Return to poughkeepsie, p.23
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       Return to Poughkeepsie, p.23

           Debra Anastasia

  “She’s a sociopath. I’ve never met anyone made of such crap.” Joey shook his head. “I’ve had to do jobs for her. A few jobs—like similar shit to what you just saw in that video. Scare the fuck out of people. But, you know, she’s got someone on my mom.” Joey lit a cigarette.

  “Why not pack up mom and leave?” That’s what Beckett would’ve done.

  “Yeah, you know what kind of care my mom needs? She flips out if her slippers aren’t in the right spot. I’m a complete stranger to her. The place, though—the colors and the uniforms—it seems to make her happy.” Joey exhaled a cloud of smoke.

  “Tell me everything you know.”

  “Fuck that shit. She’s got eyes everywhere. She’ll not only kill my mom but make it hurt the whole damn time she’s dying. I can’t. I can’t take the risk.” Joey shook his head. “You kill me. You can taint puppet me. I know you’d never touch my mother.”

  Beckett shook his head. “I’m looking for a kidnapped lady. You have any information that can help?”

  Joey’s hand shook as he took his next drag. “She’s not the only one. I’ve had to help them bag two other girls in the last week.”

  “Dead?” Beckett’s stomach was in knots.

  “Not yet. They’re related to people, so she’s using them. Like the shit she’s doing to me.” Joey rolled his head on his neck. “They got someone you know? They’re probably after you.”

  “Where did you take the women?” Beckett felt his anger boiling.

  “We took them to houses, like with For Sale signs on them and shit.” He thought a moment. “Yeah, they all had For Sale signs on them—Baker’s Realty. All over New York. And one in Connecticut. They’re going to do some sick shit.”

  “I need all your contacts.” Beckett pulled out his phone and began texting John and Blake the Baker’s information.

  “That’s just it. We all don’t even fucking work for her. She’s getting us all to fuck with each other.” He tossed his cigarette on the ground before grinding it with his shoe.

  “Who is she?” Beckett knew of no female bosses in the area. The closest thing this place ever had to that was Eve.

  “Her name’s Mary Ellen. She’s not shy about sharing that.” Joey looked nervous.

  “Is this everything you know?” Beckett looked deep into the other man’s eyes.

  “I can give you the addresses where we took those girls. They were both blondes. Well, and one little boy.” Joey made a motion as if he was writing with a pen and paper.

  Beckett turned to the douchebag closest to him. “Text me his information. Hold him until I say let him go. I want the address for the little boy too.”

  He had to move. This shit was going to get evil fast.

  Eve sipped on pink champagne and made what appeared to be very flirty small talk with Ryan. They did so to cover the cell phone communication Ryan was having with Captain McHugh. Pictures were snapped and sent, gathered information passed along, and they’d full-on made out several times, hiding texting and spying.

  When Mary Ellen stepped onto the dance floor and tapped her glass, Eve shook her head. “This isn’t going to be good. Buckle up, cowboy.”

  She stood with the crowd as three different video screens were projected on a large, blank wall. Eve leaned against Ryan and wrapped her arms around his neck. He now had plenty of cover for his cell phone. He nipped at her neck, and she smiled.

  “Gentlemen, please direct your attention to the screens. I know some of you are quite anxious for an update on missing family members.”

  A sudden wave of silence settled over the crowd.

  “Does this chick ever learn?” someone whispered near Eve and Ryan.

  “Can someone please shoot her?” another voice replied.

  “As many of you know from our last little gathering—and the rest of you know from the messages I’ve kindly sent you in the interim—I’ve politely requested that business dealings with Sevan Harmon be suspended. His business will soon end its operations in our area, and I’m pleased to note that many of you have been able to restrain yourselves quite appropriately. However…” She paused and made a little tsking sound. “Others of you have not been so wise.” Mary Ellen nodded and each of the three blank video screens came alive with real-time footage of a frightened hostage.

  A collective gasp escaped the crowd, and Eve could feel Ryan moving his cell phone around to try to catch every image. After a quick scan, Eve determined that Livia was not among the captives. She cursed and cheered at the same. The last screen held a heartbreakingly small boy.

  “You’re going to die!” came a voice from the crowd.

  “Kill her.”

  “That’s my child!”

  “Wait.” She was using her schoolteacher voice again, which made Eve furious. “You have no way of communicating with the gentlemen in charge of the fate of your loved ones. If you kill me, they die. Totally up to you.” She shrugged.

  The noise died down a bit. Thugs of all sizes and levels of refinement looked at each other blankly. None seemed quite sure what to do. None knew who to trust.

  “I’m assuming you’ll want these ladies and the small gentleman back,” Mary Ellen continued. “If we can just come to a formal agreement regarding Mr. Harmon, I’ll make sure your loved ones have every amenity.”

  A man approached Mary Ellen, gun drawn. She smiled.

  “You’ll let me because otherwise—”

  She looked away and nodded. One of the screens burst into movement. The woman bound to the chair began shaking as a man reached out with an electrical probe, barely touching her arm. She couldn’t scream because of the tape over her mouth, but she made noise anyway.

  The whole time, Mary Ellen smiled at the man who’d threatened her. After a few moments she raised her hand and motioned for the attacker to stop. The woman slumped.

  “That’s your niece, if I’m correct?”

  “You know who she is.” The man stepped closer.

  “She’s a pretty little thing.” She waved her hand. “The others haven’t been touched. You caused that pain for your niece. Why don’t you have a seat?” Mary Ellen motioned to his chair.

  Eve turned in to Ryan’s chest. He kissed her forehead.

  “She’s not going to let you leave. This is too much.” She looked in his eyes.

  “I’m figuring.” Ryan shrugged.

  “They’re going to need you, though. They might try to take me or your mom to be sure you cooperate. I gave them a false address for her.”

  His jaw tensed. “Yeah.”

  “They can take me. If they do, don’t worry. I’ll be fine.” Eve touched his face and smiled. “You armed?”

  He gave the slightest shake of his head.

  “I’ve got something for you.” Eve spun around to face forward, hugging his arms tight to her middle. “Give me a second.”

  As discreetly as possible, and taking full advantage of the chaotic crowd, she reached up her dress and removed the weapon Shark had given her from its hiding spot. Straightening and smoothing her skirt, she passed it to Ryan. In turn, he slipped his cell phone down the front of her bodice.

  Beckett could see a video monitor from where he stood, and on it, just behind the ranting old chick, he could also see Eve. Her hair was dark and her dress was bizarre, but it was Eve. It felt like a punch as he watched her twirl in a man’s arms, whispering and touching him.

  Why the hell she was at that crazy woman’s party, Beckett didn’t fucking know. But she’d moved on, clearly. He looked over his shoulder and nodded. Behind him four douchebags pulled down their ski masks along with him. They slammed into the structure like the fist of God.

  Beckett went low and knocked over the chair the little boy was strapped to. He quickly dismantled it and scooped the boy up. The rest of the douchebags eliminated the kidnappers gruesomely, since they knew they had an audience.

  Beckett put the boy down when they were good distance away from the house. He sliced through the b
indings and comforted the kid as best he could.

  “Listen, I’m going to get you to a policeman, and he will take you to your parents. Are you okay?”

  The boy just nodded, eyes wide. Beckett remembered his mask and lifted it up. The kid was so fucking little. He pulled out his phone and tried to call McHugh. A different cop answered the phone and told him the captain was in the middle of a raid. Beckett’s heart soared. “Is it Livia?” he asked. But the officer had no further details available—or so the bastard said. Nonetheless, after a brief conversation, Beckett met a patrol car in a nearby parking lot. The rescued child seemed to relax when he saw the uniform. Beckett couldn’t have picked a better delivery system. The cop immediately called the kid’s mom while buckling him in the backseat, and Beckett departed before the policeman got a chance to ask questions. His douchebags were supposed to burn down the house where they’d found the kid to the ground.

  Back in his car, he got a text from McHugh saying a kidnapped lady had been freed a few towns over. And no, she wasn’t Livia. Beckett sighed, his pulse racing. That party was going to turn into a shitstorm. What would Mary Ellen do after he or the cops released all her hostages and took down—one way or another—all her kidnappers?

  McHugh had extra officers from surrounding counties and SWAT teams scoping out all the Baker’s Realty properties they could find. He was damn happy he’d found the kid and McHugh had gotten a girl, but neither had been Livia, and she was his ultimate goal.

  He called the tall man who procured items. “Milton, you got an invite for me? And how about a tux? Looks like I’m headed to a party.”

  He needed his hands around that bitch’s throat to get her to talk.


  Thank You

  JUST LIKE THE LAST DAMN PARTY Mary Ellen had insisted on, this one had turned to spectacular disaster. The crowd had nearly rioted as they watched the little boy freed, and only quick action by Mary Ellen’s people and several in the crowd who evidently still had loved ones in play had prevented the boy’s father from taking Mary Ellen out immediately. When one of the women was freed half an hour later, Mary Ellen had blanched, and Primo had hustled her over to a safe corner for what looked like a decidedly unpleasant discussion. And, as Eve had predicted, after the second melee Mary Ellen’s people had come for Ryan. They offered her no explanation, but seemed to snatch him up simply for being there, watching her all the while. She played along, making her face impassive and letting him be carted off. She waggled her fingers in goodbye as they dragged him away.

  No one was allowed to leave, so the crowd was now glued to the screens, waiting to see if the remaining woman would be freed. She joined them in studying the last captive. She couldn’t shake the feeling that the first man to bust into the room with the little kid had been Beckett. As she watched, Mary Ellen stepped away from Primo to look anxiously around the ballroom. Eve couldn’t believe she was going to have to save this chick’s ass. Again. But damn it, until she knew where Livia was, she needed her.

  Eve tapped Micki as she walked by and motioned with her head for her to follow. Shark’s friend had stayed alive this long, and Eve hoped she could be trusted. Micki followed Eve until they flanked Mary Ellen. Eve put her hand on the woman’s shoulder, leaning down to whisper behind her cupped fingers. “You need to get the upper hand. This is turning to shit.”

  Mary Ellen whirled to face Eve, rage filling her eyes. “I have complete control. Why does everyone doubt me?” She cleared her throat and turned her back on them to return to the microphone. “Everyone! Everyone! Please. You think these events are a surprise to me? I was never actually going to keep your people. Like that was ever an option. It would be a death sentence.” The group quieted down. “These kidnappings are for display only. I’m trying to show you that as individuals, we are vulnerable. That’s why we need to work together. Clearly Mr. Harmon won’t protect you—or can’t protect you—so why not do things my way? My family’s business is long-standing and well-respected. I’m certain we can accommodate your needs.”

  Mary Ellen held out her hand, and Eve helped her up on a table. She had to hand it to her: this woman was going to put icing on a pile of shit and call it cake.

  “These tactics I’ve used to bring you together are not the ones I like. I prefer things to be much more dignified. And I see no reason they can’t be, going forward. I just need you to understand how deadly serious I am about this.”

  She stopped and let the crowd talk among themselves for a few beats. Eve held out a hand to help her down and tried to avoid rolling her eyes.

  “Thank you,” Mary Ellen said demurely. “And thanks for bringing Ryan. He’s going to be very helpful in ensuring I’ve made my point. Hope you’re not too fond of him.” Mary Ellen nodded to one of her guards, and he spoke into an earpiece. Moments later, Ryan appeared on the dance floor, hands bound.

  Mary Ellen snapped her fingers and cleared her throat into the microphone to get everyone’s attention. There’d been no rescue for the remaining hostages, so some remained focused on that screen. “Poughkeepsie Police Officer Ryan Morales is here to show you what happens to those who pledge their cooperation, accept my offer of employment, but don’t follow through adequately.”

  She ran a finger along Ryan’s jaw. He spat in her face.

  She stumbled backward, gasping. Micki hurried over with a napkin. One of the guards punched Ryan in the stomach and collapsed his knees with a swift kick. Eve worked to show she was unmoved. She was being watched for sure. Mary Ellen waved her arms angrily, and her men got into position. Ryan caught her eye and shook his head almost imperceptibly as they pulled him to his feet. She knew he was right. There was nothing she could do.

  So she just watched. The men who went to town on him now were clearly seasoned at this sport. Ryan flinched in pain as one hit his kidney and the other punched the center of his chest. Eve looked at the floor. She couldn’t even find her fancy shoes hidden under all the damn skirts. She needed a second to arrange her face in the appropriate reaction. She opened her hands, which had balled into fists, and exhaled. When she was finally able to look up, a bemused smile placed on her lips, Ryan was facedown on the floor. Mary Ellen nodded at her and raised her glass, toasting Ryan’s pain.

  Eve suppressed the scream building within her. She added Ryan’s beating to the list of wrongs she needed to right—along with Livia, her father, and probably all of Poughkeepsie.

  Cole watched as Kyle tried the bottle again, but Kellan just let the formula spill out of his mouth. She shook her head.

  Kellan had awakened, hungry, barely half an hour after his father’s departure, and his cries had roused his sister. The initial mayhem was now under control, but the situation was testing their skills. And Kyle wasn’t even convinced she had any to test.

  “He takes bottles—Livia pumps all the time. This is bad.” She put the bottle down and tried burping Kellan, swaying gently.

  Cole rocked in the rocking chair, his niece asleep on his chest. “Maybe Kathy can find a different formula?”

  “I don’t know. I mean, all I have is this one job and I can’t even get the baby fed?”

  Cole watched her face. “Maybe you should sit. How’s the cramping?”

  “The cramping’s fine. I’ve been on the rag since I was thirteen. Cramping is what girls do.” She did sit, though. Still patting Kellan’s back, she plopped onto the ottoman in Blake and Livia’s bedroom.

  Cole checked his phone behind Emme’s back. No news from Blake or Beckett or John. He wanted to help, but Kyle came first. And he wasn’t handing her solo child-watching duties while she recovered from a miscarriage.

  It was like she could hear his thoughts. “Maybe I suck at babies.” Her eyes glistened.

  “You don’t. This is hard on him, and he’s used to something else. We’ll get it right. Don’t worry.” He watched as she was rewarded with a burp from Kellan.

  Cradling him in her arms, she offered the bottle again. Both she and Col
e were surprised when he finally started to suck.

  “There you go, buddy. Fill up that belly.” Kyle readjusted her hold.

  Kellan kicked his feet and smiled around the bottle.

  “You do not suck. But he does now, so woo!” Cole winked at her.

  “You’re cheesy. Anything?” She nodded at his phone.

  “Not yet. I want to text them, but I don’t want to interrupt. The most important job we can do is be right here.” Cole kept rocking his niece, who seemed so small in his arms.

  “I wish I knew where she was. It should have been me. Seriously. Then she would be here with the kids where she belongs.” Kyle kept looking at Kellan.

  “As your big sister, I bet she wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s as stubborn as you. Do you want to pray?”

  Kyle nodded.

  Cole took a deep breath and thought of one of his favorites. The words of St. Theresa…Rather than closing his eyes, he smiled warmly at Kyle as he spoke the words that called for God’s peace, even in difficult situations, and asked for faith and unbridled dreams as the means to overcome any obstacle. “Tonight is testing our family in ways we never expected,” he concluded. “But in your infinite wisdom you blessed the McHugh ladies with tremendous strength of character and will. We thank you for their courage and ask that we might draw from their strength. Lord, help us find Livia. Surround her with your love and guidance and please see fit to return her to her children, to all of us. Amen.”

  Kyle nodded again. “Thanks. You always make me feel hopeful when you do that.”

  They stayed like this, each looking at the other—with children and worry between them—for hours.

  Blake crouched low and looked at the crushed weeds off the road. He’d walked and jogged for miles.

  It felt like a fool’s errand, but he truly believed he knew these woods better than anyone else. Maybe his arrogance was manufacturing clues, but he felt compelled to follow the trampled plants and continued down a long dirt driveway. There was an old house on the water back here. A few years ago, it had been for sale. Now it was a seasonal home, used only a few weeks a year. The rest of the time it was vacant, save for an occasional cleaning crew.

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