Authors: Karin Slaughter
Tags: #Medical, #General, #Suspense, #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Political, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths
"Hey, Dr. Linton," Brad said, taking off his hat as she walked into the room. His face was paler than usual and there were tears in his eyes.
"Will you…?" Sara began, then had to stop. She cleared her throat. "Will you please go upstairs and get some sheets for me?" she asked. "Bed sheets. About four of them." Sara did not need the sheets, but Brad had been one of her patients. She still felt the need to protect him.
Brad gave her a smile, obviously glad to have something to do. "Yes, ma'am."
After he had left, Lena asked in a matter-of-fact way, "Have y'all already done the baby?"
Jeffrey answered, "Yes," even though he had not been there. He noticed the chart at the end of the table and picked it up. Sara did not say anything as he took his pen out of his breast pocket and scribbled his signature along the bottom of the autopsy report. Technically, Sara had violated several laws by performing the autopsy without at least one witness.
"Is the girl in the freezer?" Lena asked, walking toward the door. There was a cavalier bounce to her walk, as if what Lena was seeing was a common occurrence. Sara knew Lena had been through a lot recently, but she still felt angry at the other woman's attitude.
"Here?" Lena prompted, her hand on the freezer door.
Sara nodded, not moving. Jeffrey walked over to help Lena, and Sara zipped the bag closed around the baby before she could stop herself. Her heart was pounding like a drum in her chest by the time Lena and Jeffrey rolled the gurney containing Jenny Weaver's body into the room. They both braked the wheels by the table, waiting for Sara to move the bag. Finally, Jeffrey scooped the large black bag into his arms. Sara looked away as he cradled what was obviously the head with his hand. The loose ends of the bag dragged the floor as he walked toward the freezer.
Lena made a point of looking at her watch. Sara wanted to slap her, but instead she walked over to the metal supply cabinet beside the sinks. She opened a sterile pack and slipped on a gown, glancing over her shoulder at the freezer, wondering what was taking Jeffrey so long. Sara was helping Lena move the body onto the table when he finally emerged.
"Here," he said, taking Lena 's place as they maneuvered the body of Jenny Weaver onto the white porcelain table. Weaver was a large girl, and the hoses at the head of the table rattled as they moved her into place.
Sara propped the head up on a black block, trying to think of herself as a coroner rather than the girl's pediatrician. In her ten years as Grant's medical examiner, there had been only four cases where Sara had known the deceased. Jenny Weaver was the first victim who had also been a patient at the clinic.
Sara rolled over a fresh tray with clean instruments, making sure she had everything that she needed. The two hoses at the head of the table were used to evacuate the body during examination. Over this was a large scale for weighing organs. At the foot was a tray for dissecting. The table itself was concave in shape, with high sides to keep matter from spilling over and a pronounced downward slant toward a large brass drain.
Carlos, Sara's assistant at the morgue, had placed a white sheet over Jenny Weaver's body. A medium-sized red dot spread out over the part that covered her throat. Sara had let Carlos take care of Jenny while she worked on the child. He had taken the X rays and prepared Jenny for autopsy while Sara had tried in vain to do something right for the baby. If Carlos was surprised when Sara told him to go home when he was finished with Jenny, he did not say.
Sara folded back the sheet, stopping just above the girl's chest. The wound was far from clean and most of the right side of her neck dangled like pieces of raw meat. Cartilage and bone stood out from the black blood that had clotted around the wound.
Sara walked over to the light box on the wall and turned it on. The light flickered, then showed the X rays Carlos had taken of Jenny Weaver.
She studied the films carefully, at first not understanding what she was seeing. She checked the name on the chart again before calling out her findings. "You can see here there are faded lines of a fracture to the left humerus, which I would date at less than a year old. It's not a typical fracture, especially for someone who was not athletic, so I'm assuming it came from some kind of abuse."
"Did you treat her for this?" Jeffrey asked.
"Of course not," Sara answered. "I would have reported it. Any doctor would have reported it."
"Okay," Jeffrey said, holding up his hands. Her tone must have been sharper than Sara realized, because Lena seemed to be taking a sudden interest in the floor.
Sara turned back to the X ray. "There's also evidence of trauma around the costal cartilage, which is here in the rib." She pointed to the chest film. "Up here, near the sternum, there's bruising that's consistent with a hard push or shove, moving posteriorly. That's to the back." She let this sink in, wondering if Jenny had seen another doctor for this. A first-year resident would recognize something was not right with this kind of injury.
Sara said, "I would guess the person who did this was taller than her. It's recent, too."
Sara popped a new X ray into the light box. She crossed her arms over her chest, studying the film. "This is the pelvic girdle," she explained. "Note the fade line here against the ischium. This would indicate traumatic pressure to the pubis. It's what's commonly referred to as a stress fracture."
"Stress from what?" Jeffrey asked.
Sara was surprised when Lena provided the answer to Jeffrey.
"She was raped," Lena said, the same way she might say the girl's eyes were blue. "Raped hard. Right?"
Sara nodded, and was about to say something else when she heard footsteps on the stairs again. She guessed from the sloppy lope that Brad had returned.
"Here you go," Brad said, walking backward through the door. He held an armful of sheets, his hat dangling from his hand.
Sara stopped him, asking, "Did you get pillowcases?"
"Oh," Brad said, surprised. He shook his head. "Sorry, no."
"I think they're on the top floor," Sara said. "Could you get at least four?"
"Yes, ma'am," he answered, setting the sheets down on a table by the door.
Lena crossed her arms as he left. "He's not twelve," she said.
Jeffrey spoke to Lena for the first time since she had entered the morgue, giving her an uncharacteristic, "Shut up."
Lena colored, but she was silent; also out of character.
"The bruising on her chest couldn't really be treated with anything other than Tylenol," Sara continued. "The pelvic fracture could heal on its own. It might explain why she had weight gain recently. It would be hard for her to get around."
Jeffrey asked, "You think the boyfriend was abusing her?"
"Someone was," Sara said, looking over the films again, trying to see if she had missed anything. All the times she had seen Jenny Weaver, Sara had never suspected child abuse. How the child had kept it hidden, and why, Sara did not know. Of course, it wasn't as if Sara ordered X rays for sore throats, Jenny
take off her clothes, evidently and Jenny had never taken off her clothes for an examination. Teenage girls were very sensitive about their bodies, and Sara had always slipped her stethoscope under Jenny's shirt to listen to her chest and lungs so the girl would not be embarrassed.
Sara walked over to the table to resume the preliminary examination. Her hands shook slightly as she pulled back the sheet, and Sara was so absorbed in trying to get her hands to stop shaking that she did not notice what she was uncovering.
"Holy shit," Lena said, giving another low whistle.
Jeffrey did not reprimand her this time, though, and Sara understood why. There were small cuts across the girl's body, specifically on her arms and legs. The wounds were at various stages of healing, but some of them looked as recent as the last few days.
"What happened?" Jeffrey asked. "Was she trying to kill herself?"
Sara looked at the slices marking the skin. None of them was across the wrist or in places that would be apparent to anyone who was not looking for something specific. This would at least explain why the girl was wearing a long-sleeved shirt in the middle of summer. Thin rows of very deep cuts lined Jenny's left forearm, starting about three inches from the wrist and where the sleeve might have rolled up. Dark scars indicated that the injuries were a common occurrence. The leg cuts were much deeper, and seemed to have a crisscross pattern to them. Sara could guess from the scarring that the deeper cuts radiated from the knee to the thigh. The girl had done this to herself.
"What is this?" Jeffrey asked, though he must have known.
"Cutting," Lena provided.
"Self-injuring," Sara corrected her, as if that made it any better. "I've seen it at the clinic before."
"Why?" Jeffrey asked. "Why would someone do this?"
"Stupidity, for the most part," Sara told him, feeling anger well into her stomach. How many times had she seen this girl? How many signs had Sara missed? "Sometimes they just want to know what it feels like. Usually they're just acting out, not thinking about the consequences. This, though," she stopped, staring at the deep cuts along Jenny's left thigh. "This is something else. She hid them, she didn't want people to know."
"Why?" Jeffrey repeated. "Why would she do this?"
"Control," Lena answered him, and Sara did not like the look she was giving the child. It was almost respectful.
"It's a deep psychosis," Sara countered. "Usually bulimics or anorexics do it. It's a form of self-loathing." She gave Lena a purposeful look. "Usually something sets it off. Abuse or rape, for instance."
Lena held her gaze for just a second before looking away.
Sara continued, "There are other things that can lead to it, too. Substance abuse, mental illness, problems at school or at home."
Sara walked over to the supply cabinet and took out a plastic speculum. After slipping on a second pair of gloves, she unwrapped the speculum and clicked it open. Lena cringed slightly at the sound, and Sara was thankful that the detective was capable of showing a little emotion.
Sara walked down to the foot of the body and propped the feet apart. She stopped suddenly, her mind not accept-ing what her eyes saw. She dropped the speculum on the table.
Lena asked, "What is it?"
Sara did not answer. She had thought that after tonight nothing could shock her. She had been so wrong.
"What is it?" Lena repeated.
"She hasn't given birth to a child," Sara answered. "Any child."
Jeffrey indicated the unused speculum. "How can you be sure without completely examining her?"
Sara stared at them both, not sure how to say this. "Her vagina has been sewn shut," she finally told them. "From the rate of healing, I'd say it's been that way for at least six months."
Lena ran her tongue along her front teeth as she stared out the car window. She could not get used to the fake feeling of the temporary partials. In three weeks, she would be fitted with four permanent replacements that would screw into her gums like tiny lightbulbs. She could not imagine how that would feel. For now, they served as a constant reminder of what had happened to her four months ago.
She tried to block out the memory as she watched the scenery go by. Grant County was a small town, but not as small as Reece, where Lena and Sibyl, her twin sister, had grown up. Their father had been killed in the line of duty eight months before they were born and their mother had died giving birth to them. The task of raising the girls had fallen to their uncle Hank Norton, an admitted speed freak and alcoholic, who had struggled with both addictions well into the girls' childhood. One sunny afternoon, a drunk Hank had backed his car down the driveway and slammed into Sibyl. Lena had always blamed him for blinding her sister. She would never forgive Hank for his role in the accident, and his response to her hatred was a seemingly insurmountable wall of anger. They had a past, the two of them, that prevented each from reaching out to the other. Even now, with Sibyl dead and Lena just as good as, Lena could not see Hank Norton as anything but a necessary evil in her life.
"Hot outside," Hank mumbled as he patted the back of his neck with a worn-looking handkerchief. Lena could barely hear him over the roar of the air-conditioning. Hank's old Mercedes sedan was a tank of a car, and everything inside the cab seemed overdone. The seats were too big. There was enough legroom to accommodate a horse. The controls on the dash were large and obvious, their design intended to impress more than elucidate. Still, it was comforting being inside something so solid. Even on the gravel road down from Lena 's house, the car seemed to float across the ground.
"Sure is hot," Hank repeated. The older he got, the more he did this, as if repeating phrases made up for the fact that he didn't have much to say.
"Yeah," Lena agreed, staring back out the window. She could feel Hank looking at her, probably contemplating small talk. After a few beats, he seemed to give up on this, and turned on the radio instead.
Lena leaned her head back against the seat, closing her eyes. She had agreed to go to church with her uncle one Sunday shortly after she had gotten home from the hospital, and her attendance had turned into a habit over the ensuing months. Lena tagged along more because she was afraid to stay alone in her own home than because she wanted absolution. In her mind, Lena would never need forgiveness for anything ever again. She had paid her dues to God or whomever was keeping track of things four months ago, raped and dragged into a nightmare world of pain and false transcendence.
Hank interrupted her again. "You doin' okay, baby?"
What a stupid question, Lena thought. What a stupid fucking question.
"Yes," she answered, conscious that the word hissed through her temporary teeth.
" Nan called again," he told her.
"I know," Lena said. Nan Thomas, Sibyl's lover at the time of her death, had been calling off and on for the last month.
"She's got some of Sibby's stuff," Hank said, though surely he knew Lena was aware of this. "She just wants to give it to you."
"Why doesn't she give it to you?" Lena countered. There was no reason she needed to see that woman, and Hank knew it. Still, he kept forcing the issue.
Hank changed the subject. "That girl last night," he began, turning down the radio. "You were there, huh?"
"Yes," she said, making the same hissing sound. Lena clenched her jaw, willing herself not to cry. Would she ever talk normally again? Would even the sound of her voice be a constant reminder of what
did to her?
, Lena thought, unable to let her mind use his name. Her hands rested in her lap, and she looked down, staring at the matching scars on the back of her hands. If Hank had not been there, she would have turned them over, looked at the palms where the nails had pierced through as they were hammered into the floor. The same scars were on her feet, midway between her toes and ankles. Two months of physical therapy had returned the normal use of her hands and she could now walk without cringing, but the scars would always be there.
Lena had only a few sharp memories of what had happened to her body while she was abducted. Only the scars and her chart at the hospital told the entire story. All she remembered were the moments when the drugs wore off and
came to her, sitting by her on the floor as if they were at Bible camp, telling stories about his childhood and his life as if they were lovers, just getting to know each other.
Lena 's mind was filled with the details of his life: his first kiss, his first time making love, his hopes and dreams, his sick obsessions. They came to her now as easily as memories from her own past. Had she told him similar stories about herself? She could not remember, and this scarred her more deeply than the physical aspects of the attack. At times, Lena thought of the scars as inconsequential compared to the intimate conversations she had with her abuser. He had manipulated Lena so that she was no longer in control of her own thoughts. He had not just raped her body, but her mind as well.
Even now, his memories constantly mingled with her own, until she was uncertain whether or not something had happened to her or to him. Sibyl, the one person who could settle this, the one person who could give Lena back her life, her childhood, had been taken by him as well.
"Lee?" Hank interrupted her thoughts, holding out a pack of gum. She shook her head no, watching him try to hold the wheel and retrieve a stick of Juicy Fruit. The sleeves of his dress shirt were rolled up, and she could see the track marks lining his pasty white forearms. They were hideous, these scars, and they reminded Lena of Jenny Weaver. Last night, Jeffrey had kept asking why anyone would purposefully cut herself, but Lena understood how pain could be a comfort. About six weeks after being released from the hospital, Lena had accidentally slammed her fingers in the door of her car. Searing hot pain had radiated up her arm, and for the briefest moment, Lena had caught herself enjoying it, thinking,
is what it's like to feel again
She closed her eyes, clasping her hands in her lap. As usual, her fingers found the scars and she traced the circumference of one, then the other. There had been no pain when it had happened. The drug had convinced her that she was floating on the ocean, that she was safe. Her mind had created an alternate reality from the one her rapist created. When he touched her, Lena 's mind had told her it was Greg Mitchell, her old boyfriend, inside of her. Lena 's body had responded to Greg, not
Yet, the few times since then that Lena had been able to sleep long enough to dream, she had dreamed of her rapist touching her, not Greg. It was
hands on her breasts. It was
inside of her. And when she awakened, startled and scared, it was not Greg that she looked for in her dark, empty room.
Lena clenched her fists when the sickly sweet smell of Hank's chewing gum hit her. Without warning, her stomach pitched.
"Pull over," she managed, using one hand to cover her mouth, grabbing the door handle with the other. Hank abruptly swerved the car to the side of the road just as Lena lost it. She had only had a cup of coffee for breakfast, but that and more came up quickly. Soon, she was dry heaving, her stomach clenching. Tears came to her eyes from the exertion, and her body shook hard as she tried to hold herself up.
After what seemed like several minutes, the nausea finally passed. Lena wiped her mouth with the back of her hand just as Hank tapped her on the shoulder, offering his handkerchief. The cloth was warm and smelled of his sweat, but she used it anyway.
"Your gum," she mumbled, grasping the dashboard as she tried to sit up. "I don't know why-"
"It's okay," he answered abruptly. The window sucked down at the press of a button, and he spit out the gum before pulling onto the road again. Hank stared straight ahead, his jaw a straight line.
"I'm sorry," she said, not knowing why she was apologizing even as she said the words. Hank seemed angry, but she knew his animosity was directed toward himself for not knowing how to help, not at Lena. It was a familiar scene that had played out every day since she had come home from the hospital.
Lena reached around to retrieve her purse from the back seat. There were Pepto Bismol tablets and Altoids in there for this very occasion. She hated her days off from work. When she was on the job, she was too busy to allow the luxury of these episodes. There were reports to fill out, and calls to make. She knew who she was at the station, and riding around with Brad, an assignment she had balked at initially, made her feel competent and safe.
It wasn't that she was throwing herself into her job because being a cop was the only thing keeping her alive. Lena knew better than that. She would feel the same way if she were a cashier at the hardware store or a janitor at the high school. Crime and criminals had as much meaning to her as giving out the correct change would, or getting a stain off the cafeteria floor. What her job gave her these days was structure. She had to show up at eight in the morning. Certain tasks were expected of her. Brad needed direction. At noon, they had lunch, or, rather, Brad did. Lena did not have an appetite lately. Around three, they stopped for coffee at the Donut King over in Madison. They were back at the station by six and Lena 's world fell apart until it was time to go back to work the next day. On the rare nights-nights like last night-when Jeffrey allowed her to take overtime, she nearly wept with relief.
Hank asked, "You okay now?" the accusatory tone still in his voice.
She gave it right back to him. "Just drop it."
"Yeah, okay," he answered, thumping the turning signal down as he stopped behind a line of cars in front of the church. They were both silent as the car inched closer to the parking lot.
Lena looked up at the small white building, resenting it for being there. She had never liked church and had even been thrown out of Sunday school at the age of twelve for ripping out the pages of a Bible. When Hank had confronted her, she had told him she had done it out of boredom, but the truth was that even then Lena had resented rules. She hated being told what to do. She could not follow an authority that had not proven itself to her. The only reason she was good at being a cop was she had a certain degree of autonomy in the field, and everyone had to listen to
when she told them to.
"That girl," Hank said, picking up the conversation as if the last ten minutes had not happened. "It's a sad thing, what she did."
"Yeah," Lena shrugged, not really wanting to think about it.
"People get lost along the way, I guess," Hank said. "Don't ask nobody for help until it's too late." He paused, then, "Not until it's too late."
She knew what he was doing, making a comparison between the dead girl and herself. Some bullshit A.A. pamphlet probably had the directions for doing this on the back, right beside a little space where you could fill in your sponsor's name and phone number.
Lena snapped, "If I was going to kill myself, I would have done it my first day home."
"I wasn't talking about you," Hank shot back.
"Bullshit," she hissed. She waited a beat, then said, "I thought you were going home soon."
"I am," he answered.
"Good," she told him, and for the moment, she really meant it. Hank had been living with her since she came home from the hospital, and Lena was over having him pry into every part of her life.
"I got a business to run," he told her, as if the dilapidated bar he owned on the outskirts of Reece was IBM. "I need to get back to it. I'll leave tonight if you want me to."
"Fine," she said, but her heart started pounding at the thought of being alone at night. Lena did not want Hank in her home, but she knew that she would never feel safe if he left. Even during the daytime when she was working and Hank went to check on his bar, she felt an aching fear that he would get into a car accident or just decide not to come back at all, and Lena would have to come home to a dark, empty house. Hank was not just an unwanted house guest. He was her shield.
He told her, "I got better things I could be doing."
She was quiet, though in her mind, she repeated her mantra-please don't leave me, please don't leave me. Her throat was closing up with the need to say it out loud.
The car jerked as Hank accelerated, taking a parking space close to the chapel. He slammed the gear into park and the old sedan rocked back and forth several times before it settled.
He glanced at her, and she could tell that he knew he had her. "You want me to go? Tell me to go, then. You never had a hard time telling me to leave before."
She bit her lip hard, wanting to taste blood. Instead of her flesh giving, her front teeth moved, and she put her hand to her mouth, startled by the reminder.
"What? You can't talk now?"
Lena choked a sob, overcome with emotion.
Hank looked away from her, waiting for her to get hold of herself. She knew that he could listen to a room full of strangers whine about wanting needles in their arms or double shots of whiskey, but could not handle Lena 's tears. Part of her also knew that he hated Lena for crying. Sibyl had been his baby, the one he had taken care of. Lena was the strong one who didn't need anybody. The role reversal had knocked him on his ass.
"You gotta go to that therapist," Hank barked at her, still angry. "Your chief told you that. It's a requirement, and you're not doing it."
She shook her head side to side in a violent arc, her hand still at her mouth.
"You don't run anymore. You don't work out," he began, as if this was part of an indictment against her. "You go to bed at nine and don't get up until late as you can the next morning," he continued. "You don't take care of yourself anymore."