48 (rough draft)
“You need a backpack.” Sandalwood started her Cooper.
“I don’t know if you’re a life coach or an acclaimed investigator with the FBI.” Amaretto snuggled into the passenger seat. “You okay back there?”
“That would be me, actually,” Applewhite answered from the back seat.
“You what? And, sorry about the snappy mouth. It’s been a weird fucking couple days.”
“I’m Air,” Sandalwood said. “That’s Coop. He means he’s the acclaimed investigator with the FBI.”
“No shit? Badge me, baby. Not that I don’t believe you, I’ve just never seen the badge. I had a backpack, but it was wormy.”
Amaretto flipped the I.D. around. “Way cool. Cooper Applewhite. Any relation to the sneaker cult guy?”
“No, but how do you even know that?”
“I’m a well-read fucking genius. If you knew Fishy clocked me, you should have known that.”
“You’re not a person of interest,” Sandalwood explained. “That means –”
“What about well-read fucking genius don’t you understand. I’m also smart enough to know when I don’t know something and I’m not too proud to ask.”
“I think I’m in love, Coop.”
Returning the I.D., Amaretto explained: “Past ten years I’ve been flaming to a crash and burn. The worm. I morphed. My backpack was Dark Hello Kitty. I got all butterfly, but even with the drastic morph, you knew me anyway, even with my back on the floor, you overlooking you gun.”
“Face is the same, and those eyes.”
“Down, girl,” Applewhite repeated.
“Shut up, Coop.”
Amaretto sat back in the seat, closing her eyes, breathing deeply.
“You okay?” Sandalwood asked.
“Hyper, babbling. It’s a hormone thing, I’m sure.”
Sandalwood shot Amaretto a look. “Are you okay?”
Amaretto smiled, wiping a tear from her cheek. “I was told there was a club. Yes, I’m working on it. Do you have to take me downtown, or wherever they call it?”
“This talking you need to do.”
Amaretto shrugged. “I have an important meeting that I need to be at soon.” She wormed her phone free, poking at the menu. “Get me here, now, then I’m all yours.”
“This won’t take long.”
“Meeting, then you.”
Sandalwood poked at her GPS, returning the phone, which buzzed.
“Brig, I’m kind of in the middle of something.”
Thump, thump, thump.
“That’s me beating my head on the wall.”
“Don’t do that, Brig. You don’t need to.”
“I’m really, really fucking sorry.”
“You don’t need be.”
“The universe is coming apart.”
“Always has been. I’m holding it together with my shear will and by my fingernails.”
“You’re a better man that I am.”
“I miss us watching the movies. I need to see you.”
Amaretto considered her watch and rolled her eyes. “I have a meeting about my living arraignments, that I’m on my way to now.”
“I have to get out of my house.”
“The universe is coming apart. Then, I have a meeting with an FBI guy and I think a spook. Are you a spook?”
“No, Apple. I’m not a spook.”
“I’m an intern forensics specialist with Country, and freelance private detective.”
Amaretto knitted her brows, talking into the phone. “Then, I have a meeting with an FBI guy and an intern forensics something or other.”
“You’re serious? About what?”
“They haven’t said yet.”
“It’s complicated,” Sandalwood said.
“It’s complicated. Then, I can come see you. How’s that?”
“Sure, Apple.” She closed the connection.
“You’re leaving home?” Sandalwood asked.
“Living in a Rockwell painting just isn’t working for me.”
Even as Amaretto climbed from the car, Sandalwood and Applewhite flanked her.
She looked from one to the other. “What are you doing?”
They shrugged in unison. “Habits,” Sandalwood said.
“We feel you have important information for us. While you are in our care, we are responsible for you,” Applewhite expanded.
John McIntyre leaped from the house, skidding to a stop ten feet away, looking much like a cat not sure whether to approach or flee.
Amaretto waved John to her. “You don’t have to come in, do you? John, say hi to Air and Coop. Friends of mine.”
John swallowed hard, taking hands in turn.
“We can wait here,” Sandalwood said, standing at parade rest. “Are you expecting anyone else, John?”
“Eh, why do you ask?”
Applewhite looked one way and then the other. “We don’t wish to shoot anyone by mistake.”
Sandalwood snickered. “FBI humor.”
Amaretto stepped forward, hooking John’s arm, thankful Sandalwood and Applewhite didn’t follow. “Don’t ask.”
“Mr. McIntyre,” Amaretto greeted at the door.
Bill McIntyre narrowed his eyes. “Who are they?”
“They’re not coming in?”
“They said they’d be happy to wait at the car.”
“What are you smirking about?” Applewhite asked, matching Sandalwood’s parade rest.
“It’s the bank video.”
“I know. We’re so fucking corny, even worse than my sunglasses.”
“I just can’t imagine being her.”
“Always having everyone’s back.”
Sandalwood gave a sharp nod. “No one ever having her back. Did you count how many seconds passed before she hit the bank door?”
“You mean after the gun shots. Yes.”
With another sharp nod, Sandalwood said, “Must be some special girl.”
“Apple’s the special one. How can we not take her back to her house?”
“I’m working on it. She’s going to meet that other friend after this meeting. We could drop back to her house at that time and have a conversation with the people there. This family will not take her in.”
Applewhite twisted his face. “You saw his eyes.”
“She’s wasting her breath.”
Amaretto occupied a chair facing Bill and Marie McIntyre on their own chairs an uncomfortable five feet away. “John told you what I’m going to ask, so let me get to it. Firstly, we have these: my school record and a letter from my lawyer, the letter explaining the legal ramification.” She leaned from her chair, passing the documents to Mr. McIntyre.
He set the documents aside.
“I’m really not safe where I’m living. I’d like to live here.”
“You barely know us,” Marie McIntyre said.
“I know John. I know you are good, well-adjusted people.”
“We may be more traditional, more strict than you are accustomed to,” Bill McIntyre offered.
“That’s one of the things that I’ve considered. I think I could benefit greatly from living in such a home.”
“Really?” Marie’s skepticism was not lost.
“We are church people.”
“I’ve considered that, too. I’ll treat your church with respect and an open mind. I am ready to turn my life over to structure, something better than I have.”
Bill looked at Marie as if drawing straws. Bill said, “We have a good friend that was in the bank.”
Amaretto closed her eyes, nodding softly.
“That certainly didn’t show good judgment.”
Taking a breath, Amaretto said, “I did not stop to consider anything or use any judgment. My best friend was in the bank. I heard gunshots. I ran for my friend. I do not see loyalty as bad judgment.”
“You are not trained in crisis management. If there were a continuing threat, you couldn’t have dealt with it. That would be like you running into a burning building with no fire fighting training.”
“Is there anything else?”
“Yes, I have a great deal more, maybe a good hour’s worth, but I can see I’m wasting my time and yours.” She stood. “You could have told John just to tell me no.”
“Mom, Dad?” John asked.
Amaretto looked from one to the other and back. “It’s okay, John. “I’m only gambling on me because I have no choice. Bill and Marie have a choice.”
“Do keep in touch, dear,” Marie said, standing. “We really like the effort you made to please us.”
“Striping all the whore apparel.”
Amaretto let out a slow breath. “Believe what you wish. I did this for me, not you. I was living as a worm, a projection and reflection of my mother. Mommy’s little whore.” She dropped her right foot back, on her toe, spreading her arms to her side, bowing to a knee. “This is my butterfly. For me, not you, not John, not anyone but me.” She rose, standing straight. “It was the farm.”
“John told me about the farm. Your parent’s farm, Mrs. McIntyre, where there’s no Internet or other outside communication. Where there’s a barn with a hay loft, and chickens that run free. Cows and even a pig. I’ve never seen a live pig, if you can believe that. I dream of seeing the stars at night like John painted with his words. To come from a place like that. It’s like a dream to me, to live so close to such a thing.”
“It’s not all fun and games. It’s a lot of work, too.”
“You have no idea what my life has been like. Throwing hay under a noon sun or digging drainage ditches eighteen hours a day would be like a giggling vacation.”
Bill offered a hand, palm up. “See, John. She’s not redeemable.”
John, behind Amaretto, saw the back of her hand, halting his defense.
“I actually do know how damaged I am. Life has hollowed me out in ways that aren’t visible. Not redeemable? I’m not even sure what that means.” She showed a palm. “I meant that rhetorically. What my future becomes, what I make of myself is in my hands, maybe not in spite of my damage, but because of my damage.”
“We do like your new look,” Marie offered again.
“Thanks. John. Walk me out. I have friends waiting.”
Just outside the door, she turned on John, putting a finger to his lips. “I need a solid. Clear your afternoon. I need it today.”
She forced a wad of money in his hand. “Get a large face table clock. Something more for a kid than an adult. If you can’t find one with a face that has a unicorn design, make one, use your imagination.”
He narrowed his eyes. “I follow. I could use stickers or something. Unicorns and rainbows.”
“Make it a nanny cam.”
“Have dinner with me.”
“Done and done.”
She put her lips on his, the universe falling away for an eternity that lasted about eight seconds. “Thanks for being you.”
“No, Apple. Thanks for being you.”
Her two sentinels stood motionless until Amaretto said, “Kill them. Kill them all.”
Sandalwood and Applewhite, in one motion, stepped forward, revealing their guns.
“Stop! I’m only kidding!”
Sandalwood and Applewhite laughed darkly. “So are we.”
Brigantine looked over Amaretto’s shoulder, standing on the front lawn. “I’ve been having chest pains. Can’t breath sometimes.”
“Welcome to my world.”
“I know, I know. How do you do it?”
“Drugs, alcohol and sex.”
“No, Brig. You have to muscle through. If you can’t, get Henry to spring for a therapist. I’m sure he’s gotten to the point where he realizes girls are different.”
“Apple, how the fuck do you know these things?”
Amaretto shrugged. “What did you really want?”
“I have to ask: who are they?”
“New friends. The guy is FBI, the woman is a mystery.”
“I’m not sure yet, but they’re bloodhounds and they’ve caught the scent of whatever they’ve been looking for.”
“I guess I mean, why are they driving you around?”
“I’m a person of interest.”
“They said that?”
“Or, an interesting person. I told them I’d not give them an interview until I got my errands done.”
“So, you weren’t kidding on the phone?”
“You’re moving? Where to?”
“Yes. Don’t know yet. I was sure John’s folks were going to take me in. Turns out I’m too damaged.”
“Maybe your mother won’t come back.”
Brigantine pursed her lips. “I had a close encounter of the third kind with Bob Little.”
“I was there for the aftermath. John, my new boyfriend, so new, he still has that new boyfriend smell, took him to the nurse, talked him into not taking it to Fishy.”
“It’s always been you, not October.”
Again, Amaretto shrugged it away.
“Little said that prick of a brother beat him up to get his drug dealer. Said he was never involved in drugs until he hooked up with Ockie.”
“I was wondering where that snot got the connection.”
“Then it’s true? Ockie was involved in drugs?”
“No. That’s no true.”
“Then why would Casey want drugs?”
“Casey was an asshole. He thought it’d be cool to setup Markus by planting drugs in his house.”
“You’re fucking kidding me.”
She glanced back at her sentinels. “My Apple-know-it-all-radar tells me that’s what got him killed.”
“I though Richard Bly was robbing the bank and shot him?”
“Who you going to believe: me or the newspapers?” She thumbed over her shoulder. “That’s what they want to talk to me about.”
She put her phone to her ear. “John.”
“You didn’t give me my new backpack.”
“That was the surprise. I couldn’t find one.”
“You’re a laugh a minute.”
“Which is why you love me so much. Should I put my soldering iron aside and go find you a bag?”
“No. I’ll endeavor to persevere.”
“See you around six. Your house. You cooking?”
“Sure. I’ll put some burgers on. Rocky and Bullwinkle?”
“Not sure, let’s plan on it.” She punched her phone off.
“Going to war?” Brigantine asked.
“I do so miss watching movies. “Eight o’clock, at Abby’s. If Abby isn’t there, we’ll have movies with Nard.”
“Nard’s gotten a bit weird.”
“You and me, at the Abbott’s. Eight o’clock.”
“What do you want to watch?”
“Doesn’t much matter.”
“I still think you’re a stuck up know-it-all asshole.”
“That’s what most people like about me.”
“Thanks for taking my call today. If you had spoken to me like that, I wouldn’t have.”
“Another endearing quality: I don’t hold grudges.”
“Let me find you a backpack. Four brothers and we don’t throw anything away.”
Minutes later, Brigantine returned with three. Amaretto choose the softest, light brown, better suited for hiking or camping.
“You were right about Luke.”
“What about Luke?”
“God, what’s Henry say?”
“No one knows.”
“Our school is not as progressive as you may think.”
“You’re the second person who said that to me.”
“That’s just an excuse, anyway. You remember back when Steve Walker led the kids in a chase of Casey?”
“Why did they chase him?”
“Frankenstein, just being bullies.”
“Same kid, in the mall, last summer.”
“Right, he pushed October. I don’t remember how that started.”
“He didn’t like my makeup.”
“Same shit, different flies. Not progressive, meaning people with differences is just an excuse. It wouldn’t matter if Luke were gay, had an scar on his face or dressed like a freak show.”
“Coming out would make him a target.”
“And, John may not be around to talk your victim out of taking it to Fishy.”
“So, I should mind my own business?”
“Never, that’s why I have a Taser and Mace.”
“Things seemed so much easier with October.”
Yet, another shrug. “I quit smoking and pot.”
“That’s why you said you wouldn’t make out with me.”
“It is, yes. I have a boyfriend, kind of.”
“Me, too.” She stepped up, cupping her friend’s cheeks.
Brigantine’s hands came to Amaretto’s waist. “Did you quit just so I’d kiss you?”
Amaretto’s lips danced on Brigantine’s, lightly like a butterfly on a summer flower’s pedal, pulling air from Brigantine’s lungs. “No, Brig. I’m pregnant.”
“Would it really kill you to dress like a woman once in a while?” Brian Fowler moaned as they reached the door, the only thing he said during the two-hour drive.
Lindsay Fowler offered a dismissive glance, opening the door. “How long have you been holding that in?”
Brian matched her glance with a dismissive shrug as they moved into the facility. “I don’t know why we bother.”
“There’s a record. Normally you say that before we’re in the car.”
An attractive woman in her forties nodded from behind a desk, offering, “Lindsay, Brian,” as they passed. Lindsay returned the nod, Brian watched a point in space ahead.
Mother and son took the enclosed stairs, three flights. Brian, after four years, didn’t bother arguing about the elevator. The access door gave way with a hard push. “Not handicap compliant,” Brian said over his shoulder. “Kind of ironic.”
Stepping through behind Brain, Lindsay puzzled, “How’s that?”
“Given the nature of the building, you know. We have one kid in the whole of Edgewood in a wheelchair, and all the doors have to be handicap compliant. It would be cheaper to just hire a guy to walk around with him and open doors.”
“Tackling those stairs in a wheelchair would be easier going down than going up,” Lindsay said.
“This is the veggie floor, anyway. No one is going anywhere.”
Again, Lindsay held the door as they entered the room mechanically, Brian dropping on a chair, Lindsay going to the bed.
“You’d be doing him a favor, me a favor and save yourself a mess of money if you’d just kick the plug out,” Brian reported as he always did.
“I know,” Lindsay answered, as she always did. “I’m not ready to let go. I think I’m a little closer. I might sign the papers today.”
She nodded, watching her husband’s placid face. “He looks like he’s sleeping.”
“You say that every time. Want to see the scans?”
“I know, Brian. I know.” She didn’t turn from her husband, Brian slouching on the chair behind her. “I killed that kid.”
“Richard Bly was hardly a kid, eighteen-years-old.”
“Barely not a kid. My training kicked in. I didn’t think. If I had stopped to think, I couldn’t have pulled the trigger. I haven’t told anyone that. The county investigator was up in my face about why I shot five times.”
“He died in the hospital.”
“When I learned I could have done this to him, my heart broke. I was actually relieved when I heard he died.”
“Everyone knows you have to go for the head shot.”
“Only in the movies.”
“And with zombies.”
“Always with zombies.”
“Am I protected? I take that back. I learned I’m protected.”
“I didn’t even know that you knew.”
“How could I not?” Lindsay waved it off with a causal hand cutting at the air. “When your father’s brain blew up, even before he hit the kitchen floor, I knew poverty was knocking on the door.”
“What are you saying?”
“Jack Pascal didn’t find you by accident.”
“He’s an asshole.”
“I’ve had to make compromises. This place isn’t cheap.” She turned, leaning against the bed, watching down on her son. “I’d like to pull the plug, end this. Start over.”
“Where would that leave me?”
“What do you mean?”
“I like doing what I’m doing.”
“Dealing drugs is not a career. It’s barely a hobby. I do grant, over the past four years, you’ve had all the money you’ve needed.”
“I think I would rather have a father.”
“I’ve done the best I could.” Lindsay looked down to the left. “I haven’t signed the paper because I didn’t think I could kill anyone.”
“He’s a veggie. Bly wasn’t any more animated. He was dating this really weird girl, all Goth-ed out. Seventh grader.”
“Amaretto Stayman,” Lindsay said in a breathless whisper.
“Nah, her name’s Apple. There’s a piece of work. If you want to do me a favor, you can bust her. She’s selling drugs right in the school parking lot.”
“Pot, like you?”
“Well, yeah, sure. It was pretty funny. I told Jill to talk to her, to tell her she can’t sell pot in my territory, and Jill hit her in the face.”
“Bloodied her up pretty good, too.”
“What are you? A fucking gangster now?”
“Well, it’s not like I told Jill to do it. Still, I have to protect my investment.”
“I’ve not seen Jill around for a while.”
“We had a disagreement.”
“She thought I should pay her for muling.”
“For what?” She showed her son a palm. “She was muling for you?”
“And, you didn’t pay her?”
“I bought her lots of stuff!”
“You’ve become a real asshole.”
Randi Sconce surveyed the dozens of printouts on the kitchen table. “I had no idea this many kids went missing each year.”
“In the kid field, I’d think you’d be more kid-wise,” Melody Lark quipped. “This is just from the locations Markus lived and this is just the kids that got news coverage.”
“You call the local newspapers and they drop what they’re doing, pull down stories and email them to you? How’s that even work?”
Lark smiled. “It’s not all that easy. James Avery likes my tits.”
“These five look like her.” Sconce singled out five girls. “I think I should file a missing person on October.”
“I don’t know what kind of action you’d get on that.”
“Detective Fowler seems concerned. Maybe I’ll give her a call.”
“How about a front page story with photo, above the fold? That may get some action.”
“I don’t know how newsworthy this is.”
“Did I mention how much James Avery likes my tits?”
“I thought you were kidding.”
“Big fan. Had all my movies but one. I gave him the missing one.”
“You sat in his office and showed him your tits?”
“He asked so nice. You have no idea what it’s like.”
Sconce shivered. “Thousands of men across the nation jerking off to your movies. I find it creepy.”
“Hundreds of thousands. It’s not like I flashed Jim while he wacked off.”
“Jim, is it now?”
“You’ve always known what my career is, and it creeps you out now?”
Sconce shrugged, sipping white wine. “Not really. Men are such fragile creatures, driven by their desires.”
“Well, we can drive our desires or be driven by them. I make a very good living off the desires of others.”
“You do, indeed.” Sconce squinted through her glasses, moving a print closer then away. “Isn’t this Duke?”
Lark snatched the print. “Says it’s a Michael Rodgers.”
“I know what it says.”
Lark matched the squint. “It does look like him. The gene pool is small, but not that small. I’ll make another call. See if they can pull the photo from the archives.”
“Just how uncle is Uncle Duke?”
“Not at all, no blood if that’s what you mean. They called him a fan around the studio where my mother worked. He was a patron, really, buying access. All the children called him Uncle Duke.”
“Were there a lot of patrons?”
“Did you watch your mother work?”
Lark shrugged. “Yes, I told you. Mom turned me out, much too young. It’s like with Apple and Lulu, though. We were kids. We knew it was wrong, but it was the culture. Like hating black people if you grow up in a Klan family. You know it’s wrong, but you do it anyway.”
“So, Uncle Duke is a perv. Did you ever fuck him?”
“Now I’m wondering, with Markus sniffing at October’s panties with abandonment, having a history of inappropriate attention toward children reaching back a decade, just why Markus even still has a job in school packed full of tasty young things.”
“Firstly, I never fucked Duke. To my knowledge, he was never inappropriate with anyone under age.” She considered the copy of the newspaper clipping and then the ceiling.
“He would bring friends by. At least, I thought they were his friends. He’d introduce them to the girls.”
“I never considered it before. He could have been pimping.” She nodded hard, twice. “I think I’ll look up this Michael Rodgers of Richmond and see what he’s all about before I have a long talk with Uncle Duke.”