Wednesday, May 25, 2011
“Is this really necessary?” Sid could hear the buzz of the press scrum in the next room. Dealing with them was the last thing he wanted to do right now. Not that there was much he could do besides wait for updates from the FBI, which had been the same all day; nothing to report.
“You were about to rejoin the team,” Coach Dan reminded him quietly but firmly, “now you’re not even practicing. We have to tell them something.” Sid hung his head. Coach was right but that didn’t make the doing of the chore any easier. “Two minutes. I know you’re head isn’t in it but if you can just do this for the rest of the guys....” The Coach didn’t need to finish his speech; Sid was already unhooking his sling. As far as the press were concerned the only change to his status had to do with his concussion and nothing else.
Wincing a little as his right arm had to support its own weight for the first time since he’d gotten out of bed, Sid took a deep breath. ‘At least I won’t have to smile’ he thought to himself. Anyone who knew anything about hockey knew how much Sid loved and wanted to play. The fact that it was the first round of the playoffs only made it worse. No one would be surprised if he couldn’t force a smile, even a fake one.
A couple of the guys looked up and greeted him with wary smiles as he walked into the room. The guys on the team knew but he could trust them with his life. There was a chance he was going to have to.
As soon as he sat down at his assigned locker, every single camera in the room swung in his direction. That was something he was used to but at that moment he wished it had only been one or two. At that moment he wished he wasn’t SidneyfuckingCrosby and that no one cared why he wasn’t going to play tomorrow night.
“So no practice today Sid?” Normally it didn’t bother him when the local sportscasters behaved like they were on a first name basis, like they were friends. Today he had to fight the urge to ask them to call him Mr. Crosby or at the very least use his whole name. ‘Jeez where did that come from?’ he wondered as he nodded at the guy asking the question.
“No the truth is I’ve had a setback.” It wasn’t a lie; it just wasn’t the truth...exactly. “It’s disappointing, obviously, but it’s something that I was told to expect, uh, that could happen.”
“So does that mean you’re out for this round?” another reporter asked. He hated to do it, to lie to the fans but he shrugged, which was stupid because it hurt like hell to do.
“This is something that could last a few days or longer. Obviously I’m hoping to be back sooner but the guys are doing a really great job and I’m obviously excited for them. I’m going to do everything I can to support them in any way I can.” It was an answer full of clichés but then that was something he was known for so it was unlikely any of the reporters would notice if he was even less forthcoming than usual.
“Is there any truth to the rumors that you’re out for the season?” Sid glanced up sideways from beneath the brim of his baseball cap and did his best to look shocked.
“Well if there is, it’s news to me,” Sid replied, doing his best to smile despite the nagging pain in his shoulder and the fact that he was outright lying and the way a few of the local reporters shifted around and wouldn’t look him directly in the eye told him they knew it too. “Obviously I’d play if I could,” he added, looking from one reporter to the next and hoping that they believed him.
“Okay gentleman, that’s it for today.” Sidney gave Jason, the communication coordinator a grateful look as he redirected the group’s attention to an exhausted looking Max who immediately started fielding questions about Flower’s absence from practice. While they were suitably distracted, Sid slipped out of the room and immediately pulled out his phone.
He wasn’t even hoping that the cops or the FBI would call. He was praying that Cody would, that she’d call and say she was fine, but there were no messages and no missed calls. Sidney stared at the blank screen on his phone and ground his teeth together.
She was drowsing when they came for her. She couldn’t really sleep, not on a cold concrete floor and besides, she was afraid to and she was still hoping that they’d bring Vero back and she wanted to be awake when they did. That’s what she was hoping for when she heard their footsteps, as she pushed herself back up to a sitting position. She was still hoping for it right up to the point where a large hand with the letter H-A-T-E tattooed across the knuckles reached in and pulled her out of the makeshift cage.
Cody stumbled and fell, scraping her knee. Tears sprang to her eyes but she willed them back as she got to her feet and followed him up the crumbling stairs to a smaller room with no windows and a bare light bulb hanging in the middle of the room over a metal chair.
“Sit.” Cody started to turn to see who had spoken, knowing it wasn’t the burly biker type whose meaty hand was currently digging painfully into her shoulder, but before she could she almost landed on her face as she was pushed towards the chair.
“Jesus fuck,” she coughed as she put her hands on the seat of the chair and pulled herself up. “Who the fuck do you people think you....” She was suddenly on her side, on the floor, her cheek stinging from a back handed slap. “Shit,” she whispered to herself, raising her hand to her cheek and reminding herself not to cry. These assholes could kill her, she decided, but they were not going to make her cry.
“What do you know about Tony Rosa?” Now Cody did look over her shoulder at the deep, resonant voice barking the orders. She’d expected a big man with a handlebar moustache in a wife beater and sleeves of tattoos running up his arms. Instead there was a man with slicked back hair in a sharp, well tailored suit, shiny wing tipped shoes and a Rolex.
“Who’s Tony Rosa?” she asked as she struggled to her feet, brushed off her knees and got back on the chair. The man in the suit pulled a face and raised his hand. She didn’t want to flinch but she did. “I don’t know okay? I don’t know who that is,” she snapped. Maybe if she was angry she wouldn’t cry.
“She was your sister, right?” he asked, tilting his head to one side and looking at her with this mocking expression on his face. “The bitch who tried to kill him, that was your sister, right?” he asked in the kind of acerbic tone that said he knew the answer but just wanted another excuse to hit her. ‘Okay’, she thought, bracing herself, ‘as long as it’s me and not Becks and not Vero, then okay.’
“Was this Tony Rosa guy that killed her? My sister?” she asked, letting herself feel the pain for her sister, letting that pain straighten her spine and lift her chin.
“She owed us money,” he continued as if she hadn’t asked a question at all, circling her slowly, like a predator, like a shark circling a boat full of blood. “Her and that loser fuckwad boyfriend of hers’ owed us money. Do you have that money?” Cody watched his shiny shoes. It was easier, somehow to believe that someone wearing expensive shoes like that wouldn’t want to spill her blood all over them.
“I don’t have a job anymore, thanks to you and your henchmen,” she replied as sarcastically as she could muster, “so no, I probably don’t. Unless it’s like fifty bucks which I can probably muster. I think I have that much in my change jar at....” Her head snapped back so hard she was almost facing the other direction. She saw stars. She almost expected to see tweety birds flying in circles around her head. There was a ringing in her ears. There was blood in her mouth.
“You think I’m fucking around here?” he hissed in her ear, grabbing a handful of her hair and pulling her head back painfully so that she had no choice but to look him in the face. “Do I look like a funny guy to you?” Cody shook her head as much as she could with most of her hair in his fist. “Your sister and her jerkoff boyfriend owed me ten large. You’d better have that kind of cash or your little niece is gonna buy it. Do I make myself clear?” Cody blinked at him in disbelief.
“What, do they make dime bags of pot out of solid fucking gold now?” she asked, mostly under her breath but his bellow of laughter let her know that he’d heard it. Cody wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and it came away red. She ran her tongue along her teeth, looking for a loose one.
“Dime bags, that’s rich,” he snickered and then his fingers were digging into her shoulders as he shook her. “Your whore of a sister and her boyfriend robbed me,” he snarled, his nose pressed against hers’. “I don’t take kindly to being robbed.” The first response that sprang to her lips was caustic and it took every last ounce of will she had left not to let it escape her lips. Instead, she took a shallow breath and looked him right in the eye.
Sid glanced in the rear view mirror and then looked down at his hands clenching the steering wheel. Not once in all of the time he’d known them had he ever once heard Becky mention her mother. Of course it would happen now, when Cody wasn’t here to help field this particular question. He knew that the little girl had been told, but what did death mean to a child?
“She’s in heaven, watching over you.” He was fairly certain that Cody didn’t much care for religion of any kind but he’d been to church a few times in his life and he had his own beliefs and that was one of them. He hoped that she wouldn’t mind him saying something like that to her niece.
“Nooo,” Becky drummed her feet and stared out the window. “Where’s Cody mommy?”
‘Oh hell’ he thought to himself as he hit the accelerator pedal and turned the SUV onto the highway. It made a certain amount of sense that she’d confused at some point but now he really didn’t know what to say.
“I’m not sure pumpkin’,” he replied honestly, “but there’s lots of people looking for her.” That was something he kept telling himself, over and over again. It still didn’t make him feel any better but he hoped it might help her.
For a few minutes they drove in silence and Sid started to relax. Well, as relaxed as he’d been able to get over the last couple of days, which only meant that he was breathing and not holding his breath and grinding his teeth. He pulled into the driveway and up towards the big empty house. He’d only just gotten used to having someone here, having dinner cooked for him and someone to hold hands with in front of the TV and now the house looked like it wasn’t even lived in, as empty and dark as it had when he’d just bought it.
“Is she dead like my mommy?”
Sid’s heart froze in his chest as he pulled the emergency break and watched, in the rear view mirror as the garage door closed behind them, leaving them in darkness. He dropped his forehead down onto the back of his hands and stayed that way while he tried to catch his breath.
She couldn’t see and not only because it was dark. Both of her eyes were swollen shut and even though she held her hands out in front of her, Cody knew it was unlikely they’d break her fall. She skinned her other knee and this time she let out a cry of pain and anguish as she fell. He wasn’t there to hear it and she was too tired and now far too scared to care if the goon tossing her into the cage went back and reported it.
“Tout va bien.” A pair of hands grabbed her and gathered her from the floor. She let out a second cry but this time the sound that came from her mouth was one of surprise and happiness, no, joy.
“Veronique?” she reached for the woman’s face and felt it’s sharp angles and ran her fingers through the woman’s long, silken hair. There were mats, tangles in it now but it was definitely her. “Are you alright?” she asked, running her fingertips over the woman’s smile, remembering the innocent cupid’s bow and finding it intact, not split or swollen like she knew her own was now.
“Oui,” the woman whispered, running her own fingers over Cody’s ruined complexion. “Better than you by the look of it,” she added, tipping a cool water bottle to Cody’s lips. She told herself not to but she couldn’t help gulping the cool liquid greedily. Her throat was burning. Her mouth tasted of nickel.
“It doesn’t matter,” she told her friend when she finally produced the courage and fortitude to push the bottle away. “They don’t have Becky. That’s all that matters. The fuckers kept asking me where she is,” she told Vero and smiled, even though it hurt like hell. “I won’t tell them,” she added. “I don’t care if they do kill me.”