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Chapter 11

When I get back home, Im ordered to sit down and watch a performance by Annie and Mia. Given that Ive been gone less than thirty minutes, the dance is truly amazing. Mia moves with the bone-snapping precision of a girl in a hip-hop video, which doesnt surprise me, since Ive seen her do the same as a cheerleader at St. Stephens football and basketball games. What amazes me is Annie. Shes only nine years old, yet she mimics Mias moves as though shes wired to the older girls brain. She doesnt quite have Mias precision, but the flexibility and rhythm are there. Its only a matter of practice. Her mother was a great dancer, too, and even after five years, the memory brings a lump to my throat. When they finish dancing, I jump to my feet, yelling and clapping in approval. Annie glows with pride, and Mia watches her with real affection.

Bath time, Mia says, doing a quick sequence of moves to keep Annies attention.

Aww, Annie moans. Im clean!

Thats bull! says Mia, laughing. We just sweated two gallons, at least. Your armpits are already stinky. I smell them from here.

Annie sniffs cautiously beneath her left arm. Uh- uh.

Uh- huh.Get going, Stinky!

Annie giggles and then cartwheels into the hall. Will you still be here when I get out?

Mia shakes her head. Ive got way too much homework to stick around here. Im gone as soon as your dad pays me.

Are you coming back tomorrow?

Mia looks at me.

Absolutely, I tell them, knowing Im bound to be caught up in Drews mess, whether I want to be or not.

As Annies footsteps fade down the hall, Mia takes a seat on the ottoman in front of my chair and pulls the elastic band from her ponytail. Dark hair cascades around her shoulders. She puts the band between her teeth and shakes her head, then gathers her hair again and binds it into a looser ponytail.

I talked to Stephanie James, she says. Shes one of the girls who got questioned by the grand jury. She said the D.A. didnt use Dr. Elliots name at first. He kept asking if Kate had ever confided anything to Stephanie about an older man. After Stephanie said no about ten times, Johnson got really aggressive. He acted like she knew about the affair but was holding back on purpose. Stephanie said she actually started crying. She also said she knew several people sitting in the chairs out there. The grand jury members. Some of them were St. Stephens parents.

Great.

Is it bad?

Oh, its bad.

What can I do to help?

Nothing, Im afraid. But youve been a huge help already.

I dont feel like I have. Dr. Elliotts in trouble, and I really like him. He helped me with my science fair project last year. He was really nice.

I start to ask if she ever sensed any improper attention from Drew, but then I decide against it. As if reading my mind, Mia says, No, I never got a hint of weirdness from him. I never even caught him looking at my butt, which most older guys do every time I turn around.

I cant help but laugh at Mias awareness of the reaction her body causes in men. Ive admired her derriere myself on occasion. You told me youve heard mixed reactions about Drew and Kate. Tell me about that.

Well, from the parents its all bad, of course. They blame him totally for the affair. Some of them say Kate always looked old for her age-and acted a lot older-but they say thats no excuse.

But the kids are different?

Mia tilts a flattened hand back and forth to indicate ambivalence. The girls, mostly. The guys are calling him a perv and talking all kinds of shit about what they ought to do to him. But the girls understand it.

Why?

She smiles to herself. I think a lot of them have fantasized about doing the same thing Kate did.

Are you serious?

Hell, yeah. Make out with a hot guy like Dr. Elliott?

But hes twenty years older than they are!

So? Mia looks genuinely puzzled.

SoI dont know. Ellen Elliots words come back to me in a rush:These girls arent like the girls I went to school with You tell me.

I think youd be surprised at what we talk about, Mia says with a sly smile.

Water gurgles through the pipes in the wall. Annie has started her bath. For instance?

Umthe hot dads list.

The what?

The hot dads list. Thats the fathers of kids at St. Stephens who still rank as hot.

I shake my head in wonder. Who keeps this list?

The senior girls, mostly. Some juniors. Its not written down or anything. Just something we talk about. Dads wed hook up with if we got the chance.

And Drew was on this list?

The very top.

Really?

Oh, yeah. Youre on it, too.

My face reddens.

Im not saying youre on my list, she says with an apologetic smile. But Ive heard a lot of girls name you.

And these girls think it was okay for Drew to be sleeping with Kate?

Pretty much. I mean, Kate wasnt going to be with some high school boy, anyway. If Dr. Elliott was unhappy-and anybody who knows his wife knows he had to be-then what happens is what happens, you know? Its natural.

Adultery is natural?

Mia shrugs. It is to these girls. Half of them come from broken homes. More than half, probably.

God, what have we come to?

And the guys are only acting so pissed because theyre scared, Mia goes on. They know they cant possibly compete with a guy like Dr. Elliott, even on their own primitive level. I mean, look what he did to the jocks who tried to beat him up. So they say hes pervy and all. But every one of those guys would do that or worse if they thought they could get away with it. So would the fathers who are trash-talking Dr. Elliott. Some of the most self-righteous of those guys give me looks that totally creep me out when I run by them in tight shorts. They practically drool on me.

Im not even sure I want to know more at this point. The girls defending Drew arent doing so on the basis of forgiving human frailty; theyre saying you cant blame a guy for doing something most other men would do if given the same chance. Morality doesnt even come into it. What do you think about Kate and Drew?

Mia bites her lip and takes some time to think. It makes me sad for Timmy.

Do you know him?

Yeah. Hes a sweet kid, he really is. And his life is going tosuck for a while.

For some reason, my mind jumps off track to one of the phone calls I got this afternoon. What do you know about Marko Bakic?

Mias face closes almost instantly. Why do you ask?

His name has come up in connection with some things.

What kind of things?

Drugs.

She nods almost imperceptibly.

Are you nodding because you know Markos involved in drugs?

Just keep talking. Ill answer what I can.

What the hell?Do you know anything about a rave party out at Lake St. John last night?

Maybe.

Were you there?

She looks at her fingernails. Maybe.

Was there a lot of Ecstasy there?

There could have been.

What about LSD? See any of that?

Mia draws her legs up beneath her and sits Indian-style on the ottoman. Shes wearing loose gym shorts over a skintight Nike running suit. With her careful expression, she looks like someone judging a gymnastics competition.

In what capacity are you asking these questions? she asks with a strange formality. Is it just for your personal interest? Or are you asking as a member of the school board?

Im not sure myself.A concerned parent, lets say. I know something about X and LSD from my work in Houston. And Im getting the feeling that I need to know more about Marko Bakic, if I want to protect the students at St. Stephens.

Mia slowly shakes her head. I cant say much about that subject.

Why not? Are you afraid?

Another long pause. It wouldnt be cool. A lot of people could get in trouble.

Whats your personal opinion of Marko?

Her jaw muscles work beneath her tanned cheeks. Hes a psycho. Im serious, Penn, hes completely amoral. Right and wrong dont register in his mind. But he covers it well. Hes smooth. A lot of people think hes fun.

But not you?

I think hes a self-absorbed prick. I used to think he was fun. He had me snowed like the rest. Not now, though. I saw through him.

Do you want to tell me about it?

Not really.

Okay.

Mia gets to her feet and looks at me with her wide, dark eyes. If youre going after Marko, be careful.

Her severe gaze unsettles me. What do you know, Mia? It sounds like I need to hear it.

Markos not like the rest of us, okay? Were soft. American. Marko grew up in a war zone. His root directory is fucked up. Thats all I know to say. And he hangs with some bad people. If youre going to mess with him at all, you want somebody like Dr. Elliott around. Somebody who can get radical if things get out of hand.

Understood. Tell me, have you ever heard of Cyrus White?

She mulls over the name. No. Who is he?

A drug dealer. Dont ask around about him. Im serious, okay? Hes not a Nancy Drew project.

Mia looks offended. I know when to talk and when to shut up.

Im sorry.

She takes her CD out of the boom box and walks past me to the door.

I havent paid you yet, I remind her.

You can catch up tomorrow. She reaches for the doorknob, then looks back at me. I heard Ellen Elliott freaked out. Is she really dumping her husbands shit all over the lawn?

I shrug noncommittally.

I also heard you were over there.

The cell phones of Mia and her friends are like native drums on a Pacific island. Every significant event is instantly known by the tribe.

I guess Ellen thinks he did it, huh? she asks.

Did what?

Got Kate pregnant, for one thing.

I close my eyes in dismay. If this is public knowledge already, Drew is so screwed, its beyond belief.

Mia says, Do you think Ellen believes her husband killed Kate?

Of course not.

Some people are going to think that.

Probably so.

Except for the pathologist finding two guys stuff inside her, right? That makes it more complicated.

Jesus, Mia, is there anything you dont know?

Not much. She gives me a sad smile. Sometimes I wish I knew a lot less than I do. I wonder what that would be like.

They say ignorance is bliss.

Not ignorance. Innocence. Thats what I was talking about. Innocence.

Mia sighs, then passes through the door to the street.


Chapter 10 | Turning Angel | Chapter 12