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Chandler, Ohio Monday, August 2, 2010
I couldn't find a pencil that hadn't been chewed on. So what if the existing ones all bore my own teeth marks? Sometimes a girl just needed fresh wood.
I'd already seen four patients that day, had worked at the soup kitchen during lunchmy turn to wash dishes and book club was that night and I hadn't finished the book, in spite of being up half the night trying.
And right then, critical on my list was that none of my desk drawers had unused, which for me meant unchewed, pencils. Okay, so the habit was somewhat disgusting. I acknowledged it. At least I faced my issues.
"Deb?" I punched the phone intercom system a system that had come with the office and had been around, I suspected, since before color television.
"Yeah?" Deb Brown, my assistant wasn't the most professional employee around. But she was loyal and compassionate, which made up for any lack in her office etiquette.
"Have we got any pencils out there?"
"No, but you've got a call on line one. I was just going to buzz you when you buzzed me."
"Go get some new pencils, would you?"
"Now? I'm in the middle of billing."
"Now. Please. If you don't mind."
"Heck, I don't mind. It's eighty degrees and sunny outside."
"But make sure you only walk as far as your car," I told her. The one store in town that carried office supplies was three miles away and Deb had been known to make that hike.
"Okay," Deb said, and clicked off.
Why the store was closer to the highway seven miles outside town instead of downtown where people worked was beyond me. The only businesses out by the interstate, besides farmland, were an economy hotel, a truck stop and a family diner. If you considered a greasy spoon filled with truckers a "family" diner.
Picking up a pen, pulling one of four or five notepads toward me, I took my call on line one.
"Dr. Chapman?" The caller was female. Sounded older than a teen. At a guess, in her early thirties.
"My name is Lori Winston. The counselor at Chandler High School referred me to you."
Jim Lockhart had sent several troubled teens to me over the past five years.
"You have a son or daughter in high school? " I asked, mentally reviewing my assessment of her age.
"A daughter. Just starting high school this month. But I can't pay you," the woman continued. "I barely got enough money to pay lot rent and utilities."
Jim knew that when it came to kids, I'd work pro bono anytime.
Insecure, I jotted down about Lori Winston, because I always made notes about whatever popped immediately to mind when dealing with my clients. Or pretty much anyone I talked to.
First impressions were sometimes vital.
"You and your daughter live alone?"
Independent, I added, thinking of the thirteen- or fourteen-year-old I had yet to meet.
"For how long?"
"Since she was born. Took me three years to save up for this trailer and it's not much. Two bedrooms. And a hole in the bathroom floor. But we do okay most of the time. It's just comin' up with extra that's hard.
"And before you ask, I had her when I was sixteen. Had to quit school 'cause I couldn't afford a babysitter without working full-time. Seems everyone wants to turn up their noses at us, and if you're one of 'em, then fine, we don't need your help."
"No, wait." I frowned, quickly put pen to paper. Defensive home environment. "I'm happy to helpat no charge." I said what I figured would mean the most so I could keep the needy mother on the line. "And I'm not judging your situation," I added. "My mother also quit high school to have me."
Right here in Chandler.
"And you turned into a doctor?"
Well, a doctor of psychology, anyhow. "Yes," I said.
"You'll understand Maggie, then. Lots of folks don't. They look at me and figure she's white trash, too, without bothering to learn what she's about. Not that I'm trash or nothin'I'm not. But I know what people say about me. I hear them."
"Maggie's your daughter?"
"Yeah. She's fourteen."
Maggie. Cute name. Weary mother.
"How's she doing in school?"
"Straight A's so far."
"What about sports?" Seemed like every kid in the county played something. There wasn't a whole lot else for themor their parentsto do. Some of the people in Fort County seemed to put more emphasis on games and practice and working out than they did on homework and attending class.
"She was a cheerleader in junior high and made the junior varsity team at Chandler, but she quit when practices started. Said she was bored with it. They have to pay to play now that the tax levy failed, so we couldn't afford the extra, anyway."
I looked at my notes. Nothing stood out. So I asked the obvious question. "Why do you think your daughter needs a counselor?"
"I think something's going on with a guy. An older guy."
"Can you explain that?"
"Used to be she said she was going to graduate from college before she got serious with a guy. Said she wasn't going to let anyone slow her down, or stop her from bein' whatever she wants to be, which is fine by me. She thinks guys in high school're dumb, anyway. But now she's talking like 'having a partner could make life so much better' kind of stuff." The mother mocked the daughter's tone.
"What did she mean by that?"
"Hell if I know."
"Did you ask her?"
"Yeah. She said, 'It's obvious.'" More of the mocking tone. "And there's no guy in high school who's gonna be talking that way. Not puttin' thoughts like that into her head."
I wasn't as sure of that.
"Then last week I found a condom in her purse," Lori Winston continued. "She said they gave 'em away free at school last year and she keeps it for safety purposes. 'Like what?' I asked. Like if she gets raped, she's going to pull it out?"
"Do you think she's sexually active?"
"God, I hope not. She's only fourteen and I know that's not the way to go. I've told her. Over and over. And used to be she listened. But I don't know about her anymore. That's why I'm calling you. Other than this, Mags is the greatest kid ever."
"Has she ever had a boyfriend, that you know of?"
"No. She's always said boys are dumb. Now she's saying boys aren't worth talkin' to till they're grown-up and past some hormone something-or-otherand that's what scares me the most. She's dressing different. Paying more attention to her looks. When I ask her if she's seein' someone, she says, 'Course not.' But I don't believe her. There's a man in my daughter's life. A man. Not a boy. A mother knows these things."
I wished I could believe the woman was wrong. But at this point, I couldn't disagree with her that a liaison with an older man was possible.
"Has she ever been in trouble with the police?" I thought of my high school friend, Samantha Jones, who was now a Fort County deputy. She might know if Maggie Winston was hanging out with a bad crowd.
"Of course not. Like I said, she's a good girl, Dr. Chapman. She's never given me a bit of worry until now, except for maybe that she's too sweet. People use her, always asking for help and she never says no. She'd be real easy for some guy to take advantage of, if you know what I mean."
"I'll be happy to see her if you think she'll talk to me."
"She will if I tell her to. When?"
"Any day this week. I can stay late if I need to."
We set a time for the next afternoon. And I hung up. A psychologist's life is often difficult, but never more so than when you're dealing with a child.
The man inside the elegant whitewashed home was armed and dangerous. He'd already killed his wife. Sa-mantha had been the one to find her body on the back porch. The dead woman still had a cell phone clutched in her hand, her call to 9-1-1 showing on the screen.
Now, crouched against the cement foundation, Sam held her department-issue cell phone to her ear while three other deputies surrounded the house. They'd secured the area. And called for the county's hostage team, such as it was. But out here, what they had was pretty much what they had. Ben Chase and Todd Williams had a little more training than the rest of them; that was it.
And Williams, the dickhead, was on his honeymoon. Who'd have thought her old partner would've gone and got married right when she needed him most?
"Answer, dammit," she whispered through gritted teeth, listening to the monotony of ringing that she'd been hearing on and off for the past five minutes.
She almost dropped her phone. "Mr. Holmes?"
"Get them guys outta my yard or I'll blow my head off."
"We're here to help you, Mr. Holmes. We've seen your wife. She's hurt. We have to get her to a hospital." Was lying to a hostage against the rules? Samantha couldn't remember. "We need you to put down your gun and come out, and we'll do everything we can to help you."
It was so dark out here, she couldn't be sure if there was some animal moving in the brusha cat, maybe or if she was just seeing shadows.
"You got money to pay my mortgage?" Holmes shouted in her ear, following the question with obscenities. "You gonna get my truck back for me?"
"There are programs to help you with all that, Mr. Holmes. But we can't do anything if you stay inside with that gun."
"You can't do anything, anyway." The man's voice had dropped so low she could hardly hear him. "I killed my wife. You think I don't know that? I killed her."
When she heard the distinctive and unmistakable sound of a .410, followed by breaking glass falling on pavement, she prayed that her fellow officers hadn't been anywhere within range.
"Mr. Holmes? Are you okay? Mr. Holmes!"
"I told you to get those guys outta here."
"Mr. Holmes." Samantha put every bit of nurturing she could find into those two words. "Please put the gun down now, so we can help you."
Another shot sounded, and Samantha didn't need a phone to her ear to know the man had just blown off his own head.
Kyle Evans liked the country.
Sitting outside at night, unwinding from a long day of farming, communing with the stars and the air that told him what the next day would bring, was heaven compared to living in a city where he'd be surrounded by people even if he lived alone.
Not that he lived alone. Or had ever lived in a city. Or even a small town.
No, Kyle was a farm boy from his head to his toes. Chandler, with all its busybodies and people milling around, the traffic, the fast-food placesthat were now staying open twenty-four hours, for godsaketore at his nerves.
Late on the first Monday night in August he was sitting out back, a few cold beers for company. He sat in a pine rocker he'd built himself across from the other pine rocker he'd built himself, under the hundred-year-old maple tree. His grandpa had set him in the lower branches of that tree before he could walk.
He'd been climbing it by the time he was four. Shimmying up it, hugging the bark so tight with his arms and knees that he'd damned near skinned them. But a few scrapes and bark burns were worth the view from the top. He could see the entire farm from there. Could see his daddy fifty acres away, if there were no leaves on the trees and his old man was on the big tractor.
He could see the cows in the farthest pasture.
He'd once saved a foal from up in that tree. He'd seen a fox coming over the hill toward the horse pasture and had hollered for his grandpa, who took Kyle and the .22 out in the truck, shooting the fox from thirty yards away, right before it lit into the new foal.
The carcass had hung in his father's office until after Kyle graduated from high school. It was in the barn someplace now.
He'd downed his second beer, was considering whether to go into the house for a third or just call it a night, when he saw lights in his drive. Since it was a long drive, he had plenty of notice when someone came to visit. At night, anyway.
His decision made because he recognized his visitor, Kyle went in for the beer. He took a moment to make sure his grandfather was still tucked into bed, asleep, which was how the confused ninety-two-year-old spent most of his time. Then he brought out the rest of the six-pack. There was only one person who'd have the audacity to interrupt his peace this late at night.
And only one person who drove up the gravel drive like a bat out of hell. An officer of the law ought to know better.
It's private propertyI'm allowed to drive fast, Sam always said when he bothered to call her on it.
One look at her face tonight as she stepped out of her reconditioned '77 Mustang, and Kyle knew he wasn't going to call her on anything.
Normally he hated the sight of her in the manly beige slacks, shirt and tie that made up her Fort County deputy uniform.
Not because of the manliness, but because of what they represented. The job. The danger. Her obsession.
Tonight, he hardly noticed her apparel.
Beer first and then talk, he'd learned when she had that wild look in those familiar blue eyes. The look that asked him if she was insane. Or the world was.
The look that told him she'd been seeing something really ugly while he was staring at the stars.
She grabbed the beer he handed her and sat down without a hello. Lying back in the handmade pine chair she used so much he thought of it as hers, she downed half the beer.
"How's Grandpa?" she finally asked.
"Better today. The swelling in his legs went down and he made it to the table for all three meals. Bitched at me for burning the toast, too." He grinned.
"Did he know who you were?"
"I'm not sure. I was either me or my dad. He knew he was with family. I'm good with that." It was when the grandfather he'd grown up with as a second parent thought Kyle was a stranger that he struggled.
"In the barn. Lillie's ready to foal." And the German shepherd would alert him if there was a problem that required his attention before morning.
"You need to hire yourself a hand."
He held up the two he had, beer bottle included. "I've got all I need."
"Your father had two men, plus you and your grandpa, helping him."
"He had twice the land to work and the money to pay wages. I've got help coming for harvest. I can do the rest myself."