Heidi leaned against the elm and watched them. If I hadn't been looking for the fear, I might not have noticed it. She wore it lightly, a glaze of anxiety, hands knotting then releasing, eyes fixing too intently on the swinging child.
"Thanks for meeting with us, ma'am," said Milo.
"Sure," she said. "My roommate's sleeping, or I would've had you come to my place."
She moistened her lips with her tongue. She wore low-slung jeans, a ribbed white T-shirt with a scalloped neck and high-cut sleeves, blunt-toed brown boots. Her hair was drawn back, just as it had been at Starkweather, but in a ponytail, not a tight bun. Dangling earrings of silver filigree, some eye shadow, a smear of lip gloss. Freckles on her cheeks that I hadn't noticed on the ward. Her nails were clipped short, very clean. The T-shirt was form-fitting. Not much meat on her, but her arms were sinewy.
She cleared her throat, seemed to be working up the courage to speak, just as a tall, thin man with long hair came loping by with a panting mutt. The dog had some Rottweiler in it. The man wore all black and his coarse hair was a dull ebony. He stared at the ground. The dog's nose was down; each step seemed to strain the animal.
Heidi waited until they passed, then smiled nervously. "I'm probably wasting your time."
"If there's anything you can tell me about Dr. Argent, you're not."
Squint lines formed around her eyes, but when she turned to us they disappeared. "Can I ask you one thing first?"
"Claire--Dr. Argent--was anything done to her eyes?"
Milo didn't answer immediately, and she pressed herself against the tree trunk. "There was? Oh my God."
"What about her eyes concerns you, Ms. Ott?"
She shook her head. One hand reached back and tugged her ponytail. The man with the dog was leaving the park. Her eyes followed him for a second before returning to the swinging child. The boy squalled as the young woman pulled him off, struggled to stuff him into a stroller, finally wheeled away.
Just the three of us now, as if a stage had been cleared. I heard birds sing; distant, foreign chatter; some traffic from Fuller Avenue.
Milo was looking at Heidi. I saw his jaw loosen deliberately and he bent one leg, trying to appear casual.
She said, "Okay, this is going to sound weird but . . . three days ago, one of the patients--a patient Dr. Argent worked with--said something to me. The day before Dr. Argent was killed. It was at night, I was double-shifting, doing bed check, and all of a sudden he started talking to me. Which by itself was unusual, he's barely verbal. Didn't talk at all until Dr. Argent and I began--"
She stopped, pulled the ponytail forward so that it rested on her shoulder, played with the ends, squeezed them. "You're going to think I'm flaky."
"Not at all," said Milo. "You're doing exactly the right thing."
"Okay. This is the situation: I'm just about to leave his room and this guy starts mumbling, like he's praying or chanting. I pay attention because he hardly ever talks--never really talks at all. But then he stops and I turn to leave again. Then all of a sudden, he says her name--'Dr. A.' I say, 'Excuse me?' And he repeats it a little louder. 'Dr. A.' I say, 'What about Dr. A?' And he gives this strange smile--till now, he never smiled either--and says, 'Dr. A bad eyes in a box.' I say, 'What?' Now he's back to looking down at his knees the way he always does and he's not saying anything and I can't get him to repeat it. So I leave again and when I reach the door and he makes this sound I've heard him make a few times before--like a bark--ruh ruh ruh. I never knew what it meant but now I get the feeling it's his way of laughing--he's laughing at me. Then he stops, he's back in space, and I'm out of there."
Excerpted from Monster by Jonathan Kellerman. Copyright© 1999 by Jonathan Kellerman. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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