Janie thanked Charlene for opening to her, and left her sitting under the spacious tree, chain smoking unfiltered Pall Malls, trying to kill the stain inside her heart.
Walter waited for her inside. As Janie walked into the building, she saw him at the end of the hallway. He watched as Janie walked toward him, like a mirage you see when stranded in the desert for to long. His frown deepened.
“Is Charlene, okay?”
“I don’t know,” Janie answered truthfully. “She seemed relieved to have it off her chest though.”
Walter said nothing as they walked out of the school and across the parking lot to Janie’s car.
The same students they saw going in still littered the parking lot. Their eyes were vacant. Devoid of hope of life outside of the dumpy little town with its trashy patron saint.
It was enough to push Janie into a conniption fit.
“Did you learn anything from my cousin?”
“I learned this crap town has a patron saint and he thinks he can do whatever he wants to whomever he wants.”
“Roy Darnell Carver,” Walter said, his voice suddenly taking on a note of exhaustion. “It’s always the same old thing. Same crappy day, different toilet.”
“You know of Roy Darnell Carver?”
“Everyone knows of him, Janie. We might as well quit investigating now.”
“Why? What about justice? What about Sue Anne and that baby we didn’t find?”
“Do you have any idea how many Sue Anne’s probably ended up in that swamp?”
“No, I don’t know that Walter. Why the urge to shut down this case? For God’s sake, we’re just getting started.”
“Where are you headed now?”
“To Sue Anne’s family. I need to talk to her mother.”
“She’s a drunk, and Roy probably gave her enough money to cover up the crime.”
“I don’t understand you, Walter Higgins.”
“I’ve investigated crimes that had Roy Carver written all over it, Janie. Every time his name came up, my case got shut down. It’s not going to be any different for you.”
“Well, unlike you Walter, I’m not gonna quit investigating because some old men want to protect their good-ole-boy.”
“You won’t have any choice.”
Janie pulled the car in front of a rundown trailer, one end of it collapsed to the ground, a burn barrel stood in the front yard with trash overflowing from it to the ground, and Sue Anne’s momma passed out in a wore out Queen Anne chair-a beer can in hand and a cigarette dangling from her semi-open mouth.
“Excuse me, ma’am.”
Sue Anne’s momma, Heather, cracked open her bloodshot eyes and stared at the two cops in her yard.
“We have some questions about your daughter Sue Anne,” Janie said. Heather scoffed and pulled her cigarette from her mouth.
“She’s a whore. What is there to know?”
“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it?”
“What did you say to me, boy?”
Walter closed his mouth, and Janie took a deep breath.
“We found Sue Anne out in the swamp. She was pregnant, yes? You were sober enough to know she was with child, right?”
Tears wet Heather’s cheek as she cracked open another beer.
“If she’s dead, why are you here?”
“Who was the father of the child?”
“It doesn’t matter. Neither it nor its whore returned from the swamp.”
“Stand up and put your hands behind your back,” Janie snarled.
“Arrest her, Walter. She can talk at the station. I’m done dealing with the drunken louse.”
“Ma’am, you have the right to remain silent,” Walter began as he helped Heather stand and then handcuffed her.
Once Heather was loaded, Janie drove them to the precinct and walked Heather down the hall to a holding cell.
Chief Hathcock waited for Janie and Walter in the hallway.
“Come see me, detective. Bring your partner with you.”