Freedom Lane – The Meat Market (When Helen Met Rose)

Helen sat on the cot in her cell in Havenville Penitentiary, writing in her notebook with the last two inches of her pencil. There was no real money to be made in writing prison fiction, and most of the notebooks passed around bearing her work had disappeared, but she felt great satisfaction in the hobby. Anything to pass the time of her long sentence was welcome.
 
“Ventriglio!” a guard shouted. Helen closed the notebook and put it on her mattress. If she tried to hide it, the guard would have reason to seize it. “You still writing your memoirs?”
 
“That’s the problem,” Helen said, approaching the cell door. “It’s my life story. It’s not done until I’m dead.”
 
The guard chuckled. “You got mail,” he said. He handed the letters through the bars. The one from her mother was opened, “randomly” searched. It was one of the perks of being the daughter of a suspected mob capo. The other wasn’t open, and Helen was grateful for that.
 
Helen tossed the letter from her mother aside, saving the update about Paulie and whatever else was going on for later. She tore open the envelope with the return address of a P.O. box in New Haven, her home town. Helen took the contents out and placed them on top of her notebook: one letter and one photo.
 
“Oh, Thorny,” Helen said, taking in the photo. The red-headed woman who called herself Thorny Flowers had sent one every month or so. Helen had signed up for the prison’s pen-pal program as a goof, but she ended up getting a letter two weeks later. Helen responded with the horny ramblings of a woman on the inside, and she was shocked that Thorny had also responded, continuing the dirty talk and included a picture of herself, completely in the nude.
 
“I’ll see you later,” Bea, Helen’s cellmate, said, finishing the conversation she was having as she walked. Helen stashed the letter and photo under her pillow. She didn’t want Bea to know there was someone else, someone she wanted more.
 
“How’s the book?” Bea asked, sitting down.
 
“Almost done,” Helen said. “I needed to take my eyes off that paper for a bit though. How’s things in the yard?”
 
“Smooth,” Bea replied. She went into detail about their operations, but Helen didn’t pay much attention. Her mind was on Thorny, her photo, and the letter she couldn’t wait to read.
 
***
 
Freedom Lane 
 
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
 
Season 10 Finale: The Meat Market (When Helen Met Rose)
 
***
 
“Alright,” Da’Quarius said, marking up the magazine with a pen. “Now what are your hobbies?”
 
“What on earth are you two doing?” Helen said, waking up from the nap she had taken in her recliner.
 
“Da’Quarius is doing a survey with me,” Rose said. “So you need my hobbies?”
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“Well, I love to read,” Rose said. “There’s also gardening, and I’ve always had a love of horticulture.”
 
“You said ‘gardening’ twice,” Helen muttered.
 
“Gardening and horticulture are not the same thing,” Rose said.
 
“You dig in the dirt and plant shit,” Helen said. “They’re the same.”
 
“Horticulture is much more complex than that,” Rose said. “Think about it as gardening on a grander scale.”
 
“Then you’ve never done any horticulture,” Helen groaned.
 
“But I like to read about it,” Rose said.
 
“Bah!” Helen said. “Wait… What time is it?”
 
“It’s a little after one,” Rose said. “Why?”
 
“I need to go,” Helen said, getting up.
 
“Where are you going?” Rose asked, following.
 
“I need to visit the meat market,” Helen replied.
 
“Oh,” Rose said. “Let me get my keys and -”
 
“No,” Helen said, putting up a hand. “I can take the bus just fine.”
 
“But I can drive you,” Rose said. “You don’t need to take the bus.”
 
“The bus is fine,” Helen said, throwing on her coat. “I’ll be home before you know it.”
 
Rose wanted to argue more, but Helen was out the door, shuffling with her cane toward the sidewalk.
 
“Do you know what that was about?” Rose asked, addressing Da’Quarius.
 
“I dunno,” Da’Quarius said. “But she said she needed to go to da’ meat market. I known what dat means.” He laughed a little bit, stopping when he saw the look on Rose’s face.
 
“I’m just playin’,” Da’Quarius said. “I’m sure she really does need to get some meat or somethin’.”
 
Rose’s face didn’t change. She looked toward the door, biting her nails.
 
“Come on,” Da’Quarius said. “Helen is too old to do anything like dat, right?”
 
“I don’t know,” Rose said. “It’s been so long since she’s deceived me like this.”
 
“Deceived you?” Da’Quarius asked. “She’s only goin’ for meat.”
 
Rose walked toward the door and looked out the window.
 
“Damn,” Da’Quarius said. “Would you feel better if we followed her?”
 
Rose turned to Da’Quarius. “Is that okay?” she asked. “Isn’t that an invasion of her privacy?”
 
“I dunno ‘bout any of dat,” Da’Quarius said, “but I’m all for it if it helps.”
 
***
 
Rose sat in her car, watching Helen from half a block away with Da’Quarius in the passenger seat. She was sitting on the bench near the bus stop, waiting. “This still feels wrong,” Rose said.
 
“It’s alright,” Da’Quarius said. “Helen cain’t see fo’ shit. She ain’t gonna spot us.”
 
“That’s not what I mean,” Rose said. “I’m talking about stalking her.”
 
Da’Quarius looked over at Rose, the look of worry still heavy on her face. “Hey,” Da’Quarius said. “You guys never told me how you two met.”
 
“Sure we did,” Rose said. “Remember when you found that photo of me? I used to send her letters in prison.”
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said, “but den you two lost touch for a while before she got out. I’m sure dere’s a story.”
 
Rose seemed to lighten up a bit. “There is, actually,” she said, “but Helen doesn’t like me telling it.”
 
“Well, shit, Rose,” Da’Quarius said. “What kind of son would I be if I didn’t know it?”
 
Rose looked at Da’Quarius and smiled. “You got me there,” she said. “Alright. Here’s the full story of how Helen and I got together.”
 
***
 
Rose was walking down state street, carrying her bag of books she had just purchased from the secondhand shop. She could have driven, but it was too nice of a spring afternoon. Besides, she didn’t have to work until the following day. She decided to head back to her home on Freedom Lane, the same one she shared with her mother until she died, and rest in the backyard.
 
“Thorny?!” a voice exclaimed, just feet away from her. Rose stopped dead. Thorny Flowers was a name she thought she’d never hear again. She had used it back when she signed up for the prison pen-pal program, finding a sheet lying around the precinct where she worked. The letters she wrote as Thorny started innocently enough, but they picked up steam when the letters sent to her P.O. box came back riddled with sexual innuendo.
 
“That is you, isn’t it?” the owner of the voice, a woman with curly, brown hair sad, coming around to look at Rose from the front.
 
“I’m sorry,” Rose said, nervously. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
 
“Oh shit,” the woman said. “Of course you don’t recognize me. It’s not like I had a camera on the inside to send you a picture of myself. It’s me: Helen! Helen Ventriglio!”
 
Rose was shocked. There was another name she had thought she’d never hear again, let alone stand face-to-face with the woman attached to it. “How long has it been?” Rose asked. “Did you get released early?”
 
Helen looked away at this. “Yeah,” she said. “Good behavior and all that. Did you keep writing to me?”
 
“Oh,” Rose said. “I stopped when I got a letter threatening my life if I tried to send you any more letters or photos.”
 
“Bea,” Helen muttered.
 
“Who?” Rose asked.
 
“She was my cellmate,” Helen replied. “She’s the jealous type. She probably found one of your letters after I got out and replied. That also explains why I never found you at the post office.”
 
“Is she coming after me?” Rose asked.
 
“I doubt it,” Helen said. “They added a few more decades to her sentence. We’ll be in our eighties when she gets out.”
 
“Oh,” Rose said.
 
“So what do you do around here for kicks, Thorny?” Helen asked.
 
“Call me Rose,” Rose said. “My real name is Rose Masters.”
 
“Rose?” Helen said. “Ha! Thorny Flowers. You’re like a sexy riddler.”
 
Rose blushed. “So what brings you down to New Haven?” she asked.
 
“I live here now,” Helen replied. “I mean, I did before prison, so I guess I’m back, have been for a while now. It’s funny how we’ve never run into each other.”
 
“Yeah,” Rose said. “Funny.”
 
“Anyway,” Helen said, “You should let me walk you home.”
 
“Oh really?” Rose said.
 
“Yeah,” Helen said. “There might be dangerous criminals and ex-cons out here.”
 
Rose laughed. “Sure,” she said. “I live right on Freedom Lane, just a few blocks off State Street.”
 
***
 
“So dat’s it?” Da’Quarius asked. “You guys just ran into each other on da’ street?”
 
“It was an amazing coincidence,” Rose said. “We had lived within blocks of each other, and neither one of us knew it.”
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said, unconvinced. “I just thought there’d be more to it. Helen, da’ ex-con and Rose, da’ hippy policewoman.”
 
“I was not a hippy,” Rose said.
 
“Helen said you were,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“Nor was I a policewoman,” Rose added. “I was a dispatcher.”
 
“All I’m sayin’ is I thought dere’d be more drama,” Da’Quarius said. 
 
“Oh, there was drama,” Rose said, “but it wasn’t until we were dating.”
 
“Get to dat part,” Da’Quarius said. “We got time. Helen’s bus ain’t even here yet.”
 
“Alright,” Rose said. “So Helen and I started dating almost immediately after we ran into each other…”
 
***
 
“That was nice of your brother to treat us to dinner last night,” Rose said, walking on the sandy beach of Lighthouse Point, her shoes dangling from her left hand. She was holding Helen’s with her right. 
 
“He won’t ever let me pay,” Helen said. “I had to fight him to give him his first dollar. It’s framed in his office. I should’ve shown it to you.”
 
“Next time,” Rose said, smiling. 
 
Helen returned the smile. “Do you want to get some lunch?” she asked.
 
“Sure,” Rose replied. “I know a place not to far from here. The guys at work rave about it.”
 
“Sounds good,” Helen said. “Let me take a picture of you first.”
 
“Can you be in it with me?” Rose asked.
 
Helen looked around, spotted a man reading on a bench and ran over. She returned a moment later, showing him how to use the camera she had borrowed from Paulie.
 
“Say cheese,” the man said.
 
Helen and Rose smiled, their arms on each other’s waists. The man snapped their picture. “All set,” he said, handing Helen the camera. “You two make a cute couple. What are your names.”
 
“I’m Rose,” Rose said. “And this is -”
 
“Mary,” Helen said. “Mary Smith.”
 
The man wished them a good day after Rose thanked him, and he went back to his reading. “Why did you give him a fake name?” Rose asked.
 
“Force of habit,” Helen replied. “You’re one to talk, ‘Thorny’.”
 
The two walked back to Rose’s car and drove to the small restaurant just on the town line. Helen looked up from her menu and saw to police officers walking in. They looked in her direction and started walking over. “Shit,” she muttered, hiding behind her menu.
 
“What?” Rose said, looking around.
 
“The friggin’ pigs are here,” Helen said. “I think they spotted me, too. They never give me a break. They’re always looking for an excuse to harass me. Every single one of them makes me sick.”
 
“Hi, Rose,” one of the officers said, giving her a tip of his hat.
 
“Hi, Ernie,” Rose said, smiling. “Carl.”
 
“Hello, Rose,” Carl said. “We’re just picking up our lunch, so we’ll let you get back to your date. We just wanted to say hi.”
 
“I’ll see you guys tomorrow,” Rose said.
 
“See you at the office,” Ernie said. He gave Helen a quick nod before he walked to he counter to get his lunch with Carl.
 
“I’m a police dispatcher,” Rose said, turning red. “Maybe I should have mentioned it.”
 
“Oh,” Helen said, watching the officers leave. “I didn’t mean that ‘pig’ comment, not about you anyway.”
 
Rose chuckled. “I get it,” she said. “You’re of a different mindset than me. I have my career in law enforcement, and you… you’re…”
 
“An ex-con,” Helen finished. “You can say it. I did time on the inside. I live with it.”
 
“It’s probably a good idea to get all of this out there,” Rose said. “It’s not good to keep secrets from each other, even this early into our relationship.”
 
“Relationship?” Helen asked.
 
“Yeah,” Rose said. “I was hoping it was anyway.”
 
Helen smiled. “Yeah,” she said. “I guess you’d call it that. I’ve never had once of those before.”
 
“Since we’re telling secrets,” Rose said, looking slightly embarrassing, “would you mind telling me what you did?”
 
“What do you mean?” Helen asked.
 
“What did you do to get put in prison?” Rose asked.
 
“You didn’t run a background check on me?” Helen asked.
 
Rose laughed. “I could, I guess,” she said, “but I couldn’t do that behind your back. I figured you’d rather I hear it from you.”
 
“I guess I have to tell you at some point,” Helen said. She thought of what to say very carefully. She looked into Rose’s face, reading the interest on it. The words she wanted to say didn’t come out. Instead, instinct kicked in, and she she said something she wasn’t expecting.
 
“It was a misunderstanding,” Helen said. “I was arrested for something I didn’t do, and I couldn’t argue my way out of it. My parents had no money for a lawyer, and the public defender sold me down the river.”
 
“Oh my,” Rose said. “What did they say you did.”
 
“Assault,” Helen said. “Bitch said I attacked her, and I did no such thing. She thought her boyfriend was sleeping with me, but I hadn’t been within ten feet of the asshole.”
 
“I can see why you don’t like the police,” Rose said, putting her hand over Helen’s. “They system hasn’t exactly been kind to you.”
 
“No,” Helen said. “It was downright fucked up to me. Luckily my father got me our after only eight years.”
 
“How’d he get you out?” Rose asked. “Was he able to find a competent lawyer after all the time and reopen your case?”
 
Helen looked at Rose again, calculating in her head. “He just knew some people,” she said. “He was able to talk to the right ones, and he got my sentence reduced.”
 
“Thank God he did,” Rose said.
 
“Are you ready to order?” the waitress said, coming to the table.
 
“Yes,” Rose said. “I’ll have a summer salad…”
 
Helen watched Rose, a look of worry settling on her face.
 
***
 
Helen stood, supporting herself with her cane as the bus approached the curb. “She lied?” Da’Quarius asked. “Was dat all?”
 
“That’s a big deal,” Rose said. “Sure, Helen tells occasional white fib, but everyone does, myself included. This was a huge lie, hiding some pretty major details about herself.”
 
“I guess dat was pretty messed up,” Da’Quarius agreed. He stayed silent, watching Helen climb the steps of the bus. “You gonna follow her?”
 
“I might as well,” Rose sighed, turning the key and putting her car into drive.
 
Rose moved toward the intersection, moving slowly to follow the bus.
 
“Is dat why you’re worried?” Da’Quarius asked. “You think she’s doin’ it again?”
 
“I don’t know,” Rose said. “I really don’t.”
 
Rose pulled onto the street, trailing the bus.
 
“So what happened next?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
Rose laughed, despite her anxiety and situation. “Are you telling me you’re interested in my story now?”
 
“Well I know dere’s gotta be a fight comin’ up,” Da’Quarius said. “You had to find out somehow.”
 
“There was,” Rose said, “and it was a hell of a fight too…”
 
***
 
Rose and Helen were at the grocery store, picking up some stuff for Rose’s house. Helen had been staying there, leaving her brother to her home on Willow Street where they grew up. “Does your brother miss you now that you’re staying at my house so often?” Rose asked.
 
“I don’t think so,” Helen said. “He’s not that far away. Besides, he has the whole house to himself. I don’t have to make myself scarce if he brings a girl home.”
 
Rose laughed. She was purposely skirting around what she really wanted to talk about: Helen moving in with her. The two had been dating for a few months, but it felt right, and Rose already knew that Helen was the one. Despite their lives before they met, they had come together spectacularly.
 
“What’s the difference between ketchup and catsup?” Helen asked, picking up the bottles as if she were comparing the weight. “Who cares,” she said, tossing them haphazardly onto the shelf. “Friggin’ kraut tomato slop.” She picked up a bottle of yellow mustard. “Now here’s the good shit.”
 
Rose laughed. Helen had a crass way of thinking, but it was so opposite of her own that she couldn’t help by be entertained by it. She couldn’t even imagine where she came up with it half the time.
 
Helen put the mustard into the carriage, and the two walked on. “Might as well get some hotdogs for that mustard,” Helen said. “I got my old grill at Paulie’s place. I’ll have him help me bring it by, since you, for some unknown reason, are not the proud owner of one.”
 
“I’ve just never had the want to grill,” Rose said. “Will you show me how?”
 
“Doll,” Helen said, “I’ll show you how to cook all kinds of dead animals over a flaming bed of charcoal.”
 
Rose laughed again, but her smile faded. There was a woman at the end of the aisle, and she was staring daggers at them. “Helen Ventriglio,” she said, her brow furrowed in anger. There was a man standing behind her, looking just as upset, resting his hand on her shoulder.
 
“Sorry,” Helen said. “I figured I’d remember a face that butt-ugly, but I have no idea who you are.”
 
“Remember this?” the woman asked, gesturing to a scar across her cheek.
 
“No,” Helen said. “Get out of my way before I move you.”
 
“My name is Audry!” the woman snapped. “Audry Fiano.”
 
Helen turned, grasping Rose’s arm. “Come on,” she said, tugging Rose away. “We can go buy mustard somewhere else.”
 
“What’s she talking about?” Rose asked.
 
“Nothing,” Helen said. “That bird has a screw loose.”
 
“They shouldn’t have let you out!” Audry shouted. “Not after what you did to me! I’m lucky I can walk!”
 
“Helen,” Rose said, stopping. “What’s going on.”
 
“I hope you end up back in Havenville,” Audry shouted. “I hope you rot and die in there, Helen!”
 
Helen sighed. “I…” she said. 
 
“I know you only got out because of who your father is,” the man with Audry said. “Did you think nobody would know that Anthony Ventriglio turned snitch to spring you? My uncle went away because of your snitch father!”
 
“Helen?” Rose said.
 
Helen turned, looking Audry dead in the face. “You listen to me, you fucked up assholes,” she said. “You’re lucky I’m with my woman right now, or I’d be dragging you both to the parking lot by your fucking necks. If you ever step to me like this again, you better plan on killing me. Otherwise, I’ll beat you down so hard the coroner won’t even be able to use your fucking dental records to identify you. If you think prison mad me soft, then you’re wrong, dead fucking wrong.”
 
The pair stared at Helen, apparently unable to move.
 
“Get out of my sight before I really get mad,’’ Helen said. “You want me to go back to prison? They’ll send me back for sure when they see what I’ll do to you if you don’t walk away right now.” She stared the two down for another moment, and they walked toward the exit quickly.
 
“You’ll end up back in prison, Helen!” Audry shouted.
 
“Your father’s not alive to snitch to get you out twice!” the man with her added.
 
Helen watched them leave. “Pussies always need to get the last word as they’re running away,” she said. She turned back to Rose. “I’m sorry about -”
 
“What they were saying,” Rose said, her hands trembling, tears forming in her eyes. “It’s true, isn’t it?”
 
“Rose,” Helen said. “Look -”
 
“Tell me the truth,” Rose said. “Is what they were saying true?”
 
Helen looked into Rose’s face. “Yes,” she said.
 
“Why did you lie to me?” Rose asked. “You told me you going to prison was a mistake. You told me your father was a respected member of the community, not a… a mobster. What about your brother, Paulie? Is his pizzeria really a front for the mob?”
 
“Don’t you dare slander Paulie’s name,” Helen said through gritted teeth. “He’s the only member of my family who went straight, and I’m proud as hell of my… my baby brother.”
 
“I can’t believe you’d…” Rose said. “I don’t care. I thought you were the… I can’t do this.”
 
Rose left, giving Helen a wide berth as she walked toward the exit the other’s had used just moments before. Helen watched her go. “I’m sorry, Rose,” she said. “Goddammit, I’m sorry.”
 
***
 
Rose followed the bus, silent. The last part of the story she told must have brought back bitter memories, and Da’Quarius let her get herself under control. “So there was drama,” she finally said. “You’ll tell me when Helen gets off the bus, right?”
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. The bus slowed down to let some people out. “No Helen. She must still be ridin’.”
 
“If she really is going to the meat market, then she’ll take it all the way to Grand AVE,” Rose said. “It isn’t the best of neighborhoods.”
 
Da’Quarius nodded in agreement. It wasn’t a part of New Haven he was familiar with, but he knew about that area. “So dat can’t be da’ end of your story,” Da’Quarius said. “Dere has to be a happy ending somewhere.”
 
“There is a happy ending,” Rose said, “but it wasn’t a quick fix. She had lied to me about everything, and I had trusted her.”
 
“What happened next?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
Rose looked ahead as the bus stopped at a red light. Rose came to a stop a hundred or so feet behind it. “I guess we still have a little time,” she said. “I pretty much went into a coma after our fight in the middle of the supermarket. I stayed home, except for work. I couldn’t even read. I’d stare at the same page for hours, trying to focus. I thought what Helen and I had was over as quickly as it had begun.”
 
“So what did you do?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“I didn’t do anything at this point,” Rose said. “The next move was Helen’s.”
 
***
 
While Rose had been sulking in her house and job, Helen had been venting to her brother every moment he was home from the pizzeria. “And then she just left me in the store!” she exclaimed. “Can you believe that?!”
 
“Yeah,” Paulie said. “I believed it the first twenty times you told me too.”
 
“Where the hell did I go wrong with this girl?” Helen asked.
 
“Well,” Paulie said, “You should have been straight with her from day one.”
 
“Can the pious shit,” Helen said.
 
“Can I make an observation?” Paulie asked.
 
“Go ahead,” Helen replied. “It’s not like I’ve ever been able to stop you.”
 
“I’ve seen women come and go with you,” Paulie said, “but none have gotten you as riled up like Rose has.”
 
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Helen asked.
 
“You’re in love, sis,” Paulie said. “The sooner you admit it, the better.”
 
Helen waved a hand and walked away. She opened the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of beer. She opened it and took a long pull.
 
“You know she loves you too,” Paulie said.
 
“You’re a sappy prick,” Helen said. “So what if you’re right? Do I keep torturing myself over her?”
 
“No!” Paulie said. “You go get her back.”
 
“Don’t be stupid!” Helen snapped. “She hates me now. I’d just come back here with more to bitch about.”
 
“Not if you show up with some gesture of love,” Paulie said.
 
“And what do you suggest?” Helen asked.
 
Paulie thought. “Hey,” he said. “How about those pictures from Lighthouse Point. You gave me the camera with the film inside. Why don’t you find a nice one of the two of you and frame it?”
 
“There’s only one on there,” Helen said, “the one that stunad took for me.”
 
“Do that one,” Paulie said. “Use it to break the ice.”
 
“Then what?” Helen asked.
 
“Then you talk,” Paulie said. “If you want Rose in your life, then you’ll tell her everything, even the bad stuff. She’ll either deal with it or she won’t, but you have to give her the choice.”
 
“Fine,” Helen sighed. “Get me the film.”
 
Helen took the film to the photo shop just a few blocks from her brother’s pizzeria. There was only one other woman in there, a blonde, and she was just leaving. Helen turned to watch her go. “What a body on that one,” she said as the door closed.
 
“Oh, you like her?” the clerk asked. His name tag said “Earl”, and he had a thin mustache and bad combover that said “pervert”.
 
“Yeah,” Helen said. “God knew what he was doing when he stacked those tits above that ass.”
 
Earl laughed. It sounded like a hyena. “She takes pictures for her boyfriend,” he said. “Nudes.”
 
“Really?” Helen asked. She pulled an order slip out and started filling it out.
 
“Oh yeah,” Earl replied. “She either don’t know I see ‘em or don’t care. I got some copies right here.”
 
Earl pulled a binder from under the counter and opened it to near the end. There were two full pages of the blonde woman, posing nude. “See?” Earl said. “She’s been comin’ here for years.”
 
“Nice,” Helen said, leaving her slip on the counter to look at the binder. “You got a good gig here. Do a lot of broads do this?”
 
“Oh yeah,” Earl said, smiling. “There was this redhead, stopped comin’ by years ago. Now she was hot. I still got my copies of her in here.”
 
Earl flipped to the beginning of the binder, showing Helen a full page of Earl’s favorite redhead. The only problem was that she’d already seen them.
 
“You son of a bitch,” Helen said.
 
“What?” Earl asked. “What I do?”
 
Helen grabbed Earl by the shirt and dragged him over the counter. He fell over as Helen tried to pull him down, but he slipped through her grasp. She then went after him, beating him as he tried to flee, nearly destroying everything in his shop in the process.
 
***
 
“Holy shit,” Da’Quarius said. “Helen went crazy on dat cracka.”
 
“She might have killed him too,” Rose said, “but someone came by and ran off. Helen knew they’d call the cops, so she fled. They’d put her away for a long time for a physical assault like that, not to mention the destruction of property.”
 
“But she got away,” Da’Quarius said. “So she gave da’ cops da’ slip.”
 
“Well,” Rose said, “she may have had some help there.”
 
“What do you mean?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“You’re forgetting what I did for a living,” Rose said.
 
***
 
“Car eighty-seven,” Rose said into the radio. “Proceed to State Photo on the corner of State Street and Pearl. Suspect is white female, brown hair, red jacket, most likely on foot.”
 
“Roger, dispatch,” the officer in car eight-one-seven replied.
 
Rose put her radio down. She knew the place well. It was where she had gotten her own pictures developed years ago. She even knew the clerk who had been beaten. The way he leered at her has always made her uncomfortable. She wondered if he was looking at her photos, seeing her…
 
“Masters,” the desk sergeant, Perkins, said, jarring Rose from her thoughts. “Stay focused.”
 
“Sorry, sergeant,” Rose said. “It’s just the perp is wandering in my neighborhood right now. I’ve used that place to develop film…”
 
“Don’t get personal,” Perkins said. He was a hard man, never showing a side of himself that wasn’t tough. “We’ll get her. We got Sanders on site now. He said our perp left her name on a slip. Put a A.P.B. on one Mary Smith.”
 
“Mary Smith?” Rose repeated. The name sounded familiar, and it took her a moment to realize where she’d heard it.
 
“There a problem, Masters?” Perkins asked.
 
“No,” Rose replied. “No problem.”
 
“Then do it,” Perkins said.
 
Rose did as she was told, knowing nothing would come back. Helen was smart to use the fake name, but they still had enough of a description to go by. If Helen was found…
 
“Masters,” Perkins said, returning. “Our perp was spotted on State, between Bishop and Lawrence. Send eighty-seven to pick her up.”
 
Perkins left again, and Rose froze. She knew what was on State Street in that area: Paulie’s Pizza. Helen was likely heading there now, looking for a place to lie low until the search for her waned. Rose could end it now, sending the police straight to Paulie’s to pick up Helen, sending her back to prison.
 
“Car eighty-seven,” Rose said into her radio. “Proceed to Bishop Street, corner of Orange. Suspect was last seen there.”
 
“Bishop and Orange,” the officer responded. “Roger.”
 
Rose sat, knowing what she did was wrong, but she couldn’t let Helen end the night in handcuffs. As horribly as Helen had lied and as much as she hated disobeying her sergeant, she didn’t want her back behind bars.
 
“Why did you send them to Bishop and Orange?” Perkins said, bursting into the dispatch office.
 
“That’s what you said,” Rose replied. “The perp was spotted near Bishop and Orange.”
 
“I said she was on State,” Perkins said, “between Bishop and Lawrence.”
 
“No,” Rose said, arguing to buy more time. “You clearly said Bishop and Orange. I know what I heard.”
 
“Go home,” Perkins said. “Your head clearly isn’t in here today, and you just let a perp get away.”
 
“I’ll call my union rep,” Rose said.
 
“Go right the hell ahead,” Perkins said. “Start with a two day suspension. Want to make it a full week?”
 
“No,” Rose muttered.
 
“Good,” Perkins said. “Get out of here before it is.”
 
Rose left her station and exited the dispatch office, grabbing her purse and jacket on the way out, uncaring about the other dispatchers watching her storm out. She had never been so humiliated. There was no sign of any reprimand in her folder, and now she was suspended from work for two full days.
 
Rose got into her car and drove away from the station, heading toward State Street. She knew she’d find Helen hiding out at Paulie’s, and now that she had been punished for protecting her, she was going to demand answers.
 
***
 
“What?!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “How are you gonna tell me dat you blamed Helen for dat?”
 
Rose shrugged. “I was furious,” she said. “Humans don’t always act rationally when they’re emotions are turned all the way up. I felt obligated to help Helen, and I was mad I got in trouble for it. Looking back, I know it was my choice to do what I did, but I blamed her at that moment.”
 
The bus turned onto Grand AVE, carrying Helen closer to the meat market. “I still don’t know what she’s up to,” Rose said. “It looks like she is actually going to the meat market.”
 
“See,” Da’Quarius said. “You had nuttin’ to worry ‘bout dis whole time.”
 
“But she could be meeting someone there,” Rose said. “Then it’s not a lie that she said she was going there.”
 
Da’Quarius sighed. “I still say a seventy-nine year old biddy cheatin’ is pushin’ it,” he said. “’Sides, you said yo’self dat Helen hadn’t deceived you da’ way she did when you started datin’.”
 
“But still,” Rose said. “Why would she go through all of this trouble to go to the meat market when I can drive her? She has to be hiding something.”
 
Da’Quarius watched the bus as it stopped at a red light. “Well how’s your story end?” he asked. “You found Helen, right?”
 
“Yeah,” Rose said. “I was right about where she was heading. She went straight to Paulie’s to hide out while the police were searching for her…”
 
***
 
Helen rushed into Paulie’s Pizza, closing the door in a rush. She started closing the blinds. “Oh!” Paulie said. “It’s nice to see you, sis, but what are you doing to my windows?”
 
“I need to hide out for a while,” Helen said. She sat at a booth and dropped a binder in front of her. “Can I use the space upstairs?”
 
“It’s being renovated right now,” Paulie said. “I’m going to turn it into an apartment to make some extra scratch.”
 
“I don’t care if its finished or not,” Helen said. “I just need to spend the night. I should be able to leave tomorrow.”
 
“What did you do?” Paulie asked.
 
“I did what you asked,” Helen said. “I went to go get the picture to make up with Rose.”
 
“That’s not something you hide out over,” Paulie said.
 
“Well,” Helen said. “I kind of beat the piss out of the guy at the photo shop and took his binder.”
 
“That creepy mook?” Paulie asked.
 
“Yeah,” Helen replied.
 
“He looks like he could use an ass-kicking,” Paulie said. “What he do to deserve it?”
 
“This,” Helen said, pushing the binder toward Paulie. He opened it, flipping the pages. 
 
“Madon,” Paulie said, flipping through the photos. “I knew he was creepy, but he’s on a whole level above that.” He was about to flip to the next page, and Helen stopped him, slamming her hand onto the page.
 
“No more,” Helen said.
 
“What?” Paulie said. He looked at his sister’s face then back to the book. “Oh, I get it now.”
 
“What?” Helen asked.
 
“You saw someone you knew in there,” Paulie said. “Judging by how you’re acting, it was probably Rose. Is that right?”
 
Helen sighed. “If you weren’t my brother, I’d kick your ass too,” she said.
 
“If I had a nickel every time you told me that,” Paulie said, rolling his eyes.
 
“You don’t get it, Paulie,” Helen said. “These are the pictures Rose sent me when I was on the inside, before we had ever met in person. They were personal. When he showed me that he had copies, it felt like he had stolen a piece of our story from me.”
 
“Say no more,” Paulie said. “I know a thing or two about having something stolen from you, and I hope you never experience it on the same level I had.”
 
Paulie looked toward the picture of Shronda near the counter, and Helen tried not to let him know that she noticed. He had the love of his life and their unborn child stolen from him by a drunk driver, cutting their own story tragically short. Helen felt like her anger about some photos was petty compared to what Paulie had lost.
 
“Regardless,” Helen said, “I still need to hide out.”
 
“Use the upstairs area,” Paulie said. “Like I said: it’s not finished, but you should be comfortable for the night.”
 
“Good,” Helen said. “As long as nobody finds me squatting -”
 
The door opened with the jingling of bells, and Rose walked in.
 
***
Helen walked off the bus as it idled in front outside of Carrero’s Meat Market. She walked inside, and Da’Quarius and Rose were no longer able to see her. “She was really goin’ to da’ meat market,’ Da’Quarius said. “See. You had nuttin’ to worry ‘bout.”
 
“I guess not,” Rose said. “I still don’t understand any of it.”
 
The two waited, and Helen came outside a few minutes later, carrying a white bag with a box inside. Helen walked back to the bench by the bus stop, sat down, and waited. “Come on,” Rose said. “She’ll be waiting for the bus for the better part of the next hour.”
 
Rose drove along side the curb with her blinker on. She stopped in front of Helen, and Da’Quarius rolled his window down. “Yo,” he said. “Da’ bus is broken.”
 
“What the hell are you two doing here?” Helen asked.
 
“Just get in,” Rose said. “There’s no reason to wait for the bus.”
 
Helen sighed and got up. “You two are a couple of nosey Nellies,” she said. “You might as well take me home now that you’ve caught me.”
 
“Caught you?” Rose said as Helen got into the car. “So what did we catch you doing?”
 
“Buying meat,” Helen said. “What the hell else would I be doing?”
 
“Wha’chu get?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“It was supposed to be a surprise,” Helen said, “but they had crab meat and claws on sale, so I got a whole bunch to make spaghetti and crab for Rose.”
 
“With the red sauce?” Rose asked.
 
“Yeah,” Helen said.
 
“I love that!” Rose exclaimed.
 
“I know,” Helen said. “We’ll have it tonight with garlic bread.”
 
Rose smiled as she drove home, relieved that nothing sinister was actually going on.
 
“But I wanna hear how da’ story ends,” Da’Quarius said. “I mean I know you two end up together, but you left me hangin’.”
 
“What the frig are you talking about?” Helen asked.
 
“I was telling the story about how we got together,” Rose said.
 
“I don’t come out smelling like roses in that one,” Helen said.
 
“I beg to differ,” Rose said. “Mind if I tell him how it ends?”
 
“Go ahead,” Helen said. “Sounds like he knows almost the whole thing anyway.”
 
“Alright,” Rose said. “So I had just gotten to Paulie’s…”
 
***
 
Rose sat across from Helen in the corner booth. Paulie had made an excuse to head to the kitchen, leaving them alone. He had taken the binder with him, promising to burn it after he closed. “Why’d you come find me?” Helen asked.
 
“Well,” Rose said, “I just got suspended for two days for sending the police away from you, so I have some time to kill.”
 
“You did that for me?” Helen asked. “Why?”
 
“I honestly don’t know,” Rose sad. “Maybe I wanted to talk to you myself and get your side of things.”
 
“How’d you know it was even me?” Helen asked.
 
“Mary Smith,” Rose replied. “You used the same alias at the beach.”
 
“Oh yeah,” Helen said. “I need to start cycling through those more often.”
 
“So talk to me,” Rose said. “I can easily call my sergeant and tell him where I am. I’d rather have you tell me the truth.”
 
“What do you want to know?” Helen asked.
 
“I want to hear all of it,” Rose said. “Why you were in prison, how you spent your time there, who your father was and how he really got you out, everything.”
 
Helen sighed. “That’s a long story,” she said.
 
“Tell it,” Rose said. “I have the time.”
 
So Helen talked, telling Rose everything. Assaulting Audry in the middle of the street, her and Bea running their block in Havenville, and her father and how he had snitched his friends and associates to the feds in order have her released from prison early. She told Rose what was in the binder and why she had beaten the photo shop employee.
 
“So he kept all my pictures?” Rose asked.
 
“He did,” Helen said. “Paulie is burning the book, so he can’t share them with strangers any more.”
 
“Wow,” Rose said. “You were right. What a story.”
 
“I told you,” Helen said. “That’s why I kept the truth from you. Why would someone like you want to be with someone like me?”
 
“Helen,” Rose said, placing her hand on top of Helen’s. “Of course I want to be with you. I love you.”
 
“Really?” Helen asked.
 
“Yes,” Rose said.
 
“I love you too,” Helen said. “Do you think it’s safe to sneak out of here, maybe head back to your place?”
 
Rose laughed. “I’ll pull my car around the back. You can hide out at my house for a while.”
 
“How long?” Helen asked.
 
Rose leaned on the table. “As long as you want,” she said.
 
 

 

The End
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