Poughkeepsie, p.7
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       Poughkeepsie, p.7

           Debra Anastasia
 

  For several days, she arrived to find the breakfast bag remaining in Blake’s spot like a tribute. Then animals strewed the contents all over the platform. Every morning and evening, Livia granted her eyes the only thing they asked for all day: a sweeping, hopeful look at the platform. And every time, her gut registered the punch of his absence.

  Livia went to school with a vengeance. She asked questions, offered suggestions, and impressed her professors. Her students were less impressed because she made their lives hell as she experimented with teaching by the Socratic Method. She’d been the new, improved, impermeable Livia for a week before Kyle cornered her in her bedroom.

  “Your phone’s always off. You sleep like a dead person. You keep those goddamn sunglasses on all the time. What the hell’s going on with you?” Kyle tossed her red hair in indignation.

  Livia just shook her head. As her foggy thoughts tried to form themselves into a response, Kyle ran out of patience.

  Crack! She whacked Livia’s sunglasses across the room. Livia was too stunned to slap her back.

  When Kyle saw Livia’s bloodshot eyes, ringed in black circles, she gasped. “Oh, Livia, you’re so sad. Tell me what happened. Please tell me this isn’t over Chris the giant pussy?”

  Livia managed a smile.

  “Is it that skanktastic Hannah? I have some photos from a party that would ruin her if we let them loose.” Kyle pushed Livia down on her bed.

  Livia shook her head and with a huge sigh, unloaded her story. She began with defending Blake at the train station and ended two months later with the brown bag of uneaten breakfast.

  Livia’s voice wavered with unshed tears at the end of her tale. “I think his problems might be too big. I can’t even find him.” Livia waited for Kyle’s anger to flare, remembering her reaction to Chris.

  “Liv, do you think you love him?” Kyle looked like she already knew the answer.

  Taken off guard by Kyle’s lack of vengeance, Livia was surprised to hear her soul talking after a week of sulking in silence. “I feel like I’ve always loved him, and now I just got lucky enough to find him.”

  This revelation lit a fire in Kyle. She leaped off the bed, pointing at her sister with gusto. “Well, Livia, McHugh women aren’t quitters. And we definitely don’t quit on love. You better bury all this sorry-ass self-pity and man up. If finding him will bring you back to normal, that’s what we’re going to do.”

  After all the times Livia had advised and encouraged Kyle, she now just shook her head, laughing. “You’re pretty smart for a bratty little sister.”

  “I’m only a year and a half younger. It’s not like it even counts anymore,” Kyle retorted. “We’re going to find your hobo. We’re going to work hard—work nights. Liv, we’re going to put our balls into it.” She hugged her tightly.

  “When did we get balls?” Livia asked, returning her ridiculous sister’s hug.

  “Just now. So where to first? Pimps R Us or wrathful priest man?” Kyle walked over to Livia’s vanity and selected a few choice items from the makeup she found there.

  “Pimps, I guess,” Livia said, ignoring the thievery. “It is night. What do we wear to a drug den anyway?” Livia opened her closet and looked through her clothes for some prospects.

  Kyle smacked her lips after applying gloss. “Definitely no opened-toed shoes.”

  “What?” Livia said.

  “I figure there’ll be needles or something. Dress like we’re headed to the county fair. Cow poop or syringes full of disease, same difference.”

  Livia felt the warmth of hope light her from within. If Kyle was on board, maybe this was worth pursuing. He was worth pursuing.

  7

  Pimps R Us

  LIVIA FOLLOWED AS KYLE demonstrated how to pick their way out of the house without being detected by their father. Livia gave her sister as many disapproving facial expressions as she could muster, but she obeyed.

  Kyle palmed the keys to her chili pepper red convertible so they wouldn’t jingle as the two slipped out the front door. She kept them silent as she unlocked the car.

  “Don’t shut the car door all the way,” she advised as they fastened their seatbelts.

  “Shouldn’t we put the top on?” Livia asked.

  Kyle dismissed her with the briefest of head shakes. The convertible’s hardtop had her cursing a blue streak whenever she put it on. She started the car and backed out of the driveway without headlights. They were two blocks away before she nodded and flipped on the lights. They both shut their doors more securely.

  “What the hell, Kyle? How many damn times have you snuck out of the house?”

  Kyle’s laugh filled the small car. “Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to. Now tell me more about this drug den.” Kyle cranked the heat up to full blast to counter the night wind as they drove.

  “Well, it was scary at eight-thirty in the morning, so at ten o’clock at night, we should crap our pants.”

  “Ah, good times. This should be fun,” Kyle said with a smile.

  As Kyle followed Livia’s driving directions, the town began to crumple into ruins. Livia looked nervously at her beautiful little sister, whose face flushed pink in the glow of the car’s custom-installed interior lights. Kyle implemented her funky fashion sense everywhere she went, including her work as a buyer for the hottest local boutique.

  But paired with Kyle’s outgoing sense of style was an aversion to long-term commitment. She went out plenty, but she never had a boyfriend. Certainly that must have been her choice. And Kyle had passed on college, preferring to learn via a series of jobs and employers until the found her niche. Despite her offbeat way of getting there, Livia believed Kyle had exactly the life she wanted. She exuded a quiet confidence. Well, not so quiet at times too.

  “What if he’s not okay?” Livia blurted. She felt relieved to finally share her concerns with someone.

  Kyle shook her head. “He’ll be okay.”

  “Right up ahead, to your left.”

  But the directions were unnecessary now; Kyle just followed the explosions of illegal fireworks above Beckett’s parking lot. As they turned in, Kyle hit the button for the automatic locks. Livia looked up at the stars.

  “That’ll keep ’em out. Good thinking, Ky.” Livia’s stomach bubbled like a pot of boiling water. “Maybe the top would’ve been a good plan.”

  “How well do you know this Beckett guy again?” Kyle pulled as close to the building as she could and put the car in park.

  “Not well. I’m pretty sure he threatened me the only time I met him.” Livia took in the sights around her.

  “Great.” Kyle’s eyes widened as she surveyed Beckett’s place of business.

  The parking lot was a kaleidoscope of wrong. Wrong people doing wrong things for wrong reasons. Smoke and music filled the air, as each working vehicle seemed to have its radio tuned to a different station. A few bonfires dotted the asphalt, and almost every person held a brown paper bag molded into the shape of a bottle.

  A tall, greasy man, clad in a cliché trench coat, flashed his long, white, naked body at anyone who looked his direction. Once he spotted Kyle and Livia, he made a beeline for their car. He flashed his coat open with great flourish in front of them as if on his own personal stage. He wiggled his meager offerings while the sisters watched, their noses wrinkled in distaste. Trench Coat then added a song to his pitiful dance: “Lulooly, Lulooly, Lulooly!”

  Kyle pointed right at him and with great seriousness confronted Livia. “Please tell me Mr. Frank n’ Beans isn’t Blake or Beckett.”

  “No, Cocktail Weenie has nothing to do with why we’re here.”

  “That’s one pale, hairless nightmare,” Kyle said, still pointing.

  “I think I can smell his ass from here.” Livia had to work not to smile.

  The McHugh girls could do this for hours. The flasher seemed offended by their repartee and closed his coat.

  “Let’s get out,” Kyle suggested, already exitin
g the vehicle. Livia took a deep breath and joined her. As if the closing car door was some sort of signal, the parking lot’s inhabitants began slinking toward them. Weapons gleamed on each person in the gathering crowd. In a group, the derelicts concentrated the smells of the evening into an overwhelming wave.

  Livia grabbed Kyle’s hand as the shortest, meanest-looking man approached.

  “Well, boys, what have we here?” He came closer.

  “You tell us, Dentist,” slurred a bystander.

  Dentist was likely not certified to practice, but he wore a necklace made of what looked like human molars. Livia’s breaths game in quick, short gasps.

  Dentist licked his lips and put one foot between Livia’s and the other between Kyle’s.

  Livia could smell the rot in his mouth when he spoke in a slow drawl. “Too clean to be whores, too fancy to be meth heads.” Dentist put a gentle finger on Livia and Kyle’s clasped hands. “So either they’re here to walk on the wild side or they want to score some blow.”

  Dentist leaned in and licked Kyle’s face. In the same movement, he pulled a switchblade from his belt and held it to Livia’s throat. Livia could feel her pulse beating against the knife.

  “Ladies, I have a wild side. Do ya want to touch it?” He spoke mostly to the crowd behind him. There was no one home behind his dark, black eyes.

  The crowd started a chant. “Teeth! Teeth! Teeth!”

  “Open your mouth, rich girl.” Dentist addressed Kyle, but pressed the blade deeper into Livia’s neck.

  Livia felt a warm tickle of blood on the base of her throat as her sister opened her mouth. Suddenly she found her voice. “I’m Beckett’s sister.”

  Dentist caressed one of Kyle’s back left molars. He seemed unmoved by Livia’s declaration.

  “Beckett doesn’t have a sister, sweetie.”

  Kyle chose that moment to chomp down on Dentist’s finger.

  “Aaahhh!” He pulled it out of Kyle’s mouth, and she spit in his face.

  Crap. Livia watched rage take the steering wheel from any common sense Dentist might have had. He pulled a pistol from the back of his jeans and opened his dark eyes to reveal whites laced with thick, red veins. His lip beaded with sweat. Livia knew she was taking her last breaths.

  “She’s his sister.” The calm, authoritative voice was female. “Kill her and you’ll never see the light of day.”

  One of the hookers Blake had met the other day now parted the crowd with either her beauty or her ferocious artillery. Gone was the garish makeup Livia had seen on her last time. She was fresh-faced with her long blond hair in a high ponytail.

  “Eve,” she stated, giving Livia and Kyle a nod. She wore leather poured on like hot wax and accessorized with an automatic weapon across her chest and a fierce knife strapped to her thigh. Boots heeled with metal spikes put the icing on the cake.

  “He’s expecting these ladies. If I drag them in there dead, he won’t like it.” She showed no fear.

  Dentist took a step back. “Listen, you upgraded whore, I don’t take orders from you.”

  A mumbling ripple raced through the crowd.

  Eve stepped forward and smiled. With three effortless movements she disarmed Dentist and kicked him in the crotch with one of those fascinating boots. The sharp heel stuck there for a sickening moment before she pulled it free with a jerk. Livia gathered Kyle in her arms.

  Eve pivoted to step between the crowd and the sisters. She pointed at a man in the crowd, but when Eve lowered her hand, Livia realized the knife that had been at her thigh was missing. Following a horrific yelp of pain with her eyes, Livia saw the man singled out by Eve slump to the ground clutching his leg. Eve now scanned the crowd like a robot.

  No one else moved.

  She returned to the writhing man at Kyle’s feet. “These women are with me. If you even look at them again, I’ll turn your balls into Swiss cheese.”

  Dentist’s eyes rolled in his head, and they unfortunately landed on Livia’s face. There was still no one home.

  Quick as a rattlesnake, Eve stomped on Dentist’s testicles again. “What did I just say?” she snarled.

  The crunch was audible, and the crowd dispersed as Dentist wailed loudly. Eve turned to face Livia and Kyle.

  “Stay in front of me and say nothing.” Eve had to give Kyle a shove to get her moving.

  With the sisters’ hands still firmly clasped, the trio marched toward the storefronts. Livia fully expected a shot to the head.

  But they made it. Livia opened the glass door and all but threw her sister into the building. Mouse sat in his accustomed spot, flipping through a knitting magazine.

  Knitting?

  He didn’t move as Eve strode forward to open Beckett’s office door, not bothering to knock. Livia and Kyle followed her inside.

  “Mouse, can you go watch these girls’ car before the assholes light it on fire?” she called back over her shoulder.

  Mouse looked annoyed. “You’re lucky I have internet access on this phone.” He set down his magazine and called up a website instead. He disappeared out the door.

  Beckett lounged shirtless on his love seat, wearing camouflage pants and combat boots. Livia couldn’t help but notice at least three small, circular scars. Beckett didn’t acknowledge the women as they entered. He swirled clear liquid in a rocks glass. Frank Sinatra crooned from unseen speakers.

  “I found these chicks outside,” Eve said disinterestedly. “You know ’em?”

  Beckett regarded Livia and Kyle with blurry eyes.

  Livia silently begged him to remember her. She bore her eyes into his tattoo in an effort to ignite a memory.

  “Maybe.” Beckett took a long, gulping swallow of his drink. “But I’m not in the mood. Kill ’em.”

  Eve sighed and responded calmly. “Quit being an ass. Girls like this don’t come here. I bet they have a reason.”

  She boldly took his glass. Eve gave him a half smirk and drained it, then threw it against the wall where it shattered between two mounted guns.

  “I wounded a piece of trash and popped Dentist in the nuts a few times,” she informed him. “At least hear these two out.” She grabbed a bar towel, threw another one to Livia, and hiked her leg up on Beckett’s desk. Livia swabbed gingerly at the cut on her neck, which was mercifully superficial, as Eve wiped the blood off her spike heel.

  Beckett slowly extracted himself from the couch. He looked like a life-size GI Joe doll with his rippling chest and army pants. He rubbed the back of his hand across his lips. “All right, what the hell are you doing here, Whitebread? And why did you bring Fairy Princess with you?”

  “I want to talk about Blake,” Livia said.

  Beckett rolled his eyes and let out a mighty sigh. “Hey, killer, take Fairy Princess to the waiting area.”

  Eve gave him the finger and motioned for Kyle with her head. Livia’s hand remained clamped around Kyle’s.

  Beckett raised his eyebrow. “She’ll be safe. I promise.”

  Livia released her grip, and Kyle followed Eve out. Eve closed the office door, sealing Livia in.

  “If I remember correctly, I asked you very nicely not to break his heart,” Beckett said, taking a seat behind his desk.

  Livia couldn’t sit. Her limbs twitched with adrenaline. “Have you seen him?” she bounced on her toes, wringing the bar towel in her hands.

  “No, miss. I have not. Looks like you put yourself through this exciting evening for no reason whatsoever.” Beckett dug through the top drawer of his desk. From the place where most people keep pens, Beckett withdrew rolling papers and a plastic bag.

  Livia covered her face with her hands. “Damn it. What was I supposed to do? Tell him he was made of glass? I couldn’t look him in the eye and lie. Maybe that was a stupid mistake.” Beckett’s jaw tightened as Livia continued her tirade. “And you’re no freaking help at all—with your whores and your drugs and your evil goddamn lifestyle.”

  Beckett looked down for a moment, then eyed he
r with absolute fury. He gripped the edge of the desk. “I’ve done my best to make sure my brothers have no blood on their hands,” he said with menacing quiet. “Do you know what it’s like to age out of the foster care system? I had no one. No one except Cole and Blake.” He stood and angrily swiped everything off his desk into a heap on the floor. He rushed to grab her by the arms. The bar towel fell to the ground. “Pretty, pampered Livia wants to lie with the dogs. I take it you’re some sort of expert? I’m going to tell you something I’ve never told a soul.”

  Livia felt oddly calm. She recognized this Beckett—the one who’d begged her to protect Blake’s heart.

  “I hit the streets first. So I knew what we were in for. I’m not a smart guy, but I can read a situation. To live in this world without a dime or a pot to piss in, you have to sell your soul or your body.”

  He let go of her and took a step back, but Livia refused to let him get away. She took one of his big, rough hands in both of hers. He didn’t pull it back, but looked at the ceiling, rather than her.

  “I wouldn’t let them face that choice. I had six months to become the baddest motherfucker who ever lived. So I fucked up piles of people. I sold my soul, Livia, and I sold other people’s bodies. But when my brothers stepped out of our foster home for the last time, I had respect. Respect enough to keep their souls clean. I’m going to hell, Livia,” he said.

  He looked at her now, his eyes glassy with tears, and Livia knew she was one of very, very few to ever see him in this state.

  “I’m going to hell for all three of us,” Beckett said defiantly. Only now did he pull his hand away.

  “I think you might be a better man than you give yourself credit for,” Livia said, trying to catch his eye again.

  Beckett seemed embarrassed. Livia let the emotion ease and stepped back. She finally felt able to sit and collapsed on the loveseat. After a moment Beckett settled on top of his desk.

  “So what’s up with Eve?” Livia asked. “She can kick ass.”

  “She’s hot shit, right?” Beckett looked at the closed office door as if he could see right through it.

 
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