Poughkeepsie, p.19
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       Poughkeepsie, p.19

           Debra Anastasia
 

  Blake became absorbed by her hair, grabbing handfuls of it. He pulled her to his chest, combing it out with his fingers as he hummed a soothing song in her ear. The liquid velvet of his voice lifted her into dreams.

  The flames reflected in Eve’s pupils matched her anger. She threw the rest of the gasoline on her private bonfire. The body of the witness produced almost-white flames and blinding heat. I overdid it.

  But Eve wanted something tangible. Something to blister her skin a bit, to match her soul.

  She was allowing herself to think of her past, which was a rare indulgence. She needed to relive it because she’d strayed from her purpose. She’d disregarded her calling. Eve chipped away at her decayed insides to find the little tiny piece of pink that was her heart now. She closed her eyes and let the waves of heat send her back to the accident.

  The summer sun had been searing that day. Eve twisted the air conditioner on immediately as David started his old beater.

  “Sweetness, a car needs to warm up to cool down.” David chuckled as Eve blasted them both with fire-breathing dragon hot air instead of the instant relief she sought.

  “That doesn’t even make sense. Besides, being too hot can’t be good for the baby.” Eve’s eyes twinkled. She tried to put the word baby in every sentence she could nowadays.

  “She’s probably already hot-tempered if she’s anything like her mom.” David put the car in gear.

  Eve put both hands on her stomach. The description for week ten in her pregnancy book was her favorite so far. The baby had lost its tail, and its face had formed. There were even little fingers and toes. Eve couldn’t wait to get her first pair of maternity pants. She was the only nineteen-year-old she knew who wanted to gain weight. David teased her when she flipped through the book, each chapter revealing new mysteries about her baby. My baby.

  When she’d missed her period, Eve had gotten a pregnancy test—the most expensive brand because she wanted the best for her maybe-baby. She’d used it right when she got home, not even waiting to get David. She could hardly tell, but the test window looked like it might have two lines. Two lines!

  After her call, David had made an excuse to leave his job as a mechanic for an hour so he could come to Eve’s place in her dad’s apartment building and peer at the stick in the sunlight. They waited together while she took the other two tests in the box in quick succession.

  By the third test, she had been certain she was pregnant. Eve called her gynecologist immediately, as if being pregnant for five minutes was an emergency. David and Eve were too young and they weren’t even married, but a baby was all she’d ever wanted.

  Eve had planned to be a mom for as long as she could remember. In almost every childhood picture, she carried a baby doll. Before she was even of legal age, Eve was babysitting. She had an easy, natural way with children and found herself in great demand. Eve gravitated to babies, with their sweet cheeks and gummy smiles. They fit so perfectly on her hip, but she always had to give them back to their mothers.

  Not this baby. This one is mine. With David as dad.

  She’d made the best decision of her life when she convinced the easy-going David that, yes, he really did want to take her on a date. One year later they were inseparable.

  He would make a patient, persistent father. He clearly adored Eve, but he also refused to put up with any of her drama. They solved their problems in quiet, respectful voices. Even Eve’s father had seemed convinced that Eve and David would be together until they were old and forgetful.

  “David, how can you be so sure the baby’s a girl? It’s way too soon to know,” Eve had teased.

  David reached over to cover both her hands, and much of her stomach, with one of his large, dark ones.

  Eve let time freeze on his smile—his big, comforting smile. She wished the memory ended here and in that next instant, she’d just ceased to exist.

  They’d been heading through a bad part of Poughkeepsie, on their way to get Chinese food because Eve had said the baby wanted it.

  “Anything for my two girls.” David had loved saying “two girls.”

  The accident that twisted the car into a searing, crushed pile of agony happened so quickly that Eve’s mind couldn’t process it. The noise alone was enough to make her think she was going insane. When the spinning stopped, Eve grabbed for David.

  He was gone.

  His eyes were open, but there was nothing left. Eve didn’t realize she was the one screaming until her throat started to hurt. Time went by in great leaps forward, alternated with endless frozen pauses.

  Sirens, eventually. Pain, eventually.

  Eve finally looked down and saw a piece of maroon dashboard stabbing through her hand and into her stomach. Oh, that’s just plastic, she thought. But the paramedics wouldn’t let her pull it out.

  She overheard one of them shout, “This is Dr. Hartt’s daughter!”

  Eve had no idea why those words came back to her at night. Over and over her brain repeated, “This is Dr. Hartt’s daughter!”

  Not “Eve, we aren’t showing a heartbeat on the baby.”

  Not “David Statford was pronounced dead at the scene.”

  Not “We can’t stop the bleeding. She’s hemorrhaging.”

  Not “If the infection continues, we’re not going to have any choice. Eve, we’re recommending a hysterectomy.”

  Maybe it was because she’d still had hope when she heard those words. Maybe because she’d thought she’d be protected since her father was a surgeon at the hospital where the ambulance took her.

  Eve grabbed the shovel and started to dig. After the witness was done smoldering, she’d bury him here in the woods. She’d dig so deep no one would ever find him. A murderer got caught when she got sloppy or got scared. Eve was neither of those things.

  When she’d finally been released from the hospital, Eve found herself without a purpose. She had sat at home on her bed watching horrible daytime T.

  Her new mission—the one she’d so pathetically wavered from now—had been given to her by mistake. She never answered the phone in those days, but when she heard Officer McHugh from Poughkeepsie Police Department on the answering machine, she hit the TV’s mute button.

  “Ms. Hartt? This is Officer McHugh. I have some personal belongings from the car accident. The reconstruction team is finished. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’ll keep the belongings at my desk, if you’re interested in them.”

  Eve stared at the flickering, quiet TV for a while before she got up. Almost as if she were on autopilot, she drove her dilapidated Civic to the station. As the receptionist pointed out Officer McHugh’s desk, Eve sensed that the people in the room were talking about her.

  Two cops and a well-dressed woman discussed a car accident.

  “That man’s a bane to this community,” the woman said, clearly in the midst of a tirade. “That couple in the wreck a few weeks back—did you know she lost the baby? The collateral damage that follows him around is amazing.”

  “Drugs and trouble,” one cop said, shaking his head. “That’s all he has to offer. What a sack of shit.”

  “Bad enough that they do those cowardly drive-by shootings, but they could at least wait until the victim’s out of the car,” said the second cop. “So they don’t take anyone else out.”

  The woman shifted from one foot to the other. “Never any proof to nail that bastard. Beckett Taylor’s one slippery asshole.”

  Eve hadn’t noticed that the officer who’d called her stood behind his chair.

  “Guys, take that somewhere else,” he said. He gave a pointed glance in Eve’s direction, and the group went silent. He ran a hand down his face and sat down. “I’m sorry. They don’t think sometimes.”

  Eve used her voice for the first time in weeks. “The car that hit us…” The word us punched her in the heart. “The driver was the victim of a drive-by shooting?”

  She appreciated that Officer McHugh told it to her straight. “Yeah, the driver had a
fatal gunshot wound to the head,” he said. “The car he was driving came at yours head-on.”

  “Who’s Beckett Taylor?” Eve tried to form a picture in her mind. The name didn’t sound menacing.

  “You overheard quite a bit. I’m sorry for that. Mr. Taylor’s a waste of skin, but we have no evidence tying him to this shooting.” The officer tapped his fingers on his desk, like he was itching to do something.

  “So David and my baby were ‘collateral damage’?” Eve took small, sharp breaths.

  “I wouldn’t put it that way, but you are a victim of a crime, not just a tragedy. Would you like your belongings?” Officer McHugh looked under his desk.

  “No, I’m good.” Eve stood up and left. With every step she felt herself harden. She was a walking statue by the time she hit the police station’s exit.

  She had a purpose again. Hate.

  Eve cuddled hate to her heart like a baby—like the only baby she’d ever have. Eve despised reliving the accident, but she had to do it to get harder. She needed to be angrier.

  She’d spent the years after learning Beckett’s name turning herself into a killing machine. Every time she felt a twinge of pain, she numbed it with a new skill. At first her father thought she might be interested in the police academy or the military. But Eve had no such plans. Her only goal was to kill Beckett Taylor. And she was nothing if not tenacious. All the fabulous capabilities she’d been proud to possess before the accident she now twisted into perfect means of causing pain.

  Before she’d lost her purpose, Eve never let her CPR or first aid certification lapse. She prided herself on her work at the daycare, and someday she’d hoped to be a full-fledged teacher. She kept an eye on any child she could see, even in a store or at the mall, and she’d returned many a lost kid to his parent.

  But now she used that watchfulness and vigilance to learn any deadly skill she could. Because once she was face to face with Beckett Taylor, she was going to kill the fuck out of him. She had no plans for after his death. She didn’t give a rat’s ass if she made it out alive. She wanted to be with David and her baby, but first she would end the man that had ruined it all.

  Eve now knew how to kill without a sound. She knew every place on the human body that could be penetrated with a knife to induce death. She was better at killing than the man she hunted. Eve would never feel the soft, downy hair of her own baby against her cheek, but she knew she could kill at least three heavily armed men with a golf club.

  All that was left of the witness was dispatched in just a few scoops with the shovel, so Eve now lifted the dirt back into the hole. Today she had to acknowledge that she was avoiding her mission. She could explain away all the other times she hadn’t killed Beckett so far. I’m just going to see what his inner circle’s like…If I find out who he loves, I can kill them while he watches…If I make him fall for me, it will hurt worse when I kill him. But there was no excuse for tonight. In that men’s room she’d had another perfect opportunity. He’d gone willingly in front of her knife and fists.

  But she’d spared him. She’d used all her deadly skills to save him instead. She’d spit on the memory of David and her baby to give Beckett a get-out-of-jail-free card.

  She surveyed her work in the Hummer’s headlights. Perfect. She’d done it so many times now it was second nature. Now I’m just a murderer, not an avenger. I’m just like him.

  Eve drove his Hummer through the brush and back onto the path ATVs had made through the woods. It was almost morning.

  She had to kill him. She had to kill Beckett the next time she saw him or all she’d done to become an exquisite monster would be for nothing.

  20

  Don’t Run

  LIVIA DIDN’T IMMEDIATELY REMEMBER the details of the night before when she woke in her bed. Her blanket had been arranged around her. As she sat up, she noticed little paper-napkin roses tucked among her belongings. Blake.

  He’d even given Teddy a spiffy bow tie. He must have taken a whole stack of napkins from The Launch Pad, and the sunlight trickling in her window explained his absence. His fancy clothes were folded neatly on the end of her bed. The prince was the one to run out of time in this Cinderella story. She smiled, then gasped as horror punched her in the stomach. Kyle!

  Livia rushed out of her room to find Mouse happily knitting as he sat outside Kyle’s open door. Seemed at some point in the night he’d decided to come in after all.

  “She’s doing fine,” he whispered. “She’ll feel awful today, but nothing a little time won’t cure.”

  Hearing his squeaky voice in her house was bizarre. Livia ran her hands through her hair and studied Mouse for a moment. He was working on a different piece of knitting than last night.

  “What do you have there?”

  Mouse perked up at her interest. “I’m making ski masks to have on hand for bank robberies. Last night I finished the fingerless mermaid gloves for Eve. She likes her fingers free for gunplay.”

  Mouse’s needles clicked together in a peaceful rhythm.

  “That’s, uh, nice. I loved the colors on the gloves.” Livia wasn’t sure how to complement Mouse’s craft.

  “Thanks. I’m proud of those. I like fall colors. They go nicely with her hair.” Mouse smiled in the direction of his bag, which must have held his completed knitting. “My grandmother taught me to knit,” he explained. “It’s always good to keep the hands busy.”

  “Okay. I’m going to get some coffee started and stuff.” Livia tried to leave.

  “Wait!” Mouse popped a needle protector on the end of his tool. “Can you watch her for a moment? I have to take a leak.”

  Livia watched as his huge form eclipsed the hallway light, then peered through Kyle’s doorway. She looked fine, just very asleep. Livia really wanted to talk to her, but it didn’t look like that would be possible for hours. Next on Livia’s to-do list was Blake. She needed to find him. They needed to face what he feared. Together. Livia slipped a freshly made ski mask out of Mouse’s knitting bag. It was black and soft, with two holes for eyes and one for the mouth. It’s perfect.

  Livia walked silently down the stairs and closed the back door slowly, sliding her feet into the junk sneakers she always left on the back steps. Livia hoped she’d be two blocks away by the time Mouse realized she was gone and he was stuck watching over Kyle.

  Livia leaped into the Escort and drove straight to Poughkeepsie Station, letting instinct and her internal Blake GPS be her guide. She tossed a mint from the glovebox into her mouth at a stoplight. The lot wasn’t crowded on a Saturday, and she hopped out quickly, not bothering to lock the doors.

  As she trotted down the stairs, she saw Blake stand up, tucking his piano in his pocket. The day’s bright sun had him trapped in his spot in the shade. She stepped into his cover and kissed him.

  “Thanks for the roses. And Teddy loves his bow.” She brushed her hands through his hair.

  “How’s Kyle? I had Mouse watch her.”

  Such a normal question. “She’ll feel like crap, but I think she’ll be fine. I’m still waiting to hear what she’s willing to tell me about the bathroom in the club.” Livia kissed his chin. “Blake, I need you to do something for me. Will you do something for me?” Livia felt a little dirty about forcing him to agree before she told him how much she was asking.

  “I’ll do whatever you wish.” Blake inclined his head in a solemn gesture.

  Livia headed back to the car without explaining. She returned with a golf umbrella, a pair of leather work gloves, and Mouse’s ski mask.

  “Will you walk in the sunlight if these are covering you?” Livia held out her sunshields.

  Blake looked at the items. Then he nodded and took the mask.

  Livia knew this was a risk. Hell, she was half sure she was delirious with lack of sleep and desperation. But she had an insatiable need to heal. I may lose him, but goddamn it, I have to try.

  Livia led the now overdressed Blake on a walk to his favorite clearing in the wo
ods. Somehow she remembered the way, although at times he gave her gentle guidance with his hand. The golf umbrella’s rainbow cloth kept them both shielded as they went. Blake wore his army jacket and the leather work gloves, but the real savior was the ski mask. At the moment it emphasized Blake’s anxious eyes. Livia knew he followed her because she’d asked him to, and she was afraid he might run away.

  When they arrived, Livia stopped and stood in the shade at the edge of the clearing.

  Blake nodded toward the sunny center. “See those two saplings? In a little while, when the sun is just so in the sky, their shade will make a perfect heart.”

  “I can’t wait to see the heart-shaped shade, Blake.” She kissed his mouth. It was time to explain. “We’re here because I think all that time ago you fell off the horse. I think you had the breath knocked out of you, but no one made you get back on the horse. No one was there to tell you to keep trying, that it’s not okay to be afraid of the sun. But it’s not okay. I’m here to tell you to try again.”

  Livia paused to assess the impact of her words, but the mask hid Blake’s expression. “Running won’t stop me,” she continued. “I’ll keep finding you. I’ll keep dragging you back here—right to this spot—until you can stand in the sun. With me.”

  The knit mask framed Blake’s lips. He bit one.

  Livia let his hand drop. Now she’d set the boundaries so he could build his ladder to her. “Blake Hartt, if you touch me, your skin must be bare. Do you understand?” Livia looked into his green eyes. They seemed confused, but he nodded.

  Livia wished she’d worn something more romantic, but no matter. This wasn’t about clothes; it was about skin. Thank God it was unseasonably warm today. She kicked off her sneakers and stepped away from him.

 
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