Poughkeepsie, p.38
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       Poughkeepsie, p.38

           Debra Anastasia

  He reached up and stroked her hair. “I could be a lap for you, my tired angel.”

  Blake settled into the wheelchair and patted his lap for Livia.

  “That’s against policy. Patient only in the wheelchair.” The geriatric nurse made a face as if the sight of gentle, new love was a pile of crap under her nose. “And I’m not pushing two people’s weight.”

  Kyle stepped up to the tip of the nurse’s formidable bosom. “Hey, Tit-tanic, you’re absolutely going to allow it, or I’ll show you my projectile-vomit-at-will skills. And he has a touch of food poisoning that might just kick in before he can get to the crapper,” she added, pointing to Cole.

  Cole hung his head and shook it.

  “And I’ll fucking push them myself.” Kyle grabbed the wheelchair. “All aboard!” She started toward the elevator, and Cole quickly joined the parade of laughter.

  All four exited the hospital standing, as they sent the chair of contention on an elevator ride back up to Nurse Grouchy’s floor. Cole pulled the car up, and Livia insisted Blake sit in the passenger seat. She sat behind him and kept a hand on his shoulder.

  “Livia told me Beckett’s wanted for questioning about what happened to Chris Simmer.” Blake grasped her hand.

  Cole drove slowly and meticulously, pausing to look and look again at each stop and curve. “It was Beckett,” he confirmed. “He couldn’t take it. The knowing.” Cole checked his rearview mirror.

  “So what now?” Blake wondered aloud.

  Cole blew out a frustrated breath. “Eve’s keeping tabs on him. He’s in hiding.”

  Blake turned to catch Livia’s eye. “You okay?”

  She nodded.

  Cole looked repentant immediately. “I’m sorry, Livia. I didn’t think before I spoke.”

  “I’ll never be sorry Chris’s dead,” Livia said. “Not after what he turned out to be. I should have shot him in the chest and saved Beckett the trouble.”

  “Stop this,” Kyle said suddenly. “We’re not eating this pity pie right now. Liv, you were about as likely to shoot Chris in the fucking cold, black thing that passed as his heart as I am to give the Pope a big, sloppy, wet one.” Kyle closed one eye. “Sorry, honey.”

  Cole bit his lip to keep from laughing.

  “Beckett’s the mayor of Murderville,” Kyle added with a shrug. “We aren’t going to sit around and pretend he’s an innocent schoolgirl.”

  The sedan was quiet.

  Kyle looked out the window. “But I do wish he could make it to the wedding. That would be nice.”

  Cole pulled up to the curb in front of Uncle Dr. Ted’s building. Eve stood waiting with him on the sidewalk, dressed again in an uncharacteristic jeans and a sweater. Livia was out of the car and opening Blake’s door before anyone even finished waving. He looked apprehensive, and Livia was grateful for the huge awning outside the building’s entrance. Blake went easily from the shade of the car to the shade of the walkway.

  It’s new. Ted did this for Blake. Livia held his arm as Dr. Hartt made the introductions he didn’t realize none of them needed.

  “Blake, Kyle, Cole, and Livia, this is my daughter, Eve.” Ted looked from Blake to Eve and back again. Eve gave them each a wry smile and a wink as she grasped their hands with a firm grip.

  Ted motioned the group to the entrance. “Please, this way. Blake, your apartment’s the first one on the bottom floor.”

  He passed him a set of keys. Livia watched as they shook a bit in Blake’s hands. She tried to keep her eyes from filling with tears but failed.

  They walked down the carpeted hallway to the door. His hands steady now, Blake turned the key in the lock and stepped inside. He looked around with a small smile. “This is wonderful, Ted. I appreciate your kindness.”

  Ted ran a hand through his hair. “Truly, you’re doing me a huge favor. Eve’s hardly ever here. It’s nice to have a full-time person.” He gave his daughter a pointed stare. She shrugged.

  Cole stepped to his brother and held up his arm. They wrapped forearms and nodded. Then Cole held out a hand to Kyle. “Livia, we’ll drive your car over here for you, unless you want a ride now?”

  Livia was not ready to leave. She wanted to explore Blake’s cabinets, make sure his bed had fresh sheets, and hold his hand. She opened her mouth to say so just as Ted spoke.

  “I was actually hoping to have a few words with Blake.” Ted met Livia’s eyes. He looked like he was not beyond begging for some time with his nephew.

  “I’ll let you guys catch up,” Livia said quickly. “I’m going to run home and shower, then I’ll bring dinner by. Okay, Blake? Do you feel okay?”

  Blake pulled Livia to him and whispered in her ear. “I’m fine. That’s great—just come back.” After a quick kiss on the lips, Livia left the apartment with Kyle riding her piggyback as Cole held the door.

  The door clicked shut with an amazingly solid sound. A sound that indicated private space. Blake stood mesmerized for a moment, then remembered his manners and motioned to the basic, brown couch. The three sat.

  Eve broke the awkward silence. “Blake, my dad wants to tell you we’re cousins. Well, we’re, like, half cousins or whatever. This is supposed to be a touchy-feely conversation where we tell you, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll always have a family here with us.’ And then we may or may not have sappy music piped in.”

  Ted rolled his eyes. “That was tactful, Eve. Wonderful.”

  Blake held up a hand. “I understand what you’re trying to do here, Ted, and I have to tell you I’m working to make this all okay in my head. It’s not easy for me to learn to trust now, this late in life, but I’ll try. And when someone shows me kindness, I don’t forget it.”

  Ted stood and waited as Blake rose as well. They shook hands.

  “Okay. Well, I guess this is pretty good then,” Ted said.

  Blake walked Eve and Ted to the door. My door. The littlest things were amazing.

  “I’ll be upstairs if you need anything,” Ted added. “My home number and my cell number are on your fridge. You can reach me as your physician or your uncle or just the guy you know upstairs.”

  Blake closed the door behind them and was alone. Walls surrounded him, giving him complete privacy. Moments later, a soft knock disrupted his relishing. Eve had reappeared in the doorway, and he let her back in, closing the door behind her.

  “Blake, I failed you in the woods,” she began, getting right to the point. “I should have been there sooner.” She held up a finger to stop his argument. “You’re Beckett’s brother, and that means something to me. It matters. And now I know you’re my cousin as well. That matters too. For what it’s worth, I won’t be late again if you need me.” Eve turned and grabbed the doorknob, evidently having said what she came to say.

  “Eve?” Blake waited as she turned back. “Thanks. It matters to me as well. It means something.”

  She almost looked him in the face as she nodded.

  “Tell me about Beckett,” Blake said. The simple request seemed to light a fire in her.

  “Son of a bitch. I told him I’d get Chris. But no. ‘That’s an order,’ he says. And why did I listen? Why did I think he was in his right mind? He’s a basket case. Wait until he hears about Cole’s wedding. He’ll be knocking down the walls.” Eve shook her head sadly.

  “Beckett’s probably the hardest man there is to love,” Blake said. “He does life wrong for all the right reasons.”

  Eve finally met his eyes. He could see the pain in them.

  “Are you going to make sure he’s safe? Because if you can’t, I have to.” Blake stood tall.

  “I’m here,” she promised. “If I have to leave, I’ll let you know.”

  Eve held up her fist, and it took Blake a beat to realize she wanted it bumped. He complied, and she let herself out of the apartment.

  My apartment. He pictured Livia naked on every piece of furniture in the room. He ran his hand across the soft fabric of the old couch. There were cold, bitter night
s when he would’ve given his soul for a place like this. And a throw blanket to tuck around his freezing feet. That bit of the dream was draped carefully over an armchair.

  He turned on the faucet in the kitchen and watched the silver sink turn to glistening mercury from the water. My water.

  He opened cabinet after cabinet, looking for a cup. His hands found a mug, and he filled it greedily, drinking once, twice, three times. Clean, fresh water.

  He could hear a clock ticking somewhere in the apartment, and the pipes in the building clanked. Blake circled his new living room with a slow, measured pace. He wanted Livia back. Kyle probably wanted to talk her ear off all about the wedding, but he needed Livia here. He ached for her.



  EVE THREW HER KEYS on the round hotel table. Beckett lay still with every pillow from the two queen beds crammed behind his shoulders. He held the remote, but the TV was off. Eve placed her hand on the set’s black plastic. It was cold. He’d never turned it on—just sat in front of the murky black screen while she was gone. A still Beckett was not a well Beckett, and Eve was concerned.

  “’Sup.” She waited until he transferred his attention from the blank screen to her.

  “Did he look okay? Was he all right? Did the door have a good lock?” Beckett kept the remote pointed at the TV like he was threatening it.

  “Of course—he had a great lock. What the hell?” She rolled her eyes.

  Beckett finally dropped the remote and dragged himself off the bed. “Sorry. I just wanted to be there. You know, to make sure. I’ve wanted to close a door with him behind it for seven fucking years. Cut me some slack.”

  Beckett began to pace. Restless Beckett worried Eve as well.

  “He’s doing great. Very courteous to my dad.” Eve leaned against the sink.

  “Of course he’s fucking courteous. It’s Blake. What the hell? He has to be fucking grateful for every damn thing? He’s not a charity case, you know.” Beckett seemed to be looking for a target for his anger.

  Eve tried not to take it personally, but that was becoming more difficult. “The funeral home said Mouse’s ashes are ready to be picked up.” It was a low blow, but she wanted him to remember there were worse things than his current predicament.

  “We need to give him a proper burial.” Beckett stopped pacing.

  “How’re we going to do that? We can’t have a regular funeral. I’ve looked into it. He had a grandmother, and she’s buried here in town. We can do it at night—dig a hole and leave him there.” Eve hated the idea. She wanted Mouse’s name on a respectable stone.

  “He gets buried in the full light of day. He had nothing to be ashamed of. I will not bury him like a coward.” Beckett pointed at Eve angrily.

  “You won’t bury him at all. That’s my job. When you went all Cuisinart on Chris Simmer? That’s when you decided not to bury your friend.” Eve felt hot rage grabbing her heart.

  “I’ll put Mouse in the ground, Cole’ll pray, and Blake will be there to see the man who took his place in the grave. That’s how it’s going down. If I get arrested doing it, so be it.” He stuck his chin out defiantly.

  Eve walked closer to the boiling man. “You think that’s what Mouse wants? You in jail? He’s not the pile of ashes we’re going to put in the ground. His soul is free in the woods.” Eve wanted to comfort Beckett, but all her energy went to combating her frustration.

  “I’ll see him buried,” Beckett said again, slightly less confidently. “I’ll see my brothers. I have to. I can’t not see them. I…” Beckett looked at his reflection in the mirror. “My life is worthless if it’s not about them.”

  This time Eve hugged him. She rested her forehead on his lips. He did not return her hug.

  “This is so hard for you. I know that. You want to do something. But you have to get it through your thick head that by doing nothing, staying here, you’re doing exactly what those boys need.”

  Beckett looked at the ceiling. Eve waited, feeling his hot, angry-bull breath on her hair.

  “I want to bury Mouse.” This time Beckett put his words into the universe quietly.

  Eve was ready for shouting and cursing, but the pleading, small voice broke her resolve. She looked into his eyes. “I’ll make it happen. I don’t know how, but I’ll do it.”

  Beckett wove his arms around her, pulling her in. “Tell me what else.”

  Eve snorted. “What do you mean what else?”

  “You’re still all tense. There’s something you don’t want to tell me.” He moved his hands to her shoulders. “Spit it the fuck out.”

  “Cole and Kyle got engaged.” She rubbed a hand across her face.

  “That’s really good. Great for them. I knew they were a good match. Fairy Princess will keep his hands full.” Beckett watched Eve’s face. “And?”

  “They’re getting married in a month. There’s no way I can get this murder mess fixed in time for you to go to the ceremony. They’ve got you. There’s so much evidence. Damn it, Beckett. You knew better than that. And now I’m scared you’re going to want to go to the wedding, and it’ll be a big fucking mess.” She put her hand on his heart, where she knew her next words would land. “You can’t go to the wedding.”

  Beckett pushed her away. He made a fist and held it to his forehead. After turning it into a claw that raked through his hair, he used it to punch the nearest wall. The plaster cracked around the meteor-crash print his fist left.

  Eve knew his anger was far from spent, but the hotel room corralled him. He sat on the edge of the bed, pounding a fist on his thigh. She knelt in front of him, brave inches from his angry knuckles.

  “This is it, Beck. This is the hardest part of loving someone: not being with them when you want to be. It’s so bad you can taste it.” She put her hand on his knee, daring his fist to smash it.

  He stilled his hand. “I’m going to need my brothers with me for Mouse. And call Chaos. Tell him to bring his ink. Then I’m outta here. I leave and don’t darken their fucking doors again.” He looked at her.

  His pride was dying, and she couldn’t save it. Her finger traced the marking on his forearm, and she raised one eyebrow in question.

  Beckett nodded. “Yeah. I need Mouse to be permanent.”

  Eve went to work and finally arranged a way to have Mouse’s funeral while the rest of the world planned celebrations of their beloved winter holidays. Cole agreed to bring a Bible and say a few words at the gravesite. Blake said he’d attend as well. Eve wanted to tell him she’d bring an umbrella, but it just seemed too awkward. He had to know a cemetery would be outdoors.

  When the cold December Monday finally arrived, Eve set out her distractions for the police. She’d designed two very real-looking fake bombs and put one at the mall and the other under a busy intersection. Then she’d dug a small hole at Mouse’s grandmother’s grave. She wished there was some soil beneath her fingernails, some sort of testament to her preparations, but she’d been too careful; her nails were clean.

  Beckett was at the hotel putting on the all-black suit and tie combination he’d requested. He was handling his confinement well, which surprised her. She knew he had a touch of claustrophobia, but his other option was leaving the country, and he’d refused to do that.

  When she arrived to pick him up, Beckett was ready to say goodbye to his brothers. Before she put him on the back of her motorcycle, she made a phone call alerting the authorities of the two bombs. She had extra remote detonations set up in an abandoned house on Beckett’s old stomping ground. She would listen to the police scanner, and if they figured out the bombs were decoys too quickly, she’d give them a little more—all so she could get Beckett in and out of the cemetery with as little risk as possible.

  They both wore helmets as they rode through town, more for disguise than protection, and they arrived to find Blake and Cole had brought Livia and Kyle as well. As if a gift from Mouse himself, the sky was overcast with a thick gray batting of clouds. Beckett was
off the bike before she could put the kickstand down, a full black messenger bag bouncing on his back.

  He grabbed his brothers. All three pounded each others’ backs and gave grumbling, cursing acknowledgments.

  “I can finally fucking breathe, seeing you goddamn bastards.”

  Everyone smiled at Beckett’s exuberance, despite the somber occasion.

  “Where’s the bride-to-be?” Beckett held his arms open for Kyle and gave her a gentle hug. “Good on you, Fairy Princess, making an honest man out of my boy here. Jesus was treating him like shit; he was never getting laid. I hope you two have a million damn kids and name them all Beckett, boys or girls.”

  Kyle returned the hug and smirked. “We might name our dog Beckett, if you’re lucky.”

  Beckett laughed a bit too loudly. He seemed desperate to make up for lost time.

  He locked eyes with Livia, and his face became serious. “Com’ere, Whitebread.” He held out his hand and enveloped her as soon as she got close.

  She started to cry softly in his chest.

  “Don’t cry. I’m so motherfucking proud of you. You hold your beautiful face up. Stand proud.”

  He rubbed her back and motioned Blake over with his head. Beckett twirled her into Blake’s arms. She looked back to give him a sad smile from her warm place by Blake’s heart.

  Beckett slid the messenger bag around and without preamble began to speak. “Hey, this here’s Mouse’s ashes. He was an employee of mine. I know you all knew him. If you knew him, you liked him. He was smart. Fucking loyal. And big. He didn’t deserve to end up in a jar. He didn’t deserve to die in the dirt a-fucking-lone. He was following orders. Orders to protect Blake at any cost, at all costs. They were my orders. And this was his cost.” Beckett held the urn up higher.

  “And I know Blake had a bunch of fucking problems going on the night he was shot. But Mouse here made sure the hired guns were dead before they could hurt him. I don’t know if I get to call him a hero, if that’s allowed, because I’m a bad man, and he was my friend. But he was a hero to me.” Beckett handed the urn to Blake.

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