Sharp objects, p.5
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       Sharp Objects, p.5

           Gillian Flynn
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  FaStop. Then I filled a Big Mouth with strawberry pop and drove to 3617 Holmes.

  The Capisi home sat on the edge of the low-rent section to the far east of town, a cluster of broken-down, two-bedroom houses, most of whose inhabitants work at the nearby pig factory-farm, a private operation that delivers almost 2 percent of the country’s pork. Find a poor person in Wind Gap, and they’ll almost always tell you they work at the farm, and so did their old man. On the breeding side, there are piglets to be clipped and crated, sows to be impregnated and penned, manure pits to be managed. The killing side’s worse. Some employees load the pigs, forcing them down the gangway, where stunners await. Others grab the back legs, fasten the catch around them, release the animal to be lifted, squealing and kicking, upside down. They cut the throats with pointy slaughter knives, the blood spattering thick as paint onto the tile floors. Then on to the scalding tank. The constant screams—frantic, metallic squeals—drive most of the workers to wear earplugs, and they spend their days in a soundless rage. At night they drink and play music, loud. The local bar, Heelah’s, serves nothing pork related, only chicken tenders, which are, presumably, processed by equally furious factory workers in some other crappy town.

  For the sake of full disclosure, I should add that my mother owns the whole operation and receives approximately $1.2 million in profits from it annually. She lets other people run it.

  A tomcat was yowling on the Capisis’ front porch, and as I walked toward the house, I could hear the din of a daytime talk show. I banged on the screen door and waited. The cat rubbed up against my legs; I could feel its ribs through my pants. I banged again, and the TV switched off. The cat stalked under the porch swing and cried. I traced the word yelp on my right palm with a fingernail and knocked again.

  “Mom?” A child’s voice at the open window.

  I walked over, and through the dust of the screen could see a thin boy with dark curls and gaping eyes.

  “Hi there, I’m sorry to bug you. Are you James?”

  “What do you want?”

  “Hi James, I’m sorry to bother you. Were you watching something good?”

  “Are you the police?”

  “I’m trying to help figure out who hurt your friend. Can I talk to you?”

  He didn’t leave, just traced a finger along the window ledge. I sat down on the swing at the far end away from him.

  “My name’s Camille. A friend of yours told me what you’d seen. A boy with real short blonde hair?”

  “Dee.”

  “Is that his name? I saw him at the park, the same park where you were playing with Natalie.”

  “She took her. No one believes me. I’m not scared. I just need to stay in the house is all. My mom has cancer. She’s sick.”

  “That’s what Dee said. I don’t blame you. I hope I didn’t scare you, coming by like this.” He began scraping an overlong fingernail down the screen. The clicking sound made my ears itch.

  “You don’t look like her. If you looked like her, I’d call the police. Or I’d shoot you.”

  “What did she look like?”

  He shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve said it already. A hundred times.”

  “One more time.”

  “She was old.”

  “Old like me?”

  “Old like a mother.”

  “What else?”

  “She was wearing a white bed dress with white hair. She was just all white, but not like a ghost. That’s what I keep saying.”

  “White like how?”

  “Just like she’d never been outside before.”

  “And the woman grabbed Natalie when she went toward the woods?” I asked it in the same coaxing voice my mother used on favored waitstaff.

  “I’m not lying.”

  “Of course not. The woman grabbed Natalie while y’all were playing?”

  “Real fast,” he nodded. “Natalie was walking in the grass to find the Frisbee. And I saw the woman moving from inside the woods, watching her. I saw her before Natalie did. But I wasn’t scared.”

  “Probably not.”

  “Even when she grabbed Natalie, at first I wasn’t scared.”

  “But then you were?”

  “No.” His voice trailed off. “I wasn’t.”

  “James, could you tell me what happened when she grabbed Natalie?”

  “She pulled Natalie against her, like she was hugging her. And then she looked up at me. She stared at me.”

  “The woman did?”

  “Yeah. She smiled at me. For a second I thought it might be all right. But she didn’t say anything. And then she stopped smiling. She put her finger to her lips to be quiet. And then she was gone into the woods. With Natalie.” He shrugged again. “I’ve already told all this before.”

  “To the police?”

  “First to my mom, then the police. My mom made me. But the police didn’t care.”

  “Why not?”

  “They thought I was lying. But I wouldn’t make that up. It’s stupid.”

  “Did Natalie do anything while this was happening?”

  “No. She just stood there. I don’t think she knew what to do.”

  “Did the woman look like anyone you’d seen before?”

  “No. I told you.” He stepped away from the screen then, began looking over his shoulder into the living room.

  “Well, I’m sorry to bother you. Maybe you should have a friend come by. Keep you company.” He shrugged again, chewed on a fingernail. “You might feel better if you get outside.”

  “I don’t want to. Anyway, we have a gun.” He pointed back over his shoulder at a pistol balanced on the arm of a couch, next to a half-eaten ham sandwich. Jesus.

  “You sure you should have that out, James? You don’t want to use that. Guns are very dangerous.”

  “Not so dangerous. My mom doesn’t care.” He looked at me straight on for the first time. “You’re pretty. You have pretty hair.”

  “Thank you.”

  “I’ve got to go.”

  “Okay. Be careful, James.”

  “That’s what I’m doing.” He sighed purposefully and walked away from the window. A second later I heard the TV squabble on again.

  There are eleven bars in Wind Gap. I went to one I didn’t know, Sensors, which must have blossomed during some flash of ’80s idiocy, judging by the neon zigzags on the wall and the mini dance floor in its center. I was drinking a bourbon and scribbling down my notes from the day when KC Law plopped down in the cushioned seat opposite me. He rattled his beer on the table between us.

  “I thought reporters weren’t supposed to talk to minors without permission.” He smiled, took a gulp. James’s mother must have made a phone call.

  “Reporters have to be more aggressive when the police completely shut them out of an investigation,” I said, not looking up.

  “Police can’t really do their work if reporters are detailing their investigations in Chicago papers.”

  This game was old. I went back to my notes, soggy from glass sweat.

  “Let’s try a new approach. I’m Richard Willis.” He took another gulp, smacked his lips. “You can make your dick joke now. It works on several levels.”

  “Tempting.”

  “Dick as in asshole. Dick as in cop.”

  “Yes, I got it.”

  “And you are Camille Preaker, Wind Gap girl made good in the big city.”

  “Oh, that’s me all right.”

  He smiled his alarming Chiclet smile and ran a hand through his hair. No wedding ring. I wondered when I began to notice such things.

  “Okay, Camille, what do you say you and I call a détente? At least for now. See how it goes. I assume I don’t need to lecture you about the Capisi boy.”

  “I assume you realize there’s nothing to lecture about. Why have the police dismissed the account of the one eyewitness to the kidnapping of Natalie Keene?” I picked up my pen to show him we were on record.

  “Who says we dismisse
d it?”

  “James Capisi.”

  “Ah, well, there’s a good source.” He laughed. “I’ll let you in on a little something here, Miss Preaker.” He was doing a fairly good Vickery imitation, right down to twisting an imaginary pinky ring. “We don’t let nine-year-old boys be particularly privy to an ongoing investigation one way or another. Including whether or not we believe his story.”

  “Do you?”

  “I can’t comment.”

  “It seems that if you had a fairly detailed description of a murder suspect, you might want to let people around here know, so they can be on the lookout. But you haven’t, so I’d have to guess you’d dismissed his story.”

  “Again, I can’t comment.”

  “I understand Ann Nash was not sexually molested,” I continued. “Is that also the case with Natalie Keene?”

  “Ms. Preaker. I just can’t comment right now.”

  “Then why are you sitting here talking to me?”

  “Well, first of all, I know you spent a lot of your time, probably work time, with our officer the other day, giving him your version of the discovery of Natalie’s body. I wanted to thank you.”

  “My version?”

  “Everyone has their own version of a memory,” he said. “For instance, you said Natalie’s eyes were open. The Broussards said they were closed.”

  “I can’t comment.” I was feeling spiteful.

  “I’m inclined to believe a woman who makes her living as a reporter over two elderly diner owners,” Willis said. “But I’d like to hear how positive you are.”

  “Was Natalie sexually molested? Off the record.” I set down my pen.

  He sat silent for a second, twirling his beer bottle.

  “No.”

  “I’m positive her eyes were open. But you were there.”

  “I was,” he said.

  “So you don’t need me for that. What’s the second thing?”

  “What?”

  “You said, ‘first of all…’”

  “Oh, right. Well, the second reason I wanted to speak with you, to be frank—a quality it seems you’d appreciate—is that I’m desperate to talk to a nontownie.” The teeth flashed at me. “I mean, I know you’re from here. And I don’t know how you did it. I’ve been here off and on since last August and I’m going crazy. Not that Kansas City is a seething metropolis, but there’s a night life. A cultural…some culture. There’s people.”

  “I’m sure you’re doing fine.”

  “I’d better. I may be here for a while now.”

  “Yes.” I pointed my notebook at him. “So what’s your theory, Mr. Willis?”

  “That’s Detective Willis, actually.” He grinned again. I finished my drink in another swallow, began chewing on the stunted cocktail straw. “So, Camille, can I buy you a round?”

  I jiggled my glass and nodded. “Bourbon straight up.”

  “Nice.”

  While he was at the bar, I took my ballpoint and wrote the word dick on my wrist in looping cursive. He came back with two Wild Turkeys.

  “So.” He wiggled his eyebrows at me. “My proposal is that maybe we can just talk for a little bit. Like civilians? I’m really craving it. Bill Vickery isn’t exactly dying to get to know me.”

  “That makes two of us.”

  “Right. So, you’re from Wind Gap, and now you work for a paper in Chicago. Tribune?”

  “Daily Post.”

  “Don’t know that one.”

  “You wouldn’t.”

  “That high on it, huh?”

  “It’s fine. It’s just fine.” I wasn’t in the mood to be charming, not even sure I’d remember the drill. Adora is the schmoozer in the family—even the guy who sprays for termites once a year sends doting Christmas cards.

  “You’re not giving me a lot to work with here, Camille. If you want me to leave, I will.”

  I didn’t, in truth. He was nice to look at, and his voice made me feel less ragged. It didn’t hurt that he didn’t belong here either.

  “I’m sorry, I’m being curt. Been a rocky reentry. Writing about all this doesn’t help.”

  “How long since you’ve been back?”

  “Years. Eight to be precise.”

  “But you still have family here.”

  “Oh, yes. Fervent Wind Gapians. I think that’s the preferred term, in answer to your question earlier today.”

  “Ah, thanks. I’d hate to insult the nice people around here. More than I already have. So your folks like it here?”

  “Mm-hmm. They’d never dream of leaving here. Too many friends. Too perfect a house. Etcetera.”

  “Both your parents were born here then?”

  A table of familiar guys about my age plopped down at a nearby booth, each sloshing a pitcher of beer. I hoped they wouldn’t see me.

  “My mom was. My stepdad’s from Tennessee. He moved here when they got married.”

  “When was that?”

  “Almost thirty years ago, I’d guess.” I tried to slow my drinking down so I didn’t outpace him.

  “And your father?”

  I smiled pointedly. “You raised in Kansas City?”

  “Yep. Never dream of leaving. Too many friends. Too perfect a house. Etcetera.”

  “And being a cop there is…good?”

  “You see some action. Enough so I won’t turn into Vickery. Last year I did some high-profile stuff. Murders mostly. And we got a guy who was serially assaulting women around town.”

  “Rape?”

  “No. He straddled them and then reached inside their mouths, scratched their throats to pieces.”

  “Jesus.”

  “We caught him. He was a middle-aged liquor salesman who lived with his mother, and still had tissue from the last woman’s throat under his fingernails. Ten days after the attack.”

  I wasn’t clear if he was bemoaning the guy’s stupidity or his poor hygiene.

  “Good.”

  “And now I’m here. Smaller town, but bigger proving grounds. When Vickery first phoned us, the case wasn’t that big yet, so they sent someone mid-range on the totem pole. Me.” He smiled, almost self-effacingly. “Then it turned into a serial. They’re letting me keep the case for now—with the understanding that I’d better not screw up.”

  His situation sounded familiar.

  “It’s strange to get your big break based on something so horrible,” he continued. “But you must know about that—what kind of stories do you cover in Chicago?”

  “I’m on the police beat, so probably the same kind of junk you see: abuse, rape, murder.” I wanted him to know I had horror stories, too. Foolish, but I indulged. “Last month it was an eighty-two-year-old man. Son killed him, then left him in a bathtub of Drano to dissolve. Guy confessed, but, of course, couldn’t come up with a reason for doing it.”

  I was regretting using the word junk to describe abuse, rape, and murder. Disrespectful.

  “Sounds like we’ve both seen some ugly things,” Richard said.

  “Yes.” I twirled my drink, had nothing to say.

  “I’m sorry.”

  “Me too.”

  He studied me. The bartender switched the house lights to low, an official signal of nighttime hours.

  “We could catch a movie sometime.” He said it in a conciliatory tone, as if an evening at the local cineplex might make everything work out for me.

  “Maybe.” I swallowed the rest of my drink. “Maybe.”

  He peeled the label off the empty beer bottle next to him and smoothed it out onto the table. Messy. A sure sign he’d never worked in a bar.

  “Well, Richard, thank you for the drink. I’ve got to get home.”

  “It was nice talking with you, Camille. Can I walk you to your car?”

  “No, I’m fine.”

  “You okay to drive? I promise, I’m not being a cop.”

  “I’m fine.”

  “Okay. Have good dreams.”

  “You too. Next time, I want som
ething on record.”

  Alan, Adora, and Amma were all gathered in the living room when I returned. The scene was startling, it was so much like the old days with Marian. Amma and my mother sat on the couch, my mother cradling Amma—in a woolen nightgown despite the heat—as she held an ice cube to her lips. My half sister stared up at me with blank contentment, then went back to playing with a glowing mahogany dinner table, exactly like the one in the next room, except that it was about four inches high.

  “Nothing to worry about,” Alan said, looking up from a newspaper. “Amma’s just got the summer chills.”

  I felt a shot of alarm, then annoyance: I was sinking back into old routines, about to run to the kitchen to heat some tea, just like I always did for Marian when she was sick. I was about to linger near my mother, waiting for her to put an arm around me, too. My mother and Amma said nothing. My mother didn’t even look up at me, just nuzzled Amma in closer to her, and cooed into her ear.

  “We Crellins run a bit delicate,” Alan said somewhat guiltily. The doctors in Woodberry, in fact, probably saw a Crellin a week—both my mother and Alan were sincere overreactors when it came to their health. When I was a child, I remember my mother trying to prod me with ointments and oils, homemade remedies and homeopathic nonsense. I sometimes took the foul solutions, more often refused. Then Marian got sick, really sick, and Adora had more important things to do than coaxing me into swallowing wheat-germ extract. Now I had a pang: all those syrups and tablets she proffered, and I rejected. That was the last time I had her full attention as a mother. I suddenly wished I’d been easier.

 
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