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Dark places, p.24

Dark Places, page 24

 

Dark Places
 



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  “Well, I mean, I had a crush. A big crush. And I know Ben liked me too. We hung out, in a way—and I’m totally serious here—that wasn’t probably right. I mean, I know he was a kid too, but he was old enough to … not have encouraged me. We kissed one day, and it changed everything …”

  “You kissed him.”

  “We kissed.”

  “Like?”

  “Inappropriately, grown-up. In a way I definitely wouldn’t want my fifth-grade daughter to be kissed by a teenage boy.”

  I didn’t believe her.

  “Go on,” I said.

  “About a week after, I went to a slumber party over Christmas break, and I told the girls about my high school boyfriend. All proud. I made up things we did, sex things. And one of them told her mom, and her mom called my mom. I still remember it, the phone call. I remember my mom talking on the phone, and me just waiting in my room for her to come and yell at me. She was always pissed off about something. And she came to my room, and she was, like, nice. Sweetheart and Honey, and holding my hand, you know, ‘You can trust me, we’ll work this out together,’ and asking me if Ben had touched me wrong.”

  “And you said, what?”

  “Well, I started out with the kiss, and that was all I was going to say. Just the truth. And I told her and she, she seemed to move away, like ‘OK, not that big a deal. No problem.’ I remember her saying, Is that all? Is that all that happened? Like she was disappointed almost, and all of a sudden, I remember, she was already standing up, and I blurted it out, ‘He touched me here. He made me do things.’ And then she was back.’”

  “And then what?”

  “It just kept getting bigger. My mom told my dad when he got home, and he was all, my baby, my poor little girl, and they called the school and the school sent over a, like, child psychologist. And I remember he was this college guy, and he made it impossible to tell the truth. He wanted to believe I was molested.”

  I frowned at her.

  “I’m serious. Because I remember, I was going to tell him the truth and have him tell my parents, but … he’d ask if Ben had made me do things, sexually, and I said no, and, he’d, like, be mean about it. You seem like a smart, brave girl, I’m relying on you to tell me what happened. Oh, nothing happened? Gosh I thought you were braver than that. I was really hoping you’d be brave enough to help me out on this. Maybe you can tell me if at least you remember this sort of touching or Ben saying this? Do you remember playing a game like this, can you tell me if you at least remember that? Oh that’s good. I knew you could do it, what a smart, good girl. And I don’t know, you’re at that age, if a bunch of grownups are telling you something or encouraging you, it just … it started to feel real. That Ben had molested me, because otherwise, why were all these adults trying to get me to say he had? And my parents would be all stern: It’s OK to tell the truth. It’s OK to tell the truth. And so you told the lie that they thought was the truth.”

  I was remembering my own shrink, after the murders. Dr. Brooner, who always wore blue, my favorite color, for our sessions, and who gave me treats when I told him what he wanted to hear. Tell me about seeing Ben with that shotgun, shooting your mother. I know this is so hard for you Libby, but if you say it, say it aloud, you will help your mom and sisters and you will help yourself start to heal. Don’t bottle it up, Libby, don’t bottle up the truth. You can help us make sure Ben is punished for what he did to your family. I would be a brave little girl and say that I saw Ben chop up my sister and I saw Ben kill my mother. And then I’d get the peanut butter with apricot jelly, my favorite, that Dr. Brooner always brought for me. I think he really believed he was helping.

  “They were trying to make you comfortable, they thought the harder they believed in you, the easier it’d be for you,” I said. “They were trying to help you, and you were trying to help them.” Dr. Brooner gave me a star-shaped pin with the words SuperSmart SuperStar printed on it after I nailed Ben with my testimony.

  “Yeah!” Krissi said, her eyes going big. “This therapist, he helped me, like visualize, like entire scenes. We’d act it all out with dolls. And then he started talking to the other girls, girls who never even kissed Ben, and, I mean, it was just a few days, that we had made up this entire imaginary world where Ben was a Devil worshiper, doing things like killing rabbits and making us eat the insides while he molested us. I mean, it was insane. But it was … fun. I know that’s horrible, but we girls would get together, one night we had another slumber party, and we were up in the bedroom, sitting in a circle, egging each other on, making up stories, bigger and juicier, and … have you ever played with a Ouija board?”

  “When I was a kid.”

  “Right! And you know, you all want it to be real, so someone moves the heart-thingie a little and you know someone’s moving it, but part of you thinks maybe it’s real, it’s really a ghost, and no one has to say anything, you just all kind of know you’ve agreed to believe.”

  “But you’ve never told the truth.”

  “I told it to my parents. That day, the day you came over, the police had been called in, all the girls were at my house—they gave us cake, I mean, jeez, how screwed up is that? My parents said they’d buy me a dang puppy so I would feel better. And then the police left and the girls left and the therapist left, and I went up to my room and I just started crying, and it’s like, only then did I realize. Only then did I think.”

  “But you said your dad was out searching for Ben.”

  “Nah, that’s just a little fantasy.” She said it, and stared across the room again. “When I told him? My dad shook me so hard I thought my head would come off. And after those murders, all the girls panicked, everyone told the truth. We all felt like we’d really summoned the Devil. Like we made up this bad story about Ben and some part of it became true.”

  “But your family got a big settlement from the school.”

  “It wasn’t that big.” She eyed the bottom of her glass.

  “But your parents went ahead with it, after you’d told them the truth.”

  “My dad was a businessman. He thought we could get some sort of, compensation.”

  “But your dad definitely knew, that day, that Ben had not molested you.”

  “Yeah, he did,” she said, giving that chickeny neck jerk toward me, defensive. Buck came and rubbed against her pant leg, and she seemed calm, ran her long fingernails through his fur. “We moved that year. My dad said the place was tainted. But the money didn’t really help. I remember he bought me a dog, but every time I tried to talk about the dog, he sort of held his hand up, like it was too much. My mom, she just never forgave me. I’d come home and tell her about something that happened at school and—and she’d just say, Really? Like I was lying, no matter what I said. I could have told her I ate mashed potatoes for lunch and she’d just go, Really? And then she just stopped talking, she’d look at me when I came in the door from school, and then she’d walk over to the kitchen and open a bottle of wine, and she’d just keep refilling, wandering around the house, not talking. Always shaking her head. I remember one time I told her I wish I hadn’t made her so sad, and she said, she said, Well, you did.”

  Krissi was crying now, petting the cat rhythmically.

  “And that was it. By the end of the year my mom was gone. I came home from school one day, and her room was cleared out.” She let her head drop to her lap then, a childish, dramatic gesture, her hair flung over her head. I knew I was supposed to pet her, soothe her, but instead I just waited and eventually she peered up at me.

  “No one ever forgives me for anything,” she whimpered, her chin shaking. I wanted to tell her I did, but I didn’t. Instead I poured her another drink.

  Patty Day

  JANUARY 2, 1985

  6:11 P.M.

  Patty was still muttering sorrys as Lou Cates hustled her toward the door, and suddenly, she was out on the step, in the freezing air, her eyes blinking rapidly. Between blinks, before she could get her mouth to move
, to form any sort of word, the door opened again, and out stepped a man in his fifties. He shut the door behind him, and then there they all were, on the small front porch: Patty, Diane, Libby, and the man, basset-hound bags beneath watery eyes, his graying hair brushed straight back. He ran a hand through the pomade while he assessed Patty, his Irish Claddagh ring flashing.

  “Mrs. Patty Day?” His coffee breath lingered in the cold air, vaguely discolored.

  “I’m Patty Day. Ben Day’s mother.”

  “We came by to find out what’s going on with these stories,” Diane interrupted. “We’ve been hearing a lot of rumors, and no one’s bothered to talk to us directly.”

  The man cocked his hands on his hips, looked down at Libby, looked quickly away. “I’m Detective Jim Collins. I’m in charge of this investigation. I had to come by here today to talk to these folks and then of course I was going to get in touch with you. You saved me a drive. Do you want to talk somewhere else? It’s a little cold here.”

  They went to a Dunkin’ Donuts just off the highway, separate cars, Diane muttering a joke about cops and donuts, then cursing Mrs. Cates—wouldn’t even give us the time of damn day. Bitch. Normally Patty would have said something in Mrs. Cates’s defense: Diane and Patty’s roles, straight-talker and apologist, were grooved deep. But the Cates family was in no need of defense.

  Det. Collins was waiting for them with three paper cups of coffee and a carton of milk for Libby.

  “Didn’t know if you’d want her to have sweets,” he said, and Patty wondered if he’d think she was a bad mother if she bought Libby a donut. Especially if he knew they’d had pancakes that morning. This will be my life from now on, she thought, always having to think about what people will think. Libby was smearing her face against the pastry glass already, though, hopping from one foot to another, and so Patty fished around in her pocket for some change and got a pink frosted donut, gave it to Libby on a napkin. She could not deal with Libby feeling denied, staring mournfully at all those pastel shades of sugar while they tried to have a conversation about whether her son was a Devil-worshiping child-molester. Again she almost laughed. She settled Libby at a table behind them and told her to sit still and eat while the grown-ups talked.

  “You all redheads?” Collins said. “Where’s the red come from, you Irish?”

  Patty thought immediately of her always-conversation with Len about their red hair, and then she thought, The farm’s going away. How did I forget that the farm’s going away?

  “German,” she said for the second time that day.

  “You have another few little ones, don’t you?” Collins said.

  “Yes. I have four children.”

  “Same daddy?”

  Diane rustled in the seat next to her. “Of course, same daddy!”

  “But you are a single mother, correct?” Collins asked.

  “We’re divorced, yes,” Patty said, trying to sound as prim as a churchwife.

  “What’s this got to do with what’s happening with Ben?” Diane snapped, leaning across the table. “I’m Patty’s sister by the way. I take care of these kids almost as much as she does.”

  Patty winced, Det. Collins watched her wince.

  “Let’s try to start this civilly,” Collins said. “Because we’ve got a long way to go together before this is cleared up. The charges leveled against your son, Mrs. Day, are of a very serious, and very concerning nature. At this point, we’ve got four little girls who say that Ben touched them in their private areas, that he made them touch him. That he took them out to some farm area and performed certain … acts that are associated with ritualistic Devil worship.” He said those words—ritualistic Devil worship—the way people who don’t know cars repeat what the mechanic said: It’s a broken fuel pump.

  “Ben doesn’t even have a car,” Patty said in a barely audible voice.

  “Now the age difference between an eleven-year-old and a fifteen-year-old is only four years, but those are very crucial years,” continued Collins. “We would consider him a danger and a predator if these accusations turn out to be true. And, frankly, we’ll need to talk not only to Ben, but to your little girls too.”

  “Ben is a good boy,” Patty said, and hated how limp and weak her voice was. “Everyone likes him.”

  “How is he regarded at school?” Collins asked.

  “Pardon?”

  “Is he considered a popular kid?”

  “He has a lot of friends,” Patty mumbled.

  “I don’t think he does, ma’am,” Collins said. “From what we understand, he doesn’t have very many friends, he’s a bit of a loner.”

  “So what does that prove?” Diane snapped.

  “It proves absolutely nothing, Miss … ?”

  “Krause.”

  “It proves absolutely nothing, Miss Krause. But that fact, combined with the fact that he doesn’t have a strong father figure around, would lead me to believe he may be more vulnerable to, say, a negative influence. Drugs, alcohol, people who are maybe a bit rougher, a bit troubled.”

  “He doesn’t associate with delinquents, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Patty said.

  “Name summa his friends for me then,” Collins said. “Name the kids he hangs out with. Name who he was with last weekend.”

  Patty sat, tongue thick in her mouth, and then shook her head, folded her hands near a smear of someone else’s chocolate icing. It was late coming. But now finally, she was being revealed for what she was: a woman who couldn’t quite keep it together, who lived from emergency to emergency, borrowing money, scrambling for sleep, sliding by when she should have been tending to Ben, encouraging him to pick up a hobby or join a club, not secretly grateful when he locked himself in his room or disappeared for an evening, knowing it was one less kid to deal with.

  “There are some parenting gaps then,” Collins sighed, like he already knew the end to the story.

  “We want a lawyer before anything else happens, before you talk to any of the kids,” Diane interrupted.

  “Frankly, Mrs. Day,” Collins said, not even glancing at Diane, “with three little girls at home, if I were you, I’d want the truth out more than anyone. This kind of behavior doesn’t go away. In fact, if this is true, and to be frank, I think it is, your daughters were probably his first victims.”

  Patty looked behind at Libby, who sat licking the frosting off her donut. She thought of how much Libby used to hang on Ben. She thought of all the chores the kids did on their own. Sometimes after a day working in the barn with Ben, the girls would come back to the house, irritated, weepy. But … what? They were little girls, they got tired out and cranky. She wanted to throw her coffee in Collins’s face.

  “May I speak plainly?” Collins said, his voice kneading her. “I can’t imagine how … horrible it must be to hear these things as a mother. But I can tell you something, and this is straight from our psychologist, who’s been working one-on-one with these girls, and I can tell you what he tells me. That’s that these girls, they’re telling us things a fifth-grader wouldn’t know about, sexually, unless they’d actually happened. He says they are classic abuse scenarios. You know about the McMartin case, of course.”

  Patty vaguely remembered. A preschool in California, and all the teachers were on trial for being Devil worshipers, molesting the kids. She could remember the evening newscast: a pretty sunny California house and then black words stamped across it: Daycare Nightmare.

  “Satanic worship is not uncommon, I’m afraid,” Collins was saying. “It’s made its way into all areas of the community, and Devil worshipers tend to target young men, get them in the fold. And part of Devil worship is the … the degradation of children.”

  “Do you have any evidence?” Diane bellowed at Collins. “Any witnesses besides some eleven-year-old girls? Do you even have kids yourself? Do you know how easily they imagine things—their whole lives are make-believe. So do you have anyone to vouch for these lies but a bunch of little girls an
d some Harvard know-it-all psychiatrist who impresses you all?”

  “Well, as far as evidence. The girls all said he took their underpants as some sick souvenir or something,” Collins said to Patty. “If you’d let us look around your home, we could start to clear that up.”

  “We need to talk to a lawyer before that,” Diane grumbled to Patty.

  Collins swallowed his coffee and stifled a belch, banged his chest with a fist, and smiled mournfully over Patty’s shoulder at Libby. He had the red nose of a drinker.

  “Right now we just need to be calm. We will talk to everyone involved,” Collins said, still ignoring Diane. “We interviewed several faculty members from his high school and the grade school this afternoon, and what we hear doesn’t make us feel any better, Mrs. Day. A teacher, Mrs. Darksilver?”

  He looked at Patty for her to confirm the name, and Patty nodded. Mrs. Darksilver had always loved Ben, he’d been an especial favorite of hers.

  “Just this morning she saw your son nosing around Krissi Cates’s locker. In the grade school. During Christmas break. This disturbs me, and,” he looked at Patty from the bottom of his eyes, aiming the pink rims at her, “Mrs. Darksilver says, he was apparently aroused.”

  “What does that mean?” snapped Diane.

  “He had an erection. When we looked inside Krissi’s bin, we found a note of a provocative nature. Mrs. Day, in our interviews, your son was repeatedly characterized as an outcast, a misfit. Odd. He’s considered a bit of a timebomb. Some of the teachers are actually frightened of him.”

  “Frightened?” Patty repeated. “How can they be frightened of a fifteen-year-old boy?”

  “You don’t know what we found in his locker.”

  WHAT THEY FOUND in his locker. Patty thought Collins would say drugs or girlie magazines, or, in a merciful world, a bunch of outlaw firecrackers. That’s what she wanted Ben to be in trouble for: a dozen Roman candles sitting like kindling in his backpack. That she could take.

 
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