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Posts Tagged ‘serialized novel’

44. CORA: French Diplomacy

ora was awake, daylight just beginning to sift through the windows, though she was not sure she had ever fallen asleep.

She could remember sitting alone in the living room, feeling so restless and helpless knowing Juliette was out there somewhere. Finally, she’d lain down on the sofa, her mind alive with images of her little girl in the woods, or on the dark streets: Somewhere beyond Cora’s reach. Or were those dreams?

Now she was awake, itchy to get out there and find her daughter.

She heard voices, male voices, heavy footsteps on the wooden stairs. They seemed to be speaking French. She shook her head, wondering if she was hallucinating. Or hallucinating again.

Then the door banged open.

There stood Medhi, her ex. With him was Hugo, Juliette’s ex. Or current: Cora never could keep that straight, and suspected Juliette couldn’t either.

At any other moment, Cora would have started screaming at Medhi for all his sins, would have pushed him back down the stairs or run out into the street herself.

But now, after only a moment’s hesitation, she walked straight into his arms.

Letting her forehead rest against his shoulder, breathing in the starch of his shirt, the musky scent of his neck, feeling the tickle of his hair against her cheek, feeling herself release all the worry and all the tears, brought back every moment she’d spent like this with him over all the years. Weeping for joy when he asked her to marry him and when she found out she was pregnant with Juliette. Crying in pain when she lost pregnancy after pregnancy and later when her mother died. Medhi’s steady strength, his warm shoulder and his hand on her back had been the constant through all the most important events of her life.

“It’s all right, I’m here, we’ll find her,” he said, and she let herself cry harder, collapse into him more thoroughly.

I was such a fool to ever leave, she told herself. I never should have taken Juliette away, never should have left Paris, should have learned to live with this man, my husband, no matter what.

“What I don’t understand,” Medhi said, gently stepping away from her, “is how our daughter got lost in the first place.”


41. DaSHAWN: The Bitch’s Bitch

aShawn gazed in Taryn’s direction as she talked, trying to keep his face composed in what he guessed might be a posture of listening. He nodded slowly and steadily, like a fucking Emmitt Smith bobblehead, and held his mouth slightly open and relaxed, and stared with wide eyes at her pretty little white face, all juiced up like fucking Hillary Clinton or something, but much much hotter. And DaShawn kept listening, like he was fucking Obama with the TV cameras turned on.

She had big plans, this little girl. Was talking about starting a crank factory, but major league, not some little one-pot meth kitchen where you save up your piss to reclaim the one molecule that might be left that could make somebody high.

No, she was talking a proper fucking plant, like Tyson’s, so efficient they take you from egg to KFC in 18 days. She’d recruit workers, runners; she’d buy land, a farm, camouflage everything beneath bona fide crops; she’d keep horses as a cover, even race them.

Not she. We.

“What do you want me in this deal for?” DaShawn asked.

She smiled, sweet as when she was asking for another hundred dollar advance.

“Why, DaShawn,” she said. “Because you’re the only man never tried to fuck me.”

He looked away at that, the memory of what he’d done that night on the houseboat pressing down on him. More than once over the past weeks, he’d thought of that incident and wondered whether that was the cause of everything going wrong. It wasn’t like him to dwell, but he found himself waking up out of the deepest sleep and reliving that moment when he’d slipped his finger inside her, worrying it over and over in a way he didn’t replay Tiff’s murder or the cops shutting him down, moments that by all rights should have worried him more.

But he had not been responsible for those other events, he told himself. And what had happened with Taryn, that he’d done.

“What would my part be?” he asked her.

“We’d work that out as we go along,” she told him. “Security. Personnel. Community relations. Whatever I need you for, I guess.”

He’d never worked for anybody before, never mind a bitch. And now was she saying he’d be the bitch’s bitch?


39. GEORGE: Dumping Out the Boxes

eorge was bent over a horse’s hoof, trying to dig out whatever was making the animal limp, when Jamie McAdams collapsed into the mud right in front of him.

He might have heard Jamie stagger into the barn if it weren’t for the general din of the racetrack all around him. But instead his focus had narrowed to a few square inches of equine flesh and bone, the way he needed to keep things these days. He thought of his life as a smooth plain with a series of boxes on it. In the first most important box was Beth, in another box their room at the Barstow, in another his extended family, in another the track and the horses under his care. He stayed calm by dealing with the contents of only one box at a time.

There was a large, torn, dirty, messy, crammed-full box that was Taryn, but that one he’d sealed up with extra-strong tape and put into storage.

If Jamie McAdams fit in any of the boxes, it was deep in one shadowy corner of the Taryn box. Not somewhere George wanted to go.

“God, man, what’s going on?” George said, feeling not all that alarmed, moving not all that quickly.

Jamie was drunk, was his first guess. High, second. Generally messed up, next.

It wasn’t until he bent over Jamie, touched his skin, looked in his eyes, saw the condition of his clothes — in particular, his jeans — that he grew alarmed.

“Jamie,” he said, shaking the man, the doctor in him taking over from the devastated husband, the helping-sick-people box taking precedence over the hating-guys-who-fucked-my-wife box. “Jamie, what happened to you?”

Jamie seemed to rouse. “Annie,” he croaked. He brought one filthy trembling hand slowly to his thigh. “Eating my ball.”

His jeans were ripped there, no torn, no eaten away, it looked like. Suddenly George understood. There’d been some kind of accident involving anhydrous ammonia — Annie, some of the meth makers called it — and it had seared through Jamie’s clothes and was undoubtedly burning into the skin beneath.

“All right,” George said, trying not to panic. The treatment, short of a hospital burn unit, was water, lots of water, but it was supposed to be administered immediately after contact with the highly caustic chemical, one drop of which could melt a man’s testicles, turn his eye to jelly, render him unable to speak. George ran and got the hose, big enough to put out a fire in the barn or to spray down a couple dozen horses. He didn’t want to drown Jamie, just wash away what he could of the poison before he even attempted to do anything else. Then George turned on the water, hard enough to wash off the powerful ammonia, gentle enough not to flush away Jamie’s genitals with it.


36. JAMIE: The Slave


Jamie felt the muzzle of the rifle dig into his ribs, but still he hesitated.

“This stuff is dangerous,” he said.

The tattoo artist laughed. “That’s what you’re for. Now git.”

Fog rose from the fields that stretched all around them, newly plowed in preparation for the spring planting. There was a barn, empty except for hay, to his left; the farmhouse lay dark and slumbering in the distance to the right.

And ahead, curved and white as the moon, looking like a giant white capsule — a big metal Tylenol, maybe — elevated on stilts was the tank. The tank that held the anhydrous ammonia fertilizer. The stuff Jamie was charged with stealing so that the tattoo artist and his Nazi girlfriend could brew up a big old batch of crank.

Jamie had never been involved in this part of the process before. He was usually up for the smoking, and maybe a little bit of the distribution, with some light assistance thanks to the family pharmacy on the manufacturing end.

But running across farmland in the middle of the night with an empty propane tank in one hand, a cordless drill in the other, and a length of tubing knotted around his neck: That was not his thing.

He tried to tell them that, but they informed him that he didn’t have a thing anymore. He was a slave now, they said. And if he didn’t do what they told him to do, he’d be dead.

He could feel the rifle trained on his back as he rapped on the tank, as they’d instructed, to locate the exact level of the anhydrous. Once he figured out where that was, he was supposed to drill into the metal, insert the tubing, then tip the whole thing ever so carefully to fill up the smaller tank without spilling anything.

A spill would be disastrous, even if it didn’t eat into his flesh or make him go blind or burn out his vocal chords. The sharp smell, the cloud that would form over the whole property, the potential for a massive explosion: These things could attract unwanted attention. And would result, the Nazis told him, in his imminent demise.


35. JIMMIE SUE: I See What I See

hat a commotion!

First LaTonya ran in, pulling Cora into a corner in some intense and supposedly “secret” conversation.

Then LaTonya’s big blowhard son, the minister one who claimed to be a man of God — ha! — stormed in, demanding that he be in charge of the search and investigation.

At least both of the women ignored him, Jimmie Sue would give them that, but then Cora insisted on calling the police, which upset LaTonya no end.  She was going on about how Cora didn’t understand, the police treated a black boy different than they did a white girl, and that Darrell hadn’t done anything wrong but the police had it in for him, she knew they did.

LaTonya kept casting glances in Jimmie Sue’s direction, and Jimmie Sue knew what that was all about: LaTonya was wondering whether Jimmie Sue knew that Darrell was involved in the fire at her place.  Well, of course Jimmie Sue knew.  Even if she hadn’t seen him and Cora’s little French girl there that night, she would know.

How could these people come to her, ask her to read the cards about their most intimate fears and wishes, and then think her ignorant about what was really in their hearts, and in her own?

But she kept sitting there, Senior snoring on her shoulder, shuffling her cards and then slowly turning them over one by one, seeing what she could see.  They might have asked her.  She would have told them.  But they were too caught up in their own illusions of control.

Senior was startled awake when the police showed up, a tall Irish-looking kid and his somewhat-rotund Latina partner, way too relaxed about the whole thing for Cora’s taste.  They took down the descriptions of the two “youth,” as they called them; listened to Dwayne’s rant about Darrell and Juliette’s “blasphemy,” as he called it; listened with sympathetic expressions on their faces to the mothers’ worries.  Then they politely said that they would wait 24 hours until they filed an official missing persons report and commenced a search, that there was no evidence of kidnapping or other foul play, and that the adolescents would undoubtedly return home safe as soon as they got hungry and tired.

“This is totally ridiculous,” spat Cora.

“What’s the matter?” asked Senior foggily.

“Nothing, darlin’,” Jimmie Sue told him.  She wasn’t sure he’d even registered fully that Cora and Juliette were in the house, so there was no point in telling him that his granddaughter had gone missing.  ”Go back to sleep.”


33. JULIETTE: Tongues

he church looked even bigger from its wide front steps than it did from the road, its white edifice looming over her, the steeple with its glimmering gold cross seeming to reach all the way to heaven.

It felt as imposing as Notre Dame, or even more so. At least with Notre Dame, you knew what you were going to get: a centuries-old solemnity and a reliable brand of peace. Whereas in this foreign place, Juliette had no idea what was going to happen.

She’d expected to have trouble finding her way to where the Youth Group was meeting, but she just followed the teenagers, white and black, who seemed to be swirling all around her, laughing and talking as if they were normal kids and not complete religious freaks. Most of the boys were wearing some variation of the suit and tie and white shirt that Darrell’s uncle made him wear to school, and the girls looked like they’d stepped out of a rerun of Little House on the Prairie.

Juliette had dressed in one of her grandmother’s printed silk numbers, with a flowered straw hat perched atop her newly black hair and old lady pumps on her feet. Her mother had looked at her oddly, unsure whether this outfit was better or worse than the torn cut-offs and black belly shirts Juliette had taken to wearing.

“You look…..nice?” Cora had said uncertainly. “Where are you going in those clothes?”

“I’m going to church,” Juliette said, her chin in the air, as if that were the most normal thing in the world.

“What’s this all about?” her mother asked, frowning.

“Does it have to be about something?” Juliette said. “Can’t I just want to be close to God?”

That shut Cora up. Jimmie Sue gave her a sharper look. Spooky: It was harder to put anything over on the old fortuneteller than it was to fool her mother, but whether that was because Jimmie Sue had real psychic powers or just a keener nose for trouble, Juliette wasn’t sure.

“Now, boys and girls, we’ll join hands, and rise up! Up, boys and girls, lift your hearts up to God!”

Juliette had to insert herself between two girls, both of whom gave her dirty looks, and grab their sweaty hands. In fact, the whole room smelled like body odor, as if all those fake silk dresses and too-big suit jackets had gone too long between cleanings.

Many of the kids had their eyes closed and were chanting along with the Darrell’s uncle the minister, who Juliette had come to think of as That Asshole Dwayne.

30. GEORGE: The End

hen it came right down to it, there wasn’t that much to take. His medical bag, of course. A few clothes, his favorite old ones he’d never be able to duplicate. Beth’s toys. Family pictures, the ones that didn’t break his heart. HIs passport.

“Where’s Mommy?” Beth asked, wide-eyed.

“Mommy had to go away again,” George said, packing the little girl’s stuffed animals in a laundry bag. “She’s not going to live with us anymore.”

“She said she was going to live with us now forever and ever,” said Beth, tears pooling in her eyes.

“It’s better if it’s just you and me,” he said. “Mommy’s too sick to stay with us.”

“She’s not sick,” said Beth. “She said she was all better.”

“Just be quiet now and find everything you want to take with you,” snapped George, instantly sorry. He put a hand on his daughter’s shoulder and squeezed by way of apology, but there wasn’t any time to stop and spend time soothing her. Taryn had texted him that she’d be late, her hairdressing appointment, if that had ever existed at all, stretching to fill the whole day. Where had she really been? Up at one of the meth cabins in the hills, smoking her brains out? Selling the pills she’d stolen from him, or fucking some lowlife in exchange for more?

He shivered at the thought of it. Never again. This was it. The end.

“Come on,” he said to Beth. “Time to go.”

The wind had whipped up outside, which was what gave him the idea. At first, he’d imagined waylaying Taryn outside, telling her it was over, he didn’t want her back in.

But she would fight that, he knew, yell and scream, and Beth would hear, and it would be an even worse nightmare than it already was.

Then he got the idea to pack everything up and take Beth into town, stay at the Barstow or wherever, until he was able to find another place for them to live. Let Taryn have the houseboat. Let her cook meth in its kitchen, blow the whole fucking thing to smithereens. As long as she never tried to be part of his life again, she could have everything he owned, everything he cared about — everything except Beth, that was — and do whatever the hell she wanted with it. He’d built this place after falling in love with her, as a home for their happiness. Now he never wanted to set foot in it again.

But then, when the wind started howling in advance of another spring front moving in from the plains, when he heard the creaking of the ropes straining against the old wooden pillars of the dock and felt the lurch of the boat on the waves, he had another idea.

Outside, a horn sounded. Taryn had taken the car, LaTonya was a work, he hadn’t been sure who to call.

Then he remembered Cora. He should look in on Senior anyway, and George guessed Cora owed him a favor, though he felt much more comfortable on the giving than the receiving end of those. But he knew he had to act now or he’d lose his nerve once again, find himself falling back as he’d done so many times before into Taryn’s arms. Believing her lies, giving her just one more chance, letting himself love her when he knew he’d be safer drinking lighter fluid.

He hoisted his daughter into his arms. “Let’s go, sweetheart,” he said, into her sweet-smelling hair.


27. GEORGE: The Sleeping Game

eorge drew the Queen Frostine card, and immediately tried to shove it back in the pile before Beth could see. But too late: The little girl’s eyes caught the vision of the lavender-bedecked fairy queen and her face started to crumple.

“I wanted to get the queen,” she said, a whimper at the edge of her voice.

“I drew this card by mistake!” George cried, trying to put it in her hand. “Look, did you see that? It was supposed to be your card which means you would….”

He swooped her pink playing piece up into the air, bouncing onto the queen’s space and then hopping ahead. “…..jump all the way to the end which means you are the big winner!”

Beth broke down in giggles. “Oh, Daddy,” she said.

“Enough Candy Land? What do you say we go out for a walk? See if we can pick some flowers for Mommy?”

It was his day off and Taryn had taken the opportunity to go into town to get her hair done. He’d offered to drive her, figured that he and Beth could get an ice cream, take a stroll down Bath House Row and see what stores were starting to open up for the season.

But Taryn had said no, she could get there perfectly fine on her own, and she had other things to do besides: buy clothes to replace everything she’d left behind when she’d moved back in, look for something for his upcoming birthday. When he hesitated, she said, “Don’t you trust me, George? How can you be married to me, if you don’t trust me?”

She was right, of course she was right. So he’d smiled and kissed her and let her go.

Now Beth was shaking her head no, she didn’t want to go for a walk.

“How about we feed the fish? I bet they’re hungry after a long winter with no bugs on the water.”

Again, Beth shook her head.

“Well, what do you want to do? Play tea party with Bunny and your dolls?” Please God, he thought: anything but another round of Candy Land.

“Let’s play the sleeping game.”

“The sleeping game? How do you play that?”

“You lie here on the floor,” Beth said, “on your tummy. Then you close your eyes and I play with your hair and tickle your back.”

George did as he was told. It wasn’t until he was fully stretched out, lulled by the rock of the boat, his daughter’s delicate fingers drumming on his shoulders, that it occurred to him to wonder what was happening.

23. JULIETTE: Dude in Black


She’d suffered through this whole freaking first morning at school, wandering alone through the hallways, the other kids staring and pointing at her like she’d landed here from the planet Zebo, only to finally find her way to the lunchroom, locate the one freaking person her age she knew in the entire school — no, make that the entire country — and discover he looked like an alien himself.

Not like the cool hot guy she met in the gazebo, or smoked pot with at the Futureama.

But like that movie star, what was his name, in that movie, what was it called. Like this:

Except not with the shades and not looking happy. All hunched over and sitting alone. Not only was the entire rest of his table empty, but the kids had left a clear circle around him stretching at least half a lunch table on every side. It was like he had AIDS, the way they thought about it way back in the last century.

For a second she thought maybe she’d just turn around and walk the other way. He seemed even more of an outcast than she was. Figures, that the one kid she’d meet would be the biggest loser in Arkansas, which, from what she could tell, would be really saying a lot.

But then she thought: Fuck it. He was cute that night. Funny. And if the other kids in this stinking place thought he was a loser, that was probably saying something good about him.

She walked over, aware that everybody was watching her.


21. TARYN: Out of the Rain

m never going back there again,” Taryn said.

She shivered at the very thought of it and pulled Beth, nestled on her lap, even closer for warmth. Outside the houseboat, the rain beat down, gusts driving the water in sheets against the windows, the boat rocking with the waves.

But in here all was snug, the smell of frying butter rising from the little cooktop as George cooked them pancakes. He’d even gone out in the rain to get real maple syrup, the kind that Taryn loved.

“I’m glad to hear you say that, baby,” said George. He flipped a pancake shaped like a B, for Beth. “I just feel terrible for LaTonya, losing her boy like that.”

“LaTonya! What about poor Tiffany, dumped in an alley?”

Beth twisted around and stared, eyes huge behind her thick glasses, at her mother. “Why was Tiffany dumped in a alley?” the child asked.

Taryn and George locked eyes.

“Oh, nothing, sweetheart,” George said, slipping the pancakes onto a plate. “Mommy’s friend fell down and got hurt.”

“She didn’t get hurt, George. She was murdered.”

It was bad enough that nobody cared about poor Tiff when she was alive. Now they wanted to deny her existence when she was dead too.

“What’s murdered?” asked Beth.

“She doesn’t need to know the gory details, Taryn,” said George, setting the pancakes on the table.

“What’s gory?” said Beth.

“There are probably three people on earth who give a shit about Tiffany, and I’m one of them,” said Taryn. “She was from Texas: Did you know that? Her stepfather got her pregnant when she was 13. She has a kid somewhere she’s never seen, but who she thinks about every day. Thought about. How can you just act like nothing happened to her?”