Sly as a Fox
I knew it was coming when the sickening swirl in my stomach hit. That's how it always starts. My pulse quickened and a flurry of goose bumps enveloped me. A light flashed - that was new - and blinded me momentarily, not that I had any doubt about where I was heading.
Daddy was there, drunk and screaming. Practically frothing at the mouth really. Even though I had memorized every ugly, hateful, degrading word he said to her it was muted by the incessant pounding in my chest. Thump thump, thump thump.
My mother stoically stood up to him denying his lies and false accusations of infidelity. She remained calm for the young daughters her husband had forgotten and instinctively pressed my sister, Tess, and I behind her thick thighs. She was resolute, statuesque, and composed, trying to diffuse the situation in her usual way.
Time moved slowly, purposefully, but I was acutely aware of everything and everyone around me. While I knew what was coming I was powerless to stop or change it. I was just an unwilling spectator reliving the worst moment of my life.
As I watched myself stand helplessly frozen and weak in the dream - just like I stood twenty-two years ago tonight - I was again amazed at my drunk father's swiftness as he reached for the knife. Without any warning he plunged a long silver blade deep into my mother's neck in one fell swoop. I could see it more clearly in the dream than I could possibly have seen through my eleven-year-old tears. The horrified look in my mother's eyes, the panic. As she collapsed with Tess and I still clutching her hands, blood spewing from her fatal wound, all of our lives were changed forever. In a flash she was just - gone.
As always, the dream ends there with Mama, Tess and I sprawled out in a twisted, bloody, crying mess. I am yanked out of my young self and back into the light above. As I float away my last view is of my mother's bloodied body. Her blank, lifeless eyes fix on mine as I drift away. She fades. I'm awake.
My sweat-soaked nightshirt brushed back and forth against my taut skin as I shivered. I tried to regroup and fight back the tears that always come next.
No, goddam it! Keep it together!
No matter how hard I try to forget that awful night, that is how I will always remember them. My mother - stoic and bloodied and broken. My father - a drunk, cold-blooded killer.
I sunk my head into my hands pulling at my hair and reminded myself that I'm not that helpless little girl anymore. I'm all grown up and I am strong. I'm Detective Melanie Cooper for chrissake! The youngest woman to make detective in the Baltimore Police Department!
As I brushed away the tears I ripped off my wet shirt and threw it across the room. I slammed my head into the pillow angrily as if I could will myself back to sleep with my usual post-dream mantra.
He can't hurt me anymore. No man can.
Corey Bellinger stepped out of the old abandoned warehouse and pulled the large steel door shut. His hawk-like eyes scanned the overgrown parking lot with precision and steadiness. A neatly tailored designer suit accentuated his broad v-shaped torso, a welcome remnant of his Marine special forces background. At thirty-nine he more closely resembled a twenty-something urban professional than the fierce, brutal killer he had become.
He walked to his gray Dodge conversion van while checking his watch. He turned his gaze to the industrial park's neglected, single lane road that separated the old warehouse from the newer businesses.
"Right on time," he muttered to himself as Billy Winn's beat-up Chevy Blazer came into view and bounced through the dilapidated road's numerous potholes. He could see the two Winn brothers inside as the old Chevy made its way toward him.
He continued to scan the perimeter cautiously as the truck came to a stop next to his van. His pulse raced with excitement but he never visibly lost the composure he had trained so hard to maintain. Never before had he allowed anyone to witness his crimes and become part of the game - his game. But this was different, this was for real.
The brothers stepped out of the truck and approached Corey nervously. They looked like twins save Billy's prematurely graying hair. Both had thin, sinewy frames made lean from years working on their family's farm. There was an innocence about them that made it perfect.
"Were you followed?" He barked so loudly they stopped in their tracks frightened by his verbal assault. Both were clearly nervous and now pale with fear.
"No sir," Billy replied. "I'm sure of it."
"Good. Let's get moving."
Corey turned sharply and walked back to the warehouse door with his new disciples at his heels. He placed his hand on the door handle and scowled at the brothers, their blank, young faces staring back at him.
"Remember what we talked about. You're here to learn. You'll both get your chance to play but for God's sake keep it together or you'll lie down next to them! Are we clear?"
The boys, looking even more pale than before, nodded their agreement.
Corey swung the large door open and stepped inside with the brothers in tow. The room was pitch black, the only illumination coming from a crack of sunlight behind them. The transition from the light to the darkened room left the boys blinded and disoriented.
"Stay with me and watch your step," Corey growled.
They obeyed faithfully and Billy closed the door behind them. Muffled cries could be heard through the warehouse and they were headed right toward the sound.
"Hold it there," Corey ordered. The boys froze in their tracks like curbed dogs.
Billy heard Corey's footsteps fade as he waited and wondered if they could really trust this man? This self-proclaimed Protector of The Order?
As he clung to his brother in the darkness Billy recalled the first time he met Corey at a Klan rally in West Virginia. He had never met anyone who was so completely fearless and intimidating all at the same time, and that was both intriguing and scaring the hell out of him as he waited in the dark. Billy wondered if he had made a mistake getting involved - getting his little brother involved. His father had warned him but he didn't listen. The thought of grabbing Karl and running for the door crossed his mind briefly but he knew better. Corey would never let them out alive. Not now. They had already seen and heard too much.
Billy's thoughts were interrupted by the snap and buzz of florescent overhead lights that brought the room to life. Corey stood by a large electric panel that seemed too modern for the old building, but that's not what really caught his attention. Three hostages were hanging upside down anchored to the rafters above, dangling from thick ropes. Their naked bodies had been completely bound in cellophane wrap except for their heads which were blindfolded. Heavy duct tape wrapped around their skulls gagging their mouths. Underneath each of them was a stainless steel basin. Large sheets of plastic covered the floor below.
Corey moved toward his captives whose backs were to the boys. He paused briefly then turned to face them. He clasped his hands behind his back and puffed out his chest as if he were a professor about to expound great wisdom on his students.
"Gentlemen, we are at war," Corey said matter-of-factly. "And if you have any questions about who the enemy is or how we'll win the war - I hope this will clear that up."
He twisted the largest body around to face the boys. He was a large, well built black man, probably in his early fifties. The dusting of gray at his temples glowed in contrast to his dark skin.
The man's eyes opened frantically causing the brothers to jump back and claw at each other on instinct alone.
Corey chuckled and smiled. "We haven't even started yet and you two are shaking like school girls!"
His smile evaporated quickly and he lunged at them pulling a steel knife from his sleeve. He crouched in an attack pose stopping the blade just short of the younger brother's throat. He moved so abruptly the boys didn't even have time to react. Again, they froze.
"Remember what I told you. Keep it together. I hope I didn't make a mistake choosing you. You better hope I didn't make that mistake."
Billy nervously stepped between Corey and his brother. "You didn't. We're fine. Just a little surprised, that's all. You didn't really give us any warning about what to expect. That's all."
Corey backed away and flashed his perfect, white smile. He was impressed by Billy's courage and instinct to protect his younger brother and pleased by the beads of sweat that had broken out across the older sibling's face. He knew this kid was scared to death of him, and that was exactly what he wanted.
"Good", Corey snarled. "That's what I need to hear. There will always be surprises in the moment, things you haven't anticipated. How you react to them is what matters to me."
"We understand," Billy retorted, feigning confidence. "What's next?"
"Now your education begins," Corey replied, a seductive smile emerging from his face.
Corey stepped back and re-harnessed the weapon under his sleeve. He retrieved a larger, sickle-like knife from a stainless steel suitcase. He rubbed his fingers across the smooth, polished wooden handle then up the shiny blade to its tip. He smiled and gloated, "from my home-made collection."
Stepping back to the victims he spun the man's twisting body toward him. He grabbed his hair and pulled him in close looking deep into his eyes. After a brief pause he cracked an eery smile and plunged the oddly shaped weapon into the man's belly, never breaking direct eye contact. With a back-handed swing he sliced wide down towards his throat in an arching swoop. He quickly retracted the weapon and released his grip on the man's head.
As the man swung away Corey repositioned himself bringing the blade up again repeating the slice symmetrically on the backswing. The wide cuts sent a gush of blood and guts streaming out of the man's body. The cellophane wrap shriveled and disappeared into the mess that spilled down covering his face. Blood splashed into the silver basin below whose purpose was now clear.
The man writhed and gurgled and cried for a few moments until he finally succumbed and went quiet. The lifeless form continued its pendulum swing back and forth draining the last of the man's blood into the basin.
The boys remained completely still, obviously mesmerized by the speed and accuracy with which Corey had coldly ended his prisoner's life, like they had just seen a massive lion devour its helpless prey.
Corey casually wiped a cloth across the blade and smiled maniacally as he moved to the remaining bodies. Both were women, one obviously younger and smaller than the other, each struggling and choking helplessly on their final tears.
Corey stood between them, callously unmoved by their misery. Stretching out his muscular arms he grabbed each by their hair, positioning the victims face-to-face with the brothers.
"Two left. One for each of you. Who will learn first?"