33 (rough draft)
Carol pulled Amaretto by the elbow, spinning her around. “Apple! You’re just a child!”
Say that one more fucking time, I’ll hit you so fucking hard, October upstairs will scream in pain. “My birth certificate says so. Your point?”
“I don’t want to be your enemy.”
“That would be your choice.”
“This is important. You need to tell me everything you know.”
“I’m a fucking well read genius, Carol, that could take a while.”
“You very well know what I mean.”
Amaretto shrugged. “Did you know you were a person of interest in Smyth’s murder? Well, they didn’t call it that back then, but as a known associate, the police wanted to talk to you. I’d think, given Smyth’s chosen career, any interest in his murder didn’t last more then thirty minutes. I think, like an auto accident, I might gawk for ten minutes, but move on pretty quickly.”
“You have no idea what you’re stepping into. This is really important.”
Amaretto narrowed her eyes, watching fear ripen in Carol’s soft brown eyes. “I’m listening.”
“You must expunge everything you have.”
The fear intrigued Amaretto. “Ex-sponge? I’m not sure what that means.”
“Stop fucking around.” Carol took Amaretto’s elbow again, looking toward the front door. “This is important.”
“I’m not fucking around. I don’t know what ex-sponge means.”
“Expunge.” Carol spelled it. “Get rid of, erase completely.”
“I should have guessed from the context,” Amaretto said, thinking she would blush if she did such things. “I don’t have anything, Carol, nothing in writing,” she didn’t hesitate to lie.
“That’s good, that’s good. Now, listen to me: Don’t dangle that information out there in front of me like some vague threat.”
“Am I to assume then, Carol, no police?”
Carol released Amaretto, looking toward the floor. “Agreed.”
Amaretto produced her phone. “Carol, really, thanks for giving me room to work.”
“Apple, I think come tomorrow night, you need to be back home.” Carol moved off toward the stairs. “But check with me in the morning, before you pack your bags.”
“Home, where I’ll get murdered in my bed,” she said to herself sardonically, pushing buttons. “Hey, did I wake you?”
“Fuck, Apple, it’s three in the morning.”
“I was joking. Meet me at the Penn Queen for a burger. You’ll curse me on the way, but thank me afterwards.”
“Make it three eggs scrambled, home fries, sausage links, no toast – nothing worse than diner toast – and coffee. Your treat.”
“Agreed. Thirty minutes?”
“Maybe longer. I have to fix my hair and put my makeup on.”
Amaretto closed the phone. “Smart ass.”
“Almost didn’t recognize you without your makeup,” Brigantine greeted. “What’s with the gloves?”
“She didn’t even call me,” Brigantine said once her eggs came, “to tell me how her first Christian hoedown went.”
“What did you think of him?” Apple asked, pushing down on the bun with her thumb, watching the blood ooze onto that plate. “Perfect.”
Brigantine bobbed her chin. “I’d think, you being a witch and all, you’d not eat meat.”
“Carrot or cow, for anything to live another day, something must die,” Apple quipped. “When it comes to religion and spiritual beliefs, people get all caught up in the details of what-a-good-boy-am-I! and lose sight of the world we live in.”
“I was kidding, half kidding anyway, Apple.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Christian. What do you think?”
“I heard you didn’t like him very much.”
“That’s just a bit of an understatement, but yes. He rubbed me the wrong way.”
“Abby’s crushing. I think that’s what’s important. What do you make of Casey?”
“I think Casey’s a pent-up up ball of dark anger waiting to explode and when he does, he’ll kill everyone within twenty feet.”
“Don’t ask the question if you don’t want to hear the answer. My hope is that Ockie’s love will save him, but if not, I plan to be there to pull Ockie out of that twenty foot circle.”
“Have you told her this?”
“No point to it.”
“Understood.” Brigantine bit her lip. “That’s the thing with Abby.”
“Do you? Abby likes this guy –”
“She’s crushing. I only wish for even twenty seconds I could feel the way Abby feels about this guy or how Ockie feels about Casey.”
“I really like this casual look on you. Soft, almost innocent. Really makes me appreciate the effort you put in the mask you wear.”
“Want to fuck?” Amaretto raised an eyebrow.
“Apple, no, that’s not what I meant.”
“I’m dying to fuck someone I don’t hate, someone that doesn’t disgust me. You, Brig, are smoking hot.”
Brigantine blushed. “I’d think you’d go for Abby, if you want smoking hot.”
“I’m a street slug, she’s a fucking princess. Shit like that only works out in fairytales. Abby is so beautiful and innocent, she makes my teeth hurt. All these years, I’ve been jealous of your closeness with her.”
“Odd you should say that. I’ve been jealous of you and Ockie.”
Apple watched her reflection in the window. “I love Ockie so much, it makes my chest hurt.”
“Maybe that’s what I’m jealous of.”
Apple turned back to Brigantine. “I asked you if you want to fuck. I’ve never asked her.”
Brigantine snickered. “Because you’re afraid she’d say no.”
“That, and I’m afraid she’d say yes.”
With a nod, Brigantine said, “So, Christian. You feel Casey is no good for Ockie, yet fully support the relationship. On the other hand, here comes Christian, who Abby obviously is really taken with, and you go all Dr. Jekyll. You can’t take a breath and support Abby and Abby’s choice like you do with Ockie.”
“I do admit I behaved badly, but in comparison, I was a good girl.”
“Compared to what?”
“I wanted to climb across the table and rip his throat out. I settled for slinging some anger.”
“Would it kill you to at least try to be nice to him?”
Trying to be nice to him now would kill both you and me. “There was an election and I’m the only one that voted. I elected me to have this conversation with you, though it’s really Abby’s place.”
“Conversation about what?”
“I want to first remind you what you just said. Abby is our friend.”
“More than a friend.”
“Yes, more than a friend. And, in that, we must respect her choices.”
“That’s the drum I was beating.”
“No matter what.”
“Right. I thought I was going to have to give you the hard sell.”
“Okay, Brig, I’m going to tell you something. I need you to promise me you’ll stay at the table, that you’ll count to one hundred before you break anything.”
Brigantine blinked repeatedly, breathing the words, “Is she alive?”
“Yes, she’s okay. How fine she is, only time will tell. Time and our support.”
“Asshole,” she snarled. “Do I want details?”
“I didn’t ask for any. I didn’t want Abby to have to relive the story just because I wanted to gawk at the auto accident.”
Brigantine nodded. “Understood.”
“This so-called meeting was a setup for a gang rape. I suspect this Christian Stars Shining Bright is nothing more than a rape club. As much as rape can never be called not brutal, from what I gathered, their intention was to have nonconsensual sex and not to beat her up.” Amaretto glanced toward Brigantine’s right hand. “You break that glass, you’re going to cut yourself.”
She loosened her grip. “She called you.”
“Ockie called me, thinking I had experience.”
“You do, don’t you?”
She sighed. “I really didn’t want to hold weekly meetings of the guess-who-I-fucked-and-blew-today club, but now I’m thinking keeping details from the three of you didn’t really protect you from anything. I was victimized, but I was never a victim.”
“I’m not sure I understand –”
“No one took anything from me I didn’t willing give. My choice. I think that’s why I never told you, Ockie and Abby details, thinking you could never understand my choices.”
“The law says you can’t make those choices, though?”
“The laws weren’t written with me in mind.”
“So, you’re above the law?”
“No. I’m beside the law. I made choices for my survival. If I’d not willingly thrown in with the slugs, I’d have been killed years ago and buried in the backyard.”
“So, you allowed yourself to be victimized.”
“All the time looking for an advantage, jockeying for position, material things, power.”
“You’re a whore.”
“With Abby, a pack of wolves preyed on her, hunted her down, stalked her and then raped her. That’s what makes her a victim.”
“Our experiences universes apart.” Amaretto smiled, just a little. “Thanks for not running off in a frenzy, looking for revenge.”
Brigantine offered a smirk. “Right now, in the moment, my only concern is Abby. I recently had to really ponder carefully what revenge would feel like, over you.”
“Dad thought I’d want to take Fisher for a weekend in the woods.”
“Do you think Hank would do that for us, with us, with Christian?”
“I really don’t think so.”
“Because Abby wasn’t brutalized?”
“I have a couple of ideas.”
“You already said it, Apple. We have to wait and see what Abby wants to do. It’s her fight. I’ll tell you this, though. If Abby wants you to skin them alive and hang them out in the Pines, I’ll hold them down for you.”
“Yes, it’s Abby’s fight.” I have my own plan, regardless of what Abby may think she wants. “You sure you don’t want to fuck?”
“Yes, Apple, I’m sure, but don’t let that stop you from asking me again sometime.”
“How about just making out?”
“You always stink of cigarettes.”
“I do. Is that the only reason you say no?”
“Ask me again sometime when I’m not thinking about how to get away with murder.”
“We could burn the church down, just to send a message.”
“They raped her in a church basement.”
“More proof there’s no god.”
“More proof is just lumping on.”
Brigantine watched Apple’s reflection in the window. “I’m really pissed off she didn’t call me.”
“I was down Atlantic City with my new boyfriend.”
“You have a boyfriend?”
“I didn’t want to put him in everyone’s face, just in case he gang raped me, you know.”
With rolled eyes, Brigantine said, “I do understand why she didn’t call me. She’s not going to the police, is she?”
“Not likely. I got assaulted on video with a cop standing there and Fisher gets a pat on the back in some backroom as they had a good laugh over bourbon and cigars.”
“The defense will be all, she was asking for it, with the short skirts –”
“The way Abby dresses makes me question my sexual orientation. She willingly went with them.”
“She never said no, or at least they didn’t hear her say no, the duct tape on her mouth and all.”
“They put a bag over her head.”
“I guess they figured if Abby couldn’t see their faces, then their god couldn’t either.”
“Guilt, not so sure about what they were doing.”
“That’s what I got from my father and brothers.”
“She’s at Ockie’s?
“Yes. She was in shock.”
“I guess so. What did you do?”
“I shocked her more.”
Officer Kyle Penrose did not like himself. “How did I let this happen?” he asked the ocean, the sun racing up the blue sky. He did not plan to rape Amaretto. “Yes, you did,” he disagreed.
“It was the way she liked me that day in the police station.” People did not like Penrose, which is not to say people disliked him. He was never taken seriously, the driving force to become a cop. As a cop, he reasoned, people would like him, even give him a little respect.
Amaretto’s patter was fun. The way she responded to him made him feel good about himself. “A guy my age and a kid her age can be friends and there’s nothing wrong with that,” he convinced himself. He knew any kind of sexual contact was wrong, that she, despite appearances, was a child, him a man.
“I did not plan or even consider having sex with her,” he tried to convince himself and the ocean. “She’s just a kid!”
Amaretto enthusiastically engaged. She wanted to. She even brought her own condoms. “I thought she was all show.”
She would have been a hump and dump, kicking her to curb once he discovered how experienced she was. He didn’t want experience. He wanted innocence that he could stand over.
“That little whore.” He gnashed his teeth, clutching the printouts. The files were easy enough to get. No one was interested in why he wanted the information, all public anyway. His head was dull, the sun hurting his eyes as he forced coffee, pushing back his hangover. He checked his watch. “Eight hours to get straight and get back.”
Work called, requiring him to cover second shift.
Amaretto caught him in the perfect trap. His stomach twisted when he thought of the image she had. His chest hurt when he thought of having had sex with a child. He wanted to vomit, thinking how much he liked it.
“No, no no,” he objected, covering his face, pushing back thoughts of murder.
Father Douglas Caroline, having bagged the wadded handfuls of paper towels and scrubbed the table, floor and bathroom with bleach then soapy water, stripped the rubber gloves, adding them to the black plastic bag. Upstairs, he scattered a dozen prayer books, overturned the dais and, using a can of Scarlet Krylon spray paint, spayed Jesus sucks up the length of the life size Mary statue.
With his camera in one hand recording the damage, he put his phone to his ear. “We’ve had another break in.”
The police report was required for the insurance company. Church members would volunteer goods and services. The damage would illustrate the day’s sermon: Religion under attack.
Father Douglas Caroline stood a short man, small boned, bald since the age of thirty, a trick of the gene pool, a long, narrow face, small, dark beady eyes that always seemed quick and nervous, and a pointy nose protruding from the middle of his face, all giving him the appearance of a rat-lizard hybrid. His high-pitched voice fractured the air, breaking when he tried to sound loud or powerful.
During services, his red robes swallowed him up, making him appear bigger than he was, much like a Frill-necked lizard uses its shroud. Placing the tied-off black plastic trash bag in the trunk of his car, he smiled sardonically, shaking his head. “Oh, Chris, I can’t wait to hear this story.”
Amaretto snuggled into her denim jacket against the cool predawn air with no better place to go, sitting under the willow tree in the back of the park. She wondered passingly about Richard Bly, her shadow, and what he might do when not ten feet behind her right shoulder.
“I’m probably going to have to blow Uncle Jack bareback again,” she moaned, sculpting her black eyeliner on. “Maybe I should have Kyle arrest Jack and just be done with it. But then, the house of cards will fall down, Morgan being one of the cards, the State of New Jersey taking the house and then I’ll have no place to live.”
She shrugged, bobbing the compact mirror around to inspect her work. “I guess I could get Carol off. If she’s anything like Morgan, I could do her better than any guy’s ever done her.”
You, Apple, she thought, need to keep your mouth shut, is what you need to do. “I should have never lost it at home, threatening to put Jack in jail. I shouldn’t have let Carol know I was on her tail.”
Amaretto dropped her jacket off and then shed her sweatshirt, the forty-degree breeze assaulting her. She wondered for a moment, if she took her pants and underwear off, how long she could sit there naked. She worked into her black tee shirt, her erect nipples struggling against the cotton. “Pays to advertise.”
Fishing in her Angry Hello Kitty, she draped her leather tie with the ring of October’s hair, the two-and-a-half-inch detailed gold crucifix on a gold chain, the two-inch pewter pentagram sharing a silver chain with the silver ankh over her neck. Repacking the bag, she left October’s sweatshirt next to the tree, just to let Richard Bly know she was by and that she was okay.
“It smells like me. You can put it in your bank.”
The pain from the damage to her hands and arms was good, a reminder that she was alive, a person – a human being – with life, on a planet with other creatures. As she moved into sunrise, worming her way along the streets of Edgewood, she felt she had a glimmer of understanding what cutting was all about. “Holding the fire in my hands was not self-abuse. It was self-affirmation.”
The sun cut across the front lawn, putting the sandwich board sign half in light and half in shadow. “Father Douglas Caroline,” she read. “You’re fucking kidding me.”
Amaretto had no plans other than to stand without, to see the building where Candice was raped. “Really? You’re just fucking with me now.”
Organ music challenged the church’s ability to contain it. Christian Stars Shining Bright, she thought, you’re going to meet Apple going fucking nova.
The heavy door gave way, letting Amaretto into the foyer facing a set of double doors as the organ went silent. Amaretto thought the new set of doors backwards, opening toward her, more effort to enter than to exit. A man’s voice invaded, irritating in pitch, obviously electronically enhanced.
“Brothers and sisters, friends, we can see before you the proof that we are under attack. This is war.”
Amaretto felt comically small, the doors three times taller than her, as she grasped both handles, pulling hard, the doors giving way surprisingly easy, releasing a loud screech. Not too ironic, like a screech owl, she thought, stepping forward. She at first thought for some reason, maybe effect, the preacher pushed the dais over, the dais half on the floor, half on the three steps ascending to the platform.
Father Douglas Caroline stood on the raised platform extending a hand at what was obviously the proof of attack. “Since He walked the earth we have been under attack. Now, just this last night, they came right here, to His house,” he told the four-five plus people.
Amaretto stopped just at the back of the pews, fifty feet from Caroline, watching his eyes. Caroline stuttered, then stammered, staring back. He’d expected the new arrival to take a pew, not stand in the middle of the aisle. To Caroline, Amaretto’s appearance was startling and unnerving.
People turned, glancing, muttering.
Amaretto thought to say, The persecution of Jesus was written into the origin story to support the concepts of the faith structure, and like the promoted persecution now, is a mythology and not a reality, but instead pointed and said, “Tell Christian I’m coming.”
She bowed, backing to the doors, pushing them open, mutters following her.
“And, there you have it, brothers and sisters,” Caroline proclaimed. “She said she’s coming for Christians!”
“Idiot,” Amaretto said, back on the street. “Idiots, every fucking one of them.”