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