Today's Reading

It was well after 1 a.m., but lights were on in almost all the apartments and people milled about the fringe of the property. The complex was made up of several independent buildings, with four forming a square around a common courtyard. Concrete walkways surrounded the sparse courtyard, which contained a tired lawn, a couple of trees, and two plain wood benches on either side. Next to one bench she saw a woman she took to be Michael's wife bending over someone seated on the ground, who was half-leaning against the bench.

"Over here," Michael said. "Here."

Leah stepped toward the victim, coming up short when she saw the crumpled, battered figure on the ground. The beaten woman looked more like a girl, really, with her small frame. Her eyes were swollen shut and her face resembled raw hamburger. A low keening sound came from her, but Leah couldn't tell if it was a moan or the whistle of her breath through an obviously broken nose.

"Look what he did to her," Lavinia said. "He beat her within an inch of her life."

For a second Leah was paralyzed. Her knees threatened to buckle. She'd seen worse...but just barely. This hit home.

"I'm trying to stop the bleeding..." Lavinia turned her face toward Leah, tears in her eyes, bloody towel in one hand while she held the injured victim's left hand with the other. Her expression begged Leah to fix it.

Biting her tongue and tasting blood, Leah snapped out of it, pulled gloves out of her back pocket, and knelt down on one knee. But there wasn't much she could do. There was nothing spurting, no arterial bleeding. There was a lot of blood and horrific damage to the victim's face that she had no way to fix. It was pitted, cratered. What did this? she wondered. This was more than fists alone.

The victim's right hand caught her eye, her bloody fist clenching something. A pencil? A pen?

"Can you hear me?" Leah asked.

"Alex. Her name is Alex."

Leah nodded, but even addressing her by name got no response. A siren approaching told her that medics would soon be there to take over.

She turned her attention to the weeping Lavinia, placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Medics are close," she said gently. "You've done all you can."

"The poor girl...she's been a good neighbor."

"And you're being a good neighbor. What's her last name?"

"Porter. Alex Porter."

"Where is Carlos, the guy who did this?"

Lavinia's eyes darkened; she shook her head. "That worthless fellow, he ran off. I didn't see where he went. We just wanted to help her."

Leah heard the bounce and rattle of a gurney rolling across the concrete. She pulled Lavinia and Michael away from the victim to give the EMTs room to work. Relieved that the jarring image of the victim was no longer her concern, Leah readied her notebook to take down the witness information. Walking up with the medics was her backup, Clint Tanner, a low-key guy Leah barely knew. He had a couple of years more on the job than her, but he worked days, not the late-night shift, so they'd never worked together. Tonight he was filling in for someone.

"How can I help?" he asked, glancing at the medical activity going on around the victim.

"I just got a sketch of what happened," Leah told him. "I don't know where the suspect went. See if any of these people can help."

He nodded. Leah's attention went back to Lavinia. She and her husband had their heads together. They were praying.

Leah cleared her throat to get their attention. "Do you know Carlos's full name?"

Lavinia blew her nose. "He's Porter too, but they're separated."

Michael snorted and Leah turned toward him.

"That no-'count. Alex has tried to get rid of him. She stays in that apartment yonder." He pointed to an apartment across the courtyard. The door was open, and all the lights were on. "He just shows up once in a while, for money, you know?"

"Are there any children?"

Michael shook his head.

"Any guns or other weapons that you know of?"

Again, a headshake.

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