DARK BLISS (Dangerous Games,)

BOOK: DARK BLISS (Dangerous Games,)
6.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
The Desert


stretched between two stakes pounded into the dry desert ground, my wrists tied to one and my ankles to the other. I’d been that way for an hour, listening to the harsh voices of my captors talking and joking to each other. They were just out of sight but I’d heard the pop of beer cans and I smelled smoke.

’d built a fire, but why? It was a long time till dark. The sun was hot overhead.

My gag had been removed
when they dragged me out of their vehicle, the blindfold too. “Scream all you want,
,” said the one with the brush mustache and mean eyes. “Nobody will hear you out here.”

“Nobody,” said h
is partner, the big one with the shaved head. “Not even the police!” The two burst into cruel laughter.

I had been about to
climb in my rent car after shopping in the small but bustling Mexican town of Tuláz when I was grabbed from behind and a rough hand clamped over my mouth. I was silenced and bound with brisk, cold competence and thrown in an SUV.

Lying helpless in the back of the
car as they navigated out of town and onto the highway to an unknown destination, I assumed that someone had discovered I was more than just another tourist. I could only hope that ransom negotiations would go quickly and I’d be home in a few days.

I didn’t know how they’d found out I was wealthy but only that could explai
n taking the risk of grabbing a
in broad daylight in the middle of a busy town. My foolish dream of an ordinary vacation, just like any other American girl’s, had gone up in smoke. I was scared of course, but not frightened out of my wits. Judging from the speed and efficiency that I’d been snatched, I was in the hands of professionals who wanted to ransom me. That was consoling in a bizarre way.

I forced myself to do
my breathing exercises. In and out, slow and deep. Again. Calm the body, calm the mind.
Panic will get you nowhere, Rory.

That helped
. A little anyway. I twisted my body between the two stakes. My arms ached, stretched as they were, and I tried to relieve the discomfort. No such luck, the rope held me tight. I was baffled. Why tie me to the ground here in the middle of nowhere? I’d read once about Indians torturing captives by staking them in ant beds but aside from the occasional insect tickle I’d been spared that fate.

My mouth had gotten terribly dry. “Could I have some water?” I called.

“In a minute,
,” said the big one. “First we got something to do. Come on, Carlos”

I heard footsteps.
The big one bent over me and thrust a leather strap between my lips, buckling it in back. I protested but the strap made clear speech impossible. “No, doan! Pleath doan. I be quieh.”

“It’s not to shut you up,
. It’s to keep you from biting your tongue,” laughed Carlos. “Need to save that pretty mouth to suck my dick.”

He came around and stood in front of me, holding some kind of
glowing iron tool. What in the world was going on? Surely they didn’t intend to torture me? Kidnappers don’t hurt hostages unless the ransom isn’t paid and I’d been grabbed only hours—

“Brandin’ time,
,” said the big one, pulling up my dress.

Oh my God! They’re
going to
I struggled between the stakes and shrieked through the leather strap. “No,
! Pleath!” I begged. “Doan!

They laughed. “Sorry,
. Orders.”

“Hold her leg still,” said
Carlos. “She’s moving too much. I want a nice, clean mark.”

Con mucho gusto
,” said the big one, gripping my thigh tightly.

slowly moved the branding iron toward me, clearly relishing my terror. He held it just over my thigh, ready to mark me forever. I shut my eyes tightly, waiting for the pain of the hot metal.

“She’s worth more without the brand,” said a new voice.

I opened my eyes. My captors were staring at a tall stranger only ten feet away. He was lean and muscled in a leather jacket and held what looked like a hunting knife, using it to clean a fingernail. Under other circumstances the sight might have been comical. I didn’t know if he meant to rescue me or just wanted to watch, but I welcomed the interruption, anything to delay branding.

“Where the fuck did
come from?” snarled Carlos, rising.

“Little oak grove, other side of
that ridge,” he said, gesturing behind him. Though he was brown-skinned like them, he spoke with an American accent. “Me and the guys.”

The two looked at each other. “What guys?”

“Just my posse.” He walked closer for a good look at me. I saw my captors exchange baffled looks. He grinned at me affably, as if he’d interrupted a prank. I began to wonder if he might be retarded. He kept playing with his knife. It was a wicked-looking thing but no match for two men, both armed.

How much you want for her?” he said brightly, like a man making a shrewd trade.
Tell you what, fellers. Take her off your hands for fifty bucks.

“Not for sale,
” said the big one, pulling a gun from his waistband. He spoke quietly but the menace in his voice was clear. “Do yourself a favor, amigo. Put that toothpick away and walk back the way you came and forget what you saw.


had pulled off the highway after his Harley began making popping noises. He followed a narrow asphalt road that led to a dirt track which in turn led to a spring with a live oak grove that offered some shelter from the blistering sun. He parked the bike, drank some water and got his tools from the saddlebags. He knelt and got to work.

re was a low rise on one side of the grove, something between a knoll and a ridge, just high enough to hide him from anyone on the other side, not that it mattered much out here. He’d bedded down in this spot more than once, knew it well. Nobody came here.

After a while he
heard the sound of a vehicle maybe a mile off. That itself was common enough. The dirt track led to various small ranches in the area. People passed this way on occasion.

The sound grew louder but this time it didn’t pass on. It stopped somewhere on the other side of the rise.
He heard voices and slammed doors. Seemed to be a couple of guys. What were they doing out here? Drug run maybe The ground was flat, no trees to speak of. Good place for a light plane to land. Pick up or delivery?

Or maybe they just had engine trouble of their own. Either way, none of his business. The
y thought they were alone. That was fine. The two kept up a constant laughing conversation, loud talkers. As long as he didn’t make any racket, they’d never know he was around. Either they’d leave before he was done or he’d be done and could roar off before they could react – assuming they gave a shit whether he was there or not.

He was about to get back to work when he heard a w
oman’s voice, high and frightened. What the hell? After a moment she was silent and he tried to focus his mind on the bike. Didn’t work. He put down his wrench and headed toward the rise, walking slowly and carefully. Wouldn’t do to step on a branch.

At the top of the rise
was a patch of weeds and wire grass. He used that for cover and poked his head just enough to scope things out, like he’d done on surveillance missions.

dusty SUV, recent make, less than a hundred feet off. Two men, just like he’d expected. Rough customers too: big one with a shaved head and a smaller one with mean eyes. They had a woman on the ground, American from her looks. She was fully clothed, at least for now, wearing a green sheath dress that looked expensive to Rock. Red hair, nice face, scared but not out of control – not yet.

They were tying her to two stakes
about six feet apart, wrists to one and ankles to the other. Either they’d prepared this spot for her or they’d used it before. Either way, this didn’t look good. Once she was secure they walked back to the SUV. The position in which she’d been bound kept her from seeing them. He was glad of that because the big one took out a small barbecue grill and the other got a bag of charcoal.

They got a fire going and then fetched a small cooler
and two lawn chairs. They sat and drank beer, relaxed as a couple of dudes at a backyard cookout. No hurry, all the time in the world. A phone rang and one of them looked to see who was calling, then texted a message. He half expected them to bring out a card table and play a few rounds of gin rummy before they got to work on the girl.

Every now and then one of them would glance at
her, lying on the ground cruelly stretched between the two stakes. She was uncomfortable, probably in moderate pain, badly frightened for sure but basically calm. That was remarkable. He wondered about her: where she came from, what she did, what she’d done to get in the spot she was in. Had she pissed someone off? Had her husband? Would they let her live or take pictures of her blistered body before leaving her for the coyotes?

retreated, creeping carefully down the slope, no noise. He went back to his bike, swigged some water and resumed work, all the time in an internal argument between what he thought of as the Kid and the Old Man.


KID: We got to do something. Right away.

OLD MAN: We don’t do a thing. None of our business.

KID: We can’t just let them torture her? Kill her maybe?

OLD MAN: And get killed
too? Those two are bad news, armed too.

Got the knife. Good with it too.

Yeah, use it to slice bullets when the shooting starts. I’m telling you, it’s none of our lookout.

KID: You let this happen, you’re as bad as them.

OLD MAN: No I’m not and I’m not some fucking white knight either. I mind my business. You should too.

KID: What happens to her
my business, yours too.

OLD MAN: What happens to her is
el destino
, her fate. Hers, not ours.

“Yo soy su campeón.”

OLD MAN: What did you say?

KID: You know what. “I am their champion.”

OLD MAN: Shut up, kid.
Just shut up!.


Half an hour later, he’d fixed the engine. He hoped. No way to test it. If he made noise this near, they’d be over the rise in thirty seconds. He’d have to walk the bike at least half a mile before he could start the engine safely. Time to get going. He didn’t want to be around when the screaming started.

He put the tools away, took
a last swig. Girl must be parched by now. Damn shame. Can’t be helped. He gripped the handlebars and poked the kickstand up. He’d gone off the dirt track to get to the grove, no way to get back on it without being seen. He’d have to walk the bike a hundred yards from the rise, then keep moving parallel to the track until he was too far to be heard. He pushed the heavy motorcycle and started moving.

gone about twenty yards when he heard a shriek. He pushed the bike another couple of yards. Another shriek. He swore, nudged the kickstand down with his boot, opened the saddlebags, jerked his knife from its scabbard and ran to the rise.

topped the rise without worrying about being spotted. He needn’t have worried. They didn’t even notice him, so intent were the two on enjoying their victim’s terror. The smaller man held a glowing cattle brand in a thick leather glove.

He’d hoped to get close enough that he use the knife on the big one but he didn’t have time. The little one had the iron only inches from the
cowering girl. Got to do something fast. He stopped and struck a casual stance.

s worth more without the brand,” he said off-handedly in his Gomer Pyle voice, a passable imitation of a good ol’ boy. Better to keep them confused for a couple of seconds. Let them think he was a curious local yokel, no threat.

The two
rose and turned toward him, surprised and scowling. “Where the fuck did you come from?” said the little one.

Little oak grove, other side of the rise. Me and the guys.”

“What guys?”

“Just my posse. How much you want for her?” he asked, taking a step toward them, getting in position, turning the knife like a toy, holding it by the blade, then the handle, then the blade again.

“Not for sale,” said the big bald one, pulling out his
gun. Up close, Rock could see it was a Magnum .357, real cannon. “Do yourself a favor, amigo. Put that toothpick away. Turn around. Walk back the way you came and forget what you saw.

BOOK: DARK BLISS (Dangerous Games,)
6.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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