When he heard the back door closing, he levered his butt off the ground, peeked through a car window, saw her coming, alone. He waited, crouched behind the car: he was a big guy, much of his bigness in fat, but he took pride in his size anyway.
And he was quick: Rinker never had a chance.
When she stepped around the truck, keys rattling in her hand, he came out of the dark and hit her like an NFL tackle. The impact knocked her breath out; she lay beneath him, gasping, the gravel cutting her bare shoulders. He flipped her over, twisting her arms, clamping both of her skinny wrists in one hand and the back of her neck in the other.
And he said, his minty breath next to her ear, "You fuckin' scream and I'll break your fuckin' neck."
She didn't fuckin' scream because something like this had happened before, with her stepfather. She had screamed and he almost had broken her fuckin' neck. Instead of screaming, Rinker struggled violently, thrashing, spitting, kicking, swinging, twisting, trying to get loose. But Dale-Something's hand was like a vise on her neck, and he dragged her to the camper, pulled open the door, pushed her inside, ripped her pants off and did what he was going to do in the flickering yellow illumination of the dome light.
When he was done, he threw her out the back of the truck, spit on her, said, "Fuckin' bitch, you tell anybody about this, and I'll fuckin' kill ya." That was most of what she remembered about it later: lying naked on the gravel, and getting spit on; that, and all the wiry hair on Dale's fat wobbling butt.
Rinker didn't call the cops, because that would have been the end of her job. And, knowing cops, they probably would have sent her home to her step-dad. So she told Zanadu's owners about the rape. The brothers Ernie and Ron Battaglia were concerned about both Rinker and their bar license. A nudie joint didn't need sex crimes in the parking lot.
"Jeez," Ron said when Rinker told him about the rape. "That's terrible, Clara. You hurt? You oughta get yourself looked at, you know?"
Ernie took a roll of bills from his pocket, peeled off two hundreds, thought about it for a couple of seconds, peeled off a third and tucked the three hundred dollars into her backup tube top. "Get yourself looked at, kid."
She nodded and said, "You know, I don't wanna go to the cops. But this asshole should pay for what he did."
"We'll take care of it," Ernie offered.
"Let me take care of it," Rinker said.
Ron put up an eyebrow. "What do you want to do?"
"Just get him down the basement for me. He said something about being a roofer, once. He works with his hands. I'll get a goddamn baseball bat and bust one of his arms."
Ron looked at Ernie, who looked at Rinker and said, "That sounds about right. Next time he comes in, huh?"
They didn't do it the next time he came in, which was a week later, looking nervous and shifty-eyed, like he might not be welcomed. Rinker refused to work with Dale-Something at the bar, and when she cornered Ernie in the kitchen, he told her that, goddamnit, they were right in the middle of tax season and neither he nor Ron had the emotional energy for a major confrontation.
Rinker kept working on them, and the second time Dale-Something showed up, which was two days after tax day, the brothers were feeling nasty. They fed him drinks and complimentary peanuts and kept him talking until after closing. Rick the bartender hustled the second-to-the-last guy out, and left himself, not looking back; he knew something was up.
Then Ron came around the bar, and Ernie got Dale-Something looking the other way, and Ron nailed him with a wild, out-of-the-blue roundhouse right that knocked Dale off the barstool. Ron landed on him, rolled him, and Ernie raced around the bar and threw on a pro-wrestling death lock. Together, they dragged a barely resisting Dale-Something down the basement stairs.
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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