No Controlling Legal Authority Ch. 02byTheScribe©
The smooth liquid burned his lips and tongue. He could taste the smoky flavor of burning peat in the scotch as he swirled it in his mouth. It had a rich, earthy taste that reminded him of the sturdy stone houses and walled fields of Scotland, and never failed to infuse him with a feeling of calming warmth. This might turn into a two-scotch night, he mused, returning to the crisp, sterile white sheets of Moon Dog's report.
Things had bumped along, roughly, more or less, with Anne maintaining as much distance as she could, until one afternoon, while she was working late to finish her report on a special fund raising project that Rufus had assigned to her at the last minute, he summoned her to his office over the school paging system. It was nearly evening and the building was practically deserted except for old Jackson, the custodian, who was way down at the gym mopping out the showers. On the way into Mr. Justice's office, she glanced out the windows in the front door to the school and saw an old, battered, rust-streaked van with a fender missing parked in the loading zone. She thought that odd, since tuition at Hardwick was more than enough to insure that vehicles in that condition didn't show up there very often, or, when they did, remain there for long, and she wondered what sort of business had brought the occupants of that van to the school, and if it possibly could have anything to do with her. Her heart sank like a stone when she walked to the door to Headmaster Justice's office and saw Cletus Caruthers sitting there, leaning his chair back against the wall and smoking one of Rufus' contraband Cuban cigars. He and Rufus were laughing over a pile of eight by ten glossy photographs, which had been spread out all over the Headmaster's desk.
"Ah, Miss Anne," Rufus gushed triumphantly when she appeared in the doorway. "You remember Mr. Cletus Caruthers, I’m sure. He's the proprietor of that excellent home, the Caruthers' Children's Home for Orphans. I believe you are acquainted with it?"
She gagged at the sight of the two of them together and sagged against the doorframe, unable to speak. Cletus glared at her malevolently; his mouth was set in a hard line, which she remembered all too well. His teeth clamped down on the stub of his cigar and a long ash was just dropping from the end onto his stained, dirty trouser leg.
Headmaster Justice rubbed his hands together malignantly and gloated as the attractive teacher's composure began to disintegrate. "Mr. Caruthers and I share an appreciation for uh, hmmm, how shall I put it to be delicate, Miss Anne? Shall we say ‘artistic’ photographs? Yes, that's it, we share a fondness for artistic photographs, and Mr. Caruthers has been good enough to bring some of his very best ones for me to enjoy today, Miss Anne, and I must say they are stunning. Here, would you care to see them, my dear?"
Her mind reeled in horrified terror. Her eyes darted frantically around the room. Rufus was leering at her from behind his desk, pawing through the pile of photos, the subject matter of which she had no doubt, and Cletus' narrow, pig eyes, pierced her with a look so evil and vicious, that it caused her knees to buckle in fear.
Memories, haunting nightmares of memories, horrific in their details bubbled in wild tumult in her brain. She thought to scream but who would hear or care? She thought to run, but to where, how? She was caught like a rabbit in a snare, darting helplessly back and forth, and with every hop the noose tightened. She couldn't breathe, the room was becoming black and she felt herself fainting. She leaned heavily against the doorjamb and felt the hot flow of her tears on her cheeks.
"Better watch her, Justice," Cletus snarled, "tha’ stupid bitch's gonna pass out on ya any minute. She used to pull that shit on me and Nadeen every time we come up with somethin’ she thought she was too good to try. You got a belt or somethin’ handy, you better lay a hand on it right quick; pain'll snap her outa hit, purty good."
"Now, now, Mr. Caruthers, there'll be no need of that, will there dear? I'm sure the excitement at seeing you again after all these years is just a little overwhelming, is all. You'll be just fine, won't you?" Mr. Justice sneered at her, ignoring Cletus, because he was thoroughly enjoying the effects of his surprise. He had brought her off her high horse quickly enough, and her reaction made it perfectly obvious that he had her in the palm of his hand.
Anne sobbed and clung to the wall for support. The room spun crazily, and she shook her head, fighting off the dark hood of unconsciousness. Confusion, fear, the memory of a thousand horrible experiences collided in her mind, and her chest constricted, driving the wind from her lungs in a sudden rush.
"You'll be just fine, my dear," Rufus lied. His voice sounded distant and foreign. "Mr. Caruthers was just about to conclude his business and leave us, weren't you, Cletus?"
"Yep, Mr. Justice, I'll be a leavin’ just as soon as you pay me for them pictures and the videos," Cletus grunted in response.
"Ah, yes, Mr. Caruthers, your thirty pieces of silver, I hadn't forgotten."
"I ain't sayin' you forgot our deal there, Rufus, but hit ain't no thirty dollars, neither," Cletus grumbled. He may have failed at pig farming, but he was not completely stupid and he was not to be trifled with in matters where money, particularly his money, were concerned. He was keen and shrewd as most, he figured, and, besides, Nadeen was waitin' for him out in the van, and she'd skin the hide plumb off'n him, if'n he came out without the price she'd set on them pictures.
"Oh no, certainly not, Mr. Caruthers," Rufus responded condescendingly, amazed at his visitor's lack of acumen, "thirty pieces of silver, not dollars; just a figure of speech."
"Thirty pieces of shit, Rufus," Cletus spat back at him, rising quickly from his chair and shaking his finger at Rufus in anger. "We got us a deal. You gonna pay me thirteen hundred dollars just like we agreed. Ten dollars each for them pictures and a hundred dollars each for them three videos, and they worth a bunch more than that cause of her bein so pretty and all and on account uh her doin' just about everthin' you can imagine and a bunch more to boot. Besides, them videos run over ninety minutes a piece, and that's a helluva lot more than whatcha get at them adult stores." Cletus was huffing and puffing; a bull in full charge and fire gleamed in his little pig eyes.
Rufus put up his hands to fend him off and sputtered, "Alright, alright Cletus, relax, just a misunderstanding and it's my fault. Certainly, I intend to pay you our agreed price, because your merchandize is everything you said it would be and much, much more."
Rufus quickly drew his billfold from his pocket and extracted a thick wad of currency. Cletus slowed his charge and pulled up at the edge of Rufus' desk. He watched Rufus count out thirteen one hundred dollar bills.
"There you go, my good man, thirteen hundred dollars, just as agreed," Rufus said, reaching out across the photo-strewn desk to passing the crisp new bills into Cletus' outstretched hand.
Cletus grunted in satisfaction and took the money with his thick, stubby, stained fingers. He rolled the bills and stuffed them into his shirt pocket and thumped the ashes off his cigar onto Headmaster Justice's prized Persian carpet, which occupied a small space on the floor just in front of his desk.
Anne watched the transaction in total shame and humiliation. How often, she though miserably, does a person get to watch while their life, their hopes and dreams, their future and their happiness are bartered and sold in front of their very eyes. And for what? It really was nothing but thirty pieces of silver. Was she worth no more than thirteen hundred dollars? Did her dignity, her self-esteem, her honor come at no greater price than that? She was humiliated and embarrassed and above all terrified at the thought of what use Rufus Justice intended to make of his purchases.
"Just you remember, Rufus, they's plenty more where them come from. I got lots and they's all for sale, if the price's right," Cletus said, shaking Mr. Justice's hand vigorously.
He spun around, wiping his hand on his shirt as he did, and strode quickly to the doorway, where he muttered to the hapless girl as he passed, "Serves ya right, you ungrateful cunt, running out on me and Nadeen like you'ns did. We's been hopin' to hear about you, and now we did. We'll be seein' you again real soon, I expect. Have a nice day, now, ya hear?"
He brushed against her brusquely and laughed when she recoiled in disgust. His laugh was coarse and hateful, and it chilled her to the marrow of her bones.
A closed circuit TV screen, connected to a surveillance camera scanning the front door and walk, flickered in the corner and drew their attention. She and Rufus watched the screen silently as Cletus swaggered down the walk to his van, puffing clouds of bluish smoke and counting Headmaster Justice's money. Anne's heart was pounding in her ears and the noise of her blood rushing almost drowned out the sounds of Cletus' van starting up. She was trembling and fear ached in the pit of her stomach. She watched in terror as the van rumbled down the drive and out onto the highway.
* * *
Moon Dog was good, he'd give him that. He was expensive, too, but worth every penny. The report read like a first rate novel and, best of all, he knew that every fact, every tidbit of information was true and accurate, down to the tiniest detail. Caleb could almost feel the girl's horror and sense of helplessness as the story swept him along in its rapidly flowing currents. He had nearly forgotten his drink and reached for the glass, fumbling eagerly to turn to the next page.
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