Deputy Hadley: Apparently, Hewitt had worked there for years. I’m sorry, Doc. I guess your uncle picked the wrong day to fire the man. One thing I don’t get is, if this guy was the one dolin’ out the cursin’, why’d Hewitt hurt your uncle?
Dr. Ambrel: The lackey doesn’t hold the power, the boss does. Even a man with Hewitt’s problems is capable of recognizing that. He’d probably been taught to do that job and it might have been all he had to help feed his family. For a troubled person, it is common that a loss of employment becomes the catalyst that leads the subject into committing a first murder.
Deputy Hadley: That’s pretty cold, Doc. He was your uncle – family.
Dr. Ambrel: He was a brute, and likely instrumental in helping to exacerbate the personality problems in the young Hewitt. I’m not studying this case to avenge my uncle, David. I merely intended to keep a promise to my mother, to discover what had happened to him. It is Thomas Hewitt who is worth my time – unparalleled careers are built studying such men. So I want to know everything you’ve got on him and his whole clan.
Deputy Hadley: Fine, I’ll scratch your back, but then it’ll be my turn.
There was barely enough water left at the bend in the creek to wade in. It reached her knees, but the bottom was a slippery, sticky mud that Amarie wasn’t willing to get more than her toes into.
Hopefully, the house water can be fixed before breakfast.
One large slanting rock, that might have once been part of the bank before it gave way in the heat, became a convenient bathing platform. She could sit on it and splash the water up for a quick wash. It would be dark soon, and she didn’t want to be out much after that.
Stripping down, she left her dirty dress in a heap, with the clean clothes and towel folded in a pile on the bank beside it. Washing up as best as she could, her thoughts drifted away to the memory of seeing her enemy subdued.
The woman had been trussed up spread-eagle on Uncle Hoyt’s heavy old four-poster bed, with her head at the foot, and a heavy wooden beam securing her wrists with rope to the frame of the footboard. He had explained to her that the carved columned railings weren’t strong enough to hold her.
An inadequate gag stuffed in her mouth, Kelli had returned to cursing and threatening the moment she came to. It only amused the sheriff, of course, who had allowed his niece to slap the woman and insult her all she liked.
She hadn’t been able to watch him do what he wanted, but knowing it would happen was a delicious revenge.
As she walked out, she had told Kelli that now she would find out how it felt. That was the best – seein’ her eyes as I left her there.
Amarie’s thoughts turned to Frankie, the man Kelli had claimed, and hurt her to keep. A big man, he hadn’t been gentle, but he had made her feel good, and he’d been kind. It hadn’t mattered to her that he was scarred, or not as handsome as some of the others. The real reason she’d liked him had been harder to grasp, before. Since meeting her new family, it seemed clear.
It was the power he held over ‘em, wasn’t it? Over anyone he met, too. Kelli had some sorta hold over him, but no one else ever told him what to do – or they died tryin’. If I coulda taken him from her, he woulda kept me safe.
Forcing her thoughts away from the woman, she focused on the things Kelli’s man had done. His fingers, tongue – all of him – had made her forget the painful fumbling of her hated father. A low moan escaped her lips as she leaned back on one elbow, her fingers slipping between her legs.
Imagination came alive in the quiet of the place as the sun began to set, but the image of Frankie kept morphing into the hulking figure of her new brother, Thomas. She had seen him once, and only from the back, but already he had become a near mythic person in her mind, from all the tales the family had told of his strength and loyalty.
He’s not really my brother … so I could… She frowned then at the memory of Momma Hewitt’s words, that her son was like a child. Maybe he wouldn’t understand?
She gasped at the sound of a stick in the brush breaking, just beyond the darkening line of trees. Instinct told her to grab the clean clothes, dress, and flee, but she suppressed the urge. If the intruder was an enemy, she’d have heard a motorcycle, even in the distance.
Withdrawing from pleasuring herself, her fingers reached for the clothes slowly, but didn’t lift them from the rock.
It has to be him. Uncle Hoyt and Momma both said he watches me. Sitting up, she called softly, “Hello? Tommy? Please come out, I wanted to meet you.”
Another rustling noise sounded and her searching eyes found the heavy silhouette before it ceased to move. Filling the space between two trees, the shadow stared at her. The right arm seemed abnormally shaped, and too long, as if he held something bulky.
The chainsaw? They’ve all said he don’t like to leave it behind. “I was proud o’ you, today – you and Uncle Hoyt. He told me that you caught the man Kelli was with, and that you killed him. She said it was Tony and I wanted him dead pretty bad – I hope it hurt. If you used that, I guess it must have.”
He made no sound now, though she could still feel his stare. Confused, and wondering if her nudity could upset him, she drew the folded towel and dress into her lap, opening the towel to dry off without looking away.
“You took care of the other two for me, didn’t you … Jim and Rock,” she told him, just to have something to say. “Tommy, if you won’t speak, would you walk back with me? It’s gettin’ late.”
Had the shadow shifted, moved back? Quickly, she pulled the dress over her head and then searched for him again – but the silhouette was gone. Sighing, she gathered her things and stood, moving carefully up the rock face to the bank. Slipping into her sandals, she rolled the towel and dirty dress and tucked them under her arm, her eyes on the trees.
“I won’t hurt you. How could I? You could probly snap me like one o’ those twigs. Tommy?”
Silence surrounded her. Shaking her head, Amarie started back toward the house. The moment she moved, she heard his steps behind her and paused, but didn’t turn. When she stopped, so did he. Smiling, she walked off again, and the heavy footsteps followed.
Careful not to turn her head, she called out, “Thank you, Tommy.”
She was alongside the longer back section of the T-shaped house when his steps ceased. Turning swiftly, she barely saw the movement of the storm doors that she had kicked earlier, as they closed over a large shape.
The temptation to follow was strong, but after a few quick breaths, she continued past the open garage and around to the back door.
Momma Hewitt was working in the large warm kitchen as Amarie entered the room.
“I couldn’t catch you in time, but your uncle went downstairs to fix that pipe. Did you get a good bath anyway?”
“Yes, ma’am, and I had comp’ny – sorta.”
A short laugh announced her uncle’s arrival. He wore his sheriff’s uniform and drank from a small glass bottle. “Water’s back on. Tommy came by at the creek?” he asked, grinning.
Amarie nodded, automatically helping with the dishes as her mother got the water going at the sink. “He wouldn’t come outta the trees, but I could see his shadow. I thought maybe the bathin’ would bother him, so I hurried up with it.”
“No tellin’, honey, but don’t you worry ‘bout a thing – gonna have a talk with him tonight, man to man.”
She didn’t miss the suspicious look her mother gave him, or the fact that she was being dismissed when she was told to go and fetch the remaining dishes from the dining room table. Gathering up a precarious stack of the red and white checkered china plates, she headed back as fast as she dared, hoping to hear their chat. Neither of them spoke softly, though, and their voices came clear through the open door.
“You watch what you say to Tommy, especially ‘bout Amarie,” Momma Hewitt warned, a note of worry in her voice.
“Ain’t got nothin’ to do with my niece, Momma, this is between the men. That nephew o’ mine is overdue for a few lessons; it might could do him some good, too.”
When Amarie returned to the dining room for Mason jar glasses and silverware, toting them back as fast as the last load, both adults fell silent as she entered the kitchen again. Frowning, she watched them leave her.
“Finish up, now, that’s a good girl,” Uncle Hoyt directed her, steering his sister by an elbow to another room.
Amarie gave up on snooping when she saw her uncle wink at her before closing the door to the den. Old Monty had to be in there, too, since she could hear the television going.
In the hall, she paused on her way back to the dining room, and then turned. The metal door to the basement was close by, the tiny round lens in it blank – but she could feel the silent stare that hid behind it.
“Come out … please? I’m lonely.” Neither the door nor the lens moved. Sighing, she went back to toting dishes. Maybe I could go visit Henrietta tomorrow? The temptation to go upstairs and torment Kelli faded as quickly as the impulse to invade the basement. Is she even still alive? I ain’t heard her scream since before supper.
Luda Mae crossed her arms over her chest, her eyes narrowing behind her glasses. “You know that child’s curious ‘bout him –”
“Curiosity’s healthy, Momma, but I done told you, this ain’t ‘bout Amarie.” He approached, hugged her rigid body, and then chuckled as he left the den.
Luda Mae watched him go, a concerned frown on her face. Turning to Monty, she asked, “You dunno what he’s up to?”
“Nope. Don’t care, neither. I don’t get involved with his business.”
Leaving him to his program, she returned to the kitchen. Amarie had finished the dishes, so she allowed the girl to help her make up a plate for Thomas, but declined her offer to take it to him herself.
“Ain’t tryin’ to worry you,” she explained, “but Tommy has to be used to you a lot more. There’s a danger, y’hear? He dunno his own strength, and if you frighten him, he might could hurt you before he knows it. Usually, if he hurts someone, they don’t recover so well, so I’d rather you were less impatient and more cautious.”
Amarie nodded again, but her silence had a touch of resentment in it. “I know I gotta be careful, ma’am, but I only wanna see him – is that so bad?”
“Can you understand that my boy ain’t … handsome? Bein’ seen – it’s not the way to relax him.”
“I don’t care how he looks, Momma.”
“Well, that is a blessin’, child.” Exasperated, she continued, “He’s a good boy, a gentle soul, if you don’t harm his family, but I wonder if your interest is entirely sisterly?”
Amarie looked away with a blush on her cheeks, and Luda Mae sighed. Picking up the hot plate with an oven mitt, she moved away to give her son his supper.
“Go on up and get ready for bed, child.”
“Could I go see Henrietta tomorrow? At her home?”
“Certainly. You could help me at the store, too, if you wanted.”
“Oh, yes, ma’am, I’d like that!” Amarie hugged her before fleeing up the stairs.
~ ~ ~
“I missed you at the supper table, Tommy,” Luda Mae whispered as she watched him eat. “I’m proud o’ you, too – you did a good thing, guardin’ your sister this evenin’.” Pausing a moment, she added, “Did you understand what she was doin’? Washin’ up?”
His nod was hesitant and it made her wonder what else the girl had done, but her chance to ask disappeared when her brother arrived.
Stopping at the first landing, he peered down at them. “Finish that and c’mon up, Tommy. Your sister’s gone to bed now.”
He left with a smirk on his crafty face, knowing he’d be obeyed, no matter what she said. Luda Mae sighed, but didn’t try to confuse Thomas, or make him choose between them.
Taking the plate, she nodded to him. “Go on.”
~ ~ ~
The ragged screams cut across her sleep. Luda Mae grunted and started to curse Charlie under her breath. Uncle Monty wasn’t yelling at him to shut the woman up yet, but since they’d moved his bedroom downstairs, he might be able to sleep through it.
Wish I could, she thought, a growl on her lips. He’ll wake Amarie, if he hasn’t already. Is he tired o’ his trollop so soon? He must have asked Tommy upstairs to finish her off the way he likes. Frowning, she muttered, “They better not ruin those bedclothes again.”
In the act of pulling a pillow over her head, knowing the chainsaw was coming shortly, she froze as her brother’s voice spoke from the bedroom across the hall. The words were instructions, but not orders to kill.
“Now, you use the same thing you piss with, but you don’t pee in the woman. See, here? That’s the sweet spot; all you gotta do is stick it in. Hell, if you get that far, nature oughta take over, even for you. Pay attention, Tommy, I’m tryin’ to teach you somethin’ good.”
Disgust and concern filled her as she rose, yanking her bathrobe on over her nightgown. Marching across to his door, Luda Mae pushed it open so hard it struck the opposite wall and shuddered there.
Thomas sank down when she entered, a guttural moan escaping his lips. Charlie was kneeling on the bed, still in his uniform. His fingers left the woman’s body as she screamed again.
“Well, hello, Momma. Did we wake you?”
“What do you think you’re doin’ to my boy?”
“Nothin’, so far, he won’t come near the wretched thing.”
“Please,” the woman begged, coughing. “Please kill me. Don’t let that … sick animal touch me…”
Outraged, Charlie cuffed her hard enough to throw her head back. “You shut your cocksucker, you dirty bitch! That’s my nephew, and you’ll learn respect!”
Luda Mae frowned at them both and turned to her son. “Thomas Brown Hewitt, you go downstairs right now, y’hear me? Get outta here, and I’ll come and talk to you.”
Before he could get up, Charlie had left the bed to block the door, moving Luda Mae backward out of his room. Over his shoulder, he ordered, “Stay put, boy, I ain’t done with you.”
She glared at him as he faced her, but the look in his eye told her instantly that she couldn’t win.
“Charlie, please, you’re confusin’ him –”
“It’s ‘Sheriff Hoyt’, damn it, I done told you – Charlie’s dead. Go on back to bed and I’ll see to it she don’t yell curses no more, or anythin’ else, for that matter.”
“Tommy cain’t understand; you’ll upset him!”
“That’s the whole point, woman – to make him understand. You think this ain’t what Amarie’s thinkin’ ‘bout? Ask her. I didn’t have to.”
“You said this had nothin’ to do with Amarie!”
“Well, I lied, cuz I knew you’d fuss. Now go on, and lemme play matchmaker. Dealin’ with him is hard work, ain’t it? The girl’s gotta have a good reason to stick ‘round and do that, I figure. Since raisin’ her to take care o’ him was your idea, you lemme get on with mine – teachin’ him to help her enjoy it.”
He never touched her, but each step forward pushed her back into the center of the hall. She looked in his eyes for only a moment, and then looked away. “Please don’t frighten my boy…”
“I’m tryin’ not to, Momma. You just go on back to sleep now and lemme get to it.” He turned away and addressed his nephew again. “I see you didn’t bring your knife. Here’s mine. Go take the whore’s tongue out – you’re good at that. Don’t damage anythin’ else just yet, neither. I gotta better idea how to teach you.”
Luda Mae held herself tightly as her brother shut the door.
“Momma? Is everythin’ all right?”
Startling, she looked down the hall to see Amarie leaning out of her door. “It’s fine, child, go back to bed.” Returning to her own room, she muttered, “Don’t frighten him… My poor boy…”
The knife nicked the corner of the mouth, but his uncle didn’t scold him for it. Holding up the blade and the tongue, blood ran from both over his hands as he offered them up.
Taking the knife and wiping it on the woman’s thigh, the older man smiled. “You can have that. I know I pulled you from your supper a bit early.”
He wasn’t hungry and it would be unpleasant raw, but his uncle’s eyes were watching – judging him. With two fingers, he put it in his mouth through the gash in the mask and swallowed it whole as quickly as he could.
“Ha ha, good boy. Not too different from sushi, though you wouldn’t know that. Oh, shut the fuck up,” he added to his captive. “What’s the use o’ moanin’ ‘bout it now? Maybe if you hadn’t called him names, things would be different. Anythin’ else you’d rather we cut off before we play with it?” When she fell silent, he laughed again. “That’s right – done told you that you’d learn respect.”
Thomas immediately backed away from her again, flinching when his uncle chastised him.
“Damn it, Tommy, if you’d just trust me, you could have a lot more fun in life. Amarie, she wants to play with you – but you won’t face her to try just yet, so here we are. I figure all you need is a little…You listenin’ to me, Thomas? Ah, shit, fine – show and tell it is. Listen up, boy – this is for you, so you’ll watch and learn, okay? Anythin’ you don’t understand, I’ll explain at the end, but you got all the same parts and any other female’s got her parts, too. The rest is just like learnin’ to butcher meat – there’s a process, and when you get it right, you’ll like the results.”
He didn’t dare turn away as his uncle dropped his pants and lay down on the sluggishly struggling body. Pressing his back against the wall, his palms left bloody streaks on the wallpaper before his hands balled into fists.
Other people not of his family either never touched him, or did so only to hurt him. To touch them like that – the thought of it made his stomach cramp. Why did his uncle want him to have this touch with the girl? They’d all told him not to hurt her.
The movement looked like they were wrestling, fighting. The woman wept as his uncle bit her, but was he trying to eat? She moaned if he hit her, but then he cried out, a shout of surprise, or maybe pain? Had the woman attacked him?
Instantly angry in spite of his fear, Thomas growled low and crossed the room in two strides. He grabbed the woman’s head in one hand and started to squeeze.
“Hang on, Tommy!”
Confused, he stopped, but did not let go.
“You think I got hurt?” Shaking his head, his uncle sighed. His body ceased moving and lay still. “That was cuz it felt good, boy. You’ll see when you try it, now let go, or you’ll pop her.”
Thomas released the head, glaring down at the wet eyes that stared up at him in terror. She was trying not to choke on her own blood, and seeing that, he didn’t regret eating her tongue anymore.
“Tommy, you poor confused bastard, you just wait. When you find out for yourself, the world’s gonna get a little bit brighter. For now, just trust me on this – fuckin’ feels as good as killin’ – in its way.”
Reluctantly watching as his uncle’s body slipped out of the woman’s, slick with blood and some nameless milky fluid, he couldn’t repress a shudder – but he did want to trust.
Could it be like the blade? Just ‘nother kind o’ pain that gives pleasure?