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   Chapter 22 No.22

My Sister's Keeper By Bill Benners Characters: 10179

Updated: 2018-05-28 11:03


BACK AT THE HOUSE, I discovered the cassette had been crushed in the collision. Finding an unopened blank videocassette in the entertainment center, I transferred the tape from the smashed cassette to the new casing and, after a frustrating scuffle, managed to get the cassette closed and screwed back together.

Inserting it into the VCR, I pressed "play" and stood back. The tape squealed and the video fluttered as the machine dragged the crumpled magnetic ribbon over the tape heads. Through the static and distortion, the silhouette of a woman quivered on the screen. Wobbly music with a heavy beat began to play and the woman seemed at first confused and embarrassed, but then began dancing and posing for the camera in what appeared to be some sort of amateur audition.

I pressed "fast forward" and the jerky images scrolled by as the camera panned slightly to the right and zoomed in past the woman to a man hiding in the shadows. I stopped the tape and ran it forward slowly—a frame at a time—to see if I could get a better look at his face, but could not. When I resumed normal play, the sound and picture struggled as the camera pulled back to again show the girl prancing about teasing the camera. She wore a red sequined dress, long black gloves, and black high heels.

I couldn't see the face well enough to tell it was Ashleigh, but neither could I rule her out. In fast-forward, she danced around at high speed, discarded the dress, removed her black lace bra, and wiggled out of her panties. The camera again zoomed past her to the shadowy face of the man who stood motionless, watching from behind. Again I pressed the "pause" button and moved forward one frame at a time until a strobe burst on and I got a fairly clear image of his face. He had heavy eyebrows and a thick mustache and could have been the same man that slugged me in the head.

I pressed "play" again and the tape quivered and squealed once more. The strobe pulsed and in slow-motion freeze-frame, the young woman danced about nude as the camera slowly moved in on her face. Although the hair was longer and darker, it was a face I recognized. There was no doubt now. Ashleigh Matthews was connected to the house at the beach.

Suddenly the man swooped out of the shadows like a lion attacking its prey and in the frozen pulses of the strobe, I saw the petrified face of terror—the kind that can't be faked—as he savagely attacked her—beating and mauling her. It was appalling, disgusting, and repulsive. As she kicked and clawed and fought back screaming, crying, and pleading, I dropped to my knees and screamed with her. And when she fell mercifully unconscious from his brutal assault and the vicious rape began, I turned it off and wept.

THE NEXT MORNING, Saturday, I ached and throbbed from the back of my head to my ankles. I took three ibuprofen tablets, bandaged an open wound on my leg, and called my attorney, I told him about last night and the video, and he told me to take it to him.

As I pulled away from the house, I saw the Frederick

it Wednesday?"

"Well now, that's the strange part. I gassed it up and give her the key on Wednesday. Then she showed up T'ursday, and took it out most all day. Then brung it back, gassed it up again, and just left it. Ain't never come back."

The heat was too hot on my back. I stood up and moved around trying to get some of the warmth down into my legs. "Can I see that boat?"

"Well, that's another strange thing. Somebody stole it."

"When was that?" I asked.

"It were here Sunday when I left, and gone Monday morning when I come in at five. I figured she took it 'til I seen her picture in the paper and learnt what happened. That's when I called the law."

"What did it look like?"

"Just a old workboat. Had a 85 Merc'ry outboard on it. Run good. That's it in that yonder picture." He pointed his chin over his shoulder to a four by six color photograph thumbtacked to a wooden cabinet door. It was a picture of the old man standing in an open Boston Whaler holding a string of giant-sized trout. There was a cockpit in the center with a steering wheel and gauges, but no windshield.

"When was this taken?"

"Shoot. You don't find trout like that 'round here no more. Probably twelve or thirteen year ago."

"Where'd she say she went with it?" I asked.

"Didn't say."

"How long was she out on Thursday?"

"She come 'round 10 that morning. I seen her load a ice chest on it and then hightail it outta here like her hair's on fire. She didn't have no fear of it neither. Know'd what she was doing. Next I seen her was half past four."

"How far could she have gotten in that time?"

"Depends what way she went and what the wind was doin'."

"You got another one you can rent?"

"Well, ain't none here now. Folks got 'em all out. You want one in t'morning?"

"Yeah, I do. What time do you open?"

"Five every day. And I'm here 'til they all come back."

"Put me down for one. Richard Baimbridge. I'll be here when you open. Five o'clock."

"Baimbridge."

"Right."

"You got it."

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