If Sally were older and a little taller, she could model for Barbie dolls.
“I thought we could go to that place near the mall.”
I struggled with the seatbelt. “Because you thought someone my age would enjoy pizza, clowns, games and lots of kids shouting?”
The light ocher of her face pinked. “You’re between ages. I understand that. Most people your age would enjoy that –”
“I’m fifteen, not ten.” I pulled a sharp click from the buckle.
“I guess you didn’t have a real childhood.”
My sarcasm was not lost.
“No, I didn’t.”
“I wouldn’t say no to a good cheeseburger, like in a diner. Maybe we could get a Happy Meal if you’re dead-set on clowns. I guess you’re going to tell me when you were my age, you had a similar experience and fully understand what I’m going through.”
She gave me the wide eyes and open mouth.
“Dad didn’t tell you my sarcasm is legionary? Or is it you didn’t do a lot of talking?” Like on the phone with Mr. Riggins, I’d not planned to unload. The words had a life of their own.
Sally let a long breath escape from closed lips. “Good cheeseburger it is. I know just the place.”
It’s not as if I didn’t want to like Sally. Somewhere hidden in my thoughts, like my mother, I saw Sally as a villain. With her angelic beauty, empathic half-smile and soft voice, I easily saw her as a Siren luring my dad to do things he’d never think to do on his own. I had no intention of taking shot after shot. I really wanted to listen, to hear what she had to say.
Sally stood nearby as I worked on the cane and railing. She wanted to help. I pushed her off. The door opened, sympathetic eyes embracing me.
The hostess stepped back, menus to her chest, trying to look away.
“Two.” Sally came over my shoulder.
I’d worked into my jeans, socks and sneakers, pulling a hoodie over my head. I wanted to dress myself, to wear what I couldn’t. I tied my sneakers – not neatly, but tied.
Sally stopped half into the bowels of the diner. “This will be fine.”
The hostess turned. “I thought –”
“This will be fine.” Her voice rose, too loud, too powerful coming from her frail frame. “You will not hide us away, just because Lindsey disturbs your sensitivities.”
The patrons not looking looked.
We sat at a window.
Menus dropped. “Someone will be with you shortly.”
“She was going to hide us in a dark corner somewhere.”
I shrugged. “I could flip my hood up.”
I ordered a cheeseburger, fries and a Coke. Sally: vegetable soup and water.
“I wasn’t going to talk about your father –”
“You and Dad.”
I couldn’t imagine what else would be on the agenda.
“Sex is a powerful, intense experience.”
I nodded. “Sometimes.”
“Well, sure, but I’m –”
“I bet sometimes sex can be no more than glorified masturbation. Masturbation with help.” Like with Tommy and me.
Our food came, Sally calculated.
She nodded, tasted the soup and nodded again. “Your father and I did not make love. We had sex. I thought I’d have to explain the difference to you.”
I bit my burger and narrowed my eyes. “How could you?” I shook my head. “I mean, knowing Dad’s married, has promises, vows, how could you? I mean, what’s the reasoning?”
“To say we had sex is to use the term sex in its most literal sense.”
“And? You gotta add an and to that. Maybe a because.”
“This is difficult to explain.”
“I’m glad you put it that way. Next person who tells me I’m not going to understand is going to get smacked-happy.”
“That, I understand.” She took a breath. “You are your father’s greatest love in all sense of the word. Morals, society, biology, tradition and good common sense all dictate he can never fully consummate that love.”
A glacier in Northern Minnesota receded three feet as I held Sally’s eyes, the implications washing over me like a tsunami.
On a breathless whisper, I delivered: “I’ve always felt he loves me – for real, in all its clines and colors. I never, ever realized he can never, ever love me as he’s driven to. Oh, the sweet, sweet agony.”
She whispered in return: “A love so hot, never to be truly touched.”
“Since the day you were born, he’s readied himself for the time you would willingly open yourself to a man, to love in every way, taking him into yourself.”
Sally blinked at me.
“Yeah, don’t let the youthful face fool you. I know big words.”
“Yes. He would have experienced the depth of his love vicariously.”
I took a turn blinking. “He thinks he’s being punished? For unclean thoughts? For loving me? God made this happen to me, to take away what he loves most in the world?”
“I listened – carefully. Regardless of what you might think, we did a lot of talking, him doing most the talking.”
“Sorry. Sometimes I don’t know what to do with my anger and frustration.”
“Right, right. He released his anger and frustration into you!”
“Metaphorically. I get that.”
“Once it’s spent –”
“It’s no longer therapeutic, becomes recreational.”
She watched her reflection in the window. “Masturbation with help.”
“That’s when you suggested he call home.”
“I suggested he call home long before that.”
“You never wanted him.”
“No. I did want to help him.”
“Anyone. My Shakespearian fatal flaw.”
“You only assumed sex would heal him.”
“He had to let it out.”
“Let me guess. He woke up and felt even worse. That’s when he started drinking.”
“Did he give you a good smack or two?”
“No, Lindsey. He’s not that kind of person.”
“Too bad. You deserve a good smack – or two.”
“What? No good deed goes unpunished?”
I narrowed my eyes. “Having sex with your father didn’t heal him. Why did you think having sex with my father would heal him?”
I took a cab home. Sally was scarier than pastor-reverend Madison. Sally was a true believer. Madison just wanted to get laid.
I set out my candles and put a bottle of wine – a burgundy, in the ‘fridge. I couldn’t drink wine because of my meds. John could.
I don’t know what I was thinking.
“I’m glad you called,” Kelley told me.
“No. Is there anything, anything you can tell me?”
“I’ve given it a lot of thought, Kelley. Nothing that’d help.”
“Another girl’s gone missing.”
“Fits the profile.”
“Other than that, fits the profile.”
I bit my lip. “Can I tell you something without you overreacting and pulling your gun, running off screaming?”
“Point taken. What?”
“A guy, my mom’s pastor, came to talk to me. I didn’t want to talk. He tried to push in.”
“You made it clear you didn’t want to talk to him?”
“I’ll have a talk with him. Keep your cell with you. Don’t hesitate to hit the 9-1-1. I’ll put you on the list for a regular drive past and look.”
“He did unnerve me. Thanks.”
“I was hoping John’d come over.”
“He’s off this weekend.”
“Just give me his home phone –”
“I’m surprised you don’t have it. Can’t.”
I tried John’s cell, getting voice-mail. I said hi.
I thought to knock out the tests from school, waiting for me on the dining room table. I made chamomile tea, lit candles and retreated into a hot bath, daydreaming of the past and the future, mostly the future.
I don’t know how long, the water was cool. I stood tall, walking on Dad’s arm without a limp in my flowing bright-white gown, John watching lovingly, hungrily from the altar, people, happy faces awed lining the aisle.
“Wow, isn’t she beautiful!”
Yeah, I am.
“John’s the luckiest man in the world!”
Yeah, he is.
“They’ll make such beautiful babies!”
Yeah, we will.
A crash from downstairs pulled me erect. I grabbed Mom’s cell from the floor. This is the time in the horror movies when the battery fails. I first dialed 9-1-1 as Kelley directed, told what I thought and then called Kelley.
“Someone just broke in. I’m in the tub.”
“Lock the bathroom door. As things work out, Mort’s on top you, around the corner taking a statement.”
I worked from the tub. “Lights and sirens, Kelley. I hear footsteps on the stairs.”
As my mass, such that it was, contacted the door, the door came at me. Cursing, I spun like a top. I couldn’t keep my footing on a good day – this wasn’t a good day.
I knew Kelley white-knuckled the phone, pawing her gun in frustrated helplessness.
My feet hung out the tub, my back twisted painfully, my head against the wall. I struggled to get the cane apart, my right arm refusing to cooperate.
Scorched cod liver oil wafted down on me.
“Wicked child –”
“Get a fucking mirror!”
His face came at me, filling the room. I’m sure the filling the room was my imagination.
As if God picked Madison up by the coat, Madison left the floor, flying into the hallway, bouncing off the wall.
Mort, looking down on me, nodded sharply. “You OK?”
He bit his lip, lifted Madison by the shirt, hitting him twice in the face, hard. “Don’t move.”
I held back the tears, sobs escaping.
As if handling the original copy of the Declaration of Independence, Mort removed me from the tub, laid me out on the floor, covered me with a towel, told me not to move and grumbled under his breath like Kelley.
“Why don’t you make a break for it, so I can put a warning shot in the back of your head?”
Mort showed his badge as two uniforms arrived. Kelley showed up, grumbling, just after the two paramedics.
The paramedics slipped me in a neck brace and taped my head to the backboard.
Kelley knelt, taking my hand. “You OK?”
“Don’t ask her that.” Mort watched from the door.
“I think so. I also think I’m in for some more pictures.”
“I’ll ride with you.”
“Kelley, I’m in good hands. Go find her.”
She held a picture where I could see it. “Know her?”
“Resides two blocks away.”
They lifted me into the ambulance.
“She looks older.”
“Find her, Kelley.”
The door closed.
“I can’t move my arm.”
“I’m not a doctor.” The paramedic rocked with the ambulance, watching me.
“Take a guess.”
“You dislocated your shoulder.”
She was correct.
“I was hoping to see you again. Certainly not like this.” Christy held my hand, my gurney parked in the hallway, the emergency room busy, all examination areas occupied.
“I have your number.”
“I imagine you’ve been busy.” The volunteer looked around. “It shouldn’t be much longer.”
“Busy. Maybe I should come back later.”
Christy laughed. “I miss that sarcastic humor.”
“Legendary in some quarters.”
A voice bellowed in the distance, vibrating the entire emergency room. “Jesus Christ on a stick!”
I couldn’t turn my head. I did recognize the voice.
“My God, do you know who that is?”
“Matter-oh-fact. Could you please go tell him it’s OK?”
Moments later. “It is not OK, young lady.”
I would’ve shrugged if I could. “There’s people hurt a lot more than me –”
“It’s not about the pain – oh, don’t you worry about that.”
An attendant wheeled me into an elevator. Christy followed, having lost her voice.
“Christy, Mr. Steinberg. Mr. Steinberg, Christy. Christy took care of me when I was first here.”
I thought Christy would ignite taking Mr. Steinberg’s hand.
“Very nice to meet you, Christy.”
After some pictures, I was taken to a private room and released from my shackles, my shoulder set, not a pleasant experience, my arm slung. Christy sat with me. Mr. Steinberg was a major donor to the hospital, referred to by Christy with wide eyes.
Outside my room, after a few more disrespectful references to Jesus, Mr. Steinberg joined us.
“Your care here has been adequate, far from stellar.”
“We ran out of money.”
“That shouldn’t matter.”
I didn’t get home until after three in the morning. Kelley wasn’t groggy answering her cell.
“You been up all night, too?”
“War room. Got a couple good leads. Might get a break. Interested?”
“You don’t want me going through the door first, do you?”
She chuckled. “Thought you might want to.”
“To get even.”
“What he did to you.”
“Nothing I could do to him would restore my health or repair my life.”
“It would make you feel better.”
“No, it wouldn’t.”
“Save other innocent children from him, then.”
We’re not innocent. I didn’t see myself as a bulwark against fate.
“I’ve thought of that. What about the good pastor?” I asked.
“So he says. Mail order, I think.”
“He’ll make bail in the morning. All we really have him on is unlawful entry. Though he claims he was invited – to talk to you – by your mother, that doesn’t explain breaking the window.”
“He knocked me in the tub and dislocated my shoulder!”
“Claims it was an accident, that he didn’t know you were standing behind the door.”
I grumbled like Kelley.
“He tried to charm me. I can see how many people, particularly women, would fall for that. Made my skin crawl. Wanted to shoot him in the balls.”
“Kelley! You shouldn’t talk like that to a child!”
“Like he was giving directions to the mall, as plain as that, he explained to me you’re not human, but a demon, which is why he tried to kill – destroy – you.”
“Madison’s not a killer.”
“I didn’t mean Madison tried to kill you – him. At first, I thought Madison had direct knowledge. He had a vision, triggered by something your mother said.” A long pause. “Are you aware of their liaison?”
“If by liaison, you mean Madison fucked my mom, yeah, I know. He’s a real horny-toad, spreading God’s love and maybe other things.
“Crazy-talk’s not against the law?” I asked.
“John said I can’t get a carry permit.”
“No, you can’t. Pete and Mort are going to stop by and have a heart-to-heart, convince him the error of his ways.”
“Mort fixed my window?”
“Sorry to distract you from the war room.”
“We can do more than one thing at once.”
“I think Mr. Steinberg has a scanner.”
“A mole in the department.”
“Yeah, I want in. Did you call my parents?”
“Don’t have the number.”
“You’re a detective. It’s on the ‘fridge.”
I was wrong. Pastor-reverend Madison was scarier than Sally. I thought to introduce them, wondering if in the same room, they’d create a vortex of scaring, sucking the moisture from the air, maybe creating a black hole.
I pondered my demonic being, double-bagged a sixteen-ounce cup of Earl Grey with honey, lemon and a dash of bitters, then pounced on the tests from school, setting the third aside before the phone rang. Dawn was making itself known.
Without greeting: “Still want in?”
“Get dressed quickly. Car’s on its way.”
“Been dressed, standing by the door. I’ll meet John by the curb.”
“Mort. John’s away this weekend.”
“Picked a fine time to take a vacation.”
“That’s what I thought.”
Chasing the cane, I got to the curb just in time for Mort to open the door. He buckled me in.
Behind the wheel: “Had a witness.”
“To the abduction?”
I let out a slow breath. I was ambivalent about his capture. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it being over. As long as he was free, something in me was free, too.
“Do you recall a white van?”
“No. I was out cold.”
“He coaxed her in.”
“It’s not him.”
“We’re pretty sure –”
“Too soon, too old and he does not coax. We’re not human, less animated than a hunk of beef. He wouldn’t know how to coax even if he spent the next year watching public TV and the daytime talk shows.”
Mort chuckled his wonderful dark chuckle. “House at the end of the street. White with blue shutters.”
I narrowed my eyes at the early morning light, no less than twenty people in dark body armor carefully, covertly working through yards and over fences. “Definitely not him.”
“I was kept in a walled-up room in a basement. The foundation was stacked stone. These houses aren’t near old enough.”
Mort gave me the narrowed eyes.
I shrugged. “John had to tell you how smart I am.”
“He doesn’t say much about you. I don’t need his testimony.”
He held his radio, the size of a cell phone, to his mouth. “Kelley.”
A buzz followed a snap. “Mort.”
“Kelley – kid says he isn’t our guy.”
I knew Kelley snickered at kid. “Mort – she sure?”
“Kelley – I’d take her argument to the bank.”
Two buzzes followed a snap. “Let’s take a breath and ratchet back the adrenaline a few notches. This might not be our guy. He’s still a guy who grabbed a child off the street. I want him taken quick. I want everyone walking away. Five minutes. Mark!”
“That’ll be the last we hear over the radio.”
I nodded to Mort, fixated on the cockroaches moving in dawn’s early light. “Kelley’s in charge?”
“She heads up the taskforce, big dog if that’s what you mean. We answer to her.”
“I had no idea. She said she was with the taskforce.”
Mort pointed. “Kelley will be the first through the door.”
“I couldn’t imagine it any other way.”
The house was secured in thirty seconds. I was right. I apologized to Mort for taking him out of the action. He shrugged, offering to buy me breakfast.
In the same diner the evening before began, my ham and cheese omelet, hash browns, toast and orange juice was in front of me forty seconds when we were joined by Kelley, Pete and a dozen other people in different stages of stripped body armor.
Kelley winked, setting her helmet on the table. “Impressed?”
“Yeah, I am. I’m glad the rookies came for me and not you guys!”
Laughter, rich, honest and deep filled the diner.
“I want you on the task force.” Kelley ordered the prime rib dinner.
“Yes. I’m kidding. You can’t even get working papers and the labor laws say you can’t work past 10 o’clock at night if you could.”
Mort pointed toward the ceiling. “And breaks.”
“Oh, yeah. Lots of required breaks in a four-hour day.”
Mort chuckled. “No body armor small enough to fit.”
Kelley rolled her eyes. “Can’t get a carry permit. Oh, we have so many reasons.”
I went red faced. “Did you get a perv anyway?”
“He gave up his right to remain silent.”
“Boy, did he!” A voice came from behind us.
“Babbled all the way to the floor, never shut up. We have to check out the story. It sounds reasonable.”
“Bad divorce. Custody battle. Mother took off with the daughter four years ago. Father finally tracked them down. Rented that house for six months. Waited for the right moment and snatched her.”
“She back him up?”
“We terrified the poor thing, not all fifteen-year-olds have the mettle you do. Yes, once she stopped crying.”
I wanted to ask why Kelley hadn’t called John back from his weekend off, but didn’t.
I wrote my time in the top right corner of each test, figuring Mr. Riggins wouldn’t believe me anyway.
Mom and Dad got home about 8 o’clock in the evening, giggling like Janet and David. Dad launched into a story of surf fishing, cooking dinner over an open fire on the beach. Mom’s phone vibrated in my pocket.
“I talked to Kelley. Is everything OK.”
“Yeah. Can’t talk now. Talk to you tomorrow.” I flipped the phone shut. I wanted John to know I wasn’t happy with him.
I gave Dad the wide eyes. “I want to know who cleaned the fish!”
“Why, daughter-oh-mine, I did!”
We laughed, holding onto each other. I didn’t want to ruin the moment – or the evening – with tales of my weekend. I was out of the sling and the window was fixed, after all.
Mom and I made popcorn and hot chocolate. We watched old movies long into the night.
I felt normal for the first time since my head met the brick wall.
Dad left for work early, right after breakfast.
Mom turned from the dishes. “You mean this weekend?”
“Yeah. Reverend Madison stopped over.”
“I asked him to talk to you. I mean: I didn’t want you thinking he was a bad man or anything.”
“He is, well, maybe not bad, but he’s not right.”
“You’re just angry at what I, I mean we did. The mistake we made. They call that projecting.”
“Mom, he broke into the house and attacked me in the bathroom.”
“Huh? No, that can’t be –”
“You can read the police report. I’m sure I have to go over everything before I testify.”
“The police were involved?”
“Well, I couldn’t move, knocked out dizzy when my head hit the wall, falling in the bathtub, dislocating my shoulder.”
“I was taking a bath.”
Mom stared at me, seasons cycled. “Unbelievable. You’re not embellishing?”
“The opposite. I didn’t get home from the hospital until after 3.”
“I can’t imagine what that’s going to cost – sorry, I don’t mean to sound insensitive.”
I shrugged. “Nothing. Every third stay is free.” I wanted Mom to hear about Madison from me, not anyone else. I wanted to see what the doctors had to say, Mr. Steinberg called some specialists – got them out of bed – before I ran that part of the weekend past Mom and Dad.
I told Mr. Steinberg all I really wanted to do was run on the beach some day. He told me we could do much, much more.
“I can fly?”
He laughed. “Just watch you don’t go too close to the sun!”
I laughed back.
As he said, my care was adequate. The two reconstruction surgeons were confident, even excited about my face.
I was glad someone was excited about my face.
Deep breath. I was to go back for more pictures Wednesday. As if talking about last week’s rain, one specialist said he’d like to replace my hip. I wasn’t excited over that development, but the pain had my eyes crossed, even on a good day and meds.
I’d not had many good days.
I called Kelley.
“Story check out?”
“Yes. Isn’t that great?”
“Yes, Kelley, that’s great. I’ve given it some thought. I want to have a sit-down with Madison. I’d like Pete or Mort along –”
“That’s a good idea. He’s got crazy eyes.”
“I want to see what he’s thinking. What’s going on. Maybe we don’t have to press charges?”
“You’re more reasonable than I.”
“I was given the punishment of the damned and didn’t actually do anything wrong. I think if I can not punish someone, like Mr. Steinberg with Mathew or you with my dad, then that’s a good, maybe even a noble thing.”
“I understand your reasoning.”
“I don’t agree with it.”
“I understand your reasoning, too.”
“I need to go down the school. I hate to use you guys as a taxi. I could have taken the bus, but I wanted to talk to Mom about Madison.”
“They get in that late?”
“They got in that happy. I didn’t want to ruin the mood.”
I wanted to stay mad. I couldn’t, once his puppy dog eyes lapped me up, John bending to kiss me hello. “Heard you had some weekend.”
“The fun never stops.”
“Sorry I missed it.”
“I missed you, too.”
I struggled with the seatbelt, thinking John should buckle me in like Mort had. John respected my need to do things for myself – or just didn’t think to help. I didn’t want to ask for help, fearing John might roll his eyes, me being too much of a pest.
Finally, a sharp snap. “The house was old. Did Mort tell you?”
“I read that in his report.”
I wondered whether everything I said was typed into a report.
“Well below ground. I could tell by the feel of the walls. No windows. Single bare bulb hanging three times my height. I thought if I could get to it, I could kill him with it. Mold, musk everywhere. The room was split by bars. He didn’t build it. Maybe his great-great-grandfather did.”
Now, John’s visit was more than just giving me a ride.
“Not staying?” Obvious, where John stopped the car.
“I need to get back. Call, I’ll come for you.”
“I know lots of cute girls I can introduce you to.”
He smiled. “Too young.”
“Yeah, right.” I turned, coming to my knees. “You’re very important to me.”
“Me, too.” His eyes danced on mine.
“I like, I mean, you kissing me is important, meaningful.”
His pale flesh, pinked.
We kissed, me doing more kissing than him.
“Thanks!” I slid to the curb.
“No problem. Anytime you need a ride, call.”
I meant for the kiss.
I hobbled, chasing John’s cane, my tote bag hung under my arm, my soft light brown sugar hair swaying in flows to my waist reflecting the brilliant sunlight of spring. Faces filled the windows, awe and smiles, hands frenzied at the glass, unable to wave loud enough.
And, I was worried about returning to school.
Mr. Riggins met me at the door.
“I would have come to the house.”
“I was in the ‘hood. Thought I’d hang out, see some teachers and kids.” I struggled the tests from the tote bag.
Mr. Riggins narrowed his eyes.
“I’m still a student here, aren’t I?”
“It’s not that. We can’t have school disrupted.”
I shrugged. “Can I use a chair in the office, then? Hang out, teachers come see me during breaks? Even just to say hi?”
“I bet you miss human contact.”
Mr. Riggins gave me an hour of his time, telling school stories, many he’d told me before. I realized he missed quality human contact.
Something in the air changed. A rumble, like rolling thunder. The fire bell shouted from the outer office.
Mr. Riggins’ face told me the drill wasn’t scheduled. He stood.
The river of humanity panicked through the hall, incoherent screams masking the shouts of gun and shooting. I slipped Mr. Riggins’ hand and slumped in a corner, waiting.
Moments leaked by like geological ages, flowing into perfect silence. Sobbing drew me to the hallway, a child, my age, face down on the green tile. I grabbed a handful of collar, mustered all I had, and dragged her into the nearby classroom.
Her eyes pleaded, her bloodied hands holding her stomach.
A quick glance out the window told me the cops hadn’t arrived.
I hit my speed-dial.
“Kelley – there’s a classroom next to the office. I’ll put an X on the window. Break in. There’s a vic here bleeding out.”
“Lindsey – you’re in the school?”
“Kelley – duh. I’m heading for the cafeteria.”
I punched the off button. “If I were a doctor, I would.” Using her blood, I marked the window with three smearing fingers.
Step, lean, clomp the cane, pull and drag my right leg, clenching my teeth. Her eyes stayed with me, driving me on, pleading with me.
Gunshots like sharp pops echoed ahead.
I imagined more children gut-shot, quickening my pace.
I live a cliché. I knew the shooter had to be in the cafeteria. The door opened with a thud, resounding. I stepped forward, David, Janet’s boyfriend lying on his back stared at me, the top of his head missing, haloed in dark crimson.
“I knew you’d come!”
He stood across the cafeteria, two dozen kids huddled on the floor to his right among bodies.
“Yeah, here I am. Put the gun down. It’s over.”
“Not until I feel better!”
Then you’ll die here. There is no feeling better.
Janet sat like a rag doll, slumped over, hand against her shoulder, blood oozing, sobbing at Tommy’s feet.
“Call me a girl now!” He placed the gun against a kid’s head, muffling the blast, spraying himself with blood. Kids screamed, he laughed. Janet looked across the distance to me.
Her life weighed heavy in my hands.
“Yes, Tommy. I came, just as you wanted. Now what?” Step, lean, clomp the cane, pull, drag my right leg – repeat as needed. “I was just saying yesterday how much I miss you, my boyfriend.”
His face softened, just a little.
“Everyone knows that.”
The gun lowered with his face. “Lind, they’ve been mean to me.”
Welcome to life.
He had a single handgun, which came against Janet’s head.
“You’re my boyfriend, and you can’t even look at me?”
He looked, cringing.
I came up on my left foot, high on my toes, pulled the blade free from the cane, looking much like a bandillero and fell against Tommy. He jerked, gurgled, falling back, me riding him to the floor, muscle spasms holding the trigger, the gun firing repeatedly.
Fate be damned! Meet your bulwark!
I didn’t bother asking Janet if she were all right as I rolled painfully to my feet. Ambulatory kids ran for the doors.
Pushing the speed-dial again, Kelley went at me.
“Find a place and hide, Goddamnit!”
“Kelley – it’s over. Perp’s down.”
“You do realize we’re on the phone and not talkies?”
“Kelley – yeah.”
“We’re on our way in.”
“Bring the doctors.”
Someone screamed, Tommy gurgled again. I turned, Tommy on an elbow, pointed the pistol between my eyes.
I looked down my nose. “I stood tall in Hell. You’re nothing.”
He pulled the trigger, got a click and passed out.
Dropping to a knee, I helped Janet lay back, putting my hand over her wound, her shirt hot and wet.
I knew she meant her boyfriend. “Sorry I wasn’t here sooner.”
“How’d you even know? He’d not made his demands yet.”
“Dropping off the tests.”
“And, you came looking for me?”
I did, actually. “Yeah.”
“Oh, Lind, it was like a movie. I got chills when I saw you step through the door!”
Police and medical personal descended. Kelley pulled me to my feet, a paramedic taking my place.
“She’s lost a lot of blood.”
The paramedic, unwrapping an IV, snapped me a look. “I know my job.”
I sighed. “I repeat, Kelley: I don’t want your job. Did you get to her in time?”
“She’d be dead, if not for you.”
“All the kids that ran from this room would be dead if not for me. But then, if not for me, this would’ve never happened. That’s Tommy.” I nodded. “The shooter and my ex-boyfriend.”
Myths and stories are how all heroes are created.
Fear, trauma derails memory encoding, which is why eyewitness accounts are considered unreliable by people who know better.
Once Tommy went down, I should have kicked the gun away like they do in the movies.
Kelley took notes. “There’ll be problems with you carrying a concealed weapon.”
“Wasn’t a weapon until I put it into his chest. If I knew the gun’d go off, I might have slashed his wrist instead. I didn’t want him killing Jay.”
“That’s not the point.”
“The point is I needed the cane to walk. John gave it to me.”
“John told you the blade was in it?”
“No. That was an accidental discovery. I guess I don’t get it back?”
“We have to log it into evidence.”
“For lawyers to use against me in a civil suit?”
I pointed toward the entrance. “The crime scene headshot of David will be the only defense I need.”
Kelley narrowed her eyes. “We’ll circle the wagons. We look out for our own.”
A paramedic wanted me going to the hospital. I wanted to go though the cafeteria line. People, police and paramedics stopped, looking at me.
“What? I’m hungry.”
Triage wasn’t complete, controlling bleeding, kids crying scattered around the dead. Tommy killed three kids, wounded eight. His connection to his soul broke. I could tell by his eyes, a look I’d seen before. I stood in the core of the slaughter, wanting something to eat, maybe a hotdog. If I weren’t me, I’d stare at me, too, wondering whether my connection to my soul was intact. “I’m going to ride with Jay.”
Janet had just been secured to a gurney.
I knew I should be shaking, maybe crying, balled up on the floor in the fetal position like a couple of other kids. I knew I should feel distain for myself, having sunk a blade deep in Tommy’s chest. I knew I should be horrified, maybe sick to my stomach with the dead and wounded.
“What, Lindsey?” Kelley leaned close.
“Something I said to a guy in a support group for survivors of sexual abuse. He didn’t want to scare children.”
Kelley laughed inappropriately, given where we stood.
If I wasn’t who I was, I’d have been in handcuffs.
The hospital cafeteria was electric with excitement, quick rumor passing for news, attentive listeners like gawkers at an accident. My ER doctor went up with Janet, seeing the want in my eyes. I’d been permitted in the back rooms because I was bloody, people thinking me a vic.
The gut-shot girl was in surgery.
Christy dropped down across the table. “Did you hear?” She watched my eyes. “Why are you in scrubs?”
“Fashion statement.” The scrubs were comfortable, better than sweat pants and shirt. Someone in the ER thought I’d feel better out of my blood drenched clothes.
“Horrible.” She watched the distance, a TV high on the wall across the room gathered a crowd, a helicopter shot panning the school between talking heads having no idea what they were talking about. “What do you make of it?”
“Make of what?”
“Franken-hero. Report says a monstrous human being attacked the kid shooting up the school, maybe some mutant living in the basement like the Phantom of the Opera –” She stopped, coming back to my eyes. “Oh-my-God.”
I shrugged. “I’m sure I’m called a lot worse behind my back.”
“I’m so sorry.”
I shrugged again. “Does the hospital have a cane I can borrow?”
“Lind, you gotta tell me the story.”
“Kid down the school. Seems the other kids were calling him names all the time. Had enough. Got a gun. Thought he could get even. He let me get too close. I stabbed him.”
“You have such a flare for storytelling.”
“My sarcasm’s rubbing off on you.”
“I’ll find you something.”
“A cane. You like the wood?”
Yet, another shrug.
Christy nodded. “Pastor Madison’s here.”
I turned, his round face filling the TV screen, the ER in the background, another clueless talking head.
“He works the hospital.”
“Reverend. Trolling for recent widows and otherwise vulnerable women, no doubt.”
“Lind! He does lots of good volunteer work here!”
“He was by the house to comfort me just the other day.”
“See?” She narrowed her eyes. “That was sarcasm, right?”
“Were my lips moving? Did he ever hit on you?”
She blushed. “He’s just a flirt!”
Madison can make a person feel important. A kink in the self-esteem is like blood in the water to a shark.
I called Mom and Dad at work before I left the school. I didn’t want them to panic.
“I’m glad you called.”
“Just page Dad, Sally.”
“I’m not pleased how we left things.”
Get over yourself.
“Just page Dad, please.”
“I understand your anger –”
“I have Ed’s office number.”
She paged Dad.
I didn’t know Ed had an office number.
With my new – to me – aluminum cane, I hobbled my way to the upper floors, smiling, greeting the many familiar faces. Even with the air heavy, people tense, many took a few moments to pass the time of day, asking about my wellbeing. Finally, I was stopped coming off the elevator.
“You’re not permitted on this floor. Lindsey, right?”
“I thought the scrubs would fool everyone.”
“My clothes got screwed up in the shooting. They gave me these down in the ER.”
“Oh, you were involved?”
“One of the lucky ones.”
“Given before, you must live under a dark cloud.”
“Never thought of it that way. Press is all over downstairs. My best friend in the whole world is up here, shoulder-shot. If I could sit quietly somewhere and wait?”
The nurse had John’s eyes. He smiled seriously. “Given what you’ve been through –”
He put me at the nurses’ station. The four faces knew me. I didn’t know them. After brief introductions, they, collectively, told me the story of my time in the OR, all eighteen hours, round one.
“I was called in that night. This hand.” She held up her hand. “Was actually inside you.”
“Thank you. Thank you all.”
“You’re a miracle.”
Heard that before.
“Saw a Doctor Reece the other day.”
They nodded. The nurse with her hand in me smiled. “He wants to replace your hip.”
I almost asked how she knew. Obviously, I’d been evaluated already.
He appeared at the nurse’s station, I assumed looking for me.
“What’s your name?” I didn’t believe his badge.
My nurse with John’s rich dark walnut eyes smiled lightly, stopping in the hall. “Snow.”
He wasn’t a giant, like most adults, loaming only a head over me, his pasta hair sloppy just touching his ears.
“I was born during a snow storm. A big storm, lost power. Couldn’t get out of the house.”
He led on, allowing a slow pace.
“Wow. I’d like to hear the whole story sometime!”
“That is the whole story.”
“Man of few words. I like that. You have the same problem I do.”
“Don’t crowd my communication with unneeded nonsense?”
“No! Well, maybe that, too, but I’ve never seen that as a problem! You look my age.”
“No! Fifteen! That makes my point!” OK, he looked eighteen, which is close to my age.
“I have a unique medical condition where I age backwards.”
“And, I heard you were smart.”
I gave him the wide eyes. “Oh, you’re going to get so smacked.”
“I just turned twenty. Folks are in the medical field. I’m an overachiever. I graduated high school when I was younger than you.”
“Not a doctor? Just a nurse?”
“There’s nothing just about being a nurse. I understand what you mean. I’ve not decided what I want to be when I grow up. Here we are.”
I leaned on the door, turning back. “Snow, can I call you?”
“You look perfectly capable of using a telephone.”
Damn. “May I call you?”
“I don’t date. Girls are much too confusing.”
I giggled. “I have a boyfriend. I’ve got some medical decisions coming up and could use an unbiased knowledgeable opinion.”
“I was kidding.”
“About girls being confusing?”
“About not dating. Girls are confusing.”
Janet blinked slowly, repeatedly.
“Hi. Been waiting long?”
“No.” An hour, standing, holding your hand. “I wanted to be here when you woke up.”
“They were able to repair most the damage.”
“Yeah, unlikely you’ll be able to play the piano.”
“I couldn’t before!”
“Then it shouldn’t matter.”
“Good prognosis. Of course, they’re reserved, but expect a full recovery.”
A doctor entered. “Lindsey.”
“What are you doing here?” He eyed me, Janet and the readouts on the monitor, taking Janet’s wrist.
“Jay’s my best friend.”
He put his stethoscope to Janet’s chest. “What I mean, is no visitors are supposed to be here at this time.”
“I wanted to be here when Jay woke up.” I shrugged. “I just came in. I didn’t know. No one stopped me.”
He addressed Janet. “You were lucky. We were able to repair most of the damage. We won’t know the extent of any nerve damage for a while yet.” He smiled. “You can go home before dinner.”
“You have adequate care at home.”
Janet nodded. “Can my parents see me? Mom’s not going to stop crying until she does.”
“That explains that.”
Eyewitness accounts were bizarre, the Franken-hero story spreading like a cold virus in a kindergarten class. I hadn’t looked around, focused on Tommy and Janet. Faces were buried, afraid to look as if looking would make the event real.
Her eyes behind the lush makeup darted at me. “Lindsey.” She was flustered, only obvious with careful observation.
“What do you make of it?”
She pursed her lips, searching my face for meaning.
“The news testimonials.”
“Ah. Yes. Not all that uncommon. Doctor or Doctor Bosch.”
I shrugged, keeping her eyes, which wandered. “Ronnie. I like that, pretty, like you. Is that a nick? Short for something?”
Her cream flesh pinked behind her makeup. “Though Ronnie’s on my birth certificate, it is short for Ronald. My father wanted a boy, got me.”
“He would’ve named you Ronald, huh?”
“My mother wouldn’t have it. They settled on Ronnie.”
“Pretty. I like it. Soft, like you. Did your father want you to be a doctor?”
Her eyes went to the ceiling. “A housewife.”
“Once he gave up on me trying to catch a ball with any regularity.”
“Could have gotten a sex change operation. An Add-a-dick-to-me, I think it’s called.”
Her eyes went wide. She laughed, hand over her mouth, strange, alien to her. “My life began, I think, when I realized there was no pleasing him.”
I nodded. “Which was about him, not you?”
“About the size of it. They, that’s to say he was glad to pay for college.”
“Because he knew you’d fail?”
She smirked. “Which guaranteed my success.”
“Are you free of him now?”
“What do you mean?”
“Not much difference between trying to please him and trying to show him wrong.”
She nodded, her eyes staying on mine. “He’s dead.”
“My question stands.”
She glanced the ER, her and I alone in a crowd. She’d been pre-interviewing, making notes, opening files – one of three crisis counselors who’d be working the school and with the families. “Very astute. I’m of the opinion we work against – or with – our early influences our entire lives, the key being aware of those influences so we can make better decisions.”
“There’s no getting over, only getting with?”
“That’s one way to put it. Yes. I became a doctor to spite my father. Maybe I didn’t know it at the time.”
“Which is OK, not like becoming a drug addict to spite your father.”
“Which I could have easily done.”
I nodded. “Better choices. I get it.”
“Your school?” She surveyed the ER again.
“I’m the Franken-hero they’ve based the story on.”
I gave her the open mouth and wide eyes, not at the joke, but that she could actually make a joke.
“I understand your question better. Trauma like they experienced inhibits short term memory encoding. Memory abhors a void.”
“So they make something up?”
“Not really. They create a memory based on what little pieces they have, what they know and what they hear.”
“Explains why the stories are all sounding about the same.”
“Often gets mistaken for mass hysteria.”
“Becomes a memory?”
Mom, apprehensive, appeared. “I thought you’d be home. Are you OK? What happened to your clothes?”
“Mom, Doctor Bosch.”
“Doctor? God, how old are you?”
Ronnie rolled her eyes. “Yes, Lindsey, he still comes at me, from every mouth in the crowd.”
Mom pulled on my arm, anxious to escape the bedlam. I’d turned the cell phone off. Someone at the school told her I was taken to the hospital. With Mom’s arrival, Ronnie’s armor returned.
I liked touching her humanity.
“You said they create a memory?”
“How can we tell the memory’s real or not?”
“Reason. Empirical evidence.”
I leaned away from Mom, close to Ronnie’s ear. She smelled of baby powder and brown sugar. “Would you talk with my father?”
“I’d be happy to.”
Some people believe an invisible force, tangled in a web floating in the ethereal, connects us magically. Some people call this the collective unconscious.
Mom and Dad had never met David, Janet’s boyfriend. Other than David, I didn’t personally know any of Tommy’s vics. Dad brooded like his family had been killed, Mom sank into depression deep and dark. A pall hung over the community like a dreary winter day.
Tommy hadn’t killed as many kids as my perp had, yet –
Yet, people, strangers to me, hung onto the tragedy as if they were in the lunchroom, people occupying the seats on TV talk shows across nation crying, hurt sick.
I imagined a sagely man staggering, a hand to his forehead. “There’s a disturbance in the force!”
I wondered whether the loss of young human life or the knowledge of events caused the pain.
I watched Dad’s eyes. He wanted to touch the fire. He didn’t. He wore empathy like a coat, not a feeling in his soul. He warmed his hands. He didn’t sear his flesh.
I understood his reaction to my experience better.
The school was closed for two weeks.
“I thought about all that was said about you.”
Janet bit her lip. “What the doctors said, particularly that weird woman. The skinny one.”
“Ronnie Bosch. The shrink. She’s OK. Going to be one of the crises counselors. I don’t know who the third is, but take Ronnie over Madison.”
“Fucking Madison counseling kids?”
I shrugged. “Got his certificate in a cereal box.”
“Ten box tops. I mean about the memory.”
“What about it?”
“Well, they said memory loss is normal.”
“Right. Trauma, fear, blah, blah, blah.”
“I knew that, you know.”
“Well, when Tommy announced he was going to get even and produced the gun, I was in the moment.”
“As if what they serve for pizza isn’t trauma enough.” I smiled. “So you’d remember?”
“Yeah. When I told David’s parents he died trying to get Tommy, I lied.”
“I saw it on your face. I saw where David was in the cafeteria. He broke for the door, my guess the second one shot.”
“How’d you know second?”
“I dragged the first out of the hallway.”
“I was going to take a swing at Tommy.”
“Yeah. He nailed me first.”
“I was wondering how you got the black eye.”
“If he’d not knocked me off balance – I reeled back at him.”
“He put the gun on your shoulder and fired?”
“I’m glad he choose your shoulder, not your forehead.”
“He wanted to kill me with you watching.”
“Then he was going to kill you.”
“Mass murderers always make that mistake. Too much talking about what they’re going to do and less doing. That’s how I got under his radar.”
She giggled. “That’s not really funny.”
“No, it’s not.”
“You were right about David.”
“You don’t even know what I’m talking about.”
“You tiring of him.”
She blushed. “Yeah. I feel guilty. Like, I was thinking how I could breakup.”
“There are easier ways.”
She lifted her slung arm, indicating the breadth of her backyard. “I get out of mowing the lawn, anyway.”
“I hope you don’t talk like this in front of normal people.”
She snickered. “Of course not.” She turned in her chair, facing me. “Something happened.”
“We’ve always had that morbid sense of humor.”
“I mean in the lunchroom.”
I gave her the sarcastic wide eyes. “Really?”
“OK.” I sunk my face. “Do I look serious?”
“I knew I was going to die.”
“I told you I was in the moment?”
“Well, I was with that moment.”
“You did that every minute for days. You know how long it was for me?”
I rolled my eyes. “Twelve minutes?”
“Closer to fourteen.” Janet swallowed hard, watching my eyes. “Days. You did it for days. I only had my shoulder blown apart. You, well, I read your chart.”
“And? What’s your point?”
I nodded. No, you don’t.
“I know that I don’t know. I don’t even have a clue.”
I closed my eyes. “No, Janet. You don’t.”
“I thought I did, you know. Oh, was I so wrong. How do you put up with us?”
“I love you. The others –” I shrugged.
“Boy, do I see that now. You looked him in the eye. You walked down the hall to Hell. You punched your own ticket.”
Janet slid from her chair, kneeling on the grass, her hand taking mine in my lap, looking up at me. “This is so weird, Lind.” Her eyes, wet. “I’ve thought about this for a long time. I almost said something in hospital when I woke up and you were standing there.”
I bit my lip.
“Lind? Will you marry me?”
I laughed, not loud.
Tears rolled down her cheeks, her eyes holding mine.
“You’re not kidding?”
“No, I’m not.”
A large tent and three trailers appeared in the school’s parking lot. Chains carelessly hung on the cafeteria door handles, the windows covered with newspaper. Rumor held the room would be gutted, renovated down to the last nail, the last tile.
I thought a good scrubbing with bleach would do the job.
Dad developed a nasty urinary tract infection.
Talking heads on the twenty-four-hour news programs, the same talking heads who missed the DC sniper and Dumpster Girl murderer by six and three-eighths universes went on ad nauseam about Tommy, his background, what drove him and society’s ills. A half-dozen ten second clips looped, the talking heads voice-over-ing.
One clip was a picture-in-picture, Tommy, his face shielded, secured to a gurney, wheeled from the school, his seventh-grade school picture imposed in the top right-hand corner. I puzzled at the picture. Current pictures were available.
Another clip showed Janet hurried along on a gurney, the sheet soaked red, me struggling to keep up, holding Janet’s hand, steadying on the gurney. I looked like I lost at paintball, victim of an ambush.
Madison, identified as one of the three crises counselors and a local community leader, filled the TV screen often, spouting too much of the wrong things. Tommy, it would seem, was driven to do evil. Madison was slippery, master of implication.
“I like it.” I set my tray on the folding table, two hotdogs with cheese and bacon, fries and two scoops of mac and cheese. “Seems not a popular place.”
The tent in the parking lot, which could easily seat two hundred, hosted maybe sixteen students scattered about and one table with a dozen construction workers.
A man in army fatigues set a soda next to my tray.
Stone-faced, he nodded, retreating.
Ronnie Bosch glanced around. “Fear. Children going home for lunch. Bringing lunch, eating in the classrooms. Not eating at all.
“Lightning striking comes to mind.”
“You know the old saying.”
She nodded, shuffling files, nibbling at a yellow cheese on white bread sandwich, no crust, sitting on waxed paper.
I already said she could stand a bag of hamburgers.
“How do you feel about that?” She nodded behind me.
Twisting painfully, I turned back. “I think he could do a lot more damage than what Tommy did.”
“I recommended against an armed presence.”
“I bet he’d be great in a war zone with an actual armed enemy. A guy in army fatigues with a semi-automatic weapon slung across his chest prowling a high school? To me, unnerving.”
She crooked a smile. “You? Unnerved?”
“Feature of speech.”
A shrug. “They feel people will feel safer.”
“God, Ronnie, he doesn’t look much older than me. I had a misunderstanding and trained law enforcement came for me, really mucking things up.”
“Mr. Riggins mistook my sarcasm.”
She rolled her eyes behind her abundant makeup. “That’s my concern, that the military doesn’t have the proper training to deal with our civilian population.”
“If something happens. Army guys cooking and serving? What’s with that?”
“Makes sense. We have, in place, personnel and equipment, ready to feed on the run. They’re not army.”
“The guys with the guns?”
“I think I’ll eat at home. Private contractor is a euphemism for mercenary.”
She eyed a folder. “You’re not even enrolled here.”
“I’m on leave.”
She cocked an eyebrow.
“I’m kinda home schooled. After what happened, I didn’t think coming back to school would be practical for a pantheon of reasons.”
She smirked. “Pantheon.”
“Cool word, thick with meaning.”
“Yes, most people would miss the thicker meanings.”
“Doesn’t matter. I made a deal: take and pass the finals and the exit exam for tenth.”
“Who’s tutoring you?”
The flesh pinked behind her makeup, her eyes dropping to the table. “I could, if you wish.”
“I don’t need no stinkin’ tutor.” I laughed. “I did the practice tests. That’s why I came today, to see how great I did. I’m sure I’m in the top ten per cent.”
“Watch the hubris.”
Her eyes narrowed, keeping mine. “Pride, generally before the fall.”
I closed my eyes in a long blink. “That’s what the gun gave Tommy. He thought himself invincible.” I watched my hands for a long moment. “I wish he’d come for me, going toe-to-toe, instead of fucking up other people’s lives.”
“You feel this was all about you?”
“I’m the wellspring.”
“Another word I like.”
“Consider the possibility Thomas, without your involvement in any way, would have ended up standing in the same place.”
“Fate? I thought you a scientist?”
“Not fate. Influences. Propensity.”
I considered the canvas over my head, shifting softly with the subtle breezes of spring. “I had a friend tie me to a chair and prop my eyes open with toothpicks in front of the TV passing-for-news shows.”
“Everyone seems to know exactly why Tommy did what he did.” I narrowed my eyes. “Influences. Propensity. Destiny? I water the pansies, they grow. I walk on the pansies everyday, they die.”
“The sun comes up.”
“The sun goes down. I’ve said this about other things. When Tommy became an automaton –”
“The vocabulary list goes on. When Tommy became an automaton, from where I was sitting, he lost his connection to his soul. My guess is, from where he was standing, it’s us who weren’t human any longer.”
“You feel he became a monster?”
“No. I’m a monster. I came back wrong, this corrupted monster, a cruel joke on Dad’s immortality, a gag on Darwin. The earth’s crust’s in motion, sliding on top a molten core. When the plates smash into each other, causing what we call an earthquake, killing three and wounding eight, would we call the earthquake a monster? After all, the earthquake was merely following the influences, its propensity.”
“Thomas is sentient, cognitive, with a conscience.”
“Maybe his sense of the rules changed when he became an automaton? He mis-thunk like so many other people mis-think.” I shrugged.
“He thought he could get even.”
“How are you holding up?”
Ronnie’s right eye twitched. “Fine, thanks for asking.”
“It wasn’t a polite question.”
“I interned in a war zone.”
I nodded. “I almost misspoke, saying, So, you’re used to it. What I mean is: no surprises, anyway.”
“What I expect, sure. But you.”
“Yes. I’m waiting for the meltdown.”
More narrowed eyes. “You think I’m what? Denying stuff?”
“You have to agree, your reactions are not what we’d consider normal.”
“Sure. Someone’s gotta define the outer edge of possibilities.”
She laughed into her hand. “My workload is heavy, which will lighten up when the third counselor arrives tomorrow.” She rolled her eyes. “I have no idea how Reverend received the appointment –”
“Don’t like him, huh?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Didn’t need to.”
We watched each other’s eyes, a world of information passing in seconds.
“Dad saying a lot about me?”
Another blush. “You know I can’t discuss anything about our sessions.”
I finished my second hotdog. “That all you eating?”
“I didn’t understand him at first, you know, turning on me.”
“I guess I realized he didn’t turn on me, but was reacting to his disappointment, losing so much.”
Ronnie raised an eyebrow.
“I got made ugly, losing my beauty, corrupted. I’ll never have a child, robbing Dad of his immortality. He can never experience his full love for me vicariously through me truly loving a man –”
“What the fuck?”
I giggled. “Ronnie!”
Her face glowed red. “Sorry. Been a long day and it’s not even noon. I meant: Lindsey, what do you mean by that?”
I rolled my eyes. “Dad’s always been in love with me. I know that. I could see it in his eyes. Society, rules, biology and all makes it impossible for him to realize his love fully –”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
I closed my eyes, my face on fire. “It sounded so right.”
“Has your father ever been improper with you?”
“God, Ronnie, no.” I opened my eyes, holding her dark orbs. “Worship’s a good word for it. Even as I kid, he’d look at me – stare’s a good word.”
“That made you uncomfortable?”
“No. The opposite.”
“Like warming my hands at a fire on a cold winter night.”
“Do you always talk in metaphors?”
Now, I giggled into my hand. “I like words.”
“Firstly, allow me to state: love does not require, demand or solicit sex, as you implied.”
Again, a nod. “My reasoning breaks down. A plus B doesn’t demand C.”
Her eyebrows rose.
“I mean, I was told, eh –”
“Not everyone wielding authority knows what he’s talking about.”
“I’ve figured that much out!”
“Drive what we think?”
“Did Dad mention his, eh, liaison?”
Ronnie blinked long and slow.
“That’s Sally.” I rolled my eyes. “Boy, is she a looker. If I were a guy, I’d do her.”
“Not about love.”
“She said Dad loved me so much, he was driven to have sex with me, prevented only by rules of society, biology, blah, blah and blah.”
“That once I had an adult relationship, he could experience the depth of his love through that relationship.”
“She could be wrong.” Again, the eyebrow.
I bit my lip. “Jay – Janet – that’s my best friend, and me got this morbid curiosity. We were following the Dumpster Girl story, sucking it up like good milkshake with a straw.”
“You’re huggable cute when you giggle.”
“Then I got taken on the magical mystery tour. The profilers, the experts on the news, have nothing right. Seems everyone thinks they know, offering up opinion like it’s truth.”
“The twenty-four-hour news channels. I’ve been approached by a publicist.”
“To be on the news?”
“To be an expert on the news.”
I blinked repeatedly. “So the guy putting together a program doesn’t get out the phone book, looking for people who actually know something?”
“A publicist, like an agent, lobbies to get you a spot?”
Again, a nod.
“Talk of driven by evil gets a camera stuck in your face where an explanation involving childhood influences and peer pressure might get thirty seconds?”
“I was interviewed a number of times – on camera. I think the words I used were too big, confusing everyone. Never aired.”
“Should have hiked your skirt.”
Worlds often exist in isolation, misunderstood when viewed from the outside.
“There you are.” John bent, kissing me quickly on the lips. “Your phone’s not on.”
“John Hopkins, Doctor Ronnie Bosch.”
Ronnie came to her feet, taking John’s hand across the table. “John.”
“How old are you?” She sat, watching me.
“Odd question. Twenty-nine, if you must know. I’m a detective assigned to the mayor’s task force.”
“That’s how we met.”
Ronnie narrowed her eyes at John. “Just how do you see your relationship with Lindsey?”
“You kissed her.”
Like a good soldier called to report, John straightened. “Lindsey and I have become good friends over the course of the investigation.”
Good friends. I could have been crushed. Good friends don’t do the steps, forever moments, long and lingering, passing too quickly. Mostly, on the steps, we kissed. Sometimes, we were close to making out. I’ve not gathered the courage to invite his tongue into my mouth.
“There’s nothing immoral, improper or illegal about our relationship.” John was almost indignant, defensive. “Just how old are you, Doctor Bosch?”
“I need to talk to Reverend/Pastor Madison, Ronnie. John’s coming along.”
Again, our eyes passed a universe of information.
Ronnie stood with me. “Despite what you’ve experienced, you’re still a child. I can’t help but want to watch out for you.” She nodded toward the construction workers. “We should put an armed guard on them. They can turn a teen’s head just showing up.”