‘Who’s there?’ called an old voice from inside.
‘Bill Smith. We haven’t met, but I live down the block. I was passing by, and happened to notice your beautiful azaleas.’
The door opened.
He knew it would.
‘Mr Smith?' The short, smiling woman offered her hand. ‘I’m Hedda Dunning.’
Willy took her hand, gripped it tightly, and threw his forearm against her chest. He shoved her backward into the house and followed her, clutching her wrist. He shut the door.
‘Young man! What’re you…?’ She squealed when he twisted her arm. It was an old arm, bony and brown. Willy wondered if he was strong enough to break it off.
Sobbing, Hedda blurted, ‘Leave me alone! Don’t hurt me!’
He grinned and took off his sunglasses.
The old woman’s weeping eyes narrowed. ‘I know you,’ she said. ‘You’re that William Johnson who molested…’
‘Good memory for an old bag. I’ve got a good memory, too. Like, I remember your testimony. You fucked me good.’
‘Don’t you use that language with me, you no-good snake.’ She tried to jerk her arm free. She kicked. The toe of her shoe hit Willy’s shin.
‘Do you think that hurt?’ he asked.
She kicked him again.
His fist doubled her. She wheezed and choked as he dragged her into the kitchen. There, he picked her up. Clutching the back of her collar, he opened the refrigerator door. He shoved her head in. He slammed the door on it.
Eggs fell out of the holder in the door. Two of them broke on the back of her head. Willy had to laugh.
Then he stretched her out on the kitchen floor and stripped her naked.
Later, he wanted to see if he really was strong enough to rip off her arm.
He tore the other arm off, too. But her legs were tougher, and he was a little worn out by the time he got to them, so he gave up after doing no more than breaking the left one out of its hip socket.
He took a Pepsi out of her refrigerator, popped it open, and sat down at the kitchen table.
From there, he had a fine view of Marty’s house.
Marty’s hands were soapy when the telephone rang.
‘It’s for you, dear,’ her mother called from upstairs.
Marty rubbed the sponge once more over the slick surface of the plate, then rinsed off the soap and stood the plate upright in the drain rack. After wiping her hands on a towel, she picked up the phone. ‘I’ve got it,’ she called. Then she said, ‘Hello,’ into the mouthpiece.
‘How you been?’ Dan asked. There was a flatness in his voice. He sounded weary.
‘Not too great. How about you?’
. ‘Well…’ He was silent for a few moments, then said, ‘I’m sorry about last night.’
‘I shouldn’t have fought with you like that.’
‘Are you sorry for what you did to Willy?’
‘He got what he deserved.’
‘Damn it, Marty!’
‘I know you think you did it for me. But you didn’t have to brutalize the man.’
‘When are you gonna grow up? You meet violence with bigger violence. That’s how it works.’
‘You’re wrong. You’re so wrong.’ Marty’s chin started trembling. Her eyes filled with tears. ‘I know you did it for me, to protect me. I know that. But it was… so horrible! I… I just don’t know…’ There was a long silence in the phone.
‘I don’t like… this other side of you.’ Sobbing, she waited for him to speak. But he didn’t. ‘You tortured him, Dan. You
He didn’t try to defend himself; he hung up.
Marty put down the phone and stood there, gazing at the wall. Then she ran upstairs to her bedroom, flopped down on her bed and sobbed into her pillow.
Soon, the pillow was warm under her face. Warm and wet. Her body, tired from crying, relaxed. Sleep washed all the pain away as it came down on her, pleasant and heavy, an old friend bringing peace.
When she woke up, she listened to the house. It was silent except for the electric hum of her alarm clock. She glanced at the clock. Almost seven.
Her face felt tight where the tears had dried. Rubbing it with both hands, she thought back to dinner. Her parents had mentioned going over to the Bransons tonight.
The house sounded empty. Apparently, they’d already left.
Marty sat up on the side of her bed, wondering what to do. She couldn’t stay alone in the house - not with Willy out there someplace.
If he isn’t in a hospital.
Or a morgue.
No, he couldn’t be dead. Dan hadn’t hurt him enough to kill him.
She kicked off her sandals, unfastened her belt, and slipped off her shorts. Standing, she looked out the window. The neighborhood looked deserted. No kids were playing in the street or yards. Nobody was mowing grass. Even Hedda was missing from the chair on her front porch where she always planted herself after dinner to watch whatever might be going on within eye range.
Marty shut the drapes, then took off her blouse. As she took off her bra and panties, she thought about Dan.
Don’t wear any. Give him a big surprise.
Sure thing. No way.
She put on a fresh pair of panties and a new bra. Then she put on a fresh white blouse and a bright yellow skirt that Dan liked.
Cause it’s so short.
He’d have me bare-ass naked if I’d let him.
I must be nuts,
she thought as she picked up the phone beside her bed and tapped in Dan’s number.
I’m not nuts,
she told herself. Everything was fine till last night. Everything was great.
After the fourth ring, his answering machine picked up. The sound of his voice almost made her start crying again.
She waited for the beep, then said, ‘Hi. It’s me. Are you there? Anyway, I’m sorry about… everything. I don’t want to lose you over a thing like this. Okay? Anyway, I’m alone and I was thinking maybe you could come over. But I guess you’re not home? Anyway… give me a call or something. Bye.’ She hung up.
Where are you?
She went down the hall to the bathroom. Grimacing at herself in the mirror, she muttered, ‘You really blew it, champ. Congratulations.’
She washed her face and brushed her hair, then headed downstairs. On the kitchen table was a note:
We’re off for the Bransons. Won’t be home till late. If you go off somewhere, be sure and leave a note.
Marty went to the sink. Empty. The counter, too. Someone had finished the dishes for her and put them away.
She checked the kitchen door to make sure it was locked. Then she made a tour of the house. The front door was locked. She crossed the living room and checked the sliding glass door to the back yard. When she pulled, it rumbled open. No real surprise; the thing was a devil to get locked.
She pushed it with all her strength and pressed the metal switch. Then she tugged again at the handle. The door stayed shut.
After making sure the rest of the house was secure, she returned to the living room. She sat on the sofa, picked up the TV remote, and thumbed the power button.
The television stayed dark.
‘Great,’ she muttered.
She tried a few other buttons, in case someone had pushed something by mistake. But they didn’t help.
Putting down the remote, she got to her feet and stepped over to the television. She braced herself against the walnut top of the console, bent over, and peered down behind it.
The power cord was unplugged.
How the hell could that happen?
Marty stretched herself across the top of the set and reached down for the cord.
A hand grabbed her between the legs.
With his one good eye, Homer Stigg saw a girl up ahead. Seemed funny, a young gal like that walking south this time of the evening. Next town, Mawkeetaw, was a good twenty miles. Not so much as a gas station till then. Nothing but road and forest.
Well, he was heading for Mawkeetaw.
His insides seemed to twist up and quiver.
No, best leave it alone.
Such a pretty young thing. Those legs. That golden hair hanging way down her back. And that dress. That dress wasn’t decent. Those colors, though.
Homer had never seen one so shiny and bright. It put him in mind of Joseph’s coat of many colors.
Oh, now she was turning around, looking straight at him.
Her face so sweet and lovely. Her dress sticking to her in front. Plain as the nose on your face, she didn’t have on a stitch of clothing underneath that dress.
Now her thumb was out and she smiled at him.
Homer’s foot lifted off the gas pedal. He felt so tight inside that he thought he might get sick. He hunched over the steering wheel.
Keep on driving, boy. It ain’t right to give rides to such sweet young gals.
But what if you leave her there? If you leave her, won’t be long before another fella comes along. Maybe a fiend who’ll violate the temple of her body.
So he stopped.
Turning his head, Homer watched the girl hurry toward the car. Her dress, all green and red and blue and golden, rippled and shimmered as she came.
Homer leaned across the seat and opened the door for her.
‘Thanks,’ she said, bending down to look in. ‘Where you heading?’
‘Down Mawkeetaw. Hop on in, if you wanta go that way.’
She nodded her head and started to climb in. Homer turned away as she reached a leg into the car and her dress started sliding up her thighs.
‘That where you live?’ he asked. ‘Mawkeetaw?’
‘No.’The door thumped shut.
‘Where you call home?’
‘Up north,’ she said. Her voice had a hard edge.
Homer pulled onto the road. ‘What’s your name?’ he asked. ‘Nothing.’
‘Don’t you defy your elders, girl.’
After a few moments of silence, she muttered, ‘Tina. My name’s Tina.’
‘Where’s your manners, girl?’
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, sounding like a little child.
Homer looked at her. Her head was down, her face solemn, her hands folded on her lap. The dress barely covered her lap. Her legs were tawny and smooth.
He wanted to touch them.
Looking away quickly, he leaned forward to ease his tight, sick feeling.
But he was afraid she might get suspicious if he stopped talking. So he said, ‘You got family in Mawkeetaw?’
‘I’ve been there a few times for the fair,’ she said. Her voice was very quiet.
‘You from Gribsby?’
‘I never said that.’
‘You running away from home?’
‘I’ve got me half a mind, girl, to turn this buggy around and take you back. I’ll bet Sheriff Diggins, he could find your folks in no time flat.’
‘Don’t you dare try it,’ she said. Her voice was a taut whisper. Homer looked at her. She met him with steady, narrowed eyes.
Her face looked as if it expected a punch, but wouldn’t budge an inch. ‘I’m not going back,’ she said. ‘Never. You just try taking me back and see what happens.’
‘Keep a civil tongue in your head, girl.’
‘I’m not going back.’
‘Maybe you are, and maybe you aren’t.’
‘What do you mean by that?’
His heart was suddenly pumping madly. What
he mean by that?
Lord, so confusing.
‘I shouldn’t have picked you up,’ he said. His voice had a dry, raspy sound that frightened him.
‘You didn’t have to,' Tina said.
‘Oh yes, I sure did. I had an obligation. A Christian obligation. It was my duty. I have to save you.’
‘Fiends. There’s all kinds of fiends in this world. Fiends just waiting to get their filthy hands on the sweet, young flesh of girls like you.’ He cleared his throat, but the scratchy sound wouldn’t go away. ‘Just couldn’t leave you there on the road. Fiends’d get you for sure.’
She looked at him.
She looked wary.
‘Now don’t fret, Tina. I won’t let them get you. I’ll protect you. I sure will.’ Reaching out, Homer ran his fingers through her hair. So soft. Soft and golden, like her skin.
When the hand grabbed her, Marty jumped and banged her head on the wall. Then she looked over her shoulder.
She kicked and tried to shut her legs, but his hand stayed between them, clutching her, hurting her. An arm wrapped around her hips. It pulled her off the television. When she started to scream, Willy flung her to the floor and dropped on top of her, crushing out the scream.