Take Three Girls — a short story

October 31, 2017

TAKE THREE GIRLS

a short story by

Bruce Crowther

Tommy Field wasn’t sure when he first thought that it didn’t matter much either way whether he lived or died. Pretty certainly it was sometime before the most recent decade of his fifty-odd years. Before the time when the gray hairs outnumbered mouse-brown, before his waist measurement overtook his chest by a good six inches, and he had to pause for breath on any staircase that exceeded one flight. Quite some time, certainly, before he came to Gainsville and took a bleak, damp, cheerless room in Mrs Ford’s lodging house. But he knew the exact moment when he changed his mind about living or dying. It was three weeks ago, when he saw Suzie for the first time. That was when he decided that he wanted to live again

She first came into the diner where he worked the graveyard shift as a short-order cook on a drizzling early morning in mid-February, shaking a fine spray of raindrops from her long, streaked-blonde hair, stamping her high-heeled booted feet to restore circulation, and laughing in an unaffected open-throated, bawdy way at her companions.

Listening secretively to them he learned their names. Suzie. Mel. Kris.

Later, Suzie’s companions, Mel and Kris, drifted into the edges of Tommy’s consciousness as two very pretty girls – young women – Mel, dark and tiny and energetic; Kris, cropped-blonde, slow-moving and drawling, statuesque – but they didn’t do too much for Tommy.

But Suzie; oh, boy, Suzie!

Eddie Bert, the counterman, would call through the orders, Tommy would prepare the food, Eddie would serve it, by which time Tommy was head down over the stove preparing the next order. It was a couple of nights later that things changed. Things were slow because of the weather and Tommy was able to take a break and was standing by the back door, blowing smoke from his seventeenth cigarette of the day into the fine rain. He knew the number of cigarettes because six months ago he had felt unwell, had visited Doc Evans where he was told to cut down from his usual three packs a day to less than one. The way Tommy figured it, Doc Evans was too smart, or at least too experienced, to expect a three-pack-a-day man to change his ways too dramatically – even if it meant saving his life. So Tommy counted carefully and tried not to go over the magic life-preserving twenty.3women-225399__340

It was around two o’clock in the morning and he idly watched the headlights of an approaching vehicle break up into rainbow droplets and gradually become identifiably a twenty-year old Plymouth gas-guzzler all a-glitter with chrome. The car stopped and the three women clambered out and scurried, giggling and shouting across the lot. Tommy flicked his cigarette butt into a fast-forming puddle and wandered through the kitchen to see what they would order.

But he didn’t hear a word Eddie said, not until the counterman grabbed his arm and demanded to know what the hell was the matter with him.

What was the matter with him?

As Tommy slowly began to stir eggs into a pan he knew only too uncomfortably well what was the matter. Something had happened to him that hadn’t happened for longer than he cared to think about. He had the beginnings of an erection.

They’d said it would never happen again, the doctors. They’d said that he would never again experience any kind of sexual urge beyond a mild yearning. That was the word they’d used. Yearning. Making it sound like something you gazed back upon in nostalgia-tinted afterglow. Yearning. Like it was something he should be pleased that he could feel. Like it was something to be thankful for. Doctors! But he hadn’t said anything to them, anymore than he would contradict Doc Evans about the ill effects of cigarettes. Tommy was always ill-at-ease around authority figures. He didn’t know how to speak to them, how to handle them, what signals to give off. So he acted meek and subservient, which came easily to him because most of the time that’s exactly what he was. Meek and mild, obedient. Anyway, generally speaking doctors really did know best which is what his mother had always told him. They certainly cured him of some of his childhood ailments although it was mostly his mother’s nursing that had made him feel better. Not happier; no, certainly not happier. But better. Some of the time. But this had been different. For one thing, his mother hadn’t been there to help. Still, the doctors had worked hard. Tested him, tried all that they could to make him . . . be a man again. And they couldn’t do it. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t get an erection. They couldn’t make him get an erection. Nothing could. Nobody could. They had succeeded.

Or they thought they had. And so did he. Until now.

After all this time – what was it? ten, eleven years – what they’d said would never happen again was happening. Well, almost. It wasn’t full-scale. Nothing he couldn’t easily hide beneath the grease-spattered heavy apron he wore. But it was there. And with it the once familiar and now almost forgotten tumbling of the muscles inside his thighs; the feeling in the pit of his stomach that mingled excitement with fear. Like he’d felt as a kid when his mother took him to the funfair and he finally managed to persuade her to let him ride the roller-coaster and having persuaded her wished she hadn’t given in.

Tommy snapped out of his idle dreaming as Eddie yelled at him again. He was asking about the rooming house. About Mrs Ford’s. Why?

He tried to focus on Eddie but behind the counterman he could see the three girls at their table, legs sprawled, drinking coffee, chattering non-stop. Eddie was asking him if there were any rooms to let at Mrs Ford’s and he stammered an answer. There were always rooms to let at Mrs Ford’s. No one stayed there longer than they needed to. Trouble was, he needed to because he hadn’t any other place to go. He heard Eddie relay the information to the girls. Why? Surely they wouldn’t want to stay at a place like that. It was a dump. An unwelcoming dump. They’d hate it. Tommy started from the kitchen, planning to tell them that it was no place for three girls like them – young women, he hurriedly corrected himself. But then the thought hit him that, obviously, they must be planning on staying in town. And if they stayed at Mrs Ford’s then he would see them every day; see them in ways no one else could imagine. Not them. Her. The girl with the streaked-blonde hair and the boots.

And then Eddie was harrying him for the eggs and muffins and Tommy closed his mouth. Even if what was happening beneath his apron was only in his imagination he would still want to see them – her – again. And if it wasn’t only his imagination . . .

By the end of the week, Tommy knew that they were in show business – but wasn’t too clear what it was they did or why they were in a dead-end town like Gainsville – and he knew that they’d be around until at least the end of the month. And also by the end of the first week Tommy knew that he hadn’t been imagining it; it really had been an erection. And by the end of the week he was able to masturbate twice in the day. He did it lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling. In the room directly above his, Suzie slept. Her gorgeous, softly-muscled body, just seven or eight feet above his head. Naked. He was sure that was how she slept. Naked. Inviting.

He thought about that. Carefully. At first he had dismissed the glances she kept throwing his way as being nothing more than wild imaginings. But by now he was certain that just as the erections and the twice-daily masturbation were real, so were the looks she sent his way. Which started a train of thought that soon was hurtling along like a runaway locomotive. Tommy’s room was next to the bathroom used by all the tenants on the upper two floors of the house – himself, a dour man named Shannon who had moved in a few weeks ago and never spoke to anyone, grunting an unwilling acknowledgment of greetings only when he had to, and the three girls. At the beginning of the second week, Tommy used up some vacation time he was owed, taking a night off. The girls were out doing whatever it was they did, Shannon was in bed and snored loudly and was, anyway, partially deaf. When the house below was quiet Tommy went into the bathroom and carefully drilled a hole, slightly angled, through into the wall that separated the bathroom from his own bedroom. The hole was tiny and unless you knew it was there virtually invisible. The angle ensured two things; one, that light wouldn’t shine through from his room and, two, that in direct line with the hole was a large stained mirror affixed to the opposite wall. In his room, Tommy carefully widened the hole until he could see through and into the mirror and by reflection almost all of the bath. Back in the bathroom he checked for light shining through and decided that it was safe enough although probably he would hang a thick blanket over the curtained window of his room just to be sure. He washed the dust he had made into the bath and swilled it away. He was ready.bath-426383__340

He knew the habits of the three girls by now. They came in around the time he did, usually between four and five in the morning, gathered in one room or another to talk and laugh and play the radio. And then they took their baths. Of course they used the bathroom at other times, less predictably, but while he would always be happy to see any one of them sitting on the toilet bowl, what he wanted was to see them naked, preparing for and taking their baths.

As it happened it was Mel who went to the bathroom first. He could hear her singing to herself and the water running. He took down from his wall the framed copy of Mrs Ford’s house rules that he had re-hung a couple of feet to the left so that it concealed his spy-hole, then climbed onto the little table that usually stood beneath the window and peered into the hole. It was perfect.

Mel stood by the bath, casually dropping her clothes to the floor, then stood, naked, fluffing her dark hair, her breasts rising and falling with her movements. As the water ran into the bath the mirror began steaming up but she kept reaching out to wipe it clear so that she could see herself.

And, of course, Tommy could see her too. He could hardly breathe and when he did he was sure that it was so loud that she must be able to hear him. But the running water and her non-stop singing must have drowned out his sounds, sounds that became louder and louder until he gasped himself to a surging climax.

He almost fell as he stepped down from the table and lay for a moment on his bed but almost at once he heard Mel leave the bathroom and call out to Kris that she was through. Somehow he managed to pull himself together and was back in his place, ready for Kris. Naked, she was even more spectacular than he had imagined and his imagination wasn’t feeble. All those years, imagination was all that he’d had.

Afterward, when he thought about it, it was like every fantasy he’d ever had. Two beautiful, sexually desirable young women, performing naked for his eyes only. Two huge erections and two masturbations. Two exhausting climaxes. He didn’t know if he could manage three. Maybe he should have waited. Missed Mel or Kris. Maybe both. Kept himself for Suzie. Kept himself filled with the power; filled with the almost uncontrollable urge to command a female body. To do with it all the things that he had done before, so long ago.

Tommy lay on his bed, thinking about the past. How things had been before . . . before he had changed. Maybe, just maybe, he could turn back the clock to the way things had been. The way he had been. He stared at the ceiling, thinking about Suzie and rubbing himself gently. Two climaxes already tonight and he could feel a faint stirring. It could be the way it had been before. It really could. No, not exactly that way. It would have to be different. But the end result could be the same.

He heard the floorboards of the room upstairs creak and he was ready, on the table, peering through the hole when Suzie came into the bathroom.

What had gone before was nothing; barely a curtain raiser for the real show. Unlike the other girls, Suzie didn’t sit in the bath; she stood, soaping herself lazily, her hands circling her breasts, her fingers pulling at her nipples. Then her hands drifted down her stomach and circle her belly and her hips, dreamily caressing herself. Her fingers moved again, lower, until she began to tease gently with her clitoris. Until her body began to move in a rhythm of its own.

And Tommy thought he would die.

He slept past his usual time and was late arriving at the diner and let Eddie’s haranguing flood over him without comment. He was too drained to argue.

The next morning was virtually a scene-by-scene replay and again Tommy slept as if pole-axed. Fortunately, he had reset his alarm to half an hour earlier and put it on to loud. He had to drag himself through the shift but at least Eddie didn’t have any complaints.

On the following morning it was different. Mel was still in the bathroom when Tommy heard someone coming along the corridor and then a light knock on the bathroom door. Mel climbed out of the tub, water rippling over her buttocks, and opened the door for Kris. And embraced her.

If what had gone before was fantasy then what was this? Two women, the tiny dark-haired Mel and the tall, lean blonde Kris, bathing one another and kissing and doing things to one another that Tommy had only read about. When they were done, so was Tommy. He sat on the floor, leaning against the wall, his head only inches away from where the two women lay together in the bathtub. Which was how he heard their voices, heard Suzie’s name mentioned. It was Mel, suggesting to Kris that they invite Suzie to join them; then Kris answering, saying that Suzie wouldn’t be interested, that Kris had tried once before. And, anyway, she added, and this time her voice was quite distinct.

“She has her sights set on the jerk from the diner.”

Tommy swallowed hard, straining to hear. Mel spoke his name, derisively, then Kris spoke again, confirming it. Suzie had eyes for Tommy.

That day Tommy didn’t think about anything else. It was hard to believe. Okay, he had seen the glances Suzie shot his way from time to time but deep down, much as he liked the idea, he hadn’t really believed it. Not Suzie, not that fantastic sexual creature; she couldn’t lust after him the way he hungered for her. But he had heard his name spoken by the other girls, heard it distinctly.

The next day Tommy didn’t watch any of them in the bathroom. Instead, he lay on his bed, summoning up the nerve to speak to Suzie. Just before he was due to leave for the diner he heard Suzie come bounding down the stairs to join her friends as they too were due to go out to work. He hurried from his room in time to intercept her and before he could weaken his resolve he blurted out his question, asking her for a date, ready to hurry on down the stairs in a cloak of embarrassment when she said no. But Suzie grinned brightly at him and said, “Sure. That’d be nice.”

If anyone had asked Tommy how many eggs he fried that night, how many burgers, how many plates of beans he served up, he wouldn’t have had the faintest idea. He went through the shift like a man in a daze.

He was in a daze.

In the morning he dressed himself with far more care than he usually showed. Done, he stared at the round, pale face in the mirror, seeing vestiges of the man he had been years ago and was able to convince himself that this was what Suzie could see. She must be able to see the man he used to be, and could be once more if only the circumstances were right, the way they used to be.

There were not too many things to do in Gainsville during the day and Suzie suggested they take a drive in the Plymouth. Tommy was delighted to head out of town and up into the hills. The Plymouth was the same model as one he’d had many years ago and it was like reliving the more pleasurable parts of his past. Even the music blaring from the old 8-track cassettes Suzie fed into the player was his kind of music, rock ‘n’ roll. Not today’s rock; this was the King and Jerry Lee and other heroes. It was gratifying, the way she drove a car like his, played music he liked. It was hard to believe because she was so much younger. Hesitantly, he asked her how old she was. Twenty-six, she told him. One year younger than Mel, two years younger than Kris. He hadn’t asked her about the others, didn’t want to talk about them. But for some reason Suzie did. Did he think they were attractive? Did he like Mel more than Kris, either of them more than her? He stammered out answers, trying to tell her that he had eyes for no one else but her. And she was gently mocking, saying how she was sure that a man like him would have lots of girls. And then asking was he married and had he ever been and did he have children and did he like children? And he was answering: No and No and No and No, and Suzie glanced at him curiously and said that she thought a man like him would like children. Really like them a lot.

The Plymouth slowed and turned off the road and bumped along a track that reached deep into woodland. Eventually, Suzie stopped the car and turned off the engine and climbed out without speaking and walked off into the trees. Just before she disappeared from his view she turned and waved her hand at him. Something white fluttered to the ground and then she was gone.

Tommy stumbled after her. The white object was a tiny pair of lace panties. His breath quickening, he hurried into the darkly shaded woods. He didn’t know where he was going, had lost all sense of direction, but he could hear Suzie every now and again, calling his name, and he kept going.

The clearing was small, not much bigger than the diner where he worked and the cabin at its edge was tiny, even smaller than his room at Mrs Ford’s. Tommy stood, hesitant, then came Suzie’s throaty, enticing laughter and he almost ran to the cabin door.shed-166529__340

Inside it was dark but then a match scraped and in a moment a warm yellow glow of an oil lamp illuminated the cabin. There appeared to be only two rooms, the dividing wall a thin makeshift partition with an opening across which hung a faded curtain. The room in which he was standing held two chairs and a table, upon which stood the oil lamp. In one of the chairs sat Mel. In the other sat Kris. Suzie stood behind the table, smiling slightly at him. Then she turned and pushed aside the curtain and went into the other room. Tommy stared from Mel to Kris and back again. They looked – well, strange. No, it was the way they were dressed that was strange.

Mel was wearing a blue and white checkered dress. Although it was her size and fitted perfectly the style was all wrong. It was the kind of dress a little girl might have worn, not today but twenty years ago. And Kris was wearing a one-piece bathing costume. It too was a perfect fit but was curiously dated and entirely unsuitable for a grown woman. Then Suzie came back into the room. She had changed her clothes. A pleated white skirt and a white blouse with a red check collar. A little girl’s clothes.

Tommy stared from one to the other, his mind racing, adding up the clothes, the car, the music. He began to remember things. Something in his expression must have opened a tiny window onto his thoughts because suddenly Suzie spoke.

“You remember, don’t you?” she asked him.

And he did.

The Plymouth had been a part of it. It was exactly like the one he’d had, even down to the color. The rock ‘n’ roll tapes were like his, too. Same singers, same tunes. Exactly the same.

He had played the tapes to make them feel at ease. The little girls. The little girls he had picked up in his Plymouth, the little girls who liked the rock ‘n’ roll he had played. The little girls he had driven into the woods. Woods like those that surrounded this cabin. But that was hundreds of miles away and twenty years ago.three-1312869__340

Tommy started to back away but all three women moved and now he could see that all of them were holding guns. Rock steady. Their faces wearing expressions that were rock hard.

“We even used our real names,” Suzie said. “The girls didn’t want to because they thought you would recognize them and run away. Of course, then I wasn’t Suzie, I was Susan. Mel was Melanie and Kris was Christine. I didn’t think you’d remember, though. Because there were too many for you to remember all the names. How many were there, Tommy? How many little girls did you rape?”

And he was stammering, denying it.

But Suzie ignored him, the dreamy look back in her eyes. “Eight were mentioned in court,” she said. “But the police thought there were others. Children who never told their parents. Children who were too frightened. Too traumatized. Children whose lives were damned forever. So, how many were there, Tommy? Ten? Twenty? Thirty? More? And what was your sentence? Twenty years to life. And you got out early because you talked the doctors into believing you were cured.”

I was. I am. I was given drugs. They used . . . aversion therapy, they call it.” The words were tumbling out. “They cured me. I couldn’t . . . can’t . . . even look at a picture of . . . of a girl without wanting to throw up.”

“The way I can’t look at a man without wanting to throw up?” Kris asked.

“That’s why Mel and Kris are the way they are,” Suzie told him. “They prefer women to men. Some of the others we talked to adjusted – that’s how it’s put – adjusted. I’m not sure I believe them. Oh, maybe they spoke what they think is the truth, but is it really? We talked to one who has married and has two kids of her own. But I looked into her eyes and I know that you’re still in there, Tommy. Deep inside that woman, you’re lying in wait, the way you did all those years ago, and one day you’ll come out and destroy her life all over again. The way you destroyed our lives. Mel and Kris can’t do the things they might have done because of what you have turned them into.” Suzie’s eyes were still far away. “But they love one another, which is something I suppose. But what about me, Tommy? What do you suppose has been the effect you had on me? That day, just one day in your life while I was just one little girl in your life. I don’t suppose you remember. Oh, the car, yes, and the music. But that was the same with all of us, wasn’t it? But do you remember each of us individually, or do we all blur into one in your mind? Are we all alike in that fetid, twisted sewer you call your mind? Is that what we are, just faceless, nameless, five-year-old bodies that you defiled? Did you treat them all in the same way? The way you treated us. We added it up, the first time the three of us met. Between the three of us do you know what it adds up to? Five oral penetrations. Four vaginal penetrations. Three anal penetrations. And I was only five years old, and Mel was six, and Kris seven. All that you did to us, and now you’re out of prison and free to walk the streets and do it all over again.”

I haven’t touched a . . . anyone. Not since I came out. I haven’t even wanted to. It worked, the treatment. It worked.”

“Did it? Is that why you drilled a hole in the bathroom wall? Is that why you watched us in the bath? And what did you do while you watched us? Can we guess? Or do you want to tell us, Tommy?”

You know about . . . then you did it deliberately. You enticed me.”

Enticed? That’s an interesting choice of words. Enticed.”

You did. From the start.”

No, Tommy. What happened was, you remembered. All this time, whatever the doctors thought or said or did, all your evil was lying there waiting. Waiting to come out again and do its worst. That evil remembered us, remembered little Susan and Christine and Melanie. You were never cured, Tommy. Your kind can never be cured. At least, not that way, not by doctors. There’s only one cure for people like you. And we know what that is.”

Suzie lowered her gun and quickly emptied the chambers, then she put back one shell, spun the chamber and before Tommy could move she raised the revolver and fired at him. He screamed in fear and dimly heard the empty click of the hammer.

You just got lucky, Tommy. Or maybe unlucky, depending on how you look at it. This is what happens here today, you get a chance to live. But if you live, you live the life we want you to live. A harmless life.”

Suzie spun the chamber and pointed the gun at Tommy’s head. Kris laid something on the table. It was a pen and some sheets of paper. “Sign them, Tommy,” Suzie said. “Your promise to commit yourself to hospital for further treatment. To pay your victims. To dedicate the rest of your life to God.”

Tommy reached for the pen, scrawling his signature hurriedly and unseeingly on each of the papers, eager to do whatever he was asked, anxious to get out of here, buzzing with the hope that this wasn’t going to be anywhere nearly as bad as he had begun to fear just a few moments ago. Kris took away the papers, and something else took their place. Tommy looked down, recognizing with a thrill of horror the meat cleaver he used at the diner. The blade sharp and heavy, the wooden handle worn smooth with use.

“You didn’t think we were leaving it to chance and your word, did you, Tommy?” Suzie said. “That’s the real choice you have to make. Cut your pecker off or die.”

Tommy stared at her, then back at the cleaver, then at Kris and Mel. No one was smiling, nothing broke the silence except the pounding of blood in his ears.

“Now, Tommy” Suzie said.

He couldn’t move and she squeezed the trigger and Tommy squealed in terror as the hammer clicked again on an empty chamber.

Suzie spun the chamber again, pointed the gun at his head. “Do it, Tommy.” He stared at her, then at the muzzle of the gun, hypnotized. She squeezed the trigger again and once again he squealed as the impact on another empty chamber echoed like thunder in his head. Suzie didn’t move, didn’t spin the chamber.

Time to shorten the odds, Tommy. No more free spins, no more one-in-six chances. This time it will be one in five. Next time, if there is a next time, one in four. Then three. Pretty easy choice I would’ve thought. Not far down this road and suddenly there’ll be no choice at all. And all you have to do to stop this, to save your miserable life, is to chop it off. That . . . thing you used on me and Kris and Mel.”

Suzie’s forearm stiffened and she squeezed the trigger and Tommy fell to the floor, a thin, keening cry escaping his lips.

Lucky man,” Suzie said. “Now it’s one in four.”

“You can’t . . . you don’t understand . . . I couldn’t help . . .”

“One in four and next time it’s one in three.”

“Stand up,” Mel said. It was the first time she had spoken and even in the state he was in Tommy noticed that the bubbly sound was gone from her voice. “Stand up, you miserable sweaty pig,” she told him.

Tommy scrambled to his knees, lifted his head until it came level with the table top. Kris pushed the cleaver towards him. He stared at it; the point was aimed directly between his eyes.

“No,” he whimpered. He sensed rather than saw Suzie’s movement and screamed, “No!”

He reached out a trembling hand towards the cleaver. “Stand up,” Mel said again.

Somehow, he used the table to drag himself upright. “Unzip,” Kris said.

Fumblingly, he did as he was told. “Lay it out,” Mel said.

He did so.

Pick up the cleaver,” Kris said.

He did.

Do it,” Mel said, her voice thick.

He was weeping uncontrollably now, shaking with fear and desperation.

Do it,” Mel shouted.

No,” he screamed and he heard the hammer click onto an empty chamber and again he screamed, a wordless echoing cry.

This time it’s an even chance, you filthy, perverted animal,” Suzie said, then shouted, “Do it,” her voice reverberating from the cabin walls.chopper-1071578__340

And he screamed in mortal terror and reached for the cleaver, gripped it, raised it. Hesitated. Then bit hard on his lip and . . . and suddenly there was pain, excruciating, beyond belief. But not from his skull where Suzie’s bullet would have gone. Not from his groin where the butcher’s cleaver would have fallen. But in his chest. A pain that stopped him from breathing, that thankfully wiped his brain clear of his scrambling, careering thoughts. And then he was falling into a whirling, dizzying, endlessly deep black chasm.

The Plymouth reversed all the way down the track to the blacktop, then turned and headed north, away from Gainsville.

“Did you know about his heart?” Mel asked, her voice neutral.

Suzie shrugged her shoulders. “Mitchell said something about it,” she said.

For a few miles the others said nothing, then Kris asked, “Where are we meeting him?”

Suzie gestured ahead in answer. Mitchell’s car was pulled over on the other side of the road, pointing towards Gainsville. Suzie coasted to a stop and wound down the window. Mitchell came across the road and Kris handed him the papers Tommy Field had signed. Mitchell took them, glanced through them.

They’re all there,” Kris told him. “Lawyer, bank, proxies, the lot.”

“How much does he have, you reckon?” Suzie asked.

“Near as I can say, ten thousand,” Mitchell said.

Mel made an exasperated sound and Suzie glanced at her through the rear-view mirror.

Mitchell tucked the papers away and handed an envelope to Suzie. “Rainbow City, Iowa,” he said. “Man named Ben Leeson. Convicted in 1999 on three counts of rape of minors, released this year after serving two-thirds of his sentence.” Mitchell glanced at Mel. “Used to own a couple of radio stations and a newspaper. Big bucks, just sitting in the bank, sweetheart.”

Who do I have to play this time?” Mel asked. “Not another goddamn lesbian?”

Work it out for yourselves, kids, after you’ve read the case histories.” Mitchell stepped away from the Plymouth. “After I’ve checked the cabin, I’ll go back to Mrs Ford’s, check your rooms.”

They’re clean,” Suzie said.

I’m sure they are,” Mitchell said. “But I’ll check all the same. Can’t be too careful. I’ll see you next week in Rainbow City.” He walked back to his car and Suzie accelerated away without acknowledging his wave.

They drove in silence for a while, Suzie watching her companions’ faces through the mirror. Kris was okay but Mel was starting to worry her.

Kris reached over, took the envelope Mitchell had handed to Suzie and opened it up.

Who do I get to play this time?” Mel asked. “Pray God not another Mel-ah-nee or a goddamn Lulu Belle.”

Kris glanced up from her reading. “There’s a Jane would suit you. Or a Mildred if you want to dye your hair.”

“Mildred! You gotta be joking.”

Suzie drove on, half listening, thinking hard. She would watch Mel – Elena, really – very carefully in Rainbow City and if she didn’t straighten up she would talk to Mitchell about dropping her. That was Mitchell’s job, part of it anyway. Finding the marks was his official role in the operation but he was also the unofficial executioner when one of the girls had to be replaced. Suzie would never kill a girl. Only men. She sighed to herself. If only she and Mitchell could find two girls like herself. Two girls who could assume roles, play the games, keep the cover, and, when it came down to the last nine yards, kill.

One day, with luck, they would find two girls just like herself.

And one day, with a lot of luck, Mitchell would finally track down the man she had hired him to find six years ago. The man who had taken her from her parents’ house when she was four years old and had kept her in a trailer halfway across the country for seven years. Seven years before she had managed to escape. And when she went back with the police the man was gone, the trailer was gone, and no one ever really believed her story. Too incredible. She had to have made it all up. Just what they thought she had been doing for seven years from the age of four she had never figured out. And eventually she stopped trying to persuade them. Instead, she saved every cent she could scrape together until she had enough to hire Mitchell and when that ran out she went along with his scam. She didn’t mind too much. In fact, helping animals like Tommy Field into the next world helped ease the pain a little.

In the back seat of the Plymouth, Kris turned a page. “We have to dump this old clunker,” she said. “For this one, we’ll need an SUV of some kind. The guy hunts in the mountains all the time.”

“Jesus,” Mel said, “When are we gonna get some guy who lives in a California beach house?”

Yes, Suzie thought, Mel really will have to go, whatever happens in Rainbow City. She doesn’t understand a single damn thing about why the hell we’re doing this. She thinks it’s all for the money. Or in Mel’s case, for the kicks.

Five or six miles behind them, heading towards Gainsville, Mitchell was thinking about the girls. Some day soon he would have to make a decision. Find someone to replace Suzie. The other girls were the best they’d had but Suzie was starting to be a pain. Too damn serious about the perverts he found for them. Too intent on hurting them, making them pay in sweat and pain and blood. Too many damn killings.

Yes, she would have to go. Certainly she had to go before she started on again, as she did every few months, about how the search was going for the guy who’d kidnapped and raped her when she was a kid. One day, she might realize that there were other people around like him she might hire. And the other people might find the trail as easily as he had. And tell her that the man she was hunting was dead. Had died the same night she’d run away from the trailer; but whose death – and guilt – had been covered up because he was the brother-in-law of the sheriff in the town where Suzie had been hidden all those years.

Christ, Mitchell thought, it didn’t bear thinking about what that crazy woman might do – to him – if she discovered that he’d been lying to her all these years.

Copyright © 1998 & 2017 Bruce Crowther

Bruce Crowther has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of the work

Illustrations courtesy of Pixabay

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