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Poughkeepsie begins, p.16
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       Poughkeepsie Begins, p.16

           Debra Anastasia
 
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  “Look it’s Big Tits and the Parking Lot Groper. This guy here going to be in your threesome?”

  The Somers assholes were drunk, and there had to be eight of them. Candy trotted up and tried to hold the door open for Freddie, whose hands were full of the cookie tray. But the biggest Somers kid stepped in front of him, cutting him off. And then the insults started—the worst, vile shit they could think of they tossed at Freddie. In that moment, Beckett knew he would never make it to the dance. His night was over.

  He saw stupid Zyler just inside the doors, twirling his car keys on his fingers as he left the school. As they came to the entrance, he seemed to change course. Zyler pulled Candy inside with him and Beckett heard a bit of his opening line.

  “I’m out to get more hooch, and this guy’s already got you in trouble?”

  The closing front door separated Beckett from the rest of the discussion, though he could see them through the glass. He turned his attention to Freddie and the fight he was pretty fucking sure was about to ensue.

  One of the assholes stepped forward again and popped the tray out of Freddie’s hands. Cookies escaped from the plastic wrap and landed all around his feet as the metal tray clattered.

  Another Somers kid leaned down and picked up a cookie, taking a bite. “These are great. Let’s make this kid eat them all. That would be hilarious.”

  “Guys, that’s not cool,” Freddie responded. “My mom and I made those cookies for my friends.”

  Beckett walked up behind Freddie and murmured to him, “Hey. Can you go in? I’m sorry the cookies got ruined.” He tried to catch Byler’s eye, to see if he would help Freddie get inside. But the guy was too busy making eyes at Candy. She began yelling and marched back out of the foyer.

  “Freddie, can you go inside please?” Beckett patted his shoulder.

  “No. These guys are not cool.” Freddie was stubborn. And right.

  “I need someone to call the cops,” Beckett explained, his voice low. “I think it has to be you.”

  He looked around as the eight or so Somers guys started to surround them. He needed something drastic. He didn’t have his gun on him. Not tonight. On his date. With her. In his peripheral vision he saw the closest thing he had to weapon: A stop sign stuck like a lollipop in a ball of cement foundation that sat near the drop off point for the kids arriving at school. It had been displaced when the parking lot was repaved.

  He stormed over and wrapped his arms around it. Using pure anger, he dead-lifted it to his waist, then hulked it above his head. With a scream he’d learned from his brothers, he tossed it at the ground in the center of the Somers crowd. The night erupted with the sound of the cement cracking down the center like an egg.

  The Somers kids stumbled back just enough for Freddie to slip in the door to the school that Candy opened for him.

  “You fucking assholes need to learn some goddamn manners. Lucky for you I have some time in my schedule for a lesson.” Beckett loosened his tie and walked closer. He pointed at Candy. “Go inside. I’m not fucking saying it again.”

  She gave him the finger and picked up the metal cookie tray from the ground. She slapped the fucker screaming about “protecting a retard and a slut” so hard with it his eyes rolled back in his head, and he took a knee. She smacked him again, and he hit the pavement.

  Beckett went in hot. The first three guys couldn’t see it coming. He was vicious with his punches and knew where to hit these privileged bastards to put their fucking lights out. He kept half an eye on Candy and saw dumbass Quyler enter the scene finally. He stepped in front of a guy trying to take the tray away from Candy and punched him. Picking Candy up by the waist, he carried her, kicking, into the building.

  Finally the chump had done something he approved of.

  About the time two guys had finally gotten behind Beckett and held onto him, the night danced with the red and blue lights Freddie had wisely summoned. It took the cops about five minutes to get everyone on the ground with their hands behind their necks. The kid closest to Beckett tried to mumble threats.

  “Say that again, asschunk,” Beckett suggested. “This cop is about to collect your fucking information, and I’m going to remember all of it. Freddie’s better than all of you put in a fucking lump together.” He watched the kid’s bravado crumble as he slapped him with the death gaze he gave the shitheads who worked for him.

  It took forever for the cops to sort out what had happened. Freddie insisted on coming out and telling his side of the story, along with all the Somers dudes. Beckett refused to comment, so the cops didn’t seem sure who to believe. Freddie was exasperated.

  “Beckett, tell them what happened.”

  “Sorry, buddy. I don’t talk to the fuzz.”

  Freddie sighed and left the scene with a “Damn it” that Beckett loved.

  Zyler seemed to have finished his full-volume tirade about why going anywhere with Beckett was a horrible idea, and Candy couldn’t resist the opportunity to point out who had been defending Freddie and who had been smuggling in alcohol and yelling at her. She was relieved when Zyler finally nodded and sighed, the anger flowing out of him. She didn’t want the football team ganging up on Beckett again.

  With Zyler under control, Candy wanted to see what was happening. The chaperones would not let anyone leave.

  Freddie came up to her. “Are you okay? Do you have my mom’s tray?”

  Candy produced a smile for him. “I’m okay. Are you?”

  He nodded.

  “I’m sorry. I lost your tray. And I’m pretty sure I dented it.” She touched Freddie’s arm.

  “It’s okay. Those guys were the worst. Beckett won’t tell them what happened.” Freddie looked over his shoulder.

  “Tell who?” It occurred to her now that the whole dance was whispering and pointing.

  “The cops. Those guys are blaming Beckett for everything. And Beckett is nice, but he’s trouble.” Freddie frowned.

  “It’s okay. I’ll tell them my side of the story.” Candy walked to the nearest adult.

  “Hi, I was a witness out there. I think I need to go tell them what happened.”

  “We were told to keep everyone here. Just hold on.” The teacher held up her index finger.

  Candy stormed away. Zyler reappeared with Dunns in tow. “What’d she say?”

  “We’re not allowed to go anywhere. I even told her I was a witness.”

  “Well, I hate to point this out, but if you had come to the dance with me, you would be enjoying yourself right now.” He motioned to the center of the gym, which had been reworked into a winter forest with twinkle lights. A projector created fake stars and snowflakes on the ceiling.

  “And then Freddie would have had to walk through those guys on his own.” She nodded toward where he was now laughing with friends.

  Zyler nodded. “That’s true. But Freddie has a way of making people understand that he’s cool.”

  She shook her head. Zyler had no idea what had happened, or he was choosing to ignore it. He would rather yell at her about her choice of friends and keep his own ass safe than pitch in to help Beckett or even get the damn football team out there to neutralize the situation.

  “Some things are better left to chance.” Zyler crossed his arms. “You want out of here? I can get us through the cafeteria to the locker room, then to my car.”

  She didn’t want to go with him, but based on the chaperones’ faces, it was going to be a while before anyone was allowed to leave. She had to get to the police station and tell them what had happened.

  She nodded and Zyler grabbed her hand, pulling her close when they neared the side door.

  “Okay, cuddle up on me for a minute. I’ve got a master key.” He slipped his hand behind her back. Inching it lower, he pulled his key ring out and worked the lock like this was not his first time. He kissed her on the forehead as he pulled the door open. A few flashbulbs went off close by.

  “Don’t worry. My boys are just creating a distraction
.” He pulled her through the door, and they crept into the dark hallway. Now she had to keep hold on his arm because she couldn’t see anything.

  Then, abruptly he let go and walked away. She stopped and tried to let her eyes adjust to the dark. The flashbulbs still had her blinking. Suddenly it sounded like there was more than just Zyler in the hall. Fear spilled into her common sense.

  “Gotcha!” Someone grabbed her from behind, wrapping one arm around her waist, the other around her chest, and palming her breast as he lifted her off her feet.

  Candy gasped and screamed. More flashbulbs went off, and she heard a rush of feet leaving the scene as she kicked and flailed to get away. “That’s not funny! You’re such an asshole.” She turned to punch what turned out to be Zyler’s chest, which bounced with laughter.

  “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m just playing.” He put his hands up in surrender just as a car in the parking lot shone its headlights through the windows, adding light to his smile.

  She was pissed, but not entirely sure the boob grab was intentional. “Whatever. Let’s get out of here.”

  Zyler held out his hand as the car swung its lights in a new direction. She reached forward and clasped his fingers. He deftly maneuvered her through another door and around the obstacles in the cafeteria kitchen to a storage closet. He seemed almost contrite for the jump/fright/flashbulb situation and began whisper-explaining where they were in the bowels of the school. The storage closet had a pass-through to a teacher’s lounge, and through that door they entered the hall that would take them to the staircase to the locker room.

  Zyler unlocked each door as he came to it, his key unmatched in its power against the locks.

  “How’d you get that?” She pointed to the key as he opened the men’s locker room.

  “The football team passes it from seniors to juniors every year. We have three. We call them the rights of passage.” He held the door open for her.

  “Nice. Does the school know?” Candy waited for him to lock the door behind them.

  “Hell, no. Shows you how well the football team can keep secrets. My dad had a master key way back when he went to school here.” Zyler slapped on the lights and went to a locker, spinning the combination. “Pick your poison.” He stepped aside to show her the locker, filled with various alcohol bottles and mixers. “You’re the first girl to see the team liquor cabinet.”

  “The honor overwhelms. But I’m good,” she told him. “I want to go to the police station, so I might need to not drink.”

  “Good point. You’re a smart chick. That’s what I like about you. Not smart ending up here with Taylor though.” He slammed the locker shut, his smile betrayed by the anger flashing in his eyes.

  She sighed and thought about backtracking and calling her father to pick her up.

  “We’ve had this conversation. Going to a dance with him isn’t like I’ve entered a commitment for the rest of my damn life. It’s hard for me to commit to someone knowing how often we move, you know? A girl has to protect her heart a bit.”

  “I just thought we had something. I mean, I met your family.” He looked earnest in his disappointment. “They seem to like me. And we’re dog buddies, right?”

  “You’re a nice guy. I know you are.” She sort of did. When he wasn’t being a drunken ass. “I’m not really allowed to have a full-time boyfriend. My parents prefer that I not ‘go steady’ with anyone. Their words.”

  Zyler gave her a soft grin. “I get it. Old-fashioned parents are my specialty.”

  “Thanks for understanding.” Candy smoothed out her skirt.

  As if her answer was the passport she’d needed, Zyler suddenly pilfered a bottle of vodka and found the exit. He opened the door as he turned off the lights. They stepped out of the building, and she could see the football field lit by the dull moon.

  “First let’s see if they’re gone?” he asked.

  “Okay.” She didn’t know what to make of him. He was holding a vodka bottle, for crap’s sake. They tiptoed around the building and peeked over to see that there was just one cop left speaking to a few Somers kids.

  “Can you take me to the police station?” she asked Zyler. “I want to make sure they know what happened.” She hugged her arms.

  “Shouldn’t I take you back to your house first? I mean, don’t you want to tell your dad your date was arrested?” Zyler pulled her toward the parking lot, slipping the bottle under his jacket.

  “I just want to get there soon. Whichever is okay with me.” Candy scanned the parking lot, looking for Zyler’s truck. She noticed the blackness that had settled into the woods that rimmed the asphalt.

  “Sure, gorgeous. I’d love to take you to the police station to collect your date.” He started to laugh.

  “You know what? Never mind. I’ll see if that cop can take me. Thanks for nothing. Seriously. Those guys attacked Freddie and insulted me. Beckett was trying to protect us. You’re more worried about our dating status. Like, seriously. You’re pissing me off.”

  “You know what, Candy? You’re a fucking cocktease and a little bit of trash.” Zyler stepped closer, and she stumbled backward. But before she could hit the ground, she was caught. At first she thought it was another of Zyler’s friends. Panic slid through her.

  “It’s me—Blake.” Beckett’s brother’s voice calmed her. “He bothering you?”

  Candy breathed a sigh of relief. “No. I just need to get to the police station. Beckett was taken there, and he refuses to talk to them.”

  Blake helped her regain her footing.

  “So now you’re going with the crazy guy?” Zyler snarled. “Jesus. I had you pegged all wrong.”

  Candy stared into Blake’s green eyes. He just shook his head. And then she snapped. Forget trying to keep the peace and keep Zyler as a friend. “No. Fuck you, Zyler! What the hell is your problem?” She whirled on him and got up in his face. “So many things are more important than football and being king of the school. And if you were even half the guy Blake is, you’d know that. We are done—completely.”

  Zyler’s face turned red. He tossed the bottle of vodka on the pavement, where it shattered.

  Blake seemed mesmerized by the bottle breaking, and she had to touch his shoulder to get him to stop looking at the spilled liquor.

  “Just go. We don’t need you here.” Candy stood firmly next to Blake.

  “Oh yeah? That’s what you think? Fine.” He gave her an odd smile. “That’s good to know,” he added before striding off in the direction of the school.

  “You okay?” Candy was seriously worried about how pale Blake looked.

  He tore his gaze away from the broken bottle again. “I’m fine. You need to get to the police station. I can get into the car Beckett brought you in. Which one was it?”

  Candy pointed to the Benz across the lot.

  “Oh, he was showing off tonight.” Blake’s easy smile returned. He reached into the left rear wheel well and came back with a bent wire hanger. “The extra key.”

  Candy almost smiled when she realized Blake was really good at breaking into cars. He opened the passenger door for her and then scurried around to the driver’s side. She hit the power unlock just seconds before Blake’s hand touched the door. He settled in and pulled down the visor. The tools necessary to start the car without a key were evidently there, and he closed one eye as he fiddled under the steering wheel. When the engine jumped to life, he put it in drive and put on his seatbelt, checking to see that she did too.

  “Thanks for this. I appreciate it. Were you at the dance?” Candy asked as Blake drove carefully.

  “No. No, I was out for a walk in the woods.” He cracked the window a bit.

  “Really? Kind of late for a walk.”

  “I like the woods at all times of the day and night. I wish I could live there. Maybe someday.” Blake spoke of taking to the woods the way other kids spoke of going to college.

  “Oh. That’s cool.” Candy threaded her fingers together. She
tried to calm herself and think about what to say at the police station. What the fuck had that been with Zyler? It also occurred to her that hitting the guy with the tray was probably a tiny bit illegal as well. She hoped having spent so much time around her father and his coworkers in intimidating uniforms would help her keep her nerves in check in the presence of the officers.

  Blake pulled in and turned to her with a plan. “Listen, I’m not entirely sure how Beckett got this car, so I don’t want to wait for you here in the lot. But I’ll keep circling around, and when I see you by the door, I’ll pull in.”

  “You’ve done too much already. Thank you,” she told him. “I’ll call my parents. I need to tell them what happened anyway. I know they’d never be mad at me for trying to help protect Freddie.” She patted his hand.

  “Only if you’re sure.”

  She nodded.

  “I’ll wait until you are safely inside; then I’ll leave. And thanks.”

  She got out of the car and remembered to put her shrug over her shoulders and button it. “For what?”

  “For coming here to tell the truth.” He smiled. “Beckett needs people who believe in him, despite everything.”

  “No worries,” she assured him. “I’ll make them understand what happened tonight.” She slammed the door and went to open the front door at the station only to realize she had to be buzzed in. She pressed the doorbell and looked at the camera. A loud tone let her know the door was unlocked. She walked through and waved at Blake.

  She’d had a few firsts with Beckett, and she could add this to the list: taking on a police department to make them understand the drug dealer was the good guy.

  15

  Framed

  BECKETT SAT IN AN UNCOMFORTABLE CHAIR next to an officer’s desk. They were making a report, but he’d refused to answer any questions. Not a single one. So the tale the Somers kids were spinning might be what stuck: He’d attacked Freddie, and they’d defended him.

  As if he would ever. No one seemed to remember what Freddie himself had said.

 
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