"The police think that they might have been forced into another car, maybe with a weapon," Steve said.
She was shaking her head over and over. "I can't bear the thought of someone pointing a gun at them. I just can't think who would have done such a thing."
He patted her shoulder. "Barb, maybe you better wait out in the other room, while I finish talking to Ms. Blake, here."
She was still shaking her head. "No, no, she's going to help us. She's going to bring Stevie back, and he can tell us who did this to him and to Cathy, and it'll be all better. We need to know who could do such a horrible thing." She looked up at me, and her eyes cleared for a moment. "Stevie and Cathy would not have gotten into a car with strangers. We'd talked about it. He knew that if someone pointed a gun at him and tried to force him into a car that they wouldn't let him live. We've talked about that since he was a little boy." Her breath caught, but she didn't cry, not yet. "I know he would have done what I'd told him to do. He would have grabbed Cathy and run into the woods. The car was parked right next to the woods. They could have hidden in there. It had to be someone he knew, or she knew. It had to be someone we know, Ms. Blake," she said, changing her tune from a minute ago. "Our beautiful boy was taken away by one of the people that have been over to our house, eating our food, giving us flowers. Someone we know is a monster and we didn't know it." There, that was the true horror. Not just that her son and his girlfriend had been murdered, but the murderer had to be someone Barbara and Steve Brown knew.
What must it be like to stare into the faces of your friends, your children's friends, and wonder, was it you? Or you? Which one of you did it?
I couldn't even argue with her, because you are more than 80 percent more likely to be killed by someone you know than by a stranger. An ugly statistic, but true.
"You say 'monster.' Do you mean just that they could kill your son, or something about how it was done?" Maybe it had been something supernatural. Maybe there was more than one reason they'd come to me. I could hope there was something I could do for them.
She put her hands over her face and started to cry, not quietly either.
Steve Brown spoke over her sobs, as if he'd heard them before. "What was done to them, Ms. Blake, what was done to them was monstrous." He didn't look like a man who'd had to say monstrous a lot in his life. I didn't think it was a word he'd chosen lightly.
Barbara Brown was rocking back and forth, back and forth, while she wept. Her sobs must have been as loud as I thought they were, because the phone on my desk rang.
I jumped, but got it. It was Mary, our very good secretary. "Is everything alright?"
"No," I said.
"Do you need me to pretend you have another client?"
"Fifteen minutes," I said.
"Or sooner if it gets louder?" Mary asked.
"Yes, that would be fine." I hung up, promising myself to send Mary flowers, or chocolates, or both.
Steve Brown was trying to calm his wife. She'd stopped rocking and was leaning in against him. The sobs had quieted, a little. When her blue eyes turned to me again, they contained that promise of violence again. If she knew who had done it, I wasn't sure what she'd do to them. Looking into her eyes, I wasn't at all certain that she'd wait for a judge and jury.
She spoke very fast, her words almost sliding into one another, "They raped Cathy, raped her, and they mutilated Stevie, they cut..." She just stopped talking, her hands pressed over her mouth, eyes impossibly wide. There wasn't a lot of sanity left in that look.
I kept my eyes on her, while I asked Steve Brown, "So someone gave them a lift after they had car trouble, and then..."
"They found them in a shed in the woods," he said, "and they'd raped them both." He said in such a quiet voice, no change of inflection, as if he felt nothing when he said it, and maybe he didn't, not up where he was aware of it anyway. He'd had to push his pain underground, as far as he could shove it, because Barbara's pain was more important than his, more all-consuming.
"They cut him..." He almost broke then, but he rallied, and I watched him fight his face to hold it all together. "They castrated him." One of his eyes gave an involuntary flutter. "While he was still alive." His voice had gotten softer.
"The police never found it," she said, and her voice was shrill, "they can't find it. The monsters took a piece of him away, and the police can't find it. We had to bury him without it. They took it, and we couldn't get it back for him." Her voice was growing louder and louder, not exactly a scream, but not far from it. The shrill edge of hysteria was in full cry. "They didn't take anything from Cathy. Why didn't they cut her up? Why just Stevie? Why that? Why did they take that? Why that?"
If I'd had a dart gun full of Valium, I'd have used it. But I didn't. It was awful, horrible, but I couldn't fix this for them, and I really didn't need another nightmare to add to my list. I couldn't help them. It was a human monster, and I wasn't an expert on that kind of monster.
I finally went with that. "Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Brown, Barbara!" I yelled it, and it didn't phase her. She was gone, gone into her pain, her sorrow, her loss. I was yelling, but there was no one home to hear me.
Mary opened the door and said something twice before I could hear it over Mrs. Brown's voice. "Your next client is here, Anita. You've gone fifteen minutes over already." Mary was looking at me, but her eyes were a little wide. She'd been a secretary and law clerk once for a criminal attorney, so she'd seen grieving and hysterical clients before, but either this was a new variety, or Mary didn't like it any better than I did.
"I'll use one of the other offices, Mr. Brown. I'll give you and your wife a few minutes to collect yourselves."
Barbara Brown ran to me. "Please, Ms. Blake, please, please help us." She grabbed the front of my jacket. Her hand brushed the butt of my gun, and that made her pause, but only for a second. Then she wadded her hands tight in the cloth of my jacket. If she'd been a man, she might have jerked me into her, but she didn't. She just clung to me, and begged, "Please, Steve show her the check."
"Barbara, she's not going to help us."
She dug her hands tighter into my jacket, making fists of the cloth. It was a girl's jacket, not a man's, and there just wasn't enough material to treat it that roughly. It pulled my shoulders forward and was limiting my mobility, and she'd made it impossible for me to go for my gun. I didn't believe she was going to get so out of hand that I'd need the gun, but it was standard policy for me. No one got to compromise my gun, no one. The trouble was, I couldn't figure a way to get free of her without hurting her physically. And I didn't want to do that.
"Steve, show her the check." She was so close to me, that it was strangely intimate, close enough to kiss, too close to fight.
"Show me whatever she wants me to see, Mr. Brown," I kept my voice calm, no anger, no hint of what I was thinking, which was get her the f**k off me. I wasn't unsympathetic, but a stranger had breached my personal space, and I never liked that.
His face was all apology as he drew something out of the inner breast pocket of his suit coat. It was one of those oversized checks, a cashier's check. He held it up so I could see it clearly. The check was for a hundred and thirty thousand dollars, payable to cash.
"Take the check, Ms. Blake, we'll sign it over to you, now, today. Right now."
I shook my head and put my hands gently over hers, I was going to have to get her off me. "I can't take your money, Mrs. Brown." I tried to pry her hands away, but she gripped them tighter. The jacket was going to be permanently wrinkled.
"It's our life savings, but we could refinance the house. We could get you more." Her eyes were so bright right next to mine. Again that unnatural brightness, and I wondered if she was on something, something prescribed. If it was prescribed, then it was the wrong medication.
I couldn't get her hands off of me without hurting her, and I still wasn't willing to do that. I patted her hands, I'd try to be friendly. "It isn't a matter of money, Mrs. Brown. If I could raise your son and find out who did this, I would. Honest to God, I would, but it doesn't work like that."
Nathaniel was at the door. He gave me a look, like is there anything I can do? I couldn't think of anything, so I gave a small shake of my head.