Why do people honk in Georgia

THE GEORGIA SERIES - AVAILABLE AT HARPERCOLLINS GERMANY

For Wednesday

Speak to me.

Let me have a look inside these eyes while I'm learning. Please don't hide them just because of tears.

Let me send you off to sleep with a "There, there, now stop your turning and tossing."

Let me know where the hurt is and how to heal.

Save me? Don't spare me anything troubling.

Trouble me, disturb me with all your cares and your worries.

Speak to me and let our words build a shelter from the storm.

Trouble me

by Natalie Merchant and Dennis Drew,

10,000 maniacs

This novel is a fictional work. I've taken some liberties in terms of timing.

 

PROLOG

Beckey Caterino peered into the far corners of the dorm fridge and furiously searched for her scribbled initials on the food labels - cream cheese, instant snacks, pizza bagels, vegan hot dogs, carrot sticks.

KP - Kayleigh Pierce. DL - Deneshia Lachland. VS - Vanessa Sutter.

"Those bitches!" Beckey slammed the refrigerator door so hard that the beer bottles rattled inside. She kicked the next best thing, which happened to be the trash can.

Empty yogurt pots spilled on the floor. Crumpled bags of non-fat popcorn. Rinsed Diet Coke bottles. Everything with two letters in black highlighter.

BC.

Beckey stared at the wrappings of groceries she'd bought with her tight money and which those roommates' assholes had devoured while she'd been in the library all night doing a term paper that added fifty percent to her grade in organic chemistry .

Her eyes went to the clock.

4:58 a.m.

"You bloody bastards!" She yelled up at the ceiling. She turned on all the lights. Her bare feet seared a trail in the hallway carpeted floor. She was starving. She was exhausted. She could barely stand up straight. Her only drive on the way from the library to the dorm had been the prospect of something to eat.

"Get up, you lousy thief!" She banged her fist on Kayleigh's door so hard that she jumped open.

 

Marijuana smoke billowed under the covers. Kayleigh squinted from under the sheets. The guy next to her rolled over.

It was Markus Powell, Vanessa's friend.

"Shit." Kayleigh jumped out of bed, naked except for a sock on her left foot.

Beckey hit the walls with his fists on the way to her own room. Her room was the smallest, and she'd taken it willingly because she was a doormat and didn't know how to stand up to three girls who were her age but had bank accounts twice as big.

"You can't tell Nessa!" Kayleigh rushed into the room behind her, still naked. "It was nothing. We were drunk and ... "

We were drunk and ...

Every goddamn story of these stupid bitches started with the same four words. When Vanessa was caught sucking Deneshia's boyfriend. When Kayleigh's brother accidentally peed in the closet. When Deneshia borrowed Beckey's underwear. They were always drunk or stoned or screwing around or cheating on each other because this wasn't college here, it was Big Brother where nobody could be voted out and everyone had gonorrhea.

"Come on, Beck." Kayleigh rubbed her bare arms. "She wanted to break up with him anyway."

Beckey could either scream and never stop - or get out of here as soon as possible.

"Beck ..."

"I'm going for a run." She opened a drawer and looked for her socks, but of course no two would match. Her favorite sports bra was crumpled up under the bed. She fished her dirty running shorts out of the laundry basket and decided on two mismatched socks, one of which had a hole in the heel, but a blister was harmless to the idea of ​​staying here and chopping up everything that looked like a living organism looked.

“Beckey, stop acting like an asshole. You hurt my feelings."

Beckey hung the headphones around her neck. She was almost shocked to find her iPod Shuffle exactly where it should be. Kayleigh was the dorm martyr who committed all of her crimes for the common good. She only slept with Markus because Vanessa had broken his heart. The only reason she had written off Deneshia during the exam was that her mother would be devastated if she failed in one more subject. And she had eaten Beckey's macaroni because her father was worried that she was too thin.

"Beck." Kayleigh tried the distraction. "Why do not you talk with me? What is it really about? "

Beckey grabbed her bobby pin and realized in an instant that it wasn't on the bedside table as usual.

All air drained from her lungs.

Kayleigh's hands flew up in a gesture of innocence. "I honestly didn't take it."

Beckey was briefly hypnotized by Kayleigh's breasts with the perfectly rounded areolas that stared up at her like a second pair of eyes.

“Okay,” Kayleigh said, “I ate your stuff in the fridge, but I would never touch your bobby pin. You know that. "

A black hole opened in Beckey's chest. The bobby pin was cheap plastic, one of those things you buy in drugstores, but it meant more to her than anything because it was the last thing her mother had given her before she got in her car driving to work and was killed by a drunk driver driving the wrong way on the interstate.

"Hey, Blair and Dorota, quieter." Vanessa's door was open. Her eyes were two slits in her sleep-swollen face. She ignored Kayleigh's nakedness and turned directly to Beckey. "Baby, you can't go jogging at this hour when the rapists are out."

Beckey started to run. Past the two bitches. Down the hall. Back to the kitchen. Through the living room. Out the door. Another hallway. Three landings. The main lounge. The glass front door, for which you needed a key card, but fuck it, because it absolutely had to get away from these monsters. Away from their casual malice. From their sharp tongues, their pointed breasts and their cutting eyes.

Dew wet her legs as she ran across the grassy campus. Beckey walked around a concrete barrier and came out onto the main street. The air was still cool. The street lamps went out one by one in the twilight. Shadows clung to the trees. In the distance she heard someone cough. A shudder suddenly ran down her spine.

When the rapists are out.

As if the three of them cared if Beckey was raped. As if she were interested in the fact that she had hardly any money for food, that she had to work harder than she, study harder, strain more, run faster and in the end always found herself two steps behind where everyone else started were allowed to. No matter how much she pushed herself.

Blair and Dorota. The popular girl and the grouchy, fat maid from Gossip Girl. It's not difficult to guess who played what role here.

Beckey put on her headphones. She clicked play on her iPod and Flo Rida played.

Can you blow my whistle baby, whistle baby ...

Her feet stomped on the floor to the rhythm of the song. She ran through the entrance gate that separated the campus from the desolate little shopping street in the center of town. There were no bars or student pubs because the university was in a "dry" county. It was like Mayberry, but somehow whiter and more boring. The hardware store. The children's clinic. The police station. The clothes shop.

The old guy who owned the diner was hose down the sidewalk as the sun just rose over the horizon. The light bathed the surroundings in an eerie orange-red glow. The old man tapped his baseball cap when he saw Beckey. She tripped over a crack in the asphalt. Caught himself. Looked straight ahead and pretended not to have seen him drop the hose and move to help her, because she wanted to continue to let the thought that every single person on earth is an asshole and their own life was shitty.

"Beckey," her mother had said as she took the bobby pin out of her purse. “I'm serious now. I want her back. "

The hair clip. Two combs with a hinge in between, one of the teeth was broken. Tortoiseshell pattern, like that of a cat. Julia Stiles wore one of those in Ten Things I Hate About You, which Beckey had seen a thousand times with her mother because it was one of the few films they both liked.

Kayleigh certainly hadn't stolen the bobby pin from her bedside table. She was a numb bitch, but she knew what the clip meant to Beckey since the two of them got drunk together one night and Beckey puked the whole thing up. How the principal got her out of English class. How the school cop had been waiting outside in the hallway and she got scared because she had never been in trouble. But she wasn't in trouble at all. Somewhere deep down Beckey must have known something terrible had happened, because when the cop started talking, her hearing had dropped repeatedly, like a bad cell phone connection, and only a few words had gotten through to the noise.

Mother ... interstate ... drunk driver ...

Oddly enough, Beckey had grabbed the bobby pin at the back of her head. The last thing her mother touched before leaving the house. Beckey had opened the clamp. She had run her fingers through her hair to loosen it. She had squeezed the plastic clip in the palm of her hand so hard that a tooth had broken off. She still remembered how she thought that her mother would kill her ... I want her back ... But then her consciousness had picked up the fact that her mother would never be able to kill her again because her mother was dead.

Beckey wiped away her tears when she came to the end of the main street. Left or right? To the lake, where the professors and rich people lived, or to the poorer district, where caravans and cheap houses stood on tiny lots.

She turned right away from the lake. Flo Rida had now made room for Nicki Minaj on her iPod. She turned off the music and let the headphones dangle around her neck. Her lungs indicated with a strange tremor that they had had enough, but she persisted and breathed quickly and deeply with her mouth open, and her eyes still burned when she thought back to how she and her mother had sat on the couch , Munched popcorn and sang along with Heath Ledger on Can't Take My Eyes Off You.

You're just too good to be true ...

The air grew stale the deeper she went into the desolate neighborhood. Strangely enough, the street names were based on the theme of breakfast: Omelet Road. Hashbrown Way. Beckey never ran that way, especially not at this time. The orange-red light had turned a dirty brown. Bleached pickups and old junk carts speckled the streets. Paint was peeling from the houses. Many windows were boarded up. Her heel began to throb painfully. Who would have thought ... She rubbed a blister because of the hole in her sock. Beckey's memory threw an image: Kayleigh jumping out of bed, wearing nothing but a sock.

Beckey's sock.

She fell at a walking pace. Then she stopped in the middle of the street. She leaned forward and put her hands on her knees to catch her breath. Her foot now burned like a hornet was trapped in her shoe. She would never make it back to campus without it peeling the skin off her heel.

Kayleigh would have to pick her up. She was a pathetic person, but she could always be counted on to show up when someone was in trouble - if only for the sake of drama. Beckey felt for her bag, but then her memory spat out a new set of images: Beckey in the library slipping her phone into her backpack. Then later in the dormitory, as she dropped the backpack on the kitchen floor.

No cellphone. Not a Kayleigh. No help.

The sun was higher over the trees now, but Beckey still felt locked in the darkness. Nobody knew she was here. Nobody expected her back. She was in a strange area. A nasty strange area. Knocking on a door, asking someone to use the phone, seemed like the beginning of a series of case numbers XY ... unsolved. She literally heard the narrative voice in her head:

Beckey's roommates thought she was just taking her time to come down. Dr. Adams assumed she had not appeared on her class because she had not finished her term paper. Nobody suspected that the angry young student had knocked on the door of a cannibalist rapist ...

A pungent rotten smell brought her back to reality. A garbage disposal truck rolled into the intersection at the end of the street and stopped with screeching brakes. A guy in overalls jumped out, pushed a barrel over to the vehicle, hooked it onto the jack. Beckey saw the gears grinding inside the truck. The overalls guy hadn't looked in her direction, but she suddenly had the oppressive feeling of being watched.

When the rapists are out.

She turned and tried to remember whether she had turned left or right into this street. There wasn't even a street sign. The feeling of being spied on grew stronger. Beckey scanned the houses, the interiors of trucks and cars. Nothing stared back from there. No curtain moved in the windows. No cannibal rapist came to the door to offer his help.

Her head immediately did what women shouldn't do under any circumstances: blame themselves for their fear, not listen to their gut instincts, persuade themselves that one had to face the situation that was scary instead of running away like a small child.

Beckey countered the arguments: Get away from the middle of the street. Stay close to the houses because there are people in them. Howl your lungs out when someone comes close. Run back to campus, because you'll be safe there.

All well and good, but where was the campus?

She ducked sideways between two parked cars and found herself not on a sidewalk, but on a narrow strip of weeds between two houses. In a town it would have been called an alley, but here it was more of a wasteland. Cigarette butts and broken beer bottles lay on the grass. Beckey saw a neatly mowed meadow behind the houses, then the forest immediately behind the rise.

Going into the woods wasn't what intuition told her, but Beckey knew a lot about the trails that crisscrossed it. She was likely to run into other students biking or doing their morning jogging. She looked up to orient herself by the sun. If she went west, she would come back to campus. Bubble or not, she had to return to the dorm at some point because she couldn't afford to fail organic chemistry.

As she walked between the houses, the muscles in her shoulders tightened and her teeth clashed. She increased the pace. It wasn't quite walking yet, but strictly speaking it wasn't walking either. The blister felt like someone was pinching its heel every time it stepped on. Flinching seemed to help. Then she gritted her teeth and jogged through the meadow, and her back burned with a thousand eyes that probably weren't watching her.

Probably.

The temperature dropped as it crossed the forest line. Out of the corner of her eye she saw moving shadows. She found a path with ease; she had probably walked it a thousand times. Her hand went to the iPod, but she changed her mind. She preferred to listen to the silence of the forest. Only occasionally did a ray of sunlight find its way through the thick canopy of leaves. She thought of the time before, when she had stood in front of the open refrigerator. The cold air that brushed her hot cheeks. The empty popcorn bags on the floor. They would give their money for the food.They always paid for it. They weren't thieves. They were just too lazy to go to the store and too disorganized to make a list when Beckey offered to shop for them.

"Beckey?"

At the sound of the man's voice, Beckey turned her head, but her body kept moving forward. She saw his face in the split second between stumbling and falling. He looked friendly, concerned. He reached out for her as she fell.

Her head crashed into something hard. Her mouth filled with blood. Everything blurred before her eyes. She tried to turn around but only half managed. Her hair was caught in something. It drew. Tugged. She reached for the back of her head, expecting for some reason to find her mother's bobby pin there. What she felt instead was wood, then steel, then the man's face came into view, and she realized that the thing stuck in her skull was a hammer.

 

ATLANTA

1

Will Trent adjusted his sixty-five to find a comfortable sitting position in his partner's Mini. The top of his head fit nicely into the recess for the sunroof, but the child seat on the back seat restricted his legroom at the front considerably. He had to squeeze his knees so he wouldn't accidentally put the gear lever in neutral. He probably looked like a contortionist, but Will saw himself more as a swimmer, dipping rhythmically into the conversation Faith Mitchell was apparently having with herself. Instead of pulling arms, pulling arms, breathing, it was fading out-fading out-what you didn't say.

"So that's where I sit at three in the morning posting a damning one-star rating on this clearly defective spatula." Faith took both hands off the steering wheel to pantomime her typing. "And then I realize I put detergent in the dishwasher, which is stupid because the laundry room is on the first floor, and ten minutes later I look out the window and think, is mayonnaise really a musical instrument?"

Will had heard her voice go up, but he couldn't tell if she expected an answer or not. He tried to rewind the conversation in his head. But the exercise did not bring any clarity. They'd been in that car for nearly an hour, and Faith, with no apparent system, had touched on the exorbitantly high prices for glue sticks and the children's birthday industry of a fast food chain, and what she called parent torture porn when people posted photos of it like hers Children went back to school after the holidays while their own toddler was still at home.

He cocked his head and plunged back into the conversation.

"Then we come to the place where Mufasa falls to his death." Faith was clearly talking about a film now. "Emma starts yelling just like Jeremy did when she was her age, and I realize that somehow I've managed to have two children who are exactly two versions of the Lion King apart."

Will cut himself out of the conversation again. The mention of Emma made his stomach contract and the guilt ache like a shot in his chest.

He almost killed Faith's two-year-old daughter once.

It happened like this: Will and his girlfriend Sara had taken care of Emma. Sara was doing some paperwork in the kitchen, and Will was sitting on the living room floor with Emma, ​​showing her how to change the tiny button battery in a HexBug, a toy crawling animal. The toy lay in pieces on the coffee table. Will balanced the battery, about the size of a TicTac, on his fingertip so Emma could see it. He was explaining to her that she should be extra careful not to leave her lying around somewhere so that Betty, his dog, wouldn't accidentally eat her when Emma suddenly leaned over and sucked in the battery with her mouth.

Will was an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. He had proven himself in life and death crisis situations, and the only thing that mattered was his ability to react quickly.

But when that battery disappeared into the little girl's mouth, Will was paralyzed.

He still held his finger up helplessly, his heart folding like a bicycle around a telephone pole. All he could do was watch Emma lean back in slow motion with a triumphant smile on her angelic face and start to swallow.

That was when Sara saved them all. As quickly as Emma had sucked the battery off his finger, Sara came down like a bird of prey, put her index finger into Sara's mouth and fished it out.

"Anyway, I'm looking over the shoulder of this girl in the checkout line and she's messing with her boyfriend in a text message." Faith had moved on to the next story. "Then she's gone, and now I'll forever wonder whether her boyfriend actually started something with her sister."

Will's shoulder dug into the side window as the Mini made a sharp turn. They were almost at the state prison. Sara would be there, a circumstance that turned Will's guilt about Emma into fear for Sara.

He changed his position again. The back of his shirt was peeling off the leather. Will wasn't sweating from the heat - he was sweating out his relationship with Sara.

Everything was going great, but somehow it was also going very, very badly.

From the outside, nothing had changed. They still spent most of the nights together. Last weekend they had enjoyed Sara's favorite meal: a Sunday breakfast naked in bed. And later his favorite meal: a second Sunday breakfast naked in bed. Sara kissed him as always. It felt like she loved him as always. She still dropped her dirty laundry just next to the laundry basket and still only ordered a salad and then ate half of his fries. But something was absolutely wrong.

The woman who had practically forced Will to talk about things he didn't want to talk about for the past two years suddenly declared a certain topic of conversation taboo.

Here's what happened: Will had returned home from running errands six weeks ago. Sara was sitting at the kitchen table. Suddenly she had talked about renovating his house. Not just renovating, but more or less tearing it down so they could have more space, which was a weird way of telling him to move in. So Will had decided to propose to her in an equally bizarre way, saying they should get married in a church because it would make her mother happy.

And then he had heard a crack, as if the earth were freezing under his feet, as if every surface in the room was covered with ice, as if Sara's breath came out of her mouth in tiny puffs. And she wasn't saying, "Oh yes, dearest, I'd like to marry you with all my heart," but asked in a voice that was frostier than the icicles that grew from the ceiling: "What the hell has my mother got to do with it ? "

They had argued, which put Will in a difficult position because he didn't know what exactly they were arguing about. He'd teased a little that his house wasn't good enough for her, and it had turned into a financial argument, which gave him a better position because Will was a poor civil servant and Sara ... well, Sara was in Another poor civil servant at the moment, but before that she had been a wealthy doctor.

The argument had gone back and forth until it was time to meet Sara's parents for brunch, and Sara had put a three-hour moratorium on all discussions about marriage or moving in together. Those three hours had stretched into the rest of the day and then into the rest of the week; A month and a half had passed now, and Will was living with a really hot roommate who continued to sleep with him but didn't want to talk about anything other than what to order for dinner, about her little sister, who made up her mind Life messed up, and how easy it was to learn the twenty algorithms that solved Rubik's Rubik's Cube.

Faith drove into the prison parking lot and was saying, "And of course - it can't be any different for me - I'm finally getting my period right now."

She fell silent as she rolled into an empty seat. There was nothing conclusive about her last sentence. Was she expecting an answer? She definitely expected an answer.

Will decided: "Of course this sucks."

Faith looked shocked, as if she had just realized that he was sitting in the car. "What sucks?"

He could see clearly now that she hadn't expected an answer.

"Christ, Will!" Angrily, she turned the gear lever to park. "Next time you should warn me if you're actually listening."

Faith got out and stomped to the staff entrance. She had turned her back on Will, but he imagined herself grumbling to herself with every step. She held her ID up to the camera in front of the gate. Will rubbed his face. He inhaled the hot air in the car. Had all the women in his life gone mad or was he the idiot?

Only an idiot asked himself that question.

He opened the door and managed to slip off the Mini and get out. His scalp itched from sweat. It was the last weeks of October and the heat outside was not much better than inside. He found his jacket between Emma's child seat and a bag of stale goldfish snacks. He plastered the entire contents and glanced at a prisoner transport bus that turned into the street and drove into a pothole at a speed. The faces of the inmates behind the barred windows showed various shades of misery.

Will tossed the empty goldfish bag in the back seat. Then he took it out again and took it to the staff entrance. He looked up at the squat, depressing building. Phillips State Prison was a medium-security facility in Buford, about an hour's drive outside of Atlanta. Almost a thousand men were housed in ten residential units, each with two sleeping quarters. There were two-man cells in seven of the units. The rest was made up of single, double and isolation cells for the so-called MP and SH. MP stood for inmates with mental problems. SH stood for protective custody, mostly for cops and pedophiles, the two most hated types of inmate in any prison.

There was a reason MP and SH were combined. To an outsider, a single cell sounded like luxury. For an inmate in solitary confinement, it meant being locked alone in a windowless concrete box two by four meters for twenty hours a day. And this after a groundbreaking process in which the rules that previously applied to solitary confinement in Georgia were classified as inhuman.

Four years ago, Phillips Jail, along with nine other Georgia state prisons, was searched by an FBI raid that killed forty-seven corrupt law enforcement officers. All remaining law enforcement officers had been transferred within the system. The new director couldn't be fooled, which was both good and bad, depending on how you felt the dangers of angry, isolated men cramped together. The prison was currently in lockdown after two days of unrest, which meant that prisoners would remain in their cells all day. Six law enforcement officers and three inmates were seriously injured. Another inmate had been murdered in the cafeteria.

And that murder had brought Faith and Will here.

Under the law, the GBI was responsible for investigating all deaths in custody. The inmates leaving the prison on the transport bus would not be directly linked to the murder, but they probably had a role in the rioting. They received what was called Diesel Therapy. The director had the loudmouths, the rioters and the chess pieces removed from the gang fights. Getting rid of troublemakers was good for the prison, but it wasn't great for the men who were being sent away. They lost the only place they could consider some kind of home, and they were on their way to a facility far more dangerous than the ones they were just leaving. It was like moving to a new school, only that instead of mean girls and thugs there were rapists and murderers.

A metal sign was attached to the entrance gate: GDOC. Georgia Department of Corrections. Will tossed the empty goldfish bag in the bin by the door. He wiped his hands on his pants to get rid of the yellowish crumbs. Then he had to rub the grease marks until they didn't look that bad anymore.

The camera was two inches above Will's head. He had to take a step back to show his ID. There was a loud buzz and a click and he was inside the building. He stowed his gun in a locker and pocketed the key, only to take it out with everything else when he went through the scanner. A silent law enforcement officer led him through the security gate and communicated with his chin: Your partner is back there in the hall, Bro. Follow me.

The law enforcement officer shuffled instead of walking, a habit that came with the job. There was no need to hurry if where you went looked exactly the same as where you came from.

The prison sounded like a prison. Inmates shouted, banged on the bars, protested the state of emergency or general injustice in the world. Will loosened his tie as they went deeper into the facility. Sweat ran down his collar. Because of their design, prisons were difficult to cool and heat. Because of the wide, long hallways and sharp angles. Because of the concrete walls and linoleum floors. Because every cell had an open sewer pipe as a toilet, and because the men in them produced enough sweat to turn the gentle flow of the Chattahoochee River into rapid rapids.

Faith was waiting for him in front of a closed door. She kept her head bowed and wrote in her notebook. Her talkativeness was a very useful quality in this job. She had already been busy gathering information while Will was soaking up his trousers with crumbs of goldfish.

Now she nodded to the silent law enforcement officer who took his seat on the other side of the door and said to Will, “The murdered inmate is in the canteen. Amanda just drove up. She wants to see the crime scene before speaking to the director. Six agents from the North Office have been screening possible suspects for three hours. We'll clear everything up for cleaning as soon as we have a usable list of suspects. Sara says she'll be ready when we are. "

Will looked through the window in the door.

Sara Linton stood in the middle of the canteen in a white protective suit. Her auburn hair was tucked under a blue baseball cap. She was a forensic doctor at the GBI. Until about six weeks ago, Will had found this latest development extremely exhilarating. She spoke to Charlie Reed, the GBI's chief forensic engineer. He knelt down to photograph a bloody shoe print. Gary Quintana, Sara's assistant, held a ruler next to the print for a reference of the size.

Sara looked tired. She'd been working on the crime scene for four hours. Will had been on his morning jog when the call got Sara out of bed. She had left him a note with a heart in the corner.

He had stared at that little heart longer than he would ever admit.

"Okay," said Faith. "So the revolt started two days ago, on Saturday at eleven fifty-eight."

Will tore himself away from the sight of Saras and waited for Faith to continue.

“Two inmates cracked their fists at each other. The first law enforcement officer who tried to separate them was knocked out. Elbows on your head, head on the ground, see ya later alligator. It only really started after the officer went down. The second officer was strangled to the point of unconsciousness. A third, who rushed to help, was struck down with one blow. Then someone grabbed the stun guns and someone else grabbed the keys and the whole place was in a state of flurry.The killer was clearly prepared. "

Will nodded, because prison riots usually started out like a rash. There was always a tell-tale itch, and there was always a guy or group of guys who sensed that itch and started thinking about how to use the turmoil to their advantage. Loot the prison shop? Put some guards in their place? Take out a rival?

The question was whether the victim had been collateral damage or whether someone was targeting him. That was difficult to judge from outside the canteen. He counted thirty tables, each with seating for twelve people, all bolted to the floor. Trays were all over the room. Paper napkins. Rotten food. Lots of dried up liquids, most of it blood. A couple of teeth. Will could see a frozen hand under one of the tables, and he assumed it was her victim's. The man's body lay under another table near the kitchen, her back to the door. The faded prison uniform with the blue stripe accents gave the crime scene the atmosphere of a massacre in an ice cream parlor.

“Listen,” Faith said, “if you're excited about Emma and the battery, leave it alone. It's not your fault that they look so delicious. "

Will assumed that when he saw Sara he was sending out a signal that Faith had picked up.

"Toddlers are like the worst prison inmates," she went on. "If they don't lie in your face and break your stuff, they'll sleep, fart or think of something else to fool you."

The law enforcement officer lifted his chin. Right.

"Can you let our people know we're here?" Faith asked the man.

The guy nodded a la Klar, Lady, always at your service before shuffling away.

Will watched Sara through the window again as she noted something on a clipboard. She had unzipped her overalls and tied the sleeves around her waist. Her baseball cap had taken off and her hair was now tied in a loose ponytail.

“Is it because of Sara?” Faith asked.

Will looked down at his partner. He often forgot how tiny it was. Blond hair. Blue eyes. Limitless disappointment in view. Standing there with her hands on her hips and her head up high enough to bring her chin to his chest, she reminded him of the cartoon character Pearl Pureheart, Mighty Mouse's girlfriend - if Pearl got pregnant at fifteen and then again at thirty-two.

Which was the primary reason Will didn't want to talk to her about Sara. Faith force-mothered everyone in her orbit, whether it was a suspect in custody or the cashier at the grocery store. Will's childhood had been tough. He had learned a lot about the world that most children never came into contact with, but he definitely didn't know what it was like to be mothered.

The second reason he kept silent was that Faith was a damn good cop. It would only take her about two seconds to solve the case of the suddenly silenced friend.

Note number one: Sara was an extremely logical and consistent person. Unlike Will's psychotic ex-wife, Sara hadn't been spat out by the hellhole of a ghost train. If Sara was angry, irritable, upset, or even happy, Will could count on her to tell her why - and what she thought of doing about it.

Hint number two: Sara didn't play games. There was no silence, pouting, or snippy thing to interpret. Will never had to guess what she was thinking because she was telling him.

Note number three: Sara clearly liked being married. She had been married twice in her previous life, both times to the same man. She would still be married to Jeffrey Tolliver right now if he hadn't been murdered five years ago.

Conclusion: Sara had nothing against marriage and nothing against strange marriage proposals.

She just objected to marrying Will.

"Voldemort," Faith said just as the clunk of Deputy Director Amanda Wagner's high heels reached Will's ear.

Amanda had her phone in hand as she walked down the hall. She kept texting or calling for information on her network of friends, a formidable group of women, most of whom were retired and who, in Will's mind, sat in a secret cave knitting grenade warmers until they were activated.

Faith's mother was one of them.

"So." Amanda made out Will's grease-stained pants from ten yards away. "Agent Trent, are you the only tramp who fell off the freight train or should we keep looking?"

Will cleared his throat.

"Okay." Faith leafed through her notebook and got straight to the point. “The victim is called Jesus Rodrigo Vasquez, is thirty-eight and Hispano, had been demolished six out of ten years for being attacked with a deadly weapon. After failing the drug test three months ago after his early release, he was sent back to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence. "

"Affiliation?" Asked Amanda.

Was he a member of a gang? Will translated silently.

"Switzerland," Faith replied. That should mean neutral. “Got caught smuggling cell phones up the ass several times. The guy seemed to be churning up dirt all the time. I suspect he was killed because he couldn't keep his mouth shut. "

"Problem solved." Amanda knocked on the glass door to make herself heard. "Dr. Linton? "

Sara paused to pick something up before opening the door. “We're done working on the crime scene. You don't need suits, but there's a lot of blood and other fluids here. "

She gave out shoe protectors and face masks. She squeezed Will's finger when it was his turn.

"The rigor mortis is over, the body is beginning to rot," she said. “Combined with the victim's liver temperature and the higher ambient temperature, that adds up to a physiological death time consistent with reports that Vasquez was attacked around forty-eight hours ago. The time of death should therefore be at the beginning of the unrest. "

"In the first few minutes or the first few hours?" Amanda asked.

“Roughly between noon and four in the afternoon on Saturday. If you want to narrow it down, you'll have to rely on testimony. ”Sara adjusted Will's mask and reminded Amanda,“ Of course, science cannot determine the exact time of death. ”

"Of course," replied Amanda, who wasn't a fan of rough estimates.

Sara rolled her eyes in Will's direction. She, in turn, was not a fan of Amanda's tone of voice. “The crime scene is three different points: two here in the main area, one in the kitchen. Vasquez struggled. "

Will reached behind Sara to open the door. The smell of shit and urine, the calling card of the rampaging inmates, permeated every molecule in the room.

"Good God." Faith pressed the back of her hand to her face mask. Crime scenes generally weren't her forte, but the smell was so pungent that even Will's eyes watered.

Sara turned to her assistant. “Gary, could you get the smaller water pump pliers out of the car, please? We'll have to unscrew the table before we can remove the body. "

Gary's ponytail bounced under the hairnet as he made a quick, happy exit. He had been with the GBI for less than six months. This wasn't the worst crime scene he'd worked on, but everything in a prison looked much more depressing.

The flash on Charlie's camera went off. Will blinked against the light.

“I got a look at the security camera images,” Sara said to Amanda. “There are nine seconds of footage that captures the beginning of the argument, and you can see the situation instantly turn into tumult. At this point an unknown person who is not in the picture interrupted the recording. "

“No usable fingerprints on the wall, cable, or camera,” Charlie added.

Sara continued. “The argument started in the front of the room, by the service counter. It boiled up very quickly. Six inmates from a rival gang rushed into battle. Vasquez stayed at the corner table over there. The eleven other men at his table ran forward to get a better look at the argument. Then the recording ends. "

Will estimated the distances. The camera was on the back wall, so none of the eleven men could have snuck back without being captured.

"This way." Sara led them to a table in the corner. Twelve food trays stood in front of twelve plastic chairs. The food was spoiled. Sour milk had spilled over the table. “Vasquez was attacked from behind. Exposure to blunt force resulted in a fractured skull. The weapon was likely a small, heavy object that was swung at high speed. The force of the blow sent his head forward. In the tray are fragments that apparently come from Vasquez ’front teeth."

Will glanced back at the camera. It looked like a two-man operation - one to pause the recording and one to take out the target.

Faith's mask arched back and forth as she breathed through her mouth. "Should the first blow kill or just incapacitate?"

“I can't say anything about the intent,” Sara replied. “The blow was substantial. I couldn't find a laceration, but it looks like a dented fracture - the shattered bone is pressing on the brain. "

"How long was he conscious?" Amanda asked.

“We can deduce from the evidence that he was conscious until he died. I can't comment on his condition. Was he sick? For sure. Did he look blurry? Probably. How much did he notice? Impossible to say. Everyone reacts differently to head trauma. From a medical point of view, when we have brain injuries all we know is that we don't know anything. "

"Of course." Amanda crossed her arms.

Will crossed his arms too. Every muscle in his body retreated. His skin felt unnaturally tight. No matter how many crime scenes he examined, his body would never accept that being around someone who had been forcibly killed was a natural situation. He coped with the stink of rotten food and excrement. But the metallic taste of blood when the iron oxidized would linger on the back of the roof of his mouth for a week.

"Vasquez was struck down," Sara said. “Three left molars have broken off at the root. In addition, fracture of the jaw and eye socket bone on the left side. You can see that the blood splatters on the wall and ceiling have a semicircular pattern. There are three different types of footprints; So you're looking for two attackers, both likely right-handed. I suspect a sock lock was used, so there will be no recognizable evidence on the attacker's hands. "

A sock lock was pretty much what it sounded like - a padlock in a sock.

Sara continued. “Vasquez was barefoot for some reason after the initial attack, we didn't find his shoes and socks anywhere in the canteen. His attackers wore the sneakers that are handed out to the prisoners, both pairs with an identical waffle pattern on the soles. We could deduce a lot from the shoe and footprints: The next place they took him was the kitchen. "

"What about that tattoo?" Amanda was across the room, looking down at the severed hand. “Is that a tiger? A cat?"

"The tattoo database says a tiger can symbolize hatred of the police, a cat symbolizes a thief, a facade climber."

“A convict who hates the police. Noteworthy. ”Amanda rolled her hand in the direction of Sara. “Let's move on quickly, Dr. Linton. "

Sara motioned for them to follow her to the front of the canteen. There were empty trays on the conveyor belt, so at least some inmates had already finished their lunch when the commotion broke out.

“Vasquez was about five and a half pounds,” Sara said. “Malnourished, but that's not surprising since he was a heavy drug user. There are punctures on the left arm, between the toes of the left foot, and on its right carotid artery. So we can assume that he was right-handed. We found a meat cleaver and a lot of blood in the kitchen area, which indicates that his left hand was severed there. "

"He didn't chop it off himself?" Amanda asked.

Sara shook her head. "Unlikely. Shoe and footprints indicate that he was being held. "

Charlie added: “The waffle pattern of the sneaker soles shows no distinguishing features. As Sara said, they are standard here. Every inmate has a pair. "

Sara had reached Vasquez's last resting place. She crouched down in front of another table. Everyone but Amanda followed.

Will puffed his nostrils. The body had lain in the heat for almost two full days. The putrefaction was well advanced, the flesh peeling off the bones. Vasquez's body had apparently been tucked under the table with his feet, like kicking dirty socks under the bed to keep them out of the way. Bloody streaks on the floor and shoe prints showed how at least two men had put him where he was now.

Encrusted blood covered Vasquez's bare feet. He was lying on his side, bent at his waist. The remaining hand was outstretched forward. The bloody stump on the other arm was literally in his stomach. Vasquez ’killers had stabbed him so many times that his bowels opened like a grotesque bloom. The stump of his arm had been rammed into his abdominal cavity like a stalk.

"In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the cause of death is likely to be bleeding to death or shock."

The man looked shocked, God knows. His eyes were wide open. The lips were parted slightly. His face was ordinary, apart from the fact that it was puffy and a dark crescent moon had formed where the blood had pooled at the deepest point of the skull. Shaved head. Porn bar mustache. A cross hung on a thin gold chain around his neck, which the prison authorities allowed as it was a religious symbol. The chain was very delicate. Maybe a gift from his mother, daughter or girlfriend. It meant something to Will that the killers took Vasquez's shoes and socks but left the necklace behind.

"Crap. That sucks. ”Faith put both hands on the face mask and choked. Vasquez ’entrails hung like raw sausages from the abdomen. Feces had collected on the floor and dried into a black mass the size of a basketball that had run out of air.

"See if they've turned Vasquez's cell upside down yet," Amanda said to Faith. “If so, I want to know who did it and what they found. If not, then you have the honor. "

Faith didn't have to be told twice to stop bothering with the corpse.

"Will." Amanda was tapping her cell phone again. “Finish this here, then start the second round of interviews. These men had enough time to prepare their stories. I want this to be cleared up quickly. We're not looking for a needle in a haystack here. "

In Will's opinion, they did just that. There were around a thousand suspects, all of them convicted criminals. "Yes, ma’am."

Sara nodded to him to follow her into the kitchen. She pulled down her mask. "Faith lasted longer than I would have thought."

Will took off his mask too. The mess in the kitchen was the same as outside. Trays, food, blood everywhere. Yellow plastic markings on the cutting surface indicated where Vasquez's hand had been chopped off. A meat cleaver lay on the floor. Blood had spilled from the sideboard like a waterfall.

“No fingerprints on the knife,” Sara said."They wrapped the handle in plastic wrap, which they then stuffed down the sink."

Will saw that the drain under the sink had been dismantled. Sara's father was a plumber - she knew a lot about siphons.

"All of my findings show that they had the presence of mind to cover their tracks," Sara said.

"Why did you put your hand in the canteen?"

"I suppose they just tossed her across the room."

Will tried to come up with a workable theory about the fact. “When the argument started, Vasquez stayed at the table. He didn't get up because he was neutral. ”Inmates had their own kind of NATO. Attacking an ally meant fighting along. "Only two guys attacked him, no gang."

“Does that narrow your suspects?” Sara asked.

“Inmates tend to be segregated. Vasquez is unlikely to have fraternized openly with inmates of other origins. ”The haystack was slightly smaller. "I suspect the crime was planned on a convenient occasion: if there is a riot, we kill him like this ..."

"Chaos creates opportunities."

Will rubbed his chin and studied the bloody shoe and footprints on the floor. Vasquez had fought as best he could. “He must have had information they were trying to squeeze out of him, right? You don't just chop off someone's hand. You hold him tight, you threaten him, and if he still doesn't give you what you want, you take a meat cleaver and cut off his hand. "

"That's how I would do it."

Will smiled.

Sara smiled back.

Will's cell phone buzzed in his pocket. He ignored the call. “Vasquez was known for hiding telephones in his body. Is that why they gutted him? "

“I don't know if they gutted him or if they stabbed him repeatedly. If they were looking for a phone, pounding the ribs with the sock lock likely created something of a Valsalva effect. There is a reason prison guards make you cough when you lean over. The increased abdominal pressure decreases the strength of the sphincter muscle. The phone would have slipped out the first time, ”Sara said. “Besides, it doesn't make much sense to cut through the stomach. If I'm looking for a phone in your ass, I'll look carefully in your ass. "

Faith's timing was perfect. "Do you want to be undisturbed?"

Will took his cell phone out of his pocket. The missed call earlier had come from Faith. “We think Vasquez's killers were looking for something. Information. Maybe a hiding place. "

"Vasquez's cell was clean," Faith said. “No contraband. Judging by his art collection, he was a friend of naked women and our Lord Jesus Christ. ”She waved Sara goodbye and led Will back through the canteen. She had put her hand on her nose to protect against the stench. “Nick and Rasheed narrowed our list of suspects to eighteen candidates. Nobody has a criminal record for murder, but we have two killers and a finger-biter. "

"His own finger or someone else's?"

"From someone else," Faith said. “Surprisingly, there are no reliable testimony, but plenty of traitors have divulged idiotic conspiracy theories. Did you know that the shadow state maintains a pedophile ring through the prison library system? "

"Yes," said Will. "Do you think there is a personal aspect behind the murder?"

"Certainly. We are looking for two Hispanics, about Vasquez's age and from the closer circle of his social circle? "

Will nodded. "When was Vasquez's cell last thoroughly searched?"

“There was a search of the entire prison sixteen days ago. The director called in eight CERT teams to turn the cells upside down. The sheriff's office has made twelve deputies available. Shock and awe - the classic tactic of terror and fear. Nobody saw it coming. More than four hundred phones were confiscated, maybe two hundred chargers, plus the usual drugs and weapons, but the phones were, of course, the real problem. "

Will knew what she meant. Cell phones could be very dangerous in a prison, even if not all inmates used them for criminal purposes. The state skimmed all landline calls by charging a minimum of fifty dollars to buy a calling card, then around five dollars for a fifteen minute call, and almost another five if you topped up your credit. Another inmate's cell phone could be rented for about twenty-five dollars an hour.

Then there was the criminal use. Smartphones could be used to gather personal information on law enforcement officers, monitor criminal organizations via encrypted messages, organize protection rackets against the families of fellow inmates, and most importantly, collect money. Apps like PayPal and Venmo had replaced cigarettes and other devices as prison currency. The more sophisticated gangs used bitcoins. The Aryan Brotherhood, the Irish Mob Gang, and the United Blood Nation raised millions through the state penal system.

Blocking cell phone signals was banned in the United States.

Will held the door open for Faith as they left the building. The sun beat down on the empty prison yard. He saw shadows behind the narrow windows of the cells. A couple of men shouted. The pressure from the lockdown was almost palpable.

"Administration." Faith pointed to a single-story building with a flat roof. They took the long walk around the yard instead of walking across the rolled red sand square.

There they passed three law enforcement officers leaning against the fence and staring into space. There was nothing to guard. They seemed just as bored as the inmates. Or maybe they were just taking their time. Six of her colleagues were injured in the riot. As a tight-knit group, law enforcement officials weren't exactly known for forgiving and forgetting easily.

Faith spoke in a lowered voice. “The director went mad about the phones. Racial segregation already applied at full occupancy. He suspended all walks in the yard, closed the prison shop, canceled visiting hours, turned off computers and televisions and even closed the library. For two weeks the guys in here couldn't do anything but rock each other up. "

"Sounds like a clever way to cause a commotion." Will opened another door. They passed offices with windows facing the hallway. All the chairs were empty. Instead of desks, there were folding tables so that no one could hide anything. Inmates did most of the administrative jobs. Their hourly wages of three cents were hard to beat.

The principal's office had no window facing the hall, but Will recognized Amanda's deceptively calm tone behind the closed door. He imagined the man was foaming. Directors didn't like being screened. Another reason the man freaked out about all the confiscated telephones: Nothing was more humiliating than hearing one of your inmates speak to a television station live from your own asylum.

"How many calls came out during the riot?" Will asked Faith.

"One on CNN and one on 11Alive, but there was an election scandal going on, so no one paid any attention."

They had reached a long, wide hallway with an even longer line of inmates. They were her eighteen murder suspects, Will assumed. The men were lined up like sad isosceles triangles. Her upper body was leaning forward, her legs straight, and all her weight was resting on her forehead against the wall, because the two law enforcement officers responsible for her were apparently huge assholes.

The rules of lockdown were that every inmate outside their cell was handcuffed in what was called a four-piece suit. The hands are handcuffed and the handcuffs are attached to a chain in front of the abdomen. The ankles were tied with a twelve-inch chain, forcing the men into a prancing walk. When you were tied up like this and forced to lean your forehead against a concrete wall, there was a lot of pressure on your neck and shoulders. The belly chain put additional strain on the cross as the hands were pulled forward by gravity. Apparently the men had been standing like this for quite a while. Sweat ran down the walls. Will saw limbs trembling. Chains rattled like coins in a clothes dryer.

"Good heavens," Faith muttered.

As Will followed her down the line, he saw a phalanx of tattoos, all in the usual wobbly prison style. The inmates all appeared to be over thirty, which was logical. Will knew from experience that men under thirty did a lot of stupid things. If a man was still in jail after his third decade of life, then he had either really screwed up, or really screwed up, or he was consciously making the kinds of bad choices that kept him in the loop.

Faith didn't bother knocking on the closed door of the interrogation room. Special Agents Nick Shelton and Rasheed Littrell sat at the table with a pile of files in front of them.

"... tell yourself, the little one had a bum like a centaur." Rasheed interrupted his story when Faith entered. "Sorry, Mitchell."

Faith scowled as she closed the door. "I'm not half a horse!"

"Shit, does that mean?" Rasheed laughed good-naturedly. "What's up, Trent?"

Will lifted his chin briefly in greeting.

Faith flipped through the files on the table. "Are those all the dossiers?"

An inmate's dossier was practically a diary of his life - reports of arrests, convictions, details of transfers, medical records, mental health assessments, assessments of dangerousness, level of education, treatment programs, records of his visits, disciplinary punishments, religious orientation, sexual preference.

"Anyone looking auspicious?" Faith asked.

Rasheed informed her about the eighteen prisoners in the hallway. Will had turned his face to the special agent the entire time, as if he was listening carefully, but really was wondering what to say to Nick Shelton.

Years ago, when Nick was assigned to the GBI's southeast branch office, he had worked very closely with Jeffrey Tolliver, Sara's dead husband, the Grant County Police Chief. He had played football in college, and from what you heard he was a great pike. Some of Nick's summaries of their cases read like a movie script. Jeffrey Tolliver was the Lone Ranger, and Nick had been his Tonto - a Tonto who was as casual as Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees with gold chains and too tight jeans. The two cops hunted down pedophile rings, drug traffickers, and murderers. Jeffrey could have turned his earnings into a much bigger paycheck in a bigger city, but he had given up fame and honor to serve Grant County.

Sara would probably have married him a third time if he hadn't died during the second round.

"You can work with that," Faith said. Unlike Will, she had actually been careful with Rasheed's summary. "Anything else?" She asked.

"Nope." Nick scratched his Barry Gibb beard. “You can take over the room here. Rash and I have to interview a few more witnesses. "

Faith sat in Rasheed's vacant seat and immediately picked up the disciplinary reports. She firmly believed that history kept repeating itself.

Nick asked Will: "What's Sara up to?"

Will rushed through a series of humiliating replies in his mind, then decided, “She's in the canteen. You should say hello to her. "

"Thanks, man." Nick grabbed Will's shoulder and patted her briefly before walking out.

Will paid too much attention to the patting act. The whole thing was somewhere between the death grip of a Vulcan and the scratching of a dog's ass.

Faith waited for the door to close. "Was that uncomfortable?"

"Depends on which half of the horse you ask." Will put his hand on the door handle but didn't push it down. “How do we pull this off? I don't know if these guys will be there when a woman questions them. "

"You're probably right about that." She took a dossier from the pile. "Maduro."

Will opened the door. The law enforcement officer was waiting outside. Will spoke in a hushed voice. "Have the men step back from the wall immediately, or I'll make sure you piss your lungs out."

The man stared at Will, but like most people who liked to bully the weaker, he was a coward. He turned to the prisoners and shouted, “Inmates! On the ground!"

There was a collective groan of relief. The men literally had to peel themselves off the concrete wall. They all had bright red spots on their foreheads and glassy eyes. Some struggled to sit down, others simply plopped to the ground, exhausted.

"Maduro, it's your turn," Will shouted.

A small hydrant from a man who was about to squat stopped in mid-motion. He spun on one foot, getting tangled in the short chain. A foot wasn't much, about the length of two one-dollar bills tucked together. Maduro's gait was stiff and difficult. He held up his belly chain so it wouldn't dig into his hipbones. There were bloody marks on his forehead from the concrete wall that looked like pinpricks. He shuffled through the door and waited in front of the table.

Georgia prisons were run on a paramilitary basis. When inmates were not chained, their hands were clasped behind their backs when they walked. They were expected to stand at attention, keep their cells spotless, and pull their sheets taut. Most importantly, they were required to address the law enforcement officers with respect: Yes, sir! No sir! May I scratch my sack, sir?

Maduro looked at Will and waited to be told what to do.

Will crossed his arms and deliberately let Faith take the lead because these guys were suspected of murder - they had no right to choose who they wanted to be questioned by.

"Have a seat," Faith commanded. She compared the prisoner's ID and photo with his dossier. “Hector Louis Maduro. Served four years on a series of burglaries. Faced with an additional eighteen months in prison for participating in the revolt. Have you been instructed about your rights? "

“Español.” The man leaned back heavily. “Tengo derecho legal a un traductor. O te podrías sacar la camisa y te chupo esas tetas grandes. "

Emma's father was a second generation American of Mexican descent. Faith had learned Spanish so she could piss on him in two languages. "Yo puedo traducir por ti, y puedes hacerte la paja con esa verguita de nada cuando vuelves a tu celda, pendejo de mierda."

Maduro's eyebrows rose. "Damn it, honey, they didn't teach you that filthy stuff in white girl school."

Faith got down to business. "You were known as a buddy of Jesus Vasquez."

"Listen." Maduro leaned forward and cupped the edge of the table. “There are a lot of inmates in here who will tell you they're innocent, but I'm not innocent, okay? I did these break-ins that I was convicted of, but I'll tell you this, I've seen a lot of injustices in this institution - from staff to inmates, from inmates to inmates - and you should know that I am a Christian and right is right and wrong is wrong. When I saw inmates come together for a common cause to protect the human rights of ... "

"If I may interrupt your talk," Faith said. "Did you know Jesus Vasquez?"

Maduro glanced at Will nervously.

Will kept an uninvolved expression on his face. He had learned that silence during questioning was very effective in starting a conversation.

"You've been caught using cell phones before," Faith said to the inmate. "You have two entries in your file because you are arguing with ..."

Nick burst into the room like a toaster waffle.He was clearly out of breath, sweat was dripping from his sideburns, and he was holding a wrinkled sheet of paper. "Get out," he said to Maduro.

Faith looked questioningly at Will, but he just shrugged his shoulders. Nick had been an agent for twenty years. He had seen everything from hideous to stupid. If something shook him, they should all be shaken. If something was making him nervous, then they should all be nervous.

"Move." Nick pushed Maduro out the door. "Take the men back to their cells," he said to the law enforcement officer.

The door was closed. Nick didn't say anything. He smoothed the paper on the table. Sweat dripped on it. He breathed heavily.

Faith threw another questioning look at Will.

He shrugged his shoulders just as he did five seconds earlier.

Faith opened her mouth to get the information out of him, but Nick was already starting to talk.

“An inmate named Daryl Nesbitt gave me this note. He wants a deal. He says he knows who killed Vasquez and how they smuggled the phones into jail. "

This time it was Will who looked questioningly at Faith. That was an extremely positive development. Then why did Nick look so panicked?

Faith had the presence of mind to ask, "What else is on the note?"

Nick didn't answer her, which was even stranger. Instead, he turned the piece of paper around and pushed it over to Faith.

She scanned it and announced the main points. “He wants to make a deal. He knows where the cell phones are hidden ... "

“Third paragraph,” Nick interrupted.

Faith read: "'I am the victim of a conspiracy, engineered by the police in a small town to put me in jail for the rest of my life for a crime I did not commit.'"

Will didn't look over her shoulder as she read. He looked at Nick. The man was the prime example of a conflict. The only thing that seemed certain to him: He had no intention of looking in Will's direction.

Faith continued. “'That shitty county was a pressure cooker. A white student had been ambushed and the campus was in a state of excitement. No woman felt safe anymore. So the chief had to arrest someone. Anyone. Otherwise he would lose his job. He put together a reason to get me. '

Faith turned her head and looked at Will. She had evidently read a little further, and she didn't like what it was all about.

Will continued to concentrate on Nick, who suddenly felt the irresistible urge to clean the ornate metal caps on his blue cowboy boots. Will watched him pull out a handkerchief, stoop, and polish the silver.

Faith read on. ">I am innocent. I wouldn't be here without this corrupt cop and his even more corrupt troop. Everyone in Grant County believed the chief's maddened lies. '

Faith read on, but Will had heard what he needed to know.

Campus. Grant County. The chief.

Nesbitt spoke of Jeffrey Tolliver.

 

2

Faith had to use the men's room because the only women's room was a ten-minute walk away in the visitor wing. She washed her hands in the slimy-looking sink and splashed cold water on her face. But to get the prison dirt out of your pores, it took at least a pan cleaner.

Even in the administration building, the desperation was palpable. She heard shouting from the isolation wing. Cry. Howl. Beg. Faith's skin tingled at the conflicting impulses she was feeling - flight or fight? She had been in escape mode since stepping through the prison gate. Her job meant that she was mostly the only woman in the room. To be the only woman in a men's prison was another story entirely. She couldn't stray too far from the men she knew were the good guys. And by the good guys were meant the guys who wouldn't gang rape them right away.

She shook the water from her hands and pushed her fear aside. It took all her mental strength to beat Daryl Nesbitt, because she was not going to let Sara fly her whole life around the ears because some filthy convict courted for attention.

Faith opened the door. Nick and Will sat with petrified faces. She could tell that they hadn't spoken to each other - what was the point of talking when you could brood in silence?

“That asshole Nesbitt,” she said, “must only tell shit, right? He's a convict. It's never your fault. You are always innocent. The cops are always corrupt. Fuck that guy. Am I right?"

Nick's head movement could be interpreted as a nod if necessary.

Will scowled.

“What do you know about Nesbitt?” She asked Nick.

"I know he was convicted of pedophilia, but I didn't dig deeper into his file."

Studying Daryl Nesbitt would have been the first thing Faith would have done instead of running like a headless chicken.

"Why not?" She asked.

Faith watched Nick push his jaw forward until it protruded from his face like a goiter. So that was why Will was frowning. Nick wouldn't be so upset if he really believed Nesbitt was lying. Then he would not have stormed into the interrogation room earlier. And his skin wouldn't be the color of sausage water. Each of Nick's reactions was like a giant neon sign with a blinking arrow pointing to the words IT COULD BE! showed.

"Let's get it over with." Faith set off. She didn't even ask how Will was doing. Will wouldn't stop for a confidential conversation. Based on previous experience, she was able to assess exactly what was going through his head: He was wondering how he could keep all this from Sara.

Faith was absolutely by his side in this silence plot. Jesus Christ, Sara had seen her husband die five years ago. She had crawled through hellfire until she left the pain behind. She was finally happy with Will. The two would probably get married if Will ever found the courage to ask her. There was no reason to tell Sara about Daryl Nesbitt as long as there was nothing to tell.

Faith turned left into the last office at the end of the hall.

Nesbitt was sitting in a chair behind the folding table. He was white, in his mid-thirties, with brown hair with gray streaks, and his glasses were patched with tape on the bridge. He wasn't handcuffed. No handcuffs, no chains. The lower half of one leg was missing; a prosthetic lower leg leaned against the wall. He looked like a stoner who had dreamed of becoming a skateboard star but ended up being arrested for robbing a donut shop. Newspaper clippings lay neatly stacked on the table in front of him.

Nick introduced those present. "Daryl Nesbitt, Special Agents Trent and Mitchell."

Nesbitt got straight to the point. "This one ..." his finger poked into a pile of articles, "she was twenty-two." He pointed to another pile. "And the nineteen."