Deputy Hadley: Her mother-in-law described the rings correctly, they are Dodie Connor’s. I cain’t hold out much hope that neither one o’ ‘em are alive, but the girl won’t say a thing, one way or ‘nother. If she’d rub two words together –
Dr. Wincott: She had plenty to say in the back of your car.
Dr. Ambrel: Miss Trambler appears to have Stockholm syndrome.
Dr. Wincott: With all due respect, Doctor, I’m not sure it’s that simple. Why did she have the rings? She cried and begged to keep them. She didn’t behave like a rescued prisoner, she sounded like a kidnapped girl – kidnapped by us.
Dr. Ambrel: I believe Stockholm syndrome explains all of that, Dr. Wincott.
Dr. Wincott: Maybe, maybe not. Here’s my report, Doctor. As you’ll see, she’ll need to remain in the medical wing here. She can’t be moved to the asylum.
Deputy Hadley: Why’s that?
Dr. Wincott: Miss Trambler is pregnant.
Deputy Hadley: Oh, great. She’d be ‘bout sixteen by now, right? That poor girl…
Dr. Wincott: Dr. Sorrel is willing to take her on and work with us. He’s a little set in his ways, but has a great reputation for dealing with traumatized patients.
Dr. Ambrel: Miss Trambler will receive the best care, but we must all proceed with caution in speaking to her. She will likely show loyalty to her captors, and we must help her to see the truth.
Dr. Wincott: ‘The truth’ can be subjective, Doctor.
Amarie sat huddled on the floor in the back corner, staring at the door across the white room. The thin cotton thing she’d been given to wear after they had done things to her barely covered her folded legs. Her hair was still damp and her arm hurt. She sniffed and held herself tightly, her mind whirling with the horror of being snatched away from her family.
She had greeted Uncle Hoyt, but the man that had gotten out of the car was a young man, a stranger. The woman had helped him overpower her, even though she had fought like an angry cat. They had thrown her into the back of the car and taken off, scrambling to get away from her brother.
Tommy… He had attacked them, the chainsaw chewing up the trunk and bumper of the car, but it had gotten away from him. He must be so hurt and confused … like me. They’re gone… Even if she could get away, she had no idea how to find the town again. Fresh tears fell on the dried tracks of older tears. I lost ‘em… Oh, Tommy…
~ ~ ~
“Good morning, Miss Trambler. I want to introduce you to Dr. Sorrel, your obstetrician.”
Amarie looked up, glaring at both men.
“Dr. Ambrel, perhaps I should have a talk with her alone,” the heavier man in the white coat said. “I’ve read the file and your report and notes. Now you must let me do my job.”
She watched them closely, but couldn’t understand many of the words they said to each other. When the thinner man in the fancy suit left, she was glad. He was the one who had sent the others to take her away.
The heavy man closed the door after letting the nurse in and sending the other man away. The nurse perched in the chair by the window and balanced a pad of paper on her knees, a pen held ready over it. The doctor moved around the untouched bed and stood near the nurse, in front of the window. He tucked a yellow paper of some sort under one arm and clasped his thick fingers in front of him.
“Would you rather be called Amarie?”
“Y-yes,” she whispered. Swallowing, she added, “Amarie Hewitt, Mrs. Hewitt.”
“Trambler is your maiden name? I see. Who is your husband?”
“Thomas Brown Hewitt.”
“Would you prefer Amarie or Mrs. Hewitt?”
“Don’t care, just wanna go home. They forced me to be here, shoved me in the car. Make ‘em take me back.”
“Amarie, how old are you?”
She glared up at him.
“The information we have is that you are now sixteen, and in Texas, that means you can’t be legally married without parental or legal guardian permission – which you did not have. It’s also illegal to put you in the condition you’re in.”
“What condition? Illegal to kidnap me, too…”
“Illegal to make you pregnant, Amarie; according to our records, Thomas Hewitt is at least thirty, about fifteen years older than you. Are you certain he didn’t force you?”
“Didn’t force me, he saved my life, over and over. I wanted to be with him. He saved me from Frankie and his gang.” She fidgeted, torn between wanting to keep silent and wanting this man to understand that she needed to go home.
“Who is Frankie?”
“I left home with Frankie, on his bike, but he let his gang hurt me. Tommy saved me.”
“Where are Frankie and his gang now?”
Amarie hesitated, glanced at the nurse, then back up at him. “Gone, they left. Tommy scared ‘em off.”
“I see. Forgive my bluntness, Amarie, but was it Hewitt’s idea to have sex with him?”
She let out a nervous laugh. “No, I had to court him a while, he didn’t know nothin’.”
“How did you know what to do? How to court him?”
“Frankie did it, but before that, my father did. They both did it to me.”
“Your father…” He looked at the nurse, who was scribbling away. Taking the yellow paper, he looked at it. “Your foster father?”
“Yes… He always made me do things and he did lotsa things to me. When Frankie came, I wanted to go off with him. Then he didn’t turn out as nice as he seemed. He let his gang do the same things to me, and they hurt me…”
“What about Thomas Hewitt? Does he hurt you?”
“No! He’s sweet and good, and he saved me! I love him!” Her hands clenched into fists in the cloth over her legs, her tears falling again. “I just wanna go home!”
“To your husband?”
“Yes! Lemme go! Please!”
“All right, Amarie, calm down, please… We aren’t going to harm you.”
“Already harmed me…” She bit her bottom lip and fell silent.
~ ~ ~
“We can’t send you home, Miss Trambler, as that place is not your home. Do you wish to see your mother?” The thin doctor watched her closely, pen poised over paper.
“No, your foster mother, Judith – she has been requesting to see you.”
“Don’t wanna see her, not my mother.” The door opened and Amarie looked up, hoping to see the heavy doctor, but it was the woman – the one who had helped kidnap her. “Go away.” Amarie buried her head in her arms on her knees when the woman came in, leaving the door open.
“Dr. Ambrel, where is the nurse?” she asked, frowning.
“She was on her way; I began without her.”
“The girl is underage and pregnant, Doctor, and she has made a statement that her foster father sexually abused her, and the foster mother knew it. Further, she stated she was raped by other men. The presence of a female in the room is –”
“I’m well aware of that, Dr. Wincott. Miss Trambler appears to dislike the nurse and will barely speak with her here.”
“Why don’t we try a different female, then? Let me talk to her. I’ll take notes.”
Amarie had lifted her head just enough to peek at them. The thin doctor looked annoyed and that made her smirk.
“Very well, see that you do, and meet me in my office afterward.”
He left, shutting the door behind him. Amarie watched the woman cross the room. She was surprised when she sat on the bed. None of the others had done that. The floor was hard and cold, but she felt better with her back to the corner. Every time they put her in that bed after doing things to her, she left it the moment they were out of the room.
The woman picked up and held a folded white blanket in her lap, her fingers stroking it. She didn’t stare like the others.
“I’m sorry about that, Amarie; for a man with his IQ, Dr. Ambrel can sometimes be an idiot. Are you cold?”
Surprised, Amarie caught the blanket as it was tossed to her. It had unfolded halfway in the air. Wrapping the blanket around her back, over her lap, and tucking it under her legs, she watched the woman warily from the warm white mound of it.
“You don’t like the nurse, but really you don’t like Dr. Ambrel, do you?”
“Don’t like you neither. I wanna go home, my real home.”
“Do you know where that is?”
“No… It’s your fault, you and that other sheriff! Y’know where, take me back!” Her knuckles flashed white as she gripped the blanket.
“Other sheriff? You thought we were someone you knew…”
Amarie turned her head away. “You won’t help me. You can all go to Hell.”
“I do want to help you, Amarie. Was his name Hoyt – or Charlie Hewitt?”
“You just wanna get ‘em in trouble. Not gonna tell you nothin’.”
“The pills they give you, or make you take – those are to help your baby. You want to help your baby, don’t you?”
“You know you do. I do, too. I knew Tommy Hewitt.”
Amarie glared up at her. “He didn’t look like he knew you.”
The woman smiled, a nice smile, not a smirk. “He doesn’t remember me. I knew him when I was a young girl, just a year younger than you are now. I’m from Fuller, I grew up there.”
“Those men talk like he’s some animal, he ain’t! He’s sweet and kind. He didn’t hurt me, he didn’t do nothin’ wrong!”
“They think differently than we do. They can’t understand Tommy Hewitt and they never will. Let me tell you something, Amarie; I’m going to trust you with a secret, but you must not tell Dr. Ambrel, or any of them.”
Meeting her gaze, Amarie studied her, wishing she was smart like her uncle and mother. She couldn’t tell if the woman really cared or if she was lying to get something. Amarie nodded slowly.
“Dr. Ambrel wants to catch your husband and bring him here. He thinks there are many things wrong with him, with his mind. He wants to keep him in a place like this and try to change him.”
“Tommy don’t need to be changed and they couldn’t make him do nothin’.”
“Will he come after you, to get you back?”
Hopelessness filled her at that question; it made Amarie shudder. She didn’t know if Uncle Hoyt could find her, but she knew it would be more than Tommy could manage. “Tommy wants me back, but he’s too … simple to do it.”
“That man, the sheriff, who took you – he is going to go back to Fuller and look around. If he lets me go with him again, I could help you, but you need to help me, too.”
“Take me? Please, I gotta go back…” Tears threatened again but she tried to fight them down. “If you take me back, I’ll help you.”
“You can help me just by giving me a lock of your hair.”
Frowning, Amarie glared at her again. “What for?”
“Never mind about that now.”
“If I do, you gotta take me back.” Remembering how they had poked and prodded her by force, two big women holding her still, she shuddered again. “Why don’t you just take it? Nobody asks me, they take.”
“I’m not like that. I had to help that sheriff, but I am asking you – I want you to decide this. Will you trade me?”
“You’ll take me back?”
The woman wrote on the paper quickly for a few minutes. “Getting you back may take some work, and time.”
Crushed, knowing it had to be a lie, Amarie slumped in her corner. “What are you writin’ ‘bout me?” She recoiled when the woman hopped off of the bed and approached her, but as the paper was held out for her to see, she couldn’t resist looking at it.
“Can you read that? Do you think it sounds right?”
Amarie read it and gasped. Staring up at her, she whispered, “Yes, but –”
“It’s a secret,” the woman interrupted. “Right? You have to promise.”
“Say, ‘Yes, Dr. Wincott, I promise…’”
“Yes, Dr. Wincott, I promise.”
“Now if they ask about your family, tell them you’ll only talk to me. Yes?”
“As I said, this may take some work, and you and your baby also need care, which will take time. I’m going to ask you to cooperate more with Dr. Sorrel and his staff, for the sake of the baby.”
“But, how much time…?”
“At least a few months, maybe more.”
“No, I cain’t, I need to go home now!”
“Hush… If you go home now, this won’t work. Fuller is a ghost town and we have to think of your baby. You have good care here and the baby needs more time to grow.” She waited until Amarie slumped again to continue. “All right, then.” The woman tore the piece of paper she had written on off of the sheet and pulled a small scissors from the pocket of her jacket. “May I have a lock of your hair, Amarie?”
Taking a deep breath, Amarie nodded. She might be lyin’, but I dunno what else I can do.
Luda Mae was silent as her brother drove her to the store. She fought back tears because she had cried for days and it didn’t help a thing.
A new screen door Charlie had made was sticking out of the trunk, wobbling as they went down the bumpy road.
“You be careful, Momma, and stick to that phone. I’ll keep close after I fix the door, and you tell Uncle Monty to hail me if you even smell dust kicked up down the road. If that Hadley asshole comes sniffin’ ‘round, you holler and hide.”
Luda Mae nodded, her eyes wet. “How can we find her if they don’t come back ‘round?”
Charlie pulled up in front of the pumps and stopped the car. She got out more slowly than he did.
Spitting tobacco juice in the dirt, he wiped his chin with his hand. “I gotta feelin’ Hadley might. If they make her talk at all, they could be stupid ‘nuff to come after us.”
“How many, do you think?”
Charlie met her worried gaze and shook his head. He knew as well as she did they could only handle so many at once.
“Help me haul this door out, and then I can get it.”
“What if Tommy forgets? If it takes too long and they never come…”
“He remembers her, I know he does, Momma. He won’t forget and we won’t neither. Somebody will come.”
She helped him hang the new screen door and after he checked on the generator out back, he got in the car again and started it up.
“Don’t wanna use up what’s left in the pumps, but if I catch any o’ ‘em bikers, and they got ‘nuff gas, I could make ‘nother run outta town, maybe even try as far as Austin.”
“Not sure it’s worth the risk – not with just me and Monty left here while Tommy’s so outta his senses.”
“Well there’s ways to curb that, too. If I catch sight o’ Tommy, I’ll send him back here. Damn fool’s gonna roast his brains out there, or get shot, dependin’ on how brave any visitors get.”
“Did you tell him we need to be able to talk to the Hadley boy if he comes back?”
“Yeah, I told him. Told him I’d box his ears and kick his ass if he broke him past talkin’, too.” With a nod to her, he put his sunglasses on and drove off.
Just to check up on Monty, Luda Mae headed inside and went to the phone. When she got there, she froze. A piece of folded up paper was sticking out of a pack of cigarettes next to the register. The pack was nearly empty, and it wasn’t hers. On the floor nearby was a crushed cigarette butt – the same brand.
Snatching up the pack, she fished out the paper and carefully unfolded it. With a gasp, she dropped them both and reached for the phone with trembling hands, her heart in her throat.
“Uncle Monty, tell Charlie to get on back to the store, please – and hurry.”
~ ~ ~
“Ever heard o’ her?”
Luda Mae frowned. “I’m not sure, but the Masons had a daughter that left town young.”
The torn piece of paper lay on the counter between them. Charlie held in his fingers the lock of soft blonde hair tied with a bit of string that had been folded inside the paper. The handwriting was fancy, written in blue ink.
“Cassandra Mason, Dr. Cassandra Wincott,” Charlie muttered, rolling the lock of hair between his fingertips. “Could be true and still be a trap.”
“We gotta get Amarie back. She must be so scared…”
Handing the lock of hair to her, Charlie took the note. “I’ll go check out that house she claims is hers. It wasn’t the Mason’s place. It belonged to that old doctor that used to look at Tommy’s face.”
“Not that he ever helped him none.”
Charlie rapped his knuckles on the counter and then grinned. “A trap can be turned, Momma. This skirt wants somethin’, and when they want somethin’, that gives us leverage.”
Luda Mae nodded absently, but as her brother walked to the door, she grabbed the store keys and followed. “Take me with you, I wanna see the place.”
He nodded. “C’mon then, might be safer anyhow.”
The doctor’s place was a house, not a farm, with barely enough land for a little vegetable garden out back. It had a dirty and peeling white picket fence around the front yard that a dog could jump and Charlie could step over. Luda Mae walked down to the open gate that hung in pieces. The walkway to the front porch was overgrown.
“This woman may have bought the place, but she didn’t bother to keep it up.”
Charlie snorted; his boots were loud on the sagging and creaking porch steps. “City folks,” he muttered, as if it was a curse.
The door was locked, but one hard shove of his shoulder popped it easy. They stepped in cautiously, but the floorboards inside were in better shape than the porch. The house was festooned in spider webs and covered in dust, but there were plenty of windows to let in the morning sun.
Charlie picked up a cane from a corner stand by the door and passed it to her. “Take hold o’ that, Momma and smack any damn thing that moves – long as it ain’t me. You check this floor, I’ll go poke ‘round upstairs.”
Luda Mae nodded but as soon as she headed toward the kitchen, she paused. The webs were thick everywhere, but at the kitchen entrance, a big one was broken. Raising the wooden cane in front of her, she walked through it.
The place looked like every other house in Fuller that they had searched for supplies over a year ago. Little was left in them unless it was too big to haul off, nailed down, or useless. On the counter by the rusted sink, an upside-down broken teacup caught her eye. She went over to it and gasped when she looked down at the dusty counter.
A finger had scrawled words in the dust over the cracked and yellowed surface. Two of the words spelled out “Sheriff Hoyt”.
“Charlie! Come quick!”
His boots rattled down the stairs. When he found her, she pointed to the message.
“‘Sheriff Hoyt, up in the barn.’ What in the hell…?”
“This place ain’t gotta barn.” Luda Mae held the cane against her chest. “Maybe the tool shed out back?”
“Up in the barn,” Charlie repeated. “Up might could mean a hayloft.” He looked at her and grinned. “Mason farm’s gotta huge barn, with a hayloft. C’mon, Momma – keep that cane handy. We need to go up the road a piece.”
“Oh, my, my…”
~ ~ ~
The patrol car kicked up a rooster tail of dust behind it as they drove through the open gate at the Mason farm. Rounding past the house in front, Charlie drove right up to the big wooden barn. It was a heap of weathered gray wood and rusted nail heads, its wide double doors shut, but not chained. They got out and looked around.
“What ‘bout that trap you mentioned?” Luda Mae asked, holding her cane up.
Her brother’s only response was to draw his gun and place one finger on his lips to hush her.
She moved to stand behind the patrol car. Watching him open the left-hand door while standing behind it, she put a hand over her mouth. She tensed as he disappeared inside.
When his laughter rang out, the breath she hadn’t noticed she was holding came out as a sigh of relief.
“See here, Momma … looks like we may just have us an ally.”
Luda Mae hurried inside the barn and found him up in the hayloft. She had no interest in trying to go up the ladder. “What is it?”
“Treasure.” His grin was back. “I’ll take you home and then go find Tommy and get him to help me lug this haul back.”
“Charlie, what’s up there?”
He went back to the ladder and started to climb down it. When he reached her, he held her shoulders and smiled. “It’s boxes o’ stuff – medicines, blankets, supplies – and baby stuff.”
“What in the world?”
Charlie winked at her and strolled out of the barn. “Miss Mason wants somethin’, Momma – and she’s willin’ to trade for it.”
“You mean – Amarie?”
“That niece o’ mine’s the only trade I’m gonna take for this.”
Confused, but daring to hope for the first time in a long time, Luda Mae followed him out and got into the car. “Lemme come help you with Tommy.”
“Not this time, Momma. Your boy’s not doin’ so good; best you lemme handle him for now.”
The distant roar of motors came closer, down the gray road – two of them. Thomas pressed his back against the car door, the machine ready in his hands. The meat hanging out of the car on the other side spoke words, calling for help as the others rode up.
By the sound of their laughter as they stopped their motors, Thomas knew they weren’t the kind that would try to help. He twitched when the meat screamed – they had pulled it from the car.
“Check under the seats this time,” a male called out.
Opening a back door, another male shouted, “Smell that! Ooo-wee! This hippie got the good stuff!”
Thomas waited for the second one to enter the car before he moved behind them and ripped at the cord, roaring as the machine sputtered to life. Their shouts sang with the machine as it severed an arm, the metal weapon firing into the dirt as the limb dropped.
Turning, he lunged at the open back door. The meat there scrambled to reach another weapon, but the whirring blade got there first. He thrust it into the chest, hearing ribs pop as they were ground away. Pushing it deeper, he didn’t stop until the blade caught on the closed door behind.
A scrape of leather on gravel sounded as the machine stalled. Leaving the car, he set it down on the ground as he sat on the other body. It had crawled to reach the arm. Picking up the limb, he ignored the clunk of the metal falling and threw it at the car.
Beneath him, the meat screamed. Rage made his fingers shake as he gripped both sides of its head. Lifting it up, he slammed it back down onto the gravel-strewn old road. It took three times before the noises stopped.
~ ~ ~
“You done real good, Tommy – real damn good.”
He watched his uncle use the tube and the can. When he filled it, he emptied it into his car. The praise given fell flat. The pleasure he might have felt in helping was buried under loss.
“Don’t just sit there, son, help me stuff this into the trunk.”
He got up with a grunt and grabbed the limb his uncle was trying to drag the meat by, and used it to haul it up. He dropped it into the open trunk and then went back for the rest, leaving the smaller pieces for his uncle to carry.
“You gonna come home for supper? We damn near got ‘nuff gas for a real shot.”
Looking away from him, Thomas picked up a hand and sniffed at the severed end. Retrieving the machine, he walked back to the car to sit behind it. One hand on the machine, he held the meat in the other and sucked on one of its fingers.
Boots crunching, his uncle moved into view to look down at him, but Thomas didn’t look up.
“Aight, have it your way, for now. Tomorrow, if we cain’t find anymore, I’ll need you to come home. Momma’s been askin’ ‘bout you.”
When the car drove away, he bit into the meat. The cooling blood dribbled down the chin of his mask, and the little bones were everywhere. Spitting one out, he turned his head to stare down the gray road – but it was empty again.
~ ~ ~
Stomping down the basement stairs, Thomas splashed through the water pooled at the bottom. The work table and metal wheel were the same, and all the hooks held meat. Ignoring it all, he went to his bed and set the machine on its little table.
Under the blanket, a small form lay, still and quiet. He crawled onto the bed and curled up close. Fumbling under the blankets, he opened his belt and pants. He reached out and gently took the slender wrist and slid the chilled hand inside against his swelling skin.
It didn’t move, didn’t grasp or stroke. No voice soothed, and no burst of pleasure gave release. Frustrated, he rolled onto it, thrusting his hips at it. The wrist caught in his pants and broke. He whimpered as the hand fell back, flopping against the arm; the flesh was still connected. Pulling the blanket away from the face, he stared at it. The skin had turned black and the joints were stiff.
The white cloth he’d wrapped around the head was loose and the dark hair poked out. The mouth was open, stuck that way. Leaning down over it, he drew the body into his arms and moaned.
At a sound behind him, he flinched and growled, only quieting when his uncle spoke.
“What the fuck are you up to, boy?”
The tone of the words made him duck his head to hide.
“This your new doll to play with? We’re gonna get your sister back, Tommy. Yeah, it’s takin’ a while, but we will; we’re almost ready. Here, lemme help you. Mine went cold, too, so I know what I’m doin’. Shove off it a minute and roll it over.”
Thomas moved and watched, bemused, as he put it on its face.
His uncle grabbed a piece of wood from the floor and pushed it underneath. Humming a sound under his breath, he grasped the knees and pulled them open, then moved off of the bed and sat on the edge of the tub.
“There you go, boy – knock yourself out. Cold’s almost as good as warm in a pinch.” Slapping his hands on his thighs after a few moments, he got up. “Since when did you get shy? After all the fuckin’ you two did upstairs and in the yard, it’s a wonder. Supper’s gonna be ready in a couple hours. Don’t make me call twice.”
When the metal door slammed shut, Thomas cautiously reached out to touch the special place, the place that gave release. It was cold and the flesh felt strange. Shuddering, he lay beside it instead and pulled it into his arms again. Slow at first, and then faster, his hips thrust, rubbing himself on the chilled leg. It wasn’t what he wanted. It wasn’t her … but it might be enough.
When the hot liquid came, messing up the clothes and bed, he fell still. After a while, it cooled too. Moaning low in his throat, he shoved at the corpse so hard that it tumbled out of the bed. The wood that had been under it rang as it struck the tub. In the dim light, the mouth was still stiff and opened wide. It couldn’t come and suckle.
Rolling onto his back, he stared at the boards of the floor above, his hands twitching now and then on his stomach.
Want her … want sister…
Curling over onto his side, he pulled a wad of cloth from under the pillow and laid his head on it. His fingers stroked it, poking in the slash where she had let him cut her the last time. The cloth of the dress was yellow and green, slightly stained, and chilled.
Groping under the pillow again, he found the little knife. Flicking it open with his thumb, he pricked his skin through the shirt he wore and drew the blade down in a long and deepening cut. It gave little relief, and the wound did not sing.