"Easy," Cash said. He put the can of Budweiser on a kitchen counter, freeing his hands.
Cash looked puzzled for a second, then said, "Joe ain't here."
"Call him," the big man said. He'd thought about this, about all the calling.
Cash shrugged. "HEY JOE," he shouted.
Nothing. After a long moment, the man with the shotgun said, "Goddamnit, where is he?"
"He went away last month. He ain't been back. We don't know where he is," Warr said. "Told you he wasn't here."
"Go stand next to Deon." Warr stepped over next to Cash, and the big man dipped his left hand into his parka pocket and pulled out a clump of chain. Handcuffs. He tossed them on the floor and looked at Warr. "Put them on Deon. Deon, turn around."
"Aw, man . . ."
"It's up to you," the big man said. "I don't want to hurt you two, but I will. We're gonna wait for him if it takes all night."
"He ain't here," Warr said in exasperation. "He ain't coming back."
"Cuffs," the big man said. "I know what it sounds like when cuffs lock up."
"Aw man . . ."
"C'mon." The shotgun moved to Cash's head, and Warr bent over and picked up one set of cuffs and the big man said, "Turn around so I can see it," and Warr clicked the cuffs in place, pinning Cash's hands behind him.
The big man dipped his hand into his pocket again and came up with a roll of strapping tape. "Tape his feet together."
"Man, you startin' to piss me off," Cash said. Even with his hands cuffed, he managed to look stupidly fierce.
"Better'n being dead. Sit down and stick your feet out so she can tape you up."
Still grumbling, Cash sat down and Warr crouched beside him and said, "I'm pretty scared," and Cash said, "We gonna be all right. The masked man can go look at Joe's stuff, see he ain't here."
The big man made her take eight tight winds of tape around Cash's ankles. Then he ordered Warr to take off her parka and cuff her own hands. She got one cuff, but fumbled with the other, and the man with the shotgun told her to turn and back toward him, and when she did, clicked the second cuff in place. He then ordered both of them to lie on their stomachs, and with the shotgun pointed at them, he checked Cash's cuffs and then Warr's, just to make sure. When he was satisfied, he pulled on a pair of cotton gloves, knelt beside Warr, and taped her ankles, then moved over to Cash and put the rest of the roll of tape around his.
When he was done, Cash said, "So go look. Joe ain't here."
"I believe you," the big man said, standing up. They looked so helpless that he almost backed out. He steadied himself. "I know where Joe is."
After a moment's silence, Cash asked, "Where is he?"
"In a hole in the ground, a couple miles south of Terrebonne. Don't think I could find it myself, anymore," the big man said. "I just asked you about him so you'd think that . . ." He shrugged. "That you had a chance."
Another moment's silence, and then Warr said, "Aw, God, Deon. Listen to his voice."
Cash put the pieces together, then said, loud, croaking, but not yet screaming, "We didn't do nothin', man. We didn't do nothin'."
"I know what you did," the big man said.
"Don't hurt us," Warr said. She flopped against the vinyl, tried to get over on her back. "Please don't hurt us. I'll tell the cops whatever you want."
"We get a trial," Cash said. He twisted around, the better to see the man's face, and to test the tape on his legs. "We innocent until we proved guilty."
"Innocent." The big man spat it out.
"We didn't do nothin'," Cash screamed at him.
"I know what you did." The crust on his wounds had broken, and the big man began kicking Cash in the back, in the kidneys, in the butt and the back of his head, and Cash rolled around the narrow kitchen floor trying to escape, screaming, the big man wailing like a man dying of a knife wound, like a man watching the blood running out of his neck, and he kicked and booted Cash in the back, and when Cash flopped over, in the face; Cash's nose broke with the sound of a saltine cracker being stepped on and he sputtered blood out over the floor. Across the kitchen, Warr struggled against the tape and the handcuffs and half-rolled under the kitchen table and got tangled up in the chairs, and their wooden legs clunked and pounded and clattered on the floor as she tried to inchworm through them, Cash screaming all the while, sputtering blood.
Excerpted from Naked Prey by John Sandford, copyright © 2003 by John Sandford, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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