Had that dream for the thousandth time. Ice cold sweats and the hangover hits me like a sack full of babies hittin’ the pavement. Brain feels just as messy. Left the T.V. on some Playboy channel movie. It’s in black and white, just to look classy, I guess. Porn directors try too hard nowadays. I shovel in a handful of Girl Scout cookies from the side of my bed—tagalongs today. Breakfast of champs. I bought a hundred boxes of them from Vanessa a few years back and still have a whole closet full. She wanted to win some day camp trip or some damn thing so she could go with her friends. The cookies are all I have left of her now. The movie doesn’t turn me on at all but I knuckle off a load anyway. Makes my headache worse but I ignore it. For a second, I think I may be the only man on Earth who’s snacked on girl scout cookies and yanked it before getting out of bed. But there’s probably a whole mess of jerk wads like me. It’s a depressing thought.
Squeak up from the mattress to the fridge to get some milk to wash it down. Out of milk. Lucky me.
First day back at work after my transfer. Mouth feels sticky. Chief jumps out of nowhere like one of those long-armed monkeys and claps me on the back.
“You look like Hell, Jack.”
“You’re not the prettiest guy either, Chief.” He laughs nervously. The guy’s scared of me. I punched out my last chief after he told me it was illegal to have a rabbit doll hanging from the windshield of my squad car—obstructing vision and being a good example or some shit. I stopped paying attention after he told me to take off the rabbit. That was Vanessa’s plushy, and he knew it, the rotten bastard. The guy had the right hook coming. Maybe not the kick in the ribs, but he was out cold by then anyway. Could be I need the Anger Management classes they’re putting me through. Been working almost 30 years on the force so they let me off with a transfer to some shitty station all the way across the state, far enough from Brooklyn not to give anyone grief. And, yeah, I packed my cookies on the move, so fuck you and your mom.
When I was transferred, I pretty much lost all my seniority. I mean, I got it for retirement ‘n all, but I can’t say shit to nobody or they’ll can my ass. My new partner’s name is Charley. He’s a squirrely kid with big messed up teeth. I like to take naps on patrol but the guy never shuts up. I think they put me with him just as a big laugh, those horrible fuckers. But I’m lucky to have a job. That’s what they say, anyway. Yeah, I’m a lucky guy.
“Hey, I got a good one today,” Charley tells me as we crouch into the cruiser.
“Fuck, Charley. Not today.”
“How do you catch a unique rabbit?”
“Unique up on it!”
I died a little inside. Charley didn’t notice.
“How do you catch a tame rabbit?”
“I don’t know, Charley? With a pistol?”
“The tame way! Unique up on it!” Every fucking day with this shit. Charley’s the kind of guy that sends you forwarded messages with pictures of adorable kittens. His parents probably said “H. E. Double Hockey stick” when they were angry instead of throwing an empty beer bottle at his head. No one can stand him, but he doesn’t seem to give two shits. He’s, like, socially retarded or something.
“My aunt used to tell me that one.”
“Just ‘cause you had a traumatic childhood, Charles, doesn’t mean you got to lay it on the rest of us.”
“Shut up!” he sulked.
“Just drive, you mook.” Sad that the quiet sound of the engine kicking is the highlight of my days.
I do get some shut-eye for a while, but I have this recurring nightmare I’ve been having for several days now. It has this shadow of a big dude just taking my Vanessa and violating her and she screams and I want to tear this guy apart with my teeth but I can’t move. I reach my hands out but it’s like I’m chained to something. Chained like a dog. So I snarl and cry my damn eyes out until he pulls out a knife and that’s when I wake up. That’s when I always wake up, as if the first part wasn’t horrible enough. Never told my shrink about it. She’d probably say it’s symbolic of me dying that day and then tell me to get over it. Bitch.
I’m sweating through my shirt, breathing like a sack full of babies trying to get air. Charley’s staring right at me.
“Jack, are you all right? You were jumping around in your seat like you were having a bad dream. My dog does that sometimes when she’s dreaming about chasing small animals.”
“You got a green light!” I snap. “Just pay attention to the road!” While he’s stomping the gas, I wipe the sweat off my face. I usually just black out, but that one dream’s always so sharp every time. And the worst thing is, I’m almost glad for those dreams, because I know they’re the only thing that reminds me of what her voice sounded like. I don’t want my memories of her to fade in a drunken haze like I did with her mother after cancer slit her throat. But still, that dream… I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. Not my worst enemy, even. Except him. What kind of monster would…? If I ever find that motherfucker…
Charley’s glancing at me again. I only have to give him a look before his eyes are stapled to the pavement ahead of the car. We’re scooting through town and the pedestrians are always ridiculous around here. Better not have a cop car hitting someone, at least not while I’m in it. I’d get blamed even if I’m not driving. I look back at the road and I can see what looks like Vanessa stepping out in front of the car. Probably the DTs. Just as I squeeze my eyes shut to make her go away, the car screeches to a stop. Almost knocks the wind right out my chest.
“I almost hit that girl!” Charley cries, opening the door without even checking for oncoming traffic. The way we’re positioned has us jackknifed across both lanes. “Are you all right?”
I look at the girl and my balls almost suck back into my stomach. Headphones, cell phones, hair in her eyes (no wonder she didn’t see the car coming), but that’s the spitting image of my daughter. A little older, though. She’d be fifteen by now. Not possible. She’s dead. I saw her… her foot. And the rest of her, torn apart. No one could stop me entering that crime scene and I saw her with my own two eyes!
I’m almost afraid, but I somehow manage to pull out the handle to open the door to ask her if she’s okay. Instead it comes out as “Are you Vanessa?”
Charley and the girl both give me weird looks. I’m even more sure. Vanessa gave me those same looks all the time, like I was some crazy old man and she was swapped at birth with another kid. “Vanessa? Is that you?”
“Get off of me!” the girl shouts, kicking me, but I’m already hugging her and sobbing like I’d squeezed onions into my eyes.
Charley is trying to pry me off. There’s a crowd gathering. “Jack, get a hold of yourself.” I’ve seen scenes like these on T.V. where the guy’s finally cracked, so I take another look to be sure. She’s still my beautiful, big-nosed Vanessa with the dark eyes like her mother. But she looks scared as a skinned hare, so I let her go.
“You don’t recognize me?” Maybe my memory’s just gone to Hell. I don’t know what’s real anymore.
I need to see her face again. I need to hear voice. My shrink would probably tell me to let it go. She can go ride her bony ass to Hell. Vanessa or not, I’m getting to the bottom of this.
“Charley, I’m gonna take this girl in the car. We have to fill out some paperwork.”
“We don’t have to do that, Jack. Are you hurt, miss?”
“No, we do. Remember, code 5124.”
Charley screws up his squirrely little face trying to think. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Jack.”
“I’m fine! I’m just going to go home.” The girl wiggles her hand in the air and turns to go. Not again. I grab her other arm, trailing behind like a tail, and she screams.
“Jack! Just let the girl go!”
“Fuck you, Charley! Fuck you! Don’t you tell me to let her go! Don’t you ever tell me to let her go! I dream about her every night, damn it! Do you know what he did to her!” The last words come out shrill. I can’t even recognize my own voice. My grip on her arm must be hurting her, but I’m not gonna let go this time.
“Hey, Jack. Settle down. I know how you fee—”
“Don’t you fucking say you know how I feel, you jackass! You don’t know anything. Just get in the car!”
“Jack, I need you to calm down and let the girl go. We’ll talk about this later. I won’t tell the chief on you or nothing. Okay?” He smiles and nods like a vibrator on a nightstand.
“Get in the car, Charley!”
“All right, but I’m calling this in to the chief.” My asshole jumps into my stomach. I pull out my sidearm. “Get in the back, Charley. You too, Vanessa!”
Charley does what he’s told. Vanessa… the girl has a little more fight in her.
I start driving with the sounds of a sobbing girl in my ears. She sounds a little different from what I remember, but that’s probably puberty. Charley wastes his energy reassuring me, then her. I spend a few stoplights sweating over where to go now that I’m a kidnapper, at least until I see the sign for 90 going east.
“Where is he taking us?” the girl asks. She’s afraid, and reasonably so, but it’s good to hear that she’s not crying. Makes my stomach rot to hear my girl cry like that.
“I don’t know. Jack, where are we headed?” Charley’s back to being Charley, now that I don’t have a gun pointed at him. “Back to Brooklyn. Maybe she’ll remember who she was.”
“I’m not this Vanessa girl. My name’s Madison.”
“Then do you know her? Do you know anything about that… her murderer? Please, I need to know!”
“I don’t! I’m sorry! Just please let me go!”
“CAR 67! RADIO BACK TO HQ! WHERE ARE YOU? I’M GETTING SOME REALLY MESSED UP REPORTS, JACK! CHARLEY?”
I pick up the radio but the girl starts screaming and bawling as soon as I do. Instead, I click it off. They’ll be trying to track me soon if people are calling in about my pulling the gun out in the streets. Man, my parents must have shook me like a pinball machine when I was a kid.
“The girl’s pretty shaken up as it is, Jack. Let’s just go back.”
I turn around, almost ready to smack Charley except for the cage in the way. “You think this is a fucking game, Charles! You think this is a field trip where we lay out a blanket, have a quiet ass fuck and go home? I’m in deep shit for this. I’m a kidnapper now, dammit!”
“I’m sure we can work something out with the chief. I mean, you’re a cop and it was mistaken identity. You won’t press charges, will you, Madison?”
“No. I won’t. Just let’s go home.”
“How old are you, Madison?” I ask.
Fifteen? Doesn’t make any sense! Same age. Same looks. By all rights, this “Madison” is my daughter.
“Then it doesn’t matter whether you want to press charges. Your parents are my judge, jury, and executioner.”
“That doesn’t seem very fair,” Madison says.
“Tell me about it. Look, we need to get to a doctor I know. He can do a blood test to tell if you’re Vanessa’s twin or something. It’s the only other explanation I can think of. If I’m your paternal father, maybe I can weasel out with a lighter sentence or somethin’. Don’t you want to know if you’re my daughter or that you had a sister?”
“I don’t think I do. You said that she was dead. I mean, it would be pretty sad.”
“But she’d be your sister. I mean, don’t you want to know?”
“I’m sorry. I just want to go home, back to my family.” The car is quiet for a few minutes until Charley opens his yap.
“Hey, Madison. Want to hear a joke?”
“Charley!” I snap. “The girl doesn’t want to hear your fucking jokes!”
“Why did the woman divorce the grape?”
I growl in frustration, swerving around all the slow-ass cars that drive five miles per hour trying not to get a ticket around the squad car. The idiot doesn’t let up!
“I don’t know. Why?”
“She was tired of raisin kids.” Madison doesn’t laugh or say anything about how lame the joke is. She just sits there in the back and I can almost hear her thinking it over. What’s there to think over a joke that stupid?
“That’s pretty harsh. So, she didn’t like the kids just because of the way they looked?” She sounds upset.
“No. It’s just a play on words.” Charley reassures her.
“I mean, she’s tired of having kids who are raisins so now she’s going to go get knocked up and have human kids? Is that any better?”
“I don’t know… I never thought about that. Jack, what do you think?”
“Don’t give two shits. Just you and Vanessa keep quiet. I’m gonna call my doctor friend on the cell phone.”
“My name’s not Vanessa. It’s Madison.”
I try calling but it’s his voicemail prattling on about appointments. I throw the phone in the empty passenger side. Am I going crazy? Is this girl even here? No, she’s got to be. I have to be sane. Maybe she is a twin sister that my wife gave up, or that rapist murdering fuck didn’t really kill her. I mean, that body was almost beyond recognition. Maybe I made a mistake and he brainwashed her or something. This all sounds like Hollywood shit. Maybe I am insane. You know, they say everyone’s got a double out there somewhere. Always thought that was bullshit, but I don’t know. That’s my baby girl back there. I’m willing to believe anything.
“Jack! Sirens!” Charley shouts. Not that I’m complaining, but whose side is this numbnuts on? I turn on my own sirens and step on the gas. Maybe they’re not coming after me. I click the radio…
“…67! PULL OVER NOW! REPEAT…”
…no dice. Like Moses, we part the traffic. Forty years in the desert wouldn’t suit me, though. Never liked the heat.
I’m gunning it pretty good, at least until I reach a barricade at the toll booths. Toll roads bust my balls every time. When I hammer on the breaks, I can feel the tires on the right side leave the ground and gravity back down like the end of a long and eventful bender.
I unbuckle my seatbelt and raise my hands in the air until officers raid the car, pulling me out on the hot pavement to feel me up a while until they’ve got my gun and they’re satisfied that I’m not keeping C-4 tucked behind my balls.
Charley’s getting the pat down, too, though not nearly as rough. Madison’s standing there, looking every bit like my sweet Vanessa. She waves goodbye.
I feel exhausted, like a Samoan gangbanger just kicked the crap out of me. I’ll probably never figure out who this girl is, what her connection is with Vanessa. Then again, I’m a little relieved. I’m sure I’ll get minimum sentence and that’s great and all for a kidnapper, but I’m just glad that Madison’s alive, even if she’s not my daughter. She’s somebody’s kid. I’m sure she’ll be fine. She’s a smart kid and all. Just wish I could protect her.
Feel as lost and trapped as a sack full of babies. Madison smiles back at me as they take her aside, a little worried even. I feel like Vanessa’s there, too, telling me, “Dad, just let it go.”