39 (rough draft)
Randi Sconce, hair slicked to the sides of her head, back in a tight ball, sharp A-line dark blue dress, two-inch black pumps, grimaced her smile. “He’s pathetic.”
Detective Lindsay Fowler, dark blue JC Penney suit, French cut as if to match Sconce in style and color checked the list. “October Ferguson. He’s spending a lot of time in that locker.”
“His love interest.”
“I understand you’re familiar with Amaretto Stayman.”
“More than familiar. She brought me that photo.”
Sconce bobbed her chin. “October’s best friend.”
“Stayman,” Fowler repeated. “Interesting child.”
Sconce looked at her sideways. “They only look like children.”
“I know, girls are maturing earlier than ever.”
“I mean these two, specifically. October and Apple. Don’t for a second mistake they’re children.”
“They are. Children.”
“They only look like children.”
“You aren’t going to give me that enchanted traveler nonsense, are you?”
Sconce shared her grimace of a smile. “No magic around. Apple was forged in the fires or hell.”
“Don’t like her much, huh?”
“The opposite. She really stands a testimony to all mankind, that we can be beaten and broken, yet never defeated.”
“I met her mother.”
“Apple took that punch from Fisher over October.”
Fowler nodded toward Principal Markus, Markus carefully examining each item from October’s locker as if the items were religious relics. “Makes you wonder why he’s still walking around. She got a little sloppy with the photo and the drugs.”
Sconce chuckled. “That wasn’t Apple. Apple is not sloppy.”
“There’s some criminal doing there, and I have to look at it, but I doubt I’ll be looking that hard.”
“Thanks,” October said, wrapping around Casey’s arm as they walked.
“Being you. Everything. Changing my life, me.”
“You say that now.”
“What’s that mean?”
“I think Apple will be having a talk with you.”
“Doesn’t matter, right now. I fucked up pretty good.”
“The Principal Markus thing?”
“You don’t know all of it.”
“I don’t have to.”
“You don’t know.”
“Doesn’t matter. You’re forgiven.”
“Not by Apple.”
“Apple doesn’t matter.”
“I just wanted to protect you.”
October bit her lip. “Principal Markus is not a bad man.”
“Casey, everyone has their scars, what people think makes them ugly. You wear yours on your face. Principal Markus wears his somewhere in the past. People shrink from you, Casey, like Detective Fowler did in Ribs, because you remind her of what she’s hiding, what you cannot hide.”
“You think Markus and I are the same?”
“That’s not what I said, but kind of like that. People, we people, human beings, our differences are only skin deep. Our sameness goes to the bone.”
“I’ll keep that in mind next time I’m facedown in the street with a mob kicking at me. All brothers, we!”
“What did I tell you about sarcasm?”
“You want to believe all people are good, it’s just sometimes they do bad things. I really want to believe you. I really do. But, it’s like you telling me the sun is out when it’s midnight. I really want to believe you, because I love you.”
“You’ll see. You’ll see.”
“I can’t wait.” Casey pulled the door open, letting October into Edgewood Saving and Loan.
Casey followed October, October almost floating. “This line is shorter,” Casey said.
October smiled. “I like the teller’s face.”
“But we’re all the same.”
Settling in line, October said, “You assume the universe is supposed to make sense.” She dropped her Rucksack from her shoulders, removing an envelope containing ten crisp bills.
“You always get that for your birthday?”
“First I’ve known of.” She swallowed hard, looking toward the door, the glaring sunlight. “Casey. Something is terribly wrong.”
Richard Bly paused just inside the door, looking around, finally focusing on Casey and October, Bly still blood smeared and splattered.
With her right hand, she worked her phone from her pocket, punching buttons with her thumb without looking. “He’s got a gun,” October whispered, an arm across Casey, stepping. “I got this.”
She smiled. “Richard, hey,” she said softly, a hand to her chest. “October.” She nodded. “Apple’s best friend.” October glanced to her left, shaking her head at the elderly security guard, the guard fingering his holstered weapon. A glance to her right, the teller nodded, indicating she hit the silent alarm.
“I know who you are,” Richard said as if out on an afternoon stroll, approaching. “I need to see Casey outside.”
Richard Bly towered over Casey, dwarfing October. “Yes, please. Come on.” He glanced back to the door, recognizing Detective Fowler, Bly slipping behind October and Casey. Fowler reached behind her back. Bly didn’t know how Fowler knew. Bly realized where he was and what he was about to do, putting his arm across October’s chest, showing his pistol.
October’s brain burst trying to keep Fowler’s gun in the holster. She wanted to, strained to, stop the moment, freeze time.
Fowler’s right hand disappeared into her coat.
“I gotta do this,” Bly said as if ordering ice cream.
October pulled away, trying to get in-between Casey and the pistol, failing, showered in blood and tissue as Casey’s head exploded, October grabbing his skull, cradling, as if to hold the life within, taking her soul mate to the floor, Richard Bly retreating in a bizarre, disjointed dance as Fowler marched forward, emptying her gun.
“Did you ever kill a cow?” John McIntyre asked casually.
“You’re weird,” Amaretto answered.
“No, really. I have, well, one, anyway. My grandparents have a farm, spent all my summers there.” He molded another burger. “This used to be a cow, you know.”
“Yes, I know.”
“We, as a species, have delegated the murder to the slaughterhouses.”
“I think if I had to kill my food, I’d become a vegetarian.”
“That was the point I was getting at. We removed ourselves from life, the reality.
“If I had to build my own car, I’d be walking my entire life. Division of labor is not always a bad thing.” Amaretto sipped her hot chocolate. “If you had a goofy chef’s hat and an apron with a lobster on it I might start thinking life is almost normal.”
“My father has them!”
“They going to be home – soon?”
“Off for the week.”
“You afraid for them to meet me? I know I’m a freak show. Almost for a minute there, I wished I wasn’t.”
“Oh, you’re not so freaky. Okay, you’re a freak show, but that’s what I like about you. I’ve been living in a world where everyone works real hard to be liked by other people.”
“When all along you really have no idea what other people want?”
“My mother gave me the makeover when I was a baby. I’ll go scrub my face if you’d like to see me in my natural state.”
“That’s up to you.”
Amaretto worked from her chair. “I don’t think you know what I’m offering.”
“Maybe I do. Your appearance is not just a choice of style. It’s in your blood, who you are. You’re offering to stand naked before me.”
“Pretty much.” She leaned over his shoulder. “Everyone has their grill put away by now.”
“We cook outside all year ‘round.”
“Even in the snow?”
“That must be cool.”
“Cold,” he corrected. “I like snow.”
“Me, too. Weather of all kinds. Love the rain.”
“I find the rain wet.”
“Way to be noncommittal.”
“This past summer, I spend two long months on the farm. Two long months without contact with anyone close to my age.”
“Well, there is the Internet.”
“I didn’t take anything with me.”
“I’d die without the ‘net.”
“It was a shock at first, but then I found peace, calm.”
“I like having the information, knowledge, right in my hand.”
“I thought you were texting in class.”
“I was fact-checking the teacher.” She narrowed her eyes. “They look just about done. Enough for me, anyway. You don’t have a collection of thumbs with me, maybe other girls, from the security videos, do you?”
“No. That’s a serious offense. I could get expelled for it.”
“Yet, you thumbed me today?”
“Oh, it was worth the risk. Where’d you get it?”
She dug in her bag. “My Hello Kitty Taser? The Internet, of course.”
“Cool. I thought you were going with Bly.”
“You mean like dating?”
“Yes.” He slid a burger on a bun, passing it. “He’s always hanging around you.”
“He’s crushing. I found it pretty creepy, but October told me I should try to see things through his eyes and be nice to him.”
“So, you use him like some kind of slave?”
“He wants to hang around me, I can’t really stand him. He’s such a dim bulb. All he seems to want to talk about is a pound of pot and anal sex.”
“A pound of pot and anal sex? What’s that all about?”
“I really have no idea.”
“Did you try asking him?”
“No. I don’t want to hear the answer.” Amaretto sat at the small table. “The farm. If I wash my face and put on blue jeans and maybe a plaid shirt, will you take me there someday?”
“You don’t have to be what you’re not.”
“I’m not the costume I wear.”
“I’m going a long weekend over Thanksgiving. If you want, I’m sure you can come along.” He held his palm to her. “Before you answer, know that there’ll be a lot of people there.”
“Like a Rockwell painting, huh?”
“I’d actually consider it, if there’s a barn.”
“There’s a barn.”
“I already have my Thanksgiving booked this year.” She held her half-sandwich forward. “Great burger.”
“I believe we should all do one thing really well. Me, I’m all about the burger. You?”
“Sorry,” she said, glancing her phone, blinking repeatedly, reading, 9-11 Edgewood S&L followed by scrolling pluses. “I’m a fucking superhero,” she whispered. “Is there a car here?”
“I don’t have a license.”
“Wasn’t my question.” She looked up, taking his soft brown eyes. “My soul mate is in trouble. Big trouble.”
Standing, John said, “What kind of trouble?”
“I won’t know until I go through the door.”
“Tell me where. I’ll get you there.”
Behind the wheel of his mother’s Ford Focus, he shook his head at himself. “You have no idea how much trouble I can be getting in.”
Amaretto bit on her thumb, trying to see the future. “Things are coming apart. I knew this was going to happen.”
“Things are coming apart.” With a deep breath, she said, “We have a signal.”
“Like the Bat Signal?”
“9-11. Used only when dire.”
“That’s how you knew who?”
“October was in trouble.”
“You two are so different.”
“Yin and Yang. Stop here, go home.”
John stopped the car. “I can hang,” he called as Amaretto climbed out.
“You’re illegal. I don’t want to see you get busted in your mom’s car and all. That would be embarrassing.”
“That would be embarrassing.”
She paused, bending, looking back in the car. “Thanks for the burger.”
“Okay, not-apple.” She smiled at John, because of John, lost in the moment and his eyes as if being called to get back in the car.
Two pops resonated from the bank followed quickly by six more.
Amaretto dropped her backpack on the front seat, slamming the door, sprinting into the street, the first car screeching to a halt, pushing her to the asphalt, the driver laying on the horn, screaming “Hey!” out his window, Amaretto rolling to her feet, back into a run.
Sliding on the concrete, Amaretto bounced off the door, then pulled it open, police cars screeching to a stop on the street behind her. Most the people in the bank cowered, huddled as if a bomb had gone off, the epicenter four people, one dead. Fowler, her gun in both hands, pointed down on a mass, the mass Richard Bly, Bly and Fowler just behind October, October comically trying to put Casey’s brains back in his head.
Amaretto walked briskly to October, glancing at Fowler. “You’d better get your badge in the air.”
“They’re coming in hard.”
“Fowler,” Amaretto said forcefully. “You’re in shock. Hold your badge up toward the door.”
Fowler fished her badge off her belt, holding it up.
Amaretto dropped to her knees in the slime, taking October’s face. “Ockie. Listen.”
“They killed him. I can fix it,” she answered vacantly.
“Look at me, October. Look at me.”
October found Amaretto’s eyes. “October. You’re in shock. You have to give over to me. You have to trust me.”
“You love me, Apple.”
“I do. Now, let Casey go.”
“You must. Listen to me. You’re in shock. You don’t understand what you’re looking at. You must trust me.”
“Yes, trust me. Now, let Casey go.”
October gingerly placed what was left of Casey’s head on the floor, Amaretto taking her wrists. “Now, October, stand with me.”
Amaretto brought October to her feet, looking over October’s shoulder. “Fowler, get that badge up high.”
“I have to cover him.”
A woman stepped forward, folding a jacket around October. “I’m a trauma nurse,” she said, pulling October away, hugging her.
“Thank you,” Amaretto said, turning, facing the door. “You don’t have a radio, Fowler?”
“Here they come,” Amaretto said, extending her arms over her head, putting her hands to the back of her neck and dropping to her knees.
“Hey, Penrose,” Detective Robert Banner greeted when the door opened. Banner glanced up and down the hall. “You live here?”
“Yes, Banner. What do you want?”
“Kid did a number on you, huh?”
“The face will heal. Pick him up yet?”
“Working out the kinks.” Banner thumbed over his shoulder. “How well do you know Whitman?”
“Am I speaking too fast? Rupert Whitman. Three doors down. How well did you know him?”
“Not like he gives me a reach around when he butt fucks me,” Penrose bit hard. “This is New Jersey. You should assume we don’t know any of our neighbors but to say fuck you now and then.”
Banner smirked. “Awfully defensive, Penrose, which makes me assume you knew him pretty good.”
“He was murdered last night.” Banner watched Penrose’s eyes carefully.
“No shit at all. Know anything about it?”
“How could I? I didn’t get home until this morning. What happened?”
“Off the record, I’m thinking a professional hit.”
“Whitman was an alias. From upstate.”
“We don’t say that.”
“We don’t say upstate.”
“Fuck you, Penrose. Off the record, here’s what I’m thinking. Whitman, real name Joseph Sampler, slipped sexual assault charges up-fucking-state last year, dropped south, holing up in our quiet little town of Edgewood. Though Sampler barely dodged that bullet and should have been on his knees thanking God everyday for his freedom, a sick fuck like Sampler can’t help himself.”
“Help himself what?”
“I’m thinking that Sampler grabbed the wrong child this time. I can’t see your average father killing Sampler like he did, so it must have been a professional.”
“All very interesting, but why are you telling me?”
“Three doors down, you fucked the Stayman child. Assholes of a feather, you know.”
“I did not fuck any child!”
“Maybe you and Sampler fucked the same kid and the killer’s coming for you next. Maybe it was her father that worked you over.”
“I’m telling you. I didn’t fuck Stayman. Her boyfriend, a retarded freak, was jealous, worked me over.”
“He does sound like the kind of child with rage issues. I bet he has a history of senseless violence.”
“Yes! Yes! I bet he does!”
“You did not know Sampler was a pedophile.”
“No, I did not.”
“You did not know he was a predator.”
“Of course not!”
“Here’s some advice: Don’t shit where you eat. Do you know what that means?”
“Yes! You’re just pissing me off now.”
“There’s a kid from the County forensic team poking around Sampler’s apartment now. How about I have her take a look around your apartment?”
“Sure, on a whim without a warrant,” Penrose challenged.
“You’re a cop. Murder, compelling interest, you knew the vic, the vic a known pedophile, I have reason to believe you fucked the Stayman child. Believe me, Penrose, if I wanted, I could turn you life upside-down without ever taking it to a judge.”
“What exactly do you want?”
“I just want you to be aware that your actions have consequences. If you cross a certain line, there’s no way we can protect you. Don’t do stupid shit. Get your statement clear in your head about Sampler and see me tomorrow.”
“Hope the Stayman girl disappears. She can really burn you.”
“Who’s going to believe that little slut over me?”
“I will.” He turned to his right. “How long have you been standing there?”
Arianna Sandalwood, twenty-four years old, five-eight, straight hair to her shoulders like brushed leather, eyes inhumanly black, all pupil, complexion white with a touch of ocher, darker around her eyes, shrugged her square shoulders in white throwaway overalls. “Detective Fowler said, and I quote, ‘Tell that asshole to turn on his fucking phone.’ That asshole, Detective Banner, would be you. I have to pack up.” She turned, stepping.
Her voice, throaty, almost male, she half turned, still walking. “No. I have to be someplace else.”
“Wait, Sandalwood. County said you were mine for as long as I need you.”
“And, I paraphrase, Banner: Turn on your fucking phone, asshole.”
Banner shrugged, fishing for his phone. “Doesn’t hold a charge,” he said, pushing buttons.
“Read the instructions that came with the phone.” Sandalwood turned away again.
Banner put his phone to his ear. “Penrose. Why would you want to fuck a child when you can be hitting something like that?” He nodded down the hall.
Sandalwood turned back again. “Banner. I wouldn’t fuck you with his dick,” Sandalwood said, bobbing a chin toward Penrose. “Hearing is really good, to answer your first question.” She disappeared into an open doorway.
“I didn’t know it was off, sorry,” Banner said into his phone.
“Need you down the Saving and Loan to take statements,” Fowler told him.
“Vandalism must be pretty bad this time? What? Two trash cans through the window?”
“One dead, one critical. I’m on modified assignment as soon as you get here, though it looks like the County is going to take over.”
“What the fuck happened?”
“Get here. Bring that intern with you.”
“Sandalwood? Looks like she left already.”