Read Kisscut Online

Authors: Karin Slaughter

Tags: #Medical, #General, #Suspense, #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Political, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths

Kisscut (5 page)

BOOK: Kisscut
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"I take care of myself," she mumbled.

"You go see a therapist or I'm leaving today, Lee." He put his hand over hers, forcing her to turn her head. "I am serious as a fucking heart attack, child."

Suddenly, his expression changed, and the hard lines around his face softened. He pushed back her hair with his fingers, his touch light against her skin. Hank was trying to be paternal with her, but the soft way he touched her was a sickening reminder of the way
had touched her before. The tenderness had been the worst part: the soft strokes, the delicate way he used his tongue and fingers to soothe and stimulate her, the agonizingly slow way he had fucked her, as if he were making love to her instead of raping her.

Lena started to shake. She could not stop herself. Hank moved his hand away quickly, as if he had just realized he was touching something dead. Lena jerked back, her head banging into the window.

"Don't ever do that again," she warned, but there was only fear in her voice. "Don't touch me. Don't ever touch me like that. Do you hear me?" She panted, trying to swallow the bile that came up her throat.

"I know," he said, holding his hand close to her back but not touching her. "I know that. I'm sorry."

Lena grabbed for the door handle, missing it several times because her hands were shaking so hard. She stepped out of the car, taking gulps of air into her lungs. The heat enveloped her, and she squeezed her eyes shut, trying not to make the connection between the heat and her dreams of floating on the ocean.

She heard a familiar friendly voice behind her. "Hey there, Hank," Dave Fine, the pastor of the church, said.

"Good morning, sir," Hank returned, his voice kinder than it ever was when he spoke to Lena. She had heard Hank use that tone before, but only with Sibyl. For Lena, there had always been nothing but sharp words of criticism.

Lena concentrated on getting her breathing back under control before she turned around. She could not smile, but she felt the corners of her mouth rise slightly in what must have seemed like a pained grimace to the pastor.

"Good morning, detective," Dave Fine said, the preacher-compassion in his voice getting under her skin worse than anything Hank had said in the car. For the last four months, Hank had been pushing Dave Fine on Lena, trying to get her to talk to the preacher. Pastor Fine was also a psychologist, or so he said, and saw patients in the evenings. Lena did not want to talk to the man about the weather, let alone what had happened to her. It wasn't that Fine was the Antichrist, it was that of all the people Lena could possibly talk to, a preacher would be the last one she would pick. It was like Hank had forgotten exactly what had happened to her in that dark room.

She gave him a curt "Pastor," walking past him, her purse tight to her chest like an old lady at a rummage sale.

She could feel his eyes on her back, hear Hank make his apologies as she walked away from them. Lena felt a flush of shame for being rude to Fine. It wasn't his fault-he was a nice enough man-but there was really nothing she could say to make them understand.

She quickened her step, her eyes staring straight ahead as she walked toward the church. A crowd of people milling around the entrance parted for her as she took the steps one at a time, forcing herself to move slowly and not run into the church like her body ached to do. Everyone except for Brad Stephens, who grinned at her like a puppy, found something better to do as she ascended the stairs. Matt Hogan, who was Frank Wallace's partner now that Lena had been assigned to patrol, focused on lighting his cigarette as if he were attempting nuclear fusion in the palm of his hand.

Lena kept her chin raised, her eyes averted so that no one would talk to her. Still, she could feel them staring at her, and she knew they would start whispering as soon as they thought she was out of earshot.

The people were the worst part about going to church. The whole town knew what had happened to her. They knew she had been kidnapped and raped. They had read every detail of the assault in the paper. They had followed her recovery and return home from the hospital the way they followed their soap operas and football games. Lena could not go to the store without someone trying to look at the scars on her hands. She could not walk through a crowded room without someone casting a sad, pathetic look her way. As if they could understand what she had been through. As if they knew what it was like to be strong and invincible one day and completely powerless the next. And the next.

The doors to the church were closed to keep the cold air in and the heat out. Lena reached for the handle just as one of the deacons did, and their hands brushed. She jerked back as if she had touched fire, waiting for the door to open, keeping her eyes cast down. Walking through the foyer and then into the chapel, she stared at the red carpet, the white molding trimming out the bottom of the pews lining the large room, so that no one would think to talk to her.

Inside, the church was simple by Baptist standards, and small considering the size of the town. Most of the older residents attended the Primitive Baptist on Stokes Street, their tithes going with them. Crescent Baptist Church was about thirty years old, and they hosted singles parties and divorce recovery groups and Parents Without Partners get-togethers in the basement of the small chapel. Crescent was not about a vengeful God. Sermons were about forgiveness and love, charity and peace. Pastor Fine would never admonish his congregation for their sins or threaten them with hell and brimstone. This was a place of joy, or so the church bulletin said. Lena was not surprised at all that Hank had chosen it. His A.A. meetings were held in the basement, right beside the parenting class for teens.

Lena took a pew close to the front, knowing Hank would want to be close to the pastor for his usual Sunday dose of forgiveness. Dave Fine's wife and two kids were in front of her, but thankfully they didn't turn around. Lena crossed her legs, smoothing out her pants until she felt the woman down at the other end of the pew staring at her hands. Lena crossed her arms and looked up at the stage. The pulpit sat in the center, large velvet-covered chairs fanning out from it on either side. Behind this was the choir loft, the organ to the side. Its pipes climbed the walls like a vertical rib cage on either side of the baptismal. In the center of it all was Jesus, his arms spread out, his feet crossed one over the other.

Lena made herself look away as Hank slid into the pew beside her. She checked her watch. The nine-thirty service would start soon. It would last an hour, then Sunday school would be another half hour. They would leave around eleven, then go to the Waffle House off Route 2 where Hank would eat lunch and Lena would nurse a cup of coffee. They would be home by noon. Lena would clean the house then work on a couple of reports. At one-thirty, she was expected at the station to go over the Jenny Weaver case. The briefing would take about three hours if she was lucky, then it would be time to come home and get ready for the Sunday potluck and the evening service. After that, there was some kind of choir concert that would last until around nine-thirty. By the time they got home, it would be well past time for Lena to go to bed.

She exhaled slowly as she thought this through, inordinately relieved to know that today, at least, she had things to do. Her hours were spoken for.

"About to start," Hank whispered. He took a hymnal out of the rack in front of them as the organ music started. He fidgeted with the book, then said, "Pastor Fine says you can come by tomorrow after work."

Lena pretended not to hear him, but her mental clock made a note of the appointment; at least it would be something to do. At least in agreeing to see him it would keep Hank in town a little longer.

"Lee?" he tried. Finally, he gave up as the choir started its hymn.

Lena stood with the crowd, Hank's baritone vibrating in her ear as he sang "Nearer My God to Thee." Lena did not bother to mouth the words. She traced her tongue along her front teeth, following Hank's finger along the page as he kept his place in the song. Finally, she looked back at the cross. Lena felt a lightness, an eerie kind of peace, staring at the crucifixion. As much as she wanted to deny it, there was something comforting about its familiarity.

Chapter Five

Sara kept her dark green BMW Z3 in second gear as she drove through downtown Heartsdale. The car had been an impulse buy insofar as any purchase that ran over thirty thousand dollars could be considered impulsive. At the time Sara bought it, the ink was just drying on her divorce papers, and she had wanted something impractical and a little flashy. The Z3 more than fit the bill. Unfortunately, as soon as she drove the thing back from the Macon dealership, Sara realized that a car was not going to make her feel better. As a matter of fact, she had felt conspicuous and silly, especially when her family was through with her. Two years later, Sara still sometimes felt a tinge of embarrassment when she saw the car parked in her driveway.

Billy, one of her two greyhounds, rode in the passenger's seat, his head ducked down because the clearance in the small sports car was too low for him. He licked his lips occasionally, but was quiet for the most part, keeping his eyes closed as the cold air from the vents pushed back his pointy ears. His lips tugged up a bit at the edges, as if he was smiling, enjoying the ride. Sara watched him out of the corner of her eye, wishing life could just once be that simple for her.

Main Street was fairly empty, since none of the shops stayed open on Sunday. Except for the hardware store and the five-and-dime, most of them were closed by noon on Saturday. Sara had been born here, right down the street at the Grant Medical Center back when it was the only hospital in the region. She knew every part of this street like a favorite book.

Sara made a slow turn at the college gates and coasted into her parking space in front of the Heartsdale Children's Clinic. Despite the fact that she had the air on high, the back of her legs stuck to the leather car seat as she opened the door. She braced herself for the heat, but it was still overwhelming. Even Billy paused before jumping out of the car. He looked around the parking lot, probably regretting that he had come along with Sara instead of staying in the cool house with Bob.

Sara used the back of her hand to wipe her forehead. She had thrown on a pair of cutoff jeans, a sleeveless undershirt, and one of Jeffrey's old dress shirts this morning, but nothing could keep the heat and humidity at bay. Rain, when it deigned to come, was about as useless as throwing water on a grease fire. Some days, it was hard for Sara to remember what it was like to be cold.

"Come on," Sara told the dog, tugging at his retractable leash.

As usual, Billy ignored her. She let the leash out and he showed her his skinny behind as he loped toward the back of the building. There were scars on his hind legs and rear end from where the gates had popped him one too many times at the racetrack. It broke Sara's heart every time she saw them.

Billy took his time doing his business, lazily lifting his leg against the tree closest to the building. The college owned the property behind the clinic, and they kept it heavily forested. There were trails back there that the students jogged along when it was not too hot to breathe. Sara had watched the Savannah news this morning and learned that they were advising people not to go outside in the heat unless they absolutely had to.

Sara checked her key ring and found the one for the back door. By the time she had it open, sweat was trickling down her neck and back. There was a bowl by the door, and she used the outside hose to fill it while Billy scratched his back on the grass.

Inside the clinic was just as hot as out, mostly because Dr. Barney, who had been a better pediatrician than architect, had insisted on lining the south-facing front wall of the building with heat-trapping glass brick. Sara could not imagine what the temperature must be in the waiting room. The back of the building seemed hot enough to boil water.

Sara did not have enough saliva left to whistle. She held the door open, waiting for Billy to amble in. After a long drink of water, he finally came. Sara watched as he stopped in the middle of the hallway, glanced around, then fell onto the floor with a snort. Looking at the lazy animal, it was hard to imagine the years he had spent racing at the track over in Ebro. Sara leaned down to pet him and remove his leash before heading back to her office.

The layout at the clinic was typical of most pediatricians' offices. A long L-shaped hallway lined the length of the building, with three exam rooms on either side. Two exam rooms were at the back of the L, though one of them was used for storage. In the center of the hallway was a nurses' station that served as the central brain of the clinic. There was a computer that held current patient information and a row of floor-to-ceiling filing cabinets where current charts were kept. There was another chart room behind the waiting room that was filled with information on patients dating back to 1969. One day, they would have to be purged, but Sara did not have that kind of time and she could not bring herself to ask the staff to do something she herself was not prepared to do.

Sara's tennis shoes snicked as she walked across the clean tile floor. She did not bother to turn on the lights. Sara knew this place in the dark, but that was not the only reason she left them off. The flickering of a fluorescent light, the click of brightness as the tubes came to life, would seem intrusive considering the task ahead.

By the time she reached her office across from the nurses' station she had already unbuttoned her overshirt and tied it around her waist. She wasn't wearing a bra, but she did not expect to run into anyone who would care.

Pictures of patients lined her office walls. Initially, a grateful mother had given Sara a school snapshot of a child. Sara had stuck it on the wall, then a day later another photo had come, and she had taped it beside the first. Twelve years had passed since then and now photographs spilled into the hallway and the staff bathroom. Sara could remember them all: their runny noses and earaches, their school crushes and family problems. Brad Stephens's senior picture was somewhere near the shower in the bathroom. The photo of a boy named Jimmy Powell, a patient who just a few months ago had been diagnosed with leukemia, had been moved by Sara's phone so that she could remember him every day. He was in the hospital now, and Sara knew in her gut that within the next few months another patient of hers would be put into the ground.

Jenny Weaver's picture was not on the wall. Her mother had never brought one in. Sara only had the girl's chart to help reconstruct their history together.

The filing cabinet drawer groaned as Sara yanked it open. The unit was as old as Dr. Barney and just as difficult. No amount of WD-40 would fix it.

"Crap," Sara hissed as the cabinet tilted forward. The top drawer was full to overflowing, and she had to use her free hand to keep the whole cabinet from falling.

Quickly, Sara ran her fingers along the file tabs, reading off Weaver on her second run through. She pushed the cabinet back, slamming the drawer into the unit. The sound was loud in the small office. Sara was tempted to open it and slam it again, just to make some noise.

She snapped on her desk lamp as she sat, her sweaty legs skidding on the vinyl seat. Probably it would have been wiser to take the chart home. At the very least, it would be more comfortable. Sara did not want comfort, though. She considered it a small penance to sit in the heat and try to find what she had missed over the last three years.

Her wire-rimmed reading glasses were in the breast pocket of her shirt, and Sara felt a moment of panic, thinking she had broken them when she sat down. They were bent, but otherwise fine. She slipped on her glasses, took a deep breath, and opened the chart.

Jenny Weaver had first come to the clinic three years ago. At ten years old, the child's weight had been within normal ranges in relation to her height. Her first ailment had been a persistent sore throat that a round of antibiotics had evidently cured. There was a follow-up notation in the chart, and from what Sara could barely decipher from her own handwriting, Dottie Weaver had been contacted a week later by phone to make sure Jenny was responding to treatment. She had been.

About two years ago, Jenny had started to put on weight. Unfortunately, this was not uncommon these days, especially for girls like Jenny, who had gotten her first menstrual period shortly after her eleventh birthday. Their lives were more sedentary, and fast food was more readily available than it should be. Hormones in meat and dairy products helped the process along. Case studies in some of the journals Sara read were already dealing with ways to treat girls who entered puberty as early as eight years old.

Sara continued reading through Jenny's chart. Shortly after the weight gain began, Jenny had been diagnosed with a urinary tract infection. Three months later, the girl had come in with a yeast infection. According to Sara's notes, there was nothing suspicious about this at the time. In retrospect, Sara questioned her judgment. The infections could have been the beginning of a pattern. She turned to the next page, noting the date. Jenny had come in a year later with another urinary tract infection. A year was a long time, but Sara pulled out a sheet of paper and made notes of the dates, as well as the two other visits Jenny had made after, both for sore throats. Perhaps Jenny's parents shared custody. They could trace the dates to see if they corresponded with visits to her father.

Sara set down her pen, trying to recall what she knew about Jenny Weaver's father. Mothers were more likely to bring their children into the clinic, and as far as Sara could remember she had never met Jenny's father. Some women, especially women who were recently divorced, would volunteer information about their husbands as if their children were not in the room. Sara was always uncomfortable when this happened, and she usually managed to cut it off before it could really start, but some women talked over her, bringing up the kind of personal information that a child should never know about either parent. Dottie Weaver had never done this. She was talkative enough, even chatty, but Dottie had never disparaged her ex-husband at the clinic, even though Sara had gathered from the sporadic way the single mother paid her insurance balance that money was tight.

Sara's glasses slipped up as she rubbed her eyes. She glanced at the clock on the wall. Sunday lunch at her parents' was at eleven, then Jeffrey was expecting her at the station around one-thirty.

Sara shook her head, skipping over any thoughts of Jeffrey. A headache had settled into the base of her neck and the dull throbbing made it difficult to concentrate. She took off her glasses and cleaned them with her shirttail, hoping this might help her see things more clearly.

"Hello?" Sara called, throwing open the door to her parents' house. The cold air inside brought welcome goose bumps to her clammy skin.

"In here," her mother said from the kitchen.

Sara dropped her briefcase by the door and kicked off her tennis shoes before walking to the back of the house. Billy trotted in front of her, giving Sara a hard look, as if to ask why they had spent all that time in the hot clinic when they could have been here in the air-conditioning. To punctuate his displeasure, he collapsed onto his side halfway down the hallway so that Sara had to step over him to get to the back of the house.

When Sara walked into the kitchen, Cathy was standing at the stove frying chicken. Her mother was still dressed in her church clothes, but had taken off her shoes and panty-hose. A white apron that read don't mess with the chef was tied loosely around her waist.

"Hey, Mama," Sara offered, kissing her cheek. Sara was the tallest person in her family, and she could rest her chin on her mother's head without straining her neck. Tessa had inherited Cathy Linton's petite build and blonde hair. Sara had inherited her pragmatism.

Cathy gave Sara a disapproving look. "Did you forget to put on a bra this morning?"

Sara felt her face redden as she untied the shirt she was wearing around her waist. She slipped it on over her T-shirt, offering, "I was in the clinic. I didn't think I'd be there long enough to turn on the air."

"It's too hot to be frying," Cathy countered. "But your father wanted chicken."

Sara got the lesson on sacrificing things for your family, but answered instead, "You should have told him to go to Chick's."

"He doesn't need to eat that trash."

Sara let this go, sighing much as Billy had. She buttoned the shirt to the top, giving her mother a tight smile as she asked, "Better?"

Cathy nodded, taking a paper napkin off the counter and wiping her forehead. "It's not even noon and it's already ninety degrees out."

"I know," Sara answered, tucking a foot underneath her as she sat on the kitchen stool. She watched her mother move around the kitchen, glad for the normalcy. Cathy was wearing a linen dress with thin, vertical green stripes. Her blonde hair, which was only slightly streaked with gray, was pulled up behind her head in a loose ponytail, much the same way Sara wore hers.

Cathy blew her nose into the napkin, then threw it in the trash. "Tell me about last night," she said, returning to the stove.

Sara shrugged. "Jeffrey didn't have a choice."

"I never doubted that. I want to know how you're holding up."

Sara considered the question. The truth was, she was not holding up well at all.

Cathy seemed to sense this. She slipped a fresh piece of battered chicken into the hot oil and turned to face her daughter. "I called you last night to check in with you."

Sara stared at her mother, forcing herself not to look away. "I was at Jeffrey's."

"I figured that, but your father drove by his house just to make sure."

"Daddy did?" Sara asked, surprised. "Why?"

"We thought you would come here," Cathy answered. "When you weren't at home, that was the obvious place to check."

Sara crossed her arms. "Don't you think that's a little intrusive?"

"Not nearly as intrusive as childbirth," Cathy snapped, pointing at Sara with her fork. "Next time, call."

After almost forty years, Cathy could still make Sara feel like a child. Sara looked out the window, feeling as if she had been caught doing something wrong.

BOOK: Kisscut
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