Poughkeepsie, p.28
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       Poughkeepsie, p.28
 

           Debra Anastasia

  Eve accepted the kiss and pulled his phone out of his pocket. She used the texting feature to type and then handed it to him:

  Merkin told me u fired me. He cleared the lot. I blew up the mall

  because I believed him. He’s up 2 something.

  After a moment, Eve pulled his phone out of his hands as he began to shake and growl. She made him look at her.

  “I’m sorry I believed him. I shouldn’t have believed him. I don’t believe him now.” Eve spoke slowly and watched as Beckett waved away her apology. He rubbed his hands over his face, turning away.

  He didn’t hear his phone beep to announce an incoming text, so Eve clicked open and stared at the picture sent from Cole’s phone for several seconds before what she was seeing hit her completely. The message wasn’t from Cole.

  When Beckett turned to her again, Eve’s horror was illuminated in the twilight by the phone’s screen. He pulled it out of her hands and looked for himself.

  Silence.

  Then the night echoed with Beckett’s anguished wail. “NOT MY BROTHERS!”

  Eve grabbed his angry face, using all her strength to force him close to her. Beckett’s eyes had rolled back in his head. He was losing his mind.

  “Look at me! Can you hear me?” Now Eve was the one yelling too loudly.

  Beckett breathed quickly and through his teeth.

  “We’re here together. We’ll get him back. I promise you,” Eve said. “Merkin has no idea I’m with you. I’ve practiced killing for years, and tonight I’m going to use everything I’ve learned to save Cole. Do you believe me?”

  Beckett still sounded like an angry bull, but he nodded.

  “I will not let you lose your family. I won’t let it happen to you.” Eve’s hands circled his big, tense neck.

  He shook his head and let out a defeated breath. “I’m so sorry, Eve. I can’t even…Well, now I guess I can imagine what I did to you—just a little.”

  Her words had hurt him, knocked him down. That’s not what she’d intended. She would have to lay it out.

  “Beckett, I’ll save you from that fate because I love you. I love you.” She let her hands slip to his chest.

  His heart. His beautiful heart, surrounded by thorns, guns, and pain. Beckett kissed her again, and together they began to plot like two evil bastards. Beckett had Eve send Mouse a text to catch him up and get his eyes on Blake; she signed it so he’d know why the spelling was so perfect coming from Beckett’s phone.

  33

  Hobosexual Healing

  CHRIS COULD HAVE STRANGLED Dave—if he didn’t need him. Dave texted every thirty freaking seconds with an update.

  Hobo on road!

  Hobo still on road!

  Lost Hobo!

  Found Hobo!! ☺

  The smiley face made Chris want to punch Dave in the fucking taint.

  Holy Crap! Explosions!

  I’m ok! U ok?!

  My balls r tingling!

  Hobo still alive! Hobo headed to Firefly Park!

  Chris put his truck in gear and started rolling. After this whole show went down tonight, he planned to build a life-size exclamation point and beat Dave to death with it.

  Got my work buds!

  Great. Dave’s work buds were the fools that got off on throwing pennies at bums. He’d known them since high school. Losers. All of them. Chris honestly wondered if they could tell real life from gaming.

  Hobo headed in woods!

  Waiting for you, Robin Hood!

  Dave seemed to be living out every nerdtastic dream he’d ever had. Would he be wearing a goddamn beanie and his mother’s pantyhose like Little John?

  Chris pulled into the parking lot and cut his lights. Immediately Dave bounced over with Wilson, Jamie, and…Dorkalooza. Chris couldn’t remember that last asshole’s name. He unlocked his truck box, pulled on his hunting jacket, and slid some tools into the pockets and holes. Flashlight, check. Rope, check. Cell phone, check. Pliers, check.

  Dave nearly blew off Dorkalooza’s head as he flashed his dad’s Sig Mosquito .22.

  Sweet Baby Jesus in a waffle cone! Leave it to Dave to come armed.

  It was a nice little pistol with a ten-round magazine—simple enough for even Dave to fire. Chris took it out of his hands and double-checked the safety.

  “Hey, fuck nugget!” Chris thumped Dave on the forehead with his middle finger. “We’re not in a video game. This doesn’t take batteries. You can’t masturbate with a real fucking firearm.”

  Dave rubbed his forehead and looked at Chris with wounded eyes. “You’re a shit. Who followed this bastard all over Poughkeepsie for you tonight?”

  Chris knew he needed to keep the peace. “You’re a solid-gold ass avenger, Dave. Which way did he go?”

  Dave trotted ahead like Quasimodo getting ready to hump a giant bell. Chris tucked the gun in the back of his waistband.

  “Right here!” Dave pulled the fence out of the way.

  Chris he said nothing. They didn’t have a wild ass-pimple’s chance in hell of finding this bastard in the woods. Chris had hunted long enough to know his way around a forest, but the hobo was a hobo. He’d have to send up a goddamn flare for them to locate him.

  Trudging along the dirt path, Chris almost didn’t believe his good luck when he saw the glow of fire hovering over the next hill. After a brief foray off the path, he realized it was an all-out bonfire. Son of a bitch. It couldn’t be him.

  Chris rolled his eyes as he listened to his highly prepared-for-nothing crew behind him. They kept trying new plays on the word hobo like a gang of fucking second graders.

  “We’re about to commit hobocide.” Wilson’s observation was met with girly cackles.

  “It’s hobo-smashing time,” added Dorkalooza.

  Dave snorted through his laughter and proclaimed, “I want some hobosexual healing,” in a sing-song voice.

  Everyone stopped to stare at him. Chris aimed his flashlight right at Dave’s face.

  “Dude. Too much,” Wilson said and took a step away.

  Dave blinked in the harsh spotlight. “What? Whatever. I’m excited. I even put a condom on!”

  Dorkalooza shook his head in disbelief. “You put a love glove on your limp dick?”

  Dave shrugged. “Who said it was limp?”

  Chris rolled his eyes. “Your mom, asshole.” He was headed into war with a gang of crotch-lobsters. “You bastards couldn’t sneak up on a dead whore,” he hissed. “Shut your traps and try to staple on some balls.”

  The butt-munchers quieted down and followed Chris like a group of baby ducks. When Chris finally stepped into the flaming meadow, the hobo stood right in front of the fire like he was roasting marshmallows on his dick.

  Chris nodded as he wordlessly sent three of the assholes across to get him. They grabbed the hobo’s arms. He didn’t even flinch. It was like he knew they were coming. Chris felt so powerful. This was better than killing deer.

  When Wilson, Dave, and Jamie turned the hobo around, Chris smiled at his forlorn face. I only shoot the ones that don’t run, he reminded himself. This was totally justified. It was open season—the hobo had just given him permission.

  Merkin stayed in the back of the mercenaries’ cargo van and tried to look tough. The men surrounding him—with the exception of Craig sitting uncomfortably in the passenger seat—were as manly as they come. He opened his laptop and checked the locations of Beckett’s crew via cell phone GPS. Eve was off grid. Probably ran over her phone with her motorcycle. She was too smart to let Beckett track her after she blew up the mall. Beckett was in the woods, and Mouse was, predictably, still at Jo-Ann Fabrics.

  Merkin nodded and got to his knees when the hired gun came to tie him up and gag him. They needed to set the stage for the next part of the plan. Merkin put his hands behind his back and lay next to Cole’s motionless form.

  He closed his eyes as the man took his picture. Merkin wrote the text to Beckett himself after the mercenary released him:
r />   Got 2 of ur men. Meet at Symbols Warehouse. Come alone.

  The abandoned warehouse was a great spot for his assassins to entrench themselves. So much to kill one man. Maybe too much. But bringing big ol’ Beckett to his knees would gain Merkin respect in so many places.

  “You got the other guys in place?” Merkin made his voice a little deeper.

  The driver just nodded. Merkin suspected a trace of annoyance. Fuckers think they’re the only professionals.

  “Tell them it’s go time,” Merkin said. “The mark they’re following will be driving a flaming hearse. Find him and you find Blake Hartt.”

  Of course Beckett would send Mouse to protect his other brother. Merkin knew that as sure as the sky was blue. Beckett trusted Mouse implicitly. Merkin nodded smugly as the driver relayed this information to the others via his wireless headset.

  Really, Blake wasn’t needed. Merkin could get the job done with just Cole, but tonight would be legendary. Craig would witness it, and all these hired men would see that Merkin was deadly.

  Cole moaned, and Merkin looked over. His face was pressed into the dirty, metal floor of the van. One of the hired guns prepared another hanky full of the chemical that had taken Cole’s consciousness the first time around.

  “No, I want him awake,” Merkin said.

  The hired gun recapped the canister of liquid.

  “He’s gonna puke.” The man sat back as if Merkin’s decision was a poor one.

  “Take the gag off and let ’im puke then.”

  After Cole was done, he glared at Merkin. “Where is she? Where is she!” Cole threw up again. Speaking was asking too much of his ravaged body.

  “Shut up, Cole. Don’t make me drug your ass again.” Merkin tried to ignore his burning stare.

  “WHERE’S KYLE??” Cole screamed at a deafening level.

  The mercenaries rolled their eyes and looked annoyed.

  “Damn it. Just gag him again. Shut the fuck up, Cole. Do you want to die?”

  Cole struggled to keep his mouth free. “Merkin, tell me!”

  Merkin took a deep breath. “Cole, if you sit pretty for the man, I’ll tell you all about Kyle.”

  Cole stopped struggling instantly and let the mercenary replace his gag. But the burning stare never wavered.

  “Kyle was not even raped, Cole. Do you see how much respect I have? Do you see how nice I am? She’s with more of my men. You do what I say, and I’ll be true to my word. I won’t kill her.”

  Merkin watched hate climb into Cole’s eyes like a tiger. For the first time he doubted his decision to grab the priest instead of the homeless brother.

  34

  Patterns Begin

  PATTERNS.

  Patterns had set the tone of Mouse’s day since early in his life.

  Poughkeepsie’s Jo-Ann Fabrics store was one of his most vivid memories of childhood. He could picture his grandmother picking her way through the towers of fabric. Mouse had loved to reach up and touch the ones with the patterns. The happy ones with colorful animals were always rough on his fingers. The white borders on the ends had been perplexing. Why did the fun have to end?

  Inevitably, his grandmother would catch his small hands roving over some cloth. When she smiled her eyes would crinkle, and she’d quickly cover her teeth, which were far from perfect, with one hand as emotion filled her face.

  “You want the puppies, Jimmy? I make you a great shirt with the puppies.” His grandmother could carry the bolts effortlessly.

  He loved when the women would smooth fabric over the impossibly wide table and decide just how much they needed to cover Jimmy now. He knew he was small for his age, but they always made a fuss over how big he was getting.

  Mouse would stare at the silver ruler embedded in the white laminate as the correct amount of fabric was cordoned off and cut. His grandmother would then head for the yarn. The yarn aisle was Mouse’s favorite. Each bundle seemed like a puzzle waiting to be solved.

  “Meemaw, this green is really great, don’t you think?” Mouse grabbed it by the white paper that kept the yarn from spilling out.

  “It’s perfect, Jimmy. Just like you.” She put it in the cart on top of the puppy fabric.

  Meemaw plucked vibrant colors from the wall of choices like ripe apples from a tree. Her grand total was always a little more than she expected, and she usually said exactly that with a chuckle as she dug for her wallet.

  Then Jimmy and Meemaw would walk home, dragging her metal basket behind them. They didn’t have a car, but Meemaw swore she didn’t need one. She could walk everywhere she needed to go. When they got home, Meemaw always immediately organized her sewing pile and sorted her new yarn into her current collection.

  “Too much yarn, Jimmy. Why you never stop me?”

  Mouse knew this was a rhetorical question. He would never stop her from doing anything. Mouse loved his grandmother with all his heart. She was the only family he’d ever known. They had each other in this special little world they’d created, and that was fine by him. But Meemaw often brought his mother into the conversation. Her picture could be found in little frames all over the house.

  “Your mother loves you very much,” Meemaw would remind him. “She wishes she was here.” She spoke with conviction, but her eyes were always sad.

  Mouse knew his mother was in prison, and he eventually figured out it was for drug possession. She’d burned through her three state-mandated chances to be his mom before he was even old enough to remember her. She didn’t have a possibility of parole until Mouse would be thirty-two years old.

  “That last charge was a doozy, Jimmy. Your mother tried so hard, but the call of that stuff—it never stopped for her.” Meemaw always called drugs “that stuff,” but she was honest about everything else.

  Letters from Mouse’s mother were filled with talk of finding Jesus and the love of the Holy Ghost. For a while, Mouse thought jail was a big game of hide and seek where the winner got a bag of treats, like at Halloween. But eventually he figured that out too. His mother said Jesus was in her heart, and Jimmy figured they had to let you take your heart to jail, so Jesus could keep her company until he was thirty-two—unless the stuff called to her even then. Either way, Meemaw was his.

  Patterns.

  Meemaw loved patterns as much as Mouse. She liked to do her grocery shopping with coupons on Monday, her laundry on Tuesday, housecleaning on Wednesday, and shop at Jo-Ann Fabrics on Thursday.

  Full-grown Mouse stood in the yarn aisle of the very same store, although today was Saturday. He picked a few colors out of the wall. He grabbed the green from his memories and decided to make a scarf. The store had been remodeled since his days with Meemaw, but he still saw her here, out of the corner of his eye. She was average in every way—her body soft and smooshable for hugs. Mouse missed her terribly. Some days the pain wound around his neck like a snake.

  Meemaw and Mouse had had a quiet relationship. She’d look up from her knitting on a nice day and ask in a playful voice, “Jimmy, you want to go to swings? Yes?” Her thick Polish accent made her sound angry when she was far from it.

  At the playground, Mouse sometimes wished one of the stylish moms with the big sunglasses would claim him as her own. But Meemaw sat in the shade, knitting away, always waiting. She’d call him over for a sip of water every once in a while, commenting on how hard he was playing. Mouse would unscrew the top and take a drink from the jam jar Meemaw saved for just this purpose.

  Eventually, he dreaded the park. Once the other kids picked up on his high, squeaky voice that refused to sound any different no matter how hard he prayed to his mother’s Jesus, nothing was fun anymore.

  On the way back from the park, if it happened to be a Friday, Meemaw would take Mouse into the accountant’s office to discuss her finances. Friday was for accounting. She insisted he be included in the decisions. “Is his money too. We do everything together.”

  So he watched and learned how his grandmother turned her measly Social Se
curity check into enough money for a woman and child to live on.

  The most soothing thing Mouse learned from Meemaw was knitting. She was a miracle-worker with yarn and needles. Colors that would never imagine being neighbors in the store found harmonious comfort together in Meemaw’s knitted blankets. No ruffle was too complicated for her. Mouse had watched Meemaw slyly examine a pattern on someone else’s hat in the grocery store, and the next day create it from scratch.

  “Meemaw, can you teach me to knit?” The question that bubbled out of Mouse one rainy, drippy Thursday lifted his grandmother’s eyebrows and made her blue eyes sparkle.

  “Yes? Very well, Jimmy. Sit next to me.” Meemaw patted the worn couch cushion.

  That day Mouse learned the magic handshake of the creative. The slipknot and the gentle ladder of lovely that built on his grandmother’s needle instantly made sense.

  “You’re a natural, Jimmy.” She sounded prouder than a bird watching its fledgling take flight.

  They formed the defining bond of their relationship that day. After that Meemaw would bring his current creations to Jo-Ann Fabrics and brag to all the employees. Mouse stood looking at the floor, blushing at their compliments and encouragement.

  Patterns.

  Meemaw was as reliable as clockwork. She dressed him each day in dime-store clothes, which they’d carefully counted out the money to buy. She walked Mouse to school every morning, and gave him a sack lunch, which was equally predictable. The sandwich was always some horribly smelly meat that his classmates complained about, like tuna or liverwurst, wrapped in wax paper. And the glass jar had followed him from the playground to the lunch table. His special treat was juice instead of water.

  All the things that reminded Mouse of Meemaw made him different. And he learned that different wasn’t good as quickly as he’d picked up knitting. Meemaw made it to every event at school, even ones that no other parent showed up for, but her metal basket filled with knitting squeaked into the school lobby like a loud, dying cat. Mouse hated not being proud of her.

 
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