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Poughkeepsie begins, p.19
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       Poughkeepsie Begins, p.19

           Debra Anastasia
 
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  Beckett felt the snap of the cold air as he strolled over to where Mr. Gold waited for him outside. This was a bit unorthodox, but the AP was a nice guy. He really was. And Beckett had been a big bag of dicks to him more than a few damn times.

  Once he stood in front of him, the man started laying out consequences for the fight, a list Beckett could recite in his head. But something had snapped in him last night. Changed. He had murdered his first, second, and third man—scumbags, all of them. Takes one to know one, he supposed. But the respect it afforded him, the fear it caused in those around him was a new addiction.

  He was now—twelve hours later—in charge of all of Kick’s territory and a good chunk of Jagged’s. The man had begged for his life last night, and Beckett had traded it for a bigger piece of the pie. The fucking trunk of the car he’d yet to return to its owner was full of duffle bags filled with money, drugs, and guns.

  Fake it till you make it had worked for months. But last night he’d stopped faking. He became everything he’d pretended to be. And it was for his brothers, but he was aware he’d taken the quick way. The wrong way. But it sure as shit wasn’t the easy way. Putting his arm around Candy felt all wrong now. Even if Zyler had earned everything he got, going berserk in English, hyped from his first murders and the rush of power, was unacceptable.

  She would forgive him. Of course. It seemed like she already had. That gorgeous, generous seventeen-year-old girl was in love with him. And for a minute, for a fucking minute, he’d let himself be in love with her. She had forced him to feel love in the spotlight of the headlights last night—another first. But that was before he’d accepted that he had a talent for being king of the mountain. Before he’d known what he had to do.

  “Mr. Gold?” he interrupted. “I’m not doing in-school suspension. I appreciate that you think you can convince Myler not to press charges, though I hope Candy will consider pressing some of her own. I hear you, but I’m done here. I’m done with school. I’m eighteen right now. Today is my motherfucking birthday. So I’m out. I’m in this world now as a man. And I don’t need a piece of paper to get me where I’m going.”

  He paused for a moment, but resumed speaking before Mr. Gold could respond. “But I get you, and I appreciate you,” he continued. “Some of the shit you’ve tried to do, tried to help me with, I felt it. Keep being you. I’m an outlier. Your talent will work on most kids. Watch out for my brothers instead of me. They will eat this shit up like it’s candy. They’re so fucking ready for someone to believe in them. But last night? I started believing in me. So I’m not coming back to this school.”

  Mr. Gold shook his head sadly. “I wish you’d change your mind. We’re just months away.”

  “My grades are shit. And I don’t think my presentation went great in there.” He pointed back toward the classroom where the last disaster had occurred.

  A ghost of a smile crossed the AP’s face.

  “You good, Mr. Gold? You need money? I got money now. I know school systems pay you worse than a dead whore.” He clapped the older man on the shoulder.

  Mr. Gold put up his hands. “No. No thanks, I’m good. Can I say one more thing?”

  Beckett folded his arms across his chest. “I’ve got a couple minutes to spare.”

  “Your brothers love you. Losing you would destroy them. Just consider that as you move forward.”

  Beckett took his fist and pounded his chest. “I hear you, Mr. Gold. Can I call you Jerry now? I hear you, Jerry.”

  “No, you cannot.” Mr. Gold patted Beckett’s shoulder. “I’m here if you need someone to listen to you.”

  Beckett nodded and walked away. Mr. Gold was a great role model. Just not one he could follow. Not anymore.

  17

  New Life

  BECKETT WAS GONE. He was out of school, and the rumor mill was on high alert. Everyone and their brother seemed to know he’d quit and had a theory about why. For a whole hopeful two weeks now she’d waited to see him—in school, after school, maybe even at night. But it never happened.

  Zyler was disciplined, and the entire football team had to forfeit a game as punishment for their photo prank. It didn’t feel like enough, but she didn’t want to involve the police. Still, she continued to hurt. They’d been cruel to her. Who knew how long they’d been plotting that. And for what? Because she didn’t play by their rules?

  Candy pulled Beckett’s leather jacket out of her closet and wrapped it around her as she sat by her bedroom window. Pilot gently whined before setting his head between his big paws and letting out an exasperated breath.

  Her dog had just put how she felt into a simple noise. Her parents were worried about her. They’d sat her down at the dining room table and explained that they knew about heartache, and she needed to put on a brave face. She was sure they didn’t know what to make of her and weren’t sure if she was more upset about Zyler or Beckett. Her mom tried to comfort her, but since Candy hadn’t told her the whole story, it was hard for her to be much help.

  It didn’t matter. Her heart was broken. She was crushed that Beckett hadn’t come to find her. Check on her. In the aftermath of the picture, she was alone in school, facing everyone on her own. Part of her was dying a tiny bit and it hurt all the time.

  It was clear to her now. She was in reckless love with Beckett Taylor, but he didn’t seem to feel the same way. Her dog sighed again. She buried her nose in the leather of his jacket and inhaled. Losing him hurt so much.

  It’d been three months now since Beckett had quit high school and walked out of Rick’s house. He still tried to see his brothers a few times a week, but they were up early and in school. Beckett’s new life was all about the night, the time of day when people turned on their house alarms and made sure the doors were locked. Depravity could occur at any time, but at night it flourished like a fancy flower in a hothouse. And right there in the sticky center of it, he was hustling.

  He was doing business, threatening, stealing, and granting pardons in downtown Poughkeepsie at a blistering rate. During his three-month reign, he’d become known for his ruthlessness and quick temper. He was good at setting the scene. The way he handled his interactions was carefully choreographed for a maximum impact, and then what he’d done spread through the alleys and dark corners of the city like wildfire. People loved to talk. Maybe he was a bit theatrical. But it was working.

  His age also seemed to help him advance, rather than holding him back. Like a freaking baby copperhead—loaded with way too much venom and no control—he did what he needed to do to survive. The deadly snake that he was would either earn his stripes or fall on his bloodstained sword.

  The pace was grueling as he tried to be everywhere at once to make sure his legend grew, and he rarely slept. He had to compensate a little by using the products he sold, but he vowed to keep it within reason. For a purpose. No ending up like Kick. And only until he’d settled at the top. Then he’d leave the poison to the dirtbags.

  In the meantime, though, he’d heard a rumor that Cole had been fighting at school, and he needed to make sure Rick was staying reformed. Who would’ve imagined it would be Blake in the end who finally got Rick to lay off?

  Beckett had set up a meeting with his brothers at the edge of the woods. He didn’t have a house worthy of them, so he drove over in a huge Hummer to give them a private space to relax. A few minutes after he roared to a stop, Cole walked up the road, and Blake came out of the woods. He hopped out of the Hummer and met them in the middle, giving them the brothers’ handshake and clapping them each on the back. Their eyes were wary. He recognized concern in their faces.

  “What’s going down, babycakes? Why do you look like I killed your favorite dog?”

  Blake rubbed his cheek with the palm of his hand. Cole cracked his knuckles. Neither responded.

  Beckett tossed his hands up in the air. “Rick beating again? Please tell me he is. I will cram his own balls up his asshole before I slice his chest open. Goddamn motherfucker.”
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  Blake shook his head. “No. We’ve still got that under control. As long as I play him the Ave Maria on the basement organ, he keeps his hands to himself.”

  Beckett pointed at Cole with his pinkie. “Heard you were in a fight.”

  “It wasn’t anything.” Cole stuck his hands in his pockets.

  “Really? Yeah, ’cause that’s how you go. You’re awesome at reeling shit in after someone’s set you off.” Beckett began to feel a very scary fissure between him and his brothers. Dark nights with a gun in his hand didn’t scare him, but the look of unfamiliarity between them had his heart freezing in his chest.

  Blake stepped up, moving freely in the dusk. “Listen, some assholes were talking crap about you. Cole handled it. And I helped him come down. It’s fine.”

  Beckett looked from one face to another and, in a sick way, missed standing next to them in the woods. They’d been soldiers together then. “Is this over for us?” he asked them. “Did me leaving make what we had go away?” He heard in his voice how much of a fucking pussy he was, but he was at the end of his rope.

  Cole stepped closer. “I don’t know how it is for you, but for Blake and me? We’re in this till they lower our coffins into the ground.”

  “We just miss you,” Blake added. “And we hear crap and rumors, and we want you to be all right.” He punched Beckett in the arm, soothing the situation. Blake was the glue. He made everything okay.

  Satisfied for the moment, Beckett turned and waved them into the Hummer. Cole climbed in the back, Blake on the driver’s side. Beckett hoisted himself into the passenger seat. He leaned across to insert the key and get some heat pumping. Blake seemed to instinctively know the music was going to be way too loud when the car came on, and he cranked it down as soon as he located the dial.

  Beckett turned in his seat so he could see both his brothers. “Shit, I guess I’m okay,” he began, addressing their concerns. “I’m balls deep in this business—boosting shit, selling crank, and running hookers and shit. Half the time I expect my head to get blown off walking across the damn street. That’s why I’m distancing myself from you. I don’t want these assholes to get any great ideas like using you against me. But I miss you fuckers too.” He raked his fingertips across his chest.

  Cole’s eyes were wide. “You know we can all pack up and leave. You don’t have to be in so deep that you can’t get out.”

  Blake agreed with a positive-sounding hum.

  Beckett reached over and popped open the glovebox to reveal stacks of cash. He took them out and tossed one to each of his brothers. The boys scrolled through them like they were flip books with pictures making cartoons as the pages sped past.

  “I’m going change our futures,” he vowed, watching his brothers delight in the cash. “I’m going to make so much money that no one will ever make a choice for any of us again.”

  He tried not to picture how he’d gotten the cash, how much evil it had taken to get them this hit of euphoria.

  Blake tossed it back first. “This is crazy. You’ll have to keep it for us. Rick would find this in a heartbeat. You know he’s like a bloodhound for money.”

  Cole nodded, throwing his back as well.

  Beckett tried not to feel hurt but failed. He’d wanted to send Cole and Blake back to Poughkeepsie East like gangsters, rolling in cheddar.

  “I have plans for Rick,” he told them. “Have no worries. If he finds this money, he’d best invest in a life insurance policy. If not, I could always get that old hag he’s married to working on the street corner.”

  He watched as his brothers’ eyes registered what he was saying. Murder and hookers. God, he was a lot to take right now. Maybe he always would be.

  “Speaking of murder…” Cole segued into a question only Beckett could answer “…seen my mother around?”

  Beckett had asked, but Cole’s mother seemed to have dropped off the planet. If she was around somewhere, she was another one who belonged on the revenge tour he really felt like he might take in the future, but he chose his words carefully, remembering Cole’s complicated feelings. “No. I’ve asked. She’s not been at the haunts I would expect a chick like her to be at.”

  Cole bit his lips together. Beckett wanted to ask what fate Cole would pick for his mother, or why he was concerned at all, but he didn’t.

  Blake broke the silence with a question of his own. “Summer and Wintery?”

  Beckett was happy to give them this news. “Their mother recently got out of a day rehab. Her eyes look good, and she just got a new job. She’s actually a little bit hot. The girls look good too, at least from a distance. I keep stuffing cash in their mail slot at night. They’re going to think Santa Claus is a gambling fool or something.”

  Blake laughed, seeming tremendously relieved as he held up his fist for a bump. The sparkle in his brothers’ eyes eased Beckett’s mind. He could see their easy rapport coming back. He had to make a point to sneak away to see them more often. It was time they wanted from him—not money, not a big reputation. His brothers just wanted time.

  Now it was his turn to ask some questions only his brothers could answer. “How’s the old lady down the block doing? I ain’t been stealing her car in a while.”

  Cole put his hand on Beckett’s shoulder. “She died last week. Sorry, bro.”

  Beckett looked at the floor, regretful that toward the end of her life it probably appeared to her that her husband’s ghost had stopped coming to visit. “Ah, shit. I guess the old bag had to die eventually.” It bothered him more than he was willing to admit.

  “Candy, Blake, and I had been taking turns dropping stuff off for her, so she went happy,” Cole explained. He was such an intuitive bastard.

  Beckett couldn’t help but smile. “That’s good. Great. Thanks for that.”

  “No problem,” Cole added.

  And then the silence took a little more shape as her name brought his girl to the forefront of his mind. “You guys still hanging with Candy?” Beckett eventually asked the question when neither brother offered anything further.

  They exchanged looks. Blake finally attempted to answer. “We don’t avoid her. But we’re not really spending time with her. She came and went to Ethel’s car on her own, and I guess that’s over now. She asks us about you from time to time at lunch.” Blake fiddled with the console between the seats while he talked.

  “What do you say?” Talking about Candy made him think of her scent, her beautiful face, and her slightly dirty mind. He ached for her.

  “Not much. You’ve been busy, so we tell her that.” Blake rubbed his palms together.

  “She dating anyone?” Beckett looked into the distance while he waited for an answer.

  Cole said, “Uh, no. Not at all.”

  Beckett lifted his gaze hopefully.

  “She’s devastated.”

  Beckett squinted his eyes at the information.

  Cole clarified. “Over you.”

  He ran his bottom teeth over his top lip, thinking of her, of what to say. The selfish part of him loved that she was still his in her head as much as she was in his. However, the part of him that knew the right thing to do—yes, it was still in there—wanted them to tell her he was dating someone, to make it sound normal so she would just let her heartbreak heal. But he didn’t suggest this.

  “Yeah, we had it bad for each other,” he said instead. “But I’m no place for a good girl, you know?”

  His brothers respectfully didn’t try to convince him otherwise.

  They talked way into the night. The conversation was easy once they got going. He emphasized how much he wanted them both to graduate, mostly because that’s what he pictured all the kids with solid families were hearing about now. He wasn’t their dad, but damn it, just having someone fuss about that formal bullshit seemed like a good idea. He encouraged his brothers to move in with him as soon as they were ready. He promised he was getting stuff together. He didn’t tell them he also planned on murdering the hell out of
their current guardian.

  They laughed some about getting in trouble. They could barely breathe when he told them that on a light day, he and a couple dealers had gotten some bags of dog crap to throw through the open windows of the Poughkeepsie East football team’s bus like turd ninjas. Eventually he had to drive his brothers home at two thirty in the morning. He watched as they snuck back into his old foster home before taking himself home by way of Candy’s house.

  Her car was parked on the road. Beckett reached under his front seat, first touching his gun, then a bag of heroin before finding what he sought. He pulled out a bag of Hershey’s Kisses and trotted over to her car, slickly picking the lock and upending the bag in the driver’s seat. He picked out one chocolate and placed it on her windshield.

  She had a marker in her cup holder, so he used it to write on her steering wheel:

  Kiss you, miss you.

  He kept his lights off as he rolled the rest of the way past her house, but slowed when he saw her silhouetted in the window he’d thrown rocks at so long ago. Her hair was up in a bun, and he couldn’t tell from this angle whether she saw him or not. She was up too late. He shook his head.

  The Kisses were a mistake, but he couldn’t bring himself to go back and clear them out. He told himself he was thanking her for taking over ghost duty for Ethel, but if he was being honest, he simply hated the idea of Candy giving up on him.

  18

  Candy Kisses

  CANDY PUT THE FINISHING TOUCHES on her prom hairstyle. She wasn’t going to the dance with a date, but with a few girlfriends—she’d finally made some real girlfriends in English class after Beckett had dropped out—who were in the same position, so she wouldn’t be alone. Both Helena and Rettie had defended her so many times she’d lost count after the horrible pictures-all-over-the-school incident. They’d come into her life just as Beckett abruptly left it, and she was grateful.

  It had been four months since she’d spoken to him. She’d called his foster home, only to be told he’d moved out. Blake and Cole listened to her concerns, but wouldn’t give her much information. But she’d found chocolate Kisses in her car one night about a month ago, and that sent her hopes soaring again.

 
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