I DROVE UNTIL I found myself at Warrick. It was about three a.m., but I didn’t need to explain anything to Zora. The sight of me was enough.
“Jesus, Lacy.” She pulled me into a warm hug. I felt a few tears trickle down my face. I think I might have just stood there, dripping tears and swaying until my legs gave out, if Zora hadn’t steered me to a small bedroom with an iron bed and a patterned quilt.
“I’m not here!” I mumbled as I fell against the pillow.
WHEN I OPENED my eyes again, it was still dark, but the clock showed 9:10 p.m. I’d slept almost eighteen hours.
I got up, went into the living room and looked around blearily. Wide leather armchairs flanked either side of a stone fireplace. Built-in wooden shelves, housing books, family photos and knick-knacks, gave the space warmth. I’d missed that in the glossy, fake world John had made of my house in the Fan.
Zora came out of her bedroom wearing velour, zebra-striped pajamas. “Hey, you. Welcome to the living.”
She settled into the armchair and motioned to me to sit down. We gazed into the fire. I felt grateful she didn’t bombard me with questions, since I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to tell her. I considered Zora a friend, but she was also my supervisor—or had been.
My brain cycled around, grasping for logical explanations and excuses: John was mentally ill; I was mentally ill; I had misinterpreted everything.
The flames licked away at the wood, transforming the logs to charcoal, making shapes like dark prophets. Everything consumes and is consumed in its turn. The voices. I felt the familiar needles of fear and shivered.
“Are you okay?”
“Okay is a relative term. Compared to the past six weeks, the answer is yes, thanks to you, and a giant named Zeke.”
“Should I ask?”
I shrugged. “It’s a long, crazy story.”
“I’m a social worker. We do crazy like a plumber does sinks.”
Deciding I had nothing to lose, I began a somewhat rambling narrative, backtracking when I realized I also needed to tell Zora what happened with my mother when I was eleven. I even told her about the voices and headaches.
Zora slipped on her social worker face when I got to the part about raping vines coming out of the walls. I wondered what she’d make of my suspicion that John had engineered the whole thing by giving me hallucinogenic drugs, but I pressed on.
After I finished, Zora’s eyes flicked to my face and I caught a flash of anger. “I’m going to get a beer. You want one?”
I shook my head. “Just water.”
She went into the kitchen. I heard the refrigerator door slam, and the crack of a bottle opener.
Whatever Zora’s verdict, I felt lighter. Even if she thought I was crazy, I realized that I no longer did.
I felt a pang of guilt as I thought of Kat. Was she crazy? Had she ever been? They live for hundreds of years, she’d said. The hair on the back of my neck rose, but my mind rebelled. John couldn’t possibly be my mother’s stepfather. That man would be in his seventies or eighties now
Zora came back with her beer and a tall glass of ice water, which she set on the table between us.
“Do you think I’m crazy?” I really didn’t know where I’d go if she said yes. But I couldn’t take any more lies.
“If you’d told me a story like that a few months ago, I would have.”
Zora frowned and took a swig of beer. “Remember how you said there was some kind of black-hat shit going down around Daphne’s suicide?”
“Yeah, and I saw Shane in the cookhouse the night Elizabeth was sleepwalking, but nobody believed me.”
“Well, I believe you now. Shane disappeared the week after you left. Officially, a runaway. One of his counselors, Garrett Thompson, told me that, before he disappeared, Shane confided that Victor got him to sneak out of the cottage that night on a dare, and go to the cookhouse. He said Victor gave him some kind of alcoholic drink. He passed out, then woke up with a plastic bag over his head. He said he was raped by the ghost of Buzz Wilson, while ghosts with maggots eating their faces stood around watching.
“I saw those people! I was afraid to tell you before. It sounded so crazy. I bet they drugged him.”
Zora’s eyes welled with tears. For the first time, I noticed the dark circles under her eyes; the worry-lines etching her forehead. “Garrett put all of it in a Serious Incident Report, but Dr. Grey dismissed the story—said Shane was having nightmares about the abuse he’d suffered at the hands of his stepfather and older stepbrothers.”
I snorted. “That’s what she said about Daphne, too.”
“I wasn’t convinced either. I tried to talk to Garrett later, but he shut me down. I’ve never seen a grown man look that scared. Most of the staff just walk around smiling like it’s a lovely fucking day at Massa Grey’s Plantation. Then, last month it was Wing. Another so-called suicide in the cookhouse.”
I grabbed the iron poker and jabbed the burning logs. “Kids are dying and nobody but us gives a shit?”
“The sheriff comes out here every time a kid goes missing or turns up dead, but he never seems to find anything suspicious. I tried to talk to Uncle Dan. Told him the so-called facts didn’t add up. He promised to look into it, but when I asked him later, he didn’t remember.” Zora rubbed her temples. “It was freaky. We kept having the same conversation. That isn’t like him, Lacy! He’s a good man. Was. Shit!”
I thought about how Dr. Clark seemed to tune in and out. Come to think of it, my dad had, too, when John was around.
Zora gazed bleakly at the portrait above the mantle—a strong-featured African-American woman. “Dan and Lena bought this place because they didn’t want to see it turned into another fucking museum. They wanted it to be useful. But maybe the kids are right. Maybe it is haunted. Hundreds of years of slavery and rape and violence and broken families—and nothing’s changed!” Zora stalked off to the kitchen.
“Damn it,” I muttered, then called out, “I’ll take that beer now!”
Zora reappeared a moment later with two filled shot glasses in her hands. “We’re way past beer.”
She handed me one and I took a sip. Whiskey hit my empty stomach, and the heat spread through my body. I set the glass down and took another gulp of water. I needed a clear head.
“What are we going to do?” I said.
“We need to get proof. Catch them in the act. Then we take it to a bunch of different people all at the same time. Reporters, police. Make so much noise, she can’t cover it all up.”
“I filed anonymous complaints with social services, too. I don’t want Grey to know I’m onto her. I don’t know what she does to people, but it’s freaky. A couple of social services investigators showed up last week, looking serious. Grey takes them in her office for half an hour, and they come out cheesing like they just got laid.
“I keep wondering if I’m next.”
I shook my head. “I think you’re immune.”
I saw a flicker of hope in Zora’s eyes, then it died. “God damn it. All I wanted was to lay low and do my job for a while. Get my head together.”
“You never told me what happened.” I knew Zora was getting a divorce, but hadn’t wanted to pry. Now I needed to know who she was, underneath the professional façade.
“Stupid happened.” Zora stared into the firelight. “When things went bad with Roger, I decided this was the perfect place. I knew he’d never follow me here. He has a pathological fear of the South. Maybe he’d get as far as Richmond, but a plantation? He’d slap his own mamma before he came nosing around out here.”
“I thought you said he’s white?”
“He is, but he thought an interracial couple was liable to get in trouble down here. Paranoid. Or maybe just avoiding Dan—he knew Dan didn’t like him. Anyway, Roger was a cop when we met, but he flamed out. When he was unemployed, he started in on me.”
Zora took a slug of whiskey. “He knocked me over a table. I was … pregnant.” The word came out a harsh whisper.
I leaned over to lay my hand on Zora’s. “I’m so sorry.”
She pulled away, opened a drawer in the side table, took out a fresh pack of Camels and pulled the crinkling cellophane tab.
“I’d heard all about Dr. Grey from Uncle Dan. Her track record with the kids. How she saved this place when it was going down, after Lena died. Maybe because I walked in the door assuming the best, Grey never had to pull any voodoo on me. Or maybe my head was just too wrapped up in my own problems.”
“She’s good at finding people’s weaknesses,” I said. “She made me believe I was incompetent and paranoid. Something she does with her voice. John, too. Hypnosis, maybe?”
Zora shrugged. “I took a class in hypnotherapy. Maybe she’s doing the opposite. Hypno-crazy. At least you tried to stand up to her. That’s more than I can say for most around here.
Zora tossed her half-smoked cigarette in the fire and rose. “I got to go to bed. If I don’t sleep, I can’t help anybody. Just make yourself at home, okay? Fix some food, watch TV, whatever. I sleep like a rock. Only thing that wakes me is the phone. Years of being on call.”
“We’ll talk more tomorrow,” Zora said over her shoulder. “I’ll try to get away early. Meantime, stay inside and keep the curtains closed. Dr. Grey has spies everywhere.”
She was right. For whatever reason, a lot of people had spent a lot of energy trying to rewrite my history. They weren’t going to give up just because I’d run away.
My gut said that John and Dr. Grey were two of a kind. Walt was a third. There had been others, I realized. At every job I’d ever had there had been someone who triggered the voices, the migraines, the pressure of nameless knowledge. But instead of looking into it, I ran. All I’d done was trade one prison for another.
I paced Zora’s living room, trying to calm myself. The twining vines produce the sweetest rose. The fruit of the sixth. The angry voices, the things John had said—they weren’t hallucinations. I didn’t have a clue what they meant, but they meant something.
Forget that shit. I chided myself. Focus on finding Dorothy.
I searched my smudgy memories, trying to remember if John or Dr. Rolfe had ever mentioned the name of the rehab facility.
I could go on the internet and compile a list. But, even if I found Dorothy, I wasn’t sure if I could get her released. Knowing John, he’d have secured her in a facility run by another version of Dr. Grey or Dr. Rolfe.
I paced to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator and stared at apples so red they seemed fake. What did John want?
Pets, a voice hissed in my head.
An image of a dog¾sniveling, cowering and wagging its tail¾willing to do just about anything to win its master’s approval. Predator harvests the nectar of fear. The hissing burned my mind like dry ice. He thinks he owns us.
However twisted the reason, John had wanted to seduce me at the precise moment when I was most likely to conceive. But what did he think I would do once the deception crumbled? Had he really believed I would go ahead and have his child? It made no sense, unless … what was that saying when it came to solving complicated crimes? Follow the money. John had said Dad was broke, but John was a liar.
It would have been like Dad to squirrel away funds, never letting on that he was amassing a fortune, still wearing the same old red flannel shirt around the house every weekend. That was the Stephen Keyes I knew, not the wild women and parties spendthrift John had made him out to be.
Maybe it wasn’t me that John felt entitled to, but my family’s wealth. Maybe as reparations for what Kat had done to him. Maybe because he was a twisted fuck. Not a demon, but a psychopath. Images of the seduction slithered into my mind. John needed my compliance and my heir—and he’d almost gotten it.
I heard what sounded distinctly like twigs cracking underneath feet. I crept to look out the window.
Directly behind the house, I saw the shadowy forms of a doe and two fawns passing by. The mother looked up at the window, as if she could see me, then continued on her way.
Though it was irrational, I felt comforted. If such gentle creatures were outside the window, there was no way the likes of John and Dr. Grey were around. It seemed like a sign that it was safe for me to move, too.
My paranoia had been dancing around the edges of something far darker, but greed was simple. Greed I could fight. All I needed was a good lawyer, and I had just the man in mind. My father’s lawyer and friend, Bill Huang.
Though my story might seem farfetched, Bill had known me all my life. He would hear me out. He would help me find Dorothy and get her out of wherever John had her stashed.
I showered, grabbed up the sack of jewelry that I had snatched from my house in the Fan, and wrote Zora a note explaining that I’d be returning late to avoid the spies.
I left in the darkness of pre-dawn, trying to form a to-do list in my head, but I found myself stuck on item number one: put that asshole behind bars.