Haven Page 16


He froze in place for a moment. “What the …” After a few seconds of dumb shock, he stood up slowly, stumbling a few steps back before he was able to right himself. “What the hell is wrong with you two? Jesus, are you off your rockers or what? Why’d you pull me out of the truck? You could have just asked me to stop, you know.”


I walked over to stand by Winky. “I think the better question is to ask what the hell is wrong with you?” I jerked my thumb back towards the trailer. “You have kids in there, don’t you? You’re hauling humans in a truck.”


His nostrils flared, and he gritted his teeth so hard his jaw muscles pulsed. For a minute I thought he was going to refuse to respond.


“No comment,” he finally said.


Winky laughed bitterly. “No comment? What? You think this is a fucking news interview, dude? I’m telling you right now … you’re dead if there are slaves or cannibal meals in there. Dead. Like as a doornail kind of dead. I’m not playing.” She waved her gun at him a little. Her tone said she was thoroughly disgusted with him, just like I was.


Looking at Winky, I was just a little afraid she was going to go berserker on him. She seemed a little too excited about shooting him doornail style or whatever.


“It ain’t like that,” he said, wiping the blood from beneath his nose. “I don’t eat kids. That shit’s disgusting.”


“Whatever. We’ll get the story from them,” I said. I turned to Winky. “You got this?” I gestured to our bleeding truck driver. I wanted Winky to stand guard while I let those kids out.


“Yeah. I got this,” she said, her tone menacing. “He makes one move, and he’s dead meat. Vulture food. Gator bait.”


“Back up a little, give yourself room to maneuver,” I said, tugging on her sleeve.


I faced him fully. “You have any weapons on you?”


He shrugged.


“I’m coming over to disarm you. You do anything stupid and my friend will shoot you. You understand?”


He didn’t do anything. He was being stupid and trying to face me down.


“Seriously, man. She’s little, but she’s vicious. Don’t think she won’t do it.”


I wasn’t lying. Winky would probably shoot if she had to, but I was praying she wouldn’t have to. Chances were I’d get clipped or worse.


He nodded finally.


I walked over cautiously, waiting for him to make a move. But he just stood there and watched me come, wiping his nose off on his forearm a couple times. It left bloody smears across his skin that made me sick to my stomach, reminding me too much of the blood I’d seen at the canner house and elsewhere.


“Who are you?” he asked when I got close.


“Nobody you need to worry about.”


“You’re that chick, ain’t ya? The ball-biter.”


I groaned inwardly. “Shut up.”


“You took that guy’s nuts off, didn’t you? You’re the one everyone’s talking about.” A small smile came to his lips. He looked happy that I’d chomped on a testicle. I didn’t know whether that was a good sign or a bad sign.


“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” That’s it. Play stupid. Do not think about that guy’s nasty, smelly crotch and his testicle blood filling your mouth. My stomach clenched. My visual memory was way too sharp for my own good.


“There’s a bounty on your head, you know.”


My blood froze. Now I was sick and terrified. I didn’t want to clue this guy into the truth of his suspicions, but the idea of a bounty or contract on my head had me scared shitless. How am I going to live a peaceful life if a bunch of kids will always be out there trying to hunt me down?


“Turn around,” I said, my voice gruff. I breathed in and out rapidly, trying to dispel the horrible feelings that were welling up inside my head and heart. I had to stay calm and collected so I could be ready for any sudden moves.


He obeyed without complaint.


I stepped closer and felt around the waistband of his shorts. He had a knife in a holder attached at his belt and another one in his combat boot.


He turned back to face me as I stepped away.


“I ain’t a bad guy, you know.” He tried to smile but winced when the pain came from his nose. He reached up and touched it gingerly, sniffing once and then groaning.


“We’ll see about that.” I walked backwards until I was even with Winky, never taking my eyes off him. “He’s clean now. I’m going to check the truck.”


“Good. I’ve got this. You can tell me about the ball-biting later.”


My face went crimson, but I said nothing. Maybe if I pretended it was no big deal, she’d forget all about it. I walked backwards all the way to the trailer, only taking my eyes off my friend when I reached the end of it.


Rob and Bodo came walking up at the same time.


I looked back to see where Paci was, noticing immediately that he wasn’t with Rob and Bodo. I could make out his bent-over form, still sitting on the ground, his head hanging down. Bodo and Rob were sweating like crazy and both of them had beet-red faces.


“Is Paci okay?” I asked, searching their expressions for clues of his condition.


“He’ll be alright,” said Rob. “Nothing broken, just bruised. I think he got a little stunned when he hit the pavement.”


“Yeah. I’ll have to apologize for that.”


“How the hell’d you get that beast to stop so hard like that?”


“I’m not sure. I might have messed up the air brakes or whatever.”


“Are we going to be able to use the truck?”


I climbed up onto the back of the trailer. “I have no idea.”


I lifted up the big latch that held the doors together. Moving it first up and then one-hundred-and-eighty degrees to the right, I unlocked the mechanism keeping the trailer closed.


Jumping down, I looked at my friends. “Here goes nothing.” I pulled the right door open first, shoving it so it would swing open all the way.


The three of us stood in the opening and just stared.


***


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There were about ten kids inside, all in various states of disarray, from their clothing to their hair to their expressions.


One of them came forward, a girl. She was trembling but she held her chin high.


“Hi,” I said, trying to look as non-threatening as possible.


“Friend or foe?” she said simply.


“Friend.” I smiled. “We stopped the truck and want to help.”


“That’s what the driver said to us, too.”


I frowned, looking at Bodo and Rob.


“What do you mean?” asked Bodo. “Why are you in da truck and why wass he driving it?”


She sighed, not so much with fatigue as hopelessness from the sound of it. My heart went out to all of them, they looked so pitiful. Their clothes were rags and a few of them were curled up on the floor of the filthy trailer. I wasn’t even sure they were still alive.


“We were taken prisoner by a few guys, and they were going to trade us.”


“Trade you for what?” asked Rob.


“Food. Fuel. Whatever. But then this other guy, the one who was just driving, jumped them when it was dark and told us he was going to help us get away.”


I was so confused now, I didn’t know what to say. Thankfully, Rob wasn’t suffering the same problem.


“So you’re saying the driver is a good guy? That we interfered in his little rescue plan?”


She shrugged. “At this point, I have no idea who’s good and who’s bad. All I know is, he’s still driving towards the market, and if we get there, we’ll all be dead soon. So thank you.” She moved towards the entrance. “Thank you for stopping the truck.” She reached the edge and looked out at the highway for a little while. Then she turned back to the people behind her. “You guys ready to get out of here?”


Another girl standing said, “But where are we going to go?”


A guy lying on the ground sat up, rubbing his face with weak motions. “Where are we? How far are we from the market?”


“What’s this market you guys keep talking about?” I asked. I was picturing a big slave auction like they had in Roman times, but that couldn’t possibly be right.


“The market is where stuff is traded or exchanged. At the old casino property in Hollywood, north of here, I hope.” The girl leaned out and looked around. The light glinted off her hair, causing some amber highlights to come out. In another time, she would have been considered really pretty - like prom queen material. “Where are we? Do you know?” she asked Rob.


Rob must have caught on to her beauty too, because he was momentarily unable to speak or something. His mouth was moving around but no sound was coming out.


Bodo answered for him. “You are north of Miami, but not to Hollywood yet. You are close, dough.”


“Then we need to leave.” She grabbed the edge of the door, her arms trembling as she tried to lower herself out.


I stepped over to the side of the truck as the guys helped the damsel in distress get down.


“Winky!” I shouted.


“Yeah!” she responded, not looking back.


“Bring that guy over here!”


Paci came limping up to join us. He had an angry red road burn on his forearm that had to be really painful.


I winced. “Sorry, Paci. That looks bad.”


“It stings a little.” He gave me a slight smile. He spared only a glance for the girl who was now standing next to Rob before looking back at me. “So what’s the deal?”


“Well, we’re trying to figure this out. This girl …” I pointed to her and waited for her to introduce herself.


“Chantal.”


“… Chantal … told us that there’s some sort of market up in Hollywood were people trade kids for stuff, and she and her friends were being taken there by some other people when this guy stopped them and took over the driving.”


I pointed to Winky’s prisoner who was walking towards us, about halfway down the side of the trailer now.


“So is he one of them or one of us?” asked Paci.


“That remains to be seen,” I said. “But he was still driving north and looked in a hurry to get there, so that doesn’t look good to me.”


“Me eidder,” added Bodo, not looking at me.


I was grateful for his support but annoyed he was making such a point of being distant. Now was not the time to be a jerk as far as I was concerned. It made me even angrier at him than I already was.


The driver reached our group. “Hey, Chantal,” he said, wiping at his nose again.


“Hello, Jackson.”


A few other kids arrived at the doorway and got down with Rob’s help.


“Explain yourself,” I said to the driver, who apparently went by the name of Jackson. “Are you bringing these kids to the market?”


“Hell no. I was bringing them somewhere safe.” He looked down at the ground. It sure seemed like a guilty move to me.


“So what’s the catch?” asked Winky. “What kind of safe are you talking about? Your own little food pantry? Place where you store your next meals?” She poked him in the upper arm with her gun barrel.


He scowled at her. “No. I told that other girl already. I ain’t a cannibal. Never have been, never will be.”


“Then why were you driving them north?”


He signed heavily. “I’d rather not say.”


“Tough,” said Winky, poking him harder.


“Quit it, would ya?” he said loudly, stepping away from her and closer to the truck.


“Jackson, you have a choice,” I explained. “You can fess up and tell us what the hell you’re up to, or you can die. It’s that simple.”

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