If that little bitch Maybel hadn't kicked him in the nuts, she would have already been dead. It wasn't the first time he had taken what he wanted from some little girlie. They were all sluts anyway, and he always got them so drunk they thought they must have wanted it when they woke up with an ache in the crotch and no memory.
Maybel was the first one to put up much of a fight, and he liked it. He had never hated a girl like that foul mouthed, pushy Maybel. He'd hated her since grade school. He would have had his way with her years ago if he could have gotten her drunk. Damn it all! Just one more good squeeze on her neck and she would have been the one down the well, but good and dead.
Billy Ray couldn't remember being this pissed off. He sat in a dark funk beside Netters, who jiggled the wheel left and right navigating the pot-holes on Old Mills Road. The sky was still light but shadows claimed the road. Netters turned on the headlights.
Billy had lied to him. He always lied to the old geezer, but this time was different.
“I was jus’ screwin’ ‘roun’, Sheriff, an’ I slipped”
Billy Ray’s ankle had been wrapped by Doc Blake, but he could walk on it. Pain never bothered Billy much.
He wanted that bitch Maybel all to himself.
In the driveway, Billy Ray had the door open before they were at a full stop. Netters said “You gonna be awright, Billy?”
“Yeah, fine.” Slam!
The low rumble of the motor had receded to a hum by the time Billy Ray realized his front door was wide open. When he stepped inside and switched on the light, his head about exploded. He knew who had done this.
His voice was still horse. Shouting from the bottom of a well shaft for hours would do that. “I'm gonna kill you, Maybel Anne!” he screamed in red-faced rage, then yanked the sledge out of the wall and made a few holes of his own.
She recognized the vibration of Sheriff Netter’s car from a mile off. Maybel figured she knew the sound of every car in the valley better than any dog. She wanted to see the look on Fat Billy Ray’s face, but she wasn’t that stupid. Hunkered down behind the propane tank, she heard him hollering and smashing things. It got to her. She resisted it best she could, but Maybel was scared. Heart pounding, she rose enough to peak over the top of the cool curve of the tank so she could see through the tall, narrow side window of the living room. Billy Ray swooped past toward the door, cursing that she didn’t even leave him a beer.
Maybel Anne Lowery ran for her life. It was like an instinct that grabbed a hold of her and took control, and was probably a mistake.
“Yer out there, aint ya? I hear ya, little slut-**** bitch. Billy Ray’s comin’ Maybel Anne.”
Sledge in hand, he bolted out the front door and stopped still on the porch, reaching in to swat the light switch so he could see better.
She knew these woods but it was still tough in the dark, and she was making way too much racket. She stopped for a moment and heard Fat Billy Ray crashing through the brush not far behind. Not nearly far enough.
Suddenly he was right there, a big shadow. She couldn’t see his face, but could tell the eight pound sledge was coming at her head. She dove to the ground and in a moment the weight of Billy Ray’s body thumped down on her. He was turning her over, she kicked and punched and clawed, but pain never bothered Billy Ray much. He held both of her wrists in one giant hand and groped for the snap of her jeans.
A car. In a rational part of her brain, a place not claimed by fear and anger, she knew who was coming, and they would only make things worse.
Her jeans were around her knees and Billy’s rough hands were clawing to get one leg bent so her foot slipped free, a faded and scuffed tennis shoe dropping to the leaves.
A car door slam. Then another.
“Billy Ray!” The voice sounded a little frantic. They must have seen inside the house.
Billy froze. Dammit! He didn’t want to share. Not this time.
“Come on Billy Ray, we can hear ya out there. What’n hell’s goin’ on?”
Billy Ray was bad enough, but put him together with his brothers and they made one big, ugly six-legged beast. Sure, Billy was the youngest, always got the smallest piece of pie, one strip of bacon or the dregs of the gumbo. Or nothing at all. But blood is blood. Sibling rivalry had each of them trying to outdo the other, and Billy Ray had the most to prove.
He smacked the back of his hand across Maybel’s face a few times to bloody her up good. It was like marking his territory and showing his brothers how tough he was. That should put her in her place, he thought, standing to face his brothers and tell them a thing or two.
Maybel would have laughed if she wasn’t so scared and hurting. No one had ever accused the Doddard brothers of having brains, least of all Billy Ray. She bolted into the dark undergrowth like a cat, athletic country girl that she was.
“Dammit, she’s gettin’ away!”
Tommy ran back to the house for a light. Bobby and Billy crashed through the woods after Maybel. Tommy caught up to them in three minutes with a bright flashlight and a .22 revolver. Billy protested.
“Tommy, no! I’m gonna choke her. She pushed me down the well!”
Tommy and Bobby howled with laughter and kept on, their younger brother right behind but trying to push ahead.
Maybel’s legs were scratched and her shoeless foot was bruised, torn and hurt like hell, but she kept running. She had to. The Doddard brothers had fanned out and were setting up a triangle to narrow her path. In all her life, Maybel had never been scared. Not when her pappy had chased her with a hose, not when she had been arrested for stealing fifty bucks from the till at the hardware store, not even when Fat Billy Ray had raped her.
She was scared now though. If she stopped they could estimate where she was and box her in. If she kept running they were pretty likely to catch up to her and get her cornered. If it had just been one of them she might be able to find a log and clobber him in the head. But three, she could never overpower them. She simply had to get escape. Worse, that logical part of her mind was telling her that they would get her someday, no matter what. Even if she managed to get away tonight she would never be safe, not ever.
In the haze of fear and uncertainty, she realized she was pretty much lost, but had somehow managed to put some distance between her and the Doddards. The ruckus they were making was maybe a hundred yards back. She found a moment to enjoy how pissed they must be while she tried to figure what to do next.
It was completely dark now, and moonrise was hours off. This was both good and bad. It was hard to be quiet when you couldn’t see where you were going. Her eyes were probably better than most at night, and this gave her some advantage, but she still tripped over a windfall tree here and there, whacked her forehead against a low hanging branch, and was getting pretty battered up. Especially from the waist down, where her nakedness was full of scratches, bruises and abrasions.
Stumbling down the slope of a holler, Maybel reached the bottom and cut left along a dry creek bed for a few hundred feet before crawling as quietly as possible up the other side. At he top she paused and tried to still her breath. With a chill she realized the Doddards weren’t making any noise. This could be bad. It could mean they knew her position and were stalking her.
Maybe she should hide, but where? Had they heard her? She decided to keep moving, but very carefully and as near to silent as she could. A weapon. She had to find something, and felt along the ground with her feet as she moved. There, that might be just the right size. She reached down and put her hand on a mossy length of oak and tugged upward. Damn, it was pretty long, and it made some noise.
In the pitch black she heard a twig crack, far too close for comfort. A moment later she sensed more than heard or saw the bulk of a Doddard, who knew which one? He took some quick steps in her direction, almost silent, the brothers all experience night poachers.
Trying to time it just right, she yanked the branch upward with all of her strength. Satisfied by a thump and a grunt, she followed through until she knew that the man had fallen on his ****. With a grunt of her own she swung the branch in a wide arch until it plowed into something soft, resulting in a yelp of anger.
After a few seconds of tug-of-war, she surrendered her weapon and turned to run again, but her face plunged into a dirty, sweaty t-shirt. The next thing Maybel knew her feet where off of the ground, her lungs pressed empty in a bear hug.
It was Billy Ray. He started carrying her through the undergrowth, but didn’t shout to his brothers. Just behind them Tommy had risen to his hands and knees, his ribs aching.
“Bobby! I think Billy Ray got her! Over here! Tommy, let’s git’m!”
Maybel managed to get a hand up to Billy Ray’s face and she grabbed whatever she could, making a fist and tearing flesh with her finger nails.
A fist in her face. Then again.
Only twenty feet off: “Billy Ray, Tommy and I are gonna hafta kick yer **** now. The wench aint yers anymore, Billy Ray! Ya dun pissed us off now, Little Brother!”
Enraged, Billy Ray Doddard decided he didn’t have time to rape Maybel this time. Priorities. He flung her to the ground and plopped onto her belly with all his weight, straddling her as he reached for her throat with both monstrous hands. Maybel tucked her chin to her chest and got a good hunk of hand between her teeth, biting and ripping. She was too fiercely driven by that frantic battle to the death to be grossed out by the flow of blood or the loose piece of foul Doddard meat in her mouth. Not even taking the time to spit it out, she bit again, but her teeth snapped together painfully on empty space as Billy Ray cursed and slammed his fist into her nose, knocking her out cold.
Maybel was vaguely aware that she was laying on a rough planked floor, and her face hurt like hell. ****, broken nose! She thought. Doddards were talking nearby.
“Ya think Billy Ray’s gunna be okay?”
“Don’ give a rat’s ****.”
“Bobby, he’s our brother? What would Pa say?”
“Pa teached us blood’s the law.”
“T’hell with paw.”
“You take that back, Tom!”
“T’hell with you too, Tommy.”
Scuffling, noise, grunting, blows. Furniture overturned, Curses, more racket. Maybel dared to crack one eye open to a slit, and there on the floor beside her, in flickering low light from candles or a fireplace, was Billy Ray, his entire head, face too, a mass of blood. She couldn’t tell if he was dead or not, and didn’t much care.
Tommy and Bobby were trying to kill each other, and that was good too. Good god damn riddance. Maybe a good time to get out of here. Placing both palms against the floor she pressed, rose slightly and dropped back. The pain was excruciating. Something was busted.
“Hey Tommy, let up! The wench is awake!”
Maybel’s heart fluttered and her stomach turned in horror and then sank in resolve. This was not going to be good. Nope, not one bit.