The Cabin II: Return to Winding Ridge, CHAPTER 1 preview

The truck idled at the curb. Smoke drifted from the tail pipe, dissipating as it rose toward the sky.

“Seems like that truck’s been there for the past three days or so,” the bus driver mumbled to himself. He picked up a note pad and recorded the license number and a description of the truck: black with a red “4 x 4” on the side, mud flaps with crimson reflector lights. The children filed down the steps onto the sidewalk and walked toward the truck.

The driver’s wrinkled brow, lined as perfectly as a plowed field in early spring, showed his inability to determine the seriousness of the matter. With the children well on the way toward their homes, he moved toward his next stop. He’d get angry complaints from disapproving parents if he didn’t keep on schedule.

As soon as the bus’s taillights moved from his sight, the man in the truck jumped from his seat. Peering over the cab of the truck, Aubry Moats scanned the street.

On the previous three days he had cased this particular bus stop and had picked out a little girl who on each day stood waiting alone at the corner. On those days, about twenty minutes after the bus had gone, a late-model Mercedes pulled up to the curb, and the girl climbed in.

With no one else in sight, Moats vaulted across the street, heading directly toward the girl. Before she could react, he grabbed her and forced a dirty rag into her mouth. It smelled of gasoline. She gagged.

Moats scooped her up and ran across the street, carrying her in his strong, athletic arms. As he reached the truck he held her to his side and tightened his hold, giving himself a free hand to open the door. He threw her onto the front seat.

“If ya keep strugglin’ I’ll have to hurt ya,” Moats warned, his rank breath forcing her to turn her head away. He buckled the seat belt and slammed the door. Hurrying around to the driver’s side, he scanned the area again and saw no one who might have observed his activities. Throwing the truck into gear, he maneuvered along the residential street. He took care to keep within the speed limit. The girl wept.

A few miles beyond the bus stop, Moats reached over and pulled the rag from the girl’s mouth. As routine, he pulled off the road nearly three miles out of town. He removed the license plate he’d stolen the week before and replaced it with the one he had swiped that morning. Then he jumped back in the truck, heading toward the freeway and away from the danger of being caught.

“Boy, wouldn’t th’ coal miners what’s a riskin’ their lives in th’ coal mines in Windin’ Ridge be impressed if they knowed th’ money I’m makin’,” he gloated aloud. Next to him the girl flinched at the unexpected sound of his voice. Moats ignored her. They were near the interstate and he would have them out of town before anyone was the wiser.

“Th’ coal miners work night an’ day diggin’ coal for almost nothin’,” he said as he shifted gears. “Never goin’ to catch me in no coal mine again, no siree, not after th’ explosion. If I hadn’t gotten so drunk the night of th’ explosion that I couldn’t make it to work, I’d be buried alive with all th’ others on my shift. It’s not for me, workin’ underground like a mole, no siree. I just pick up a kid here an’ there. No work, no sweat. Them mountain men don’t knowed what real livin’ is. Someday soon I’m goin’ to pay a visit to my brother, th’ big-feelin’ Sheriff Ozzie Moats livin’ up on th’ mountain. Goin’ to tell him I’m a big executive with a fancy office.”

Aubry Moats was on a mission to transport the girl to Steven Lloyd and get her off his hands. In the past he had sold children to George Cunningham, but for the past eight months George had been doing time, and nobody worked for him now. With both Aubry Moats and Jacob McCallister coming from the same mountain town, it was curious that they never knew that they had simultaneously worked for George Cunningham.

The messages McCallister sent to Aubry Moats through the grapevine, asking Moats to contact him, had gone unanswered. “No siree, law’s lookin’ for McCallister.” The man spoke out loud once again, breaking the silence that had filled the cab since the girl had ceased sobbing. “Don’t want no doin’s with him. With our trucks bein’ just alike, I could be a suspect ‘cause he got hisself in trouble. Admire him, that’s why I got a truck like his’n an’ all. No siree, though, I’m not goin’ to have no doin’s with him. Not now.”

The broken white lines slid speedily by, putting miles between Aubry Moats and his two latest crime scenes. The first was of the boy he had picked up a few days ago. To kill a couple of hours until school let out, Moats had walked along the Monongahela River bank. It was cold to be out exercising, but he’d been raised in the mountains and was used to extremely cold weather.

Along the edge of the water he spied a young boy fishing alone. “What luck,” Moats had smirked. The boy had broken a hole through the ice and was standing with his fishing pole extended over the opening. The water rippled in circles where the line disappeared into the darkness. Moats took his handkerchief out of his pocket and moved toward the boy, who stood with his back to him. Before the boy could know what was happening, Moats had the rag stuffed into the boy’s mouth and was headed for the truck with the child slung over his shoulder.

“I’m tired of this nowhere town,” Jacob McCallister said to the attractive woman who lay at his side. “Can’t hook up with Aubry Moats. The no-good won’t answer the messages I send him. You’d never know he keeps a house in this no man’s land by the short amount of time he spends here between jobs.”

“He’ll come around,” Olene said. “Always does when he has a child to pass off. I don’t know why you’d want to do business with that no-good anyway.”

“It’s none of your damn business what I want him for,” McCallister said.

“He’s got connections,” Olene said. “That’s why you want to get in touch with him. And you don’t need to act like such a jerk when I ask you something.”

“I’m just blowing off steam. Takes too damn long to make my own babies, and if I stay here I’m going to run out of money and I’ll never get to my number-one mission of going after Tuesday and Patty. Times right now, I’m tired of being stuck in this hillbilly town. I have my fake IDs and if things get too hot, I’ll go in disguise so no one will know who I am.” He smiled and inspected the photo on one of his fake licenses.

On McCallister’s two new IDs his name was Victor Newman, and on one of them the face in the photo did not bear any resemblance to Jacob McCallister. It was an excellent disguise. He’d had the second one made in the alias name without the disguise in the case he got stopped when he was not wearing it. He was covered for any event.

“Yes, Olene, I’m ready to move. I know the perfect place to keep Tuesday and Patty. The key is to take them by surprise.” “When are you leaving?” Olene asked. “Soon, Olene, soon,” “When are you coming back?” McCallister said, “Look, Olene, I don’t want to have to tell you again! Stifle the questions. I’ll tell you what I want you to know.”

Jacob McCallister leaned back on a cheap pillow that was covered with a shabby pillowcase. “Bet my life the heat’s off me. No one seems to be busting their chops to find out where I am. I don’t see anything about Tuesday’s ‘elusive captor’ in the newspaper anymore.” Without warning, he threw his legs over the side of the bed. Grabbing his clothes, he strode into the bathroom.

“Where’re you going?” Olene asked. “Just pack my things,” McCallister said. “I’m out of here. I told you that I’m tired of this nowhere town.” “I’m going with you.” “The hell you are. Do as I said.”

A shrill scream shattered the stillness of the night, awakening Tuesday from her deep sleep. She stumbled over her slippers in her haste to get across the hall to Patty’s bedroom. Guided by the moonlight shining through the window at the head of the stairs, Tuesday reached the door to Patty’s room and threw the door open to darkness. She flipped the switch, bathing the room in light. She saw Patty was sitting up in bed with tears running down her face.

Tuesday crossed the room. She sat on the bed and took the sobbing girl in her arms. “It’s okay, Patty. Everything’s fine,” Tuesday comforted the girl. This was not the first time Patty had awakened Tuesday with her night screams. She often had nightmares that her father, Jacob McCallister, was coming after them and then forcing them to go with him. His cruel threats of punishing them for running away from the mountain cabin often rang in her ears as she fell asleep at night.

Eight months had passed since Jacob McCallister had taken Tuesday against her will to his remote cabin. On the mountain, trapped in McCallister’s macabre world, Tuesday had implored Patty to help her escape from him. Patty had agreed and had expressed her dream of living in the city with Tuesday. Unlike her sister and mothers, she had always dreamed of getting away from the primitive mountain existence.

Patty had told Tuesday about her dreams—dreams that time and again were forecasts of the future—as they sat in the corner room of the remote cabin. Patty had exposed the fact that McCallister had sold a set of twins earlier and had sold his infant daughter just before Tuesday had been abducted. Thus, Tuesday discovered that Jacob’s actual business was selling his own children to baby brokers. He had never sold liquor or medical supplies as he’d told her. That was a cover-up for his disgusting crimes.

The cabin in the remote mountains was where the babies were born. He had not sold Patty because of the disfiguring birthmark that covered the side of her pretty face; it covered most of the right side and was shaped like a map of South America done in purple. Tuesday had learned that, when Patty and Sara, her half-sister, were of childbearing age, their offspring were destined to increase McCallister’s illicit income.

McCallister had kept his son, Joe, to do the work that he did not care to do, but Joe’s main job was to help keep the younger girls pregnant. This arrangement allowed McCallister to spend more of his time in the city of Wheeling, where he liked to gamble and socialize with beautiful women.

As Tuesday sat and held Patty, whose fourteenth birthday had been just a few days ago, she thought back to the night eight months ago when Sergeant Cliff Moran had found her and Patty hiding in the damp, dark cave where they hid after escaping from the cellar in which McCallister had imprisoned them.

Some time after she and Patty had escaped, Tuesday became aware that she carried a child in her womb, a result of brutal rapes by her captor, Jacob McCallister. She continued to have nightmares of the rapes, forced to relive the humiliation she had had to endure. The child was due, in four more weeks, at the end of January.

Cliff Moran was the one who had been responsible for Tuesday and Patty’s rescue. He had arranged for their escort off the mountain to the hospital in the town of Winding Ridge that was nestled at the foot of the mountain. But Tuesday’s first meeting with Cliff Moran was actually a few weeks after she had met McCallister. Her friend, Cora, had the good fortune of having Cliff as the detective who investigated the kidnapping of her daughter, Linda, who had been taken at the age of one. After two years of questioning, probing, and searching, Cliff had found Linda and united her with her grateful parents. Cora had introduced Cliff to Tuesday.

Now Patty had fallen asleep in Tuesday’s arms. Tuesday laid the girl on her pillow. I hope Cliff finds Jacob and puts him in jail where he belongs so we can live in peace, she prayed.

Jacob had disappeared without a trace, but Tuesday constantly feared that he would come to take Patty and her back to the cabin or some place as vile or worse. Tuesday could not forget Jacob’s warning: “You are mine.” She knew that he had become obsessed with her. She’d heard of these things happening; all she had to do was turn on a TV talk show and there was another similar story. She was sure in her heart if he was not caught and arrested, McCallister would come for Patty, her unborn child, and her.

Patty’s dreams were all too often accurate forecasts of future happenings.

Across the street, a dark shadow, just out of reach of the street light, obscured a dark-colored car from which a man patiently watched the house.

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