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54 (rough draft)


“I want you home,” Morgan greeted Amaretto.

“Nice to see you, too.”

“And, dye your hair back to what it should be.”

Amaretto rolled her eyes, taking the final two steps to the hospital bed, thinking she should hold Morgan’s hand or something. “You could have died.”

“Well, I didn’t.”

“Do you remember, a couple of years ago, the girl, early twenties, blond hair to about here.” Amaretto indicated the side of her neck.” Blue eyes, always wild, darting around. Wore blue hospital scrubs. She’d cook and shoot you up.”

“Joyce. Sure, Uncle Jack liked to fuck her from behind. Hot. Pretty face. I liked watching her get off. Haven’t seen her in a while.”

“You’re just fucking with me, now.”

“What, no. I can’t remember when I saw her last.”

“She’s dead, Morgan.”

“Dead? How?”

“I came home from school. Joyce was bent over, laying on the floor, half on the sofa, her eyes staring at me. I’ll never forget those eyes, just as wild in death as they were in life.”

“Where was I?”

“You really are an asshole. You, Jack and Beal were standing around. You and Beal watching Joyce, Jack watching me, I think Jack getting a hard on over the shock on my face. Jack, still staring at me, said, That’s it for her. Mav, take her for a ride out in the Pines, bury her deep. It’s like a badly written Robert Frost poem.”

“Robert? The guy with the new Harley?”

Amaretto rolled her eyes. “When you cooked and shot me up this past summer, I really thought I’d be like Joyce: dead, my eyes staring seeing nothing, seeing everything. I thought you killed me. Maybe you did, when you handed me to Jack for Jack to fuck me.”

“Jack was a gentle lover, Apple!”

“Fuck you, asshole. Everyday now, these past couple of years, about halfway through the day, I’d imagine you laying dead on the floor, and I’d wonder if that’s how I’d find you.”

“That’s actually sweet and cute, you worried so much about your mother.”

Rage ignited in her belly, Amaretto gnashing her teeth until her jaw hurt, gathering a fist full of hospital gown, she drove a remorseless fist into the side of her mother face. “I,” she said, hitting her again, “fucking,” and again, “hate,” and with one more fist, said, “You!”

Morgan sobbed.

Six stepped toward the door, hunched over, fists tight at her sides, Amaretto looked behind her. “I will not be coming home.”


Amaretto snarled. “Since I’m not the one dead, I’m turning to my affairs.” 

“You okay?” John asked as Amaretto exited the hospital room.

“I could use some ice.” She held up her fist. “For my hand.” Stepping around John, she called, “Hey! Taylor!”

Taylor looked up from a clipboard, hurrying over. “Apple? If not for the voice, I’d not have known you.”

“Human shit.” She indicated the room with a bob of her head. “Is it going to live?”

“Gee, Apple, your attitude has changed.”

Amaretto wiped a tear with the back of her hand. “Taylor. Is she going to be okay?”

“Last time it was Ray.”

Amaretto drew a long breath, accepting a bag of ice from John, applying the bag to her fist. “Morgan is my mother, Doctor Taylor. Is she going to be okay?”

“I actually knew that,” he said, smiling.


“Yes, App?”

“Do you have a fucking cookie on you?”

“No, App.”

“Sorry, Doctor Taylor, I’d give you a fucking cookie if I had one, but I don’t.”

“Ha, ha, very funny. Yes, I told –” He consulted a notebook. “Mr. Applewhite that she’d be fine. Funny guy, that Applewhite.”

“Dry sense of humor, that Coop.”

“He told me Arianna Sandalwood’s number was listed, and it’s not.”

With a shrug, Amaretto asked, “How long ago did Coop leave?”

“He was arrested.”

“I doubt that.”

“Really. He was. Right here in the hallway.”

Amaretto glanced at John, John answered with a subtle nod. She produced her Ipad, tapping and sliding. “She is kind of hot.” Narrowing her eyes at the screen, she added, “I wouldn’t have taken Air for a scampi girl.”

“I like a good scampi,” John added casually.

“I’ve never had it.”

“Really? Shrimp in a garlic butter sauce over angel hair noodles.”

“Noodles come in angel hair?”

“Okay, I get it. You have a full profile on her. What do you want?”

“Three minutes with the security cameras,” John answered.


“We won’t be needing a thumb,” Amaretto said.

“It’s no problem.” Eddy, the security guard looked back into the shadows his dark eyes raking Amaretto. He was a young man, barely out of his teens, formidable but not overweight, yet not athletic. Dark brown almost black hair ratty over his ears and curtaining his forehead, in need of a haircut. His oversized black-rimmed glasses reflected the glow of the monitors. Eddy welcomed the intrusion, breaking up the monotony of his day. Eddy and John immediately bonded, John sharing the clip of Amaretto taking down Markus in the school hallway.

“The kid is Penrose.” Amaretto nodded casually.

“Oh, that’s the asshole,” John said. “Looks like a punk.”

“The other guy, Beck, I think his name is. County Mounty. He wiped my face in Casey Little’s blood and brain tissue when he dragged me off the floor. He’s got a mean streak.”

Amaretto put her phone to her ear. “Hey, Sally, need a solid.”

“A what?”

“A favor.”

“I told you to stop using that expression,” John reminded her.

“A friend of mine got picked up by the Edgewood police, but maybe the County. I’m not sure.”


“I don’t have any, other than his name. Cooper Applewhite. I’m told he’s FBI working out of Philly.”

“This concerns you, how?”

“Okay. He got busted outside my mother’s hospital room.”

“Your mother is in the hospital? I spoke to her yesterday.”

“Why would you do that?”

“I wanted to let her know that we were proceeding with legal action to remove you from the home, that you were safe, so she wouldn’t file a missing person report.”

“Then Morgan overdoses. Who could have fucking seen that coming? Coop, the guy that just got arrested, busted in on Morgan as she was dying. Looking at the video, I’d say Coop stepped in some dog shit.”

“There’s video?”

“I’m in the hospital security office now.”

“Email the video. I’ll call you back.”

Amaretto tapped her phone. “I will be needing a copy.” She rattled off the email address.

Eddy held up his phone for Amaretto to see. “This him? Simon Beck?”

Amaretto narrowed her eyes. “Yes. What’s a special assistant?”

John shrugged. “Sounds made up.”

“Sure, a special title in lieu of a raise.”

“You guys are really cool. Is there like a Scooby Club or something? Can I join?”

John looked at Amaretto, Amaretto shrugging.


Anna Cohn opened the door to the drizzle. “I guess you found us okay.” She moved back. “Please, come in.”

Sandalwood closed her white umbrella. “Thanks for having me.” She entered the modest home, the stench of stale cooking oil and cigarette smoke stinging her nostrils, the kind of odors the occupants are not aware of.

To her left, the teen and man from the police station sat in half darkness staring at a television, though Sandalwood couldn’t see the screen, the audio made it obvious Spongbob was up to his old antics. The teen fiddled with a phone, still twisting gum. Sandalwood wondered if it were the same gum, but resisted asking.

“Don’t mind them,” Cohn said, taking Sandalwood’s umbrella, nodding for the raincoat, which Sandalwood slipped off her shoulders around her bag and Ipad.

Settled at the small table in the crowded kitchen, Cohn poured tea for both from a steeped pot, Sandalwood waving off sugar. “That’s the way I like it, too.” She sat. “Did you get anything out of Sergeant Ted?”

Sandalwood blushed, glancing at her tea. “Nothing useful.”

Cohn nodded toward the living room. “That’s George Nielson’s daughter.”

Sandalwood narrowed her eyes. “Your daughter?”

“Yes. She’s got a lot of anger, resentment. Gets in trouble a lot, minor things. I’m told she’s acting out. Sergeant Ted is helpful, if you know what I mean.”

Again, the blush. “Comes quick.”

Cohn giggled. “That’s a blessing, with his stupid patter.”

“Oh, it was like, come on, shut up, I’m trying to work here.”


“I really don’t think he had anything to tell me.”

“I should have told you that.”

“I would have met with him anyway.” Sandalwood examined the ceiling.

“I know what you mean, girl.” She leaned back to see the living room. “I’m going to tell you some stuff, but I don’t know if you’ll be able to use it, like in your book.”


“I knew the Nielson boys very well.”

Sandalwood gave mocking wide eyes. “Really?”

“No, Arianna! George and I were a thing, you know. We were talking about getting married and I know he was going to marry me. I’d just gotten caught with Georgeanne when everything went to shit.”

“You said they couldn’t have done the family slaughters.”

“Don’t get me wrong. George, Albert and Ted were not good boys, but they weren’t evil criminals, either.”

“Jolly pranksters?”

“Pretty much. All three had jobs. It’s not like they needed to steal to eat. They liked their beer and sports. That’s all they really wanted. Of course, George wanted me. You see, I was the only one.”

“The only one, what?”

“It was just the three of them.”

“No family?”

“Or friends, really.”

“The perfect patsies.”

“No one seemed to care that they were in town, not hundreds of miles away, when those families got slaughter.”

“You know this for a fact?”

“I have notes.”

“I’ll shoot copies. Did you tell anyone at the time?”

“I told everyone at the time. I was waved off as the angry girlfriend. When I showed my notes, I was told evidence in the basement. They kept repeating that. When I insisted, I was told I could be charged, too. That’s when I started blowing Sergeant Ted, thinking it was going to keep me out of trouble. I was barely not a kid.” Cohn watched Sandalwood for a long moment. “I guess you’re going to have to rewrite your whole book now.”

Sandalwood gave a slight shrug and a nod. “I’d already guessed they didn’t do the murders. As you point out, when you look at everything, it doesn’t make sense.”

“What does make sense, then?”

“I don’t know yet.”

Cohn left the room, returning in less than a minute. “You wanted to know who murdered the brothers.” She came next to Sandalwood, elbows on the table, the teen’s phone in her hand, a snapshot of a group photo, obviously a cook out, from the wall. “This guy quit, Robert Hill, they say he retired but he quit soon afterwards. He may be dead now, he was old then, I don’t know.” She pointed. “This guy and this guy, no longer with the department.”

Sandalwood took the phone, working the buttons, then worked at her Ipad. “This guy and this guy?” Both seemed to want to avoid the camera.

“Yes. They were new in the department, I think transfers or temporary assignments. I’m not sure. Like Sergeant Ted said, by order, no one was allowed to talk about it.” She rolled her eyes. “There were other photos on the wall, better pictures of them, but they disappeared long ago.”

“They must have missed this one.”

“I don’t know their names. I only know Robert Hill, Officer Bob, because I grew up with him, I mean, he was always around school and all. The friendly cop all us kids knew. I’ll bet Sergeant Ted knows their names.”

“That’s okay, Anna. I’ve had my fill of Ted. Besides, I know their names.”


Simon Beck, just short of frantically, danced his fingers on the keyboard.

Lieutenant Daryl Kay came over his shoulder. “Problem?”

“Eh, not really. Well, there was a mishap.”

“What kind of mishap?”

“Nothing I can’t handle.”

Kay narrowed his eyes at the computer screen. “Who knows? How many?”

“Not enough to matter. I should have known better. New guy Banner just brought in.”

“What exactly happened?”

“Well, the kid was taking him to County for the beat-down you ordered and when the kid dragged him from the car, somehow he managed to get his head bounced off the door jam. When he hit the ground, he wasn’t breathing.”

“Did anyone think to rush him to the infirmary? County has one, you know.”

“That’s kind of sticky.”

“How’s that?”

“We didn’t have cause to pick him up.”

“You told me he hit a protected house.”

“Well,” Banner said, “but the house isn’t really protected, not on the record anyway.”

A sheet of paper jumped in the printer. “Here’s the official report.”

Kay scanned the sheet. “Okay, report of a man with a gun. Did you create a nine one one call?”

Beck nodded. “Done.”

“Right, took him into custody in the hospital, removed him to the street, checked I.D., apologized and let him go. No cameras on the street?”

“No, and I’m going to stop over the hospital and wipe the, eh, arrest.”


Beck gave his boss a hard look.

“Oh. And, the package? Is this going to blow back on us?”

“It shouldn’t. No one in the Philly office seems to know what his assignment was. I doubt anyone will miss him.”

“I thought he was looking into that murder in the bar.”

“Seems he’s been sniffing around the bank robbery, too.”

Kay grinned sardonically. “I guess this little happy accident will work out for us in the long run, then.”


Sally Falance watched the video again, pausing, running back where Simon Beck kidney-punched Cooper Applewhite. “That sure looks personal.” Edgewood referred her to County, County referred her to Edgewood. Finally, a clerk at County was able to pull up a file: Cooper Applewhite was briefly detained, then released, never taken into custody. Sally watched the kidney-punch again. “Man with a gun.”

Sally Falance would have left it at that, calling Amaretto and telling her that her friend, Coop, was not arrested, the incident in the hospital a mistake – if not for the kidney-punch. The high camera angle revealed Beck’s facial expression as Beck went to Applewhite’s ear. She could almost read his lips. Sally could tell when a message was being delivered.

Three telephone conversations later, Sally was connected with Gail Decker. “Sally Falance, with Smith, Smith and Howell, Director Decker.”

“What can I do for you, Ms. Falance?”

“This concerns Cooper Applewhite.”

“Oh, what has he done now?”

That’s a bit unprofessional, Sally thought, still surprised she was able to get the director of the Philly office on the phone with the mere mention of Applewhite. “It’s a little complex, but let me make it as simple as I can. I have a client. She called me and said Applewhite was arrested at the hospital. I called County across the river and received a verbal of the report.”

“What was he arrested for?”

“He wasn’t.”

“Then, what’s the problem?”

“I have video of him being taken into custody –”

“How’d you get that?”

“I’m good at what I do.”

“I can appreciate cocky.”

“This looks personal. I wanted to get Applewhite on the phone, make sure he’s okay before I report back to my client.”

“His phone is showing out of service. No GPS signal.”

“That means it’s destroyed.”

“Oh, it could mean that. It could also mean that Coop pulled the battery out. He does that. Do you know Cooper Applewhite?”

“Today is the first I heard his name.”

“He’s a loose canon. A Maverick. Doesn’t follow instructions. He’s been known to disappear for weeks at a time.”

Again, Sally noted how very unprofessional Gail Decker was. “I’ve had to work for people like that before,” Sally baited.

“Work for? He’s supposed to work for me. He’s barely holding onto his job as it is.”

“I follow you.”

“We call him the one-armed man.”

“Really?” Nicknames are so third grade.

“Do you know why?”

“No, I do not.”

“His parents were murdered by a gang of thugs, a home invasion. He insists the gang didn’t do it, but the murder was done by a single man. He’s obsessed with finding him.”

“You do know that Richard Kimble did find the one-armed man, right?” Sally worked at her keyboard.

“Look it up sometime.”

I am. “Can you GPS his car for me?”

“I could, well. You say he was arrested at a hospital?”


“His car is there. A hospital in a town called Edgewood. You’ll probably find him asleep in the backseat. He’s been known to drink too much. Now, if you’ve wasted enough of my time.”

“I thank you for your time, and for the information.” Sally set her phone aside, reading the first in a series of articles on a murder spree. “Gail Decker,” she asked aloud. “Why do you hate Cooper Applewhite so much?”

Tapping at her keyboard, a picture-in-picture came up. “Hello, George.”


“Stayman’s mother, it would seem, tried to kill herself.”



“Likely accidental, not suicide. You know what they say: every junky is a setting sun.”

“I pushed her a little.”

“What do you mean?”

Sally shrugged. “I called her, told her Amaretto was being removed from her custody.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Figured, her being a junky, she’d kill herself, save us all this paperwork.”

“In the future, run things like that by me first.”

“Sure, George. I stumbled on something just now.” She worked on the keyboard. “That’s kind of what you had in mind.”

Howell drew a deep breath. “It says here, they caught the three, what, brothers that did these?”

Sally grimaced a smile. “Sure. But, the last of the murders, there was a survivor.”

Scanning the story, Howell said, “Doesn’t say that at all.”

“It does, there was a survivor.” Sally rolled her eyes. “I guess he must have been fifteen at the time. I’d like to hear the story of just how he managed to survive, when children were murdered in the other two events.”

“I don’t see it, but I’ll take your word for it.”

“He’s here, in town.”


“And, he’s got a reputation for being a bit crazy.”

“That could be just what we’ve been looking for.”

Sally closed the connection, her fingers dancing again. “Hi, Apple.”

“Sally. What did you find out?”

“My best guess is that he’s getting drunk somewhere.”

“But, the arrest –”

“I found the report. It seems they got a call: man with a gun. They secured Applewhite, took in out of the hospital, ran the I.D. and released him.”

“You didn’t see the same video I did.”

“Hold up, Apple. I talked to Applewhite’s supervisor in Philly. He has a history of questionable behavior and likely mouthed off.”

“He’s not answering his phone.”

“Again, his supervisor said he does that for days at a time.”

Amaretto poked her phone off. “You give me a headache, Sally,” as she closed a file, moving it aside, pulling another from the neat stack she made on the kitchen table. She was sure Sandalwood had a good system, a system that worked well for Sandalwood. “Not for me.”

“Not for you, what?” John asked from across the table.

Amaretto shrugged. “You should see this one.” She waved an 8x10.

“No thanks. I’ll just keep watching these cute kitten videos until my eyes stop bleeding. Not to change the subject.”

“Please, do.”

“I hammered away at Mom and Dad.”

“Oh, not-apple, please. Leave those poor people alone.”

“It was about Christmas Eve.”


“Each year, we go out to the farm.”

“Family gathers.”

“Yes, for a couple of days. Lots of food, fun. We put up the tree. Very festive.”

“Sing songs?”


“Good. That would be a deal breaker for me.”

“So, are you in?”

Amaretto smiled softly, watching John’s eyes watching her, getting a glimpse of what life could be. “Yes. I’m in.”


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