Veiled eyes, p.5
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       Veiled Eyes, p.5

           C.L. Bevill
 

  Dan flicked a look across his shoulder at her. “Whatchu want to know that for?”

  “Just being realistic, Dan. Like to know how long before I can get out of the truck. I’ve really got to go to the bathroom.”

  “The bathroom?”

  “Hey, you don’t want me peeing all over this nice bed. Stink it right up.”

  There was a pause. “You can hold it. I’m on the other side of Bossier. Near Barksdale. Twenty minutes more.”

  Anna didn’t waste her time asking him to stop to let her go to the bathroom. She already knew Dan wouldn’t do it. He didn’t dare. He’d rather clean up her urine and buy a new mattress if he had to do just that. She shut her eyes. I’m sure. Somewhere near some town called Barksdale.

  Barksdale is an Air Force Base, Chère. Don’t worry.

  Easy for a figment of my imagination to say. Anna immediately felt a sense of relief within the other one. Something had changed. She didn’t know what it was, but he was reassured, and it soothed her as well.

  Figment of your imagination?

  “Just a figment of my imagination,” Anna repeated aloud.

  “What?” said Dan.

  “Just your fucking drugs you slipped in my coffee,” Anna said. Her eyes were still clenched tightly shut. “I think they’re screwing with my mind.”

  Dan snorted. “If you think that’s the worst part, you gotta another think coming.”

  Shut up! Don’t make him angrier. He might stop before we can…

  “Is this the only way you can get a woman, Dan? ‘Cause it’s pretty pathetic. God, you can get a hooker that’s into S&M and not worry about anything except some morals law, and well, hell, you live in Louisiana. Hookers pay the cops and judges out of their own pockets…”

  Her eyes jerked open as she heard Dan say something incoherent. He unsnapped his safety belt with a seamless motion and leaned backward and to his right. One of his hands streaked outward and knocked her head soundly around toward the back of the sleeper. When she brought her head back around Dan was settling his body back in the captain’s chair, the same hand on the seat belt, bringing it home with the same uninterrupted movement. His foot wasn’t even off the pedal long enough for the truck to slow.

  “Don’t mess with me, Anna,” Dan said. “I can make it worse than it’s gotta be. Instead of being with me a few days, you can last a month in my cellar. Believe me, sweetness, it’ll be hell. You’ll be begging me to kill you.”

  Anna spit out a mouthful of blood. “I think you made a mistake, Dan. I think you picked the wrong girl.”

  His head spun around. “What?” he spat out. “You gonna stop me?”

  “No. I don’t think it’s going to be me at all.” She shut her eyes again.

  What did he do? the voice in her head shot out.

  He’s driving. He can’t do anything to me. Anna felt silly, reassuring something in her mind, but it seemed necessary. That residual surge of furious emotion that came calling when the whistling man thought she was being hurt was almost worse than Dan smacking her in the face. Nothing at all until…he stops driving…

  * * *

  Two cars and two trucks sat on the wrong side of the road on an overpass. One man stared down at the interstate below him, watching vehicles pass underneath him. He could see that a van and a Mustang sat on the shoulder of the road with their engines running. The exhaust made little clouds in the cold air. The temperature had dropped fifteen degrees since sunset, and the wind was picking up causing a wind-chill that had most of the people waiting trembling and huddling by their car heaters.

  Gabriel didn’t notice. He stood with his hands resting on the concrete walls that prevented man and car from falling onto the freeway below him and waited. He ground his teeth together and knew that his jaws would soon be aching with the pressure he had exerted on them today. It didn’t matter.

  She flickered in and out as they drove like a bat out of hell. Camille finally had reached the overpass and screeched to a halt on the side overlooking eastbound traffic. Still on Interstate 20. Still headed toward Shreveport, which frightened the nameless girl, almost as badly as the photographs she had seen. Gabriel persisted and was rewarded by her identifying the type of truck.

  “A black Peterbilt with a sleeper. No company name on the side. No logo. White DOT letters. A long white trailer. He probably owns it outright. An independent contractor.” Gabriel’s voice was hoarse.

  Camille nodded. She turned to the CB radio in Gabe’s truck and relayed the information to the van below. Normally, she wouldn’t have bothered with the equipment, but Gabriel’s seething wrath combined with worry and the unknown girl’s broadcasting fear was making normal family communication impossible. The van belonged to Sebastien’s son, Gaspard. He responded, “Sure, I got it. Make sure you stay on channel 12. We don’t want him hearing us and turning off the freeway, no?”

  “They aren’t far,” gritted Gabriel. “She saw the state line. Her mind is like a jar of spider webs. It’s so hard to fight through it.” He made a fist and slammed it against the wire fence. It rippled in response. “She wanders.”

  He paused and concentrated. “Good. Fifteen miles away. Still on 20. Coming this direction.”

  Camille stared at the oncoming traffic. Sitting in the driver seat of the truck, she kept the engine running and waited. “How will we get him to stop, Gabe?”

  “If I have to call the police I will. If not we can follow him to his house. We have to stop him.”

  “I know, Gabriel,” she soothed, biting her lip at the unfamiliar grating sound that was her brother’s anxiety. “I know. We will. He won’t do that to her too.”

  She watched as her brother stood outside in the chill. He had discarded his coat while working on the Beau-Père and the Belle-Mère. When the first rush of information had come to him, all thoughts of protection from the cold had escaped him. Ignoring the temperature, he stood against the retaining wall and stared down into the lights of eastbound traffic.

  Bits and pieces of what he was getting from the girl came through to Camille. Gabriel was too rattled by the images she was projecting to maintain his customary blocks and walls. His sister wasn’t sure which one was which in the scramble of thoughts and emotions. You have to be sure! Barksdale. A town? Don’t worry! Figment of your imagination? Don’t make him angrier! What did he do? He’s driving. He can’t do anything to me. Nothing at all until…he stops driving…

  They waited. Gabriel grew increasingly edgy. His eyes began to burn as he stared at the countless pairs of headlights passing underneath them. “She’s hallucinating,” he said at last.

  Camille shivered in reaction. She couldn’t do anything to protect her older, stronger brother now. She had tried to in the past, telling him the girl would come to him, that she would realize her fate and succumb to it, but she hadn’t. Now Camille realized that the nameless girl hadn’t known what she was supposed to do. There was no explanation, no reason for that to be so. Gabriel had come to the conclusion that she was playing games with him, that she wanted nothing to do with the family, and consequently had started to develop a hatred for her. But he was a kind man with a good heart, and when necessity had reared its horrendous head, he had come running.

  “There’s a Peterbilt,” he yelled, pointing at a semi that passed underneath him.

  Gaspard came on the CB. Static crackled in between his words. “It’s blue, not black. And there’s a logo from Saint Louis. I think they sell left-handed widgets.” It was a weak joke, and no one laughed.

  Gabriel’s mind was racing. She was fading in his mind like she was growing distant from him, but there was an itchy sensation on the back of his neck, as if he could have turned, and there she would be standing, waiting for him to notice her. He had no idea of what she looked like. She could have warts on the end of her nose and pink-dyed hair, but it would be her all the same.

  Two more trucks passed under him. One was red and a Freightliner. Another was a dump truck. Then
there was a black one. Black as the lake. It had a white trailer and Gabriel craned his neck to see if there was a logo. He saw none.

  Gaspard’s voice came clearly through the CB, through the open window to Gabriel, “Black. No logo. Has a sleeper, mon frère. I can’t see the man, but there is a driver. Funny.”

  Gabriel snapped at Camille, “What’s funny?”

  She jerked the microphone to her and repeated her brother’s words.

  Gaspard came back. “It had some kind of thing on the grill. Like the cocodrie’s mouth. Wide open with big fangs.” He laughed. “And a little doll in the middle.”

  Camille didn’t see Gabriel move. Suddenly he was beside her, slamming his hands on the dash, yelling, “That’s her! Dammit! Move, Cammy! Move!”

  “Gaspard!” she yelled in turn. “It’s them! Follow them! Follow them now!”

  When she dropped the microphone she heard the vehicles below them peel out and the angry horn of a car that had been cut off. There was the sound of brakes being slammed down and then Gaspard was shouting back, “I’m on it! Follow us!”

  Gabriel’s eyes were on the road as Camille did a U-turn. The truck slid out in a half-circle, and the tail end had to compensate before it caught up. Then she was on the entrance ramp, and they could hear the others following them.

  “Not le cocodrie,” Gabriel said, his voice a thread of barely restrained temper. “Not the alligator’s mouth. It’s the big dawg, He chases after the Barbie doll, and he never catches her. But he doesn’t have to. He catches the real thing.”

  * * *

  Anna drifted in and out of consciousness. People were talking to her. The Barbie dolls told her weird tales. Jane wondered where her good friend had gone. The nuns came to tell her that they had always known she’d come to a bad end. Good little Catholic girls didn’t become auto mechanics. And there was him. The whistling man. When he didn’t know she was there, he seemed to whistle a lot. But he hadn’t been whistling in the last hours at all. Why aren’t you whistling? You have a good tone. I bet you can whistle anything you want. I can’t whistle at all. I never learned how.

  Calm down, came his mollifying patterns. There was resilience there now. His level of frustration was receding, and there was a rising sense of promise.

  I suppose you can’t whistle in my mind. Anna’s head lolled to one side. Can you?

  Are you all right, Chère? Keep quiet, and let us help you.

  I thought we already went through this, thought Anna. A figment can’t do a damn thing.

  There was an intrusive noise on the edge of her consciousness. It was another demanding voice. A man’s voice, hard-edged. It broke through the soft-boiled edges of her fragmented state of senselessness and caused her to open up her eyes. And it was so hard to do the little task. Anna fought hard, and her lids threatened to revolt but up they went, and she saw Dan fiddling with the microphone of the CB. He glanced over his shoulder at her and said, “Keep your trap good and shut, darlin’.”

  The voice on the CB said, “Break one-nine for the big, black Peterbilt with a white trailer. You got problems, buddy.” She suddenly knew that the voice was repeating itself, waiting for Dan’s response.

  Dan replied, “This is the Mad Dawg, feller. Whatchu talking ‘bout?”

  “I got your backside, Dawg, and you got a couple tires out. You must have run over something. Didn’t you feel anything?” The voice was cold, and Anna fought with her monstrously leaden eyelids. It sounded so familiar to her. She should know that voice. Opening her mouth she tried to talk but nothing came out.

  “Huh,” said Dan. “I’ll wait ‘til I get home. It ain’t far. Thanks feller. What’d you say your name was?”

  “Gabriel,” the other one responded. “Just like the angel.”

  “The divine messenger,” announced Dan. “I done read my Bible when I was a young ‘un.” He said it as if he should receive some sort of special recognition.

  There was a hesitation on the other end. Then Gabriel said, “I got a message for you, Dawg. You can’t wait until you get home for this one.”

  “What? What the hell are you talking about?” Dan chuckled to himself. Then he muttered, “This guy just wants to make a buck off helping me change a tire.”

  “Your brakes on those flats just caught on fire,” said the other man. “Better stop before you lose your trailer.”

  “Son of a bitch,” swore Dan, immediately downshifting. The truck protested loudly, but the air brakes started to catch, and they slowed down. When it stopped, Dan unfastened his seat belt and turned to Anna. “Sorry, darlin’. Can’t have you making a lot of noise.” He lifted his hand up and it slammed it down on her thigh. She didn’t even have time to protest.

  There was a sharp prick in her flesh. A slow moving burning sensation followed it and radiated outward. She didn’t see Dan throw the empty syringe down beside her nor hear him mutter, “That’ll shut you up, won’t it now?”

  * * *

  Gabriel was waiting by the door when Dan Cullen climbed out of the Peterbilt. Gabriel carefully studied the man with the New Orleans Saints cap. Dan leapt to the asphalt with the agility of a fifteen-year-old. He sprinted past the man with the black hair and the gold eyes and headed for the back of the tractor-trailer. He didn’t notice the vehicles parked behind the trailer on the shoulder of the interstate. Nor did he notice the people waiting for him in the deep shadows cast by the eighteen-wheeler.

  “Where’s the goddamned fire?” Dan demanded. He crouched on his knees and scanned the underside of the trailer and saw nothing. There was only the glow of the parking lights. He couldn’t even see the ruined tires that the voice on the CB had mentioned.

  The man that had been waiting for him was standing behind him when Dan straightened up. Gabriel watched as Dan turned around angrily and opened his mouth to issue a blistering tirade. But Gabriel interrupted him with, “You’re a Saints fan.” He motioned at the cap on Dan’s head. Her words came back to Gabriel, A monster that wears a New Orleans Saints cap.

  Dan took a step backwards, bumping into the edge of the trailer. The other man was too close, and there was a glacial expression on his face. “Hell, yes! I live in Louisiana,” Dan snarled as he suddenly noticed the gold color of Gabriel’s eyes. Lights from westbound traffic sporadically lit up his face. Puzzled, Dan turned and bent again to look at the wheels of his trailer. Then he noticed the other people there and growled, “Who the hell are—”

  Dan didn’t say anything else.

  Chapter 6

  Wednesday, December 17th

  A person with an ailment of the skin can rid themselves of their condition by plucking nine hairs from the mane of a gray stallion and then wear it in a plaited braid around their necks for nine days.

  Anna woke up again, and the accomplishment actually surprised her. She came to consciousness through a slow process that was not unlike fighting her way through an impenetrable patch of briars. When she finally realized that she was truly awake, she was afraid to open her eyes.

  I’ve never been afraid of anything in my life before this, Anna thought. Not when a bully from the orphanage broke her arm nor when she had to move into another foster home by herself without Jane at her side. Not when Mother Superior told me I would have to leave the orphanage because I had graduated from high school, and it was time for me to find my own way in the world. Not ever.

  Without opening her eyes she listened as carefully as she could, just as if listening could tell her how secure she was. She felt her own breathing. Not excited or anxious, just even and slow as if she had awoken from a natural sleep. There was a humming noise, a low humming from something mechanical. It sounded like a space heater. Then there was something really strange. The chattering noises of birds came from only a short distance away, excited about something that had disturbed their serenity. It was as if nothing untoward had occurred, as if all was safe and well in the world.

  Memories assailed her. Dan stopped the truck. Someone on the
CB had told him the trailer was on fire. Then he drugged me again. Jabbed me in the thigh with a needle. What the hell happened? Anna’s eyes shot up. She saw a ceiling. It was a plain ceiling with popcorn spackling. A motionless ceiling fan made from wood and brass was centered on the ceiling. She reluctantly rolled her eyes. The room was dark but only because the shades were drawn over the windows. Enough light spilled in from the sides of the curtains to show a small room with a large sleigh bed made from some dark wood. A matching dresser sat on one side. The walls were wood paneled, made of another dark wood that had a faint golden glow. The space heater was on the floor by the window, still humming.

  Is this Dan’s house? His little plain bedroom? Is he all talk and no action?

  Anna moved gingerly and discovered an old patchwork quilt covering her from the end of her chin to the tips of her toes. It gave her pause. Somehow she knew that Dan wasn’t the type to blanket his victims with some family heirloom. It appeared decades old, perhaps carefully stitched in the light of the fire by some industrious granny. It was a beautiful multi-colored piece of art. She pulled it out from underneath her chin and moved it carefully away from her body.

  Dressed in a cotton nightgown that she had never seen before, Anna also discovered that she bore vivid reminders of her nightmare experience. Her wrists were covered with gauze and taped into place. There were also colorful bruises. Would Dan have cleaned me up? Wrapped my bloody wrists? Put me in a nightgown? Put me to bed?

  Moving her legs to the side of the bed, Anna sat up, and her head spun sickly. Her right leg was a leaden lump of flesh. She waited until the dizziness passed and pulled the gown above her thigh. There was a lump there the size of a baseball. It was a rainbow of yellow, green, and blue extending out from a dried spot of blood in the center, the spot where Dan had stuck her with the needle.

  Anna didn’t stop the little moan of distress. Anything could have happened while she was unconscious. She instantly stamped her distress down. I’m alive. It’s all that counts. I’m alive, and I want to stay alive. She brought shaking hands to her face and saw a pile of neatly folded clothing in a chair sitting next to the dresser. Her ragged tennis shoes were perched on top of the clothing, a pair of socks tucked into one. Those are mine! They were freshly laundered and pressed, waiting for her.

 
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