Authors: Karin Slaughter
Tags: #Daughters, #Crime, #Rape, #Fiction, #Police Procedural, #Rich people, #Atlanta (Ga.), #Crimes of Passion, #Mystery & Detective, #Murder, #General, #Suspense Fiction, #Georgia - Employees, #Daughters - Crimes Against, #Suspense, #Crimes against, #Abused Wives
The second book in the Will Trent series
ABIGAIL CAMPANO SAT in her car parked on the street outside her own house. She was looking up at the mansion they had remodeled almost ten years ago.
The house was huge-too much space for three people, especially since one of them, God willing, would be going off to college in less than a year. What would she do with herself once her daughter was busy starting a new life of her own? It would be Abigail and Paul again, just like before Emma was born.
The thought made her stomach clench.
Paul's voice crackled through the car speakers as he came back on the telephone. "Babe, listen-" he began, but her mind was already wandering as she stared up at the house. When had her life gotten so small? When had the most pressing questions of her day turned into concerns about other people, other things: Were Paul's shirts ready at the tailor? Did Emma have volleyball practice tonight? Did the decorator order the new desk for the office? Did somebody remember to let out the dog or was she going to spend the next twenty minutes wiping up two gallons of pee off the kitchen floor?
Abigail swallowed, her throat tightening.
"I don't think you're listening to me," Paul said.
"I'm listening." She turned off the car. There was a click, then through the magic of technology, Paul's voice transferred from the car speakers to the cell phone. Abigail pushed open the door, tossing her keys into her purse. She cradled the phone to her ear as she checked the mailbox. Electric bill, AmEx, Emma's school fees…
Paul paused for a breath and she took that as her cue.
"If she doesn't mean anything to you, why did you give her a car? Why did you take her to a place where you knew my friends might show up?" Abigail said the words as she walked up the driveway but she didn't feel them deep in her gut like she had the first few times this had happened. Her only question then had been, Why am I not enough?
Now, her only question was, Why are you such a needy bastard?
"I just needed a break," he told her, another old standard.
She dug her hand into her purse for her keys as she climbed the porch stairs. She had left the club because of him, skipped her weekly massage and lunch with her closest friends because she was mortified that they had all seen Paul out with some bottle-blond twenty-year-old he'd had the gall to take to their favorite restaurant. She didn't know if she would ever be able to show her face there again.
Abigail said, "I'd like a break, too, Paul. How would you like it if I took a break? How would you like it if you were talking to your friends one day and you knew something was going on, and you had to practically beg them to tell you what was wrong before they finally told you that they saw
with another man?"
"I'd find out his fucking name and I'd go to his house and I'd kill him."
Why did part of her always feel flattered when he said things like that? As the mother of a teenage girl, she had trained herself to look for the positive aspects of even the most savage remarks, but this was ridiculous. Besides, Paul's knees were so bad that he could barely take the garbage down to the curb on trash day. The biggest shock in all of this should have been that he could still find a twenty-year-old to screw him.
Abigail slid her key into the old metal lock on the front door. The hinges squeaked like in a horror movie.
The door was already open.
"Wait a minute," she said, as if interrupting, though Paul hadn't been talking. "The front door is open."
He hadn't been listening to her, either. "I said the front door is already open," she repeated, pushing it open wider.
"Aw, Jesus. School's only been back for three weeks and she's already skipping again?"
"Maybe the cleaners-" She stopped, her foot crunching glass. Abigail looked down, feeling a sharp, cold panic building somewhere at the base of her spine. "There's glass all over the floor. I just stepped in it."
Paul said something she didn't hear.
"Okay," Abigail answered, automatic. She turned around. One of the tall side windows by the front door was broken. Her mind flashed on a hand reaching in, unlatching the bolt, opening the door.
She shook her head. In broad daylight? In this neighborhood? They couldn't have more than three people over at a time without the batty old woman across the street calling to complain about the noise.
She was in some kind of bubble, her hearing muffled. She told her husband, "I think someone broke in."
Paul barked, "Get out of the house! They could still be there!"
She dropped the mail onto the hall table, catching her reflection in the mirror. She had been playing tennis for the last two hours. Her hair was still damp, stray wisps plastered to the back of her neck where her ponytail was starting to come loose. The house was cool, but she was sweating.
"Abby?" Paul yelled. "Get out right now. I'm calling the police on the other line."
She turned, mouth open to say something-what?-when she saw the bloody footprint on the floor.
"Emma," she whispered, dropping the phone as she bolted up the stairs toward her daughter's bedroom.
She stopped at the top of the stairs, shocked at the broken furniture, the splintered glass on the floor. Her vision tunneled and she saw Emma lying in a bloody heap at the end of the hallway. A man stood over her, a knife in his hand.
For a few seconds, Abigail was too stunned to move, her breath catching, throat closing. The man started toward her. Her eyes couldn't focus on any one thing. They went back and forth between the knife clenched in his bloody fist and her daughter's body on the floor.
The man lunged toward her. Without thinking, Abigail stepped back. She tripped, falling down the stairs, hip and shoulder blades thumping the hard wood as she slid headfirst. There was a chorus of pain from her body: elbow hitting the stiles on the railing, ankle-bone cracking against the wall, a searing burn in her neck as she tried to keep her head from popping against the sharp tread of the stairs. She landed in the foyer, the breath knocked out of her lungs.
The dog. Where was the stupid dog?
Abigail rolled onto her back, wiping blood out of her eyes, feeling broken glass grind into her scalp.
The man was rushing down the stairs, the knife still in his hand. Abigail didn't think. She kicked up as he came off the last tread, lodging the toe of her sneaker somewhere between his asshole and his scrotum. She was far off the mark, but it didn't matter. The man stumbled, cursing as he went down on one knee.
She rolled onto her stomach and scrambled toward the door. He grabbed her leg, yanking her back so hard that a white-hot pain shot up her spine and into her shoulder. She clutched at the glass on the floor, trying to find a piece to hurt him with, but the tiny shards only ripped open the skin of her hand. She started kicking at him, legs flailing wildly behind her as she inched toward the front door.
"Stop it!" he screamed, both his hands clamping down on her ankles. "God dammit, I said
She stopped, trying to catch her breath, trying to think. Her head was still ringing, her mind unable to focus. Two feet ahead, the front door was still open, offering a view down the gentle slope of the walk to her car parked on the street. She twisted around so she could face her attacker. He was on his knees, holding her ankles to keep her from kicking. The knife was beside him on the floor. His eyes were a sinister black-two pieces of granite showing beneath heavy lids. His broad chest rose and fell as he panted for breath. Blood soaked his shirt.
Abigail tensed her stomach muscles and lunged up toward him, fingers straight out as her nails stabbed into his eyes.
He slapped the side of her ear with his open palm but she kept at it, digging her thumbs into his eye sockets, feeling them start to give. His hands clamped around her wrists, forcing her fingers away. He was twenty times stronger than her, but Abigail was thinking only of Emma now, that split second when she'd seen her daughter upstairs, the way her body was positioned, her shirt pushed up over her small breasts. She was barely recognizable, her head a bloody, red mass. He had taken everything, even her daughter's beautiful face.
"You bastard!" Abigail screamed, feeling like her arms were going to break as he pried her hands away from his eyes. She bit his fingers until teeth met with bone. The man screamed, but still held on. This time when Abigail brought up her knee, it made contact squarely between his legs. The man's bloody eyes went wide and his mouth opened, releasing a huff of sour breath. His grip loosened but still did not release. As he fell onto his back, he pulled Abigail along with him.
Automatically, her hands wrapped around his thick neck. She could feel the cartilage in his throat move, the rings that lined the esophagus bending like soft plastic. His grip went tighter around her wrists but her elbows were locked now, her shoulders in line with her hands as she pressed all of her weight into the man's neck. Lightning bolts of pain shot through her shaking arms and shoulders. Her hands cramped as if thousands of tiny needles stabbed into her nerves. She could feel vibrations through her palms as he tried to speak. Her vision tunneled again. She saw starbursts of red dotting his eyes, his wet lips opening, tongue protruding. She was sitting on him, straddling him, and she became aware of the fact that she could feel the man's hip bones pressing into the meat of her thighs as he arched up, trying to buck her off.
Unbidden, she thought of Paul, the night they had made Emma-how Abigail had known, just known, that they were making a baby. She had straddled her husband like this, wanting to make sure she got every drop of him to make their perfect child.
perfect…her sweet smile, her open face. The way she trusted everyone she met no matter how many times Paul warned her.
Emma lying upstairs. Dead. Blood pooled around her. Underwear yanked down. Her poor baby. What had she gone through? What humiliation had she suffered at the hands of this man?
Abigail felt a sudden warmness between her legs. The man had urinated on them both. He stared at her-really saw her-then his eyes glassed over. His arms fell to the sides, hands popping against the glass-strewn tile. His body went limp, mouth gaping open.
Abigail sat back on her heels, looking at the lifeless man in front of her.
She had killed him.
WILL TRENT STARED out the window of the car as he listened to his boss yell into her cell phone. Not that Amanda Wagner ever really raised her voice, but she had a certain edge to her tone that had caused more than one of her agents to burst into tears and walk off an active investigation-no mean feat considering the majority of her subordinates at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation were men. "We're at"-she craned her neck, squinting at the street sign-"the Prado and Seventeenth." Amanda paused. "Perhaps you could look up the information on your computer?" She shook her head, obviously not liking what she was hearing.
Will tried, "Maybe we should keep driving around? We might find-"
Amanda covered her eyes with her hand. She whispered into the phone, "How long until the server is back up?" The answer caused her to breathe out a heavy, pronounced sigh.
Will indicated the screen dominating the middle of the wood-lined dashboard. The Lexus had more bells and whistles than a clown's hat. "Don't you have GPS?"
She dropped her hand, considering his question, then began fiddling with some knobs on the dashboard. The screen didn't change, but the air-conditioning whirred higher. Will chuckled, and she cut him off with a nasty look, suggesting, "Maybe while we're waiting for Caroline to find a street map, you can get the owner's manual out of the glove box and read the directions for me."
Will tried the latch, but it was locked. He thought this pretty much summed up his relationship with Amanda Wagner. She often sent him the way of locked doors and expected him to find his way around them. Will liked a good puzzle as much as the next man, but just once, it would have been nice to have Amanda hand him the key.
Or maybe not. Will had never been good at asking for help- especially from someone like Amanda, who seemed to keep a running list in her head of people who owed her favors.
He looked out the window as she berated her secretary for not keeping a street map on her person at all times. Will had been born and raised in Atlanta, but didn't often find himself in Ansley Park. He knew that it was one of the city's oldest and wealthiest neighborhoods, where over a century ago, lawyers, doctors and bankers had built their enviable estates so that future lawyers, doctors and bankers could live as they did-safely cloistered in the middle of one of the most violent metropolitan cities this side of the Mason-Dixon. The only thing that had changed over the years was that the black women pushing white babies in strollers were better compensated these days.
With its twisting turns and roundabouts, Ansley seemed designed to confuse, if not discourage, visitors. Most of the streets were tree-lined, broad avenues with the houses tucked up on hills to better look down on the world. Densely forested parks with walking trails and swing sets were everywhere. Some of the walkways were still the original cobblestone. Though all the homes were architecturally different, there was a certain uniformity to their crisply painted exteriors and professionally landscaped lawns. Will guessed this was because even a fixer-upper started at the one million mark. Unlike his own Poncey-Highland neighborhood, which was less than six miles from here, there were no rainbow-colored houses or methadone clinics in Ansley.
On the street, Will watched a jogger stop to stretch and surreptitiously check out Amanda's Lexus. According to the news this morning, there was a code-red smog alert in effect, advising people not to breathe the outside air unless they absolutely had to. No one seemed to be taking that to heart, even as the temperature inched past the one hundred mark. Will had seen at least five joggers since they'd entered Ansley Park. All were women and all so far had fit the stereotype of the perky, perfect soccer mom with their Pilates-toned bodies and bouncy ponytails.
The Lexus was parked at the bottom of what seemed to be a popular hill, the street behind them lined with tall oaks that cast the pavement into shadow. All of the runners had slowed to look at the car. This wasn't the type of neighborhood where a man and a woman could sit in a parked vehicle for very long without someone calling the police. Of course, this wasn't the kind of neighborhood where teenage girls were brutally raped and murdered in their own homes, either.
He glanced back at Amanda, who was holding the phone to her ear so tightly it looked as if she might snap the plastic in two. She was an attractive woman if you never heard her speak or had to work for her or sat in a car with her for any length of time. She had to be in her early sixties by now. When Will had first started at the GBI over ten years ago, Amanda's hair had been more pepper than salt, but that had changed drastically over the last few months. He didn't know if this was because of something in her personal life or an inability to get an appointment with her hairdresser, but she had lately begun showing her years.
Amanda started pressing buttons on the console again, obviously trying to work the GPS. The radio came on and she quickly turned it off again, but not before Will caught the opening notes of a swing band. She muttered something under her breath and pressed another button, which caused Will's window to slide down. He felt a blast of hot air like someone had opened an oven door. In the side mirror, he saw a jogger at the top of the hill, the leaves on the dogwoods stirring in the breeze.
Amanda gave up on the electronics. "This is ridiculous. We're the top investigatory arm in the state and we can't even find the God damn crime scene."
Will turned around, his seat belt straining against his shoulder as he looked up the hill.
Amanda asked, "What are you doing?"
"That way," he said, pointing behind them. The limbs of the trees overhead were intertwined, casting the street in a dusklike darkness. There was no breeze this time of year, just relentless heat. What he had seen was not rustling leaves but the blue lights of a police cruiser bouncing off the shadows.
Amanda gave another heavy sigh as she put the car into gear and started a U-turn. Without warning, she slammed on the brakes, her arm shooting out in front of Will as if she could stop him from going through the windshield. A large white van blared its horn as it sped by, the driver shaking his fist, mouthing obscenities.
"Channel Five," Will said, recognizing the local news station's logo on the side of the van.
"They're almost as late as we are," Amanda commented, following the news van up the hill. She took a right, coming on a lone police cruiser blocking the next left. A smattering of reporters was already at the scene, representing all the local stations as well as CNN, which had their world headquarters a few miles up the road. A woman strangling the man who had killed her daughter would be big news in any part of the world, but the fact that the daughter was white, that the parents were wealthy and the family was one of the city's most influential gave it an almost giddy, scandalous tinge. Somewhere in New York City, a Lifetime Movie executive was drooling into her BlackBerry.
Amanda pulled out her badge and waved it at the cop as she rolled past the blockade. There were more police cruisers up ahead along with a couple of ambulances. The doors were open, the beds empty. Paramedics stood around smoking. The hunter green BMW X5 parked in front of the house seemed out of place among the emergency vehicles, but the gigantic SUV made Will wonder where the coroner's van was. He wouldn't be surprised if the medical examiner had gotten lost, too. Ansley was not a neighborhood well-known to someone earning a civil servant's salary.
Amanda put the car into reverse to parallel park between two of the cruisers. The park sensor controls started beeping as she tapped on the gas. "Don't dawdle in there, Will. We're not working this case unless we're taking it over."
Will had heard some variation on this same theme at least twice since they had left city hall. The dead girl's grandfather, Hoyt Bentley, was a billionaire developer who had made his share of enemies over the years. Depending on who you talked to, Bentley was either a scion of the city or a crony from way back, the sort of moneyed crook who made things happen behind the scenes without ever getting his hands dirty. Whichever version of the man's story was true, he had deep enough pockets to buy his share of political friends. Bentley had made one phone call to the governor, who had reached out to the director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, who had in turn assigned Amanda the task of looking into the murder.
If the killing had any markings of a professional hit or hinted at something deeper than a simple assault and burglary gone wrong, then Amanda would make a phone call and snatch the case away from the Atlanta Police Department faster than a toddler taking back a favorite toy. If this was just a random, everyday tragedy, then she would probably leave the explanations to Will while she toodled back to city hall in her fancy car.
Amanda put the gear into drive and inched forward. The gap between the beeps got furiously short as she edged closer to the police car. "If Bentley's got someone mad enough to kill his granddaughter, this case goes to a whole new level."
She sounded almost hopeful at the prospect. Will understood her excitement-breaking this kind of case would be yet another feather in Amanda's cap-but Will hoped he never got to the point where he saw the death of a teenage girl as a career stepping-stone. Though he wasn't sure what he should think of the dead man, either. He was a murderer, but he was also a victim. Considering Georgia's pro-death penalty stance, did it really matter that he had been strangled here in Ansley Park rather than strapped to a gurney and given a lethal injection at Coastal State Prison?
Will opened the door before Amanda put the car into park. The hot air hit him like a punch to the gut, his lungs temporarily straining in his chest. Then the humidity took over, and he wondered if this was what it felt like to have tuberculosis. Still, he put on his suit jacket, covering the paddle holster clipped to the back of his belt. Not for the first time, Will questioned the sanity of wearing a three-piece suit in the middle of August.
Amanda seemed untouched by the heat as she joined Will. A group of uniformed policemen stood clustered at the bottom of the driveway, watching them walk across the street. Recognition dawned in their eyes, and Amanda warned Will, "I don't have to tell you that you're not exactly welcome by the Atlanta Police Department right now."
"No," Will agreed. One of the cops in the circle made a point of spitting on the ground as they passed by. Another one settled on a more subtle raised middle finger. Will plastered a smile on his face and gave the officers a big thumbs-up to let them all know there were no hard feelings.
From her first day in office, Atlanta's mayor had pledged to weed out the corruption that ran unchecked during her predecessor's reign. Over the last few years, she had been working closely with the GBI to open cases against the most blatant offenders. Amanda had graciously volunteered Will to go into the lions' den. Six months ago, he had closed an investigation that had resulted in the firing of six Atlanta police detectives and forced the early retirement of one of the city's highest-ranking officers. The cases were good-the cops were skimming cash off of narcotics busts- but nobody liked a stranger cleaning their house, and Will had not exactly made friends during the course of his investigation.
Amanda had gotten a promotion out of it. Will had been turned into a pariah.
He ignored the hissed "asshole" aimed at his back, trying to focus on the crime at hand as they walked up the curving driveway.
The yard was brimming with all kinds of exotic-looking flowers that Will was hard-pressed to name. The house itself was enormous, stately columns holding up a second floor balcony, a winding set of granite stairs leading to the front doors. Except for the smattering of surly cops marring the scene, it was an impressive estate.
"Trent," someone called, and he saw Detective Leo Donnelly making his way down the front steps. Leo was a short man, at least a full foot less than Will's six-three. His gait had taken on an almost Columbo-like shuffle since they'd last worked together. The effect was that of an agitated monkey. "What the fuck are you doing here?"
Will indicated the cameras, offering Leo the most believable explanation. Everybody knew the GBI would throw a baby into the Chattahoochee if it meant getting on the nightly news. He told the detective, "This is my boss, Dr. Wagner."
"Hey," Leo said, tossing her a nod before turning back to Will. "How's Angie doing?"
"We're engaged." Will felt Amanda's scrutiny focus on him with a cold intensity. He tried to deflect, indicating the open doorway with a nod of his head. "What've we got here?"
"A shitload of hate for you, my friend." Leo took out a cigarette and lit it. "You better watch your back."
Amanda asked, "Is the mother still inside?"
"First door on the left," Leo answered. "My partner's in there with her."
"Gentlemen, if you'll excuse me." Amanda dismissed Leo the way she might a servant. The look she gave Will wasn't that much more pleasant.