The Silent Wife Page 4

By state law, the GBI was charged with investigating all deaths that happened in custody. The inmates leaving on the transport bus wouldn’t be directly implicated in the murder, but they would’ve played some part in the riot. They were receiving what was called Diesel Therapy. The warden was bussing out the big mouths, the shit-stirrers, the pawns in gang rivalries. Getting rid of trouble-makers was good for the health of the prison, but not so great for the men who were being sent away. They were losing the only place they could call home, heading to a new facility that was far more dangerous than the one they were leaving. It was like starting a new school, but instead of mean girls and bullies, there were rapists and murders.

A metal sign was strapped to the entrance gate. GDOC, Georgia Department of Corrections. Will tossed the empty Goldfish bag into the trashcan by the door. He wiped his hands on his pants to get rid of the yellow dust. Then he swiped at the cheddar palmprints until they looked less indecent.

The camera was two inches from the top of Will’s head. He had to step back to show his credentials. A loud buzz and a click later, he was inside the building. He stored his gun in a locker and pocketed the key. Then he had to take the key out of his pocket along with everything else so he could go through the security line. He was ushered through the sally port by a silent corrections officer who used his chin to communicate: ’Sup bro, your partner’s down the hall, follow me.

The CO shuffled instead of walking, a habit that came with the job. No need to hurry when the place you were going to looked exactly like the place you were leaving.

The prison sounded like a prison. Inmates were screaming, banging their bars, protesting the lockdown and/or the general injustices of humanity. Will loosened his tie as they went deeper into the bowels of the facility. Sweat rolled down his neck. Prisons were by design difficult to cool and heat. The wide, long hallways and sharp corners. The cinderblock walls and linoleum floors. The fact that every cell had an open sewer for a toilet and every man inside was generating enough flop sweat to turn the gentle flow of the Chattahoochee River into level six rapids.

Faith was waiting for him outside a closed door. Her head was down as she scribbled in her notebook. Her chattiness made her very good at her job. She’d been busy gathering information while Will was cheddaring his pants.

She nodded to the silent CO, who took his place on the other side of the door, then told Will, “The murdered inmate is in the cafeteria. Amanda just pulled up. She wants to see the crime scene before she talks to the warden. Six agents from the North Georgia field office have been screening suspects for the last three hours. We’re batting clean-up once they get a viable list of suspects. Sara says she’s ready when we are.”

Will looked through the window in the door.

Sara Linton was standing in the middle of the cafeteria dressed in a white Tyvek suit. Her long auburn hair was tucked up under a blue baseball cap. She was a medical examiner with the GBI. This recent development had made Will extremely happy until approximately six weeks ago. She was talking to Charlie Reed, the GBI’s chief crime tech. He was kneeling down to photograph a bloody shoe print. Gary Quintana, Sara’s assistant, was holding a ruler near the print to provide a reference for scale.

Sara looked tired. She had been processing the scene for the last four hours. Will was out on his morning run when the call had pulled Sara out of bed. She had left him a note with a heart drawn in the corner.

He had stared at that heart for longer than he would admit to any living person.

Faith said, “Okay, so, the riot kicked off two days ago. Eleven fifty-eight on Saturday morning.”

Will pulled his attention away from Sara. He waited for Faith to continue.

She said, “Two cons started throwing punches. The first CO who tried to break it up was knocked out. Elbow to the head, head to the floor, see ya later alligator. Once the first CO went down, it was game on. The second CO was choked out. A third CO who ran in to help was cold-cocked. Then somebody grabbed the tasers and someone else grabbed the keys and it was riot city. Clearly, the murderer was prepared.”

Will nodded at the clearly, because prison riots tended to come on like rashes. There was always a tell-tale itch, and there was always a guy, or group of guys, who felt that itch and started planning how to use the riot to their advantage. Raid the commissary? Put some guards in their place? Take out a few rivals?

The question was whether or not the murder victim had been collateral damage or specifically targeted. It was hard to judge from outside the cafeteria door. Will looked through the window again. He counted thirty picnic tables, each with seating for twelve, all bolted down to the floor. Trays were scattered across the room. Paper napkins. Rotting food. Lots of dried liquids, most of it blood. Some teeth. Will could see a frozen hand reaching out from under one of the tables that he assumed belonged to their victim. The man’s body was under another table near the kitchen. His back was to the door. His bleached white prison uniform with blue stripe accents gave the crime scene an ice-cream-parlor-massacre vibe.

Faith said, “Look, if you’re still upset about Emma and the battery, don’t be. It’s not your fault they look so delicious.”

Will guessed the sight of Sara had made him throw off a signal that Faith was picking up on.

She said, “Toddlers are like the worst inmates. When they’re not lying to your face and tearing up your shit, they’re napping, pooping, or trying to think of different ways to fuck with you.”

The CO lifted his chin. True that.

Faith asked the man, “Can you let our people know we’re here?”

The guy nodded a sure thing, lady, I live to serve before shuffling off.

Will watched Sara through the window. She was making a notation on a clipboard. She had unzipped her suit and tied the arms around her waist. The baseball cap was gone. She’d pulled her hair into a loose ponytail.

Faith asked, “Is it Sara?”

Will looked down at Faith. He often forgot how tiny she was. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Look of perpetual disappointment. With her hands on her hips and her head bent up so far that her chin was level with his chest, she reminded him of Pearl Pureheart, Mighty Mouse’s girlfriend, if Pearl had gotten pregnant at fifteen, then pregnant again at thirty-two.

Which was the first reason that Will would not talk to her about Sara. Faith forcibly mothered everybody in her orbit, whether it was a suspect in custody or the cashier at the grocery store. Will’s childhood had been pretty rough. He knew a lot of things about the world that most kids had never learned, but he did not know how to be mothered.

The second reason for his silence was that Faith was a damn good cop. She would need about two seconds to solve the Case of the Suddenly Silent Girlfriend.

Clue number one: Sara was an extremely logical and consistent person. Unlike Will’s psychotic ex-wife, Sara had not been vomited up from a rollercoaster hellmouth. If Sara was mad or irritated or annoyed or happy, she reliably told Will how she had gotten that way and what she wanted to do about it.

Clue number two: Sara didn’t play games. There was no silent treatment or pouting or nasty quips to interpret. Will never had to guess what she was thinking because she told him.

Clue number three: Sara clearly liked being married. In her previous life, she had been married twice, both times to the same man. She would still be married to Jeffrey Tolliver right now if he hadn’t been murdered five years ago.

Solution: Sara didn’t have an objection to marriage, or to sideways proposals.

She had an objection to marrying Will.

“Voldemort,” Faith said, just as the clippity clop of Deputy Director Amanda Wagner’s high heels reached Will’s ears.

Amanda had her phone in her hands as she walked down the hall. She was always texting or making calls to get information through her old gal network, a frightening group of women, most retired from the job, whom Will imagined sitting around a secret lair knitting hand-grenade cozies until they were activated.

Faith’s mother was one of them.

“Well.” Amanda clocked Will’s cheddar-streaked pants from ten yards. “Agent Trent, were you the only hobo who fell off the train or should we look for others?”

Will cleared his throat.

“Okay.” Faith flipped through her notebook, diving straight in. “Victim is Jesus Rodrigo Vasquez, thirty-eight-year-old Hispanic male, six years into a full dime for AWD after failing a meth quiz on ER three months prior.”

Will silently translated: Vasquez, convicted for assault with a deadly weapon, served six years before he was paroled, then three months ago failed his drug test while on early release, so was sent back to prison to serve the remainder of his ten-year sentence.

Amanda asked, “Affiliation?”

Was he in a gang?

“Switzerland,” Faith said. Neutral. “His sheet’s full of shots for keistering phones.” He was caught multiple times hiding cell phones in his ass. “I gather the guy was a real spoon.” Always stirring up shit. “My guess is he got taken out because he kept running his mouth.”

“Problem solved.” Amanda knocked on the glass for attention. “Dr. Linton?”

Sara stopped to grab some supplies before opening the door. “We’re finished processing the murder scene. You don’t need suits, but there’s a lot of blood and fluids.”

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