SPECIAL HANDLING REQUIRED
by GARY CLIFTON
asper Squint, Jr. was germinated at Butcher Flats in Far East Texas. From the get-go, for reasons lost in time, he was called “Rag”. A slimy misfit with a moniker like Casper could have ended up tagged as "Ghost", but folks around his parts were just too plain ignorant to know who in thunderation the original Casper was. So Casper became Rag. He’d stumble into the spirit world soon enough, though.
Ol’ Rag, by his own declaration, “wasn’t scared of nuthin’ or nobody”. He’d stolen something or perpetrated at least one felony against society daily since he learned to walk, including burning down Mr. Bowen’s house with the old man still inside. Folks around Butcher Flats always said Rag was plenty mean enough to eat a live chicken.
At nineteen, his sheet tallied 27 arrests for a wide range of violent offenses. Too dimwitted to mount much defense when arrested, he eventually earned a stretch in the Texas Department of Corrections. Released after doing eighteen months for burglary, the apex of his young career, he paroled back to Dallas.
Back on the street, he fell in with Wilmer "Butter" Melewski, a sort of a mix between outlaw biker, KKK'er, and lunatic. For the next few weeks of their abbreviated crime career, they commenced “rapin', robbin', and raisin’ general hell” - their words. With Butter to urge him on, Rag felt empowered to hurt more people, more often, more seriously.
One evening, they robbed a beer store on South Lamar with a plastic knife and a tailpipe extension. The take was less than fifty bucks. For no good reason - most everything they did was for no good reason - they drove up Harry Hines in Butter's mom’s old F 150. "Damned circus up ahead," Rag slurred drunkenly. A worn, one ring circus was struggling to draw a crowd, despite the chilly fall evening.
A block north, they passed a shapely, black haired, dark skinned young woman, her circus tights visible beneath a navy pea coat. She struggled to carry an over-sized suitcase. Butter whipped to the curb and learned from the pedestrian’s limited English that her name was Tonya, the wife of Igor the something or other whom she’d just crap-canned. She was walking to the bus station, if only she knew where it might be.
Naively, she tossed her large bag in the bed of the pickup, slid between the two animals in the cab, and in fifteen minutes and two beers, they'd hauled her to an isolated park. After hours of rape, beating, and maltreatment, Sonya’s pretty face was unrecognizable. They strangled their victim, or thought they had, and dumped her in a creek. But since neither could read, they hadn’t considered Rule One in the murderer’s handbook: Some folks take more killing than others. Comfortably stoned with lust temporarily satiated, Butter wheeled the F 150 to his mama's house in north Dallas where they could crash for the night.
"Whud that skank do in the circus?" Rag asked.
"Dunno. Hey, her suitcase is still in back. Maybe it’s got somethin' we could pawn."
Butter retrieved the bulky, brown leather valise and slid back into the truck cab, out of the chill. He eagerly opened the clasps, then a safety strap and popped it open. Neighbors dialed 9-1-1 to report wild shrieks and screams from mama's front yard.
"Damn, Doc." The Burley Sergeant looked up at the M.E. He flash-lighted the two men; dead on either side of the pickup. "Reckon they got hold of some bad dope someways? Both sorta blue, faces bloated and swollen, eyes bulging wide open. Man, they didn’t go easily. This was a hell of a way to die."
"Don't see no paraphernalia in the truck," the M.E. leaned inside. "Maybe moonshine whiskey...damned if I know, really. Tox screens might tell us."
The excited truck driver’s initial call to 911 was unintelligible. He had to explain to the dispatcher a second time that he’d picked up a nearly nude, bloodied, partially strangled young woman staggering along the roadside and that the victim said she was with the circus on Harry Hines. The female voice in the background groaned in anguish.
“They stole my babies... they stole my babies....”
Robbery Detectives were frustrated they never found a single lead in Sonya’s abduction and assault. The case quickly grew cold.
Sonya spent a week in Parkland Hospital before Igor found her. They kissed and made up and he drove her back to their circus wagon. Doctors assured her she would fully recover. The bruises and lacerations would heal with remarkably little scarring, but Sonya sobbed nightly for the loss of her beloved pets.
Then, Igor spoke up. “My love, our friends here in the circus have taken up a collection to buy you three more pets. In a few days you’ll be on the marque once again as Sonya, The World’s Greatest Snake Charmer. Deadly king cobras are in season back in India. They’ll arrive in ten days”.
Nobody ever reported finding Sonya’s three lost babies - at least not anyone who lived to tell about it.
Gary Clifton, forty years a cop, has over sixty short fiction pieces published or pending with online sites including Bewildering Stories, Flashes in the Dark, Spinetingler, and Black Heart Mag. He's been shot at, shot, stabbed, sued and is currently retired to a dusty north Texas ranch. Clifton has an MS from Abilene Christian University. Gary’s stories have previously appeared four times in HelloHorror. Blood Passion appears in the January 2013 issue, Measure Once, Cut Twice appears in the April 2013 issue, Mother’s Nature appears in the August 2013 issue, Mind's Eye appears in the October 2013 issue, and Sinning in the Rain appears in the December 2013 issue. Each of Gary’s stories appearing thus far have been part of the Margot LePlatt series. Read more of Gary's work at his new blog, Bareknuckle Thoughts.
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