Книга Sense Of Evil. Страница 35
CALEB HEARD THE NEWS about a fourth woman’s body being found when he stopped by the coffee shop for a cup to take home. The girl behind the counter-he couldn’t figure out how on earth they could be called “sales associates” when they worked in a coffee shop-was only too happy to fill him in on the latest details while she prepared his latte.
“And you know the worst part?” she demanded as she put a lid on the cup.
“Somebody died?” he suggested.
She blinked, then said anxiously, “Well, yeah, but I heard she’d been dead for months.”
Caleb resisted the impulse to ask what the hell difference that made. Instead, he said, “And the worst part is?”
“She was brunette,” Sally Anne, sales associate for the coffee shop and a brunette herself, whispered.
“So none of us is safe. He’s not just going after blondes now, he’s-he’s going after the rest of us.”
Caleb paid for his coffee and said with ruthless sympathy, “If I were you, I’d leave town.”
“I might. I just might. Thanks, Mr. Powell. Oh-can I help you, ma’am?”
“One iced mocha latte, please. Medium.”
Caleb turned quickly, surprised to find Hollis there. “Hi.”
“Hi.” She looked tired and also more casual than he’d yet seen her, in jeans and a black T-shirt that demanded to know if the hokey-pokey was really what it was all about.
“You’re not still working?”
“No, we’ve pretty much called it a day.” She shrugged. “Can’t do a lot in the way of investigating the body Sally Anne just told you about until we get forensics and a postmortem.”
Something about her wry tone made him say, “You didn’t expect the news to not get around, did you?”
“No. But this town sets the land speed record for gossip, I’ve realized that much. The unfortunate thing is that it tends to be so damned accurate.”
“I’ll say. I didn’t grow up here, but when I started my practice fifteen years ago, it took less than a week for everyone in town to know that my parents were dead and my younger brother had gotten his girlfriend pregnant and married her literally at the business end of her daddy’s shotgun.” He paused, then added, “I told no one, absolutely no one.”
Hollis smiled slightly and paid Sally Anne for her coffee. “They do seem to find out what they want to know. Which begs the question…”
“How can a killer walk among us, unseen?”
“Oh, not that question. Killers always have walked among us unseen. No, the question I’m asking myself is: how is it possible that a woman’s decomposing body hung inside a derelict gas station less than three blocks from the center of town for months without anybody noticing?”
Sally Anne uttered a choked little sound and rushed toward the back of the shop.
Hollis grimaced. “Well, that was definitely indiscreet. To say the least. I must be more tired than I thought. Or, at any rate, that’ll be my story.”
Caleb shook his head slightly. “Look, I know you’ve had a hell of a day, but can we sit down here and talk for a while? There’s something I want to ask you.”
She nodded and joined him at one of the small tables by the front window.
“Have you eaten?” Caleb asked. “The sandwiches here aren’t bad, or-”
Hollis shook her head, almost flinching. “No. Thank you. I’m reasonably sure the coffee will stay down, but only because I was practically breast-fed the stuff. I’m not planning to eat anything for the foreseeable future.”
It was Caleb’s turn to grimace. “So I take it Sally Anne’s gory details about the body were on the mark?”
“I’m sorry. That had to be rough.”
“Not destined to be one of my more pleasant memories. But I was warned what to expect when I signed on for this gig.” She sipped her latte, adding, “You wanted to ask me something?”
“Why did you sign on for this gig?”
Surprised, Hollis said, “I… didn’t expect a personal question.”
“I didn’t expect to ask one,” he confessed.
She smiled. “I thought lawyers always rehearsed what they said.”
“Not this one. Or, at least, not this time. If it’s too personal, we can forget I asked. But I’d rather not.”
“Why so curious?”
Even experienced as he was at reading juries, Caleb couldn’t tell if she was stalling or really wanted to know. “That explanation would undoubtedly involve a lot of me backpedaling and trying to justify my curiosity to myself, let alone you, so I’d just as soon skip the attempt. Let’s just say I’m a curious man and leave it at that.”
She gazed at him for a long moment, blue eyes unreadable, then said in a queerly serene voice, “I was assaulted. Beaten, raped, stabbed, left for dead.”
Not what he had expected. “Jesus. Hollis, I’m sorry, I had no idea.”
“Of course not, how could you?”
He literally didn’t know what to say, and for one of the very few times in his life. “That’s… why you became an agent?”
“Well, my old life was pretty much in tatters, so it seemed like a good idea when I was offered a chance at a new one.” Her voice retained that odd tranquillity. “I was able to help-in a small way-stop the man who had attacked me and so many other women. That felt good.”
“No. Justice. Going after revenge is like opening a vein in your arm and waiting for somebody else to bleed to death. I didn’t need that. I just needed to… see… him stopped. And I needed a new direction for my life. The Bureau and the Special Crimes Unit provided that.”
Tentatively, because he wasn’t sure how far she would be willing to go in talking about this, he said, “But to devote your life to a career that puts you face-to-face on a regular basis with violence and death-and evil? How healthy can that be, especially after what you’ve gone through?”
“I guess it depends on one’s reasons. I think mine are pretty good, beginning with the major one. Somebody has to fight evil. It might as well be me.”
“Judging by what I’ve seen in my life, it’ll take more than an army to do it. No offense.”
Hollis shook her head. “You don’t fight evil with an army. You fight it with will. Yours. Mine. The will of every human soul who cares about the outcome. I can’t say I thought much about it until what happened to me. But once you’ve seen evil up close, once you’ve had your entire life changed by it, then you see a lot of things more clearly.” Her smile twisted, not without bitterness. “Even with someone else’s eyes.”
He frowned, not getting that last reference. “I can understand feeling like that after what you went through, but to let it change your whole life-”
“After what I went through, it was the only thing I could do with my life. I not only saw some things more clearly, I also saw things differently. Too differently to ever go back to being an artist.”
“Hollis, it’s only natural to see a lot of things differently after such a horribly traumatic experience.”
A little laugh escaped her. “No, Caleb, you don’t understand. “I saw things differently. Literally. Colors aren’t the same now. Textures. Depth perception. I don’t see the world the way I used to, the way you do, because I can’t. The connections between my brain and my sight are… man-made. Or at least man-forged. Not organic. The doctors say my brain may never fully adjust.”
“Adjust to what?”
“To these new eyes I’m wearing. They weren’t the ones I was born with, you see. When the rapist left me for dead, he took a couple of souvenirs. He took my eyes.”
By the time Mallory got back to the station, it was nearly eight and she was tired. Tired as hell, if the truth be known. Also queasy, depressed, and not a little anxious.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Ginny McBrayer said. “I didn’t mean to make you jump.”
“These days, everything is making me jump.” Mallory sighed. “What is it, Ginny?”