Casualties of Pretty Things -- Complete Story -- EXPLICIT CONTENT










A psychotic father kidnaps teenage girls and uses them as sex dolls in place of the daughter he raped, while her guardian will stop at nothing to find her. 

When sixteen-year-old Cybil believes her mother was killed by the father who raped her she runs away from Deloris, a woman who loves her like her own daughter and who operates the House of Rahab, a halfway home for young women with backgrounds in prostitution. On the streets Cybil finds the friendship she needs, only to lose it when her father finds her. Now Deloris must overcome an ingenious captor and bring Cybil home.


CHAPTER ONE

The hazy form of a surgeon was lit by crude lighting from above. He had done the work himself; converted these rooms to suit his needs. If not for the need for privacy he might take some pride in showing it off. He swayed back and forth in his patient’s field of vision. The teen girl mumbled, currently naked and wrapped in a clear body bag.

Sectioned off on one side, and standing in stark contrast, was a little girl’s playroom, pieced together haphazardly but lit with pastel colors. Dressing the walls were a number of family portraits, where hung Carl with his wife Jolene and their six-year-old daughter Cybil, a few years younger than Carl’s victim on the operating table. 

Penny’s  body lay bruised and torn with open wounds. Her face was red and swollen, her eyes nearly sealed shut from earlier abuse. 

Carl walked over to a sink and ran warm water into a bucket. He prepared a sponge and towel. Then he waited. 

Penny wanted to struggle, to fight back, but was not able. Carl noticed she was crying, trying to speak with difficulty. He walked back to her, letting the water fill the bucket. He said, “Ah, you’re awake. Very good. We can get started.” 

He stared down into her eyes, making sure she was in fact cognizant enough to understand him. “How you doing in there, Penny? Firing on all cylinders? You can call me Carl. Pleased to meet you.”

“Please… help.” 

“And here it comes,” he said. “Not the good part I’ve been looking forward to.” He returned to the sink and shut it off. He carried the bucket over to the table and his victim. “This is the begging part. I hate the begging  part.” 

Penny managed to beg. “You don’t have to  do this.” 

“What’s that?” He bent down, mocking  sympathy. 

“Please… don’t.” 

“Look, you already know what’s coming. But, you’re determined to beg, so go right ahead. We’ve got a little time anyway.” He pulled the body bag away from her. “I know it’s hard to talk right now, but you’ll try. That’s because I’ve given you a small dose of what’s called succinylcholine. It’s a paralytic drug I’m quite fond of.” 

“Please, not for my sake.” 

Carl let the body bag fall to the floor. He took the sponge out of the bucket and applied it gently to the victim’s body. He said, “Let’s be honest with one another. I’ll tell you what my intentions are tonight. I mean, exactly what I’m going to do to you. And, naturally, you can try your best to beg your way out of it. Deal?” 

“No, please. Let me—"

“I’ll take that as  a yes, Penny. Now, I know you’re lying there helpless, wondering, and hoping against all hope that I’m not going to kill you. Let me put your mind at ease right now…” He leaned in close to her face. “I’m not going  to kill you.”

Penny cried. 

“Good news, I know. If you were dead I would have no use for you. I want to keep you around, and I want you to be susceptible to my every whim. To achieve that, I’m going to perform a lobectomy. Specifically, an anterior temporal lobectomy.” 

Carl wet the sponge in the bucket, pulled it out and applied it to Penny’s hair. He went on: “You probably don’t know what that is. It was once used as an effective means of combating epilepsy. Still is in rare cases. People confuse the procedure with the more popular lobotomy. It’s important to me that you understand what’s about to happen to you, so I’ll make it simple.” 

He put the sponge back into the bucket and looked down again at Penny to speak to her very calmly. “I’m going to remove the frontal lobe from your brain. In doing so, everything about you is going to change. You will no longer be the very worried person you are now. In fact, you’ll have no worries at all, and be cared for entirely, all the remaining days of your life. Understand?” 

Immobile, Penny wept while Carl returned to gently cleaning her naked body. She whimpered, “No. God, please, no.” 

“But I did tell you before you’d have a chance to change my mind, so go ahead. No one ever has. That is, no one has ever compelled me enough, or even entertained me enough, to want to not do what I’m about to do. It’s just, really a lot of fun. For me. A lot of fun for me… sorry.” 

She had to win him over. “Please, you can’t do this. I just found out this morning… I’m pregnant.” 

Carl put the sponge back into the water and Penny sighed. He smiled down at her and laid a hand above her stomach. “What are you, sixteen at most? That’s a little young, but there’s nothing more important in this world than being a mother. You are blessed.” 

He walked away from the victim, over to a workstation where he kept various medical and surgical tools. His hands hovered between a  medicine bottle and syringe, and an electrical bone-cutter saw. He chose the medicine and syringe, then turned back to Penny. He injected the syringe into the bottle and withdrew its contents. 

“I’m very moved by your begging,” he said. “So I’m going to give you a cocktail of mescaline and psilocybin, with a twist of klonopin. In addition to making everything painless it has the wonderful side-effect of causing severe hallucinations.”   

Carl pulled the syringe out and sat the bottle down. He said, “You’re about to go on one hell of a trip, Penny. And not for nothing, but I really have to do my thing.” 

Penny tried to beg through tears; tried to scream. “No, please. No.” 

“I know. Screaming is hard.” 

Carl stuck the full needle into a vein of his victim’s neck. “Don’t worry, Penny. It’s painless. But I should probably tell you…” He pulled the syringe out of Penny’s neck and smiled. “I’m a convicted pedophile.” 

Penny’s eyes grew wide and then narrowed. She understood what he meant to use her for. 

Carl sat the needle aside and picked up the sponge to go back to cleaning her body. As the cocktail raced through her system he said, “I know. Weird, right? Well, I used to have these horrible, just terrifying fantasies about my own daughter. Now, with your help, Penny, she  doesn’t have to be a victim. You get to be her substitute. And, really, a hero.” 

Her eyes glassed over. The drug was taking effect. She struggled to speak the last words she would ever say: “My baby.” 

Carl rubbed his victim’s stomach to assure her. “That’s easy enough to remedy, Penny. If there really is a little miss in there I’ll just yank her out and flush her down the drain. And what kind of a mother were you going to be?” 

He walked over to the workstation and readied his surgical tools, sanitizing them. Then he took the electrical bone-cutter in hand, and said, “I’m ashamed to say I never got over my addiction. It’s a strange beast, addiction. Something you have to keep fed.” 

Penny, under the influence of the cocktail, watched the figure of Carl morph into a demonic creature, images behind him from the little girl’s playroom took the shapes of child-like living toys. Colors ran like a water painting. 

He stood over her with the electrical bone-cutter, smiled at her, a demon with jagged teeth. He went over to a nightstand where a music box sat. He opened it and listened to its light playful music. He danced with the electrical bone-cutter. 

“I can relate if you think you’re dying. Well, not really.” 

WHIR!

The noise of the bone-cutter became the scream of the demon. It thrust its awful maw down onto Penny’s skull. Behind it the living toys watched with a sense of surreal joy. Shadows swelled and distorted; they contorted in and out of reality while it fed on its victim, now stoic. From her eyes pleading tears rolled down her cheeks. And the demon danced. 


CHAPTER TWO

Amongst a few regulars waiting on the arrival of the city bus was the mirror-image of Penny, Carl’s teen-aged daughter Cybil. She stared down at her cell phone with earbuds plugged in, listening to her music. She carried a backpack loosely over her shoulder, its contents minimal.  

The bus arrived and its doors opened. The regulars piled in,  showing student IDs and passes, disregarding the driver and taking seats. Cybil boarded and dropped exact change into the receptor. She took a seat at the back of the bus,  tossed her backpack near the window and occupied herself by watching traffic. 

While she listened to her music the bus made numerous stops, taking on passengers and letting others off. It soon became crowded. A mother and her young daughter boarded and looked for a seat. Cybil watched them closely. They approached her. She picked up her backpack and scooted over to make room. The mother smiled. She couldn’t hear her say “thank  you” when she sat and placed her daughter on her lap. Cybil regarded the two momentarily, then quickly turned her face to the window. Her eyes were watering. 

The bus emptied its overcrowded contents at various stops but Cybil stayed where she was, occasionally looking down at her phone, then back to the window. The driver was watching her in the rearview mirror. For the time-being he said nothing.

The bus came to a stop for a single, and familiar to the driver, customer. Bertha was draped in what Cybil would call dirty street wear. The clothes were worn with age and her hair long, dreadlocked and unkempt. She must have been nearing fifty. 

The bus door opened and the driver called down to her. “You got fare today?” 

“I got a transfer,” she answered, and held up the ticket. “It’s good.” 

“Come on.” 

Cybil watched Bertha climb into the now nearly empty bus and look around. Their eyes locked for a brief moment. 

Bertha called back to the front. She said, “Asshole.” 

“Do not start with me, Bertha.” 

The bus rocked forward and Bertha reached out to grab a handrail, anticipating a fall. “Watch it!” 

“Take a seat.” 

Bertha went to the back of the bus, passing Cybil, who ignored her and kept her focus on the streets outside her window. Bertha intentionally took a seat directly behind Cybil. She leaned forward, and said, “Ain’t nothin’ out there but life, girl.” 

Cybil adjusted the earbuds and increased the volume of the music.

“And that ain’t no life you want.”  

Bertha leaned back and the bus rolled on. A few more hours passed and it pulled into the bus station, chose a slot to park, and came to a stop. 

The driver stood and pulled the lever to open the door. He said, “Okay, Bertha. That’s the end of today’s tour.” 

“I’m good. Leave me.” 

He approached, taking note that Cybil had a look of concern on her  face. “You know what?” he said. “Do what you want. You’re someone else’s problem.” He turned to Cybil. “As for you, miss…” 

Cybil got up from the seat, pulling her backpack close. She said, “Sorry. I must’ve fallen asleep.” 

“It’s all good, but you can’t stay. You can transfer to another bus inside the station.” 

Cybil made her way to the exit. Both the driver and Bertha watched her.

“Get out of here, Bertha. Before they throw you in jail again.” 

He left Bertha behind, knowing there would be more of the same tomorrow. And the next day repeated the same routine as the day before. Cybil learned to change it up. She got off somewhere before the bus pulled into the station, crossed the street, and caught a bus on another route. On one day Bertha fought with a passenger. Yelling turned into physical assault and Bertha was kicked off. But they were both back on the same bus with the same driver the next day, and both wearing the same clothes. 

_____________________

On yet another empty bus Bertha stared at Cybil. The girl kept her head down, eyes on her phone, which no longer worked. She walked over to her and sat nearby. She said, “You gotta make it look natural.” 

Cybil didn’t want to acknowledge her. She tried to stare out the window. 

Bertha said, “You need a routine so you won’t draw attention to yourself.” 

Cybil was trying to hold the emotions in, but the tears were coming. 

“Who you runnin’ from?” Bertha asked. 

Cybil balled up her fists and tried to cry quietly. She was good at it. Something she learned a long time ago. 

“Look,” Bertha said. “Someone young like you… we can get you help.” 

Cybil looked up at her. “No. No help. I’m just having a hard time.” 

“Hard time, huh? What about a hard life? That something you want?” 

Cybil didn’t want to hear this. She signaled for the next stop and collected her backpack. The bus pulled to a stop. She was ready at the  door when it slid open. 

“Someone’s looking for you, sweetie.”

Cybil looked up at Bertha, her eyes pleading to say, “That’s why I have to run.” 

The door closed behind her and the bus drove off.


CHAPTER THREE

Behind a small desk in the Missing Persons of the Metro Police Department sat Detective Eastman. He stared at an old monitor with numerous windows opened and a case file for Cybil. His twenty-six years of watching humans dehumanize one another etched hard lines into his face. Across from him was Deloris, a former prostitute, reformed, trying to better the lives of women where she used to be. She looked nothing at all like an upstanding community leader, tattooed and pierced, her hair purple with pink highlights. She stared back at him with an agitated expression.

“You’re telling me to piss off?”

“No, Deloris. No one’s saying—”

She explained, “In three days I’ve seen three different versions of you, Detective Eastman. Some of your names were Daniels and DePaul and Waters. Either you people get off on giving good people bad news, or you’re jerking me around.”

She dropped a file of her own on the desk in front of Eastman. The cover  was attached with a small portrait of Cybil.

Eastman said, “You know how this works, Deloris.”

“Open it.”

“Look, just—”

She demanded, “Open it!”

Eastman was compelled. He took the file and opened it. There was a lot more content on paper in this file than there was on his screen, including numerous pictures of Cybil with her mother and Deloris. It was personal to her.

“I get it,” he said. “I do. But we can’t just canvas the streets twenty-four hours a day, looking for  a teenager we don’t even know is in the city.”

She needed him to know the girl’s name, not just a case number. She said, “Her name is Cybil and she’s sixteen. Sixteen! That makes it your job to find her and bring her back to me.”

“You’re not even her guardian,” he said.

Deloris came up out of her seat. “Her mother’s dead, dumbass! What? Your highly detailed civic file not provide you with that tiny little detail?”

He apologized, before this tiny little Christian woman slit his throat. “I’m sorry. I’m new to the case. I didn’t—”

Deloris grabbed one of the pictures from the file and held it up to Eastman’s face. She said, “This is Cybil’s mother. Jolene. She died four days ago and her daughter, her very scared little girl, ran away because she thinks her daddy killed her mommy.”

Eastman sat back in his chair and waited for Deloris to do the same. There were tears in her eyes. She turned and picked up her belongings to leave.

“But I guess you’ve got bigger concerns.”

Eastman got up to hurry after her. He said, “It’s not much, but I know someone with CPS.”

Deloris was unconvinced. ”I’ve already been to Child Protective Services. They’ve never been any help.”

“I know. Their hands are just as tied as ours for something like this. But the guy I know sometimes works off the books.”

Eastman went back to his desk and picked up his phone. He scrolled through it for a contact.

She asked, “You mean in the shadows? Like you guys look the other way?”

“Yeah, it’s one of  those ‘I don’t know you, you don’t know me’ sort of  things.”

He found the contact number and wrote it down.

“That’s what you got? Police can’t do anything so you’re, what? Doing me a personal favor?”

He handed her the number. “Right now this is just a missing persons. If it was something else, something worse… I’m sorry. It just sucks. You say she’s scared of her father?”

“Yeah. Convicted pedophile. Raped her when she was twelve.”

Deloris looked at the name and the number, memorizing it. She balked at the fake name. “Bob?”

“Real name,” Eastman said. “Promise. And if she’s still in the city there should be a trail. But I can’t imagine she’s gotten very far.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“I’m going to do everything I can.”

“No, I mean saying all that just to offer some kind of empty solace.”

Eastman didn’t know how to respond to that. She was jaded, but she was smart. He leaned toward honesty, and said, “I know you’re worried. You care about this girl. I’m supposed to tell you everything you’ve already heard from the three other faces who sat here. And I want it to be true. I want to find Cybil. I want  to call you and tell you she’s alright. But I’m pretty sure you know the odds aren’t good. You don’t want me to bullshit you? I won’t.”

Deloris appreciated his candor. She sighed and swallowed her grief. She turned again to leave, and said, “Thank you.”

“Call my friend.”

Deloris walked out, in a hurry to call “Bob” and the next day she sat in his office with Cybil’s file draped over her lap and her purse at her feet. 

Bob walked into his office, carrying a file, searching through it. He looked up to greet her only briefly, extending his hand. “Hi. Deloris. Right?”

Deloris shook his hand and he took a seat behind the desk, still looking through the file. He said, “I understand we’re on the clock here.”

Deloris was about to reply when Bob looked up to notice that he forgot to close the door behind him.

“Oh, sorry. Could  you get that?”

She got up, closed the door, then sat back down.

“Thanks.”

She was annoyed, but tried to remain polite. “This is an emergency, if that’s what you mean.”

Deloris placed her file of Cybil on the desk and Bob let the file he brought in with him fall open. She said, “I brought you everything I’ve collected on Cybil and her mother…”

She saw the contents of the file Bob brought in was all about her, including her criminal record. “Ya know, if there’s something you wanna know about me all you gotta do is ask.”

Bob took Cybil’s file, opened it and leaned back. “Yeah. Yeah, Craig  said you had a way with being straightforward. Said you had a low tolerance for bullshit.”

“I have a low tolerance for pretension. You’re not pretentious. Are  you, Bob?”

Bob sat the file down. “I was when I was younger. I started this job straight out of college, full of ambition and excitement. Thought I’d be working to better the lives of families. Some twenty years later, all I’ve seen is corruption in government and families torn apart.”

“So, not pretentious.”

He said, “I had Craig—uh, Detective Eastman, send me your file so I could familiarize myself with your past before we met. I printed it out because when we take on one of these cases I don’t keep e-files.”

He picked up Cybil’s file and added it to his own. “People tend to give me their own materials.”

Deloris was encouraged that Bob might be offering real help, but she did not just let his use of the word “we” pass her  by.

“Something about my past interest you?”

Bob closed the files and put them aside. “Yeah. You were first charged with soliciting when you were a minor.”

“Sixteen.”

“Numerous charges,” he said. “Some worse than others, on up to the age of twenty-six?”

“Twenty-six.”

“And then what? Nothing criminal after that. But a few years later you show up on radar as a charity founder.”

“No. Well, yes and no, I guess.” He waited. She explained. “The church I attended had more real-estate than they knew what to do with. I expressed an interest in a ministry for getting young women out of prostitution and off the streets. And that’s the story of the House of Rahab.”

Bob nodded. He had heard these kinds of stories before. Usually there was something corrupt going on behind the scenes.

“So you, what? Got saved?”

Deloris was tired of the questioning. They were wasting time. “You wanna help me find Cybil or listen to my testimony, Bob? ‘Cause I ain’t got time to do both.”

“I need to know who I’m going to be helping.”

Deloris was unable to hold herself down. “Shit! I was a whore, Bob. What more you need? I did a lot of drugs and sucked a lot of dicks.”

Bob was taken aback, but he listened.

“More? Alright. After about the sixth overdose they thought for sure I was dead this time, but no. God wasn’t done with  me. So, yeah. I got ‘saved’ and decided, gee, I’d  sure like to help girls not have to go through the same hell I went through of suckin’ dick everyday just to deaden my body and kill myself inside.”

Deloris leaned over the desk, furious, staring down Bob. “Now, do I have to suck your dick or are you gonna help me find that little girl?”

Bob pushed himself away from the desk, away from Deloris. He said, “Deloris, please. Let’s just calm down and—”

“Don’t tell me—don’t ever fuckin’ tell me what to do.”

“Wouldn’t think of it. But I needed to press you.”

Deloris withdrew, collected herself. “Sorry. I just don’t like being told  what to do. And I sure as hell don’t like jumpin’ through hoops.”

“You got fire. You’re going to need it.”

“And who’s ‘we’?”

Bob picked up the file and wrote something on its cover. “Pardon?”

“Earlier you said,  ‘when we take on one of these cases.’ Who’s ‘we’?”

Bob pushed the file over to Deloris. On the cover she  read: CRYSTAL, followed by a phone number.

“’We’ are myself and my sister Crystal. I do all the paperwork that needs to be kept legitimate and she does all the legwork.”

“Then you are helping me?”

He smiled. “I’m sure going to  try.”


CHAPTER FOUR

The restaurant was closed and the alley was dirty with trash strewn about from the day’s business. Dumpsters waited to be emptied by collectors who never came. The backdoor opened and someone from the kitchen, probably the dishwasher, walked out carrying a few bags of heavy trash. He threw the bags on a pile against the dumpster and walked back to the  door, where he propped it open to let the heat from the restaurant escape. He sighed and wiped grime from his face onto his shirt. He enjoyed the night air with a sigh, then disappeared back inside. 

A car rolled into the alley and came to a stop a few hundred yards from the back of the restaurant. Inside the car Carl put the car in park and let it idle. A non-descript music played over the radio just below the sound of the car’s engine, indicating an unknown mechanical problem. Carl looked down at his phone displaying the Facebook app. He was looking at an older picture of Cybil with her mother in this exact location.

Denise, a young server carrying a purse, came out of the restaurant with her boyfriend Jamal close behind her. Carl heard the couple arguing in the alley and looked up. He shut the car off and watched them with growing interest. He decided the young server looked a lot like Cybil with short hair.

Jamal yelled at Denise. Denise yelled right back and turned to go back into the restaurant. Jamal grabbed Denise by the arm and kicked the device (whatever it was) that was propping the door open. It slammed shut.

Carl put his phone away with one hand and put the other hand on the door handle. He saw Denise struggle with Jamal. She pushed against him. He pulled Denise away from the backdoor of the restaurant. She stumbled and fell away from him into the filth surrounding them, She dropped her purse and its contents scattered.  

Carl opened the car door to get out and with a cold demeanor he closed it behind him. He walked toward the fighting couple, never taking his eyes away from Denise. 

She scurried away from Jamal. He reached down and grabbed her by the back of the hair. She screamed when he pulled her away from the back of the restaurant. 

Just as Jamal made to strike Denise Carl took him by the back of his own hair, forcing him to release Denise. She fell forward and spun around.
Carl kicked the back of Jamal’s knees and he went down. Jamal tried to hurry to his feet but, caught in Carl’s grip, only writhed about. Before Jamal could turn on him Carl put him in a choke-hold. 

Denise, watching it all, panicked. “Oh my god! What are you doing?”

Carl said, “Gimme a sec.” 

Jamal, red  in  the  face, eyes glazed  over, passed out. Carl released him and the body smacked hard against the pavement. 

Denise cried out, “Jamal!”

“That’s better,” Carl said. “What were you saying?” 


Denise froze, not sure of what just happened. She asked, “What did you do to him?” 
“Oh, he’ll be just fine.” 


“Is he…?” 

Carl laughed. “Dead? Not hardly.” He nudged Jamal with a foot. “Just dreaming.” 

“Who are you?”

He said, “I was sitting back there in my car. Saw what he was doing. Couldn’t let him hurt you.” 

Denise gathered her senses and brushed any dirt and grime off herself. Carl pulled his phone out of his pocket. He said, “Let me call the police for you.” 

“What? No, don’t do that. Jamal’s a jerk but I don’t want to fool with  the police.” 

“You don’t want to press charges?” 

She tried to make an excuse. 

“Oh, I get it,” he said. “This your boyfriend?”

“Look, I… let him sleep it off. I’m done with him anyway.” 

Carl collected the contents of her purse, pocketing her phone into his pocket before she could see it. Denise went to her knees and helped gather up her purse, looking for her phone.
 
Carl said, “At least let me call your parents.” 

“I appreciate your help,” she said. “Whatever your name is, but I just want to get home.”

Carl rose to his feet and looked around to make sure Jamal was still unconscious and no one else was watching. He said, “Guess your boyfriend was your ride home?” 

Denise looked down at her boyfriend. He was moving, gaining consciousness. She asked Carl, “You see my phone?” 

Carl nodded a no. 

“My manager is going to fire me. This is the third time he’s pulled this  shit on me at work.”

“Come on. I’ll take you home. You can find your phone later.” 

Denise hesitated. She thought about going back into the restaurant.

He assured her. “I got a daughter about your age. I know I’d be worried if she was in the same situation. Be nice if someone was there to help her.” 

“You sure it’s no trouble?”
 
“‘Course not.” 

Jamal pulled himself up to his knees. He rubbed his head, squinted his eyes. Carl and Denise watched him rise to his feet, shaking. He grunted at Carl. “What the hell?” 

Carl said, “You were getting out of control.” 

“Yeah? And who the fuck are you?” 

Carl closed the distance. “I’m the fuck who’s gonna wipe my ass with your face.” 

Jamal withdrew and considered the challenge. “Fuck this.” 

He made his way out of the alley and flipped Denise the bird. “And fuck you, bitch.” 

She said, “You’re lucky I don’t press charges, Jamal. Got a witness this time.” 

Carl walked back to the car, telling her, “Let’s get you back to your folks.” 

Carl took his seat behind the wheel. He turned the ignition when Denise got in and closed the door. It resisted and he remembered he left it running. She rummaged through her purse. He asked her, “Where you live?” 

“About twenty miles outside the city.”

“Pretty far to go for work.” 

Denise did not look up from her purse. “Yeah, sorry about  that. Usually I have a ride I can depend on. Hope it’s not—" Denise looked up from her purse and into Carl’s eyes. He was staring at her with an expression of malice. He was no longer a helpful stranger. She was paralyzed with fear. 

“Are you—” 

Carl hit her hard in the face with a fist. Her head shot back into the window. He took it in both hands and slammed it into the dashboard once—twice—three times! He dropped her head and Denise fell over limp and bloodied in the passenger seat. 

After a moment of watching her lie there motionless Carl’s expression changed to satisfaction. He reached into his pocket and pulled out her phone. He examined it, removed the battery, and placed the two pieces into her purse. He looked through it and found a wallet. He pulled it out and looked over her driver’s license.

He decided he liked her name. “Denise? You and I are about to have all sorts of fun.” 

In the alley the car moved forward and pulled onto a street. It disappeared from view. 

_______________________________________________________________________


The sun had set and Cybil was beneath the overpass of an expressway. She was careful to avoid the few cars driving by when she crossed the street to walk up the incline. She sat down at the top and scooted back where she was protected and out of sight. She pulled off her backpack and sat it next to herself. She drew her knees in and clutched herself close. 

Two pedestrians walked by at street level. They talked. She listened, a quiet observer. She watched until they were gone. 

She opened her backpack and pulled out her phone and a charger. She was hoping to activate it. For a moment it tried to power up, displaying an image of herself with her mother and Deloris. 

It shut off with no battery life. 

Cybil returned the phone and charger to her pack, pulled out a bottle of water and drank. She finished off a candy bar. 

With nothing left to do she pulled out her jacket, wadded it up like a pillow, and curled up into a ball. The night air was her blanket.


CHAPTER FIVE

At home Carl’s car pulled into the driveway and came to a stop in front of the attached garage. It waited while the door opened. The interior lights of the garage flickered and came to life. When the car was inside the garage its headlights shut off and the door closed behind it. 

In the car Carl’s victim Denise stirred. He pet her head, got out of the  car, and opened the trunk. He reached in and pulled out a doctor’s bag. He walked over to the passenger door and opened it.  

He opened the doctor’s bag and pulled out a medicine bottle filled with one of his cocktails and a syringe. He filled the syringe with the cocktail. While Denise mumbled incoherently Carl plunged the needle into her neck. She was completely still and silent. 

Carl walked over to a utility cabinet and opened it. There were latex gloves and garbage bags amongst various garage items. He put on a pair of latex gloves and pulled a garbage bag from the cabinet. He opened the bag and lay it on the  ground. He went over to the door leading into the house, where he opened it, walked through and disappeared into darkness.
 
Moments passed. 

Carl returned, breaking through the darkness and carrying with him a body bag, which he lay open near the car. And at the car he was gentle, pulling Denise out and positioning her near the body bag, where he used a  scalpel to peel the clothes from her body. He discarded the clothes into the garbage bag.
 
At the small of her back Denise had a tattoo he had not yet noticed.
 
When Denise was naked he returned the scalpel to the doctor’s bag,  put the syringe and the bottle back into it and tossed the bag into the trunk of his car and closed it. He stood over the living body of Denise and admired her naked form. He was happy.
  
Carl bent down, humming. He was careful, sliding her into the body bag and—ZIP! 

He walked into the house, where a landing and a staircase led down into a basement. He switched on a light. He turned away from the staircase and faced the wall, covered with wood paneling that he removed. It revealed a hidden entrance to the bomb shelter, where his operating room waited. There was nothing special about the entrance; a lever and a padlock. He unlocked it and put the padlock into a pocket.

From the top of the stairs Carl walked down, carrying the body of Denise. He nodded in Penny’s direction when he saw her in the playroom. She waited in a catatonic state, sitting in front of a large TV, itself streaming a little girl’s animated show. She stared forward, in a near paralyzed prison. Her expressionless face, healed from the night she was  abducted, bore the scar from the lobectomy. It was prominent, but she was bodily healthy, though pale. Most notable, she was dressed as a child, a living doll.

He called out to her. “Penny? I’m back, Sweetie. Sorry it took so long.” 

Carl sat the body bag with Denise inside atop the operating table. He turned and walked over to Penny. He swiveled her chair around so that she was able to see their new guest. 

“I brought company.” He kissed Penny on the cheek in greeting. “Now, don’t be jealous,” he said. “If this all works out you and Denise will be the best of friends.” 

Carl went back up the stairs. In the garage he strapped a respirator mask around his face and put on HAZMAT wear. He put all of Denise’s belongings into the garbage bag with her torn clothes and cleaned his car inside and out. He washed the interior with an industrial fabric cleaner, scrubbing very hard, and used a wet-vac. He sprayed everything down in  the garage. Again he scrubbed, using an industrial cleaner.
 
At the center of the garage was a drain, where all the water ran.

Carl sanitized the car and the entire garage, inch by inch. When he was done he stood at the door leading into the house, holding the garbage bag with Denise’s clothes at his side. He looked over every detail, contemplating what he had done and if he may have missed anything.

Satisfied, he turned into the house and closed the door behind him. He walked down into the operating room dropped the garbage bag to the side of the stairs, where a large open BIO-HAZARD container sat. He walked around to stand in front of the open container and stripped off all safety attire and dropped it in. 

He dressed in his scrubs, all the while looking over at the unmoving body bag.

Penny shook in her chair, staring at the body bag. 

Carl said, “Penny? Daddy has  to go to work. You just sit there and enjoy the show.” 

He approached the body bag. He unzipped it and reached into it,  running his hands over the warm body. He pulled the plastic back, exposing Denise. 

He walked away toward the sink where he picked up the bucket, put it in the sink and ran water. 

Denise, her face swollen from the abuse, tried to open her eyes. She tried to speak. She tried to move at all, but could not. 

Carl returned with sponge in hand and a towel draped over his shoulder.  He looked down at Denise, saw her eyes open. He looked down at his watch. 

He said, “Right on time. Ya know, I love it when a girl keeps to a schedule. That’s very uncommon. You’re making an impression, Denise. Oh! I’m Carl, by the way.” 

Denise was making a noise, but unable to speak. 

“What’s that? Still can’t talk? Yeah, I probably gave you a little too  much. Don’t worry. You’ll be able to beg for your life in just a few minutes.” 

Carl sat the bucket next to Denise. He used the sponge to clean her broken face. He said, “I know it’s very alarming waking up to all this, thinking you’re about to die, but I can assure you it’s going to be painless. And maybe a little fun.” 

Denise was crying under the work of Carl’s hand. He stopped and wiped a tear away. 

“Yeah. Sorry ‘bout  that, kid. Not that you’d believe me, but I didn’t  plan this. Not tonight anyway. I was just out, looking for my daughter…” Carl ran a hand down her thigh and massaged her pubis. “…who you happen to look like.” 

Denise’s face registered grief, not yet able to speak. She imagined what he intended for her. 

Unable to control her own body, Penny watched. Her eyes welled up. 

Carl removed his hand and pulled Denise’s limbs from the body bag. He said, “Let me dispel any concerns of death. I’m not going to kill you. I’m going to perform a surgical procedure to alter your behavior, rendering you docile. After that, you and Penny can be friends, and the two of you will share the load of meeting all my needs. It’ll be quick, it’ll be painless, and like I said before, it’ll be fun.” 

Penny wept with fright, fought to move. 

Carl heard her. He said, “Hush, Penny. That’s no way to talk about your new friend.” 

Penny was anything but quiet. 

Carl turned his attention back to Denise, and said, “Well, let’s get you out of this so I can get you cleaned up.” He pulled her up to him to pull the body bag away from under her. “Have to be careful not to scrape your perfect skin. You’ve taken such good care of your—  !”

He stopped short when he saw her tattoo. It was a horrifying blemish; graffiti on a work of master craftsmanship. He sat her body down and bowed his head, remorseful and breathing heavy. 

“What did you—” 

Carl threw the body bag aside and flipped Denise over. He stared at the tattoo, tried to control the anger boiling within him. 

Penny shook, moaned. 

He screamed, “Goddammit!” 

Carl flipped the body back over. He took her face in both of his hands. He demanded: “What the fuck did you do to yourself?!” 

Denise cried. Finally, she could speak, though it was very weak. “Please don’t hurt me.” 

It was too late. 

“Oh, baby girl. You were fucking perfect. Your skin was so beautiful.  Why did you ruin your body?” 

Denise was scared and confused. She said, “I don’t know what  you—” 

Carl turned Denise on her side. He clawed at her tattoo to rip it off, making her cry out. Penny tried to scream in her silence. 

“The tattoo, you fucking whore. Your pretty little tramp-stamp.” 

“Please, stop!” 

He did not hear her. “It’s ruined.” 

“Oh, God. Please, don’t.”

Carl tossed Denise away from him, disgusted. He rushed to the work  station and cleared everything with a furious swipe, sending debris everywhere. 
Several feet away, Penny was weeping in unison with Denise. Carl bowed his head, unable to face her. He fell silent. He listened to the sobbing of both girls growing stronger. 

Denise said, “Please, you don’t have to do this. You don’t have to hurt me.” 

Carl was grieved and angry. He turned back to Denise and said, “Hurt you? Thing is, I wasn’t going to hurt you at all, Denise. Didn’t you hear the part where I said I was going to make it 100% hurt-free?” 

“You could just let me go. No one has to know. Please. I won’t say a thing. I don’t even know where I am… I won’t say a thing.” 

Carl brooded over her, breathing deep. His anger subsided. He said, “That’s a generous offer, Denise.” 

He stared into Denise’s eyes. 

She begged, “Please.” 

“You’re traumatized, Denise. Law-enforcement teaches us that the testimonies of witnesses of traumatizing events can’t be trusted. Such witnesses often give unreliable accounts, changing small but significant details.”

Denise listened to Carl with hope on her face. 

He went on. “A red shirt may be blue, blue eyes green, blonde hair brown, and so on. The victim, yourself, may not recall accurately where she was abducted, if it was day or night, warm weather or chilly. So, it’s a  gamble, Denise.” 

Carl walked back to the work station. He slid a drawer open and removed an item, then returned to Denise. 

He said, “Doctors on the other hand, particularly neurologists, could argue that at the moment of trauma the brain acts like a camera, preserving the event like a proverbial photograph.” 

Denise worried again. She cried. The cocktail was wearing off. Parts of her limbs were coming back to life. 

“In a sense,” he said, “my face is being permanently sealed into the limbic system of your brain. Being as this is a rather strong trauma you are experiencing, you’ll remember me the rest of your life. And that’s a torture I wouldn’t wish on anyone.” 

“Please, don’t do this.” 

“Ya’ know, the Buddhists believe that at the moment of death you carry with you something they call ‘last thought moment’. Basically, that just means you carry whatever you’re thinking about with you when you die into the next life. With that in mind…”

Penny’s eyes widened. She saw what Carl was holding. 

“…think happy thoughts.” 

While Denise cried out, Carl lifted a fist above her naked frame, holding a medial spike. He forced it down into her skull


CHAPTER SIX

The House of Rahab was a three story charity house located in the inner city, just off a main street with moderate traffic. It was once dilapidated. In the front yard an elderly groundskeeper mowed the lawn. He cut the corners tight at the base of a sign, which read: 

HOUSE OF RAHAB
HOME FOR WOMEN
“A SECOND CHANCE FOR A SECOND LIFE”

In the commons area the sound of the mower was distant. Deloris stared down Tiff, a border in her early twenties, like some of the girls here. Many were younger. She was angry, holding a police arrest report in one hand. 

“Dammit, Tiff! What the hell were you doing out after curfew anyway?” 

Tiff sat uncomfortable, trying to avert Deloris’ hot gaze. A few of the other girls were nearby; Amber and Lucretia. In the adjoining room a phone rang. It went on. The girls wondered if Deloris was going to answer it. She did not. 

Tiff said, “I had to see Eddie.” 

This was not what Deloris needed to hear. “Danny’s father ‘Eddie’? The jackass who made you work the streets in the first place ‘Eddie’?”

“Like you said, he’s Danny’s father. I can’t just cut him out of his life.”

The ringing of the phone stopped. 

Deloris held the arrest report up. She said, “The police think you’re soliciting again. That’s the charge.” 

Amber and Lucretia came to Tiff’s defense. Lucretia said, “She called me before she came back. Didn’t have time to solicit anything.” Amber added: “She wasn’t working.” 

Tiff swore, “I wasn’t.” 

Amber tried an excuse. “She just—” 

Deloris turned on Amber and Lucretia. “Shut up, the both of you. Think I don’t know when you’re covering?” 

The phone rang again. 

Deloris looked hard at Tiff, then turned to leave the room and answer the phone. She called back. “You know the rules of the program, Tiff.” 

It was a shock. “What? No, wait.” 

Tiff followed Deloris into the front office where the sound of the lawnmower out front was louder. Her office was decorated with numerous sentimental items. There were photos of several of the girls she had helped off the streets. On her desk were pictures of Jolene and Cybil. 

The phone stopped ringing when Deloris reached for it. She sat the arrest report near the laptop on her desk. 

Behind her, Tiff asked, “I’m out?” 

“It’s a strict  program,” she said, “and you’ve had three infractions in four months. Four months.” 

“But that’s not even reasonable.” 

Deloris had enough of this. “'Reasonable’ is not subjecting Danny to an abusive father. ‘Reasonable’ is accepting your part as his mother to do everything you can to make sure he grows up in a safe and healthy environment. ‘Reasonable’ is not going back to the same extortionist who only wants to make money off your ass. ‘Reasonable’ is not being an idiot and abusing the program.” 

Deloris sat behind her desk and opened Tiff’s file on the laptop. 

Tiff begged. “Deloris, please. If you kick me out, I’ll lose Danny.”

“Tiff, you should’ve made Danny your priority in every decision you made. Only that would’ve prevented this.”

“I did make him my priority. Every day.” 

Deloris said, “Then why are we here now, Tiff?” 

Tiff lost both balance and emotion. She collapsed into the seat across from Deloris. She cried, “Please, I’m begging you, Deloris.” 

Deloris worked at entering this latest infraction into Tiff’s file. She did not look up at Tiff, who went on. “I’ll stick to the program. I won’t have contact with Eddie, not even online.” 

Deloris kept working.

“I won’t have anywhere to go. The state… they’ll take Danny.” 

Deloris stopped and called into the other room. “Amber?” 

Amber did not answer. 

Tiff said, “If they take Danny I’ll have nothing.” 

“Amber!” 

Amber walked in. Lucretia was behind her. Amber said, “I’m right here. Shit. What?” 

Deloris ordered: “Take Tiff to her room and help her pack.” 

Tiff bawled. Amber helped her out. Deloris said nothing. Lucretia  watched. When Amber and Tiff were out and down the hall, up the stairs, Lucretia sat down in front of Deloris, who went back to her work.

Lucretia said, “Jesus.” 

Deloris sighed. She finished and hung her head. 

Lucretia poked. “That was messed up.” 

“Think it’s not fair? Think I wanted to do that?” 

“Guess not.” 

Deloris raised her head and looked into the face of Cybil in the framed photo on her desk. 

Lucretia asked, “What’s gonna happen now?” 

“It’s not a punishment, Lucretia. She’ll be back. I’ll make sure of  that. But the state probably will take Danny.” 

“You can’t let them do that. We can take care of him right here, ‘til  she gets back.” 

Deloris took the framed photo in hand. She said, “I can try to fight it, but CPS usually wins.” 

Lucretia got out of the chair. She looked down at the photo, back to Deloris, and said, “Don’t guess there’s any word on Cybil?” 

Deloris put the photo back in its place. She wandered aimless on the laptop. She said, “I need you to make sure Amber’s taking care of Tiff.”

Lucretia turned away, quiet. She walked out the door. Deloris called to her again. “And do what you can to assure Tiff this isn’t permanent. Three, four weeks at the most.” 

She said, “Yeah. I’ll do that.” Then: “Deloris?” 

Deloris looked up from the laptop. 

Lucretia said, “You’re gonna find her.” 

“Thanks, Lucretia.” 

Lucretia left the office and Deloris sat alone. She took the photo in hand again and sobbed. The sound of the mower shut off and the phone rang. She answered it after one ring. 

“House of Rahab.” 

She listened to the other end for a moment. Her face lit up with hope. 

__________________________________

A city bus came to a slow stop and unloaded its passengers. The last was  Cybil, carrying what few items she had left in her backpack. She was dirty and disheveled. Looking both ways she crossed the street to a convenient store and entered. Inside, she found a box of pads and stuffed it into her pack. She tried to avoid being seen by anyone for any length of time and found her way to the restroom. She locked the door behind her, ran the water in the sink and removed the box of pads and a few toiletries from her pack. She took off her shirt and tried her best to spot-clean it, careful not to get it too wet. Next were the pants and her underwear. She spent the most time and effort scrubbing her panties, after which she dried by use of the hand-drier. She pulled back her hair and washed her body, placed the pad in her panties where it was needed, and looked herself over in the mirror. 

Cybil opened the restroom door and walked out. She shopped for a few cheap snacks. Pads were more expensive than what she had but she could afford to buy candy, enough to throw off any suspicion. At the checkout, she laid down some loose change to the clerk’s annoyance and counted out what she needed.  

She stopped at the magazine stand to the side of the entrance, pretending to read. When a group of four shoppers entered she mixed herself in with them and made her way back to the restroom. She opened the door and locked it behind her. She leaned against the wall and slid down it to sit in the corner. She waited for the evening to pass, hoping she could spend the night here.

Outside, the evening sky darkened into night. The hours passed. 

The clerk prepped for close, mopping the floors. He looked up at the clock. It read: 11:42. He rolled the mop bucket back to the restroom, and  knocked on the door. 

No answer. He turned the knob. Locked. “Shit.” 
He knocked again, hard. “Someone in there?” 

No answer. 

There was a ding from the front. He walked toward the sound and saw a customer waiting at the checkout. He said, “Hey. Sorry ‘bout that. Here I come.” 

The customer was eager. “Yeah, just need some gas. Pump wouldn’t take my card.” 

“I can get that for you here.”

“Hope there’s nothing wrong with my card.” 

The clerk stood behind the cash register and took the customer’s card. He said, “Shouldn’t be. What can I set you for?” 

“Ten should do it. For now, I guess.” 

The clerk set the pump, ran the card, handed it back, and sent the customer out the door with receipt in hand. 

“There ya go.” 

“Thanks.” 

“Have a good one.” 

The clerk grabbed the store keys and locked the doors. He walked back to the restroom and knocked on the door again. 

“Hey, c’mon,” he said. “We’re closing. I gotta get in there.” 

He knocked and waited again. 

No reply. 

“Look, I’m coming in, so don’t freak out.” 

He turned the handle to find it was no longer locked. He opened the door and walked in. No one was inside. 

BEEP! BEEP!  BEEP! 

The loud obnoxious sound of the store’s alarm sent the clerk out the restroom and into the back, where he saw the rear fire door exit wide open. He shook his head in frustration and closed it.



CHAPTER SEVEN

A car pulled up outside the House of Rahab and shut off. Crystal, the  sister of Bob, stepped out. A  war veteran with an amputated arm and a prosthesis in its  place, her face was hardened. The arm itself was decorated with military tattoos. She walked up to the door and knocked. 

In the kitchen it was a busy morning. It hosted six young women and  a few of their children. Now that Tiff had been evicted there were only five women, not including Deloris: Amber, Lucretia, Penelope, Nelly and her infant son Diego, Sienna and her toddler daughter Valerie, and Maria and her infant son Micah, who were currently out of the room. They were all going about the business of making breakfast and feeding the children.

Deloris hovered over numerous files and confirmed the day’s assignments with everyone. She looked down at the time on her phone. She said, “Sienna, you’ve got an interview at 10:30. Better get a move on.” 

Sienna said, “I have to take Valerie, I’m not sure—” 

Deloris knew better than to let her start making excuses. She said, “Amber’s going with  you. She can watch Valerie. Doubt they’re gonna start you today.” 

Amber played with baby Valerie. “I got you, yes I do. Yes I do.”

Deloris called out the next assignment. “Nelly, someone’s  gotta do the shopping today. Can you and Lucretia handle that?” 

Nelly looked over at Lucretia, who looked back to Deloris. 

Lucretia said, “We need the truck.” 

“Truck’s D-O-A,” said Deloris. “You can use my car.” 

She handed the keys over to Nelly, who said, “Yes!”

Deloris warned her: “You will log every mile and drive as if your life depends on it.” 

Lucretia asked, “Can we shop for ourselves?” 

“Do you have money to shop for yourselves?” 

Nelly said, “I do.” 

Lucretia said, “Deloris, come on. You can’t send me out to shop and not give me something for the trouble. I need a new shirt for work.” 

“I’ll give you enough to buy a shirt. Shit, girl. Didn’t ask for no drama.” 

The girls laughed at “mama drama”. 

Deloris moved on to Maria. She said, “Maria, you and Micah have an appointment with the obstetrician at—"

She looked up to see Maria was not in the kitchen. 
“Where’s Maria? Maria!” 

Maria walked into the kitchen holding Micah, looking tired. Behind her Crystal followed her in. 

Maria said, “Visitor, boss. Say she got an appointment. I need coffee.” 

Deloris rose from the table and looked at the time again. She walked  over to Crystal. She said, “Crystal! Yes. Thank you for coming.” 

The two shook hands. Deloris could not help but notice that Crystal bore no family resemblance at all to Bob. 

Crystal thought she may be intruding. “Bad time?”

“Not at all,” Deloris apologized. “I just forgot the time. Let’s go to my office.” 

Before Deloris led Crystal into her office she turned back to Maria, who waited at the coffee pot. Deloris told her, “There’s a guy coming at one to fix the water heater. I need you here for that.” 

Maria nodded and Deloris walked out of the kitchen with Crystal. From the hall she called out, “And clean the kitchen!” 

The girls left behind at the table whispered to one another about Crystal’s prosthetic arm. 

Deloris and Crystal walked into the front office and Crystal took a seat. Deloris feigned cleaning up. 

“Sorry ‘bout the mess.” 

Crystal did not mind. She said, “Not a problem. Looks like you got better things to do around here than clean.” 

“Yeah, they keep me busy.” 

Deloris kept trying to avert her eyes away from Crystal’s prosthetic arm. 

Crystal held up the prosthetic and said, “Souvenir from Palestine.”

Deloris flushed. “Sorry. That’s rude of me. I’m sure you get that all the time.” 

Deloris took advantage of the tension being released and got a good look at the prosthetic, and the tattoos. 

“Not a problem,” Crystal said. “At least not for me.”

“It’s cool. I love the ink.” She shrugged in observance of her own tattoos. “Obviously.” 

“Gives people something to stare at.” 

Deloris looked up from the prosthetic and directly into Crystal’s eyes. She said, “I do notice things. That’s why I was wondering why you and your brother don’t look like you and your brother.” 

Crystal was amused at the way Deloris phrased her observation. She answered, “I’m adopted.” 

“Ah. Well, mark me down for not noticing the obvious in my noticing of things.” 

Deloris sat. She asked, “So, what did Bob tell you?” 

Crystal was quick to answer. “Says you need to find Cybil.” 

Deloris ran a finger over the frame of one of Cybil’s pictures. She said, “Yeah. Cybil. Police can’t do dick right now, so he gave me your number. Can you do anything?” 

Crystal had an answer. Deloris could see it. But she wanted to probe. She said, “Well, why don’t you tell me what happened?” 

Deloris handed Crystal a picture of herself with Jolene and Cybil, and said, “Cybil and her mom, Jolene, came here more than two years ago, after  Cybil’s dad was convicted of raping his little girl.” 

Deloris waited for a reaction. Crystal remained quiet, letting her talk,  examining the picture. 

Deloris went on. “Bastard was a doctor, like a real high-paid  surgeon. They could’ve been taken care of but Jolene didn’t want anything to do with him, didn’t want him to be able to contact Cybil, so she divorced him, gave up everything and came here.” 

Crystal gave the picture back to Deloris. She took it and held onto it. She said, “This really wasn’t the program for them. All my girls are former prostitutes, addicts. But after I heard their story I couldn’t turn them away. Especially not Cybil.” 

A cold question came. “Why not?” 

Deloris held up a wrist where Crystal could see a faded scar. She said, “My dad used to do the same thing to me. I fell so deep in despair I tried cutting myself. Did it wrong, of course. Then I just walked out of the hospital and never went home.” 

“That’s pretty rough.” 

“Four months in I knew I had to keep them. Like, adopt them. If I could I would. That’s how close we were. Jolene… she was my best friend. And Cybil?” 

Deloris did not finish. 

“That’s okay. You don’t have to. I get it. Just tell me what made Cybil run off.” 

Deloris choked back tears. “Few weeks ago, Jolene was headed into work, standing at a bus stop, just up the street. Didn’t even see it coming. The bus hopped the curb, and that was it.” 

Deloris cried. Crystal tried to console her.  

“Somehow Cybil got it in her head her dad killed her mom. She was terrified. Like, he made a promise to kill her and kept his word, then he was coming after her.” 

Crystal asked, “Do you have any reason to think she was wrong?” 

“Her dad’s a pedophile but I don’t think he’s a murderer. And I think he’s still in prison.” 

“No,” Crystal said, “not actually.” 

“He’s out?” 

“Over a year.” 

Deloris stared at her.

“And I do think he’s trying to find Cybil.”

“The fuck? Cops couldn’t tell me?” 

Crystal explained. “Detective Eastman in Missing Persons got a new case.” 

She pulled out her phone and scrolled through the gallery. She said, “I need you to prepare yourself, Deloris. This won’t be easy.” 

Deloris braced for the worse. “Oh, God!” 

“Description matches Cybil.” 

Crystal handed Deloris the phone. She looked at image of Denise and Jamal standing in an alley, arguing. Relieved, she said, “That’s not Cybil.” 

“Scroll through.” 

Deloris scrolled through the gallery and came to an image of Jamal struggling with a blurred figure of Carl. 

“That’s…?” 

“You ever see any pictures of Cybil’s father?” 

“I… No, I don’t think so.” 

“Bob said he was told the boyfriend reported his girlfriend missing. Said she was kidnapped. I think—” 

“Wait,” Deloris said. She had caught something in the pics she recognized. 

“What is it?” 

Deloris handed the phone back to Crystal, fixed on the image she recognized. She said, “I know that restaurant. It’s one of our favorites.” 

Crystal examined the image, then glanced back up at Deloris. She said, “This is not a coincidence.” 

“Right. I get how this could lead us to her dad, but how do we find Cybil?” 

“It gets worse, Deloris.” 

Crystal cued up a few more pics on her phone. 

“Worse? Cybil’s out there alone, frightened. Her freak dad is kidnapping, probably killing. What’s worse?” 

Crystal handed her the phone again. She said, “Six weeks ago another girl matching the same description went missing.” 

Deloris looked over the blurry images of Penny struggling with Carl in the empty parking lot of a high school at night. “Oh, my god. He is trying to find her.” 

“I think he’s acting out some fantasy. Those girls? His victims? They’re Cybil’s substitutes until he can find her.”

“We’re not gonna let that happen.” 

“I’d say we’re working with a limited time-frame. He’s established a pattern. Every six to four weeks he needs his fix.” 

Deloris exploded with emotion. “What about Cybil? We have to find her before he does!” 

She paced the floor, sobbing, trying to control her emotions. Crystal  approached her, placed her hand on Deloris’ shoulder.

“This is probably one of the worse things you’ll hear, but you have to hear it. You know there’s  a possibility she’s already dead.” 

Deloris looked at her, distraught. 

“But get your shit together. If she’s alive she needs you.” 

Deloris took a moment, nodded her understanding. 

“There’s no way I’m going to let that son-of-a-bitch get to her before we do.” 

Deloris pulled herself together. She said, “I’m gonna hold you to that.” 

Crystal took her hand. “Deal. Now, tell me everything you know about Cybil’s father.”



CHAPTER EIGHT

Alone  in  a  dark  corner of the operating room sat an embalming tank. Carl approached it wearing  safety  attire.  He  flipped  a light switch and dim lights flickered to life. He  prepared  the  tank  for  use,  pouring  in  a mixture  of  chemicals:  FORMALDEHYDE,  GLUTARALDEHYDE,  and METHANOL. 

While  the  tank  was  busy  mixing  Carl  readied himself  for  the  embalming process by placing the body of Denise on an embalming table. He cut open the appropriate veins and drained the arteries. He bent over the corpse’s face to cut out the eyes with  gentle precision and replace them with a set of large doll eyes made of glass. He placed them in  their  respective  sockets and admired them. Soon  after  he  set  to  slowly  embalming  Denise,  thoroughly enjoying his work. 

When the work was done the  body  of  Denise  was  pristine,  its  doll  eyes,  staring out  into  nothing and  contemptuous  of  reality.  

The next bit of work was to dress the doll, which he slowly lavished. 

Behind him Penny whimpered. When the doll was presentable he propped  it  up  in  a  sitting  position  to face Penny. He said, “Penny, sweetie, be nice to our guest. Denise  is going to be with us awhile.” 

He went over to Penny and knelt down. “Isn’t she pretty?” 

Penny moaned, trapped inside herself.

“Now don’t worry,” he whispered into her ear. “She can’t replace  you.” 

Carl rose and walked back up the stairs. “Be back with your  lunch.” 


_________________________________________________________________________________


Crystal’s  car  pulled  up to the curb outside Carl’s house without  its  headlights  on under the cover of night  and  came  to a quiet stop just a  few hundred feet  off.  Inside the car she shut the car off and spoke into  her  cell. “Yeah, I got it. This is the address you sent.” 

Her brother Bob was on the other end. “You’re going to sit there all night?” 

Next  to  Crystal  Deloris  kept  her  head  down,  paying  attention to the messages on  her own cell.
 
Crystal told Bob, “A guy like this doesn’t work in broad daylight. If he’s  out there now I’ll see him come in. If he’s inside, I’ll see  him leave. Either way works.” 

Bob asked, “Do you see his car?” 

“No. Garage is closed.”

Bob was concerned this may be unwise. “I need you to do  me a favor.” “Don’t ask.” 

He said, “If this guy’s as  unhinged as you think he is, he’s dangerous. Don’t  go prying around the house.” 

Crystal knew what she was doing. Her experience outmatched her brother’s. “Good night, Bob.” 

He knew she was going to do what she wanted. She had always been that way. “Don’t do it, Crystal.”

Crystal ended the call, put away the cell, and settled in  for a long night. She told Deloris, “We need to stay off our phones.”

“Sorry,” Deloris said.  “Just making sure my girls can handle  being alone for a single night.” 

Deloris  finished  her  business,  shut  off  the  cell and  put  it away. For uncounted minutes everything 
was quiet and she hated the quiet. She looked over at Crystal, who was alert and comfortable. She asked, “That’s his house?”

Crystal nodded.

“What do we do?” 

“Watch.” 

Deloris was not satisfied. “Isn’t there something we should do? What if Cybil’s in there?” 

Crystal said, “She’s not in there.” 

“How do you know that?” 

Crystal  pulled  out  her  cell  again and  cued  up  a  video  for  Deloris. She handed it to her and said, “Eastman sent Bob  this. Came across it when the suspect matched Cybil’s description.” 

The  video  on  Crystal’s  cell  was  from  a  security camera.  Deloris  watched  Cybil  in  the  backroom  of  a convenient  store,  pushing  the  fire-door  open  and  running  out. Her eyes watered. 

Crystal said, “He was pretty sure it’s her. That store is in the same area as the restaurant you mentioned. They just haven’t  found her yet.”

Deloris handed the  cell back to Crystal. “Thank you.” 

“She’s clever enough to evade the police,  but she’s established a pattern and that’s dangerous.  The best way to find her is to watch him. He’s smart.  Already figured out the pattern, probably gathered  from social media and  familial experience.” 

Deloris said, “He’ll lead us to  her.” 

“He’s doing the same thing she is,” Crystal said. “Evading the police. But he has no idea about us, doesn’t know  how to plan.” 

“Yeah,” Deloris agreed. Then she sat in silence again, uncomfortable as before. They both watched the house. Deloris said, “Let me ask you something, Crystal. Why do you do this? From what I’ve seen it’s not about money, and  you don’t see many people doing anything that ain’t for money.” 

Crystal countered. “Is  the House of Rahab about money?” 

Deloris said, “Okay, that’s fair. But…" 

Crystal said, “You do what you do because something changed  you, and you want to show  those girls there’s a better way to live.”

“I get that, and I  know it’s not my business…” She indicated Crystal’s prosthetic. “What happened in Palestine?” 

Crystal sighed and remained silent. Deloris saw she had provoked serious emotion. She felt the need to make a connection. “Ya know, me? I was a strung-out whore,  facing every day, hoping  it was my last. I got pregnant more than once, and that’s what really hurt, knowing I was never gonna be a  mother. Then one day, I met someone who cared. See, he paid me  up front, but he  didn’t wanna fuck. I had  guys like that before. They  can’t perform anymore  and all they  want is your  company, just treat them like the man they think they used to be. I thought that’s what this was gonna be. But this guy? This guy took me to church.” 

Crystal looked over  at Deloris and realized she did not mean that phrase in the common vernacular. 

They both chuckled. 

Deloris went on. “I thought, okay,  this is different. This guy wants me to play prim and proper and then take me  home to play house. Hell,  I didn’t care. I got paid,  so whatever. But, nope. He actually took me  to church just to take me to church. And I had never stepped one foot in a church.  And I didn’t have church clothes, ya know? So, yeah, it was different.”

Chuckling turned to laughter. Deloris said, “So afterwards I  kept waiting for all these churchy people to  blast him, call me a dirty skank, give us dirty looks or something. But that didn’t happen. Now,  not  all of them came up and  wanted to be my best friend  or anything, but there were a few who said hello and looked at me like  I was a person.” 

She stopped laughing. The memory now turned sentimental. Deloris turned her  head away and wiped  a tear.
 
Crystal said, “And that meant something.” 

Deloris turned back. “It  still does. After that, all I  wanted was to help every  girl I could get out of  that life.” 

“Why ‘House of Rahab’?” Crystal asked.  

“Oh? The name, you  mean?” 

“Who’s Rahab?” 

“She was a whore in the bible. And, believe it or not, she was one  of the ancestors of Jesus. So I thought, well, if  a whore is worthy enough  to be related to the Son of God… ya know?”
 
Crystal said, “Makes sense.” Then added, “You are a mother.” 

Deloris  looked at her as if to ask, “What do you mean?” 

“Those girls? ‘Your girls’. That’s what you call them. ‘Your girls’. For whatever reasons you’re their mother now.” 

Deloris  shook  her  head,  not  feeling  much  like  a  good  mother. 

Crystal was ready. “My unit was attached to the Sayeret Matkal for the IDF. We were deep behind enemy lines, trying to  pull out hostages. Had intelligence they were being held in a bunker under this  madrasa  –   some kind of school, abandoned. Five of us went in tight, no resistance. Recon  suggested the hostages were tucked in a corner behind a vault door. I had point…” She trailed off, the tragedy ever  fresh. “I gripped the handle of that door, the nose of my IAR straight, and  soon as I pulled back... my arm was ripped from my body. I knew that because when  I came to with the door laying over me, I was staring  at it across the room,  along with the bodies of my  entire unit.” 

Deloris gave her  a moment before speaking. “They killed the hostages just to kill your  unit?”

“Never were any hostages. Our intel was compromised. The operation was  a trap.” 

“Shit. Crystal, I’m so sorry.” 

“That’s the thing.  I’m not sorry. I would still walk down into that bunker. I would still give  my arm  -- I would give my life  –  if there was even a  slight chance I could save a life. I didn’t join the  military to kill. That’s what I want people to know. I  don’t regret a thing. There are people in this world bent on evil, and they have to be stopped.” 

The  garage  door  at  Carl’s  house  slowly  rose and broke their conversation.  Light from within  was cast on the pavement of the driveway.

Crystal  lowers her seat. “Get down.” 

Deloris lowered her  own seat and ducked. 

Carl’s  car  pulled  out  of  the  garage.  Half  way down  the  driveway  it  jerked  to  a  stop.  It  sat  there motionless, running, brake-lights on. The garage door  closed and the car resumed down the driveway. It pulled out into the street and drove  off. 

Crystal  and  Deloris  readjusted  their  seats.  Crystal turned the car over and followed after Carl. “Let’s see what he’s up to, shall we?” 

They drove out of the suburbs for about twenty minutes and into the nearby city. Crystal  and  Deloris  watched  Carl’s  car  pull  into the drive-through  of an all-night fast-food joint called “Burger Girl”, famously locally for never being closed. In fact, since they opened the only day they had ever been closed was for kitchen repairs caused by a grease fire. A banner proudly displayed read: WE NEVER CLOSE.  

Crystal  hung  back,  careful  not  to  be  spotted.  Carl made his  order, picked it up,  paid  for  it,  and  drove  off.  Crystal followed. 

Back at his house Carl pulled into the driveway with the garage  door  opening.  The  car  pulled  into  the  garage  and  the door rolled down behind  it. 

Deloris and Crystal watched the garage door  close. Deloris asked, “What’s he doing?” 

Crystal said, “He made us.” 

“How?” 

“Unfamiliar car parked in the neighborhood,” she said.  “He must’ve seen us before he pulled out. Can’t  let him see us again.” 

“Well, shit. What  now?” 

Crystal  drove her  car  up  to  a  curb  behind another vehicle and shut it off. She said, “Now we wait.” 

Dawn passed. Deloris was asleep, unaware Crystal remained alert watching Carl’s house, which seemed empty. She yawned and looked in the rearview mirror to see a patrol vehicle pull up.  

“Damn it.” 

Deloris stirred in the passenger seat and Crystal nudged her. 

Groggy, Deloris asked, “What is it?”

“Wake up.” 

Deloris turned in the seat to see an officer get out and approach. “Shit. Are we in trouble?” 

Crystal said, “Relax. We’re not doing anything illegal.” 

The cop walked up and Crystal was already rolling the window down. He said, “Good morning.” 

“Morning.” 

“Been sitting here awhile?” 

Crystal said, “We’re waiting on a friend.” 

He nodded. “Yeah. See some I.D. Both of you.” 

Deloris was nervous handing over her ID. She did not like cops. The cop took both their IDs and walked back to his vehicle, where he stepped in behind the wheel. Deloris shook her leg, a nervous habit. 

Crystal spoke calmly. “We’re okay.” 

“Cops don’t like me.” 

“Everyone’s got a past,” Crystal said. “He’s just going to run us off.” 

Deloris and Crystal noticed that the garage door at Carl’s house was opening. Deloris cursed under her breath. “Fuck.” The garage door finished opening and for a few breathless seconds they watched nothing come out. 

A second patrol car arrived, Deloris cursed again. It pulled up next to the first. Both cops stepped out onto the street. Momentarily the first cop walked back to Crystal and returned their IDs. His newly arrived partner walked behind her car and stood at the trunk. 

The cop at her window said, “Here ya go.” Then asked, “Mind opening the trunk?” 

“Sure,” Crystal said, “but let me tell you what’s going on. I’m an investigator, former military. So I’ve got registered firearms back there.” 

The cop at her trunk watched it open and saw that inside were a few handguns and one M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle. His eyes widened. He pulled out his sidearm and walked around to the passenger side.

Crystal made certain her hands were visible on the wheel and said, “Detective Eastman in Missing Persons can confirm. Peter Eastman.” 

The second cop, not yet raising his sidearm, told Deloris, “Get out of the car.” 

Deloris, not shocked but nervous, asked, “What?” 

The cop on Crystal’s side of the car asked his backup, “What’s up?” The second cop gestured toward the trunk. “Take a look.” He walked back to the trunk to see what he thought of as a drug-lord cache of weapons and drew his own sidearm. He ordered crystal. “Out of the car.” 

Deloris and Crystal complied. In the driveway they both saw Carl’s car now slowly pull out of the garage and come to a stop. 

The second cop pulled out his cuffs and shackled Deloris. Deloris sighed, expecting the worst. If this was an arrest the House of Rahab would be closed. She held back angry tears. She looked over at Crystal, who was also being cuffed. 

“I’ve got license and registration,” Crystal said.  

The cop arresting her indicated Deloris and said, “She’s got priors...” He then indicated the IAR and said,“...and that’s an assault weapon.” 

As they were being politely assisted into the first cop’s vehicle Carl’s car pulled out into the street and drove off. Deloris imagined she heard laughter.  


CHAPTER NINE

Cybil rummaged through the trash behind the restaurant where her father Carl abducted Denise, familiar ground for her. She found some partially eaten food and bit into it. She chewed it slowly, and swallowed hard. At her feet was her backpack, which she bent down to open and pull out a nearly empty plastic bottle of water. She observed it, considered, then went back to the trash and searched for what else she could find. She did not notice that at the end of the alley  the front end of her father’s car pulled up. 

When she was finished she took up the water bottle and swallowed what was left.  Behind her Bertha demanded, “What the hell are you doin’, girl?” 

Cybil turned, surprised to see Bertha staring at her. “Christ, Bertha. You’re gonna have to stop sneakin’ up on me like that.”

“I have told you a thousand times already, you ain’t need to dig through trash. We got plenty of kitchens ‘round here, all feedin’ the homeless for free.” 

Cybil breathed a sigh of relief and wandered away from the restaurant, away from the direction of Carl’s car at the opposite end. She said, “I’m not goin’ to a shelter and I’m not goin’ to a kitchen. Ask me a bunch of questions I don’t wanna answer.” 

Bertha said, “Damn, Cybil. Everytime you talk ‘bout someone askin’ you questions you look like you seen God. And not in  the, ‘Oh, praise Jesus!’ sorta way, but the, ‘Holy shit, don’t take me now!’ sorta way.” 

She followed after Cybil, walking down the alley. Both dug through the trash bins of various businesses. 

Cybil said, “God’s got better stuff to do than showin’ up to give me a heart-attack. Unlike someone else I know.” 

“Don’t be too sure. Ever tell you I seen him?” 

Unseen by his daughter, Carl’s car pulled off and out of sight. 

Cybil rolled her eyes at Bertha and continued on to the next bin. She said, “Bertha, you are an index of stories. But, no. You’ve never told me that one.” 

“I ain’t kiddin’ ‘bout this. Got no witnesses, but it’s true.” 

“You seen God? Like, God in the flesh? You could just touch him and feel him?” 

A car that was not Carl’s turned into the alley. It was a far better class than what you’d expect for this side of town. Bertha and Cybil turned away from being seen straight on, careful to remain invisible to the driver. It passed slowly, as if examining them, then pulled out of the alley. When it was out of sight Bertha and Cybil went back in the direction they were walking. 

Bertha said, “You damn right, I seen him in the flesh. I didn’t touch, but he was real.” 

“Yeah, alright.” 

They continued on down another alley, having walked a few blocks. They were walking toward a dilapidated expansive warehouse. Bertha stopped, disturbed, and gazed around to examine the buildings. “Where we at?” 

Graffiti caught her attention. She examined a number of tags. 

Cybil said, “Twenty-second street.” 

“That’s not... something ain’t right.” 

“What did he look like?” 

Bertha has lost her train of thought. “What did who look like?” 

“Really?” Cybil said. “You gonna go all scattered brain on me now?” 

Bertha stepped quick to the back of the abandoned warehouse and searched for an entry. “You interrupted my memory process. I just gotta think a minute. I’ll tell ya.” 

“Take your time.” 

The nice car that passed them before returned at the end of the alley. 

Bertha forced an entry open from the edge of a plywood-covered window. “Come on. In here.” 

“What? Why?” 

“Just come on. We can’t stay out here.” 

Cybil followed Bertha into the abandoned warehouse. Inside was a world of industrial mystery. The two set about exploring but Bertha was tired. She found a good spot to sit and watch the alley. 

“This is good. Right here.” 

From her spot she watched the car drive down the alley, very slow. 

Cybil prompted Bertha to go on with her story. “What did God look like? Long white beard, or glowing eyes like fire?” 

Bertha told the story with her voice lowered, her eyes fixed out the window: “I was asleep, dreamin’ ‘bout eating these fudge popsicles me and my brother used to eat on hot summer days. Musta been a hot night.” 

“Sounds good.” 

“Oh, yeah. I could taste ‘em in my dream. Then I could feel the light. That’s what woke me up. I didn’t see it, I felt it. So I turnt over. We was all sleeping against a wall, seven of us, like this alley here.” 

Cybil watched Bertha closely. She searched her face for signs of deception or senility. Her father was a man of science. Facts are facts and nothing overturns a fact, regardless of desires or beliefs. Her mother had only recently been open to what she called “spiritual alternatives”, if there were a so-called “spirit” at all. All bits of data now. She questioned everything. 

Bertha said, “Didn’t nobody else wakeup. I looked over and saw this big empty box start to rise. But it wasn’t empty at all. There was light, like the light was inflating it. Then inside the box this man took shape. A fully grown man, naked as the day a baby is born, skin all new and shiney.” 

Cybil waited for more data from Bertha. It didn’t come. Bertha kept staring out the window. The car outside in the alley came to a stop just at the back of the abandoned warehouse. Three men climbed out of the car. Two were bodyguards she recognized as Dom and Nico, which only meant what she had been worrying about was now happening. The other man stepping out of the car was a pimp known only as Money,  concerned way too much about his appearance. Bertha swallowed her fear and bowed her head. 

Cybil did not know what was about to happen. She asked, “What else happened, Bertha?” 

Bertha ruffled through her clothes and produced a knife. She whispered, “Shh. I’m afraid I’ll have to finish the story later. Right now, we got company.” 

Cybil took a look out the window herself. “Who is that?” 

“You know all that stuff I been teaching you ‘bout the streets?” 

Cybil nodded. 

Bertha said, “I let you down. Sorry. My scattered brains forgot all about the 18th Street Mafia.” 

“A gang?” 

“Territory from 18th to 34th. And ain’t nobody like you and me welcome. Well, maybe you, but that ain’t no life you want.” 

Down in the alley the two bodyguards were looking for a way into the warehouse. 

Cybil looked through her backpack. She found a small club made from the handle of a broomstick and pulled it out. It wasn’t going to be much help.  

Bertha motioned to the pimp down below. “See that fool down there think he the walkin’ embodiment of perfection?” 

“Is he the gang leader? 

“Nah. Ain’t no real leader. He just they pimp. Calls himself Money. Recruits the girls and collects the cash.” 

Cybil realized the danger they were in, what the pimp had stopped for. “What are we gonna do, Bertha?” 

She stood and said, “I’m gonna go down there, make like I’m outta my head, don’t know where I am. And you’re gonna get the hell outta here.” 

Cybil rejected the plan. “I can’t just leave you—” 

“Cybil, girl, if Money finds you he gonna hurt you, fuck you, and put you to work.” 

“Bertha, there’s gotta be—” 

“Ain’t no other way. Money don’t want me. I’m too old and been fucked ‘til I’m wore out. He gonna look at me and turn right around. But I ain’t gonna let him take a look at you. Now go on.” 

Bertha jumped up and went into her act, making loud noises. Cybil stared at her, uncertain. 

The two bodyguards forced the plywood from off the window. Money could hear Bertha inside. He strode in and ordered Dom and Nico to, “Get in here and get that bitch.” Both climbed in  through the window.  

Bertha was wandering around, mumbling to herself, throwing things around. Somewhere in the shadows Cybil watched, refusing to leave her only friend alone. 

Dom was the first to see her. “Hey! What you doin’ in here?” 

Nico was right behind him. “This 18th street property. You trespassin’.” 

Bertha ignored the bodyguards. She went on ranting, nothing coherent.  

Outside, Carl’s car rolled up next to Money’s much nicer car and came to a stop. He stepped out and quietly closed the car door. 

Behind Dom and Nico Money stood by, careful not to touch anything. 

His bodyguards accosted the apparent out of her mind Bertha. 

Dom might have laughed. He said, “Hey, c’mon. Shut up and get over here.” 

Nico grabbed at her. She took a swing with her knife, just missing him. “Hey!” 

Bertha yelled, “Who the hell are you?!” 

Nico warned her. “Watch it, bitch!” 

Dom now laughed. “She cuttin’, Nico. Look out, man!” 

Nico pulled out a handgun. “Shut up, Dom. Bitch gonna be laid out.” 

Bertha said, “Get away from me. Rape!” 

Nico saod, “Rape? Bitch, who gonna fuck you?” 

Bertha kept on. “Help! Rape!” 

Money had enough of the show. “You two stop playing and get her over here.” 

Bertha swung with the knife. Nico knocked the knife away and sent it carelessly through the air into the shadows. Dom grabbed Bertha and subdued her. He and Nico drug her screaming to Money, who said, “Shut her up.” 

Nico slapped Bertha. Her head recoiled. Dom covered her mouth. 

Cybil squatted down and covered her own mouth, trying not to cry out, watching her friend struggle. 

Money said, “Alright, let her go.” 

Dom released Bertha and Money punched her in the gut. She fell and bent over in agony, gasping. Money leaned down and got a close look at her. he said, “Hold up. Stand her up.” 

They picked Bertha up to stand again. 

Money said, “Bertha?” 

Bertha had a lot of fight in her. “Fuck you!” 

She spat in Money’s face and laughed. Nico smacked her hard. Money, unphased, laughed with her and wiped his face. He said, “Yeah, that’s the bitch I know.” 

Cybil was panicked, breathing hard. It was too late to run now.  

Money interrogated Bertha. “The fuck you doin’ here, Bertha?” 

She lied. “Lookin’ for a fix, Money. Can I get a hit?” 

Money smacked her. Dom and Nico laughed. Bertha spat blood. Money said, “Bitch, you ain’t too old to choke on a dick. Do not make me repeat myself.” 

Bertha tried again. “I’m runnin’ from the damn police. You know they ain’t come down here.” 

Money said, “Oh, you got metro problems? Yeah, I might believe that... if Dom and Nico hadn’t seen you with some new ass just ten minutes ago.” 

Cybil’s eyes reddened. She shook while trying to make her way toward Bertha’s knife without being seen or heard.  

Bertha said, “Shit, Money. You know I don’t need no little bitch tagalong.” 

Nico and Dom laughed. Money shot them a look to shut the fuck up. He looked back at Bertha, serious. He said, “Bertha, do not make me look for her.” 

Bertha struggled against Dom and Nico. “Let me go!” 

Dom grabbed one of Bertha’s arms and twisted it behind her back. She cried out in pain. 

Cybil picked up the knife with quiet hands and pulled it close to herself. 

Money said, “Nico, take a walk. Bring me something pretty.” 

Nico was happy. “Oh, don’t mind if I do.” He took off jogging through the warehouse, his gun before him acting as a guide. Somewhere else in the shadows a figure held a scalpel in hand. Bertha and Money’s voices were heard from a distance in those shadows.  

Bertha said, “You know what, Money? It’s cute you think I’m this stupid.” 

“Yeah, keep on talkin’,” Money said. “You gonna find out how cute I can be.” 

Nico was coming. Cybil was able to see what was happening but she had to be ready for him. And someone else was there. She watched him approach a figure she couldn’t make out. Someone from a rival gang? 

Nico hopped around, excited, nearing the lone figure in the shadows. He taunted his prey. He said, “C’mon, now, sweetie. I had a good look at you out there. You fine. We gonna make you nice and comfortable, get you cleaned up and fed. Won’t nobody hurt you. Just give us a little taste of that sweetness.” 

Nico turned into the shadows with the lone figure standing there, looked at the threat just two feet in front of him. Carl’s face lit up with a smile. Nico said, 

“Who the fuck are—” 

Cybil’s face was struck with the realization her father had found her. 

In one motion Carl stepped forward, grabbed the gun with one hand and swung the scalpel with the other hand at Nico’s throat. Blood spattered in a stream. The helpless bodyguard gripped at his throat and  tried to lash out at Carl. He fell to the floor with a thud, struggled before succumbing and unable to call out to Dom and Money for help. 

Carl looked down as Nico’s eyes stared up into his. He tucked the gun into his pants. 

At the center of the warehouse Bertha, Money and Dom all heard the distant thud. Bertha looked concerned, thinking the worst had happened.  

Dom said, “Sounds like he got her.” 

Bertha couldn’t stand it. “No... No! Cybil!” 

Cybil wasn’t dead. She backed herself into a corner and cried out, alerting the others. That was a mistake. She covered her mouth. 

Money grabbed Bertha by the back of the hair. He told Dom, “Go check it out.” 

Dom ran off in the direction of the thud. 

Bertha fought back. “Fuck you, money. Fuck you!” 

Money smacked Bertha and thew her to the floor. 

“Shut up! Shit. We givin’ her a better life. Show some gratitude. You pissed ‘cause you can’t work anymore? Don’t want someone else doin’ better for they-selves? You just old, bitch. Get over it.” 

Out of sight, Dom called, “Money!” 

Money answered the voice. “What, Dom?” 

Dom stood over the body of Nico lying in a pool of blood. He said, “Nico’s down.” 

Money said, “What?” 

Dom didn’t want to step in the blood. He wanted to get as far from this shit as he could. He said, “Think he dead.” 

Money knew Dom did not react well to blood. He said, “Look, just keep your shit together. Find me that bitch and bring her here. And be careful.” Then he pulled Bertha up by the hair. “I wanna be reasonable, Bertha. I can understand she scared. Maybe think we gonna hurt her. But she young, so I know killin’ my boy Nico was your shit idea.” 

“She’s just a kid,” Bertha said. “She’s scared. Leave her alone.” 

“Nuh-uh. She’s pussy. Pussy is money. And money is my money. Do not use my name in vain, bitch.” 

Bertha screamed, kicked, punched -- whatever she could to get away from Money. It was useless. Money punched her in the ribs and forced her to her knees. He said, “I’m givin’ you one chance to make this right. A life for a life. You give me that little money-makin’ pussy and your debt for the life of Nico is paid in full.” 

Bertha tried to reply but could not gather enough breath to say, “fuck you”. 

“Now call out to her.” He waited but Bertha was quiet. “Do it!” 

Dom was about to pass Cybil, unseen. She panicked, gripped the club and the knife, fumbled with both and dropped the club. Dom whirled and saw Cybil alone in the corner. He tried to speak calmly to her. He said, “I don’t know how you got the drop on Nico, but this ain’t no hide and seek.” 

Cybil held up the knife in hopeful defense. Dom walked unafraid toward her, but slowly. He pulled out a handgun and showed it to her. He said, “I know you ain’t stupid. Drop the—” 

Cybil screamed. She watched her father leap out of the shadows and slash Dom’s throat, spattering blood. The gun was dropped to the floor and a shot rang out. 

Bertha and Money were startled. Bertha took her chance and tore away from Money, running off. She cried out, “Cybil!” 

Money ran after her. “Shit!” He pulled out his own gun and fired at Bertha, sending the bullet into her back and clean through her chest. Bertha didn’t feel it. She ran on toward that little girl. Had to get to her; had to get her outta here; get her to a better life than this shit. But her legs gave out. She collapsed. 

“Cy...bil…” 

Cybil stared at the gun in front of her while Carl eyed the writhing body on the floor. Dom, gurgled on blood, spat, and fought for his last breath of life, reaching upward toward his killer. Carl stood silent until Dom was completely still. Then he stepped over the body and looked at Cybil, who was now standing with the gun fixed on her father. She held it with shaking hands. Carl slipped one foot forward and Cybil threatened with a motion. 

This was not happening how he hoped. Carl said, “Ah, baby girl. You’ve been making friends I see.” 

She did not want to hear his voice, and had only one question. “How did you find me?” 

“That’s it? That’s the question you have for me? No hello, daddy? Glad you found me?” 

He slipped forward again. 

She warned: “Stay away.” 

Money cautiously made his way through the shadows of the warehouse, dodging imagined hazards and calling out with profane threats. 

“Whoever’s in here, that’s yo’ ass, motherfucker. When I find you I own you.” 

Back where she lay Bertha groaned with agony, listening to Money. She crawled and pulled herself up from the floor. Looking down at her chest she saw a great deal of blood flowing out of her. She prayed God would give her just a little more time to kill that motherfucker Money.  

“Where you at, goddammit?!” Money yelled.  

Bertha pushed herself forward into the shadows. “Hold on, Cybil... I’m comin’.” 

Cybil and her father listened to Money. Carl wasn’t worried. He said, “Your mother never moved out of state. I paid a lawyer a little something extra to keep tabs on you. Spent just about everything I ever made. I figured she would’ve at least moved out of the city. When she died—” 

She wasn’t going to listen to his lies. “You killed her!” 

Both Money and Bertha could now close in on them. 

Carl raised his hands as a show of faith and kept them there. He said, “I did not kill your mother. C.P.S. should’ve made it clear that your mother was killed by a city bus.” 

“That’s... A bus? That’s not true. You killed her.” 

He tried to reason with her. “My lawyer showed me the proof. After that, I knew I had to find you.” 

“No." 

“Baby girl, listen—” 

“Don’t call me that!” 

He said, “You’re experiencing a lot of grief, I understand. And I know it may be impossible for you to trust me after what I did to you. But, I’ve recently taken measures to insure nothing like that ever happens again. Took me a few to get it just right, but there won’t be any more problems, I promise you that.” 

The hell was he talking about? “What?”

“You need your father right now, Cybil. All I want to do is take you home and give you a new life. We can start all over.”

Cybil’s eyes narrowed. “You just killed those men. How can I trust anything you say?” 

He said, “Oh, I’m not going to apologize for that. I would kill anyone to protect you.” 

“I can’t—” 

Money stomped in, his gun fixed on Carl. “You the motherfucker killed Dom and Nico?” 

Carl was annoyed.  He turned to see Money coming up behind him. Now there were two guns pointed at him. Cybil did not lower her own.

“Oh, hello,” Carl acknowledged. “Uh, yes. I killed your men. Dom and Nico, apparently.” 

Money wanted what was his. “What’s this shit? Some family drama? You her old man? That’s my bitch now.” 

Carl said, “That is my daughter, yes. And the only thing you are to her is another dead thug.” 

Money knew this fucker was another idiot boasting his white privilege. “Motherfucker, you must have balls made of steel, talk to me that way. Shit. You know what I’m gonna do to her now?” 

Carl and Cybil saw Bertha approaching Money from behind. 

Money demanded an answer. “Huh? I said, you know what I’m gonna do to her?!” 

Carl reserved his annoyance. He answered and said, “I would imagine it is your intention to shoot me, probably in the chest. Then you will rape her and force me to watch as I die.” 

Bertha was breathing hard, closing in. 

Money was absorbed with pride and vengeance. He told Carl, “That’s a good motherfuckin’ idea.” 

“That’s not going to work out for you,” Carl said.  

Money laughed. “Oh, it’s not?” 

“I would caution you to have a look around,” Carl started. “You entered this facility three strong. Yourself and two bodyguards. I easily overcame your partners, leaving yourself unprotected.” 

Money baulked. “Unprotected?” He waved his gun. “What the fuck is this?” 

Carl said matter-of-factly, “That’s the gun I’m going to kill you with.” 

This was now tiresome. Money moved forward, pulled the hammer of the gun back, and— 

SLAM! 

Bertha jumped atop Money and the two grappled against one another. Carl sprung forward at Money while he was entangled, grabbed the gun and twisted it inward towards Money’s head. Money elbowed Bertha in the face, causing her to fall to the floor with a bloodied nose. Carl and Money struggled but Carl had the advantage and  forced the gun close into Money’s face with just a little bit of joy on his own face. Money’s pride vanished. He briefly pleaded. 

BANG! 

The gun went off and echoed through the warehouse like thunder. Gore exploded from the back of Money’s head and his face partially collapsed inward. Carl held Money’s loose body dangling for a moment and then dropped it, where blood flowed out beneath it. Carl observed the gun and then tucked it into his belt with the other gun. 

He looked back to Cybil, who had lowered the gun she held and gazed at him with blank expression, defeated. He said, “A promise made is a promise kept.” 

On the floor Bertha moaned. Cybil broke free of her fear-induced paralysis, dropped the gun altogether, and rushed to her, careful to stay out of her father’s reach.  

“Bertha,” she cried. “I’m so sorry.” 

Bertha looked up, dying, past Cybil, beyond anything earthbound. 

Cybil looked up at her father to beg. “You have to help her.” 

He knew what she was asking.  “She’s pretty bad off.” 

“You’re a doctor.” 

Carl knelt down to examine Bertha. He pulled out a syringe, showed it to Cybil. “I brought this for you.” 

She didn’t know what it was or how to reply. 

He said, “If you cooperate nicely, if you come with me without any problems, I’ll give it to your friend.” 

Cybil agreed to the terms. “Okay, yes. Please. Please, help her.” 

Carl turned his attention to Bertha, who weakly resisted and choked on her own blood. He said, “I want you to know I appreciate you taking care of my daughter, and I don’t want you to suffer.” He injected her with the needle. “I can tell you’ve had an unfortunate life. There’s no reason your death can’t be painless.” 

Cybil yelled at him. “What? No. You’re supposed to help her.” 

“I am helping her.” 

Bertha’s breathing slowed. She looked to Cybil. “I can see... God is with you.” 

Cybil watched until Bertha’s eyes were still, helpless. 

Carl quipped, “That was cryptic. Never know what the dying are going to say.” 

“You said you brought that for me,” Cybil said, tears streaming.  

Carl held up the empty syringe and then tucked it away. “You don’t think I was going to give you this whole thing? No. I just gave her an overdose. I would’ve given you only enough to calm your nerves.” 

He stood up and Cybil backed away, reaching for the gun on the floor. He said, “Oh, come on. We had a deal. And haven’t you seen enough to know guns are not the answer?” He pulled out the two guns under his belt. “See? Look.” He tossed them away, not caring in which direction. Cybil picked up the gun and held it on her father again. 

“Alright,” he said. “Let’s do this. If you’re going to shoot me do it now. But make it efficient and be sure I’m dead. Because I do not want to live without you in my life.” 

Cybil tried to make her finger squeeze the trigger. She thought of letting the gun go but held onto it instead and dropped to the floor. She looked over at poor Bertha and thought of everyone she knew he killed. She thought of her mother. What would she want? 

Carl walked over to her, unafraid of the gun, and said, “It’s alright. You can keep it.” Then he picked up his daughter and carried her away. 

Minutes later a fire was burning inside the warehouse as Carl set blaze to Money’s car. He turned away from it, entered his own car, where Cybil was stoically waiting, gun still gripped tightly in her hand, and drove off down the alley. Behind them the fire grew. 



CHAPTER TEN

Penny sat facing the TV in her pretty princess dungeon prison. She was not who she used to be before waking up to this hell.  Her face showed signs of the anger raging inside as she struggled to control the movements of her body. Through the pain of a lethargic battle she was able to stand. Sweating, crying, she forced herself to tread the long walk toward Carl’s work-station. Each excruciating step of the way she was distracted by the frozen doll-face of Denise. She had to look away, stay focused on her exhausting task. Looking away she collapsed to the floor.

Breathing hard Penny grunted, moaned, yelled, as if each guttural noise she made was a prayer, until she could rise to her knees and -- SLAM – she fell again. 
She observed the distance she traversed was not far. Considering the distance, and in her current weakened state, Penny turned and crawled back the way she came.

From above a distant vibration informed her the dark master of her hell was returning. She looked back at the work-station. She was too slow. It was too far for her to reach. She would not give up, but it was too much for now. 

The garage door opened and Carl’s car pulled in. The car shut off and the garage door closed.

Cybil was holding the gun in her hands, cradling it as a line of salvation. She looked at her father, her rapist, and said, “I’m not giving this to you.”

Carl shrugged. “Wouldn’t think of it.”

He got out of the car, closed the door, and walked to the door leading to the inside of the house. He turned back and saw Cybil had not moved. He said, “You can stay out here if you want, but this is your house too.”

Cybil looked up at him. She glared at her father, sadness becoming hate.  

“Dinner will be ready in an hour,” he said. “How ‘bout lasagna?” Then he opened the door into the house and walked in.

Cybil looked down at the gun. She stared at it in silence for most of the hour before dinner. 

When dinner was ready she thought she must not be acting of her own volition, because she and her father sat at the table across from one another. He was content, not happy, but satisfied she joined him. The meal was delicious but largely devoid of conversation. He was eating what was left of the lasagna on his plate. Cybil had not yet bathed, not even to wash her hands before sitting down. She pushed the food around on her own plate, eyeing the gun sitting on the table in plain view. She could easily take it up again and shoot that fucker in the face. No. First the heart, then the head. Two in the head you know they’re dead. She had seen that in an old movie, she thought. Silly movie but useful advice. What did she know about killing? Only what she had seen. Only what she had most recently seen. So, fuck it. Pick it up and do yourself a favor. Pick it up, goddamnit. Pick it up!

“Not bad for store-bought,” Carl said, finishing off the lasagna. 

Cybil was lost in an internal struggle. She did not reply. He’s talking like everything’s normal. Nothing is normal, you sick fuck. 

“Now your mother, she knew how to cook lasagna.”

He stood and went to work clearing the table. Except for Cybil’s plate he took everything to the sink in the kitchen. She sat, almost shaking from the storm inside, while he washed a few of the dishes. 

Sometimes her eyes darted back and forth to the gun. Carl filled the pots with hot water and then returned to the table.  

 He stood there and said, “I was going to wait until after you ate before I sprang anything new on you, but it seems you don’t have much of an appetite, so
here goes…” He pulled out a chair and took a seat near her. He behaved as if there were no gun there at all. “You remember the bomb shelter? Your mom hated that thing. Your grandfather built it. Not my dad. Your mom’s dad. But she still hated it. He was rather proud of it. Your mother and I never had any use for it so it just sat there, year after year. Empty. Not too long ago I converted it to suit my purposes. So, now I need you to hear me on this.” 

Carl did not know if she was listening or not. “Cybil?”

If she did not reply things could escalate. Cybil managed to put her fork down and look up.

He went on. “The door is secure, so I am not so much worried about it as I am about you. If you should get curious...don’t.”

Cybil knew he wanted some confirmation from her that she wouldn’t go exploring and discover whatever it was he didn’t want her to find. She nodded her understanding.

“Good,” he said, and then stood up to put the chair back under the table. “I’m just trying to be honest with you. I know it’s not convenient to wonder what may be going on down there, but if you have to know just tell me, and I’ll take you down there myself. But, as is, this is for the best. It’s just that... well, it’s rather embarrassing, and I’d rather not have you catch me red-handed.”

Carl searched his daughter’s face, waiting for a reply. “You’re not curious now, are you? It would be perfectly natural.”

He waited. 

Cybil spoke the first words he heard her speak in this house since she and her mother left. “I’ll just... no. I’ll leave you alone down there.”

Carl smacked his hands together. “Excellent! I knew this was going to go well. I’m so proud of you.” He  turned to leave the dining room. “You take your time with finishing dinner. Just sit the dishes in the dishwasher. And I know you’re going to want a shower. Get all that street mess washed off. I took the liberty of getting you some new things for your room. Nothing special. Just linens and bed clothes, some odds and ends. Didn’t know what you’re into now, but tomorrow we’ll go shopping and you can get whatever you want. Anything at all.”

When he was gone she forced herself to pick up the gun. She was shaking. It was a foreign thing to her now but she could not take the chance of leaving it behind and needing it later. 

Behind the locked door of the bathroom Cybil soaked in the bathtub, staring at the gun, which sat atop an empty chair within an arm’s reach. But it was so far away. So, so far away. 

After some time of bathing she climbed out, dried off, dressed in new pajamas, and brushed her teeth at the sink. She wiped the condensation away from the mirror and avoided her own reflection. The girl in the mirror wanted answers. Wanted justice. She brushed her hair and told the girl in the mirror to shut up. 

A distant THUMP grabbed her attention. She didn’t know what it could be, what the hell he could be up to, but she wasn’t going to be caught off guard. She pulled on a robe, swallowed any arguments she was having inside herself, picked up the gun and stuck it into the robe’s pocket, and opened the bathroom door.

Cybil stepped out of the bathroom and looked down the hall, toward the dining room. Directly in front of her was her bedroom, the door open. She peeked in, knowing nothing unfamiliar was there. She walked into the dining room. The table remained as she left it with nothing out of place. She walked into the kitchen, looked around. Dishes were in the sink. The only thing that stood out was evidence that made it look as if her father had made a second dinner.
Just beyond the kitchen was the door leading into the garage and the landing leading down into the basement. She turned to walk out and 

SLAM!

Cybil jumped, startled by a loud noise coming from the direction of the door leading into the garage. She took in a breath and pulled out the gun. She took another breath and walked toward the door. Her footfalls were gentle, slow and careful. When she reached the landing she saw paneling from the wall
had fallen to the floor, and the door that led into the bomb shelter, previously covered by the paneling. It was old but thick and secured. She touched it, quick, and pulled away. 

The padlock was missing.

She looked down into the darkness of the basement. If this was curiosity, what questions did she need answered? If it was brevity, why risk being caught? 

She called down the stairs. “Dad?

With no reply coming out of the basement she stepped closer to the door of the bomb shelter and laid her ear against it. Nothing. Cybil pulled her head away, pressed again. This time she heard the distant music of a demented waltz.

Carl did not hear his daughter calling down to him. He was lost in the ecstasy of another world, free of antiquated laws, dancing with the doll-corpse of Denise. He smiled, enamored in his fantasy. Shadows were cast against the walls by candle-light; shadows that danced across the face of Penny, who watched helpless, angry and shocked. A tray of food sat nearby, half eaten.

______________________________________

Deloris approached Carl’s house with her car’s headlights shut off. She was holding her cell phone to her ear and whispering in it to Crystal. She parked the car a few houses away and shut it off. On the other end of the cell Crystal was saying, “Deloris, whatever it is you think you can do, trust me and don’t.”

Deloris said, “I’m a grown woman, Crystal. I know how to sit in a car.”

“Don’t go anywhere near that house,” Crystal said. “You know he’s dangerous, and the police will—”

“I know he’s dangerous, but I’m not gonna sit on my ass and do nothing.”

“If you don’t want to end up back in jail that’s what—”

Deloris wasn’t going to be detracted. “I’ll talk to you later.” She ended the call and put the cell away. If the city was going to close the House of Rahab it would be a fight, and that would take time. She knew people who could use that time to prevent that from happening, but right now Cybil didn’t have time.    
She got out of the car and casually walked toward Cybil’s prison. If people were going to see her they were going to see someone who belonged there. As there was no fence surrounding Carl’s property Deloris was free to enter. 

In the backyard she found her way to the windows of the house and peered into each. She saw movement but could not make out anything certain.

When backing away from a window a motion detector set off a floodlight. Deloris stumbled, cussed, then made her way out of the light and into the front yard where a motion detector set off another floodlight. She considered running but she had committed to this. She hurried to the nearest window and looked in to see what she had come there for, and knew vindication. Cybil sat on the bed in her room, tucking a gun under her pillow.

All this time the police had it wrong, or just weren’t doing their jobs. Useless! Just as she moved to knock on the window a voice took her from behind.

“Out for an evening stroll?”

Deloris tried to whirl around but Carl grabbed her and injected her in the neck with one of his cocktails. The spirit was in her to fight but Deloris lost consciousness and fell into his arms. Carl pulled her out of the floodlight and into the shadows.

In the operating room Carl carried her body to the operating table and laid her there limp. He rummaged through her belongings, found her cell and her keys. He took apart the cell, removed the battery and destroyed it. Penny watched, wondering how this new victim fit his type. 

Carl took the keys and looked over at her. He said, “I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry. We’re going to get rid of her soon as I get back.”

He ascended up the stairs with a whistle.

The garage door opened and Carl walked out, twirling Deloris’s keys.

________________________________________

In her room music played from a device on Cybil’s nightstand. She sat on the edge of her bed staring down at the pillow where the gun lay beneath. She held a knife against the skin of her forearm and used it to outline previous scars. She drew blood but didn’t feel the pain. 

The bath towel she brought in after her shower lay next to her on the bed. She picked it up and dabbed at the blood. She observed the knife again then sat it on the nightstand, turned off the music and turned out the light.

She was about to lie down and cover up when she heard the garage door opening. She got out of bed and walked to the window. At this angle she could only see her father walking away from the house.

She went back to the bed and reached for the gun but thought better of it. She returned to the window and knelt, believing she had a better chance at not being seen.

Carl had disappeared into the night so she had to wait. And then she heard Deloris’s car start up and she watched it pull up the driveway and out of view into the garage. 

She was stunned. “Deloris?”

The sound of the garage door closing was like the echo of a tomb in Cybil’s ears.


CHAPTER ELEVEN

Deloris was thirteen when she had her first professional experience. Although she had numerous sexual experiences before, mostly going down on a boy, she was still a virgin. The internet made everything easier; information was everywhere, but she came by her knowledge honestly when she ran away and met real prostitutes who taught her what she wanted to know. No amount of discouragement kept her from diving headfirst into the shallow end of the pool. 

You never forget your first, and she never did forget Damon. She got into his car an amateur.  Five dollars for some show and tell, ten dollars for a blowjob. Because she didn’t want to swallow she managed to convince Damon she was too young and inexperienced, and wouldn’t it be better if he fucked her? She negotiated for thirty and climbed on top. Hurt like hell. When he saw her holding back tears she thought she might have ruined it, that he wouldn’t pay her a damn thing. But Damon liked it. His cock seemed to swell bigger inside her and he fucked harder. She told him not to cum inside her, that she would jerk him off, but Damon called her a bitch and told her he was getting his money’s worth. She wanted it to be over so she played the game, pretended to like it and called him daddy. When it was over she made under what he promised, but she was told a solid fifty was a good start and that you always get paid upfront.  She was thirteen.
     
Darkness now gave way to a hazy light above her. Deloris stirred to consciousness and tried to make sense of what she was seeing in front of her. The distorted face of a doll stared at her. She blinked, fought off the effects of the drug. When her vision was clear she realized the doll staring blankly at her was a girl. A very real, very dead girl, who looked a lot like Cybil!

Deloris tried to move away from the horror in front of her but was chained to a chair. She struggled, turning to see another Cybil-doll, looking at her with blinking eyes. Alive!

Across from her, Penny moved her mouth, trying to form the words of a warning that came too late. 
Deloris had seen a lot of shit in her years both on and off the streets. She knew first-hand how depraved and monstrous people could be. When she met Cybil and her mother she was told very little about Carl. The fact he raped his daughter was monstrous enough. But this world that was Cybil’s was a surreal tragedy she could not have imagined. She observed her surroundings: the child’s room, the operating room, and decided, “This is some sick shit.”

“I wouldn’t be too quick to judge if I were you,” Carl said from behind. 

He must enjoy sneaking up on people.

Carl moved into her field of view, looking down at her, and said, “You’re in no position.”

Deloris cut through his bullshit act. She wasn’t going to let him intimidate her and she wasn’t going to play his game. “Where’s Cybil?”

This one was different. Maybe it was her maturity that set her apart from the girls who begged for their lives. It’s the first thing they do when they regain consciousness, everyone of them. This one has been through the fire. Might be fun to break her. He raised his eyebrows. “My daughter?”

“What is all this?” she asked. “What have you done with Cybil?”

Carl let Deloris squirm momentarily. He brought a hand up to the face of the Cybil-doll and ran his fingers across it like it was porcelain. He thought she was about to demand to be released. Instead she shouted at him. 

“Where’s Cybil?!”

That was surprising, and it gave him a read on her character. She was the self-righteous sort, here to emancipate Cybil from an imagined prison. His daughter was here of her own freewill. This Deloris needed to be set straight. First she had to calm down. 

He said, “I’m ready to converse whenever you are. Or would you rather continue spinning your wheels?”

“Asshole.”

Self-righteous and charming. 

Carl took a domineering posture. He faced Deloris and crossed his arms. “I’ve got all night.”

Deloris had to play this game after all. But she didn’t have to play it his way. And this wasn’t going to be anything like telling a client what they wanted to hear so they would finish and go away. She forced herself to calm down. She sat up in the chair and let the chains relax around her. 

“Seems you have something on your mind.”

“Thought I’d give you a minute to settle in,” he said. 

Deloris let him enjoy the power he was feeling over her. She recognized he did in fact have a degree of power over her. She wasn’t stupid. But she knew positions of power changed and she couldn’t give him a reason to kill her before she figured out a way to get to Cybil. She hoped Crystal was worried enough out there to come charging in like the special forces vet she was. For the time-being she had to keep this crazy-as-shit, and very dangerous, weirdo entertained.   

Carl pulled out an empty syringe and held it up for Deloris. He said, “Your sneaking around cost me. These cocktails aren’t easy to come by.” He walked over to a Biohazard waste can and dropped the syringe into it. “Normally I would’ve given you a dose strong enough to paralyze you for a few
hours, but I was running low. Time to restock.” He walked back and circled Deloris. “I really need to thank you,”

Deloris said, “Oh?”

“You are Deloris, right? The do-good whore who takes in strays? Yes, you are. Well, thank you, Deloris, for taking care of my wayward wife and daughter while I was elsewhere and otherwise occupied.”

Some bullshit she just couldn’t swallow. She turned her head to look into Carl’s eyes. She said, “Pedophile.”

“What’s that?”

“The state put you away for the rape of your child, Carl. You’re a pedophile. I hope your cellmates were kind to you. Were they, Carl?”

Carl pulled away and sighed. “You’re not wrong.” He took the face of the Cybil-doll into his hands. “I mean, have a look around. I’m as sick as they come. This one? Well this one had a few blemishes, tattoos, like yourself, so she wasn’t good enough to suit my needs.” He pushed away from the Cybil-doll and it fell to the floor with the weight of a sack of dried out potatoes. He rushed over to Penny. When he grabbed her by the face she cried out. “But this one? Well this is Penny, and Penny is perfection. Penny Perfect. Perfect Penny. And she tastes…” He stuck his tongue out as a vile instrument to lick her neck and face. “...like a delicacy.”

Deloris saw the truth. “You’re using her for...?” She could not speak the words. 

“That’s alright,” Carl assured her. “You can say it. Go ahead. Say it.”

The words were there in her mouth, but if she spoke them her own sanity was threatened.

“See, I learned something when I was caught.” He was about to preach. “Society, no matter how evolved we are intellectually, will not accept its lower base instincts. Oh, sure. We’re okay with just about anything where food is concerned. Although, I do think that within a hundred years we’ll all be tofu-eating vegetarians. If you can call that eating. But sex on the other hand! No, that’s taboo. It’s too disturbing to think about, much less allow.” He forced Penny up to her feet. He stood behind her and caressed her body. “Did you know that in ancient Rome it was not uncommon for a father to teach his daughter the ways of love?”

Deloris could no longer play the game. “Stop it.”

Carl continued, disregarding Penny’s tearful and silent pleas. Deloris recognized now that something must have been done to her that altered her nature. This poor girl was incapable of resisting. He picked her up and carried her to the bed where he exposed her breasts.

Deloris struggled. “Stop that, you sick fuck!”

Carl jumped up at her exclamation. “Sick fuck? Me?” 

He unzipped his pants and dropped them. “Don’t mind if I do.”

Carl jumped back atop Penny, pulled her panties down beneath the doll dress and spread her legs. He rubbed her pubis as if it excited and stimulated her for penetration. She screamed when he entered her. 

He thrust hard and fast.

As terrible a thought it was Deloris hoped the girl was not a virgin. At the very least it may minimize the girl’s trauma. Or maybe having been surgically altered she may not remember the rape. She was back in that car, that first car with Damon, hoping he was so turned on he would hurry up and nut. Here, all she could do was hate him and fight in her chains. 

“Stop!” 

Laying there helpless as her captor raped her Penny looked to Deloris with pain-filled eyes. Deloris wept. It was too much to watch. She looked down and away. But nowhere she turned was safe. Nearby was the face of the Cybil-doll, once a living girl. She had to give the victim some sign of hope. She had to understand this pain was temporary. Somehow Deloris would find a way to avenge her. She swallowed her fear and turned back to show Penny her face. She locked eyes with her, and whispered, “Go somewhere else, baby. Pray. Just pray.” 

And she believed Our Lord was there. When she was a little girl she watched a live stream of a terrorist attack. Injured people were running covered in dirt and blood. The scene she remembered the most was of a desperate woman crying, “Where is God?” 

Another victim walked into frame, their faith not hindered by this act of evil, and said, “God is with the dying.” She believed that now.

And she was going to find a way to make sure that evil sick fuck here would never do this again.     

Both victim and witness closed their eyes.


CHAPTER TWELVE

Crystal pulled up to the curb out front of Carl’s house in a different car than her own. She put the car in park and shut it off.  She stepped out in a hurry, went to the back and opened the trunk. Inside was a small handgun case. Crystal opened the case. Inside was a Makarov PM with a clip of 9x18mm ammo that had not been temporarily confiscated by the police. They had no legal right to do so but worrying about the law was not going to help now. She pulled it out, slid the magazine in, and then threw the case back into the trunk and tried to close it. Her prosthetic arm caught on a latch and she pulled hard, almost ripping it off. She centered herself to take control, then she released the latch and her arm came loose.  

Of the norm she would not be this careless, but their hurdles with the police had rattled Deloris and she wasn’t in the right frame of mind for waiting. In the field you rely on intel. Going in blind is a surefire way of ending up dead. She had no idea if Deloris was dead, much less the kid she was going after. Probably both were dead. But she knew if Deloris had any chance of surviving this recklessness she had no time for intel and planning. As for the law, she would have to deal with that later, because this time she was about to break a few. 
 
Cybil was sitting on the floor next to the window, holding that instrument of protection and death close and crying. She shook her head at the implications, wondering what her mother must think of her, then looked up. She prayed to a God she didn’t know existed or not. That was always a point of contention with her mother.  In doing so she looked out the window and saw movement. She knew Deloris was already here, trapped somewhere inside her father’s dungeon. He was going to kill her.  

_________________________

Crystal was approaching. Her Makarov was not exposed. Cybil watched her silhouette disappear at the side of the house. She bowed her head, breathed in heavy to gather courage, then jumped up and rushed to the garage. She flipped both the light switch and the switch that opened the garage door. She held the gun at her side and when the slow opening door was wide enough she ran out into the driveway. She looked around, not moving far from the garage.  

“Hey,” she called out, just above a whisper and uncertain. “Hello? Hello?”

She waited for a voice to respond, then called out again. “Are you here for Deloris? She’s my friend. I need your help. Please! She needs your help.”

Crystal walked out of the darkness and into the light of the garage.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Carl’s fantasies were of Cybil. He could never control himself at that age when she started to sexually mature. Her breasts were plump and full, her body fresh and soft. When she hugged him the fragrance of her hair enticed his senses and overthrew his rationale. He held her longer each hug, and every time he swelled with anticipation of intercourse. He remembered now the first time he penetrated her, how she moved beneath him. The logical thinking doctor side of him knew she was resisting, knew this was rape, but the demon was too hungry and needed to be fed. Her fighting with each thrust made it exciting, too powerful for a man to overcome, and this pleased the demon. He resolved that the doctor and the demon would have to find a way to coexist. Penny wasn’t his daughter; a surrogate victim fed to the demon would only keep it at bay for so long. In the meantime the fantasy would suffice. 
      
Carl climaxed and exploded inside Penny. He grunted, panted, and collapsed, leaving her bare, used and discarded. 

Her ears rang from the trauma. Deloris opened her eyes, still crying, her throat hoarse from screaming. She watched Carl climb off Penny and pull up his pants. His violent passion satisfied, he now turned fatherly, with sensitive movement redressing her. 

He looked back at Deloris, who said, “My promise to God... I will kill you.”

He was not used to having someone in her position make a threat with such conviction. They pleaded for their lives in a variety of ways; lots of tears, maybe a threat about friends, family, and police. Those types of threats were always pretentious. This was sincere. 

He said, “Going to be hard to do. Don’t you think?”

He expected that given this reality she would fold. 

Deloris was resolute. “Even in these chains you can’t stop me.”

Carl laughed. “Now that is a declaration if ever I’ve heard one.” He pulled Penny out of the bed and carried her toward the operating table. She moaned, fearful of the next trauma. “Calm down now."

Deloris asked, “What are you doing? What are you doing to her? Haven’t you done enough?”

“You’re in the skin trade, Deloris. You know what that was about. That was about power.”

Carl lay Penny on the operating table where she struggled to move against him while he carefully removed the clothing he had just redressed her in. 

When she was entirely naked he said, “As in, I have all the power. You are helpless. She is helpless. You are both subject to my discretion.”

Penny was trying to form a sentence. The words evaded her. 

Deloris said, “What’s wrong with her? What did you... why is she like that?”

Carl walked over to the sink and prepared a bucket of warm water. “I made her docile. She wasn’t so cooperative before. It was a process, like anything else. The others before her didn’t work out.” He motioned to the floor where the Cybil-doll lay near Deloris. “Like that one.”

“Others? How many others?”

Carl thought about it, then thought again. Maybe he didn’t know the answer. Or, like many of the clients she had serviced, he was boasting. He said, “Doctor patient privilege.” He carried the bucket to the operating table and applied the sponge to Penny’s naked body.

_______________________

In the driveway Cybil was relieved to see Crystal. She said, “I don’t know who you are but thank you.”

Crystal needed to establish trust. She spoke with an authority, and said, “Hello, Cybil.” 

“You know me?"

Crystal was stepping toward her, aware of the gun in Cybil’s hand. “I’m a friend of Deloris. We’ve been looking for you. How long have you been here?”

It hadn’t been that long since she saw her father kill Bertha, but she couldn’t be sure if she had sat at the dinner table with him earlier tonight or if that was the night before. Where was the sun? Had she seen the sun come up? “Not long... Just…” It was all too fuzzy, and right now too unimportant. “You have to
help Deloris. He’s going to kill her, I know he is.”

Cybil ran back into the garage and Crystal followed her in. She removed her sidearm, careful not to alarm Cybil. She remained aware of Cybil’s gun and needed to get it away from her. Poor girl looked like she had been holding it so long it was part of her arm, an arm on which Crystal saw blood from the fresh cut of a knife. 

“Where’d you get the gun, sweetie?”

“Are you a cop?” Cybil did not see a badge or ID that would make her think Crystal was. She knew Deloris had a past with the police and maybe a little of that distrust rubbed off on her. But this woman spoke like she knew how to give orders. “I mean, I never saw a cop with a fake arm.” 

“Forget it,” she said. “My name’s Crystal. I’m here to help.” She pointed out the cut. “You alright? Are you hurt?”

Cybil kept on leading the way. “I’m fine. She doesn’t have much time. He’s already killed Bertha.”

At that Crystal knew the situation was worse than what she hoped for. She had to get to Deloris but she had to secure Cybil first. “It’s alright. Why don’t you give me the gun?”

Cybil pulled the gun in closer to herself, refusing. 

Crystal did not push it. There wasn’t time. Instead, she ordered: “Tell me where they are, and then hide and call the police.” 

Cybil’s eyes were puffy. “I can show you,” she said, and turned. Crystal used a light touch and pulled her back. She used positive reinforcement and said, “Cybil, you’re doing a great job. But if I’m going to help Deloris I need your help. You’re going to hide and call the police. Understand?”
 
She nodded. “Yeah.”

“Let’s go,” Crystal said, and opened the door into the house, brandishing her sidearm in a forward defensive position with Cybil safely behind her.

_____________________

Deloris struggled against her chains as Carl lay Penny back in her bed and covered her up. She had been cleaned and made to look like a perfect doll again, with a tear rolling down her pristine cheek that Carl wiped away. He whispered to her. “It’s alright, baby girl. You’ll get some sleep and everything will be so much better when the sun comes up.”

Deloris challenged him. “Can you really be this full of shit?”

Carl tucked Penny in and then got up and walked toward Deloris. “It’s a fantasy, Deloris. You can appreciate that. Can’t you? How many fantasies have you sold?”

“You just love hearing yourself talk. Don’t you?”

He smiled. “I am the smartest man in the room.”

Deloris was not going to humor him. “You can tell yourself whatever it takes to deal with your shit, but at the end of the day you’re just a man raping children.”

Carl bent down and got in her face. “I need a surrogate. I can’t rape my own daughter. It hurt her, and I won’t let that—”

Deloris laughed. “Surrogate? You think I don’t know what the fantasy is? How many cheating husbands paid me to call them ‘daddy’? ‘Oh, daddy. Fuck me, daddy!’ And every one of them came faster and harder the more I made them believe I was the little girl they wanted me to be. The only difference between them and you is they had enough sense to fuck me and not their daughters.”

Carl went to his work station. Along the way he stepped over the discarded body of the Cybil-doll as if it was not there. 

“Kind of making my point,” he said. “But, speaking of fantasies, I had this idea that since you were already so good at playing pretend mother to my baby girl, I’d give you the chance to fill that role on a permanent basis.” He took up a handgun and walked back over to Deloris, again stepping over the Cybil-doll. “How old are you, Deloris? Thirty? Thirty-five? All those years on the streets took its toll. They were hard on you.”

“Fuck you.”

“Still,” he went on.  “you’re an attractive woman. Nowhere near as attractive as Cybil’s real mother, but you’ll do.”

Carl only looked at Deloris, waiting for her to pick up on what he was getting at. 

Deloris said, “What? Do to me what you did to her? Make me another one of your dolls?”

Carl glided back over to Penny’s bed. “Not for me. My needs are already met, as I’ve demonstrated.” He sat next to Penny on the edge of the bed. He stroked her hair, and said, “My baby girl needs a mother.”

“That’s your fantasy?” Deloris asked. “You go to work, come home, fuck your little girl while mommy watches – one big happy family?”

“I was thinking about it before.” He lifted the gun and pointed it at Deloris. He stood and walked toward her. “Then you made your promise to God. Quite a promise, I have to say. And I have learned that when a woman makes a promise it’s best not to take any chances.”

Deloris did not blink. “So now you’re gonna kill me?”

He stopped in front of Deloris and leveled the gun to her head. “I am.”

Another voice entered his sanctuary. “No you’re not.”

Carl looked up to see Crystal with a very professional looking weapon trained on him. Unlike the thugs he killed, and despite the prosthetic, she looked like she knew what she was doing. A new pawn was on the board. Game time. 


CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Upstairs in the kitchen Cybil walked in from the hallway, holding a cell in one hand and the gun in the other. She locked eyes on the passageway leading to the bomb shelter door. She brought the cell up and looked at it, pondering, breathing nervous. She continued walking toward the bomb shelter, slow, then stopped. She tapped the digits 9-1-1 into her cell and considered this action but had no idea why she needed to think it over. She hit the green icon and  brought the cell up to her ear and kept moving forward.

A voice on the other end responded. “9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

Cybil pulled the cell away from her face and ended the call. “Shit.”

She sat the cell down on the countertop near the refrigerator and continued forward until she stood directly in front of the bomb shelter door. She pulled the gun up, bowed her head and closed her eyes. 

“Bertha.”

She put her hand on the door.


_____________________


Carl knew she bade him not to move, to assume the existence of a statue, and for a brief moment wondered why he had no sense of fear and only wanted to play. But demons have no fear. Demons eat fear and loathing. And this new face he had spied previously with Deloris in that parked car that later followed him. 

He greeted her: “Ah, there you are. My prisoner’s cohort.”

He lay the gun down at his feet then brought his hands up, mocking his surrender. 

On the bed Penny was moving, excited at the possibility of a rescue. or was it a warning? 

Deloris looked at Crystal. “Thank God. Where the hell have you been?” 

Carl wore a look of oh, shucks. He said, “Calm down, Penny. The one-armed pirate is only here to rescue Deloris. Gee, I’m a smart guy. Why didn’t I install a digital lock on that door?”

Crystal held up a set of keys that Carl left unattended somewhere. “Maybe you’re not as smart as you think.” She tossed the keys to Carl and said, “Release her.”

Carl took the keys and did as he was told, using the keys to unlock the chains and set Deloris free. “Looks like I’m in trouble.”

Crystal looked all around, her sidearm locked on Carl,  and took in the terror of the operating room. “What the hell’s going on here?”

Deloris threw the chains off and kicked Carl in the chest. He fell away and she ran, stepping over his gun, thinking she could pick it up later when he was chained like she was and Crystal was holding her gun on him. She ran to join Crystal at her side, and said,  “He’s been kidnapping girls. The ones he hasn’t killed he’s been raping. Likes to pretend they’re Cybil. His own daughter.”

Carl got to his feet with his arms raised, then lowered and crossed them. 

Deloris went over to Penny to help her out of the bed and comfort her.

Crystal stared Carl in his cold eyes and asked, “You’re using girls as sex dolls?”

“Oh, that?” he said.  “Well, yes. I’ve been told recently I’m rather sick. But, ya know? The two of you are trespassing. Not to mention breaking and entering. I’d be perfectly within my rights to defend myself.”

“Sit down,” Crystal ordered him, and he did so in the chair Deloris vacated. 

As Deloris was tending to Penny. Crystal had to think of how she was going to handle this. The first thing to do was to call the police. She knew that upstairs Cybil had done that, so all she needed to do was detain him. But Cybil now took her by surprise. 

“Please don’t hurt him.”

She took them all by surprise.

The room turned to see Cybil coming down the stairs, gun in hand. Her face was red with confusion and concern. 

With Crystal’s attention elsewhere Carl leapt forward, knocking the Makarov out of her hand. The gun went sliding across the floor. It collided with Carl’s gun--the one Deloris had neglected to pick up and take out of his reach when she had the chance. 

The Makarov continued across the floor until it stopped at Deloris’s feet. Thank God! She pushed Penny so that she stood in harm’s way in front of her. Then she knelt down and picked it up. Carl’s gun slid under Penny’s bed and rested there against the wall.

Deloris had zero experience with a gun on this end. She had experience with guns being pointed at her--loads of experience, but she was never the one pointing the gun. She watched as Crystal and Carl were locked together and didn’t know what to do with the Makarov. Crystal was the veteran, she should be able to handle him, but she was an amputee and the doctor knew where to
attack. 

He pulled at the prosthetic arm and held on. Crystal forced him backwards to crash into the operating table. As she flipped his body over the table he let go of her prosthetic and his legs smashed into the bright overhead light, shattering it and sending shards of debris everywhere, cutting the flesh of everyone it flew across. Electrical sparks ignited and ozone filled the air. 

Cybil was crying. 

Deloris kept Penny close and wrestled with where to point the Makarov and how to make a threat with it that would put an end to the fight. But, really, she wanted to see Crystal whup this guy’s ass.  

Carl rebounded but Crystal countered, throwing him away from her with one very good special forces arm. But she had neglected to protect the other arm. She cried out as the artificial limb was yanked away with Carl, who now tumbled and crashed into Deloris, knocking Penny out of the way back onto the opposite side of the bed. 

Penny could see Carl’s gun against the wall.

Carl moved on Deloris to take the Makarov away from her. He either did not care about the threat she made to kill him or was calling her bluff. Regardless, she did not shoot him. She meant to keep her promise. She meant to see him dead. But Cybil stood just a few feet away.

No time to think.  

Carl smacked her. Deloris tore into him, screaming, punching and kicking. She may not kill him but she’d be damned if he was going to kill her.  

Carl knew he had seconds before Crystal intervened to overcome him. He punched Deloris in the face. She fell away from him with a bloodied face for not the first time in her life. He caught her by the hair and turned her to face the oncoming threat of Crystal. Instead of pointing her own gun at her he used it to smack Deloris in the face. She fell limp, almost unconscious, blood coming from her mouth and from a gash above her eye.  

Crystal stopped in her tracks.

His daughter stood frozen at the bottom of the stairs, the gun at her side. Thanks to her he had the upper hand again. 

He said, “Now this is better.”

Cybil looked at the body of the macabre Cybil-doll lying dead. She looked at Penny, lying helpless, crying. She looked at her father gripping onto Deloris like a shield. 

She said, “Dad, what are you doing?”

“Oh, Cybil,” Carl said. “Baby girl, I am so sorry you had to see this. But I did try to warn you.”

She felt out of breath, like she would pass out. “Warn me? About... this?”

Crystal wasn’t moving. Deloris was still limp. 

“Yeah, it’s pretty bad. How do you warn someone their dad is a psychotic pervert? But if you think about it, I’m doing this for you.”

Deloris squirmed in his arms. She was back. Or she hadn’t been out at all and heard everything. 

“Doing this for her? Cybil, listen to me.”

Carl told her to “Shut up” and you never tell Deloris to shut up. He pressed the Makarov against her head but she went on. 

“This is going to be alright, I promise.”

Again this annoying whore made him laugh. “You’re promising her now? You couldn’t keep your promise to your god to kill me. How the hell can you promise anything?”

Crystal stepped backwards, putting herself in front of Cybil, wanting to diffuse the situation. 

“Let’s just all take a breath. There’s been enough killing. I’m sure we can agree about that.”

“Sweetie,” Deloris said to Cybil. “I know this looks hopeless. But remember what your mom used to say? She was so smart. She taught me a lot. She used to say, ‘Where there’s life there’s hope.’”

Carl saw something on his daughter’s face. Maybe it was hope. 

“You can’t seem to follow instructions, Deloris. Keep on talking and there’s going to be a price.”

Crystal got closer to Cybil.

Deloris said, “Now I need you to do something very hard for me.”

On the bed, and unobserved, Penny was trying to reach for the gun in front of her.

Carl said, “Keep talking” and she did. 

“I need you to raise that gun and aim it at your father.”

Cybil looked down at the gun. Maybe she had been holding onto it so long she forgot it was there. And it was there. Still. She looked at Crystal, who nodded at her in encouragement to lift her arm and point at her father. 

Crystal said, “Do it.”

“Aim a gun at her father?” Carl asked Deloris. “You know I’m going to kill you, right?”

The gun at the end of her arm was heavy but Cybil lifted it up and out in front of her. It was so heavy and dangerous. But words can be as dangerous. Some words can kill. 

“You were in my room that night. Told me how pretty I was. You touched me... there. Said no one was ever supposed to touch me there.” 

Cybil walked forward, gun ahead of her, each step a killing-word. 

Crystal matched the pace. 

“You held me down, spread my legs. You said I was special... You fucking raped me and said I was special!”

Deloris had ministered to many girls, heard numerous accounts of rape. This was so close to home. “Oh, sweetie.”

The demon-doctor was cracking. “Cybil, baby girl, I—”

She yelled. “I said don’t call me that!”

“Look,” Carl said. “I know I said you could keep the gun, but it’s making me nervous now. I’m going to need you to sit it down.”

Both Cybil and Crystal were now standing directly in front of Carl and Deloris. On the bed, her shoulder wedged against the wall, Penny reached the gun and tried to pull it up.

“You killed mom,” Cybil said, and added, “You killed my mother!”

“I did not kill your mother, I told you that.”

If her father kept on using her as an excuse how many more would he kill?  

“You killed Bertha. I was right there, and I didn’t do anything. Oh, god. Why didn’t I do anything?”

“You were in shock,” he said.  “It’s very common.”

Crystal damned herself for going in blind. There was no way this was going to end without someone… 

But she could minimize the cost. She said, “You can do something now, Cybil.”

Deloris said, “Sweetie, I don’t want you to have to bear the burden. Give the gun to Crystal.”

“You girls really are something,” Carl said. “You want to see someone get shot?”

Carl was in motion. Crystal had to act. She pulled the gun away from Cybil and turned. Before she could fire Carl had pulled the Makarov away from Deloris’s face. He pulled the trigger. 

The bullet entered Crystal’s neck, blood spattering profusely across the room and onto Cybil. Crystal fell to the floor, clutching at her throat.

“Crystal!” Deloris cried, still pinned in Carl’s arms. 

“There,” Carl said. “Someone’s been shot.” He leaned into Deloris’s ear. “I did tell you there would be a price.”

Cybil was shaking, looking down at the blood covering her. On the floor, where Crystal lay gasping, the light in her eyes dimming, a pool of blood surrounded her. It would not stop. 

He would never stop. 

Deloris reached out for Crystal, struggling against Carl. She broke free or was let go. It didn’t matter. By his laughter she figured he let her go, maybe just to shoot her in the back. She reached Crystal and tried to remain calm. She took off her blouse and wadded it up to apply it to the wound. 

“Tell me what to do,” she said. 

The veteran’s mouth moved but nothing came out. 

“Crystal, stay with me. You have to tell me what to do.”   

“All these people,” Cybil said. “You won’t stop. Will you?”

“How else did you think this was going to turn out?” he asked her. “You didn’t think I was going to let these people leave here alive?”

People were dying because of her. “This isn’t right. The world’s not supposed to be this way.” She reached out to her father, grabbed him with her free hand. She pulled the hand holding the gun at him back to herself, into her abdomen. “You can’t just kill people because of me. I won’t let you.”

Her face was pale white. He knew she was serious. He had twisted her that way. Without letting the Makarov go he took hold of the gun in her hand. He said, “Stop it.”

“I won’t let you!”

Deloris had to leave Crystal. She was up without Cybil knowing she was pulling her away from her father. 

“Come on, sweetie. Let him go.”

They were entwined. He was stronger. He could overpower her, but if Carl made the wrong move his daughter could--

BANG!

Carl’s body spun away from Deloris and Cybil. He looked down to see he had been shot in the shoulder. 

All three in the struggle looked back at the bed to see Penny holding the gun, shaking, and preparing to fire again.

Carl was relieved Cybil had not shot herself in the gut. There wouldn’t be much he could do for her, not even as a surgeon, and it was a painful way to die. But he was surprised at who had shot him. 

“Penny?”

Deloris pulled Cybil into herself, protecting her, as Penny fired again. Carl spiraled into the embalming tank. Penny kept on firing into Carl’s body, unloading the gun and filling him with bullets. 

The tank was ripped open and fluid spilled out. Carl fell to the floor against the tank, embalming fluid flowing over him. 

He reached outward with the Makarov, breathed in heavy, trying to speak. The words were labored. 

“Penny…, I shall have to… teach you…” 

It hung there. It stretched out for Penny. 

Cybil, Deloris and Penny watched it fall to the floor and his body slump. His eyes stared out, contemptuous, his face unrepentant. 

Penny fell back. She brought her hands to her stomach, then rocked back and forth, an empty cradle for her child. She wept with loud sobs. And then she opened her mouth and--

Before Deloris could get to her Penny’s traumatized doll-face was relieved. She looked at her with silent pity. She didn’t know the girl, couldn’t know what her life was like before; had no idea Carl killed the mother she wanted to be when he killed her child. She would never know if taking her own life would be judged a sin in the After Life, but she did know the poor girl preferred it. And she respected her choice. 

Crystal’s need for help pulled Deloris away. She bent down to Crystal, who was just holding on. Deloris’s blouse was soaked and the blood had not stopped. Crystal was a sheet of white. 

Deloris said, “We have to call for help.”

Cybil was a statue. She was still very much in shock. 

Deloris searched her body to find her cell. She was moving too slow. Everything was too slow. She found it. There was no signal. 

Crystal reached out and took Deloris’s hand. Both knew it was too late. She was trying to speak. Deloris leaned in. Her words burned in her ear. 

“You’re her mother now…”

Above the operating table a spark from the damaged light leapt out to connect with the embalming fluid that was pouring over Carl’s body and across the floor. It ignited and a fire spread. They had to get out. 

Deloris shook Cybil. “Sweetie, come back to me. We’re getting out of here.”

Cybil mumbbled. All of her words were incoherent, except for “fire”. 

“Let’s go,” Deloris said, and took Cybil by the waist. 

She negotiated their way through the fire. They had to step over Denise, whose doll clothing was already burning. They avoided Crystal’s altogether, but at the stairs Deloris looked back. 

“I am so, so sorry.”   

Cybil was coming back to her. She said, “We shouldn’t leave them.”

Deloris pulled forward up the stairs. “We can’t stay. Come on.”

“We can’t leave,” Cybil said. “They died--they all died because of me.”  

The fire, a chemical fire, grew fast. The girls started to cough. 

Deloris said, “No one died for you, sweetie.” 

“No,” she said. “They didn’t die for me, Deloris. They died because of me. And all I had to do was--” 

“Goddamnit!” Deloris cried. “I am not gonna let you blame yourself because you were raped and groomed by an evil sonofabitch!” 

Cybil knew she was right. But looking at Crystal’s body gave her the need to at least try and make it right. It wouldn’t be enough to pull her body out of the fire but she had to do something. 

She said, “We can come back. We have to. Her family--”

“Cybil,” Deloris coughed. “Crystal is gone… and we’re not gonna waste her sacrifice.” She coughed more, thinking they were breathing in toxins. “Now get your ass in gear, because I am not gonna lose you too.” 

It was work but they were out. Behind them the operating room was consumed. Carl’s face relished his end, while the flames burned away his condescension.

Outside the house a police vehicle had already arrived, responding to the 9-1-1 call Cybil hung up on. The officer was speaking to dispatch when the girls came out. He jumped out of the car, put his hand on his sidearm, and ran to their assistance. Fire was blazing behind them and he pulled them to a safe distance. Then he got on the radio to dispatch and requested emergency services.   

Deloris held Cybil, watching the house disappear, eaten alive by flames. 

Cybil broke away and dropped to her knees. She moaned. Moaning became weeping; weeping became gut-wrenching, angry, horrified screaming.

“I hate you. I hate you! I fucking hate you!”

Deloris let her scream. 


...



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