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Authors: RB Stutz

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BOOK: Masked
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In different circumstances, clean
and not bruised, she would have been a beautiful girl, with sparkling blue eyes.
Ted had taken that from her, leaving someone broken and defeated, her eyes icy
and haunted.

There was a piece of duct tape
over her mouth with painted bright red lips. Her hands and feet were both
cuffed with a chain attaching the two sets of cuffs in front of her. The box
smelled of stale sweat and worse.

I tried to calm her.

“It’s okay, he won’t hurt you
anymore. No one is going to hurt you,” I said.

I felt sick. If only I could have
found her sooner.

I looked again at the chains and
walked over to Ted to find his key ring. When I turned back to the box, the
girl had come out.

I knew the dark mask was only
further scaring her but I didn’t want to be identified. I’d been all over town
showing my face over the last week and a half, but there were a lot of new
faces in town. The stunt I pulled at the store had already been risky enough,
although necessary. The last thing I needed was another witness with my
description.

“What the hell!” I pulled off the
mask. Maybe seeing a face close to her own age would calm her. “My name is
Michael. I’m here to help you. He’s not getting back up.”

I reached for her and she snapped
away. “Please let me get those chains off and we can get out of here.”

She hesitated, but nodded and
after removing the chains I went for the duct tape. She shrugged back again,
frightened, as I reached for her mouth. She saw my intentions and relaxed as I
tried to remove the adhesive smile.

The girl stood rigid against the
wall, waiting, as I took the chains and bound the unconscious Ted. I pushed him
into the crate and locked the latch. I pulled my phone from my jeans pocket and
dialed 911.

 “I’m at 3014 Rock Ridge Road, I’ve
found Hannah Summers, she needs medical attention.” I disconnected.

“Hannah, you’re going to be
alright. Help is on the way.”

She was weak and allowed me to
help her out of the room and up the stairs. Once upstairs, I helped her settle
onto the sofa in the living room.

“You sit down. I’ll be right
back.”

I went back down stairs for a
couple of minutes and came back up to hear sirens in the distance.

“I need to leave. I’m so sorry he
did this to you. I wish I could have found you sooner.”

The sirens grew louder as I made
my way towards the door at the back of the house. It was a good thing I could
teleport. I was going to have to make my way back to town through the woods on
foot to avoid being spotted. I put the mask back on.

“Thank you,” the girl said in a
weak shaky voice.

I turned back to look at her for
a second, nodded, and walked out.

CHAPTER 2

 

“How long have I been doing
this?” I asked myself exhausted, as I drove on what seemed like the same
highway, I always traveled in the isolation of nowhere, in the middle of the
night. It was another dark highway; one more lonely road.

The only thing I could get on the
radio was some middle-of-the-night soft rock station. For whatever reason, when
driving through the more isolated parts of the Rockies that one station always
came in the clearest. Usually the same loop of past hits repeated itself each
night. The reception was choppy and starting to fade.

I recognized most of the songs,
at least parts, enough to sing along to, but had no idea of the song titles or
artists. A song about someone being all out of love and so lost without someone
else was playing by an artist who sounded like a woman, but for some reason who
I thought was really a man.

The large green sign showed it
was ‘sixty-four miles to Missoula.’ I considered it for a moment, looked at the
clock and decided it was as good of a place to stop as any. Dawn was coming
soon and I knew I shouldn’t try to go any further. I’d been driving all night,
well at least since 12:30, when I finally was able to make my way out of Troy.

Troy had been only the latest
stop on my endless self-inflicted wanderings through the Pacific Northwest. I
was glad the business there was over and Hannah was safe. It had been hard to finally
pin it on Ted and my head throbbed with the additional effort.

After leaving Ted’s house, it took
a while to make it out of town. Since I’d been there for a week and a half, I was
strapped for funds and wasn’t going to get far on a twenty dollar bill and near
empty tank of gas. I needed more cash in order to be able to move on.

Getting cash when I needed it
usually wasn’t a problem since I could teleport pretty much anywhere I wanted,
just a simple in, out and away. This time however, I ran into a few minor
glitches with the out and away part, probably due to stupidity under the
influence of exhaustion, but I guess it couldn’t be easy every time. All that
mattered was I had the cash I needed to move on.

I was used to being up all night,
it was the schedule I knew, how I was forced to live. Night time was when I
preferred to travel and usually I fit sleep in during the day. Since most of
the time there wasn’t much I could do during the day, the schedule worked well
for me. The last couple of days had been long though, and sleep seemed like a
distant friend. The throbbing in my head was almost unbearable.

I yawned aloud to the empty
vehicle as I pressed the palm of my right hand to my pounding temple. “Man, I
need to get some sleep.” Each pulse carried through my cranium as if someone
was beating it like a bass drum in a parade.

I reached over and opened the
glove box to riffle through its contents, pulling out a few different
prescription bottles before finding the one I wanted.

A few of the small pills fell
into my mouth as I poured them straight from the bottle. I chewed with a bit of
a grimace and swallowed down the bitter pieces. Without anything to chase the
bits of pill down, several pieces got caught in my dry throat.

“Blah.”

I twisted the lid back on the
container and tossed it into the open glove box. Fortunately, I was able to
work up enough saliva to get all of the pieces down.

Next to me, on the passenger seat
was a plastic grocery bag. Unfortunately the bag didn’t contain anything to
drink. I did however have several bars of
nourishment
. The reason I say
nourishment
instead of food is because calling the bag’s contents food is an affront to
anyone with functional taste buds. I reached in to pull out a protein energy
bar.
Choco-Explosion
, it said on the wrapper.

Who were they kidding? It was the
type of bar that was high in energy and protein, but equally low in taste and
appetizing texture. The choco in Choco-Explosion was a chemical tasting attempt
at chocolate without any of the things that made chocolate good.

The bars served their purpose, a
lot of calories, a lot of energy and little money. I opened the wrapper and
devoured the bar in three bites. Again, I struggled to get it down my dry
throat. I reached over to grab another and ate it equally as fast. I needed to
get something else to eat. I’d had way too many of the bars over the last
couple weeks and they were almost unpalatable to start with. Plus, I was a
growing young man; I needed more than that crap.

The music faded on the stereo
until only static was left. I was very aware of the exhaustion overcoming me
and decided what I needed was something a little more upbeat anyways.

I connected my phone to the black
wire coming out from the front of the stereo. The music player was by default
set at random and after a second the music started.

Punk music was an indulgence I
stumbled across about six months prior. “I Wanna Be Sedated” had come on when I
was in a small café one evening somewhere in Wyoming and I loved it the instant
I heard it. At the time, the song had seemed somewhat familiar, but I didn’t
know it. It wasn’t the type of thing I usually heard on the radio while driving
at night.

After asking the waitress, I
found out it was by the Ramones and sometime after that, I went online to
listen to other Ramones songs and from there other suggested bands. I started
downloading my favorites.

I started with the early days of
punk with bands from the late 70’s/early 80’s and progressed into more modern
bands and other rock derivatives from there. Early punk was still my favorite
though. I love the Ramones and early Clash.

It was the closest thing I had to
a hobby, besides crime fighting, and I allowed myself time here and there to
discover new music to add to my growing collection. I was up to twenty gigabytes
of music. It’s not like I didn’t have the time. I was pretty much always alone,
leaving myself plenty of time to search for and listen to music, read and watch
the endless catalog of movies I’d never seen. Anything I could do to occupy my
thoughts was better than being left alone with them.

Something by the Clash began to play;
I couldn’t remember the name without looking down at the phone, which was no
surprise. I was bad at names, but knew the words. I sang along to each song,
belting out the lyrics as I continued on.

On the outskirts of Missoula, I
decided to pull off the freeway and fill up my almost empty gas tank and past
empty stomach. There was a large truck stop right off the exit, marked with
yellow and red neon lights glowing in the still pre-morning darkness. I pulled
in and up to one of the empty fuel pumps and got out to fill the tank of my
beautiful 1986 Land Cruiser.

The truck had several dents and
what was once white paint was now barely visible through the layer of dust. So
okay, it wasn’t exactly beautiful, but it ran well and I liked it. That’s all
that mattered. It had inner beauty.

There aren’t many places that let
cash customers fill before paying anymore. That was a bit annoying since I was
always a cash only customer. Luckily, the place seemed to be an exception as it
let me start pumping before presenting any form of payment.

As I pumped, I looked on towards
the slightly brightening clear sky and felt a cool breeze blowing through the
pump area. The combined aroma of petroleum and fried food filled my senses as
the wind carried the scents through the breezeway between vehicles. It wasn’t
the most pleasant of combinations, but the greasy food reminded my stomach
again it wanted something real. It had Choco-Exploded one too many times over
the past several days.

When I was through filling up, I
went into the store. I used the facilities first before browsing for something
to eat and drink, hoping maybe caffeine and something consumed other than those
protein bars would help with my throbbing head. The truck stop wasn’t very busy
so early in the morning; there were only a few other customers in the store. I ended
up grabbing a large bottle of water, an energy drink and three packaged
sandwiches, taking my glorious bounty to the front of the store to pay.

“Mornin',” said a small man with
pinched eyes behind the counter in a monotone voice.

“Good morning,” I said back in an
annoying cheerful manner, responding to his lack of cheerfulness.

The gas and food cost $47.59. I
gave the clerk a fifty from my pocket and he handed back the change and a bag
to fill with my purchases. “Thanks,” I said and left the store.

As I was walking back to my truck,
I noticed the sky seemed much brighter than when I had gone inside only five
minutes earlier. It was getting time to find a motel for the day.

I opened the door to the truck
and was about to get in when I heard a cheerful “hello” coming from the pump
next to me.

“Hello,” I said and turned to the
girl I hadn’t noticed. I guess maybe I should have. She was striking.

She looked older than me, but not
by much. Maybe nineteen? Her shoulder-length chocolate hair blew with the
breeze. Her jeans fit snug over her athletic but slim legs and she wore a light
blue ski jacket that seemed tailored to be worn by only her.

She was filling the tank of a
black SUV. I couldn’t tell what make or model it was, but it was definitely
newer and leaps and bounds nicer than my piece of crap, probably made within
the last couple of years rather than the last couple decades.

“It’s supposed to be a beautiful
day,” she said conversationally.

I nodded. “It looks like it just
might be.”

“Are you staying in the area or
just passing through?” Her voice was confident, but pleasant.

“Just passing through.”

“Me too, although seeing the
beautiful morning sky sure makes me want to find an excuse to stay.”

“I have to get going but it was
nice to meet you,” I said as I got back into the truck, cutting the
conversation short.

Did I mention I wasn’t very good
at small talk with girls or really people in general? I wasn’t shy, though a
pretty face was likely to fumble my words some and her face was undoubtedly
pretty. I’d just had a lot of practice at avoiding people. Small talk led to
questions I didn’t want to answer, also daybreak was closing in and I needed to
get going.

The girl smiled, not showing any
annoyance at my rudeness. “You too.”

Once in the truck, I got back on
the highway for a couple of miles and took an exit advertising the Rocky Ridge
Inn. It looked old and out of the way, my kind of place.

I pulled up to the inn which
advertised free HBO and rates from $29 a night.

I laughed. “They had me at the
free HBO.”

The inn looked ancient and
neglected. It was a one-story, pull up to the door of the room crap hole with a
chipped paint wood exterior. I was familiar with the type of place. It provided
all I was looking for, ambiguity, a shower and a place to sleep.

After parking, I walked into the
front office of. A tired looking middle-aged woman was sitting at the desk with
a cigarette in one hand and a novel displaying some bare-chested, long-haired
man on the cover in the other. The room had a strong odor of tobacco smoke
accompanied with an underlying musty smell and something else not discernible,
but unpleasant. It was kind of a sour rot and something I didn’t want to dwell
too much on.

Apparently dressing up the
reception area had never been in the inn’s budget. It was a plain white room
adorned with years of neglect and a single smoke stained framed cross-stitch of
a brown owl. There was a cluttered desk with only a small area to stand in
front of it.

The woman looked up as I let the
door close behind me.

“May I help you?” she asked, her
deep husky voice revealing she probably started smoking right out of the womb.

“I wanted to see if I could get a
room.”

“Ok. Will you be staying past
11:00?”

“Yes.”

“If you’ll be staying past 11:00,
I’ll need to charge you for two nights,” she said.

“That’s fine.” I didn’t really
care; that wasn’t uncommon due to the hours I kept.

“Well, the only rooms I have left
are the two honeymoon suites.”

No big surprise. It wasn’t
exactly a prime honeymoon get away location.

“I’ll take one.”

She said it would be $45 per
night and I pulled out the bundle of cash from my pocket to give her two $50
bills. She gave me back the change and a room key. The key had a large red
heart keychain with a large “ten” painted silver on it.

“Room ten,” she said.

“Thanks.” I headed back outside.

Now that I had my heart-shaped
key in hand, I pulled the truck in front of my room. It was even brighter now
outside.

I grabbed the small plastic bag containing
my recent truck stop purchase as well as the large duffle I had in the back of
the truck. I used the key to unlock the door to my honeymoon suite. The room
had the same smoky-musty smell, but maybe with a little less smoke and without
the sour rot.

BOOK: Masked
5.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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