Around the middle of May, it suddenly struck Billy that he and Shen had been living in a circus-like world. He had been sharing her with a herd of kids and his friends ever since that first night at Lake Palestine. He wanted alone time with his wife for more than eight hours in their bedroom.
The opportunity arose when a real estate broker contacted him about a 20,000-acre property in northern New Mexico that had just come on the market. He invited Billy to spend the week at the ranch house. The owners had moved to New York City and the place was empty.
“Hey, blushing bride of mine, pack your bags. I’m taking you away from all this madness for a week in New Mexico. Be prepared. I plan to take full advantage of the situation. Riley’s folks work at a nearby lodge, so he’s going to fly us out there and spend the week with them.”
Shen thought Billy had meant Santa Fe. So she was surprised when they landed at Albuquerque International Airport and took I-25 past Santa Fe. They dropped Riley off at the Costilla Fishing Lodge.
“Exactly where are we headed? I didn’t bring my camping gear if you’re planning on a tent in the woods.”
Billy told her about the property that was at The Wall North part of Ted Turner’s Vermejo ranch.
The broker had been right. Lying in the valley between The Wall North and The Little Wall South, the ranch was spectacular, with elk grazing in grassy pastures, tree-covered hills and Bernal Lake filled with trout. The ranch house had obviously been designed as a getaway for the previous owners. It was like a modern-day honeymoon cottage. There was also a barn and an old bunkhouse that appeared to have been overlooked when the property was being renovated.
Over the next few days, Shen and Billy hiked up the trails, lay in the hammock and sat by the lake just taking in the beautiful scenery.
“I’m gonna teach you how to skip a rock across the water four times,” Billy said as he took aim and delivered. “This is an art that you city folks missed out on.”
Shen smiled in amazement. “Now, let me see,” Shen said, feebly trying to hold a rock in a similar fashion. “Is this how you hold it?”
With a snap of her wrist, she sent her stone across the water skipping five times. “Oh, did I mention that we do have water and rocks in Dallas?”
Billy shook his head adding, “Yeah, and it also has some smarty pants gals.”
At night, music would play as they prepared dinner. Billy would take Shen in his arms and slowly dance around the kitchen. He loved the fragrance of her hair as he held her closely and that dreamy-eyed look she would give him when the music ended. Shen didn’t mind the interruption and looked forward to having his arms pull her away and take charge. It never got old. Each time it was just like the first. One night they skipped dinner entirely.
But on the fourth night their dance was interrupted by a sound just outside the window. It was probably just an animal that had been attracted by the light. Still, Billy decided to go outside to check it out.
“It wasn’t anything. Looks like a possum or raccoon lost its balance and turned over a pile of firewood.”
The next morning, Billy announced that Shen could sleep in. He was going into town to get some additional supplies. “It looks like they weren’t tequila drinkers.”
“Mr. Preston, I do believe you’re going to try that old tequila-drinking secret on me. Ain’t gonna work. I know the secret,” Shen said, kissing her husband goodbye. “Do try to come up with something new to impress me.”
After taking a shower and putting on shorts and a white cotton blouse, she headed to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. Sitting at the breakfast table, she closed her eyes, realizing that the house that had been so perfect now seemed so empty without Billy.
But that moment was broken when a hand covered her mouth, jerking her head back. Shen opened her eyes to see a tattooed hand holding a knife.
“Don’t move and we’ll get along just fine.”
The air was suddenly filled with a foul odor. She was trying to process what was happening. Yes, it was a man’s voice, but who was the man? Yes, the knife was big. It looked like the kind that hunters use to skin animals. Yes, she was scared and wanted to scream, but his hand barely allowed her to breathe.
“Now, we’re going to have a good time, just you and me. And when that man of yours returns, I’ll decide what to do with him. If you’re a good girl, you’ll still have him or what’s left of him. Are you going to be a good girl?”
Shen nodded. He removed his hand from her mouth. All she could see was the knife still in front of her. With a sudden move, he turned her chair around so she could now see her captor. He was wiry and wore a bandana on top of his long stringy hair. A skull tattoo covered most of his pockmarked face. His arms showed the signs of mainlining. What teeth he had were brown and broken. His torn tank top smelled and had red and brown stains.
“You’re even prettier up close and we want to keep you that way, don’t we?” Shen nodded. “But if you try anything, the first thing I’m gonna have to do is some cutting on that pretty face, so every time that husband of yours looks at you, he’ll think of me.”
“Please, if you want money, my purse is over there.”
That was met with a fist to her the face that sent Shen reeling out of the chair and across the floor.
“Did I say you could speak? No. You may have that boy whipped into kissing your sweet behind, but you’re gonna learn how to please a real man today. Just shut up and do as I say.”
Tasting the blood that was coming from her split lip, Shen didn’t move.
“Now get up and play some music like you did last night. We’re gonna have a little dancing.”
As the music started to play, he motioned with the hand still holding the knife to come to him. Slowly she walked to him, dreading every step. As she neared, he grabbed her and pulled her into him. She felt repulsed by the putrid smell, the feel of his body and his tongue licking her face and forcing its way into her mouth.
Shen was on the verge of throwing up when the sound of the music was broken by the ringing of the phone.
He asked, “Who is that calling? Tell me.”
“It’s probably my husband. If I don’t answer, he’ll know something is wrong.”
Pulling her by her hair over to the phone, he motioned for her to pick up the receiver. “But don’t let on that anything is wrong or I’ll have to start whittling on you.”
Shen was now reduced to the basic instincts of needing to survive and preventing Billy from walking into this deathtrap.
As he held the receiver between them, Shen realized everything depended on how she handled the call.
“Sweetheart, did I wake you? I just filled the car with gas and am going by the lodge for a cup of coffee with Riley. Do you need anything?”
“Billy, I decided to sleep in. Mom just called and said she was coming over for dinner tonight, so you might want to pick up three steaks and potatoes. Say hello to Riley for me.”
“You got it. Anything else?”
“No, that’s it. Love you.”
“Love you more.”
The call ended.
“I don’t feel like any more dancing. I think it’s time to get down to business. That’s a pretty blouse, but it needs some rearranging.”
Taking the knife, he slowly sliced off the top button, then the second one and the third.
“Go sit in the chair.”
No more, Shen thought. Her fear, humiliation and shock had been replaced by anger and rage. She was mad at herself for letting him get this far. She was no longer going to be his victim, and she wasn’t going to let him hurt Billy. But she had to pick the right moment to turn on him.
Shen sat down. As he stood behind the chair and held the knife in one hand at her throat, his other hand covered her face, and he began rubbing her head against him. She showed no response. He didn’t like this lack of emotion. He wanted a reaction — tears, begging, trembling, something — and he knew how to get it.
He moved in front of her, placing the knife at the back of her neck.
“Are you paying attention to me?”
She sat there just staring ahead with eyes glazed over. He hit her across the face with the back of his hand. This time she didn’t fall to the floor. She just remained still, devoid of any feeling.
“I told you that you were gonna please me, and you’re gonna start now.”
His hand opened his fly.
“Now, unzip it.”
Feeling the knife’s blade pushing her head forward, she raised her fingers toward the zipper. He closed his eyes and raised his head upward, preparing for the pleasing to start. Shen stiffened both hands and, with all her power, jammed them into his Adams apple, screaming, “No!” He grabbed his throat as he fell backwards, dropping the knife and gasping for air. As she scrambled for the door to escape, it suddenly opened.
Three men rushed toward the man writhing on the floor. A woman in a uniform grabbed Shen and held her, saying, “Everything is going to be all right. It’s all over.”
But it wasn’t. Shen’s predator was on the floor being pummeled. Voices were shouting to stop the beating.
Finally, she turned her head and saw Riley and a man in uniform pulling the third man back. Riley was yelling, “Billy, you’re beating him to death. Go take care of Shen. She needs you.”
Billy turned to see Shen in the arms of the female trooper. Her face was bruised, bleeding and swollen. Her left eye could hardly open. Trying to regain a sense of control, Shen looked down at her blood-soaked blouse and, with trembling fingers, attempted to button it. Realizing that there were no buttons, she stopped, crossed her arms to hide the open shirt and started shaking uncontrollably. Billy rushed to take her from the trooper. As angry as he was, his focus had shifted to sheltering her from the sight of the animal sprawled on the floor.
“Baby, I’m here. No one is going to hurt you anymore. You’re gonna be okay.”
She asked, “Billy, are you okay?”
He squeezed her and nodded.
“Then I’m okay, too.”
Like a Raggedy Ann doll that had lost its stuffing, she went limp.
Billy told Riley to collect their belongings. He was taking Shen to the hospital and would return to pick him up. “Tell them to get the plane ready. We’re going home.”
The troopers also went to the hospital, where they told Billy they needed a statement from Shen and to take photos of her injuries. Billy nixed that idea, saying she wasn’t going to relive that nightmare. Shen interrupted Billy.
“If I give my statement, can we go home?”
The troopers agreed. As she told of the morning’s hell, Billy sat in grim silence. Each detail cut him to the quick. On the other hand, Shen reported every second of the ordeal without any show of emotion. It wasn’t until the final photo was taken of her injuries that she burst out in tears. Billy had had enough. He picked up his sobbing wife in his arms saying, “We’re out of here.”
While Shen slept on the flight back to Athens, Riley told Billy that he had found out that the man was a parolee who had served time in prison for an assortment of crimes ranging from drug abuse to attempted murder. Instead of checking with his parole officer, he had moved back to his old stomping grounds and gone back to his old habits. Just the week before, he had savaged a young mother in Raton, who was still in intensive care. A couple of times he had nearly been caught, but managed to elude the search by hiding out in the bunkhouse.
The following week New Mexico authorities notified Shen and Billy that the young mother in Raton had died. Shen’s assailant would now be charged with murder.
… to be continued on Monday, July 13