/ Language: English / Genre:antique

Header 2

Edward Lee

“What’s a header?” Fifteen years ago, Travis Clyde Tuckton asked that self-same question to his ancient grandfather, and the answer came in a rampage of twisted bloodlust, missing persons, and the most macabre and indescribable act of vengeance that human consciousness has ever devised… Now, in those same desolate woods, amongst dilapidated shacks behind whose rickety doors no one dare look, something even worse has come to curse the land of simple folk, a jubilee of murderous perversity and sexual abomination too hideous to describe. Only the courage of Travis Tuckton could ever begin to set things back to rights but, lo, Travis and his grandfather are long dead…  Ah, but their relatives aren’t! And it will be these stout-hearted men who shall rise to the occasion of the most horrific revenge in the history of the backwoods—an eye for an eye, a head for a head! Not even unearthed graves, molested corpses, abducted tots, and an unspeakable human monstrosity can thwart the might of right. Join steadfast hayseeds Helton, Dumar, and Micky-Mack as they venture forth into a wretched mire of unadulterated horror, where the symbol of ultimate evil is not a psycho-killer, nor a demon, but the full-tilt rev of power tools screaming through the endless night… HEADER 2 Where revenge is all in the mind.

Header 2

by Edward Lee

Necro Publications

2011

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HEADER 2

Text © 2011 Edward Lee

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For Brian Keene.

Lemme know when you

need more crabs!

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First and foremost, I must thank Dave Barnett for publishing HEADER so long ago; next I must thank Glenn Danzig and Verotik Inc. for the very cool comic version and solid pay. Likewise, I’m quite grateful to Michael Kennedy and Mike Anthony of Mpyreal Entertainment for having the sheer audacity to make HEADER into such a wonderful movie; and also to Jerry Chandler and Don May of Synapse Films for releasing it; and to Thomas Deja, Tony Timpone, and Mike Gingold at Fangoria. And I must thank actors extraordinaire Jake Suffian and Eliot Kotek and everyone else in the movie, cast and crew, because you are all dynamite! Thank you!

Further thanks must be paid to my terrific friends at Wild Willy’s in Largo, Florida, the coolest bar in the world: Nick, Rhonda, Johnny, Bob Monday, Sheri, Roz, Stacy, Mitch, Randi, English Richard, James, Royce, Doug, and the rest. To Wendy Brewer and Bob Strauss for indefatigable proofing. Thanks to Tony and Kim at Camelot, and also to the following fans and readers: Paul Legerski; Sandy Griffin and Tony Brock; Jonah Martin, Rob Johns, Jordan Krall, splatterhead4ever, harleymack , Amy M Pimental, mrliteral, Horror Freek, Lilith666, Bateman, Lazy Old Fart, vantro, TravisD, JameyWebb, reelsplatter, boysnightout, Nephren-ka, carthoss, Amano Jyaku, Insalubrious, VT Horrorfan, bgeorge, Tod Clark, John Copeland, dathar, bateman, godawful, Ken Arneson, Bob & Jamie Taylor, Killa Klep, darvis, antitheism, S. Howard, S. Eliot-O’Leary, FrederickHamilton, niogeoverlord, horrormike, vladcain, Kerri, IrekB, Onemorejustincase, jesus was a robot, oh, and I mustn’t forget Dr. A.N. for delightful medical info.

As a side note: I apologize humbly to the town of Pulaski—of which I obviously know precious little—for inaccuracies and various bombast. I had to use your town in this fictional realm only to corroborate details relative to HEADER 1. Please forgive me!

E.L.

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Chapter 1

SOMEWHERE NEAR THE VIRGINIA/WEST VIRGINIA LINE

LATE-DECEMBER, 2010

It was—oh, but delimitation seems called for regarding the unwritten theorem that unless one is, say, Charles Dickens, the writer must never begin a novel with the words It was, due to the shiftlessness of the simple-past form of the verb to be. Poet extraordinaire Ezra Pound, for instance, asserted that the verb to be (and all its indicatives: is, was, were, etc.) was indeed the most important verb in the English language but also the weakest. Exceptions to all rules, however, must be minded; and on that desultory note—considerate Reader—we shall begin again…

It was thirteen days after the 9-year-old hillboy, Crory Tuckton, son of Dumar and Mary Beth Tuckton (the maiden name of the latter being Martin, niece of the late Jake Martin), and grandson of 57-year-old Helton Tuckton, had disappeared.

To reiterate: the boy disappeared.

Without a trace.

Hence, nearly the last fortnight, the Tuckton household (or more accurately shackhold, for they domiciled in Helton’s sprawling, dilapidated oak-plank and cedar- and tin-roofed shack) had lived its life beneath a caul of tense, imponderable despair. No one dared speculate aloud what had become of the boy, though in somber privacy, Helton himself supposed that young Crory, whilst venturing to Hog Neck Lake to trap crawdads as he did every morn, had gotten hit by a copperhead. The idea that he had been abducted had never occurred to any of them.

Nevertheless, though in his simple yet strident backwoods wisdom, Helton Tuckton rarely bowed to such whimsy as superstition, nor was he given in particular to the neurotic compulsion known as triskaidekaphobia (i.e. the fear of the number 13). On this day, however, the thirteenth day, he paused to scratch his massive gray-blond beard and postulate, Blammed if it ain’t been thirteen days since Dumar’s tike disser-peered. Shore as hail hope that don’t bring no bad luck…

It would.

Crory’s mother, the aforementioned Mary Beth Tuckton, in the throes of liquor-amplified sorrow, had hanged herself six days after the little shaver’s disappearance, which is mentioned here only as an interesting formality: 13 being the unlucky number, and 6 being the imperfect number.

Regardless…

The cool December air turned Helton’s breath to mist, and dense thicket it was that he lumbered his large frame through. He checked his ‘shine stash fairly regularly for, see, one phobia he did suffer from was the fear of thieves, and thieves were rife in these parts. Said stash he produced himself, and stored exclusively for family consumption; he never sold his moonshine, in other words. But it was no big secret that a stash might indeed exist, and that existence was a constant topic of idle discourse among the region’s more commerce-minded producers of illegal corn liquor, Hall Sladder and “Snot” McKully being the most ostensible. Helton was halfway to his stash that day when, in the distance, his ear detected a familiar sound—

sheeeeeeeeeeeesh…SWACK!

—which would be the sound of his 20-year-old nephew, Micky-Mack Martin, hunting squirrels with his sling. Micky-Mack possessed a finely honed talent for the proper use of this device; in fact, it had been Helton who’d taught him the art.

“Hey there, Micky-Mack,” greeted Helton when he emerged from the brush. “You catch us a fat-ass squirrel fer supper I’se hope?” but then Helton stopped mid-step when he noticed the lean, blond-headed young man standing with his jeans all the way down, his right hand pumping back and forth with pointed precision.

“Boy? What’choo doin’ jerkin’ off in the woods?”

Micky-Mack grinned over his shoulder. “Got me a hankerin’ to cream on this splittail, Unc Helton. Don’t know why, just…do.

Helton approached the ludicrous scene, first raising a proud brow upon noting that Micky-Mack’s genital endowment was quite formidable and in keeping with the Tuckton/Martin tradition—well, that and then some. But this “splittail” he had a “hankerin’ to cream on” lay perfectly still amid the leaves. A skinny thing, lank black hair, sucked in face, tiny tits laying on a chest denuded of its trashy halter, tiny cut-off shorts skimmed away. The chill air puckered the nipples, and her mouth hung open as if she were unconscious. Yet even more ludicrous was the fact that Micky-Mack stood a full six feet away from the girl.

“Boy, I know full well you can shoot a jizzer farther than most fellas but—shee-it!—you’re standin’ six feet away! Ain’t no man can belt a load six fuckin’ feet!

Micky-Mack maintained the over-the-shoulder grin. “Watch me, Unc Helton,” and after a few more shucks of the hand, out flew not one, not two, but seven lines of semen six fuckin’ feet, all of which landed neatly around the girl’s chest and face, and several of which went directly into her mouth.

Micky-Mack nodded in a self-approving way. His penis remained more-than-momentarily hard—ah, the benedictions of youth!—and when he flexed it once, a remnant squiggle of sperm flipped fascinatingly into the air, somersaulting like a piece of flicked spaghetti. Then he re-hoisted his jeans. “Tolt ya, Unc Helton.”

“Damn, boy,” commented Helton, the spectacle leaving him for a lack of more concise verbiage. “Ain’t thunk it possible for a single fella to shoot that much cum out his bone that far.”

Micky-Mack shrugged. “Just as I been gettin’ older, the more I shoot, the fartherer.”

“Damn, boy,” Helton reiterated but then finally the more serious question arrived…

“And who’s that skinny gal there with the puckered nips stickin’ out, and why’s she…lying there lookin’ like she’s out cold?”

“Don’t know the bitch’s name, Unc, but I seed her around a bunch. I think she’s shorely one’a Hall Sladder’s corn-mash whores and, see, Unc, I was fixin’ to fuck her but once I got her li’l whory shorts pult off I’se took a close peek and see she got warts all over her cooter’n stuff hangin’ out, so’s I just said hail with it’n beat off on her.”

Not a man to chronologically integrate proper questions with observations, Helton peered through his confoundment, then stooped his hulking frame to examine the girl’s privates. Sure enough, the agape, hair-rimmed parcel that was her labia majora appeared pocked with bumps and blisters the size of tree-frogs; and within there seemed to be a fleshy and inflamed disgorgement of afflicted tissue. “Fuckin’-A, boy, you’se right,” and he pronounced “right” as rat. “This gal’s cunt is packed up with disease the same way a turkey’s packed up with stuffin’. Was wise’a ya not to be stickin’ yer bone in that mess,” but then, like a quick snap! of someone’s fingers, a thought of higher priority snapped! in his brain. “Wait a minute now. What the fuck’s wrong with her? Looks like there’s…blood on her head. You find her like this, passed out in the woods? And—fuck!—wait a minute! I heard you fire off a shot from yer sling!”

“Well, shore, Unc Helton. I weren’t huntin’ squirrel as you might’a thunk. See…it was her I hit. And she ain’t passed out, no sir. This fester-pussied bitch is dead.

Rage stood Helton right back up, and he had to struggle not to raise a beefy hand and strike his nephew right across the kisser—something he was known to do on occasion. Helton’s vocal anger, however, was not so restrained. “Boy! Yer Daddy’n me always taught ya—never put a ruckin’ on a gal less’n she deserves it, and never, and I mean NEVER kill no one that ain’t done you a serious peck of harm first! It’s unethical!” and he pronounced “unethical” as unether-krull.

“Un…huh?

“It’s wrong! This hillgirl you just come all over were innocent! Which means you up’n murdered her!”

The younger man cowered in the midst of his uncle’s displeasure, though even shivering he stood his ground. “Sorry yer dander’s so up, Uncle, but way I seed it, there ain’t nothin’ innocent ’bout her. First of all, she were trespassin’—”

“Aw, shit, boy! Yer grabbin’ fer shit! Just tryin’ to juster-fy what ya done!” Helton bellowed.

“And second of all, like I said, she’s one’a Hall Sladder’s corn-mash whores, and ever-body knows how bad Hall wants to find yer stash so’s he can snatch it. So’s I figure it were shorely Hall who sent this whore’a his to scout our property and try and find yer stash.”

Helton frowned at the excuse, suspecting it was just more of the boy’s fear forcing him to rationalize a sociopathic act and very poor error in judgment, but before he could give voice to this notion, a few of his mental cogs slowed down.

My…stash…, he reflected. That’s what he’d been out here to check on in the first place.

“Come on, boy. Help me check the stash,” Helton ordered, and off they tromped through the woods, and within a few minutes they’d come upon the camouflaged outcropping of hillock beneath which existed the egress leading to Helton’s corn-liquor stockpile. He produced a flashlight, then threw back the O.D.-green tarp covered with stitched-on branches and dead vines.

Helton awkwardly fitted himself in, followed by Micky-Mack, but only one sweep of the flash transfigured his rage to sadness.

Helton had had at least a hundred gallons of grade-A white lightning hidden here, but now? The entire storage space stretched before them, empty.

“Holy shee-it, Uncle Helton!” cried Micky-Mack.

But what good was rage now? Dolefully, Helton said in the dark, “You was right, boy, and I’se truly apollergize fer nearly raisin’ my hand. Shorely, it was indeed that skinny whore who helped Sladder rip-off my stash. Why else would one’a his whores be on my land?”

“Dang, Unc Helton. That shore does suck. I only wish I’d gotten myself out here earlier so’s maybe I would’a caught ’em in the act.”

“You’re a fine boy, Micky-Mack, and you got balls, which shore as shit makes me and yer Daddy proud,” Helton commiserated, “but that cut-throat cracker Hall Sladder ain’t one to fuck with all’s by yerself. We’ll get him back proper in due time.”

“She were probably comin’ back, hopin’ they’d over-looked a jug or two, fixin’ to take ’em fer herself.”

Helton nodded with the boy’s simple logic but it was a similar logic that trudged them back to the final resting place of Sladder’s confidante. Revenge must be enacted but in this case only revenge of the post-mortal variety was feasible. Belabored exposition need not be made, only that the slim corpse was flipped over and an orifice other than the poxed vagina was utilized for purposes of angst-assuagement, after which Helton declared, “Wish ya’d got her alive, boy, ’cos it would’a just tickled me pink to put one holy hail of a ruckin’ on the tramp, but I’se guess it’s good enough to leave the whore to rot with a buttful’a our cum,” and then they headed for home.

Though Helton could hardly have been aware of it, he’d taken precisely thirteen steps back toward his shack when the outrage of this treacherous theft would be reduced to insignificance. It was then that his 35-year-old son Dumar called out from afar, “Paw! Come on back the house! We’se just got a package been delivered!”

Helton’s squint found a similar squint on Micky-Mack’s face.

“A package?” the youth questioned.

Indeed.

For Helton and most of his kin were what the Census Department would label “documentation elopement cases”; in other words, they’d fallen off the People Radar long ago. Tax records inactive for decades, no Social Security trail, no utility records. Though they lived on land properly owned by Helton’s mother, Petunia Tuckton, they were essentially squatting there, and this status included Dumar and Dumar’s wife, their missing son Crory, and Micky-Mack. Hence, with no official address, how could any “package” be “delivered?” None of them had seen a mailman in years; and, that said, it must be abstracted now that though Helton could have no idea of what the very near future would reveal, the unmitigated outrage of his “stash” being stolen would just as quickly be reduced to utter unimportance…

Because, thirteen days after the dread and inexplicable fact, the mystery of young Crory Tuckton’s disappearance was about to be disclosed.

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Chapter 2

(I)

PULASKI, VIRGINIA

“…and now on to the local news,” issued the monotonic voice of the radio newscaster. This voice issued from the speakers of a commonplace redneck pickup truck as it clattered down the quaint and rather dull Main Street of the small town of Pulaski, Virginia, famous for the Pulaski Mariners semi-pro baseball team. The driver of the commonplace redneck pickup truck was a fugitive and former Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms agent whose long hair, scrappy attire, and unkempt beard proved his desire to appear as commonplace a redneck as one who might own such a truck. His name and details, however, are unrelated to this narrative. It was not the driver, nor the truck that bore relevance, but instead the radio news broadcast that issued from the truck.

“…another incident was reported early this morning by Pulaksi authorities, regarding the recent spate of animal mutilations. For the past several months, some sick, sick person has been kidnaping dogs—puppies, in most cases—and subjecting the harmless animals to heinous acts of torture, including evisceration, boiling and burning, and dismemberment.” Here, the newscaster croaked something like a sob. “The body parts of these animals are then left in areas that police believe to be havens and/or drug districts in the surrounding tri-city area. The dog killer’s gruesome signature seems to always involve the decapitation of the dog, the attaching of the dog’s head to a stick, and the planting of the stick on or near property thought to be occupied by random drug rivals. Deputy Chief Dood Malone, of the County Sheriff’s Department and commander of the Pulaski Regional Station, had this to say,” and then a far less monotonic voice, tinged by indigenous dialect, continued, “What we got here, in this fine, upstandin’ town of ours, is a criminal of the lowest-down sort, and I mean lower’n snake shit,” the expletive, properly assumed, was BLEEPED out by technicians in an electronic delay. “Aw, folks, now I’se sorry ’cos I reckon I cain’t say snake shit over the radio waves, but I think the seriousness of these crimes will be understood by all the good, church-goin’ folks out there listenin’. Over a dozen dogs—usually cute li’l puppy dogs—has been snatched, tortured’n murdered these past several months, and the experts have tolt me the evidence inder-kates that the levels of torture ‘fore this sick motherfu…motherfooler cut off their heads is stuff like what’d make the Devil hisself heave-ho. I’se mean, innocent little dogs! Now, since we’se always on top’a thangs here in Pulaski County, we immediately contacted none other than the FBI and the DEA to ask for a profile of this piece of shhhhhh…piece of shoot, low-down scumbag, and what they done tolt us is that more’n likely this despicable person is a heroin dealer serving the local areas and maybe—er, proberlee—a illegal immergrint from Venezuela on account of it bein’ known that Venezuela heroin dealers reg-larly mark their turf by torturin’ poor, innocent dogs and then choppin’ off their heads’n puttin’ ’em in the yards of their enemies. It’s a sad, sad day when evil stuff like this slides its way inta the midst of fine, law-abidin’ folks like us, ‘sppecially so close ta Christmas. What I gotta impress upon’ yawl, now, is that the Fido Alert we’ve had goin’ fer months is still gonna be in effect, so—please, hear me, folks. Keep yer dogs inside. Walkin’ ’em’s fine on a leash but don’t under any circumstancers let ’em out in the yard—even if ya got a fence—less’n you’re with em. If any’a ya out there know anything about this sick piece’a shhhh…er, piece’a shucks, then you call up the county sheriff’s department and you ask fer me personally, ’cos when I catch this-this-this person, it’ll be his head gettin’ cut off’n put on a stick, and I’ll be the one doin’ the cuttin’!” A brief disclaimer announcement followed, the county executive wearisomely assuring listeners that when the perpetrator was apprehended, his head would in fact not be cut off, and that he would be granted his day in court.

The driver of the redneck pickup truck raised a brow at the spew of gruesome information. Torturing puppies, cutting off their heads? he reflected. Man, this is one SICK world…

Now, it just so happened that at the same moment the pickup truck was idling past the Martins Pharmacy on Main Street, a pedestrian heading down the sidewalk overheard the entire newscast. This pedestrian’s name was Menduez, late-‘20s, dark complected, and possessed of an arrogant gait. He spoke and understood English now fairly well—yet had an accent more Cuban than Venezuelan, to the degree that he was often accused of deliberately mimicking Scarface—since arriving quite illegally in the United States from his home town of Caracas, Venezuela; and, yes, he was indeed the perpetrator of these hideous crimes against local pet dogs. Hearing the newscast brought a smile to his face, and he thought, Ah, so dat fat gringo sheriff piece’a chit theenk he gonna catch me? ME? He need a fockin’ ARMY ta catch me. Gude lock, fat gringo moth-ur FOCKer piece’a CHIT.

Down the sidewalk he cockily strode, catching some disapproving half-glances from passersby. In one hand was a Burger King bag, and in the other, a burlap sack.

For those desirous of characterization, it should be communicated that Menduez was the only survivor of the vicious M-27 Gang that rampaged through Richmond not too long ago, raping, killing, selling black-tar heroin, and, well, raping and killing. Though, in all verity, most citizens not only didn’t care when gang members killed each other and in fact applauded it, the M-27 Gang killed just as many innocent, middle-class tax-payers, essentially just for the hell of it. Federal agents caught nearly the entire gang in a sting operation several summers ago; a shoot-out ensued, and all the gang members were introduced to the morgue. The only member fortunate enough to not be present was Menduez. (He’d been on the prowl for puppies to abduct from peoples’ yards.) But given the intensity of the heat now on for him, he wisely decided to go small-time, move to Pulaski, and hook up with several characters who shared his expertise for marketing dangerous substances.

Small-time worked just fine.

He bopped along, eventually turning into the part of town that was, at best, ill-regarded: a little industrial park in proximity to subsidized block apartments and shit-looking little houses. A warehouse occupied one section of the park, though; its sign read, of all things, WAREHOUSE, and the actual owner of this warehouse, via a very circuitous paper trail, was one Paul Vinchetti III, known to closer associates as “Paulie the 3rd.” The only wares to ever be housed here were kilo-sized bags of heroin. The warehouse served as the operational base for a group who were as ill-regarded as this section of town: NSG-3—heroin middle-men—and one member of this gang was none other than Menduez.

Menduez passed the warehouse’s closed-for-the-last-ten-years garage door and knocked twice, then once, then twice on the smaller steel door aside. Eventually he was admitted, then the door was relocked.

“There be my bro’, Menduez,” greeted the Gang’s magnate, “Case Piece,” a skinny yet apple-biceped late-‘20s African American who wore cliched “‘hood” apparel: blinking $100 sneakers and jeans hanging halfway down his fuckin’ ass. His t-shirt boasted the face and name of his favorite Rap star, REE-dik-YOU-liss. Sitting beside him, scrawling in a numbered account ledger, was this enterprise’s math whizz and financial director, a Korean illegal immigrant called Sung. He looked kind of like Fuji on McHale’s Navy, for those old enough to even be aware of that wonderful old sitcom starring Ernest Borgnine and Al Lewis. Hence: the human components of NSG-3, which stood for, quite politically incorrectly, Nigger, Spic, Gook. A fourth semi-member—who in fact had been the one to let Menduez in the door—was the Gang’s stress-reliever, a short, slim yet well-curvatured Caucasian woman with blond hair and jet-black roots known as “Highball.” Best described as an over-the-hill gang-groupie, this 35-year-old fornicatress turned tricks for the Gang, helped “baggie” the “skag” for delivery to their “street-points” and individual “hypes,” and provided the boys sexual access on demand. Her nickname had been earned at the tender age of 15 when, upon joining her very first gang—a sprawling meth troupe in Minnesota—she’d unflinchingly masturbated close to 50 men and then expertly collected their ejaculations in a highball glass. This served as her initiation to the gang; and one need not be told what she did with the contents of that glass. Perfect implants graced her bosom, these being purveyed during her better days of stripping. A quality genetic composure was easily observed: Highball’s body still looked quite sexually provocative even after decades of drugs, drink, hard knocks, and carnal abandon. An interesting character trait was thus: she tended to wear a black overcoat with Hip-Hop buttons all over it, that and flip-flops. This ploy came in handy, for instance, to quickly display “merchandise”; in fact, it was preliminary in her admission to NSG-3 only days ago. See, great body notwithstanding, Highball’s face—or “grill,” as Case Piece called it—looked a bit long in the tooth, but, however oddly, the overcoat compensated for this. She had spotted the guys loitering near the local Hess station, and she proved her assertiveness without compunction. Waltzing right up to them, she said, “Hey. I wanna be in your fuckin’ gang.”

Case Piece made a comedic facial gesture. “Shit. You old, bitch. Your grill all wrinkly’n shit. We’re V.I.P’s—we don’t lay no dick on no old.”

“Well, the wrinkles are from meth, but I don’t do that shit no more, and I don’t do crack, coke, beans, eightballs—none of it. My jones is fucking, sucking, and swallowing cum. And what guy really gives a shit about the face? I gotta topper-drawer bod than anything you ever fucked, and I’ll fuck’n suck all’a ya, like, all the time. Just let me in your gang. I’m a gang girl, always been.”

Sung and Menduez stood arms crossed, appraising.

“All right,” Case Piece consented. “Let’s see you pimp your shit. Get them poo-putt bitchcovers the fuck off.

All Highball had to do was open her overcoat, and—

All three gang guys raised big brows, grinned, and began rubbing their crotches.

Case Piece’s enthusiasm burst forth. “Shit, bitch, damn, that’s some xtralishious white-bitch up-town bags and trick-time super bubble-pie!”

“Ain’t it?” Highball said.

“Now let’s see the cash-drawer.”

Highball raised one leg, in a brazen pubic exhibit.

Menduez and Sung high-fived, hooting in their particular accents.

“Shit, ho!” Case Piece approved. “That’s the phattest, toppest, trickest, goldest food-card machine I ever peel-eyed in my whole fuckin’ thug LIFE! Make my baboon sack go all a-fuckin’ quiver!”

“And check out my clit,” she advised, then—acrobatically maintaining the pose—she V’d her fingers over her vulva’s tip, applied pressure, and bared an astonishingly large clitoris. The nerve-corpulent kernel stuck out like the end of a mini-frank.

Damn, girl! You got a cunt-nugget!

 “Fruck!” Sung railed. “You twop dwawer, girl!”

And Menduez: “Dat’s some serious buena CHIT, mang! Keeler tits’n poosy, mang!”

Highball grinned, nodding. “Good. Now make me hip to your crib so you can peel-eye me fuckin’ ya all till you’re cryin’ like babies,” whereupon the boys escorted her to the warehouse and, with great satisfaction, sampled the goods.

And this was only days ago, yet in that short time, Highball had acclimated to the gang quite well, and she even did all of their laundry. At this very moment, though, she flip-flopped herself to the wall where a bizarre apparatus leaned. “Hey, Case Piece? What the fuck’s this?”

The device looked akin to an industrial floor buffer that sat strangely on a long metal blank, rather skateboardish, but the “blank” possessed a peculiar pivot at the center on the bottom. The machine housed a small gasoline motor with the words ALPINE on it.

Case Piece gulped. “That a stump-grinder, ‘ho.”

“The fuck?

“You ain’t met Paulie’n his crew, bitch…”

“Fruuuuuuck,” Sung intoned. “They hawdkwore…

“Chit, yeah,” Menduez added with a gulp.

“So don’t never be dopest enough ta piss ’em off,” Case Piece went on. “See, they be the dudes that bring us the uncut smack every month.”

Highball scratched her jet-black roots, still eyeing the machine. One end was clearly a grinding-wheel. “Yeah? So what’s that got to do with this…stump-grinder?”

“S’fore grindin’ tree stumps but, Paulie? He use it ta grind people. No jive. These dudes? Fuck. Anybody cross ’em, they fuck ’em up, and if they cross ’em bad enough…they stump-grind ’em.” Even Case Piece, as bad-ass as he may or may not have been, showed signs of unease in relating this. “Say some player or jamake start trine to sell smack on Paulie’s turf? Paulie bury the dude up to his neck—no jive—and then one’a his crew, he take that machine’n grind his head off.”

“Fuck!” Highball yelled.

“And there was one time, see, this bagman was double-dealin’ ‘tween Paulie’s smack and some jamake’s—they stake the dude’s squeeze to the ground and, see, this bitch was poppin’ she was so pregnant. So then Paulie’s guy…he stump-grinds the chick’s belly, all’s while makin’ the dude watch.”

Highball paled.

“But ya know what? That dude, he never double-deal again.”

“Fuck,” she muttered.

“Here chore BK Veggie, puta,” Menduez said, and handed her a sandwich from the Burger King bag.

Highball smirked. “You think I can eat after hearin’ that shit? Fuckin’ spic must be crazy!”

“Si, cerda, si,” Menduez uttered, smiling.

“Ya spic fuck! You dissin’ me? What’s cerda mean?”

“Eet meens beautiful woooooman.”

“Oh, well… How sweet!” said Highball, the compliment temporarily divorcing the smirk from her face. To Case Piece and Sung, two Double Whopper Value meals were dispensed. Then Case Piece asked, “What’s in the sack, jack?”

Menduez grinned and removed from the sack a cute-as-a-button Cocker Spaniel puppy. The puppy licked Menduez’s face, frantically wagging its tail.

“A puppy!” Highball wailed in delight, but there was anything but delight in the reactions of Case Piece and Sung.

Highball took the puppy in her arms and coddled it. “Menduez got us a puppy! It can be the gang mascot!”

Menduez laughed, then said to Case Piece. “I found out wheech house those new players creebing at, dah focks.”

Highball didn’t receive Menduez’s meaning, yet so delighted she was with the puppy, she didn’t think to ask. “What should we name it?”

“How’s ’bout Dead Meat?” Case Piece said.

“Huh?” replied the prostitute, and it might be appropriate to remind the Reader again that Highball was new to the gang. She was therefore unaware of Menduez’s abominable penchant; so when Case Piece explained that penchant, Highball shrieked and began to run with the puppy.

“What the fuck kind of sick shit is that!” she screamed. “Ain’t no way I’m lettin’ him torture this puppy!”

Menduez blocked the door.

“Shit, girl,” Case Piece said. “This be a gang, not Sesame Street. You new, so’s you can’t go actin’ all crazy’n shit. Uh-huh. The dog thing is Menduez’s thing. We don’t exactly dig it either but that’s the way it rolls. Menduez, he do a lot for our gang and you…don’t. So cut out the chick-shit and give Menduez the dog back, less you wanna cap in yo’ white ass. You underdig?”

Highball looked pre-seizural at the prospect. But she underdug, all right, especially the “cap” part, but still… Still…

“It’s a puppy, for fuck’s sake!”

WHAP!

Menduez rammed his fist into Highball’s cheek. She collapsed, unconscious even before she hit the floor, then the Venezuelan sociopath picked the puppy back up, which immediately began to lick his face. “American girls, mang, they’se loco,” he said, then took the puppy to a room that was thankfully so far back in the building that Case Piece and Sung wouldn’t be able to hear…the sounds.

Sung frowned, then bit into his Double Whopper with Cheese. “That gry, he no wight in head!”

Case Piece shrugged. “Yeah, well, I guess none of us is. We all a bunch of drug dealers. I don’t know how he can do that shit to dogs either but, shit, that’s what they do where he from. Sung, we need to be more sensitive to other cultures. Me bein’ a player from the ‘hood’n you bein’ from Japan or some shit.”

Sung hacked out a bite of his sandwich. “Ko-wee-ah, man!” he howled. “I from Ko-wee-ah, not Japan! Fruck the Jrapanese, the frucks! In Wald Waw Two, the fruckin’ Jrapanese pigs kill all our men and turn our women to whores! They take our rice and give to their soldiers and make us eat our own shit! Fruck Jrapan! Americans should’ve brombed whole cunt-twee!”

“Chill, chill, Sung. Shit. I don’t know from no Korea, man. Though it was all the same, Japanese, Chinese’n all—”

Sung hacked out another bite of sandwich. “China! Fruck! Dirty Wed Chinese, they come over our cunt-twee in the north and kill us all for the commissar! Fruck the Chinese!”

Case Piece rolled his eyes. “Whatever, Sung. Lay back, huh?”

Both men glanced up at the sound of knocks on the door. Two knocks first, then one, then two more.

Sung opened it, and in walked a tall, well-postured man with neatly trimmed gray hair. He looked rather like John Delorean, for those who remember John Delorean. Nice slacks, nice dress shoes, and, oddly, a white labcoat, like a doctor’s.

“Doc!” greeted Case Piece. “My man! How you be?”

The doctor, whose name was Dr. Winston Prouty, formerly an esteemed plastic surgeon from Beverly Hills, was currently a rather uncharacteristic errand boy for Paul Vinchetti III. Prouty considered Case Piece’s query, then answered in a rich, articulate tone. “Why, your man be…in reasonably good physical and mental repair, I’d estimate.”

“Solid. Shit, we ain’t peel-eyed you in a long-ass time.”

“I’m on a special excursion with Mr. Vinchetti and two of his affiliates. We’re, in a manner of speaking, multi-tasking. Two birds with one stone?”

Sung held out his sandwich. “You maybe rike brite of my Double Ropper, Doc?”

“Kind sir, your generosity is appreciated in the utmost, but I must respectfully decline, as…recent events have forestalled all appetite. I’m here merely to make sure—as the old saying goes—that the coast is clear.”

“It be clear, Doc, it be clear, and, man, we need a new drop off ’cos we is fresh out’a skag.”

“Well then that regrettable deficiency will be remedied posthaste,” and next Prouty made a call on his cellphone, said something, and hung up. Within moments, a refined rumbling could be heard outside.

“Damn, Doc, what you boys drivin’ ’round in?” Case Piece asked. “Sounds like a fuckin’ tank.”

“Holy shrit!” Sung said, peeping through the minuscule front window. “It look like big fruckin’ house on reels!”

Case Piece looked, too, and saw the massive motor-home parking in front of the warehouse. “Shit, we could have ourselves a party in them wheels. That’s trick.

For some strange reason, the innocuous remark caused a moment of malaise within the doctor. “I…assure you that…no manner of partying has ever taken place in that Winnebago.”

“Well, shit. Sung, get the wheelbarrow! We got junkies out there fuckin’ cryin’ for the shit.”

“Hence, the machinations of addiction and its formidable utility in consumerism.”

Three more men entered then, all dark-haired, all wearing suits, gloves, topcoats, and sunglasses. A raucous greeting ensued. The first man was, of course, Paul Vinchetti III, aka Paulie the 3rd, lean, salon-tanned, mid-to-late-‘30s, son of Paul Vinchetti Jr., grandson of Paul Monstroni Vinchetti, aka “Vinch the Eye,” originally a district boss in the Lonna/Stello/Marconi Crime Pyramid, an armature of that mythical human machinery known as the Mafia. (It may be worth pointing out that said crime pyramid was now referred to as the Vinchetti/Stello Crime Pyramid. Lonna and Marconi had gotten greedy and both wound up stump-ground.) Paulie was told quite frequently that he was a dead-ringer for the Duke University basketball coach, but he’d never heard of the guy. Shit, Paulie was a mob boss. He didn’t watch fucking basketball.

Next in Paulie’s crew was an ox-necked, crag-faced, and broad-shouldered lieutenant, Arrigetto “Argi” Calzano. Argi was 55 years old and had caused a great deal of Vinchetti’s enemies to sleep with the fishes. Third was Paulie’s “fix-it” man, a trim, good-natured psychopath about 40 years old: Cristo Picrinni. His real first name was Cristoforro which meant “follower of Christ.” He’d blow-torch a judge’s baby, gang-rape-to-death a police chief’s adolescent daughter, or pressure-cook the head of a politician’s aged father, all without an iota of reservation.

“There’s my man on the street,” Paulie said. “What’s up?”

Case Piece replied, “‘S’all solid. I’m your Ace Boon Coon, my man. We’se just chillin’ and killin’, slingin’ and blingin’, dealin’ and stealin’, thuggin’ and muggin. Everything’s crown—uh-huh.”

Paulie blinked. “And sorry we’re late. The pickups are taking longer and getting smaller. It’s this goddamn recession.”

“Yeah, man, I get the same jibe from the hypes on the street,” Case Piece said. “They’re singin’ the blues. Shit, one junkie told me last three dudes he mugged were broke!

“It’s fucked up. If Obama don’t fix this fuckin’ recession like he said, I’m gonna ask for my vote back!” Paulie blared, and then everybody laughed. Agri was the one with the suitcase, which he opened on a tattered couch. >From this he dispensed five kilo-bags of 95-percent-pure heroin—not that black tar shit from Mexico but the high-end smack from Afghanistan, compliments of our friends the Taliban.

“Damn, Paulie,” Case Piece regretted. “You ain’t kiddin’ the pickups are gettin’ smaller. We was expectin’ seven or eight.”

“It’s a kick in the balls, ain’t it? You’ll have to step on it a little more—fuck ’em. Drug dealers gotta make a living too, you know?” and then everyone, quite obligatorily, laughed again while all but Paulie secretly acknowledged that the remark wasn’t very funny. Then the tirade continued. “Fuckin’ sucks these days, I’m tellin’ ya. Price’a gas goin’ up again, mules chargin’ double, cops gettin’ harder’n harder to get on the pad ’cos they’re more worried about their fuckin’ health care! Top it all off, my wife’s on the rag so I couldn’t even put one in her before I took off. Now that really sucks!”

The others rolled their eyes, then laughed again.

Paulie sat down on an old cable spool that now sufficed for a table. The spool was covered with one-by-one-inch plastic Zip-Loc baggies. “Yeah, the world’s gettin’ fucked up, all right. Shit, you know what we heard on the radio comin’ over? We heard a news guy saying that some really fucked-up-in-the-head piece of shit—some guy in this town—is cuttin’ off the heads of puppy dogs after torturin’ the shit out of ’em. Kid you not.”

Concealing some sullenness, Case Piece said, “Yeah, that’s some fucked up shit, aw right, Paulie.”

“Said it’s some drug-turf thing, and I’ll bet my fuckin’ balls it’s one of these penny-ante fucks tryin’ to work our regions. I’ll tell ya, if I ever caught some low-life fuck torturin’ a puppy, man…I’d have Argi and Cristo do a job on him that would even make me puke.”

Sung gulped. “Yeah, Prawlie. That frucked up. Towtuwing dogs…

“And not just dogs, the guy said. Puppies.” Paulie shook his head. “Just don’t know what’s gotten into the world.”

“Makes me sick just thinkin’ about it,” Argi said.

“Yeah, Paulie,” Cristo added. “I ever get my hands on the fuck? Oooo—mama mia!”

“Shit, let’s talk about somethin’ else. All this dog-killin’ talk’s makin’ me depressed.” Paulie pointed dejectedly to the wheelbarrow full of smack. “So anyway, that’s the way it goes. Cut the shit a little more’n get it on the street. We’re just like anyone else. Tryin’ to do the best we can durin’ economic bad times.” Paulie looked around. “Say, where’s that bean-eater? He didn’t get whacked, did he?”

“Aw, no, Paulie. Menduez—he our crownest drug-slinger—he doin’ just fine. He’s in back…fixin’ stuff.” Case Piece, repressing a minor sweat, directed to Sung, “Why’n’cha roll the smack in back and see if Menduez needs a hand?”

“White away!” and Sung wheeled through one of the doors.

Case Piece snapped on the boombox. “How ’bout we groove on some tunes, Paulie?” and then a cannonade of annoying sound rocketed forth: “Ya gizzle, ma mizzle, ya fizzle with my grizzle! We’re poppin’ caps, we’re poppin’ trunk, my bitch’s pussy smell like skunk! Tiggy tee, tiggy taw, we bustin’ down the law! We got the jack down jaw and we eat duh cole slaw—”

“Turn that shit off!” Paulie, Argi, and Cristo bellowed at the same time.

“Sure, dawgs,” Case Piece said and killed the boombox. “Just thought…ya might want some tunes. Chill out, ya know?”

“That shit gives me a headache almost as bad as the Caruso my mother made me listen to when I was a baby,” Paulie groaned.

Case Piece peeked again out the window. “So, Paulie? What’s with the motor-home? You don’t need a ride that big to putt-putt smack to a few points.”

“Naw, see, this was a special occasion,” Paulie began.

“Doc, he say somethin’ ’bout killin’ two birds with one stone.”

“The Doc was right.” Paulie rubbed his crotch for no apparent reason. “We needed the Winnebago for an action.”

“An…action?”

Argi’s throaty voice kicked in. “That’s goombah mob talk for a button.”

Case Piece squinted. “A button. How come I got the feelin’ you ain’t talkin’ ’bout buttons on a motherfuckin’ shirt?

Paulie chuckled. “We had to whack someone, as in kill him. Vendetta thing. You know what vendetta means?”

Case Piece stroked his beardless chin. “Oh, like revenge’n shit.”

“Yeah. My wife, Marshie, you ain’t never seen her but—ooo, she’s a doll. Ain’t she, boys?”

“Magnifico,” complimented Argi, kissing the tips of his fingers.

“Makes Helen’a fuckin’ Troy look like a pack’a zits on a monkey’s ass,” Cristo said.

Paulie nodded. “Right. See, I only married her two-three years ago but every year this time she gets all depressed and—just like a fuckin’ woman—she never told me why. So I think it’s ’cos of the kid, even though that was, like six, eight months ago.”

“The kid?” Case Piece inquired.

“Aw, yeah, I guess you don’t know about that. See, me’n Marshie, we wanted a kid, so I knocked her up and, bam, nine months later, out pops the kid. Beautiful baby girl. But, shit, see, the kid wasn’t but three months old before it kicks off. Some…kid disease, right, doc?”

“Quite a despairing and heretofore unexplained syndrome knows as SIDS,” said the tall doctor solemnly. “The acronym for Sudden Infant Death.”

“Yeah, that shit—”

“Aw, Paulie, man,” Case Piece offered his condolences. “That be some fucked up shit. Sorry to hear it.”

Paulie flapped a hand. “So anyway, like I was sayin’, I thought that’s what the wife was all in the blues about but it turns out it was somethin’ else too. See, her fuckin’ father’s birthday is in December, and, see, her father got whacked, like, fifteen years ago. He was white trash who got rich on a land deal, so then a couple crackers jealous of his money killed the old guy. Now, Marshie wouldn’t tell me how these fuckers whacked her father but she said it was more awful than anything I could ever think of, but then I think, oh, yeah? Well, fuck, I decided that a little vendetta was in order, and it had to be a real gore-house job, ya know?”

“Oh, so you put the drop on the dudes who whacked the old man,” Case Piece assumed.

“Naw, naw, see, funny thing is, them two crackers? They wound up gettin’ capped by a cop the same day. But just ’cos they’re dead don’t mean it’s all over.” Paulie shrugged. “It was the only thing I could do. My wife wanted revenge so I thought, shit, I’ll show ’em revenge.”

Case Piece wasn’t getting the jibe. “But if the two crackers got capped, who’s left?”

“Who’s left?” Paulie jested, then Argi and Cristo laughed.

“The family,” Argi answered.

Paulie smiled. “Like I said, vendetta. It wasn’t good enough the two guys got whacked by someone else.”

Case Piece grimly eyed the stump-grinder. “So you come here to pick up that thing’n figure on snatchin’ the family and stump-grindin’ ’em, huh?”

Paulie grinned. “Naw, naw. Somethin’ worse.

“Shit, man, that some captown groaty shit. What could be worse than gettin’ stump-grinded?”

Paulie, Argi, and Cristo all laughed. “Somethin’ that all them crackers would never forget. To let ’em know that no one fucks with Paulie Vinchetti’s wife. No one.

Case Piece blinked. “Oh, I dig.” He blinked again. “So…what’cha do, man? What be tricker than the grinder?

“Somethin’ so bad, so off-the-wall gore-show,” Paulie replied, grinning, “that you don’t wanna know. What’cha think, Doc? Ya think I ought to tell Case Piece about the job?”

Prouty cleared his throat. “Actually, sir, if you happen to hold Mr. Piece in any esteem at all, you’d be doing him a service by not telling him.”

Yet, again, the mafiosos laughed.

“Man, you white guys are fucked up,”Case Piece said, “but, shit, that’s cool.” The black man paused. “Wait, Paulie, what the fuck’s any’a this got to do with you guys drivin’ ’round in something half the size of this warehouse?”

“’Cos for this job?” Paulie kept grinning. “We need somethin’ big.”

“Solid,” Case Piece muttered, and even as the narrative becomes more and more muddled, it was clear that Case Piece didn’t want to know.

Dr. Prouty looked behind the beaten couch and alerted the others. “There seems to be a..damsel in distress here.”

Case Piece chuckled. “Oh, that just Highball.”

Prouty touched his chin. “She appears to have suffered a mild contusion of the zygomatic process and upper-right maxilla region.”

“Shit, she got her grill busted for some pain-in-the-ass bitch-city yaw-yaw,” Case Piece corrected.

Paulie winced. “What’s bitch-city yaw-yaw?

“You know. Yappin’, motor-mouthin’, jib-jabbin’ the way girls do.”

“Oh, you mean, she was whinin’ so she got her clock cleaned.”

“Yeah, Paulie, yeah.”

Paulie peeked behind the couch, where Highball lay out cold. “Christ, man. She looks fuckin’ fifty.

“Oh, sure, she be a little wore out in the face, but, shit, Paulie, she be our top dro’”

What?

“You know. Real dingo, man. Get’cha a ringer in yer dinger, get some motch in yer crotch. Queen’a bitch city, you know, our crownest dawgie drop.

What?

“I think he means she’s the gang whore, boss,” Argi said.

“Oh, but…man,” Paulie continued to observe. “Her face is all wrinkled! She get many johns with a face like that?”

“Shitload, Paulie, ’cos it ain’t the face, it’s the bone-covers, you know, the skin-suit. Highball, she be the boo boo head who got a pwizzle put some sizzle in yo swizzle’n make ya wanna drizzle.”

Huh?

“You know, got a pinktown honkie-monkey real boo-ya, uh-huh.”

Paulie frowned.

“Means she’s a good lay, I think,” Argi said.

“Well, fuck,” Paulie said. “Lemme check out the melon-stand, as they say,” and then he reached down to unbutton the girl’s overcoat.

Before the first button could be unfastened, Highball abruptly regained consciousness. She glared at Paulie, then glared at Argi and Cristo, then jumped up, fuming. “Keep your fuckin’ hands off me, you asshole! Nobody touches me unless I say they can! Fuck! Who the fuck are you! You look like a bunch of greaseball, wop, olive-oil goombas!”

All brows rose as silence fell swift as a guillotine blade over the room.

Case Piece cleared his throat. “Highball. You the dopest poo-putt bitch I ever seen. This Mr. Vinchetti and his crew.”

“Fuck them! The fucker was feelin’ me up while I was knocked out!” she yelled.

Case Piece cleared his throat again. “These the dudes I jawwed about earlier. We work for them.”

The silence thickened.

“You mean, you mean,” she stammered. “The guys who…,” and then she cast a terrified glance toward the stump-grinder.

“Yeah. Them dudes. So what you need to do and I mean, like, real split-lickety, is apologize to Mr. Vinchetti and his friends.”

Highball’s blooming eyes beseeched the mafioso. “I-I-I-I’m sorry, sir.”

Several moments ticked by, then, in visible disconcertion, Paulie walked slowly over to Case Piece, inclined his head, and whispered, “Case Piece. Your squeeze just called me an asshole, a greaseball, a wop, and an olive-oil goombah. Nobody calls me that. So you know what that means, right, pal?”

Highball was already screaming as Argi hauled out the stump-grinder. Cristo grappled her and with very little effort abated her screams by the deft application of duct tape across her mouth. Next, he had her pinned to the floor by standing on her shoulders.

Argi pulled a cord, and the stump-grinder revved up, belching exhaust.

“Aw, fuck, Paulie!” Case Piece yelled over the motor-din. “She didn’t know who you was. This a bit…harsh, ain’t it?”

Argi’s preposterously large muscles hefted the grinder’s roaring blade-head by means of the pivot and positioned it right over Highball’s face. The prostitute’s eyes couldn’t have been wider, and she bucked, kicked, and convulsed beneath Cristo in sheer fucking terror.

“Yeah, maybe is it,” Paulie considered. “Besides, the blades on these things are expensive as fuck. Gotta replace ’em every couple of jobs.” He made a cut-throat gesture to Argi who, in turn, shut off the stump-grinder.

“Thanks, Paulie,” Case Piece said, relieved. “I’ll kick her ass myself, and I’ll do a trick-time job, ’cos, serious, Highball, she may fly off at the mouth sometimes, but, shit, I’m tellin’ ya, man. She got uptown bags and a front-door backstop make the Pope shit his pants, and she give gobble-game topper that any boo boo head ever sucked your whip.”

Paulie frowned. “What?

“I think he means she’s got great tits and pussy and sucks dynamite dick,” Argi said.

“Oh, she do, and you’n your crew can have it any time ya wants.” Case Piece looked to Highball, who remained pinned to the floor. “Right, Highball?”

She wagged her head yes faster than anyone ever had in all of human history.

Paulie sighed. “Case Piece, you don’t get it. I’m Italian. When an Italian is smote by a whore, well…that’s just…” He paused and snapped his fingers at Prouty. “Doc, what am I tryin’ to say?”

“I believe,” the doctor began, “that such a regrettable instance demands satisfaction from which there is no recourse; no manner of apology, for example, exists in any level of acceptability.”

“Yeah,” Paulie said. “So… What are we gonna do about this blondie here with the black roots?”

Argi tapped Paulie’s shoulder, grinned, and pointed outside.

To the Winnebago.

“Argi! You’re a genius!” Paulie celebrated. “Why didn’t I think of that?” He slapped Case Piece on the back. “Come on, my friend. Like it or not, you’re gonna get to see that we got in the Winnie!” and with that, they all filed out of the warehouse, Argi and Cristo carrying the girl.

Dr. Prouty was visibly disturbed, as Case Piece would be in very short order. The black man “peel-eyed” the motor-home quite complimentarily. “Trick fuckin’ ride, Paulie. Fucker must be thirty feet long.” The vehicle gleamed in the December sun. A satellite dish sat on top. Case Piece took a walk around, first, noting the sound of a fan running from the rear of the vehicle, and, second, he saw the large drop-door in vicinity. “Paulie, what this big door here, bro?”

“Aw, we ain’t usin’ it—that’s the elevator.”

“Elevator. The fuck you need that for?”

“Wheelchair,” Cristo said as he and Argi managed the still-convulsant Highball.

“Wheelchair?”

Paulie grinned. “You’ll see,” and then he opened a smaller door with steps at the bottom, and showed everyone inside.

“Damn!” Case Piece said. He swept his gaze about the plush interior: leather couches, kitchenette, full liquor bar, shag carpet, giant-ass plasma TV. An impressive laptop computer and auxiliary screen occupied a small ledge opposite. “You shittin’ me, Paulie! This the toppest party-player wagon I ever see,” but then he took a moment in noticing a door in the wall of the back of the vehicle. Simple estimation told him that only twenty feet of this thirty-foot motor home was visible. The rest…

…was behind that door.

“So what gives, man?” Case Piece scratched his head. “This where you snuff folks?”

“Naw. Back there.” Paulie seemed intensely delighted, looking down at the silenced, squirming, terror-stricken form of Highball. “See, that’s where Melda is.”

“Who’s Melda?

The mafioso’s grin kept sharpening. “Go through that door and you’ll see.”

“Uh…”

“Go on. Go in. Brace yourself, though. We got a fan runnin’ but the room still smells like a fuckin’ lion cage. See, Melda don’t wash, we don’t let her, ’cos…” Paulie looked to the even more visibly distressed Dr. Prouty. “Tell him why, Doc.”

Prouty sucked in a despairing breath. “Foregoing typical hygiene, with regard to Melda and her unique utility for Mr. Vinchetti, only compounds the sheer magnitude of the horror for the victim.”

Case Piece didn’t know what they were talking about.

“Go on,” Paulie repeated. “Go say hi to Melda…”

Case Piece opened the narrow door and stepped into the rear room. An utterly silent pause ensued, then—click!—Case Piece came back out, closed the door behind him, and leaned against the wall, the whites of his eyes set in the dark face now seemingly twice as large as they should be.

Paulie, Argi, and Cristo burst now into their most raucous round of laughter.

“What the fuck,” Case Piece whispered, “is that?

“We told ya. It’s Melda,” Paulie was excited to explain. “Melda’s special, like you just saw. We use her for snuff-flicks and the real psycho-sicko stuff to sell to pervs.” Another slap on the back. “Come on. Let’s all go in and we’ll show ya some real action.”

Paulie, Prouty, and Case Piece entered first, while Argi and Cristo followed, bearing the girl who, in the interim, had had her ankles tied together and her wrists bound behind her back. They carried her like a roll of carpet.

Within, the dense, earthy malodor was what one first noticed: a distilled stench of urine, excrement, and soul-upheaving body odor. But what Case Piece was looking at in detail now was exponentially worse than the smell.

“Melda, meet our pal Case Piece,” Paulie announced.

“Hi, Case Piece!” came a high-spirited female voice with a Jersey accent.

Case Piece remained unable to speak.

What he viewed was, indeed, a human being, a naked human being, and one who had to weigh over 300 pounds. She—Melda—sat on a broad bench, elephantine legs parted, while beneath the bench sat a bucket for the manifest purposes of elimination. An extra-wide wheelchair had been folded up and set aside; Case Piece easily deduced that that’s what was used to wheel her in here, and the handicapped elevator was the mode by which she was actually admitted into the motor home. Rolls of pallid fat seemed stacked upon more and more rolls where her lap should be, but half-covered by two flat slabs of still more fat which were, of course, breasts. Each horrendous slab was the size of a ten-pound flour sack but with nipples akin to bologna slices; and from the nipples sprouted veins like some organic Van de Graaf Generator.

The woman was, in all, a human hulk, pale as mashed potatoes, cellulite-riddled: a female Jabba the Hut with bunned brown hair and a sprawling pubic wedge the size of a third of a pizza. The bench that this unfortunate person sat upon…bowed slightly against the mammoth weight, and the previously noted smell which wafted off the pile of flesh was, at best, becoming unspeakable. Ankles swollen by acute diabetes-related edema were connected to big, strangely curved feet whose skin seemed off-pink and pin-prick tight. Toenails, inches long, resembled corroded bamboo shoots. No navel was visible, for the fat-rolls, while her bulbous, multi-chinned face looked like a relief pressed into a massive white pile of baker’s dough.

Unnoticed when juxtaposed with this living spectacle was a digital video camera on a tripod, several lights, and sundry other equipment.

“See her legs?” Paulie said.

Case Piece looked, still speechless. Melda’s shins and thigh-bones seemed slightly curved, and there was something about her hips that appeared oddly and quite abnormally splayed.

“Melda ain’t never walked in her life,” Paulie said. “Some off-the-wall bone disease or some shit. But it’s that same disease that makes her special.”

What’s so special ’bout a giant, fat, honkie ghetto cow? Case Piece thought, queasy just looking at her.

Now Paulie’s grin seemed bright as a tensor lamp. “Ready for the cool part? Huh, Case Piece? You ready?”

“I—”

“Melda, show Case Piece what makes you special,” came the order.

“Oh, sure, Paulie!” the catastrophic woman piped. She reached under her knees and, with some effort, pulled up and spread her massive legs.

“That some fuckin’ poo-putt groaty motherfuckin’ shit, Paulie!” Case Piece wailed without conscious forethought because, see, the unruly pink seam of Melda’s vagina was, like, almost a foot long. “This scary bitch got the giantest fuckin’ pussy in the world!”

“Aw, shit, Case Piece. You ain’t seen nothin’,” and then Paulie directed, “Okay, Melda. Open wide…”

Melda released a deep, sub-octave groan while simultaneously pushing her stomach muscles out. As the gargantuan belly very slowly expanded…the gargantuan vagina very slowly opened…

It opened to an aperture the circumference of a common cereal bowl.

“Ain’t that somethin’, Case Piece?”

Case Piece now had his hands over his face; he was trembling. “Paulie! That woman got a motherfuckin’ impossible fuckin’ pussy, man! That the scariest shit I ever seen! Shit, man! You could put a fuckin’ bowling ball in there!”

“Not quite. We tried. See, we don’t just make snuff flicks, we make all kinds of gross-out flicks for the underground perv market. You name it, we do it,” Paulie boasted. “Wet-flicks, nek-flicks, scat-flicks, torture-flicks, kp, farm animals, shit like that. And giant pussy flicks.”

Cristo added his two cents. ‘Believe it or not, there’s guys out there who get turned on seein’ gross-out stuff, and they pay to watch flicks of women gettin’ things stuck up their cunts.”

“We shoved all kinds of shit up there,” Argi added. “Greased coconuts, cantaloupes, jars of fuckin’ mayonnaise, loaf of pumpernickel…”

Cristo recollected, “Oh, yeah, and that head of napa, head of cabbage, head of iceberg lettuce—”

‘Fuck yeah!” Paulie’s memory kicked in. “And, like, that time Bam Bam Jr. stuck four rolls of polenta up there, oh, and then that big ball of Edam cheese. And, fuck, I swear I remember us packin’ a beef brisket in her once, too.”

“Naw,” Argi said, “I think it was a rump roast, boss.”

Paulie reflected with a nod. “Yeah, you’re right. It was a rump roast, and I also think we stuffed up a seven-pound fall squash.”

Cristo clapped and blurted, “And, shit, that time when Argi didn’t like the rotisserie chicken he got at Boston Market ’cos it wasn’t brown enough!”

The three mobsters howled laughter.

“Anyway,” Paulie calmed down. “That’s the kind of dudes there are out there; they pay to see gals with giant pussies get stuff stuffed up ’em.” He put an arm about Case Piece’s shoulder. “Now, I want you to look hard at that pussy and think about what else might fit up there.”

Case Piece, now nearly in tears, looked paralyzed at Paulie. “Not a…not a…huh-huh-huh…”

“A human head?” Paulie cracked his hands together. “Bingo!”

“But-but-but-but…that’s fuckin’ impossible!”

Paulie shrugged. “Doc, tell Case Piece why it ain’t impossible.”

Forlorn at the prospect, and fairly gagging at the smell, the good Doctor Prouty began, “Melda suffers from two regrettable maladies, one congenital and one post-surgical. We’ll start with the latter: Melda is approximately 40 years old now, and in spite of her, shall we say, uncomely physical appearance and the obvious vaginal abnormality, there have been men in the past who’ve actually had the fortitude to partake in intercourse with her—”

“Some guys’ll do anything for a nut, huh, guys?” Paulie said, then he, Argi, and Cristo laughed.

“Indeed. And just as women in ghetto-environments are wont to do, she’s had many children, all in the interest of advancing her food voucher allowance and subsidized housing credits. However, immediately after the birth of her first child, some 20 years ago, complications demanded a surgical procedure known as an episiotomy: the bottom of the vaginal fissure was cut just enough to allow the newborn head to pass. Afterward, the incision was stitched up but pressure from subsequent births caused the episiotomy to tear open again. One can only re-stitch episiotomy incisions so many times before they begin to…gape. The result is a vaginal pass considerably larger than that of women so unafflicted, a condition called enlarged aggravated introitus.” Prouty had to steady himself, deliberately averting his eyes from what Melda continued to display. “The second condition, a congenital one, is a very rare and unfortunate maladaptation of the bones known as Anberg Syndrome, identified by the famous Latvian physician and medical researcher, Dr. Nora Anberg. Anberg Syndrome affects only one in one hundred million women; hence, the rarity. A corrupt gene mechanism arrests the proper ossification process of infantile bone development—exclusively, the bones of the legs and pelvis. In other words, Melda’s legs and hips aren’t fully calcified, they’re more the consistency of cartilage and therefore flexible. This of course precludes Melda’s ability to walk but it also affords her a ‘variable pelvic spread.’” Prouty now took a wizened breath. “So, given the combination of Anberg Syndrome and the enlarged aggravated introitus, the endeavor to insert an entire human adult head into Melda’s vaginal barrel is quite easily achieved…”

Case Piece heard very little of the clinical explanation, the visual horror before him all too corrupting. “So-so-so…so that’s what you do? You stick a dude’s head in her cooch?

“Dude, chick, whatever we want,” Paulie bragged. “Like I said, we use her for the sick-flicks, but also for hardcore vendetta. Say a judge steps hard on one of my crew. We ask him politely to lay off, and if he don’t?” Paulie chuckled. “Then we ask him not so politely. And say this judge has a 5-year-old kid. We snatch some other 5-year-old kid out of the ghetto, pack the kid’s head in Melda’s pussy and smother him to death. Then we send the video to the judge with a note that says, ‘Stop stepping on my guy or next time it’ll be your kid who gets the action.’ Works every time. One time this RICO agent killed one of my lieutenants, then bragged about it in the paper. We nabbed his 19-year-old princess daughter right off the campus at NYU. Tied her up, taped her mouth so she can’t bite, then plugged the bitch’s head right into Melda’s slot. And while she’s smotherin’ in there, Argi and Cristo are takin’ turns fuckin’ her. We’d plug her head in, fuck her some, then right before she’s about to croak, we pull her out. Did that shit for like a half-hour. In, out, in, out. Finally we left the bitch in and she suffocated, then we haul her out and Cristo fucks her dead body one more time for…what’s the word, Doc?” He snapped his fingers. “Prosperity?”

Posterity, sir.”

“Right. Then we Priority-Mailed the video to the fed. Fuck him. But he sure as shit learned his lesson.” Paulie nodded. “Shit, I’ll bet we’ve snuffed a dozen folks in Melda’s pussy, right Melda?”

Melda—evidently possessed of some enduring vaginal muscles, more than likely through sheer practice—remained with her massive legs pulled up, still displaying the enlarged orifice of horror. “Oh, no, Paulie, more like fifteen, sixteen.”

“And, boss,” Argi urged. “Don’t forget to tell Case Piece about the Parsall job.”

Paulie gave the thumbs up. “Oh, yeah, that was beautiful. Brand-new police chief got elected in Oneida County couple of years ago, cocky fuck named Parsall, and the fucker had the balls to put all our pictures in the paper and a headline sayin’ some shit like ‘It’s All Out War Against the Mob.’ Guy starts bustin’ our numbers nets, fucks with our casinos, turns half our fuckin’ street dealers into informants, even sends DEA all our profiles, like that. Well, I didn’t dig it, so… Shit, Argi, it was your work so you get the honors.”

Argi bragged, “The chief, see, his wife just had a baby, so like a day after, me and my crew dress up like doctors and sneak into the maternity ward and we snatch the one-day-old kid.” Argi winked. “Get it?”

Case Piece stared. His mouth fell open.

“We packed the whole baby right up Melda’s cunt and smothered it to death—”

“—then sent the video to the chief,” Paulie finished. “Melda makes for the best vendetta ever, I’m tellin’ ya. We found her in the Newark slums, had a brother-in-law who ran markers for us. What a find, huh, Case Piece?”

Case Piece could make no response.

“All right,” Paulie announced. “It’s party time.”

The muffled screams that exploded within Highball’s taped-shut mouth sounded more like bad brakes. Cristo, in the meantime, opened up a tub of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, scooped out a handful, and slathered it all over Highball’s head, after which he and his confederate picked the ill-fortuned woman up, held her parallel to the floor in the fashion of a battering ram, then—

The muffled screams shot round and round the room.

—eased her head into the gaping abysm of flesh that was Melda’s vagina.

Highball’s restrained body, quite reasonably, vibrated. Her screams were now barely audible yet the sound was somehow more disturbing. She shuddered and quaked, flipped and flopped, quivered and shivered.

Case Piece just stared.

“Shit, this is fun!” Paulie enthused. “Can you imagine that? Havin’ your head crammed in a box like that? And the stink? See, that’s why we don’t let her wash, Case Piece. The grosser the pussy, the harder the party, huh?”

Hmmm…

After a minute, Argi and Cristo pulled Highball’s head out, and from that head the most wicked stench fumed. “It’s your call, boss?” Agri pointed out. “We give her a break, or we stick her back in?”

Paulie made a studied expression as he contemplated Highball’s fate.

Even Cristo, the most sociopathic of the lot, lent these words of leniency. “You know, boss, sure—she gave us some hard lip but like Case Piece said, she didn’t know who we were. I mean, fuck. You wanna smother her to death in a giant pussy just ’cos of that?

“Not sure,” Paulie said, still thinking. “What about you, Doc?”

Dr. Prouty took a handkerchief away from his mouth. “I think, sir, that this is perhaps one of those instances when forgiveness and compassion are in order.”

“Yeah, maybe you’re right,” Paulie considered. He looked at Highball’s terror-twisted faced.

Beneath the duct tape, the muted plea could be heard: “Please! Please don’t kill me!”

Paulie tapped a foot, winced, then said “Fuck it. I just don’t like the bitch’s face. Put her back in, guys.”

“Back in?” Argi asked.

“Back in. Kill her.”

Now the muted screams sounded anything but human as—

“One…two…three…”

—Higball’s head was reinserted into Melda’s vagina, the blond prostitute’s face slowly but surely swallowed.

“Aw right, Melda. Batten down the hatch. I want the bitch smothered.”

“Oh, right away, Paulie,” the hideous woman complied, and the preposterous rim of her vulva constricted.

“See, Case Piece,” Paulie explained. “Just ’cos Melda’s got the biggest, sloppiest cunt in the world, she’s done this so many times that her pussy muscles are…are—” Paulie snapped his fingers. “Doc, what am I tryin’ to say?”

“Perhaps…gymnastically adroit, sir?”

“Yeah, that’s what I meant. Melda, she can lock that cooch down. Like a kid suckin’ a jawbreaker, I ain’t kiddin’ ya.”

The near-death-throes of Highball reached up into Melda’s body like some heinous form of conduction, to the point that the obese woman began to quiver as well, mounds of cellulite-stricken fat oscillating rather spectacularly. But it was Case Piece who finally snapped out of his utter incogitation and made this final plea to Paulie: “Shit, man! This is fuckin’ awful, Paulie! She really deserve ta die like this? I mean,” and he leaned over. “You ain’t even had time to peel-eye her bone-covers, man.” Case Piece quickly unbuttoned Highball’s overcoat, revealing all of the girl’s sexual attributes at once: the desirous curves, the unflawed implants, the trim stomach and sleek white-trash legs.

Paulie took one look and gulped. “Holy shit! That’s a brick-shit-house body if I ever seen one—Argi, Cristo! Pull her out!”

‘Pull her out?” Argi questioned. “But you just said kill her.”

Don’t kill her! Pull her out!”

The sound of the withdrawal was akin to a booted foot lifting up from ankle-deep mud. Highball was pulled out, and she was dropped to the floor. Argi peeled off the tape.

“Today’s your lucky day, bitch,” he said.

Highball heaved upward, cock-eyed and gasping for breath. Her eyes looked fit to jettison.

Argi nudged her with his foot. “The boss decided to let your sorry ass live. So what do ya say?”

Highball’s lower jaw chattered like someone in sub-zero weather. “Thuh-thuh-thuh…thuh-thuh-thuh…thank you…”

“Yeah. Thank you is right.”

Next, Paulie nudged her with his foot. “Your face looks like fuckin’ dried fruit but your body rocks.

“Told ya, bro,” Case Piece augmented. “Highball, she got what players call a booty-tooty thunder cunt, clit like a fuckin’ olive, man, real phat-ass blunky monkey, don’t’cha know? And tits like ta bring the roof down, uh-huh.

Paulie remained stifled by the perfect physique. “It’d be a crime to whack a bod like yours, bitch, so don’t forget who gave ya a second chance. Now get inside and wash all that pussy slime and butter off your face. Me and the boys’ll be in in a few, to fuck the livin’ daylights out of ya.”

Highball just sat there, kind of rocking. It should be pointed out, too, that her jet-black roots beneath the blond hair had, in the grueling interim, turned snow-white.

Case Piece yanked her up and—

WHAP!

—kicked her in the ass. “You heard the man, ‘ho! Get yo stupid beezy boo boo head self inside and wash! You the one wanted to be in a fuckin’ gang.”

Highball, whose eyes perhaps still hadn’t closed, staggered out of the Winnebago.

Case Piece addressed Paulie. ‘Damn, man. You dudes are rough fuckin’ customers.” Then he took another nauseous glance at Melda, who—after two very tonerous thuds! had put her morbid bare feet back on the floor. At once, she tore into a box of Little Debbie Chocolate Swiss Rolls, which still tasted as good as they did 40 years ago.

“Paulie, can we get the fuck out’a here? This rollin’ crib’a yours a fuckin’ horror-house on fuckin’ wheels, man. The shit I see go on here today gonna keep my dick down for, like, a hundred motherfuckin’ years.”

Paulie and his crew laughed hard, then led him back outside.

“So let me get this straight. You use Melda for fucked-up flicks and for this vendetta shit you was rappin’ about, right?”

“Yeah. Pretty nifty, huh?”

Case Piece’s facial reaction suggested that “nifty” was probably not the word he’d use to describe the process. “Uh…and you brought her all the way down here to…what? Whack some dude related to the dudes who offed your wife’s father? I got that right?”

“Not a dude.” Paulie grinned, then Argi and Cristo grinned as well, all quite sinisterly. “It was a 9-year-old kid.”

“And speakin’ of that…” Argi looked at his Rolex (a real Rolex, not one of those knock-offs). “I think our package has probably been delivered by now…”

— | — | —

Chapter 3

(I)

“Well, gawd durn!” Helton exclaimed with some ire once he and Micky-Mack had returned to the shack. His son, Dumar, still tamped down hard by fears regarding the disappearance of his young son, made a startled expression.

“Dang, paw. What’cha riled about?”

“Riled? Fuck. That low-down ear-wax-eatin’ cracker Hall Sladder done stolt my whole stash’a ‘shine.”

“He shore as shit did, Cousin Dumar,” piped in Micky-Mack.

“Fuck!” Dumar shared in his father’s displeasure. “Ain’t that a kick in the tail..but, shee-it, Paw, maybe this’ll cheer ya up ’cos, like I just done calt out to ya”—Dumar’s voice lowered to an enthused whisper—“we gots ourselves a package.

“Well, aw right, so what’n tarnations is it?”

“Don’t rightly know yet, Paw, on account it’s got your name wrote on it. Come on!”

Dumar led them into what served in this ramshackle abode as the “living room,” where in the middle of the wood-plank floor sat…a package. It was a box the size of a briefcase, plain cardboard, and the words FOR HELTON TUCKTON written on it in tight script. Next to the box, in a hand-made chair, sat a tow-headed adolescent boy in jeans, boots, and a ratty jacket. He smelled, oddly, of old cooking grease.

“Well, hey there, son,” Helton greeted. “Ain’t you one’a Cork McKellen’s kids?”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Tuckton,” the boy said with pride. “I’se Trucker McKellen, and, see, I brung ya this package.”

Helton squinted. “Well that’s dang nice’a yer Paw to send me a package, but—”

“Oh, no sir, it’s weren’t my daddy sent it. I was just asked to bring it to ya.”

The prospect of a package was, indeed, interesting, especially in this time of low-spirits. But Helton for the life of him couldn’t understand.

“So if’n it ain’t from your daddy,” Micky-Mack posed to the boy, “who’s it from?”

The young lad of 12 or so explained, quite long-windedly, “Well, see, I got me this job in Luntville, working how they call ‘under the table’ at the Wendy’s. What I do, see, is I clean the toilets”—which he pronounced as toe-lits—“and pump out the grease-pit ever-day”—which now explained the boy’s curious redolence—“and, see, they’se pay me three dollars a hour, like I said, ‘under the table,’ so’s I don’t have to pay taxes to the gover-mitt. See, it saves ’em money in this thing goin’ on that we’se all hearin’ ’bout called the Repression, and I think that ain’t bad ’cos ain’t many folks round here got a proper job, and the money I make I can give my daddy—”

”Well, that’s mighty enterprisin’ of ya, Trucker,” Helton complimented, but it was difficult to stay his frustration ’cos he couldn’t see what cleanin’ a grease-pit at a hamburger restaurant had to do with this package. “And I’m sure your daddy’s a right proud’a ya, but hail, how is it you come to bring me this package?”

The boy continued, seemingly vibrant in some inexplicable nervous excitement. “That’s what I’se fixin’ ta say, sir, ’cos, see, after I finished cleanin’ the pit, my shift is over so’s I go outside to start a-walkin’ home when, when…”

“When what?” Dumar asked with his patience wearing thin.

The boy seemed in a dreamy fog, “…when I look up at this great rumblin’ sound, and what it is, see, is the biggest, fanciest white motor-home I ever seed comin’ rollin’ down the road past the Pip Boys Cleaners and the Qwik-Mart and that place with the sign that say Relax At June’s which I heared is what they call a ‘jack shack’ on account men go in there and pay ladies to play with their willies whilst they stuck a finger up their butts I guess ’cos—”

“Son, son,” Helton interrupted. “You shore have a roundabout way’a tellin’ us ’bout this package. Who done give it to ya?”

“Yes, sir, I was gettin’ to that—”

“Well try gettin’ to it a little faster,” Dumar said because he, like the others, was very curious about this box.

Trucker McKellen nodded, “Yes, sir, I’se will. But…dang…” The lad scratched his head. “I’se cain’t seem to remember what I were sayin’!”

“A motor-home!” Helton nearly yelled.

“Oh, yeah, yes sir, it were that motor-home I tolt ya about, all shiny white’n fancy it was. See, while I’se were walkin’, the motor-home—and I’se mean it were a really big one, all shiny and gleamin’, like I think it were brand-new—but anyway, that motor-home stopped right in front of June’s and then these three men get out, and they’re shorely citified men ’cos they’se wearin’ hats’n sunglasses and these real nice pants’n shoes’n jackets, and each of ’em even had these fancy things ’round their necks that I’m pretty shore folks call ties. And anyways, I think for shore that these city fellas are goin’ into June’s to pay ladies to play with their willies while’se they gots a finger up their butts ’cos that what I heard them ladies in there do, and, see, I’se even heard that some’a them ladies’ll suck on a fella’s willy till that white stuff come out and—”

“Dang, boy!” Helton finally barked. “Tell us about the fuckin’ package!”

“Oh, yes, sir, that’s what I’m fixin’ ta do,” the boy laboriously continued. “But see, these fellas, they didn’t go into June’s. Instead, they all look right at me.

“Trucker,” Micky-Mack asked, “was it these citified fellas who done give you this package?”

“Oh, yeah, that’s what I been meanin’ to tell yawl. They waves at me after they get out’a that big white fancy motor-home, then they walk over, and they’re all real nice’n smilin’ and they ask me if I ever heard of Helton Tuckton.”

At this data, Helton’s eyes narrowed. “That so?”

“Yes, sir, they ask me if’n I heard’a ya so’s a’course I say yes sir, and then one’a the city men, he step up and say that he’s a friend’a yours and he got a package for ya, but see, he don’t know where ya live.”

Dumar and Helton looked at each other.

“—so I’se say, yes sir, down the old trail off’a Dog Tail Road past the deadfall about a mile, but then I tell ’em that that road ain’t big enough for that big fancy motor-home see, so then this fella, real nice fella, I mean ta say, all of ’em, that is, but this fella ask me since he cain’t drive his fancy motor-home to yer house, could I take this here package to ya directly, so I say yes sir, and you know what he done? He done give me a hunnert dollars for doin’ it!”

Helton went into some deep contemplation. Something just didn’t sound right about this. “Trucker, you say this city fella paid you a hunnert dollars to deliver this package to me?

“Yes, sir, that’s a fact.”

“And you say that he says he’s a friend of mine?”

“Oh, yes, sir, he say you’re a good friend’a his, for shore—oh, oh—and he even tolt me his name. He said his name is Paulie.

Helton stood stunned. His son and his nephew peered at him.

“Well, I cain’t think of a city fella who’s a friend’a mine,” Helton gave voice to the puzzle. “Ain’t never known no Paulie neither.”

“Well shit on all’a that, Paw,” Dumar suggested. He was tired of all this talk.

“Could be someone ya forgot, Unc Helton,” Micky-Mack added.

“Let’s just see what it is that this fella Paulie sent ya,” Dumar said. “Then you’ll shorely remember him.”

“Yeah, I guess’n yer right.” He looked to young Trucker McKellen. “I thank ya kindly for walkin’ all that way with this package, son. But you best git on home now, and think ’bout how you’re gonna spend them hunnert dollars.”

“Oh, I will, sir,” the boy said. “I reckon I’ll give it to my daddy on account he work so hard and still ain’t got over my mama up’n leavin’…” Trucker looked at the five $20 bills. “Or, dang, maybe I’ll just give some of it to my daddy and keep the rest.”

“Ain’t no reason not to,” Micky-Mack said. “It’s your money.”

Now the boy’s brows rose in an anticipation. “Mr. Helton, you think for maybe fifty dollars one’a them ladies at June’s would stick her finger up my butt while’se playin’ with my willy? My mama used to do that fer me when I was little, and now that I recall…it felt a right good, it did, and—”

Helton winced. “Aw, son, now we don’t wanna hear ’bout none’a that—”

“—and sometimes my daddy’d come in and then he’d—”

“That’s enough, Trucker. Just you run on home now,” Helton insisted, and then, after a polite if not crude farewell, the boy was gone.

“Jesus,” Helton muttered.

Dumar’s face was all lit up. “Come on, Paw! Let’s see what’s in the package!”

Helton whipped out his Buck knife and zipped it through the clear packing tape. He opened the box, looked inside, and withdrew…

“Another package,” he muttered.

Sure enough, there was another box inside the first box, but this one had—

“What’s all that writin’ on the box, Unc Helton?” inquired Micky-Mack.

“Yeah,” Dumar said, “I cain’t read for dick, but you can, Paw. What’s all the black letters say?”

Helton put on an ancient pair of spectacles and, squinting at the box, slowly recited: “M-a-g-n-a-v-o-x…p-o-r-t-a-b-l-e…d-v-d…   p-l-a-y-e-r…” He blinked. “What the hail’s that?”

“Aw, shit, Unc,” “Micky-Mack enthused. “I know what it is,” and then he opened up the second box and pulled out a small, sleek device, whose lid amazingly flipped open.

“I’se think I heard of ’em myself,” Dumar speculated.

Helton frowned. “Well I ain’t never heard’a no such thing.”

“Aw, yeah!” Micky-Mack placed the player on a handmade table and showed the others how there was a viewing screen inside that flipped up lid. “See, it’s fer watchin’ movies!

Helton eyed the strange machine. “Movies? Ya mean like the movin’-picture show?”

“Yeah!”

“Shee-it, I only been to one movin’-picture show in my life. Was back when I was a little kid and some fella named Eisenhower were president.”

“What was the movie, Paw?” asked Dumar.

“Some silly shit ’bout giant octopusses or some such attackin’ underwater boats. 20,000 Weeds Under The Sea’re somethin’ like that. Didn’t much care for it.”

“Unc, things have changed in these times,” Micky-Mack went on, inspecting the machine. “Now they got these really cool modern movies made in this fancy place called Hollywood. See, I know this ’cos—‘member Crud Tooley? Just a few months ago he come back from the Army, from fightin’ these people they call towelheads in the Eye-Rack, and, see, I hadn’t seen him in years but one day I were walkin’ in town and I see him and he says, ‘Hey, Micky-Mack! I’m back! Let’s go to my place ’cos my sister’s havin’ a up against the waller!’ so I say, ‘Hey, Crud, good to see ya but—shee-it—what’s a up against the waller?’ and he say, ‘Come on up the house and you’ll see,’ so I go with him and, see, it cost ever-body a dollar to go to this up against the waller; Crud, he say his sister has ’em all the time. So when I gets there we go down the basement and I’ll be danged if there weren’t twenty fellas down there, ever-one from Old Man Halm to Mr. Winslow the school principal, and the Larkin Boys—all five of ’em—and that bald-headed fella I hear plays the organ at church, oh, and—”

“Micky-Mack!” Helton raised his voice. “Get to the dang point!”

“Uh, well, shore, Unc. Anyway, what this up against the waller was, see, was Crud’s sister Tulip—she look kind’a funny ’cos her eyes are crooked, and Crud, he tolt me it’s ’cos their mama drunk a lot’a ‘shine when she were pregnant—but anyway, we all give Tulip our buck and then all twenty of us line up against the wall and drop our pants and—I ain’t kiddin’ ya—Tulip got down on her knees and sucked each’n every one of us off. Swallowed ever-thang, too, even my big nut. And ya wanna know the funniest part? Tulip even charged her own brother a buck!”

Helton gaped. “Micky-Mack. You run yer damn mouth more’n Mckellen’s kid. What the fuck’s a 13-year-old girl blowin’ a basement full’a rednecks got to do with this damn thingamajig that come from the package?”

“Oh, well, that’s right, I was gonna tell ya that,” Micky-Mack admitted to a diversion of topics. “It was Crud, he brung one back from the Iraq and tolt me all about it. Ya watch movies on it. Movies that ya can buy in the big-city stores, and, shee-it, now that I think of it, it’s a right kick in the ass for Tulip to charge her own brother for a blowjob when it’s been him paying the property taxes on the house!”

Helton sat down and sighed. “Son. You can probably tell I’m in bad spirits right now. My grandson’s missin’, my daughter-in-law just hanged herself, and today I find out Hall Sladder stolt all’a my moonshine. Now I got this fuckin’ package from some fella named Paulie I never heard of, and I got this fuckin’ machine sittin’ here and as bad as I wanna know what it is, you’re bendin’ our ears ’bout Crud Tooler’s sister chargin’ him a buck for a fuckin’ blowjob. I don’t wanna know about that”—he pointed aggravatedly toward the machine—“I wanna know about that.

“Does kind’a suck, Paw, that Crud should have to pay even though he been the one payin’ for the house his sister lives in,” Dumar pointed out but then he paused. “A’course, Tulip, she give a dandy blowjob—I got me one off’a her a couple years ago—so’s I guess if Crud don’t like it, he can blow his own self,” and then he and Micky-Mack howled laughter and high-fived.

Helton’s large, bearded face came down into his hands; he bellowed, ‘WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT DAMN MACHINE!”

Dumar and Micky-Mack straightened right up when they saw how out of sorts Helton had become. “Calm down, Paw,” Dumar said.

“And the machine?” Micky-mack stepped in. “It’s like I was sayin’, it plays movies. It’s kind’a like that thing we had a while back—the tv—only this don’t show shows, it shows movies. And these machines are a right ‘spensive, Unc Helton, so this friend’a yers, this Paulie fella, he’s a damn fine friend fer sendin’ you such a snazzy gift.”

Helton remained in this quandary. Who on earth would send him something like this, some new-fangled doohicky he had no use for? “So, what? We gonna watch a movie now?”

Micky-mack stalled. “Uhhhh…well…now that I think on it… It’s the movies themselves are the dvd’s—they’se these round things ’bout the size of a beer coaster at Crossroads, only a little bigger, and they’re really smart-lookin’, see, they’re all shiny’n silvery, and believe it or not, a whole dang movie fits on one of ’em. All ya do is stick it in this slot on the machine but…” Micky-Mack’s befuddlement was clear. “Don’t look like this friend’a yours Paulie sent ya any movies to go with the machine. Unless…” The 20-year-old finnicked with the machine and—presto!—a small drawer, like magic, automatically slid out. In the drawer lay something quite similar to what Micky-Mack had just described.

“Well, how ya like that, Unc Helton! Your pal Paulie already put a movie inside!” Micky-Mack studied the buttons on the machine. “Now, give me a sec while I’se figure this out.”

“Aw, fuck, boy,” Helton continued to complain, because he didn’t have much liking for modern contraptions. Likely as not, they were more trouble than they were worth. “And, shee-it. If’n this blasted thing’s like that ole teller-vision we had, then it must run on the blammed electricity. I gotta haul out the blammed generator?

Micky-Mick’s face seemed illumined in excitement. “Oh, naw, Unc. It’s this new tek-knowler-gee. This li’l movie machine here? Don’t need ta plug it inta mothin’!”

“Then how the fuck’s it work!”

“It runs…,” and Micky-Mack’s voice quieted as if in veneration…, “on a battery.

Helton threw his hands up. “Well then, balls, boy. If’n we’se gonna watch a movie, then make the blasted thing work.

Micky-Mack fiddled with some buttons—for, like Dumar, his reading skills were barely existent—until he inadvertently pressed one that read PLAY, and again, like magic, the little drawer closed…

And the screen lit up.

Dumar sat down next to his father. “Aw right! Looks like we’se gonna watch ourselfs…a movie!

(II)

Archie leaned forward, elbows propped up on the well-stocked cellphone counter; he was hamming it up with his boss, one Mike Anthon, a snide, too-good-looking-for-his-own good 30-year-old who fancied himself a cocksman and a smooth-operator, and there was little untruth in that fancy. Both men were eyeing Veronica’s rump as she leaned over the camera counter, showing a customer (whose t-shirt read EVEN JESUS HATES THE YANKEES) the latest variety of Dynex-brand mini memory-card readers.

Archie had spiked hair that looked less 2010 Me Generation and more early-‘80s post punk, though neither actually appeared in keeping with a town like Pulaski where buzzcuts comprised the majority of men’s hairstyles. Mike, on the other hand, had short, dark, punctiliously trimmed hair and impenetrable dark eyes, and looked rather like a modern, darker-haired incarnation of Nick Adams (for those who even remembered Nick Adams), and this might explain the veritable posse of young women who seemed to revolve around him as if through some cabalistic sexual gravity. (The previously mentioned Veronica was one such woman in that same gravitational field.) It was Mike who essentially ran the Pulaski Best Buys; Archie was his floor manager, while Veronica worked the camera department, and now that that’s out of the way, we can listen in to the discrete and notably sexist conversation between the two men.

“Not bad looking—not bad at all,” Archie regarded.

“Yeah, but for a package like me, not bad means not good enough,” Mike replied. “Chicks have to take a number to go out with me, and most of them are tens. Veronica’s maybe a six.”

“Six? Oh, come on. That bod’s way better than a six, you cruel motherfucker!” Archie laughed.

“All right, let’s break it down. I’d give her tits a solid nine, maybe even nine-point-five—hands down, it’s a killer rack. And, damn it, I’d be lying if I didn’t give her ass a nine to go along with the tits. Serious.”

“What about the hoonanny?”

Mike crossed his arms. “Gotta give that a nine, too. Perfectly formed, you know, none of that turkey skin shit hanging down. And she’s got this ass-kicking racing stripe, man. It’s the same color as her hair—that real, real light brunet.” Mike shrugged. “Her pussy rocks too. Can’t complain about any of it.”

Archie pursed his lips. “Then how come she’s a six overall?”

“Well, I’d have to give that mousy face a six, and the thick glasses don’t add to the party.”

“Your math’s all wrong, man. Average three nines and one six and you’ve got eight-point-five.

Mike shook his head. “Tangential circumstances. That’s why I’m dumping her.”

The revelation came as a surprise to Archie. “But she’ll be heartbroken. She’s nuts about you.”

Mike smirked. “Archie, I hate to tell you this, but all girls are nuts about me. And not just nuts but I mean goo-goo-ga-ga, mushy, gushy crazy-in-love nuts.”

“It’s your modesty that attracts them, I’m sure.”

“Seriously, Veronica was just a booty call,” Mike went on, “and there wasn’t even any booty.”

A canted look from Archie.

Mike continued, “What good’s a pussy that ranks a nine if you can’t fuck it?”

“What do you mean?”

“What do I mean? I mean she doesn’t fuck. She’s a virgin; she’s got this weird virgin-thing—won’t fuck till she’s married.”

“I didn’t think they made girls like that,” Archie commented. “Especially in Virginia.”

“She’ll suck my dick day and night but won’t fuck. The only way my battleship gets into that port is with knock-out drops.” Mike looked suddenly irked. “And she won’t let me ass-fuck her, either.”

Archie flipped a hand. ‘Well, I’m not into the ass stuff myself. I don’t want to get some chick’s shit packed up my peehole. I mean, think about it. Say you buy a girl dinner on Saturday night, then on Sunday you fuck her in the ass. The shit that gets packed up your peehole and caked around the rim is from the same food you bought her the night before. It’s fucked up.”

Mike frowned at his friend. “Whatever. And the tit-fucking gets old fast, even with a class rack like hers.”

Archie stole a glance to Veronica, then seemed to imagine the possibilities. “At least she lets you do it. Some girls are fussy about that. Don’t know why.”

“It’s almost like a consolation prize, like she’s doing me a favor letting me tit-fuck her. I mean, you can only do it so many times before it becomes monotonous. Fuck, I slop all over those tits. They look like rum buns by the time I’m done.”

“But if she sucks your dick day and night? Sounds all right to keep on the side, even without the pussy.”

Mike appraised his Guccis, having already written poor Veronica off in his mind. “With every girl, you get the good with the bad. Veronica’s worth money—”

Archie’s attention snapped to. “Money? Like, how much?”

“One of her uncles won the Michigan Lottery, bagged, like, a hundred and twenty million, but set 20 million aside for Veronica on two conditions. One, she has to get a college degree and, two, she’s gotta be married by age thirty. That’s when she gets the dough if she meets the conditions.”

“How old is she?”

“Twenty-three.”

“And how’s her college smarts?”

Mike’ brow tittered. “She already graduated with honors from VT, got her degree in Plasma Physics.

“Fuck. Smart chick. With a degree like that, she can write her own ticket once this fuckin’ recession’s over.”

“Yeah, and that’s what she wants to do even though she gets all that money when she hits the Big Three Oh.”

If,” Archie reminded, “she’s married.”

“Right. And she’s already told me to my face: the only guy she ever wants to marry is me.

Several moments of silence followed, Archie cogitating. “Twenty million? Man…you’d never have to work again.”

“You think I haven’t thought about that?”

“And, shit, if you’re married, then she’ll fuck you.”

“Sure, but she wants to have kids. I got no desire to raise kids.

“Then get a nanny! With twenty fuckin’ mil, you’ll be able to afford it.”

“Yeah, yeah, but see, I gotta a gut feeling that once Veronica starts fucking me, she’ll be a lousy lay.”

Archie looked astonished. “So what? You just said she sucks your dick day and night. If she sucks your dick day and night and has twenty million…big fuckin’ deal if she’s a lousy lay!”

Mike shook his head. “Archie, you’re not getting it. The good with the bad? Sure, she’s into sucking dick—my dick. Doesn’t want to suck anybody else’s dick, just mine. She’ll blow me any time, anywhere. I snap my fingers, she blows me. If I’m sitting on the couch watching football and ignoring her and I pull my dick out, I don’t even have to ask—she blows me. Serious. If I’m sitting on the fuckin’ toilet taking a shit and I say, ‘Veronica, come in her and blow me,’ she’ll be on her knees sucking my dick while I got turds falling out of my ass. And it’s not like she’s just some dime-a-dozen head queen—she’s all into the love thing. You know, if there were no customers in the store and I walked over there and told her to blow me behind the counter”—Mike shrugged—“she’d do it, guaranteed.”

Archie’s jaw dropped. “Then what the hell’s wrong with you? You can’t dump a girl like that whose gonna be worth twenty million!”

Mike snidely shook his head. “Here’s what I haven’t told you. Sure, she loves to give me head, but you know what? It’s bad head. I mean awful head. You know that old saying ‘there’s no such thing as lousy head?’ Bullshit. Veronica gives the worse head I’ve ever had. No rhythm, no build up, she rakes her teeth, and the finish is all wrong.”

“Really?” Archie said, surprised. “That bad, huh?”

“Worse. It’s so bad, it’s infuriating. It’s so bad, twenty million or not…I’d rather punch her in the fucking face and jerk off.”

“Wow.”

Mike looked at his friend. “So what would you do? Dump it or keep it?”“For twenty million dollars? Fuck, man. I’d keep it.”

Mike shrugged. “Yeah, well that’s because you have different standards. Me, I’m first class. A first-class guy like me needs a chick with first-class looks, who’s a first-class lay, and can suck first-class dick. If she can’t do that, then it’s three strikes, she’s out. My self-image is worth more than twenty million bucks—”

“Oh is it, now?”

“When a chick wants to go out with me, I’m not going to demean myself by settling for less than I deserve.” He looked at Archie, granite-faced. “I’m not a whore, Archie. I’m hot property.”

Archie laughed out loud.

Mike continued, “In general, a girl who can’t suck good dick pretty much has no right to exist.”

Archie continued to laugh. “Okay, but since you’re not a whore, let’s just say that Veronica gave great head. What would you do?”

Mike made a sound like a horse sputtering. “I’d marry her in a fuckin’ heartbeat. With all that money? You’ve got to be kidding me!”

Shortly after this conversational exercise in out-right misogyny detailing the relegation of women as soulless arrangements of sexual parts, Veronica rang up the purchase for her customer. The customer paused to take yet another none-too-covert glance at her body, then left the store. Veronica turned, smiled, stood up on her tiptoes, and waved at Mike.

Mike waved speciously back, offering a just-as-specious smile.

Then Veronica blew him a kiss and mouthed I love you!

“Fuck you,” Mike muttered under his breath.

(III)

Not fifteen minutes after Micky-Mack had pressed the PLAY button on the mysterious portable DVD unit, utter and incomprehensible calamity had descended upon Helton Tuckton and his kin. Dumar, after the “movie’s” completion, had collapsed into a swoon. Micky-Mack was still vomiting into one of the pails they used when the roof leaked. And Helton…

Great Gawd Almighty… Just what kind’a evil is it we got here?

Helton sat upright, wide-eyed, paralyzed in his chair, his hands gripping the chair’s arms so tightly, he trembled.

Micky-Mack looked up from the pail with a tear-streaked face. “Uncle Helton—holy shit! Who could’a done such a thing ta poor l’il Crory? Who?”

“Evil men, that’s who,” Helton croaked. His stare remained fixed on the DVD player’s small and now blank LCD screen. “Men eviler than anything we’se can reckon, son.”

Micky-Mack wailed. “Why they do that? Why they do that to li’l Crory? Crory ain’t done them no harm! He just a inner-sint li’l kid! How could they—how could they—”

Dumar roused just then, his face paper-white from all the blood that the horror had drained from it. He looked shock-eyed to his father. “Paw! Tell me that were all just a nightmare we seen on that machine! Tell me, Paw!”

The screen glowed blue and there blinked a small square that read REPLAY and another that read EJECT.

Micky-Mack returned to his vomiting, and Dumar howled like a sick dog.

For those wondering exactly what the movie entailed, consider yourselves duly scolded for diminutive powers of imagination; however, the first three minutes of this fifteen-minute cinematic venture will be communicated via an inappropriate and admittedly indulgent stylistic break…in screenplay format…

FADE IN:

INT. ROOM

We see a bare white metal wall in the b.g. and what appears to be a small, curtained window, like a window, perhaps, in a motor-home. The curtain is a curious deep-burgundy color, with white dots.

MALE VOICE #1 (O.S.)

(gruff Jersey accent)

We’re rollin’, boss.

MALE VOICE #2 (O.S.)

(snappy Jersey accent)

How’re the lights? You check the lights?

MALE VOICE #1 (O.S.)

Meter’s readin’ right on.

MALE VOICE #2 (O.S.)

Bring the kid in…

MALE VOICE #3 (O.S.)

(higher-pitched Jersey accent)

Comin’ right up.

The scene HOLDS. We hear brief CLATTER O.S.

SUDDENLY—

A Small Boy (CRORY Tuckton) is moved INTO FRAME. A Man in a Suit moves behind Crory, but we do not see his face. He appears to non-verbally direct the Boy to sit on what must be a stool, for we see no chair-back. We PUSH IN on young Crory’s Face…

He’s SOBBING, his face smudged and tear-trailed. His longish, butterscotch hair is disarrayed.

The Man in the Suit moves OUT OF FRAME.

MALE VOICE #2 (O.S.)

Go on kid, talk to your daddy.

CRORY

(distraught)

Daddy? Uncle Helton? These-these men, they done took me when I were droppin’ crayfish traps at Hog Neck Lake like I’se do ever mornin’, and-and…they brung me ta this big motor-home thing that smells real bad, and-and there’s this big fat lady here, and-and—

Crory’s tears flow; he continues to SOB and SNIFFLE. We hear a MALE CHUCKLE O.S.

CRORY (CON’T)

Daddy? These men tolt me they’se talked to ya ’bout gettin’ me back to Uncle Helton’s house but said you didn’t want me no more, and they tolt me Uncle Helton say the same—

BREAK

At this, the already stifled Dumar lunged from his rickety seat, bellowing. “You hear that, Paw! These men snatched that my boy tolt him we didn’t want him no more!” and then Dumar made the coarsest vociferation of rage intertwined with despair. He slammed his fists into the wall, even the first adrenalin-accelerated impact splitting the planks like balsa wood. Helton bear-hugged him, muscling him back down to his seat.

“Get a grip, son! Don’t go bustin’ yourself up! We gots to find out what this is all about!”

Cock-eyed, Dumar summoned all of his self-restraint to keep himself seated. Meanwhile, the movie continued…

BACK TO:

INT. ROOM

We remain CLOSE on Crory’s disoriented and terrified face.

CRORY (CON’T)

Please, daddy! Tell these men ya want me back! They’se bad men. I’se sorry I stolt them quarters out yer pants that time’n lied ’bout pullin’ Kelli Jean Rooder’s pants down—I’ll never do stuff like that again, I’se promise, but, daddy, please tell these men ya want me back!

MALE VOICE #1 (O.S.)

Melda, open them big log legs of yours and show the kid the goods.

Male Hands grab Crory’s head and turn it to the right.

MALE VOICE #2 (O.S.)

Take a good look, kid—

Crory is looking at something OUT OF FRAME. He SCREAMS high and whistle-like, like a little girl. We hear Male CHUCKLING O.S.

Crory’s head is roughly re-positioned to look back at the CAMERA but now the whites of his eyes have filled with Red Blots.

MALE VOICE #2 (O.S.)

Damn, Doc. Why’s that always happen?

MALE VOICE #4/DOC (O.S.)

(distressed, no accent)

A hypertensive spike causes the certain ocular blood vessels to hemorrhage…

(beat)

…the effect of sheer, unbridled terror…

We remain CLOSE on Crory’s face as…

SUDDENLY—

Male Hands seal a piece of Duct Tape across Crory’s lips. Crory HEAVES, while only MEWLS are now heard through the tape.

NEXT—

Another set of Male Hands begin to smear some odd, white-yellow muck over Crory’s head. A WET, SLOPPING sound accompanies the action. In moments, Crory’s head is slathered in this substance.

MALE VOICE #2 (O.S.)

All right, cut it now. Let’s get a nice, juicy close-up…

CUT TO:

We see the FRAME FULL of pallid, cellulite-dimpled fat: a Morbidly Obese Woman spreading her legs. Her Vaginal Ingress GAPES, an Organic Hole the circumference of a cereal bowl…

In the b.g., we hear Crory’s horrified MEWLS O.S.

END OF TRANSITION

As previously implied, no further details of the movie’s contents will be rendered; and in an aggravating instance of a narrative proceeding out of chronological order, we return to the point where Micky-Mack has recommenced to vomiting in the pail and Dumar is baying quite dog-like in despair.

Helton palmed his temples, thinking, Evil, evil, evil…

“Who were them men kilt my boy in that fat woman’s pussy, Paw!” came more bellowing from Dumar.

Wincing, and still vomiting, Micky-Mack looked up at Helton. “I guess I’se just too young ta understant, Uncle Helton! Why they do that ta poor li’l Crory?”

Dumar began banging! his head against the floor. “Who’re them men!”—BANG!—“Who’re them men!”—BANG!—“Holy fuckin’ SHEE-IT, Paw! We gotta find them men”—BANG!

Helton pulled his son off the floor. “Cain’t be bashin’ your head in, son! Yer gonna need yer wits about ya—we all is…”

“My poor li’l baby boy died thinkin’ I didn’t want him, Paw! They’se told him I didn’t want him!

“I know. I know, son…” Helton ran stout fingers through the tumult of long, wavy hair. “Paulie—someone named Paulie. Jesus ta pete, who is this Paulie?

“Maybe he lied ’bout his name, Unc!” wailed Micky-Mack. “Maybe it were really Hall Sladder!”

“Naw, naw, boy, you’re not thinkin’. Sladder don’t wear no citified suit’a clothes, and he shore as hail don’t drive no big, fancy motor-home. Fuck, he drives a ‘55 Chevy 235, and there ain’t no way the thievin’ cracker has the know-how to run a complerkated movin’-picture camera like what that must’a been.”

“Paw’s right, Micky-Mack,” Dumar moaned. “And Hall Sladder, he don’t know from these VDV machines any more’n we do…”

Helton paced the room in an excoriating psychical stew of regret, despair, and unsurceasing outrage. He could feel the blood beating at his temples, while that same blood felt oddly gritty and loose as if it were not blood at all, and something not a part of his physical being. Paulie, Paulie, Paulie, came the hectoring name. Dumar and Micky-Mack sobbed outright now that the full weight of the horror had set in, and Helton may have sobbed himself as he thunked shudderingly to his knees, his hands clasped in desperate prayer…

“Lord God—holy shit, I’se know I ain’t been the best’a servants to Ya, but the way I see it, I ain’t been the worst, neither, and since You know all things, I ain’t even gotta say that I never did no wrong to no one who didn’t have it comin’…” Genuine tears squeezed from Helton’s closed eyes. “I do believe in Ya, God, so in return fer me believin’ in Ya, is I way out’a line askin’ fer a favor? These evil fellas done kilt my poor li’l grandson in the awfulest way, and I’se also know it says in Your Book, ‘an eye fer a blammed eye,’ so, God, I figure I’d be livin’ more in Your ways by followin’ that. Please, Lord, I’se beggin’ ya. If I ain’t worthy’a Yer favor, then strike me down right here’n now ’cos I don’t deserve Yer attention fer these prayers’a mine. But if’n maybe I am in line fer a favor…holy shit, could Ya please help me find this evil Paulie fella so’s I can properly revenge my grandson’s murder like’n it say in Yer Book? Please, God! Gimme a sign! I beseech Ya, help me get my proper revenge ‘gainst this Paulie fella for this devil-lovin’, des-picker-bul crime,” and Helton pronounced “crime” as cram.

A silence somehow sodden fell over the room, such that all three men, first, experienced gooseflesh and then the hairs on the backs of their necks stood up. Moments ticked by, then moments more, in betwixt of which sobs and croaks and murmurs of despair could be heard. And just as it appeared that God had no intention of answering Helton’s supplication—

The strangest noise erupted in the room.

Helton, Dumar, and Micky-Mack leapt up, eyes darting, positions shifting, hands opened to futile claws.

“The hail’s that?” Micky-Mack yelled.

Dumar hooted at the loud, semi-rhythmic jangling that continued to spill sourcelessly into the primitive room. “Sounds like—sounds, like…sounds almost like the ringin’ of a telephone!

“Yeah!” Helton barked. “And we ain’t had a telephone in years!”

The jangling, unnatural din drew on and on as the three men pranced about in utter confusion, trying to locate the noise’s source. But it was Micky-Mack—whose younger aural facilities were perhaps better capable of identifying proximity—who swept upon the box that the DVD player had come in. He reached down as if into a snake-pit, then, with eyes abloom, withdrew…

“Look!” came Dumar’s hushed exclamation.

Helton stared with all intentness.

What Micky-Mack now held in his hand was a small rectangular object roughly five inches long and two wide. It was very slim. And there could be no doubt: that blaring, jangling, unnatural ringing was coming from the object.

“What the fuck is that?” Helton voiced.

“Unc Helton!” Micky-Mack shouted. “It were in the same box the machine come in and I think… I think it’s one’a them things they call…a cellphone…

A cellphone, thought Helton in all perplexion. He’d heard myths about such things: tiny telephones folks carried ’round in their pockets like a pack’a Luckys—telephones that mysteriously didn’t need no wires!

It rang and rang. Micky-Mack, with a shaky hand, passed the cryptic device to his uncle.

“Guess ya should…answer it, Paw,” Dumar figured.

“How ya reckon I do that?” Miffed, he held the thing to his ear and said, “Hello?” but it just kept ringing. “Jesus! That noise is irkin’ me fierce! What I gotta do?”

Still amazed, Micky-Mack stammered, “I’se think ya…open it, Uncle Helton. I seen a fella once in Crick City with one, and he somehow opened it…”

Helton’s big, callused fingers fumbled with the Liliputian device, but eventually the top half lengthwise did indeed open, and the instant Helton achieved the feat…

A thin, depthless voice from nowhere could be heard squawking.

“Anyone there?” said the agitated caller in what was most likely a Jersey accent. “Jesus Christ, Argi, I don’t think these hayseeds even know how to answer a fuckin’ phone…”

“Put it back to yer ear, Unc,” Micky-Mack suggested.

Helton did so. “Huh-huh…hello?”

“It fuckin’ took ya long enough,” the voice cracked back. It seemed to emit—again, impossibly—from a pinhole at the top.

“You there, asshole?” the voice asked.

“I’se here…”

“Good. Now which goober is it I’m talkin’ to? Would it be Doooo-mar or Helton or Micky-Mack—” and then a tiny, etching laugh spilled from the hole. “Holy fuck, fella, where you rednecks get these names?”

“I-I’se Helton—”

“Well, good, fuckface. Now, you don’t know me but—”

“Ain’t no one else ya can be ‘cept Paulie!” Helton roared.

“That’s right, cracker, I’m Paulie, and it was me and my crew did the job on that snivelin’ little inbred kid of yours. You did see the movie, didn’t you?”

Helton gulped, trembling in place. “Yeah. We shore did.”

“Good. Fuck, I’ll bet it took you rubes three or four hours to figure out how to set it up—”

“It didn’t take but one hour, you evil, low-down bastard!”

Paulie laughed over the seemingly supernatural connection. “I’ll tell ya, Helton, we had a blast killin’ that kid! Man, it was sweet! Got all our dicks hard it was so sweet! Kid shittin’ and pissin’ himself, cryin’ for his daddy and his uncle, and we just kept tellin’ him ‘They don’t want you no more, ya little booger,’ and then we’d push his head in and pull it out, and push it in and pull it out—fuck, it was fun!”

“Who in blazes are ya!” Helton roared. “Why you do that devilish shit to my grandson!”

“Think about it, Gomer. I figure a rube like you ain’t got much of a brain from all that white lightning you all drink, so you think hard. And since I’m such a nice guy, you know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna give you a hint…”

The cellphone felt like a burning ember against Helton’s ear. “Ya damn well better ’cos I know full well I don’t know who ya fuckin’ are! And if I don’t know who ya fuckin’ are, there ain’t nothin’ I could’a ever done to ya to deserve what I just seen on that evil machine!”

A pause. A chuckle. “Here’s the hint, Gomer—”

“And I don’t know no Gomer neither, so whys you keep callin’ me that!”

More tiny laughter billowed from the phone. “Man, you white-trash types are a scream! But anyway, dickface, here’s your hint.” Another pause, then the caller’s voice lowered and said, “Thibald Caudill sends his regards—”

The connection went dead.

Helton stood stock-still. It took a full minute to lower the wretched phone from his ear. Eventually he closed it, then calmly set it down.

“Was it him, Paw?” Dumar raged. “Was it the man kilt my poor baby boy!”

“Yeah, Unc Helton,” Micky-Mack quavered. “Was it this fella Paulie?

Helton’s stern eyes addressed his kin. “It was and we ain’t got time fer me ta tell ya ’bout it right now. We got important things to do first—”

“But, Paw!”

“Quiet!” Helton ordered. “Both’a yas!” and the power of the command sent Dumar and Micky-Mack into attentive quietude.

“Both’a ya’s do as I say,” Helton continued. “Dumar, first ya go get the truck out the barn. Make sure there’s water in it’n gas and oil too,” and he pronounced “oil” as ole. “Then ya get the old fish-guttin’ table out’n ya put it in the back the truck, then ya get the proper tools and ya bolt that table down the middle’a the floor—”

Dumar and Micky-Mack looked duped. “The hail ya want me ta do that?”

Helton’s finger pointed, and he shouted, “Ya want your proper revenge or don’t’cha, boy!”

“I want it, Paw! More’n anything!

“Then ever-thang I say, you do, and without no questionin’ or backtalk, ya hear?”

“Yes, sir, Paw, yes, sir, I shorely do,” and then Dumar rushed out the back door to embark on his unreckonable duties.

“Same goes fer you,” Helton told Micky-Mack.

“Yes, sir!”

“We’se goin’ on a road-trip. Collect up three sleepin’ bags and extra clothes.”

“Right away, Uncle Helton,” but then the boy paused. “But…how many changes’a clothes should I fetch?”

“Don’t rightly know how long we’ll be but I reckon it could be as much as a month—”

“A month?”

“—so’s ya better bring two changes’a clothes fer each of us.”

“Right away, Uncle!”

“Not so fast— After ya done that, I want ya to go up in the attic, and I want ya to tear that place inside-out till ya find a cigar box”—Helton pronounced “cigar” as see-gar. “You know what a cigar box is, boy?”

“Uh, yeah, Unc, I’m pretty sure I do.”

“Well, I know ya can read a bit and this box, it say King Edward on it, and’s got a picture of a fella from olden times with a beard kind’a like a toilet brush. You find that box, son, and you bring it to me.”

“But, Uncle Helton. You don’t smoke cigars.”

“No, I’se don’t but, see, there ain’t no cigars in this box. There’s somethin’ else. Now, the box is tied with twine, and it better still be tied with twine when you bring it to me. Don’t’cha be lookin’ in the box ’cos if’n ya do…I’ll give ya a whuppin’ worse’n the time I caught ya stealin’ watermelons from Bill Sodder’s field. You understand?”

Micky-Mack gulped and nodded.

“Now git!”

Micky-Mack sprinted away with the determination and zeal that came with blessed youth.

However, Helton remained stock-still in the middle of the room…

He’d asked God to help him get a fix on this devil-lovin’ fiend named Paulie and shore as hail God had answered his prayer, because when the voice on that blasted cellphone had said Thibald Caudill sends his regards, Helton knew in the space of half-an-instant who Paulie really was and why he had murdered young Crory Tuckton so horribly.

And for those on the edges of their seats wondering what the sinister King Edward cigar box contained, the author will completely ruin the element of suspense by making that revelation now.

It contained several rusty and quite well-used 3 1/4-inch hole-saw blades.

— | — | —

Chapter 4

(I)

The crowd had gathered at the crime scene. “Step on back, folks,” Deputy Chief Dood Malone ordered once he’d disembarked from the patrol car. “Make way.” The crowd parted, the act of which led Malone through a fidgeting and enraged aisle of human bodies. It was one of the southside houses—the bad blocks—that the crowd congregated before, after Mitzy Crooker had spied the atrocity while walking her dog. She’d immediately run home and called the police, then subsequently blabbed her discovery to the entire neighborhood.

Well holy jumpin’ FUCK, Malone thought, spinning the tips of his handlebar mustache when he saw the puppy’s head on the stake.

One other county car sat parked right up in the yard; from the house, meanwhile, emerged Malone’s day-shift sergeant, a lanky, stoop-shouldered man with an overly large adam’s apple: Sergeant Boover.

“Shit, Boover. Another one?”

“Another one, Chief,” the younger man said and wiped his brow in spite of the chill. “Another dog head and another smack house. Place done full up with stolen insulin needles, spoons, candles, and empty baggies.”

“But the house is clear?”

“It is now. Must’ve been more cowboys just moved in, so Vinchetti’s bagmen sent ’em this warning. Then they took off.”

Fuckin’ Vinchetti, Malone thought. The oddest thing. DEA had sent Malone the tip sheet: Paul Vinchetti III, big-time heroin and underground porn dealer from New Jersey. Mafia. But the guy was so insulated, no one could touch him. No evidence.

Boover spat some chaw juice. “Just hard to figure, you know, Chief? Little town like Pulaski and we got a Mafia drug lord working the turf.”

“That’s the way they do it now. They’re movin’ out of the big cities to set up shop in little burgs like this ’cos the law-enforcement budgets are so piss-ant. Kind’a makes sense. I mean, look at Pulaski. Sleepy little town, sure, but it’s sittin’ right in the middle of the bigger towns like Blacksburg, Christiansburg, and Radford; then we got the cities like Roanoke, Richmond, Lexington, Charleston easy drivin’ distances. Shit, twice last month we caught middle-class white kids drivin’ all the way from Manassas to buy smack in Pulaski. Why? ’cos there’s no heat. DEA’s got their hands full just with crack and State’s neck-deep with meth. Meanwhile, smack slips back in between the cracks and grows and grows—it’s all the rage now, movin’ out the urban ghettos.” Malone nodded in angst. “Fuckin’ Vinchetti’s pretty damn smart. He’s gettin’ over on everyone, and even though we know he’s the guy, we got nothin’ on him. Every time the feds get close, Vinchetti cuts loose a bunch of lawyers like those guys who got O.J. off.”

“The motherfucker could walk right by us and wink and we couldn’t do shit,” Boover observed. “Unless we had the balls to—”

Malone cast a stern look and shook his head.

“You ever seen the guy?” Boover asked, to change the subject they’d all thought about but never voiced.

“Yeah, couple of times. Word is he bops between here, New York, and Jersey; when he’s here, he stays at the Caudill Mansion with his wife—”

“Marshie Caudill,” Boover acknowledged. “There’s a match made in heaven. Best-lookin’ stripper in town winds up hitched to a fuckin’ don.

“And that’s where he met her, too. She worked that strip joint since she was 16 but then bought the damn place once her father died and left her all those mineral rights and money.”

“You figure Marshie’s got anything to do with Vinchetti’s smack business?”

“Naw. She’s just arm-candy and a piece of ass,” Malone felt certain, for as attractive as Marshie Vinchetti was, she was twice as stupid. “What I heard is they spend some’a their time at the Mansion, but most at some ritzy townhouse just out’a Newark. Don’t see as much’a Marshie, not since her baby died. Her first kid, that little snot ‘Becca, lives at the house here all the time while she’s in school. Gotta servant looks after her.”

“Fuck ’em all,” Boover sputtered, arms crossed. He looked disgustedly at the staked dog’s head in the present yard. “And now we got this. One’a Vinchetti’s guys…killing puppies…

“Where’s the rest of the dog?”

“Dude chucked what was left in the back yard by the door. He always puts the head on a stick in front and leaves the rest in back so when the cowboys split, they see that too. Yanked the skin right off the pooch, then slit its belly open. Cute, huh?”

“And you know damn well the poor mutt was still alive while all that was happenin’.” Malone shook his head again. “Who the fuck could do somethin’ like that?”

“Like the feds said. Probably a bagman from Venezuela—that’s where the dog-head thing comes from. Shit, they probably eat dogs in that shit-hole third-world commie dive.”

Malone was getting depressed. He couldn’t take his eyes off the dog’s head: that of a tiny white poodle.

“Whose dog is it?”

“Adeline Parker—”

“Shit.”

“She’s over there, bawlin’ her eyes out.”

“I’ll talk to her. Try to clear the rest’a these folks out,” and then Malone walked dejectedly to the fat, jowly old woman blubbering in the yard.

“Aw, gosh dang, Adeline, I cain’t tell how sorry I am ’bout your little dog,” he began.

The old lady was inconsolable, boo-hooing to such extremes—God bless her—that Malone fantasized kicking the unpleasant old blue-haired biddy hard in the ass. “You find the evil varmint done this to my little Fluffy! You find him, Chief! If’n you don’t I’ll use all my power in the community to see that you never get elected again.”

Here we go. Malone put his arm about her shoulder and tried to urge her back in the direction of her house. “We’ll find him, all right, Adeline. I give ya my word, and when we do find him…he’ll up’n pay dearly.”

“Aw, bullshit!” Adeline gruffed. “You police these days ain’t got the spine to do things right no more. No, no, not like the good ole days. If yawl had any balls, like real men, you’d catch this monster’n kill him! But, no, no, you’ll be more concerned with his fuckin’ rights! Makin’ shore he gets a fair trial! Anyone tortures a puppy ought’a be tortured hisself!

Jesus please us, Malone thought. “Now, Adeline, let’s have no more talk like that. Why don’t’cha go on home now, git yerself a nip and try ta get some rest—”

“And where was you! Where was you’n the rest’a yer overpaid, lazy cops when this psycho was stealin’ my poor Fluffy? Tell me that!”

“Just you get on home now, Adeline…”

The elderly nuisance pulled away from Malone, then stomped toward the grim stick bearing the head of her pet. Still blubbering, she pulled the head off the stick—

“Aw, now, Adeline!” Malone moaned. “That there’s kind’a what we call evidence! Ya cain’t just up’n take it!”

“Stop me! Gonna give my Fluffy’s head a proper burial, and if’n you don’t like it, then kiss my ass!”

Boover returned as the woman stormed off. “Forget about the head, Chief. Ain’t like we can take prints off it.”

“Shee-it,” Malone muttered.

“You got any idea how we might go about catchin’ this guy?”

Malone tweaked his handlebar mustache. “I been thinkin’ ’bout it. You know how the feds do it, don’t’cha? They have thereself a sting operation.”

“A sting, huh? How are we gonna do that?”

“It ain’t gonna be easy but, see, I figure if we play our cards smart, we can catch this dog-killin’ piece’a shit, and once we do that, we might be able to catch Vinchetti himself…”

(II)

God, I love him so much, Veronica mused of Mike as she stood behind the camera counter. She believed in Providence—not the city or the basketball team—and she knew that it was God who’d placed Mike Anthon in her life’s path. Her heart pattered thinking about him—Mike, not God—and she also knew that her insistence to remain a virgin proved her faith beyond doubt. God KNOWS, He KNOWS, she thought. The certain venal sins—namely fellatio—that she committed with Mike were purely pragmatic in this new and restless age; and with those she skirted the far more grievous sin of intercourse out of wedlock. God, she knew, would forgive the fellatio, for He knew the true foundation of her resolve: to live and love in accordance with God’s Word.

Christmas muzak issued lightly through the store. “Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus…” Garlands of blinking lights extended overhead, while the front windows displayed cardboard holly and giant XMAS SALE signs. She looked down at the row of Casio and Nikon CoolPix digital cameras, only to spy her own superimposed reflection in the glass counter top. Even in this abstract image of herself, as the Christmas lights above blinked down, she could see her aura of faith. Please, God. Give me the strength to steer Mike off his path of error. Let my love be true enough to CHANGE him.

Mike had promised to take her out tonight—for pizza—and the prospect made her brim with joy. Every so often, she glanced over at him, trying hard to seem nonchalant but it wasn’t easy. He stood over there now in the cellphone department talking with his crony Archie, and every so often his gorgeous, dark eyes would flick over to her, then flick back down. He’s checking me out but doesn’t want me to know, she realized, blushing. Mike was vain, and she knew that sin of vanity came from his GQ good looks—he couldn’t help it. And men so possessed of such sheer handsomeness often played hard to get. No big deal, Veronica thought. Patience was her virtue.

Aside from her sin of fellatio, she knew she was guilty of a little vanity herself but this, too, God would forgive because it served as a means to a Godly end. You have to keep them interested, she knew all too well, otherwise you lose them in this amoral quagmire we call modern society… She’d just have to keep the faith because, in essence, that’s what God would want her to do. Her nipples tingled beneath the loud, bright-blue employee shirt. The sheer polyester accommodated her ploy quite well…

She’d deliberately taken to foregoing her bra (I may not have a runway model’s face but I KNOW I’ve got great breasts…) and would several times daily tweak her nipples to make them protrude. Men liked that. She wanted Mike inundated by a positive erotic image of her. Oh, she knew he’d been with plenty of women and was constantly accosted by plenty more every day. But those silly girls don’t love him, and he knows that.

Ultimately, Veronica was very aware that she was using lust to lure Mike closer into her life, and lust was a sin. But her rationale seemed too honest to be incorrect. It has to be okay to use lust as my bait simply because God knows my eventual intentions are to live sinlessly, in a marriage with Mike. It made sense to her, at least. She got bristly thinking about him, and bristlier still when musing upon such a time when they were husband and wife. Her uncle’s trust fund, she knew, was more bait for the expectation but, again, eventually true love would find its way to his heart.

Then money wouldn’t matter. Only our LOVE would matter, and upon completion of the thought, a tear of joy slipped from her eye.

Nonchalant, nonchalant, she commanded herself as she came out from around the camera counter. No customers were present so Veronica used this opportunity to momentarily excuse herself. Mike looked up, then Veronica waved daintily with her fingers and mouthed Little girl’s room, and scurried away.

Bing Crosby crooned more Christmas rhymes as she hurried to the back, to the employee’s bathroom, because that one had a lock. What would Mike say if he caught me back here! came the alarmed consideration, and then she giggled. Knowing him, it’d probably get him aroused. She wasted no time once she locked the bathroom door. All right, so I’m a little insecure, she admitted. She pulled down her work pants along with the wildcat-red Victoria’s Secret lace panties (Mike preferred quality underthings) and up over her 36C bosom came the blue work shirt. She appraised herself, as she often did, and was quite content with the appraisal. The alabaster-white skin glowed in its own healthy lambency, her abdomen sleek and flat, her full and equally lambent bosom dark-nippled and erect, her almost-bare pubis fecund in its form, vital in its feminine youth, and accentuated by the meticulous half-inch-wide strip of downy, ash-brown hair.

My body’s almost as good as the girls in the Victoria’s Secret catalogue! she realized, and she thanked God for so bestowing her.

Next she looked just as honestly as her face. Fine, a little nerdy in the face, but how can I complain? The hair atop her head hung shinily to the middle of her back and shared the exact same interesting hue as her spare pubic hair. The zit on her nose wasn’t very big and would surely be gone in a day or so. And tonight? Mike would be so distracted by her body, he wouldn’t even notice.

She felt tickly even before she reached into her purse for the Doc Johnson’s Mini Pocket Wand; she mustn’t take too long—Mike would wonder what she was doing. She turned the wand on low, then stiffened and hissed when she touched its manic end to her right nipple, following the circumference of her areola. Delicious, intense waves seemed to spill over her chest from the inside out. The tender papilla swelled at once, and felt nerve-charged and somehow connected to her awareness. Round and round, the tip went, then to the other breast, then back. In only a minute, the warm spheres of her breasts seemed to beat, the nipples gorging till they stuck out in a manner that was anything but inconspicuous.

Just what she wanted.

The groove of her sex began to slicken, yet she never once considered lowering the wand to actually pleasure herself. That would’ve been a sin; and would reduce to falsehood her own morality. In truth, Veronica had never even had an orgasm and this was not due to frigidity at all but via her own force of will. Again, she thought of minor sins allowed to serve a Godly end—and wasn’t this just more proof of her faith? Her entreating of Mike orally was only to demonstrate her own charitability; it was not some lustful need on her part. She knew this, and knew that God knew it too. She was saving her very first orgasm just as she was saving her virginity: something to only be experienced once betrothed in the eyes of God and with Jesus as her witness. Not many women would have such strength, no indeed. There had even been rare occasions when Mike had reciprocated with cunnilingus, whereupon Veronica had only feigned climax, knowing full well that such abstinence only proved more—still more of her faith.

Content now, and buzzing all over in her secret joy, she went back out to the show room, her nipples now fairly jutting beneath the Best Buys shirt. Mike was on the phone by the check-out. Archie stood on a ladder in the TV department, hanging Christmas decorations.

Veronica secretly smiled as she eyed Mike’s profile.

My God I love him SO MUCH…

However, at this precise moment, Veronica couldn’t have felt closer to her own spirit nor closer to God. Venal sins, be damned! It was only a matter of time before Mike saw the light of Veronica’s love and they were properly wed in the eyes of the Lord. She even dared to think: Maybe he’ll propose to me on Christmas!

Veronica would be pleased to know that her minor venal sins of fellatio and vanity would indeed be forgiven. But what she wouldn’t be pleased to know was this: she would have to pay for those sins first, and she’d be paying for them in a matter of hours.

She’d be paying big-time.

— | — | —

Chapter 5

(I)

“Maw? Maw? It’s me, Helton…”

Helton sat in the metal chair next to the convalescent bed, looking sorrowfully down at the wizened form of his 80-some-odd-year-old mother, Petunia Tuckton. The stroke last year had landed the noble backwoods matriarch here in the Daisy-Chase Nursing Home, and it was a place Helton could scarcely fathom, part of a system that for some inexplicable reason wouldn’t let dying people die. Upon entrance, he first noticed rows of hoppers heaped high with brown-stained linens. An unnerving silence was periodically broken by inane jabbering, hacking, and lone shrieks. Mostly overweight women who spoke not one word of the English language listlessly pushed medication carts from door to door. Several doors stood upon, revealing shuddering stick-figures beneath sheets, sunken-faced, hollow-eyed: seemingly cadavers that jabbered. No way to live, no sir, Helton thought. In one room, he saw the darnedest thing: a fat nurse in pigtails had pulled up the hospital gown of an absolutely ancient man. Bare, paper-white legs stuck out with knees the size of grapefruits. What kind’a pree-vert show we GOT here? Helton wondered, because now the nurse had the old man’s withered dick between her fingers, and what she did next…

What she did next was she began to insert a long clear plastic tube into the old man’s dickhole!

She pushed the tube down, down, down, and then, when it must’ve been in the poor old fucker two feet…the tube began to fill with piss. Helton’s astonished eyes followed that piss, which ran all the way down the tube and began to empty into a plastic bag…

Good God! They steal folks PEE in this crazy place!

Helton didn’t understand and didn’t want to. His big frame moved on past the nurses station over which hung Christmas decorations. A fella in white clothes sat asleep before a television where a bunch of tall, black fellas in the silliest little shorts and shirts were running back and forth on the wood floor, bouncing a ball. On a cork board, Helton spied an index card that read: HELP WANTED: YOU CAN EARN $10 PER HOUR CUTTING PATIENTS’ TOENAILS! APPLY AT FRONT DESK.

A dense, diarrhea-ish odor followed Helton to his mother’s room.

It pained him to see her like this, and pained him more to notice one of those bags of discolored urine connected to her bed as well. God in Heaven—they’se are even stealin’ my OWN MAW’S pee… Six-motherfuckin’-thousand-dollars a month is what this creepy, feces-smelling hell-hole cost, but Petunia had wisely never kept her cash in the bank; indeed, she remembered the “Bank Holidays” of the Great Depression and “that connivin’ closet Commer-nist FDR!” Too many good folks had lost everything back then, all because they trusted their government. Petunia knew better, which is why she kept all of her money hidden in a secret place. Fuck the government. This way, Medicaid got stuck with the six-motherfuckin’-thousand-dollar-per-month nursing-home fee, and this was Helton’s good fortune now. He’d never before asked his mother for money—money was something he rarely needed—but he knew she’d understand once he explained the complexion of the matter.

He kept gently nudging her. “Maw?”

The withered face looked like something trying to suck in on itself. Flap-like eyelids fluttered; then a rheumy gaze found Helton’s face.

“Helton, my wonderful son,” the voice creaked like old boat timbers. “It’s heavenly to see ya but—oh, dear, son—ya know I asked ya not to visit me. I just cain’t bear fer no one to see me like this…”

Helton squeezed her ancient hand. “I knows, Maw, and I’se terrible sorry fer not abidin’ by your wishes, but see…see… Somethin’ happened…”

Old and dilapidated as the woman was, her senses immediately seized on her son’s words. “Aw, Lord Almighty…is it my great grandson Crory?”

Helton swallowed hard. He could still hear the monstrous sounds from that DVD machine, the sounds the poor tot’s head made whiles goin’ in and out, in and out. “Yeah, Maw,” was the only reply he could muster.

The vigorless woman seemed to age another year just in the next few seconds; wells of tears magnified the cataracts in her eyes. “What yer face is tellin’ me, son, is my wonderful grandson is dead—”

Helton nodded.

“—and it weren’t by accident.”

Helton had to steel himself. “No, it weren’t—it were cold-blooded murder, Maw, of the horriblest kind. S’matter’a fact, what they done to Crory was so awful, I couldn’t never tell ya ’bout it, never.”

The old woman’s breath rattled in her sunken chest. She made a despairing nod. “I’se understand, son.”

“I knowed ya would, Maw. Ain’t no recourse but ta git our proper revenge, and with God’s help, I think I can.” He looked deeply at her. “See, Maw, what was done ta Crory was so devilsh, there ain’t but one way ta deal with it…”

Petunia Tuckton brought a crabbed hand to her bosom and moaned. “Aw, son, I know! I know what yer talkin’ ’bout! Thought them days was done, but I guess that were just wishful thinkin’. The world don’t get better, it just gets eviller. And I trust in yer judgment so’s…you do what’cha must.”

“I gots the truck, and Dumar’n Micky-Mack’re with me to help. But, see, we’se gonna have to be on the road, maybe fer a spell. We’se gonna have to go out inta the world, Maw.”

The woman nodded knowingly. “So’s you’ll need money ta do that, I know.” With great effort, then, Petunia leaned up, grabbed Helton’s collar, and pulled him close to whisper, “Ya gots my permission ta take as much as ya need.”

Helton knew he’d have to keep his voice down. If the folks here found out his mother had a stockpile of cash, then that six-motherfuckin’-thousand-dollar-per-month nursing-home bill would surely be levied against the Tuckton family.

Fuck that.

“Thanks, Maw. I’ll leave ya now, so’s we can go’n fight fer the family’s dig-ner-tee. When it’s all done…I’ll come back’n tell ya…”

“My wonderful, wonderful son,” the old woman wheezed. “It ain’t natural fer no one ta be livin’ in the wretched state I am—ain’t what God intended, these nursin’ homes. And I know my time’s near.” The claw-like hand grabbed Helton’s. “Ain’t nothin’ more important than family, son, so you do what’cha need to so’s ta restore the family name. God be with ya, and if’n I move on to the Firmament’a Heaven a’fore your tasks are done…just know I’ll be smilin’ down on ya the whole time…”

Choking up, Helton kissed his mother on the cheek and left.

The truck waited outside in the parking lot: a 20-year-old behemoth of a step van nearly twenty feet long. Helton and Dumar’s know-how of engines and such kept the corroded rattle-trap in fine working order, though they rarely used it for anything more than transporting firewood. The door on either side slid open, quite like that of a UPS truck.

“How’s Grandma?” Dumar asked behind the wheel.

Micky-Mack looked up from the back, hope in his eyes.

“Best we not speak of it, fellas.”

A short drive past Crick City took them to Petunia’s fine, old log cabin, and it only expended minutes for Helton to retrieve $50,000 in banded $100 bills. Best to have more’n we need than not enough, he reasoned. But now further provisions would be required…

“Where to now, Paw?”

“Boys. I’ll ‘splain more as we go,” Helton said, fairly dreading what came next. “Life has it’s travails, as my Daddy used to say. We ain’t city folks but I’se afraid we’se gonna have to go to the city now. The big city…”

Dumar and Mick-Macky cast Helton beseeching looks.

“Pulaski,” Helton finished.

In their youth, Dumar and Micky-Mack were excited by the prospect; it was very rare that any of them left their backwoods domain. Helton could see the evil of the city, could see how cities changed folks in their hearts. Traffic lights, shopping malls, cars and trucks going this way and that, folks honkin’ their horns’n givin’ each other the finger… Surely, city life stifled the natural good will of humankind. Helton had seen too many fine men fall prey to the lie. But it didn’t take long to arrive in Pulaski where the first thing they saw were streets lined with buildings—all crammed together—and bigger buildings in the background, apartment buildings, no doubt, where folks lived all hemmed in like chickens in a coop stacked on top of one another. “Watch these blasted traffic lights, son. If’n ya drive through one that’s red, a poe-leece man’ll make ya pay money.

“Dang! Just fer drivin’ on the street?”

Helton nodded, already disheartened. “This is the world outside’a where true folks like us don’t live.”

“Ain’t been here in so long,” Dumar muttered. “Looks even bigger now.”

“It’s what they call progress…

“Unc Helton! Cousin Dumar!” Micky-Mack blurted in excitement. He pointed in awe. “Lookit that! A real, live subway station!

All of them peered at the squat, yellow-roofed building with the SUBWAY sign. “I heard’a subways,” Dumar said.

Helton frowned. “Just more’a the outside world gettin’ inta folks like chiggers.”

Micky-Mack was beside himself. “I heard a subway’s like, a train, but one that runs underground!

“That it is,” Helton said disapprovingly. “Ain’t nothin’ natural ’bout underground trains.”

But Dumar was squinting at the queer building. “So the trains…are underground?”

“Yeah, they is, son. That’s why we cain’t see ’em.”

“But, shit, Paw. Don’t look to me like they’se selling train tickets in there. Looks like all’s they’re selling are sandwiches,” Dumar said of customers exiting the building as they munched on big long sandwiches.

“Guess they’se fixin’ ta eat them sandwiches while they’se ridin’ the underground train,” Micky-Mack speculated.

Helton nodded. It had been quite a while since he’d been here, but his memory remained keen. He directed Dumar around several more turns. “Nice Christmas decorations,” the younger man observed of the blinking wreaths atop the street lights. “But, ya know, it just don’t…,” and his words trailed off.

How’se can we enjoy the spirit’a Christmas time, Helton realized, after seein’ what happened to poor li’l Crory…

Many of the street posts, however, had signs on them. NEIGHBORHOOD CRIME WATCH, one read, and another: THIS IS A DRUG-FREE ZONE. To divert his souring mood, Helton turned on the radio. Intermittent Christmas music leaked between bars of static, evangelical outbursts, and annoying music. Then he finally found a station with decent reception, a news station.

“Once again the residents of Pulaski awoke to more horror in this Christmas season as authorities report yet another brutal puppy slaying. Deputy Chief Dood Malone has assured us that he and his officers are working round the clock in their effort to apprehend this despicable culprit…”

What he say?” Micky-Mack asked.

Dumar scratched his head. “He say puppy slayin’?

With rising bile, Helton listened further.

“Early this morning, a two-month old poodle belonging to long-time resident Adeline Parker was found mutilated and beheaded in the yard of an abandoned southside house. Authorities believe the house had previously been occupied by heroin dealers…”

Dumar’s jaw dropped. “Did he say—”

Helton cut him off with a slash of his finger.

“Members of the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department remain mystified by the rash of hideous crimes against local pets. The perpetrator is in all likelihood a gang-member from South America where heroin dealers are known to torture, mutilate, and decapitate innocent puppies as a means of issuing warnings to rival drug gangs. Ms. Parker’s puppy, abducted from her yard early this morning, was similarly tortured, mutilated, and decapitated—”

Helton snapped the radio off.

“Jesus Lord Almighty!” Dumar shouted. “You hear that, Paw?”

“They’se torturin’ puppies here!” Micky-Mack nearly squalled. “What kind’a crazy place is this?”

“No point tryin’ ta reckon it, boys,” Helton advised. “In the city? That’s just the way it is.” The idea of someone murdering puppies was simply too much for Helton to bear. “It’s just more’a what I were sayin’, ’bout the outside world. Like earlier when we’se filt the truck up with gas at the Citgo…”

“Yeah,” Dumar said. “Cost damn near a hunnert bucks to fill the tank! Didn’t cost half that much last time we did.”

“It’s the government, fellas. The government lures regular folks from their natural roots and puts ’em in cities, and then they gots ta work jobs like a bunch’a ants in a anthill, and with ever dollar you make, you gotta pay part of it back to the blammed government as part’a these things called taxes, so then the government makes city folks dependent on things like cars, gas, store-bought food, ‘lecktricity and then they make ya pay taxes on that!” Helton shook a rueful head. “Boys, I just hope we’se can avenge young Crory’s death a right quick, ’cos the sooner we’se done doin’ it, the sooner we’se can get back to our natural lives…”

“But how, Paw?” Dumar’s knuckles turned white on the wheel. “How we gonna do it?”

“All things at their proper time…”

Helton directed Dumar through several more turns, then instructed him to park in an extensive parking lot.

“Dang!” Micky-Mack exclaimed. “Lookit them buildings!”

“They stores, Paw?”

“That they is, and they’se stores we’se gonna have to do some shoppin’ in.” He pointed through the large windshield. “See that ‘un there? Dumar, I know you ain’t much fer readin’, but what that sign there says is, it says Home Depot. It’s a big-ass place they’se sell tools in.”

“Shee-it, Paw, we’se got plenty’a tools—”

“Not the kind we need fer this.” Helton gave his son a handwritten note. “Take this list, son, and give it to the first fella ya see who’s workin’ there. Then once he gathers up ever-thing on the list, ya take it to the counter and ya buy it. Then bring it back ta the truck,” after which Helton placed ten $100 bills in his son’s hand.

“Dang, Paw, that’s a lot’a money!

“Don’t waste time runnin’ yer mouth. Just git in there, git the tools, then git back.”

“Shore thing, Paw!” and then Dumar was off.

“You’re a bit better at readin’ than Dumar,” Helton told his nephew, “so’s what I want’cha to do first is run over yonder to that buildin’, ’cos it’s what they call…a grocery store.”

Micky-Mack cast a confident grin. “Shee-it, Unc Helton. “I’se been ta grocery stores—three or four times at least!”

“Good. Now, we’se gonna need food durin’ our trip, but it gotta be canned food on account we ain’t gonna be doin’ much cookin’. Get’cha as much as ya can carry, boy.”

“Shore, Unc, but what kind’a canned food?”

“Beans, I reckon, git lots’a beans, and they’se got this other stuff ya probably heard’a, called spaghetti. There’s this famous chef, and I think his name is Boy-Are-Dee. Ya gots that? Boy-Are-Dee. See, he sell his spaghetti in cans. Oh, and pick us up couple’a six-pack’s of Coca-Cola. Can ya remember all that, son?”

“Aw, shore, Unc!”

“Then after ya got us the viddles, ya go over yonder.” Helton pointed. “That there’s a convenience store, kind’a like Old Man Halm’s Qwik-Mart in Luntville, only bigger.

The sign on the store read SHOP-SMART. “What’cha want me ta fetch there?” Micky-Mack asked.

“A girlie mag.”

Huh?

“You know what a girlie mag is, Micky-Mack?”

“Well, shore, but what the hail we need a girlie mag fer if’n we’se fixin’ to revenge the terrible murder’a Crory?”

“We’se need something—and I thinks the word is…provokertive, to look at.”

Micky-Mack peered in utter confusion.

“Somethin’ to keep our peters feisty, you know? Somethin’ we’se can lookit ever so often to keep our bones fit ta spit.”

“Uncle Helton, I’se just don’t understant…”

Helton’s stern finger pointed. “Just do as I say!”

“Yes, sir!”

“And here’s some money—”

“Aw, don’t bother with that, Unc. I’se got some’a my own on account last week I help Nuce Wynchel’n his boy Tube finish diggin’ post holes fer his new fence ’round that land’a his he’s fixin’ ta raise sheep on. This bein’ a family emergency, I’se reckon it’s only proper ta contri-bit my own earnin’s,” and then Micky-Mack withdrew several $20 bills from his jeans.

Helton beamed with pride. “Boy, what you got is what they call character, and that’s a rare thing in these dark days. I’se proud’a ya fer yer fine gesture, but see here. Ya put yer money away and use my Maw’s. It’s the way she’d want it.”

“Well, okay, Unc, whatever ya say.” Micky-Mack took the mint-condition $100 bill from his uncle and started out the truck door, but after a second’s thought, he stopped and turned back to his elder. “But where is you goin’, Uncle Helton?”

“To that great big fancy store ‘cross the street.”

Micky-Mack looked. “You’se mean the one with the giant yeller’n black sign?”

“And all them blinkin’ Christmas lights in the winders, yeah.”

“B-E-S-T…B-U-Y,” he slowly read. “What’cha fixin’ ta buy there?”

Helton stroked his beard. “See, what I’se fixin’ ta buy there…is a camera…”

(II)

“So what time are we going for pizza?” Veronica asked when Mike came out of the office.

“Huh? Oh, Veronica—”

“Yeah, Veronica—you know. Your girlfriend?” She giggled it off, knowing this was just another of his macho games. But—

Did he discretely wince when she’d uttered the word girlfriend?

No, no. Don’t be so paranoid, she scolded herself.

He turned his back to her, dropped change into the employee soda machine, and out clunked a can of Mr. Pibb. He popped it open and took a sip. “Oh, damn. I’d buy you one but I’m out of change.”

Veronica bristled. I don’t want a MR. PIBB! I want YOU!

Mike walked back to the showroom, talking as he walked. “Oh, pizza, wow. You know—jeez—I forgot, I’ve got all this year-end paperwork to do, and I’ll have to take it home. We’ll have to do pizza another time.”

Veronica’s breasts bobbed smartly as she hurried to keep up. “Oh. Well, okay. Tomorrow then, right?” but even just looking at the back of his head, she thought, God, I love him SO MUCH…

“Yeah, sure. Tomorrow. We’ll have pizza and talk.”

Veronica’s freshly tweaked nipples deflated when he’d said that. And TALK? What did that mean? It sounded…ominous. “Mike, is everything all right? With us, I mean?”

“Huh?” He hurried around the front check-out. “Oh, sure. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

“But-but—”

The bell dinged, then the Greeter—a perky and utterly empty headed teeny bop pert-breasted pixie—said, “Welcome to Best Buy, sir!” She had one of those sticking-out-at-the-top ponytails.

Mike sipped more Mr. Pibb. “Chop-chop, Veronica. Looks like you got a customer…”

The bad vibe was already needling her. Distracted, she noticed the large man loping around the camera counters.

Who is…THAT?

Veronica hustled right over.

It was a very big man, with a jacket she could only think of as “shaggy,” big clunky boots, and a hat like in that old Clint Eastwood movie she’d watched with Mike not too long ago. Something about a sister named Sara. And…

He didn’t smell good.

“Hi, welcome to Best Buy, sir. My name’s Veronica.”

The looming man turned and looked down. Veronica flinched.

He had shaggy grayish hair and a big bushy beard.

“Why, hey there, Veronnerka. My name’s Helton,” and he thrust out his hand which, when fully opened might be able to cover her entire face and half her head. It was with some reluctance that she shook it—it looked kind of dirty—and she flinched again by the texture of his palm: like sandpaper.

“What can I help you with today, sir?”

“Helton, missy. No need ta call me sir. And, see”—he scratched his beard, releasing some trace dandruff. “What it is I need is a camera.”

“Oh, well, you’ve come to the right place—we’ve got the best selection in town.” She manned her station at once, going into saleswoman mode. “We’ve got the new line of Nikon Cool Pix just in.” She picked one up and showed him. “Versatile, easy to use, and modestly priced. They’re practically flying off the shelves.”

The shaggy man looked unimpressed. “Anything that puny ain’t gonna do the job. See, what I need is a movin’-picture camera, Veronnerka.”

The man’s accent was a riot. She giggled. “Why, I haven’t heard that term in years, Helton. What they’re called today are digital video cameras—

“And I’m gonna need me a dang good one.”

Hmm. “Have you…owned a camera before?”

“Naw, I don’t know from such things. But I reckon I should ‘splain my sitcher-aye-shun, huh? See, I got me this…fella…who I gotta send some…movin’-pictures to.”

“Oh, you want to send videos to a friend.”

The looming man seemed to have some difficulty. “It’s very important…uh, family stuff.”

“Of course, Helton. Christmas movies of the family—”

Shaggy brows shot up. “Why, yeah, somethin’ like that. Sort’a. So’s…say I wanna leave a movie at this friend’s house, or maybe mail it to him, how do I do that, hon?”

Veronica picked up a typical mini-memory card. “Right here, Helton. You can put a beautiful high-rezz video on this card”—she moved over to the video cameras and picked up a Canon ZR900, demonstrating how the memory card fit into the slot—“then give it to your friend or mail it to him. Of course, it’s easier just to email him the vid file but…I’ve got a hunch you don’t own a computer.”

“Naw, naw, missy, I got no fancy fer such things, but…” Helton looked suspiciously at the tiny memory card. “You’re tellin’ me that a movin’-picture’ll fit on that little thing there that ain’t the size’a my thumbnail?”

“Modern technology, Helton. This little card will store a 30-minute movie.”

Helton looked astonished. “Dang. Well, I guess that’s the ticket. Don’t know how many we’ll need—”

“For the Christmas movies.”

“Oh, yeah, right. The Christmas movies. Might have to make…a lot of ’em.”

Veronica tried to sound accommodating, all the while hoping she could sell him the Canon as well. It would up her weekly sales. “It’s what the season’s for—sharing your holiday joy with family and friends.”

Helton paused. “Yeah. And I guess I better be on the safe side. I’ll take twenny’a them little doohickeys.”

Twenty?

“You heard me, darlin’. Twenny.” But then he gave a coarse chuckle. “But a’course, now I needs ya to sell me a camera to go along with them li’l things!”

“This Canon right here”—she passed it to him—“is a perfect choice for your needs, and it’s less than $300.”

Helton’s giant hand dwarfed the digital camera. “Veronnerka, what’cha need ta know ’bout me is I’se the kind’a fella who don’t trust nothin’ he cain’t get both hands on. This camera? I don’t like it. It’s too puny. These movies I gotta make—they’re important.

“Of course, Helton.”

“So let’s not beat ’round the danged bush. I want the best camera ya got.

This is…weird, she thought. But what did she have to lose? If he was mentally ill or something, she’d have been able to discern that by now. Her hand landed on the Samsung High Def Hybrid. “This, Helton, might suit your needs quite well. But…it’s $850, and since I’m not sure what your budget is—”

Helton shook his head. “Naw. That ‘un’s too puny too.” His lips pursed. “Veronnerka. You tellin’ me that in all’a this big fancy store here, that’s the best camera you got? Hail, girl, ya got tv’s the size’a garage doors! Ya must have a camera bigger’n that.

Yeah, she thought, this is REAL weird. “All right, Helton. You asked for the best, I’ll show you the best.” She bent over, knowing that her cleavage was in full view. She unlocked the display cabinet and removed the Sony. It clunked when she set it down atop the counter.

“Dang!” Helton raved.

“This, Helton, is the Sony HVR-S27. It’s top of the line. It’s essentially identical to the cameras they use on television news shows, reality TV, soap operas—”

“That the dandiest camera I’se could ever imagine!”

“Lithium-ion battery, home-charger, car-charger, built in light and microphone.” Veronica splayed her hands over the device. “It’s everything you need.”

“Why, I’ll’se take it.”

“Actually, Helton, I haven’t told you the bad news yet.”

“Bad news? There ain’t no bad news. This here’s the ticket. Ring me up.”

She leaned over and whispered. “It’s $7500…

Helton shrugged, reaching back into a ruck sack pocket. “Like

I said, missy. Ring me up.”

Veronica stared. This is too good to be true. Maybe…Mike is playing a joke. Maybe he had this guy come in here to ACT like he’s buying the most expensive camera in the store, but when she looked up front, she saw Mike and Archie, arms crossed, eyes narrowed. They’re as surprised as I am…

“Check or charge, Helton?”

“What’s that, Veronnerka… Dang, that’s a purdy name.”

“Thank you, Helton.” She smiled. “But…how are you paying?”

Helton roared laughter. “How’s I payin’? With cash money, a’course! What’cha think?”

Veronica almost fell backward when she saw Helton’s thick fingers peeling brand-new $100 bills off a stack. Oh, well. She rang up the total.

Mike’s shoes snapped as he approached. “Can I help you, sir?”

Faster than immediately, Helton frowned. “Naw, fella. Veronnerka’s helpin’ me just fine, so’s you can shuffle on back to standin’ over there doin’ not much’a nothin’.”

Mike smiled tightly. “I’m the store manager, sir, and—wow—that’s a lot of cash. On cash purchases this large, the manager’s got to ring up the sale.”

“Well, shee-it, all right.” Another frown. Then, “Hey there, son! What’choo doin’ writin’ on them there bills?”

Mike wielded the fat pen. “Big bills like this, sir? I’ve got to check each one—it’s the new government counterfeiting law.”

Helton sourly responded, “Government, huh? Shee-it. Cain’t even pay with cash money without havin’ some government goat-rope ta go along with it.”

Mike examined a bill with an amazed scrutiny. “Uh, wow, sir. These are old bills but in mint condition… 1966…” He chuckled. “Keep them in your mattress?”

Helton glared. “It’s my Maw’s money, boy”—then he stuck his big finger right in Mike’s face—“and where she keep it ain’t none’a yer business.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I was just joking.”

“Jokin’? Well, shee-it, fella. A joke’s s’posed ta be funny, ain’t that right, Veronnerka?” and then the mammoth man belted a laugh and slapped Mike hard on the back. Mike nearly went over the counter.

“It sure is, Helton,” Veronica said.

Mike coughed. “Well, sir, everything seems to be in order. Is there anything else you need today?”

“‘Sides you moseyin’ your slickster-lookin’ self out’a here…why, I don’t know.” The shaggy face tuned to Veronica. “Veronnerka, anythin’ else you reckon I need to go along with my fancy movin’-picture camera?”

Veronica felt flushed from the monumental sale. “Um, well, a tripod would be very useful—”

“We have a great assortment, sir,” Mike barged in. “Would you like me to show you—”

The finger again. “What I’d like, son, is fer you ta disser-pear so’s I can finish my business with my friend Veronnerka.” His gaze swivelled to her. “Ring me up for a tripod, missy—a good ‘un. That all?”

“You might find a carry-case convenient—”

“Ring me up. The best ya got.”

Mike slipped away, ecstatic over the sale. However, Veronica was light-headed now. This is the biggest single sale since I’ve been here! Mike’ll be so happy! Dazed, she got the tripod and the case, rang the additional sale, just as Helton peeled off more of the curiously dated bills, ( which, for those interested, were 1966 Series A notes, signed by then-secretary of the treasury Henry H. Fowler. These were the first $100 bills to bear a watermark).

“Let me help you out with some of this,” she offered.

“Naw, thanks, hon,” and then Helton easily lifted all of his purchases up under his arms. “Wouldn’t think’a lettin’ a purdy, refined gal such as yerself haul such heavy things.” He paused to look down at her. “Dang, in this bass-ackward world’a ours, meetin’ you’s like a breath’a fresh air.”

“Why…thank you, Helton.”

“You’s shorely the nicest city gal I’se ever meet, and I’se hope you have yerself a dandy Christmas.”

“You do the same, Helton,” she said, now fairly flabbergasted. “You’re a very nice person too.”

Helton turned and huffed for the door. “Ask me? What this world needs is ta be full up with Veronnerkas…”

“Need some help, sir?” Archie asked.

“Out my way, son.”

Mike piped up. “Thank you for shopping at Best Buy, sir, and have a happy holiday!”

Helton frowned and loped out of the store.

The instant the automatic doors closed, Mike raged, “Holy SHIT!”

Archie rushed over. “Veronica! The net profits from that sale’ll cover the store’s overhead for the next month and then some!”

Mike was jumping up and down as if on a springboard. “Un-fuckin’-believable! You just rang ten grand to Grizzly Adams!” He practically slid over on his shoes, then picked Veronica up and swirled her around. “What a saleswomen!”

Veronica’s joy at seeing Mike so exuberant brought tears to her eyes. When he gave her a big wet sloppy kiss right on the mouth, her heart pattered and her sex throbbed just short of instantaneous orgasm.

She hugged him desperately, whispering, “Oh, Mike, you don’t know what it means for me to see you so happy…,” and she knew, then, she knew to the very core of her spirit that Mike loved her with his whole heart…

(III)

The Winnebago rumbled toward the edge of town, its business in Pulaski done for the month. It was the beefy lieutenant Argi who drove the luxuriant vehicle, Paulie in the spacious passenger seat, and Cristo and Dr. Prouty sitting behind. In the vehicle’s rear-most compartment, of course, sat the atrocious and fiendishly rank Melda, who was now taking care of another box of Little Debbie Swiss Rolls.

When Argi made a wide lefthand turn, he squeezed his crotch for no apparent reason…

“All in a day’s work,” Paulie said, seemingly pleased.

“Yeah, boss,” Cristo accentuated. “Made our monthly drop-off to the gang, got our ashes hauled by that killer-bod whore, and pulled off some dynamite vendetta.”

Argi nodded. “Case Piece wasn’t kiddin’ about his squeeze havin’ a body. Shit, the bod on that hosebag’d make St. Augustine knife-fight ya for it.”

“Gotta hand it to that superfly little punk. That chick is smokin’ hot, even with the wrinkled face. Swear to God, guys, she’s got a body even better than Marshie’s.”

“Aw, damn, speakin’ of your wife”—Argi remembered something—“don’t you want me to drop ya off at her house now that we’re done here?”

Paulie shook his head, and took a bite of a cannoli they’d picked up at a local bakery. “Naw. Forgot to tell ya’s. I sent Marshie to Vegas—”

“Vegas?” Argi remarked. “Man, I love Vegas. The old days, we’d whack guys right and left. Leave their fuckin’ heads in the desert and shit.”

“Yeah. But Marshie, she was so down in the dumps about her father’s birthday, I thought I’d send her on a snappy little vacation. She’s waitin’ for me at the Bellagio—I’ll just grab a flight once we get back to Newark.” Paulie rubbed his hands together. “Yeah, when I tell her we did a special job on the family that whacked her father, she’ll fuck me in a big way.”

“Sounds like a good deal,” Argi commented. “But, damn, boss, what about your kid—you know, the girl? Since we’re here, don’t ya wanna stop by the house and check on her?”

Paulie winced at the suggestion. “‘Becca? Fuck, she ain’t my kid, she’s my step-kid. Got no idea who the father is, probably some redneck ’cos that’s when Marshie got knocked up with the little smart-ass, back in her redneck days before she got her father’s money. Shit, if I stopped by the house, ‘Becca’d probably hit me up for cash. Last time it was fifty bucks to have her fuckin’ bellybutton pierced, and the time before that it was two-fifty for a goddamn tattoo. A fuckin’ butterfly or some shit, right above her ass. Kids these days, they’re all a bunch of selfish little assholes. And it just irks me, ya know?”

“What’s that, boss?” Cristo asked.

“I’ll wind up havin’ to pay for that kid’s college, and it wasn’t even my nut that knocked Marshie up with her. Just burns me up: spendin’ my hard-earned drug-and-porn cash raisin’ some other dude’s nut. Some redneck in a pickup truck gets the nut, I get the tuition.”

“Just ain’t right,” Argi remarked.

“Yeah, but what can I do?” Paulie conceded. “It’s my wife’s kid, and I love my wife.”

“An honorable burden you’ve taken upon yourself, sir,” Dr. Prouty said.

“Fuck…”

Argi stroked his chin. “But, boss, the kid’s just a teenager, ain’t she?”

“Yeah. The little smart-ass is sixteen.”

“And you and the wife give her the run of the house?”

“Naw, we got a servant looks after her.” He slapped his head, wincing further at the displeasure. “Oh, and I fuckin’ forgot! When ‘Becca turned sixteen, what did Paulie have to do? Had to buy the little shit a car!

The topic was obviously eroding the boss’s mood, so Argi spoke up, “But, ya know, boss, that whore we fucked with back at the warehouse—Mama Lucretia! What a piece of ass!”

Cristo nodded. “Best fuck I had in a while, maybe even in years. Makes her pussy move kind of like a mouth.”

But the observation seemed to hinder Paulie’s spirit. He stared off…

“Somethin’ botherin’ ya, boss?” Argi asked.

“Indeed,” Dr. Prouty reflected. “Mr. Vinchetti seems to have become disquieted by an errant consideration.”

Cristo leaned his head up front. “Yeah, boss. All of a sudden ya look like someone shot your dog and—shit—you don’t even have a dog.”

“Fuck, fellas,” Paulie replied, eyes narrowed in self-ruminating concern. “I’ll be honest with ya. As hot-lookin’ as that whore was? My dick was harder watchin’ you guys stuff her head in Melda’s cunt than when I was actually fuckin’ her.” He shook his head. “Been thinkin’ about shit like that lately. I mean, all these snuff flicks and torture shit we film for the underground market? I get hard as a rock lookin’ at that sick shit. Startin’ to think maybe there’s somethin’ wrong with me.”

“Naw, boss,” Argi excused. “All men get their dicks up watchin’ flicks of women gettin’ raped, tortured, and murdered. It’s just that no one admits it.”

“Yeah, boss,” Cristo piped up.

But Paulie didn’t seem so sure. “Reminds me of a time long time ago—fuck, I was probably only fifteen. My dad… God rest his soul—”

He, Argi, and Cristo crossed themselves.

“My dad was showin’ me the ropes ’bout what goes on up in the compound—you know, givin’ me the ‘One day, son, all this will be yours’ speech—so he shows me how they snatched this gal who was married to some racketeering bigwig in the F.B.I., and my dad, see, he wanted to teach the guy a lesson. So, anyway, they got the guy’s wife stripped naked and hangin’ by her wrists in one of the snuff rooms, and then my dad’s major button at the time, Tony Guerini, he takes a boxcutter and he cuts a line around the bitch’s waist—you know, same place a belt wound be—and then he works his fingers around under the skin, and she’s screamin’ and flippin’ and floppin’, and you know what Tony did then?” Paulie’s eyes widened at the memory. “He starts pullin’ down on the skin, yankin’ it over her ass and legs just like he’s pullin’ off a pair of pants!

“Oh, I remember Tony,” Argi said. “Hardest-core button I ever saw. One time he machine-gunned a busload of first graders because one of the kids on the bus was a judge’s grandson. Another time he snatched this chick who was cheatin’ on one of your dad’s crew-bosses and tourniqueted her neck till her eyeballs popped out and her face turned the color of a plum.”

Cristo reflected. “You know, I think I heard of him. Is that the same guy made porn up the Pennelville House and filmed it while he’d stick a knife in a chick’s belly and fuck her stomach?”

“Naw, naw,” Argi said. “That was Rocco… God rest his soul.”

They all crossed themselves.

“Tony was the guy used to feed kids of cops to the pitbulls,” Argi corrected.

“Yeah, yeah,” Paulie agreed. “Same Tony, all right, but you’re missin’ my point. See, when he was yankin’ this gal’s skin off like it was a pair of fuckin’ PANTS, I’m standin’ there watchin’ it and thinkin’ ‘Man, this is some over-the—top fucked-up shit, and then I look over at my dad, and you know what he’s doin’?” Paulie stared off. “He’s got his cock out, and he’s beatin’ off!

Argi chuckled. “Yeah, boss, your dad was a character, all right. Loved the hardcore vendetta shit.”

“Sure, sure, Argi, but I mean, he was beatin’ off watchin’ a girl get her skin yanked off her ass and legs! And what I thought first is I thought, ‘Holy shit, my old man’s a sick pup jerkin’ off to all this torture, he must be sick in the head, and since he’s my dad…maybe that sickness’ll get passed on to me!’ But you know what? The second I thought that, I realized somethin’ else…” Paulie gulped. “My dick was rock-hard too…”

“Such are the rites of passage of industrious young men destined to become Mafia bosses,” Prouty offered. “The arrival of self-actualization amid such…axiomatic environs are no doubt quite common.”

Paulie smirked at the spiel. “No, no, Doc, what I mean is… If my dick gets hard watchin’ murder and torture and snuff-flicks and all that..doesn’t that mean I’m mentally fucked up? Doesn’t that mean I’m abnormal?

Dr. Prouty stifled a gag, knowing that a negative response would only exacerbate his employer’s already negative mood, the result of which might have very negative effects on Prouty. Why? Because Paul Vinchetti was more than likely the most sexually sociopathic and bloodthirsty individual the good doctor had ever observed. “Abnormal, sir? I should think not. For normalcy and abnormalcy are subjective terms and therefore cannot be defined objectively. The primal human mind is incalculably intricate, and tags such as normal and abnormal, moral and immoral, good and bad, etc., are all subject to interpretation. One’s life-experiences and learned behavior most indubitably make subconscious impressions via observation: a normal function of the brain. Hence, sexual paraphilias and/or fetishes are derived quite naturally. So to answer your query, no, sir. You are not abnormal.”

Paulie relaxed in the plush forward seat, a hand to his heart. “Damn, I feel much better now.”

Prouty sighed in relief.

Argi looked down the road ahead. “Okay, so it’s back to Newark. Road out of town’s comin’ up.” He looked to Paulie with a smile. “Hey, boss. Ya feel like callin’ those rednecks back up on the cell and razzin’ ’em a little more?”

“Naw, best to let ’em stew.”

Cristo leaned forward. “But what if…”

“What if what, Cristo?”

“I mean, these crackers who live in the hills—ain’t they got a reputation for fuedin’?”

“Fuedin’?”

“Well, sure. Like maybe they’re so pissed off about what we did to that redneck kid…they’ll try to get us back.

Paulie laughed. “Shit, man. These people are hillbillies. They eat woodchucks and shit in the woods. What the fuck could a bunch of piss-poor backwoods hillbillies do to us?

— | — | —

Chapter 6

(I)

“Bumpity-bump-bump, look at Frosty go…,” the cheerful Christmas song thrummed through the store. Veronica—jacket on, backpack packed—tapped her foot unconsciously to the tune, casting a dreamy smile out the store’s massive front window. The town’s Christmas lights blinked down the main drag in a wondrous holiday vanishing point.

This’ll be my first Christmas with Mike, she mused.

Footsteps snapped behind her. “Veronica. What are you still doing here? No point both of us staying on duty—we’re not going to have many customers this late.” It was Archie.

“Oh, I already clocked out. I’m just waiting for Mike to get done in the office so I can say goodnight to him.”

Archie paused. “Mike left an hour ago—”

What?

“Yeah.”

Veronica noticed only now that very few employees remained on duty. Even the Greeter was gone.

“Well, the Greeter should be here,” she said for no reason she understood.

Did Archie stall? “Oh, no, I cut her an hour ago—”

Veronica tensed up. “You just said Mike left an hour ago… Mike didn’t leave with her, did he?”

Archie laughed but, you know what? It was a forced laugh. “Jesus, Veronica. Get your head out of the sewer. She’s sixteen. You’re not implying that she and Mike got something going on, are you?”

Veronica slumped. I’m overreacting again. “You’re right. I’m sorry. Don’t know what came over me, that’s all.”

“Mike’s really stressed now; that’s why he left without saying goodnight,” Archie offered. “His job’s not easy, you know.”

Now Veronica felt selfish and stupid. I need to have more consideration. “Yeah, and he told me about all that year-end accounting he has to do.” She shuffled away. “See ya tomorrow,” but then she snapped around. “Do you think I should call him?”

Archie made a face. “Well, you probably shouldn’t. I mean, he’s neck-deep in that paperwork.”

“Yeah.” She blinked. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight—oh, and congrats on that dynamite camera sale today!”

“Thanks…”

Veronica left the store. But why should she be so disappointed? What, because Mike—overwhelmed with take-home work—was too harried to say goodnight? Poor guy’s got so much on his mind, running a big store during Christmas and all. Yes, she should be more considerate.

But suddenly the cheery, blinking Christmas lights that constellated the town didn’t seem quite so cheery. She scarcely felt the chill air as she rounded the store to the back parking lot that the employees used.

“Oh, drat!” she complained, her breath gusting. The high security lamp in the back lot was out, leaving most of the lot plunged in darkness. Did she notice bits of glass on the pavement? Yes, she did, but what she didn’t notice was the steel ball lying several more feet away, yet even if she had, she never would’ve suspected that it was a pellet from a slingshot.

She wasn’t worried. Pulaski had low crime rates…although she had heard of a rising drug problem in the bad section. Then again, had someone mentioned something about a dog-killer? Something about torturing puppies? No, that must’ve been in Radford or someplace like that. Killing puppies? Only a crazy person could do such a thing, and Pulaski was a sane town.

She paused to muse: God, I can’t wait to see Mike tomorrow—

Her abduction happened so fast there was no time to scream. She side-glimpsed wedges of darkness darting about in more darkness. A hand slapped across her mouth. Someone said, “I done got her, Unc,” and she was lifted off her feet. Her thoughts raced to a logjam, then—

She fainted.

The terror buzzed through her body even as she was unconscious. “Don’t dillydally,” she thought she heard. Men’s voices, yes. A loud metallic SLAM! The roar of an engine, then…

Motion.

Veronica’s eyes opened. She felt jostling. The hand remained pressed to her mouth. Was she in someone’s car? Finally, her synapses began to re-fire and thoughts that scarcely seemed her own said, I’ve been abducted by rapists or crazy people! and then that roaring sound defined itself: she’d definitely been put in a vehicle, and the vehicle was moving, but why, even with her eyes wide open, could she see nothing? She couldn’t be in a trunk, unless her abductor had gotten in with her…

“Good, son,” came an accented voice. A redneck accent, yet Veronica remained so dazed and terror-jolted, she was unable to thus far put two and two together. “Back roads now…”

At last, she began to squeal beneath the pressed hand. It was no doubt a man, in the dark, holding her up from behind as she squatted, and as more reason filtered back, she thought she felt a lump where the man’s groin would be…

“We’se okay,” rang what seemed the oldest of the voices. Did she recognize it? She squealed again, heaving against the arms wrapped about her. A younger voice whispered, “Shhhhh, shhhhh, hon. You’se all right.”

“Dumar. Turn that light on in back…”

In a flash, Veronica’s eyes could now see. Her gaze panned in stops. It seemed she’d been spirited away into a large metal compartment that had to be the back of a large truck or step van. Its foremost feature was a dented metal table bolted to the floor. A couple of plastic milk crates could be seen, plus a folded-up metal chair, and in a forward corner sat a HOME DEPOT bag on its side. Next to it lay a Black & Decker power drill, and from this an electrical cord extended and disappeared into the front of the vehicle. Battery charger? she wondered. In the back sat some additional grocery bags, and to Veronica’s left there lay stacked three dingy sleeping bags, rolled up. But when her eyes panned to the opposite corner…

Oh my God…

She saw a Bescor bowl-mount tripod and—

Veronica stared.

—a Sony HVR-S27 digital video camera.

The familiar shaggy head appeared in an opening up front. “Why, hey there, Veronnerka!” greeted Helton.

“You!” she yelled when the hand came off her mouth.

“That rascal behind ya’s my nephew Micky-Mack.”

The muscular arms around her loosened. Shuddering, Veronica craned her neck and saw a lean, 20ish man with choppy blond hair and a ragtag jacket. He grinned, showing bad teeth. “Hey there! Good golly, you’se a purdy one!”

It now occurred to her that Helton was sitting in front on the passenger side of the mysterious truck. “And this here,” he said, “is my son, Dumar.”

Now the driver looked back: a creepily skinny redneck with long, stringy black hair and a thin face. “Howdy, Veronnerka! My Paw done tolt us all about ya! Says you was a mite nice sellin’ him that fancified camera.”

The truth finally set in. I’ve been abducted by crazy rednecks! and she screamed at the top of her lungs.

The truck weaved. Helton and Micky-Mack palmed their ears. “Dang, girl!” the younger man yelled.

“Let me ‘splain!” Helton barked.

When Veronica stopped screaming, her heart felt ready to explode.

“Sheee-IT, missy!” Helton climbed in back and sat his large frame on a milk crate. Micky-Mack, erection in his pants and all, slipped out from behind her and took a crate next to her.

“Ya scream louder’n a blammed train whistle,” Helton said. “Ain’t no call fer screamin’.”

“What else can I do?” she yelled. “You’ve abducted me!”

“Aw, no, hon, now see, ya just don’t understand. We ain’t abductered ya, we only, kind’a, borrowed ya fer awhile.”

Borrowed? Why?”

Helton flapped a sheaf of papers. “That camera ya solt me’s right nice, but holy jumpin’ jehossafats!” He frowned at the papers, whose front page read OPERATING INSTRUCTIONS - SONY HI-DEF HVR SERIES. “‘Tis true I ain’t had no proper schoolin’, but my Maw, she made dang shore I learnt ta read. I gotta tell ya, though, these damn ‘structions? I cain’t make head’re tails of ’em. May as well be readin’ Alfred Einstein!”

Veronica’s face seemed to slowly droop, like melting wax. “Helton. Are you saying that you abducted me because you don’t understand the instruction booklet for the Sony?”

The shaggy head nodded. “Yeah, hon. All these buttons’n switches? A hill fella like me’d never figure it all out. So’s I need you ta show me how to work the dang thing.”

Are these men on drugs, or are they just out of their minds? she thought.

“We’se need ya to help us out is all.”

“Helton, couldn’t you have just asked me? Did you really need to abduct me in a parking lot?”

Helton sighed. “Reason we didn’t do that, is ’cos, well, this is a ‘mergency. A family ‘mergency. We’se need a favor is all, and since I knows you to be a nice-type gal, I took it unta myself—”

“To abduct me!” she yelled.

Helton appeared downcast. “It’s only ’cos ya don’t understand the whole ball’a wax. But this is dang important.”

“Family videos at Christmas is important enough to abduct someone against their will?” she continued to bellow. “Helton, you’re not making any sense!”

Micky-Mack had been staring fixedly at Veronica’s bosom the whole time. He seemed pent up sitting there on his crate, but finally he rubbed his crotch, said, “Hail, Unc Helton, this gals tits stickin’ out are killin’ me. I’se just got to have me a feel,” and then his callused redneck hand reached for her bosom.

CRACK!

Micky-Mack fell off his milk crate due to the mammoth open palm that slapped him upside of the head. “Dang, Unc Helton! That hurt!

“This ain’t no ruckin’, boy, and you know it!” came Helton’s authoritative scold. “Veronnerka’s our friend, and we ain’t layin’ a cotton-pickin’ finger on her less’n she says we can. Ya hear me, boy?”

“Aw, fuck yeah, Unc,” Micky-Mack whined and sat back on the crate, “but Gawd dang that hurt.” Dumar up front was laughing.

The truck rocked and rocked, and Veronica’s unsorted thoughts rocked with it. Madness, madness… Certainly, abductions of young women were always founded by some sexual motive. So…

Why haven’t they raped me? Why this nonsense about needing help with the camera?

“Okay, Helton”—it was the only thing she could think to say—“I’ll show you how to operate the Sony.”

“Why that’s just dandy, girl!”

She picked up the weighty unit, flicked some switches, turned on the lamp. “There. It’s ready now.” She turned the unit around to show him. “See that little square? That’s the view-screen. Whatever you see in that is what you record. And to shoot”—she shouldered the camera and began to record Helton’s astonished face—“you squeeze this little button here on the grip.” She panned around the inside of the truck, released the record button, then showed the view-screen to Helton. “Now I’m replaying the movie I just made. Watch.”

Micky-Mack rushed over and squatted next to his uncle. In the modest view-screen they watched.

“Hey! That’s you, Unc Helton!”

“Shore is! Dang if that ain’t a fine movin’-picture camera!”

“It’s all stored on the camera’s memory, but it’s also copied onto this”—she snapped out the mini memory card. “You know, this doohicky that you bought twenty of. So for your friend to see your Christmas movies, all you have to do is give him this.”

Helton held out his hands. “It’s too good to be true!”

“That shore is some fancy camera!” Micky-Mack enthused.

Even Dumar, peering back, exclaimed, “Dang!”

Veronica set the camera back down. “There. Now you know how to use it, so you don’t need me any more. You can drop me off right here.”

Helton grit his teeth. “Naw, see, hon, it ain’t that easy.”

I KNEW it! “So it’s all a lie then, right?” she spat. “You abducted me because you want to rape me!”

“Please don’t think that,” Helton pleaded. “You’re right. We done sort’a took ya ‘gainst yer will, but it’s all fer a greater good. It’s like this…” Helton rested his shaggy chin on his dirty fingertips. “When a poe-leece man’s follerin’ some bad fellas, if that poe-leece man’s car breaks down, then it’s all right for him to stop the next car that come by and take it—I think it’s called common-deerin’. See, that poe-leece man’s allowed to take another car. Why? ’cos it’s fer a greater good.

Oh my God! she thought. This is crazy! “Helton? How long are you going to…keep me?”

“Aw, won’t be long, couple’a days or—”

“A couple of days?” she shrieked.

“—or maybe a couple’a weeks, I s’pose. See, Veronnerka, it all depends how long it takes, and don’t ask me to ‘splain that, ’cos…ya simply wouldn’t understand.”

Madness, madness… “Helton, if I don’t show up for work tomorrow morning, then my boyfriend Mike will call me, and if I don’t answer, he’ll go to my apartment, and if I’m not there…he’ll call the police.”

Helton shrugged. “Don’t matter none. Oh, and since ya will be missin’ some workin’ time, we’ll’se pay double fer what’cha miss. How’s that?”

“How’s that?” she wailed. “That’s outrageous! You can’t just take people, Helton! It’s against the law!”

Helton’s tone grew stern. “So’s what was done ta my grandson.”

What?

Helton sighed. “Ya just wouldn’t understand, missy. So it’s easier ta just trust me…”

“Here we is, Paw,” Dumar said.

The truck slowed, jostled more violently, then stopped. Veronica, at last, broke down in tears and half-collapsed on Helton, hugging him.

“Please, Helton, don’t do this to me. Don’t hurt me—”

“We ain’t gonna hurt a hair on yer purdy head,” the bulky man assured. “And as fer you…bein’ our guest fer a spell… Believe me, it’s fer somethin’ real important.” Helton took something out of his pocket. “And it ain’t that we don’t trust ya, but, well, we’se just need ya ta stay put fer now,” then—

snap!

Veronica moaned when she was handcuffed to the metal table leg. Then Helton moved her knapsack far out of reach—the knapsack that contained her cellphone and wireless laptop.

“Git yerself some rest, why don’t’cha?” the younger man said.

Helton smiled. “Micky-Mack’s a crack shot with the sling, so’s he’s gonna catch us a squirrel or two while Dumar’n me build a campfire. But we’ll be just outside so’s if’n ya need anything, just holler.”

Madness, madness, she thought beneath her sobs.

“And if’n ya gotta pee”—Helton handed her an empty can of Heinz pork and beans. “There ya go.” He suddenly took a more serious cast. “While’s the squirrel’s cookin’, I gots to have me a long talk with the boys.”

Helton headed for the back door and exited the truck.

Madness, madness, madness, madness, Veronica thought.

(II)

Ten minutes was all it took for the young and eagle-eyed Micky-Mack to bag several squirrels, and a few minutes after that, those squirrels were promptly skinned and gutted via Helton’s big buck knife. Now the tasty rodents roasted slowly on stake-skewers over the roaring campfire outside the truck. The smell was delectable, and it was unfortunate that one of the family’s favorite meals would be tainted by the specter of death, sin, and secrets that hovered over many backwoods folks. They all sat on logs, keeping warm the way men were meant to. Dumar and Micky-Mack looked expectantly to their elder.

“Well, Paw?” Dumar asked.

“We’se waitin’,” Micky-Mack added, antsy by the mystery of what it was that so pained Helton to relate.

“The time’a reckonin’ is upon us, boys,” Helton began, eyes reflecting fire-light and something like dark wonder. “We done got our chops busted by this evil man Paulie, and now’s we’se out fer our revenge. It’s been the law of the land since time began. Someone do you wrong when you ain’t deserved it, then ya got no choice but to do him wrong even worse. Says so in the Bible”—he pronounced “Bible” as bob-ul. “Says ‘a eye fer an eye.’” Helton sipped some soda yet scarcely tasted it. “What I got ta tell ya both tonight hurts me right in my heart—”

“It hurt me in my heart, Paw!” Dumar raised his voice, “seein’ my boy kilt so awful!”

“Simmer down,” Helton ordered. “And listen. In these parts, for years and years, folks been feudin’ over this’n that. It’s part’a man’s nature, I s’pose. But sometimes folks can be so blammed evil that they’ll do ya a wrong that’s so ever-livin’ bad it seems there ain’t nothin’ you can do back to get yer proper revenge. This happened to our family way back in a war they calt the Civil War when the Yankee Army come through here’n start burnin’ our ancestors’ houses down for nothin’ more than retrievin’ the nails out the ashes, which they’d melt down to make more bullets so’s ta kill more decent Southern folk. But that ain’t all they did, see?”

Micky-Mack was so intrigued he sat on the edge of his log. “What else they do, Unc?”

Helton’s voice lowered to a grim rattle. “They round up all the gals in all the nearby towns, even li’l girls nine, ten years old, and they made ’em all live fer a month in what they called a Sibley Camp on account that’s what the tents they put up was called—Sibley tents, and what they turned this camp into…was a fuckin’ camp.”

“A what, Paw?” Dumar asked.

“It were a camp, son, where Yankees from all over could come and git thereselfs a piece’a ass. A blammed rape camp’s what is was! The Yankee general was a black-hearted cad the name’a Hildreth—it’s him was the one who order this big camp put up, and by the hunnerts, the Yankee soldiers’d come to git their willies up in our gals and fill ’em with their evil Yankee peckersnot, and General Hildreth, what he done is he charged each soldier a five-cent piece fer each nut they git in the camp, making profit on his crimes against our gals!” Helton’s rancor echoed through the woods. He had to recompose himself. “And, see, bein’ that the gals was forced ta live in this camp fer over a month, they’se all wound up pregnant, and General Hildreth, he like that a whole lot, he did, ’cos even after his Yankees left, these poor gals’d pop out kids they’d have to raise, just bringin’ more’n more hardship on ’em. And worser than that even was that whiles the gals was in the camp, they weren’t givin’ nothin’ to eat, so’s one’a the gals—name’a Constance McKinney, it was—she were kind’a the speaker fer all the poor gals. What she do is she say to General Hildreth, ‘Please, general, ya gots to give my gals some food ever so often, else we all starve to death!’ So ya know what General Hildreth did? He give each gal a tin cup and then he laugh back ta Constance’n said, ‘Each time one of my men gets his nut up your dirty Rebel pussies, you just stand up and put this cup between your legs and let my mens’ jism dribble in the cup…’cos that’s all you’re ever gonna get ta eat while you’re here! Ain’t no way I’m wasting a single morsel of food on Rebel bitches!’”

“God dang, Unc Helton!” Micky-Mack wailed. He and Dumar were clearly unsettled. “Shorely only the most evilest’a men’d make gals live on cum!

The shadow of Helton’s nodding head loomed huge in the forest behind them. “Oh, they was evil, all right, boy, evil as if they was the sons’a Lucifer hisself. Our poor gals got fucked or sodder-mized probably a thousand times each by these dag-blasted Yanks. Eventually, though, they moved on, leavin’ our towns burnt and dester-toot. See, the Yanks et all the livestock theirselfs, but what was left they kilt’n left ta rot so’s no one else could have it, and they burnt all the fields too. That blammed Hildreth even sent his men inta the woods to kill every animal they could see; he didn’t want nothin’ left for the folks here to eat. And, a’course, all them poor gals was knocked up and their bellies full’a Yankee bastards…”

Dumar and Micky-Mack shivered, not from the chill air but from the macabre suspense being conveyed by the fire.

“Weren’t long after, the War ended, and the town’s men that didn’t get kilt or die in Yankee prison camps, they come back home, but imagine their horror when they did. Town in ashes, fields destroyed, folks livin’ on roots’n head-lice’n tree bark’n worms, their wives rack-skinny’n traumer-tized’n with a Yankee baby on their tit. It’s said that a good many’a our boys hanged theirselves in despair when they seed that.” Helton eyed the two young men. “But there were a pair’a Rebel soldiers who come back, and they didn’t kill theirselfs, no sir! They decided to do somethin’ ’bout it!”

“What, Paw? What?” Dumar pleaded.

“They hunt down them evil Yankees’n kill ’em, Unc?”

Helton raised a silencing finger. “Listen ta me now, ’cos this is important. These two men I’m speakin’ of? One was a fella named Clyde Martin—”

“Hey!” Micky-Mack exclaimed. “That’s my last name!”

“Dang straight it is, boy, ’cos this soldier, Clyde Martin, is yer direct ancestor, and the other fella, he was Lemuel Tuckton—

“So, Paw,” Dumar calculated, “You’n me, we’se related to him?”

“Yes, we is. He’s my great, great grandfather, son. It’s the blood’a these two men—these heroes—that all of us gots runnin’ in our veins. When they see what General Hildreth did to the town, they got all in a swivet, they did. And they decided to go after him.”

“Please, Paw! Tell us they kilt Hildreth in a bad way!”

Did Helton smile in the crackling firelight? “After the War, Hildreth, he go back to someplace calt Filler-delfia, became mayor. Lived in a big mansion with pillars out front, had a beautiful wife and couple’a children, and his two best officers from the War, he hired ’em ta run his estate. See, Hildreth, he were pig-shit rich from all’a his war crimes over the years. So what Clyde Martin and Lemuel Tuckton do one night is after ridin’ on horseback all the way to Filler-delfia, they snatch them two’a Hildreth’s officers…”

Micky-Mack and Dumar stared.

“Their bodies was found the next day, both dead as dead could be. Had their heads busted open, they did…but it weren’t no ordinary head wound, no sir. Hildreth ain’t never seen anything like it, so’s he called the family doctor to inspect the bodies. Both the tops’a their skulls was busted open—a ballpeen hammer, probably, the doc said—and ya could see their raw brains still sittin’ inside’a their skulls. But the doc look close at them brains with a magnifyin’ glass, and ya know what he saw?”

“What, Unc Helton! What?”

Helton nodded. “He seed what look like a single knife-slit in each brain, then he took a whiff’a them brains—”

“He smelt the dead fellas’ brains?” questioned Micky-Mack in utter puzzlement.

“He smelt ’em, all right,” Helton assured, and it appeared by his demeanor that something joyous deep inside was just itching to get out. “And he rekka-nized the smell, and then he stick his finger inta each slit and felt somethin’ slimy, like snot…

Dumar’s brow furrowed. “Paw, ain’t no way snot could wind up in a fella’s brain.

“It weren’t snot, son. It was cum—

“Cum!” Mick-Mack yelled.

“Dick-loogie, Paw? Peckersnot? That what you’se talkin’ ’bout?”

“It shore is, Dumar! Man-batter! Joy juice! Cock-hock!” Helton affirmed, rising to his feet as the frenzy of the tale he told began to unwind like a spring. “What Clyde Martin’n Lem Tuckton did is they cracked them two officers hard on the top’a their skulls, picked out the pieces’a bone, and stuck a knife in each brain ta make a slit fer their dicks, and then—then”—Helton began to shake—“and then they fucked their brains!

Micky-Mack almost fell off the log. “They fucked their brains, Unc Helton?”

“Holy sheeeeeeeee-IT, Paw!”

“They fucked their evil Yankee brains, and I’se mean they fucked ’em hard, and they each got theirself a nut, boys!” Helton was reeling. “Then they done the same to all’a Hildreth’s housemaids’n servants, snatchin’ ’em two at a time and humpin’ their heads!”—the frenzy rose, veins bulging in Helton’s forehead, eyes wide and gleaming in vengeful delirium—“then they snatched Hildreth’s children—his children!—and they fucked their heads, and then they done the same to his wife! And then, then, they snatched Hildreth himself and they fucked his head ta kingdom come! They fucked that head three times apiece, boys, comin’ each time’n blowin’ their load right inta the middle’a Hildreth’s twisted brain, they did, till his head was full up with their cum, and that, boys”—Helton stomped the ground—“that…is what’cha call a header!

««—»»

The chill, quiet night stretched on, and as the fire diminished to eerie, phosphoric embers, Helton—in calmer voice now—told the rest of the story to Dumar and Micky-Mack. Helton ate his squirrel with gusto, but the younger men scarcely picked at theirs, their appetite hindered partly from the revulsion of what had just been related to them, but mostly from the distraction of what could only be called macabre fascination. Helton’s commanding finger wagged at them. “I want you boys to eat, ya hear me, even if yer bellies don’t feel like they need a fillin’. For what’s comin’ up? We all gonna need our strength’n stamina.”

Dumar’s voice was a feeble etching. “A header’s what you mean, huh, Paw?”

“We’se gonna have ourselfs a header, ain’t we, Unc Helton?”

“That we is—”

“On this Paulie man,” Dumar finished the speculation.

Helton shook his shaggy head. “It’ll be his head we hump last, son, ’cos, see, the full effect of a header come from fuckin’ the brains’a your enemy’s kin first. With God’s help’n a little luck, we’ll be able to do it.”

Dumar couldn’t have appeared more uncomprehending. “But why, Paw? Why this man Paulie do that horrible thing ta my son?”

Helton’s voice clicked. “I’ll tell ya,” and his stained teeth stripped the tender meat off the roasted squirrel’s ribs. “Micky-Mack, you’se too young, but Dumar, you probably ‘member my brother Tuff—”

“Aw, yeah, Paw, I ‘member Uncle Tuff, shore.”

“And ya both likely ‘member Jake Martin who ever-body called Grandpap Martin.”

Nods from both of the younger men. Micky-Mack said, “Oh, shore, Unc, I ‘member him—he was a great old guy. He made me a pair’a fine boots when I were a tike.”

“Me, too,” Dumar said.

Helton raised a big booted foot. “Made these fer me twennie-five years ago, and to this day they ain’t busted a stitch. See, Grandpap Martin were the best cobbler in the county—”

“Yeah,” Dumar recollected, “and it were weird on account’a him not havin’ no feet.”

“A shoemaker,” Micky-Mack pondered, “with no feet…”

Helton sucked some warm marrow. “It was some disease he got, so’s a doctor in Pulaski cut his feet off,” Helton said, “but that didn’t keep ole Grandpap’s spirit down, no sir. A fine, fine man he was, and, see, Grandpap’s only daughter was Joycie Martin, and she married my brother Tuff, and what they done is, they had theirselfs a son named Travis Tuckton.

Dumar and Micky-Mack traded grave glances.

“I heard’a Travis Tuckton,” Micky-Mack said diffusely.

“Me, too,” Dumar said, “though I don’t recall meetin’ him.”

“Travis were a good boy mostly but just couldn’t keep out’a trouble when ya get right down to it,” Helton informed. “Got a 5-year jolt in the county detent but wound up doin’ twelve ’cos he wouldn’t take no shit from the cons. But I ain’t surprised that ya both heard’a him ’cos he’s got kind of a…repper-tay-shun ’round these parts.”

Dumar nodded. “Folk kind’a whisper ’bout him, like he’s some kind’a backwoods hero but, ya know? They never say why…

“Ain’t surprisin’. Travis were a hero, all right, along with Grandpap Martin, and now…I’ll’se tell ya all ’bout it ’cos it’s time ya learnt.” Helton took a breath, like a long-winded character in a novel that insists on propelling backstory in passive, static scenes like this. “Nineteen, twennie years ago it was, my brother Tuff owned some shit-land ’round Luntville, hunnert acres or so. Weren’t worth a bucket’a mule puke so’s he just kind’a forgot about it. Then one day this cracker come along sayin’ he wants to buy it’n he offer Tuff a hunnert dollars a acre. So’s Tuff said, shore, and he even tolt him that the land weren’t nothin’ but scrub but he tell Tuff he wants it anyway, so a’course, Tuff sold it to him fair’n square…or so he thought. But, see, this fella, what he done is he found out that land had valuable stuff on it—”

“What kind’a stuff, Paw?”

“Natural gas, deep down underground,” and Helton pronounced “natural” as natch-rull. “S’what city folks use fer heat’n ‘lecktricity, and it turnt out there was so much natural gas on that land, it made the fella that bought it a millionaire overnight—”

“What a kick in the ass for Uncle Tuff!” Micky-Mack commiserated.

“Oh, yeah. The fella that bought it knew ’bout all that natural gas but, a’course, didn’t tell Tuff, instead payin’ him shit money and gettin’ hisself rich.” Helton eyed both Dumar and Micky-Mack. “That fella’s name was Thibald Caudill.”

Dumar and Micky-Mack’s faces showed no recognition.

“After Caudill rip Tuff off, he bought hisself a big, fancy mansion in Pulaski, and he come back to our neck’a the woods ever so often—drivin’ a fuckin’ Rolls Royce—just to laugh at us all over the screw-job he pulled on Tuff. Liked ta rub our faces in the fact we was poor and he weren’t. So what we do is we all pitched in some money and give it to Tuff, and he hired hisself a citified lawyer, and what that lawyer tolt him was there was laws now—some law ’bout sales made in bad faith—that might make it so Tuff could sue Caudill fer what he stolt from him…”

“Then Uncle Tuff’d be a millionaire,” Dumar deduced.

“Um-hmm, but that never happened…”

“So how come that fancy lawyer didn’t sue Thibald Caudill?” Micky-Mack asked.

“On account Tuff and his wife Joycie up’n died.

Dumar nodded at the dim memory. “Car accident, weren’t it?

“Weren’t no accident, son. It was murder. Once Caudill got wind that Tuff was fixin’ ta sue, one night he’n his two boys, they followed Tuff’n Joycie back from that lawyer’s office”—Helton made an angry fist—“and they up’n run ’em off the road—”

“No!” Micky-Mack and Dumar exclaimed.

“—and they crashed in a gully. Poor Tuff, he shoot right through the windshield’n died instantly…”

“What about Aunt Joycie?” Dumar asked. “She go through the windshield too?”

“No,” Helton said very resolutely. “She didn’t. See, Joycie was wearin’ her seatbelt, so’s she lived—”

“But you just said—” Micky-Mack blurted.

“Joycie weren’t kilt in the wreck, no.” Helton ground his teeth. “But what Caudill’n his two boys do is they pulled poor Joycie out the car”—he had to pause—“and they tore off alls her clothes”—another pause, his face reddening—“and they dragged her up on the hood”—Helton began to simmer—“and they pult their dirty dicks out and they got theirselfs a ball-peen and they cracked up the top’a Joycie’s skull”—and he flew into another rage, shuddering—“and they HAD THEIRSELFS A HEADER!

Dumar covered his face with his hands while Micky-Mack brought his arms ’round his belly and just moaned.

Weren’t enough,” Helton’s voice cracked and boomed, “fer Caudill to steal the millions that was rightfully Tuff’s, and it weren’t enough to kill him ta boot! No! Caudill, he hadda have more! He hadda fuck Tuff’s poor wife in the head!

“No, no, no,” Micky-Mack moaned.

“And his boys did it too, all standin’ ’round cacklin’ and hee-hawwin’ like the devils they was. They each put a nut in Joycie’s brain, they did, but Caudill even bragged later up the Crossroads that his youngest boy Crow, he knew the story ’bout how Clyde Martin and Lem Tuckton done fucked General Hildreth’s head three times, so’s he said, ‘Anythin’ a low-down Martin or Tuckton can do, I’se kin do better!’ and then he fucked Joycie’s head four times—just ta one up the family!”

“It’s horrible, horrible, Paw!” Dumar wailed.

Helton calmed back down, thumbing a tear or two from his eyes. “Horrible is right, but at least there’s a happy endin’ to this story. See, Tuff’s son Travis Tuckton, he were in the county slam when all this happened, and all Grandpap Martin ever told him was that his folks got kilt in a tragic car wreck; Travis didn’t need ta know the truth, not in stir, ’cos the boy, shee-it—he had it bad enough. But when they let him out, Grandpap tolt him what really happened, and Travis flew inta such a swivet, he swore on his Maw’n Paw’s graves that he would avenge ’em, and that is when Grandpap tolt Travis the in’s and out’s of havin’ a header.” Helton reached behind him and produced the King Edward cigar box that Micky-Mack had fetched for him earlier. “See, there’s better ways’a havin’ a header now, boys. Bashin’ in the top’a the skull’s fine but, see, sometimes ya can git bone-slivers stuck in the brain and then ya stick yer pecker in and—YOW!—next thing ya know, that bone-sliver’s stickin’ in yer dick!

“Holy fuck!” Dumar recoiled at the image.

Micky-Mack protectively covered his crotch. “Dang, Unc! Cain’t think’a anything that could hurt more’n that!

Helton nodded grimly. “Happened to a fella once, Sisal Conner, who done got wronged one way or another by Jeremiah Croll, so’s Sisal, he snatched one’a Croll’s kids and threw a header on him. He busted a hole in the kid’s head, but the second he slipped his stiffer up inta the brain-meat, he up’n scream bloody murder. See, he weren’t careful enough with the ball-peen’n he wind up catchin’ a bone-sliver right in his dick-knob, he did. Pult his pecker out’a there and it squirted blood halfways across the room!” Helton opened the cigar box. “But, see, long time ago, like in the ‘50s, I reckon, Grandpap Martin came up with a safer way. Instead’a usin’ the ball-peen, ya use one’a these,” and from the box he withdrew several old, rusty hole-saw blades. “All ya’s do is lock down one’a these in the chuck of a power drill and ya saw a hole in the skull’a the person yer fixin’ ta head-hump.”

“Wow!” Micky-Mack exclaimed.

“Pretty dang smart fer thinkin’a that,” Dumar observed.

“Cuts a perfect hole ever time,” Helton went on, and he passed the cylindrical blades around for the younger men to see.

Dumar deduced, “So’s…did Travis ‘ventually throw a header on Caudill?”

“Yeah, he shore did—”

“And it were one’a these here hole-saws that Travis Tuckton used?”

“Naw, the actual one used on Caudill disser-peered. Word is it was took by a poe-leece man—”

“The poe-leece!” Micky-Mack shrilled.

Helton wagged his finger. “Lemme finish tellin’ the story, boy… Now, it were Grandpap who not only told Travis the truth ’bout what happened to his folks, it was him who taught Travis how to have a header, and what they did then—God bless ’em—well, they kind’a went on a header rampage, havin’ headers on the kin’a dang near anyone whoever’d wronged the Tucktons or the Martins in the past. It was kind’a like…practice, see? But by the time they was ready, they was experts in the art of throwin’ a header.” Helton smiled and whispered. “And then one day, they gots their chance. They got their hands on Thibald Caudill hisself, and they hole-sawed that cracker’s skull and they humped the shit out’a his head. Travis, he was so twisted up inside with hatred, he fucked Caudill’s brain ta porridge, and the outrage that had been done ta his fine parents was finally avenged.”

“Thank God!” Dumar said.

Helton collected back up the hole-saw blades. “Now, the actual blade used on Caudill’s head, like I said, it disser-peered. ’cos, see, not long after they had their header on Caudill, a cop discovered ’em and shot both Travis’n Grandpap dead right in Grandpap’s old shack by the deadfall.”

“Aw, dang!” Micky-Mack said.

“Yeah, but they got the job done, and that’s all that matters,” Helton said. He emphasized, “Family’s all that matters when ya get right down to it.”

The fire’s dwindling embers tainted their faces in ghostly orange. But Micky-Mack seemed antsy about something, and Helton noticed this and ordered, “Say what’s on your mind, boy?” even though he had a good idea what it was.

“Unc Helton?” the 20-year-old asked. “Have you…ever been to a header?”

Helton breathed deep. “Tain’t sayin’ I’m proud’n I ain’t sayin’ I’m ashamed…but, yeah, boys. I had a couple’a headers back in the day. The why’s’n wherefores don’t matter. It’s just that several times we was offended in ways so dag-blasted low-down that a header was the only way ta git justice.” He looked idly at the rusted hole-saws. “It were Grandpap Martin, my brother Tuff, and me. See, fellas, our families didn’t never treat headers willy-nilly. We respected the law of the hills and only threw headers when someone deserved it. Shee-it, Tuff never did no wrong ta Thibald Caudill, not never. It was Caudill’s greed, and his sheer fuckin’ evil that got him ta doin’ what he did.”

“And he got what he deserved,” Dumar said with some satisfaction.

“Yeah, he shore did, and I’se hopin’ that Satan hisself is butt-fuckin’ that old rube as we speak. ’cos, see, some folks—folks like Caudill—they’se so sick’n twisted’n just plain wicked that they’se throw headers when they got no business. They do it…’cos they like it, and that’s just the most devilish thing that hillfolk can ever do.”

Micky-Mack looked overwhelmed. “Shee-it, Unc. How could anyone like cuttin’ a hole in someone’s head’n fuckin’ their brain?

Helton deliberated over a response. “Well, son, for the reasons I just tolt ya: ’cos they’se evil, but…but…” He sighed. “There’s another reason, too.”

“What reason could that be, Paw?”

Helton rubbed his eyes. “Aw, son, I’ll be honest with ya. See, there’s somethin’ ’bout havin’ a header—just…somethin’… Dang, I might as well just say it. There’s somethin’ ’bout a freshly opened head, and the brain inside’a that head, that makes it good ta fuck.”

“What’cha mean by that, Unc?” the ever-inquiring Micky-Mack asked.

“What I mean, boy—and this is what has caused some ta stray—what I mean is, gettin’ yer nut in a brain? It feels better than any nut you ever had, better’n the best pussy ya ever fucked, better’n the best mouth or butt you ever come in…” Helton stroked his beard. “Don’t know why, just does.”

“Dang,” Dumar remarked.

“And you two’ll be findin’ out ’bout that a right quick,” Helton went on as the woods seemed to darken around them, and grow colder and colder. “What I ain’t ‘splained to ya yet is what this man Paulie’s got ta do with any’a this.”

“Yeah, Paw, I was fixin’ ta ask.”

Helton looked grimly at his son. “Li’l Crory’s awful murder was Paulie gettin’ revenge against Grandpap and Travis for fuckin’ Thibald Caudill’s head.”

“Oh, so this Paulie fella, he one’a Caudill’s kin?”

“Well, sort’a. See, Paulie married Caudill’s daughter Marshie. Shee-it, Marshie Caudill was damn shore the best-lookin piece’a ass in the whole fuckin’ county, boys. Tits and ass and legs that’d make a grown man cry. She’d been workin’ a seedy strip joint in Pulaski since she was 16, and turnt plenty’a tricks too’s what I heard. Even had herself a trick-baby from a john that knocked her up. But after Thibald Caudill got head-humped ta death, Marshie, she inherit her daddy’s big mansion and all that money, so she buy that strip joint she work all them years in. Still owns the place ta this day. Reckon she must be ’bout your age now, Dumar.”

Dumar slowly nodded. “Now ya mention it, I have heard’a her. Me’n Harley Benner was walkin’ back from cuttin’ wood one day, walkin’ along Big Boon Road, and this weird-lookin’ fancy silver car drive by. There were a hot blond drivin’ it, Paw, and I’se mean she had tits stickin’ out till next week. But then ya know what she done? When she see us, she makes a evil face’n up’n give us the finger, and that’s when Harley Benner say, ‘That there is Marshie Caudill.’”

Helton was not surprised. “It was her, all right, son, and you’re right. Righteous pair’a tits on the bitch, yessir. And, see, just like her devilsh daddy, she still drive through these parts—damn near ever mornin’, I’se heard. Drive all the way from Pulaski to where we all live. Likes ta see where she come from, and remind herself she don’t live here no more on account of her daddy’s money. And that weird car? It were the self-same Rolls Royce Thibald Caudill used ta drive. I even seed her a couple’a times up close—in Luntville—still lookin’ good as she ever did, tits hangin’ perfect’n all high’n might, nipples stickin’ out like fuckin’ rivets, ass swayin’ back’n forth in her fancy dresses. Paulie’s proper name is Paul Vinchetti—see, he’s a Eye-tallion type, and he’s in this group they call, I think, the MAFF-ee-uh.”

“What the hail’s that?” Micky-Mack asked.

“He’s like a gangster, you know? A big whup-dee-doo criminal—see, he’s into what they call organized crime.” Need it be elucidated that Helton pronounced the word “organized” as organnazzed? “Don’t rightly know how it all works, just that Paulie’s pig-shit rich from sellin’ drugs and gettin’ profits from gamblin’ and such. And several years ago, he and his boys, they started selling their drugs ’round these parts, see? And one night he’s in the strip joint Marshie Caudill owns and he gets one look at Marshie and he fall head-over-heels in love with the whore, so much so in fact that he up’n marries her.”

“Well, how you like that?” Dumar said.

“Must’a been Marshie tolt him ’bout how the Tucktons and Martins was responsible fer Thibald Caudill gettin’ his head fucked.”

Helton nodded. “And now? They’se all laughin’ and carryin’ on ’bout how they fucked over a couple’a dirt-poor rednecks, and they figure we’se too dumb or ain’t got the balls to do anything about it.” Helton half-sneered, half-smiled. “They like ta make movies? Well, we’ll show ’em a movie…”

««—»»

They doused the fire and hit the road, Dumar driving and Helton still communicating expository details via long-winded and essentially passive dialogue. Veronica, in her shock, dismay, and fatigue, had fallen asleep, still handcuffed to the leg of the fish-gutting table. The truck lumbered on through the night, its dim headlights sweeping through winding, wooded roads as a low winter moon followed them through the trees. “It’s likely that Paulie ain’t there,” Helton rambled on, “on account I heard he don’t spend much time at the house. But that’s dandy, ’cos it ain’t Paulie we want just yet. It’s his wife.

“Marshie,” Dumar said. “And we’se gonna snatch her—”

“—and have ourselfs a header,” Micky-Mack concluded.

“Yeah we is, and we’se gonna film it on that there fancy camera that our friend Veronnerka solt us, and then we’se gonna leave that movie fer Paulie ta see.”

Silence unfolded for several moments, but it was the antsy Micky-Mack whose incessant inquisitiveness broke that silence. “Dang, Unc Helton,” he began and rubbed his crotch. “Much as I love havin’ a nut…I don’t think I can get my bone up for it.”

“A head with a hole in it’s gotta be tough to get a stiffer for,” Dumar said.

Helton understood. “It’s a differ-kult thing ta conterm-plate, boys. That’s why when ya’s havin’ yer first header, concentration’s the key. Ya gots ta think hard ’bout all the great pussy ya fucked, and all the purdy gals.”

Micky-Mack seemed unconvinced, still rubbing his crotch. “Shee-it, Unc. My dick feels dead right now, like it knows it ain’t a natural thing to fuck folks in their heads.”

Dumar: “Don’t matter that some folks say a header’s the best nut they ever had, Paw. I ain’t gonna be able to get me no erection in a million years.”

“That’s why we gots ta tweak ourselfs a tad, get our dicks all feisty’n fit ta spit,” Helton said. “And I figure our friend Veronnerka can help us with that.” He peered down the dark ribbon of road ahead. “We’se close ta walkin’ distance now, so find a place ta pull over.”

Dumar did as instructed, but Micky-Mack squinted at his elder. “What’cha mean tweak ourselfs, Unc?”

««—»»

It was in grueling stages that Veronica awoke from her black sleep. She’d had the worst nightmare…

She saw only black, but did she hear…moans? Whistling? Did she hear someone say in redneck dialect, “Hot dang, that’s a dandy body on her…”?

Did she hear, “Shit, that’s good…”?

Or, “Fuck. My crane’s raisin’, no problem…”

She also had the sensation that something was in her hand. Something, warm, turgid, and tacky…

Finally, her eyes peeled open from the noxious sleep…

What in the name of…

Helton, Dumar, and Micky-Mack stood around her where she sat slumped against the truck wall. They all had their penises and scrotums out, and they were stroking themselves and staring down at her with salacious grins. Veronica’s eyes flicked to her free hand…

Micky-Mack had not his own hand but her hand wrapped around his penis. The penis was erect, large, and heavily foreskinned.

Veronica screamed.

The men winced at once. “There she goes again!” Dumar yelled, erection bobbing. Micky-Mack dropped her hand to cover his ears, and Helton roared, “God dang, girl! That scream’a yers’ll travel halfway ‘cross the blammed county. Gonna crack all the winders!”

“I knew it!” she yelled, “I knew you were going rape me!”

“Dang, Veronnerka,” Helton said. “I done tolt ya we’d never do nothin’ like that.”

“Please! Please don’t rape me!” she sobbed. “I’m a virgin! I have to save my virginity for when I marry Mike!”

“Simmer down, girl,” Helton pleaded.

“Yeah,” Micky-Mack said. “We’se just givin’ ourselfs a little tweak.”

“Gotta get our stiffers up,” Dumar added, “and—dang, hon—we didn’t have no idea you had such hot body.”

“Hotter than the lid on a pot-bellied stove,” Helton said.

Only then did Veronica notice that while she’d slept, these three perverts had raised her top, exposing her bare breasts, and they’d pulled her work pants and panties down.

“That’s some sure-fire gorgeous rib-melons on ya, Veronnerka,” Helton complimented, “and the dang purdiest slop-box I ever seed.”

“So don’t git mad,” Micky-Mack said. “We’se just admirin’ ya.”

Admiring me?” she spat. “You were using my hand to masturbate with!”

Helton chuckled. “‘Tis funny how gals git their dander up over the littlest things.” He began stroking his penis again, and cradling his testicles. “All we need is somethin’…provokertive, ta gander, that’s all.” Another friendly chuckle, glancing to Micky-Mack. “See, I sent my nephew there to pick us up a girlie mag, and lookit what the dimwit brung back.” He picked a magazine off the floor, and showed it to her. The cover read SWISH FAMILY ROBINSON and showed a half-dozen young, muscular, and quite naked men standing cross-armed before a log cabin. They all sported erections of prodigious size. “As ya can see, the dumb-ass got a stroke mag fer homa-sexual fellas—got pictures in here’a fellas cornholin’ each other’n suckin’ peter! Damn, Micky-Mack, sometimes yer common sense is worth ’bout as much as a dixie cup full’a dogshit worms…and that ain’t worth very much, now is it?”

Dumar honked laughter.

“Aw, shee-it, Unc! I knowed we was in a hurry,” the boy retorted, “so I git to the magger-zine section with all the girlie mags’n I just grab the first one my hand lands on. Didn’t know it was for queer fellas. I ain’t never had much use fer girlie mags what with all the poon I bust. Shee-it, gals purdy much foller me down the damn street, and a lot of ’em I don’t even know. It’s ’cos word gits ’round, ya know?”

Helton frowned. “Word gits ’round ’bout what?

Micky-Mack shrugged with nonchalance. “That I got the biggest dick in these here parts. What I need beat-off mags fer when ever gal in town’s standin’ in line ta sit on my giant cock?”

Helton pointed a finger. “Don’t’cha be braggin’, boy! Aw, shore, ya gots yerself a big pecker, but so did Tater Kline. ‘Member him? He had a dick on him a foot long, son, and he was always braggin’ ’bout it. God’s got ways’a gettin’ back at folks fer their sin’a pride.”

“Damn, Unc Helton,” Micky-Mack dismissed. “Tater Kline? Who’s he?”

Dumar honked laughter.

“I done tolt ya. God saw fit ta hang a foot-long pecker on him, so’s instead’a bein’ grateful, he up’n brag about it any chance he get. Pull it out in the damn bar, he would, doin’ parlor tricks’n shit. Flippin’ beer mugs, playin’ ring toss, flappin’ it around. So’s ya know what God done, boy? He just hauled back and laid on Tater a case’a the dick cancer, He did, yes sir! Then Tater had ta go the hars-spital’n get what they call a penectomy. It’s a operation. Dang doctor from India cut his dick clean off ta get rid’a the cancer. But ya know what?” Helton smiled with a nod. “Tater Kline never bragged ’bout his big dick never again.”

Micky-Mack’s eyes thinned through a contemplation. “Aw, I’se think yer makin’ that up.”

“Just keep braggin’ ’bout your big dick. See how long ‘fore it’s sittin’ in the bottom’a some doctor’s garbage can.”

Veronica could not conceive of this conversation between men with their penises in their hands…

“Don’t listen ta the boy, hon,” Helton said to her as she awkwardly hitched her pants back up and pulled down her blouse. “It’s just that with nothin’ provokertive to lookit, we’se didn’t see no harm in lookin’ at you.” His bushy brows rose. “And, ya know, you could do us a big favor by helpin’ us out a tad more than that.”

Veronica stared up at him. They’re going to rape me, I just KNOW it…

Micky-Mack stepped closer, bringing the whopper of an erection with him. “Ya know, it’d be real kind’a ya ta give us each a little toot.”

“A little…toot?” her voice creaked.

“Why, shore,” Dumar said. “Tease us up a bit, that’s all. Know what I mean?”

“No!” Veronica yelled.

Helton stepped forward with a shucksy smile, stroking his considerably older penis. “Aw, don’t’cha worry none—we ain’t gonna come. Just a li’l suckin’s what we’re lookin’ for.”

Micky-Mack appended, “We need ya to git our peters feisty.”

And Dumar, “We need our bones fit ta spit.”

Veronica’s head began to spin with the madness. They want blowjobs! Oral rape!

“Ya’d be doin’ us a favor like ya cain’t imagine,” Helton went on. “And, ya know, if you was ever in a jam, why, I’d drop ever-thang ta help ya out.” He’d stroked himself to full hardness. His foreskin covered half the glans, which looked like a purplish bald head with a hole in it. “A’course, ya don’t have to. We was just hopin’ you would.”

Veronica’s thoughts tried to organize. Careful now. These psychos are playing some game, but if I don’t do it…they might kill me, and if they kill me… Her heart skipped a beat. I’ll never see Mike again…

She got up on her knees. “All right,” she said.

Dang, if Veronnerka ain’t the nicest gal!” Helton celebrated.

“Just like ya tolt us, Paw,” Dumar said, ticking the underside of his scrotum with his fingertips.

“Shee-it, yeah!” Micky-Mack added. “Cain’t wait ta get my peckerwood in her mouth.”

Helton stepped around her legs, sort of like a cowboy getting on a horse. “Since I’se the elder’a the family,” he chuckled, “I’ll go first,” and then he brought his erection right up to Veronica’s face.

She gulped, her belly sinking, but when she moved closer and opened her mouth—

“Ooo! Helton!” she complained. “When was the last time you washed?”

He looked fuddled. “Warshed? Why, last Saturday, a’course. So’s we’se clean as a whistle on the Sabbath.”

Her face felt like potato chips crinkling—from the sheer density of crotch odor. Oh, my GOD, this is DISGUSTING! but then she considered: Foul-smelling or not, I HAVE to accommodate these loonies, so she steeled herself, tensed up, and took Helton’s erection into her mouth. He’ll like this, she felt sure and starting sucking, because I KNOW I give good blowjobs. Mike’s said so many times…

“Ho, girl!” Helton intoned, then pulled out. “What’cha call that?

Veronica smirked at the fetid taste in her mouth. “It’s a blowjob.”

That ain’t no blowjob, missy,” he said and chuckled. “That’s what we call a fuckin’ disaster. Shit, girl, don’t’choo know how to give head?”

Anger flared. “I don’t know what you’re talking about! I give great head! Mike’s told me so!”

“Mike, huh…oh, that silly fella back the store. Well, I reckon he’s just bein’ gentlemanly ’cos he don’t want to rile ya up but, Veronnerka? That’s smack-dab the worst dick-suckin’ I’se ever had. Hon, ya don’t drag her teeth up’n down over a fella’s pecker! There’s technique, see? A certain way.

Veronica, in spite of the circumstances, was enraged.

Helton turned to his kin. “Boys, give it a go, each’a ya. Tell what’cha think.”

Micky-Mack stepped up next and slipped his equally malodorous but significantly larger erection into Veronica’s mouth. Trying hard not to breath, like at all, she stroked her lips back and forth over the engorged shaft—

Micky-Mack pulled back as if stung. “Shit, Unc. That dick-suckin’s so bad it’s liable ta kill my wood!”

Dumar laughed after his turn. “Hon? You got a thing or three to learn about blowin’ a fella proper.”

Veronica couldn’t comprehend any of this. Abducted, handcuffed to a table, molested, and now forced to perform oral sex, only to be told she wasn’t doing it right?

But…could it be true?

Had Mike simply kept quiet all the times she’s blown him? My God! What if I really DO give lousy head? All three of them concurred, so…

I guess…it IS true…

She wanted to break down in tears.

“Aw, now, don’t git all out’a sorts, hon,” Helton said. He pushed Dumar out of the way, then re-assumed his position. “I-ron-urcal, ain’t it? Now we’se’ll be doing you a favor.” He snapped his fingers. “Listen up, and I’ll tell ya how to suck a dick proper.

Mortified, Veronica looked right at his veiny penis.

“First, ya gotta, like, prime the pump.” He pulled the flabby foreskin back, showing half-dissolved rings of smegma. “Ya grab hold and kind‘a tease the pee-hole open with yer fingers, then run the tip’a yer tongue over it.”

Mortified, Veronica did so, feeling Helton flinch in reaction.

“Yeah, that’s good, hon. It gits some spark in a fella’s works, ya know?”

Veronica felt ludicrous daintily roving the tip of her tongue over the small but plump slit.

“And once the fella gets harder, ya jiggle yer tongue alls around his meat, kind’a toyin’ with it, and then?” Helton kept looking down at the kneeling young women. “Then ya stick yer tongue all the way out flat and start lickin’ the underside’a the fella’s bone—”

Veronica sighed, then commenced. The process reminded her of a child licking an ice-cream bar.

“Yeah, yeah, hon. That’s a tad better,” Helton informed. “But make shore ya play with the nuts, too—give ’em a little squeeze, ya know? Not too hard but just enough to let ’em know that somethin’s gonna be required of ’em soon.”

She continued licking while fondling the lump-heavy sack of skin, which began to magically constrict at her touch.

“And now? Now, hon, ya gets ta the meat’a the blowjob. Start off suckin’ the knob, slow at first, and light, thens a little harder, see, but—” He tapped her on the head. “But hear me out, Veronnerka…”

She looked up to see him frowning down. “What?” she barked.

“Yer still doin’ it wrong,” he said with a lenient chuckle. “What’cha do is this. Ya pull yer upper lip over you upper teeth, see, and stick yer tongue out over yer bottom teeth and kind’a make it curl, like a shovel-head—”

“A shovel-head!”

“Why, shore. Look”—and then he demonstrated, turning his bushy face into a mask of absurdity.

Veronica slumped, but mimicked what he’d done.

“That’s a girl!” he approved, and then he slipped his erection into contorted orifice. “Now, back’n forth, real slow but with each push forward ya slip a tad more in till—yeah! Like that!”

Veronica’s head began to move awkwardly back and forth over the rigid flesh.

“Looks like she’s learnin’, Paw.”

“Yeah, Unc. Who knows? We’se just might make a natural out’a her.”

“But while’s yer doin’ that,” Helton continued to advise, “ya get a bit’a suction goin’ on in yer mouth—oh, and make shore to keep some spit flowin’ too now. And ya also need ta speed up a bit at a time…”

My GOD! Veronica thought. But on she went, trying to turn the instructions into action.

“Dang, boys! I say she’s done got it down pat!” Helton celebrated, and after a few more strokes he pulled out, the gorged penis beating before her face.

“Don’t you want to—”

“Get a off a cock-hock?” he said. “Naw, girlie. I done tolt ya we ain’t gonna come. That’d defeat the purpose.

This is CRAZY! she screamed to herself. “I don’t understand!”

“We just need ya ta get us riled,” Micky-Mack said.

“We needs to be hornier than skunks in heat,” Dumar amended.

“’Cos, see,” Helton said, “it’s gotta be that our dicks are all cranked up fer later.”

Veronica peered at him with no comprehension whatever. “For…later? What happens…later?”

Helton stepped back to make room for Dumar. “Nothin’ fer you ta worry about, so’s don’t’cha pay it no mind. Dumar, git yer log in there’n try ‘er out.”

Dumar waited for her to pull her upper lip back and stick her tongue out, then—

“Eeeeee-yeah,” he grunted. “Dang shore better’n before.” He paused tentatively. “And, say, hon? Is it alls right if’n I pulled yer top back up and feel on yer titties whilse yer doin’ it?”

“Yeah, how’s ’bout it!” Micky-Mack exclaimed. “You got dandy titties!”

She pulled her mouth off long enough to frown at the revolting smell and say, “Oh, I guess—”

Dumar re-inserted himself but stooped over, peeled up her top, and began to fondle her breasts.

“Eeeee-HAH!” Helton railed. “Are they some milk wagons or what!

Dumar began to sweat. Like the true redneck gentleman, he pressed her ears, pumping. “And—lemme see,” and then quite abruptly he slipped the entirety of his erection all at once into her mouth, half of which went well into her throat. “Dang if she cain’t deep-throat too, Paw!”

“Consider yerself blessed, Veronnerka,” Helton said in a tone nearly fatherly, “‘cos a gal with none’a what they call the gag-reflex is a blessin’ indeed.”

Micky-Mack was staring at the job, amazed. “Unc! Just watchin’s got me so sure-fire horny, why, my dick’s leakin’ pre-cum like a blammed spigot!

“There ya go braggin’ again!” Helton roared. “Don’t take yer youth fer granted, boy!”

By now, Veronica’s oral resolve filled the compartment with the sounds of voracious fellatio.

“Shee-it, hon,” Dumar railed. “That’s dang near perfect technique.” He pumped a few more times, winced through some self-control, then pulled out. “Yeah. Theeeeeeeere’s the ticket. My dick is fit ta spit now, ready ta tussle shore as shit.” He flexed it a few times, as if to demonstrate something to her.

“My turn,” Micky-Mack trundled forward and got right to it. The larger erection shocked her when it slid inches deep into her throat, but there was never once the impulse to gag. Her mouth, in fact, began to engage in an intricate synchronicity with her head, and as uncomfortable as it was to simultaneously cup her tongue and keep her lip pulled back over her upper teeth, Veronica found very quickly that…

Wow. This is pretty easy.

“Good Gawd, girl!” Micky-Mack raved. “Alls a sudden, yer suckin’ dick like a champ!

“The backwoods technique is it,” Helton said. “Make shore ya don’t ferget it, hon. It’ll serve ya well.”

Veronica just kept sucking.

“Ho, ho,” Micky-Mack murmured. He started getting twitchy. “Dang, dang! I mean, this is dead-solid the best blowjob I ever got.” He began to twitch some more. “Shit, ya know, Unc Helton? I’se just cain’t help it. The dick-suckin’s just too good. I’se gonna have ta git me my nut—

WHACK!

Micky-Mack toppled backwards with a wail; his penis popped out of Veronica’s mouth. What happened? she wondered but then she looked and saw the younger man cringing on the floor and holding his head.

“Gawd DANG, Unc Helton! What’cha clout me in the head fer?”

Helton’s indignation smoldered in his eyes. He pointed his ever-present finger. “Don’t’cha be a selfish little punk, Micky-Mack! We ain’t doin’ this fer our own pleasure! This is family business!

The boy sat up, groggy. “That hurt like holy hail, Unc…”

“Then let it be a lesson to ya. Our friend Veronnerka’s helping us get our willies riled out’a the goodness’a her heart, boy! This ain’t a ruckin’ party—you’re savin’ up that cum fer a important reason! You understand?”

Micky-Mack shakily nodded. When he got up, he wobbled at first. “Yeah, I understand, “ he droned.

Dumar laughed. “These young kids. Gots no force’a will.”

“No they shore don’t,” Helton said, stuffing his erection back into his jeans, and then the other men followed suit. Helton smiled down at Veronica. “Thanks kindly fer torquin’ us up, hon. We’se gonna have to leave ya fer a short spell, but we’ll be back.”

This is so strange… Why would men only want partial blowjobs? Veronica wondered as she wiped the appalling dick-B.O. off her lips. The men were all putting on their jackets.

Before they left, Helton paused at the big truck’s back door. “Oh, and feel free ta help yerself to some spaghetti. It’s made by that famous chef—Boy-Ar Dee!” and then he left and closed the door behind him.

Veronica just sat there, staring at the door. I have a feeling this is going to be a long night…

— | — | —

Chapter 7

(I)

Portafoy awoke just as the clock struck twelve. The indentured 60ish African-American butler opened his eyes in the dark, then heard—

clink

And then:

A loud and rather rowdy fart.

Oh my, Portafoy thought, eyes going wide as silver dollars. He’d worked here well over twenty years—in fact it had been Thibald Caudill himself who’d hired him. The old man had said to Portafoy’s face, “What I need, boy, is a loyal, hard-workin’, yazzah-boss buck to run my house fer me. You interested?” Well, Portafoy didn’t care for the boy or the buck references, or any of the other myriad racial jabs that sailed from the mouths of this white-trash-turned-rich family. (The little girl, ‘Becca, was by far the worst). But, hell—$500 per week? No way he’d turn that down. Nevertheless, for the entirety of his employ at the Caudill Mansion, Portafoy could recall not a single time when anyone had broken in.

clink

Then: another rumbustious fart.

And then: an unmistakably backwoods accent in the faintest whisper: “Fuck, Micky-Mack. Yer dang butt’s makin’ more noise’n a fuckin’ circus.”

“Shee-it, Unc. Cain’t help it. It’s all them beans I et. But…dang! This here’s a dandy house inside—”

“Shhh!”

Oh my…my, my, my, Portafoy thought, then quite shakily rose in his pajamas. There could be no doubt: intruders were present. He grabbed the small revolver in the nightstand, then picked up the phone to call 911.

No dailtone.

And his cellphone was downstairs.

Portafoy gathered all his courage, then slipped out of the room into the very dark hall. Pistol in the lead, he took two steps, then stopped.

More voices: “She ain’t here, Paw.”

“You shore?”

“Checked every room, shore as shit.”

The voices came from the landing, which was just out of view.

“The black fella’s asleep in the room on the end. But the master bedroom’s empty.”

“Lemme check. But, wait. What about the girl?”

“Oh, we got the girl. Micky-Mack just took her down the stairs…”

The girl, Portafoy thought with a pounding heart. ‘Becca. He could hear the floor creaking from none-too-discreet footsteps. Several moments passed, then the housebreakers returned to the landing and proceeded down the stairs.

Were they kidnaping ‘Becca? Portafoy felt sworn to protect the girl, little foul-mouthed racist redneck shit that she was. Be brave, he told himself. I might have to kill some men tonight…

Then, with resolution, he walked down the hall, turned toward the landing, and—

“Got’cha!”

A hand snapped out of the dark and snatched away Portafoy’s revolver.

Portafoy nearly lost consciousness.

A long-haired hillbilly in his ‘30s grinned in the subdued light. “Howdy. Ain’t no call ta be scairt.” He waved the gun in Portafoy’s face. “Come on down. We needs ta talk.”

Oh-oh-oh…what am I going to do? The manservant took unsteady steps down. The vast, luxurious downstairs stood dark but he could see the bright white lights of the kitchen blaring.

More sounds.

First, a crunching, then someone said “Ahhhhh,” in unison with a spattering sound. The long-haired man urged him in.

Even in the midst of this calamity, Portafoy was indignant. A younger hillbilly, with mussed blond hair, stood up on his tiptoes, urinating into the kitchen sink—a Kohler kitchen sink. “Sir! Please! There’s a toilet just down the hall!”

The boy looked over his shoulder and grinned. “Dang. Sorry, sir. Couldn’t wait, ya know?”

The crunching sound encroached; Portafoy reeled at the mammoth of a man who stepped forward, eating out of a bag of Gourmet Sweet Potato Chips. “Howdy, sir,” he greeted with mushed chips stuck between his bad teeth. “Terrible sorry ta barge in like this.” The man must’ve been six-four, husky but with wide shoulders and plenty of brawn. He wore a tattered wool coat, old boots, and a floppy leather hat that had probably seen better days decades ago. A great bushy gray-blond beard consumed the bottom half of his face.

“Can I…help you?” Portafoy asked absurdly.

“‘S’matter’a fact, ya can. We’se lookin’ fer Marshie Caudill.”

Robbers, no doubt, and then some. Portafoy did his best to assume the role of his authority in this house. “Mrs. Vinchetti is not available at the moment. She happens to be out of town.” A thought kindled. “I’d be happy to call her, that is if you’d kindly reconnect the phone line. Who shall I say is asking for her?”

The great man roared, while the other two cackled with him. “You gotta hail of a sense’a humor, sir! Naw, there’ll be no phone calls. But, shucks, that kind’a alters our plan.” He looked to the long-hair. “Guess the girl’ll have to do, son. Let’s have a look.”

“Micky-Mack?”

The brash blond man hitched up his zipper at the sink, deputed himself into the next room, then reappeared, pushing along a chubby teenaged girl with hair dyed bright as Kool-Aid Pink Lemonade and a long nightshirt that read HANNAH MONTANA! Her eyes looked more infuriated than afraid, even with her hands tied and some nylon stockings knotted through her mouth.

“‘Becca!” Portafoy exclaimed. “Are you all right?”

Her face reddened in rage as she gruffed something through the gag, but then the blond man who’d relieved himself in the sink took the gag off, and at once, in a tight, high-pitched backwoods accent, she bellowed, “Does it fuckin’ look like I’m all right, you stupid”—and she used the N-Word.

Silence closed over the room.

The large man’s brows shot up. “Young lady, lemme tell ya somethin’. Only the worst kind’a hill-trash use that there word. Decent folks don’t make no slurs regardless of a person’s race, their color, or even their creed.”

“Aw, fuck yew, ya big bearded hillbilly fuck!” the girl yelled. Inflamed eyes shot to the cocky blond man. “And this pervert was rubbing his crotch against me and feeling my tits!”

“Ain’t much ta feel, girlie, hate ta say.”

“Aw, fuck yew, ya stinky cracker! All’a yas!” Next, the eyes shot to the indentured family servant. “Portafoy! Shoot these pieces’a shit with your gun!”

Portafoy faltered. “Regrettably, Miss ‘Becca, this other gentlemen here took the gun away from me.”

The girl hurled more invectives, starting with “Why yew stupid”—and she used the N-Word. “Only the dumbest”—she used the N-Word—“in the world would let some redneck steal their gun! What fuckin’ good are ya? A house”—she used the N-Word—“who’s got his gun took away!”

The long-hair chuckled, arms crossed. “Some mouth on the little beast.”

“Shore is,” the big man said, “but we’ll’se see what we kin do ’bout that a right quick.”

The girl heaved and blared, “Yew-yew-yew—aw, fuck yew, you dog-dick! You hillbillies are so poor ya gotta eat the fuckin’ corncob after ya wipe yer dirty ass with it! When my stepfather hears about this, he’s gonna kill yew! He’s in the Maff-ee-ah—I know ’cos my Mama tolt me!—and he’ll throw all your redneck asses in a wood-chipper!

The three intruders laughed, then the big man said, “Your stepdaddy, huh? Paulie Vinchetti.”

“Yeah, yew fuckin’ turd burglar! I’se kin tell just by lookin’ at yew! Yew suck each other’s dicks!

More chuckles, then the big man said, “Ya know, boys. Turns out I’m glad we get this ‘un instead’a Marshie. I reckon it’s time we go.”

The girl shrieked when the blond man started to hustle her toward the back door. Portafoy, without even thinking, leapt forward and pushed the blond man away, then stood in front of the girl.

“Sir?” the big man asked, incredulous. “What’cha think yer doin’?”

“I’ve been in this family’s employ for a long time, sir, and I am bound to protect this girl when she’s in my charge. I’m prepared…to fight.”

More chuckles. Then the girl rallied, “Yew tell ’em, Portafoy! Yew fight these fuckers! ’cos if’n yew don’t, my stepfather’ll drop your”—and she used the N-Word—“ass right into a fuckin’ wood-chipper!”

Again, silence.

The big man cleared his throat. “Sir, I admire a man who’ll fight fer what he feel it’s his duty ta fight fer. But now, if’n ya do, you’ll just wind up gettin’ yer butt whupped, and we don’t want that. Our fight ain’t with you, it’s with this Paulie fella.” He frowned at the girl, then shook his head. “And this chunky little trash-mouth here? You shore you wanna fight fer her?”

Portafoy considered the reasonable question.

“And go ahead’n tell me I’m wrong, but I’d bet the back’a my balls she been callin’ you that ugly word fer a long time. Ain’t I right?”

Portafoy sighed, answered in the affirmative, then stepped aside.

Th girl screamed her outrage. “Yew fuckin’ coward”—she used the N-Word—“piece’a shit! Yew fuckin’ yellow-ass”—she used the N-Word—“no-good, no-balls”—she used the N-Word—“motherfuck!” and then, finally, the blond man put her gag back in, threw her to the floor, and dragged her kicking and flailing out the back door by two handfuls of her bright-pink hair.

“Wise choice, sir,” the big man said. He took two small glasses from a cabinet, then, from another, pulled out a fancy liquor bottle that read LOUIS XIII on it. “Here, take a nip,” and he filled the glasses and passed one over. Meanwhile, the long-hair was filling plastic bags with food.

Portafoy and the big man each shot theirs back neat, but the big man’s brow twitched. “Don’t barely taste like nothin’. This what rich folks drink?”

Portafoy realized just then that he’d been serving the same brandy to white people for years and years, yet this was the first time he’d ever been offered any. It seemed to melt down his throat. “It’s $500 a bottle, sir, and…delicious.”

“Well, you can have it. Me, I’ll take corn liquor any day.” He gently turned Portafoy around and began to tie his wrists. “I gots ta tie ya up but don’t worry none. It won’t be tight. Figure you’ll be able ta git out’a it in a hour or so, then you just call the police’re do what ya gotta do.”

“I appreciate your consideration, sir.”

“Aw, don’t think nothin’ of it.” Next, he tied the servant’s ankles, then he picked up two more plastic bags off the floor that hung heavy with whatever filled them. Some kind of pilferage, evidently.

The big man winked. “Just you take care’a yerself now, and, again, I’se terrible sorry to roust up yer night like this,” and then he grabbed the other bags and began to follow the long-hair out.

“But, sir, I beg your pardon,” Portafoy said. “What…what are you going to do with the girl?”

The big man laughed. “After what she call you, do you really care?

“Actually, no, sir, I don’t,” Portafoy admitted, “and I do hope you have a pleasant evening and wonderful holiday…”

(II)

It’s about time! Veronica thought when Helton loudly opened the back door to the truck. He had a great big grin for her. “Tolt ya we wouldn’t be long.” He set down several plastic bags, and then—

Veronica’s heart surged with joy.

—he pulled out the handcuff key.

“You’re letting me go!” she rejoiced. “Oh, Helton, I knew you were a nice guy!”

He unlocked the cuff hooked to the metal table. “Aw, shore. We’se’ll let ya go”—he took her arm and led her toward the front of the truck—“just…not yet.”

Veronica’s joy collapsed.

What now? What? she thought.

Helton sat her down in the front passenger seat, and he cuffed her right hand to the door handle. “You’ll be more comfortable up here,” he said. Then: “All right, fellas,” he called out behind him,” then—SWOOSH—he pulled the jury-rigged shower curtain across the back of the front seats.

“Couple’a things, if ya don’t mind,” he began and stepped right up close so his groin opposed her face. He pulled down his zipper.

“Oh, come on, Helton! Give me a break!

“Shhh, shhh,” he whispered. “Don’t want the boys to hear.” He extracted his flaccid penis and began pulling on it. “All’s I need is a few more tweaks, ya know, on account I’se older than Micky-Mack’n Dumar—”

“I already gave you your tweak!” she complained, and already she could smell it. God! I want to THROW UP!

Now Helton isolated a testicle. “Ain’t no big deal, hon. Just a tad more, alls right?” He lowered his whisper. “I needs ta be able to perform proper in front’a the boys, ya know? But first, how’s about givin’ each nut a li’l suck first, huh? Ya don’t mind, do ya?”

Yes I do mind! VERY MUCH! Veronica’s face felt hard as a plaster mask. But then the grievous consideration recurred. If I don’t do what they want…

She sputtered, “Oh, all right!” and she pulled one horrendous testicle into her mouth, started to suck, then practically hacked it out. “Helton! Come on! Your balls smell worse than the rest of it!”

The large men chuckled. “Hon, it’s just a li’l male funk. Don’t be such a fuss-budget. Most gals, hail, they like the natural smell of a fella.”

Veronica stared at the slack scrotum and the proffered testicle. For Heaven’s sake! She took a deep breath, then did what he asked.

“Aw, dearie, that’s nice,” he guttered. As she sucked the second ball, his tacky, flaccid penis began to enlarge against the top of her cheek. She felt not only appalled but ridiculous.

“There, there, yeah.” Now the half-erect shaft hung before her face. “Now I’se need ya ta give the ole pipe some love too…”

What could she do?

She began to suck it.

“Aw, yeah, hon,” he kept whispering. “Just like we done taught ya—that’s just dandy, it is…”

With each awkward stroke of her head, she thought, Disgusting! Disgusting! Disgusting! but about twenty such strokes, Helton’s penis was hard and beating. He slipped it out, then, and put it back in his pants.

“There! Are you happy?”

“You’re a doll, Veronnerka.”

Yeah, I’m a doll, all right… All that smegma, the foul balls, and all that sheer odor—it was giving her a stomach ache.

“Now, lemme see—oh, yeah.” Helton seemed to remember something. “Be right back,” and he pushed through the shower curtain.

“How you boys comin’?” Veronica heard but then her mind drifted where she sat.

She felt squashed down by the sheer weight of this turmoil. At least up here she could see a bit. Through the windshield, a clearing within heavy woods extended. A bright moon glimmered behind tree branches. She thought of asking them where they’d been but decided against it when she heard more noises and voices coming from the back of the truck.

“Good. Git the bitch up…”

“Glad she ain’t passed out…”

“Yeah. Best she be awake’n seein…

A clunk.

“Trash-mouth little snotty bitch like this deserve what she gits…”

They’ve got a woman back there, Veronica realized, and even though she couldn’t see what they were doing, she easily deduced after the clunk:

They’re putting her on the metal table…

“Tie the fat bitch down now, Micky-Mack…”

Something—an impulse, perhaps—distracted her. She looked down against the bottom of the shower curtain and saw…

My knapsack!

Yes, there is was, and she knew that her cellphone was right on top.

Careful now… She gathered all her courage, reached down and unzipped the top flap, and—

Got it!

—but just as she would take the cellphone up and call for help, Helton’s big hand took the phone from hers, and he pushed back through the curtain and sat in the driver’s seat. His other hand gripped the carry-handle of the Sony.

“Dang! I see you got yerself one’a these fancy phones too,” he seemed to marvel. “A cellphone’s what they call it, huh?”

Veronica slumped. “Yes, Helton. It’s a cellphone.”

“We gots one too, believe it or not. Fella named Paulie sent us one.” He tilted his head in resignation and put the phone in his pocket. “Well, see, Veronnerka, way things is…we cain’t have ya callin’ no one just yet. I’m shore ya understand.”

Veronica wanted to cry.

Some minor clatter, now, came from the back, and then?

Oh, no…

Then she thought she could hear the faintest stifled moan…

Like someone moaning through a gag?

Then a tearing sound, the tearing of fabric.

“Tolt ya she don’t have much fer tits.”

“And lookit all them dick-stupid tattoos.

Veronica’s eyes turned to Helton.

“Hon, take some advise. It’s best ya don’t even wonder ’bout what’s goin’ on in back,” the large man said her in a subdued voice. “Buts I do need ta ‘splain a tad more to ya. See, there’s this man named Paulie…

“Paulie,” she repeated. “The man who gave you a cellphone.”

“Right. And he’s in what’cha call the MAFF-ee-uh—”

Veronica frowned in the tinseled darkness.

“—he’s like a big crime boss and, well, what he did is he murdered my grandboy Crory in a way too awful to describe’n after that? He made a movin’ picture of the murder and he send it to us…”

Snuff film, she deduced.

“So’s now? Now we’se gettin’ proper revenge by doin’ somethin’ just as awful to one’a his kin.”

Veronica voiced her next deduction. “And you’re going to film that, and send the video clip to him. That’s why you bought the Sony.”

Helton nodded, hefting up the big camera. “Only way li’l Crory can rest in peace is if’n we’se revenge his evil murder. We ain’t city folk like you, we’re hill folk. It’s just the way things’re done out here.” He turned the dim dome light on up front, then leaned over with the camera. “I knows ya showed me before, but I need ya ta show me again. How’s this thing work?”

Veronica exhaled more exasperation, then took the camera, flicked some switches, then passed it back to him. “There. It’s all set to record. When you’re ready, just push the button on the grip, the light comes on, and you’re rolling.”

Helton took it back, impressed. “And then it all gets put on—”

She pointed to the slot. “On the doohicky. The entire video clip you record—the moving picture—gets saved to the doohicky.”

“Dandy! Thanks!” but then he paused as if in speculation. “Just lemme ask you somethin’ now. When you was little, did yer Maw or Paw ever tell you the old Bible story ’bout a fella in olden times named Lot and his wife Edith?

In the continuous whirlpool of turmoil, Veronica could scarcely collate the question. “Uh, I don’t know. Something about Sodom and Gomorrah?”

“Right!” Helton enlivened. “Them was the two cities that invented butt-fuckin’, see, and God, he got all shore-fire pissed ’cos all the folks in these cities, all they did was butt-fuck, and that offended God, so God, He decided ta open a giant can’a whup-ass on them cities and just up’n destroy ’em with fire’n brimstone. But, see, there was two folks there who didn’t do no butt-fuckin—Lot and his wife Edith. They believed in God and they didn’t never offend Him, so God sent a angel to tell Lot’n Edith ta git out’a town so’s they wouldn’t git kilt along with all them sinners—Soddermites, I’se think they was called—so, shit, Lot and Edith packed up and split ’cos there weren’t no way they was gonna disobey a messenger’a God, but ‘fore they left, the angel tolt ’em that no matter what they do while they’re leavin’, they shore as shit better not look back, no matter what kind’a hell-raisin’ they might hear comin’ from them two cities. Shore enough, they’se walkin’ away and alls a sudden they hear a commotion like they never heard’n screamin’n burnin’ and temples collapsin’n what not, and Lot, he wants to look back but he didn’t ’cos he remember what the angel said, but Edith…” Helton shrugged. “Shee-it, Edith—just like a woman—she figger there cain’t be no harm in lookin’ back’n seein’ what’s goin’ and on, so she did, and”—Helton cracked! his hands together—“and right then’n there she turnt into a pillar’a salt!

Veronica felt flabbergasted. “Helton, why are you telling me old Bible stories?”

Helton seemed suddenly disquieted. “Well, now, see, you’re no doubt gonna hear some mighty peculiar noises’n carryin’ on comin’ from the back, and what I wanna impress upon ya is that under no circumstances should you take a peek past this shower curtain, no matter how bad ya wanna look.” Helton gulped. “‘Cos if’n ya do—”

“I’m going to turn into a pillar of salt?

Helton stared at her. “Ya just might, hon. Ya dag-straight just might,” then he stuck two balled up bits of cotton in her ears, pointed her face forward, hoisted the Sony, and disappeared behind the curtain.

««—»»

A semi-mute, inscrutable nightmare ensued. Veronica kept her eyes wide on the nighted woods beyond the windshield, and in spite of the make-shift earplugs, sounds galore, however muffled, could be detected, the most salient of which was the loud whine of a power tool. This abated rather quickly, followed by silence.

They’ve killed her, she knew, her stomach shriveling. With the power drill… Could she hear words through the cotton? She removed one plug…

“—fer our peckers,” Helton said.

One of the others said, “Dang!”

“Ain’t as much blood as you’d think…”

Veronica stuck the plug back in. My God my God my God! More muffled noises followed, some hoots and hollers, then thunking. Then she heard, at a higher pitch, “Yeah! Eeeeeee-YEAH! Git it, Dumar!

For a moment, Veronica thought of Lot’s wife, Edith, for part of her volition did indeed urge her to steal a peek behind those curtains…

But she didn’t.

In another minute, however, she removed the earplug again—

“Hump it! I say hump it!” Helton raged amid a rapid thunking.

Veronica put back the plug.

The black and white of it socked right into her brain: They’ve just murdered a girl with a power drill. They’re having sex with the corpse. She gulped. And they’re filming it with the camera I sold them…

Eventually the dim commotion ceased and Helton pushed through the curtain, bearing the big Sony. He pulled out her cotton balls. “We’se all done, sweetie”—he looked at the camera—“I shore hope I did this right. You shore the movin’ picture’s on here now?”

She flicked the dome light back on and took the camera. “Yep,” she said, trying as best she could to sound normal, to sound like she had no idea what went on back there. “The properties bar says that 19 minutes of space have been used on the memory card.” She snapped it from the slot and handed it to him. “The doohicky.”

“Well that’s just peachy, Veronnerka!” but then he scratched his beard. “Now all’s I gotta do is think’a the best way ta git the doohicky to Paulie, so’s he can watch the movie…”

The SNUFF movie, she corrected with a chill. Again, she struggled to act normal, unaffected, as though she had no clue as to what they’d actually done. “You could leave it in his mailbox—”

“Naw. He wife’s house is just over yonder but…the fella there’s more’n likely calt the police by now.”

Act normal!

“Then send it to him through the mail.”

Helton seemed doubtful. “I’se guess we could but—jiminy, hon—we want him to have it soon as possible.”

“How about leaving it someplace and calling him up and telling him where to find it. Do you have his phone number?”

Helton winced. “Aw, see, he calt us once”—he reached into his pocket and pulled out a cellphone—“on this here cellphone he had delivered to our house, but he never give us his number.

Veronica frowned. “Didn’t you say that this man Paulie was also a crime lord? In the Mafia?

“Well, yeah, hon.”

“If he really is into organized crime, then he surely has some mode of internet access—”

“Huh? Oh, you mean ‘puters’n all that?”

‘Puters. My God. “Yes. Does he have a computer with email access?”

Helton looked mystified. “Shee-it. I gots no idea.”

“He must. Of course, he might not want to give you his email address, but I can create a screen name for him on my account, tell him the eddress, then he can download the movie himself. Right now.”

“Don’t know what’cher talkin’ ’bout, darlin’,” Helton said with enthusiasm, “but if’n you could make it so he could see our movin’ picture right now, why, I’d be so dang happy…

“Happy enough to let me go?” she dared to ask.

“Why, shore!”

Veronica reached around. “I’m just getting my laptop,” she said and lifted her knapsack off the floor behind her.

“Lap…what?

“It’s a portable computer,” she wearily explained, “that has a mobile-wireless card. If you want Paulie to see the movie, you have to let me use my laptop.”

“Well, fine. Go on ahead,” and then he watched in confused fascination as she extracted the laptop, booted it up, and went online. It took less than five minutes to create the guest-account, download the video clip from the memory card, and email it. “Now,” she said. “Call Paulie back on the phone he sent you.”

“I done tolt ya, hon. He didn’t gimme no number.

Veronica sighed. “If he called you on it, the number’s on the phone. Was he the last person to call you?”

Helton frowned at the tiny phone. “Well, yeah. He’s the only one ta call us on it.”

“Then highlight the number and push the call button.” How can people be so OBLIVIOUS! she thought. “Here. I’ll call him,” and she took the phone from Helton’s huge hand, hit the number of the last call, and listened.

“Yeah?” a gruff voice answered. A Jersey accent.

“I’d like to speak to Paulie, please,” Veronica said.

“Who the fuck is this? You Tuckton’s whore or somethin’?”

Veronica hated foul language. “My name’s Veronica. I’m calling on behalf of a man named Helton—”

“You fuckin’ asshole! What’d’ya want!”

Appalled, Veronica covered the mouth-piece and whispered, “He’s very rude. He called me an asshole, and he doesn’t even know me!” She resumed the call. “I’d just like to talk to Paulie—”

“He’s asleep!”

“Well, I have an email for you. Do you have internet access?”

“Of course, you stupid broad! We’re in the Mob! We got dozens of blinded email accounts,” the man bellowed.

“Would you please stop yelling!” she shrilled in response. “I’m trying to give you information! Get a pen and piece of paper, please!”

A moment passed, then, “All right, I got it! Now what the fuck do you want?”

Veronica grew infuriated. The nerve of some people! “Go to AOL-dot-com, click the guest box. I’ve created a screen name for you on my account. Got it so far?”

“Yeah! Who the fuck are you!”

Veronica rolled her eyes. “Your screen name is Pauliecrimeguy and your password is your cellphone number.”

A pause. “What the fuck is this all about!”

“I’ve sent you an attachment from Helton,” she continued, tempering herself. “Go to your in-box and download the attachment.”

“What’s the attachment!”

“A digital video file—”

click

The connection severed. “He hung up!” Veronica snapped. “That was the rudest man!”

But Helton seemed concerned. “So’s…how do we know he got the movin’ picture?”

“Oh, I’m sure he’ll get it, all right. And I have a funny feeling that when he does…” Veronica gulped. “He’ll be calling you back real fast…”

««—»»

Helton took her into the back of the truck and re-cuffed her wrist to the table. “Howdy, Miss Veronnerka!” the younger man said. He was wiping the floor with paper towels. The smile on his face couldn’t have been broader. “So’s Unc Helton tolt me you figgered some fancified way’a sendin’ our movin’ picture to Paulie.”

“Yes,” came her glum response. “Over the internet—”

“Dangest thing, tek-nollergy,” Helton said in stifled awe. “She had this here li’l ‘puter box that sent the movin’ picture ta Paulie, and it didn’t even have no wires on it.”

“No wires?” Micky-Mack asked, bewildered. “How’s can that be?

“Just…don’t worry about it,” Veronica told them. “It’s magic.

“Wow!”

When the blond one finished wiping up the floor, he exhaled some aspect of relief and—

Oh for goodness sake!

—rubbed his crotch.

“I’ll tell ya, Unc. That there was fer shore the finest nut I’se ever h—”

Helton pointed his finger. “Quiet.” Then he looked down at something, grit his teeth, and—

SMACK!

—laid an opened palm across Micky-Mack’s head.

“Holy fuck, Unc Helton! What’cha keep smackin’ me fer!” the man wailed, a hand to his temple.

“I done tolt ya to clean this place up! We cain’t have Veronnerka seein’ anythin’ that’ll be upsettin’ to her!” Helton grabbed some paper towels, then knelt before the power drill, which lay on the metal floor.

Veronica caught one glimpse…

One was sufficient.

A strange hollow cylinder stuck out of the end of the drill, a cylinder rimmed with saw-teeth. Blood dripped off of it. Helton very quickly wiped it up.

I don’t want to know, I don’t want to know… She tried to remain naive. “Where’s the other man? The dark-haired one?”

“My son, Dumar,” Helton answered.

“Yeah,” Micky-Mack piped up. He was still rubbing his crotch. “Dumar, he’ll be back in a sec. Hadda git rid’a the b—”

SMACK!

“Gawd DAMN, Unc! That fuckin’ hurt!

“Next time I’se just might bust my hand on that thick head’a yers, boy. Just keep yer mouth SHUT.” He pulled something from a plastic bag. “Here, Veronnerka. Have some…” He squinted at a small snack bag. “Veggie Chips, whatever the hail they is.”

She looked aghast at the offered bag. “I don’t want Veggie Chips, Helton! I want to go home! I want to be with Mike!

Helton chuckled huskily. “Aw, that silly fella, ya mean. Hon, that cocky boy ain’t good enough fer you.

Micky-Mack cracked a smile. “Sound like she all mushy in looooove…

Veronica was about to wail another objection; however—

The cellphone rang.

Helton and Micky-Mack tensed up.

“That’s got to be Paulie,” Veronica said.

Helton looked uncomprehending at the tiny phone. “Shee-it! I’se fergot how ta answer it!”

“Helton, just open the phone!” Veronica snapped.

Clumsily, the man did so. He put it to his ear. “Hello?”

At this distance, Veronica could decipher nothing, but she was aware of a very irate squawk coming from the cellphone. “Yeah?” Helton said, amused. “Well I just think that’s dandy, ya snake-shit-eatin’ city fuck…”

More squawking, then Helton said, “Well then bring it on, buster ’cos you snot-nose uppity city types gots no idea who yer messin’ with…” Then he hung up.

“Was that Paulie, Unc?”

“Shore as shit was, and he’s more riled than a pitbull with a ball-bag full’a ticks, he is!” Helton leaned hugely over and kissed Veronica on the cheek. “Veronnerka? You’s a flat-out genius!

“So Paulie saw your movin’ picture,” she deduced.

“Oh yeah he did—”

“EEEEEEEE-ha!” Micky-Mack rejoiced, and then Dumar came in through the back, and when he was informed of the news…

“EEEEEEEE-ha!”

The three whooped, jumping up and down, high-fiving. The truck rocked from the impact of their booted feet.

Helton roared, “And ya knows what that city faggot tolt me? Tolt me he was goin’ ta all at WAR with us!”

More high-fiving and raucous hoots.

“He wants war, Paw! We’ll show that fucker war!”

Helton was so happy his face was turning pink. “This calls fer a cellar-bay-shun!” and then he extracted a liquor bottle from another bag. “Whatever cheap-ass rotgut swill this is, it don’t matter ’cos we stolt if from him!” Helton passed the bottle around. The label read JOHNNY WALKER BLUE - 40-YEAR.

But Veronica just seemed to sit and spin in this ever-increasing kaleidoscope of madness. “Helton!” she barked.

“Yeah, hon? Oh, you wanna nip?”

“I don’t want a nip! You said if I got the movie to Paulie, you’d let me go!”

He looked down in all sincerity. “Aw, hon. I’se already tolt ya we’ll let ya go…” and then his brows inched up. “Just…not any time soon. We’se just started gettin’ our revenge ‘gainst Paulie, and we’se gonna need ya fer a spell, fer yer exper-teese.” He laughed. “We’se gonna need you ta send lots more movin’ pictures ta Paulie!”

Veronica began to cry.

“There, there, hon. Don’t be upset.” The crinkly bag was offered again. “Here. Have some…Veggie Chips. They’ll perk ya right up.”

— | — | —

Chapter 8

(I)

The three of them walked down Clag Street—Case Piece, Menduez, and Sung—Case Piece with his antiquated “boom box” on his shoulder. He was jammin’, and what he was jammin’ to was the brand-new CD by PREE-postur-ISS, which was especially appropriate since it featured Hip Hop Christmas songs. “Dig it, my dawgs,” he said, bopping along. He upped the volume:

“Rudolf the motherfuckin’ reindeer, had a motherfuckin’ shiny nose, and if you ever motherfuckin’ saw it, you would say it motherfuckin’ glows. All of the other motherfuckin’ reindeers, used to laugh and call him motherfuckin’ names. They never let poor Rudolf join in any goddamn motherfuckin’ reindeer games…”

“Turn that shit off!” bellowed an old woman on her doorstep. The gang turned to glare but resumed walking when they spied the 12-gauge in the woman’s hands. Case Piece turned off the music.

“Shit. Motherfuckin’ old white bitch ain’t got no Christmas spirit,” Case Piece complained.

“Yeah!” Sung agreed. “No Kwissmas spiwit at all!”

“I take a giant chit in her yard tonight, mang,” Menduez promised.

“Fuck ’em.” Case Piece thumbs-upped. “We ain’t gonna let no motherfucker crimp our motherfuckin’ joy, uh-uh.”

The moon glazed the old street, painting cracker-box houses. Christmas lights blinked in alternate windows, and from one scrubby yard, a plastic snowman waved. Ahead, a pair of sneakers dangled on some power lines. “Chit, yeah, mang. Tying ta sell more smack,” Menduez said, observing the dilapidated shadow at the phone pole.

“Sling it, bro.”

“Yeah, bwo!”

The skinny Caucasian female addict teetered forward with hollow eyes and a proffered $20 bill. Her arms looked like bones painted the color of lard, but with needle-tracks like lines of black pepper. Menduez slapped the heroin baggie into her hand, then, like a card trick, the $20 was in his own hand. “Chew only buy smack from us, right, woomahn?”

“Oh, yeah, man,” the stick-girl affirmed. Her clothes were rotten.

“Chew don’t never buy from no fuckin’ cowboys, right? ’cos, if chew do?” Menduez shook his head. “Chew wind up fucked.”

“No, no, I’d never do that, man,” the addict assured, shuffling away. She picked at the ass-crack in her rotten jeans. “Thanks, man.”

“Hey, girl!” Case Piece called out. “Merry Christmas—uh-huh!

They all high-fived when Menduez returned to the group.

“How many skag-bags we got left, my man?” Case Piece asked.

“All gron, man!” Sung informed.

Case Piece got back to his bop. “Our gig? Shit. It’s trick as a crown. It’s tip as a top—we drip to that drop.”

“Yeah, mang. Last week, chit took us all fockin’ week to sell what we sold in one fockin’ day, mang.”

“Shit, all’s a sudden it seem like this recession be over,” Case Piece regarded hopefully. “Guess my top-dawg Obama, he must’ve fixed the economy. We movin’ skag.”

Menduez, “Yeah, mang, and we still got three kilos left, I tink.”

“Yeah! Twee,” Sung verified. “Our gig twop-dwawer, boyz!”

The three idiots continued walking. Case Piece…well, he rubbed his crotch. “And now we gots our own ‘ho with the trickin’-est bod.”

Menduez squeezed his crotch, too. “Where dat puta tonight, mang?”

“Turnin’ twicks?”

“Naw, she back the crib, baggin’ the next kilo. See what I mean, me’n my dawgs? We got it made in the shade. Paulie and his boyz, they bring it, we sling it, and Highball, she bag the skag and we slag the skag. Right on.”

Menduez frowned. “Slag? What chew mean by dat chit, mang?”

“Yeah, Clase Pleece. Rut does slag mean?”

Case Piece slumped. “Shit. It don’t mean nothin’. I just make it up cos it rhyme.”

Their laughter crackled down the dark street.

When they turned the corner, the next road extended in worse repair than the previous. Lots of old triplex tenements and drab apartments with dingy laundry flapping from high rails in the cold breeze. But on the porch of one triplex, several young Hispanic men sat.

“Dare day is, dah poo-putt piece’s a chit,” Menduez guttered sinisterly.

Case Piece grinned at them and pointed his finger like a gun.

The sullen faces on the Hispanics observed the NSG-3 through indirect glances, then they got up and went inside.

“More new cowboys, chit. Mexicans, sellin’ dat black tar chit in our town. Fuck, I bury doze cockroaches.”

“Competition, man,” Case Piece said. “It part’a business, like my top dawg Paulie say.” He slapped Menduez on the shoulder. “Look like you’ll be busy tonight, Menduez. You need to do that doggie thing you do and send those chumps a message. And if it don’t work, fuck, we’ll just pop trunk on the motherfuckers.”

“Hey, I see a new puppy dog today just down the stweet!”

“Yeah, mang, I see it too. At house dat asshole Giller lives.” Meduenz prounced Giller as “Geeler.”

“Aw, that honkie dick? Shit. I ‘member one time, I’se just jammin’ to my tunes walkin’ down the street with my Grape Slush, and that honkie dick, you know what he say? He say, ‘Negroes ain’t allowed on this street.’ Shit. That white fuck. I’m duh Ace Boon Coonest player dare is, I’m a motherfuckin’ thug-king, I ain’t no Negro. Yeah, Menduez, whine’choo snatch that honkie piece’a shit’s puppy and do that dog thing you do?”

“Chore, mang. No prob-leng.”

“Time to sky up, dawgs. Let’s bop our butts back to the warehouse. I need my dick deep in Highball’s cash drawer, don’t’cha know. And that bitch better’a done our laundry and washed the fuck-rust out’a our sheets like I tole her, or I’se bust her up!”

“Shrit, yeah, man!” Sung enthused and rubbed his crotch. “Ret’s get back to the kwib!”

Menduez kept rubbing his crotch. “Chew guys go on ahead, mang. First eyeing gotta snatch me dat piece’a chit Giller’s puppy,” and then he turned and went down another street.

“Come on, Sung. Shit.” Case Piece was about to head back to the warehouse but he suddenly stopped and brought a hand to his forehead. He seemed to be experiencing a mental flash. “Wait, wait! I just got me some creative inspiration!” and he looked up at the crisp winter sky, closed his eyes, and began to sing: “Hickory dickery DOCK! In her mouth she suck my SLOP and swallow every DROP! The clock strike five, I’m slappin’ jive! Hickory dickery motherfuckin’ DOCK!”

Sung applauded. “That gwate, Clase Pleece! You a wegular wapper!”

“Shit, yeah,” Case Piece agreed. “Keep them words in that genius brain of yours, Sung. I gotta find some way to get it to my man Ice-T. Shit, he make a hit out of it!”

Indeed.

The two drug dealers eventually returned to the warehouse, but the first sight that greeted them stopped them both in their tracks.

“Yo, yo, yo, yo, yo,” Case Piece said, holding out his hand.

In the darkened parking lot sat—

“Prawlie’s Rinnebago!” Sung exclaimed.

Case Piece scratched his Afro. “Shit. What Paulie doin’ back? He and his dudes split hours ago.”

“We better trek it out!”

Bright yellow lights could be seen in the Winnebago’s windows, but when they were closer, the forms of three men could be seen: two in dark overcoats, their arms crossed as they smoked, and taller man who wasn’t smoking. Additionally, Case Piece thought he heard something.

The sounds of muffled shouts?

The three forms glanced over as the footsteps approached. The two smokers turned out to be Argi and Cristo, the third man, Dr. Prouty.

They all looked…dismal.

“Hey, bros?” Case Piece greeted. “How you be?”

The doctor spoke up, “I regret to reply that we don’t be very well at all.”

“Yeah,” Cristo said, his eyes grim. “Some fucked up shit happened tonight.”

“Oh no!” Sung remorsed.

“What, cops?” Case Piece dreaded to ask.

“Naw—”

“But…where’s Paulie?”

Argi jabbed a thumb over his shoulder, at the motor home, while at the same moment, that muffled shouting rose again.

The shouting, unmistakably, belonged to Paulie.

“Those motherFUCKers! You see what they did! I’m PAULIE FUCKIN’ VINCHETTI, and nobody does a job like that on me! Nobody!” Was there a pause, then a strange, regular slopping sound? “Back in ya go, bitch—yeah, back in! You like that? Huh? Fuck! Those fuckin’ guys! Who do they think they are?” Another pause, another slopping sound. “Fuck it! Back in ya go! What the fuck, huh? So help me God I’m gonna GET those guys!”

“Man, bloods. Paulie, he sound like he’s whilin’ out. Who he yellin’ at?” Case Piece asked.

“The broad,” Argi answered.

“The…” Case Piece’s eyes bulged. “You mean Highball?

“Yeah,” Cristo said. “See, Paulie’s real pissed off. You know them guys we pulled some vendetta on?”

“Yeah?”

“Well, tonight they hit us back.”

“They hit us back hard,” Argi augmented.

“Yeah! You like that, bitch? I’ll bet you do!” more of Paulie’s muted shouting could be heard. “Back in ya go! Baaaaaaaaack in!”

“Is he…?” Case Piece began. “He’s not…”

Argi and Cristo nodded.

“Shit!” Case Piece broke, turned toward the Winnebago’s side door. “I gotta go in there and find out why he’s whilin’ on Highball!”

It was Dr. Prouty who took Case Piece’s arm with a hesitant look. “That would be most inadvisable, Mr. Piece. You see, Mr. Vinchetti, at this particular moment, is rather inconsolable.

“When shit don’t go his way,” Cristo added. “Paulie, well, see…”

“Avoiding proximity is the most sound advice,” the doctor said.

“He’s like a fuckin’ rabid dog when he’s pissed,” Argi finished.

Thumping could be heard now, like someone’s heels thudding the floor in sheer horror. “I’ll just go…rap with him,” Case Piece found some courage.

“Go at your own risk,” Argi said.

Case Piece, in stops and starts, opened the vehicle’s narrow metal door and immediately heard mewling and more thumping. He stepped in, his nose twitching at the awful body odor generated by that obese woman, Melda. The living area was a shambles; more of Paulie’s shouts rocketed forward.

Case Piece, finally, stepped into the horrific back room.

Paulie cackled as he plunged Highball’s margarine-slathered head in and out of Melda’s cave-sized vagina. The comely prostitute convulsed, her bare heels, indeed, thumping against the floor. She was nude, of course, her tremendous body flushed, tense, gleaming in sweat. Her hands had been tied behind her back. Then came that great slopping sound as Paulie pulled Highball’s head back out of the monstrous orifice.

“Ya like that, bitch? Huh?” Paulie gruffed, madman-like as he leaned over to watch her convulsions. Highball’s cheeks expanded, her mouth taped. Air whistled in and out of her dilated nostrils.

“Paulie? Shit, man. What up?” Case Piece babbled. “Highball, what? She mouth off to you again?”

Paulie, still hunching, shot a glance backward. “Those fuckin’ guys! You know what they did?” He was delirious. Highball’s convulsions accelerated when Paulie yanked her back up and—

SHHHHHHHHLUCK!

—sunk her head back into Melda’s vaginal barrel.

“Paulie! Come on, man! You’ll kill her! What happened?”

“What happened?” he growled. “Oh, I’ll show ya what happened!” and suddenly he strode back to the forward room, abandoning Highball. When Melda saw that her boss had left, she relaxed her vaginal muscles and expelled Highball’s head like someone disgorging, say, a meatball from their mouth. The prostitute thunked to the floor only moments before she’d have suffocated.

Case Piece ran to the living area where Paulie manically fiddled with a laptop computer. “Those redneck mother fuckers emailed this to us!” the don exploded. “Watch!”

Case Piece stared at the bright laptop screen, and a crude, glaring image stared back: the rear compartment of, apparently, a large step van, and a metal table. A thin man in a tacky jacket, whose head remained out of frame, was now tearing the nightshirt off of a pudgy teenaged girl with frightfully pink hair. The girl shuddered where she lay, her baby fat jiggling, screeching ineffectually through a gag her mouth. The man tied her to the table.

“Paulie?” Case Piece droned. “What the…what the hell…is this?

Paulie’s rage turned his face nearly as pink as the girl’s hair. “Just watch!”

Case Piece watched.

On the screen, a gruff redneck voice said, “Here, son. Hold the camera while I’se show ya how ta cut the hole,” and then the image jig-jagged and suddenly a larger man in a tacky jacket stepped into the frame.

He held a power drill, and locked into the drill’s chuck was a 3-inch hole-saw blade.

“Watch careful now, boys…so’s ya know how ta do it.”

The screech of the drill was bad enough but worse—far worse—was the sound of the next process, when the large man pressed down on the girl’s face with his hand and applied the high-rpm hole-saw to the center of the top of her skull. Eventually, the circle of bone and scalp was removed, revealing a clean-cut hole, and the hole itself now revealed a circle of raw, whitish-pink brain.

“Now,” the faceless big man said, “we gots ta cut a slit fer our dicks,” and then he produced a formidable knife and inserted it into the aforementioned hole. This event caused the gagged girl to reflexively twitch.

“Yessir! See, when ya do it right—like I just done—she don’t die right off. It’s always best they still be alive when ya first put’cher bone in.”

“Hot dog, Unc!” celebrated another off-screen voice. “She is! She is still alive!”

I’ll’se go first’n show you boys how it’s done,” the voice said next. “Son? Here. Point the camera down…”

The camera-angle deflected to the man’s crotch, where he’d already extracted his quite uncircumcised penis. He masturbated dexterously until an erection was achieved, and it was then that he…

Well, the dutiful reader can guess.

What Case Piece watched on that screen for the next series of minutes was something he could never have fathomed in a million years. Amid this redneck perverto circus came caterwauls of the most robust sort, a dialect-riot of hoots, Rebel yells, and exclamations such as, “Now hump that head, boy! I say hump it!” and “”Yeah! Yeaaaaaaah! Ain’t no better feelin’ than that’a yer dick stuck all the way inta a gal’s brain,” and “There it is, there it is! How’s that feel, baby? You like all’a my nut squirtin’ in yer white-trash head?” and “Holy shit, Paw! That there might be the best nut’a my life!” etc, etc.

When the film ended, Case Piece simply stared.

“See!” Paulie yelled. “See what those rednecks did!” He banged his fist so hard on the utility desk, the laptop jumped. “That fat kid was my step-daughter!

“Your-your…”

“Yeah! They cut a hole in a 16-year-old’s skull and fucked her brain!

Case Piece’s jaw vibrated. “That-that some hardcore jack-down, Paulie, some super-groaty gross-out shit, man…”

“You’re tellin’ me!”

Case Piece stood slightly dizzied from what he’d just seen. “That shit they do? That’s even grosser than you guys stickin’ people’s heads in that fat woman’s giant cunt. Them dudes? They is tough.

“And—fuck!—the worst part is, we’re the kings of hardcore snuff! Me and my guys! And these hillbillies just beat us at our own game!” Paulie kicked the wall and bellowed. “And did you see that resolution? Goddamn! Even their fuckin’ camera is better than ours!” and at the peak of this next tirade, Paulie lurched back into Melda’s room, enfrenzied. He picked Highball up again and sunk her head back into Melda’s agape vagina.

“Paulie! Man!” Case Piece exclaimed. “Why you goin’ ape-shit on Highball? She didn’t do nothin’!”

“I know,” the don cracked. He cupped his hands under the prostitute’s armpits and pushed hard. Highball twitched as if being electrocuted. “I’m mad! When I get mad, I gotta-I gotta vent my frustrations!”

“Come on, Paulie. That ain’t right. She our ‘ho. She got the toppest trick-time bod on the street. Can’t kill her just ’cos you’re mad.” Case Piece dared put his hand on Paulie’s shoulder. “Listen, bro. Fuck this. Let’s go inside so’s you can cool off. Then we’ll think of a way fer you ta get back at these dudes…”

Paulie let the consideration sink in, and, just as Highball was re-entering death throes, he let her head fall out. “Yeah, yeah. I…guess you’re right.”

Highball shuddered on the floor, eyes fit to pop out. When Case Piece pulled the duct tape off her mouth, she lurched, arched her back, screamed, then passed out.

“Come on, Paulie. Let’s get in the crib,” the black man urged. “Get you chilled.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Paulie said desperately, running his fingers back through his hair.

“‘Bye, Case Piece!” Melda said.

Case Piece took one aghast glance at the morbid woman—whose fat-bulged face grinned ludicrously. Drooling, she flapped a fat, dirty hand.

“Uh…yeah,” Case Piece said and ushered Paulie out.

In the warehouse “day room,” Paulie sat on the bedraggled couch, wringing his hands. Argi, Cristo, and Dr. Prouty stood in nervous silence. Case Piece grabbed a soda from the battered fridge and gave it to Paulie. “Here, blood. Have a grape drink. It’ll make ya feel top.”

“Yeah, yeah,” the don replied.

“Sung,” Case Piece directed next. “Turn on some tunes. Let’s jam awhile.”

“Oh, shewer, Clase Preece!” and then the Asian turned on the boom box, which immediately blared, “It’s duh ‘hos and duh bitches, my dick-bag itches, here come Dr. Dre, with the Tangeray and duh motherfuck, duh motherfuck, duh motherfuckin’ AK!”

“Turn that shit off!” Paulie, Argi, and Cristo all yelled at the same time.

Sung turned it off.

“Shit, Paulie,” Case Piece said. “Just trine ta get you mellow. But them redneck dudes? We gotta think of a way for you ta break some bad on ’em.”

“Fuckin’ A,” Paulie sputtered.

“We ain’t been hit that hard in..in, well, ever,” Argi observed.

“Burns me up,” Paulie blistered. “We gotta do somethin’ back to them that makes what they did to ‘Becca look like babies blowing spit-bubbles.”

“Dudes lay disrespezzy on you like that? Just you say the word,” Case Piece offered, “and me’n my dawgs? We help you pop hard trunk on the motherfuckers.”

Paulie winced. “What?

Argi’s eyes thinned. “Means, I think, he and his guys’ll help us fuck the rednecks over.”

“Oh. Well, no, see,” Paulie explained. “We’re Italian. It’s just the way it is. Whatever piece of work we do, it’s gotta be us that does it.”

“But what are we gonna do?” Cristo pondered.

Paulie rubbed his eyes. “Shit, man. I don’t know. We don’t know anything about these guys.” He looked to Prouty. “Doc. You’re the smart one. How can we get these guys back?”

Dr. Prouty gulped. “Ah, well, sir, let me give the query some consideration—hmm. Well, one possibility, I suppose, is thus: we’ll simply venture to their abode. You may recall, the youngster you remunerated money to in exchange for him delivering the DVD player to this man Helton Tuckton. He did give us what seemed to be serviceable directions to the domicile.”

“Yeah, you’re right! That little redneck kid!”

“And though he implied that the Winnebago was likely too large and cumbersome to safely navigate the road to Mr. Tuckton’s house, did he not declare that it was only a mile’s distance?”

“Yeah!”

Dr. Prouty nodded. “Then we’ll merely dispatch ourselves to the Tuckton residence. If Mr. Tuckton and/or his kin are home, then…” Prouty’s brow shot up.

Paulie grinned through grinding teeth. “We’ll do an action on ’em that’d make the Devil shit his pants!”

“And in the event that no one is present at the time of our arrival”—Prouty shrugged—“then we could, say, set fire to their abode, film it while it’s burning, then email the video file to them.”

Paulie clapped. “Perfect! You’re a genius, Doc!”

“Great thinkin’,” Argi said.

Cristo seemed giddy. “And, man, I love burnin’ houses down. And if any of ’em are there, we can even burn the house with them in it!”

“Yeah!” Paulie’s grim mood swing had reversed. “All right, it’s set. Are we ready? Oh, and Doc? Looks like you get to be camera man again.”

“I’m…exuberant with the opportunity,” Prouty said

Paulie chugged some grape soda. “Aw, yeah! I feel much better now, guys!”

All of the others breathed a sigh of relief.

The prospect now of revenge thrilled Paulie.

“You guys skyin’ up now?

Paulie winced. “What?

Argi made a contemplation. “Think he means are we goin’ to do the job tonight, boss.”

“Oh. Well, fuck yeah,” the don confirmed. “Why not? The sooner the better, right?”

“Sure, boss.” Cristo said.

Paulie looked around. “Where’s the other guy, the pepper-belly? Shit, he’s never here.”

Case Piece and Sung exchanged a quick glance. “Oh, my dawg Menduez? He out gettin’ blunky with the monkey, you know, doin’ the dop. You hip to that hop? Walkin’ the scag-man bop’n watchin’ junkies cop. He’s mizzlin’ and Mcdizzlin’ and slingin’ and blingin’ and thrillin’ and spillin’n flippity, frippity frop.”

Paulie spat out a mouthful of grape drink. “What?

“Don’t’cha know? He’s our toppest slinger, blood. He on the grooves’n bustin’ moves. He’s jackin’ down ’cos he’s top as a crown.”

Argi sighed. “Shit, boss, I think he means the guy’s out takin’ care of business.”

“Right,” Case Piece said.

Paulie shook his head. “You sell any of that smack yet?”

Case Piece cocked a glance. “Fo’ shizzle, my mizzle!”

Paulie spat out more grape drink. “What?

Argi rubbed his face. “Means, I think, yeah, boss, they sold some smack.”

Case Piece forked his ‘fro. “Shit, Paulie. We slung two keys in two motherfuckin’ days. First key we couldn’t kick out the door fast enough. Mid-bags from Radford, Roanoke, shit, all over, they come’n take it off our hands faster than it take Sung to come.”

“Aw, fruck you, Clase!” Sung laughed.

“Second key we peddled ourselves right here. All’s a sudden the junkies are out. Maybe my man Obama got more’a them stimulus checks mailed ’cos, fuck, last week we couldn’t sell shit’n this week we got more hypes with green in their hands than Florida’s got old people.”

“Well, fuck, that’s great,” Paulie said, but his distraction was evident. He seemed to beam through some inner joy. “Keep sellin’ that smack. Keep, uh, rizzlin’ and McFizzlin’ or whatever the fuck.” He snapped his fingers. “Ready, guys?”

Paulie’s men were.

“Then let’s split, or…sky up, or whatever the fuck. Oh, and tell your whore I’m sorry I stuck her head back in Melda’s cunt.”

“Fo’ shizzl”—but then Case Piece let it slide. “I’ll tell her, man.”

Paulie and his men made their exit into the night. All of them, save for Dr. Prouty, were rubbing their crotches for no apparent reason.

— | — | —

Chapter 9

(I)

Veronica awoke at daybreak, frowning at her recollection of the most hideous nightmare. Abducted by rednecks, she thought with a shudder but then she looked around to find herself in a reeking sleeping bag with one wrist handcuffed to a metal table in the back compartment of a large truck. The sound inside was akin to that of a bear cave, her three “hosts” snoring like machines. Micky-Mack and Dumar each lay on the floor in their own sleeping bags while Helton slept sitting upright in the corner.

Veronica choked back tears upon the eventual recognition that none of this was a nightmare. It was all real.

Just a few days before Christmas…and here I am…

Dim morning light flowed from the front windshield through the shower curtain.

The snoring went on an on.

Oh, for goodness sake! her thoughts shrilled. She had to urinate. Her nose crinkled at the sleeping bag’s stink as she clumsily crawled out. She took the empty bean can, frowned hard at it, then, with great awkwardness, pulled her pants and panties down, squatted, then began to void in the can. Her nose crinkled again, for her urine smelled like Veggie Chips.

The nearly musical chime of the stream hitting the can woke the others at once.

“Well, hey there, Veronnerka,” Helton greeted and stretched his great arms. “Havin’ yerself a pee, huh? I’se’ll tell ya. First pee’a the day’s a saturs-fyin’ thing indeed, ain’t it?”

Veronica couldn’t fathom a response.

Dumar shrugged out of his bag. “‘Mornin’ Veronnerka! And hows are you doin’ today?”

Veronica, still in the awkward squat, glared. “I’m peeing!”

“Ya sleep well, I’se hope?”

How could I possibly have slept WELL?

Micky-Mack was awake too, and looked right at her with eyes abloom. “Hot dang! I’se love seein’ a gal with a purdy pussy takin’ a pee!” He was obviously rubbing his crotch. “Puts some lead in my pencil, yessir!”

Veronica finished, frustrated to tears, and pulled her pants back up. When she tried to sit down—

clang!

“Oh NO!”

—the awkward movement caused her to knock the bean can over with her elbow, and all that warm urine flowed right beneath her.

The men all laughed.

“It’s NOT FUNNY!” she screamed. “My pants are DRENCHED!”

“Ain’t nothin’ but a li’l pee,” Dumar said.

Helton chuckled. “Gals shore do get bitchy ’bout the littlest things.”

Micky-Mack was grinning, sniffing the air. “Ya know? There’s sumpthin’ ’bout the smell of a purdy gal’s pee gits my dick dribblin’.”

Helton and Dumar nodded in assent.

Madness, madness, madness! Veronica thought as her pants soaked up the urine. She began to blubber. “Helton! Would you please let me go!”

“Don’t be all cryin’ and such, hon. See, the way feuds work is, see, they ain’t over till the fella yer feudin’ with up’n cries uncle. Ya know? He’s gotta give up, and, well”—Helton shook his head—“when Paulie calt last night after seein’ our movin’ picture, it didn’t sound like he were gonna do that.”

Dumar stood now at the truck’s open door, urinating loudly. The cool air caused the void’s arch to steam. “Shee-it, Paw. That Paulie, he’s all talk. Once he watched our movie, he know full well he’s messin’ with the best.”

“Paulie ain’t got the balls to try’n hit us again,” Micky-Mack said. He cocked a buttock and farted. “And even if he wanted to, what could he do?”

Helton seemed to consider this but suddenly—

They all froze.

The cellphone was ringing.

“Gee,” Veronica said with some sarcasm. “Why do I think that’s Paulie?”

“Ya gonna answer it, Paw?”

Helton peered with annoyance at the little phone. “Here, Veronnerka. Why’n you answer it? Sumpin’ ’bout these little magic phones git my goat.”

Veronica snatched the phone from him and answered.

“Hello?”

A steely, Jersey accent snapped back, “Who’s this? This Tuckton’s whore?”

“I beg your pardon!” Veronica half-yelled and half-sobbed.

“This is Paulie!” the man on the other end barked. “You tell that white-trash Gomer Pyle fuck that he’s got an email!” and then the line went dead.

“Well?” the others all seemed to say simultaneously.

“Paulie sent you an email,” she told them. “And, gee! Why do I think he’s attached a movie to it?”

“Dang, Paw! Ya reckon he done sumpin’ back ta us alls-ready?”

“But what the hail could he do?” Micky-Mack said in disbelief.

“There’s only one way to find out,” Veronica snapped. “I have to go online.”

“On what?”Dumar asked. “Like a clothes line? Paw, what she talkin’ ’bout?”

“I think,” Helton perceived, “that it’s the same magic phone line like what she used last night to send Paulie our movin’ picture. Am I right, hon?”

“Yes, and if you want to see what he sent you, you’ll have to give me my laptop.”

“Oh, ya mean yer fancy ‘puter?”

“Yes,” she sighed, slumping in her own piss. “My fancy ‘puter.

Helton brought the laptop, and in minutes, Veronica was downloading the file sent to the new eddress she’d created last night.

“Is it…,” Helton began with a dry dread in his voice.

“It’s a digital video file,” she told them. She opened it through her media player, then passed the laptop to Helton. “Here. Whatever it is, I don’t want to see it.”

“Probably fer the best, hon…” He set the unit on the metal table. “Come on, boys. We needs ta watch this.”

“Just hit the enter button,” Veronica said, then sulked in her corner.

With some difficulty, Helton did so, and then…

They watched.

««—»»

It’s nighttime, though there’s an icy glare from some mode of auxiliary lighting. The camera pans across leafless trees, then the forms of three men are waving at the camera: men with the most curious rubber masks. The husky man wears the face of Abraham Lincoln, while a slimmer man wears Mr. Spock. A third, who carries the air of ringleader, looks back with the face of Richard M. Nixon. The masks look very old but remain quite flexible. The men wave for quite awhile. Then the scene cuts to—

A roaring fire.

It’s an elaborate yet quite ramshackle dwelling made of wood planks and what appears to be hand-hewn cedar shingles. Sound that is somehow grainy accommodates the image: the crackling of abundant flames. In only minutes, the wooden edifice is consumed, collapsing in a minor mushroom cloud of smoke and sparks. There’s something almost awesome about the fire’s voracity, as well as the promptitude of its reducing the shack to a pile of raving embers.

Nixon steps into the foreground and says in an undeniable Jersey accent: “See that pile of shit house, Helton? I’ll bet it looks familiar, don’t it?” and there several robust off-screen laughs are heard. “But that’s just for starters…,” and the scene cuts again to—

A wooden plank sticking in the ground. The camera zooms in, for there seems to be crude writing on that plank.

The writing reads:

MARY BETH TUCKTON

WIFE OF DUMAR TUCKTON

DAWTER OF CLONNER MARTIN

NEECE OF JAKE MARTIN

LUVING WIFE & MOTHER

B. Apr. 30, 1977

D. Dec. 13, 2010

The camera pulls back wider amid an erratic, gritty sound that is soon revealed to be the sound of shovels digging into the crude grave. Wider and wider, the lens retreats and at last the grave-diggers are shown: Spock and Lincoln.

Again, the scene cuts to—

The grave now fully opened. It’s only several feet deep and the shrouded form within indicates that no liner or coffin was available for the interred.

“There’s our bitch,” Nixon relates off-screen. “Good job, guys.”

Hands reach into the shallow pit and haul out the long, shrouded bundle. A tearing sound is heard, while—closer—two sets of hands rip the shroud open. The glare of moonlight reveals the form of a shapely female corpse: light hair that’s probably blond, a face that would’ve been pretty in life. The corpse has been dressed in a simple cotton nightgown with some unidentifiable floral print; then this, too, is riiiiiiiiiiiiiipped open. The globes of large, firm breasts fill the screen: frost-white, with large, oblong nipples puckered in death and tinted the faintest blue.

“Damn,” an off-screen voice comments. “Not a bad set of tits for a stiff.”

“I ain’t never tit-fucked a corpse before but”—a chuckle—“there’s always a first time.”

Brusk laughter.

“Doc. Go up and down the whole body.”

“Of course, sir.”

The camera tracks down over the flat stomach, curvaceous hips, plush thighs. It is a conspiracy of visual elements that collide now: the crisp December night, the crisp radiance of moonlight, and the crisp white skin. They all seem to contribute to an overall image of death-perversity and, somehow, death-beauty. The thighs are parted to afford the camera a more concise vision: the furred pubis, and the plump slit beneath the hair.

More off-screen voices deliberate…

“How ya like that? This is one dynamite-lookin’ dead redneck tramp.”

“Yeah. Drop-dead gorgeous.”

Laughter.

“She don’t even stink. Says on the marker she’s been dead, what, ten days?”

“Nine, sir.”

“Then how come she don’t stink? Wouldn’t her cunt and mouth and all be full of worms?”

“Actually, no, sir. The cool temperatures of the December climate have essentially kept the corpus refrigerated, forestalling most, if not all, putrefaction. There will be evidence of post-mortal lividity, of course, and some visual venosity contrasting with the death-pallor. Rigor has passed, though. She’s quite well preserved…”

A rough cut, then—

A vigorous slapping sound as the screen is now full of a hairy, pumping male buttocks. The dead woman’s parted thighs jostle aside.

slap, slap, slap, slap, slap

“Pussy’s cold but—fuck—I think I’m gonna be able ta—”

The copulation intensifies.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m comin’…”

“Bitch is gettin’ her Christmas present early!”

The hairy buttocks slows, then stops, then withdraws. During the withdrawal, a string of semen dangles from the stout, limpening penis.

“Argi the man!”

A rough cut, then another penis is quickly sliding in and out of the cleavage between the woman’s pressed-together breasts. Upon the moment of climax, the erection rises, throbbing, then releases splotches of sperm across the corpse’s face.

“Not a bad nut. You want a go, boss?”

“Naw, I’ll leave the corpse-fucking to the pros.”

More laughter.

“All right, let’s fill the bitch up now. I love this idea of Argi’s…”

A rough cut, or more like what a screenwriter would call a smash-cut: an off-angle close-up of the dead woman’s face. Her lips, like her nipples, are faintly blue. Fingers peel open her eyelids, then open her mouth to a gape.

“I’m goin’ first,” the voice that seems to be the ringleader’s says, then, quite abruptly, yet with some finesse, a spread male buttocks carefully squats over the corpse’s face, adjusting in hitches, until the rectum has been positioned tightly over the dead mouth.

Sounds of flatulence issue; the buttocks flexes.

“Damn. Feels like I’m shittin’ a foot-long turd!”

Eventually the buttocks lifts off, and the camera slowly zooms to show that the woman’s mouth has been filled with fresh feces. With no prelude, a small rubber drain-plunger is affixed. The fingers of one hand keep the plunger’s rubber cup sealed over the lips. The other hand deftly and with force—

shhhhhlush

—pushes the handle down once hard, then removes the plunger altogether to show that the woman’s mouth is now empty.

“Now that’s what I call flushin’ the toilet!”

Howling laughter.

A slimmer and more sparsely haired buttocks is next perched over the woman’s mouth. There’s a grunt, then a wet, splattering sound—

“I got the runs again! Fuckin’-A. Seems like every other damn day I got diarrhea…”

“What did ya eat last night?”

“Calamari and Marinara.”

“Shit, that’s all Cristo eats.”

“Hell, I love the stuff, but, like, over the last year it’s been givin’ me the runs. Never had a problem with it before.”

More grunts and more wet splattering…

“Why’s that, Doc?”

“More than likely the encroachment of an acid-intolerance. Such intolerances are often experienced by men and women nearing middle age. You see, it’s not the calamari itself, it’s the higher acid-levels of the tomato base in the Marinara sauce. The result, as we’re observing now, is a recurrence of loose bowel-movements…”

During the verbal account, the camera sways off its mark, to show the tips of someone’s shoes.

“Hey, Doc! Come on! It’s great ya know all the answers but keep the camera steady!

“Yes, sir. My apologies, sir.”

Wet excrement like chunky chili can now be seen in the woman’s mouth. A moment later, the drain-plunger reappears, and said excrement is promptly pumped in the corpse’s stomach.

“Argi’s turn! Step right up!”

The broader buttocks plants itself over the opened mouth. After a series of longer, louder grunts, the mouth is filled and then flushed with the plunger.

shhhhhlush

But the buttocks reappears a second time, repeats its defecation, then—

shhhhhlush

—and even a third time…

shhhhhlush

“That’s it. Pump it all down.”

“Holy smokes, Argi. You’re shittin’ up a storm.”

“Can’t think of a better place to do it than this dead bitch’s mouth.”

“Ya know? I must’ve ate two fuckin’ pounds of lasagna last night, and now it’s all comin’ out.”

After a fourth void, the camera holds on the dead mouth filled past the lips with firm stools, and then—

shhhhhlush

—it’s all pumped down with the plunger.

“Good job, guys!”

“Yeah, we filled her up, all right…”

Fuck! Look at hr belly! It’s stickin’ out like Jiffy Pop!”

Hyena-like laughter.

Another rough cut, then a wide shot shows all three masked men urinating on the pale corpse. Now, however, the corpse’s mid-section is distended.

“Wait’ll Helton and his crew of Gomer Pyle backwoods retards get a load of this,” says the one in the Nixon mask.

“What now, boss?” asks Lincoln.

Then Spock, “Yeah, boss. You want that we just leave the bitch here for the possums ta eat?”

The scene pauses for a beat. “No. Put her back in the hole and cover her over.” The man wearing the face of the country’s 37th president seems contemplative. “I don’t know. I just like the idea…”

“The idea, boss?”

“Yeah. I like the idea of the bitch layin’ underground with our shit in her gut. I mean, over the summer, she’ll rot, but when she does… our shit’ll rot with her.”

“Righteous.”

The next cut shows the nude corpse pushed back into the grave. Shovels re-bury her. Wing-tipped shoes tamp the earth down.

“All in a night’s work.”

The three men are waving again at the camera. Nixon offers his middle finger, then says, “Let’s see ya beat that, Gomer Pyle…”

The screen fades to black.

— | — | —

Chapter 10

(I)

Mike rushed into the store at 9:15, looking rather disarrayed yet inwardly content.

“You’re late,” Archie said.

Mike scoffed. “So what? I’m the boss.” Christmas muzak issued about the store. “Say, was Veronica pissed last night?”

“I didn’t think so; I convinced her you were busy with that bogus paper work.”

Up front, the ultra slim, lemon-breasted Greeter winked at Mike and made what can only be described as a “blowjob” gesture.

“You didn’t,” Archie whispered.

“I did. Couple times.” Mike smiled. “She blew me right in the office last night—pretty good head, I can tell you that, not that toothy nightmare Veronica gives.” He winked back at the Greeter. “Then I took her for pizza and she blew me in the men’s room! After that she jerked me off under the table, and then…I fucked her in the car. She’s got a pussy that should be in the Olympics.”

“But she’s sixteen!

Mike shrugged. “Gotta get rid of Veronica, though,” but then he caught himself and glanced guiltily over his shoulder. “Better keep my voice down.”

“Why?” Archie said. “She’s late too.”

Mike paused. “But…I saw her car in the parking lot.”

“I know. But I think it’s been there all night.” Now it was Archie’s turn to smile, and a sardonic smile it was. “Maybe she got tired of your selfish super-snob bullshit and went home with another guy. You know… A nice guy.”

Mike crossed his fingers, looking dreamy. “God, I hope so. That would solve all my problems…”

Archie smirked. “Yeah, but what if she didn’t go home with another guy?”

Mike was staring at the Greeter as she perkily said, “Welcome to Best Buy!” to some customers coming in.

“What?”

“Well, if her car’s been in the lot all night? Aren’t you a little concerned?”

Mike didn’t seemed to comprehend. “Why should I be concerned?”

Archie signed. “In this day and age? Shit, maybe she got abducted.”

Mike considered the grim possibility…for about half a second. “That’s ridiculous.”

“It’s not like her to be late. She’s never late.”

Mike chuckled under his breath. “Man, if someone did abduct her, I feel sorry for the dude. Between her motor-mouth and the fact that she gives the worst head in the world? Good luck, pal. You picked the wrong girl to abduct.”

“Man,” Archie said and winced. “You really are a prick.”

“So?”

“Aren’t you even going to call her, see if she’s all right?”

Mike took out his cellphone, looked at it, then put it back in his pocket. “No. If I’m lucky, she got wise to me and the Greeter, so she quit. Then she’ll be out of my hair forever.”

“Time Magazine Man Of The Year.”

“Um-hmm.”

Archie took a look at the Greeter’s trim waist and commendable buttocks. “Shit, I forgot, but…what’s the Greeter’s name?”

Mike frowned. “I don’t fuckin’ know.”

(II)

What on EARTH? Veronica thought when it became apparent that the digital video file Paulie had sent was over. She’d watched the three men as they watched the video—she’d watched their faces go from troubled, to aghast, to appalled. She’d watched big rugged grown men cry. What is it? What is ON that video? All any of them had said during the viewing was this:

Micky-Mack: “Holy fuck, Unc! Is that… Is that…”

Helton: “Yeah, boy. That’s our house a’burnin’…”

Then, moments later:

Helton: “Awwwww, Lord. Awwwww, no…”

Veronica thought she heard some unintelligible squawking from the voice track. Did someone with a Jersey accent say “There’s our bitch. Good job, guys”?

Now all three men stared at the laptop screen as if staring at a hundred-foot tidal wave.

“They’re diggin’ her up!” Dumar wailed. “Oh, my God! They’re diggin’ her up!”

Veronica tried to tune out the rest, grateful at least that these madmen hadn’t forced her to watch as well. Whatever had transpired on that screen…Veronica didn’t want to know.

At the clip’s evident conclusion, Dumar howled like a sick dog and passed out. Micky-Mack stood shuddering and blubbering, “You see that, Unc? You see what them evil fellas did ta my Aunt Mary Beth?” and then he fled the truck. Helton merely sat in the fold-down chair. He had tears in his eyes.

Many solemn minutes passed before Micky-Mack returned.

“What we gonna do, Unc Helton? We ain’t throwin’ in the towel, is we?”

“Hail no, boy. We gotta think. We gotta think’a how’s we can pay ’em back.”

“More’a Paulie’s kin. It’s the only way.”

Helton nodded.

“But that black fella said Paulie’s wife was out’a town.”

“Then we gots ta think’a someone else.” Helton now looked like a backwoods version of The Thinker at Columbia University. Then, very slowly, his cruxed gaze turned to Veronica.

“Hon. It saddens me ta tell ya that this feud we got goin’ probably ain’t gonna be over any time soon—”

Veronica wilted.

“—which means we’se gonna need ya fer a spell more.”

Immediately, she began to crack sobs. “You’re never going to let me go, never…”

“Now, no cryin’, hon. See, we need more’a yer help, and the more ya can give us, the sooner it’ll be that ya can leave.”

“What!” she blared. “What do you want now? More oral sex?”

Helton’s bushy brows fluttered. “Some more tweakin’, why shore—thanks fer offerin’.”

Veronica’s face collapsed into her hands.

“But a’fore that, we need ya to help us find some’a Paulie’s kin. See, we’se hillfolk, hon—the kind’a smarts we got’s backwood smarts. But you got smarts for the outside world.”

Veronica’s mind just kept spinning. “So, what? You want to know where Paulie’s relatives live?”

“Why, yeah!” Helton beamed. “I mean, all I heard is he got hisself a house in some place called New Jersey, and also in that country way far away by the name’a California.” He snapped his fingers. “Oh, and he also got a place in New York City. But—shee-it. We don’t know no addresses or nothin’. You reckon you can think of a way?”

Veronica rolled her eyes. For the love of— “Hand me my laptop and I’ll google his name.”

Helton shuddered, while Micky-Mack turned with a start. “Google!” the younger man said, “What’s that? Some disease?”

“Sounds like a hex, boy.” Helton looked excited. “You fixin’ ta hex Paulie?”

Veronica ran her fingers through her hair. “I’ll look his name up on the internet! Jeez! Don’t you people know anything?”

“The…internet? Oh, yeah, that magic stuff that’s connected ta yer fancy ‘puter.” Helton passed the laptop down to her. “Please, hon. Ya gots ta help us.”

Veronica frowned and went to Google. “What’s Paulie’s last name?”

(III)

Vinchetti,” Helton told her. “Paulie Vinchetti. It Eye-tallion I’se think,” and then the big man sat in the fold-down chair as pleas and prayers spun round his head. Please, God. Let it be so that Veronnerka can help us git a line on this devil-lovin’ Paulie…

He jolted when the cellphone rang.

Veronica looked up from her keyboard. “Who on earth could that be?” she said with more sarcasm.

Helton opened the tiny phone. “Yeah?”

“Hey, Helton, ya big redneck pile’a shit,” Paulie’s voice cracked. “I’m just calling to see how you liked our little movie,” and then laughter spilled from the tiny phone.

Helton’s soul began to boil. “Hear me, ya evil prick, and hear me good. We’se gonna git you back like you never could ‘magine!”

“Sure, Gomer, sure—”

“And stop callin’ me that! I don’t know no Gomer!”

The tinny laughter crackled. “Grow a brain, buddy. Go home…” then the laughter exploded. “But, aw, gee, now that I think of it, you can’t go home, can you? ’cos we burned that fuckin’ shit-hole you live in down!

“Ain’t no big deal, Paulie,” Helton recovered. “I’ll just build me a new house…once I pawn all them diamonds’n gold chains’n such that I stolt out your whore wife’s jewelry boxes.”

Paulie’s laughter faded. “Lemme tell ya somethin’, Helton. Nobody fucks with Paul Vinchetti. Nobody. I never had so much fun in my life as when I was takin’ a shit in that cracker tramp’s dead mouth, but you can count on something else, too. One day, real soon, I’ll be takin’ a shit in yours.

The line went dead.

Helton re-sat himself with a sigh. He closed the annoying phone.

“Fuck, Unc,” Micky-Mack said. “Was that him?”

“Yeah, it was.”

“What the evil bastard say?”

“Just trash talk, boy. Burns me up, though. Patience is a virtue—says so in the Good Book. Reckon I just gotta work a tad harder on that myself.”

“We’ll git him, Unc. We’ll git him.”

Helton watched Veronica fiddle with the little keys. “Havin’ any luck?”

“I think so,” she answered. “Paul Vinchetti is all over the internet. Mostly court dockets, pre-trial announcements, things like that. Shouldn’t take me long…”

“Hot damn!” Micky-Mack celebrated.

Helton clasped his hands together. Please, God. Please…

Moaning resounded from an opposite corner. It was Dumar, rousing. The stringy-haired man sat to stare, blinked, then brought his hand to his belly as if sick. “Aw, my Gawd, Paw. It weren’t a nightmare. It were real.

“Just git’cher mind off it, son.”

“How could they do that ta my lovin’ wife? Shorely only the most devilish’a men could do what they done…”

“The more ya think about it, the worst you’ll feel. Best ta think ’bout what we’ll do ta git ’em back.”

But Dumar just kept moaning. “Awwwww, awwwww. Bad enough they fucked her but-but, aw holy Moses!” and then his voice corroded down to a dismal gurgle. “They put her back in the ground with her belly full’a their shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit…

Distracted, Veronica shot a sharp glance up. “What?

“Nothin’, hon. He didn’t say nothin’,” Helton urged. “Just…git back ta yer ‘puterin’.”

Veronica flinched, then resumed her key-tapping.

“My lovin’ faithful wife,” Dumar continued to moan. “How… how could they?”

“Micky-Mack,” Helton snapped. “Take Dumar outside fer a breath’a fresh air. It’ll do him good.”

“Shore, Unc,” and then the younger man escorted Dumar out.

Faithful, lovin’ wife? Helton reflected. Well, that wasn’t quite the case. He’d heard a story or two about Mary Beth. He couldn’t substantiate them but…

Dumar had likely heard some stories as well but disregarded them posthaste—love, indeed, was blind. When one was in love, one chose not to believe such gossip. Nevertheless, Mary Beth had had a reputation before her proper marriage to Dumar: a reputation of promiscuity. There’d been one time, though, after the marriage, when the corn liquor rations had worn thin, and Mary Beth—quite the toper, mind you—had implied that if Helton upped her ration slightly, she might be inclined to express her gratitude via oral avenues. (Dumar had been out on a deer hunt for several days when this occurred.) But Helton—naturally—had declined the sultry woman’s offer and had, well, punched her up a bit for stooping to such an immoral low. It stood to reason, though, that if Mary Beth had made this offer to Helton for extra liquor, there existed a high order of probability that she’d made the same offer to others; hence, cheating on Dumar. Further, Helton had heard quite a few verifications of this…

Of course, he’d never mentioned this to his son, and the whopper of a bruise on his wife’s face had been convincingly explained as the result of a clumsy fall whilst gathering firewood. But the woman, point-blank, was a high-order tramp, and Helton supposed it was even possible that the sprightly, young—and now very dead—Crory Tuckton had been in fact sired by loins other than Dumar’s.

So much, then, for faithful, lovin’ wife.

Helton looked woefully at Veronica just in time to see her glance up, smile, and say, “Got it.”

“What’cha got, hon? What’cha got?” he replied excitedly. He stooped over to look at the screen.

“I pulled up a newspaper, and—”

Newspaper? Where?”

Veronica grew flustered. “On my computer. Online.”

“But that ain’t no newspaper! That’s a machine.”

Veronica couldn’t have sighed more wearily. “It’s the New York Times-dot-com, Helton. No, it’s not a physical newspaper, it’s the newspaper’s website.

Helton gripped his own head. “Hon. All’a this tek-noller-gee’s givin’ me a blammed headache!”

Veronica’s own headache throbbed. “It’s a newspaper in magicland, all right?” She could’ve screamed. “Anyway, it seems that Paul Vinchetti comes from a long line of alleged criminals. He’s been arraigned a dozen times for everything from racketeering, bribery, and tax evasion to drug trafficking, contract murder, and distribution of illicit pornography.” She shrugged. “But he’s never been convicted. Dream Team lawyers and lots of money. Look. Here’s a picture of him,” and then she read the under-caption: “‘Alleged Mafioso Paul Vinchetti, aka Paulie the 3rd, seen here leaving federal court after his trial. Vinchetti was arrested in June for allegedly producing snuff films for the underground porn market. All charges were dropped when state’s witnesses failed to appear.’”

Helton squinted at the shimmering screen…

“So there he is. Paulie,” he intoned. The smartly dressed man in the digital photo smiled as he was about to get into a waiting limousine. “Rat-faced little bastard, huh? Ya can just tell, Veronnerka. Ya can tell how evil that man is by lookin’ at his face.”

Veronica diddled with some keys. “Here’s another picture,” and she read: “‘Alleged criminal mastermind Paul Vinchetti III having dinner at New York’s premier restaurant, Massaccesi’s, just one week after alleged rival and district mob boss Agostino Pagnatelli was murdered by unknown gunmen. Vinchetti is seen here with his wife Marshie and his mother, Adele.’”

“Yeah, that’s Marshie, all right. Got tramp’n backwoods whore written all over her. And them big tits on her? They’se implants. Bet she’s got almost as much money as him after inheritin’ Thibald Caudill’s fortune.” He chuckled, however grimly. “Hon. That fussy cracker hose-bag is what we call a ‘sperm-GURGLER’, yessir! With money’re without, low-life trash is low-life trash. What she is is like a spittoon in a bar, only it ain’t spit that’s been fillin’ it up all these years. It’s cum.

Veronica winced. “Helton, please…”

“Oh, sorry. Pardon my coarse language.” But his eyes widened when he looked harder at the photo. “And that there’s his mother, you say?”

Veronica nodded. “Adele Vinchetti. She’s 62.”

“Looks dang good fer a gal her age, huh?” Helton rubbed his crotch without conscious forethought. “Bet she’s got them fancy implants too.”

“And every other kind of cosmetic surgery,” Veronica supposed of the shapely, Sophia-Lorenish-looking woman in the photo. “She’s very, very rich. Owns a brownstone in the Upper West Side according to the city tax records.”

“A brownstone? The hail’s that? Who wants brown stones?

“Don’t worry about it,” she snapped. “You wanted me to locate some of Paulie’s relatives, so I did.”

Helton scratched the brush-like beard. “These pictures is fine but, hon, we need an address.

Another jiggle of the keys, then Veronica pointed. “The good old AOL White Pages, Helton.”

“Huh?”

“12 West 75th Street and Dessorio Avenue.”

“The hail?

“Adele Vinchetti’s address.”

Helton stared fixedly, then:

“EEEEEEEEEEEE-ha!” He leaned over and—

Veronica’s face shriveled.

—planted a big wet halitosis-tinged kiss on Veronica’s cheek.

“Git yer butts back in here, boys!” he yelled out the side door. “We’se going on a trip!” and when Dumar and Micky-Mack re-entered the truck, their faces were full of wonder.

“Gather ’round!” Helton trumpeted. “Veronnerka done struck gold again! She up’n got the address fer Paulie’s mother!

In unison, Dumar and Micky-Mack railed: “EEEEEEEEEEE-ha!”

“And she lives in…” Helton looked down. “Where she live, hon?”

“In a multi-million-dollar brownstone she inherited from her late husband, Paul Vinchetti, Jr.,” she said. “It’s in Manhattan, Upper West Side.”

Micky-Mack was jumping up and down. “Manhattan? Where the hail’s that?”

“New York City.”

Micky-Mack stopped jumping up and down. He, Dumar, and Helton all traded glances that could only be called ominous.

“New York City?” Dumar inquired. “The New York City?”

“The one and only.”

“Sheeeee-it,” Micky-Mack whispered. “That’s big as even Pulaski, ain’t it?”

Veronica winced. “Pulaski is hardly a big city, Micky-Mack. It’s a town. It’s got a population of ten thousand. New York’s got a population of ten million.

More ominous glances back and forth.

Dumar stammered. “But we ain’t never…been to any big cities.”

“Well, we’se shore as shit goin’ ta one now!” Helton roared. “And we’re gonna git our proper revenge on Paulie’s Maw!

“EEEEEEEEE-ha!”

Veronica pressed her palms to her ears. “Helton, please! You’re gonna let me go first, right? You’re not going to make me ride all the way up to New York City with you? Right?”

“Aw, don’t worry none about that, missy. We’ll make the ride comfortable for ya as possible.”

Veronica began to cry.

“Start the truck, Dumar!” Helton ordered in glee. “We’se a-goin’ to New York City, yessir!”

— | — | —

Chapter 11

(I)

But before they’d even gotten out of town, it occurred to Helton and his kin that they didn’t have a clue as to how to drive to New York City. All Veronica had told them was this: “Take West Main Street to Count Pulaski Drive, then merge onto Interstate 81. It’s about 500 miles, an 8- or 9-hour drive,” and after that, still handcuffed to the table, her despair, shock-induced exhaustion, and sheer dumbfoundment as to her predicament had shrouded her in a deep, troubled sleep. “Shit, Paw,” Dumar said at the wheel. “Where the hail we goin’?” And Micky-Mack: “I ain’t even been out the county ‘cept fer couple times in my life.” Helton looked back to see Veronica asleep and curled into a ball. “Well, after all Veronnerka’s done fer us, it ain’t right we wake her up, so…” He spotted something through the windshield. “Pull in there, son. We ain’t dopes. We’ll just up’n buy ourselfs a map.

“Great idea, Paw!”

It was a Hess station they pulled into, one complete with the ever-present convenience store. Micky-Mack was instructed to fill the tank and check the oil, while Helton and Dumar strode into the store. A bell rang, and upon the toll of that bell, a bosomy, remarkably-figured woman in her mid-‘20s looked up from the register and promptly frowned. “Well, hey there, missy,” Helton greeted. “We’se fillin’ up that big piece’a crap lookin’ truck out there, but what we also need is a map—

“Are you blind? Map’s up front in rack,” the registress snapped. She had dark, shiny hair, penetrating eyes, and a Russian accent. The stunning body and face, however, took second seat to the glaring frown. A name-tag read KASHA, and she wore a tight t-shirt emblazoned with the face of Vladimir Putin, not that Helton would know who the fuck that was. Nipples like cucumber slices printed against the shirt as the immigrant clearly wore no bra.

“Nice nips,” Dumar whispered.

“Yeah, son, that may be, but I can tell at a glance she’s about as friendly as a mad dog.” Helton examined the Rand McNally map rack while Dumar deputed himself to procure several sodas.

After some minutes of squinting, it was discerned that no maps of New York City existed on the rack.

“Hon?” Helton inquired. “These here look like just county maps’n such. What we need is a map that’ll show us how ta git ta New York City.

Kasha’s frown smoldered. “New York City! How stupid can you be?” the richly accented voice cracked. “Why would gas station in little shit Virginia town have New York City map?”

Helton stood, taken aback. “Well, I don’t rightly know but I thunk ya might have some, say, in the back.”

“You thunk wrong! Now why not you just pay for gas and leave? I don’t like you redneck types in store!”

Helton stilled himself. “Ain’t no call ta be nasty, missy. We’se just tryin’ ta get directions.”

The woman’s face turned pink with aggravation or even hatred. “This shit place and shit country! I should have stayed on potato farm near Magnitagorsk—”

“Well, then just you go back ta Mag-neeter-gorsh, missy, ’cos if’n ya don’t like America, then ya can pack yer blammed ‘taters up yer butt!” Helton could not refrain from objecting.

A hostile laugh and a jiggle of her outstanding breasts, and Kasha asserted, “You big dirty rednecks—oh yes!” and she pronounced “big dirty rednecks” as beeg darty redneeks. “This country full of nothing but shit people! That all I see all day! If it not you rednecks, it the welfare people or the farking old people or the drug add-eeks or the—” and she used the plural form of the N-Word.

Helton steeled himself against the desire to open up a can of whup-ass, but instantaneously, a better idea surfaced. “Well, gal, you certainly got’cher dander up ’bout somethin’ but I’se guess we all have our days like that. How ’bout we just pay up’n git?” He extracted a 1966 $100-bill just as Dumar approached and set several sodas down.

“Oh! Oh!” Kasha raged next. “Here come another redneck now! My God, I hate rednecks. You big fat redneck, and you-you little skinny scrawny redneck!”

“Well, hold on there, gal,” Dumar responded. “We ain’t said nothin’ ‘gainst you.”

“Oh, fark you! Fark both of you! In my country, Mother Russia, shit people like you get put in forced-labor camp! All you useless, shit people!” and it needs to be mentioned belatedly that she pronounced the word shit as “sheet.” She leaned forward—awesome mammarian-carriage swaying in the tight shirt—and exaggeratedly sniffed the air. “Oh! Oh! And you smell!” She mimicked coughing. “You smell like shit!

Dumar began, “Paw? Are we gonna—” but Helton smiled and staid his son’s remark, then whispered very lightly, “Pull the truck ’round back.”

A knowing glint came into Dumar’s eyes, then he departed the store.

“Here ya go, hon,” Helton went along and gave her the hundred. “And since yer havin’ such a bad day, wine-cha keep the change?”

She grimaced at the bill. “Oh, fark! Even your dirty redneck money smell like shit!”

“But first ring me up fer one’a these here Cherry Ice Slush drinks,” Helton quickly added and lumbered to the machine at the rear of the store. He dawdled there, holding an empty cup, then cast a cruxed glance back. “Missy? Sorry, but—shee-it—I cain’t make out how ta work this fancy machine. Seein’ how’se I just left you some sizeable change, how’s ’bout you showin’ me?”

“Oh! Oh!” Her hands visibly shook. “How stupid can fat dirty redneck be to not know how even to pour ice-slush drink!” Her face was now past pink as she shot from around the counter and stalked to the machine.

As she did so—it needs to be mentioned—her breasts bobbed spectacularly up and down.

She snapped the cup out of Helton’s hand. “You just put farking cup under spigot and—”

No more words escaped the hostile woman’s mouth after Helton clacked a big redneck knuckle against her temple. She fell limp as a stuffed doll (mind you, a stuffed doll with great breasts) and Helton dragged her out the back of the store.

(II)

 “Fuck,” Deputy Chief Malone said, and then, again, with emphasis. “And I’se mean fuck.

The stoop-shouldered and large-adam’s-appled Sergeant Boover nodded. The ambulance had just pulled away, and among its contents was the dead body of resident Clifford Giller, an old VFW-type cantankerous prick nonetheless well-known in the community. When Mr. Giller had noticed his adorable, week’s-old puppy missing from his yard, he’d immediately spied the crowd forming at one of the more decrepit slum-houses down the street. He’d investigated, of course, only to discover, to his incontemplatable horror, the severed head of his beloved pet mounted barbarously on a stick in the front yard.

Whereupon, he suffered a massive thrombotic stroke and died on the spot.

It had taken a half-dozen more police to dispel the very-displeased crowd of local residents who’d gathered at the scene. Departing comments included, “What good’s a police force who don’t do nothin’ ’bout dog-killers?” “Whole world’s turnin’ ta shit, it seems, and the county cops’re letting our humble town turn ta shit with it,” “It’s our tax dollars payin’ their salaries! And while they’re eatin’ their fuckin’ donuts, our lovin’ pets’re gittin’ tortured by drug dealers!” and the like.

Fuck ’em, Malone had thought. He didn’t even eat donuts—a blood-sugar issue—but what irked him more than whining residents was the prospect of someone killing puppies, because, see, he liked puppies far more than he liked people…

The house had been found empty, its tenants—clearly illegal-immigrant heroin dealers—having fully comprehended the message so loudly planted in the abysmal front yard. Puppy parts, blood and fur, etc., were found in back, with much more evidence that the innocent animal had indeed been tortured and mutilated. Malone winced at the thought, acknowledging just how delighted he himself would be to turn the tables and torture the human who’d instigated this atrocity.

And it was all making Malone look quite inept.

“Smack, smack, and more smack,” he muttered, watching other officers close the scene. “Vinchetti just keeps gittin’ richer whilse we just keep lookin’ like horse’s asses.”

Chewing tobacco made a bolus of Boover’s left cheek, about the size of his adam’s apple. “So you really think it’s one of Vinchetti’s movers who’s the dog-killer?”

“Just a hunch, but…yeah. Every time some outsider comes into his territory, this happens. That’s some callin’ card.”

Malone walked droopily back with Boover to their cars. He glanced dazedly at the now-vacant tenement-house just as a gloved evidence technician removed the puppy’s head from the stick and placed it in a plastic bag.

“So what about this big plan of yours, Chief?” Boover said in a tone that possibly could’ve been sarcastic. “Your plan to catch the puppy-killer?”

“Shit takes time, Boover. You know that. I’se waitin’ on a delivery—”

“Delivery?”

“Yeah,” Malone said, choosing to keep his cards closer to the vest. He felt edgy; he snapped his fingers. “Gimme some’a yer Red Man, huh? I’se havin’ a nic fit like nobody’s business and I’m fresh out.”

Boover spat some juice, frowning. “Fuck, Chief. You make more money’n me. Obama just upped the price a buck a bag and ya know what for? To pay health care for kids whose folks’d rather spend their welfare cash-relief in bars than work! Just keeps uppin’ taxes for pork-barrel spendin’ and White House fuckin’ doll houses and plantin’ tomatoes on the South Lawn!” Naturally, Boover pronounced “tomatoes” as tum-ay-ters. “Don’t that grapehead know that every tax he ups is another dollar out’a the economy! Best way ta fix the economy is lower taxes which’ll create more jobs and more jobs means more surplus revenue!”

“Boover, I happen ta like President Obama”—Malone pronounced “Obama” as Obe-bamma. “So’s just quit’cher yammerin’ and give me some chew.”

“Buy your own fuckin’ chew, Chief!”

Malone stared in shock.

“Or better yet, get Obama ta buy it fer ya ’cos he’s been a fuckin’ millionaire for years! He made four million durin’ his last year in the Senate. How’s a junior senator make four million when his fuckin’ salary ain’t even two hundred grand? I ain’t got the money to give you free chew!” Boover stared Malone down, blinked, then exploded laughter. “Shit, Chief! Cain’t ya take a joke!” and then he passed his superior his six-fuckin’-dollar bag of Red Man.

“You got a odd sense’a humor,” Malone replied, then thumb-packed a quarter of the bag’s contents into his cheek. Immediately thereafter, the radio squawked in his cruiser. “Get that will ya?” the chief mumbled.

Boover stalked to the cruiser, but at the same moment, local resident and disputatious pain-in-the-ass Mitzy Crooker hustled by with her yapping dachshund on a leash. “Dood Malone!” she called out and actually shook her fist. “It’s us tax-payers payin’ fer yer damned chew!”

Go soak yer head, ya old fuck, Malone thought but pretended not to hear her. He spat a plume of chew-juice just as Boover addressed him. “Shit, Chief. That was the station. Dang if you ain’t got two deliveries waitin’ on ya.”

Malone’s eyes lit up. “Was one from—”

“Some place called B&T Digital in Tennessee.”

Yeah! “Was the other one from—”

“The Pulaski Animal Shelter. You got a brand-new puppy waitin’ for ya,” Boover said.

(III)

A slight detour took Helton and his kin back toward their neck of the woods. The open back roads were indeed a gratifying sight. Helton didn’t like the unnatural look of Pulaski, or any other city for that matter, but then he shuddered at a dread thought: I’se wonder what NEW YORK City’s like?

He pushed the contemplation away, then looked aside and saw that they were passing a tract of land owned by good ole Nuce Wynchel. In fact, Helton spotted Nuce and his boy Tube out yonder diggin’ post holes for the fence he’d been wanting to put up. Helton waved, then Nuce and Tube waved back.

But it was the next tract of land that was Helton’s goal, and in a few minutes he was parking the bunglesome black truck in the middle of Fuchson’s pasture. “Here we is, boys. Micky-Mack, bring the girl,” and then the youngster dragged the barely-conscious Kasha out. The sun shined, the cool breeze blew, and Micky-Mack and Dumar rubbed their crotches with vigor. In close proximity were several cows chewing their cud. The animals couldn’t have been more disinterested in the presence of the truck or these ungainly people.

“Dang purdy body on the bitch, that’s fer shore,” Dumar said. “And I’se just love them nips stickin’ out.”

“Want me git the hole-saw, Unc? Huh? Huh?” Micky-Mack urged in anticipatory glee, but that glee was not long-lived when—

SMACK!

—Helton’s big open hand landed hard across the youngster’s face. He fell down, dangerously close to a sizable deposit of cow manure. “Gawd DANG, Unc! That plumb hurt worst’n the rest! What you do that fer?”

“To unclog yer fuckin’ ears, boy ’cos ya obviously ain’t been listenin’ to a word I been sayin’.” He wagged a finger back and forth. “Ya don’t throw a header on a gal just ’cos she bad-mouthed ya. That’s the kind’a thing Caudill used ta do.”

“Yeah, Micky-Mack,” Dumar joined in. “Like Paw been sayin’, headers is only done to revenge a horrible, horrible crime.”

“Right. So’s we ain’t havin’ a header, we ain’t killin’ her, and we ain’t even fuckin’ her,” Helton issued. “That’d make us lower down than her. You understand?”

Micky-Mack got up, rubbing his face. “Yeah, I reckon I do….”

“Now whine’choo boys wake our li’l friend Kasha here up?”

The situation’s tenor changed quickly as penises were extracted from flies and dual streams of backwoods urine began to crisscross over the girl’s face. When she started to rouse, her mouth opened in objection but, lo, was expeditiously filled with pee. Aghast and shiny-faced, she leaned up on her hands, coughing, and once her head had been drenched, the seemingly endless streams lowered with pinpoint precision to drench her tight Vladimir Putin t-shirt. The wet fabric sucked up against the ample orbs and elucidated every detail of her areolae and papillae. This was a wet t-shirt contest redneck style.

“My God!” she hacked. “You-you-you evil hillbillies!

Helton’s bushy brow rose. “There ya go with yer down-talkin’ again. Hon, a good rule’a thumb is don’t talk down ta folks who ain’t talked down to you first.”

“You going to kill me, I know it!” her accent wailed.

“We ain’t gonna kill ya, and we ain’t even gonna fuck ya. Ya’d deserve a fuckin’, a’course, but, see, we’se savin’ up our peckersnot fer somethin’ far more important than you.

Drenched, she looked incredulous at him.

“But we will be teachin’ ya a lesson, ’cos you got a right foul mouth on ya.”

“I-I-I…I’m sorry!”

“Too late fer that,” Helton assured her. “Apollergees is one thing, but they ain’t worth shit if they ain’t from the heart,” and then Helton’s big hand landed on top of her head. She squealed when he grabbed a handful of wet hair and lifted her to her feet.

Dumar looked aggravated. “Shit, Paw. I’se understand that we cain’t fuck her on account the punishment gotta fit the crime, but—holy sheeeeeeee-IT!—cain’t we’se at least see her nekit?”

Eyes fixed on the breasts beneath the wet t-shirt, Helton gave the query some consideration. “Don’t see no harm in that,” he said. Then, to the girl, “All right, missy. Get them clothes off.”

Dripping, Kasha could only look back at him.

At the same time, Dumar passed his father a rather large revolver—in specificity, a British-made and century-old Webley .455 whose uniqueness existed in the fact that it was a rare automatic revolver. The antique weapon had once belonged to a lowdown, wife-beating local creeker, Archerd Conner, who’d died wretched in the early ‘90s. Conner’s son, Tritt Conner, whose nickname was “Balls,” had then properly inherited the weapon but he’d died a while back amid some controversy in the woods near a closed hospice for priests with terminal illnesses. Dumar had lucked upon the relic for chump-change at a Crick City pawn shop.

But be all that as it may, Helton took the impressive gun and pointed it right at the girl. “Get ’em right off.”

Wobbly-kneed, and sobbing, Kasha took off her clothes.

The three men’s jaws dropped.

“Holy FUCK,” Micky-Mack said.

“That is some body, ain’t it?” Dumar posed.

Helton remained essentially speechless.

The nude woman gleamed in the sun; the previous urinary void left her hair hanging like oiled strings and the dark pubic tuft a nest of glistening jewels. Wet skin radiated keen as a flash of sunlight on a lake. Just then she could’ve been some Siren of the New Dark Age, the Gleaming Goddess of Piss and Shining Desire.

Her breasts stood out in utter, incontestable preeminence.

Micky-Mack and Dumar winced at the marveling sight. “Gawd dang, Paw. Her bod’s even finer than Veronnerka’s. This is tough!

“I don’t think I ever seed a body that hot in my life,” Micky-Mack groaned and began to stroke his now fully erect member. Dumar did the same, and it should be mentioned now that after gustily emptying their bladders, neither man had zipped back up.

Helton had no choice but to rub his crotch and perhaps mumble a frustrated curse under his breath. “I know it’s tough, boys, but that’s what separates good men from crackers. We ain’t crackers. Crackers got none’a what they call morality. We bust our nuts in this bad-tempered bitch’s box just fer talkin’ down ta us, then we ain’t no better’n Thibald Caudill hisself. So you boys just git them peters back in yer pants where they belong.” He winked. “You’ll be needin ’em later.”

With reluctance and more than a small amount of muttering, Micky-Mack and Dumar obeyed their elder.

“But now that leaves you, missy.” Helton tapped the gun barrel against his palm.

Kasha shivered where she stood, the cool air not only causing the shiver but also fascinatingly puckering the stupendous nipples as the urine began to dry. “What-what-what,” came the accented stutter, “you going to do?”

Another squeal as Helton roughly shoved her toward the cow.

“Hot damn!” Micky-Mack wailed. “Unc’s gonna up’n make her suck that cow’s dick!

WHAP!

Helton’s big booted foot to Micky-Mack’s behind sent the boy straight to the ground.

“Gawd DANG, Unc Helton!”

“When you was peein’ on this splittail ya must’a peed yer brains out with it!” Helton roared. “You see a dick on that cow? For land’s sake, boy! A cow don’t have a dick! Only bulls have dicks!”

Dumar honked laughter.

“Aw, shit, Unc,” Micky-Mack complained through his embarrassment. He got up and rubbed his rear. “Cows, bulls, how the hail do I know?”

“Ya don’t know much, I’ll’se tell ya that. Now just you shut up’n watch me administer proper punishment to this here uppity bitch.” Helton’s fist in Kasha’s hair dropped her to her knees. He urged her face very, very close to the face of the subdued cow.

Most prominent were the ropes of repugnant mucus hanging off the animal’s lips…

“See all that snot’n slime’n such hangin’ there?” he asked of Kasha.

Kasha stared in mute horror, so Helton pinched her cheek hard.

“Do ya?”

“Yes, yes!” she sobbed.

“You’re gonna eat it. You’re gonna eat it all.” Helton paused for effect. “Then we’ll let’cha go.”

Kasha screamed.

“And if’n ya don’t eat it…” He put the gun to her head.

“Holy moly, Paw. That shore is some punishment!”

“Hot damn!” Micky-Mack approved.

Helton, of course, wouldn’t really kill her if she refused, but that possibility became moot when, hitching sobs, Kasha leaned shudderingly forward and—

“Aw, jiminee!”

—began to suck all those snot-ropes off the cow’s lips. Helton’s hand in her hair assisted in guidance. “Ya missed some, hon—and, ooo—right there, don’t ferget that ‘un hangin’ out the nostril,” and as the instructions drew on, Kasha completed the dismal task.

“Good, good,” Helton approved.

Dumar and Micky-Mack applauded.

Cross-eyed, Kasha straightened up on her knees. It was apparent, however, that during the brow-raising process, she’d merely kept the mucilaginous residue in her mouth, as her cheeks appeared stuffed.

“Shame on you! There ain’t no spittin’ out here. Ya do a job, ya do it right. Ya gots ta swallow…

The girl’s eyes could’ve launched from her head at this conveyance of information. The end of the pistol barrel was re-introduced to Kasha’s head, then—

gulp

She swallowed.

More applause from Micky-Mack and Dumar.

Reeling, she looked up. “There! I do this dirty thing! So you let me go now, right? Like you promise?”

“Well, no, hon, that weren’t the deal,” and then Helton turned in a slow circle and he counted aloud, “Let’s see, one, two, three, four, five. You still got five more cows waitin’ on ya.”

Kasha shrieked as Helton’s big fist in her head dragged her a ways to the next cow. On her knees, she visibly convulsed as she sucked off the snot and slime, reeled with a hand to her belly, and swallowed. The third cow went similarly but during transport to the fourth—

urrrrrrrrrrrp!

—she vomited.

“Don’t worry ’bout that none, missy,” Helton assured. “We’ll git’cha filt right back up,” and then came the fourth cow.

The fifth.

And the sixth.

“Now that’s doin’ the job right. And I hope ya done learnt yer lesson.” Helton wagged his finger. “Treat others like you’d want ’em ta treat you.

Kasha’s face had turned bleach-white. She continued to shudder in the aftermath of this most diverse late-morning snack. “Now I go, right? Right?”

“Why, shore, missy.”

But after she got up, she froze, looking off. And then?

She released a rejoicing, whistle-high squeal.

“Look! Look! You darty farks! You piece of shit redneck garbage creek people! Here come a man to save me! A man with a gun!

Helton, Dumar, and Micky-Mack all took simultaneous and very concerned glances in the direction that the girl indicated.

Indeed, a man with a gun—with a long rifle—seemed to be jogging toward them, a dog following close behind.

“Over here! Help! Help!” the girl jumped and bellowed. “These men do horrible thing to me! Kill them!” and she pronounced “Kill” as keel.

Helton cracked a big smile. “Oh, that there’s Charlie Fuchson—”

“And his egg-suck dog, Droop!” Dumar finished.

“Well, hey there, Charlie!”

“Helton, boys, good ta se ya!” The flop-hatted and overalled 60ish man strode up with a big grin. He gestured the ancient dog at his heels. “I were just takin’ Droop here out fer a walk but when I saw’s ya were puttin’ a razz on a bitch, I run over ta catch some’a the fun.”

Kasha went cross-eyed again, screamed, and passed out cold.

“Aw, shit, Charlie, but we’se just finished.” Helton looked around. “Too bad ya ain’t got no more cows,” and then they all laughed and shook hands. Charlie glanced down at the unconscious woman, then tilted her face toward him with the end of his rifle. “Oh, this here’s that bitch works up the Hess station, huh?”

“Um-hmm.”

“Always frownin’,” Charlie related. “Grimacin’ at folks, real hateful-like.”

“Bet she were frownin’ the minute she come out her mama’s pussy, and I bet her mama was frownin’ too. Like mama like daughter.”

“Yeah,” Dumar said, “but considerin’ what her belly’s full of, I’d say she’s really got somethin’ ta frown about now.”

“You got that right, son.”

“Ya know,” Charlie said, “I went in that Hess station once ta buy me some jerky and this prickly cuss starts yellin’ at me and bad-mouthin’ America, and then she said”—and Charlie mimicked Kasha’s accent as best he could—“‘You redneeks all darty sheet people! You take your redneek jarky and get out my store ’cos I hate all you smelly darty redneeks,’ she shore as shit did.”

“Oh yeah,” Helton agreed. “Talked all that to us’n worse. Got a body on her, though.”

“That she does but it don’t matter a hoot how purdy a gal is on the outside if’n she’s ugly on the inside.

Helton wagged a finger at Micky-Mack. “You listen ta Charlie here, son, ’cos what he says is right.”

“And my mama always teached that the best way ta cure a foul mouth is ta fill it with somethin’ fouler.”

“Amen ta that.”

Charlie’s eyes bloomed upon Micky-Mack. “Well, shit, Micky-Mack. I say that’s just about the mother of all boners you’re sportin’ there, huh?”

Micky-Mack leaned backwards to display his pelvis. The obvious ten-inch erection angled across his thigh to the left; it could’ve been a piece of pipe stuck in his jeans. “Hail, Mr. Fuchson, what kin I say?” Micky-Mack, ever the one for pomposity, flexed the erection beneath the denim. “Sumpin’ ’bout watchin’ a buck nekit gal eat cow snot’s got my dick ready to bust.

Dumar chuckled. “Paw, I say that boy just ain’t quite right in the head.”

Helton smiled to Charlie. “Kids these days, huh, Charlie?”

“Yessir,” Charlie replied. “Ever generation’s got it’s own thing, I reckon. A’course, when we was kids we’d fuck boxes’a bullfrogs.

“That we did, that we did…”

Momentarily, the men looked at Droop, the mange-clumped and nearly 20-year-old basset hound. It snuffled about Kasha’s inert form, sniffed an armpit, then gave the woman’s crotch a lick.

“Bet her hair-pie tastes like borsh,” Charlie said.

Helton raised a brow. “Borsh?”

“Some cold soup they eat in Russia. Made from mushed up beets.”

“Yuck!” Micky-Mack said.

Charlie appraised the unconscious woman, rifle lying across his forearm. “But I say, Helton. What ya done here today is…ya done her a favor.

“Let’s just hope she’s a good learner, and hope still that that belly full’a cow snot’ll have her thinkin’ twice ‘fore she starts talkin’ down ta folks she don’t even know.”

“The cuss throw it up?”Charlie asked.

“Yeah, after the third cow, she couldn’t keep it down, but then the rest’a the cows turned out ta be a perfectly fine second-helpin’.”

“And ya know,” Charlie postulated further, “I’ll bet silver dollars ta grasshoppers that this big-tit bitch don’t never bad-mouth no one ever again.”

“I bet she don’t, Charlie, I bet she don’t.”

“Look, Mr. Fuchson!” Micky-Mack exclaimed, pointing. “Ole Droop’s helpin’ hisself to a piece’a ass!”

The men looked on in bemusement. See, Kasha’s collapse had caused her to land quite compromisingly spread-eagled, and now the archaic egg-suck dog had mounted her and was listlessly copulating.

“You want me ta break it up, Charlie?” Helton offered. “I’se mean, a low-down bitch like that’s liable ta have a pussy chock full’a European diseases’n such.”

“Oh, naw. Ole Droop, he ain’t hadda piece’a ass in a hoot owl’s age, and I don’t reckon a human bitch’s cunt-germs’d be compatter-bull. Best ta let the critter have a good time. Lord knows he won’t likely be with me much longer.”

“Ain’t like her pussy’s busy right now anyway,” Helton said, and, yes, they all laughed.

“Go, Droop! Go!” Micky-Mack rooted.

Been a spell since I seen a dog fuck a gal,” Dumar observed. “Kind’a…interestin’.

All gals like ta fuck a dog on occasion, son,” Charlie said in assurance, “and any gal who say she don’t…is a liar.”

Helton nodded. “I hear that.”

The dog humped exertedly, gave evidence of climax, then snuffled away.

“There ya go, Droop! Good dog!” Micky-Mack said.

“Get’cha a good nut, ole boy?” Dumar asked.

“Belly full’a cow snot, pussy full’a dog-cum,” Helton remarked. “That’s what I call takin’ a gal ta school.”

“And ya know,” Charlie tendered more wisdom, “my mama always taught me a little dog-nut up a ornery gal’s snatch never fails ta make ’em humble.”

“‘Tis true, ‘tis true.”

“Best that folks just be nice to one another,” Dumar observed. “Don’t make no sense not ta be. If’n someone start somethin’, a man got no choice but ta finish it.” He glanced errantly at the unconscious girl. “But if folks didn’t start nothin’ in the first place, then ever-one’d git along, like, all the world over.”

“Well dag blam, Dumar!” Fuchson cracked. “All’s we need ta do is git you in the United Nations, and I say there wouldn’t be no problems anywhere!

“Hail, yeah, Mr. Fuchson!”

More hillbilly laughter, then after a bit more banter, adieus were bid and Charlie and his faithful—and now rather content—dog were on their way. But as Helton and his kin made their way back to the truck, Micky-Mack picked up Kasha’s clothes.

“Ya reckon we should give her her duds back, Unc?”

Helton took them. “Well, a’course, we will, Micky-Mack. Only a bunch’a rat bastards’d let her walk all the back ta her gasoline station buck nekit,” and then Helton dropped the girl’s clothes right smack-dab atop a particularly large deposit of cow manure. He put his foot down in the middle, broke the excrement’s crust, and traversed his bootsole, and though it was purely by accident, it will be mentioned that the first garment to fall onto the pile was the Vladimir Putin t-shirt, front side down.

Helton dropped the befouled garments onto the unconscious woman’s abdomen and led his son and nephew back to the truck.

“So what’cha think, boys? We ready ta go ta New York City?

“Like a mare in heat’s ready for a big ole horse dick, Paw!” Dumar assured.

Micky-Mack hauled back and did a magnificent Rebel Yell.

(IV)

Mike nearly shot out of his shoes at the sudden jolt of music from the hi-fi department. The entire store seemed to shake; speakers boomed a cacophonous rap song: “Aye-unky, a bunky cunky!—aye, bee, cee—dunky, Ee-unky, funky!—dee, eee, eff—gunky, a hunky eye-unky!—gee, ayche, eye—”

Hair nearly on end, Mike snapped off the Phillips/Bose surround-sound. Yeah, every now and then some street person would slip into the store, bust open a CD, and play it on one of their demo systems, and this seemed to be the case now.

“Jesus!” he yelled at the suspicious “customer.” “You can’t just come back here and play a CD!”

A woman in an overcoat riddled with Hip Hop buttons looked querulously at the objection. Straggly, off-blond hair with snow-white roots; street-worn flip-flops; and chipped, clover-green fingernails were her most visible signatures. Dark smudges like half-bruises ringed her eyes, and a face as street-worn as the flip-flops beseeched him. “Oh, sorry. I just wanted to hear it first”—she held up the CD case: an African-American with a Lincoln-style top-hat grinned below the letters: UN-lissen-ABULL - JACK DOWN ALFA-BIT!

Great. More of that Hip Hop. But the stuff did sell. Mike was into the Beatles himself. “Octopuses Garden in the Shade,” now there was a song. But Mike’s anger twisted him into a knot. “Come on, lady! You broke open the CD! You’re gonna have to buy it now or I gotta call the cops!”

“Oh, I wanna buy it,” she said in a husky and more than likely meth-roughed voice. “I want to buy it for my man.”

“Terrific. Let’s go to the check-out and you can buy it, and then you can leave.

“Well…,” the woman hesitated. “Like I said, I wanna buy it but I don’t have the money.”

Mike ground his teeth. This chick looked about two steps short of the homeless shelter; she was probably a street-crazy to boot. He seethed: “If you don’t have money…how are you going to BUY IT?”

The woman smiled brokenly, rose on her tiptoes, and opened her overcoat.

The physical image hit Mike’s face like a fist.

“Come on…”

Ten minutes later, he led her out of the back office to the front door.

“Toodles,” she said and waved the CD. “Thanks.”

“Have a Merry Christmas,” Mike said, catching his breath. Jesus, that there is what you call Snappin’ Pussy. He apprized her coltish legs as she left, and he could’ve sworn he caught a glimmer of semen trickling over her ankle.

Just as the overcoated woman left, the vibrant and probably hyperactive Greeter walked in. (Mike still didn’t know her name.) She cast a leery glance over her shoulder. “Who was that?”

The manager’s heart-rate was still coming down. “Huh? Oh, that… Uh, that was the Logictech rep. I…had to order more trackballs and wireless mouses—er, I guess…mice.”

The Greeter watched the woman stride across the parking lot. “She looks more like a street whore.” Her firm, peach-sized breasts turned to him. “Anyway, I’m back from lunch.”

“Pizza tonight?”

A licentious grin, then after looking to and fro, she brazenly rubbed Mike’s crotch. “Only if I can have sausage on mine.”

“No problem, babe.”

She flinched and whined. “But…Mikey? I still have Christmas shopping to do but I’m on the clock till close. Can I leave early but, you know, stay on the clock anyway, if you know what I mean?”

“Sure, babe. It’s good to be the boss.”

She squealed and kissed him. “Thanks, dreamboat! See ya tonight.” She sailed through the automatic doors and had a reefer in her hand like a magic trick.

Just after the Greeter left, Archie strolled in. He had several Subway bags dangling. “Why’s the Greeter leaving?”

“I cut her loose. Talks too much. But she won’t be talking tonight with my dick stuck in her mouth.”

“Nice guy. Here’s your meatball sub. Foot-longs are still only five dollars. Oh, and please tell me you’ve heard from Veronica.”

“I haven’t heard from Veronica.”

“Well, shit, man. Her car’s still out back. Don’t you think you should call the police?”

“Why? She’s a big girl. Hey, you won’t believe this, but some whore with a killer bod just came in here and did me for a Hip Hop album.”

Archie frowned as he bit into his double-meat Philly Cheese Steak. “You’re right, I don’t believe it. Now, if you’re not going to call the cops, at least call her. Aren’t you even the least bit concerned?”

Mike looked at him, deadpan.

“She could be lying dead in a ravine somewhere.”

“Well, if she is, what good will it do for me to call?” He glanced around. The store was empty. “Look, I’m not taking time out of my busy schedule to call a girl who not only gives the worst head in the world but won’t even fuck me.”

“For fuck’s sake! Would you call her? She could be in trouble. Even a soul-dead cold-hearted selfish prick like you must care a little bit about her.”

Frowning, Mike whipped out his cellphone. “Okay, you want me to call her, I’ll call her.” He dialed, waited, paused, then whispered “Voice mail,” to Archie.

Then: “Veronica, this is Mike. Honey, I’m really worried about you. Your car hasn’t moved, you didn’t show for work, you haven’t called. Please, baby, you’re worrying me to death. If I don’t hear from you soon, I’m gonna call the police. Please, honey. Call me. I’ll be waiting.”

He hung up.

“I don’t believe it,” Archie enthused. “You do care about her!”

Mike nodded. “Of course I do. What kind of a schmuck to you think I am?” but of course he’d made the call to his own busy-signal.

(V)

Quiet day, still. Chilly but calm. Drifts of holiday music piped this way and that. Christmas was in the air.

Case Piece and his “dawgs” bopped down the streets of the town’s seedier environs, their chunk of the shitty world firm in their hands. Case Piece wore a T-shirt depicting George W. Bush injecting heroin. Menduez wore a Scarface shirt that read: ALL DAH TYING WE GETTIN’ FUCKED BY DAT WASP WHORE. Sung wore a jacket whose back was emblazoned with a map of South Korea.

They were selling some smack. Yeah. Case Piece slurped his Cherry Slush, nodding as he appraised the town he was sufficiently corrupting like a small-time cartel honcho. “Fuck, what that ole song be?” and then he sang, “Shit. Goddamn. I want me eggs and spam.”

“That frat, Clase Preece!” Sung approved and bit into one of those Dolly Madison chocolate pies.

“Chit, mang,” Menduez suspected. “Dat ain’t dah fuckin’ song, mang.”

“Whatever.”

Sung attempted a Rap. “Here crum dwoctor dway wiff the Twangeray!”

Case Piece chuckled. “Listen ta Sung, man. Trine ta Rap like a player but he’s from Malaysia or some shit.”

Sung hacked out a bite of pie. “Ko-WEE-ah, man! Fruck Malaysia! They a bunch of wadical extremist frucks with co-wupt government! We in Korea are Buddhist! The weligion of peace!” and this Sung bellowed so hard, the 9mm pistol stuck in his belt behind him almost fell out.

“Chill, man, chill. I just kiddin’ ’cos I knows how it whiles ya.” Case Piece looked ahead. “Here come Highball all happy’n shit. Paulie’s right, she need a bag over her grill but her bod is phat to the groove.”

“Hi, guys!” came the busted hooker’s exuberant greeting.

Case Piece frowned. “Open up that bitch-wrap so’s I can peel-eye your tits, ‘ho.”

Objection wrinkled her already wrinkled face. “Aw, come on, man. It’s fuckin’ December—it’s cold!

Case Piece stared. “Say what?

A smirk, then Highball opened her overcoat, immediately shivering.

“Shit, yeah. Now that shit’s top as a crown.”

“Yeah, man!” Sung railed. “Twop as a kwown! And twick-time super prussy!

The chill air shriveled the exemplary nipples and made her pubic hair stand on end. She closed the coat and gleefully handed Case Piece the CD. “Look! I got you a present!”

The gang leader’s eyes widened. “Shit, bitch! Looks like you finally do somethin’ right.” He eyed the cover of the CD. “It my man, UN-lissen-ABULL. Dig it,” and then he put the disk in his boom-box and let ‘er rip.

“Junky, a kunky lunky—jay, kay, ell—munky, you nunky oh-unky—emm, enn, oh—”

“Turn that shit off!” a sudden voice cracked.

The four street denizens looked over and saw that a county sheriff’s car had just pulled up, and scowling at them from the open window was the corpulent and oddly reddened face of Deputy Chief Dood Malone, one cheek crammed with chewing tobacco.

Case Piece turned off the music. “Sorry, officer. We was just jammin’ on some tunes, don’t’cha know?”

“Well, try some country and western—Jesus.” The man spat a plume of juice on the street. “You all got jobs?”

“Oh, yes, sir,” Case Piece said. “We work for…Manpower.”

The Chief looked suddenly reflective as if summoning nice memories. “I worked for Manpower when I was young. Great job. Provides opportunities for people, keeps ’em out’a trouble, keeps them off the drugs.”

“Chit, yeah, sir,” Menduez assured with a pocket full of drugs. “We don’t do none’a dat drug chit.”

Case Piece concealed a frown, while Malone’s own distraction continuously dragged his eyes to Highball’s curvatures. “Uh, oh—good. Make sure ya don’t. It’s evil stuff folks are pushin’ on these once-fine streets.”

Highball positioned herself so that a modest wedge of bare breast could be seen through a loop of coat fabric between the buttons, and from a sexist standpoint it’s worth mentioning that her bosom’s previous exposure to the cold air had pebbled her nipple-tips sufficiently enough to cause some formidable “printing.”

Malone cleared his throat, then spat more brown juice. He may even have errantly rubbed his crotch. “I’d like yawl ta do me a favor. You probably heard that we got some low-down crazy sick-in-the-head psycho goin’ ’round cuttin’ off puppies’ heads—”

“Oh, no!” Sung exclaimed. “Thwat twerrible!”

Highball bobbed up on her tiptoes, causing her breasts to ride very deliberately up and down. “How could somebody do something so awful?”

“Mang,” Menduez said. “Dat some bad chit, mang.”

“So if you see anyone out here lookin’ suspicious, lookin’ like they don’t belong or fixin’ to git inta mischief, just you call me directly, okay?”

“Oh, yes, sir, officer,” Case Piece promised. “We peel-eye anything poo-putt, we’ll be the first ta yaw-yaw at’cha, like splickty-lit.”

Malone made a face. “What?

“Means we’ll call ya.”

“Good, good, thanks.” Malone dragged a final gaze off Highball’s “chest fruit.” “And now I want yawl to have a fine day and a merry Christmas!”

“Back at’cha, sir,” Case Piece bid.

The shiftless gang hacked laughter upon the officer’s departure.

“Fat white dick,” Case Piece sniggered.

“Yeah, dat fat cop fock don’t know chit,” Menduez assured. “He think he can catch me? He need a fockin’ army ta catch me!”

“Yeah, that proo-prutt crop, he a stroopid fruck!

Highball shrugged. “I blew him once, to beat a loitering bust.”

Case Piece made a percolating facial gesture. “What’choo doin’ here anyway, ‘ho?”

Highball pouted. “I wanted to give you the CD. Now…I just wanna hang with you guys.”

Hang? Shit!” Case Piece winked at Menduez, a signal, after which the young Venezuelan quickly bent Highball over in a headlock.

“Hey!”

Menduez pulled the girl’s overcoat hem up over her impressive rump just as Case Piece came around behind her and—

WHAP!

—kicked her right between the legs.

“OOOOOOOOOW”

“This banana cream pie dumbass gettin’ too big for her boots and, shit, she don’t even wear boots. You the gang ‘ho, ‘ho. You don’t hang with us. We’re players, you just a cum-stop. Now get your lily-white ass on the street, and you trick with that trot. Make some cash with that gash and then, you see, you bring it to me, cos I’se the best—the best—the best pimp there be.”

“Twop dwawer, Clase!”

“Damn straight.”

Highball stood balloon-faced and knock-kneed, a hand to her crotch.

“Weren’t for me, Paulie’d’ve killed your ass. Twice. Weren’t for me, you’d still be suckin’ five-dollar dick’n sellin’ buddah sacks and beanpies for some loser Joe Neckbone sugar pimp in Bitch City. Make some money, honey. And when you done, go back the motherfuckin’ warehouse and baggie more skaggie and wash the peter tracks out’a our shorts. Me and my dawgs, we be bustin’ moves ’cos we’re phat in the grooves. We’re the tippest of the toppest, and you’re…the gang ‘ho. Later on, if you’re lucky, we come back and plumb your beezy pussy like a fuckin’ gas station toilet.”

Highball shuddered, teary eyed. “You-you make me feel like a piece of meat!

Case Piece winked his signal again; Menduez headlocked her and—

WHAP!

Case Piece kicked her right between the legs.

“OOOOOOOOOOW”

“You are a piece of meat, bitch. You are a piece of meat. Now shag ass out’a here and get dizzle with that pwizzle. Make some money with that cunny. Get some cum in that chute so’s you make some loot with that coot. Underdig?”

“Yeah, I underdig,” Highball sniffled and limped away.

“The bitch, she love us,” Case Piece attested. “Right, dawgs?”

“Fruck yeah!”

“Bitch needs a good kick in the cunt once in a while. Gotta be hard, too, like so hard her fuckin’ ovaries bang together like them steel-ball click-clack things business dudes got on their desks.” Case Piece nodded. “Best way to keep a chick lovin’ ya—kick ’em in the cunt. It build up their self-esteem.

“Chit, yeah, mang. White puta like dat, she needs guys like us. It’s we who geeve her identity.”

“Right on.”

They crossed the grade school playground which was empty now due to Christmas break. Up ahead, a twitching figure tottered into view.

“Who this shit-shoe white-trash garbage-can-on-two-legs motherfucker? He one’a ours?”

“He rook framiliar!”

“Oh, yeah, mang. I sell to him all the tying.”

A broom-skinny white man in dumpster clothes staggered trance-like toward them. His hair looked like a well-used and seldom-rinsed mop.

“Hey, blood,” Case Piece announced. “You lookin’ ta cop, ’cos if you is, we your main skagtown drop.

The coin-eyed addict barely heard him. “Naw, man,” he croaked. Abscesses had erupted on his waxen face. “I mugged a old lady at the ATM and just copped.”

“But chew always cop from us, mang,” Menduez objected.

“I was jonesing, man.” When the addict scratched his arms, flakes fell off. “Couldn’t find you guys, so I had to cop from the new guys.”

Case Piece spat out a mouthful of Cherry Slush. “New guys?”

“Choo don’t mean dem motherless focks on Byrdtown Road. Chit, mang, dey long gone.”

“No, man. New guys. They just opened up shop on Maple Street. Sellin’ Mexican black for five bucks less a bag, man. They’re a couple white guys, from Maryland, they said.”

When the junkie foundered away, the three gang-members exchanged ominous glances.

“Fuckin’ competition all over, dawgs. Every no-dick piece’a garbage on the street comin’ here’n trine ta horn in on our gig,” Case Piece complained. “Well, hmmm. I wonder what we do about that. What’cha think…Menduez?

Sung laughed and—in an Asian accent, no less—mimicked the sound of a barking dog.

“Maple Street, huh, mang?” Menduez nodded with a smile, message understood.

— | — | —

Chapter 12

(I)

Veronica conveniently awoke in the back of the truck only minutes after the men had dispensed suitable punishment upon the unfortunate Russian girl by the name of Kasha; therefore Veronica new nothing of the rowdy event. “I thought you wanted to go to New York City,” she questioned upon noticing only green pastures and farmland beyond the truck’s windshield, but then Helton explained, “Well, shucks, Veronnerka. We’se tried like the dickens ta get ourselfs a map, but…that didn’t work out.” Veronica frowned, went online via her laptop, Mapquested the address of one 62-year-old uptown cosmopolite, Adele Vinchetti, and provided turn-by-turn instructions to their destination.

It would likely belabor the narrative to recant the entire descriptive and subjective ordeal of Helton’s trek and subsequent mission. Nevertheless, some 500-plus miles later, the cumbersome and less-than-sightly vehicle had arrived in “The Big Apple.” Some inconsequential detail, however, seems in order, and given this, it must be said that the metropolis which academic horror writer H. P. Lovecraft referred to as a “polyglot abyss,” a “babel of sound and filth” where “Cyclopean modern towers and pinnacles…rise blackly Babylonian,” a labyrinthine purview embalmed with an amoral populace who amass into an unabated and rampaging “Walpurgis riot of horror.”

One can imagine the psychological impact of such a place upon the simple psyches of Helton and his backwoods kin. Emotional paralysis was one result; others were sound-shock, culture-shock, acute claustrophobia, as well as something quite akin to the shell-shock a soldier feels after spending too much time on the front. However, thanks to Veronica’s navigatory guidance, the group was able to arrive without mishap in Manhattan. Much to Veronica’s displeasure, however, she was then required to treat each man to another oral “tweaking,” something they seemed to be quite fond of now that her skills as a fellatrice had been vastly improved. Veronica’s face seemed to lengthen like a mask of tallow at the now even-more-appalling crotch-odor of each man. My GOD! she thought shuddering from the musky organic stench, yet she’d done the deed all the same, stopping just short of orgasm as her captives still mysteriously seemed to want.

Then she’d directed them to the home of the 62-year-old Adele Vinchetti—a penthouse in a posh highrise—with relative ease; and, since they recognized her via her online photograph, were able to successfully abduct her when they saw her returning from a stroll after dinner-time. This done, they secured the woman in the back of the truck—Veronica, by now, had been repositioned to the front passenger seat—and fled across the bridge to the nearby city of Newark, whereupon they found a secluded spot beneath an overpass and…

The reader can be trusted to make the correct assumption.

Veronica, on the other hand—and try as she might’ve to not make such assumptions, split-infinite be damned—had no choice but to ponder. Sitting handcuffed in the front right seat, as the daylight’s last gasp surrendered to twilight’s first twinkling stars, Veronica stared out the windshield, cotton in her ears. What the men were doing exactly behind that old shower curtain she tried not to contemplate, but knowing at least generally that they were murdering Paul Vinchetti’s mother and simultaneously recording that murder, the darkest recesses of Veronica’s volition had to make considerations. Through the cotton, she had heard Helton say something like, “Not the table this time, boys, the chair. Tie her upright in the chair. We’se’ll do it a tad different this go-round.” He’d pronounced “different” as diff-urnt.

“How so, Paw?” Dumar had asked.

Helton had answered, “What we’se gonna do this time, son, is have a double-header…”

A double…HEADER? Veronica thought. Wasn’t that something in baseball? Further considerations terminated then as the sudden sound of the power drill could be heard even more easily through the makeshift earplugs. But unlike the previous night, the drill-sound had stopped, Helton ordered, “Now do the front, son,” and then the drill-sound had recommenced. What on earth are they doing with that drill? Veronica dared to wonder.

But she didn’t like this wondering; it unsettled her. She didn’t like the forbidden whispers her own psyche seemed to bleed like a nicked vein.

They were…ghastly whispers.

After a half an hour, the whooping commotion behind the curtain seemed to retard. Had someone exclaimed, “That there was a dandy nut!”? But Veronica knew they had Adele Vinchetti back there—that is, Adele Vinchetti’s dead body—so wouldn’t now be the time to dispose of the corpse? At night? Beneath this secluded bridge?

Helton came back up front and removed Veronica’s earplugs. “Well, Veronnerka, we’se done.” He handed her the laptop. “Now how’s ’bout you get on yer magic machine’n git us directions back to Pulaski?”

Veronica, in stifled silence, did so. “Don’t you want me in back now?” she asked when Helton started the truck and pulled away.

“Uh, no, hon. See, there’s somethin’ back there it’s best ya not be lookin’ at.”

“Adele Vinchetti’s corpse,” Veronica said without thinking first.

A long pause. “Well…yeah, hon. Best just ya not concern yerself with it.”

“Aren’t you…going to…dump the body?”

Helton looked at her and sighed. “Well, I’se guess ya got a inklin’ of a idea what’s going on, but what ya gotta understand is that we’se only gettin’ our revenge against Paulie for him murderin’ Dumar’s little son Crory.”

Veronica looked at him.

“And there’s a reason that we ain’t dumpin’ the body just yet. See, we need the body—we’se ain’t done with it. We gots ta film another scene with the fancy camera ya solt us.”

Another…scene…

“We’ll be back in Pulaski by sun up, I reckon, then we make one quick stop, film the last scene, then we’se’ll dump the body.”

One stop quick as we can, she recited. “What…stop?”

“Gots ta see a friend’a mine, fine old fella named we up’n talked to just yesterday, s’matter’a fact. Fella the name of Charlie Fuchson…”

(II)

Yes, for those curious, that same night, Helton, Dumar, and the youngster Micky-Mack had indeed partaken in what was known amongst select hillfolk as a “double-header,” something that reportedly hadn’t been done in quite a few decades. At least in Helton’s understanding, it had been Bustin Kucker who’d first thought it up, back in ‘74, and Helton had been invited to the gathering, along with Grandpap Martin, Helton’s brother Tuff, and about ten other upstanding yokels. See, Bustin needed to get the task over with before his wife Darcy got home from the sewing shop in Russelville, so he figured that sawing two holes in the victim’s skull—and hence permitting the insertion of two penises at a time—would speed things up. Bustin had had a feud going with Melmo Faft for a long time, and when the ‘74 Recession hit, it had been Bustin, not Melmo, who’d been fired from his job in the farm co-op. Word had been going around that, due to the economic duress of the times, several would have to be let go, and Melmo hated Bustin so much that he’d stolen Bustin’s buck knife out of his truck, slashed the project manager’s tires, and left the knife in proximity. The knife, of course, had been engraved with the name KUCKER. But Bustin had six mouths to feed, so such a deed was deemed grievous enough to warrant the ultimate punishment.

Melmo’s busty and well-bottomed daughter Bliss had been expeditiously absconded with, removed to Bustin’s shack in the Luntville woods; and, instead of being tied down to a table, she’d been tied to a chair. The hole-saw shrieked as not one but two holes were cut into her head: the first, in the forehead; the second directly in the rear of the skull. Two at a time, then, the attendees had stepped up, one in the front and one from behind, and then the double-header had commenced. Much sperm was pumped into Bliss Faft’s attractive head that night, and much satisfaction felt.

Helton recalled this fond memory the night they’d snatched Adele Vinchetti. Helton had gone first—executing a more traditional single-header, because he wanted the initial camera footage to allow for a front-on closeup of Adele’s face, and it must be said that that face had still shown minute signs of life when Helton slid his dirty erection into the back of her head. Dumar had been holding the camera for the shot, and, upon initial penetration, he’d exclaimed, “Hot damn, Paw! The bitch’s eyes went wide open the second ya got yer pecker in her brain!” The information brought gladness to Helton’s heart, as did his forthcoming climax. After this, Helton manned the big Sony, yet with the skill of a Mario Bava—er, well, maybe not quite that much skill—he’d changed camera angles, shooting now from the side with Madam Vinchetti’s ear center-of-frame.

Dumar fucked the woman’s head from behind while Micky-Mack fucked it from the front, in a “push-me, pull-you” fashion. Helton’s clever positioning of the camera allowed for a maximum visual effect.

It must be mentioned—however belatedly—that the quality of cosmetic surgery enjoyed by the upper-class had left Adele Vinchetti’s physical body in quite a provocative state, even for a woman of her years. So fascinated by her implants Micky-Mack was that even after his climax, the desirous zeal of his youth left him with no choice but to fondle those pert implants with much appreciation. The young man was erect again in no time, and then he had a second “go” at Adele’s “coconut,” this time from behind.

So long as it was amongst kin and for a stalwart purpose, “sloppy seconds” in an evil head were perfectly acceptable and, in fact, smiled upon.

Afterwards, though—all men now being spent—it was Dumar who’d seemed disconsolate. “Well, dang, son,” Helton questioned. “We just done put four loads in this bitch’s head. Ya oughts ta be happy, so’s how come ya ain’t?”

Dumar jigged a scoffing hand. “Shee-it, Paw. It just…ain’t enough, ya know? I mean, it was this gal’s devil-lovin’ son who kilt my boy so horrible-like.”

“Yeah, and ya just done fucked her in the head. Fittin’n proper. Ya cain’t tell me ya didn’t get no satisfaction from that.

Dumar rubbed his face, perhaps hiding tears. “It just ain’t enough…”

Micky-Mack sat lackadaisically on a milk crate, his penis still out as he played with the seated and very limp woman’s neatly electrolysized pubis. “I think I’se knows what he means, Unc Helton.”

“We needs ta do somethin’ more,” Dumar insisted. “When Paulie see this movie, we need him ta be more pissed than he ever been. Ain’t enough just ta fuck his Maw in the head.”

Semen drooled out the hole in Adele Vinchetti’s skull.

“Somethin’ more, huh?” Helton reflected, opening a bottle of soda. He guzzled, thinking.

But it was Micky-Mack who’d gotten the idea: “Unc! ‘Member yesterday when Charlie Fuchson’s egg-suck dog fucked that foul-mouthed Russian gal?”

Helton’s eyes seemed to light up, and he grinned and very slowly nodded. “Well, shit my drawers, Micky-Mack. Just when I’se convinced you’re all dick and no brain, you come up with a dandy idea!” The elder man chuckled. “It’ll be bad enough fer Paulie to watch three fellas fill his Maw’s head with cum, but just think how riled he’ll be ta also see it filled with dog-nut! Double-headers’ve been done before, yessir, but there ain’t never been a dog header before. And me’n Charlie go back a long way, we do. I’m shore he wouldn’t mind…”

Hence, this 899-word spiel to accentuate our next scene. Veronica’s navigatory expertise did indeed return them to the Pulaski area by sunrise.

And Charlie Fuchson was all too happy to loan his egg-suck dog Droop out for such a noble purpose…

(III)

“God-DAMN!”

BANG!

“MotherFUCKers!”

BANG!

“They fucked my mother—”

BANG!

“In the HEAD!”

BANG!

Each BANG! ringing out between the tirade-fragments were the result of the impact of Paulie’s fist to the Winnebago’s interior walls. This occurred at about ten in the morning, immediately after Argi had downloaded the next email attachment. Paulie, needless to say, was left out-of-sorts after watching this latest digital video file.

By this time, they weren’t even in the Pulaski area anymore, having supposed that Helton had thrown in the towel. Boy, were they wrong. Cristo was driving the “Winnie,” nearing the Jersey Turnpike, when the unfortunate attachment had been received.

“How could they do that?” Paulie yelled, red in the face and spittle flying, and—

BANG!

—he rammed his fist again into the wall.

“What’s all that bangin’ out there?” Melda inquired from her cubbie of horrors in back.

Cristo looked worriedly over his shoulder. “Wow, boss. Ya know, ya might not want to keep bangin’ the wall like that.”

Dr. Prouty stammered, while raising his brow at the dents in the wall, “Your confederate is quite right, Mr. Vinchetti. Your infuriation is quite understandable given these grim circumstances but, really, what benefit will there be in breaking your hand?”

They fucked my mother in the head!” Paulie wailed, “and then they let a DOG fuck my mother in the head!” but this time when the don hauled his fist back, Argi caught it.

“Yeah, boss. Better idea is for ya to calm down—”

“Argi!” Paulie bellowed. “If three rednecks and a dog fucked your mother in the head, wouldn’t you be pissed?”

“Well, yeah, boss, sure. But if ya bust your hand from bein’ pissed off, then don’t that give Helton the last laugh?”

Paulie’s brain simmered in contemplation, and eventually he loosened up. “Yeah, yeah,” he muttered, clearing his head. “I can’t give that hayseed fuck the last laugh… I gotta find some way to, some way to”—he snapped his fingers. “Doc, what am I tryin’ to say?”

Dr. Prouty, still pale himself from witnessing the video, paused, then replied, “I believe, sir, that you mean you need to find a way to re-process this very regrettable catalyst into a mode of energy that can be utilized to your advantage. Rather than expending energy via rage, it would be better to convert that energy into transitive action.

“Yeah. That’s what I was tryin’ to say.” Paulie sat down on the padded bench seat. “Fact of the matter is…I never even liked my mother. She bad-mouthed my dad and treated me like shit when I was a kid. But still. I’m Italian, and it’s my mother. Pow-Wow time, guys. What do we do?”

“We know he was in Manhattan last night,” Argi offered, “so maybe he’s still there. Maybe he’s lookin’ to find more of your relatives to—”

“To fuck in the head, yeah.”

“So I’m thinkin’ maybe we should go to Manhattan ourselves. Shit, boss, were not that far. We could try to find him. Air him out once and for all.”

“Sounds like a good idea, boss,” Cristo affirmed from the driver’s seat.

Argi: “He found your mother easy enough. Maybe he’ll go after more of your relatives now.”

“Yeah…maybe…” But Paulie was working on something. “Or maybe what we should do is go after more of his relatives.”

“But how, boss?” Cristo asked. “The guy lives in the hills. We don’t know shit about the backwoods. Only reason we knew how to find Helton’s grandkid is ’cos your wife told us he caught crayfish at that lake most mornings.”

“Yeah, boss,” Argi went on. “And it ain’t like we can look up the name Tuckton in the phone book. Shit, these rubes don’t even have phones.”

The hum of the big motor-home’s tires droned on. Paulie looked to Prouty. “Doc. What do we do? How we get a line on this redneck’s relatives?”

Wearied but desperately trying not to show it, the good doctor struggled a moment, then offered this convoluted sentence: “Recalling that your wife’s cultural roots to some extent parallel Mr. Tuckton’s, and given that she, in fact, apprized you of information that led to the grandson’s abduction…perhaps you should ask your wife.”

Paulie stared at him and blinked. “Cristo! Turn the Winnie around and go back to Pulaski!”

“Back to Pulaski, boss?”

“That’s what I said.” Paulie looked to his lieutenant. “Argi, gimme the phone…”

— | — | —

Chapter 13

(I)

Deputy Chief Malone and Sergeant Boover had waited till nightfall to come into the vacant house on Trott Street, and they’d arrived in Malone’s personal vehicle, not their patrol cars. Why? They didn’t want anyone on the street to know that police were in the house.

But since the house was abandoned, they both spat copious plumes of tobacco juice on the floor. Big deal? The house was a foreclosure!

Boover hung curtains while Malone set up lamps in various rooms so that the house would appear tenanted. Upon having the need, Malone loped to the squalid bathroom but to his mortification found it bereft of toilet and sink. “Well, gawd-dang, Boover,” he complained upon returning to the “living” room. “Ain’t a toilet in the damn house or even a sink!”

“I know,” Boover said over his shoulder as he urinated quite noisily in the corner.

Malone shrugged, then did the same, and then, upon hearing the dual streams, their recent quadrupedal acquisition, an adorable German Shepherd/Jack Russell puppy they’d named Buster, raised its leg and peed right along with the men.

Buster romped about, yapping, as the officers finished their tasks.

“Well, dang, Boover. I’d say we done a fine job makin’ this dump look occupied.” Malone pronounced “occupied” as ok-yer-pied.

Boover fired a stream of juice up on the white wall, producing something like a brown question mark. “Yeah, anyone walking by or driving by’ll shorely think someone just moved in.” The lamps glowed bright. Then they walked into the kitchen, whose window faced the rear of the eighth-of-an-acre lot. Boover clicked a switch, then an outside floodlamp lit up the fenced backyard.

“Yeah, I’d say this’ll work just right…” He paper-clipped an edge of the curtain, which produced a minuscule gap. Boover slid over a piece-of-shit table, placed the stop-frame camera on it, then nodded.

“Dang straight, Chief.”

The lens came into perfect alignment with the gap.

“How’s it work?” Malone asked and fired a plume of juice halfway across the room.

“Well, accordin’ to the directions, a average camera takes, like, 18 frames a second, but this camera don’t take but one frame a second. The memory in the machine’ll last days.”

“Sounds just peachy.”

“Peachy for us.” Boover chuckled. “Not too peachy for the dog.”

Malone shoved the gruesome consideration aside. “So what now? We ready?”

Boover turned the camera on. “It’s rollin’, Chief. Now all we gotta do is put the mutt outside and be on our way.”

The Chief sighed sourly. Second thoughts? He glanced into the living room and watched Buster romp about, yipping and yapping in sheer innocent-dog happiness.

“Well, fuck, Boover, I just got ta thinkin’… Weatherman said it was gonna be in the mid-40s tonight. That’ll be damn cold fer little Buster.”

Boover frowned, not sharing his superior’s love for canines. “Buster’s got a fuckin’ fur coat, Chief, and…” He whispered. “It ain’t like he’s gonna be a alive for long anyway.”

The Chief gulped.

“Come on, Buster. Got’cha some viddles,” and from a Wendy’s bag the Chief produced one Triple Baconator. He cut it up into chunks and put in on the floor. Poor mutt don’t know it’s his last meal…

The puppy reveled, devouring the fast food, its tail-nub wagging with vigor. But when Malone looked up…

Boover was gone.

“Boover. Where ya at?”

“In here, Chief…”

Malone piloted himself back to the living room where—

“Aw, fer fuck’s sake!”

—he found his deputy in an awkward squat, pants at ankles. He was defecating rather cacophonously on the tacky carpet.

“We’re cops, Boover. We cain’t just up’n shit on the floor!”

“Hail, Chief. We been spittin’ and pissin’. Why not shittin’? No one’s gonna buy this place—in this economy? Obama’s full’a shit with all his talk ’bout fixin’ the housing crisis. Too busy lookin’ the other way when senior house dems secretly approve giant CEO bonuses for banks that took TARP money—”

“Aw, git off’a that now…”

“‘Sides, there ain’t no toilets and the mortgage company said we can use the place all week.”

The man had a point. We’ll just tell the mortgage folks some junkies busted in an did it…, but the truth was, Chief Malone was incontrovertibly distracted. Boover had finished, and was now wiping his ass dog-style on the atrocious carpet. Meanwhile, little Buster moved his bowels as well. If humans can do it, why not dogs? Malone’s current thought resounded like the voice of some displeased deity: We’se gonna let this cute little puppy get tortured’n kilt…

“What’s wrong, Chief?” Boover asked, hoisting up his police trousers. His lips “O”-d, then ejected a blast of tobacco juice down the hall.

Buster jumped up and down, so pleased he was to be in the presence of these men.

“Fuck, Boover. I don’t think I’se can go through with it. I mean look at him. Ain’t that just the cutest little puppy you ever seen?”

“Whole thing was your idea, Chief, and you ask me, ‘twas a good ‘un. Best way ta catch the puppy-killer’s ta get a picture of him snatchin’ the puppy. Then we put the picture on the damn tv and we got him. Won’t take but five minutes ‘fore someone recognizes him and turns the sick bastard in. And knowin’ the rednecks in this town? He’ll be turnt in dead.

I shore as shit hope so… Malone knelt to pet Buster, who immediately began to lick the Chief’s face. Malone had a tear in his eye.

“It’s for a good cause, Chief. Think’a all the other puppy lives Buster here’ll be savin’…”

Malone had a frog in his throat. “Come on, Buster. Bet’choo’d like ta go romp about outside, huh, boy?”

The dog yipped and yapped, vaulting up and down.

Malone opened the kitchen door, and Buster sprinted out.

“It’s the best way,” Boover tried to console.

“Come on, let’s git out’a here. This place is depressin’ me… And”—Malone sniffed, smirking. “What you eat, anyway?”

“Guess it’s the pig knuckles and collard greens. Must’a et three, four plate’s of the stuff.”

“Gawd DAMN, Boover!”

They left the house and got into Malone’s ’92 Seville. No one spoke as the Chief pulled away, but when he glanced in the rearview mirror, he could see Buster bobbing up and down behind the fence, yipping a happy goodbye.

“I need a dang drink.”

“Too bad we’se both on duty till midnight, Chief. Cops don’t drink on duty…unless the boss says they can.” Boover winked.

“Aw, fuck. We’ll probably get a call—”

“Shit, Chief, we ain’t gonna get a call. This close ta Christmas? In our juris? Come on. Let’s have a few up the Crossroads. We’ll just tell ’em we’re off duty.”

Malone felt flustered. I just sentenced a puppy to death…a HORRIBLE death. “Naw. We’ll get a call—”

“All right, whatever you say. But I’ll bet’cha we don’t get no calls. Bet’cha a fifth’a Turkey.”

“You’re on—”

“Unit, 207, do you copy?” the radio crackled.

“First bet I won in a long time—fuck—maybe my whole life,” Malone said, then keyed the mike. “This is 207, Connie. We are 10-8 on Trott Street. Go ahead.”

“Respond Code 3 to confirmed Signal 47 at 610 Druckerwood Drive in Peerce Point.”

“Piss,” Boover muttered. He spat a yard-long plume of juice out the window.

Malone scratched his head. “Dang, Connie. A Signal 47? The hail’s that?

“Arson resulting in one or more homicides,” the staticky female voice answered.

Malone moaned. “We’se 10-6,” he droned.

Boover placed the portable “cherry” on the dash and turned it on. “At least Peerce Point ain’t far,” he remarked. “But I ain’t never heard’a Druckerwood Drive.”

“Me neither.” Malone rekeyed the mike. “Connie, what is it? A house, a apartment buildin’? What?”

The radio crackled. “610, Druckerwood Drive, Peerce Point”—a pause, then: “The Daisy-Chase Nursing Home…”

(II)

The big black truck lumbered along the back roads, and at the stroke of midnight, December 22nd officially became December 23rd. The night seemed warmer, stars glittered pristinely through overhead branches. The moon glowed like a cabalistic totem.

 Forebodences of the most acerbic sort seemed to rumble in Helton’s gut as his son manned the wheel. “Pull ‘er over, Dumar. Let’s sit a spell, git some sleep.”

“Shore thing, Paw.”

Veronica was already asleep, on the truck floor with her wrist handcuffed to the header table. When Dumar parked in a secluded grove, he cut the engine; the night swallowed the truck when the headlights went off. With only a candle burning now, the three men took seats in back.

Micky-Mack rubbed his crotch. “Dang, Unc. Sumpin’ about headers…”

Dumar rubbed his crotch. “Yeah, Paw, like…”

“It’s like my dick loves headers so much, it stays half-hard, like, all the time.

Helton nodded, and rubbed his crotch. “Let it be a warnin’ to ya, though. Headers feels so good, and so much better’n reglar pussy…folks can git misguided sometimes. They ferget that yer only s’posed to have headers to revenge a serious crime. But ta have a header willy-nilly—like Caudill used ta…it’s up’n the worst sin a man can commit. You boys understand?”

Dumar and Micky-Mack nodded…but they each rubbed their crotch again.

“So what we do now, Paw?”

“Yeah, Unc. If all’a this Paulie fella’s kin is up in New York and thereabouts, how’s come we didn’t stay there? Aside from his wife, he ain’t got no more rellertives down our ways, and that black fella tolt us she’s out’a town.”

Dumar leaned forward on his milk crate, query in his eyes. “You figure Paulie’s gonna throw in the towel?”

Helton opened a bag of Riceworks Gourmet Brown Rice Crisps that he’d stolen from Marshie’s mansion. They tasted funny, kind of…citified, but were good enough. “I’d like ta think so, son, but there ain’t no way he’ll call off the feud”—Helton eyed his son and nephew quite solemnly—“not after he seen what we done ta his Maw.”

Several sobersided moments passed, then—

The three men busted out laughing.

Micky-Mack was hee-hawing so hard he had tears in his eyes. “We fucked his Maw! In her head!

“Two at a time!” Dumar guffawed.

“And then Droop—ole Droop!

“I’d pay cash money ta see the look on Paulie’s face when he seed a egg-suck dog fuckin’ his Maw’s head!” Dumar wheezed.

“And I’ll’se bet it was some look, boys!” Helton roared.

Micky-Mack: “And them big citified implants stickin’ out, and there’s ole Droop humpin’ away and havin’ hisself a nut in her brain!”

They all high-fived.

When they settled down, Dumar asked, “But, Paw, gettin’ back ta more serious stuff… It’s your hankerin’ that Paulie’ll be so sure-fired pissed…that he’ll get us back?”

“I think he shorely will son, sorry ta say.”

“But how, Unc?” the youngster queried next. “Our kin all live back in the boonies spread out clear across the next three counties. He ain’t gonna be able ta find ’em.”

“He’ll find ’em if’n he sets his mind to,” Helton assured. “All it takes is askin’ a few folks a few questions.” He raised a finger. “So’s when he does? We gots ta be ready.”

Micky-Mack moaned. “Aw, Unc Helton—you mean we’se’ll have ta go back to New York City?

Dumar moaned as well, and put a hand to his belly. “Dang, Paw. That’s one place I don’t never wanna see no more.”

“Scary just ta look at,” Micky-Mack added. “All them buildin’s reachin’ high up in the sky, all’a that noise’n all them cars’n’ buses, and all that honkin’‘n jabberin’n folks scowlin’n walkin’ fast—”

Dumar: “All talkin’ on them cellphone things whilse they’se walkin’ and drinkin’ at them weird Starbuck places’n all that dirt’n smoke in the air.”

“I’se don’t never wanna go back there neither, boys,” Helton said, still a bit dizzy in the recollection. “Big cities ain’t natural, ain’t what God wants fer folks. Ain’t right fer people to be livin’ way up in the air like that, in all that cee-ment’n such. Damn buildin’s are so high ya cain’t even see the proper light’a day. And, dang, the smell’a that one place we droved through—what was it? Chinatown?—it were shorely the devil’s ass-crack we was smellin’.” Helton shook his head. “But dependin’ on how long this here feud lasts, well…we just might have ta go back. In the meantime, though…” The big man looked deeply at his companions. “I been thinkin’. See, there is one’a Paulie’s kin—one I plum up’n fergot about—one not too far at all from where we’se are sittin’ right now…”

“Really, Unc?” Micky-Mack asked, incredulous.

“Who is it, Paw?”

Helton just smiled and said no more of it. Then he bid his kin goodnight, blew out the candle, and they all fell fast asleep.

(III)

Paulie had indeed called his lovely wife Marshie at her suite at the BeIaggio in Las Vegas, Nevada, and she had indeed possessed the knowledge that Paulie so fervently sought. When asked, “We’re havin’ a tear-ass good time down here but we need to know where this fuck Helton’s relatives live. Any idea, like, if his mother is still alive?” she’d answered in a delighted redneck shriek, “Oh, yeah, Paulie! The old withered fuck’s name is Petunia Tuckton, and she’s like real old, and ya knows what, hon? Last year she had herself a stroke and they stuck her in a nursin’ home—the Daisy-Chase nursin’ home in Peerce Point! Ain’t but a hop, skip’n a jump from Pulaski!” and that had brought a veritable well of joy to Paulie’s heart. Marshie had also mentioned that Helton Tuckton was known to drive a “big-ass black truck,” which might prove useful as well.

Argi had been assigned “torch” duty, and in truth, this was by no means the first nursing home he’d set fire to. He’d torched the north-end of the Daisy-Chase facility—a simple yet formidable diversion—then he and his associates had spirited one octonegeric Petunia Tuckton—urinary catheter and all—from her window in the south-end wing. Previously, however, they’d made a pit stop back at the warehouse, for…some things they might need. Among those things were several shovels.

Then they’d found a suitable secluded field, set up their camera, and began to dig.

— | — | —

Chapter 14

(I)

Veronica dreamed of her wedding night. Standing beside her, of course, was Mike, debonair and so handsome in his tux. Veronica wore a flowing, white wedding gown…and she’d deliberately not worn a bra because she knew how turned on Mike got over her breasts and nipples. Before she knew it, they both exchanged their “I do’s” and the reverend was saying “I now pronounce you man and wife,” and then the organ belted out its verifying notes as their union of matrimony was now sealed in the eyes of God.

Later, Veronica stretched back nude on the huge bed in the bridal suite. It was time to consummate the union. Mike stood at the foot of the bed, still in his tux, mind you, and still so handsome. However…his penis was out.

“Mike, honey, why don’t you take off your clothes and make love to me now?”

“Don’t need to take ’em off, baby. When I’m done here, I’m meeting the Greeter. She gives great blowjobs and you give…well, THE WORST BLOWJOBS IN THE WORLD and, besides, this won’t take long,” and then Mike raised a POWER DRILL and then REVVED IT, and that’s when Veronica noticed, not a typical drill-bit at the tool’s end, but some weird cylindrical thing—

Veronica screamed and screamed and screamed—

««—»»

—and screamed some more as she awoke on the cold metal floor of the truck.

“Gawd dang!

“It’s killin’ me, Paw!”

“There she up’n goes again!”

Rough hands shook her. “Veronnerka! What the hail’s wrong!”

When the nightmarish bloody-murder screaming finally wound down, Veronica came fully awake. Teeth chattering, she stared upward at the hovering faces of Helton, Dumar, and Micky-Mack, then burst into tears.

“Ain’t no reason fer waterworks!”

“What’s got’cha so upset?”

“Upset?” she yelled. “I just had the worst nightmare of my life! It’s this place! And-and-and…whatever it is you’re doing with that drill! It’s Christmas time and I’m handcuffed to a table in an old truck! This place is giving me nightmares! I should be with Mike, buying Christmas presents and sharing my life but instead”—she clacked her wrist against the table—“I’ve been abducted by three men who make me give them blowjobs and don’t wash!”

The three men looked despondently to one another.

“But, hon,” Helton began. “I’se tried ta ‘splain that this is the only way. We need ya. We cain’t do this without’cha.”

“Do what?” she spat. “Abduct women, and rape them and murder them and then film it?”

“We ain’t done nothin’ to no one who ain’t had it comin’, Veronnerka. If’n ya knowed ‘zackly what it is that Paulie done ta us…you’d understand.”

Veronica was about to rail again but before she could…

The cellphone rang. Not her cellphone…the other cellphone.

The men froze, their eyes shooting wide. Cumbersomely, then, Helton answered the annoying device, said, “Yeah?” listened, then hung up.

“Was that…,” Dumar began.

Helton nodded.

“Looks like you was right, Unc Helton,” Micky-Mack said. “Paulie done hit us again…”

“I’m afraid so.” Helton passed Veronica the laptop. “Veronnerka, all’s I ask is that ya help us just one more day, then I promise—I swear to God’n all that’s holy…we’ll let ya go.”

Half-numbed now in a combination of angst, rage, confusion, and despair, Veronica took the computer, went online, and downloaded the implied attachment.

Helton uncuffed her hand. “Stand on up, now’n come over here. I don’t feel right about this, but I guess the only way fer you ta understand is fer ya to see it yerself.”

Dumar looked alarmed. “Paw? You mean…yer gonna show Veronnerka one’a the movies Paulie made?”

“Yes, I am, son. Don’t want to, but I must. Now, I don’t ‘zackly know what it is Paulie just send us, but I do know it’ll be something bad, and when Veronnerka see just how bad it is I’m talkin’ ’bout…then she’ll understand why we’se are doin’ what we’se doin’…”

“Fine!”Veronica snapped. She arranged the laptop on the table as they all stood around to watch. She double-clicked the new file, the media player popped up, and then…

««—»»

On the screen we see a close-up of an old woman’s head. She is alive, blinking feebly but mustering an expression of scorn. The camera clearly sits on the ground, and in spite of harsh lights, we know it’s nighttime. Footsteps scuff. The most salient aspect of the scene?

The woman’s head sits on the ground, with only the tops of bony shoulders showing.

She’s been buried up to her neck.

“Who are ya?” she cracks.

Male laughter replies.

Off-screen, a voice in Jersey accent orders, “Cristo, we ain’t very good hosts, are we? Give the old bitch a drink.”

“Sure thing, boss,” and then two hands appear in the frame, pull open the old woman’s toothless mouth. A clear plastic tube is jammed in, then the hands slide the tube down her throat. It’s a urinary catheter tube.

The other end of the tube is connected to a plastic bag filled with discolored urine; the bag is displayed momentarily for camera’s sake, then rises off-screen. The scene holds on the woman’s flinching face as the tube fills with dark urine.

“Fill ‘er up,” announced a different Jersey accent.

We don’t have to see what’s happening, we simply know. The urine bag is being squeezed, displacing its contents into the old woman’s stomach.

“That’s it, that’s it. A nice cool drink…” but the voice pauses. “Hey, Doc? Why’s the old bitch’s piss so dark? Looks like fuckin’ tea.

“More than likely a catastrophically high creatinine level, that or Hepatitis A. I suspect the former, however. Severe degradation of kidney function is common amongst sedentary senior citizens.”

“Fuck up kidneys, huh? How do you like that?”

Then—

ziiiiiiiiiiiiiip!

—the tubing is yanked out.

The old woman gags, wheezing. But when she recovers, she snaps another glare right into the camera. “What a bunch’s big men you all is—ha! Stealin’ a crippled old woman out a nursin’ home’n makin’ her drink her own pee. I know who you is. You’re the devil’s-dick-suckin’ evil varmits who up’n kill my great-grandson—a 9-year-old! Yeah, give yerselfs a pat on the back fer killin’ a little boy. Now…my son Helton—there’s a real man.”

“Oh, yeah, he sure is, ya old cunt,” the off-screen voice says. “He fucked my mother in the head—”

“Ha! God bless him!”

“—so we figured we’d do somethin’ worse to his mother. And that head-fuckin’ shit he does? That ain’t nothin’ compared to what we got in store for you.”

The old woman laughs. “Do your worst! See if I care one toodly! ’cos when my son get his hands on you, you’ll think you gots the wrath of GOD comin’ down on ya!”

Off-screen chuckles flitter like bats. More footsteps scuff. Then: “Cristo, lube her up, then get over here.”

“Right away, boss.”

The old woman makes a face when the hands reappear and spread margarine all over her head. We can see the tub: I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT BUTTER!

“What the hail is that fer, son?” she cracks, frowning.

“Let’s just say you’re gonna need it to try on your new hat.”

“New hat? Boy, what in tarnations you talkin ’bout?”

The hands slather the margarine heavy, then pull away. “You’ll see, grandma…”

We hear more off-screen talk. “Doc, you and Argi get on that side, Me and Cristo got this side.”

“Of…course, sir.”

“I’ve always liked this way the best. Who we do this to, Argi? It was up in Newark wasn’t it? Kline?”

“Naw, boss, I think it was Ringerman, you know? That runt we had runnin’ numbers for us.”

“Oh, yeah—Ringerman! That fuck. He had balls, didn’t he? Shit, that guy went way back to my grandfather’s time—”

“Vinch the Eye—”

“God rest his soul…”

“Shit, we had that guy on our payroll for decades, and then we find out he’d been stealin’ from us half that time.”

“Well, he got his.”

“Best part was makin’ his wife watch.”

“Yeah! That was sweet, wasn’t it?” A pause. “You ready, Melda?”

“I sure am, Paulie!” exclaimed a ludicrous woman’s voice.

“On the count of three. One…two…three!”

A salvo of grunts.

“Good, yeah, but—shit, Melda. No offense but you’ve gained some weight!”

“Well, I can’t help it, Paulie. Can’t walk, can’t do nothin’ but sit—er, sit, and smother people in my pussy and eat.”

Laughter.

A peculiar shadow hovers over the old woman’s head, then something indescribable seems to edge the top of the frame…

“Push that big pussy open now, huh, Melda?”

“It’s open, Paulie!”

“One…two…three…down!

In a split second, the old woman’s head disappears as it is completely engulfed by a frame-filling morass of pallid flesh. A mammoth sack for a belly is observed, as well as a severely stretched wedge of pubic hair. Whatever it is, it has swallowed the entirety of the old woman’s head.

“Give it a few seconds.”

A few seconds tick by, then, “Now, boss?”

“Naw. A few more…”

“We don’t want her croakin’, do we?”

“All right, now. One, two, three—up!”

shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh-LUCK!

The morass is lifted off as though it has defied gravity to disgorge the woman’s head, which now looks like a perversely glistening wax mask, only semi-human. The head shudders, old gray hair slicked down. The eyelids struggle but eventually open.

“Great! She didn’t kick. Kind of thought she would, old as she is.”

“Proof of the resiliency of the human biological unit…”

The old woman’s face, quite surprisingly, laughs. “Ha! That all you silly boys can do? Just wait till my son Helton gets ya! He’n his kin’re gonna fuck all yer brains ta puddin’!”

“One, two, three—down!

The horrific mass re-lowers, yet again engulfing the head.

“I’m tempted to just kill her now. I hate that old cunt.”

“Sure, boss, but that’s the reason we shouldn’t kill her.”

“Yeah, yeah, you’re right. Okay, guys! One, two, three—up!

The head is re-exposed, looking a bit more weary than the first time.

The off-screen voice directs. “Back in the chair now”—grunting—“yeah, there. Cristo, get Melda back in the Winnie.”

“Right away, boss.”

“Thanks, Melda.”

“Oh, any time, Paulie! I love the feel of a head in my pussy!”

“She still alive, Doc?”

A manicured finger angles into the frame and touches the old woman’s slick throat. “Wait—wait, why…yes!”

“Perfect!”

The head lolls now, muck-shellacked and wheezing for breath, but eventually the old woman summons the last of her strength and looks right back at the camera. “Helton, my dear son! Don’t ya mind none what these Satan-worshipin’ bastards are a-doin’ ta me. I’se old and it’s way past my time, and I’se had me a wonnerful life. Just you take care, son, like I knows ya will! I knows you’ll git these fellas’n show ’em what fer! Hunt ’em down and fuck their evil heads like heads ain’t never been fucked b’fore! The Tuckton’s ain’t never lost a feud! Make the family proud like ya always done—” but then her speech is drowned out by the most shockingly vicious sound: not quite that of a chainsaw, not quite that of a lawn mower.

The frame seems to collapse as the Alpine stump-grinder lowers. It lowers slowly, ever so slowly, first just nicking the top of the woman’s skull, coming back up, then lowering some more. The screech of metal to bone is unmentionable. Blood, brain, and bone-bits fly like goulash out of a lidless blender.

Down and down, then, the stump-grinder lowers, and when it’s done it’s pulled away, leaving only a meaty neck-stump.

The motor-sound cuts off. Eery silence ensues.

“How you like them cookies, huh, Helton?” the off-screen voice inquires, and then comes a staccato of laughter…

««—»»

Veronica had collapsed even before the “film’s” finish. She lay now on the floor, in a shuddering fetal position. Helton, Dumar, and Micky-Mack, on the other hand, remained standing. Staring. Wide-eyed and tearing up. What they’d just witnessed on the computer screen—in spite of the presence of morning light—somehow turned the air smoke-dark.

No one spoke for quite some time.

Helton passed around a bottle of some citified liquor called AsomBroso 100% Blue Agave Tequila that he’d pinched from Marshie’s mansion. They each took hearty slugs.

“Paw?”Dumar was the first to speak. “Grandma Petunia was up’n the finest ole gal there ever was, and I—”

Helton severed the condolence with a wave of hand. “Ain’t no words necessary, boys. Our work’s cut out fer us…”

Tears ran freely down Micky-Mack’s face. “Unc Helton. We’se gotta get ’em back worse’n ever, we’se gotta—”

Helton’s silencing hand rose again. “Like I done tolt ya’s before, there is one rellertive’a Paulie’s not too far from here, not too far at all—”

Micky-Mack’s fist banged the table. “Then let’s go! Now!”

Helton’s face looked as dark as the air. “We’se’ll go, all right. But we gots ta wait till tonight. In the meantime, we needs ta go back ta that big store, that one calt the Home Depot…

— | — | —

Chapter 15

(I)

It wasn’t quite a vegetative state that plagued Veronica for the coming hours. It was some sort of temporary semi-catatonia that left her staring at the truck’s metal walls with virtually no thoughts crossing her mind. The men seemed to be driving through a town, not the backwoods, and every so often, Veronica peered up and out the windshield, she saw but barely noticed garlands of Christmas lights. Then: Christmas, the single word occurred to her.

She didn’t know what it meant.

Veronica rocked comfortably back and forth as the truck shifted gears. Were they parking? An errant shift of gaze showed her something familiar: golden…arches? But why would that seem familiar? As they turned and pulled around, something else caught her gaze, a large yellow sign with black letters: BEST BUY. Veronica stirred.

The truck stopped.

Another section of a sign could be seen: HOME DEPOT.

Veronica whimpered.

“Micky-Mack? See that place over yonder. With them yeller rainbow-type things?”

“Yeah, Unc.”

“That there’s a restaurant, and it’s a famous one. Ain’t never et there myself but I’se know folks who have—it’s calt the Mack-Donald’s. Just you go on over’n pick us up a bunch’a viddles. I’m sick’a beans’n spaghetti’n fancy tater chips. Plus, Veronica might perk up if’n she got some citified grub in her breadbasket. Here’s some money—”

“Oh, I got me some money, Unc. Let me contri-bit—”

“No, boy. Use Maw’s money. It’s what she’d want. Meantime me’n Dumar’ll be in the Home Depot.

“Shore, Unc.”

The boy disembarked. Helton’s concerned face hovered over Veronica.

“Veronnerka? Hon? You’se all right?”

Mouth opened, Veronica nodded.

“I’se sorry I showed ya that ugly movie but, like I said, I needed ya ta understand why we’se doin’ this…”

Veronica nodded.

“We’se’ll be right back. Whine you just try ta take yerself a nap?”

Veronica nodded.

Helton sighed, then eventually left the truck with his son.

McDonald’s, she thought diffusely. Home Depot…

Something tiny seemed to crackle in her brain.

Best Buy…

She stood up—at least as much as she could given the handcuff—though she didn’t know why. She tried to peer out the windshield, but crooked over like that she could only see an edge of the semi-full parking lot. Daylight raged. Straining her neck…she detected movement…

A figure in a blue shirt—a familiar blue shirt—walked briskly through the rows of parked cars. It never occurred to her, though, that this person’s blue shirt was identical to her own. The figure was a slender man with spiked-up hair; more familiarity seemed to whisper around in her head. He was sticking sheets of paper beneath the windshield wipers of each car, and in an action so coincidental as to be completely unbelievable, a gust of wind picked up, detached one of the sheets from a windshield and blew it directly against the windshield of the black truck!

Veronica read the sheet, obviously a sale-flyer: OPEN ‘TIL MIDNIGHT XMAS EVE! BLOWOUT HOLIDAY SALE ONLY AT BEST BUY!

Then the sheet fluttered, and blew away.

Best Buy, Veronica thought. She watched the spike-haired man weaving between parked cars, and for some reason unbeknownst to her, she thought, Archie…

Veronica sat back down, somehow contentedly confused, if such a state of mind could even exist. Had she remained standing for less than a minute more, the man in the blue shirt—Archie—would’ve been able to see her when he placed a flyer beneath the truck’s wiper.

She looked dully up when Micky-Mack returned. He set down an armful of white bags that smelled of fast food.

“Well, hey there, Veronnerka! Feelin’ better?”

Veronica stared at him.

“Got’cha some viddles, yes sir! Probably more what yer used to—citified food, I guess this is. Smells good, huh?”

Veronica nodded.

Micky-Mack sat in the fold-down chair, but before he did so, Veronica’s retinas registered scarlet streaks along the chair’s back. It did not occur to her that this was dried blood.

Micky-Mack rubbed his crotch for no apparent reason. “Don’t’cha worry none, Veronnerka. You’se’ll get ta go home soon, just like Unc Helton promised.” He cast her a discerning glance. “Say, Veronnerka? Them tits’a yers are, like, dandy tits. You wouldn’t mind showin’ to me again, would’ja?”

Veronica shook her head and raised her top.

Micky-Mack’s cheeks billowed. “Dang, girl! They’se get better ever time! Them there’s what we call Jiminee Christmas tits!” He rubbed his crotch more concertedly. “Say, you ain’t seemed ta mind none tweakin’ our peckers. How’s about tweakin’ mine right now?”

Veronica nodded.

“Dang, you are such a nice gal!” and Micky-Mack stood up in a flash, extracted his malodorous penis, and slipped it unhesitantly into Veronica’s mouth.

“Yeah, back’n forth, just like that, just like we up’n taught ya…”

Rhythmic sucking sounds clicked. The penis hardened immediately, and not once did she wince when each stroke slid well past her tonsils.

Micky-Mack’s breath raced. “Dang-dang-dang! That’s just, I say that’s just shorely the best dick suckin’ I’se ever had…” His groin was tensing. “You know, it’s damn refreshin’ ta have my dick tended to natural-like. All these headers we’se havin’? Shit, they’se feel great, but still… Just somethin’ unnatural ’bout fuckin’ heads,” but then his words stalled. “Aw, shit! I weren’t supposed ta say that! Unc Helton, he’d whup my ass good if’n he knowed I just said that so’s…Veronnerka? How’s ’bout that’ll be our secret, okay? Don’t tell Unc Helton I’se mentioned nuthin ’bout headers. Okay?”

Mouth stuffed, Veronica nodded.

Now Micky-Mack was breathing between his teeth. “And ya know, as good as yer blowjobs is now…I’se just gots ta git me my nut. Can that be our secret too, Veronnerka? I’se cum in yer mouth but you don’t tell Unc Helton? That okay?”

Veronica nodded, sucking with mechanical precision.

“Aw-aw-aw,” he grunted, tensing all the more. “I gots ta warn ya, though. Me? I’se belt out a lot of peckjuice, enough ta likely fill yer whole mouth up. And if’n ya spit it out, Unc Helton’ll see’n, well, you know. So’s how’s ’bout swallerin’ all my nut. Okay?”

Veronica nodded.

“Git ready now, hon. I’se just about ta, just about ta—” but the sound of rough voices made Micky-Mack glance terrified over his shoulder. Helton and Dumar were opening the back doors!

“What a fuckin’ kick in the ass!” he whispered fierce, and had no choice but to awkwardly pack his unspent erection back into his pants. He got back in the chair—legs crossed, of course—just as Helton came inside.

Helton stared. “Boy? What’s goin’ on here?”

“Why, nothin’, Unc Helton. I’se just come back from the Mack-Donald’s with the viddles ya told me ta fetch.”

Helton’s eyes narrowed. “Then how come Veronnerka’s tits are out?”

“Aw, hail, Unc. They’se so nice lookin’ I’se just asked her ta show me again, that’s all.”

“That’s all?”

“Shore that’s all, Unc.” Micky-Mack looked to Veronica. “Ain’t that right, Veronnerka? That’s all?”

Veronica nodded.

“Oh,” Helton said. Then he sniffed. “Dang, sumpin’ shore smells good.”

“Citified food,” Dumar remarked with enthusiasm. He was still just outside the open doors, clattering with something.

“Let’s all get our breadbaskets filt so’s we’ll have plenty’a energy tonight,” but as Helton approached the fast-food bags, Micky-Mack had to ask, “So, Unc. What all you buy at the Home Depot?

Dumar came inside, hefting the purchases: three heavy-duty shovels, of the sort that grave-diggers might use.

(II)

The big black truck had parked in yet another convenient and well-secluded clearing in the woods. From there, the men had slipped away into the cool night, their mysterious task still unrevealed. Were they still in Pulaski town limits?

Who could tell?

Not even two hours had expired before the men, shovels clattering, returned to the truck. This was precisely at the stroke of midnight, when December 23rd officially became Christmas Eve…

They entered through the rear doors, speaking little. Was it excitement that quelled conversation, or unease?

It was both.

Veronica, still foundering glassy-eyed in her semi-catatonic state, had been handcuffed to her usual place during the “headers”: the front passenger seat, facing the dense, nighted woods. A trail led beyond, the same trail that the men had just returned from. Had one of them been carrying a bundle or some sort?

Yes.

They closed the doors, then flicked on the lamp in back. Helton stuck his head forward. “We’se back, Veronnerka. Right now we’se got ta…get things ready, then we’se’ll be up fer a…well, you know… a quick tweakin’. All right?”

Veronica nodded, staring off.

“And untils then, I’ll just close this here curtain like always. Remember now, don’t’cha be lookin’ back here ’cos what ya’d see would likely…mess ya up in the head more’n ya already are. Okay?”

Veronica continued staring forward.

“Veronnerka? Hon? Ya ain’t gonna look back here, are ya?”

Veronica shook her head no.

Helton closed the curtain.

Clattering. Low, indiscernible talk. Then came the now-familiar whine of the hole-saw. It sounded once, paused, then sounded again. After a longer pause, someone said, “Dang. Are we really gonna do this?”

“Just ‘member what Paulie did ta yer son, and yer wife, and yer grandmaw…”

The curtain fluttered, then all three men crowded into the front, their limp penises out.

“Veronnerka? Can we’se git our tweakin’ now?”

Veronica nodded and with no reluctance nor complaint stuck her tongue out over her bottom teeth, pulled her upper lip over her top teeth, and began to fellate their foul-smelling members. In moments, all three were painfully erect and cringing just short of orgasm.

“Good girl,” Helton said. “We’se cain’t thank ya enough. See..this is rough work we got goin’ in back.” He put cotton balls in her ears, then repaired to the rear of the truck with the others. The curtain was re-closed.

Veronica continued to stare forward. If the question What are they doing back there? ever occurred to her, it was entirely subconscious. She still didn’t know where she was and she scarcely knew who she was. As her eyes acclimated, however, her vision began to identify aspects of her surroundings: the trees, mostly bereft of leaves; crisp moonlight glimmering through boughs’ and that trail just before her began to surrender details. It seemed to incline. Without forethought, she squinted, focusing…

Yes, that trail rose to a barely visible hill and a perimeter of iron fencework. Here the moon shimmered more brightly. Past the fencework she was able to make out…gravestones.

A…cemetery…

Veronica blinked. Then an interesting and highly unlikely thing happened:

One of those cotton balls…fell out of her ear.

She heard:

“So’s we gonna double-fuck this ‘un like we done Paulie’s Maw?”

“Nope. We’se gonna triple-fuck it.”

“A triple? But, Paw. How’se can we triple-fuck it if’n ya only drilt two holes?

“Hand me that hack-saw, son, and I’ll show ya.”

The grisliest sound ensued, very much that of a saw-blade cutting through meat.

“See, I got me this idea that headers is most effective if’n ya do it a little bit different ever time. I think the word is…variety. See, boys, to piss Paulie off the most we can, we gots ta have variety in how we fuck the heads of his kin. Cain’t never be the same old thing. So’s…here’s what we’se gonna do, and thank God Veronnerka recommended I buy this tripod along with the fancy movin’-picture camera. You boys ready? Good? Now, see, what I’se gonna do is I’se gonna stick my dick up its neck-hole first—ah, yeah, like that. It’s a little cold now, fellas, just so ya know—been in the ground since last summer.”

“Paw! Shee-it, this is nifty! I’se can see the end’a yer dick in its mouth!

“Uh-huh. Like I said. Variety.

“But, Unc, if it’s been in the ground since last summer, hows come it ain’t all gone ta rot?”

“Well, Micky-Mack, that’s a good question, and the answer is ’cos it’s been embalmed. ‘S’what rich folks do when their kin die—they embalm ’em. Special preservatives they pump in, so’s it don’t rot.”

“Aw, wow…”

“Now…all right. I’ll stand right here—yeah. And, Dumar, now step up careful’n slide yer dick in the hole on that side…and, Micky-Mack? Now, you git your dick in this hole here…

“Aw, Unc—jeez. This here brain is cold…”

“Just don’t think ’bout it or else you’ll lose yer stiffer. What’cha think ’bout instead is that dandy cooter’n tits on Veronnerka.”

“Yeah, yeah, but…Unc? ‘Sides bein’ cold, this here brain don’t feel nothin’ like the other ‘uns.”

“Yeah, Paw. Feels kind’a…tough…”

“That’s ’cos of the embalmin’ fluid. What is does, see, is it kind of pickles the brain, firms it up. Nobody ever said headers is easy work, boys. We’se doin’ this fer the family name. Right?”

“Yessir.”

“Just like that, hump it nice’n slow. I’se know it’s kind’a crowded, but with a head this small, there ain’t no other way. Don’t move ’round or else you’ll block the camera. We want Paulie ta see all three’a our dicks goin’ in and out at the same time…”

“Ya know, Unc. Now that I’se thinkin’ ’bout Veronnerka’s big milk wagons…this ain’t so bad.”

“Just keep nice thoughts in yer head…”

A repetitive wet clicking sound could be heard, then…

“Kind’a like…pistons going in’n out, huh?”

“Why, Dumar I’d say that there is a fair annalergy!

The clicking sounds picked up.

“Aw, yeah, mmm, boys-boys, looks like the old man’s comin’ first this time ’round—mmm-yeah…yeah! Oh! I’se a-comin’, Iiiiii’se a-comin’!”

“Good fer you, Paw! And I can see it! I can see yer nut in its mouth!” Then—“Aw, Paw—my turn! Shee-IT! There she’s goes!”

“Shit, big as my dick is, I’se surprised it ain’t squeezin’ the brains out the nose!”

“Don’t’choo keep braggin’ ’bout that big dick’a yers, son! I’se told ya what happened ta Tater Kline!”

“Yeah, yeah…”

“Come on, Micky-Mack! We ain’t got all night…”

“Aw, fuck, I’se gettin’ close, I’se gettin’…aaaaaaaaaaaaah! Yeah, man! I’se comin’ up a storm! Feels like I’se takin’ a pee I’se comin’ so much! Holy hogshit, Unc! I’se fillin’ this baby’s head with cum!”

Veronica, still staring, blinked once more, then lost total consciousness.

(III)

Helton, sitting fatigued in the fold-down chair, took another swig of the fancy liquor they’d ripped off from Marshie’s mansion. Another day, another header… “She all right, Micky-Mack?” he called up.

“Dang, Unc. Guess she falled asleep again.”

“Just as well.”

Dumar came back inside, having just disposed of the body, and the tiny severed head. Just as fatigued, he took a milk crate next to his father and sighed. “Paw, I’se shore hope this feud ends soon. Maybe Paulie’ll give up once he sees this movie.”

“Maybe…”

Micky-Mack dawdled back and sat down on the table. “I know it ain’t the family thing ta say, Unc, but, shit. I’se had my fill’a havin’ headers. Feels good, shore, but it just…ain’t…right…”

“I’se hear ya, son. It ain’t right, but neithers is what Paulie done. If we could just find the varmit.”

“Find him and kill him,” Dumar said.

Helton nodded.

“So’s shouldn’t we wake Veronnerka up and have her send the movie to Paulie?”

“Naw, not just yet. She’s asleep. Let’s set a spell. All this head-fuckin’s got yer old Uncle Helton wore out.

Dumar looked in one of the bags of McDonald’s leftovers, then declined. He noticed the green and red holly prints on the bag, and the SEASON’S GREETINGS. His eyes bloomed. “Dang, Paw. Sumpthin’ just dawned on me. It’s Christmas Eve.”

Helton stalled and looked at his watch. “Well I’ll be. You’re right, son.”

Dumar had a sudden tear in his eye. “And ain’t that some shit? Grandmaw Petunia ain’t gonna be able to celebrate Christmas with us. First time in my life.”

“It’s a terrible business, feudin’,” Helton uttered. “Takes the spirit out’a ever thang. Shit. Christmas Eve. We should be singin’ hymns and gettin’ the turkey ready and hangin’ orner-mints on the tree, but look what we’se doin’ instead. Fuckin’ a dead baby in the head…”

All three men looked at each other.

“Wouldn’t none’a this be happenin’ if’n it weren’t fer Paulie,” Micky-Mack objected.

“‘Tis true.”

“But what else can we do?” Dumar asked.

Helton looked at his watch. “It’s past three in the morn. We’ll get some shut-eye’s what we’ll do right now. Then we’se’ll send the movie to Paulie…and see what happens next.”

— | — | —

Chapter 16

(I)

Next morning, the morning of Christmas Eve, the day shone unusually bright. Downtown, shoppers emerged en masse, and holiday Muzak could be heard all up and down Main Street. “Silver bells, silver bells, it’s Christmas time in the city…” The season was in the air.

But not in the heart of Deputy Chief Dood Malone.

He listlessly rode shotgun as Boover drove the squad car. Before the Target, a Salvation Army Santa Claus was “Ho-ho-ho!”-ing and ringing his bell. He paused, then rubbed his crotch for no apparent reason. Traffic was rife, and even this early, the parking lots were filling up. Half-heartedly, Malone commented, “Well, looks ta me like the econner-mee’s doin’ just fine. Damn lotta folks out shoppin’, spendin’ money—”

Boover winced. “Shit, Chief! A’course they’se spendin’ money—stimulus money. Dang Obama’s given the whole country’s financial future away just so’s he can get his popularity up. Chief, all the Treasury’s doin’ is printin’ up more’n more cash and shovelin’ it out the door. It’ll kick inflation sky fuckin’ high, it will, and take decades ta bring ‘er back down. Meanwhile, Obama’s on Letterman smilin’ away’n promisin’ a college ed-jur-kation fer every punk kid who slides through high school. We gotta pay fer that, Chief. We—”

“I don’t wanna hear no more!” Malone gruffed.

They cruised out of the shopping sector and were soon headed down less gainly avenues.