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Poughkeepsie begins, p.14
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       Poughkeepsie Begins, p.14

           Debra Anastasia
 
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  Soon after he heard the phone click into its cradle, Mr. Gold came out his door, unclipping a walkie from his hip to listen to a report of a side door propped open.

  Ironically, Beckett had been the one to do that. He’d visited the smokers outside earlier in the day to see if they had any requests for the weekend. He’d left the door jammed open with a rock so those fuckers could get back in the building. Guess it had remained in place.

  “Taylor. Something important?”

  School was over. Busses gone, teachers leaving. He held up his hands, unsure. “It could probably wait.”

  Mr. Gold spoke over the walkie before waving him into his office and closing the door. “What’s going on?”

  He didn’t know where to start. “Um.”

  “Maybe before we get started I should tell you that I was going over discipline, and you have five demerits. Which adds up to one day of ISI. I’ll expect you to tell your guardians, and you can serve it on Monday.” The man leaned against his desk.

  Beckett reconsidered his whole trip here. He was about to leave, a lost fucking cause, but then he pictured Candy standing between him and dumbass Vyler this morning. Choosing him. He had to try. “About that. Remember when you told me I could earn my way into the dance? Is that still an option?” Beckett gave his best, hopeful look.

  Mr. Gold gave a heavy sigh. “That was a while back. The dance is two weeks away now.”

  Beckett looked at his feet. “I have the money for the tickets. Full price.”

  “I can get you the tickets free. And you’d have to be clean as a damn whistle. Not late. No demerits. No fights. No nothing.” Mr. Gold rounded his desk and pulled open his pen drawer. There was a set of two tickets bound with band and a sticky note that simply said Taylor. Mr. Gold put the tickets on the desk. “Agreed?”

  It was Beckett’s turn to sigh. Ten days of the straight and narrow would be a fucking bitch. “I’ll pay. I don’t need the charity.” He pulled out his wallet and laid out more than enough to cover the tickets.

  “You got a job?” Mr. Gold took the money and handed the extra back.

  “Something like that.” Beckett lifted his eyebrows and took the tickets.

  “You can’t get arrested either. That’s considered part of the deal.”

  “Understood. Can I go now?”

  “You can.” Mr. Gold looked like he wanted to say more, like Beckett’s comment about his “job” might merit a lecture.

  Beckett opened the door and tossed a thank you over his shoulder before closing it behind him. He felt a little like a bastard using the assistant principal’s optimism against him, but it was worth it. Now he just had to stay clean for two weeks. Surely for her he could do it.

  13

  Parental Right Reclaimed

  BLAKE KNEW SOMETHING WAS OFF as soon as he got home from school. The cop car out front was telltale. Was it the girls? Maybe their mom was in trouble? Beckett?

  He trotted in the back door after running the sunshine’s gauntlet through the yard. He knew better than to bust into the living room and instead used the hallway mirror to take in the scene without exposing himself.

  “Mr. Bridge, the paperwork is all in order. Your mother—”

  Cole interrupted the cop. “She’s not my mother.”

  “In the court’s eyes, she is. She completed the mandated courses in order to comply with the court orders, and she’s within her rights to ask for your return. She has a stable housing situation and a job. She did all this for you, so she could have you back. Until you’re eighteen, I’m afraid you’re at the mercy of the court’s orders. Now listen, don’t look at me like that. I’m just here to provide you secure transportation to your mom’s.”

  Blake’s jaw dropped. Cole was being returned to his mother? At seventeen? Chills went up his spine.

  Cole remained silent instead of bringing up all the reasons his mother was a monster.

  Summer and Wintery came in the front door, jubilant when they saw Cole. Blake used their distraction to step into the living room. He had seen pictures in his history class of men standing in front of a firing squad, seconds before their death. Cole’s body language fell right in line with that.

  Cole ignored the young ones, but Blake stepped into his line of sight. They exchanged a stare full of conversation. And promise. He mouthed Never alone, but Cole barely seemed to register the promise. He was past comfort; he was almost past human.

  Blake called to the girls, because Rick was too interested in where the paycheck he’d been getting for fostering Cole would go now. Wintery was particularly affected; Blake had to put a hand on her shoulder to get her to move.

  She yanked on his hand the minute he got them to their room. “I don’t want Cole to leave…but he gets to go back with his mom? Why does he look sad?”

  Blake knew the girls prayed at night that their mother would get her act together. But Cole most certainly didn’t have that same dream. “Well, Cole’s mom isn’t a nice lady,” he told them carefully. “She’s not good to him.”

  Summer blinked her huge eyes before adding her observation. “Our mom is a nice lady.”

  Blake nodded and comforted them quickly. “Don’t worry, girls. Beckett and I will make sure it’s okay. And yes, your mom loves you very much. You’re lucky like that.”

  As he got them started on their homework, the girls took turns hugging him around the neck. He extricated himself calmly, though inside his heart raced. He had to get back downstairs. He needed an address. He needed to know where to find Cole.

  He shut their bedroom door once they were looking at their books, and when he realized he could still hear the cop talking, he was at least a little thankful for Rick’s insistence on finding out about his stupid checks.

  Blake was very good at fading into the background, and he did just that to get outside. The edges of the sunset still reached out to him, paralyzing him at the back door. His throat went dry and his hands shook, but he forced his body to go, not taking the safe, shadowed path but walking in the sunlight. His mind quaked with the fear of it. His nerves were so raw. Between the zoo and the fire drill, this was a tightrope he hadn’t even started to clear yet.

  But brotherhood pushed him. He would prefer punches to the sun any day, yet he had to see if the cop had anything in the patrol car that could help him. His vision blurred, and he waited for his hands to light on fire. The sound of tires on gravel in the distance was the loudest thing, amplified by the fear that someone passing in a car would see him. See his skin. Know. They would know.

  Still he pushed on, and he damned near collapsed next to the car. After a moment he steadied himself on the passenger side. His knees were made of water, his heart raced. Look. Look. Check. He forced his eyes to focus. He surveyed the passenger seat—the whole thing was a wild chance. An answer here would be the easiest, but he and Beckett would do whatever they had to do to get to Cole.

  The sun glinted off the glass, disorienting him. In that moment, the front door to the house opened, the cop giving Rick some instructions about who to complain to regarding this loss of income. Then he saw it: an information sheet.

  Child in Custody: Cole Bridge

  Parental Right Reclaimed By: Bree Baker

  Address: 436 West Harlow St., Armonk

  Blake said the information over and over; it was so hard to focus over his panic.

  Cole walked out of the house without a complaint, without a protest. Blake staggered away from the cop car and found his way under the nearby oak. It was a relief to be out of the sun, but it was short lived as he watched Cole slide into the vehicle. His nightmare was coming true.

  Watching his brother be driven away was like having his heart electrocuted. He hated the helplessness of it. He and Beckett would need to miss their appointment with Rick’s fists that evening. They had a brother to save.

  Beckett walked into Kick’s office ready to blow his head off. This guy. This fucking guy. The more force Beckett exerted, the more h
e cowered. He’d been sampling too much of the product, falling for the druggie hooker Beckett had forced to suck him off a million years ago.

  This business was for the young and the hard. Beckett was both of those things. When the skill set you have—the one that sets you apart from everyone else—is how callous you can be, that does something to a guy.

  Beckett’s end game was in clear focus now. His brothers would not want for shit. His brothers would be safe. And he had to ensure these things quickly before his window of opportunity closed.

  “Kick, did we get the shipment?” He sat behind the man’s desk.

  Kick was curled up on the couch staring at the TV, game controller in hand. “You ask too many questions, pup.” He gave Beckett the finger.

  “You’re fucking glad I do. Your lazy ass doesn’t do shit.” Beckett flicked a pen at his boss.

  Kick tossed the controller and stood, eyes wild.

  He was on heroin, or that was Beckett’s best guess. So yes, the shipment had been delivered and, judging from Kick’s crazy look, sampled.

  “You work for me. Don’t fucking forget that.”

  Kick’s hooker girlfriend peered up over the couch. Her sample was clearly being enjoyed as well.

  Beckett was about to say, Not for long, asshole, but one of the outside dealers dragged Blake into the room.

  “Let go of him, assbag.” Now Beckett stood up.

  Kick pretended to be in charge. “What’d he do? Forget to pay?” He advanced on Blake.

  Beckett leaped over the desk, pulled his gun, and had it to Kick’s temple before the whacked-out man knew what was going on. “Listen to me. No one ever, ever touches this guy.” He felt inches from pulling the trigger and just climbing on top of this fucking mountain he knew he would be king of someday.

  “Sorry. Didn’t know he was your boyfriend.” Kick laughed. The guys in the room laughed.

  “You know what? I wouldn’t be talking too much shit when your girlfriend is a fucking hooker that’s sucked every dick in this room at least twice to get rock.” Beckett was on the edge. It was a free fall once he killed. He knew that. It would be saying good-bye to his home with his brothers. ’Cause they couldn’t be around that kind of shit.

  That sobering thought kept his rage in check.

  Kick was ready to fight until the guys in the room all agreed with Beckett and began reminiscing.

  “Shit. She wasn’t even good at it. I know she fell asleep on Merkin. Fucking snored on his balls.”

  “That true, Merk?” Beckett deescalated the situation by sliding the safety onto his gun and putting back in his waistband.

  Merk nodded. “It actually felt kind of good for a while.”

  “I got to go,” Beckett announced. “Make sure there’s some of the shipment left. I got orders all over fucking town. If there’s no product, I will drain what I need from your dead corpse.” Beckett glowered for a few seconds while the rest of the room looked uncomfortable.

  “It’s important,” Blake said softly.

  Beckett turned and walked out into the driveway with him. He held his hand up and a set of keys was tossed his way. He hit the unlock button and pointed to the BMW at the end of the driveway.

  When they were locked in and Beckett was pulling out, Blake delivered the news. “A cop escorted Cole back to his mom this afternoon. Court’s orders.”

  “Jesus fucking Christ. Do they have no sense at fucking all? I swear to fuck the adults in this world have their heads so far up their asses they can lick the back of their eyeballs.” Beckett slammed the steering wheel over and over.

  “I have the address. We have to go now. We have to—he was…You know how he gets? It was worse.”

  Beckett didn’t even want to imagine. He tried to formulate a plan through his worry. He pressed his hand to his forehead in an effort to think. “Did you ask the cop for the address?”

  “No. I snuck a peek at the papers. They were on the passenger side of the car.” Blake cracked the window on the Beemer. He craved the fresh air. It settled him. He told Beckett where they were headed.

  “I’m glad I wasn’t there. I would’ve lost my shit. But who knows what the hell is going on. Did the mother have to prove shit to the court? She must have.” Beckett gave the car more gas. “That part of town down there isn’t complete shit.”

  “She must have proved something.”

  “You want me to drop you at Rick’s?”

  Blake gave Beckett a look that clearly said fuck you.

  “I might have to do shit you shouldn’t witness.”

  “Cole has told us there were all different men involved when he was a kid. We have no idea what we’re walking into. We need to go together. And handle this. Together.”

  Beckett nodded without another word. It might be crazy, what they were headed into. “I can’t promise anything.” He shook his head. “For his mom to just take him? Now? Shit, we’re almost done with this fucking system. Goddamn it. It’s fucked up is what it is.” He wanted to punch something. It was like he and his brothers were screaming underwater, and no clear-thinking adult could hear them. He wanted to find every single person involved in this asinine decision-making process and make them pay.

  “What do you think is her end game, Cole’s mom?” Blake was trying to work it out. And that made sense.

  “Sweetheart, there are two reasons for everything in this world: money and power. I think Cole’s mom is a head case, but she’s smart enough to use his pain to make money. She liked the power of having him as a possession. That should have stopped a long time ago. Permanently. I don’t care if she got a heart transplant from Mother Teresa. This bitch will bow down to Cole by the time I’m done with her.”

  “Just remember she’s his mom.” Blake gave him a hard look.

  “Fuck her. She doesn’t get that title.” Beckett had a hard time wrapping empathy around what he knew of this woman. He’d seen the cigarette burns up and down his brother’s back when he was changing. And the nightmares. Cole’s nightmares were almost like seizures. But he never made a sound. And when he woke he had only one concern: “Did I make noise?” he’d ask. “I’m not allowed to make noise or she hurts my dog.”

  Nope. Beckett had no understanding for someone who changed a child into a prisoner—and worse than that, a plaything. But Blake seemed to see things a way he couldn’t.

  “I’m just saying we all have issues when it comes to our mothers and stuff,” Blake explained. “It lingers.”

  And Beckett knew he was right. If they busted in there and he made his first kill Cole’s mother, that could change the dynamic of the brotherhood. He personally had no lingering mommy desires, but who the hell knew with Cole? When a kid had been that badly tortured, there were complicated fucking feelings involved. Maybe Beckett’s long-ago-honed ability to write off any need to be someone’s son was why he could tromp over Kick’s organization at seven-fucking-teen.

  They were quiet for a while as Beckett followed the signs to Armonk. A quick stop at a gas station, and they had a map to work from. As they pulled into the neighborhood, which was on the fancy side and clearly not where Cole’s mom really lived, Beckett shook his head.

  “She’s running a scam. Shit. There’s no way this is her place.” He narrowed his eyes while he thought. “There’s a bad chick down here. This town. She runs a brothel-type thing. We get a lot of escaped hookers from there and put them to work. They tell some scary-ass tales. Let’s go see what we can find.”

  Cole ignored the policeman who escorted him into a nice-looking place. Too nice. Something was off. His mother wouldn’t look so bad to someone else right now. Her makeup was flawless, her outfit clean. But Cole looked at her eyes. He always knew from her eyes what type of shit he would endure. Her eyebrows were too high on her head, her lipstick too red. He could see the pimples she had covered with concealer. She didn’t smile much, so her teeth were probably still jacked from the meth.

  Cole turned himself off. It was skill
he hadn’t had to use for a long time, but he didn’t think he would ever lose the ability. He’d developed it in the cage.

  His mother stood next to another woman who did all the talking. She was smooth, obviously good at getting what she wanted. The policeman seemed anxious to leave, to be done with this. He double-checked that Cole was okay, but Cole was off, so he didn’t respond.

  When the officer left, his mother’s greedy soul peered up from beneath the makeup, and she smiled a cold smile, showing her ravaged teeth. No one to impress now.

  “You’re right, Bree. He’s very handsome,” the woman next to her said. Then, as she circled, she spoke to him. “Your mom has been waiting for this day. You see, I have a client with very specific needs. He’s a fan of the boys. And he likes them a certain way. Like this thing you’re doing? The statue act? It makes him rock hard. I’m Safire, by the way. And I own you now. You’ve paid your mother’s debts and then some, just so you know.”

  But Cole was off. He registered the words, because sometimes words saved. But mostly, they deflected off of him. He traveled in his head. He went to the day he had laughed with his brothers in the bathroom at school during the fire drill. The laughter. The brotherhood. At least now he had a good memory to travel to.

  Safire had a gun in her hand the next time he focused on her. But he was off, so he didn’t feel the fear.

  “Your mother did a lot of hard work to make her payment, to bring you here for me. How much was it, Bree?”

  His mother’s eyes widened, instantly registering that whatever amount she burped up would be converted into a high. “Two thousand. That was the agreement. Two K. And I don’t owe you anymore.”

  Cole would have been able to hear his mother’s mind drooling for a fix, but he was off.

  “Cheap. Really.” Safire shook her head. “Do you know my client will pay five thousand an hour for your Cole?”

  Bree licked her lips and looked from Safire to him and back again. But he was off. He didn’t even feel her calculating.

 
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