Fallen Page 1

Author: Karin Slaughter

Series: Will Trent #5

Genres: Mystery , Thriller


FAITH MITCHELL DUMPED THE CONTENTS OF HER PURSE ONTO the passenger seat of her Mini, trying to find something to eat. Except for a furry piece of gum and a peanut of dubious origin, there was nothing remotely edible. She thought about the box of nutrition bars in her kitchen pantry, and her stomach made a noise that sounded like a rusty hinge groaning open.

The computer seminar she’d attended this morning was supposed to last three hours, but that had stretched into four and a half thanks to the jackass in the front row who kept asking pointless questions. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation trained its agents more often than any other agency in the region. Statistics and data on criminal activities were constantly being drummed into their heads. They had to be up to date on all of the latest technology. They had to qualify at the range twice a year. They ran mock raids and active shooter simulations that were so intense that for weeks after, Faith couldn’t go to the bathroom in the middle of the night without checking shadows in doorways. Usually, she appreciated the agency’s thoroughness. Today, all she could think about was her four-month-old baby, and the promise Faith had made to her mother that she would be back no later than noon.

The clock on the dash read ten after one o’clock when she started the car. Faith mumbled a curse as she pulled out of the parking lot in front of the Panthersville Road headquarters. She used Bluetooth to dial her mother’s number. The car speakers gave back a static-y silence. Faith hung up and dialed again. This time, she got a busy signal.

Faith tapped her finger on the steering wheel as she listened to the bleating. Her mother had voicemail. Everybody had voicemail. Faith couldn’t remember the last time she’d heard a busy signal on the telephone. She had almost forgotten the sound. There was probably a crossed wire somewhere at the phone company. She hung up and tried the number a third time.

Still busy.

Faith steered with one hand as she checked her BlackBerry for an email from her mother. Before Evelyn Mitchell retired, she had been a cop for just shy of four decades. You could say a lot about the Atlanta force, but you couldn’t claim they were behind the times. Evelyn had carried a cell phone back when they were more like purses you strapped around your shoulder. She’d learned how to use email before her daughter had. She’d carried a BlackBerry for almost twelve years.

But she hadn’t sent a message today.

Faith checked her cell phone voicemail. She had a saved message from her dentist’s office about making an appointment to get her teeth cleaned, but there was nothing new. She tried her phone at home, thinking maybe her mother had gone there to pick up something for the baby. Faith’s house was just down the road from Evelyn’s. Maybe Emma had run out of diapers. Maybe she’d needed another bottle. Faith listened to the phone ring at her house, then heard her own voice answer, telling callers to leave a message.

She ended the call. Without thinking, she glanced into the back seat. Emma’s empty car seat was there. She could see the pink liner sticking out over the top of the plastic.

“Idiot,” Faith whispered to herself. She dialed her mother’s cell phone number. She held her breath as she counted through three rings. Evelyn’s voicemail picked up.

Faith had to clear her throat before she could speak. She was aware of a tremor in her tone. “Mom, I’m on my way home. I guess you took Em for a walk …” Faith looked up at the sky as she merged onto the interstate. She was about twenty minutes outside of Atlanta and could see fluffy white clouds draped like scarves around the skinny necks of skyscrapers. “Just call me,” Faith said, worry needling the edge of her brain.

Grocery store. Gas station. Pharmacy. Her mother had a car seat identical to the one in the back of Faith’s Mini. She was probably out running errands. Faith was over an hour late. Evelyn would’ve taken the baby and … Left Faith a message that she was going to be out. The woman had been on call for the majority of her adult life. She didn’t go to the toilet without letting someone know. Faith and her older brother, Zeke, had joked about it when they were kids. They always knew where their mother was, even when they didn’t want to. Especially when they didn’t want to.

Faith stared at the phone in her hand as if it could tell her what was going on. She was aware that she might be letting herself get worked up over nothing. The landline could be out. Her mother wouldn’t know this unless she tried to make a call. Her cell phone could be switched off, or charging, or both. Her BlackBerry could be in her car or her purse or somewhere she couldn’t hear the telltale vibration. Faith glanced back and forth between the road and her BlackBerry as she typed an email to her mother. She spoke the words aloud as she typed—

“On-my-way. Sorry-I’m-late. Call-me.”

She sent the email, then tossed the phone onto the seat along with the spilled items from her purse. After a moment’s hesitation, Faith popped the gum into her mouth. She chewed as she drove, ignoring the purse lint clinging to her tongue. She turned on the radio, then snapped it back off. The traffic thinned as she got closer to the city. The clouds moved apart, sending down bright rays of sunshine. The inside of the car began to bake.

Ten minutes out, Faith’s nerves were still on edge, and she was sweating from the heat in the car. She cracked the sunroof to let in some air. This was probably a simple case of separation anxiety. She’d been back at work for a little over two months, but still, every morning when Faith left Emma at her mother’s, she felt something akin to a seizure take hold. Her vision blurred. Her heart shook in her chest. Her head buzzed as if a million bees had flown into her ears. She was more irritable than usual at work, especially with her partner, Will Trent, who either had the patience of Job or was setting up a believable alibi for when he finally snapped and strangled her.

Faith couldn’t recall if she had felt this same anxiety with Jeremy, her son, who was now a freshman in college. Faith had been eighteen when she entered the police academy. Jeremy was three years old by then. She had grabbed onto the idea of joining the force as if it was the only life preserver left on the Titanic. Thanks to two minutes of poor judgment in the back of a movie theater and what foreshadowed a lifetime of breathtakingly bad taste in men, Faith had gone straight from puberty to motherhood without any of the usual stops in between. At eighteen, she had relished the idea of earning a steady paycheck so that she could move out of her parents’ house and raise Jeremy the way that she wanted. Going to work every day had been a step toward independence. Leaving him in day care had seemed like a small price to pay.

Now that Faith was thirty-four, with a mortgage, a car payment, and another baby to raise on her own, she wanted nothing more than to move back into her mother’s house so that Evelyn could take care of everything. She wanted to open the refrigerator and see food that she didn’t have to buy. She wanted to turn on the air conditioner in the summer without worrying about having to pay the bill. She wanted to sleep until noon, then watch TV all day. Hell, while she was at it, she might as well resurrect her father, who’d died eleven years ago, so that he could make her pancakes at breakfast and tell her how pretty she was.

No chance of that now. Evelyn seemed happy to play the role of nanny in her retirement, but Faith was under no illusion that her life was going to get any easier. Her own retirement was almost twenty years away. The Mini had another three years of payments and would be out of warranty well before that. Emma would expect food and clothing for at least the next eighteen years, if not more. And it wasn’t like when Jeremy was a baby and Faith could dress him in mismatched socks and yard sale hand-me-downs. Babies today had to coordinate. They needed BPA-free bottles and certified organic applesauce from kindly Amish farmers. If Jeremy got into the architectural program at Georgia Tech, Faith was looking at six more years of buying books and doing his laundry. Most worryingly, her son had found a serious girlfriend. An older girlfriend with curvy hips and a ticking biological clock. Faith could be a grandmother before she turned thirty-five.

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