RavMe Ch. 03-04bytorquedtales©
"And the North American Graphics Award for best cover design for Western Women's World goes to..."
Kelly floated to the podium on the mention of her name. Her thank you speech buzzed through a mouth brimming with glittering teeth. The moment of triumph crested and fell on the rolling wave of time. Before she realized it, she had been washed from the spotlight and out into the dark cold streets.
She stepped into a phone booth in front of the Convention Center where the ceremony was held. She dropped a fistful of coins into the slot. She pulled up a fallen spaghetti strap on her little black dress with the slit up the right calf and adjusted the fringed wrap over her shoulders. She flexed her ankles in the black pumps that pinched her feet. "Hello, Mama?" her voice pealed into the receiver. "How are you feeling? Good. I'm fine. Working hard. Just wanted to tell you, I won a NAGA." She raised the shiny trophy with the shape of a flame in a gesture any proud child would show a parent. "Remember that contest I entered? Well, I--" She cut off. Her glee crumbled to dust, like dried petals crushed in her mother's fingers and tossed to the ground. "I see. Sorry to have awakened you, Mama. What's that? Yes, I'll be sure and send you a check just as soon as— Okay. Good--" A sharp click sounded in her ear. "Night," she finished and hung up the phone.
Kelly shrieked to see a man dressed in cowboy getup eyeing her through the glass. A black bandana covered his lower face. He jerked open the folding door and pulled her out. "Kelly, come on. I'll give you a ride." He clamped his suede glove around her hand and dragged her over to a black Porsche with silver-frosted windows purring at the curbside. He opened the passenger door. "Get in."
"What are you doing here?" She looked around nervously. "What if someone sees me with you dressed like a guy about to rob the local five-and-dime?"
"Don't argue with a gift horse." He gently pushed her inside, shut the door, and climbed in on the driver's side. The shoulder belt automatically slid protectively over their torsos. "You might want to buckle your lap belt," he suggested. The rumbling sports car rolled down the street.
She clicked herself in. "Look, I'm real tired and just want to go home, okay?"
"I see you won." He nodded at the trophy in her hand.
"Yeah, I figure I could use this either as a doorstop or a weapon against marauding cattle rustlers." She saw him glimpse at her from under the brim of his black Stetson.
He reached inside his denim jacket to pull out a folded sheaf of papers which he passed to her. He reached up to tap on the overhead light.
She frowned at it. "I've had enough disappointment tonight."
"But you won. How can that be disappointing?" Her glance out the window directed him back to the phone booth. "Who were you talking to on the phone that got you so upset?" he gently probed.
Kelly chewed on her knuckle. "My alcoholic mother is all. Can we not talk about it?"
She sat in silence for several blocks. The car stopped at a red light and signaled left. It prowled the streets searching an access to the 9W expressway. Kelly noticed the direction westward. "Where are we going? My place is on the east side."
"I thought we'd check out the location mentioned in your new scene." He reached over to poke the page with the tan suede finger of his work glove.
Kelly strained in the dim light make out the detail. She slapped the paper shut on its fold and handed it to him. "First, it is not my scene. Second," she insisted, "I want you to take me home now," to add, "please," in measure to defuse an intense situation.
"Aw, come on, where's your sense of adventure. I'm curious. Aren't you?"
"No. I'm tired and hungry, and I would simply like to go home if you don't mind." A twinge of anxiety caught like a fine bone in her throat.
"Kelly, I assure you. I have no intention of perpetrating any of those sordid acts on you. I just want to figure out why the elaborate abduction scene. Maybe there's a clue we'll come across."
Kelly cringed at the mention of abduction. "And maybe there's a team of thugs just waiting to pounce on us when we get there. I don't think it's a wise decision." She noticed him taking the exit toward the Cloisters. She shrank back into her seat at the sight of the pitch black streets.
The Porsche whirred around a curve to come to a remote wooded area. The headlights caught onto the cast-iron letters spelling "cemetery" on a great gate. The masked desperado stopped the car and turned off the ignition. "Wanna go in and see the tree?"
"No!" she screamed.
"You sit here then. I'll go look." He slipped the keys on the chain with the miniature flashlight into his pocket, opened the door and got out.
Kelly watched him run into the blackness. She hastily locked the doors and waited. Kelly whistled a tune to stir up the disturbing stillness. The deeper she peered at the night-shrouded tombstones, the more her heart raced. What if he'd been attacked and couldn't come back? What if the evil person setting her up for torment would fly out of the cemetery with a swinging axe? What if the masked cowboy was counting on her losing her cool to go running into the spooky cemetery to look for him? Her heart jumped hurdles to hear the door suddenly unlatch.
"Worried I wouldn't come back?" he quipped and jumped inside. He started up the car and tooled slowly back toward Manhattan.
"What did you see?"
"Nothing but a big tree growing right in the middle of a mausoleum. A perfect spot to do the things described in this fantasy. Whoever thought it up has a wicked imagination" He slid the papers back inside his jacket.
"Will you please take me home now?"
"You said you were hungry. How about I treat you to a late dinner?"
The lights of the city washed relief over Kelly's face. She basked in the light of the all-night burger joint whose drive-up window opened to receive her. She ordered a junior burger meal.
"Will that be all?" the scratchy teenage voice asked.
"Yes," the cowboy replied.
He pulled up to the window to pay and noted the look on the pimply face of the attendant who asked drolly, "So what, you planning on robbing a bank or something?"
"Oh, you mean the mask. Naw, I just got off a commercial shoot and need some chow is all. It's been a long night," he explained and drove off. He passed Kelly the bag of food and drove toward the Brooklyn Bridge. He pulled off to a waterside overlook with a stunning view of the towering suspension bridge shimmering with lights and parked.
Kelly chomped on her burger and slurped her Coke. "Aren't you eating?" she asked.
"I already ate."
"Why are we stopping here?"
"Thought you'd like the view."
"It is spectacular." She took a big bite. "Why do I get the feeling you're stalling? You're not gonna dump me in the river or anything?" She let go a nervous titter.
"It's not in the contract," he teasingly reminded.
"Nor is buying me a fast-food supper, but you did it anyway. Want a fry?"
"Good point and no thanks."
Kelly gulped the last of her greasy fare and licked her fingers. She noisily sucked the last drop of Coke and put the cup inside the bag the meal cam in.
"All finished?" he asked.
"Yup. Can we go now?"
The car started up and headed down to East 9th Street. He found a convenient parking spot in a red zone and shut down the car. "Wait. Let me get the door for you."
"You don't-" she said as he jumped out and bounded around the car. "—have to," she finished to his opening her door. "I can make it the rest of the way on my own, you know." She checked the street to see if any neighbors might be spying.
"I wouldn't have it." He rode the rickety elevator with her up to her apartment and stood over her as she unlocked the door. He followed her into the dark efficiency. In a crackle of sparks, a shock ran through his body. He collapsed to the floor with a loud thud.
Kelly screamed and blindly swung her trophy in the darkness at an unknown assailant firing up a stun gun. Kelly dodged the electric bolt and crashed into the table. She saw a dark figure run out the open door and into the hall. She scrambled to the lamp. In the 75-watt dome of light she saw the cowboy sprawled on the floor. She fell to her knees and shook him in an effort to revive. Tempted by his defenseless posture, she gingerly reached to pull the bandana from his face. She gasped when his hand shot up to stop her venturing. "Don't," he rasped.
Kelly pulled her hand away. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," he grunted and sat up. "Wow! That was quite a jolt." He reached for his hat that had tumbled across the floor. He set it atop his thick chestnut mane, stood up and brushed the dust from his jeans. He looked up to see Kelly absolutely aghast. Illumined by the single bulb was a heart-sinking scene. Violent slash marks shredded her mattress and bedcovers. Strips of cut-up clothing covered the floor. Dresser drawers lay in smashed heaps over tattered undergarments and sundries. The bathroom mirror hung in jagged fragments from its frame.
"Oh my God, it's gone." Kelly brought her hands to her face.
"What's gone?" He rubbed at the singed area on the back of his neck.
"My laptop and the CD Ms. Wilmont entrusted to me. My skinny-assed goose is totally cooked." She fell to her knees and cried. "Who's doing this to me?"
He helped her to her feet. "Kelly, you've got to call the police and report this. Is there a neighbor her who will let you use the phone?"
"Don't you have a cell phone?" she wept.
"Have you seen me with a cell phone? Look, you need to call the police and get them here to investigate this. But..."
"I can't be here when they arrive."
"Why not? You're a witness to all this." He moved toward the door. Kelly grabbed his jacket. "You can't leave me. What if he's waiting for you to leave? What if he comes back to hurt me?"
He braced her shoulders. "I'm sorry, but you can't even tell them about me or the email fraud or anything about the ravishment society."
Her hackles rose. "Why not, unless you're involved with these crimes committed against my person? Why the hell did you take me way out yonder tonight and stall in bringing me home, huh? Did you know this guy was coming in here to do this? Do you know how he got in? Is there another way to break in that you're not telling me about?" she ranted.
He took her by the shoulders and squeezed to make her stop. "Please understand, it's imperative I do not become involved," he paused then added, "for your own safety." He released his hold and flew out the door.
"Is that a threat?" she shrieked after him. "You bastard!"
The elderly woman in the apartment at the far end of the hall let Kelly use the phone. The police did not hurry to arrive on the scene of a B&E where there was no imminent danger. During a cursory visit, Kelly gave them sparse information about the attack without mentioning her cowboy companion or the Web pages feloniously concocted in her name. How could she explain it? The police took pictures of the vandalism. One of the officers gave her the name and number of a detective she could call to check up on for any breakthroughs in the case. Gathering from their air of indifference, she guessed the prospects were doubtful.
The rest of the night, she sat up in the sole chair she possessed in the lonely glow of her shadeless lamp to ponder her fate. She worried about how she would explain the stolen company property to Ms. Wilmont and braced herself for the inevitable end of her career with the Emvar Design Group.
Sunday dawned with slow dull pain. In the haze of sleeplessness, Kelly shuffled about her trashed apartment. She slowly bent down to pick up the card the police officer had given her from the floor where she had let it drop from despair. It bore the name Detective Coretta Kaine, Violent Crimes Division. Kelly flicked it against her fingers and imagined when she would deign to call the detective. She scratched at the static in her head to spark up her memory cells. Did the officer say she was to call the detective or wait for the detective to call? Kelly set the card on the kitchenette's narrow counter and determined she would do the calling.
She spent the vibrant late spring day picking up the remnants of her destroyed wardrobe. The pieces filled several tall kitchen garbage bags. Amongst the detritus, she managed to souse out a clean cotton tee-shirt bearing a single scar from the perp's knife on its backside and a pair of jeans whose natural fray had defied all attempts of damage. She sniffed back the tears to see her precious suits, blouses, and shoes go into the trash. To replace them would cost her the small fortune she did not possess. She hoped the thrift shop would have something that could serve as passable corporate attire. He hopes faded when she realized the thrift shop wasn't open on Sundays. Kelly sat on the edge of her ripped up mattress and cried. Monday was a matter of hours away hurtling at her like an asteroid on a collision course.
She sought reassurance and reinforcement in a wholesome PBJ on wheat and a glass of milk. Wiping up the crumbs as a deterrent to cockroaches, she grabbed her bag and set out to shop.
In mid-town, she found a reasonably priced clothing store where she picked up a blue blazer with matching skirt, two pastel-colored blouses, and two bras and pairs of panties. She brought her bundle up to the register and handed the cashier her credit card.
The effeminate man in the white shirt and narrow tie swiped the card. Kelly didn't appreciate the twitch to his mouth. "Is anything wrong?"
He uttered the dreaded words no customer cares to hear. "Uh, I'm afraid your card has been declined."
"What?" She peeked over the counter to see where he was getting his information.
He handed it back to her. "I'm sorry. You'll have to call the company and find out what the problem is."
Kelly stormed out of the store to the nearest phone booth. She slammed coins into the slot and pounded the 800 number on the keypad. She fumed her way through the tedious options menu. The sappy easy-jazz sounds filling her ear made her stomach churn. Finally a voice came on the line.
Twenty minutes of waiting followed by two minutes of being told her card had been cancelled as per her request resulted in serious abuse of telephone company property. The service rep had assured her they could issue a new card in twenty-four hours at the low, low fee of fifty dollars, but Kelly didn't have the patience. She needed access to credit yesterday.
She left the battered phone booth to find an ATM. To her festering anguish, the machine swallowed her card and bleeped the taunting message that her card was invalid. The watchful eye of the security camera spied the look of rage on her face and the image of her fist about to sock it. Kelly thought twice about being caught on camera, lowered her hand and left.
The forty-block walk home helped work off her anger. She passed under the watchful gaze of the smiling Caravaggio angel. "You're the only nice thing about this city, and you ain't even real," she importuned to the immutable image.
Dusk had faded to dark by the time she stepped inside her apartment door. She stumbled over the piles of trash bags sitting in the middle of the floor. "Shit!" she cussed. She flicked on her lamp and gathered up two of the bags. She decided she was too tired to lock and unlock her door with every trip. She spotted the trophy on the table and dropped her load. "Doorstop it is." She propped it at the foot of her door. Trip after trip, she trudged with her crinkling bundles down the hall to the garbage chute. When she shoved the last bulging bag in, she wiped the grime from her hands and headed back to her desolate place. She picked up her flame-shaped trophy and turned to lock up. The award flew from her lands to land on the threshold. Her hands flew up to claw at the tight strap being drawn across her mouth. A round rubber ball pushed past her teeth and onto her tongue. In a painful twist, her hands landed behind her back in handcuffs. Fiercely strong hands dragged her backwards and threw her on the bed.
Lust-filled eyes leered down at her through a black leather mask. Her attacker was bare to the waist and bulging with muscles. His black leather gloves unzipped her jeans and pulled them from her waist and down to her ankles. He reached into a bag on the foot of the bed and pulled out a long steel bar. He ripped her jeans off to fasten her ankles to the ends of the bar forcing her legs apart. From the satchel, he pulled out a leather blindfold and slipped it over her head. He hitched it tight at the back of her head.
Distressed moans pushed through her throat. She jumped to feel cold water pouring on her, soaking her through and through. She panted in horrific anticipation of what would happen next. The burning pinch on the skin of her neck sent her into convulsions. One by one, unseen clamps fastened onto the loose skin of her neck, breasts, abdomen, along her arms and inside her tender thighs. She squirmed under the firm pressure of the hand that held her down.
The pressure abruptly lifted from her agonizing body. The sounds of a scuffle danced around her ears. The bed shook with sudden impact. The sound of glass shattering pierced the tumultuous air. Hurtling shards nicked her exposed skin. The hardwood floor reverberated with a definitive crash. Kelly's groans reverberated against the walls of the small room.
Fingers tugged at her blindfold. At first, the light angling upwards from the floor disoriented her. Then she saw the man in the leather mask. Her shrieks bounced off the ball in her mouth to the back of her throat. She tried pushing away. The familiar voice calling her by name turned her stomach into nauseating guacamole.
"Easy, Kelly. It's me. I came as soon as I knew." He unsnapped the ball gag and pulled it from her mouth. He watched her heave. "God, what did he do to you? Hold still." He removed the dozens of clothespins clipped to her flesh.
"Why did you do this to me?" she wailed.
"I didn't," he assured with the release of her left ankle from the torturous spread bar, "he did." He pointed to a man dressed in identical fashion. He was lying face down on the floor amidst the remains of the glass base of her lamp. He pulled her right ankle free and checked the restraints on her hands. "Gotta find the key." He stepped over the fallen ravisher to search the satchel that had been knocked to the floor in the fight.
"Who is he?" she whimpered.
"Not sure." He lifted the bag and set it back on the foot of the bed. He searched every pocket. "Ah, ha," he exclaimed and pulled out a small key.
"Look out!" Kelly shrilly alerted.
He turned in time to deflect a blow from his risen foe. He fell back onto the mattress, his head landing right between Kelly's thighs. The doppelganger attacker fled out the door and disappeared down the stairs.
Her masked rescuer righted himself and set to unlocking the cuffs.
"Aren't you going after him?" she asked frantically.
Sirens raced down the street. "No time. Someone's called the cops. You just tell them you managed to club him with the lamp. I gotta go." He took her frightened face in his hands and plopped a soft kiss on her lips before dashing out the door.
"Wait!" she called after him. Shaky fingers rose to her quivering lips.
This time the police brought Kelly down to the station to obtain pictures of her injuries and a statement. This time Kelly met the detective belonging to the name embossed on the card.
"Hi, I'm Detective Kaine," the statuesque black woman with the sleek straightened hair extended a stylishly manicured hand. She sat across the desk from Kelly and began entering the data into her computer. "So, tell me exactly what happened."