Veiled eyes, p.2
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       Veiled Eyes, p.2

           C.L. Bevill

  Anna laughed reluctantly. The Barbie doll still wasn’t talking to her. So she hauled herself up, shut the door, and settled into the captain’s chair. Then she looked at the trucker. He was in his thirties, late thirties with brown hair under a New Orleans Saints baseball cap. A good-sized man, he was six feet tall if he got out on flat ground, wearing a black western shirt with pearl buttons and new Lee jeans. Western style boots made of dark brown leather were on his feet. He put the Peterbilt into gear and checked his mirrors. “Mind you put that safety belt on, darling.”

  Not looking away from his face, Anna reached for the safety belt. She arranged it over her shoulder and waist and clicked the fastener home. “My name is Anna,” she offered. “I didn’t catch your name on your rig.”

  “Work for a whole lotta fellers,” said the trucker. “Some of ‘em don’t want me advertising for myself when I’m driving their stuff. Easier to leave it off. ‘Sides which I got my big dawg here to let me know who it belongs to.” He reached forward and lovingly patted the dash of the truck.

  “I saw the jaws in front.” Anna took her sunglasses off and hoped the man would do the same. He didn’t. “That’s your handle then? Big dawg?”

  “Mad dawg,” he chuckled. “Don’t you fret about Miss Barbie. She done runs and runs, and she ain’t never gotten caught by the dawg yet.” He glanced at her and started. “My laws. I ain’t never seen eyes that color before.”

  Anna shrugged. She’d heard it before. Her eyes were the shade of an aged bronze coin. Not yellow but ancient gold, the kind that made people look twice. She finally looked away from the trucker and made a casual observation of his working environment. Everything in the cab was neat and tidy. The surfaces were polished. The CB radio above their heads was freshly cleaned, and a little bouncing bar of green and red light let them know that other people were actively chatting, though the sound was turned down. The rug-covered floor was clean. No trash to speak of, not even a little speck of dirt. Nothing was out of place.

  Between their seats was the entrance to the sleeping room in the back. A black curtain hung over it. Anna reached out a hand to take a peek, but the trucker said quickly, “Anna, my dirty laundry’s back there, and I shore don’t want a lady to see that, unlessin’ she’s the type to want that.”

  Anna pulled her hand back. The trucker grinned genially.

  “Sure. I know what you mean,” she said. She put her hands in her lap and hoped he couldn’t hear her stomach growl again. But he did.

  “You hungry, darling?” He didn’t wait for her to answer but produced an apple from a compartment on his side. “You polish that bear up and remember what they say.”

  Anna took the apple and almost drooled. She used the edge of her shirt to clean the granny up. Then she bit into in with great anticipation. “What’s that?” she asked with her mouth full but not caring.

  “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” He chuckled with his own good humor. “Name’s Dan Cullen. Truck driver and philosopher.” He ducked his head and tipped the bill of his cap gallantly.

  “Think that’s an old superstition,” Anna offered after swallowing what was in her mouth and sighing with pleasure.

  “Maybe,” Dan the truck driver answered her solemnly. “But superstition keeps us all on a track next to Godliness. I done avoid walking under ladders and crossing the path of black cats.”

  Anna shrugged and continued eating the apple she had been given. The cab of the truck was warm, she was headed in the right direction, and so far, Mr. Dan Cullen hadn’t made a wrong move. She settled back into the leather captain’s chair and enjoyed a moment of respite.

  She agreed with the truck driver one hundred percent. Anna had had enough bad luck lately to sink a hundred cruise ships in a calm sea, and she didn’t care to make the gods angry if she could otherwise avoid it.

  Then Mr. Dan Cullen gave her a thermos of coffee to drink from, and that was the last thing she remembered.

  Chapter 2

  Sunday, December 14th

  Common folklore dictates that if a knife falls from a table, then a stranger is certain to come to your door.

  The General Store sat a hundred feet from Twilight Lake in the town of Unknown, Louisiana. The store had been there since 1958, since the one before that had burnt down because of a lightning storm. That one had been there since 1895. The Benoit family, who owned the store, bragged to the everyday tourist that they had settled the little town in the 1700s, when France and Spain fought over every inch of soil to be found in the region. Sebastien Benoit had told the story more than a few times in his lifetime. He liked telling the story.

  Of course, the Benoit family had their hands in many areas of enterprise. From the old salt mine to the oil industry, there had been Benoits involved in all. But in the weakening economy of small-town business the general store was Sebastien’s last stand.

  Several tourists over from Dallas were staying in one of the nearby bed and breakfasts in the area. They came to the general store for that authentic air and because Sebastien knew the most about the history of the area. The truth was that he didn’t know the most, but he could tell the story the best way, and that was what really counted. Plus they stopped at the store for bait, maps, and recommendations for the best guides in the area. He supplied it all.

  Sebastien sat at the counter, looking all of his years and then some. White hair spilled down to his shoulders and gold eyes examined his visitors closely. A tall man in his sixties, his hair belied his strength. He knew that he was just as able as when he had been thirty years younger. But sitting inside his store on a comfortable stool next to the cash register, he knew the picture he presented and played up to it.

  The family from a suburb of Dallas listened avidly. Only the youngest one, a boy of fifteen, was getting antsy. The mother said, “What about the name?”

  “Oh,” laughed Sebastien. “One day in the ‘40s the townsfolk got a mind to incorporate. Don’t recollect why. Something to do with getting a traffic light out there.” He waved at the single traffic light just outside the store. “Maybe they wanted some revenue from giving people tickets when they ran it.”

  The parents laughed along with him. The teenage boy glowered.

  “Well, they had to fill out an application,” said Sebastien, ignoring the teenager. “And they couldn’t decide on a name. Some of ‘em wanted to name it after Roosevelt. Some of ‘em wanted to name it after Huey Long. A few even wanted to name it after Harry S. Truman, God rest his soul. But no one could get a majority. So they put unknown down on the application. Always meant to pick a name later and fill it in.” He paused for effect. “But Unknown is what stuck. Unknown, Louisiana.”

  The teenager mumbled under his breath. His mother half turned and lightly slapped the back of his head. “I heard that, Robert Henry Webber.”

  “Ma,” protested the boy, “it’s getting dark already. Can we please go home now? We can get home in time to watch The X-Files. They’re having a marathon of repeats.”

  “I like The X-Files,” announced Sebastien.

  “Huh?” said the kid with great surprise.

  “Shore. As a matter of fact, I reckon the lake out there, one of the few natural lakes in this area was caused by something that would go well on that show.” Sebastien nodded solemnly.

  Robert glanced outside at the black lake. They’d gone on a guided tour yesterday and spent hours on the lake, a much bigger area than the young man would have imagined. The guide, another one of the locals with his odd gold eyes, had told them it was caused by a log jam in the early 1800s. “What’s so supernatural about a log jam?” demanded the teenager belligerently.

  “That what Gabriel told you?” sniffed Sebastien. “Well,” his voice lowered to a conspiratorial level, “the truth is a little different. The local Indians knew the tale and avoided the area after that time because they knew what might happen if they came around the black lake. That’s what they called it. The black lake. With a surface the col
or of pitch and so dark a feller couldn’t see below to know if a fish or a gator was about.”

  Robert was slightly interested. His parents smiled grimly.

  “They say it was Goujon.” Sebastien pronounced it the Cajun way- Go-zhan- emphasizing the second syllable. “Goujon was a huge catfish that ate just about everything he could. He grew and grew and grew and pretty soon he got himself so big that he had to eat some of the deer and gators that wandered too close.”

  “A catfish?” Robert repeated disdainfully. “Catfish don’t eat deer.”

  “Catfish’ll eat anything.” Sebastien smiled politely. “Even a little boy who happened to fall into the water.”

  The teenager took half a step backwards. His doubtful expression faltered.

  Sebastien went on. “So Goujon lived in a lazy little fishing hole, and he had eaten up everything there. He knew he needed more. And since he had grown so big, his brain had gotten big, too. He was one smart catfish, to be sure. He thought about it and thought about it. So he set about blocking one side of the river by pushing a deadfall into place, dragging it with every bit of his being, and soon he had a huge lake and a whole new hunting ground.”

  “And he’s still in there?” said the boy skeptically.

  Sebastien looked out the window at the lake not a hundred feet away, to the dock where a small fishing boat was pulling up to the pier. The deepening purple of the sky was lost in the black surface of the lake, leaving it smooth and calm. He pointed out the window with one hand. “Shore. You can see him if you look real careful.”

  Robert raised an eyebrow and turned to look. His parents turned to look as well. “Where?”

  “You just got to remember that Goujon is real hungry-like,” added Sebastien, standing up slowly. He silently stepped around the counter and put himself just behind the teenaged boy. “Ifin he’s a mind, he’ll crawl up to shore to get hisself something better to eat.”

  “I don’t see anything.” Robert craned his neck.

  “That’s because he’s ALREADY HERE!” yelled Sebastien and gave Robert’s shoulders a little shake.

  Robert yelped and jumped a mile. He twisted around, but Sebastien had already retreated behind the counter. “Jesus Christ!” the kid yelled. “Ma, he scared the crap out of me!”

  His mother was thinking that Sebastien had scared the crap out of her too. The soothing Louisianan accent and intriguing storytelling had lulled her into a false sense of security. She giggled nervously and chastised her son, “Oh, stop with the swearing, Rob. So he got you good. Give you something else besides sucker-faced sewage monsters and cigarette-smoking men to think about.”

  Sebastien smiled to himself. He watched the three people leaving after the mother had purchased some T-shirts and other trivial tourist junk. He added for the boy’s benefit, “Really, son. Goujon’s out there to this day. Longer than Gabriel’s boat, as thick around as a horse, waiting for some hapless tourist to take a swim.” Then he grinned widely, showing all of his yellowed teeth in a smile big enough to eat even skinny, little teenaged boys.

  Robert scowled at Sebastien before the door swung shut.

  Sebastien’s wife, Aurore, came out of the storeroom. She was almost as tall as he was, with gray-streaked black hair and looked far younger than her fifty-odd years. As healthy as he was, she would probably outlive him by a quarter of a century and knew it well. She’d given him two fine boys and stood by him loyally for the entirety of their adult lives. “Lord have mercy, Seb. You think that boy ever come back here? You have him fearful to dip his big toe in the bayou.”

  Sebastien rubbed his forehead, grimacing as he did. “Aurore, someone sick round here?”

  Aurore frowned. “I ain’t heard tell of no one sick. Come to think of it, I got a little tickle in my head, like something heavy. Must be getting it from you, though.”

  “Yes,” confirmed Sebastien, “like that. Excepting like someone slipped me a bit of moonshine that Alby LaGraisse makes or the like. But it’s not real obvious.”

  A push broom that had been resting against the back wall suddenly slid to one side and hit the floor. “Broom fell,” he said. “That means we’re gonna have a visitor.”

  * * *

  Dan Cullen was leaning over Anna with a leer on his face. The mirrored sunglasses were gone, and it turned out that his eyes were as brown as his hair. The leer disappeared from his face so fast that she wasn’t sure she had seen what she thought she had seen. Trying to mentally claw her way out of a dead sleep, she jerked backwards, blinking rapidly to clear her head.

  She realized the Peterbilt was motionless and tried to look outside. But her vision was too blurred to see beyond his face. “Sorry,” she said, her lips stumbling over the words. “You scared me.”

  Dan laughed. “Lordy, chile, you been on the road too long. That other place you just sat and drank coffee.”

  “You noticed me before?” Anna asked curiously. But the words wouldn’t come out right. The world seemed to be swaying, and all she could think of was the dream she had been having before she had awoken.

  The dream. That dream. That man, the whistling man, had been there again. It had been as if she was inside his head, looking out of his eyes, watching his world, and there had been that awareness of her. He knew she was there. But there were other people in the dream, people who were on the boat with him. People fishing, laughing, talking. The sun was shining down, on the decline from its long day in the sky, and they were enjoying themselves greatly. The whistling man had turned away with a laughing grunt and focused on the wheel of the boat. Then he’d said it, the thing that implied knowledge about her, just a whisper of sound so that only his ears could hear, “You’re getting closer. So close…” It was a brush of sensation across her lips that trailed down her flesh and skimmed the shape of her breasts, leaving her aching inside.

  But it was Dan’s face that Anna had woken to, with a twisted expression that she didn’t like. She didn’t have her little helper, but she was quite sure she wouldn’t be voluntarily setting foot in his truck again. She would find another way, even if she had to call Jane. But then she discovered something worse.

  Anna was chained to the bed in the back of the truck. Dan saw her comprehension and laughed. A moment later, he withdrew and the truck started. “Got a long way to go,” he said cheerfully. “Make yourself at home, sugar.”

  When Anna looked frantically around, trying to cast off her inexorable lethargy, she saw the Polaroid photographs Dan had taped to the walls. They were pictures of other victims he’d had before in the back of his truck. That was when she screamed.

  Then Dan reached back and struck her. Blackness welcomed her again.

  * * *

  Just as the sun was falling behind a line of oaks and cypresses, Gabriel Bergeron steered the Belle-Mère up to the side of the dock. The boat gently butted against the tires attached to the wood pilings as he cut engine power. His sister, Camille, threw a rope over a support. Over her shoulder, he recognized the tourists leaving the general store and gave them a wave. Nice people even with the sullen teenager.

  Better than the group he had today. There was Mr. Glenn, first name unknown, who was a fisherman and braggart. He’d caught a twelve-inch trout and thought he had a trophy fish. There was Mr. Glenn’s friend, who liked to tell jokes about Polish men he hadn’t met, and then when he had drunk all the beer they’d brought on board, he retold the jokes, the second time far worse than the first. Then he’d tried to pinch Camille’s butt, and Gabriel had to discourage him. And then there was Mrs. Glenn, whose first name Gabriel didn’t want to know. But she wanted to know his first name and some things he didn’t want to share. She wouldn’t have minded a few more minutes alone with him in the galley of the Belle-Mère with her hands running all over Gabriel’s upper body.

  Mon Dieu, he thought. Sometimes these people should be locked away for their own damn protection, else I push them into the bayou for Goujon to eat and giggle my ass off when I do it. Gabr
iel shook his head and turned to listen to Mrs. Glenn say, “All you people have gold-colored eyes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the like.”

  Gabriel pocketed the keys from the boat and checked to see that Camille was tying off the stern. There was a certain heaviness in-between his eyes, and he flinched at Mrs. Glenn’s sudden closeness. He muttered, “The families around here have been here a long time. Gold eyes runs in the area.”

  “…Something wrong?” the woman’s voice came from a long distance away.

  Camille touched his arm. She’d finished with the ropes and leapt back on board with the grace of a gazelle. Her brother’s normally tanned flesh had turned the color of ash. “Never you mind, Mrs. Glenn,” she soothed. “Sometimes he gets a headache. He just needs to sit for a moment and let it go away.” She took his arm and led him below deck to the tiny table in the galley, pushing him into the cushioned bench seat.

  Gabriel leaned over the table, resting his elbows there, putting his face into his hands. Camille rubbed her own forehead, concerned about her older brother. All she could see was his curling black hair and his hands, but she touched the back of his tanned neck and it felt clammy. “What is it, cher?” she whispered.

  “Dieu,” he muttered. “It’s her again. Something’s wrong. Ah Jesus, my head. It’s like someone slipped me a mickey.”

  “I can feel it,” Camille muttered back. She moved his hands from his face and stared into his handsome features. At thirty, he was two years older than she. For years there had been intermittent dreams of a girl he’d never met. There were just tidbits of a life that seemed foreign and bizarre to the Bergerons. The girl must be somewhat younger than he was, the Bergeron family knew about it, but it was like a fantastical piece of imagining for Gabriel. Some wistful chimera that wasn’t quite real. But she was real. He just didn’t know her name, and he didn’t know where she was, only that her location wasn’t close.

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