Return to poughkeepsie, p.17
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       Return to Poughkeepsie, p.17

           Debra Anastasia

  Mary Ellen motioned for another guard, and Eve noted a mass of angry scar tissue on his hand. She memorized his face.

  Nearly a week later, Mary Ellen had finally mustered the courage she needed. She stood outside her father’s room and checked her lipstick in her compact before taking a deep breath. She’d been to visit Daddy a few times since he’d moved from the hospital to the rehab facility, and each time it was a little harder not to tell him everything. But she couldn’t. She needed to have everything back in place so she could speak from a place of strength when she finally laid out her hand. Her original goal remained unchanged: show her father she was worth her salt, not someone he could ignore or push aside. So he could know nothing of her current difficulties. She’d learned from her misstep with Sevan, and that was that. Besides, based on what January told her, she hadn’t been the first woman mistreated by him. Clearly he was a professional, so it was no wonder this had spiraled into such a mess. She could hardly be blamed at all. Her mind set straight, she opened the door.

  Until this experience with her father, recovery had been a word that conjured images of rest and relaxation. This was anything but. Today Daddy was again working the arm weakened by his stroke, with his good arm strapped to his body to prevent him from using it. Sweat poured off him, and he concentrated so hard he barely looked up to see her enter. The therapist was a hard bitch, but that’s the way Daddy liked them.

  The stroke had pissed her father off. He hated the idea that there was anyone—let alone parts of his own body—that would refuse to listen to him. He was used to making people jump with a glance, and now one of his hands was too lazy to grip a Vitullo-made pistol. Mary Ellen hoped the humbling of the stroke would soften him to her proposals, when it was time for them. If she could just keep the lost money off his radar until it had been returned…

  “Dad! Look at you go, you prickly old bastard! Soon you’ll be able to hold your dick with your dominant hand again.” Primo strolled around the room like he was paying Rodolfo and not the other way around.

  Mary Ellen’s mouth fell open.

  “Insubordinate.” Rodolfo gave Primo a dark stare as he attempted to grip a plastic water glass. After a few moments, as if his anger had propelled him, he closed his hand around the cup and brought it to his lips for a sip. It took him a few tries to set it back down on the table, but he managed.

  “Well done, Mr. Vitullo. Lunch will be along shortly, so let’s leave your other hand strapped until that’s finished.” The therapist made some notes on her iPad before passing Mary Ellen and Primo and disappearing through the doorway without a word.

  How dare Primo show up? He never visited Daddy. Someone must have tipped him off about her plans to be here. Now she had two mouths to keep in safe territory.

  Their father leaned back and sighed. “You both want money? That why you’re here?”

  Primo snorted. “Dad, don’t be silly. I came to see you.”

  Mary Ellen narrowed her eyes. As far as she knew, Primo had just gotten back from gambling his face off in Vegas. Which probably also explained his presence.

  “There’s nothing to worry about,” she said soothingly. “I’ve been working hard to keep things running until you’re back to full speed. You’re working so hard, I bet it’ll be soon.” She willed herself to make confident eye contact with her father, but she was only brave enough to look at his forehead.

  “Really, Mary Ellen? How is it that I can’t get into the main luxury account?” Primo tried to look threatening, but his hand shook a bit.

  “Well, I’m sure I don’t know,” she offered sweetly.

  “She’s been doing all kinds of crazy things, Dad. She had a party last month and—”

  “How much you on the line for, son?” Rodolfo’s voice was a bit slurred, but strong. Primo pretended not to understand him for two rounds of “what?” before Mary Ellen interpreted.

  “He’s asking how much money you squandered in Vegas this time.” Both men gave her a sharp look. She always took a risk when she asserted her opinion.

  “I didn’t lose anything. I just needed to refill so I could get into a higher-stakes game. It was a sure thing. Dad, you know I can make money double its worth. I was on a great run. That why I needed more, and I couldn’t get any. An opportunity totally lost! Care to explain that, Ms. Keeping Everything Running?”

  Mary Ellen put her hand to her stiff forehead, trying to think quickly. Failing to plan for her brother’s insatiable need for cash had been an oversight. “I’m sorry you experienced a disruption in flushing Daddy’s money down the toilet. I just tightened the belt on you a bit. I’m focusing on our business, our more productive ventures, right now. I want to make sure those endeavors have all the capital they need.” She crossed her hands and ankles demurely.

  Primo kept rubbing the back of his neck over and over. He was a classic picture of the addict he was, yet her father never seemed to see it.

  “Mary Ellen, get Primo his funds by tomorrow. I’ll top you off, son. Don’t worry.”

  Primo understood that perfectly. He made a big show of thanking their father and giving him a big hug. “Get better, Dad!” He flipped her off as he turned to exit, like a petulant teenager.

  Mary Ellen waited until the door to the room closed, but before she could speak, her father did.

  “Mary Ellen, why was he unable to get to the money? I pay DiMonso plenty to keep the accounts fluid.”

  “Well, DiMonso doesn’t work for us anymore. I had some information that pointed to him being less than forthcoming.” She tried to remain calm. Firing DiMonso had been Sevan’s suggestion. Getting him out of the way would make it easier for her to move money on her own, he’d reasoned. Bastard.

  “DiMonso has been with me since before you were born. He’d never cross me. Did he quit for some reason? What did you do to him?” Her father clearly had trouble pronouncing the letter S.

  “I’m sure you’re right. I’ll get him back. But in the meantime I was trying to keep the money safe. Primo’s habit has me concerned. I didn’t want him betting your fortune away.” She felt sick because she was the sensible one, and really, she’d already committed that exact atrocity with quite a chunk of her father’s money.

  Rodolfo’s mouth began to droop a bit and his left eye started to close on him as the lunch cart was wheeled in. “Primo is more dangerous without money. I look at it as a payment I make for my peace of mind.”

  Mary Ellen was shocked. Her father had confided in her, given her a tip on how to run things. Even if it was a tiny one, it felt like a gold star.

  “Of course, Daddy. That makes perfect sense. I’ll have everything righted soon. Thank you for telling me.” She stood and leaned down to kiss his cheek. “I hope lunch goes well.”

  He nodded again, dismissing her.

  If there hadn’t still been the matter of the missing money and her not-exactly-clear plan for getting it back, she’d be walking on a cloud. Instead, she wanted to throw up a little. On her way back to the car, her phone rang—Sevan’s tone. She hated herself for the thrill that shot through her body. She hated him. Sliding the phone to answer, she tried to collect herself.

  She said nothing, just waited to see why he would call. In the background she could hear crashing surf and laughing women. She could picture his body stretched out on white sand, surrounded by models in bikini bottoms.

  “Darling, nice of you to take my call. I just wanted to thank you for the bottle of 1907 Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Diamant bleu champagne. Do you know it cost two hundred seventy-five thousand dollars? It’s almost mythical. The bottles sat in the hull of a ship that sank in 1916. They had to recover it from the bottom of the sea. I had a small sip, and it was fantastic. Of course Natalia let me lick it out of her tender navel as well.” He paused for a moment. “Do you miss me, luscious? Care for me to send a plane? You could be where I am in less than ten hours. Oh—now Luana is using the champagne to wash the salt from her hair.” He laughed robustly. “I
’ll order another, dear. No, Mary Ellen insists. Don’t you, love? Of course you do, because otherwise I’d have to talk with your father regarding my concerns about you.”

  “Please. Order two. I’d hate for the whores to have salty hair.” Mary Ellen gritted her teeth and quickly pressed the end button. He was splashing her father’s money on the sand. But she had her own funds—though nothing compared to what Sevan took—and it was time to take more decisive action. Clearly he didn’t understand that she meant business, that she’d never accept this. She needed to grind Sevan’s testicles into mincemeat until he begged her to let him return the money.

  No more working systematically to put him out of business. No more waiting for information and hoping Beckett Taylor might just reappear on his own. The flow needed to stop. Now. No more of Sevan’s drugs would be smuggled through Poughkeepsie, even if she had to kill all his employees herself.


  Yellow Blanket

  LIVIA ANSWERED THE DOOR with her finger on her lips.

  Kyle walked in quietly and took off her shoes. “Don’t want little man sucking on dirt from these soles.”

  “See, you’re already way ahead of other moms-to-be. I’ve been training you all this time, and you didn’t even know it.” Livia hugged her sister and patted her nonexistent belly.

  “I’m almost nine weeks. But aren’t you supposed to ask before you touch a baby bump?” Kyle spanked her sister.

  “Pretty sure you’re not supposed to touch people’s butts without asking, blister popper.” Livia sat on the carpet in the living room to fold laundry.

  Kyle sat with her. “I’ll help, but if I see anyone over age five’s drawers, I’m tapping out.”

  “That’ll be easy. We don’t wear any.” Livia kept her face straight.

  “You’re lying your balls off right now. There’s no way you two rock it commando.” Kyle shivered. “Gives me the chills just thinking about it.”

  “No, truly, we’ve come to believe in letting our genitals breathe.” Livia fanned her crotch.

  “That’s why it smells like day-old tuna in here.” Kyle covered her nose.

  “Tuna is better than Chef Boyardee or whatever you’re rocking in your pants right now. Or you will be. I’m just saying, get ready for some serious funk.” Livia deftly folded Kellen’s little onesies.

  “Oh my God? Really? I can’t deal. I have to have my snatch smelling right. Seriously, what’s going to happen?” Kyle gave her sister a hard stare.

  Livia broke into laughter. “Nothing, dumbass. Your cooter will smell like it normally does. And this is a batch of kid clothes. They need expensive detergent or they get rashes. Blake and I use the cheap stuff for our clothes, including underwear.”

  “You had me going for a minute.” Kyle slapped her sister’s knee. “I swear everywhere I turn I’m hearing weird crap about pregnancy. I mean, it’s happened since the beginning of time. Shouldn’t it be pretty cut and dried?”

  “Well, each birth is different, but don’t listen to the weirdos. I swear they crawled out of the woodwork to try to scare me.” Livia began turning the little socks into balls.

  “Okay, so I’ve heard your bringing-life-into-the-world stories before, but now I’m really listening. Tell me again.” Kyle gave up folding and scooted back to lean against the couch. Livia checked the monitors before launching into her birth stories.

  Emme had been a dream. Livia had been loaded to the top with an epidural, and even now she was damn near euphoric detailing how easy her birth had been. “They told me I was the best pusher ever. I had nurses holding my legs, cooling my neck, and then it was a soap opera birth. I held her and cried and took lots of pictures with my lady business hanging out. It was amazing.” Livia shook her head. “But your nephew? So many things went wrong in the communication. I wanted an epidural—expected one, actually—but you remember how he was a few weeks early?”

  Kyle nodded. It had been a scary night. Kellan had come not crazy early, but far enough in advance of his due date that everyone held their breath.

  “Well, no one told me I wasn’t allowed to have the medicine, so I kept expecting it. Then the doctor walks in and refuses, and I was pissed. I found out later that they were worried about the effects of the epidural on the baby, but nobody told me! So I’m all exorcist, screaming like a monkey. I actually shouted, ‘Get it fucking out of me!’ Blake told me later that that’s when he knew I was out of my mind. I hadn’t called the baby ‘it’ since we’d learned his gender. Anyway, they begged me to quiet down, said I was scaring the other mothers.”

  Livia smiled at the memory, but Kyle felt herself pale.

  “I’d do it ten times a day every day for that little boy if I had to.” She finished lining up the little piles she’d made and finally looked up at Kyle. “Oh, now I’m the weirdo trying to scare you. I’m sorry. Really, you will be so okay. You’re a tough nugget. You’ll be popping that kid out like a vending machine. They are going to need a catcher’s mitt in the delivery room.”

  “I’m afraid to think that far ahead.” Kyle bit her lip. “I mean, it hardly seems real sometimes.”

  “That’s totally normal. Until the baby starts moving, it’s sort of like a theory. Though with Kellen my tummy was showing sooner. I swear, Emme made my uterus baggy for her brother.” Livia patted her stomach.

  “You got huge.” Kyle stuffed a throw pillow from the couch under her shirt.

  “Shut up. Wait until you get the hemorrhoids. Yeah, that wipes the smile right off your face.” Livia tossed one of the balled up pairs of socks at her sister.

  “I can’t even think about that. Wow.” Kyle took the pillow out from under her shirt and tossed it in retaliation.

  “I still have the cream upstairs for when your special moment arrives.” Livia gave Kyle an elaborate pout.

  “I’m not using second-hand ass cream. You’re disgusting.” Kyle laughed. “I’m the gross one. Where’s this coming from?”

  “I’m just messing with your head. Hey, you know what? I’ve got something to show you. I’ll be right back.” Livia got up off the carpet. “You watch the munchkins.”

  “If you bring me your hemorrhoid cream, I will make you eat it. Just saying,” Kyle warned.

  Livia ignored the threat and went to the basement. Kyle watched her niece and nephew on their separate screens. They looked like little angels asleep, though she was surprised to see Emme napping. Last she’d heard the girl was all done with midday rests.

  Livia came up the stairs with a box and resumed her place on the floor.

  “Why’s little pants sleeping? Usually she’d be tearing through this place.” Kyle pointed at Emme’s screen.

  “She was up late last night, but I’m watching her. Sometimes they both nap more before they catch a cold.” Livia lifted the lid on the box. She removed a few plastic bags that had all the air sucked out of them. When she opened them, the material puffed up.

  “Cool trick, bro.” Kyle reached for a now-open bag and removed a bright yellow blanket with tiny pink flowers on it. “What’s this? Emme’s receiving blanket?”

  “You have a good memory. Yes, Emme was brought home in it. And so was Kellan.” Livia waited a few seconds before adding, “And so was I, and so were you.”

  Kyle tossed the blanket like it was hot. “Oh.”

  “I was wondering if you’d want this stuff. And I don’t want you to flip out or anything.” Livia spread out the clothes and folded the blanket neatly. It was like she had an automatic fold setting.

  “That’s a loaded pile of clothes, sister.” Kyle didn’t want to touch any of it. She looked at the pictures on the walls instead. There were pictures of both kids in the hospital, ready to go home as infants. Both were swaddled in the yellow blanket and wore a combination of the clothes in front of her now.

  Livia patted each of the little outfits. “Dad was going to throw these out. He’s like you sometimes, you know? He was going through the basement one day when you were at
Jessica’s house. He wanted to get through the stuff so you didn’t have to see it, and he didn’t want it in the house anymore. When he was loading the car to take the stuff to Goodwill, I snagged the baby clothes box and put it in the back of my closet. Just to save it, you know?”

  Kyle smirked. “You were probably eleven. Such a sentimental chick. Remember when we had to have a funeral for the moth you accidentally killed when you were trying to take him outside? Even though you hated moths?”

  “They are horror movie staples. But I did feel bad.” Livia tilted her head, smiling at the memory. “Listen, you don’t have to use any of it, and you certainly don’t need to make a choice right now. I just wanted you to know it existed. It’s clean, it’s here, and I want to make it a tradition, if you’re game. Yes, she left, but I don’t think she should get to take our history. I like the thought of something that gets passed from one generation to the next. And we have to be the ones to make traditions. But if this isn’t the one for you, don’t worry. We can do something else.” Livia shrugged.

  Kyle had to appreciate the sentiment. She was fiercely proud of her sister and her father for making their little family work. They were unconventional, and they’d had to figure some lady shit out for themselves, but they’d gotten it done. “You’re something else, Livia Hartt. I promise to think about it. And thank you for being so goddamn thoughtful.”

  She helped her sister pack up the potential heirlooms and gave her a hug to boot. As they stood, Emme pounded down the stairs.

  “Aunt Kyle! You came to play with me! You make the best fart noise for my frogs!” She ran into Kyle’s open arms.

  Kyle shrugged at Livia as she patted Emme’s back. “I learned everything I know about farts from your mom’s butt.”


  Welcome to Your Vag

  EVE CLOSED HER LAPTOP after helping her replacement at Silver Force Systems organize his transactions and make sense of their system remotely—again. Once it had become clear this crap with Mary Ellen was going to take as much time as she could give it, she’d resigned from her import-export job. But she’d agreed to help the new guy for a month or so in lieu of two weeks’ notice. It was a little gratifying how much the company had offered her to stay, and given the way the system seemed to blow the new guy’s mind repeatedly, she bet they might offer her even more now. But this wasn’t ever about money. She’d lit Mary Ellen’s money on fire, for crap’s sake. She laughed a bit, thinking how much Mouse would have loved that move, then thanked him silently for putting her in a position where she no longer required an income.

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