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Sharp objects, p.7

Sharp Objects, page 7

 

 


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  I took a cool bath with the lights off. Then I sat on the edge of the tub and rubbed my mother’s lotion all over my skin, once, quickly. Its bumps and ridges made me cringe.

  On went a pair of light cotton pants and a long-sleeved crew neck. I brushed my hair and looked at myself in the mirror. Despite what I’d done to the rest of my body, my face was still beautiful. Not in the way that a person could pick out a single outstanding feature, but in the way that it was all in perfect balance. It made a stunning sort of sense. Big blue eyes, high cheekbones framing a small triangle of a nose. Full lips that turned slightly downward at the corners. I was lovely to look at, as long as I was fully clothed. Had things turned out differently, I might have amused myself with a series of heart-wretched lovers. I might have dallied with brilliant men. I might have married.

  Outside, our section of Missouri sky was, as ever, electric blue. It made my eyes water to even think of it.

  I found Richard at the Broussards’ diner, eating waffles without syrup, a stack of folders nearly as high as his shoulder on the table. I plopped down across from him and felt strangely happy—conspiratorial and comfortable.

  He looked up and smiled. “Ms. Preaker. Have some toast. Every time I come here I tell them no toast. Doesn’t seem to work. Like they’re trying to meet a quota.”

  I took a slice, spread a flower of butter over it. The bread was cold and hard, and my bite sprayed flecks onto the table. I brushed them under the plate and got to the point.

  “Look, Richard. Talk to me. On record or off. I can’t make anything out of this. I can’t get objective enough.”

  He patted the stack of files next to him, waved his yellow legal pad at me. “I’ve got all the objectivity you want—from 1927 on at least. No one knows what happened to any records before 1927. Probably some receptionist tossed them out, my guess, keep the poh-lice station uncluttered.”

  “What kind of records?”

  “I’m compiling a criminal profile of Wind Gap, a history of the town’s violence,” he said, flapping a folder at me. “Did you know that in 1975, two teenage girls were found dead at the edge of Falls Creek, very near where Ann Nash turned up, wrists cut? Police ruled it was self-inflicted. Girls were ‘overly close, unhealthily intimate for their age. A homosexual attachment is suspected.’ But they never found the knife. Weird.”

  “One of them was named Murray.”

  “Ah, you do know.”

  “She’d just had a baby.”

  “Yes, a little girl.”

  “That would be Faye Murray. She went to my high school. They called her Fag Murray. The boys would take her out after school into the woods and take turns having sex with her. Her mother kills herself, and sixteen years later, Faye has to fuck every boy in school.”

  “I don’t follow.”

  “To prove she isn’t a lesbian. Like mother, like daughter, right? If she didn’t fuck those boys, no one would have had anything to do with her. But she did. So she proved she wasn’t a lesbian, but that she was a slut. So no one had anything to do with her. That’s Wind Gap. We all know each other’s secrets. And we all use them.”

  “Lovely place.”

  “Yes. Give me a comment.”

  “I just did.”

  It made me laugh, and I was surprised. I could picture turning in my copy to Curry: Police have no leads, but believe that Wind Gap is a “lovely place.”

  “Look, Camille, I’ll make a deal. I’ll give you a comment you can use on the record, and you help me fill in these back stories. I need someone who’ll tell me what this town is really like, and Vickery won’t. He’s very…protective.”

  “Give me a comment on record. But work with me off record. I won’t use anything you give me unless you say it’s okay. You can use anything I give you.” It wasn’t the straightest of deals, but it would have to do.

  “What should my comment be?” Richard smiled.

  “Do you really believe these killings were committed by an outsider?”

  “For print?”

  “Yeah.”

  “We have not ruled anyone out.” He took a last bite of waffle and sat thinking, his eyes to the ceiling. “We are looking very closely at potential suspects within the community, but are also carefully considering the possibility that these killings may be the work of an outsider.”

  “So you have no clue.”

  He grinned, shrugged his shoulders. “I gave you my comment.”

  “Okay, off record, you have no clue?”

  He clicked the cap of the sticky syrup bottle up and down a few times, placed his silverware crossways on his plate.

  “Off record, Camille, do you really think this seems like an outsider crime? You’re a police reporter.”

  “I don’t.” Saying it out loud agitated me. I tried to keep my eyes off the prongs of the fork in front of me.

  “Smart girl.”

  “Vickery said you thought it was a hitchhiker or something like that.”

  “Oh, damn it, I mentioned that as a possibility when I first got here—nine months ago. He holds on to it like it’s proof of my incompetence. Vickery and I have communication issues.”

  “Do you have any real suspects?”

  “Let me take you for drinks this week. I want you to spill everything you know about everyone in Wind Gap.”

  He grabbed the check, pushed the syrup bottle back against the wall. It left a sugary ring on the table, and without thinking, I dipped a finger into it, put it to my mouth. Scars peeked out of a shirtsleeve. Richard looked up just as I was putting my hands back beneath the table.

  I didn’t mind the idea of spilling Wind Gap’s stories to Richard. I felt no particular allegiance to the town. This was the place my sister died, the place I started cutting myself. A town so suffocating and small, you tripped over people you hated every day. People who knew things about you. It’s the kind of place that leaves a mark.

  Although it’s true that on the surface, I couldn’t have been treated better when I lived here. My mother saw to that. The town loved her, she was like a cake topping: the most beautiful, sweet girl Wind Gap had ever raised. Her parents, my grandparents, had owned the pig farm and half the houses around it, and kept my mother under the same strict rules they applied to their workers: no drinking, no smoking, no cursing, church service mandatory. I can only imagine how they must have taken the news when my mother became pregnant at seventeen. Some boy from Kentucky who she met at church camp came for a Christmas visit and left me in her belly. My grandparents grew angry twin tumors to match my mother’s expanding tummy, and were dead of cancer within a year of my birth.

  My mother’s parents had friends in Tennessee, and their son began wooing Adora before I was on solids, making visits nearly every weekend. I cannot picture this courtship as anything but awkward. Alan, pleated and pressed, elaborating on the weather. My mother, alone and untended for the first time in her life, in need of a good match, laughing at…jokes? I’m not sure Alan has ever made a joke in his life, but I’m sure my mother found some reason to giggle girlishly for him. And where was I in this picture? Probably in some far corner room, kept quiet by the maid, Adora slipping her an extra five bucks for the trouble. I can imagine Alan, proposing to my mother while pretending to look over her shoulder, or fiddling with a plant, anything to avoid eye contact. My mother accepting graciously and then pouring him more tea. A dry kiss was exchanged, perhaps.

  No matter. By the time I could talk, they were married. I know almost nothing about my real father. The name on the birth certificate is fake: Newman Kennedy, for my mother’s favorite actor and president, respectively. She refused to tell me his true name, lest I hunt him down. No, I was to be considered Alan’s child. This was difficult, as she soon had Alan’s child, eight months after he married her. She was twenty, he was thirty-five, with family money that my mother didn’t need, having plenty of her own. Neither of them have ever worked. I’ve learned little else of Alan over the years. He’s a ribbon-winni
ng equestrian who doesn’t ride anymore because it makes Adora nervous. He’s often ill, and even when he’s not, he’s mostly immobile. He reads countless books on the Civil War and seems content to let my mother do most of the talking. He’s as smooth and shallow as glass. Then again, Adora has never tried to forge a bond between us. I was considered Alan’s child but never really fathered by him, never encouraged to call him anything but his proper name. Alan never gave me his last name and I never asked for it. I remember trying out Dad once when I was little, and the shock on his face was enough to scotch any further attempts. Frankly, I think Adora prefers us to feel like strangers. She wants all relationships in the house to run through her.

  Ah, but back to the baby. Marian was a sweet series of diseases. She had trouble breathing from the start, would wake in the night spluttering for air, splotchy and gray. I could hear her like a sick wind down the hall from me, in the bedroom next to my mother. Lights would click on and there would be cooing, or sometimes crying or shouting. Regular trips to the emergency room, twenty-five miles away in Woodberry. Later she had trouble digesting and sat murmuring to her dolls in a hospital bed set up in her room, while my mother poured sustenance into her through IVs and feeding tubes.

  During those last years, my mother pulled out all her eyelashes. She couldn’t keep her fingers off them. She left little piles of them on tabletops. I told myself they were fairy nests. I remember finding two long blonde lashes stuck to the side of my foot, and I kept them for weeks next to my pillow. At night I tickled my cheeks and lips with them, until one day I woke to find them blown away.

  By the time my sister finally died, I was grateful in a way. It seemed to me that she’d been expelled into this world not quite formed. She was not ready for its weight. People whispered comfort about Marian being called back to heaven, but my mother would not be distracted from her grief. To this day it remains a hobby.

  My car, faded blue, covered with bird crap, its leather seats sure to be steaming, didn’t exactly beckon me, so I decided to take a turn around town. On Main Street, I passed the poultry shop, where chickens are dropped off fresh from the Arkansas killing fields. The smell flared my nostrils. A dozen or more stripped birds hung lasciviously in the window, a few white feathers papering the ledge beneath them.

  Toward the end of the street, where a makeshift shrine to Natalie had sprung up, I could see Amma and her three friends. They were sifting through the balloons and drugstore gifts, three standing guard while my half sister snatched up two candles, a bouquet of flowers, and a teddy bear. All but the bear went into her oversized purse. The teddy she held as the girls locked arms and skipped mockingly toward me. Straight at me actually, not stopping until they were an inch from me, filling the air with the kind of heavy perfume dispensed on powdered strips in magazines.

  “Did you see us do that? Are you going to put it in your newspaper story?” Amma shrieked. She’d definitely gotten over her dollhouse tantrum. Such childish things, clearly, were left at home. Now she’d traded in her sundress and was wearing a miniskirt, platform sandals, and a tube top. “If you are, get my name right: Amity Adora Crellin. Guys, this is…my sister. From Chicago. The bastard of the family.” Amma wiggled her eyebrows at me, and the girls giggled. “Camille, these are my loooovely friends, but you don’t need to write about them. I’m the leader.”

  “She’s just the leader because she’s the loudest,” said a small honey-haired girl with a husky voice.

  “And she has the biggest tits,” said a second girl, with hair the color of a brass bell.

  The third girl, a strawberry blonde, grabbed Amma’s left breast, gave it a squeeze: “Part real, part padding.”

  “Fuck off, Jodes,” Amma said, and as if disciplining a cat, smacked her on the jaw. The girl flushed splotchy red and muttered a sorry.

  “Anyway, what’s your deal, sister?” Amma demanded, looking down at her teddy. “Why are you writing a story about two dead girls who no one noticed to begin with? Like getting killed makes you popular.” Two of the girls forced loud laughs; the third was still staring at the ground. A tear splashed on the sidewalk.

  I recognized this provocative girl talk. It was the verbal equivalent of farming my yard. And while part of me appreciated the show, I was feeling protective of Natalie and Ann, and my sister’s aggressive disrespect raised my hackles. To be honest, I should add that I was also feeling jealous of Amma. (Her middle name was Adora?)

  “I bet Adora wouldn’t be happy to read that her daughter stole items from a tribute to one of her schoolmates,” I said.

  “Schoolmate isn’t the same as friend,” said the tall girl, glancing around for confirmation of my stupidity.

  “Oh, Camille, we’re just kidding,” Amma said. “I feel horrible. They were nice girls. Just weird.”

  “Definitely weird,” one of them echoed.

  “Ohhh guys, what if he’s killing all the freaks?” Amma giggled. “Wouldn’t that be perfect?” The crying girl looked up at this and smiled. Amma pointedly ignored her.

  “He?” I asked.

  “Everyone knows who did it,” the husky blonde said.

  “Natalie’s brother. Freaks run in families,” Amma proclaimed.

  “He’s got a little-girl thing,” the girl called Jodes said sulkily.

  “He’s always finding excuses to talk to me,” Amma said. “At least now I know he won’t kill me. Too cool.” She blew an air kiss and handed the teddy to Jodes, looped her arms around the other girls, and, with a cheeky “’Scuse,” bumped past me. Jodes trailed behind.

  In Amma’s snideness, I caught a whiff of desperation and righteousness. Like she’d whined at breakfast: I wish I’d be murdered. Amma didn’t want anyone to get more attention than her. Certainly not girls who couldn’t compete when they were alive.

  I phoned Curry near midnight, at his home. Curry does a reverse commute, ninety minutes to our suburban office from the single-family his parents left him in Mt. Greenwood, a working-class Irish enclave on the South Side. He and his wife, Eileen, have no children. Never wanted any, Curry always barks, but I’ve seen the way he eyes his staffers’ toddlers from afar, what close attention he pays when a baby makes a rare appearance in our office. Curry and his wife married late. I guessed they’d been unable to conceive.

  Eileen is a curvy woman with red hair and freckles that he met at his neighborhood car wash when he was forty-two. It turned out, later on, that she was a second cousin of his childhood best friend. They married three months to the day they first spoke. Been together for twenty-two years. I like that Curry likes to tell the story.

  Eileen was warm when she answered the phone, which was what I needed. Of course they weren’t asleep, she laughed. Curry was, in fact, working on one of his puzzles, 4,500 pieces. It had all but taken over the living room, and she had given him one week to complete it.

  I could hear Curry rumble to the phone, could almost smell his tobacco. “Preaker, my girl, what gives? You okay?”

  “I’m okay. There’s just not a lot of headway down here. It’s taken this long just to get an official police statement.”

  “Which is?”

  “They’re looking at everyone.”

  “Fah. That’s crap. There’s got to be more. Find out. You talk to the parents again?”

  “Not yet.”

  “Talk to the parents. If you can’t break anything, I want that profile on the dead girls. This is human-interest stuff, not just straight police reporting. Talk to other parents, too, see if they have theories. Ask if they’re taking extra precautions. Talk to locksmiths and gun dealers, see if they’re getting extra business. Get a clergyman in there or some teachers. Maybe a dentist, see how hard it is to pull out that many teeth, what kind of tool you’d use, whether you have to have some sort of experience. Talk to some kids. I want voices, I want faces. Give me thirty inches for Sunday; let’s work this while we still have it exclusive.”

  I took notes first on a legal pad, then in my he
ad, as I began outlining the scars on my right arm with my felt-tip pen.

  “You mean before there’s another murder.”

  “Unless the police know a damn lot more than they’re giving you, there’s going to be another, yeah. This kind of guy doesn’t stop after two, not when it’s this ritualistic.”

  Curry doesn’t know a thing firsthand about ritualistic killings, but he plows through a few low-grade true-crimers a week, yellowed paperbacks with glossy covers he picks up at his used bookstore. Two for a buck, Preaker, that’s what I call entertainment.

  “So, Cubby, any theories on whether it’s a local?”

  Curry seemed to like the nickname for me, his favorite cub reporter. His voice always tickled when he used it, as if the word itself was blushing. I could picture him in the living room, eyeing his puzzle, Eileen taking a quick drag on his cigarette while she stirred up tuna salad with sweet pickles for Curry’s lunch. He ate it three days a week.

  “Off record, they say yes.”

  “Well, dammit, get them to say it on record. We need that. That’s good.”

  “Here’s something strange, Curry. I talked to a boy who says he was with Natalie when she was taken. He said it was a woman.”

  “A woman? It’s not a woman. What do the police say?”

  “No comment.”

  “Who’s the kid?”

  “Son of a hog worker. Sweet boy. He seems really scared, Curry.”

  “The police don’t believe him, or you’d’ve heard about it. Right?”

  “I honestly don’t know. They’re tight here.”

  “Christ, Preaker, break those boys. Get something on record.”

  “Easier said. I kind of feel it’s almost a detriment that I’m from here. They resent me carpetbagging back home for this.”

  “Make them like you. You’re a likable person. Your mom will vouch for you.”

  “My mom’s not so happy I’m here, either.”

  Silence, then a sigh from Curry’s end of the line that buzzed my ears. My right arm was a road map of deep blue.

  “You doing okay, Preaker? You taking care of yourself?”

  I didn’t say anything. I suddenly felt like I might cry.

  “I’m okay. This place does bad things to me. I feel…wrong.”

  “You keep it together, girl. You’re doing real good. You’re going to be fine. And if you feel unfine, call me. I’ll get you out.”

  “Okay, Curry.”

  “Eileen says be careful. Hell, I say be careful.”

  Chapter Six

  Small towns usually cater to one kind of drinker. That kind may vary: There are the honky-tonk towns, which keep their bars on the outskirts, make their patrons feel a little bit outlaw. There are the upscale sipping-drink towns, with bars that overcharge for a gin ricky so the poor people have to drink at home. There are the middle-class strip-mall towns, where beers come with onion blossoms and cutely named sandwiches.

  Luckily everyone drinks in Wind Gap, so we have all those bars and more. We may be small, but we can drink most towns under the table. The watering hole closest to my mother’s home was an expensive, glassy box that specialized in salads and wine spritzers, Wind Gap’s sole upscale eatery. It was brunch-time, and I couldn’t stand the idea of Alan and his soupy eggs, so I walked myself over to La Mère. My French goes only to eleventh grade, but judging from the restaurant’s aggressively nautical theme, I think the owners meant to name it La Mer, The Sea, and not La Mère, The Mother. Still, the name was appropriate, as The Mother, my mother, frequented this place, as did her friends. They all just love the chicken Caesar, which is neither French nor seafood, but I’m not going to be the one to press the point.

  “Camille!” A blonde in a tennis outfit came trotting across the room, glowing with gold necklaces and chunky rings. It was Adora’s best friend, Annabelle Gasser, née Anderson, nicknamed Annie-B. It was commonly known that Annabelle absolutely hated her husband’s last name—she even crumpled up her nose when she said it. It never occurred to her that she didn’t have to take it.

  “Hi sweetheart, your momma told me you were in town.” Unlike poor, Adora-ousted Jackie O’Neele, who I also spotted at the table, looking just as tipsy as she had at the funeral. Annabelle kissed both my cheeks and stepped back to assess me. “Still pretty-pretty. Come on, come sit with us. We’re just having a few bottles of wine and gabbing. You can lower the age ratio for us.”

  Annabelle pulled me over to a table where Jackie sat chatting up two more blonde, tanned women. She didn’t even stop talking while Annabelle made introductions, she just continued droning about her new bedroom set, then knocked over a glass of water as she jerked back to me.

 
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