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Authors: Barbara Bell

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BOOK: Stacking in Rivertown
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Which one? No. The man in the car said they. God. Multiple screws. Ben’s going to teach me a lesson. He likes to make sure you know he’s the boss. I figure he’s going to go out of his way on that point this weekend.

Jump back on that horse, I keep telling myself as the elevator doors close behind me. At the top floor, the bellboy leads me to a set of double doors at the end of the hall. He opens them inward, revealing a large anteroom. I walk through into a grand and gracious sitting room with a bank of windows dead ahead. The windows draw me over, and I look across Manhattan at night, the dark smudge of Central Park smack in the middle, just below.

For that moment, I forget about everything. I think of the river at night, fireflies blinking a thousand deep in the tupelo and the sweetbush on the far shore. I can smell sweet bay nearby and woodsmoke from over at Grady’s. The rumble of the city beneath reminds me of the crush of water that scrapes between the banks and over the bed of the river.

The bellboy makes a sound. Embarrassed, I turn, hand him his tip, and watch him flirt with his eyes once before he disappears behind the doors.

I take in the room. A colossal arrangement of cut flowers stands in a vase on a table in the center. Walking over to them, I check the card.

More instructions.

The card says to eat dinner alone in the hotel restaurant, then have the valet bring around my car. A black Jaguar. I imagine myself wheeling down Central Park South in a cool, sleek Jag.

Maybe this is going to be fun after all.

That’s when I get out my stuff. After you’ve been in the business for awhile, you begin to get nervous. You watch the others disappear, fade away. You know it’s just a matter of time before the dangers get you. And like I said, Ben started getting meaner.

Violet started our ritual. She stole a candle from St. Pat’s and put it in a cup next to her bed. Before each play, she would light it and blow it out three times.

I began sitting with her, never going down to a play without doing the candle. After awhile, I got a cup. We’d light the candle three times, then I’d turn the cup over, thinking of the dangers buzzing everywhere.

So I take the candle and cup out of my bag, setting them both on the floor. I perform our ritual kneeling. It’s the first time I’d ever done it alone, which almost starts me crying. I sit quiet then, trying to get up my nerve.

After a time, I leave the room, pulling the doors shut behind, feeling a bit floaty in the head. I take the elevator down and hit the restaurant. A table is reserved for Elizabeth Boone.

My waiter flirts to beat the band. He wants me to order a large spread. I’m sorry to disappoint him, keeping it light. A salad. No wine. Alcohol and Ben never mixed for me. I did acquire a poisonous taste for smack. Ben didn’t mind. He was the one that got me started, handing it out for a reward like it was candy.

I’m forcing myself to eat when the concierge arrives, offering me a note on a small tray. I wait for him to leave before I open it.

It says: “Finish up quick and return to your room. We need to talk.”

Something must have gone wrong. Maybe they didn’t like me. I charge the meal to the room. The waiter helps me up, smiling hopefully. I blow him a kiss and grab my purse, then head for the elevators.

As I’m going up, I think I might lose that nice salad. One to five, I say to myself. Count one to five and then start again. Don’t mind the lights. (I tell myself this because I’m seeing a few lights roving in the air.) One to five.

The elevator opens. My heels
tick, tick
over the marble entryway floor. I’d thought the play was going to be a grab. Now I’m not so sure. I walk into the anteroom, closing the doors behind me and dropping my purse on a boringly tasteful table. Then I stroll into the sitting room, expecting to see Ben.

Across the room, and sitting with drinks in hand like they’re in their own home, are a man and woman wearing masks that look like something out of a costume ball. I stand, shocked. That goddamn Ben has tricked me again.

That’s when they get me.

The first guy jerks back on my mouth so hard, I bite my lip. So I’m thinking, shit, shit, shit. So much for leaving the face clean.

He stuffs a wad of cloth deep into my mouth. I fight hard. Ben appears out of nowhere, similarly masked, and helps them hold me down on my back.

One of the boys, a blond Aryan type sporting a Lone Ranger mask, holds my mouth and starts fondling. That’s when I get a nasty surprise. They begin taping me.

Tape is playing dirty for Ben.

I try to scream, shooting a nasty look at him.

“Shut up, bitch,” the blond says as he’s taping my mouth. He slaps me good and hard a couple times after he’s done.

From the look in Ben’s eyes, a mixture of anger and delight, I’m beginning to get the feeling this isn’t play. He leans down and slaps me a good one. They tape my eyes, then turn me over, taping ankles, knees, and my wrists behind. I hear somebody laugh and I’m slapped on my ass, and then they all three stand back from me. I’m breathing hard and still kicking.

What do you think? Ben says. I hear the lovely couple walk over to me. Ben kicks me.

Turn on your side, he says.

I turn, curling my knees up. Ben grabs my hair and turns my face toward them.

Perfect, a woman says.

She’ll do fine, a man says.

You could start on her here. It’s Ben’s voice.

I feel hands on my breasts. I struggle, trying to get away. I’m pushed over and held tight to the floor on my back.

A knife cuts my dress open from my neck down to my waist. My bra is cut in front and pulled back.

Someone’s touching my head and my cheek. Hands move down to my nipples.

You’re beautiful, the woman says. We’re going to have a little fun with you tonight.

Let’s get her out of here, the man says. It makes me nervous.

All right then, Ben says. Boys, go ahead and pack her up.

I hear them walk away and return, dropping something heavy near me. Turning me on my side, they tie my knees to my neck and my ankles to my wrists so that I’m folded up tight.

As I’m lying there in my helpless state, one guy kneels over me and says in my ear so that the lovely couple can’t hear. “Ben wants you to know that you’re a newborn again, Beth.”

I almost lose it then. The basement comes into my head. I attempt to count one to five, but I try to scream anyway. He laughs a little, sounding too much like Ben. The two of them lift me up and settle me down in what I’m assuming is a luggage trunk, just big enough for me. The lid is slammed shut, latched, and locked.

Panic slams into me. I try to breathe steady. I try to count. Time passes. I hear voices, then the trunk is lifted onto a wheeled cart and off I go. I’m stopped after a rough ride during which my tailbone is jarred into the base of my brain. The trunk is lifted and set down. I hear something slam shut.

Shit. They’ve packed me into a van like a piece of cargo. For some reason, this finally breaks me. I start to cry, breathing heavier now from the heat and the lack of air. I begin to sweat.

I don’t remember how long the drive is because I think I pass out for a bit, the lights flashing in front of my eyes to beat the band. I wake when the van doors are opened and slammed. I feel myself lifted out and set down. The lid is unlatched. Fresh air curls around my body and face. I could weep for it. They turn over the trunk and I tumble out, hitting the floor hard. Someone cuts the ropes holding me so tight together. I stretch out, moaning.

Then the two guys each grab an arm and drag me off, I’m assuming in front of the lovely couple so they can take in the whole show. Now they haul me through several halls and then down a flight of stairs. I start to cry again, start to fight.

I’ve gotten out of practice, I guess.

A door is opened and they dump me on a cold tile floor. Something about the room seems surgical, maybe the smell. I begin to wonder if the clients are just going to watch, or if they’re going to be players too.

I hear the door open. They walk in. The door closes. A knife cuts the tape on my ankles and knees. It’s ripped away. They stand me up. Somebody socks me hard in the stomach. Lucky for me, I’m ready. That’s one of Ben’s favorite moves. Hit them when they can’t see. I buckle good and drop. They stand me up again and my gorgeous dress is cut off. I’m stripped.

The two guys hold me by the arms to display. The clients approach, stroke me, fondle. Then I’m slapped. Slapped again.

“Okay,” the man says, and we’re off on the play.

Ben works me hard. It seems like they do me for hours, Ben using a whip on me. Sometime near the end, I break. I start to scream, pushing against the straps. I can’t stop. They’d removed the tape from my mouth a long time ago, for obvious reasons. Ben quick-jams a gag in before I start spewing trash out at him, which I have a knack of doing. The berserks get hold of me. Then I cry again.

I know Ben must be all smiles. What a good show I gave. Command performance. Not just any whore can do that.

I hear them talking.

Keep her, they say. We’re in town until tomorrow. We’ll pay. Tomorrow evening. Early. Maybe five.

Holding fees are high, he says.

We’ll pay, they say again. Tomorrow at five. Can we watch you put her away?

Sure, says Ben. He scratches out a figure on a pad. I hear the man get out a wallet. Bills are exchanged. Ben calls on the intercom. They come in, undoing me from the contraption I’m in and cuffing my ankles and wrists together in back, just like in that damn basement. They drag me to another room, fitting me in a dog cage.

It was probably Buster’s, I think. I’m crying hard now. I hear the door close. They all go away.

Every summer, Vin, Mandy, and me would try to build a raft. One of us, must have been Vin, read about Tom Sawyer in school. When we were little, we didn’t have any idea what we were doing. We’d work on a raft for weeks, weaving charms as we built and making up stories that grew increasingly bizarre about the raft and where it would take us.

Vin was always adding little time-saving devices like the automatic fishing pole. He’d nail on some contorted-looking arm with a string and hook hanging off it. Mandy and me added stuff willy-nilly. Who knows why.

By the time we were done, our rafts looked like fantastic multi-limbed creatures in an agony of protuberances. No wonder they all sank. I figured that if we lost enough rafts at the same point on the river, sooner or later, at least we’d have a dock.

We mined our materials from the wreck of an old barn, long ago fallen in, that lay a ways upriver. Each year, we practiced our craft, learning through trial and error how you keep something afloat. It wasn’t until Mandy’s last summer that we got one to work. I’m still not sure why it floated when all the others sank. Maybe because of Mandy. Maybe she got lighter and lighter that last year.

I think of us gliding. Damselflies skirt the brown water. The heat makes us sleepy, and Vin lets the river carry us, using the pole to keep us off the banks.

It was like a dream you’d make up, because you knew it would never be true. But there it was, the three of us floating. The willows draped above. The cottonwoods flicked. We saw two herons on stalk legs and a doe with a fawn.

The raft floated past the rise and the cemetery where the stones caught the light.

This is the river then. It is passing by slow, leaving even Rivertown behind.

I’ll never forget that feeling of watching it all go by, not guiding, not pushing. And listening to the lapping of the doe.

After Ben leaves with his clients, I wait for the boys to come and let me loose. I wait a long time, getting a bad feeling about the whole thing. I kick the side of the cage. I scream into the gag. All in all, I’m pretty ineffectual. I start thinking about what the guy said about me being a newborn again.

That’s when it comes clear. Ben has decided to make me the star in his own personal play. Sure, there are the other plays, this weirdo couple for one. But Ben’s getting his rocks off big. He’s probably watching me on video right now. I kick the cage again for his benefit.

And what occurs to me next, which should have occurred to me sooner before I got myself into this mess, is that Ben might be playing for keeps again. This weekend could stretch out into God knows how many years.

But I’m old, I think. He doesn’t use players this old.

I lie quiet, pissed off at myself for being such an imbecile.

We had an imbecile in our school. Well, I like to say we had a lot of imbeciles, but only one that we actually called an imbecile. He tended to drool and he liked to rock with one arm bent over his head. I felt sorry for him because he didn’t look comfortable the way he sat in the back of the room with his legs clutched up under the chair. He preferred to do his rocking on the floor, but Miss Summers always made him get back into the chair. Maybe she thought he would learn better that way.

He never made any bother. He just rocked, sometimes drooling, with his other hand tight in a fist and jammed in his mouth.

Mandy didn’t like him. She said he gave her the shivers. I sat close to him and just watched, not saying a thing, chin on my hand. I studied him like he was an African bird or something.

BOOK: Stacking in Rivertown
7.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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