Strawgirl
Franer, Bo noted glumly, was a Class A candidate for suicide.
    "Did Paul Massieu ever molest or sexually assault your daughter Samantha?" Bo forced herself to address the pathetic figure.
    What do you do for an encore, Bradley? Bite the heads off kittens?
    As the woman continued to rock from the waist, hanks of fine, dust-blonde hair pulled loose from a hastily brushed bun at the nape of her neck. In the artificial light of the social worker's office, the floating tendrils might have been the hair of a swimmer. Underwater. Riding currents no words could penetrate.
    The tiny office seemed to be shrinking. There was no air. Bo wished the priest would go out into the hall rather than witness the spectacular barbarism indigenous to her job. But he merely sat gazing with kind, basset-brown eyes at the grieving mother.
    "Paul loves the girls," Bonnie Franer whispered in a final attempt at coherence. Then her eyes rolled back and she began to rock harder. "It's my fault, my fault, always all my fault." The last words emerged as a moan, continued as a mindless chant. The rocking and moaning would go on, Bo realized, until the woman was medicated. There would be no more communication. Gently Bo placed a hand on the woman's frail wrist, but there was no response.
    "Let me." Father Frank Goodman jumped off the desk and slid a muscular arm around the woman's shoulders. Inexplicably, he began to sing something that sounded remarkably like "Send in the Clowns" in a soft tenor. His singing actually seemed to relax the frenzied rocking.
    Bo wondered what had happened to the Catholic church since she left it twenty years ago.
    "Had enough?"
    It was Andrew LaMarche, glacially present at the door.
    "Reinert's issued a warrant," she said in tones designed to encourage a professional response. "But this woman won't survive a night in jail. She'll ..." her voice began to crack, "she'll find a way to . . ." The words were cardboard stuck in her throat. The same words required in describing Laurie's death. "She's got to have a suicide watch."
    "I've called for a psychiatric consult." LaMarche conceded the point while ignoring Bo's discomfiture. "Mrs. Franer will be taken to County Psychiatric. I hope this will end the involvement of Child Protective Services with this unfortunate woman."
    Bo regarded the man who'd sent long-stemmed roses to her office and phoned every week since saving her life in an unusual case the previous fall. A tin statue would have produced more warmth.
    "Nothing would please me more, Doctor," she emphasized the title, "but a child has been killed. The district attorney will order the immediate filing of a sibling petition. Fifteen minutes after I leave here, Hannah Franer will legally be in the custody of San Diego County's Juvenile Court for her own protection. It's my case until she's found and her safety is protected."
    "You're destroying innocent people. Can't you see that?"
    "At least one innocent person has already been destroyed," Bo said as she pushed past him. "Or had you forgotten?"
    In the parking lot Bo found a small picture of St. Theresa under her drivers-side windshield wiper. On the back a large hand had penned, "This is clergy parking, bozo! Fr. F. Goodman"
    Climbing on the hood of her car, Bo tucked the prayer card onto the left foot of Mabel Mammoth, clambered down and lit a cigarette.
    "I have the most noxious job on the planet," she told the creature, "involving not only malignant acts and vile individuals, but pompous pediatricians and priests who should still be playing video games after school. Someone has slaughtered a child, and I have a sense that everyone connected to the case is locked into dead-end viewpoints that are obscuring the truth. I don't know why I feel that way, Mabel, but I do. Is it because I stopped the lithium? Am I getting too imaginative here? And is there any chance I can find a job somewhere that doesn't surpass Dante's Inferno in wretchedness?"
    The magenta mammoth said nothing

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