Natchez police headquarters is a one-story building sandwiched between a Pizza Hut and an abandoned strip mall on the north side of town. The PD used to be downtown, but that more stately building was razed to make room for a modern juvenile justice center. By the time I arrive at the station, both Drew and Steve Sayers have been processed and taken to detention cells in the rear of the building. The other two high school boys were booked on simple assault and now await their parents in holding cells; a six-hundred-dollar bond will free them.
I demand a meeting with the chief of police, and almost immediately I’m escorted to his office. Chief Don Logan sits waiting for me behind his desk. He’s a thin man in his forties who looks more like an engineer than a policeman. His spartan office reflects his reputation as a managerial type. Chief Logan has family photos on his desk, and more computer manuals than law enforcement texts on his bookshelves. He’s known for being careful about procedure, so it’s all the more surprising that he’s made the political move of arresting Drew.
“Hello, Chief Logan,” I say equably.
He regards me coolly over a steaming cup of coffee. “In my seven years as chief,” he says, “I’ve never seen anything like the furor over this situation. I understand the emotional side, of course. A pretty young girl, so much potential. A prominent physician suddenly associated with her murder. But people are losing their perspective over this thing. There’s a mob mentality developing out there. Nobody seems to want to let matters take their normal course. To let the system work.”
“Including the district attorney?” I prompt.
Chief Logan raises one eyebrow, but he doesn’t take the bait. “I’m sure you’re wondering why we’ve charged your client with aggravated assault.”
“You read my mind, Chief.”
“I’m going to lay my cards on the table, Penn. We have a troubled history with the sheriff’s department. You know all about it, I’m sure. The city of Natchez is under the jurisdiction of the police department, but technically, the sheriff has jurisdiction over the entire county, which includes the city. In general, we have a working agreement whereby we work crimes inside the city limits and the sheriff takes the county.”
Logan takes a sip of coffee. “But Billy Byrd is a political animal. And when a high-profile case comes along, the sheriff believes it’s his God-given right to storm in and take over the investigation. Billy ran roughshod over the last police chief, and he’s tried to do the same to me on occasion. He’s actually had his deputies try to arrest one of my officers at a couple of crime scenes. They almost came to blows. I’ve requested several legal opinions from the attorney general’s office in Jackson, but nothing they send us is ever definitive enough.”
“I understand your problem. I dealt with some of the same issues in Houston.”
Chief Logan nods as though encouraged. “I’m glad you do. Because today I’m drawing the line. Kate Townsend’s body was discovered just within the boundary of the city, which alone makes it our case. But she almost certainly died farther upstream in that creek, which removes any doubt whatever about jurisdiction.”
Sheriff Byrd won’t see it that way.“You’re preaching to the choir, Chief. Tell me about the assault charge.”
“Since that’s a felony charge, Dr. Elliott and the Sayers boy will have to spend the night in this building. I’ll have a chance to talk to them without any interference from Sheriff Byrd. Now, as Dr. Elliott’s lawyer, you can stop me if you want to. But know this: my sole interest is in solving Kate Townsend’s murder. I’m not railroading anybody to judgment in order to grab some headlines, here or anywhere else.”
This is good news indeed.
“If Dr. Elliott’s guilty,” Logan goes on, “then he should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. But if he’s not, the man deserves some protection.” The chief shakes his head. “Drew’s reputation will be blown to hell by suppertime tonight, and as far as I can tell, there’s nothing against him but some anonymous phone calls and a fistfight.”
“Which he didn’t start,” I point out.
The chief waves his hand as though shooing away a fly. “The judge will throw out the assault charge tomorrow morning. The bottom line is, I think Dr. Elliot’s safer in my jail than anywhere else in this town tonight.”
I sit back in my chair and study the chief. He’s the first rational man I’ve spoken to in some time. “I hear you loud and clear.”
“I don’t have isolation cells here,” he says, “but I do have some eight-man units that are empty. I’ve put Drew in one and the Sayers boy in the other. They’ll be safe and relatively comfortable until tomorrow.”
I try to suppress a smile at the thought of Shad Johnson learning about this development. “Have you spoken to the D.A. about this assault arrest?”
Chief Logan looks out his solitary window and gives a long-suffering sigh. “I try very hard to get along with the district attorney. But I have a feeling Mr. Johnson isn’t going to like this one bit.” He looks back at me, his dark eyes hard with conviction. “You know what? Tough titty. This ain’t right, and I ain’t going along with it. There’s not a damn thing Mr. Johnson can do about this arrest before tomorrow, unless he wants to call a judge and have Dr. Elliott released on the strength of the D.A.’s word. And given Mr. Johnson’s main political support base, I don’t think he’ll want to do that.”
I stand and shake hands with Logan. “I’m quite satisfied that procedure has been followed, Chief. Do you have any problem with me speaking to my client before I go?”
“I’ll have him brought to the visitors’ room.”
On my way out, I stop and turn back. “Do you know Kate’s time of death yet?”
Logan watches me in silence for a few moments. Then he says, “From the body temperature-which they did take when the fishermen got her to the ER-the M.E. figures she died between three and five-thirty p.m.”
“That’s pretty exact.”
Logan nods. “They know she left the school alive at two fifty-five, and she hadn’t cooled much by seven-thirty, when they took the temp. The M.E. says he feels pretty confident about that window.”
“Does he have any idea how long she was in the water?”
“It’s hard to say, given how quickly everything happened. If he did know that, we might be able to figure out how far upstream she died. But that creek moves very fast in flood. She wouldn’t have to be in it long to be swept miles downstream. And remember, Kate was found at six-twenty. No matter what the M.E. says, a maximum of only three hours and twenty minutes could have passed after death, even if someone strangled her the minute she walked out of St. Stephen’s. I don’t think the body temperature is going to tell us what we want to know, Penn.”
“Okay. So as of now, suspects need alibis from three p.m. to five-thirty.”
He smiles. “You didn’t hear it from me.”
Five minutes later, Drew is escorted into the tiny visitors’ cubicle and seated behind a glass partition with a metal screen in it. He looks pale and drawn, and his eyes have the dull sheen I associate with lifers in the Walls unit at Huntsville, Texas, where I used to spend quite a bit of time. Has thirty minutes in a cell done this to one of the toughest friends I ever had?
“When am I getting out, Penn?”
“Not until tomorrow, I’m afraid.”
I expect anger, but Drew hardly reacts. Maybe his listlessness is a symptom of grief. Maybe the attack by the St. Stephen’s teenagers has punctured his illusions about his relationship with Kate-or maybe his image of himself as a good man.
“Chief Logan’s done you a big favor,” I explain. “He’s isolated you from Sheriff Byrd, who would love to use you to grab some headlines. He’s also put you at more of a remove from Shad Johnson, who wants to use you as a stepping-stone to higher office. Both men would like to interrogate you at their leisure, but I doubt either one will be bothering you in here.”
“You never gave me the details of Kate’s autopsy,” Drew says, his eyes boring into mine.
“I gave you the main points. The rest is medical jargon.”
His eyes don’t waver. “Don’t bullshit me. Don’t try to spare me.”
I focus on some dried pink bubblegum on the glass between us. “The pathologist thinks she was raped.”
Drew looks confused by this. “Go on.”
“They found semen from two different men inside her body.”
He closes his eyes like a man fighting bone-deep pain. “Why didn’t you tell me that before?”
“I wanted you sane when the deputies came to collect your blood.”
He shakes his head as though I’ve betrayed him.
“Drew, I have to ask you this. Is there any chance that Kate was having consensual sex with someone else besides you?”
A slow blink. Then an odd smile. “You still don’t get it, do you? Kate loved me. She loved me absolutely. If you’d told me earlier that they found two different semen samples inside her, I could have told you right away that she’d been raped.”
“Well…I wish there were some way to prove absolute love. Because I think the D.A. is going to paint you as a jealous older man who went crazy when he found out his teenage mistress was sharing her natural bounty with someone else.”
Drew’s mouth wrinkles with disgust. “I don’t care what he does.”
“You’d better start. You’d better give the whole situation some serious thought tonight. Try to conjure up some idea of who might have wanted to rape or kill Kate. Because the fact that she was pregnant means that you could be charged with double homicide.”
Drew’s blue eyes are impenetrable to me. After a time, he says, “What happens tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow I’ll have the assault charge against you dismissed. You don’t want to charge Steve Sayers for attacking you.”
“Fuck!” Drew exclaims, his face suddenly flushed. “What aboutTim? He’s going to see the newspaper. Kids are going to tell him his dad’s in jail!”
I wish there was something I could do to ease Drew’s mind about his son, but there’s not. “Tim’s going to have a bad time throughout this thing,” I say evenly. “You have to accept that. I’ll get you out as early as I can tomorrow, and you can talk to him yourself.”
Drew shakes his head, his eyes flicking back and forth in helpless rage.
“Something else you’d better get used to,” I add. “Steve Sayers and his buddies are a pretty typical example of how the people in this community are going to feel about you for a while.”
Drew’s eyes fix upon me. “All I care about is Tim. You get me out so I can help him understand this. After that, I’ll find out who killed Kate.”
There’s an undertone in Drew’s voice that sends a tingle along my forearms. It’s the emotionless timbre of the man who put down three muscle-bound jocks without breaking a sweat. He said, “After that, I’ll find out who killed Kate,” the same way he might say, “After dinner, I’ll take out the garbage.”
I nod and stand in the little cubicle. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Drew leaves the visiting room without a word.
By the time I pick up Annie from school, I’ve taken several cell calls, and my phone is still ringing. Most of the calls have been from school parents, pumping me for information about Drew and Kate. But a few were more serious, and more disturbing.
One was from Holden Smith, the president of the St. Stephen’s school board. Holden had heard a distorted version of the afternoon’s fight from Steve Sayers’s father, and he was livid at Drew. About the only fact he had right was that Steve and Drew were being held in jail on felony assault charges. I did my best to explain that Drew wasn’t at fault, but Holden didn’t buy my argument.
“That’s not even the point, ” he said. “We’ve got a member of the school board brawling with three of our students! That’s simply unacceptable. Drew should know better than to let something like that happen.”
“I told you he tried to stop it, Holden. The fight couldn’t have been avoided.”
“Okay, okay, but look what the fight was about. Everybody in town knows Drew was having sex with Kate Townsend, and that he might even have killed her. Do you-”
“Nobody knows that!” I snapped. “That’s pure speculation!”
“So what! Do you realize what that kind of rumor will do to St. Stephen’s? To our public image? Do you know what kind of lawsuits we’re going to get over this?”
“What are you telling me, Holden?”
A brief silence. “We want Drew off the board.”
“You want him to resign?”
“If he doesn’t, we’ll vote him off tonight in a special session. We have no choice.”
“That’s bullshit. The board could give Drew its qualified support, based on his years of dedication to the school. Did that thought enter anyone’s head?”
“Don’t even pretend that’s an option,” Holden said in a dismissive voice. “You know how this town works. And that brings up another issue. What about you, Penn? Are you Drew’s lawyer now?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Well, if you are, you’re not going to be able to remain on the board, either.”
Holden was right about that. As a board member, I’ll be named in any civil suit arising out of the present situation. I can’t remain on the board and also defend Drew in a civil or criminal proceeding. Of course, resigning would cut off my flow of inside information, but I wasn’t about to align myself with gutless Holden Smith.
“Drew and I will both resign,” I said with disgust. “You’ll have our letters in the morning.”
“We’d prefer to have Drew’s tonight.”
I hung up on him.
While I drove along in a funk, Caitlin called me from Boston. Apparently, a reporter for the Natchez Examiner had called her and delivered a summation of the rumors spreading across town. Caitlin was stunned that I was being mentioned as Drew Elliot’s lawyer. She knows Drew, but only superficially, and she has no special reason to believe he’s innocent of the crimes being attributed to him.
“Exactly when were you going to tell me you were representing Drew?” she asked. “Or were you going to tell me at all?”
“I’m not sure I’m going to represent him.”
“I thought you didn’t practice anymore.”
“Drew is a lifelong friend, and he needs help. Right now, I’m acting primarily as a friend.” This wasn’t strictly true, but I’ve been deceiving myself as well as Caitlin about that. “When I see how this develops, I’ll make a decision about the legal side of things.”
“Penn, why didn’t you tell me about all this last night?”
Caitlin sounded hurt, but she hasn’t been very communicative to me about her recent situation either. “I couldn’t get you on the phone last night. You were at your party.”
“You could have called me this morning.”
“Yes, but you already had reporters working the story. You may even end up working it yourself.”
“We’ve been in that situation before, and we handled it fine.”
“But not without tension.”
A little laugh. “Tension’s okay. We can live with tension. It’s deception we can’t live with.”
More silence. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I just agreed with you.”
“You had a tone.”
“No tone. Look, things are breaking fast on this. I’ll call you tonight and give you a better idea of where I stand, okay?”
Her sigh told me she was far from happy with this arrangement. “Did Drew kill her, Penn? I’m asking as your lover, not a journalist.”
“You know I can’t answer that. Even if I knew the answer.”
“But he was involved with her?”
“You won’t report my answer?”
“Yes. He was in love with her. But I don’t think he killed her.”
“Classic midlife crisis?”
“I don’t think it’s that simple. Drew says he and Ellen have been living a charade for ten years. He was starved for affection, and he finally found exactly what he was missing. And now here we are.”
“What about the two semen samples-”
“No more,” I cut in. “I’ll talk to you tonight.”
“I love you,” Caitlin said after an awkward silence.
When Annie gets into the car, I set my phone on silent. I also keep quiet about the fact that I’ve spoken to Caitlin. Annie would want to call her back immediately, and I don’t want to deal with that right now. Annie says she needs to go to Walgreen’s for some school supplies, so we make a run to the drugstore, one of my few sources in town for iced green tea. By the time we get home, my phone shows eight missed calls. While I scroll through the list, an incoming call pops up. It’s from Sonny Cross, a sheriff’s deputy assigned to the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics. Sonny has two young boys at St. Stephen’s, and through me, he’s spoken to the board a few times about Marko Bakic, our Croatian exchange student. Sonny suspects that Marko has gotten involved in the local drug trade, but so far he’s been unable to prove it.
“Sonny,” I say. “What’s up?”
“I’m calling to give you a heads-up,” Cross says in his laid-back, urban-cowboy voice.
“Marko Bakic again?”
“Among other things. Last night there was a big party out at Lake St. John. A rave. There was a lot of X there, and a lot of St. Stephen’s kids, too.”
Lake St. John is a horseshoe lake about thirty miles up the Mississippi River, on the Louisiana side. It’s thronged with Natchez natives in the summer, but this time of year, most of the lake houses are deserted.
“Was it only St. Stephen’s kids?”
“No, thank God. The Catholic school and the Baptist boys were well represented.”
“Did you bust the party?”
“No. We didn’t find out about it until it was over. Whoever organized it did just what they do in the cities. The kids get word over their cell phones to go to such and such a place. When they get there, they find a sheet of paper taped to a pole with a coded message, a rhyme only the kids will understand. After they get led around to four or five different spots, they know where the rave is, and they know whether they’re being followed or not.”
“I know the routine.”
“Word is, these raves have been going on for a couple of months now. Different location every time. And I’m hearing our boy Marko is behind them.”
“Yeah. You know, most of the X in Mississippi gets brought up from the Gulf Coast. The Asian gangs down there control the trade. And Marko’s been down to Gulfport and Biloxi a couple of times that I know about. I wanted you to know we’re going to be stepping up surveillance on him.”
“I appreciate it.”
“I just want to try to minimize the damage to St. Stephen’s if we have to take Marko down. You know, once you get X into a community, you usually get LSD, too. It tends to be cooked and sold by the same crews. One of my sources said some kids may have been doing acid last night at the lake party. And check this, Marko bought out a roadside fireworks stand and put on a psychedelic show at the end of the night. Sailed out on a party barge and let off five grand worth of rockets.”
“Sorry I missed it. But where does a poor exchange student get the money to do that?”
“That’s no mystery, bubba. It’s proving it that’s the bitch.”
“Hey, do you know where Marko was yesterday between three and five-thirty?”
Sonny Cross laughs darkly. “Already thought of that, my man. Checked it out, too. Marko was with Coach Anders from three until nearly six.”
“At the school?”
“No, at Anders’s house. Wade has just about wangled the kid a football scholarship at Delta State. Just what the world needs, right? One more soccer-style kicker. Anyway, I called Wade, and he told me he worked the phone for the kid about an hour. Marko was right there with him, doing homework. Then Wade tried to help Marko with his chemistry.” Cross laughs again. “The blind leading the blind. Anyway, no luck there.”
“Thanks, Sonny. I really appreciate the information.”
“Sometimes I think you’re the only one. You ask me, some of those people on the board have their heads most of the way up their asses.”
“To be honest with you, I’m resigning from the board tomorrow. But I’ll do all I can to help with the Marko situation.”
Silence. “Can you tell me why you’re resigning?”
“It’s the Drew Elliott thing.”
“Huh. I don’t see why you’d have to resign because of that. But you know more about it than I do. I hate to see you go, man.”
“Thanks. I’ll keep you posted.”
“You ask me, Drew Elliott is a stand-up guy. Like the old-time docs. He actually gives a shit how you’re doing.”
“I think you’re right. Look, I hate to go, but-”
“One last thing, Penn. That Townsend girl wasn’t the all-American, lily-white virgin some people are making her out to be.”
Suddenly my haste is gone. “What do you mean?”
“I’ve done a lot of surveillance in this town. And I’ve seen Kate Townsend in some places good girls just don’t go, if you get my drift.”
“I’m not sure I do.”
“She hung with some pretty bad company sometimes. And she’s no stranger to drugs.”
“Weed? Or worse?”
“Worse, I think.”
“This might be really important, Sonny. Important to Drew. Where exactly have you seen Kate?”
This is the last thing I expected to hear. The Brightside Manor Apartments are a dilapidated group of buildings on the north side of town, the closest thing to a slum inside the city limits. Its occupants are poor and black, and the complex is named frequently in the newspaper as the site of crimes from domestic abuse to shootings. “What the hell was Kate Townsend doing there?”
“I’m not sure. But I’ve spotted her there several times over the last few months. I’ve even got videotape of her going in and out. About once a month, now that I think about it.”
“You think she was buying drugs?”
“Maybe. I wasn’t going to bust her to find out, being who she was. But the thing is, girls like Kate Townsend get their drugs from friends, not dealers. And looking like she did, Kate wouldn’t have tobuy drugs at all, you know?”
“I’m listening, Sonny.”
“Well, Brightside Manor is where Cyrus White lives.”
“The top drug dealer in the city of Natchez. And its Cyrus’s building that I’ve seen Kate go in and out of.”
“That’s why I say she wasn’t buying weed. If Kate Townsend was visiting Cyrus White to get drugs, she was there for some heavy shit. Powder cocaine, or maybe even heroin.”
Every new sentence out of Cross’s mouth freaks me out more. “Do we have heroin in Natchez?”
“Brother, every town has every drug. You just have to know where to look.”
“Wonderful. Do you know anything else about Kate?”
“No. But I’ve got a theory, if you want to wrap your mind around something scary.”
“She’s wasn’t going there to buy anything. She was there to see Cyrus.”
“That’s what I mean. Cyrus has a real taste for white girls. A well-documented taste.”
Kate Townsend doing a drug dealer?“That sounds too crazy, Sonny.”
“Cyrus ain’t your average drug dealer. In past years, most Natchez dealers were punks barely out of their teens. Cyrus is thirty-four and smart as a whip. By the time I heard he was in business, all his competition had been wiped out. Ruthlessly. But I couldn’t pin a thing on him.”
Cyrus is thirty-four…Drew is forty. Did Kate have a thing for older men in general?
“Cyrus is a veteran of Desert Storm, if you can believe it,” Sonny continues. “He was in the air force. I’ve been trying to bust him for over a year, but nothing sticks. He’s the Teflon nigger.”
Sonny’s use of the N-word is completely unself-conscious. He belongs to that group of Southerners who modify their vocabulary by the company they’re in. Around whites he knows-and probably suspects he’s busting-Sonny says “nigger” without even a shading of caution. Around strangers, he’s as politically correct as the next guy. But there’s no question how he really sees the most frequent targets of his profession. There’s also no question that his prejudice is part of what makes African-Americans his primary targets, rather than the Kate Townsends of the world. But that prejudice isn’t unique to redneck sheriff’s detectives in Mississippi. It thrives in the blood of the American judicial system, all the way up to Washington.
“Does Sheriff Byrd know about Kate’s connection to Cyrus?” I ask.
The narcotics agent doesn’t answer for some time. Then he says, “It’s not that I don’t trust the sheriff, Penn. I just don’t like him messing around in my cases until it’s time to move on something. He can be a disruptive influence.”
“I hear you, Sonny. I appreciate you telling me all this. Anything else you get on Kate, please let me know.”
“Will do. And I’ll do anything I can to help out Dr. Elliott.”
I hang up, my mind spinning with the new information. How well did Drew really know Kate? Did he see her as an all-American, lily-white virgin, as Sonny described her? Or did he know about her shadow side? If not, that hidden part of her life might hold the key to the second semen sample found in her corpse, and thus the key to freeing Drew.
It’s that question that occupies me as I sit at my dining room table with Annie in the fading light of dusk. Annie is doing her homework, and now and then she throws a question at me, more out of boredom than from needing help. I’m supposedly working on my new novel, but what I’m really doing is trying to tease out the secret threads of Drew’s and Kate’s lives. My new awareness of Cyrus White has completely changed my perspective on Drew’s situation.
One thing that keeps coming back to me is Drew’s assertion that the blackmailer who called him that first night and told him to leave the money on the football field “sounded like a black kid.” I doubt that a thirty-four-year-old war veteran would sound like a kid, but sometimes people’s voices surprise you. Heavyweight champion and convicted rapist Mike Tyson sounds like a five-year-old boy when he speaks. But the more likely answer is that a big-time drug dealer like Cyrus White probably has dozens of kids working for him. And that’s who he’d get to make a call like that.
It wasn’t just money they wanted,I recall with sudden clarity. The blackmailers wanted drugs from Drew, as well. But does that point toward Cyrus White? Why would a drug dealer ask for drugs? As I ponder this question, my front doorbell chimes. I’m not expecting anyone, but given all that’s happened today, there’s no telling who it might be.
When I open the door, I find the last person I would have expected. Jenny Townsend, Kate’s mother. Jenny is tall and clear-eyed like Kate, and she’s holding a worn Jimmy Choo shoe box in front of her.
“Hello, Penn,” she says in a controlled voice.
“Jenny,” I say awkwardly. “Will you come in?”
She takes a deep breath and seems to gather herself before answering. “No, thank you. I saw Annie through the window. I know you’re busy.”
“It’s all right. Really.”
“No,” she says, shaking her head. “I don’t think I could take it. I used to help Kate with her homework just like that, after her father left.”
What does one say at these moments? There’s nothing appropriate, so I remain silent. Jenny actually looks grateful that I’m not forcing her to make small talk.
“I’ve heard a lot of rumors today,” she says with obvious difficulty. “Some were pretty terrible. One was that you’re representing Drew Elliott.”
So, that’s what this visit is about. “Drew is an old friend, Jenny. You know that. I can’t begin to imagine what you’ve gone through, but I feel obligated to try to help Drew through this.”
“Oh, you misunderstood me,” she says. “I didn’t mean that you representing Drew was terrible. In fact, I was glad to hear that. That’s why I brought you this.” She gestures with the box but doesn’t quite offer it to me.
“What is that?”
“Kate’s things. Her private things. I haven’t looked at all of them. I’m not sure I could bear it, and it wasn’t meant for my eyes anyway.” Jenny brushes a strand of hair out of her eyes, then flinches at some inner pain. “Katie kept this hidden in the attic. There’s a diary, some souvenirs, and some computer disks. I think that’s where she kept her pictures of Drew. I think some of them are probably…intimate pictures.”
“I see,” I say softly.
“Penn, I don’t know what happened to my daughter yesterday. The police tell me she was raped and murdered. I don’t know anything for certain right now, but I do know-or at least I believe-that Drew could not have hurt my Katie.”
A flood of relief washes through me. “I’m so glad to hear that, Jenny. I believe the same thing.”
“That’s why I’m leaving this box with you.”
I nod but say nothing.
She looks down at my welcome mat and speaks with a new tension in her voice. “The police and the sheriff’s department have gotten more aggressive with their questioning. They want to search my house from top to bottom for clues to Kate’s ‘recent lifestyle.’ I don’t want them to see what’s in this box.” Jenny looks up, her chin quivering. “Those men have no right to invade my daughter’s privacy. This is a difficult thing for me to do, Penn. If it turns out that Drew did harm Kate, perhaps without even meaning to, this box contains the only physical evidence of their relationship.”
“Maybe you should keep it, then.”
She shakes her head. “I can’t. And there’s no one else. I have no close family here, and even if I did, I wouldn’t trust them with it. I’m not even sure I trust myself with it. That’s why I’m not putting it in a safe-deposit box. I’m trusting you because of who you are and who your father is. Your father was my doctor when I was young. Tom Cage has more integrity than any man I’ve ever known, and I don’t think the apple fell far from the tree. I respect what you did in solving that old civil rights murder, for not giving a damn what people around here thought about it.” I start to interject, but she motions for me to be quiet and pushes on. “I don’t know what’s going to happen about Katie in the next few weeks, but if somewhere along the way you come to believe that Drew hurt my baby, I expect you to make sure that the right people see what’s in this box.”
I nod slowly, not quite believing that this is happening.
Jenny holds out the box. “I want you to give me your word as a gentleman, Penn. I know that word is sort of outdated, but I still believe it applies in some cases.”
“You have my word, Jenny.”
Even as I accept the box and cradle it under my right arm, I wonder what I’m doing. How can I defend Drew in court if I’ve vowed to make sure he is punished if he turns out to be guilty? Maybe that’s why I’m taking the box. Maybe it’s my way out of defending Drew at trial.
“Daddy?” Annie calls from the living room. “Who is it?”
“I’m going to run on,” Jenny says.
“I don’t know what to say, Jenny.”
She turns away, walks to the top step, then looks back. “The district attorney told me Kate was pregnant. It must have been Drew’s baby.”
I nod slowly.
“Do you think he would have married her, Penn? Tell me the truth.”
“Jenny, that’s the one thing in this whole mess that I’m absolutely sure of. He’d have married her tomorrow if he could.”
She tilts back her head and blinks away tears, then gives me a shattered smile and hurries into the night.
In the silence on my front steps, I feel tears coming to my own eyes. How did we bring ourselves to this pass? Jenny Townsend in her solitary grief; Drew sitting alone in jail; Kate Townsend lying dead on a slab somewhere in Jackson, an ugly Y-incision stitched into her torso; an empty chair at Harvard that will now be filled by some luckier kid who will never know what tragedy brought him or her there. Did all this result from Drew’s forbidden love of Kate? Or do I trace it back to Drew’s wife and the hydrocodone addiction that Drew says killed their marriage? Or-
“Daddy?” Annie calls from the door. “Can’t you hear the phone?”
“No, Boo,” I say softly. “I’m coming.”
I walk to the kitchen and pick up the telephone. “This is Penn.”
“Penn? Walter Hunt.”
It takes me a moment to switch gears. Walter Hunt is an accountant who lives in Sherwood Estates, and a neighbor of Drew’s. He has two kids in St. Stephen’s.
“What can I do for you, Walter?”
“Nothing for me, but I thought you’d like to know-Ellen Elliott is piling up furniture and all kinds of stuff in her front yard. Looks like Drew’s stuff to me-golf clubs and skis-guns, too. To tell you the truth, it looks like she’s building a bonfire.”
Jesus Christ.“Thanks, Walter. I’m on my way. Where’s Tim?”
“Timmy’s over here with us. My wife went over and slipped in their back door.”
“Don’t let anybody call the police. I’ll be there in no time.”
“Hurry, Penn. Ellen’s so toasted, she can barely walk.”