"I suggest you talk to his teachers." He manages to start again. "See if everything was jake at school. Ask his friends . . ."
"Fine, we will, but . . ." Paul offers.
"Anything you do along those lines will save us legwork." Pomeroy taps a silver pen against the edge of the desk.
"What are you going to do? What about issuing an alert?"
"We have. We've passed around the information. Okay, ma'am. We'll open it up wide. We'll set up on your house. Your place of business, too. I'll put officers out in the neighborhood canvassing door to door. And I want you to call in the minute your son shows up"Pomeroy leads them out of the glass-walled office"because he's going to." Pomeroy smiles reassuringly. "He's going to." And he shuts the door behind them.
"That man is not going to help us." Carol's words come, grim. Paul says nothing.
The seasonal switch has been made to Eastern Standard Time, and darkness is coming early in Indiana. The Buick drives up. After long hours of looking, of hanging flyers, Paul steps out of the car, the way he has so many times after picking Jamie up from soccer practice. Paul stands on the driver's side. Carol, after an afternoon of waiting by the phone, appears in the front door. She shakes her head. In the setting sun, Paul is a handsome, still-young father. He appraises his home of comfort, his still-young wife before it. A police cruiser is parked at the curb. He walks toward the house and she crosses toward him. They come together and cling to each other in the driveway, neither sure what they're holding on to now. The sun drops below the trees.
Paul eats a bleak dinner of cold cereal. Rigged to the phone is a trace/recording device monitored by the two patrolmen outside in their cruiser. Carol sits in a trancelike state next to him. A scratching is heard at the kitchen door. Carol gets up and lets Tater in. His mouth drips blood. She gets a dish towel and wipes him clean. He is uninjuredthe blood belongs to something elseand he rumbles off into the living room, excited at the smell of the police sniffer dogs that have been through the house all afternoon. Paul shakes more Lucky Charms into his bowl and the prize falls out.
"He was waiting for this. I'll save it for him." He puts it aside on the table and breaks down, his shoulders shaking with sobs.
Carol stands across the kitchen. She doesn't go to him. After some time he stops.
"Let's just go up to bed." He stands. Maybe we'll wake up tomorrow and find out this was all a bad dream, he wants to say, but does not.
Paul crosses to the staircase. Carol goes to the wall and turns on the living room and porch lights.
"Let's leave these on in case." She follows him up the stairs.
The door swings open, throwing light onto the mattress, which the boy has pulled off the bed and angled against the wall over himself like a protective lean-to. Rooster offhandedly tosses a grease-soaked fast-food bag into the room and sniffs to himself at the attempted defense. Never seen that one before. As if it'd work. He slams the door behind him. Again the room is awash in darkness.
Paul lies on his back in the darkened bedroom, unfeeling of the mattress beneath him. He floats in space defined only by his misery. Grief that he could never have imagined surrounds him and tears at him from every direction. Circumstances pulverize him, sap him motionless in the dark. A dull rumbling sound filters in from the bathroom. There, sitting in a filling tub, Carol thinks of Jamie when he was a three-year-old playing the Down the Drain game, an amusement of his own invention. Better get the plumber, Mommy, I'm gone. I'm down the drain. . . . Carol's pale back shakes. The water pounds and thunders. She realizes the sound isn't the water but her screams.
Published by Doubleday. Copyright © 2008 by Levien Works, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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