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A Beautiful Child
By Matt Birkbeck
Berkley Publishing GroupCopyright © 2005 Matt Birkbeck
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe new school year proved difficult for Jennifer Fisher, who struggled through most of her classes while trying to resume friendships with classmates from her freshman year. The schoolwork was hard enough, reconnecting with old friends even harder. Sharon Marshall had become a positive force in her life, and with every phone call from Sharon, Jennifer's spirits peaked. Her good humor did not go unnoticed by her parents, who were happy to learn that Sharon would be visiting their home again.
When Sharon arrived in late September, she hugged Mr. and Mrs. Fisher, then joined Jennifer upstairs in her bedroom. Warren followed Sharon inside, offered his usual hearty hello, and then asked Joel if they could talk. Sue watched as the two men went into the kitchen, where Warren once again asked for a loan. He needed $300 and sounded like a used car salesman trying to close a deal. Again, Joel wouldn't budge, said no, and escorted Warren into the living room where he smiled weakly toward Sue, trying hard to mask his disappointment. He reached behind his back with his right arm and squeezed on his waist area and grimaced as if he was in dire pain.
"I've got a really bad back from a motorcycle accident a couple of years ago," he said. "I was on the bike and some guy hit me from behind, and then took off. Caused all kinds of problems for me. I need physical therapy and money for a shrink, but the state won't help me. Can you believe that? I'm in pain and the state won't give me the money I need to get better."
Warren shook his head, then said he'd be nearby cruising through the upscale neighborhood, dropping off business cards and soliciting paint jobs.
"I'll be back later this afternoon for Sharon," he said.
Warren's financial problems notwithstanding, the Fishers adored Sharon, particularly Sue, who became deeply attached. It broke Sue's heart that Sharon grew up without a mother. It was also clear to Sue that Sharon needed mothering, and her maternal instincts were always triggered during Sharon's visits. During one conversation as Sue was preparing lunch, Sharon eyed a plate of fresh broccoli.
"I never had this," said Sharon.
Within minutes, Sharon devoured the broccoli, head and all.
"That was one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten," she declared.
Sue also noticed Sharon had a propensity for mood changes, particularly during the rare occasions when she talked about her father. Discussing Warren provoked nervousness and a slight stutter. Sharon would fold her hands together and squeeze. Sue didn't know what to make of it, but didn't pry. Warren appeared careful with Sharon, and it was clear he was a disciplinarian. Given the Fishers deep feelings for Sharon, Warren was tolerated, though Joel made it perfectly clear that under no circumstances would he ever allow Jennifer to spend a night at the Marshall home.
The invitation was extended in November, and Jennifer, excited about the possibility, received the bad news as soon as she asked her parents. A day later, after her father left town for a three-day tour, Jennifer begged her mother to let her spend the night at Sharon's house.
Sue Fisher gave in and on a Saturday afternoon, she drove nearly an hour from Stone Mountain through Atlanta to Forest Park. When they turned onto the Marshall's street, Sue was not pleased. The neighborhood was run down, filled with small, ranch-style homes nearly all in need of a fresh paint. Late model pickup trucks were parked in short driveways, toys and garbage littered the street. The Fishers were conspicuous in Sue's brown Mercedes, driving slowly toward the end of the dead end block. The Marshalls lived in the last house on the right, the one in need of a landscaper, with weeds sprouting all around.
Sharon spotted the Mercedes as it pulled up to her short driveway, and she flew out of the house with Warren not far behind.
Jennifer jumped out and the two girls embraced. Sue remained in the car, rolling down her window to say hello, then quickly backing out of the driveway as Warren yelled out, "Don't worry, we'll take care of her."
Jennifer was led inside the house, which seemed even smaller compared to the view from the road. Straight ahead against the wall was an old sofa beneath a shelf with several photos, including one worn, color photo of a woman.
"That's my mother," said Sharon. "Her name was Linda."
Sharon's mother had long dark hair, but the photo was somewhat blurry, making it hard to focus on her features.
Still, Jennifer blurted out that she thought Sharon's mother was beautiful.
"You must miss her," said Jennifer.
"Yes. I think about her a lot. But daddy's taken good care of me," said Sharon, who continued the tour.
To the left was a small eat-in kitchen. To the right was a short hallway that led to Warren's room. Jennifer peeked inside and spotted dozens of black videotapes, one on top of another, lined up in rows against the wall. Warren was out of sight but his arm reached out across the doorway and pulled the curtain, which served as a door. To the left was another room, but Sharon warned Jennifer not to go in there.
"No one is allowed in that room," whispered Sharon.
Jennifer didn't ask why as she was led into Sharon's room, which took up the right corner of the house. The room was as Jennifer had imagined, filled with plenty of fluffy stuffed animals, several porcelain figurines, dolls, and brown teddy bears set on shelves.
Jennifer also noticed all the novels, magazines and dozens of copies of Reader's Digest.
"You must read a lot," said Jennifer.
"I love to read," said Sharon. "I just lose myself and imagine I'm part of the story or in some distant part of the world."
As she studied the room, it occurred to Jennifer that Sharon did not have a door. Instead she had a long curtain that hung in the doorway. None of the rooms in the house had a door, just curtains. It seemed odd, but Jennifer figured that Warren couldn't afford doors. She heard her parents whispering one night about Warren asking for money or something.
Warren reappeared and announced that he was taking the girls to dinner. They jumped into Warren's pick-up for the ten-minute drive to the Piccadilly restaurant. Jennifer sat in the middle, with Sharon to her right by the window. They made small talk; Warren made a point of telling Jennifer she was attractive.
"You know, you're soooo pretty. Just like Sharon," he said.
Somewhat embarrassed, Jennifer didn't mind the compliment. As they neared the restaurant, the girls told jokes, and everyone laughed harder when Sharon began to mimic her father.
"Oh, my back, my back hurts so bad!" said Sharon.
Warren enjoyed the moment, then announced he had a brilliant idea.
"Why don't we drive down to Peachtree Street and make fun of the prostitutes," he said.
"Dad, the prostitutes don't work there anymore. They're on Stuart Street," said Sharon. "And I don't really want to do that, daddy. Why don't we just go eat?"
Warren agreed, but said he first had to stop for gas. He pulled into a service station, stopped the car by the pump and turned up the volume to the radio, which spouted out the first few chords of Iron Man by Black Sabbath. He opened the truck door, walked over to the gas pump and filled up his truck, singing along with Ozzy Osbourne.
Sharon and Jennifer joined in the chorus, and they all clapped when the song ended. Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody came over the air as Warren turned the key to start the engine. The song was unfamiliar to Warren, but the girls sang in unison.
They enjoyed quiet conversation during dinner over chicken, mashed potatoes, cornbread and vegetables. For dessert there was chocolate cake and ice cream to round out the meal. Warren paid the check. As they drove away from the restaurant, with the orange glow of dusk fading on the horizon, Warren announced he had a another great idea.
"How about I take you girls dancing?"
The girls shrieked. "Dancing? Tonight? Wow!"
Jennifer was only fourteen years old and never even thought of setting foot in a dance club. She was underage, and it was something her parents would never allow. She also didn't have any clothes to wear.
"What would I wear?" she said.
Warren calmed her fears. Sharon had plenty of suitable outfits at home, and he was sure she had something that would fit Jennifer.
They drove back to the Marshall house and the girls ran into Sharon's room, giggling as they rummaged through Sharon's dresser drawers. Jennifer was excited, so excited she didn't notice the lingerie, the nightgowns, the string bikini underwear and the crotch less panties that filled the dresser.
Sharon then went into her closet and pulled out a pink miniskirt dress with black tiger stripes. It was outrageous. And Jennifer loved it.
Warren walked by the room and Sharon held the outfit up high.
"What do you think, daddy?"
"Yeah, you should put Jennifer in that nice pink and black dress," said Warren approvingly.
Sharon decided she'd wear an off the shoulder shirt and miniskirt. They combed their hair, put on lots of makeup, and announced to Warren they were ready to go - two young teens out for a night on the town.
"Boy, you ladies are something to see!" he exclaimed.
When they arrived at the club, the first thing Jennifer noticed was that it didn't look like a dance club. It looked more like some seedy redneck bar. Warren walked the girls to the front door, where they were met by a bouncer who was checking identifications. It was clear they were underage, but Warren leaned over and whispered into the bouncer's ear, then turned to the girls.
"Ok, let's go," he said as he ushered them into the club.
Inside it was dark, the only light coming from the bar to the right, and the reflections coming from the large, silver disco ball that hung over the small dance floor.
Warren walked them to the middle of the bar, then turned to leave.
"Ok, you girls have a good time. I'll be back later."
Jennifer was confused. "You're not staying with us?"
"Hell no, honey. You and Sharon have fun!" said Warren, who left them standing on the small dance floor.
Jennifer stood awkwardly, unsure of what to do. Sharon didn't waste any time, moving her hips and waving her hand at Jennifer to follow her motions and the girls started to dance. They remained there the rest of the night, dancing to the throbbing music. Jennifer had danced before, but at home, in her bedroom, alone. She was unsure of her movements and kept her eyes focused on Sharon, who moved easily with the music, her hips gyrating back and forth, her arms raised high. Sharon wasn't just good; she was sexy. Most of the men in the bar had noticed, some of them coming onto the floor to dance with Sharon. They were much older, well into their thirties and forties, some with scruffy beards and bad body odor. All were poorly dressed, wearing faded jeans and t-shirts.
Jennifer was simply terrified at the prospect of dancing with a man as old as her father. Sharon made it clear she wasn't interested in dancing with anyone other than Jennifer, waving the men away.
Warren returned at midnight and informed the girls the night was over.
During the ride back to Sharon's house, Jennifer couldn't help herself, blurting out what a good time she had, and how cool it was that Warren would take them dancing.
"I know what you girls like," said Warren.
When they got home, the girls went into Sharon's room. Warren stuck his head through the curtain, telling them to get ready for bed.
Sharon opened her dresser drawer and this time Jennifer noticed all the pretty and sexy lingerie.
"Where did you get this stuff?"
"My daddy lets me have this. He even buys it for me," said Sharon.
"Sharon," said Jennifer, "you have the greatest dad."
Changing out of their sweaty clothes and still high from a night of dancing, the girls laughed hysterically as they recalled the awkward attempts by some of the men in the bar to dance with them, and laughed even louder at how Sharon ignored them.
Jennifer was still giggling, pulling her nightgown over her head, when Warren barged into the room screaming, his face contorted in a monstrous glare.
Jennifer didn't hear what he was saying. She couldn't. She felt faint. Feelings of exultation and joy were replaced in an instant by fear and terror. She noticed the gun in Warren's hand, then looked over to Sharon, who stood naked from the waist up, wearing only white panties and blue, frilly socks. Sharon was trembling, staring at the floor and holding her hands together as her eyes welled with tears. Questions raced through Jennifer's mind, "What's going on? Can this be happening?"
Excerpted from A Beautiful Child by Matt Birkbeck Copyright © 2005 by Matt Birkbeck. Excerpted by permission.
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