Authors: Karin Slaughter
Tags: #Medical, #General, #Suspense, #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Political, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths
"No," Dottie answered firmly. "As a matter of fact, she went on a youth retreat with the church the week after Christmas. They all went to Gatlinburg to go skiing. I didn't want her out of the house around the holidays, but she had her heart set on it, and she had brought her grades up in school, so…" She let her voice trail off.
"So, she was gone a week?"
"Yes, a week, but then I had to go to my sister's in Ohio because she wasn't feeling well." Dottie pressed her lips together. "Eunice, my sister, was diagnosed with emphysema a couple of months prior to that. She's doing better now, but it was a really difficult time."
"Jenny was alone in the house then?"
"Oh, no," Dottie shook her head. "Of course not. She stayed with the Pattersons for three or four days, then I came back."
"That was normal, for her to stay with the Pattersons?"
"Yes, then it was," Dottie provided. "Every weekend Lacey would stay over or Jenny would go to the Pattersons'."
"You know the Pattersons well?"
"Teddy and Grace?" She nodded. "Oh, yes, they both go to the church. I'm not too crazy about Teddy," she said, lowering her voice a little. "You can see where Mark gets it, I'll tell you that."
"He's just kind of…" Dottie began, then shrugged. "I don't know. If you ever meet him, you'll see what I mean."
"So," Lena summed it up. "At Christmas, Jenny was on the church retreat, then she stayed with the Pattersons, then she stopped going to church and stopped talking to the Pattersons?"
"Well," Dottie seemed to go over this in her mind. "Yes, I guess so. I mean, it seems that way now. Before, when it was happening, I didn't make a connection."
"Did you ever suspect your daughter of using drugs?"
"Oh, no, she was adamantly against them," Dottie answered. "She didn't even drink caffeine, and just recently she cut out all sugar."
"For her weight?"
"For her health, she said. She wanted to make her body pure."
" 'Pure,'" Lena repeated. "Did that have something to do with the church, do you think?"
"She had stopped going by then," Dottie reminded her. "I don't know why she did it. We were driving home from school one day, and she just said it: 'I don't want to eat anything with sugar in it anymore. I want my body to be pure.'"
"This didn't strike you as odd?"
"At the time, no," Dottie said. "I mean, maybe it did, but she had been acting so strange lately. Not strange like you would notice, but strange like she stopped drinking Co-Colas when she got home from school, and she started concentrating more on her homework. It was like she was trying to do better. She was more like her old self."
"Her old self before she started hanging out with the Patterson children?"
"Yes, I guess you could say that." Dottie pursed her lips. "It was very strange, because Lacey was a cheerleader, and very popular, and from the day Jenny walked through the school doors Lacey tortured her."
Sara asked, "Tortured her how?"
"Just mean," Dottie answered. "Teasing her about her weight. And this was back when she was just a little chubby. Not like she's been lately."
"You don't think Lacey or Mark ever hit her?"
Dottie seemed surprised. "Heavens no. I would have called the police." She patted her eyes with the tissue. "They just teased her is all. Nothing physical. Like I said, they became friends."
Lena said, "Why did that change?"
"I don't really know. Maybe when they all went from the middle school to the senior high. It's a big adjustment. I think Lacey didn't make the cheerleading team, and she kind of dropped in the pecking order. You know how kids are. They want to belong. Now that I think about it, the sugar thing was probably Lacey's idea."
"Lacey's?" Lena asked.
"Oh, yes. She was always coming up with things for them to do. What kind of clothes they would wear to school, where they would go for the weekend. They spent hours on the telephone talking about it."
Lena smiled. "My sister and I used to do the same thing," she said. Then, "Was it some kind of religious thing, you think?"
"What's that?" Dottie asked, caught off guard.
"The sugar. The caffeine. It sounds kind of religious."
"You don't think…?" Dottie stopped herself. "No, I don't think it's religious. She was very happy with the church. I think it must have been those Patterson children. Mark has some kind of criminal record for stealing things." She shook her head in a slow arc. "I didn't know what to do. Should I have told her she couldn't see him? That would have made her want to spend even more time with him."
"That's generally the case with young girls," Lena agreed. "You still go to church, right?"
"Oh, of course," Dottie answered, nodding her head. "It's a great consolation to me."
"Have you made arrangements yet? I guess they'll do the service?"
Dottie sighed. "I don't know. I just…" She stopped, blowing her nose on a tissue. "I think she liked Preacher Fine. He came by the house to talk to her. So did Brad Stephens. He's the youth minister at the church."
"That so?" Lena asked.
"Oh, yes, Brad is very active in the community."
"Did Pastor Fine come by after Jenny stopped going to church?"
"Yes," she nodded, and she seemed glad to be able to remember something that might be important. "He came by after she had missed a couple of Sundays."
"Did you hear what she said to him?"
"No," Dottie answered. "They were in the den, and I wanted to give them some privacy." She seemed to remember something. "He did call back a week later on the telephone, but she told me to say she wasn't in. That must have been a Saturday, because I was home during the daytime. And I remember that she got a couple more calls that day, and didn't take those, either."
"Was this odd?"
"Not by then," she said. "This must have been around February. I remember I was kind of relieved that she didn't want to talk to Mark anymore."
"Did she have some kind of argument with him?"
Dottie shrugged. "All I know is that she hated him. She went from spending most of her time with him to absolutely hating him."
"Hating him the way a girl hates a guy who won't ask her out?"
Dottie sat back, giving Lena a hard look of appraisal. She finally seemed to realize that this interview was being conducted to establish Jenny's guilt, not clear her name.
Lena repeated her question. "She hated Mark because he didn't want to go out with her anymore?"
"No," Dottie snapped, her nasally twang back. "Of course not."
"He was arrested around that time," Dottie told her, obviously more comfortable putting Mark in the criminal role. "For assault. He attacked his sister."
Jeffrey cursed himself for not having checked this before. He picked up the phone in the interview room and punched Maria's extension.
"Yep?" Maria asked.
"Pull a file for me," he said, keeping his voice low. "Mark Patterson."
"Kid from last night?"
"Sure thing," she answered, ringing off.
When Jeffrey turned his attention back to the room, the climate had changed drastically. Dottie Weaver sat in her chair, her jaw set in an angry line.
Lena asked, "Would you like something to drink?"
"No, thank you."
"Did you know your daughter's arm was fractured last year?"
Dottie seemed surprised. She asked Sara, "Did she come see you without me?"
"No," Sara answered, not elaborating. She seemed angry, but not at Dottie Weaver.
Lena pressed on. "Was your daughter interested in African or Middle Eastern culture?"
Dottie shook her head, not understanding. "Of course not. Why? What does that have to do with anything?"
Sara asked, "Dottie, do you want to take a break?"
Lena shifted in her seat, keeping the questioning up. "Your daughter also had a stress fracture in her pelvis, Mrs. Weaver. Did you know this?"
Dottie's mouth worked, but she did not answer.
Lena said, "She was probably raped." She paused, then without emotion added the word, "Brutally."
"I don't…" Dottie turned to Sara, then back to Lena. "I don't understand."
"What about the scarring on her arms and legs?" Lena demanded. "What happened there? Why was your daughter cutting herself?"
"Cutting herself?" Dottie demanded. "What are you talking about?"
"There were cuts all over her body Self-inflicted, from the looks of them. You want to tell me how she could do this without you knowing?"
"She was secretive," Dottie countered. "She covered herself up with her clothes. I never-"
Lena interrupted, "Did you know that she'd had surgery in the last six months?"
"Surgery?" Dottie repeated. "What are you talking about?"
"Not surgery," Sara interrupted, putting her hand on Dottie's arm. She said, "Dottie, when I examined Jenny-"
Lena opened the case file. She tossed a picture across the table, then another. From his position, Jeffrey could not make out which ones, but he knew by the expression on Dottie's face exactly what the mother was looking at.
"Oh, my God, my baby." She put her hand to her mouth.
" Lena," Sara warned, putting her hand over the pictures. She tried to move them away, but Dottie stopped her. They struggled for a few seconds with one of the photos before Sara reluctantly let go.
"W-what?" Dottie stuttered. Her hand shook as she held the photo close to her face.
Lena looked smug as she sat back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest. She actually turned to the mirror, to Jeffrey, and raised her eyebrows in a sort of triumph.
Sara put her hand to Dottie's back. "Let me have this," she said, trying to take away the photo.
"My God, my God," the woman muttered, sobbing openly. "My baby. Who did this to my baby?"
Sara shot a look at Lena, and Jeffrey could feel the heat from her stare. Lena shrugged, as if to say, "What did you expect?"
"Oh, God, oh, God," Dottie whispered, then stopped abruptly. Her body went limp, and Sara softened the woman's fall as she fainted to the floor.
Jeffrey stood in the hallway outside the briefing room, talking to Lena.
"We'll need to get to the Patterson boy right away," Jeffrey told her. "Sara can do the autopsy briefing by herself."
Lena looked over his shoulder toward the back door. Sara had walked Dottie to her car to make sure the woman was okay, but not before giving a taut warning to Lena that she would be back.
Jeffrey said, "Maria is pulling his address right now. There may be something more to his involvement in this. Hopefully, we'll catch his sister at home, too."
Lena nodded, crossing her arms. "You want me to take the sister and you can do Mark?"
"Let's see how it goes," Jeffrey answered. "I also want to get a look at this preacher."
Something flickered in Lena 's eyes. She said, "He's at my church. Well, not
church, but it's where Hank goes, and I go along with him sometimes." She shrugged. "You know, for something to do. I'm not religious like that or anything."
"Yeah," Jeffrey answered, a little startled that she had offered this information. It was as close to chatty as Lena had gotten since her attack. He thought maybe it was doing her some good to be involved in the case, and Jeffrey was pleased with that.
"I'm gonna call Brad in off patrol," Jeffrey said. "I want to talk to him as soon as I can and see what he says about Fine."
"You think Fine's the one who did this to Jenny?"
Jeffrey tucked his hands into his pockets. He could not imagine anyone harming a child, but the fact remained that someone had. "We need to find out if Fine was on that retreat during Christmas."
"Maybe I could-" Lena stopped as the back door was thrown open with a loud bang.
Jeffrey turned just as Sara closed the door. He could tell from the way she walked up the hall that she was angry as hell.
About ten feet away from them, Sara demanded, "What were you doing in there? How could you do that to her?"
Lena dropped her hands to her side. Jeffrey saw her fists clench as Sara shortened the distance between them.
Lena moved away, so that her back was against the wall. She kept her hands clenched and her voice was strong when she said, "I was doing my job."
"Your job?" Sara shot back, getting in Lena 's face. Sara had a good six inches on Lena, and she was using them to her advantage. "Is it your job to torture a woman who's just lost her kid? Is it your job to show her those pictures?"
Sara's voice cracked on this last word. "How could you do that to her, Lena? How could you make those pictures the last memory she'll ever have of her daughter?"
Jeffrey said, "Sara-" just as Sara leaned in and whispered something in Lena 's ear. He could not hear what she had said, but Lena 's reaction was immediate. Her shoulders dropped, and she reminded Jeffrey of a kitten that had been picked up by the scruff of its neck.
Sara saw this, and he could see the immediate guilt on her face. She put her hand over her mouth, as if she could keep the words in. "I'm sorry," she said to Lena. "I am so sorry."
Lena cleared her throat, looking down at the floor. "It's okay," she said, though clearly it was not.
Sara must have realized that she was still crowding Lena, because she stepped back. " Lena, I'm sorry," she repeated. "I had no right to say that."
Lena held up her hand to stop Sara. She took a breath, but did not let it go. Instead, she said, "I'll be in the car when you want to go."
The comment was meant for Jeffrey, he realized, and he told Lena, "Okay. Good." He fumbled for his keys and held them out to her, but she did not take them. Instead, she extended her hand, palm up, waiting for him to drop them.
"Okay," Lena said, holding the keys in her fist. She did not look at Jeffrey or Sara again. She stared at the floor, even as she walked down the hallway. Her posture was still slack, and she had an air of being completely defeated about her. Whatever Sara had said to the woman had cut to the bone.
Jeffrey turned to Sara, not understanding what had just happened, or why. He asked, "What the hell did you just say to her?"