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The Paths We Take #3: Violent Men

Feb 27, 2018

Claire

The one they called Bert stood above me as I struggled on the cold floor of the van while I took in the bleak air. I could taste the gas and steel in the air through the damp tattered rag they tied around my mouth. Plastic bit into my wrists with each bump and crevice in the road; pain was shooting from my hands and up the length of my arms from the zip tie binding my wrists behind me.  

Bert was statuesque and muscled, his face covered with a black bandana, like some bandit straight out of the wild west. He was wearing camouflage cargo pants and a black zip-up hoodie. His dark beady eyes burned a hole through me while he stood holding onto the metal shelving that was fixed on the driver’s side and ran the length of the van. When I tried to kick him, he stuck his boot into my side. I couldn’t decide which hurt more, the steel toe boot in my side or the zip ties slicing into my skin. The men moved methodically, maybe ex-military, like they were born to jump out of helicopters with assault rifles fitted with holographic sights and night vision goggles.  

I could hear sirens in the distance, and for a moment, I thought that the wailing was growing louder, but then it faded. The driver didn’t say much. He was also wearing a black bandana to cover the lower part of his face, and I only got a slight glimpse of his blue eyes when he turned around to tell Bert to go easy with steel toe boots. The driver’s voice was rough, and his smoker’s cough made it even harder to hear the police scanner over the humming of the engine. I couldn’t see the goon who was sitting in the passenger seat except for the back of a black baseball cap with sandy blonde hair protruding from the back and sides.

The van lurched to a slow stop, and in the few seconds of silence I could hear the rushing waters of the river. I could make out a gruff voice talking on a handheld radio outside, muffled with slight static and a little too far away for me to make out the conversation. A woman’s voice caught my attention, but the voice quickly faded as if she were walking away, and then the van began to move again. The smell of the exhaust choked me as I gasped for air through the rag covering my mouth, tears filled my eyes, and I could feel the hope draining from within me.

“Hey pretty girl, you okay?” the driver said as he turned around and threw a bottle of water to Bert.

Bert dumped the water onto my face with a deep laugh, and then launched the water bottle back at the driver. The bottle caught him in the back of the head and he looked back with fiery eyes at Bert.

“How did you like that Gramps? Maybe you should keep your eyes on the damn road instead of worrying about this whore,” Bert said while staring down at me.

Bert’s face blurred as I felt myself drifting away. I thought about the stranger at the store who saw them take me. He was at the park yesterday. He is probably the one who set this whole thing up. At least I told Royce where I had stopped for coffee; he will know what to do; he will find me.

The air was no longer coming through the soaked rag and I was fighting for every breath. I pounded my feet on the floor with all the strength I could manage to get Bert’s attention, but he was too busy arguing with Gramps to notice. I started trying to push myself towards the front of the van with my feet as I grunted, trying to get Gramps to notice that I was suffocating. Gramps finally looked back and started to throw something else at Bert, when I saw Gramps’ face light up with fury.

“Untie that rag you dipshit. She can’t breathe with all the water in it,” Gramps roared at Bert.

Bert hunched down and untied the rag as I spit out the water that had flooded my throat. I turned over on my stomach and heaved out the rest on the metal floorboard. After a minute, I caught my breath and rolled over onto my back. Bert had removed the bandana to reveal an unapologetic smirk on his clean-shaven face as Gramps continued his verbal assault on him. The one in the passenger seat was still silent, unflinching in the chaos of the moment.

I wanted to scream, claw, and kick, but I knew that I was trapped. I knew they were violent men, so I just kept silent. Bert tied a dry rag around my mouth and propped me up against the shelving so that I wasn’t sprawled on the floorboard. I wasn’t sure if this was his attempt to make me comfortable, or he planned to make it more of challenge to drown me next time. 

“There are some men that will pay big money for you pretty girl,” Gramps laughed as he lit a cigarette. “You would be surprised by some of our clients. You might even make a good housewife to one of them, if you are lucky enough.”

The van pulled off the road and I could see tree limbs overhead through the front windshield. The man in the passenger seat exited the van along with Gramps. Bert removed a pistol from a holster hidden underneath his black hoodie and he opened the side doors. The smell of wet moss and pine filled the inside of the van, but the shade from the trees only allowed tiny slivers of sunlight to break in. Bert jumped out and headed to the front of the van. I could hear Gramps’ gruff voice faintly as well as the voices of several other men. One of the voices sounded eerily familiar, but I couldn’t tell what the conversation entailed.

The voices were enclosing on the van when I heard the familiar voice say, “you won’t be disappointed.”

My eyes met Royce’s when he stood just outside with the bits of sunlight highlighting him against the dark greens of the pines. His black baseball cap low on his forehead with his shaggy blonde hair partially hiding his bright blue eyes. I tried to speak, to cry, to scream when I saw him, but I realized that he had been here the whole time, sitting in the passenger seat.

© Josiah A. Miller 2018. All Rights Reserved.