The Butterfly Garden

Page 55

But it is, so he stays silent.

They walk out of the garage to the main entrance, the agents flanking the girl protectively, and the lights and sounds rise to a fever pitch. The girl ignores them with grave dignity, staring straight ahead, refusing to even listen to the questions, much less answer them. There are barricades to keep everyone back from the path to the hospital, with local police manning them. They’re almost to the doors when one enterprising woman crawls under the barricade and between an officer’s legs, her microphone cord trailing behind her.

“What is your name? Are you one of the victims?” she demands, waving her mic in front of her.

The girl doesn’t answer, doesn’t even look at her, and Victor signals for the officer to take the woman away.

“With a tragedy such as this, you owe the public the full story!”

Her thumb still rubs thoughtfully against the little blue dragon, but she turns to look at the reporter, who struggles against the officer’s grip on her arms. “I think if you actually knew anything about the case you’re claiming to report,” she says softly, “you’d have better sense than to suggest I owe anyone a thing.” She nods to the officer and resumes her progress to the sliding doors. Cries follow her, those closest to the door asking after missing girls, but everything fades to a dull roar when the doors hiss shut behind them.

Eddison actually grins at the girl. “I was expecting you to tell her to fuck off.”

“I thought about it,” she admits. “Then I remembered that you two were likely to be in the frame, and I didn’t want Hanoverian’s mother to wash his ears out for hearing such filthy language.”

“Yeah, yeah, come on, children.”

For a hospital, there’s a significant police presence, even in the main lobby. FBI, local police, representatives from other police departments, child services, all of them talking on phones or clicking away on laptops or tablets. Those not tied into the technology are dealing with something far more difficult: the families.

As Eddison drops their empty cups into the bin by the doors, Victor waves to the third member of their team, seated beside a couple in their mid-thirties. Ramirez nods but doesn’t take her arm from around the shoulders of the exhausted woman next to her. “Inara, this is—”

“Agent Ramirez,” Inara finishes for him. “We met before I got taken away. She promised to keep the doctors from being assholes.”

Victor winces.

Ramirez smiles. “Overbearing,” she corrects. “I promised to try to keep them from being overbearing. Though I think you were Maya then.”

“I was. Am.” She shakes her head. “It’s complicated.”

“These are Keely’s parents,” says Ramirez, gesturing to the couple.

“She keeps asking for you,” says Keely’s father. He’s pale and red-eyed but he offers his hand to shake. She holds up her burned, gashed hands in silent apology. “I understand you helped protect her once she was there?”

“I tried,” she hedges. “Not that she’s lucky to have been there, but it’s fortunate she wasn’t there long.”

“We were going to have her moved to a private room,” his wife adds through a sniffle. She clutches a Hello Kitty backpack and a handful of tissues. “She’s so young, and the questions the doctors are asking are so personal.” She trails off into her tissues, and her husband picks up the thread.

“She panicked, said if she couldn’t have you, she wanted to stay with . . . with . . .”

“Danelle and Bliss?”

“Yes. I don’t . . . I don’t understand why she would . . .”

“This is all an awful lot to take in,” Inara tells them gently. “It’s frightening. Keely wasn’t in there long, but for those couple of days, she wasn’t alone. The three of us were with her the entire time, and often some of the other girls as well. It’s comforting to be with people who know exactly what you’ve gone through. It’ll get better.” She glances down at the dragon in her hand. “It’s not that she’s not over the moon to see you; she is. She missed you terribly. But being alone in a room right now is . . . likely to cause her panic. Just be patient with her.”

“What did they do to our little girl?”

“She’ll tell you that as she can. Just be patient with her,” she repeats. “And I’m sorry, I know you must have a million questions and concerns, but I really need to go check on the others, including Keely.”

“Right, right, of course.” Keely’s father clears his throat several times. “Thank you for helping her.”

His wife stands and embraces the startled girl, who throws a wary look at the grinning Victor. When he makes no move to help, she grimaces and gently pulls away from the woman’s arms. “How many other parents are here?” she mutters as they walk away.

“About half of the survivors, with a few more on the way,” Ramirez answers, jogging to catch up with them by the elevators. “They haven’t notified any of the parents of the dead girls yet; they want to be absolutely sure it’s them.”

“That would be good, yes.”

“Agent Ramirez!” calls a strident voice, followed by the swift clicks of heels on tile.

Victor groans. They were so close to passing unnoticed.

But he turns, along with his partners, to face the approaching woman. Inara just keeps looking at the screen above the elevator, watching the numbers descend.

Senator Kingsley is an elegant woman in her fifties, her black hair arranged around her face to give an impression of softness that her severe expression counteracts. She still looks fresh despite having been at the hospital since last night. Her crisp red suit is striking against her dark skin, the small American flag pin on her lapel nearly drowned by the color. “This is her, then?” she demands, stopping in front of them. “This is the girl you’ve been hiding?”

“We’ve been interviewing her, Senator, not hiding her,” Victor says mildly. He reaches out to grip Inara’s shoulder, gently but firmly turning her around.

Inara’s eyes flick over the woman. She musters a smile so obviously fake it makes him wince. “You must be Ravenna’s mother.”

“Her name,” the senator says tightly, “is Patrice.”

“It was,” Inara agrees. “And it will be. Right now it’s still Ravenna. Outside isn’t real yet.”

“And just what the hell does that mean?”

The smile disappears. Inara’s thumb rubs against the sad dragon. After a moment, she straightens and looks the woman in the eye. “It means you’re too real for her to handle yet. The past two days have been too much. We’ve spent so long living in someone else’s terrible fantasy that we don’t know how to be real anymore. It’ll come, in time, but your real is very . . .” She glances at the knot of aides and staff members hovering a respectful distance away. “Very public,” she says finally. “If you can get rid of the entourage, maybe it’ll be easier for her.”

“We’re just trying to get to the bottom of this.”

“Isn’t that the FBI’s job?”

The senator stares at her. “She’s my daughter. I’m not just going to sit by and watch—”

“Like every other parent?”

Victor winces again.

“You stand for the law, Senator. Sometimes that means standing back to let it work.”

Eddison spins to hit the call button for the elevator again. Victor can see his shoulders shaking.

But Inara isn’t done yet. “Sometimes it means being mother or senator, not both. I think she’d like to see her mother, but with what she’s been through, the adjustments she’ll have to make, I don’t think she can handle the senator. Now, if you’ll please excuse us, we need to check in on Ravenna and the others.” The elevator dings and she steps through as soon as the doors open. Ramirez and Eddison join her.

Victor waves them up. The senator may be speechless for the moment, but that never seems to last long.

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