Marlena wouldn’t have opened her door to just any man, a girl had to be careful after all. But when she’d parted the curtains a smidge and got a gander of the pretty man standing on the stoop, she about tripped over her own feet getting to the door and flinging it open.
“Well, hello there,” she said, pasting on a saucy grin. “What can I do for you?”
Light bugs and moths danced around the porch light, throwing flitting shadows over a scarred but handsome face. He quirked a black eyebrow. “Marlena Bledsoe?”
“The one and only.” Must’ve been asking about me down at Rudy’s. She tucked a bleached-blonde curl behind her ear, cocked a hip.
“It’s time to pay.”
The smile slid from Marlena’s face. Her belly knotted up. “Huh?” But she knew…
“Hassie sent me.”
“Who’re you?” And she knew that too.
“Cicero.” His golden eyes met hers. “Here’s what you’re going to do…”
Marlena parked her Thunderbird two blocks from the sheriff’s house beneath the moon-shade of an old hackberry. After turning off the ignition, she surveyed her surroundings. All the houses were dark, not even the blue glow of a television screen lit a window. Of course, on this side of town everyone bedded down with the chickens, didn’t stay up half the night drinking, doping, and fighting like they did in her neck of the woods.
She sat there a while, her long red fingernails drumming the steering wheel, dreading what lay ahead, worrying she’d get caught. But she had a debt to pay, and it had been called in.
Time to pay the fiddler…
She pulled on the thin, latex gloves Cicero had given her, stepped out of the Thunderbird, and walked quickly down the shadowed sidewalk to the sheriff’s empty house—empty because he was in the hospital all broken and busted up from a car wreck, and his ten-year-old daughter was staying with her aunt. The wife, a sickly thing from up north, had died a couple years ago—not that her presence had ever stopped Sheriff Leroy Jones from screwing any female who’d have him.
Marlena’s lip curled. Like the sonofabitch tried to have me. And probably would’ve eventually if not for Aunt Hassie.
The full moon lighting her way, she eased around the side of the house, and found the key where Cicero said it’d be: barely inside the dryer vent. Then she let herself in the back door and gently closed it. She took out her cell phone, and using the flashlight app, made her way out of the kitchen and down a dark hallway.
Second door on the right. She went inside the small office and straight to the desk on the far wall. This room had no window—she checked even though Cicero had told her it didn’t—so she clicked on the desk lamp, and pocketed her cell phone.
Using both hands, she eased the bottom drawer all the way out, set it on the floor, then felt inside the opening, finding another key taped to the top.
She glanced to her right, saw the file cabinet, her final destination.
Cicero hadn’t told her what she would find there, just that she’d know what to do with it.
Marlena walked on her knees to the file cabinet, fit the key in the lock, twisted, then slid out the drawer, wincing as the metal squealed. She glanced over her shoulder. Brown eyes met hers, and she gasped, her heart beginning to pound in the split second before she realized she was looking at a picture of the sheriff’s little girl. Amber? Alice? Adele…yeah that was it: Adele. Such a sweet face. Didn’t look nothing like her Daddy except for the eyes, which were dark brown like his.
Marlena turned back to the open drawer. It was packed so full of papers she had trouble working free a handful of them. No, not papers—photographs.
She sat on her haunches, stared at the pictures. A low moan escaped her lips.
The pictures, they were all of prepubescent girls. Naked prepubescent girls, all big frightened eyes, tiny buds on their chests, hairless genitals. Some alone, but most with older men. And the things the men were doing to those poor little girls…
Marlena dropped the pictures, wailed, covered her face with her hands. But she couldn’t shut out the past; it paraded through her mind as if it were a strutting, lascivious incubus swinging its monstrous dick.
And she was twelve again, lying in her bed, hearing the approaching footsteps of her step-father. “No…no…no…” Felt the weight of his body on the mattress beside her. “No!”
She angrily swiped the tears from her eyes. “Bastard!” she screamed at the absent sheriff. “You motherfucking bastard!” She had known he was a piece of shit, but had no idea just how far the stink traveled.
Her body trembling with rage, she rose to her feet. She paced the small room, back and forth, back and forth. Then her eyes lit on Adele’s face. Just a couple years younger than the girls in the photographs.
Cicero’s voice whispered in her ear: You’ll know what to do when you open the cabinet…
Marlena grabbed the overflowing wastebasket next to the desk, dumped the contents on the floor, and yanked out the plastic liner. She stuffed part of the drawer’s contents inside the bag, then dropped Adele’s picture on top. Using Sheriff Leroy Jones’ personal stationary, she printed two words in big block letters—MORE HERE—and drew an arrow to the sheriff’s name, just in case some dumbass needed it spelled out. She dropped the note on Adele’s face. “Hope it ain’t too late for you, honey.”
An hour later, Marlena watched as Buckley Wells, editor of The Rooker County Tribune, paused on the steps of the paper’s offices, picked up the trash bag and looked inside. His back went rigid. Then, with a furtive glance over his shoulder, he gathered the bag to his chest as if it contained a treasure—and Marlena supposed it did—unlocked the door, and stepped inside.
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