The Startling Crimes in Hollyoaks, New York

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Chapter 7: Sermon Sal's Last Testimony

Brooke stares at the small television set.

Her greasy fingers brush against the white, gooey cheese as the girl devours her slice. Tomato sauce lands on the ivory plate, like snow. Breadcrumbs pricked the corners of her mouth, soiling Brooke's blue shorts.

As soon as Brooke devours her first slice, she reaches the box for another until her grandmother stops her.

"How was your day today?" she asked.

"It was nice." Brooke slowly increases the volume on the TV, while she chews on her vegan pizza.

"Is Vinny gives you any trouble?" her grandma asks in a calm tone. "Because if he does-"

"No," Brooke interrupts softly. "Vinny and I are doing just fine."

She watches Will dancing in his little sister's bedroom, earning a strange look from her grandmother. Now grandma is always worried about that girl.

Ever since she was a baby, her grandma saw a kindred spirit in Brooke's warm brown eyes. She used to believe that there is hope in the world.

But now, whenever she looks at her granddaughter, she sees a cynical, broken girl who had witnessed the devil right in front of her.

"You shouldn't be hanging out with me all the time," she grunted.

"What?"

"It's a Saturday afternoon." she went on.

"Instead of dating that awful monster, you should be going out and making some memories."

Brooke positions the pizza slice in the center of her plate. She slowly plucks the veggies off the cheese and eats them.

"Come on, I love chatting with you, grandma." she grins. "And besides, Hollyoaks is terrifying."

Brooke's grandmother looks at the girl funny.

"Hollyoaks is terrifying?" she repeats carefully. "What do you mean by that?"

"Whenever I think about Hollyoaks, I imagine Twin Peaks, but full of magic, gangsters, and the mafia."

If Johnny were here, he would have laughed at the Twin Peaks reference Brooke made. Her grandmother, on the other hand, studies the pizza slice for a second before taking a huge bite.

"What's Twin Peaks?" asked her grandmother.

"It's a show my ex-boyfriend used to watch."

"Oh, yeah? What's his name?"

"Johnny Phoenix." Brooke chewed on her pizza slice. "We used to be a thing until we decided to go to our separate ways."

"Does he hit you?"

"No, he's sweet," Brooke smirks, shaking her head. "We're best friends, now."

After gobbling her second slice, Brooke puts the pizza box in the fridge before setting the dirty dishes in the sink. But just when Brooke is about to wash them, her grandma begs her to take a break.

"Ever since you visited me, you have been doing everything around the house," she complained. "Stop acting like an adult for once. I will take care of everything."

Brooke glances at the burnt veggie stew in the trash can, then scratches her head.

"I don't know, Grandma-"

"Certainly, there must be something exciting in this town."

An annoyed Brooke circles her eyes to the ceiling. "Oh come on, what's wrong with spending time with you?"

That's when her grandmother became quiet. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air went on a commercial break, compelling her to change the channel.

Brooke moves towards the old woman on the couch, and sat down beside her, hoping to ask her what was wrong. But when she held her grandma's hand, the aged woman cried, "I feel like I am punishing you."

"No, you're not-"

"I know you're doing this because you feel sorry for me."

Brooke shakes her head. "Of course I don't."

"I know I can be forgetful, but I don't want you to spend your entire life looking after me."

Her grandmother grasps Brooke's soft hands and adds, "go live your life. I will be fine."

"But grandma-"

"I will be fine. Go outside and spend some time with a couple of girlfriends."

Sighing, Brooke heads upstairs to change into her street clothes. Her bedroom isn't as fancy as the one in Idlewild, but it is comfortable. There are shelves full of old books and jazz records.

A small lamp rest beside a blanket, bed sheets, a pillow, an old mattress, while an old phonograph stood close to the shelves.

Brooke fumbles over to the closet when she hears an elated Caleb and his best friend Enrique sauntering past her deserted apartment building. They wore happy smiles and clothes she would see in Yo! MTV Raps.

They were having this heated debate about who is the hottest woman in TLC when Caleb noticed Brooke staring at him through her bedroom window. His heart stopped. Blood rushed to his face as Caleb takes off his Yankees cap and smoothes his short hair.

Oh God, was she watching me the entire time? Caleb prayed that she didn't hear the entire conversation.

"Yo, man!" Enrique groaned. "Are you even listening to me?"

Caleb quickly turns away from the girl, then stares at his friend. "Left Eye Lisa is the sexiest woman on the planet."

Enrique shakes his head in disbelief.

"Chili is the hottest," he claimed.

"No, Lisa," Caleb argued, putting his cap back on his head. "She has gorgeous brown eyes and a badass rapper."

"She is, but have you seen Chili in that new TLC music video?" Enrique asks, whistling for the entire neighborhood to hear.

"Duh."

"God, Chili is so fine!"

Caleb swivels his eyes to the glittery stars. "Shit, and that's coming from the guy who is terrified of talking to girls."

Carefully dipping his hands inside his jeans pockets, Enrique makes a silly face at his best friend.

"Aw, whatever man!" he snorts. "What about that cute record shop girl you like?"

Now it was Caleb's turn to make a silly face.

"Shut the hell up, man!" he groans.

"Talking to women is like, learning how to ride a bike, okay? You got to know how to finesse the situation."

"Finesse?" Enrique repeats. "Damn, you are head over heels in love, huh?"

Caleb laughs awkwardly, punching him in the shoulder.

"Yeah, right," he smirked. "So where are you staying?"

Enrique shrugs his shoulders. "I was hoping I could stay with you.

Caleb's smile vanishes. "I can't do that, man. Your dad will kill me."

His best friend sighs in defeat. "I know, but I am sick of living with my dad. He always knocks me around, while my mom drinks in her room."

The two boys head down the sodden sidewalk, ignoring the freezing fog nipping their heels.

Caleb knew Enrique's father is a piece of shit. Proud district attorney by day — unstable drunk by night. Initially, his mother attempts to shield Enrique from the blows, but like Brooke, she became disillusioned and depressed.

Since his parents were useless, Caleb decides to look out for Enrique - even though he is a couple of years younger than him. They babbled about girls, plundered local convenience stores, and snuck into concerts and parties to have a good time.

But the one thing Caleb never does is drag Enrique into his life of crime. If he did, then the innocence he fought so hard to protect will go out like a fragile light bulb.

"Look, man." Caleb sighs. "You need to stay at your aunt's place. She has a lot of nieces and nephews who love the hell out of you."

Enrique squints his hazel eyes at Caleb.

"What about you?" he asked. "Don't you have a place to stay?"

"For now, I am sleeping in an arcade."

Enrique slows down. "Huh?"

"You know?" Caleb grins. "The one we used to visit when we were kids? I am planning to stay there until I find another place to crash."

Gnawing on his bottom lip, Enrique kicks the pebble with his dirty NIKE.

"Are you sure that's a good idea, man?"

"Hell yeah," Caleb slithers his hands inside the pockets of his black bomber jacket. "I am not going back to foster care again."

Enrique bobs his head. As much as he didn't like his friend sleeping in isolated places, Enrique knew Caleb hates being molded into something he's not.

"I'll see you in the morning, Caleb," says Enrique.

"See ya later."

After a brief handshake, the boys part ways. Reaching into his pocket, Caleb takes out a cigarette, burns the tip with a small lighter, and starts smoking. It's been a while since he had picked up a cigarette. His old foster parents try to get him to quit, but they made the boy feel at ease.

Cigarettes give people lung cancer, but they were better than snorting drugs.

Speaking of addiction, Caleb watched Sermon Sal's red convertible prowling the streets for any poor, confused souls.

Caleb rolled his eyes. "Isn't it a little late for hassling homeless people?"

Sermon Sal is a self-centered assclown, but he has ambition, magnetism, and resources that will envy Bruce Wayne.

So far, he has compiled enough money to rebuild his old church — thanks to the drug money his "congregation" had collected over the years.

Cruising down Mulberry Drive, Sermon spots Brooke staring at a small jewelry store.

Through the windowpane were pearl necklaces, diamond-studded earrings, golden rings, and precious bracelets.

When Brooke was young, she and Mia would always stare at jewelry stores, imagining themselves as princesses in faraway lands. Whenever they were finished admiring the trinkets on the display, Brooke and Mia would wander through thrift stores to get gorgeous bell-bottoms, shoes, and lovely tees for under 20 dollars.

They would spend three hours talking about Jodeci, reading gossip magazines, and listening to old jazz records until it was time to go home.

As Brooke peers at the jewelry store, the lecherous Sermon Sal takes a keen interest in the girl. She wears an orange heavy jacket, a black, baggy sweater, long denim jeans, and brown hunting boots Johnny had bought for her last Christmas. Her slightly messy hair covered her shoulders, while a golden locket grasps around her neck.

She had acne and terrible whiteheads, but the girl is a vision. Rolling down his window, a sly Sermon Sal steers his car in Brooke's direction.

"Hello, there." Sermon Sal greeted. "My name is Sermon Sal. What's yours?"

A cautious Brooke stops ogling the shiny accessories then walks straight ahead.

"Where are you going this late?"

"None of your business."

Caleb stops smoking for a minute, then gazes at his crush getting harassed by Sermon Sal. Immediately, Caleb ditches his cigarette on the floor. Next, he pulls out his Chiappa Rhino, then finally tails the red convertible.

"Don't do something fucking stupid." he thinks, watching Brooke shuffling on the concrete sidewalk.

Sermon Sal can feel his penis getting harder. He persuaded Brooke to get in his car, but the girl refused.

Sermon Sal nods grimly, but his tone of voice made Brooke feel uneasy.

"Are you sure?" he pressed, slowing the car.

Brooke nods some more. "Yeah, I am fine, but thank you."

"I have Pepsi inside the car," Sermon Sal went on. "If you want I can—"

"Fuck off." Brooke interrupts angrily.

That made Sermon Sal angry. "What the hell did you say to me? Do you know who I am?"

"Yes!" she yells. "I know exactly who you are, and what you do to helpless teenage girls! So fuck off!"

As the words hang in the air, Sermon gives her a menacing look.

An angry Brooke storms down Main Street, encouraging Caleb to raise his gun and point it at the back of Sermon Sal's head.

"Nice and clean, Caleb." the juvenile tells himself. "Nice and clean."

He attempts to shoot Sermon Sal, until the sinful preacher pulls to the curb, abandons his red convertible, then storms up to a terrified Brooke.

"Leave me the hell alone." she croaked.

Enraged, the preacher tries to grab her by the arm, but she kicks him square in the crotch. The pain spread between his legs like a hideous disease.

Misery brought tears to his perverted eyes, as his enormous hand socks the horrified girl in the face. Dark blood speeds from her split lip to the tip of her chin.

She collapsed on the floor with a loud thud!

"You goddamn bitch!" Sermon Sal yanks a fleeing Brooke by the hair and pulls him close to his face. "Are you trying to make me lose my temper?"

"Let go of me!" Brooke yelled. She beats Sermon Sal on his chest when seven loud gunshots alarmed her.

Blood slithers the left side of Sermon Sal's head. A startled expression distorts Sermon Sal's face as he releases Brooke from his prurient hold and deteriorates on the concrete floor.

Horrified, Brooke distances herself from the fresh corpse until she sees Caleb tucking the firearm in his waistband.

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