“Are you gonna talk, or just stand there?” Aiden rubbed the back of his upper arms slowly. His face semi-tight, his body leaning toward the table. The rub went to his forearms.
“The problem is, Aiden.” Candi flipped the yellow pages of a legal pad. “I don’t know where to start.” She set the pad down next to a paper grocery bag and a manilla folder, all on the table in one of the Sheriff Department’s windowless interview rooms.
“What’s to understand? It ain’t like my life is some kinda rocket science that needs figurin’.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. And why I’m as lost as a blind golfer’s balls.”
“Maybe if you sat down…”
“Sitting in hard chairs makes my back hurt.” She stepped back from the table, folded one arm, tilted her head, scratched her temple. “You see, Aiden, I’ve read and re-read the story you told the Sheriff, and the one Ivy related to both Deputy Reed and the Sheriff, and I put that up against what I know… And I think you must have found some kind of science that allowed you to exist in two dimensions on the same planet.”
“What the hell are you talkin’ about? I went to Louisiana, lost some expensive shit, got a swamp rash. What’s so fuckin’ hard for all y’all to figure from that?”
“For starters,” Candi removed an evidence bag from the grocery bag, set it on the table. “There’s this.” She nudged the bag with her fingernails. “Familiar?”
“It’s a phone. So?”
“It’s your phone, Aiden.”
“Can’t be. My phone’s in the—”
“Swamp. How could I forget? The same swamp where you spent five days incommunicado. Who is Donald Guillory?”
“Huh? Donald? You mean Deeder G?”
“If that’s what you call Donald, then yes. He’s the one you went to Louisiana with?”
“Yeah. Look,” he scratched one shoulder, then the other, “Deeder’s a bro, you don’t need to go hasslin’ him about any a this.”
“Deeder’s the one who has the alligator hunting relatives with a fan boat,” she checked the legal pad. “Around Port Barre, you said?”
“South a there, yeah.”
“How far south?”
“I dunno. Maybe twenty minutes?”
“That’s fascinating. While you were there, did you try the new McDonald’s in Port Barre?”
“Now you’re tryin’ to trick me. Port Barre’s too small for a McDonald’s.”
“I’m sure the Golden Arches marketing execs will note that. Back to your phone—”
“Cain’t be my phone. I done told you a hunnert times already.”
“Aiden, the sad thing about physical evidence with a unique serial number is that, unlike people, it can’t lie. That’s your phone, no doubt about it. And even though you can’t hear it talk, it told me, through this,” she set his call record in front of him, “that you never left the area. Never even got close to Louisiana. In fact,” she pulled several color prints from the folder, spread them out in front of him, “you holed up in a squat trailer from shortly after the time of your last call to your ‘bro’ Deeder, until you showed up on Monday with a heartbreak tale of drowned gear and a mystery rash. In that last call, you must have told him where to meet you. I’d bet you even set it up in advance because you hadn’t killed your vehicle yet and didn’t know how badly you were going to need him until after you’d tossed your phone.” She smacked the table, open palm. “Look at the photos, Aiden. Not at me, not at your feet, not at the back of your hands.” BAM, another table smack. “Look at that fucking mess, Aiden. Look at it and tell me what you’d say if I told you we’d lifted yours and Deeder’s prints off the empty Benadryl and Caladryl boxes and all that junk food trash?”
“We go there to hang an party sometimes. An weed gives Deeder the snots.” The rubbing had morphed to vigorous on his thighs. “So fuckin’ write me up for litterin’.”
“How about these pictures of your ‘bro’ Deeder,” she fanned out more prints, “using your debit card at Walgreens, McDonalds, Sonic quite a few times… You’re partial to chili dogs, right?” She fingernailed a trash photo. “And you like having your own Fritos to clean up the slop in the tray.” She leaned across the table into his space. “You’ve been lying to everyone, Aiden. Particularly Ivy, which is sad because she seems to be the only person who really gave a rat’s ass if you came back.”
“She was just pissed ‘cause she cain’t run the TVs. I told you where I went,” he backed away, looked up to make eye contact “an you can’t make nothin’ up to prove nothin’ but litterin’. An ain’t nobody ever went to fuckin’ jail for lyin’ to their girlfriend. So y’know what you can do?” He backed up a little more, gave her the finger.
Candi’s hand shot out, engulfed the finger. His head and shoulders rolled over the back of his chair, mouth open in a silent scream.
“That may be true,” she hissed. “But before we’re through, you will stop lying to me.” She released his hand, turned to the top center camera. “He’s driving me crazy with the scratching. Take him to County ER before he rubs all his skin off. Tell them he’s having an allergic reaction to dry cleaning fluid and to shoot him full of whatever it takes to make it stop. Bring him back here to sleep it off.”
“You heard her, Bash. Before you get off the computer, is there any way we can lose the part after he gives her the finger?”
“What part after he gave her the finger?”
“Green. Ivy.” Candi closed the folder in her hand.
“Cotton. Candi.” She held out her hand.
“I didn’t think so either.” She flipped her lanyard ID so Ivy could read it. “I got over it.”
“Yeah?” Ivy eyed the ID, then the hand, and took it with a tangible air of suspicion.
“Yeah. Some parents, you know? They fuck us up from day one by being stupid trying to be cute. I learned it wasn’t just me when I got out in the real world and met a Holly Peña.”
“Nope. Flash Leight. Sue Ridge, Richard Large, Dick Bates, Philip McCann, Robyn Banks, Carrie Ann Seaman. If you don’t believe me, there are websites dedicated to kids whose parents got high or thought they were being cute and stuck it to us.”
“That’s crazy fucked up they – Hey…” she finally looked up from her chair at six feet one plus heels of tailored blue suit over a white silk shell topped with a frosted French twist. “You’re her. The volleyball girl who made it outta this stinkhole… Uh, uh…” she bit her lower lip before her eyes lit up. “I got it. You’re the ‘Don’t Let Your Parents Fuck You Up’ lady!”
“I try not to say it exactly like that in the brochures, but that’s me.”
“Whoa.” Ivy unfolded from an almost fetal position in her chair to feet on the floor and arms on the table. “I guess I’m not here to talk about my name, though, huh?”
“We can talk about anything you like before we get down to business.”
“Well, you prob’ly know my fingerprints were, are in their, uh, studio thing, over there… So, I guess I sorta lied about what I done.”
“Okay, Ivy. Rule number one. Drop the hick chick routine.”
“I know better.” She put a flash drive on the table. “I talked with Lisha Patrick this morning. Valedictorian? Ring a bell?”
“I’d be careful if I were you. Friends are hard to find. It appears Ms. Patrick thought so highly of your AP computer applications graphics project she saved it before you erased it. In fact, with your grades and test scores, if you’d bothered to be a scholastic citizen at all, you’d have given her a run for her money as valedictorian. That flash drive and a better attitude will get you into any number of universities that specialize in what you’re good at.”
“Money?” She rubbed her thumb and fingers together. “Hello?”
“You’re scholarship material if you’ll drop the hillbilly routine.”
“Easy for you to say. You’re tall and pretty and can play volleyball. Nobody needs another mousy nerd.”
“You’re average height. Be even prettier if you bought a hairbrush and you’re smart as a whip. And you went lowest common denominator to belong? I get it, because there were years I’d have sold my soul to be a mousy nerd or even a shorter me. Five-four, five-five at the most, with some meat on my bones. Screw volleyball and all the Amazon stick with tits jokes. What I wanted was a boyfriend to slow dance with who was taller than me instead of having his head buried in my chest all night like a third boob… But we survive that junk because fortunately life is longer than our parents’ legacy or high school.”
“Yeah? Well, maybe you had parents who could fill out forms and help a little.”
“My parents were so toxic it killed them before I was twenty-three. I was lucky enough to have a coach who kept me sane.” She opened the folder again. “It says your parents are the reason you went to live with Aiden and Mr. Pierce?”
“Kinda… I, well… yeah. Like, I was scared. I’d always lived with Momma, mostly, and when I’d go stay at Daddy’s, he’s sweet and everything, but he’d just go wanderin’ off somewhere and leave the house wide open. No locks, nothin’. When I finally got too scared to stay at Mom’s anymore, Daddy’d done something stupid with dynamite and got hisself—gotten thrown in jail. I told Aiden how I was feelin’, and he said since Karla, that’s his mom, had kicked him out ‘cause she had too many slackers on her payroll already that he’d gone over and moved in with his dad. And they needed a housekeeper so they could keep their shit straightened out. The truth is, they’re both slobs like I’ve never seen. So, I talked to Jimmy, Mr. Pierce, and I told him he should have his own TV show, you know, like livin’ the slob life? He said funny I should say that about a TV show and then he said he understood how livin’ with Brandy, that’s my mom, would prob’ly scare the pants off the Pope if she didn’t pull ‘em down first and he’d pay me fifty dollars a week just to keep his and Aiden’s socks and underwear out of each other’s drawers. Like they used their dressers for anything but car and boob magazines and dirty dishes, anyway.”
“What was it about your mother that scared you?”
“You’re gonna think I’m crazy, and maybe I do watch too many true crime shows, but it’s like only a matter of time before some horny man’s pissed off wife comes over or hires somebody to come shoot her, maybe him too if he’s there and I’d be the leave no witnesses dead girl in a back bedroom.”
“I don’t want to hurt your feelings by saying this, Ivy, but moving into that trailer with those men was the first step toward you becoming your mother.”
“I know that, but… but…” She started with a sniffle that went to a head on her knees sob.
Candi put her hands on Ivy’s shoulders, turned to the camera. “Can we have a family liaison from county take her out to that trailer, help her pack a suitcase or backpack or whatever she’s got and take her to the B&B? I’ll clear it on that end. She needs to eat right and get some rest. We’ll start fresh tomorrow.”
“Feelin’ better?” Bash covered Aiden’s head and swept him into the back of the Tahoe.
“Dunno… Man… Whudday gimme? Whirma goan?”
“Epinephrine, a steroid shot, prescription strength antihistamines and something stout to make you relax so they can all go to work. Where you’re goin’ is back to jail, so you’ll be ready for Agent Cotton first thing in the mornin’.”
“Duh psycho fuhhin’ amzon bitch?”
“Hoe-lee fuh meee swee babby Jeeziz…”
“And that’s you.”