[Not sure what’s going on here? Then drink well and deeply from the jewel encrusted chalice of the previous chapter and quench the thirst of your mortal ignorance.]
I stood there, frozen, my heart tearing away at the inside of my chest. Had I just been shot at? Had that really just happened?
“You folks don’t listen real well do ya?” a voice called from the vicinity of the house. “I told ya before, stay off my property.”
I saw Angie reach into her purse for the gun and put a hand out to stop her. “Being the biggest target here, I’m not particularly keen on you starting a gun fight.” Then I put my hands in the air, heart still pounding like a drum, and stepped toward the house. “I’m not sure who you think we are,” I called out, “but we just want to use your phone.”
“Get your own phone,” the voice called back. “And get offa my property.”
I was about to turn and walk away, but Angie stepped up. “Please,” she said. “There are men chasing us and we’ve walked such a long way. Isn’t there something you can do to help us?”
“Nope. Now scram. Unless you want the next shot between your pretty little eyes.”
She looked at me and shrugged. “I guess the damsel in distress routine doesn’t play so well around these parts,” she said.
“Well, for what it’s worth, I’d rescue you. Assuming I wasn’t in the same distress you were.”
But then, from the direction of the trailer I heard the voice call out again. “Hold on, just a minute. You there. You’re Vinny Price, aren’t you?”
“Yeah? How you know me?”
“You come from Frog’s place?”
“Well get in here quick, ‘fore them fellas see you.”
Angie looked at me, and I shrugged. “No idea.”
“Well, let’s get inside before he changes his mind,” she said.
She headed for the house, and I followed, but there were warning bells going off in my head. Something about this wasn’t right. Of course I told myself it could be I was just paranoid. Years of being beat up and spit on by society has a way of making you suspicious of kindness. Maybe this was that. But then again, suspicious or not, there was no way I was going to stay out here in the hot sun.
As we approached the trailer I saw a window slam shut and a moment later the door swung open. A tall gangly man with a shriveled up face, a wild white beard and a pair of beat-up overalls motioned us in.
The inside of the trailer stank of cigarette smoke, the only light to speak of came seeping in through the yellowed curtains that hung at the windows.
“We really appreciate this,” Angie said.
“No trouble,” the old man said. “It’s a good thing you found me. Those fellers ain’t to be trusted. No siree.”
“What do you know about them?” I asked.
“The name’s John,” the man said, ignoring my question. “Ugly John’s what folks call me. Maybe you’ve seen my truck around town?”
“The big blue one?” Angie asked.
“That’s me,” John replied. He reached into the front pocket of his overall and pulled out a limp and frayed business card with a picture of a chainsaw and the words, “Ugly John’s Stump Grinding” and the phone number written on the front.
“Do you have a phone we can use?” I asked.
“Are you sure I can’t get you two something to drink? It’s burning up out there.”
“Water would be wonderful,” Angie replied.
“Coming right up,” Ugly John said, and gave her a grin that hovered on the edge of becoming a leer.
He got some ice out of an old yellow refrigerator and put it in a cup that he filled with water from the tap. And the thing that made those alarms bells I was telling you about ring even louder in my head, was the fact that he did it all one-handed. The other hand never left the forearm of his rifle.
And there was something else too. He knew my name. To my knowledge I had never met this guy before in my life, and yet somehow he knew my name.
“Look we really, appreciate this,” I said as John handed the glass to Angie. “But we really need to get going. If you’ve got a phone around here-”
“I’d love to help ya’ll out,” John said, cutting me off. “Only problem is my telephone here has been out for three days. Ever since that lightning storm. I’ve been meaning to swing by and pick up a new one, but what with one thing and another, I just haven’t got around to it, you know? Tell you what though, I can drive you up the road a pace to the gas station. They got a phone there you can use.”
“We really appreciate-” Angie started, but I cut her off.
“No thank you.”
Both of them looked at me strangely. “It’s just, we don’t want to impose on your time,” I said, stumbling over my words, feeling more and more foolish the further I went one. “The gas station isn’t more than a few miles. I guess we can walk that distance.”
“What is wrong with you Vinny?” Angie said. “I’m tired of walking. And on a day like this?”
“I know what I’m doing,” I said. This was a, unequivocal, bare faced, cross-your-fingers-behind-your-back-so-that-lightning-won’t-strike-you-down lie. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I was going on a hunch, a funny feeling and some facts that didn’t quite add up. It was possible I could be dead wrong.
Which is why, when Ugly John leveled his rifle at Angie’s chest and said, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to insist,” in a low and menacing voice, that a small part of me pumped its fist and said, “I TOLD you so!” Most of the rest of the parts of me, did their best to stay in control of my excretory functions.
“What…what is this?” Angie said, taking a small step back.
“This is you putting that purse on the ground and not even thinking about going for the gun in there,” Ugly John said. There was something different about his voice now. It was still emerging from the same mouth, it still carried the same tone, but the subtler shades of his accent had gone.
Angie slowly lowered the purse to the ground and then stood, hands raised.
“All right big boy, now if you look in the third drawer from the end there, you’ll find a bag of zip ties. Do me a favour and tie Miss Priss’s hands behind her back.”
I found the zip ties right where he’d said they’d be, and as I tightened on around Angie’s wrists.
John inspected my work, then yelled, “Tighter!”
I whispered “Sorry,” in Angie’s ear and did as I was told. The plastic looked like it was cutting into her wrist now, but before I could say anything John said, “Now, you. Turn around. Miss Priss, back over in the corner and don’t try anything funny.”
“I have a name, you know,” Angie said.
John didn’t answer. Instead, he pulled my hands behind my back and yanked another zip tie closed around my wrists.
“Ouch,” I yelped as I felt the plastic biting into my skin. “That hurts, man. Haven’t you ever heard of duct tape? Last time I was kidnapped, guy used duct-tape. It pulls at your arm hairs, but-”
“Shut up and move,” John snarled, gesturing toward the door with his gun. “We’re going to take a little ride.”
He grabbed Angie by the arm and hustled her toward the door. I felt a little insulted by that, him just assuming that I would go along placidly. Then again, he probably figured if I did make a run for it, he could catch up to me without breaking a sweat. Or shoot me. I figured my best plan was to just go along placidly.
Out in the front yard of the mobile home sat Ugly John’s distinctive blue truck. He made us climb up inside and lay down, and then zip tied our knees and ankles.
It was terribly uncomfortable laying back there, since tools and bits of what I guessed were chainsaw parts were strewn haphazardly across the truck bed. Luckily my head rested against a trash bag full of rotting leaves.
“Pretty smart making us walk out here and get in the truck before you tied our legs,” I said. “You’d have had a time lifting me up here on your own.”
I didn’t know what kind of response I was expecting to that, but Ugly John just grunted and slammed the tailgate.
I heard him slam the truck’s cab door, and a moment later the diesel roared to life with a thundering rumble.
“Why didn’t he gag us?” Angie asked me as the truck started to move.
“I’m guessing its because he’s not planning on taking us anywhere where screaming would make much difference. The area’s pretty secluded as it is, and there’re some logging roads that go way back into the forest. Hunters use them during deer season, but this time of year there’s not likely to be anyone around for miles.”
“What do you think he’s going to do with us? Do you…do you think he’s going to kill us?”
By now the truck was picking up speed and the wind roared in my ears as we rumbled along washboard dirt roads. “I don’t know,” I shouted, raising my voice to be heard above the din. I don’t think so though. If he’d wanted to kill us he could have done it back there.”
“Maybe he was being careful,” Angie replied. “Or maybe it was like you said, he knew he couldn’t carry you if you were dead weight.”
The thought of being made to walk to my own grave flashed through my head, but I pushed it away. “Something doesn’t make sense about all this,” I said. “That’s why I wanted to get out of there in the first place. He knows who I am. He knew about those guys at Frog’s place.”
“You think he’s in on it somehow?”
“This doesn’t make any sense Vinny.”
“I know. Believe me. I know.”
But in the back of my mind a terrible thought was worming its way further and further into my consciousness. And the thought took the form of a simple question: what if Frog was right?
[Author’s Note: this story is loosely set in my home town of Milton Florida, and Ugly John is a real person with a real stump grinding business here. That said, I’m pretty sure he’s not in the habit of kidnapping hapless adventurers. So if you should happen to be in the area and you have upon your person a stump which might require some degree of grinding you should not hesitate to call him up.]