“No, NO!” she screamed. Cake rolled her over onto her belly and sat on her ass, ignoring her kicking heels on his spine. Gathering her arms together behind her back, he pulled one of the plastic cinch-ties out of his pocket, slipped it around her wrists, threaded it through and pulled it tight. It might as well be steel cord. Her hands would never be free again.
Jaffe was there now and together they hoisted the wailing girl to her feet and dragged her to the van. It was all practiced choreography now. Time was of the essence; this was the part where they were the most vulnerable during the snatch. Cake held the girl at the sliding side door while Jaffe hopped inside and pulled back the heavy burlap tarp, exposing the mattress.
Her eyes went wide at the sight of it. Did she recognize what it meant? Did she know the Red Mattress Killer had her?
Or was it simply that she knew what any stained mattress in a cargo van meant for a kidnapped, lone woman on an empty road?
Cake shoved her forward and Jaffe hauled her inside. Cake slid the door shut, then circled around the back of the van to the driver’s side and climbed in. He was the pilot now and would remain so until Jaffe was done with her.
Cake sighed, the rush of the snatch already fading. This was as routine as marriage. He would put the van into gear and drive away from the road while the girl started her howling and begging. He would drive for an hour, maybe two, to the sounds of Jaffe’s grunting and the girl’s screams and fading groans. Finally, Jaffe would state flatly that he was done, and Cake would pull the van into some remote spot and park it. He would exit the driver’s seat and circle back around to the side door. What he would pull out onto the dirt would be a bloody, torn, gasping mess, which he would then drag into the weeds and defile until death while Jaffe went for a walk, muttering and cursing.
When Jaffe returned they would partner on the disposal. The goal was to delay discovery of the remains, enough to give them a head start to the next state. After that, they didn’t care what happened to the body. It was garbage. Jaffe would take over the driving again while Cake sat in the back silently, not on the mattress but on the floor. Always careful not to touch the mattress but never taking his eyes off it. He wouldn’t speak again for at least two hours.
In the morning, after washing up at the cheapest hotel they could find, they would be back on the road. They wouldn’t hunt again for several days. But eventually the need would build, and Jaffe would start rubbing his nose and picking at his knuckles, then they would start again. And again, and again.
That’s what the immediate future held. But right now, Cake was stuck at the beginning of the cycle. The whole fucking tedious cycle.
Cake’s rat mouth twitched as his hand reached for the gearshift, but it hovered there as his inner voices began to murmur. Something about this snatch wasn’t sitting right with him. What was this girl doing, out alone in the night, miles from nowhere? He didn’t like that. He turned in his seat to get a good look at what they had hauled in.
Jaffe was just beginning his routine. The girl was on the mattress on her knees. Jaffe held her with a vice grip on her left shoulder. With his right hand he brandished a heavy pair of wire clippers, waving them before her face.
“You see this? You see this?”
“Please, oh please—”
“Shut up. You see this, bitch? This is my favorite tool. I call him ‘Mr. Snippy.’ You know what I’m going to do with Mr. Snippy, bitch?”
Cake had seen this song and dance many times before. He sought the terror in her face, seeing it clearly now for the first time. Jesus, Jaffe, don’t you even notice what we have here, you fool? Jaffe was moving into his speech robotically, not even registering that they had bagged themselves one of their most beautiful women yet.
She was fine. Beyond fine. Her light brown eyes were wide as ponds of rough water. She’d done some stupid dye job on her hair, half of which was white, but that didn’t distract from the rest of her. Her chin, her cheeks, her mouth… fucking perfect.
And because she was arching her back away from Jaffe and his clippers, he could tell that her tits were fine. Not big the way he liked them, but they would do.
But even with all that… this wasn’t the first hot chick they had picked up. The old thrill just wasn’t there.
“—and then I’m going to cut it out of you,” Jaffe was droning on. “You hear that? I’m going to cut it right out. What do you think of what I’m telling you, you little whore?”
She burst into tears. Jaffe laughed.
“Yeah, that’s good,” he said, pushing her onto her back. “That’s real good.”
She screamed as the back of her head touched the mattress and felt the wetness there.
Cake could only imagine the kind of sensory nightmare she was in right now. The mattress was rancid with filth. It stank. The entire van stank, like fear and meat. Bottles of chemicals, many open and leaking in a wooden crate pressed up against the back of the driver’s seat, vented harsh, acidic tang that singed the tongue.
From her vantage point, Cake knew she would be able to see brown lines of blood spray, crisscrossing the inside roof of the van like modern art.
Jaffe began to climb on top of her and fumble with her one-piece utility jump suit.
Jump suit? The fuck? “Jaffe.”
His partner stopped, raised his head. His expression was frozen confusion bordering on fury, but he paused. “What?”
For a flickering instant, the rage was there. It was the face Jaffe’s victims saw. Then it was gone. He knew to listen to Cake. He wasn’t smart about things. Cake was.
“Get off her for a minute. Sit her up.”
Jaffe did it.
Cake addressed the girl. “What’s your name?”
She just stared at him with wet, wide eyes.
Cake came around from the driver’s seat into the back and squatted at the edge of the mattress. Ge grasped a handful of her hair and squeezed until his knuckles pressed into her scalp and her tears flowed.
“Now you listen, because I’m only going to say this once. When I ask you a question—”
“—you answer. You answer me quick.”
“Yes! Please, please…”
He released his grip like a trap springing in reverse, slowly pulled his hand back with the fingers splayed, letting her watch them retreat.
“What’s your name?”
“Adriana. Adriana what?”
“Priest! Priest. Adriana Priest.”
He nodded, stroked his chin. Then with the same hand he slowly pointed at her chest. These slow, deliberate movements were on purpose. He knew they freaked the women out something fierce. “So tell me, you Nameless Slut, why are you wearing that?”
She stared at him again for a moment before catching herself. She looked down at where his finger was pointing, then back up at his face. Panicking. “I— don’t… I don’t—”
“You’re wearing a black jump suit like some fucking jet pilot. And combat boots.” His eyes scanned her. “Elbow pads. Knee pads. What’s that. This yours?” He saw a black bag near the mattress; Cake hadn’t noticed her wearing it during the takedown, but it couldn’t be anyone else’s but hers. It was covered with weird shit. Little stones and tassels and even bits of bone, tied onto the bag at various points. Jaffe must have pulled it off her and thrown it aside.
“What the fuck is this shit you’ve got here?” He reached inside and pulled out a pair of goggles, held them up.
Jaffe sat back on his heels and rubbed his mouth.
“Goggles.” Cake rooted deeper. “Fingerless gloves. Flashlight. Fucking rope. What is this, a face mask?” He tossed the bag aside. “So. Why don’t you tell me, Nameless Slut, what a pretty little thing like you is doing, all alone, late at night, out in the middle of nowhere, dressed like you’re dressed and carrying the gear that you’re carrying.”
She just stared. Cake waited, holding his face neutral. This one was a slow learner.
“Jaffe,” he said evenly, “Press Nameless Slut’s face into the mattress. Let her choke for a while on whatever’s stewing in there.”
Jaffe grinned and took the girl by the hair. He started to force her head down. She screamed.
“Nice and slow now,” Jaffe instructed. “Take your time with it.”
“Please, please, I’ll do anything, please don’t hurt—”
Jaffe pressed her face down. Without use of her arms she had no leverage to resist. He held her there for a full minute, her feet kicking and her body twisting, until Cake nodded for him to pull her up again.
“Ha— haun—” she gasped.
“What’s that? Smelled good, you’re saying? You want to go back down? OK Jaffe, go on—”
“Haunt! Haunted… house! Haunted house, haunted house!”
Cake raised his eyebrows. “Say what now? Jaffe, hold up. Jaffe.”
“Aw, come on, Cake.”
“I want to hear what Nameless Slut has to say. So out with it, Nameless Slut.”
“I… I was at a haunted house.”
Cake looked at Jaffe and grinned.
Jaffe wasn’t amused. “This one’s crazy, Cake. We should—”
“Not yet. Go on, Nameless Slut. What house, where.”
“Down, the road? About a mile, mile and a half.”
“So what are you, one of those fools who wanders around in the dark, trying to snap photos of ghosts and bullshit?”
“No, th- those are paranormal investigators. I’m a Shr—” She caught herself, pressing her lips into a tight line.
“What was that? What were you about to say?”
She looked down at her knees.
“Whore, answer the man or I’ll twist your fucking ears off.” Jaffe shook her by the shoulder.
“Shriexing,” she said, defeated. “It’s called Shriexing.”
“Oh, you’re gonna be shrieking, that’s for goddamned sure,” Jaffe pounced. “You like shrieking, bitch? Well, we’re here to help you.”
“Hold up, Jaffe,” Cake said. “Hold up. I’ve heard of this. Yeah. Couple guys in the main line were going on about it. It’s supposed to be the real shit. No bullshit, you see real ghosts, right up in your face. Isn’t that right, Nameless Slut? You one of those crazy fuckers into that kind of shit?”
“I guess. Yeah.”
“And you’ve seen ghosts?”
“Yeah. A lot of them.”
“Ghosts,” Jaffe groused. “Come on, Cake, what the fuck? What is this crazy bitch going on about?”
“I don’t know Jaffe, but I think we caught a live one here. So where’s your cameras and tape recorders and shit?”
She swallowed. “No, we don’t use that stuff. The Haunts we go to… they’re not like regular haunted houses.”
“Dangerous. They’re dangerous.” She had to swallow again to keep her voice. Her face was streaked red from the mattress. She must be choking on slaughterhouse stink right now.
“More dangerous than us?”
Cake looked a Jaffe, and this time they both laughed.
“Cake, I think this little bitch is calling us out!”
“No! I’m not, please, it’s just—”
Cake chuckled. “Hey! Nameless Slut.” He snapped his fingers under her nose until she met his eyes. “Hey. You weren’t doing this shit alone. Who were you with?”
“Better to go in solo, less chance of getting caught.”
Jaffe howled. “Well that didn’t work out, did it?”
Cake was starting to enjoy himself. He was digging this girl. Any other night and he’d be up in the driver’s seat, listing to Jaffe grunt and squeal and half considering running them all off the road just to liven things up. “Tell me about this haunted house. There other houses nearby?”
“No, it’s isolated.”
“How many floors?”
“Two. Plus an attic.”
Cake rubbed his chin. His inner voices were speaking up loudly now. This was sounding good. He pointed at her again until his index finger was right under her nose. “You’re going to take us.”
She looked at him straight. “You don’t want that.”
“Maybe you’re right,” he said. “Your other option is that we fuck you up right here in the van.”
“That sounds like a good fucking idea to me,” Jaffe growled, cupping the girl’s chin roughly in his calloused hand. “Seriously, Cake, what the fuck? Haunted house? Bullshit. Let’s just get the party started already.”
Cake realized he had to win Jaffe over or else this night was going to be a bust. “Jaffe. Let’s you and me talk, up front. Hey. You.” He tugged the girl’s hair, eliciting a yelp. “Don’t go anywhere.”
Up front, Cake said, “What’ve I been trying to teach you, Jaffe? You got to think through the up side and the down side of every situation. So what’s the upside? I can think of a couple things.”
Jaffe shook his head. He was clearly growing impatient. Like a fucking toddler, this one. “I don’t know, Cake. I just want to get started.”
“Jaffe, I’m thinking of you here. Think. Abandoned house. Out in the woods probably. No other houses around. What happened last time? We were almost interrupted. You see where I’m starting to go with this?”
Jaffe nodded. Finally getting it. “We can take our time.”
“Bingo. And no one will hear us. We can go to town. Really cut loose.”
“Yeah.” Jaffe grinned. Jesus, he is like a fucking dog, Cake thought. Feed him his treat and watch him wag his tail. “Yeah!”
Cake didn’t care about going to town on the girl. Not now. He just wanted to see the house.
Years ago, when he as thirteen or fourteen, there was a ghost. His step daddy’s basement was supposed to be haunted by an old woman who lived behind the furnace. At night, standing at the foot of the basement steps, he could hear something rustling and moving down below in the dark where nothing should have been rustling or moving. But he never had the balls to go down there to see for himself.
It ate at him, along with everything else. Something greater than the squalor of his life was right under his feet. He wanted to see it. To know that there was something that broke the rules. The rules that caged him. But he was too much of a pussy to face it. Scared by everything. Weak.
This bitch. If what she said was true, this fucking bitch here was more of a man than he was back then. And that shit wasn’t going to fly.
Well, whatever he was back then, he was a man now. Not a scared kid with cigarette burns on his arms. He made ghosts now. “Let’s get on road before some fucking cop pulls up on us. Jaffe, hold her so she can tell me where we’re going, but shove her ass down if we see headlights.”