47 (rough draft)
Amaretto rolled onto her back, squinting at her watch. Daylight warned she had slept the night. “Fuck!” she exclaimed, rolling from the bed, to her feet, taking a defensive stance.
“Hello Amaretto Stayman,” the dark figure in the chair across the room greeted.
“I just wanted, I mean, I miss. I have a key, it’s not like I did a breaking and entering thing.”
His eyes were lost in the shadow of his derby. “October is fine.”
“I want to see her.”
“That is not possible.”
“When is she coming home?”
“I cannot say.”
Amaretto pursed her lips. “Why didn’t you kill me?”
He smiled, his mouth half cut diagonally by shadow. “Killing you would complicate what I have to do here.”
She narrowed her eyes. “I’d think me knowing who you are would complicate what you have to do here.”
“The scale is close.”
“Would you tell October something for me?”
“I will, but first you need to know that October would like you dead.”
Amaretto fought for words, finally finding, “Because she thinks I’m responsible for Casey’s death.”
“Not even in a tiny way. I do not kill people to solve my problems or even as a vocation.”
“You murdered Richard Bly.”
“Sure, just like I killed Casey Little, Abe Lincoln and JFK.”
The figure paused, Amaretto guessed evaluating her denial.
“To save October, there must be a reckoning,” he said.
“I don’t even know what that means. Shit happens, you know. Tragic shit. We can’t holler at the universe and then have a reckoning as if destroying one thing negates the destruction of something else. Reckoning. Revenge. Getting even. October is definitely your daughter. You both live in the same fucking fantasy world.”
“You’re awful cocky, knowing who I am and what I do.”
“If you were going to kill me, I’d be dead.”
“I haven’t decided yet. That all depends on you.”
Amaretto let out a sigh. “I’m certainly not going to get in your way. Doesn’t support my interest.”
“Know this, Amaretto Stayman. You’re alive right now because you have equity built up over the past ten years.”
“Yes. But know this: all that equity is spent in this moment.”
“Understood,” Amaretto said with a nod, thinking: The difference between me and your other victims, is I know you’re coming.
Walking briskly into the cold morning, Amaretto braced for the gunshot she would not hear, thinking, He’d make it look like an accident. If it were me, I’d make it look like an overdose, when the phone called to her.
“Hi, George. You’re up early.”
“I wanted to touch base.”
“I really had no idea.”
“I like to keep my dramas to myself.”
“I was thinking, this guy in the video.”
“I wish Sandy hadn’t shared that information.”
“It stays in-house. What’s he do?”
“Like for a living?”
“My best guess is that he’s a major drug dealer. He’s a private person, too.”
“How about we nail him with a civil suit.”
“Then, I’d graduate to being a prostitute, up from being a whore. Is that all you ever think about? How to redistribute wealth.”
“You need to think about your future. Bread and butter. With the baby, you’re going to have expenses.”
“I’ll think about it. Let’s look at Edgewood, the school system and Fisher first, see what we can milk from that cow. That’s less likely to get me killed. Uncle Jack would have me eight feet under the sand in the Pines before the paperwork came off the printer.”
“Uncle Jack,” Howell repeated.
“Fuck, George. No.”
“We can gather information. Sandy is very good at it.”
“I saw my file. That set my creep-o-meter off.”
“It’s good to be prepared.”
“You really must leave this Jack thing alone.”
“We’ll not do anything without your approval. One more thing. Congratulations on the baby.”
“Not like I did anything but lay there unconscious.”
“I did not know that. Who knows?”
“That I got drugged and raped?”
“That you’re pregnant.”
“I could count the number on my one hand.”
“Okay, I won’t say anything.”
Amaretto stopped short. “George?”
“You’ve been out of town for a week?”
“Thanks for the call,” breaking the connection, Amaretto said, “Fuck,” through her teeth.
She assumed the menagerie returned the night before, cars crowding the driveway, motorcycles on the lawn.
Squinting, blinking, Kyle Penrose opened the door. “Stop pounding, Banner. I have neighbors, you know.”
Robert Banner pushed in, looking around. “Have any children in here?”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“I met your Amaretto Stayman last night.”
“Who? Oh, Apple, sure. Pretty hot, huh?”
“What the fuck were you thinking?”
Penrose shrugged. “I was thinking she was pretty hot.”
Banner shoved Penrose, Penrose spinning, turning over a small table, bouncing off the wall, losing his feet. Banner pointed. “You can’t be fucking children so publicly.” He gave the apartment a token glance. “I bet her prints and DNA are filthy in here.”
“She talked to Fowler, you know. I bet they braid each other’s hair on weekends.”
“Not about me. If it were about me, you’d have your cuffs out.”
Banner sat on a nearby chair, watching Penrose. “Tell me about it.”
“Tell me about it.”
“She came in with her mother.” He closed his eyes. “Smoking hot, you know. Skirt up to her ass, strutting on those heels. That makeup that just begs to have a dick shoved in her mouth. And, her flirting. Not just what she said. She did everything but run her hand over her camel toe and ask me for it.”
“Okay, so this girl gives you a boner harder than the calculations for a Mars landing. Then what?”
“She asked for my phone, put her number in and told me to call her.”
“And, you did.”
“Of course, I did!”
“Well, we got together. She really surprised me, fucked like a porn star.”
“Really? Amaretto Stayman?”
“Why do you sound so disappointed?”
“I don’t like that, you know.” He rolled his eyes. “This gets a little weird.”
“That ship has sailed.”
“I get off feeling in total, absolute control.”
“Women, huh. I would have given Fowler a good smack yesterday if not for the cameras all over the office.”
“Like that, I guess. Can I get off the floor?”
“Not yet. So, why should she take that to Fowler?”
“You gave Fowler the heads up that Stayman was going to bring a complaint.”
“Oh, that was, I guess, from the next time.”
“Don’t stop now.”
“I like to give them a little something, you know, to take the aggression out.”
“And, any fight they have in them?”
“Well, Banner, I like to think they’re sleeping and I sneak into their rooms, you know.”
Banner narrowed his eyes. “Did you have someone sneak into your bed when you were a kid and rape you, you pretending to be asleep?”
“No! It wasn’t like that!”
Banner nodded with a smirk. “So, you drugged Stayman. How drugged?”
“Oh, she was out cold.”
“So, she was going to Fowler not because you drugged and raped her, but because you took her power away.”
“I’m sure she doesn’t remember any of it.” Penrose glanced toward his bedroom. “I’ve been to the Laundromat. Now, it’s only her conjecture against my word.”
“Do you have anything in your record?”
“Not even your juvenile record?”
“So, you never got caught as an adult. Have you killed anyone over this shit?”
“No! It’s not like I’d pick up kids off the street!”
Banner looked at his hands, nodding. “This is all off the record. Goes without saying.”
“I assumed as much, circling the wagons.”
“You said before you can protect me, circle the wagons.”
“Sure, sure.” He looked toward the door. “I know a guy.”
“Well, he provides a service, which may fit your appetite.”
“You want to fuck unconscious pre-pubic children, you can’t troll for them on the street. Sooner or later you’re going to get caught.”
“I do not want to fuck pre-pubic children!”
“Okay, sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. Barely pubic girls.”
“Depends. Low side, a couple of thousand. High side, ten.”
“That’s a bit high. You know what I make.”
“It’s high, but there’s no risk like in kidnap and rape.”
“You drugged a child, holding her against her will and had sex with her. That, Penrose, is the definition of kidnap and rape.”
I have opportunities where you can make extra money.”
“Suspected of a dozen push-in B and E’s, drunk and disorderly, bar fights, looting cars. They really didn’t bother running a background.” Arianna Sandalwood looked up from her cross-legged position on the carpet. “Father died of lung cancer.” She scrolled on her Notebook. “Way too young.” She scrolled again. “No insurance or settlement payout. Mother worked herself to death, I would guess.”
Arianna nodded. “Seemed they all worked menial jobs, barely keeping the house.”
Leaning on the table in the adjacent kitchen, Cooper Applewhite held the mug to his lips. “They weren’t as much criminals as acting out against what they thought an unfair universe?”
“That’s the profile I’d go with.” She narrowed her eyes at her Notebook. “One day, they decide to drive one-hundred-fifty miles to push-in a stranger’s door and brutally murder a family they had no way of knowing.”
“Thus the Alex Killers.” Applewhite watched a stain on the ceiling. “Any connection to the cigarette trade?”
“The vics? No. He was a clerk in a market, her a seamstress at a local dry cleaner. The kids, well, grade school. Your mother and father excluded, the three families were about as benign as an American family could be.”
“You should get that fixed.”
Arianna followed his stare. “Shower, floor needs caulk.” She waved to the other side of the room. “The four home invasions are close enough to be called exactly the same.”
“That would indicate the Nielson brothers, not The Gentleman as a copycat.”
“See, Coop? There’s the mistake. I’d have to do enlargements and draw diagrams, but all four locations demonstrate to me the same, that is to say the exact same, attempt to make them look random.”
“You just said they were exactly the same.”
“Exactly the same in their attempt to make them look random. A cursory investigation wouldn’t see it.”
“Okay, let’s assume for a moment that The Gentleman did all four. Can you prove that?”
“I could make the presentation, but I really doubt I could sway anyone.”
“The Nielson brothers are dead.” Crawling on her hands and knees, she retrieved a stack of 8x10 prints. “The Nielson house. The forensics really fucking suck.”
“I’d say that good. Three civilians die. All the evidence is pointed toward the conclusion, that the brothers resisted, firing on the police, the police returning fire.”
“I have no forensics on the bodies. The autopsies are missing.”
“Cause of death so obvious?”
“Then, that’s what the autopsies would say.”
Again, she crawled, coming just under Applewhite, offering three photos, one at a time. “This one, this one and this one.”
He shuffled through the images. “I’m surprised these weren’t removed.”
“They should have burned those three and randomly duplicated three of the others.”
“There’s a log of how many photos are in the file.”
He examined the photos again. “If you’re looking for it, they were clearly executed, not taken down in a gun fire exchange.”
“If you’re looking for it. If I tried to sell that, I’d be shrugged away with the dismissive confirmation bias.”
“Not beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“Not even close. I have the roster of the personal involved in the event, but it’s a dead end.”
“Police raid kills three civilians. You can’t redact that.”
“And, Coop, there’s the tell.”
“Indeed, they’re hiding something.”
“Personal items from each home invasion found in the basement of the Nielson house. That’s fishy, too.”
“Trophies from only four crimes?”
“The Gentleman should have taken valuables and planted them instead.”
“He must have known the fix was in.”
“Are you thinking he was in on the raid?”
“He’d never do anything that visible.” She sighed. “When I get time, I’m going to fly out and do interviews, see if I can’t get a roster, at least an informal one. If The Gentleman paid off someone, I might be able to shake that loose.”
“That’s one of the best leads we’ve had.”
“Oh, just wait until you hear this.”
Sandalwood slid screens on her Notebook, holding it forward.
“Is that –”
He squinted. “That’s a big shirt. Where’d you find it?”
“I was making the rounds, out and about, doing the video sweep. Edgewood is a really friendly town by the way. I have hundreds of hours, if you wish to help.”
“Needle in a haystack.”
“Something to do on a Friday night when I’m not trying to not get raped by my cousin.”
“Four blocks from the bar –”
“Rupert Whitman, real name Joseph Sampler, had his neck –”
“I have the file. I don’t think so.”
“Man in a trench coat and derby? You don’t think so?”
“I spoke to the one witness. Now, she’s not sure about that.”
“This,” she showed her Notebook again, “is owned by Paul Markus, principal of the high school. When I stopped by the dry cleaners to see if they had any street video, I flashed ID. The woman, a really nice Indian woman, beautiful, with rich –”
“Sorry. Thinking I was a cop, she presented the shirt to me, thinking it suspicious. Markus wanted it mended.”
“He must have pissed someone off. Okay, Markus gets a serious Tasering.”
Skimming screens again, she turned the Notebook.
Sandalwood smirked. “Whitman-Sampler. Whitman-Sampler had that affair with the teenager.”
“So, can we assume Markus has a similar taste?”
“Oh, this gets better, Coop.”
He narrowed his eyes.
“When I was working Whitman-Sampler’s apartment, I happened to catch a bit of back-and-forth between two cops, the detective implying the young cop, who lives up the hall from Whitman-Sampler, has a taste for kids, a particular kid.”
“A kid that goes to the high school?”
“I caught the name, looked her up. Amaretto Stayman.”
“The hell you say?”
“Really, that’s her name. I’m guessing, I have to look through the street video collection, that Stayman zapped Whitman-Sampler around the day he was killed.”
“Or, it’s how the killer so easily killed Whitman, Whitman breaking his neck in the fall?”
“Burns are healed over, not fresh from the kill.”
“Maybe the killer was getting back at Whitman-Sampler for raping the Stayman kid?”
“Oh, Whitman-Sampler hit the floor, by the look of these burn marks.” She rolled her eyes, skimming again. “This town is pretty fucked up in some ways.” She showed another image.
“She took a beating. Stayman?”
“Medical record, on a hunch.”
“Did you have to blow anyone?”
“I might have considered it. A nice Doctor Taylor, who says he’s not a real doctor, but he is. I have some notes somewhere. I want to look him up. Something’s not right. I’m not sure if it’s not right good or not right bad.”
“Sorry. Stayman gets a serious beating, no police report. Taylor says he filed an abuse report, but no one followed up, which is why he gave me the file.”
“Thinking you’re a cop.”
“I can’t help what people assume.”
“Who worked her over? Whitman-Sampler or who?”
“Markus, and neither. A Harry Fisher, assistant principal.”
“What dark hole do we find him down?”
“None. I said this town is really fucked up. He wasn’t charged.”
Applewhite let out a long sigh. “Let me see her again.”
“Oh, Coop, I have better.” She pulled up the menu and located a file, playing a video for Applewhite. “Stayman, in action.”
As Applewhite watched Fowler shoot Robert Bly, then Amaretto rush in, removing a child from the floor, turning toward the door, yelling over her shoulder at the shocked Fowler, hands over her head, coming to the back of her neck, dropping to her knees, he said, “I was told this video was damaged. Corrupted, was the word he used.”
Again, the smirk from Sandalwood. “These people are really sloppy. It’s a bank.”
“Ah, backup recording in Cloud. How’d you get access –” With a wave at the air, he said, “I don’t want to know,” pursing his lips, taking the Notebook, watching the tape again. “It’s not a bank robbery.”
“I told you that.”
“Can you tell what they redacted?”
“Of course. They eliminated all traces of the child that the Stayman kid pulled off the dead kid.”
“Now, why would they do that?”
“Because she’s really important to somebody.”
“Do you need to be to work today?”
“I’m an unpaid intern.”
“Nice to be independently wealthy.”
“Invest wisely, watch the market doesn’t crash.”
“Let’s go interview Stayman. What’s her name?”
“I really want to hear that story.”
Amaretto wiped tears from her cheeks. “Hello, depression, my old my friend.” Closing the door behind her, she choked on the cigarette and pot smoke.
People glanced, some stared.
“What did you do to your beautiful hair?” Morgan screeched from the kitchen entrance.
With a dismissive wave, face to the floor, Amaretto headed for the hall, intercepted.
“I asked you a question!” Morgan yelled in Amaretto’s face, Morgan’s hot breath twisting Amaretto’s stomach.
“Now, I understand what Brig meant.” Amaretto pushed Morgan. “Step off. You stink.”
Morgan returned a shove on the shoulder. “Don’t push me!”
Calmly. “Then, stay out of my face.”
Morgan swallowed a breath. “Where have you been?”
“Here, just about every night.”
“I said just about. How high are you? Who do you think cleaned the house, fixed the leaking pipe under the sink, the toilet from running if you don’t jiggle the handle?”
Again, Morgan swallowed a hard breath. “What did you do to your beautiful hair?” She reached.
Amaretto pushed her hand away. “The worm I am has become a butterfly.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well, Mom, you see, there’s this worm. It spins a cocoon and sleeps for a while. When it awakens, it’s a beautiful butterfly. It’s called metamorphoses.”
“And, you think I’m high.”
Amaretto rolled her eyes. “We really need to talk, but right now, I have to get some stuff and I have someplace to be. I’ll be back in three, four hours. Try not to be passed out on the floor. This is important.”
Amaretto yelped as a strong hand wrapped Amaretto’s arm from behind, pulling her into her bedroom, Jack stinking of bad sex. “I’ve missed you.”
“Hey, Uncle Jack. I’m just passing through, but I’ll be back.”
“What’s so important,” Morgan asked.
“I heard what you did in the bank.” Jack pulled on his unkempt root beer beard, narrowing his eyes. “You may think you’re some kind of fucking hero, but you’re just a stupid cunt. Look what you put your mother through this past month. If Jennie wasn’t in the bank, we could have all got busted.”
“So sorry I was thinking about my friend, October, and not you,” Amaretto bit hard, taking an aggressive, defiant stance.
Jack belly laughed. “I happen to like the butterfly: sweet, innocent. Does butter still melt in your mouth?” He licked his lips.
“Well, Jack, it’s hands off this butterfly from now on.”
She sneered. “My sweet honey box, my rules.”
“Now, Apple,” Morgan said from behind. “You know now things are.”
Spinning, Amaretto answered, “I know how things were. Things are going to be different.”
“We’ll get your hair dyed back to the way it was. It’s all good. Nothing changes.”
Amaretto swallowed hard and said what she had no intention of saying. “Mom, I’m pregnant.”
Morgan shrugged. “We’ll take you in Monday morning and get it taken care of. Won’t we, Jack?”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“You aren’t thinking of keeping it?” Morgan offered questioning eyes.
“Nothing else had even crossed my mind.”
“Don’t be a stupid cunt,” Jack said.
“Ruin your life like you ruined mine?”
“Fuck.” Amaretto wiped tears from her cheeks. “I ruined your life?” She wiggled her hands beside her head. “Enough, enough for now. I have to go. We’ll talk when I get back.”
Jack twisted Amaretto around, facing him, taking the opening of her shirt with his hands, ripping the shirt open. “Oh, let me see those wonderful puffy pregnancy tits.”
She tried to step back, but Morgan took her shoulders.
Jack grabbed Amaretto’s belt. “I’ve missed you.”
Amaretto snarled, jabbing her mother in the face with an elbow, knocking Morgan back and away.
Jack laughed, working on her belt.
With her hands on the large man’s shoulders, she brought her knee up hard, twice, Jack howling, doubling over, Morgan screaming. Amaretto left the floor, returning with her body weight behind her fist into the side of Jack’s face, Jack stumbling with a grunt.
Up off the floor again, taking Jack’s advice about Fisher, she hit him again, Jack dropping to his knees. Spinning, Amaretto lunged for her dresser, Morgan grabbing her, taking her to the floor before she could reach her Taser.
Morgan, on top of Amaretto, tried to hold her, Amaretto landing a fist in her mother’s face. Morgan screamed as if impaled with a dagger, rocking back.
“Didn’t you ever want to own a go-cart when you were a kid?”
“I had one, only a bit smaller than this, when I was eight,” Applewhite answered.
“And, it’s called a Cooper, so I’m always thinking of you.”
“That’s not too creepy.”
“Not as creepy as you were last night. It’s a Cooper Mini. I don’t remember if that applies. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
“I wish you’d blush when you say things like that.”
“Plus, it’s great on gas, which saves the planet, so if I hook up with Doc Taylor and have a kid, my kid will have a place to live.”
“I don’t have a dog in the fight, so I leave my car running overnight much of the time so I can get my fair share of the dwindling gasoline supply.”
Sandalwood pulled to the curb, shook her head and then moved four houses down.
“That was it,” Applewhite assured her, double-checking his phone.
“I just had my Mini detailed. Don’t want to get the finish fucked up with fights or bullet holes.”
Looking back, Applewhite nodded. “I wasn’t paying attention. How many do you make?”
She produced a gleaming .44 magnum semi automatic, comically large in her hand, dropping the clip, snapping the clip back in place. “My guess, maybe eight, maybe as many as a dozen.”
“Where the fuck did you get that?”
“Gift from a guy I was dating. He thought I could use protection.”
“I guess you didn’t date long, given that he didn’t know you.” Applewhite produced this standard issue .45, checking the clip.
“Sure. What do you think?”
“I think we have a drug house, which would explain the kid’s costuming.”
“Let’s just ring the bell and ask if –”
“Amaretto can come out and play.”
“I thought of that, with my hair tied back, cracking gum, ringing the bell. I want to go in hard.”
Applewhite continued the thought. “If any of these asshole are the one’s abusing the kid, they may give us a chance to have our day made.”
“I do love you, Coop.”
“As tragic as that tale is.”
She sighed, ready to open the car door. “Think we should call for backup.”
“I’ve seen the locals. No. Even money says this house is protected.”
Sandalwood came alongside Applewhite on the sidewalk, Sandalwood in a conservative gray pantsuit, her .45 in her right hand in the small of her back, Applewhite in a dark blue Armani suit that looked as if it was made for him, white shirt, blue tie, dark glasses, holding his pistol similar to Sandalwood, both walking fast.
“Those sunglasses are corny.”
“Who am I to argue with stereotypes?”
Turning onto the walk, Applewhite said, “Hillbilly, twelve o’clock.”
A gaunt figure in worn jeans, barefoot, odd for the cold weather, white tee shirt and black leather jacket jumped to his feet, retreating toward the front door.
“Take him?” Applewhite asked.
“Nah. Let him get inside.”
“Should I cover the back?”
“Nah, again. We just want to talk to Amaretto. I don’t want to get tied up in what’s likely a protected drug house.”
Jumping the three concrete steps onto the small porch, Applewhite put a shoulder to the wall on the left, Sandalwood to the right. Sandalwood pointed her gun at the door, nodding. Applewhite poised to pound on the door with this fist, announcing FBI and asking for Amaretto Stayman when a scream pealed from the interior.
“Take the door, Coop.”
Applewhite winked. “Try the knob.”
Twisting, Sandalwood pushed the door open, staying to the side. Applewhite took a quick look, then stepped into the opening.
“Someone must have hollered fire or something.”
Sandalwood stepped beside Applewhite, watching the handful of people crawling over each other to get to the backdoor. “I don’t see her.”
Another scream shouted from the interior, Sandalwood rushing in the direction, kicking open a door, stepping quickly, placing the barrel of her .44 on the back of a woman’s head, the woman pinning a child to the floor. “Freeze, mother fucker.”
Applewhite followed his gun, drawing down on a mountain of a man, the man trying to get to his feet. “What she said. Just stay on your knees and stare into my gun.”
“I’ve always wanted to say that,” Sandalwood confessed, looking passed the woman under her gun, turning her head, just a little. “Amaretto Stayman?”
“Up, slow, a sudden move and I’ll paint the wall with your brains.” Looking back at Amaretto, she asked, “Change your looks?”
Amaretto pushed her mother aside, Sandalwood taking Morgan against the dresser. “Hands behind your back.”
“Brains leak out.”
“You said paint the wall with her brains. I happen to know from personal experience that brains leak out, they don’t go all spray paint over the wall.”
“I think I’m going to like you.”
“Ms. Stayman,” Applewhite said. “We’re going to need a full statement and accounting here.”
“So we can sort out the charges,” Sandalwood explained.
Amaretto showed her hand. “Morgan, my mother.” Then, to Jack, “My Uncle Jack.” She dropped her shirt to the floor, retrieving another from the closet, dark blue conservative, thankful her mother’s traditional clothes fit her. “There will be no charges.”
“Is that why Harry Fisher didn’t get charged when he mugged you?”
“You just pegged my creep-o-meter.”
Sandalwood, while unlocking the cuffs, went close to Morgan’s ear. “Don’t fuck with me.”
Morgan nodded sharply.
“Amaretto. May I call you Amaretto?”
“Apple. My friends call me Apple. Since I’m guessing you two are spooks and not cops, and likely know the color of my undies, you may as well call me Apple.”
“I’m –” Applewhite started, stopped by Sandalwood’s hand.
“We came to interview you, actually. If you say no problem here, move along, we will, but you need to come with us.”
“No problem, nothing to see here, just move along.” Amaretto gathered her files, schoolbooks and Notebook. “I have an important appointment and can use a ride.”