“Clara ‘Candy’ Porter.” That was the name that did her in. The bombshell widow with a cinched waist and box red hair who measured out the baking soda while Twitch measured out the coke. She’d cross her long legs and lean back on the couch, joint to her lips and phone between her shoulders as she hummed sensually into the mouthpiece. Twitch would glance up, his blood shot eyes hungry and lustful. He’d finish bagging the Powder while the man on the other side of the phone fapped to her voice. It was a living then.
She didn’t remember how she met Twitch. It was one of those things she thought she’d never forget, but the details became hazy the older she got. All she knew was that he came like a devil, slick and vicious with a silver tongue that cut easy and deep. He crushed her, bruising her ego and pride with embittering words that lingered with her still.
But, he got her out. He put a roof over her head and food in her baby’s mouth. When she was with him they didn’t have to sleep in the backseat of the car. She didn’t have to swipe dog blankets from the corner store or stuff her baby’s jacket with ramen packets and Snicker bars. They had a twin sized mattress and a roof that leaked, but it was theirs.
She’d told him that she’d married young to some dealer dealt a bad hand. Got shot, she said, before their baby was born and left her with nothing, but debt. He swallowed every word. She saw his sharp eyes drink her in, her hair, her breast, her thighs and knew how much he wanted her. He feigned pity.
“You hungry?” he asked.
She remembered his smile, yellow and crooked toothed with a diamond grillz cap on his incisor.
“I could eat,” she said.
He paid for a thirteen dollar meal with a one hundred dollar bill he casually pulled out and dropped on the table. She glanced several smaller bills tucked into the fold of his wallet. She smiled, pressing her breast together in a casual lean forward then took a slow sip of Sprite. He leaned forward and tenderly caressed her outstretched arm. His breath reeked of cigarettes.
“Wanna get out of here?” he asked with a sly smirk.
“Depends,” she teased. “Where ya’ gonna take me.”
“Anywhere you wanna go, baby.”
He bought her that night with a Louis Vuitton and a two hundred dollar bottle of bourbon. He stank of liquor and was too sweaty, too greasy to enjoy, but she did him good. Clara “Candy” Porter knew how to move her hips, her hands and left him ravenous.
For six months she fed him. She bared her breast and spread her legs when his appetite demanded. He was monstrous, but he kept them warm and well fed, so she behaved and kept quiet. And she watched. Every day she watched his habits, his routine and every day she pilfered information from his burner phones and his books and sat on his secrets.
She sauntered into the room that summer in too tight shorts and a halter top. Twitch was lounging on the sofa in his boxers, spraying bullets into some poor bastard on the too loud TV. He looked up at her. She glanced up at the clock. She tapped her wrist, her tongue never ceasing to please the man on the other end of the phone. She leaned against the door post, sighing and cooing as she watched Twitch stand, reluctant to put down the controller. She glanced at the clock. Twitch aggressively smashed the controller. The man on the other end grunted into the mouthpiece.
Suddenly, the door splintered open with a violent burst. Clara screamed, dropping the phone as four men piled into the apartment, screaming and cursing with pointed guns. She turned to run, but was snagged by the hair and dragged back into the living room.
“Shut that bitch up!” one of them screamed.
Twitch hollered as they forced Clara down, fighting and kicking, and duct taped her mouth. She watched through tears and sticky lashes as a blond, cold and smooth, approached Twitch with a metal bat. He was big and steely and clearly dangerous.
He crouched down before Twitch. The man smiled, relishing Twitch’s diminishing composure .
“Thought I wouldn’t find out?” the man said quietly. “Who do you think I am?” He slapped Twitch’s face with a ringed hand. “Hm?” He slapped him again, harder. “Hm!?” He slapped him again, busting his lip on a sapphire ring.
“I’m sorry,” Twitch managed, his voice quivering.
The man smirked. “You’re gonna be,” he said. He took Twitch’s face between his thick fingers and squeezed. “You’re my bitch now.” He smiled and stood.
The man nodded at his crew. Two proceeded to wail on Twitch, kicking and pounding on him with relentless fury while the other finished taping Clara’s wrists behind her back, his breath hot against her neck. Wood splintered beneath the blond one’s bat as he walked through the apartment, pulling out drawers and destroying everything in sight. He whistled and came around the corner with a duffel bag. His boys stopped their assault and hurried to his side. He unzipped the bag. He chuckled, dumping bags of crack on the table.
“Guess you’re not dumb enough to keep the money around,” he said. He looked pointedly at Twitch. “Thirty K, got it?”
Twitch rolled onto his knees, oozing and sticky with blood. He spat out two teeth and rolled his blackened eyes up at the man.
“I don’t have that,” he coughed.
The man smirked. “You better get it.”
He picked up a bag of crack and pulled a switchblade from his pocket. He stabbed it into the bag, dumping the contents on top of Twitch’s head. He chuckled and beckoned for his men to follow. The apartment went quiet.
Five minutes. That was all it took. Twitch, battered and bruised and broken in places, look over at Clara, dizzied from the beating. He hobbled over, fearful and apologetic as he pulled the tape from her mascara streaked face. He tenderly stroked her cheeks, her hair and rested a shaking hand against her neck.
“Are you okay? Did they hurt you?”
She shook her head with quivering lips. He sighed in relief.
“Good,” he breathed. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry you went through this.”
“It’s not your fault, Twitch,” she said in a strangled voice. “You’ll get that bastard. You will.”
Twitch looked at her, not with lust or possession, but with something that resembled love. For a fleeting moment Clara “Candy” Porter felt a pang of guilt. Twitch crawled behind her, grunting in frustration as he struggled to tear at her bindings. Just then, the police came through the door. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
They took Twitch into custody and Clara in for questioning. Four hours later, Twitch was in jail for felony drug possession and Clara was walking out of the station, promising to return with the bail. She lied.
She took her baby and their things and left that night with fifteen thousand dollars stuffed inside her Louis Vuitton. They stayed in a motel that night just outside of the state border. She let her baby jump on the bed, enjoying how her chunky legs plopped down clumsily on the spring mattress. They ate popcorn and curled up together on the mattress while they watched The Little Mermaid on cable.
She looked down at the top of her baby’s curly head and squeezed her close. Her sweet baby girl who didn’t know her as “Lucinda” or “Jaycee” or the whore that was “Clara ‘Candy’ Porter.” She only knew her as Mommy back then. That was the only name that mattered.
She cut her fried hair into a cute little pixie and traded in her halter tops for modest blouses. She was no longer the red head with a cinched waist or the widow with the roughnecked ex. She was just a single mom with an ordinary job and an ordinary story.
But, she could not hide forever. Her past stalked her, creeping behind her for eleven years before it came to swallow her whole. It struck fast and hard with a relentless blow that shattered the world she had so carefully crafted. Now here she was. “Clara ‘Candy’ Porter” and every alias that followed, branded in orange and chained in cuffs.
She bit her thumb nail, wincing as she tore into the flesh. She tapped her foot impatiently.
The prison guard, a burly woman with a permanent scowl, clucked her tongue.
“You’re up,” the guard said.
She hurried to a phone. She stared down at the dial pad, her fingers hovering above the smudged and fading numbers. She sucked in a deep breath and with shaking fingers dialed the number that had haunted her for so long. The phone rang and rang and rang. Finally, someone answered.
“Hello?” a cracking voice greeted.
She was quiet, unsure of what to say.
“Hello?” the voice asked again.
“H-hello. Is Vick there?”
The voice became suspicious. “Who’s asking?” it said smartly.
The voice on the other end went quiet. She heard murmurs and shuffling and then, for a long time, she only heard a gentle static. She paled, praying that someone would come back to the phone. Then, Vick picked up. His voice was deep and gruff and the type of tired that came from years of struggle.
“What do you want?” he sighed, exasperated.
She sucked in a breath. “I’m in jail.”
Viktor paused. “Well, shit,” he said after a moment.
Madelaine scoffed. “Is that all you have to say?”
“What do you want me to say?” he asked dryly. “'I’m so sorry. Poor you,'” he mocked. “What are you in for anyway?”
“It’s bullshit,” she muttered. “I didn’t do anything.”
Viktor scoffed, “You never do.”
Madelaine clenched her jaw. “I don’t need this shit, Vick.”
“You called me, Harper.”
“It’s ‘Madelaine’,” she said quietly. “I haven’t gone by Harper in years.”
She could see his lips curl as his patience vanished. “You’ve got some balls,” he hissed. “Calling me after what you did. Disappearing for thirteen fuckin’ years while I raised your kid. Then, you’ve got the audacity to call me for what, bail? That’s what you want right? Money. It’s the only reason I ever hear from you.”
“That’s your fault…”
“Don’t start, Harper.”
“You did that! Not me!”
“Look, I don’t want to deal with this right now. I’ve got my own shit to deal with.”
“What?” he snapped.
Madelaine hesitated. “I had another baby.”
Vick went quiet.
“She just turned thirteen,” she continued, her voice strained.
“Jesus…” Vick muttered.
“Please, Vick,” she begged, “She has nowhere else to go.”
She was answered with a long, stiff silence.
“Vick?” she whispered, gripping the phone nervously. “Are you still there?”
“He tried to kill himself,” he said finally. “Your son.”
Her heart slammed against her chest and fell into her stomach. She swallowed, suddenly sick. “Is he okay?” she asked, wide-eyed.
“He’s alive if that’s what you’re asking. You’d know that if you bothered to keep in touch.”
“Don’t. I don’t give a fuck. Just -” he sighed, “If you’re gonna disappear, really disappear this time. I’m done cleaning up after your messes.”
He hung up. Shaking, Madelaine slowly hung the phone up onto the receiver. The guard escorted her back to her cell, locking it behind her as Madelaine curled up on the hard mattress. This was it. Every lie, every mistake and every regret she ever had was eating her alive and it hurt. It hurt worse than anything she had ever felt before. She wished she wasn’t so hopeless and broken. She wished she wasn’t so scarred and destructive. And for the first time in a long time she wished that she had been the one they had buried in the pine casket.