He was tormenting my child and torturing me, but it didn’t touch him.
None of this touched him. Hurting me, terrorizing my family.
How did you reach a man that couldn’t be touched? I needed to reach him.
“If this was all just to hurt Heath, you’ve made a mistake,” I said quietly.
That had him looking at me with something akin to interest at last.
“He’s like you,” I told him. “Nothing that happens to me will hurt him. I was a job to him, just like I am to you. He only acted territorial because that’s who he is, not because the territory meant anything to him.”
He frowned and shook his head at me, “You’re so wrong, Lourdes. I’ve already won. He agreed to everything I asked, gave in without a fight the first chance he got. He wants to do a trade. Him for you and Raf. He didn’t hesitate. You wouldn’t believe how he begged me. It was beautiful. You broke my perfect soldier.”
I wanted to wretch. Instead, I looked away from him to hide my loathing. It was getting harder and harder to act serene with him.
Something had set him off, a brief glimpse of my unguarded expression, perhaps. He was suddenly angry, gripping my chin and staring into my face.
“That was a ploy?” he taunted softly. “You were trying to play me? Why, you little liar, you’ll pay for that.”
That was the first time he beat me, right out in the open, because who would see him out here?
Not a soul.
We’d walked far enough away from the house that the sound of the blows wouldn’t carry to Raf. At least he was spared that.
I didn’t cry out. I tried to take it quietly, grateful in a way, because he seemed to be avoiding my midsection.
He knocked my legs out from under me and brought me to my knees, scraping them against the jagged ground. Gripping my hair with one hand, he began to hit me with the other, right across the face, small slaps that graduated into open palmed thwacks that progressed into heavy backhanded blows.
He worked me over in a way that was painful enough, but almost superficial, blackening my face, bloodying my knees.
When he was finished he pushed me onto my back, pulled out his camera, and began to snap pictures.
“Pull your knees up to your chin,” he instructed me coldly, no anger present, and that’s when I realized that he’d done this, not from loss of temper, but as a calculated move.
He was trying to get a rise out of Heath, and I had no doubts it would work.
Sometimes the words he chose to carve into my skin were odd. Random. Words like MOTHER, CALM, PLIANT. Once, randomly, I even received a LOVELY right under my right breast.
But other times, the words weren’t random at all. The day after that conversation was one of those.
I received a LIAR in my left underarm, high up into my armpit, right on the most sensitive skin. It hurt like a bitch.
I didn’t get a word every time, but words or not, he always carved something on me.
It made it easy, at least, to count the days as they passed.
We were ten days in when he cut a neat little OBEDIENT right on the inside of my wrist.
He was calculated enough to put me in a long sleeved shirt after that one. He was at least trying to hide all of the cutting from Raf. I appreciated that.
He was gone from the house right after, leaving us alone for the usual two-hour stretch.
We were careful when we spoke, I figured he had the room at least bugged, but those two hours were still the highlight of every day.
“Are you okay?” I asked Raf, first thing when we were by ourselves.
His raw eyes hit mine, and I could see that this was taking its toll on him. My poor, sensitive boy. If it wouldn’t have done more harm to him, I’d have wept.
“Did he hurt you?” he asked, voice scratchy with the effort to hold everything in.
“No, sweetie. I’m fine.”
Raf’s bloodshot eyes moved down to a spot on my arm, just below the sleeve of my shirt.
I looked down. Dammit. A bit of blood showed, peeking out through the hem.
I turned my arm, hiding it, but it was too late.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Just a scratch,” I assured him.
He shut his eyes, and I could see his lips were quivering.
My poor, sensitive boy.
I’d given up on working at my ropes by then. Earl had noticed the condition of my wrists early on, and calmly threatened to hurt Raf if I continued.
Our situation felt more hopeless than ever. By taking both of us, he had all the leverage he needed to keep us obedient forever.
Just thinking the word had me glancing down at my bloody wrist. The cuts had leaked just enough to make out the neat OBEDIENT through my white sleeve.
That was the day something wonderful happened.
Earl didn’t come back.
Not that day, or the next, or the one after that.
The third day was the day when I began to gain the certainty that we were going to die like this, tied up to soiled chairs and starving.
Each time he’d left, Earl had given us each a large bottle of water, set between our legs. It was tricky, but we’d both picked up swiftly how to drink that way, twisting the cap off with our teeth, and taking small sips.
We each rationed our water as much as we could; taking the tiniest sips when we began to get an inkling that he wasn’t coming back anytime soon.
On day three, it was looking dire. Even with the rationing, we were down to the last drops, and soon, sucking at air.
How long could a person live without water? I thought three days. Raf swore it was five, since we were indoors.
I badly did not want to find out which one of us was right.
Another day passed, the water completely gone now.
I had the popcorn ceilings memorized, and I didn’t even notice the stench anymore.
We played games, quizzed each other with random trivia to pass the time, but I began to feel my mind getting more sluggish, and we slept longer and longer with each passing day.
Raf was sleeping when I got a sudden desperate burst of energy and began to struggle against my bonds.
I rubbed my wrists and ankles bloody, nearly knocked over my chair, and accomplished nothing at all. Earl’d known what he was doing. He left no weaknesses for us to exploit.
I cried, but no tears came. I was too dehydrated for that.
I woke with a start, and I didn’t know why. I sat still for a moment, thinking, listening intently, before I heard it, breaking the great, vast silence of the desert.
A car. A loud one or possibly a few cars.
My eyes met Raf’s. We stared at each other, both of us afraid to hope that this might be some improvement in our situation.
Perhaps it was Earl, and he’d just been using a new means to torture us.
His car had never been loud, though. But then it was possible he’d just brought a different one. The man was a stone cold murderer. I doubted he’d have any qualms about stealing a new car.
But no, as the sound grew, getting louder and louder until it felt like it was shaking the house, I became more certain that it wasn’t just one car or even a few. It was a lot of cars.
I jumped in my seat when I heard a loud bang on the door, not like a knock, but like a battering ram, accompanied by shouts of, “FBI! Open up!” and more loud bangs, followed by the unmistakable sound of the front door being smashed open.
I thought I might pass out cold, I was so relieved.
Heath was the first one in.
He looked insane. Deranged. He was covered in blood, from his neck to his feet, and his eyes were more animal than human.
I didn’t care. I’d take him like that. I’d take him any way at all.
He brought me water, eyes wary on me, but I refused to drink, telling him to get it to Raf first. He moved slightly, letting me see that Raf was being tended to just as quickly as I.
He held the bottle to my lips and as I drank, he bent to kiss the top of my head tenderly, letting me know that he wasn’t too far gone. My Heath was still inside there somewhere.
“Are you bleeding?” I asked him as he cut me loose, my eyes running over his bloody form. All of it was dry or nearly so.
“No. None of this is mine.”
“Yes,” he bit out, tone savage. “He’s dead.”
“Good,” I said, just as savagely.
He picked me up and took me out of there.
I couldn’t help it, when the outside sun hit my face, I started to cry.
He was holding me to his bloody chest, stroking my hair, over and over, murmuring, “That’s my girl. You’re good now. Everyone is okay.”
His tone was reassuring, but his arms around me were shaking badly. He was trying to convince himself as much as me.
I wasn’t the only one that’d been damaged by this ordeal.
I got a few details out of him when we started to drive.
He’d surrendered himself to Earl days ago, but he’d managed to turn the tables. For days, he’d been torturing Earl, trying to get him to give up our whereabouts.
It had taken some time, but he’d broken the doctor. The second Heath laid eyes on me in the house, Mason had been informed, and Earl had been put out of his misery.