Poughkeepsie, p.32
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       Poughkeepsie, p.32

           Debra Anastasia

  Cole didn’t bother to explain. “It’s possible.”

  John grabbed his jacket and looked at Kathy, who nodded. He looked out the doorway just as an orderly attempted to lift Cole’s abandoned motorcycle. He struggled with its weight in the lacquered hallway.

  “I’ll take that, son,” John said as he exited the room.

  Cole and Kyle looked at each other with wide eyes as the bike roared to life just outside the door. It seemed Kyle’s father had decided to leave the way Cole came in.

  It didn’t take Beckett a long fucking time to figure out that whatever was going down with Blake was not at the train station. Eve pointed toward Firefly Park, where there were way too many vehicles for this time of night. At quick glance they ID-ed Mouse’s hearse and AssFuck’s ridiculous truck in the parking lot, and most surprisingly, a police cruiser parked on a nearby hill.

  They changed course immediately, and when they drew close, Eve hopped out of the Hummer while it was still moving. She used her elbow to crack the top left corner of Mouse’s driver’s side window. Beckett threw the Hummer in park and trotted up next to her, scanning the parking lot for any movement. Eve retrieved Mouse’s laptop, and after some quick typing into the GPS program, she looked up at the stars and back at the forest.

  “Mouse should be in the forest just a little way ahead.” She went back to the Hummer and pulled out a gun. She tossed Beckett a flashlight.

  “Eve?” Beckett had a million questions and suspicions. Something was wrong.

  She shook her head quickly, and they walked carefully into the woods on full alert. Eve lifted the screen on the laptop and reoriented herself every few feet. They walked steadily forward until, despite his light, Beckett kicked something. He trained the flashlight on the obstacle. A leg.

  He turned the beam on the body—a mercenary, or former mercenary, actually. Eve noted his discovery with wary eyes. Beckett swung the flashlight even with the ground and picked up a second massacred mercenary. Good ol’ Mouse.

  Eve now used the light of the laptop like a glowing torch. Beckett registered two more bodies in the blue haze offered by the screen. Two more. Two?

  Eve snapped the laptop shut and walked back toward him.

  “Eve?” he questioned, forgetting to be quiet.

  “Beck, let’s get back to the Hummer.” She stepped in front of him and tried to turn his massive body around.

  “Tell me, Eve. Tell me.” Beckett had done the math. Only three were supposed to be dead. Only three.

  Eve took a deep breath. “Mouse didn’t make it.” She stood next to Beckett, looking up at the canopy of dark leaves.

  “I don’t believe you. Fuck that shit! He’s bulletproof. He’s fucking bulletproof. Let me see him.” Beckett hadn’t moved.

  Eve shook her head. “Don’t. It’s too much…” Her tears were silver on her cheeks in the moonlight.

  Beckett stepped around her toward the bodies. He swung the flashlight and found the third mercenary with a knitting needle sticking out of his eye socket.

  Then Beckett knew. He knew deep inside that his friend was dead. No. Fucking no.

  He tried to put the flashlight on Mouse gently, reverently, but it was still too harsh. Mouse’s eyes were open, like haphazard shades on a vacant house.

  Beckett fell to his knees. “Ahh…I never thought they’d get you. Never. Fuck.”

  He dropped the light and balled his fists, jamming them into his eyes. Pain seared from his head to his heart. He took another look, putting one fist in his mouth. His breath came in loud, shaky gasps. It was the sound of someone coming apart at the seams.

  “Fuck it, Mouse. No fucking way. Not tonight. I even fucking prayed tonight!”

  Beckett gathered his courage and closed his friend’s eyes. He put one giant hand across Mouse’s chest, just to make sure there was no heartbeat. Mouse’s skin was cold and clammy. The discarded flashlight illuminated the darkened, bloody pine needles around Mouse.

  “Ah, son of a bitch. Mouse, you fucking deserved more than this. More than dying in the goddamn dirt. You’re more than this to me. You’re my friend.” Beckett’s emotions got him again, and he sobbed deeply into the dark.

  He felt Eve’s hand on his shoulder. “We have to make sure Blake is okay. I have no idea why Chris Simmer’s truck is here.” Her voice was hushed and sad.

  “I can’t leave him here. Not with them. Not in the fucking dirt.” Beckett grabbed his flashlight with every intention of handing it to Eve so he could carry his friend—no matter how fucking big he was—to someplace better, when the light landed on Mouse’s bare chest.

  “What the hell?” Beckett touched Mouse’s chest again, and Eve took the light and centered it on the tattoo in question.

  Beckett traced it for a moment, his finger lingering on the knitting needles that set it apart from his own, and bowed his head. “Now that’s too fucking much,” he said softly. “That hurts too fucking much. Eve, not Mouse. He can’t be gone.”

  “Wait.” Eve stopped Beckett from scooping Mouse into his arms. She positioned herself at Mouse’s head.

  She gently touched Mouse’s arm. “Beck, I think he’s pointing.” She stood up and tracked the path Mouse’s finger had given them. “We need to head that way.”

  Beckett saw what she saw. Mouse had died working. Working for him. And not for the fucking money—Mouse’s tat proved that. Beckett longed to get Mouse off the fucking dirt, but he needed to find Blake.

  “Listen, Mouse wants us to find Blake,” Eve pleaded. “That’s why he’s pointing. That’s why he took out three assholes on his own like a gladiator. I want to sit and cry. I want to get him in the back of his own hearse and treat him like a goddamn king. But right now, we’re going to finish what he started.”

  Beckett stood and nodded. As wrong as it felt, he needed to leave his friend—no, my brother—lying dead here. At least for now.

  John used the handbrake to stop the wickedly fast motorcycle at the light. He was pleased that his old motocross skills seemed to have resurfaced. He was less pleased because he knew he was a sight to see: still in his uniform and disobeying the law by going helmetless. But Livia was out in town somewhere involved in who the hell knew what. He braced the bike with his legs and did something he told the girls never to do while they were on the road: he took out his phone.

  He dialed Kathy’s number and waited. “Hey, Kath. How’s Kyle?”

  He could hear the smirk in Kathy’s voice when she replied. “Kyle’s definitely fine. I was about to call you. I spoke with the station—someone spotted your cruiser at Firefly Park. It was abandoned on a hill with the door open.”

  The light in front of John changed to green. The honks of frustrated drivers behind him just added to the urgency of his thoughts. Livia, baby, what have you gotten into?

  “Kathy, I want you to send an ambulance, an advanced life team, SWAT, and anything else you can think of to Firefly Park.” John stared at the green circle beckoning him to go.

  He whipped his badge out of his pocket and held it up for the irate drivers behind him to see. The honking ceased.

  “John, are you sure?” Kathy asked.

  “She’s my daughter. I need everything. Everything. Please?” John watched as the light flicked to yellow.

  “Consider it done. Go get her, cowboy.” Kathy hung up, and John could picture her fingers already placing the next call.

  He hung up and slipped the phone into his pocket. The light turned red, but John used the heartbeat before the opposing light turned green to rocket the bike through the intersection. Oh God oh God oh God. Livia, be okay. I’ll give anything. Just please, Livia, be okay.



  SO MANY THINGS IN the clearing should have had Livia’s attention—Chris, stupid Dave, the fire, the weird noises all these crazy men were making—but all Livia could do was feel. She could feel Blake’s crackling presence behind her. Her skin prickled in each place she knew they’d make contact if she
just leaned back into him. She turned her head to try to see his face. But Chris advanced, so she held her ground; she couldn’t succumb to Blake’s pull on her body.

  “Livia, so nice of you to show. You’re late. I’m glad you got my text telling you to meet me here.” He grabbed her shoulders.

  Livia tried to make sense of his words and slapped at his arms. He yanked her away from her place as Blake’s shield.

  “No. What are you talking about? No! Chris, let me go.” Livia dug in her heels.

  He wrenched her harder and wrapped an arm possessively around her shoulders. “I told you I’d get this bastard for you, baby. Nobody touches my girl and gets away with it.”

  Livia slipped out from under his arm. All these boys from high school gave her a feeling of déjà vu. Their voices and mannerisms were so familiar. She had a hard time taking any of them seriously. She turned to see Blake silhouetted by the glow of burning leaves as Chris seized her bicep.

  How could they do this? I know them all. “Chris, just stop this. Let go of me right now.” Livia pulled until he released her and almost fell with the sudden lack of counterbalance.

  “Don’t be mad, sweet tits. I won’t hurt him too bad. I know you have a soft heart. It goes with your soft head.” Chris wiggled an eyebrow at Wilson. “I swear, she’s such a wuss. But you’re my little wuss, aren’t you baby?” Chris held out a hand to Livia.

  Her mouth fell open. She dismissed him with a shake of her head and looked at Blake. He wasn’t even straining against Wilson and Francis as they held his arms.

  His indifference told her she had a mountain to climb. She needed Blake out of here and somewhere safe—safe from the nimrods of her teen years and safe from whoever had kidnapped Cole. But mostly she needed him safe from the anguish her words had caused him. The fire slowly reduced to a smolder.

  “Blake, I’m so sorry. We need to discuss what happened earlier. Let’s go, okay?” Livia focused solely on assessing Blake’s facial expression in the darkness. Apathy. Blake, damn it. At least look like you hate me. Apathy is the opposite of love.

  Dave snatched her as she took a step toward Blake.

  “Enough!” she shrieked. “Guys, this is over. We have to leave. Dave, let go. Why do you all think it’s okay to put your hands on me?” Dave pulled her arms uncomfortably behind her back, locking her into place.

  The fire was dwindling so quickly. Soon the only light would come from the full moon that now levitated above the tree line. In the slices of illumination, she saw gashes on Blake’s face.

  “You bastards. How dare you?” Livia turned her hands to claws and tried to scratch Dave. He evaded her nails.

  “She’s really head over heels for you, Chris.” Wilson laughed.

  “Seriously, that pussy is just begging for you.” Francis yanked Blake’s arm to make him stagger.

  Chris stepped in front of Livia, his voice was low and menacing, “Don’t embarrass me in front of these guys. It’s bad enough you’ve been throwing yourself all over this homeless asshole. Tonight I’m setting things right. And you’re helping me.”

  He cracked his knuckles and his neck. She hated that, and he knew it.

  “No, I’m leaving,” Livia countered. “And I’m taking Blake with me. This is crazy. I don’t know what the hell you thought you were doing, but it stops right now.” Livia waited for Dave to let go of her arms.

  Dave, who’d borrowed her glue stick so often in fifth grade that she had to buy a new one, was just a child. What was he thinking? He pulled her into him and ground his hips against her lower back. Finally Livia realized how high the level of testosterone was flowing through the clearing. Pack mentality was in full effect, preventing any of them from behaving rationally.

  Shame. I’ll just shame them out of this. “Dave, quit poking me with that tube of Chapstick.” Livia made sure her voice carried.

  “I don’t have Chapstick,” Dave said indignantly.

  “Damn, she’s calling your dick Chapstick,” Wilson said through a snort. “That burns.” He laughed like a seventh grader in the boys’ locker room.

  Dave leaned close to her ear. “Chris ain’t gonna want you any more ’cause you’re a hobo whore,” he whispered. Then he tried the words more loudly to compete with Wilson’s ribbing. “Hobo Whore! Hobo Whore! Livia’s banging a ho-bo!”

  Livia’s breath came through her teeth. Will Chris defend me? He had to pick a side, but as she met his eyes, Livia knew before he opened his mouth what his decision would be. She wore a scarlet letter now.

  “What Dave says is kind of true, Livia,” he said thoughtfully. “You know you’re fucking this bum. You’re slutting it out like a crack-hungry street whore. And that’s disrespectful to me.” Chris’s face had changed in the bluish light.

  Livia now faced a very different Chris. Like a long, spindly hair caught in a floorboard, she’d thought Chris was harmless—annoying, but harmless. Now that she’d pulled on the hair, she could see it was the leg of a big, black spider, full of venom just for her. How the hell am I getting us out of this, Blake?

  Dave snickered in her ear. “Chris’s not happy. He called you a whore. Maybe he’ll let me have you.” He followed his desperate wish with a high, nasal cackle.

  Livia turned her mouth in his direction. “Dave, you throbbing nimrod, I’ve flushed things more useful than you down the toilet.”

  She stomped on the toe of his sneaker and was rewarded with a shriek of pain. Dave let go, and she started toward Blake.

  Chris stepped in and took hold of her arms. “You can’t do this,” he hissed. “You can’t pick him over me. You can’t pick him. I’ll look like a fool.” Rising panic topped his voice like an overflowing soda.

  “God, just get out of the way. I need Blake.” Livia tried again to free herself.

  Chris squeezed her arms hard. She hated the smell of his cologne, the highlights in his hair. All of it was so ludicrous.

  Wilson repeated her words in a high-pitched voice. “‘Just get out of the way, I need Blake.’ Hey, Chris, maybe the hobo wears crack-coated condoms. Your girlfriend’s probably getting it up the ass. Crack in her crack. Get it?”

  Dave stopped squealing like a guinea pig and grabbed Livia from Chris with renewed vigor. Chris turned to gesture to Wilson, affording Livia a glimpse of Blake. When he saw her looking he refocused on a spot above her head.

  Damn it to hell. I need to tell him why tonight is so dangerous. I need this parade of assholes to go away.

  Then Francis decided to jump in. “Chris, you got to be pretty lame to lose your girl to the homeless. You could’ve just given the shitbag a dollar, not your regular bearded clam.”

  Livia let the fighting dissolve out of focus around her. She’d have to connect with Blake here, among the idiots—with Dave grinding his pencil dick into her back and Chris making angry hand gestures at Wilson. With smoke blowing in the wind to make her eyes tear up.

  “Look at me. Please.” It was more than a whisper but less than a shout. She got quieter. “Blake, please.”

  His green eyes found hers. She spoke as if they were alone.

  “I made a mistake,” Livia began. “I know you overheard me talking to my dad. I needed him to understand who you are, but I had to talk on his level. As a father he needed to know I was being decisive. I don’t think you heard the last part when I told him you were the path I wanted to take.”

  A flicker. Was it hope? Livia smiled.

  Blake’s lips moved, and she knew he’d counted her smile. Wilson, Francis, and Chris continued their heated exchange. Every other word was cocksucker. Dave sniffed the back of her neck, and revulsion rolled along her spine. Hope made her weak and strong, all at once.

  “I’ll make mistakes. I know I will,” she continued. “I want to be perfect for you. But I’m human. I can only be me. That probably isn’t enough for a soul as beautiful as yours. But if I hurt you by accident, can’t we stay and hold hands until we fix it? Can’t we fix it?” Livia now spoke l
ouder than she wanted to, but she had to be heard over the cacophony.

  “Chris’s a loser!” Dave shouted.

  Livia refocused to block him out and keep her bond with Blake.

  Blake bit his lip. “You’re perfect.”

  “No, sweetheart. I can’t even pretend to be perfect. Look where we are right now. That’s my fault, Blake.”

  Dave’s “Chris’s a loser!” mantra grew louder. Chris whipped around and pointed at him. “Don’t call me that! I’m not a loser. I’m not a fucking loser.” His eyes blazed with manic intensity.

  Dave tried his luck again. “Whoever smelt it dealt it.”

  All the bastards fell quiet. Dave had turned the tables on Chris, the wounded alpha. The clearing now offered only an occasional pop from the smoke-drowned leaves.

  Here. I need to tell him now. “Blake, I love you,” Livia confessed quietly.

  The tears in her eyes had nothing to do with smoke this time, and Chris began to shake with fury. Livia leaned toward Blake and tried again, louder still.

  “Blake, I love you.”

  Chris closed the distance until he was inches from her traitorous face.

  Livia shouted in the silence because now her soul was free. “I love you, Blake!”

  She smiled as he mouthed the words back to her.

  Chris slapped her viciously—once, twice, three times without pause. Livia’s neck and face pounded with pain. The inside of her cheek was stuck on her top molar.

  “Fuck you, Livia. I’m not a loser,” Chris shouted in her face.

  She spat out a mouthful of blood and looked at his angry, red features.

  “I’m so ashamed.” Livia felt blood filling her mouth again.

  She kept her eyes on Chris, but saw Blake finally taking action against his captors in her peripheral vision. He slammed an elbow into Wilson’s face and gave a twisting crack to Francis’s throat. Both men fell to the ground, writhing.

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