Stacey Reynolds stepped outside of the abandoned house, set on the edge of Diego Garcia’s compound. The old men had discovered it on their walkabout as the one called Grandfather said.
Their small band had split up earlier. Three of the men, including Reb, had headed into the village, looking for any sign of the kidnapped girl, Bebe, or any of the others. Grandfather had convinced them that he and Barry should scout closer to the Garcia compound. After all, who would suspect two old men out for a walk in the desert?
Ryan and Chad had stayed behind. It was possible, perhaps probable, that they would be recognized. Will had laid low, knowing he would be instantly recognized. She had talked a bit with the young man, who her baby had taken up with. He seemed like a decent enough guy, but the tension between him and Chad was intense. If not for Ryan’s intervention, she was confident it would have boiled over a couple times.
Ryan’s cousin had stayed behind too. Though he disappeared for a while. When he came back, he said he knew where Mercy, Rose, and Grace were being kept. Maybe he did, but he would not tell any of them how he had discovered the information. That made her uncomfortable, even though Ryan insisted that he trusted his cousin.
She could make out the lights of the city in the distance and beyond it the mountains. Was Mercy out there like the man said? If so, this was as close as she had been to her baby in over a month.
Will said she had been alright when she left that morning. But she should have been back hours ago. That was why he had left the village, to find her. Shouldn’t a mother have some sixth sense about these things? The old man seemed to agree with Ryan’s cousin. That was good, right?
But there was more to it than that. Why was she so nervous? Not so much frightened. Though she feared for her child, of course, and her friends too. No, this was a restlessness, an emptiness that she had lived with all her life. Loneliness. She had always been alone. With only herself to count on.
Until she walked into Injun Joe’s casino that night looking for Mercy. Reb. Rebel Zappa Moonchild. Celestine had chosen the name well. Though she doubted he would agree.
As if she had conjured him from her thoughts, she watched as Elvira kicked up dust. One of the reasons they chose this place was that there was no road or even driveway leading to it. It wasn’t much really, no electricity or running water. Just a cinderblock frame. But it was better than tents or sleeping in the couple of vehicles they had brought with them. Jack’s baby, as he called the old Volkswagon van, was parked around back already. Where they would hide Elvira, she didn’t know.
Somehow she managed to hold herself back as they began to pile out of the truck. Mason got out first. Things were still tense between him and Reb, but at least they were civil to one another. Jack got out of the driver’s side. She felt her muscles tense for a moment. Where was Reb? He would never let anyone drive Elvira. Not if he was alright.
Jack walked around to the rear of the vehicle and opened the camper top and tailgate. A light-skinned black girl got out. This had to be Will’s cousin. They wouldn’t bring just anyone back here, right? And where the hell was Reb? Just when Stacey was about to lose patience and rush them, demanding answers, he slid from the back. He looked tense as his eyes searched the area. Then his gaze found hers.
It seemed as if both of them exhaled the same breath as he walked towards her. Stacey swore she would not embarrass herself by flinging herself into his arms. Thankfully, she did not have to. He scooped her into them and buried his face in the side of her neck instead. He simply held her for a long moment before asking, “Where’s the others?”
“All of them?” Jack had his hand on the girl’s shoulder, guiding her.
“Yeah, Rex got back awhile ago. Barry and your uncle came back an hour or so ago. I take it things went well?” Her eyes met those of the young woman. “And there’s a newcomer. Ryan found Will walking down the road to Garcia’s a while ago.”
The girl shrunk back. She even turned and looked over her shoulder as if contemplating escape.
“It’ll be okay, kiddo,” Reb reassured the girl. “We’ll talk inside, darlin.’” His hand never left Stacey’s back as he guided her inside.
It was dark. Though they had a couple of camping lights and an old stove with them, the abandoned house was so close to Garcia’s compound that they had not dared to light them. Instead, the men sat on sleeping bags, murmuring and eating cans of beans and spaghetti-ohs.
The old man was the first to look up. Something about him gave her the creeps. It was those eyes. It was as if she were naked. Not her body, even worse, her soul. What was even stranger was that it made her feel almost safe. Like someone besides Reb saw her. The only comparison she had was how she had felt with Cellie.
“Welcome, child.” The man spoke as he held out an unopened can of something.
Will rushed towards the girl, “Oh, god, Bebe.” Stacey saw the relief on his face turn to pain as the girl drew back from him. He stopped a few feet from them with his hands in the pocket of his jeans.
The girl watched her cousin for a long moment before snatching the can from the old man’s hands. She tore off the easy-open lid. Stacey got the feeling that she would have used her fingers to eat if Ryan had not passed her a spoon. She shoveled half the can quickly into her mouth in less than two minutes. Only then did she looked around the room. “I’m sorry. I hadn’t eaten since last night.”
“Sit, child. Eat your food.” The old man’s eyes sought his nephew’s. “Bring her a blanket, Jack.”
“How did you find her, son?” Barry nodded towards the girl.
Reb chuckled, “She found me, Dad.”
Jack turned back from the stack of supplies in the corner, wrapping a blanket around the girl as she continued to eat. “Just in time, too. If I had to… With that woman…” he shivered, and the girl looked at him with a snarky grin.
“So, Esme wanted you to scratch her itch? Diego doesn’t come around much. And these days, he never stays long enough to…” color rose in her cheeks.
Stacey saw Will drop his head. She could see the tension in his body as he held himself quiet and off from the others. She knew the girl’s meaning must have registered with him. As a mother, she understood that pain. If this was one of her girls? She’d kill someone. And she knew exactly who.
“She runs the place?” Mason asked.
The girl nodded as she scraped the bottom of the can. Ryan held out another can but Bebe shook her head. “After we talk. Which one of you is, Rex?”
“I am, Bebe. And welcome.” Ryan’s cousin stood from a sleeping bag in the corner and held out his hand. But the girl only ignored it.
“I gave Mercy your message. Though, we couldn’t talk much. The old bat came to see her husband. Or that’s what she said. It doesn’t make sense, though. Bobby says his mother doesn’t have anything to do with his father.”
“She’s okay? Mercy is alright?” Will lifted his eyes and met his cousin’s gaze.
Ryan stepped forward and waved to the sleeping bag that Rex had vacated. “Take a seat and slow down, Bebe. Who is this old bat? And Bobby? Are you talking about Roberto Garcia?”
Stacey saw the way that the girl looked around the room and backed closer to the door. She recognized that look. How many times had she felt the same way? Especially if whatever job she was working at the moment required her to work closely with men. “It’s okay. I’m Stacey. Mercy is my daughter,” she stepped closer.
“Yeah, you look like her.”
Stacey spent the next couple of minutes going around the room, introducing the men. Then she drew the girl to her sleeping bag set up a bit apart from the others. Bebe smiled as they sat down.
Then the girl turned back to Ryan, ignoring her cousin and his question as if Will was not even there. “Yeah, Bobby is Roberto Garcia. Diego’s youngest brother. And the old bat is his mother, Consuela.” She faced Stacey as she spoke again, “His father is Ignacio Garcia, your ex-husband?”
Stacey closed her eyes. For the first time, she realized how many old memories coming here might trudge up. She fought back the whirlwind of emotions until she felt a firm hand on her shoulder, “It’ll be okay, I promise.” She nodded to Reb before turning back to the girl. “Is my daughter alright?”
“Yeah, or she was a few hours ago when I saw her.”
“Was my daughter and Rose with her?”
Bebe started to shake her head until Stacey clarified, “Was Callie or Cassie McBride there too?”
The girl finally looked at her cousin, Will spoke up then, “Is Callie still with Mercy, Bebe?”
She nodded her head again but would not answer his question or look at the man. The girl bit her lower lip and stared down at her hands, “They sent her mother to Mercy to nurse, too.” Bebe looked up at Chad, “She was pretty beat up. But she was awake, and they got her to eat a bit of soup.”
Stacey watched the man tense up until his friend placed his hand on Chad’s shoulder. “We’ll get them back.”