Veiled eyes, p.3
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       Veiled Eyes, p.3

           C.L. Bevill
 

  But two weeks ago the situation had changed. She was moving closer to him. The dreams had increased. That will-o’-the-wisp that tinkered with his subconscious was stronger and more active. Gabriel had shared a little of it with his younger sister, his only sibling, but he kept it close to his chest, hoarding it like a precious treasure. Camille knew how he felt. She had known when she was sixteen, and she had dreams of her own just before she had met Mathieu, un home de la Louisiane and a Southern family member.

  “I told you,” Camille whispered in Gabriel’s ear. She could hear Mrs. Glenn moving around the hatchway listening to them. “You spilt the milk this morning. Nothing good can happen after spilling milk.”

  “Anh!” exclaimed Gabriel. He stood up so quickly that Camille almost bumped her head on a cupboard. He flexed his broad shoulders angrily and gestured with frustrated fingers. “Gone again. Dammit. What’s wrong with her?”

  Camille rubbed her forehead again. She knew that Gabriel thought the girl was playing games, but she thought this time was different. It was like someone had thrust a spike through her head for a brief time. And she didn’t know if it was the girl’s pain that she was feeling or something that had been conveyed through her brother.

  Something is wrong. Camille knew it, but there was nothing to be done. At least not yet.

  Chapter 3

  Sunday, December 14th

  ​​It is told that a shooting star tells of a man’s death.

  “ ‘I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus,’ ” sang someone on the edge of Anna’s consciousness. She thought inanely. Oh yeah. Christmas. Merry Christmas. I’m getting a load of bad luck this year. Then she remembered.

  She was afraid to open her eyes. After a floating moment in time where she struggled through a thick waterfall of spiderwebs, she realized that she was still in a vehicle, and it was in motion. She could hear the sounds of a car passing, the wheels against the asphalt, and the rumble of the diesel engine.

  Moving was good. It meant that Dan Cullen couldn’t be doing things to her while he was driving the truck. On the other hand this was bad, because he was probably driving her to someplace where he would have privacy to do exactly what he pleased with her.

  Anna shivered. She opened her eyes and saw a little low-wattage yellow light bulb above her. Dan had left the sleeper light on, and she was lying on her back on a fairly comfortable mattress in a narrow space designed for one or two people to sleep. There were storage bins above her. Her eyes felt heavy with whatever he’d used to drug her and it was hard to focus, much less to concentrate. Her mouth felt like it was full of sand, and her perception was delayed. Her arms were above her head, posed unnaturally, and she pulled at them twice before she remembered that her wrists were connected to something. She pushed her head back and saw handcuffs attached to her wrists. They were threaded through a thick eyebolt that had been screwed into the metal walls of the sleeper.

  Swallowing convulsively, Anna stared at it. The loop and the handcuffs implied premeditation.

  Anna looked at her feet, which were bound with duct tape. She glanced to her right and saw the black curtain between the sleeper and the cab. It was still shut, the edges almost closed together. Dan was listening to someone singing about mommies and Santa Claus doing the naughty while children watched surreptitiously. The CB was blasting out noise as well.

  She yanked at the handcuffs and felt skin give. Anna had small wrists and hands. She’d used them to retrieve dropped screws in the deepest parts of engines and to reach places most men’s big blunt-fingered hands couldn’t ever dream of getting into. She yanked at the handcuffs and hoped that a little blood would make them slick. But she felt like she was treading through a sea of molasses in the middle of winter, and her arms had lead weights on them. No matter how she pulled she didn’t seem to make progress.

  The CB blared. “Break one-nine for an eastbound. Need a Smoky report. Gotta long way to go, boys, and I gots to get back to my hot mama.”

  Dan moved around. After a moment he said, “Got an eastbound here, fella. Ain’t seen a Smoky since Dallas. Although I heard someone said they saw a county car around mile marker 556.”

  And he’s looking, too, thought Anna. She pulled harder at the cuffs.

  “Where ya headed, eastbound?” asked the other man genially.

  “Shreveport, fella,” answered Dan happily. “Got a date with a gal.”

  “Oh yeah? I know what you mean there. Warm woman. Warm bed. Enough to make a man go ten miles an hour faster.”

  The CB started to sputter with white noise. “Losing you, westbound,” said Dan. “Good luck with your haul. I’m out.”

  “You too, man,” replied the anonymous voice above the crackle. “Don’t forget to practice safe sex,” he threw in and laughed. Then the CB went silent.

  Dan didn’t say anything, and Anna stilled, not wanting him to know she was awake once more.

  She didn’t want to look at the back wall to her left. The Polaroid photographs were blatantly conspicuous. The light had been left on back there for her to look at the pictures that Dan had taken before. Dan’s an out-and-out sadistic psychopath, she thought before she looked again. The photograph that her eyes settled on was so horrifying that Anna screamed. She didn’t stop screaming until she passed out again.

  * * *

  Cleaning the Belle-Mère was usually the hardest part of any trip. Especially after two men like Mr. Glenn and Mr. Glenn’s joke-telling friend polished off the better part of two cases of beer, leaving crumpled cans like little dead soldiers after a fierce battle. Mrs. Glenn had merely sipped at several wine coolers and tapped her manicured nails on the mahogany rails while leering at Gabriel. On this occasion, he was glad to be rid of the trio, particularly when the missus had slipped her phone number into his hand as her husband and his buddy tottered unevenly down the gangplank.

  Camille offered to help him, obviously concerned with the pallor of his skin. He waved her off. “Go see your husband and sons, p’tite. I can pick up aluminum cans as well as anyone. At least they didn’t decide to pee on the deck.”

  “Maman was asking about you, yesterday,” Camille said, not budging from the bow. Gabriel paused with one hand on a garbage bag. He looked at his sister. She was two inches shorter than he, hardly the small one he frequently called her. Her black hair fell to her waist when it was loose but now was caught up in a French braid that ended in the middle of her back. Her gold eyes gleamed in the puddles of light that came from the floodlights on the dock. It dawned on him that his little sister was all grown up. She was the mother of twin boys and wife to a good man, not someone who should be worried about her brother and the strange idiosyncrasies that went on inside his brain.

  “And so?”

  “She thinks you should go to the conja woman.”

  Gabriel’s mouth tightened. The conja woman was one of the family who lived above the dark bayou near Debou’s bluff. She supposedly worked gentle magics, things that healed and potions that helped, never to hurt another, but he had never trusted her because of the avaricious thoughts that lingered behind her eyes. However, if Gabriel’s mother was bringing it up, it meant his own people were talking about him behind his back. “I think Maman should mind her own beeswax.”

  “Anh. She doesn’t want to see you hurt, Gabriel. No harm in that.”

  “What happened to it being a rite of passage for all men? Something we all go through in one way or another?” Gabriel reached for an empty can of Coors and tossed it into the bag with the others.

  “Bonne chance with that,” replied Camille, with a lopsided smile. “Seriously, Gabe. She’ll have you hog-tied and out to the Conja before you can spit three times.”

  “I’m all right, Cammy.” Gabriel straightened up. “Go make some supper for your children before they starve to death.”

  Camille watched her brother carefully. “They won’t starve. Mathieu ordered Papa John’s an hour ago.”

  Gabriel paused in his work to rub a
hand tenderly over Camille’s cheek. He pulled a bit of hair away from her face and tucked it behind her ear. “We’ll have to wait and see what happens. Try not to worry.”

  “It’s that you’ve waited so long, and it’s painful to watch your unhappiness.”

  “I’m not unhappy,” he said, dropping his hand. He looked out the window at the lake. It was full dark, and the waters consumed the light of the floodlights like a hungry animal.

  “No, of course not.” Camille frowned despite her words.

  “Go home,” he repeated. “I’ll be done in an hour.”

  “Come to the house,” Camille offered. “The boys will have left a pizza and then some.”

  “Maybe, p’tite.” Gabriel’s mouth flattened again. It wasn’t the thought of joining his little sister’s family. He loved his nephews as if they were his own. Nor did he dislike his brother-in-law, Mathieu. They got along as if they were brothers. It was the lingering feelings that he had experienced before. It haunted his brain like little worms of dissension crawling around, seeking out each hiding place to plague him later. He wouldn’t be fit company for man or beast.

  Camille shot him a discerning look before she went down the gangplank and disappeared into the darkness beyond the floodlights. A minute later Gabriel heard the purr of her Toyota pick-up truck as she started it up and wheeled it out of the parking lot behind the Benoit’s general store.

  Gabriel concentrated on cleaning the Belle-Mère. A half-hour later he heard his other boat come into range. The Beau-Père was two feet smaller than the one he stood on. A slightly older model, it was used exclusively for daytrips and fishing parties. Jereme Villian brought the other boat in with all the expertise of a man well used to operating such a vessel. Gabriel met him on the dock and helped to tie the boat up. Two stinking fishermen laughed as they lumbered off the Beau-Père carrying a cooler full of fish between them.

  One of the fishermen, a man from Little Rock, Arkansas, laughed again as he handed a wad of cash to Gabriel. “Sorry about the smell, Mr. Bergeron. We got carried away with trying out some of those cheeses that that guy from the general store recommended.”

  Gabriel nodded, wrinkling his nose. Sebastien Benoit again. What a diable p’tit. He sure likes his little jokes. “And did the cheese work?”

  “Sure. Caught our limit,” chuckled the other man.

  Trying hard not to smell, Gabriel watched them as they went up the dock and toward the little parking lot.

  Jereme turned to him with a smile. A small man with dark brown hair, he was about five years younger than Gabriel and perpetually good-tempered. “Funny men. They didn’t mind a little smell as long as they was bringing in the fish.”

  “Hey,” said Gabriel, counting the bills, “they tipped you fifty bucks. Little extra for Christmas, mon padna.” He handed it over to the other man.

  “Mais oui.” Jereme strutted like a peacock. “I am a happy man. The tourists they become happy too. No?”

  “Sure. Take off.”

  “Really?” Jereme blinked. “Won’t ask again, Gabe. Going to Bossier City tonight. Going to play the slots until I go broke or win a million.”

  “Really,” Gabriel sighed the word. “I’m in a cleaning mood.” It wasn’t the only kind of mood he was in. He didn’t want to shut his eyes and have dreams of a woman he couldn’t quite see and visions of slender hands performing work that he couldn’t quite understand. Slender hands he wanted stroking his flesh instead, touching him in places that hadn’t been touched in months.

  Jereme disappeared like a wraith into the mist. Gabriel shrugged and started on the Beau-Père. The smell from rotting cheese seemed to permeate the boat, and he had to spend extra time with a bottle of Mr. Clean to get rid of the odor. He was nearly finished when there was a familiar thickening that colored his vision.

  Her again. Gabriel gritted his teeth. He was going to get a bottle of Jack Daniels tonight and drink every ounce, if that was what it took to get that woman out of his head. The song came to his lips, “ ‘I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus…’ ”. He sang it under his breath. “Ah merde,” he swore. “Christmas songs now?”

  But oh dear Dieu, his head felt like it was stuffed full with bundles of cotton. The skin around his wrists began to burn as if something was cutting into them. And there was the fear. Stinking dread began to leach through his mind, like bits of water siphoning through the sides of a levee. He closed his eyes and dropped a handful of rags he had been holding in his hand. In the middle of his head he had a clear vision of the small, well-shaped hands pulled over her head and couldn’t help the blast of rage that surged through him at the second of his comprehension.

  She was handcuffed, and her wrists were bleeding. She was endlessly yanking at the restraints. But then she stopped and listened to something, her head moving to one side. Her mind was as open as a sieve, allowing what she was seeing and feeling to pour into his at a rate he couldn’t control.

  Then something else happened. She turned her head to look at something on her other side, and abject horror washed over her, an unreasoning panic that brought Gabriel to his knees. “Jesus God!” he yelled hoarsely as he perceived what she had just seen, and his eyes flew open like blinds that someone had suddenly let go.

  Chapter 4

  Sunday, December 14th

  ​​Never tell a dream before you’ve broken your fast, or it won’t come true.

  When Anna came around, she could see that she was still in the back of the truck, that the truck was still moving, and that it was still dark outside. The curtain between the front and the back was pulled open. The greenish glow from the instruments in the dash cast odd shadows across Dan’s face. Then they passed a huge green sign over the road. It told her a few things. They were still on Interstate 20. One side of the sign had the huge blue and red shield with the number 20 on it. The other part of the sign said Eastbound to Shreveport. She couldn’t have been unconscious very long. “You really going to Shreveport, Dan?” she said almost too softly.

  Dan didn’t seem to mind. “Shore. I ain’t lied to you yet, Anna. I said I would get you to Shreveport and put you down someplace you dint need to worry about getting no other ride.”

  “You know what I thought you meant,” she whispered. She tried to clear her throat, but it was like it was full of some harsh dry material that threatened to choke her. “People are going to be looking for me.”

  “And there you go sounding like all them others,” Dan chastised her mildly. “Here I thought you was different. You gets real calm-like and starts using your little brain. I gotta say, sugar, a woman who’s been drugged ain’t usually in a frame of mind to start thinking.”

  “Your…photographs.” Anna closed her eyes briefly. She didn’t want to look at the Polaroids again. She didn’t dare because those uncontrollable screams would slip out of her mouth with abandon. But then something unexpected happened. She closed her eyes, and there was that intrusive presence again. It filled her mind with a black shadow that obliterated the pictures in her mind. There was only this man there. The one she was afraid of before, the one that had frightened her into sleeplessness. There was an inexorable need that overwhelmed her inner self. Now he certainly wasn’t as frightening as Dan; in fact, his presence comforted her minutely.

  Where are you? he commanded.

  “What about ‘em?” demanded Dan from the front of the cab.

  Anna’s eyelids rattled up with a small gasp she couldn’t restrain. She tried to swallow again, to try and get some moisture into her mouth, but she couldn’t get her salivary glands to work. Her mouth was as dry as a bone. “They shocked me,” she finished with a harsh whisper.

  “Who’s gonna be looking for you?” It wasn’t a question but more of a skeptical gibe. Dan chortled. “A gal like you. Some little homeless waif hitchhiking on the side of the freeway. Any kind of fool knows a little girl like you ain’t got no business getting into vehicles with strange men. Didn’t your momma ever tell you that?”
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  My momma left me on the steps of an orphanage. What did your twisted-ass momma tell you? “Danny-boy, make sure when you rape and murder a gal, she’s not likely to be missed”?

  There was another sign that went flashing by. Large and green with white letters, it was on the side of the road. Anna twisted her neck to see it. It read “Marshall, next three exits.” “My friend, Jane,” she said. Her tongue felt like ten pounds of manure in a five-pound bag. “She’s waiting for me in New Orleans. She’ll call the police.”

  “Well, hol-ee crap on a Popsicle stick. I reckon I ought to let you out on the side of the road right here.” Dan chuckled to himself again.

  Anna shut her eyes again.

  Goddammit! Tell me where you are! The thought was like a hammer pounding on her head, the demand a bolt of lightning on her consciousness. Don’t deny me! Tell me! it urged seemingly without compassion or pity.

  “Where are we?” she said, opening her eyes. Marshall, she thought. Marshall. Marshall! MARSHALL!

  “You planning a getaway, sugar?” Dan said slyly. “I think you better pray a policeman pulls me over. That’s about the only way you’re gonna walk away from me.”

  Anna’s eyes drifted shut like weights were tied to the lids. She let herself float away in a manner she had never allowed before. And he was there. Questioning. Demanding. His need was a runaway train.

  WHERE! ARE! YOU!

  Marshall! she screamed back inside her head. She bit her tongue with the effort, and there was the coppery taste of blood in her mouth. The voice went silent. It was jarring and abrupt. The silence flattened every other thought in her head.

  Thank God, came the thought pattern, all grating masculinity. I was sure that you wouldn’t…Marshall? In Texas?

  “Anna?” said Dan.

  “I believe you’re too smart for a trooper to pull over, Dan,” she said. Her eyes were open now, and she was trying to think, but her thoughts were like pieces of cement trying to float on water. She stood on the edge of a cliff. Jagged rocks on one side, enough to pierce her flesh and rend her to pieces. Turbulent waters and sharks were on the other side.

 
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