Detective Prester says, without turning or shifting his attention, “Mr. Cade. I’ll be needing a word with you, too.”
“You can find me at Ms. Proctor’s house,” he says. “I’m going to make sure the kids are okay.”
I can see Prester debating whether or not to push it, but he clearly decides it can wait. He’s got his big fish on the line. No point in catching more than he can fillet at one time.
I text Lanny quickly that it’s okay to let Sam in, and when he gets to the door, she throws it open and flings herself into his hug. So does Connor. It’s surprising how easily they welcome him, and I admit I feel a little stab of hurt.
For the first time, I wonder if me continuing to be part of their lives is actively, constantly damaging them, and the question is so big, so awful, that it makes my breath catch and swell painfully in my throat. That question might be out of my hands now. My kids might be swept away into the Social Services system, and I might never see them again.
Stop. You’re thinking like HE wants you to think. Like a helpless victim. Don’t let him take away what you’ve achieved. Fight for it.
I let my eyes drift close and will myself to let go of the worry, the pain. My breath eases, and when I open my eyes, I find Detective Prester has finished with the two boaters who found the body. He’s coming my way.
I don’t wait; I turn and head for his sedan. I hear the slight scuffle of his shoes on the deck as he is caught off guard, but he doesn’t tell me that I’m wrong. I know that he wants to question me in private.
We get into the back seat, me on the passenger side, him behind the driver’s spot, and I sink into the warm, cheap upholstery with a slow sigh. I’m tired suddenly. Still scared, on some deep animal level, but I know that whatever’s happening now I can’t change.
“You said the information about you is on the Internet,” Prester says. “Before we get started, I want you to know that’s not my doing. If it was anybody in our shop, I’ll find out and tear them a new asshole.”
“Thanks,” I say. “But that doesn’t help now, does it?”
He knows it doesn’t and hesitates only a second before he pulls a digital recorder from his pocket and turns it on. “Detective Prester, Norton Police Department. Today’s date is—” He checks his watch, which I find funny, until I see he’s wearing a vintage one with a calendar built right in. “September twenty-third. The time is seven thirty-two. I’m interviewing Gwen Proctor, also known as Gina Royal. Ms. Proctor, I’m going to read you your rights; it’s just a formality.”
It isn’t, of course, and I quirk a smile at that. I listen as he lists them with the droning ease of a man who has a lot of practice at Mirandizing, and when he finishes, I tell him that I understand the rights he has explained. We’re both pleasant, getting the basics out of the way. Two old hands at this.
Prester’s voice changes to a low, quiet rumble. “Would you prefer I call you Gwen?”
“That’s my name.”
“Gwen, this morning a second body was found floating in the lake within sight of your front door. You have to understand this looks bad, given your―well, your history. Your husband is Melvin Royal, and he has a very specific kind of past. The first girl we found in the lake, that might have been a strange coincidence, I’ll allow that. But two of them? Two are a plan.”
“Not my plan,” I say. “Detective, you can ask me a million questions a million ways, but I’m going to tell you everything I know, straight up. I heard the scream. It woke me right out of bed. I came out of my room the same time as my kids; they can vouch for that. I came out here to find out what was going on, and I saw the two people in the boat and the body in the water. That is absolutely everything I know about this situation. I know even less about that first body.”
“Gwen.” There’s so much reproach in Prester’s voice that he sounds like a disappointed father. I appreciate his tactics, intellectually. Many detectives would go at me hard, but he instinctively knows that what disarms me, what I don’t know how to parry, is kindness. “We both know that isn’t going to be the end of it, don’t we? Now, let’s go back to the beginning.”
“That was the beginning.”
“Not this morning. I want to go back to the first time you saw a body mutilated like this. I read the trial transcripts, watched all the video I could get. I know what you saw that day in the garage of your house. How’d that feel?”
Cognitive technique. He’s trying to lead me back to a traumatic moment, put me back in that feeling of helpless horror. I take a moment, then say, “Like my entire life collapsed under my feet. Like I’d been living in hell and not even knowing it. I was horrified. I’d never seen anything like that. I’d never even imagined it.”
“And when you realized that your husband was guilty, not just of that murder but of others?”
I put an edge in my voice. “How do you think I felt? And still feel?”
“No idea, Ms. Proctor. Bad enough to change your name, I guess. Or maybe that was just so you could get people to stop harassing you.”
I glare at him, but of course he’s right, even though he minimizes it. For most people who exist in the normal world, the regular world, the idea of taking some Internet mob’s threats seriously is a sign of weakness; Prester is probably no different. I’m suddenly very glad that Sam is with the kids. If the phone starts ringing, he can handle the torrent of abuse. He’ll be shocked at the intensity and volume of it. Most men are.
I feel weirdly empty and too tired to care. I think of all the effort, all the money, and I think maybe I should have just stayed put back in Kansas, let the assholes take their best shot. If it all ends the same way, why put all the time and energy into trying to build a new, safe life?
Prester is asking me something, and I’ve missed it, and I have to ask him to repeat it. He looks patient. Good detectives always look patient, at least at first. “Walk me through your days the last week.”
“Let’s start with last Sunday.”
It’s an arbitrary place to begin, but I comply. It isn’t tough. My life isn’t normally a whirlwind of activity. I assume that the second victim disappeared on or around Sunday, given the state of her body. I give a thorough accounting, but as I’m moving forward, I realize that I have a decision to make. The flight I took to visit Melvin in El Dorado falls inside this timeline. Am I going to tell Prester I paid my serial killer ex a call? Am I going to lie about it and hope I don’t get caught out? That’s really not an option, I realize; he’s a good detective. He’ll check visitor logs in Kansas, and he’ll realize I’ve been to see Mel. Worse, he’ll see I visited him right before the body came up.
No good choices. I get the sense that whatever unseen force is pushing me has designed this moment, too. I look down at my hands, then up, staring out the front window of the sedan. It’s warm in here and smells of old, stale coffee. As interrogation rooms go, it could be worse.
I turn and look at Prester and tell him about the visit to El Dorado, about the copies of letters he’ll find in my house from Melvin Royal, about the torrent of abuse and threats that keep coming at me. I don’t make it dramatic. I don’t weep or shake or show him any sign of weakness; I don’t think it will matter if I do.
Prester nods as if he already knew all that. Maybe he did. Or maybe he’s just a great poker player. “Ms. Proctor, I’m going to have to take you in to the station now. You understand that?”
I nod. He takes handcuffs out from behind him; they’re in a worn old case on the back of his belt, and I turn without complaint and let him lock them on. As he does, he tells me I’m under arrest for suspicion of murder.
I can’t say I’m surprised.
I can’t say I’m even angry.
The questioning is a blur. It goes on for hours; I drink bad coffee, water, eat a cold sandwich of turkey and cheese sometime in there. I nearly fall asleep, because I’m so tired and—finally—the numbness is gone, and I can be afraid, so afraid it feels like a constant, cold storm inside. I know that if the news hasn’t gotten out yet, it will in a matter of hours, and in less than a day it’ll be around the world. The twenty-four-hour news cycle feeding an endless appetite for violence and spawning thousands of new, eager recruits to punish me.
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