Return to poughkeepsie, p.11
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       Return to Poughkeepsie, p.11

           Debra Anastasia
 

  They moved along quietly until the ducts changed from a shiny silver to a dull one. Eve hoped this meant they were in the adjacent building. She found a vent and popped it out: conference room. She hopped down and checked the exits. This was definitely a different building. The guard dropped Mary Ellen down just as gunshots rang through the vent. The bodyguard returned fire. Eve grabbed Mary Ellen’s arm and ran with her as alarms raged in their ears, and the sprinklers went off, drenching them.

  Eve could feel their attackers getting closer. She hoped they wouldn’t be tapped in to security in this new building. Mouse would have done that for Beckett, but not everyone had something even close to a Mouse.

  Eve took Mary Ellen straight to the opposite side of the building. This hallway had a long window, and the next building over seemed crazy close. Eve shot the corner of the large pane of glass, then fired two more times until the glass crumbled. Mary Ellen finally looked as scared as she should have all along.

  “Watch our backs.” Eve grabbed an extension ladder from a nearby conference room that seemed to be undergoing renovations. She swung it around and settled it on the open window. It was sturdy. And if it could span the distance between buildings, they would have a chance.

  Eve took a moment to shoot out the opposing window. It shattered, glass tinkling to the ground far below. She set her pistol down and held the ladder tight while sliding it across the divide. Finally it caught, and Eve settled it on the other building’s façade. The wind was insane, whipping through the windows and ripping at their wet hair.

  She motioned to Mary Ellen, then pulled out her knife and cut the woman’s skirt right off her body.

  “Excuse me? What the—?” Mary Ellen tried to grab her skirt. Eve heard a door open nearby.

  “It would be like a sail out there. Go.” Eve held end of the ladder. “I’ve got you.”

  “I’m not going out there.” Mary Ellen crossed her arms.

  They heard men shouting. “In here!”

  Eve gave Mary Ellen an exasperated look. “Do it, damn it, or I’m shooting you.”

  Mary Ellen climbed out onto the ladder. She shakily started across the chasm just as Eve abandoned holding their bridge steady to climb out herself. Eve turned, set her bare feet on either side of Mary Ellen, and faced the men entering the hallway they’d just departed. She fired her gun again and again, unable to see more than shadows.

  The wind caught Eve’s dress and pulled her off balance. She took a knee, but still inched backward. The unusual movement shifted the ladder—one wrong move and Eve and Mary Ellen were plummeting to their deaths.

  Mary Ellen crawled over the glass-strewn window ledge and into the next building. Eve stepped on the ledge and pressed her back against the façade, barely missing the ladder as it fell from underneath her.

  Mary Ellen began firing, giving Eve cover as she came inside. They were running as soon as Eve had her feet on the floor.

  “Call one of the ’copters and tell them to go to the roof. Tell another car to meet us in the alley.”

  They ran past an elevator, and Eve slapped the down button. After what seemed like an eternity, the doors opened. Once the elevator was moving, Eve motioned to Mary Ellen’s shoes.

  “Kick those off. Be ready to be under fire when these doors open. I’ll go high and cover you.”

  They could hear the helicopter approaching the roof. Mary Ellen barked the orders Eve requested into her phone before sliding it back into her cleavage.

  “Why are we going down?” Mary Ellen managed to look regal in just pantyhose and the top part of her dress.

  “We’re buying seconds. Ready? The doors are opening.” Eve rolled her head on her neck and swung the AR-16 forward. But there was nothing. Silence. She pushed Mary Ellen forward and ran into the foyer of the fancy skyscraper. To her left she saw the red exit sign, and they ran for it just as the front door exploded with gunfire.

  The alarms were still blaring, so opening the fire exit went unnoticed. Eve crammed Mary Ellen into the backseat of the waiting SUV, then jumped in and slammed the door behind her. “Go, go, go!” She slapped the driver in the back of the head.

  He put the SUV in reverse and careened out of the alley. He ignored the rules of the road and took the least obvious path to the center of the city. Whoever he was, he was an excellent driver.

  “Pull into a parking garage. We’ve got to toss this car.” Eve leaned forward and watched as the driver ignored the ticket that came spitting out. She picked a minivan as her target.

  “Right here, pull in next to it.” She motioned to Mary Ellen. “Give me a second.”

  Eve had her gun ready to blow out the window as she tried the handle. But it was already unlocked. Mouse had taught her to always check because, damn it, some things are easier than they appear. In an instant she ripped the plastic panel out of the way and had the van purring to life. Eve moved into the driver’s seat as the driver and Mary Ellen jumped in. They were moving before the driver could even close the door, and she busted straight through the arm at the exit. She bounced onto the main road and commenced driving as normally as possible.

  She heard Mary Ellen exhale.

  Eve looked at her passengers in the rearview mirror. “Where can I take you that’s safe?”

  The driver spoke up. “Fifty-Ninth Street. I’ll let them know we’re coming.”

  “I’d rather go home. Take me home.” Mary Ellen raised her chin.

  “That’s the first place they’ll send people. In fact, the people there are probably already dead.” Eve sat at a light, watching the pedestrians as well as the vehicles around her.

  “Sir, yes. We are requesting admittance. Three.” The driver ended his call. “We can go.”

  After a short drive, Eve turned onto 59th Street. A garage opened, and she pulled in. The minivan was instantly surrounded by armed men.

  “Now I have to deal with Primo, in my father’s house.” Mary Ellen sounded scared and annoyed as she wrapped the driver’s jacket around her waist.

  Great.

  12

  Fast Food

  BECKETT WATCHED THE GAME with his dog snoring next to him. The beer was delicious—a sample dropped off by a local home-brewer. Damned if he wasn’t going to order a nice batch of this shit tomorrow.

  The game was interrupted by a harried newscaster. She had hair poking out all over the place. Looked like she’d just been fucked properly by someone. “Bummer that you have to be on the air now, eh, baby?” he asked her with a laugh. It was almost time for a piss break. As he got up and stretched, the newscaster got down to business.

  “This is breaking news. We have some alarming updates from New York City. There’s been a helicopter crash, and we have reports of a gunfight erupting in the streets.” The screen filled with the remnants of the helicopter, and the soundtrack was various pops of gunfire. “Obviously, police are refusing to let the media in, but we have a cameraman filming from a nearby building. We’ll report as soon as we have anything more.” The newswoman had smoothed her hair while the clip was shown.

  Only scumbags had firefights in the street after hours. What on earth could be causing this kind of movement? Back in the day, this news item would’ve had him on high alert, planning and plotting. He could never let his guard down. For now he was just glad it wasn’t Poughkeepsie. He snickered as he remembered the time Eve blew up his fucking strip mall. Then, like a punch in the stomach, he missed her even more.

  He sat back down with his iPad and hit all the local news websites. It was way too early for even them to speculate. He looked at his cell phone, itching to call his brothers. He felt this way any time he thought about freaking Poughkeepsie at all—for any reason. It was an addiction worse than any of the others he’d kicked in the last five years, so fucking hard to ignore the longing for them. And for her. And that’s when he remembered he was selfish. If he appeared on the scene, that would make things worse instead of better. He brought shit like he was seeing on TV right
along with him. He was poison, a loaded gun.

  There was a frantic knocking on his front door. Gandhi twirled and slobbered himself into a frenzy, barking and rushing and falling over himself. Beckett tried to get him to quiet down and failed. He turned on the porch light and saw Chery and another woman. When he opened the door Chery pushed her way in, pulling the other woman, who refused to look at him, with her. She closed the door and locked the deadbolt as Beckett picked up Gandhi. She looked everywhere but at him, so it was a moment before Beckett could see Chery’s face. Gandhi ceased barking and tried to lick the women from his place in Beckett’s arms.

  “Did Jared do this to you?” Beckett felt his anger surge.

  Chery ignored him and turned to the other woman. “Vere? Listen. Look at me. Vere, look at me.”

  Vere reluctantly moved her gaze from the dog to her sister’s face.

  “I’m going to get your clock and your book. Tonight you sleep here and wake up here. Then I’ll take you to work tomorrow. And tomorrow is a horse day, right?”

  Chery waited until her sister nodded.

  Vere finally spoke, her voice a bit higher than Beckett was expecting. “My boots.”

  “Yes, I’ll grab your boots too, okay?” Chery looked at Beckett. “Is it okay for Vere to play with Gandhi? I’ve told her all about how he likes the store and loves to play fetch.”

  Beckett played along with Chery’s feigned happiness. “Sure.” He set the dog down so he could sniff the ladies and wag his stump. Beckett grabbed a tennis ball out of his spoiled dog’s basket and tossed it down the hallway. Gandhi ran and slid to get it and brought it back. He dropped it at Beckett’s feet. Beckett held the ball out to Vere. “Would you like to try?”

  Chery gently touched her sister’s shoulder. “It’s okay.”

  Vere took the ball from Beckett, careful not to touch his hand. She threw it gently, too softly, but Gandhi went after it all the same, then dropped it at Vere’s feet.

  After a few tosses, Beckett offered them both a drink. Only Chery accepted, and she followed him into his kitchen. He filled a glass of ice water from the dispenser in his fridge and lifted an eyebrow as he handed it to her.

  “My face is bad?” She put the glass up to her bruised cheek and winced.

  Beckett saw only red. He closed his eyes as adrenaline became a pounding force, making all his choices for him.

  “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I know where you live, that I burst in here with my sister. I can’t have her see him like that. He scares her. You’re disgusted. I’ll leave. I’m sorry.” Chery put her glass on the counter.

  “Please don’t apologize. You’re safe here. I’m glad you came.” Beckett was sure his words sounded awful and insincere, as they had to pass through his gritted teeth.

  “If Vere could stay tonight, I’m going to go get her stuff real quick. She loves dogs, and I won’t be more than a half hour. Is that okay?” She ran her hand through her hair, hitting so many knots she gave up.

  Someone had dragged this woman by her hair, Beckett would bet on it.

  “No.” He exhaled. “You’re making a list, and I’ll go get what you guys need.”

  “I couldn’t ask that. Thank you but…” She put her hand to her split lip and looked at it. There was blood there.

  Beckett handed her a paper towel. “Here. Do you need to go to the hospital?”

  She shook her head. “He’s just not right tonight. It’s mostly my fault. He hates chicken, and I made it because it’s what I had left, and then I burnt the edges on the grill. I’ll just pick him up some Wendy’s and grab Vere’s stuff, and then I’ll be back.” She looked toward the door to the hallway as Gandhi slobbered past, focused on getting the ball. “She’s wanted to meet your dog for a while. It was the only way I was able to get her here.”

  “Chery?” Slowly she looked at him. She had a pretty face normally, though her sweet hazel eyes always looked a little sad despite the makeup she applied. “You’re not going back there tonight.” He held up a finger to stop the protest on her lips. “You’re making a list, and I’m going to get that stuff for you and Vere. I have a nice upstairs bedroom and bathroom. Go take a shower. Get your sister settled.”

  “Beckett, he’s mean right now, and I know you’re a strong guy and everything, but he can be…unpredictable on a night like tonight.” Chery hugged herself. “I need to go back or it’ll get worse.” She looked seriously spooked, and damn if she was hundred pounds soaking wet.

  “Do you love him?” Beckett watched Gandhi fly down the hall again.

  Her answer was quiet. “Sometimes.”

  He nodded. Damned vicious circle. He’d seen it before. Hookers that came from asshole pimps. She was fighting a battle in her head between what she wanted and what she needed. Sometimes any attention cranked up to a desperate level felt like love.

  “Can you please make a list? I won’t make it worse. Okay?” Beckett got her a pad of paper and a pen.

  Chery looked toward the dog and then to the paper. “You think I’m stupid to put up with this.”

  “No. I think you need some things from your house to get through tonight. And once that’s settled, you can process. I’m not going to ask you to leave him, to make anything different. I just want to make sure tonight that you and Vere are safe.” She was still a bit hesitant, but he wasn’t sure that would ever change. “He can’t hurt me. Okay?”

  She exhaled and wrote down the things Vere needed and then her address.

  Beckett slipped on his boots and leather jacket. “I’m setting the alarm, okay? Don’t let Gandhi talk you into walking him. He’s fine.”

  “I’m having second thoughts about this. Never mind.” Chery held out her hand for the list.

  Beckett took her offered hand and held it. “You listen to me. I can do this. I have a few hidden talents I’ll be using for your benefit tonight.”

  She shook her head, and her eyes filled with tears. “See, he’ll accuse me of sleeping with you and then…And I’ve got Vere to worry about.”

  Beckett gently touched the side of her face that didn’t have a bruise. She still flinched. “Just breathe. You worry all the time about everyone else. I’ve got this. You can just breathe.”

  Beckett left through the back door, locking the ladies in and setting the alarm from his key chain. He took his Challenger this time, and although he had weapons tucked all over the car out of habit, he didn’t plan to use them.

  A little ways down the road he pulled around the Wendy’s drive-thru and got the hugest hamburger he could order with an equally huge Coke. The entire rest of the ride to Chery’s house he reminded himself not to kill the motherfucker. It was going to be hard. And honestly, he was having trouble promising himself anything. The thought of that asshole using Chery as a punching bag lit something on fire in him. When he pictured her beaten, coaxing her sister out of her little happy den with the promise of his dog, something broke open in him that he’d had sealed shut for a while.

  He pulled up to a rundown brick house with all the lights off. His headlights bounced off a smaller building in the back as he swung in the drive, then focused on the porch. He left them on because they illuminated Jared.

  The asshole had a rifle sitting on his lap and a cigarette dangling out of his mouth. Beckett could almost taste the blood he wanted on his tongue. He got out of his car and turned to grab the monster bag of food.

  “Hungry?” Beckett held up the meal.

  “You’re the asshat that’s fucking my girl.” Jared stayed seated on his front porch.

  “She burned your chicken. And you don’t even like chicken.” Beckett walked up to Jared as if he were an invited guest. “Can I sit? Thanks.”

  “You’re trespassing. I’m gonna call the cops.” Jared took another puff from his smoke.

  “Sure. You wanna borrow my phone?” Beckett smiled. “Here, take the sandwich. I got you a drink too. You like those?”

  “Ya probably poisoned them. I’ll tell you what
you leave now and I won’t give you a brand new asshole with my rifle. But I am fucking hungry,” he added after a moment. Jared took the hamburger out of its wrapper and took a huge bite.

  Beckett waited while the man chewed noisily and swallowed.

  “And this is better than the shit she tried to serve me. Too busy with that sister of hers.” Jared went to take another bite.

  Beckett moved so quickly Jared was probably already pinned to the porch with his rifle threaded between his arms before he knew anyone had moved. Beckett kneeled on the rifle with one knee and with the other kept Jared’s legs immobile.

  “The fuck? Get off me!” Jared was incensed.

  Beckett just smiled as he peeled off the first layer of the triple-decker burger. The next time the man opened his mouth to protest, Beckett shoved the burger in, hard. Jared’s eyes widened.

  “You’ve some learning to do. Understand?” Beckett waited.

  The hamburger gagged Jared, who now actively worked to prevent himself from choking.

  “You will treat her like a queen for as long as she wants you. Her sister is your king. She needs it? You do it.” Beckett watched as disobedience flashed through Jared’s eyes. He shook his head. “We’re off to a bad start. Let me rephrase that.”

  Beckett picked up the huge drink and squeezed it a bit to pop the lid off. He tilted Jared’s head and hammered the hamburger down deeper into his throat. When Beckett started pouring the soda in Jared’s nostrils, he watched the man get as close to his maker as he’d probably ever been.

  He stopped and let Jared cough out the burger to get a deep, wet breath. After he gasped back to life, Beckett tilted his head. “I’m curious how fucking hardheaded you are. Now tell me how you’re going to treat Chery and Vere.” Beckett readjusted his weight to dig the rifle harder into the soft parts of Jared’s arms.

  “You’re insane. I love Chery and…”

  Beckett pulled off the second layer of the burger and looked at Jared. He clamped down his jaws and tried to lock them in place. But when Beckett found the soft tissue near Jared’s ear and pressed, the man’s jaw popped open. When the food was crammed in place and he started with the soda again, the man grew frantic.

 

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