Milo said, " 'Dr. A bad eyes in a box.' Have you told anyone about this?"
"No, just you. I planned to talk to Claire about it, but I never got to see her because the next day . . ." She bit her lip. "The reason I didn't mention it to anyone at the hospital was because I figured it was just crazy talk. If we paid attention every time someone talked crazy, we'd never get any work done. But the next day, when Claire didn't come to work, and later in the afternoon I heard the news, it freaked me out. I still didn't say anything, because I didn't know where to go with it--and what connection could there be? Then when I read the paper and it said she'd been found in her car trunk, I'm like, ' "Boxed up" could be a car trunk, right? This is freaky.' But the paper didn't mention anything about her eyes, so I thought maybe by 'bad eyes' he meant her wearing glasses, it probably was just crazy talk. Although why would he say something about it all of a sudden when usually he doesn't speak at all? So I kept thinking about it, didn't know what to do, but when I saw you yesterday, I figured I should call. And now you're telling me something was done to her eyes."
She exhaled. Licked her lips.
Milo's jaw was too smooth: forced relaxation. "I've heard of Peake."
So had I.
A long time ago. I'd been in grad school--at least fifteen years before.
Heidi Ott's calm was real. She'd been a grade-school kid. Her parents would have shielded her from the details.
I remembered the facts the papers had printed.
A farm town named Treadway, an hour north of L.A. Walnuts and peaches, strawberries and bell peppers. A pretty place, where people still left their doors unlocked. The papers had made a big deal out of that.
Ardis Peake's mother had worked as a maid and cook for one of the town's prominent ranch families. A young couple. Inherited wealth, good looks, a big old frame house, a two-story house--what was their name? Peake's name was immediately familiar. What did that say?
I recalled snippets of biography. Peake, born up north in Oregon, a logging camp, father unknown. His mother had cooked for the tree men.
As far as anyone could tell, she and the boy had drifted up and down the coast for most of Ardis's childhood. No school registrations were ever found, and when Peake and his mother Greyhounded into Treadway, he was nineteen and illiterate, preternaturally shy, obviously different.
Noreen Peake scrubbed tavern floors until landing the job at the ranch. She lived in the main house, in a maid's room off the kitchen, but Ardis was put in a one-room shack behind a peach orchard.
He was gawky, mentally dull, so quiet many townspeople thought him mute. Unemployed, with too much time on his hands, he was ripe for mischief. But his sole offenses were some paint-sniffing incidents out behind the Sinclair store, broad-daylight acts so reckless they confirmed his reputation as retarded. The ranch owners finally gave him a job of sorts: rat catcher, gopher killer, snake butcher. The farm's human terrier.
His territory was the five acres immediately surrounding the house. His task could never be completed, but he took to it eagerly, often working late into the night with pointed stick and poison, sometimes crawling in the dirt--keeping his nose to the ground, literally.
A dog's job assigned to a man, but by all accounts Peake had found his niche.
It all ended on a cool, sweet Sunday morning, two hours before dawn.
His mother was found first, a heavy, wide woman sitting in a faded housedress at the kitchen table, a big plate of Granny Smith apples in front of her, some of them cored and peeled. A sugar bowl, white flour, and a stick of butter on a nearby counter said it would have been a pie-baking day. A pot roast was in the oven and two heads of cabbage had been chopped for coleslaw. Noreen Peake was an insomniac, and all-night cooking sprees weren't uncommon.
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."
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