Barclay, Linwood Novel 08 - Never saw it coming
joking, of course. About wringing his neck.”
“No, you don’t have to apologize,” Marcia said. “Justin, I swear . . . you just want to slap some sense into them.”
“He’s been a handful from the time he could walk, but once he hit his teens, it just got worse. Drinking, drugs, skipping school. I stopped giving him money because I knew he’d just blow it on drugs. But the thing is, this is the part that’s so heartbreaking, he’s such a
“I’ll bet he is,” Keisha said.
“I mean, anything he puts his mind to, he can do it. Computers, he’s a whiz with those. He can add up a column of numbers in his head. You say to him, what’s four hundred and twenty times six hundred and three, and just like that, he can tell you the answer. He’s probably some kind of genius, but instead of using his brain to accomplish something, he’s always trying to figure out how to work the system, get some money out of his mother, or”—and she nodded in the direction her husband had gone—“Dwayne. I know he gives Justin money behind my back. He’s got a soft spot for him, thinks I’m too tough on him. I think he was so taken with the idea of becoming a father, even a stepfather, that it’s blinded him to Justin’s faults. The thing is, he’s . . . there’s something not quite right about Justin. Sometimes he—and this is an awful thing to say, but sometimes he actually kind of scares me. Not physically, but what goes on in that head of his. I just wish . . .”
And then, without warning, tears welled out of her eyes and ran down her cheeks. “Oh, God, I hope nothing’s happened to him.”
Keisha got out of her chair and sat on the couch next to Marcia Taggart. “It’s going to be okay,” she said.
“I hope these will do,” Dwayne said, coming back into the living room with several items in his hands.
“Put them there,” Keisha said, indicating the coffee table, where she had already laid out two of her business cards.
Dwayne set them down gently. An iPod, a paperback copy of the novel
, a cancelled check, a plastic collectible figure of a grotesquely well-endowed woman in superhero garb.
Keisha handled them dubiously. “I’m not sure about—would you have an article of clothing? Something Justin wears regularly? Something that suggests his personality?”
Marcia said, “Get one of his hats.” She looked at Keisha. Her eyes were suddenly very weary. “Would a hat work?”
“I think so. In the meantime, let me have a look at these.”
Marcia picked up the cancelled check from the things Dwayne had delivered to Keisha and scowled. After a shake of her head, she folded it in half and held it in her fist. With her other hand she picked up the female action figure and studied it as though it were some obscure artifact from an alien civilization.
“Justin collects these things,” she said. “I just want to throw them all into the garbage. What’s a man in his twenties doing with toys like these? He must have five hundred of them. I don’t even know who this is supposed to be. Wonder Woman or—”
“Shh,” Keisha said gently, and closed her eyes. She handled the toy, then opened her eyes and picked up the iPod.
“He listens to this a lot,” Keisha said.
“I can feel . . . when he carries this, it’s often in his shirt pocket, right next to his heart,” she said.
“Well, I guess that’s where lots of people carry them,” Marcia said, looking skeptical again. “When you touch his earbuds, are you going to say he wore them right close to his brain?”
Keisha smiled ruefully at the woman. “I thought we were starting to get along.”
“All I’m saying is, that was a pretty obvious observation about the iPod.”
Keisha closed her eyes again and ran her fingers along the cool surface of the device. “I’m seeing . . . his eyes are closed.”
Marcia said, “What do you mean, closed? Like, sleeping? You see him sleeping? Lying down?”
“I don’t know. I’m just seeing him . . . I’m sure this doesn’t mean anything.”
“No, what is it?” Marcia asked. Pretty interested for someone so cynical.
“I don’t know whether he’s sleeping, or if it’s something else.”
“Like what? Are you saying he’s—are you saying he’s not alive?”
“No, I’m not saying that. I’m sure he’s alive. But his eyes are closed, and I’m wondering if he might be unconscious.”
“But you really
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