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51 (rough draft)


Chapter 51

“Hey,” Sandalwood greeted.

“Happy Sunday,” the man behind the bar returned. “What can I do you for?”

Sandalwood thought to ask for water, maybe straight up, but didn’t wish to appear an interloper. “Three fingers of bourbon. Good stuff if you don’t mind.”



“Haven’t seen you around.” He set a glass, filled it half way, dropping ice in.

Peachtree Park.”

“Ah, slumming.” He offered a hand. “Popeye.”

The man easily had thirty bad years on Sandalwood, which didn’t seem to affect his demeanor, pleasant. Excess flesh had stolen his athletic youth. Brown hair hung shaggy, his basic blue Hawaiian shirt with macaw print screamed out of place in early December.

“Obviously a nickname. Air.” She took the hand.

He offered a tired chuckle, pouring a finger for himself, sipping, his index finger tapping off his forehead. “Obviously a cop.”

She shrugged. “You just don’t look like a Popeye.”

“Ex-Navy. Tell a sea story or two, maybe three.”

“Tell me the story of Rupert Whitman.”

He nodded, smiling a little. “A tourist?”

“You were right the first time.”

“Cops already paraded through here like the Mummers on New Years. Even had a Men in Black.”

Sandalwood snickered, sipping. “How about a finger of vermouth, a dash of bitters and a cherry?”

“Could have just asked for a Manhattan.”

“I thought I just did. This Men in Black guy. What was he like?”

“Not that I really have any experience, but he was typical, a real asshole. Cold, standoffish, distracted. He asked questions, but didn’t seem to be interested in the answers.” Popeye poured the vermouth, dashed the bitters and dropped a cherry in her glass.

“Rupert Whitman. He was your nephew?”

Popeye sipped again, narrowing his eyes. “Where’d you hear that?”

She shrugged. “Read it somewhere.”

“It’s not literally true, only in some distant way I’m not sure of. I really had no idea of his background until some asshole from County told me.

“You mean about the affair with the underage girl, getting his house burned down? That background?”

“If I’d known that, I would have thought twice about giving him a job.”

“Thought twice, but hiring him anyway.”

“Well, he was family.”

“In a distance way you don’t understand.”

Popeye gave a sharp nod.

“Give me your take.”


“Rupert Whitman. Moody, friendly, mean?”

“Not a cop question.” He considered the ceiling. “Friendly guy, outgoing. Liked everyone, particularly the ladies, but at least the appearance of such is required in this profession.”


“Rupert? God, no. Not that I know of.”

“I mean, did you see him give girls, young girls, inappropriate attention or did he tell you stories that would indicate anything like that?”

“If he were that kind of sick fuck, I would have fired him.”

Sandalwood drained half her glass, taking measure, narrowing her eyes. “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.”

“He didn’t have a girlfriend, not that I knew of, anyway.”

With a little smile, she drained her glass. “Bourbon, three fingers, ice. Can you think of any reason anyone would wish to kill Whitman?”

“Vermouth, bitters and a cherry? That wasn’t his real name.”

“Sure, why not. Yes, I know that wasn’t his real name.”

Popeye mixed. “He was the friendly sort, like I said. Got along with everyone. I had no complaints.”

“No jealous husbands, boyfriends?”

“We’re a small local business. I personally know most of the people that come and go. No. If there were something like that, I’d have heard about it.”

Sandalwood produced her Ipad, tapping on the screen. “Kael? Is that right?”

“Kael, yes, pronounced just like the vegetable.”

“Kale is a vegetable?”

“I guess. That’s what they tell me.”

“Kael Bradshaw.”

“Over in the corner, waiting for the game to come on.”

“Which game?”

“Don’t much matter.”

Crossing the poorly lit bar, Sandalwood presented herself. “Kael Bradshaw?” She offered a hand. “Arianna Sandalwood.”



“Who do you work for?” Bradshaw, a hard fifty, dark eyes, bleach blonde, the placid pale flesh of her face hanging loose, took Sandalwood’s hand.

Sandalwood sat, the table separating her from Bradshaw. “What are you drinking?” She waved a hand to Popeye, her other hand indicating both glasses.

“I asked you a question.” The tone was stern, but not mean.

“I’m independent.”

“A gawker?”

“I guess you could say that.”

Popeye arrived with two drinks and a wink for both.

“Ruppy was a nice guy. Sad what happened. I would have done him, if he would have asked. You get the company line for free.”

“The company line being that you thought you saw what happened, but now you’re not sure of anything?”

“That’s why it’s free.”

Sandalwood drained her glass, signaling for another, producing a fist of bills, peeling off three, setting them beside Bradshaw’s glass.

Bradshaw’s eyes went big.

“I like to dance, but you’re not my type. What do I get for three hundred?”

Bradshaw examined the entire bar, not that she had to with just three people present on a late Sunday morning. “I didn’t change my story.”

“Your account of what happened, you mean.”


“Not your story – your account.”

“Don’t be an asshole.”

Sandalwood snickered, draining half her glass. “Consider me being un-assholed.”

“This guy was talking to Rubby. He seemed to know him, I think. I turned away for a second, the guy’s getting off his stool, Rubby’s on the floor.”

“You didn’t actually see the guy snap Rubby’s neck?”

“Rubby’s neck was snapped?”


“Fucking really?”

“Yes. The guy. What did he look like?”

“I really don’t know.”

“Three hundred bucks. Tell me something.”

“Oh, he never took his hat off, which is why I don’t really know what he looked like. I always check out the guys and some of the women. You don’t go that way, do you?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Too bad. He was dressed like a flasher, you know. His hat hiding his face, a long, dark trench coat. I half expected him to flash me on the way out, but he didn’t.”


“Oh, absolutely.”

“Why absolutely?”

“Rubby. Didn’t like black people. With few exceptions, we’re pretty much a white bar, not that any of us mind but Rubby would look like he was ready to be robbed any time a black guy or even girl came in.”

“Did you tell any of this to the Men in Black guy?”

Bradshaw rolled her eyes. “Now, there’s a guy I’d give head until my lips turned blue. No, he got the company line.”


“He didn’t put three hundred smackers on the table.”

Sandalwood poked around her Ipad, considered the ceiling, watched Bradshaw for a long moment and then asked, “Who gave you the company line?”

“It was weird, not like anyone told me what to say.”

“Go on.”

“I got interviewed by the locals, you know, the Edgewood cop, telling him pretty much what I told you about the guy.”


“I get hauled down to County and put in the box. Some hard ass asshole leaned on the table, asking pointed questions, leading questions, until I agreed with what he said. It got written up and I signed it.”

“Lieutenant Daryl Kay?”

“That’s the asshole.”


For Sandalwood, the landscape seemed like watching a funhouse mirror, Sandalwood pushing her Cooper to and across the Ben Franklin Bridge, into the City of Brotherly Love. She was thankful finding paid parking, staggering from the car.

Struggling three blocks and change, she wrestled with the urge to vomit. “Should have ordered water, straight up,” she muttered, pushing open the main entrance to The Franklin ahead of the doorman.

“Thank you, kind sir,” she said to his questioning, concerned glance. “I’m here to see a guest. He’s in room 405.”

“Certainly, ma’am,” he agreed with a nod.

Sandalwood took the stairs, fearing the elevator would make her stomach heave. Pounding on the door, she resisted yelling open up, FBI.

“Air!” Applewhite greeted. “You’re falling down drunk!”

“I’ve not fallen down, yet.” She pushed in, the door closing behind her, draping on Applewhite, ripping his shirt open. “Okay, Coop,” she slurred. “Let’s do this fucking thing.”

He took her wrists, pushing her back. “I think a cold shower and some hot coffee is what’s called for.”

She twisted free, stepping back, then going at his belt. “Come on, Coop.”

Applewhite let out a long sigh, took Sandalwood by the wrist, spun her around, putting her against the door, produced his handcuffs, securing her.

“Coop,” she moaned, passing dead out on her feet.


Sandalwood had confused Amaretto. “I don’t want you to leave the house. I won’t be long, a couple of hours.” She presented a key. “If you do leave the house, here’s a key to the front door.”

“I have some questions.”

Sandalwood consulted her watch. “So do I, but it can wait. I have to see someone. I get the idea you become a steamroller when you want to get things done, but in no way whatsoever are you to talk to your mother or that uncle.”

“Wow, I’m not adopted yet, and you’re dictating down from the mountain.”

“Is that a Bible reference?”

“Pretty much.”

“I don’t mean to micro manage your life or anything. I just want to keep you safe. When you do talk to your mother and uncle –”

“Jack. He’s not really my uncle.”

“He’s been lurking around your house so long, your mother thought you should call him uncle?”

“When I was a kid, I thought uncle was his first name.”

“When you do talk to them, I’ll go with you.”

“They’re not as bad as you may think. You came in on a difficult moment. They’d not really hurt me.”

Sandalwood palmed Apple’s cheek. “They’ve damaged you in ways you don’t understand yet.”

Amaretto shrugged. “What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger. I’m fucking Superman.”

“Watch the hubris. You’re not bulletproof.”

“I have Mace and a Taser. Guns are for pussies.”

“Really, Apple.”

Amaretto nodded, smiling. “I talk big, Air. It’s like a frill-neck lizard puffing up to look more menacing.”

Sandalwood produced her Ipad, tapping the screen. “I see.”

As the door closed behind Sandalwood, Amaretto put her phone to her ear. “Good morning, Sally.”

“How’d you get this number?”

“It’s not hard. The McIntyre’s pretty much laughed at me.”

“Sorry. We can look at other options.”

“Had another option fall from the sky. Arianna Sandalwood. Peachtree Hill. Barely an adult. Says she’s with the County Medical Examiner’s office.”

“An intern.”

“Yes, that’s what she said. You know her?”

“Googled just now. Pretty –”

“Odd you’d focus on that, not that she isn’t.”

“I was going to say impressive. She’s done freelance work for the FBI.”

“Cooper Applewhite.”

“That name is all over the files.”

“Her cousin.”

“Hold on. My guess is he barely holds onto his job.”

“Doesn’t play well with others?”

“Good guess. They call him One-Armed-Man.”

“Because they’re assholes.”

“That’s an obvious reference to The Fugitive, a movie about –”

“A guy charged with the murder of his wife, but insists someone else did it. Coop, when he was a kid, my age, his family was killed. He doesn’t agree with who got arrested for the murder.”

“Slaughtered. They were slaughtered, not arrested.”

“That makes sense, then. Air signed off already.”

“The letter? That wasn’t for signing.”

“She made some cross-outs and added some stuff.”

Sally let out a long, audible sigh.

“What?” Amaretto asked.

“I’ve got some background on your Uncle Jack.”

“I told George not to fuck with him.”

“I feel it’s imperative you stay as far away from Jack Pascal as you can.”

“That’s twice today someone’s said that. Air just gave me an earful.”

“Where are you now?”

“Without the papers in order, should I not tell you, me being a minor, maybe Morgan getting bad drugs, calling the cops saying I was kidnapped? You wouldn’t know anything about it or where I am, if the cops come pounding on your door.”

 Sally chuckled. “Why would your mother ever do that?”

“Well, Coop and Air did drag me from the house at gun point.”

“If you’re serious –”

“Oh, Sally, I’m serious.”

“If you’re serious, I need you to write a statement on that incident and email it to me.”

“Jack’s not going to call the cops. He’d put a bullet in the back of my head and bury me in the Pines.”

“Do you know for a fact that he’s killed someone, anyone?”

“No, and I don’t believe he has. However, he’s not had to deal with me as a teenager.”

“Write up the incident. Shoot that letter Sandalwood altered and email it to me. I’ll make the needed changes and get it back to you. Let’s consider getting a restraining order on your mother and Jack.”

“Hold off on that until I talk to them. Let’s not go out of our way to piss them off.”

“I should be there –”

“Air said she’d come along. Did I mention she owns a gun that’s bigger than my head?” Amaretto, shuffling through photos from the bank file, stopped, holding an 8x10 up for better light, her, October, Bly, Little and Fowler circled in the photo with names listed. “I’ll get that stuff to you, Sally, thanks.” Why did Air say she didn’t know who October was?


Brigantine opened the door. “Abby?”

The figure, face shadowed deep in a pink hoodie, nodded. “I’m glad you answered the door.” She glanced left and then right. “I don’t want anyone to know I’m here.”

Grabbing her coat off the hook by the door, Brigantine slipped out, pulling the door shut behind her. “Fair enough. Let’s go around back.” Brigantine ushered her.

“Thanks,” Candice said, turning on Brigantine when they reached the patio in the back, looping her arms around Brigantine’s neck. “Sorry.”

Holding on, Brigantine asked, “for?”

“Being a cunt last night.”

“What’s going on?”

“It’s complicated. First, let me say that though Nard isn’t one of us, he pals around with Christian, pathetically hitting on a couple of the girls.”

“Nard’s become a real asshole. That’s not breaking news.”

“All that I said last night about Apple?”


“I know that’s all nonsense.”

“That’s a relief. I thought we’d have to kidnap you and get a deprogrammer.”

“I know Apple’s taken so many loads in the face, one from me wasn’t going to hurt that much.”

“Why, Abby, you made almost a joke.”

“I had to act like that for Nard. I can’t afford Nard reporting back to Christian that I’m not a true believer.”

“You’re not a true believer?”

“Not a word to anyone. Maybe Apple, but press on her the importance of not saying anything to anyone.” She passed a note. “List of my diet in the past two weeks. Apple wanted it.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Apple thinks I may have a food allergy –”

“Not that, Abby.”

Abby blushed. “You guys make me feel dumb.”

“Abby, you are not dumb.”

“Next to Apple, I feel like a box of hammers. Next to Ockie, I feel like a child whose mother praises really shitty artwork done in school and puts it up on the fridge. Even you, Brig, who loves me so much it hurts my teeth, rolls your eyes at what I say and what I don’t get the first time you say it.”

“Abby, I, well, wanted to deny that last, but it’s more true than it’s not. But, Abby, you being smart is not required, I mean, well –”

“I know, I know, Brig. You love me even though I’m stupid.”

“Abby, you are not stupid. You pull down straight A’s like the rest of us.”

“That’s the point, Brig. When I stand in the center of the Christian Stars, I’m the smartest kid in the room. Next to you three, I’m as dumb as the dirt I walk on.”

“I actually get what you’re saying more than you know. I sit at my dinner table and next to them, I feel like a worthless piece of shit. When I stand with you, Ockie and Apple, I feel like a super-fucking-star.”

“You are, Brig. A super-fucking-star. I don’t know how things are going to play out with Stars, but I’m going to play it out for a while, see what happens. Christian wants me bringing Sally in.”


“Next week.”

“To be gang raped?”

“Initiated, but yes, gang raped.” She shrugged, watching Brigantine’s eyes. “There’s more to it than I thought.” Candice looked right and then left. “I’m not permitted to tell anyone this stuff. Christian has an uncanny sense of when a girl is ovulating.”

Brigantine rolled her eyes. “Apple had said that. The timing was good for you.”

“Apple and I share a calendar.”

Brigantine nodded.

“We’re all tested.”


“Complete blood workup for communicable sexually transmitted diseases.”

“How does Sally get –”

“Reasonably certain she’s a virgin.”

“So, your club is not only racially pure, but disease free.”

Candice nodded. “I’m expected to choose a husband from the group.”

“Not any time soon, I hope.”

“After college, of course.” Again, she rolled her eyes. “I really don’t get the initiation. I mean, I do. I think Apple may have stripped me of the experience, or I’d need a deprogrammer. I think about Sally. Do you remember her pulling the ribbon from my hair, pushing me down?”

“Do you remember me hitting her in the nose?”

“Twice. For October. Sally’s been such a self-centered cunt since the day we met, I get excited at the thought of holding her down as the boys rape her.”

“Initiation should not be about revenge.”

“That’s what I’m thinking. Maybe Christian has his right reasons, but I certainly have the wrong reasons.”

“Abuse under any flag is still abuse. When I got initiated, I had the chance to drop the hammer on Dad.”


“You recall my bruises being reported. I could have thrown Dad under the bus.”

“How could you?”

“You mean, my own father? Sure, that’s the problem. I gave him the pass because he’s my father, not because I agree with what he did.”

“You think our initiation is wrong.”

“Abby. You’re going to mock-kidnap a minor, holding her against her will, raping her repeatedly. Take that out of the religious context. Do you think it then would be wrong?”

“Well, sure.”

“Maybe Christian wants you to bring Sally in so that you are then equally culpable.”


“Responsible for the raping, as if you are one of the penetrators.”

“Right now, I’m pretty much just a victim.”

“Pretty much.”


Apple put her phone to her ear. “Hey, Brig.”

“I have Abby’s diet list.”

“Don’t need it.”

“Just how do you know it’s not a food allergy, like you had said?”

“I woke up one morning in my own vomit, with no memory of what happened the night before.”

“Drugged and raped.”

“That’s how I got pregnant.”


“How’d you get the list?”

“I can’t say.”

“Fair enough. Abby going to be okay?”

“I think so. We had a long talk. I think it’s better you don’t know the details.”

“See, Brig? I get that. I trust your judgment.”

“Yes, Apple. I get it, too.”

With a quick call to John just to say she was fine, Amaretto took a long, hot bath then crawled into Sandalwood’s bed for a long, peaceful sleep.











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