by D.L. Glenn
Moses and Curio take on drug cartel members in his hometown after his ex is brutalized.
MOSES AND CURIO: VOLUME 4
FATE’S TRIGGER FINGER
MOSES AND CURIO AND THE JADED EX
Had the doctor been more thoughtful, Althea Rae Jennings would not have been awakened in the Odessa-Ector Medical Center with a vigorous shaking of her legs and a loud man’s sharp voice in her ears. But she was and as a result she thrashed manically, for a full minute, despite the agony of her wounds.
Her eyes were wide and freakishly white yet seemingly blind. She swung wildly with balled fists at the attacking phantoms. Finally, mercifully, she was soothed by another woman’s low voice and the warm clutch of arms she could feel were feminine, affectionate, and safe.
“It’s okay, hon. You’re okay now. You’re with people who are helping you.” The nurse in pastel scrubs clasped her shoulders and hugged her to her bosom as she rocked her.
By her voice, Althea figured her safe haven to be only ten years older than she. The nurse’s face was aged far beyond those years. When she finally laid her black and swollen eyes upon her caretaker, she could see the furrows and minute droops of many long years of a hardscrabble upbringing, the puffy and permanent sags of ass-busting toil- probably from the kids she had to feed on her own dime- behind the whole tough ordeal that had undoubtedly been the nurse’s life as a young woman. A life of scut work that had only ended after she got old enough to work like a dog until she got a degree and could work longer hours on her feet for more pay and in a better grade of scrubs. She knew the look…it was common in the poor who still worked hard in hopes of catching a break someday but in the meantime just kept plugging away despite the routine superfluity of setbacks life threw at a person.
Thea felt the scrubs her caretaker wore with her good hand and settled down as her mania abated into an appraisal of the sudden and ebullient reality that she was actually alive to tell her horrible tale. Looking around at her exposed body and the sterile surroundings of the hospital, she felt momentarily elated to be among the living. Staring at the enormous mass of gauze wound around her right arm, elation slipped away.
The doctor who had shaken her awake stood passively off to their side, backed up a few paces by the Latina nurse’s forearm as she realized his heavy-handed wake-up was a bullshit move to make on the savaged patient. He was in fact the Head of Emergency Medicine for the hospital and not a man who was used to being ordered about very often, yet he stood chastened, with his soft hands jammed in his lab coat pockets, rocking gently on his heels. For a long while, he stood in his place and glibly watched one woman settle another woman down. As only another woman in the scenario was capable, he guessed. He patted his poor patient’s leg after a while to show he, too, was an empathetic caregiver trying to mend her broken body.
The body, he felt in his professional opinion, would heal despite the bastard assailants’ best efforts to end her life. God knew he had not the foggiest notion of where to start on her psyche. Considering what he knew of her ordeal, he reckoned only God could help her in that department.
At least Floria, the nurse, had a clue on how to get that ball rolling. Doctor Earnest Billups let her soothe the patient as her startled mania yielded to the low, heaving sobs, muffled beneath Floria’s arms and bosom as best as they could be.
“Easy, Thea. You’re safe now.” Floria cooed into Althea’s auburn hair, her face aiming her words directly into a large patch of gauze and white medical tape enclosing a head wound recently cleansed of sand and dried blood, stapled forty-three times, the wound watched for potential infection every waking hour since Althea Jennings arrived on the gurney.
Dr. Billups took a mental inventory of the physiological maladies rendered upon her, the numerous perversions and downright evil indignities as well, that his patient had underwent during her disappearance. He was a sober and stolid man, the son of a triage nurse and a derrick crew foreman, more than used to seeing the worse come through the emergency room doors. After documenting his clinical opinion of about how a number of the vaginal and anal injuries had been inflicted to the investigating detectives, however, Billups had not slept a wink that night after he laid it out for them as bare as he could. Looking her over as she sobbed and looked herself over, he wondered how much of a chance he left her to recover from her ordeal. And he wondered as well, if the word “recovery” was even applicable after such a vile assault.
In west Texas, where the slow life of cowpokes and tumbleweeds was dealt a deathblow a long while back by the quickened pace of oil money and more recently, drug dealer’s bullets, it was an increasingly harsh world. Nearer to the border, the narcotics traffickers were routinely sending brethren and bystander alike to the morgue.
Billups was a man who was raised around Latinos all his life. A devout Catholic, his many mission trips across the border to provide free medical help to the hellhole villas along the border gave him an understanding of squalor and the inherent human need to make every effort to escape such an environment by whatever means necessary. He had a soft spot for those wretched souls who often risked life and limb to get their children something approaching a decent human life in Los Estados Unidos, el paradiso al norte.
But even the implacably compassionate and liberal-minded Earnest Billups had caught himself muttering, “sorry spic motherfuckers,” low under his breath as he stripped off his blood-stained gloves in the wash room, five hours after seeing her through the initial trauma treatments. He had worked diligently and thoroughly as he had ever managed throughout his twenty-eight years as a surgeon and trauma care specialist. He and his team saved her life as best as he could before sending her upstairs to an ICU bed.
A pair of thoracic surgeons scrubbing up for the day’s electives and the day’s emergencies, should any arrive, heard the slur. They merely nodded to themselves. The whole town knew from where his spite had come. If they had not, they would soon enough. Between the press, whose pristine white vans never left their vigil across the street from the hospital, and the break room gossip that would spill across into those vans, Althea Jennings’ ordeal and the gory details of it would become common knowledge soon. Later, an unnecessarily embellished tale of wanton savagery would arise in the months to come. Billups wondered how much more embellishment could be applied to a story as horrid as hers was already.
Thea got a hold of her bearings and choked back the woe as much as she could muster. She was still a Texan and a Jennings, by God. Nobody liked to see someone crying when they could do nothing really to ease the reason why. Simple courtesy suddenly overwhelmed the need to blubber.
She wiped her face with her left hand and only then realized she had an IV in her arm. Two bags were dripping into her. She could tell one was the ubiquitous saline. Hippocrates himself may as well have scribed the other’s nomenclature.
“I’m sorry.” Swallowing spit through a throat that was raspy from the ventilator tube she did not yet know she had inserted while she was unconscious but now unneeded and removed, she got her bearings, embarrassed to be crying. “Where am I?”
She looked at the doctor’s monogrammed coat through tear-blurred eyes and made out the logo of the Odessa-Ector Medical Center.
OEMC…I’m home, sorta’…
“My name is Floria, Mees Thea. This is Doctor Bee-lups. We’ve been treating you for some substantial injuries you have sustained. You’re at the Odessa-Ector Medical Seen-ter.” Floria’s voice had the unmistakable twinge of Coahuila but Thea knew immediately she was probably second or third generation on the U.S. side.
Floria was probably knocking on fifty. She spoke low and softly, as if soothing a crying and sleepy child. Thea knew the tone when she heard it. The mother hen.
Mother… The word gonged somewhere in her Demerol-clouded mind.
“Where’s my son! Where’s Kenny?” She had last seen him before she left for work.
When was that when it happened?
Her mind raced as she recalled at least two days in the desert…with them. The evil them.
My God, when is this?
“Your son is with your seester. He’s okay. They were here yesterday. He says he love you and to get better. Your seester left this.” Floria pulled a framed fifth grade picture from the sink ledge behind her.
Kenny two years ago, beaming with a freshly missing tooth.
The tooth he didn’t tell me about losing and found out about the tooth fairy’s reality.
“Oh my baby!” Thea rubbed her fingers over his freckled face on the 8x10. “I prayed I would see him again.” She whimpered and wiped her eye daintily with her gauzed hand.
“He’s a wild one, that Kenny. But very smart.”
“He was here then?”
“Yes. He was very sad to see you the first few times. You had a bandage all around your head but the wound has healed enough for the tight wrap to come off today.”
“Yesterday?” Thea was befuddled for an instant. “How long have I been here?”
“Four days, Miss Jennings.” Dr. Billups spoke up so he could get into the mix and not just resemble the “old buzzard on a roost look,” his wife liked to kid him about now that he shaved his balding head. He moved over closer to her, clutching her chart professionally as he assumed his caretaker posture.
“Are you in any acute pain? Stupid question, I know, probably. I’m sure you are, but is anything a-hurtin’ out worse than another?”
Pain? I hurt everywhere and didn’t even notice until he said something. Thank ya’ for that, doc…Yeah, I hurt all fucking over…My God, how he said it! They know? Of course, they know why…
“They hurt me everywhere, Doctor. I wouldn’t know where to start.”
“Your belly is where I would like to start. You had an internal bleed that we had to fix surgically. It was a delicate thing. A lot of smaller veins to be repaired, perforated bowel…” he looked at the chart, “that arm…” he swallowed hard, suddenly embarrassed to read and say anything else aloud. “And so forth.”
“My belly hurts bad. But not as bad as my arm and my head.”
“You have a lot of minor and major lacerations we had to clean up and get stitched. You had a very bad laceration to the side of your head. The bruising to your face is substantial. You probably feel how swollen it is.”
Thea’s fingers touched her bare scalp. The look of shock made the doctor wince.
“I’m sorry about the bare patch, ma’am. I’m afraid we had to shave your head around there to a-get it fixed up properly. You’ve had some surgical procedures done to prevent the buildup of fluid. Your head was hit pretty hard. We were worried mighty bad about the concussion you got.”
My hair? My hair? I had just left the salon the day before. God, I wasted that thirty dollars…
For a woman who put herself together thoroughly at her vanity every morning since she was fourteen, it was a surprisingly more harsh a blow than the rest.
He continued from memory. “You have a broken right wrist, a dislocated right shoulder, third degree burn to the forearm of your right arm…”
From the motorcycle’s exhaust pipe… Thea shook the memory loose from her mind. Them bastards!
“…that needed a skin graft. We will have to probably take a vein from your leg to repair the main artery in that arm later for a more thorough recovery. Burns unfortunately require a lot of care when they are so deep. For now, we rewired what we could in it and debrided whatever tissue we deemed unsalvageable. You were touch-and-go at the time and we felt given your excessive injuries, it was better to use our time to stabilize your core body functions as fast as we could and work on the other injuries in increments after we were certain your stats could hold up to further surgeries. It was a lot of work and I’m afraid there will be much more to do this week in order to insure you recover as fully as possible. Given the nerve and muscle damage to your arm, I gotta’ tell you you’ll be in for a lot of surgeries over the next few months but we think we’ve got the threat of gangrene and any other opportunistic infection lowered substantially. Of course, we’re keeping a close watch on that.”
Thea rubbed the huge gauze wrap on her arm and closed her eyes. “One of them brought a big chopper bike out to where they had me after a while. It was a Latino chopper job, you know? Big chrome pipes and a flamboyant green paint job. It had real elaborate trim and a teardrop tank. Definitely a custom job.”
“That kind of info will be very helpful. The police have been tight-lipped about the details but if it makes you feel better, I got an idea from listening to them talking that they have an idea who them may have been who a-done it.” Billups perked up and nodded thoughtfully.
“I was chained to the bike while one of them tried to get me to do oral sex on him.” Thea said aloud for the benefit of someone, she did not care who. “I threatened to bite it off and the other one pulled me down on the exhaust pipe while the other one revved it up to get the pipe hot. Then he sat down on my arm on it until I did what they wanted.”
Billups and Floria winced noticeably.
“Dios mio.” The nurse mumbled and held Thea’s hand in one hand and reflexively clutched at her own heart with the other.
The medical exams had told of the obvious brutality. Clearly, it had not told of the whole ordeal.
“We have you loaded up on antibiotics to prevent infections both of the wound and from the venereal disease you were exposed to.”
Thea hiccupped bile in her throat. “Oh my God! It is AIDS?”
“No ma’am. Syphilis. At least one of the men who did this to you was infected with a strain we find a lot in these parts.” Billups bit his tongue.
In Juarez whores that jump the fence when the money gets tight, but best you not know that…
“We won’t know about possible HIV infection for a few months, I’m afraid.”
“A few months? My God, you telling me I could have AIDS and you might not know it for a few months!”
“The test we use to detect infection is not effective until the virus has multiplied itself enough for the test to detect the telltale proteins. I’m sorry, but that’s where we are with HIV, right now.”
“I can’t believe all this.” Thea shook her head, staring at her arm swaddled in gauze. “God I was just going to lunch. I just wanted a goddamned grilled chicken salad from Wendy’s and look at me.”
“Obviously since you had your hysterectomy, pregnancy isn’t a concern. We are treating you with a ton of medications. You should make a thorough recovery if none of your wounds fare any worse than we have already a-dealt with.”
Thea cried softly again. Subconsciously she closed her legs together.
“I never had so much as a wart down there.” Her mind could feel it again. The sharp thrusts…after they licked their fingers with that Schlitz-tainted spittle and wiped their pricks wet with it.
What was it that short bastard with the one fang said while he raped me in the ass after they burned me?
“I’m gonna’ cut me a hunk of that peilo to remember este azucara blanca pussy. Esta cocha ees so fucking tight!"
“Stupid cholo,” the fatter one laughed a few decibels too loud for the distance to be heard from, “…tu esta es su cula!”
Then they just laughed and laughed and laughed…
She retched suddenly in her bed.
“No difference, primo.” The fanged one chuckled as he thrust. “I come in there just as easy…get ready, puta!”
And they had. A lot. A lot of times each.
With AIDS in it, Thea retched. Her color paled. I just know it. Dirty fucking bastards.
“You gonna’ be sick?” Floria leaned her forward in an instant and patted her back.
“I’m gonna’ be sick forever. Goddamn those sons of bitches!” She growled as the memories flooded back into the fiercest focus. “It ain’t right! I didn’t a-done them nothin’!”
Floria rubbed her back in tiny circles as Billups laid a tiny basin within quick reach.
“I am so sorry, Miss Thea.” He said. “But you just wait. The police are a-gonna’ catch them sorry sumbitches and the D.A. is a-gonna’ make them pay for it. He has been out in front of this from the get-go and when the whole picture came into light, I’m pretty sure he’s chompin’ at the bit to see justice served. Everybody is.”
Floria said nothing, but she knew in her head it was some sort of white-speak that she was supposed to merely tacitly accept. The D.A., Gregory J. Vollman, was a well-known foe to the Latinos in Ector County. Taking a cue from Sheriff Arpaio over in Maricopa County, Arizona, he spent a lot of time lobbying for the deportation of illegal aliens. She could hear the unspoken slur in it but looking at Thea, she felt a twinge of it welling up from her as well.
“Can I call my sister? I need to know that Kenny is okay. My sister ain’t too good with him. He’s a handful and she’s got two of her own that fight like cats and dogs enough bad enough without him in the middle of them.”
“Of course!” Floria nodded at Billups. He was barring her from seeing the phone. He nodded, took her hand in his and patted it.
“I’m going to call the detectives working on this. They wanted to know when you were up and around.” He gave her hand a tiny squeeze and set his jaw. “You up to putting them fellers away for good?” His voice raised an octave.
In a far-away world, Earnest Billups was a tough cornerback at Permian High. He tried to pull out some tiny piece of locker room motivation from memory and rally the underdog into action. It was a pitiful attempt. It was the only way he had of dealing with such a hopeless situation as having to console an Odessa single mother who had been beaten, tortured and raped in every manner known to man and beast.
He left out the exaggerated fist-pump and the meeting of hands in a circle screaming, “One-two-three, WIN!”
“Am I right?”
She did not answer him. Thea had a peculiar look on her face. The D.A., the trial, the ordeal- Billups figured she was accepting the fact that the process was just beginning.
The thought of Justice having the undulating heads of a malevolent hydra struck her. Most of its heads bore a single face. A dated face, an aging man’s face, but she bet his features had not aged much since she saw it last. It was queer to her that face would be the first she could think of in that instance. It was a visage of stark evil, in her opinion. Yet it was the face of the one person she knew had the undeniable capacity to right the evil done to her. Althea added up the factors, her days missing, the media investigation, the eventual law enforcement investigation and hopefully, the successful jury trial that would attempt to punish the two men who did her so very wrongly in the blazing desert. All those were the official answers that Lady Justice offered to a wronged citizen. In her mind, that one chiseled face sat back wherever it was and it plotted actual vengeance, not justice.
“Oh, believe me, Doctor…them bastards are a-gonna’ pay.”
She shook her head in dismay as she forced the face away from her mind. Even in her poor condition, his was a face she dared not wish to conjure longer than its initial random creeping into her psyche.
“Let’s pray for that. I’ll be right back.” Smirking in admiration of the vulgar spunk the patient had just embodied even after days of ruthless torture, he ambled out of the room.
Floria picked up the telephone and laid it on the bed. “Dial nine and then the number.” She looked at the IV settings for a moment and patted Thea on the unbroken arm. “Men like them do not deserve three hots and a cot, Thea. Those animals done you very wrong. They are a disgrace to my people.”
“They are a disgrace to all people. And most animals. You have no idea how bad it was out in the desert. When they first got me, I thought no one would ever find me and the animals would end up a-gettin' me. After a while I learned that animals had gotten me already.”
“They were Mexicans and in west Texas. I’m sure they will get their deserved rewards. Be it by posse or prison. I kinda’ hope it’s the posse. The bastards oughta’ swing at the end of a rope jess like back in the old days.”
“You have no faith in the system?” Thea was a true believer. The System would have its day, right?
“System? Sure. Yes. I believe in the system. But I have a lot more faith in Texas, Thea.” She scribbled her initials on the chart. “I’ll be right back. You hungry?”
She was famished.
“I’m starving. They didn’t feed me much. They were afraid I would shit on them while they fucked on me back there.” She swallowed hard. “Thinking ahead, I guess. Damn them. Sick bastards.”
“Aye! Dios Mio!” Floria closed her eyes to keep the image from haunting her but it was futile. She took a step backward, her face shamed.
“I’m sorry. That was too much information. But it was what happened.” Thea was touched by the earnestness of Floria’s compassion and regret over the whole situation.
“I’m going to get you some yogurt and see about something more solid to eat. TV button is on the armrest of the bed. I’ll be right back.” She exhaled slowly as she left the room.
“Thank you.” With her wrist wrapped like a mummy, she had to use her left hand. She was amazed at how uncoordinated a simple dialing of a touch-tone could be left-handed with the phone lying awkwardly across her wrapped arm without a grip.
“Hello?” Donna answered on the first ring.
Thea started crying. She could hear the din of a Nintendo battle-royal far in the background.
Kenny and his cousins playing Madden 94 again…
“I’m up, Donna. You okay? Is Kenny okay?”
“We’re fine, Thea. It’s so good to hear your voice!” She broke down silently. “Are you okay?”
“I’m pretty far from okay. Is Kenny good? What does he know?”
“He knows as best as I could delicately explain it to him. He’s a kid, but you know kids these days…they hear stuff. I had to tell him something. It’s all over the news.”
“Is that my mama?!” Thea could hear Kenny asking aloud. She could see him, in his shorts and a t-shirt, wearing his Justin boots like his grandpa…and his father…had. He was all buzz cut and freckles. Long and lanky and witty. He had his daddy’s genes taking hold of him as he neared puberty, not a doubt in her mind.
Dear Lord in heaven, she prayed abruptly. Thank you for answering my prayer. All I asked for was to hear my baby one more time and they could have my body as they wished.
“Yes, sugarpie. Your mama just woke up. Hang on!” Thea heard the clomping of Kenny’s boots bounding across the tile floor in the kitchen.
Donna Douglas, nee Jennings, walked out of the kitchen in her Midland, Texas apartment and into her bedroom. “Hang on, Kenny. I need a minute with her and then you can talk to her, okay? Give me just a minute to talk to my sister, please?”
She closed the door with a hang-on finger in his face.
The little sister whispered as best she could but wanting Thea to hear her. “The cops are all over this thing, Thea. They know a lot about them sumbitches already. They’re tied up with some of them dope-dealers around here.”
“Yay. That’s gonna be comforting, come trial time, I reckon. Watch y’all’s back, you hear?”
“We already thought about all that. But that’s another talk for another time. Are you hurting? They giving you something for pain, right?”
“I’m hurting all over, Donna. Is Daddy okay?”
Laramie “Buddy” Jennings was in a nursing home in Midland, awaiting his last breath as cancer chewed him alive from his head to his hips. Thea suspected it was hell on the old man to just be lying dying in a clean bed when he needed to be over in Odessa taking care of the matter at hand. She knew if he could, he would have had the matter settled directly. In his current state, it was all he could muster most days to shuffle to the john for a clean messing before ambling back to bed at the nursing home.
“Daddy ain’t doin’ good at all, Thea. He told me not to tell you, but he’s already done a-told me to call the number for him. You know which one I’m talkin’ about…” Donna whispered. “He’s been a-pesterin’ me for the last two days to call it. I gotta’ tell ya’, Sis, I’ve got a good mind to do it. This shit they done to you ain’t called for. You know calling that number would mean he would come handle it if I asked him to.”
“Donna, don’t you fucking dare call that number!” Thea hissed at her sister. “This here ain’t no reason to call that number. Hell, there ain’t ever gonna’ be a reason to call that number, you hear me! Daddy is just mad and hurt and I love him for it. But he is just wanting some vengeance and knows he can’t get it from a sick bed. Best we all let that sleepin’ ass dog lie. I mean that. Don’t you call him! Don’t y’all dare!”
It was amazing to Althea that the face on the hydra was the first her family thought of as well.
“We’re all wantin’ some payback, Thea. Hell, girl, we all thought you was dead. God forgive me for it, but I knew you wouldn’t lay down for it all that too quietly and I figured if some pervert got you, he done it real slick and then he a-killt you. Daddy had chest pains from it and they won’t let him watch the news for the last few days. I had to go tell him they done a-fount you alive. It liked to killt him again when he found out the details of what happened. He ain’t a-doin’ good at all. Ain’t none of us doing good and ain’t none of us even you. God, the cryin’ I been a-doin’ these last few days…I thought I lost you and I figured it would kill Daddy right along with you...”
“I thought they were a-gonna’ kill me.” Thea sniffled and thought of her beloved father’s ails. Buddy Jennings was three months into the six the shrugging doctors gave him above ground when he demanded to know his odds. “Is Daddy gonna’ be okay?’
“As good as he can be. He’s upset, Thea. He wants to come see you.”
“Then bring him! Please bring him! I wanna’ see him. I want my Daddy so bad right now!” She broke down, sniffling.
Her daddy would make this right, if he could. But he couldn’t. No one could. There was no number to dial that could.
“I will. Let me talk to the home and try to get him up and we will get him over there in a day or two. He ain’t been doing too good even before you went missing.”
“I know it.”
“I’ll tell you one thing though. He’s been a-making calls all around town of course. He still knows folks and everyone has been right nice to us during all this. I’ma have to give all the food away in the fridge. It won’t hold no more. Folks been over here near about every hour from the churches and all.”
“Let him make all the calls he wants, but not that one. You make sure of that, Donna. I mean it.”
“I’ll try. He’s got a phone in his room, though. I cain’t rightly cut the line, ya’ know.”
“You think he might, then yeah, you goddamn cut it, too. It ain’t gonna’ do a bit of good if he gets called back out here. Not one lick. You know that.”
“They got any leads?” Althea hoped they did. News traveled so fast. She wondered again if her admonitions were both in vain and too late.
“One of the detectives goes to Gail Foster’s church. The one in charge. His name is Quincy, like the TV guy. He met me two days ago and told me most of what they knew had happened. Do you remember what happened?”
“Every fucking minute of it til one of them a-hit me in the side of the head with something from behind. I scratched one of them in the face real bad when they first grabbed me.”
“You know them?”
“No I ain’t know them! They were just a couple of filthy fuckin’ Mexicans who got pissed on Schlitz enough to grab an old gringa art teacher with a kid to feed and do some downright evil shit to her every which way from Sunday. I can’t believe they didn’t kill me. I can draw every detail of them right down to the wart on one of ‘em’s ball sack.”
“Thank God, they didn’t kill you. I’ll call that cop when I get off with you.”
“The hospital already done it, I reckon.”
“I’m still gonna’ call him and tell him he better wrap this thing up quick. Just because Daddy ain’t got the number don’t mean he doesn’t know how to get him out here.”
“How much news is out there?”
“Thea, it’s Odessa, not L.A. People know people here. It’s all over the news out this way and if them Raza types up here get up in arms because Judge Vollman wants to hang some Chicanos a little too high for raping up a white lady in Ector County, that means a lot more news. The politics are already in play. Some are saying the guys who done are tied up with Santie Froma and his bunch.”
“Daddy doesn’t have the number, right? Tell me the truth.”
“He doesn’t. But Thea, you know the newspaper has a spot on that internet thing they got now. You know he probably still reads the paper and there’s a good chance he probably still talks to folks out here from time to time since he was from here. I know for a fact Pete Fontenot still does and Pete has a big mouth.”
“Let’s hope for the best. I don’t want him here. I done the best I could keeping him from Kenny and to his credit, he stayed far away from here because he knew it was best. He comes back here a-poking his nose out in these parts again and gets Kenny a-wondering about the past, I’ll die for sure.”
“He is his father, Thea. But now ain’t the time. Let’s talk about Kenny.”
“What does he know?”
“He knows some bad men went and took his mama and they was right mean to her for no reason. I figured on a-letting you or Pastor Dave sit with him and explain it all as best y’all can.”
How do I explain that men could take turns coming on me? How do I explain how they made me rinse myself out with a gallon jug of ice water from an ice chest in between their turns so they didn’t feel like they were getting each other’s jizz on them? How do I lay it all out that I got beat with a logging chain most of the first day because I fought like hell against it?
“My God, Donna. How can I even try to explain it all?”
“He’s twelve, Thea. I say don’t sugarcoat it. He’s a big boy…”
“I haven’t even had the talk with him.”
“Greg had the talk with him for you. Months ago.”
Donna’s husband…oh God… The usually unshaven, Dixie flag t-shirt wearing and beer-swilling tool pusher who stayed on an offshore drilling platform full of randy roughnecks most of the year had schooled his nephew on the wonders of sexual liaisons and proper birth control measures.
The man who kept every year’s Playmate calendar up in his garage shop…for the kids to go stare at and snicker about, while he cussed under the chassis of that old Firebird he would never get going, of course.
“I’m sure he was real scientific about it.” Thea could hear him, holding a can of Hamm's as he explained sex to her Kenny.
Son, you gotta’ lick them nipples if’n yew a-wanna git lucky wit dem wimmen…and don’t forgit ta lie bout how purty their name is…and put yer goo on their belly so you don’t up and fuggup and get her pregnant. Remember that most importantly, boy, or Uncle Greg will whip your ass…that goo goes on them girl’s bellies!”
“I’m too sore and mad to be mad about that. Somehow I’m relieved.”
“Kenny asked him. He told him. He thought he was doing you a favor. Kenny made him promise not to tell.”
“Tell him what you wish, Thea, but don’t sugarcoat it.”
“There ain’t no way to sugarcoat being beat up and raped, Donna. For God’s sake, they used a log chain before and a beer bottle after on me.”
“You know what I mean. Spare him the details. He’s gonna’ hear it, anyway. This thing ain’t gonna’ be over no time soon. They gotta’ catch ‘em first. Then they gonna’ try ‘em in court and all that that means. Folks testifying, the press. Hell, it’s already bad in the news. My neighbor…Benny? The UPS guy? He run a few cameramen off his sidewalk with a shotgun yesterday. Them sumbitches were a-lookin’ through my trash for a phone bill to use, for God’s sake. The sheriff had to put a deputy out front to keep us some kind of peace around here.”
“I’ma cross that bridge later, Sis. I need to tell my baby I love him right now.”
“Well, I love you, Thea. I’m just numb about it. We really thought you were dead. It’s been hard…but I’m a-thanking God every hour since them boys fount you.”
“Can you come up here?”
“Thea, it’s nine at night. Ain’t nobody been able to watch the kids for me much during all this. They all bring food but don’t none of them stay. Hell I ain’t really asked them to stay on account of I don’t trust half of ‘em to spill every detail the kids tell ‘em to channel six. Don’t none of ‘em know what to say.”
“Oh, sorry. I had no idea what time it is. I didn’t know I was under as long as I was till they just told me.”
“It’s okay, sis. First thing tomorrow though.”
“Okay. Love you.”
“I love you too, Thea. I almost forgot how much you meant to me until…” she sniffled, “all this shit happened.” She wailed abruptly but stifled it lest Kenny hear it.
“It’s okay. I’m alive. Put my baby on the phone. All I wanted was to hear him the whole time they done it.”
“Okay. Hang on, here he is. Love you!”
A second passed and Kenny was there.
“Hey, Mama! You feeling okay?”
God, he sounds so old right now!
“Hey, baby. Yes. Mama’s feeling a lot better since I heard you. You being good for Aunt Donna?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’m being good. When you coming home? Are you hurtin’ still? Aunt Donna said you would be.”
“Soon I hope, baby. Real soon. Mama got hurt up real bad, though. I gotta’ stay up here a little while. Hearing you makes it not hurt too much, though.”
His twelve-year-old voice deepened on cue, as if a million years of flint filtered through his words. “Who done it to you, Mama? I’ll kill them. I promise. I’ll shoot ‘em dead.” He sniffled.
My Lord. His Daddy through and through…
“Two bad men, Kenny. Two very bad men. But the doctors are fixing me up and the police are hunting them down.”
“Hunter told me his daddy heard them two that done it done jumped the border already. He said they ain’t a-coming back ever and we cain’t git at ‘em no more on account-a they’s across the border. He’s a-lyin’ though, right? You said Hunter lies about everything.”
That fact troubled her immediately. It may well be true.
Oh my God! He is probably right! They are probably drunk at a whorehouse down in Guadalajara, laughing to themselves about that woman that they had an ass-romping fiesta with for two days.
“You probably know more than I do, son. But don’t you worry. They can’t run from God, Kenny. We may not see them in court, but we sure as hell won’t see them in heaven with us and grandmaw and grandpaw. Okay?”
Althea Jennings, the mother, shuddered. How bad would it be on a pre-teen boy who would soon be a hormone-driven young man driven with guilt over his mother’s sexual assault and maybe be driven hell-bent on revenge? Would he see a leering rapist in every Hispanic he saw? Would he see his own erection as some evil tool similar to the ones his mother had to endure every time he and some future girlfriend fumbled around with each other in some backseat parked out in the never lands?
Them bastards…those dirty, vile pieces of shit. Bad enough I have to carry it with me. But him, too? And my poor ole daddy and my family? I can just see my frowning friends at the school patting me on the shoulder for the next six months. Annie Varnell had her a mastectomy last spring and people looked at her like she was a walking corpse. People get weirded out by other people’s tragedies. Ain’t right, but it is what it is.
She broke down at the thought, despite her best efforts.
My burdens should not have to be his. It’s not fair.
The face in the hydra returned to her.
Her father was making calls, Donna had said. She could see him stewing in his deathbed. Wringing his hands, pacing with the IV stand wheeling beside him as he shuffled around in the tiny room. Her daddy was a man of a more decisive mold than the thinking men in suits who were seeking her assailants. With access to a phone, he could be summoning him. Althea added up the days of dismay and rage her father and her sister had suffered. Somehow, she knew the call had probably already been made. Twelve years from her past, he would ride into action if he was either asked to or paid to. It was what he did.
And to top it off, he’s coming back here…I know he will…He can’t help himself.
“Mama, please don’t cry. I’m sorry. I’m gonna’ get them. Just you wait. They are gonna’ pay for what they done. They done you wrong and I swear they’ll pay.”
“Baby, the doctors just came back in.” she lied. “Let me talk back to Donna now. You just be good. Let the police and your mama and Paw-Paw handle it, okay?”
“I love you, Mama. But I’m serious. I’ma’ get them one day. I love you, Mama.”
Donna picked up the phone quickly. She had obviously heard every word and was sniffling as discretely as possible.
“You okay?” Donna coughed abruptly.
“Noooo, I’m not...” Thea shook her head in dismay. “How am I gonna’ deal with that? He’s twelve, Donna. Fucking hell, the boy ain’t even old enough to piss a hole in the ground…” she stopped herself short.
My God, that’s somethin’ he used to say…
“…And here he is, wanting to go out and kill Mexicans for raping his mama already.”
“Thea, he ain’t the only one. The townsfolk are all pissed off. Hell, the talk shows are all over it. The radio guys are all over it. Even if it wasn’t you wasn’t his mama, Kenny would still be dwelling on it. It’s big news.”
“It ain’t the town wanting payback that I’m worried about. It’s him.”
“Kenny? He’s just talkin’ like a kid does…”
“Not Kenny. Him.”
“Oh, him. He may not give a shit no more, Thea. It’s been a long time. He may have changed.”
Floria came back into the room, carrying a tray with three yogurts and a beverage.
“Men like him don’t change, Donna. You can count on it. And no matter where he is right now, all that Texas in him will bring him back out here. I just know it.” She smiled and nodded almost piously at her nurse for bringing her food. She was famished.
“Look, I gotta’ go, the nurse brought me somethin’ in here to eat. I reckon them cops ain’t too far behind her.”
“Okay, the boys are about the hit the sack anyway. Sis, now you take care and we’ll be there tomorrow.”
“Please do. I wanna’ see my baby tomorrow. Hell, I haven’t even seen myself yet.”
“We’re coming. I promise. And Thea, you’re gonna’ be okay. They mighta’ left you all a mess, but it’ll heal. We’ll get through it, I promise. I love you. Bye.”
“Bye. Give my baby a kiss for me.”
“I will.” The phone clicked.
Floria helped her upright and popped a top on a peach yogurt. Left-handed, Thea clumsily devoured the first cup while the nurse made chart notes.
“Forgive me for eating like a pig, but this is so darned good and I’m starving.”
“It’s okay, hon. I brought three and there’s a lot more. Because of your internal injuries, we have to try this first.”
“It’s fine.” She chuckled. “Hell, a yogurt is breakfast and lunch a lotta’ days. A girl has to stay fit for the men, right?”
Floria poured some sweetener into the beverage and mixed it with a straw. “It’s tea.”
Thea realized she was thirsty as well. “Thank you. You’re very kind. I can tell.”
And as a person, not just a nurse, the patient could tell. There was a sincerity of warmth and empathy in every gracious niche of Floria’s soul. Thea was suddenly glad she was her nurse. Her own mother had passed away seven years prior and though Floria was not that much older, in the circumstance she was in, she felt suddenly very close to her caregiver. There was a matronly way about her that was undeniable comforting. Her soft voice alone was a veritable salve on a mind and body for which the pain was a wretchedly new tribulation.
Floria tossed the empty carton into a wastebasket and pulled another open.
“We are not really supposed to get too close to patients, Thea. But I want to tell you I know some of what you’re going through.”
“How’s that?” Thea felt her dander rise but took it down a notch until she heard Floria’s explanation.
“I was ambushed in my house and raped at knifepoint for six hours by two men. They did not do me the way you were beat up but the rest of it…” Floria ground her teeth, “the rest of it I understand very well.”
Thea was surprised how flippantly she could say that. “I’m sorry for you. It is a terrible thing what they done. Peckerwood rapin’ sumbitches, I swear. They can all go straight to hell feet-first through a meat grinder as far as I’m concerned.”
“It was a night I cannot forget. For a long time I could not get away from it. I was useless. Today though, I work. I raise my sons. I try to go on with living and find closure…all that psycho talk they like to throw out there. But it doesn’t go away. I just deal and live and try to please God. I understand you go to church?”
“I’m a Baptist, yes. And I know God will help me through this, like he done for you.”
“For the longest time, I thought it was a sign from God after it happened. I’m living so loose back then. I partied with men, slept around a lot. I smoked pot. I take pills. I stayed out in the bars and I drank too much. Never went to Mass or confessed. I was a slut, to be honest. I just did not care about nothing but the party. The police, they find out how I lived and I know they just shrugged their shoulders and figured I probably not worth spending time on.”
“It ain’t illegal to party. A lot of people do that. I ain’t done much of that since before Kenny was born, but they still got me.”
Floria seemed to be dreaming. She stared at the door absently. “You know, for months after it happened, I shut down. I would not leave my room. After a while, I would not even feed myself or clean myself. My seester and mi Madre, they had to drop everything they had going and take care of me, like I was some kind of invalid, or some little baby. I was not physically harmed too bad. As women, we can deal with more than most men think they can do to harm us. But inside, I just could not get past it. The ‘why me, God?’ part.” Floria caught her breath for a moment. The ordeal seemed to drain her shiny face of color as she spoke.
“But then one day, clear as a bell, I will never forget it…I hear the voice of God. He told me to get out of bed, to go and take a shower and get clean and to go to Mass. The padre, Father Calgo, he hug me when I got there. It was the first time a man touches me and I did not flinch back since it happened. He told me God spoke to him that night before and Gold told him one of his flock had been in the wilderness and lost in pain. Wounded, but seeking love and the help to get through it. And but only now that soul who was wounded by wolves and lost from the flock was coming back to find her shepherd. And there I was, he say!” Floria shrugged and smiled. “And I never looked back. I heard God’s voice when I need it heard and I finally started to get past it.”