He doesn’t betray much, but I see something stir down in the depths of his gaze, and his mouth goes tight. He deliberately loosens it. “As I understand it, your husband is a convicted murderer.”
“Uh-huh. A serial killer, if I got it right.”
“You know you do,” I say. “Word’s traveling fast. Guess it would in a small town like this. I asked Detective Prester for some kind of protective detail for my kids—”
“We were on the way to take that up,” he tells me. “We’d have been parked out front tonight.”
“I guess the paint would have probably dried by then.”
“Feel free to go look once you’re done here. Can’t miss it,” I tell him. I’m flat exhausted. The aches from the crash are starting to make themselves felt. I have tenderness in my left shoulder, where I probably wrenched it against the restraints. My neck’s stiff, and now my nose has a dull ache around the bridge. My nosebleed has stopped, at least, so I must not have broken anything, and when I touch it I don’t feel anything shifting. I’m fine, I think. Better than I deserve to be. “This is just Round One. That’s why I said we needed protection.”
“Ms. Proctor, maybe you should consider that of the six guys who came after you, at least four of them have some kind of injuries,” Graham says, not unkindly. “I think we can call this round for you, if you’re keeping score.”
“I’m not,” I say, but that’s a lie. I’m glad that shitty pickup is lying on its side leaking radiator fluid into the ground. I’m glad four of them get a chance to nurse wounds while thinking about never coming back at me. I’m just sorry they aren’t hurt badly enough to keep them from ever doing it again. “You’re not arresting me.”
“You didn’t even make that a question.”
“Any decent defense attorney would make dog food out of you. A mother with her kids, attacked by six drunk jerks? Really? I’ll be the trending hero on Twitter in half an hour.”
He sighs. It’s a long, slow sound that mingles with the lapping of the lake’s waves below. Mist is beginning to rise from the water as the air cools just enough to start the cycle, like a thousand wisps of ghosts escaping. Lake of the dead, I think, and try not to look at it. Stillhouse Lake’s beauty is ruined for me. “No,” Graham finally says. “I’m not arresting you. I’m arresting them for criminal mischief and good old Bobby over there for driving under the influence. Good enough?”
It isn’t. I want them all arrested for assault, and that word hadn’t even crossed his lips.
He must have seen the argument coming up in me, because he holds up a hand to forestall it. “Look, they didn’t lay a hand on you. At least one of ’em is sober enough to figure out he can claim they saw you wreck and came down here to help, and you got paranoid and fired off that—whatever the hell it is—at them. Unless we find paint or evidence of it on them or in the truck, they can claim they have no idea your house got tagged—”
“Tagged? It’s not Banksy art!”
“All right then, vandalized. But the point is, they’ve got good deniability for everything to do with any stalking or assault. And you’re the one who had the tire iron. Far as I can tell, these men were unarmed.”
Six on one don’t need weapons, and he knows that, but he’s right, of course. Defense attorneys cut both ways.
I lean against the broken wreck of my Jeep, out of strength. “We’ll need a wrecker,” I tell him. “My Jeep’s not going anywhere without one.”
“I’ll arrange for it,” he says. “Meanwhile, let’s get your kids and go back to your house. Make sure nobody’s gotten inside.”
I know they hadn’t. I have mobile notification for my alarm system, and if it goes off I can immediately look at the tablet and rerun the footage to see who’s been in there. Nobody broke any windows or kicked in any doors, but even so, the last place I want to take my kids right now is back to the house, with that red paint still dripping. I suppose they picked the garage for that particular splash pattern on purpose. Reminding me where Melvin liked to do his gruesome work.
But there really isn’t a choice. I know just from Graham’s expression that he’s not taking us to any Norton motel for the night, and I strongly suspect that any calls to Detective Prester will go unanswered. With the Jeep destroyed, my only option would be to rely on the kindness of strangers, and . . . I’m far too paranoid to even consider it. My nearest neighbors, the Johansens, helped block my driveway. Sam Cade lied to me from the beginning. Javier’s a reserve deputy and probably won’t return my calls, either.
I reach into the open Jeep window and hit the unlock button, retrieve my keys, and help Lanny out. Her nose has mostly stopped bleeding now, and it doesn’t seem broken, but she might have bruises. We all might. My fault.
I hold on to her as the three of us slowly follow Officer Graham up the hill, to a house that no longer feels like home.
Officer Graham takes diligent pictures of the damage. The red isn’t blood; it’s still vividly red, and blood would have oxidized to brown by now. Paint. Most of the words are spray-painted, the exception being Killer, which has extra-gothic drip from the vandal’s liberal dip of the paintbrush. I unlock the door and disarm the alarm, and Graham checks the whole place thoroughly. He finds nothing, but then again, I knew he wouldn’t.
“All right,” he says, settling his sidearm in its holster as he comes back to us in the living room. “I’m going to need your guns, Ms. Proctor.”
“You have a warrant for them?” I ask. He stares back at me. “That’s a no, then. I decline to cooperate. Get a warrant.”
His expression hasn’t changed, but his body language has; it’s shifted a little forward, become a touch more aggressive. I sense it more than see it. I remember what Connor said on the drive back: Graham’s boys were the ones who beat up my son. I wonder exactly what they learned from their father. I want to trust the man; he’s wearing a badge, he’s the only thing truly standing between me and the angry people coming at me right now. But looking at him, I’m not sure I can make the leap.
Maybe I can’t trust anyone anymore. My judgment’s been so off.
“Okay,” Graham says, though clearly he doesn’t think it is. “Keep the doors locked, alarm on. Does it ring at the station?”
Why, so you can ignore it? “It rings directly there,” I tell him. “If the power gets cut, it also goes off.”
“And what about the panic room . . . ?” I say nothing to that, just look at him. He shrugs. “Want to make sure you’ve got a way to get help if you’re inside there. Can’t help if we don’t know you’re in there.”
“It has a separate phone line,” I tell him. “We’ll be just fine.”
He can tell I’ve gone as far down this road as I’m going, and Graham finally nods and heads for the door. I open it and see him off, and try not to look at the damage to our front door. Once it’s shut, I can pretend, a little, that everything’s normal. I enter the alarm code, and the soft beep of the “Stay” signal soothes something inside me I didn’t know was trembling. I put all the locks on and turn to put my back to the door.
Lanny is sitting on the couch with her knees up, her arms circling them. Defensive again. Connor leans against her. There are smears of blood on my daughter’s chin, and I go into the kitchen, wet a hand towel, and come back to gently clean her off. Once I have, she takes the cloth and silently does the same for me. I haven’t even realized that I have so much on me; the white hand towel comes away with vivid red smears. Connor’s the only one who doesn’t need the cleanup, so I put the towel aside and sit with my kids, holding them and rocking with them slowly. None of us has anything to say.
None of us needs to.
Finally, I pick up the soiled towel and rinse it in cold water in the sink, and Lanny comes in to grab the orange juice carton and swig it down thirstily. Connor takes it when she’s done. I don’t even have the energy to tell them to use glasses. I just shake my head and have water, lots of it. “Do you want anything to eat?” I ask them. Both kids murmur no. “Okay. Go and get some sleep. If you need me, I’ll be in the shower, and I’m going to sleep out here tonight in the living room, okay?”
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