52 (rough draft)
The house sat mostly quiet, the distant beat of the clothes drier sounding out a march from the basement, the drip coffee maker sputtering and spitting from the kitchen, the shower head dripping a steady stream. Amaretto thought to ask John if he could fix it, working a towel on her head coming from the bathroom, naked.
Still, no Arianna.
The digital clock on the bed stand flipped to 4:00am as Amaretto slid the closet door open, squinting in the dim illumination from the single bedside lamp, retrieving a cream terry robe. Arianna Sandalwood had a good five inches on Amaretto and maybe 20 pounds, Sandalwood’s clothes for the most part would hang on her. Not that Amaretto would choose the Men in Black look.
“Girl,” Amaretto said, holding a black princess cut dress with red and blue flower print to herself, “you really don’t get out much, do you?” Removing the hanger, Amaretto placed the dress on the bed, figuring with the belted waist, though two sizes large, the dress would fit.
“Life was a whole lot easier when I didn’t give a fuck what I looked or smelled like.” Going through the dresser in the bedroom, Amaretto found a bra that fit okay and black leggings. Among the many pairs of shoes in the bottom of the closet, a pair of seemingly never-worn brown moccasins with multicolor beaded trim that her feet didn’t swim in.
Again, the blue pea coat hung on her. “Well, I have something to wear to school today,” she said with a nod.
Sitting at the kitchen table, surveying the adjoining living room floor and the array of files and photos, sipping coffee, Amaretto did a mental inventory of what she owned, what was at her mother’s house. “I need my science book,” which was missing from the bag Brigantine had given her. “The cash under my dresser, my Hello Kitty Taser and my pepper spray. Some clothes that aren’t kill me now or fuck me now.”
Excitement rose in Amaretto’s chest when she heard the front door. She almost forgot how mad she was. “Where you been?” she shot at Sandalwood.
Sandalwood leaned on the wall, narrowing her eyes. “Don’t take that tone with me.”
“What the fuck, Air? Really. You say you’re going to be a couple of hours, and here we are. The next morning.”
“Sorry, App, really, I got tied up.”
“You could have called.” Amaretto stood, walking toward Sandalwood, working into the pea coat.
“Is that my dress?”
“I needed something to wear. I would have asked, but hey, you weren’t here.”
“Planning to go somewhere?”
Amaretto rolled her eyes. “School? You know, I go to school.”
“That’s right. Give me a few. I’ll drive you.”
“I have to stop at the house, get some stuff.”
Sandalwood put her face in her hands. “App, chill. Relax. I have no idea what your problem is.”
“Life’s delivered a couple sucker punches to me. I get all excited that someone drops out of nowhere, willing to take care of me.” Amaretto leaned closer. “Bourbon? You’ve been out drinking all night? Fine, really, who gives a fuck. I thought for once I’d run into an adult that cared about me, one I wouldn’t have to fuck or parent.”
“It’s not like that.”
“Oh, what? You happened to trip into a vat of bourbon and then forgot to come home? You know, funny thing, if my mother had drank bourbon instead of amaretto the weekend she got fucked by twenty-seven guys and knocked up with me, my name would be Bourbon instead of Amaretto. I thought it would be funny if she loved cream de mint.”
“Apple! Calm down!”
“I am so fucking tired of people disappointing me.” She slung her bag over her shoulder. “I have to go.” She stepped by, pushing Sandalwood into the wall.
“Let me explain.”
Amaretto opened the door, turning back. “There’s a world of fucking difference between excuse and fucking explain. I’m just so fucking tired, Air.” Tears pushed out her eyes.
Looking at her watch, Sandalwood said, “I have a plane to catch at ten. Keep the key, stay here. A warm, safe place. I’ll only be a couple, few days. We’ll talk when I get back.”
“I have school,” she said mournfully.
“Do you need money?”
Amaretto stepped out, pulling the door closed behind her. “No, Air. I need a mother.”
Amaretto stewed for two miles. “Damn hormones.”
A dark Taurus pulled to the curb beside her, the passenger window dropping. “Hey.”
Leaning on the window opening, Amaretto said, “So this is what the cavalry looks like. What did she tell you?”
“Just that you unloaded a lifetime of pain, anger and disappointment on her.”
“It’s the pregnancy.”
“Is that an excuse or a reason?”
“Oh, you two are good. I was going to call her before she left.” Amaretto opened the door, climbed in and fastened the seatbelt. “You know, she did leave the house, saying she’d be back in a couple of hours.”
“She did, yes. She really shouldn’t drink.”
Amaretto started in with directions, to be waved off. “I know where you’re going. Without backup? Are you crazy?”
“At 5:30 in the morning, they’re all passed out. I’ll be in and out before they even know I’m there. Isn’t that why you raid places before the sun comes up?”
“She really shouldn’t drink.”
“You said. Morgan is a drunk. I know what kind of losers they can be.”
“Air isn’t an alcoholic, a drunk.”
“Sure, neither is Morgan.”
“I’m not sure you can understand.”
“I’m pretty fucking bright. Air wants to be my overseer for life. Why don’t you take a stab at it?”
Applewhite chuckled. “Fair enough. Air and I are obsessed with each other. Crazy fucking obsessed. It’s in our blood, right to our bones.”
“I was surprised to learn you were cousins, the way you steal looks at each other.”
“Maybe not to mere mortals, but I don’t miss much.”
“Air had a really important, as it turns out anyway, interview yesterday.”
“At the bar? The witness? Bradshaw? I saw the file.”
“Really. What’s she doing showing you the file?”
“Well, they’re all over the living room. Hard not to see them.”
He knitted his brow, biting his lip. “Air’s great at interviews. She reads the room, becomes your sister.”
Amaretto rolled her eyes. “Oh, now that makes sense, why I babble around her.”
“Yesterday, and we know we shouldn’t drink, she read the room and felt she needed to drink, not for her, but for the interview.”
“She had to sit on a bar stool the whole day for an interview?”
“Eh, no. She came to see me.”
“We have this psychosis.” He took a deep breath. “When she gets drunk, she thinks she should have sex with me.”
“So, you did her?”
“No, Apple, no. Not that she didn’t try. I had to cuff her until she slept it off.”
“You handcuffed her?”
“Did you two ever fuck, I mean, each other?”
He bit his lip.
He blinked slowly.
“I’d say, yes. You two should never drink.”
“Not at the same time, anyway. Now, there’s only three people in the world that know this. I’m telling you because you’re important to Air.”
“Right. She wants to rescue me.”
“You know this isn’t an adoption?”
“I just got that letter from the lawyer as a selling point, to show the McIntyre’s I was serious.”
“Air’s going to take guardianship.”
“Which I need if I get a cut on my head. I called my lawyer yesterday. She’s working on it.”
Applewhite put his phone to his ear. “She’s fine. Have a good trip.” He put his phone in his jacket pocket. “Sorry.”
“I should call her.”
“She’s good.” He pulled to the curb. “I’ll come in with you.”
“I’m cool. I’ll send up a flare if I get in trouble.” Gaining her feet, Applewhite was next to her. “Coop, they’re my family. They’re not going to hurt me.”
“Then, why so anxious to move out?”
“Health of the baby. You’re not going to wait out here, are you?”
Amaretto had the odd feeling of Richard Bly ten feet behind her, alert, watching. The door opened with the attention of her key. “God, it smells.” The stench of unwashed humanity struck her like a wall of water. Three cigarettes glowed in the dark, floating in the air attached to vague shadows.
“Hey, Amaretto,” a voice croaked from a shadow holding a cigarette, subdued by the early morning.
Amaretto stopped, looking down. “Hey, Marv. How you been?”
“I’m okay, you know.”
“Sorry about our fight.”
“Me, too. You know how I am with Jack.”
“And, your mom.”
“She said you got yourself knocked up.”
“Yes, Marv. I got myself knocked up.”
“Morgan says you’re too young to have a baby. I think it’s great.”
“I think I’m too young to have sex.”
Marvin Beal chuckled a little. “You know what they say.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Old enough to bleed, old enough to butcher.”
Without looking behind, Amaretto showed Applewhite the back of her hand. “I wondered what it was that triggered Morgan to all of a sudden hand me over to Jack.”
“You’re just fucking with me, now,” came a harsh whisper from behind.
“Who’s your friend?” Beal asked, standing. “How about a kiss for old time’s sake?” Beal stepped forward in the darkness.
Cold steel rested on Beal’s forehead. “Name’s Cooper Applewhite and in this moment, I’m having very little tolerance.”
“I’ll pass, Marv, but thanks for asking.”
Beal gulped, hands up and to his sides, backing away.
“Get your stuff, App.”
“Told you to wait outside.”
The bedroom door wouldn’t give way. “This door is never locked.”
“Step aside. I’ll feel better if I break something.” The door swung inward to Applewhite’s shoulder, the jam splintering.
Amaretto hurried to her dresser, removing the bottom drawer, gathering up her money. The science book was on the dresser, the Mace and Taser in her underwear drawer. She turned, looking for Applewhite, wondering what clothes she could quickly collect.
“Coop?” she asked the darkness, the damp stench catching her nose on fire. “Is she dead?”
“No, App. She’s knocking on the door, though.” He produced his phone.
“If we just leave, now, she’ll die?”
“Yes, App.” He paused, watching her, stripping Amaretto of her flesh, right to her bone.
Amaretto bit her lip, an eternity passing in ten seconds. “Make the call, Coop.”
Applewhite’s phone went to his ear, rattling off I.D. codes. Placing the phone back in his pocket, he pulled Morgan over the side of the bed, turning her head, something like toothpaste foam globbing from her mouth. A siren sang in the distance.
“Go to school. I’ll call you if she dies.”
She stepped forward, watching her mother’s staring eyes. “Coop –”
“Go to school. Things are going to get really complicated around here in about two minutes.”
Amaretto didn’t get half a block away when a police car, lights and sirens, screamed by her followed closely by two ambulances with similar display. She imagined the occupants scurrying out the back door and windows like so many cockroaches. Smirking, she said to the sidewalk, “What did you call in, Coop, to get such a quick response?”
About three-quarters of a mile later, John came up on Amaretto. “Hey, girlfriend.” He kissed her quickly. “How’s it?”
“Glad to see you.” She fell into his shoulder, his arm coming around her. “And, wishing I had breakfast instead of stewing.”
John broke, swinging his bag from this shoulder, fishing, producing a poorly wrapped ham and cheese product on white, presenting with a bow. “Stewing about what?”
“Thanks.” Amaretto accepted the sandwich. “Nonsense. It’s like a month ago, I was eighty years old, now I’m eight. I’ve lose control of my mouth. Not only that, but my feelings, too. It’s like all those fucks I never gave have all come back at me.”
“God, I hope so,” she agreed with a mouthful of sandwich.
“You’re not going to the farm.”
Walking, she just moved her eyes in his direction. “I’m rubbing off on you. Not that I don’t appreciate the offer.”
He shrugged, wrapping her up again, “I really get it. You don’t want to be the cause of my mom and my grandmother fighting.”
“That struggle began about two and half minutes after we fell from the trees some three or four million years ago.”
John snickered. “Don’t you dare say you didn’t start the fire. Way too corny.”
“Not the point.”
“I did consider that, whether Gram wanted to help me or she wanted to offer some moral Christian lesson to her daughter. I’m really fucking tired of people using me to get off.”
“Well, if you get the help –”
“If I’m just being used to get off, or to make a point, after he proudly comes on my face, he’s on to the next shiny object.”
“Okay, I get that. Granny is going to come on your face.”
Amaretto giggled. “You know what I mean.”
“That’s new, the giggle.”
“I know, feels funny coming out of me.”
“I like it.”
She stopped, turning, looking up, tears in her dark eyes. “I’m not so sure I like the new me.”
“Apple! What’s not to like?”
Biting her lip, she held his stare. “I can be hurt.”
He cupped her cheeks with his palms, pushing tears with his thumbs. “I won’t let that happen, ever.”
She nodded sharply, accepting his lips on hers.
“That’s the real reason I don’t want to go to the farm. So many things I don’t want to leave. You’re toward the top of that list.”
Taking her in his shoulder again, off to school, he said, “I’m just happy to be anywhere on that list. I have a service day today, so I’ll be watching your every move, your every breath.”
“I’ll be sure not to pick my nose.
“Good morning, Mrs. Smith,” Amaretto offered to the office manager with a nod on her way by.
Mildred Smith narrowed her eyes. “Amaretto?”
Amaretto paused. “I grew up a little, overnight.”
“Children find the form of expression they’re comfortable with. I do feel this is an improvement for you.”
“I just need a second with Principal Markus and Assistant Principal Fisher.”
“They’re in a meeting with an Edgewood detective.”
“Lindsay Fowler?” Amaretto asked, a bit too excited.
“Oh, this I have to see.”
“Amaretto,” Smith called to Amaretto’s back.
The door opened in, Amaretto filling the opening with her small frame. “Principal.” She nodded to the man sitting at the desk. “Assistant principal,” she offered with a similar nod to the man with his hands resting on the desk to Markus’ left. Turning just a little, looking to her left, she gave up a smirk and a nod to the man on the chair in the corner. “Detective Banner.”
Banner scrambled to his feet. “This is a private –”
Markus rose. “Fisher, Banner, I need the room.”
Fisher obeyed, striking for the door. Banner objected, getting a traffic cop hand from Markus.
“Detective, we can continue our little chat momentarily. I need to speak with Apple – on a pressing school matter.”
Banner offered a Well, I never look and a snarl, following Fisher from the room.
Amaretto closed the door, turning, stepping to the desk, Markus dropping back on his chair.
“Your offer –”
Markus cut at the air impatiently. “October. What do you know?”
“Mr. Markus, I thought we covered this. October is really none of your business.”
“Ms. Stayman.” He held her eyes. “October disappeared the day of the event at the bank.”
“I know that.”
“Disappeared.” He allowed the word to hang in the air.
“She did, yes.”
“I mean, the school was not notified. No one has asked for her records to be forwarded, nothing. Do you know anything?”
“Again, October is none of your business.”
He let out a long sigh, looking at his hands, then back to her eyes. “Ms. Stayman. I’m going to plead with you. I know you think awful things of me, that you think I’d somehow hurt October.”
Amaretto shrugged. “Rape, murder. Sure, I feel, given half a chance, you’d hurt October.”
“For the love of God, Ms. Stayman. October is a child. I’m a grown man.”
“I thought that was my point.”
“I understand my behavior has been suspect. I know I get out of hand sometimes. October is just, well –” He sighed again, looking back to his hands. “I know I can never have her that way. Having her that way would hurt her in ways I can’t imagine and corrupt my soul. Love? Call it love? I don’t know. I just want to be near her, you know. Maybe get her to see me not as some crazy pervert, but maybe a good intentioned crazy grandfather.”
A tear trickled down Amaretto’s cheek, fully understanding the pain, aguish and suffering of having her soul on fire for something she could never have. I was happy for me when I saw Casey dead on the floor of the bank. “I don’t know anything for sure. I was recently assured by someone that may or may not know that October was fine.”
“I’m not sure who it was. He said he was October’s father, but I have no way of knowing if that’s true or not.” She rolled her eyes, watching the ceiling. “The last I saw October was when I handed her off to a nurse at the bank, just after the shooting.”
“Then that’s true? You were there?” He held her eyes again.
“Yes, I was there.”
“How did she seem? Was she hurt?”
“Richard Bly had just put a gun to Casey Little’s head and pulled the trigger right in front of her. She was in shock, but not harmed physically. My best guess is that October had some sort of mental breakdown and her family has her in an institution of some sort.”
“That’s something we can check.”
“I spent years Googling. She’s off the grid.”
“We can assume that she’s okay, then?” His eyes pleaded.
Amaretto told Markus the lie she’d been telling herself for weeks. “Yes, Paul. We can assume that October is okay.”
To Amaretto, in those moments, Markus didn’t seem like some creeper objectifying a child to justify child abuse. “I can’t work for you and Fishy.”
“Good, that’s really good to hear.”
“There’s a surprise.”
“Why? I’ve been doing this job for almost thirty years. It’s a terrible idea. We wish our mini culture to tolerate each other, well, we’d like everyone to respect each other, but I’ll accept tolerate. That means, generally speaking, following the rules and guidelines.”
“Asking me to step outside the rules and guidelines to enforce the rules and guidelines –”
“Would actually be counterproductive.”
“I was going to say fucking crazy, but counterproductive works.”
“Fucking crazy works, too, but don’t tell anyone I said that.” He stood. “Banner wanted a private meeting with you. Since you’re a minor, I’ll be happy to sit in if you like, if not, I can get Randi.”
“I’ll be okay. We’ve danced before.”
Markus grinned, looking down on Amaretto as he opened the door. “My money’s on you.”
“It’s a good bet.”
“You’ll let me know if you hear anything. Anything at all?”
“I’ll put you on speed dial.”
“I’ll give you my number.”
“I have it already,” she said smugly.
Her phone buzzed as the door closed. “Turn Markus’ computer on,” John greeted.
Amaretto sat at the desk, bringing the computer to life. “Okay.”
Amaretto appeared on the Desktop, a long shot from the far upper corner. “Now I have audio. What was that all about?”
“This is almost creepy. Someone is watching us all the time?”
“No, but everyone is videoed all the time. If there is a problem, we can find the video of the incident.”
“Like when you wiped me out Tasing Markus.”
“Exactly like that.”
“Got to go,” Amaretto said quickly, jumping from the chair, rounding the desk, leaning, pretending to text.
She looked up. “Detective Banner.”
“Phone off, please.”
“This is off the record. I want to make sure there’s no accidental recordings.”
“You don’t want to pat me down, check for a wire?”
She slid the battery from her phone. “There, not a chance. Your turn.”
“Phone. Battery. Off the record is so nothing either of us say can be used against us. Phone. Battery.”
Banner produced his phone, struggling. “I don’t even know how – oh, there it is.”
He stepped close, leaning in her face, watching her eyes. “I heard you fuck like a porn star.”
“You need to work on your pick up line. Candy, flowers, a movie and maybe dinner, and I’d still leave you standing at the door with your dick in your hand. No offense, Banner, you’re just not my type.”
“I wouldn’t fuck you with Penrose’s dick. You misunderstand. I like women, not little girls.”
“Penrose’s dick didn’t seem to mind.”
“I did a bit of background.”
“It’s my guess you’ve spent more time on your back and on your knees than an average porn star.” He held up a hand. “Don’t take that wrong. That’s just an observation, not a judgment.”
“Oh, how could I take that wrong.”
“Here’s my point, Amaretto: you’ve been putting out for free, for nothing or maybe for chump change. Like I said, I’m really not interesting in fucking kids, but I know some people.”
“That like fucking kids?”
“I know some people that can put you together with people who like fucking kids. Not only that, but you’re not an average kid. You’re worldly. Street wise.”
“Maybe I’m a demon wearing the flesh of a child.”
He shrugged. “I don’t give a fuck what you are. I can place you with some people that can put you in a position to make more money than you could imagine.”
“Fucking men that like to fuck little girls?”
“Not just that, but helping to run the other girls.”
“Run, like herding cattle.”
“I don’t give a fuck what you call it. I know your uncle, Amaretto. I know you have the morals of a sea slug. Stop fucking around being an asshole and step up, make some real money, secure your future.”
Amaretto held his stare. “I’ll call you.”
He produced a card.
“I’ve had you in my phone since Hunters.”
He stepped to the door. “I expect to hear from you soon. I’d not want to see anything bad happen to you.” He was gone.
Amaretto bent over, trying to breath. “Did you get all that?” Replacing the battery, she put her phone to her ear.
“Fuck, Apple! Fuck! Yes, I got all that.”
“The farm is looking better and better, but –”
“You don’t want to get Granny killed.”
“Burn two thumbs with video and audio. One for you and one for me.”
“Working on it. Penrose. The cop. He’s the one that raped you?”
“Sorry. I didn’t want you to know.”
“Not like I’m making a list or anything.”