Melody swallowed hard. She stared into inner space again. “You promise, right? You’ll listen and … I mean, really listen, right?”
Tollin considered, tipped her head. “Yes. I’ll listen. I’ll reserve judgment for after you finish. Fair enough?”
She nodded, her matted and sweat-soaked red locks swishing with the motion. “All right. I doubt I can make you believe, but if you listen … I guess that’s all I can ask. You’re going to put me away when I’m finished.”
“Put you away? What do you mean?”
“I mean you’re going to commit me to a mental institution,” Melody’s voice was harsh and bitter. “That’s what happens to people like me. I came here knowing that, but I couldn’t go to the cops … they’d think …”
Tollin sat still. “Think what? Is there something the police need to be involved with going on here, Melody?”
The same bitter, doubt-filled expression turned on Tollin. “They already are, Dr. Tollin. I came here because they won’t believe me. I thought maybe … maybe someone here could figure out how … to get them back out. The bodies … they’re here … maybe still here. At least one … God, I hope so …” Melody covered her eyes and sobbed, a tired, racking cry that shook her shoulders and hunched her back.
“Melody,” Tollin said, and laid a gentle, soft touch on her back. “Please, tell me what’s going on. I can’t help you until you do.”
Melody pulled her face from her hands, ruddy and streaked with tears, and barked a harsh, mirthless laugh. “Help me? You think you can help me?” Another hollow chuckle devoid of jocularity. “Gimme a break, doctor. I don’t need your help. The people in these pictures do.”
“May I see them?” Tollin reached for the camera, still laying on Melody’s lap.
“NO!” Melody shouted, a booming, definitive yell, and tore the camera over her shoulder, putting her body between Tollin and the beat up old device. “No, don’t touch it!”
“All right!” Tollin said, pulling her hands back to show submission, “All right, hon, I won’t … won’t look, okay? Just … just calm down for me.”
Melody’s bloodshot eyes registered disbelief, her eyebrows converging in the center of her brow. “Calm down? You … have you been listening?? I’ve got what amounts to a bucket of souls here, doctor. If the camera is damaged, lost, another photo taken — do you know what … look, just don’t tell me to calm down. Okay? Listen, and let me tell you what’s going on, but don’t try to touch this camera.” She drew a halting breath that stuttered into her lungs.
“Okay,” Tollin soothed. “I’ll listen. Tell me what you’ve got to say.”
Melody shook her head. “I … I don’t have anything left to say. Just listen.”
“Uh … okay. Okay.”
The buzz of the fluorescent lights hummed, and the occasional fall of orthopedic shoes squeaked over the hard tile floor. The sterile smell, the crash cart loaded with plastic, metal and a defibrillator in the corner, the panel of jacks and plugs and outlets over the bed on the wall behind it … all of it seemed to come alive with sound, waiting for Melody to speak, to tell her story. She drew a long breath and let it out through flapping lips.
She swallowed hard again, and put an absent hand to her neck, trying to force her own spittle down.