One Hundred Nine
Dark hall with only exit lights, turn a corner, past four closed doors, he opens a fifth.
‘Equipment in here,’ he flicks on a light, ‘the unit is there,’ points to a box.
‘I’ve never operated the thing, maybe I should call the AV teacher.’
Zero, ‘It’s straightforward, she clicks a button on a screen, ‘See, here’s the live feed,’ we look at the outside on four screens.
‘Here’s the one we’re interested in, and here’s the keyboard, click on the screen we want, rewind to four days ago.’
There’s a date and time stamp that reverses when she clicks the mouse, a typical fast reverse, play, pause, fast forward.
She gets to the day, then eleven o’clock, when Angela got on the bus, it’s a forty five minute ride to the bus stop, a few minutes to get to the school, and there she is.
Parker, ‘Damn, can’t make out much from that distance, but someone is standing exactly where you said.’
Zero zooms, now we can see her back, the cap, the duffel, a car.
Parker, ‘Bingo, car is white, helpful, a dark color would be almost impossible to detect, white is white, a Toyota SUV, my sister has one, I can tell by the roof angle.’
Then we get blessed by the video gods, girl gets in, the car u-turns, stop the video, there’s the license plate. Parker writes it down and makes a call.
‘Belongs to Sarah Appleton, Millersville, town about thirty miles from here. Not my jurisdiction, need to make another call, I know a few cops down there.’
It’s the middle of the night, the late middle, two.
‘I need to get the kids to bed, you know where we are, take this phone number. If you get anywhere, or if you don’t, give me a call. And, for the record, we weren’t involved, you got an anonymous tip, a nearby camera caught a license plate. The masses don’t need to know more than that, but it’s up to you how much you want to divulge.’
Principle Prince, ‘If possible, can we leave the school out of it, press-wise I mean. Kids have enough distractions and the school isn’t involved, I’ll be inundated with questions, including from parents.’
Parker, ‘Unless something else unknown pops up, there’s no reason to disclose this location, not until there’s a trial, even then, the girl’s a minor, the DA can likely get the whole thing handled under seal. Can’t promise that,’ he looks at me, ‘you may have to testify.’
‘I can promise something, it won’t happen, we weren’t here, we didn’t call anybody about anything, you have what you need, and you don’t need us. No statements, no testimony, no nothing. I could have called it in anonymously, I didn’t, that doesn’t mean endless cooperation.’
Parker shrugs, ‘I understand, and the fact is, an anonymous call works better all round. And that we got a lead from a security camera can be vague, there are cameras everywhere. I’ll tell the two patrol officers to button up. Get the kids to bed, and give the dog an extra treat.’
We get to the hotel, collect our bags and the gun case, get gone. I want to get at least a hundred miles down the road, a precaution in case one or more of the people we came in contact with decides to blab about a man, three girls and a mastiff.
Zero, ‘If we rotate the driving, we can just press on. You good for a couple hundred miles?’
‘In the army I spent forty eight hours awake more than a few times. You guys sleep if you can, fold the rear seats, you should be able to stretch out well enough, even with Morshchiny.’
Zero, ‘I’ll stay in the passenger, the seat lays back enough for me to relax. Wake me up when it’s time to swap, CC can take the last two hundred.’
It’s near four in the afternoon when we get home, but rotating the driving helped, and we were able to get a little sleep in.
‘I’m going to stay up until our normal bedtime.’
CC, ‘Good idea Commandant, we sleep now, we get off cycle. I’ll be walking around like a zombie at four in the morning.’
Nikita and Natasha are home, the twins don’t ask a lot of questions at any time, they don’t ask now. There’s no reason to talk about their recent conflict resolution either.
Nikita, ‘I will make something for dinner, we haf hamburger, burger and fry, seemple.’
‘Thank you, I need a long hot shower, I’m travel sticky.’
Girls go off to hose themselves down, I give me a good scrubbing, washing shoulder length hair is a daily ritual, but the girls like my hair long, and haven’t asked me to grow the three day stubble that has inexplicably become de rigueur for men.
Cocktails, girls wine, me vodka, Russian Standard, the ONLY vodka, take your Grey Goose and shove it, people who put premium vodkas in Bloody Marys or Screwdrivers need counseling.
Zero, ‘Commandant has been wondering why women find facial hair attractive, particularly now, every second guy has stubble or a beard.’
CC, ‘Beats me, I presume they think a beard is macho, rugged, effective against predators and a good hunter gatherer.’
‘So women are fishing for men who will fight their battles and get shit for them, what happened to feminism?’
Nikita, ‘Feemeenism ees big joke, only feemeenees woman ees lazbien, the rest want man to haf giant stupid wedding, buy house, make kid, then only worry about weendow treatment and other house feexing up.’
We laugh, Nikita is direct.
CC, ‘I don’t follow baseball, so I’m not sure when pitchers collectively decided to grow full beards, did they all become Amish overnight? It looks idiotic, like football players with braids hanging out under their helmets, how often do they wash their hair? It’s nasty.’
Natasha, ‘Fads get in the ether, like a gas, everybody does it so everybody jumps on board, fearing they will be Left Out, all of a sudden facial hair is a thing, maybe women secretly admire Muslims, like bin Laden, all those guys have beards.’
Zero, ‘You make a good point, Natasha. Tattoos used to be for white trash, prisoners, and bikers, now the country is flooded in ink. Tattoos are amazingly popular with porn girls, who I would think want an unmarked body, but I think wrong apparently.’
Zoe, ‘Or when fat became plus size, or curvy.’
CC, ‘They’re curvy alright, like the rolling hills of Appalachia. My sense is, a lot of this curvy nonsense is wearing thin…hey, is that a pun?’
Zero, ‘Yes, a paronomasia, which is a snooty word for pun. For a steaming hot girl you’re pretty smart.’
‘I have you to be smart, I have me to be…me, my self is self evident, perfect.’
Zoe giggles, ‘Your self regard is infinite.’
‘Of course, haven’t you been listening to Zero? We do not impose limits on ourselves, if we did we’d be Republicans, Christians or whatever.’
‘Speaking of, we’ve been slacking on meditation, at least I’ve been.’
Zero, ‘Yes, life keeps happening, but that’s no excuse, our time is unrestricted, it isn’t like we have jobs or go to school. Tomorrow morning I dig in again, six o’clock, and again after tea.’
One Hundred Ten
You're no good, you're no good
You could kill me and you should
I'm an idiot for thinking
This was anything but blood
On the wall, on the couch
On the corner of my mouth
You must like being the victim
You've done nothing to get out
Air Traffic Controller, This is Love
We stick to our meditation practice, we’ll never be religious about it, but then the religious aren’t much religious about their religion, maybe I’ll start the Church of Hypocrisy, then it occurs that all churches are murky swamps of hypocrisy. So much for my tax-free Temple of Mammon.
A bit surprised, I get a call from Detective Parker. They tracked down the Toyota owner, Sarah Appleton, who knew Angela Morrissey well enough to suspect she was a victim of, or willing participant in, daddy sex. Morrissey confirmed her suspicions the night Appleton picked her up, although Angela didn’t admit to the willing part, if she ever was.
Parker told me Angela split when Appleton pressed her to turn herself in, banking on the abuse to get her a pass. Getting a pass on murder isn’t easy, and Angela had no signs of abuse according to Appleton, not so much as a scrape or bruise. She also didn’t display secondary effects, failing grades, lack of interest in school activities, turning inward, depression.
Parker left feeling like Angela was a willing participant at first, somewhere along the line her feelings changed. When daddy took her away from what she knew, friends at school, cheerleading, a couple of school clubs, the girl reached her limit. He thinks she loaded up his drinks with antihistamines, then suffocated him.
For now, they don’t know where she is, hasn’t gone back home, relationship with mom is unclear, Appleton told him that Angela said mom knew what was going on and ignored it. Mom’s lifestyle required money, and daddy had money.
I thanked him, he thanked me, although little is resolved, as in an arrest, at least they have a better picture of events.
Daddy sounds like a dork, I hope she gets away with it.
Zero, ‘I want to call Appleton, I bet she knows more than she told Parker. Either parked the girl someplace, or has knowledge of where she went. She can’t say any of that to a cop, it becomes harboring a fugitive or worse.’
‘Give it a go.’
She or Natasha track down Appleton, Zero gives her a call and explains her interest. It’s a bit tricky, how did Zero know to call her in the first place? A vague reference to knowing one of the officers, who directed her to Appleton, reassurances she isn’t with the media and will not talk to any media.
Appleton may not be convinced, but she’s got no one else to talk to. Zero pours a bit of oil on troubled water.
‘I don’t want Angela arrested, she will surely be convicted of something, if not first degree murder, then manslaughter. It doesn’t feel right, even if Angela was agreeable at some point, she was a minor and she can’t agree.’
Appleton, ‘I should think her mother would be supportive, but Angela said she knew and did nothing. She’s not going back there, her feeling is that mom would turn her over to the police and be done with her. Whatever the inheritance, it would go to mom, who openly resented the endless clothes and jewelry dad poured on his daughter.’
‘So Angela is out there someplace, with no money, if she has a credit card she can’t use it, and the police hunting for her. Is there something, anything, you know about where she went, the cop I talked to said you didn’t. If so, okay, but if you do, I’m not looking to turn her in, I’m looking to help her disappear.’
A sigh, ‘Why get yourself in trouble?’
‘I have resources, leave it at that, there won’t be any trouble. And your name will never come up.’
‘How do I know you aren’t looking to find her and turn her in?’
First clue, Appleton knows where the girl is.
Zero plays to her audience, ‘Years ago I was subjected to the same thing by my father and brother, only I never agreed to any of it, I was trapped. I ran away, lived on the streets for a year, a list of menial jobs, harassment from bosses, not all, a couple. A girl, now my best friend, took me in. Once I had a bed and a bath, things turned around. I slogged my way through community college, social studies, but I’m good at math, a secondary course of study. Now I have a solid practice, I do accounting for a wealthy few, and some volunteer counseling on the side.’
‘Oh, God that sucks, but you managed to get out and make a life.’
‘Yeah, and if I can help Angela, I want to, like karma maybe.’
The phone goes quiet, Appleton is weighing the consequences. If Zero is for real, Angela gets help, that’s good.
Zero plants a disturbance, ‘Look, you helped a deserving girl, but if she’s busted and the cops start questioning her about you, which they will, you could wind up as an after the fact accessory.’
‘Geez, you’re right, I got caught up in Angela’s problem, didn’t think of the consequences. Kind of stupid on my part.’
‘No, compassion is never stupid, it speaks well of you, go out on a limb to help a girl in trouble.’
Appleton, ‘She’s in a cabin, old place my family owns but no one ever uses. I drove her up, stocked the place with groceries and whatnot. Not much of a plan, just a place to park for the time being.’
‘So there’s no next step.’
‘No, I’ve racked my brain and only made myself anxious, paranoid even.’
Zero offers an escape, ‘Then I’m your solution. I get her, delete her old identity, give her a new one and she’s free.’
Zero doesn’t want to get into the complications of fingerprints or DNA, which the cops surely have on file now. One problem at a time.
‘The cabin is,’ Zero gets an address, sort of, the place isn’t on any map, there’s no street name or numerical address.’
‘Thanks, you’re done, be smart, don’t contact the girl, you are surely being followed, at least for a few days. Cops aren’t stupid, and they sure as hell don’t trust what comes out of a witness’s mouth. Do normal things, keep to your routine.’
‘Christ, I didn’t think of any of that, please, get to her and get her gone.’
‘You won’t hear from me again; for you, this is over, stick to your story, do not budge… got it?’
‘You can count on it.’
They disconnect. Zero’s learned to always provide a reason, a because, once they hear this or that happened ‘because’ they don’t much hear anything else, the brain hears that there’s a reason, good enough, it moves on to other matters.
She also knows to personalize, even if it’s made up, most people empathize, they can’t help it, glad the sob story didn’t happen to them, or if it did, they have a confidant that went through something similar.
‘Good job on the call, now figure out where this cabin is, we need to hustle before Angela starts getting antsy and does something stupid.’
Natasha, ‘Give me the description and general location, I’ll find it.’
Looks like we’re in for another long drive, a plane won’t work, we have no ID for Angela, and no time to fake something, she sure as heck can’t use her own.
An hour later, Natasha has GPS coordinates, the magic of Google Earth.
One Hundred Eleven
‘The person who defines himself according to the likes and expectations of others and, by extension, of the society in which he happens to be born, also condemns himself to by far the most dishonorable kind of slavery; the slavery of the mind.’
Hide & Seek, The Psychology of Self-Deception, Neel Burton
Zero, ‘You, me, Zoe, and Morshchiny in case there’s tracking to be done.’
‘You think the girl may have run from the cabin?’
‘Better to have Morshchiny and not need her. It’s probably overcautious but let’s get a rental, we had our Hyundai the first time, the police may have noted the plates. I know the car is registered to a corporation, they can’t find it searching license plates, but if some alert cop checks it…’
‘It will tell them we’re back in town. Not in town actually, we’re going near a hundred miles from town, but I take your point. Lease something with room, CC can take us to pick it up.’
CC drops me a block from the rental company, I don’t want an agent seeing the girls and a giant dog. We have an SUV, a Tahoe Pop Star, black, windows near black, little pullout shelves to hold lines of blow and a stack of fake hundreds to roll up and snort. Coke not included, but there are optional directions to a Puerto Rican gang that can supply damn near anything. We skip the option.
We load up and go, this time five hundred miles, the cabin is west of Appleton’s house, in our direction.
‘Get us a hotel room, it’s too late to chase down Morrissey, we’ll see if she’s still there in the morning.’
‘You think she may have bolted?’
‘She’s sixteen, alone in the secluded woods, no doubt scared or at least feeling isolated. Seclusion is the whole point, but she may not be thinking clearly, she can’t call anyone even if there’s phone service up there.’
‘What about her phone? Did she dump it, if it’s still on she could be tracked.’
‘It’s dead by now unless she has a charger cable and a place to charge it. I assume there’s power at the cabin, we didn’t get details from Appleton.’
Zero, ‘My mistake, I was happy she coughed up the location, I didn’t take it further.’
‘If she’s been tracked, it would be over by now, there was no news this morning about the case, fish around on your phone and see if there’s any news on Angela Morrissey.’
She does, ‘Only things we already knew, no mention of Appleton, I‘m sure Parker went back for another visit, he must think her story about Angela running again is lame. I warned her to stick to her version, she won’t want to be dinged for obstructing a murder investigation or aiding the suspect. All she has to do is repeat, she tried to get Angela to turn herself in, next morning the girl is gone. Parker might try to say she’s already aided because she didn’t call when Angela disappeared. Scare her into cooperation.’
‘We can’t help that, only hope she has the guts to stick to the original version and ignore threats.’
Zero has us at the Infinity Inn, in this case nothing memorable, not a play on quantum physics or the big bang, not even math related, just the name the owner gave it. A restaurant called The Black Hole wouldn’t encourage customers, the Big Bang Bar & Grill might have appeal, but there’s nothing with either name.
We have a travel staple, roast chicken, added beet salad, bottle of sauvignon blanc.
Morshchiny gets her walk and a bowl of doggie pebbles, grain free stuff Zoe buys in fifty pound bags. It’s already near ten, we’re driving tired, to bed and out shortly after.
I get up early, shower, take Morshchiny out for a piddle, back to the suite, Zero has coffee going, her hair is wet.
‘Zoe’s taking her shower, she’s quick, we can caffeinate and find the mystery cabin. You want anything for breakfast?’
‘No, later maybe, I want to find out what’s what. If the girls is there, we spirit her away, if she’s not, we try and determine if she’s gone or just out someplace, can’t go far, she has no transportation but her feet.’
We get to the service road, a winding thing that heads up, then a plateau. One cabin overlooking a valley, no lake, it snows here, there must be streams in the spring but it’s fall now and only chilly.
Zoe, ‘Got power anyway, lights are on in the room to the left.’
‘Zero, go up and knock, you may have to do some explaining through the door, she may not answer a knock. I’ll go around back, she might try to bolt.’
We watch Zero rap knuckles on the wooden door, nothing for a bit. I can hear Zero talking but not what she’s saying. Then a second voice, the door cracks open, more talk, then Zero steps back, not trying to insinuate her way inside.
Angela comes out, jeans, sneakers, t-shirt, keeping it simple or likely having to keep it simple, she brought almost nothing.
Zoe gets out with Morshchiny, if Angela is intimidated by a two girls that look twelve or thirteen, it doesn’t show. She is cautious about Morshchiny until Zoe’s command, then she’s squatting down scratching under the dog’s chin and stroking the massive brow.
Zero waves me over.
Angela, ‘Zero tells me you aren’t here to drag me to the cops. I’m here alone, I couldn’t stop you.’
‘We would simply have told the police where you were, we’re here to get you out of it. No cops, no social workers, no mommy, just gone. Staying here could only be temporary, the cops are going to lean on Appleton.’
‘She told you where I was.’
‘Only after we assured her we aren’t going to cooperate with police, and she knows you can’t park here forever, or even for a couple months. Zero will explain on the way out, we need to go, if Appleton folds under pressure, the police will be here shortly after. I know this is…unusual…but there’s nothing usual about any of it. We also don’t plan on being around when the police do show up, it puts us in a lousy spot, as in aiding a fugitive for instance.’
Angela looks at me, then Zero, then strokes the dog’s head, ‘Screw it, let’s go.’
We go in to help clean up dishes, get perishables thrown out, leave the place in reasonable condition. Close up, leave the key where it was originally hidden and reverse our direction.
Zero is in the second row with the girl, Zoe is in the passenger, Morshchiny curled up in the rear.
Zero, ‘We’re going to our place, it’s secure. There are three more girls, all of whom, like Zoe and me, experienced the bad as children. We don’t do details, nobody will ask you what happened, you don’t ask what happened to us. If you want to talk things over, do it with Commandant, he’s good about shutting up.’
Angela, ‘I know the old is gone, I mean school, friends, like that. What do I do now?’
‘Think of a new name. I have only one name, Zero, Zoe is the same. The other girls have surnames, but they’re made up like their given name, which they gave themselves.’
‘I have one question.’
‘Why are you doing this?’
‘We don’t like abusers, we don’t think kids, or anyone, should go to prison for killing them. And before you navel gaze or guilt trip, we don’t care if you were willing, we don’t care why you decided to kill daddy. Again, if you feel compelled to talk it over, do it privately with Commandant.’
‘Is Commandant his real name?’
‘We don’t have real names, I should say, our original name, our new names are real, and legal, we have ID, birth certificates, passports.’
‘Is… are you, a cult of some kind?’
Zoe giggles, Zero laughs, ‘We don’t have a leader, we don’t have a religion or God, none of us has to stay. If we wanted to leave, Commandant would give us enough money to live comfortably elsewhere. We aren’t going anyplace, what you decide, now or later, is up to you.’
One Hundred Twelve
It’s late when we arrive, switching drivers helped, we got a chance to nod off for a few hours. Zero goes straight to the house, I’ll return the car tomorrow.
CC, ‘Welcome, come in, hungry?’
Angela, ‘Thanks, no, we got fast food, Commandant wanted to keep moving.’
‘The twins are asleep, you will meet them in the morning. For now, you’re with Zoe and the monster. Anyway, I see the traveler’s are tired, you want a shower, drink, straight to bed?’
‘Shower sounds delicious.’
‘Zoe, show her where stuff is, she can use my clothes for now.’
We go off to deconstruct for the night, I have a vodka while I do bed prep, teeth, toilet, wash my face, then decide to wash everything, get in the shower and blast with muscle and joint relaxing warm water. Zero comes in.
‘Leave it on, I want to de-grime too.’
Soon after she’s out and gone up, the lights dim, silence, sleep.
Morning, I smell coffee, goody. Peer over the arm of the couch, Nikita is at the stove, Natasha is having coffee, or maybe black tea, she alternates.
I roll out, wave to the twins, do bathroom things, change into slacks and a casual shirt, slip on socks, we don’t wear street shoes in the house.
In the kitchen, I peck the twins on the cheek, ‘It went smoothly, two young girls and a big dog reassured her. We got in late, she and Zoe may be a while.’
Nikita, ‘You will haf aig how?’
‘However you decide to make them.’
‘Da, okay, we haf breakfast sausage and bacon both een oven, beeskit also.’
‘You’ve been busy.’
‘Sisters did not haf ten hour driving and ten hour driving the next day also. We were relax, a leetle geemnastic, play around wiz CC, make pizza, watch moovey.’
Natasha, ‘No news on Angela Morrissey.’
‘Then the Appleton woman didn’t give her up to the cops. Good, our warning stuck, if she had she’d have been arrested. The girl knows nothing of our…um…’
‘You don’t have to say, sisters do not tell girl anything.’
CC and Zero come along, Nikita hands them cups of coffee, we sit around the island casually looking through the morning news online until heads are clear from a hit of caffeine.
Zero, ‘I found out a bit on the drive, while you and Zoe slept. I didn’t ask, she just talked. It was kind of what we expected, flirty preadolescent thinks daddy walks on water. He floods her with gifts, she liked the attention. Her then ten year old mind thought she was getting treated like a grown up. As dad got more and more familiar, with the help of wine and a few tokes of marijuana, the gifts got richer, she fell for it. At the least didn’t discourage anything. Angela said mommy was too busy fucking everything in sight, two week spa trips every few months, tennis, luncheon with other disillusioned wives. For her, Angela almost didn’t exist, seldom spoke, all fine with Angela, she was daddy’s sexy girl.’
CC, ‘What was the murder about?’
‘Angela wanted out, daddy didn’t, the trip was to get her alone. He picked the most absurd hotel he could find, thinking it was a distracter maybe.’
‘So she went extreme.’
‘Extreme? We’re extreme, she got out the only way she thought she could, he got whack aggressive, she calmed him down by agreeing to have wine, to talk it over so he said. Daddy had allergies and kept a supply of antihistamine. She dissolved a whole package, added it to his glass in splashes. He got groggy, then practically passed out. A pillow did the rest.’
‘So this was spur of the moment, not so much a plan or she would have made better escape plans.’
‘Exactly, when he kept after her, she got pissed, you know the rest.’
Nikita, ‘Ees girl to stay wiz us?’
I answer, ‘Don’t know, I think we see how she fits or doesn’t. You all have a say, this isn’t a dictatorship. If I get her fresh documents, she may want to go on her own. CC will do a, what do you call it, a make-over, change hair, maybe even color it for a while.’
Morshchiny thumps down the steps, I get up and let her out, fill her water bowl, pour doggie pellets in the food bowl. Zoe comes down with Angela trailing.
More coffee, ‘Angela, these are the twins, Natasha and Nikita.’
Angela, ‘How do you tell them apart?’
Zoe, ‘Nikita kept her accent, Natasha didn’t, Nikita is chatty, Natasha is quiet.’
Angela, ‘Got it.’
Nikita, ‘You will haf aig wiz bacon, sausage, beeskit, how do you want aig?’
‘Um, is scrambled okay?’
‘Gud, you want crim chiz in?’
She looks at Zoe, perplexed.
‘Cream cheese, it’s really good in scrambled eggs, or she can add some other cheese.’
Angela, ‘Cream cheese sounds good, thanks.’
The girl doesn’t exactly inhale the food, but it’s clear she’s ravenous.
‘I had only canned things to eat, milk, water, tea. I was so anxious I could barely stand to heat it up, then only a few bites.’
‘Zero told me you don’t dig into the past, and I don’t plan to, the question you haven’t asked is why didn’t I out him, after I tried to break it off I mean. The answer is I didn’t want to become that girl who had sex with her father. Same for after I drugged him; arrest, hearing, trial, me repeating the story over and over.’
CC, ‘Of course not, who would, except an attention seeker, the kind of trailer trash that shows up on Jerry Springer. Ever notice how those women are always fat?’
Angela smiles, then giggles, ‘Sorry, I know it isn’t funny, but I felt so much better when I saw him pass out, even better when I shoved a pillow in his face to finish it.’
A clue, she’s not going to drown in guilt gulch…and she can kill without remorse.
Zero, ‘Good, don’t feel guilty, no remorse, he deserved what he got. You could have sliced his neck and watched him bleed out, you chose a kinder approach and avoided a lot of blood.’
‘I thought about it, I’m kind of obsessively neat, not OCD neat, but orderly.’
‘Have any questions for us?’
‘Just one, what happens now?’
‘You need to pick a name, not this minute, but soon. I’ll get the ID you need. You can stay here as long as you want; if you do stay, I’ll have an addition built, another room, bathroom. We’ve lots of expansion space, I need to get a proper bedroom for myself as well. The one big room was a good idea, then more girls came along.’
‘Zero said none of them are a biological daughter, you collected everyone over time.’
‘Zero did the collecting, she collected me, then the rest, but yes, and I use daughters in public, makes it simpler. Nobody ever questions the obvious, how I have such a diverse set of daughters. I suppose they think adoption, or my wards.’