23 (rough draft)
Casey Little was in love with October, in every way. He watched himself in the mirror, knowing October could never love him, regardless of all her talk concerning a happy ever after. He needed a grand gesture, something big, something important. Something that would prove to October how much he loves her.
For a couple of years, he’d watch his brother moody, short tempered yet excited like a child on Christmas Eve. Robert would leave the house, returning two hours later, his mood much better. A blind guy driving by fast could see what Robert was up to. Casey knew it wasn’t pot by the way his brother didn’t smell.
A clandestine search of Robert’s bedroom came up with a plastic bag with six much smaller plastic bags, each bag containing white powder. Casey never stood up to his brother, taking years of parent approved bullying. At first, Casey thought to tell his parents, deciding not to. He guessed they’d scold Robert, flush the drugs and make him promise never do drugs again.
Casey thought to call the cops. Again, maybe a scolding, a look how you have embarrassed us from the parents. Casey returned the drugs to their hiding place, sitting on the information, waiting.
October came along.
Casey stood up to his brother, wishing to know where Robert bought the drugs. Casey only had to hit Robert with the baseball bat three times, Robert crying, on his knees, blubbering the information, confessing he paid for his habit selling drugs, nothing big. Casey smiled with the memory, watching his hooded face in the reflection of the commuter train window, the train rocking and screaming on turns, slowing, going, racing forward. “I’ll never tell you what I did, Ockie,” he whispered, knowing she wouldn’t approve.
Casey fully appreciated the world of unicorns, rainbows and sometimes lollypops October lived in. “I’m a visitor to your world,” he again whispered.
Three kids entered the train car at the last stop in Camden, before the train wormed through the tunnels, climbing onto the Ben Franklin Bridge. Loud, full of themselves, boasting nonsense, Casey knew kids in school just like them, Casey hunkering down in his hoodie. The loudest of the three, also the smallest, leather jacket, wallet on a chain, the chain attached to his belt, paused facing away from Casey, his hands over his head, steadying on the rail above, leaning to the woman, a young woman in her early twenties.
Obviously a veteran of nonsense, the woman busied herself with a magazine.
The boy complimented the woman’s appearance in a derogatory manner, more to show off for his friends than to impress the woman.
She ignored him.
He offered a second round of derogatory flattery, looking toward his friends, his friends laughing.
Casey stood on unsteady legs under the motion of the train, leaned in the aisle, dropped his hood back, tapped the boy on the shoulder, and when the boy turned, Casey said, “Boo.”
“Good-god-in-heaven!” the boy proclaimed, scrambling away, falling, fighting for his feet, he and his friends hurrying to the front of the car.
The woman screamed.
Casey pulled his hood back over his face, looking to the floor. “Sorry,” he said, returning to his window, watching the reflection of the woman slip from her seat, moving toward the back of the train.
Casey didn’t like the city, or any place with people. As he covered the thirty-four blocks away from the train station, he puzzled how his brother might know of the place. He knew of kids in school who sold drugs, common knowledge, an ill kept secret. Casey tried pot, alcohol, amphetamine, barbiturates and cocaine all in an attempt to dull the pain.
Nothing dulled the pain, the darkness, the depression. That is, until be met October. Casey would have never imagined taking a train anywhere. He’d never imagined walking in the city or approaching a door, the door located on a block of what looked like long-abandoned warehouses, the sign over the door: UNCLE JACK’S. Cars, mostly new, some old, and three motorcycles lined the street, evidence not all the buildings were abandoned. The blue Chevy Malibu with the Hello Kitty decal on the rear window caught his eye, not because Hello Kitty was interesting but because of the New York tags. “Florida tags. That’s a long way to drive,” he said, pounding on the door with his fist.
The door opened on a crack, an eye appearing, a man in his twenties, unhealthy thin, tee shirt, black leather jacket, unshaven, ratty brown hair. “What do you want?”
“What do you think?” Casey answered from within his hood.
“I don’t know what you were told, but we don’t sell dimes, here.”
Casey revealed a stack of bills. “I’m the guy they get the dimes from. Frenchie got busted last week.”
“How’d you find us?”
“I know a guy who knows a guy.”
The door opened, Casey following the man down a hallway.
“Jack,” the man said. “Visitor.”
“Huh?” Jack looked up from his ledger. He was a large man with long hair hanging in his face, his hair and ratty beard the color of root beer. “Who the fuck are you?”
“Just a guy,” Casey said, pushing his hood back.
Jack narrowed his eyes.
“You should have seen the other guy when I was done with him,” Casey answered the unasked question, dropping the bundle of bills on the desk. “Want coke, four thousand.”
“Where do you sell?”
“Is that important?”
“If you’re selling in or around your school, it is. They bust you, you’ll drop a dime.”
“Do I look stupid? I’m fourteen, no record, only carry enough for a day, use a mule so I’m never holding cash and drugs at the same time.”
Jack pulled on his beard. “Only four thousand?”
Casey grimaced a smile. “I’m trying you out. If your shit’s no good, I won’t be back.”
With a nod from Jack, the man behind Casey dropped a large plastic bag filled with much smaller bags on the desk. “There you go,” Jack said.
Casey retrieved the money. “I heard you were an asshole, Jack, which is fine by me. I’m an asshole, too. No one said you were a fucking thief.”
Laughing, Jack nodded again. “Give him two more, Beal.” Two more bags landed on the table.
“Pleasure,” Casey said, pulling his hood up, gathering the drugs, filling his backpack.
“Oh, the pleasure is all mine. When my supply works out, we’ll talk about a deal.”
“I look forward to it,” Casey answered, swinging his backpack over his shoulder.
Jack watched up on Casey from behind his desk, taking measure. “Jersey, right?”
“I’ve heard of it.”
“I’ve got an eh, friend, a kid. She’s got a friend who’s got a boyfriend with a fucked up face.”
“No accounting for taste, I guess.”
“Jack,” the other man said from the door. “Rat wants to see you before he takes off.”
Casey slipped by the man, down the hall and back out to the street, sighed deeply and started breathing again. With years of practice, Casey learned acting not scared for short periods was easy.
Back on the train, Casey puzzled how easy it was. He knew nothing of cocaine, guessing Jack would try to short him. “A drug dealer in Atlantic County got busted, Mark French.” Casey figured someone had to call him Frenchie.
“What’s the problem?” Jack asked, coming up on Brian Fowler.
“No problem, yet,” Jillian Lauferty answered.
Jack grimaced through his beard. “You should give this one a good smack every time she tries to speak for you, and that’ll break her of that habit real quick.”
“Don’t be a pig, Jack,” Jill said.
He slapped her, hard. “Shut up, let the men talk.”
She glared, holding her face.
“Come on, you two. Break it up. Jill, this is Jack’s house, so give him some respect. Jack, not good policy to smack little girls.”
Jack gave Jill a slow up down. “Little girl? This one’s fuckable.” He shrugged. “You want to take her shit, you may. What’s this problem you foresee?”
“New player in the school. I think she’s going to make a dent in our sales.”
Jack gave Brian the traffic stop hand. “That’s your problem, not mine, Rat. What do you think I’m going to do? Kill your competition? That’s your problem, not mine.”
“She has a better product. That’s your problem.”
“You only think you’re a player, but you’re not. Dealing with you, Rat, is almost a nuisance. Do you think the few dollars a week I make off you is worth my time?”
“Couple hundred,” Rat said.
“You profit a couple hundred each week from my efforts.”
“That’s what I said. Do you think the few dollars a week I make off you is worth my time? It’s only in deference to your mother I even do business with you, anyway.”
“Jack,” Beal said.
“Rat’s not supposed to know that.”
“Oh, that’s right. Well, take them out and kill them. Leave the bodies for the Jersey Devil.”
Brian Rat Fowler froze in terror while Jill Lauferty peed herself, dropping to her knees, crying.
Marvin Beal laughed.
“Oh, for the love of God. I’m fucking kidding. We don’t kill people. Get out of here.”
Harry Fisher did not strike October as being such a bad man, in that, October puzzled over the perception of Fisher’s encounter with Amaretto. Fisher demonstrated great leadership skills in putting his personal feelings aside and enforcing school policy. October could not imagine Fisher intentionally putting his hands on Amaretto where they shouldn’t have been put. “An elbow in the face and downward punch could really piss anyone off,” October said to herself, moving through the hall. “Still, Mr. Fisher’s response was out of line.”
“October?” Randi Sconce greeted.
“Hi, Ms. Sconce.”
“I call it Apple-up. She took a serious beat down.”
Sconce looked up and down the hallway. “I heard.”
October bobbed her head toward the office. “I got pulled down the office to be judged by Mr. Fisher.”
“Oh, the way I’m dressed. Mr. Benson thought I should be thrown out of school; however, Mr. Fisher read the dress code.”
“I should have been in that meeting.”
October shrugged. “Given what he did to Apple’s face, why is he still in school? I do understand that he’d not be in jail, with due process and all, but why’s he not suspended until the hearing?”
“I don’t have the details. They’re keeping me out of the loop. I took a pretty hard run at Principal Markus.”
“Girls in general, but sure, you specifically.”
“Principal Markus is why I Appled-up. I got the idea from you. I figured if I’m his type, I’d just be another type.”
“I just walked right by him, not a glance. He even had to step out of my way. So, Amaretto Stayman versus Harry Fisher?”
“Amaretto, eh, Apple isn’t going to file a complaint. If she had, Mr. Fisher would be out the door before the ink is dry.”
“Computer printouts aren’t wet.”
Sconce smiled, almost a giggle. “Detective Fowler said she’s going to meet with Apple’s mother this afternoon, try to convince her. Here’s the thing: Principal Markus has discretion. That means –”
October rolled her eyes. “That means Principal Markus could send Mr. Fisher to his room without dinner if he wanted to, pending an investigation.”
Sconce blinked repeatedly. “You certainly are precocious.”
“I know what that means, too.”
“If I were in the principal’s office, I’d have suspended Mr. Fisher.”
“I guess Principal Markus and Mr. Fisher are pals. Pals stick up for pals.” October narrowed her eyes. “If Mr. Fisher and Mr. Benson where pals, I’d be on my way home to change right now, huh?”
“What’s this got to do with Mr. Benson?”
“Homeroom. He’s the one who took me by the ear and dragged me down Mr. Fisher’s office over my fashion statement.”
“He took you by the ear?”
Again, October rolled her eyes. “I thought if you’d use a before the ink is dry archaic cliché, I’d throw one out there.”
Sconce matched the rolled eyes. “You assume correctly.”
“Principal Markus and Mr. Fisher are friends, so Principal Markus is going to protect Mr. Fisher no matter what, regardless of the facts?”
“Wouldn’t you do the same for your friends?”
“I don’t know, Ms. Sconce.” She closed her eyes. “I have in my mind the way I wish my friends to be and when they’re not, I allow them their way. I will, however, tell them how I feel.”
“Well, okay. For example: Brig has a quick trigger. Anytime anyone even hints at doing me harm in any way, Brig steps in and not in a pretty way. She makes Mr. Fisher look like a pacifist. The day we met, a girl grabbed a doll out of my hands. Brig put her on her butt. I’ve asked Brig to try being nice, first.”
October checked the hallway for eavesdroppers. “The way Brig puts it is now when she steps in, she asks the person to please not be an asshole before she gives them a good punch.”
“Yes. Progress, and no. People being my friends would not change any facts. If Brig does something wrong, she did something wrong. Mr. Fisher did something wrong.”
“Touching, eh, Apple like he did.”
“I believe that was an accident, something he did not do intentionally. Almost thirty witnesses in a room and he molests a child? No one is that stupid. I feel, though Apple’s response was reasonable, it certainly wasn’t appropriate. Apple was in no danger from Mr. Fisher. There was a cop standing right there.”
“Fisher should never have –”
“No, he shouldn’t have. That’s not the point. What Mr. Fisher did wrong happened next. His response was out of line.”
October nodded. “Disproportionate. He didn’t need to grab Apple by the neck. He didn’t need to punch her once, and he punched her twice. I could say his response to Apple’s violence was reasonable, but it certainly wasn’t appropriate.”
“Fisher can’t come back from this. There’s video. Detective Fowler was standing right there, took Fisher down, off to jail. I want him out of my school.”
“Given who’s friends with whom, Ms. Sconce, I’d take a guess you should worry about protecting your job instead of going after someone else’s.”
Sconce stared over October’s shoulder. “You may be right.”
Swinging the dark Hello Kitty backpack off her shoulder, October dug for her phone, opening it, texting: Apple. 9-11. Front entrance. Now.
October didn’t have to wait long.
“Sup?” Amaretto asked.
“Cop’s locked and loaded to interview your Mom this afternoon.”
“Gotta go,” Amaretto said, taking the straps of the backpack in her fist.
“Relax. I called a cab.” October offered folder bills.
“Thanks. I have money. Morgan’s off today.” Amaretto lit a cigarette.
“We’re on school grounds.”
“What are they going to do? Hit me in the face?”
“Figured you didn’t want the cops knocking on your door.”
“You figured right.”
“I got dragged down the office.”
“Because you’re slutted up?”
“Pretty much. Your buddy, Mr. Fisher, gave my homeroom teacher chapter and verse.”
“I think Fisher likes when little girls slut it up. Asshole. You going home, too?”
“No. I’ll wait with you.” October took Amaretto’s free hand. “I was thinking: Brig got a couple of minor bruises. They bring down the Spanish Inquisition, her dad has to come down and all that. You walk around school with your eye swollen shut and crickets, like you’re invisible.”
“Well, I –”
“You hit school on the first day like Queen of the Dead, maybe Porn Star of the Year and crickets. I Apple-up and don’t even get through homeroom.”
“Sucks to be you and Brig.”
“People actually give a fuck about you and Brig.”
“I think it’s because people are afraid to fuck with you.”
“Tell that to Fisher.”
“Fisher brought a cop, a cop with a gun.”
“Yeah, Ockie, I’m special.” She dropped her cigarette to the concrete, working her sole on it. “I should be wearing one of those little fucking helmets. There’s my cab.”
October blocked Amaretto’s path, taking Amaretto’s face in her hands, going forehead-to-forehead. “Apple. I love you.”
Amaretto closed her eyes, the anger and frustration drained. “Thanks, I needed that.” She opened her eyes, watching October’s soft brown eyes drinking her. “One of these days, you’re going to do this, and I’m going to kiss you.”
“Maybe that’s what I’m waiting for.”
Amaretto rolled her eyes, breaking. “Let me go see if I can fix this mess before Morgan meets SWAT.” Three steps toward the street, she turned back. “Tease.” She took a step toward October, leaning, squinting. “Is that a tear?”
October giggled, running the back of her hand on her cheek. “No! Go!”
Poppy Newton was happy to pay $10.00 for the six photos, eight by ten glossy prints. “I thought everyone shot digital anymore,” she mused. She didn’t plan to use the photos, a woman in her underwear standing on a balcony of a five story apartment building. “That’s not a story.” The subject in the photos amused her.
“What’s this?” James Avery asked, bending over for a better look.
“Not sure, Mr. Avery,” she answered the man, her editor, better than twice her age.
He held up a print for better light. “This current?” he asked.
“She’s as beautiful now as she was when she was eighteen.”
“You know her?”
“I know of her, sure. Never met her. Melody Lark.”
“Sure.” He traded photos.
“You don’t know who she is?”
“She did a freelance assignment for us. Nothing came of it.”
“Melody works for us? Oh, I’d love to meet her. Can you get her to come in, do you think? What was the assignment? I want to look at it?”
“I’ll put the file on your desk.”
“Melody Lark,” he said, almost mystically.
“Who is she?” Newton asked again.
“Back in the day, she made some art films. Great work. Really great work.”
“Art films?” She worked at her keyboard.
“Yes. Art films.”
“I don’t see anything on the ‘net.”
“She worked under a different name.”
“You’re a reporter. You find out. Get her in here this afternoon.”
“You need a muffler,” Amaretto said, the car puttering to a stop in the parking lot.
“Are you sure this is it?” Morgan asked. “Doesn’t look like much.”
Amaretto checked her phone. “Says this is the place, plus the cop cars are a good clue.”
“We don’t have any crime in Edgewood.”
The glass door opened into a Spartan waiting room, a chest-high window cut into the opposite wall, single door to the left of the window.
“Hey,” Amaretto said, bobbing a chin, the window sliding. “Sup?”
The young man, twenty-two, baby face, clean shaven, soft blue eyes and neatly pressed uniform stayed with Amaretto’s eyes. “Not much, you?”
“Other than the face.”
“Yeah, that. We’re here to see Detective Fowler.”
Glancing the screen to his left, he asked, “Is she expecting you?”
“Nobody expects us.”
He picked up the phone. “You’re Amaretto Stayman?”
She crooked a smile. “I’d blush if I did such silly things. Apple, you may call me Apple.” She put her elbows on the ledge, watching.
“I read the report. Should have followed through with a second punch.”
“You did more than read the report. Did you fav the video?”
“Now, I’d blush if I did such things.”
“I was thinking, if I’d hesitated for a better angle, I could have left him on the floor.”
“Maybe. Follow through is better. Don’t you watch horror movies? They always get back up.”
“If I had Mace, I could have maced his ass.”
“Then, you’d be in County.” He held a finger up. “Detective, Amaretto Stayman and her sister are here to see you.”
Morgan Stayman did blush.
“She’ll be right out.” He narrowed his eyes at Amaretto. “They had a report, were looking for Mace.”
“You want to know what I think?”
“I do, more than you know.”
“I’d tell you how old I’m not, but you’ve read the report. What I think. I think Markus has been maced and pepper sprayed so many times by girls he’s attacked that he sees Mace canisters in his sleep.” Amaretto produced a small container, red with white polka dots, snapping the cap off. “Like the color? I call it Killer Red.”
“This Markus attacked you?”
“No. He was pushing hard at a friend. I got in the middle. Threatened to put lipstick on him.”
“That’s pretty funny. He thought it was Mace?”
“He ducked and covered, just like a pro.”
“Hello, Amaretto,” Lindsay Fowler greeted, coming through the door. “How’s the face?”
“Doesn’t seem to bother Kyle much.” Amaretto offered a presenting hand. “Morgan Stayman, my mother.” She glanced through the window. “Not my sister.”
“That would be Officer Penrose,” Fowler said, taking Morgan’s hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
Amaretto shrugged. “Says Kyle on his nametag and he didn’t flinch.”
“Kyle it is, to you, Apple.” He saluted, spinning the chair, rolling off.
“I’ll give you a shout if I require any serving and protecting,” she called after him.
He waved over his shoulder.
“I was going to stop and see you this afternoon,” Fowler said. “What can I do for you?”
“Love the suit,” Amaretto said, eyeing Fowler. “Is that mandatory?”
“Eh, no. I like the feel, fit and authority.”
Amaretto circled Fowler. “Sweet, Detective Lindsay Fowler.”
“We thought a follow up meeting was in order,” Morgan said.
“I feel terrible about what happened,” Amaretto jumped in. “Fisher lost his temper when I smacked him. I get all that. If someone elbowed me in the face and cold cocked me like that, I’d get mad, too.”
Fowler narrowed her eyes. “Where he touched you.”
“An accident. I’m a bit oversensitive there, you know, being a girl in puberty and all.”
Fowler’s eyes narrowed more.
“Men are just big little boys,” Morgan said. “They really can’t help themselves.”
Fowler bit her lip. “I’m of the opinion that Mr. Fisher shouldn’t be around children.”
“I’m of the opinion that no men should ever be around children, and I’m only thirteen.”
“You’re fucking kidding me!” Fowler blurted.
Amaretto shrugged. “No, Lindsay, I’m not fucking kidding you. See how easy your buttons get pushed, and you’re not even a man and I repeat, I’m just thirteen.”
“I call Morgan, Morgan. I call Fisher, Harry. You’re Lindsay to me.”
“Apple is a willful child, always has been. I’d put her against the wall by the throat and punch her in the face a couple of times, but I know it wouldn’t do any good. That’s the difference between me and Fisher. He doesn’t know any better, and we’re not going to hold that against him.”
“Fisher did assault, maybe sexual assault, sexual harassment at least.”
Amaretto backed away, back to the window, waving a hand to open the glass. “Phone,” she whispered.
“I watched the video, too, and talked to Apple. Fisher wasn’t mindful. He didn’t mean to grab Apple’s sweet honey box. Apple swung first. I’m a penniless hair stylist and a single mother. We’re suit-proof. If anyone is libel for anything, it’d be you and the Edgewood Police Department, you standing right there with your thumb up your ass allowing Fisher to do with he did, then Apple, then Fisher again. I was advised to sue just to offset any suits coming Apple’s way. Fuck that. I’m an asshole, but I’m not that kind of asshole.”
Amaretto poked at Officer Kyle Penrose’s phone, handing it back, putting a thumb to her ear, a pinky to her mouth, mouthing call me, turning back to her mother and Fowler. “We done making nice, Morgan?”
“Lindsay? We done?” Morgan asked.
“People I like, I call by the first names, generally. If I don’t like people, I call them by their last name. Nice seeing you again, Lindsay.” Amaretto nodded, waving to the window. “Bye, Kyle!”