The book of ivy, p.8

The Book of Ivy, page 8

 part  #1 of  The Book of Ivy Series

 

The Book of Ivy
 


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  “I’ll be right here,” David says, “if you need me.”

  Victoria nods and twists the silver door handle with her free hand. The room beyond is tiny, barely enough space for the three folding chairs inside, only one of which is occupied. The one bolted to the floor.

  I couldn’t have said exactly what I expected to find, some evil creature from a storybook in human form, maybe, but the boy in the chair doesn’t look much older than me. I would guess he’s younger than Bishop, in fact, but I glance at the file over Victoria’s shoulder and see he’s twenty-two.

  He smiles at us and waves with his free hand, the other handcuffed to the side of the chair. “Hi. I was starting to think you’d forgotten about me.” He has sandy blond hair and round blue eyes. His cheeks are smooth with bright pink patches on the apples. He reminds me of the baby dolls my sister and I played with as children. I imagine a different type of girl might find him attractive.

  Victoria takes a seat across from him, and I slide into the empty chair beside her. Mark’s eyes follow the line of my bare leg peeking out from my skirt as I sit, but when he raises his gaze to mine, his look is carefully polite.

  “Mark,” Victoria says, capturing his attention. “You know why you’re here, I assume.”

  “You need to get everything finalized before you put me out.”

  “Yes.” Victoria draws a sheaf of papers from his file and uncaps a pen. As she goes over his address and next of kin, I take the chance to study him. He is answering her easily enough, but his foot jumps against the floor and he’s swallowing too fast, like he has to keep wetting his mouth or the words will dry up.

  “Will I…will I have a chance to say good-bye to my family?” he asks.

  “You will,” Victoria says. “We’ll be notifying them of a day and time when they are allowed to visit.”

  Mark nods, his head bobbing on his neck like a spring. “I wish there was someone I could talk to,” he says. “Someone in charge. I’m sure if I just explained—”

  “You had a trial, Mr. Laird,” Victoria says. “And the judge found you guilty. There’s nothing left to discuss.”

  “But you can’t just put me out!” he says, voice rising. His handcuffs rattle against the chair. My whole body tenses, but Victoria remains unfazed. She probably hears these pleas, and ignores them, every time she enters this room. The thought of it makes me want to vomit.

  “If you’ll calm down,” she says, “I’ll go over the procedure for your release with you.”

  “My release?” Mark’s voice breaks and he chokes out a high, hysterical laugh. “It’s not a release. It’s a death sentence. Why don’t you call it what it is?”

  “Well,” Victoria says, shutting the folder with a snap. “If you’re not going to be reasonable, it looks like we’re done here. We can try again tomorrow.”

  She moves toward the door. I stand to follow her, and Mark leans forward, his body stretching out of his chair, and snags my wrist. “Please,” he says. “Please help me.”

  I twist out of his grasp, the tiny hairs on my arm standing at attention. I know I should be reacting to the pain in his voice, but there’s something swimming in the depths of his eyes—a calculating slyness at odds with his boyish face—that makes my skin crawl.

  Victoria holds the door open and I go out, breathing fast.

  “Everything okay?” David asks.

  “He grabbed her,” Victoria says. “But no harm done, right?”

  I nod, crossing my arms across my chest and holding my elbows to still my shaking fingers. David goes into the room with Mark, and Victoria starts down the hall away from me. “Let’s take a quick break before the next one,” she says as she walks.

  “He was right, you know,” I call after her. She turns and looks at me over her shoulder. “You were playing word games with him. It is a death sentence.”

  Victoria stares at me, runs her tongue over her front teeth. Her footsteps are fast and loud as she walks back to where I stand. “No, I wasn’t,” she says. “He’ll be alive when we release him. And if he’s half as smart as he thinks he is, he can figure out how to stay that way.”

  I shake my head. “You know that’s not true. He’ll die out there. No one deserves—”

  “Do you know what he did?” Victoria asks me. Her voice is quiet but deadly sharp and accurate, each word like an arrow pointed home. “He raped a nine-year-old girl. Carved his name into her belly so she’d have a souvenir for the rest of her life.”

  My stomach flips, bile rising up in my throat. I turn my face away from her, toward the wall, remembering the look in his eyes when he touched my arm. I want to scrub my skin with hot water, rid myself of him so there’s no evidence left behind. I don’t let myself think of the little girl who will never be able to do the same.

  Victoria leans closer. “What do you suggest we do with him, Ivy? Should we let him loose? Keep him here forever, feeding him during winters we can barely feed ourselves? Give him medicine that could go to innocent children instead?” She shoves Mark Laird’s folder against my chest. I take it with numb fingers. “Personally, I think he deserves worse.”

  I don’t look up, even after the door at the end of the hall swings shut behind her.

  I

  walk home angry and don’t even know why. It’s not as if my father didn’t admit that a lot of the people put outside the fence have done horrible things. And Victoria’s right, maybe Mark does deserve worse than he’s getting. But I still feel lied to, like all the speeches my father gave me were supposed to end in easy answers, not more questions. It means sometimes things aren’t as simple as our fathers want us to believe. I hear Bishop’s words in my head and have to resist punching at nothing, screaming at the humid air pressing against the back of my neck. My throat feels raw and tight and I stalk along the deserted sidewalk with my fingernails biting into my palms, leaving the sounds of downtown behind me in the distance.

  Bishop is in the kitchen when I get home, forming hamburger into patties at the counter. “Hi,” he calls as I throw my bag on the sofa. “How were the prisoners?”

  I stand in the kitchen doorway, the same way he did on the second night after our wedding. In most of the ways that count, nothing has changed since then. We haven’t slept together or shared secrets together or done much of anything together, really. But in perhaps the most important way of all, everything’s altered since those first hesitant nights. Because by being the person I come home to, the person who asks me about my day and listens to my answers, Bishop’s become the constant my life revolves around. Even if most of the time we navigate so carefully we might as well be bombs trying not to explode, we are still always there, in each other’s paths. Just waiting for the moments we intersect.

  “Awful,” I say. “We met with one who is going to be put out. A guy who hurt a little girl.” Using euphemism to disguise horror. “But he still begged me to save him.” My voice is high and tight. “He begged.”

  Bishop snorts. “I bet he did.”

  “That’s all you have to say? Don’t you care about what’s happening to people?”

  Bishop flips on the faucet with his forearm, soaping up his hands. “To this guy?” he says. “Not really. The better question is, why do you?” He turns off the water and grabs a dishtowel from the oven door handle.

  I huff out air. “I don’t. I mean, not him specifically. But we can’t put people out every time they do something wrong. It’s…barbaric.”

  “Look around, Ivy. The world we live in is barbaric. We just try to hide it with”—he flaps the dish towel toward the counter—“hamburgers on the grill and cute houses. And what’s the alternative? Would it be better to kill them in the electric chair, like they used to? Use up resources we don’t have keeping them alive?”

  I roll my eyes. “Now you sound like Victoria.”

  “Victoria has a good point, then.” Bishop steps closer to me, leans one hip against the counter. “Last winter we lost more than two hundred peop
le, Ivy. Two hundred. Would you rather keep the guy you talked to today alive or one of those people?”

  “That’s an unfair question and you know it! Not everyone who is put out has done something like what this guy did. Some people steal bread from the market or refuse to get married. I don’t think it’s a waste of resources to feed those people. We managed to feed them before they committed a crime. We should be able to feed them afterward.”

  “Okay,” Bishop says. “But what about the murderers and rapists? What do we do with them? Saying you want something different isn’t going to cut it.” His face is as calm as ever, his eyes a thoughtful, liquid green.

  “So what are you saying? If someone doesn’t have every single possible answer, it’s stupid to ask the question?” I wish he’d raise his voice so I’d have an excuse to raise mine, release some of this frustration that’s boiling at the base of my spine. I don’t worry any more about offending him or making him mad. He seems able to handle my recklessness with a level of composure my family never mastered.

  Bishop doesn’t miss a beat. “No, of course not. But it’s not enough to want things to change without asking what they’re going to change into.”

  “That’s easy for you to say. The president’s son,” I taunt. “Did you ever even think about this stuff before I came along, or did you spend your days splashing around in the river, letting other people worry about justice and what’s right?”

  His eyes flash, so fast I think I might have imagined it, because his face stays impassive. “You don’t have a monopoly on worrying about the future, no matter what you might think.” He throws down the dishtowel. “And at least I don’t need my father to tell me what I believe.”

  I spin away from him and walk down the hall to the bedroom, slamming the door behind me. I cross to the bed and punch a pillow as hard as I can, lift it to my face and scream out my frustration, the cotton dry and bitter in my mouth.

  I

  hide out in a bathroom stall in the basement of the courthouse until my watch says six. I usually leave around five, but I know David, the guard who let Victoria and me in to see Mark Laird, is on duty until six, and I want to find out where he takes his gun at the end of the day. Step three, find out where they keep the guns. That’s one of the facts my father needs to know if he’s going to make a successful bid for power. He’s always said he doesn’t want anyone to get hurt—other than the obvious people, of course—but having control of our government’s limited supply of weapons is going to be vital to his success.

  After last night’s argument with Bishop, which left me awake half the night with scathing retorts burning unsaid on my tongue, I woke up determined to take a step forward on the path toward my father’s goal. I refuse to allow Bishop’s words to knock me off course. Callie always says that there’s family, and there’s everyone else. My father is family. And Bishop is everyone else.

  I hear a door slam outside the bathroom and a set of heavy footsteps passes in the hall. I uncurl from where I’ve been crouching on the toilet seat, wincing at the tightness in my legs. I peek out the bathroom door and David is turning the corner at the far end of the hall, an area of the basement I’ve never been in before. I tiptoe after him barefoot, my sandals in my hand. It’s eerily quiet down here this time of day, the only sound a faint buzzing from lights above my head and the click of David’s receding footsteps.

  I turn the corner cautiously and see David punching in numbers on a keypad set into the wall. When he’s done, he opens the door next to the keypad and goes inside, but he doesn’t let the door close behind him. I can hear his voice and the voice of another man coming from the room.

  “Thank God it’s Friday, right?” the unknown man says. He sounds older, his voice gruff.

  “You’re telling me,” David says. “Next week is going to be a long one.”

  “Putting them out?”

  “On Wednesday.”

  The older man clucks his tongue, but without seeing his face I can’t tell what the noise indicates. Approval? Criticism? I hear the rustling of leather and the clank of metal followed by a heavy thud. David taking off his holster and setting it down. My heart rate picks up, a thin line of sweat beading at my brow. I clutch the folder I’m carrying tighter in my hand—my insurance policy in case I get caught.

  “Go ahead and sign it back in,” the older man says.

  I hear the scratch of pen on paper and I know I should leave, race down the hall the way I came, but I want more information. There’s a sound I can’t immediately identify, like the whir of a wheel. The turn mechanism on a safe maybe? Against my better judgment, I slide all the way over to the doorway and lean in a fraction of an inch, holding my breath. Both men have their backs to me and stand in front of an open walk-in safe. From where I stand, I can see rows of guns stretching back, floor to ceiling, at least twenty feet. There are handguns, like the one David is turning in and bigger guns, too. All sizes. Shotguns, and even a few assault rifles. These days guns are a theory for most people, not a reality, so they don’t know much about them. But my father taught us to identify the basic types of weapons. Although I’ve never shot a gun, I have no trouble imagining the heft of one in my hand. The older man goes into the safe and sets David’s gun on a metal rack with dozens of guns of the same type.

  I move out of the doorway and race-walk away, back down the hall. Once I turn the corner, I take a second to slip my shoes back on and catch my breath. I memorize where I am and where the room is, close my eyes and picture every detail in my mind, try to burn the images of the guns I saw into my closed eyelids.

  “Hey, Mrs. Lattimer,” David says, right over my shoulder. “What are you doing here?”

  I jump, a startled squawk escaping. “Oh, hi, David,” I say, one hand on my chest where my heart is slamming against my ribs. “This case is closed, so I was just bringing the file down for storage, but I couldn’t find the right room. It’s so confusing.” I give him a smile that feels more like a grimace. “Everything’s so white.”

  He cocks his head at me, points at the file. “What’s the case number?”

  I hold it up for him to see. “That goes in Records Room B,” he says. “I don’t mind taking it for you. Technically only the guards are allowed down here unaccompanied. Next time just let us know and we’ll be happy to take any closed case files off your hands.”

  “Thank you,” I say, give a breathless little laugh as I hand over the file. “Sorry I didn’t follow protocol. Still learning.”

  “No problem,” David says.

  “Now can you point me in the right direction for the stairwell? Otherwise I’ll be wandering around here for days.”

  David smiles, points down the hall. “Stairwell is right there.”

  “Thanks. Have a nice weekend.” I practically run to the stairs and push through the door, resting my head against it once it’s closed behind me. There is one benefit of being a Lattimer—most people are easily fooled. They think because I’ve changed my name, they know where my allegiance lies. As if a few weeks can overcome a lifetime.

  I

  hurry through the streets, anxious to reach the market before all the stalls shut down for the evening. It’s less crowded than the last time I was here, so even though there are fewer people, more of them notice my presence. Murmurs follow in the wake of my passing, like that childhood game where the whisper starts at the beginning of the line and by the time it reaches the end it’s transformed into something new and undecipherable. I was well-known on my side of town but not talked about. I was part of the fabric of people’s lives, the founder’s daughter. Here I am only a curiosity, and I hate it.

  The man at the jam stall is beginning to pack up as I reach his table. I grab a jar of jam, not even looking at what type, and thrust it toward him. “I’d like to get this.”

  He glances up at me. “It’s three vouchers.”

  We don’t have cash anymore, after the war. People are paid for their employment with vouchers. Women
who don’t work—the vast majority of females in Westfall—and children are given a certain number of vouchers per month as well.

  “Okay.” I dig into the messenger bag slung across my chest for some vouchers.

  “Do you need a sack?”

  “No. I can put it in here.” I nestle the jar into the bottom of my bag.

  “Anything else?” the man asks.

  I glance around. There’s no one nearby. “Tell her I found where they’re kept,” I say, voice low. I walk away without looking back.

  Euphoria sings through my blood as I walk home, my steps bouncing against the pavement. I imagine Callie’s face when my message is delivered. It means next to nothing to the jam man, but to Callie it will mean everything. She will tell my father and they’ll both be pleased with what I’ve accomplished so far. They’ll stop worrying that they’ve given me an assignment I’m not capable of completing.

  But the closer I get to home, the faster the euphoria fades. Because in my haste to prove myself to my father, to prove something to Bishop, I forgot what finding the guns means. It means my father is one step closer to the final step of the plan, to killing Bishop and President Lattimer. I believe in my father’s cause, I do. But I’m beginning to realize there is a difference between letting someone die and being the one who pulls the trigger.

  The living room and kitchen are empty when I get home, a pan of chicken resting on top of the stove. The door to the screened porch is open and Bishop is stretched out on one of the wicker sofas, his long legs taking up the entire cushion.

  “Hi,” I say. I put my bag on the floor and sit cross-legged on the sofa across from him. My fingers tie nervous knots in my lap.

  Bishop’s gaze takes me in. “Hard day?” he asks.

  “Yeah.”

  “That’s two in a row.”

  I nod. I’m poised right on the edge of tears, for no reason I can name. I have a sudden fierce wish that the man at the jam stall had been gone for the day, that my message was not already on its way to Callie.

 
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