Content Warning: contains a brief scene of an injured animal.
She had so many better things she could have been doing.
Annette sat at the table, with the glare of a desk lamp piercing through her. She thought that maybe, just maybe, she could stare it down long enough until it turned off on its own. After all, the other man in the room was bad enough to face.
“You can have an attorney here with you,” she was told.
“Fuck attorneys, let’s talk about what you did. Because that’s worse than anything you dragged me here for,” she said.
Goodwin was inescapable after Sinbad’s release, wasn’t he? And Annette would have seen through any sweet facade he could put up anyways, but no, he didn’t even bother with that. He overflowed with bitterness that seeped from every word.
“For the hundredth time? I thought it was a blank, and I had one of the chambers loaded instead,” he said. “Stop holding a grudge. I needed to scare her off before she bit me too.”
“Doesn’t matter because…goddamnit Goodwin. You shot my dog!”
It was a few nights before, just a couple hours after Annette, Sagebear, and Brenda had fled the club. The police were never meant to be notified, and Sinbad wouldn’t do that to Annette on purpose. It had to have been a miscommunication somewhere with emergency services. But however it happened, the police chased them until finding the women and their canine on top of the hill.
They didn’t notice until a deafening gunshot roused them. And Annette almost cried at what she saw at her feet.
Sagebear lay down, panting vigorously in a growing pool of her own blood. Annette, though keeping her hands up at the sound of the shot, looked down with horror. Her face froze upon seeing her dog in such a state, and she didn’t knew where the injury was on her.
Brenda faced her with concern, but couldn’t say a word. Like Annette, the whole situation turned bad enough to petrify her.
Within a split-second, they both looked down the barrel of Officer Goode’s pistol.
At the interrogation table, Annette rested her head in one hand and scowled. “You pig, you shot my dog. So why am I here, instead of you being at the vet’s to pay my bills? Thank god she’s alive now, but will she be tomorrow? Next week? I’m worried sick about her, and now you have me down here, for what?”
“It’s pretty fucking obvious,” said Goodwin. “Your dog bit this club manager, who just happened to run a place that your in-laws owned. And don’t try the ‘but my husband hates them’ excuse on me. You’re not him.”
“So I’m not, and Dennis is my friend. But.” It seemed so evil to use one of Blanchard’s own arguments. When from his mouth, they made her stomach turn. “But, there’s nothing illegal in stripping.”
“But selling sex is a little more. And I’m just gonna prod you for tips, nothin’ you should be afraid of. So…do you know anything about what they did?”
“Didn’t do a thing over there. I barely knew it existed until Dennis mentioned it.”
Goodwin leaned on the side of the table, with a smug grin. “Barely? That means you knew something, doesn’t it?”
“Oh piss off, officer,” said Annette. “They mentioned it off-hand, and what was I to do about it? C’mon, tell me what I was supposed to do. Maybe I’ll know for the future when they allude to having a meth empire on top of this!”
“Forgot your respect at home, didn’t you, miss?”
“Seems like you did too.”
He pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. “Whatever, Mrs. Racket. Let’s just try and help this investigation. We already nabbed Blanchard on other charges, but maybe you can help him get locked up even longer.”
“Suits me. Saw the papers, and the last person on the deed was Max. Who’s dead now.”
“What of, might I ask?”
“They say heart attack. I wasn’t there.” She’d been asked that before, and that was her stock answer. Of course her husband shot out of defense, but wrangling through that in court would be too much work. “Means nothing about this case though, or you detaining Brenda, or you shooting my dog!”
Goodwin turned and snapped at her. “You’re just so difficult! Stop sidetracking. I want to get some goddamn answers.”
“I gave you all I got,” said Annette, punctuated with heavy breathing. “I just want to go, so I can see my dog again.”
“All this anger for your fucking dog?”
“And dragging me here! I don’t have anything else to give you, officer.”
She considered asking Sinbad about his favorite tips for keeping Goodwin at bay, but that didn’t work so well for him. Why would it help Annette? But for the moment, her rear seemed in the clear.
Also, her worries about Sagebear’s future soon evaporated, like rain on a hot road. Dressed in a spiffy medical vest, she licked Annette’s face as if nothing had happened. The gunshot hit a lucky place, missing her intestines, stopping short of major arteries. She required some fixing up, but as soon as major concerns about mobility and infection became non-issues, the dog could go home. And then…retire to a quiet recovery. Provided that Franco and Peanut remained as harmless and lazy as usual towards her, home was a good place for Sagebear.
Other than Sagebear, Annette thought she had little to do. Not much could be done for Brenda while she was detained. Pick your battles, Annette. So she could fend for herself without the help of a near-stranger. So she may have had a period of peace.
Franco thought he knew everyone at school that he needed to know. If he saw anyone in the schoolyard, he could call them by name. That was until one autumn afternoon, when he had his pointy little nose stuck in doing those multiplication tables Ms. Huxley assigned. If he finished them before going home for the day, Amy would let him paint even more! Playing “cops and robbers” with Carmen and Patrick be damned!
“No Benji, I am pretty cool! And I’m even better dressed and smarter than you.”
“Fuck off, Hannah.”
That drew Franco away from his math homework. Where did Benji learn such harsh language? That was stuff that uncle Sinbad had to say about people, and he was told to never try and act like uncle Sinbad. Also, who was Hannah?
So he looked behind him to the girl standing in a rather close range. He hadn’t seen her before, but he had to admit, someone picked out her clothing well. She preferred shades of teal paired with neutrals, much like Franco’s own father did. He always admired that palette, after all.
“You’re right,” Hannah said, subduing her voice. “I guess they’re all right about me.” Benji did not apologize for his comments, and Franco shook in fear of getting him to do so. It hurt his kind heart to watch Hannah sulk off to the benches on the other side of the yard, though. She did that a lot, from what he noticed.
He mentioned it off-hand soon after, when doing homework with Carmen after school. “You know, I do wonder a lot about that Hannah girl. She’ll barely let anyone say hi to her now.”
Carmen rolled her eyes. “You have us. And she’s two years behind you anyways! Not our fault there’s no one in her grade.”
“I wonder where she lives,” Franco continued.
“My mums say that she lives near you guys. Prolly raised by some criminals, just like you!”
“Your parents do some bad things.”
“I get being jealous of the stuff I have, but…it’s…everyone helps with it.”
He learned about where Hannah lived rather easily; up the street with her single mum, Sofia Carlton. Sofia had a trust fund and that’s all people knew. She otherwise lived a reclusive life. But for Franco’s own family, the people he lived with? It made little sense to tell a young child about the deep layers of crime that made up his family. So Franco was left in the dark while the adults figured out how to handle themselves. But with five adults of varying levels of morality, it was inevitable that someone would have the idea to let Franco in on the family’s secrets.
“You look silly, uncle Shark.”
His shirt and boxer briefs could have matched better, with the tiled motif of his t-shirt clashing with his plaid underpants. “Something’s up with the laundry. It won’t kill me tonight, kiddo. So are you going to listen to chapter four or not?” While sitting on Franco’s bed and grey knit blanket, he already had Book Two from the Mandy’s Photo Album series out for him and Franco to read together.
Franco kept his eyes on Shark and the illustrations in the book. “No, I’m ready. Or…can I ask you something first?”
“Depends on what it is,” said Shark. “You know I’m not great at everything just because I’m a teacher.”
“It’s something about dad.”
Shark got off the bed, just to take a step back. His mouth lay slightly agape in shock. “Please tell me you’re okay,” he said to Franco. “He can be scary sometimes.”
“I’m fine, but he was talking to my mum about something.”
It wasn’t a flashback to anything too far in the past, just earlier that afternoon when Franco came home. From what Annette told me, she expected her son home later. So she had some non-sexual alone time with Bill and Peanut held next to him. While the dog shed his light beige fur all over the leather chairs and Bill’s teal shirt, they talked about issues they never brought up in front of their son. Or, at least, never when they knew he was near.
“I think I’ve gotten halfway there,” Bill said. “I think the position paid about 40 grand a year, and I worked 25 of them with half that pay. So 25 times 20…do the math. We have a long way to go.”
“And Mayor Greenwood’s still in the dark?” Annette asked him.
“Seems like it.”
Franco took a seat next to his mother, on the left of the couch, and tried to listen. However, he did break his cover. “So what was that about?” he asked his parents.
Bill handed his wife the small dog so he could ease his son’s new worries. “I think you know by now that people work so they can get money. And that’s how it should be, but I worked for the city under horrible conditions. I barely got paid! So your mum and I are just talking how to get it back.”
“But we already have a lot of money,” said Franco. “And the city needs it more than we do. Like, for all those rotting houses. Someone oughta fix them.”
“I know the gross places in town disgust you, but it’s only fair to us to get this. You’ll see when you’re older.”
So back in Franco’s bedroom, with him talking to his older cousin, he finally had the courage to ask: wait, is that right? Are they doing something wrong? And is it just something that will feel more right as he gets older?
Shark knelt down to look Franco in the eyes, on his level. “It’s not right and even your old uncle Shark here knows that, but you know, I’m not surprised he’s doing that. Your parents love you, and I’m friends with your mum and all, but I don’t love what they do. And I’ve known your dad for my whole life. You’d be ashamed to hear about all he’s done.”
He got up to do whatever he did after Franco fell asleep (either more sculpting or preparing a cup of tea), but the child tried to get his attention again.
“So what should I do about them?” he asked Shark.
“You have to love your parents but…but…actually, it is something to fear. They might try to drag you down with them,” said Shark, biting his lip. “Just, be careful. You have so much good in you, and us Rackets need that.”
That might have been enough to keep Franco in the good graces of Twinbrook. He treated his friends with respect, leaving only minimal comments about their shabby houses. He had to have one flaw, after all. The parents of the town felt a little safer when they saw Shark or Amy picking him up from playdates. Even after Annette (at long last) submitted the paperwork to change her and Franco’s surnames to match Bill’s, it didn’t change him. Franco became the first Racket kid to not scare everyone.
And with riches abound, from wherever they came from, Carmen stopped with the comments about his parents’ secrets. In fact, she even planted an idea in his head.
A slumber party? The Rackets (officially so!) had the nicest place to host one of those. With spare bedrooms and floor space galore, they could fit a group of children there for the night. To win Franco back into her heart again, Annette gave him an instant approval for a sleepover. He could invite any kids that wouldn’t ruin the paintings in the living room.
He went through the list of people who didn’t get on his sour side. Carmen and Benji, of course. His half-brother Mark, lest someone think he’s heartless towards law-abiding family. Patrick Castor was a nice kid. No one invited Ron from the town north of them to anything, so why not give him something fun?
Last was Hannah, who seemed so alone too. Even if the others didn’t like her, Franco saw something sweet in her innocent blue eyes. Maybe something hurt her that the fun of slumber parties could soothe.
It was easy to sit seven kids down in their pajamas to watch The Sound of Music while Annette made them fresh chocolate chip cookies. Franco gave her a smile for those; he sure loved her cookies. She and Shark agreed to wear pants that night, and to act like responsible chaperones too. He might have made his aunt aware of what Franco started to think of her, and that she needed to step up her parenting.
The others? Amy had a painting to finish, and the city council meeting that night ran later than usual. Bill texted Annette plenty of times to complain about how boring the proposals were that time around. The town had more pressing issues than pest control, didn’t it?
But the kids were far more entertained. Most of them had fun sitting with each other on the floor, but when Hannah took the loveseat and a friendly Meechum on her lap, Franco and Peanut joined so she wouldn’t be so alone.
“Are you shy?” he asked her. Hannah nodded. She wasn’t shy to Meechum, however, and scratched him beneath his luxurious fur as the film played.
Hannah seemed so happy, for once, though Franco questioned the plaster over her nose. It almost matched the color of her skin, but not enough for it to go without notice. He leaned over to whisper her a question. “Where’d you get the bandage?”
“Edge of the pool. It was fun.” It was also winter, and her parents had to have covered the pool like the Waverlys did at that time of the year. He forgot his questions as soon as they started singing “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.”
A movie could distract him, but not even ten minutes of rather unstructured playtime up in his bedroom could. It wouldn’t have even if Hannah was there, but she wasn’t. She ran off elsewhere in their big house. Franco put away his blocks and left the room and the five others. They barely seemed to notice he was gone, searching through the house for that quiet little girl. Peeking into every empty room. Asking Amy, still stuck painting, if she had seen Hannah anywhere. Noticing that his parents’ room was locked and…noisy. His dad seemed to come home half an hour before, if he remembered correctly.
It took him years for that to hit him.
Back to him searching for Hannah, he found her in the last unlocked place he looked. On the porch, in that weather? It confused and worried that poor kid.
Enough of looking out the glass; Franco walked outside, as Hannah still squatted down on the snowy porch. She still had her long nightgown on.
“Are things okay?” he asked her.
“So why are you out here?” Hannah flinched a bit at that comment.
“Well…well…come on, look at that sky. It’s gorgeous out.” It turned out to not be a bad or false excuse at all.
Franco might have been told about “aurora season,” which generally hit around winter time. During then, the sky would light up in various colors, even on snowy nights like that one. He got an eye full of swirling purple and aqua streams of light, which certainly must have enthralled Hannah too.
“You’re right,” he muttered.
“And…I don’t feel right around those guys a lot. They’re older, and-” She flopped her head down in defeat. “Someone told me that I need to like myself. And I do, a lot, but…”
“…You lay it on kinda thick,” Franco said.
“Yeah. I…I don’t believe myself otherwise. No one tells me the same thing. I’m a mess to my–uh, to a lot of people. Yep.”
“Well, it’s cold out here. You should come back inside,” said Franco, pretending to be unaffected. But seeing a dejected Hannah get up and sulk towards the door at a slow pace, he took emotional action.
Franco took her arm. “What I mean is that, I know you need someone to talk with. And they’re all inside. Maybe…maybe you can talk to my uncle Shark. I always turn to him when something’s going wrong.”
“You mean Mr. Racket from the high school?” she asked.
“Same one. He’s the best for these things.”
They caught him at dinnertime, with a plate of falafel. Annette made a lot the night before, with plenty of leftovers to spare. Shark took the request to be a responsible listener with pleasure, grabbing an extra plate of falafel for Hannah. If she was feeling bad, falafel would help.
(The chapter’s following events were told to Annette the next morning. Here’s to hoping for the true story)
So he sat down in the dining room next to Hannah, and expected it to be a safe, private conversation. She would open up better in such a situation, right? But no, they had a dinner guest.
He had gotten used to Sinbad by then, but thought that he had already eaten. Or that he was at the gym late. But no, he got his gym time done earlier and still needed a hearty dose of his landlady’s falafel. And he nervously tapped his fingers in front of Shark, trying to imply something.
“I thought we were doing this tonight,” he muttered. “Since the lady’s consumed by her art.”
“There are a lot of hours in a night, Sinbad,” Shark said. “I think I have something more important right now.” It was hard to tear Hannah away from that delicious meal, but he got some of her attention.
“So it seemed like Franco found you outside,” he said to her. She nodded, before shoving another forkful into her mouth. “And he seems to think you’re a little…aloof.”
“Are you just feeling bad about the bandage on your nose? It’s okay that it’s there. Sometimes you hurt yourself.”
She had run off before he finished his last sentence. Maybe it was more sensitive of an issue than he realized, but he held off on that thought.
Hannah also had something to tell her friend’s mother about that night, but it involved the outlandish story of the good Mr. Racket making out with another man. Right on her beloved dining room table!
A/N: I might be heartless but I would never kill off one of the pets. Sagebear lives and she lives for a while. I don’t handle animal lifespans realistically in this story because of my own personal beliefs: dogs deserve to live forever. Cats too. In this story, maybe not forever, but for longer than pets in our world.
Anyways, those medical vests for dogs are real; they’re an alternative to the Cone of Shame for certain injuries, though they tend to be longer on the torso and sleeveless. One of my friends had one for her dog after she got spayed. I would have put Sagebear in a cone if I could find one, but alas, no cones. She gets a spiffy sweater!
One of my fondest memories is a sleepover with my school friends way back when, where we watched The Sound of Music. Franco and buddies deserve that too!
And welcome back Hannah! There are some extensive notes made on her and some changes in the notes to Chapter 20. Veteran readers: take note. 😛