“Kaylee,” I said, each syllable getting softer. I felt like my cells were stumbling around my body, looking for a place to hide. Four years of police work and I’d never been so flustered.
“Freeman,” she said, addressing me by the surname she’d heard her husband use over countless dinners and bedtime discussions. Red dots littered her face, but they made her look more beautiful, like a splattered canvas. “Here by force or by choice?”
“By the power vested in me by God.” I said it without expecting a laugh, but a splash of embarrassment hit me when I didn’t get one. “I’m bringing you home. Did you realize you could go home? No one’s mad at you. It’ll all be fine.”
She jabbed her knife into the body’s shoulder and pushed herself to her feet. After wiping her hands on her pants, leaving dark streaks and bits of clinging flesh, she motioned for me to walk alongside her.
“When I was little, we had rats in our apartment,” she said. “My mom put out those metal traps and when we caught one, I saw its back snapped, not a chunk of cheese missing from it. I cried over it, wished he would’ve just gotten a nibble of the cheese to make his death worth it. So I made mom get rid of the traps and I made my own, safer ones. Actually caught a few and let them go in the woods. Until one bit me. Instead of throwing it across the room, I squeezed down on it.” She mimicked the gesture with an empty hand. “It felt nice, so I did it again. With frogs, pigeons. Little things, back then.”
The walls of my throat crammed together. “But when you got older?”
Of course I did. Hardwick gave me more updates about his Dachshund than his two daughters. While we’d ride around the block, he’d tell me how healthy Biscuit’s new brand of food was, how he learned to nudge open doors, how much he loved his squeak toy shaped like a gun.
Every single day, a new story about his precious pup. But then the stories stopped with no indication of why. I never asked, because I knew Hardwick could never say the words.
“I mean, Biscuit was old, right?” I asked. “Ten years is a long life for a dog.”
“Twelve. Kenny thinks we had him put down, because he bit Hailey.” She paused. “I bit Hailey.”
One eyebrow rose as the other lowered. Hailey and Hannah, Kaylee’s twins, were spoiled rotten. Their house was falling to pieces, but their college funds were already up to five digits. Kaylee took good care of them. She would never hurt them.
She sucked a deep breath in through her teeth and continued, “She wouldn’t eat her food and I just wanted her to take the damn spoonful. Just one spoonful, so I dug my nails into her and I bit her. I don’t know why, I just… My mom’s a doctor, so I had Hailey stitched up in her house. Couldn’t risk going to the hospital and having them see the bites were from human teeth.”
She blinked until some tears dropped, her first signs of actual emotion. “I blamed it on the dog, because the story was easy. Believable. But then I realized I could kill the dog, too, since he was ‘vicious’ and needed to be put down. I told Kenny I’d bring him to the vet, so he didn’t have to watch. But I brought him out to the woods instead.”