Andy stared at her mother’s mouth, wondering if she was hearing the word or reading the word on her lips—so familiar that her brain processed it as heard rather than seen.
“Andy,” Laura repeated. “Help me.”
That had come through, a muffled request like her mother was speaking through a long tube.
“Andy,” Laura had grabbed both of Andy’s hands in her own. Her mother was bent over in the chair, obviously in pain. Andy had knelt down. She’d started knotting the tablecloth.
Tie it tight—
That’s what Andy would have said to a panicked caller on the dispatch line: Don’t worry about hurting her. Tie the cloth as tight as you can to stop the bleeding.
It was different when your hands were the ones tying the cloth. Different when the pain you saw was registered on your own mother’s face.
“Andy.” Laura had waited for her to look up.
Andy’s eyes had trouble focusing. She wanted to pay attention.
She needed to pay attention.
Her mother had grabbed Andy by the chin, given her a hard shake to knock her out of her stupor.
She had said, “Don’t talk to the police. Don’t sign a statement. Tell them you can’t remember anything.”The way she had held up her fingers—four on the left hand, one on the right—as she explained to the shooter that he only had one bullet left out of the six he had started with.
“Promise me,” Laura had insisted. “Don’t talk to the police.” Four hours later, Andy still hadn’t talked to the police, but that was more because the police had not talked to her. Not at the diner, not in the ambulance and not now.
Andy was waiting outside the closed doors to the surgical suite while the doctors operated on Laura. She was slumped in a hard plastic chair. She had refused to lie down, refused to take the nurse up on the offer of a bed, because nothing was wrong with her. Laura needed the help. And Shelly. And Shelly’s mother, whose name Andy could not now remember.
Who was Mrs. Barnard, really, if not a mother to her child? Andy sat back in the chair. She had to turn a certain way to keep the bruise on her head from throbbing. The plate glass window overlooking the boardwalk. Andy remembered her mother tackling her to the ground. The pounding at the back of her head as her skull cracked against the window. The spider-webbing glass. The way Laura quickly scrambled to stand. The way she had looked and sounded so calm.
The way she had held up her fingers—four on the left hand, one on the right—as she explained to the shooter that he only had one bullet left out of the six he had started with.The way she had held up her fingers—four on the left hand, one on the right—as she explained to the shooter that he only had one bullet left out of the six he had started with.
Andy rubbed her face with her hands. She did not look at the clock, because looking up at the clock every time she wanted to would make the hours stretch out interminably. She ran her tongue along her fillings. The metal ones had been drilled out and replaced with composite, but she could still remember how The Sound had made them almost vibrate inside her molars. Into her jaw. Up into her skull. A vise-like noise that made her brain feel as if it was going to implode.
Eeeeeeeeeeee . . .
Andy squeezed her eyes shut. Immediately, the images started scrolling like one of Gordon’s vacation slide shows.
Laura holding up her hand.
The long blade slicing into her palm. Wrenching the knife away.
Backhanding the blade into the man’s neck. Blood.
So much blood.
Jonah Helsinger. That was the murderer’s name. Andy knew it—she wasn’t sure how. Was it on the dispatch radio when she rode in the ambulance with her mother? Was it on the news blaring from the TV when Andy was led into the triage waiting room? Was it on the nurses’ lips as they led her up to the surgical wing?
“Jonah Helsinger,” someone had whispered, the way you’d whisper that someone had cancer. “The killer’s name is Jonah Helsinger.”
“Ma’am?” A Savannah police officer was standing in front of Andy.
“I don’t—” Andy tried to recall what her mother had told her to say. “I can’t remember.”
“Ma’am,” the officer repeated, which was weird because she was older than Andy. “I’m sorry to bother you, but there’s a man. He says he’s your father, but—”
Andy looked up the hall.
Gordon was standing by the elevators.
She was up and running before she could think about it. Gordon met her halfway, grabbing her in a bear hug, holding her so close that she could feel his heart pounding in his chest. She pressed her face into his starched white shirt. He had been at work, dressed in his usual three-piece suit. His reading glasses were still on top of his head. His Montblanc pen was tucked into his shirt pocket. The metal was cold against the tip of her ear.Andy had been losing her shit in little pieces since the shooting began, but in her father’s arms, finally safe, she completely lost it.
Andy had been losing her shit in little pieces since the shooting began, but in her father’s arms, finally safe, she completely lost it. She started to cry so hard that she couldn’t support her own weight. Gordon half lifted, half dragged her to a set of chairs against the wall. He held onto her so tightly that she had to take shallow breaths to breathe.
“I’m here,” he told her, again and again. “I’m here, baby. I’m here.”
“Daddy,” she said, the word coming out around a sob.
“It’s okay.” Gordon stroked back her hair. “You’re safe now. Everybody’s safe.”
Andy kept crying. She cried so long that she began to feel self-conscious, like it was too much. Laura was alive. Bad things had happened, but Laura was going to be okay. Andy was going to be okay. She had to be okay.
“It’s okay,” Gordon murmured. “Just let it all out.”
Andy sniffed back her tears. She tried to regain her composure. And tried. Every time she thought she might be all right, she remembered another detail—the sound of the first gunshot, like a jar popping open, the thwack as her mother lodged the knife into flesh and bone—and the tears started to fall again.
“It’s all right,” Gordon said, patiently stroking her head. “Everybody’s okay, sweetheart.”
Andy wiped her nose. She took a shaky breath. Gordon leaned up in the chair, still holding onto her, and pulled out his handkerchief.
Andy blotted away her tears, blew her nose. “I’m sorry.”
“You have nothing to apologize for.” Gordon pushed her hair back out of her eyes. “Were you hurt?”
She shook her head. Blew her nose again until her ears popped. The Sound was gone.
She closed her eyes, relief taking hold.Why was he telling her what to say? Had he talked to Laura? Was her mother in trouble?
“All right?” Gordon asked. His hand was warm against her back. She felt anchored again. “You okay?”
Andy opened her eyes. Her nerves still felt raw, but she had to tell her father what had happened. “Mom—she had a knife, and this guy, she mur—”
“Shhh,” he hushed, pressing his fingers to her lips. “Mom’s okay. We’re all okay.”
He put his finger back to her lips to keep her quiet. “I talked to the doctor. Mom’s in recovery. Her hand is going to be fine. Her leg is fine. It’s all fine.” He raised an eyebrow, tilted his head slightly to the right where the cop was standing. The woman was on the phone, but she was clearly listening.
Gordon asked Andy, “You sure you’re okay? Did they check you out?”
“You’re just tired, baby. You were up all night working. You saw something horrible happen. Your life was in danger. Your mother’s life was in danger. It’s understandable you’re in shock. You need some rest, give your memories some time to piece themselves together.” His tone was measured. Andy realized that Gordon was coaching her. “All right?”
She nodded because he was nodding. Why was he telling her what to say? Had he talked to Laura? Was her mother in trouble?
She had killed a man. Of course she was in trouble.
From PIECES OF HER by Karin Slaughter. Copyright © 2018 by Karin Slaughter. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.