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Chapter 6

Mia Burkes eyes go wide when I walk into the living room of my town house.

God, what happened to you? she asks.

I got a little wet.

She rises from her chair and drops The Sheltering Sky onto an ottoman. Youre bleeding!

Am I?

Yeah.

She walks into the hall and motions for me to follow her to the bathroom. In the mirror over the sink, I see abrasions all over my neck and arms, and one long scrape on my left arm. The burn on my right forearm is red and throbbing.

Shit,she says softly. Yuck.

What?

Your back is worse than your front. It looks like youve got a bad cut under your shirt.

Great.

Youd better let me look.

I feel a little awkward in the bathroom with Mia. Two days ago I wouldnt have thought twice about it, but nowJust pull it up and see if I need stitches.

She laughs at my cautiousness, then slowly lifts my shirt, which is stuck to my back. Its a slash, really. It doesnt look too deep, but its dirty. Are you about to get in the shower?

Yes.

If I rub some soap into it, you can rinse it out in the shower. That should take care of it.

She slips around me and turns on the hot water tap, then rubs soap into a blue washcloth until she has a thick lather. Are you going to cry? she asks, holding up the cloth and stepping behind me again.

Lets find out.

The soap stings like sulfuric acid, but Mia has shamed me into silence.

Are you crying? she asks, scrubbing like a hospital nurse. I can feel her pulling apart the skin to clean inside the cut.

Thinking about it. Whats Lifehouse? I ask, remembering her T-shirt.

A band, old man. Youd like them. Ill make you a disk. The humor disappears from her voice. Did whatever you went to do work out all right?

Not as well as I hoped. But at least nobody got killed.

Thats good, right?

Right.

At last she removes the burning cloth from my back. Im going to leave the soap in there. If you want it to stop hurting, go take your shower.

Thanks. I can handle it from here.

She laughs, her eyes flickering with humor despite the days events. Can you? Do you need me tomorrow?

After school, if you can make it.

Okay. See you then.

She starts down the hall, but I call after her, Have you heard anything else about Kates death?

Mia walks back to the bathroom door. Steve Sayers and his dad are down at the sheriffs office right now, answering questions.

Steve was Kates boyfriend?

Figure of speech only.

Do you know where he was this afternoon?

He told John Ellis he drove down to his dads hunting camp near Woodville after school, to clean the place before turkey season.

Woodville is a small logging town thirty miles south of Natchez. Alone?

Thats what Steve told John. There may have been somebody down at the camp when Steve got there. I hope so, for Steves sake.

This time of year, I doubt it. SoSteve Sayers may not have an alibi.

Mia bites her lower lip and looks down the hall toward the front door. Shes wearing small sapphire studs in her ears; Ive never noticed them before. Suddenly she looks back at me, her dark eyes intense. You dont really think Steve could have killed Kate, do you?

I dont know him. His parents either. What kind of boy is he?

Hes okay. Kind of red, I guess. Hes no brain surgeon. His dads a game warden. What can I say? Hes a jock of average intelligence.

Violent?

Mia shrugs. Hes been in a couple of fights, but then most of the guys I know have. The jocks, anyway.

Has the sheriffs department talked to anybody else that you know about?

No. The police talked to Mrs. Townsend not long ago. Thats what I heard, anyway. They asked for the names of Kates closest friends.

Do you know whose names she gave them?

No. The truth is, Kate didnt have any close friends. Not for the past year or so. I mean, we all thought of her as a friend, but nobody was really in her business, you know? Half the time, no one even knew where she was.

The police are going to find this fact very interesting. Did you ever ask her where she was? Or try to figure out where she might be?

Not really. Steve did, of course. Like I told you, he always insisted she had some secret boyfriend, one she was ashamed for us to know about. But no one ever saw her with another guy.

Im tempted to ask Mia if she ever saw Kate alone with Drew; she and her classmates might have seen them together and not thought twice about it. But theres no point in alerting her to the true nature of that relationship. Was Kate tight with any of the black kids at St. Stephens?

Mia looks curiously at me. Why?

Im not going to tell her about the blackmail call or Drews assessment of the possible caller. It might be important.

Dont tell me theyre going to try to railroad a black guy for this.

Why do you say that?

Well, from what Ive read, that used to happen all the time around here in the old days. You know how it was. Thats why you took that civil rights case, right?

Yes and no. The truth is, Im worried about them railroading a white guy for Kates murder. What about my question?

Well, we only have four black guys in our class. Were a pretty small class, so everybody knows everybody. But Kate didnt have any special thing with any of the black guys. You talking about sex?

Not necessarily. Any special relationship.

Ill ask around, but tonight my answer is no.

Okay. I pull the towel tight across the cut on my back. Thanks for staying tonight. Im going to hit the shower now.

She smiles and gives me a little wave. Bye.

Hey, did Caitlin call while I was gone?

No. No calls. Her eyes probe mine for a hidden reaction to this news.

Thanks.

Her gaze lingers a moment longer, and then she walks down the hall to the front door. Tell Annie Ill see her tomorrow afternoon.

I will. Thanks again.

The front door slams.



Chapter 5 | Turning Angel | IMG style="WIDTH: 35; HEIGHT: 5" hspace=1 vspace=1 src="