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"Mazie." I resisted the urge to fidget.
"Mazie." She practically tasted the name, like a foreign food you try, then discreetly spit into your napkin. "That's . . . different. And you're from-where was it again?"
"Quail Hollow. Over in the southwestern corner of the state, near the Mississippi?"
"Oh, yes. Kip tells me your people owned land there?"
"Just a dairy farm."
"A farm! That's so very all-American."
I didn't know until later that Vanessa's fact-finding foray was phony; she'd already found out everything about me, having hired a private detective firm to track down every last detail about my life, including the boys I'd dated in college.
But Vanessa would no more have admitted to invading my privacy than she would have admitted to using a less than fifteen hundred thread count for her sheets. No, we had to go through this bizarre catechism, Vanessa peppering me with questions designed to point out the fact that I had no right to breathe the same rarified air as herself and her son.
"So tell me about your parents," Vanessa said. "Kip said your father is . . . umm . . . debilitated?"
I aimed a reproachful look at Kip. I'd wanted to personally explain my dad's medical condition. Later, when I grew to know Vanessa, I discovered exactly how difficult it was to keep anything from her. She was like a skilled interrogator, one who used velvet-lined thumbscrews and psychological torture.
"My dad was injured in a farm accident," I explained, choosing my words carefully. "He suffered brain damage. He recovered, but still has short-term memory loss."
Vanessa muttered something meant to be sympathetic, but I picked up the subtext: mentally defective parent.
The interrogation went on. Vanessa grew larger and taller. She was looming over me, demanding to know why I hadn't eaten her cookies. "I was up all night baking them," she boomed. "And you will eat them!"
Cramming a fistful of cookies into my mouth, she ground them against my clenched teeth. The cookies were sprinkled with c.o.c.kroaches writhing in their death throes because the cookie dough was poisoned. Then the poison reached my system, because I felt a sudden stabbing pain in my ribs.
"Get up!" Vanessa snarled. "Get up and take your medicine!"
Escape tip #8:.
Offer your captor something he wants . . .
more than kinky bondage s.e.x.
I opened my eyes. The tines of a pitchfork jabbed against my ribs.
The pitchfork was gripped in the baseball mitt hands of the man standing over me. He wore baggy bib overalls over a bare torso, a Jung Seeds cap, and clodhopper work boots caked with manure. He had a farmer tan: hands, forearms, and neck deep copper, everything else fish belly white.
"You're that escaped lady convict," the farmer said. He had a voice like boiling gravel. "That Mazie Maguire. You're all over TV. Big reward out for you." He grinned, his bright blue eyes glittering in a firecracker-red face. "Kee-rist, I can't believe my luck-that reward is gonna buy me a brand-new manure spreader."
I rubbed the bleary out of my eyes, hoping this was still part of my nightmare.
"Move, dammit!" s.n.a.t.c.hing me by my hair, he jerked me painfully upright. He tossed aside the pitchfork, twisted my left arm behind my back, and marched me out of the shed, using my arm as a steering lever. My attempts to wriggle out of his grip only made him crank my arm to a higher level of pain. Dimly I took note of my surroundings: sheds, corncribs, some reeking pens, and a mound of barnyard manure the size of a ski hill. He marched me across a stretch of weed-choked dirt and finally shoved me into a concrete block shed built onto a barn.
"This'll keep you nice and cool till the police come," he said.
I rubbed my aching arm, where his fingers had dug purple marks. "You're making a mistake," I choked out. "I was camping with my family, I got lost-"
"Bullc.r.a.p." Digging in his overalls, he retrieved a coil of baling wire. He forced my arms together and wound the wire around my wrists, circulation-stopping tight. Then he looped the wire around a narrow pipe that ran along the shed's ceiling. He heaved on the wire's loose end, jerking me off my feet like a side of beef, my arms nearly yanking out of their sockets; my toes barely touching the floor, and my shoulders wrenched as though they'd been run through a wringer washer.
"Please," I whimpered, starting to cry. Snot oozed from my nose and I couldn't wipe it away. Why hadn't I given myself up when I'd had the chance? Now I was totally screwed, at the mercy of this heinous hayseed.
He pulled a cellphone out of another pocket and jabbed the b.u.t.tons with thick, calloused fingers. Someone answered and he spoke, his voice vibrating with excitement. "Yeah, hey, this is Norbert Lautenbacher. Out on County Trunk M, Fire number seventy-eight. I got the escaped convict! I got Mazie Maguire!"
He listened for a moment, scowled. "No this is not a friggin' joke. I got her right here, tied up in my milk house. You going to send someone out to get her or not? Half a hour? Okay-she ain't going nowhere. Bring that reward check along."
When Hollywood does Wisconsin, they have the locals talk with Midwestern tw.a.n.gs. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Wisconsin natives sound more Brooklyn than Kansas. We have trouble with our th's. We say dem Packers, dose Brewers. We shoot tirdy-point bucks, we drive up nort, we drink from bubblers, we say aina for isn't that right. Manure spreader comes out 'ner spriddur.
Norbert Lautenbacher had a Wisconsin accent thick enough to snowmobile on. He jammed his phone back in his pocket and moved so close to me I could smell his breath. Slim Jims and Pabst, breakfast of champions. Something reptilian crept into his small, crafty eyes. He set a meaty hand on my thigh. "Be awhile before the cops get here. Meanwhiles you and me could have a little fun, girl. Bet it's been a long time since you had some man-loving." He slid off his bib top, exposing a sweaty mat of grayish curls.
My stomach lurched. I was going to throw up. I was going to choke on my own vomit.
"Always wondered what you jail-birdies did, laying around locked up together all day. You got a girlfriend, back in the can, Mazie?"
I shook my head.
"Sure you do. Come on, spill. Are you the boy-girl or the girl-girl?"
His hand crept higher. "I bet you give each other ma.s.sages with those fancy-smelling oils. I seen this movie called Reform School Girls where the b.i.t.c.hes tore the clothes off each other and had naked-a.s.s pillow fights."
Norbert's p.o.r.n fantasy bore not the slightest relationship to reality. We weren't even issued pillows in Taycheedah.
He put a big red paw on my breast.
I gave a loud shriek, trying to fling myself away from him, but my own momentum swung me right back into his hands.
"Touch me and I'm telling your wife!" I spat.
"Up and left a year ago, the ugly old bat. Good riddance."
I'd always thought the notion of rape being a fate worse than death was ridiculous. How could a physical a.s.sault be worse than dying? But now, with this pervert poking his p.e.c.k.e.r against my belly, I knew I'd rather die than let him have his way with me. Who knew where his disgusting worm had been? Probably ol' Bossy starts to look pretty good when you're stuck out in the boonies without a wife. The creep might have bovine herpes or sheep crabs. And how exactly did you catch swine flu?
Get your game on, Maguire! You spent all that time in the can and didn't learn how to run a simple scam? I had to distract this creep with something he wanted more than kinky bondage s.e.x. Maybe an X-rated fantasy featuring s.e.x-starved reform school nymphets?
"You got any knives stuck up your sleeves, bad girl?" Norbert asked. "Wouldn't want any nasty surprises while we were having our fun." He began groping and prodding, running his hands along my thighs, lifting the waistband of my pants to peek inside, rifling through my pockets. Wanda Kronenwetter's treasures tumbled out. Lipstick, band-aids, Easy-Pleasy condoms . . .
He ignored everything else, focusing goggle-eyed on the condoms. He ripped the package open and they spilled out like colorful coins. Norbert picked one out and studied it, turning it over in his stubby fingers. "G.o.dd.a.m.n," he breathed. "You really are a bad girl, Mazie. So rubbers come in neon now?"
Play along with this.
"Yeah. And they glow in the dark."
He stared at me with piggy, suspicious eyes. "You got men in that prison with you?"
Treading a fine line here, Maguire. Make a slip and you'll get more of Norbert than you'd bargained for.
"Oh, those babies aren't for guys." I was trying to sound flirtatious, but my tendons were being stretched like salt.w.a.ter taffy and it was all I could do not to shriek. "They're what bad girls use on each other. I'll show you if you cut me down."
"Nope. You're stayin' right there until the cops come." Leering at me, he ripped the wrapper off a red condom. "Think I'll just try one of these on for size. What do you bad girls do with 'em? Put 'em on a zucchini or something?" He gave a nasty laugh.
"You want to know what bad girls do in prison, Norbert? All kinds of naughty stuff. Kinky stuff."
"Know what my cellmate's nickname is?"
His eyes snapped to mine. He was getting into this.
"Tina the Tongue," I said.
Norbert ran the back of his hand across his mouth. "What's she look like?"
"She's from Brazil. She's a model for a Brazilian bikini wax company."
"One of them dark Latin types?"
"She makes Jennifer Lopez look like a pork carca.s.s."
More beer and sausage fumes in my face, his breath more rapid now.
"Tina had her b.o.o.bs done before she went to prison," I said. "She's a forty-four."
"She holds the prison record for b.o.o.b fighting."
"I never heard of that."
He'd taken the bait. I gazed around the room, trying to scope things out without making it too obvious. The shed's front door was closed, but not locked. Small, narrow windows stood above double sinks. There was a swinging door at the far end of the shed that probably led to the milking parlor. If I could just get a five-foot lead on Norbert, I was sure I could outrun him. Get me into a cornfield and I'd be home free.
Norbert was getting impatient. "Tell me about the b.o.o.by fights."
Licking my dry lips, I tried to guess what would light Norbert's wick. "Well, Fridays are Fun Nights, see, so we all get naked."
"Like, completely no clothes?"
"Not a st.i.tch. Then the bigger girls become the horsies and the smaller girls climb onto the horsies' shoulders. They've got to knock their opponents off their horsies, but their hands are tied behind their backs and they can only use their b.o.o.bies."
I didn't know which twisted part of my subconscious this was coming from, but it was working like a p.o.r.n video; Norbert looked like he was about to have a stroke.
"So finally, after everyone's been knocked off their horsies and we're all hot, sweaty, and panting, we lie down on these long tables and Tina gives us Brazilian waxes-"
"Is that where you drop candle wax on each other's t.i.tties?"
"Uh, yeah." Don't get out much, do you, Norbert? "Then we all sit around-we're still naked, remember?-and we smoke some primo weed-"
"You got dope in prison?"
"You can get anything in prison, Norbert. Anything." I tried to make my voice sound s.e.xy, but it just came out sounding like I had a case of the flu. "After that we take out our Easy-Pleasys-"
"You mean them candy-colored condoms?"
"Yes. And then we . . ." I let my voice trail off.
"Can't talk," I moaned. "My arms hurt too much." Not an act.
Norbert was at war. His brain was telling him I was shining him on, but Captain Winkie was in control here, and Captain Winkie wanted what he wanted. Norbert hesitated, clearly torn, then abruptly turned and hurried out through the shed's rear door. As the door swung open, I caught a glimpse of cattle stanchions on the other side. I'd been right; it was the milking parlor. Norbert was back a few seconds later, brandishing wire cutters.
He scowled at me. "No funny business now."
I nodded to indicate that I'd behave.
Norbert snipped the wire attached to the pipe and I crashed to the floor. "I ain't taking off those wires on your wrists," he growled, jerking me upright.
I nearly cried with the sweet relief of being able to move my arms.
"Now show me." Norbert's voice was hoa.r.s.e. "Show me what the bad girls do."
This was going to take some doing, because I'd been ad-libbing the entire scenario. I hoped I lived long enough to tell Tina Sanchez, mother of three-who had a mustache, stretch marks, and definitely did not bikini-wax her woo-woo-how she'd been transformed into a Brazilian s.e.x G.o.ddess.
I stalled, flexing my aching shoulders to get my circulation going, thinking furiously. What did Norbert want to hear?
Something nasty. "Well, first you fill the thing with water."
Norbert wasn't taking chances; he hauled me along with him over to the sinks. He held on to me with one hand while he turned on the tap with the other, but discovered that this didn't work because he couldn't jimmy the condom onto the spigot with just one hand.
"You do it," he snarled.
"Can't." I held up my wired hands.
"Kee-rist. This better be good." He let go of my arm and used both hands to wrap the condom's opening around the water tap.
Casually I took a half step backward.
The condom filled, stretching out like a party balloon, the lurid red turning transparent pink. Norbert watched in a state of s.e.xual frenzy, too preoccupied to notice what I saw through the window. A state patrol cruiser was silently pulling into his driveway.
"You're doing great," I encouraged Norbert, edging back a bit more, figuring I had about fifteen seconds before the cops waked in. "You're using warm water, aren't you?"