46 (rough draft)
George Howell leaned toward his computer, his face growing comically large. “Who are you and what did you with Apple?”
“Funny, George, like I didn’t hear that a dozen times today.”
“We thought we’d take care of everything,” Sandy said.
“We thought we’d better keep you in the loop,” Albert Smith added.
Amaretto gave a sharp nod. “Didn’t really want to bother you on vacation.”
“Not a problem for my favorite Apple. What can we do for you?”
“I want to give me away.”
“I need to change my living arrangements. I’m not safe living where I am.”
Sandy put a pen to a yellow pad. “Specifics.”
“Not a problem,” Howell jumped in. “I’ll talk to your mother and you can come live with us. Candy would love to have you in the house.”
“That won’t work for me. I need something official and legal. I need it so it can’t be reversed. I found a nice family.”
Amaretto shot him a look. “Well adjusted adults, is what I mean. I wanted to get the legal paperwork at least started before I talked to them.”
Smith leaned over Amaretto’s shoulder. “You can’t get moved in with a nice family simply because you’re mad at your mother.”
Amaretto held Howell’s eyes on the computer screen. “When I get home from school or wake up in the morning, I don’t know if I’m going to find Morgan dead in her own vomit or of an overdose.”
“Have you talked to your mother about –” Smith tried again.
“I’m at the end of planning, choices and decision making.” She showed Smith the back of her hand. “I know what I need to do.”
“Do you even have the access to resources needed to hire a firm like ours?” Sandy asked.
“That’s covered,” Howell said.
Smith leaned in too close not to be called inappropriate. “George,” he said to the image on the screen. “Is she always like this, I mean, I see a child sitting here, but what comes out of her mouth is all adult.”
George nodded. “Pretty much. Never underestimate this one.”
Sandy stopped with the pen, looking up from across the desk. “You say, then, your mother has a drug habit and you’re afraid she’s going to kill herself.”
“I don’t think you need us,” Sandy continued. “We can, on your behalf, notify family services and they’ll have you out of the house by tomorrow afternoon.”
Amaretto bit her lip. “I don’t want to get Morgan in trouble.”
“I understand, her being your mother.”
“Actually, that’s not it. I want to bow out gracefully and back off stage without anything blowing back on me.”
Sandy’s pen went to work. “Do you feel your mother could be a danger to you?”
She’s a narcissistic psychotic bitch, you bet your ass she’s a danger to me. “Yes, I’m sure my mother could be a danger to me.” She rolled her lip on her teeth again. “I’m not safe where I live. Tomorrow, I’m going to make a pitch to the people I wish to live with. They’ve not said yes, but they’ve not said no. They want a sit-down. What I need from you guys today is a letter of support, at least inferring a legal commitment on my part.”
“Implying,” Smith corrected.
George spoke from the computer again. “How about I have a sit-down with your mother, present your concerns, get her to sign off. That would be the easiest thing to do. Do you think she’d sign off?”
Sandy tapped her pen on the yellow pad. “George, I’m turning you off. Have a nice vacation. I’ll copy you everything you need to know in the email.”
“It’s not like I have anything to do.”
“George, have a nice rest of your vacation.” The computer returned to the desktop, George disappearing. “Now, Albert, you may go.”
“But, I should –”
Without looking up, she stopped Smith with her traffic cop hand. He left the room, closing the door behind him.
“Now,” Sandy said, watching Amaretto carefully. “Out with it, the whole story. I can’t help you if I don’t know the details.”
“Oh, you’re good.”
Sandy offered a cold smirk. “This isn’t the schoolyard.”
“I have two goals. I want out of my house and I don’t want to jam Morgan up.”
“When did you start calling your mother by her first name?”
“Why is that important?”
“I’m not sure it is.”
“I’ve always called her Morgan. She wanted a girlfriend, not a child.”
“Okay. How about your father?”
“That’s my name.”
Sandy nodded subtly. “That is an odd name for a child.”
“That’s all she drank on her week of love, she calls it, where she had sex with so many different men, she couldn’t guess which might be my father.”
The pen rested, poised, Sandy staring at Amaretto for a long moment.
Amaretto shrugged. “She’s a loser. With her genes as building blocks, I’m surprised I’m not so stupid I couldn’t find my way out of a phone booth if the door were open.”
Wiping a tear from her cheek, Sandy asked, “Just when is the last time you actually saw a telephone booth?”
“I like to watch old movies.” She looked back toward the door. “Are we like as off the record as we can be?”
“You put that well.”
“If it were just me, and I would have said this a month ago, if it were just me, I’d not give a fuck what happens to Morgan or even myself, maybe I slip in the shower and break my head open, bleeding out in the bathroom while Morgan and her crew party in the other room.”
Sandy’s pen went to work.
“Don’t get the idea that I’m suicidal. I’m not. Self destructive, sure. I’ve wrestled with depression ever since I can remember. Let the pain just stop, you know. I used to think my depression was organic, self-medicating just enough to take the edge off.” She produced her phone, working at the menu. “Somehow, one day, I looked out across the landscape and saw the problem wasn’t with me, wasn’t in me.” She held her phone across the desk for Sandy to see, a video in progress. “Morgan makes me do this. She shot the video.”
“Holy mother of God,” escaped in a harsh whisper.
With her free hand, Amaretto smeared tears on her cheeks. “No, Sandy, my depression isn’t organic. I suffer from depression because I’m surrounded by assholes.”
Sandy nodded sharply, her pen working. “I need a copy of that.”
“No. I understand you can be arrested just for looking at it.”
She nodded. “What’s changed?”
“You said a month ago was different.”
Pushing papers around, Sandy flipped through a file. “Even if you consented, it’s rape. We can –”
“I was drugged into oblivion. He humped my limp body. I woke up in my vomit.” She rolled her eyes. “No, not organic. There’s no way I want him to even have a hint he knocked me up.”
“That guy?” She nodded toward the phone.
“No, whole separate thing.”
“So, you plan to keep it.”
“Keep my reason for living?”
Again, the pen. “I’m going to draft a letter with some legal mumbo jumbo.” Her fingers danced on the keyboard. “Basically, that you have engaged us and we will apply our legal might and resources on your behalf so you can achieve your goals.”
“You can email it.” Amaretto stood, biting her lip, forcing back tears, moving, opening the door.
Sandy stood. “Amaretto. Apple.”
Amaretto turned back.
She shrugged. “You didn’t do anything.”
“I’m apologizing because I’m taking a guess no one else has.”
With pursed lips, Amaretto offered a sharp nod. “Thank you.” Pausing, half out the door, she watched the ceiling.
“Something I needed to ask George, of a personal nature. I had this creeper come down on me at school.”
“Catch-all term for a man who’s likely up to no good, usually involving children.”
“I know what it means. What would George know about it?”
“George came up. The creeper said George married his daughter. I happen to know Ellen well and this guy wasn’t Ellen’s father.”
Sandy stood, waving a hand in the air. “Close the door.”
Amaretto followed the instructions, watching Sandy.
“That’s the creeper.”
“George did marry his daughter, but that’s not his present wife.”
“Oh. I had no idea George was divorced.”
“Widowed. It’s not a secret, we just don’t make it public knowledge.”
Amaretto stared blankly, wiping a tear with her knuckle.
“Auto accident. Drunk driver. Killed his wife and daughter. I thought he’d never recover.”
“I don’t have any words.”
“There really are none, which is why we don’t make it public.”
Leaving the bus, Amaretto was equal distances, so she stopped by Hunter’s.
“Burger, if that’s not too much trouble,” she said.
“Not at all, Apple,” Mrs. Hunter answered.
“I won’t be going back to work.”
Mr. Hunter shrugged. “I’m sorry to hear that, but we certainly don’t have a problem with it. Getting too hot?”
Amaretto looked at him sideways. “Mrs. Hunter didn’t tell you?”
“Not mine to tell.”
“Tell me what?”
“Bless my soul! That’s really wonderful!”
“I think so.”
“What do you need? Milk. Let me get you some milk.” Mr. Hunter scurried around excitedly. “Pregnant girls need milk, right, Ma?”
“Cold, make it really cold.” Amaretto laughed. “Can I use you kids as a personal reference?”
“Kids! Of course,” Mr. Hunter agreed, setting a glass in front of Amaretto.
The door opened. Mr. and Mrs. Hunter shared a glance.
Amaretto cocked her head, just a little. Mrs. Hunter waved her off.
“Detective?” Mr. Hunter asked.
“I have that paperwork from the break in.” He waved a form. “Fowler said she was too busy to drop it off, asked me to drop by and apologize for her.”
Lying shack of shit, Amaretto thought, keeping her full attention on her burger and milk.
Up the counter, Banner leaned across, watching Amaretto’s profile. “My, aren’t you a sweet thing.”
Mr. Hunter hurried forward, taking the report, blocking Banner. “Thanks for dropping this by. Let Lindsay know we got that light out back fixed.”
“And, reinforced the door jam,” Mrs. Hunter called.
Banner pushed on Hunter, moving the larger man. “Maybe I’ll have a cup of coffee.”
“Would you like that to go?” Mrs. Hunter asked.
“I think here will be fine. Hi,” he said, taking the stool next to Amaretto.
“Hey, creeper,” Amaretto said around a mouthful of hamburger.
“Now, dear,” Mrs. Hunter gently scolded. “Be polite and eat your dinner.”
“Don’t be like that. I’m just being friendly.”
Amaretto placed her hamburger neatly on the plate, took a long drink of milk, napkined her hands, dabbed at her mouth, then turned on her stool. “Detective Robert Banner,” she said. “Amaretto Stayman, Apple to most.” She offered a hand, watching his eyes.
“You’re Amaretto Stayman?”
She withdrew her hand, returning to dinner. “Yes.”
“You’re much younger than I imagined.”
She shrugged. She wanted to regurgitate the long list of what she knew, from Banner’s connection to switching the drugs right through Banner’s culpability in Casey Little’s death. She wanted to see fear in his eyes. That’s what got Casey killed. “I don’t know what you think you know about me. I will say this: I’m close enough to Lindsay to call her a personal friend.”
“Meaning: I don’t care if you’re a cop. You’re a creeper and you make me feel uncomfortable with your inappropriate behavior. If you ever approach me again, it’d better be with a warrant in one hand and cuffs in the other, else I’m filing a complaint with the City.”
Banner scrambled to his feet. “I regret that my actions have been so misinterpreted by you! I apologize!”
“You’re still a creeper and my warning stands.”
He looked to the Hunters for help. They shrugged.
With Banner at the door, Mr. Hunter called, “Thanks for the report.”
The door snapped shut. “Does he know you deal drugs?”
“We only sell pot, dear.”
“Does-he-know-you-sell-pot?” Amaretto said through her teeth.
“Does Lindsay Fowler?”
“Apple, stop it. No. If we had to pay protection, we wouldn’t do it,” Mr. Hunter explained.
“Protection.” She narrowed her eyes. “Jack pays Banner.” She waved a hand in the air as if shooing flies. “Can you call me a cab, please? I don’t feel safe walking home.”
“You think?” Mr. Hunter pointed toward the door.
“If I’m ever found dead, you call Lindsay Fowler and tell her you believe it was Detective Robert Banner that killed me.”
“I’m not kidding. I really want to get my head down and fly under the radar. I want to turn the page, start a new life.”
“Cab’s on the way,” Mrs. Hunter said.
“I don’t suppose you can come spend the night, huh?” Amaretto said into her phone.
“Mom and Dad would kill me. You okay?”
“Long, stressful day. I just feel like snuggling. How’d you make out?”
“With?” John asked.
“Do I have a new book bag?”
“That’s a surprise.”
“Right up here is fine,” she said to the driver.
The cab pulled to the curb.
“John, thanks for everything. I’ll see you around noon.”
“Noon it is.”
“Thanks. I mean really, thanks.”
Amaretto waited until the cab disappeared around the corner, then waited a full five minutes, ensuring no one knew she was there. She slipped into the shadows, working six houses up and around the back of October’s house, the house dark and quiet.
With her key, she let herself in the back door, standing in the kitchen, breathing in the house, listening. Ghosts danced in her imagination from a time life seemed simpler. She sighed, the darkness enveloping her.
Going upstairs to October’s room, Amaretto did a quick inventory, satisfied most of October’s clothes were gone. “October,” she told the darkness. “I’m pregnant. When I first realized it, I thought you and me, and this is really stupid, but you and me could be like a couple, mothers to my baby. Our baby.”
Amaretto curled up on October’s bed, breathing in October’s scent. “I miss you.” She fell fast asleep.
Brigantine and Asher walked leisurely into the night. “Still think I’m really cool?”
“I do, yeah. It’s funny, now that I know you’re a girl, you don’t look like a boy at all.”
“I am really sorry. I think I was way too amused that you thought I was a boy.”
“You sure slugged Little like you’re a boy.”
“Four older brothers.”
“I guess you never learned how to be a girl then, surrounded by all boys.”
“You forget Abby.”
“I’ve spent most my time with Abby, Apple and October. Apple’s the Goth witchy girl.”
“This is me,” Asher said, indicating his house with a nod, turning, facing Brigantine, looking up. “I do really like you.”
“Are you sure?”
“A last kiss?”
“Last for tonight anyway.”
Sandalwood sat at the table in the adjoined kitchen, sipping tea, the sun flowing in behind her.
“Is that coffee I smell?” Applewhite asked.
He pushed up from the floor, a photo stuck to his forehead. He plucked the photo, crossing his eyes. “Who’s this?”
“If I wasn’t so hung over, I’d make a captain joke.”
“Duly noted. Another case I’m looking hard at. Man gunned down in a bank.”
“You mean the bank robbery?”
“It wasn’t.” She waved him off. “Your pants are down around your knees. Get up, get some coffee, go shower. You’ll feel better.”
“I made an ass our of myself last night, didn’t I?”
She shrugged. “You didn’t get around to ripping my clothes off.”
“Timing is everything.” Working to his feet, wrapped in the blanket, he penguined off to the bathroom.
Sandalwood rolled her eyes, taking half a cup of coffee, topping it off with cream, two spoons of sugar. “You should make up your mind: cream or coffee,” she said to the cup, finding her way to the bathroom.
Under the streaming water, Applewhite pushed the curtain back, accepting the coffee. “I really do love you, you know.”
“Well, I love you, too.”
He drained half the cup, pulling the curtain back in place. “What have you come up with?”
Dropping the toilet lid, she sat. “I think we have it wrong.”
“No, I think I have Whitman right. The Gentleman. I think we have it wrong.”
The curtain came back again, Applewhite glaring at Sandalwood. “I was just a fucking kid, but I know what I saw.”
“I told you you’d not remember. I have the files.”
“From your parent’s murders.”
“How’d you finally get them?”
She rolled her eyes. “Lie, cheat, steal. I didn’t have to blow anyone, but I would have. Guessing all these years hasn’t gotten me anywhere.”
“I am so sure The Gentleman copy-catted the Alex Killers so the murder of my parents wouldn’t be investigated.”
“Wash your hair, Coop.”
He disappeared again.
She raised her voice. “That’s what we were thinking. I slept with these files for three nights now. I’m thinking there were no Alex Killers.”
“Come on, Air. Three home invasions leading across the state. The physical evidence is overwhelming.”
“I narrow my eyes and stare, Coop, the facts in the cases dancing around, spinning until my head hurts and my eyes bleed. I can’t prove it to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, but the preponderance is both compelling and convincing.”
His head, his hair foamed up, appeared again. “What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking The Gentleman didn’t copy-cat the Alex Killers. I’m thinking The Gentleman did all four home invasions and created the impression the three Nielson brothers did all four.”
Applewhite disappeared again. “Do you realize the effort, detail and patience that would take? Finger prints, DNA.”
“Tell me the story again of you hiding in the hayloft.”
The water stopped, the curtain coming full open. “Towel?”
Again, she rolled her eyes, offering a towel. “You’re such a tease.”
“I’ll put some clothes on –”
“Good idea. You have a complete change in the bedroom.”
“And you can run it all down for me.”
Brigantine sat in the dimness of early morning, a thin ray of sun cutting the room in half, Brigantine sunk in a well-worn easy chair, the chair once owned by her grandmother. I don’t think they throw anything away, she thought.
The lump in the nearby bed in the cramped room stirred, the blankets heaving and groaning. “Who’s there?” a shadowed face asked.
“Brig. What do you want? Do you know how creepy you’re being?”
Brig wanted to say We need to talk, but looked for something else. “I wanted to ask you something.”
“What? And, here? I’m barely awake.”
“I didn’t want anyone else to see we were having a conversation, that they might ask what it’s all about.”
“I don’t follow. We talk all the time.”
“You, Dad, Mark, Paul and Matthew mock me, make fun of me, joke about me and talk at me. What we don’t do is talk all the time.”
Luke sat up, legs over the side of his bed, hands folded, hanging his head. “I know. You know, well, we love you, though, right?”
“I don’t know anything of the kind.”
“Aw, Brig, it’s all just a little friendly ribbing among family.”
“Luke, the constant battering hurts me to my bones, twists me around in knots.”
“I did not know that.”
Brigantine narrowed her eyes. “Is that why you don’t come out? Because you’re deathly afraid of the constant battering that will hurt to your bone and twist you around in knots?”
Luke straightened, indignant. “I’m really sure I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I was in Philly last night. I saw you in that movie theater.”
Wincing, Luke shot, “Fine then, tell Dad. I don’t give a fuck.”
“Don’t be an asshole. I’d never tell Dad. Why would you even think that?”
“To get back at me for the years of ribbing?”
“That, Luke, is just fucking stupid. I wanted to make sure you’re okay. That you’re taking care of yourself.”
“Because gay people are all about diseases?” he mocked.
“No, Luke, because all indiscriminate sex is about diseases, gay, straight or with sheep.”
“I have a special guy.”
“Cool. Is he nice to you?”
“He is. Last night, well, I don’t do that all the time. Rarely ever, you know.”
“I do not know.”
“We had a fight.”
“You and your special guy.”
Luke nodded. “I was mad, so I went to the movie.” He leaned forward. “Many of the guys don’t but I insist on using protection.”
“You were mad at your special guy, so you went and had sex with a stranger?”
“I guess that sounds strange. It makes me feel good about myself.”
“Right. I don’t understand but I’ll accept that it makes you feel good about yourself. I clocked a kid yesterday and it made me feel great. I say it out loud and it makes no sense to me, yet, there it is. I smile when I think about it.”
“It was them, Brig.”
“Mark, Paul and Matthew.”
He looked to the floor. “Fucking me.”
Brig took a breath, thankful her father took measures to keep her safe from experimenting.
“You can’t tell anyone.”
“I wouldn’t. It’s not mine to tell.”
“They’re not gay.”
No, they’re rapists. “I understand.”
Brigantine stood. “After what I saw last night, I wanted to make sure you’re okay.”
Luke watched his hands. “This is the first time in my life that I’ve actually felt like I have a sister.”
“It’s my fault, too. I’ve not really made the effort to be a sister. Know this: if you ever need to talk. If you ever need anything.”
He looked up, taking her eyes. “Sorry we’re assholes.”
“I can be an asshole, too.”
“What were you doing there?”
“Asher Norton thought I was a boy and asked me out. He thought I might like a good art film.”
“Asher Norton is gay?”
“Luke. You can’t tell anyone. It’s not yours to tell.”
He nodded quickly, the light of day coming to the room. “Of course.”