Return to poughkeepsie, p.4
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       Return to Poughkeepsie, p.4

           Debra Anastasia

  “I’m going to test it out around your neck in a hot minute,” Cole replied calmly.

  “Proceed.” Beckett winked at Blake.

  “Despite his sins of lust…” Cole gave Beckett a harsh look before closing his eyes again. “This man needs your guidance. He seeks a new life filled with nothing more exciting than reading the newspaper and maybe getting a dog. He took the blame for some of my worst transgressions, and never once has he asked for any repayment. All I have to offer this man, my brother, is your spiritual guidance. Please see to him in this time of need. As I pray for him every day, I hope the umbrella of your love finds him wherever he may roam.” Cole made eye contact. “Amen.”

  “Every day?” Beckett tried not to choke up.

  “Every damn day. Every time I hear of a shooting, anything that sounds like a mob hit—you know those guys hate you. Every time I see Blake play and know you wish you were there. I pray for you and about you all the time. You were meant for more than pain, Beck.” Cole released his hands.

  “All right, thank you. Thanks so damn much. You make me believe I have a shot.”

  Blake stepped forward. “It’s us that should be thanking you. Not a day goes by that Cole and I don’t remember you’ve given your life for ours. Your heart is good. You are the man you seek to be. Never forget that. If it’s getting rough, think of what you’ve already accomplished. Trusting you got Cole and me the lives of our dreams.”

  Cole nodded. “And no matter your sins, your brothers will never forsake you.”

  They lingered longer than they should have, but in the end, they sent him off alone in the Lincoln. No one said it out loud, but bringing Beckett home to the women was a bad idea. They needed protection from the likes of him. And it hurt. Damned if it didn’t hurt. But his brothers had given him advice, and Beckett was about to start taking it. He gripped the wheel a little tighter and turned toward the highway.

  Driving out of Poughkeepsie felt like a winning loss, if there was even such a thing. He was on his own, but seeing his brothers, having seen Eve, made everything better. He felt a little less paranoid, and Cole was right—they weren’t boys. They were men capable of taking care of their own. It came down to him wanting to do their dirty work for them. But they were good. They’d be fine. Instead he needed to work on getting the violence out of his system. It was his go-to drug. He actually couldn’t think of a conflict he hadn’t fought or killed his way out of. To stand in front of Eve again, he needed to handle himself differently.

  He’d almost crossed out of the city limits when a sign caught his eye. It was an animal shelter. Although he’d teased Cole about his prayer, he’d listened to it. Committed it to memory. And Cole had mentioned a damn dog. What’s better than busting one out of jail?

  Beckett slid his leather jacket on and approached the door. He reached it just as a pretty little lady was about to switch the lock into place. She sighed and cracked it open.

  “If you’re looking for your pet, please come back in the morning. The only dog we’re putting down tonight has been here for months. Did you lose one recently?”

  She had on scrubs decorated with puppies. Her pink lips should have been advertising Chapstick or something, not pronouncing a dog’s death.

  “Hello, gorgeous. I didn’t lose a dog. I’m looking for one.” He gave her his best dimpled smile.

  She was frustrated, not charmed. “We’re all out of puppies. We’ve got old ones, ones that eat furniture, and ones that crap on the floor. You in the market for any of those?”

  “You suck at being a saleswoman.” Beckett bit his lip.

  That brought around a smile. “You’re right. Sorry. I just…this is a tough night. I was really hoping Methuselah would get adopted. We’ve had him here for eight months. Three weeks ago was supposed to be his last night, but we keep putting it off. Police just found a hoarder, and we’re going to be swamped tomorrow. We need his cage.”

  “Sounds like I just found my dog.”

  Hope bloomed in her eyes. “Wait. Really? You haven’t met him yet.”

  “If the thought of putting him down makes you that sad, he’s got to be awesome.” Beckett put on his most pleading face. “Can I come in?” He watched as she ran though the possibilities.

  “I really can’t. We’re closed. There’s a whole process.” She was crestfallen.

  “What’s your name?” He smiled encouragingly. It was his panty-dropping stare, and he watched her soften.

  “Kristen.” She opened the door a bit more.

  “I’m Mouse. It’s nice to meet you. I’m on my way outta town, but something brought me here right now. I’m hoping it’s to save the life of that dog.” He waited.

  She looked over her shoulder and raised a finger in the universal one-second-please hand gesture. She went behind the counter and turned off the security camera.

  Beckett hated that she did it. She shouldn’t be putting herself in danger. He knew he was a charming fuck, but if he hadn’t been such a nice bastard, she’d be in trouble starting right…

  Kristen opened the door and locked it behind him.

  Now. “Well, Kristen, if I’m not mistaken, Methuselah was supposed to be the oldest human to ever live. So how long has my new dog been around?” He watched as she tinkered behind the counter, pulling up computer files and writing things down.

  “Actually, the vet thinks Meth is only about four years old. He got the nickname because he’s been here so long—and we all hated the name he came in with. Let me see…Yup, I’m sorry. We can’t do this now. He hasn’t had his shots, and he needs to be neutered before we send him out the door.”

  “That worries you. Tell me why.” Beckett leaned against the counter so he could see Kristen and the door at the same time.

  “Well, I’ve seen people change their minds so often, and I hate today. I hate the thought of putting him down, but I don’t want to have this same day tomorrow when you don’t show up.” She tapped her pen.

  “I won’t be here tomorrow,” Beckett confirmed. “I’m leaving tonight for good. I can’t come back. What if you mark him down as dead, and I take him out of here?” He tried to get a sense of where this dog that caused her so much angst might be. He could hear barking in the distance. The whole place seemed to have an otherworldly echo. “What name did he come in with, by the way?”

  “Pussy. The previous owner had him in dogfights. But the dog was a lover not a fighter. Even when they cut off his ears, he couldn’t bring himself to fight.” She didn’t even tear up. He had to give her credit for being tough.

  “I’ll get him the best vet care in the world.” Beckett realized he was making promises to this girl about a dog he’d yet to meet. But she was starting to consider illegally slipping him this dog, he could tell.

  “You’d have to get him neutered. Overpopulation is a huge part of the reason we have overcrowding here at the shelter.”

  Beckett nodded. “Sure. No problem.”

  “You’re going to get his nuts removed?” She looked like she didn’t believe him.

  “Oh. That’s what that means? Sure. As long as doesn’t hate me afterward.” Beckett looked over his shoulder, worried about staying in one place too long.

  “If I find out you put this dog in fights, I will actually neuter you. And I grew up on a farm, so I know how to do it.” She pointed at him with her pen.

  “Noted. He won’t fight for anything. Ever. We can rename him Gandhi.” Beckett smiled again.

  “I like that.” She looked over her shoulder too. “Crap. Let’s do this.”

  Beckett hopped over the counter and followed her through a set of swinging doors. She nodded at a nondescript door on the left.

  “That’s where we put ’em down.” She tapped the door with her finger as they passed. “Meth—excuse me, Gandhi is here.” She opened a different door, and curled up in a ball on a soft blanket was the ugliest blob of fur Beckett had ever seen.

  “Wow. That’s a dog?” Beckett closed the d
oor behind him.

  The fat blob of fur frowned at him from his place on the floor. Enya played softly from a cell phone on a nearby counter. A plate was set with a hamburger, fries, and a bowlful of what looked like chocolate shake.

  Kristen ignored Beckett’s surprise and went to her knees. The fur wiggled around and made horrible retching noises.

  “You’re such a good boy. I know, baby, I know. He’s a good one.” Kristen hugged him hard around the neck, and Beckett watched as a sort of face emerged. “I’m going to give him his last meal. Now it can be the first of his new life.”

  He watched as the “dog” opened half its head to gulp down the meal on the plate. “You do this for all the dogs?” he asked. She obviously loved this animal. He couldn’t imagine the guts it took to march down the hallway to kill it.

  “We do. We want them to spend a few hours as somebody’s treasured pet.” Kristen lifted the now-empty plate as Gandhi licked his ginormous chops.

  Now that the dog was looking at him, Beckett could make out its face more clearly. His nose was smooshed in like someone had slapped him with a frying pan. And he made a lot of horrible noises that sounded like a combination of choking and puking.

  Kristen wiped her hands on her pants. “Give me your phone.”

  Beckett handed it to her. She pulled up his contact list and added her number, then called her phone to register his number there. “For serious, I want a picture a week and a picture of all his shot records. If I don’t hear from you, I will find you and reclaim this dog.”

  “You love him. Why haven’t you taken him?” Beckett squatted down to get a closer look. He could’ve sworn the dog gave him the finger.

  “It’s not an option for me. Listen, I have to set that alarm in four minutes. You better wait in the parking lot. Take him.”

  She slipped a leash around the dog’s short, plump neck, handed it to Beckett, and rushed out. Gandhi fought the leash as Beckett tried to get him out the door. Kristen obviously had a few closing-up routines she was expediting. “Just pick him up and carry him!” she hollered on a pass near the room.

  Beckett watched Gandhi as Gandhi watched him. Both were uncomfortable as Beckett wrapped his arms around the fat dog’s middle. He was heavy—super heavy like a sack of bowling balls. Beckett walked around the counter, backed out the door Kristen must have unlocked, and set the dog down outside, still holding his leash. She came running out and slammed the door just as a warning beep from the alarm sounded.

  She inserted a key and turned it. “Just in time.” She took a deep breath and turned to face him. “Okay, here’s your crash course in bulldogs. Listening?”

  Beckett nodded.

  “Well, Gandhi here is a bulldog mix, so he’s stubborn and could possibly have health problems down the line. You need a relationship with a vet. You have to clean the folds of his face and not let him get too hot. Get good food from the vet, your new best friend, that has meat listed first in the ingredients.”

  Beckett nodded again. He was still trying to count the folds on this dog’s ugly mug. There were a lot.

  “He breathes mostly through his mouth, so he farts and drools a lot. Get rid of his balls and buy him a harness before you take him on a walk. It’s better for him. Any questions?” Kristen leaned down and handed Gandhi a stuffed school bus.

  The dog wagged its stump of a tail and made a horrible woofle noise.

  “Um. Why wouldn’t anyone adopt him?” Beckett had a sinking feeling because although the dog was hideous, he seemed sort of cute.

  “Well, partly because of the dogfighting background, even though he wasn’t good at it. The clipped ears make people reluctant, and he’s a humper.” She began scratching Gandhi’s hindquarters. He sounded like a wet motorcycle starting up.

  “A humper? Like actually humps stuff?” The dog had his school bus in his mouth while he enjoyed the love Kristen threw at him.

  “Oh yeah. He’ll hump other animals, pillows, blankets…That might taper off after you get his nuts hacked.”

  Beckett grimaced at the thought.

  “But now it’s a learned habit and a personality trait, so he might be a forever humper,” she concluded. Kristen grabbed the dog’s face and kissed the top of his head. “Oh, I almost forgot: his nose doesn’t stay wet enough, so you have to get cream for that. You can always text me with questions. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find out for you.” She boldly opened the back door of the Lincoln. She picked up the dog easily and set him in the back. She hugged him and kissed him again. “I knew I’d break rules for you, silly pup.”

  The dog responded with more horrible noises like he was talking to her. She closed the door and took a deep breath before facing Beckett again.

  “Okay, Mouse, quick review: tell me what you have to do.” She looked like a serious schoolteacher.

  “Um, get a harness, a vet, lose the man bags, clean the cheese out of his folds, and don’t let him get hot. Smear some shit on his nose. Was that everything?” Beckett shook his head in disbelief. This night was getting weird.

  “And…” She tapped her foot.

  He snapped and pointed at her when he remembered. “Text you pictures.”

  “Good. And I will stalk you and find you if this dog doesn’t have the most amazing life.” She turned and blew a kiss to Gandhi before patting Beckett’s shoulder. “Congratulations. You just became a daddy.”

  Having resolved the issue of the dog’s future happiness, Kristen went to her crappy car with a bounce in her step. And despite how much Beckett knew he needed to get out of there, he sat for a moment, just watching her go. When her taillights had disappeared into the falling darkness, he took one last glance at Gandhi and pulled the Lincoln out of the lot.

  His drive through the night seemed longer than it was, but that’s probably because he had no idea where he was going. And after a while, he couldn’t take the car any more. “I could do Vegas and back, but now I can’t take five hours,” he informed Gandhi. “You’ve made me a wang-rocket already.” He pulled off at the next exit, and by the time he’d settled into a dog-friendly hotel, he was physically and mentally exhausted. His snarfling furball seemed to be as well. The freaking dog was like a rock all night long in the center of the bed.

  It was lunchtime by the time Beckett and Gandhi emerged for their morning walk and hotel checkout. Beckett threw his duffle bag and the damned stuffed bus back in the car and drove down the street to a gas station. The sun was high, and his new dog had settled into the back, apparently for a nap, despite sleeping like a freaking baby all night. Gandhi grumbled and harrumphed his disapproval when the car stopped again so soon. Beckett laughed as he walked into the station and grabbed a crappy coffee before prepaying in cash for the gas. On his way back out he sniffed the air, finding it filled with fresh sea salt. He was accidently in a beautiful little town. As he leaned against the car while it filled, he tried to come up with a reason this shouldn’t be his new home.

  He couldn’t come up with one. He loved the goddamn ocean, and this place had enough stores not to feel like a deserted old man’s crotch but not so many that he couldn’t see the fucking stars at night. He could see the bridge he’d crossed to get to this little town in the distance. It was a million stories up and only had those cement highway dividers as a wall. It was scary and pretty all rolled into one. Kinda like you, you handsome bastard.

  He looked in on his new dog. The freaking thing looked like Jabba the Hutt’s dingleberry. So damn ugly. His impulse decisions were super impulsive. As if his name were Beckett’s Disappointment, the dog looked up and half smiled. Beckett nodded in his direction. “What about it? You like this place?”

  Gandhi wiggled his butt in response. Maybe this thing would be okay after all. Beckett slapped the gas dispenser back in its holster and turned to take one more look at his new pet. Gandhi was wildly humping his stuffed bus.

  “Wow.” He slid behind the steering wheel. “We could’ve just high-fived. You are so gett
ing your nuts chopped off. And soon.”

  The dog fell off the seat in his amorous state and gave Beckett a shocked glare.

  He couldn’t help but laugh. “You are a silly damn thing.”

  They had to cool their heels outside a real estate office for almost an hour until the entire staff came back from lunch. By then Gandhi had relived himself robustly several times and now seemed to be enjoying sitting in the car, tongue lolling out. Beckett didn’t really have a plan, just an assload of cash and a hope for a better life that would somehow include Eve again someday.

  Part Two

  Five Years Later



  RYAN MORALES ROLLED HIS HEAD on his neck, trying to release the tension. It didn’t work. He was pretty sure his entire body had a headache, and he was so, so exhausted.

  When he opened his apartment door, he went from tired to on-the-job in a breath. He drew his gun and assessed the exits, sliding against the wall to protect his six. His apartment was almost completely empty—of everything. After a quiet assessment he holstered his weapon. He recognized this type of destruction. Ryan closed the door behind him and didn’t bother to throw the lock. He went to the fridge and found a single beer instead of the twelve-pack that should have been nice and cold.

  “Bitch.” He took out the beer and popped it open on the countertop. “But, if you left me a beer, that means breakup sex is on the table. Right, Poseidon?” Ryan toasted the fish bowl and noticed his beta was belly up and floating.

  He looked closely at the water and shook his head. The crazy whore had filled the bowl with hand soap.

  “Well, now I’m taking breakup sex off the table.” He toasted his dead fish again and drained the beer before scooping him out of the bowl. As he flushed the fish, he noticed she’d left him not one sheet of toilet paper.

  He sighed. By his count this was his fifth failed romance since becoming a Poughkeepsie police officer a little over six years ago. They say the job makes you a bachelor, and he was certainly proving them right.


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