Authors: Karin Slaughter
Tags: #Fiction, #Tolliver, #Women Physicians, #Mystery & Detective, #Police, #Police Procedural, #Police - Georgia, #Linton, #Jeffrey (Fictitious Character), #Georgia, #Mystery Fiction, #Thrillers, #General, #Police chiefs, #Suspense, #Sara (Fictitious Character)
A Faint Cold Fear
By Karin Slaughter
Grant County – Book 3
for having a think
Sara Linton stared at the entrance to the Dairy Queen, watching her very pregnant sister walk out with a cup of chocolate-covered ice cream in each hand. As Tessa crossed the parking lot, the wind picked up, and her purple dress rose above her knees. She struggled to keep the jumper down without spilling the ice cream, and Sara could hear her cursing as she got closer to the car.
Sara tried not to laugh as she leaned over to open the door, asking, 'Need help?'
'No,' Tessa said, wedging her body into the car. She settled in, handing Sara her ice cream. 'And you can shut up laughing at me.'
Sara winced as her sister kicked off her sandals and propped her bare feet on the dashboard. The BMW 330i was less than two weeks old, and Tessa had already left a bag of Goobers to melt in the backseat and spilled an orange Fanta on the carpet in the front.
Had Tessa not been nearly eight months pregnant, Sara would have strangled her.
Sara asked, 'What took you so long?'
'I had to pee.'
'No, I just like being in the bathroom at the damn Dairy Queen,' Tessa snapped. She fanned her hand in front of her face. 'Jesus, it's hot.'
Sara kept her mouth shut as she turned up the air-conditioning.
As a doctor, she knew that Tessa was merely a victim of her own hormones, but there were times when Sara thought that the best thing for all concerned would be to lock Tessa in a box and not open it until they heard a baby crying.
'That place was packed,' Tessa managed around a mouthful of chocolate syrup. 'Goddamn, shouldn't all those people be at church or something?'
'Hm,' Sara said.
'The whole place was filthy. Look at this parking lot,' Tessa said, swooping her spoon in the air. 'People just dump their trash here and don't even care about who has to pick it up. Like they think the trash fairy's gonna do it or something.'
Sara murmured some words of agreement, eating her ice cream as Tessa continued a litany of complaints about everyone in the Dairy Queen, from the man who was talking on his cell phone to the woman who waited in line for ten minutes and then couldn't decide what she wanted when she got to the counter. After a while Sara zoned out, staring at the parking lot, thinking about the busy week she had ahead of her.
Several years ago Sara had taken on the part-time job of county coroner to help buy out her retiring partner at the Heartsdale Children's Clinic, and lately Sara's work at the morgue was playing havoc with her schedule at the clinic. Normally the county job did not require much of Sara's time, but a court appearance had taken her out of the clinic for two days last week, and she was going to have to make up for it this week by putting in overtime.
Increasingly, Sara's work at the morgue was infringing on clinic time, and she knew that in a couple of years she would have to make a choice between the two. When the time came, the decision would be a hard one. The medical examiner's job was a challenge, one Sara had sorely needed thirteen years ago when she had left Atlanta and moved back to Grant County.
Part of her thought her brain would atrophy without the constant obstacles presented by forensic medicine.
Still, there was something restorative about treating children, and Sara, who could not have children of her own, knew that she would miss the contact. She vacillated daily on which job was better. Generally, a bad day at one made the other look ideal.
'Getting on up there!' Tessa screeched, loud enough to get Sara's attention. 'I'm thirty-four, not fifty. What the hell kind of thing is that for a nurse to say to a pregnant woman?'
Sara stared at her sister. 'What?'
'Have you heard a word I've said?'
She tried to sound convincing. 'Yes. Of course I have.'
Tessa frowned. 'You're thinking about Jeffrey, aren't you?'
Sara was surprised by the question. For once her ex-husband had been the last thing on her mind. 'No.'
'Sara, don't lie to me,' Tessa countered. 'Everybody in town saw that sign girl up at the station Friday.'
'She was lettering the new police car,' Sara answered, feeling a warm flush come to her cheeks.
Tessa gave a disbelieving look. 'Wasn't that his excuse the last time?'
Sara did not answer. She could still remember the day she'd come home early from work to find Jeffrey in bed with the owner of the local sign shop. The whole Linton family was both amazed and irritated that Sara was dating Jeffrey again, and while Sara for the most part shared their sentiments, she felt incapable of making a clean break. Logic eluded her where Jeffrey was concerned.
Tessa warned, 'You just need to be careful with him.
Don't let him get too comfortable.'
'I'm not an idiot.'
'Sometimes you are.'
'Well, you are, too,' Sara shot back, feeling foolish even before the words came out of her mouth.
But for the whir of the air-conditioning, the car was quiet. Finally Tessa offered, 'You should've said, "I know you are, but what am I?"'
Sara wanted to laugh it off, but she was too irritated.
'Tessie, it's none of your business.'
Tessa barked a loud laugh that rattled in Sara's ears.
'Well, hell, honey, that's never stopped anybody before.
I'm sure damn Maria Simms was on the phone before the little bitch even got out of her truck.'
'Don't call her that.'
Tessa waved her spoon in the air again. 'What do you want me to call her? Slut?'
'Nothing,' Sara told her, and meant it. 'Don't call her anything.'
'Oh, I think she deserves a few choice words.'
'Jeffrey's the one who cheated. She just took advantage of a good opportunity.'
'You know,' Tessa began. 'I took advantage of plenty of good opportunities in my time, but I never chased after a married one.'
Sara closed her eyes, willing her sister to stop. She did not want to have this conversation.
Tessa added, 'Maria told Penny Brock she's put on weight.'
'What were you doing talking to Penny Brock?'
'Stopped-up drain in their kitchen,' Tessa said, smacking her mouth around her spoon. Tessa had quit working full-time with their father in the family plumbing business when her swollen belly made it impossible to navigate crawl spaces, but she was still capable of taking a plunger to a drain.
Tessa said, 'According to Penny, she's big as a house.'
Despite her better intentions, Sara could not help but feel a moment of triumph, followed by a wave of guilt that she could take pleasure in another woman's widening hips. And ass. The sign girl was already a little too full in the flank for her own good.
Tessa said, 'I see you smiling.'
Sara was; her cheeks hurt from the strain of keeping her mouth closed. 'This is horrible.'
'Since…' Sara let her voice trail off. 'Since it makes me feel like an absolute idiot.'
'Well, you am what you am, as Popeye would say.'
Tessa made a great show of scraping her plastic spoon around the cardboard cup as she wiped it clean. She sighed heavily, as if her day had just taken a turn for the worse. 'Can I have the rest of yours?'
'I'm pregnant!' Tessa squeaked.
'That's not my fault.'
Tessa went back to scraping her cup. To add to the annoyance, she started scratching the bottom of her foot on the dashboard's burled wood inlay.
A full minute passed before Sara felt an older sister's guilt hit her like a sledgehammer. She tried to fight it by eating more ice cream, but it stuck in her throat.
'Here, you big baby.' Sara handed over her cup.
'Thank you,' Tessa answered sweetly. 'Maybe we can get some more for later?' she suggested. 'Only, can you go back in and get it? I don't want them to think I'm a pig, and' she smiled sweetly, batting her eyelids 'I might have ticked off the kid behind the counter.'
'I can't imagine how.'
Tessa blinked innocently. 'Some people are just sensitive.'
Sara opened the door, glad for a reason to get out of the car. She was three feet away when Tessa rolled down the window.
'I know,' Sara said. 'Extra chocolate.'
'Yeah, but hold up.' Tessa paused to lick ice cream off the side of her cell phone before she handed it out the window. 'It's Jeffrey.'
Sara pulled up onto a gravel embankment between a police cruiser and Jeffrey's car, frowning as she heard stones kicking up against the side of her car. The only reason Sara had traded in her two-seater convertible for the larger model was to accommodate a child's car seat. Between Tessa and the elements, the BMW was going to be trashed before the baby came.
'This it?' Tessa asked.
'Yep.' Sara yanked up the parking brake and looked out at the dry river basin in front of them. Georgia had been suffering from a drought since the mid-1990s, and the huge river that had once slithered through the forest like a fat, lazy snake had shriveled to little more than a trickling stream. A cracked, dry carcass was all that remained, and the concrete bridge thirty feet overhead seemed out of place, though Sara could remember when people had fished from it.
'Is that the body?' Tessa asked, pointing to a group of men standing in a semicircle.
'Probably,' Sara answered, wondering if they were on college property. Grant County comprised three cities: Heartsdale, Madison, and Avondale. Hearts-dale, which housed the Grant Institute of Technology, was the jewel of the county, and any crime that happened inside its city limits was considered that much more horrible. A crime on college property would be a nightmare.
'What happened?' Tessa asked eagerly, though she had never been interested in this side of Sara's job before.
'That's what I'm supposed to find out,' Sara reminded her, reaching over to the glove box for her stethoscope. The clearance was tight, and Sara's hand rested on the back of Tessa's stomach. She let it stay there for a moment.
'Oh, Sissy,' Tessa breathed, grabbing Sara's hand.
'I love you so much.'
Sara laughed at the sudden tears in Tessa's eyes, but for some reason she could feel herself tearing up as well. 'I love you, too, Tessie.' She squeezed her sister's hand, saying, 'Stay in the car. This won't take long.'
Jeffrey was walking to meet Sara as she shut the car door. His dark hair was combed back neatly, still a little wet at the nape. He was dressed in a charcoal gray suit, perfectly pressed and tailored, with a gold police badge tucked into the breast pocket.
Sara was in sweatpants that had seen better days and a T-shirt that had given up on being white sometime during the Reagan administration. She wore sneakers with no socks, the laces loosely tied so she could slip in and out of them with as little effort as possible.
'You didn't have to dress up,' Jeffrey joked, but she could hear the tension in his voice.
'What is it?'
'I'm not sure, but I think there's something hinky.'
He stopped, looking back at the car. 'You brought Tess?'
'It was on the way, and she wanted to come…'
Sara let her voice trail off, because there really was no explanation, other than that Sara's goal in life at the moment was to keep Tessa happy or, at the very least, to keep her from whining.
Jeffrey recognized the situation. 'I guess arguing with her wasn't worth it?'
'She promised to stay in the car,' Sara said, just as she heard the car door slam closed behind her. She tucked her hands into her hips as she turned around, but Tessa was already waving her off.
'I've gotta go,' Tessa said, pointing toward a line of trees in the distance.
Jeffrey asked, 'She's gonna walk home?'
'She's going to the bathroom,' Sara explained, watching Tessa head up the hill toward the forest.
They both watched Tessa navigate the steep slope, her hands hooked under her belly as if she were carrying a basket. Jeffrey asked, 'Are you gonna be mad at me if I laugh when she rolls back down that hill?'
Sara laughed with him instead of answering his question.
He asked, 'You think she'll be okay up there?'
'She'll be fine,' Sara told him. 'It won't kill her to get some exercise.'
'Are you sure?' Jeffrey pressed, concerned.
'She's fine,' Sara reassured, knowing that Jeffrey had never been around a pregnant woman for any length of time in his life. He was probably scared Tessa would go into labor before she got to the trees at the top of the hill. They should all be so lucky.
Sara started to walk toward the scene but stopped when he did not follow. She turned around, waiting for what she knew was coming.
He said, 'You left pretty early this morning.'
'I figured you needed the sleep.' She walked back and took a pair of latex gloves out of his coat pocket, asking, 'What's hinky?'
'I wasn't that tired,' he said, in the same suggestive tone he would have used this morning if she'd stuck around.
She fidgeted with the gloves, trying to think of something to say. 'I had to let the dogs out.'
'You could start bringing them.'
Sara gave the police cruiser a pointed look. 'Is that new?' she asked, feigning curiosity. Grant County was a small place. Sara had heard about the new patrol car before it was even parked in front of the station.
He said, 'Got it a couple of days ago.'
'Lettering looks good,' she said, keeping her tone casual.
'How about that,' he said, an annoying phrase he had lately picked up when he did not know what else to say.
Sara did not let him get away with it. 'She did a really nice job.'
Jeffrey kept his gaze steady, as if he had nothing to hide. Sara would have been impressed had he not used the exact same expression the last time he'd assured her he was not cheating.
She gave a tight smile, repeating, 'What's hinky?'
He let out a short, irritated breath. 'You'll see,' he told her, heading toward the river.
Sara walked at her normal pace, but Jeffrey slowed enough for her to catch up with him. She could see that he was angry, but Sara had never let Jeffrey's moods intimidate her.
She asked, 'Is it a student?'
'Probably,' he said, his tone still clipped. 'We checked his pockets. There wasn't any ID on him, but this side of the river is college land.'