Broken Page 1

Author: Karin Slaughter

Series: Will Trent #4

Genres: Mystery , Thriller

ALLISON SPOONER WANTED TO LEAVE TOWN FOR THE HOLIDAY, but there was nowhere to go. There was no reason to stay here, either, but at least it was cheaper. At least she had a roof over her head. At least the heat in her crappy apartment occasionally worked. At least she could eat a hot meal at work. At least, at least, at least … Why was her life always about the least of things? When was there going to come a time when it started being about the most?

The wind picked up and she clenched her fists in the pockets of her light jacket. It wasn’t so much raining as misting down a cold wetness, like walking around inside a dog’s nose. The icy chill coming off Lake Grant made it worse. Every time the breeze picked up, she felt as if tiny, dull razors were slicing through her skin. This was supposed to be south Georgia, not the freaking South Pole.

As she struggled for her footing along the tree-lined shores, it seemed like every wave that lapped the mud brought the temperature down another degree. She wondered if her flimsy shoes would be enough to keep her toes from getting frostbite. She had seen a guy on TV who’d lost all his fingers and toes to the cold. He’d said he was grateful to be alive, but people will say anything to get on TV. The way Allison’s life was going right now, the only program she’d end up on was the nightly news. There’d be a picture—probably that awful one from her high school yearbook—beside the words “Tragic Death.”

The irony was not lost on Allison that she would be more important to the world if she were dead. No one gave a crap about her now—the meager living she was scraping out, the constant struggle of keeping up with her classes while juggling all the other responsibilities in her life. None of it would matter to anybody unless she turned up frozen on the lakeshore.

The wind picked up again. Allison turned her back to the cold, feeling its freezing fingers probe her rib cage, squeeze her lungs. A shiver racked her body. Her breath was a cloud in front of her. She closed her eyes. She chanted her problems through chattering teeth.

Jason. School. Money. Car. Jason. School. Money. Car.

The mantra continued well past the penetrating gust. Allison opened her eyes. She turned around. The sun was going down faster than she’d thought. She turned around, facing the college. Should she go back? Or should she go forward?

She chose to go forward, tucking her head down against the howling wind.

Jason. School. Money. Car.

Jason: Her boyfriend had turned into an asshole, seemingly overnight.

School: She was going to flunk out of college if she didn’t find more time to study.

Money: She wasn’t going to be able to live, let alone go to school, if she cut back any more hours at work.

Car: Her car had started smoking this morning when she cranked it up, which was no big deal since it had been smoking for months, but this time the smoke was on the inside, coming through the heating vents. She’d nearly suffocated driving to school.

Allison trudged along, adding “frostbite” to her list as she rounded the bend in the lake. Every time she blinked, it felt like her eyelids were cutting through thin sheets of ice.

Jason. School. Money. Car. Frostbite.

The frostbite fear seemed more immediate, though she was reluctant to admit that the more she worried about it, the warmer she felt. Maybe her heart was beating faster or her walking pace was picking up as the sun began to set and she realized that all of her whining about dying in the cold might come true if she didn’t hurry the hell up.

Allison reached out, bracing herself against a tree so that she could pick her way past a tangle of roots that dipped into the water. The bark was wet and spongy under her fingertips. A customer had sent back a hamburger at lunch today because he said the bun was too spongy. He was a big, gruff man in full hunting gear, not the sort of guy you’d expect to use a delicate word like “spongy.” He had flirted with her and she had flirted back, and then when he left there was a fifty-cent tip on his ten-dollar meal. He’d actually winked at her as he walked out the door, like he was doing her a favor.

She wasn’t sure how much more of this she could take. Maybe her grandmother had been right. Girls like Allison didn’t go to college. They found work at the tire factory, met a guy, got pregnant, got married, had a couple of more kids, then got divorced, sometimes in that order, sometimes not. If she was lucky, the guy didn’t beat her much.

Was that the kind of life Allison wanted for herself? It was the kind of life that was written in her blood. Her mother had lived it. Her grandmother had lived it. Her aunt Sheila had lived it until she pulled a shotgun on her uncle Boyd and nearly took his head off. All three of the Spooner women had at some point or another thrown away everything for a worthless man.

Allison had watched it happen to her mother so often that by the time Judy Spooner was in the hospital for the last time, every bit of her insides eaten away from the cancer, all Allison could reflect on was the waste of her mother’s life. She’d even looked wasted. At thirty-eight years old, her hair was thinning and nearly all gray. Her skin was faded. Her hands were clawed from working at the tire factory—picking tires off the belt, pressure-testing them, putting them back on the belt, then picking up the next tire, then again and again, over two hundred times a day, so that every joint in her body ached by the time she crawled into bed at night. Thirty-eight years old and she welcomed the cancer. Welcomed the relief.

One of the last things Judy had told Allison was that she was glad to be dying, glad that she didn’t have to be alone anymore. Judy Spooner believed in heaven and redemption. She believed that one day streets of gold and many mansions would replace her gravel drive and trailer-park existence. All Allison believed was that she had never been enough for her mother. Judy’s glass was perpetually half empty, and all the love Allison poured into her over the years would never fill her mother up.

Judy was too far drawn into the muck. The muck of her dead-end job. The muck of one worthless man after another. The muck of a baby holding her down.

College was going to be Allison’s salvation. She was good at science. Looking at her family, it made no sense, but somehow she understood how chemicals worked. She understood at a basic level the synthesis of macromolecules. Her grasp of synthetic polymers came hand in glove. Most important, she knew how to study. She knew that somewhere on earth, there was always a book with an answer in it, and the best way to find that answer was to read every book you could get your hands on.

By her senior year in high school, she had managed to stay away from the boys and the drinking and the meth that had ruined just about every girl her age in her small hometown of Elba, Alabama. She wasn’t going to end up being one of those soulless, washed-out girls who worked the night shift and smoked Kools because they were elegant. She wasn’t going to end up with three kids by three different men before she hit thirty. She wasn’t going to ever wake up one morning unable to open her eyes because some man’s fist had beaten them shut the night before. She wasn’t going to end up dead and alone in a hospital bed like her mother.

At least that’s what she’d been thinking when she left Elba three years ago. Mr. Mayweather, her science teacher, had pulled every string he could grab to get her enrolled in a good college. He wanted her to get as far away from Elba as possible. He wanted her to have a future.

Grant Tech was in Georgia, and it wasn’t far away in miles so much as far away in feeling. The college was enormous compared to her high school, which had a graduating class of twenty-nine people. Allison had spent her first week on campus wondering how it was possible to be in love with a place. Her classes were filled with kids who had grown up with opportunities, who’d never considered not going to college straight out of high school. None of her fellow students snickered when she raised her hand to answer a question. They didn’t think you were selling out if you actually listened to the teacher, tried to learn something other than how to give yourself French tips or weave extensions into your hair.

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