25 (rough draft)
George Howell sat at the conference table, busying himself with the yellow legal pad and a pen when Principal Paul Markus entered, blustering his name as an introduction.
“George Howell, Markus. You have the check?” Howell answered, not looking up.
A check found its way onto the legal pad. Howell examined it, nodded approval and said, “You’re on legal footing here. You don’t need to take it to the school board, simply send a notification in writing. Here’s the draft.” Howell presented the pad.
Markus scanned the notes. “Fine, fine. Let’s do it now.” Markus opened the door, calling out, “Page Sconce. I want her in here right now.”
Howell spread six eight-by-ten glossies on the table and waited, but didn’t have to wait long. Again, he did not look up. “Randi Sconce, do you know who this woman is?”
“Who are you?”
“George Howell, Mr. Markus’ private counsel. Do you know this woman?” Howell indicated the photo of a woman in her underwear on a balcony.
“She’s in fact your girlfriend!” Markus bellowed.
Sconce gave Markus a sideways look. “She’s my spouse.”
“I knew it! I knew it!” Markus yelled.
“Calm down, Markus. In the good state of New Jersey, there’s nothing wrong with two women being married,” Howell explained.
“Well, it’s immoral!”
“That’s a matter of opinion, not a matter of fact. We’ll deal with facts here, so, Markus, calm yourself.”
Sconce shrugged. “Melody has always been casual with her modesty. She could be wearing a bathing suit for all these pictures show.”
“It’s her unmentionables!” Markus intruded again. “Children could be walking by and see. Children!”
“Markus,” Howell said. “Shut up.”
“You can’t talk to me like that!”
“You pay me a lot of money to talk any way I wish.” Howell waved a hand over the pictures. “I agree. We can see more flesh any given Saturday morning at Wal-Mart. You’re legally married to Melody Lark?”
“I’ve made no secret of it.”
“That’s the problem.” Howell made a note. “What does Lark do for a living?”
“She makes adult films.”
“She is, in fact, a pornographer, owning the controlling interest in Sensations, is she not?”
“I’m not familiar with the exact nature of her finances, but sure, that’s her business, which I have nothing to do with just like Melody doesn’t come about and counsel my kids.”
Howell pulled a stapled stack of papers from his briefcase, flipping sheets. “Do I need to read the morality clause in your contract regarding association?”
“You’re kidding me?”
Markus leaned to her ear. “You’re fired, Sconce. Clean out your desk.”
“You don’t have the power to fire me.”
Howell fanned the contract. “It’s here, in black and white. I can read it to you, if you like. Markus does have the power to remove you immediately to safeguard the children. The official firing will come from the Board, but it’ll stick. Challenge it all you wish.”
Sconce narrowed her eyes. “There’s a fucking irony for you, Howell.” She thumbed at Markus. “This guy chases a seventh grader, October, down the hall like a dog in heat and the assistant principal, Fisher, puts another seventh grader against the wall and smashes her face, and I’m a danger to children.”
Howell scribbled more notes. “Off the record because she wasn’t my client, I advised the Stayman kid to sue the pants off the school system and Fisher. I think she could win and win big.” He stood, packing his briefcase. “I’ve never chased an ambulance, but I like the kid. I think I’ll give her a call. As for the dog in heat.” Howell gave Markus an up-down across the table. “Abby, my daughter, was saying something about that. If half of it is true, get help, man. Get help.”
Howell gave a sharp nod. “Ms. Sconce, nothing personal, just doing what I’m paid to do.” With a nod to Markus, he said, “We’ll messenger over the letter this afternoon. Sign and forward it.”
Randi Sconce leaned on the wall outside her office with her hand over her face. “October saw this coming.”
James Avery closed the office door, returning to behind his desk. “Melody Lark,” he repeated.
“I don’t understand why you wanted to see me. Newton said the story was a bust.”
“I’m not going to lie to you, Ms. Lark. Melody? May I call you Melody?”
“Of course, Mr. Avery.”
“I’m not going to lie to you, Melody. I really wanted to just meet you, once I learned you were in the office. Poppy had photos of you on your balcony.”
“Poppy, someone brought photos in. That’s when I found out you were stringing.”
Lark narrowed her eyes. “Newton has photos?”
“On your balcony, obviously some voyeur snapped you.” He looked toward the ceiling. “I don’t know why Poppy bought them, come to think of it. Not a story. Anyway, I recognized you immediately. Big fan. Really big fan.”
Lark smiled. “Flattered, James. Want me to autograph your breast?”
“God, no, Melody, really.” He opened a drawer. “If you would?” He placed a stack of eight-by-tens on the desk.
“Oh, you’re a fan. Many guys see one movie and think they’re fans.” She busied with a pen. “I can’t believe you have this one!”
“One of my favorites. I have all twelve of your movies.”
“There were thirteen. Give me your list, I’ll see you get the missing one.”
“You’re going to make an old man cry.” Counting fingers, he rattled off a list.
Melody nodded with each title. “Babycakes. You want me to email you, or send you a thumb?”
“Send a thumb, that okay? I’ll write a check.” He produced a checkbook.
Melody waved him off. “On me.”
“Don’t tease an old man!”
Avery produced a stack of papers. “At first, I just wanted to meet you in person. I looked at the work you did. This is really great background. I’d like you to work up an exposé.”
“A pervert who likes a certain type of little girl? That’s a five-hundred word essay, not an exposé.”
“I was thinking of a different angle.”
“Do tell, Mr. James Avery. Maybe I’ll show you my breasts.”
“Of course, for a big fan like you. I have no modesty.”
“I was thinking of an exposé using Markus as the central focus, but the guts of the story being every single person that covered for him and every person who refused to go on the record.”
“If they didn’t go on the record –”
“There’s ways around that. Yellow Journalism.”
Lark flipped her sweater off, dropping it to the floor, returning to autographing.
“God, perfect Melody, like wonderful little fists.”
She smiled. “My wife likes them.”
“You married a woman, how wonderfully sweet.”
“Best thing that ever happened to me.”
Casey Little stood near the street, alone, leaning against a large tree, hiding in his thoughts and his hood, just in sight of October’s home. The man in the hat and trench coat puzzled Casey, the man leaving late in the afternoon. The interaction between the stranger and Carol Ferguson illustrated their relationship.
He watched Amaretto come and go, Casey disappointed October wasn’t with her. Carol Ferguson left, soon to return with bags of food, reminding Casey of his hunger. His heart sank as he watched October approach her house with Maynard by her side.
Casey liked Maynard, Maynard was always nice to Casey. As Casey watched the couple on the sidewalk down the street in front of October’s house, Casey thought they were going to kiss, then October pushed away.
“But, they were going to kiss,” Casey said to himself. Casey did not like or approve of October putting herself on display as some sort of sex toy. Obviously, Maynard wanted to kiss her. Many boys would want to kiss her. Boys nicer than Casey, smarter than Casey.
Not ugly like Casey.
He clenched his fists and gnashed his teeth until his jaw hurt.
Casey delayed getting home as long as he could, relieved the police weren’t waiting for him.
“Where you been all day?” Mr. Teddy Little demanded from the sofa, beer in one hand, TV controller in the other, his attention on the screen.
“Around,” Casey said, mournfully. Like you care.
“Your mother tells me the school called. You didn’t hear what happened to your brother?”
“I didn’t much feel like school today. Needed a mental health day, you know how it is having to deal with people all day.”
“Don’t I know it.”
“What happened to Bob?”
“He got jumped by some assholes.”
“Did he, now? Is he okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. He’ll be fine. You know and I know he’s got a smart mouth. Just a matter of time before someone knocks the shit out of him.”
“That’s too bad, really,” Casey said, failing to sound sincere, which didn’t matter with the beer and TV distraction.
Teddy Little looked up at his son, glancing away quickly, back to staring at the TV. “You can’t be missing a lot of school. You have to think of your future.”
“My future as a bell ringer or maybe some vivisectionist will need a lab assistant?”
“Don’t be an asshole, Casey. You think I’m stupid but I’m not.”
“I got the asshole gene from you,” Casey snarled. “I’ve got straight A’s. With this.” He flashed spread fingers and palms toward his face. “I don’t have any distractions like friends or people calling me to get together.”
“There’s that blind witch, now. Is that why you cut school?”
“Ha, ha, funny joke. I get it. If October likes me, she must be blind. Have you looked in a mirror lately?.”
Teddy Little grimaced.
“Not that Mom’s such a great prize. No wonder you drink so much.”
“Your mother is a good Christian woman, unlike that evil Satan worshiping tramp you run around with now. I’ll bet she had something to do with Bob getting beat up.”
“Where do you get your insane ideas?”
“In the kitchen. She put her hands on me. Aroused me. That, Casey, is the work of Satan.”
“Dad! You sick fuck! You get aroused by little girls, a girl barely not a child and you call her evil?”
Blurry eyed, with his words slurring, he said, “She put her hands on my face –”
“Humph! She does that to everyone! If that makes your dick hard, that’s about you, not her.”
Mr. Little sat to the edge of the sofa, hanging like a ragdoll, staring at the floor. “I know, I know, Casey, you’ve had little to no happiness in you life. This child makes you happy.” He rocked his head from side to side. “She’s a bewitched one, that child. No good can come of this, but really, Casey, I cannot see any good ever coming of your life.”
“Me, neither, Dad, but that’s not going to stop me from trying.”
In the upstairs hall, Casey paused, caught by his mother’s sobbing in her bedroom. “I’m not dead, yet, Mom,” he said, pushing open the door to his brother’s bedroom. “You okay?” he asked to the darkness.
Moments bled by.
“Not dropping a dime. You could have really fucked me up.”
“All these years of taking your shit by the bucketful, don’t think I hadn’t thought about it.”
“Why didn’t you.”
“Hurting you, hurting Mom and Dad, revenge, isn’t going to get me even, isn’t going to make me feel good.”
“The baseball bat hurt.”
“That wasn’t meant to hurt you, just get your attention.”
Leaning her elbows on the bedroom windowsill, shoulder-to-shoulder with October, Amaretto said, “I made nice with Richard Bly today.”
October handed the joint back, holding her breath. Finally, “Who?”
“Big guy, you know, my stalker. I think he’s special needs.”
“Aren’t we all. How’d it go?”
“Not good. I’m going to let him hang, you know. He wants to be close to me, I’ll try to control it.” Amaretto drew on the joint.
“Try, yeah, I think with men that’s all we can do, try.”
“Casey go sideways?”
“No, he called. He was out and about, to quote him.”
“You know, your Mom’s going to know we’re getting high in your room.”
“Yeah, I know. She knows. She just can’t say yes, if you know what I mean.”
“Casey’s cutting school, being vague and mysterious. He either has another girlfriend – already – or he’s working on a big surprise for you. Like I said before, must be a surprise.”
“A new girlfriend would be a surprise.”
“Yeah, huh? If Casey does dump you, you have Markus to fall back on.”
“Do you think he’d rape me?”
“No doubt in my mind. He’s one sick fuck.”
October rested her head on her arms, watching Amaretto’s soft face. “Nose looks better. I really like the way you look without all the makeup. Don’t get me wrong: I love, love, love the Apple-look.”
Amaretto dropped her head on her arms. “It’s my armor. I can pretend to be something else, a different version of me, you know. When they wish to hurt me, it’s not me they’re wishing to hurt, and it’s not me they’re hurting.”
“By they, you mean the men hanging around the house and by hurt, you mean sex.”
“I do. These kids in school, the one that ripped me off and the girl that punched me in the face think they’re scary. They’re really nothing compared with where I live.”
“A guy ripped you off?”
“I really don’t wish you to know details. It’s my shit.”
“The girl punched you over drugs?”
“I told you that was my fault. She’d already peed in the corners.”
“The kids have their own territories for selling drugs?”
“I guess. I don’t know the details.”
“Are you okay?”
Amaretto shrugged. “Sure. I’ll tell you if I get in trouble.”
“The dark place.”
“The darker than my usual place. If I ever fall so far down the rabbit hole I think I can’t climb out, you’ll be on speed dial.”
“Promise. I met a guy today.”
“Oh, yeah? Like a soul mate guy?”
“I didn’t go all incoherent, foaming at the mouth with my eyes spinning in circles like you did over Casey, but I like him okay.”
“You’re just jealous.”
“I didn’t think it was a secret.”
“Does he go to our school?”
“He’s a cop.”
“Really? You think a cop it going to ask you out?”
“We just had dinner at Ribs.”
“The universe has never made sense to me, why should it start now. I need a big favor.”
“You said need. You never use that word. This is big.”
“I need to tell you some stuff I’m not supposed to know. You must never, ever tell anyone.”
“Only if I have to.”
October rolled her eyes. “Yes, if you have to. I tried Google from school, but couldn’t find anything.”
“Then, likely, it doesn’t exist.”
“No, October. It means you didn’t look in the right place. What do you want to find?”
“A news story, something that happened in Atlantic City twelve to fourteen years ago.”
“Big story, little story?”
“What do you mean?”
“The person who got murdered. He or she notable, known?”
“Nothing of a nobody, likely.”
“That’s not going to be on the ‘net, not with normal searches, anyway. What’s this about?”
“The father I don’t have killed him.”
“The father you don’t have?”
“I’ve decided my father, though technically my father, isn’t my father.”
“The father you don’t have, sure. He murdered a guy?”
October took a breath. “Mom said he’s a professional hit man.”
“That’s why you decided to smoke some pot, so you would tell me that.” Amaretto rolled her eyes. “That’s why Carol got hammered? To tell you the story of your father?”
“The father I don’t have.”
“We’ll call the father you don’t have Harvey, like from the movie, the rabbit that was but wasn’t.”
“I don’t have a mess of details.”
“Doesn’t matter. Carol told you that Harvey is a serial killer?”
“Mom and this guy, Lenny, were running a con. One of the guys getting conned killed himself over it. Someone hired Harvey to kill Lenny. You want to write this down?”
“Best I don’t. I don’t want to get wacked. Why, October. Why do you want the details?”
“I’ll like to see if Mom told me the truth this time.”
“You want to be able to expose Harvey if you have to.”