Authors: Charlaine Harris
hit me with an impact about equal to a bag of cement.
“So you're saying Clyde Nunley was murdered because he knew who had recommended me for this little gig at the college.” I felt cold all over. I may be used to death, and I may know better than anyone how inevitable and ordinary a state it is, but that doesn't mean it's easy to feel you contributed to it. It's like sleet; you know if the atmospheric conditions warrant, there's going to be sleet, but you don't have to be happy about it.
“That's what I thinkâand I thought about this a lot, last night. I couldn't accept the giant coincidence that Tabitha's body was here. If it wasn't a coincidence, we were steered to find it. We were used. And the person who did that had to be the person who killed Tabitha. Clyde Nunley asked you to read this cemetery. So someone must have whispered your
name in Clyde Nunley's ear. I don't know if that person held something over Clyde, or made a friendly suggestion. âHey, you're having this class about the occult, you have this cemetery just laying there, let's get a weird woman who specializes in finding the dead to come have a look.'”
“So, you think that Clyde balked when Tabitha's body was found?”
“I think he did. Or else he couldn't swallow the coincidence any more than we can, and he figured that whoever had talked him into inviting you to Memphis had to have some kind of inside knowledge about the girl's death. Just because he was a jerk doesn't mean he was dumb.”
“True,” I said absently. “Well, I guess that narrows down the field, right?”
“How do you figure that?”
“Couldn't be Victor.”
“Why not? I'll bet he's pre-enrolled at Bingham. This is his senior year in high school, right?”
“Oh. Well, could be. That seems kind of thin, but okay. What I was thinkingâboth Felicia and David went to Bingham. And the older Morgensterns, Judy and Ben, would surely know a lot of people who went there, if they didn't themselves, since they live in the city and paid for David's tuition for four years. I bet the same holds true for Fred Hart.”
After all, the older Morgensterns weren't so darn old. “Judy has Parkinson's too badly to have gotten Tabitha to the grave, but her husband is really fit,” I said. “Fred Hart looks pretty strong, too.”
“That would be awful, if it turned out be to the granddad,” Tolliver said.
“It's going to be awful if it's
,” I said. “No matter who. Anyone doing that to an eleven-year-old, that's beyond horrible.” I paused to collect myself. “I was so shocked at finding her, I didn't take as long as I should have toâ¦pick through the experience.”
“So you do want to read the body again? If Seth Koenig gets it set up?”
“He wants me to read Clyde Nunley. Of course, he doesn't know that I already have. I don't want to touch Tabitha again. I don't even want to think about it. But I have to be sure I know everything she can tell me.”
“You're a good person,” he said, taking me by surprise.
“I don't think I'm especially good, and there are a lot of people who would argue the other way,” I said, trying to conceal how pleased I was. I looked down at my watch and pressed the button to check the date. Something clicked inside my memory. “Oh, God, it's about time to call the girls.”
Tolliver said something that would have made my ears turn red if I hadn't heard it a hundred times before. But he didn't protest tonight, though he often argued against this bi-weekly ordeal we put ourselves through.
We waited until we got to our room. I noted with satisfaction that there weren't any reporters outside at all, and no messages waiting. (The first day, there had been twenty or so, and we'd thrown them all away.)
To determine whose turn it would be to dial the number
and talk to Iona, we did Rock, Scissors, Paper. As always, I made the wrong choice, which is pretty funny when you come to think of it. If I were actually psychic, as I'm so often accused of being, I think I could manage to win a simple game like that.
I speed-dialed Iona's number. Iona Gorham (nÃ©e Howe) was my mother's only sister. She'd been married to Hank Gorham for twelve years, twelve long and childless and God-fearing years. She'd taken charge of Mariella and Gracie when my mother and stepfather went to jail, after the investigation into Cameron's abduction exposed some of their worst faults as parents. I'd had nothing to say about it, because I was underage then. I'd gone into a foster home myself. Iona and Hank hadn't wanted me, which was probably just as well, I guess. At seventeen, they thought my lifelong association with my mother would have irrevocably tainted me. I had a senior year in the high school I'd been attending, a year that was weirdly pleasant despite my shattered emotional system. For the first time since my childhood, I lived in a clean house with regular meals I didn't always have to cook myself. I could do my homework in peace. No one made suggestive comments, no one used drugs, and my foster parents were simple, nice, strict people. You knew where you were. They had two other foster kids, and we got along if we were very careful.
Tolliver, who was twenty then, moved in with his brother, Mark, so he was okay. He came by as often as he could, as often as the Goodmans would let him.
“Hello?” The man's voice yanked me back to the here and now.
“Hank, hello, it's Harper,” I said, making sure that my voice was even and level and uninflected. You had to be Switzerland to talk to Iona and Hank.
I told myself repeatedly.
“Hello,” he said, with a total lack of welcome or enthusiasm. “Where are you, Harper?”
“I'm in Memphis, Hank, thanks for asking.”
“I guess Tolliver's with you?”
“Oh, you bet,” I said, cheerful as all get-out. “It's cold and wet here. How about in Dallas?”
“Oh, can't complain. In the fifties today.”
“Sounds good. I'd like to talk to Mariella, if she's around, and then Gracie.”
“Iona's gone to the store. I'll see if I can track the girls down.”
What a stroke of luck. I held the phone to my chest while I told Tolliver, “The Wicked Witch isn't there.” Iona had a deep fund of excuses to keep us from talking to the girls. Hank was not as resourceful, or as ruthless.
“Hey,” said Mariella. She was nine now, and she was a lot of trouble. I never told myself she'd be an angel if she lived with us, because I knew better. For their first few years, Mariella and Gracie had never had the care and attention of parents who were in their right minds. I'm not saying my mother and stepfather didn't love their girls, but it wasn't the kind of love that would prompt them to become sober and responsible. At least we older kids had had that, once
upon a time. We knew what was right and proper. We knew what parents should be like. We knew about fresh sheets and home-cooked meals and clothes that only we had worn.
“Mariella, it's your sister,” I said, though of course Hank had told her who was on the phone. “What's happening with you?” I had tried so hard, and so had Cameron and Tolliver. Even Mark had stopped by with food from time to time, when he'd had extra money.
“I got on a basketball team,” Mariella said, “at the Y.”
“Oh, that's great!” Actually, it was. It was the first time Mariella had given me anything besides a sullen grunt. “Have you started playing yet, or are you still practicing?”
“We have our first game in a week,” she said. “If you were here, you could come.”
I widened my eyes at Tolliver to let him know this call was not going as usual. “We'd love to,” I said. “We have to check our schedule, but we'd be really glad to watch you play. Is Gracie playing, too?”
“No, she says it's stupid to get out there and sweat like a pig. She says boys don't like girls who sweat. She says everyone will call me a lesbo.”
I heard a shocked exclamation from Hank in the background.
“Gracie's wrong,” I said immediately. “She just doesn't want to play basketball herself. Maybe you can play basketball a little better than Gracie, huh?”
“You bet,” said Mariella proudly. “Gracie can't come within a mile of the hoop. I hit it twice last practice.”
“I'm sure there's something Gracie can do that's special
to her,” I said, floundering to be diplomatic and yet reinforce the positive stuff that was going on with Mariella.
“Huh,” said Mariella derisively. “Well,
“Have you all had your school pictures taken this year?”
“Yeah. They should be back soon.”
“You both save us two, you hear?” I said. “One for your brother Tolliver to carry in his wallet, and one for me to carry in mine.”
“Okay,” she said. “Hey, Gracie joined the chorus.”
“No kidding? Is she around?”
“Yeah, she's coming in the kitchen right now.” Sound of a scuffle.
“Yeah?” This was Gracie, all right. Gracie was deep into hating us.
“Gracie, I hear you're in the chorus at school.”
“Are you a soprano or an alto?”
“I dunno. I sing the melody.”
“Okay, probably a soprano. Listen, we were thinking of coming to one of Mariella's games. Do you think you could sit with us if we did?”
“Well, I might be there with my friends.” Whom she saw at school, every day, and talked to on the phone half the night, if Iona was to be believed.
“I know that's important,” I said, back to being Switzerland, “but we don't get to see you too often.”
“Okay, I'll think about it,” she said unenthusiastically. “Stupid basketball. When she runs down the court, her cheeks bounce up and down. Like a hound dog's.”
“You need to be a good sister,” I said, maybe not as neutrally as I could have wished. “You need to cheer for Mariella.”
“Why should I?”
Okay, not neutral at all. “Because you're damn lucky to
a sister,” I began, my voice hot, and then I heard myself and backed off. I took a deep breath. “You know why, Gracie? Because it's the right thing to do. Here's your brother.” I handed the phone to Tolliver.
“Gracie, I want to hear you sing,” Tolliver said. That was exactly the right thing to say, and Gracie promised to find out when the chorus would be singing for the first time so Tolliver and I could put the date on the calendar. Then Gracie evidently handed the phone off.
“Iona,” said Tolliver, with the faintest pleasant intonation. “How are things going? Really? The school called again? Well, you know Gracie isn't stupid, so there must be some other problem. Okay. When's she going for testing? It's good the state's paying for it. But you know we'dâ¦” He listened for a while. “Okay, call us with the results. You know we want to hear.”
After a couple more minutes of listening to this broken conversation, I was delighted when Tolliver finally hung up. “What's going on?” I asked.
“A couple of things,” he said, frowning. “That was almost a good conversation with Iona. Gracie's teacher thinks Gracie may have ADD. She recommended testing, and Iona's taking her this week. The state will pay for the testing, evidently.”
“I don't know anything about that,” I said, as if I could
have been prepared for this. “We'll have to look it up on the net.”
“She would have to take the drugs if she's got it, Iona says.”
“What are the side effects?”
“There are some, but Iona was more concentrating on the benefits. Evidently, Gracie's been pretty disruptive at school, and Iona wants some peace.”
“Don't we all. But if the side effectsâ¦”
We spent the rest of the evening on the Internet, reading articles about Attention Deficit Disorder and the drugs used to treat it. If this seems excessive or odd, consider this: Tolliver and Cameron and I had raised those girls from birth. My mother had been roused to try to take care of them when they were infants, but if it hadn't been for us, Mariella and Gracie wouldn't have eaten, or been changed, or learned how to count, or been read to. When Cameron had been snatched, Mariella had been only three and Gracie had been five. They'd gone to a preschool together for a few mornings a week, because we'd enrolled them and then told my mother they had to go. We'd gotten them to the preschool before we went to our own school, and all Mom had to do was remember to pick them up, which she usually did if we left her a note.
Here I was remembering, when that was the last thing in the world I wanted to do.
“Enough of this,” Tolliver said after a while, when we felt we knew a little bit about the disorder and the drugs used to treat it. “We'll learn more when we know if she has it or not.”
I felt like I was drowning. I'd had no idea there were so many things that could go wrong with a child's learning processes. What happened to kids in the years before all these things were identified, and a course of treatment laid out?