• P.C. Rogers

Jack Broad Miniseries: Part 7


“Have you seen this girl?” Jack pushed the little folded picture across the counter at the grumpy looking man that stared at the television.

He scratched his scalp through his long black hair and shrugged. “Wouldn't know.” He went back to watching a soccer game on the television.

“Look again. Figure it out.” He pushed it closer to him.

Frederico muted the program, took the image and squinted at it, then handed it back. “Why you want to know, anyway?”

“Because I'm looking for her.”

Jack steadied his gaze at the older man. He was sick of dealing with people's indifference. How much of an inconvenience could it really be for someone to remember if they'd seen a missing woman or not? Apparently a great deal. Everyone he'd spoken to for the last week had been mostly uninterested, but this was a whole new level of it.

“I've never seen her before.” He turned away again and unmuted the television. Jack handed him a piece of paper with his cell phone number on it. “If you remember anything, or run into her, call me.”

The man eyed the paper casually but left it laying. Jack stood staring at him a few seconds before leaving in a huff. He hoped the place burnt down around the guy. Around all of them. The entire state even. Somewhere was Shannon, and he was certain she needed him. Even if she didn't know it. He knew it. He could feel it in the throb of his heart, in the push of air in his lungs. Some terrible trouble was bearing down on her, like a falling mortar round, and he had to find her before it struck.

Jack walked out to his car and sat in the driver's seat looking at the area. It was like every other southwest Texas hole. Jack had always preferred the northeast of the state, some Texans would consider that a flaw. But he didn't care. There was a beauty in the rugged green there, it was home for him. A completely different world than this martian landscape he looked at now. He wondered what on earth would draw her out this way in the first place. She was so alive and eager. Despite the fear that seemed to get the best of her. Why would she be interested in such a dry dead place? He imagined the dying in her being drawn to like-kind. Maybe that was it.

He gave up and drove on to the next town.

Everywhere he looked there was nothing but tan and dust. It was some times hard to tell the difference between it and Iraq or Afghanistan. Except for the mountains and smell, he guessed. But it still was about as close to a war zone as you might find stateside. He watched a drug deal take place on the corner a few blocks away. Saw rough-looking twenty-somethings flash by in souped-up cars and cringed at the sight of a pair of shirtless men with Mexican gang tattoos walking into a corner store. The air smelled like grilled food and cilantro. Jack was hungry so he searched for a place to park outside a small grocery. It appeared to be the only place to buy food except for the preponderance of local bars and grills that churned out thick clouds of spicy flavored smoke and spilled dirty faced drunken customers into the streets so late in the evening. Groups of thugs milled about everywhere he looked. One particular swarm eyed him intently from their posts on little bicycles and behind the steering wheel of a red car. There was little he hated more than angry thug music and he growled at them through his teeth as the thumping music rattled even his own vehicle.

After fetching some food he sat in the car eating and glaring at the group of delinquents from a couple of hundred feet away. The town was barely that and consisted of only a pair of motels opposite the grocery and a few strips of tiny adobe houses in desperate need of repair. But it was still larger than the last village he'd come from. He was about to pack up his leftovers and head to the nearest motel when the red car broke free of the gang and sped in his direction. The driver eyed Jack narrowly as he circled the old Pontiac at close quarters, a small amount of smoke and rubber trailing behind him. His gold covered front teeth gnashed and he tore off down the street and out of sight.

If Shannon was in this place she wouldn't be for long. He'd see to that.

He stepped through the lobby doors of another hotel and slid the same picture across the wood grain Formica countertop. An angry looking woman glowered at him.

“Have you seen...” He started, but the woman interrupted her. Though her accent was heavy it was the cleanest English he'd heard in the entire area.

“No one sees no one around her, Sir. Don't bother asking.”

“But...”

“We make it a point not to notice anything.” She reiterated.

What was this? The old west? Would a posse on horseback, firing pistols, give birth to a lynching mob at any moment? It was like a scene out of “The Magnificent Seven”.

He tried the neighboring hotel anyway. The boy behind that counter was perhaps the first to take a serious look at the picture. His black hair was long and braided in back. It was hard to tell if he was Native or Mexican, but he looked like he had grown up in the area his whole life, unlike the thugs who seemed to have clawed their way up from farther south. There was a willingness to engage in conversation that the imports lacked.

“Have you seen this girl?” Jack asked for another countless time.

The boy looked at it hard. “Maybe?” He said slowly.

Jack's heart lurched. “When? Where?”

“I don't know, man.” He looked at the picture again, “Maybe last week? Seems like I watched a real nice piece of tail trot past here a couple times to the grocery store and back.”

Jack checked himself at the remark and pushed him further, “You see where she went?”

“I watched that walk the whole way.” He said, a little dreamy, “She stayed across the way, at the motel there. But I haven't seen her in a few days. She was driving a truck” He indicated the motel Jack had just come from, across the parking lot.

“With a cap?” He asked hopefully. The boy nodded, “Thanks.”

Jack paced across the broken asphalt. He was irate and threw open the door to the motel lobby. He slid a stack of brochures onto the floor and slammed his fists on the counter hard.

“Tell me where she went.” He growled.

The old woman raised an eyebrow. “I wouldn't know. She paid cash for a week, and left.” She hung up the receiver of a phone he hadn't realized she was holding. A police car pulled in just as she did and a man stepped out looking much like her, only younger.

He sauntered in, his hand on his weapon. “Abuela, Do you have trouble?” The man asked the old lady.

“I don't know.” She said, looking at Jack.

Jack sized up the man in his tan uniform. A bulletproof vest puffed out his chest and the leather of his belt and holster creaked as he shifted his weight from foot to foot, sizing Jack up in the same way.

“I'm looking for this girl. Me and her family are concerned that she's not safe.” He stepped a touch closer to him and extended his hand to the man, holding the picture. The officer grabbed his wrist and shoved him into the glass window beside the door. He pushed his elbow to the sky and Jack winced. He closed his eyes to keep control of himself. To not fight back. The guy was at least three inches and twenty pounds smaller. But he was in uniform.

“If Abuela says she ain't here, she ain't here. Comprende?”

“Yup.” He growled. “You get your ass out of my town.” He turned him loose and looked back at the older woman, “Well, since you don't need me I'll just get back on the streets. Have a good night.” He tipped his hat at her and shoved Jack out the door.

Jack bristled and scowled as he paced back to his car. It was always a swift kick to his pride how much civilian life differed from active duty. On tour, he was the law. But here... at home... he was no one.

It was a dead-end anyway, he assured himself. He'd try the next closest town and then cycle back through before headed back to Heather and Bill's to check any movement on her account again. He fired up the GTO and pulled onto the road.

“Come on, Little Bird. Where are you hiding?” He whispered as he looked over the passing houses and citizens. The whole place was rank with despair and it made him tight and hyper-aware.

He dialed the strange number that had called him a few nights ago again, but no one answered. He had no way of proving it was her but something in his gut knew it was. He contemplated leaving another message but didn't. Because maybe he was wrong.

Everything seemed wrong. Maybe it was just a stranger that had called the wrong number.

He drove through the red bathed desert towards the next town as the sunset before him. The obnoxious souped-up car from town drove idly behind him. He ignored it, silently praying he'd find her this time. Trying to stifle a growing sense of dread about it all. The car sped up and after a few moments tailgating him it passed and disappeared into the melting sun. Maybe he'd call the strange number another time and leave a message after all. Just in case.




~*~




Shannon settled into her original room, glad to be back at Frederico's motel. It was strangely good to be in a familiar place. Even if it was a shallow familiarity. She transferred what little food she had brought to the fridge and shut the door. She'd only paid for another week, if she changed her mind she could always buy more nights. The instinct to flee still hadn't subsided, no matter how hard she grappled with it it only grew stronger. But her foot needed to rest, and she needed to gather her bearings before running again. Or she might end up in a worse situation. At least here she felt comparatively safe. The distance between her and her former life was satisfactory, Frederico provided a small sense of security, and she was growing more and more familiar with the surrounding town. She could manage this place another week.

A knock came at her door and she paced cautiously to the peephole. She still felt nervous and on edge after her unsettling week in the border town. Every man seemed hungry and predatory, ever woman on the verge of clawing her eyes out. Even the small children, what few there had been there, looked miserable and combative to her. She stood on her toes to look through the small hole in the door. It was only Frederico. She opened it.

“My daughter needs to learn what it is to be grown up.” He said, the faint screams of Carla shouting in the apartment across the driveway floated to them.

Shannon shrugged, unsure of how that involved her exactly.

“If you take her job for the next month you can live here free.” He said flatly.

She glanced at the apartment and back at Frederico. She felt nervous committing to anything that was such a long term responsibility. “Grandmother will feed you dinners.” He added, trying to entice her.

“I just clean rooms and stuff?” She asked, still dubious about her interest.

“And laundry. It's not a lot of work. My sister does most of it. Only ten to two. I just can't afford to pay anyone right now and no one else needs housing. It's a win-win.”

She thought about the place. Remembered the picture of his dead son. Cicadas screamed from some bushes in the late afternoon heat.

“Alright. But if it doesn't work out you have to let me pay instead.”

“Okay.” He said offering her his hand to shake.

The next morning she found herself on hands and knees scrubbing the base and bowl of an ancient toilet. Her nose prickled with the smell of ammonia based cleaner and she gagged repeatedly at the sight of strangers' pubic hair laying in tiny mats over the tub drains. No wonder Carla was trying to escape this job.

The air conditioners were off in all the rooms she cleaned. The air was hot and still and compounded by the heat blown from the fan on the vacuum as she swept the old brown carpets. She was glad to earn her keep and not have to spend her money but she was even more glad when two o'clock rolled around and she could put her supplies away and retreat to her room.

She had ducked out of suppers at Frederico's and as a result, Grandmother had shuffled through the darkness across the parking lot to her room in the evenings with a plate of food for her. It always involved beans and rice. Tonight was no exception. Although beef and peppers were piled next to little tortilla wraps this time. She graciously accepted and shut the door to her room, hungry at the sight of the home cooked meal. Grandmother eyed her knowingly, as though her misery and insecurities could transcend the language and generational barrier between them. The old woman patted her shoulder each time before leaving, looking at her sorrowfully. Her cell phone rang as she sat down to eat. She ran to it and picked it up to read who was calling, though she knew it was Jack. Shannon struggled with herself over whether to answer it or not. She let it go to voice mail and then immediately dialed it to hear the message that was left.

“Little bird. Just call me.” His voice sounded irritated, tired. And concerned.

It took her hours to work up the courage to dial his number. She paced back and forth through the room. Laid on one of the double beds and then the other. Counted ceiling tiles. It reminded her of being in the hospital. Which reminded her of Jack. And Collin. She gave up and called him. It rang only once.

“Shannon?” Jack's voice was stretched and hopeful.

“Yeah.”

“Oh God. Baby, it's so good to hear your voice. Where are you?” She heard wind howling through open car windows and the rush of an engine but it quieted and gravel popped under tires.

“Just staying in a motel; traveling.” She said casually, not wanting to betray how much hearing his voice cut her insides to shreds.

“Where are you, Shannon.” He insisted, almost sternly.

She told him the name of the motel. “It's nice here. I enjoy it.” She said, trying to sound chipper.

“I'll be right there.” He said through the sound of squealing tires.

“What? Jack, no...” “I'm only forty minutes away.” He said.

“What?”

“Don't go anywhere, okay? Promise me you'll stay, alright?”

Her stomach flopped mercilessly and crunched in on itself, “But...”

“Shannon!” He said intently, “Do. Not. Move. I just want to see that you're alright.”

She held her breath, quelling emotions that were desperately trying to claw free, “Okay. I'll wait.” She finally relented.

He dropped his phone, the big GTO engine racing in the background after he turned the car around. The call finally ended. Shannon glanced at the clock. It would be late before he was there. She was so full of nervous energy, though, she didn't know what to do with herself. Her untouched dinner sat on the little table beside her but she couldn't fore herself to eat. She stared at her phone and compared the time of the call with the current time. A minute had passed. Then three. Four. After ten minutes she slipped out into the dark and headed for the office to pass some time.

Crickets were out and the air was cool for late summer. It felt soft against her bare arms. She let herself into the lobby and bellied up to the counter. Frederico lifted two fingers in an attempted wave. A vague acknowledgment of her entrance, not turning from the game on television.

“Who's playing?” She asked, not knowing the first thing about soccer.

“Two teams from Brazil.” He said casually.

She nodded.

“Some guy was in here looking for you last week.” He stated suddenly, “I forgot to tell you.”

“Who?”

Fredrico shrugged, “Dunno. Big guy. Tall. Wide. Angry looking.”

“Blond?”

“Yeah. I told him I'd never seen you before.” Still, he didn't look away from the game. He never looked away, but he never responded to anything happening either. “You know him?”

“Um. Yeah.” She said, surprised. She only knew one large blond man. And that was Jack. “I'm going to bed. See you tomorrow.”

He called to her before she got to the door, muting the television, “He left this number.” He slid a piece of paper in her direction.

She picked it up and left, reading it as she walked along the walkway to her room. It was Jack's cell phone number, she was sure. She pulled out her phone and checked. It matched.

Shannon shut the door and reeled. Last week she had been miserable. Harassed by hooligans. Alone. Countless lonely hours had been passed fantasizing through her deepest despair that maybe Jack was coming to find her. As impossible as she had assured herself that it was, she still had enjoyed the guilty pleasure of that imagination. And it was true. Part of her wanted to dive for the truck and disappear into the dark before he could find her. But mostly she felt like coming undone with excitement that Jack had found her, the alone she felt wasn't the encasement of a brick wall, it wasn't an impossible shield. He'd found her. She had felt dogged by fears and hate that pushed her onward, driving her into singularity. She had felt as harassed by them as a prey animal before a wolf. It was real that she was being pursued. But it was by Jack, someone far more unrelenting than her own unraveling.

She sat down on the cement outside her room door and leaned against the wall. Almost immediately headlights swung into the parking lot and a blue classic car pulled into an unmarked spot near her truck. Jack bounded out of the car and strode over to her, nearly running. She sat where she was, suddenly unable to move, but he quickly pulled her up to him. He held her head against his chest for a few long moments and she could hear his heart beating almost louder and faster than she was certain her own was.

“Hi.” She whispered when he loosened his grip on her.

“I've been looking for you.” He answered, almost dumbly.

“I've been...” She started to say.

He scooped her up and opened the door they stood against. Once inside he shut the door and laid her on the nearby bed. He paused to lock the door and pull the curtains before crawling in beside her. He kissed her carefully, slowly, and ran his fingers through the whole length of her hair, letting it fall across his skin. Finally, he laid back against the bed frame and rested her on his shoulder.

For a while, he just breathed.

“I can't sleep. I can't eat. I've been awake for forty-eight hours. I only sleep for a few hours every couple days...” He confessed, “I live out a thousand terrible scenarios every night just wondering if you're safe. Just wondering where you are.”

“I'm okay.” She whispered, knowing it was a lie. She was and had been anything but okay. At the moment, though, she was in a daze. It felt as if her dream world had some how overlapped reality. How could he really be there when he'd seemed so far away every night since she left him? His hand found hers and he smoothed his thumb across the back of it. Jack glanced slowly around the room. Stared at the curtain, beyond which the empty parking lot was hidden, and farther beyond the grungy town ground through the gears of late evening.

“This place isn't okay. Why are you here?” He finally mustered.

“You were supposed to move on, Jack. Why are you here?” She whispered, dumbfounded.

He held his breath. Then exhaled slowly, “You need to come home, Shannon.”

“I can't, Jack. I can't go back to Heather and Bill's. Or that town. I just can't do it.” “Come home with me, then. To my place. You don't have to go back to Abilene right yet.”

“Jack...”

“No, Shannon. I'm not leaving without you.” He held her tight with one arm and smoothed her hair with the other.

“I don't want to be in Texas. I'm thinking of going up north. Maybe Colorado. Montana. The Dakotas. I don't know. I just want something different....” She trailed off.

“We'll go together.”

“But your home...”

“It's a rental.”

“And the Army?”

“I don't have to go back. I haven't reenlisted. I'll put the car and stuff in storage.”

Quiet fell between them. She thought about her situation. Thought about him, the gravity of their attraction and how she wanted to slip away from it all and fall softly into it. Just trust him, his world, them together...

“We'll drive all over, anywhere you want, and when you're happy with what you've found we'll settle down. I'll get a job, we'll get a place. Who knows, if this goes on like this maybe we'll get married or something. I dunno.”

She laughed, “Jack, don't be ridiculous. My husband is barely dead, I can't think about even dating someone right yet... and besides, my in-laws.”

“They love you. I know, I went over there and talked to them. And Collin, didn't he love you, too?”

“You were at my in-laws? Of course Collin loved me, that's why I can't!” She said, pushing herself away.

“Didn't he love you enough to want your happiness, Shannon? Really? If you're hurting I understand. But this, us, you can love and miss him and still have an us. I am never going to ask you to forget him, or abandon his memory.” He pulled her back to him, “You can fall apart with me, I'll wait, however long. Just not like this, not running away from me. From everyone.”

Shannon teared up, “God, Jack.” She sniffled and he hugged her a little tighter, “I just. I don't know what I'm even doing!” She cried hard.

“It's okay. You're alright.” “But I'm not!” She snorted, wiping tears off her cheeks, “I don't want to go back. I don't want to be here. I can't decide where to go. I'm scared for no good reason...”

“We can figure it out, I promise.”

“Everything just seems too big to deal with. My mind sounds like a tornado between my ears...” Her voice stretched thinner the more she spoke until it finally broke.

“That's over now. Shhh... You are okay.” He kissed her hair, “What do you want, Darlin', huh?”

She chuckled almost sarcastically, as though it should be obvious, “I want to feel okay again.”

Jack didn't skip a beat, “Then we will find okay, together. Or I will find it for you. Either way, I won't stop until it's all fixed.” His words came slower until they finally dropped off into silence.

Jack looked tired to her. Sleep pulled at his eyelids as a quiet spell set in between them. His arms held her close and whenever he thought to he tightened them around her. At length, he reached wide and flicked off the light switch.

“Enough's enough. Come home, Little Bird. I just gotta rest, just a few minutes.” He muttered in the dark before falling asleep, clutching her tight against him.

Shannon lay beside him thinking about the possibility of them running away together. It seemed infeasible. She was too frantic inside to give up on fleeing and it was unrealistic to imagine someone else trailing along behind her. But maybe, just maybe... She remembered the feeling of his tiny apartment. Remembered the excitement his genuine laugh stirred in her. Felt the strength in his arm around her. The sheer relief on his face that he had found her... Maybe she didn't need to live far away. Perhaps just running away would wear her down. Make her ready to go home and face that old world. At least if she could do it from beside Jack, anyway.

Maybe...

The revelry of Jacks' presence kept her awake. Her mind ping-ponged from one thought to another, barely taking time to finish any one completely. It had been nearly midnight by the time he'd made it to the motel, and as the hours ticked by sleeplessly she grew restless and hungry for the meal she'd rejected earlier. She imagined the deeply sleeping man in her bed would awaken eventually, also hungry.

Shannon pried herself away from his arms and gathered her wallet and flipflops. He was undisturbed by the clacking of the opening door as she slipped out, keys in hand. The grocery here was a little further than in the border town she'd been at for the last week. She normally drove to it but as she eyed the truck now she feared stirring an overly exhausted Jack by starting it. And besides, unlike the other town she'd not had any trouble with the locals here. So she struck out on foot for the tiny grocery half a mile away.

The horizon behind her was slowly beginning to glow blue and purple. Ahead of her stars gripped hard to the fading night. The sun-bleached sidewalk was gritty under her soles and the odd cars that passed by quickly stirred dust around her ankles. She realized that she felt it. She felt the unpleasantness of the bits of sand. She felt the throb of the day eager to start and the weight of the head in the soil as the earth seemed to sigh at the thought of a risen sun.

Streetlights pushed against the growing dawn when she exited the little 24 hours store with a bag of ready-to-eat food. She swung the bag as she walked, watching the glimmers of the sun dancing first low and reaching a little higher as her steps ticked off minutes. In the waning dark, in the promise of a new day, the little dawn seemed almost pleasant.

That feeling burst into oblivion at the sight of a red souped-up stock car soaring up the road in her direction. Throbbing music probed menacingly into the unstained morning. And for the briefest of moments, she thought she might be mistaken. Surely it wasn't the gold-toothed thug from the next town over. The car almost seemed like it would pass her by, but the driver stomped on the brakes as he neared and the passenger window rolled down. Shannon glanced around her for some sort of escape but there was none. She was walking on a lone sidewalk with nothing but empty lots of rotting pavement and broken buildings between the motel and the store.

“Hey, Chica.” Tito purred, “Imagine running into a familiar face so far from home...”

Shannon picked up the pace, wondering if she could outrun the car to the nearing motel. It wasn't far now. Less than a city block away.

“How 'bout that ride? Huh?”

“Go away.” She growled.

“Listen, I gotta be somewhere. Come take a ride with me, sample the goods, try some stuff for free. Try Tito, too.”

“Sweet God. Why are you talking in third person?” She said, bending low to make eye contact with him, hoping somehow it might make his confidence waver.

“Get in the car.” He insisted, revving the engine noisily, shouting over the music. Shannon ignored him, which served only to rile him further. “It's damned fate, GET IN THE CAR!” He bellowed, screeching to a stop and popping his car door open.

Shannon dropped the plastic grocery bag and started running, her foot throbbing and stabbing as it hit the hard ground repeatedly. She could hear Tito racing up behind her and she darted to the right, her feet losing traction on the sandy pebbles in an abandoned driveway. She crashed onto her hip, scrambling to stay beyond his reach. But it was futile. His quick hands tangled in her shirt and he pulled her against himself, dragging her back to the car kicking and clawing.

“Relax! Tito won't hurt you! I...Swear!” He grunted with exertion as he stuffed her into the trunk that popped open before him.

He slammed the lid shut, barely missing her fingers. The driver's door creaked open and the engine fired to life. For a few minutes she simply was rolled and pressed against the back end of the car, and she gasped for air as the situation set into her brain. She braced herself against first the trunk door and the taillights as the car bounced along what she was certain were off-road paths that crisscrossed the desert from one place to another. Shannon focused on the tiny specks of light that lined the old trunk door. It was the only decipherable thing in the trunk. She sucked air so rapidly into her lungs that the tiny line of illuminated specks began swimming together and shrinking.

“Calm down.” She crooned to herself, “You're alright. Calm down.” Whimpered words escaped her lips.

Assess the situation.

Shannon paused. It wasn't as if she'd heard a voice. It was just a knowing, a birth of direction and knowing. And she recognized it. It was Collin. She rooted around as quietly as possible through the contents of the space around her. Her hands gripped and flew off of different items as the car bumped along. But in the wheel well near her feet, she eventually discovered a jack, and tucked within it was the folding tire iron that operated it and removed the lug nuts on the wheels. She grabbed it hard and crammed it into the waistband of her jeans just as the car skidded to a stop again.

The vehicle stopped in a swirl of dust after many bumpy miles. She coughed, sweat beading on her face and forehead.

Tito banged on the trunk, “You listen!” another few poundings on the thick metal, “Stay quiet in there. Or else.” He added the last as he walked away.

Her lungs begged for gallons more air than she needed and she focused hard to convince her body otherwise. She was drenched in sweat and it seemed as though the temperature in the trunk couldn't grow any hotter without her passing out. She counted to sixty as slowly as possible, extending a finger every time she reached it again.

“Count.” She told herself, except it was Collin's tone. She obeyed. But it came out stringy and tearful, she pressed on, urging herself to continue focusing on the numbers instead of the cramped space she was in.

She'd cycled back around and reached forty-eight with nine fingers indicating nine minutes and forty-eight seconds, when a slamming door, startling her. Shannon held her breath as the crunch of boots banged off the wooden boards of a porch and hissed along the gravely dirty towards the car. The vehicle rocked and creaked on its suspension as the unseen person searched for something. First in the driver's seat. Then in the back seat. Finally, all at once, forcing open the trunk.

A man hardened by the sun and weathered by wind looked down at her. What remained of his blond hair had been shaved off, leaving a ring indented in the skin where his hat normally sat. She watched as surprise faded to sick excitement in the contours of his eyes and mouth.

“Tito's busy, baby. But come on inside, I bet you're thirsty.”

“No. No no...no.” She said as he sought around to grab hold of her.

He gripped her arms and yanked her around before pushing her hard against the side of the car. She tried to make impact with her side, but still managed to land most of her weight directly on the metal tool resting against the small of her back. She winced hard and bit her lip, choking on a yelp of pain as she landed. He glanced her over slowly before pulling her in step alongside him.

Shannon stumbled hard until her ankles finally gave out. The strange man didn't miss a step, he simply tightened his grip on her arm and dragged her behind him. Her lower back, and subsequently the iron bar stuffed her in her waistband, clunked hard on the steps. She squinted in the darkened space. It smelled like chemicals and filth. Faint smells of thick cologne and stale smoke wafted from the small living room as she was pulled through it. Tito sat on the sofa nursing a quickly swelling eye socket. His guilty gaze flicked up at her as she passed, her legs kicking and nails clawing, but it fell to the floor almost as quickly. The ancient wool carpet heated under her until it burned her exposed skin raw. The man eventually stopped in a small pantry off the stained and worn kitchen. Ancient appliances tan-colored by time stood misplaced and ill-fitted in the small denoted space.

“It will be better for you if you stay quiet.” He stated flatly, slamming the door shut. Again she was in a confined dark space. She scrambled to her feet and felt around blindly high and low. Empty shelves met her hungry fingers and she winced as a long splinter slid into the soft pad of her right middle finger. Shannon clamped her eyes shut and forced herself to relax before opening them again. A bright line of light glowed along the bottom of the door, taunting her with a tiny glimpse of freedom.

“We can consider this payment in full for what you owe.” The man stated, glass clattering as he poured himself a drink.

“I know the price of girls, she's twice what I owe.” Tito shot out after a few long seconds of silence.

Swallowing. A closing fridge. A sigh.

“She's too old for the local market. For starters. And lets not forget that your beloved Papa put a serious crimp in my trafficking lines...”

“That was a deputy. A deputy that's no longer with the force.” Tito argued.

“He's still increased the cost of shipping. Considering what I've lost in revenue, the two girls I lost... clients... product...” The hard slide of metal on metal from a handgun.

“Alright. Alright. We're even.” A little more silence.

Weight shifted on noisy floorboards. A chair groaned as someone sat in it.

“Get out. Send for your shipper, preferably one that doesn't try to undermine production.”

Tito jumped to his feet, “Gracias.”

She heard his car fire up outside and peel away. Dirt peppered the far side of the house. Shannon needed to pee. There was a horrible welt growing along her lower back, and her bad foot ached so bad it crunched whenever she put weight on it. Again that tickle of knowledge sprang into her mind. Something like Collin's voice, something like the inflection he used. He'll come for you. He will. Just keep fighting.

She curled into a corner and wrapped her arms around her knees.




(TO BE CONTINUED)

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