“Daniella,” My boss, Mr. Sasquatch calls over to me through his hairy mouth after popping his hairy, no-necked head out of his office. I cringe while trying to discern what he wants from me now. Martek Industries, my wonderful employer, needs to rethink middle management as a concept. Hell, all corporations need to rethink middle management as a concept. In the long tradition of middle managers, Mr. Sasquatch loves to assert his power over the peons under him. Calling him Mr. Sasquatch behind his back will probably come back to bite me one of these days. It’s Mr. Sawkowski, but Sasquatch seems a better fit. “Come into my office, please.”
He hurries back to his desk so he can look all official when I get there. He’s had it out for me since the day a year ago when he tried to cop a feel in the copy room and I stomped on his foot hard enough to break his toe.
“Yes, Mr. Sas–erm–Sawkowski–” Fake smile plastered on my face. Check. “what can I do for you today?” Phew! It almost bit me.
“I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go.”
Talk about a gut punch. I need this job. “Let me go?” I ask. “Why?”
“Excessive absences from work.”
Wait–he better check again. “All the time off I’ve taken fell within my PTO and the family and medical leave act after my mother was killed.”
“You’ve taken it at very inconvenient times which put the stress of heavier workloads onto the rest of the team.”
“It’s a call center. Their workload is no harder when anyone is gone than when they’re here. They take as many calls in a day as they usually take.”
“Listen, I don’t want to argue…”
“Then don’t. You know you don’t have grounds to fire me. I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“Well, take it up with HR if you feel that way. Finish out your day.”
“You must be high if you think I’m going to just finish out my day. I’ll be down in HR if you need me.”
I log off my computer, grab my purse from the bottom drawer of my desk and grab the few mementos hanging up around my cubicle in case he decides to be more of a vindictive asshole and get rid of my stuff while I’m gone. It’s a short elevator ride down to HR, but a fifteen-minute wait for someone to help me.
Dominique takes my case. She helps me fill out the paperwork to lodge my complaint. I’ve never met Dominique before but she has great style. She wears her hair free and curly. She has on a satiny wrap blouse and black wide-legged slacks with these killer heels and gold hoop earrings. I want to be Dominique when I grow up. Oh–and she knows her job. I’ll go as far as to say Dominique is an HR rockstar.
At the end of the meeting, she places her hand on my shoulder. “Listen, I don’t normally do this, but I’m putting you on paid leave until we render a decision. I don’t think there will be an issue, though.”
“What can I do about Sawkowski?”
She leans in close. “I didn’t tell you this, but we’re building a case against him for his inappropriate behavior with the female staff under him. We have to go in for a surprise attack because he’s like a second cousin to Mr. Jamison.” Mr. Jamison’s big-wig status at the company does pose a few potential roadblocks. I drag my pinched finger and thumb across my closed mouth in that universally accepted gesture for zipping my lips.
“Right. Then we’ll be in touch,” she says.
More time off. I don’t know what to do with the rest of my day.
On the drive back to my apartment, I take a detour ending up at the dump site. The place that son of a bitch Bible Belt Killer dumped my mother’s body like she was trash. Why do I do this to myself? Coming here won’t bring her back. It won’t put my family back together.
The yellow police tape has long since been taken down. Animal and human tracks trample the dirt and grass where there used to be an indentation of Mom’s body. I couldn’t have asked for a better mom. She was as beautiful on the outside as she was on the inside and that woman would give you the shirt off her back in the middle of winter if she thought you needed it. Her one vice, she liked to play the slots at the casino once every other month. The nickel and quarter slots at that. Mom never bet like she was trying to win big. She didn’t drink, smoke, or do drugs. Sometimes she’d meet her girlfriends at the casino after work, they’d have a nice dinner and gamble for a few hours. That got her dead. A stupid night out with friends cost her her life and cost me my family.
It had always been the three of us. My mom, me, and my younger sister Misty. Now she lives across the state with her dad and his new family. Misty can’t stand her stepmom or her bratty, entitled siblings. Our nightly phone calls break my heart. Now, she has to live with them until her eighteenth birthday which is almost a year away. Mom would be so disappointed in me for losing my sister, but the courts said I didn’t earn enough to take care of both Misty and myself. What more could I do?
Six damn months and I’ve yet to hear from the Bedlam Horde president again. Normally I don’t associate with motorcycle clubs but the Bedlam Horde MC out of Kentucky made national news after helping the FBI in their search for the Bible Belt Killer.
Six months since I sought them out. Six months since they agreed to help me find him. Six months of nothing. The universe works in mysterious ways. This paid leave from work is the sign I’ve been waiting for to hit hard again.
“I will find him, Mom.” I squat down to place my hand in the muddy grass where she once lay. “I’ll find him and make him pay for what he’s done. Promise.”
On the way home my brain fills with item after item placed on my new to-do list–the things I need to do to get the search going again. After a quick lunch of crackers, hard salami, and cheese, I fire up my laptop in the office I’ve created in my bedroom.
Maps tacked across the wall fill one-half of the room. Every kill spot has a pushpin to track his past movements in hopes of anticipating his future movements. That bastard is called the Bible Belt killer because he moves up and down the Bible Belt section of the country killing women that he’s decided are sinners. Bullshit excuses from a coward who hides behind the ruse of sinfulness as his excuse to feel powerful. Thou shalt not kill, asshole. The number six commandment.
With his last kill, he targeted a woman in the tip of Missouri. Her crime? He snatched her on her way into a Golden Corral all-you-can-eat restaurant. A police interview said she’d been on her way in to meet up with family for her grandmother’s 75th birthday celebration.
He’s heading east again. It could mean Kentucky or Tennessee. My blood boils. This man’s reign of terror has to stop.
I pack a bag, including the atlas that I use as the travel version of the map tacked to my wall, lock my apartment up tight and run for my car. I type the address to the Bedlam Horde town of Bentley, Kentucky into my GPS before I hit the highway.
Halfway through my sixteen-hour drive, I pull into a truckstop parking lot to grab some food and get a little shuteye. When I wake again, I have an awful kink in my neck from sleeping in my front seat. Ibuprofen helps some, but mostly my hatred for the Bible Belt Killer keeps me going.
Bikers own the roads of the small town of Bentley. Bedlam Horde patches everywhere, mixing with the regular townsfolk. I think I remember which road to take to get to their compound, but when I see a pair of Harleys turn onto one of them, I make life easier for myself and follow them up the mountain.
Ten minutes outside of town, I try to enter their lair but am stopped at the gate. The guy on guard looks me up and down. “You ain’t pussy. I think you’re at the wrong place, sweetheart. Best go back down the mountain.”
I square my shoulders. “Listen–” I read his name patch. It says, Horace. “Horace. My name is Danni. I’m working with your president, Vlad, to catch the Bible Belt Killer.”
“He expecting you?”
“Then you’re not getting in.”
I feel my blood pressure rising. “I will run you over with my car if you don’t let me talk to him. Make whatever call you need to make.”
The guy pulls his phone and presses a button. “Pres, got a bitch here says her name is Danni and that she’s working with you on the Bible Belt case?”
After listening for a moment he hangs up his phone and opens the gate for me to pass through. “Go on in. He’ll meet you inside.”
At this time of day, a quarter of the spots are filled. I find an empty one closest to the block and corrugated metal building to park. Be confident, Danni. They won’t hurt you. You’re a strong woman who won’t take crap from any man, scary biker or not.
Easier said than done once I open the front door. The smell of old booze and cigarette smoke hits me, making my eyes water. But just as Horace on the gate said, Vlad sits at a bar stool glaring at me as I walk inside.
“Come on back to my office,” he says standing from the stool but doesn’t wait for me to reach him before he walks behind the bar to one of the rooms where his office is located, and I scurry to catch up. Unlike my middle management loser boss, Mr. Sasquatch, back home, Vlad doesn’t sit behind his desk in a power move. He doesn’t need to. The man exudes power out his very masculine pores. I smell his power in the air.
He leans against the edge of the desk, feet firmly planted on the floor with his arms crossed over his broad chest. “What brings you up from Texas?” he asks, not unfriendly per se, but matter-of-factly.
“He’s making moves again.” I don’t specify. We both know who I’m talking about.
“We’ve been dealing with shit here at the club that had to take precedence.”
“Is that shit over?”
“Great, then we have time.” I show him my atlas. But as I flip to the page I want he stops me.
“You don’t call the shots with this. We do things on our time.”
“But you’re not doing a damn thing.” Oh yeah, I really should rein in my temper before I end up buried in the Horde backyard.
Vlad stands abruptly. “Who do you think you’re talking to?”
“Apparently a man who goes back on his word. I’m not part of your club. You don’t intimidate me.” Lie. Total lie. One hundred percent intimidates me. I’m just good at hiding it.
“You think this is going to get me to help you?”
“You aren’t helping. That’s the problem.”
“We’re done, here.”
“Fine. Then I guess I’m on my own. Thanks for nothing.” He can choke on whatever he’s about to say. I don’t stick around to find out. Back out in the common room, I see Aja. She was the first woman I met when I initially tracked down the Horde. And she’s visibly pregnant.
“Danni?” Aja says. She has her long, thick dark hair pulled up in a high ponytail. I envy that hair. I pretty much envy everything about Aja. She’s Philipino by ancestry. I don’t know if it’s because of those good genes or just the luck of family traits, but she has the longest eyelashes and this gorgeous golden skin that positively glows in that maternity way. All those prenatal vitamins have awesome benefits. “What are you doing here?” she asks.
“Not getting any help from Vlad, that’s for sure.”
“We’ve had some stuff happen with the club.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. I really am but I can’t wait any longer. He struck again in Missouri. He’s either in Kentucky or Tennessee if he keeps to the pattern. It was good to see you. Congratulations on the expansion of your family.”
“Thank you–don’t go.”
“You’re going out alone. I see it written all over your face.”
“I’m always alone, Aja.”
“No. Not with this. Please stay, come back to my place and we’ll talk to Cutter. See what we can do.”
“He’s under the rules of Vlad and Vlad is sitting on his ass doing nothing. No offense, but I don’t have time to wait.”
“Please,” she begs. “Come back to my house. Let me talk to Cut. We’ll figure this thing out. I promise.”
“One day, Aja. I’ll give you one day and then I’m gone.”
“Fair enough. Follow me.”
Aja turns to leave out of the clubhouse and I follow close behind. For a little thing, she sure is agile. I’m impressed with the way she hefts herself up into the cab of that truck. I follow behind in my car as we drive back down the mountain. She heads out of Bentley towards a town called Middlesboro.
I swear on my mother’s grave if she’s giving me the run-around, she’ll be sorry. Pregnant or not. Who am I kidding? I’ll wait until the baby is born.
I’m not an animal.