I looked across the table at the devil I didn't know. If I made this choice, this decision to help them in any way I could, I knew there would be no turning back. I'd be labeled a snitch when the story came out, and I harbored no illusions that it wouldn't. No amount of police and personal protection was going to ensure that. Not when good old cash money beat out integrity any day of the week. Someone would leak.
And then I'd be hunted. Don't ask me how I knew that. I just knew.
"Okay," I said, squeezing Horatio's hand tightly as I did. I also knew that it was his job to be nice to me, to get me to trust him. After the case was closed, he'd probably forget I ever existed. I didn't hold it against him. He was human like the rest of us. Flawed like the rest of us.
Megan nodded once and opened the folder beneath her hands. "I have here your official statement from the night in question. You said that you had heard of the party from the 'usual source.' Can you go into detail about that?"
I shrugged a shoulder. "What more can I say on that. The source is just my friend Tabby. She heard it from Garage, who heard it from Melon, I think. Whoever Melon heard it from is anyone's guess. There's a reason we call him Melon. As in his brain's all rotted from the junk."
Horatio rose, taking the seat next to me. "If you realize that the 'junk' will kill you, why do you keep doing it?"
I turned to look at him, to really look at him. Nice suit, nicely trimmed hair, clean nails on his fingers, a nice watch. I even made a show at looking at his nice Kenneth Cole shoes. "You already know that answer to that," I said evenly.
"Yeah. And it's the same reason you and Megan wear those fancy clothes. It covers the hurt inside. Maybe my way isn't as socially accepted as yours, but it's still the same. For a little while, you feel good and special and you don't have to think about the bad."
He stared at me so long, with such an unreadable expression on his face that I was suddenly nervous again. Then he looked away, that smile coming back to his lips, though this one was sad. He looked down at the sunglasses in his hands, and I knew he was fighting the urge to put them back on. But he wouldn't, because I had asked him not to. I felt bad about poking at him, then. I hadn't meant to do it. I couldn't help what came out of my mouth sometimes.
Megan cleared her throat, causing me to glance back at her. The sadness in Horatio's smile was mirrored in those odd black eyes of hers. "That's why we need you to concentrate, Janie. You're real good at observing things, at reading people like you did me and Horatio just a moment ago. You can help us."
I shifted again, unused to the praise she'd just given me. "Yeah, observing things. That's a big help. It was real helpful when my dad beat the hell out of my mom and killed her. Huge help when my foster family decided to try the same to me. I observed so well I almost died twice."
Horatio put the full force of those compassionate blue eyes on me again. Something moved in their depths, something I could almost claim was understanding. But that was impossible. No one who lived the life of abuse like I had wore tailored suits and expensive sunshades.
"Do you want to talk about it?" He asked.
Yes! "No," I heard myself say. "It won't help. It's done. It's over. And you know I ran away from the foster home at sixteen. It's in my file. So ask more questions and get this over with. I want a cigarette."
"What are Garage, Melon and Tabby's real names?"
"Search me. No one on the street goes by their birth names. That's like asking to be picked up."
"Then where can we find Garage, Melon, and Tabby?" Megan continued.
This time I slumped down in the seat, not bothering to hide the miserable look on my face. Here came the rat questions. Here's where I made the choice to snitch on my friends. "They hang down under the ports, you know. Hocking their homemade goods to the tourists that get off the fancy yachts and cruise ships. If they aren't there, I have no idea where they would have gone. It's not like they have a permanent address or anything."
"Were they with you the night at that rave?"
I closed my eyes, trying to recall. "I think so. At least Tabby and Garage were, yeah. We were hanging at the port before we went over," A bit of a smile touched my lips. "Tabby had sold one of her crack-ass paintings to some tourist for forty bucks. We were all excited about being able to snag a motel room for the night, you know? Sleep on clean sheets and have a hot shower."
I shrugged again, slumping down further in my seat. I so hated this. Even with the promise of safety, I still hated spilling on my friends. "Tabby told me that Garage had bailed with Melon, that they knew of this illegals club going down that night. We were both pretty sore. It'd been a while since we scored anything good, you know? So we went. Five dollars at the door bought you entrance and your first score of the night."
Megan made a few notes. "What did you score, Janie?"
"God only knows," I laughed bitterly. "I think it was E, but it was laced with something. You don't ask when there are party favors at the door, hon—I mean, Megan. You just tip back your head and open your mouth. Whatever goes down is whatever you get."
She stared at me with her lips compressed in a thin line and shook her head. "That's so dangerous, Janie. You're a bright girl. You shouldn't—"
"We were talking about the incident, right?" I cut in quickly, harshly. Any more praise or benevolence from either of them and I was going to start with the uncontrolled word-vomit. They didn't need to know anything other than what they asked me. I couldn't let myself trust either of them. Trust always led to pain in my experience.
"Okay," she said, voice neutral. "Continue."
"So Tabby and I get our party favors on, and start in on the dancing. The DJ was spinning some slamming music, and all I really wanted to do was dance. Lord knows how many songs whirled past until I was thirsty. So I went to the bar for water."
"And?" Horatio prompted gently.
I frowned. This was where it all got confusing. "I couldn't find the bar tender. I know that sounds strange, but I couldn't find her. I think Nixie was supposed to have tended the bar. Don't know why I jumped over it, but I did and started down the door I found on the other side. It would have made more sense to just nip a bottle out of the cooler, now that I think about it. But I didn't do that."
"The drugs," Megan countered. "You said yourself that you had no idea what you took."
"It felt like E," I explained defensively. "It really did. But anyway, I think I went down this hallway."
"Was the hallway yellow?"
The passages of memory started to crack open at her question. I remembered the hallway with vivid clarity, the musty scent of faded and chipped paint. And under it all was a coppery-sweet scent, like someone had dunked pennies into cherry syrup. It was a place I didn't want to walk, a place that made that cold pit of guilt bubble in my stomach. But once she threw open that door with her damning questions, it was like a train wreck. I couldn't look away, couldn't stop walking down that horrible hallway.
Because two different hallways were converging in my memory, one walked by a five year old child and the other by the twenty year old I was now.
"Yes! Yes, I remember that now that you mentioned it. Buttercup yellow. I remember thinking it matched the color of my room when I was little. Mom loved to paint in bright colors," my voice went tight and thick with tears. Which hallway were they asking about? Which did I see, the bright horrible one or the dull flaking one? I had to clear my throat twice. "Anyway, it was yellow and it had only one door at the end of it. I remember thinking it was a funny door, one of those kinds from like the 1940s movies. It had a frosted glass window with faded lettering."
Horatio tightened his hand on mine. "What did you do next?"
That guilty feeling was rising in the back of my throat like bitter breath. My heart started to hammer in my chest. In my mind's eye, I saw my mother lifeless on the hallway floor outside my room, her blond hair almost glowing against the spreading scarlet of her blood. Momma! "I don't remember," I squeaked out.
Megan leaned forward. "You do remember, Janie. Tell us. Right here and right now. Don't think about it. Just say whatever comes to mind."
I was shaking my head rapidly. Even in the corridors of memory, I didn't want to open that door. Something bad happened behind it. Something I never wanted to see again. His voice would be behind the door, and the blood would be on his hands again. It would be shining and wet against the buttercup yellow paint my mother had just put on my walls.
"No, no I don't want to. I don't want to remember," I pleaded, begged. "Don't make me, please!"
"Janie, look at me. Stop and just look at me, sweetheart. Look right at me," Horatio took my face gently in his hands, forcing my eyes to his. "No one is going to hurt you anymore. I'll say it over and over as many times as you need to hear it. You tell us what happened and I promise you that no one will hurt you."
"Did you open the door, Janie?" Megan asked.
I kept my eyes locked on Horatio's, begging him to be right. Begging him to keep that promise. Because I was about to hurt myself tremendously for their sakes. I was going to let myself open that door and remember.
"I, uh. I opened the d-door," I stuttered out, wrapping my hands around his wrists to hold his hands on my face. If I kept looking at him, I'd believe him. I needed to believe him. The words just came tumbling out, one almost on top of the other. Word-vomit all over the place. "Just a crack. I opened it just a crack. I thought it was a game, that Nixie was going to be in that back office having sex. It was funny to think of that, you know? I was going to spy on Nixie having sex and then jilt her into giving me a free beer."
My tears tumbled out on top of the rambling words until I was sobbing. Beer on my daddy's breath, blood on his hands as he took me by the arm and stepped over my mother's body like it was so much trash. And all I could think about in my five year old brain was that the walls were dirty, the yellow paint my mother loved so much was streaked with red. It would make her cry to see it, and I didn't want my mother to cry.
Megan came around the table, kneeling on the other side of me. Her hands rubbed my back, comforting me. It meant more than I could tell her, or tell him. Kindness for a street rat like me was worth more than gold. Kindness for someone who had never known it was wealth beyond measure.
"You don't have to keep going right away," she said. "We can stop if you need to."
"No, no I just want this to be done," I sobbed, holding tight to Horatio's wrists, eyes glued to his. "It wasn't Nixie in that room. I mean, it was her, but she was so high she was draped over a filing cabinet and she was naked. She was giggling that stupid stoner giggle and some man was zipping up his fly. I'd never seen him before, not on the street or at any of the parties. He was clean and sharp, dressed nice like you all do. But that didn't scare me."
"What scared you, Janie?" he asked softly. "What scared you?"
"It was the other man," Blood on his hands, like the blood on daddy's hands… I started to hyperventilate, my words a jumbled mush of half-whispered sounds. "He was standing over Magic's body. And Magic was covered in blood and I could see his intestines and he wasn't moving and he wasn't blinking and his eyes stared at me through the crack in the door without any life in them! The man was counting little white balls of something as he pulled them from Magic's gut and he was grinning and the other man was grinning and Nixie was laughing because they were laughing even though her eyes were all cloudy from whatever they gave her before they fucked her and it smelled so bad and I remember the smell was killing my buzz so I just left and headed back down the hallway and snagged a water and started to dance again!"
"Janie, stop," Horatio said, pulling me into his chest and holding me as I sobbed.
"I just danced while Magic died! What kind of a person am I to dance and get high while my friend is dead? Oh god, I wish I was dead, too."
"You did good," I heard Megan murmur. "You did good, Janie. Now we are going to keep our promise. We're going to keep you safe."
I just continued to sob into Horatio's chest. I doubted that they could keep that promise, because what I was doing to myself was worse than what anyone else could ever do to me.