Wanda knew two things. Going after her husband was the second craziest thing she had ever done. But…she had to do it. It was the only way that her girls would ever be free of that man. That was all that mattered. Whether she ended up dead or in prison, at least her daughters could get on with their lives. Have a normal life, perhaps.
She hated stealing Reb’s truck. She knew that the man loved the thing. Hell, he even named it. But the keys to Elvira had just been lying there. On the bar. It seemed like Fate somehow. As if it were meant to be.
Wanda sped down the country lane, kicking up dirt behind her. It might have been almost twenty years since she’d been to her daddy’s old hunting and fishing cabin, but she knew these roads.
How could she have been so stupid? Not seen the warning signs. And there were plenty of them. Beginning with the fact that the man was over a decade older than she was. But she had had stars in her eyes when her daddy’s young, new deputy smiled at her. She had been fucking sixteen.
Sixteen. The same age as Beth. Thoughts of her oldest daughter only affirmed her convictions. Wanda hit the accelerator. Time was against her. There was a good chance that Earl was gone already. Probably off to one of his dodgy prepper friends living off the grid in the woods. Nothing wrong with that. Her time at Agartha had been the happiest she had been since her Mama died in that hit and run.
That was why daddy had run for sheriff. He wanted answers, and there was no other way to get them. But in his almost two decades in office, he never had found out who was driving the car that ran over her mother as she pruned the roses by the road.
Her life had never been the same since she came home from school to find her mother’s body. Daddy had become obsessed. It was just the two of them, and Wanda had no one to turn to. So, when Earl had shown her the least bit of attention… No, that was ancient history. There was no way to go back and warn that woman-child. All she could do was protect her girls the only way she could.
Sure, she could have given the information about her daddy’s hunting and fishing cabin to those federal officials. Most people would say she should have. But she knew that no prison would ever hold that man. He would find some way to escape eventually. Even if he didn’t, she’d bet that he would pull some ‘poor me’ shit with the judges. She’d be forced to allow him to see their girls. Even in prison.
Beth was just now recovering. If you ever really did from watching your father beat your mother almost to death. When she was only trying to protect…
Katie. She was never sure what her ten-year-old saw or remembered. The girl barely spoke, living instead in the world of books.
But it was Maggy that she was really doing this for. Her youngest had barely been three when she had grabbed the girls and what few clothes she could find quickly and piled into her old beat-up van. It wasn’t that they could not afford a better vehicle. The sheriff’s job might not pay much, but even then, she had known about the ‘service charge’ her husband forced all the local businesses to pay. Everyone in Sebida knew that if you didn’t, then bad things happened, robberies, fires, accidents.
No, that van was another way that Earl made certain she could never leave. It barely got them around town, let alone very far. That, combined with the fact that she never had access to the bank accounts or more than a few dollars, had left them virtual prisoners in their own home.
That day though, she knew she had no other choice. After what she had seen…
They had gotten as far as Houston somehow. She knew better than to go to a shelter. That was the first place he would look. And she knew too that he had probably issued an APB for the van. But all those prepper books her husband kept had taught her a thing or two as well.
She had headed to a rough section of town. Found an abandoned house and squatted there. She had brought some cans of food with her, and there was always a couple of gallons of water in the back for when the van overheated. She had refilled those in convenience stores where she would top their food up with a loaf of bread every couple of days.
But she knew she had to do something more. She needed help. Legal help. She had finally worked up the courage to approach one of those shelters. She did not give her real name. But the woman there probably knew that. They had given her Jaycee Riley’s name and number. And things had turned around for her and the girls… That woman was their guardian angel.
She hated that she had to lie to Jaycee and Stacey. The women had been good to her. Better than she deserved. But she hoped they would understand. Both were mothers. And Jaycee knew the truth… Knew why she had no other choice… Hell, if she survived this, she’d need the woman to keep her off death row. But life in prison was a small price to pay for her daughters’ futures.
Wanda slowed the van as she approached the turn-off to daddy’s cabin. She had not been back here since her ‘honeymoon.’ First rape was more accurate. Sex was never enough for that man. She had learned that. Earl could only get aroused by pain. Her pain. The pain of other women. Pain and fear. Fear that she had seen in…
She pulled to the side of the road by that turn-off. It was best to leave the truck here and go the rest of the way on foot. Wanda leaned her head against the steering wheel. She wasn’t sure what she expected or hoped to find here. She was counting on her husband’s greed and hubris. That he would not want to leave until he had collected all the money and resources that he could.
Earl had never trusted banks. Or paper money, for that matter. Gold, silver, and other precious commodities maybe. But what he really believed in were things he could barter. She’d bet that was guns, knives, and other weapons, especially the assault ones, that it would be easier for law enforcement and former special forces to acquire. And he would need someplace safe to stash them. Somewhere remote, that few people even knew existed. Someplace like daddy’s old cabin.
Wanda got out of the truck. She was careful to not make any noise as she opened and closed the door. She had turned off the overhead light in the cabin when she and Stacey had run into town for some supplies. She had been planning this for days. No, she had been planning it since the beating five years ago when Earl admitted that it had not been a hunting accident. That he had murdered her father.
Of course, back then, it had been more of a fantasy than a plan. When she had seen what he did to… She had considered it. But she needed to make sure her daughters were safe. They were now. She knew that Stacey would find that note at some point. She knew that was asking a lot of the woman. While she never knew details, she was well aware of the numerous vulnerable women in Sebida that Earl…
She opened the back of the truck and leaned in, feeling for the gun that she knew was there. But without any light, it took longer than she hoped.
Stacey was exceptional. Even if she could not fulfill her request, Wanda knew the woman would make sure that Cellie and Indie did. Her girls would be safe and together. That was all she could hope for. Now she would make sure that man never…
The arm wrapped around her neck from behind. Her first instinct was to fight. It always was. But she knew that would be a waste of energy. Better to…
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t my sweet little wife.” The sneer on his face marred any appeal that silly sixteen-year-old might have seen. “Come back to join me or to gloat, darlin’?” He squeezed tighter as he jerked her down the path.
Wanda tripped a couple of times, but that arm about her neck kept her from falling. By the time her daddy’s run-down shack came into sight, she felt light-headed from lack of oxygen. There was an SUV parked out front that she did not recognize. The back of it was open, and she saw it was almost full of wooden crates, almost certainly guns. Probably ammo too.
Earl pushed open the door and threw her inside. He was on top of her before she could even move. The first punch almost blinded her as her face exploded in pain. The next robbed her of breath as she heard at least one of her ribs pop.
She did not know how long the beating or the rape that followed lasted. After the third or fourth one, she had learned the only way to survive was to dissociate. She had been barely eighteen when she learned that lesson…in this cabin. Though Earl had been careful to replace the bloody bed before her father saw it. They had left this cabin for Fort Hood before her father could see the bruises. Though Earl was usually pretty careful not to hit her face.
Only once before… She knew what that meant. He did not intend to stop this time. He was going to kill her. This time her happy-place was not the meadow of bluebonnets with her Mama. It was red desert, cool spring, and the sound of her daughters’ laughter. No matter what happened now, they were all that mattered. As if he could read her mind… And sometimes, she feared he could.
“Where are they? Where are my girls?”
His hand was about her throat, but it did not matter. She would never tell him that. Wanda welcomed the darkness. Prayed she would never again wake as she sent her final thoughts to those girls, ‘I love you. You’re the only good thing I ever did.’