The Butterfly Garden

Page 20

It’s enough; the girl sits up in a tangle of hair and blanket, her back against the wall until she identifies Yvonne, standing in the doorway with her hands out and open. They stare at each other until Yvonne tries a small smile. “Good reflexes.”

“He used to stand in the doorways sometimes; he always seemed disappointed if you didn’t realize he was there.” She yawns and stretches, joints popping and cracking from the uncomfortable cot.

“We thought you might appreciate a shower,” says Yvonne, holding out the canvas bag. “We’ve got some clothing that should fit well enough, and some soaps.”

“I could kiss you if I were into that sort of thing.” On her way to the door, she taps against the glass. “Thank you, FBI Special Agent in Charge Victor Hanoverian.”

He laughs but doesn’t try to answer.

While she’s gone, he moves into the interview room to continue parsing through the new information. Another of the girls has died in the night, but the rest are expected to live. Counting Inara, that makes for a total of thirteen. Thirteen survivors. Perhaps fourteen, depending on what she can tell them of the boy. If he’s the Gardener’s son, is he part of what his father and brother did?

She’s still in the locker room when Eddison comes in, cleanly shaven and wearing a suit this time. He drops a box of Danishes on the table. “Where is she?”

“Yvonne has her down at the showers.”

“Think she’ll tell us anything today?”

“In her own way.”

A snort tells him what his partner thinks of that idea.

“Yes, well.” He hands him the stack of papers he’s already gone through, and for a time the only sounds are the shuffling of pages and the occasional slurp of coffee.

“Ramirez says Senator Kingsley has set up camp in the hospital lobby,” Eddison says a few minutes later.

“Saw that.”

“She says the daughter didn’t want to see the senator; claimed she wasn’t ready.”

“Saw that too.” Victor drops his papers to the table and rubs his eyes. “Can you blame her? She grew up on camera, with everything she did reflecting on her mother. She knows—probably better than any of the others—the media blitz waiting for them. Seeing her mother is the start of that.”

“Ever wonder if we’re really the good guys?”

“Don’t let her get to you.” He grins at his partner’s startled look. “Do we have a perfect job? No. Do we do a perfect job? No. It isn’t possible. But we do our job, and at the end of the day, we do a hell of a lot more good than harm. Inara’s good at deflecting; you can’t let her get under your skin.”

Eddison reads another report before saying anything. “Patrice Kingsley—Ravenna—told Ramirez she wants to talk to Maya before making a decision about her mother.”

“Wanting advice? Or someone to make the decision for her?”

“Didn’t say. Vic . . .”

Victor waits him out.

“How do we know she isn’t like Lorraine? She took care of these girls. How do we know it wasn’t to please the Gardener?”

“We don’t,” admits Vic. “Yet. One way or the other, we’ll find out.”

“Before we die of old age?”

The senior agent rolls his eyes and turns back to his papers.

It’s a different girl who finally reenters with Yvonne, her hair combed in a straight fall to her hips. The jeans don’t quite fit, tight across her hips with the buttons undone to give a little more space, but the layered edges of the tank tops mostly cover that, and the mossy green sweater hugs soft curves. Thin flip-flops slap quietly against the floor as she walks. The bandages are off and Victor winces at the purple-red burns that wrap around her hands, marked through with gashes from glass and debris from their escape.

She follows his gaze to her hands and holds them up for further inspection as she drops into her seat at the far side of the table. “They feel worse than they look, but the doctors said as long as I’m not stupid, I shouldn’t see any loss of function.”

“How is the rest of you?”

“There are some lovely bruises and the stitches are a little pink and tender around the edges, but not really swollen. A doctor should probably give them a look-see at some point. But, you know, I’m alive, which is more than I can say about a lot of people I know.”

She’s expecting him to start out with the boy. He can see it in her face, in the tension in her shoulders, in the way her fingertips press over the scabs on the opposite hand. She’s prepared for that. So instead, he pushes across the remaining cup—hot chocolate rather than coffee, given her distaste for it yesterday—and opens the tinfoil wrapping on the rolls. He hands one to Yvonne, who murmurs a thank-you and retreats to the observation room.

Inara’s brows pull together at the sight, her head tilting like a bird’s as she studies the contents. “What kind of bakery wraps things in aluminum?”

“The bakery known as my mother.”

“Your mother made your breakfast?” Her mouth moves in something that might be a smile with less shock. “Did she make your lunch in a little brown sack, too?”

“Even wrote a note, telling me to make good choices today,” he lies with a straight face, and she rolls her lips in to stop the smile from growing. “But you never had that, did you?” he continues more softly.

“Once,” she corrects, and there’s no trace of the humor now. “The couple across the street took me to the bus station, right? She made me a lunch, and inside there was this note, saying how glad they were to know me, how much they’d miss me. Their phone number was there, and they asked me to call them when I got to Gran’s to let them know that I was safe. To call them whenever I wanted, just to talk. They’d signed it with hugs, both of them, and even the baby had a crayon scribble on the bottom.”

“You didn’t call, did you?”

“Once,” she says again, almost a whisper. Her fingertips trace the lines of each cut and gash. “When I got to the station near Gran’s, I called them to tell them I’d gotten there. They asked to speak to Gran, but I said she was arranging for the taxi. They told me to call back as often as I wanted. I stood at the curb of the station, waiting for a taxi, and kept staring at that silly piece of paper. Then I threw it away.”


“Because keeping it felt too much like hurting myself.” She sits up in the chair, crossing her legs at the knee, and leans her elbows against the table. “You seem to have this strange image of me as a lost child, like I’ve just been thrown on the side of the road like garbage, or roadkill, but kids like me? We’re not lost. We may be the only ones who never are. We always know exactly where we are and where we can go. And where we can’t.”

Victor shakes his head, unwilling to argue the point but equally incapable of agreeing with it. “Why didn’t the girls in New York report you missing?”

She rolls her eyes. “We didn’t have that kind of relationship.”

“But you were friends.”

“Yes. Friends who were all running from other things. Before I moved in, the bed was vacant because the last girl suddenly picked up and left. Hard on her heels was a pissed-off uncle who wanted to know what she’d done with the baby he’d raped into her three years before. No matter how carefully you hide, there’s always someone who can find you.”

“Only if they’re looking.”

“Or if you’re really just that unlucky.”

“What do you mean?” asks Eddison.

“What, you think I wanted the Gardener to kidnap me? The whole city to disappear in, but he found me.”

“That doesn’t explain—”

“It does,” she says simply. “If you’re a certain kind of person.”

Victor sips his coffee, trying to decide if he should push the conversation in a necessary direction or let it go in what may or may not prove to be a useful one. “What kind of person, Inara?” he prompts eventually.

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