He snatched her from behind, covered her mouth with a thick and sweaty hand, and said, "I have a knife. I'll cut you and your kids." With the other hand he held up a shiny blade and waved it before her eyes.
"Understand?" he hissed into her ear.
She trembled and managed to shake her head. She couldn't see what he looked like. He threw her to the floor of the cluttered closet, face down, and yanked her hands behind her. He took a brown wool scarf an old aunt had given her and wrapped it roughly around her face. "Not one sound," he kept growling at her. "Or I'll cut your kids." When the blindfold was finished he grabbed her hair, snatched her to her feet, and dragged her to her bed. He poked the tip of the blade into her chin and said, "Don't fight me. The knife's right here." He cut off her panties and the rape began.
He wanted to see her eyes, those beautiful eyes he'd seen in the clubs. And the long hair. He'd bought her drinks and danced with her twice, and when he'd finally made a move she had stiff-armed him. Try these moves, baby, he mumbled just loud enough for her to hear.
He and the Jack Daniel's had been building courage for three hours, and now the whiskey numbed him. He moved slowly above her, not rushing things, enjoying every second of it. He mumbled in the self-satisfying grunts of a real man taking and getting what he wanted.
The smell of the whiskey and his sweat nauseated her, but she was too frightened to throw up. It might anger him, cause him to use the knife. As she started to accept the horror of the moment, she began to think. Keep it quiet. Don't wake up the kids. And what will he do with the knife when he's finished?
His movements were faster, he was mumbling louder. "Quiet, baby," he hissed again and again. "I'll use the knife." The wrought-iron bed was squeaking; didn't get used enough, he told himself. Too much noise, but he didn't care.
The rattling of the bed woke Michael, who then got Teresa up. They eased from their room and crept down the dark hall to see what was happening. Michael opened the door to his mother's bedroom, saw the strange man on top of her, and said, "Mommy!" For a second the man stopped and jerked his head toward the children.
The sound of the boy's voice horrified Rhoda, who bolted upward and thrust both hands at her assailant, grabbing whatever she could. One small fist caught him in the left eye, a solid shot that stunned him. Then she yanked off her blindfold while kicking with both legs. He slapped her and tried to pin her down again. "Danny Padgitt!" she shouted, still clawing. He hit her once more.
"Mommy!" Michael cried.
"Run, kids!" Rhoda tried to scream, but she was struck dumb by her assailant's blows.
"Shut up!" Padgitt yelled.
"Run!" Rhoda shouted again, and the children backed away, then darted down the hallway, into the kitchen, and outside to safety.
In the split second after she shouted his name, Padgitt realized he had no choice but to silence her. He took the knife and hacked twice, then scrambled from the bed and grabbed his clothing.
Mr. and Mrs. Aaron Deece were watching late television from Memphis when they heard Michael's voice calling and getting closer. Mr. Deece met the boy at the front door. His pajamas were soaked with sweat and dew and his teeth were chattering so violently he had trouble speaking.
"He hurt my mommy!" he kept saying. "He hurt my mommy!"
Through the darkness between the two houses, Mr. Deece saw Teresa running after her brother. She was almost running in place, as if she wanted to get to one place without leaving the other. When Mrs. Deece finally got to her by the Deece garage, she was sucking her thumb and unable to speak.
Mr. Deece raced into his den and grabbed two shotguns, one for him, one for his wife. The children were in the kitchen, shocked to the point of being paralyzed. "He hurt Mommy," Michael kept saying. Mrs. Deece cuddled them, told them everything would be fine. She looked at her shotgun when her husband laid it on the table. "Stay here," he said as he rushed out of the house.
Copyright John Grisham 2004. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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