Authors: Karin Slaughter
Will’s throat was too tight. He couldn’t force out the words, couldn’t pretend that they were all just a bunch of friends who’d had a bad day.
Amanda didn’t seem to need encouragement. She chuckled under her breath. “They laughed at me. They laughed at me when I got there. They laughed at me when I took the report. They laughed at me when I left. No one thought women should be in uniform. The station would get calls every week—someone reporting that a woman had stolen a squad car. They couldn’t believe we were on the job.”
Sara said, “I think they’re here,” just as Will heard the distant wail of a siren. “I’ll go wave them down.”
Will waited until Sara’s footsteps were on the front porch. It took everything in him not to grab Amanda by the shoulders and shake her. “Why are you here?”
“Is Sara gone?”
“Why are you here?”
Amanda’s tone turned uncharacteristically gentle. “I have to tell you something.”
“I don’t care,” he shot back. “How did you know—”
“Shut up and listen,” she hissed. “Are you listening?”
Will felt the dread come flooding back. The siren was louder. The ambulance braked hard in front of the house.
“Are you listening?”
Will found himself speechless again.
“It’s about your father.”
She said more, but Will’s ears felt muffled, as if he was listening to her voice underwater. As a kid, Will had ruined the earpiece to his transistor radio that way, putting the bud in his ear, dunking his head in the bathtub, thinking that would be a cool new way to hear music. It had been in this very house. Two floors up in the boys’ bathroom. He was lucky he hadn’t electrocuted himself.
There was a loud thunk overhead as paramedics shoved open the front door. Heavy footsteps banged across the floor. The bright beam of a Maglite suddenly filled the basement. Will blinked in the glare. He felt dizzy. His lungs ached for breath.
Amanda’s words came rushing back to him the same way sound had come back to his ears when he’d grabbed the sides of the tub and thrust his head above water.
“Listen to me,” she’d ordered.
But he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to know what she had to say.
The parole board had met. They had let Will’s father out of prison.
October 15, 1974
Lucy had lost track of time once the symptoms had subsided. She knew it took heroin three days to fully leave your bloodstream. She knew that the sweats and sickness lasted a week or more, depending on how far gone you were. The stomach cramps. The throbbing pain in your legs. The alternating constipation and diarrhea. The bright red blood from your lungs giving up the Drano or baby formula or whatever was used to cut down the Boy.
People had died trying to leave H on their own. The drug was vengeful. It owned you. It clawed into your skin and wouldn’t let go. Lucy had seen its castoffs laid out in back rooms and vacant parking lots. Their flesh desiccated. Fingers and toes curled. Their nails and hair kept growing. They looked like mummified witches.
Weeks? Months? Years?
The stifling August heat had been broken by what could only be fall temperatures. Cool mornings. Cold nights. Was winter coming? Was it still 1974, or had she missed Thanksgiving, Christmas, her birthday?
Sands through the hourglass.
Did it really matter anymore?
Every day, Lucy wished that she was dead. The heroin was gone, but not a second went by when she wasn’t thinking about that high. The transcendence. The obliteration. The numbing of her mind. The ecstasy of the needle hitting vein. The rush of fire burning through her senses. Those first few days, Lucy could still taste the H in her vomit. She’d tried to eat it, but the man had forced her to stop.
Who would do something like this? It defied logic. There was no pattern in Lucy’s life to explain why this was happening. As bad as some of her johns were, they always let her go. Once they got what they wanted, they tossed her back into the street. They didn’t want to see her again. They hated the sight of her. They kicked her if she didn’t move fast enough. They shoved her out of their cars and sped away.
But not him. Not this man. Not this devil.
Lucy wanted him to fuck her. She wanted him to beat her. She wanted him to do anything but the loathsome routine she had to endure every day. The way he brushed her hair and teeth. The way he bathed her. The chaste way he used the rag to wash between her legs. The gentle pats of the towel as he dried her. The look of pity every time her eyes opened and closed. And the praying. The constant praying.
“Wash away your sins. Wash away your sins.” It was his mantra. He said nothing directly to her. He only spoke to God, as if He would listen to an animal like this man. Lucy asked why—why her? Why this? She screamed at him. She begged him. She offered him anything, and all he said was, “Wash away your sins.”
Lucy had grown up with prayer. Over the years, she had often found solace in religion. The smell of a burning candle or the taste of wine could send her back to the church pew, where she happily sat between her mother and father. Her brother, Henry, would scribble crude drawings on the bulletin, bored nearly to death, but Lucy loved listening to the preacher extol the vast rewards of a godly life. On the streets, it gave her comfort to think about those sermons from long ago. Even as a sinner, she was not completely without salvation. The crucifixion meant nothing if not to redeem Lucy Bennett’s soul.
But not like this. Never like this. Not the soap and water. Not the blood and wine. Not the needle and thread.
There was penance, and then there was torture.
July 7, 1975
Amanda Wagner let out a long sigh of relief as she drove out of her father’s Ansley Park neighborhood. Duke had been in rare form this morning. He’d begun a litany of complaints the moment Amanda walked through his kitchen door and not stopped until she was waving goodbye from behind the wheel of her car. Feckless veterans looking for handouts. Gas prices through the roof. New York City expecting the rest of the country to bail them out. There was not one story in the morning paper about which Duke did not share his opinion. By the time he’d started listing the seemingly endless faults of the newly organized Atlanta Police Department, Amanda was only half listening, nodding occasionally to keep his temper from turning in the wrong direction.
She cooked his breakfast. She kept his coffee mug filled. She emptied his ashtrays. She laid out a shirt and tie on his bed. She wrote down directions for thawing the roast so she could fix his supper after work. Meanwhile, the only thing that made it all bearable was thinking about her tiny studio apartment on Peachtree Street.
The place was less than five minutes away from her father’s house, but it might as well be on the moon. Stuck between the library and the hippie compound along Fourteenth Street, the apartment was one of six units in an old Victorian mansion. Duke had taken one look at the space and snorted that he’d had better accommodations on Midway during the war. None of the windows would properly close. The freezer wasn’t cold enough to make ice. The kitchen table had to be moved before the oven door could be opened. The toilet lid scraped the side of the bathtub.
It was love at first sight.
Amanda was twenty-five years old. She was going to college. She had a good job. After years of begging, she’d finally managed by some miracle to persuade her father to let her move out. She wasn’t exactly Mary Richards, but at least she wouldn’t pass for Edith Bunker anymore.
She slowed her car and took a right turn onto Highland Avenue, then another right into the strip mall behind the pharmacy. The summer heat was almost suffocating, though it was only quarter till eight in the morning. Steam misted from the asphalt as she pulled into a parking space at the far end of the lot. Her hands were sweating so badly that she could barely grip the steering wheel. Her pantyhose were cutting into her waist. The back of her shirt stuck to the seat. There was a throbbing ache in her neck that was working its way up to her temples.
Still, Amanda rolled down her shirtsleeves and buttoned the tight cuffs at her wrists. She dragged her purse off the passenger’s seat, thinking the bag got heavier every time she lifted it. She reminded herself that it was better than what she was wearing on patrol this time last year. Undergarments. Pantyhose. Black socks. Navy-colored, polyester-blend pants. A man’s cotton shirt that was so big the breast pockets tucked below her waist. Underbelt. Metal hooks. Outer belt. Holster. Gun. Radio. Shoulder mic. Kel-Lite. Handcuffs. Nightstick. Key holder.
It was no wonder the patrolwomen of the Atlanta police force had bladders the size of watermelons. It took ten minutes to remove all the equipment from your waist before you could go to the bathroom—and that was assuming you could sit down without your back going into spasms. The Kel-Lite alone, with its four D-cell batteries and eighteen-inch-long shaft, weighed in at just under eight pounds.
Amanda felt every ounce of the weight as she hefted her purse onto her shoulder and got out of the car. Same equipment, but now that she was a plainclothes officer it was in a leather bag instead of on her hips. It had to be called progress.
Her father had been in charge of Zone 1 when Amanda joined the force. For nearly twenty years, Captain Duke Wagner had run the unit with an iron fist, right up until Reginald Eaves, Atlanta’s first black public safety commissioner, fired most of the senior white officers and replaced them with blacks. The collective outrage had nearly toppled the force. That previous chief John Inman had done basically the same thing in reverse seemed to be a fact lost in everyone’s collective memory. The good ol’ boy network was fine so long as you were one of the lucky few who were dialed in.
Consequently, Duke and his ilk were suing the city for their old jobs back. Maynard Jackson, the city’s first black mayor, was backing his man. No one knew how it would end, though to hear Duke talk, it was just a matter of time before the city capitulated. No matter their color, politicians needed votes, and voters wanted to feel safe. Which explained why the police force gripped the city like a devouring octopus, its tentacles spreading in every direction.
Six patrol zones stretched from the impoverished Southside to the more affluent northern neighborhoods. Spotted within these zones were so-called “Model Cities,” precincts that served the more violent sections of the downtown corridor. There were small pockets of wealth inside Ansley Park, Piedmont Heights, and Buckhead, but a good many of the city’s inhabitants lived in slums, from Grady Homes to Techwood to the city’s most notorious housing project, Perry Homes. This Westside ghetto was so dangerous it warranted its own police force. It was the sort of job returning vets clamored for, more like a war zone than a neighborhood.
The plainclothes and detective units were posted across the zones. There were twelve divisions in all, from vice control to special investigations. Sex crimes was one of the few divisions that allowed women in any numbers. Amanda doubted very seriously her father would’ve let her apply for the unit had he still been on the force when she submitted her application. She cringed to think what would happen if Duke won his lawsuit and got reinstated. He’d likely have her back in uniform performing crossing-guard duties in front of Morningside Elementary.
But that was a long-term problem, and Amanda’s day—if it was like any other—would be filled with short-term problems. The primary issue each morning was with whom she would be partnered.
The federal Law Enforcement Assistance Association grant that had created the Atlanta police sex crimes division required all teams to be comprised of three-officer units that were racially and sexually integrated. These rules were seldom followed, because white women could not ride alone with black men, black women—at least the ones who wanted to keep their reputations—did not want to ride with black men, and none of the blacks wanted to ride with any man who was white. Every day was a battle just to figure out who was going to work with whom, which was ludicrous considering that most of them changed partners once they were out on the streets anyway.
Still, there were often heated arguments about assignments. Much posturing was to be found. Names were called. Occasionally fists were employed. In fact, the only thing that the men of the sex crimes unit could agree upon as far as assignments were concerned was that none of them wanted to be stuck with women.
At least, not unless they were pretty.
The problem trickled down to other divisions as well. Every morning, Commissioner Reginald Eaves’s daily bulletin was read at the beginning of roll call. Reggie was always transferring people around to fill whatever federal quota was being forced down their throats that day. No officer knew where he or she would land when they showed up for work. It could be the middle of Perry Homes or the living hell that was the Atlanta airport. Just last year, a woman had been assigned to SWAT for a week, which would’ve been a disaster if she’d actually had to do anything.
Amanda had always been on day watch, probably because her father wanted it that way. No one seemed to notice or care that she continued with the schedule even as Duke sued the city. Day watch, the easiest rotation, was from eight to four. Evening watch was four to midnight, and morning watch, which was the most dangerous, ran from midnight until eight in the morning.
The patrol officers worked roughly the same schedules as the detective and plainclothes divisions, less an hour on either side, which followed the old 7–3–11 railroad schedule. The thinking was that one would hand over to the other. This seldom happened. Most of the time when Amanda got into work, she’d run into a couple of suspects sporting black eyes or bloody bandages on their heads. They were generally handcuffed to the benches by the front door and no one could say exactly how they’d gotten there or with what they’d been charged. Depending on how a uniformed officer’s arrests were looking that month, some of the prisoners were freed, then immediately arrested again for loitering.
As with most zone headquarters, Zone 1 was housed in a dilapidated storefront that looked like the sort of place the police should be raiding, not milling around inside of drinking coffee and trading war stories about yesterday’s arrests. Located behind the Plaza Pharmacy and a theater specializing in pornographic films, the zone headquarters had been unceremoniously relocated to this location when it was discovered the previous HQ was located directly above a sinkhole.
The Atlanta Constitution
had had a field day with that one.
There were only three rooms in the building. The largest was the squad room, which had the sergeant’s office cordoned off by a glass partition. The captain’s office was far nicer, meaning that the windows actually opened and closed. Before the Fourth of July holiday, someone had broken the plate-glass window in front of the squad room in order to let in fresh air. No one had bothered to fix it, probably because they knew it would just be broken again.
The third room was the toilet, but it was shared, and it had been ensured that no woman would ever be able to sit down on the seat. The one time Amanda had walked into the bathroom, she’d ended up dry heaving behind the Plaza Theater while the grunts and moans of
reverberated through the cinder-block wall.
“Mornin’, ma’am.” One of the patrolmen tipped his hat as Amanda walked by.
She nodded in return, making her way past a cluster of familiar white Atlanta Police cruisers as she headed for the squad entrance. The stench of winos permeated the air, though the benches were absent any handcuffed vagrants. A veil of cigarette smoke hugged the stained drop ceiling. Every surface had a layer of dust, even the long cafeteria-style tables set out in crooked lines across the room. The podium in front was empty. Amanda looked at the clock. She had ten minutes to spare before morning roll call.
Vanessa Livingston was sitting in the back of the squad room going over paperwork. She was wearing gray slacks and the same ugly, black men’s shoes they’d all been forced to wear when they were in uniform. Her light blue shirt was short-sleeved and she wore her dark hair in a pageboy that curved out widely at the sides.
Amanda had patrolled with Vanessa a few times back when they were both in uniform. She was a reliable partner, but she could be a little hippie-dippie and there were rumors going around that she was trim—code for women who made themselves sexually available to police officers. Amanda didn’t have a choice but to sit by her. As usual, the squad room was divided into four quadrants. White and black either side, women in back, men in the front.
Amanda kept her gaze straight ahead as she walked through a cluster of uniformed men. They all waited until the last minute to let her pass. A group in the corner were working deadbolt locks. There were daily competitions to see who could pick a lock the fastest. A few officers were trading hot-loaded ammunition. Over the last two years, fourteen Atlanta cops had been shot dead. A faster bullet in your gun was not a bad idea.
Amanda dropped her purse onto the table as she sat down. “How are you?”
“I’m very well.” Vanessa’s voice was cheerful, as usual. “I lucked up with Inspection Division this morning.”
“They’ve already left?”
Vanessa nodded. Amanda immediately unbuttoned her cuffs and rolled up her sleeves. The fresh air on her arms was almost enough to make her swoon.
Amanda asked, “It wasn’t Geary?” There was no way Sergeant Mike Geary would’ve given Vanessa a pass. He didn’t think women should be on the job, and he had the power to do something about it. For some reason, he particularly had it in for Amanda. She was one more citation away from a daylong suspension. She couldn’t even think what she’d do for rent if that happened.
“Geary’s out today.” Vanessa stacked her reports together. “It was Sandra Phillips, the black chick keeps her head shaved like a man?”
“I have a class with her,” Amanda said. Most everyone she knew was taking night courses at Georgia State. The federal government paid tuition and the city was forced to bump up your pay if you got a degree. This time next year, Amanda would be pulling in almost twelve thousand dollars.
Vanessa asked, “You have a good Fourth?”
“I took a few extra shifts,” Amanda admitted. She’d volunteered for no other reason than she couldn’t face a whole day of her father rehashing every story he’d read in the newspapers. Thank goodness the paper only came twice a day or he’d never sleep. “What about you?”
“Drank so much I crashed my car into a telephone pole.”
“Is the car all right?”
“Fender’s smashed, but it still drives.” Vanessa made her voice low. “You heard about Oglethorpe?”
Lars Oglethorpe was one of Duke’s friends. They’d both been fired the same day. “What about him?”
“State supreme court ruled in his favor. Full back pay and benefits. Reinstated rank. He’s been assigned to his old uniformed squad. I bet Reggie had a cow when he heard.”
Amanda didn’t have time to answer. There was a series of masculine cheers as Rick Landry and Butch Bonnie walked into the squad. As usual, the homicide detectives were up against the clock. Roll call was scheduled to start in two minutes. Amanda reached into her purse and pulled out a stack of typed reports.
“You’re a doll.” Butch took the reports and tossed his notebook on the table in front of Amanda. “Hope you can read it.”
She looked at his scrawl across the first page and frowned. “I swear sometimes you make this illegible on purpose.”