Detective Patrick Quick has taken up a big place in Delilah’s life. That is, when he isn’t consumed by a case. And right now the case that is taking Quick away from Delilah involves a serial rapist and is striking very close to home.
On her way to her first day of work, Delilah witnesses a young girl falling in front of a subway train – or was she pushed? The victim turns out to have been a student at the middle school where Delilah has been assigned to teach and the teacher she is subbing for is a missing person herself. As Delilah gets to know her students and befriends a teacher on staff, she realizes that many have been hiding dark secrets that suggest abuse and worse. And when yet another girl who has hinted strongly that she was abused is a no show to class, Delilah stops counting on police help and follows leads on her own. Putting a dangerous predator on her trail.
The dramatic follow-up to Susan Israel’s debut suspense novel, Over My Live Body, Student Bodies is a novel rippling with tension and twists.
There never seems to be a train lighting up the tunnel when you need one in a hurry, but today one is there and the doors close just as the red message at the turnstile commands me to swipe my MetroCard through again. And again. Damn! I drop my MetroCard and get shoved by someone behind me. I turn around to give whoever it is a dirty look and see a dark-haired young girl wearing a pleated white dress. Late for her confirmation or something like that, I’m thinking. How long is that dress going to stay pristine down here? She looks dazed. I pick up my MetroCard and get through the turnstile on the next swipe, then step out of her way. She swipes hers, too, her hand shaking.
I head for the public phone to my right to call the school I’m supposed to be at to say I’m running a little late. Nobody answers. I’ll apologize profusely when I get there. When I turn back toward the platform, the girl is on her knees, her head bowed. She must really be late if it’s come to this. I’ve never seen anyone kneeling on a subway platform before. She closes her eyes. Commuters make a part around her. A street person starts singing “The Greatest Love Of All” in front of the newsstand, palm extended, asking for handouts. Commuters make a part around him too. They’re just obstacles, like the red, white and blue poles along the length of the platform. I turn back to look at the girl. Behind me I get a whiff of cheap cologne. The same cologne I smelled in Sachi’s bedroom. I whirl around. Anyone here could be wearing that cologne. And a lot of it too. I’m at a disadvantage. I don’t know who I’m looking for. Who here would be Sachi’s type? Do I know Sachi’s type?
I go over to the newsstand to get a bag of M & Ms, sniffling so much from the cologne that the news-vendor gestures to a pile of pocket tissues. “You got a cold? You want these too, miss?” I shake my head. My feet sense the vibration of the approaching train first and I start dropping change in my hurry to pay the vendor before I miss this train too. A scream punctuates the approach of the train. Trains don’t make noise like this. I whirl around and see a man with his hands extended in front of him. I can’t tell if he’s been grabbing at something or pushing something. The girl in the white dress literally flies in front of the train as it hisses to a stop. I cover my eyes for a split second and then force myself to look around me. A crowd forms around where the girl was kneeling just moments ago. More people scream. A couple of people lean over the platform and gag. I turn away again. I don’t want to believe what I think just happened actually happened.
“She was trying to get away from that person who grabbed her elbow.”
“It looked to me like he was trying to keep her from jumping.”
“It looked to me like he pushed her toward it.”
“Well, she’s gone anyway.”
“Call nine-one-one, someone, hurry!”
All of these accounts turn out to be soliloquies because nobody’s here to question these people, not yet. I take several deep breaths. I’ve lost the urge to sneeze. Whoever was wearing that cologne is gone. I take a good look at the faces on the platform. Quite a few of them have a distinct greenish tinge, blending well with the mosaics of beavers on the subway wall. I imagine mine must look that way too. I hear the squawk of police radios on the stairway. Suddenly blue uniforms swarm the platform and start buzzing orders. “Okay, everybody, stay back, give the EMS guys a chance to get through.”
“She’s beyond EMS,” one onlooker says.
“You a doctor, sir?”
“Well then, stand back with everyone else and let someone qualified make that determination.”
A few people back up toward the turnstiles. Another officer stops them. “No one’s going nowhere just yet. We got a report this girl was pushed.”
“She wasn’t pushed. Looked to me like she was trying to get away from somebody and lost her footing.”
“That ain’t all she lost.”
“People, I’m going to have to ask you to stay over there by the newsstand out of our way till somebody asks you some questions about what happened here.”
A man standing next to me clears his throat. “I didn’t see anything, can I go?”
“No one’s going nowhere,” the officer snaps.
“Candy, gum, magazines,” the newsstand vendor chants in a heavily accented voice. “Get something to pass the time.”
“We want to talk to you too,” the officer says to the vendor.
I can’t see beyond the wall of blue lined up along the platform. I realize I still have the bag of M & Ms clutched in my hand. I’ve lost my craving for them and it’s so hot on the platform that I’m sure they’ll have melted before I leave. I look around for a trash can to throw them in and see more scuffed shoes descending the stairs. Then I see someone that makes my hand squish the life out of that bag of M & Ms altogether.
“Delilah,” Quick says as he starts toward me. “Did you see anything?” I have a distinct feeling just from the tone of his voice that he would rather I didn’t see anything.
It may be more a question of what I smelled. I shake my head. “I’m not sure. I don’t know if what I noticed would be very helpful.”
“Try me,” he says. Under other circumstances there is nothing I’d rather do. “Wait here. I’ll want to talk to you at the station.”
“I have to wait here?”
He nods. “Afraid so.” He mumbles a few asides to a uniformed cop to his right and then turns back to me. “I can’t say how long we’ll be. We’ve got to talk to a lot of witnesses.” He looks around. “As you can see. We want to talk to anyone who’s handicapped and elderly first, so they can go. We don’t want anyone having heat stroke down here.”
Another detective saunters up to him. “Girl did an Anna Karenina, from what I understand.”
Where did he come up with that? I wonder if an all points bulletin is going to be posted for someone named Vronsky. The uniforms start beckoning potential witnesses away from the platform, toward the benches against the wall and through the turnstiles. A detective sidles up to the newsstand behind me. A baby begins to wail loudly. “I got to nurse,” his mother protests, pulling at one of the policeman’s sleeve with her free hand.
He whirls around. “Hey, don’t do that.”
“I got to nurse. My baby hungry.”
“Sit over there,” he points to the row of benches behind me, next to the newsstand.
I look over at the pay phone, thinking I better call the school to say I’m not going to be able to make it, period, that they’re going to need a substitute for this substitute, and probably call Heidi Obermeyer, too, to tell her to get another model, but the line is longer than the line to cash checks in banks the first of the month. I hate doing a no-show but expect everybody will understand. At least I hope they will. The girl on the tracks is never going to show up for anything again. I’m beginning to smell vomit. I don’t know how long it takes for a dead body to start to smell and I don’t want to find out. I look over at Quick who’s deep in conversation with yet another witness. How can he stand this, dealing with death all the time? I start to walk farther down the platform, as far away from the mayhem as I can, until I can’t go any further.
“Miss, where you going?” someone calls out. I ignore him.
I reel around. Quick waves me back and points to the congregation of witnesses clustered around the newsstand. “I need air,” I whisper to him, clutching my stomach. “I feel like I’m going to be sick.”
“Okay, hold on, I’ll get someone to escort you.” I wish I could hold on to him, witnesses be damned. “I want to talk to you at the house, not here. I’ll be there as soon as I’m finished up here.” He keeps watch on me as he takes a uniformed officer aside and then says something to him I can’t hear and gestures for me to go with him. I’d gladly follow someone into a cell as long as it meant getting away from this. But I’d rather it be Quick.