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Poughkeepsie begins, p.10
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       Poughkeepsie Begins, p.10

           Debra Anastasia
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  She pulled them back. “I don’t know. I don’t want to turn it into Christmas for her. I’m having second thoughts. What you’ve done is more subtle, in keeping with a ghost.” She took the basket from his arms and pulled out the frog. “How about just this?”

  He nodded, and she hurried to the seasonal aisle to put everything else back. The employee followed. Candy held Beckett’s hand on the way to the register. He could feel the woman’s eyes burning a hole in his head.

  Candy set down the frog. “I left my purse in Zyler’s truck.”

  “I got this.” He winked at her as the woman grudgingly scanned the plush animal. He pulled out the bills again and paid for it.

  The employee snorted. Candy looked bewildered at the discourtesy. She took the bagged-up frog, but as they turned to exit, a man stood in their way.

  “How about you step to the side?” he said. “I want to make sure everything here is on the up and up.” His tag proclaimed him manager.

  Beckett recognized him too.

  Before he could speak up, Candy went toe to toe with him. “Oh, no you don’t. You think we stole something? Really? Where are we going to put it?”

  She gestured to her skirt that had no pockets. Then she turned to Beckett and turned the pockets on his jeans inside out. Luckily, they were empty. He was still holding his wallet when Zyler and his football friends poured in through the door. Perfect.

  Candy continued, “We bought this frog with cash. You can’t just accuse people.”

  The manager shook his head and stepped out of their path, and from the way Candy’s expression dropped, Beckett could see she’d just noticed Zyler.

  “Fine. But he’s not allowed in here again. And you know that.” The manager gave him an accusatory stare.

  Candy hugged the frog through the bag as they stepped past the man and through the horde of guys.

  Zyler was angry, and front and center. “Well, at least I know you’re alive. Are you here against your will?”

  Candy started explaining to Zyler why she’d disappeared.

  Dunns commented loudly as he passed. “Look. The fucker who egged his own damn house and had us blamed. And, wow. I guess Candy’s a slutty pussy.”

  Beckett’s brain snapped. Being with him for ten minutes in a store had Candy accused of stealing and now called a slut. He grabbed Dunns’ arm.

  “Fuck you, Dunns. Sleep with one fucking eye open, motherfucker.”

  Candy tugged on his hand. Through his rage and his every intention to take on the whole goddamn football team in the Save-Mart, he heard her say please.

  “Please, can we leave? Think of Ethel. We have to go. Please.”

  He turned toward her and nodded. The manager was now occupied by yelling at the football team, which had swarmed the store like drunk ants covered in shaving cream.

  “I was seriously worried,” Zyler slurred at Candy again, pushing past his cheerleader fans. He gave a heavy sigh of burden. “Stay with me. I’ll get you home.”

  Beckett put his arm around Candy. “No offense, asshole, but you’re drunk and seem to have plenty of company. I’ll take her home.”

  “Think you can do it without getting her arrested?” Zyler looked seriously pissed.

  “I think even if I get arrested, she’ll get home alive. You’re the one driving your shit kicker in an inebriated state.”

  Candy started walking toward the door, so he kept his arm around her and continued on his way.

  Zyler glared at Beckett. “I’ll call you, Candy. This isn’t over. Be safe!”

  “Yeah!” dumbass Dunns echoed.

  Candy shook her head as they came back out into the crisp night. She got in the passenger side of Walter’s car, and Beckett went to the passenger side of Zyler’s giant truck. He heard Candy holler, “Under the seat!” and was able to grab her purse and a big sweater before slamming the door shut. He jogged back to the sedan. “Thanks to Gyler not locking his fucking doors, here’s your stuff.” He put it in the middle between them.

  She had the frog out of its bag and looked at it like it would tell her secrets. “Thanks for thinking of that.” She manipulated the frog’s feet.

  “Don’t let him get to you. I bet he’s a mean drunk.” Beckett put the car in reverse and backed out. “With a small dick.”

  “No, his dick is huge,” Candy commented.

  Beckett pulled the car over. “What?”

  “It’s so huge.” She wouldn’t look at him, but he could see she was starting to smile.

  “I will go back there and kill him.” Beckett reached over and tilted her face toward him.

  “How romantic.” She finally looked him full in the face.

  “That—” he pointed to her crotch “—is mine until I tell you different.”

  She pulled his hand away. “I’m sure that’s just what Walter said to Ethel on their first date.”

  Beckett began to drive again. “You have a filthy mouth, missy. And to talk of a dead man that way.” He shook his head.

  “You steal his car. Seriously, who’s worse?” She began arranging the frog on the dashboard to her liking.

  “I got to fill her up, by the way.” He headed to the gas station.

  “Ethel?” Candy covered her mouth and feigned surprise.

  “You’re a naughty kitty.” Beckett turned off the engine.

  “You should be so lucky.” She wiggled in her seat.

  Beckett could almost hear his dick strangling itself to death in his pants trying to get to her. After filling up and dealing with Candy’s ridiculously cute ass, he listened as she informed him she had to be home by twelve.

  “Like Cinderella?” Beckett pulled the car over in the park and ride, consulting the clock. He still had about fifteen minutes with her. He wanted to see her tits. Jesus. The way they moved under her shirt while she danced in the car was torture.

  She gasped when he reached over and pulled her top down below her breasts. “Beckett Taylor!”

  He licked his thumb quickly and slipped under her hands to pull the satin demi-cups on her bra down as well. Now he looked at two glorious pieces of heaven. She took her arms away and shook her shoulders, sitting proud.

  “Yeah. Shit.” He had his mouth and hands on her in no time.

  She was bold tonight, reaching between his legs to find him. He was about to pull her onto his lap when she pushed him away with a breathless, “Almost twelve!”

  He shook his head to try to clear it. As he started to drive, she refused to cover herself. She took one of his hands and sucked on his finger. When they finally raced up the street to her house, she righted her outfit.

  She slipped out of the car with a parting shot: “Take me to the Winter Dance.”

  He was left with a throbbing boner and a frog.



  BLAKE SLIPPED OUT OF HIS LAST CLASS EARLY, claiming to not feel well. He knew Cole was doing the same. Today was the girls’ big day at the zoo. They would be there for about three hours more, and Beckett was going to meet them at the train station—if he remembered. Lately he’d been skipping school to manage more and more of Kick’s business. But he’d made sure there was money for their trip today, as well as the girls’, and he’d promised he had it handled.

  If Beckett showed and they timed it right, they would maybe catch a glimpse of Summer and Wintery enjoying all of their hard work. He met up with Cole on the block a few streets from the station, and they set off walking together. It was a cold day, but occasionally sunny between the clouds. A perfect day to see animals, so he tried to focus on that. He was numb inside, but his meds made him care less what people thought when he sparkled in the sun. And his brothers would take care of him out in public. He had a ball cap pulled low. He really wanted to see the girls see the zoo.

  As they waited on the platform, the train in the distance, Beckett came jogging up. He’d purchased their train tickets and passed them out as they all stepped onto the train, which wasn’t crowded in the
middle of the afternoon. They had the whole car to themselves and spread out.

  “How were they this morning?” Beckett stretched his legs, kicking his boots up on the opposing seat.

  “Well, they both put on the animal shirts you got them.” Cole smiled. “And then begged me to braid their hair. Which I did.”

  Blake smiled. A bit late. His meds made him slow to react.

  “Two little cuties. Those damn girls.” Beckett yawned. “I saw their mom last night.” He frowned.

  Cole leaned forward. “Thought she was in a program?”

  Even through his haze, Blake felt the disappointment. Summer and Wintery’s mom needed to be on the straight and narrow to get them back. As much as he was charmed by them, they all knew the best place for them was their own home. Where they could stay together. Where they could get away from Rick. Where the system wouldn’t get a wild hair and change their foster parents. If Beckett had seen their mom, it was bad news.

  “Supposed to be in one. But she was looking to buy. I was running the joint last night. Dude, I made so much cash. So much. She offered to suck me off, anything to get a hit. I had the Mailman drive her back to the halfway house, but she looked rough. I’m thinking she fell off the wagon and has to start from the beginning again.”

  Blake groaned. The girls had been loving the more frequent visits from their mom, but addiction was its own monster.

  Cole interrupted his flow of thought. “Wait, you have the Mailman taking orders from you?”

  Blake didn’t know the name, but he could tell Cole did. His face was flushed, and his eyes looked just a little crazed.

  Beckett nodded. “For now. Slippery fucker. Getting up in years. You got something I need to know about, baby?” He put his sunglasses on his head and revealed two bloodshot, exhausted-looking eyes.

  Cole looked at his feet, not responding. His hands had a tiny tremor. They were so used to watching each other’s body language in the woods that neither Beckett or Blake missed it.

  Beckett’s eyes flared with malice. “Say no more. I got you.”

  Blake wanted to offer Cole some comfort, or at least an ear, but the meds were kicking in hard now, making it feel like the whole world was a teeny beat off. He tried to focus and recover, but he must have zoned out looking at the trees zipping by outside the train.

  They moved together to sit in the same bank of seats as the car filled up with every new stop. By the time they switched to the subway in Grand Central, the sheer volume of people around them prevented any further conversation. They made the requisite transfers to get to the Bronx Zoo.

  Cole pulled out a flyer as they came up to the front gates. “If they stayed on schedule, they should be at the tigers. Then the elephants.”

  Three teenage boys navigated a zoo they had never been to together. Beckett paused to make inappropriate jokes, Blake and Cole cracking up on the way. In no time they spotted the huge school group clumped together with chaperones. Beckett found the girls first, after scaling a lamp post. They took an alternate vantage point so they could see the people seeing the tigers better. Finally, after scanning countless little faces, Blake saw the girls in their new shirts, jackets flung open. They held hands as their eyes grew wide at the sight of the huge cats. Wintery flinched when the biggest tiger gave a huge yawn. Summer put an arm around her sister.

  Another of the cats stood and began batting a huge ball around like it was nothing at all.

  “Well, look at that,” Beckett said. “Sisters doing their thing.”

  Blake nodded and Cole smiled. The girls’ mom didn’t have much. She certainly hadn’t been able to take the girls to the zoo in their short lives. The chaperone shuffled the girls to the side so the next group could see. He thought he’d seen Summer’s gaze linger in their direction, but he couldn’t be sure.

  Beckett started off as the group moved away. “Next up, the elephants,” he announced.

  Blake realized he’d never been in the presence of that type of animal either, and he was looking forward to it. But as they passed a huge gold rendering of said mammal, he started to disintegrate. The sun was blinding, glaring off the reflective surface. He felt his heart rate accelerate. It was more than he could manage, even with the meds.

  In the next breath, Cole was next to him, one arm slung around his shoulders. “It’s all good, brother. I found shade. Where the elephants are, they have a whole house. It’s fine. Just walk with me. I’m here.”

  Later, when Blake’s mind had stopped stuttering, he realized Cole had basically cuddled him into the elephant house like they were boyfriends. His brothers didn’t give a shit what anyone thought. That was stronger than even his fear of the sun.

  Beckett cleared a path for Blake as soon as he saw Cole’s arm around him. Full sun was a lot to ask. And the fucking gold elephant was like a giant sun disco ball—just the kind of thing that gave Blake a problem. He found a way to stay ahead of the girls and zip in through the exit, holding the door for his brothers.

  Cole sat Blake down on a bench and moved in next to him, calmly talking about the elephants. Through the glass they would have a great sight line on the girls. One of the teachers, all name-tagged up and holding a clipboard, was speaking to another similarly dressed teacher, and Beckett listened in.

  “Can you believe it? Who takes money from children? So that’s five kids who had their bags taken.”

  He looked over at the kids, and sure enough, each had a blue string-backpack on. But Summer’s was missing, as was Wintery’s.

  “I know Paul and John each had ten dollars for the gift shop,” the teacher continued. “The other two said they only had maps in theirs. Summer told me she and her sister each had thirty dollars, but you know that can’t have been true.”

  Beckett’s mind flooded with red. It was assumed that the girls didn’t have money. God, he hated the assumptions. The free lunches. The teachers quietly asking if he had the money for this thing or the other thing that all the other kids had paid for.

  “I knew we shouldn’t have sat next to the kids with those blue bandanas,” the other teacher commented. “That’s clearly gang colors. And they all were school age. Why weren’t they in class?”

  Beckett sat down next to Cole. Blake’s color had started to come back. He’d be ashamed now. That’s what usually happened when he was caught in the sun and had a panic attack about it—even though he and Cole couldn’t give three flying fucks.

  “I got to go do something. I’ll be back.” Beckett held out his fist for a bump.

  Cole obliged but tried to change his mind. “You don’t want to stay? This is going to be the best part.”

  “Nah. I want to settle something first.” Beckett left the scene of the impending cute and searched the crowd on the path outside, looking for blue. He was a ways down when he spotted security.

  “Hey! You seen some kids with blue bandanas? Their teacher is looking for them.”

  The security guard looked infuriated. “Those punks have a teacher here? Where? They’ve been a nightmare today.”

  “Which way?”

  The guard pointed down the hippo path. “They headed that way.”

  Beckett nodded. “The teacher is in the bird room.”

  He was just guessing about the location of the fucking bird room, so he was relieved to see the guard nod and hurry off in the opposite direction.

  Beckett jogged down the path and slowed his roll when he hit a parking lot. The kids in the bandanas were his age or a few years younger, a grand total of six douchebags. They were actively counting money from a little pile of wallets.

  Amateurs. He gave them a huge, loud whistle. “Hey, fuckheads.”

  They seemed torn between covering up their ill-gotten gains and trying to appear tough, ready to fight.

  “You’ve got five backpacks you stole from kids like fucking cowards. I’ll be needing them back.” Beckett waited to see what they would do.

  “Fuck you,” the tallest said.

p; “You’re not that lucky.” Beckett crossed his arms in front of his face. “Blue? You work for Machine. And he’s got a quota and shit. So that’s why you’re acting like pansies.”

  The tallest lifted his chin with a snarl.

  The whole shitload of them should have been in school. Beckett should have been as well, but that was neither here nor there.

  “I’ll give you a hundred bucks and a free pass from an ass kicking for the backpacks.”

  “Fuck you again.”

  Beckett sighed. There was an easy way and a hard way. He pulled his gun out from his waistband. “You ready to die over this?” He pointed it at the closest.

  He hadn’t had to kill anyone yet. In the months he’d been working for Kick, he hadn’t had the need. He’d accomplished his rapid ascent through a serious display of wanting it more than everyone else.

  One of the kids in front of him pulled a knife; a few others dove for cover.

  “Machine will kill you for this,” the knife-wielder said.

  “He can certainly try.” Beckett shrugged. “Same deal, minus the cash. Give me the backpacks. You can keep the wallets for all I fucking care.”

  Four blue backpacks landed close to his feet. He waited until the fifth hit as well. Maple Grove Elementary was printed on each, with the kids’ names written in Sharpie.

  “You hate this shit? The quota? I have a ton of Poughkeepsie territory. Find me, and I’ll give you real work.” Beckett slipped his gun back under his jacket and grabbed up the packs. He heard them guessing at his identity as he left.

  He stopped to look and found the money still in each bag. Punks had been too focused on the wallets. He added an extravagant one hundred dollars to both Summer’s and Wintery’s stashes. He’d acquired some extra scratch shaking down a pimp earlier. He had a fleeting thought about the cocaine that might still be attached to the bills, but he ignored it. Drugs were probably all over tons of paper money.

  He made his way back to the elephants. The girls were outside with their chaperone and classmates. He’d missed the big moment and didn’t see his brothers either. Beckett found the teacher who’d assumed the girls didn’t have money.

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