It's actually scene two. The book opens with a big event that's roughly mid-book then backtracks to the beginning because I really wanted to set Lars's desperation up front (but I'm not willing to give that particular secret away in a public venue). Anyway, the second scene is below the cut. It's horrid and brutal, so you've been forewarned. It's also unedited so there may be typos and content is subject to change.
It had all started as just another long, awful day on the job, just another crime to clean up. After summers of working with Castellan Dubric, Lars had long become accustomed to drunks, thieves, and the occasional messy murder. Child molesters were another matter entirely. No aspect of their investigations ever came easy, including dealing with the parents. Especially when said parents were angry drunks like Missus Beliene.
Arms crossed over her narrow chest, she muttered around a shitty smelling cigarette, "If you two think I'm letting some boy examine my daughter you've lost your fool minds." She plucked the fag from her lips and jabbed it forward, the smoke leaving putrid tendrils in the air. "Ain't she been hurt enough? And where the piss is Lord Dubric? I sent for Lord Dubric."
Behind her, on the opposite side of the main room, three ragamuffin children jabbed and struck one another, apparently oblivious to their mother arguing with two castle officials. One of the children, a boy of maybe five summers, broke an already chipped stoneware tray over his toddling sister's head. The girl promptly screeched.
Beliene turned to yell over her shoulder, "Shut your fool heads, you shits, before I paddle your asses! Can't you see I'm talking here?"
Lars Hargrove glanced at his partner worriedly. Dien had sagged his usually imposing bulk against the greasy kitchen wall, coughing as if his lungs were full of mud, and his face had turned a mealy shade of gray. Lars wanted to help his old friend, thump him on the back to loosen the congestion, drag him outside to fresh air, something, but there was a job to do. And as much as he wished he could knock some sense and parenting skills into Beliene, his authority only extended so far.
"Ma'am," Lars said, as kind and helpful as he could manage, "Dubric simply couldn't come today. But let me assure you, I've worked for him for almost seven summers and I've seen many, many cases like this. I'm more than qualified to--"
"You're what," Beliene asked, taking another drag on the filthy fag, "sixteen?"
Fifteen. "Roughly that, yes," Lars said with a slight nod. "And I'm a squire, ma'am, been working for Dubric most of my life, and I've investigated several rapes. You daughter will be safe--"
"Safe my freckled ass," Beliene muttered, shoving aside the toddler that came to her looking for comfort. "The midwife just went in to her, and that's enough. You two can talk to the midwife."
Lars pressed down his aggravation and took a step toward her. "Ma'am, it's imperative that Squire Saworth or I examine your daughter's injuries. We need to see how he caught her, how he hurt her, because any little detail might make the difference between catching the bastard and him roaming free to harm someone else's child. There are innumerable things a midwife won't notice or ask about. And with your daughter being so young and Squire Saworth coughing, I am the only choice."
Before Beliene could retort, Dien managed to choke out, "Goddess damn it, let him do his pegging job so we can catch the shit and get the hells out of here."
Beliene sucked another drag off her cigarette and glared, but at last she nodded. "Don't you hurt my baby."
"I won't," Lars said as he brushed past her. "I promise."
The kitchen lay at one end of the main room of the house, the sitting area at the other, with a ladder leading up to the attic along a wall between. Lars grasped the rail and stepped onto the first rung. "Merilee? I'm coming up."
Upstairs in the gloom, a tiny, blood-splattered child lay weeping on a ratty straw tick, her feet toward the one cobwebby window. The girl had turned her face aside and clutched the pillow close while the midwife poked and prodded her. She squealed, weeping, and one foot kicked out to open air.
Goddess damn, she's maybe seven summers old.
"Glad it's you," Merilee said without glancing back. "I don't need to catch whatever Dien's got, and Dubric, well, he--" Merliee sighed and looked up at the little girl. "Jinnie? Honey, you have to let your knees relax, like I showed you. So I can see. It'll hurt a lot less if you can just relax." She gently laid her bloody hands on the girl's knees and eased them apart again.
"Hey, Jinnie," Lars said as he knelt beside the bed. "Can you look at me?" he asked, offering the child an encouraging smile. "My name's Lars and I'm here to help you."
Jinnie shook her head and clutched the stained pillow closer.
"I just need to ask you some questions and things," he said, coaxing. "C'mon, just look at me. We can talk while Merilee works. It'll be okay."
Jinnie hitched a big, trembling breath and the pillow moved aside, just a little. "It hurts," she said, her one partly-visible eye scrunching closed. Her hair had matted and tangled against the side of her head. Between it and the pillow, he couldn't see her face other than the occasional shimmer of the one eye.
"I know," Lars said, reaching forward. "Can I touch your hair? So I can see your face? So you can see me? Just your hair. I'm not going to hurt you."
The scrunched eye opened, flicking to the side to glance at his hand. "'Kay," she said, and she stared at his face as he gently brushed her hair aside with his palm. Her hair was sticky, her cheek bruised and pitted, and blood clotted at the corners of her lips. Lars smiled at her as he reintroduced himself, and took a quick sniff as he pulled back his hand. Molasses.
"I need to ask you some questions," he said, showing her his notebook and pencil, "and I'm going to write down everything you say, all right? The more you can tell me now, the better."
Jinnie nodded, her one walnut-brown eye pained and glistening. "You're from the castle?"
"Yep. Sure am," he said, noting that she was responsive and able to ask questions. "And it's my job to find whoever did this to you and make sure he can never do it again. Never ever."
Jinnie swallowed, the eye scrunching shut for a moment before returning to stare at him.
"So we're like a team," Lars said, his voice softening even more. "I need your help. Okay? So don't be scared, just try to remember everything you can. We'll get though this together."
Jinnie's tongue - unlacerated, Lars noted - had flicked out to moisten her lips. "'Kay. I'll try."
"That's a good girl," he said, recording every word she spoke. "Do you know who hurt you?"
She nodded, wincing as Merilee muttered to Lars's right, but Lars kept watching Jinnie. "Was that man. From the press. Where I was supposed to stay away from."
"Do you know his name?"
Jinnie shook her head. "No. Mama never said. Just that he'd hurt other girls and I needed to stay away. I didn't see him! I looked around, but didn't see him!"
"It's okay. Shh. He can't hurt you any more. Tell me what happened."
"He came up behind me. I tried to run but... but he caught me. 'Cause of the apples."
Jinnie nodded and licked her lips again. "I was pickin' some. For pies. Mama sent me."
"Where were you picking apples?"
"Sunders' farm. He lets us 'cause Mama cleans his house sometimes."
"When the man caught you, were you near a fence? A creek? Anything like that?"
"Just by the road. There was carts and stuff making noise, with cabbages and pumpkins and chickens and things. I didn't hear him 'til he was right there."
"So you ran?"
"Yessir. But he caught me anyways. Caught me and took me to a barn."
Lars continued to question Jinnie, wriggling loose every little morsel of information, even after Merliee had finished her examination and stood by the window, listening.
When he'd learned all he could, he touched Jinni's hand and thanked her. "You did great," he said, smiling. "But can I ask you for some more help? Just a couple of things, but they might be harder to do."
Jinnie nodded. "Sure. 'Kay."
"Can I look in your mouth? I might need to poke around a bit with my fingers."
Jinnie obediently opened her mouth for him. Lars carefully probed with his clean hand. Three of her front teeth were loose and bleeding from the sockets, but he found no other damage.
"Good job," he said as he left her teeth. "The last thing is, I need to look at where he hurt you, front and back. But I won't touch anything. Okay? I'll just look."
Jinni panted, shaking her head in obvious panic. "No, no. You're not a girl. I'm not supposed to let boys..."
"Honey," Merilee said from near the door, "I'm right here and he's just going to look. See where the man bit you, where he hurt you. He has to, honey, so you won't have to go through this again."
"But... But... It's down there," Jinni said, her voice rising, shaking.
"Hey," Lars said, holding her gaze with his own. "It's okay, I know you're scared. I would be too. But we're a team, remember? I'll just look. Won't touch. Promise."
Merilee came and grasped Jinni's hand. "It'll be okay. He's one of the good guys, honey. Just look at me. Shh now."
Lars moved aside and gently lifted the sheet covering Jinni's scrawny little body. His gaze moved past the old bruises and scrapes on her shins and knees - nearly every child he'd ever met had similar dings on their lower legs - but paused to note the thin lacerations on her thighs and belly, the scabbed human bite mark on the rise of her pubis - leftside upper canine missing and right bicuspid jagged and crooked - and the obvious stink of semen.
He asked Jinni to open her knees and she complied, whimpering. Another bite with the same missing and damaged teeth tore at the left side of her vulva. Her privates were bruised and torn. Bleeding. As was her anus. She rolled over at his request. Two more bites marked her left buttock. Pits and tiny gouged holes much like the ones on her cheek scribbled up her thighs, buttocks, and back, along with a hand-sized bruise at her waist. Two of the pits were filled with diminutive round grit and he leaned closer to examine them. Gravel? Some kind of seed?
"Jinnie, there's some rocks or something stuck in your skin. Can I take them out? Then they won't hurt anymore?" Jinnie nodded and after Lars carefully plucked the teeny orbs free and put them in an evidence envelope he thanked her for her bravery. Assuring her he was finished, he lowered the sheet before completing his notes.
Merilee came to him and they huddled close together, whispering. "How bad?" Lars asked. "What can't I see?"
"Trauma to her rectum and vaginal walls. But she'll heal. Nothing permanent there, it'll just take time." She shook her head and added, "I don't think he's very well hung, a regular or generously sized man would have left a lot more damage. I'm a bit worried about his leavings, though."
"Oh?" Lars looked at Merilee and raised an eyebrow, his pencil poised over the pad.
"Smells like snap," Merilee said, shrugging. "I'll know for sure in a moon or so. If she develops the lesions."
Piss. "Can you put her on the medicine? As a precaution?"
"I don't know what effect it'll have if she doesn't have the disease."
"Better a little nausea and bleeding than snap," Lars said. "I'll talk to her mother, get her approval. But get it ready."
"Sure." Merilee paused, searching Lars's eyes. "What are you going to do about Ethan?"
"Ethan who?" Lars asked, his voice lowering further.
"Just Ethan. Presses cider, syrup, corn mash. Regular pillar of the community." Merilee paused. "Last child he did this to caught pregnant. Thank the Goddess Jinnie's too young for that."
Lars let his breath out slowly, forcing himself to stay calm. "Why hasn't anyone told us about him before?"
"We have," Merilee snapped, her voice barely above a whisper. "I sent for Dubric myself last spring, but all he did was take Ethan to the castle gaol for a few moons. Said he didn't have enough proof to do more than that."
Lars pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes for a moment as he said a silent curse. "How many kids has he hurt?"
"Four. Five. Maybe more. Most mothers don't want the whole town to know their daughter's been defiled." She shrugged. "I've treated four, counting Jinnie, but I'm pretty sure Ethan got Miss Kizzel's girl. Snap doesn't infect most five summer olds."
Seething, Lars closed his notebook. "Well, I have proof. And I'll catch him. He won't go to gaol this time." He took a cleansing breath and asked, "Goddess damn it, Merilee, why haven't we heard about all of these attacks? Why's the shit still walking around? Don't these children have fathers?"
"No, no fathers. Even if an unwed mother made a stink, no one cares about their bastard children."
I do. "Send us the bill, for the exam, the medicine. All of it."
"Sure." Merilee touched Lars's upper arm. "I'm glad it was you, kiddo, not your boss. At least you care."
He thanked her and excused himself to confer with Dien, wishing all the while that he'd never have to investigate a child's rape ever again.