29 (rough draft)
Detective Robert Banner, scanning computer files, glanced beyond his desk. “We may have an exposure problem.”
Detective Lindsay Fowler, feet on her desk as she leaned back in her chair, looked up from her novel. “Flasher down on main?”
He let out a sharp breath. “Kid down the high school.”
“You mean you may have an exposure problem.”
“Fowler, we all know the reason I was brought in was to get out in front of the drug problem that would happen with the merging schools.”
Fowler rolled her eyes. “Yes, all those evil black kids destined to corrupt the lily white kids. I was in the meeting.”
“Stats show –”
“The stats are bullshit and you know it. White folk have been scared of the black folk since the days of slavery. White guilt permeates society in a way that –”
“Yeah, yeah. All that and a bag of chips. I got cherry picked and offered a great package. You got a pay bump and your package sweetened. I was given the task to keep hard drugs out of the high school.”
“Drugs. Not hard drugs. Drugs.”
He shrugged. “You say tomato, I say pot isn’t a drug.”
“I’d smoke it daily if it weren’t illegal, but that’s beside the point.”
“You were in the meeting,” he repeated. “They may have talked in circles and done a lot of winking and nodding, but the bottom line is I was brought in to keep black kids from selling cocaine and heroin to the white kids in the high school.” He spread his hands. “The high school is cocaine and heroin free. No one asked, including you, how I did that.” Banner winked. “You’ve never questioned your monthly bonus.
Fowler looked back to her book. “What’s this kid know?”
“Not sure, something. He could have been fishing, I doubt it.”
“I’m isolated. It’s your ass flapping in the wind.”
“That’s why I make the big bucks. I don’t see anything on him in the system. He’s got a brother who seems to like to fight.”
“Some boys. Kid says he’s got a bust for me. I’m going to sit on all this, see what pans out.”
“Let’s pull Fisher over with a broken taillight, have things get out of hand and have to shoot him.”
“I looked over that file as you asked, looking for a way to fuck Fisher. The way that kid dresses, you know she’s asking for it.”
Fowler glanced up from her novel. “You better follow that with a ha ha or I’m going to pull you the fuck over with a broken taillight.”
“Really, Fowler. You don’t think some girls are just asking for a good smack in the face.”
“Or to be brutalized and raped?” She rolled her eyes. “Asking for it, sure.”
“I think we could charge Fisher on your complaint, since you were standing there. Given that the girl hit Fisher first, in Fisher’s defense, they’d go hard after her and just a cursory look at the file, she doesn’t seem to be the type of girl that wants to be hard looked at.
“Amaretto would be brutalized again, this time by the court system.”
“You didn’t meet her mother.”
“We could charge Fisher and put him in the system, get him brutalized in County for the couple days he’s there. It’s not a conviction, but it’s something.”
“I’m not comfortable with that.”
Augustine Duke Ellington stood in the doorway for a long time, his coat over his arm, just watching.
George Howell finally glanced up from his work. “Duke.”
“George. How are you?”
“I’m okay. Come in, sit.” George stood, waving to a sofa, coming around the desk.
They sat together.
“Do you know James Avery?” Ellington asked.
“I know of him, publisher, no? Edgewood-Post?”
“He came to see me yesterday.”
“This matter with Randi Sconce.”
“You know I cannot talk about specifics.”
“I know, I know.” Ellington produced a folded paper. “This complaint is nonsense.”
“If I could comment, which I can’t, I’d agree with you. Of course, in many Southern states –”
“They’d stone Randi or hang her, if they thought they could get away with it.” He let out a long breath. “Are you aware of what this is really all about?”
“I cannot comment –”
“Avery brought me an interesting story.”
“I believe I’ve heard the same story.”
Howell broke a smirk. “I suggested in strong terms he get help.”
“Is there anything to the allegation?”
Howell leaned closer. “Implication and conjecture.”
“Should I fire him?” Ellington asked to the ceiling. “He is effective in a difficult job.” He held a traffic cop palm to Howell. “When Christina ran off with you. Let me take that back. You know my wife was an incredibly proud woman.”
“I liked that about her, her strength, a quality Christina wore well.”
“I now accept that Christina didn’t run off with you. We abandoned her. My wife’s pride. Those years, you know. Empty years. Arial.”
“We should have come to California.”
“I should have brought Jersey home before the wedding and stood in your living room us yelling at each other until we were all yelled out.”
“Pride cost me more than I can bear. Killed her, you know. My wife. When Christina and Arial died in that accident, my wife lost the will to live. Ironically, her anger losing Christina to you drove her forward, Christina’s death killed her.”
Howell took the older man’s hand. “I lost my soul that day, my heart ripped from my chest.”
“I swore I’d never allow a child, someone’s daughter, to be hurt. Do you think Paul Markus is going to hurt this child?”
“What do you mean?”
“I think, like a big child with a kitten, he could unintentionally harm her mauling her.”
“Interesting metaphor.” Ellington stood.
Howell followed. “You aren’t concerned with Harry Fisher?”
“He’s a little man in a power position who likes to affirm himself at the expense of the children.”
“Again, interesting evaluation. Fisher’s a bully. Bullies often seek positions of power. You know he played ball, don’t you?”
“Football. Mostly warmed the bench. Too small, no talent.”
“Figures. There was a recent incident –”
“The Goth child. Report’s on my desk. I’ve not looked at it yet. I’ve accepted that some children, and adults, ask for trouble, look for trouble and seek being a victim, that being a victim is some kind of validation.”
“I assure you, Apple is nothing like that.”
“That’s what she’s called.”
“You personally know this child?”
“I’ve interviewed her, about filing a suit.”
“The universe. I can’t really talk about it.”
“I’ll tell you what, seeing as you caught me in my prejudice and pointed it out so I can see it, I’ll look over the file with an open mind. Maybe we can get Kevin Benet, the school board’s lawyer, involved, talk some kind of settlement.”
“I pushed pretty hard. They don’t want to sue.”
“That, George, is just un-American.”
“I like you as you, not so much as me,” Amaretto said over lunch.
“It’s fun being a freak show, no offense,” October answered.
“Markus would find me anyway, and once he knew it was me, with my skirt up to my ass, Markus would be on the floor like a giant slug trying to get a glimpse of my undies.”
“You do realize I’m eating here, don’t you?”
“If Ribs was closer we could catch lunch there.”
“Speaking of belly crawling slugs, I went to see Howell yesterday.”
“You could have said something last night.”
“You were all huggy-poo kissy-face with Case.”
“Well, not in bed.”
“In bed, I’m going to drink you in, thinking of rainbows, unicorns and sometimes lollypops. I’m not going to talk about bottom feeding trolls.”
“I did everything short of a pole dance and ask him for sex. He didn’t blink. If not for him banging Ellen and not hitting on Nard, I’d say he’s gay. I couldn’t even get his pupils to dilate.”
“I didn’t get a rise out of him, either. So, do you think Abby’s safe?”
“No, I don’t. Abby says he makes her skin crawl. I understand that feeling. I know what she’s talking about. If Howell’s not fucking her at night, he will be.”
“I think your opinion may be influenced by the men that’ve been around your life.”
“That may be true, but that doesn’t mean I’m not right.”
Becoming aware of Candice approaching behind her, October made room on the table. October raised an eyebrow at Amaretto’s expression, turning full on her chair.
“Hey, guys,” Candice greeted, a boy beside her, his arm loosely over her shoulder. “This is Christian!” she presented, pointing, “October and Amaretto.”
Amaretto sneered from across the table, standing. “Apple. Everyone calls me Apple.”
“‘Cause you’re so sweet?” Christian asked.
“Yeah, that’s it.”
October glanced at Amaretto, then turned to Candice’s new friend, offering a hand. “October Ferguson.”
His free hand found hers, strong but soft, his thumb sweeping the back of her hand. “Christian Caroline.” Just under six foot, his blue eyes, blue like a caterer’s ice sculpture, reached down, eyes that understood all they saw, penetrating. His hair was cropped short, white like afternoon snow under a cloudy sky, his eyebrows like squirming caterpillars. “I have a funny name, too. They call me Christmas Carol!” He offered an inappropriately loud laugh, Candice giggling into her hand.
Amaretto dropped on her chair, busying with lunch. “I don’t have a funny name,” she said to the tray.
October freed herself, rubbing the back of her hand as if to wipe it off. “Nice to meet you.”
“I’m in tenth,” he proclaimed.
“Wow, put in time and passed some really fucking easy tests,” Amaretto muttered to her plate.
“Beg pardon,” Christian asked, leaning forward.
“Apple, be nice,” October said.
“This is me being nice.”
“Anyway,” Candice announced, “we’re going to go sit over there. Christian wants me to meet his friends.”
Candice turned, stopped by Christian, Christian staring into October’s soft brown eyes, trying to own her. “Really nice to meet you, October.”
October could not be owned, not by the likes of him. “Likewise.”
“Candy says you are her best friend. I want to be your best friend, too.”
Amaretto’s fist bounced trays.
“Apple,” October warned again.
“It’s okay,” Candice said, pulling Christian off.
October stayed on her feet, watching Candice move around the kids in the cafeteria with her new friend, off to meet new friends. “They grow up so quickly,” she said mournfully.
Amaretto bounced trays again, coming to her feet, glaring.
“What, Apple? What?”
“He’s-a-fucking-rapist,” she snarled through her teeth.
October looked from Amaretto to the crowd of kids and back. “You know him?”
“I know his kind.”
“I didn’t get that at all about him.”
“Then call me fucking Cassandra of Troy.”
Amaretto waved her off. “Say the word, October, and I’ll fuck him the fuck up and save Candy a mess of pain and heartache.”
“Candy! Fucking Candy!”
October sighed. “Maybe, Apple, they’re soul mates. Do I look like that when I look at Casey?”
“You looked in the same eyes I did, Ockie. He has no fucking soul to mate.”
“Again, I didn’t get that. I think he’s been having that charisma and charm work so often on people, he doesn’t realize it doesn’t work on everyone.”
“His Jedi mind-trick won’t work on us.”
“Ken and Barbie, Apple. Do you realize how many kids have taken a run at Abby since we hit this school?”
October looked hard at Amaretto. “Really?”
“No, October, I made it up.”
“Anyway, many suitors have presented their goods to our Abby, and all have been turned away, all, but for this one.”
“I’ve always had the feeling in the back of my mind that if we could flip to the final chapter, we’d see Abby and Brig together.”
October nodded thoughtfully. “I’d not considered that, but that does seem like how the story might end.”
“He’s a slug, October. In one package, he’s everything I hate about the human race.”
“Do me a favor. What do you call it?”
“Oh, a solid.”
“Do me a big solid.”
“No, October. Just a solid. Not a big solid.”
“Apple. Please, do me a solid. Strike that. Do me a favor. Let Abby have this moment, this happiness unsoiled by what you may think is going to happen.”
“Like I bite my tongue until it bleeds, holding my opinions on Casey?”
“What about Casey?”
Apple smiled bitterly. “It’s not my place to say, to throw dirt on this happiness of yours. Know, Ockie, the only real happiness I have in life is when I stand next to yours.”
October watched her friend across the table, a tear etching down October’s cheek. “Stand in the glow of Abby’s happiness, too, then.”
“Cassandra of fucking Troy.”
“Who is that?”
“Do more reading, less sucky face.”
Amaretto simmered through half her next class, finally boiling over, gathering her things, breaking for the door, ignored. In the short month of school, most Amaretto’s teachers gave up trying to micro manage her. She marched through the outer office, putting her shoulder on Harry Fisher’s door.
“Apple!” he yelled, working to get his pants up and fastened, sitting behind his desk.
“Oh, this menagerie just gets fucking better and fucking better,” she said, her phone up, taking pictures.
Holding his pants closed with one hand, he came around the desk, reaching out with the other. “Give me that phone.”
“Mr. Fisher, meet Mace.” She poised the canister.
“You do have Mace!”
“One more step, and I’ll share.”
He tucked his shirt, attaching his pants, grinning. “I don’t know what you think –”
Amaretto stowed her phone and Mace. “I really don’t care if you sit at your desk all day smacking your monkey. It’s kind of how I imagine your job anyway.”
“What do you want?”
“Background, off the record. I’ll never repeat anything you say in the next two minutes, like we never had the conversation.”
“I don’t know –”
She fished her phone back out. “Let me share some photos with friends and family. I have an app with one-touch.”
“Pretty funny joke yesterday.”
“I really don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“With the attendance record.”
“I thought I could trust you.”
“And, I didn’t think you were stupid.”
“What do you want, Apple?”
“There’s this worm in tenth. Christian Caroline.”
“Now, Apple, there’s the kind of person you should hang around with.”
“He’d be a good influence on you. Honor roll, active in the school, even created, runs and is president of one of the most popular clubs in school.”
“Christian Stars Shinning Bright.”
“His stars or are they whores for Jesus?”
“You could benefit from some religion.”
“I’m sure I could. Christian ever been in trouble?”
Amaretto nodded, believing the answer, Fisher having not hesitated or rolled his eyes.
Back in the hall, she poked some buttons on her phone, placing it to her ear. “Hey, Kyle.”
“I’m sorry, Miss. You have dialed the wrong number.” He broke the connection.
Her phone vibrated. “Hey, Kyle,” she answered.
“Never call me on the work phone. The calls are monitored.”
“For my protection?”
“Of course. What’s up?”
“Hold on.” She worked more buttons. “Cool, now I have this number in my addy book. I was wondering: If I give you a kid’s name, can you bust him?”
“What’s he done?”
“Done? Does he have to do something?”
“Can you run his sheet?”
“Isn’t that the way you say it? Run his sheet?”
“Well, yes, but I just can’t do background checks on people because you ask me to.”
“I guess I did not know that, with all the serving and protecting.”
“This person piss you off?”
“I’m glad I’m not him.”
Amaretto lingered outside the classroom door. “You haven’t called.”
“I think, you know, I guess, I mean.”
“Kyle, let me help you out here. If you ask me, I’ll say yes.”
A long moment of silence was deafening.
“Want to go down the shore this weekend?”
“For the whole weekend?”
“Sure, why not?”
A host of reasons. “Sounds good.”
“I like Wildwood.”
“I’d like to see Atlantic City.”
“Then, milady, that is what it shall be.”
October came alongside Candice exiting the school, taking her hand. “Can I have a few, now?”
Candice glanced at Christian, Christian nodding.
Great, October thought, pulling Candice from the rush of students, off to the side of the concrete apron, onto the grass. October took Candice’s face, going forehead-to-forehead. “You really like this guy, huh?”
“I do, Ockie.”
“I understand, Abby. I understand.”
“I thought you would. There’s been something missing.”
“And, you didn’t know it was missing until you found it?”
October released Candice’s face, stepping back, taking her hands. “Tell me.”
“Yes. I want to understand God.”
“God is a complex social concept that –”
Candice freed a hand, placing fingers to October’s lips. “That’s why I’ve never tried to talk to you about it. I’m not like you.” She rolled her eyes to the sky. “I know there’s something up there.”
“You should talk to Apple.”
“No. Apple’s like you. You two rationalize and reason what should come from the heart. You say God is like Santa Claus for adults. God is not imaginary.”
“Abby, I’ve never preached anything. I’ve never claimed to have your answers for you.”
“Subtly, yes, you have.”
“I’ve not meant to.” She narrowed her eyes. “Have I ever told Brig not to hit people?”
“Not exactly, no. But you imply. Your approval is contingent on Brig’s compliance.”
“That may be the way you see it, but that’s not the way it is.”
“That, October, proves my point. Look, Ockie, it’s really simple. I really like Christian just like you really like Casey. All of a sudden, Casey comes first, before your best friends.”
“That’s not true. I’ve been for you just like I always have.”
“Took you awhile to get around to talking to Mom. The doctor found nothing wrong with me, thanks for asking, by the way.”
Candice waved her off. “You’re my best friend and I love you. I always will, no matter what the future holds.”
“You concede that we’ll grow apart?”
“Did you know that I finally accepted my father’s death – last week.”
“I thought we talked about this?”
“You talked about it, I listened. It’s when I got to thinking about God that things made sense to me. Then, as it’s all falling into place, Christian drops from the sky, as if sent by God. He’s a youth pastor in his church, you know.”
“No, I did not know that.”
“Ockie, thanks for being you. I will always love you.” She turned, walking off, joining Christian twenty feet away.
Again, a tear etched down her cheek. “I feel like we just broke up or something,” she said to the grass.