Kezia says, “Prester? I need to tell you something. And I’m thinking maybe you should come here to Javier’s house to hear all of it.”
Detective Prester is an old man, so old I’m surprised he’s not retired, but he’s still smart. You can see it the second he looks at you.
He takes everything in with one long glance, including the two of us on the couch. We haven’t been told to go and hide this time, and I’m not sure we would have, anyway. “Well, damn,” he says, then closes the door behind him. “Guess that answers my questions about the kids. Where is Gwen?”
“Not here,” Kezia says. “Have a seat.”
Prester does, at the kitchen table. Javier’s made coffee, and he pours three cups and sits in the third spot. Prester accepts and sips, but he keeps looking over at the two of us. I wonder what he sees. Little orphan children, I think, and I hate that. But it’s true. We’re alone now. Mom isn’t coming back, and even if she did, I wouldn’t go with her. I can take care of myself, but what about Connor? He’s not old enough. He needs help. I’m smart enough to know they won’t let me be his Mom stand-in.
We need help.
For the first time, the size of what happened hits me, and I feel the wobbly burn of tears in my throat and my eyes. I look over at Connor. He’s staring at his book again, but he hasn’t turned the page in minutes. He’s not reading. He’s hiding. He’s good at that.
I envy that right now, because I don’t know what to do.
“Gwen and Sam—” Kezia begins, but Prester holds up a hand. It trembles a little.
“No, Claremont. I been doing this awhile now. I think I can solve this little mystery. Gwen and Sam went running off on their own investigation. They figured the kids would be safer here, with you. How am I doing so far?”
“You’re on it.”
“And from the look on all these faces, something’s gone pretty wrong,” he says. “Pretty damn wrong. They missing?”
“No,” Javier says. “But things are getting complicated. I didn’t want you thinking Kezia isn’t a good cop, or we’ve got some family trouble, or something. This isn’t that.”
“Looks exactly like family trouble to me,” Prester says. “Just not your own.”
As an answer, Javier powers up his tablet and hands it over. Prester watches the video, and I can’t tell if it affects him at all. He just nods and hands it back. “You believe it?”
The question hangs in the air for a long few seconds, and then Kezia says, “I don’t want to. It does seem really damn convenient that this video was out there and somehow nobody got it to the cops before her trial. Why’d they hold it back?”
“People do,” Prester say. “Answer’s always the same. Money or power. Somebody was hoping for a payday, if it’s genuine. If it isn’t, it’s about power. And that all depends on who benefits.”
I think about that. What did that mean? Who could possibly benefit from something that horrible? What good did it do?
I don’t work it out until Javier says, “Having this hanging out there puts Gwen on the defensive. It makes people look for her, and she has to stop looking for her ex to watch her own back.”
Dad. It benefits Dad. My head hurts. It doesn’t make sense, but it does, too. I just can’t believe anyone would do something like that deliberately.
“Benefits Absalom, too,” Kezia says. “Right?”
“It does, since she must be on their trail, too,” Prester agrees. “Not saying it can’t be real, but like you said, Kez. Seems too easy. And you have to ask yourself: Who the hell was creeping around in the bushes filming this in the first place? Seeing them carrying an unconscious girl in, and not calling the police? If that landed on my desk, I’d have to first ask where it came from, and why.”
I’m starting to feel a little sick now. He’s making it sound like some story out of a movie. But it isn’t. Not at all. He’s making it sound like she’s innocent.
She can’t be. Because I made her go away.
“I already walked Connor through how he found it,” Kezia says. “I can show you. Apparently, he’s been on a message board that talks about his dad’s crimes. There was a link. It’s been taken down now, but that’s where he got the video.”
“You really buy her story about it being faked?” Javier says. “It looks so real.”
“You gone to the movies lately? People with PCs and a decent skill set can make impossible things look damn real nowadays. It takes forensic analysis to work out what’s real and what isn’t. I think this hit everybody in an emotional place, not a logical one.”
“So you don’t believe it,” Kezia says.
“I’m saying that I’ll keep an open mind until the tech geeks tell me different, one way or the other.” Prester drinks some more coffee and cuts his gaze toward me and Connor. “You sure this is the best place for these kids?”
“No,” Javier says. “But I’m sure it’s better than being dragged out there on some road trip looking for trouble. If Gwen finds it, last thing any of us wants is them in the cross fire.”
Prester nods in agreement. “Appreciate you bringing me in on this. I’ll keep it quiet.” He turns to Kezia. “Far as I’m concerned, you can be out in the field most of the time. If the field means you’re here looking out for them, that’s all good, too. We get something to investigate, I’ll call you. Otherwise, you stay close. I don’t want anybody else coming after them. Might look bad on my record.”
He takes his cup to the sink and rinses it, and then he shakes hands with Javier and Kezia before he goes. He never talks directly to us.
When the door closes behind the detective, Kezia and Javier look at each other for a few long seconds, and then Kezia comes to sit down in the armchair, across from the two of us. “You guys okay?” she asks.
I want to laugh. Seriously. We are not okay. How could we be okay? I’m shaking all over.
“I’m fine,” I say. She doesn’t know me well enough to know that when I tuck my chin in and let my hair droop over my face, I’m lying. “What do you want us to say? She let us down. She let us all down. She ought to be in jail with Dad.”