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Chapter 19

“Ink to the Past”

That Afternoon

Morrissey Middle School Park

Janey had argued with Alex for going on thirty minutes before Harriet stepped in and offered additional protection. The disagreement stemmed from Alex insisting that Janey take the kids on a well-supervised visit to a nearby park. It was a trip Albert and Richie were both flushed with excitement about; their spirits crushing every time Janey explained it was far too dangerous to spend time outside.

There was a general agreement that the boys needed some time not locked up in an abandoned frozen food warehouse when Albert hooked up Richie to various over –the-counter batteries to see if his young friend could charge an iPad simply by holding it. Richie had also put the community toilet out of commission for two days by flushing an entire roll of paper towels on a dare. In point of fact, it was a “Heisenberg’s dare,” or the only way that Albert knew how to escalate, in his own words: “scallywagging.”

It was only when Harriet stepped forward with a loaded Glock 17 and offered to join in on the babysitting and bodyguarding that Janey agreed to take the boys out for an hour or so.

The two women, sporting a concealed-arsenal fit for a Bourne film, made the boys put on shoes and follow them over to the middle school two short blocks from the warehouse. In the unlikely event that a suspicious looking person got too close to one of the children, it was entirely possible that they would come down with a sudden case of the shot-in-the-faces (from the Latin: “Violentia in Faciem.”)

Albert and Richie ran off toward the nearest jungle gym to continue playing out their favorite fictional heroes; Richie chose Batman, naturally, while Albert confused his young pal when he chose to pretend as Beowulf. As fictional crime-fighting team-ups go, one would be hard pressed to find children who put a more diverse duo than Batman and Beowulf.

Richie burst forth from a slide on the periphery of the jungle gym, “Oh no, The Riddler and Gren-nel, Gren—what was it again?”

“Grendel,” Albert offered with a helpful smile.

“Oh no, The Riddler and Grendel have robbed the supermarket! Come on Bay Wolf! We must stab them together.” Richie sped off into a torrent of throwing punches in all directions, imagining quite the fight in the cereal aisle of a supermarket.

Albert followed suit and began speaking, as one would as Beowulf, in alliterative West Saxon quatrain. “Lo! I am the Wielder of Glory. Be wary o’ man of Riddles. Grendel’s head will be my earned solace. May the All-Father’s hand guide us—” he tried his best not to laugh as he finished, “Batman.”

The two ran around for a few minutes, trading gruff proclamations to imagined baddies with non-rhyming stanzas of boastful exuberance. Janey was just glad the boys were enjoying themselves and for once not driving everyone crazy back at the warehouse.

She sipped her non-fat mocha and sat down next to Harriet on the bench. “I guess college towns have their advantages.”

Harriet continued looking around the park for any suspicious activity. “How so?”

Janey motioned to the vast empty area around the park, “there’s no one here for example. Maybe I just worry too much.”

“No such thing as worrying too much.”

“I suppose in our situation that makes a lot of sense.”

Harriet stood up with immediacy, looking out across the playground toward a nearby street.

Janey panicked and popped up as well. “What’s the matter? Do you see something?”

“So, what’s the deal with you and Alex anyway? You guys ever … ” she raised an eyebrow and tilted her head to the side, which somehow implied sex.

“No, we’ve never whatever-the-hell your head just did. I don’t think our relationship is like that. He’s like a brother. Did you see something or what? You scared the hell out of me.”

Harriet shook her head. “No, I just wanted to scare you into answering the question honestly.” Her grin was wry and mischievous. “And Alex is in love with you then I take it?”

Janey took a surprised step back. “In love with me? Girl, you trippin’.”

“Don’t talk like that.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Janey replied sheepishly.

“In my experience, any time a girl that says some dude is like a brother to them, that means the guy is in love with them. It’s like an estrogen-based guilt defense.”

The squeals of boyish combat fell a little further into the distance, it sounded like the Riddler was dead.

“He ever come visit you in that small town?” Harriet continued her line of questioning as she looked around and checked to make sure the boys were still within sight lines.

Janey brushed some hair behind her ear. “Yup.”

“You guys sleep in the same bed?”

“Yeah, but he’s a friend. No big deal.”

“When you woke up in the morning, was he already awake but still in bed?”

“Yeah.”

“Dude’s in love with you.”

Janey considered the idea for a moment before surrendering herself back to the coffee at hand. She took a few labored paces away from the inquisition and felt the breeze dance across her face.

The voices of the two boys continued to move further into the distance, battling a rogue’s gallery that seemingly had no end.

“You wanna catch up with them?”

Harriet was already in motion, calling out to the boys to come back a little more toward the playground. They crested a hill and couldn’t see the boys anywhere, and they were making zero noise, which was something that rarely occurred.

Suddenly, the two women were very worried.

They lashed out in separate directions and began covering as much ground as possible, calling out the names of the two boys who had somehow disappeared in a matter of seconds.

Then they heard it.

Albert let out a scream of terror.

Janey ran as fast as she had in her entire life.

The women ran, guns drawn, to a metal drainage ditch off to the side of one of the hills. Stagnant water dripped on their hair as they made their way into the tube. Inside, they found Albert, standing over a perplexed looking Richie, who did not look harmed or even aware of why Albert screamed in the first place.

“Albert. Why did you scream?” Janey asked in a tone that reminded her far too much of her mother—her second mother.

Albert ignored the request, or even the fact that the ladies were there at all, and sat in a comatose stare at Richie’s rolled up sleeve.

“Albert … honey.” Janey tried again.

“Kid!” Harriet screamed as she checked all the way down into the pipe for a sign that anyone else had been near the kids. She found no such information.

Albert shifted his catatonic gaze back to Janey, his face as white as a laundered sheet. He spoke in a slow, metered pace. “They met in secret. Ignoring heeds and trifling forward.” The young boy trailed off.

Janey walked nearer to him, trying not to startle him. “Albert. Okay, Albert I think we’re done with the make believe now. I need you to tell me why you screamed.”

He ignored her, staring off into nothing and reciting words like they were burned into his memory forever. “The punishment is laid out and the sentence is—” he broke down as Janey wrapped her arms around him. His head resting on her shoulder, he finished what he was saying. “And the sentence is … Beowulf dead.” Albert began to cry on her shoulder, he was so terrified he was shaking.

Harriet turned back and fell into a mortified stupor. “Janey.”

She ignored her and continued to focus on Albert. “I guess I don’t understand. I know we’re all scared, but we’re all gonna stick together. We’ll protect you guys, just stay where we can see you next time, okay? Not everyone has two of the most bad ass chicks on the planet as their personal bodyguards.” Janey slowly brushed the back of his hair, whispering everything was going to be okay.

“Janey,” Harriet said with more force, having unmoved from where she stopped in the tunnel.

She looked up after the second urging of her friend. “Harry, what? I don’t want to alarm them anymore than they already are. What is it?” she finished in an annoyed tone.

Harriet motioned only with her eyes to Richie, standing straight, his face still to the wall of the tunnel and his sleeve partially rolled up.

Janey gently let Albert go and got to her feet, approaching the other side of Richie cautiously. From the look on Harriet’s face alone, she could feel shivers of terror ripping through her body.

She rolled Richie’s sleeve all the way up and almost vomited in the tunnel. Janey could not believe what she seeing, or how it could possibly have happened since they had been at the park.

Hastily scribbled in permanent marker on Richie’s arm, was verbatim what Albert had said aloud to Janey just moments before.

Someone had been there.

Someone had been watching.

And someone just promised to kill Albert as punishment.

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