40 (rough draft)
Human beings are ill equipped to deal with a crisis, Amaretto thought, face down in Casey’s body fluids. The couple dozen civilians inside the bank lunged at the police assault, all offering their version of events, the police shouting back, rifles poised, “Hands over your head, down on you knees, do it now! Do it now!”
Amaretto pulled a tool from October’s toolbox, imagining if she were a cop, how’d she come in the door, unsure of events. She didn’t think they’d come in blind, but they did.
“Order out of chaos,” she said to the cold floor.
The trauma nurse, or so she said, huddled with October in her shoulder, October wrapped in a coat, pressed against the counter. I got lucky, Amaretto thought, watching October jerking, crying uncontrollably in the stranger’s arms. This isn’t your first rodeo.
“I think that’s got it,” a voice boomed from overhead. “We’re all secure here,” he repeated, talking into his shoulder.
Amaretto, her cheek in Casey’s blood, watched across the distance, a women in her eighties, on her knees, hands behind her neck, face stern, eyes fixed on Amaretto. Not your first rodeo, either, Amaretto thought with a smile.
The elderly woman smiled back.
Detective Lindsay Fowler was relieved of her gun early on, her ID checked visually and verified by radio, then asked for her statement, which at first was a mashed up ramble of unconnected thoughts.
A younger man came oddly close to Booming Voice, not looking up from his Ipad. “This one came in,” he pointed to Bly, “and grabbed a girl.” He glanced around. “Not this one.” He pointed to Amaretto. “As Detective Fowler entered, he,” pointing back to Bly, “shot him,” then pointing to Casey. “Detective Fowler then shot him.” He pointed back to Bly.
Booming Voice took the Ipad, replaying surveillance video. “What of this one?” he asked, indicating Amaretto.
“She came late.” The younger man took the Ipad back, scrolling a menu. “Here she is.”
With a third review of the videos, Booming Voice said into his shoulder, “Let the EMTs in.” Generally, to the bank, he said, “I want verified identification on everyone here and a statement from everyone. I think we can stand down.”
He didn’t turn. “Fowler!”
“Lieutenant Kay,” she answered from behind.
“You’re relieved. Go home until you get a call.”
“I’ll wait until Banner gets here, to have an Edgewood presence.”
“Officer Beck,” he said to the young man with Ipad.
“Escort Fowler off my incident scene.”
“Sir,” he answered, reaching for Fowler’s elbow.
Fowler pulled back. “I’m going. I’m going.”
“Go with her, Beck. Take her statement.”
“I’ll go in, write a full report.”
Still not looking at her, Kay said, “You’ll make your full statement now, before you have a lot of time to think about it. Then, you’ll go home until you get a phone call.”
“Sir,” she answered with a nod.
Kay’s radio crackled. “Got a couple of noisy mouthpieces out here with a demand.”
“That didn’t take long,” Kay said to the air, then into his shoulder, “What do they want?”
“You don’t want the exact quote, but he’d like his mother off her knees.”
“Protocol,” he grumbled, glancing the room, most the civilians still on their knees, those who objected were on their knees with wrists tied behind their backs. He pointed. “Get that woman off the floor and out of here.”
Someone announced Casey was dead, and another announced Bly was alive, a team working on Bly.
On her feet, the elderly woman poked her hands in the pockets of her dress. “Really?” she asked of the man to her right, turning, “Really?” she repeated to the man to her left. She nodded toward Lieutenant Kay. “Would you please get that child off the floor, out of the pool of blood?”
“In its time, ma’am,” Kay answered sharply. “Escort her out.”
Her phone came from her pocket, snapping a photo, poking at the buttons, saying, “Did you get all that, Al?” before the cop on her right could take her phone.
Kay’s radio crackled again. “The other says he’s her lawyer, wants access, now.”
“We’re sending her out, now.” Kay nodded, the elderly woman taken by the elbow.
“The other lawyer, the child,” the radio answered.
“You don’t want the exact quote. Two lawyers out here. The other lawyer says he’s the lawyer of the child you have on the floor,” he paused. “Face down in a pool of blood? Is that right?”
Kay gnashed his teeth. “Tell that asshole that he can have access after she’s booked.” No one manages my crime scene.
“Jail’s not so bad,” Amaretto said, entering the vacant room, the room void of color, windows, decoration, size, the room crowded with a table, two chairs. “Nice to see you again.”
“Elizabeth Smith,” the elderly woman announced, placing a bag on the table, another bag under her arm. “You may call me Izzi.” The years weighed down on her body, but not her spirit, standing, steadying herself on the back of a chair.
“Jail’s not so bad,” she repeated. “The most difficult part at first was not being able to smoke – cigarettes or pot, take your pick. Then, I soon realized that was part of my punishment.” She shrugged. “I simply forgot about it, then it wasn’t punishment anymore.”
Smith smiled a brittle smile. “Amaretto Stayman.”
“They call me –”
“Apple. You’re not being punished for anything.”
She rolled her eyes. “The past forty-eight hours would contradict that.”
“Horrible, what happened in the bank.”
“People don’t deal with such things well.”
“I was thinking that same thing as I dropped to my knees.”
The elderly woman narrowed her eyes. “Why did you do that?”
“I figured they were coming in hard.”
“You didn’t have to come in at all.”
She smiled her brittle smile. “You ran toward the gunfire, not away?”
“You ready to go home?”
“Sure. Someone post my bail?”
“You’ve not been charged with anything.”
“Figured, seeing as no one interviewed me.”
She indicated the bag. “I guessed at your size. Simple dress, slippers. We’ll give you a ride. I have your clothes here, not sure you’ll get the blood out.”
“Thanks, Izzi. Who are you again? And, don’t repeat your name. I’m not in the mood.”
She chuckled. “I wanted to meet you, the child with the iron courage, who runs toward the gunfire, not away. The child who gave herself up to protect her friend.” She narrowed her eyes again. “My son is Albert Smith.”
Amaretto returned the narrowed eyes. “I’ve seen that name.”
“Partner in the law firm of Smith, Smith and Howell.”
“George Howell I know.”
“Very well, to hear him speak of it.”
“October. Is she okay? That’s the wrong question.”
“I don’t know who that is.”
Amaretto nodded slowly. “She’s the center of the universe, and you don’t know who she is?”
“George said you have a sharp wit.”
Dropping what amounted to orange scrubs to the floor, Amaretto slipped into the dress, stepping into the slippers, glancing at the camera in the upper corner, winking. “Where’s my mother?”
“I don’t know. I’m really sorry. I don’t know anything, really. I just wanted to meet you. Al said you were getting released.”
Arianna Sandalwood sat on the bench across from Rib-it, her inhumanly dark eyes scrolling Edgewood police files. With her Photoshop, she generated a graphic POW icon, placing it on her PowerPoint display, attaching the links to the vandalism reports. Opening the latest report, she added a Post-it, noting that the vandals were aware the newly installed secret surveillance cameras were in place.
Down on the scroll bar, she clicked the page for The Crystal. “Amateurs,” she muttered. “Why can’t they buy a good camera?” she asked, looking up.
Approaching, Special Agent Cooper Applewhite smiled, removing his sunglasses, dropping next to her, kissing her forehead, arm across the back of the bench. “Because it’s Edgewood where they spend their money on fast women and cases of beer, not cameras?” Applewhite, a man of twenty-eight was distastefully likable with a disarming smile and bright brown eyes, a square jaw and black hair cropped short. “Bank robbery gone bad, huh?”
“It wasn’t a bank robbery.”
“Wouldn’t know that looking at the preliminary files.”
“They’re chasing their tails, but that’s not why I called.”
“I ran it by the Chief yesterday, and he said, and I quote, Fuck you, we have better things to do even if it’s sitting at your desk masturbating.”
“The Chief is so colorful. He let you come anyway?”
“I said I stand a good chance of getting laid. You know how men have their priorities.”
She rolled her eyes, presenting her laptop showing a full screen photo of a man, bent awkwardly against a wall, his eyes open. “Known locally as Rupert Whitman, real name Joseph Sampler.”
“Sampler? I know that name.”
“North Jersey, just outside New York. Had an affair with –”
“Right.” He narrowed his eyes. “How’d he die? I assume he’s dead.”
“Neck was snapped.”
“Accident? He fell?”
“I don’t know for a fact, but from what I can put together, a man reached across the bar and snapped his neck.”
“Tell me he was wearing a derby and a dark trench coat and I’ll ask you to marry me.”
Sandalwood shared an uncharacteristic giggle. “Coop, you can’t marry your cousin.”
“Never said I’d marry you.”
She rolled her eyes. “Witnesses say, yes, hat, trench coat, which is why I called.”
“You can’t date your cousin, either.”
“Date of the murder, Sandalwood.”
“Night before the great bank robbery.”
“You’re thinking they’re connected?”
“I don’t know. But, look.” She linked back to the Crystal menu, opening three headshots. “This woman is Sampler’s victim’s great aunt, these two and her go way back.”
“No. It’s a good guess. They were in the same high school at the same time, and now belong to the same swim club. Once I had that, I stopped looking for more connections.”
“That’s a workable connection.”
“It is, then we have this.” Another photo jumped forward. “All together, over three days, the three women withdrew $50,000 from their bank accounts.”
Applewhite nodded toward Rib-it, presenting a thumb drive, which Sandalwood took, inserting it in her laptop. “What do the locals know?” he asked.
“Let’s start with the great bank robbery.”
“Richard Bly, senior in high school, older, special needs, assumed. He was never tested.”
“Seemed he was mainstream enough and no one cared.”
“What do his parents say?”
“You know, Coop, when I called, I thought you’d take this seriously.”
“Really? I thought you just wanted to hang. Dance near the fire.”
“I always want to hang, to dance near the fire, but if that’s all I wanted, that’s all I’d ask for. You didn’t even look at what I sent.”
“Cursory view so I could run it by the Chief.”
“Bly killed his parents.”
“Day before the great bank robbery.”
“Single gunshot to the head.”
“How’d you guess?”
“Special needs, never tested, likely the parents couldn’t find a fuck to give, road him like a kid’s bike. He’d want to see their faces. Did you process the scene?”
“Good. What else?”
“I have a full, dry report on the thumb. You need to lockdown the hospital.”
“Oh, you don’t know, right. Bly’s alive.”
“Really? How alive?”
“Critical, could check out anytime. On a vent. Hasn’t awakened yet. I feel you should throw you fed weight around, restrict access so only you can interview him when – if he wakes up.”
“Confirmation bias of the locals. They know what happened, no matter what.”
“Who’s in the wheelhouse?”
“Lieutenant Daryl Kay on the county level.”
“He couldn’t be bothered. He’s pushing the bank robbery angle. He doesn’t seem to like women.”
“Odd you should interject that. You mean young women.”
“Sorry. Young smart women.”
“You mean to say that he doesn’t like you.”
“Well, he does dismiss just about everyone, so I shouldn’t take it personally. He brushed me aside, looking for Cougar.”
“Man, I’d buy a ticket to see that.”
Sandalwood shrugged. “I let him have Cougar, after Cougar woke from his nap.”
With his elbows on his knees, leaning forward, Applewhite looked back at Sandalwood. He winked. “Kay is going to love me, huh?”
“Given your age, he’ll underestimate you, maybe even challenge you.”
“Good. Who do you like in Edgewood?”
“I like Lindsay Fowler, a detective. She’s on suspension now –”
“Yes, the shooter. She’s on suspension, but she’s working the case.”
“I like her already.”
“She’s got a sidekick, Robert Banner, young guy, like you. Unlike you, I get a bad hit off him.”
“Import from New York City, you have his file on the thumb without my notes. He’s a bottom feeder.”
“Most men are. There’s a gene for that.”
“Something I overheard got me looking.”
“Without your notes,” he repeated.
She worked on her computer keys, a photo coming up.
Applewhite narrowed his eyes. “I thought there were only two vics in the bank.”
“What an interesting name.”
“She’s not a vic.”
He looked closer. “Why’s she lying –”
“Kay secured the scene.”
“He put her facedown in –”
Sandalwood waved him off. “Something about her must have pissed Kay off. Kay’s issue with dark Goth girls isn’t the point. When I was processing Sampler’s apartment, Banner was doing a canvas. A couple doors up, auspiciously, lives a cop, Kyle Penrose.” She paused.
“I wanted to make sure you were paying attention. Banner and Penrose had an argument.”
“You with your super hearing.”
“A blessing and a curse. Penrose had gotten mugged. I couldn’t find any record of an arrest, but from what I overheard, Penrose knew his attacker and Banner was supposed to pick him up. To quote: Stayman’s boyfriend, a retarded freak.”
“From what I gathered, Penrose had sex with, maybe raped Amaretto Stayman, Stayman’s boyfriend, Richard Bly, mugged Penrose.”
“A couple days later, Bly is gunned down in a bank with his girl friend watching?”
“No.” Sandalwood worked through files. “Stayman came late. Many witnesses reported somewhat the same thing. Right before Bly shot Casey Little, Bly said: I have to do this.”
“That all becomes a guess and an assumption. Kay is assuming Bly meant he has to rob the bank. The video shows he said it as he shot the child. Watch.” She ran the video, a far angle from a high corner.
“Bly enters, approaches these two kids,” Sandalwood narrated.
“Obviously, that’s why he’s in the bank.”
“Obviously. You can’t really see it from this angle, I have another, which shows he’s already got blood on him. See here? This is where Fowler enters. Bly takes the girl and here is where he proclaims what he has to do.”
“Video’s not clear. He doesn’t look panicky or anything. I guess you’re assuming his parent’s blood from the day before?”
“Witnesses generally say he was cold as ice, but some say he was matter-of-fact, like he really didn’t understand the gravity of what he was doing. Unless we have bodies we haven’t found yet, yes, he killed his parents and never washed up.”
“You lean toward the latter, matter-of-fact?”
“I do. Special needs. Richard Bly felt shooting Casey Little was imperative and not only that, did so with as much compassion and interest as buying an ice cream cone. Watch.” Sandalwood hit play, continuing the video. After Bly danced back and down, Fowler coming over him, “Amaretto Stayman,” Sandalwood said. “Going to the girl, not Bly.”
“Stranger and stranger. Who is she?”
“Another unique name.” Applewhite leaned toward the computer. “There, Sandy, is cold-as-ice.”
“I disagree with your implication. Maybe people, me for one, go cold-as-ice in a crisis.”
“The crisis is over.”
“No, Coop, the crisis is about to storm the door.”
“What did they say?”
“Stayman and Ferguson?”
“They’re both missing. Ferguson from the scene, Stayman into Kay’s care.”
“Stranger and stranger, still. I think you’re right. Stayman pissed Kay off, maybe Kay covering for –”
“Penrose, but Stayman never filed a complaint.”
“Cold as ice. Look how Kay put her to the floor. She’s not the kind of person to trust any cop, particularly if Penrose raped her. I’ll make a call or two, get Stayman sprung, unless she’s floating in the river.”
“The Barons, Coop. We’re in New Jersey.”
“Pine Barons, right. If she’s still alive, I’ll get her sprung.”
Sandalwood stood, Applewhite coming to his feet, coming over her. She said, “If that kid’s dead, stop down the Home Depot and buy a shovel.”
“Understood.” With a soft touch of his hand to under her chin, he raised her face, placing his lips on hers, a forever moment passing too quickly. “God,” he said, “if you weren’t my cousin.”
“We could get drunk again.”
“We could, but let’s not.”
“Something’s wrong, Izzi.”
Elizabeth Smith worked the gearshift into park. “How so?”
“No cars on the grass. No motorcycles. Mom’s house is a crash house.”
“Mom’s house,” she repeated.
“I’ve always felt like a visitor, one of the crashers. Would you know if Morgan – that’s my mother – got arrested?”
“I’m sure Al would have mentioned that.”
“Doesn’t look like anyone is here. I don’t have my bag. Left it on the front seat of John’s car.” She waved a hand. “I’m just thinking out loud. I’ll go in a window, see if there’s a note.”
Smith argued, but not for long, leaving Amaretto alone on the sidewalk at Amaretto’s insistence.
The backdoor gave way to her shoulder. “Like a sci-fi story,” Amaretto said aloud. She listened, hearing nothing, guessing the noise of the forced door would get anyone’s attention. “Maybe Morgan is dead of that overdose and none of her friends wanted to deal with it.”
She tapped a finger in the half bowl of Cheerios on the kitchen table, putting her finger in her mouth. “Not sour. Someone ate here this morning.” She rolled her eyes. “All I need find is an ashtray with a burning cigarette to be totally freaked out.”
The house appeared to be abandoned quickly. Her bedroom was as she remembered it. Dropping on the bed, she looked toward the ceiling. “Okay. I get busted, but I had no ID. Ockie and Fowler were the only two people in the bank that could back up who I claimed to be, but they were long gone before I got pulled off the floor.” They must have come looking for Morgan.
“Maybe Mom did get arrested. I need a phone.”
Removing the bottom drawer of her dresser, she was relieved to find her stash of pot and money. Standing, she caught herself in the mirror. “A long shower, then, my armor, first.”
With a chair buttressed against the bathroom door, Amaretto relaxed under the hot water, dreaming of October. She thought to tell Elizabeth Smith to take her right to October’s, but Amaretto felt the need to decompress. October, after all, Amaretto guessed, would be in no danger. “I’ll feel better when I get eyes on her.”
She stripped the bed, putting a load of laundry in the washer. Again, looking toward the ceiling, she bent a finger with each item on the list. “Stop by Hunter’s, see John for my bag, call Abby and Brig, catch up to Ockie, call the school, find Morgan.”
She dropped to the unmade bed, falling back, staring. “I thought, once I got my hands on pot, I’d smoke it until I die.” For the first time in years, she wanted to smoke pot, but didn’t need to smoke pot.