>More Chapter Five — Tina and Susanna


>Dewayne had about twenty minutes of hot water. It poured over his head, eyelids and lips. If he cried here, it didn’t matter.

Red blood in her black hair, blood trickling down her brown thighs.

Letisha was eleven. And if Dewayne knew anything–and he was good detective–Letisha had been dead an hour when he found her. Which meant she was dying while Dewayne sat in Athens teasing Merri about her dinner.

Jesus, he hated himself. What the hell is the use of seeing a murder after it’s committed? Nothing, no use at all, no matter what Merri and all her hoo-hoo kind would say. A “gift” they’d call it. But it weren’t no gift.

A goddamn curse, that’s what it was.

He turned the dial on his shower until the water came down like pellets on his back.

The image of that poor little girl stuck in his head–he couldn’t dislodge it, Everything was so close, he couldn’t break his thoughts apart long enough to make any sense, everything coming back to her bleeding, broken head.

When he found the sick son-of-bitch who did it, Dewayne was going to shoot him. He could feel it palatable and heavy in his nerves–the contours of the gun, its heaviness in his palm, the shot and reverb.

He clenched his fist and pounded it against the tile to make it stop shaking.

The emotions, those sick gut feelings were following too fast. He was afraid of himself, afraid of that thing inside him he couldn’t explain.

He leaned his head on the wall, thinking about Meema’s words: Jesus done blessed you, Dewayne, like he made his disciples perform miracles.

There was the other girl too, missing for almost three days now. A seven-year-old white girl named Monica Evans. She lived in the Bethel community, a scattershot grouping of trailers ten miles from the lime sinks and Aunt Voila’s place. He’d passed it on his way to get Merri, and he hadn’t felt anything, not then, not earlier, even though he had been walking the cotton fields outside her trailer for two days while crews dragged the retention ponds.

He squeezed his eyes, trying to catch the edge of something. An image or feeling he could grasp and let it pull him deeper. But everything was nebulous and gut deep wrong. Nothing to send him out tonight. Just left here to prowl, impotent, trying find a pattern in all the incoherence inside him.

The water ran lukewarm, then cold. Dewayne turned off the faucet, stepped out of the shower, and toweled himself while looking out the narrow window over the toilet. Down the backyard slope, he could see Merri’s shadow moving about on his boat. He shook his head, but was surprised to find no annoyance rising at her trespass. She knew her way around boats, after all,
having grown up like he did, both feet forever wet with lake water. And he had told her to make herself at home.

She obviously had. And maybe it was better she was here; he couldn’t do anything crazy.

He took some gray sweat pants out of his drawer and an old fraternity mixer shirt and pulled it over his head as he walked to his office. He punched the number for the station on his phone and wedged it between his ear and chin, while he pulled out the futon.

Juanita answered. He liked her. Juanita was an ex-army reservist from Texas who followed a boyfriend to town after her tour in Iraq. The boyfriend left with another girl, but Juanita stayed. Her dark Hispanic eyes missed nothing, and she didn’t say nothing she didn’t need to.

“Hey, it’s Dewayne. Did y’all talk to any of Monica’s Evans relatives? What about that ex-boyfriend over in Greene County? What did you find on him?” Dewayne pulled the spare sheets out off the top of his filing cabinet in the closet.

Juanita talked like she was reading from a list. “Three convictions on meth, Community Service, six months in jails, two years parole. He’s got two children, both five. One by an ex-wife, one by an ex-girlfriend. The ex-girlfriend works down at the Health Department. He sometimes baby-sits, even took the kid to his parole meeting two days ago.”

“What about the relatives?”

“Dewayne–“

“Did they ever find the grandfather?”

“Last address was in burnt out trailer in Pensacola, but he’s listed on the Florida offenders list for an assault on a seventeen-year-old at Panama City in 1999.”

Dewayne sucked his curse. Tomorrow was gonna be shit, looking for missing girl and writing up a report on a dead one.

“Anything else?”

“No. Get some sleep,” Juanita said.

“Yeah.” Dewayne hung up. He thought of calling Terrell, but knew that he was probably praying with the Karp family, offering what comfort he could. Dewayne felt an irrational bitter jealousy that he didn’t want to examine too closely, so he straightened the sheets on the futon, then headed to the kitchen. He took out a can of opened, flat caffeine-free Coke, poured some into a UGA cup and added Jack Daniels. He took a swig, then another, like medicine. His hands still shook, making little effervescent waves in the brown amber liquid.

He hadn’t felt it so bad since his days in Atlanta.

All them ghosts is talkin’ to you. That’s the way Meema explained it. He preferred the expensive doctor’s term: panic attacks. He stood a chance again those. He could cure something he could name.

Out the back screen door, he could see Mary’s dark form. She wore that pentacle and spoke in hoo-hoo terms, but she felt dense and opaque, like nothing could penetrate to her core . . . not
really, not if she didn’t want it to. Now that’s the true gift, Dewayne thought as he threw back the rest of his drink. It tasted like hot gunmetal and burned going down his esophagus. He poured another–almost all whiskey this time–then opened the backdoor and walked barefooted down to the water.

His mind was getting thicker. The pain dulling down.

The full moon pulled the tide, gently rocking the boat. Merri’s face was pale blue in the light, her dark hair splayed about her. Dewayne always thought his cousin was pretty in that inaccessible way, an intense face and probing eyes. Hard and beautiful, like that modern stuff up at the High Art Museum an ex-girlfriend drug him up to see once.

Now Merri looked at him, her eyes all black and shiny in the darkness. What was that stone? Obsidian? Smooth in the hand, but capable of holding a wicked edge if you whetted it just right. Like an arrowhead.

She narrowed her eyes and examined him. Yeah, Dewayne thought. Obsidian. He wonderedwhat she was about to notch and let fly his way.

“Dewayne?”

“Uh huh?”

“I don’t want to go back to Boston. I mean, not now.” She sat up and hugged her knees to her chest. “I’m thinking of staying at Gram’s house.”

So that was it. Bull’s eye.

He tipped back another good slug of his drink. “Well now, that IS news. Last I heard you couldn’t wait to get back to Yankee Land.”

“You heard that from my mother, and she’s right, I can’t. But I can’t go just yet either.”

Dewayne stepped up on the boat, rocking it a little. The drink hadn’t hit too hard yet—it was just a blurry spreading warmth in his gut—but his tongue felt looser nonetheless. He took a seat next to Merri. He’d have to watch it.

“Is this about what Meema said? That Aunt Viola was murdered?”

Merri chewed her lip. For a second, she looked eight years old again. “Not just that,” she said.

“But that’s part of it, isn’t it?”

She nodded, still not looking at him. He tried to read something in the planes and angles of her face, but she wasn’t giving anything away. Only her mouth betrayed her.

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Listen to me, Merriweather Abigail Beaugarden . . .”

She smacked him on the knee. “Don’t you gettin’ all middle name on me, Dewayne Archibald Turner. I know what you’re gonna say . . .”

“Then shut up and let me say it already. You ain’t got no business . . .”

“Dewayne?”

” . . . making a crime where there ain’t one.”

“Dewayne?”

“What?”

“This ain’t Murder She Wrote. I know better than foolin’ around in police business. Like I said, it ain’t just that, but yes, that’s part of it. I got to know why Aunt Edna thinks what she thinks.”

“Why? So you can investigate?” He laced the last word with contemptuous emphasis.

Merri ignored the insult. “Because it’s Gram, and nobody on this planet knows Gram like your Meema did. So I gotta take that seriously. I gotta be true to her blood, which I have tried to do my whole life, whether you believe me or not. And that means taking your Meema seriously, as seriously as I’d take you if you’d ever tell me shit. You know what I mean?”

Dewayne knew exactly what she meant. He also noticed that over the course of the conversation, she’d dropped her careful enunciation and was now elongating her vowels, sliding right over her g’s, getting all singsong in her cadence and rhythm. She seemed to notice too, because she made an exasperated sound and stared at the treeline.

“I’m gonna do this thing with or without you,” she said. “It’s that important to me.”

Dewayne took another sip of his drink. “Yeah. I know.”

“So it’s all right if I go talk to your Meema?”

“Like you said, you’re gonna do it anyway, so why ask?”

“‘Because askin’ matters.”

Dwayne sighed. “Fine then, little cousin. It don’t matter none by me, as long as you realize there ain’t nothing there to talk about. Good luck with Meema, though. She thinks you’re a turkey butt.”

Merri looked shocked. Dewayne laughed. She shook her head and smacked him again.

“I swear,” she said. “Sometimes . . .”

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