Friday, August 21, 2009

Chapter 1

The bears were the first sign that things were swinging out of control that spring.
Every evening, Anna and Paris stared at the little black-and-white TV in the living room to see the latest on the bears — Paris sprawled on the couch, homework papers scattered around her, and Anna sitting cross-legged on the floor, grateful for even this remnant of family life. It was just about the only time Paris spent with her mother any more.

It had been snowing when Paris had her fourteenth birthday in January, and now, well into May, late snow still clung to the whale-back hump of Sandia Crest above the city, and cold winds blasted across the high desert.

Because of the untimely cold, the bears found little to forage in the mountains when they awoke from hibernation. Bone-thin, stomachs empty, they followed their noses down into the piƱon-forested foothills that had been their hunting grounds for eons, except that now the suburbs were ascending from the valley into those very foothills.

Enticed by the aromas from dumpsters, garbage cans, pet food left on porches, the bears ran rampant on the streets and scrambled over backyard fences. Trailed by camera crews from every Albuquerque TV station, the police rushed from one neighborhood to the next where yet another alarmed citizen had spotted a roaming bear. A man who had moved there from California, bringing his lifestyle with him, found a bear lounging in his hot tub. Before he called the police, he made photos of the bathing bear for his next Christmas card.

Another bear broke a house window to raid a pantry and nearly scared to death the elderly woman who lived there. To drive the bears off, people banged pot lids together like off-key cymbals, and a few macho types took aim with their shotguns but ended up shattering their windows or knocking holes in their fences instead. Most of the bears fled back into the Sandia Mountains, but a few had to be sedated and carted away to remote canyons in the wild Manzano Mountains to the south.

The police noted other unruly behavior, according to the evening news. There seemed to be an epidemic of teenagers were running away from home, whether home was in the poshest suburban enclave in the foothills or the most down-at-the-heels barrio in the South Valley. Some went solo, and others took off with a friend or two. The cops knew that most of the kids would come home in a day or so, but that wasn’t a fact the 911 dispatchers could easily explain to frantic parents.

Even when the kids returned safely, on their own, these incidents disturbed the energy among their family members and friends. Accusations were made (“You knew where she was and just pretended to be helping me look for her, didn’t you?”) and later regretted, but the damage had been done.

Though the strengthening sun began to warm the air, it made the wind blow even harder. All day long, the wind roared out of the wide-open lands to the northwest, whipping up great clouds of dust and drowning every other sound with its fierce howl. By noon, the air above Albuquerque shimmered with billions of dust particles, and the sun shone through a soft golden haze, as if it were an airbrushed painting on the flank of a lowrider: El Sol.

People kept the windows in their houses and cars shut tight. Albuquerque drivers, who were just as laid-back as drivers anywhere else in New Mexico, which is to say, they were very laid-back, had to resort to driving with both hands on the steering wheel. One of Anna’s co-workers at the department of social services had a side window on her station wagon blown out as she drove on Interstate 25.

Sunset did not ease the wind’s fury. Long after Anna went to bed, she could hear it moaning and pushing urgently at her window. Some nights she tried covering her head with her pillow until the rage abated, which usually happened a short time before dawn. Inexplicably, that’s when she would wake up, skin burning, heart pounding, eyes wide open upon the darkness.

To ease herself, she would tiptoe into the hallway, where she could see the door to Paris’s bedroom. A few months ago, Paris had begun shutting it tight when she went to bed, and Anna had compensated by learning to be ultra quiet in performing her ritual. She had also oiled the door’s hinges.

Cautiously and slowly, she turned the knob and opened the door just a crack. That was all she needed.

Hardly breathing, she leaned over and positioned one ear close to the crack. And waited, listening. If the refrigerator wasn’t running, that was all the better, since its compressor was so loud she could hear it rattling from the kitchen.

She usually didn’t have to wait long to hear her daughter’s gentle snores drifting through the narrow opening. Satisfied, she would straighten up and, just as carefully as before, pull the door shut.

Anna knew her ritual was silly and unnecessary, but it had evolved into a superstition that she didn’t dare to violate. And she always felt better after she did it.

It had started one morning when Paris was only a few months old. She usually woke up every three hours or so to be nursed, so Anna kept the crib in her own room. That week, she had taken the bold step of moving the crib into the spare bedroom, thinking that she might get more sleep if she wasn’t hearing every murmur that Paris made during the night. She kept the doors of both rooms open, though.

On that never-to-be-forgotten morning, Anna awakened late and jumped up in alarm. Paris should be fussing to be fed by now. Flying into the other bedroom, she saw a shape like a small log in the crib, completely covered by a blanket.

Two thoughts flashed into her head in the single second that it took her to reach the crib and yank the blanket back: I’ve let my baby smother to death and I am an incredibly stupid person to do something so utterly careless and preventable.

Of course, she found Paris sleeping soundly beneath the fuzzy, white blanket that had been a gift from Anna’s best girlfriend, Frankie. The extra warmth had brought a pink flush to the baby’s soft cheeks. For several minutes, Anna stood over the crib and stared at her child, straining to hear her breathing. Then she went into the bathroom, sat on the edge of the tub, and cried until her eyes were so swollen she had to wear sunglasses at work all day.

“My God is it that easy to kill a baby?” she lamented to Frankie later.

“Anna, first of all, she’s fine, and no, I think it’s generally harder to kill one,” Frankie replied. “Is this about something else?”

It was, and Anna knew that Frankie knew what lay behind her fear. After all, it had been the mere carelessness of a drunken driver that had killed her parents a month after Paris was born. Nonetheless, “the blanket incident,” as she thought of it thereafter, made Anna realize what not even her best friend could fathom — how completely she loved this tiny being, and that nothing could be worse than losing her.

One day she lost her hat to the wind, right after she had stopped her decrepit Chevy Malibu on arrow-straight Eubank Boulevard and got out because she saw a man on the sidewalk who looked like one of her clients, a man who also was wanted on a warrant. Before she could catch up with him, the wind snatched the lightweight felt hat off her head and lifted it over a high razor-wire fence — into the secured domain of Kirtland Air Force Base. There it lay, twitching on the U.S. government’s pavement, a daring protester that had leaped the barrier.

“Forget it,” she muttered. When she turned back around, the man had disappeared. She flashed the finger toward the hat, the razor-wire fence, the entire military thing behind the fence, and got back in her car. She had to get to juvenile court in ten minutes.

A cop who was standing at the edge of the courthouse parking lot nodded to her as she walked toward the entrance.

“How’s it going, Larry?” she said.

“This wind is something else,” he said wearily. “I answered a half dozen emergency calls last night.”

“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen,” Anna grumbled back. She marched through the door, hauling her briefcase. The wind was one thing—LaVerne Jenkins was another.

There was something that Anna did not like about LaVerne, the juvenile probation officer. In her sweet flower-print blouse, knee-length navy-blue A-line skirt, and matching Papagallo flats, LaVerne blended into the crowd of court employees, lawyers, social services clients, and clients’ family members who were milling around the lobby of the Bernalillo County Courthouse. So it wasn’t her clothes. Must be her personality, Anna thought.

Bracing herself, Anna walked up behind LaVerne and tapped her on the shoulder. As Anna expected she would, LaVerne whirled around in surprise, her blue-shadowed eyes widening, her plump cheeks puffing out.

“Hi LaVerne. Have you seen Tiffany?”

“Anna! You startled me!” But LaVerne recovered quickly and gave Anna a once-over that made her dislike the JPO even more. Frankie had hinted last month that it wouldn’t hurt Anna’s career to dress “more professionally,” as Frankie had put it, but Anna just couldn’t seem to let go of her ankle-sweeping gauzy cotton skirts and flat-heeled sandals, even though she knew they marked her as an aging hippie. She’d laughed it off with Frankie — “I can’t afford the pantyhose,” she had retorted — but when LaVerne criticized her with a mere look, Anna did a slow burn.

LaVerne leaned in closer to whisper. “She’s late, but then what can you expect? Father in jail, mother living in a Central Avenue motel. You know what that means.” LaVerne tapped a toe impatiently on the linoleum floor. “Ten minutes to one o’clock. I guess they’ll have to cancel for a no-show.”

“I’ll look around for her,” Anna said. “Maybe she’s hanging around outside.” She walked off quickly, not wanting to give LaVerne a chance to respond.

When she got to the other side of the lobby, she took a fast glance over her shoulder to make sure LaVerne wasn’t following her, and then ducked into the ladies room.

The scent of pot hit her nostrils right away.

“Shit!” She formed the word with silent lips and crouched down to see whether any stalls were occupied. A pair of feet in strappy sandals and purple toenail polish occupied the last stall. The other stalls were empty.

Anna turned on the faucet in the lavatory and washed her hands, humming. She pulled a paper towel from the dispenser on the wall, making as much noise as she could. Then she walked to the restroom door, opened it, let it close again. And waited, praying that no one else would come in.

After only a few seconds, the door to the last stall opened and a girl peeked out. When she saw Anna, panic hit her face. It took Anna only two big strides to get to the stall door, but by that time the girl had slammed it shut and was leaning against it. Anna heard the toilet being flushed.

“Tiffany, I’m not going away until you come out.”

“Is that JPO out there?”

“You saw who’s here. It’s just me, so come on out.”

For a few seconds, there were only the sounds of two people breathing. Anna could feel her 7eleven burrito lunch churning in her stomach as she thought of the clock ticking on the juvenile courtroom wall and the possibility that LaVerne would come in looking for her. The coffee she had with the burrito, to get over lack of sleep the night before, didn’t help her stomach either. Finally, Tiffany unlocked the door and stepped out. Bueno, Anna thought.

“Tiffany, are you okay?” Anna studied the girl’s face. Only fourteen, the same age as Paris, but already an expert in applying make-up, she thought. Adult make-believe. Wonder if Tiffany ever had a chance to play child make-believe?

“We’ve only got a couple of minutes to get into the courtroom. I can’t believe you are in here smoking pot. What if LaVerne had found you?” Anna put on her most serious scowl for Tiffany’s benefit.

The girl’s mouth twisted into a grimace. “That bitch. You can’t blame me for wanting to get high before I have to see her. She’s always preaching at me about going to hell.”

Anna took a deep breath and leaned back against the lavatory. Never mind that a judge might be waiting.

“Tiffany, LaVerne isn’t the issue. There are people like her in the world and you’ve got to learn to deal with them. The rest of the world has to learn to deal with them.” She let herself smile a little. Would Tiffany respond to this good-cop tactic? The girl was staring at the floor, but Anna saw one corner of her mouth turn up just a bit.

“The issue is that you are going to go to jail today if the judge isn’t satisfied that you’re living up to the terms of your probation. You think LaVerne is bad news? Wait till you see jail. No TV, you sit in your cell alone and read the Bible. For fun, you go to group therapy. Dan’s a good lawyer and all you have to do is follow the program. Stay in school, stay off drugs. That includes pot. Is your mom here?”

Tiffany’s face turned sour again. “What do you think?” she said.

“Okay, never mind. I’m going in with you and Dan will be there too. Don’t let LaVerne get to you. Let’s go, girl.”

Three hours later, Anna gathered all the court papers of the day into a stack and stuffed them in her canvas briefcase. Six cases processed in one afternoon. Whew. There was still time to get back to the social services office and plow through more paperwork, but her eyes were burning with fatigue.

LaVerne was across the courtroom, talking to a prosecuting attorney. When she saw Anna leaving, she hurried over and fell into step beside her.

“You know, sometimes I feel like it’s just a revolving door here in juvvie court,” LaVerne said. “Everything we try to do just seems to bounce off these kids.”

Anna couldn’t resist this opening. “Why LaVerne, I’m surprised to hear you talking like that. You’re always so upbeat.”

“Well, we’re getting run into the ground. We need more case workers,” LaVerne mused.
“No budget for it but hey—it’s morning in America!” Anna retorted. She knew LaVerne had voted for Reagan because she had been wearing a Reagan button during the election.

But LaVerne ignored the sarcasm. “Maybe so, but I noticed you looked a bit tired today too.”
“I’m fine,” Anna replied tersely. She made a point of glancing down at her watch, in case LaVerne was thinking of continuing the conversation. “I’ve got to get back to the office. See you next week, LaVerne.”
At six, Anna walked out of the social services building and headed for her car, but work was still on her mind. Tiffany had managed to convince the judge she was following the rules of her probation, so the judge recommended no changes in her program. But Anna disagreed, though the judge had not allowed any other options to be considered in court today.

We should try to get Tiffany away from her so-called mother and into a foster home before she gets into something really serious, Anna thought. I’ll call LaVerne about it tomorrow.

At a stoplight, Anna looked to the west, trying to make out Mount Taylor on the farthest edge of the horizon, a hundred miles away. But the wind had kicked up too much dust. The farthest she could see was the row of extinct volcano cones high on the West Mesa, across the Rio Grande.

That row of weird-looking knobs always made her think of camping. She really need to get out there, now that spring was coming, she thought.

She and Paris used to camp nearly every weekend, just the two of them. The trips always started the same way — they would leave the city Friday evening on I-40 west, climb Nine Mile Hill, and head straight toward the setting sun and Mount Taylor, a holy mountain that the Navajos called dzil dotlizi or “Turquoise Mountain.” No certain destination in mind, she would just find an exit and then continue awhile until she spotted an unpaved road that looked promising. Much of the mesa and desert west of the city had been staked out by eager developers, but few houses had been built yet.

Anna suspected it wasn’t legal to camp without any kind of permit, but she had never tried to find out. She made a point of being as unobtrusive as a passing rabbit or coyote. She never cut fences and she always buried her campfire remains.

The two of them would work along a barbed-wire fence, looking for a spot where there was enough space to crawl under. Sometimes they lucked up on a place where livestock had broken down a fence or a washout had left fence posts dangling in the air.

But most of the time there were no such breaches in the barriers, and they just had to squeeze between loose strands of barbed-wire. They took turns holding the strands apart for each other. Both of them had rips in every pair of jeans they owned from doing this. Once Paris had asked her, “Are we outlaws, Mom?” Anna just laughed.

From time to time, Frankie raised mild objections to these forays. She rode her horse at a ranch where the animal was stabled, but she never went camping. “At least on a horse you can outrun most anything. When you’re lying asleep on the ground, do you think it’s really safe, Anna?” she said.

Probably not, Anna conceded silently, though to Frankie she would say, “Oh, most of the things you imagine only happen in movies, Frankie.”

“I just have to do it,” she once told Frankie. “Not unlike smoking,” she added carefully. Poor Frankie was always trying to cut down on her pack-a-day habit.

A mega-truck rolled up on her left, and the sight of its jacked-up frame and massive tires just a couple of feet from her face brought Anna out of her reverie. The driver had all the windows open, and speakers thumped a deep bass rhythm that made the buttons rattle on the dashboard of the Malibu. She rolled up her window. The car wasn’t airtight but at least some of noise was muffled.

When the light changed and the truck pulled ahead, she rolled the window down again. Despite the wind, she wanted to take in gulps of fresh air. When she’d arrived in Albuquerque with her parents twenty years ago, she had thought she could live on the air alone — it was so different from the stifling humid atmosphere of Panama, which had been her dad’s previous Air Force posting. This thin desert air filled her lungs with energy.

But she also noticed that the window was covered with fingerprints mixed with dust and other filmy smears. How long had it been since she washed it? Last fall? Must have been.

That’s when Paris had made the arrangement on the dashboard — autumn leaves and seed pods, feathers, snail shells, small round stones, and a little clay statue that she had created in art class at school.

It looked great at the time, but now — ugh. At the next light, Anna touched one of the leaves. It crumbled, and the wind caught the fragments and swirled them around inside the car. The clay statue was still standing — it was supposed to be a girl morphing into a wildcat — but the dried stuff and feathers had shifted around. A mess.

Sighing, Anna drove on. The back seat was even worse — littered with napkins, crumpled homework papers, old newspapers, grocery store sale fliers, food wrappers, cups. How had it gotten so bad without her noticing?

A half block ahead, a taxi did a fast lane change and brake lights went on in two lanes. Anna was keeping an eye on this, so she didn’t see what was coming up on her left until she heard a whirring, sweeping sound. She turned her head just in time to behold a huge dust devil churning across the street right toward her car.

Madly she yanked the window crank, but it was old and needed oiling. Squeezing her eyes tight, she yelled “Oh shit!” as the dust devil blasted through the open window, scouring her face and arms with sand and sending leaves, scraps of paper, tin foil, Styrofoam cups, and feathers flying.

Still cursing and spitting grit, Anna pulled onto a side street and cut off the engine. The wind wasn’t as bad there, under a row of Russian olive trees. She crossed her arms over the steering wheel and leaned forward, eyes unfocused. That’s all, she thought. That’s really all I can take today. I should be thankful I didn’t hit another car when I closed my eyes. But thankfulness would not come. Instead, a vision arose of a glass of tequila and a wedge of freshly sliced lime. That’s what I want, tequila and a hot bath. Is that so much to ask?

A tapping on the window made her jump. Anna swiped at her watering eyes. A gray-haired Anglo man in a Balloon Festival cap was bending over, smiling at her. “Are you all right, ma’am?” he was saying.

She rolled down the window and tried to smile back.

“Oh, yes, I’m fine. Just got something in my eyes. A dust devil hit my car. But you’re very kind.”
The man glanced toward the back seat, taking in the untidy heap. He nodded and stepped away. “Wind’s the worst I’ve seen,” he said, branding each word with a slow-cooked Texas accent before he let it off his tongue. “You take care then.”

“I will,” she assured him. “Thanks for asking.” She started the engine and pulled away from the curb. I’d better get home, she thought, but what a nice man. I don’t see enough people like him in my work. Lately, she had felt as if all the cases were blurring into a whirl like that dust devil, with her in the middle.

And once again, she wished she could just head out to the desert, unroll her sleeping bag on the ground, and sit hunched over a tiny fire, nursing a bottle of tequila. It had been weeks since she’d gone, mainly because Paris refused to do it anymore. Anna shook her head in frustration. They’d gotten into it over this, turning something that had once been a pleasure into the push button for an argument.

Paris also balked at going over to her “Aunt” Frankie’s to spend the weekend while Anna camped alone. Insisted she was old enough to stay by herself. Anna said she wasn’t. And so it went, and so Anna had stopped going camping at all.

A flock of birds passed overhead, throwing a brief shadow over the windshield, over Anna. She peered skyward. They were ducks, moving south to north along the river. Probably just left the Bosque del Apache after a rest stop. “None of us gets to stop for long,” she said to the fast-disappearing flock. “How do you keep going? I think I’m running out of steam.”

The flapping birds faded into the northern sky.

For fourteen years Anna had held things together, more or less. (“If I stop, everything stops,” she had once told Frankie.) It wasn’t easy, but it made sense to her, quite simply because she put Paris above anyone or anything else.

Her love for her daughter had been a complete surprise. The months before Paris was born were now a blur to Anna — and that was a good thing, she thought. She couldn’t recall any moments of happy anticipation but only the anxiety and uncertainty of her future. But the first time she saw her child held up triumphantly over her belly by the delivery room nurse, Anna felt a tidal wave of love sweep over her. The wrinkled newborn with the misshapen head returned her gaze with dark, wise eyes. Anna didn’t believe the nurse when she said newborns can’t really see much. Her baby had fixed her just-opened eyes on Anna with a look that said, “I know you.”

As the years passed, the sweet fragrance of her child’s skin and hair, the heft of her small body when Anna held her or carried her gave such satisfaction that Anna felt her daily struggle to survive was worthwhile. Her child needed her. But no more, it seemed. They weren’t a family any longer — more like a couple of mismatched socks. Sometimes Anna even felt as if she and Paris were two bags of glass smashing into each other. And how was she to make sense of that?

It wasn’t just the camping. Paris was in rebellion against the whole program. Anna had always cooked their meals from scratch because it was healthier and cheaper to buy bulk, but Paris now rejected them. Just about the only thing she would eat was frozen French bread pizza, which came packaged in two half slices and was way beyond their budget. Anna griped but she usually gave in and bought it. The matching preppie outfits that Aunt Frankie bought Paris for school were left hanging in the closet. Instead, Paris scrounged baggy men’s trousers and coats from the Salvation Army store. She dyed all of these black and wore them wrinkled.

“She’s just being a teenager,” Frankie had said last week.

“Objectively speaking, you’re right,” Anna had replied. “So why do I feel like I’m coming undone?”

“Maybe it’s time for you to seriously think about going into management at social services,” Frankie had said. “Raise your income. Deal with a better class of people. Get dates, even.”
She should want those things, Anna thought. So why didn’t she? Instead, the notion of being a manager made her stomach queasy. She turned the car right off Mountain Road and headed down 12th Street.

At the next light, the driver of a lowrider beside her nodded in what passed for a flirtation and slicked his long hair back with one hand. She gave him a perfunctory smile and drove on.
When Anna opened the front door of her little house on Rosemont Avenue, the cat ran up behind her and scooted around her legs to get in. Anna pushed the door shut, her eyes falling on a scrap of notebook paper on the hall table.

“Mom, I went to a movie with Jenn. Her mother took us. Paris” the note said.

Anna scrunched the note in one fist and bit her lip, wishing she had taken a moment to call Paris that afternoon. Until this spring, Paris had always called her mother as soon as she got home from school. But now Paris went to the Plaza in Old Town, just a few blocks from their house, and hung out until it was time for Anna to get home. Anna knew that her daughter had new friends there, kids Paris called “punks” who wore those oversized black clothes like hers. Anna wanted to know more about them, but Paris had evaded her questions, and Anna hadn’t pushed it.

Gone to a movie with Jennifer, whose mother, Leslie, was very strict. That seemed safe enough. Anna could take a bath, even a nap. God that would feel good. But instead she paced from the living room to the kitchen to Paris’s room and then to her own room, unable to settle down, feeling the emptiness of the silent house.

She retraced her steps, pausing in Paris’s room. Bed covered with ragged stuffed animals and clothes, both dirty and clean, thrown together. On the walls, posters of Boy George and the Cure. A collection of dusty feathers and wood carvings arrayed on top of the chest of drawers. Pen and ink drawings pinned on the bulletin board, elaborate designs of partly human faces emerging from trees, roots, mist. Who lived here?

She tossed the note into the kitchen trashcan and opened a cupboard, intending to make a margarita. For a long moment, she stared at the bottle standing on the shelf. Then, with a sigh, she pivoted on one heel, leaving the cupboard door hanging open, and walked to her bedroom and sat on the bed and then lay down. Just for a few minutes, she thought.

The cat woke her up, patting her arm with a soft paw. “Oh, Zinco,” she said slowly, her head fuzzy with sleep. The windows were dark. She pushed the illumination button on her clunky, cheap drug-store watch. It was eleven o’clock. Alarmed, she leaped up and went to Paris’s room. It was dark too, the bed empty. Anna walked to the bathroom and splashed cold water on her face.

Where was Paris? The house felt odd. She went from the bathroom to the living room, Zinco trailing her and watching with slit eyes as she tried to think. Paris should be home by now, shouldn’t she?

She went back to the kitchen and laid her hand on the telephone receiver, intending to call Jenn’s mother, but her hand just stayed there, not moving.

Paris and Jennifer used to be best friends in junior high, but Paris hadn’t done anything with Jenn the entire ninth grade, as far as Anna could remember. She hadn’t mentioned it to Paris, but she was actually relieved. Leslie was in the habit of making disparaging remarks about single mothers whenever she and Anna happened to talk to each other.

But now she had to call Leslie. She was too worried not to, she thought. She picked the receiver up.

Leslie answered on the first ring.

“Jennifer?” she said, her voice high-pitched and anxious.

Oh man, Anna thought. This is not good.

She had enough presence of mind to answer carefully.

“No. This is Anna Darby. Paris left me a note that she was going to a movie with Jenn, but she’s not home yet.”

“I took them to the Super Cinema. You were supposed to pick them up!”

Anna recoiled from the hostility that she could feel through the phone. It was like being jumped by a pit bull.

“No one’s called me,” she said, trying to control her voice. “Did Paris say I would pick the girls up?”

“They called me from the movie around eight and said that you were going to pick them up at ten. It was a double feature. I was going to pick them up but she called me and said you would do it. I usually don’t let her go to the movies on a school night, especially a double feature, but …”

“No one’s called,” Anna broke into Leslie’s frantic stream. None of this made sense, and she felt a little dizzy from hunger. “I’ve been home since around six-thirty and as you can see my phone’s working. Who called you from the movie?” Her hand felt cold and bloodless gripping the receiver. Could she have slept through the ringing?

“It was Jennifer, my daughter. Jennifer called me.” Leslie sounded as if she was talking through gritted teeth.

“All right, Leslie, I’ll go to the Super Cinema and look for them.”

“I’m going too, right after I call the police,” Leslie said.

“Do whatever you need to, but it might be a good idea for you to wait at the phone, in case Jennifer calls you. Maybe the girls decided to go somewhere else, take a ride with a friend, you know. They might call one of us to pick them up.” Anna didn’t try to explain to Leslie that the police wouldn’t do anything about two teenage girls who might just be joyriding with their pals.
But the phone went silent. Leslie had hung up.

“Maybe the girls decided to go somewhere else…They might call.” That sounded so logical, so reassuring, just what Anna the social worker would say. She was good at reminding her clients that things usually weren’t as bad as they thought. But after she set the buzzing receiver in its cradle on the table, she felt the room turn upside-down.


  1. I started reading and couldn't stop. Wonderful setting, intriguing characters, enticing descriptions. I can't wait to read more!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Forgot to add--I LOVE the first sentence. Really, really masterful. (This is a correction of previous comment, which had a typo.)