A teacher with a scandalous hobby entertains a boy stranded near her country home.
Mary put the book down and glanced outside. It was a Saturday night. The house was quiet. The pastures outside were still, and the moonless night hung over the countryside, heavy and numbing. Beyond the barbed wire fences, the woods were black and silent, guarded by the oaks and pines, and nothing within moved.
Mary sipped her beer as a car rolled down the dirt road at the end of the driveway. That was almost an eighth of a mile away. She wasn't expecting her roommate home for a long while.
She'll probably stumble in at half past three burping up Devon's D.N.A., she thought. She chuckled and picked the book up. It was Wuthering Heights. She'd been cussing herself for two weeks, ever since she assigned it. From the summary, she assumed everyone in her class would be pleased. She'd never read the book herself, but several of her college friends gushed over it. She quickly realized how wrong she was. The kids found Bronte cumbersome, and she found the story hard to follow. At this point, eleven-forty-five P.M. on a day she'd committed to forcing herself to read the damn thing already, she wanted to toss it into the fireplace and watch it burn.
Mary stretched on the blue-and-white stripped couch. The baggy shirt she wore pulled up to her panty line. The book fell onto the floor. She swore, leaned to pick it up, and muttered, "Who am I kidding?" as she pushed it further under the couch. The scented candle on the end table was almost completely gone. The whole room smelled like roses. She took another drink of her beer, finished it, and stood up to go to the kitchen. She tripped over her high-heeled boots (the ones that made her friends sing that Nancy Sinatra song) in the hallway and swore with gusto.
Mary heard the gate clank closed at the end of the walk.
"What the Hell?"
She froze in the hallway. At nearly midnight, there shouldn't be anyone out and about in this part of the Bottoms. Mostly old people and a few cops lived out here, and they were asleep long ago. She shrank to the floor. At once, the house seemed very empty and very large. Small sounds grew closer on the porch, then three short knocks on the front door.
Mary sucked in a breath and held it. She looked down the hallway at the door. Three more knocks issued forth, a pause that seemed painful.
"Hello?" It was a male voice, quite young by the sound of him. "Can someone help me, please? I broke down up the road a ways, and my cell phone is dead. Hello?" He knocked again.
Mary rose from the floor and stepped down the hall. Surely he would hear her heart before she actually got to the door. She wasn't sure what she was doing. She had no idea who this was, but still—
The light from the hallway fell on a gorgeous young man with dark eyes and golden hair. He looked a little pale, but his skin was clear of any blemishes. He wore a white Abercrombie shirt with buttons down the front, and stonewashed jeans.
As the door opened, he smiled. It was unguarded and sincere. "Hi! I'm so sorry to bother you this late, but can I use your phone? My battery is dead."
Mary smiled. She was completely at ease. "My phone's broken."
His face fell.
"But do you have your phone?" She blurted.
He pulled a razor from his pocket.
"Oh! Well, you can use my charger and charge your phone. If you don't mind sitting in here with me." She smiled a little wider.
He smiled and looked away bashfully. "Sure. I don't mind."
"Alright! Come on in!"
He followed her inside. She led him to the kitchen.
"The charger's plugged into the wall, there. I'll be right back."
Mary stepped into the bathroom. She was a very attractive woman, only twenty-six. She fixed her hair in a few places, checked the sleeping shirt she was wearing for stains, checked her breath. She gargled some mouthwash and removed her panties before she went back into the kitchen.
The kid was standing by the counter. He joined her at the table.
"It's really nice of you to open your home up to someone you don't even know at this awful hour."
Mary smiled at him. "It's fine. My name's Mary Lefave-Turner."
"No kidding? You teach one of my cousins in Redwater, I think."
Mary laughed. "Seriously?"
He smiled and shrugged. "Yeah. He's an odd one."
"Well, I guess he'd have to be, wouldn't he? What else does he have?"
She laughed again and slapped him lightly on the shoulder. "Oh, stop it!"
"Hey! But I'm not wrong!"
Mary blushed and giggled.
She looked down. "No, you're not. But that's not very nice." She met his gaze. "I didn't catch your name."
"Oh, I'm Joey."
"Joey Frank...I guess you are, aren't you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you just said--oh, never mind."
She studied him for a moment. His lips were full. His hair was tousled just the right way. He was lean, sort of like the Satterfield kid, with his pecs filling out the Abercrombie wonderfully. The thought of the Satterfield boy made her mouth water a bit. Had it really been two months?
"Can I get you something?" She lingered a bit on the last word. "A drink, maybe?"
He paused to consider it. "I could go for a whiskey."
Mary's face brightened. "Good call! I think I'll have one, too." She stood up and opened the freezer. "Can you reach in that cabinet and grab some glasses?"
"Sure." He rose and turned. Mary caught a glimpse of his ass in those Wranglers and nearly dropped the Crown. It was absolutely perfect. The muscles in his back danced her favorite tune under the shirt as he reached around on the top shelf. She sat back down with the whiskey and took a moment to appreciate the way his sleeves tightened around his upper arms as he brought the glasses down.
"Here you go!" He handed her the glasses. As she poured, he sat in the chair beside her. When she handed him the glass their fingers touched, and it seemed almost like an electric spark shot through them. It reminded her of the youngest Hanson kid that day he handed in his essay. She'd never looked at the janitor's closet by the girl's bathroom the same way since.
They toasted to nothing in particular and drank. Mary didn't kill it in one try; to her chagrin, neither did he.
"So what do you teach?" Joey asked.
"Sophomore and A.P. English. Occasionally I sub for the Theatre teacher. She's off on maternity leave."
"That sounds like fun."
"Not really. All they do is sit around and watch musicals."
"Do you like musicals?"
Mary raised an eyebrow. "Do you?"
Joey thought about it. "Touché." He took another drink. She found herself praying he would dribble some on his shirt. He set the glass down. "So what's a pretty girl like you doing at home on a Saturday night?"
She giggled and blushed. "I decided I was going to read Wuthering Heights tonight if it kills me. I assigned it to the kids in my A.P. class, but I've never actually read it, so I thought I should get that out of the way. What's a pretty boy like you doing out on a Saturday night?"
"Oh, I was just at a party."
"Oh, really? And you left before midnight?"
He scowled. "Cops showed up."
Mary gasped. "Your car broke down the same night the cops busted your party?"
He couldn't suppress a grin. "Yeah, it sucks."
"No shit. What was going on at the party?"
"Nothing spectacular. I was hoping to seal the deal with this girl I've been seeing, BUT..."
"The cops crashed the party."
He shrugged and reached for his drink. "Hey, what can you do? And the last message I got before my phone died was from her saying that she thought it was a sign that we shouldn't do 'it'." He put air quotes on it with his free hand. He shook his head and raised the drink to his lips. "Virgins..."
"Hmm." Mary looked off into the corner. "I remember my first time. It was in a barn at my best friend's sweet sixteen."
"So when he asked you for a roll in the hay, it was literally--"
"Hey! I'm sick of that joke!" But she was laughing.
"So how old are you?" she asked.
"What is this? Twenty questions?"
"It can be. I ask something then you ask something. No subject is off limits. No family, though."
He thought about it. "Okay, sounds good. I'm sixteen."
"I thought you were seventeen." She really didn't. This seemed to please him, though, and he chuckled like he was a little embarrassed. "Okay, your turn."
"Hmm..." He took a sip. He looked out the window over the sink at nothing in particular. "What's the craziest thing you've ever done?"
She blushed. "Uh...okay, lemme think...one day a few weeks ago, me and this guy I used to see snuck into the janitor's closet down the hall from my classroom."
His eyes widened. "Holy shit, are you serious? That's awesome!"
"Yeah. It was fun. How old were you the first time you did 'it'?" She attached the air quotes.
"I was fourteen. It was with my best friend's sister. She was sixteen."
Mary opened the bottle and poured him more whiskey.
"What else can you tell me about that closet?" he asked.
She burst out laughing. "You're hung up on that?"
"Just interested." He winked and took a drink.
She refilled her glass. "Well, it was during lunch. All the kids were in the cafeteria. The other teachers were with them or in another part of the building. It was perfect timing. Not a soul came down that hallway until WAY after we were done."
"Yeah. Okay, buck-o, spill. What's the craziest thing yoouuuuu've ever done?" She sipped her drink.
Joey whistled. "Let's see. Oh! I've got one. It's really embarrassing, actually. I was at the lake with some people one night in the summer."
"School people or random people?"
"Bit of both. Anyway, we were skinny-dipping on the boat ramp, and drinking beers from this guy's cooler in the back of his truck, and..." He chuckled sheepishly. "This girl I know came up to me, no pun intended, and she was WASTED, and offered to blow me. And I was pretty toasty, and I said, 'Sure! What the hell?' So we went back behind the truck where everyone was getting the beer, and I stood there beside the driver's side door while she got down in front of me. No one even knew what we were doing. People kept coming up to the truck to get beer, they'd walk very close to us, but no one saw us. They figured out what we were doing when we came back around the truck, though."
"Nice!" She raised her glass. He raised his. They made a clinking sound that rang out like a bell in the empty house. His eyes flashed across her chest. She smiled wider.
"It's your turn." She spoke a bit softer.
He looked at her for a minute. He looked into her eyes. He lowered his voice almost to a whisper. "Have you had sex with any of your students?"
She chuckled. Her eyes flitted from his eyes to his mouth and back. She nodded. "Have you had sex with any of your teachers?"
He shook his head. "When was the last time you had sex with a student?"
"Two weeks ago." She was speaking quietly, almost a whisper. "A boy came in during lunch to talk to me about an essay he turned in. We flirted a little, and then we went into the janitor's closet down the hall."
Their faces were closer now. His eyes were locked on her lips. She scanned his face one more time for unease.
Something clanked outside. They jolted. Mary went to the window.
"What's going on?" he asked.
She watched for a moment and turned around. "It's a possum."
He relaxed. She hopped up onto the counter and faced him. His eyes caught a glimpse under her shirt and jerked away. She chuckled and very deliberately lifted one leg up in the air and over the other.
"It's my turn, isn't it?"
"What on Earth has got you in such a spin all of a sudden?"
He smiled. It was sly and competent. "I'm not in a spin. I'm perfectly fine. I'm afraid you've wasted a question, Miss Turner."
Her smile fell a bit. She wasn't as sure of herself as she had been. It felt a bit like she'd lost the control she had over the situation.
Joey walked over to the counter. He stood in a spot almost in between her legs. He rubbed his chin in a parody of sagacity. "Hmm...have any of your students ever been jealous of each other? You know, after..." He made a rather comical hand gesture. She gave him a shaky laugh.
"No. Well, there was that one time. When I asked Kody--the kid from the closet--to stay after class, this other boy looked upset. I think I heard they got into a squabble during lunch. Surprised the hell out of my co-workers. They'd been best friends since kindergarten."
Joey whistled. "You broke up a ten-year friendship?"
She slapped him on the shoulder. "Hey! You've had your question! It's my turn!"
He laughed and looked away as if he was suddenly embarrassed. Mary felt the power shift back into her hands. "When was the last time you had sex?"
He chuckled and glanced at the floor. "About three weeks ago. It was in a cemetery."
Mary snorted. "What?"
She doubled over. She inhaled and snorted, and that made her laugh harder.
He crossed his arms over his chest. "Hey! Why are you laughing at me?"
"It's just so random! Oh SHIT!"
She'd leaned over too far and was about to fall. Joey reached out, grabbed her, and leaned her back. In doing so, he'd crossed the distance between them. They locked eyes and Joey smiled.
"Have any of your students told you they love you?"
Mary scoffed. "Where did that come from?" She laughed to shake it off.
He shrugged. "Just curious. From what you said about the two kids fighting over you."
Mary pursed her lips. "Maybe once or twice. Does it really matter?"
"But do you love them?"
She was flabbergasted. She recovered her composure and said, "It's not your turn! But if you must know, I believe there are all kinds of love."
He locked eyes with her again and smiled. The illusion of control vanished. He'd played into her every move, always one step ahead of her. She saw this, now. From the moment he came through her door, he'd allowed her to lure him until he was ready to pounce.
Mary kissed him. He made a small sound and nipped at her bottom lip. It reminded her of the Wharton kid in her car, after the class trip to Shreveport. The Wharton kid with his pouty lips, strong hands, the tears in his eyes that day with the Hanson kid—
She raked her fingers up Joey's back. He groaned and kissed her harder. She twisted her fingers around the hem of his shirt and pulled it over his head. A few of the buttons popped off it and scattered on the floor. His body was like sculpted marble. It reminded her of the Satterfield boy that day after Wednesday service. She ran her fingers along the grooves in his torso, and he shivered.
Joey lifted her from the countertop and set her down on the table quite neatly. He started kissing her jawbone and her neck. Mary ran her hands over his back.
"You're like an animal after prey," she gasped. She stared up at the ceiling light over the table in languorous ecstasy. Joey kissed her collarbone. Two of his teeth had grown nearly an inch.
"Well, we have that in common, don't we?"
He bit into her throat like an apple. She tried to scream, but one of his teeth was lodged between her vocal folds. She clawed and groped ineffectually at his back, his chest, his hair. She tried to push him off but he was too heavy. Her struggles grew weaker as he drank, and eventually she was still.
Joey cleaned himself up at the sink. The teacher smelled like the fluids of at least ten adolescent boys. He managed to wash her stench off himself at the sink, but he conceded that he would have to burn the shirt, maybe the pants. When he was done at the sink, he used the shirt to wipe the bowl dry. He collected the handful of buttons that were on the floor. He was considerate enough to turn the lights out before he left.
Deputy Pate looked down at the body. A pool of blood had gathered around her head and dried her hair into a lumpy mess. Her eyes were half-open with only the white showing. Her mouth hung open in one final gasp for breath. Two deep puncture wounds glared out at him in the middle of all the red.
"Pate?" Deputy Johnson eyed the body and froze. He nearly dropped the clipboard.
Pate reached over and snatched it away from him. "Anything new, Johnson?"
"Neighbor down the road said no one came down the road after about eleven-forty or so, until the roommate came home at one."
"And by then the girl was already dead." Pate looked at the paperwork. The neighbor's testimony was short. She was an old woman with a few cats, and very much the busybody. Some dogs down the road started howling and "carrying on" around eleven-forty-five, according to another neighbor, a retired officer with thirty-five years experience. The dogs started up again around twelve-twenty, and were silent after that.
Pate glanced back down at the girl and tasted bile.
"I've got to get some air. Johnson, when's the M.E. supposed to be here?"
"I think he's up the road."
The German Shepherd out in the yard started screaming. That was what Pate thought at first. It wasn't a scream exactly, but it wasn't a howl, it wasn't a whine, it wasn't any sound he'd heard a dog make before. He ran outside with Johnson and saw the dog pull away from the officer holding his leash. When the officer pulled him closer, the dog urinated a bit and whined.
"What's going on?" Pate called.
"I think Abe caught wind of somethin' he didn't like!" The dog sniffed around fitfully and pressed on down the driveway.
"He found somethin'!"
Pate and Johnson followed. When they reached the end, an old man stepped out of a parked Ford truck.
"Someone hurt that poor teacher?" he snarled.
"Mr. Hillis, I need you to get in the truck and go home," Pate said.
"How many of my neighbors have to die before you pigs do somethin' about this?!"
"Mr. Hillis! We're doin' the best we can!"
Another officer came down the driveway. "Grandpa! What the blue hell you doin' out here?" He tried to walk the old man back to the truck.
"You tell that Sheriff that if he don't do somethin' about this, there ain't gonna be any more people left down here! We're droppin' like flies while he sits on his ass up there in New Boston!"
"That shit pisses me off," Johnson grumbled. "Why does everybody talk like we ain't doin' nothin'?"
"Cause we ain't makin' anything better!" Pate said. "This is the tenth murder in four months. Four of those murders were on this road. Add that to the twenty kids who've gone missing in that time and you've got one fucked-up scenario. And officially, the Sheriff's Department does not believe that these deaths are 'in any way' connected. Bullshit!"
The law-abiding citizens of Bowie County were getting aggravated with the Sheriff’s Department. It was getting to where even the arrested men and women were getting more irate about the crime rate than they were about their own incarceration. “Why are you arrestin’ me when people are droppin’ like flies” had become the preferred argument whenever someone, anyone, was picked up by police in Bowie County.
In conversation amongst themselves, the deputies grouped the victims into two groups: good and bad. The killer(s) always struck people at opposite ends of the social spectrum. Five of the murdered were convicted sex offenders or people at least accused of (usually) multiple sex crimes. Including the latest, three of the other victims were young, attractive teachers. One was a married father of three, and one was a youth minister who ran a day care with his wife.
The victims were bled out, either through the jugular like the new one or the femoral like one of the other teachers. If they were at home, and several of them were, they were alone, either in the bedroom or the living room, and were usually in a state of undress at the time of death. A few, usually the ones convicted of violent or multiple sex offenses, were mutilated nearly beyond recognition (the youth minister, for example, was found floating in the Red River north of Texarkana with his head and genitals missing).
What marked them all as being of the same mind were the lack of evidence at every crime scene, and what the deputies collectively called “missing blood,” because the amount of blood on the scene and the amount of blood in the victim’s body just didn’t add up to the amount of blood a normal, healthy human being would need to survive. And if these victims had one thing in common, it was their health.
The old man drove away. Deputy Hillis apologized and stepped over to his cruiser to get more film.
"Pate? Johnson?" The dog handler waved them over. His voice was small and confused. "Abe found somethin'."
Pate felt excitement grow in his chest as he approached it. He pointed his flashlight at the ground and froze. The dog sat beside the spot of light and trembled.
Large paw prints in the dirt headed up the road toward the cemetery.
Revised Wednesday, October 6, 2010