Had that dream for the thousandth time. Ice cold sweats and the hangover hits my brain like a sack full of babies hitting the pavement. Left the T.V. on the Playboy channel. It’s in black and white. Just to look classy, I guess. They’re both wearing hats like in Casablanca, but that’s about all they’re wearing. Porn directors try too hard nowadays. Why even bother?
I shovel in a handful of Lady Scout cookies from the side of my bed—peanut butter today. Breakfast of champs. I bought a hundred boxes of them from Vanessa a couple 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 Lady 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. I cram a handful more cookies in my mouth before getting out of bed.
The mattress squeals and I slowly stumble over 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 the chief at my old station the day after I got off personal leave. He told me it was illegal to have a rabbit doll hanging from the windshield of my squad car—obstructing vision while driving or some B.S. I stopped paying attention after he told me to take off the rabbit. That was Vanessa’s plush doll and he knew it. He had the right hook coming. Maybe not the kick in the ribs, but he was out cold by then anyway. In my defense, he was kind of a dick. Still, it could be that I needed those anger management classes.
Been working almost thirty 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. I took everything with me, even the cookies.
When I was transferred, I pretty much lost all my seniority. I mean, I have it for retirement ‘n all, but I can’t be caught spraying the toilet seat or they’ll can my ass for good.
My new partner’s name is Charley. He’s a squirrelly kid with big messed up teeth (don’t they have a dental plan in this precinct?). I like to take naps on patrol but the guy never shuts up. I think they put me with him just for a lark, but I should feel lucky to still have a job. Yeah, I’m a lucky guy.
“Hey, Jack! I got a good one today,” Charley tells me as we crouch into the cruiser.
“Not today, Charley.”
“How do you catch a unique rabbit?”
“Charley, I’m about three seconds from—”
“Unique up on it!”
I died a little inside. Charley kept yapping.
“How do you catch a tame rabbit?”
“I don’t know, Charley? With a pistol?”
“The tame way! Unique up on it!” Every 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 I don’t think he notices. I think he might be retarded.
“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, Jack!” he sulked, then laughed.
“Just drive, you mook.” The quiet sound of the engine kicking is usually the highlight of my day.
I manage some shut-eye for a while, but I have this recurring nightmare I’ve been having for several days now. There’s this big shadow just taking my Vanessa and violating her and she screams and I want to tear this guy apart limb from limb but I can’t move. I reach my hands out but it’s like I’m chained to something. 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 just give me more pills to swallow.
I’m sweating through my shirt, breathing like a chain-smoking pitbull. Charley’s staring right at me.
“Jack, are you all right? You were rolling around in your seat. Did you have a bad dream? My dog does that sometimes when she’s dreaming about chasing small animals.”
“You got a green light!” I snap. “Look at the road, not me! Ya weirdo…” While Charles is stomping the gas, I wipe the sweat off my face. I hate those damn dreams, but I’m almost glad for them, too. They remind me of her, what she sounded like, and what happened to her. 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. And I don’t ever want to forgive that man, either. I want to remember. I have to.
Charley’s glancing at me again. I must have looked scary or something because his eyes are stapled to the pavement ahead of the car. Well, at least he’s paying attention to the road now. The pedestrians are always ridiculous around here. 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. The shoulder strap 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.
“What girl?” I snap, opening the passenger side.
Charley is helping a young girl up from the street and apologizing about a hundred different ways. She has a jPod plugged into her ear and she dropped her phone on the street (no wonder she didn’t see the car coming). When she pushes the hair back from her eyes, though, I can feel my balls almost suck back into my stomach. She’d be fifteen by now, the same age as this girl. The same dark hair. The same freckles on her face. The same mole above her collar bone. She even has the same huffy motions when she’s mad.
I’m almost afraid. I saw Vanessa’s body the night she was murder. I ran through the barricade when I overheard it my be her. And it was—I’m sure it was. I know what my shrink would say. I used to see Vanessa all the time and she’d say I was “projecting my desires.” But this is different. This isn’t the profile of some girl walking around a corner. I mean to ask the girl 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 certain now. Vanessa gave me those same looks all the time, like I was some crazy old man and she must have been 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 an infant.
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? Vanessa, it’s Daddy.” Maybe my memory’s just gone to Hell. Maybe I don’t know what’s real anymore.
“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 802?”
Charley screws up his squirrelly little face trying to think. “…a cat in the road?”
“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. She pulls and hollers, and I grab her other arm.
“Jack! Just let the girl go!”
“Get in the car, Charley.” Vanessa makes a small kick at my shin. My grip on her arms must be hurting her, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let go this time.
“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 dashboard bobble head.
“Get in the damn car, Charley!” I can see people gathering around in the corner of my eyes. They’re probably thinking police brutality, the way the girl is screaming. Someone is holding up his cell phone, probably taking video.
“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 struggles a bit, but I manage to push her into the back of the squad car, holding her head to make sure she doesn’t hit it going in.
I start driving to the sounds of a sobbing girl. Vanessa sounds a little different from what I remember, but that’s probably puberty. Charley wastes his energy reassuring her, then me. I spend a few stoplights sweating over where to go now that I’m a kidnapper. I pull off onto the 40 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.”
“My name’s Madison. I don’t know a Vanessa.”
“CAR 67. CAR 67. WHERE ARE YOU? WE’RE GETTING REPORTS ABOUT A POLICE OFFICER PULLING OUT HIS PISTOL ON 34TH. CHARLEY. JACK! RADIO BACK AND RETURN TO HQ IMMEDIATELY.”
I pick up the radio but the girl starts screaming and bawling as soon as I do. Lying to HQ wouldn’t buy me any more time if they can hear her screaming. I click it off. They’ll be trying to track me soon if people are calling in about my exploits downtown. What am I doing? My parents must have shaken me like a pinball machine when I was a baby.
“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?” Dear God. He thinks I’m some sort of psychopath or something.
“No. I won’t. Just let me go home.”
“How old are you, Madison?” I ask gently.
“…fifteen,” she sniffles.
Same age. Same looks. By all rights, this “Madison” is my daughter.
“Then it doesn’t matter whether you want to press charges. You’re a minor, so your parents are my judge, jury, and executioner.”
“That doesn’t seem very fair. I’m the one being kidnapped,” Madison says.
“Kidnapped? No. No. Look, we just need to get to a doctor I know. He can do a blood test to tell if you’re Vanessa’s twin or if you have amnesia or something. It’s the only other explanation I can think of. Maybe I’m your real Daddy. Don’t you want to know if you’re my daughter? Don’t you want to know if you had a sister?”
“I don’t think I do. You said that she was dead. I mean, it doesn’t seem like there’s any point.”
“But she’d be your sister. I mean, don’t you want to know?”
“I’m sorry. I just want to go home. I want to go back to my family. My real father is probably worried sick about me.” 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 stupid jokes!”
“Why did the woman divorce the grape?”
I growl in frustration, swerving around all the slow cars that drive five miles per hour trying not to get a ticket around the squad car.
“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’s taking this way too seriously.
“No. It’s just a joke—a play on words.” Charley reassures her.
“I mean, she’s tired of having kids who are raisins so now she’s going to just abandon her family?”
“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. They say everybody’s got a double somewhere in the world. Or did that rapist murdering fuck not really kill Vanessa? Maybe she has amnesia from the trauma? But then whose body did I see? Somebody else’s. Must’ve been. I mean, that body was almost beyond recognition. Maybe I made a mistake. Maybe forensics made a mistake.
“Jack! Sirens!” Charley shouts. Not that I’m complaining about the warning, but whose side is this numbnuts on? Does he really think I’m gonna pull over? 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! REPEAT…”
…so much for that.
I feel refreshed, gunning it past the cars as they make room for us, at least until I reach a barricade of squad cars at the tollbooths—toll roads bust my balls every time. I hammer on the breaks, and I can feel the tires on the right side leave the ground and crash back down to the earth.
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 under 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 tries to smile at me, I think, but all it looks like is pity.
In spite of myself, I’m a little relieved. I don’t know who this girl is. I really want to know. But even if she’s not my daughter, she’s still alive and okay. Maybe better than she was with me. I can see a sliver of the moon even in the middle of the day, the taste of peanut butter in my mouth. Vanessa was always such a forward, rational thinker (she got that from her mother). She was always telling me to let things go.