Authors: Karin Slaughter
“Can we take your car?” Evelyn asked. “I’m in the station wagon today and it’s packed full.”
“Sure.” Amanda followed her into the parking lot. Evelyn wasn’t lying. Boxes were crammed into every available space in her red Ford Falcon.
“Bill’s mother moved in down the street this weekend. She’s going to help take care of the baby while I’m at work.”
Amanda climbed into her Plymouth. She didn’t want to pry into Evelyn’s private life, but the arrangement struck her as odd.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Evelyn said, settling into the passenger’s seat. “I love Zeke and it was great spending this last year and a half with him, but I swear to God, one more day being stuck at home with a kid, and I’d end up swallowing a bucket of Valium.”
Amanda had been about to put her key in the ignition, but she stopped. She turned to Evelyn. Most everything she knew about the woman had been filtered through her father. She was beautiful, which Duke Wagner didn’t view as an asset for someone in uniform. “Opinionated” was the word that came up most often, with “pushy” serving a close second.
Amanda asked, “Your husband was okay with you working again?”
“He came around to it.” She unzipped her purse and pulled out an Atlanta city map. “Do you know Techwood?”
“No. I’ve been to Grady Homes a few times.” Amanda didn’t mention that she mostly took calls from North Atlanta, where the victims were white and generally had mothers who offered sweet tea and talked about quickly putting this ordeal behind them. “How about you?”
“Somewhat. Your dad sent me there a few times.”
Amanda pumped the gas as she turned the key. The engine caught on the second try. She kept her mouth closed as she backed out of the parking lot. Evelyn had been on patrol for most of her tenure under Duke Wagner. Her plainclothes promotion had been something he didn’t agree with, but the winds were shifting by then and he had lost the battle. Amanda could easily see her father sending Evelyn out to the projects to teach her a lesson.
“Let’s try to figure this out.” Evelyn unfolded the map and spread it out on her lap. She traced her finger down and across to the area near Georgia Tech. The projects of Techwood were incongruous with the setting of one of the state’s top technological universities, but the city was running out of places to house the poor. Clark Howell Homes, University Homes, Bowen Homes, Grady Homes, Perry Homes, Bankhead Courts, Thomasville Heights—they all had long waiting lists, despite the fact that they were effectively slums.
Not that any of them had started out that way. In the 1930s, the city had built the Techwood apartment buildings on the site of a former shantytown called Tanyard Bottom. It was the first public housing of its kind in the United States. All the buildings had electricity and running water. There was a school on site, a library and laundry facilities. President Roosevelt had been at the opening ceremonies. It had taken less than ten years for Techwood to revert back to its original shantytown state. Duke Wagner often said that desegregation was the final nail in Techwood’s coffin. No matter what the case, Georgia Tech spent thousands of dollars a year hiring private security to keep students safe from their neighbors. The area was one of the most dangerous in the city.
“Okeydokey.” Evelyn folded the map, saying, “Get us to Techwood Drive and I can tell you where to go from there.”
“The buildings don’t have numbers.” This was a problem not just limited to the projects. When Amanda was in uniform, the first half hour of most of her calls was wasted searching for the correct address.
“Don’t worry,” Evelyn said. “I’ve figured out their system.”
Amanda made her way up Ponce de Leon Avenue, past old Spiller Field where the Crackers used to play. The stadium had been torn down to build a shopping mall, but the magnolia tree that had been in center field was still there. She cut through a side alley by the Sears building to get to North Avenue. Both Amanda and Evelyn rolled up their windows as they approached Buttermilk Bottom. The shanties had been torn down a decade ago, but no one had bothered to do anything about the sewage problem. A sour smell filled Amanda’s nostrils. She had to breathe through her mouth for the next five blocks. Finally, they were able to roll down the windows again.
“So,” Evelyn said. “How’s your father’s case going?”
This was the second time she’d asked about it, which made Amanda wary. “He doesn’t really talk about it with me.”
“That’s good news about Oglethorpe, right? Good news for your father?”
“I expect it is.” Amanda stopped at a red light.
“What do you think this Techwood forty-nine has to do with Treadwell showing up?”
Amanda had been too flustered before to consider the question, but now she said, “Perhaps he was reporting a rape on behalf of a client.”
“Lawyers in hundred-dollar suits don’t have clients at Techwood.” Evelyn rested her head against her hand. “Treadwell shows up bossing Hodge around. Hodge calls us in and bosses us around. There has to be a connection. Don’t you think?”
Amanda shook her head. “I have no idea.”
“He looked young, right? He must’ve just gotten out of school. His daddy’s firm really got behind the mayor’s election bid.”
“Maynard Jackson?” Amanda asked. She hadn’t really thought about white people supporting the city’s first black mayor, but then, Atlanta’s businessmen had never let race get in the way of making money.
Evelyn supplied, “Treadwell-Price was knee-deep in the campaign. Daddy Treadwell had his picture in the paper with Jackson the day he won. They had their arms around each other like two showgirls. Adam? Allen?” She blew out a stream of air. “Andrew. That’s his name. Andrew Treadwell. Sonny boy must be a Junior. I bet they call him Andy.”
Amanda shook her head slowly from side to side. She left politics to her father. “Never heard of any of them.”
“Junior was certainly walking around with confidence. Hodge was terrified of him. Pantomime aside. Wasn’t that a gas?”
“Yes.” Amanda looked up at the red light, wondering why it was taking so long to change.
“Just pull through,” Evelyn suggested. She noticed Amanda’s worried expression and said, “Relax. I won’t arrest you.”
Amanda checked both ways twice, then a third time, before edging the Plymouth forward.
“Watch it,” Evelyn warned. There was a Corvette cresting the hill on Spring Street. Sparks flew from under the engine as it scraped the asphalt and blew through the intersection. “Where’s a cop when you need ’em?”
Amanda’s calf ached from pounding the brake home. “My car insurance is with Benowitz, if you’re trying to make your husband some money.”
Evelyn laughed. “Benowitz isn’t bad once you look past the horns.”
Amanda couldn’t tell if Evelyn was mocking her or stating her own opinion. She checked the light. Still red. She inched forward again, wincing as she pressed the accelerator. Amanda didn’t feel her shoulders relax until they had passed the Varsity restaurant. And then they went back up again.
The smell engulfed the interior of the car as soon as they had crossed over the four-lane expressway. It wasn’t sewage this time, but poverty, and people living stacked on top of one another like animals in crates. The heat was doing no one any favors. Techwood Homes was made of poured concrete with a brick façade, which breathed about as well as Amanda’s nylons.
Beside her, Evelyn closed her eyes and took a few shallow breaths through her mouth. “Okay.” She shook her head, then looked down at the map. “Left on Techwood. Right on Pine.”
Amanda slowed the car to navigate the narrow streets. In the distance, she could see the brick row houses and garden apartments of Techwood Homes. Graffiti marred most surfaces, and where there was no spray paint, there was trash piled waist-high. A handful of children were playing in the dirt courtyard. They were dressed in rags. Even from a distance, Amanda could see the sores on their legs.
Evelyn directed, “Take a right up here.”
Amanda went as far as she could go before the road became impassable. A burned-out car blocked the street. The doors were open. The hood was raised, showing the engine like a charred tongue. Amanda pulled onto a berm and put the gear in park.
Evelyn didn’t move. She was staring at the children. “I’d forgotten how bad it is.”
Amanda stared at the boys. They were all dark skinned and knobby kneed. They used their bare feet to kick around a flat-looking basketball. There was no grass here, only dry, red Georgia clay.
The kids stopped playing. One of the boys pointed to the Plymouth, which the city bought in lots and the population easily recognized as an unmarked police car. Another boy ran into the nearest building, dust kicking up behind him.
Evelyn huffed a laugh. “And there the little angel goes to alert the welcoming committee.”
Amanda popped open the door handle. She could see the Coca-Cola tower in the distance, sandwiching the fourteen-block slum with Georgia Tech. “My father says Coke’s trying to get the city to tear this place down. Move them somewhere else.”
“I can’t see the mayor throwing away the people who elected him.”
Amanda didn’t vocally disagree, but in her experience, her father was always right about these things.
“Might as well get this over with.” Evelyn pushed open her door and got out of the car. She unzipped her purse and pulled out her radio, which was half as long as a Kel-Lite and almost as heavy. Amanda checked to make sure the zipper on her own bag was closed as Evelyn gave dispatch their location. Amanda’s radio seldom worked, no matter how many times she changed the battery. She would’ve left it at home but for Sergeant Geary. Every morning, he made all the women dump out their purses so he could make sure they were properly equipped.
“This way.” Evelyn walked up the hill toward the apartment block. Amanda could feel hundreds of sets of eyes tracking their movement. Given the setting, not many people were at work during the day. There was plenty of time to stare out the window and wait for something awful to happen. The farther away they got from the Plymouth, the sicker Amanda felt, so that by the time Evelyn stopped in front of the second building, she felt as if she might be ill.
“Okay.” Evelyn pointed to the doorways, counting off, “Three, four, five …” She mouthed the rest silently as she continued walking. Amanda followed, wondering if Evelyn knew what she was doing or was just trying to show off.
Finally, Evelyn stopped again and pointed to the middle unit on the top floor. “Here we are.”
They both stared at the open doorway that led to the stairwell. A single shaft of sunlight illuminated the bottom steps. The windows at the front of the vestibule and on the upper landings were all boarded over, but the metal-encased skylight provided enough light to see by. At least so long as it was daytime.
“Fifth floor, penthouse,” Evelyn said. “How’d you do on the fitness exam?”
Another one of Reggie’s new rules. “I barely clocked the mile.” They were given eight and a half minutes. Amanda had pushed it to the last second.
“They gave me a pass on the pull-ups or I’d be at home right now watching
.” She gave a cheery smile. “I hope your life doesn’t depend on my upper body strength.”
“Surely you can outrun me if it comes to that.”
Evelyn laughed. “I’m planning on it.” She zipped her purse, then buttoned the flap closed. Again, Amanda made sure her purse was closed tightly. The first thing you learned about going into the projects was you never left your bag open and you never put it down anywhere. No one wanted to bring lice or cockroaches home to their families.
Evelyn took a deep breath, as if she was about to dunk her head underwater, then entered the building. The smell hit them both like a brick to the face. Evelyn covered her nose with her hand as she started up the steps. “You’d think sniffing a baby’s diaper all day would accustom me to the smell of urine. I suppose grown men eat different foods. I know asparagus makes mine smell. I tried cocaine once. I can’t remember what my pee smelled like, but zow-ee, did I not care one bit.”
Amanda stood shocked at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at Evelyn, who seemed not to realize that she’d just admitted to using an illegal narcotic.
“Oh, don’t pimp me out to Reggie. I looked the other way on that red light.” Evelyn flashed a smile. She turned the corner on the landing and she was gone.
Amanda shook her head as she followed her up the stairs. Neither of them touched the handrails. Cockroaches skittered underfoot. Trash seemed glued to the treads. The walls felt as if they were closing in.
Amanda forced herself to breathe through her mouth, just as she forced one foot after the other. This was crazy. Why hadn’t they called for backup? Half of the signal 49s in Atlanta were reported by women who’d been raped in stairwells. They were as ubiquitous to the housing projects as rats and squalor.
As Evelyn rounded the next landing, she tugged at the back of her hair. Amanda guessed this was a nervous tic. She shared the anxiety. The higher up they climbed, the more her insides rattled. Fourteen cops killed in the last two years. Gunshots to the head. Sometimes to the stomach. One officer had lived for two days before finally succumbing. He’d been in so much pain you could hear his screams all the way downstairs in the Grady Hospital ER.
Amanda’s heart clenched as she rounded the next landing. Her hands started shaking. Her knees wanted to give out. She felt seized by the desire to burst into tears.
Surely one of the patrol units had heard Evelyn call in their location to dispatch. The men seldom waited for any female officer to request backup. They just arrived on scene, taking over the case, shooing the women away like they were silly children. Normally, Amanda felt slightly irked by this macho grandstanding, but today, she would’ve welcomed them with open arms.
“This is crazy,” she mumbled, rounding the next landing. “Absolutely crazy.”
“Just a little bit farther,” Evelyn happily called back.
It wasn’t like they were undercover. Everyone knew there were two cops in the building. White cops. Female cops. The hum of televisions and whispered conversations buzzed around. The heat was as stifling as the shadows. Every closed door represented an opportunity for someone to jump out and hurt one or both of them.