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Chapter 32

Quentin Averys suite is empty. Lucien has apparently gone home, but from the dirty dishes littering the coffee table, he ate a full meal and several desserts before giving up on the Sony flash drive I took from Markos apartment. The flash drive itself is sitting on the keyboard in front of the flat-panel monitor on the desk. Though its long after midnight, Mia looks wide awake. The rave is forgotten. Her excitement at seeing what Kate kept hidden from the world is plain to see.

Why are you so excited about seeing whats on Kates drives? I ask, taking a seat before the computer and slipping the Sony drive into my pocket.

Mia pulls up a chair and sits beside me. I just want to understand where she really was in her head. Maybe then Ill know why she died.

When I insert the first Lexar flash drive, Windows offers to open a folder to view the files. Thank you, Lucien. I click the mouse, and a group of folders and individual files pops up. Some are.jpeg image files, others are WordPerfect documents, and still others appear to be hypertext documents saved from the Worldwide Web.

What do we look at first? Mia asks.

The pictures, I guess. I have a feeling some of this stuff is going to be explicit.

She gives me a look that says, Give me a break.

I click a.jpeg file, and a picture of two men having sex fills the screen.

Whoa, I say, feeling my face color.

I try to click the image away, but Mia grabs my hand. Thats no big deal, she says. This isnt 1980, okay? Ive seen women doing it with horses on the Internet. Everybody in my class has.

Its not her revelation about bestiality that shocks me, but the way she refers to 1980 as if its the Dark Ages. I was twenty years old in 1980. For me, 1984 still carries the dread of an Orwellian future; for Mia its the name of a bad Van Halen album released two years before she was born.

Its just gay sex, she says. And the guys are hot.

Do you think thats why Kate has this?

She shrugs. I dont know. Open some more files.

More images of gay sexual action appear.

I think Kate was into anal, Mia says in a matter-of-fact voice.

Thats what Drew told me. Thats why they found his semen in herin

Her butt? Mia finishes, looking at me like Im being ridiculous.

Yeah. Shads going to use that fact to make it look like Drew raped Kate. Hes relying on the jury being unwilling to believe a girl that young would do that voluntarily.

He might be right, if the jurys old enough. But you never know. They might surprise you.

I wouldnt mind being surprised like that.

Mia is still watching the screen. Keep clicking.

I open some more files, moving quickly down the directory. A few heterosexual images appear, but the collection is still heavily weighted toward gay porn. As the images flash up and vanish, I realize that Im simply not young enough to judge how normal or abnormal it is for a girl to possess this kind of material today.

Mia, I dont want to embarrass you, but I need to know something.

What?

Do you have stuff like this on your computer? I dont mean gay porn, butyou know.

At last Mia blushes. Do you?

Wellsome. But Im a guy.

She laughs nervously. Yeah, Ive got a few pictures.

I wouldnt have thought that.

She gives me a strange smile. Am I ruining your perfect image of me?

Maybe.

Everybodys human, Penn. Even girls like me.

I guess I keep hoping thats not true.

She points at the screen. Try this folder at the bottom. It has a D and a K in the file name.

Her instinct is dead-on. When I click the folder shes pointing to, a host of file icons appears, all coded DK with a number. And when I click the first icon, an image of Kate and Drew having intercourse fills the screen.

Jesus, I whisper.

Mia whistles softly.

Drew and Kate are in the missionary position, but theres no hokey mugging for the camera or anything like that. It looks as though someone hiding in the bedroom caught them in the act of tenderly making love. Not many people look good having sex, but Drew seems frozen above Kate like a statue by Michelangelo, his muscles flexed in stark relief. Hes looking down into Kates eyes, and she appears awestruck, her mouth partly open, her eyes filled with indescribable emotion. This single image brings home the reality of their relationship in a more visceral way than all Drews explanations of it, or even my imagined reality. They dont look like two porn actors, but two people deeply in love.

Its so sad, Mia says. Isnt it?

Yes.

Open another one.

I sigh, then move to the next file. When this image fills the screen, Mia gasps. It takes me a minute to process what Im seeing. Drew stands facing the camera, holding Kate against him as they make love. But she is not facing him; shes facing the camera, her long legs bowed at the knee, her feet hooked behind Drews powerful legs. Drews hands are clutching Kates inner thighs, while her lithe arms disappear beneath his muscular ones, presumably to grip his lower back. Somehow these few points of contact manage to support Kates full weight. The position spreads her chest to the limit, pushing her modest but shapely breasts up and outward through her long blond hair. And though her eyes are closed, her face communicates utter bliss. Drews jaw is clenched with effort, but he looks as though he could hold Kate suspended for eternity.

Ive never done that, Mia says softly. Have you?

No.

Is he in her front or back?

I study the picture. Kates pubic area is trimmed to a barely visible shadow. What must be a third of the shaft of Drews penis is visible below her vaginal lips, but the slight downward angle of the shot makes it difficult to see the point of entry.

Front, I think.

Mia shakes her head again. Her breathing has gone shallow, and theres a tension in her body that wasnt there before. The photo is shockingly erotic, and it makes me wonder whether Drew and Kate shot this photograph, or whether someone else was indeed in the room. Its hard to believe they staged this shot with a timer.

Mia leans closer to the screen. At some level, I know that viewing this material with her is inappropriate, but I also know that Im not about to stop.

What do you think about that? I ask.

Its beautiful.

Is it?

Hes hot.

I cant help but feel a pang of jealousy. And Kate?

Shes so long. Ill never look like that.

Why would you want to look like that?

Mia shakes her head. She doesnt want to answer. But neither does she take her eyes from the picture. As she stares, I decide to ask something Ive wondered about ever since the murder-and especially after last nights conversation with Caitlin.

Would you do something like that, Mia?

What? The sex?

No. Would you do what Kate did? Get involved with an older man. Like Drew.

She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. Then she turns to me and opens them. Do you want me to be honest?

Of course.

Will you be honest?

Yes.

Have you ever thought about kissing me?

In one moment my face is burning. I cant be honest with her about that. Maybe not even with myself.

That wasnt a discussion question, she says. Its yes or no. True or false.

Mia

She looks down. Its all right. I already know.

Do you?

I think so.

Well?

She shakes her head and looks up again. You asked if I would do what Kate did. My answer is yes. With the right man.

Why would you?

She looks back at the screen and covers her mouth with her hand. Then she closes the file and turns to face me, her eyes bright with intensity. Because Im ready to experience more than I have up to this point. I want to know the essence of life, and of myself. I want to learn what Im capable of. And the boys I know cant help me do that.

She pauses, but she seems to have more to say.

I realize that I could be hurt by an older man, she goes on. But thats what you do when youre my age, isnt it? You get your heart broken, and you learn. You try to figure out who youre supposed to be with.

I suppose youre right.

Im not Kate. Im not even like Kate. Im my own person. Im eighteen, and I understand what that kind of choice means. Its a risk, but its one I would take. Its something Id like to experience before I leave for Brown. And my feeling is that the consequences of that kind of relationship dont have to be negative. She gives me a tight smile. Im not a Fatal Attraction kind of girl. No dramatic scenes, no pregnancy, no suicide attempts, no diseases. Just intimacy.

Her dark eyes are only inches from mine, and they seem almost bottomless.

Mia-

Im not the angel you think I am, Penn.

Youre more of one than you think.

She raises an eyebrow in answer, then lays her right hand over my left. Will you answer my question?

Which one?

You know which one.

As blood suffuses my cheeks again, it strikes me that only truth will resolve this situation. Yes, Ive thought about what it would be like to kiss you.

She acknowledges my words with a nod, but she already knew the answer.

But that doesnt mean its all right for me to do it, I add.

Mias smile is as serene as the face of the Turning Angel. Ive thought about it, too, she says. I thought about it during the drive out to Oakfield. And during the drive back.

I dont know what to say.

Dont say anything. Just kiss me.

I cant do that.

She smiles as though we share some intimate secret. Did you know that Humphrey Bogart married Lauren Bacall when she was twenty?

No.

He was forty-six. Thats more of an age difference than we have.

Not by much.

She laughs softly. Just giving you a little history. I wasnt saying we have to be together forever. You already have a life, and Im going to Brown in the fall.

Before I can speak again, she takes my other hand in her free one and squeezes. Look at me, Penn. Not your idea of me, but me, the mortal girl. The flesh-and-blood Mia. And dont say anything-please.

I cant obey her. Because to look into Mias eyes for too long would send me straight down the road Drew has already traveled. The reality of a stunningly beautiful and intelligent young woman explaining why its all right for you to make love to her is enough to make any male lose all capacity for rational thought. In my mind I hear Wade Anders telling me that the hardest thing he ever did was turn down the girls whove come on to him in his office. Those girls, I am certain, were not even in Mias league. But what refuses to leave my mind is the image of Drew and Kate making love before the camera. Mia viewed that photograph with me and felt no embarrassment at all. On the contrary, she wants to experience the same intensity she saw there with me. More than that, shes telling me beforehand that Ill have no obligation to her.

Evolutionary nirvana,Caitlin called it. God, was she right.

I close my eyes, slip my hands from beneath Mias, and grip her upper arms. Listen to me, Mia. Do you have any idea of the power you possess? You sitting there saying that-the way you said it-makes me believe in witchcraft. Its like a spell. And I know youre telling the truth. You have outgrown this town and its people. You are ready to taste a deeper level of life. Youre ready to explore yourself, and you probably do need a man for some parts of that journey.

But youre not that man? she says.

I nod slowly. We both have to tell the truth here, okay? Thats the only way to be fair to each other. Do I want you in this moment? Yes, I do. Do I have any idea of what it would be like to experience with you what we saw in that picture? I think I do. Do I have any inkling of the connection you and I could have, despite our age difference? Of course I do. Because we already have it. Ive been forcing myself to ignore it for weeks. Its a clich'e, I know, but I feel as though Ive known you all my life. But the thing isI havent. I couldnt have. Because youre half my age. You are literally young enough to be my daughter.

But Im not your daughter, she says, laying her hands over mine again.

I breathe slowly, trying to stay focused. In some ways, I feel you are.

Mia shakes her head, her eyes anxious now. Dont say that. Because its not true. Ive seen things in your eyes that a father doesnt feel for a daughter.

Of course you have. Im a man, and I respond to all that you are. But I also feel things that a father feels for a daughter. Mainly, I feel very protective of you. And my first duty is to protect you from me.

She stares at me in silence, trying to process what Ive said. In this strange lacuna of time, I feel the shattering intensity of the moment that Drew stepped over the line with Kate. He looked into a face this beautiful; he gazed into eyes like twin pools in some mythic grove; he touched skin this flawless; he listened to the siren song of eternal youth falling from bloodred lips, and then he leaned forward-not back. And from that moment forward he was lost.

Mia reads my eyes with the precision of a clairvoyant. Sadness touches her lips for a moment; then she blinks three times and looks back at the computer screen.

Forget I said anything, she says, clicking the mouse to open a WordPerfect document. I was being retarded.

No, you werent. You were just I stop talking. Ive lost her. The walls have gone up, and nothing is going to bring them down any time soon.

Look at this, she says. It looks like e-mail from that guy you talked about.

Who?

The drug dealer. Cyrus?

The name shocks me back to the present. Mias right. The letter is three paragraphs long, and incredibly enough, its signed: Peace+, Cyrus. I read it aloud, searching for a sense of Cyrus White in the way his words feel in my mouth.

Dear Kate, Ive been thinking about you a lot. I dont want to freak you out, but I dont think youre the kind of girl who freaks out too easy. Ive been looking at that picture, the one Jaderious took. You look so fine in that, girl. You look like a movie star in a magazine, when they catch them coming out of a theater or something. I mean it. I saw a girl on the cover of US magazine that made me think of you. I looked inside to find out who she was. Her name is Katie Holmes. Yall even have the same name, so I rented two of her flicks. Youre kind of like her, only with blond hair and blue eyes, and more together. Not silly or flighty or anything.

I hope what I gave you did you right. I cant see you doing that myself, but I dont really know you yet. Everybody carries some pain around, and Im sure youve been through your share. You told me your old man was never around, and I can relate to that. I didnt even know who my father was. The guy I thought it was, turned out he was just some guy, you know? My mamas boyfriend. But that was a long time ago.

I just want you to know Im thinking about you. That I see youre different from everybody else. I know you already know that, but I want you to know I know it too. I know it cause Im the same way. I live in a different world, of course. But I always knew I was different. Thats how I got where I am now. When the plants closed down around here, a lot of guys just gave up. Some took shit jobs, but others just sit at home with their head in a bottle, or smoke weed, whatever. I guess thats all right for them. But not me. I got screwed out of my living, so I give it right back to the bastards who did it. Im not letting them take me down. Im getting enough money to do anything I might ever want to do. I got big plans, I want you to know that. I know you got plans too. If you ever want to talk, like you said, just mail me back, or call me, whatever. Im open to it, you know? Thats all I want to say. You be cool. Peace+, Cyrus.

Lets look for the picture hes talking about, Mia says.

Look for CW in the file name, I think aloud. Or CK.

Snap! says Mia. There it is.

She clicks on another.jpeg file, and a new photo fills the screen. A large, sullen-faced black man stands before a gray wall with his arm around Kate, almost crushing her against him. Kate has a smile of sorts on her face, but its the smile of someone making the best of a bad situation. She looks like a girl being molested by a customs official while trying to get out of a hostile country; she has to play along to get out of the situation, but shes not okay with it. But then again, maybe thats just prejudice coloring my view of the photograph.

Does she look happy to you? I ask.

Mia shakes her head. Thats one of Kates fake smiles. Everybody has one, of course. Kate has about five, and thats one of them. She looks scared to me.

I agree.

I lean closer to the screen and try to read Cyruss eyes, but the flat-panel model doesnt have the fine resolution of a CRT. Still, his whole appearance and posture radiate a sense of threat. Sonny Cross told me that Cyrus was thirty-four, but the drug dealer looks about twenty-eight in this photo. Hes built like an NFL cornerback: his bullet head is shaved clean, his neck is corded with muscle, and his biceps are thicker than Kates thighs. His skin is the color of caf'e au lait-Im guessing a quarter of his blood could be Caucasian. Hes wearing a black wife-beater tank top and tight white painters pants. A solitary gold chain hangs around his neck, but the links are thick enough to pull a truck out of a mudhole. I wonder if the chain is meant to symbolize the chains of slavery.

Look for more letters, I murmur.

Definitely, says Mia.

She begins opening WordPerfect files. Most of them seem like diary pages that didnt make Kates handwritten journal. Ironically, these entries are of the more casual sort:

Ate crawfish pasta at Pearl Street Pasta

Got an acceptance letter from Colgate-too late, people

Grandma sent me a check for $10. What does she think I can buy with that?

Steve almost cracked his skull today on his 4-wheeler. He made a huge deal out of it, but I couldnt pretend to be too worried. Its not like there was much risk of brain damage

For some reason, Kate chronicled the most sensitive events of her life by hand, where they could easily be discovered, while her quotidian record was saved to a password-protected disk. Why? The password was to protect the pictures, I realize. The person most likely to discover Kates journal was her mother, and Kate wasnt worried about that. She simply wanted to spare her mother from the explicit visual evidence of her sexual life.

That looks like the only letter from Cyrus, Mia says.

Im going to have to find a way to get a look at Kates actual computer.

Would Mrs. Townsend let you do that? She gave you the journal.

I think she would. But the police probably have it by now. Ill get Quentin to request access to it.

Wait! Heres another letter!

As I read the next e-mail from Cyrus, my face grows hot. The chatty tone of the first letter is gone, replaced by seething anger. This time Mia reads aloud:

What the fuck, huh? You said you were going to write me back, talk to me, but you just leave me sitting here like I dont exist. And thats the truth, isnt it? In your world, I dont exist. I only pop into your head when the dope gets low. Yeah, I know how it is. I know more junkies than I can count, and theyre all the same. You just look better than the rest. But the beautiful people got the monkey on their back too, baby. Youll see that when you get to Harvard. You can bet your ass those rich kids are snorting and mainlining and everything else. The only difference is, they got better dope. If you ever come down off that high horse, write me back.

Cyrus thought Kate was getting the pills for herself, Mia says.

She was protecting Drew.

Mia shakes her head. I dont like Drew too much right now. He was really taking advantage of her.

Im disgusted myself, but Im also excited. If Cyrus White didnt know Kate was buying the Lorcet for Ellen Elliott, then Shad Johnson cant possibly learn the truth behind Kates visits from any members of Cyruss crew. Quentin will be ecstatic over this.

Look, says Mia, reading another note from Cyrus. You see what Kate was doing? She was playing Cyrus to keep the pills coming. He wanted her, so he held the dope over her head, and she played the game. I wonder how far she went?

Too far, Im afraid, I reply, reading farther down.

You played me, didnt you, bitch? You made me feel like you saw past my skin and my trade. But you dont. You made me believe you see me the way you see yourself. But you dont. To you Im just another nigger. After you get to Harvard, Im going to be that big bad black dope dealer you tell colorful stories about, while your spoiled-ass friends laugh. Well, fuck you, bitch! You knew I wanted you, and you held out that pussy like bait to get what you wanted. Just like every other bitch tries to do. But women dont play that shit with Cyrus. Hear? I got some bitches you ought to talk to about that. They learned quick. You will too. You can hide all you want. You can ignore my e-mail, not answer my calls. But when that dope gets low, youll be back. And dont be trying to get it from Marko. I own that motherfucker. Your best bet is to fake a toothache and go to a horny dentist. You can probably play him for some of what you need. But you wont make it through the summer, baby. Youll be back to me. And this time youre going to pay like all the other bitches. With pussy.

Holy shit, Mia says softly. This is scary.

This is dynamite is what it is. Are there any more like this?

Lets see. She opens another folder containing WordPerfect documents. Most are to-do lists relating to admission to colleges. There are five drafts of essays written for applications.

Look at this hypertext document, Mia says.

The saved Web page is a visual encyclopedia of medications containing hydrocodone. Theres a picture of each brand of pill, and beside each the pharmacological information about it-how much hydrocodone it contains, how much acetaminophen, etc.

Kate was a comparison shopper, I comment.

She wanted to make sure Cyrus didnt screw her.

In the drug-dealing sense.

In both senses, says Mia. I feel so sorry for her.

Whats that? I ask, pointing to a Microsoft Notepad document.

Mia opens the file. It looks like she copied the text from an e-mail and posted it into Notepad. Holy shit. Look at that.

I saw you today,it begins.

You were talking to that doctor I see running all the time. Yall were being shady as shit, too. You found a new source, didnt you? You didnt go to a dentist, you went to a doctor. I saw how you were with him. Youre giving your shit to him, all right. He wouldnt give you the dope without some kind of payment, and what else do you got that hed want? Of course you wont see it that way. You probably think youre in love. Well, I got something for you, Cinderella. You dont shit on Cyrus and walk away clean. You aint clean. And dont think your doctor man can help you. He may look big, but Ill take that motherfucker down. How did you get this way, anyway? Does your mama know you do this shit? Or did she TEACH you this shit? I bet thats it. Have a nice day, okay? Enjoy your ride in that boxy-ass Volvo. It aint gonna last long.

Whats the date of that e-mail? I ask.

Theres no date. Its just copied text.

Whats the date of the Notepad file?

Mia checks it. The twenty-eighth.

Three days before Kate was murdered.

I pull the flash drive from the computer and get to my feet. My neck and back are stiff from staring so intently at the computer.

What are you going to do? Mia asks.

Get to work. That letter is going to save Drews life.

Will it, really?

This letter alone will create reasonable doubt in the mind of the jury.

Mia nods, but she doesnt look convinced.

What is it?

A lot of people get upset when theyre rejected, she says. You know? A lot of people say they want to kill the person who hurt them. Or at least they think it.

Have you ever thought that?

She looks straight into my eyes. Yes.

Who was the person?

She shakes her head. I told you Im not the angel you think I am.

I want to know more, but right now I cant make myself concentrate on the love life of my babysitter. Its late-probably too late to wake Quentin-but I need to get Mia home and start working on Drews defense. Its hard to get my mind around the fact, but his trial begins next Wednesday. At least now well have a big surprise for Shad Johnson.

You want me to go, dont you? Mia says.

Well, Im going to be working all night on subpoenas and things like that. Drew doesnt have much time.

I understand. Ill go. She picks up her backpack and starts toward the door.

Mia, its really late. Let me run you home.

She stops. You dont have to. Ive got my car.

Ill follow you then. And tomorrow Ill let you know everything that happens related to this. I know you want to know about it.

I do. Thanks. And to tell you the truth, I dont feel like driving. I can pick up my car tomorrow.

Good. I open the leather portfolio I brought Kates journal in and zip Kates flash drives into one of its inside pockets. Then I slip the envelope containing Markos hair into another. Im not letting this stuff out of my sight. As I reach for Markos flash drive, which is still in my pants pocket, it hits me that Mia is seriously upset. I walk to her and put my hands on her shoulders.

Mia, I cant tell you how much help youve been tonight. Helping me find Marko, getting these disks hacked. Youve been critical throughout this investigation. When Drew is acquitted, its going to be due to your efforts more than anyone elses.

A smile touches the corners of her mouth. You really think so?

Absolutely. Drews going to have to make a large contribution to your college fund.

She laughs, her eyes sparkling. How large?

Five figures for sure. Hell, I think it ought to equal Quentins fee.

Youre kidding, right?

Im not. If Drew doesnt take care of you, I will. Thats a promise. But he will. I know him. Now, lets get you home.

Mia shoulders her backpack and leads the way through the door. As we enter the elevator, though, I realize that her smile is gone again.Wake up, stupid, says a voice in my head. Its not paying for college that shes worried about. Its what happened in front of the computer ten minutes ago.

Were standing about two feet apart, facing the elevator door. Our reflections are staring at us from the brass plating. Mia looks tiny and vulnerable with her backpack slung over her shoulder. Im so glad I didnt cross the line with her upstairs.

Mia

She gives the slightest shake of her head. She cant bear to discuss what happened between us. As I stare at her reflection, I realize there are tears on her face. After a moments hesitation, I reach out and take her hand in mine. Its very small and soft, not so different from my daughters hand. After a moment, she squeezes my hand in return, then steps close to me and lays her head on my chest.

Putting my arm around her, I feel ineffable sadness at the plight of this girl. Her father abandoned her when she was two, yet she and her mother somehow struggled through, not just to the point that theyre okay-which would have been triumph enough-but to the point that Mia has become a self-possessed young lady accepted into one of the finest universities in the country. If Drew really is acquitted, Im going to make him set up a college account for Mia. And the first deposit is going to be a hundred thousand dollars.

The elevator dings, and the doors open onto the empty lobby. To our left, a clerk behind the desk stands and gives us a sleepy wave.

Do you need anything, sir?

No, thanks.

My cars in the back lot, I tell Mia, stopping by a large sofa. Stay here until I bring it around.

She slips her heavy pack off her shoulder and drops into the soft cushion of the sofa.

Dont fall asleep.

I might.

I point to a side door that leads to the hotels check-in lanes. Thats where Ill be. Youll be able to see me pull up.

Can you bring a pizza with you? Im hungry.

We can grab something on the way home.

I walk past the desk and out the back door.

The Eola parking lot occupies the hollow center of a large city block. Its mostly empty, so I jog straight to my Saab. Laying the portfolio on the passenger seat, I crank the engine, back out of my space, and pull around to the check-in lanes. With six stories of hotel sitting on top of them, theyre effectively in a tunnel, and for some reason the arrows painted on the ground go against the normal American traffic flow. The right lane-which would put me in front of the hotel door-is painted with an arrow coming straight toward me, as it would in the UK.

Screw it, I mutter, pulling into the right lane.

As I come abreast of the glass doors, I see Mia waiting just inside them. Then I see a man standing behind her. Not a man, really, but a boy. A boy with an Asian face. Hes pressing a gun against Mias right temple.

And hes smiling.


Chapter 31 | Turning Angel | Chapter 33