K is for Killer Page 81

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Doctors, nurses, and med techs had been mustered from every corner of St. Terry's. I watched them work in perfect concert, actions urgent and precise. What the medical soap operas on TV conveniently omit is all the pain and the puke, body functions gone bad, needles piercing flesh, the bruises and the trembling, the low cries for help. Who wants to sit there and stare at real life? We want all the drama of hospitals without the underlying anguish.

In the waiting room, the faces of the relatives who'd been notified of the collision were gray and haggard. They spoke in hushed voices, family members huddled in small groups, their postures bent with dread. Two women clung together, weeping hopelessly. On the other side of the glass doors, at one end of the parking lot, the nicotine addicts had collected in a cloud of cigarette smoke. I'd seen Serena Bonney soon after Danielle was brought in, but she'd been swallowed up by the commotion.

When I'd first pushed open Danielle's front door, she was lying on the floor naked, her face as pink and pulpy as seedless watermelon. Blood spurted from a jagged laceration in her scalp, and she moved her limbs aimlessly as if she might crawl away from her own internal injuries. I'd disconnected my emotions, doing what I could to stem the bleeding while I grabbed the phone off her bed table. The 911 dispatcher had alerted a patrol car and an ambulance, both of which arrived within minutes. Two paramedics had gone to work, administering whatever first aid they could.

The bruises on her body formed a pattern of dark, overlapping lines that suggested she'd been pounded with a blunt instrument. The weapon turned out to be a rag-wrapped length of lead pipe that her assailant had tossed in the bushes on his way out. The patrol officer had spotted it when he arrived and left it for bagging by the crime scene investigators, who showed up shortly afterward. Once the officer secured the scene, we moved out onto the small front porch, standing in a shallow pool of light while he questioned me, taking notes.

By then the alleyway was choked with vehicles. A stutter of blue lights punctuated the darkness, the police radio contributing a deadpan staccato murmur broken up by rasping intervals of static. A clutch of neighbors had assembled in the side yard in a motley assortment of sockless jogging shoes, bedroom slippers, coats, and ski jackets pulled on over nightclothes. The patrol officer began to canvass the crowd, checking to see if there were any other witnesses aside from me.

A sporty bright red Mazda pulled up in the alley with a chirp of tires. Cheney Phillips emerged and strode up the walk. He acknowledged my presence and then exchanged brief words with the uniformed officer, identifying himself before he moved into Danielle's cottage. I saw him halt on the threshold and back up a step. From the open door he did a slow survey of the bloody scene, as if clicking off a sequence of time-lapse photographs. I imagined the view as I had seen it: the rumpled bedding, furniture knocked sideways and toppled. In the meantime, Danielle had been wrapped in blankets and shifted onto the gurney. I stepped aside for the paramedics as they brought her through the front door. I made eye contact with the older of the two. "Mind if I ride along?"

"Fine with me, as long as the detective doesn't object."

Cheney caught the exchange between us and gave a nod of assent. "Catch you later," he said.

The gurney was eased into the back of the ambulance.

I left my car where it was, parked to one side of the alley behind Danielle's house. I sat beside her blanket-covered form in the rear of the ambulance, trying to stay out of range of the young paramedic, who continued to monitor her vital signs. Her eyes were bruised and as swollen as a newly hatched bird's. From time to time I could see her stir, blind with pain and confusion. I kept saying, "You're going to be okay. You're fine. It's over." I wasn't even sure she heard me, but I had to hope the reassurances were getting through. She was barely conscious. The flashing yellow lights were reflected in the plate-glass storefronts as we sped up State Street. The siren seemed somehow disassociated from events. At that hour of the night the streets were largely empty, and the journey was accomplished with remarkable dispatch. It was not until we reached the emergency room that we heard about the multicar wreck out on 101.

I sat out in the waiting room for an hour while they worked on her. By then most of the accident victims had been tended to, and the place was clearing out. I found myself leafing through the same Family Circle magazine I'd read before: same perfect women with the same perfect teeth. The July issue was looking dog-eared.

Certain articles had been torn out, and someone had annotated the article on male menopause, penning rude comments in the margin. I read busy-day recipes for backyard barbecues, a column of readers' suggestions for solving various parental dilemmas involving their children's lying, stealing, and their inability to read. Gave me a lot of faith in the generation coming up.

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