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The techs tell him the girl on the other side of the glass hasn’t said a word since they brought her in. It doesn’t surprise him at first, not with the traumas she’s been through, but watching her now from behind the one-way mirror, he starts to question that assessment. She sits slumped in the hard metal chair, chin resting on one bandaged hand as the other traces nonsense symbols onto the surface of the stainless steel table. Her eyes are half-closed, deep shadows bruising the skin beneath, and her black hair is dull and unwashed, scraped back into a messy knot. She’s exhausted, clearly.
But he wouldn’t call her traumatized.
Sipping his coffee, FBI Special Agent Victor Hanoverian studies the girl and waits for his team members to arrive. At least his partner, anyway. The third core member of their team is at the hospital with the other girls, trying to get updates on their conditions and—when possible—their names and fingerprints. Other agents and techs are at the property, and what little he’s heard from them makes him want to call home and talk to his own daughters, make sure they’re well. But he has a way with people, especially traumatized children, so it’s the sensible choice for him to be here, waiting to go in and talk to this particular victim.
He can see the faint pink lines around her nose and mouth from an oxygen mask, smudges of dirt and soot across her face and borrowed clothing. Bandages wrap around her hands and her upper left arm, and he can trace the bulky line of others beneath the thin undershirt someone at the hospital gave her to wear. She shivers in the off-green scrub pants, her bare feet pulled away from the cold floor, but doesn’t complain.
He doesn’t even know her name.
He doesn’t know the names of most of the girls they rescued, or the ones they were far, far too late to save. This one hasn’t talked to anyone but the other girls, and even then there were no names, no information. Just . . . well, he can’t really call it comfort. “You’ll die or you won’t, now relax for the doctors so they can work” wasn’t exactly reassuring, but that’s exactly how the other girls seemed to take it.
She sits up in the chair, her arms extending slowly over her head until her entire back is curved like a bowstring. The mics pick up the painful pop of vertebrae. Shaking her head, she slumps back over the table, her cheek pressed against the metal, her palms flat against the surface. She’s facing away from the glass, away from him and the others she knows must be there, but the angle offers another piece of interest: the lines.
The hospital gave him a picture of it; he can see just the edges of those brilliant colors peeking out against the back of her shoulder. The rest of the design is harder to see, but the undershirt isn’t thick enough to obscure it completely. He pulls the picture from his pocket and holds it up against the glass, looking between the glossy paper and what he can see of the design on the girl’s back. It wouldn’t be significant except that all but one of the girls have them. Different colors, different designs, but all the same in essentials.
“You think he did that to them, sir?” asks one of the techs, watching the girl on the monitor. That camera is aimed from the other side of the interview room, showing an enlarged view of her face, her eyes closed, her breaths slow and deep.
“I guess we’ll find out.” He doesn’t like to make suppositions, especially when they know so little yet. This is one of the very few times in his career where what they found is so much worse than they could have envisioned. He’s accustomed to thinking the worst. When a child goes missing, you work your ass off but don’t expect to find the poor thing alive at the end of it. Maybe you hope. You don’t expect. He’s seen bodies so small it’s a wonder there are even coffins to fit them, seen children raped before they know the meaning of the word, but somehow this case is so unexpected he isn’t quite sure where his footing is.
He doesn’t even know how old she is. The doctors guessed sixteen to twenty-two, but that doesn’t help him much. As young as sixteen, she should probably have a representative from child services, but they’ve already swarmed the hospital and made things difficult. They have valuable and necessary services to provide—but that doesn’t get them out of his way. He tries to think of his daughters, what they would do if they were locked in a room like this girl, but none of them are this self-contained. Does that mean she’s older? Or just that she’s had more practice seeming unaffected?
“Have we heard more from Eddison or Ramirez yet?” he asks the techs, not taking his eyes off the girl.
“Eddison’s on his way up; Ramirez is still at the hospital with the parents of the youngest girl,” one of the women reports. Yvonne doesn’t look at the girl in the room, not even at the monitors. She has an infant daughter at home. Victor wonders if he should pull her off—this is only her first day back—but decides she’ll say something if she can’t handle it.
“She was the one who triggered the search?”
“Only been gone a couple of days. Disappeared from the mall while shopping with her friends. They said she went out of the dressing room area to switch sizes and never came back.”
One less person to find.
They’d taken pictures at the hospital of all the girls, even the ones who’d died en route or on arrival, and were running them through the missing persons database. It will take time for results to come up, though. When agents or doctors asked the ones in better shape for their names, they turned to look at this girl, clearly a leader among them, and most said nothing. A few seemed to think about it before dissolving into sobs that brought the nurses running.
But not this girl in the interview room. When they asked her, she just turned away. As far as anyone can tell, this is one girl with no interest in being found.
Which makes some of them wonder if she’s a victim at all.
Victor sighs and drains the last of his coffee, crushing the cup before tossing it in the trash bucket by the door. He’d prefer to wait for Ramirez; another female in the room is always helpful in circumstances like this. Can he wait for her? There’s no telling how long she’ll be with the parents, or if other parents will flock to the hospital once the photos are released to the media.
they’re released to the media, he amends with a frown. He hates that part, hates plastering the pictures of victims across television screens and newspapers so there’s never a way for them to forget what happened to them. At least they can wait until they get the missing persons data.
The door opens and slams shut again behind him. The room is soundproof but the glass rattles slightly and the girl sits up quickly, eyes narrowed at the mirror. And, presumably, the ones she has to know are behind it.
Victor doesn’t turn around. No one slams a door quite like Brandon Eddison. “Anything?”
“They’ve matched a couple of fairly recent reports, and the parents are on their way. So far it’s all East Coast.”
Victor pulls the picture from the glass and puts it back into the pocket of his jacket. “Anything else on our girl?”
“Some of the others called her Maya after she was brought here. No last name.”
Eddison snorts. “Doubtful.” He struggles to zip his jacket over his Redskins T-shirt. Once the response team found the survivors, Victor’s team was called in from off duty to handle it. Given Eddison’s tastes, Victor’s mostly grateful there are no naked women on the shirt. “We’ve got a team going through the main house to see if the bastard kept anything personal.”
“I think we can both agree that he kept some very personal things of theirs.”
Perhaps remembering what he saw at the property, Eddison doesn’t argue. “Why this one?” he asks. “Ramirez says there are others not too badly injured. More frightened, maybe more willing to talk. This one looks like a tough nut.”
“The other girls look to her. I want to know why. They must be desperate to get home, so why do they look at her and choose not to answer questions?”
“You think she might be part of this?”
“That’s what we need to find out.” Picking up the bottle of water from
the counter, Victor takes a deep breath. “All right. Let’s go talk to Maya.”
She sits back in the chair when they walk into the interview room, gauze-covered fingers laced together across her stomach. It’s not as defensive a posture as he would expect, and it’s clear from his partner’s scowl that he’s thrown by it as well. Her eyes flick over them, taking in details and filing away thoughts, none of which show on her face.
“Thank you for coming with us,” he greets her, glossing over the lack of choice she’d been given. “This is Special Agent Brandon Eddison, and I’m Special Agent in Charge Victor Hanoverian.”
The corner of her mouth ticks upward in a fleeting movement he can’t really call a smile. “Special Agent in Charge Victor Hanoverian,” she repeats, her voice hoarse with smoke. “Quite a mouthful.”
“Would you prefer Victor?”
“I don’t really have a preference, but thank you.”
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He unscrews the cap and hands her the bottle of water, using the moment to adjust his strategy. Definitely not traumatized, and not shy either. “Usually there’s another part to the introductions.”
“The helpful tidbits?” she says. “You like to weave baskets and take long swims, and Eddison likes to walk the streets in heels and a mini?”
Eddison growls and slams a fist onto the table. “What is your name?”
“Don’t be rude.”
Victor bites his lip against the temptation to smile. It won’t help the situation—certainly won’t help his partner’s state of mind—but the temptation is there just the same. “Would you please tell us your name?”
“Thank you, but no. I don’t believe I care to share that.”
“Some of the girls called you Maya.”
“Then why did you bother to ask?”
He hears Eddison’s sharp intake of breath, but ignores it. “We’d like to know who you are, how you came here. We’d like to help you get home.”
“And if I said I don’t need your help to get home?”
“I’d wonder why you didn’t get home before this.”
There’s a not-quite smile, and a flicker of an eyebrow that might be approval. She’s a beautiful girl, with golden-brown skin and pale brown, nearly amber eyes, but she’s not soft. A smile will have to be earned. “I think we both know the answer to that. But I’m not in there anymore, am I? I can get home from here.”
“And where is home?”
“I’m not sure if it’s there anymore.”
“This isn’t a game,” Eddison snaps.
The girl appraises him coolly. “No, of course not. People are dead, lives are ruined, and I’m sure you were very inconvenienced at having to leave your football game.”
Eddison flushes, tugging the zipper up higher over his shirt.
“You don’t seem all that nervous,” Victor notes.
She shrugs and takes a sip of the water, holding the bottle gingerly in her bandaged hands. “Should I be?”
“Most people are when talking to the FBI.”
“It’s not that different from talking with—” She bites her chapped lower lip, winces at the beads of blood that seep through the cracked skin. She takes another sip.
“With?” he prompts gently.
“Him,” she answers. “The Gardener.”
“The man who held you—you talked with his gardener?”
She shakes her head. “He
You have to understand, I didn’t give him that name out of fear or reverence, or some misguided sense of propriety. I didn’t give him that name at all. Like anything else in that place, it was made up out of the whole cloth of our ignorance. What wasn’t known was created, what wasn’t created eventually ceased to matter. It’s a form of pragmatism, I suppose. Warm, loving people who desperately need approval from others fall victim to Stockholm syndrome, while the rest of us fall to pragmatism. Having seen both sides in others, I’m for pragmatism.
I heard the name my first day in the Garden.
I came to with a splitting headache, a hundred times worse than any hangover I’d ever experienced. I couldn’t even open my eyes at first. Pain lanced through my skull with every breath, let alone movement. I must have made a sound because suddenly there was a cool, damp cloth over my forehead and eyes and a voice promising that it was only water.
I wasn’t sure which unnerved me more: the fact that this was obviously a frequent concern for her, or the fact that it was a
at all. There’d been no woman in the pair that kidnapped me, of that much I was sure.
An arm slid behind my shoulders, gently pulling me upright, and a hand pressed a glass against my lips. “Just water, I promise,” she said again.
I drank. It didn’t really matter if it was “just water” or not.
“Can you swallow pills?”
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“Yes,” I whispered, and even that much sound drove another nail through my skull.
“Open up, then.” When I obeyed, she placed two flat pills on my tongue and brought the water up again. I swallowed obediently, then tried not to vomit when she gently lowered me back to a cool sheet and a firm mattress. She didn’t say anything else for a long time, not until the colored lights stopped dancing across the backs of my eyelids and I started to move of my own volition. Then she pulled away the cloth across my face, shielding my eyes from the overhead light until I could stop blinking.