Prologue

5 years ago

    "Mommy?”
    "Yes Jennifer..."
    As she turned, the girl’s mother knocked the plastic silverware basket off the kitchen counter with her elbow.  Knives, forks and spoons clattered across the tile floor.  
    “Damn” she shoved her hair back from her face with both hand. “This I don’t need right now.”  She was already late for the luncheon.  “Not today, of all days.”  In half an hour, the Chamber of Commerce was going to tell the world she was the President – the first woman to hold the post in the town’s two hundred and thirty five year history.  Caroline White felt a rush of pride.  She was a success. 
    And where the hell was Mrs. Richmond?  She was supposed to arrive at eleven to watch the kids.
    "Mommy?"
    "I heard you honey.  Watch out now.”  She stared down at the utensils scattered across the burnt orange ceramic tile like pickup sticks.
    "'Manda looks funny."
    "She does?"  
    The small television in the corner of the kitchen blared, announced a breaking story, interrupting a game show mid-question.  A fiery red headline flashed across the screen.
    "Mommy?"
    "Yes, Jennifer."  She gathered utensils in each fist and dropped them in the sink.
    "Mommy?”
    “I heard you honey.  How does Amanda look?"
    "She looks...” Jennifer paused and stared at the TV screen.  Caroline glanced over.  The first clip showed a man in a business suit being led, handcuffed, into a police station.  He was impeccably dressed.  It was followed by a clip of the same man descending the steps of the courthouse with his lawyer.  The headline shouted “Local Businessman Released On Five Hundred Thousand Dollars Bail.”
    “Who's that?"
    "Who's what?"
    "That man on TV?"
    "It’s nothing.  Just some guy.  He's done something wrong, honey and the police arrested him.  But now he’s free."  White watched as the lawyer, Alan Jacklin, briefly addressed the media.   
    “Oh”  Jennifer clearly didn’t understand, but this morning wasn’t time to explain.    
    "What were you saying about Amanda?"
    "She looks funny."
    "What do you mean?"  Caroline took a deep breath and counted to ten.    
    "She's all puffy...and red."
    "What?"  Caroline dropped to her knees, face to face with her three year old daughter.  "Where is she?  Where is Manda?"
    "Mommy..."  
     "Jennifer, honey, where's Amanda?”  Caroline tensed with fear.
    "Outside."
    "Where?"  She grabbed her daughter by the shoulders.
    Jennifer began to cry. 
    "On the swings," she sobbed.  
    "Oh dear God."
    Carolin raced out of the kitchen.  The rug in the dinette area slid from under her foot as she raced around the corner and she fell hard on one knee.  Tears welled in her eyes.  Be calm, she scolded herself.  She's okay.  Manda probably fell off the swing.  She's fine.  Pulling herself to her feet, she pushed the back door open and raced out into the thick gauze of humidity that had settled over the new summer.    
    At the base of the bright yellow slide she saw Amanda.  
    As she threw herself to the ground next to the limp body of her daughter, the pungent odor of fresh vomit filled the air.  Manda's eyes were lost behind thick folds of swollen skin.  Her face was twice its normal size. 
    Then Caroline White heard a sound she knew was serious trouble as she groped for her cell phone.