Whisper softly or you're dead

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Chapter seven.

Innocent yet filled with unexplored lust! Ripe for picking.

Cherry was riding her bike to the nearby town for her Mom. She lived out in the sticks and the bus only ran once a day. She had missed it, for once taking too long to put on some make up but her Dad said she looked as pretty as a picture, so it was worth it. She was going to stay in town for a while, stopping at the ice cream parlour for a soda and ice cream treat. She might see the boy she had met there last week. About eighteen years of age he had just started college and had shared a table with her.

She had been shy and scared of encouraging him too much, but he had said he ate in the parlour every week at lunch time. He worked in the wood yard to pay for his college expenses and his treat to himself was ice cream and pancakes, something he looked forward to each week. She explained she came into town for her Mom’s groceries. She was looking for a weekend and after school job as a waitress but had no luck yet. She was in her last year at High School but intended to go to college to start foundation art next year and take a degree in graphics in the future.

She was normally shy with boys, but Chad had brought her out of herself. Kind and gentle, he was her dream boy, tall and dark with curly hair. He was intelligent too. He liked sports but was not a jock like her brother’s sport mad friends who dominated their conversation with talk about their favourite teams. He had listened to her ideas without mocking them, unlike some of the boys at school who thought she was a blonde bimbo. She looked a little too tall and gangly with long slender limbs, but she had overheard her brother’s friend describe her as a pretty young thing who would fill out when she matured.

They had talked about their favourite hockey team. When he had to leave he had opened the door for her and walked her to the bus stop. She hoped he would want to ask her out and held her breath. His last words were, ‘‘I‘d like to see you at noon next Saturday for an ice. My treat!’’ She had agreed readily, and he had walked away, smiling and whistling to himself.

During the whole bus journey home, she had thought about their conversation and what she would wear next week and how she would do her hair. Her mom knew something was on her mind but just said, ‘‘Be careful,’’ and had lent her a pretty azure blue necklace and hair ornament. She wore little make-up, her tanned skin looking fresh and contrasting with her flaxen hair and blue eyes.

The boy was waiting in the parlour at the same table as last week. Eagerly he got up and like a gentleman he held out her chair and pushed it in again for her. She felt such a lady when he treated her like that. The hour flew.

‘‘Perhaps we can go to the cinema as well as meet for ices.’’

‘‘I would like that, but ices will do for me for a while.’’ She knew his widowed mom was sick and they lived on welfare, her medical bills rising all the time. As a college student, he didn’t make a lot of money and once a week was enough until she earned her own money and they could go out more often.

He thought she was an understanding and sweet girl and he would try to get more hours or a second job. Cherry deserved to be treated by him. She was the nicest girl he had met in years and although he was still young he thought she was a keeper.

Cherry did the chores for her mom and with her pocket money she picked out a nice pair of figure hugging jeans. If she cycled and didn’t use the bus she could lose a little of the excess weight, she had put on and save the money for a nice dress she had seen for the next school ball. Perhaps Chad would take her to it as the tickets were cheap.

She looked in the art shop. The lady who run it was kind and often offered her the left-overs from the sale at a discount if they could not be sold. She encouraged her in her desire to pursue an arts career.

‘‘Look at these new posters I have Cherry while I serve that customer. They may give you some inspiration for your new project.’’ Cherry gasped in awe at the magnificence of the colours and artwork. She could only hope to aspire to such professionalism if she worked hard at college and practised her skills in the evenings. As the turned the posters an arm bent over her.

‘‘Look at this one my dear. I think it will inspire you the most.’’ She looked up and saw a tall blonde woman with green eyes smiling at her. The poster was one of the most beautiful and dramatic she had seen. ‘‘It is wonderful Ma’am. I don’t know the artist though. Is she well known?’’

‘‘She prefers to remain private but is well known in the professional art community.’’ Cherry looked at the name, but it still didn’t register with her. She would have to look it up on the internet.

‘‘It is a local artist,’’ said the woman. ‘‘She lives around here and enjoys showing her work to budding artists. She mentors young people. If you want, I can give you her card and you can make an appointment with her. She may act as your mentor.’’

‘‘Gee, thanks Ma’am. That would be awesome,’’ said Cherry. She would have to ask her Mom’s permission to visit the woman, but she was sure it would be ok.

It might help my career, open new doors, mightn’t it?

An elegant hand pulled out a gold inscribed card from her purse. Everything about this woman smacked of money and sophistication but she wore her clothes with an artistic twist. Her hair was flowing in waves around her neck; her printed dress drifting around her, making her look like one of the romantic models Rossetti used. Only her hair colour and eyes were wrong.

‘‘I am the agent of this artist. You can ring me on this number if you would like to show me your art sometime. I live in Miami but visit this painter often. She is a close friend.’’ Cherry was so excited she could barely contain herself. This might be the break she needed if her work was considered good enough.

‘‘What is your name my dear?’’

‘‘Cherry Gainsbourgh Ma’am.’’

‘‘Well, Cherry I am Madeline Lomax. Ring me if you want an appointment. I must fly,’’ she said vanishing with a whirl of silk; the scent of vanilla and jasmine still marking where she had been.

The owner of the shop came over. ‘‘Who was that Cherry?’’

‘‘An agent who represents artists. She gave me her phone number and the number of an artist who mentors young artists and lives locally. Do you know her?’’ She showed her the card.

‘‘I didn’t see her face, but I certainly don’t recognise her voice. She seemed a little flamboyant for living around here.’’

‘‘She doesn’t live around here. The artist does. The agent lives in Miami, Ma’am. She said the artist is a very private person and doesn’t publicise herself very much. Only art professionals buy her work.’’

‘‘That would explain why we don’t know her very well nor her agent. Most artists need to publicise themselves to sell their work.’’ She frowned. ‘‘I still think I should have heard about her living near here. Don’t ring her or the agent until I have made some enquires about them Cherry. They may be trying to entice you into some money-making scheme.’’ Cherry thought she was worrying about nothing, but she had heard about the recent murders and would wait until she found these women were bona fide.

She happily bought the water colour pencils the lady sold her at a very cheap price and put them in the basket with the other things her Mom had wanted. She cycled from the store merrier than she had been in ages. A boyfriend and a possible lead to an art career. She was feeling lucky. Her boyfriend had told her she was pretty and wanted to see her art work. Unlike many boys who thought art was cissy he loved looking around galleries and exhibitions, the perfect man.

She had only three miles to cycle but it was starting to storm.

Curse it, I will get drenched if I don’t get a move on. She pedalled faster trying to beat the storm home, but her bike started slowing down and bumping. It was a slow puncture. She still had two miles to walk home, pushing her old bike. She couldn’t leave it here. Anyone could steal it and her parents really couldn’t afford another when they had to help her pay for her college fees next year. They were on a tight budget with her brother just finishing uni.

She cursed the weather, thinking her lucky streak was ending that day. She plodded another mile and she heard a car behind her. She knew not to take lifts from strangers, but she was only one mile away from home and the road passed her house. The car stopped, and she was surprised to find it was the lady from the art shop, Madeline Lomax.

Hanging her head out of the window, Ms Lomax asked, ‘‘Can I help you?’’

‘‘My bike has a slow puncture, Ms Lomax.’’

‘‘How far away is your house?’’

‘‘Just a mile down the road. You pass it on the way through to the next village.’’

‘‘I can try to repair it, but it is going to teem down. Do you want to put it in the back of the car and I can drop it and you at your parents? Or you can wait here until I get your parents to pick you up? What is your parents’ phone number?’’ She keyed in the number but listening to the cell said, ‘‘No answer I‘m afraid.’’ Cherry didn’t see her touch the end call button before she listened.

‘‘I can take the lift with you Ma’am if you don’t mind. I’m sure Mom and Dad won’t mind this short distance.’’ The agent lifted the bike with ease into the back of the brand-new hatchback. Perhaps she went to one of those expensive gyms in town.

Madeline jumped in the car and opened the passenger door letting Cherry in.

‘’Make yourself comfortable Cherry, this won’t take long.’‘ She started the car and Cherry relaxed into the comfortable leather seats. Perhaps one day she would be able to have an expensive car. She closed her eyes but opened them quickly when the agent slowed the car down and turned it swiftly across the road in the opposite direction from her parents’ house.

‘‘This is the wrong direction Ms Lomax.’’

‘‘I thought you might like to visit the artist first. She lives two miles from here and I remembered she is at home today.’’

‘‘I had better not Ms Lomax. My mother disapproves of me making visits to strangers on my own.’’

‘‘Oh, I insist. I’ll make it straight with your parents when I take you back later. They would not want you to miss the opportunity of a lifetime.’’ Cherry noted they had pulled off the main road and were now negotiating a rutted track inland. No-one could see the car now from the road and she felt uncomfortable.

‘‘Please Ma’am, let me out and I’ll walk home from here. My parents might be home now and can pick me up.’’

‘‘I’m sorry I can’t do that. We are nearly here.’’ The hairs on the back of Cherry’s neck stood straight up. She felt sick. The woman continued as if she hadn’t heard Cherry’s protests. ‘‘My friend needs you and wants to show you something.’ Terror now filled Cherry. She tried to open the door. Falling out was preferable to what this woman’s friend might do to her. The woman grabbed her hand away from the door handle and hit her with a back hand, a slice across her face; her heavy ring and jewelled bracelet cutting and bruising her face.

Cherry’s face was knocked back by the force of the blow, but she was not giving in easily and she hit the woman as hard as she could, cutting her with her finger nails, across her cheek. She sank her teeth in the woman’s arm as the woman lashed out at her. Pulling her hair, she dragged some out by the roots. Angered and in pain Madeline hit the brakes and turned to Cherry. She aimed a fist twice in Cherry’s already sore and bruised face making her nose bleed.

The girl tried to shy away from her to protect herself from other forthcoming blows. She quickly withdrew a needle from the glove compartment and slid it into Cherry’s bare arm. ‘Now sleep my pretty. Michael wants you,’’ were the last words Cherry heard as she slipped into unconsciousness.

’’These parents do not look after their girls well enough. We will take care of them ourselves won’t we Michael?

‘‘You didn’t want that boy Cherry. He would only flatter you and defile you later. You will be pure for ever with us.’’

She drove the car into a garage whose door had been left open for that purpose. Michael wanted her to leave the girl in this barn and go and find the others he needed for his work of art. She dragged the girl out and lay her on the plastic sheet. Her limbs were perfect. Just long and slender enough to fit right. They would need to be arranged just perfectly to make her as beautiful in death as in life. Michael would be delighted with his present from her.

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