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Authors: Sandra Ruttan

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Lullaby for the Nameless

BOOK: Lullaby for the Nameless
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Lullaby for the Nameless
Nolan, Hart & Tain [3]
Sandra Ruttan
Canada : (2009)

Missing girls are turning up murdered, in ways that eerily resemble the
MO of the killer from the first case that Hart, Nolan and Tain worked on
together. Did they get the wrong man the first time? Will they be
able to stop this killer before tensions drive the team apart-or get one
of them killed?

Lullaby for the Nameless
Sandra Ruttan

 

Finding the Body

Nolan walked toward the disturbed dirt and then stopped, still as a statue. From where Ashlyn stood she couldn’t see anything and when she glanced at the rangers the older man had turned his gaze toward the ground. The younger man glanced at her, then his partner, then looked away. The only one who didn’t avert his gaze was Rick. His expression betrayed nothing but his eyes were black as a moonless night and had the force of a magnetic pull that kept her staring back at him for a moment before she looked away.

After a glance at the officer who’d escorted them to the scene, who was also focused on the ground, Ashlyn moved beside Nolan.

God.

She was glad she had her back to the men so that they couldn’t see the look on her face…

 

 

This title was previously published by Dorchester Publishing; this version has been reproduced from the Dorchester book archive files.

Eighteen Months Ago

They say your life flashes before your eyes when you think you’re about to die, and for Jenny, it was the words of her mother that screamed in her head. She couldn’t shake the memories from her childhood…

When will you ever learn? Don’t you ever use your head?

That’s what Jenny expected her mother to say when she got home. That’s what her ma always said when Jenny got in trouble. An exaggerated sigh, the flare of the nostrils, hands on the hip and one of those familiar lines would accompany a smack upside the head.

Maybe that’ll knock some sense into ya.

What would follow the smack if her ma was really mad.

The summer before Jenny turned seven she’d snuck out of the house, to Old Mrs. Wilson’s property, and made her way to the garden to pick berries.

Mrs. Wilson had a face that looked like an apple going bad. For someone as old as she was, she could still move, though, and when Mrs. Wilson had seen Jenny, she’d darted back up the porch steps, yanked the screen door open and grabbed a broom before Jenny even thought to turn and run.

“Just wait till I get my hands on you,” Old Mrs. Wilson shouted as she scurried down the steps.

Jenny turned and ran as fast as her scrawny chicken legs would carry her.

“Your little red head will burn in hell! That’s what happens to bad girls like you!”

Jenny was only six years old, but by then she knew from experience that it was better to tell her ma she’d done something bad and get a talking to or be sent to her room without supper than to take the chance that her ma would find out later. If she waited for Old Mrs. Wilson to call her ma, she’d get the strap.

When she’d confessed her crimes, her ma had sat still on the faded brown couch.

“Are you mad?” Jenny had asked.

“What did you pick?”

“Strawberries.”

“Good.”

Silence followed, and Jenny wasn’t sure if Ma was waiting to decide how to punish her or just how much trouble Jenny was in. When Ma didn’t say anything for what felt like a really long time, Jenny, still staring at her shoes, asked, “Is hell bad?”

“I’d rather burn in hell than freeze in heaven,” her ma had said as she pulled herself up off the sofa. “Let’s have a snack.”

Jenny never even got scolded that day. It was like the idea of being together in hell had made her mother like her a little more. They’d cleaned the strawberries and Ma even let her have a bit of chocolate syrup on top, and they’d sat outside on the back steps and ate their snack together.

It had been the best day of her life.

Don’t you ever think? When will you ever learn?

Jenny’s ma hadn’t asked those questions that summer day, and the next spring she gave up asking those questions altogether, right around the time Bobby Hobbs threw Jenny’s slingshot out onto the frozen lake. Jenny was seven years old then, and she’d snuck out of the house when she was supposed to be cleaning her room and keeping out of trouble while her ma worked.

She’d been playing her own game in the woods, near the shore, shooting at trees. When she heard voices, Jenny hid the slingshot behind her back.

“Look, Eddie—it’s Scruffy!” Bobby said when he came into the clearing and saw her. Bobby and Eddie were a few grades ahead of her, but they always called her by the name her classmates had for her at school.

She hated being called Scruffy.

“Oooh, Scruffy’s out. Maybe we should tell her ma,” Eddie said.

“My ma’s working,” Jenny told him. Her ma didn’t like Eddie much, and she didn’t want her ma to know she’d been talking to him.

“My mom says your ma works on her back,” Bobby said. He elbowed Eddie, and they laughed. Jenny wasn’t sure what they were talking about, but that didn’t matter. They lost interest in her mother quickly.

“Watcha hiding?” Bobby asked.

“Nothing.” Jenny took a step back.

“Aw, come on, what is it? You scared we’re gonna cut your Barbie’s hair off?”

Bobby and Eddie both laughed. Jenny looked to her right. She was a fast runner. She could probably make it—after all, she’d outrun Old Mrs. Wilson—but Bobby must have figured out what she was thinking.

“Get her!” Bobby said. Jenny started to run, but it was too late. Eddie grabbed her shoulders, and Bobby yanked her arm.

“A slingshot.” He pulled it out of Jenny’s hand.

“Give it back,” she said as she kicked Eddie in the leg. Eddie let go of her. Eddie followed Bobby around and did whatever Bobby told him to do, but even she could push him around if he was on his own. Just a low-down piece of Indian trash—that’s what her ma always said about Eddie Campbell. He had a big nose and giant glasses and clothes with more holes in them than hers had.

“You can have it back,” Bobby said as he pulled his
arm back and threw the slingshot out onto the ice, “if you go get it.”

“She’s too much of a scaredy-cat to walk out there,” Eddie said

“Am not!” She folded her arms across her body defiantly.

“Sure you are,” Bobby said as he elbowed Eddie in the ribs. “You’re just a girl. A scared little girl.”

“Am not!”

“Are too,” Eddie Campbell had said. Jenny thought he was a loser, a kid who pretended to be tough but really wasn’t, but she still didn’t want him making fun of her.

“Shut up!”

“She’d rather be home playing with dolls.” Eddie said as Bobby nudged him in the ribs again.

“Betcha don’t like slingshots anyway,” Bobby said.

“Do too. I’ll use it on you, Bobby Hobbs! I’m gonna shoot you in the butt with a rock.”

Bobby laughed. “How you gonna do that when it’s out on the lake, stupid?”

She pulled herself up to her full height and crossed her arms. “I’m gonna go get it.”

“You’re too chicken.”

“Am not.”

“Are too. That’s what Eddie tells me. He told me you said you’d let him touch your privates and then got scared.”

“She’s a chicken,” Eddie said.

“Big fat stupid liar,” she yelled as her hands landed on her boney hips. The next thing she knew she was marching across the ice, stomping her feet as she got closer to the slingshot.

She was near the end of the dock before she heard the crack.

They hadn’t been standing by the beach the dock stretched out from. Instead, they’d been at a bend that faced the dock from the side. The water was deep by the
rock cut where they’d been standing, and she’d forgotten that along the shore, the ice was starting to break apart.

It was spring.

The split-second hesitation was all the boys needed, though. “Bawk bawk baaawwwwwk. Scruffy is a chicken. Scruffy is a chicken.”

The singsong way they chanted made her cheeks burn. She stepped forward and looked down.

Each milligram of water had felt like a frozen pin poking into her skin as she plunged through the ice into the lake.

She didn’t know how to swim.

She was going to die.

She wasn’t thinking about being wet from head to toe. She wasn’t thinking about the weight of her boots pulling her down or the way her hair was starting to turn hard as it stuck to her forehead. She wasn’t even thinking about Bobby and Eddie, laughing at her from the shore.

She was thinking about the fact that she was cold.

As she felt herself slipping farther down into the water, what scared Jenny wasn’t that she was going to die; it was the fact that she was so cold, she couldn’t possibly be on her way to hell.

She’d never see her mother again.
I don’t know anyone in heaven!
That’s what had been going through her mind as everything went black.

The darkness that reached out from behind her eyes and swallowed her was soothing. Everything was quiet, and she had no sense of time passing or her body being lifted from the lake, wrapped in a blanket and transported to the hospital. Blissful oblivion, until the moment a speck of light dropped into the black pool that covered her eyes. The ripples of light spread out from the point of impact, slowly pushing back the mask of darkness that had enveloped her, and with the light
came color and sound as the hospital room came into focus.

“Were you born without a brain?” was the first thing her mother barked at Jenny when she opened her eyes. She didn’t remember what had happened and she didn’t ask, but her ma told her Mr. Zimmerman had been at the dock and managed to pull her out of the lake.

The boys. The teasing. Her marching across the ice…

“Ma…Singsot?”

“What?”

“Did,” Jenny pushed the words out, “he find my slingshot?”

“Forget the damn slingshot. Why do I waste my time carin’ about a kid who’ll jump off a cliff when her friends tell her to? If you’re gonna do somethin’ stupid and get yourself killed, why don’t you do it soon and save me the goddamn cost of feedin’ and clothin’ you, huh?”

Not long after that, back when she still thought Ma loved her, she’d dropped a plate in the kitchen. It had shattered into a hundred pieces and as she swept it up she’d said, “Maybe one day I’ll learn, if you keep reminding me.”

Her way of apologizing before she got into trouble.

“What good’s it, wastin’ words on a lost cause?” her ma had said.

That was the moment when Jenny knew she was hopeless. Even her mother thought so, and if her ma had given up on her, she wouldn’t have much chance with anyone else. She was on her own. She’d been that way since she was eleven, though it felt more like she’d been that way her whole life.

When she was seven and thought she was going to die, she hadn’t called out for help or waved her arms around or tried to crawl out on the ice or prayed to God.

She wasn’t praying now either.

Jenny couldn’t see properly. It wasn’t a soothing calm
of darkness she was swathed in this time. Instead, it felt like a heavy blanket that you can’t breathe through, that you try to push off but can’t unravel yourself from.

It wasn’t like being wrapped in a sheet of black this time. It was more like having a thousand fireflies flitting in front of your face. The lights swirled and blurred, but as hard as she tried, she couldn’t focus.

Breathe, breathe, breathe.

She couldn’t get enough air into her lungs.

When she’d felt the blow on the back of her head and tasted the blood in her mouth, she hadn’t found blissful oblivion this time. She could still hear voices, but she couldn’t make out the words. Rough hands on her skin lifted her and pulled her and pushed her down, and she could feel the way her body bounced off a rough carpet, followed by an incessant hum.

She was moving but not being carried. By what and to where she could only guess.

That was the closest she came to a sense of calm. The fireflies had gone away. There was a dull ache in the back of her head, and she knew her body wanted to move, but she couldn’t make it.

When the hum and sway stopped, Jenny heard a crunching sound, and then a slow, steady creak and the sting of cool air jabbing into her was matched by a brightness that pushed its way through the black.

Everything beyond the light was shadow.

Sandpaper paws yanked her upward and hauled her toward the circle of white. Her feet smacked something hard, and she heard the
shhhhhhh
of them as she was dragged.

The ground. Her feet must be rubbing against the ground as the rough hands pulled her.

Car. She must have been in a car.

Where would they take her? Did it even matter? She couldn’t see properly, and she’d been around long enough to know that traitors didn’t get second chances.
It didn’t even matter if you were innocent. A hesitation was a sign of weakness when it came to discipline.

Jenny pushed harder to try to clear her head of the whorls of light and darkness obscuring her vision with hazy impressions as the hands released her and she crumpled into a heap.

A blur of brown. A tree? No, she wasn’t outside. It wasn’t a bumpy patch of cold earth beneath her but something hard. Level. A hard floor. Something else rose in front of her. A chair leg. And another.

Where was she?

“Never did like me much, did ya, Scruffy?”

A leering blob with a halo of fireflies circling around it. Jenny tried to blink, squint, but her eyes weren’t working properly.

“Jesus, how much packing tape did you use on her face?” A different voice, still familiar.

“Let’s get on with this.” The gravelly voice that matched the coarse skin squeezing her arms.

“Still don’t see why we’re doin’ this here.” Nervous. Anxious. Familiar. Not as deep or strong as the others and filled with fear.

“It’s the only place she’s seen ’em.” The first voice. The one who’d called her Scruffy. “If it’s gone and she’s gone, it’s a dead end.”

“Come on, guys. We gotta get outta here.” The gravelly voice again, also familiar. “Whatever this is about, figure out who wears the pants.”

Rough hands pulled her up again, and she could feel the hot breath on her skin, the smell of eggs filling her nostrils. “Do it,” the person holding her said.

She could hear footsteps moving away.

Then she was free of the tight grip and for a moment almost felt as though she was floating. Something was wrong with her legs. She’d figured out that much when she felt herself falling, feet sliding out one way as her head bounced against the hardness.

When it hit the floor the second time she felt the pool of wetness. Warm. Sticky. Rippling out in her distorted line of sight, like a dark pool of paint spilled on the floor.

The
glug-glug-glug
of more liquid pouring against something hard seemed to surround her for a moment before everything went silent. In the distance a door slammed, then another door that was quieter.

The car door. Outside. They were leaving?

No. A
thud-thud-thud
grew louder, and she could feel the hardness under her ear quiver with each step.

He didn’t say anything this time. She heard a sound she knew better than her mother’s voice, better than anything. Come Easter or Thanksgiving there was never enough money for a chocolate bunny or a pumpkin pie, but Ma would scrimp every last cent to make sure she still had her pack a day.

The strike of a match.

Followed by a
whoosh
, and as the
tump-tump-tump
against the floor faded, a wave of reddish-orange light danced before her, accompanied by the acrid smell of smoke.

The heat surged through her as the wave grew and burned above her and behind her, the crackling encircling her as the fire zipped along the gasoline trail.

When will you ever learn? Don’t you ever use your head?

Tears pricked at the corners of her eyes.

Jenny tried to wriggle toward the gap in the dancing light, but even as she inched her body forward, she could feel the wall of warmth drawing closer as it prepared to drag her from one hell to another.

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