16 to 30
A steady parade of curiosity seekers came to the gallery room. Polaroid pictures passed through hands, bringing forth a variety of reactions from gasps to wide-eyed amazement. Most gawked through the window at the child in a bloodstained blue denim dress, her eyes in a vacant stare, rocking back and forth at the old table. She remained handcuffed.
“Damn.” Someone held a picture up for better light. “Is his heart cut out?”
“Never found it.”
“Bet she ate it. Look at her eyes.”
“Someone should shoot her now and do society a favor.”
“I’d hate to see her cookbook.” Many laughed grimly.
People left and more entered, the comments much the same. A crime this gruesome was unique. People wanted to get as close as they could.
“I was talking to the ME.” The statement was offered up to no one in particular. “He said the guy was tortured for hours before he died.”
“Well, that was just the preliminary. You can ask him yourself if you don’t believe me.”
The pictures found their way to Catherine’s hands. She wanted to vomit, swallowing back the impulse and the fact the child was the product of her womb. She choked and took a deep breath, handing the pictures to the person next to her. He looked on her pale face, then down at her visitor’s badge.
“Hey, lady. You ain’t press are you? There’s a press blackout.”
Catherine fought against the dizziness. She shook her head. “My daughter.”
The room emptied quickly, leaving Catherine alone with her thoughts, the pictures and her daughter on the other side of the glass. Ralph had gone to work.
“It’s out of my hands,” Ralph told her. “Whatever it is, they can send me the bill as long as I never see her again.”
Makaila was her daughter and as the mother, there she was, looking at the horror.
With a deep breath, Catherine said aloud: “In this moment, I declare you are not my daughter.”
“Who’s Dr. Zogg?” The voice appeared from nowhere. A smartly dressed older man had entered the room unnoticed. “She keeps asking for Dr. Zogg.”
“If we’re going to find out what happened, we’re going to have to get him down here.”
“No! This is his doing! I know it!”
“You think he put her up to this?”
“I mean, he didn’t deal with her aggressively enough. It’s his failing.”
The other nodded. “I see.” He scratched his chin and produced a clipboard. “Let’s take care of the legal stuff here. Do you wave her right to counsel?”
“Of course. She did what she did. She doesn’t need to put us through the cost of a lawyer.”
“Can I have your permission to represent myself as an associate of Dr. Zogg’s to your daughter?”
He made a note on the form and initialed it. “Sign here.” He presented the clipboard.
Moments later, Catherine watched the well-dressed man enter the other room.
“Hello, Makaila.” He smiled. “Dr. Zogg sends his regards and regrets that he couldn’t come. He was in a minor auto accident and is in the hospital. He’s fine, but had to send me. I’ve been his associate for years now. I’m Dr. Howard. You can trust me.”
She lit up. “Hi, Dr. Howard. It’s nice to meet you.”
The man nodded to his right, the signal to start the video camera. “I’m going to show you some pictures of Mr. Alvin Percy of 309 Harrison Street and ask you a very simple question. Okay.”
He placed the pictures one by one on the table. “Did you do this?”
“Yes. I need to talk to you all about it.”
“That’s all I need.” He nodded to the camera, ending the recording.
She looked hard, reading his muscles and subtle body. “Dr. Zogg didn’t send you.” She wasn’t sure. He could mask his subtle body as well as Dr. Zogg.
He gathered the pictures and left the room.
Catherine dropped to the floor crying.
Alvin Percy, born in the fall of 1962 to middle-class parents, had an undistinguished childhood and school history. He excelled in college, finding his love in education. Before the ink was dry on his certificate, he landed a job teaching eighth-grade English. He was in his eleventh year at the time of his death.
Neighbors, faculty, friends, the church and students alike had only good to say about him. With his parent’s death in an auto accident in his last year of college, he had no family to attend his funeral. More than three hundred people turned out. He was well liked, even loved by many.
“This man was a saint,” Pastor Stevens, the pastor of his church said into the news camera. “He was active in the church, the school and community. This is a terrible loss to us all and a glaring example of the ills of society that can breed a monster who can do such a terrible thing.”
The news camera switched to a group of five girls in their early teens, all crying. “He was like a second father to me,” one of the girls blubbered full-face in the camera. “He changed my life.”
Like sound bites and images packed the four-minute spot, finishing with a two-second flash of one of the Polaroids that slipped from the gallery room. “A tragic end to a wonderful life,” the voiceover said. “You will be missed, Alvin Percy.”
For two weeks, the spots ran everyday on the morning and evening news. Details were sketchy, but that didn’t stop the journalists from making up details from vague inference, always careful with the wording. Commentary was presented as news, implying ritualistic cannibalism, witchcraft and dark occult practices by a group, not an individual.
Only one person knew the details, and she wasn’t talking. After two weeks, the media frenzy waned and the story forgotten other than by a few. The system wasn’t sure what to do with Makaila. They had forensics and Makaila’s confession, such as it was. Without her cooperation, conviction was a nasty business and much to public business.
Just over two weeks after the event, a knock came on the Carleton’s door. The well-dressed man, without introducing himself, invited himself in, sitting Ralph and Catherine at the dining room table. “We need to be done with this.”
Ralph huffed. “I’ve been done with it.”
The visitor lowered his eyebrows. “Do you want her back here with you?”
“No!” Ralph’s fist hit the table.
“Then, you’re not done with this, are you?”
Ralph took a deep breath. “What do we need to do?”
“We confine her in this special institute, it’s private, for evaluation and observation.”
Ralph leaned on the table. “For how long?”
The stranger sat back, grim smile. “That’s the beauty of this.” He looked from Ralph to Catherine. “It’s forever. She’ll be in the hands of the state for the rest of her life.” He narrowed his eyes. “Unless you move to get her released and at that, you’d be better to move Earth to Heaven.”
“Where do we sign?”
Makaila was moved from the interrogation room to a small cell, where she was ignored. Human contact came twice a day: someone brought food, waited while she ate and left with the tray. They didn’t talk to her, she didn’t try to talk to them.
Hours stretched into days. The farther time moved her away from humanity, the more she retreated within herself. The metal of the bars, brick of the walls and single-focused will of her captors was a phalanx she couldn’t breach. With no solution to her dilemma, she simply waited.
Sometime around 2:00 A.M. on the morning of December 3, 1997, two men, not of the police, removed Makaila from her cell in restraints and took her away in an ambulance. She was stripped of her clothes, washed in a cold shower as if she were a car and finally strapped to a bed in a small pale-green room. To the outside world, she became a note on a financial ledger in a far-off office somewhere.
Josephine McCarthy glanced over the articles in the newspaper. She placed her marker on the map and drew a hard black line, as the crow flies, from the school to where the book was found and finally to the crime scene. She read over the pirated copies of the official reports. The reports had holes, and she knew it. She made telephone calls. She could tell the difference between company line and candid disclosure of information.
The official reports made sense and locked the whole crime up tighter than a vacuum seal, as long as certain questions weren’t asked. “How did she get from here?” Josephine placed a finger on the map. “To here?” She moved her finger. The book found on the street by the brother threw everything into question.
She wanted events to fit her profile, but the facts she gleaned kept dropping it out. Josephine pulled the background reports, local, state and federal, on Alvin Percy. He didn’t fudge his taxes or have a parking ticket. She made a search at work looking for shadows in the record, indicating a sealed or purged juvenile record, not finding any. “I’ll bet he didn’t even jaywalk.”
With her red marker, Josephine circled the location of Alvin Percy’s apartment and the location of her list of missing girls. Squinting at the pattern, nothing jumped out. With a sigh, she deleted Makaila’s stats from the permanent file. Makaila simply didn’t fit.
Josephine wanted to interview the child. As things were, God Himself couldn’t get access. She made a note in her follow-up notebook to get back to her after some time after things quieted down. “Everyone needs a hobby.” She ran a finger over the picture of Sharon Watson.
This was more than a hobby.
Sharon Watson would be twenty-one years old. Josephine tried to imagine what Sharon would look like and what she might be doing. Sharon was her template for the profile. Sharon was ten years old the day she disappeared, on November 4. She did well in school, didn’t have any conflicts with teachers or other students worth mentioning. Both parents were accounted for and she had close ties to the family. Sharon Watson had about as trouble-free life as a ten-year-old could be expected to have. No factors in Sharon’s life could be the cause of her disappearance.
Josephine knew an external factor was at work and in her youth of eleven years before, knew solving this case and the return of Sharon Watson would be a boost for her career and proof of her worth. She knew she could make a better world.
As a child, Josephine saw the police as serving society and making the world a better place. The police were ever-present and always pleasant on the streets. They were always there, tall and strong, to answer simple questions, help with a sticky gear shift on the bicycle or keep her mother safe while waiting for help with a flat tire. At seven years old, Josephine knew this was what she wanted to be when she grew up.
“We’re here to help and we will help,” she told Sharon Watson’s mother. Josephine was twenty-one years old and yet to realize everything couldn’t be fixed as easily as a sticky gearshift. Her duty and responsibility in the case ended when she turned her report over to missing persons, officially, that is. She took the failure to recover the child as a personal failure and great disappointment.
“Some children go missing and are never found,” she was told by her supervisor. “It’s not a pretty fact of life but a fact of life just the same.”
“I will not accept this,” she told the picture of Sharon Watson while sipping slowly on her bourbon. She lost herself in the reams of data one more time.
Larry became a pariah and a lightning rod for cruel jokes at school. The other children, with few exceptions, were never kind to Larry because of his abnormal sister. Now, with rumor and innuendo, he became an outcast. Losing his sister was almost more than he could take.
Being Makaila’s brother had not been easy.
His peers saw him as that crazy girl’s brother. Larry couldn’t separate himself from this sibling relationship and establish his own identity. In the deep recesses of his mind, in the quietness and solitude of the night, he’d wish she’d just go away. Now, she went away and the guilt weighed so heavily on him, he thought he’d die.
He sought solace first with his friends who quickly showed him the backs of their heads. He sought commune and connection with his parents, something missing for a long time. He hadn’t liked the way they dealt with the abnormalities of his sister. He wanted to sit with them and share his loss and grief. He found no solace at home.
Deep within the darkness of his pain, his grief, his loss and his confusion, he withdrew from the world, shaved his head and spent his time pondering suicide.
Two days before Makaila was moved to the private institution, a teacher’s aide walking behind Larry in the hallway asked a colleague: “Do you think it’s okay to eat a salad with your fingers or the fingers should be eaten separately?”
The teacher’s aide spent a day in the hospital. Larry was expelled for a week. The principal told Larry: “Under the circumstances, no further action will be taken. Be warned: anything like this again and we’ll file criminal charges and you’ll find yourself with your sister.”
Larry took a deep breath and counted slowly to ten, very close to doing something like that again.
The tale of Larry’s anarchy blew through the school like a wind from the north. He found a new group of people gravitating toward him and was taken up into the clique. One day, without him knowing it, he became a member of a fringe group known only as the Freaks. No one really knew what they were, though rumor held they were witches, satanists or occultists. The administration’s line held they were juvenile delinquents.
Within the group, Makaila’s name was never mentioned. She was often referred to and affectionately called her or she. She was perceived as more than a human being. She was someone like God. Larry found his comfort, solace, peace and a reason to live within the group. They quickly came to greet each other with a raised hand, palm away, thumb pressed in the palm with fingers spread in an up-side-down M. With glaring eyes, they would say: “May she be with you.”
Sometime after 9:00 A.M. on December 3, 1997, the well-dressed man entered Ralph’s office. Ralph jumped to his feet. “Hey! I have a client here.”
The stranger nodded to the client, turned to Ralph and simply stated: “It is done.” He turned, leaving.
Ralph fell back in his chair, stunned. He looked at his client and laughed. He felt liberation. “It’s done!”
Ralph snapped back to the matters-at-hand, waving off the question. He picked up his telephone and told his secretary to cancel his appointments for the rest of the day. He finished with his current client and left.
The first stop was at the mall where he bought a large arrangement of cut flowers. He then made his way to the women’s apparel department Lightning House and Home where he presented the flowers Catherine and promptly dragged her out of work. “Family emergency.” He waved to Catherine’s co-workers.
He refused to answer any questions. He led his wife through the house and retrieved the two six-packs from the refrigerator. He led his wife to the backyard, took one of the bottles and smashed it in the brick grill. Ralph handed Catherine a bottle. “It’s done.”
With mixed feelings of loss and joy, they smashed the remaining bottles, retreated to the bedroom and made love like they hadn’t made love for years. The chains were released. They could start living again.
Makaila sat on the floor in the cramped cell and let the distant sounds of voices and footstep, keys and metal, fade away. She didn’t understand any of it. She stood next to the canoe and looked up into the clear blue sky. She wondered when she would see the sky in reality again.
Climbing the hill, she smiled to Cat. “I really, really screwed up this time.”
“Want to talk about it?”
Makaila drank in the cool forest air. “Maybe later. I think I’m going to have lots of time to do just that.” She looked at the soft face of her friend. “What’s death like?”
Cat giggled. “I really wouldn’t know. I haven’t died for real so I couldn’t tell you.”
She drew deep of the air again. “How long you been here?”
“Don’t really know. I haven’t kept track.” She closed her eyes. “Time doesn’t matter much without clocks and calendars.”
“I guess not.” She looked at the sun dancing through the pine trees. “Does it ever rain here? Every time I come, it’s always so nice – cool, clear and crisp.”
“It’s raining now.”
“Don’t confuse me. I got enough problems.”
“It’s not me that confuses you.”
Makaila held her hand out beyond the overhang. “It’s not raining.”
“Not to you. In reality it is.” She waved her hand like swatting flies. “That’s really not important. How’d you screw up?”
Makaila dropped her feet from the rail and sunk within herself. “I did a really, really bad thing.”
“If you don’t mind, and even if you do, I’m not going to take your word for it.”
“Oh, it was a bad thing!”
“So you say.”
“No – it was!”
“So you say.”
Makaila turned on her friend and sneered. “Look. I’m in prison, in a brick room no bigger than a closet and there’s no door but like these bars!”
Cat put a palm to Makaila’s red face, pushing a tear with her thumb. “I am looking. That only means some people felt you did something bad. That doesn’t mean you actually did something bad.”
“Isn’t it the same thing?”
Cat pulled Makaila’s head into her chest and held her. “There is no good and there is no bad. There is no right and there is no wrong. There’s only choices. Your choice has cost you your freedom because others have decided what you did is bad.” She stroked Makaila’s hair. “What you need to do now is cry while I hold you, get over it and figure out what you have to do to gain your freedom again.”
Time in the dream was next to meaningless. Makaila found she did feel better maybe from the good cry, maybe from being held, maybe from being understood or maybe from all three. “I have to figure out what they want and do it.”
“That’s all we can do.”
Makaila took well to life on the farm. In the first weeks, she anticipated the weight and darkness of unseen forces sweeping over her like an angry ocean wave. They never came. Before her arrest, she lived like any moment something would fall out of the sky crushing her. Often, she just wanted to die and get it over with.
The voices, which often haunted her waking hours, were gone. The visions, which danced in another layer of reality, unseen by others, were gone. The landscape spread out before her vision just as it was, not augmented by non-reality.
Maybe the time in the institute was just what I needed.
She closed the Aberrant Behavior within Social Contexts textbook she found on Joseph’s shelf, dismissing the idea.
Joseph had an odd, large collection of books. “It’s been a hobby of mine since I was a boy.” When asked whether he read all the books, he answered: “Nope – not yet.”
Makaila often handed Joseph a list of books, cross-referenced from her reading.
“You need these for your collection.”
He answered with wide-eyes, ordering what he could.
“But, I really could use Internet access.”
After skimming over what little information the relatively small library had on aberrant behavior, Makaila decided the people operating the institute and not the patients were aberrant. The institute, she determined, should be called a warehouse. Nowhere did she find anything even suggesting isolation and deprivation could lead to a cure for anything. The writings suggested the opposite.
When Makaila settled in, Marcy took it upon herself to set up school hours, two hours each day Marcy would work with Makaila. Marcy was concerned Makaila’s education was derailed and wanted to get Makaila up to grade level.
Marcy began by handing Makaila a Weekly Reader, asking her to look through the magazine so they could talk about the stories the next day. Fifteen minutes later, Makaila handed the magazine back. “What do you want to know?”
Opening to the first article and asking a question, Marcy was surprised Makaila offered a diatribe about how the article could have been better written.
Makaila held up a large book, Isaiah Berlin’s The Proper Study of Mankind, and with a tilt of her head, asked: “Let’s talk about this one this week?”
Marcy wondered which the student, which the teacher.
Pops and Ma touch me a lot. Right or wrong, she would get a hug. She found each morning, coming out of sleep, she would rush to wash her face and brush her teeth, hurrying downstairs, greeted with smiles. These two people were glad to see her, always, as if she’d been away for years.
Not only that, like with Ruby, the people she encountered were friendly, happy to meet her and happy to see her again. She worked hard looking at the facial muscles and subtle body finding nothing to contradict the impression.
The psychology books, the few, suggested isolation and deprivation were antithesis to mental health. Putting the Aberrant Behavior within Social Contexts back on the shelf, she tried to remember the last time her mother hugged her. She tried to remember the last time her father’s subtle body betrayed he was glad to see her. She tried to remember anyone at school touching her affectionately.
Sitting back in the chair, she closed her eyes, let her mind work to find memories and came up blank. Dr. Zogg was always glad to see her, but then he was paid and she couldn’t read his subtle body.
The only difference between the institution and regular life was in the institution, the people didn’t pretend. They were honest. They called the patients slugs. She clenched her fists, forcing back the tears. “Dad never called me a slug, but that’s what he was thinking.”
She jumped from the chair and ran through the house, finding Marcy in the kitchen. Makaila slammed into her and held on as tight as she could, crying bitter tears. Marcy stroked Makaila’s hair, holding, rocking. “You go ahead and cry, dear. You just let it all out.” For the first time in her short life, Makaila truly felt glad to be alive.
Joseph, Marcy and Makaila laughed about nothing and everything over breakfast. “We’re throwing hay today over the Wilson’s,” Joseph told Makaila. “So make sure you get plenty of fuel in you.”
“I intend to get fat and love every pound of it.” Makaila worked on her second stack of hotcakes, loaded with butter and maple syrup. “Back where I came from, breakfast came from a box!” She laughed at the thought. “The only problem I see with this, is you don’t get any stupid stickers or toys.” She waved her fork at Joseph. “Hey. What’s throwing hay?”
“We tie it up and take it to the barn. How do you think it gets there?”
“Oh, duh. Like I guess you don’t get it at the store.”
Makaila laughed at herself.
Timmy Wilson was a beanpole of a boy, much too tall for his sixteen years, bright and smiley with a farm boy’s tanned face from a summer of fieldwork. He lit up when he saw Makaila. “So you’re the butcher from back East we’ve been hearing so much about.”
Makaila stared, confused his subtle body didn’t match his statement.
He took her hands, examined the backs, flipped them and carefully looked at her palms. “Ruby tells us these are special. They just look pampered to me.”
Oh! Butcher! “Pampered or not, I can cut a chicken.” She looked in all directions. “Any around here? I’ll show you!”
Keeping Makaila’s hands, he looked over his shoulder at Joseph. “I think I’m in love.” Turning back: “I’m Killer.”
“Killer?” She bounced on her toes, shaking his hands. “Your parents must have a really weird sense of humor.”
“It’s my nick. I’ll tell you the story sometime.”
“This is sometime!”
With a hand on each chest, Joseph separated the two. “Courting’s for the evening. We have hay to throw. Makaila, you can ride with me on the tractor.”
Timmy blushed, pushing dirt with his foot.
“I ain’t here to ride, Pops. I’m here to throw.”
Joseph leaned back, narrowing his eyes. “Sure thing, then. You throw with Timmy. That means throwing hay not rolling in it.”
This time Makaila blushed, pushing dirt with her shoe. Joseph’s joke surprised her. Her father would never joke about sex, even indirectly. Makaila couldn’t count the number of times she had sexual intercourse, never willingly, in the institution. Sex, and the desire for sex, particularly in men, remained a mystery to her. Her quest to understand the mystery was a factor in her imprisonment.
Timmy looked her up and down.
Reading his subtle body, Makaila knew this was not a sexual look.
“You don’t look up to throwing chicken feed, let alone hay!”
She laughed. “We’ll see, won’t we?”
In the first fifteen minutes on the wagon with the baler dropping hay, the strain of unfamiliar muscle use weighed heavily on Makaila. She shifted her attention to a place ignoring the discomfort and pushed through the pain. With sweat running down her face, she smiled, laughed and kept up with Timmy bale for bale.
The field rolled off into the distance. “And, just why is it you’re called Killer?”
He lifted a bale over his head, tossing the hay into place. “Well, Butcher, it’s like this: there was this wolf come down from somewhere. You don’t see ‘em often if at all around here. This was a mean one – rabid. Nuts, man.” He paused to watch Makaila toss a bale. “It got in our barn in the middle of the night. I went in, closed the door behind me and went after the sucker.”
He heaved another bale on top of the stack, Makaila scurried up to set the hay in place.
“The darn gun jammed.”
She jumped down. “No way!”
“It did. Just like I’m telling you.” The next bale dropped between them and stayed there. “Wolves don’t take to being cornered when they’re sane, this one was nuts.” He pushed the bale back as the next one fell. “If it was sane, I’d be dead for sure.”
“I bet! If you lose that sanity, you lose your edge.”
He nodded, cocking the eyebrow. The third bale dropped. They caught up stacking.
“So, what’d you do?”
“I called on the Lord’s name and not in a way He’d like to hear it.”
She laughed, grabbed his upper arm and shook it. “Come on! Finish the story!”
Another bale dropped between them. “I thought I was dead. But, I wasn’t about to let this thing go on terrorizing everyone and maybe killing someone.” He caught the next bale and held the hay in front of him. “I grabbed the nearest thing I could get my hand around, a bucket, and ran at the sucker swinging away for all I was worth. The second good swing caught it in the side of the head, stunned it and I just pounded away until it wasn’t moving.” They stacked the bales. “So they call me Killer.”
“Very cool, Killer.”
He looked off into the distant trees. “I tell you. Killing’s killing and we do it all the time. There’s something a lot different from shooting and killing with your hands.”
“I bet it’s different when it’s it or you, too.”
“When I was in the barn, Butcher, I wasn’t even thinking about me. I got this little sister, you know. And, other people around, you know. Mom and Dad, neighbors. It was just a matter of time before this wolf got to killing people.”
Makaila put her mind around it. “Yeah, I can imagine.”
They threw hay while the wagon wobbled over the hill.
Timmy helped Joseph disconnect the baler and Joseph drove off to get another wagon. The two children lay in the field, the tops of their heads touching, watching the billowy white clouds against the blue sky. “You’re pretty cool for a city girl.”
“I’m glad you think so.” Her words took her by surprise. Under the sky, lying on that ground, Makaila tripped over an epiphany. She cared whether Timmy liked her. She got lost in her head trying to remember the last time she cared whether someone, anyone, liked her or not. Life was spent trying to stay out of everyone’s way.
“Do you shoot?”
“City girl.” He snickered. “Guns.”
She laughed at herself and felt good, not needing to be defensive. “No.”
“I’ll teach you if you want.”
Makaila couldn’t see his face. She couldn’t read his subtle body to tell whether he had motives beyond a gunnery lesson. She found she didn’t care. “Okay.”
“That is if it’s okay with Mr. Carleton.”
Makaila hadn’t thought to ask permission. She reached her hand over her head and wiggled her fingers. “Can we be like official buds?”
He reached up and took her hand. “Must be one of them there city things. We’re automatically buds the second we meet unless we decide otherwise.” He shook her hand. “We’re now officially buds.”
Makaila resisted with all her being the impulse to cry again.
Night pressed the sun from the sky by the time the baling was put up in the barn. The number of people working, more than twenty, surprised Makaila. On the way to the house, where dinner was laid out on long tables, she told Timmy: “You have a big family.”
“I would say city girls again, but I won’t. This isn’t my family. Just like you, they’re neighbors.”
Just like me, neighbors! “Oh.”
Marcy appeared with a glass for each child.
“Hi, Mrs. Carleton. We must of done good today!” Timmy held the glass high in the air.
Accepting the glass, Makaila latched onto Marcy for the second time in as many days. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
“It’s good homemade wine, but it’s not that good.”
“No, Ma! Thank you for like everything!”
Joseph caught up and put himself between Makaila and Timmy with an arm around both, moving up the hill toward the house. “Know I ain’t going to be marrying her off until I’m done with her.”
Timmy laughed. “I can understand that. But, in the meantime, sir, I’d like to teach, I mean, Butcher would like to learn. I mean. Oh heck. Can I teach her how to shoot?”
“Butcher, uh?” He took his arm back from Makaila, removed his hat by the brim, ran his hand over his head and replaced the cap. “Long as you teach her right and teach her safe.”
“You know me, sir.”
“Yes, I do.”
Marcy snickered. “Something else I’ll leave out of the letter to Aunt Harriet.” She didn’t make mention of the chickens, either.
The first shooting lesson didn’t involve the firing of a gun. Timmy showed Makaila how to breakdown, clean and oil the weapons. “Don’t ever think of these as toys. These are tools, even when you’re just shooting at a target. I’m not a gun-nut or anything. On the farm, a gun’s as essential as a hoe or a tractor.”
“’Cause you never know when you have to kill a rabid wolf?”
“Something like that.” He handed her his Browning HP35. “This is for target shooting or close-in wolves.”
Her hands dropped from the two-pound package. “Wow! This is a lot heavier than it looks.”
“You’ll want both hands on it when you fire.” Timmy explained how to site and how to determine her dominate eye, which was her right eye.
“I’ll watch you shoot and if you know what you’re doing, I’ll pick it up no problem.” She smiled.
He painstakingly explained everything he knew anyway. With a naturally awry perception of self, Makaila didn’t have any trouble feeling the weapon an extension of her hand.
She did watch Timmy shoot, the pistol, the rifle and the shotgun and she did pick it up quickly. Timmy was good and a natural, having been shooting since he could hold a gun. Makaila watched him pull off seven rounds with the Luger, only five hitting the center of the target.
“Want to hit all seven?”
He shook his head, experiencing the redundant failure. “It would sure be nice to win the shoot out this year at the fair.”
“Yeppers.” She took the pistol, dropped the clip out and snapped another in place. Handing the gun back, she instructed: “Inhale, let it out, fire. Repeat as needed.”
“That simple. When you get to the last two shots, you stop breathing.”
Seven shots hit the center. “Darn, coach! Maybe you can help me with my layup?”
She reloaded. “Again. Just to prove to yourself it wasn’t a fluke.”
“A fish?” He laughed, shooting again with the same results. “Darn!”
Timmy had Internet access, or rather could. “Darned if I can find anything though. Dad thought it was a good idea for learning, but you know he don’t go near the thing.”
Looking over the computer, Makaila ran a finger across the keys, coming up with dust. “Like an airplane: if you don’t get in the cockpit, it ain’t going to fly.”
He looked to the floor. “I really couldn’t get past the blinking thing.”
“Helps to have a reason. What do you want to know about?”
She pushed a button. Minutes later, she twisted her face. “Where’s your OS disk?”
“What came with your computer, or that darn thing if you want to call it that.”
“It didn’t play.”
“You didn’t throw it out, did you?”
He looked down at the floor. “I’ll look.”
Makaila’s fingers danced on the keys looking for a resident backup, but couldn’t find one. Timmy returned with the disk.
“Cool, Killer bud. We’ll have this box singing in no time.” In minutes, she said deeply: “It’s alive! It’s alive!” She looked up at Timmy. “Go get your dad.” She arranged the screen’s desktop for speed.
Turning from the keyboard: “I got this thing ready to connect to the Internet. Are we allowed to do it, Mr. Wilson?” She tilted her head just a bit. “We’ll need a major credit card to open an account.”
“We’ll have to see, won’t we?” He sat down.
“As seen on TV.” Eight minutes later. “Internet access.” She gave Mr. Wilson a quick tour, finding weather, local news and even a farm report.
“Fine.” He stood, wandering off.
Makaila could tell he was fascinated.
Makaila and Timmy spent the next two hours reading about wolves. She set up the email and sent a simple message. I am more than fine, signing an M.
“No, my brother. I have no friends, boys or otherwise.”
“Get out! No friends at all?”
“I find that hard to believe. Why?”
“Everyone thinks I’m a rabid wolf.” A blinking icon caught her eye. She opened a window and read: I’m crying...where are you? L.
Timmy leaned close. “Your brother doesn’t know where you are?”
Tears welled in her eyes. She typed: I’m crying too. If you don’t know...I’d better not say right now. But know I’m okay. M. “I guess not.” She wiped her face on her sleeve. “It’s a longer story than yours.”
Timmy stood, placing his hands on her shoulders. “I couldn’t imagine not knowing where my sister was.” He sniffed twice.
She opened the next window and read: We need you...I need you...I want to die...I want to kill. They don’t care...only we care...we need you. L.
Timmy’s mouth hung open. Makaila tried to get her mind around the message. “Could you be a little more cryptic?” She couldn’t imagine who the we and who the they were, feeling her safe world slipping away.
She typed: Crash your system and clear the hard drive. Go to the library and open an account and email me again. We’ll talk when no one else can listen. Nothing is more important than staying alive and staying free. Do it. M.
She held back tears, shaking uncontrollably. Timmy did his best to wrap himself around her. With three deep breaths, she typed test and waited briefly for the cannot be delivered notice to come back. “Good boy, Larry.”
She put a hand to Timmy’s face. “I can’t tell you what I don’t know, Killer. So don’t ask.”
“I need to get home. Back to Pops’ anyway.”
“Life sucks!” Makaila slammed the front door.
Marcy appeared from the kitchen.
“Give me something breakable you don’t care about!”
With wide-eyes, Marcy handed her a lamp from the table. “What’s wrong, dear?”
She slammed the lamp to the floor sending glass in all directions. She put her fists to the ceiling, screaming. Marcy handed her the other lamp, which followed the first. Makaila took three deep breaths and sat on the floor. “Did you know my brother doesn’t know where I am?”
Marcy knelt. “We don’t know what anyone knows, dear. We know you were in a horrid place and now you’re here.” Marcy wiped tears away with her hand. “We know we love you and our life is richer for you being here.”
“Life doesn’t suck. Back there sucks.”
“When Pops gets back, we’ll all talk and see what we can come up with. How’s that sound?”
Makaila nodded and stood, squaring her shoulders. “It sounds good. In the meantime, I’m going to do something I’ve been putting off since I got here.”
“Calling that doctor?”
“Calling that doctor.” She rolled her eyes. “Right after I clean my mess up.”
“What do you know of the outside world?”
Cat smiled. “What makes you think this isn’t the outside world? Maybe we could walk up the hill to a road and hitch a ride.”
“I don’t know. Could we?”
“I know I’m on a farm in Ohio. I know I’m not really here!”
“So you say.”
“Come on.” Cat giggled. She took off her ball cap, ran her hand over her head and replaced the cap. “What is it you wish to know?”
“Should I go home?”
“I thought the farm was your home, more than any other place you’ve ever been in your life.”
“That’s not what I mean and you know it!”
“Okay, you mean you want to know if it’s a good idea for you to go back to the world? You want me to be your spiritual advisor and read your Tarot cards or something?”
Makaila chewed her lip, looking for a better question. “Do you know if my brother’ll be okay?”
“Things will be as they should be, always.”
“Will he die?”
“We’re all going to die. Larry is no exception.”
Makaila took a deep breath. “Do you know if Larry will die within, say, the next year?”
Cat looked into the pines overhead. “No one really knows the future, but I’d say that’s doubtful.” She put a hand on Makaila’s arm. “I’ll tell you what Yoda told Luke in the movie. No matter what you think you have to do, you aren’t ready to go and shouldn’t.”
“It didn’t stop Luke.”
“Luke had good writers. If you go back now, you won’t live the year.”
Makaila let out a long sigh. “I know that.”
“See? All without Tarot cards. You gotta keep yourself centered and thinking and trust this.” Cat poked Makaila’s stomach. “Your gut. The world’s going to keep on spinning without you. People are going to live and people are going to die. People are going to love each other and hurt each other, all without you.”
“Stay alive and stay free.”
“Good advice. Wish I’d said it.”
Surprising Makaila, a girl skipped up to Cat from around the corner, putting a flower in Cat’s face. Cat sniffed and nodded. “This is Makaila, come to visit. Maybe she wants to smell the flower?” Cat looked toward Makaila. “This is Sharon, a friend of mine come to visit for a while.”
Makaila smelled the flower, glancing around. “I thought you were alone here.”
“There’s a bunch of us.” Sharon skipped off toward the lake.
Makaila shivered. “Is she okay? What a strange feeling.” She stared after her.
“Okay? Yes, she’s fine now.”
“How many of you are there?”
“There’s just one of me.”
“No. I mean here.”
Cat smiled warmly. “They are not like me.”
Doctor Zogg didn’t pick up. Makaila didn’t leave a message.
Joseph read: “They say you can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl. Our little city girl has taken well to farm life this summer. She is cooking, gardening and even driving a tractor.” He looked up at Makaila. “Harriet doesn’t name you or even give any great details.”
Makaila closed her eyes and thought aloud. “So, if they’re getting the newsletter and even reading it, Larry really has no idea that it’s me and I’m doing okay.” She looked at her untouched dinner. “Larry used to watch out for me.” She explained the Internet exchange. “He doesn’t sound good, but I thought we shouldn’t talk where someone might be able to get a hold of it.”
“I don’t understand that Internet stuff,” Joseph confessed. “But, I follow what you say.”
“I need to know and Chuck either isn’t home or not answering his phone.”
“How about that lawyer?” Marcy looked at Joseph.
“Yeah!” Makaila bounced on her chair. “Who’s he anyhow?”
Joseph leaned back in his chair. “Don’t know really.” He took off his cap and set it on the table, running his hand over his head. “Let’s give him a call.”
Marcy put a hand on Makaila’s arm. “After we eat. All things in their proper order.”
They ate dinner and washed the dishes.
With the telephone in the middle of the dining room table, Joseph eyed a piece of paper. He moved the rotary with each number and waited.
“Hello. This is Joseph Carleton calling. Could I please speak to Mr. Larry Elderage?” Joseph waited. “When could I reach him, then?”
Makaila had a sinking feeling. She leaned across the table, taking the telephone from Joseph. “I think I have a clue, Pops.” With her best direct voice, she said into the telephone: “Hello. This is Makaila Marie Carleton, to whom am I speaking?”
A moment of silence met her and then finally: “Sally.”
“It’s important I speak to Mister.” She looked at the paper. “Elderage.”
“As I said, he’s in a meeting.”
“Please tell him Makaila Marie Carleton is on the phone. He’ll take the call.”
“I don’t think so, but hang on. I’ll tell him anyway.”
The minutes stretched out before her, her hands moist. Finally, a voice came on. “Makaila! So nice to meet your voice. How’s life in the country?”
Makaila was taken aback. “Uh, fine. Who are you?”
“You can think of me as Moses, I guess. But really, is everything all right?”
“Well, no. Not really.”
The voice, serious now. “What kind of trouble are you in?”
“I’m not. It’s my brother.”
“Back up a bit. Firstly, is everything okay with you?”
“Yeah, things are dandy.”
“Wonderful.” Cheery again. “All else falls under that. What’s the problem with Larry?”
“Who are you?”
“That’s not important. Really. Just think of me as your lawyer.”
She wished she could see his face so she could read his subtle body, his voice had to do. “Okay.” She decided to worry about the details later. “Does Larry know I’m out?”
“He didn’t know you were in.”
“Whoa! You back up now!”
“Listen up. This is a bit complex.”
Makaila nodded, not thinking he couldn’t see her.
“What they did concerning you wasn’t legal, which is how I got you out, but it wasn’t exactly illegal, either. Without giving you six years of legal education, what it really boils down to, is they slipped you through the cracks of the system. Your parents signed away their guardianship and no one picked it up.”
“Okay. The paperwork was never completed. Legally it must be, but it never was. What that amounts to is you lost all status as an individual. In the big picture, until the paperwork is completed and filed, you don’t exist.
“This created a crack in the system and with their physical control over you, as long as no one squawked about it, they could pretty much do anything they wanted with you.”
“Like stick me away.”
“In a place that doesn’t exist.”
“Doesn’t exist. You disappeared off the face of the planet.”
She put her hand over the receiver. “How did Aunt Harriet know to write about me in the newsletter?”
He looked toward the ceiling. “Don’t know.”
Back to the telephone: “How’d you know, if I disappeared off the face of the earth, to spring me?”
“I was made aware of the circumstances.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“You’re not going to tell me?”
“It would be meaningless to you and create more questions than answers.”
“No sense asking why you bothered to spring me then, huh?”
“You’re pretty quick for a kid.”
Her mind vaulted ahead. “I would have spent the rest of my life there?”
She pushed back the tears, waving it all off. “My brother.”
“What about him?”
“I need to know if he’s okay. What do you know?”
“I’ll look into it and get back to you. Know this: you are your concern right now, not him.”
“What makes me so important?”
“You’re asking the wrong person. I don’t know.”
“Okay. Who is the right person?”
He laughed. “Don’t you know?”
In her frustration, she laughed back at him. “You talk like someone I know.”
“It’s good to hear your voice finally and it’s good to hear you laugh. There’s something else you need to know. Keep out of trouble. It’s a tricky legal thing, but you have no status and that paperwork’s sitting in a file somewhere. I’ve been trying to trace it backwards, with no luck. Whoever did this is good. Those papers can be signed and filed at anytime and you can still be, well, for lack of a better way to say it, sent away.”
I’ll die before I let that happen to me again.
“I understand.” Makaila took a serious tone. “I’ll watch where I stick my gum.” She thought, looking at the ceiling. “Emancipate me.”
“That’s tricky. I’ll look into it. It requires a court order and you have no status.”
“Won’t that work for me?”
He paused. “You’re right. Your parents signed away your status in a way that left you flapping in the wind. That’ll certainly demonstrate to the court it would serve your interest not to be under their control, which they handed away anyway, without looking back.
“Okay. I’ll get back to you tomorrow about your brother. Give me a week on the emancipation. I have to get back to my meeting. It’s been nice meeting your voice, anyway.”
“Cool deal – me too. And, thanks, Mr. Elderage!” Hanging up, she looked at Joseph. “Who was that masked man?”
After Makaila explained the guts of what Elderage told her, Joseph ran his hand over his head. “Nonsense and fiddlesticks!” He brought his hand down on the table. “How can your own blood treat you like that?”
She waved him off. “Don’t matter. It’s what they did. Yesterday’s in a grave, we deal with what’s to come.” She liked Elderage and decided to trust him, at least for the moment.
She reclined on the front porch to watch the stars come out and relax into a cup of coffee. The quiet surrounding her like a womb was deafening at first, now the subtle sounds sang vague and distance songs.
That explains why no one called.
She decided her father always hated her because she messed up his neat little life. Hate might be the wrong word, but the only word she had. Her mother, on the other hand, carried what seemed like fear. In the beginning, the feeling seemed like fear for her child, growing into something looking like fear of the child. She could see her father falling over the table to sign the paper, just to be rid of his daughter. Makaila knew they wouldn’t call. Well, maybe Mom because that’s the way moms are.
Now, Larry. She wondered why Larry didn’t call. It often crossed her mind to call the house, but she got so involved with her new life on the farm, she just never got around to it or took the time. The feelings stirring deep within her were unsettling – an understatement.
“You are right,” she said aloud, sipping her coffee. Cat was right. She wasn’t ready to return to the world and in the moment, asked the rising moon: “Will I ever be ready?”
“We get ready real quick when we have to.”
She hadn’t heard Joseph come out on the porch.
She took his hand and snuggled with her cheek. “I don’t ever want to leave here, Pops.”
“There’s a thing here.” She put her other hand on her chest. “That tells me I have to.”
Joseph looked out into the darkness. “You could grow a bit older, fall in love and marry Timmy, I’ll will you the farm and you have lots of babies and never leave here, until the day you die.”
“It won’t be that way, but in this moment, I think I’ll dream it up like that.”
“The future will be how you choose it to be.”
She snuggled his hand more. “I know, Pops. I know. But, I know some choices are already made, and I know I’ve made them. It can’t be about me, just me.” She looked up at him. “Does that make sense?”
“When the time comes for you to go, know you always have a home here, always.”
“I guess that made sense, then.”
Larry Elderage worked in the dark, mostly. He trusted the instructions he received. When he learned what was done to the child, he was personally appalled. He and his people were good at gathering information, particularly information no one wished gathered. He was bright and intuitive, which made him a natural at putting puzzles together.
The official files on the child were vague, incomplete. If the report was on the original paper, whole blocks of text would be blacked out. The powers-that-be hid something and when Elderage first looked over the information they gathered, it was obvious. Locating the extended family had been a matter of four hours of computer work and a trip to city hall for another six hours of digging. The Family Newsletter made things easy from there.
Once Elderage found a relative who showed interest in taking the child in, it took calling in some legal markers and filing a bit of paperwork. He didn’t have to prove Makaila was in the institute. He only had to open the door. He knew the hierarchy of the house of cards didn’t want a keen eye looking their way, from the arrest right up to Makaila’s eighteen months in a shadow institution.
The only way Elderage was able to glean the big picture was connecting newspaper articles with official paperwork. On the surface, from the media reports, the first blush was the child should be in a place where she couldn’t harm others or herself. However, for all the narrative and speculation, between the official reports and media coverage, a lack of facts glared apparent. Holes existed in the overall picture he could stick his head through. He got the sense rumors were planted, appearing as facts in the media.
Once he connected this child’s systematic official kidnapping with the unidentified minor who was cited as the perpetrator of the crime of the decade locally, her illegal incarceration made left-handed sense. From all the files and information, Elderage could clearly see the powers-that-be couldn’t buy a conviction in the public eye with a closet full of money. People could be railroaded, but there has to be at least one car on the track.
He wondered what really happened at 309 Harrison Street on November 4, 1997.
Elderage sat alone at his desk, the desk lit by the small gooseneck lamp, all but the papers before him falling away into darkness. He stood back from the details of Larry Michael Carleton’s profile.
This is a pretty average kid.
The profile showed above average grades, no major problems with the law or school and average social life. He did the math, determining Larry would be seventeen years old and going into the 12th grade.
Larry took a turn, not abnormal for a teenager, Elderage closed his eyes and realized the obvious, in the winter of 1997. His grades dropped, he compiled one-expulsion and regular detentions. All the red flags of a teenager in trouble glared off the pages of the file.
Why didn’t someone, anyone, pick this up? Where were the parents?
He flipped open another file, running his finger down a list. He found one DUI, a half-dozen drunk and disorderly, three minor auto accidents and two suits, all in or before 1997. Glancing over a summary sheet, he also saw Ralph Carleton’s income doubled in 1998, a note in red indicating he had not changed jobs.
The picture became clear. Elderage made notes and composed the report to Makaila.
Makaila put on a few pounds as promised, appearing the picture of health unlike the girl who arrived on the farm. From depression and anxiety back in the world and eighteen months in Hell, she might have looked good as an avant-garde runway model but certainly didn’t pass for a rosy-cheeked farm girl.
On the wave of first light, in her white tee shirt and bib-coveralls, with her bare feet aching from the dew, she skipped toward the barn to feed the chickens. The world beyond, like the rolling hills and fields, were hidden in darkness as if nonexistent. Seemingly sentient, some of the chickens met her halfway and followed on the run back to the barn. Makaila towered over the fowl, casting handfuls of feed.
“By my hand, you do receive that which you need,” Makaila said aloud. She knew their birth and she knew their death. To them, she figured, she must be God and often, in the early morning light, felt just like that.
As she gathered eggs, a group of chickens followed under her feet. Sometimes she’d walk backwards around the barnyard watching the troupe. “Silly little chickens!”
Throughout the day, Makaila resisted the urge to rush over Timmy’s to check mail. She’d been invited to dinner and accepted. Besides, she wanted to see what Elderage had to say first. She stayed close to the house. Toward late afternoon, a small white car kicked gravel up on the lane.
Makaila hurried to the front yard, arriving just in time to meet the young man as he stepped from his car, looking much like the ambulance driver. “Ms. Carleton,” he snapped efficiently. “This is for you.” He passed an envelope. Giving her the up-down, he made a note on a pad. “Have a nice day.”
Makaila waved with the envelope. “Thank you!” The package was Elderage’s report.
“That must have cost a few bucks.” Joseph commented from behind as they watched the car shrink in the distance.
“Who is this guy?” Makaila fanned the eight-page report. “Look!” She held the last page up. “He even signed this copy!”
“Poor kid must have driven all night. That cost more than a few bucks.”
She took the report in quickly, and then sat on the front steps to read each page more carefully. Joseph dropped beside her with an arm over her shoulder.
“This is really good news.”
She laughed, displaying the bright-white paper, now smudged. “I didn’t even think about the dirt. You’ve ruined me!”
“Good.” He tightened his hold. “What about your brother?”
She put the report aside, resting her elbows on her knees. “First, I gotta decide if I can trust this guy.”
“Do you have a reason not to?”
“A handful, but that’s more paranoia than reason.” The report was candid and straightforward, which swayed Makaila to believe the account accurate. As with reading anything, she found she could read the author’s intent almost as well as reading someone’s face and subtle body.
On the first page of the report, handwritten in ink, was a note: Makaila – keep in mind that we are talking about a teenage boy living in an urban environment – with all the adjustment problems this environment manifests.
The report was a summary of all the official records, referenced, and followed by conclusions and speculation. She let out a long sigh. “Pops, Larry’s okay. There’s indications he’s at risk, but no more than anyone else.”
“I don’t follow. What should we do?”
“We? Nothing. Me? I’ll see if he emailed today and give him a pep talk. He just needs to know someone cares. He’s pushed himself into isolation and boy, do I know what that can do to someone.”
“We. We have another bedroom. He’s welcome to it.”
“Cool deal. Great to have options.” She hugged him around the neck. “Thanks.”
“Why don’t you take the truck to dinner?”
“Sure. That way no one’s gotta be a taxi driver.”
Makaila decided to wear a dress. She chose the knee-length denim dress with button-front and empire waist Marcy picked out. Looking in the full-length mirror on the back of her bedroom door, she was surprised. Somewhere in time without her knowing it, she slipped from girlhood to young-womanhood.
She longed for the trappings and accessories she left back in the world: her good hairbrush, blow dryer and rollers, her makeup, earrings, necklaces, pumps. The list went on. Before her life got derailed almost two years before, she was in the process of uncovering what womanhood should mean and look like. Before the mirror, everything came back around.
She hurried down the stair and found Marcy and Joseph reading quietly in the living room.
“I need a bra.”
Without moving his head, Joseph brought his eyes up from his book. “I think that’s my cue to find something to do.” He left the room.
With all else around Makaila’s life, Marcy overlooked Makaila was still a girl-becoming-a-woman just like any other female. With visions and voices, hallucinations, dysfunctionality and a system robbing her of her freedom and a chance for a normal childhood, the subjects of menstruation and breasts, hormones and body changes paled.
Looking up at Makaila, she knew what motherhood would feel like. She braided Makaila’s hair and told stories. From her reading, Makaila knew the changes she was going through. She thought it would never happen to her. With the full rush of puberty upon her and a rich, healthy diet, her body rounded out overnight.
Marcy, even without children of her own, was fully aware of the importance of female bonding. She knew she needed to spend less time in the books in the evening and more time quilting and canning, just the two of them. Marcy knew only from quality time with a woman could Makaila know what it was to be a woman. Moreover, she knew, what they actually did with their hands didn’t matter. What passed between them was important.
Marcy tried subtle earth tones on Makaila’s eyes and light rouge. Neither was sure about the look. Makaila was sure about the feeling and washed her face. “Makes my face feel itchy and dirty.”
Marcy silently agreed. She rarely wore makeup. “Do I need to talk to you about sex now?”
“You think I’d be knocking knees with Timmy tonight?”
“Uh no, but –”
“Ma. I’ve had enough sex for a lifetime.” She paused. “In the institution.”
Marcy, taken by surprise, couldn’t hold the tears back, throwing her arms around Makaila.
“Ma, sorry. It’s okay. Really. I wasn’t there. It happened to my body not to me, if you can understand that.”
Marcy gulped air and sat, hyperventilating. Makaila wanted to take her words back.
“Come on, Ma. Breathe for me. That’s all then and not now. Really. Put it out of your mind.”
Marcy, with tearful eyes, looked up at the young woman and put a hand to her cheek. “My God, child. The pain you carry! The strength you have!”
“Just getting by the best I can. If you’re going to be okay, I’m going to dinner.”
Marcy’s lower lip quivered, her eyes painful, sad. “With all you carry, you think about me.” She stood, embracing Makaila. “You’re a saint.”
If I’m a saint, God’s got a crooked sense of humor.
“Only because you and Pops bring it out in me.”
As natural as a farm girl, she left for dinner next door, two miles up the road. Her heart jumped when the sheriff pulled in behind her. She wished she had a gun. She calculated her chances of cutting across and around the field, back to the farm, but the sheriff knew the truck and knew her. Visions of a shoot out paraded in her head.
With a deep breath, she decided to dance and see if she couldn’t call Elderage before he took her away in handcuffs.
Climbing from his cruiser, the jolly middle-aged man waved. “Hello, Makaila! How’s our little butcher been?” He came around the car and got between her and the house. And, the telephone.
She felt confused, almost dizzy. What she was thinking and what she saw were so far askew, she thought she might be hallucinating. She listened to his tone and read his facial muscles and subtle body.
He’s glad to see me?
Jumping down from the truck, she ignored what she thought and went with what she saw. “Hi, Sheriff Powers!”
He took her hands and leaned back. “My! You look good enough to eat!”
“I was passing by and saw you pulling in here and haven’t seen you since the baling. How’s the family? Everything dandy?”
“Couldn’t be better. How’s by you, sir?”
“Got a call to get a cat out of a tree. Other than that, all’s quiet on the Western Front.”
“You didn’t shoot it to get it down, did you?”
“I know you’re a city girl and all, and are used to real excitement and such, but you coming to the fair next week?”
“You asking me on a date?”
“I would but the Mrs. would shoot me, skin me and hang my hide out on the barn as a warning for her next husband!”
“Yeah, I’ll be there. The idea this city girl finds it boring out here is a myth. They should build a wall around all the cities, about twenty-feet high, and fill it in with concrete, make an airport out of it.”
Sheriff Powers stayed long enough to drink iced-tea, sitting on the porch with Mr. Wilson. After a quick greeting, and compliments on her appearance from Timmy, Lisa, Timmy’s eight-year-old sister dragged Makaila into the kitchen. Makaila was given the task of peeling and mashing.
As with her new home at Joseph’s, the Wilson’s dinner wasn’t something to get out of the way but more an event unto itself. Back in the world, dinner came in boxes from the freezer, transferred from tin or cardboard onto plates and carelessly placed on the table. Makaila’s father demanded silence and at the same time, demanded Makaila and Larry at the table.
As Makaila quickly learned at Joseph’s, she felt challenged in the kitchen. The first time she saw a double-yoker, she was excited breathless.
“Oh, we see them all the time,” Marcy told her. Makaila didn’t guess about anything, feeling comfortable with her ignorance.
“How would you like me to do this, Mrs. Wilson?” she asked, pulling a potato from the boiling water. “I’m a city girl, you know.” She discovered any ignorance was forgiven simply by stating she was a city girl.
Mrs. Wilson stared with wide-eyes and mouth open. She grabbed Makaila’s hand and held it under cold running water. “Dear, you’ll burn yourself!”
In the haste to slip seamlessly into the flow of things, she forgot most people would be burned pulling a potato from boiling water. “Sorry. I wasn’t thinking. The hand’s fine. Thanks.” She hoped Mrs. Wilson would accept the apology and just move on. Makaila had much experience with pain of one sort or another and learned a way of simply not experiencing it, or have it affect her body. Cat suggested she cycles the pain and damage, thus the healing, quickly. Makaila didn’t know. She didn’t understand.
Mrs. Wilson looked at the hand. “Well, dear, please do some thinking all the time.”
Kicking a step stool to the counter, Lisa offered: “I’ll show you how it’s done.”
If Makaila were back in the world, she’d think Timmy was hitting on her, heavy on the flirting. He was just being nice, being Timmy. Flirting was his way of bonding. He flirted, in a way, with his mother and younger sister. Timmy approached his father with a big helping of respect, almost awe.
“You finding the stuff you want on the ‘net, sir?” Makaila asked as they ate.
“I need another lesson, young lady. Timmy tried, but it seems your fingers were moving too quick.”
“Mom found some great recipes,” Lisa said.
Mr. Wilson leaned back with narrowed eyes. “Oh, she did, did she?”
“Yeah, but couldn’t figure out how to print them.”
Seriously. “It’s really simple, all of it.” Makaila rolled her eyes. “It’s like anything else, like feeding chickens or planting corn or baling hay, or peeling and mashing. It’s a process and you just gotta follow the steps if you want it to come out right.”
“Easy when you know how.” Lisa watched Makaila.
“Exactly.” She pointed at her plate with her fork. “This is great. The printer’s not set up right. I’ll fix it.”
Makaila decided Lisa was the most computer-friendly. “I’ll run it all down for Lisa and she’ll be able to help you all find what you’re looking for.” To her surprise, nods bobbed around the table.
After dinner, feeling like one of the family, Makaila joined clearing the table, washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen. She didn’t take the time she wanted with Lisa and the computer, hurrying through the first lesson with an eye on the email icon. She set up the printer and to Lisa’s disappointment, Lisa anxious to bring her new knowledge to bear on the Internet, sent Lisa away with a promise to show her more another time.
“I’ll leave too, if you want.” Timmy nodded.
“No, you can stay. I really don’t have any secrets. It’s just there’s lots of stuff I haven’t said.”
The letter from Larry was not long, certainly more than a note. Timmy read it three times. “He sounds suicidal.”
Disconnected from the fact her brother wrote the letter, Makaila looked up at her friend. “It’s all melodrama. He’s exaggerating. I’d guess he’s taken my place as the family victim, using my arrest and disappearance as the root event to blame his feelings on.”
“He feels sorry for himself and wants me to feel sorry for him, too.”
“I think I follow you.” Timmy scratched his head. “He’s sad because you’re gone and wants to make everyone else feel sad, too.”
Great way to put it. “Yeah.”
She turned to the computer, her fingers racing over the keys.
Life sucks...sometimes. We gotta always take what’s handed to us because that’s the way it is. We gotta look at what’s handed to us and see how we can make a better life out of it. Getting stuck in it is just going to make it worse. We gotta decide what’s important...we gotta look at what’s handed to us...we gotta do what we can to make it better...Staying alive as long as we can is what’s most important. Staying free is next. Helping those we care about do this too, is just as important but never at the personal cost to ourself.
Know that I love you big brother. You have cared for me when no one else has. The past two years has taken you away from me and me from you...but never in my head...you have never been far away and know that I am never really, really that far from you.
Hang in there. Stay alive and stay free. I have decided that I am coming home. I just don’t know when yet. Put a candle in the window so I can find my way. When I get some stuff worked out...I’ll be with you again.
“When I’m in trouble, I want you on my side. Great letter.”
Hitting send with conviction, Makaila smiled. “Should do the trick. Sometimes we only need to know someone cares.”
It’s all I really needed.
Larry worked his way quickly in the moonlight, stepping over brush and around trees. Long before he reached the clearing, he heard the sounds of a gathering. He slipped mostly unnoticed into the small crowd of about thirty. “Hey, Brother. Great to see you,” someone called.
He nodded, working hard to contain his excitement. At the call of his cult name, attention fell on Larry.
This was family. They shared a bond, reflecting their social nature. They were called incorrigibles, outcasts, delinquents and even criminals. Happily, as a group, they were always called Freaks. The common denominator was somewhere in all their short lives, they each set themselves against the social culture and in turn, the social culture was set against them. Battle lines were drawn in all the hierarchy of social dynamics from the family structure to the government.
They were dysfunctional, heretics, disruptors and proud of it. As a group and as individuals, they acted out and acted against, walking the thin line between freethinking and criminal behavior. They were against everything, even themselves at times. The threat of mass suicide was ever-present, the ultimate act of rebellion and protest. Anticipation of something powerful coming, something meaningful in the temporal burned inside. Hope loomed just out of sight, just as the trees loomed in the darkness beyond the small bonfire.
They never denied being a cult. Just the word cult inflamed and offended the sensitivities of the average person. The group would be dangerous, maybe even a force of social evolution, but for one great lacking.
They had no cohesive leadership.
Born in the chaos of thinly layered social norms, they were chaos itself, which led them like the smell of water in the desert heat. Larry Michael Carleton was the closest thing they had to a leader. He didn’t know which direction to set his next footfall. He chose chaos. If his mother said: “I have your favorite ice cream,” he’d hate that ice cream. If his father said: “Don’t mow the lawn – it’s raining,” he’d mow the lawn.
His leadership led away.
The only prerequisite for membership was to show up and hate life. Larry looked over the group and laughed until the tears came, which brought everyone into a circle around him and the fire, anticipating.
“What is it, Brother?” someone asked.
They called him Brother, not an endearing way to greet a member of the group. He was her brother. Her, the one like God, whose name is never spoken. Larry was the brother of the one who brought all the misfits together, linked in the base of all things. She, who is like God, taken into death by society, giving the Freaks a bond beyond society and beyond any bond blood could make. She stood so far above the society she was born to, the society had to murder her. In this act, the society raised her above all others, sealing the Freaks together as if in concrete.
“What is it? What is it?” Larry addressed everyone. “I have news!”
“Speak to us, Brother!”
His tears came again. “How can I say what’s not to be believed?” He grabbed the nearest person and shook her. “She’s coming back! She’s coming back!”
Silence rested over the awestruck group.
“She’s coming back! She’s coming back! I have it by her own hand!”
One by one, they sat quietly by the fire, leaving only Larry standing.
“What are her instructions?” Mutters and nods around the fire followed, with anxious eyes looking to Larry.
For the first time since anyone said Freaks, the Freaks sat as one, listened as one and were of one mind.
The moment took Larry. He raised his hands to the stars above the trees, stars fighting to be seen over the fire’s light. “She told me that it is true life sucks. She told me we should hang in here, stay free and stay alive, no matter what it takes. She told me that we have to do what we have to do to make sure the Freaks stay alive and stay free. If we do all this, she will return.”
A fourteen-year-old girl, whose hair hadn’t been washed in weeks, stood. She held a pack of cigarettes over her head and looked up into the night sky. “I hear you!” She threw the cigarettes into the fire. “Take this from me, oh, you like God!” Pack after pack of cigarettes followed the first.
“Yeah!” A boy of thirteen jumped to his feet. “I hear you!” He screamed to the trees, emptying a bottle of beer on the ground. “Take this from me, oh, you who is like God!” The ritual repeated around the fire. “Oh, you like God! I want to be clear in my head when I first see your glorious face returned from the death they sent you to!”
In tears, a girl of sixteen knelt near the fire and showed her mutilated wrists to Larry. “Oh, Brother! I didn’t know! I didn’t know! Forgive me! Forgive me!”
Larry dropped to his knees, taking her wrists, watching her eyes. “By my relationship and in her name: I forgive you!”
“Brother!” someone else called out. “I’ve been refusing to eat! Forgive me!”
Larry put a hand on the other’s head. “By my relationship and in her name: I forgive you!” In a solemn frenzy, each Freak knelt in front of Larry and after reflection, confessed any harmful act, asking for forgiveness. Laughing and crying, Larry grabbed head after head, screaming the rite. “By my relationship and in her name: I forgive you!”
When no one else came forward, only sobs and the crackling fire intruded on the night. They held their collective breath as if Makaila would appear in a vision.
“She says that she is with you now!” Larry rose. “Put a candle in your window so she can easily find you!”
“Like a real candle?”
Larry didn’t hesitate. “No, one of those Christmas candle-lights is fine, better, else we might start a fire and she doesn’t want us to do ourselves any harm!”
“She is dead,” a seventeen-year-old girl said standing to face Larry. “She is dead!”
“But, she’s coming back, soon.”
“That’s not what I mean.” She opened her purse and forced a handful of money into Larry’s hands. “When she returns to the flesh, she’s going to need some stuff!”
Every pocket emptied onto a blanket. “Oh, you who is like God! Accept our gifts!” one person said, the chant repeating many times. “Brother! Accept this in her name!”
Larry nodded, his arms across his chest. His eyes glistened in the fire’s dancing light. By fate or happenstance, somewhere in the woods, somewhere in the dark of night and somewhere in those quickening moments, the First Apostle of she-who-is-like-God was born. He held his right hand out in the sign of the up-side-down M. “May she be with you all, always.”
The group returned the sign. “And, with you.”
“Life sucks – sometimes.” He began his sermon in the woods. “But, it will not always be this way. We know she’s coming back. We have to stop whining about what we suffer. She has suffered more greatly than any of us ever could.
“We have to accept our lot, what’s been handed us. Instead of pushing it away, we have to do what we can to make it better. In this, she will love us and be proud of us. What we do from this moment on is a reflection of our love for her.
“What sucks? How can we make it better? How can we stay alive? This is number one: to live as long as we can because as long as we have life, we can love her. Staying free is number two. Only if we’re free can we serve her will and act for her. We have to do whatever we have to do to make sure we all stay alive and stay free. This is her direct request. A threat to our lives or our freedom is a direct attack on her. To protect each other is to protect she-who-is-like-God.
“These words are her words.”
Young Terri at Larry’s feet, a notebook open on her lap, scribbled as fast as she could.
The wall of silence was finally down. Larry often sat alone pondering the night his sister appeared in his room to melt into darkness and then disappear altogether with the slam of the front door. In his memory, he sees himself pounding his fists on a large oak door until blood ran hot and rich down his arms, calling: “Makaila! Makaila!”
What he actually did was sit in his room crying as the police took his sister away. The dark outline of his sister’s face was the last memory of her. In the month to follow being asked to make a promise, he met a wall of silence in his house so heavy he couldn’t breathe.
“Is this her?” He screamed at his mother and father, slamming a newspaper down on the table. His father stared beyond him, his mother cried. No answer was the answer. In the days to follow, quelling his anger into deep pain, he’d ask: “What’s the word? What’s happening?” There, the wall of silence, darkness sucking the oxygen from his lungs.
In the month following the last vision he had of his sister, he died a thousand deaths.
If only I didn’t go to the library. If only I didn’t have that assignment. It’s the teacher’s fault for giving it to me.
He held an image in his mind: rushing into the hallway from his bedroom, that night, swinging his baseball bat, murdering the police and his parents, too.
In the month following the last vision he had of his sister, not knowing was the killer, the murderer of the spirit and his soul. Finally, in early December after days stretched upon days pushing Larry to the edge of sanity, he got home from school to find his mother and father sitting at the dining room table in their bathrobes, giggling like children.
“Makaila? She’s coming home?”
His father brought his face to bear on Larry. “No. Your sister’s gone.”
Larry had a memory of his father’s face becoming large and distorted, like a caricature, laughing wildly. His mother giggled into her hand.
Knowing was worse than not knowing.
In the fleeting moment, watching his father’s face in disbelief, Larry came close to committing murder. Nothing on the television news or in the newspapers confirmed what his father said, but Larry had no reason to believe his sister wasn’t dead, murdered.
The subcultures in school were varied, with more shades of gray than hard-drawn lines. The preps were by far the largest in number, students involved in school, in their education, with a focus on the future. Life unfolded with bright promise and excitement. Other than sideways looks for having a nutty sister, a pariah casting a dark pall over Larry, Larry was considered and without much thought placed himself in this group.
Not unlike the preps were the mods, the fashion police, those who defined normal in the social culture. Contrary to the preps, the mods’ focus was on the promise of here and now. They laid out the blueprint for how to dress, how to act, what jargon to use, music to listen to and generally what was popular. To them, Makaila had been an icon and example of what not to be.
Then, there came the heads. Principal John Lightmont, a child and product of the sixties, commented: “Take a hippie, take away the compassion, love, caring and social responsibility, that’s what the heads are all about.” This group, from an individual point of view, was in no way malevolent; however, from a social perspective they were viewed as decay, rotting the foundation of society. This was the drug subculture.
Known by their leather jackets, beer parties, clean-cut appearance, flashy cars and predilection to get into brawls at football games, came the flash. “Fonzie wanna-a-be’s, pale imitations of a 50’s teen idol and rebels without a clue,” Principal Lightmont observed. “Without the ideal purity and morality of the TV world.”
People thinking in a similar way gravitate toward each other, but not by design or intent. God’s children was the only subculture with a school charter as a club. Their common bond and interest was they were Christians. Somehow, in their youth, they managed to do something many adults couldn’t do. To them, it didn’t matter what kind of Christian someone was. From fundie to what-would-Jesus-do, if someone were Christian, he or she was in. They often argued behind closed doors, but never in public.
Antithesis to the heads, came the agers. “Now,” Principal Lightmont stated. “These are the hippies without the antisocial attitude and drug use.” The agers were considered a fringe group because of their non-traditional views. Within the group, they saw themselves as the future, the precursor to the dawning new age. They were nonviolent, earth loving and people loving. They often found themselves in argument with God’s children. “God isn’t coming back. God is here, now.” This group was the least xenophobic of the subcultures.
The second-most ostracized subculture was the homosexual. Even the rumor of being gay could get a child cast out, made fun of and violence directed toward him or her. Those actually gay and struggling with this aspect of their personalities, generally kept their heads down and their mouths shut. They were too misunderstood and too small in number to protect themselves.
A small group of children who bore the brunt of many jokes, teasing, misdirected anger, acting out and hostility were the children who rode the short bus. A twist of the gene pool, troubled pregnancy, chemical addiction of the mother or any other factor beyond their control cast them low on the intelligence curve. The mainstream didn’t make the flow in the current a smooth one.
The most ostracized, mostly because they asked for it in every breath, were the Freaks. They were bound in a circle of self-hate projected outward and brought back home. They weren’t considered a group until the winter of 1997, when a star rose in the dark sky of despair, giving them something to look at, to point toward and talk about. In the vast sea of rejection, they found something they could agree upon.
A teacher, a symbol of the society that rejected them, in a neighboring school was murdered in the most gruesome manner. Her deed was so great, raising her to that greatness, the news media couldn’t even bring itself to use her name. Nevertheless, everyone knew who she was.
In late November 1997 a fourteen-year-old Freak girl laid a carnation on the floor and knelt before her locker before class. Within thirty minutes, six other students, strangers to the child, knelt with her.
Larry watched from the distance of twenty feet and the depth of his despair.
The seven children were suspended for three days, the door and contents of the locker removed and the announcement made in homeroom the next day, anyone loitering around the locker would be dealt with. Larry shaved his head and soon after that, brutally released his anger and frustration on a teacher’s aide. The Freaks nodded silently to him in the hallway. Some would stop and touch him. The empty locker was filled with flowers every morning until, by the time December 5, 1997 came around, though emptied every day, the flowers spilled onto the hallway floor.
On the morning of December 5, 1997, Larry taped a note over the locker. In red marker, it read: She’s Dead. Larry stood vigil beside the locker and with his eyes, defied anyone to take the note down. Perplexed, the principal called the police. The two-dozen crying students were removed from the hallway by nine o’clock.
No charges were filed, a list was made and parents were called. Suspensions were dealt out. No actions mattered. The Freaks were too devastated to do anything but gather in the cold air of a coming winter and speak of their loss and what the loss meant. If not for the other children throwing their arms around him, crying, searing his soul with their pain, Larry would have followed his sister into death. Only in her pain and his loss did he find a reason to live.
In time, everything fell on the small shoulders of their fallen martyr. They would gather in the woods as a group and speak of the acts of her, implying a greater meaning to everything they could remember about her, all painted from casting back the deep meaning of her Greatest Act, which led to her persecution and death at the hands of a corrupt authority.
Over time, she was glorified and dubbed she-who-is-like-God. No one argued about her nature. The stories were never challenged or questioned. Everything in myth and madness was accepted as told, in the way the story was meant. Life, which had not been bearable, was now bearable because they found their own reasons and justifications for their antisocial and dysfunctional behavior. They acted against a social structure that murdered God.
One day, while copying and pasting, shamelessly plagiarizing a report for school, the world changed when Larry took a break to delete all the unwanted advertisements from his email.
She’s coming back!
Larry held a vision of a bright, white light opening the sky and Makaila in virginal glory descending from Heaven. She would raise her soft, pure, beautiful arms and smile the rare smile that could melt hearts and cast Hell-fire in all directions, incinerating the unrighteous.
For the first time in almost two years, Larry smiled when in the same room with his parents. For almost two years, they were carrying on like newlyweds. His father stopped drinking, smiling all the time. His mother hummed to herself. They made him sick. He had as little to do with them as he could. He imagined Nero playing his fiddle and partying, unaware of the fire consuming the world around him, soon to burn the flesh off his bones.
Larry’s eyes flashed with dark delight. “You’re screwed for what you’ve done.” He turned to his mother. “And you, too!” His lips twisted in a cruel smile. In his father’s drinking days, Larry knew he’d get knocked off the chair. Now, he knew his father was too busy playing the fiddle.
“Just what do you mean by that?”
Larry laughed with disdain. “You’ll see and I’ll be here to see it.” Larry thought of decapitating them, putting their heads in the freezer and presenting the gifts to Makaila upon her return. He wasn’t sure exactly what she-who-is-like-God had in mind.
Ralph Carleton took a deep breath and waved his son off, putting a hand on his wife’s leg with a wiggle of the eyebrows. “Let’s watch some TV, Cass.”
Catherine looked hard at Larry, trying to read his mind. “I want to know. What are you saying?”
Larry couldn’t help himself. “She’s coming back.”
Ralph grabbed Larry by the arm. “Who?”
Larry pulled himself free, looking down his nose. “You know who. As Epictetus said: Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die, and if he were sitting here, that’s what he’d tell you.”
“It can’t be.” Ralph called to Larry’s back and repeated the phrase to his wife. “Let’s make some calls.”
After hours on the telephone, they found no information on their daughter, whatsoever. She had disappeared, vanished completely.
“I want to know how this happened, and I want all the options!” Jordan Harshaw yelled at the two much younger men, slamming a file down on his desk. “And, I want all those options in twenty-four hours!”
When the flags sent up by the parent’s inquiries hit the radar, Harshaw thought they were seeking her release. He looked over his notes. I didn’t miss a thing, from confession to signed release, it’s all perfect. There’s no paper trail at all.
An hour before, he appeared in Ralph Carleton’s office. “Why do you ask?”
Taken by surprise: “I heard – uh, was told – just wanted to make sure. Is she still in?”
Stupid people. “What’s done is done. For the good of everyone, leave it alone.” He disappeared out the door.
But, it wasn’t done.
“And, I want to know who!”
He looked over the files again. The firewalls are perfect, the holes are closed, she’s as if she never was. No one could get her out but God Himself, and at that, not easily.
Bixby and Marks, Harshaw wasn’t sure which was which half the time even with one older than the other, were the brightest, best and the most loyal he could recruit out of the Service.
Moreover, like Harshaw and his office, they didn’t exist. He was a troubleshooter and a fixer. If a problem couldn’t be solved, the paperwork found its way to his desk.
“Okay, gentlemen.” He found some composure. “We’re talking about file eight-three-zero-four-alpha. This was a Total Blink. It got unblinked.”
“Are you sure, sir?” Bixby, the older of the two, asked.
“No, I’m not. Start there. I want you to drive down to F-36 and look in every bed. While you’re there, I want you to purge the files – Total Blink – identify anyone that might be a risk, open a file and run it down.”
“Uh, right. Level One risk only. Hearsay won’t hurt the Event Horizon. Good rumor is better than misinformation anyway.” He turned to Marks. “Until Bixby reports otherwise, we assume an unblink.” He waved his hand at the man’s expression. The unraveling of an Event Horizon on an alpha project once set was unheard of. “Find the slug. Identify everyone she’s had contact with. Find out who’s behind her getting out. I want his head.”
Jordan Harshaw found his feet, turning to the thirteenth-floor window, a floor in the building someone could find only if he knew where to look. “Gentlemen, I want to know if there was an unblink ASAP. I want you to act quickly, but thoroughly. The safety of the nation rests on our shoulders.” Harshaw was a chess player, good at the game. His gut burned when he lost.
He never lost.
Josephine McCarthy, sometime between the vague ideals of youth and the trudge of a real world, slipped into classical depression. She became confused over the years. The tragedy of six missing children pressed hard on her, forcing her deeper into the darkness of thought. The tragedies were bad, weighed heavier by her sense of personal failure.
Reaching for straws.
She flipped through her follow-up notebook. She made a few phone calls, crossed off more dead leads, made more follow-up notes and finally found a note from almost two years before. She tried to recall whether she followed up. Details were vague. The note was not crossed off.
“Makaila Marie Carleton.” She searched the windows in her permanent files. “Sure.” She opened the file drawer, removing a thick file of reports, newspaper clipping and notes. “The murderette.” She opened the folder with the pirated official police files and punched numbers on the telephone.
“November 1997.” She read the file number to the clerk. “I just wanted to see what the disposition was.” Five minutes later, she was asked to repeat the file number and did. In another five minutes, she was told no such file existed.
“I’m looking right at it.”
She called the investigating officer who signed the report. “I wanted to talk to the child concerning a missing children investigation.”
“Sure, I remember the case. Special Crimes Commission took that off our hands.”
“The clerk doesn’t show that.” The file number would follow the case, no matter who handled it.
“Can’t help that. When they say hand it off, I hand it off.”
“Do you remember the disposition?”
A pause followed. “You really have to talk to Special Crimes.”
She sipped her bourbon. “They’ll be able to tell me if you remember or not?”
“Hey! Who is this again?”
She gave him her full name and badge number.
Eight telephone calls later, she still couldn’t find anyone who heard of the Special Crimes Commission, or the case, or the file, number or no number or Makaila Marie Carleton. She searched the public court records with her private access and found nothing.
She sat back, surprised. “November 4, 1997. Twelve-year-old. Female. Makaila Marie Carleton. I have another missing child.” She unclasped the child’s picture from the file and tacked it to the board behind her computer.
Now, there were seven.
Josephine punched more numbers. “George McCarthy, please. Jo McCarthy calling. I’ll wait.”
“Finally caught you, did they? How are you, Jo?”
“Haven’t terrorized any ice cream kids lately. I’m good. I need your help.”
“Capital case. November ninety-seven. Alvin Percy was murdered. Remember it?”
“Sure. It was all over the news.”
“What was the disposition?”
“Funny. Don’t remember. Why don’t you look it up?”
“I have the file number right here. I can’t find it. I called everyone from the arresting officer to the courthouse. Everyone’s saying it doesn’t exist. There’s no follow up in the newspaper or other media archives, either.”
“That’s ridiculous. What’s this all about anyway?”
“There was a child involved.”
“So the scuttlebutt was true?”
“I have the report in front of me. Absolutely.”
“Hmm. This is odd. Tell me exactly what you’re looking for. Maybe I can help.”
She explained the details.
“So it looks like, no matter what the reports say, I have a missing child here.”
“People don’t go missing from the system. It just doesn’t happen.”
“In an ideal world, children just don’t go missing from the street, either. Ever hear of the Special Crimes Commission?”
“It’s a fed thing, I think.”
“I can’t find anything on them, either.”
“Let me see what my friends over the courthouse have to say. Sit tight. I’ll get back to you.”
Josephine returned to the files, entering Makaila’s information in her profile file. She decided to follow up at the Carleton house that evening. Meanwhile, she went over the data again, looking for connections and waiting for Uncle George to call back.
In less than two hours, the lawyer returned Josephine’s call. “Listen, and this is off the record.”
“Josephine McCarthy, I mean it. This is off the record. I never said it because it was never said to me.”
“I got you.”
“Forget it. Leave it alone.”
“Does that come from you?”
“No. That’s a quote.
“You never heard this. Judge James Bosch.”
Josephine McCarthy heard clearly. She made a note.
“Hello, Mrs. Carleton.” Josephine held up her badge. “Detective Jo McCarthy.” This time, it wasn’t a lie. “I’m doing background on missing children.”
Catherine blinked twice.
“Where’s your daughter?”
Catherine blinked twice more and then called over her shoulder. “Ruddy?”
“Hello, Mr. Carleton –”
Ralph appeared unnerved. “In a place where she won’t be a danger to herself or others.”
With that, Josephine watched the door slam shut.
Larry looked in the window of the old house sitting on a hill, back from the road, partially hidden by years of neglected yard work. “It’s perfect.”
Arianna glanced up at Larry and shivered, not from the cold. “It looks like a ghost house.”
“Yeah. Don’t you love it?”
Arianna overheard her mother talking on the telephone about the property to a client. For back taxes, a fee and escrow, the house could be bought cheaply. Arianna and Larry spent the afternoon in the bank talking about the details.
The house came under a city program to improve the neighborhood. The taxes and the fee, around $3000.00, ten per cent of what was due, wasn’t a problem. They had that. The escrow was another matter. The city required money be placed into an account to guarantee the repairs. The list of required repairs was long with a $24,000 price tag.
Larry knelt down to peek through a basement window. “That’s lots of money to raise.”
The sun cast long shadows. “It will come.” Arianna looked off into the distance.
Larry looked up. The sun sat low, behind Arianna’s soft face and draped, curly hair. The image reminded Larry of the last time he saw his sister. He knew he heard a shadow of things to come, what would be.
Earlier at the bank, with the help of the bank’s title clerk, Larry and Arianna filled out eight pages of paperwork. “He was goofing on us,” Larry commented as they were leaving. “He knows we won’t get the property.”
Arianna tilted her head. “He doesn’t know who we are.” She showed Larry the up-side-down M. Larry, being seventeen, couldn’t enter into legal contracts. Arianna was of age, barely. “We gave him the filing fee. He has to enter the application in the system. It’s a big system.”
“Yeah, he did say all we needed was the escrow and it’d be approved.”
“Sure. That’s all we need and there’s enough of us to make it happen.”
Spending time with Arianna reminded Larry how much he missed Makaila, not that Arianna looked like Makaila. They were the same height but the hair, eyes and facial features were different.
It might be the general sense of innocence and wonder with the world around her.
Deep inside, Larry was drawn to protect and watch over Arianna as he was called from within to protect his sister, something he failed to do.
Caught up in his thoughts watching Arianna’s car pull away from the curb, he didn’t see Josephine as he turned, walking into her. Larry had grown so much and filled out in the two years, Josephine didn’t recognize him.
“You should switch to vodka. That way people will only think you’re a drunk.” He remembered her. He knew she was a cop. He knew she was the enemy.
“I’m not a drunk!”
“Of course, you’re not. You just drink a lot.”
She waved him off and composed herself. With the standard introduction and the show of the badge, she asked: “Where’s your sister?”
Knowing he stumbled on her hot button, Larry’s lip quivered. “If you’d been sober that day, you might’ve found her. As it is, you couldn’t find your way out of a phone booth if the door was open.”
Gulping deep, she swallowed her anger. “Where’s your sister?”
He leaned in close, almost nose-to-nose, putting a finger to her chest. “She’s dead! If it’s not your fault, you’re part of the fault and soon, yes, soon you’re going to pay!” His anger rose like fire across a drought-suffered forest. He wanted to hit her.
He stepped back. “Go have a drink and feel sorry for yourself.” Larry knew, from years of watching his father drink everyday and his time helping some of the Freaks recover, just where to hit her.
Taking a deep breath, she pulled back tears. Josephine took his arm. She processed what he said and focused in, ignoring all that didn’t matter in the moment. “She’s dead? How?”
“You people murdered her. I can’t believe they don’t let you in on what everyone else knows.”
“You people?” She shook her head, narrowing her eyes. Black people? Women? You people? “What do you mean?”
Larry’s mind raced. Here, before him, was a detective and a policewoman. She was one of them. She was one of them, who murdered she-who-is-like-God. He couldn’t accept one of them didn’t know the entire conspiracy. She wanted something else. She was after something else.
They must know she’s coming back and they must be after information. The plot fell clear to him. They were coming for those who followed she-who-is-like-God. He bit his lip, knowing he said too much already. He scrambled to do some damage control. I’ll bet she’s not drunk at all, just acting that way.
“My sister died in jail.” His tone, unemotional. He kept eye contact.
She held his stare, painfully. If that were true, there was a cover-up the magnitude making the idea impossible for anyone but the avid conspiracy buff. “Where’s she buried?”
“Don’t know and it doesn’t matter. Dead is dead.” Larry left Josephine alone on the sidewalk with her thoughts.