Authors: Karin Slaughter
Carefully, Will walked up the stairs, testing each step before letting Sara follow. The scruffy treads were just as he remembered, but he had to duck at the top of the landing to keep from smacking his head on a structural beam.
“Back here.” He took purposeful strides down the hallway, acting as if this was exactly what he’d planned to do with his evening. As with downstairs, the space was divided into single rooms that met with the needs of the prostitutes, drug addicts, and alcoholics who’d likely rented space by the hour. Most of the doors were open or hanging off their hinges. The plaster around the baseboards had been nibbled away by rats. The walls were probably crawling with their offspring. Or cockroaches. Or both.
Will stopped at the next-to-last door and pushed it open with his foot. An iron cot and a smashed wooden table were the only contents. The carpet was a fecal brown. The one window in the room was cut in half, the other side shared with the next-door neighbor.
“My bed was here against the wall. Bunk bed. I got the top.”
Sara didn’t respond. Will turned around to look at her. She was biting her lip in a way that made him think that the pain was the only thing keeping her from crying.
“I know it looks awful,” he said. “But it wasn’t like this when I was a kid. I promise. It was nice. It was clean.”
“It was an orphanage.”
The word echoed in his head like she’d shouted it down a well. There was no getting past this difference between them. Sara had grown up with two loving parents, a doting sister, and a stable, solidly middle-class life.
And Will had grown up here.
“Will?” she asked. “What just happened?”
He rubbed his chin. Why was he such an idiot? Why did he keep making mistakes with Sara that he’d never made with anyone else in his life? There was a reason he didn’t talk about his childhood. People felt pity when they should’ve felt relief.
“I’ll take you home. I’m sorry.”
“Please don’t be. This is your home. Was your home. It’s where you grew up.”
“It’s a flophouse in the middle of a slum. We’re probably going to get stabbed by a junkie as soon as we leave.”
“It’s not funny, Sara. It’s dangerous here. Half the crime in the city happens—”
“I know where we are.” She put her hands on either side of his face. “Thank you.”
“For what? Making you need a tetanus shot?”
“For sharing part of your life with me.” She gently kissed him on the lips. “Thank you.”
Will stared into her eyes, wishing he could read her mind. He didn’t understand Sara Linton. She was kind. She was honest. She wasn’t storing up information to later use against him. She wasn’t jabbing her thumb into open wounds. She wasn’t anything like any woman he’d ever met in his life.
Sara kissed him again. She stroked his hair back over his ear. “Sweetheart, I know that look, and it’s not going to happen here.”
Will opened his mouth to respond, but stopped when he heard the sound of a car door slamming.
Sara jumped at the noise, her fingers digging into his arm.
“It’s a busy street,” Will told her, but he still went to the front of the house to investigate. Through the broken window at the end of the hallway, he saw a black Suburban parked at the curb. The glass was smoked black. The freshly washed exterior sparkled in the sun. The back end was lower than the front because of the large metal gun cabinet bolted into the rear of the SUV.
Will told Sara, “That’s a G-ride.” A government-issued vehicle. Amanda drove one exactly like it, so he shouldn’t have been surprised to see her get out of the Suburban.
She was talking on her BlackBerry. A hammer was in her other hand. The claw was long and nasty. She swung it at her side as she walked toward the front door.
Sara asked, “What’s she doing here?” She tried to look out the window, but Will pulled her back. “Why does she have a hammer?”
Will didn’t answer—couldn’t answer. There was no reason for Amanda to be here. No reason for her to call and ask Will where he was. No reason to tell him to report to the airport like she was giving a child a time-out in the corner.
Amanda’s voice carried through the closed window as she talked on the phone. “That’s unacceptable. I want the full team answering to me. No exceptions.”
The front door opened. It creaked this time. Will heard footsteps across the floor.
Amanda made a disgusted noise. “This is my case, Mike. I’ll work it how I see fit.”
Sara whispered, “What is she—”
Will’s expression must’ve stopped her. His jaw felt clamped shut. He was gripped by a sudden, inexplicable fury. He held up his hand, indicating Sara should stay there. Before she could argue, Will headed down the stairs, stepping carefully so the treads wouldn’t creak. He was sweating again. The hornets in his gut had worked their way into his chest, trapping his breath.
Amanda tucked her BlackBerry in her back pocket. She gripped the hammer in her hand as she started down the basement stairs.
He said, “Amanda.”
She spun around, grabbing the handrail for support. There was no mistaking the look on her face for anything but absolute shock. “What are you doing here?”
“Is the girl still missing?”
She didn’t move from the top stair. She was obviously still too shocked to speak.
He repeated his question. “Is the girl still—”
“Then why are you here?”
“Go home, Will.” He’d never heard anything like fear in her voice, but he could tell now that she was deathly afraid—not of Will, but of something else. “Just let me handle this.”
She rested her hand on the doorknob, as if she wanted nothing more than to close him out. “Go home.”
“Not until you tell me why you’re alone in an abandoned building when there’s an active case.”
She raised an eyebrow. “I’m not actually alone, am I?”
“Tell me what’s going on.”
“I’m not—” Her words were cut off by a loud crack. Panic filled her eyes. Another crack came like a shotgun blast. Amanda started to fall. She clutched the doorknob. Will lunged to help, but he was too late. The door slammed closed as the stairs collapsed. The noise rumbled through the building like a charging freight train.
Will jerked open the door. The knob rattled at his feet. He stared down into absolute blackness. Uselessly, he flipped the light switch up and down.
“Amanda?” he called. His voice echoed back at him. “Amanda?”
“Will?” Sara was on the landing. She quickly took in what had happened. “Give me your phone.”
Will tossed her the phone. He took off his jacket and holster and got down on the floor.
Sara said, “You are
going down there.”
Will froze, startled by the order, the unfamiliar sharp tone of her voice.
“We’re in a crack house, Will. There could be needles down there. Broken glass. It’s too dangerous.” She held up her finger as the phone was obviously answered on the other end. “This is Dr. Linton from the ER. I need a bus and rescue sent to Carver Street for an officer down.”
Will provided, “Street number’s 316.” He sat on his knees and leaned his head into the basement as Sara rattled off the details. “Amanda?” He waited. No response. “Can you hear me?”
Sara ended the call. “They’re on their way. Just stay there until—”
“Amanda?” Will glanced around the hallway, trying to put together a plan. Finally, he turned around and got down on his belly.
Sara pleaded, “Will, don’t.”
He elbowed back until his feet hung down into the basement.
“You’re going to fall.”
He edged back farther, expecting any moment for his feet to hit solid ground.
“There are broken pieces of wood down there. You could shatter your ankle. You could land on Amanda.”
Will gripped the edge of the doorjambs with his fingers, praying that his arms wouldn’t give. Which they eventually did. He dropped straight down like the blade on a guillotine.
“Will?” Sara was in the open doorway. She got down on her knees. “Are you all right?”
Pieces of wood poked into his back like sharp fingers. Sawdust filled the air. Will’s nose had banged into his knee so hard that pinpoints of light exploded in front of his eyes. He touched the side of his ankle. A nail had scraped across the bone. His teeth ached at the memory.
“Will?” Sara’s tone rose in alarm. “Will?”
“I’m all right.” He felt his ankle squick as he moved. Blood pooled into the heel of his shoe. He tried to make light of the situation. “Looks like I was right about needing that tetanus shot.”
She mumbled a shocking expletive.
Will tried to stand, but his feet couldn’t find purchase. He blindly reached out, thinking Amanda was close by. He got on his knees, leaning out farther, and finally was rewarded with a foot. Her shoe was missing. Her pantyhose were torn.
“Amanda?” Carefully, Will picked his way across the shards of wood and broken nails. He put his hand on her shin, then her thigh. He gently felt along until he found her arm folded over her stomach.
Will’s stomach roiled as his fingers followed the unnatural angle of her wrist. “Amanda?” he repeated.
She moaned again. Will knew she’d have a Maglite in the Suburban. He dug his fingers into the front pockets of her jeans, trying to find her keys. He could send Sara out to the car. She would have to search for the flashlight. He would tell her it was in the glove compartment or one of the locked drawers. She would spend several minutes looking for the light, which was exactly what Will needed.
“Amanda?” He checked her back pockets. The tips of his fingers brushed along the broken plastic case on her BlackBerry.
Suddenly, Amanda’s good hand clamped around his wrist. She asked, “Where’s My-kel?”
Will stopped searching for the keys. “Amanda? It’s Will. Will Trent.”
Her tone was terse. “I know who you are, Wilbur.”
Will felt his body go rigid. Only Angie called him Wilbur. It was the name on his birth certificate.
Sara asked, “Is she okay?”
Will had to swallow before he could speak. “I think her wrist is broken.”
“How’s her respiration?”
He listened for the cadence of her breath, but all he could hear was his own blood pounding in his ears. Why was Amanda here? She should be out looking for the missing girl. She should be leading the team. She shouldn’t be here. In this basement. With a hammer.
“Will?” Sara’s tone was softer now. She was worried about him.
He asked, “How long before the ambulance gets here?”
“Not much longer. Are you sure you’re all right?”
“I’m fine.” Will put his hand on Amanda’s foot again. He could feel a steady pulse near her ankle. He’d worked for this woman most of his career but still knew very little about her. She lived in a condo in the heart of Buckhead. She had been on the job longer than he had been alive, which put her age in the mid-sixties. She kept her salt-and-pepper hair coiffed in the shape of a football helmet and wore pantyhose with starched blue jeans. She had a sharp tongue, more degrees than a college professor, and she knew that his name was Wilbur even though he’d had it legally changed when he entered college and every piece of paper the GBI had on file listed his legal name as William Trent.
He cleared his throat again so that he could ask Sara, “Is there anything I should be doing?”
“No, just stay where you are.” Sara used a raised, clear tone Will thought of as her doctor’s voice. “Amanda. This is Dr. Linton. Can you tell me today’s date?”
She groaned out a pained breath. “I told Edna to shore up those steps a million times.”
Will sat back on his heels. Something sharp pressed against his knee. He felt blood sliding across his ankle, dripping through his sock. His heart was pounding so hard that he was sure Sara could hear it.
“Will,” Amanda mumbled. “What time is it?”
Will couldn’t answer her. His mouth felt wired shut.
Sara took over, saying, “It’s five-thirty.”
“In the evening,” Amanda said, not a question. “We’re at the children’s home. I fell down the basement stairs.” She lay there taking deep breaths of the pungent air. “Dr. Linton, am I going to live?”
“I’d be very surprised if you didn’t.”
“Well, I suppose that’s as much as I can ask for right now. Did I lose consciousness?”
“Yes,” Sara answered. “For about two minutes.”
Amanda spoke more to herself. “I don’t know what that means. Are you touching my foot?”
Will pulled away his hand.
“I can move my toes.” Amanda sounded relieved. “My head feels like it’s been cracked open.” He heard movement, the rustling of clothes. “No, nothing sticking out. No blood. No soft spots. God, my shoulder hurts.”
Will tasted blood. His nose was bleeding. He used the back of his hand to wipe his mouth.
Amanda let out another heavy sigh. “I’ll tell you what, Will. You get past a certain age and a broken bone or a cracked head is no laughing matter. It’s with you for the rest of your life. What’s left of the rest of your life.”
She was quiet for a few seconds. From the sound of it, she was trying to keep her breathing steady. Despite the fact that he was obviously not going to answer, she told Will, “When I joined the Atlanta Police Department, there was a whole division assigned to checking our appearance. The Inspection Division. Six full-duty officers. I’m not making that up.”
Will glanced up at Sara. She shrugged.
“They would show up during roll call, and if you didn’t fix what they told you to fix, you were suspended without pay.”
He put his hand to his watch, wishing he could feel the second hand ticking by. Grady Hospital was only a few blocks away. There was no reason for the ambulance to be taking so long. They knew Amanda was a cop. They knew she needed help.
Amanda said, “I remember the first time I rolled up on a signal forty-five. Some jackass had a CB radio stolen out of his car. We were always getting forty-fives on CB radios. They had those big antennas pointing like arrows off their back bumpers.”
Again, Will glanced up at Sara. She made a circling motion, indicating he should keep Amanda talking.