44 (rough draft)
Amaretto and John walked in silence, Amaretto, her hand in John’s, head on his shoulder. When first breaking across the street, John fished through Amaretto’s bag.
“Don’t bother,” Amaretto said. “I’m taking your advice and quitting.”
“I think I’ll quit that, too,” she answered, wrapping her hand in his, head on his shoulder.
They stopped at Hunter’s for a milkshake and conversation, the Hunters always happy to see Amaretto.
“I’m not sure. I may be retiring,” she told the Hunters cryptically. “I’ll give things a month or so, see what things look like after the holidays.”
Mrs. Hunter smiled softly, staring at Amaretto, nodding. “A girl knows, Apple.”
Amaretto blushed, maybe for the first time in her life. “Yes, Mrs. Hunter. A girl knows.”
“Knows what?” John asked.
Mr. Hunter chuckled. “Don’t even bother, John. Don’t even bother.”
Having detoured to Hunter’s, Amaretto and John approached Amaretto’s house from the opposite direction than expected. Pulling John short up from her house, she stopped in the street at a red car, tapping on the window, giving a chin bob. “I heard you wanted to talk to me.”
Lindsay Fowler jumped, powering the window down. “I did, yes, Apple.”
Amaretto bobbed her chin again. “My house is over there.”
“Eh, I know.”
“I know you’ve been watching.”
“I really didn’t make it a secret.”
John, pulling free, announced: “I’ll go make some coffee or something,” trotting off.
“You look good.” Fowler climbed from the car.
“I’ve kept my face out of the way of fists.”
Glancing back up the street, Fowler explained, “I was on suspension, trying to keep my head down. If they knew I was investigating –”
“I read the papers, and I was in the bank.”
“You’ve always struck me as smart. Then, you know.”
John waited, the door open. They entered the house.
“I’m not sure, Lindsay, what you want me to know.” Her hand came to John’s arm. “Don’t disappear. It’s cool.”
Fowler surveyed the house as they found chairs at the kitchen table.
“Been a month, I still can’t get the stink out.” Amaretto shrugged. “That’s why when Fishy clocked me, I didn’t want to go on record or press charges. I know you, you being cops, would have a hard look at how I live, which would not benefit my mother.”
“I think I follow. Where is she?”
Amaretto offered a nod. “Even as I was yelling at you to hold your badge toward the door, Morgan and her merry band of losers were packing up and heading out for parts unknown.”
“You haven’t heard from her?”
“No, but I expect her to come through the door at any moment and pick up as if nothing ever happened. If I were so motivated, I could catch up to her down the Hair Hut.”
John, setting mugs on the table, added, “We have not really been so motivated.”
“Off the record –”
“I don’t know why anyone says that. Nothing is ever off the record.”
Fowler smirked. “Indeed. I am hyperaware that within the population of children exists a subculture of kids that for lack of a better way of saying it, parent themselves.”
“Good way to put it. I’ve heard it put: demons in the flesh of children, tempting men.”
“Just the special men, Apple,” John interjected.
“I didn’t go around tempting men, but I was one of those kids growing up.”
“Off the record,” Amaretto bit with a touch of sarcasm.
“Yes, off the record.”
Elbows on the table, mug to her lips, Amaretto watched Fowler’s eyes. “Did you switch the cocaine taken from Markus’ house with powdered sugar?”
“What? It was switched?”
Amaretto smiled, sipping the coffee. “Anyway, Randi said you wished to speak to me.”
“What do you know about that?”
“That incident with Principal Markus?”
Amaretto shrugged, offering almost a giggle. “Obviously, more than you. I will tell you: I had nothing to do with it.”
“Doesn’t matter. He’s dead.”
Fowler narrowed her eyes. “Richard Bly?”
“Casey Little. Lindsay: the cocaine was real.”
Again, narrowed eyes. “You know this for a fact? You saw it. Tasted it?”
“Yes, no and no. Definitive? No, but I know what Casey paid for it and who he got it from. I have no reason to believe the cocaine wasn’t real. You can’t be a major dealer in cocaine, sell beat-bags like that, and expect to stay in business very long.”
“Or even alive. Sell a 10 buck beat-bag down the school, get the shit beat out of you,” John added.
“No, the dope planted at Marcus’ was real enough.”
Fowler gnashed her teeth. “Banner.”
Amaretto applied all her force of will not to slam her fist on the table and proclaim yes, having the missing piece. Now, she knew why Richard Bly murdered Casey Little. She let out a long sigh. “Markus was driving hard to October Ferguson’s hoop.”
“Like you never heard this story.”
“I’ve heard rumors of Markus’ predilection.”
“Markus was one unguarded opportunity away from kidnap, rape, murder and a shallow grave in the Pines.”
“The graves in the Pines need to be deep, Apple, else the critters dig the bodies up, with that sand and all,” John said over Amaretto’s shoulder.
“Noted,” Amaretto answered.
“Why didn’t anyone report this?”
“October did. She went on record.”
Lindsey rolled her eyes. “Randi did ask for Markus’ background report at the beginning of the school year, said something about it.”
“And, Lindsay, you did – what? Miss Law Enforcement Lady?” Amaretto leaned on the table, keeping Fowler’s eyes. “What did you do to Fishy when you watched him beat the shit out of me?”
Amaretto sat back and waved her hand as if shooing flies. “So, now, let’s ponder why Casey Little might feel the only choice he had was to somehow frame Markus to protect the love of his life, October.”
“I took Fisher away in cuffs and dumped him in a cell. I thought about putting him in County for a couple of days.”
“What would that do?”
“People generally don’t like people that beat children.”
“So, you pretty much thought about doing stuff.”
Fowler shrugged. “You pretty much tied my hands.” She produced her notebook, flipping pages, applying the pen. “Run it down for me.”
“I don’t know details.”
“Casey Little bought a mess of cocaine. He planted it in Markus’ house, sending a naked photo to October.” Amaretto nodded. “Now, that makes sense to me.”
“Casey knew they’d circle the wagons, protect Markus. I already told Randi, for all I know, you’re one of the wagon circlers. The photo could disappear or the cocaine could disappear, but certainly not both.”
“When you brought the photo to me, it gave me access to Markus’ computer. Markus was so eager to let me look, I knew it was a setup. That’s when I found the cocaine in his desk. Again, he didn’t mind me looking, obviously a setup, which I didn’t realize at the time.”
John snickered over Amaretto’s shoulder. “You’re giving out an awful lot of information to us civilians.”
Fowler waved him off. “I need to backtrack and see who had access to the evidence.”
With more flipped pages, Fowler asked, “Who was the girl with Casey in the bank?”
“That was me.”
“No, it wasn’t. Breathtakingly beautiful, soft brown hair.”
“Thanks, pal. I thought they took a full roster of people in the bank, checking ID’s and everything. That was actually pretty impressive, them thinking a perp might be hiding himself with the civilians. That’s what that asshole Kay got me on. I didn’t have any ID, losing me in the system for a couple of days.”
“I don’t recall that. Oh, I recall the roster, but I don’t recall you having trouble with Kay.”
“Me facedown in Casey brain and blood, not being allowed off the floor?”
“Likely something else glitched out of the security videos.”
Again, Amaretto narrowed her eyes. “The security tapes were fucked with?”
“There was a glitch.”
“What kind of glitch?”
“The identity of the child with Casey seems to be masked.”
“Kay was going over the videos right after.”
“That’s what I said, but I was told I was mistaken. Who? Who was it?”
“Not on the roster, deleted from the video, it would seem if I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.”
“That’s not funny.”
“You took that as a joke?” Amaretto smiled softly. “Why, that child was Markus’ love interest, October Ferguson.”
“And, all this time I thought the universe rotated around you.”
Amaretto leaned on the door opening, watching Fowler on the walk. She liked Fowler’s stride, full step, head up, eyes darting, taking in everything. What Amaretto didn’t know was what Fowler really wanted. “I like that she’s wears a man’s suit, and looks good in it. The newspapers reported it quick as a bank robbery.”
John, just behind her watching Fowler step into the street, said, “I know.”
“I know that, too.”
He chuckled. “Watching the two of you dance. I’ve not pushed you on anything, and I never will. When you leave me in the dark, it’s because you think it’s for my own protection. I trust your judgment.”
Amaretto waved as the car passed the house, the gesture unseen by Fowler. “She’s one of the good guys, maybe just a little tainted.”
“I think none of us are saints.”
“Through your eyes, I’m sure. How do you know the cop’s one of the good guys?”
“She didn’t know the drugs were switched out.”
“No. Reasonably. That she was suspended.”
“No one to circle their wagons around her?”
“You’re getting good at this.”
She turned, stepping into John, her hands flat on this chest, her head on his shoulder. “You know I can probably never love you.”
He nestled, hands wrapping her shoulders. “If you mean the rainbow, unicorn and lollipop love, that’s okay.”
“You do something to me, Apple. I want to draw my sword, kneel and place my sword at your feet. I really don’t care if you return that.”
“Not-apple, what if we never have sex?”
“I know your pain and your damage. What was it that Wordsworth said word worthy?”
“The child is the father of man.”
“Yes, that. I adore and worship what you are today, the person you are, not the person I wish you to be.”
“Men have their needs.”
“Desires are not needs, Apple. Men often use the word need to justify bad behavior. Want to Google it? Is that the proclamation you wanted to make today? We’ve talked about it for a month and I’ve already decided.”
“I’m all in. Kneeling at your feet, living in your light is my cake. The rest is just icing.”
“That’s how I feel about October.”
“I understand that.”
“No, not-apple. That’s not it.” She pushed into the house, closing the door. “Don’t let go.”
“I really like Bill and Marie.”
“I think you made a special effort. My parents are cool, always giving me room to make my own mistakes.”
“Is that what they said I am? A mistake?”
“Well, when they first met you, sure. What parent, other than your mother, would be delighted to see you come through the door? I know they were cold, maybe shocked is the better word, but they’ve warmed up to you. I told them the story of not-apple the bully and Richard Bly, and how you made me see the error of my ways.”
Amaretto took a deep breath, releasing air slowly. “I want to sit down with Bill and Marie. I want to ask them if I can come live with them. Even with the religion and their strict nature, they’re the most well adjusted adults I know.”
“Well, we have the room, for sure. Mom hasn’t used her sewing room in years. Mom’s said many times that they always wanted a daughter. They’re not too delighted with your costuming.”
Amaretto giggled into his chest. “They really don’t understand.”
“No one can, but you.”
“I want to get my hair cut.”
“Just below my ears to my neck, maybe, with bangs. I’m going to my real color.”
“I can see that. Cute.”
“I’m going to throw out all my makeup. Unless I take a fist to the face, I really don’t need any makeup.”
“Let me guess. Change of wardrobe?”
“All because you want to live with me?”
“No. It has nothing to do with that. Being Morgan’s little whore isn’t working for me anymore.”
“I think I understand. I’ll talk to my parents tonight.”
Amaretto pushed back, looking up into John’s eyes, pleasant eyes. “Everything’s changed, Edgewood, New Jersey, America, the world and the universe.”
“That’s the way I felt when Bly knocked me on my ass.”
Her small hand cupped his chin, her thumb running over his lower lip. “John, my not-apple. I’m pregnant.”
“Mom, Dad.” John waited, standing before his parents, his parents in the dim light of the living room, sunk in comfortable chairs, books open on their laps, two balls of light in the darkness.
The books closed, heads raised. “John?” Bill McIntyre asked, removing his black-rimmed reading glasses, square face, ruddy complexion like a man who’d spent years with his face to the wind and sun, dark hair, black with some gray, neat in a flattop.
“I need your help.”
Marie McIntyre, a frail woman, gaunt, thinning dull brown hair hanging like Spanish moss around her face, her moist lips breaking in a soft smile.
“Did I say something funny?”
Bill nodded, a coy smile in concert with his wife. “You’re what? Fifteen?”
“We’d thought you’d be at least thirty years old,” his mother said.
“Before we heard you say: I need your help,” Bill explained.
John rolled his eyes. “This is life and death dead serious.”
“Don’t be such a drama queen.” Bill returned the rolled eyes.
Marie turned her head, just a little, watching her son. “Bill, let’s listen.”
“It’s Apple, I mean Amaretto.”
“Apple is fine,” Marie agreed.
“Well, of course, Stayman and all.”
Again, the rolled eyes. “Like, the kids called me Apple, too.”
His father chuckled. “The McIntyre apple, sure.”
“Apple calls me not-apple.”
“She has a nice sense of humor.” Mom nodded.
“I could say bitter and biting,” John corrected.
“Deep and rich, I’d call it,” Bill said.
Bill and Marie watched John, John watching between his parents.
“This is the hard part, John,” Bill said. “Instead of leading with the sales pitch, jump to the end. Give us the bottom line.”
John closed his eyes. “Apple needs a safe place to live. She asked if she could live here.”
“She doesn’t seem shy. Why is it you standing here and not her?”
“Now, Bill, I can understand that.”
“She wanted to. I said I’d run the idea by you first.”
“Why here?” Marie asked.
John offered a twisted smile. “She said you’re the best adjusted adults she knows. And, you’re not just her first choice. You’re her only choice.”
Reaching, Bill and Marie joined hands. “We’re not saying yes,” Bill said.
“But, we’re certainly not saying no,” Marie added. “With just our cursory knowledge of the child, we know she’s a child in trouble.”
“At risk, is a better way to put it,” Bill corrected.
“There’ll be conditions.” Marie examined the ceiling, a finger tapping her chin. “If she were to come under our roof, we would be the de facto parents, with our rule absolute.”
Bill stood. “Then, it’s settled. Bring your Apple by and we’ll have a meeting, go over details.” He offered his hand to his son to seal the deal.
John shook hands with his father.
“Hey, Fowler,” Banner greeted with a head bob Friday morning. “Good to have you back.”
Fowler rounded Banner’s desk, placing a brown paper bag with rolled-over top on her desk, dropping on the chair, flipping through the many files. “Paperwork is a pain in the ass, huh,” she returned the greeting.
“Never liked it much.”
“This,” she waved a file, “Is still here?”
“Break-in at the coffee shop, dinette, whatever you call it. Hunter’s.”
“Did you ever stop to think the man may wish to file an insurance claim?”
Another shrug. “Then he would have called, like that gas station guy did.”
“Service station. You took care of that?”
“Sure, and I told him it was fraud, we knew it was fraud and could prove it, unless he cut me in for half.”
“You’re an asshole.”
“You’re the one that gave me the heads up. I settled for twenty-five percent.”
“How about Whitman? Where do we stand on that?”
“The guy that got murdered at The Crystal?”
“Oh, him. That was taken away from us.”
“No. Some shiny shoed salesman claiming to be with the FBI.”
“Odd. Cooper Applewhite.”
“That’s the guy.”
“Why did the FBI take over an investigation into a local murder of a nobody?”
“I didn’t ask.”
“Someone wants to do my work for me, I’m not going to ask why.”
Fowler sighed deeply, pushing folders around her desk. “The bank robbery. There’s nothing here.”
“That was never in our hands.”
She looked up, across the desks, watching Banner’s face. “You know it wasn’t a bank robbery, right?”
“Kay spent much longer than he should have with me and the file in a room.”
“So, I believe whatever Kay told me to believe. Unless there’s some kind of payday I’m not aware of, it’s not in my interest to do anything else.”
“I want to look at those files,” Fowler said absently to herself, opening the brown paper bag, reaching in, placing two plastic bags in a larger bag, the larger bag secured with red tape, black lettering saying EVIDENCE on her desk. Retrieving another form, she said, “This should have been filed, too.” She showed the paper. “My preliminary report of all I didn’t find at Edgewood.” Looking at Banner’s stare, asked, “What?”
“I thought that was deposed of.”
She shrugged. “You’re not the only malingerer in the building.” Her hand fell on the evidence bag. “As you are well aware, these are not the bags I took from Markus’ house.”
“Oh, Fowler, come on. How can you be so sure?”
“The bags I took were filled with dime bags, not one big lump of powder.”
Banner stood defiantly, extending an arm, palm up. “You’re on official record not remembering details after that incident where you killed the kid. What you think you remember proves nothing.”
Fowler smiled subtly, her head toward her paperwork, looking up at him from under her brows. “I don’t have a wagon.”
“Something the Stayman kid said to me.” She signed off on a report, tossing it on Banner’s desk. “Make a copy, file the original, take the copy over to Hunter’s with our personal apology for taking so long.”
“I’m your errand boy now?”
She produced her notebook, flipping to a blank page, writing. “Casey Little plants drugs in the home of Paul Markus. Markus is arrested, but the drugs are switched out. Now, Casey Little is dead. You’re damned straight you’re my fucking errand boy. I want my percentage, too.”
“Fine. Hunter’s. Stupid name for a store. There’s no hunting gear in there whatsoever.”
Amaretto thought she’d feel naked in her white button down, loose fitting black jeans and denim jacket, sneakers. She retired Dark Hello Kitty, stowing her books in a brown paper bag. She opened the door on a new world just as John came up the walk.
He stopped. “Wow. When you said –”
“After you left yesterday, I felt anxious to get things done.”
“Your hair is, ah, orange.”
“Do you like it?” Amaretto bit her lip. “The color is close. It took the stylist forever to match it. Shouldn’t notice it growing out.” She rolled her eyes and bounced on her right foot like a child. “I am so not used to feeling insecure.”
“I feel like an enchanted traveller. You have absolutely nothing to feel insecure about.”
“I have an entire list of things. Did Bill and Marie die laughing?”
“I was going to call you last night.”
“They didn’t say yes, but they didn’t say no. I got a really good hit off them.”
“I figured. One thing I learned from Ockie: I can imagine being them. Like, how would I react if I were them. I do understand how much I’m asking.”
“Have that sit-down tonight?”
“I have one more errand after school. How about a Saturday morning breakfast? Ribs. Tell them I’ll buy.”
“Saturday, around noon, I’ll come over and pick you up, walk you over the house.”
“I have to stop doing that, don’t I?”
“Yes, my folks are going to want you to be a child, not an adult.”
“I want to be a child for a while, too.”
John wrestled her bag from her arms. “Since you have an errand after school, maybe I drop down the mall and get you a book bag. Maybe something light red or even pink. Maybe flowers?”