Saving poughkeepsie, p.34
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       Saving Poughkeepsie, p.34

           Debra Anastasia
 

  “You think anyone else is seeing this?” Kyle pointed at the map.

  “I’m not sure,” Livia said. “Let me call Dad.”

  She dialed his number as the men stood in the adjoining doorway, their phone call with Beckett complete. Her father knew she would never call unless it was important, and she prayed he’d have a moment to answer.

  “Livia.” His familiar voice made her chest tighten.

  She got right to the point. “We’ve been tracking the events. They’re spiraling closer to this hotel. Did you notice that? It might be nothing. It’s probably nothing.”

  “Hold on.” He kept the line open. “Okay, I see that. It’s possible.” He was obviously addressing someone else as he said, “These latest incidents, within the last forty minutes or so, are all within proximity of previously safe locations. Someone’s got inside information. Anyone check on Lovell?”

  “What should we do?” She took another look at the kids on the bed.

  “Sit tight, and tell Melvin. But stay there.” Her father hung up.

  Livia watched as Cole took position by the hotel’s window, scanning the street with his gaze.

  Rodolfo had the benefit of a head start, but as Beckett pulled into Poughkeepsie around noon, he was getting reports on his phone, catching up as quickly as he could. Two, no three explosions had already rocked Poughkeepsie, plus a variety of smaller pops and bangs, and there were currently four working structure fires as well.

  Rodolfo was literally fighting fire with fire.

  He pulled up to his house, parking across the street, and watched as the roof was engulfed in flames. Gandhi. It had seemed so convenient to have the dog spa to drop him back off at home in anticipation of his arrival.

  Beckett could see the dog waiting for him at the front window, barking his ass off. He ran to his door and opened it with his keys and a shaking hand. As he stumbled in, covering his mouth with his shirt, G ran at him like a cannonball. He caught his dog and turned to run back out. As he stepped onto the lawn, the roof slid from the house, the flaming wood almost clipping the back of his heel.

  He busted into an all-out run until they were a safe distance from the fire, then tried to check the wiggling dog for damage. G tried to lick him even though he couldn’t reach.

  “That fucker.” Beckett shook his head as he put his dog in the car and called Spider. “I need to know where Rodolfo is right now. Don’t give me shit. Right now. Use every contact you still have. He tried to kill my dog.”

  Spider had bad news. “The answer is Rodolfo is everywhere. This just escalated like crazy. Reports are pouring in from assholes that they’re seeing Vitullo’s guys everywhere. Some of them must be flipping back.”

  “Fuck. You still with me?” Beckett rolled down his window to listen as he drove closer to downtown.

  “Yeah, boss. Of course. What you want to do? Police and fire departments are getting spread thin.”

  Beckett heard Spider clicking on a keyboard or two. Vitullo had a pattern, or so it seemed. It was half brilliant, half pure evil. The old fart had planned violence and crime in far-flung locations, keeping everyone off balance and no one able to concentrate on any one situation with enough force. The acts of terrorism would then slip around the conventional defenses in place to keep the community safe.

  Beckett felt swamped with desperation, thinking of all the families and people he was now vested in. A new text from Spider offered a running ticker of 9-1-1 calls in the area. He clenched his teeth together and pounded the steering wheel. He could find Rodolfo and kill him for good this time, but chopping off the old fart’s head didn’t protect his town in this very moment when he needed to defend it from so many licks of flame.

  Sirens wailed as two cop cars flew by, and G howled in response. Then a fire truck rushed by, lit up, the firemen inside already covered in soot.

  Beckett spotted a newscaster braving the street to deliver a report, her cameraman looking over his shoulder for danger as often as he was peering through the lens.

  “Boss?” Spider checked to see if they were still connected. “The guys are reporting paid mercenaries in the area. They recognize them from other jobs. Looks like Vitullo bought himself some loyalty.”

  Then it finally hit him: this was too big for him alone, or even for his men to handle. But loyalty—he could drum that up. In his head he pictured the wall of maps in his now-smoldering house. He had people scattered throughout Poughkeepsie who would maybe do him a favor. Maybe.

  He executed a perfectly illegal U turn and parked behind the newscaster. “Spider, turn on the Channel Five news and record what I’m about to do. Send it to every friendly contact on my grid. Got it?”

  “Ten-four. Let it rip.”

  Beckett pulled off his sunglasses and exited his car, carrying an overexcited G with him.

  The blonde delivered ominous news: “Reports are sketchy right now, but we’ve been advised to encourage all citizens to stay indoors. It’s a very dangerous time for—”

  Beckett smiled and took the microphone right out of the blonde’s hands, all Kanye West style. She couldn’t help but smile back.

  “Thanks, sweetheart,” he told her. “You’re doing great. Are we live?”

  She nodded, shocked.

  He turned to the camera. “Good. My people—and you motherfuckers know who you are—right now, in this moment, we are being attacked. This is not random violence, but a planned terror attack intended to bring this city to our fucking knees. Our police force and firefighters are heroes and are totally overwhelmed right now. So that leaves us. Me and you bastards. I’m asking you not to hide inside. Do not turn into pants-crapping cowards. I want you to stand with me. Use whatever skills you have at your disposal if you see shit going down that you can stop.” G licked Beckett. “I’m asking you to step up and help me. Right now, help our motherfucking town. Our goal is this and only this: Saving Poughkeepsie.”

  He handed the microphone back to the newscaster, followed by an armful of G. “Please take care of my dog for a while, would you?”

  Stunned, she nodded and turned back to the camera, where she began apologizing for the cursing.

  Beckett trotted back to the car and heard gunshots coming from a street that had never had that issue. He fired up the Challenger and turned toward the direction he thought it was coming from. Sure enough, a commando-styled guy he didn’t recognize was reloading. He was preparing to run the guy over when a group of his construction guys came out of the apartment building, armed with hammers. They attacked so quickly that the commando was overwhelmed, so Beckett just backed up, rolling down his window again to listen. The construction workers were pissed.

  “Nobody takes our city. Fuck you!”

  He called Spider again. “How we doing?”

  “I made that speech a video, looped it, and sent it to everyone on our contact list. Plus I slapped it all over the Internet. Hashtag SavingPoughkeepsie is trending in the northeast. People are digging the we-don’t-take-shit-in-Poughkeepsie vibe.”

  As Beckett rolled through the streets, he saw the people taking the town back. They were putting out fires with garden hoses, stepping on the necks of Vitullo’s men, and helping protect businesses from looters.

  “The nine-one-one channel is firing away. You need to see it,” Spider said as he sent the rolling information to Beckett’s heads up display.

  Every other call was to report a citizen’s arrest.

  Beckett smiled, chills running up his spine. It was his hope, and maybe a stupid one, that the kindness he’d enforced lately was more important, more powerful than the violence he’d used in the past. And all these bottom-dwellers, society’s cast offs, had street smarts and skills they were happy to use to protect what they felt was theirs.

  “Boss, I got a report of a girl who looks a whole lot like Bang downtown.”

  “Try and get me real-time reports on that,” Beckett said. “She’s the shit. A real deal arsonist. And she’s not working for u
s right now.” He pictured the hospital lobby exploding in Virginia. That explosion had looked like a sparkler compared to what Bang could do.

  “On it. You might want to get away from that area though. She goes big so no one else can go home.” Spider disconnected the phone but kept the feed running to the Challenger.

  Beckett dialed and put Blake on speakerphone. “So tell me, you’re where now?”

  Before Blake could respond, Beckett heard Emme’s sweet voice ring out, “Look! It’s Uncle Becky! They’re using a lot of bleeps. He’s on TV!”

  “Okay, so you’re asking Poughkeepsie to fight for you?” Blake said. “What’s really going on?”

  “Listen, I don’t have time to talk, but you guys stay in your houses. Disregard those other instructions.” Beckett was distracted by the feed on his dashboard as he slowly rolled through the downtown streets. Traffic was stop and start due to the random accidents and fires blocking the usual pathways. But the closer to the center he got, the more predictable the destruction became—a calling card, if you will. There were only a couple people he could think of who could cause this much destruction without an army, and one of them was currently guarding a set of twins. That pretty much left one other option.

  Blake finally got through to him. “Beck? You there? We’ve been moved to a hotel, but we’re all together.”

  “Which hotel? You in Rhinebeck or Kingston?” Beckett finally gave up trying to move the Challenger and pulled it to the side of the road.

  “No, we’re at the Starlight Motel. Downtown.”

  Beckett’s stomach dropped as he got out of the car, still talking on his phone, eyes searching. “Get safe. Get away from the windows. Prepare for a blast. Jesus fucking Christ, why do you guys have to be here, right now?” He could see nothing. No one unusual. Bang was amazing at fitting in. She reminded him of fucking Merkin from back in the day. “Cole got his piece on him?” After a moment Blake reported that he did. “Tell McHugh we have a bomber in the area. Watch for a female…” Then Beckett slipped his phone into his pocket instead of finishing his sentence.

  He made eye contact with Bang as the slight female stepped to the side of a restaurant across the street. Bang, freelance arsonist extraordinaire, was dressed like a typical college freshman—jeans and a T-shirt. No one would point her out in a crowd, which made her the least likely to be identified as an explosives expert in a lineup. She could always get away with the most brazen shit. Hell, she’d done some brazen shit for him.

  He took off running immediately, as fast as he could. As he came for her, she ran straight for an ugly cement building. Of course. Of fucking course the sign proclaimed it the Starlight Motel. It was such an eyesore, Beckett had forgotten it was even on this goddamn street. He hit the lobby doors just as the door to the stairs slammed against the dirty wallpapered wall.

  He bet she’d had a silencer on the weapon she’d used to kill the clerk, who was slumped over her desk with fixed, unblinking eyes and a hole in her forehead, as he hadn’t heard the shot. He took he stairs two at a time, using the handrail to propel him faster. Fear added to his adrenaline when he realized he didn’t know what floor his family was on. Oh my God.

  He heard the door a flight above him click into place, so Beckett had to take a chance that the third floor was correct. He pulled the door open and blazed through with the names of his brothers pounding in his ears instead of common sense. He heard a pop and looked up in time to see the officer fall to the floor, victim of the same sort of attack that had killed the clerk. The door on the opposite end of the hallway clicked shut.

  Bang’s backpack lay next to the officer. A bomb. Beckett didn’t stop to think, only knowing he had a minute, maybe just seconds, before Bang released the plunger on the remote device she favored. He sprinted down the hall and grabbed the bag, throwing it over his shoulder. As he raced by, Cole opened the door.

  At least the cop would be assessed by his brothers, and Livia knew CPR. If he could be saved, she would help. All he knew was the bomb was not going to take his brothers’ lives—literally or figuratively. Beckett never stopped. He just hit the pane of glass at the end of the hallway like a running back, glass exploding around his shoulders as he fell.

  He closed his eyes, expecting to be annihilated by the bomb, or to die upon impact from the three-story fall. But instead he had the breath knocked out of him, gravel embedded in his elbow. He’d hit his head, and the shoulder that cracked the glass now throbbed under his weight, but he was definitely alive. Disoriented, he sat up. When he looked back, the window he’d come from was about ten feet up. He’d landed on the roof of the building next door.

  Mere seconds, if he had any, were left, so he stood, thrilled that his legs would carry him, the pain making him howl. Blake’s voice followed him.

  “Beckett!”

  He yelled to his brother as he hit the nearest staircase, “Get down! Bomb!”

  His voice carried through the echoing outdoor stairwell, and when Beckett got to the sidewalk, people were already screaming.

  He scanned the area for Bang. She had to be close, because the bomb still existed on his back. He felt sick looking at the sheer number of people on the streets, all potential victims.

  He saw her again, just a block away. This told him the bomb must be as big as a fucking war in a bottle, or she would have let it go already. She needed some serious distance before she could detonate it. Second, he’d never make it to her in time. And then he saw it: the most gorgeous rainbow Mohawk in the world.

  Beckett whistled hard and loud and friggin’ Scottland was so heads up, his eyes found Beckett immediately.

  “Grab her!” Beckett yelled, pointing to Bang, who was just passing to the kid’s left.

  Somehow the kid put it together and tackled Bang. Beckett ran as fast as he could, nursing his elbow and shoulder, knowing the closer he got to Bang, the less likely she’d be to set off the bomb on his back.

  Scottland had her pinned, but had big eyes for the weapon in her hand. Bang was smart and sneaky, but she wasn’t strong.

  “Hey, Bang. You’ve met my new friend?” Beckett asked as he jogged up. “Let go of the gun.”

  She did as she was told. Any other day in Poughkeepsie two men tackling a woman might be cause for concern, but with so much pandemonium, anything that wasn’t on fire was just not that exciting.

  “So here’s what’s happening,” he told them. “You, me, and my friend Land here are going to sit in my car. Got that?”

  Land got off of her and pocketed her gun.

  “Put the safety on, pup,” Beckett offered. “You know how to drive yet?”

  Land gave him a slow smile and a nod. “No license though.” He shrugged.

  Beckett shook his head. “See that Challenger? That’s my ride. I might need a wheelman today. Got that?”

  “Sure.” The loyalty in Land’s eyes was as close to worship as it got. The computer must have arrived for Trevor.

  Beckett slipped into the backseat as Land pushed a surly Bang into the passenger seat. His shoulder throbbed, and the adrenaline that had kept him functioning was tapering off. It might be dislocated.

  “So, Bang. First things first,” Beckett said. “I know you protect your own ass like it’s your religion, so that’s why you and this bomb are super good friends until I have the answers I need.”

  Land gasped at the word bomb and covered his mouth. “Shit. Shit. Damn, son.”

  “Shut it.” Beckett would have slapped him in the back of the head, but he wasn’t moving his arms for anything right now. “Start the car.”

  Land twisted the keys dangling in the ignition.

  “Are you the only one bombing shit up here in Poughkeepsie today?” Beckett demanded.

  The woman nodded.

  “Remember not to fucking lie to me. If someone so much as has a smoky fart here in town after this, you are chopped meat,” he snarled.

  “He wanted it varied today. I’m the only bomber.” Bang started
to look shifty. “That’s the way I prefer to work.”

  “Did you tell him my brothers were at the hotel?” Beckett asked.

  Land interrupted, looking in the rearview mirror past Beckett. “Damn, here comes, like, the entire New York police force.”

  Beckett looked up at the hotel window where his brothers should be, then he looked at the heads-up display. Spider reported the arrival of backup from surrounding counties. And he could see that his brothers had called 9-1-1 and reported an officer down.

  “Where’d you hit the cop?” Beckett rested his painful elbow on his knee and used one hand to pull out and open the tracker-gun case he’d kept in his pocket. He palmed the air-pressure gun he had loaded with a tracker.

  “I hit him in the armpit, trying for the sweet spot in his vest,” she relayed calmly. This was just a job.

  Land was horrified. “Bitch.”

  “Let me guess, he wanted you to kill my brothers?” Beckett asked. “That old bastard is a rat.”

  Bang said nothing, neither confirming or denying, and kept staring out the window.

  “I’m going to offer my advice,” he continued. “I’m going to dismantle Rodolfo’s whole goddamn empire. You’re part of that at the moment, while you’re working for him, so I’m afraid I can’t let you go without a new commitment.” After he fired, a small puncture wound marked Bang’s neck, a tiny trickle of blood trailing from the origin point. “That was a Grade four-sixty-five tracker chip.”

  She whirled around, her calm façade cracking.

  “And I can tell by your eyes you know that means you’re no longer protected, no matter where you are. Your contract with Dolfy just expired.”

  Her eyes narrowed.

  “You’re obviously thinking,” Beckett continued. “And that would be a poor choice right now. Just so we’re clear, no less than five people have the code to end your life. You can now have your heart stopped while you’re walking to the CVS.” He let her process that for a moment. “Care to dismantle your bullshit and then we can talk?” Beckett slid the device to her over the seat.

 
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