High Hopes Under The Big Top

Chapter 1

From the woods encircling the defunct carnival grounds, a figure of a bygone era slowly emerged one cold October night, illuminated only by the ember of his burning cigarette and the light from the pale full moon, which painted the scene with the sheen of silver and dulled chrome. The man ambled through the open field that, on any other night, would have been filled with the laughter of children and the roars of exotic beasts. He stopped to look at the tent in the center of the encampment, taking a long drag from his cigarette. It was a monolith—a testament to happy fall evenings with the family and simpler times, not just for the people of this small town in upstate New York but for Rake himself.  It was the town where he grew up, the town where he and the wife had settled down and started a family; the town he had to leave behind. That night, in the drab grey light that matched his three-piece suit and masked the bright and jovial colors of everything it touched, the hauntingly beautiful sight did nothing but reinforce the feelings of dread and misfortune lurking in Rake’s mind. Flicking his cigarette into the woods, Rake practically disappeared into the spectral moonlight, reappearing with the sharp scratch of a match and the light from a newly lit cigarette.

Detective Rake Fields was known as an eccentric to everyone at his precinct in New York City. He looked like an extra in a Bogart film: full suit, even in the summer, slicked blonde hair meticulously groomed, constantly smoking hand-rolled, unfiltered cigarettes made from imported tobaccos. Although it was just months before the new millennium, he maintained the look and quiet dignity of a man from the 1940s. He didn’t speak much and didn’t like interacting with his coworkers; he rarely chatted by the water cooler or during coffee breaks and, when he did, it was usually a conversation-halting non-sequitur. He was in his late 30s and had a daughter and an ex-wife who left because of the way Rake did his job. But, if there was one thing he was known for above all, it was his glassy blue-gray stare and his knack for always getting to the bottom of a case. No one quite understood how his intuition worked or what made him tick, but they could see the results. His effectiveness, coupled with his familiarity of the little town, made him an obvious candidate to solve the county’s first murder case in 50 years.

He slowly circled the tent until he came to the entrance. Taking one last drag of his cigarette, he paused to inspect the glowing ember before placing it gently on the dirt, still lit and half smoked, and stepped inside.

“It’s going to be one of those nights Skip,” Rake mumbled to himself. “It’s going to be a long one and it’s just getting started.”

The inside was dimly lit—the lights used for the show were off, leaving just the trail of Christmas lights wrapped around the interior used to show guests the exit. He crossed the stage, passed the vacant animal cages, and went into the back room where the performers got ready for their act. He flipped-up a switch and squinted into the sudden blinding fluorescent light and, as his eyes slowly adjusted to the shock and his vision came back into focus, he noticed the room still had the monotone trappings of the moon’s silvery gleam, drained of all color. The only thing he knew for certain was the three hits of acid he took earlier had kicked in.

“Well, Skip, let’s get this party started.”

Rake pulled from his front pocket a bright green plush frog and placed it on a table next to the couch in the dressing room. He squeezed its belly and it played the same short, pre-recorded chuckle it always did before a click and the faint hiss of the tape spooling through the recorder stuffed inside the plush animal filled his ears. Although it was barely audible, to Rake it sounded like an oncoming train.

On the floor, amidst the shards of glass from a broken gin bottle and countless balloon animals, was a clown outlined in chalk. The dried blood had caked around the jagged entry wounds around his chest and cemented the polka dotted jump suit he was wearing to his skin.

“Arnold J. Wiggsworth, aka Bonezo the Clown, fatally stabbed with a glass bottle. Pretty grim, eh, Skip? Makes you wonder what kind of fucked up people are in this world…”

Rake put on a pair of latex gloves and pulled a metal cigarette case from the inside left pocket on his jacket. Affixed to the outside of the case was his badge, but on the inside was his lifeblood. He opened the case and perused his inventory before continuing the investigation. On the left side were ten perfectly rolled cigarettes—half of them straight tobacco, the other half a blend of tobacco and an exotic strain of indicia he swiped from the evidence locker back at the station. On the right side was everything else—amphetamines to keep to him sharp, benzodiazepines to dull his emotions and make him impartial, ecstasy to make him social. It was enough to make Hunter S. Thompson envious. The crown jewel of his collection was the long slender glass vial that contained the remainder of his liquid LSD. It was the one drug that made him. The one that opened his mind up to the details the other detectives failed to see, and the only one he was both dangerously low on and without access too.

Cops in the city have better things to do than bust acid dealers. It wasn’t the 70s anymore, anyway; real acid was hard to come by and he never, not once, saw it show up in the evidence locker at his precinct. Nothing worried him more than the nearly empty vial, not even the murder that had drifted to the back of his mind as he looked through his collection for a round orange pill.

“If I’m going to be up all night dealing with this shit, Skip, I might as well prepare for it properly,” Rake said to the toy frog as he downed the upper.

Rake got back to the task at hand. Forensics had been there earlier in the night and had started picking at the case already, but he wasn’t here for anything they could find anyway. For some reason, they left the body there until the next morning. They probably heard about Rake and figured he could find something useful on it, but all it did was punctuate the air with the smell of death and get in his way.

Rake scanned the room for anything that stood out from his grey-tinged perspective. He was fully aware everything around him was filled with color, but he couldn’t see it. Not while the acid was doing its work. He never saw crimes scenes like this in color; they were always in black and white, as if lifted from a noir film. He looked to the ground and saw a balloon that had been twisted into the shape of a giraffe. Besides the toy frog, which always looked the same vivid green no matter what cocktail of drugs Rake took, it was the only thing in the room with a even the slightest tinge of color. He tried to fold it up and put it in his front pocket but it burst. He sheepishly looked at Skip and cracked a smile.

“Thought maybe I would stop by and visit my kid later, Skip. Haven’t seen her in a while and giraffes were always her favorite animal. Don’t think I would have had time to go there tonight, anyway; too much work to get done and it’s already past ten.” Rake discarded the broken pieces of latex and continued scouring the scene.

At the back of the dressing room, a narrow doorway led to a cramped bathroom. By the door was a hat rack, which Rake sensed to be peculiar; the rack itself was fairly normally, but the hats on it were anything but. There were five expertly crafted and unique balloon hats, one hung on each rung. Rake grabbed the first one and inspected it closely. His vision zoned in on the intricate weaves and designs that encompassed this fine piece of headwear. Color vividly rushed in and spread from the center of the hat and through each individual balloon, revealing a bright and outlandish palette that would make any designer cringe.

But Rake saw beauty in the garish hat, and, although he had no idea why, he knew it was important. As he placed it on his head, he turned to the frog and started dictating.

“Balloon animals are scattered everywhere here, Skip. This clown must have had a knack for ‘em. You can really see it in these hats; I’ve never seen anything like ‘em.  So elegant. Intricate.  Well thought out… perfect really. Think I am going to take one of these. Think I might need it at some point. Wonder if there is anything else here I should look at…”

Rake squeezed into the bathroom and had to lean back to avoid the door of the medicine cabinet as he opened it. He took a quick glance at the names of the prescription on all the bottles before returning to his conversation with Skip.

“Doesn’t look like it. Let’s get out of here; we need to make another stop before we drive back to the station.”

Rake picked up the frog, squeezed its belly and heard the same familiar laugh and click before leaving the scene. As he left the tent sporting his new hat, he saw the cigarette he placed on the ground still smoldering. He grabbed the butt and used it to light a fresh smoke as he walked back through the woods to his car.

*****

Rake sat in his car parked outside another stretch of forest over an hour-and-a-half away from the circus, feverishly rolling cigarettes and idly listening to the police dispatch on the radio as he waited for the ecstasy he took to kick in.

“Gunshots fired near 234 Apollo Street, backup requested. One officer, two civilians down. Three suspects, armed and dangerous, driving a white Ford Econoline eastbound down Apollo toward…”

Rake turned off the radio and sighed. “Great, Skip, I’m stuck up here in Bumblefuck while all the real action’s going on back home. I can’t listen to this shit now, anyway; it’s fucking up my mindset.”

He glanced at his dashboard where Skip sat in a plastic doll’s chair. Skip winked at him.

“At least this acid is still going strong,” he said, cracking a smile. “Going to need to grab some more soon if I we want to find out who killed Wiggsworth, though. Let’s hope this works out. Haven’t been to one of these in a while.”

Rake finished rolling the last of his cigarettes and placed them in the metal case, leaving one out that he spiked with weed and lit up. He needed to calm his nerves. The outskirts of the woods looked eerily similar to the field he just left, but the atmosphere was completely different. As he smoked the spliff, he took off his jacket, vest and dress shirt, and tousled his hair into a disheveled mess. He exchanged his normal jet-black dress shoes, which were scuffed and smeared with mud, for a pair of white sneakers. As he did this, a grin slowly materialized on his face that he couldn’t wipe off. Knowing that the ecstasy had started working, he put on the balloon hat he grabbed earlier, took Skip from his chair and placed him in the front pocket of his t-shirt along with the cigarette case, got out of the car, and started walking toward the tree line.

It was past midnight and the moon was still shining bright, but Rake no longer saw the world as if it were tinged through a pair of monotone sunglasses. Nearing the edge of the forest, he began to feel a rumbling underneath his feet—a steady, constant stream of staccato pulses climbed through his legs and into his chest as he moved deeper and deeper into the woods. In the distance, he could see bright lights shining and silhouetting the tree trunks and cutting into the darkness. There was a feeling of tense excitement in the pit of his stomach; He knew what to expect and how to act, but he also knew that police weren’t welcome and people would be suspicious because of his age. It didn’t matter to him in the least, though. He needed LSD and figured if it was anywhere, it would be here.

Bass shook the trees as Rake emerged, a lit cigarette in hand. At the end of the clearing, a makeshift stage and electricity generator stood before a sea of inebriated 20-somethings, gazing up to the DJ’s sound system with glazed awe as they danced in time with the music. Lasers and various colored lights shot from around the turntables in every direction, draping the entire scene in a multicolored rainbow. Rake finished his cigarette and stopped to breathe in the scene.

“Skip, if I wasn’t working, and it was ten years ago, this is where I would be.”

The woods felt like an entirely different planet and the LSD continued to warp and distort Rake’s world further. Looking at the speakers, he could see the sound coming from them, a stream of colors and tones more exhilarating than any of the expensive lighting equipment displayed during the show

He pushed into the crowd and started searching for acid. As he moved and shoved people aside, he was constantly talking to no one in particular.

“Doses? Tabs? Anyone know where ‘cid is?”

He cycled through the crowd for fifteen minutes and, although he was asked the same question by multiple other people, he came up empty handed. Dejected, he moved to the outskirts of the crowd, sat down on the grass and lit up another spliff. Before long, a young girl in purple fishnets wearing a bright pink shirt and pigtails came up to him.

“Are you here why I think you are old man?” She asked, giggling to herself.

“Yeah, I’m a cop here to bust this fucking place,” Rake said smirking back at her.

They both laughed for a second, the girl having no idea he was half serious. He normally couldn’t talk to people like this, but the ecstasy coursing through his veins made it near impossible not to.

“You’re the guy carrying the ‘cid, right? I’m coming down and need something to keep me going,” she said with a smile plastered on her face.

“Afraid not. In fact I was looking around for some doses myself.”

The girl looked puzzled, “That’s weird. What’s with your hat, then?”

“What do you mean?” Rake asked quizzically.

“It’s just, usually the guys who are selling tabs have a hat like yours on. It’s kind of their thing so you can spot ‘em in a crowd as big as this one. Just weird to see someone with a balloon hat like that who’s not selling. I know a guy named Jerry who’s got a hat almost exactly like yours; he usually comes to these but he’s out of town tonight. Figured you might be here in his place.”

Rake slowly let a smile appear to match her ear-to-ear grin.  Slyly he said, “All right, you got me. Jerry wanted to stay in tonight so I came here instead. Thing is, I’m all out; I was supposed to meet up with him later to grab more but I lost my phone. Think you can call him up for me?”

“I guess… but he doesn’t really like it when I call this late. What should I say to him?” She sounded almost nervous in her reply.

Rake, feeling the tension, tried his best to relax her. “Just tell him you know someone who wants to pick up a vial.”

Rake removed the metal case from his pocket, taking care not to expose his badge as he opened it. “This thing is closing soon, anyway. Just see if he’ll meet up tomorrow.” He lit another cigarette.

“That’s a lot. Why don’t you just talk to him? What’s in it for me?” She had suddenly become slightly aggravated.

Rake removed one of the e-pills from the case and handed it to her. “There’s more where that came from. Just help me out.”

She went through with the phone call.

*****

Rake entered the small hotel room provided for him for the duration of his case. He took Skip out of his shirt pocket and placed him on the nightstand next to the dingy bed in the center of the room. He took off his jacket and hung it on the doorknob to the entrance and placed the balloon hat on the chair in the opposite corner. It was late (or early depending on how you looked at it): The clock said 4:35 AM. Rake was still wide awake. He sat down on the bed and stared at the wall across from him. It was white, but the dirt and smudge marks from the hundreds of previous tenants tinted it into a splotchy grey mess. Rake watched patterns form in the marks on the wall—intricate fractals with precise dissecting lines spiraled into infinity in front of him, expanding and contracting into and out of the wall. He eventually grew bored with this and turned to face Skip.

He didn’t feel like talking. He could feel everything he’d taken that night slowly exiting his system. The crash was imminent. Rake grabbed Skip and fiddled with the zipper on the back to expose the buttons to the tape recorder stuffed inside the frog. He rewound the tape and played back what he had recorded earlier paying close attention to what his contact was saying and trying to catch any details he might have missed.

He got up to pour himself a drink from the mini-fridge—his tab was covered anyway. He went to the bathroom and took a towel and the shower cap. He rolled the towel up and placed it at the crack of the door, then placed the shower cap over the smoke detector before lighting up his cigarette and moving back to the bed with his drink.

Slowly, the tape faded into the background as Rake got lost in his thoughts. He had too much to do tomorrow and not enough time to do it in. He’d arranged to meet the raver-girl at McDonalds around two in the afternoon, which meant he had to crawl out of bed by at least 12. He thought about her for a second. They just met. They never even exchanged names. But Rake knew she would be there. He could tell from the way she talked to him. The way her eyes lit up when he handed her the round ecstasy pill. It was really the least of Rake’s worries at this point.

His thoughts then ambled on to his family, or what used to be. His ex-wife and daughter lived in this area. He knew he should visit. In fact, he had to visit. But nothing, not even the unsolved murder, filled his mind with more despair.

Years earlier, when Rake had just joined the force and was still married to Stacy, he was a different man. He didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs, didn’t even smoke cigarettes. He’d worked his way up from bit cop doing beats in the hoods of New York to a rookie detective over the course of a couple of months. He was good at taking down crooks but he was new, inexperienced, and hadn’t solved a case by himself in the three months since he’d been promoted. People were getting worried. They thought he wasn’t up for the challenge and, frankly, Rake was starting to think that too.

He had just been assigned to infiltrate some newbie drug smugglers outside of Brooklyn. They mostly pedaled dope, but they kept a stock of everything because they knew they could move it. Rake was disgusted with everything about it—the operators, the clientele, but most of all with the greedy, corrupt officers who dipped their fingers into the pot under the guise of protection. New York had no shortage of crooked cops, but seeing them in action, Rake loathed their “me first” demeanor. They weren’t helping people at all; in fact, skimming money off the top of these rackets and letting them get away was just hurting their community further.  It came to the point where Rake couldn’t take it anymore. He couldn’t take the stress of satisfying his superiors. He couldn’t take seeing all the corruption around him. He couldn’t deal with the fact that if he played it straight, he might not be able to feed his family. Rake was at his wit’s end.

That’s when he gave in and where it all started. He was around with some of the grunts of the operation one night moving shipments of dope at a shipping yard while they were smoking a joint. That night, Rake tried it. He’ll always remember that moment—the uncontrollable coughing followed by the giddy chuckling of a schoolgirl. It was like someone put a pair of sunglasses on him—the world had a completely different tint. Not only did it give him a new outlook on his life, but suddenly and inexplicably, the stress he’d been feeling was lifted. It had opened his mind up to the possibilities of what illicit substances could do.

As the case went on, Rake slowly tried the other things the guys on the dock were using. He started drinking at night with them and speeding with them during the day. It helped him get through living and, additionally, made his accomplices trust him more. However, Stacy grew increasingly upset with him and wondered why he was staying out so late.

“Because it’s my job,” Rake would always reply, but Stacy grew colder and colder as the months drew on.

The night he took acid for the first time was the most memorable of all. The events and thoughts burned into his memory. After taking two hits, the visuals Rake was now so familiar with rushed into his vision. His mind was racing with abstract and complex thoughts. He could barely function, but the others guys on the dock, while spun, were perfectly in control of their actions. Rake tried to emulate them, and while at first he failed, eventually he got it down. He was filled with the giddy happiness and wonder of a child. It was as if his mind was watching a movie of his life happening in real time and sitting at the edge of its seat, excited and eager to see what came next. It was only then Rake started to pick up on details he’d missed so many other times before.

When he got home that night, still twisted from the LSD, he found Stacy had packed her bags. She’d found out about his drug use by discovering his stash in a sock drawer. Their daughter Jenny was crying. Rake just stood quietly in the doorway. His mind broke in that moment. He had no idea what to say or how to react. He silently let Stacy unload all her emotions on him. She yelled at him for all his shortcomings. How he couldn’t solve a case, for all the late nights with nothing to show for it, and the drugs. She said it wasn’t safe for her or her daughter to live with him anymore. She left for her parent’s house shortly after.

A week later, Rake had solved the case, but the damage was done. He spiraled into his daily acid regimen and started smoking cigarettes constantly. In the metal case he used to carry his smokes, he slowly built up a stock of every drug imaginable.

Rake snapped out of his own mind and turned to look at the clock on the nightstand next to Skip. 5:30 a.m. The hiss of the blank tape played in the background, and he slowly fell asleep in the white noise blanket that comforted his ears and drowned the thoughts in his head.

*****

Rake sat in the McDonald’s, shades covering his bloodshot and drooping eyes, drinking a coffee and watching the people around him. There were families with kids anxious to jump into the jungle gym and start playing, old women sitting alone watching the news and nibbling at food with nowhere to go and no one to talk to, and stoned teenagers buying burgers and fries by the bag-full and munching down with maniacal laughter. McDonald’s truly is the “Great American Melting Pot.”

The raver-girl entered, and, at first, Rake didn’t notice her. Dressed in jeans and a hoodie with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, she looked hardly recognizable as the girl he saw last night. When she came up to Rake though, he could see it in her eyes that it was she. They had the same droopy bloodshot redness as his.

“We’re going to meet up over at Jerry’s place in about an hour. You have the money, right?” She asked as she sat in the chair opposite Rake.

He pulled a roll of bills from his jacket pocket and flashed it at her before putting in back in place.

“You know, Jerry said he didn’t think anyone he knew was selling at that party. What did you say your name was?” She seemed slightly nervous, but quizzical and curious at the same time.

Rake debated if he should use his real name and decided against it.

“Name’s Ron, and I’m going to be straight up: I don’t know Jerry. But I’m going to know him, and I got the money so it shouldn’t be an issue right? What’s your name anyway?”

She paused for a moment. “Call me Ember; that’s what everyone at parties always calls me, anyway. We should head out now. He lives a while away and doesn’t like it when people are late. Be careful around this guy, he can be kind of a loose cannon.”

They left the McDonald’s together and got in Rake’s car. Rake placed Skip in his seat on top of the dashboard after squeezing his tummy and starting the recorder. The drive was long; Rake passed the time by smoking cigarettes and trying to converse normally with his new acquaintance, but his social awkwardness melded with the thick air of tension in the car and brought the conversation mostly to a standstill. Rake pretended to listen as Ember rattled along about music, but Skip was the only one really paying any attention. Rake was too focused on getting the vial, but he was also curious about the balloon hat tied in to it. His mind wandered, and he thought of how Ember had mentioned that most acid dealers had hats like his. Rake mulled this over in his mind, only paying attention to Ember when she told him the next turn to make. It continued on like this until he pulled into the driveway in a boring suburban neighborhood.

The house was anything but normal; it stuck out like a sore thumb. On a street where all the houses were cookie-cutter copies of the last it takes a lot to stand out, but the broken, half-scrapped cars on the lawn and couch in the backyard made this particular house scream “abnormal.” A screen door hung, bent off the hinges facing out to the rotting wooden porch that ran parallel to the front of the house. Rake looked at Ember.

“So this is the place? Real nice.” She nodded as Rake grabbed Skip out of his chair and put him back into his front pocket. They got out of the car and walked up to the porch. Stray cats ran out from underneath forgotten patio furniture and scattered into the streets. Rake went up and peered into the nearest window. Instead of blinds, a blanket had been draped over it, but through a small exposed crack he could see the dingy interior. About all he could make out was a brown stained recliner with too many beer cans to count strewn about it. Rake knocked on the door and waited for an answer.

Thirty seconds went by before Rake heard the clicking of locks sliding open. Each one sounded more complicated than the last, and Rake assumed that the dude was more locked down than Fort Knox. For some reason, this made him nervous, but Ember just stood there calm and collected. For some reason, that did nothing but make Rake even more uneasy. Ember spent the whole time at McDonald’s talking about how sketchy this place was, but now she was all collected. Rake couldn’t figure it out, but it put him on edge.

“All smiles, Skip,” Rake said. He could feel the tape in the recorder spooling through the toy frog.

“Who are you talking to?” Ember said, but before Rake could answer, the door finally popped open.

A scruffy looking twenty-something poked his head out the door. He looked at Ember, then turned to Rake.

“Who the fuck is this clown?” The guy blurted to Ember while staring down Rake.

“Name’s Ron, Jerry. Watch your fuckin’ attitude,” Rake said as he opened the door and let himself in. Suddenly, Ember was the one on edge.

“Sorry,. Jerry, don’t over-react, this guy just wants to pick up that stuff we talked about,” Ember said, visibly nervous.

“Yeah, whatever. As long as the money’s right and he doesn’t get in my shit we’re golden,” Jerry spat out, clearly agitated with Rake’s attitude.

In the light from inside the house, Rake could see Jerry clearly. A scraggly beard was patched around the pale skin of his face, unkempt hair was draped over his sunken, hollow eyes, and it looked like he’d been wearing the same clothes for about two weeks straight. Jerry moved over to the couch, which sagged on one side, in the center of the room and Ember followed suit. Rake sized up his options between sitting on the couch or clearing off the recliner—in the long run it was better for him to do business standing.

Rake was already on edge since he hadn’t dosed all day, so he cut straight to the chase.

“Let’s see the product,” he said, staring Jerry down with his bloodshot eyes.

“Let’s see the money, first, smartass,” Jerry spat back at him. They’d been talking for all of two minutes and the tension was unbearable. Ember squirmed in her chair and tried to maintain composure.

Rake removed the roll of bills from his pocket and placed it on the table in front of Jerry, but as Jerry went to nab it, Rake quickly grabbed the roll back.

“The product,” Rake said.

Jerry removed from his pocket a thin glass vial and flicked it toward Rake. Rake inspected it closely—it was clear and looked legit, but there was only one way to find out for sure. Rake took the dropper out and dabbed two droplets on his tongue.

“What the fuck, man?” Jerry said getting up from his seat.

“Relax, pal. I ain’t buying shit unless I know it’s the real deal. We got about a half hour ‘til I know for sure, so why don’t you sit the fuck back down and we can have a little talk.”

“I ain’t talking about shit. You got about five seconds to hand over those bills before I crack you upside your head.”

Rake pushed Jerry back into the couch.

“I want to talk about Wiggsworth. Ring a bell, smartass?”

Jerry’s mouth dropped as he stared up at Rake, dumfounded. Ember stared at Jerry, then at Rake, then back to Jerry. She knew something was up.

“I asked you a fucking question. What do you know about Wiggsworth,” Rake asked.

“Man, I don’t know shit, who’s Wiggsworth?” Jerry managed to sputter out.

Rake grew agitated. He could tell Jerry was lying but didn’t know how to get the information he wanted out of him. The only connection he had so far was the balloon hat, so he tried to pry something out of Jerry.

“Word is you hit up a lot of Raves, kid. Word travels. Hear you have sort of a ‘calling card.’ Some stupid fucking balloon hat? You make that yourself?”

“What if I did?” Jerry asked, slowly gaining back his defiance.

“Well, one, you’re burnt out as fuck. If you can’t figure out how to turn the knobs on your fuckin’ shower I doubt you’d be able to twist something as intricate as a balloon hat. Second off, your little friend over here says the one I found at Wiggsworth’s tent looks exactly like the one you wear.”

Ember shot her eyes over to Jerry. She looked at him long and hard, waiting for his reply with clenched teeth. Jerry seemed to be in deep thought.

“All right, I got the hat from Wiggsworth,” Jerry said after a long pause.

“And what, exactly, is your connection to Wiggsworth?” Rake asked.

Ember continued to stare down Jerry as he paused, lost in thought. Jerry chose his next words very carefully.

“Bonezo… Wiggsworth used to deal ‘cid too. Our… supplier found out he was skimming product and selling it for more on the side. I don’t think they liked that.”

“So, what happened? Who did it?”

Jerry remained quiet. Ember quickly shot up from the couch and turned to Rake.

“We have to go. Now,” she said.

“I’m not done here, sweetheart. This doesn’t concern you, anyway,” Rake replied.

“If you don’t want anything bad to happen, you need to leave here now. Give Jerry the money and let’s go.”

Surprisingly, Jerry remained quiet through this exchange. He looked stunned. Rake threw the roll of bills at Jerry.

“We’ll talk later,” he said as he left the house with Ember.

—Jason Wissmann