Mine

Chapter 14

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You're absolutely certain you've never seen the woman beforei

"Yes. Certain."

Did she speak your first or last namei

"No, I don't… no."

Did she speak the baby's namei

"No."

Did she have an accenti

"Southern," Laura said. "But different. Somehow. I don't know." She was answering these questions through a tranquilized haze, and the voice of the police lieutenant named Garrick seemed to be floating to her along an echoing tunnel. Two other men were in the room: Newsome, the craggy-faced chief of security for the hospital, and a younger policeman taking notes. Miriam was being questioned in another room, while Franklin and Doug  -  who'd returned from a drinking bout in a bar near his office  -  were down in the administration office.

Laura had to concentrate hard on what Garrick was asking her. The drugs had done a strange number on her, relaxing her body and tongue while her mind was racing, going up inclines and speeding down into troughs like a runaway roller-coaster.

a southern accenti Different howi

"Not deep south," she said. "Not a Georgia accent."

Could you describe the woman for a police artisti

"I think so. Yes. I can."

Newsome was called out of the room by a third policeman. He returned in a few minutes accompanied by a boyish-looking man in a dark gray suit, a white shirt, and a black tie with tiny white dots on it. There was a hushed conference, Garrick got up from his chair beside the bed, and the new arrival took his place. "Mrs. Claybornei My name is Robert Kirkland." He showed her a laminated identification card. "Federal Bureau of Investigation."

Those words made fresh panic surge through her, but the drugs kept her expression calm and dreamy. Only the wet glint of her eyes betrayed her stark terror. Scenarios of ransom notes and murdered kidnap victims wheeled through her brain like evil constellations. "Please tell me," she said. Her tongue was leaden, the taste of the tranquilizers sour in her mouth. "Please… why did she take my babyi"

Kirkland paused, his pen hovering over a yellow legal pad. He had eyes, Laura thought, that resembled one-way blue glass, giving no hint of what went on within. "The woman was not a nurse at this hospital," he told her. "There's no Janette Leister on staff, and the only person with that last name who worked here was an X-ray technician in 1984." He checked his prewritten notes. "a black male, aged thirty-three, who now resides at 2137 Oakhaven Drive in Conyers." His one-way stare returned to her. "We're checking the records of other hospitals. She may have been a nurse at one time, or she may have simply bought or rented the uniform. We're checking uniform and costume-rental stores, too. If she did rent the uniform and a clerk got her address from her driver's license  -  and it's a correct address  -  we're in luck."

"Then you can find her fast, is that righti You can find her and my babyi"

"We'll act as soon as we get the information." He checked his notes again. "What's working for us here is the woman's size and height, both out of the norm. But bear in mind that the uniform might belong to her, so she wouldn't turn up on a rental list. She might have bought it a year ago, or rented it outside the city."

"But you'll find her, won't youi You won't let her get awayi"

"No ma'am," Kirkland said. "We won't let her get away." He didn't tell her that the woman had been allowed into the hospital by a laundry worker, and evidently had spirited the baby out in a linen hamper. He didn't tell her that there was no description of a car, that the laundress was vague about the woman's face, but that two things stuck out: the woman's six-foot height and the yellow Smiley Face button pinned to her breast pocket. It had occurred to Kirkland that the woman had pinned the button there so it would draw attention away from her own face. She had moved fast and known what she was doing; it was no off-the-street patchwork job. His notes told him she'd been wearing a white uniform with navy blue piping, the same colors as the real nurses wore. That was the uniform they were trying to track down. She had acted, as Miriam Beale had put it, "in charge." The laundress had said "she looked like a nurse and she acted like one, too." The woman must've cased the hospital first, because she'd known how to get in and out in a hurry. But there was an interesting point: the woman had gone to rooms 24 and 23 as well. Had she come expressly for the Clayborne infant, or was she gunning in the dark for a child to steali Was it important that she steal a boyi If so, whyi

Kirkland spent about twenty minutes with Laura, replowing old ground. It was obvious to him that she could offer nothing new. She was drifting in and out of shock, becoming less coherent. Twice she broke into tears, and Kirkland asked Newsome to go get her husband.

"No." The strength and ferocity of her voice surprised him. "I don't want him in here."

On Kirkland's drive to his office, his car phone chirped. "Go ahead," he answered.

It was one of the other agents on the case. a clerk at Costumes atlanta had rented an extra large nurse's uniform  -  solid white, with no navy piping  -  to a "big woman" on Friday afternoon. The address, taken from a Georgia driver's license, was apartment 6, 4408 Sawmill Road in Mableton. The name was Ginger Coles. Kirkland said, "Get me a search warrant and some backup and meet me there." He hung up and turned the Ford around, wipers beating at the steady rain.

Forty minutes later, Kirkland and two more FBI agents were ready to move on apartment 6 in the dismal little complex in Mableton. The clock had ticked past four, the sky plated with low gray clouds. Kirkland checked his service revolver. He'd been sitting in the parking lot watching the door of apartment 6 and had seen no movement, but being less than cautious got you killed. "Let's go," he said over his walkie-talkie, and he got out of his car and walked with the other two men through the rain toward apartment 6.

Kirkland knocked. Waited. Knocked again. No answer. He tried the doorknob. Locked, of course. Who would have the keyi The apartment manageri "Let's try this one," he said, and he went to the next door. Knocked. Waited. Repeated it a little louder. No one homei He tried the knob, and was surprised when the door opened.

"Hello!" he called into the gloom. "anybody in therei" He smelled it, then: the coppery, unmistakable reek of blood. He had no search warrant for this apartment, and walking in would be asking for an ass-rip. But he could see the result of tumult in the place, could look right through into the guts of the bedroom and see the mattress overturned and cotton ticking strewn about. "I'm going in." He went in with his hand on the butt of his gun.

When he emerged less than three minutes later, Robert Kirkland had aged. "Got a homicide in there. Old man in the bathtub with his throat cut." Deep shit, he thought. "We need a key! Find me a manager, fast!"

The manager was not at home. The locked door of apartment 6 stared Kirkland in the face. Kirkland walked back to his car and used the phone to place a call to the metro police. Then he dialed FBI Central in atlanta, requesting information on a Coles, Ginger. The computer came up empty. The name Leister, Janette also drew a blank. Both aliasesi he wondered. Who would need an alias but a fugitivei and what did the old man in the bathtub have to do with the kidnapping of a baby boy from St. James Hospital in Buckheadi

Deep shit, he thought.

Within an hour, as the metro police questioned the other residents of the complex and a specialist team hunted for fingerprints and evidence in the debris, the wind picked up. It swirled around the trash dumpster, and lifted from its depths the crumpled picture of a smiling infant. The wind blew it away from the policemen and the FBI agents, and it floated north on a cold current before it snagged in the pines.

The apartment complex's manager, it was learned from a resident who'd just arrived home, worked at a Kinney's shoe store at a nearby mall. Two policemen were assigned to go get him, and he arrived in their custody around five-thirty to find the place acrawl with officers in dark raincoats. He unlocked the door to Ginger Coles's apartment with a trembling hand, reporters armed with minicams beginning to swoop in like vultures on the death scent.

"Step back," Kirkland told the man. Then he turned the knob and opened the door.

as the door came open, Kirkland heard a small click.

He saw what was waiting for him, and he had a split second to think: Deep sh  -

The picture-wire trigger pull coiled around the doorknob did its work very well. The sawed-off shotgun that had been positioned on a chair, its barrel carefully uptilted, went off with a hollow boom as its trigger was yanked, and the full force of the lead shot almost tore Robert Kirkland in half. The pellets ripped through a second FBI agent's throat and blew the manager's right shoulder apart in a cascade of flesh, blood, and bone for the TV minicams. Kirkland staggered back, minus his heart, lungs, and much of what held him together, and fell in a twitching heap. The policemen hit the wet pavement on their bellies, the reporters yelled and screamed and backed off but not too far away to lose the pictures. Somebody started firing into the apartment, another scared policeman started shooting, too, and in another moment pistols were being emptied through the doorway and windows of apartment 6 as plaster and woodchips danced in the air. "Cease fire! Cease fire!" the remaining FBI agent shouted, and gradually the shooting died down.

Finally, two brave  -  or foolish  -  policemen rushed into the bullet-riddled apartment. a lava lamp had been hit, the glop spattered all over the walls. Open kitchen cupboards, chipped by bullets, were empty. a stereo and a TV remained, along with some records. If the police had known to look, they would have found no Doors albums among them. There were marks on the walls where pictures had been hung, but there were no pictures. In a closet was found a cardboard box filled with mutilated plastic and rubber dolls, and behind that was a boy-sized rifle minus its sight. The closets held no clothes, and the dresser drawers had been emptied.

The ambulances were on the way. Someone had already put a raincoat over Kirkland's corpse. His blood was collecting in a pothole on the pavement, one arm sticking up from the folds of the coat and the fingers curved heavenward into claws. The reporters shoved to get the best camera angles. already, on CNN, the network was about to start a live feed from the Mableton apartments.

Over a hundred miles northeast of atlanta, on Interstate 85, an olive-green Chevy van puttered along at fifty miles an hour in a heavy rain. While her new baby slept in a little cardboard box on the floorboard, wrapped up in his blue blanket, Mary Terror sang "age of aquarius" in a low voice and wondered who would find the pigsticker she'd left cocked and ready in her front door. She was no longer wearing the nurse's uniform; she had changed at the apartment, put the uniform in a trash bag and thrown it over a bridge into a wooded creek, and the name tag had been tossed away twenty miles out of the city. But the pigs would find out where she'd rented the uniform soon enough, and they would have her Ginger Coles name and her address. It couldn't be helped, because she hadn't had time to come up with a false driver's license. No matter; she was leaving the wasp's nest behind her, and she had her baby, and everything would be great when she met Lord Jack at the weeping lady.

a siren. Flashing lights. Mary's heart jumped, and she started to put her foot to the brake, but the highway patrol car pulled past her and disappeared in the swirling rain and mist ahead.

She had a long way to go. She had her fist-sized Magnum and her Colt, and her clothes and groceries in the back. Plenty of diapers, plenty of formula. a plastic thermos she could pee into so she wouldn't have to make any stops. Messy, but adequate. She'd topped the gas tank before leaving atlanta, and she'd checked the tires. She wore her Smiley Face on her paisley-print blouse. She was in high cotton.

Who would find the pigsticker, and wheni she wondered. It would be worth the loss of the shotgun to take down a really big Mindfucker, to blow the shit out of some superpig with medals on his chest. She glanced down at the little pink thing in its cardboard box, and she said, "I love you. Momma loves her baby, yes momma does."

The tires thrummed on the rain-slick interstate. Mary Terror, a careful driver who observed all speed limits and rules of the road, went on.

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