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    Libby Drew
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Keeper of the Rituals - 5. Chapter 5


Clewiston, America's Sweetest Town—according to the sign that marks the city limits. This booming metropolis of eight thousand souls south of Lake Okeechobee is home to US Sugar Corp. Chase and I hitchhiked here from the rez a few times. Stirred up all kinds of trouble. Funny that it’s those thoughts that come to me now. Memories that hold such a fond place in my heart, considering where I’m headed, and why. And with whom.

The Clewiston Police Department operates out of a large metal building, gently peaked in the center. The architects sought to lend some visual interest with faux stonework along parts of its exterior. A handicapped ramp leads to double glass doors. Calhoun leads me through them now, and I step back in time.

I’ve been here once before. So has Chase.

~*~

“They were off the rez, Burke. My land. My laws,” the officer said when Burke arrived to fetch us at the Clewiston station. “Criminal trespassing.”

That was a glamourous charge, considering. Getting onto the roof of the high school hadn’t even been a challenge. We both moved like cats. Swift, quiet, and nearly invisible. Too bad Officer Cobb hadn’t been impressed by our feat of stealth.

“I want to speak to their parents before I release them,” Cobb said. “Won’t stand for their kind of dangerous mischief around here.”

Thumbs planted in the front pockets of his pants, Burke met the bluster with firm serenity. “That one’s an orphan.” He pointed at me. “If you want a word with the responsible adult in his life, better start talking.”

Chase had sensed the officer’s split-second hesitation, had maybe even felt the wave of unconscious pity that rolled off of him. He’d tilted his head back and let those striking eyes go to work. “Officer Cobb, it’s my fault.” Actual tears floated to the surface, and I almost choked on an untimely laugh. “I told Michael I wanted to get on the roof, and he told me not to, but I did it anyway. He followed ’cause he wanted to make sure I didn’t get hurt.”

That was exactly how it had gone down, only Chase had reversed our roles for the sake of the story.

“I promise we won’t do it again. Please don’t tell my mom.”

“Dr. Becker’s been real stressed with that bad virus cutting through the school,” Burke interjected. “I’d hate to add to her worries.”

More hesitation from Officer Cobb. Just enough for me to finish the game of ‘distract and escape’. “I really am sorry, sir. We just wanted to watch the football practice.” One side of the roof had provided a clear view of the field. “It looks so cool. Wish I could play.”

Chase winked at me. I hated football more than Brussels sprouts.

“There’s no football program at Michael’s school,” Burke supplied, and this fact, perhaps unsurprisingly, drew the most sympathy yet.

“Well, that’s a damn shame,” Cobb said. “A damn shame.”

“A real damn shame,” Chase echoed. Burke lasered him a quelling look.

“What’s the world coming to?” Cobb gave us a little shove toward Burke, who laid a hand on each of our shoulders.

“A question I often ponder myself,” he said. “Now.” Burke’s fingers tightened on the soft spot between my collar bone and neck. And not gently either. “Was there something you two wanted to say to Officer Cobb?”

~*~

I flush this unwelcome memory, shaking my head when Calhoun asks me if I want anything to drink.

“Then let’s, ah, get started, shall we?”

He’s polite. Genuinely so. A product of his upbringing, in all likelihood. His southern roots with a side of whatever flavor Kool-Aid the FBI likes to serve. He guides me to a chair in the station’s “interrogation room,” which looks to double as their coffee lounge. Dark wood paneling and industrial carpeting abound, while a couple of square tables with plastic chairs round out the decor. Not exactly intimidating, if that’s their goal, but I don’t imagine they have much of a choice of where to take me. This isn’t Tampa or Ft Lauderdale.

Chase arrives a moment later, shuffling a few papers in his hands. He hands half the stack to Calhoun and keeps the rest for himself. He’d been silent on the ride over. Completely mute, the wall between us so thick I actually saw it more than once, wavering in the air as we turned in and out of patches of sunlight. If it’s his defense, then so be it. It’s a barrier that works both ways.

“Thank you for agreeing to speak with us, Mr. Garrett.”

I nod. Same rote greeting as last time. But the script diverges immediately afterwards.

“Tell me about this fight you had with Mr. Kincaid a few days before his death.”

Expecting the question doesn’t prepare me for the knotted wave of disquiet that takes over. I stall. “What do you mean, exactly?”

My ploy works. Calhoun consults his notes. “I have witness accounts of you two yelling at each other. Something about a promise. A debt? Something owed?”

It sounds paper thin and completely unlike me. I try to picture the scene as Calhoun describes it, but it’s too unreal. I’m living one of Chase’s favorite adventure mysteries but can’t connect with the plot. Yet… I have evidence, don’t I? Marina heard us fighting. And she’s hiding something else as well, although I think she’s doing so to protect me. It irks me that nobody seems to believe I can look out for myself.

Then I remember my situation.

I purposely keep my eyes from where Chase sits in my peripheral vision and say the only thing that is both truth and denial. “It sounds blown out of proportion.”

“What can you tell me about Danny Parks?”

Predictable segue, and it puts me on firmer footing. “I told you everything I know about Danny.”

“His name was mentioned in this disagreement.”

It’s not a question, so I say nothing.

Calhoun weighs my silence. “Did you know that Mr. Kincaid and Mr. Parks were seeing each other?”

I had suspected. Danny would’ve been the easiest lay around after Sam and I broke up. A safe, willing partner. Well, willing. “I wasn’t aware, no.”

“Does that bother you?”

“Why would it?”

Calhoun consults his notes. “Danny Parks has a second-degree felony conviction for possession. He’s on probation. Yet he was keeping company with a drug dealer.”

Keeping company. Calhoun’s repertoire of euphemisms is priceless.

I shrug, honestly put off by the conversation. This is Danny’s business, not mine. Calhoun senses my distaste for the oversharing and smirks into his mustache. Bastard. And he’s waiting for me to say something. I have no idea what. Rather than guess incorrectly, I keep my mouth shut.

After a few moments, Calhoun draws a long breath and says, “I spoke with Danny Parks’ friends earlier this morning. It seems he doesn’t like you very much, Mr. Garrett.”

“That’s not exactly breaking news.” Danny had hated me on sight. I’d never given much thought as to why. Mostly because I don’t care.

“He’s been telling people that you swindled Mr. Kincaid out of a large sum of money.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Are you having financial difficulties, Mr. Garrett?”

“No.”

“Your salary at the Brother Wolf Refuge adequately provides for your, ah, living expenses?”

“I don’t take a salary at the refuge.”

Calhoun didn’t expect that answer. But it plays into his theory, apparently. “So how do you support yourself, sir?”

He really does know nothing about our ways. I’m deciding how to explain, or if I should even bother, when Chase answers for me. “The council apportions a share of gambling profits to each tribal member every month.”

“I see,” Calhoun says, though he clearly doesn’t. “And how much is that?”

More than I can spend on myself, which is why I use most of it to support the refuge. I lift my chin at Calhoun. “I don’t have to divulge that.” As a member of a sovereign nation, I’m under no legal obligation to do so.

“That’s true,” Chase chimes in before Calhoun can flap his wings.

“In the interest of the investigation,” Calhoun says. “How about a ballpark figure?”

“How much do you make in a year, Special Agent Calhoun?” His nostrils flare at the question. Now I’m starting to piss him off. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”

Chase glares at me. It’s always been a useless deterrent in the past, so I have no idea why he tries it now.

Calhoun leans forward, spreads his arms across the surface of the table. It’s a blatant attempt to appear bigger, more threatening. I don’t even twitch. “However much it is, I don’t think it’s as much as you need. I believe you and Sam Kincaid were fighting about money last week. The same thing you were arguing about on Wednesday night.”

“I didn’t see Sam on Wednesday night.”

Calhoun is a freight train, relentless. “Mr. Kincaid didn’t break protocol. There were two of you in the wolf’s enclosure that night. You argued. It grew heated. You picked up a rock and hit him. Your wolf, well he did what comes instinctively.”

I wait for the punchline. None comes. Now I do look at Chase. His face is a hard mask, eyes fixed on the notes in front of him. Calhoun waits, electric with his theory, nearly vibrating in his chair. I can’t help it. I laugh. “Are you serious?”

Calhoun eases back. Now he’s my friend again. A sympathetic ear. “Listen, young man. I know young love can be painful.”

And he owns understatement.

“Things happen,” he says. “I realize that. I’m not saying this was premeditated. But between these accounts and some other information that’s come to light—”

“What other information?”

Calhoun sighs. “I think this was a mistake. You never meant for it to happen. But let’s be men about this, all right? You have to be held accountable.”

I feel more in control of the situation by the second. They have nothing. Calhoun's theory is a stab in the dark. I take my first real stand of the afternoon. “None of that is true.”

“Can you be sure?”

Calhoun derails my statement with four words and enough sleazy doubt to rival an army of fictional villains. I set my jaw, don’t answer, because the truth is, I can’t, not after talking to Martina this morning. One lie will lead to another. I don’t travel a dishonest road by choice, in life or love, and certainly don’t plan to suspend that rule here, where one misstep would be deadly. But his tone scares me. I can be honest about that.

He slides a hand into the folds of his leather case and emerges with a manila folder. An official seal sits in the top right-hand corner. One I haven’t seen in twenty years. The stamp is innocuous enough that most people would pay it no mind. But for me, it’s torment and utter fear. Loneliness and abandonment. Guilt and self-recrimination. I open my mouth, try to speak, but can’t as memory surges up and closes my airway. Panicked, I suck in a breath of air, shocked when it flows into my lungs easily. I haven’t lost it yet, then. But I’m close. Holding on by a thread.

My distress reaches Chase as it always has, by some unspoken, perhaps telepathic, message. His head jolts up. His hand jerks, an aborted attempt to battle my demons for me, then settles back in his lap, though his hands are clenched, the knuckles bone white. “What do you have there, Jeff?” he asks, jerking his chin at the folder. He covers the edge in his voice well, but I hear it.

“A file from the Shadow Mountain Behavioral Health Center in Tulsa.” Calhoun folds it open, leaving the cover in Chase’s line of sight. He’ll be able to see the seal, verify the truth of his partner’s statement, but see nothing inside. Have no clue of what’s to come. A tactic Calhoun has planned in advance, I think.

Calhoun extends his index finger. Points it at the page. “You’ve had some trauma in your past, have you not, Mr. Garrett?”

“Jeff, I don’t think—”

“A violent incident?” Calhoun speaks over Chase. “A home invasion. Your mother and sister, Mary, died?”

“Jeff.” Chase’s voice hasn’t risen in volume, so maybe Calhoun can’t hear the danger lurking in it. I do, but I can’t focus on what it means. Not while the worst memories of my life are being played out in cheap words, as though they could ever capture the reality of the tragedy.

Calhoun swoops in with a doozy. “They were raped and your mother was murdered in front of you.”

I have no ability to speak. I can only nod. My hands have started to shake. I steel myself against the screams. Smoke is filling the interrogation room, seeping under the closed door and swirling around the table legs. “Fire,” I manage to rasp.

“Yes, and then the, ah, perpetrators set the fire that killed your older sister. And almost killed you.”

I hate this. The way I crumble, become a nine-year-old child again, unable to draw even a fragment of strength into my limbs. The room is on fire, but I’m drowning. Calhoun sees it. It’s exactly what he was hoping for.

“You were institutionalized afterward. Completely understandable. But it says here,” he licks the tip of his finger and turns the page, “you suffered dissociative episodes during your hospitalization. Do you still, Mr. Garrett?”

He’s about to find out. The smoke is thick, and I slide from my chair to my knees to get closer to the floor. Closer to clean air. I remember that lesson now, just as I remembered it then. A loud crash makes me flinch, and I turn my head toward the sound. Chase’s chair is tipped backward on the floor. He’s on his feet, looming over Calhoun. “That’s enough!” He rips the folder away. “I’d like to speak with you. Now!”

Is Calhoun shocked? Angry? I don’t know, and the very idea that he even exists is fading, obscured by smoke and panic. For a while, I concentrate only on breathing. The smoke has begun to clear when a pair of arms encircle me from behind and haul me up into my chair. “I’m okay,” I say, mostly to myself. A mantra. “It’s not real. I’m okay.”

“I’ve got you, Micco.”

Chase’s voice is solace, the hard angles of his body familiar and safe. A gentle hand pushes my hair to the side, and something cold presses to the back of my neck, directly below the base of my skull. He used to use a can of orange Fanta, the only sugared drink his mom allowed. “Just cola today,” he says, our connection sharp as ever. “No orange in the vending machine.”

Doesn’t matter. It’s the cold that calms the spirit, not the flavor. Chase hasn’t forgotten his Seminole medicine.

“I’m going to get you out of here. Hang on, okay? Just a few more minutes.”

I nod. The can of cola lifts from my neck, and he presses it between my palms. “Pulse points,” he reminds me. Nodding again, I roll the can between my wrists and try not to panic when he rises and walks out without another word. A few minutes spin into fifteen, but I don’t complain. Each additional second allows me to gather the shreds of my dignity closer, and by the time Calhoun makes his second appearance—without Chase—I’m feeling nearly normal.

He throws himself into the chair he vacated earlier. Slouches and broods. I doubt it’s acceptable southern gentleman behavior. “Feeling better, Mr. Garrett?” he asks. And he’s forgotten his disarming accent as well.

I sit straighter. The last thing I want is to be caught off guard again. “Yes.”

“You know…” Calhoun uses his heels to spin his chair to and fro as he performs a thorough examination of the ceiling above us. “I sense something between you two.”

This is dangerous ground. Not for me, though I treat it as such. “What do you mean?”

“How exactly do you and Chase Becker know each other?”

“We don’t know each other.” God’s honest truth. “We knew each other. We both grew up on the rez.”

Calhoun’s eyes narrow. “Chase grew up on the reservation?”

“With all us Indians, yep.”

He ignores my sarcasm. “In what capacity would a situation like that occur?”

The question skirts the line between racist and inappropriate. Has a foot on both sides of the equation, frankly. I leave these thoughts unsaid. I have no desire to stir Calhoun’s temper a second time. “His mother ran the health clinic.”

“Does she still?”

No. “I have no idea. Haven’t been there in years.”

“You never get sick?”

“I use alternative forms of health care.”

He digests this before continuing. “Were you two friends?”

“I never saw her much.”

“I meant you and Chase.”

I know what he meant. I can’t possibly answer believably. I shrug instead.

Calhoun considers while continuing his study of the stained ceiling tiles. “When was the last time you saw each other?”

I surreptitiously roll the can of cola between my wrists while I pretend to think. “Maybe around sophomore year?” I know the answer, of course. Down to the hour and minute.

“I see.” The chair creaks to a halt, and his gaze sinks to mine. “Were you ever involved?”

This one confuses me. “Involved with what?”

“With each other, Mr. Garrett. Romantically.”

For a long moment, I latch onto the fantasy of it. It’s a familiar blanket of emotion, one I wrapped myself in every day for years. It’s also sheer absurdity. The joke’s on Calhoun, and I laugh. Truly laugh, without the slightest trace of bitterness. “No, we were never involved romantically, Special Agent Calhoun. Chase isn’t gay.”

My amusement snaps the tension. I feel more balanced. In control. Sharp, even. But Calhoun doesn’t smile, and the expression on his face niggles, like a sharp pebble in my shoe.

Copyright © 2023 Libby Drew; All Rights Reserved.
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I hope you enjoyed the chapter. 
Thanks for reading!
Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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On 9/30/2023 at 10:59 PM, 84Mags said:

Learning the unimaginable trauma Micco suffered was compounded by the brutal nature of Calhoun’s interrogation. He re-victimized Micco. Later, I noticed most commenters used ‘Micco’ instead of ‘Micheal’. There’s something about hearing the devastating details of Micco’s mom and sister’s murders that brought us all back to that younger, tragic time with him.

The connection between Chase and Micco is profound. Chase could immediately sense Micco’s emotions. Chase was able to comfort and soothe, without words, allowing Micco to regain his equilibrium. This connection brought me back to last chapter and Michael briefly sensing the intense wave of feelings. I believe Michael can sense and project human emotions, yet perhaps his traumatic experience repressed his insight and lead him away from unguarded human contact. It was a good sign that Michael emerged from the panic attack and finished the interview. For a brief moment, early in the interrogation, Michael questioned whether there truly was an earlier altercation with Sam. He is learning to believe more in himself and trust his instincts. 

Yep, he is definitely questioning himself, but also has many years of growth and maturity draw on that will help him sort what is real and what is contrived. Thanks for reading!

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1 hour ago, Libby Drew said:

Ha! It was NOT a typo. Although there were cracks in between the crocks. 

Like so...

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@Libby Drew and @drpaladin I don't recall ever having seen the word 'crocks' used like this before, only the similar words crockery or crock-pot. Now that I come to think of it though, I have certainly heard the adage "a crock of shit". I have never given this adage much thought; I just assumed it meant a "heap of shit". Now I am not so sure.

"Your" display of crocks is very attractive (mostly) @Libby Drew, "spoiled" only by the noxious weed and one crock which looks like it contains meat. Very colourful.

Edited by Summerabbacat
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10 hours ago, drpaladin said:

I suppose I'll remain unliving.

That begs the question, actually a couple, do you cast a shadow and see reflection in a mirror?

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13 minutes ago, drsawzall said:

That begs the question, actually a couple, do you cast a shadow and see reflection in a mirror?

At one time people wondered about it, but those rumors have mostly passed.

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