Poughkeepsie, p.35
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       Poughkeepsie, p.35

           Debra Anastasia
 

  Eve banged on the owner of Coot’s Funeral Parlor’s door. His house was conveniently located next to his business. When he stumbled down the stairs to answer, she didn’t make small talk.

  “You owe Beckett. The man in that hearse needs to be…” Her voice faltered; she had to speak around her emotion. “Attended to. No police or hospital involvement.”

  Mr. Coot looked around nervously. “Is he already, um, expired?”

  Eve couldn’t bring herself to voice it, so she just nodded.

  She watched while the funeral director and his teenage son removed Mouse from his hearse. They were efficient and reverent. Eve put her wrist in her mouth. She had to get out of here. Seeing Mouse like this was grinding her down.

  “I’ll be in touch.”

  Eve collapsed back into the hearse. The vehicle was so empty without him. His presence had gone with his body. Eve drove with blurry eyes, trying not to let the sorrow reach her center. She had one more kill to make.

  41

  I’ll Love You Forever

  LIVIA PRESSED HER CHEEK against Beckett’s back. She held on tight, though she wasn’t afraid of falling. Instead it was her soul that wanted to fly away. All the ties that bound it inside her body seemed numb. She kept her eyes closed and hugged him tighter. Beckett was the string that kept her tethered to earth, like a trapped balloon.

  She knew he was going fast; his back twitched as he shifted gears. His black shirt absorbed her tears, and she should have felt ashamed at the wet mark she was leaving, but she didn’t care. When the motorcycle finally stopped, Livia just hung on. Beckett quieted the engine. The unlikely pair sat together for a moment, and Beckett wrapped his arms around hers.

  “Hang in there, Whitebread. We just gotta get inside.” He unpeeled her arms carefully and got off the bike.

  Livia sat as if made of stone. Beckett waited next to the bike for a moment, then cocked his eyebrow and held out his hand. Livia kept her hands on the warm seat.

  “What if I go in there and my whole life changes? I can’t even feel my insides anymore. Beckett, I’m not strong enough.” Livia didn’t wipe her tears and instead let the hospital blur.

  “Livia, I’ve never seen anything stronger than you tonight with my brother. You’re the whole reason he’s here.” Beckett jabbed a finger at the building. “I’m not asking you to be strong by yourself. I’ll be with you. Honestly? I’m not man enough to go in there alone either.”

  Beckett extended his invitation again, palm up. This time Livia’s shaky hand, still covered in Blake’s blood, fell into Beckett’s like a leaf from a tree. Livia had felt glued to the seat, but once she was up and walking, her senses brought everything into sharp focus: the sound of their feet on the asphalt, the smell of the crisp night air, the sight of the broken automatic doors whooshing open and holding their place with a click.

  He’s here. Somewhere in the bowels of this building that was drenched in florescent lights and antiseptic cleaner, was Blake. All at once she wanted to run. She needed to run. But Beckett’s firm grip on her waist kept her harnessed. He approached the check-in desk.

  “My brother was brought here with a gunshot wound to the back.”

  It wasn’t a question. It wasn’t an order. Beckett presented the fact and waited to see which way common sense would twist it.

  The receptionist did not seem flustered by the word gunshot—or Beckett, for that matter. “I’ll page someone to come get you,” she said.

  Beckett returned his attention to Livia. He rubbed her shoulders and set to the task of rolling up the sleeves of her father’s too-big jacket to reveal her hands. The simple act almost took Livia’s breath away. The basic kindness in this criminal was all she’d prayed for from Chris in the forest. But instead he shot Blake.

  Beckett held her shoulders again and stared into her eyes. “Whitebread, you sure you’re not hurt? You look a little fucking pale.” Beckett pulled her into a thick hug, burying her face in his chest.

  Livia inhaled his scent—masculine, but fresh from the very chilly motorcycle ride.

  “Who’s looking for the gunshot wound?” The nurse who spoke was at least ten years past reasonable retirement age. Her whole demeanor screamed, I’m only here because the economy sucks; otherwise I’d be in Boca playing shuffleboard and doing water aerobics.

  Beckett faced her and kept an arm around Livia. “I’m here for my brother, Blake.”

  The nurse glared at Livia. “Family only.”

  Livia bit her lip.

  “This is my wife,” Beckett explained smoothly.

  The unmovable nurse raised a skeptical eyebrow at their naked hands.

  Beckett smiled. “We don’t wear our rings because we like to fuck other people too.” The geriatric nurse blushed deeply as Beckett gave her a leering onceover. “Don’t be shy, baby. I’m not afraid of a little senior lovin’.”

  “Follow me.” Whether flattered or mortified, she was at least compelled to action.

  Beckett’s voice was kind in Livia’s ear. “Sorry. Hope that didn’t make you feel slutty.”

  Livia just shook her head.

  The nurse’s voice was nasal and grinding as she spotted someone from the ER. “Kim! I’ve got gawkers for the GSW.”

  The nurse she spoke to was small with brown curls she kept tucking behind her ears. She stepped around the elderly woman without acknowledging her at all.

  “I’m so glad his family has arrived,” she said, smiling at Beckett and Livia. “I’m Nurse Kim Powell. Please tell me what you can about this gentleman.” She gestured over her shoulder at a large curtain.

  He’s right there.

  “Blake Hartt is my brother,” Beckett began. “He was shot in the back. Livia and Eve gave him mouth to mouth…”

  Beckett’s words stopped registering in Livia’s consciousness. The curtain had a life of its own, blowing and rippling with activity. Scuffed-looking sneakers behind it bustled around.

  Kim’s voice cut through. “Does Blake have any allergies?”

  The sun, Livia stopped herself from saying out loud. But we’re fixing that. We’re fixing that.

  Beckett grew more and more agitated as the nurse spoke. “So what you’re saying is his heart stopped again? He died again?”

  Kim laid a comforting hand on Beckett’s forearm, and her touch seemed to settle him enough to make eye contact. “No, Blake has not died. He’s fighting, but I’m not going to lie to you—there are a lot of obstacles in his way right now. He’s lost a lot of blood.”

  Beckett moved quickly. In one motion he snagged the pen out of Kim’s scrub pocket, stepped back, and stabbed his forearm. The ballpoint produced an instant stream of blood.

  “Here, take mine,” he begged. “I’ve got plenty of blood.”

  Even in the depths of her shock and despair, Beckett’s desperate act got Livia’s attention. Of course, he’s as overwhelmed I am. She stepped next to him and rubbed warm circles on his back.

  Kim observed his offering unfazed while she snagged gauze from a nearby cart. “Baby, we’ve already got plenty of blood in bags, but if we need any I’ll let you know—and I’ll bring an IV.”

  Her words seemed to soothe him. He just needed something to do, a purpose here in the hospital. Livia suddenly realized how deeply affected he’d been by the evening’s events. Beckett had parked legally in a parking spot, waited for someone to come help them, and inanely stabbed himself with a pen—all completely out of character. She needed to be here for him as well.

  Kim held pressure on Beckett’s wound. “All right, you two hang tight. I have to go scrub in. Blake’s almost prepared for surgery. I’ll keep you posted.” She motioned another nurse over with her head. “We’re going to need this bandaged. Thanks, Sue.”

  Livia recognized Sue as Susan Weiss, Kyle’s nurse, and continued to observe closely as the two nurses said a hell of a lot more to each other with their eyes than their words. Nurse Susan deftly steered Livia and Beckett to a pair of hard plastic
chairs outside the restroom.

  “May I tell your sister you’re here? She’s been sick with worry.” Susan finished wrapping Beckett’s forearm with medical tape.

  “That’s fine. Please tell her—I need to tell my dad I’m here.” Livia looked around for a phone, but lacked the motivation to leave her seat. “How’s she doing?” Livia kept her eyes on Blake’s curtain and her arm around Beckett’s shoulders.

  Susan gave Beckett a motherly pat before she stood. “Kyle? Medically, she’s doing great. We’re going to release her in the morning. You guys can go visit her in her new room. It might be more comfortable,” she suggested carefully.

  “I need to touch him.” Livia waited for the curtain to open.

  She realized she’d started rocking and rubbing Beckett’s back in a measured rhythm. With a slight nod, Susan went off down the hall.

  “Livia, he’s got to make it, right? Right? He’s at the hospital. We did everything right.” Beckett’s voice grew louder.

  Livia’s worry stretched to include Beckett as well. It was so big now, she couldn’t imagine it ever fitting back where it belonged. She knew what Beckett was asking, and she realized her battle had just begun. The energy she’d felt in the woods—the energy that made Blake glisten—she needed to find it here too.

  She turned inward for a moment, then placed steady eyes on Beckett. “He’s going to make it, Beckett. I know it.”

  He nodded.

  The curtain skittered open, sounding like loose change hitting the floor. Blake was bare to the waist. Tubes, gels, and angry red marks crisscrossed his chest. Livia focused on his Sorry tattoo, one of the only things she recognized with any certainty. She got to her feet and headed for the gurney as the teal-clad army rolled down the hall to fight for Blake’s life. She had to trot to keep up.

  Center it, Livia. Healing energy. Golden energy. She laid a hand on his arm, covering the Sorry. The touch was everything she needed it to be. She didn’t think about goodbyes, only beginnings. I love you…

  She let him slip from her fingers so those who’d trained for years could take his life in their hands. As the gurney made the turn, Livia knew she saw it. It was no figment in the moonlight. It was no exhausted CPR hallucination. His skin glistened—it shone like glass.

  Livia stood in that hallway, trying to ignore the hole that formed as soon as Blake was out of sight. Stay positive. Positive.

  She turned to find Beckett, who also stared down the hall. She smiled. “He’s going to be fine.”

  Beckett looked away from her and toward the sound of running footsteps. He was out of his chair and standing in front of Livia before even a hint of adrenaline hit her system.

  Kyle came down the hall at a dead run, with Cole barely keeping up with her. Beckett stepped aside to allow the sisters to collide. In a well-practiced movement, Livia accepted Kyle’s crushing leap.

  “Holy fucking dogs! You scared the uterus out of me.” Kyle squeezed Livia’s face.

  Beckett and Cole wrapped arms as Beckett shook his head. “Bro, he’s in there. I…he…he was shot in the back.” Cole bypassed the usual man-hug and embraced Beckett like a father would a son.

  The clatter of another fast-moving gurney replenished the volume and urgency that had departed with Blake’s team. Livia spotted a flash of familiar T-shirt and overly gelled hair as it raced by. Chris.

  Livia saw her father coming down the corridor much more slowly. He heaved a sigh of relief as his eyes met hers. Livia set her sister’s feet on the floor, and suddenly felt the world moving in slow motion. Cole’s hug became a restraint as Beckett realized who’d just sped by on the second gurney.

  “Let me go.” Beckett’s voice was deadly.

  Cole tightened his hold. “Over my dead body.”

  John continued past them down the hall and disappeared. He was on the job now, part of the busy epicenter behind the curtain. Livia could hear him ask a series of official-sounding questions about the events of the evening, but he received no audible response from Chris. Livia hugged her sister a little tighter, then quickly pushed her aside.

  Daring to approach the brothers’ tension-filled embrace, Livia touched one of Beckett’s coiled arms. “Beckett.” She waited until his furious face turned toward her mouth. “I still need you. Here. I can’t wait for him without you. You promised. I’m not man enough. Remember?”

  Livia held her breath.

  “You’ve got your sister,” he said quietly.

  “Let go of him, Cole. Please.” Livia nodded at the puzzle of arms, each with its own agenda.

  Cole looked reluctant as he stepped away, keeping his body between Beckett and Chris.

  “It has to be all of us. Don’t ask me how I know, but I do. We all have to sit here and hope for the best. Pray for the best. Even with that pile of shit right there.” Livia didn’t have to point; they could all feel pulsating of the evil that was lodged in Chris.

  “We have to think about Blake—getting fixed, getting healed, getting back to us. Adding murder to tonight is wrong. It’s all wrong. You have to make a different choice. I trust you, Beckett. You can do this.”

  Livia’s earnest words seemed to make Beckett want to curse. His face boiled red for a moment. Only Beckett could hear Livia’s gentle breath that pleaded, “Please.”

  Rather than leaping to action, he rubbed his forehead and took in great gasps of air. Finally, he grabbed her head in a giant hug. “For you, Whitebread. Only for fucking you.”

  Livia tried to hug him back, but he had her in such a way that she just had to let her arms hang.

  On another pass down the hall, Susan approached the group, oblivious to their drama. “Hey, kids, can you take it back to Kyle’s room now? This isn’t exactly a hangout spot.”

  Beckett twirled Livia so he could wrap his arm around her shoulders. “We ain’t moving. My brother’s in there, and we have to know what the fuck is going on.” His eyes, despite his promises, found the billowing curtain that hid Chris from view.

  Susan’s demeanor and tone remained professional. “How about I promise to tell you what the fuck is going on as soon as we know anything?”

  Livia didn’t like the idea of being any farther than she had to from Blake, but she also didn’t like the longing in Beckett’s eyes. We have to stay positive.

  “All right, Nurse Susan. I think that sounds good. You’ll tell us as soon as you know anything?” Livia tried pushing on Beckett’s side.

  “I’ll go in there specially to find out what’s happening,” she promised. “I just need you all to clear out of my ER.” The choice was clear: They could be on her good side or her bad side.

  Kyle led the way, and Cole kept a hand on her lower back, holding her hospital gown together. Livia loved the sight of this man covering her sister. And thankfully someone had given Kyle a pair of scrub bottoms. They were at least three sizes too big, and with all Kyle’s running and jumping they’d come unrolled at the bottom. She flopped the long legs around like penguin feet.

  Kyle’s room was now one floor up from the ER. Kathy looked up from her reading but said nothing as the herd shuffled in. Kyle climbed back in bed, and Cole curled his long body around hers. Beckett collapsed in a chair and pulled Livia into his lap. They began a séance of silence. Susan was true to her word and appeared with hourly updates.

  Though they listened carefully, without internet access Livia couldn’t look up the fancy terms Susan tossed around. Her complicated descriptions did little to assuage fear. On her first visit Susan detailed blood transfusions and chest tubes. John popped in and hugged his girls. He begged their forgiveness, but needed to get to the precinct to sort out the evening’s mess.

  “You might have to come in later to answer a few questions, Liv,” her father said reluctantly. “Shouldn’t be a problem, but you know how it is. I’ll try and make it fast.”

  Livia kissed her father’s cheek. “Thanks, Dad. I’m so lucky to have you.”

  John shuffled his feet and
looked shy. Kathy stood and walked with him out of the room.

  The second Susan visit included words like bullet penetration and cavitation. She seemed to think the fact that there was “no fragmentation” was a good thing. As the nurse bustled out, Eve appeared silently at the door wearing jeans and a T-shirt—completely normal apparel that on her seemed outrageously out of place. She nodded once at Livia, who found herself instantly alone in the chair as Beckett headed for the hallway.

  Soon his too-loud voice drifted back into the room. “He shot my brother in the back. He’s mine. That’s a fucking order. Mine.”

  Eve’s gentle murmur was indecipherable.

  “Do what you gotta, Eve, but I swear to fuck, you better not touch him.” Beckett huffed back into the room.

  He paced and punched his own palm for a bit, then finally sat and held his head.

  The third, fourth, and fifth Susan visits were just updates that Blake was still alive, but her lips seemed tight. Kyle shifted between leaning into Cole’s chest and putting little braids in Livia’s hair. The TV flickered from its perch in the corner of the room, but no one could keep their eyes on it.

  Beckett did a cafeteria run. He came back with a trash bag full of food and drinks and announced, “The cafeteria was closed.” No one asked him how he got food from a closed establishment.

  “Eat up, Whitebread.” Beckett held out a granola bar to Livia.

  She shook her head.

  “You know what’s going to fucking happen? You’re going to pass the fuck out,” he told her. “You’ll hit your damn head and be a useless sack when Blake gets out of surgery. You want to be a sack on the floor with your ass pointed in the air, Livia? Will that help anyone?”

  Livia almost smiled at his awful mothering. She took the bar and unwrapped it, then nearly choked as Beckett pounded her back in encouragement.

  The sixth Susan visit was tortuous. She described the effect of severe blood loss and oxygen deprivation on the brain, and she kept saying “traumatic injury.”

 
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