Of the three unluckiest days in Barbara Allen's life, the first was the day Clara Rinker was raped behind a St. Louis nudie bar called Zanadu, which was located west of the city in a dusty checkerboard of truck terminals, warehouses and light assembly plants. Zanadu, as its chrome-yellow I-70 billboard proclaimed, was E-Z On, E-Z Off. The same was not true of Clara Rinker, despite what Zanadu's customers thought.
Rinker was sixteen when she was raped, a small athletic girl, a dancer, an Ozarks runaway. She had bottle-blond hair that showed darker roots, and a body that looked wonderful in V-necked, red-polka-dotted, thin cotton dresses from Kmart. A body that drew the attention of cowboys, truckers and other men who dreamt of Nashville.
Rinker had taken up nude dancing because she could. It was that, fuck for money or go hungry. The rape took place at two o'clock in the morning on an otherwise delightful April night, the kind of night when midwestern kids are allowed to stay out late and play war, when cicadas hum down from their elm-bark hideaways. Rinker had closed the bar that night; she was the last dancer up.
Four men were still drinking when she finished. Three were hound-faced long-distance truckers who had nowhere to go but the short beds in their various Kenworths, Freightliners and Peterbilts; and one was a Norwegian exotic-animal dealer drowning the sorrows of a recent mishap involving a box of boa constrictors and thirty-six thousand dollars' worth of illegal tropical birds.
A fifth man, a slope-shouldered gorilla named Dale-Something, had walked out of the bar halfway through Rinker's last grind. He left behind twelve dollars in crumpled ones and two small sweat rings where his forearms had been propped on the bar. Rinker had worked down the bar-top, stopping for ten seconds in front of each man for what the girls called a crack shot. Dale-Something had gotten the first shot, and he had stood up and walked out as soon as she moved to the next guy. When she was done, Rinker hopped off the end of the bar and headed for the back to get into her street clothes.
A few minutes later, the bartender, a University of Missouri wrestler named Rick, knocked on the dressing room door and said, "Clara? Will you close up the back?"
"I'll get it," she said, pulling a fuzzy pink tube top over her head, shaking her ass to get it down. Rick respected the dancers' privacy, which they appreciated; it was purely a psychological thing, since he worked behind the bar, and spent half his night looking up their . . .
Anyway, he respected their privacy.
When she was dressed, Rinker killed the lights in the dressing room, walked down to the ladies' room, checked to make sure it was empty, which it always was, and then did the same for the men's room, which was also empty, except for the ineradicable odor of beer-flavored urine. At the back door, she snapped out the hall lights, released the bolt on the lock and stepped outside into the soft evening air. She pulled the door shut, heard the bolt snap, rattled the door handle to make sure that it was locked and headed for her car.
A rusted-out Dodge pickup crouched on the lot, two-thirds of the way down to her car. A battered aluminum camper slumped on the back, with curtains tangled in the windows. Every once in a while, somebody would drink too much and would wind up sleeping in his car behind the place; so the truck was not exactly unprecedented. Still, Rinker got a bad vibe from it. She almost walked back around the building to see if she could catch Rick before he went out the front.
Almost. But that was too far and she was probably being silly and Rick was probably in a hurry and the truck was dark, nothing moving . . .
Dale-Something was sitting on the far side of it, hunkered down in the pea gravel, his back against the driver's-side door. He'd been waiting for twenty minutes with decreasing patience, chewing breath mints, thinking about her. Somewhere, in the deep recesses of his mind, breath mints were a concession to gentility, as regarded women. He chewed them as a favor to her.
Reprinted from Certain Prey by John Sandford by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright 1999 by John Sandford.
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