Read (LB1) Shakespeare's Champion Online

Authors: Charlaine Harris

(LB1) Shakespeare's Champion (20 page)

BOOK: (LB1) Shakespeare's Champion
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This time Walter agreed to swap his wife for his wife’s lover.

Without consulting anyone, Jack agreed.

Walter yelled that he’d bring Karen to the back door. Jack should be standing on the sundeck, weaponless. Walter would push Karen out and Jack would come in.

Detective Jack Leeds went outside, took off his jacket, his shoes and socks, his shirt, so Walter Kingsland could tell Jack wasn’t carrying a concealed weapon. And sure enough, out of the bedroom came Walter and Karen. From inside the kitchen, Walter yelled to Jack to turn around, so Walter could make sure there wasn’t a gun stuck in the back of Jack’s slacks.

Then Walter appeared, framed in the open back door holding Karen by one of her arms, his gun to her head. Now there was tape over her mouth, and her eyes were crazed. She was missing the little finger of her right hand, and blood was pouring out of the wound.

“Come closer,” Kingsland said. “Then I’ll let her go.”

Jack had stepped closer, his eyes on his lover.

Walter Kingsland shot Karen through the head and shoved her out on top of Jack.

And this part, media hounds, was on videotape. Jack’s yell of horror, Walter Kingsland’s screaming, “You want her so bad, you got her!” Walter’s taking aim at Jack, now covered with Karen’s blood and brains, trying to rise: a dozen bullets cutting Walter down, bullets fired unwillingly by men that knew him, men that knew Walter Kingsland for high-strung, hot-tempered, possessive; but also as brave, good-natured, and resourceful.

Jack had been a plainclothes detective, often working undercover. He had a stellar work record. He had a rotten personal life. He drank, he smoked, he’d already been divorced twice. He was envied, but not liked; decorated, but not altogether trusted. And after that day in the Kingslands’ backyard, he was no longer a Memphis cop. Like me, he sank to the bottom to avoid the light of the public eye.

This was the chronicle of the man I was in bed with.

“I guess we’ll have to talk about that sometime,” he said with a sigh, and his face looked immeasurably older than it had been. “And what happened to you.” His finger traced the worst scar, the one circling my right breast.

I lay close to him, put my arm over his chest. “No,” I said. “We don’t have to.”

“The funny thing is,” he said quietly, “Karen wrote that letter herself.”

“Oh, no.”

“She did.” After all this time, there was still pained wonder in his voice. “It was from her typewriter. She wanted Walter to know. I’ll never understand why. Maybe she wanted more attention from him. Maybe she wanted him to initiate a divorce. Maybe she wanted us to fight over her. I thought I knew her, thought I loved her. But I won’t ever know why she did that.”

I thought of things I could say, even things I wanted to say, but none of them could repair the damage I’d recalled to his mind. Nothing could ever make up for what Karen Kingsland had done to Jack, what he had done to himself. Nothing could ever get back Jack’s job, his reputation. And I knew nothing would ever erase the memory of Karen’s head exploding in front of his eyes.

And nothing could ever erase what had happened to me a couple of months afterward: the abduction, the rape, the cutting, the man I’d shot. I felt the urge to make some good memories.

I swung my leg over him, straddled him, bent to kiss him, smoothed his long black hair against the white lacetrimmed pillowcase. I was not ashamed of my scars with Jack Leeds. He had a full set of his own. I told him, close to his ear, that I was about to take him inside me again. I told him how it would feel. I could hear him draw his breath, and soon I could feel his excitement. My own heart was pounding.

It was even better this time.

“WHY HOUSECLEANING?”
HE asked later.

“I knew how to do it, and I could do it by myself.” That was the short answer, and true enough, as far as it went. “Why detective? What kind are you, anyway?”

“Private. Based in Little Rock. I knew how to do it, and I could do it by myself.” He smiled at me, a small smile, but there. “After a two-year apprenticeship with another detective, that is. There was another ex-cop from Memphis working there. I knew him a little.”

So Jack must be working for the Winthrops.

“I have to get dressed. I have an appointment,” I said, trying not to sound sad or regretful. So my departure wouldn’t seem too abrupt—cold, as Marshall would have said—I gave Jack a kiss before I swung out of bed. Somehow, the farther away from him I moved, the more I became conscious of my scars. I saw his eyes on them, seeing them for the first time in one frame, so to speak. I stood still, letting him look. But it was very hard, and my fists clenched.

“I’d kill them all for you if I could,” he said.

“At least I killed one,” I said. Our eyes met. He nodded.

I took a wonderful hot shower and shaved my legs and washed my hair and put on my makeup, restraining an urge to laugh out loud.

And I thought: Nothing. I will ask for
nothing
.

Jack had found his surviving clothes in the dryer and pulled them on. I eyed him thoughtfully, and rummaged in my drawers for one of those promotional T-shirts that are all one size. I’d gotten it when I’d donated blood. It had swallowed me, but it fit him, rather snugly; but it covered the bandage and his goose bumps. He winced as he maneuvered his left arm into its sleeve. I had the old jacket the hospital had pulled from its rummage closet, the one I’d worn home the day after the explosion. It fit, too.

He’d perked some coffee while I was showering, and he’d made an effort to pull the bedding straight.

“Normally I do better, but with my shoulder…” He apologized as I came into the bedroom to get my socks and sneakers.

“It’s all right,” I said briefly, and sat on the little chair in the corner to pull my socks on. I’d put on two T-shirts, which works better for me in cold weather than a sweatshirt—long sleeves are just a nuisance with housework. The edge of the pink tee peeked from under the sky blue of my outer shirt; happy colors. I’d picked pink socks, too. And my favorite pink and white high-tops. I was the brightest maid in Shakespeare. To hell with the cold and rain.

“Aren’t you going to ask me? About what I was doing last night?” he said. He was sitting on the end of the bed, looking braced for an attack.

I finished tying one bow, put my right foot on the floor, lifted my left. “I guess not,” I said. “I’m reckoning it has something to do with guns, the Winthrop clan, and maybe Del Packard’s murder. But I don’t know. Better not tell me, unless you need someplace to run to when the bad guys are chasing you.”

I’d meant that lightly, but Jack thought I was telling him he should explain his business to me since he’d taken shelter in my home; that he owed me, since he’d “used” me. I could see his face harden, see the distance opening.

“I mean that literally,” I told him. “Better not tell me, unless they’re after you.”

“What will you do, Lily,” he asked, putting his arms around me as I stood, “what will you do, when they come after me?”

I smiled. “I’ll fight,” I said.

Chapter 7

GETTING JACK TO HIS APARTMENT, THOUGH IT WAS
just a few yards away, was quite a challenge. At least it was his day off, and his shoulder would have a chance to rest before he had to show up at Winthrop Sporting Goods. It would have looked better if he could have worked out at Body Time this morning, but it was beyond even someone as determined as Jack Leeds. He was hurting.

I gave him my last hoarded pain pill to take when he got home. He stowed it in his pocket. Then, when nothing was passing on Track Street, he ducked out my kitchen door and into my car. I backed out and drove out of my driveway and into the Garden Apartments driveway, going all the way to the rear parking area. When I was closest to the door, so close it would be hard to see from the rear windows of the top apartments, Jack jumped out and went inside. I pulled into Marcus Jefferson’s former space and followed him in, to provide myself with a reason for entering the apartment parking lot. Even to me, this seemed a bit overly careful, but Jack had just given me a look to reinforce his admonishment that “these people” were very dangerous.

So I climbed the stairs to work in Deedra’s apartment, which was absolutely normal and gave me a bona fide reason to enter the building at this hour. I carried my caddy of cleaning materials up the stairs, expecting Jack would already be in his apartment and trying to get his clothes off to bathe, without upsetting his wound. I’d offered to help, but he wanted my day to run absolutely normally.

Far from being empty, the landing was full of men and suspicion. Darcy and the bullish Cleve Ragland were waiting in front of Jack’s door. They were having a face-off with Jack, who was standing with his keys in his hand.

“…don’t have to tell anyone where I spend the night,” Jack was saying, and there was a cold edge to his voice that meant business.

He hadn’t wanted us to be publicly associated. For that matter, neither had I. I should unlock Deedra’s apartment and trot back downstairs to get my mop leaving Jack to stonewall his way through this. That was what he’d want me to do.

“Hey again, Lily,” Darcy said, surprise evident in his voice. He looked bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but Cleve was showing signs of wear and tear. He hadn’t shaved, and maybe had slept in his clothes.

“You keep long hours, Darcy,” I replied, depositing my caddy at Deedra’s door and joining the little group. Jack glared at me.

“We just come by here to see if Jared was all right,” Darcy said, and his flat blue eyes swung back to Jack. “We rung him last night after the robbery and got no answer.”

“And I was telling you,” Jack said just as coldly, “that what I do on my time off is my business.”

I approached Jack from his left, put my arm around him, blocking the wounded side in case they tried clapping him on the shoulder.

“Our business,” I corrected him, looking steadily at Darcy.

“Whoo-ee,” Darcy said, sticking his hands in his own jean pockets as if he didn’t know what to do with them. His heavy coat bulged up in semicircles around his tucked hands.

Cleve glanced from me to Jack and back again, and said, “Reckon ole Jared got lucky.”

Immediately the tension eased. Jack slowly looped his arm around me. His fingers bit into my shoulder.

“Well, you were being a gentleman,” Darcy said approvingly.

“Now you got your question answered, can I get in my apartment?” Jack said, making an effort to sound amiable. But I could hear the anger pulsing in his voice.

“Sure, man. We’re going this very minute,” said Darcy, a broad grin on his face that I wanted to wipe right off. I promised myself I would if I got half a chance.

Jack stepped between Darcy and Cleve, put his key in the lock, and turned it as they started down the stairs. He automatically stood back to let me enter first, then shut the door behind us. Jack relocked it and went over to the window to see if his “friends” really left.

Then he swung around to face me, his anger open now and misdirected at me.

“We talked about this,” he began. “No one was going to connect us.”

“Okay, I’m gone,” I said shortly, and started for the door.

“Talk to me,” he demanded.

I sighed. “How else could you have gotten out of that?” I asked.

“Well, I…could have told them I’d driven to Little Rock to see my girlfriend.”

“And when they said, ‘Then why was your car parked here all night?’”

Frustrated, Jack brought his fist down on a little desk by the window. “Dammit, I won’t have it!”

I shrugged. No point in all this now. If he was going to act like a jerk, I’d go downstairs and get my mop. I had to work.

When I was on the top stair, he caught me. His good hand clamped down on my shoulder like iron. I stopped dead. I turned very slowly and said to him in my sincerest voice, “How about saying, ‘Thanks, Lily, for bailing me out, even though you had to stand there and be leered at for the second time in twelve hours’?”

Jack turned whiter around the mouth than he had been, and his hand dropped from my shoulder.

“And don’t you ever, ever restrain me again,” I told him, my eyes staring directly into his.

I turned, and with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, I went down the stairs. When I came up with the mop, I stood on the landing for a second, listening. His apartment was silent. I went into Deedra’s to work.

SO MUCH DRAMA
, so early in the morning, left me exhausted. I scarcely registered the unusual order in Deedra’s apartment; it was as if she was trying to show she’d changed her social habits by keeping her apartment neater. As I put away her clean underwear, I noted the absence of the pile of naughty pictures of herself she had kept underneath her bras. I expected to feel good about Deedra’s changed lifestyle, but instead, I could barely manage to finish my cleaning.

As I dumped the last waste can into a plastic bag, I admitted to myself that even more than tired, I felt sad. It would have been a pleasant treat to have had a morning to think of Jack in the relaxed warmth of good sex, in the glow of—what could I call it? Happiness. But, thanks to his pride—as I saw it—we’d ended on a sour note.

There was a pile of pierced earrings on Deedra’s dresser, and I decided to just sit there and pair them up. For a minute or two that was simple and satisfying; after all, they match or they don’t. But my restless mind began wandering again.

A pretend robbery during a mysterious meeting at Winthrop Sporting Goods, in the middle of a most inclement night. The blue flyers that had caused so much trouble. The long, heavy black bags that the Winthrop house had been burgled to get—where were they now? The three unsolved murders in tiny Shakespeare. The out-of-place Mookie Preston. The bombing. I couldn’t make sense of all the pieces at one time, but the shape of it was wrong. This was no group of fanatics with a coherent manifesto at work; it all seemed very sloppy. For the first time, I considered what Carrie had said about the timing of the bombing. If the goal had been to kill lots of black people, the explosion had come too late. If the goal had been to “merely” terrorize the black community, the explosion had come too early. The deaths in the church had enraged the African-American people of Shakespeare. Whoever had planted the bomb did not represent white supremacy, but white stupidity.

BOOK: (LB1) Shakespeare's Champion
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