Return to poughkeepsie, p.8
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       Return to Poughkeepsie, p.8

           Debra Anastasia

  Soon enough, January was ready for her audition. She grabbed her purse, which included no weapons—she wasn’t even taking her favorite hair knife—and called a cab to take her to the mansion in Somers.

  When they arrived, the cab driver wouldn’t take her up the driveway or accept any money for the ride. As he squealed away, she knew she was in the right place. Walking up the long driveway, she surveyed the dense trees she passed before she reached the gate. She hit the intercom and a very clipped voice asked her for her name and purpose.

  “January. Audition.” The less she said the better.

  She was told to wait, and soon enough a limo pulled in from the street. The door opened, and Eve got in. There were four other women in the car and two bodyguard types. No one was smiling. This was a somber affair, despite the party atmosphere when they arrived at the house. Twinkling lights lined the paths and music played from unseen speakers as they were lead inside and into a waiting room.

  The draperies alone probably cost what a middle-class family made in a year. In total Eve counted twenty girls in the room—some in very suggestive clothes, others like her who were tasteful in their black dresses and pumps.

  She made sure to stand close to the tall blonde with close-cropped hair. Micki would have a mole like Marilyn Monroe, according to Shark’s last text a few hours ago. After she asked Micki for a mint and confirmed her identity, Eve passed her the message and wandered away.

  When it was time to move, the ladies were told to form a line. Eve made a point to be last. She needed to see as much of the situation as she could before she was in the room. The hallway was set up like a makeshift airport security gate, and each girl was thoroughly searched before she entered the room beyond the checkpoint.

  The first few passed through without incident. The fourth one leaned in to the bodyguards suggestively. The ladies following her then tried to out-do each other with flirting. Eve watched as Micki went through without making a fool of herself. Eve half wondered if she’d just condemned the woman to death. Shark never told her if he was saving either of them. She could easily be walking to her doom. Why a weapons business would have a call for prostitutes and want them to act the opposite was puzzling.

  When it was Eve’s turn, the bodyguards smiled.

  “Hey, baby. You’re last in line. Lucky you. The caboose gets the body cavity search.” The closest one reached his hand toward her skirt.

  She bared her teeth.

  “Whoa! Rules are rules, honey.” The one on her left slid his hand across her ass.

  Eve stomped her foot, scraping her heel down his shin and grinding it on his toe. “Touch me and die. The metal detector will tell you everything you’ll ever get to know about my body.”

  She expected a fight, but the other bodyguard just motioned her through. They looked through her purse as she passed under the detector’s scan. Eve took her bag back on the opposite side, and the bodyguards assumed a quiet, almost respectful demeanor—only one of them now stood on one leg. Eve turned and entered the room. Ballroom, she mentally corrected.

  After giving the large expanse a onceover, she stood again at the end of the line of girls. Suddenly a clacking of heels echoed in the room as a woman appeared at the top of the staircase. She was slight and dressed in a pastel blue shirt-and-coat combo. Her black hair bore a distinctive gray stripe, which she wore like an elegant badge of honor. As she slowly descended, like this was her wedding or something, Eve struggled to get a bead on her age. She noticed that each of the woman’s pumps had a delicate bow made of diamonds at the toe just about the time she determined her to be perhaps a bit past fifty.

  When the woman finally reached the end of the staircase, she smiled a loving schoolteacher’s smile. But her eyes were the giveaway. This woman, whoever she was, had the most soulless eyes Eve had ever seen.

  Some of the other girls made the mistake of scoffing and whispering. Eve could make out mumblings of mobster’s wife and prima donna. The woman cleared her throat and patted her chest gently, her femininity over the top—Southern belle dipped in syrup and rolled in sugar. It was all for show; Eve was sure of it.

  The woman moved to the center of the room, facing the women in line to audition. “Hello, girls. First, let me thank you for coming here and submitting to the guards and detectors.” She looked from one to the other and smiled. Some girls responded, others did not. Eve returned the woman’s gaze evenly.

  “Do you pick out hookers for your husband?” came a voice from somewhere down the line. Nervous giggles rippled through the room.

  “I’m Ms. Vitullo, but please, call me Mary Ellen. This evening I’ll just need to speak with you for a few moments so I can decide if you’re right for this job. I’ll let you gather your thoughts.” She twirled and made her way to a nearby table. A bodyguard ran over to pull out her chair. She sat and sweetly thanked him. And then they waited. Mary Ellen gazed out one of the floor-to-ceiling windows as the women chatted nervously.

  Eve watched her for tells. She didn’t like what she saw. This woman was manipulating them. After a weird amount of time had passed, the room settled into an awkward silence. Only then did Mary Ellen turn and beckon for the first girl in line. True to her word, she had a brief, quiet conversation with the auditioning prostitute before shaking her hand and pointing to a table on her left. Girl after girl endured the encounter, and each was sent to the table on the left. Micki was next, and when she was through, Mary Ellen pointed to another table on her right.

  The chatter halted at the left-hand table. Suddenly it was clear some evaluation was going on. A few more girls were summoned, and three of them were sent to the right. Last was Eve. Mary Ellen beckoned coyly, almost flirtatiously to her.

  After Eve took her seat, Mary Ellen smiled indulgently. “I noticed at the check-in you were unwilling to submit to the search by my guards. Care to tell me why?” She batted her lashes.

  “Not particularly.” Eve crossed her legs.

  “Well.” Mary Ellen raised a perfect eyebrow, or at least part of one. Botox seemed to have rendered a good portion of her face immobile. Her eyes were so brown they were almost black. “Name?”

  “January.” Eve didn’t fidget and tried to avoid a staring contest with the woman. Her vibe was intense.

  “Last place of employment?” Mary Ellen gently bit her finger.

  “Lollipop’s Ladies, and then I went solo.” Eve sat back in her chair and waited to see how this information would be digested.

  “What’s your best skill, Miss January, wouldya say?” Now she was folksy, like they were best friends.

  Eve wasn’t sure what story to make up. She decided to go with the truth.

  She leaned in and spoke in a whisper. “I can tell you’re going to kill every single girl at that table.” She pointed to the left.

  Mary Ellen’s eyes widened just a tiny bit in surprise. “And if I sent you to that table? What would you do?”

  Eve stood. “Try me.”

  Mary Ellen stood as well and looked up at Eve. “I’ll need you to go sit down.” She motioned with her head to the table on the right.

  Eve nodded and sat down next to Micki.

  “Boys? Can you show the ladies to the left their new view, please?” Mary Ellen looked every bit the gracious host.

  The girls from the other table lined up, clearly excited at the thought of living in this huge mansion. Mary Ellen came to sit at the right-hand table, across from Eve. She waited until the rest of the ladies were out of the ballroom, gazing at the spectacular view of the mountains just beyond, dotted with house lights.

  She turned to the small group of women at the table. “So, after that group is done, I’ll have the boys show you your view.”

  As the first gunshot popped, eyes widened all around the table. Most of the women seemed confused, curious, but Eve knew it was a .48 Magnum with a silencer. The second and third shots drew their attention. Eve knew if she looked she’d see the girls falling boneless to the stone pa
tio. She didn’t look. Eve watched Mary Ellen instead. Horrified screams now came from the remaining girls on the terrace. Eve bet they were starting to run, trying to escape.

  With each shot, Mary Ellen’s mouth crawled up into a larger smile. When the last shot sounded on the patio, she was grinning like she’d just won a puppy.


  Tits Okay

  “MOTHERFUCKER.” BECKETT THREW HIS KENO TICKET on the floor. “I swear one day I’m figuring this shit out.” Then he stood and picked up the damn ticket. He slid his sunglasses on just as Chery opened the front door to the liquor store. The morning sun felt like knives in his head, even with his sunglasses on, and he cringed.

  She was flustered, dropping her keys as she began apologizing. “Sorry, boss. I’m late—I know I’m late. My sister was late to the program, and I’m late, and I’m sorry.”

  “Settle yourself, baby. It’s okay, baby! Monday morning is not a hot time for liquor. I’ve been playing the fucking Keno game, and I swear on my left, slightly hairless nut that this damn thing is rigged.”

  He picked up a few receipts that had fallen like leaves from her messy purse. Chery was wearing a turtleneck on an unseasonably warm day. She did that a lot, actually. At first he’d thought her boyfriend was a sucker—got off on leaving his open-mouthed mark on his woman. But the last two times Chery was late, she’d worn thick makeup as well. The lights of the liquor store worked like an x-ray, and he could see the bruises she’d tried to cover. Didn’t take a genius to know Chery was getting knocked around by her “man.”

  “Just get behind that thing and make sense of the sales I forced it to take,” Beckett said, sliding away from the register. “You’re good. No worries, baby.” He made sure Chery gave him a smile before he whistled through his teeth, and Gandhi snorted himself out of his deep snores. “I’m going to sort out that shipment in the back.”

  Chery nodded and his ugly dog followed him, passing gas with every step. Beckett shook his head and slid his glasses off, hooking them on the back of his T-shirt. “I used to be cool. I had some swagger before you came farting along, G.”

  The dog gave him an open-jawed smile, his tongue lolling out.

  Beckett’s office was in the back. G had a nice fluffy bed, which he immediately curled up in. Beckett grabbed the inventory list and began sorting the booze. His mind drifted with the manual labor…to Chery. He was desperate every damn day, trying to be a better fucking guy. It was like an addiction, his need to bust people’s freaking skulls for being assholes. This girl he had on the payroll was a hot mess when she’d applied for a job about eight months ago—nervous and shifty during the interview. She had huge gaps in her résumé. Just the type of person he tried to hire.

  He didn’t need the goddamn money. Mouse had set him up so sweet he didn’t need a damn thing. This liquor store had been an impulse buy. It was a sack of shit. But it was his church now. He collected people: patrons, employees, the local hookers. They found their way here, and he tried to give them a damn chance. Loan them money that didn’t have their blood on the note. He was shocked how damn grateful the misfits of this little town were. And how often they surprised the shit out him.

  Chery was a test, though. In the past, Beckett would have just killed her boyfriend—or at the very least broken enough bones in the man’s body to make him see God. But this new Beckett, this guy he was trying his damnedest to be, was all about letting people make their choices, find their way. Trusting them a little.

  And it was because he didn’t kill the boyfriend that Beckett learned about Vere. Chery was the only provider for her older sister, who had autism. In a few quiet moments when he listened, he heard about how Vere was Chery’s only family. They were fiercely devoted to each other. Their mother, who had seen to it that Vere had all she needed, passed from cancer years ago. Chery had come home from college and vowed to keep Vere’s schedule as close to the same as possible. Vere participated in a program four days a week, doing jobs in the community with the help of an amazing staff. There were also the horseback riding lessons Vere loved. An old horse had made a connection with her, a lady who lived inside her head so much. Chery teared up when she described Vere’s rare shows of emotion around the damn horse. The therapist wasn’t cheap either, and their mother’s medical plan had expired with her life.

  Chery’s boyfriend was also her landlord. They never got very far into discussing her relationship with him, but Beckett had an inkling Chery put up with the man at least partly to keep things stable for Vere.

  Slowly, quietly, Beckett had been able to go behind the scenes and donate things to help Vere. The horseback riding lessons were now free: the farm’s owner loved getting a brand new John Deere tractor in exchange. The program that took Vere for her job in town had received stunning donations. They were now able to take their participants on even grander adventures. And the final piece had been when Beckett was able to get Chery a medical plan. She contributed a pittance from her paycheck, and Beckett supplied her with insurance that would take care of her and her sister for their entire lifetimes.

  And on the days when Chery came in all excited about a new development with Vere, it was all worth it. Helping her had been a rush. Maybe adopting Gandhi had been the starting point, but there had been a kindness avalanche since then.

  It was work though. He wanted to kick the shit out of Chery’s landlord/boyfriend/asshole so damn much. And he wasn’t ruling that out. The man had stopped in to buy alcohol once. Chery had disappeared instantly into the back of the store, and Beckett had stood at the cash register with his arms folded. The guy’s name was Jared. Normal-looking fucker. He tried to offer money, but Beckett wouldn’t take it. He looked at the man without his nice-guy filter, and it took only his stare. He’d squinted into the bastard’s soul. Jared had immediately dropped the money and the whiskey and left.

  Beckett twirled a box cutter in his hand, trying to put some thought into his decisions. Working with the type of people he now sought out, he knew he couldn’t fix everybody’s everything. And a lot of damn times ladies who took a beating would side with their men, no matter what. If that happened he’d lose his connection to Chery.

  It was tough. He prayed sometimes. To Mouse. Which probably made Bibles spontaneously combust, but whatever. He asked for patience and clarity, and damn it if once in a while he didn’t feel like he was getting a shot of just that.

  He looked over the bottles and cans he’d unpacked. There was a chick on the side of a particular six-pack of beer who looked like Eve. Stupid. He ordered the damn stuff religiously even though the beer never sold and tasted like shit. He was thinking about her again out of fucking nowhere. That’s always how it was. He’d be doing something boring and normal, and then it would be her. The way her damn blue eyes would see through all his crap. How damn gorgeous she was, but used her looks only as another weapon.

  Years. He’d been gone years. He’d been gone so long, it was crippling now. She’d expect so much more than what he’d accomplished. He should be saving people from fires every day. Or finding missing kids. But all he had to offer as evidence of being a better person was running the worst liquor store in a little out-of-the-way town by the water.

  He sliced through the last box and put the last few six-packs in the cooler. He heard the bell on the front door and Chery’s welcome to Nolan. The guy’d been out of prison for ten years—he had grandchildren now, for crap’s sake—and no one else would give the poor bastard a freaking job. He was a great guy who’d made a bunch of stupid choices as a kid.

  Beckett woke Gandhi and grabbed his keys. Chery would manage the front for most of the day, and Nolan would take over at night and lock up. With his employees in place, he was out. He slapped the older man on the back on his way through the store. Chery blew Gandhi a kiss, and Beck was out the door. He felt good, but he had no idea if the simple shit he did here would ever be worthy of Eve.

  Kyle took another huge breath and forced a smile as Cole stuck t
he needle in her stomach. He was decent at making it not hurt too much, and she was trying to be a good sport, but these fertility treatments were a freaking joke. Between the bloating and the imported hormones she felt more like a water balloon than a woman.

  “There. All done for today. You okay?” Cole stood and rubbed her stomach.

  “I can’t even begin to think about this. How’s Ted? What’s it been, a week now since he was hurt? Did Eve come home? Tell me something else.” Kyle sat on the bed and watched Cole meticulously put away the syringes and vials of drugs that contained her hopes and dreams.

  “It has been a week, and Blake said she came by pretty much just long enough to set up security for her dad. Her parting words were ‘protect your family.’”

  Kyle pulled her knees to her chest. Her stomach burned, and there was an odd metal taste in her mouth.

  “Livia said she had the alarm people out the other day. But I mean, is the concern Beckett’s enemies or what?”

  Cole turned, and she indulged in staring at him. His skin was the most gorgeous color, and it made his clear eyes sparkle even more. He could still look mysterious even though they’d been married for years now.

  “Or what. No one’s heard from Beck in years. I don’t think it’s related. It’s bad news, and we have to be careful, but it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with him.” Cole crawled onto the bed and wrapped his arms around her.

  She traced the Sorry tattoo on his forearm. “You don’t think he’s dead, do you?”

  She could feel him shake his head. “No. I think I’d know. Blake and I think he’s trying to turn himself around, and that might take a while. I hope, anyway.”

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