The Obsession Page 7


When Lettie came back around to sit again, Naomi stared straight ahead. “Ashley said she thought she’d been down there for a day or two. There was more rope down there, and pictures. There were pictures on the wall of other women, tied up like she was. Worse than she was. I think some of them were dead. I think they were dead. I’m going to be sick.”

Lettie tended to her, holding her hair back as she hugged the toilet, bathing her face with a cool cloth when she was done.

She gave Naomi something minty to rinse out her mouth, brushed a kiss over her forehead.

“You’ve had enough. Maybe you want to rest awhile.”

“I can’t go home, can I?”

“Not right now, I’m sorry, honey. But I can take you to my house, and you can use the guest bed, try to sleep.”

“Can I just stay here until Mama and Mason come?”

“If that’s what you want. How about I get you some toast, we see how that settles. You save that Snickers bar for later.”

“Thank you.”

Lettie rose. “What you did, Naomi? It was right. And more, it was brave. I’m awful proud of you. I’m only going to be a couple minutes. How about some tea with honey to go with the toast?”

“That’d be nice, thank you.”

Alone, Naomi laid her head on the table, but she couldn’t rest. She sipped at the Coke, but it was too sweet. She wanted water—just cold and clear. She thought of the water fountain, rose.

She stepped outside the little room, started to call out, ask if it was all right.

She saw the deputy hauling her father across the room toward a big metal door. His hands were in cuffs behind his back; a raw bruise bloomed on his right cheek.

He didn’t look wild now, or upset or sorry. He had a sneer on his face—the sort he got when somebody said maybe he was wrong about something.

He saw her—and she braced for his fury, his hate, his wrath.

All she got was an instant of indifference before he walked to the metal door, and through. And away.

The room was crowded with people, noise, and something that sparked darkly on the air. She felt she floated in it, as if her legs had just gone somewhere else and her body hung suspended.

She heard words, disjointed, tinny to her ear.

FBI, serial killer, forensics, victims.

Nothing made sense.

No one noticed her, a gangly girl with eyes too wide, too bright in a face pale as a ghost, swimming in too-big clothes and shock.

No one glanced her way, and she wondered, if they did, would their eyes pass over her—through her—just as her father’s had.

Maybe none of it was real. Maybe she wasn’t real.

But the pressure on her chest, that felt real. As if she’d fallen from the high limb in the old oak tree out back and knocked away her breath. So far away she couldn’t get it back.

The room took a slow, sick spin, and the light faded. A cloud over the moon.

With Bowes secure, Wayne came out in time to see Naomi’s eyes roll back in her head. He shouted, and he leaped toward her. He was fast, but not fast enough to catch her before she hit the floor.

“Get some water! Where’s the damn doctor? What the hell’s she doing out here?” He gathered her up, cradled her. Gently tapped cheeks he thought looked pale enough for his hand to pass through.

“I’m sorry. Ah, merciful God. She needed food. I just came out to see about getting her something.” Lettie crouched down with a cup of water.

“Did she see him? Did she see me bring that bastard in?”

Lettie only shook her head. “I wasn’t gone for more than three minutes. She’s coming around. There you are, baby. Naomi, honey, just breathe easy now. You just had a faint. I want you to sip some water.”

“Have I been sick?”

“You’re all right now. Take a sip.”

It came back to her, all of it. Her eyes—what her mother called medicine bottle green—closed. “Why isn’t he mad at me? Why doesn’t he care?”

They urged water on her. Wayne carried her into the back again. They brought her sick food—the tea and toast. She ate what she could, and found it made the worst of that floating feeling go away.

The rest passed in a blur. Dr. Hollin came in and looked her over. Somebody stayed with her all the time—and Wayne snuck her in another Coke.

The sheriff came in. She knew him—Sheriff Joe Franks—because she went to school with Joe Junior. He had wide shoulders on a sturdy body, and a tough face on a thick neck. She always thought of a bulldog when she saw him.

He sat across from her.

“How you doing, Naomi?”

His voice was like a gravel road.

“I don’t know. Um. Okay, sir.”

“I know you had a hard night, and you’re having a hard day on top of it. Do you know what’s going on here?”

“Yes, sir. My daddy hurt Ashley. He tied her up down in that old cellar in the woods by this burned-out cabin place. He hurt her really bad, and he hurt other people, too. There were pictures of them down there. I don’t know why he did those things. I don’t know why anybody would do what he did.”

“Did you ever go out there to that cellar before last night?”

“I didn’t know it was there. We’re not supposed to go into the woods that far. Just to the creek, and only when we have permission.”

“What made you go out there last night?”

“I—I woke up, and it was so hot. I was sitting by my window, and I saw Daddy go out. I thought maybe he was going to the creek to cool off—and I wanted to go, too. I got my flashlight and my flip-flops and I snuck out. I’m not supposed to.”

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