Saving poughkeepsie, p.21
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       Saving Poughkeepsie, p.21
 

           Debra Anastasia

  “I have to pee.” All at once her bladder was like a basketball full of water.

  “Go ahead, pumpkin. You’ve got a catheter.”

  As if the word catheter sent a signal to her urethra, Alison could suddenly feel the tubing. It was an awful sensation to just let go, but she had no other choice.

  “Hmmm…That’s a little more yellow than it needs to be. I’d better increase your saline.” The nurse futzed with the bag hanging by the bed. “For now I just want you to sit. I’ll bring you some cool water to sip on, okay?”

  After Alison had two glasses of water, which felt like heaven on her raw throat, she attempted some questions, “Am I pregnant?”

  “Not yet. But we’re working toward that goal. For now we just hang out. We can watch movies, or I have books for you to read. We just have to keep you calm and healthy.” The nurse plugged more information into her iPad.

  “What happened? I was ready for my embryos to be implanted.” Alison wished she could take back the question as she saw the nurse go pale.

  “Well, I’m afraid I don’t have all that information.” The nurse gave her a hollow smile.

  “Can’t you undo my feet as well?”

  “I’m afraid I have to keep you close, dear. We can’t risk any complications to your health while you’re in this preparatory phase. The less we have to sedate you, the better.”

  Alison didn’t respond. It was as if she was on another planet. She had no idea what this woman was talking about. But she did know she was being held against her will, and her husband was gone. She filed that horror away for another time. This woman in front of her was the only contact she had, so she needed to play her like a fiddle. Unfortunately, Alison was the suckiest liar in the world. She could never even keep Flint’s presents from him, often dragging them out from under the bed herself.

  Flint.

  She couldn’t stop the question. It fell out of her when she thought of his face every time she ruined a surprise. He loved her for it. He was charmed by her openness.

  “My husband?”

  The nurse hardened a bit, her smile in direct contrast to the knowledge her eyes held. “As soon as all the things are in place, you two can be reunited.”

  Alison nodded and made it a point to comply with the directions the nurse had for her body: She wanted this vessel to move, eventually to eat small bits. Her heart wanted to have hope, but the sinister look in the nurse’s eyes had answered her question clearly.

  No one was worried about Flint.

  Choking on that sob was the hardest thing she’d done since she woke.

  Cole sat in front of his home computer at the end of the day, his first back at school after the winter break. It had been chaotic, as expected. Schedule and routine were so important to his students with special needs, so even something as wonderful as a holiday could wreak a lot of havoc. There had been three restraints, and two kids from his classroom spent some time in the crisis room. But they’d all survived. And in fact, for some reason, he felt insanely energized.

  Rather than flopping into bed the moment JB was down, Cole was surrounded by ideas sketched out on graph paper—and he had a few matching files on his desktop. He wasn’t sure if it was the lack of sleep, his own blisteringly happy heart, or his lack of a pulpit to preach from, but he felt a calling.

  He had been holding his son—his beautiful, miraculous son—in the middle of the night a few days ago when it hit him like a thunderbolt: what he had wanted the most as a child was a family, a family that treated him like a person and respected his space, his body, and his place in the world. He was never held with love until Mrs. D, who came along so many years into his childhood that he was almost out of it.

  No one had kissed his head and inhaled the scent of baby soap in the middle of the night. Part of what had created his brotherhood with Blake and Beckett was violence, not being in a safe place. By the time they met, all three had given up on receiving the cuddles and adoration of an adult—what they needed was safety, a promise that the day would be a tolerable one, a predicable one: homework, chores, cartoons, video games. This never came. Instead they’d kept busy covering bruises and plotting murder.

  But now Cole knew it could be different, if he had his way it would be different for this generation of boys like they’d been. Beckett had told them he’d been buying up properties and refurbishing them. And Cole knew money was no object. He also knew there was an abandoned Catholic school at the edge of town. Father Callaghan had brought it up after mass last Sunday. Its doors had been shuttered for a little over five years—not enough time for things to get truly scary in there, but long enough that revamping the building would surely be a project.

  He’d driven by it earlier today on his way to school to take pictures and stroll the grounds. He’d felt like he had a special set of glasses on that made him able to see the future layered on top of the present. He wanted to create a home, a home for teen boys—maybe girls too. A safe place for the kids who got bounced from one place to another, just waiting for time to run out and thrust them into the world. He wanted to offer them the basics, childhood’s essentials: help with homework, a locking door, part-time jobs, and people who showed up to cheer them on at football games.

  He leaned back in his chair, the pictures he’d taken scrolling by in the slideshow he’d created to show Beckett, as his potential investor. He’d designed the font and used Photoshop to layer the name above the door: Brothers’ Legacy.

  He’d also worked their tattoo into a logo—even Mouse’s needles. As he looked at the image again, he had another brainstorm: mandatory knitting. They would all learn to knit. That would be a thing they had to do—make stuff. Cole sighed. He was definitely going to need some additional input on this…

  Kyle made noise on purpose as she entered his office. He knew she could be silent as a ghost if she chose, her dancer’s feet taking her as quietly as she wanted. He turned to greet her with a smile.

  “What ya got there, handsome? Looks fancy,” she said.

  He pulled her into his lap and tried out his pitch on her. He showed her the slideshow, the steps toward his calling spelled out carefully with Blake’s music threaded behind them. Am I insane? Kyle was so quiet he was nervous. His plan certainly sounded more idealistic out loud than it had in his head.

  She reached out and touched the name above the door in the final picture. Then all at once she turned and kissed him so forcefully they almost tipped the chair together.

  He had to put his finger on her lips to slow her enthusiasm. “What do you think?” he asked.

  She licked his finger and nipped the very edge. He forgot he’d asked her a question until she answered it.

  “I think it’s perfect.” She stood and pulled on his arm until he got up.

  “It would have to be funded by—”

  “Beckett. I know. He’ll do it. Anything you need, he’ll do it. It’s about time his money did some good. Let the blood he’s spilled create life.” She jumped easily, wrapping herself around him so they were eye to eye. “I’m so proud of who you are—that you would go and take pictures, that you dare to hope for this. I’m all for it. JB and I can’t wait to help.” She kissed him again.

  Cole had never been good with physical affection until her. Now his heart burned with their closeness—so much bigger and better than lust was this love. He kissed her deeply as she slid down him to put her feet on the floor. She was so flexible, it made him a better lover than he should have been. Her skirt was easy to lift, her panties sliding to the side. He could try anything with her, and she would smile and accommodate. When he asked her to put her calf on his shoulder while he dipped into her so deep, it was easy. He ran his hand from her ankle to her thigh as she shivered in response.

  They used the chair, the floor, and for a few minutes the wall. When they came, it was together, but she used the strength in her legs to intensify his release.

  She cuddled into him as they shuddered together. “Well
, I got what I wanted.”

  “I feel so used,” he said with a laugh.

  “Good, then I did it right,” she replied. “When are you going to show this to Becky?” Kyle readjusted her skirt and then his hair.

  “I don’t know. It seems like a tense time for him. He’s already done so much for us…”

  He finally noticed the baby monitor on the table behind his desk. She’d come prepared. JB slept in his bassinet.

  “If the situation was reversed, would you want him to sit on this?” She pointed at the computer.

  “No.” But Cole felt nervous again. It was a lot to ask—not just for the property itself, but for the continued funding. Would Beckett have to kill more people to fund a charitable organization?

  It was as if she’d read his mind. “He’ll have to make sure the funds come from a real, legit place. No backdoor bullshit. And that seems to be what he wants, right? He and Eve are going straight.”

  Cole nodded. As JB woke, Kyle ran upstairs, and he began to pray about the future of his new dream.

  18

  Whiskey

  Eve had built the cardboard boxes and taped them together. Now she sat on the floor of the living room, under the dried-out mistletoe. The Christmas tree was plastic, but the mistletoe had been real. She drank her father’s whiskey straight out of the bottle.

  The past week had been a blur of doing things in a great rush and then staring at nothing. She blamed Beckett and herself in equal measure, and the pain of it all kept tripping her. She would delude herself for a little while sometimes, arguing that without her father’s body, there was no loss—so much so that Spider showed her the surveillance video. Now she wasn’t sleeping, picturing the video in her head over and over.

  As of this minute, she’d cried herself hoarse. Now she sat, and the lights to the Christmas tree had illuminated according to their timer’s instructions. The whole place smelled like her childhood. Her father, his cologne, his furniture—it all was a comfort, a love.

  When she entered, she’d stepped over the notes from tenants and mail that had piled up outside his door. At some point she’d have to deal with all of it. She’d come with the idea of packing up his stuff, handling business for him, looking for clues on where Nicholas might be. But she’d succeeded only in finding his whiskey and sitting in front of her presents from her father under the tree.

  At the sound of a light knock on the front door, she withdrew her pistol and watched as it swayed in her hand. She knew then she was drunk. Eve opened the door while holding the pistol behind her, against her thigh.

  Ryan frowned when he saw her. “Saw the light on from the road and I wanted to check it out. Then I saw your bike. Pretty effin’ cold for a bike ride.”

  She turned and set the gun on the end table by the sofa. She wasn’t really in the right condition to be wielding a weapon. Ryan came in and shut the door.

  Her spot was still warm when she collapsed on it again. She scooted back so she could lean against the couch. Ryan reached down and snagged the bottle from between her knees, taking a swig.

  “That’s some good shit.” He sat next to her. Close, but not touching.

  “He was tortured to death. I know it. It was Nicholas. Tortured. This man who wrapped presents and had them under the tree. This man who spent his entire life fixing people. He was hurt until he died.” She took the bottle from Ryan and had another drink.

  She was blurry enough that the tree lights had started to bleed together. Just like her life choices had bled into her father’s.

  “Eve, you had to know that could happen. You’re too smart not to know.” He didn’t feed her any false hope that it wasn’t her fault.

  She turned and looked at him. He met her eyes as she drank again. “What’s your point, Morales?”

  “Get out. Get out of this now. Come with me tonight. Be better than this.” He was still looking at her when she turned to face the tree again. “I’m here to tell you you’re not protected anymore. McHugh can’t stop the inevitable—and neither can Beckett.” He reached over and turned her face with his knuckle so she had to look at him. “You’re going to say you don’t need protecting. And you’re so goddamn tough everyone will believe it. But I don’t. You do need protecting.”

  Eve watched him look from her lips to her eyes and back again. He was beautiful, truly. The dark hair, the broad shoulders—all that was a woman’s dream. But it was the monster in him that he’d tamed which commanded her respect. He’d taken revenge and made it into something that mattered. This was a good man.

  Her cell phone buzzed. She pulled away from Ryan’s hand and slipped the phone from her pocket. Beckett wanted to know where she was, if she was okay.

  She texted back:

  I’m fine. No worries.

  She wasn’t fine. All she had were worries.

  “I’m going to find the man who did this to my father.” She took another drink before setting her phone down on the carpet next to her.

  Ryan rubbed the tips of his fingers over his mouth. “Good. You should totally do that. Definitely. That’s what your father would want.”

  He stood so quickly it made her head spin. He walked over and pulled a framed picture off the wall.

  “He would want that. See this here? That’s the look of a man who wants his only daughter to die.” He cracked the frame over his knee and pulled out the photograph inside. He tossed it to her like a Frisbee.

  She looked at it despite herself as she caught it. In the photo she sat on her father’s lap, probably in kindergarten. She looked at the camera, and he looked at her.

  Three more pictures landed near her in the same manner—pictures her father had framed and hung. All had him looking at her while she looked at the camera.

  “Let’s see what this man got you for Christmas, shall we?” Ryan asked, his voice cold.

  No. No, I never want to see what’s in those packages. But she didn’t say it. Instead she set the pictures down and took another long pull on the bottle, surprised to find it was almost empty.

  Ryan tore into a box, angrily tossing aside the brightly colored paper. Her father had sucked at wrapping, but he knew she loved the paper, the surprise. So even when present bags became a thing—an easy, man-friendly thing—he still wrapped.

  “Oh look, pajamas. Surprised it’s not an assault rifle? I sure as shit am.” He threw the pajamas at her feet, and her heart died at the sight. They were her favorite color of blue, so soft and perfect.

  “Here’s another. Oh, the matching fucking slippers.” He tossed those as well.

  Next a bigger package was ransacked: inside, a pretty blue afghan.

  It overwhelmed her that in a store, thinking of his daughter, her father’s impulse had been to wrap her in softness. She finished the bottle and laid it next to the blue pile.

  “And this? This is truly meant for an assassin.” Ryan set a jewelry box down carefully and opened it. It played their song—the lullaby her father had sung for her, even when she was far too old for that nonsense, because it made her feel safe.

  Ryan went for another present, and Eve’s gaze fell on the front of a package where her name was spelled neatly in her father’s handwriting. Another tradition: her presents had always had her name on them so they wouldn’t get lost in Santa’s big red bag. So many little things hit her like a truck.

  “Enough,” she announced. Standing took more work than it should have.

  He picked up another present from the pile, ignoring her.

  “Stop, Morales.” He began to tear the paper away roughly, forcing her to face all the things that were killing her. She slapped him.

  He stood stone still, aside from the vein in his temple that pulsed. Then he ripped the paper away in defiance of her wishes. It was a simple brown box, and she felt like her sanity would break if she had to see another thoughtful, hopeful gift from her dead father.

  Jumping at him was the quickest way to make him stop, so she tackled him, knocking the box f
rom his hands. As they fell together into the Christmas tree, the box flew, and whatever was inside shattered.

  The glass ornaments exploded around them as the tree slumped and collapsed under their weight. Ryan grabbed her and made sure she landed on top of him, protecting her from the shards he was surely landing on for her. From her.

  She hit him in the chest, but half-heartedly because she was crying so hard. Ryan’s arms came around her firmly. He grabbed a fistful of her hair and held her in place, making soothing, shushing noises the whole time.

  Eve was sure she’d cried forever when she finally cried herself out. His arms loosened, and she pulled herself to her knees, then picked herself up, offering him her hand. He took it, and she pulled him from the wreckage of the holiday she never got to have.

  As he stood, she saw that he’d surely been impaled by glass.

  She wiped her eyes. “Take your shirt off carefully. You’ve got glass there.”

  She left him in the living room to go find her father’s medical bag. When she returned, he was struggling with the shirt.

  “Stop. I got it.” She methodically pulled out the shards that pinned the fabric to him.

  When he was finally shirtless, she took her father’s tweezers and began to pluck the glass from his back. She covered the small wounds with bits of antibacterial cream.

  “I’m sorry I wrecked your dad’s apartment. God, I’m a fuckhead.” Ryan looked at the floor.

  She dabbed another cut with cream. Doesn’t matter. Dad doesn’t need it.

  When she had finished, Ryan shook his shirt out, bits of glass falling to the carpet like snow. She put the cream and the tweezers back in the bag. Her mood was sober, but her body was wildly intoxicated. Sitting seemed like the only option, so she picked the couch.

  “What must the neighbors be thinking? Is someone going to come check out all this noise?” Ryan wondered aloud. He disappeared for a moment, then came back with a broom and dust pail.

 
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