The Broken Line, 16: Cheetah In A Tutu

serialized fiction, supernatural thriller(Missed the last chapter? Go to 15: Hello Kitty. Just starting: go to Prologue: This Is My Knife.)


February 10, 2014

“IT’S BECAUSE THEY threw it in her face, isn’t it?” I stood in front of Zora, who was sitting at the desk of the cramped office.

In the shower, my faculties had returned in full force, accompanied by visions of Daphne, hanging from a rafter in some dark shed, the rhinestones of her Hello Kitty belt winking in the dim light as she swung gently back and forth, black mascara tears streaking her face.

“Were you there during Daphne’s I.T.S.?” I demanded.

Zora shook her head. “You know Dr. Grey and Summer run those.”

“Then why does Thad attend? He’s not even a team leader.” I glared at Zora.

Zora looked away, and I thought I detected a hint of discomfort in her nearly neutral expression. “Dr. Grey says she needs a male counselor in the room in case any of the boys become violent.”

“They put her on trial, and her accused rapist is one of the members of the jury?” My hands clenched so hard I felt my nails digging into my palms. “Unbelievable! They had to show the world what a slut she was.”

“Lacy, I doubt it was like—”

“You know what Grey said to me before I left my shift? ‘If we allow the residents to continue believing their own lies, their lives will continue to spin out of control, damaging themselves and others.’”

“People who’ve been doing this awhile have to maintain distance to maintain sanity. Dr. Grey can be off-putting sometimes, a little cold, but she seems to get results.”

My eyebrows shot up to my hairline and I opened my mouth to argue, but Zora held up her hand. “Just listen. After Lena died, Dan used to call me up and talk about this place all the time. It was falling apart. He was so frustrated with what he saw as his own personal failure to help the residents that he was thinking about shutting it down.

“Don’t get me wrong, my uncle is a visionary, but Lena’s the one who made things happen. Lena ran the day-to-day operations and managed the staff. Just like Dr. Grey does now.”

As I turned this new information over in my mind, I saw Dr. Clark’s strange, flat affect and his deference to Dr. Grey in a new light—maybe it was a defense against despair.

Zora leaned forward, suddenly intense. “Only a psychopath would enjoy physically restraining kids or even confronting them with their lies and delusions. Yes, the methods are extreme, but so are the problems. I’ve been here six weeks. You’ve been here a month. Uncle Dan has been on the frontline for over a decade. If he says Dr. Grey’s methods work, don’t you think we should respect that enough to watch and learn for a minute?”

I collapsed on the crappy, nappy tan couch in the office and gazed off into space, wondering how many suicides Dr. Grey and Dr. Clark had endured.

I closed my eyes and tried to take a meditative breath. It was 7:00 a.m. The girls had gone out for breakfast, and the cottage was quiet.

“You don’t have a cigarette, do you?” Zora asked wistfully.

I shot her a look. “I thought you quit.”

She picked up a pen and started fiddling with it. “Thirty two days and…” she looked at her watch “seven hours. The only reason I’ve made it this far is that the nearest cigarettes are seven miles down the road at the Wawa.”

“If you really wanted some, you’d have gone a lot farther than that to get them.”

“Can I tell you how many times I got in the car intending to go down there, then ended up just driving around the circle and back to my little house? Dan would kill me if he found out I was smoking again.”

Zora got up for another dose of the coffee that she mainlined all day, every day, from a mug with a logo on it for Saphris, a drug used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar. “You want one?”

“God, yes.” I watched Zora divide the last of the pot between her drug mug and a clean red one, and topped mine off with plenty of cream.

She handed me the coffee and sat down on the boxy chair next to me, crossing her legs with a swish of her red nylon tracksuit.

“So what’s with the cookhouse?” I asked. “Elizabeth kept saying ‘that’s where they do it.’”

Zora gazed out the tiny window at the swirling gray fog. “The residents have stories about ghosts in the cookhouse—white people with red mouths who steal all of your teeth. The kids say it’s the old slave-holders with blood on their lips. Then there’s the one about the ghost of a slave, a giant brother who either cuts kids tongues out, or makes them do it to themselves with tools from the cook house.”

“Ridiculous. Who can cut out their own tongue with grass clippers?”

“I suppose in a psychotic or drug-induced frenzy anything’s possible, but I’m more worried about cutting, suicide, bulimia—those spread like viruses. We need to shut this mess down.”

“It’s not just kids, Zora,” I said. “Grown-ups can suggest crazy, too. Dr. Grey kept saying she was going to make Daphne see her lies for what they were. But what if they weren’t all lies?”

“I.T.S. can be stressful, but I don’t think it’s a trial, Lacy.” Zora’s voice was calm, but her eyes moved back and forth as if scanning my face for clues.

“Dr. Grey and Thad and Summer decided it was in Daphne’s best interest to strip her of her lies. What they really did was strip her of dignity.” I took another gulp of my coffee, already half empty. It wasn’t making a dent in my exhaustion, so I got up to start a new pot.

“You have a girl who has been made into a liar and a slut by her father, clinging to the fantasy that she’s still a virgin and “right with God,” and then you force her to admit to her sexual behavior in front of a group of peers, half of whom might be out to steal her sneakers?”

I threw the old coffee filter into the trashcan with a wet thwak. “Sure, I suppose sometimes it might result in a breakthrough. But how many times does it backfire? How many graduates does it take to make up for one dead Daphne?”

I went into the staff bathroom to fill the coffee carafe. “How did she get out?” I yelled over the running water. “How come no one noticed?” I stalked back into the office and sloshed the water into the machine. “That girl needed someone watching over her, not an inquisition!”

“Look, I don’t know how Daphne got out without tripping the door alarm. Maybe the system went down again. Maybe she shimmied through one of the windows. She’s skinny enough. Was.”

As I spooned the coffee into the filter, I noticed my hands shaking. “I’m really struggling with Dr. Grey’s methods. To be honest, I’m struggling with everything right now.”

“About that….” Zora gazed at me pensively.


“I wasn’t supposed to tell you this, but I ….” Zora held her pen like a cigarette again and I felt for her. My dad had quit when I was sixteen because he’d caught me smoking and was determined to set a better example. I still remembered how he’d chewed his fingernails down to nubs. The worst was the night I found him standing in the kitchen on the verge of tears because we were out of peanut butter.

“Tell me what?” I prompted.

“Summer’s going to talk to you. I’ve noticed she has a way of escalating things. Anyway, I’m giving you a heads up because I don’t want you to quit.”

“Talk to me about what?”

“Well, Thad’s kind of self-righteous. Full of himself, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” I growled. Zora’s stalling was making me anxious.

“It’s not your fault you were sick. If you had a migraine and were about to throw up, of course you had to leave Daphne with him. But he’s insinuating that you were just willfully breaking the rules, as if—”

“What are you talking about?”

“When you left Daphne with Thad. I know it’s because you were sick—”

“No!” I yelled.

“Lacy, chill!” Zora hissed. “I’m on your side.”

I lowered my voice. “Okay, listen. I got sick after I left Daphne, that’s true. But the reason I left her with Thad was because he practically shoved me out of the room and slammed the door in my face.”

Zora’s face took on an ashy hue. “But … none of the male staff are supposed to be alone with the female residents.”

Had I known that? My head spun back through all the rules and regulations and procedures I’d learned in the month I’d been at Warrick. How had I not known that?

“Oh my God,” I whispered and sank onto the couch. “It’s my fault.”

“No.” Zora’s mouth clamped into a grim line. “You’re new and you were sick. Thad has been here for years.”

“Do you believe Daphne? That he tried to rape her?”

Zora flinched. “Thad’s cocky. A bully. He thinks the rules don’t apply to him. I know the type, believe me.” I saw a flash of pain in Zora’s eyes that I suspected went beyond the situation with Daphne. She looked exhausted and vulnerable.

“Are you okay?”

“Fine. I just know … Dan would never let a predator work here.”
“Maybe he doesn’t know,” I said, as gently as I could. I didn’t want to blow Zora’s illusions about her uncle, but despite his impressive achievements, I doubted Dr. Clark would notice a cheetah wearing a tutu if danced around the room and bit him on the dick.

Zora took a deep breath and gave me a measured stare. “Back in Portsmouth, there was deacon at our church. All the women though the sun shone out of his ass, because he was fine. I mean, Denzel fine, Boris Kodjoe fine. Uncle Dan’s the one saw through the act and figured out that Mr. Creepy Deacon liked to touch prepubescent girls. Dan’s the one who got charges pressed and started a fund so the girls who’d been molested could get therapy. He gave the most beautiful speech in church about how we needed to support the children and not cover this up out of shame. How we needed to face the truth as a community. Heal as a community. He’s a true leader, Lacy.”

I stared at her, at a loss for words.

Zora got up to top off her coffee from the fresh pot. “Dan’s the only one who told me not to marry Roger. Said he ‘wasn’t for me.’ Told me this the day he met Roger, which happened to be my wedding day.” She spoke almost casually, but I sensed a wild, dark current of anger running beneath that calm surface. “I thought it was because Roger was white. Turns out, it’s ’cause Roger is an asshole.”

Zora set her mug on the desk with a resolute thunk and headed toward the door. “You should rest until your shift starts.”

“Wait! Where are you going?”

“Talk to Dan. He needs to know,” she called from the hall. I heard the cottage door slam.

Know what? That Roger was an asshole? That Thad was a liar, if not a rapist? That he, Dan, was asleep at the wheel?

I leaned my head against the back of the sofa and dozed for what seemed like just a minute.

“What?” I said loudly and jerked upright. “What time is it?”

“Eight-fifteen.” Zora stood in the office doorway looking grim. “Walk with me. I know what happened to Daphne.”

Continue to Chapter 17: Gaspers

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