Refuge

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CHAPTER 11 – Violation

MUIR BEACH

WEDNESDAY

Erin awoke with a splitting headache. Keeping her eyes clenched against harsh daylight hitting her eyelids, she noted she was lying on her back on a plush carpet. She rolled to one side and smoothed a hand over the back of her head searching for an open wound or evidence of a crashed skull. Finding only a good-sized knot, she cracked opened her eyes and rose to a sitting position. Only then did she realize she was naked sitting in front of a large entertainment center against the wall opposite a large window, and in front of the window was a sofa, a matching easy chair and a recliner on which people were sitting. Blinking, she recognized Vic on the recliner and Carl on the easy chair. A young woman she hadn’t seen before sat on the arm of Carl’s chair. The man Vic had presented her to when he brought her out of the kitchen reclined on the sofa.

When Vic’s glare morphed into a leering gawk that crept over Erin’s exposed skin like the vile hands of a molester probing her private places, she quickly glanced about the room for the best escape route. The nearest door was the front door, and it was within five feet of Carl’s chair. The only other door was to the kitchen behind the wall at her back, and it was near the other end of the long room. As she recalled from when she and John had brought the wounded woman inside that an archway between those two doors opened to a hallway that led to two other rooms and a stairway going up to bedrooms and an attic. There was no best escape route.

While making this visual search, she noticed two other young women sitting together on the floor near the fireplace at the end of the room opposite the archway. They didn’t appear to be comfortable with the situation. She wondered if they were prisoners, too.

While her captor sat comfortably in the living room, relaxing, talking a little with the others, reflecting on their situation without referring to their bloody arrival, all she could do was return his glare and squirm to become less visible, less exposed in her nakedness. And the more she glared, the more he grinned.

Vic snickered as he stood up. Stepping slowly, he walked over to stand in front of her for a moment, walked to one side then the other, pausing at each position to appreciate the view, ogling her like he was judging an exhibition at a county fair. Apparently pleased with what he saw, he hobbled back to the recliner where he eased back down. With another snicker, he said, “Well, Sleeping Beauty’s awake. Guess you didn’t kill her, after all, Carl.” He started to cock one leg over the other one but grimaced and set his foot back on the floor. “Hey, why don’t you and Mandy see if you can find us some food back in the kitchen? Some beer, too. I don’t know about you guys, but I worked up a pretty good thirst.”

Carl and Mandy exchanged glances before Carl answered in a tight voice, “Yeah, sure, Vic.”

The four ate ham sandwiches and corn chips and consumed a six-pack and a half of beer while Erin, lying on her side in a fetal position, kept a slit-eyed watch on the room. When Vince stretched out on the couch with his knee under an ice pack Mandy had brought in from the kitchen, Vic reclined his recliner and belched loudly three times. He gave up trying when his fourth try was a soft squeak. Carl stood near a window and watched the surf break on the beach a few hundred feet away. Mandy sat on the arm of the couch near Vince’s feet where she frequently repositioned the ice pack for better effect. A few feet from Erin, Crissy and Rachel huddled before the fireplace without talking and tried to blend with the wallpaper, and she wondered again if they were prisoners, too. Carl had tossed a half-empty bag of corn chips onto the floor near them, but it remained untouched.

The bright light from the window behind the sofa seemed to bore straight into the pain center of Erin’s brain. It helped to close her eyes, but she couldn’t bring herself to completely close them or to turn her back to the window and the room, not with Vic there. So, when a shadow moved across one side of the window, the side where Vic had sat, her half-closed eyes popped open. She breathed but made no other movement.

He loomed over her again, leering at her, grinning while her stomach churned, knotted, and churned again. After a few moments he turned and walked out the front door.

She glanced about at the others, but they made no moves.

After maybe ten minutes, sounds of heavy hammering came from outside the front of the house. Carl glanced out a window and muttered something to Vince before flopping into his chair again with a fresh beer. The sounds stopped for some seconds then began again. Stopped again. Began again. Four times they all listened to the series of rhythmic thuds.

A minute or so after the pounding stopped for the fourth time, the front door swung open, and Vic strode in, still slower than normal, but faster than when he went out. He stood in the middle of the living room for a moment leering at Erin, and then strode to her and reached down.

She couldn’t hold back the scream when he lifted her to her feet with his fist enmeshed in her hair. She grasped his forearm to take pressure off her still sore scalp and danced on her toes as he presented her, at arm’s length, for the perusal of the others. Still grinning like a kid with a new puppy, he walked her out the front door.

The others, minus Crissy and Rachel, followed but stopped on the raised porch. Vince muttered something to Carl who returned inside and came back out with Crissy and Rachel, ordering them to sit against the wall near the door.

Vic marched Erin down the steps and out to the patch of lawn to the right where, using her hair for leverage, he forced her onto her knees, then forward to all fours. Grinning up at his audience, he said, “Carl, gimme a hand, will ya?”

Erin peered at the green blades of grass only inches from her face. Her mind visualized jumping up and making a run for it—her flicking eyes even made quick ratings of the best routes to freedom—but Vic still held a firm grip in her hair.

She became aware of four wooden stakes driven into the turf before her, each marking the corner of a square roughly seven feet on a side and with short lengths of rope attached. The tops of the two-by-twos were split and splintered from repeated impacts, and the exposed wood was clean; they had just been driven in. A short-handled maul lay on the ground at the edge of the grass. Her gaze came back to rest on the plush lawn between the stakes.

Suddenly, Vic slammed her forward and Erin lay face down on the grass. Her scalp burned as the blood rushed back into it. Before she could rise, or even turn, rough hands gripped her wrists and ankles and flipped her over onto her back. Coarse rope bit into each wrist as both arms were stretched out to the sides and lashed to two of the stakes. She struggled and squirmed—useless—not even anyone in range she could kick with her still unsecured legs. She sobbed and grunted, but she said nothing. Strong hands gripped her ankles and stretched her legs out and spread wide then lashed them to the other two stakes. She thrashed and yanked against the biting ropes, but it was useless. She lay back panting.

Vic slapped Carl on the back. “Okay, pal, that’s all. I can take it from here. Take a seat. The show is about to begin.”

After Carl rejoined Vince and Mandy on the porch, Vic faced them and began, “Ladies and gentlemen—oops!” he snickered, “nobody like that here. Anyway, I’m sure you have all recognized this luscious piece of feminine charm on the ground before you.” A pause. “No! No! The face! Look at the face! …Still don’t? Well, let me give you a hint. Television commercials. …Some kind of hair-care stuff? …How about perfume? Make-up? Designer jeans? Come on, guys!”

“Yeah, sure! I remember, now! Yeah, I’ve seen her on the tube a million times.” Carl grinned at Vince, then at Mandy. “You remember her, don’t you?”

“Umm, I don’t know. She does look familiar…sort of.”

Vince said, “Looks like you’ve caught yourself a prize, this time. Only, what the hell are you doing?”

“Ah! What, indeed! Don’t tell me I’m the only guy that ever got horny watchin’ her. Didn’t you ever fantasize while you wuz watchin’ those dumb commercials, wishin’ they would go on a little farther, maybe even enough to get an X-rating? Well, what you are about to see is definitely rated X—no, triple-X.”

Erin listened to Vic’s oratory with growing dread. She started to say something about being mistaken for her celebrity sister, but it wouldn’t make any difference. By the time Vic turned back to face her, leering grin in place, she could no longer deny knowing what was in store for her.

“Hey!” Vic bellowed. He turned around slowly and gazed up the hill into the shadows and smoke-filled hollows where surviving remnants of humanity might be cowering. “Hey, up there! This is Vic Morgan, and I’ve got one of your daughters. My brother says I can do anything I want with her. Anyone want to tell me I can’t? Anyone want to try to stop me?”

After a moment’s pause, he grinned at his brother and said, “How about that, Vince? Nothing! I like Vince’s law.”

Erin searched the faces gazing down at her from the porch for a sign of compassion, kindness, sympathy, or even pity. Then Vic’s body blocked her view as he stepped toward her. She watched with dismay as he snapped open his belt, dropped his pants to the ground and stepped out of them.

She wanted to scream her rage, but revulsion paralyzed her throat. She trembled with trepidation that quickly gave way to loathing. She glared into Vic’s eyes but then clamped her own shut as she remembered the horrible scene in the kitchen that ended when he...when John...

John... Pulling his face from cherished memories and concentrating on the love she always found there, she tried to retreat from the vile reality of the present.

She shuddered and almost found her voice to scream. But she kept her eyes clamped shut and remembered John...John, that often curt and antisocial, but as often sensitive and caring, loving person. She was determined to focus on his memory, on the many good times they had shared, refusing to let it evolve back to the scene of horror in the kitchen that ended with…

John.

She heard the whooping and hollering from the spectators on the porch. But she listened to the distant pounding of the surf. She listened to a gull screeching angrily at another for its thievery. She listened to the distant crackle and pop of the fires still threatening to destroy what remained on the hill. She could hear an occasional heavy explosion, like a cannon, as the boiling sap in a blazing tree ripped it apart with the sudden fury of a small nova. And she hated Vic with equal, consuming passion.

She knew she should relent. He would probably let her live if she didn’t resist. If she was alive, she had a chance of escape. If she could escape, she had a chance of revenge for John as well as herself. But when he lowered himself onto her, and his leering face was mere inches from her own, she didn’t think of what opportunity she might lose; only of the one she had at that moment. Driven by toned, six-pack abs suddenly constricting like a tripped a bear-trap, her head snapped forward. After a travel distance of only five inches, her forehead slammed into Vic’s nose like Muhammad Ali’s fist.

He rolled off to the side and moaned while holding both hands over his face. Blood streamed from beneath his hands over his face and down his neck, eventually dripping onto the grass under his head.

Erin’s head swung left and right. Vic writhed within a couple of feet to the right, and the house loomed to the left with the three on the porch lunging forward. But only Carl descended the steps and walked out onto the grass. He didn’t have his two-by-four, but she imagined he could kill her without it. He glanced at her as he went around her to Vic but made no move to end her life. He helped Vic to his feet, then guided and supported him to the steps, up them and inside. The other two followed after ushering the other two young women ahead of them.

She was alone. No one was watching her. They wouldn’t even know she was gone until it was too late to stop her. All she had to do was work just one of the stakes lose enough to pull it free, to let her reach the other one, to reach one of the knots.

She didn’t jerk on the rope; that would only rub her skin raw. She pulled her hands clenched into fists toward her all of an inch and a half, until the rope was taut. And she continued to pull. She added her leg strength to the effort by flexing her knees as much as she could. But it was like tiny teeth gnawing into her wrists and ankles. She relaxed, took three deep breaths, letting each one out slowly and holding the third. Again, she flexed her arm muscles, her leg muscles, her abdomen muscles, pulling—pulling. But, again, nothing moved, and the teeth gnawed.

She allowed herself a couple of minutes before trying again. By the time she gave up that time, trickles of blood were lubricating the bindings. She resisted continuing the futile attempts that would only chew up her wrists. She could do nothing but lie there and wait for whatever might come. She was alone, but not free.

She jerked her head toward the house half an hour later when she heard the door open. She had to blink several times to clear her eyes of tears before she recognized Carl coming down the steps. He walked straight out to her and went to one knee beside her. He reached out to touch the bloody rope around her left wrist and glanced across at the right one.

“Don’t give up easily, do you? But, then, if you knew what Vic is like, had an idea of some of the things he might decide to do to you, you probably should have kept going and chewed your arm off if that’s what it took. You got him a good one, you know. Probably broke his nose, not to mention what you did to his nuts. Yeah, I’d say he’s got a couple of good reasons to be good and pissed. Anyway—”

He turned and sliced through her leg restraints with a kitchen knife, then those holding her arms. Before she got up, he tied another rope, a five-foot length, about her neck. “Vince thought it might be wise to tuck you away until Vic is able to do whatever he’s gonna do. I voted to slice you open and leave you here for the gulls or whatever else might come along, but I guess Vince has more confidence in your survival instinct.” He stood up and tugged the rope. “Get up. And if you try something stupid, I will leave your carcass for the gulls.”

Instead of going up the steps to the house, he led her to the left up a few flagstone steps and to the rear of the house. They went past the steps to the redwood deck where John had died. An attempted pause brought an immediate jerk on her leash. They stopped at a metal shed at the rear of the small back yard. It faced east and nestled beneath a huge pine, one of the few tall trees still unburned. Smaller trees and other wild growth crowded around and behind. He removed a padlock from the door and slid it open. After removing the rope leash from her neck, he pushed her inside.

When he slid the door shut and relocked it, she was still standing just inside and gaping at the shed’s occupants. The other two females from inside the house that didn’t appear to be equal members of the group were huddling in a back corner. Other than them and a few rags and a bucket half filled with water in the other corner, the shed was empty.

With the door closed, the only light in the little shed was thin beams of daylight through the few cracks and open seams of the door and walls and where the walls met the roof, and the tree that overshadowed the shed diminished even that light. Erin could still see well enough to avoid tripping or walking into a wall.

“Watch your head,” one of the others said. “It’s not very high.”

Erin believed she detected compassion in the voice. In any case, she had to sit. She was sore and stiff and near mental and physical exhaustion.

“I know he didn’t get a chance to rape you,” the same voice said matter-of-factly. “Did he hurt you? I mean, are you injured—physically?”

Erin fought hard to hold back the tears. “Just a knot on the back of my head and these.” She held up her wrists with the bloody ropes dangling.

They made room for her to sit between them so each one could work on undoing the knots on her wrists and ankles. Crissy introduced herself and said, “This is Rachel. They caught her up on the hill at the tail end of their killing spree, just before they took over this house. I was with those three animals before, back in Mill Valley, when it all started. I just don’t know what happened—with them, I mean. And now even Mandy. I could have gotten away, but she stopped me. We used to be friends. They’ve all gone crazy. Although, I can’t really say they weren’t crazy before. Sometimes I wondered.”

Erin asked, “So, what happens now? What are their plans? What are they going to do with us? Why are you two in here?”

“I’m in here because I tried to leave, and Vince didn’t like that. We don’t know why they are treating Rachel like they are. From what I know of them, especially after today, neither one’s got a conscience, and Vic’s not too bright compared with Vince. He used to be sorta sweet, though. Anyway, he appears to be thoroughly enjoying himself. Or, he was before you kicked him and busted his nose. We got tossed in here right after that, so I haven’t heard much of any plans they might have other than getting whatever they can from this place.”

“But that was Vince’s idea,” Rachel said. “Putting us in here, I mean. He’s the one that told Carl to do it. He had that sword in his hand and looked at me like he wanted to just start hacking.”

Crissy put a reassuring hand on Rachel’s arm for a moment before taking up the narrative. “Yeah, that bastard told Carl to put us in here. He had a look in his eyes that was absolutely insane. The way he was holding his machete and looking at us, I think he would have killed us right then if we hadn’t gone with Carl.”

“Especially me,” Rachel added, her voice becoming more and more shaky, broken by uncontrollable sobs. “He kept looking at me like he knows me or something. And daring me to not do whatever I’m told, or to do something else and I don’t even know what.”

The sounds of stifled sobs filled the confined space until Crissy managed to calm her.

Rachel turned to face Crissy. “And what’s all that with Vince calling me ‘Mother?’ Does he really think that?”

“Who knows? I’m beginning to think Vince has really gone crazy. Just look at the way he killed that man who came down to meet us. And then the way he went screaming up the hill. Who knows how many more he killed?”

“I didn’t see that, thank God.” Erin shivered as she pictured in her mind what Crissy described. “I must have been up top by then. We went all over the hill before we came back and found a woman bleeding to death right out front of this house.”

“For that, you can be grateful,” said Crissy. “I hope I never see anything like that again.”

“Carl…the other one. He kind of hangs back, sticks with...what’s her name…Mandy, you said? Is there any chance he may help us?”

Crissy barked out a harsh, humorless laugh. “Him? Not likely. And, yeah, she’s Mandy, his live-in. He’s a doper and a small-time dealer. He hauls the stuff for the biggies, too. Vince, too, I think. Carl and Vince got to be buddies where they work as boat mechanics. He may not be as psycho as Vince, but he’s not about to help us, or to do anything else against Vince. We...I used to hang around with him and Mandy, and then with Vince when he came along. Don’t even ask me why. I got the impression just from listening to those two—Carl and Vince, that is—talking and laughing about their trips into the city, that they probably did some pretty bad stuff—you know, hurting people just for kicks. I never heard anything specific, just hints and stuff. Carl is a little older than Vince, but he never tries to assume any sort of leadership role. If anything, Vince takes the lead in deciding where to go and what they’d do after work. About the only thing Carl did without Vince was long distance radio. Not two-way like H.A.M. or C.B. radio; just tuning in English speaking AM stations from all over the world. I don’t think Vince even tried to understand what Carl got out of it, just figured it was harmless. Sometimes when we’d drop by late at night, Carl would be playing on it, tuning in stations from the other side of the globe. He said it worked best at night.”

She described the radio broadcasts they had heard before leaving Mill Valley and summarized it with her opinion that it was just about as Vic and Vince claimed. “We’re on our own. No one is going to help us.”

Erin had noticed when they were all still in the house how young Rachel appeared, no more than late teens, probably. She said, “Rachel, do you...did you live here in Muir Beach? Is your home up there on the hill—in the fires?”

“No.” Rachel’s answer was little more than a sob. “I’m from a little town the other side of Fresno. That’s where all my family is, everyone but my Aunt Sylvia. She’s up there, now.” She indicated with a wave of a hand that was little more than a shadow in the dark, referring to the hill above them where so many others had also died. “She...we came up together...she came with me to check out my college, Sonoma State. I’m going to...I was going to start in September. Daddy wanted me to go to Fresno State and live at home, but I wanted to go where I could be away from home and out on my own. So, Aunt Sylvia came with me to check out the campus and the town and all, just taking our time. We came over to the coast, so she could show me Stinson Beach, a little north of here. She knew a guy there. But we came here first, just turned off to look at this place ’cause it looked so nice, and we were just cruising around up there when everything started burning. She tried to drive back out, but a limb fell on the hood of the car and scared her, and she ran off the road and—”

Erin and Crissy remained silent while Rachel sobbed.

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