Illustrations by LunA.
5. DREAMS OF DEBAUCHERYShe passed a sign reading "PRISON AREA: DO NOT PICKUP HITCHHIKERS" and lamented how much worse her luck could possibly get.
Thoughts of Kayla raced through her mind. She told Kayla to stay put; she knew Kayla would, but for how long? How long before the frightened preschooler decided to leave?
Please stay put, Kayla; Grace said to herself as she ran faster down the road. For the love of God, please just stay where you are.
* * * * *
"So you actually spoke to Detective Harker?" Lukas asked, as he pulled out of the gas station. Bethany sat in the passenger seat of his station wagon, while Neil sat directly behind Balko, with his Beretta aimed at the supposed detective's back and ready to fire the moment things went south.
"Not for-" "Well we-" Bethany and Neil answered simultaneously.
"One at a time, please," Lukas said, amused. He turned to Bethany, prompting her to answer first.
"Yes, we did," Bethany said. "We just struck up a conversation with her while we- I mean, she- was filling up. And she mentioned she was staying at the Shady Woods."
They'd told Lukas their pickup had broken down, and they'd arrived at the station on foot when Grace was at the pump.
"Did Harker suspect you were tracking her?" Lukas asked.
Bethany shook her head.
"No, we actually started talking before I saw her on that sign."
"Well, isn't that fortunate?" Lukas remarked. "Did she happen to say where she was headed? After staying at this motel?"
"We didn't talk long," Neil answered quickly, before Bethany could get a word out. She was starting to worry what Neil might say to her once they were alone, and decided she should refrain from talking to the detective much more.
She looked around the vehicle, and noticed the rear view and side mirrors had been removed. Lukas drove with his eyes focused on the road in front of him, only occasionally averting his gaze to look at her. He turned the wheel with expert precision, keeping the car in the center of the lane and never once drifting to the left or right, even an inch.
"Detective, do you have a bandage?" Bethany asked, holding up her cut finger.
Lukas took one glance at Bethany's bleeding finger, and nearly drove off the road. He gripped the steering wheel and scrambled to turn the car back on course, panting heavily.
"What's the matter? You don't like blood?" Neil asked. Lukas coughed.
"It- makes me- queasy," Lukas said, sweat dripping from his forehead. He looked at Bethany, with her low cut top and her tight jeans. Her full cleavage peeked out of her tank top invitingly. A small rip in her jeans revealed just a few inches of bare thigh. She would be a delicious feast; that was for certain.
No, he said to himself. He was here for Harker. Everyone else could wait; the next woman he killed had to be Harker.
Lukas got a hold of himself, and his vehicle, and pulled into the parking lot of the Shady Woods. He looked around the half-empty lot, making a note of all the cars he could see.
"I don't see Harker's Chrysler here," he said.
"Maybe she's just not back yet?" Bethany suggested innocently.
"Perhaps. Let's have a talk with the motel staff," Lukas said. He stepped out of his car and Neil and Bethany followed him into the main office. Neil holstered his weapon as he exited the car, and pulled his jacket forward to conceal it.
Haley Farough was at the front desk, with headphones on her ears blasting loud music while she worked on her calculus homework. She didn't look up when Lukas walked in. Lukas tapped on the desk and got her attention, and she quickly removed her headphones.
"Oh, hi! Sorry I didn't hear you. Can I help you?" Haley asked.
"I hope so," Lukas said, taking Pratt's badge from his pocket and showing it to her. "I'm Detective Joseph Pratt, of the San Amaury police. I'm looking for this woman, have you seen her?"
Lukas removed a photograph of Grace from his suit jacket and showed it to her. Haley gasped.
"Yes, she's staying here now!"
"Wonderful. Could you give me access to her room?"
"Of course, I- is she dangerous?"
Lukas shook her head.
"No, not at all. But it is very important that I find her immediately."
Haley got up from her seat and removed a key from a rack on the wall. She handed the key to Lukas.
"She's in room 12. Second floor, last room on the end."
"Thank you kindly," Lukas said. He smiled at Haley, admiring the young woman's shapely figure. He considered also paying this young woman a visit after Harker was dead if he was still hungry.
He left the office, and Neil and Bethany followed.
"So, you think we can get that reward money?" Neil asked.
"In due time, in due time," Lukas said. "First let's see if Detective Harker is indeed in her room."
They ascended the steps and walked down the balcony, stopping when they finally arrived at room 12.
"You think she'll be here?" Bethany asked.
"Let's find out," Lukas said, and unlocked the door.
He flipped on a light switch, and looked around the room. Grace's travel bag still lay on one of the beds. There was no sign of anyone.
Bethany peeked under each of the beds. As she stood up, Lukas faced her. She stopped.
"Well?" he asked.
"What?" she asked, nervously.
"Is she hiding under the bed?" Lukas asked. Bethany shook her head. Lukas smiled, and looked under each of the beds himself. Both beds were empty underneath. Bethany felt a cold chill as he stood up again.
Neil opened the closets and checked inside, while Bethany looked in the bathroom. Neil shoved past her and pulled back the shower curtain, revealing an empty tub.
Lukas waited outside the bathroom while Neil and Bethany searched inside. He found it nearly impossible to concentrate with the aroma of Bethany's blood filling his nostrils. He could kill her now. Neil wouldn't be able to stop him.
"There ain't nobody here," Neil said, walking out of the bathroom.
"Quite all right," Lukas said. "I'll tell you what I'll do. You two have been immensely helpful, so I'll give you half of the reward money right now. I'll give you the other half after I find Detective Harker."
Lukas removed ten 100 dollar bills from his pocket, and Neil snatched them from his hand.
"Come on, Beth, our guy is waiting." He took Bethany by the arm and led her out of the room. Lukas watched the pair hurry down the balcony, and he looked out to the main road that passed by the motel. He knew Grace was out there; he could sense her. It wouldn't be long now.
Lukas shut the motel room door, and turned out the lights. He sat down onto the bed, and waited.
* * * * *
Grace was almost out of breath when she spotted the motel in the distance. The neon VACANCY sign flickered in the night, and she felt a wave of relief. A layer of sweat formed across her body, causing her to shiver as her pace slowed, so she ran faster again. Squeezing the motel room key in her fist, she scampered across the grass, avoiding passing by the main office and feeling relief from having her bare feet slam against the hard concrete any longer.
"Please be here Kayla, please still be here," she said to herself. The grounds outside the motel were deserted, and Grace breathed a sigh of relief that no one would see her before she could make it back into her room. She rounded the pool area, and as she approached the stairs to the second level, she came to a stop. A small brown teddy bear lay on the ground. Grace picked it up. It was Bernie, Kayla's bear.
"No, no, Kayla, you didn't!" Grace cursed. She looked all around, not seeing a sign of her daughter anywhere.
"KAYLA!" she screamed, no longer caring who might see her. She spun around, looking to the main office, and briefly considering running inside and asking if anyone had seen a little girl. She didn't. She could at least return to her room first. Get some clothes on, and see if Kayla went back there.
Grace hurried up the steps with the teddy bear and the room key in her hands. When she reached the second floor, she paused. Something felt wrong. An oncoming sense of dread overtook her. She suddenly wanted to leave, to get as far away from this motel as she could. But she couldn't. Not without Kayla.
Ignoring her gut instincts, Grace hurried down the balcony, hearing voices coming from behind and beneath her. It sounded as though some motel guests on the first level might be exiting their room.
"Woah, check it out!" a voice said.
Grace turned around to see two young men on the ground level looking up at her.
"Hey sexy!" one of the men shouted. "Lose something?"
Grace covered her breasts and privates with her arms and hurried down the balcony. One of the men took out his cell phone and quickly snapped a photo of Grace's bare behind as she ran down the balcony. She heard the men laugh and walk away.
Grace quickly unlocked the door to her room and let herself inside.
The room was completely dark. Grace felt around for a light switch, feeling all along the wall trying to find it. She brushed her palms up and down the wallpaper until she finally felt the switch and flipped it.
The room was empty. He travel bag was still on the bed. There was no one in sight.
Grace immediately looked under the bed, and saw Kayla was gone.
"Damn it, Kayla!" Grace cursed. She fished a T-shirt out of her travel bag and quickly slid it on. She grabbed a pair of underwear and put it on as well, when she suddenly heard a knocking at the door. Grace peered through the peephole and saw no one.
"Who's there?" she shouted. No answer.
She knew it was a bad idea. She knew opening the door to a stranger tonight was the worst possible thing she could do on a night like tonight, but at this point, she had nothing left to lose. Grace opened the door. It was Kayla.
"Kayla! Where the hell were you?"
Kayla burst into tears.
"I waited for you and waited and you never came back so went to look for you and I got scared so I came back but I couldn't get inside!"
Grace wrapped her arms around her crying daughter and took her inside.
"I'm sorry, Mommy I was so scared! Please don't be mad at me!"
"It's okay sweetie, it's okay, I just didn't know where you were!" Grace suppressed her own tears, not wanting Kayla to see her crying.
"I couldn't get inside so I hid by the corner!"
Grace hugged her tightly, tighter than she had in her entire life.
"Listen Kayla, I don't think we can stay here tonight. It's just not safe here anymore."
"Where are we gonna go?" Kayla squealed. It was a fair question. Grace had no car, and no money. But she couldn't risk Neil and Bethany coming back. And she couldn't risk the possibility that Neil and Bethany would get caught driving a stolen car tonight. That might lead the authorities back to her.
Grace looked out the motel room door, checking to see if the peeping toms had left yet. She didn't see anyone, but could hear voices coming from the office.
"So, you think we can get that reward money?"
Grace froze. It was Neil Corliss' voice. He'd come back.
"In due time, in due time. First let's see if Detective Harker is indeed in her room."
The panic in Grace's heart magnified tenfold. It couldn't be. It couldn't be him.
"Kayla we have to go NOW!" Grace hissed, and snatched Kayla up from the floor. There was no time to grab her travel bag.
Grace switched off the lights and hurried out the motel room, shutting the door behind her. Lukas, Neil and Bethany were making their way up the stairway. The only stairway up to the second level. Grace rounded the corner, and found the balcony came to an end after just a few feet. There was a safety rail guarding her from a twenty-foot drop to the ground below. Grace backed against the wall and held Kayla in her arms.
"Kayla. Don't. Make. A. Sound," Grace whispered. Kayla whimpered, prompting Grace to wrap her hand around her daughter's mouth.
"You think she'll be here?" she heard Bethany ask.
"Let's find out," Lukas said. She heard him unlock the motel room door and the three of them went inside.
Grace wrapped her palm across Kayla's mouth tighter than a bear trap, and her heart shattered as she felt her daughter's tears dribble down the back of her hand.
"It'll be okay. Just be quiet, and I promise it will be okay," Grace whispered into her ear. Kayla squeezed both her bear and her mother's legs.
She could hear them through the wall rummaging around her room, and Grace wondered if now was the time to make a run for it. They would likely not see her as she and Kayla ran past the door. But would she make it across the balcony, down the stairs, and off the motel grounds before Balko and his new friends left that room? Grace was filled with too much doubt to consider moving from where she stood.
The motel room door opened, and Grace went stiff. She prayed they would not hear her heart pounding. She heard at least two pairs of footsteps walking across the balcony and down the stairs. She heard the motel room door close.
Two were gone. One was left. And she had a good idea of which one was still here.
She wondered if Balko knew she was here. If he was just waiting, torturing her, loving the thrill of the chase. She listened, and heard nothing.
Grace released her grip on Kayla's mouth, and Kayla let out a quiet whimper.
"I'm sorry," Grace whispered. Carefully, she peered around the corner, bracing herself to find Lukas' grinning visage in her face.
There was nothing. She could see Neil and Bethany at the far end of the parking lot, making their way down the road on foot. Lukas must still be in the room. She couldn't risk checking to find out. Grace took Kayla by the hand, and they quietly tiptoed down the balcony, hurried down the stairs, and made their way behind the motel.
"We can't take the roads," Grace said, more to herself than to Kayla. She looked at the foreboding forest behind the motel. "We have to go through the woods."
"No, Mommy, I don't want to go in the woods!" Kayla cried.
Grace hugged her daughter.
"I'm sorry. I wish there were another way, but there isn't. We have to go. We have to walk for as long as we can, or they'll find us. You'll have to be really brave for me, okay? Can you do that?"
Sobbing, Kayla nodded.
Grace took Kayla by the hand, and together, the two barefoot females disappeared into the pitch-black forest.
* * * * *
"I'm not gonna do it. I'm not gonna do it."
Joe Pratt mumbled to himself and he downed his fifth whiskey- or was it his sixth? - and slammed the empty shot glass onto the bar.
"Yeah, I got it," the bartender said. "You aren't gonna do it. You've been telling me all night you aren't gonna do it."
She was in her forties, auburn-haired, and looked as though she might have been hot in her day, but had been a bartender for more years than she would have liked. She wiped a spill off the counter top with a rag.
"She wants me to do that? She's fucking crazy. I'm not giving into that bitch." Joe grabbed onto the bar, feeling as though it might float away if he didn't keep a firm grip on it.
"Buddy, take my advice. Leave the whore. You're not doing yourself any favors putting up with that."
"Oh, I would if I could," Joe mumbled at the bartender, but not looking directly at her. "Gimme another."
"I think you've had enough."
"Gimme another or I'll-" Joe reached into his jacket to remove his badge, but found it was missing. The events of the day played back to him and he lowered his arm, depressed.
"Damn it. She took it," he groaned. He looked up at the bartender. "Gimme another drink."
She walked away, shaking her head. Joe looked around the room; half expecting to see Gabby seated somewhere nearby, chuckling at him. Instead he saw a group of women, so many sexy women. His dick throbbed inside its prison. He touched the barstool next to him, and felt something in his hand. A pair of black panties. He groaned; remembering the opportunity he'd just missed.
He'd just arrived at the bar of the Blue Lion Hotel when an attractive blonde had begun flirting with him. Even though Joe was a handsome man, and it was not terribly unusual for women to flirt with him, Joe had felt especially lucky that this young fox had appeared to have eyes for him. He'd bought her two drinks before she excused herself, and Joe decided it was just as well, being as he wasn't going to be having much fun with anyone given the metal prison on his penis.
To his surprise, the blonde returned a few minutes later, and dropped her panties on the bar in front of him. Smiling sweetly, she then slipped her hotel room key into his jacket pocket. She winked and walked away, and Joe could do nothing but watch as she wiggled her tight ass inside her even tighter black dress as she walked out of the bar.
She'd been willing to fuck him. Joe thought of all of the vile, perverted things she would likely have done for him in that hotel room, and there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it. He wondered if Gabby had somehow put the woman up to it, just to torture him, and he realized she likely hadn't. If Gabby wanted to torture him like that, she would have simply done it herself.
Joe could do nothing but set the panties onto the stool next to him and begin drinking shot after shot, and that's what he did for the next two hours. He wanted out of that cock cage more than he wanted to breathe. But Gabby's condition for releasing him was out of the question. Joe would sooner die.
"Time to call you a cab?" the bartender asked.
Joe shook his head.
"Nah. I got a room," he said, holding up the blonde's room key.
He stumbled out of the bar; tossing the room key into a potted plant in the hotel lobby, and made his way out to his car. He got it unlocked on his third try, and once he was inside, he immediately passed out. He lay sprawled across the driver's and passenger seats, sound asleep.
He dreamed of Gabby.
* * * * *
Music blasted over the speakers while Neil slouched on the motel bed with the neck of a beer bottle on his lips. He took a swig as he watched Bethany dance on the table, wearing nothing but her high heels. Her hips swayed gently back and forth to the beat of the music, and she danced facing the window since she knew how much Neil loved watching her shake her ass.
Neil was certainly enjoying the view. He was only in his boxers, and he'd been sporting a stiffy ever since Bethany climbed onto the table and her clothes started coming off. He leaned over the nightstand, where he'd used the silver dagger to spread an ounce of cocaine into several thin rows. He took a rolled up bill and snorted one line of the fine powder and inhaled deeply.
"You know, I'm thinking about keeping this thing," Neil said, admiring the silver blade in his hand. It certainly was useful, both for spreading coke and intimidating sellers into giving him a better price. He slammed the blade point down onto the nightstand and grabbed a cigar, which he'd also purchased with his reward money.
"How about letting me have a hit?" Bethany asked.
"Get your ass down here if you want some," Neil said, lighting his cigar.
Bethany stepped down from the table, her large breasts jiggling as she did. She had a light tan across her entire body except for her bikini area, where she was still quite pale. She had naturally large, full breasts which contributed heavily to her success as an exotic dancer until the day she ran off with Neil.
She wore a metal stud in each nipple as well as one in her belly button and clitoris. She was only eighteen when her brother's best friend convinced her to let him pierce her clit himself. She liked what he'd done and got the rest of her piercings done by a professional a few months later. When she started stripping, she found the piercings were an attractive bit of flair. After dropping her panties, she liked to lift one leg above her head so her clit stud would shimmer at the guys seated at the very back of the bar, inviting them to come closer. More often than not they would, and she'd get a few bills stuffed in her garter for the trouble.
Bethany walked to the nightstand, and bent over to sniff a line of coke. As she did, Neil walked behind her and dropped his boxers, and quickly slid his erect cock into her pussy.
"Neil!" she shouted, the sudden intrusion interrupting her hit. Neil grabbed her hips to keep her from slipping away, and began to thrust inside her. Bethany didn't fight him. He was usually quite forceful when they had sex, and Bethany had since learned to simply go with it when he wanted to get his dick wet.
Neil grabbed the ashtray from the nightstand and set it on Bethany's back. She held it as steady as she could to keep it from sliding off, so Neil had a place to tap his cigar ashes between thrusts. He pushed into her, pounding her wet cunt harder and harder. Bethany moaned, and clutched the nightstand with both hands as her boyfriend ravaged her lady zone.
It wasn't enough for her. She lifted her right leg and rested it on the bed, so Neil could penetrate her even deeper. He didn't quite hit her g-spot, but it felt damn good, and she felt herself nearing her climax.
She edged closer and closer, and the ashtray toppled off her back as Neil exploded inside her. She sighed as she felt Neil's cool cream fill her pussy. He grunted, and exhaled a large cloud of smoke. To Bethany's displeasure, Neil pulled out without letting her climax, and causing a thick glob of semen to dribble down her thigh as he did.
He let out a breath and collapsed onto the bed, satisfied with what he'd done. Bethany hobbled off to the bathroom to grab some toilet tissue. She grabbed a few squares and wiped up the gooey mess from her thigh and labia.
When she came out of the bathroom, Neil was sound asleep. He lay on the bed, still naked, with a bottle of beer in one hand and a lit cigar in the other. Bethany took both from him, putting the cigar out in the ashtray which she picked off the floor, and she placed the beer bottle onto the nightstand. While it was a chore to look after him, Bethany actually liked when Neil was passed out. It was the only time she ever seemed to get some peace and quiet.
Bethany turned the music off, and with the sudden quiet, she heard a knocking at her door. Curious, she peered though the peephole. It was Balko.
Looking at the nightstand covered in cocaine, Bethany quickly swept the incriminating powder into the top drawer. Lukas knocked again, prompting her to respond "just a moment!" She put Neil's boxers on him, and grabbed the nightgown she took from Grace and slipped it on over her own naked body. Satisfied, she opened the door.
"Detective Pratt! Did you find Detective Harker?"
"Yes, I did," Lukas said with a smile. "She's with one of my fellow officers right now, but we found her thanks to your tip. I thought now we should discuss the rest of your reward?"
"Yes, we'd really appreciate that," Bethany said. She turned to look at Neil. He snorted and rolled onto his side.
"May I step inside?" Lukas asked.
"Of course," Bethany said. She opened the door and invited him in.
"You'll have to accept my apologies," Lukas said. "I don't have the cash on me at this time. But I do want to let you know you will receive the full amount of your reward, I promise you."
He stared at Bethany's figure in the sheer white nightgown. He could smell Grace's scent on it.
"Do you need my cell number? I can give it to you," Bethany said.
"That would be wonderful," Lukas said. He watched as Bethany retrieved a notepad from Grace's purse and scribbled her number on it. She tore off the note and handed it to him. "Thank you, so very much for your assistance in this matter." He tucked the note into his suit pocket.
"Is there anything else I can do for you?" Bethany asked.
Lukas smiled. He looked her up and down.
"I see you finally got a bandage for your cut," he said. Bethany looked at the Band-Aid on her index finger. She'd bought them at the gas station after she and Neil had gotten their reward money. "Might I have a look?"
Bethany held out her hand. Lukas took her wrist with one hand, and peeled the bandage off with his other.
"It's important to change bandages often. You wouldn't want to get an infection, would you?"
Bethany shook her head. Lukas stared hungrily at the open cut on her finger. Bethany took her hand away, and went to grab Grace's purse again. As she looked inside, Lukas came up behind her and rested his hand on her hip. She froze.
"You have- a lovely body, Miss Dutton," he said.
"Thank you," she said, softly. She fished through the purse for another Band-Aid when she felt Lukas slide his hand down her hip and onto her bare leg. She looked over at Neil, who was still unconscious on the bed.
"I- have a boyfriend," Bethany said.
"And he is sound asleep," Lukas said. He slipped his hand up her gown and squeezed her bare ass.
"No!" Bethany shouted, and pulled his hand away. "Leave me alone!"
Grabbing the bandages, she ran to the bathroom and shut the door. She turned to the mirror when she felt Lukas' hand on her shoulder. She screamed.
"I don't take no for an answer," Lukas said, grinning. She felt her heart race. How did he get into the bathroom so quickly? She hadn't even heard him open the door.
"You're not a detective, are you?" she asked.
"I'm afraid not."
"What are you?"
"I think you know." He took a step closer to her. Bethany looked in the mirror, and saw only her own reflection, looking terrified. She looked at Balko, clearly standing in front of her. Her eyes weren't playing tricks on her. Balko indeed had no reflection.
"Oh my Go-" Lukas put his hand on her mouth.
"I don't want to hear that name."
Bethany's heart raced. Lukas tugged on her shoulder strap and Bethany watched in the mirror as the strap fell to the side, as if by itself. He tugged at it further, revealing more and more of her left breast until the nipple was exposed. She pulled his hand from her mouth.
"Let me go," she cried, meekly. He put his hand on her bare breast and squeezed it.
"LET ME GO!" Bethany screamed. She kicked Lukas hard in the knee, and ran from the bathroom; her exposed breast jiggling with each step. "NEIL! HELP!"
Neil stirred, but did not awaken. Lukas grabbed Bethany by the neck and shoved her against the wall.
"WHY DID YOU LIE TO ME ABOUT HARKER?" he demanded.
Bethany shook in terror.
"Wha- what?" she asked. His fingers squeezed her throat as he pressed the back of her head against the wall.
"Harker never came back to that room! How did she know I was there! You LIED to me!"
Bethany stared into Lukas' eyes and saw them glow brighter and brighter red. She felt a pit of dread form in her heart.
"I- I- we robbed her!" Bethany cried. "It was Neil, mostly Neil! He stole her money and her clothes and we left her on the side of the road!"
Lukas cocked her head.
"WHERE DID SHE GO?" he squeezed her throat harder.
"I don't know! I- I thought she might go back to her room because she said her daughter was there!" Bethany broke into tears and prayed she would leave the motel room alive.
"WHERE IS SHE HEADED NOW?"
"I don't know! She didn't say!"
"You stupid BITCH! I could have had Harker tonight!" He was squeezing her throat so hard her face was starting to turn blue.
"There was a map! She had a map in her purse!" Bethany choked out.
"GIVE IT TO ME!" he released his grip and Bethany scrambled onto the bed. She fished the road map out of Grace's purse and gave it to Balko. He examined Grace's markings on the map and dropped it, letting his eyes go back to Bethany. Her left breast was still hanging out of her nightgown, and he was fixing on doing the same with her right.
"I wanted Harker tonight! I suppose you'll have to do!"
Bethany screamed, and tried to scramble away. Lukas reached over the bed and grabbed her ankle.
"GET OVER HERE!" He pulled Bethany towards him. She kicked and struggled as Lukas lifted her nightgown above her waist, exposing her belly, thighs, and shaved pussy. He unzipped his pants and took out his erect member. She squealed and tried to squirm away. Lukas pulled her legs wide open and she was powerless to move.
Her right breast was still covered by her nightgown. That was something Lukas needed to remedy before getting down to business with her. He reached for her right shoulder strap, and she seemed to realize what he was trying to do because she crossed her arms over her shoulder. She was feisty; Lukas mused.
He grabbed her arms and easily overpowered her. With her shoulder unprotected, he grabbed her nightgown and pulled it down, and her right boob popped into view. Satisfied that Bethany was adequately exposed, Lukas climbed on top of her plunged inside of her. He cringed once he did, feeling Neil's sticky semen on his own penis. He hated sloppy seconds. Feeling around her backside, he poked his finger into her asshole. Pleased with its tightness, Lukas flipped Bethany over onto her belly and slid his cock into her anus.
Bethany screamed. She looked over at Neil, who snored loudly while Lukas pounded Bethany's tight young ass again and again. It occurred to Lukas that just a day earlier, he'd been doing the same to Grace's little sister, exploring all of her tight little holes while her boyfriend slept soundly next to them. Nora had been a rush job though; he needed her killed quickly to make sure he could have her hanging on the expressway sign in time for Grace to see her.
Lukas hadn't gotten to really enjoy a victim since Marianne. He'd taken his time with her, teasing and tormenting her for hours before finally granting her the sweet gift of death. He hoped to spend just as much time with young Bethany.
She sobbed loudly while Lukas savagely pumped himself in and out of her delicate anus. She begged and pleaded for him to stop, but this only made his cock grow harder. She grabbed a pillow and buried her face in it, praying for it to soon be over. Lukas pumped and pumped, and when he finally reached his threshold, he unleashed a powerful spray of cum inside her rectum.
Bethany felt a chill as Balko's semen filled her. She could feel his cold breath on the back of her neck as he ejaculated, and the cold liquid summoned goosebumps on both of her butt cheeks. Balko withdrew from her, and rolled her over on her back.
Bethany looked up into Lukas' lustful eyes, and trembled. She could see the hunger in his face, and she knew he was looking to satisfy that hunger with her. He stared down at her breasts, admiring her glimmering nipple studs.
"Your jewelry is quite fascinating," Lukas said. "I wonder if I might- play with it?"
Bethany winced as Lukas reached for the stud in her left nipple, and pulled on it. He pulled hard, hard enough that it tore through her tender flesh. Bethany squealed.
Blood trickled from her ripped nipple, and Lukas grinned as he placed the bloody stud to his lips and licked it clean. He grabbed the stud in her right nipple, and ripped it out as well. Bethany let out another shriek.
Lukas giggled as he watched the blood trickle from her cut nipples down the curve of her breasts, and he licked the right stud clean as well, tossing it aside when he was done. He placed his finger to her chest and slid it down her torso, over her nightgown, and stopping at her belly button. He fiddled with the stud in there with his index finger and thumb.
"No please! Not that one!"
Lukas yanked it hard. He had to pull much harder, as her navel stud was embedded in the thick scar tissue of her belly button. Bethany let out a shrill scream as he pulled it though her skin, ripping it open. Blood spattered Lukas' face as it did, forming a dark pool of blood in Bethany's belly button. He sucked the navel stud long and lovingly and tossed it behind him.
"Just one more..." he said, and Bethany's pain turned to panic.
"No! NOT that one! Oh please, don't!"
Lukas was having too much fun to stop. He grabbed Bethany's clit stud, and pulled hard. Bethany grimaced, grabbing Lukas' arms in a futile attempt to stop him. The stud tore through her clitoris with ease, causing Bethany to whimper and sob in agony.
"Please stop!" she squealed, sobbing uncontrollably. "Please!"
"You really should save some of those screams, Miss Dutton," Lukas said, licking the clit stud. "Things will get much worse for you soon."
"NO! Kill me! Please, just kill me!"
"That's what I like to hear. Soon, Bethany, soon." He licked the blood that leaked from her nipples, navel, and clitoris; moaning in pleasure with each drop of blood he tasted. "Now, sit up, dear."
Bethany sat up; resting on the edge of the bed and letting her feet touch the floor. Lukas sat beside her, wrapping his arm around her shoulders. He brushed her blonde hair to the side, exposing her neck.
"You're going to feel a sharp pain on your throat," Lukas said, softly. His voice was gentle, almost hypnotic. "It will be intense, but it will pass. You will feel a tingle; it will spread from your neck, through your head and throughout your entire body. You will feel woozy, and light-headed. Then you will feel very sleepy. Just close your eyes, and embrace it. You will pass into a deep sleep and you will never awaken. Do you understand, Bethany?"
Bethany nodded, too frightened to scream or speak.
"Good. Now I'd like you to remove your nightgown for me. I like my ladies to be fully nude while I feed on them."
Although she was mostly exposed already, Bethany took to her feet, and slipped the nightgown, now spattered with blood, to her ankles. She turned to face Balko, only to see Neil stirring and sitting up.
"What the fuck?" Neil asked.
Lukas turned to face Neil.
"Well, look who's joined us," Lukas said, as if he were amused Neil would be witness to his girlfriend's demise.
Neil looked at Balko, and then at Bethany's bleeding and naked body before immediately reaching under his pillow for his Beretta. In his drunken stupor, he didn't aim quite where Balko was seated; in fact his first shot missed him completely and instead grazed Bethany's temple. His second two shots hit Balko square in the chest, and the vampire toppled to the floor.
Bethany screamed and crouched to the floor. Neil rounded the corner of the bed; his gun still aimed and ready to finish him. Rather than finding Lukas cowering on the floor, he instead saw Balko take to his feet and stare him square in the eye.
Black blood gushed from the two bullet holes in his chest, and Lukas grinned wickedly. Neil was barely able to get out the words "what the-" when Lukas' grabbed his wrist, and twisted it, hard and fast, instantly snapping the bone in his forearm. He dropped the Beretta and let out a scream, a loud desperate scream for mercy.
Lukas released him, but only so he could grab him by the hair on his head. He lifted the screaming thug off the floor, letting his feet dangle while he felt his scalp slowly separate from his skull.
"WHAT THE FUCK!" Neil screamed and let out a desperate howl.
"How does that feel?" Lukas hissed. "It's a lot worse in Hell!"
As if he weighed no more than a throw pillow, the vampire threw Neil across the room, sending the two hundred pound man crashing against the wall and landing headfirst onto the floor with a distinctive snap when he landed. He did not move.
Lukas diverted his attention back to Bethany. She cowered in the corner, covering her nakedness with her arms. Lukas licked his lips and strode towards her. She desperately scanned the room; searching for anything she might use to defend herself, and spotted the dagger. It was still stuck in the nightstand.
Bethany scrambled across the bed on all fours, prompting Lukas to grab the covers and yank them, pulling Bethany along for the ride. She rolled off the bed and made a reach for the dagger, just as Lukas got close enough to grab a fistful of her hair.
"Get over here, you little bitch!"
She reached it just in time. She pried the dagger from the nightstand, and in one fluid motion, jabbed the blade into Lukas' side.
His scream was inhuman. He released his grip on her hair, but his hand remained frozen in a grabbing position. His wolf-like howl petrified her; she backed away as he slumped to the floor, staring in shock at the gaping wound in his rib cage.
"You BITCH!" he hissed. He tried to lunge at her, but winced in pain as soon as he moved. He clutched the knife, and his fingers hissed the instant they touched the metal, causing his to howl yet again.
Bethany didn't know how she'd done it, but she appeared to have bought herself precious time. She grabbed the nightgown from the floor and immediately slipped it on. Lukas groaned at seeing his prey cover herself. She stopped only to grab Grace's purse, which had fallen to the floor.
She had to hop over Neil's body to get to the door. The thought might have disturbed her more if she'd had time to think about it, but her racing heart told her to run, far away from this motel and never come back. Without waiting a second longer, she opened the door and ran off into the night.
"Fuck! Fuck!" Lukas screamed. His side throbbed in agony. He tried to grab the dagger; he very carefully wrapped his fingers so they would only touch the handle, but found he'd lost the strength to pull the blade from his body. Black blood, the essence and life-force of his un-death, seeped from his wound and dribbled to the floor, draining his strength and will with it. Even the bullet holes in his chest, which had been rapidly healing the moment he'd been shot, had slowed their rate of repair the instant the silver entered his body.
He tried to fathom how this had happened. He hadn't foreseen this. The future had always given him little glimpses of what was yet to come, but it hadn't shown him this. He'd foreseen Grace's flight from home, he'd foreseen the call from Bethany to the police, so he made sure he had a vehicle ready, he even foresaw that Neil and Bethany would lie to him, but foolishly he'd allowed it to play out.
Now he had no further visions of the future. Nothing indicated he would survive this- unless...
He saw the phone on the nightstand. He was just close enough he might be able to reach it. He raised his arm, and burning anguish shot throughout his body. This was the second most painful thing he'd ever endured.
He reached over, straining, willing himself to overcome the agony in his body, and grabbed the receiver off the phone set. He pressed zero on the number pad and held the phone to his ear.
The phone rang once. Twice. Three times.
Lukas cursed. Her headphones probably drowned out the sound. He never had this problem in the 30s.
At last she answered, and her sweet voice was a welcome sound for sore ears.
"Shady Woods motel," Haley greeted.
Lukas tried to disguise the agony in his voice the best he could.
"Good evening, this is Neil Corliss in room 3. My apologies, but, I seem to have made an awful mess. I'll need a new set of bedsheets. If you could bring them, right away, I'd be most grateful."
"You need a change of bed sheets?" she asked.
That's what I just said you vapid cunt!
"Precisely. Please bring them. Immediately."
He dropped the phone. He didn't hear her response. He breathed slowly, closed his eyes, and prayed his plan would work.
Hurry, young girl.
* * * * *
"Darling, I'm home," Lukas said.
He held a bouquet of petunias in his arm, her favorite. He'd been doing that often lately. It was strange, being in love. While just as pleasurable, it was different from taking a life. Annabelle had made him see the world in a new light.
Lukas had smelled the flowers when he purchased them, and found the aroma intoxicatingly wonderful. It was something he never could have appreciated as a young man. Annabelle had taught him there was joy in appreciating life, not just destroying it.
She knew what he was. He'd let her know, and yet somehow, she'd looked into his eyes and saw not a monster, but a man she could love. He was forever grateful to her for that. She showed him the joy that could come from enjoying a home cooked meal, of sleeping in a bed, of feeling the sunshine. He had to take special elixirs to survive the sun's rays, and while the discomfort was still considerable, Lukas had grown accustomed to its warm presence, and even come to enjoy it.
He'd given all to Annabelle; he'd even sworn off drinking blood. While he would no longer retain his eternal youth, and had begun to gradually age as the years passed, so did she. Lukas found he was perfectly happy with the thought of growing old with Annabelle, and dying a mortal's death. Coming home to have his loving mortal, human wife greet him made it all worthwhile.
He walked through the parlor, not hearing a sound.
"Darling?" he repeated. Nothing.
He walked from the parlor to the den, and through the dining room. It was curious to hear the home so quiet. He set the petunias on the dining room table as he caught sight of someone in the kitchen.
Annabelle Balko lay on the kitchen floor, lifeless. Lukas turned her on her back, and saw the distinctive twin holes in her neck. The same vicious holes he'd put in so many young women in the past. But never into her. Never to this woman. He felt Annabelle's skin. She was stone cold.
His vampiric senses told him Annabelle's killer was still in the house. Closer than that, perhaps. He turned around, and was treated to the grinning face of his oldest friend.
"Beautiful, wasn't she?"
Aleksei was slouched against the oven, basking in the afterglow of his meal. Aleksei Orlov. The man who'd given Balko his old life. They'd met as young men, and together they'd gone into business, becoming successful entrepreneurs even after the crash of 1929. At night they'd murdered dozens of young women, and pledged their souls to the Devil in exchange for eternal life.
At the time, that was appealing to Lukas. He'd come to revel in destruction, but as he'd gotten older, he'd changed. He and Aleksei both had dabbled in life in the straight and narrow, but for Aleksei, the draw of murder and blood was too immense. In the end, Annabelle, whom Lukas had met through Aleksei, had chosen Lukas as her one true love and a heartbroken Aleksei had gone back to his blood-feeding ways for good.
"Aleksei. Why?" Lukas asked.
"With a body like hers, how could I resist?"
Lukas bared his fangs.
"You pathetic mongrel. You just couldn't stand to see my success! You couldn't handle that I've out-shined you in every possible way!"
"Success? Is that what you call theft? Everything you have you took from me. Even her. I never should have invited you into the Blood of Seven."
Lukas shook his head.
"You and your ego. I always knew it would be your undoing. I just never imagined you'd put it above her."
Aleksei climbed to his feet.
"To hell with you, Balko. 'Til we meet again," he mimed tipping his hat.
Lukas was on him before he could take another step. Aleksei, prepared for the attack, was ready to sink his fingers into Lukas' face. He clawed and slashed, while Lukas shoved the older vampire's body into the wall.
Aleksei wrapped an arm around Lukas' neck, and held him in a chokehold as he wrestled him towards the counter. He was strong, almost a match for him. But Lukas couldn't imagine Aleksei even thinking he could best him in a fight. Not until he'd wrestled him onto the counter.
Now Lukas could see how Aleksei planned to walk out of his home alive. On the kitchen counter was a silver candlestick, with a center mount that had been sharpened into a point. Lukas wondered how Aleksei had gotten it into his home without burning himself.
Aleksei twisted Lukas' body, pushing him hard until his neck was directly over the candlestick blade.
"Don't worry Luke. You and Annabelle will be seeing each other very soon. Very soon indeed!"
Aleksei shoved Lukas' head down, the silver blade puncturing Lukas' chest. Steam shot from his wound as Aleksei pushed harder, forcing Lukas to sink deeper and deeper upon the silver blade.
"Dearly beloved! We are gathered here today to mourn the death of one Lukas Balko. A good friend. A loyal husband. A successful businessman. He will be sorely missed!" Aleksei taunted.
Lukas tried to scream, but the silver entering his body paralyzed him. He couldn't move or speak, and could only reflect upon the bitterness of the betrayal of his dearest friend in what were likely his last moments.
With his last ounce of strength, Lukas seized the candlestick with one hand, scalding himself as he did, but managing to pull it from his chest and toss it aside. He tried to throw it at Aleksei but was in no position to hit him. Upon losing his weapon, Aleksei choked Lukas harder, squeezing him, forcing the black blood to ooze from the open hole in Lukas' chest.
Lukas reached for the nearby knife rack. Gasping, he grabbed the handle of the butcher knife and removed it, holding it tightly in his free hand. With one hard swing, he spun around and thrusted the blade into Aleksei's chest.
The stainless steel would have done nothing to Aleksei, but Lukas pushed it in hard. Hard enough and deep enough that the wooden handle sunk into Aleksei's heart. His eyes glowed deep crimson, and smoke emanated from his hair. His skin, formerly pale and white, turned to an ashy gray. Slowly, Aleksei's body disintegrated into pure soot, leaving Lukas alone with a pile of dust before him.
He ran to Annabelle, held her body in his arms, and he screamed. He'd been a vampire for years, but it wasn't until this moment, that he truly became a monster.
It was forbidden for one of the Blood of Seven to kill another. It was no surprise to Lukas that he was summoned before the High Council to atone for his sin. Lukas pointed out that it was also forbidden for a member of the Blood of Seven to kill a family member of another member, however the Head Warlock Baylor declared that Aleksei was exempt from this rule, as he and Annabelle had fornicated.
Upon hearing the word "fornicated," Lukas lunged at the warlock, and had to be restrained by three fellow vampires. Lukas vowed in that very moment to kill the wives, sisters, and daughters of every Blood of Seven member, and to "fornicate" with each unfortunate lady first so he could be exempted as well. He knew they would possibly take vengeance against Catherine if it weren't for the fact that it was widely known among the Blood of Seven members that at the time no one wanted Catherine dead more than Lukas.
To Lukas' dismay, Aleksei was kept on as an honored member of the Blood of Seven posthumously, while Lukas had his membership revoked. He was sentenced to forty days in the Box, the most hellish torture a vampire could endure.
The coffin was made of solid silver, and Lukas was to remain locked inside for the duration of his sentence. It was as good as a death sentence; no one expected Lukas to survive. He was first injected with a syringe of garlic, weakening him to a point where he could be handled by a sextet of mortal monks who'd been entrusted with the secrets of the Blood of Seven. The men laid Balko into the Box, and sealed him inside.
Being inside brought him an agony greater than an acid bath for a mortal man. His skin peeled from his body; his bones were charred; he resembled a corpse that had been doused in kerosene and set ablaze.
He owed his survival to the last person he would have expected. She opened the casket his first night, and placed a cup of fresh blood to his lips.
"Catherine," he gasped.
She'd saved the blood from one of her bath girls, smuggled it into the warlock's temple under her coat, and brought it to her dying brother. She remained with him, soothing his burns with a wet towel and promising him he would survive. She returned the next night, and the next, each time bringing him young virgin blood to drink, and encouraged him to fight on.
No one could believe their eyes when Lukas Balko climbed out of the Box after that fortieth day, undead and well, and no one dared question his threats against them. Yet Lukas did not follow through on his threats. From that day forward, he no longer wished death upon his sister, and would not invite vengeance upon her.
He left the temple that night and fled to the United States, never to be seen by the Blood of Seven members again.
* * * * *
The motel room door opened, but Lukas was too weak to open his eyes. In his weakness, he found himself hoping it was Catherine. It took him a moment to remember that she was dead. Thanks to Grace Harker. He cursed Harker's name again.
He heard a girl scream in fright, and he thanked the Devil his plan had worked. Haley dropped the folded stack of bedsheets as soon as she saw Neil's broken, twisted body lying on the floor. He feared she might leave, so Lukas called out to her.
"Help! Help me! Please!"
Terrified, Haley stepped around the bed, and gasped when she saw Lukas lying on the floor, with a dagger protruding from his side.
"Oh my God!" she cried.
"Please. Help me," he repeated. He reached out to her.
"I- I'll call 911," she stammered.
"There's no time," Lukas gasped. He spat black blood onto the carpet. "You need to pull it out."
Haley took a step back.
"I- don't have training to do this!"
"Just pull it out!" Lukas cried. "You have to! Pull it out now. Or I'll die."
Haley looked around the room; anxiously realizing the burden of saving this man's life fell upon her shoulders. Trepidatiously, she stepped towards the incapacitated vampire, and knelt beside him.
"Do it," Lukas said. "Just grab it. And pull."
"I'll try," she said, uncertainly.
Haley gripped the handle of the dagger and pulled. The dagger easily slid out from Lukas' damaged flesh, sending a splash of black blood onto Haley's legs. She squealed, feeling the cold, tar-like liquid cling to her thighs, and she tossed the bloody dagger aside. She was glad she was wearing shorts; if she'd been wearing long pants they most certainly would have been ruined.
Lukas breathed a sigh of relief. He was still drained and weakened, but the paralyzing pain was lifted the moment the dagger left his body.
"I'll call you an ambulance," Haley said, unsure if she should wash her hands first or not.
"No," Lukas said. "They can't help me. Only you can."
More anxiety gripped her.
"How am I supposed to help you?" She found herself contemplating the man dying because of her medical incompetence, and panicked even more.
"C-come here," Lukas whispered. "I'll tell you."
Haley leaned towards him.
"Closer," Lukas said reaching out with one sticky hand and beckoning her towards him.
Haley took another step closer to the wounded vampire, until her ear was just inches from his mouth. Lukas grinned. He grabbed Haley by the back of her head, and sank his fangs into her throat.
* * * * *
Darkness enveloped her.
Nothing, not even the light of the moon lit her way. Grace squeezed her daughter's hand as they trudged through the forest, feeling branches snag their hair and meager nightclothes.
"Mommy, let's go back! I'm scared!" Kayla cried.
"We can't sweetie, I'm sorry! We can't let those people find us!"
Grace had to admit, she wanted to turn back badly. She was no longer certain she was even headed in the right direction as she headed further and further into the forest. The fear, the gripping terror, of Balko finding her, of finding her daughter, chilled her blood to a standstill. Grace would rather be lost in the forest forever than let that happen.
Reaching out with her left hand, she felt in front of her as she proceeded, step-by-step, through the forest. Every time she felt a tree, she would guide Kayla a little to the left and continue, praying they would not fall into an open well or any other danger this forest held.
Her feet were in agony. Both she and Kayla were barefoot, treading across the forest earth and stepping on branches, pine cones, and needles, making their trek just a bit less bearable with every step. The thought that they were leaving a blood trail leading directly to them led Grace to continue faster, and pray she could outrun the hungry vampire on her heels. She knew he could not be far behind.
A loud howl broke the silence of the night, a wolf or coyote by the sound of it. Kayla squealed, and wrapped her arms around Grace's leg tightly. The source of the howl came from nearby. In the direction they were headed.
"Maybe we better stop for a bit," Grace whispered, grateful to have an excuse not to continue.
She sat down onto the ground, finding a sturdy tree to lean against. Shivering, she pulled her T-shirt down, trying to cover her legs, but it wasn't quite long enough to reach beyond the top of her thighs. Kayla took a seat on her lap and curled into a ball, and that seemed to keep her warm. They would just take a moment to rest, Grace decided. Just a few moments, and they would continue on, not be delayed by fatigue or fear of the forest when so many more terrifying things were behind them.
Grace took a deep breath and let her shoulders settle upon the tree behind her. It was not comfortable, but the momentary rest was a blissful recess from her trek though the darkness. She rested her palm on Kayla's head, feeling the young girl drift off into slumber. She could wait a bit longer, just so Kayla could get a little rest. Grace took watch, scanning the darkness for danger. She sat and she watched, and before long she too, had drifted fast asleep.
* * * * *
The gas station was abandoned. Grace, nor anyone else for that matter, was anywhere in sight. Joe slowed to a walk as he hurried into station area, out of breath. Nothing but dense fog lingered in the air wherever he looked.
"Grace!" he shouted, hearing nothing but his own voice echo back at him. He dropped his arms to his sides, helplessly.
He walked between the gas pumps, hearing the faint drizzle of gasoline filling a container. Walking from pump to pump, between the seemingly endless rows of them, he found a faceless stranger standing at one of them. The stranger held the pump and squeezed the nozzle, draining gasoline into a metal drum.
"Excuse me, have you seen this woman?" Joe asked, showing the stranger a photo of Detective Harker.
"She's gone!" the stranger murmured, despite having no mouth, or other facial features for that matter. The stranger walked away with the can of gas in his or her hand; Joe couldn't tell the stranger's gender, and disappeared into the fog.
He looked around hopelessly. He couldn't see or hear anyone, even the gas station looked to be unattended. He hurried to the gas station door and peeked inside.
There was pure darkness inside. Joe grabbed the door handle and pulled hard, and slowly, the door creaked open. Hesitantly, Joe stepped inside.
All he found inside was a morgue. No one appeared to be working, but he did see two bodies laid out onto examination tables, both covered with a sheet. Joe pulled back the sheet on one of them.
Grace. She lay on the table, cold and still. Her empty eyes stared back at him, unmoving.
"I'm so sorry, Grace. I tried to find you. I'm so sorry," he whispered.
He looked to the other body. It was much smaller, clearly a child's body. Joe couldn't bring himself to look at that one. He walked away from the examination tables, and noticed something hanging over the sink. A key.
Joe hurried over towards the sink and grabbed it, and quickly dropped his pants. The key easily unlocked the cock cage, and he removed it, breathing a sigh of relief at having his penis and balls free once again.
He turned back to the examination tables, only to find the bodies of Grace and Kayla were missing. Instead, only one body was present. Gabby Becket lay nude on one of the tables, uncovered by a sheet. Slowly, she sat up, and smiled at him.
"Hello, Joey," she said sweetly. "You're free. I set you free, Joey."
"Thank you," Joe said, unable to take his eyes off her beautiful body. Her soft skin seemed to shine under the illumination of the overhead lights.
"Will you make love to me?" she asked. She opened her legs invitingly, bending one at the knee and letting the other hang over the table's edge.
Joe stepped towards her and took her in his arms. He kissed her passionately on the lips, and climbed onto the examination table on top of her.
"Take me, Joe. I'm all yours. Take me now."
He slid his penis inside her. She moaned deeply as his cock found its place inside her warm, wet pussy. He began to thrust, slowly at first, and building speed as his excitement grew.
"It's been so long since you've gotten laid, hasn't it?" she asked.
Joe nodded. He pounded her harder, basking in the ecstasy of the moment. Relief consumed his being. Relief at having control of his own penis once again. Relief at finally having a female body to touch and hold. Relief at finally having an opportunity to release. He was fast approaching it.
"Ooh, Joey, give it to me! More!" she moaned. He was all too happy to oblige. He squeezed her supple body in his hands and ravaged her, feeling himself grow larger and larger inside her.
"Give it to me give it to me give it to me-"
Joe awoke with a start. He lay face down in his car, with a pounding headache while his cell phone buzzed. He sat up, realizing he was still in the parking lot of the Blue Lion. He felt down into his pants. The cock cage was still there.
"Fuck," he cursed. He didn't need Gabby torturing him if his subconscious was going to do it for her.
He took out his phone and answered it.
"Pratt," he said after a beat, needing a second to remember how he should answer the phone.
"Double homicide at the Shady Woods motel in Mount Franklin," Captain Pillar said.
"Mount Franklin?" Joe asked. He rubbed his hand against his forehead. "That's- out of our jurisdiction."
"We got a dead girl. Raped. Blood drained. They requested someone who worked the Balko murders. Right now, that's just you."
Joe looked at his watch. It was barely dawn.
"Well, if I leave now, I might be able to get there by um, noon?" he said, phrasing it as a half-question.
"I'll tell them you'll be there at eleven-thirty," Pillar said.
"All right." He paused. "Hey. Did they find Harker?"
"The uni showed up to the gas station where she was spotted. No one was there."
"Fuck," Joe said.
"You'd better get going."
"Does this mean I'm back on?" Joe asked, but the captain hung up on him. Joe put his cell phone back in his pocket, sighing. He would have to make a stop at a drug store if he was going to survive this day in his current condition. Reluctantly, Joe started up his Impala and headed to Mount Franklin.
* * * * *
He arrived at the Shady Woods just after eleven. He checked his hair in the rear view mirror. It was still a bit messy, but he hoped it hadn't been obvious he'd spent the night passed out in his car. It occurred to him that he still didn't have his badge. That might be a problem at a crime scene with several detectives who didn't know him.
Joe stepped out of his car and scanned the scene. The parking lot was packed with police cruisers. Joe surmised this was likely the most traffic this small-town motel had ever seen.
He caught sight of someone in the pool area. A woman lay on a towel, face down, sunning herself. Joe thought that odd, wondering how relaxing it could be tanning with so many police cruisers around investigating a double homicide. Joe wasn't particularly surprised when the sunbather raised her head and looked at him. It was Gabby. She smiled at him.
Joe stepped through the gate into the pool area. Gabby had her bikini top undone, allowing her bare back to bask in the late morning sun. Joe walked to her side, checking out the sizable side-boob visible underneath her arms.
"I have something for you," Gabby said.
"I hope it's my badge, because I need it, being I'm at a crime scene."
Gabby looked up at him.
"Be a dear and grab that lotion. I think I need another coat."
Joe shook his head.
"I don't have time for this."
"You do if you want your badge."
Joe bit his lip. The fact was, Gabby's body looked awfully inviting. But he didn't like being toyed with, even by a gorgeous women.
Joe grabbed the bottle of suntan lotion and squirted a glob into his palm. Rubbing his hand together, he smeared the cool liquid across Gabby's back. Her skin was warm and sensual. He glided his palms up and down her spine, savoring her luscious physique. He noticed her skintight bikini bottoms hugged the rounded swell of her buttocks perfectly, and he couldn't stop looking at it. As he ran his hands around the curve of her hips, he could feel his cock twitch inside its cage.
He knew exactly what she was doing. Every time she teased him like this, she was drawing him further into her fold. He felt his hands tremble more and more the longer he touched her skin.
"Don't forget my legs," Gabby giggled.
Joe gulped. He knew if he put his hands on Gabby's soft, supple thighs he may become too aroused to even think clearly. Gabby seemed to intuitively know this, and she wiggled her butt a bit to coax him on.
Feeling his heart sink, he coated his hands with another glob of lotion, and rubbed them up and down her legs. He kept his hands to her outer thighs, prompting her to spread them slowly apart, inviting him inward. Unable to resist, he gently let his hands wander to her inner thighs, causing his dick to throb in excitement. As he ran his hands higher up between her legs, she closed them, trapping his fingers between her firm thighs. She giggled, and opened them again.
"It's all right if you want to cop a feel," she said. "I don't mind."
Against his better judgment, he slipped two of his fingers underneath Gabby's bikini bottoms and let them graze her butt cheek. The blood rush to his head when he felt her sensuous ass almost made the agony of his sexual frustration worth it.
She arched her back, and slipped her bikini bottoms down to her thighs, baring her beautiful ass.
"Want to give my cheeks a squeeze?"
He did. He truly did. Without even pausing to apply more lotion, Joe pressed both of his palms to Gabby's bare cheeks and squeezed her twin mounds, reveling in their sensual softness. Images of himself having wild, uninhibited sex with this woman played in his head, while he pined for release from his penis prison.
Gabby rolled onto her back and stared up at him. He stared lustfully back at her, seeing her large breasts exposed and awaiting his attention.
"Well, here you go," Gabby said.
He was about to reach for them when he suddenly noticed his badge tucked into the front of her bikini bottoms. He'd been too distracted to notice it. Joe grabbed the badge and tucked it resentfully into his coat pocket.
"I'm gonna need that key as well."
"You'll get that AFTER you do what we discussed."
Joe took a breath.
"Not happening," Joe said, wavering. It was hard to be confident when talking to a woman who demonstrated time and again that she truly owned him, more and more with each passing hour.
"Then the cage stays on. It's not like I need it back. It was made especially for you, after all." She laughed.
Joe made fists and fumed.
Joe looked up. He saw a short man in a suit standing on the balcony overlooking the pool.
"Yeah?" Joe replied.
"We're in here," the man said.
Joe looked down to see Gabby was gone. She, the towel, and the lotion bottle had vanished. Had he imagined her? Joe checked his pocket to see if his badge was there, and it was. It smelled of her pussy.
Realizing how silly he looked standing by the pool alone, Joe hurried through the gate and up the stairs. The man led him into one of the motel rooms.
"Everyone, this is Detective Pratt, from San Amaury Homicide. He's worked all of the Balko murders and is hopefully going to give us some insight into what we're looking at here."
Joe looked around the motel room. There were detectives and forensic sweepers examining the room, logging every detail they found. The body of a dead man lay by the door, with a chalk outline drawn around his body.
"I'm Detective Liuzzo, this is Detective Dougherty," the short man said, extending his hand to Joe. He shook it. Liuzzo was young, slightly pudgy and looked to be fresh out of the academy. Detective Dougherty was in her forties and had likely been on the force longer that Pratt.
"Nice to meet you," Joe said, nonchalantly showing his badge as if he hadn't just retrieved it from a bathing beauty by the pool.
"Anything you can tell us, Detective Pratt?" Liuzzo asked.
Joe looked again at the body by the door. He looked as though he'd been thrown against the wall, fairly hard, judging by the dent left in the wall, before falling on his head and breaking his neck.
"I know him," Joe said. "His name's Neil Corliss. Former gang member. My partner arrested him a few years back."
"That's what we confirmed with the ID we found," Dougherty said. "The reason we asked you here, was this."
Joe followed Dougherty through the room, and he stopped when he saw what lay between the beds. Haley Farough lay dead on the floor, naked, with two holes in her neck. Joe felt his throat tighten.
"Looks like Balko's M.O." Joe choked out.
"You've confirmed Balko is dead, correct?" Dougherty asked.
Joe nodded. He was certain of it. But just a glance at Haley's corpse told him this was definitely Balko's work. He felt a chill in his bones.
"Then we've got an impressive copycat on her hands, huh?" Liuzzo said.
"Looks that way," Joe said, having difficulty concealing the doubt in his voice. He thought of Grace. How she was convinced Balko was still alive. How she fled her home, and disappeared off the grid.
"Her name's Haley Farough. Her father owns the motel. He did an ID this morning," Liuzzo said, a tone of sadness in his voice. "Looked like she was delivering new sheets to the room."
Detective Dougherty took a bag from evidence and held it for Joe to see. The plastic bag contained a dagger, stained with blood.
"What do you make of this?" Dougherty asked. "We found it on the floor. Neither victim has a corresponding wound. I'd say we have a third party."
Joe looked at the dagger closely. The blood was thick and black, yet not completely dry.
"The blood looks congealed. Kind of old. You sure it's fresh?"
"We asked that same question. But take a look at this," Dougherty said. She pointed to the floor, where the same sticky black blood pooled at the base of the nightstand. More of it was stuck to Haley's legs.
Joe felt an overwhelming itch in his brain. First he'd learned that Balko's first victim, Gabby Becket was alive and well. And now he was seeing hard evidence Balko may be alive as well.
"I think I need some air," Joe said. He ran from the room, bent over the balcony, and dry-heaved over the handrail. It wasn't like him to lose his cool on a crime scene, even a grisly one, but he'd never felt he was in over his head before either. The gas station where Grace was last seen was walking distance from this motel, and he knew that was no coincidence.
He looked up to see Gabby standing near the edge of the motel grounds, watching him. He touched his pants, feeling his cock cage through the material, reminding himself that it was still there. His last conversation with Grace replayed in his head. She'd warned him Balko was still walking the earth. And now that Gabby had her clutches on his most personal organs, Joe realized he was in far more trouble than he could fathom.
* * * * *
Grace awoke, and felt the morning sun shining through the treetops. Her back and neck ached horribly. She was still leaning against the pine tree, feeling its scaly bark against her T-shirt. She could feel her hair peeling from the trunk as she pulled away.
Kayla was gone.
Grace felt a stab of panic in her chest once again. She'd mistakenly fallen asleep. Grace took to her feet, staring out into the woods. Nothing but trees in every direction.
"Kayla?" she called.
Only the wind answered. Grace scanned the ground, spotting footprints in the dirt. There were animal prints, likely a deer, as well as whatever she'd heard howling the night before. She spotted blood, just a smear, inside the imprint of a small human footprint. Grace followed.
The small footprints of the young girl continued for several yards; Grace followed closely.
"Kayla!" she repeated.
Her heart pounded faster as she scanned the ground for more footprints, wondering what could possibly have convinced Kayla to leave without her. She reached the crest of a steep incline, and looked out across the forest.
She could see the prints; still traces of blood in them, continuing down the incline. There was nothing else in sight. Grace carefully trekked down the hill, following the tracks until they came to a dead stop. Then there was nothing. No sign of where Kayla continued from there.
Grace turned around, looking back up the hill, watching the tracks as they led down towards her. It was as if the girl had just vanished. She noticed a clump of bushes nearby. Curious, Grace peeked inside. Kayla lay hidden within the protective branches sleeping, holding Bernie under her arm.
"Kayla?" Grace asked, shaking the girl. Kayla stirred awake.
"Mommy?" she asked. Grace breathed a sigh of relief.
"Sleepwalking?" she asked.
"It's okay," Grace hugged her tightly; thanking God or whoever was responsible for her fate to have her daughter safe and sound.
"Mommy, I'm hungry."
"I know, sweetie. Let's look around. Maybe there's- an apple tree or something around."
It wasn't until the words escaped her mouth that Grace realized how asinine that sounded. There were nothing but pine trees wherever she looked. It might be hours before they found anything edible.
Happy to be able to see where they were going, but still sore from having open cuts on their feet, Grace and Kayla continued though the forest. Grace kept the sun to her right in the hopes she might possibly find her way back to the road.
It was daytime; Balko would be back in his coffin for the next twelve hours or so. Grace had time. Time to reach the cottage, to bandage her feet, and pray that he did not find her.
She found herself thinking about Daniel Becket. He'd failed to kill Balko the previous day; that was obvious. But today was a new day. If he hadn't been caught or arrested, he would find some way to get to the Balko crypt and finish what Grace began. Grace would have to lie low until he did. Getting to the cottage was the best place to do that, so she continued on.
"Mommy? I smell bacon." Kayla sniffed the air.
Grace smelled it too. She could hear laughing, coming from nearby.
"Shh. Let's be very quiet," she whispered.
Grace tiptoed through forest, Kayla mimicking her as she did. They reached the base of a hill. Talking, laughing, and sounds of sizzling breakfast came from somewhere beyond the top of the hill.
"Kayla, I want you to stay right here, okay? Don't move."
Kayla nodded. Grace quietly crept up the hill while Kayla sat near the bottom, having a silent conversation with Bernie. Carefully, Grace crawled to the top of the hill and peeked over the horizon.
A brown canvas tent was set up nearby. Outside, a young man sat on a stump cooking bacon and eggs on a skillet over a campfire. The delicious smell of the cooking meat filled Grace's nostrils. But she did not dare show herself.
A young red-haired woman climbed out of the tent, dressed in cutoff shorts and a tank top. She sat down on the stump next to the man.
"Mmm, smells good," she said, flirtatiously. The man laughed and kissed her on the cheek.
"Almost ready," he said.
"I'll get us some plates and drinks," she replied.
Grace watched as the redhead walked over towards a small cooler resting outside the tent. She bent over and opened it, and fished around inside. She seemed to be taking her time; it was obvious she was trying to tease him. He took notice, staring at her tight little behind in her short cutoff jeans.
The woman retrieved two bottled orange juices, two paper plates and plastic forks, and took a seat beside him. He scooped the eggs and bacon onto the plates and the young couple ate their breakfast.
Grace eyed the cooler. It was small enough that she could grab it and run away; if only the young couple would leave. Grace figured she might have to wait a while for them to go hiking or swimming or whatever they came out here to do.
"Want to try again to make that baby?" the man asked.
That answered Grace's question about what they came here to do.
"We already did!" the woman squealed. He playfully poked her in the side while they continued to eat. She giggled.
"Come on, grab her leg," Grace whispered. No sooner did she whisper those words that the young man had his hand on the woman's thigh. He gently rubbed her smooth leg, and the woman seemed to be receptive of the gesture. She leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder.
"No, don't cuddle. Stick your hand down his pants!" Grace silently directed.
The woman was less receptive to her direction, and simply snuggled up next to him. The man seemed to have the same idea as Grace as he turned towards his lover and leaned in for a kiss. She returned it.
The kissed softly, for several moments. Grace glanced back down the hill, to make sure Kayla was not seeing this. The little girl remained at the base of the hill, making her teddy bear walk around on the ground.
Grace watched the couple continue to kiss. Gradually, it progressed from mild smooching to aggressive tongue-in-mouth action. Grace was pleased to see the young woman climb into the man's lap and wrap her legs around his waist. Her red ponytail bobbed about as she passionately kissed her lover's open mouth. Their kissing was interrupted for just a second when the man worked her tank top up over her head and tossed it aside.
"That's right, show him your tits," Grace said.
This time, the woman seemed to agree on that course of action. She unclasped her bra, only her man was the one to pull it from her shoulders and toss it aside onto her tank top. She removed his shirt, and pressed her breasts against his chest while they resumed kissing.
"Good. Now get those shorts off," Grace whispered.
Although he didn't take her shorts off, she could see him putting his hands on her behind and squeezing her buttocks while they kissed. While it was quite exciting to watch, Grace was getting a bit impatient that the amorous couple wasn't getting down to business. They continued kissing, and the man continued squeezing and rubbing the girl's bottom through her shorts.
"Come on! Quit playing grabass and get those shorts off her!" Grace grumbled.
The couple kissed further, until they toppled backwards and landed in the dirt. Laughing, they made out while on the ground with her lying on top of him. As she wrapped her thighs around his waist, he worked his hands into the waistband of her shorts and unzipped them. She smiled and climbed off him so he could pull them down. She slid them to her ankles while he removed his own shorts.
As she was about to remove her lacy pink panties, she took a glance behind her, almost as a force of habit. Grace ducked; certain that the woman somehow sensed she was being watched. The woman stared questioningly out into the forest, hesitating to remove her last article of clothing while she stared out into the trees.
The man grabbed her arm and playfully pulled her into the tent, interrupting her search. Grace could hear them panting and kissing heavily, and she saw four pairs of feet protruding from the tent's opening. It wasn't long before the pink panties appeared around the ankles of two of those feet and they were kicked aside, and soon after, both of those feet were spreading apart. It was time.
Grace emerged from the forest and crept towards the campsite. She could hear grunting coming from within the tent, and the woman crying out in pleasure.
"Ooh! Ooh! Oh baby!" the woman cried. Grace crept closer, trying desperately not to make a sound. She circled around the back side of the tent, praying she did not step on a twig or rustle any leaves as she tiptoed towards the campsite.
"Yes! Yes! Harder! Harder!"
Quietly, Grace grabbed the small cooler and quickly scurried away. The grunting and moaning that continued emanating from the tent assured her she had not been heard. Grace hurried down the slope, where Kayla was still playing with Bernie.
"Kayla, come on!" Grace whispered, and took her daughter by the arm.
"What's going on, Mommy?" Kayla asked.
"I'll tell you later, let's go!"
Grace and Kayla ran through the woods as quickly as they could; Grace holding the small cooler and Kayla her bear. When they were a safe distance away, Grace finally came to a stop.
"Okay. I think that's far enough," she said, panting.
"What's that?" Kayla asked, pointing at the cooler.
"This? This is our breakfast."
Grace sat down and opened the cooler. While it contained a few packages of raw bacon and eggs Grace had no way of preparing, she did find a few soft drinks and bagged sandwiches. She unwrapped one of the sandwiches and handed it to Kayla, and grabbed another for herself.
The sandwiches were egg salad, and quite delicious, although the guilt of what she'd done tarnished the meal for Grace quite a bit. After eating their stolen foodstuffs, Grace shut the cooler, knowing that it might very well be the only food she and her daughter might eat that day.
* * * * *
He couldn't wait much longer. The hours posted said the shop closed at 3:00 on Saturdays, and it was coming up on 2:55. Joe had been sitting in his car for the past fifteen minutes working up the nerve to go inside.
The shop in question was Big Al's Auto Body Shop. Joe took a breath and prepared himself to make the most humiliating request of his life.
A bulky bearded man was lowering the garage doors, and Joe leaped from his car. There was no putting it off.
"Excuse me?" Joe asked, hurrying towards the man. "Excuse me? I have a small request."
"Shop's closed. We're open Monday 8am," the man said. His name badge read "Big Al." Joe wondered if the man ran the shop entirely by himself.
"This'll be fast. Five minutes, tops."
"What'd I tell you, pal? Come back Monday."
Joe dug out his wallet. He pulled out two hundred dollars and handed it to the greasy shop worker.
"Two hundred bucks. Please. It's an emergency," Joe said.
Big Al took the money from Joe's hand.
"Five minutes," he said. "What's the problem?"
"Can we step inside?" Joe asked.
Big Al sneered and let Joe into the shop. It looked empty, save for a car on stocks and shop tools scattered about. It appeared Big Al was the only employee present. Joe checked around anyway just to be certain, and dropped his pants.
"Woah! What the fuck, pal?" he exclaimed.
Joe held the cock cage for Big Al to see.
"Can you get it off, or not?"
Big Al winced as he examined the metal contraption.
"Yeah, I can take care of that. This way." Big Al pulled the garage doors closed and led Joe into an office. He pulled up a stool and invited Joe to sit. He did, leaving his pants and underwear at his ankles.
"Be right back," Big Al said, stepping out.
Joe sat awkwardly on the stool, waiting for Big Al to return. He felt like he was six years old again, waiting in the doctor's office to get a shot.
The office was small and messy, with greasy fingerprints on every surface. A calendar hung on the wall above the desk, depicting a beautiful bikini-clad model posing under a waterfall. Joe stared at the water pouring over the model's shapely body, soaking her hair and swimsuit. Her nipples were clearly visible through the soaking wet white bikini top. Joe felt his penis twitch, and was reminded once again of the prison it currently resided. Once his cock cage was off, Joe was strongly considering snatching the calendar just so he could have a quick wank to get his head straight again.
Big Al returned, carrying an electric angle grinder and a shop rag. He set the rag on the desk.
"You sure you want me to do this?" Big Al asked.
"Of course I'm sure! I want this fucking thing off me!" Joe snapped.
"All right, buddy." Big Al flipped on the angle grinder. The wheel spun, filling Joe's ears with a loud buzz. Big Al stepped towards him, putting the spinning blade closer and closer to Joe's private area.
Instead of cutting the cage, Big Al pressed the whirling disc directly into Joe's thigh. He only punctured the skin, not into the flesh, but it was deep enough to spray blood onto the back wall and cause Joe to let out a howling scream.
Joe clutched his bleeding thigh, and Big Al kicked the stool out from under him, knocking Joe to the floor. He tossed Joe the shop rag, and Joe pressed it to his open wound. Big Al shut off the angle grinder.
"Hey! I got a message for you from Gabby Becket," Big Al said. Joe jerked his head up to meet Big Al's gaze. "She says, if you try anything like this again, when that cage does come off, your dick and balls are coming off with it."
Joe opened his mouth to scream. How did she know? How did she know he would come here, of all places? How did she always know where he would be, how was she always ready for him? Joe rolled around on the office floor in agony, spilling blood; the full realization of his powerlessness coming over him.
He could see a pair of feet entering through the office door, and he didn't need to look up to know whose they were.
"Thank you, Al," Gabby said. She wore a black trench coat and high heels, and looked down at the trail of blood Joe was leaving on the office floor and smiled with amusement. She knelt down next to him.
"Joe, I gave a you set of instructions to follow today. Now what are you doing here?" Gabby asked.
Joe moaned and rolled away. She grabbed his shoulder and yanked it so he was facing her.
"Listen to me, Joe. You are my little slave; just like Big Al is now. You will obey me, or there will be consequences. Do you understand?"
Joe nodded, sobbing.
"Oh there, there. Let me take care of this for you," she said. She removed from her coat pocket a needle and thread. Carefully and methodically, stitch by stitch, she sewed his wound closed, mopping up the blood with the shop rag as she went. Joe winced as the needle passed in and out of his skin, but held still until the work was complete.
Big Al brought a first aid kit, and Gabby used it to clean and sterilize the wound.
"I'll get you some pain killers in a bit, AFTER you've had some time to think about what you did," Gabby said. "For now, I want you to wait in the car while I conduct some business with Albert here."
Groaning, Joe pulled himself to his feet and pulled up his pants. He limped out of the office, one step at a time. He wasn't even out of the room before Gabby removed her trench coat, and dropped it to the floor. She was naked underneath.
Joe turned to stare at Gabby. She turned to look at him.
"Wait in the car, Joe," she repeated.
Big Al stared at Gabby's naked body hungrily. Joe continued out of the building to his car, as Gabby threw herself into Big Al's arms. He could hear them begin to have wild, uninhibited sex as he dragged himself back to his Impala and took a seat behind the wheel.
He stared at his reflection in the rear view mirror, and saw his face was dripping with sweat. He clutched his thigh, still throbbing in agony.
"Why me? Why me, why me, why me?" he whimpered to himself.
He waited ten minutes before Gabby emerged from the shop. Her hair was tousled and her lipstick was smeared, but she was none worse for the wear. She got into the passenger seat of Joe's Impala.
"What a shame. I didn't want to have to do that to that man."
Joe was about to ask what she'd done to Big Al, but remembered investigating the scene of Ted Harker's death and realized he didn't want to know.
"Have some of these, and get to work," Gabby said, handing him a bottle of Vicodin. Joe grabbed two of the pills and gulped them down.
"What am I supposed to do? I don't even know where Grace is!" Joe grumbled.
Gabby sat back in her seat and peered at Joe pointedly.
"While you were sitting here for fifteen minutes like a scared little boy, did you happen to look at what was RIGHT across the street from this shop?" Gabby asked.
Joe's hand, still clutching the pill bottle, dropped. He looked out the rear window and saw a gray Chrysler 200 parked in front of a secondhand clothing store. A young blonde woman with pink highlights stepped of the shop, dressed in recently purchased jeans and a T-shirt, and walked towards the Chrysler.
"Is that her? The chick you said robbed Grace?" Joe asked incredulously.
Gabby cocked her head, and held her index finger to her chin thoughtfully.
"Well, she IS driving Grace Harker's car. Does the detective need it spelled out for him more explicitly, or does he have enough clues to go on?"
Joe watched as the blonde woman unlocked the Chrysler. He jumped from his car, and hurried across the street.
"Hey!" he shouted, holding up his badge.
Bethany Dutton stopped, and looked up at the detective running towards her.
"I need to talk to you!" Joe shouted.
* * * * *
They eventually found the road.
It was a long hike through the forest, but using her memory of the map she'd picked up at the Shady Woods, Grace was able to follow the East Fork River back to Route 1. She and Kayla followed the highway for most of the afternoon, staying in the forest and out of sight of traffic as best they could.
"Mommy, I'm tired," Kayla whined.
"Oh, sweetie, I know, but we really need to keep moving."
Grace looked down to her exhausted daughter. Her pajamas were filthy, her feet were encrusted with dirt, and her young face was drained.
"All right, let's take a minute," Grace said, taking a seat on a fallen log. She opened the cooler, tired of carrying it and happy to lighten it once again. She helped herself to another sandwich, sharing it with Kayla.
"How much farther?" Kayla asked, sleepily.
"I- I don't know. It depends how far down Route 1 we are. I think if we keep moving we'll make it there by sundown. I really hope we do."
"Will the bad man find us at night?"
Grace held Kayla close.
"I'll never let him find us. Don't worry. Where we're going he can never find us. I won't let him hurt you."
Kayla hugged her mother tightly. After a moment, she released her, and peered at something in the woods.
"Mommy, what happened to our car?"
"Oh. It was stolen. By those bad people."
"Why is it in the river?"
Grace realized her daughter was looking behind her. Just around the bend in the nearby road, the gray Chrysler 200 was half submerged in the swampy river. Its tail end stuck up in the air facing the road.
"Oh my God. Is that-?"
Grace took to her feet, and hurried towards the river, leaving the cooler behind. Kayla hurried after her. Reading the license plate, Grace had her assurance it was hers.
"They must have dumped it. Maybe it ran out of gas or they didn't want to get caught with it."
Grace opened the back door of the car and peeked inside. The front seats were flooded, but she could see her purse floating inside. She grabbed it.
"They left my purse. Doubt there's anything left inside."
Grace rooted though the soaking wet purse. Predictably, her wallet and valuables were gone. What did remain was perhaps the most important.
"It's the map!" she exclaimed. Unfolding it, she was overjoyed to find the map, with the path to the cottage outlined in pen. "This is- this is wonderful!"
The map would be a useful guide, that was no doubt. What made Grace happiest was the fact that the map was here. Neil and Bethany hadn't given it to Balko.
Too excited to rest, Grace continued on; her enthusiasm putting a hop in Kayla's step as well. Both of them hurried along, clinging to hope they would arrive at the cottage by sunset.
When they arrived at the Oak Creek exit, Grace and Kayla were able to sneak aboard a pumpkin truck that had stopped at the intersection just off the exit. They nestled in near the back, out of view of the driver, and hid while he carried them most of the way down Oak Creek road.
It occurred to Grace that this was the closest Kayla would get to celebrating Halloween this year. While other children were putting their costumes on and getting ready to go out and collect candy, Kayla was here, hiding amongst the pumpkins. Grace vowed that next year would be different.
It didn't take long before the truck arrived at Harmony road, and while the truck did not turn there, it did stop at an intersection giving the stowaways an opportunity to disembark. Grace led her daughter quickly into a nearby cornfield where they stayed out of sight until the pumpkin truck had driven away.
They set out down Harmony road on foot. As the sun dipped closer and closer to the horizon, and their feet ached worse and worse, Grace had to prod her daughter and herself along.
"Come on, Kayla. We can make it. Not much farther," she assured her.
She recognized the exit immediately. The dirt path did not have a name, but Grace knew where it led. Taking Kayla by the hand, she hurried down the path, knowing her sacred destination was almost within reach.
"Come on, Kayla, we're almost there!" Grace cheered, but the girl was nearly in tears.
"Mommy, I can't walk anymore!" she cried.
Grace knelt down. "Here, climb on my back. We just have a little more to go. Just a little more, and then we're safe. Safe!"
Kayla climbed aboard. She had grown heavier in the past year, but Grace was too determined to let Kayla weigh her down. She pressed on. The road was familiar, and Grace felt her spirit refreshed knowing she was about to return to her childhood sanctuary.
The sky was bright crimson in the west, and Grace knew daylight was almost gone. But it didn't matter. No one would find this place. No one. She ignored her aching feet, and the weight of her daughter on her back. It wasn't much farther.
"There's the driveway! I see it!" Grace cheered. "Let's go!"
Kayla laughed, happy to have a goal insight. Grace hurried down the dirt road, until the cottage was in sight.
It was exactly as she remembered. While the lawn was overgrown, the cottage stood exactly as it had a decade earlier. Grace could picture herself walking inside, and seeing her grandfather seated in the easy chair facing the door, smiling at them as they entered.
She knew her grandfather would not be there now. But perhaps the chair would still be there, a friendly reminder of a gentler time. The house itself was a sight for sore eyes, and filled her spirit with delight just to finally be here. She paused just a moment to rest, and bask in the beautiful sight.
"We're just in time to see the sunset!" Grace exclaimed. She carried Kayla around back, and they could see the rocky edge that overlooked the beach at the end of the back yard, as well as the magnificent view of the ocean. "Aunt Nora and I used to watch the sunset over that ocean all the time when we were little. Look, it's so pretty!"
She took Kayla to the edge of the cliff and set her down, and they watched as the sun gently descended below the horizon. It was a breath-taking sight; Grace thanked the stars she had an opportunity to see it again and share the experience with her daughter. Kayla hugged her leg.
With the sun completely out of sight, darkness slowly creeped across the sky. The crashing of the waves against the rocks below sent a tingle through her body, and she felt a layer of goosebumps rush up her bare legs.
"I guess we should get inside now."
Kayla was too sleepy to respond. Grace took the exhausted youngster around to the front, and together they walked up onto the wooden porch. The wood slats creaked as they set foot, just as they always had. The wooden swing still dangled nearby, squeaking as it swayed in the wind. Grace smiled. To anyone else, this would have been a creepy old house. To her, it was a nostalgic homecoming.
"Uncle Tommy usually kept the key hidden in one of these pots," Grace said, excitedly.
The flowerpots on the banister handrails were filled only with dirt now, but a quick search inside them revealed a key still hidden inside. Grace took the key and slipped it into the lock.
"We made it, Kayla," Grace said, laughing. "We finally made it."
Grace unlocked the front door and opened it. Musty air filled her nostrils. She stepped inside, letting her eyes adjust to the dim light. She could hear the ticking of the grandfather clock in the hall; somehow it still ticked after all these years. The house appeared untouched; all of the original furniture still stood where it had decades earlier. Even the easy chair, where her grandfather always sat, usually carving something with his pocketknife, was still exactly where it had been all those years earlier.
But the easy chair was not empty as Grace had expected it be; someone was seated there, waiting for her to enter.
And that someone was Lukas Balko.
TO BE CONCLUDED...
May 9, 2018 in anal