Return to poughkeepsie, p.16
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       Return to Poughkeepsie, p.16

           Debra Anastasia
Cole rolled down his window and passed him a few twenties. “Thanks. Appreciate it.”

  Chaos nodded. “Welcome.” He turned to walk away, but suddenly turned around. “Just so you know, the soldiers have been flashing pics of your tats.”

  With that, he headed into the gas station and Cole threw the car into reverse. They were halfway home before they both exhaled audibly.

  “We need to think about how we’re going to attack this,” Blake said. He looked at Cole as the streetlights flashed over his face. “I think we should start looking in to what might be happening with Beck.”

  Cole nodded. “He’d never threaten a kid. What the hell is happening here?”

  “I do not know, brother. But I don’t like it.”



  EVE WAITED FOR MARY ELLEN on the balcony. No trace remained of the blood bath that had taken place here the night of the auditions. That was some thorough cleaning, but a chill snaked its way through Eve anyway. Despite the horrors she’d experienced in her days, the memory of those women being exterminated, their screams as they were picked off one by one, had stayed with her. Maybe it was the exuberance they’d had just moments before—no sense of what was coming. Whatever it was, it sucked.

  Mary Ellen’s approach was quiet—she’d selected sensible pumps today for her version of weekend relaxed—but Eve could still feel her arrival as she stepped out onto the balcony. Yet another chill passed through her.

  “January. A pleasure to have you arrive on time and as requested…for once.” She came to stand next to Eve, looking out over the reservoir.

  Eve tried not to picture snapping her neck, clean and quick. Mary Ellen smoothed her pale lavender pants. Her matching top was paired with white cardigan with pearl buttons.

  As if the woman could tell Eve was appraising her attire, she wrinkled her nose at Eve’s jeans. “We do have a dress code, even on Saturdays.”

  “Morales has agreed to take the money you offered.” She ignored the comment.

  Mary Ellen nodded. “Has he made you as mine?”

  Eve’s temper flared at the idea of belonging to this woman. She bit her tongue while she lied. “No. Not a clue.”

  “Men. So typical.” Mary Ellen patted her hair. “The minute they get the milk from the cow, they’re blind.”

  “Am I the cow?” Eve hated talking to her.

  “Well, I guess it’s an old-fashioned saying. Girls are so free with their privates nowadays, you have to keep on top of the game. Never let his male needs go unattended!”

  Eve sighed. “Anything else, or are we done here?”

  Mary Ellen’s fake smile masked a simmering rage. “You know what? How about you go with Bart and enter your information about Ryan into the database. He’ll show you the ropes. I think it’s time we initiated you into our organized way of handling business.”

  Eve suppressed urge to laugh and nodded. Mary Ellen turned quickly, taking tiny, feminine steps into the ballroom, calling for Bart the whole time. He was soon at Eve’s elbow.

  “Bart, please set Miss January up with the database so she can enter the information she’s collected for us.” She smiled sweetly and waggled her fingers as she departed. “Tootle-oo!”

  Bart directed Eve to a library that contained a lot more decorations than books and sat in front of a computer terminal. “I’ll log you in, and I have to monitor your work. Boss lady wants everything you have so far.”

  After he opened the proper window and stepped aside, she made a show of typing her information very slowly.

  “Guess you’ve never been a secretary.”

  Eve gave him the middle finger. She took her time until Bart was bored to the tips of his balls. Finally, he pulled out his phone and began playing a game, glancing at her less and less. After a while his looks stretched far enough apart that she could survey the database system a bit. There were dated files for different “actions,” as well as biography files for both staff and persons of interest. Bart glanced up, and she winked at him. He looked back at his phone. She navigated back to her original screen, erased the history, and finished typing in some half-assed bullshit before Bart could get to the next level of his game, according to the annoying music he left on.

  “All done, asshead.”

  Bart slipped his phone into his pocket and perused her information before labeling it with January and the date. “Check it out, your name is a date.” He laughed at his own hilarity.

  “I’m out. Tell the old bitch I’m going to suck dick hard enough to make her proud.”

  Beckett rolled over and shoved Gandhi back over to his three-quarters of the bed. As he settled back into his pillow, his dream changed, and he was alone with Eve. She wore a simple white sundress, and they were in his old office in Poughkeepsie. His confusion evaporated when she began unbuttoning the front of her dress. His entire being focused on the slow slipping of the material away from her breasts. She laughed and held it playfully, refusing to grant his eyes what they demanded.

  “I love when you laugh.” Beckett took his gaze from her chest to her smile.

  “I laugh all the time now—you know that.” She dropped the sundress all at once.

  And Eve was his—her soft skin, her tight muscles. He felt like he was stepping through quicksand, but finally he got to her. She held her hands out for him.

  “I love when you’re naked and laughing.” Beckett fell to his knees, pulling her tight stomach close to his lips. He began to rim her bellybutton with his tongue, and dream Eve started laughing again. She was ticklish here, right in her center.

  She moved slowly to her knees, tantalizing him by brushing her nipples across his cheek on the way down. When they were face to face, Beckett wanted to get down to business. Eve put one finger to his lips, stopping him.

  “We’ve done so much. We should be dead—you do know that.”

  Her face was serious, but her lips were so pink. He bet she tasted just like she was supposed to. He strained against her finger, wanting. His voice wasn’t working anymore, so he thought: Inside you I can find everything I need.

  She leaned her head back, taking her finger away. Permission.

  Yes! He grabbed handfuls of her blond hair as his mouth found her breast. She moaned loudly. He looked frantically for a soft surface, where he would fuck Eve like the queen she was. No chapped-ass rug burn for his girl. But when he took his eyes off of her, she disappeared. In his hands, instead of her hair, he now held sand. He was on a beach. He knew he was waiting for someone. Who was it?

  “Hey, boss.”

  He recognized the squeaky voice immediately. Beckett whirled and walking toward him was Mouse. Fucking Mouse! He ran to him: his bodyguard, his dead friend. He gave Mouse a walloping hug. He was so solid.

  “How are you here?” Beckett kept one hand on the man’s thick shoulder.

  “It’s a dream, Beckett. Remember? You’re at your house. You had some seriously funky cocktails trying to cheer Ms. Chery up this evening.” Mouse was so vital. His eyes sparkled with the surprise he’d managed to pull off.

  “I miss the piss outta you. I’ve done some things. You shoulda seen me. I wish you coulda seen me.” Beckett’s regret washed over him like the waves that crashed close by.

  Mouse put his hand on Beckett’s shoulder as well. “What makes you think I missed any of it? I’m still with you, boss. Don’t worry.”

  Beckett wanted to sit and talk to Mouse for just ever. “That night, you saved my brother, but I failed you. I fucking failed you.”

  Mouse smiled and waved, like he saw someone on the beach he knew. “You never failed me. Don’t you remember me, Beckett? You changed it all for me. Don’t you remember when you punched the asshole that pulled my pants down in grade school? Don’t you remember me, Beckett?”

  Mouse raised his eyebrows, and is if it had been tethered in Beckett’s mind, the memory floated to the top. Beckett could smell the cafeteria food in the new school he’d been assigned to. He fucking hated
change. He hated the pity he saw in the teachers’ faces. The orphan was always either pitied or feared. Never once was he accepted. Fuck them all. Fucking bastards.

  He walked back to claim his free lunch. The school knew he had nothing. All the adults knew he had nothing. Fuck them. Someday he would have everything. All of it. And he would piss on a million free lunches. But he was hungry today, so he’d pissed in the urinal and now went to eat the fucking food. He couldn’t believe what he saw when he got back to his lunch tray: a bunch of motherfucking assholes taunting some poor, pale bastard.

  Bullies. Beckett hated bullies. He stomped over to their circle of stupidity to put an end to it. He took off his jacket and covered the lily-white ass cheeks that had no place in a lunch room. The boy looked so relieved. The kid was just a baby-faced, squeaky-voiced nightmare dressed in thrift-store clothes. The snickering assholes were proud of themselves. They shouldn’t be.

  Beckett decided to make them pay. As he grabbed the loudest one by the throat, he knew he was going to go down in flames. His fist hit the kid’s face, and he pounded at the system that gave him free lunches. As blood splattered on his face, he hit his AWOL parents who didn’t have enough sense to love him. He hit the pity over and over. Fuck them all. He tossed insults and threats like candy from a parade float. And when it was over, he went to juvie. He never regretted it a day in his life.

  And then it clicked. It just hit him. The kid was just a baby-faced, squeaky-voiced nightmare dressed in thrift-store clothes. “It was you. You were the kid on the ground?” Beckett shook his head in disbelief.

  Mouse nodded.

  “You never told me? Why did you never tell me?”

  Mouse seemed distracted. He waved again at someone Beckett couldn’t see.

  Mouse made a motion as if to leave, and Beckett did the first thing that came to mind: he put up his arm like he did with his brothers.

  Mouse smiled with his whole body and stepped forward. He took great care in wrapping his forearm around Beckett’s. Beckett held on tight to his friend’s hand.

  The lumbering bodyguard disappeared as quickly as Eve had, and Beckett startled himself awake. “Mouse!”

  He looked around his darkened bedroom as his life clicked into order. Mouse. The dream was only a dream, though his hand was still curled in the handshake. That guy must have had one hell of a puberty to have sprouted up like he did. Mouse.

  It felt real, seeing his friend like that. It was like a gift. He wasn’t into spiritual bullshit, but damn. Damn. That Mouse had become his friend was a gift, but a curse as well. If he’d left that whole situation alone, would Mouse—would James—have had a better life? A different outcome?

  He exhaled. Gandhi rolled over and farted. Beckett knew it would be awful, so he took the opportunity to take a piss. First he splashed his face with cold water. The dream had been so clear. Realizing Mouse had been in his life since they were kids was a taint punch. He couldn’t decide if it made him more evil or less. Or did it even matter anymore?

  The first part of his dream had given him a rock-hard boner. Making love to Eve would make sense right now. She’d loved Mouse. Damn it, she was so fucking mysterious…Mouse probably told her all about the school-kid drama. In his dream she’d said she was happy all the time. And it was just a dream. For fuck’s sake, his brain was farting out memories and pretend information at the same damn time with the regularity of his dog’s ass.

  He looked in the mirror, which he rarely did. Well, okay, he did it all the damn time but never while thinking deep motherfucking thoughts. He looked just like any other handsome bastard with a huge dick. The reflection’s mouth pulled up in a half smirk. He’d been flopping around in Maryland for years, and all he’d really done was become a priest and parole officer for a collection of down-on-their-luck assholes.

  He was supposed to be dead, like dream Eve had said. So maybe helping anyone was better than breathing dirt. He shook his head and his mirror-self mimicked him. As of right now, Chery and Vere were upstairs. His place had been transformed into a safe place for Vere to be. Her sensory shit was tossed around, task charts were posted, everything was ordered. He was blown away at all that was entailed in keeping Vere present in her everyday. Half the time it was like Chery was pulling teeth just to get a response, never mind any opinion, from Vere. Though the woman surely had preferences. She would play with Gandhi every second of the day if she could. And Vere’s diet was wicked restricted. Apparently Chery got good results from taking the gluten and various other shit out of Vere’s system. The more Beckett watched, the more he saw. Vere always made sure Chery’s shoes were face up and by the door. And every once in a great while, he would catch Vere looking Chery in the eyes without being prompted. Chery would light up, and he now knew why. The first time Vere made eye contact with Beckett, he’d felt a zing. It was almost like a sacred moment.

  It was a high-maintenance lifestyle he’d had no idea some people lived everyday. When he found Chery doing her best to soothe a compulsively rocking Vere in the living room crazy-early one morning, he saw them both clearly: Chery was an amazing sister, and Vere was a hero—battling every day to get to Chery somehow.

  Jared hadn’t come to the store or come snooping around his house since their encounter two weeks ago, so Beckett was fairly certain he’d scared the ever-fucking shit out of him. But he was also fairly certain his foray into acting like his old self had been like advertising where in the world he was. If Jared told the right people, he could be a dangerous motherfucker.

  But maybe he wanted to be found. Why did it have to be one or the other? He wanted these two ladies safe, but he also wanted to beat the shit out of assholes until they started doing the right thing for the right reasons. Mouse and Eve. Chery and Vere. Blake and Cole. Emme and Kellan Beckett. Kyle and Whitebread. Mouse and Eve.

  His heart overflowed with good intentions but his fists felt best covered in blood.



  AFTER TWO WEEKS OF NEAR SILENCE, Mary Ellen summoned Eve to her compound again. This time Eve decided to make the visit count. After the drive to Somers, she waited twenty minutes for her majesty to be ready—and while she waited she ran through all the possible ways Mary Ellen could be on to her by now.

  But when she was finally ushered into the ballroom, the woman practically skipped over to join her. She sat delicately and crossed her ankles. “So tell me, did he take the money?” She leaned forward like they were girls at a sleepover.

  “Yes. I watched him pick it up at the post office box.” Eve listened carefully to her surroundings, wanting to hear anything out of the ordinary.

  “Very good. And of course he has no idea about you?” Mary Ellen smiled again. It was so hollow, like she’d rehearsed exactly how to set her face so it would appeal to people.

  “No, no idea. We’ve been on a few dates, and I can tell he’s falling for me. He’s close to his mother, and she approves of me. I let him know I like jewelry and money. And that my last boyfriend knew how to treat a lady—although that’s pretty much a lie.” Eve snorted a little laugh, and Mary Ellen looked intrigued.

  “Do tell,” she said, batting her eyes.

  “Well, I get the sense you already know,” Eve offered, looking down and playing the role as best she could. “You’ve mentioned him a couple times—Sevan Harmon?”

  Mary Ellen’s face remained impassive, but her body jolted visibly, as if electricity had passed through.

  “It was more than a year ago, and not even for very long, but he certainly left a mark.” Eve sighed, as if the whole thing were too painful to discuss. “I was of use to him, and then I wasn’t, and then he was gone. So yes, as I’ve mentioned before, you and I seem to have a common enemy.”

  “Do you hate him very much?” Mary Ellen asked after a moment, her voice trembling slightly.

  Eve knew then that Shark had been right. It wasn’t just business; this crazy vendetta was personal. Mary Ellen and Sevan Harmon had been rom
antically involved. “If he was on fire, I wouldn’t stop what I was doing to put him out.” She met Mary Ellen’s gaze.

  “Mmmm…precisely.” The woman nodded. “I always sensed you and I had a lot in common.” She smiled an ugly little smile, and Eve suppressed a barf. “Well, don’t you worry. He’s going to be sorry he took from me. Just as soon as I have everyone in Poughkeepsie’s attention, I’m going to be the one who fans the flames.” She seemed about to finish with an evil laugh, but suddenly stopped herself, straightening her suit and smoothing her hair. “Anyway, I’m very busy. I don’t have all day to chat, so please finish your report.”

  Just then Mary Ellen’s phone rang. “Oh, just a moment. I need to take this.”

  Eve stood and looked out one of the huge windows. The truth was she and Ryan had been sharing information tentatively. He had yet to pin down exactly what she’d been involved with years ago, but he knew it was illegal, and he’d been treading carefully with her since the beginning. But he’d let her know where the cops were on following up with the harassments and escalating crimes in Poughkeepsie, and she’d helped him determine what sorts of information he could pass on to Mary Ellen without actually equipping her enough to be any more dangerous. And stupidly, they’d been getting along. He had a great sense of humor and kept her laughing, something she’d almost forgotten how to do. Just last night she’d caught him staring at her bottom lip longingly. It had taken her a second to realize she was doing the same thing to him.

  Snapping back to her current dilemma, Eve paid attention to the bitch. She should have been listening to her phone call.

  “All right, Eve, it seems I have some urgent business to attend to, but what you’ve told me is wonderful. I’m sure Ryan will love to spend his new money on you. Well done. And of course, you know where his mother is, in case I need to exterminate her?”

  Eve turned and faced her. “Of course.”

  “Let’s put that in the database, shall we?”

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