"Scabies is caused by mites." My voice was chillier than the car interior.
"Exactly. You wouldn't have believed that shithole."
"You should have worn gloves."
"You got that right. And a respirator. These people -- "
"What people would that be, Detective?"
"Some folks live like pigs."
"Gideon Banks is a hardworking, decent man who raised six children largely on his own."
"Wife beat feet?"
"Melba Banks died of breast cancer ten years ago." There. I did know something about my coworker.
The radio crackled some message that was lost on me.
"Still don't excuse kids dropping their shorts with no regard for consequences. Get jammed up? No-o-o-o problem. Have an abortion."
Slidell killed the engine and turned the Ray-Bans on me.
"There may be some explanation for Tamela Banks's actions."
I didn't really believe that, had spent all morning taking the opposite position with Tim Larabee. But Slidell was so irritating I found myself playing devil's advocate.
"Right. And the chamber of commerce will probably name her mother of the year."
"Have you met Tamela?" I asked, forcing my voice level.
"No. Have you?"
No. I ignored Slidell's question.
"Have you met any of the Banks family?"
"No, but I took statements from folks who were snorting lines in the next room while Tamela incinerated her kid." Slidell pocketed the keys. "Excusez-moi if I haven't dropped in for tea with the lady and her relations."
"You've never had to deal with any of the Banks kids because they were raised with good, solid values. Gideon Banks is as straitlaced as -- "
"The mutt Tamela's screwing ain't close to straight up."
"The baby's father?"
"Unless Miss Hot Pants was entertaining while Daddy was dealing."
Easy! The man is a cockroach.
"Who is he?"
"His name is Darryl Tyree. Tamela was shacking up in Tyree's little piece of heaven out on South Tryon."
"Tyree sells drugs?"
"And we're not talking the Eckerd's pharmacy." Slidell hit the door handle and got out.
I bit back a response. One hour. It's over.
A stab of guilt. Over for me, but what about Gideon Banks? What about Tamela and her dead baby?
I joined Slidell on the sidewalk.
"Je-zus. It's hot enough to burn a polar bear's butt."
"I should be at the beach."
Yes, I thought. Under four tons of sand.
I followed Slidell up a narrow walk littered with fresh-mown grass to a small cement stoop. He pressed a thumb to a rusted button beside the front door, dug a hanky from his back pocket, and wiped his face.
Slidell knocked on a wooden portion of the screen door.
Slidell knocked again. His forehead glistened and his hair was separating into wet clumps.
"Police, Mr. Banks."
Slidell banged with the heel of his hand. The screen door rattled in its frame.
Condensation dripped from a window AC to the left of the door. A lawn mower whined in the distance. Hip-hop drifted from somewhere up the block.
Slidell banged again. A dark crescent winked from his gray polyester armpit.
The AC's compressor kicked on. A dog barked.
Slidell yanked the screen.
Pounded on the wooden door.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
Released the screen. Barked his demand.
"Police! Anyone there?"
Across the street, a curtain flicked, dropped back into place.
Copyright © 2003 by Temperance Brennan, L.P.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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