Veiled eyes, p.4
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       Veiled Eyes, p.4

           C.L. Bevill

  “Damn tootin’,” he said cheerfully. “Doing 60 MPH, right as rain. As a matter of fact, I happen to know that the scales on the Louisiana border ain’t even operational right now. Them boys are trying to get the most of the holidays. They ain’t even gonna stop me to see how much my load is weighing. Not that it matters because I done dropped it off it in Amarillo. Nothing back there but a big empty freezer.” He giggled, and she winced from the uneven noise. He waited for some feedback from the CB to die away, and he added, “I could put a hundred gals back there, and they wouldn’t smell until Mother’s Day, ifin I had a mind to do it.”

  Anna’s eyes closed again. A truck. A big truck. Eastbound toward Louisiana.

  There was flow of furious emotion equivalent to an enraged snarl. She realized the mental picture in her mind of a hundred dead girls hanging from hooks in the back of a custom-made trailer was still present. Their frost-beaded bodies had frozen rivers of blood that spilled across their breasts causing crimson icicles. No, no, no, she thought urgently, trying to correct the image. Not me. She wanted to cry out with frustration. It wasn’t like talking. It was thinking and the words came to her brain so rapidly she wasn’t sure if she was getting through.

  Is this some kind of drug-induced delusion? She wasn’t sure if what was happening was even real. It was as surrealistic as a barely remembered dream.

  There are a thousand trucks on the road, came the muted roar that was a twisting mire of feeling and essential need. It whipped out at her. What road? What truck?

  “A hundred little gals hanging up in the back,” Dan said reflectively. “Shore I’d like to see that. Teach all you little bitches a lesson.”

  Misogynistic bastard, she thought. Anna shivered and clinched her eyes shut. The picture wouldn’t leave her mind no matter how she tried. Then she got the feeling that the other one, the one in her mind, the man who whistled wistfully, happily, while he worked, suddenly understood her dilemma. He’s talking to you about that? came to her.

  Yes. She wanted to yell it. Yes. Yes. Yes!

  I’ll find you. I won’t let him hurt you anymore. Just tell me what road you’re on. It was gruff but gentle, trying to persuade her. But there was an underlying message of urgency, as if he could feel the fear she was experiencing. Tell me. Tell me, dammit.

  Her eyes snapped open, and she saw another sign flash by. She closed her eyes again and focused on that picture. Interstate 20. Eastbound to Shreveport. 20 to Shreveport, she thought. She took a deep breath. 20 to Shreveport, please tell me you understand.

  Finally, it came to her. Got it. Interstate 20, headed east to Shreveport. Just past Marshall. He’s not stopping until Shreveport, am I right? You’re afraid of Shreveport. That’s where he’s taking you.

  Yes. Yes. Yes! Help me. He’s insane. Pictures of women…dead women…

  Forget that! trumpeted soundless thoughts teeming with anger. The truck. Think about the truck.

  Anna tried to open her eyes again. Dan was saying something else, something about stupid little girls who went too far. She could hear the vicious content of his voice, even while the other one seemed to whisper almost violently into her ears. It seemed important to try to keep up with Dan Cullen, to understand what was driving him so that she could talk him down, find his weak spot, do whatever it was that she had to do to get herself out of this. But her eyelids were so heavy. Every ounce of fatigue seemed to weigh down upon her. The drug’s effect hadn’t worn off at all it seemed.

  A hundred dead girls were wailing to her. Their bodies were hoar crowned, and their mouths moved with frost-fettered motion. Their lips were blue with cold, their fluttering warbles were bleakly sharp.

  The truck! one demanded, her voice more shrill than the others. Tell us about the truck!

  It’s the big dawg, she thought. He chases after the Barbie doll, and he never catches her. But he doesn’t have to. He catches the real thing.

  Ah mon Dieu! Wake up! Damn you! It’s not too late until he strangles the life out of you! Fight the drug!

  For a dead girl, she’s pushy, thought Anna.

  The truck! You want to die? What color is it?

  Black, black like the lake. Anna almost giggled. It’s what she had thought. The truck had the same impenetrable blackness. No name on the side. No company logo. Just DOT numbers.

  Good, chère. Black like the lake. What else? A big truck? An eighteen-wheeler? A compartment in the back? That’s where you’re at?

  The same kind of blackness was creeping up on her senses. She opened her onerous lids and found they would only go half-mast. “Do tell, Danny-boy. What do I got to do before you let me go?” Her voice was a thready noise, but he heard her. Anna tried to reach her eyes with her hands and discovered she couldn’t raise her head anymore. All she could do was turn it to the side and slowly blink as the slit of light got smaller and smaller.

  No! No! Fight it! Chère, dammit! Fight it! You have to stay awake…

  The last thought kind of flickered through her mind like a trout jumping for a fly at twilight. Then she heard Dan’s voice from far, far away. “Ain’t gonna let you go, sweetness. Never let you gals go.”

  “Over my dead body,” Anna muttered, and her eyes shut again. There was nothing but the deepest dark of night in her mind, where nothing lived or moved.

  “Whatever tug pulls your barge,” replied Dan indifferently.

  * * *

  “DAMMIT!” Gabriel roared.

  Camille was at the wheel of his truck. She had leaped into her little Toyota the moment her brother’s knees had hit the deck of the Beau-Père. Mathieu hadn’t bothered to ask why. The twins’ eyes had been as large and round as the full moon.

  By the time Camille reached the general store, Gabriel was stumbling toward his larger truck, a Ford with a bigger engine. He’d tossed the keys at her, even while he tried to hold his head in his hands. “You drive!”

  “Where?” she’d demanded.

  “Toward the interstate!” he’d growled. He had crawled into the cab of the F-150 and braced himself against the dash. Camille had started it up and automatically turned the radio down. All around them people emerged from the shadows into the pools of light that lined the dock and the circumference of the general store. Their silent forms ringed the truck and they waited.

  Sebastien Benoit was there. So was his wife, Aurore. They approached the truck and paused as they watched. Gold eyes burned in the night.

  “Where?” muttered Gabriel. He twisted his hands through his black hair, ignoring the throbbing pain in his wrists, her pain from yanking at the handcuffs.

  Camille’s gold eyes caught Sebastien’s, and she shrugged helplessly. Sebastien turned around and motioned at people. “Get your cars. Get them now. Follow Gabriel’s truck when it goes.”

  The waiting was intolerable. It was a sigh tarrying on the cusp of his breath. “Where are you?” Gabriel repeated. Then he cursed. “She’s ignoring me.”

  Camille grasped the wheel with her hands so hard that her knuckles turned white. She could feel the fear. The reverberations through Gabriel were so frightening, so terrifying, that she wanted to dive into a hole where all sides could be protected. She wanted to cradle her head in her hands just as he was doing.

  “Goddammit!” Gabriel yelled. “Where are you!” He pounded his hands on the dash. The truck shook with the repeated hits. Camille flinched. There were pictures in her head. Pictures of women, posed obscenely, obviously dead. Horrified, she fought to block her thoughts. She didn’t want any of this trickling back to her twins.

  Then it came. It was an unerring shot that pierced every bit of blackness. MARSHALL!

  Camille shook her head. She whispered, “She sounds like she doesn’t know what to do. Oh Gabe, what’s he doing to her?”

  “He hasn’t done anything…yet.” Gabriel’s hand slammed against the dash. His eyes glowed at her. “Freeway. Now. Cammy. I-20, and screw getting a ticket!”

  Tires spun with a cloud of dirt eject
ed heavenward. The truck’s back end skidded around until she gunned the fuel pedal. Camille hit the pavement and rubber burned as it connected with hard asphalt. “What about the family?” she yelled.

  “They’ll catch up,” he gritted. Gabriel caught himself as the vehicle surged forward. He barely avoided banging his head against the windshield.

  They blew through the only stoplight in town, and Camille stomped on the gas pedal. Gabriel muttered, “Eastbound toward Louisiana. A big truck.” He made a noise and ground his teeth together. “A semi. She means a semi.” He paused as he absorbed something, and Camille caught his rage peripherally as parts of the vision trickled through to her.

  “Oh dear God,” she said. The picture appeared in her head. Dead women hung from hooks inside a freezer, their poor frozen bodies were a study in pain. Camille glanced up and saw a set of headlights pop up behind the truck. A moment later and another car joined them. Then another. Beside her Gabriel was fighting to rein in his temper. His fists clenched and unclenched.

  “Not real,” he said at last. “It’s him. The truck driver. He’s talking to her about that. It’s in her head.”

  Lights of homes were a blur as Camille’s foot renewed her attack on the gas pedal. She knew the road as well as anyone; she had been down it a thousand times day and night. She turned on the brights and prayed that animals would choose this night to listen to their instincts.

  Gabriel’s hands were braced against the dash, and his head lowered as he fought against the girl. “She’s drugged,” he said. “She’s drugged and her mind is blurred. Ah Jesus. She can’t get that picture out of her mind. Women who’ve been gutted and hung out like trophies.”

  Camille felt sick. The truck passed a sign. Like the one in the girl’s thoughts. White lettering on a green background announced it was fifteen miles to the Interstate. She said quickly, “If they just passed Marshall, we can get to them, Gabe.”

  “They’re on the interstate,” he announced with triumph. “Good girl. Just a little more.”

  Feeling his riotous unchecked thoughts, Camille recoiled. “Slow down, Gabriel. She’s frightened.”

  “I know she’s frightened!” Gabriel yelled. “I just don’t want her dead!” He threw his hands up. “Something about a big dog and a Barbie doll! What is this crap?”

  Camille rolled around a corner doing 45 MPH. She slammed her foot down again and the truck surged to 60, passed 70, and leveled out at 80. She glanced in the rearview mirror and saw six vehicles’ lights following her at a similar pace. Even the next bit came to her. Black, black like the lake. No name on the side. No company logo. Just DOT numbers.

  Gabriel sat straight up and screamed, “No! No! Fight it! Chère, dammit! Fight it! You have to stay awake…”

  But the nameless girl was gone.

  Chapter 5

  Sunday, December 14th

  If one wishes to live and thrive, then let the spinning spider stay alive.

  Wake up!

  The dangling Barbies alternated shrieking with grim whispers of the wretched death that was to come. The words insinuated themselves in Anna’s subconscious, working into the roots of her soul, recalling every vision of hell that Catholic nuns had instilled into a child’s growing fears.

  Wake up! Dammit! Wake up!

  I don’t want to wake up, thought Anna resentfully. This is a living nightmare, and not waking up is much better than the alternative.

  Don’t give up! Don’t! Give! Up! Chère, you’re so close. I can almost feel your breath on my cheek.

  That sounded nice to Anna. Someone who wanted something so simple and basic couldn’t be evil. It didn’t sound like Dan Cullen’s idea of a normal relationship between a man and a woman. Her eyelids fluttered reluctantly.

  “What’d you say, darling?” said Dan. She blinked and saw that he still sat at the wheel of the Peterbilt, his attention on the highway unraveling in front of him. It was still nighttime outside. She was still handcuffed to the side of the sleeper.

  “When does this stuff wear off, Dan?” she said weakly. The world was spinning around her. Her stomach rolled with nausea.

  “Pshaw,” he threw back at her. “It’s just a little drug. Keep you quiet and not all riled up-like.”

  The message Anna got from that was that she was probably going to be dead before the drug had a chance to work its way completely out of her system. She ignored the implication. “Jane isn’t the only one looking for me,” she said. Her voice sounded far away to her, high-pitched and strange in her own ears. “They’re coming. He’s coming.”

  Dan swiveled his head to look at her. The green light from the instrument panel made him look like a devil out of a ten-cent carnival ride. Then he glanced back at the road, his hands grasping the steering wheel. “Whatchu talking about, Anna? Ain’t no one coming for you.”

  “They know about you,” Anna chanted. She tugged at the handcuffs and was rewarded with a fresh surge of pain that emanated from her wrists. A fresh trickle of blood made its way down one of her arms, making her realize that the breath of life was hot against her icy flesh. She was just like one of the Barbies in the freezer. “They know and he knows and he’s mad. God, he’s mad. When I shut my eyes, it’s like a great wave of anger breaking over my head.”

  “Shut up,” said Dan. It was a mild command.

  Anna was as high as a kite. Although everything felt encased in a wrap of fuzzy material, she looked out and saw another sign. Still on Interstate 20. A moment later there was another sign. “Welcome to Louisiana,” it announced cheerfully.

  “Welcome to Louisiana,” repeated Anna, not so cheerfully. “Never been here before. It’s not what I thought it would be like.”

  “Shut up!” Dan snarled at her, reaching out a hand to slam it against the wall of the sleeper.

  Anna blinked confusedly. What the hell is he upset at? “What, don’t you like me anymore, Dan?”

  “If I pull over before we reach my house, Anna, you’re gonna regret it,” Dan warned her, his voice a barely contained growl.

  “What? You’re going to kill me? Maybe rape and torture me too?” Anna giggled. “Well, damn. I thought that was the plan to begin with.”

  “SHUT THE HELL UP!” yelled Dan.

  Biting her lip, Anna complied. She sighed and pulled at her wrists once more. Her eyelids floated down, and immediately he was there again. Bigger than Dan, the mad trucker, he was large and dark, filtering through her mind. Was this some kind of perverse vision of hope for her? But his thought patterns were as clear as crystal to her. What does the truck look like?

  Black. Black. Black. Anna almost giggled again. Big and black. With a monster in it. He doesn’t look like one. But he is. He’s got pictures to prove it. A monster that wears a New Orleans Saints cap. “Ah, there it is,” she said, as another raging swell of emotion billowed up and threatened to drown her. “He’s so angry. You got nothing on him, Dan.”

  Dan made a derisive noise. “Just the drugs,” he said. “Ain’t nothing but drugs messing up your mind, girl. You seeing things.”

  Tell me about the truck! the voice inside Anna’s head demanded. There’s got to be something else besides the color! Has it got a trailer on it? What kind of truck is it?

  Peterbilt, Anna suddenly grasped it. It was so hard to think properly. Was there really someone out there trying to help her or was this some bizarre hallucination? It seemed more likely that whatever drugs Dan had given to her were making a weird impact on her cogitative processes.

  Good. A black Peterbilt. With a trailer on the back?

  It didn’t seem to matter if she answered the questions her persistent imagination was asking her. It didn’t harm anything. Better than talking to Dan Cullen, who had plans for her that didn’t involve identifying the truck they were driving in. A trailer. A long white trailer. No logo on it. Think he owns the whole kit and caboodle.

  C’est bon! Good, ma p’tite. Do you know where you are?

  Crossed the state line.
I saw the sign. I’ve never been to Louisiana before. Anna tried to open her eyes, but it was too hard.

  Never been…never mind that. Have you seen other signs?

  Signs that I’m having a bad day, thought Anna inanely. Saw an owl this morning in full light. Got out of bed on the wrong side this morning, except it wasn’t really a bed. Just deep grass on the side of the road. Forgot to say my prayers yesterday. Got into a truck with a psychopathic truck driver named Danny boy. Bad signs.

  Ah, Dieu. Road signs! Look for them. Can you see any road signs?

  Oh, those kind. Silly me. I’m a little bit preoccupied with the serial murderer in the front of the truck.

  There was an instantaneous blast of nameless emotion. Anna might have called it angry frustration coupled with furious helplessness. But she suddenly found the energy to open her eyes, and she looked for what was being demanded of her.

  There were billboards. She could see those passing swiftly by, flashes of lettering, colors, and light. She could hear more traffic around them. Clearly they were getting closer to Shreveport. Anna shut her eyes and shivered.

  Forget Shreveport! Look at the damn signs! How long before he stops?

  I don’t want to know that, thought Anna. I don’t want to know how long it’s going to be before he pulls out his trusty hunting knife.

  Ask him, Chère. Ask him. Get him to tell you how long before he gets off the interstate!

  Anna’s eyelids opened. “So Dan, we going to do some gambling? Take in a show? I hear Wayne Newton does Bossier City sometimes.”

  Dan chuckled. His good humor was immediately restored. “I love Wayne Newton. But I think I hear tell that Gladdys Knight was playing this week at one of them riverside casinos. We’re going right by there. Maybe we’ll see something we like.”

  Her eyelids dropped. Going through Shreveport and Bossier City. Not getting off the freeway until after.

  Are you sure?

  I think so.

  Dieu. You have to be sure!

  “So Dan, where do you live? Inside the city?” Her eyes opened, and she stared at his brown hair that looked black in the obscured light of the truck’s dashboard components.

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