Holden gives her an annoyed look. "What do you need, Theresa?
We've got another half hour, at least."
Like most employees of St. Stephen's, Theresa Cook is also a
school parent. "I just heard something terrible," she says, her
voice cracking. "Kate Townsend is in the emergency room at St.
Catherine's Hospital. They said...she's dead. Drowned. Kate
Townsend. Can that be right?"
Holden Smith's thin lips twist in a grimace of a smile as he
tries to convince himself that this is some sort of sick prank.
Kate Townsend is the star of the senior class: valedictorian,
state champion in both tennis and swimming, full scholarship to
Harvard next fall. She's literally a poster child for St.
Stephen's. We even used her in a TV commercial for the school.
"No," Holden says finally. "No way. I saw Kate on the tennis
court at two this afternoon."
I look at my watch. It's nearly eight now.
Holden opens his mouth again but no sound emerges. As I
glance at the faces around the table, I realize that a strange
yet familiar numbness has gripped us all, the numbness that
comes when you hear that a neighbor's child has been shot in a
predawn hunting accident, or died in a car crash on homecoming
night. It occurs to me that it's early April, and though the
first breath of spring has touched the air, it's still too cold
to swim, even in Mississippi. If a high school senior drowned
today, a freak accident seems the only explanation. An indoor
pool, maybe? Only I can't think of anyone who owns one.
"Exactly what did you hear and when, Theresa?" Holden asks.
As if details might mitigate the horror of what is upon us.
"Ann Geter called my house from the hospital." Ann Geter is
an ER nurse at St. Catherine's Hospital, and another St.
Stephen's parent. Because the school has only five hundred
students, everyone literally knows everyone else. "My husband
told Ann I was still up here for the meeting. She called and
told me that some fishermen found Kate wedged in the fork of a
tree near where St. Catherine's Creek washes into the
Mississippi River. They thought she might be alive, so they put
her in their boat and carried her to the hospital. She was naked
from the waist down, Ann said."
Theresa says "nekkid," but her word has the intended effect.
Shock blanks the faces around the table as everyone begins to
absorb the idea that this may not be a conventional accident.
"Kate was bruised up pretty bad, Ann said. Like she'd been hit
"Jesus Lord," whispers Clara Jenkins, from my left. "This
can't be true. It must be somebody else."
Theresa's bottom lip begins to quiver. The secretary has
always been close to the older students, especially the girls.
"Ann said Kate had a tattoo on her thigh. I didn't know about
that, but I guess her mama did. Jenny Townsend identified her
body just a couple of minutes ago."
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