When they stumbled together into a clearing, even in their panic the blue moonlight made it ethereal, like a fairy ring. But in the center knelt Livia, counting out compressions.
Beckett stopped in his tracks. “No no no no no no.”
Livia looked exhausted. Eve knew the marathon toll CPR took on your arms. As she moved to join her, Eve took fierce pride in the brave beauty of a woman alone in the woods, working her hardest with no help on the horizon. Livia never stopped; she just kept on counting as Eve knelt on the other side of Blake.
“…and fourteen and fifteen and sixteen and seventeen…”
Eve spoke over the precious numbers. “Livia, I’m going to take over compressions and breaths on the next cycle. I know what I’m doing, okay?”
Livia nodded and pushed. “…twenty-nine and thirty.”
Livia placed a hopeful open-mouthed kiss on Blake’s pale lips. Eve set up her arms and continued where Livia had left off.
Her arms suddenly free, Livia stroked Blake’s face and whispered. “I see it, sweetheart. I was right—you’re beautiful when you’re glass.”
Eve kept the steady metronome of artificial heartbeats in her head. They needed to move rapidly. Blake has a fucking chance. I have to believe that.
Eve shouted to Beckett just before her two breaths. “Beckett, do you hear that? You need to run as fast as you can and flag down those sirens. They sound close. Go, baby. You have to run!”
Beckett seemed energized by having a job and took off faster than she’d ever seen him move. Eve resumed her chest compressions. Nice and constant. Pump the blood. Keep it moving. She looked around the clearing. It seemed empty, but there was a pile of something off to one side near the trees.
Livia rubbed Blake’s unresponsive hands and talking of their future. “Blake, we’ll walk in the woods together. We have forever. Just wake up, okay? That’s the deal we’re making right here. You wake up and we get to have forever.”
Eve tried to ignore the words to give Livia privacy. Two more breaths. Crap, this is hard. How long has Livia been doing this? “Livia, do you know how many cycles you gave him?” Eve asked when Livia paused.
Livia put Blake’s hand on her cheek. “I’m not sure. I was counting to thirty.” Her eyes never moved from Blake’s still face.
“You did great. Do you know what happened to him? Are there any dangerous people around us?” Eve finished a cycle of compressions and leaned down for Blake’s mouth.
“Blake stepped in front of a bullet for me. It went into his back. I have no idea if we’re safe.” Livia smoothed Blake’s hair.
“Listen, I need you to put pressure on his wound to stop the bleeding,” Eve said. She felt an ache climb up her arms.
Livia took her shirt off and faced in the cold night in her bra. Eve helped lift Blake up a bit so Livia could find the source of the blood. As Eve resumed the cycle, the noise of what had to be Beckett’s Hummer came crashing into the clearing. Headlights bounced around like two tandem falling stars. Beckett’s demanding voice filled the night.
“Right there—that’s my brother. Right fucking there.” The paramedics descended, breaking out bags and tubes and needles.
Eve gave them all the information she could. As they prepared the paddles to shock Blake, Eve pulled Livia away, not sure if she’d realize Clear! meant she had to let go of Blake’s hand.
A police officer came and took Livia from Eve’s arms, hugging her hard and kissing the top of her head. “Livia, dear God.”
Livia turned into the man. “Dad, I did CPR. He’s going to make it, right?”
His eyes held little hope. He slipped his jacket off to cover his freezing daughter as a flurry of alarming words clouded the night.
“Possible lung collapse.”
The officer kept his arms around Livia, keeping her from getting involved. The paramedics argued with one another, trying to figure out how to get the ambulance closer. They were still a few hundred yards from the scene, having followed Beckett’s tree-crushing trail. They put a stretcher on the ground to accept the seemingly lifeless Blake.
“I’ve got a rhythm,” one of them shouted. “Go, go, go!” They whisked Blake away without a backward glance.
John caught Livia as her knees gave out and lowered her to the grass.
“Rhythm means good, right? That’s his heart? Beating?” Livia looked almost childlike as she questioned her father.
He knelt and patted her back. “Blake’s going to fight real hard to be with you. He knows how much you love him.”
“Is the ambulance gone?” Livia seemed to emerge from her shock for a moment.
“Sounds like they’re off,” he assured her.
Eve noticed Livia’s eyes flickering to the pile across the clearing.
“Daddy, Chris’s over there. He may be dead—I don’t know. He tried to shoot me, and Blake —” Livia’s eyes filled up, and she began to shudder.
Eve watched as Livia visibly stabilized herself to deliver the news. “Blake stepped in front of me—the bullet meant for me. He told me to play dead, and I did. When Chris came to shoot me too, I hit him with the flashlight. I kept hitting until he dropped the gun, and then I…” Livia held her hands out from under her father’s too long jacket. “I shot him in the knees. Both of them. But he should be still alive.”
All eyes turned in the direction of the villain. Beckett’s flashed with anger.
“I’ll find out,” he said.
As Beckett walked over, Chris began crying like a kitten. Beckett pointed at Chris’s whimpering form. “Shut up. If I wanted you to cry I would’ve kicked ya.”
Eve made it to Beckett in a few long-legged strides.
Beckett kicked Chris in the head. “Now you can cry, motherfucker.”
Eve pulled Beckett forcibly away and stilled the hand she knew was headed for his firearm. “Please don’t commit murder in front of the cop,” she whispered.
Beckett was coiled like a tight spring. She knew he wanted to snap, wanted a release for all his frustration, anger, and worry. Instead she had to help him focus. “Blake needs someone take care of Livia until he gets back,” Eve suggested, looking at him intently. “Take her to the hospital and wait with her. Blake needs you there.”
Beckett wound up to kick Chris again, but stopped himself. He turned his back and closed his eyes for a moment. “I’ll keep Livia safe until Blake’s better. Okay.”
Beckett trained his eyes on Livia as if she were an extension of his brother. He walked to the huddled lump of father and daughter.
“I’ll take Livia to the hospital.” Beckett held out his hand for hers.
“No, you fucking won’t!” John glared angrily.
Beckett dropped his hand. “Ahh, okay. I see how it is. I can’t say I blame ya.” He clenched his fists, his purpose shriveling like a wilting flower.
Eve sighed. Beckett needed to feel useful, and she needed to help him. She had no choice.
She recognized John as the officer she’d spoken with the day she decided to kill Beckett. It was like having a tiny piece of Anna and David with her here; Officer McHugh’s grumbly voice brought it all back. The smell of shattered glass and broken dreams filled her mind.
“Officer McHugh, may I have a word?”
He looked reluctant, but carefully pulled his daughter to her feet along with him. He glanced across at Chris for a moment, but then looked back at Eve.
Livia pushed him in Eve’s direction, and he took a few hesitant steps. Eve closed the distance and spoke quietly, making sure only he heard her confession. Beckett gave her a shield of privacy by talking boisterously to Livia. He offered the shocked girl endless platitudes about Blake’s condition.
“Officer McHugh, I remember you. Do you remember me?” She waited. His eyes narrowed as he tried to place her. “Eve Hartt? My fiancé, David, was the victim of a drive-by?”
“I’ve got you. You were expecting,” he said.
Eve accepted the crack in her shell and kept the prize in sight. “Livia will be my responsibility. We have only a few seconds before your buddies are standing here with us and Livia has to explain why Chris has been shot. You know what that will be like for her.”
Eve paused to let her words sink into the soil of his fatherly impulses. “Blake’s not doing good—you know that. It’s more than possible he won’t make it. Being with the one you love at the end is almost as important as the beginning. It’s a mark in time, before and after. That tiny bit of time in the middle? You never stop thinking about that. She needs to be with Blake.”
Eve found herself unable to continue. Those were all the cards she had to show. She’d been Eve again for a moment—an Eve she hadn’t seen since she turned up the air conditioner in David’s car all those years ago. She swallowed and replaced her armor.
“And you need to stay here and make sure none of that comes back to bite her in the ass,” Eve finished, jerking her finger toward Chris.
Officer McHugh nodded. “All right. Get her to the hospital and have her call me when you get there.”
Eve could see disembodied searchlights as she sprinted for Beckett and Livia and hustled them out of the clearing. She drew her gun as soon as they were in the trees and miraculously found a detour around the storming troopers. Beckett located Eve’s motorcycle in the parking lot, heaved it from its side, and started it up.
Eve made a big show of hugging Livia as she whispered, “Who else was with Chris tonight?”
Livia hesitated. She seemed to know giving Eve names would have serious repercussions. She looked at her shoes.
“Dave was here, wasn’t he?” Eve prompted, and a sudden widening of Livia’s eyes told her everything she needed. “Don’t worry. I’ll sort out the rest,” Eve promised.
Livia’s eyes remained wide, but she nodded slightly as Eve helped her climb onto the bike. Livia hugged Beckett’s waist and laid her exhausted, worried head on his back.
Eve put a possessive hand on Beckett’s throat. “I’ll be along in a little bit. I’m going to get Mouse and clean up the mess we made tonight. I’ll come as soon as I can. Be strong for her. I know you can do it.” She tapped her forehead against his, like two tigers home from the hunt. Beckett revved the engine and took off.
Now doing her best to be silent in the forest, Eve picked her way back to Mouse’s body. She’d dropped his laptop in this battlefield when she’d left to follow the gunshots. She knew Mouse was too big to carry alone, so she picked the laptop up, tapped out a few quick emails, and headed back to wait by the hearse.
She tried to ignore the distinct Mouseness of the vehicle: a death mobile that exploded with colored skeins of yarn inside. She brushed the window glass off the front seat as another ambulance came and went with Assfuck’s worthless waste of skin taking up space in the back.
Fifteen minutes later, two mid-level douchebags—the best of what she had left available to her at the moment—arrived in an astoundingly old pickup truck. Eve noticed a tarp, quick-dry cement, and a shovel in the back. They seemed to have a little brainpower working for them. The first hopped out quickly and looked ready for direction. The second got out more slowly and added a stylized limp to his gait.
Eve nodded at the first and turned to the second. “When you walk like that, it pisses me off.”
He sneered, but walked smoothly after the reprimand.
“Mouse’s body is in there.” She pointed—just as Mouse had done, she realized with a wince—and sent the minions on their way.
Eve returned to the hearse to make room for her friend. She opened the back door and shifted the yarn and partially finished projects around. Then she too headed in the direction of the corpse.
It took all three to carry Mouse out, and it was much less dignified than Eve had hoped. She had to climb in backward while holding Mouse’s armpits just to get him into his flaming vehicle. She arranged his body and covered him with a lovely afghan he was almost done knitting. Purple and white. She smoothed the patterns over his broad form.
The two henchmen had moist eyes as they watched the unusual preparations, and they had the brains to maintain a respectful silence. Eve swallowed her pain. She would face this moment again and again—she just couldn’t face it now.
She turned and gave them the additional task of cleaning up the horror she and Beckett had left in their wake. She outlined how tricky it would be, because the cops were close, even if they were occupied in the clearing for the moment. The douchebags would hear from her after the bodies were buried.
She left them to it. Before moving into the driver’s seat, Eve felt around Mouse’s body for a weapon that would fit her evening’s purposes. She needed to move quickly and get back to Beckett. She wanted to hold his big hand and make sure he didn’t kill anyone when Blake died.
If. If Blake dies, she admonished herself. Blake had a rhythm—that was the best news. She refused to think about brain damage or infection.
Still, she needed to be prepared to give Beckett some peace. If the worst happened, he would only want revenge. Her hand closed around a familiar shape, and her eyes teared up a little.
She decided to talk to this man she admired, even though he was covered with intricate yarn knots and would not respond. “Mouse, you sexy bitch. You have a crossbow?” Eve pulled it out and examined it in the streetlight’s gleam. “You hot piece of man.” It was cocked and ready to fire.
She turned away from the car and took aim. With barely a whoosh the arrow, complete with custom-made point, embedded itself deeply in the trunk of an unsuspecting tree. She grabbed the quiver of arrows as well.
“One last mission together, big guy. Let’s go get ’em.”
Eve hot-wired the hearse because she didn’t have the heart to go through Mouse’s pockets for the keys. Once the engine hummed to life, Eve typed quickly into the laptop. She found Dave Tweeting, like the nimrod he truly was, about the evening’s exploits with two others who also seemed to have been involved. A few more clicks through a search engine and Eve had their names and addresses, along with a helpful selection of photos. Just put it all out there, why don’t you, boys? She shook her head. One of the guys Dave was Tweeting with lived close by. Seemed at least worth a visit.
When Eve arrived at Wilson’s house it looked empty, but it also had a big backyard. She left Mouse and the hearse down the street and trotted through backyards until she heard voices, just as she’d suspected.
After a moment, the two idiots she sought blazed up a joint and gave her the moment of light she needed for a positive ID.
“Man, that hobo coulda beat the shit outta us.” Francis took an exaggerated inhale, then immediately began to cough.
“Wonder if Chris had the balls to bust out Dave’s gun,” Wilson said. “If he did we’re gonna have to help him clean that shit—even if he is sort of a loser. Guess he can’t help it his lady prefers hobo dick. He’s gonna need an alibi.”
Eve had heard enough. There was a mess brewing here. She braced her legs and readied her crossbow. She’d be kinder to them than Beckett would be if she let this play out. Mouse had done his homework; everything about the bow was modified to be silent. Only because she knew she’d released the arrow could she detect its death-filled slice through the air. Wilson crumpled without a sound. Francis looked perplexed at his now-prone friend. But before the horror of realization could reach his eyes, he was also on the ground.
Eve trotted away stealthily. Two down, two to go.
She slid back into the driver’s seat. Mouse’s presence was as tangible as his afghan-covered body.
“Hey, big guy. We got two. Now I’m going to get Photoshop Dave.” She glanced in the rearview mirror, as if she might see Mouse sitting up instead of lying flat. “I can’t imagine Blake living through the night,” she confessed. “If y
A few more quick taps on the laptop and Eve had a map to Dave’s parents’ house. The outcome for this one was already clear. Dave’s misguided geek skills had earned him this reward.
The hearse rolled quietly into the driveway of a completely dark house, and Eve rearmed herself with the bow. After a few careful circles around the perimeter, she determined that Dave’s room was in the garage. The blinds covering the only window were partially open. Eve waited, still as a statue as she inspected the room from the outside.
Black velvet posters had been hung on the cement walls with packing tape. The huge flat-screen TV was the only thing of any value in the setting. Dave sat sniffing a thick black marker and hitting the remote. Eve felt the disgust crawl up her throat.
He had the fake topless photo of Livia and the penny-whipped Blake pictures up on the screen. Grotesquely large, the photos apparently turned the idiot on. He began what looked like an extremely well-practiced maneuver of jerking himself off.
Eve decided then to kill him with her bare hands.
The garage door was unlocked, and she yanked it open with a thunderous roar. She stepped in and surveyed the room as Dave cowered on the couch, his face a mixture of fear and lust. Eve spotted a woman dressed very much like herself—and holding a crossbow—on the cover of a videogame on the coffee table. She dropped the bow and let a Mona Lisa smile form on her lips.
Eve closed the door behind her and went to work. She filled the room with the horrendous thumps of a body being tossed like a rag doll and the cracks of a fist smashing into Dave’s bones. A quick spray of blood splashed the blinds like unruly paint, and Eve left the same way she came. She thoughtfully turned out the light as she closed the door. Back in Mouse’s hearse, Eve knew she’d given Beckett a little less to do, especially if Blake gasped his last breath.
Beckett had many types of people and businesses on retainer, loyal to his money and at his beck and call. The liquor store, the florist, and the mayor all received regular calls for their services. But one he rarely, if ever, utilized was now finally in demand.
Poughkeepsie by Debra Anastasia / Romance & Love / History & Fiction have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes