CHAPTER 10 – Spoils of Conquest
Like a huge, open-mouthed monster, the house loomed before Vic—silent and alert, its front door gaping in open invitation and patiently waiting for him. It sat on the uphill side of the road that wound its way across the hill. A copse of unburned trees on higher ground behind the house shielded much of the hillside farther up, and a heavily wooded ravine ran down the right side of it, under a short bridge on the road out front, and all the way to the main road at the bottom.
He peered up at the second-floor windows above the porch roof, half expecting to see a pallid face, perhaps drawn and haggard from the tension of waiting in fear. That would have encouraged him. But all the windows were curtain-shrouded and faceless.
There could have been half a dozen faces in each window, looking out at him but safe from his probing eyes. They would be strong faces, angry faces, faces without fear and with hands clutching an assortment of weapons, waiting for him to enter. With serrated edged carving knives, double pronged meat forks, cleavers with edges that sliced through flesh and smashed through bone, vengeance awaited; axes with small nicks in otherwise razor-sharp edges, garden rakes with three-inch teeth, as patience ebbed, they waited. Each was more terrible than the other, wielded by families and friends of those he had helped to slaughter.
He crept up the steps and crouched on one side of the door while Carl, hefting a length of two by four, made his own cautious approach to the other side. After a nervous exchange of glances, they peered into the dark interior and listened for voices, or a bumped table, or a chair scraping on the floor. But it was silent…like a tomb.
But, he knew. They had left the door open for him, probably two or three on each side and others lurking farther back in the shadows.
When he had reloaded the shotgun, he put a round in the chamber, so it was ready to fire. All he had to do was point it and pull the trigger. Still, he nervously stroked the safety with his trigger finger. He knew it was off, but it reassured him to finger it.
Glancing across at Carl, he looked for a sign, a signal. He watched Carl lick drying lips with beads of perspiration forming on his forehead, upper lip, and chin. He almost laughed when he realized Carl was afraid and not just bursting with excitement like he was, and that gave him the edge he needed. He sprang up and leapt through the door with a shriek.
Vowing they would not get him in the back, he charged the phantoms that haunted his imagination as they gnawed at his soul. He would face them head-on, his shotgun against whatever they may have. His praises would be sung among gatherings of warriors for centuries to come.
Carl lurched to his feet with a flinch at the boom and flash of the shotgun blast just inside the doorway.
Vic spun to his right and fired a second charge into a garment-draped coat rack in the corner. He pivoted left and right, alert for any movement, any hint of a possible adversary. His ears were ringing. Acrid smoke drifted about making the shadows seem to quiver and dance, but they were just that—shadows. His pounding pulse began to slacken, and his breath came back from rapid little gasps to forced deep, full breaths. He turned to face Carl who stood in the doorway staring at him and at the havoc the buckshot had caused in the room.
A sheepish grin crept across Vic’s face. “Oops.”
He started to head for the stairs then froze at the sound of a moan, almost a sob. He looked back at Carl who stabbed his finger towards a closed door that might have led to a dining room or a kitchen. The sound was muffled, but the soft, high pitch was that of a woman.
The prospect encouraged him, of finding someone, not a phantom of his imagination, armed and waiting, but a real person, weaponless and afraid, hiding in terror, not breathing for fear of being detected, then betrayed by a spasm, betrayed by the frailties of her own body.
Vic’s foot shot out and smashed the door open with a loud crash. He hurled himself through the doorway and assumed his fire-platform position: legs flexed as they spread wide and bent at the knees, feet planted but carrying his weight on the balls. He crouched forward for balance with the shotgun anchored firmly against his hip with the muzzle slowly swaying back and forth. He was ready—lethal.
He still half expected to meet an armed and vengeful mob. But from the sound he had heard, what he was probably more likely to find was on the order of a little, red schoolhouse full of frightened children and a pretty schoolmarm shaking in fear at his approach—he, the embodiment of the classic, conquering warrior, a reincarnation of Attila the Hun. What he found was almost as good—maybe even better.
Erin and John stood on either side of the kitchen table upon which lay a large and possibly unconscious woman with graying hair in tight curls, her bulk covered by a maroon and gold muumuu pushed up to expose her left leg. A large, blood-soaked rag wrapped around the thigh. Just above the bandage, Erin’s blood smeared hand gripped a twisted tourniquet fashioned from a man’s narrow belt. She stood on the side of the table closest to Vic, and she had spun part way around wide-eyed to face him when he burst in.
Grinning broadly, Vic appraised Erin’s body, clad as she was in a very brief bikini.
Carl stepped into the kitchen behind him and took a covering position near the back door.
Vic pointed towards Erin and said, “Carl, ol’ buddy, I think I’ve found myself a prize. Will ya look at the legs on this! Damn, they go all the way up to her ass! Some pretty good tits, too, huh?”
“Hey, now! Wait just a goddam...”
Vic casually flicked his hand towards John as though shooing away a pesky fly. “Shut up.”
After taking a couple of steps to his right to get a different view of the body on the table, her two attendants, and again, Erin’s lean and lovely body, he continued, “I do believe I’ve found a replacement for poor old Rhoda. But, what have we here?”
Erin stepped back as far as she could from Vic’s approach without having to let go of the tourniquet.
The shotgun barrel slid along the injured leg on the table as far as the bloody bandage, paused for a moment, and rose. Like a professor using a pointer to illustrate and bring the class’s attention to a particular item, he tapped it twice where the blood was wettest.
“Hey, lady!” He raised his voice as he addressed the semi-conscious woman. “That hurt?” he said with a snicker.
The only response from the woman on the table was a loud gasp. Erin’s was less vocal but highly audible. Reflex quick, her closed fist slammed into Vic’s jaw.
The move was so unexpected, and the impact was of such force and with such stunning power that it knocked him off balance and staggering back against a short counter, sending a toaster there scooting off the end with a rattling clatter and a bang.
“Don’t hit her!” Vic yelled when Carl lunged half way across the kitchen, his heavy club raised to strike. “She’s mine. …Ooh, yeah, she’s mine.”
Erin’s hand still held the life-saving tourniquet in place on the woman’s leg, and her face glared defiance.
Vic regained himself and slowly started toward Erin again.
John sucked in a deep breath, expelled half of it, and said, “Look, what do you guys want? We’re just trying to help this lady. She’s about to bleed to death.”
“Is she, now? Is she really?” Vic responded to John’s plea, but his eyes bored into Erin with a force.
She glared back, unflinching.
“Well, I suppose Doctor Do-good over there is just exploding with good deeds, isn’t he? Huh? Is that right?” Vic’s eyes never left Erin’s as he spoke. “And who are you, then? Huh? You Florence Nightin’gale?” A wicked chuckle rolled from Vic’s grinning mouth, and he winked at Carl.
“She might be.” Carl joined in the fun. “She seems to be pretty dedicated. Mighty protective of her patient, too.”
“Damn! Ain’t she, though?”
“Why I’ll bet she’d tear your arm off if you touched the old broad again. Yeah, I sure wouldn’t advise it.” Carl’s grin was almost as broad as Vic’s.
“D’ya really think so? Jesus! I wouldn’t want her to do that!”
Vic continued to leer in Erin’s face as he stepped slowly between her and the table. She backed away some to maintain distance from him, but she still held the tourniquet.
“Would ya do that to me, nurse?” he asked. “Would ya really do violence against me?”
“Look, pal. You’ve proven how bad and mean and tough you are.” John’s voice quivered, but he stood as unflinching as Erin when Vic glanced at him. “Now, why don’t you and your friend just beat it?”
With a tone that he might have used to ask someone to please pass the potatoes, Vic said, “Carl, if he says anything else, see how many swings it takes you to knock his head off.”
He laid the shotgun barrel next to Erin’s hand. His eyes held hers and dared her to resist him as he raised it against the inside of her wrist with increasing pressure, lifted it away from the tourniquet. The leather belt held its shape for a moment, and then it began to unwind. Erin gasped as she watched the already saturated bandage begin to ooze blood at an increasing rate.
She looked back into Vic’s face and breathed, “No! Please, don’t.”
Vic snorted once and said, “Hell, Carl. Look, I’ve still got both arms. She didn’t do nothin’! Hell, maybe she don’t care, after all. Maybe she’s just another don’t-give-a-damn nurse.” To Erin, he said, “Are you? Huh? Don’t you give a damn? Or...hey! Hell, Carl! Maybe she don’t care because Doctor Do-good already put Lady Humpty-Dumpty back together again. Is that it, nurse? Did you and Doctor Do-good already fix what was broke? Why, I swear! Carl, I tell you, modern medicine is really amazing.”
“Yeah, man, it’s really amazing.”
“In fact, I just have got to see the finished work of this piece of miracle-working.”
Vic clenched the oozing cloth with his free hand after yanking it off the mangled leg, but before he could drop it to the floor, Erin was on him. She slammed him across the face with her open hands. She brought her well-manicured and fill-reinforced nails into play with a raking swipe that left triple ribbons of dripping red across his left cheek. She was about to nail him on the back swing, but he beat her to it.
Still clutching the heavy, soggy bandage in his left hand, he swung it in a backhand arc across her face and side of her head, knocking her backwards away from the table to land with a thump in the middle of the floor.
John lunged across the table and grasped the shotgun in Vic’s hand, but his grip was loose, fumbling, never really secured, and Vic’s reflexes were fast. He swung and connected to John’s jaw with a hard left-hook. John released his grip and slumped across the table and both legs of the unconscious woman.
Vic stomped across to Erin. Carl was already standing over her with his makeshift club raised for a killing blow, but he held it at Vic’s approach.
Vic grabbed a handful of Erin’s hair, and, with a yank that threatened to rip the mass of strands from her scalp, he jerked her to her feet.
She was groggy, but she whimpered as the pain brought her around.
“Come over here,” Vic growled. “Let’s take a look at your handiwork. It seems you and Doctor Do-good screwed up. She ain’t fixed, at all. See? Huh? SEE!” He grabbed the back of her neck and forced her to bend over so that her face was only inches from the ghastly wound. He held her there; forced her to watch the flow of blood slow to a trickle, then, with a last couple of feeble pulses, stop altogether.
Tears streamed down both cheeks as she squirmed and shook loose from his grip. She spun to face him frothing with venom. She lashed out with both hands—first one, then the other—claws extended and drawing blood with each slash, wrenching sobs her only sounds.
Again, this wild and beautiful woman caught Vic off guard. At first, he just tried to block her attack with his arms crossed in front of his face. Then, with intelligent thought replacing reflex and instinct, he timed her next blow and ducked under it. As her roundhouse breezed over his head, he jabbed out with a quick fist into her solar plexus. With a grunt, she doubled up and sagged to the floor.
“Son-of-a-BITCH!” Vic stepped back away from her. He wiped his forearm across his cheek and glanced at the bloody smear it picked up. “She dammed near tore my face off!”
He caught sight of Carl standing in the middle of the room with his mouth open and gawking at him, then at Erin, and back at him again. Always one to see the funny side of any situation, and his few scratches hadn’t dulled that quality, his laughter came in rolling swells.
“Watch out, Carl!” he managed between snorts and howls, “She’s gonna getcha!”
Carl shook himself, grinned sheepishly, and joined Vic in his merriment. They stomped and hopped and danced around the room, around Erin’s kneeling form, around John, who raised himself back onto his feet and away from the table and the body of the dead woman still sprawled there. They danced and swirled and chanted. After a few revolutions of the room, they began to lash out with feet and fists at any object within range. A cup flew off the counter and shattered against a wall. The already dented toaster skittered and crashed into a corner. A teaspoon collection in a wall-mounted display rack sailed across the room with a hail of flying silver and splintered wood. When a large, crystal bowl from a stand near the back door crashed through a window, Vic brought himself up short.
“Whoa!” he shouted. “What the hell are we doin’? This is our own house we’re trashin’!”
“Oh, Christ!” Carl breathed as the color drained from his face. “Vince is gonna be pissed! Jesus! We better clean up.”
Vic sagged against the refrigerator and laughed. “Don’t panic, man. My brother is a mean bastard, but he never gets mad at me. Well...hardly ever.”
Carl walked over to join Vic and said, “What are we gonna do with—” pointing at the dead woman and the two people still living.
Vic gave Carl a friendly, back-handed slap on his shoulder. “Gimme a hand, I bet she weighs a ton.”
Vic grabbed the woman’s wrists and pulled her corpse off the table to a soft but heavy thump on the floor. Carl picked up her legs by the ankles, and they carried and dragged her out the back door. It took some wheezing and panting and huffing, but they managed to hoist her body over the deck railing on the side above the ravine. With a swish of fluttering foliage, a crash of snapping branches and a rattling of loose stones, the abyss swallowed her without a lasting sign of the passage
Laughing and carrying on when they stepped back inside the kitchen.
“You filthy bastards! You slimy, filthy bastards!”
They had all but forgotten Erin. Carl flinched and jumped back outside at Erin’s verbal onslaught, and Vic ducked down where he stood. When it occurred to him that Erin was still half way across the room, he stood up straight and grinned at her.
“Why the hell don’t you just leave us alone!” Erin screamed.
“Uh, oh! Round three.” Vic winked back at Carl before walking straight up to Erin.
The move surprised her, and she hesitated for a moment. As she drew back her arm and cocked her hand into a fist, Vic’s fist rammed her belly. Again, she sagged to her knees.
Vic turned at the sound of a scuffle behind him and saw Carl holding John from behind with his arm around John’s neck in a chokehold. Carl tightened his grip, and John’s face began turning red. He squeaked out little gurgling sounds.
Vic retrieved his shotgun from where he had left it near the back door. He stepped in front of John and chuckled. “Okay, Carl, ease up a little. I’ve got something special for him.”
John began to revive but Carl still gripped his arms from behind. With sensibility returning, his eyes grew round, and his breath gasped once and held when the muzzle of Vic’s shotgun rammed into his mouth hard enough to break a couple of teeth and gouge into the roof of his mouth. His eyes grew wide as he gazed down the barrel to where Vic gripped the pump slide with one hand and wrapped the other around the pistol grip with his index finger inside the trigger guard.
“Okay, man...now, nice and slow, walk backwards.” Carl stepped to the side while Vic continued his cruel guidance of jamming the gun barrel, still in John’s mouth, to one side or other. “Right over there...that’s right...now on back out the door...”
As John and Vic stepped out the back door and onto the deck, Erin stood up. She had watched the exchange in silence, fearful of aggravating the situation further for John’s sake. She caught Carl’s eye where he stood just inside the back door.
Her eyes pleaded. Please oh please don’t kill him don’t kill him oh please don’t...
Grinning, Carl turned away from her to watch the action beyond the doorway.
The shotgun boomed, and the kitchen reverberated with a terrible finality.
John did a backward somersault over the railing. His head seemed...different.
Erin screamed and dropped.
Vic left Erin lying where she had fallen while he and Carl checked the rest of the house from its dank, half basement to upstairs bedrooms and a relic filled attic. No one else was there. Vic didn’t know if the old woman who bled to death in the kitchen was the owner, or if the young couple with her lived there, or all of them together. He didn’t care. It was his, now. He had claimed it, won it with strength of arms. It was his, and there was no recourse for the previous owner, whether or not he or she still lived. He grinned broadly as he held the door wide for his approaching brother.
“Damn, Vic! I was beginning to think you had gone off and forgotten about us. Either that, or that you had gotten yourself blown away. I heard shots.”
“Hey, no sweat, man! I was just evicting some squatters.” He glanced over his shoulder at a rustle from the kitchen. “Well, not quite all of ’em. Hold on.” He turned and ducked back into the kitchen.
Vince shepherded Crissy and Rachel into the living room and hobbled in behind them leaning on Mandy’s shoulder. With raised eyebrows he looked at Carl, but Vic’s cohort merely grinned and shrugged. Then he heard a resounding slap from the direction of the kitchen, followed by a short, sharp cry. He heard Vic’s voice and a woman’s voice, although the only word he could understand was an emphatic “NO!” by the woman followed by another slap. This time there was no cry, just a thump and a chair or a table skidding across the floor. The next sound was Vic’s voice heralding his own entrance.
He stood in the kitchen doorway, holding the door open with his left hand. In his right hand, he held Erin by her long hair like a spirited and misbehaving show-dog on a tight leash. Raised on her tiptoes, she was very beautiful—and very naked. She gripped Vic’s forearm to take up some of her weight, but she made no move to try to break free. Fiery red cheeks appeared to be from more than just embarrassment. The distinct partial shape of a hand still showed on the right side. Streams of tears rolled down both cheeks. Three red welts from raking fingers marred her left breast.
In an affected, little boy’s voice, Vic said, “Daddy! Daddy! Lookit what followed me home, Daddy! Can I keep it? Huh, Daddy? Can I can I, huh? Puleeeez?”
Vince’s laughter exploded. “Yeah, you can keep it. But, just remember, you have to feed it and bathe it and pick up after it.”
“Ooh, yeah! I hadn’t thought about bathing it. Yummy!” He turned back to leer into Erin’s face and then extended his arm to leer at her body.
His one hand was still wrapped in her hair above her head. His other hand rested on his hip, which he had turned square to her, his legs spread for better balance against her weight. He never saw it coming.
Using her hands gripping his raised arm as an anchor, she kicked out with as much force as she could manage, slammed the instep of her right foot hard into his groin. Vic’s eyes popped open wide, his mouth popped open wide, and his hand gripping Erin’s hair popped open wide. Still on his feet, he curled in on himself. But before he could crumple to the floor, Erin snapped a quick kick into the side of his head. He was still within range, so, aiming for his head, she cocked her foot back for another, more forceful shot at him. Before she could deliver it, though, the two-by-four still in Carl’s hand slammed into the back of her head. She flew across Vic’s body, landed sprawled across the floor and remained there. She didn’t move.