Chapters 1 – 133: Meet Me At 10 an epic story of love & friendship torn apart by intolerance to difference

 

Chapter 1

 

 

Beep!

 

Beep! Beep!…………….. Beeeeeeeep!

 

The last ‘Beep’ getting lowered in tone the further away the monstrous truck had sped by Shona. It woke her up. And she was walking. She stopped and put her hands on her weary knees to catch some breath after her near miss. That really was close. She must have wandered into the dusty road exhausted. She tasted particles kicked up by the huge tyres and spat them out as best she could wincing through the temporary stinging sand fog left by the huge speeding tyres. Still out of breath with adrenaline fuzzing through her, she stood upright, hands on hips and looked around. Where was she? Well she wasn’t in Louisiana and that’s all that mattered. Where she was heading, that was still a mystery, but she had to head somewhere, anywhere to get out of there. She had hitchhiked 2 lifts from truck drivers since she left, but that wasn’t her preferred method of travel, she couldn’t relax. The constant jolting caused by the bumpy roads kept Shona awake so she could keep herself safe, but really she was grateful to get out of there. Shona would have bought a bus ticket except that she had to leave Louisiana in a hurry, just had time to grab some essentials and leave. Plus she also didn’t have the money. She left on a Thursday, and got paid the following day. She really was desperate.

 

Trudging along the what seemed like endlessly straight road, Shona could feel the temperature dropping. The fading sun behind her reminding her that she was alone and on foot. The slowly visible crescent moon bringing with it thoughts of danger that she would be surrounded by total darkness. The only time her path was lit up was by infrequent speeding truck headlights. Hunger pains told Shona that she had to keep pushing on to the next habitual town for some kind of shelter. Then she would make a plan. Under different circumstances, the scenery would be stunning. Jagged unexplored mountains in the distance either side of the road interweaving each other whose faces slid down to plush greenery that would normally be inviting to Shona. She could ride horses into the wilderness, tend to animals and live simply, which was her dream. It may take a while for that dream to materialise.

 

Shona was trying to lubricate her parched lips with her tongue, pulled her dusty coat together to keep out the chill when she heard the familiar roar of an engine behind her. Out here was no place to be a woman Shona thought. Even though she could handle herself, she never went looking for trouble. She squinted, preparing for the impending whoosh of dust and sand particles to blind her temporarily in its wake, but the roar turned into a growl. It was slowing down. The only thing Shona was grateful for was the headlights guiding her in some kind of direction. The driver left them on as his brakes creaked the truck to a halt just in front of Shona to her left. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the driver was lost asking Shona directions? But in truth, if anybody was out in this unhabituated land for long, they would be in trouble, so it was Shona who was looking more likely to need help. But she was reluctant. Even though she took 2 lifts before, it was daylight and she recognised some of the landmarks of her hometown so she figured if she had to jump out in an emergency, she would manage to find her way out of Louisiana. This was different. Shona tentatively walked forwards slightly to her right as the trucks engine purred at its standstill so as it keep out of the way if a door was to fling open and she was grabbed. She was now level with it. Shona pulled her crumpled cap down protectively to just above her eyelashes and made sure her mid length blond locks were tucked behind her ears and pulled her coat collars up.

 

“You need a lift!?” shouted the voice from the driver’s side, there were no passengers. The passenger window was down half way. A dim cab light still didn’t reveal much about the driver through its flickering.

 

“Ummm…” Shona tried to make her face as small as possible as if crawling into her own shell.

 

“I aint got all night son! ”

 

Son, Shona thought. Maybe the night-time mixed with dressing in men’s clothing did have its advantages.

 

“Errmm sure….thanks” Shona shouted in a deeper tone trying not to reveal her identity. She would no doubt be safer as a ‘man’.

 

“Get in!”

 

Shona climbed up the 3 steps to get into the cab and slammed the door shut, making sure she sat nearest the door (for a quick exit). She placed her brown denim-like satchel full of only emergency supplies in front of her on her knees, holding it so as to cover up that she is a woman. Perhaps even holding it for comfort. It had been a while. As long as she kept her cap low and her bag on her knees, she would be ok she thought.

 

“Where you headin’?” The drivers face easier to see as the roar of the engine powered the cab light better. The flickering stopped. Shona took a mental note of his belly over-hang into jeans that had given up the fight, a beard that looked like it had yesterday’s food still in it and sweat patches all down his front of his red t-shirt where there were rips in in the arms. But, Shona thought, he is giving me a lift out of here. Quickly remembering she had to speak manly-

 

“Umm… just, just the next town Sir”

 

“Well…that aint no 5 minute journey. What the hell you doin’ out here at this time?’

 

Shona didn’t know what ‘this’ time was until she spied the drivers watch that said 10.57pm. She was completely disorientated with time, days and direction.

 

Shona coughed as if that changed her voiced deeper.

 

“My ride bailed”

 

Shona kept her answers short. She didn’t want the truck driver knowing she was a woman.

 

He looked over at Shona with an air of suspicion his eyes narrowed then returned to the road. This ‘young man’ in his passenger seat not willing to make eye contact led him feeling like there was more to it. But ‘he’ was company on one of his painfully long routes delivering goods. Shona prayed he didn’t pry too much. She thought if she went asleep that would help, he wouldn’t disturb her, but she was that exhausted that she would really would fall asleep despite the countless bumps in the rocky road. If she fell asleep, she wouldn’t be able to defend herself. So instead pretended to be asleep. She got comfortable in her seat, pulled her bag in tighter to her chest to where her head was against it, pulled her cap over her eyes, that way she could still keep her eyes open and would stay alert. With her right hand, she discreetly traced along until she felt the door handle, just in case. The driver looked across again, frowned thinking this man won’t be any company at all.

 

‘Please god…don’t fall asleep, don’t fall asleep’ Shona whispered to herself.

 

‘Beeeeeeeep!’

 

“Damn son of a bitch! Get out of the way!”

 

Shona jolted awake taking in a quick breath at the same time with panic. She had been asleep. Damn it! Shona jolting had caused the driver to divert his attention from the swerving car coming towards the truck onto her. Shona rubbed her eyes but still squinted after being snatched from dreaming. It was 1.49am looking at the drivers watch.

 

Shit!

 

Shona’s cap had fallen backwards when she jolted upright revealing her choppy blond hair and her satchel was in the foot well, it had fallen in the commotion. Her opened shirt just unveiled the edges of what looks like a bra. Shona buttoned up to the top.

 

Too late.

 

“You’re a broad!?” The drivers face looking in disgust with the idea of being played, but at the same time trying to concentrate on the road, swerving where he was veering off into the oncoming lane.

 

“Listen, Sir. I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to trick you, I just…I just wanted to get to the next town and when you thought I was a man, I just went along with it. I’m sorry.”

 

“What kinda game you playin’!? Where do you get off makin’ people look a fool!” The driver wiping sweat from his forehead, sitting upright looking tense.

 

“I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry. I understand if you don’t wanna take me any further, Sir. I get it” Shona angry with herself for falling asleep. But in truth, she was hallucinating with exhaustion.

 

“I should kick you out right here!” The driver nodding at the windscreen as if to emphasise he was serious.

 

The road looked the same road as when she had got in. She dreaded to think if she had to walk it up until this point.

 

“I’m sorry” Shona again, curled up into a near foetal position with her head against the door, willing the truck every metre she didn’t have to walk that was getting nearer to civilisation. She was just about warm, but she knew outside she would have frozen to a slow death.

 

“Don’t mess it up Shona, don’t mess it up!” Shona said to herself

 

The driver saw Shona looking straight ahead and figured there was no point kicking her out. She may have deceived him, but no real harm done. Shona being a woman may not be such a bad thing.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

The bumping and rattling of the truck hitting rocks, dead animals and swerving round holes in the road at the last second, may wake some people, but it again slowly rocked Shona to sleep. She didn’t feel in imminent danger, the driver would have thrown her out already surely. He instead was taking her out of that place, that state hopefully, heading east. The rocking motion soothed her into the deepest sleep she had ever had. Sleep didn’t come easy to Shona.

 

Screech!….

 

It wasn’t the noise, but the noise stopping that woke Shona. It was still dark out. It still looked they were nowhere, anywhere. Shona was facing the window trying in vain to find signs of life, civilisation. She put her left in a salute shape to block out the cab lights reflection. She made the mistake of turning her head left to look at the driver to quiz why they had stopped and parked off the beaten track after she could make out some headlights whizzing by. She couldn’t un-see what she was saw.

 

“What………what you doin?’” Shona’s voiced filled with confusion, mixed with fear and feeling disgusted.

 

The big burly driver was fixed on Shona, he had got into a ‘more comfortable’ position, back against the chair- with his right hand making its way into his underwear, jeans unzipped. He was sweating more, panting, which made Shona feel sick and horrified. His mouth was open a little, with his expectant tongue dripping a drop of saliva out of the corner of his mouth which he wiped on his left hand so as not to interrupt his rhythm of his other hand.

 

“You could… pay for your ride into the next town…?” he said, his voice husky with a sense of entitlement.

 

Shona started breathing heavily, but for completely the opposite reasons. Keeping her gaze onto the driver, who was increasing his hand speed, she tried to locate her property.

 

“I…I’m sorry. I don’t want…that” Shona said

 

“Oh I do like it when a girl puts up a fight” He had to stop mid-sentence to catch his breath-

 

“- it makes it so much more interesting”

 

Shona was paralysed with fear. She was in a strangers truck in the absolute middle of nowhere and it was 3. 54am according to the drivers watch that Shona had to cleverly read almost upside down.

 

“Sir…please. Just-“ Shona was holding her hands up in a ‘I don’t want any trouble’ position.

 

“- come over here and….help me out darlin’. You’re a pretty girl…… and I still…… got a long journey… ahead” His eyes rolled at the same time he arched his back clearly enjoying the moment even more the fact Shona didn’t want to engage with him. Shona wanted to vomit. Everything about him was dirty, his fingernails, his greasy thinning hair and he stank of sweat. Shona didn’t know whether to let him ‘finish’ and carry on the journey until it got light, or to just take her chances with the night. Shona thought the decision would be easy, but she had never been in this position before. Shona was pressed up against the door feeling for the handle to escape. Shaking her head at him slowly when he breathlessly repeated ‘come on, get on over here, helped me out sweetheart’ He had no shame in what he was doing. Shona quickly looked to see if there were any headlights that she could run to. She’d rather a ‘new’ problem that dealing with this sweaty ogre. No lights in the distance.

 

Just when Shona thought he would ‘finish’ he leapt at her across the seat, grabbed the back of the neck to try to force her mouth down onto him, but Shona was strong enough to put up a good fight. Being so up close, Shona could smell the extent of his body odour and started retching. She placed both her arms out wide, one onto the dashboard and her left hand onto the seat next to him to stop her from being forced to have him inside her mouth. The pair of them panting, one in excitement and one in sheer panic.

 

“Nooooo!” Shona’s pleas were going unanswered and excited him more.

 

Shona was losing strength-fast. Somehow she maneuvererd her body within the little space there was, to where her head was quickly level with the drivers right thigh, she lost her grip and her head went down, but instead of onto his penis, Shona bit into the fatty thigh with so much force she thought she could taste blood, maybe even skin. The driver yelled and punched Shona square on her right jaw in a bid to get her to release her grip. In a split second, he realised what would have happened if she bit down on his genitals. Shona thought about it, but was retching already, and a part of him would have probably enjoyed it. The punch was so hard Shona flew back into her own seat and hit the back of her head cracking the window. Through temporary blurriness she could see the driver inspecting his thigh, wiping the blood already running onto his muddy jeans. Shona had to get out. Now. The driver shrieked again as a second wave of pain flooded through his thigh at the same time trying to tuck his semi-erect penis into his underwear. Shona was grabbing at her things and stopped suddenly as she noticed the driver reach to the glove box. A gun, with some loose bullets next to it. Shona had a matter of seconds before he loaded it. She snatched at the door handle. The driver in two minds whether to grab at Shona or to load the gun, he realised that nobody can outrun a bullet so let Shona go and frantically trying to put the bullets in while both wrist were shaking profusely with adrenaline and unanswered sexual frustration whilst Shona made a run for it, purposely slamming the passenger door so that he would have to damage his own truck by having a bullet hole through the window. She jumped the 3 steps down and fell, rolled over, grabbed her bag, somehow her cap staying on and sprinted as fast as anyone can run when they are about to be shot in the back. She ran behind the truck into the distance, so that the 3-4 seconds the driver would take to open his door, down the steps just might be enough for her to take cover somewhere. It was her quick thinking that had always kept her alive, and it worked once again. She ran in a zig zig formation so she would make a more difficult target. Soon she vanished into the night hearing 2-3 shots fired in her direction. She remembers seeing 4 bullets. She would have to stay hidden. She didn’t want that last bullet having her name on it.

 

Chapter 3

 

Shona was sure the truck had taken off. She had heard the familiar roar from afar, seen the headlights light up the dusty road and fade into the distance. But Shona wanted to make sure, hiding behind a large mound of rocks until it was completely out of sight was the only the only source of protection from a bullet.

She let out a huge sigh, catching her breath. It was only now she realised the magnitude of nearly losing her life. She was lucky. Stomping her way down the road, she could see the sun trying to break through in the distance, dawn was on its way and Shona felt reassured despite the throbbing of her head and cheek injuries. She touched the back of her head and tasted what was on her fingers- blood. She hoped she did some damage to that son of a bitches’ window, he deserved everything he got. Luck seemed to be on her side when she spotted a river into the distance, and started walking off the beaten track. The sun slowly pouring into the sky illuminating landmarks. Shona could see a shed-like building and made her way over to it treading carefully over the uneven rocks. She approached with caution. There would only be enough room for 1 or 2 people inside anyway. But she had already one near-death experience earlier. It was unlocked. Great. Her second bit of luck. Shona knocked on the beaten wooden panels as if to alert somebody inside she was coming in. She couldn’t see inside fully, but was sure she was alone. This was perfect to curl up, get warm and get some rest. The ordeal that had taken place over the last few hours were something she wanted to put behind her fast. Here she felt safe enough to drift off into a much needed sleep despite her head throbbing. The wind had got up and throughout the morning, Shona had been woken by the door to the shed she had been sleeping in, banging against the metal unused lock. But without any difficulty, she fell back to sleep.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

“Daddy?” The phone line crackled slightly.

 

“Chloe….sweetheart! How’s my princess!?”

 

“I’m good daddy, real good. I wished I could travel for longer. I’ve taken so many pictures -”

 

“-I know honey, but we need you back here at the business. We’re counting on you. I’ll send one of the guys to pick you up from the station” Larry interrupted his daughter.

 

“Well alright. I’ll see you soon”

“Bye baby”

 

 

Chapter 5

 

“Who are you!?”

 

Shona woke with a panic as she was faced with an old guy with a rifle pointing straight at her.

 

“What!?…Oh, I’m sorry. I’m Shona. I was dog tired sir, I been travelling and I found this place. I’ll move”

 

“Don’t you move!….you planning on letting my animals out? Stealing ‘em!?” He got closer

 

“I…no way Sir, I didn’t know you had animals! I just needed to rest. I promise!”

 

Shona held her hands up showing she wasn’t carrying any weapons. Damn it, this was the second time she was staring down the barrel of a gun within a matter of hours.

 

“Get up!” The man gestured with his gun to emphasise. He still couldn’t see Shona’s face clearly as she was at the back of the shed still in the dark. Shona complied and got up slowly. Her head still thudding. As she moved forward towards him, he could see her face was badly bruised on her right cheek. He softened slightly.

 

The man backed up until he was almost outside and noticed that there was blood on Shona’s palms. She was conscious not to make this old guy jumpy with a gun in his hand.

 

“What happened to you? You been in fight or somethin’? Or you been killing animals?” He was trying to stay hard but couldn’t help but feel a twinge of concern. A young woman shouldn’t have injuries like that, but still, she was on his land.

 

“A guy…a guy tried to…rape me. I managed to escape. I ran, and I’ve been hiding out here to rest until I move on Sir” Shona swallowed hard hoping the words landed to somewhere remotely of compassion.

 

The old man lowered his rifle figuring the girl looked like she had been through enough. It could have been his daughter, if he had had one. Unfortunately he wasn’t blessed with any children.

 

“Well…ermm.. you won’t get any rest out here. Come back to the house, get something to eat. My wife can make you some food for your journey…I’m Tom, Tom Byrd…and you are?”

 

“Shona….Jackson. Thank you so much”

 

 

Chapter 6

 

Larry marched down the stony hallways towards his office with the sign ‘Larry Bruce- Business Partner’ on the door feeling pleased with himself. He sat back in his luxurious leather chair and exhaled. He reached into the bottom drawer of the fabulously expensive desk for his favourite tipple and poured into the whisky glass already in front of him, a permanent feature. He tips the glass as acknowledging his achievement to himself.

 

“Job well done Bruce. Job well done

 

 

Chapter 7

 

“Would you like some more tea, Shona?”

 

Ruby Byrd immediately put Shona at ease and brought out the soft side in her husband Tom. She busied herself in the kitchen ensuring there was plenty of food on the table after springing a surprise on her by bringing Shona inside. Tom managed to give Ruby a quick low-down in the time Shona removed her dusty shoes on the mat by the front door out of respect. Ruby, despite not being a mother herself was horrified and gestured Shona to come in at once.

 

“Oh I’m fine Mrs Byrd…Thank you.” Shona was famished due to her ordeal over the last 12 hours or so but now was full to the point of being uncomfortable. She sat back in her chair and patted her tummy hoping it would ease, but she didn’t know when she was going to eat this well again.

 

“Please….call me Ruby”

 

Shona nodded in response.

 

“So Shona, what are your plans?” Tom said as he buttered more toast.

 

“Uhmm… I don’t really have any Sir-“

 

“-Tom, call me Tom”

 

Shona smiled “Ok, Tom…I don’t have any plans. It was just to find a job, somewhere to sleep. Just living the simple life, out of harm’s way, you know?”

 

Ruby listened with concern. Daynes was no town for a woman travelling alone. She and Tom kept themselves to themselves on their farm just on the border of it and were pretty self-sufficient. But over time, the town was becoming more hostile, not in full view, but you definitely had to have your wits about you. Everybody knew everybody’s business.

 

“Can you sew?” Ruby interrupted her own negative thoughts.

 

“Ah pardon me?” Shona looked confused.

 

“Can you sew? Can you mend clothes?” Ruby was putting her brown straggly unkempt hair up into a makeshift bun.

 

“I’m sorry ma’am. I… can’t sew” Shona looked slightly disappointed with herself. “But I can mend vehicles, any kind. I maybe a girl, only 24 but I can fix a car like any man can! I can ride, and I can tame any damn horse you give me, I swear I can”

 

Ruby and Tom both chuckled at Shona’s enthusiasm. She had a charm about her, a harmless aura of somebody just wanting to find their way.

 

“Where you from Shona?” Ruby clearing the breakfast plates off of the chequered table cloth.

 

“Claybank, Louisiana”

 

“Never heard of it” Tom took another bite of his toast.

 

“Nobody has” Shona chuckled, “It’s a small town. I worked on a farm with my father until I was 16”

 

“Why did you leave?” Ruby looked intently sitting down resting her elbows on the table and interlocking her fingers.

 

Shona’s delightful smile disappeared.

 

“See now…that’s a long story”

 

 

 

Chapter 8

 

“Linda!”

 

Larry Bruce shrieked at the top of his voice in the direction of his personal assistant, the long suffering Linda Coles. She was used to the shouting by now, but it still make her jump and often led to her jolting at her typewriter and on numerous occasions, spilling her coffee.

 

“Yes Mr,Bruce” Linda was in the doorway.

 

“Linda, I want you to get the Sheriff on the phone and tell him to come right on over here to arrest these 3 thieving dirty niggers, you hear?”

 

3 men, terrified, looking perplexed as to how and why after only a week of starting work which they were grateful to Geoffrey Ellis for, were they being hauled into the other Boss’s office awaiting to be arrested.

 

“Right away Mr. Bruce, right away” Linda replied looking frazzled as she never knew what she was going to be asked to do, or to cover up for that matter, working at Ellis and Bruce. She adjusted her glasses to write down a quick note on her miniature notepad and hopped back to her office 2 doors down. Larry was left with the 3 men who was visibly shaking. One had beads of sweat on his forehead slithering down his nose, eyes wide.

 

“Sir…please, may I speak?”

 

“Shut your damn filthy mouth you son of a bitch!” Larry interrupted

 

“ You go crawling to Mr. Ellis, the ‘easy touch’ when it comes to you niggers, then you have the audacity to thieve wallets from the good, honest white folk here from their lockers!?”

 

Larry got up out of his leather office chair walked around the desk to get in the face of the black man who dared to even look Bruce in the eye. Larry was furious.

 

“I hope they rip your ass apart in prison where you belong…chained up” Larry spat at their feet with disgust.

 

The shaking guy shook more and looked to his left willing the other 2 to speak out. On the verge of wailing out of the injustice he opened his mouth and dropped to his knees as if pleading, not for forgiveness, but just to be heard.

 

“Sir…Mr. Bruce. I swear…I swear to God. I don’t know about any wallets. I aint seen ‘em. I been workin’ hard in the job that you and Mr. Ellis were so kind to give me…give us. We don’t know about the wallets Sir.”

 

The other two looked down at the sorry state of a man pleading for his life curling up into a ball on the floor. He was only 20 years old, they at least understood the world a bit better. Being black was as close to a death sentence in these parts. But trying to escape was almost out of the question too. Nobody liked niggers. 2 more went missing three days ago, no trace. They were only trying to move on to a more sympathetic state, didn’t make it out.

 

“Get up! Get your sorry ass up off of my clean floor” Larry Bruce jolted the 3 of them with his deep husky southern voice. His mouth hardly moving as his wiry moustache covered it. They stood as if they were awaiting execution, which isn’t far from the truth.

 

The shaky lad quickly sprinted upright and stood next to the two others, breathing faster. The middle man, the more older, confident of the 3 friends looked towards Larry Bruce, but purposely didn’t make eye contact, focused on a picture on the wall above Larrys’ head and quietly, almost to a whisper spoke one last plea to Larry, trying desperately to stop one lone tear from fighting its way out of his right eye.

“Mr. Bruce, Sir….I promise on my dead sons grave. We aint seen, we aint taken those wallets. Please… we beg you. Search us, search our bags. We aint stolen a thing” The tear won the battle and dripped onto his cheekbone and straight to the floor like a stone.

 

Larry Bruce smirked. Loving every second these filthy niggers were begging him. That’s the way it should be. It wouldn’t get them anywhere, but at least they finally started to understand where they were in the pecking order, below homosexuals, below murderers, rapists, paedophiles, that’s where.

 

“Mr. Bruce the Sherriff is here” Linda’s voice came from just outside the doorway and straight after, the Sherriffs’ intimidating figure took up the doorway, with his 3 deputy’s. A little heavy handed, the 3 men hadn’t shown a morsel of aggression the short time they had been at Ellis and Bruce, now they were all becoming shivering wrecks.

 

“You know what to do Sherriff. I’ll leave these 3 in your…..capable hands” Larry winked at the Sherriff who responded with a knowing nod tipping his hat. All 3 were handcuffed without resisting, too weak and scared to move, and then led off.

 

“Anything else Mr.Bruce?”

 

“That’ll be all for now, Linda”

 

Larry once again sat back into his chair that moulded around him and exhaled feeling pleased with himself, tapping his fingers on the leather arms. Leaning over slightly, he opened his bottom right drawer for his drink of choice-whiskey, which was padded on one side slightly by items that were next to it. Larry smiled at them ‘good work again’ he thought and shut the drawer. They were the 3 ‘stolen’ wallets.

 

 

 

Chapter 9

 

Shona was being taken for a tour of the Byrd’s farmhouse. Both Tom and Ruby decided to cease asking Shona too many questions for now, she obviously wasn’t comfortable talking about the past. They just made sure her cuts and bruises were seen to. Tom took Shona to the stables across the way from the house, as he heard at breakfast how much Shona loved horses.

 

“This is Storm” Tom patted a feisty mare who was nodding repeatedly as if she was about to be let loose in a race.

 

“Storm?” Shona’s eyebrows raised.

 

“Yep, every time we used to let her out, she’d be like a whirlwind. Now she is untameable”

 

Shona laughed and patted Storms mane. Storm threw her head to the side almost taking Shonas arm out the socket, then back kicked the wall several times creating loud thuds.

 

“Yeah I see that” Shona chuckled.

 

Shona had seen everywhere, the small, quaint 2 bedroom house where the second bedroom had been made into a sewing room, which is where Ruby did her repairs. They didn’t need a second bedroom for guests, they hardly had any visitors and they preferred it that way. They had each other day in and day out like it had been over the last 40 years where they clapped eyes on each other both aged 16 when they met a school dance. They were soul mates. Shona loved the vast land out back of the house. It was where she felt most comfortable. It headed towards the River Weaver, a scenic sometimes fast flowing river that was great for fishing with beautiful flowers blooming on the bank. The land was used for some basic crops and for grazing their farm animals used to generate the majority of their low income. That’s the only time they went to town, on business and that’s because they had to.

Shona came back to the kitchen after using the toilet and felt she interrupted Tom and Ruby talking quietly and went to go back out.

 

“Shona, wait…..” Ruby gestured with her hand, open palmed, as if to stop Shona feeling like she was in the way of their conversation.

 

“Tom and I have just spoken, and…..we wanted to ask if you would like to stay a night or two or just until you find somewhere. I mean, we will have to clear some space in the barn across the way, but it’s warm”

 

Rubys gentle smile already made Shona feel at home. It was warm and complimented her little round face showing early signs of aging, and Shona hadn’t felt wanted for a long time, since her own mother died.

 

“Really?…You kiddin’? My god, yes please! I’d be so grateful. I’ll help with the animals for my keep…” Shona looked temporarily ashamed.

 

“…I don’t have any money.”

 

“Shona, that’s ok. Ruby and I would appreciate any help on the farm. We’re not getting any younger” Tom glanced at Ruby with a cheeky smile.

 

“Speak for yourself!” Ruby playfully jabbed a finger towards Tom.

 

“Well I’d like that. I really would. Thank you so much” with that Shona almost leapt at Tom and Ruby and gave them an excited hug each. This was the most compassion Shona had been shown in a long, long time. She hoped it would stay like this. Just as long as they didn’t keep asking questions, all should be ok.

 

 

 

Chapter 10

 

“Mr Bruce!…What an honour to be chosen to work here, alongside a fine gentlemen such as yourself who I… look up to, respect and are in complete awe of….”

 

Kyle Chambers eagerly shook Larry Bruce’s hand in Larrys lavish office after being given the good news. Kyles left hand cupping Larrys wrist in excitement. He was told he was the successful candidate for the Management programme of Ellis and Bruce, a company whose financial success was revered for miles, especially due to business boom in the early 1950s and early 1957 was looking even better already. Larry had attracted more people to use his company for vehicle repairs and transportation of cotton and the ‘golden grain’ that is wheat farmed from his land. Ellis and Bruce had been trailblazers in Alabama for better machinery out in the fields, so as not to need as many men, paying fewer wages, more production, more profit, and making Larry Bruce and Geoffrey Ellis even more ridiculously wealthy. Jobs at Ellis and Bruce were sought after in and around the busy town of Daynes.

 

Kyle’s broad smile exposed perfect Hollywood white teeth that glinted under the light, a fine handsome man, not a dark hair out of place wearing an expensive suit that contoured his admirable muscular but svelte frame. He knew he was onto a good thing at Ellis and Bruce.

 

“I’m sure you will do well here Kyle, I like the way you think” Larry’s eyes narrowed as if to emphasise this point.

 

“I won’t let you or Mr Ellis down, Sir”

 

“Great! I’ll get Linda my secretary to give you all the details as to when you will start Kyle. I’ll present you to the staff on the floor after that. My daughter Chloe will be back by then too, she will be your equal, but she’s my daughter so she has final say…for now.”

 

Both men chuckled. Larry continued.

 

…”I’ll be training her to eventually be director here long after me and Geoffrey have gone. But, I need a man to, you know, take this company forward. I mean, who in the hell as heard of a woman being a boss. It’s downright crazy! We would be laughed at by our competition if I left it all in Chloe’s hands. Our investors would run a mile!? But..she’s my only child to pass this place onto, well after my son died 5 years ago aged 20……anyway, Cheers!”

 

After a second of feeling sombre at Larry being reminded of the death of his son, they clinked their whiskey glasses in celebration, Kyle’s eyes wide.

 

Chapter 11

 

Later that evening, Shona was shown to where she could sleep with only her satchel as her belongings. Tom and Ruby felt bad they couldn’t offer more space. This was paradise to Shona who wasn’t even sure she would survive the night before. The house was cramped as it was and the open planned farmhouse area across from unused stables was fairly warm, just across a short path to the main house. Storm, the feisty mare was kept in a separate purpose built stable about 20 metres away from the house with the other animals as her kicking had damaged the walls to the point where she nearly escaped, and if she did, there was no stopping her.

 

Ruby came in and joined Tom and Shona in the farmhouse bringing some towels and bedding to make the place feel more like home. An old single mattress was propped up on some wooden furniture to keep the bed off the damp floor-perfect Shona thought, especially with the pillows and the blankets.

 

“Shona…..do you where dresses at all?” Ruby asked awkwardly.

 

She had taken note of Shona’s clothing, a white men’s shirt unbuttoned to the chest, sleeves rolled up above the elbow. Denim pants more suited a man’s waist that have seen better days. They had a couple of rips down the side (probably caused by the falling and scrambling from the truck). Shona looked more like a handsome young man with mid length choppy hair that often got in his eyes, than a pretty young woman. Tom and Ruby thought Shona was pleasant and that’s all that mattered.

 

“Dresses?….ermm no I don’t.” Shona’s cheeks went red with embarrassment

 

“I was only asking as I could make you some, I saw you only had a little bag with you”

 

Ruby pointed to the crumbled satchel with 2 rips in it, on the floor next to Shona’s new bed. Tom felt sad for Shona. But he was no good in these situations and left them to Ruby, until he had a thought. He ‘could’ help actually.

 

“Well Shona, just until Ruby here can make you some clothes, I can lend you some pants, shirts, overalls. We got a collection over time from guys who have done work here on the farm, would that make you feel more comfortable?….We’ll see that they’re washed clean”

 

Tom squinted his face a little. He hoped he didn’t offend Shona

 

“I’d really like that, thank you Tom…..Ruby”

 

Shona felt as if she could be herself here already.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 12

 

 

“Geoffrey?”

 

“Yeah, Larry. What can I do for you?” Geoffrey Ellis was pouring himself a drink, an expensive cigar pushed to the side of his mouth.

 

“I’ve had to get rid of those damn niggers you gave a chance to. They been thievin’!”

 

“What!? ..I heard good things from the guy they worked with, nothing but good things…you sure?”

 

“Oh yeah, I turned them over to the Sherriff like the last ones. You can’t change ‘em, you can’t work with em’ ,they don’t appreciate what you’re trying to do for them Geoffrey. It won’t be long and they’ll think they’re damn entitled to a job”

 

Geoffrey made himself comfortable into his sumptuous armchair and took a sip of his red wine perplexed at the rate of the black employees who come and go through Ellis and Bruce. He tried to help them. He had a personal reason why he wanted to despite being in the least understanding and uncompassionate town that is Daynes.

 

“Ok Larry…you got anything else for me?” Geoffrey had a twinge of disappointment the 3 black guys didn’t work out.

 

“Just that the numbers are looking good Geoffrey….there is one thing. I’m looking at buying some replacement machines, and some damn tractors keep breaking down. Can I go ahead… get the cash out? The boys are waiting on it”

 

Larry was bound by an agreement that he couldn’t do any major deals or take large sums of money without Geoffrey’s say-so. They were equal partners, but Geoffrey was by the far the wealthiest (and the kindest) who had put a greater portion of the money into Ellis and Bruce. But Geoffrey was more a silent partner, he preferred it that way. He did pop into the business from time to time to check all was ok, but his visits were becoming less frequent. He was a businessman after all, a very successful one who took over the company from his late father. Geoffrey was in his 60s and didn’t need the stress of running it day-to-day like Larry, his slightly younger business partner. He instead was enjoying his later life, socialising and spending time with his wife Marilyn at their country estate just outside of Daynes.

 

“Sure Larry, go ahead… I dropped some more cash off in my last visit. There should be plenty in the safe.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 13

 

Shona had stayed the night at the farmhouse. And the next night. She actually didn’t feel like moving out at all, she felt so at home eating Ruby’s delicious cooking, but she needed money and she was helping Tom and Ruby with the animals for her keep, they didn’t have any money to give her work.

 

“You know anywhere that I could find work round here?” Shona asked looking up from her flavoursome breakfast that Ruby had prepared for them all on the familiar red and white chequered tablecloth with every condiment you could need on it.

 

“Ermm Tom?” Ruby aimed in Toms direction, she was at the cooker boiling some more eggs.

 

“This is a….tough town for… a lady Shona, looking for the kind of work you want. I mean, it’s not really the done thing having a lady working with trucks now, even one as hardworking as you. I know you’re other place Wreckers had you, back in Louisiana, but that’s rare. There are some bone idle people about this town. Why do you think we stay out of it?”

 

Ruby felt sad for Shona, but she knew Tom was telling the truth. She carried on with the poached eggs.

 

Shona knew that Tom found that hard to say. He was a gentle soul. He could hardly make eye contact with Shona fearing he would see that he hurt her with his comment.

 

 

“Want some more Shona?” Ruby carefully put them in the bowl next to Shonas empty breakfast plate as if to offer some comfort. Shona smiled and nodded as a ‘yes’.

 

 

Tom interrupted his own breakfast put down his knife and fork, wiped his mouth with the napkin.

 

“You see, there’s this one place. I mean, I aint worked there or nothin’, but I’ve heard from people, they got trucks, tractors, you name it coming and going. I’m sure they could use your help….. but it all depends if you get the chance to speak the nice guy.”

 

“Nice guy?” Shona questioned looking confused.

 

“Yeah, his name is Ellis. Geoffrey Ellis. He’s got more money than God. He co-owns the business but each year, he has less and less to do with it, so it’s harder to get hold of him. He lets that no-good Bruce run it day-to-day, so its Ellis you need to find and speak to. He ermm….he gives people a chance, at the annoyance of Bruce, but I’ve even hear the Blacks go in with a job after speaking to Ellis. I don’t know why he does it, this town openly has Klan running through its veins, blacks get lynched… disappear on an almost daily basis, but Ellis likes to give ‘em a shot, you know?”

 

Shona was leaning forward taking in every word, fingers interlocked, eyes widened at the prospect of possibly getting a job that she could actually do that would help keep her staying with Tom and Ruby, and allowing her to save much needed cash to figure out her plan.

 

“Where do I find this…..Ellis?”

 

 

 

Chapter 14

 

“James, what’s in your glass!? You talkin’ like you drunk already!”

 

Harry Conway said whilst stubbing out his cigar laughing at another ridiculous idea coming from James.

 

James Wilson, Harry and three other wealthy gentlemen including the sought after Mr Ellis, belly laughed whilst enjoying their drinks and their regular day time haunt, the high-end Copperpot Inn. The kind of place glasses were polished, windows cleaned, and a guest list strongly adhered to. Not the usual kind of bar in Daynes. Here they would discuss their fortunes, bad investments, jackpot investments and generally making sense of a crazy changing world. Their table would be the VIP table.

 

“Can I help you….miss?” The immaculately presented middle-aged woman front of house eyed up Shona from her feet to her hair. Not a flicker of a smile, pursed lips, no emotion, one eyebrow raised and looked on the verge of disgusted.

 

Shona flicked her floppy blonde fringe out of her blue eyes and stood up straight, trying to make herself look…better. She was grateful that Ruby had altered one of Toms shirts for her, and cleaned some pants. Shona felt like a new penny.

 

“Errmm…Is Mr. Ellis in here please, I’d like to talk to him?”

 

“I’m afraid I can’t give you that information. Does he know you?” The woman looked even snootier at the sheer audacity this young woman, and she used that term loosely given by her dress sense resembling more of a poor man.

 

Shona took a big intake of breath. She was out of her depth in a place like this.

 

“I just need a minute of his time, Miss, I just wanna talk to him, I aint here for no trouble”

 

“This is an exclusive member’s bar that is men-only. Mr. Ellis is one of our most valued customers and we wont see him being disturbed by…..you”

 

The woman’s tone got more louder, assertive, to the point of aggressive, emphasising that Shona would never be a part of an exclusive club of anything.

 

“Miss…I just need to talk to him, I can wait outside..I-“

 

Shona was interrupted

 

“I will call to have you removed if you do not leave!”

 

This last interaction stopped the group of men mid-sentence. They all looked over at what was going on front of house. They had the circular table in the middle, by the window-best seat in the house. One of the men of Ellis’s table got up to go and see if everything was alright.

 

“Whats going on over here Gracie, you ok? She causin’ you trouble?”

Now both the tycoon and the front of house woman were glaring at Shona. She really didn’t want to cause trouble. But Mr.Ellis was her only hope to remain in Daynes to stay with Tom and Ruby and to have a chance to save some money.

 

“Sir, I just need to speak to Mr.Ellis. I can wait outside”

 

“Why you bothering Mr.Ellis, he doesn’t know you!”

 

Geoffrey’s name being hollered twice, made his ears prick up The commotion was obviously about him.

 

“Carson! Whats going on over there!?” Ellis called from his table. He was in Shonas direct eyeline now that Carson had got up. Great. Shona knew which one was Ellis. Her heart started pounding faster and faster.

 

“Nothing Geoff, nothing we cant fix”

 

With that Shona ducked past Ms. Snooty and Carson and headed for Ellis. Carson reached to grab Shona, but she was too nimble, in two seconds she was at his table, Carson and Snooty following.

 

“Sir…Mr. Ellis..” Shona started to speak, out of breath from adrenaline, then Carson grabbed her-hard to where she was in a headlock at the table, the others looked on in confusion.

 

“Get off me! Get off me!” Shona pleaded

 

“Carson!……Come on, let her go. She’s a woman for Christ’s sake!” Ellis stood up.

 

Carson reluctantly shoved Shona loose. Ms Snooty looking on, furious. The table silent. Other members looking over to see what was happening, but slowly the mumbling started again.

 

“Thank you…Sir” Shona was panting after having her airways blocked temporarily by Carson. She rubbed her neck.

Ellis sat down, it felt less threatening.

 

Shona continued.

 

“I didn’t mean to disturb you here, Sir. I just heard that you’re a real nice guy and you gave people chances that may not get help elsewhere.“ Shona looked at Ellis right in the eye, her blue eyes pleading.

 

Ellis sat back in the high backed chair

 

“You’re looking for a job?” Ellis questioned with confusion, squinting.

 

“Yes Sir…I am”

 

The table quietly sniggered. Ms.Snooty rolled her eyes at the audacity.

 

“The thing is….” Ellis gestured for Shona’s name.

 

“Shona” she nodded at the same time

 

“The thing is…Shona. I already have a secretary. I have a wonderful lady who does all the administration in the office. I just don’t have a job for….you” Ellis shrugged his shoulders at the same time.

 

“Sir… I can work on trucks, I can repair any kind of vehicle, you watch me. I can work in the fields like I used to with my father, I’ll be the damn hardest worker you’ve ever met Sir”

 

Shona cupped her fist in her other hand as if to passionately emphasise despite the tables sniggers getting louder at the thought of her working on expensive important machinery.

 

Everybody sniggered apart from Ellis whose gaze remained focused on Shona. There was something about her.

“Trucks? You think you can work on Mr.Ellis’s trucks!? I must be drunk hearing this trash!” James Conway took another sip of his spirit.

 

“I’m serious Mr. Ellis. I wouldn’t let you down. I know you give people like me a chance” Shona spoke softer.

 

The tables gaze then switched to Ellis.

 

“I give people chances that won’t waste ‘em Shona. I can show ‘em through the door, then it’s up to them. If they steal, they’re out. They don’t show up for work one day, they’re out, they late, they’re out. They refuse any kind of work given to ‘em…then Bruce has my blessing and they’re out…”

 

Shona wasn’t entirely sure if this was a warning about the company, or possibly a hint at a job offer.

 

“It’s tough in there Shona, pretty much all men. I’m not sure how they gone handle seeing a pretty young broad turning up.”

 

The table laughed at the thought of it. Ellis gaze returned to Shona.

 

Shona’s face serious.

 

“I can handle it Sir. I worked with men before. They’ll see how hard I work. I just need the chance to prove myself…..please”

 

Ellis couldn’t believe what he was about to agree to. He sat back into his chair feeling his shirt slide against the silky material. His hands interlocked and the tip of his two index fingers rested against his pursed lip. He was thinking. Ms. Snooty knew she wasn’t needed at the table, but was flabbergasted Shona plea was even being entertained at this table of all tables. Even she wanted to know his answer.

 

“Shona……..” Ellis began.

Shona’s eyes alright bright blue, widened and glistened with expectation. The table and Ms.Snooty hanging on Ellis’s next words.

 

“…..Shona. I’m gone give you a chance. One chance. It’s up to you from here on. I aint gone hold your hand, you gotta prove yourself, you hear?”

 

Shona’s face broke out into a huge beautiful smile, she was looking for somebody to hug in excitement nearby. Ms. Snooty got it to her dissatisfaction, almost being lifted off her feet.

 

“Mr. Ellis, Sir I wont let you down, I promise! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Shona clasped her hands like she was praying at Ellis.

 

“Wilson here will get somebody to let Mr. Bruce know, your new boss. You can start next week…Monday. Report at the front office 6.30am. Don’t.Be.Late.” Ellis sipped his drink and couldn’t help but to smile at Shona. He admired her bravery.

 

Shona left the Copperpot Inn resisting the urge to skip, punch the air, anything to celebrate. Today was the day where everything started to fall into place for her.

 

Ellis’s smile was still visible watching Shona leave happily and Harry Conway leaned into him and whispered.

 

“You’re not exactly gone be there to protect her Geoffey “

 

Ellis’s smile faded instantly. His face hardened to a frown almost showing a twinge of concern as Conway continued.

 

“…..You do realise you just fed your girl there…. to a pack of damn wolves…”

 

Ellis, deep down, knew Conway was right.

 

Chapter 15

 

“Get him!!……Get that son of a bitch!”

 

Three burly middle-aged men almost foaming at the mouth chasing a man at dusk, just on the outskirts of Daynes near the Weaver River. They were closing in on him, but damn it he was fast. He seemed to skip over small bushes at the side of the road with ease, dodge obstacles at speed as he ran into the field. He needed to. He was dead if they got hold of him.

 

“Let’s split up!” One of the men chasing gestured he would veer off to the left to try to cut the guy off. These three men were in sync. Or they had done this before.

 

All men at full pelt. It’s likely to get ugly.

 

Stopping for a split second, to catch probably his last breath he thought, the guy being chased looked to see a way out. Panting, hands on knees, sweat dripping. There were none. The field backed onto the Weaver and either side, the three men with perfect organisation had blocked off his exit, closing in. It got worse. He could hear ferocious barking.

 

“Let him go!”

 

For an instant, with a prayer, the doomed man thought he was being let off. Thank God! But he dared turn round, and in horror to see a vicious canine heading straight for him after being let off his lead. He was exhausted, but headed for the end of the field straight ahead, or more likely until his lungs gave up pumping the oxygen needed to outrun this bloodthirsty animal.

 

“Stop him before he gets to the river!”

 

River!? That’s a way out!. ‘Just got to make it to the river, just got to make it to the river’. His fell due to fatigue, his legs not catching up with how fast his brain wanted him to run. He was on the floor, skidded, kicking up dust that gave his exact position away when they were shining torches in the fast fading light. They had him now. He got up, hopped for 2 steps then forced himself to carry on, he was almost at the edge of field. Almost there. Until he felt a sharp stinging pain as the Alsatian had bit deep into the back of his right thigh, it had a distinctive ‘bite’ shape missing from one of its alert ears, but it miraculously lost its grip again after stumbling on uneven ground. Jump. He had no choice but to leap off the riverbank three to four feet high, and into the fast flowing Weaver heading to god knows where. He kept his head underwater hoping to evade capture and to not to get knocked out by rocks, being swept rapidly left and right. He had to come up for breath quickly, then went straight back down. The three men and the sound of the barking hound faded behind him. He hoped the flow of the river would stop somewhere where he could get out and find cover, which is exactly what he did which wasn’t easy or safe now that it was pitch black and he had some nasty cuts that needed seeing to. But he was alive.

 

“We’ll get him next time” The three panting men regrouped, patting their dog.

 

This was the only way to get him, to chase him, tear him apart with no obvious witnesses. The running man deserved all he got. The men didn’t know him, didn’t know his name, but as far as they were concerned, even though this man hadn’t stolen anything, murdered anyone, raped one of their women or harmed their children, he was absloutely despised.

 

The older leader of the pack spat on the floor in front of him.

 

“We’ll get that dirty fucking nigger”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 16

 

“Excuse me!…Umm, I start work here today”

 

Shona spoke in the direction of the cramped reception office where the door was open a jar behind the reception desk, through the entrance of Ellis and Bruce. Nobody was there to greet her. She had arrived at 6am, nice and early. There was a rota as to who worked it until Bonnie came in at 9am. She could hear muffled voices, the occasional laugh, and bad language. She didn’t care, she had worked with men before and more importantly, she had a job.

 

“Well…look what we got here!” one of the muffled voices eventually emerged after hearing Shona. He was leering at her, chewing slowly.

 

“Mr. Ellis told me to report here and that somebody would show me round, so I can get straight to work on the trucks…or in the field” Shona said assertively. She knew she would have to stand her ground.

 

“Did he now?….Good ol’ Mr.Ellis. He really has lost his mind this time. First it was niggers, now it’s a broad…working on trucks, god damn it!” He couldn’t stifle his laugh. Shona was hoping for a better reception.

 

“Boys, get out here, you gotta see this!” he leant back and aimed his voice to the partially closed door to the office. Shona frowned while he faced away from her. Two other guys emerged in excitement and then looked Shona up and down. She was beautiful, shame she didn’t dress in beautiful clothes. She spoiled it wearing blue overalls whose arms were tied around her waist ready to get started, with a white t-shirt that drove the guys a little crazy as it clung to her perfect feminine body. She was odd, they thought. Something not quite right.

 

“What can we do for you sweetheart!?” one of the guys smiling a creepy smile.

 

“I’m here to work, on the trucks. If you could just show me where I need to go, I’ll start straight away” Shona had had enough being leered at now. She felt uneasy.

 

“Trucks!? You think you gone work on our trucks!? I’ll be damned! I thought you were our new cleaner!” All three laughed, loudly.

 

“Mr.Ellis said I could” Shona said, her mouth tensing.

 

“Oh…did he now? Are you and Mr.Ellis….good friends?” The first guy said, almost in a creepy whisper hinting that there was more to it, leaning towards Shona over the desk, perhaps mentally propositioning her.

 

“No…no of course not. I just came to work” Shona said defensively, even though she had nothing to defend. She rapidly realised what she was up against.

 

“Whats goin’ on….who are you?” Deputy Paul sneered towards Shona, this place was no place for a woman unless she was looking for a ‘different kind of work’ or was an annoying girlfriend of one of the boys. He was the guy under Bruce and Ellis and above everybody else. A brute.

 

“I’m Shona…Jackson. Mr.Ellis told me to report here at 6.30..today and I’d be working….on the vehicles. Or in the field.”

 

The boys were hoping Deputy Paul and his clean shaven face would break into hysteric laughter, but it didn’t. His eyes narrowed as he leaned on the reception desk resting his left hand on his hip.

 

“Yeah, I heard about you. I don’t know what game you’re playing little lady, but this place aint no place for a broad.You must have….caught the eye of Mr.Ellis. But orders are orders. Guys, get Johnson to show her round”

 

The boys behind the desk fell silent. It was true. She had got through the door, how she did it, nobody knew.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 17

 

“Here…..this is where you’ll get changed”

 

Deputy Paul, huffing, opened a small room that gets used for brooms, buckets, old materials. It couldn’t fit any more than 2-3 people in it standing up. It was cramped, damp, dark and cupboards and shelves were broken or falling off. It was reluctantly Shona’s changing room to keep her things. The guys at Ellis and Bruce couldn’t be bothered to make it ‘presentable’ as asked by Ellis. Ellis and Bruce didn’t exactly plan on having a woman working for them in the main building.

 

Shona got given a very brief tour from Deputy Paul. He had more important things to do, but he received a message from Ellis that Shona was to given a ‘fair shot’. Deputy Paul begrudged every second of it, slamming doors as they left the offices, canteen and warehouse entrances. Shona began to worry. What had she gotten herself into? Everywhere she went on her guided tour, men stopped work on the vehicles in the warehouses or coming in from the fields, in the kitchen, from above walking to the management offices, and glared at Shona. What was her intention? Why was she allowed to work at Ellis and Bruce when they were men who were much more deserving and had to feed their families? Resentment was an understatement.

 

“You’ll have to share with us” Deputy Paul pointed at the bathroom area leaning on the door frame while Shona peeked in. It was dirty, smelly and unkempt. This wasn’t something Shona was looking forward to.

Just get me to work, let me work Shona kept repeating in her head. Once these men realised how good she was, they would go easier on her. Would they?

 

Deputy Paul ended the ‘guided tour’ just outside a tool room explaining the rules of Ellis and Bruce ‘Don’t be late, don’t refuse work, don’t steal and maybe…..you’ll be ok”. His words chilling and filled with hostility. Shona tried to blank it out and folded her arms almost for comfort and tried to stifle a ‘huff’. She looked to her right, near the entrance to the Tool room and she thought she saw somebody who ducked behind an unused tractor.

 

“Wait in here, somebody will show you where you’ll be workin’”

 

Deputy Paul pointed to a bench in a tool room housing every tool you could think of. But boy was it a mess. ‘Clean tools, look after you’ Shona thought back to what the boss (Bill) said at her old place ‘Wreckers’. His place was spotless, tools gleaming and Shona was happy there. Shame she had to leave so suddenly.

 

Shona was alone, looked up at the dusty clock on the wall in front, 7.23am.

 

8am, 8.27am……….9.21am

 

Shona was still alone, nobody had come to show her to where she was working.

 

Fuck it

 

Shona started to tidy up the dusty tool room that backed onto the field, opened the door to let some fresh air rid the place of stale air, grease and smelly men.

 

10am a buzzer sounded. Shona stopped sweeping, wondering what it was, opened the door that went back into the main building, peering round and seeing a hive of activity heading towards the canteen. It was break time. She didn’t feel it was the time to introduce herself as it felt hostile enough as it was, she carried on working.

 

“Hello?” Shona rested the broom against one of the workbenches and crept towards the open door that backed onto the field. Everybody, she thought, was at break, and everybody appeared to not be very welcoming so she was reluctant to draw too much attention to herself. Who was it that made that noise? It sounded like footsteps creeping on gravel. Shona peered out the door, looking left, then right….then down to her right. She could see somebody, a man, trying to hide behind some stacked wood. Shona could see his feet.

 

“Hello..erm…you ok?” Shona spoke in the direction of the stacked wood. The feet quickly disappeared from view so that the man would be squeezing against the wall of the tool room trying to remain hidden.

 

Panicked panting came the reply. Shona raised her eyebrows in response. This man was scared. Shona flicked her hair out of her eyes to take more in, she was on alert herself. She cautiously approached the pile of jagged, rotten wood. She didn’t want to get hurt or to cause alarm to whoever this was. Her heart was beating so loud she thought this man would be able to hear it from where he was. Shona tried to control her rapid breathing. Her next footstep veering to the left would be the one to show her this man’s face. Shona swallowed hard and crept to the left and her face said it all.

 

My god

 

He didn’t get up, didn’t attack her, just sat, sobbing, hugging his knees scared of making eye contact with whoever it was who had just found his hiding place. Shona completely understood why he would be hiding in these parts, he was black.

 

“Hey…” Shona said softly crouching down with a slow warm smile on her friendly face.

 

“….can I help?” This man couldn’t believe how a few words of compassion could elevate his head from being dropped to being able to make proper eye contact. Shona held out her right hand.

 

“I’m Shona……and you are?”

 

“Cuban….my name is Cuban” he shook her hand softly despite his visible strength.

 

His breathing stopped being so erratic. Cuban shifted positions on the gravel (that’s where the noise came from Shona thought) but he exposed quite a big bloodstain as moved.

 

“You…ok? You’re bleedin’” Shona asked gently, concerned. Cuban clearly looked in some discomfort. He spoke with emotion.

 

“I got chased by 3 men, I managed to outrun them but then…I got bit…I got bit by a large savage dog they set on me. I’m lucky…I’m one of the ones….I got away….”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 18

 

 

“Hello….who’s out there?”

 

“Shit!” Cuban was afraid. If he was seen, he was probably dead

 

“Errmm its just me…” Shona lied

 

The wooden door from the tool room creaked open, Cuban tried to get up but his thigh was in pain from the dog bite and he let out a groan.

 

“Miss?….Who are you?”

 

An elderly looking man, faint white beard, white hair and very slight in frame wearing a tatty flat cap off centre, cautiously stepped outside. His raised his eyebrows when he saw Shona. Strangely, considering her ‘welcome’ so far, Shona didn’t fear this man.

 

“I’m Shona….I started work here today”

 

The man’s face appeared in shock. He looked at Shona’s clothes realising she wasn’t working in the offices where the few other women do.

 

“You?…Workin’ here? Doin’ what?”

 

“Trucks, I can repair trucks” Shona said proudly with a hint of a smile.

 

“Oh Miss, this aint no place for a pretty young lady” He seemed to say it more in a protective manner than of patronisation.

 

“I can handle myself”

 

“And who’s this?” he points to Cuban.

 

“I’m Cuban Sir”

 

“I’m Elbe….you two must have really sweet talked Mr.Ellis to get in here”

 

“Errm I don’t., I don’t work here. I mean, I really need a job but… I just rested here…” Cuban was about to point to his injured thigh when the sound of muffled voices and laughter came from inside the tool room and were coming outside. Too late.

 

“Shona….You got company” Deputy Paul leered at her and tipping his head towards the direction of voices coming from just behind him. It was Bruce and Ellis, and here Shona was with Cuban who was trespassing. This didn’t look good for a first morning at work.

 

“I just wanted to see how my girl was doin’ on her first day’ Jeffrey Ellis wearing a welcoming smile, approached Shona, then put his hands in his pockets. Bruce followed him outside. Shona and Bruce hadn’t met..until now,

 

“Who the fuck is that!? Bruce snapped, pointing at Cuban who was just behind Elbe to Bruce’s right. All heads pointed towards Cuban.

 

“Sir…I just…I just…” Cuban stuttered with fear, shaking.

 

“He just wanted to wait to speak to you or Mr.Ellis to ask about a job. Instead of sitting round doin’ nothing waiting for you, I watched him clean the Tool Room, look, see…” Shona expertly dived in, pointing back into the room they had all walked through to temporally distract them all. It worked, they all peered back in.

 

“Shona, you not been put to work yet?” Ellis asked, with a hint of concern. Bruce still raging inside at the thought of a damn dirty nigger setting foot on his property.

 

“Errm no Sir, I been waiting here. I was told to wait here” Ellis looked at Deputy Paul for answers.

 

“We can get her cleanin’, scrubbin’…” Deputy Paul was interrupted.

 

“Trucks, I want her on the trucks…she can drive, she can repair. Let’s see what she can do” Ellis said, protecting Shona.

 

Bruce rolled his eyes in disbelief. What the hell was going on!?

 

“This one just come in?” Ellis pointed towards a truck brought in first thing this morning, needing looking at.

 

Deputy Paul nodded reluctantly.

 

“Well Shona, now’s your chance to shine. Let’s see what you can do…take a look at it, see if you can get it goin’” Ellis smiled encouragingly at Shona, who returned with a half-smile, so as not to antagonise Bruce any more than what she already had done.

 

Bruce leaned into Ellis. “Jeffrey, you have really lost your mind this time…”

 

Ellis didn’t even flinch or acknowledge Bruce.

 

Elbe couldn’t help but stifle a chuckle. This was all unheard of. Cuban was still on high alert. They hadn’t finished with him yet. He caught Bruce glaring at him menacingly.

 

Shona approached a mean looking Deputy Paul and gestured for the keys. He reluctantly gave them. His stare burning a hole in Shona’s head. Ellis sighed loudly.

 

‘Come on Shona, you can do this..’ She whispered under her breath.

 

Ellis and Deputy Paul glanced at each other in astonishment.

 

“This vehicle is expensive you understand?” Deputy Paul snarled at Shona. She nodded her reply.

 

Ellis folded his arms as Shona got to work. She tried the ignition, nothing. Got out, lifted the bonnet up, pulled some wires, and checked oil…

 

“Go on little lady!” Elbe whispered in Shona’s direction. The more he saw of her looking comfortable about a truck, the more he smiled.

 

5 long minutes had passed.

 

Shona was done under the bonnet, climbed up, put the key in the ignition.

 

ROARRRRRRRRRR

 

“Well I’ll be damned!” Ellis said to himself smiling at Shona. He really was impressed with her. The truck purred perfectly. There was something captivating about Shona.

 

Bruce closed his eyes and shook his head in disbelief, not becuase Shona had succeeded, but the fact she was given the time of day in the first place. This ‘Shona’ had really opened up a can of worms now.

 

“Did you know she could do that Larry?” Ellis, eyes still smiling glances towards a fuming Bruce.

 

“Do what? Pull a few wires, flick a few switches? That was the easiest damn job you could have given her…..and No, I hadn’t met her before this. I wasn’t expecting her to last the morning”

 

Ellis’s smile disappeared.

 

“Right, let’s get this nigger off our land..” Bruce turned, wanting to turn the spotlight off of Shona, still sitting in the truck, quite pleased with herself.

 

“Paul, take him” Bruce gestured to Deputy Paul for Cuban to be removed. Elbe looked worried for Cuban, but he had seen it happen over the last 5-6 years here, time and time again.

 

“Wait!” Shona jumped the steps leading to the truck and dived in front of Cuban.

 

“Get out of the way, Shona!” Deputy Paul enraged.

 

Ellis was concerned and uncomfortable with what is playing out in front of him.

 

“Sir, please…..Mr.Ellis…Mr.Bruce….Just give Cuban here a chance of a job. Please. Look at the difference he’s made to the Tool Room already and that’s without being paid, just waiting for you. He just wants to work” Shona’s bright blue eyes pleading.

 

“Wait…Paul…wait” Ellis, again seemingly under Shona’s spell, halts Deputy Paul.

 

“Elbe….this ‘Tool Room’ is normally your area right?” Ellis looks at Elbe.

 

Ellis continues…. “This man here…Cuban…..you think he’s done a good job of it?”

 

The wait was excruciating. Even Shona didn’t know how Elbe would respond. If he acted in favour of Cuban, Elbe would be on Larry’s hit list, if he went against Cuban, Cuban would no doubt be removed and then likely to go ‘missing’.

 

Elbe straightened himself up, licked his lips. All eyes were on him.

 

“Sir…you could eat your supper off it” Elbe smiled at Ellis. Both Deputy Paul and Bruce rolled their eyes again then whispered something to each other.

 

Ellis approached Cuban ‘You got a chance kid, one shot. You mess it up, I aint gone help you again. I’ll leave Shona here to explain my very simple rules. If you break ‘em, I’m behind Larry all the way and you’ll be kicked out, you understand?’

 

Cuban wanted to cry, but didn’t want to appear weak. He managed a ‘thank you Sir, thank you so…so much” Ellis smiled right into his eyes. Cuban knew he had just dodged a bullet courtesy of Shona and Elbe, and now Ellis. Shona didn’t have to pretend it was him who cleaned the tool room.

 

“Right, well….we have a meeting, don’t let me down. Word hard” Ellis shook Elbe, Shona and Cubans hand and turned to walk around the side of the building on one his walk-a bouts to see everybody.

 

Deputy Paul waited until Ellis was out of ear-shot and almost muffled to Shona.

 

“Mr.Bruce told me to tell you….You pull another stunt like that, you won’t be able to work, you hear? You and the nigger, you’re both on half pay. You want to complain? Go see the boss…Mr.Bruce. The one that’s here all the time, not your…..Mr.Ellis” Deputy Paul traced the side of Shona’s face in a sleazy, warning type of way. Shona stayed still, burning Deputy Paul with a stare, trying to remain calm, although her racing heartbeat giving it away. How in the hell had she got herself in this situation? She just wanted a quiet life. Deputy Paul caught up with Ellis and Bruce not even glancing at Cuban and Elbe chatting, with surprised looks on their faces.

 

Shona stood still, thinking. Had she just become Mr. Bruce’s number one target?

 

 

 

 

Chapter 19

 

Shona was in shock. Her first day, and already the commotion she had caused felt overwhelming. It’s not the best way to start a new job by humiliating your intimidating boss. She let out a huge sigh, both hands on hips, but quietly proud she stood up for Cuban, looking over at him bonding with Elbe. Shona knew he would have no chance if he was ‘removed’. It looked like she had a friend in Elbe too. A friendly face already seemed rare round here. She would look after them.

 

“You’re quite the brave little lady” Elbe said, smiling to Shona as she made her way over from by the truck.

 

Shona smiled a modest reply.

 

“Thank you, Shona..Thank you. You didn’t have to do that.” Cuban said softly.

 

“You’re welcome. Looks like we need each other round here, right?” Shona tried to brush off the praise from Else and Cuban.

 

“You’re damn right Shona…This place…Its awful. Didn’t used to be” Elbe’s eyes widening, he points to emphasis his point.

 

“What changed?” Shona asked curiously.

 

“Bruce….Bruce the Brute. This place was run by Mr.Ellis for around 15-20 years, and he did a damn fine job of it. But, you know…he made his money, wanted to spend more time with his good wife. So he got Bruce the Brute on board to take care of the day-to-day running around 5 years ago, and then….” Elbe fiddled with his cap.

 

“……It got dark here, real dark”

 

“What do you mean?” Cuban quizzing Elbe

 

“People just came and went, rumours of mistreatment…if you were one of the bosses, you’d be left alone, but if not… and you disagreed with the bosses well…Your days were numbered here. Good people with consciences left or made to leave” Elbe looked sad as if recalling happy memories turning sour.

 

“Well…we got each other, right?” Shona tried to lighten the mood, but took on board what Elbe said.

 

Elbe looked pleased to feel ‘included’ again.

 

“I could tell you some stories that will make your hair curl young lady, I write everything down in my diary. It’s in the room next to the tool room, I’ve been writing it for 8 years now…-“

 

“8 years!?..” Cuban interrupts Elbe

 

“Yup…8 Years…I could tell you all about this place. I started writing it when my beautiful wife passed away. I made a promise I would ‘talk’ to her everyday….” Elbe licked his lips as if stopping emotion from overtaking him.

 

“….I write about everything that goes on here….There’s not many happy pages unfortunately”

 

“Well…..hopefully we can change that, right?” Shona put her arm round Elbe’s shoulders, comforting him. She felt they all needed each other in some way. Elbe nodded, a tear battling whether to escape or not.

 

Loud Buzzer sounds

 

“What’s that? It can’t be another break?” Shona looking around.

 

“We’ve all been summoned” Elbe’s smile vanished.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 20

 

Shona, Cuban and Elbe were amongst the last to gather round underneath the balcony where the bosses speak to them. There was a ‘hush’ when they caught sight of Cuban, looks of disgust thrown in his direction. They couldn’t tell who was saying what, it just came from the gathering crowd.

 

“Another fuckin’ nigger!..”

 

“Lock up your stuff boys, a thievin’ nigger is about”

 

“Why the fuck should he steal a job here, I know plenty more who deserve a shot than that dirty son of bitch!”

 

3 men spat at Cubans feet, he chose to ignore it. He had gotten used to it. Looks quickly changed from disgust to confusion to leers when Shona followed Cuban.

 

“What the fuck have we got here, boys!?”

 

“Who is she screwin’ to get a job?”

 

“I’ll bet you five bucks she’s screwin’ somebody within the week”

 

“I might just get changed in the changing room when she is”

 

“I might ask her if she….needs a hand of mine. I’d quite happily oblige!”

 

It felt overwhelming for Shona, but she was on show and despite an aching urge to run. But if she did that, there’s no turning back. Shona had been warned about this place. Their stares burning holes into her head, but she remained calm. She had to. She also wanted to protect Cuban who was receiving a vile welcome.

 

 

 

“Right everybody!…” A voice came from above on the balcony. It was Deputy Paul. Everywhere hushed to a silence.

 

“…..We have a couple of new additions that we’d like to present to you, and I’m sure they will get your usual warm welcome”

 

Shona battled to not roll her eyes, and instead bit her lip. She and Deputy Paul obviously had different opinions over what was a warm welcome. He continued.

 

“…..I’d like to hand over to Mr.Larry Bruce”

 

Bruce intimidating stature kept the crowd silent as he hovered to the edge of the balcony in his expensive 3 piece suit showing a hint of a gold watch that would take these workers a decade to save up for. Shona swallowed hard. She had to control her breathing. This is the man she had humiliated not long ago.

 

“It’s not a secret that I’m always looking forward, to advance the company. Jeffrey and I won’t be around forever…” Bruce glanced towards Ellis.

 

I plan to be!” Jeffrey lightened the mood

 

Everybody laughed, Bruce let out a smile and continued.

 

“….It’s a good time to invest, the market is booming, expanding, which is exciting. We are doing more business further afield for longer contracts. It’s great. So I….we…need some fresh young blood to keep up with it. I’ve sat down with a few guys and I’ve picked one. Somebody who comes from great stock, got good energy and thinks like I do..”

 

“That aint good, let me tell you” Elbe whispered to Shona and Cuban, who’s attention returned to up in the balcony.

 

“….I’d like you to welcome…Kyle Chambers to Ellis and Bruce”

 

Larry, gestured towards Kyle to make his entrance to the crowd’s applause and whispered to Bruce.

 

“I’ll knock these into shape Larry, don’t you worry”

 

“It’s an honour to be given the chance to lead such a fine work force, I’m sure we can do great things together.” Kyle looked like he had been elected President by his pose. His white teeth gleaming under the lights.

 

“Another rich kid tryin’ to be on our level..” Elbe wasn’t impressed already and screwed his face up as he said it.

 

There were some other mumblings between Larry and Kyle about how bright the future was at Ellis and Bruce. Ellis just stood at the edge, not needing to be in the spotlight, always wearing his warm kind face. The workforce were getting bored and restless at speeches that they felt didn’t apply to them. Shona saw some men’s attention divert back to her at the back of the gathering. She was getting stronger every minute, she had to. She looked them in the eye as if in a mental dual, then casually glanced back up towards the bosses. She’d got this. She could tell Cuban felt uneasy next to her, he was breathing heavy still nervous from his ‘welcome’.

 

“And I got one more thing….” Larry pointed at the crowd below him. They groaned.

 

“My daughter Chloe….my beautiful daughter Chloe is back where she belongs. She spent a couple of years studying Business so that she can take over this place when I’m long gone. I missed her terribly. But she’s back, she will be will on the management team, but I’m tellin’ ya, she’s fantastic and I know I’m biased because she’s my baby girl, but you’re gone love her….Chloe honey, come out and meet everybody..”

 

Larry went back into the doorway of of the management office, temporarily unseen then came back into view, holding his daughters hand.

 

“…..Everybody…..meet my daughter Chloe!”

 

The applause was a lot louder, there were even whistles. Normally Larry Bruce is full of shit, but he was telling the truth, Chloe really was beautiful.

 

“Man, I’d like to take her out on a date!”

 

“Look at those legs!”

 

“Boy oh boy”

 

“What a fine looking young thing!”

 

“She gone brighten the place round here!”

 

She had caused a commotion, everybody had something to say.

 

Chloe couldn’t even get a chance to speak because of the rapturous noise. She was standing, smiling, acknowledging some of the comments with a dainty wave, in an authoritative fashion. She was wearing a fitted bright red jacket, black skirt exposing perfectly toned legs. Her long light brown hair, with the light catching the highlights expertly done, basically driving the men crazy. Larry looked in between of being pleased with her reception and protective over his only child. Ellis again, stood out of the way, letting Chloe take the limelight.

 

She coughed as if to let everybody know she was about to speak. People were hushed.

 

“Well…I….didn’t expect that..Thank you! I’ll keep it brief. I just want to learn the business, help the company grow and I especially can’t wait to come round and meet every one of you….” Chloe didn’t get much chance to say anything else, the crowd applauded again at the thought of getting to meet probably the most eligible woman in Alabama. They all applauded.

 

Except Shona.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 21

 

“Hey..You ok?…Why’d you leave?” Elbe said to Shona who was sitting tensely on one of the seats back in the tool room-out of the way, head in hands.

 

“I just um…wanted to be here, so I could be put to work. This was the last place they told me to wait” Shona lied.

 

Cuban and Elbe knew something was up but didn’t want to push it.

 

“I don’t think I’m exactly welcome here” Cuban sighed, wincing with the pain of his thigh as Elbe was kindly put a dressing on.

 

“Ditto…It’s gone be tough, we got to stick together…all of us. Just keep our heads down, work hard and see where it takes us. They’ll get used to us” Shona ever the optimist, but even she struggled to believe herself.

 

“Here you both are!” The optimism was shattered by Deputy Paul.

 

“Right…lets get one thing straight. You aint gone work on no trucks, you hear. I don’t give a fuck what magic you pulled from your ass out there, you aint touching ‘em, you get that!” Deputy Paul right up in Shona’s face, seething.

 

“….You will clean the trucks when the ones for repair are ready to go, you clean the canteen, the floors and other stuff. That’s what you do! And as for you….” Deputy Paul screwed up face was now aimed at a fearful looking Cuban, who despite having quite a muscular frame, looked vulnerable. Jenny from the office crept in the doorway.

 

“…..You’ll get changed in a different place to us. I don’t want your dirty fucking diseases, I don’t want you being round my things, thievin’ ‘em, you hear me Nigger!? You’ll take a shit out in one of the holes in the fucking ground if you have to, but you stay the fuck away from us!” Deputy Paul pointing in Cubans face, almost spitting as he spoke.

 

He continued. “Jenny…these two sorry asses aint getting the chance to join no union, bellyaching about their fucking rights. They aint got none here!..” Jenny nodded.

 

“The less I see or hear from you two the better. And if you go cryin’ to Ellis, don’t even think about setting foot back here. That’s your first and last warnin’.” Deputy Paul was absolutely livid with the prospect of Shona and Cuban working at Ellis and Bruce. He stropped off, almost barging into Jenny, a petite, plain looking young woman who worked in the office who stood at the door emotionless, no compassion. She had obviously been drilled.

 

“Right..I got a form you both need to fill in, hand them back to me in the office. Deputy Paul tells me you’re on half pay, no union membership, so don’t tick those boxes when it comes to it. Just sign at the bottom….” Jenny said coldly, looked almost pleased with herself that she was on the right side of Deputy Paul.

 

She handed Shona and Cuban the forms and promptly left, no ‘hello’ or ‘welcome’, she just went.

 

Cuban looked embarrassed, and took a seat looking at the form. Shona hunted for a pen and found one in the newly tidied tool room, just as Elbe offered her his pen, the one he writes his daily diary with.

 

“This is bullshit…why we gettin’ treated this way? I got a job fair and square. I fixed the damn truck in front of their eyes!” Shona annoyed, reading her form.

 

“This is the work of Bruce the Brute…I’m telling you!” Elbe said quietly

 

Shona filled out her form, got up towards Cuban.

 

“You done?” Shona asked.

 

“Um…No…I can’t…I can’t read that well. It takes me a little longer.”

 

Elbe felt for Cuban.

 

“Ok..No problem, let me help…Can you write your name?” Cuban nodded.

 

“Put it here…age…write it here….where do you live?” Shona looked at Cuban.

 

“I don’t…I don’t have anywhere to live. I hid out the back, there’s some cover there. There’s a bin out there they put food scraps”. Cuban looked ashamed, sad.

 

Shona’s heart broke. She knew too well what its like to be outside at night. It’s dangerous, let alone being a black man, unprotected in these hostile parts.

 

“Listen to me……look at me. You can stay with me. I’ll ask Tom and Ruby, they’re great, so kind. You could help me on their farm for your food and bed. What do you say”? Shona tried to instil hope, hugging Cubans shoulders.

 

Through tears Cuban looked at Shona “They aint gone want a nigger stayin’ at their place. Not here.”

 

“Trust me, they’re different…They’re kind. Let me try at least..?”

Cuban forced a genuine smile and nodded. He couldn’t believe how somebody could care about him so much, especially a white person. He couldn’t stop the tears. He quickly wiped them. This place was no place to cry. You would get eaten alive. Elbe stood back, nodding, smiling at Shona’s generosity. He saw his daughter in her. It’s a shame he hardly saw his daughter.

 

“Right, that’s settled then!” Shona stood up straight, pleased with herself.

 

“Elbe!” All heads swung to the door they had come from. It was Deputy Paul again, he wasn’t alone. It looked like he had 4-5 of the kitchen staff with him. Deputy Paul hung back by the doorway as the kitchen guys trounced into the tool room.

 

“….Elbe, so you said to us that you could eat your supper off this floor after it was cleaned by a nigger. It wouldn’t be clean, it would be full of shit…like you. So…Eat!” Deputy Paul approached Elbe who’s frail frame shrunk even more, he was nervous.

 

“…..Let ‘em have it boys!” Deputy Paul called out to the kitchen staff all armed with large pots and deep bowls. On his order, they tipped the bowls and pots and what seemed like gallons of slushy gravy like liquid, mashed up food and waste came pouring all over the recently cleaned floor splashing all over Elbe, Cuban and Shona who stood motionless, shocked. The kitchen staff marched out, leaving Deputy Paul unscathed still leering in the doorway and looking to Elbe.

 

“You still wanna eat your supper off this floor Elbe? You should know better than to side with a nigger. That’s almost worse than being a nigger! Get it cleaned up!” He barked at all of them, turned and left only his keys rattling. Elbe nervously fixed his cap and struggled to make eye contact with Shona and Cuban.

 

“This is a bad idea” Cuban shaking his head “I’m sorry for what I’ve caused”

“No…We need to stick together, we’ll get through this. Besides, what else we gone do? Where else we gone go” Shona already made her way to get a broom, and some rags to start cleaning.

 

Elbe looked serious, trying to contain his fear, but hid with being angry. He started helping with the cleaning that would take them the rest of the day, his hands shaking.

 

“I should have retired 5 years ago, welcome to the biggest mistake of your life people. I hope you don’t end up like me, the only thing you can speak your thoughts are in damn diary for fear of what they gone do to you” Elbe aimed at Shona and Cuban who temporarily stopped to take in Elbe’s words, he started sweeping and cleaning at a faster pace.

 

Shona looked around, sighed, there was food waste and all kinds of smelling liquid everywhere that had splashed on the walls, all over the tools and in drawers. She knew they had to a good job to clean it up, but kept thinking what a horrendous first day and what happens after one comment of sticking up for somebody. Her attention was drawn back to Elbe who stopped and leaned on the mop handle. He looked deadly serious when he uttered “I think we have just rattled a cage of a god damn monster”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 22

 

“It’ll be ok, don’t worry” Shona reassured Cuban as they walked the 3 miles back from work to the farmhouse Shona was staying at with Tom and Ruby as the sun was clutching the horizon. They were just in time for supper.

 

“Hi….only me” Shona called out.

 

“Hey Shona, how was your first day?” Ruby came over, big warm smile instantly making Shona feel at home.

 

“Umm…It was different. We will get there” This was an understatement.

 

Shona continued “Listen Ruby, can I ask huge favour? I know you’ve been so generous to me by letting me stay here, but today, a new guy started too, he hasn’t got a home, he’s a real hard worker from I seen and I was….wondering if he could stay out in the barn with me. They would be two of us helping with the farm and he could give you some of his wages for food. What do you think?”

 

Cuban was just outside the front door hearing muffled voices.

 

“I’ll have to ask Tom……Tom!” Ruby called out. Tom arriving after just washing his hands and face for supper.

 

“Hey Shona! How was your first day!?” Tom almost excited to see Shona’s lovely smiling face again.

 

“It was…..ok.” Shona faking a smile that covered up a horrendous first day.

 

Ruby asked Tom about Shona’s visitor, Toms head nodded and then teased “Should we be worried, is he a special kinda friend?”

 

Shona shook her head smiling “No…he really is a friend, in need. He’s just outside” Shona gestured Cuban to come in. The Byrds faces changed unconsciously. Smiles to the eyes disappeared.

 

Cuban cautiously came into the small hallway to silence. Maybe it was a bad idea Shona thought. She felt bad for putting the Byrds in this position, but Cuban needed somewhere to stay and to treat his wound, get it cleaned up properly.

 

“This is Cuban” Shona breaking the silence.

Cuban nodded, tipping his tatty flat cap aware that his very being has made things uncomfortable.

 

The Byrds looked at eachother with worrying faces as to what to do. They weren’t the type of people to throw anybody out, they always help where they can. But housing a black man? In these parts? What if people found out? All of these thoughts were going round their heads as if telepathically.

 

“Mr and Mrs Byrd I’m sorry to have just arrived at your door like this.” Cuban felt embarrassed, and he didn’t want to knowingly make the Byrds feel uncomfortable.

 

“He’s been bit by a big dog…show ‘em Cuban. It needs treating properly.” Shona gestured Cuban who still had a bloodstained thigh.

 

The Byrds were aware it was getting dark, Cuban needed help and they trusted Shona. They, as well as Shona can’t not help people in need, they just had to keep their mouths shut, nobody in town could know.

 

“Listen Shona…..Cuban. I don’t have to tell you how risky this could be” Tom didn’t mean to be brutal, but they were the facts. Cuban was a black man in a state that despised black people.

 

He continued “…..So just until you find your feet. Of course he can stay here, I can always use help on the farm. That wound there needs treatin’ too” Tom pointed towards Cubans’ thigh.

 

Cubans bright smile filled his face, it had been so long since somebody showed him an ounce of compassion. Shona’s face squeezed in excitement.

 

“You two must be hungry” Ruby said leading the way to the kitchen.

 

At dinner, they talked about Cubans past, most of it difficult to listen to, they spoke of Jeffrey Ellis and of course Larry Bruce and Deputy Paul. Tom spoke of how he nearly fell head first into the water trough when Storm started acting up. They made up another bed outside in the farm house just round the corner of where Shona slept so they both had privacy. Ruby was fluffing up cushions and organising blankets for which Cuban was thankful, she fetched some kind of first aid kit and treated Cubans wound. It stung, but at least it would start to heal rather than become infected.

 

At bedtime, Cuban and Shona reflected on the nights’ dinner. A small wall separated them so they could still hear each other as they lay in their beds. It had been a first for a long time for Cuban and Shona. They were tip toeing their way to building themselves up again. They had a mountain to climb, but they had made an important first step. They were exhausted, Cuban had no trouble getting to sleep. Shona was awake for a little while thinking back to earlier in the day, but she lost the battle to stay awake.

 

Chapter 23

 

Thud, thud, thud, thud…

 

A 16 year old Shona immediately woke, and froze. The familiar dread of those footsteps coming down the stairs into the poorly lit freezing cold basement where Shona had to sleep was overwhelming. Her heart beat faster. She never knew when those footsteps were coming.

 

They seemed to take forever to get to the door as if prolonging the torture. There were no windows, no exits apart from the door that was about to be opened. The other side of it wasn’t good. Pleading wasn’t an option anymore, it had been done already, at least six to seven times previous, and it still went ahead.

 

The door knob groaned. A young Shona curled up into a ball trying in vain to protect herself. She already knew her fate, she already knew the pain that was awaiting.

 

The door opening caused a shard of light to stab through the darkness Shona was used to. She squinted. They launched at her, taking advantage of her temporary blindness. They were rough as always…

 

“Noooooo!!! Get off me, please get off me!!”

 

“Shona!…Shona wake up!” Cuban was standing over Shona looking worried for his new friend.

 

“I….what?…Oh…I’m sorry…I was just…dreaming” Shona rubbing her eyes looking around at her surroundings just to check she wasn’t back ‘there’

 

“Dreamin’? Sounds like a damn nightmare” Cuban asked concerned.

 

Shona hadn’t really been dreaming, she had been reliving.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 24

 

“Larry, you seen this?” Kyle smirking, turning the newspaper tabloid around so that it was readable to Larry who was gazing out of large wide office window that backs onto the land where some of the trucks and tractors are kept. He admired his fleet.

 

“Seen what?” Larry turned

 

Kyle sniggered “Damn nigger college been burned down. I mean you can’t teach’ ‘em nothin’ so a pile of ash is more useful”

 

They both smirked as Larry started reading the story.

 

“Trouble is..” Larry cosying himself in his plush chair, Kyle directly opposite, eyes wide hanging on Larrys words.

 

“….They’re gettin’ everywhere, you got people representin’ ‘em. Damn do-gooders. You wait until they start getting their damn money stolen, their daughters raped, then come back and tell me its good to give ‘em a voice. By that time, it’ll be too late”

 

“Why does Jeffrey do what he does then?” Kyle asked suspiciously.

 

“That’s a long story goin’ way back, he’s a damn fool. Times have changed” Larry started lighting his cigar.

 

Kyle takes back the paper starts reading some more of the story.

 

Larry inhales deeply, some things on his mind.

 

“Thing is Kyle, that nigger..Cuban or whatever his name is…he’s getting comfortable, you hear? He and that broad have been here a week. Still no sign of goin’ yet. Jeffrey wanted me to give them both a ‘fair shot’. I can’t afford for him to think he’s the same as those white guys downstairs. Who knows what may happen. I mean, my daughter works here now, is she safe? I don’t like it. But whatever I get Paul to give him…and her. They just keep comin’ back for more. I don’t even wanna hand over a cent, not one cent to ‘em. It’s me who getting punished by entertaining those two.”

 

Kyle was carefully taking this all on board.

 

“What you want me to do?” Kyle asks Larry…seriously.

 

“I’ll take care of it for now. Just…make life a little unwelcoming round here. If they both leave on their own accord, it’s nice and tidy” Larry exhaling a puff of dull smoke.

“Can you believe this…?” Kyle looking back at the newspaper article about the Negro College being burned down.

 

“The white teachers were speaking to news reporters asking for people to be ‘more understanding’ about this matter and how they would feel if it were their children going to this college…My god..” Kyle chuckled, taking a sip of tea just brought into him,

 

“That’s where the damn problem is…The white people standing up for these dirty fucking niggers. They are worse than a nigger, and they will be the reason we will be overrun with ‘em…preying on our kids, stealing our hard earned things, takin’ jobs. They are the ones who need fuckin’ shootin’ ’” Larry clearly aggravated by this subject matter, got up out of his chair and looked back out the window. He had a sip of something stronger than tea.

 

“Yeah?….So where does that make Jeffrey Ellis in all this?” Kyle asked slyly. Larry turned and already could read Kyle’s mind.

 

 

Chapter 25

 

Buzzer

 

It was the usual ten AM break time.

 

Cuban was washing his hands under a pathetic drippy tap in his closet of a changing space. He wasn’t allowed anywhere near anybody else, and he wasn’t allowed any locks on drawers. He washed his face, attempting to clean himself up before he ate something, but the lacklustre water pressure made life even more difficult. Every drip Cuban tried to catch in order to make himself more presentable at the table eating. The mornings work was nothing short of rancid. He had to unblock two toilets then mop up the mess. He couldn’t feel much lower about himself. He knew he wasn’t welcome here, but it was money and he was in desperate need of it to get out of this state.

 

“Hey…”

 

“Hey Shona”

 

Shona felt for Cuban, she held back saying it though. She didn’t want to act like she pitied him. She leaned against the doorway, half smiled with her hands in her holed pockets. It was cramped in here she thought looking up and around it. Shona’s space wasn’t much better.

 

Cuban splashed his face with the sought after water and dried his hand on a shabby towel. He was doing his best.

 

“It won’t be like this forever” Shona always tried to be positive. Cuban nodded a half-hearted response and exhaled. If only Shona knew what he had already been through.

 

“Come on, let’s eat..” Shona said a little brighter.

 

“I’ll be there in 5…go on, save me a space” She nodded and headed for the canteen

 

“You know where you need to be……nigger”

 

“Yeah, get to the back before you even think ‘bout it”

 

“Fucking dirty shithead”

 

This was the usual abuse. Cuban knew his place, at the back of the queue. Even if he was at the front, sometimes the guys would play tricks on him, after they had eaten, to keep going up to the counter just as Cuban got the front so that on a few occasions, the buzzer went and he didn’t get any food. Who could he complain to?

 

“Could I…have some of that please” Cuban couldn’t even make eye contact with the head chef who didn’t respond straight away, just chewed..slowly looking directly at Cuban, disgusted

“Sure….of course you can” The head chef forcing his rough wrinkled face into a fake sleazy smile. This made Cuban nervous. He felt eyes on his back.

 

“Give me your plate” Cuban was apprehensive about saying anything, or not saying anything. Every move was like a game of chess. He gave the chef his plate to put whatever slop was todays ‘surprise’.

 

Cuban turned around and saw Shona eating on her own at the end of a bench, 6 other guys at the other end making no attempt to talk to her. He returned his attention back to his food.

 

The Head Chef purposely poured some dark slop onto Cubans plate from a height so it splashed everywhere, including over Cuban then went to get some bread. Cuban trying not cause a scene secretly trying to rub the stains off.

 

“Here…some bread for you. You need to keep your energy up” Back came Head Chef. His hands covered in god knows what. He had two slices of bread, one in each hand which he proceeded to slowly rub down his chef whites which were covered in congealed meat juices, tea, gravy, sweat…He grinned then spat on one of them and then squashed them into a sandwich and put on Cubans plate of slop on the counter in front of Cuban. The thing is, Cuban was starving from all the ‘extra’ work he was being given to do, he had to eat something, and he was growing weaker each day. Cuban didn’t dare respond.

 

“Let me help you…tea?” Out of nowhere Deputy Paul appeared. Without giving Cuban time to reply, Deputy Paul poured leftover Tea onto Cubans’ plate making it a soggy mess.

 

“Ooops…” Deputy Paul picked up Cubans plate and dropped it. The ‘smash’ ensured all eyes were on the situation now, Cuban battling a tear. He still remained motionless, but faking his racing heartbeat was getting more difficult by the second of this utter humiliation in front of everybody.

“Oh…I’m sorry Cuban, how clumsy am I?” Deputy Paul exaggerating his speech. Cuban froze.

 

“Let me help you….” Deputy Paul was mashing up the food with his boots, walking in it. He grabbed a large spoon and started putting the food back onto another plate.

 

“The thing is Cuban…I’m told that when you clean floors…You can eat your supper off it…….so eat!” The last few words spat with venom and resentment.

 

Deputy Paul handed Cuban a dirty spoon from somebody’s leftovers. Everybody hushed to a silence, Shona looked up unaware of what was going on, then her eyes focused on Cuban standing with Deputy Paul and it didn’t look good. Her face turned to concern. She was poised to help. She saw Cuban slowly put a spoonful of food in his mouth and Deputy Paul grinning, then facing the boys on the nearest bench who started laughing.

 

“Come on Cuban! You must be hungry! Eat some more!” Deputy Paul almost insatiable with the power he has over Cuban.

 

“More! More! More! More!” Came the chanting, increasing in volume, with the snarling guys banging their knives and forks on the table. The ‘show’ broke up the break time and they were enjoying every second of Cuban being humiliated with every mouthful he ate. He started to gag which made it even more fun to watch.

 

Shona quickly got up and made her way towards Cuban, this was out of order. She squeezed through the men who started to make their way to the ‘front row’ of the ‘show’ but it was getting more difficult. The chants became louder, more voracious. Food started to be thrown at Cuban who daren’t respond. To say he was outnumbered is an understatement. Deputy Paul stepped back so it was Cuban who was centre stage.

 

“Get outta my way…move!” Shona desperate to get her friend out of there.

 

“Stop!……What is going on!?” Eyes spun from Cubans direction to the balcony where the management offices are.

 

It was Chloe.

 

She looked horrified and started to make her way down the stairs leading into the space where the benches were. People started scattering.

 

“You say anything nigger…I promise, you won’t be able to take a shit for a month…You hear!?” Deputy Paul whispered to Cuban fixed on him, then he casually walked in the opposite direction to where Chloe was coming. Everybody continued chatting as if nothing had happened. Cuban started to clean up the mess hiding his breathlessness, hands visibly shaking.

 

“You ok Cuban?” Elbe appeared grabbing a mop to help

 

“Yeah…I’m fine” Cuban lied.

 

“What the fuck!? This is messed up shit!” Shona angrily looked around at the two faced workers finishing up their food as if in denial what happened one minute earlier. She put her hand on Cubans shoulder who didn’t mean to, but shrugged it off. He didn’t want to be seen as weak. Shona understood.

 

“You can have some of my food…” Shona said quietly, kneeling to help clean the mess with some paper towels. The gravy and tea got everywhere. Cuban nodded in appreciation.

 

“Cuban?…Is it?….You ok?” A gentle voice came from behind them. Elbe, Shona and Cuban on their knees cleaning up the mashed food all looked up.

 

“Yes, Ma’am…I’m ok…Thank you” Cuban didn’t have the confidence to look at her beautiful face. He wasn’t worthy…so he thought.

 

“What went on here?…I heard lots of noise” Chloe quizzed but with an air of concern. Shona still hadn’t got up, she continued cleaning. Cuban and Elbe stood up.

 

“Just guys being guys’ ma’am…no harm done” Cuban lied with a fake half smile. Elbe looked away in disgust. Everybody knew if Cuban told the truth about his treatment here so far, he (and them) would get a lot worse, and yet now was the best opportunity…..gone.

 

Chloe wasn’t convinced, but was still learning everybody’s names and their nature. Cuban could be right…Just guys being guys.

 

“Right, it’s all done…I’m goin’ back to work…” Shona quickly stood up, didn’t look at anybody and left.

 

“Who was that?” Chloe asked attention turned to the back of a woman scattering away amongst the hustle and bustle of the canteen getting back to normal.

 

“That?…Oh that’s Shona” Elbe replied.

 

 

 

Chapter 26

 

“I guess you heard about me letting that nigger know where he stands here at break time?”

 

Deputy Paul hovered over Kyle who was busy writing at his desk up in the management offices, but he stopped to grin and sat back in his chair.

 

“I did…Well Chloe came in saying she thought the guys were being unfair to Cuban. I pretended to care and look surprised.”

 

Deputy Paul snorted, then looked serious.

 

“I’m not sure what it’ll take to show him he aint welcome here Kyle. The boys are goin’ nuts that he’s still here. Not only that but he can hide under Jeffrey’s fuckin’ protection wing, why I don’t know.”

 

Kyle looked up at Deputy Paul and started fiddling with an expensive pen deep in thought, a smile gradually appearing across his Hollywood face.

 

“Leave it with me, Paul. Get him to stay even later tonight to work. There’s filters that need scrubbing, floors need cleaning…especially after your little performance in the canteen I heard.”

 

“You got it”

 

 

 

“I thought you were a little rude to Miss Chloe, Shona” Elbe was folding some rags and blankets to put in one of the store cupboards. Shona was vigorously cleaning the outside of one of the trucks that had just been repaired and ready to go back out. She had three more to do after.

 

“What?…Oh…I don’t trust any of ‘em Elbe. They all the same. All assholes” Shona didn’t even look up.

 

“I’m not so sure about Miss Chloe. She hasn’t been fed the Bruce The Brute poison for as long around here. I think she’s genuine Shona. Did you notice the way she was with Cuban, she was really nice?”

 

Shona did notice.

 

“So?….She deserve a fuckin’ medal now? She’s probably a spy, finding out what we think, what we do. Like I say, I don’t trust ‘em…any of ‘em” Shona didn’t stop cleaning, until Cuban walked into the tool room where Shona and Elbe were.

 

“Hey..”

 

“Hey Cuban…You ok?” Shona asked concerned, standing up straight, cloths in hand, one tucked in her back pocket.

 

“Yeah….Deputy Paul told me I have to work late, real late. He said he wants everywhere spotless, got a visit from some big cheese tomorrow or somethin’”

 

Cuban looked deflated. He was already exhausted…not to mention starving.

 

“What? I know everything round here, I didn’t hear of no visit?” Elbe screwed his face up suspiciously.

 

“Well. Anyway, I’ll meet you at the barn Shona. I don’t know what time I’ll be back” Cuban voice had a hint of sounding uncomfortable about something.

 

“Well I’ll help you…We can go home together, that’s fine. Don’t worry. I’ll kick you’re your ass into doing a good job!” Shona tried to joke, but Cuban wasn’t in the mood.

 

“No….Please. It’ll be fine. Tom needs some help with Storm tonight remember? He can’t clean the cut on her leg on his own, she’ll go nuts” Cuban reminded Shona.

 

“Well alright…But don’t let those fools push you around, you hear?” Shona wanted to hug Cuban, he seemed tense. Elbe tried to break the mood.

 

“I’ve been writing in my diary, I’ll show you two what’s in it soon. I lock it away. If my wife was here, god rest her soul, she would be horrified at what happened in the canteen earlier, horrified…it’s all in there under today’s date. There’s some real juicy stuff. If it got out-” Elbe said in lowered voice, tapping the diary that just about fitted in one of his overall pockets on his chest.

 

“Who’d believe it though….?” Cuban interrupted, with bitterness in his voice. “Who’d believe a nigger, a broad, an old man….against these people, these…. powerful people?”

 

“Somebody will…one day. You watch” Elbe pointed his finger at Cuban.

 

 

Chapter 27

 

Cuban was just finishing up. He was absolutely exhausted, but he was still intent on doing the best job he could of cleaning anything Deputy Paul or Kyle gave to him or pointed him towards. He wasn’t convinced about a ‘visit’ from some big cheese. Nobody seemed panicked or nervous. It was nine thirty PM, three hours after he was supposed to have finished. Three to four guys were in Deputy Paul’s office. Cuban thinks they were drinking, smoking and playing cards. From the conversation and joviality, they definitely weren’t doing any work, it was only Cuban doing that. He didn’t recognise their voices. He put the mop away in the cleaning cupboard, the canteen was spotless, every side scrubbed, cupboard cleaned out, floor shiny.

 

“Cuban…..what an amazing job you’ve done” Deputy Paul the king of sarcasm slowly walking around the canteen admiring the shiny pots and pans. He even ran his finger along some previously neglected table tops and hard to reach places, to find they were spotless.

 

“Thank you” Cuban was cautious in taking any compliment from Deputy Paul. There was always a hidden agenda.

 

“Well now…I think you should run along home, you know get some rest. You deserve it” Deputy Paul looked Cuban dead in his eyes smirking.

 

“Thanks…I will” Cuban looking tense, waiting for something. But it never came whatever it was. There didn’t seem to be a catch to Deputy Pauls compliment. Cuban grabbed his tatty bag and left into the night for the 5 mile walk home. He was still confused, but blamed himself for being paranoid. Maybe he had proved himself at last, even going as far to saying he was now accepted?

 

“Fool” one of the guys emerged from Deputy Paul’s office behind Paul, listening to what was said and seeing Cuban leave.

 

“Isn’t he just” Deputy Paul smiling, pleased with himself. “Go to work boys”

 

On Deputy Pauls order, the men who were previously in the office waiting for Cuban to leave went and grabbed dirty water left over from outside, spoiled food, gravy, congealed paint and anything they could find and headed for the canteen.

 

“Chef’s gonna be real pissed when he sees this!” one of the younger guys unscrewing a container full of stinking oil of some kind.

 

“That’s the whole fucking idea, you idiot…and guess who will be his number one suspect?…The nigger who got humiliated here earlier” They all laughed.

 

Deputy Paul with his hands on his hips standing in the doorway, looking commanding, while his men commenced after his ‘nod’. The canteen got absolutely trashed, every counter was dripping with mixtures of sticky goo. Pots and pan strewn across the floor that was cake in congealed gravy and god knows what else. One of the guys opened some paint and flicked it with one of the cooking utensils so it was up the walls, he dropped it and stepped in it. He trod it in even more.

“Now that’s a job well done. Come on boys, let’s go”

 

 

 

Chapter 28

 

The suns last ditched attempts at clutching the horizon were Cubans only light as he trudged home fatigued and deflated. As he walked the long straight of the road leading into the grounds of Ellis and Bruce, he would see the occasional lights from cars up ahead keeping him on a steady course so as not to trip on the side of the road into bushes. He couldn’t wait to get back to the barn and eat. No doubt Ruby would have left him some dinner before they went to bed.

 

Cuban was seriously considering his future. Then he quickly remembered he didn’t have one, not in this state. He needed money saved to book a ticket to New York to meet up with friends there, who were making money as musicians in Jazz clubs and working behind the bar. That was Cubans dream, but it felt like it was slipping away. He would miss Shona, but knew that he would invite her as soon as he was settled, he owed her- big time.

 

He just didn’t know how to make it work at Ellis and Bruce. They despised him, spat at him, tripped him, and hid his things. But what choice did he have? He knew he was under Jeffrey Ellis’s wing of protection, but how long would that last? How long could Cuban last?

 

About two to three hundred metres before Cuban came to the crossroads at the top of the road from Ellis and Bruce, car lights appeared from behind him. He turned round, squinted, but was grateful the lights lit his path that were previously near pitch black. The engine purred like a small truck behind him getting closer. Cuban moved to the right, hugging the side of the road so it could pass. It didn’t. The truck was creeping behind him. Cuban walked a little faster, gestured for the truck to go past him. There was plenty of room for it to drive round Cuban. It still didn’t pass. Cuban was feeling on edge. He carried on walking until nerves got the better of him, he walked onto the side of the road to the uneven surface which led to the Ellis and Bruce vast lands, in hope the truck would drive by. It stopped. Nobody got out. The engine ticking over. In some ways, Cuban wished they had got out, he could look after himself. He had to all his life. Cuban could hear his own breath quickening. He was still at least four and half miles from home late at night with fields either side until he got to the crossroads. He waited for a minute, frozen still. Still, nobody got out, the only noise was the engine. Cuban quickly decided to walk again, faster. The rev of the engine behind him panicked him, his strides getting bigger. He could hear the truck eerily crawling behind him again. He just had to make it to the crossroads and at least there would some signs of life from other people he hoped. However, he wasn’t convinced anybody would help him due his skin-colour.

 

The engine roared, not to speed up but as if a warning to Cuban. Cuban started to jog, he was quick but he knew he couldn’t outrun a truck especially feeling so weak. He could still feel the sting from the dog bite every couple of strides, the wound opening a little. What the hell was this truck doing? Whoever was in it had the chance to rob him, beat him, and shoot him when it was stopped by the road. The truck accelerated a little, easily pulling up to right behinds Cubans pace. He daren’t look behind him, he had around fifty metres to go when the truck pulled up alongside Cuban. He looked to his left to see who was driving, it was difficult to make out, until all of a sudden torches were shone, their beam almost blinded Cuban, his pace slowed slightly, and he looked back at the truck and saw a sight he had nightmares about as they shone the torches on themselves.

 

He could make out three figures wearing white cloths over their heads. KKK. The figure nearest the door to Cuban menacingly held up a gun to the window looking directly at Cuban now in a sprint. He started groaning in his panic. He heard a dog barking coming from the truck that easily matched his pace. They stared at him, then suddenly sped off into the night as mysterious as they appeared.

 

Cuban stopped running, hands on his knees, and vomited into the bush by the side of the road. He realised how close he came to death. They could have took a shot any time. Why didn’t they? He tried to catch his breath but knew he needed to be out of here, he wasn’t sure if those guys were coming back.

 

 

“Christ Cuban, you ok? You look like you’ve seen a damn ghost!?” Shona asked, sitting upright in bed, she had waited up and saw a bedraggled frightened looking Cuban stumble through to their sleeping area past Shona’s bed, some blood seeping out of his dog bite wound.

 

Cuban was to in shock in to answer straight away, he was overwhelmed with relief to be safe at home, shaking. He nodded unconvincingly that he was ok.

 

Seeing Klan so up close tonight was pretty much the same as seeing a ghost, and almost becoming one Cuban thought tucking the blankets under his chin. Despite exhaustion, it took him a while to drift off to sleep.

 

 

 

Chapter 29

 

A family blissfully asleep in a cramped house filled with love in the outskirts of town near the forest just outside of Montgomery, Alabama.

 

The family dog took up his usual position of playing protector outside the children’s bedrooms in the bungalow.

 

The parents drifted deep into a satisfying snooze after reading to their young son and daughter before kissing them goodnight. The husband and wife snuggled into each other in bed. It was the same as any other night. All that could be heard is the welcome noise of insects stirring in the bushes nearby and drips from the hanging baskets that had been watered just before bedtime.

 

The bliss got disturbed.

 

Duke, the Husky started to bark at something outside.

 

“Duke, be quiet…..” came a muffled sleepy voice from the bedroom. The normally obedient animal continued. The barks starting to become more excitable.

 

“Baby, go and see what all the fuss is about will you…” The husband sat on the edge of the bed, rubbed his eyes, exhaled and wandered towards Duke who was by the front door. The barks becoming relentless, often including a growl. This wasn’t like Duke.

 

“Hey boy, come here…Duke”

 

Duke briefly looked at his master then continued, clawing at the wooden front door. Something was up.

 

“What is it, boy?” The man walked up to Duke tried to calm him, stroked his head and made his way to the kitchen just to the right to look out the window where the porch area and front lawn could be seen.

 

“My god….baby!! Get the kids!”

 

“What is it!?” The wife shouted from the bedroom.

 

The man sprinted to the kids bedrooms, woke them up gently, and picked them up in their blankets.

 

“What is it daddy?” His eldest, his six year old daughter asked sleepily.

“Come on princess, we just need to go out the back and get in the truck, quick…help your brother!”

 

By this time, his wife appeared looking alarmed.

 

“What the hell is it!?” She questioned

 

“It’s them….they’re here, out front…We need to go…now!”

 

“Who?”

 

“Klan”

 

“Oh my god. Our babies!”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 30

 

“Cuban…wake up..Cuban…You’re dreaming”

 

“What?….Oh….Sorry. Sorry for waking you.”

 

“Don’t worry…Just rest”

 

 

Cuban tried to rest, but he couldn’t shake the images and panic from his mind of what he had dreamt about. But he needed his body to recover from the long days at Ellis and Bruce. He still managed to get up early, wash and get to work fifteen minutes before he needed to. He didn’t want to lose this job, he couldn’t. He needed every cent to save up to get out and to New York. That was his dream that kept him going throughout every difficult moment.

 

 

“Get me that nigger!….. Where is that fucking nigger!”

 

Head Chef Sid Webb was livid. He came into work to set up for the day and the sight that welcomed him made him sink to the floor. Until he was told who was the last person to be in there. Cuban. Deputy Paul had told Sid this.

 

“Wait….Wait, Sid, calm down….think….think….You go and batter him in front of everybody, you’ll have Jeffrey on your back saying you’re being unkind to one of his protected little birds under his wing. You gotta be smarter than that”

 

Deputy Paul holding Sid back from going after Cuban

 

“I’m gone take a shit and make him eat it for breakfast!….I can’t believe he has had his dirty fucking hands all over my kitchen, Paul ! I swear…..I swear I wanna kill him!”

 

Sid spatt at he spoke he was engulfed with anger.

 

“He’ll pay Sid…I’ll see to it” Deputy Paul loosening his grip on Sid, then he left to go up to the management offices to find Larry.

 

 

Elbe, Shona and Cuban were all in the tool room cleaning various pieces of grimy machinery and tools given to them. The job wasn’t pleasant. They didn’t mind what they did as long as they were together. They knew they were the outsiders.

 

“You know…I can’t wait to see the west coast. To feel free, go to the beach in California. That’s what I’m saving for…You?” Shona nodded to Elbe.

 

“Me?…Oh I want to see my daughter and granddaughter in Tennessee before I get too old to travel. I retire in 8 months and it’s been 3 years since we saw each other, so I wanna visit then.”

 

“Wow….Do you write to them?” Shona asked

 

“Yeah…You know life gets in the way, my daughters busy, so she doesn’t write as much as I’d want, but I understand. I just feel bad I can’t be there for her, but she moved away and started a family and I couldn’t leave the house I lived in with my beautiful wife all these years. It’s where I feel closest to her. I couldn’t stand living in a busy town where my daughter lives, I’m an old country boy” Elbe smiled tipping his flat cap.

 

Shona grinned.

 

“How about you Cuban? What’s your story?” Elbe gestured to Cuban.

 

“I don’t really want to talk about it if you don’t mind. I just hope to get out of here and get to New York to see some of my friends who made it there. You two can come by and we can have drinks..?”

 

“Sounds like a plan to me!” Shona lightened the mood and playfully threw a dry cloth towards Cuban

 

Buzzer. 10am. Break time.

 

“Cuban…..You’re wanted. Now” A serious looking deputy Paul broke up the hopeful atmosphere in the tool room by standing menacingly in the doorway.

 

“What’s his problem?” Shona asked quietly.

 

Cuban looked tense, he put down his cleaning cloths. He had no idea what was about to face him. He followed Deputy Paul from the Tool Room through the cramped off-white stony corridor that led into the canteen area, Shona and Elbe followed on behind confused.

 

“There he is…”

 

“Fuckin’ asshole”

 

“Somebody teach him a lesson..”

 

The entire canteen was staring at Cuban, not a single plate, cup or cutlery on their tables. It was silent other than some hurled insults. The canteen was usually a hive of activity. Cuban was being led to the serving counter and couldn’t believe the sight he witnessed. Sid leaning forwards on the counter, face red with anger. Cuban looked around hoping somebody would give him some direction of what was going on. When his eyes found what was behind Sid, he couldn’t believe it. The whole kitchen was completely trashed. Sid was motionless when normally he was barking orders in a busy kitchen.

 

“What…….Whats goin’ on?” Cuban asked nervously in the direction of anybody who could provide an answer. Nobody came to his aid immediately.

 

Two men spat in the direction of Cubans feet. He was used to that.

 

“You have no idea……how much I want to rip your throat out right now” Sid spoke with a surprising amount of control and calmness, which made it even more eerie. He was never like this.

 

Cuban swallowed.

 

“You did this….You did this” Sid turned his head slightly to draw Cuban to look at the mess behind him.

 

Cuban frowned. No he didn’t.

 

“What?…I didn’t do that…I didn’t do it. You think I did it?”

 

Strangely, Cuban felt relieved at how Sid had got it completely wrong. Now he knew what it was all about.

 

“You’re fucking lyin’ nigger…I don’t believe a single word that comes out of that dirty mouth of yours”

 

Sid gritted his teeth, he was starting to lose his cool.

 

“Sid….I’m tellin’ you. Deputy Paul asked me to clean the kitchen, so I did. He checked it and said it was a good job and I went home. That’s the truth. I didn’t do this

 

Cuban was panicking but wanted to get his story across in a hurry. He quickly realised that everybody had gone without food as the canteen was too much in a disgusting state to serve anything which meant that everybody was livid- with Cuban.

 

“Oh…You’re blamin’ me now nigger?” Deputy Paul stepped forward.

 

“What?….I was just sayin’ you told me to clean it, so I did. Then I left. Just sayin’ like it happened that’s all”

 

Cuban felt he had to defend on all sides of him. Nowhere was safe to look. He had an hungry and angry crowd behind him, Deputy Paul to his left, and Sid in front of him. Shona was looking around trying to make sense of it. But she’s sure Cuban wouldn’t have done anything like this.

 

“But that’s not what happened…..is it?” Deputy Paul raised his eyebrows to Cuban as if to direct him into telling a lie.

 

“Sorry Sir..?”

 

“You were the last to leave, it wasn’t like this when I saw it” Deputy Paul gesturing with his left hand towards the mess.

 

“There were guys…I don’t know how many, three, four…I could hear them in the office, up there” Cuban pointed towards Deputy Pauls office.

 

“Nigger…..please tell me…..how do I say this? Please tell me you are not accusing my guys of committing this atrocious act…. are you?”

 

Deputy Paul slowly stepped towards Cuban, intimidating him.

 

“Sir I didn’t do it…I promise”

 

Cuban couldn’t help it, he started shiver…and cry.

 

“So you’re happy to accuse others are you….?”

 

A different voice joined in from the far left. It was Larry Bruce making his way down the metal staircase from the offices. He had been watching the whole thing. He after all, hasn’t got any food either. Everybody’s attention turned to Larry. Bodies parted to let him through the crowd that were fixed on an anxious Cuban.

 

“I’m not…I just…didn’t do it. I don’t know who did it”

 

Cuban felt like these words were doing him no good at all.

 

“Am I right in thinking there was an incident in here yesterday?” Larry quizzed

 

“Yes Sir”

 

“Am I right in thinking that maybe Sid took things a little too far?”

 

“Yes Sir”

 

“Am I right in thinking that you would be angry at what took place here yesterday?”

 

“Yes Sir” Tears dripping down Cubans face. He knew how this was looking.

 

“The best form of revenge, is to hit somebody where it hurts right?”

 

Cuban reluctantly nodded, he daren’t disagree with the big boss.

 

“You were working late here last night, everybody had gone home, that correct?”

 

“Yes Sir”

 

“And it wasn’t in this state when you first saw it, that right?”

 

“Yes Sir”

 

“How does that look to you?” Larry square on in front of Cuban.

 

“Like I did it, Sir” Cubans nose was running.

 

Like?….Like you did it?”

 

Cuban started shaking. And closed his eyes, another tear slipped down his cheek. There was no hope for him.

 

“He wouldn’t have done this! You’ve got it wrong! He’s been set up!” Shona said getting nearer to Cuban.

 

“Stay out of this!” Deputy Paul barked at Shona.

 

“This isn’t fair!…Can nobody see? Why would he make it so obvious if it was revenge?”

 

Shona pleaded people to see.

 

“You will sit the fuck down, and shut the fuck up if you still want to keep your job. I wonder what Jeffrey would have to say about some jumped up broad speaking back to the boss, what do you think!?”

 

Larry screwed his face up, disgusted with Shona. She reluctantly sat down, some of the guys purposely barging her. She stood up for a black man. That made her just as unpopular as him, if not worse sometimes. Elbe shuffled next to Shona, put a hand on her shoulder. He knew something wasn’t right. It would all go in his diary.

 

“Ok…Let’s put it like this….You will apologise to all these men. They couldn’t have any food this morning. Then you will grovel to Sid and ask for his forgiveness, you hear me?”

 

Larry almost whispered to Cuban, everybody could hear him though. You could hear a pin drop. Cuban couldn’t stopped his crying now. The injustice was overwhelming. He wanted to vomit.

 

“…..And then…You will clean up the mess you caused. Because if you don’t that is refusing work, and I Jeffrey will back me up when I fire your ass. Do you understand me..?”

 

Cuban completely understood. If he cleared it up, he looked guilty, if he didn’t, he was out of a job and fair game to everybody in there who despised him. He would be a dead man before he left the exit.

 

He nodded.

 

“Well….now is a good time”

 

Larry was being patronising and stepped back and half faced the expectant crowd waiting for their grovelling apology, like a pack of wolves waiting for the first taste of blood after a kill. Cuban slowly turned to face them too. He was desperately searching for a friendly face in the room full of hatred for him from people who hardly knew him. He eventually found a face. Shona, then Elbe looking on in despair.

“Get on with it Nigger!” Deputy Paul shoved Cuban

 

“I’m….” He swallowed his tears back. “I’m really sorry for…..you going without food-“

 

“-And what you did!” Larry interrupted.

 

Shona was shaking her head. This was outrageous.

 

“And what I did. I hope you can forgive me…please” Cuban was one broken man with not a shred of dignity left.

 

“Fuck you!”

 

“No way!”

 

“Anybody got any rope? Let’s lynch his ass!”

 

Laughter broke out from the crowd. They’re weren’t even remotely in a forgiving mood.

 

“Quiet!……Now apologise to Sid here…and say it like you really mean it!” Larry barked

 

Elbe couldn’t believe what he was witnessing. It was so distressing to watch, and yet he didn’t want to leave his friend on his own, yet he felt so helpless.

 

Cuban slowly turned back towards the counter where the whole thing started the day before. Sid was disgusted with him and relished the idea of being grovelled to, maybe too much. He came from behind the counter, round, to where he was face to face with Cuban. Sid had never had to keep his cool as bad as he did facing opposite Cuban right now.

 

“Say it…..Fucking say it!” Sid was livid.

 

Two men in the on-looking crowd briefly glanced at each other and smirked. They may have missed out on their food, but they were enjoying this show.

 

“I’m sorry….I apologise for-“

 

“-Kneel down….and fucking beg!” Sid interrupted. Deputy Paul and Larry smirked at each other.

 

Cuban complied without fuss. This was the height of utter humiliation. He dropped to his knees in front of Sid, who somehow was winning the urge to kick Cuban in the face.

 

“Sid…I’m sorry for the mess. I apologise. I beg for your forgiveness” Cuban crying full-on. He had nothing left.

 

“Fuck you!” Sid stormed out, he wouldn’t lower himself to forgive a nigger.

 

Cuban sobbed like a baby on his knees in front of a packed audience. Some salt pots came flying over heads and landed in and around Cuban, Deputy Paul stepped out the way so he didn’t hit.

 

Meanwhile…

 

“Anything for me?” Chloe asked the receptionist as she came back from a meeting in town early, wondering where everybody was.

 

“Errmm no ma’am”

 

“It seems quiet…”

 

“They’re all in the canteen Miss Chloe”

 

Chloe made her way towards the canteen area confused at what was happening. All she saw was Cuban on his knees, objects being thrown at him. She was alarmed. Nobody was doing anything about it. She spotted her father and made a beeline for him through some of the crowd.

 

“Daddy! Whats going’ on?”

 

“Princess! You’re back early…I wasn’t expecting you.” Larry seemed nervous at his daughter surprise early return.

 

“We made good progress…..Daddy what’s going on, why is Cuban on his knees, is he ok?”

 

The noise level started rising, people shouting obscenities to Cuban.

 

“Honey….It’s nothing.. It’s just guys being guys you know?”

 

Chloe wasn’t convinced, concerned she walked towards Cuban who was quickly picked up by Shona who brushed him down and dragged him away from the scene of his humiliation. He was in bits.

 

“Hi Miss Chloe!”

 

“Hey..how you doin’ today Miss Chloe?” Everybody wanted to talk to Chloe. She wasn’t interested.

 

This was about the third time Chloe had seen the back of Shona.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 31

 

“Look at them….fools”

 

Deputy Paul sneered with Larry Bruce towards Cuban, Shona and Elbe cleaning up the kitchen, from their balcony outside the management offices.

 

“I didn’t think the nigger would be back today. He seems to be taking whatever we give him. I thought he would have had enough by now….. Elbe has certainly has stated which side of the fence he’s on” Larry replied.

 

He continued “…He retires soon, and yet he brings this on himself”

 

“A white nigger lover is just as bad, if not worse than a damn nigger”

 

A serious looking Deputy Paul jabs a pointed finger down at the trio on their hands and knees scrubbing the floor. Larry nodded, his stare burning into the three traitors below him. All three had been hired by Jeffrey Ellis, if Larry had his way, all three would disappear.

 

“Right…we ready?” Kyle comes out of the meeting room to look for Larry and Deputy Paul who follow him back in.

 

Larry, Deputy Paul, and three investors take a seat whilst an eager Kyle remains stood to deliver a quick presentation on the company’s progress. Drinks get poured.

 

“Ok, thank you for joining us…” Kyle aims at the big-time investors stopping by to seeing how their money is being spent at Ellis and Bruce.

 

He continues “Jeffrey couldn’t make it today, probably in the Copperpot and Chloe is out of town on business. But life goes on”

The investors look at each other surprised at Jeffrey’s absence. He normally always turns up.

 

Kyle laughs and shrugs at the same time.

 

“Now I haven’t been here long, but Larry has allowed me to hit the ground running with ideas over stock, to let me realise my vision for the company moving forward.”

 

The investors nod in agreement, acknowledging Kyles energy.

 

He continued “Now…We have a good name…a great name but that’s because we are forward thinkers. The markets changing, companies are investing. We need to invest. Larry spoke to Jeffrey who signed off more money to buy more trucks, machinery and equipment which I strongly believe will put us ahead of the market that’s slowly getting crowded. We want to, we need to remain the best. So this is the time to keep pumping money into Ellis and Bruce, not hold back”

 

Larry nodded his approval at Kyle.

 

“I wonder what crap they are talking ‘bout up there” Elbe looked up towards the offices.

 

“They need somebody to speak the truth to those investors, what really goes on here. I can’t believe they buy the crap that gets said to them” Shona huffed, washing down one of the walls.

 

Cuban kept pretty quiet, he was still reliving the humiliation.

 

“Hey Cuban…What are you like at building benches. I want to build some benches and sell ‘em in town for extra cash, what do you say?”

 

Shona never failed to try to lighten the mood or to try to make somebody feel better.

 

Cuban just nodded, Shona felt bad for him. It was pretty brutal what he went through.

 

“Shona, you got wood for it, or do you do you need some? Sometimes, on weekends, I get cash for picking up all kinds of rubbish and off-cuts of wood from farms. I either use it or sell it cheap, depends what it is, you know? I’ve got some fine pieces of wood at home for your bench if you want?”

 

Elbe’s face temporarily glowed in hope at being important or useful for once.

 

“Elbe, that’d be great, thank you! I’ll cut you in on the money too. Then we can all get out of this hell hole”

 

The trio continued their cleaning, it would be another hour or two before they would finish. They had to get before lunch.

 

 

 

“Well done Kyle, great presentation, good energy. I’m excited about you”

 

“Well done son”

 

“Great job!”

 

The investors each shook Kyles hand as they left the meeting feeling hopeful of the future at Ellis and Bruce.

 

“Right, I better get back to work”

 

Deputy Paul leaving Larry and Kyle alone. Larry pouring a whisky, it never mattered what time of the day it was Kyle noticed. Larry gestured for Kyle to have one.

 

“Too early for me” He replied. Larry didn’t take no for an answer and poured Kyle one anyway.

“To us. I think you will do well here Kyle. Me and you, we think the same, that’s what I like about you”

 

They clinked their glasses and downed in one.

 

 

Chapter 32

 

An eerie silence fell on the town at nightfall. Hardly no sign of life, everywhere closed. A bird flapping frantically the only sound. Around 10.30pm, a black man came out of one of the small schools. He had finished his long cleaning shift there. A woman followed him, his wife. The man shut the thick wooden side door of the school behind them and fiddled with the key and the lock to secure it up for the night.

 

“You want me to help with that?” The wife smirked.

 

“No…I can do it, damn thing……. Alright, can you help? I can’t turn the key to lock it?” The man relented, stopped being proud and let his wife take over, smiling at her knowing he wouldn’t hear the last of it. He playfully rolled his eyes as he stepped aside.

 

“ Let me work my magic.” His wife had a beautiful smile, he fell in love with her over and over again.

 

“You done it?” He leaned over and saw the lock was secure.

 

“Of course. Now, let’s go home…I’m exhausted” The wife kissed her husband on the nose.

 

They both turned around and jolted to a stop.

 

 

They weren’t alone. They had been watched. Targeted. Headlights were blasted onto them just as they turned and they started to make their way down the three steps.

 

 

A dark coloured truck was parked in front of them just outside the exit of the school. Two men got out, one man still inside the truck revving the engine.

 

“Baby…what’s happening?” The wife, squinting, gripped her husband’s hand tight, he squeezed it back.

 

“Don’t worry honey”. He was worried. It didn’t take a genius to work out who these people were.

 

It was like a standoff. A game of chess, but with only one clear winner. The husband and wife were at the top of the steps, and the truck was around 10 feet away, no movement from the two men stationed either side of the truck with both doors open. It was as if they were savouring this feeling of inflicting fear. They got off on it. Their faces couldn’t be seen due to the night, and the headlights almost blinding the couple in front of them.

 

“Please…we don’t want any trouble. I can give you all that I have, which isn’t much, but you can have it.” The husband pleaded.

 

Nothing.

 

His wife stifling tears, she gripped her husband with both hands, frozen with fear.

 

A dog could be heard barking, coming from the truck.

 

“I beg you…Please don’t hurt us, please….don’t hurt us” The husband started to shake involuntarily.

 

Still nothing.

 

“Ok..baby, listen” The husband whispered to his wife, but still facing forward.

 

He continued “I want you to run. Run to Mr. Johnsons place, he always leaves his back door unlocked. Wait for me there. I’ll be right behind you. Ready..?”

 

His wife sobbing, not wanting to let go of his arm.

 

“Baby…you ready?”

 

“I don’t want to leave you baby..I can’t”

 

“You can, I’ll be right there. I’ll stall ‘em. Right, ready…one, two, three……..Go”

 

How his wife snatched herself away from her husband she didn’t know. But she sprinted down the steps. She was fast. But so were these men, one of them gave chase and caught her. The husband sprung down the steps, grabbed the man, unlocked his arms from around his wife, punched him full on in the head, and almost knocked him out. His wife got released in the commotion and sprinted into the night waling. Within two seconds, the man the other side of the truck came round and pummelled the husband still embroiled in a fight, and not a fair fight.

 

The dog got released to chase the wife who somehow made it to the meeting point pretty unscathed. She knew the veracious beast of a dog had given up, she couldn’t hear the panting anymore, but daren’t look back, frantically locking the door behind her. She was inconsolable waiting for her husband to knock.

 

 

 

His lifeless body was lifted onto the back of the truck, just as the panting dog jumped into the back also. They sped off, whooping with excitement like wild barbaric animals pleased with their kill.

 

 

 

Chapter 33

 

Life was pretty much the same over the next few days. Cuban working longer hours than usual. Elbe made a note of Cubans and Shona’s mistreatment in his secret diary hidden away in one of the floorboards in his little hideaway at Ellis and Bruce. Tom and Ruby Byrd worked hard on the farm with Tom and Shona trying their hardest to tame Storm. Kyle was already climbing up the management ladder. More and more secret meetings took place between him and Larry. The only one who seemed to be genuine was Chloe, not that Shona would believe that.

 

“Jeffrey! There you are” Kyle made his way over to Jeffrey Ellis’s VIP table at The Copperpot Inn that was notoriously busy on a Thursday night.

 

“Yes…here I am” Jeffrey said with an unusual hint of sarcasm. He was sitting with three others including two of the investors who were present in Kyle’s first presentation.

 

“Thank you for inviting me Jeffrey….Larry not here?” Kyle seemed almost desperate.

 

“I didn’t invite him tonight, I thought it would be good to meet you…properly”

 

“I see”

 

The waitress took Kyles order who seemed more nervous than his usual cocky self.

 

“I was just wondering young Kyle….when exactly did you tell me about this latest meeting? I was told that it was put across that I was in here drinking rather than being at a stakeholders meeting. Was that the case?”

 

Jeffrey’s usual kind eyes stared straight into Kyles who was searching for words-any words.

“You know something? I must have forgotten to tell you all about it. What with being new, my heads been full of so many damn things to remember, it must have slipped my mind to tell you. I’d assume Larry would anyway”

 

Kyle was fidgety.

 

“So it was Larry’s fault?”

 

Jeffrey was testing Kyle’s loyalty.

 

“I’d assume so…he is the boss… ermm as well as you of course”

 

He didn’t have any loyalty.

 

The waitress poured the drinks, she was the only person moving. The atmosphere could be cut with a knife.

 

One of the investors coughed nervously.

 

“You know, the next smart thing to do would be to apologise for embarrassing me in front of my investors. I’ve always attended every meeting unless otherwise stated.”

 

Jeffrey wasn’t happy, Kyle knew it and sipped his spirit drink nervously.

 

“Of course, Jeffrey, I’m sorry. It won’t happy again.”

 

That hurt Kyle. A lot.

 

Jeffrey smiled his reply and tried to lighten the mood.

 

“So..how is everything goin’, Kyle? Business runnin’ good?”

 

Kyle took another sip, hoping it would soak straight into his bloodstream to put him at ease.

 

“Yes…yes everything is fine. At the meeting I said-“

 

“- I know what was said Kyle. These good men told me” Jeffrey interrupted gesturing to his investors next to him. He continued.

 

“What about the staff,Kyle, they happy?”

 

“Of course Jeffrey…Of course they are happy.”

 

Kyle didn’t have a clue, he never lowered himself to speak to them.

 

“How are my new recruits…Cuban and Shaney….no…Shona, how are they getting’ on?”

 

Jeffrey was genuinely interested. He fought for them to get a job.

 

“They umm…they are getting’ along just fine. Busy.”

 

Kyle found it worryingly easy to lie.

 

“Shona workin’ on the trucks like we agreed?”

 

“I…believe so Jeffrey, yes.” Kyle was getting better at lying.

 

“Good” Jeffrey was pleased and nodded.

 

It seemed a natural time for people to sip their drinks. One of the investors, got up to use the bathroom and another went up to the bar as he recognised somebody. Kyle decided to instigate the next conversation.

 

“Jeffrey…do you think it wise, I mean, good for morale to have a…nigger and a broad workin’? Daynes is booming and those kind of people should give way to …more deserving people who want to work here, who have moved to get a job in this town. You know what I’m talking about?”

 

“No” Jeffrey was annoyed

 

“They make the guys crazy” Kyle tried desperately to get Jeffrey’s backing.

 

“Tell me Kyle…have they refused work?”

 

“No”

 

“Have they been late?”

 

“No”

 

“Have they stolen anything?”

 

“No”

 

“Then we are done talking about this and questioning my decisions. They deserve a chance like everybody until they mess it up for themselves”

 

“I understand” Kyle was defeated.

 

Kyle finished his drink. The atmosphere was too awkward to stay.

 

“Good evening Jeffrey”

 

“Kyle”

 

They shook hands and Kyle sloped out leaving Jeffrey with tarnished feelings about his business. He was all of a sudden a little worried. Did he have reason to be?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 34

 

 

Later that night, Shona joined Cuban sitting by a fire just outside their barn. Cuban seemed distant, playing Toms old guitar. He was pretty good at playing the blues.

 

“Hey…” Shona said gently, respecting Cuban looking a bit down. He immediately stopped playing.

 

“No…don’t stop playing on my count. That was beautiful.”

 

“Thanks”

 

“You ok…? Another tough day? I didn’t get chance to see you much today”

 

“They just playin’ their games again, tryin’ to get me to take the bait, but I aint. I need the money too much.”

 

Shona pulled a chair to sit next to Cuban taking a sip of her tea.

 

“There are some real jerks there, real jerks. But it won’t be long and we’ll be out of it, right?” Shona again trying her best to lighten the mood.

 

“Maybe…”

 

“What’s up?”

 

“Even I if do manage to set foot outside of this barn or Ellis and Bruce, they are waiting. God damn Klan. It comes to something when I say the safest place for me is getting treated like absolute shit at work”

 

Shona’s look saddened, she knew it was the truth.

 

“I’m sorry. I wish there was more I could do.”

 

“You have shown me more kindness and compassion than anybody. You’re a gift” Cuban smiled a genuine smile

 

“How are you two doin’?”

 

Tom came in after checking in on Storm who had again injured herself after getting a bit too flighty.

 

“Yeah we’re fine, Tom. You?” Shona took the lead with the reply, she knew Cuban was down.

 

“That damn filly will be the death of me. You try to patch her up after her last episode and she goes nuts and ends up injuring herself. Anyway, night you two.”

 

“Night”

 

“Night”

 

“They’re great aren’t they? Tom and Ruby?” Shona smiling in the direction of where Tom was going

 

“Yeah, they’re brave, for havin’ me stay I’ll say that”

 

Cuban looked disheartened.

 

“They’re good people. Not too many of those around”

 

Shona threw some more wood on the fire. Cuban stared into the flames as if transfixed.

 

“I heard that three people have gone missin’ from town….Negros of course. The guys were talking and laughing about it today, calling it ‘population control’…..one of the missing… is my friend”

 

Cuban struggled to hold back tears.

 

“Oh my god…Cuban, I’m sorry.”

 

“He is a good man, a real good man. He just gets on with his cleanin’ at a school in town. I did a few shifts for him when I first arrived. He had to take one of his kids to some hospital appointments. I used to feel watched when I left and locked up, and I told him, but he said nothin’ would happen because he worked in the town and people were around so he was safe. I think his wife took over my job when I came here.”

 

“Is his wife missin’ too?” Shona said concerned.

 

“No, the guys at work said three men, and they mentioned the guy who works at the school, so that’d be him- Donal. I don’t know much more than that. Somehow I don’t think the Sherriff will prioritise looking for three niggers on his watch, do you? I can promise ya, it won’t end with good news.”

 

“Jesus”

 

“Yep, I really need his help right now.

 

 

Chapter 35

 

“Morning young Shona”

 

Elbe always looked pleased to see her. She walked into his little workshop the back of the tool room, she was early for work as usual.

 

“Good Morning Elbe, what are we up to?”

 

Shona was eyeing Elbe on his hands and knees. It looked like he had dropped something.

 

“Sssshh…this is where I keep my secret stash” Elbe whispered

 

Shona smiled at the cloak and dagger of it all. But she got on her hands and knees aswell.

 

“Where you keep what?” Shona quizzed adjusting the weight on her knees, the floor was wooden and uneven in places, not the most comfortable.

 

“My stash..my liquor, some cash and my diary. Those up in the offices would turn this place upside down if they had any idea”

 

Elbe felt along one of the floorboards near the wall, and one was loose. He wiggled it until its ‘lip’ was enough to grab to lift up, and underneath, was a box and sure enough, there was his red diary, a hip flask and a few dollars in it.

 

“This is my Escape box, that’s what I call it in my head”

 

Elbe pulled out his diary and began flicking through it, Shona felt sad looking at Elbe. He was an outsider here too. That’s what they had in common. The workers here didn’t make his life to easy either, especially now he has sided with a black guy and a broad. The fact that the only place he felt he could keep his things private, were in a little box underneath some floorboards spoke volumes.

 

“How often do you write in it?”

 

Elbe replied “Every day, trust me there’s always something to write with what goes on here. The things that are in here will make your hair stand on end. By writing in the diary my wife gave me, I feel I am telling her at the end of my day as if she were still here. I feel she listens you know, and if I listen close enough, I can hear her talking back to me.”

 

“Yeah? What does she say?”

 

“To get the hell out of here as soon as I can!”

The both chuckled.

 

“I would say that’s great advice from your wife” Shona smiled

 

“Here, this is a picture of her” Elbe placed a small square photo in her hand.

 

“She’s beautiful Elbe, really pretty”

 

“She was a stunner, too good for me!”

 

“You better put this back in case they come in.”

 

“Shona, if you ever need a, you know, drink, you know where it is” Elbe winked

 

“Thanks, I think I may take you up on that!”

 

 

 

“Here you are” Cuban walked in.

 

“Hey” Shona replied

 

“The boss is givin’ out the wages, he wanted everybody there, we need to go” Cuban gestured to come out

 

“This is the only good part here- wages!” Elbe gave a thumbs up

 

 

All of the workers were gathered in the usual place, underneath the balcony to the management offices. Each workers name was called out and they went and collected their wages from Deputy Paul.

 

As with everything, the outcast three were last.

 

“Elbe!” Deputy Paul hollered after calling everybody else. Elbe sprung into life when he heard his name. He was saving every cent for his retirement. He took his envelope from Deputy Paul and immediately started counting his money, but looked disappointed. Deputy Paul smiled.

 

“Shona!” Deputy Paul yelled. Same again, collected envelope and opened it on the way back to where everybody was standing.

 

“Nigger!” Cuban, head-down made his way to the front and collected his envelope.

 

“Right now everybody get back to work!” Deputy Paul ordered. People dispersed.

 

“I haven’t been paid right, have you?” Shona counted and re-counted her money and looked at Cuban.

 

“No, I’ve come up short”

 

“Me too, those thievin’ sons of bitches!” Elbe was livid, he didn’t get paid much as it was.

 

“I’ll go see Deputy Paul, we can’t have this” and off Shona went to try to catch him before he went up the winding steps to the management offices.

 

“Errmmm excuse me, excuse me… Deputy Paul” Shona was understandably cautious.

 

“What!” Deputy Paul snapped back with one hand on the rail.

 

“We haven’t been paid right. We are all coming up short, by at least thirty to forty dollars each Sir” Shona pleaded.

 

“That’s what they are payin’ you.” There was no compassion in his eyes.

 

“But I have to pay rent and I won’t have enough”

“Not my problem” Deputy Paul had no time for this and took his first step up, turning his back on Shona.

 

“You know this isn’t fair! We have done nothin’ wrong, we work damn hard here, harder than some of the others, we deserve our money god damn it!”

 

Shona immediately regretted her aggressive response, but she had been storing it up for too long.

 

“Well I suggest you go and the see the boss, I’ll let Mr. Bruce know you want to complain or…..leave”

 

Deputy Paul almost whispered it which made it more intimidating.

 

Shona was breathing heavily and told herself to not talk anymore, in case she got into trouble. She stayed still until she saw Deputy Paul reach the top of the steps and heard his footprints above her, then she turned and made her way back to where she was working, punching one of the cleaning cupboard doors on her way back.

 

“You hear that Larry, from the broad?” Deputy Paul approached Larry Bruce leaning on the balcony outside of his office

 

“Yeah, I heard everything. I’ll deal with her”

 

Deputy Paul smiled his response.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 36

 

“You ok sweetheart?”

 

Tom asked Ruby as she came in with some shopping from in town. She didn’t look her usual cheery self. She put one of the grocery bags on the kitchen table, but it fell off, and food went everywhere.

 

“God damn it!” Ruby huffed

 

“Hey, its ok, I got it, honey” Tom put a hand on Ruby’s shoulder and knelt down to pick up the tins of food.

 

“Sorry, I’m not with it.”

 

“Something wrong?” Tom put the remaining loose pieces of fruit into the bag

 

“Well, news travels fast. I was walking through the store and thought I must have something on my face. People kept staring at me. I didn’t even buy everything we needed, I just wanted to get out of there…”

 

“Ok…” Tom encouraged Ruby to continue.

 

“And when I paid, Jill, she just came out with it, no usual softness on her voice”

 

“What did she say?”

 

Ruby looked visibly upset

 

“’So you’re a nigger lover now?’. She said she heard about us having one staying at the barn and how we should be ashamed of ourselves. Tom, I too upset to respond. I just wanted to run out of there”

 

Tom consoled his wife, they held each other for a while. His shoulder damp from Ruby’s tears. They knew what the easiest thing to do would be. Their lives would only get more difficult here on in the longer Cuban stayed.

They had a decision to make.

 

 

Chapter 37

 

Late afternoon after the wages saga, the outcast three were all hard at work in silence. Cuban was sweeping outside, Elbe was fixing and repairing in his little workshop and Shona was cleaning up the kitchen until she saw her reflection in every pot and pan.

 

“Shona! Get your ass over here!”

 

Deputy Paul hollered, everybody heard. People poked their heads round doors to see what was up. It definitely wouldn’t be good news judging by the tone.

 

Shona folded her cleaning cloth and put on the side and made her way towards the voice. She coughed a nervous cough to herself. She emerged from the kitchen to find Deputy Paul at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the management offices. His cold steely eyes fixed on her.

 

“I don’t envy her” one colleague quietly said to another as they were peeking round a door

 

Deputy Paul turned and walked up the stairs in front of her not saying a word which added to the Shona’s anxiety about what was waiting. He stopped. Right outside Larry Bruce’s office and faced Shona as if relishing the experience. He knocked on the thick expensive door still eyeballing Shona who swallowed hard and tried to remain calm.

 

“Yeah” a voice bellowed from the other side of the door.

 

Deputy Paul opened the door, went in, shut it and was gone for about twenty to thirty seconds then reappeared with a smirk.

 

“Go in” was the last thing he said before he was asked to leave by Larry.

 

“Sir?” Shona asked nervously

 

“Get in here” Larry was sat back behind his luxury desk, fingers interlocked. Shona made a mental note of the vast drinks cabinet, photographs taken with the most influential people of Daynes and the state of Alabama. Shona had seen some faces she’d only seen in the newspaper. Larry Bruce really did know everybody who was rich and powerful.

 

He eyeballed Shona with disgust.

 

“You want to work here? Do you” Larry raised an eyebrow as he spoke.

 

“Yes Sir”

 

“Then why the fuck you talkin’ back to your superior! Who the hell do you think you are!?”

 

“I’m sorry sir. I just questioned our wages, they weren’t the same as what we were told” Shona’s head was level with Larry, but she found it difficult to make eye contact. She had seen that look of disappointment and disgust before, in her father’s eyes.

 

“That’s because you’re not the same. Do you hear me? All three of you rejects. The Jeffrey Ellis fan club. You’re lucky you still have a job.”

 

Shona nodded reluctantly. A mixture of fear and an anger at the injustice built up, she dug deep inside herself for some grit to withstand the intimidating Larry Bruce. She grinded her teeth. He slowly got up out of his comfy leather seat and made his way to Shona who stood motionless. He was directly in front of her. She could smell his liquor breath, something else she was used to. His moustached mouth curled in disgust. He creeped to where he was directly behind Shona. She could feel his stagnant breath on her neck. She tried to stifle her fast breathing. She had no idea what Larry Bruce was going to do or say. He lingered behind her.

 

“The thing that’s been playin’ on my mind since you had the audacity to think you could walk into my company and contribute anything, was why?…..Why would a broad choose to work here? Now….I got my own suspicions. She either wants to drive the men crazy for her own gain and get some business for her own time in the evening, or….something, something aint right with her. Why would she want to work with these men, be like these men? She aint wired properly.”

 

The malice in his voice poisoned the air around Shona.

 

“So tell me….Shona. Why did you choose here?”

 

Shona closed her eyes wishing she was anywhere but here.

 

“Because….because I needed a job, and I know I can work just as hard as the guys, Sir”

 

Shona looked dead ahead. Determined, she regained some grit in her voice.

 

“Hmmmm….I strongly disagree with that.” Larry whispered in her ear. Shona flinched slightly. Larry continued.

 

“The guys tell me they think you’re pretty, but can’t work you out. You’re driving ‘em wild down there. Hell…I may ask if you could be of some use here after all, be of service to us, work that tension out of ‘em”

 

Larry ran his pointed forefinger gently down Shona’s back. She froze and didn’t respond. This was a new level of low.

 

Larry was surprised at a lack of response. He was the powerful boss after all. She should have felt grateful of his attention. The women at the high-end bars he frequented were.

 

“Get the fuck out of my office!” Larry was livid. Shona quickly left. Larry couldn’t read Shona, and he hated what he didn’t understand.

 

 

“You’re too slow old man, quicker!” Kyle hollers at Elbe as he was stacking some tire rims that were blocking the way for a tractor to reverse to get out on the fields.

 

Cuban walks out and immediately goes over to help Elbe with the remaining three, he does two quite easily and looks behind to see Elbe struggling with his remaining one so goes back to help.

 

“Why don’t you just fucking quit!? You’re past it!”

 

Kyle shoves an exhausted Elbe who falls and the heavy rims catches on his knee. Kyle somehow resists the urge to publicly kick him. He needs these tractors to go out now. Cuban springs to help Elbe up and put the remaining tire rim on its pile and goes back to check Elbe’s knee which is bleeding and a bruise emerged immediately. He was an old broken man, his bright light of a spirit had diminished.

 

“You ok Elbe?” Cuban had his arm round Elbe’s shoulder to help him inside to put something cold on his knee.

 

“Yeah…listen, thanks for helping me, Cuban. The others just watched”

 

Elbe briefly glanced at the half a dozen strong men who could have stepped in to help him carry those damn tire rims.

 

“Come on, let’s get you patched up” Cuban smiled.

 

 

Chapter 38

 

The next day. At the usual ten AM buzzer, Cuban made his way to the canteen on the off chance he actually got a full plate of food that hadn’t been spat in, dropped or slopped. He made his way to his usual place, the back of the queue, but was stopped just before he joined it.

 

“Nigger” Deputy Paul had appeared to his right.

 

Cuban was nervous, he never knew what was coming next. It was never in his favour, or something pleasant.

 

Deputy Paul continued.

 

“The new boss, Kyle up there, he wants you to work longer hours, maybe weekends. Now…I’m sure you’re not gone turn the work down are you? We got a backlog we need to clear”

 

Deputy Paul looked up to his left, which made Cuban do the same. They saw Kyle leaning on the balcony outside the management offices looking directly at them, without emotion, as if mind reading.

 

Cuban looked back at Deputy Paul, knowing they were trying to get rid of him any way they could and if he protested against it, he would be out, with Jeffrey Ellis’ blessing for refusing work and then definitely released to the ‘wolves’ out there who were stalking black people of Daynes.

 

“Ok, Sir” Cuban said reluctantly, jaw clenched.

 

“I wasn’t fucking asking, I was telling.”

 

Deputy Paul spat at Cubans feet and disappeared as if he had successfully carried out Kyles order.

 

Cuban went on to see Shona was eating alone at her table. Elbe had just joined her as Cuban approached.

 

“Hey…how you doin’?” A concerned Shona asked Cuban. Elbe tucked into his soup.

 

“Yeah, I’m fine. You?”

 

“I’m certainly finding out about the new kid on the block, Kyle. He was telling me how I belonged in the kitchen, should make my living as a scrubber, and NOT thinking I could match the guys by working on the trucks or on the machinery in the fields. Yeah, me and him, we don’t see eye to eye already”

 

Shona sipped the soup off her spoon. Cuban knew all about Kyle and his intentions already.

 

“He seems like another damn idiot if you ask me. Corrupt as the rest of ‘em. Although, Miss Chloe doesn’t seem that way. I saw her talking to some of the guys earlier. She seems real nice.” Elbe added

 

“Hmmmm…..keep your guard up still, she still sits in the management offices remember”

 

Shona snapped back.

 

“What’s going on over there?” Cuban’s attention was diverted to a couple of tables away, Shona and Elbe looked up too.

 

They witnessed Randy, one of the mechanics being surrounded by three to four of the‘wolves’ of Ellis and Bruce- the men who knew how to make life even more difficult than it already was. They were throwing Randy’s hat around. Very quickly, it became a circus with Randy being the main attraction. He was normally one of the softer characters who kept himself to himself, which meant he was vulnerable which then meant he was targeted.

 

“Come on big boy, come and get it!” Greg tempted Randy

 

Randy was made fun of because of being overweight, so he often ate quickly, sometimes not at all at work. He was an easy target for the wolves.

 

The rest of the pack sniggered.

 

“Greg, it’s aint funny anymore, just give it back” Randy felt humiliated as heads were popping up all over the place to what this playground behaviour.

 

“I got his keys!” Another member of the pack launched forward to grab Randys keys from his huge pocket of his overalls.

 

“They are unbelievable” Shona was fixated, livid inside watching from afar.

 

“Even the damn bosses are watching, look”

 

Elbe faced the balcony to where Kyle and Deputy Paul were watching the event, not remotely looking like they were going to help Randy. Why?

 

“So…do you want your hat that Mrs Randy got you, or your keys that are kinda important, come on Randy…choose!”

 

Greg’s evil weathered looking face clearly enjoying the power as he tossed the hat and keys between the wolves.

 

“Randy, just see it as I’m helping you lose a few pounds, come on boy, move, move!”

 

By now, a circle a form around him, so he couldn’t leave. They all supported Greg, who was a force. They didn’t dare go against him.

 

“Right, I’ve had enough of this”

 

Shona go up out of her seat, and stormed over.

 

“What she doin’?” Cuban was concerned and got up too

 

Shona barged her way into the centre, grabbed the hat out of one guys hand who was in front of her due to the element of surprise. The crowd made ‘Whhhoaaa!’ sound simultaneously.

 

“Give him the keys Greg, or are you gone hit a woman in front of your friends and the bosses?”

 

The place hushed in an instant.

 

“I’m gone hold my hand out, and you’re gone place the keys in my hand, you’ve had your fun.” Shona continued.

 

“Who are you, his mother?” Greg snarled, but aware he needed to be cautious about his next move.

 

“No, give me the keys….please” Shona held out her palm.

 

All eyes were on Greg.

 

Chloe came out of one of the management offices wondering where people were, to find them on the balcony looking down at a crowd circling Shona, Greg and Randy.

 

“Whats goin’ on?” She asked Kyle.

 

“Nothing, just some high jinks that’s all, all good fun” Kyle lied.

 

“You need to be careful at who you make a friend in here….and who you choose to make an enemy darlin’”

 

Greg sneered sarcastically.

 

“Keys” Shona looked dead in his eyes.

 

Greg looked up as if to ask for guidance from ‘up top’.

 

Deputy Paul nodded. Things may have been different if Chloe hadn’t have showed up.

 

“Well, alright. But you may have made his life worse….and yours” with that, he reluctantly slapped the keys in Shona’s hand.

 

“Come on everybody, show’s over!” Deputy Paul barked to get everybody back to work.

 

Chloe wasn’t convinced it was high jinks, it didn’t look like it. She returned to her office leaving Deputy Paul and Kyle.

 

“That broad…Shona, just made a very big mistake” Deputy Paul said quietly in earshot to Kyle

 

“She certainly did”

 

 

 

Chapter 39

 

The following morning, at the local newspaper office in town, Joe the large ever-mean editor wasn’t happy as usual. He was smoking even more cigars which ensured the stench travelled to everybody’s office. When you smelt the cigars, Editor Joe was back and you’d better have a story for him. The atmosphere was thick, not just with smoke, but with trepidation.

 

“Tim!…..Get your back side in here, boy!” barked Joe, exhaling a plume of smoke at the same time

 

“Yes Sir”

 

A scrawny, but smart Tim, not twenty years old, quickly emerged at Editor Joe’s office, heart racing, awaiting his fate, dropping his note pad, then dropping his pen when he was picking up his notepad, editor Joe sighing.

“You know what I see when I look at my in-tray this morning?”

 

“No Sir”

 

“I see Clarkes story, I see Johns coverage of the opening of Reds which has been refurbished, I see Tony’s story on a local school. You know what I don’t see Tim?”

 

Tim knew there wasn’t a right or wrong answer with this, he just had to go with it.

 

“No Sir”

 

“I don’t see a good damn story waiting for me from Tim…AGAIN! What the hell am I payin’ you for!?”

 

Editor Joe got up out of his seat, walked round his plush desk and got in Tim’s face who got the full brunt of his smelly, smoky stale liquored breath.

 

“Umm…I’m sorry Sir, I’ve been looking round for stories, I really have, but -“

 

“- There are stories everywhere in this town you fool!”

 

Editor Joe interrupted

 

Tim nodded reluctantly, he felt defeated no matter what he said

 

“- Niggers been goin’ missing, like the three that are in today’s paper, why didn’t you cover that?”

 

Tim swallowed hard “I didn’t know about it. Sir.”

 

“That’s your fucking job to know about it! Clive got that story, front page, in your face. Hopefully scaring the black sons of bitches to get out of this town and back to where they belong!”

 

Editor Joe kicked his filing cabinet in a rage. Tim was grateful he didn’t feel the pointy end of Editor Joe’s boot.

 

“All I can say is that I’m sorry Sir, I promise….I’ll get a real big story soon”

 

“You better, for your sake!…Now get out of my office!”

 

Tim left without hesitation, searching for that big story.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 40

 

“You see this Larry?”

 

Kyle picking up the newspaper on Larrys desk and being drawn to the bottom right of the front page. Larry pouring them both a spirit from the drinks cabinet.

 

“What’s that?”

 

“This nigger…King, Dr.King. He’s causing a lot of trouble, stirring up shit. He is getting too big for himself, he needs to be stopped and put in his place”

 

Larry took a large swig, never minding that is it mid-morning, then pours himself another and then passing Kyle a glass.

 

“He won’t amount to anything. Who in their right mind would back the fool? Its suicide” Larry sneered

 

“We got our own nigger to deal with” Kyle looks Larry dead in the eye, then returns to the front page and continues.

 

“Look…what a shame, 3 niggers have gone missing” Kyle read sarcastically.

 

“Its population control” Larry replied confidently

 

“Others need to….go missing” Kyle aims at Larry suggestively whilst sipping his drink.

 

 

Chapter 41

 

Circling the house like predators stalking their prey, faceless men at home in the night, play games with their victims; a helpless family locked inside in fear of their lives.

 

“What are we gone do!?” A wife hugs her children tight, who are frozen with fear, too scared to scream looking to her husband. They have tried to hide in the middle of the house away from the windows, out of sight, given themselves a few minutes of thinking space.

 

“I don’t know, they’re everywhere, baby!”

 

“I’m gone go out, and distract ‘em, then you and the children go out back and run, you hear, you run!”

 

The husband cupping his wife’s face, drenched from tears, in his strong dependable hands.

 

“I can’t leave you, we can’t leave you, who knows what they will do”

 

She was desperate to save her children and her husband, but it seems they had been dealt a cruel fate.

 

“Baby, everything will be ok, just go out the back-“

 

“Sssshhh…whats that? It sounds like they have tried to get in round back?”

 

The wife put her finger on her husband’s lips, she was sure she heard noises.

 

“Then all the more reason to run fast straight out of here. I love you baby, just keep running, I’ll find you” With that he kissed his wife hard on the lips and the forehead, held his children tight, tried desperately to put their images of being horrified out of his mind, he headed to the front door where through the window, he could see a burning cross in the front lawn.

 

“Ready baby!” He shouted back “Go!”

 

The husband made his way out the front door. He was confronted by half a dozen men in the familiar horrific masks. They were motionless as he was making his way down the front steps, anything to distract them from the back door.

 

“They’re tryin’ to get out back!” came a voice from the side of the house.

 

“Do it!” came a very calm, cold voice from under a mask looking like the leader.

 

What did ‘do it’ mean thought the husband panicking, searching faceless monsters for some kind of answer. He got it.

 

Thick smoke made its way round to the side then the front of the house, the husband looked to his left. The soft breeze carried it round. He immediately went to run back in but was stopped by two large men who grabbed him just as he clutched the door handle. A fight ensued and there was one loser and wouldn’t be the men wearing masks.

 

“My wife and babies are in there!” He screamed unlike anytime he has screamed in his life- pure terror in his voice and eyes as he was being beat. He didn’t put up much fight against them, he was just scrapping for any distance he could make up to get to that front door to get them out.

 

Another of the group joined in to restrain him as one of the guys from around the side of the house coolly, on order, came to set fire to the front of the house. Their only exit. It was all wooden. It wouldn’t take long before the house would be engulfed. The final blow came when the husband heard the horrified screams from inside, he replied with his own scream, he was completely powerless, so he thought. He gathered some almighty strength and got loose somehow. However, he was quickly followed as he ran through some stray flames that were quickly eating up the front lawn due to the dryness of the grass. He was caught just as he managed to leap on the first step of the porch. He was taken down and felt his knee crack as he landed on it the wrong way. This time, he wouldn’t be getting back up. His last vision was looking sideways, his face in the dirt watching his beloved home with his world inside get completely engulfed in flames. That’s all he remembered before they beat him unconscious.

 

 

“Hey! Cuban!….Wake up! Cuban!”

 

Shona had to shake Cuban hard, harder than normal when he had these nightmares.

 

“What!?” Cuban completely out of it, looked around to desperately try to recognise his surroundings to see if he was in danger.

 

“Its ok…Its ok…what in the hell did you dream about?”

 

Shona comforting him

 

“My babies, my whole world….I never told you ‘bout what happened. What they did to ‘em. I couldn’t, it was too painful”

 

Cuban rubbing his wet eyes, he couldn’t stop the tears.

 

“My god…what happened?” Shona’s face told it all, she felt devastated for Cuban. He was normally so guarded about his past, but this particular nightmare had unlocked him somehow.

 

“They killed my family, my whole family. I don’t think they bet on me waking up. That’s why I can’t go back.”

 

He retched with pain and the recalling. It was easier to understand now. Cuban was on the run.

 

 

 

Chapter 42

 

The following morning, a weary Shona was out in the field, not on the machinery of course, but gathering up the leftovers from the tractor and any other menial job that was left to do.

 

“Hey….Shona?”

 

“Yeah?” Shona stood up straight, looked over to see Randy making his way over to her.

 

They hadn’t really spoken much, he tried to keep himself to himself which didn’t work here.

 

“I just wanted to say thanks for standing up to those guys in the canteen, you didn’t have to”

 

Truth was, Shona felt a bit sorry for him. He was short and round with thinning messy hair from constantly wearing a tatty cap. He always seemed to be wearing the same dirty tight dungarees that struggled to keep in his expanding belly.

“No problem……that happen a lot?” Shona squinted in the sunlight.

 

“Yeah…I mean, who do you complain to, right?” Randy replied with hopelessness in his voice. Shona realised that Randy was a bit slow and this was probably another reason why he was targeted.

 

“How long’s it been going on for?”

 

“Since Mr Bruce took over, but he told me that nobody else in Daynes would ever give me a job and that….and that I was lucky that Mr Ellis did, so I should be grateful”

 

Randy looked visibly uncomfortable. Shona started to build up more of a picture of life prior to Larry Bruce, and life since, and there didn’t seem to be any happy stories since Mr.Bruce was more at the helm.

 

Buzzer

 

“There it is….10 o’clock, breaktime. You coming in for something to eat?”

 

Shona tried to lift the mood

 

“Errmm no….no its ok. I made sandwiches. I’m gone eat them out here. I like the quiet”

 

Randy looked around fully appreciating the fifteen to twenty minutes where it was just him out in the fields, where he didn’t have to converse with the other guys.

 

“Ok, well I’ll see you in while. God knows where they will have me cleaning next”

 

Shona made her way to the canteen.

 

Cuban was next up to collect his food, he had waited until everybody else had gone. He grabbed a plate and gave it to the head chef who still hadn’t ‘forgiven’ Cuban over the mess he made of his kitchen and nobody ever realising that Cuban was set up. Cuban made even more of an effort to not cause any drama. He held out his plate and the head chef took it and slopped food but purposely missing the plate and it spilling on the floor.

 

“That’s your quota, move along nigger” he said

 

“Could I just have some bread…please?” Cuban pleaded

 

“When you gone realise you aint welcome round here!?”

 

“Can I just have some bread…..please” Cuban said calmly

 

“When you have cleared up that mess”

 

Heads turned around to see what was going on. Cuban again found himself the centre of attention, where he didn’t want to be. There was no point in arguining. He grabbed some paper towels, got on his hands and knees and wiped up the gravy and slop on the floor whilst the Head chef smirked.

 

“On his knees, where he belongs!”

 

“Go on nigger! Scrub! Scrub!”

 

Cries of laughter and the odd bits of bread came flying over and hit Cuban as he cleaned.

 

“Can I have my bread now please Chef” Cuban asked politely

 

“Of course, nigger…of course”

 

With that he went and got a small bread roll and took a big bite out of it leaving remnants of his saliva on it then gave it to Cuban whose stomach was rumbling so loud, he felt that everybody could hear it. He took the bread stifling his anger.

 

“Now….what do you say?” Chef said sarcastically

 

“…….Thank you” Cuban replied reluctantly

 

“Good boy”

 

Cuban joined Elbe and Shona at the far table. Elbe asked what had happened when he saw Cuban only had some bread.

 

“I’m gone put all this in my diary, hear have some of my food”

 

Elbe didn’t take no for an answer and scraped some food onto a plate for Cuban

 

This was being watched.

 

“Diary? With all due respect, what is that gone do? How is that gone help me now?”

 

Cuban didn’t mean to snap, he was just embarrassed and ashamed at having to accept food from an old man. A couple of guys from another table turned round because of his raised voice.

 

“When I retire, I’m gone give it to somebody and maybe they can help when they see what’s really going on here. I won’t have anything to lose then. They won’t be able to do anything to me.”

 

Cuban didn’t reply, he just ate the half dozen or so spoonful’s of food that Elbe was kind enough to give him. They sat there in silence for the remaining five minutes of break.

 

An hour or so later, Shona approached Elbe who was sweeping up. She picked up a broom to help him.

 

“Elbe I got a question..”

“What’s that?”

 

“Why is Jeffrey Ellis so……so….Ok with black people?”

 

“Because he owes them.”

 

“What?…Owes them what? Why?”

 

“You see….Jeffrey Ellis’ father ran a big successful transport company about an hour from here. It was in the middle of nowhere as he built it up slowly from what his father had built up, Jeffrey’s grandfather. It was too expensive to set up in town. So….little Jeffrey Ellis used to play around at his father’s yard most days after school getting into mischief as you do. Jeffrey’s father used to employ blacks and pay ‘em next to nothing to do all the scrubbing, cleaning….jobs you wouldn’t wanna do. But his father couldn’t stand ‘em, despised ‘em and often beat ‘em.”

 

“Ok…..” Shona was gripped

 

“So….on one day, Little Jeffrey was about 9 or 10 years old goes off into the country nearby his father’s work and slips down a damn twenty foot hole after peering over the edge. It was the height of the summer, blazing hot and he twisted his ankle on the way down and couldn’t climb out. He would have been cooked alive right there if he had have stayed out for much longer”

 

“Then what happened?” Shona’s sweeping slowing to take in the story

 

“He called for help, his father didn’t hear him, didn’t come for him”

 

“Right….?”

 

“A little while later, two heads appeared looking down at him. It was the black fellas who worked for Jeffrey’s father. They were on their way home and heard the cries for help. Now…These men were being underpaid, beat, starved and humiliated by Jeffrey’s’ father who had told Jeffrey never to speak to them because all of them were evil bad men who deserved to be punished.”

 

“So…what did they do?”

 

“They could have got the ultimate revenge on Mr Ellis senior. Jeffrey was his only son, his heir, his world. They could have left him in that hole, walked away and nobody would know and Ellis senior would experience a world of pain”

 

“And?…..Come on, Elbe what happened?”

 

“They walked away”

 

“Wait what?…they walked away?”

 

“They walked away…….and came back with two of their friends. And they brought back a rope from the yard and hollered to Ellis Senior to follow them, when he arrived, he saw these supposed evil, bad, black men pull his scared, dehydrated son to safety.”

 

“My god”

 

“Yep….from that day on, Ellis Senior never treated them bad again, gave ‘em more money. Jeffrey made friends with their children and played out with ‘em. He owes his life to those black fellas”

 

“So that’s why he gives people a chance”

 

“Yup”

 

“And how come you know all this, Elbe?”

 

“Because I worked for his father and I never forget seeing the sight of him being brought back in that day, cuts down his legs from the fall. When Ellis senior passed on, Jeffrey always promised me a job no matter what. I’ve seen him grow from boy to man, and I’m proud of him”

 

“You never fail to amaze me Elbe, you got a lot of stories goin’ on in there”

 

Shona pointed at Elbe affectionately.

 

“Come on, I’ll quickly show you a photo of Ellis senior and all of us at the business, the black fella’s who saved Jeffrey are in it too”

 

They both made their way over to and quickly put their brooms up against the wall outside to Elbe’s workshop and went inside.

 

“What the?” Shona was confused

 

Elbe’s tool room had been completely trashed.

 

“Who would do such a cruel thing?….Why” Elbe asked, heartbroken.

 

“I’ll help you” Shona immediately began to pick up tools, papers etc off the floor.

 

Nuts and bolts were strewn all over the place. Elbe went straight over to make sure his ‘escape box’ was still undiscovered. It was. That was a relief. If ‘they’ had found that, who knows what the consequences would be. Shona shut the door behind them so that she could start sweeping up the glass, bolts, screws etc. inside and saw writing scraped in the wooden door.

 

“Elbe…..look”

 

“Oh no”

 

Written clearly was ‘NIGGER LOVER’

 

 

Chapter 43

 

Down the stairs they came again.

 

The creek of the door a sound that had imprinted in Shona’s mind to mean impending doom….and pain.

 

She was exhausted after trying to constantly stay awake and starving. This made her weaker, and easier to deal with.

 

Shona squinted and saw double vision through tiredness and fatigue.

 

They grabbed her and the man dragged her up the stairs where the lighting burnt her eyes. She passed out until she felt that pain again, he screams muffled by a pillow.

 

Chapter 44

 

Reporter Tim was lingering over his cold coffee at Ed’s Diner one evening. He was praying as if by magic that the news story of the year would present itself to him, but no luck. He dreaded going back to the office empty handed after a fruitless day, and even considered not going back at all.

 

‘Hey Tim….I’ve got a story for ya!”

 

“Yeah!? What’s that!?” Tim looked up at Jimmy who was behind the counter, Tim’s eyes widened at the thought.

 

“I can juggle three eggs without droppin’ ‘em, what do you say!?” Jimmy set about laughing at Tim’s expense.

 

“Yeah, yeah that’s real funny”

 

Tim stirred the remnants of his coffee, hoping…Just hoping.

 

Meanwhile, later that evening at Kyles house, he was pacing around the room on the phone to his mother in Florida.

 

“What are you talkin’ ‘bout?” Kyle stopped in his tracks

 

“They came back, this time demanding money. What in the hell you got yourself into down here, Kyle!?”

 

“Its nothin’…leave to me, I’ll deal with”

 

“Nothing?….Your father paid them off…this time. They said they will come back for you if you return. Said you owe money to other people too, that right?”

 

“Of course not! They just kiddin’ round trying to frighten you-“

 

“-it worked Kyle, we don’t need this anymore. Time and time again we bail you out when you owe no good thugs money for god knows what, your father is livid”

 

“Yeah?……Its not like you can’t afford it mother”

 

“Son…..I have always, always defended you, even though it’s caused upset between me and your father. You have had the best upbringing, the nicest house, you went to the best school… but this has gone one step too far.”

 

“Uh huh….You happy to let your son get beat up by people, what kinda mother is that?”

 

“The kind of mother of paid those thugs off in secret so your father wouldn’t find out.”

 

“Yeah….I bet you have a lot of secrets from each other huh?”

 

“Why are you saying this!?”

 

“You should be helping your son, whys that a secret?”

 

“Because you got messed up with the wrong people Kyle. Drugs, gambling….You’re forty three years old, you’ve had more than enough money to support yourself”

 

Kyle sat down, took a swig of whisky straight from the near empty bottle.

 

“Didn’t realise there was a limit of my mother’s affections.”

 

“That’s not fair Kyle, that’s not fair!”

 

“Truth aint…is it mother?”

 

“Is that him?!” Kyle heard his father’s voice on the line.

 

“Kyle?”

 

“Father”

 

“I’m gone give it to you straight now, I’ve paid them thugs off, but they said you owe more. You’re on your own. You don’t dare speak to your mother like that…and if you you’re wondering…You aint getting a penny of inheritance after the money you have blown. You’re a disgrace after the dirty deals you’ve done to some good folk back here. You’re no son of mine.”

 

Click

 

The receiver went down. The line was dead.

 

Kyle had a problem, he had a big problem. He needed cash. Fast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 45

 

 

Buzzer

 

“Oh what is it this time?” Elbe scoffed.

 

Everybody made their way to the usual meeting place underneath the management balcony. They were pleasantly surprised to see Jeffrey Ellis emerge up top looking over, giving everybody a warm smile.

 

“Wish he was around here more, he wouldn’t like what he’d see”

 

Shona leaning in towards Cuban and Elbe standing and waiting for whatever the announcement was.

 

Following Jeffrey Ellis, was Ron Black with a beaming smile. He was the safe pair of hands of Ellis and Bruce, an ‘island’ who never caused a fuss, never joined in with the harsh treatment, just got on with things. Here he was joining Jeffrey Ellis on the balcony.

 

“Good morning everybody, I know you’re all busy, so I don’t want to take up too much of you time” Jeffrey said leaning over the balcony.

 

“Take as much time as you want” Elbe whispered. Cuban and Shona smiled

 

“But I want to introduce to you one of the new managers here at Ellis and Bruce.”

 

Shona purposely looked at Larry Bruce and Kyle who walked out and stood together straight after, not looking happy.

 

“I have been impressed with his professionalism, integrity and hard work. Please join me in congratulating Ron Black”

 

Jeffrey Ellis started off the applause and everybody else quickly followed. The applause was more reluctant from Larry and Kyle which Shona spotted.

 

Amongst the noise of the applause, Jeffrey Ellis leaned in towards Ron, knowing his voice would be drowned out.

 

“Ron, I want you to be my eyes and ears here, tell me everything that goes on”

 

Ron Black nodded with a smile. They knew something sinister was going on at the heart of Ellis and Bruce, they had to find out what and who was at the centre of it.

 

 

Chapter 46

 

The workers were all mingling below the balcony, taking their time to get back to work, after all, all the managers were up top probably discussing who has the biggest desk. Apart from Jeffrey and Ron, they were alright, everybody liked them…and Chloe, she hadn’t made too much noise as she was quietly learning the business in the background. Speaking of whom.

 

“There she is….she’s a sweet little thing, she spoke to me earlier, she seems real nice”

 

Elbe looked over at Chloe who had made her way down to mingle amongst the workers who enjoyed her company, something the other managers wouldn’t do. Cuban and Shona both glanced over.

 

“She spoke to me when I was out in the field, seemed to really listen too” Cuban added.

 

Shona stayed quiet.

 

Chloe was slowly making her way over to Elbe, Cuban and Shona.

 

“I’m goin’ back to work” Shona walked towards the door leading out of the open space.

 

“Wait, Shona…What you doin’?” Cuban followed Shona just as Chloe caught up with Elbe. Chloe looked over to Shona and Cuban, then Elbe started talking to her.

 

“Like I said, I gotta get back to work”

 

Cuban walked with Shona who moved at pace as if to get away from something.

 

They were just about to pass Cubans changing space.

 

“Wait…you ok? You wanna talk about something?”

 

Cuban asked concerned. Shona did think about talking, but now wasn’t the time.

 

“No..I’m good. I’ll see you later”

 

Shona left Cuban who heard a noise coming from inside his cramped changing space.

 

It was Kyle.

 

“What…Wait…What you doin’!?” Cuban was shocked to see Kyle had completely turned everything upside down.

 

With a smirk, Kyle came right up to Cuban.

 

“Just checking…….nigger. Guys like you tend to…..steal….Locker check.”

 

“Has anybody else been checked?” Cuban knew he shouldn’t have spoken back. It stopped Kyle in his tracks. Cuban already knew the answer anyway.

 

Kyle whistled to Deputy Paul who came over.

 

“Oh….Oh you don’t like that huh?”

 

Cuban swallowed, he regretted speaking back. Deputy Pauls intimidating stature surrounded Cuban.

 

Kyle continued.

 

“You know what you can do….fucking leave. Do us all a favour nigger, leave, then let the wolves get you out there.”

 

Cuban was livid and scared all at the same time.

 

“I suggest, he comes with me, what do you say Kyle?”

 

Deputy Pauls face emotionless staring straight at Cuban. This wasn’t good, especially as two of Deputy Pauls close associates came over as if telepathically knowing they were needed. Kyle smirked his reply.

 

“We’ll go and have a…..little talk”

 

Cuban was led away to an empty office out of the way by Deputy Paul and his ‘associates’. Cuban tried to prepare himself.

 

Later that evening, Chloe comes in from horse riding round the paddock of the family estate to find her father Larry, slugging whiskey watching a game show that he gets frustrated with as he keeps getting the answers wrong.

 

“Damn it! I knew it was that!” Larry pours himself another shot.

 

“I’m going to my room, I’m gone do some painting”

 

Chloe went over to kiss her father on the forehead, slightly concerned at the near empty bottle by him.

 

“Ok Princess….But I do wish you wouldn’t waste your time doing that stuff, there’s no money to be had. The Business…..the business is where you will make your money sweetheart”

 

Larry didn’t even look at his daughter as he said it.

 

“But I enjoy it…and I think I’m pretty good at it”

 

She didn’t get an answer. He seemed transfixed by the TV.

 

“Yessss! I knew that one! I knew that one!” Larry screeched at the TV.

 

Phone rings

 

“Yeah?”

 

Larry puts the talking piece to his chest and looks at Chloe.

 

“Chloe honey, it’s a private call, can you go up to your room?”

 

Her father seemed to forget all too frequent, that she wasn’t 12 anymore, she was in her twenties and had lived away from home.

 

“Sure”

 

Larry waited until he was certain Chloe was out of earshot.

 

“Yeah, go ahead…Right……Ok…………………I’ll just tell old Jeffery that one of the machines packed up. Old fool too busy playin’ golf and drinkin’ in the Copperpot to check!………You leave it with me, count me in, I’m on my way. Get the cards ready!”

 

“I’m headin’ out” Larry rushed past his wife Eleanor who opening the mail in the other room, she didn’t have time to reply.

 

Larry didn’t count on Chloe hearing every word. Her mouth was open.

 

 

Chapter 47

 

The next day, early afternoon, Eleanor Bruce made her way into the up market part of Daynes. She headed for ‘Stella’s’ an exclusive shop for womens clothing. Eleanor naturally always insisted on only dealing with Stella herself who was always pleased to see Eleanor and her money.

 

“Hi Darlin’”

 

“Hi sweetie!”

 

The usual fake affectionate greeting.

 

“Now…what can I do for you Mrs. Bruce, what fancy dinner you going to this time?”

 

“Well…it’s not for me actually…it’s for my daughter, Chloe”

 

“Ooooo… what’s the occasion?” Stella faked her excitement

 

“She has a date….with the dashing Kyle Chambers”

 

Eleanor pursed her lips, made a snooty face waiting for the jealous looks. Kyle had made quite an impression with the ladies already. They all wanted to be on his arm.

 

“Kyle Chambers!….Now, she is a lucky, lucky woman! But hey now, so is he….Your beautiful daughter is the catch of Daynes…hell Alabama! They are a match made in heaven!”

 

Stella was genuinely jealous and tried to hide it with flattery.

 

“I want something beautiful, revealing but not too sexy, this is my daughter we’re talkin’ about here….but I want him to be hypnotised!”

 

“Oh he will be….How long as Chloe liked him?”

 

“Well….Its kinda like a blind date you know? Her father and I talked about it, Larry really likes him, he comes from money, wants to run the company, so we thought you know…we would help things along a bit”

 

Eleanor screwed up her face into a snorted laugh.

 

“So, Chloe doesn’t know about it?” Stella asked, raising one eyebrow

 

“She will do, and when she does…..she will be over the moon, just like we will be when they are the next power couple of Alabama, in magazines, on TV…Who knows a wedding may soon follow!”

 

“You got this all figured out aint ‘cha?” Stella wasn’t convinced about the Bruce’s motives.

 

“Oh I have, I’m not gone let this one get away. I’ll make Chloe see what a smart move it will be to date him…Now, show me those stunning dresses…..”

 

Chapter 48

 

Later that evening, the blood red sun gave way to the horizon, the Bruce household were all home about to enjoy a freshly prepared meal made by their housekeeper.

 

“Larry, your dinners ready, come on!”

 

Eleanor called for the third time.

“Have you seen this bullshit! Segregation being banned and all that!…What is this damn world coming to!?”

 

Larry Bruce slammed the newspaper down and sat back in his armchair in a huff, snatching his reading glasses from his face.

 

“El, I’m glad we paid for our princess to go to the best schools without having to….be around those kind. My god, if she had to share a class with a damn nigger…”

 

Chloe picked at her food, she was hungry, but annoyed.

 

“You’re right Larry..Now come get your food”

 

Eleanor put on her napkin and started to eat as Larry made his way into the dining room.

 

“Do you realise how good you had it, if you were in school now, they talkin’ bout mixing classes with those kind, my god. I would get you home tutored”

 

Larry plonked down, fixed his napkin although some of his moustache would catch some of his food.

 

Chloe had a large intake of breath and remained tight-lipped.

 

“You just don’t know what diseases they carry, I mean, you could literally die by just being next to them, I don’t wanna even share my neighbourhood with them kind, it disgusts me”

 

Eleanor faked a shiver as if to emphasise her point.

 

“I met quite a few black people when I went travelling on my time off from university….and I’m still here”

 

Chloe had been building up to say that, she didn’t even look up from her plate.

 

Larry stopped chewing.

 

“I don’t want you making friends with ‘em, you hear? They got bad intentions, motives. They rape, they steal, they lie…The power goes to their heads. They dangerous. Sucking you in, beautiful girl like my daughter then boom! Before you know it, the whole town be crawling with them like locust and we will be working for them! No, that aint happenin’, not while I still have air in my lungs. They need to be kept on a tight leash”

 

Chloe was horrified at what she was hearing. She felt like she was getting to know her family all over again, but the nasty side. Why couldn’t she go back travelling again, where she was living life, painting and seeing friends she had made.

 

“Have you actually spoken to Cuban at work?”

 

Eleanor looked up from her plate in surprise. How dare Chloe answer back?

 

“The nigger? I don’t care what he has to say, the only thing that would make me slightly interested in what he has to say is ‘Mr.Bruce, I’m leaving’

 

Larry and Eleanor snorted.

 

“Dearest Chloe, honey…he is probably crawling with diseases, you do know that. You stay away, I don’t want you bringing anything into this beautiful house. Don’t you go getting attached and feelin’ sorry for ‘em, that’s how they get you!”

 

Chloe couldn’t believe just how cold her parents were.

 

“Anyway, sweetheart….on another more important subject. What do you think of Kyle?”

 

Eleanor asked the question nonchalantly, putting a delicate portion of food in her mouth.

“Kyle?” Chloe looked at her mother then her father who didn’t or chose not to make eye contact with his daughter.

 

“Yes” Eleanor nodded

 

“He’s……okay. I don’t really talk to him, he seems up his own ass most of the time. He’s not very pleasant to some of the workers…Why?”

 

Larry grinned.

 

“We…I was just wondering. He is quite the catch of the town, made an impression on the ladies who are….how do we put this…eager to be Mrs. Chambers”

 

A mischievous smile creeped across Eleanors wrinkling face.

 

“Well…I would say…”

 

Larry and Eleanor both hung on to Chloe’s next words as she put down her knife and fork and interlocked her fingers.

 

“….They are welcome to him”

 

These words from Chloe were not what they wanted to hear.

 

“Give the guy a chance” Larry almost ordered his daughter.

 

Chloe knew this battle of words wasn’t hers to win, so she kept quiet for now and carried on her meal in silence…confused at the conversations she had heard from her parents.

 

She couldn’t finish all her dinner and got up and put her dishes on the side, eager to get to her room, her space. When she was out of earshot, Larry looked across to his wife.

 

“What we gone do…You’re gone have to work on her, El”

 

“Don’t worry, leave it to me”

 

Eleanor sipped her wine.

 

 

Chapter 49

 

The end of the week saw a welcome drink in town, hosted by Jeffrey Ellis. It was in celebration of Ron Blacks promotion. Shona kept her distance from Kyle and Larry Bruce who made excuses to talk business outside and often took deputy Paul with them. Shona congratulated Ron, she liked him, he was one of the good guys, which is probably why Larry and Co. didn’t like him.

 

“Hey Shona, you want another drink?”

 

Randy came and sat next to Shona who was looking for Cuban.

 

“Um….no…thanks. I’m just waiting for Cuban, he said he would try and make it”

 

Shona replied, grateful of the niceness for once, she felt Randy tried to include her.

 

“Think you’ll find he wont be here”

 

Deputy Paul must have overheard as he, Larry and Kyle came back over to the table.

 

“Whys that?” Shona was suspicious.

 

“Working…late”

 

The smirk on Deputy Pauls face said it all. He had something to do why Cuban wasn’t here.

 

“Who? Cuban?….The man deserves to be here like everybody else.” Jeffrey stopped his conversation with Ron.

Larry Bruce discreetly rolled his eyes, so that only Kyle saw.

 

“Next time Jeffrey, next time” Deputy Paul replied, and then smirked at Shona.

 

The atmosphere had clouded since Deputy Paul, Kyle and Larry Bruce came back, Shona wanted to leave, especially as she knew that Cuban wasn’t coming.

 

“I’m just gone get another beer Shona, you sure you don’t want one?”

 

Randy got up and started to head towards the bar.

 

“No…thanks anyway Randy”

 

Shona hated the stench of smoke and of the thick air that the ‘bullies’ brought with them. She was uncomfortable. She figured she has stayed long enough to be respectful towards Ron, Jeffrey and a few of the other guys who were ok. There was quite clearly a divide, it was playing out right in front of Shona. Jeffrey, Ron and the guys to the right and in front of her, and the bully boys (Kyle, Deputy Paul and Larry) to her left.

 

There was no queue at the bar, so Randy got served right away and made his way over. He put his beer on the table as Deputy Paul followed him.

 

“I wanted to say something Shona….”

 

Just as Randy opened his mouth for the next words, Deputy Paul pulled the chair from underneath Randy just as he was about to sit in it.

 

CRASH!

 

Randy still had his hand on his glass which went flying also. The whole bar started laughing.

Except Shona who sprang into action helping Randy up.

 

Ron and Jeffrey turned around and stayed neutral. They felt sorry for Randy.

 

“Here, I’ll get you another beer” Jeffrey said immediately

 

“You ok?” Ron offered a hand too.

 

Shona was livid, Randy was covered in beer.

 

“I’m fine….thanks” Randy started wiping the beer off as Larry and Kyle couldn’t contain themselves laughing.

 

Shona stared at Deputy Paul, who looked back, he knew what she wanted to say right there.

 

“Here……here’s a beer, what the hell happened Randy? You already drunk?”

 

Jeffrey tried to make light of the subject to help Randy. Deputy Paul glared at Randy as if warning him not to grass.

 

“Yeah…something like that….thanks for the beer” Randy replied embarrassed.

 

Shona shook her head at the playground antics. She had seen and heard enough.

 

“Now here’s a sight for my sore eyes!” Shona heard somebody in the bar say as a pretty woman walked in.

 

It was Chloe.

 

Great, Shona thought.

 

The playground antics never seem to happen when she’s around.

 

It was taking Chloe more time than anybody else to actually make her way over to the Bruce and Ellis table as she kept getting stopped by would-be suiters asking if they can buy her a drink, be her lift home, you name it.

 

“Here’s my beautiful princess!….Hi honey”

 

Larry Bruce, opened armed greeted his daughter, Kyle giving Larry a wink as she embraced her father. Chloe didn’t feel entirely comfortable with things at the moment, but showed her face, at least Shona is here, another woman for company, Chloe thought. Chloe had talked to pretty much everybody at the company, but hadn’t managed to have a proper conversation with the only woman who worked ‘on the floor’ at Ellis and Bruce. Tonight would be perfect to get to know her Chloe thought, Shona seemed elusive and had an air of mystery.

 

“You alright? ….Like really?” Shona whispered to Randy who had lost his quietly jovial spirit. He just sipped his beer, still embarrassed.

 

“Yeah…you know, it’s just…boys being boys. Its fine” Randy lied.

 

It wasn’t a two way street, Randy was always on the end of the pranks, people laughed at him, not with him.

 

“Well….thats me done. I’m off home, see you later” huffed Shona.

 

Shona got up, not a glance over at Kyle, Larry, Deputy Paul or Chloe. She went around the table to her right to say goodbye to Ron and to congratulate him again, shaking Jeffrey’s hand also.

 

“What do you think of her, Ron? She work well?”

 

Jeffrey glanced at Shona as she left.

 

“She’s great, works harder than most of the guys here, but she gets a tough time, I mean, I can’t be everywhere”

“Hmmmm” Jeffrey replied, concerned. It didn’t take a genius to work out what Ron meant.

 

“Ooooo there she goes, home to see her nigger friend”

 

Kyle sniped when he clocked that Shona was leaving. Chloe’s head quickly snapped round towards the exit, at the same time, annoyed at Kyle’s remark. The others sniggered.

 

Chloe silently exhaled in disappointment, again she would only get to see the back of Shona.

 

Chapter 50

 

Shona returned to the barn, kicked her shoes off, didn’t care where they landed and slumped on her bed. She then wondered if Cuban was back from work so got up off the bed to peek round the make shift divide to see if Cuban was home.

 

He was.

 

“Hey….You awake?”

 

Shona heard shivering.

 

“You ok?” She edged closer in the darkness towards Cuban on the bed, concerned.

 

Shona reached for his arm to reassure and felt something.

 

Blood.

 

And lots of it.

 

“Cuban….what the hell happened to you? You alright? Talk to me”

 

“I’m…I’m…Fine” Cuban lied, he was shaking more now.

 

“Who did this to you? Who did this to you!?”

 

“I….I fell. I fell”

 

“You’re lyin’…..Cuban?”

 

“I don’t wish to talk ‘bout it. I just want to go to sleep, ok?”

 

“You’re bleedin’ for gods sake! I get some things to patch you up”

 

Shona went to get some plasters and bandages, switching the light on to reveal the full horror.

 

“Christ!….You wanna keep lyin’? Where exactly did you fall to make your face, your arms look like that?”

 

Shona was livid.

 

“I said…I don’t wish to talk about it, can you just do that for me!”

 

Shona rarely saw Cuban aggressive or even assertive.

 

Through her own tears of frustration and hurt for her friend, she silently patched him up, took another look at him. Cuban just gazed in front of him. Shona switched off the light and went to bed feeling like she wanted to vomit.

 

Chapter 51

 

Shona and Cuban were both in a sombre mood the next day at work. They didn’t want to raise their heads and get into any bother. Shona knew Cuban had taken a beating and told Elbe discreetly who said he secretly knew something like that was going on. He’d been making a note of it in his diary.

 

In the evening, Larry Bruce was eyeing up his book cabinet so as to make way for another no doubt extravagant piece of furniture.

 

“I want you to clear this bookshelf”

 

Larry orders his housekeeper without even looking at her. She is used to this.

 

“Of course”

 

“What are you doing with the old books?”

 

Chloe asked coming from the next room.

 

“Throw them, I don’t care”

 

Larry huffed

 

Chloe came into the lounge and eyed up the book titles as Larry went over to pour himself yet another whiskey.

 

“Larry, you’re drinking far too much of that”

 

Eleanor watched as he poured more than one measure into his glass.

 

Larry downed that in one and poured another whilst sarcastically looking at Eleanor as if goading her for more comments.

 

“I’m going up” Larry said clutching the bottle of whiskey

 

Eleanor was left downstairs wondering how she had become so distant from her husband.

 

 

Meanwhile in the barn, Shona and Cuban were having a light hearted conversation.

 

“You done much readin’ Shona?”

 

“Nah….not really, you?”

“Well, I couldn’t read…until a nice white guy taught me then I couldn’t stop. I liked Marjorie Morningstar by Herman somebody…you heard of it?”

 

“Nope”

 

“It’s about this woman who wants to change her job… become an actress…good read. I just want to change neighbourhoods, no….states. I wished I could click my fingers and be in that bar in New York, listening to and playin’ that sweet smooth jazz music. I can hear it now”

 

A slow smile crept across Cubans face as he laid on his bed imagining being swept along with the soft music.

 

Shona was measuring up some wood for the bench she wanted to make nearby.

 

“Yeah? That sounds like a good place.”

 

Shona smiled at Cubans smile.

 

“You know….Miss Chloe was behind me in the queue today”

 

“And..” Shona’s smile disappeared.

 

“And….I went to let her go in front of me and….”

 

Shona stopped what she was doing and faced Cuban

 

“What?” Shona snapped

 

“And she let me go ahead of her, insisted”

 

“Really?” Shona said sarcastically appearing not to be impressed

 

“You shoulda seen the look on Chefs face, a real picture. I tell you, she aint so bad, I don’t think she’s like them.”

“Don’t trust her….She didn’t stop what happened to you, did she?”

 

Shona pointed to Cuban aggressively.

 

“Shona, she didn’t know…she doesn’t know. They don’t do anything in front of her. I think…..I think because she would stop it”

 

“Do you…You really think that? You really think that she would come to your rescue?”

 

Shona slammed the wood down.

 

“Shona what is your problem with Chloe?”

 

“She’s one of them!….She won’t ever help the likes of us. I’m goin’ to bed”

 

Shona stomped off leaving Cuban confused at how Shona could be so hostile against somebody she hadn’t even met.

 

Chapter 52

 

The next day, Cuban was late to the canteen. As soon as he sat down, three guys got up as if in protest. Cuban was used to this, it was normal now.

 

“Fuckin’ deserved it”

 

Cuban heard one of the guys who had seen Cubans bruises.

 

After a deep sigh, Cuban heads towards his locker room. He finds Kyle.

 

“Spot checks nigger”

 

A smirking Kyle had turned Cubans locker upside down, obviously not finding anything. There wasn’t anything to find.

Kyle stares directly into Cubans eyes, burning them with his rage for niggers.

 

“Let’s hope we never find anything….for your sake”

 

Kyle aggressively barges Cuban out the doorway who didn’t dare argue back.

 

He scouts around and sees that his is the only locker being ‘searched’, but again, he didn’t dare complain.

 

“There you are, sorry I missed you at break…..”

 

Shona’s sentence tailed off when she saw the mess.

 

“What happened here?” She asked scanning the cramped closet space.

 

“Spot check….according to Kyle. Not that anybody else has had it, but….thats the way things are..”

 

“Let me help..”

 

“Thanks…..you’d think going on a date with the boss’s daughter would put you in a better mood, not a worse one.”

 

Cuban said huffing.

 

“What? What you talkin’ bout?” Shona stopped what she was doing

 

“Kyle….everybody knows because he’s been boring everybody with it. He’s got a date with Miss Chloe. I don’t know what that pretty young lady sees in him.”

 

“She…..likes him?” Shona asked confused

 

“God only knows and if she does, this place…well…the future aint great, we need to make our money and get the hell outta here!”

 

Shona’s face hardened

 

“See…she is like them” Shona stomped off

 

“Hey…Shona…”

 

What was with her lately? Cuban had no idea.

 

Chapter 53

 

Cuban was tasked with clearing up some smashed glass in the kitchen, he got all the glamourous jobs. Still reeling from the ‘locker search’ he forgot himself and when he picked up the bag with the shards in it, cut his hand.

 

“Arrrgh!” Cuban stamped his foot in pain

 

“Hey…you ok Cuban?” Ron Black was just walking by when he heard Cuban.

 

“Um…yes, Sir…I’m fine. It’s nothin’”

 

“Let me take a look at that, you’re bleedin’”

 

Cuban almost stared for a little too long at Ron who was inspecting Cubans hand. Rarely had he seen compassion in another man’s eyes, especially at work. It had been too long.

 

“I’ll get something for that, here”

 

Ron found some bandage from the canteen first aid kit and wrapped it round Cubans hand, the bleeding stopped straight away.

 

“Thank you, Sir. Thank you”

Cuban held his right, rubbed it gently as if for comfort grateful for the caring newly appointed manager.

 

“No problem, listen I gotta go…I’m late for a meeting upstairs.”

 

Ron smiled and left as quickly as he seemed to appear. His kindness left Cuban quietly emotional. They weren’t all the same ‘upstairs’.

 

“This is the canteen…..this is your locker….Don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t even look at me, you hear?”

 

Deputy Paul was showing two new guys round, no doubt from the Jeffrey Ellis route in. Elbe was spying on proceedings. He felt like jumping out and screaming for them to run for their lives. These men were unaware they had jumped head-first into a hungry, angry lion’s den. They were black, and so their days were numbered here. Elbe looked on in despair, desperately wanting to befriend them, but he felt guilty knowing it was already too late for them. If you were black and you got in, you were lucky because you had a job, but when you’re here you wished you hadn’t got in as your life would be a waking hell, and yet, if you were brave enough to leave, your card was marked for the wolves outside to get you. There was nowhere to hide.

 

“I’ll give ‘em a week……poor souls” Elbe with sad eyes whispered to himself.

 

“Sorry I’m late, had to show the two new niggers round, don’t know why, they won’t last long round here”

 

Deputy Paul sniggering came in and poured himself a glass of water then making himself comfortable round the table in Larry Bruce’s office. Jeffrey Ellis made a mental note of the comment.

 

“We’ll kick them into shape” Kyle sipped his drink and winked at Deputy Paul.

 

Jeffrey noted this too.

 

“How about we see what they are capable of shall we? I do hope you are not undermining my recruitment choices boys?”

 

Jeffrey calmly put Deputy Paul and Kyle in their place.

 

“No sir, of course not” Kyle replied, crawling.

 

“No sir” Deputy Paul more reluctant, then glancing at Larry who remained tight lipped.

 

“I’m late, sorry…Cuban cut his hand, so I had to get a bandage and two guys wanted to see me about some shifts…..”

 

Ron Black came in flustered to his first management meeting, his eyes searching for his seat round the table. The only warm eyes were Jeffrey’s.

 

“Should have let the son of bitch bleed to death” Deputy Paul said under his breath.

 

Larry smiled in agreement.

 

“Right…it’s me up first isn’t it? Is Chloe joining us?” Ron sorted his papers, took a deep breath.

 

“She’s in town on business, she won’t be back today” Larry replied

 

“It’s ok Ron, take your time” Jeffrey said

 

“Thank you Jeffrey….Right, Um….I’ve had some ideas about that I hope you will like…….”

 

Larry, Kyle and Deputy Paul all looked less than enthused. Not because the ideas were bad, they were really good. It was because Ron Black simply was not like them.

“You wont get the investment”

 

“That’s impossible to do”

 

“That will never happen”

 

“That’s a crazy idea”

 

 

These were all the replies to every idea put forward by Ron. Damn, this was tougher than he imagined. Everybody except Jeffrey met his suggestions with negativity.

 

“Well gentlemen…”

 

Jeffrey, normally the quietly powerful and confident man captured the meeting with one of his few comments. He was more of a listener who then made informed decisions. He had the final say and the final vote on things which continually annoyed Larry Bruce.

 

“…I’m hearing lots. But what I’m learning is that we are afraid. We seem to be afraid to be bold as a company. Companies don’t expand that way, they expand by taking risks from time to time, calculated risks. We can’t grip to the past, we must move forward with bold ideas..”

 

Jeffrey gestured towards Ron, fully backing him.

 

“….Ideas are always risky until they have been done, then everybody wished they had the balls to do them. I want us to be that company. The one with balls.”

 

Larry and Kyle looked straight at each other, not flinching, but reading each other’s minds. There was clearly a divide round this table.

 

“…I want us to be innovative and brave, and to listen to the people working for us.”

 

Deputy Paul discreetly rolled his eyes in response knowing only Larry and Kyle would see.

 

Ron Black genuinely nodding in agreement.

 

 

Later that day, Ron was working in his new manager’s office eagerly putting some plans into action after getting the all clear from Jeffrey who had overriding say due to his majority ownership in the business. Everybody else had gone home, Ron told them to as they had worked hard, much to Deputy Paul and Kyle’s annoyance.

 

“So…”

 

Kyle stood at the doorway to Rons office. Ron looked up.

 

Kyle continued

 

“…You’re the do-gooder”

 

“Pardon me?” Ron replied, confused

 

“You know…the nice guy…popular” Kyle had a hint of menace in his voice.

 

“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ ‘bout” Ron felt threatened in some way.

 

“Wanting to win over the guys?”

 

“No” Ron shook his head, heart beating faster

 

“Wanting to impress the boss?”

 

“This all a problem to you?”

 

Ron was one of the only ones brave enough to stand up to Kyle, he could now he was a manager who was un-influenced by Kyle’s intimidating nature.

 

Kyle smiled

 

“Me? No…And if it was, it won’t be for long”

 

“Whys that?” Ron asked sitting up straight

 

“No reason, but um….I’m just headin’ home to um…take the boss’s daughter out on a date. You know, your boss”

 

Kyle smirked and began to whistle as he left.

 

Chapter 54

 

Later that evening, Chloe came indoors to the Bruce household scanning all the books in bags.

 

“What are these doing here?” Chloe asked the Housekeeper

 

“Your father asked me to pack them up, he’s making way for new furniture in the lounge.”

 

“Oh…so…they gone be thrown in the trash?” Chloe asked picking some books up

 

“That’s what he said”

 

“Ok” Chloe smiled

 

When the housekeeper walked into the kitchen, Chloe sifted through the books and took three to her ‘den’ the room that was in the basement where she did her sketching and painting. Nobody ever went down there apart from her, there wasn’t the interest to.

 

Just as Chloe came back up the stairs from her Den, she saw her mother at the top.

 

“You need to get ready Chloe….I bought you this”

 

Eleanor Bruce directed Chloe’s attention to a dress hanging up at the door to her right. It was a stunning midnight blue, off the shoulder number.

 

“That’s beautiful mother, we goin’ out to eat?” Chloe asked confused

 

“Not exactly, but you have a date” Eleanor grinned excitedly interlocking her fingers in a prayer motion

 

“A date? What?…..Who with? I didn’t know about no date”

 

Chloe came up the stairs fully and closed the hatch door to the den as if to give this conversation her full attention.

 

“It’s a surprise! You’ll love it! He’s very keen, wealthy, comes from good stock, the catch of the town, the ladies are so jealous!”

 

Eleanor couldn’t contain herself and kept stroking the soft material of the dress.

 

“So everybody knows? Apart from me….Mother-“

 

“- Quick! Go get ready!” Eleanor scooted Chloe to the bathroom forgetting she was no longer a 17 year old girl, but a grown woman.

 

The dress fitted perfectly. Chloe was reluctant to feel excited as she was backed into a corner. The ‘date’ was happening regardless, ‘he’ was arriving in thirty minutes.

“You look beautiful Princess” Larry Bruce caught a glimpse of his stunning daughter.

 

“Thank you daddy, who is the date?” Chloe whispered

 

“You’ll find out! You’ll thank us later!” Larry winked

 

Ding Dong

 

Chloe was still making some adjustments in front of the mirror in her bedroom when she heard the doorbell. She froze. She wanted some kind of clue as to who it was. All she could hear were faint muffled voices.

 

She tip toed to the top of the stairs, ‘damn it’ she still couldn’t see.

 

“Chloe! Come down honey!” Eleanor called her daughter from the bottom of the stairs.

 

“Here goes” Chloe whispered to herself

 

It was like slow motion, Chloe caught sight of her mother beaming at her, and then her father raising a glass of whiskey to her and a man with his back to her, he was just putting his jacket onto the hook.

 

He turned around.

 

It was Kyle.

 

Chloe’s faced visibly dropped. It didn’t go unnoticed.

 

“Honey….say hello to Kyle” Eleanor raised her eyebrows as if to hint for Chloe to appear more welcoming.

 

“Hi Kyle”

 

“Miss Chloe…You look…absolutely stunning” Kyle flashed his Hollywood smile

 

Chloe faked a smile as a reply

 

“Come on, let’s eat” Larry Bruce led the way to the table.

 

Kyle held out Chloe’s seat in true gentlemen style.

 

“Thank you” Chloe replied suddenly wishing she was anywhere from here.

 

Chloe was thinking that it’s one thing to go on a first ‘date’ with your parents present, and another thing when they hand-pick your date and it happens to be the last guy you would pick.

 

“So Kyle…hows things?” Larry poured Kyle a glass of wine

 

“Well Larry um…things are doing great..You know with your leadership and all…I really feel I know where we are headed. I’m gone ask for more investment, get some ermm ‘real’ men and not the ‘Jeffrey Ellis’ kind with all due respect…I mean, Jeffrey is a great guy, but his choice in personnel well….”

 

Kyle and Larry both chuckled, they both knew what each other meant. Eleanor faked a laugh as if to appear in with the joke.

 

The housekeeper served them their food, making a point to make eye contact with Chloe. She smiled at her as if to ask if Chloe was ok, who only managed a meagre smile back.

 

“So you parents Kyle…tell me about them” Eleanor was fishing to see exactly how much money Kyle was worth.

 

“Well, now there’s a story. I’m very close to my parents” Kyle lied

 

“..My father did well for himself, built up a nice fortune in the steel business back home, one of the most influential people there”

Eleanor delighted in hearing this, it was like Kyle was reeling off his family resume. Chloe was the only one not impressed.

 

“You’ve hardly touched your food sweetheart” Eleanor observed Chloes near full plate.

 

“It’s not the food, it’s delicious” Chloe aimed her look at the housekeeper.

 

This conversation only temporarily stopped the men talking about money and business, they soon continued.

 

Chloe was wondering when somebody, especially this fantastically ‘keen’ Kyle was actually going to ask her a question. She was reaching boiling point inside and couldn’t hold it any longer.

 

“I did a sketch today” Chloe said, the table hushed to a silence.

 

“OK” Kyle nodded

 

“Yeah, I did a sketch of the beautiful church in town” Chloe said knowing the impact.

 

“Chloe does little drawings you know” Larry squinted his face as if to make it seem inferior.

 

“They’re not little sketches father, it’s my passion” Chloe was annoyed.

 

“I know honey, listen princess I just don’t think you should waste your precious time on drawing, unless you plan to make money on them, but there’s no money in it, aint that right Kyle?”

 

Larry tried to reason with Chloe.

 

“Absolutely Larry, absolutely” Kyle wanted to side Larry

 

Chloe nodded, furious inside. Her only contribution to the table was shot down.

 

“I need some air” Chloe huffed, got up and headed to her car. The stunning red brand new Chevrolet Deluxe. It was a convertible, but she never had the roof down.

 

“Honey! Sweetheart, you can’t go out like this!” Eleanor got up to go and chase Chloe, but the front door already slammed shut.

 

Chloe skids away heading to wherever. The sun slowly setting felt like Chloe’s mood, her spirit deftly slipping away in that house, with those people.

 

Chloe drove past the other mansions, she needed to breathe to get out into the open air. She wound down her window to feel the breeze in her perfectly sculptured hairstyle that was wasted on Kyle. Her heart was racing, not in fear but in standing up for herself. She knew she would get it when she returned, but she felt suffocated in all the talk of business. Wealth and power didn’t interest her.

 

In an open road, she put her foot down, slowly emerging into the farmland. The sun hugging the horizon as if signalling Chloe to keep driving forwards. She joined a dusty road parallel to the Weaver River whose water looked beautiful catching the orange light of the fading sun. This was more like it. Chloe could start to breathe properly.

 

Chloe caught sight of movement just out of her eye line to her right. It was somebody galloping on a horse. They must have been going at some speed as Chloe struggled to keep up with their pace. The horse kicking up dust in its wake looked like it could fling the rider off at any moment, but both seemed in tandem. Chloe, keeping one eye on the road and with quick glances tried to see who it was riding at speed like that. She accelerated to get ahead so she was level, but the dust, the speed and lighting made it difficult. Up ahead, the roads merged, Chloe was intrigued and sped up ahead. Glancing across, as planned, she could see the rider making a gradual left turn to where the path leads to the crossing in the road.

 

Chloe screeched her brakes as due to the speed of the horse and it not appearing to slow down at the crossing, they had a near collision, and she shut her eyes fearing for the rider and that she had caused a serious injury through her curiosity.

 

The horse bucked violently and threw the rider off into the air. All happened in an instant.

 

Chloe opened her eyes and waited two to three seconds for the dust to clear and got out of her car, nervous around the unsettled horse who seemed huge up close.

 

Chloe clasped her face in her hands when she realised the identity of the rider who had a violent fall. She recognised their face from work.

 

It was Shona.

 

 

Chapter 55

 

 

“I got no idea what has got into that girls’ head….!” Larry paced around the living room, furious at Chloe walking out, and pours himself and Kyle another whiskey.

 

“We are so sorry Kyle, she will come to her senses I’m sure”

 

Eleanor almost begging for Kyle’s forgiveness who was feeling quite smug that the most powerful couple in Daynes and even Alabama were apologising to him.

 

“That’s quite alright, ma’am…I’m sure she’ll realise soon enough what a good thing she’d have going with somebody like myself”

 

Kyle almost puffing out his chest.

 

 

Meanwhile….

 

Chloe slowly stepped out the car, careful not to slam the door shut so as not to frighten the horse even more, who was still bucking every few seconds.

 

“You’re Shona…I heard about you”

 

“I know who you are, being the boss’s daughter and all.”

 

Shona winced, stretching out her back making sure she could still move all of her joints. Nothing was broken, that was nothing short of a miracle considering how hard she fell off.

 

Chloe aw Shona calming the mare down who was just breathing heavily now.

 

“I’m so sorry…I didn’t know it was you…I didn’t mean to…”

 

Chloe moved forward slightly.

 

“-You were drivin’ pretty fast, you scared the horse”

 

Shona was somehow controlling her annoyance, even though Chloe was technically her superior.

 

“I know…I’m sorry. I just…I don’t know”

 

Chloe lied, she was curious at the identity of the rider.

 

Shona was rubbing the back of her sore head, she must have whacked it as she hit the road.

 

Chloe continued..

 

“ You seem pretty hard to pin down”

 

“I’m just busy, I work hard” Shona replied petting Storm,

 

“I heard that, Elbe…is it? And Cuban, they say nice things about you”

 

Chloe was desperately trying to patch things up

 

Shona just nodded a reply.

 

“Your horse?” Chloe asked

 

“Kinda..her name’s Storm, she’s owned by the people I live with. You ride?”

 

“Used to…used to…I miss it.”

 

Shona again, just nodded.

 

It was a tense moment between them.

 

Chloe felt she wasn’t getting anywhere and was about to turn around to get back into her car.

 

“You look nice, all dressed up” Shona called out to the back of Chloe.

 

“Thanks…It was a bit of a…. disastrous dinner…date, whatever you wanna call it”

 

Chloe raised an eyebrow recalling it.

 

“I’m sorry ‘bout that” Shona lied, she knew the date was with Kyle, and she hated him.

 

“Thats ok…”

 

“You got a real nice car there, designed to go fast” Shona let out a cheeky smile given that Chloe was driving fast

 

Chloe responded with an embarrassed smile.

 

Shona continued

 

“You should have that roof down, enjoy the air”

 

“Yeah…you’re right, but my….father, who bought the car for me, said I shouldn’t as it gives off the wrong impression of me, that I’m somehow making myself ‘seen’ and available”

 

Chloe was stroking the side of the car as if apologising to it.

 

Shona slowly shook her head, knowing she had to be careful about what she said about Mr.Bruce.

 

“Well, I can tell you…If I had this car, you bet I would be driving round with that roof down letting the wind blast my hair”

 

Chloe grinned.

 

“That sounds good” she replied.

 

“Anyway..” Shona said “ I need to get this one back” gesturing her head towards Storm.

 

“Ok…I’m sorry, again…but it was nice to finally get to talk to you, Shona”

 

“Likewise”

 

With that Shona expertly jumped onto Storm and sped off, Chloe not quite wanting to get back into her car just yet.

 

 

Chapter 56

 

Chloe returns home in a bit of a daze. It was a strange evening, she was annoyed at her parents and Kyle for arranging her ‘date’ without her permission, but she was glad of it as she finally got to meet Shona face to face.

 

“Where you been?” Larry asked his daughter as he came in through the door.

 

“Out…drivin’. I needed some space from all the who’s car is bigger than who’s talk. I’m goin’ to bed”

 

Chloe strutted past her mother who didn’t say a word. They needed a Plan B

 

 

Chapter 57

 

“I didn’t hear you leave this mornin’”

 

Cuban said to Shona who was sweeping out back.

 

“Couldn’t sleep, thought I’d get in early. May as well be doing somethin’. It’s better when there’s no son of a bitch here!”

 

Cuban and Shona both smiled.

 

“That a bruise on your face?” Cuban asked Shona squinting slightly.

 

“What?…Oh…I fell off Storm when she was being a crazy mare”

 

“Oh…you ok?”

 

“Yeah…I’m fine”

 

“Morning Cuban!” It was Chloe who came outside

“Morning Miss Chloe” Cuban tipped his cap

 

“Good morning Shona”

 

“Ma’am…”

 

“That looks a bit of a bruise on your face” Chloe asked with a wry smile.

 

“Yes ma’am…some driver spooked my horse and fell off”

 

Shona returned the smile

 

Cuban looked slightly confused.

 

“Well I hoped you got a description of the car” Chloe was carrying on the private joke

 

“Oh It’s a pretty distinctive car ma’am” Shona grinned

 

“Well…I don’t want to stop for you long, so have a good day you two”

 

With that, Chloe was gone.

 

Shona returned to sweeping, bit with a little more vigour.

 

“Did I…..miss something here?” Cuban asked

 

“What?” Shona continued to sweep

 

“You and Miss Chloe….actually speaking….to eachother. I thought you hated her…no?”

 

“She’s ok” Shona shrugged one shoulder.

 

“Whats this about falling off your horse? You ok? What car was it?”

“Cuban…listen…I’m fine, don’t worry about it, you got no work to do?”

 

Shona asked throwing a rolled up cloth at him.

 

 

Meanwhile all of management and some of the investors (apart from Jeffrey Ellis, his wife was unwell) were in one of their usual meetings talking about figures, production, budgets, staffing. As it was coming to a close, newly appointed manager Ron Black wants to speak.

 

“I think it should be noted that Elbe has been with us for over thirty five years and is coming up to well-deserved retirement…”

 

Kyle and Larry looked at each other, with Kyle rolling his eyes discreetly.

 

“….and I think we should think about getting him a retirement gift, so just have a little think about what we could do”

 

“The guy will be dead soon, so we’d better not spend too much of our profits….I need more liqueur for my cabinet!”

 

All though around the table sniggered, some out of pressure, apart from Ron and Chloe.

 

“Father…” Chloe aimed at Larry disappointedly.

 

“Well…he’s done us a great service” Ron finished off, Chloe nodded.

 

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful after that until Cuban was approached by Kyle.

 

“Hey Nigger….I need my shoes shinin’…and my car cleanin’…properly. I gotta impress the ladies and I don’t see why I should pay when I got a nigger to do it for me for free, right?…So when everybody goes, come find me and I’ll give you my shoes and I’ll open my car, I’ll get a lift with the deputy into work. Now….I’m sure I don’t have to draw a picture of what happens if it’s not all up to my…very high standard…right? We understand each other?”

 

“Yes Sir” Cuban replies reluctantly. He’s also understands that he wouldn’t be getting paid overtime.

 

 

 

“Right, that’s me done. Hopefully I’ll actually sleep tonight”

 

Shona came over to find Cuban who was cleaning out one of the trucks that was about to go out.

 

“I gotta stay” Cuban replied, looking downtrodden.

 

“Stay? What for?”

 

“Just a job….for Kyle”

 

“What’s he want? I’ll help you”

 

“Go…trust me. Go home. The more simple I keep things the better.”

 

“He threatening you again?” Shona’s face hardened

 

“Just leave it Shona, for my sake…please?” Cuban looked at Shona in the eye.

 

Reluctantly, Shona left for home.

 

“Goodnight Shona” It was Chloe who was just walking behind her.

 

“Oh….night ma’am” Shona replied turning round. For a split second, Shona wondered what would happen if she drove out by the Weaver River at the same time tonight, would the same encounter happen. That was one strange evening.

 

“What you doin?’ Shona whispered to herself and started the journey home.

 

 

Cuban trudged his way up to Kyle’s office, all the other managers had left for the evening. He knocked on the door.

 

“Yeah!” came the voice behind the door. It wasn’t Kyles.

 

Cuban opened the door to reveal Kyle and Deputy Paul drinking and smirking at Cuban.

 

Deputy Paul got up out of the expensive chair opposite Kyle and got up in Cubans face. His breath stank as he spoke,

 

“I heard you gone do Kyle’s car and shoes….right?”

 

Cuban nodded

 

“Well after that, you gone do mine. And I’ll bet you, you will scrub them until you see your dirty nigger face in them or….you do them again…you get it?”

 

Cuban slowly nodded whilst Deputy Paul grinned to reveal rotten stinking teeth.

 

“Here..” Kyle threw his car keys at Cuban who caught them.

 

It was going to be a long night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 58

 

Cuban had to admit, he had done a good job on all the shoes. He laid them out neatly outside the office doors. Now he was tackling Kyles luxury car a dark blue Hudson Hornet.

 

‘Wow’ Cuban whispered to himself as he almost stroked the leather inside. It was a beauty, shame it belonged to such an imbecile. Everything Cuban touched was made with precision, he daren’t think how much this car cost.

 

With a huff, of exhaustion and plain not wanting to do it, Cuban cracked on with cleaning Kyles car, being meticulous as he went. He didn’t want to have to do it again.

 

Around forty minutes had gone by, and Cuban was polishing the inside. He noticed lots of rubbish in the driver’s door storage. It looked messy, so he took it all out and sorted it. He found telephone numbers with women’s name by them scribbled on bits of paper, empty cigarette boxes.

 

‘Dirty son of a bitch’ Cuban mouthed to himself ‘He’s a damn dog of a player’

 

He discarded the rubbish but thought he’d better keep the numbers, then he came across a letter. It was from the car rental business in town. It was a final demand.

 

‘What!?’ Cubans’ reading wasn’t great, but it didn’t have to be. It was easy to read ‘You owe us 3 weeks rent on your vehicle, you have one week days to pay in full’.

 

Cuban was confused as he had heard on numerous occasions Kyle bragging about his car that he had bought and how much money he has.

 

Cuban tried to put everything back the way he found it, but he couldn’t forget what he had read.

 

Looks like Kyle doesn’t have the money he says he does. If he has been lying about this, what else has he been lying about?

 

Chapter 59

 

Cuban was the last one to lock up, it was pitch black outside, the street lights at the top of the long straight road provided the only but much needed light for Cuban to see where he was going. Some low lighting around the sides of the building were a blessing.

 

Eager to get home, Cuban stumbled for the keys, but he dropped them. He kept looking around, an animal of some kind disturbed the bushes nearby.

 

“Get a grip Cuban’ he said to himself.

 

His hands were shaking, he took deep breaths to compose himself.

 

Finally both locks clicked into place.

 

Starting the journey home, Cuban started to stride out. The street lights provided some comfort. This road he was on felt like the longest, loneliest and most dangerous.

 

About a third of the way up the long road from Ellis and Bruce, Cuban saw his path lit. But the light was coming from behind him. Natural instinct was for him to turn around to see a familiar shaped truck crawling towards him, as if taunting him.

 

‘Oh no..’ Cuban said out loud.

 

He started to jog towards the end of the road, to the lights, to safety. But even he couldn’t out run a truck which revved into gear to catch him also keeping just behind as if it was choosing to let him live or die.

In a few seconds Cuban was in full sprint. The eerie revving of the truck like a warning call to him.

 

‘Come on…come on!’ Cuban shouted to himself as if to beckon the lights to come quicker.

 

Just as Cuban felt he was welcomed into the first lot of street lights, the truck revved once more and was up alongside him. Cubans instinct was to look left at the driver, and he saw the familiar sight, men dressed like Klan with a dog barking viciously in the back. It remained alongside him for five seconds then vanished on a left turn, Cuban headed right, but stopped to breath where he thought he was safe for a minute.

 

Cuban almost collapsed out of exhaustion and through fear, but he would wait until he got home for that, he ran most of the way.

 

Meanwhile, in the Bruce household, Larry and Eleanor were watching TV, Chloe was fidgety. Like she had somewhere else to be.

 

‘Damn it! Another one of my TV shows has just been canned because of the niggers!”

 

Larry fumed, slamming his newspaper down.

 

“Why?” Eleanor asked, Chloe looking up from her doodling at the table.

 

“Damn racism or something, felt it wasn’t considerate, horse shit! I mean the worlds gone crazy, I’m telling you those dirty niggers, they will take over, and you mark my words, that’s why we have to quash ‘em”!

 

“Quash ‘em?” Chloe asked from the table hoping for a more defined way of explaining what he meant.

 

“Your father is right Chloe”

With a huff, Chloe got up

 

“I’m goin’ to bed”

 

 

 

“Cuban! You alright!?” Shona went in to see Cuban, she could hear him come through the outer door to his room and slump on his bed breathing heavily.

 

“I can’t take it Shona, I can’t take it no more!”

 

“Take what? Whats happened!?”

 

“Klan! Klan are messing wit me! They know when I’m locking up late. They come from behind me….behind me when I’m leaving work. Must mean they are parking in the parking lot, waiting somebody knows who they are, if not …its people from work!”

 

Cuban had to stop to take in some breaths, Shona was horrified and put her hand on his shoulder.

 

“I can’t stay here Shona….I’m scared of watching my back all the time. Something bad is happening in that place and there aint gone be a happy ending let me tell you!”

 

“Ok…alright…come on” Shona tried to comfort Cuban knowing what he was saying was right.

 

“But you what?….. They watching me… and if I set foot…out there, alone. I won’t make it. I’m already being hunted down like a dog. They playin’ wit me, they can take me anytime”

 

Shona didn’t have words of comfort. There were none.

 

They just both stayed in silence contemplating their bleak immediate futures.

 

Shona somehow fell asleep laying up against Cubans bed as she wanted to try and comfort him best as she could, she drifted off….

 

“Shona!….Shona wake up!!”

 

“What!?”

 

“Shona….what the hell!?…You were screaming in your sleep. You alright?”

 

“Screaming?”

 

“Yeah…screaming, get it off me, get it off me or something. What the hell you talking about?”

 

“I don’t know….just a crazy dream” Shona faked a grin

 

Shona did know. She knew exactly what she meant, but now wasn’t the time to explain.

 

Chapter 60

 

“Cuban!” Chloe called, she had been looking for him. He was coming into main canteen area after emptying the waste.

 

“Miss Chloe” Cuban seemed a bit surprised

 

“I remember you saying that you’d like to read, and I’d be happy to help if…..you needed it, but if not that’s ok”

 

Cuban’s face softened. Chloe continued

 

“Well anyway, my father was clearing out some things and he’s read these anyway and I thought…..you may like them?”

 

Cuban was drawn towards the three books Miss Chloe had in her hands and felt like he had won a thousand dollars.

 

“Miss Chloe! I couldn’t, I mean…I want to, thank you so much, but that’s too much…too much..-“

 

“Now shush…take it as an order then, I’m instructing you to have these books” Chloe smiled her beautiful smile that went all the way to her eyes

 

“Well alright, how can I say no to that?” Cubans face lit up

 

In the background , Kyle stopped in his tracks to see what Chloe was up to.

 

“Good…good… Let’s see, there’s a book on Roosevelt….” Chloe said handing it to Cuban.

 

“My goodness, I can really have these?” Cuban was tearing up

 

“Of course, it would be my pleasure Cuban”

 

“Thank you so much….so much Miss Chloe” Cuban really wanted to hug her, but there were too many eyes on them as it was.

 

“You’re welcome…anyway, I need to go into town and have a meeting with the interesting Mr.Johnson, wish me luck!.

 

“Good luck…but you won’t need it, Miss Chloe” Cuban smiled as Chloe nodded a ‘thank you’ and left.

 

“Somebody’s teacher’s pet” Shona came up to Cuban smiling after hearing the conversation making sure Chloe was out of earshot.

 

“Can you believe it Shona, how nice is that woman” Cuban said in Chloe’s direction.

 

“She’s…..ok” Shona said plainly

 

“Ok? That’s one of the kindest damn things anyone has done for me!…Well apart from giving me a home and a job that is” Cuban smiled at Shona

 

“I’m glad you remember that!” Shona playfully punched Cuban on the arm.

 

“Chloe” Kyle approached, not happy that some workers were laughing and joking with her on the way to her car.

 

“Kyle” Chloe’s face hardened as she turned around.

 

“Can I…have a minute?”

 

“Of course” Chloe replied politely

 

 

 

“Look at him, she’s too good for him. I hope she knows what a fraud he is”

 

Cuban spotted Kyle and Chloe talking near the exit.

 

“What do you mean exactly?” Elbe joined the conversation

 

“Hey Elbe…..I mean that when I cleaned the son of a bitch’s car, he don’t even own it, he is up to his neck in debt with it, it’s a rental, I saw the demand letters”

 

“What?” Shona screwed her face up in disgust.

 

“Yep, there he was just a couple of weeks ago telling the boys he paid cash for it”

 

Cuban replied

 

“She’s such a pretty little thing, I hope she don’t get stuck with him. He will be after her god damn money!”

 

Elbe vented

 

Shona didn’t reply, just looked on.

 

“Walk with me…” Kyle asked

 

“I’ve got figures to prepare for our meeting and I have to shoot into town to speak with Johnson right now, I’m already late, Kyle” Chloe replied, itching to escape their conversation. Kyle felt a pang of rejection.

 

“Ok…I was just…thinking…hoping…that we…could start over and do that dinner again. Just…. the two of us?”

 

Kyle tried to flash his Hollywood smile, it didn’t have the effect on Chloe like it had on all the other women.

 

“Kyle…I like you, but I don’t get mixed up with guys at work, I hope you can understand that”

 

“Understood” Kyle lied. He was furious inside. How dare she refuse his advances when other women flocked around him?

 

“I gotta go” Chloe left, emotionless, to go into town.

 

Shona watched on.

 

 

“Paul!” Kyle snapped at Deputy Paul who nodded a ‘what?’. He was in the middle of his gaggle no doubt having a completely inappropriate conversation.

 

“I need you for a minute” Kyle replied, stone faced

 

 

Cuban put the books in his locker room and went out to join Chloe to clean the trucks that had been repaired and were ready for the customers to collect.

 

“The dreams…that you have, they sound.. terrible”

 

Cuban was standing at the front of the truck washing the lights whilst Shona was in the cab cleaning it with the door open.

 

“I’m sorry I keep waking you up” Shona replied looking down as she remembered the content of her last dream, or she should say nightmare.

 

“No…no I didn’t mean that, you just, never really talk about them that’s all…..or anything.”

 

Cuban was careful not to make Shona uncomfortable.

 

“I just, like to keep myself to myself that’s all”

 

“OK..Understood. But if you ever need to talk, ever…I’m here, right? I mean, you’ve done more for me then you’ll ever know”

 

Cuban stopped washing so that he could look at Shona, he meant every word. Shona looked deadly serious until she got out the truck, picked up the sponge in the bucket and threw it at Cuban.

 

“Hey!” Cuban laughed

 

“So serious” Shona laughed

 

BUZZER

 

“Another break? That would be nice” Cuban said wiping the water off him, squinting as some of the droplets went in his eyes.

 

“Yeah, right….a telling off more likely” Shona replied cynically

 

Shona and Cuban saw Elbe who was standing near the back of the already-gathered crowd who were mumbling their confusion as to why they were called. They were looking for answers ‘up top’ towards the management offices. Nobody came from up there.

 

“Do we have a thief in here!?”

 

Everybody’s head shot from looking up, to over near the lower rooms, offices and lockers. None other than Larry Bruce was standing there hard faced, Kyle directly behind him with just a hint of smirk.

 

“Whats going on?”

 

“Whats he talkin’ ‘bout?”

 

More mumbles. Shona, Cuban and Elbe remained silent and just as confused as the others.

 

“We are conducting a locker search as we speak and we…really hope we don’t find anything that belongs to somebody else in there”

 

Larry walked slowly towards the gathering. He truly was intimidating. He continued.

 

“Now…does anyone want to confess to anything?” He scanned the room, but ended on Cuban, burning a hole with his stare.

 

“They’re not searching everybody’s lockers” Shona whispered to Cuban.

 

“We found these Sir” One of deputy Pauls ‘assistants’ handed over something to Larry Bruce.

 

Cubans eye’s widened and his heart thumped.

 

“Still don’t wanna confess anything….nigger?”

 

Larry stared back at Cuban. So did everybody else. Cuban slowly shook his head.

 

“There’s more Sir..”

 

“These are my books…from my home you thievin’….son of a bitch! You been in my house!!?”

 

“No! No Sir! Miss Chloe…she…she gave them to me! I promise!” Cuban pleaded

 

Without warning, Cuban felt a whack to his left cheek and a kick to his thigh.

 

“Thieving nigger!”

 

“Lynch him!”

 

 

“Bring him to my office” Larry said, eerily calm

 

“Yes Sir” Kyle smirked

 

 

“No wait…This is wrong! I saw Chloe give them to him!” Shona tried to hold back the barrage of punches towards Cuban and she caught a few herself. Elbe waded in to help Shona who was on the floor, getting up when he got a punch in his head for being a ‘nigger lover’. There was chaos, a mass fight directed at Cuban, Shona and Elbe who all had bad cuts and bruises, Cuban was on the point of collapse and felt relieved that Deputy Paul broke it up to get Cuban out of there to take him to Bruce’s office.

 

“No!…This aint right! This aint right!” Shona screamed as she was held back when Cuban was dragged up the stairs to Bruce’s office.

 

“Come on, get outta here, back to work everyone. We’ll see justice get done”

 

With that Deputy Paul spat at Shona and Elbes shoes who were breathless and bleeding.

 

“What we gone do!” Shona asked Elbe whose back creaked after he was punched in it.

 

“It all lays with Miss Chloe”

 

“She’s in town….she’s in town, I’ll have to find her, she at the Johnson’s place, can I borrow your truck?” Shona asked Elbe

 

“Course! You be careful” Elbe squinted, he was too dizzy to drive after being hit in the head one too many times

 

Shona snuck out to where Elbe’s truck was parked and floored the gas pedal until she got into town, not entirely sure which road Johnson’s company was at. She had to keep wiping blood from her nose that was dripping.

 

“Come on…come on!” Shona was willing herself to get the right road until she saw a sign ‘Johnson’s Truck parts end of road’

 

Again, Shona floored it until she saw the familiar gleaming dark red car belonging to Chloe all parked up just outside. Shona near-on abandoned Elbes truck in the first available space and ran to the entrance.

 

“Excuse me…I’m sorry, do you know where Chloe…Chloe Bruce is please?”

 

Shona was breathing heavily with adrenaline at the receptionist who slowly put the telephone down at the sight in front of her, Shona was bleeding quite heavily from her nose and head.

 

“Please..I don’t have much time.” Shona pleaded again.

“I’m sorry…who are you?”

 

“My name is Shona…ermmm I’m ermm late for the Mr. Johnson meeting. I had an accident on the way here, I’m late for it. Please, will you help me with where the meeting is?” Shona lied.

 

The receptionist wasn’t convinced.

 

“Wait here please” The receptionist left and Shona was going to follow her.

 

She saw her go down the corridor, not too far, but just saw her lean into a room where Shona could just about make out a large table.

 

“That’s gotta be it” Shona muttered to herself, and she headed towards it.

 

“I’m sorry, Mr.Johnson doesn’t know you….do you mind!?”

 

Shona barged the receptionist out the way, she felt guilty but it was necessary.

 

“Excuse me! What do you think you’re doing!?” The receptionist tried to grab Shona who was too slippery and she got in, scanned the large oval table to find Chloe who was directly opposite her.

 

“Shona!?”

 

“You know this woman?” Mr.Johnson asked

 

“Yes, she works for me” Chloe replied, confused at the sight of Shona, she was bleeding all over her face.

 

“I’m so so sorry for doing this….” Shona tried to grab a breath

 

“Get the Sherriff on the phone and get her out of here!”

 

“No…wait…please” Chloe stood up

 

All eyes were on Chloe, then Shona.

 

The receptionist was straightening her top.

 

“Chloe…I need your help, its Cuban. It’s serious, will you come back with me please?”

 

“Would somebody mind telling me what in the hell is going on!?”

 

Mr.Johnson got up, looked round the table and adjusted his cigar, frowning.

 

“Of course”

 

Chloe said surprisingly gently, with a concern in her eyes looking right at Shona as if nobody else was in the room, despite it being amongst one of the most important meetings Chloe had secured.

 

“Thank you” Shona almost whispered.

 

“You better get out, I don’t care whats happened, you don’t barge into meetings like that!”

 

“Sorry…Mr.Johnson….sorry” Shona also apologised to the receptionist.

 

 

“What’s happened!?” Chloe asked as they walked together towards the exit of Johnsons company.

 

“Its Cuban, he’s had his locker searched, by your father…Kyle. They sayin’ he stole them from your house. He’s been beaten..badly, your fathers about to fire him..let him go…then who knows what will happen to him out there. He…and I tried telling him that you gave them to him, but they didn’t believe us”

 

Their pace quickened with the urgency.

 

“My god…I was so stupid! Its all my fault!” Chloe was annoyed with herself as she was fumbling for her car keys.

 

“I’ll meet you back there?” Shona was about to head to Elbe’s car which was sixty feet away.

 

“Get in mine, its quicker”

 

“Ok” Shona opened the car door and moaned lightly, he ribs hurt from where she had taken punches and kicks also.

 

“You’re bleeding too” Chloe, without thinking and out of concern, touched Shona’s forehead where there was a nasty cut, knowing that it was caused by her…by her giving those damn books to Cuban.

 

“I’m ok…I’m ok…Its Cuban I’m worried about” Shona couldn’t help but feel grateful for Chloe’s concern.

 

Chloe coughed an ‘awkward’ cough and put her foot down to head back to Ellis and Bruce, praying they got there in time.

 

Chapter 61

 

Cuban, bleeding was standing where so many niggers had done before, directly in front of Larry Bruce whilst he sat behind his solid desk smirking about the amount of physical and psychological pain he was about to inflict. He was going to enjoy this one the most, he had been waiting a long time to get Cuban out and now Kyle, the genius, had helped make that happen and it would be a ‘legal’ sacking as he was caught with stolen property something that Jeffrey Ellis would back. This was too easy, and felt good.

 

“You been getting your dirty feet under the table here….aint cha. Been eating the food that gets served, taking another man’s job who aint some dirty, thievin’ nigger. Well now…..times up. Mr. Ellis instead of protecting you, will help pack your bags and I’ll throw ‘em out the door!”

 

Larry Bruce got up, took a swig of whiskey and came round to be directly in front of Cuban who was shaking in shock and fear. Larry continued.

 

“You know something…. You losing your job here aint even the worst part of your day, you know why?…When I let you go out of here, in front of all them guys and out the front door….It will be like feeding you to a bunch a hungry wolves, and they’ll enjoy ripping you apart!”

 

“Sir…please…may I speak?” Cuban pleaded.

 

“Shut the fuck up nigger!” Kyle interrupted digging Cuban in the back, who daren’t argue back

 

“No wait…let him entertain me. I’m enjoying this. Please..what in the hell are you gonna say that will even make me contemplating that you’re anything but a dirty thieving son of a bitch?”

 

Larry Bruce full on smirked in front of Cuban who was flanked by Kyle and Deputy Paul.

 

“Your wonderful daughter Chloe, came and spoke to me a little ago, and asked me about myself. I told her I liked learning to read. The all of a sudden, she came and found me today and offered me some books. I said to her it was too much, but she insisted Sir, I promise”

 

Cuban hoped some of these words would land somewhere remotely in his favour.

 

He was wrong.

 

“You listen….don’t you dare have anything to do with my daughter, you hear!? I know what men like you are like and what you’d want to do with my beautiful daughter….I hear about it, raping, beating…well that’s why I’m getting rid of you, for her safety!”

 

With that, Larry punched Cuban clean in the stomach. A punch filled with long awaited venom that would wind Cuban even though his muscular frame was built to take punishment, this hurt. He was doubled over, struggling to breathe.

 

“This is from me, you stay away from Chloe…she’s way out of your league”

 

Kyle punched Cubans face and blood splattered over the floor.

 

 

“What in the hell is going on daddy!?”

 

It was Chloe, followed by Shona. They were horrified by what they saw.

 

 

Chapter 62

 

Meanwhile, Tom Byrd cam home from getting some groceries and food for his animals in a sombre mood.

 

“You Ok honey?” Ruby noticed Tom was more quiet than usual.

 

He slammed the grocery bags onto the table.

 

“Yeah….well….I went into Johns store today and the whole damn queue were looking at me”

 

“Why?”

 

Tom went to the sink to wash his hands and splash water over his face.

 

“They sayin’ we nigger lovers… They all spat at my damn shoes”

 

“Oh….Tom”

 

Ruby covered her mouth with her hands. She’d experienced it too, the humiliation was unlike anything they knew or prepared themselves for.

 

Ruby continued “What do we do, we can’t just throw him out”

 

“I know Ruby…I know….that would be like sending him to the slaughterhouse”

 

Tom hugged Ruby knowing that the pressure was mounting, if it started to hit them in their already light pockets, they maybe starved into a decision they didn’t want to make.

 

 

Chapter 63

 

“What in the hell happened father!?” Chloe fumed as she burst through the door, she didn’t think she would have to ask twice.

 

Larry Bruce, Kyle and Deputy Paul were shocked to see her, Cuban was relieved to see her and closed his eyes as if his prayers had been answered.

 

“This doesn’t concern you princess”

 

“Don’t princess me!….If this man is here because of those books, its everything to do with me…I took them! You were throwing them out anyway!”

 

Chloe had trouble containing herself as if old anger was being purged.

“Why would you be standing up for a nigger darling?” Larry was having trouble containing himself

 

“Because it’s the truth…You should be ashamed of yourselves, all of you! You have wronged this man!”

 

Kyle struggled not to roll his eyes at Deputy Paul who were still standing guard over Cuban who was coughing up some blood due to his beating.

 

“You ok?” Chloe softened towards Cuban

 

“Yes ma’am I’ll be fine…thank you” Cubans response only added fury to the men watching this unfold. How did this even happen?

 

“Ok Cuban…can you get up?” Chloe asked to which Shona was helping him up. Cuban groaned with pain.

 

“Now…I want you all to apologise to this man…it was my fault, not his….now say sorry to him”

 

Shona was impressed.

 

Chloe looked at Deputy Paul with hatred whose face looked even more haggard and rough especially now he was having to apologise to a nigger.

 

“Sorry” he said reluctantly

 

“Sorry” Kyle replied without any emotion, it was all internalised

 

Larry was starting to realise very quickly, that he no longer knew his daughter.

 

“I wont ever….ever apologise to a nigger, you’ve gone too far Chloe”

 

Larry stormed out.

Shona was almost open-mouthed at what was going on.

 

“Cuban is to have 2 days off to rest….paid, you understand?”

 

Kyle and Deputy Paul reluctantly nodded at Chloe then both sloped out the office.

 

“Wow….Cuban you alright?” Shona tended to him, he groaned a response.

 

“You ok Cuban?” It was Elbe, he had heard about the commotion.

 

Shona explained about what had happened.

 

“This is all going in my diary” Elbe said to himself.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 64

 

The next morning at breakfast, things were tense in the Bruce household. Chloe and Larry were hardly speaking to each other and yet, he didn’t want to fall out as he wanted his daughter (and future husband) to be heir to his company.

 

Larry got up earlier than usual and left without having his breakfast, leaving Chloe sipping her morning tea alone.

 

“You ok Miss?” The housekeeper asked

 

“Yes……yes…thank you.” Chloe appreciated people being concerned about her.

 

Eleanor Bruce was also out, Chloe felt the coldness. It was their way or no way. She grabbed her things and made her way into work.

 

“Here….” Ruby Byrd gave Cuban some tea as he lay in his bed recovering. It hurt when he moved.

 

“Thank you..Thank you Ruby”

 

“Why can’t they leave you alone?” Ruby said standing over him.

 

“Because they’re frightened at what I’d do” Cuban half joked

 

“Ruby….” Tom came in

 

“You ok?” Ruby replied

 

“Come and have a look at this”

 

Tom led Ruby out, Cuban was intrigued but ached too much to follow.

 

“What is it Tom?”

 

“Look” Tom went up to the cattle, one looked to be in distress

 

“Easy…easy…” He tried to calm it and gently maneuvered it around.

 

“What is it? She ok?”

 

Tom didn’t need to reply, once it was moved around Ruby’s face said it all.

 

“My god” She put her hand over her mouth

 

Written clearly in some kind of paint in huge letters on the distressed animal was ‘NIGGER LOVERS’

 

“Whoever did this…was right near the house…while we were all asleep, they aint messin’”

 

“What we gone do Tom?”

 

Toms look said everything as to what they should do about Cuban.

 

Chapter 65

 

 

Back at work, Shona sat alone at the table in the canteen, her drink untouched, her fingers tapping the table. She was tense.

 

“There you are, you ok?” Elbe came over, adjusting his cap as he sat down.

 

“Yeah…I’m fine”

 

“How’s Cuban doing?”

 

“He’s ok, he don’t want to make a fuss you know him”

 

“What about you?…How you doing? You got caught up in it too” Elbe make a fist as if reliving what happened.

 

“I can’t wait to get out of this place. All of us, where we don’t have to worry….look over our shoulders. We can just be….us”

 

Shona traced imaginary shapes on the table looking forlorn. Elbe was sad for Shona, he had lived a long life, given quite a lot of protection by Jeffrey Ellis, but Shona was vulnerable here, mysterious and vulnerable. Through conversations they had shared, Elbe knew Shona for whatever reason couldn’t return home, she had to keep pushing on.

 

“Right, anyway…I gotta go” Shona seemed to spring into action.

 

“Where you goin’?”

 

“Ermm…I’m gonna quickly see Chloe” Shona replied pushing her chair in.

 

“Now that’s quite a surprise. You used to hate her” Elbe smiled

 

“Well, she’s tried to help Cuban, round here that’s rare, and she didn’t have to do it, especially with her last name”

 

Shona disappeared to go up the management steps. She felt nervous for some reason, she had played out the scene.

 

Knock knock

 

“Come in” Chloe replied quite sternly, her door was almost closed

 

“Hi”

 

“Hi Shona” Chloe’s voice softened

 

“I can see you’re busy”

 

“Please…sit” Chloe got up and went to pull a chair out

 

“No its fine….but thank you. I just wanted to come and say thank you for what you did for Cuban. There’s not many who would do that. Compassion is hard to come by”

 

“You’re welcome…and how are you doing?” Chloe asked leaning back on the desk

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“How are you? It can’t be easy working here. I admire you” Chloe’s voice was genuine

 

“I’m fine..I can take care of myself” Shona tried to sound tough, but inside she was broken and tired.

 

“Good…well be sure to see me if I can help with anything” Chloe returned to her seat

 

“Thank you” Shona smiled and left as quickly as she had arrived.

 

Chloe could help but feel there was an air of mystery and intrigued when it came to Shona

 

 

 

Chapter 66

 

Shona came home after her long walk, her body was tired, still achy from the commotion with Cuban and everybody. She went through the door and heard sobbing, she hurried through to the kitchen.

 

“Ruby…what’s wrong?” She was being consoled by Tom who had his arm around her shoulders, they were sitting at the kitchen table.

 

“They been here…again. It’s a game to them, they’re coming up near the house writing god awful words Shona”

 

Ruby was almost ashamed to complain as she loved Cuban, like her own son but his presence was making it near on impossible. People could get hurt.

 

Shona breathed our heavily looking up searching for answers, there were none. Well, there was, for Cuban to go.

 

“Listen, I think….I know that things may calm down now. Chloe Bruce is protecting him, she’s the one who gave him the time off. Now that those animals know that one of the bosses wont have it, they’ll ease off….”

 

“Chloe Bruce?…I thought you hated her, you said she was like the rest of ‘em”

Tom questioned Shona.

 

“I did…until, I got to know her. I was wrong….she’s different”

 

“Shona, what if they hurt one of us, it might not even be those at Ellis and Bruce, there’s Klan around here…”

 

Ruby was wiping her face of tears.

 

“Please, if we throw him out….well I don’t even want to imagine. The only thing that I’d wish for him is a quick death, but he wouldn’t get that if he’s on the streets. Once me and Cuban save up some more money, we will be gone anyway. We will protect each other. Come on, please, I’ll have to go with him, I can’t see him out there, they will be over him like dogs on meat”

 

Tom rubbed Rubys back and digested not only the words but the images of what would surely happen if Cuban was out on the streets. They couldn’t see that happen to him especially as he was still recovering after he got a beating in a supposed ‘safe place’ at work.

 

Ruby looked at Tom, her eyes telling him what she wanted and mirrored the gaze.

 

“Alright, he stays…I don’t want to see any harm come to him. I just hope he makes it to New York soon to meet up with his friends”

 

Tom meant the words with compassion, Shona smiled widely, her eyes glistened, trying to fight back tears. Tom and Ruby really were incredible, so brave and courageous.

 

 

 

“Hey you…” Shona checked in on Cuban who was having a lie down.

 

“Hey”

 

“How’s the patient?” Shona trying to be lighthearted.

 

“Bored….Tom and Ruby won’t let me do anything”

 

“Good, you need to rest….get strong”

 

“It’s difficult, every time I close my damn eyes, I see Klan”

 

Shona frowned

 

“Klan..?”

 

“Yeah, the Klan who attacked me and my family. It will haunt me forever Shona. I keep seeing my house burning, my kids screaming, my wife cryin’. You know….when they beat me at work, I didn’t want ‘em to stop. I wanted them to finish me off…send me to my family. I couldn’t wait for the lights to go out. It’s more of a punishment that I’m alive. Because I keep re-living it anyway, when I’m awake, or when I try to sleep. It’s a living nightmare Shona. I can’t see a day when I won’t have to look over my shoulder.”

 

This was breaking Shona’s heart, but she tried to be positive.

 

“Well…when you’re in New York, with your friends, that’s something to hold onto, a new life right? I’ll come and annoy you up there”

 

Cuban attempted to smile.

 

“Shona, let’s be honest with each other here…..It will be a miracle if I make it out of this town, let alone new York”

 

Cuban’s gaze went from looking up at Shona to the bare wall in front of him. He looked a picture of complete despair.

 

Chapter 67

 

Larry slammed the newspaper onto the round meeting table where everybody had gathered. The atmosphere was tense until Larry pointed at the front page gesturing Deputy Paul and Kyle. Chloe just looked on.

 

“Look, the damn fair is in town. That damn fair is the reason Clint aint in this mornin’. I saw his father on the way in, he said to me that Clint met some young girl, got drunk, went back to hers, had his way until her parents came home so he jumped out the god damn window running away from her father with a shotgun. He twisted his damn leg, can’t walk on it”

 

Deputy Paul and Kyle didn’t try to hide their sniggers.

 

“I’m a man down …he’s an idiot” Larry went and poured a drink.

 

“I hope she put out, otherwise what a waste of time” Deputy Paul smirked, Kyle laughed but attempted to be on some kind of best behaviour with Chloe around, but he wasn’t disciplined.

 

Chloe looked straight ahead at the closed office door, emotionless, cold.

 

“Would you be saying the same thing if it was Cuban?…Or would you be on the phone to Jeffrey getting rid of him?”

 

Chloe directed the last part to Deputy Paul and Kyle who remained silent, stunned and looked to Larry for guidance. He poured another drink, lost at what he was going to do with his daughter.

 

“I need some air” Chloe packed her things up and went for a walk. She figured that if the meeting was that important, they wouldn’t have spent the last half hour discussing baseball.

 

 

 

“Elbe…how are you?”

 

“Why hello Miss Chloe, I’m ok, how ‘bout yourself?” Elbe tipped his cap

 

“I’m fine, thank you. You being treated ok?” Chloe asked with genuine concern

 

“This place has changed a lot Miss Chloe. I’m just glad I retire soon that’s what I will say”

 

Elbe tried to speak quietly, just so Chloe could hear.

 

“Well Elbe, this company will be the poorer for losing you, you know that?”

 

Chloe’s smile lit up Elbe’s face who smiled his response. He was grateful.

 

“Listen…Elbe, you don’t happen to know where Shona is do you?”

 

“Yeah of course, she’s outside cleaning the truck that’s about to go out to be delivered.”

 

“Ok…thanks Elbe”

 

Elbe smiled. It was good to see Chloe and Shona getting on.

 

 

“Hi Miss Chloe”

 

“Miss Chloe”

 

“Can I get you anything Ma’am?”

 

Everywhere she went, Chloe was the centre of attention. She wasn’t comfortable with that, but that’s just how it was with being the boss.

 

“Randy…hi…You seen Shona anywhere, I was told she was over here”

 

“Umm…yeah she’s just cleaning up an oil spillage over there” Randy pointed over to where some huge tyres were stacked and where a truck had been parked, Shona was obviously detailed to clean up any mess.

 

“Thanks Randy”

 

Randy was intrigued. He would love it if Chloe made a special visit to see him. He made it so that he sneaked nearby, pretended to sweep up or something…anything.

 

“Shona”

 

“Hi…how are you?”

 

“You know…it’s so nice to hear that. Normally all I get is demands, groans, moans…for somebody to actually ask me if I’m ok is quite rare”

 

Shona just smiled a reply as if to indicate she was listening.

 

“Sorry…Shona. You didn’t need to hear that, that’s me moaning! Listen, Umm, anyway. How’s Cuban doing?”

 

“He’s doing ok, wants to get back to work. He’s not a good patient”

 

“And….how are you doing, your work…ok?” Chloe tried not to sound patronising, just tried to be interested, but Shona was covered in oil and god knows what else.

 

“I can’t lie…being blasted up in that damn rocket they have just launched sounds appealing right about now. I can think of better ways to spend a day…but it’s a job”

 

Chloe appreciated some honesty for once.

 

Shona looked around, but knew that walls have ears and eyes so declined to reveal.

 

“No…everything’s fine Chloe” Shona tried to remember where she was.

 

“Well, I feel that I owe you an apology so-

 

“- An apology?” Shona interrupted

 

“Yeah, for the book incident, you got caught up in it too, so I was wondering if you wanted to join me at the fair tonight…Unless you have a prior engagement..?”

 

Chloe was gently probing for information, Shona was a closed book.

 

“Listen, you don’t need to apologise, so I’ll decline to go to the fair out of an apology”

 

Shona grinned.

 

“So….will you come because I’m tired of being around guys all day?”

 

Chloe joked

 

“Yeah, I’d like that” Shona responded putting her hands in her pockets

 

“I’ll meet you at the entrance say, 7.30? Or I could pick you up? Where abouts do you live?”

 

“I live about two minutes further down that road we met when I was on my horse….It’s just off to the right…. near the Weaver, you can’t miss it. But it’s ok, I’ll meet you at the entrance”

 

Shona’s cheeks went slightly red as she recalled that meeting.

 

“Right…well that’s settled then. Have a good day Shona”

 

“You too” Shona watched Chloe glide away unable to comprehend what had just happened. Every guy in Alabama and beyond would kill their grandmother to spend five minutes in Chloe’s company, but here she was inviting her to go out for the evening.

 

“She’s gotta be lonely” Shona said to herself and walked past Randy who was ‘sweeping’ up.

 

He knew if he passed this on, he would start to be thought of as more useful, so he went and looked for Kyle.

 

 

Chapter 68

 

 

Ruby brought Cuban a drink, he had hardly eaten anything. He was starting to be more and more in a daze now, almost awaiting his fate.

 

“Here, drink this”

 

“Thank you Ruby….I know it’s hard for you too. I hate being the one responsible for everybody’s pain..”

 

“Now you listen…You listen good. We will get through this Cuban. You hear? Tom and I, love you like our own son. Just because things get difficult, doesn’t mean we give up, we fight on. When you’re ready, you’ll go…but not before. This is your home, you understand?”

 

Cuban’s eye welled up, he couldn’t believe how kind somebody could be, he hugged Ruby and didn’t want to let go, those words snapped him out of his fog, and he wanted to fight on.

 

Chapter 69

 

“Shona”

 

Shona looked up, she was mopping the tool room as best she could, it was hard keeping on top of it, grubby footprints constantly walking through, but it was her job. She saw Kyle approach almost looking pleased with himself. Shona didn’t answer, just looked at him, she hated him.

 

“Shona…We are expecting a delivery later tonight, and so I want you to stay and wait for it. It’s important so you need to make sure you don’t miss it, ok?”

 

“Um…Ok, but…”

 

“But what? You’re not willing to work..?” Kyle was goading Shona

 

“No…it’s not that, I just…… made plans that’s all”

 

“Unmake them” Kyle snapped and was looking dead in her eye

 

“Right….Umm…is Chloe around?”

 

“No…She’s in town, at the Johnsons, trying to clear up the mess that was left, remember?”

 

“Yeah…” Shona’s head dropped, how could she forget storming in that meeting.

 

“Can I….pass on a message to her?” Kyle smirked

 

“Could…You please say to her, that I’m working tonight?”

 

“Of course…consider it done”

 

Normally Kyle would have probed more, but he already knew as Randy couldn’t keep his big mouth shut.

 

“Thanks” Shona replied reluctantly. She had no choice but to ask Kyle, it’s unlikely she would see Chloe today to tell her plans had changed.

 

Shona see’s Elbe walking past and signals him. She tells him about having to work tonight.

 

“I’ll stay with you, you don’t want to be on your own” Elbe offered.

 

“It’s ok, but thank you.”

 

“It’s a real shame that you have to miss your evening with Miss Chloe, it’s good to see you two getting on” Elbe was genuine.

 

“Yeah…Yeah…well…anyway, let’s get back to the grind” Shona wanted to change the conversation.

 

A few hours later, Chloe returned, mostly everybody had left. Chloe was hurrying to get things packed away so she could get ready to meet Shona.

 

“How did meeting go?” Kyle appeared at Chloe’s door. She looked up, then wished for him to be gone in her head.

 

“Um…yeah, its ok. I think I’ve done enough, he’ll trade with us again, no real harm done”

 

“See…You’re so talented. Listen, I was wondering if you wanted to get a bite to eat tonight?”

 

How could she turn him down, many other women didn’t.

 

“Umm…Thank you, but I already have plans” Chloe couldn’t or didn’t want to make eye contact. Kyle was seething inside. He purposely withheld the information Shona asked him to pass on. If he was hurt, others should feel it too.

 

“Right…listen Chloe….You’re not serious about letting the nigger come back here are you? I mean, it’s been a lot more….calmer round here wouldn’t you say?” Kyle was a mixture of trying to be in Chloe’s presence as much as possible, savouring every second, and trying to snap at her, this rejection was painful. He wasn’t used to it.

 

“He stays…Kyle” Chloe didn’t even look at him, she was shuffling her papers. This lack of eye contact made him seethe, plus the prospect of having to ‘deal’ with Cuban again.

 

“Oh…well, I hope you have a good evening then, night” Kyle replied abruptly.

 

“Night” Chloe quickly straightened her desk, grabbed her bag and left brushing past Kyle who could smell her sweet perfume. He ached for her, they made sense to be a couple, a real power couple.

 

Kyle rubbed his eyes as if to try to think straight. He slowly walked to his own office, slumped in his oversized chair, poured a drink, a habit he picked up from Larry, he never used to drink this much during the day and stared at the office door he slammed behind him. He looked at the phone on his desk, took another swig and dialled a number.

 

“Larry…Its Kyle…..Yeah, listen, I’m worried about your daughter Chloe, she seems to actually be taking the side of the nigger, and I’m worried for her safety. You know what this town is like with people who harbour niggers.. They won’t care who she is, there’s some real animals out there. ……..Yeah? You will? Of course I won’t tell Jeffrey…..Bye for now”

 

 

Just as Larry had put the phone down to Kyle, his heart racing, he picked it up again.

 

“It’s me…….Yeah I’m good, listen….I need you to do something for me, need you to stir something up, it needs to be convincing…You’ll need the guys from the bar too…”

 

Larry explained the rest of his plan to whoever it was on the end of the line and seemed pleased with himself.

 

Kyle went downstairs to where Shona was alone, waiting for the delivery,

 

“You can clean this place…properly while you’re waitin’” he snapped at her.

 

“I did this earlier, but I can over it again” The place looked gleaming.

 

Kyle went to the door just outside and found a large bucket with smelly, oily water and poured it all over the floor.

 

“Looks like it needs doing again….Night”

 

 

Chapter 70

 

Chloe raced home, she needed time to get ready.

 

“Those are mighty fine paintings and drawings in your den Miss”

 

Chloe looked up from sorting her hand bag, smiled broadly at her housekeeper.

 

“Thank you…I wished I did more”

 

“Well you should, you sure got a talent for it”

 

Chloe looked rushed.

 

“You’re too kind….ermm…have you seen my red top?”

 

“You’re favourite red top? How could I not know where that is?….Its hanging up all ready for you, out anywhere nice?” the housekeeper probed, but Chloe knew she was discreet.

 

“The fair”

 

“Oooh…You seem keen to impress” The housekeeper teased.

 

Chloe smiled a reply, it was too complicated to tell her that it wasn’t some hot date.

 

Chloe was upstairs getting ready and Larry was downstairs pacing in the lounge, his mind was all over the place what with happening with Chloe. He sat in his chair and began reading the paper to take his mind of it, trouble was, it didn’t.

 

“They are talkin’ about mixing these damn niggers in with whites at school now! What is this flaming world comin’ to!?”

 

Larry raged at Eleanor who was trying on a new shade of nail polish, she didn’t look up but sighed her disbelief.

 

“I tell ya, could you imagine if our Chloe went to a school and some nigger turned up!? I would take her out of there so fast and get the school closed down. I got contacts that would be only too happy to oblige too…”

 

Larry stopped in his tracks and saw his beautiful looking daughter come down the stairs looking even more stunning.

 

“Honey…?” He said, that was his way of asking where she is going, without asking where she is going. She was growing more and more distant from him

 

“I’m going out, I won’t be here for dinner….bye”

 

Chloe said coldly, not hardly looking at her parents as she left, getting into her car and heading for the fair, her heart seemed to beat a little faster, it was probably because she was starting to really stand up for herself.

 

The housekeeper had to stifle her grin, she knew this would frustrate Chloe’s stern, controlling parents.

 

Chapter 71

 

Shona had finished all the possible jobs including mopping up the dirty water Kyle so kindly spilt. She was bored, and would rather be somewhere else, definitely the fair, although she was sure she would feel awkward with Chloe, I mean, what would they talk about? They were in different worlds, what could Shona possibly offer? It would be intriguing if nothing else, and Shona was curious about how she would have dealt with tonight had she not had to work.

 

Tapping her knees, sitting in the canteen that was normally hustle and bustle especially around ten and twelve thirty, Shona was completely alone waiting for the front buzzer to go off which would be the delivery, she decides to venture up to the management offices, Kyles in particular. She knew she shouldn’t, but who was here to stop her?

 

Chapter 72

 

“What?…Sam that’s terrible, I’m sorry…..sorry for your news…”

 

Larry just got off the phone to Big Sam.

 

“Who was that?” Eleanor asked

 

“Big Sam…he called to tell me his father passed away”

 

“That’s a shame, he was a lovely man”

 

“Its not a shame for us, all his father’s money goes to Sam, we are talkin’ millions of bucks. I’ll leave it a little while and I’m sure I can help him how to…..invest it…..in our company. Maybe this will be the way I get rid of Jeffrey”

 

Larry poured another whiskey into one of his finest glasses looking pleased with himself.

 

 

Meanwhile, Chloe had arrived at the fair, parked the car amid admiring glances who appreciated her looks and her car. She reapplied her lipstick, fixed her hair again even though it hadn’t moved. She was early, she wasn’t normally. Unsure and nervous, she was in unfamiliar territory. She wasn’t normally on nights out like this, nights that weren’t about business. Shona intrigued her and Chloe wanted to find out more. She took in a deep breath to calm her nerves and waited and looked out the window to see if by any chance, Shona had got there as early as her, but no. All she could see were couples and families amid bright colours, loud music and happiness. That’s what Chloe was looking forward to being a part of when Shona arrived.

 

 

Shona was a few miles away, snooping through Kyle’s office, still being careful she couldn’t hear anybody, like Kyle sneaking back in. If she was caught, she knew she was done for, in every way possible. But her curiosity was pulling her to look through drawers and files. Shona didn’t even know what she was looking for, just things to confirm what a pig he is. Some drawers were locked, but others weren’t and Shona saw flyers for Reds casino, women’s phone numbers, a demand letter for his car (Cuban was right) all spelling out that he wasn’t this squeaky clean hero, he was likely going to take the company for what he could get, he was in debt. Shona thought she heard a noise and shot out his office, it turned out it was only birds flying around on the roof and the sound echoed. She sprinted down the winding stairs and back where she belonged, slightly out of breath, mainly through fear of it she was caught..by anybody.

 

7.30, Chloe waited patiently in her car, tapping the steering wheel in time to some of the music belting out the speakers getting everybody in the mood. There was quite a crowd. Families started leaving, making way for the young adults venturing out to have fun. 7.35, 7.40pm, Chloe started to think something was wrong. She knew that Shona was never late for work, and would she really be late when meeting the boss’s daughter? She got out of her car and walked round the entrance to the fair, she stood out with her bright red top, immaculate long dark blonde hair, perfect figure that drew glances from anybody who walked past her. Most knew who she was anyway, she was a minor celebrity in this town. You can’t hide how powerful your father is.

 

Chloe wouldn’t normally wait this long for anybody, she was too busy, but by now she was getting annoyed, angry, upset even mixed with a hint of embarrassment. A mixture of emotions flurried round her. By 8.15pm, she decided enough was enough and slowly got into her car and huffed. She would definitely be seeking an explanation first thing from Shona. If this is how she conducts herself, no wonder she was on everybody’s hit list at work, how dare she…

 

 

Chapter 73

 

“Mission accomplished as they say…”

 

One of Larry’s hired thugs, the oldest of the 3 Bullen brothers, got in the passenger side of a car parked at the entrance to the fair, being careful to stay out of direct eyesight.

 

“Yeah…mission accomplished” The driver of the car looking pleased with his plan.

 

“Head down!” Chloe’s car drove near them as she no doubt headed home after ending up alone.

 

“Kyle…you are one mean son of a bitch, but I like it. She looked close to tears!” Both men cackled as Kyle drove in the opposite direction to Chloe, he would do pretty much ‘anything’ to be near her including paying people to follow her and tell him her whereabouts.

 

It was 9.30 and Shona decided to lock up. There was no delivery.

 

Chapter 74

 

“Morning Miss Chloe” The receptionist said to Chloe who looked serious as she walked passed.

 

“Yeah…morning” She normally had a smile but not today.

 

“Good to see you Cuban…how you feeling!?” Elbe greeted Cuban in his tool room. Cuban was back at work, still a little sore, but back.

 

“I’m ok, thanks for asking Elbe”

 

“He can do my shit today seen as he has had the most sleep out of all of us!” Shona joked as she caught the tail end of the conversation.

 

“Oh yes, how did your evening with Miss Chloe go?” Elbe asked

 

“I didn’t go, Kyle told me I had to work…wait for some delivery, that didn’t arrive”

 

Shona scoffed

 

“Delivery? There was no delivery booked? I check the logs….he is either wildly incapable or an evil bastard” Elbe said emphasing by pointing his finger.

 

“Um…I would say…both!” Shona snapped back.

 

“Shona, I need to see you for a minute”

 

Chloe came in and snapped at Shona and left immediately emphasising the urgency, leaving everybody a bit stunned. She was normally so polite and gentle natured with them, the only manager that was so…well Ron Black was nice too.

 

“Everything….ok?” Shona asked nervously as both women went into an empty office nearby

 

“Everything ok?” Chloe snapped “Everything ok? Do you think everything is ok when you make plans with somebody who is really busy and then you just don’t bother to turn up? I would feel bad if something terrible had happened but I saw you messing around with Cuban and Elbe and everything looked fine to me!”

 

Shona was stunned.

 

“What do you mean?…” Shona replied, it felt like no words would sort this situation

 

“Last night…the fair…?”

 

“Ohhh…” Before Shona could even explain Chloe looked annoyed and stormed off.

 

“What was that about?” Cuban asked when it was safe to venture in.

 

“ Kyle…making sure Chloe didn’t get my message about the phantom delivery”

 

“He is one nasty son of a bitch” Cuban replied, Elbe caught the end of the conversation

 

 

 

“You look a little stressed Chloe” Kyle seemed to delight in it as she walked in, keeping her files guarded as they arrived for their morning meeting.

 

“I’m fine” Chloe replied coldly

 

Kyle had a good idea what was up, but he would enjoy that for himself.

 

“Right, lets get started….” Larry got some papers together at the head of the table, some of the investors were there too. Drinks got poured, windows were opened and notepads opened.

 

“Damn it, I’ve left my pen…” Chloe snapped, she went to get up and go and get one

 

“Here, I have another….But its red…You like red, don’t you?”

 

Kyle’s remark stopped Chloe in her thoughts, it was creepy, but she couldn’t work out why. Kyle was simply privately reflecting on the beautiful red top he spied her wearing from a distance the night before.

 

The meeting went by in a blur for Chloe until it was interrupted by one of the drivers.

 

“Sorry to interrupt and all…but we have a problem, there’s a load of people gathering outside having some sort of protest, it looks like it could get out of hand”

 

“Thank you Lewis, we will handle it” Larry replied getting up to look out the window.

 

“My god! What’s going on father?”

 

“Maybe Jeffrey will listen now….” Larry looked a little too cool, which confused Chloe.

 

She saw the banners and placards which read ‘No more niggers!” and ‘Niggers don’t belong here!”

 

It was obviously a reference to Cuban returning to work.

 

“I think it’s quite clear how we deal with this” Kyle got up and joined Larry and Chloe, he purposely got up into her space to which she felt uncomfortable.

 

He continued…”We get rid of him, for everybody’s safety…or the company will lose business…don’t you agree Chloe?”

 

He seemed alarmingly calm, Chloe looked at Kyle and back out the window, then went to the phone

 

“Can you call the Sherriff to arrest these people, they are trespassing…thank you”

 

“No!…I mean…give me the phone…” Larry grabbed the phone off of a surprised Chloe

 

“Hi, it’s me….Listen, I’ll sort it, don’t call the Sherriff, he’s got enough to do”

 

Larry looked Chloe in the eye as he replaced the receiver.

 

“Whats goin’ on? These people could hurt your guys, they could come in here, cause damage…. they are on your land…Why you not doing anything father?”

 

“Because they have a point”

 

Larry replied coolly.

 

Chloe looked round the room, there didn’t seem any urgency.

She looked back out the window and the chanting seemed to get louder as the Press turned up and started taking pictures.

 

“How did they get here so fast?” Chloe questioned

 

“People talk” Larry replied going to his drinks cabinet

 

“Right, well if you’re not going to deal with it, I will…it’s dangerous, we don’t know what these people are capable of..”

 

Chloe headed towards the office door

 

“The same can be said about niggers…..You leave the talkin’ to me Chloe, that’s an instruction as your boss, you understand?”

 

Larry sat back in his seat taking a swig. The air was thick with tension, some people round the table knew more than others.

 

“Now…..where were we..?” Larry gestured to get back to the meeting, the chanting soon faded, but Chloe remained confused and concerned at how little she knew her father now.

 

 

The buzzer went at 10am, the meeting had finished. Chloe felt slightly at a loss as to where to go, she normally met up with Elbe, Cuban and sometimes Shona, but she was annoyed at Shona, how insensitive to just disregard her last night.

 

“Talk to her” Elbe caught Shona watching Chloe come down the stairs at break time. They were sitting alone at a table waiting for Cuban.

 

Shona snapped out of it.

 

“I’ll talk to Kyle first…find out what happened”

 

“And you’re expecting him to give you a truthful answer?” Elbe scoffed.

 

Elbe was right, but Shona was curious as to how he would dig his way out.

 

“Hey…” Lewis, one of the drivers stopped Cuban as he was making his way into the canteen to meet Shona and Elbe.

 

“Hey…?” Cuban replied, confused

 

Lewis looked around making sure nobody saw him talking to Cuban.

 

“Listen, I think you’re alright…I really do, you’re more hardworking than four men put together here. I like you Cuban but you understand I can’t take your side here….this aint the right place for you. You gone get yourself hurt, or somebody else. Those people out there were crazy for your blood. I think you should take your wages and run”

 

Lewis seemed old beyond his years, he quickly looked around again, fiddled with his cap and walked off leaving Cuban contemplating. If that’s what a ‘nice’ guy thought, what would his enemies be thinking, which was pretty much the rest of the employees at Ellis and Bruce.

 

 

“There he is” Shona said as if stalking her prey

 

“Be careful” Elbe said

 

“Where she going?” Cuban just joined them

 

“To have a word with Kyle. He stitched her up”

 

 

 

“Sir….Kyle…” Kyle turned around and when he saw it was Shona, he looked pleased with himself

 

“Yes Shona..and what can I do for you today?”

 

“Did you…I just wanted to know…Did you pass on the message to Chloe that I was working last night?”

 

Kyle faked a confused look

 

“Say again” He replied putting his hands in his pockets

 

“Chloe…did you tell her that I was working last night, that I was here. I was…..I was supposed to be meeting her”

 

Shona hated that she was giving more information away, but then she thought why does she feel the need to keep it secret..?

 

“Shona…You didn’t tell me any message, so I didn’t tell Chloe anything. You must be mistaken”

 

He seemed to delight in Shona’s increased frustration.

 

“Kyle, I told you and you said you were going to tell her…She thinks I just didn’t turn up as I was waiting here for a non-existant delivery while she got stood up! It wasn’t fair!”

 

Shona’s increased volume drew a couple of people to look over, including Deputy Paul who came to join the conversation.

 

“Shona, you might want to not be disrespectful to your manager and calm down. Jeffrey Ellis, the guy who thinks you’re more brilliant than what you are, would take a very dim view, what do you think?”

 

Kyle grinned in support. Shona was seething. She nearly lost it.

 

She nodded as if to say ‘Ok’ she thought it best to leave, she knew he was a lying son of a bitch, but she knew there was no way of proving it. She went to go on her way.

 

“Apologise” Deputy Paul said just before she turned away

 

“What?” Shona said, frowning as she did

 

“Say you’re sorry to your boss…and make it genuine” Deputy Paul nudged Kyle

 

There was no point in arguing. Shona wondered how in the space of two minutes had it been that she wanted to make Kyle feel uncomfortable to now she felt utterly humiliated.

 

“I’m sorry….Sir” Shona actually liked looking Kyle in the eyes, she burned his soul with what she really thought of him. Kyle thought Shona was really attractive and enjoyed this power trip, it was almost sexual. He often got a pang of rejection with the fact that Shona never tried it on with him so anytime she had to beg him, helped make up for it.

 

Shona kept out of the way of Kyle and Chloe for that matter, for the rest of that day and the next. The doom cloud seem to weigh heavily of Shona’s shoulders, she was losing hope, especially as she had lost an unusual and unexpected friendship with Chloe who regularly chatted with her, Cuban and Elbe at the 10am break. This affected Shona more than she realised.

 

 

Chapter 75

 

“Jeffrey…It’s me…..You seen the front page?”

 

Larry lit a cigar and took a seat at his desk.

 

“Yes Larry I seen it, anybody hurt? Any damage done?”

 

“Um…no…no damage done, but this could put pressure on our investors Jeffrey, I mean, they could pull the plug if we don’t listen to the people of this town-“

 

“He stays Larry…..Cuban stays”

 

Jeffrey Ellis seemed to be less tolerable of Larry Bruce as weeks were marching on.

 

“Right…well, be it on your head if he murders or rapes any of your family Jeffrey, we have all been warned by the town about how they feel…”

 

Larry slammed the phone down, a first. He was livid that even now, Jeffery wasn’t listening to him. The divide between them carried on. He took a few deep breaths and picked up the phone again.

 

“It’s me…even the god damn protests didn’t work, I tipped the Press off beforehand to be there to get a good picture, cost me two hundred bucks for them to go front page ‘and’ keep quiet….No no, your guys were good…convincing, but Ellis isn’t biting, he will not let this nigger go…. We will have to think of another plan..”

 

Chapter 76

 

 

Kyles’ quick but heavy footsteps banged the floor down the long stone corridor, every inch of him angry and on a mission. He headed from his office, down the winding steps to past the canteen to find Deputy Paul. Normally they greeted each other playfully, they were on the same page in almost everything, same twisted minds. But this time seemed different.

 

“Keys” Kyle demanded

 

“What?” Deputy Paul screwed up his face, he didn’t understand.

“Give me…the keys, to the lockers” Kyle looked Deputy Paul dead in the eyes. His demeanour eerie

 

“Listen, what the hell you playin’ at? I can’t give you the guys lockers, what you plannin’?”

 

Deputy Paul gestured to Kyle to leave the conversation he was in to go somewhere slightly more private

 

“This doesn’t concern you, just give me the keys…..ok?”

 

By saying ‘ok’ Kyle really meant that it was a deadly serious instruction.

 

“Thank you…this doesn’t concern you, you saw nothing” Kyle took the keys and vanished leaving Deputy Paul concerned and confused.

 

 

The 10am buzzer went.

 

Cuban, Elbe and Shona all took their usual positions on the table away from everyone, the shunned table. But they had got used to it.

 

“You ok Elbe?” Shona asked taking a bite of her bread.

 

“Yeah…”

 

“You don’t look it”

 

“I’m thinking about retiring earlier, I can’t stay here, not with the way it is going. I dread to think of what it will be like in a month, two months…a year.”

 

“You can’t leave us!” Shona half joked, but really she understood, Elbe didn’t need lots of money to survive, he was a simple man, with simple needs.

“I’d want you two to come too…I don’t like the way you both get treated, it’s nothing short of barbaric”

 

“Well…I wont be far behind you Elbe. I’ve been speaking to a couple of guys from The Cell Block, they are going to sort me a job in New York, they are on their way up next week. They gone just settle in, find their way then they will contact me and I’m outta here”

 

Shona smiled her response and nodded apporoval.

 

“Oh that’s great Cuban..You know, when I’m out of here, I’m going to send my diary to somebody more powerful that Larry Bruce to expose him”

 

Elbe whispered

 

“You serious!?” Shona said putting her face lighting up

 

“Yup, been my plan all along, just didn’t have the strength to do it before, but when you two came along, you gave me a…purpose…a reason. For that I’m grateful”

 

“Oh Elbe…” Cuban put his arm around Elbe’s shoulder.

 

“It’s true…You don’t have to hang around an old man like me, you got your lives ahead of you”

 

“But we love to” Cuban replied with a genuine tone to his voice

 

“What about you Shona? What’s your plans?..You got any family anywhere?”

 

Elbe asked cautiously, he never really heard much about Shona’s life outside of Ellis and Bruce. Shona looked a little uncomfortable, but she knew Elbe wouldn’t have meant any harm.

 

“Um…Well, you see, my life is a little complicated….My mother died, well….I say she died, I know in my heart she was killed…”

 

“Killed!?” Elbe asked eyes wide

 

“Yeah…by my father….he’s a drunk, and one night, I was…15 or 16, they were arguing…over me. I went out to see and my mother told me not to come out under any circumstances, it’s like she knew what was going to happen…she was tryin’ to protect me, I went back in my room, hid under the covers, tried to block the noise but…then I heard a scream. I didn’t know what to do, so I…went to my door, pressed against it to see if I could hear anything and nothing. I opened it and my father caught me and said if I came out, he would hurt my mother, so I stayed in my room until the following morning, by that time, doctors were there saying that my father told them my mother tripped and fell that morning and died from her head wounds, but my father and I know that’s not the case, nobody believed me….I still blame myself for my mother’s death”

 

Shona was visibly upset at recalling the night her mother died, Cuban and Elbe looked at each other with the same thought that this is the most they had ever heard Shona speak, especially about her past.

 

“Shona I….I’m so sorry…I completely understand how painful it is to lose a loved one…I’m so sorry”

 

Cuban said reaching Shona’s hand and squeezing it, Shona smiled her appreciation.

 

“What in the hell were they arguing about that was so bad?”

 

Elbe asked

 

“Now….that is a story for another time, trust me…”

 

Cuban and Elbe were intrigued, but respected Shona’s words.

 

“Where is your father now, Shona?” Cuban asked

“Back in Louisiana, probably sitting in a bar getting drunk as we speak”

 

The sombre mood was interrupted by the buzzer to get back to work. Cuban, Elbe and Shona all got up in a respectful silence to go back to their sections.

 

 

Chloe walked past Kyle’s office and was curious, she saw him with four wallets, he looked surprised when he saw her looking in.

 

“What…are you do doing with those wallets Kyle?”

 

“It doesn’t concern you Chloe, I’m…sorting something out and I’ve got to go”

 

Chloe was furious as Kyle barged past her, she was a boss at Ellis and Bruce and knew that Kyle was up to no good and followed him until she was stopped by her father who wanted an update about some figures. She couldn’t accuse Kyle of anything just yet as she had no proof and she knew her father worshipped Kyle, she needed to get it right.

 

Chloe quickly walked to try to find Kyle, she saw him with Deputy Paul and he handed over a small bag ‘The wallets’ Chloe thought and followed Deputy Paul who kept looking around to see if anybody was following him, Chloe was discreet.

 

“Oh no” Chloe said to herself

 

She saw that Deputy Paul was headed for Cubans locker space and so hurried up to get there in time.

 

Meanwhile, Kyle knocked on Larry’s door and simply said ‘It’s done, wait for the buzzer and act surprised…and then furious of course”

Larry grinned and simply replied ‘Its over…we got him, even Jeffrey wont protect his ass now”

 

Chloe hid behind the doorframe and watch Deputy Paul rummage round Cubans belongings whilst he was working, and then empty the bag with the four wallets and stashed them, Chloe waited until he was done.

 

“Finished?” Chloe said calmly. Her voice startled Deputy Paul

 

“Chloe..I mean…ma’am…” He was visibly stressed at being caught

 

“You’re gone tell me what in the hell do you think you’re doin’….Who asked you?”

 

Chloe slowly made her way closer to Deputy Paul who was breathing heavy, he wiped some sweat from his forehead

 

“I got orders..I can’t break ‘em ma’am”

 

“You got orders, Paul?…I don’t see that, I see that you’re walking into another man’s locker space uninvited with stolen wallets, that makes you a thief Paul. I happened to be one of the bosses, I think my word counts, don’t you?”

 

Deputy Paul realised he was screwed, as what it looked it was him being the thief, which would mean he would lose his job. Deputy Paul was only loyal when it suited him.

 

“Ok….I’ll tell you, oh god, can I still keep my job?”

 

“You’re unbelievable….the consequences of what you were gone do meant that Cuban was not only gone lose his job, but he would find his neck in rope, hanging from a god damn tree….and you’re only concern is that you want to keep your job?”

 

There was a twinge of feeling from Deputy Paul, Chloe was trying to remain professional, but it was difficult.

“I’m sorry ma’am…I’m sorry”

 

“Right, you’re gone do as I say, understand..?”

 

 

Meanwhile, Cuban was in the field raking up when he overheard two of the guys causing a commotion, he stopped and listened.

 

“Some son of a bitch has stolen my wallet! I bet it’s that nigger over there, let me go ask him!”

 

An irate Jerry, almost foaming at the mouth marched over to Cuban with another guy in tow, Cuban realised he may have to defend himself, he could feel a punch coming.

 

“Nigger!…Yeah you! You got my wallet you thieving dirty bastard, let me come check and I swear if I find it, I will put you in a grave myself…I knew you were bad news, I knew it..”

 

Ron Black jumped in

 

“Hey…wait..Jerry, what you talkin’ bout?”

 

Jerry explained how he has three others have had their wallet go missing.

 

“Ok…well we will deal with this in the right way..there’s no use in violence”

 

Ron Black tried to calm everybody down

 

“Putting a bullet in his head is the right way!” People were having trouble holding Jerry back from Cuban who was confused.

 

“See…he aint sayin’ nothin’! Guilty as hell!” Jerry almost tried to grab Cuban who genuinely had no idea what he was on about

 

 

BUZZER

 

“Right, let’s go boys, management must want us for something… Cuban, walk in with me…” Ron Black tried to calm the situation

 

Cuban felt unsettled, more than usual. He knew that Ron Black was his bodyguard, but why?

 

“Hey Cuban..You ok?” Shona asked looking at him concerned

 

“Somethings going on and I don’t know what it is”

 

 

“Right everybody….” It was Kyle up on the balcony looking down at the crowd who had gathered below.

 

“…It appears we have a thief.. wallets have gone missing” People started mumbling amongst themselves of ‘Who? What? Why?”

 

“Quiet….the only way to deal with this is fairly of course…we will conduct a search”

 

Kyle looked particularly smug, Chloe wasn’t far behind Kyle almost waiting for her moment.

 

“Deputy…would you do the honours please” Kyle called down to a nervous looking Deputy Paul who knew he had to stage search in other lockers, but to really hone in on Cubans.

 

Everybody’s head moved towards where Deputy Paul was, every one to two minutes a ‘clear’ was heard after he searched the white guys lockers.

 

“It goes without saying that whoever’s locker space we find them in, will no longer play a part here…”

 

Kyle made it obvious he was meaning Cuban, who looked back up at Kyle, swallowing hard, something terrible was going to happen, even though Cuban had never stolen anything in his life, his stomach was churning with dread almost waiting to be knocked out with a killer blow.

 

“All clear” Deputy Paul called up

 

“Right..now Deputy, the only locker left is….the nigger’s”

 

Kyle enjoyed every second of making Cuban squirm.

 

“They better not find my wallet in your locker you piece of shit, I will smash a rock in your head, I swear!”

 

One of the other guys whose wallets was missing called over to Cuban who was flanked by Ron Black, Shona and Elbe

 

Everybody held their breath, seconds seemed to be minutes whilst Deputy Paul went in and rummaged around thoroughly. People held their breath as Deputy Paul emerged saying ‘All Clear’

 

Moans and conversations erupted, including a big sigh from Cuban who shut his eyes tight with relief, he knew he was being framed.

 

“What!?….You want to check again Deputy!?” Kyle panicked.

 

“Kyle, can I see you a minute” Chloe asked calmly

 

“Not right now, I need to sort this!” Kyle was sweating, the plan had gone wrong and chaos was erupting below, if all the lockers had been checked, where were the wallets and who was the thief?

 

“I think you’ll want to make a few minutes for what I have to say…”

 

Chloe got into Kyle’s view and stared at him as if warning him.

“What is it?” Chloe led Kyle back into his office

 

“Do you know where the wallets are?” Chloe lied knowing that Kyle is not going to admit he ordered to have them planted

 

“That’s crazy of course I don’t know!”

 

“Whats crazy is that you thought that was the way you were going to get rid of Cuban”

 

“I have no idea what you’re talking ‘bout”

 

“Ok, no problem….I’ll get Deputy Paul to take you away right now and I’ll let the four guys who wallets went missing to be here while I check your office, what do you say?”

 

“The wallets won’t be in here!” Kyle was breathing fast

 

“Ok…Deputy…keep hold of Kyle please, I’ll do the search now”

 

“Wait…wait!” Chloe went to his drawer, opened a drawer, didn’t touch anything in it and bingo! Four wallets staring back at her.

 

“You want to take a look?…I’ll get my father to draw up the firing paperwork..”

 

“Chloe, listen..please….Ok, so I was going to plant the wallets, you saw me take them but I did it for you…”

 

“Me!?”

 

“Yes…I was getting concerned with how you may get treated by taking the side of a nigger, and it was the only way I thought I could help…I worry about you, you’ve changed”

 

“Kyle…you only care about you…that’s it. I only care about what is right…and what is wrong. Now, what am I gone tell my father about these wallets?”

This was Chloe’s way of making Kyle squirm

 

 

“Everybody! Listen up..Miss Chloe would like to speak to you all”

 

Deputy Paul hollered to the crowd below

 

“Hi…I wanted to let you know that the wallets have been handed in just now…so whoever you thought it was, wasn’t..Kyle would like to speak to you..”

 

Chloe looked smug

 

“You leave Cuban alone and Shona for that matter, or I’ll expose what you were planning to do” Chloe whispered to a fuming Kyle

 

“What the hell is going on up there that we don’t know about?”

 

Elbe asked quietly, Shona and Cuban looked puzzled

 

“I would like to apologise to anybody who I aimed my accusation at like…Cuban…as Chloe said, the wallets have been handed in, I was wrong to accuse, right everybody back to work”

 

“That girl is good!” Elbe chuckled “She’s got that Kyle by the balls”

 

Chloe looked down at Shona who briefly looked up back at her, but broke away first. Shona knew that took some guts to stand up for Cuban against Kyle.

 

Cuban was relieved and puffed his cheeks out and went to go back to work.

 

“Go talk to her” Elbe gestured Shona towards Chloe

 

Chloe was thinking the same

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 77

 

“Hey..” Shona found Chloe as she was on her way back from talking to the receptionist

 

“Hi” Chloe tried to be hard, but realised that after the latest goings-on, it seemed trivial to be angry at Shona.

 

“I just wanted to say I’m sorry for what it seemed like, that I just didn’t turn up. Kyle told me there was a delivery, that turns out it didn’t exist and I didn’t get chance to tell you….Kyle said he would. Then when I spoke to him, he denied everything. Please trust me, I really wanted to meet up with you”

 

Chloe could tell Shona was genuine just by the look in her sparkling blue eyes and by now knew just how deceitful Kyle was.

 

“That’s ok….maybe we can re-schedule?” Chloe said raising an eyebrow

 

“I’d like that”

 

Chloe smiled and went to walk away.

 

“Um Chloe, what about this evening, come by…I don’t know..if you’re free..?”

 

Shona understood she was talking to the most sought after woman in most of Alabama, of course she would be busy.

 

“I do have plans…sorry”

 

Chloe replied reluctantly, she was supposed to meeting some business people with her father.

 

“Oh ok…no problem…have a nice evening”

 

Shona then went back to work

 

 

 

Chapter 78

 

“I don’t know what to wear tonight, the blue dress with the bow near the shoulder, or the red dress with the split, what do you think Chloe?”

 

Eleanor Bruce was at the dinner table almost talking to herself trying to pick out what she was going to wear at the business function in town. Chloe was picking at her dinner and not at all interested at what her mother just said.

 

“Blue dress” Chloe replied mechanically not even looking up from the table.

 

“I like the red dress..”

 

“Fine..wear the red dress” Chloe snapped.

 

“What has got into you?” Eleanor said frowning as if scolding a child

 

“I’m going out” Chloe got up and left the dinner table, just as Larry Bruce was coming in. The housekeeper kept her thoughts to herself, she knew Chloe was changing.

 

“Where you goin’ young lady?” Larry found it difficult to call her princess, the divide between them was massive and their relationship was tense.

 

“Out” Chloe grabbed her coat

 

“What about the function?” Eleanor called out

“I’m sure people will make deals whether I’m there or not”

 

Chloe slammed the door shut.

 

 

“Larry..I’m getting’ really worried about our daughter”

 

“I know…I’ll deal with it. It’s those low lives she has taken a shine too, Elbe who I don’t know how he is still alive, the nigger and Shona who I still can’t work out exactly what she is doing in Daynes. She seems like nothing but trouble if you ask me. They all need to go, but trouble is, Jeffrey seems keen to keep ‘em just to spite me now….”

 

“Larry, what if that nigger moves in on our daughter…preys on her good nature, there’s no telling what he might do”

 

“I know…I know…. I don’t want to think about it, I’ll deal with it…my way…”

 

 

 

Chapter 79

 

Shona sands down a bench she is making out of the wood that Elbe got for her when Cuban comes to join her in their outhouse near their sleeping quarters.

 

“Hey Shona, that’s looking pretty good there!”

 

“Thanks” Shona wiped some sweat off her forehead and took a breath.

 

“Where you gone put it?”

 

“It’s for Maria..for her and her son to sit”

 

“That’s real nice of you…real nice of you”

Maria was a widow who lost her husband to Klan, her 12 year old son got badly injured two years ago trying to protect his family. They chopped off part of his right foot, he walks with a limp now. Shona met Maria at the secretive night spot The Cell Block, it’s where the black community met every few weeks but Shona was always welcomed. Unfortunately they had to move every two to three occasions as when Klan found out its location, it was burned down. The Cell Block was wherever the community met, they felt they were always locked in a prison cell.

 

“Right, that’s that…I’m gone try and see what mood Storm is in”

 

Shona dusted her hands, put her tools away and went out to get Storm.

 

“Good luck with that” Cuban replied, Shona smiled like ‘I’m going to need it’

 

There was a knock at the door

 

“Who’s that at this time!?” Tom called out to Ruby who was on her way to the front door.

 

“Hello…who is it?” Ruby called through the door

 

“Hi…um its Chloe…Chloe Bruce”

 

 

Chapter 80

 

“Hi Ma’am…of course I know who you are, come in”

 

Ruby was as polite and warm as ever.

 

“Ruby! Who is it!?” Tom called out from the other room

 

“It’s Chloe Bruce dear!….I’m sorry about that darlin’…”

 

“That’s ok….Um…I was wondering, I mean I’m sorry to just turn up, but is Shona around…?”

 

Chloe looked nervous

 

“She’s out back…. tryin’ to tame that damn wild horse…Storm”

 

Tom heard the tail end of what Chloe said as he made his way into the hallway. He couldn’t quite believe one of the most famous faces in Alabama was standing in his barn.

 

“You want see..?” Tom gestured to Chloe to go out back, she nodded and smiled her response, she was led through the barn to land out back, she could hear the stomping of hooves of a wild horse and Shona’s calming voice.

 

“Shona…you got a visitor….I’ll leave you two to it” Tom said to Chloe and he shut the main door

 

Shona turned to see Chloe and her face was a picture she thought ‘what in the hell is she doing here!?’

 

“Hi…” Shona said shyly

 

“Hi …Sorry to just turn up like this”

 

“No problem…You ok?” Chloe found it amazing to be asked actually how she was, this is one of the many things she found intriguing about Shona, along with her mystery.

 

“Yes..I’m fine…I just wanted to take you up on your offer”

 

“Thought you had plans tonight” Shona shot back, she didn’t mean to sound direct

 

“I did…I did…But when you’ve been to one business function, you’ve been them all. It’s the same faces, the same conversations, who has the most money…..”

“Well that won’t happen here…we all don’t have any money so that’s easy!” Shona smiled, Storm pulled on her reigns as if to respond too, Chloe grinned.

 

“So this is Storm..?” Chloe approached a nervous Storm who was breathing heavily

 

“Yep…she was the one who threw me off when……” Shona smiled embarrassingly in recalling the first time they properly met.

 

“Oh yes….sorry….again”

 

“That’s alright, here…stroke her…” Shona gently tugged the reigns as if to gesture to Storm to behave.

 

Chloe cautiously approached Storm respecting her wildness and gently patted her mane. Storm responded as instructed. Chloe’s’ face lit up Shona noticed.

 

“She likes you…and she’s tough to please trust me” Shona felt proud that Storm wasn’t letting her down.

 

“I like her too….She maybe wild, but she just wants what we all want… to be understood” Chloe looked Shona in the eye and it was like a punch for Shona. She almost forgot she was with her boss. She felt like what Chloe had just said was a metaphor, for all of them standing there, not just Storm.

 

“Well….she can also be a pain in the ass too..” Shona wanted to break the intense atmosphere and as if on cue, Storm broke wind…loudly.

 

Both Chloe and Shona laughed out loud

 

“Storm!…Behave!” Shona said to Storm playfully.

 

“Is Miss Chloe stayin’ for supper?” Ruby came outside

 

Shona looked at Chloe and Chloe looked back at Shona. Shona nodded and raised her eyebrows as if to say ‘well? You’re welcome to’

 

“I’d love to…thank you” Chloe again looked at Shona who smiled

 

They both talked and stroked Storm who seemed to be on her best behaviour for once and went in when they were called for supper.

 

“Hi Miss Chloe!” Cuban greeted Chloe with genuine warmth

 

“Cuban..how are you?”

 

“I’m doing ok, here let me get your seat” Cuban held out Chloe’s chair and pushed it in when she sat down

 

“Thank you Cuban”

 

Shona sat right opposite Chloe which was pleasant and uncomfortable at the same time, luckily Ruby and Tom were never shy of conversation. Within ten minutes, the table was filled with laughter from funny stories to deep conversations. The only downside was that time was flying by.

 

 

“Kyle…It’s me…..Yeah….meet me at Reds…Nine o’clock” Larry Bruce slammed the phone down, he was livid and nothing but a big win at the casino with a constant refilling of his whiskey glass was get close to fixing it. Kyle was his partner in crime and now also a regular at Reds that didn’t exactly have the best reputation.

 

Chloe had never felt so relaxed, so welcomed and so joyful around a table. There was no talk about business deals or who had the most money, no talk of people getting fired, it was pure happiness and yet Chloe knew the horrendous time Shona and Cuban were going through at work, yet they still had room for compassion in their hearts.

“Well Shona can take you out ridin’ she’ll make sure you ride one of the more how should we say it….calmer horses.” Tom out Shona and Chloe on the spot after Chloe hinted that she missed horse riding.

 

“I’d really like that as long as it’s ok with you…Shona” Chloe was strangely nervous, but she needn’t be.

 

“That’d be great…don’t worry, I wont make you ride Storm”

 

The table laughed and Cuban lingered a look at Shona and Chloe, considering Shona considered her an enemy not too long ago, here she was sharing dinner with her, laughing and joking round a table.

 

 

 

“Drinks gentlemen..” The stunning waitress who caught the eye of Kyle brought 2 more drinks over to his VIP table where he and Larry had enjoyed a game of poker, both had lost which only heightened the mood to a new tension.

 

“My daughter…I don’t know her anymore, you know? Its like whatever I say to her, she doesn’t listen. And worse still she sympathises with niggers. Do you know what that could do to my reputation? “

 

Kyle nodded in understanding.

 

Larry continued “Tonight, I don’t even know where she is, she got up and left. I went to the function earlier but I couldn’t concentrate on a damn thing, all I had in my head was where my daughter was”

 

“She got any friends she might have gone to?”

 

“No idea…she doesn’t tell me anything”

 

“A…secret boyfriend?” Kyle took a swig as if to mask his fury at that option.

 

“Not that I know of…but you know how I feel about that, I want you to date my daughter, I can trust you. I want her and you take over the company when I’m long gone”

 

These words delighted Kyle, to actually hear that he would inherit an absolute fortune and all he had to do was date Larry Bruce’s stunning daughter, all his own private issues would be solved.

 

“That’s…very kind of you Larry. I’m honoured”

 

“In the meantime..I want you to keep an eye on my daughter, follow her. I’m worried she is getting mixed up with niggers and other low lives, will you do that Kyle?”

 

“It would be my pleasure Larry”

 

The clinked glasses

 

 

Chapter 81

 

The following morning, at the work meeting all the regulars were round the table, Jeffrey Ellis was also there. Larry had talked about another client who put a lot of work his way.

 

“If we have to get them to work double shifts, so be it…its worth a lot of money this contract..”

 

Everybody nodded apart from Chloe. It’s not that she disagreed, her mind was just elsewhere and Kyle noticed.

 

After the meeting, Larry approached Ellis and asked for more money as he would need to pay the guys more wages and Jeffrey agreed, but reluctantly. He was growing more and more wary at giving Larry a blank cheque.

As soon as the meeting finished, Chloe shot out of the room, Kyle closely behind.

 

 

BUZZER

 

“Shona..”

 

“Miss Chloe”

 

Shona was the first out of her, Cuban and Elbe to find a table at the 10am break time.

 

“Um…hows your morning been?”

 

“Fine…Yours?”

 

“Boring…but don’t tell them I said that”

 

Shona smiled

 

“Listen Shona…Thank you for last night, you have no idea how good it felt to be…normal. I really enjoyed myself. Tom and Ruby are adorable”

 

“That they are….and you’re welcome….anytime”

 

“You wanna meet up, go to the diner in town or something?”

 

“I gotta work all this week…sorry”

 

“Saturday?”

 

Shona had no excuse. Not that she wanted one. She was flattered at Chloe’s persistence.

 

“Perfect”

 

“What’s perfect?” Elbe had his dinner tray and was sitting down opposite Shona who was next To Chloe.

 

“The apple pie that you make Elbe..” Shona joked. Elbe grinned. There was something strangely private about the conversation she was having with Chloe like she didn’t want to tell everybody.

 

“Hi Miss Chloe!”

 

“Hi Cuban….right I’ll let you all get on with you food. Have a good day” and Chloe left

 

“Now that is one beautiful young lady, some guy is gone be real lucky to snap her up” Elbe said dipping some bread in soup.

 

Chloe’s visit to Shona’s table didn’t go unnoticed, Kyle saw everything. He just wished he heard the conversation.

 

 

Chapter 82

 

The week flew by, with the workers having to put in almost double shifts due to the new contract Larry had secured. Shona hardly saw Elbe or Cuban other than at the ten am break time. She didn’t see Chloe at all, it felt like months ago not days that Chloe had invited her out. It was Friday afternoon and Shona was a little worried that tomorrows meet wouldn’t happen. She looked up at the management offices and Chloe’s door was shut, so she looked around and decided to go up and ask. Something about it felt like it was a secret, she hadn’t even told Cuban or Elbe.

 

Most people had left for the day and Shona felt like she was creeping to Chloe’s lavish office almost like she wasn’t allowed or not invited. Chloe didn’t make her feel that way, but Shona’s position in society did.

 

Shona took a deep breath and knocked on the office door. No answer. Chloe gently knocked again and opened it, hoping she wasn’t disturbing.

 

“Hello?” Shona called out as she slowly ventured in. Chloe wasn’t in. Shona, feeling despondent stood there looking at Chloe’s office appreciating the wealth in there. She heard footsteps, perked up, turned round and got bumped into.

 

It was Kyle.

 

“Shona…what are you doing up here?”

 

Shona couldn’t tell him about tomorrow and she didn’t even know herself why she was in Chloe’s office.

 

“I um…was working late so wanted to see if Miss Chloe wanted a drink” Shona lied

 

“Shona…you and Miss Chloe are not the same, she is your boss as am I. You don’t belong up here unless you are getting promoted, hardly likely, or getting fired, which is more realistic. Do you understand me?”

 

“Yes….sir” Shona again burned Kyle with her blue eyes. She hated him with every inch of her.

 

“Oh and Shona…you’re working late right? There’s no extra pay for you or for the nigger. Consider it, working as a team. If you have a problem please feel free to complain to…Larry Bruce.”

 

It was like Kyle not only had to stick the knife in but twist it again and again.

 

Kyle left, Shona watched him walk over to Deputy Pauls office.

 

“Shona!” came a call from below, it was Chloe. Shona’s demeanour brightened immediately.

 

“Hi..”

 

“There you are, I’ve been looking for you…we still on for tomorrow?” Chloe asked nervously.

 

“Yes…I’d like that” Shona replied.

 

Chloe would have no idea how much those words meant to Shona.

 

 

Chapter 83

 

Ed’s diner was the finest diner in Daynes. It was Chloe’s favourite and familiarity is what she wanted as for some reason she was nervous about meeting Shona, whether it was because she was secretly worried about getting stood up again or what, she wasn’t sure.

 

Chloe took a seat in booth by the window near the door. She had arrived early and was on the lookout for Shona. Every time the door went, she looked up expectantly.

 

“Hi Miss Chloe”

 

“Ma’am”

 

Everybody knew Chloe and said hello when they walked by.

 

“Can I get you a drink Miss?” The waitress wearing the paper hat had some coffee.

 

“No thanks, I’m just waiting for somebody”

 

Shona just got of the bus and made the short walk to the front of Ed’s Diner.

 

She took a deep breath and walked in to Chloe’s relief.

 

“I’m sorry I’m late, I got the early bus but there were was an incident. A white woman wouldn’t refused to travel on the bus where there was an old black even though he was sitting in the correct seat”

 

“What happened..?”

 

“He was…literally kicked off the bus, he couldn’t move very fast, had a walking stick”

 

“That’s’ awful”

 

“Yeah…I just think of Cuban and what he must go through with the things he don’t tell me. The bruises give away most of it”

 

“I wish I could help him”

 

“You do..he speaks very highly of you”

 

The women chatted about general things. It was so pleasant that Chloe was being asked questions by somebody who had no agenda other than to listen.

 

Chloe was eager to deepen the conversation. Shona intrigued her, she was a mystery.

 

“So…why Daynes? Why Alabama? What’s your story Shona?”

 

Shona breathed deeply as if she was preparing to be unravelled in some way. It wasn’t comfortable for her, Chloe noticed Shona’s face change slightly.

 

They talked for around an hour about Shona’s past, well the elements that Shona wanted to share. Chloe was horrified about Shona losing her mom and how Shona had battled to make it in men’s jobs.

“Wreckers..” Shona said after the deep and meaningful conversation about her past

 

“What?”

 

“Wreckers…a place in Mississippi I settled for a while after leaving Alabama. Wreckers was a big workshop, mainly for trucks, I was there for almost a year, the longest I’d been anywhere for a good while. The guys treated me well, I loved my job, saved up a little bit of money. It was great as they finished at midday on a Friday, time off if you needed it, the boss was all about looking after the staff It was the best place to work, good food too….” Then Shona faded as if recalling something painful.

 

“Then what?”

 

“I left”

 

“Why? Why if it was so good?”

 

Chloe looked at Shona directly in the eyes as if uncovering the answer. Shona felt that Chloe was as close as anybody had got to uncovering the truth. There was a split second between the two of them that was intense, like Shona was going to blurt out the painful past.

 

“Um…it don’t matter, let’s talk about something else” Shona was visibly uncomfortable.

 

“Ok…alright” Chloe was disappointed.

 

Somebody had put some money in the jukebox and ‘Its In His Kiss’ started playing. Shona and Chloe smiled at the inappropriate or indeed appropriate timing of the uplifting song as it lightened the heavy conversation.

 

“As it is this song that’s playin’, let’s play a game..” Chloe said, every minute that went past she seemed less and less like Shona’s boss. Shona looked confused.

 

“Okay…?” Shona replied

 

“Its called Make out, Marry or…kick to the kerb” Chloe said with a glint in her eye, she was seriously probing Shona now. Shona was sure that Chloe had just made this game up.

 

“Right…Um…what is it?”

 

“I’ll pick three guys and you tell me would you make out with them, marry them or kick ‘em to the kerb”

 

Chloe looked playful, her eyes bright. Shona didn’t see this side of Chloe when she was at work.

 

“No…I tell you what, you go first” Shona said decisively

 

“Ok..You pick the guys”

 

“Umm..let me see….Right, Ok……Randy, Kevin the delivery guy and …..Kyle”

 

Shona deliberately left Kyle until last, she wanted to see Chloe’s reaction.

 

“Ooooo….Ok… I would…make out with…..Kevin, he’s kinda cute but I know his lovely wife, I would marry Randy as he is so laid back and I would……kick Kyle to the kerb” Chloe said looking Shona in the eye whilst she sipped her milkshake.

 

That told Shona all she wanted to know.

 

“But we wont be telling that to anybody right?” Chloe playfully pleaded.

 

“Course not”

 

“Now it’s your turn Shona”

 

“No…no….listen can you make swans? Out of napkins?”

Shona was always skilful at changing the subject

 

“Excuse me?” Chloe was confused

 

“Swans..here..” Shona said then expertly made a perfect beautiful swan and handed it to Shona.

 

“Wow..”

 

“My mother taught me that..” Shona looked a little lost for a minute

 

“Can you teach me?” Chloe asked

 

“I can try”

 

In the five attempts that even though they gradually got better, were not a patch on Shona’s swan.

 

“You keep touching your necklace. It’s beautiful” Chloe said

 

“My mom..she made it, it’s worth not a cent to anybody, but its worth all the money in the world to me. We went walking along a river nearby home on evening and she picked up this small pebble, somehow put a hole in it and thread some string through and I’ve never taken it off since she died. My father he….. was so annoyed… she never did anything like that for him. He was a jealous, bitter drunk and that’s the nicest part about him” Shona tried to make a quick joke at the end, but Chloe was heartbroken for Shona

 

“Why do you keep looking around? You seem nervous” Chloe asked Shona

 

“No reason I….Just don’t normally come into town that much if I can help it”

 

Chloe couldn’t help but think it, but she was convinced that somebody or indeed people were after Shona, could it be her father she was afraid of and that’s why she was nervous at being in public? But it took a lot for Shona to open up and Chloe was certain there was a good reason for it.

 

Chloe and Shona both said goodbye. Chloe offered to drive Shona back to the barn.

 

“Its ok..I’ll get the bus..but thank you. See you Monday”

 

“Bye Shona..”

 

Chloe slowly made her way back into Eds Diner.

 

“Can I have a coffee please?” Chloe didn’t want to go home yet, she didn’t want the night to end

 

 

Chapter 84

 

 

Shona quietly came through the front door, careful not to startle anybody. It was late by the time she got dropped off at the top of the road by the bus.

 

She went to get undressed and could hear whimpering coming from Cubans bed area behind the divide. She cautiously went round quietly calling his name. She found a shivering wreck in bed.

 

“Cuban…You ok?”

 

“Shona….they are wherever I go…They show up when I leave work, they knockin’ on my window, I see them”

 

“Who?”

 

“Klan Shona…we are surrounded by Klan. They are just waiting for the right moment to take me out”

 

Shona comforted Cuban.

 

“Where you been tonight?”

 

“Just out..”

 

“Out?”

 

“Yeah with um….Chloe, she invited me”

 

Cuban didn’t seem surprised

 

“That’s nice…that’s real nice” Cuban replied

 

 

 

 

“Can I get you….anything..Sir?” The sexy waitress dressed in a miniskirt at Reds was preying on her eager well known powerful customer who was drinking alone.

 

“How much…for you, for an hour?” he snapped

 

“I’m sure we can come to some arrangement” she led her customer into a private room in the VIP section.

 

Fucking this waitress went only a small way of Kyle being able to deal with the sting of rejection of not being able to get near Chloe and worse still her being seen with Shona in town.

 

 

Chapter 84

 

The following week flew by, the new contract ensured that breaks were kept to a minimum, shifts were long and chat were short. Shona couldn’t remember seeing Chloe that week. She was tied up in meetings to hopefully extend the contract as it was bringing in a lot of revenue. She wondered how Chloe was, she could sense she wasn’t fully happy with her life eventhough most would kill to be in her position of wealth.

 

It was Friday afternoon and the contract had been fulfilled, there was more of a sense of relief, some of the guys went to the local bar to celebrate. Shona went to find Chloe.

 

“Hey….” Shona said quietly, peeking round the office door

 

“Hi” Chloes face softened at the sight of Shona and not that she was another worker demanding this or that

 

“Tough week?”

 

“You could say that…I’ve been drowning in paperwork…You?”

 

“The same….well, not the paperwork part” Shona smiled at her error

 

“You going to the bar with the guys?” Chloe asked

 

“No…I’ll leave them to it..you?”

 

“No…I got too much to do here still, let them be all macho, they don’t want their boss around” Chloe smiled

 

Shona had to keep reminded herself that Chloe was her boss.

 

“I’ll leave you to it…Bye” Shona went to leave

 

“Oh…good night” Chloe was a little sad Shona was leaving

 

Shona stopped after walking three steps and came back.

 

“You don’t want to….go out horse ridin’ do you? By the Weaver? Its beautiful this time of year…I understand if not, you’re busy..” Shona gestured towards Chloe’s paperwork

 

Chloe breathed out as if that was just what she needed

 

“You free tomorrow?”

 

“Sure”

 

Chloe and Shona made plans to meet at Shona’s barn to pick up two horses for the trek.

 

 

 

The following day, Chloe arrives dressed in more casual attire. Shona smiled as if she almost didn’t recognise her from her work clothes. Cuban was pleasantly surprised to see Chloe out back and wondered why Shona didn’t say anything before. There were some laughs shared with Tom and Ruby who were quickly growing very fond of Chloe.

 

 

“What did your mother and father say about you coming out to see me?”

 

Shona and Chloe were out riding at a very slow, comfortable pace, it was bliss. The sun wasn’t too hot, there was a slight breeze as they headed along the Weaver River in and out of trees.

 

“Um…they don’t know….I got changed in my car. I’m sure you know what my father is like”

 

Shona was a bit upset that she was so hated by the Bruces because she was poor and shouldn’t even be allowed to talk to Chloe socially let alone be enjoying these kind of times with her. But Chloe was mainly the one instigating, like she was lost herself as well as Shona and yet when they were in each other’s company, they were totally the same.

 

They walked some parts in complete silence and yet the atmosphere was relaxed.

 

“Here..” Shona stopped her horse and got off, then helped Chloe steady her horse to get off.

 

They settled for a light picnic on the river bank. They were totally alone. Chloe stretched out, arched her back and groaned as if she was in complete paradise.

 

“Like it?” Shona asked

 

“Like it? I love it, I can understand why you come out here” Chloe said looking around at the stunning view, the water just lapping up the bank.

 

“Yeah..this is my secret place” Shona said throwing a stone into the river

 

Chloe turns to Shona and momentarily just focuses on her side-on.

 

“I’m sorry for the way you get treated at work…you and Cuban. Its not my doing. I want to change things…for the better”

 

“I know you do…we see that. It must be hard for you too”

 

Chloe was astounded that Shona wasn’t bitter.

 

“I liked what you said about Wreckers….how they treat their staff. I’m gone take those ideas and see if I can…slowly put them into practice. Would that help things?”

 

Shona was amazed that Chloe had listened so intently back at Eds Diner.

 

“Well, it would help the guys I’m sure” Shona replied throwing another stone in the river

 

“What about you?”

 

“Me? I probably wont be there much longer….Kyle and your father will be pleased.”

 

Chloe’s face dropped

 

“Why? Where you goin?” Chloe asked

 

“I want to go to the west coast, I’m saving every cent, but its hard as Tom and Ruby are losing money as less and less people want to deal with them as they are ‘nigger lovers’. I have to put more and more money in, but it’s the least I can, they put a roof over my head”

 

“Um…when you thinking of leaving?” Chloe was genuinely upset. She had finally started to get to know Shona, and she really liked her.

 

“Cuban and I will probably leave in a couple of months, he will head north and me west.”

 

“I can’t say I blame you with how you’ve been treated but…I’m not gone lie, it will be a real shame..”

Chloe wanted to say more

 

“Look at this…” Shona again, changed the subject and drew Chloe’s attention to a stunning looking delicate pebble, that had shades of pink that glistened and handed it to Chloe

 

“Thats beautiful”

 

“It matches your scarf” Shona said noticing the flimsy pastel pink material loosely draped around Chloe’s neck.

 

Shona takes back the pebble and puts it in her pocket.

 

They talk for another two hours, lost in conversation from everything from politics to the weather, but Chloe notices that its her doing most of the talking and that Shona is an expert listener and when she does have something to say, Chloe hangs on every word.

 

“The clouds are comin’ in, we better get moving” Shona looks up then gets up from the river bank to untie her horse.

 

“Oh…what a shame, I was having a lovely time” Chloe replied huffing a little

 

“We can do it again if you want?”

 

“Yeah I’d like that” Chloe smiled and then looked around her, she felt free and at ease

 

Drip….Drip………………….Drip, …………………Drip, Drip

 

“Damn it…we wont make it in time” Shona said kicking her horse to motivate it into a trot

 

“Make what in time?” Just as Chloe responded, the heavens opened and they were still around fifteen minutes away from the barn.

 

“Damn it” Shona tried to get her horse to go quicker, but the downpour made the ground slippery, so she gave up, huffed with embarrassment and look behind at Chloe who was bobbing up and down a little out of control which made Shona smile.

 

“Well…too late now” Chloe said embracing the rain. Shona laughed and rolled her eyes.

 

Both their horses walked slowly back to the barn, they were in no hurry anymore, they were soaked wet through, but couldn’t stop laughing at the sight they must look.

 

“Easy girl..” Shona got off her mare and tied her up and then helped Chloe get off.

 

“Well…Its been an adventure, different!” Chloe said wiping her face of raindrops

 

“I’m sorry…I”

 

“Don’t apologise…it’s the most fun I’ve had since….a long time…Thank you” Chloe said it genuinely looking at a soaking wet Shona, whose horse kept nudging her.

 

“Listen..I better go Shona…thank you again” Chloe said, Shona nodded and smiled, her heart was awkwardly beating a little faster, probably because of the adrenaline of being caught up in the torrential rain.

 

Shona tied up the horses securely, wiped her head with a cloth and made her way back in and Cuban startled her.

 

“You alright?” He said standing just behind the doorway, he would have heard the last part of the conversation between Chloe and Shona

 

“Yeah….you?”

 

“Yeah…Listen, its great…really great that you’re getting on with Miss Chloe, she’s amazing. The only thing I got against her is her father.”

 

“I know..” Shona didn’t mean to but she snapped her reply

 

“I don’t want you to go through anything like I do….If you are his enemy, you’ll know about it, and so will everybody else. You mixing with his daughter.-“

 

“I’m not mixing with his daughter!? We hang out! Whats the problem with that!?”

 

Shona snapped and went to walk off

 

“In my time of knowing you, I’ve never heard you angry at me…Whats going Shona, whats really going on?”

 

Cuban lowered his head to try to be level with Shona’s who dropped it, she had her back to Cuban.

 

“Can we just drop it?….Please…Cuban”

 

“Of course…I just want you to be careful that’s all, you’re dealing with dangerous people”

 

Shona heard Cubans words, but didn’t respond.

 

Cuban heard Shona punch some wooden pallets out of frustration. He had never seen Shona like this before.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, Chloe drove home, smiling to herself ‘what was she doing!’ she thought, but it was so much fun being around Shona and being able to feel free, she decided she was going to more of this and make the most of Shona before she left town. Still soaked, she quietly unlocked the front door and creeped in, trying to make it upstairs without anybody noticing.

 

Too late.

 

“Where have you been young lady? We were worried, there was a terrible storm” Larry Bruce was at the bottom of the stairs, Chloe almost made it to the top.

 

“I’ve been out…riding” Chloe said, trying to use minimal amount of words

 

“I can see you’ve been out…You’re soaked through. Who in the hell you been with who wouldn’t think to take good care of my daughter”

 

Larrys cheeks went red with anger as he said it

 

“Shona… She gave me free riding lessons. I think that’s good of her right?” Chloe tried desperately to salvage some positivity, but Larry wasn’t having it.

 

“The mixed up nigger lover…..that’s who you’re choosing to spend your time with. I know she lives with Cuban….There are countless guys who would look after you, and you choose to go to a hut and get drenched, who knows how many people seen you!”

 

“This about me……or you father?” Chloe looked her father dead in the eyes and replied eerily calm.

 

“Don’t you dare speak to me that way! Don’t you dare!…We give you all this, all this! For you to throw it away and spend your time with nobodies who wished they had all this! Do you have any idea what that does to me and your mother!?”

 

Larry went up one step of the stair case as if to emphasise his point.

 

“If you only got to know them…..You’d wished you had their happiness rather than……all this……I’m having a bath”

 

Chloe instantly recalled the laughter around the table she had experienced at the Barn and verbally struck her father straight into his heart. For once, Larry was speechless with fury.

 

Chapter 85

 

The rest of the weekend was spent in pretty much silence in the Bruce household. The atmosphere was thick with tension, nobody seemed to be able to talk to anybody. Chloe actually preferred it that way. She discovered new vigour for her drawing and painting after talking to Shona on that riverbank, and on the Sunday set about re-creating the Weaver river, she knew she wouldn’t get disturbed in her ‘den’ as her parents never went in there, they didn’t think she should be ‘wasting her time’ by painting and drawing anyway.

 

“Hi Miss Chloe, that scarf looks beautiful on you” Pat said admiring the same, but newly washed pink scarf she wore on the Saturday whilst out riding with Shona.

 

Pat owned the local convenience store in town, Chloe was on her way to work but forget, well, didn’t stay around long enough at home to make lunch so decided to buy a sandwich and whilst she was browsing, she saw and bought a small postcard of planet earth as there was big news around space travel going on.

 

“Thank you, Pat…and how are you?” Chloe knew that Pat was a gossip but made polite conversation anyway.

 

“Well….Its Monday, what can I say?” Pat huffed, Chloe mirrored a sympathetic huff.

 

Pat continued “But you on the other hand…I bet you had a great weekend!” and then cheekily winking at Chloe who was confused

 

Chloe instantly recalled her weekend, where on the Saturday she spent with Shona and loved every second of it, but how comes this drew such a reaction from Pat, and how did she know about it?

 

“I…don’t understand…?” Chloe thought it best to play dumb

 

“You know..?” Pat winked again

 

“No…I don’t know…what are you getting at Pat?” Chloe was slightly sterner.

 

“Kyle of course!…Now, I’m not one to gossip, but I heard that you and him have a bit of a thing going on..?”

 

Pat said smiling her ‘I know everything’ smile

 

“Did you? From who?” Chloe’s face dropped, she wasn’t happy, Pat noticed

 

“Um…well..Um from your mother initially when she bought a dress for you and the news just kinda spread, then Kyle came in a couple of days ago and I sort of…asked him…”

 

Pat seemed a little more cautious the more she spoke.

 

“…And…what did he say?” Chloe asked coldly

 

“He ermm…he said that things were slow, but moving in the um….right direction” Pat realised that it looked like a one way relationship

 

“Did he?…I’ll tell you this and I hope you spread it, like you do everything else, there is nothing and I mean nothing going on between me and that fool, d’you hear me!?”

 

Pat nodded her understanding, she had never seen Chloe like this ever. She was left in shock when Chloe left the store slamming the door behind her.

 

Chapter 86

 

BUZZER

 

It was the ten AM break.

 

“My favourite time of day” Shona said as she took a seat next to Cuban and opposite Elbe

 

“You’re damn right it is” Elbe agreed

 

“Shona” It was Chloe, she called from behind, everybody looked round.

 

Still chewing, Shona said ‘hi’.

 

“Can I…talk to you for a moment?” Chloe asked

 

Cuban and Elbe looked knowingly at each other

 

“Yeah sure” Shona took another bite of her bread and got up and went off to a place quieter.

 

“Um…You ok? Hows everybody treating you?” Chloe lied, that wasn’t what she wanted to speak to Shona for.

 

“Um..Fine” Shona lied, she got abused every waking moment at work

 

Chloe bashfully went into her handbag, leaving Shona wondering what she doing.

 

“Here…I went to the store early this morning to get a sandwich and I saw this”

Chloe handed Shona the postcard of Planet Earth, Shona looked a little confused at the relevance, but remained polite.

 

Chloe continued “What you said…on the riverbank, that you wanted to be blasted up into one of those rockets that are goin’ up….well…this is the next best thing. This would be the view you’d have..”

 

Chloe looked nervous, a rare vision considering she was normally fiercely confident.

 

“I love it….thank you…Thank you” Shona said cooly, she was still surprised, the moment was then a little awkward so Shona did what she did best and changed the conversation ‘Listen I need to get back to work…thank you again for this, very sweet”. Shona put the picture in her pocket, nodded and went back. Chloe felt like an idiot.

 

“Miss Chloe”

 

“What!?” She snapped

 

“Um..can you sign this…just here” delivery guy Kevin felt the full brunt of Chloe’s embarrassment.

 

 

“What was that all about?” Cuban asked Shona who seemed to avoid him when she went outside

 

“What?” Shona tried to deflect

 

“You….and the boss?”

 

“Nothing, she was just asking if…things were ok with us, all of us three” Shona lied and Cuban knew she was too, but what was she covering up?

 

 

When Shona got home, the first thing she did was carefully fix the postcard to the wall space beside her bed and she just stared at it, in hope of how free the picture made her feel, perplexed at Chloe’s gesture.

 

“Hey..” Cuban knocked on the diving wall at the barn

 

“Hey”

 

“Where’d you get that?” Cuban gestured at the picture

 

“Umm….Chloe gave it to me…I mentioned to her how I wanted to go up in one of those stupid rockets….Just like you mentioned you wanted to read and gave you those books”

 

Shona looked Cuban in the eye as if to deflect any other suggestion that was polluting his mind.

 

“Uh huh…..” Cuban wasn’t convinced “Let’s go Cell Block tonight, we haven’t hung out in a while….and I won’t take no for an answer, you hear?”

 

Shona huffed a reluctant ‘yes’ and got ready.

 

 

Cuban and Shona arrived to a bustling Cell Block, this time the location was on the corner of a dimly lit part of town, people inside hoping Klan won’t know about the converted storage house. Many people came up to them to say hi, Shona was well liked because of what she was doing for Cuban.

 

For once the conversation didn’t flow as well as it usually did between Cuban and Shona. It was more Cuban making the effort and Shona giving one or two answers. That was until there was a bit of a commotion to Shona’s right, Maria a lady in her 40s looked devastated and was being guided by people to a table next to her.

 

“Whats up with Maria?” Shona asked Cuban discreetly, music was playing, but not very loud so as to not give away the location

 

“Klan….Klan abducted her only child…Woody. He’s been missing two days now…don’t look good. The poor son of a bitch can’t exactly run with half his right foot getting chopped by ‘em when he was younger”

 

“Jesus”

 

“Yep…that’s about all can help him. The Sherriff aint interested”

 

Shona sipped her drink and looked away, Cuban looked at her carefully.

 

“Maybe you could ask….Chloe” Cuban said quietly

 

Shona’s head shot back, Cuban carried on “Well…I’ve seen how you two get on, you got an understanding. She seems like she wants to help all the time, maybe she can talk to the Sherriff?”

 

Shona nervously takes another sip

 

“I don’t know her that well…I mean, if I see her I can ask”

 

Cuban smiled with gratitude, there was a least some hope.

 

Maria started to cry uncontrollably and Shona immediately turned round to comfort her and whispered in her ear ‘We will find your boy….we will find him’.

 

 

The next day, first thing. Shona sprints up the winding steps to the management offices with intent. She arrives at Chloe’s door which is shut. She knocks on it and hears ‘Come in’ in an assertive voice.

 

“Oh..sorry, didn’t mean to disturb” Shona’s demeanour dropped as she went in and saw Kyle the other side of Chloe’s desk.

 

“That’s ok…we were about finished here” Chloe gestured to Kyle that that was the end of their unnecessary meeting that he called just so he could be close to Chloe. Chloe on the other hand seemed to welcome the intrusion.

 

Kyle, with inner embarrassment collected some files, got up, eyeballed Shona and left.

 

“Shut the door if you want” Chloe said, which Shona did

 

“Sit down, sit down” Chloe pointed towards the chair used by Kyle.

 

“It’s ok…Um…I don’t even think it’s right that I ask but…You’re kinda the only hope for these people.” Shona looked nervous, Chloe frowned in anticipation

 

She continued “There’s a boy…a black boy that has been abducted by Klan…..he’s missing for two or three days now, but the Sherriff won’t listen to Maria the mother. She just wants to know what’s happened to her only child….especially as she lost her husband to Klan a few years ago.”

 

Chloe’s eyes were filling up with emotion, she could only think about the horror.

 

Shona continued ‘Will you…speak to the Sherriff? He’ll listen to you”

 

Chloe sat back in her chair, breathed out at the responsibility that was put to her and not sure how to act, whether to be Shona’s friend or boss.

 

“Shona I can’t…and I won’t promise anything, I don’t want nobody getting their hopes up, but I’ll speak to the Sherriff…if it helps”

 

Shona’s smile lit her face making her blue eyes sparkle, Chloe mirrored a smile.

 

“Thank you…thank you so, so much….I’ll leave you in peace” Shona quietly left the office.

 

 

“Hartley! Get your ass in here! When I say I like my tea strong, I mean it! I aint drinking this shit! “

 

Sherriff Kendrick was feared in the office, he stomped around, shouted and smoked countless cigars like a chimney that was on a good day

 

“Sorry Sherriff, let me sort that for you…” That was deputy Sherriff Hartley who was keen to impress his intimidating boss

 

“Um Sherriff…we have Miss Bruce asking for you”

 

“Who!?” Snapped the Sherriff

 

“Miss Chloe Bruce…she is asking for you especially” the frightened receptionist was constantly in fear she would say the wrong thing.

 

“Send her through…….”

 

Chloe Bruce amidst stares from those in the local police station made her way straight to the Sheriffs office, everybody else had to make do with whoever was on shift.

 

“Miss Bruce..how can I be of service this lovely afternoon?” the Sherriff asked with an air of smarm.

 

“Hi Sherriff…..I wanted to know the update of a missing boy, a….black boy called Woody, his mother is Maria..she live-“

 

“A nigger?….You come here about a nigger…..Your father know about this Miss Chloe?” The Sherriff interrupted

 

“Um..No why would he?” Chloe was confused

 

The Sherriff grinned ‘Carry on..”

 

“She has been in here before to ask for help so I….just wanted to know the progress…?”

 

Chloe was asking but she and the Sherriff both knew that there was nobody from the Sherriffs department looking for Woody, he was a nigger and that was that.

 

“I’m sure my boys have followed procedure, but um….to make you happy Miss Chloe I’ll have them look for the boy and even visit Maria to let her know….hows that for service?”

 

Sherriff Kendrick took a puff on his cigar eager to impress the beautiful Chloe daughter to the most powerful and feared man in most of Alabama.

 

“I appreciate it….thank you” Chloe replied sincerely.

 

She left the Sherriffs office hopeful and quite proud of herself that she could put her power and influence to good use, she was looking forward to telling Shona.

 

 

“Larry..? Yeah it’s me……I’m good….Listen, your daughter’s just been in here…asking me to go look for a nigger….What’s she getting mixed up with? Yeah, course I won’t….I know what to do”

 

Sherriff Kendrick put down the phone to Larry Bruce who he could tell was furious with his daughter, but this had to played carefully.

 

 

 

Chapter 87

 

 

BUZZER

 

“Shona…”

 

“Chloe…Hi” Shona was alone and was pleasantly surprised she saw Chloe who seemed eager to speak to her that she joined her at the table. It didn’t go unnoticed, Kyle was in eyesight.

 

“I spoke to the Sherriff, he said he will look into it and send some officers around to Maria” Chloe was pleased with herself especially when she saw how happy Shona was.

 

“Oh Miss Chloe…that’s fantastic…It really is…Thank you so much….”

 

“You’re welcome” Chloe replied smiling, so caught up that she didn’t see Elbe and Cuban sitting down either side and infront of her.

 

“Miss Chloe”

 

“Miss Chloe”

 

“Hi…Cuban…Elbe…..I better go, but um..let me know if you hear of anything” Chloe asked hopefully. She got up and went back to her office

 

“You two….Good to see you getting along there” Elbe said taking a bit of his sandwich

 

“What?…Oh…She’s hopefully trying to help find Woody”

 

“Woody?” Elbe was confused

 

“I’ll explain later Elbe…..Shona, really? That’s quick! Jesus what did you say to her to make her act so fast? Maria will be real happy….”

 

Shona spent the rest of that break in silence, head down eating her food. It didn’t go unnoticed by Cuban.

 

 

The following day before work had started, Shona found Elbe in his tool room, he was writing in his diary.

 

“Dynamite….what’s in here is pure dynamite I tell you!….Mornin’ Shona”

 

“Morning…Listen you got anything that will put a hole in this?” Shona pulled out the thin, small pebble that she found on the riverbank when she was with Chloe

 

“Sure…this should do it” Elbe handed Shona a screw type tool.

 

“Thanks”

 

“What’s it for?” Elbe asked curiously

 

“I saw it…and I liked it…” Shona kept it brief

 

With ease, she punctured a perfect hole in the stunning pebble and threaded some tough, white string through it. Perfect.

 

 

 

“This the one?”

 

“Yeah…knock on the door”

 

2 Police officers from the Sheriffs department approach Maria’s home in the late afternoon, the sun was just setting. Maria looked out the window even before they knocked, she was frightened at what they might say.

 

“Hello….” Maria peeked out the front door.

 

“Maria?”

 

“Yes”

 

“We been sent by the Sherriff after a report from Miss Chloe Bruce that your boy is missing, that correct?”

 

“That’s right” Maria struggled to hold it together, the mere mention of her sons name brought tears to her eyes.

 

“Well, just to let you know we have men looking for him and we will be in contact as soon as we find anything”

 

“Bless you! Thank you! I’ll thank Miss Chloe too…Thank you, what lovely gentlemen you are!”

 

Maria was overcome with emotion, tears streaming uncontrollably down her face as she watched the two officers return to their car.

 

They got in, made sure they were out of earshot and looked at eachother and smiled.

 

“I thought we did well there…to think she actually believed that we would spend more than one minute searching for her nigger son….But hey…we did as we were told by the Sherriff…”

 

They drove off sniggering.

 

 

 

In the barn, Cuban walked in and looked at Shona staring at the postcard.

 

“You ok?” Cuban was concerned, Shona seemed more distant.

 

“Yeah….Why?”

 

“No reason…” Cuban didn’t prod anymore….this time

 

 

 

Chapter 88

 

 

Shona saw that Chloe had arrived early to work, even before Kyle so she took the opportunity to go up and say thank you.

 

“Um…Miss Chloe?”

 

“Hi Shona” Chloe greeted Shona with a warm smile “You ok?”

 

“Yeah..yeah I’m fine…you?”

 

“Um yes….” Chloe responded, the moment a little awkward

 

“Oh…yeah…Um…I just wanted to say Thank You you know for….trying to help Maria and…for helping us”

 

“Well..they haven’t found Woody yet, so I don’t know how much good I have done” Chloe smiled as she appreciated the appreciation, this was rare.

 

“Well…lets hope they do eh?….Another thing was…I made you something, I mean, you gave me that postcard….I wanted to give you this……it’s the pebble from the Weaver riverbank. Hopefully to remind you of good times if things….get you down at all”

 

Shona’s heart was thudding. Chloe was silent for what felt like an eternity.

 

Shona quickly continued “I mean, you don’t have to wear it, you probably got like diamond necklaces…but…um I don’t know…I’ll leave you to it”

 

“Wait….Shona it’s beautiful, the way it catches the light…it sparkles like a diamond anyways!” Chloe replied smiling showing her perfect white teeth.

 

“You……like it?”

 

“I love it….I’ll put it on now”

 

Shona witnessed Chloe struggled to tie it without losing grip with the other hand but refrained from helping. Eventually it stayed put and looked stunning round her neck.

 

“Well,it looks great….Listen…you wanna come Cell Block? They will love you”

 

Shona explained all about Cell Block and the hope that she would meet Maria there. Just before Chloe gave her an answer, they were interrupted.

 

 

“Hows my little ray of sunshine..?” Kyle walked in not realising Chloe had company trying to smarm his way.

 

“Kyle…” Chloe replied coldly. He stopped dead in his tracks.

 

“You!? Again?…Can you not see your boss is far too busy to be dealing with you, you have Ron Black to listen to your moans…get outta here!” Kyle shouted at Shona who didn’t need telling twice to get out of Kyle’s space.

 

“Kyle…don’t be rude! Shona I’ll catch up with you later about that idea, I’d love to do it!!

 

Shona grinned, and left with a smile not caring that Kyle would be furious.

 

“What on earth is that round your neck?….You need a man to buy you diamonds not cheap rubbish….”

 

Chloe sighed. The first opportunity she would get she would kick Kyle out of her office.

 

 

Back Home after work, Chloe was upstairs brushing her hair and putting it up in different ways to show off her necklace.

 

“Miss Chloe!?…You have a delivery” The housekeeper called up the stairs after hearing a knock at the door and saw there was a bunch of hand picked flowers wrapped in coloured paper with a note for Chloe.

 

Chloe came the stairs not entirely sure who would send her flowers. She opened up the envelope and was pleasantly surprised.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 89

 

Dear Miss Chloe,

 

My heart burst with joy when I heard that you had helped in trying to find my son, I will be forever grateful.

 

You are a gift,

 

Maria x

 

 

Chloe smiled, she appreciated the sentiment, but she knew she would have to hide the note that came with the flowers.

 

 

 

A couple of welcomed uneventful days passed and Chloe met Cuban and Shona at the Cell Block one evening after work. People started to trust Chloe even despite her surname as she had stuck her neck out to look for Woody and word got round.

Soft swing Blues played in the background and Cuban, Chloe and Shona got used to people coming up to their table and thanking Chloe for trying to look for Woody, and some just wanted to ‘look’ at Chloe. They couldn’t believe somebody of her influence wanted to spend her busy time with them and cause them no harm.

 

“What do you think?” Shona asked Chloe over the music

 

“’bout what?”

 

“Here?…The atmosphere..” Shona asked looking round, Cuban sipped his drink listening to Chloe’s reply.

 

“I love it, it’s a shame it’s all a secret”

 

“Yep…for their own safety” Shona looked sad looking at all the happy faces who finally felt like they had a place to relax, even if only temporarily until they had to move to the next secret location.

 

“I wish that…one day they wont have to be hidden, I’m working on it” Chloe said to Shona as if to promise her and somehow impress her. Shona was impressed, she knew Chloe had massive power and influence, but her father was a major obstacle, he would go crazy if he caught Chloe here.

 

“So Cuban, you gone give us a few bars?” Shona smiled as if to include Cuban in the conversation.

 

“Yeah…why not? They got some guitars all ready, I’m gone go and check ‘em out” Cuban got up and went to speak to a group of musicians that Cuban knew, they were only too happy for Cuban to jam along within the next ten to fifteen minutes.

 

Chloe huffed and sighed, Shona frowned.

 

“Whats up?” Shona asked, concerned

 

Chloe appeared tearful “You know something, I’ve never felt so free….so….happy. Its like I’m discovering new things all the time. I can be me here, I haven’t got to impress anybody be in charge of anybody, close deals…..Its just bliss”

 

Chloe wiped a lone tear, the music was powerful and probably added to the emotion that Chloe was feeling. Shona looked Chloe in the eyes and felt really sorry for her. She maybe wealthy, but she was as trapped as everyone of those under this roof.

 

“It’s gone be ok…It’s gone be ok…You’re always welcome here. Look, they love you.” Shona gestured with her head to look around and see the occasional admiring glance which made Chloe smile up to her eyes that were glistening from tears caught in the low lighting of the room.

 

“Miss Chloe!….” Maria came in a spotted Chloe sitting with Shona and made a bee-line.

 

“Hi” Chloe replied

 

“This is Maria, Woody’s mother…” Shona interrupted

 

“Oh!….Hi, listen, thank you for my flowers, they were beautiful. I really hope the Sherriff finds your son” Chloe said with both her hands on the tops of Maria’s arms.

 

Shona stood back and admired this coming together. Never did she think somebody with ‘Bruce’ in the surname be so compassionate with a black person. The two women shared some more kind words and Maria left Chloe to get back to her drink.

 

“So…Shona of few words….Was there a man back in Alabama or Mississippi?” Chloe asked just as she sipped her drink, she was getting braver as the alcohol entered her bloodstream.

 

“No… What about you?” Shona deflected perfectly.

 

“Uh uh…As your boss, I’m ordering you to tell me more” Chloe was looking tipsy and playful all of a sudden, Shona was sober as a judge and felt uneasy, she knew Chloe didn’t mean to make her feel that way.

 

“That’s a long, boring story….”

 

“The reason you left? Chloe probed

 

“Yes..kinda…..Yeah” Shona confirmed

 

“Well…we got time” Chloe missed her mouth slightly and spilt her drink, Shona mopped it up on the table with a napkin, grinning at the situation. How can she look Chloe in the eye again as a boss.

 

“But here isn’t the place…another time maybe”

 

“Ooohh…..I wanna know whats behind the cool, mysterious Shona that nobody knows about” Chloe was getting drunk quickly

 

“Trust me, you don’t….It’s not a pretty story” Shona’s answer only intrigued Chloe more.

 

Chloe and Shona looked at each other for a second too long. Shona was convinced that it was because Chloe had to focus harder due to the drink.

 

“Anyway” Shona added “It looks like Cuban is about to perform” Shona got her seat and turned it to face the stage, Chloe quickly sobered up, she had never felt so relaxed.

 

Cuban expertly played some blues on his guitar along with two other musicans, the audience tapped along to the soothing beat. Chloe was impressed.

 

“Excuse me….excuse me miss”

 

Chloe turned to her left and saw a young black kid, he couldn’t have been more than 16 or 17, he looked nervous, he was sweating and breathing fast.

 

“Hello…?” Chloe answered, Shona turned her head to see as well.

 

“I got paid to give you this note from somebody outside” The young boy handed Chloe a note.

 

It read:

 

Get out now, for your own safety.

 

 

When Chloe looked up the boy had vanished. She sobered up even more, took a deep breath and showed Shona.

 

“We need to get Cuban” Shona interrupted Cubans performance. He was puzzled until he was told about the note, all three of them made their way out of the Cell Block. They didn’t know why Chloe would be in danger inside there.

 

“Who the hell wrote this?” Cuban asked looking at the note round the side entrance of Cell Block with Chloe and Shona nearby

 

“No idea…I don’t fear anybody in there, that’s crazy” Shona was confused.

 

In two minutes flat, chaos erupted.

 

Screams and cries were heard with many running out of The Cell Block to be taunted by guys in white masks- Klan.

 

The Cell Block was being set alight, Shona, Cuban and Chloe all ran in the opposite direction to safety as far enough where they could catch their breath. They could see in the distance roaring flames consuming the peaceful bar they had just enjoyed being in.

 

“My god” Chloe said quietly, she was in shock as the three of them hid behind a wall.

 

“Welcome to my world” Cuban said, eyes reflecting the flames in front of them, breathing heavy from shock.

 

“Whoever did that” Shona pointed towards where The Cell Block once stood “wrote that damn note and didn’t want you harmed. They been following you, they saw you walk in”

 

Chloe had thought that, but didn’t want to believe it, that she had led the Klan here and worse still somebody she knew was in the KKK and didn’t want her harmed.

 

“Your father?…..Do you think its him?” Shona asked Chloe gently, there was no other way of putting it.

 

“I don’t know, I didn’t tell him where I was coming tonight, I can’t see his car anywhere, I mean…would he do that?” Chloe was upset at the thought of her father instigating such horror, Shona knew he would do that.

 

Once the Klan were out of sight and vanished as quickly as they arrived, the three of them helped people who were injured and eventually went home, almost in silence.

 

Somebody was clearly sending them a message and now people were getting hurt.

 

 

Chapter 90

 

If whoever was following Chloe wanted to warn her about who she spends time with and to separate them, it worked. That night at The Cell Block had frightened them all. Other people were at risk of getting hurt.

 

The next eight to nine days whereby Chloe didn’t hardly speak to Cuban and Shona went by with no other issues, warnings or violence. Shona found it agonising to listen to Chloe’s speeches at work without saying ‘hi’ afterwards, or going up to her office to invite her out with her and Cuban, or to go to Ed’s Diner again.

 

“You ok?” Cuban asked sitting down at the 10am break, Shona who was picking at her food

 

“Yeah…you?” Shona lied

 

“I know its bullshit, but people don’t get hurt this way. She’s in a different league anyway. We have to protect her too remember, her kind aint gone be happy if she’s talking to a nigger, can you imagine what that could cause in this town if she was seen to be doing that. There would be a downright war?” Cuban tried but failed to make Shona feel any better. Shona felt good when she was around Chloe and that’s all she remembered, she could talk to her, listen to her and she was great company especially as she felt she could start to finally open up to her. But whoever it was, was making sure the divide stayed.

 

“Or she could make it so we all live together.” Shona said with a hint of hope and perhaps naivety.

 

“That aint never gone happen Shona, not in our lifetime. I haven’t known peace anywhere I’ve been, even when we had had a hundred whites on our side. The organisation always win. We just have to….keep moving, keep hiding” Cuban said with despair in his voice.

 

 

“I know….” Shona got up and went back to work without touching her food.

 

Elbe saw Shona leave and came over.

 

“She alright?” Elbe asked

 

“Not really….” Cuban sighed then pushed his food away.

 

 

 

 

Shona stomped outside to get back to work early, along the way she met delivery guy Kevin who was looking happy with himself.

 

“Hi Shona…you seen Miss Chloe..?”

 

“No I aint” Shona snapped back

 

“Oh…I need to give her this package” Kevin looked innocently upbeat

 

“She’s in there somewhere” Shona in the past offered to take the packages up to Chloe, but reluctantly she didn’t offer, it was best for everybody.

 

“Thanks….Oh and Shona…You live in the barn don’t you? By the Weaver?”

 

“So”

 

“Ermmm…take care, there’s so bad weather comin’ in tonight that’s all”

 

Shona didn’t even thank Delivery Kevin, she was in too much of a bad mood.

 

 

 

“How was your day Cuban?” Ruby gave him a drink after he washed his hands.

 

“Ok…You seen Shona?”

 

“Only briefly…she came in, got changed then took Storm out… I said the weather is turning but she seemed a bit distant, she ok?”

 

“Just work things that’s all….thanks for this” Cuban raised his glass and went into his bedroom.

 

Shona was out galloping on Storm which was almost like suicide, but it seemed to help Shona with the recent frustrations. She somehow managed to control Storm for a minute or two to catch her breath, she then headed towards the River Weaver and slowed to a trot to retrace the steps she was with Chloe before.

 

“Damn weather is on the turn!” Tom came in covered in oil after working on his truck.

 

“Shona is still out on Storm” Ruby looked a bit concerned.

 

“What she doing out….The heavens are gone open up!?” Tom said turning on the taps to wash his hands.

 

 

Shona has slowed Storm to a walk and watched the sun set beautifully, but she could see the angry clouds gather and knew she should be making her way back, but something kept her out, she felt free out here, like she could think what she wanted, do what she wanted.

 

Drip……Drip…Drip…..Drip

 

“Damn it” Shona said out loud as if Storm would respond.

 

“Come on girl, let’s go” Shona pulled on the reigns to steer Storm who started bucking.

 

The roar of thunder spooked Storm who was attempting to throw Shona off. The rain started pelting and stinging Shona’s skin, somehow she managed to control Storm enough to get back at the barn soaking wet, again.

 

“What the hell you doing out there in this!?” Tom scolded Shona

 

“I didn’t know it would rain” Shona snapped, witnessed by Cuban who was getting more and more concerned at the change in character of his best friend who was becoming more and more distant.

 

She went to run a bath passing Cuban in the hallway, but they both didn’t say a thing.

 

“Nice bath?” Cuban asked as Shona came into her room. He peered round the divide making sure she was fully dressed.

They could hear the rain pelting on the roof.

 

“Yeah” Shona replied

 

“Listen, you’re not yourself…..I can see that…I’m worried about you, you’re my friend.”

 

“I don’t know what you’re getting’ at Cuban?” Shona replied not being able to look Cuban in the eye, she was fiddling with her bedsheets trying to tuck them in properly.

 

“Chloe…” Cuban said sternly, he witnessed Shona’s head spin to him at the mention of her name

 

“What about her?”

 

“I don’t know what’s going’ on but you’ve changed. I’m worried you’re gone get hurt.”

 

“Cuban, I don’t know what you think you know…but you don’t know anything, you understand?”

 

He was shocked at how angry Shona was towards him, the days of her being gentle, appearing carefree seemed a thing of the past, she seemed to snap back at him with venom.

 

“Ok….here it is….I think you have some kind of feeling towards Miss Chloe. There I said it…now, am I wrong?”

 

Chapter 91

 

The hail got louder and the wind got up, luckily the animals were in safe, but it only added tension to the thick atmosphere between Shona and Cuban as they heard barn doors banging.

 

“What in the hell are you sayin’!? How dare you think you know me! You of all people!”

 

Chloe shouted, she needed to, the rain was at full pelt.

 

“Me of all people….me off all people!? Meaning a nigger right!” Cuban snapped back himself

 

Shona didn’t look at him, she regretted what she said, but she was hurt.

 

Cuban continued “So I start asking some truths about my friend…and you come back with the most hurtful thing, my god….Shona, maybe I didn’t know you at all, maybe you are like the rest of them!”

 

“Me!?…I found you, you son of a bitch, took you in, convinced Tom and Ruby they should let you stay despite them getting shit from everybody in town and being called nigger lovers, I get treated like shit at work along with Elbe for defending you…but yeah…I’m like the rest of them! How fucking dare you compare me to all those animals out there who want nothing more than to kill you ‘cause they despise you!”

 

Shona was almost breathless after her rant.

 

“Spoke from the heart there, Shona….Like you know what it’s like” Cuban probed. He knew he had to try and stay calm.

 

“What what’s like?” Shona looked at Cuban almost with disgust, she felt the most uncomfortable she had felt in a long time.

 

“What being despised is like…That’s why you’ve helped me so much isn’t it, you understand how I feel, ‘cause you’ve gone through the same thing …?” Cuban was treading on dangerous ground, he didn’t know if Shona was going to flip out or cry.

 

She did both.

 

Tears were forming in Shona’s eyes, she was pacing up and down, almost reluctant to let them fall as if in some way, she was letting go of some deep rooted dark secrets that would haunt her more if those tears escape and spilled her feelings. She didn’t plan on telling anyone about them, least of all Cuban in this situation.

 

Shona started to repeatedly punch one of the wooden doors with all her might, Cuban got up and tried to restrain her, but she was damn strong and she managed to fend him off to continue punching to the point her knuckles were bleeding badly.

 

“Shona! Stop it!…..Stop it Shona!” Cuban pleaded getting up to grab her again.

 

“What in the hell is going on it here!” Tom burst through the door after hearing the commotion, he saw Shona punching the door, look up towards him and Cuban took the opportunity again to grab her and they both fell backwards, Cuban still holding her. This time Shona didn’t struggle, she burst into tears, wailing in places,Cuban not saying a thing, he realised Shona needed to be held, just held. Cuban could feel her heart pounding and felt the drips of blood on his hands coming from Shona’s knuckles.

 

“Tom! Tom!…..” Ruby ran through the door panicking. Cuban and Shona had never seen her like this. She was startled to see Cuban and Shona laying on the floor with Shona sobbing.

 

“What!?” Tom replied with same urgency

 

“It’s coming!” Ruby looked horrified

 

 

 

Chapter 92

 

“We gotta go! Now!” Tom went over to help Cuban and Shona up

 

“Come on Shona, come on..” Cuban whispered in Shona’s ear who was almost drunk on emotion, she was exhausted, but she somehow heard over the noise of the hailstones and complied.

 

“Come on! We’re in its path!” Ruby gestured to everybody to get inside the house, they had a basement where they were heading for.

 

“What!?” Cuban couldn’t hear properly

 

“A twister! There’s a twister coming straight for us!” Tom shouted.

 

This seemed to ‘wake’ Shona up who went into protective mode, She ensured that doors were locked behind, made sure Tom and Ruby got down the basement stairs safely. At one point, for a split second, it was between her and Cuban who would last to go down the steps, they both wanted to protect each other despite what had gone on in the previous ten minutes, they genuinely cared for eachother. They could hear the roar of the twister coming, animals were screeching. It was close.

 

“Get down the damn steps Shona! Do as you’re told for once in your life!” Cuban pleaded. Shona gave in, but made sure her friend came down safely too and when there was a slight problem closing and locking the hatch, Shona shot back up the steps to help. They both jumped off the rungs just as they felt the twister was as close as it was going to be to them. They landed with a thud, but they were safe and just needed to wait it out.

 

“Thank god you two are safe” Ruby hugged them both tightly.

 

They waited for five minutes underground with little light and could feel the journey the twister was making above them. They were in silence as if sensing it’s every powerful move, hoping the animals had made it.

 

Tom, out of breath nodded and said ‘Thanks you two, if you hadn’t have shut that, we might have all been sucked up into that damn monster. I don’t have the strength anymore to do that lock…” He looked forlorn, like he realised age was catching up with him.

 

Shona and Cuban just looked at each other knowing there was lots unsaid between them, but in this moment, they were both happy they were safe.

 

“What was going on between you two anyway?” Tom asked as the roar above them was fading as fast as it had arrived.

 

“Shona was a little upset, somebody back home died…” Cuban lied, taking the pressure off of Shona who looked at Cuban with a little appreciation.

 

“Oh I’m sorry Shona…” Ruby gave her a hug, Shona held on tight.

 

“Let’s go and see the damage” Tom said sighing. Unfortunately there was more than a few occasions that the barn had been wrecked, he tried to build it stronger every time.

 

“Damn it…” Tom looked upset as he saw that the twister had ripped through one of the stables and one of the horses had gone.

 

Some fences looked chewed up, the truck was on its side and some of the cattle had gone. All four of them came out to inspect and picked up things that had got strewn.

 

“Well….I’m just grateful we are all ok, the barn is still standing, and it could have been a lot worse” Ruby had a natural maternal instinct and was grateful her ‘family’ escaped unharmed.

 

“It looked like it headed into town…Hope everybody is ok” Tom said looking out on the horizon.

 

Cuban and Shona still hadn’t spoken directly to each other, they just mirrored each other’s actions of tidying up the carnage.

 

The town was in chaos for a few days, and Jeffrey Ellis shut the business for minimum of three days as a lot of workers had severe damage to their houses which was their priority. He agreed to still pay the workers full pay, this was when his town needed him and he stepped up and stepped in to help where he could. Larry Bruce on the other hand complained at all the work that wasn’t getting down and all the money they were losing out on.

 

Chloe kept out of the way, attended the occasional meeting out of town but spent a lot of her time in her den drawing and painting. It was a period of change, division and at the same time, the town came together.

 

One morning, five days after the twister, life was slowly getting back to some normality for Ruby and Tom as they hadn’t been as hard hit as others, they were sitting down at breakfast. They could tell there was some tension between Shona and Cuban. Both were at breakfast as Ruby had insisted on it, but they were adults and she could only do so much.

 

“Can you um…pass the juice please Shona” Tom asked cautiously, Shona hadn’t uttered a word.

 

She passed the juice, Tom and Ruby looked at each other knowingly, thinking it must be the friend who passed away back home like Cuban said.

 

“I need to go and..check on Storm” Shona made her excuse and left the table which was in silence.

 

“Whats going on?” Tom asked Cuban

 

“I don’t know…I don’t know” Cuban slowly got up, thanked Ruby for breakfast and slumped in the living room chair.

 

“Who’s this coming down our road?” Ruby spied out the kitchen window, some dust coming from the wheels of an expensive looking car.

 

“It’s Miss Chloe” Tom squinted and saw the familiar bright red deluxe motor.

 

Cuban heard and got up to go to the front door and he opened it before she had got out of the car.

 

“Miss Chloe…” Cuban said tipping his invisible hat

 

“Cuban…hi….how are you all after the storm?” Chloe seemed genuinely concerned.

 

“Not too bad, just getting back to normal…I know some people got hit a lot harder. Anybody hurt?”

 

“Unfortunately yes…Three guys are in hospital from work” Chloe said their names, but Cuban didn’t know them, but wished them his best

 

“Would you like some tea?” Ruby came out and invited her in.

 

“Is Shona in?” Chloe asked cautiously, Cuban noticed.

 

“Yeah, she’s out back…I’ll go get her, come in, come in” Tom came out to gesture Chloe in.

 

“Between me and you….Shona hasn’t been herself. We can’t for the life of us get to the bottom of it, so she could do with a friend right now” Ruby whispered as she held onto Chloe’s arm as she went inside the barn.

 

Chloe’s stomach churned.

 

“Shona! You got a visitor!” Tom hollered

 

Chloe seemed nervous, blew out her cheeks discreetly and sat down at the breakfast table whilst Ruby fixed her some tea. Cuban observed closely.

 

“So…what kind of damage happened here?” Chloe asked

 

Tom and Ruby explained about the animals, fences and the funny story of how they managed to get the truck upright.

 

Chloe was smiling at the story when Shona walked into the kitchen shocked at seeing her boss after what seemed like a long while.

 

“Shona…”

 

“Miss Chloe” Shona said coldly, aware Cuban was watching everything.

 

It was awkward.

 

“I just came by to see how….everyone was after the dreadful storm.”

 

“We’re fine……thanks” Shona replied looking directly at Chloe, eyes emotionless.

 

“Ok…..Well I’ll um…leave you all to it, let me know if you need help with anything, Jeffrey Ellis has got a team together to help the town”

 

Chloe said towards Tom and Ruby who had warm faces.

 

“He’s a good man…a real good man” Tom replied not realising that he was technically saying that Larry Bruce wasn’t.

 

Shona watched Chloe leave out the living room window, Tom and Ruby chatting to her as she got into her car. They had grown fond of Chloe and the feeling was mutual. Cuban waited in the hallway and spied Shona strutting outside in the yard where Storm was kept.

 

Chloe drove away confused, upset and a little empty. She had lost Shona from her life, but she knew she would also be losing Tom, Ruby and Cuban just as she had got to know them. She needed some genuinely friendly faces round her at the moment too. She drove home in a blur.

 

He had had enough, he wasn’t going to hold back. Cuban was going after Shona to get answers.

 

 

Chapter 93

 

“Sir?….I’m sorry to bother you at home sir” Ron Black was invited in by Jeffrey Ellis’s wife and saw him sitting in his armchair looking over some figures that he wasn’t happy with, they didn’t add up, but his face lit up when he saw Ron, he liked him.

 

“Ron! Come in son!….take a seat”

 

“Thank you…I wont take up too much of your time sir, but I was thinking of Ellis and Bruce doing something good for this town, to raise money and spirit in the aftermath of the storm…”

 

“Go on…”

 

“Maybe something like a fete or….anything like that to help some of the families get back on their feet. I mean how can we expect them to concentrate at work if they don’t have a roof over their heads?”

 

“I like it Ron….I like it….You spoke with Bruce?” Jeffrey said taking off his reading glasses and putting one end on his lips.

 

“No sir…I um…wanted to speak to you first, I felt like you would be more open to….listening….if you know what I mean?”

 

“I understand” Ellis gave Ron a warm smile of understanding. He knew exactly what he meant. Larry Bruce wouldn’t even entertain the idea of being compassionate to anybody else, but if it came from Ellis, he would have to do it.

 

“Let me know what you need” Ellis said ready to listen.

 

 

Chapter 94

 

 

“Shona….What the hell is going on here!? Miss Chloe made a special visit to come see us and you treated her real bad! I thought you liked her!?”

 

Cuban was frustrated and confused towards his friend who he felt he was becoming more and more distant to.

 

Shona was grooming Storm who was nodding her head as if picking up the unsettled vibes from Shona.

 

“Easy girl…easy…” Shona whispered to Storm

 

“Shona? Did you hear me?” Cuban came nearer

 

“Yes I heard you!….She will end up being like the rest of ‘em!” Shona snapped

 

“Rest of ‘em? Chloe?….You don’t mean Larry, Kyle, Deputy Paul right? I think with all the time she and compassion she has given us, that aint right to put her in that league Shona!”

 

Maybe Shona wasn’t comparing Chloe to ‘them’ but other people.

 

“Just leave it Cuban….just leave it” Shona was getting more and frustrated, it was showing as Storm started to kick out as if sensing her rider was uneasy

 

“No….this ends now, you hear?…I’ve lost enough people in my time, friends and more recently my whole god damn family to Klan, do you think I wanna just sit back and lose you too! Not without an explanation. If you want me out of your life that’s fine…I’ll walk away, but don’t push me away if you don’t mean it……what in the hell is going on?”

 

Cuban’s eyes were wide as he subconsciously recalled the images of the fire where he lost his entire family to Klan that night. His eyes slightly filled with emotion. He really didn’t want to lose Shona’s friendship.

 

Shona stopped grooming Storm. Still facing her she starts crying, quietly at first, trying to disguise it. Cuban could see her shoulder shuddering and realised she was breaking down and went over to her instinctively.

 

“Come here….it’s alright..it’s alright” Cuban embraced Shona protectively, it was their friendship deepened in that second.

 

After a calming minute in Cuban’s arms, Shona broke away, tears streaming.

 

“Its not alright!……Don’t you see! It’s not alright!?” Shona cried

 

Cuban looked confused and concerned and tried to hug her again, but she put her arm in the way.

 

“What you talking ‘bout?”

 

“You aint the only one on the run here….You aint the only one who has to look over their shoulder….You aint the only one being hunted”

 

Shona said with an eerie calm. Cuban looked horrified, it was like a new Shona had emerged, maybe the real Shona, not the happy go lucky Shona, but a scared little girl.

 

“What’s happened?” Cuban gently tried to console Shona

 

“If I tell you….I’m scared I’m gone lose you too….” Shona slumped down the stable door, Cuban joined her.

 

“You kiddin’? You aint getting rid of me that easy….You’re my friend for life, you understand…no matter what”

 

Shona needed to hear that from Cuban, she really did. She was wiping her tears, but they kept coming as she was building herself up to say what had been on her mind for years, and the real reason she was forced to leave Alabama, and Mississippi.

 

“I don’t even know where to start…”

“Start at the beginning…I’m listening” Cuban said gently, putting his arm round Shona. She had longed to hear these words from people.

 

“Well…..here goes….. Back in Alabama when I was 13 or 14, I worked with my daddy on a farm for a few years. It was owned by a rich guy called…Donald Chamberlain. He was hard son of a bitch, always shouting at people. My daddy was a drunk…and I often had to cover for him when he fell asleep in the barn on his break, I couldn’t wake him sometimes. I did some of his work too. ..”

 

Cuban listened intently, and noticed Shona’s eyes started welling up.

 

She continued “Donald…he had a……daughter…called Connie. She was 17 when I was I was around 15 and……I found that I kept trying to think of something to ask her…kept trying to see if she needed anything. Every minute in her company felt like precious seconds. My god she was beautiful. Long wavy blonde hair. She had a boyfriend, Nate….but I saw that she cried a lot over him, so I used to go see her in her house after work and we talked. She said I was a good listener and that nobody listened to her like I did. My father liked it as he felt I was making a good impression with a rich family which might lead him to a better job, so he encouraged it. But….my heart beat faster when I was with her, especially when she talked about breaking up with Nate. Anyway, one afternoon, she was in the bathroom and I was waiting for her in the lounge, nobody else was around and I saw a picture of Connie by the fireplace…there were lots of pictures. So I took one of her. I was totally in love with her at this point and I couldn’t tell a soul. My daddy told me many times about what happens to men who like men he said they…..deserve to be punished. So…I took this picture, got rid of the small frame and kept that picture with me always for around 6 months or so. Then one particular day Mr.Chamberlain asked me if I wanted to ride one of his new horses as he knew I could ride, Connie was there so of course I said yes to impress her. Then…I got on the horse…did my thing, saw Connie was smiling at me riding. Man that felt good..that felt real good….then when I came back to the porch area on the horse, I got off and that damn picture came out of my pocket with Mr.Chamberlain being the first to see it. It was the look on his face…the disgust. At both knowing that I had stolen something from his home and the fact that it was of his daughter. He struck me round the face, I swear I lifted off the damn ground….”

 

Cuban’s eyes were welling up too, he felt Shona’s pain.

 

Shona sniffed “…But even worse, it was what they were calling me, Connie also, that broke my heart. The last time I saw her face was her looking at me like I’d killed somebody. Donald called my father. All I wanted was to explain to him….but he beat me and told me that Donald had fired him which meant we had no money comin’ in, that I was a disgrace on the family, not so much for the stealin’ but because he knew about my feelings for Connie. We got home, my father sent me to bed, told my mother and they began fighting. My mother came into my room, I was scared….so scared that she would hate me that I almost didn’t want her to speak, I wanted to cherish just a bit longer of her not saying that she didn’t love me anymore……But…..She held me tight and said she loved me…. that she was my mom no matter what…Well, I cried…I cried harder than I’ve ever cried, harder than when my father beat me with the kind words that she said. Then….my father must have heard me cryin’ and burst into the room, saw my mother hugging me and dragged her out of my room, slammed my door. I heard her screaming, crashing and banging….he’d been drinking, slurring his words as usual saying how he didn’t want have a damaged kid, that I would be the talk of the town….My mother….the last words I heard from her were…..’You don’t deserve to have her as your daughter, I will love her no matter what’….then….silence”

 

Cuban looked horrified, but didn’t dare speak, this was the most amount he had heard Shona talk.

 

Puffing her cheeks she carried on “Cuban I was so scared, so scared…..I didn’t dare come out my room for a minute or two. I just lay there, covers up to my face, heart pounding out my chest. Eventually I crept, careful not to make a sound on the floorboards..gently opened the bedroom door to see out…and my father was right there and said ‘if you come out, something bad will happen to your mother’ so I quickly went back in. I didn’t know what to do, he was drunk…looked possessed. I didn’t sleep much but early in the morning, I heard voices downstairs….men. I opened my door and listened. It was the local doctor. I heard him ask ‘what happened?’ and my father said ‘she just fell down the stairs’ that morning. But my father and I both know he pushed her down the stairs the night before. He got away with it too. He spoke to that doctor about me…. Said I was crazy and needed medication or ‘something’. Later that day I was taken away by nurse..Jean. I was sent to live with her at her house that she’s converted into treatment rooms. I stayed there for 6 months, locked up. Didn’t see my father again. She told me I could see him If I was mended. By mended she meant that I didn’t find women attractive”

 

“What happened at her house Shona?”

 

“Her and a couple of doctors would at….different times of the day and night, come get from the dark, damp basement they kept me locked up in and do experiments on me….They would…show me pictures of naked women then when I….looked at them….they would cut me, electrocute my private parts…make me drink the most god awful things”

 

“My god…..my god Shona….I’m so sorry…that must be why you have those nightmares…saying get off …get off me right” Cuban couldn’t hold back a lone tear dripping down his cheek

 

“It obviously don’t work!” Shona made an attempt to temporarily lighten the conversation

 

“Then what happened?”

“Well, I escaped, the nurse took a delivery and put it down in the basement, I pretended I was asleep then just made a run for it up the stairs and out the door. I moved around a lot. I learned about fixing trucks and stuff on the Chamberlain farm. I cleaned shoes, you name it. But… I kept hearing my father was after me. I brought shame on his family, cost him a good job. He had nothing to live for, nothing to lose. So I just kept moving on, spending 3-4 weeks in each little town. Then, a year or two ago, I settled in a small town in Mississippi. I broke my own rule and stayed there for longer. I figured…. my father would have given up on the chase by now, I’d found a great job at a place called Wreckers, the boss loved what I could do…said I was one of his best workers and knew more about fixing trucks than any damn man he knew.”

 

“What happened in Mississippi?” Cuban was hooked

 

“Well….history repeatin’ itself. A girl…around 19 or 20 hung around the local bar every single night. It was right oppsite Wreckers, so she would often come in and talk to the guys. She looked a bit wild, exciting… free. Her name was Lucy. Now…I wasn’t exactly wise to the ways of the world entirely let’s just put it that way. I didn’t know at the time, but Lucy was a prostitute. That’s why all the guys buzzed round her, they knew she was a sure thing. Later I found out she was called Loose Lucy for obvious reasons. When I was at the bar..she started to come up to me even in front of the guys there when I was playin’ pool. I didn’t understand, she was the most beautiful woman in the room coming up to me.”

 

Cuban shut his eyes, he knew the story wasn’t going to end well. He listened more.

 

“I started to like it you know….I started to have those feelings again, the ones I daren’t have for a long, long time. I didn’t so much as even look at a woman, every time a woman talked to me, I made my excuses and left. They probably all thought I was real rude and they’d be right. But Lucy…she was different. She kept coming up to me whether I was in the bar, Wreckers or at the grocery store. I started to think about her more and more and then one day, I finally found the courage and I ask her if she wants to come to mine for dinner, I mean, she wouldn’t leave me alone. She accepted even winking at me funny. I thought that meant I had found somebody…at last…somebody like me, who….likes me the way I wanted to be liked you know? Well the next evening she came round, my god she looked pretty..real pretty. We had dinner and she then asked me to sit to her on the couch, so I did…She put her hand on my knee…So I put mine on hers….She went in to kiss me…and just as we were about to kiss she pulled back….and said ‘I knew it! I knew you were one of those screw ups!’. Then from nowhere four of her friends, three guys and one girl appeared. Lucy purposely hadn’t locked the front door. It was a set up. She got paid by some of the people at the bar to ‘see if I was one of them’. Then I got the biggest beating of my life. I couldn’t see properly for a couple of days. I didn’t go into work the next day, couldn’t say what the reason was, and left town”

 

“Oh Shona….”

 

“So you see…You see why I’m pretty scared to get close to anybody…women that I find attractive I mean. When Chloe was introduced to us all that day. All I heard was the guys around me say how pretty she is, how they would like the chance to date her and all this…but me…..I had to stay quiet. I didn’t want to risk it again.”

 

“Do you have strong feelings for Miss Chloe?”

 

“Yes….yes I do” Shona held her head in shame.

 

“What do you think she feels?”

 

“I have no idea….There’s times I just think she’s being kind..and there’s other times I catch her looking at me and it’s like I can read her mind because I’m thinking the same. But Cuban, I am petrified especially in this town of getting found out, or my past catching up with me. I just have to keep my head down, save some god damn money and get out of here. I can’t go through it all again and have to run….leave you, Tom and Ruby and this one….”

 

Shona gestures her head towards Storm.

 

“But you can’t stop thinking ‘bout her right?”

 

Shona starts to shake and sob

 

Cuban warmly hugs Shona and they just sit. Shona had waited a long time for somebody to know who she really was and to not run in disgust. This was a moment that Shona was cherishing.

 

“No…I can’t stop thinking about her, Cuban”

 

 

 

Chapter 95

 

Ellis and Bruce was shut over the next two days as Jeffrey Ellis made sure people in town got the time and help the needed to repair homes, see to relatives in hospital.

 

On the first day back at work, Ellis made a shock visit to work. He wanted to call a meeting.

 

BUZZER

 

“Wonder what’s happening now..?” Elbe said looking up towards the management offices

 

“You ok?” Cuban whispered to Shona knowing she would see Chloe

 

“Yeah…yeah..” Shona wasn’t convincing

 

First to come out was Ron Black, followed by Ellis then Kyle and Larry slowly walked out, hands in their pockets looking glum. Then lastly, there was Chloe.

 

Shona breathed deep. She knew what would happen to her if anybody found out her feelings, she was in the same league as being a nigger, maybe even worse, she was a white nigger loving homosexual. She wouldn’t last long out there especially as she had next to no money. She and Cuban had spent almost all their savings on repairs at the barn, they were starting from scratch again. It was an unsettling time to make big confessions, but Shona had been carrying it for too long.

 

Chloe glanced fleetingly down at Shona knowing where she would be in the crowd below. They all stood in roughly the same area, Cuban, Shona and Elbe at the back where they knew they belonged.

 

“Hi everybody…I know I don’t come here nowhere near as much as I should, apparently I’m always in the Copperpot according to some…” Ellis made a private dig towards Kyle who was stone faced.

 

He continued “But I really felt for this town after such an ordeal like the one we have just had with the storm. Of course we can prepare, but nature soon lets us know how small we are. But we have big hearts in this town, and I want to help. So, Ron came to me with an idea and I liked it…We are gone do a fete of some kind, bring the community together, base it around the grounds here, tell your wives and anybody who can make something, do something to bring in people to donate money to those who got affected the most. Ron here will be round to give you more details, but if you any ideas, come see me or him.”

 

Larry and Kyle looked at each other and discreetly rolled their eyes.

 

For a split second Shona and Chloe’s eyes met, Shona looked away first. Cuban noticed.

 

“Shona… you and I could build a couple of benches couldn’t we…sell ‘em at the fete do a good turn?”

 

“Yeah…that sounds great Elbe..good idea” Shona was clearly distracted, her secret was out, maybe only to Cuban but it caused her worry.

 

“Shona..” It was Kyle calling from behind

 

“You go on ahead..” Shona gestured to Cuban and Elbe

 

“Just to let you know in case you already put your mark on the money raised at the fete, we won’t be giving any proceeds to white nigger lovers like the couple who took you and Cuban in….you understand…just lettin’ you know”

 

Kyle winked, Shona wanted to punch him straight in the face. Tom and Ruby could do with any help, they were getting old.

 

“What did he want?” Cuban asked when Shona caught up

 

“Nothing…don’t worry about it”

 

Shona knew Cuban was reminded day in and day out about being black, if she could spare him one second of being reminded, she would.

 

Chapter 96

 

 

It was early morning on the day of the fete. Huge numbers were expected. Ron Black, and Jeffrey Ellis called upon the big hitters of the town to come down and bring their wallets. Women were bringing cakes and crafts to sell, there were horses for kids to ride for a donation.

 

Cuban was clearing up some mess in the tool room from all the flags and placards that had been made when Deputy Paul and Kyle came in from outside.

 

“Nigger…” Cuban looked up and jolted.

 

“Um yes sir?”

 

“You do realise that you wont be going outside today, you wont be seen by the good people of this town, you understand?” Deputy Paul looked at Cuban directly in his anxious eyes.

 

“I mean people don’t like seeing bruises and cuts on peoples faces right?” Kyle said calmly

 

“Bruises? Cuts?…What?” Cuban didn’t understand.

 

A second after Cuban uttered those words, punches and kicks rained down on him, there was no point in screaming, nobody would hear and nobody would come for him. Shona and Elbe were in town getting the horses from a nearby stable. He let them finish. The only reason they stopped was because they were exhausted. They straightened their tops, run hands through their hair and left Cuban in a pool of his own blood.

 

 

Chapter 97

 

“She’s beautiful….” Shona strokes a brown coloured placed mare.

 

“That she is” Elbe said gesturing the horse into horsebox ready to take to the fete, a makeshift stable was waiting. For once, Shona felt like she had a good job in looking after the horse at the fete.

 

They pulled into the long road that led to work, letting the cool morning air run through their hair, the silence was almost a pleasure, as they felt free, if only for a few minutes longer until they pulled up, both seemed to sigh at the same time.

 

 

“I’ll show her to Cuban, I’ve never seen him ride” Shona heads off to the tool room.

 

Elbe tied up the mare just outside the makeshift stable and put a barrel of fresh water in front of her. He was growing attached to her already.

 

Shona opened the door to the tool room and her face filled with horror.

 

“Cuban!…What the fuck happened to you!?” Shona ran over to him.

 

He had just managed to crawl over the side of the tool room and rested there, his face was covered in blood.

 

“They…..they messed me up real bad this time, worst its ever got”

 

Cuban could hardly breathe, congealed blood had blocked his nose.

 

“Who!? Who did this to you?” Shona snapped, but already knowing the answer

 

“Kyle….Kyle and Deputy Paul….they said I wasn’t to go out front today…and made sure”

 

Cuban coughed up blood.

 

“My god….we need to get you help, grab hold of me” Shona tried to lift Cuban but he was too heavy.

 

“Wait, I’ll go get Elbe, two of us are better than nothing…” Shona said concern screaming out of her face.

 

“Two?…..you and Elbe?” It was Kyle

 

“Did you do this?” Shona was furious, she found the courage.

 

“Me? Trust me, there is a very long list of people who would love to have done that…..I do hope you’re not accusing me Shona. That’s a very serious thing to do..”

 

Kyle walked slowly towards them both, Cuban could barely keep his eyes open they were that battered.

 

Kyle continued “And I’m sure with the beating that….it looks like he got….I’m sure he can’t remember who did it to him”

 

Shona shook her head slowly in disgust. They had almost killed Cuban with their bare hands. Kyle’s smile creep across his face in deep satisfaction.

 

“You in there Shona, the damn mare has knocked the damn barrel……” Elbe walked in a froze.

 

“I’ll let you pass on that message Shona” Kyle said as he swaggered out.

 

 

“I’ll be ok…” Cuban started to come round a little, Shona got some water and cleaned the blood off.

 

“Sons of bitches……one day…..one day” Shona dabbed at cuts, Cuban squinting in pain, Elbe fetched whatever Shona needed.

 

“If Jeffrey Ellis knew about this…” Elbe said holding back a tear

 

“He can’t know….” Cuban barked

 

“One day he’ll know….” Shona said determined

 

Shona patched Cuban up as best as she could, time was running out until the start of the fete and it was ‘curtains up’ where the town near and far descended on Ellis and Bruce. Shona was nervous.

 

“I hope that….nobody from back home is here…” Shona whispered to Cuban who was limping towards the horse to help groom her ready for the fete.

 

“I’m sure it will be ok….just stay out of the way…” Cuban winced as he was pain from the beating.

 

“I’ll stay back here…” Cuban said taking a seat on some hay.

 

 

The mare, Rosie, proved a hit with the kids who near on one after the other demanded rides, the money was flowing. Shona also let kids feed Rosie, but she couldn’t get her mind off her friend almost being beaten to death back behind Ellis and Bruce and she couldn’t tell a soul about it. Even if she got up on the megaphone, the truth was, nobody would care…he was a nigger.

 

“Right….Rosie needs to have a few minutes break now” Shona said to some disappointed kids. She walked her round to where Cuban was recovering.

 

“How you doing?….”

 

“I’m ok….here, let me get her some food” Cuban got up and limped towards Rosie. He wanted to still have a use.

 

“I need to use the bathroom, be back soon”

 

Shona headed off. Shona did need to use the bathroom but she was curious to see where Chloe had been all morning. All Shona has seen was crowds of people but it was non-stop horse rides which meant she didn’t get to see what else was going on. She knew Elbe had a small stall selling his woodwork and a couple of benches they had both made.

 

“Momma….I can see the horse! I can see the horse!” A girl of around six or seven excitedly ran to where she could just see Rosie’s bobbing head.

 

“Evelyn! Come back here at once!” The mother gave chase, the lure of Rosie proving too much for her daughter.

 

Cubans sprang up from his seat on the hay wondering what was happening when he saw this little girl running around the side of the building towards Rosie.

 

“Hey there…” Cuban said gently, knowing that the sight of his cuts and bruises maybe quite distressing for the little girl.

 

“Hi….is that your horse?” She asked almost obviously

 

“She is our todays…Do you like horses?”

 

“Yes I do, I’d like my own horse one day……your face is hurt, you ok Mister?”

 

Cuban felt like crying. “I’m ok…I’m ok…thank you” he smiled instead

 

“Evelyn…will you..” The mother stopped in her tracks and looked at Cuban with complete horror and grabbed her daughter.

 

“Momma! I was talking to the man about his horse!” Evelyn cried innocently

 

“You stay away from my daughter….you stay away from this town you dirty nigger…!” and the mother spat at Cuban, Evelyn looking confused

 

“But that man was a nice man momma, why did you do that?” Evelyns voice fading as she was carried away by her mother.

 

“Because he is a nigger…he’s dangerous… we don’t talk to those with black faces, do you hear me!!?”

 

“And that’s how it starts..” Cuban whispered to himself

 

 

 

Meanwhile, Shona left the bathroom, heard the music and noise from the crowds, she caught sight out of the window of Elbe working his magic and selling his crafts and she smiled. She then saw Chloe. Looking stunning in a flowing lemon coloured summer dress surrounded by the town’s richest and most influential people. Shona could tell that Chloe’s smile was fake, but even still, Shona understood that Chloe was in a completely different world. Shona would never belong in that world, but she felt she belonged in the company of Chloe and that’s why something inside of her ached at the unfairness of it all.

 

She sighed and made her way back to the horse riding section of the fete. She heard a small girl crying hysterically round the corner to where Rosie was kept, and her mother trying to calm her.

 

“Hey…..” Shona crouched down to the little girls’ level, she must have been around six years old.

 

“She’s just fallen over and scraped all up her legs” the mother said knowing that Shona was trying to help

 

“Do you like horses?” Shona asked the young girl who looked at Shona’s warm smile and gradually stopped crying.

 

“Yeah…a little bit” The little girl answered cautiously

 

“Well..how about you and your mother come with me and you can see Rosie and if you would like, you can have a free ride on her, what do you say?” Shona said slowly standing up

 

The little girl looked up at her mother who was smiling and then nodded.

 

“Yes please!”

 

“Come on then…”

 

Shona led them round to the make-shift stable where Rosie was drinking some water, Cuban heard unfamiliar voices and hid.

 

“Here she is….wanna pet her?” Shona noticed the cuts up the little girls legs.

 

The little girl nodded excitedly.

 

“How bout I lift you up to stroke her, maybe sit on her and mom…you um….” Shona gestured towards cleaning up the cuts. It was perfect distraction.

 

The mother nodded gratefully

 

“She literally hadn’t stopped crying until she saw you” The mom whispered.

 

Shona nipped to get a clean wet cloth and a plaster to discreetly to give to mom and Shona lifted up the little girl onto Rosie and talked about how to look after horses whilst the mom carefully cleaned the nasty cut, but no more crying.

 

“Honey!….Honey…you round here!?” A deep male voice called out

 

“We’re in here sweetie…….it’s my husband, Sam” the woman said to Shona.

 

Shona didn’t realise it was ‘Big Sam’ the guy who was now one of the richest people in Daynes due to the unfortunate passing of his father.

 

“There you are honey……how’s my girl?” Big Sam tipped his hat to Shona and went straight to Evelyn.

 

“My god…she’s stopped cryin’! How in gods name did you do that!?” Big Sam said discreetly to his wife, Shona overheard.

 

“All down to this young lady…sorry what’s your name?”

 

“Shona…I’m Shona”

 

“Well Shona, you’re my new best friend!” Big Sam said hugging Shona tightly

 

 

Cuban could hear it all and he smiled

 

 

“The Press are here….that’s good” Ron Black goes up to Jeffrey Ellis

 

“Yeah…its goin’ real well don’t you think?”

 

“Some wanted it to fail…” Ron said eyeing Kyle and Larry in the distance chatting to Deputy Paul.

 

“But it didn’t fail….don’t worry about them”

 

 

 

“Ellis!…..How you doin?” It was Big Sam heading towards Jeffrey, Larry Bruce heard and wanted to get in on the action.

 

Three powerful men getting together didn’t go unnoticed by some of the crowd who started to gathering around them.

“Sam! You’re looking well…I’m sorry to have heard about your father.” Ellis said shaking Sam’s hand.

 

“Thank you, appreciate it”

 

“Sam!…” Larry Bruce got in on the action, Chloe followed her father reluctantly at first.

 

“Larry….Kyle…Chloe, looking beautiful as ever” Big Sam shook all their hands

 

“Your lovely wife here with you?” Ellis asked looking behind Sam

 

“She is…there she is, by the horse and this lovely young lady…Shona I think she said her name was” Sam turned round seeing Evelyn on Rosie for what felt like an age, but she was smiling.

 

Chloe’s heart twinged at the sound of Shona’s name.

 

“She was amazing with my daughter, Jeffrey…I tell you, this is a great event, a great event for this town” Sam was overjoyed.

 

Larry and Kyle quickly looked at each other.

 

“Here she is….my beautiful princess, did you have fun!?” Sam scooped Evelyn up off the back of the mare. Eveylyn was beaming.

 

“Can Shona come visit us please daddy!?” Her mother and father both smiled broadly

 

“Of course she can!” Sam meant it genuinely, Shona and Chloe caught each others glances for a split second aching to speak to one another.

 

Larry and Kyle looked fed up at not being included in this conversation and all the interest in Shona.

“I’d like to do some business with you guys real soon…I mean a lot of business. I came down here to initially check it out up close, and I love it…People like Shona and this old guy Elbe made us a family feel real welcome, so if that’s what its like…I’d love to put work your way, got a real family feel to it” Sam said with animation.

 

Chloe felt proud about Sam mentioning Shona and Elbe but knew it was a false picture of the miserable place where she worked, but now wasn’t the time.

 

“That sounds real good to us…” Larry said grabbing Big Sams hand to shake it again as if staking his claim.

 

“Gentleman…oh and Ladies, could I take a picture…it will be front page…?”

 

The Press guy saw the towns wealthiest individuals was too good a shot to miss.

 

“Wait!” Ellis interrupted as people were shuffling together to get in the picture.

 

“Shona…come on…get in the picture….and Rosie” Jeffrey smiled

 

Shona was surprised, grateful but a bit nervous to be included and stood on the end of the shot with the mare on her left. Chloe was painfully the other side of the picture.

 

“Smile!” then SNAP! The shot was taken.

 

A couple of hours later, the crowds started to slowly disperse. Rosie was taken back to her makeshift stable where Cuban was waiting to feed her.

 

“Larry….Thanks a lot for what you did for this town today” Big Sam was getting his little girl ready to go home

 

“It’s our pleasure Sam…Thanks for coming and for the donation to the cause”

 

Larry faked his joy, he thought it was a stupid idea.

 

“I can see that Kyle has a thing for your daughter, a blind man can see it”

 

Sam said looking over Larrys shoulder at Chloe saying goodbye to guests and Kyle by her side.

 

“They’d make a great couple wouldn’t they?” Larry grinned

 

“Damn right…I mean, I don’t know Kyle but you can see he likes her and you know I love your daughter to pieces. I mean Larry, we aint gone be here forever, I want it to be that if I invest a lot of money, that my clients will have the stability of using a company that will still be around in a decade after we have kicked the bucket….”

 

“Yeah..?”

 

“And I think that company is yours…with Kyle and Chloe at the wheel in the future, man…investors will be clambering…They are the future and that’s what we invest in…the future.”

 

Larry’s smile widened, after he said his goodbyes to Big Sam, he went straight over to Kyle who went out back to Cuban, Shona and Elbe who were tending to Rosie and talking about their day.

 

Kyle appeared.

 

“You lot…..we, are off in town to celebrate a good day….You, will stay here and clean up all this shit….Got it?”

 

Kyle left as quickly as he appeared. He had a new mission, to seduce Chloe.

 

Chapter 98

 

Everyone apart from Elbe, Shona and Cuban gathered at ‘Jesters’ in town to celebrate the success of the fete that day, a great deal of money was raised for the needy people of Daynes after the storm.

 

Chloe was one of the last to walk in as she insisted on going on home first to freshen up. Whenever she walked into a room, there was a slight ‘hush’ as men were taken aback by her beauty and influence and were eager to impress her.

 

“You. Look. Radiant.” Kyle creeped as soon as Chloe made her way through the crowd. Chloe wasn’t flattered, she hated him, but faked a smile.

 

“Can I get you a drink Miss Chloe?” Deputy Paul sprang from her other side.

 

“Um…yes please, just an orange juice” Chloe was eager not to drink alcohol, she didn’t want anybody to take advantage and she didn’t want to give out any wrong impressions.

 

Kyle leaned on the bar, despite feeling a coldness from Chloe. He saw her as a challenge still.

 

“Is um….everybody here tonight?” Chloe asked nonchalantly

 

“Pretty much” Kyle said staring right at Chloe who felt uneasy in his company.

 

“Well…I’m gone go and say hi to all the workers, its down to them that today was a success” Chloe slipped away, Kyle again felt a huge pang of rejection, it was getting harder to deal with each time.

 

“Hi Miss Chloe!”

 

“Miss Chloe…”

 

“Hi Miss….you look great!”

 

Eveywhere she went, people wanted to spend time with her, but all their faces were a blur. She wanted to see one particular face; Shona, but she was missing.

 

“Enjoying yourself?” Kyle asked whilst sipping something expensive.

 

“Yeah….Um wheres, Cuban…Elbe and…”

 

“Shona?…..They didn’t want to come, not their thing apparently. We’re obviously not good enough for them” Kyle lied, Chloe found this difficult to believe, so much so that she couldn’t concentrate on what anybody was saying to her.

 

The bar door opened and momentarily Chloe hoped Shona had changed her mind, but it was Jeffrey Ellis and a couple of the investors walking in smiling. The night felt empty and even changing her drink to something alcoholic wouldn’t help.

 

Chloe turned round and bumped into Kyle who seemed to be everywhere.

 

“You ok?…We can go somewhere more….quiet if you want?” Kyle burning Chloe’s face with his intense stare.

 

“No…thank you…..I want to get an early night, I’m quite tired” Chloe left Jesters a little undecided, she wasn’t ready to return home.

 

Kyle meanwhile was furious leaning on the bar.

 

“I’ll have a shot….no, make that a double” and he swigged it all in one go. He caught the eye of one of the women who was standing on the stair case beckoning Kyle with her smile. She was likely a prostitute and that’s just what Kyle needed, without hesitation, he went up the stairs, she whispered in his ear and they went upstairs.

 

“I feel so bad that Shona spent the last of her savings on us yesterday” Ruby was washing up.

 

“I know, me too…but truth is, without her and Cubans extra money, we wouldn’t have been able to survive with the repair bill after that damn storm…it’s not likely that we will get any help from the fete, we are outcasts now…”

 

Tom said walking into the kitchen trying to fix a clock.

 

“Why can’t they see what we see..?” Ruby said with sadness in her eyes, she had wiped this particular plate more than a couple of times.

 

“Because they don’t want to see it Ruby…it means that if they accept Cuban, and god forbid they like him, all their beliefs, all what they been told by their parents, communities would be wrong..a lie…and that’s too much to deal with. It’s better to hate and appear be ‘right’ then to learn the truth and everything around you be wrong. Not everybody is like us….”

 

Tom tapped the clock and it appeared to be working again.

 

“I fear for his future Tom…for both of them”

 

“They got us…..they got us” Tom went over and stood behind his wife and put his arms round her, Ruby felt safe.

 

“Hang on…who’s this?” Tom broke away and saw headlights coming down the drive. He went to the front door.

 

“It’s Miss Chloe” Tom called out

 

“Hi Tom……Ruby….” Ruby joined Tom at the front door.

 

Chloe continued ‘You don’t happen to know where Cuban and um….Shona are do you?”

 

Insect noises were interrupting the peace.

 

“They haven’t returned from work yet, we assumed everybody was staying late to help clear up….” Ruby said a little concerned.

 

“Ok…thank you…I’ll go and check…you take care”

 

Chloe got back in her car, and headed towards work.

 

 

“Elbe…you go home, its been a long day, we haven’t got much else to do, go on…”

 

Shona insisted and Cuban nodded in agreement. Elbe was falling asleep any time he sat down, it was heart breaking to watch.

 

“Oh ok…if you’re sure..?” Elbe said rubbing his eyes

 

“Yes…we’re sure…take it easy” Cuban said helping him put his jumper on.

 

As they waved Elbe off, they saw headlights coming down the long, long road approaching Ellis and Bruce.

 

“Who the hell is this at this time?” Cuban asked, squinting his eyes trying to make out the shape of the vehicle.

 

“It’s Chloe” Shona almost looked annoyed. It was like everytime she was in Chloe’s presence, she had to deal with buried, painful feelings.

 

“Oh…well…this could be interesting!” Cuban tried to make light of the situation.

 

Chloe, even though she was the boss, she almost felt nervous walking up to the main door as she saw Cuban and Shona looking straight at her.

 

“Hi..”

 

“Miss Chloe” Cuban tipped his cap as they were almost face to face, Shona just nodded.

 

“Why you two not in town….at Jesters..?” Chloe probed

 

“We weren’t asked, more importantly we were told to clear up all the shit” Shona just came out with it, Cuban grinned his surprised, Shona didn’t care anymore.

 

“By who?”

 

“Who do you think? Kyle..” Shona said looking at Chloe directly in her eyes.

 

“He told me…..”

 

“Told you what?” Shona asked, a little aggressively.

 

“…that you refused, that it wasn’t your thing” Chloe said cautiously.

 

“What…so we can spend it at work clearing up everybody’s shit? Does that sound right to you?” Shona was annoyed

 

“Hey…watch your tone” Cuban whispered.

 

“Well….I’m sorry about that, I genuinely didn’t know, I wouldn’t have allowed that to happen”

 

“But you allow his and his hired thugs to beat the shit out of Cuban?”

 

“That’s enough Shona!” Cuban shoved Shona as if to wake her up from what she was saying

 

Chloe looked shocked.

 

“I’m sorry Miss Chloe…I’m so sorry” Cuban tried to make the situation right.

 

“I know..that you and Cuban have a difficult time here, I know that…and I’m so sorry. If you just trust me, I want to make sure that I have a good team, a good team who will eventually lead Ellis and Bruce. But it takes time. That’s why we made Ron Black up to manager, Jeffrey and I have spoken but you need to understand its difficult with my father ultimately being in charge…please understand where I’m coming from. I really am trying to do my best.”

 

Chloe’s eyes pleaded with Shona. Cuban could feel the tension.

 

“Look at his face…please…just look at it…they did that today, to make sure he didn’t go out in public. That’s who is in charge at the moment”

 

Shona’s verbal aggression continued, but at its core, it was frustration with her feelings towards Chloe.

 

“I’m sorry…Cuban, I’m so sorry…I will do right by you I promise”

 

Chloe was almost crying, Shona was deadly serious, unmoved on the outside, inside she was in pain.

 

“Miss Chloe I know…Shona, what you doing!?” Cuban was annoyed at Shona.

 

“She needed to hear what was going on Cuban, I’m tired of being scared”

 

Shona’s glance turned back to Chloe whose eyes were searching for some feeling from Shona.

 

“Please…come in? Can I make you a drink Miss Chloe?” Cuban tried to repair the tension between the pair.

 

“If I’m welcome…?” Chloe looked at Shona who wanted to scream ‘yes’ but nodded slightly to indicate she was.

 

Chloe came in, Cuban took her coat and bag and immediately went to make her a drink. The atmosphere was awkward between Shona and Chloe who looked everywhere apart from split second glances at each other.

 

“Here…” Cuban handed Chloe a hot drink and pulled a chair out in the canteen for Chloe to sit, Shona purposely picked a seat that was opposite and down a few away from Chloe, Cuban shook his head at her behaviour knowing what was really behind it. He sat opposite Chloe.

 

“How’s Storm?” Chloe desperately tried to get Shona to engage

 

“She’s alright..”

 

“Do Tom and Ruby need…anything…after the storm? They ok?”

 

“Nothing that we can’t help them with” Shona didn’t even make eye contact.

 

“But thank you…thank you for that Miss Chloe” Cuban trying to sound appreciative even if Shona wasn’t.

 

A minute went by agonisingly for Chloe.

 

“I heard there’s a new pie in Ed’s Diner…wanna come try it out with me…you’re both welcome?”

 

Chloe looked at both Shona and Cuban.

 

“With regret…as you can understand, I don’t do many public places in this town, but….Shona..?”

 

Cuban looked down the table at Shona who was scratching the table.

 

“My shout..?” Chloe added, a slight grin

 

Cuban tried to kick under the table towards Shona who looked up at him.

 

With a huff, Shona relented a little “If you throw in a strawberry shake I’m in”

 

“Deal” Chloe was relieved and her heart beat a little faster.

 

Cuban smiled at the pair making up and was impressed at how many men would give their right arm to take Chloe out let alone be asked out by Chloe.

 

The ice was broken and the trio talked for what felt like hours into the night.

 

 

Chapter 99

 

“Chloe….”

 

“Kyle” Chloe replied with little warmth on the way to her office. She had just arrived to work, she didn’t need to be harassed.

 

“Nice…..evening….?” Kyle didn’t care, he just wanted to know where she was.

 

“Um…yes…thank you” Chloe was opening some mail, barely looking at Kyle which drove him mad.

 

“You left early…was everything ok?” Kyle’s face was unconsciously stoney as he couldn’t hide the fact that wherever and whoever Chloe spent time with, he was jealous of

 

“I’m sorry Kyle, look, is there a problem?” Chloe snapped, she had a limit.

 

“I ermm….asked your father this morning if you were home and he said you didn’t return until real late, so I was…..concerned about you being out so late by yourself”

 

Kyle smarmed.

 

“I wasn’t by myself and in future, don’t go asking about business that doesn’t concern you”

 

Chloe slammed the drawer at her desk and stormed out of her office. She was riled and so was Kyle. What in the hell was she so secretive about? Was she seeing somebody?

 

 

 

“I’m glad you and Miss Chloe are getting on so well” Cuban smiled a genuine smile to Shona who was washing her hands after a particularly grubby job.

 

“Yeah, it’s good….I mean…in one way, sounds crazy, but it was easier to hate her, or the thought she hated me because then I didn’t have to…you know…deal with…..feelings. But…I feel I can talk to her for hours you know, and she seems to open up to me so…I’ll just have to..bury my thoughts…put these feelings aside…”

 

Shona was cautious and spoke almost to a whisper

 

“Unless she feels the same way..?” Cuban was deadly serious.

 

That was too dangerous for all concerned to even contemplate.

 

Chapter 100

 

Cuban was sweeping up the workshop whilst the latest truck went out.

 

“Nigger…get here now!” Kyle barked

 

“Sir” Cuban lowered his head and went over to where Kyle was standing, he didn’t know whether he was waiting for a beating or to clean Kyle’s shoes, it was never good.

 

“Now…when I ask you a question, you will tell me the truth that understood?”

 

Kyle said getting right up into Cubans space.

 

“Yes sir” Cuban swallowed hard

 

“Last night…when we were at Jesters, you were cleaning up right?”

 

“Yes Sir” Cuban nodded

 

“Any visitors?” Kyle snapped

 

“Sir?” Cuban met Kyles eyes, a little confused

 

“I said any visitors!…Did anybody else, other than you the broad and the guy who should have been dead five years ago, turn up here last night!..?”

 

Kyle’s patience next to non-existent.

 

“Ummm…” Cuban was reluctant, but that was literally shook out of him

 

“Who dammit!!?” Kyle grabbed Cubans shoulders

 

“Chloe…….Miss Chloe” Cuban relented

 

Kyle slowly released his tight grip, his eyes wide with fury.

 

“Did she…stay here all night?”

 

“Um…for a few hours Sir, yes” Cuban felt as if he had spilled a secret, Kyle felt the same.

 

 

“Randy, you’re sweating like a god damn pig and all you’ve done is climb into the damn thing!”

 

Randy was being ridiculed again, he had sweat patches all over his shirt that barely covered his ever growing belly, he had just got into the tractor. Shona was listening and eventually caved.

 

“At least he does some work here rather than you guys who spend your time figuring out who is the biggest loser…..who can’t get it up, and whose girlfriend has left ‘em…..leave the guy alone”

 

Shona carried on with her work, Randy heard and appreciated her stepping in, nobody else did, apart from Elbe if he heard.

 

“You know what?….” Charlie one of the ring leaders slowly approached Shona

 

He continued “I reckon..the biggest loser is you….Shona. I mean, look at you, a broad, no husband, there must be something wrong with you, and a nigger lover…man…you’re a nigger lover and you have the audacity to call us losers! You better watch your back”

 

Shona took in his words for a split second then replied

 

“I’d much rather be me”

 

She noticed that Randy kept quiet, not reciprocating the support

“Hey…” It was Chloe walking over to Shona out on the field. Guys were tipping their hats to her as she walked towards them.

 

“Hi…you ok?” Shona asked

 

“I’m fine, I just brought you a drink…here….its hot out” Chloe handed over a bottle of water to Shona, to the surprise of Charlie, Randy and a couple of the other guys witnessing. They could only dream that Chloe would show them any kind of proper attention. Nobody was more surprised than Shona who took the bottle and thanked Chloe.

 

“Hows your morning going?” Shona asked swigging the water

 

“Oh..you know..” Chloe looked directly at Shona as if speaking to her telepathically. Shona knew.

 

“Well…I best be getting on…but thanks for this” Shona said holding the bottle up.

 

“You’re welcome…” Chloe returned to her office.

 

The whole thing witnessed by Kyle who was seething.

 

 

 

Chapter 101

 

Cuban and Shona returned to the workshop they had been cleaning before the ten AM break whereby they were pleasantly surprised that they were joined by Elbe and Chloe for the duration. This hadn’t gone unnoticed.

 

They carried on where they left off, with just finishing up with the mopping, chatting away fairly carefree for a minute or two when they hadn’t noticed Kyle sitting silently in the opposite end they were working on, most of his body concealed due to the low lighting.

 

“Woah!…Sir….” Cuban noticed him first and almost jumped out of his skin.

 

Shona immediately shot her head round, stopped mopping not saying a thing, waiting to see Kyles’ demeanour. It was like a standoff of stares, Shona wasn’t budging, she hated Kyle. Cuban swallowed hard, he was frightened. He had felt the full force of Kyle’s beatings, his face only starting to recover from the last one.

 

Only their deep breaths of anticipation could be heard and the odd drip from the mop into the bucket of dirty water ready to be poured away, for what felt like an eternity. Kyle grinned and slowly got up swaggered towards them, in full control, almost teasing them with how unbothered he appeared, hands in his pockets savouring every second of the power he had. He stopped in front of Cuban, looked him in the eye, stayed there for a three or four seconds, just breathing heavily out of his nose and smirking. Then without warning, he spat at Cubans face as if to desecrate him further than just the bruises that remained from their last meet.

 

Cuban went to slowly wipe off the spit that was almost blinding him.

 

“No!….leave it!” Kyle barked, Cuban obliged.

 

Shona was furious, she gritted her teeth, breathing even heavier, lips hardened, but had been round long enough to know that if she intervened, she would make it worse for Cuban. Spit didn’t hurt, it was just vile, but beatings can kill, so she just tried with all her might to stay calm.

 

“Maybe my saliva will seep into your pores and start turning you into a white man ..” then Kyle started to laugh at his own comment.

 

Cuban stood there in utter humiliation, trembling with rage. This was the ultimate test of self-control for Cuban, he didn’t know how much more he could take without finally going berserk at Kyle.

 

“Now Shona….” Kyle was standing in front of her, close up, looking into her captivating blue eyes that only emitted disgust towards him.

 

Shona could take being spat at and was almost willing him to do it.

 

“You have done a really, really good job of mopping up this room” Kyle said with complete sarcasm.

 

Shona was grinding her teeth and narrowed her eyes even more.

 

“But….you’ve missed a bit” Kyle sniggered in her face then gently tipped the huge bucket of dirty mop water with his feet so that all Shona’s hard work had been undone.

 

“Ooops” Kyle whispered in Shona’s ear and deftly left.

 

Once Kyle was out of sight, Shona immediately grabbed a clean cloth, rinsed it under the tap in the workshop and helped get Kyles’ spit of Cubans face.

 

“It’s gone be ok….it’s gone be ok” Shona tried to reassure Cuban who was sobbing with frustration as she was gently wiping his face.

 

Elbe came in, gently knocking on the door ‘You ok? I saw that monster leave and wanted to come check on you….what happened here?” He saw Cuban crying, Shona consoling him, the floor was a mess.

 

They told Elbe who didn’t say a thing, just shook his head in despair.

 

The rest of the day, the trio purposely kept their heads down even lower, not speaking a word to anybody, to each other, they tried to be invisible, just like Kyle and co. wanted them to be. But it was mental agony, not knowing what’s round the corner, whether it will be a beating, food thrown at you, spat at, purposely given the wrong times to turn up for meetings, it was a psychological nightmare for the three of them.

 

 

 

“Ruby!…” Tom called from outside the house early the following morning, the mist still blanketing the ground.

 

Ruby didn’t reply, just came out the front door.

 

“Look what they done this time…” Tom looked defeated, pointing to the front door that Ruby came out of.

 

Ruby turned around and immediately covered her mouth in shock.

 

In big red letters read ‘Nigger Lovers…this will be his BLOOD soon’. It was getting too close, too often.

 

Tom and Ruby desperately tried to clean it off before Cuban saw it as he was leaving for work, but they wasn’t successful, Shona came out and looked too. It was a sombre moment for them all, all thinking the same.

 

Cuban’s days were numbered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 102

 

Cuban considered not going into work, but strangely he felt slightly more safe at work, there was always the hope that Jeffrey Ellis may pop in whose wing Cuban could hide under, or the fact there were more people hopefully meant less likely to be murdered in full view of them, especially Chloe who was onto what was happening and was trying to slowly change the culture. Cuban prayed that each day would be get easier, but in truth, it got worse.

 

He and Shona left for work together. Shona as ever trying to be the positive one.

 

As if a higher spirit was shining on them, the day was uneventful. Eeerily calm as if they were being left alone. Every second of a glimpse of normality, Shona and Cuban cherished.

 

They briefly chatted with Elbe at the ten AM break, made sure nobody was listening and told him about what was written on Tom and Rubys front door.

 

“Come over to mine after work… let’s chat more there. There’s too many eyes and too many ears here” Elbe winked and left the table. Did he have a plan? Did he have hope? Shona and Cuban were clinging to either suggestion at the moment. Shona looked over to Cuban at the table, he was staring into space for a few minutes, not touching his food. He looked lost, then got up, slammed his chair in and stormed out. Shona quickly followed him and struggled to keep up. What the hell was he doing? Where was he going?

 

“Hey…..Cuban!….Hey!……look slow down!” Shona tried to not shout too loud, the last thing she wanted to draw attention to the pair of them.

 

Cuban didn’t listen, he was headed for the field, but he didn’t quite make it as Shona just about caught up with him and saw his face. He was absolutely sobbing.

 

“Cuban! Wait! Come on….stop!” Shona tried to calm him down, but she felt his strength as he was getting out of her grip.

 

“Just do it!!!! Just do it!! Get it over with!! Kill me now! Kill me now!!” Cuban screamed then sunk to his knees

 

People came out of the exit doors to see what was going on. This was the opposite of what Shona wanted. She just cradled him, tried to rock him but he wasn’t done.

 

“I want to die! I want to die! I can’t take this anymore!! Shoot me shoot me!!!….” Cuban couldn’t speak for sobbing after. Shona gripped him tight, purposely not speaking, holding back tears herself, hoping to god that people didn’t hear, but behind her a small crowd had gathered to witness Cubans humiliation.

 

Kyle included.

 

“He’s giving us permission boss, shall we put him out his misery?” Deputy Paul joked with Kyle.

 

“Oh no…this is too much fun. Shooting him……is far too quick. I want to see the nigger suffer ‘til the very end. The very. Last. Breath.”

 

Kyle was amazed at what was playing out in front of him, it was too easy. Cuban was cracking.

 

“The broad?” Deputy Paul whispered

 

“Leave her to me, her watching the nigger suffer will just be the start”

 

Even Deputy Paul was slightly taken aback by Kyle’s ruthlessness.

Meanwhile, in a rundown bar in Louisiana the town drunk orders another shot, no, make it a double.

 

“Don’t you think you’ve had enough Mike?” The bartender said

 

“Listen….I’ve had enough….when…I’ve had enough…my money no good for you?” Mike slurred.

 

The bartender reluctantly pours the shot knowing it will downed immediately.

 

“What bullshit they printin’ today?” Drunk Mike asks himself out loud then slides the daily national newspaper over to him, hardly making out the small print due to his fuzzy head brought on by years of constant drinking.

 

“He’s a liar……he talks shit…..she needs a good time…from me…….they all need lynchin’” Drunk Mike slowly turned the pages of the newspaper and gave his opinion on every headline including stories about politicians and some about black men that were reported missing. Nobody was listening to him. Everybody in the bar kept their distance, they knew Mike was a regular aggressive drunk.

 

Drunk Mike turned half a dozen pages and his eyes landed on a story with a huge picture taking up a quarter of the page, he had to readjust his focus.

 

‘Daynes Community Fights Back After Storm’

 

Drunk Mike looked closely at the picture to the point his nose was almost touching the paper. He was getting strange looks. He slowly read the story about the fete and how it was a success after the twister, but it was the picture that captivated him. He rubbed his eyes and refocused, even adjusting his seat. What the hell? He traced the names underneath the picture; Larry Bruce, Chloe Bruce, Jeffrey Ellis…. he missed out some others, then came to ‘Shona Jackson’ and it was like that name smacked him in the face to where he almost jumped out of his seat. He looked again at the picture in the paper, checked the name again his mouth open so much dribble spilled onto the page.

 

“Man that’s disgusting” the bartender squinting in disgust at the dirty pathetic state in front of him, drunk Mike oblivious.

 

Drunk Mike wiped his mouth, saliva now up his arm, the bartender rolled his eyes.

 

“Give me a phone!…..I need the phone!” Drunk Mike demanded

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because everybody was outside witnessing Cubans’ breakdown, nobody was about to answer the phone calls that were patched through to management apart from Chloe who wondered where everybody was. She was at her desk having a tense meeting with her father about some new ideas which he seemed to veto almost immediately as if to spite her.

 

“Yes?” Chloe answered another call

 

“Who?”

 

“That’s because he is with me…I’ll put him on” Chloe passed the phone to her father.

 

“Some guy insists on speaking with you” Chloe passed the phone to her father.

 

“Who is it?” Larry asked, frowning

 

“Wouldn’t say…just said it was important” Chloe replied, looking slightly defeated at how her ideas were being received by her father.

 

 

“Who’s this!?” Larry demanded.

 

“Do you know….who is working for you Mr.Bruce?” Came the reply down the phone

 

“What?….You sound drunk!” Larry was impatient

 

“I am drunk…but I aint blind…I see the picture in the paper and I’ll ask again, do you really know who you have employed, Sir?”

 

“What in gods name are you talking about?!” Larry stood up as if to emphasise his annoyance

 

“Shona…Shona Jackson”

 

“What about her?” Larry was intrigued

 

“Do you know about her?”

 

“Spit it out for gods sake!” Larry shouted, Chloe was alarmed.

 

“Let’s put it this way….she’s dead if she comes back to Louisiana and once you find out why, you’ll understand”

 

“Who is this!?”

 

“Mike…..I’m her father”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 103

 

Larry slowly sat back down looking as if he had seen a ghost. Mike explained everything to Larry about Shona’s past, losing his job because of Shona and her feelings towards the farmer’s daughter, escaping the ‘treatment’ she was due to receive to change her feelings towards women, that his name was shamed. Larry was shocked, horrified, disgusted, furious….but he put the phone down with an eerie calm. As much as he didn’t know his daughter at the moment, he couldn’t let her be exposed to somebody like Shona not now Larry knew all about her.

 

“Father?…Who was that?” Chloe asked, concerned.

 

“You stay the hell away from Shona, you hear? She’s dangerous!”

 

Larry got up and stormed out, leaving Chloe perplexed.

 

“Kyle! Get in here!…..” Larry screeched out one of the windows at Kyle who was still chatting to Deputy Paul. Kyle came straight away.

 

Larry grabbed Kyles arm roughly to pull him into a side room and slammed the door, Kyle looked confused whilst Larry caught his breath.

 

“Larry…what’s up?”

 

“What’s up? That broad is what’s up!” Larry explained to Kyle everything he had heard from the phone call, Kyle also looked disgusted and punched the wall.

 

“We need to get rid…fast…she is around Chloe…a lot” Kyle replied, having his own reasons to keep Shona and Chloe apart.

 

“She will brainwash my daughter…try to….do things to her, mess with her head, that’s why she is on the run from her own hometown”

 

Larry slid down the wall trembling, normally a regal type man who seemed to have lost his dignity at the thought his daughter was mixing with somebody as disgusting as Shona, who was also a nigger lover. Larry was also thinking of himself, his own name, his business, what if people found out? He would have to do anything he could to protect his daughter and his legacy.

 

“I’m gone call in the Bullen boys…this is beyond scaring the broad and the nigger…I need to get the boys to them to take ‘em out completely. It needs to end. Now”

 

Kyle knew Larry meant he was effectively ordering the murder of Shona, and Cuban too if needed, right in front of him. Up until now, it was scaring and intimidating, hoping they will leave town on their own accord then the ‘wolves’ of the night be let loose on them (Klan which effectively were the Bullen Boys) but they had somehow (with the help of Ruby and Tom) weathered every storm that has been thrown at them.

 

“Wait a minute…wait a god damn minute Larry” Kyle had a thought

 

“What?” Larry was rubbing his forehead still sitting on the floor in disgust and fury at being so led-on by Shona.

 

“Didn’t you say that her father said she was a dead woman if she ever set foot back in Louisiana?” Kyle’s eyes wide

 

“Yeah…?”

 

“So why are we gone get blood on our hands when there are others who are only too willing to do that job for us?”

 

“What d’you mean? What you thinkin’?” Larry looked up, sniffed and looked interested

 

Kyle pulled him up.

 

 

“Gentlemen!” It was Jeffrey Ellis, being inwardly sarcastic, as he opened the door on Kyle and Larry. He started to hate them both.

 

“Jeffrey?” Larry said, today was all about surprises

 

“I’ve been looking for you two everywhere, one of the guys saw you come in here, what on earth you doing?”

 

Jeffrey looked around, it was a disused, dirty, smelly room.

 

“Just talking business, confidential business…you know” Larry replied, trying to conceal his emotions that were on overdrive.

 

“Good write-up in the paper don’t you think?..We’ve had more donations pour in from all over the country, that’s great for the town isn’t it?” Jeffrey knew that Kyle and Larry hated the whole fete idea from the start.

 

“That’s great Sir…really great” Kyle replied through gritted teeth.

 

“Just got off the phone to Big Sam, he loved Shona, so did his little girl….he wants to do big business with us, spoke about a few ideas that I’ll bring up in the next meeting.” Jeffrey said smiling almost smugly which only infuriated Larry and Kyle more and the mere mention of Shona’s name.

 

“That’s….fantastic” Larry struggled to speak, he was still choking on the words that Shona’s father had told him

 

“So where is Shona? I want to say well done to her…she seems to have quite a way with people, even those high up…”

 

Jeffrey said almost going out the door. His words almost making Larry vomit.

 

“I’m not sure Sir…” Kyle replied, seeing Larry struggle in the corner of his eye, Jeffrey squinting, thinking something was up.

 

Jeffrey was about to walk out to find Shona.

 

“Sir….” Kyle called out

 

“Yes Kyle”

 

“I think you’re right….”

 

“About what?” Jeffrey turned back so that he was fully facing Kyle.

 

“Shona…I think…she is…really making an impression here” Kyle said it like he was robotic, even Larry looked confused as to what Kyle was going to say next.

 

“That’s great Kyle…” Jeffrey looked slightly confused, Kyles comment surprised him.

 

“So that’s why I think she will be great to help other companies, spread good vibes about Ellis and Bruce and also to learn about how…similar businesses work, get some inside information on our competitors….Like you said…….she has a way with people”

 

“Go on….” Jeffrey was listening

 

“I propose that she ….ventures out as soon as can be arranged, strike while its hot”

 

“Good idea….which companies? Where were you thinking of sending her?”

 

“Louisiana” Kyle replied instantly staring at Jeffrey dead in the eyes.

 

Larry thought it was genius.

Chapter 104

 

 

Cuban, Shona and Elbe were huddled round the table at Elbe’s cramped home. Cuban hadn’t said too much all day after his outburst. Shona went to Elbe who suggested they meet after work at his place.

 

“We need to do somethin’….I got a bad feeling ‘bout all this” Elbe said pouring drinks.

 

“I don’t know what to do, I want to tell Jeffery but I’m never allowed to get near him, I don’t know when he’s gone turn up…he’s our only hope..”

 

Shona said with frustration.

 

“There’s always Miss Chloe. You get on with her don’t cha?” Elbe replied, Cuban looked straight at Shona who looked back at him with a knowing glance.

 

“Yeah…I do but…I think that only makes things worse” Shona said lowering her head, looking almost ashamed.

 

“What do you mean?……Whats going on?” Elbe enquired gently

 

Both Cuban and Shona nodded in agreement. Now was as good as time as any to tell Elbe about Shona’s feelings towards Chloe and how it is probably best to ignore her from now on. Things were getting too dangerous as it was.

 

“Oooh…now that is a……situation…” Elbe replied, Cuban and Shona thought it could have been worse.

 

“So you see it makes things difficult for Shona to….get close to Chloe as we think……” Cuban looked back at Shona who looked visibly uncomfortable

 

Cuban continued “….we think Miss Chloe may…feel the same way”

 

Shona breathed out heavily realising the messed up situation they were all embroiled in one way or another.

 

“So that poor girl is possibly all mixed up and has a….monster for a father…and a no-good mother, and nowhere to turn to. You know I bet…she is…underneath it all, just as frightened as us”

 

Shona hadn’t thought about it like that before, she assumed that Chloe would just be ‘alright’ because of her wealth and power, but she was in a cage just like her, Cuban and Elbe. They didn’t conform to what society expected of them, and going outside the lines was dangerous.

 

“Ok for now….let’s just keep it simple. Keep our heads down, buy us some time, I’m gone figure out who I can give my diary to, I got an idea who and then we will nail those sons of bitches. It will be the biggest news story this state has seen, you’ll see. Shona, I think you’re right, stay out of Chloe’s way, don’t be seen around her, talking to her, it will just annoy that asshole Kyle who wants to have her for his own agenda…Lets just stay calm, and it won’t be long and the whole thing will be over…”

 

Elbe had a welcoming calmness to his voice, it felt like there was hope.

 

 

The following day the ten AM buzzer went for break, Shona did her best to ignore Chloe who was walking directly towards her.

 

“Shona..”

 

“Miss Chloe..”

 

“Um…you….ok?”

 

“I’m fine….”

 

“Oh…I was just about to join for break, that ok?” Chloe looked a little rejected at Shona’s coldness

 

“Well..Um… Cuban and I have work to do, so…we won’t be able to join you, sorry…I need to go..”

 

Shona. Hated.Every.Second. She felt a pang she hadn’t felt before. She wanted to look back and see Chloe’s face.

 

Things seemed to calm over the next few days, but the gulf between Chloe and Shona stretched further. They were both miserable because of it .It wasn’t easy for Shona to keep ignoring Chloe’s attempts at meeting at the ten AM break. Every pore in her body wanted to spend time with Chloe no matter how dangerous it was, but in truth, she put everybody in danger if she succumbed to her feelings, it was best this way, at least until they figured out a plan to get out of Daynes and maybe contact Chloe one day.

 

“Can I get you a coffee Miss Chloe?”

 

“No..” Chloe snapped at her PA

 

“Ooooo…somebody seems tense, maybe a night out with a devilishly handsome manager at Ellis and Bruce will help with that?”

 

Kyle swaggered into Chloe’s office hearing her snap.

 

“Oh and I don’t mean Ron Black by the way..!” Kyle laughed at his own joke, Chloe remained tense

 

“Kyle…I’m really busy….Is there something you wanted?” Chloe rubbed her head out of contempt towards Kyle. He noticed it.

 

“No…other than, we made need to make some cuts on the staffing that’s all” Kyle replied deadly serious trying to disguise the pain of rejection.

 

“What do you mean? I didn’t know of this?” Chloe asked, confused.

 

Kyle just made it up as a quick revenge, he knew Chloe would be interested if he they were threatening to axe the trio protected by Ellis.

 

“It’s a business..not a charity…You know what I mean” Kyle left as if he was half satisfied with sticking the knife into Chloe, he wanted to matter in her world, to be noticed. He didn’t care how.

 

 

“Ron…hi…how you doing?” Chloe approached Ron Black, the ‘safe pair of hands at Ellis and Bruce’. He quietly got on with business, the workers liked him.

 

“Hey Chloe!”

 

“Listen…hows um…Shona getting on? How is she working?” Chloe quizzed

 

“Shona?…She’s great actually, non-stop worker, never complains, always early, a dream really…I wished I could replace half a dozen of the men with more Shona’s!” Ron smiled

 

“Right…well that’s great…Cuban?” Chloe asked with a serious look on her face

 

“Well..despite…the obvious um pressure he faces daily…I’ll be honest, he’s fantastic at what he does, he really is”

 

Ron almost whispered the last part because he knew praising a nigger round here was almost a crime.

 

“Thanks…Umm..Ron, you’ve been at all the management meetings right?”

 

“Yep”

 

“Has there been any talk of laying staff off?”

 

“No…can’t say there has…how come?”

 

“No reason…thanks Ron” Chloe left to go back to her office.

 

 

A further two days had passed, Chloe was miserable, snappy and confused. She couldn’t concentrate at work and knew she was making silly decisions. This wasn’t go unnoticed by Kyle and her father who were patronising in their approach with ‘why don’t you take a break, have a couple of days off, go and rest’. Trust was, Chloe wanted to be near and around Shona even if she was being blanked by her. All informal attempts from Chloe had been rebuffed by Shona, she would change tactic. She just missed her.

 

 

“I got a little saved up now, just need some more and that’s me…on my way to NYC and out of this place”

 

Cuban said quietly to Shona who was cleaning a truck about to go out.

 

“Yeah? Well…I will be right behind you, not to New York but hopefully, with no more twisters, I’ll be outta here too…I have no idea what Elbe has planned though…”

 

“Shona”

 

It was one of the PA’s looking snooty

 

“Yes?”

 

“Miss Chloe would like to see you in her office. Now”

 

Shona nodded and for some reason those words filled her with dread. At one stage, she would have killed to hear them, but not now, too much had gone on and the plan of keeping a low profile and ignoring Chloe was buying them time.

 

 

Shona blew her cheeks out just before she knocked on the door.

 

“Come in” came the reply

 

Kyle was down in the canteen area and watched Shona go into Chloe’s office and squinted his eyes with jealousy. His plan was taking shape, but taking time.

 

“Shona..”

 

“Miss Chloe”

 

The tension was electric.

 

“Have a seat…please…” Chloe pointed to the seat opposite her, Shona was so uncomfortable. She felt like blurting everything out every single second. This act was tough to keep up.

 

Shona coughed a nervous cough waiting to be spoken to, whilst Chloe looked all professional rifling through notes. Normally they would talk for hours.

 

Chloe deep inside her wanted to saviour every second she was in Shona’s presence. She was hurting, but she had no clue how to verbalise that.

 

Instead she came out with “So…I’m speaking to random staff and would like to hear ideas of how we can improve”

 

Chloe’s face was deadly serious and didn’t suit her. Shona waited a few seconds before answering, just looking at Chloe willing her to read her mind as to what was going on.

 

“In what way?” Shona snapped out of her thoughts bringing herself back down to earth

 

“In any way…What would make you happier here?” Chloe said pen at the ready.

 

“What’s other staff said?” Shona wasn’t entirely convinced there were ‘other staff’ that been interviewed. Larry and Kyle wouldn’t care at all what people wanted. Shona had an idea it was a way to get them two to get talking. In a backhanded way, she was flattered, but it felt like every time they spoke, walls were closing in at speed.

 

“I can’t tell you that of course…I’m interested in what you have to say, you normally have…..great ideas” Chloe said the last few words with genuine meaning, like she couldn’t keep up the pretence.

 

Shona decided to go along with it.

 

“Ok…..Ok…food, the food is shit, we need better selection, healthier, more colour in it for Christ sake! Uniform…this itches my ass, it needs to be better material….ok while we are at it…Fridays….we should only work half day on a Friday and I bet you’ll see morale jump right up. And a good damn pay rise……there…”

 

Shona felt proud she had spoken up whether or not it was a ‘fake’ meeting.

 

“Very honest Shona…some good suggestions….” Chloe said writing them down.

 

“You’re serious….you’re gone try and get some of those things introduced. All due respect, your father and….others will never in a million years agree to it, especially if they knew it came from me”

 

Chloe was dying to ask Shona about her past and why she was supposedly dangerous. She had never felt as safe as when she was in her company.

 

“I’ll make it happen” Chloe looked directly into Shona’s eyes, the words were loaded with feelings

 

“Make what happen?” Kyle barged in Chloe’s office without knocking hands in pockets walking behind Chloe as if she were his possession, Shona sat up, tense.

 

“Nothing, Shona was just leaving…” Chloe said hinting, knew Shona hated Kyle

 

“You’re not causing problems for your boss now are you Shona?” Looking at her tucking in her chair, Chloe quickly defended her.

 

“No…she’s not, I asked her to come to my office, and everything is fine” The last thing Chloe wanted was Shona to get even more mistreated at her expense.

 

“And how is Chloe..?” Kyle tried to smarm

 

“I’m…fine…but you know what? I may just take a night or two away”

 

Chloe said sinking back into her chair, Kyle seemed to think he was being invited and smirked

 

“Yeah..? Of course you’ll need company…”

 

“Alone..I want to go alone..I may combine it with some work”

 

Chloe started rubbing her eyes, what was she thinking?

 

“Work? Where you planning on going?”

 

Kyle seemed genuinely confused

 

“I’m gone see….other businesses…how they work, it will help me when I eventually run this place”

 

Chloe seemed to confirm her decision in her head.

 

“You got somewhere in mind already?”

 

“No…not really” Chloe replied, not wanting to give her plans away especially to somebody like Kyle who would ultimately tell her father.

 

She did know. She was 100% sure. She would go to the only other place she could think of to get answers about Shona even if it meant travelling to a different state.

 

Wreckers.

 

 

Chapter 105

 

 

It was only on the day that Chloe gave the vague details of where she was headed to her father, after all, she wanted to stay safe

 

“Mississippi!? What in the hell she doing in Mississippi?”

 

Larry barked when his PA told him, Chloe got up early and left.

 

“I’m not sure Sir, something about learning good practice in other businesses”

 

Larry rudely waved his PA to get out of his office whilst he digested what she had said. Strangely, he was glad she was out of the state, at least the disgusting Shona couldn’t get her paws on his daughter.

 

“You hear the news?” Elbe came and sat down at break

 

“What news?” Cuban replied

 

“Miss Chloe is outta town…in Mississippi or somewhere..”

 

Elbe said sipping his soup, Shona’s head sprang up

 

“Why Mississippi?” Shona snapped back

 

“No idea…..” Elbe said. Shona didn’t want to believe her thoughts. She and Chloe had long talks about her time in Mississippi and working at Wreckers, and how she left all of a sudden. She felt exposed, like Mississippi would give up her secrets easily.

 

Shona ate the rest of her food in silence.

 

 

“Can I speak to…Harry please?” Chloe walked up to the desk at Wreckers.

 

“You’re Chloe Bruce!….Larrys’ daughter right?” The ditzy blonde receptionist replied to Chloe who wasn’t in the mood.

 

“Yes that’s right…is Harry around?” Chloe was growing impatient, she had had a two hour drive with the damn roof up still hearing her father’s voice about if she has the roof down, it makes her look too ‘available’.

 

“Yeah…I’ll go get him!” The receptionist skipped off excitedly after speaking to her famous guest, everybody knew who Chloe Bruce was, women wanted to dress like her, men wanted to date her.

 

“Miss Bruce….what an absolute pleasure…..and surprise may I say that you have ventured out here” Harry the boss looked around emphasising that Wreckers was the furthest building from town in an area in the middle of nowhere, yet, it was always busy.

 

“I wont keep you too long Harry…I just wanted to ask about…how you run things” Chloe lied

 

 

“Come on…have a seat over here, somewhere comfortable..Jean, could you fix us some drinks please darlin’…” Harry asked his wife who was equally in awe of Chloe Bruce.

 

“Thank you….now..um…can you tell me about things that you have improved over the years, that keep your staff happy?”

 

Chloe had a notepad and pen ready, Harry smiled…still shocked at who he had in his workshop.

 

“Well…as simple as it sounds….I started with the food…the food originally was…pardon me…shit! So I organised a food delivery service that is out of this world, only the best for my guys, they work their asses off for me….”

 

Harry said proudly.

 

Chloe smiled, it was like she was hearing Shona’s voice who mentioned the food in her office. This was obviously where she was recalling from. Shona herself said she had a soft spot for Wreckers.

 

“Oh..and overalls….the ones we had before…too damn itchy!” Harry said looking in disgust at what used to be, Chloe writing with affection as if tracing Shona’s words, she was sitting where a happy Shona would have sat at some point.

 

Harry went on and mentioned about he now gives his staff Friday afternoons off, and that this has only improved productivity as his staff are happier and are more willing to work harder and call in sick less.

 

“You got what you needed Miss Bruce?”

 

“Almost…” Chloe wrote the last parts down. She was stalling in asking the question she had rehearsed over and over in her car on the way here.

 

She sighed as if she could finally ask a truthful question “Do you know….or remember a Shona….Shona Jackson?”

 

Frank Smith was putting some invoices in the in-tray when he heard Chloe say a name that was a blast from the past, he looked up, but kept his distance and listened in.

 

“Shona? Of course, she worked here for a period of time…why d’you ask?”

 

“Could you tell me about her? How was she at working? How did she get on with others?”

 

“My goodness Shona was the best, better than the best…she did more work than four of my guys, never had a day off sick, wasn’t into drinking booze, a real pleasure to have around…everybody seemed to like her..I mean, she kept herself to herself and I respected that….But then….”

 

Harry paused, Chloe was impatient

 

“Then what?..”

 

“She vanished….just like that, no word, nothing…” Harry said looking a little sad remembering when he found out she’d gone.

 

“And you …don’t know why?” Chloe probed further.

 

“Not really..I mean there was gossip but unless I hear it from the horses mouth I don’t listen…” Harry said assertively

 

It looked as if Mississippi would keep Shona’s secret for leaving.

 

Until now.

 

“Miss…?” Frank Smith quietly called, Chloe and Harry saying goodbye to each other

 

“Hi….”

 

“I’m Frank…Frank Smith…I’m sorry but I heard some of your conversation with the boss and I maybe able to help you.”

 

“Really?….With what?” Chloe quizzed

 

“With telling you the real reason Shona Jackson vanished from this state”

 

Chloe was listening.

 

 

Chapter 106

 

 

“I got a bad feeling about this” Shona whispered to Cuban when they briefly stopped to drink water outside

 

“What d’you mean?”

 

“With Chloe gone, Jeffrey not here, there’s an eerie calm. It don’t feel good at all… and god news what Chloe is thinking, finding out…I just know that she’ll go to Wreckers, I know it…”

 

“And if she does?” Cuban asked

 

“Well…what I’ve spent so long burying will just…. explode right around me. But I don’t know what worse…..getting all the beatings for being who I am or….seeing the disappointed look in her eye when she knows the full truth…” Shona sipped some more drink

 

“Let’s wait and see….let’s just…. wait and see” Cuban tried to be comforting, but there was very little comfort to go round for the both of them.

 

 

“So there you have it Ma’am….Now you know why she aint wanted round here “

 

Frank Smith seemed to delight in spilling the beans about Shona. He told her everything, news got around fast about Loose Lucy and the plan to ‘out’ Shona at her home.

 

Chloe should have been appalled, disgusted, angry, humiliated.

But she felt the opposite.

 

She felt glad. She had hoped all along that her own feelings weren’t crazy and unfounded.

 

“How do you know her, she work for you? She in Daynes?” Frank asked raising an eyebrow in suspicion.

 

“Um…I need to go ..thank you for your time Mr.Smith” Chloe knew there was an invisible price on Shona’s head so refrained from answering and giving information.

 

“It’s Frank….” They shook hands and Frank took Chloe’s answer to at least mean Shona was in Daynes, if not, working at Ellis and Bruce.

 

 

Chloe should have headed straight back, but she had booked a night in a hotel in town and wanted to explore around the town Shona worked as if she was somehow near her. Chloe parked up by shops, movie theatres, wondering if Shona used them. She tried to picture a happy, free Shona wandering through the town and wished she could have known her here where Chloe didn’t have expectations, pressures to run a huge company, to act a certain way, go to functions that she hated.

 

She parked up by a diner to eat. Instead of running in the opposite direction in disgust, Chloe felt compelled to learn more, she was curious about Shona’s life, the more she learned, the more she wanted to know.

 

“I’ll have a piece of that delicious looking pie and….a coffee please” Chloe asked the waitress

 

“Aren’t you…?”

 

“Yes…” Chloe knew what was going to be asked, it happened a lot

 

“I’ll be damned!….coming right up” The waitress seemed excited to have served a celebrity in this lowly diner

 

Chloe waited patiently for her order and looked at the container with the napkins in on her table. She looked around, not knowing what for, as if she was scared of her thought telling on her, then she picked up a napkin and tried in vain to make a swan just like Shona did. She failed miserably and smiled to herself. She was disturbed by the waitress bringing her order.

 

“Thank you…” It was surprisingly delicious.

 

In fact, everything about this little old town felt cute and quaint. Chloe understood why Shona would have liked it here. It was close to rolling hills where Shona could ride and be free. It must have been serious to leave the little house she was staying at to go somewhere, anywhere…

 

Chloe had a thought.

 

She felt guilty for it.

 

What if she managed to find the old lady’s house Shona was renting a room at? Frank had given a good description and rough area as that was where Shona was ‘busted’ with Loose Lucy.

 

She knew it was wrong, but she felt Shona had a hundred layers to her, and she had only seen a couple.

 

After her delicious coffee and pie, she set about with a vigour to find this woman called Dorothy who has an old beat up blue truck in the front yard. Chloe asked around three people who all led her to get closer. She drove down some roads, then up the other way until there it was. The very last house hiding behind some trees displayed a beat up blue truck.

 

Chloe stopped the car suddenly coming to her senses, her heart pounding. What was she going to do? What was she going to ask? Why?

 

Chloe calmed her breathing. If her father even knew where she was and what she was doing, there would be disastrous consequences for everybody. She knew her father had connections to unsavoury people, was she being followed? Also, what would Shona think of Chloe snooping around her past?

 

 

With a deep breath, Chloe got out of her car and cautiously approached the house. There was no sign of life from anybody’s house on the way, Chloe felt like she was spying. She was just in front of the yard, looked over the beaten up blue truck and her eyes looked over the house that Shona spent happy times until she fled in fear.

 

“Can I help you sweetheart?” Called out a lovely, warm, old voice from the side door of the house.

 

Chloe was guessing, but she thinks it was Dorothy, the one who would hold most of Shona’s secrets…

 

 

“Um…Hi…are you…are you Dorothy?” Chloe asked

 

“Yes I am dear, and who are you?” came back the rickety voice, she seemed cautious

 

“My name is Chloe….” For once, Chloe was relieved that somebody didn’t appear to know who she was. That was rare.

 

She continued “Could I….Could I come in and talk to you please? Would that be ok?”

 

“Of course” Dorothy replied with a warm smile and opened the front door.

 

Chloe’s heart was racing

 

“Thanks…” Chloe said as she was beckoned to come in

 

 

After the usual pleasantries, Chloe sat on the chair in the cramped front room of this old damp home. There only appeared to be Dorothy living there.

 

“I’m sorry to just come out and ask but…do you….did you…know a Shona?…Shona Jackson?” Chloe asked nervously, she still didn’t know what she was gaining by digging up somebody’s business or what her intent would be after she knew everything. The thoughts that entered her head would have dangerous consequences, but the curiosity was too much.

 

“Why do you ask?” Dorothy said a little suspicious, Chloe noted that Dorothy didn’t say ‘no’.

 

Chloe didn’t even know the answer herself.

 

“I know about her…..I know all about what happened…here in this house…and why she had to leave town, but…I wanted to know the truth, I wanted to know about the real Shona” Chloe was coming over emotional, and she wasn’t expecting it

 

“Why?” Dorothy probed

 

Damn it, how did this little old lady know how to pierce Chloe’s heart with the most direct, simple questions.

 

“Because I miss her…” Chloe started to cry

 

“Where she gone?” Dorothy was confused

 

“She still works for me..but…for one reason or another, she’s keeping her distance, we haven’t spoken in a while, it’s very…difficult for her…. But we used to talk, we spent time together, went out riding, she really….she really listens to me, you know?”

 

Dorothy nodded her understanding.

 

“Can you…tell me about her? She did live here right?” Chloe asked, tears still in her eyes

 

“Yes…yes she did.” Dorothy said nodding gently.

 

“What…what was she like? I keep hearing about her being this…monster because of what happened with that woman, but….I just don’t see it, I’ve never felt it….you?” Chloe said letting her tears drip freely

 

Dorothy’s eyes welled up “Shona is…..the most….kindest, gentlest, most thoughtful…and funny, woman you’ll ever have the pleasure in meeting. I spent a great deal of time with her. We talked and talked…she told me everything. She said I was the only person who knew about her growing up, her father the drunk, and what happened when those people trapped her. She worked damn hard at Wreckers, often pulling double shifts as she supported me. My husband died, our money ran out… that’s his truck in the yard, I just can’t bring myself to get rid of it, he often used to tinker with it and I always think, especially with Shona gone too and the house being so quiet, that he’s just outside….tinkering with the truck. I’ve left Shona’s room pretty much the same, I can’t bear to have anybody else stay, the house just won’t be the same. She took care of me, paid rent on time, did my shopping in her lunch break, she was a daughter that I couldn’t have. My husband and I weren’t blessed in that way…but you know, life happens. She would help me up the stairs, because I busted my damn leg years ago so I can’t drive, hardly walk, can’t work so I just sit here and reminisce, do what I can.”

 

Dorothy thought she had waffled on for too long, but Chloe was totally captivated.

 

“So….do you mind me asking…..how do you support yourself? ….financially?” Chloe was worried this was too personal a question.

 

Dorothy smiled.

 

“Shona…she still sends me money.”

 

This was like a thud to Chloe.

 

“Wait…What?….You’re still in contact with her?” Chloe’s eyes widened, her heart raced again as if she had be found out snooping.

 

“I’ve never been out of contact…I’m the only one she can speak to, though I hear nothing but good things about Tom and Ruby who have taken her and Cuban in. She sends me letters all the time”

 

This felt almost too much, like her spying and delving into Shona’s past was creeping up into the present.

 

“So..she tells you all about…work…?” Chloe asked gently, really she was asking if Shona mentioned her.

 

“Of course..and her plans to leave one day, I told her to get the hell out of there as soon as possible, no offence…”

 

Chloe’s eyes looked afraid at the thought of Shona vanishing like she did here.

 

“Did she say…when? When she would leave?” Chloe said leaning forward

 

“Soon… But I know that….she’ll miss you” Dorothy knew much more than what she was prepared to share.

 

“She speaks about me? In her letters?” Chloe looked hopeful

 

“Everytime…”

 

There were so many unspoken words going on, and yet, it was crystal clear what was being said.

 

“Me..I mean…no offence, but….. I just wished you got rid of that asshole Kyle and your father, he needs to step down…there’s a lot going on that you don’t know about Miss…” Dorothy tried to give Chloe some advice, all info coming from Shona’s letters.

 

“I know…I’m sorry for that…I’m sorry for Shona. It’s….difficult for me too. I’m working on making it better…for her…and others”

 

Dorothy could see that.

 

“You know how little they pay Shona, Cuban and Elbe?” Dorothy said, feeling like this was a moment when she could help Shona in return.

 

“I got told, they all get paid the same…?”

 

“Oh no….those vile people pay Shona, Cuban and Elbe less than half… you work it out. Mr.Ellis promised her a certain amount, she was happy with it, sending money to me, putting some away in her savings, paying her rent to Tom and Ruby then when Ellis turns his back….bam! They strip their money.”

 

Chloe was horrified.

 

“So that means….you get less….Shona sends you less now”

 

“Nope” Dorothy said shaking her head gently “She sends me the same. It’s that poor child who goes without, not me. I’ve tried sending it back…three times, but she won’t have it. She’s broke, trying to save up to go to the west coast, be free…but every single time she has a cent in her pocket, something bad happens, the storm, the damn Klan damaging her home, animals being let out…That girl has to repeatedly get up every time she is knocked down, and you know what? She does…she does get up and often she does it with a smile, but just to make you feel better. Its time she has some happiness for herself with what she has been through, how she has been treated by people who she trusted, supposedly who loved her..well… So…..if you tell me that she….loves somebody of the same…you know, kind. You know what I’d say..?”

 

Chloe slowly shook her head, waiting with baited breath.

 

“…..I’d say, that that woman had better love Shona the way she deserves to be loved.”

 

Dorothy said passionately, Chloe just sat in silence enthralled.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 107

 

Chloe found she was entranced by Dorothy’s stories about her time with Shona and her husband before he tragically died suddenly one night in bed. According to Dorothy, Shona was her rock that night, trying desperately to save him, and has been ever since.

 

They had been talking all day and afternoon and Chloe checked her watch.

 

“My goodness!..I better be getting to my hotel” Chloe got up off the worn, grey sofa, Dorothy slowly got up.

 

“Dorothy…It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you, you are one special lady. If there is anything I can help with…”

 

Chloe said. Dorothy walked up to her slowly, arms outstretched which she gently rested on Chloes elbow area.

 

“There is something I’d like very much…” Dorothy said gentle.

 

Chloe nodded encouragingly

 

“I’d like it if…..you came back tomorrow. I’d really enjoy the company” Dorothy smiled hopefully.

 

Chloe was flattered and being honest, she loved her time at Dorothy’s house too. They both had something in common.

 

Shona.

 

“Dorothy…I would love that. Can I bring anything when I get here?”

 

Chloe knew that Dorothy had nothing but the essentials that Shona was sending money to pay for. She was lost without her and her late husband.

“Just bring yourself that would make me happy…”

 

Dorothy said hugging Chloe.

 

After the front door shut, Chloe looked behind and up at the house, it was a crumbling wreck. Shona couldn’t do it all, not now that Chloe has learned Shona is earning even less and can’t even come back to visit Dorothy as she effectively has a price on her head if she steps foot back in town.

 

Checking into the high end hotel in town, Chloe goes up to her room and knows that she better call home. She was disgusted with her father, but she knew she’d better let him and her mother know she was safe.

 

The conversation was brief, and tense on all sides.

 

“So what time you coming home tomorrow?” Larry snapped

 

“Well….Actually I’m…..gone stay another night, I like it here…right gotta go”

 

Chloe put down the phone, giving as little info about what she was up to.

 

Larry slammed the phone down and rubbed his moustache. He didn’t know what was worse, seeing what his daughter was doing, right in front of him, or not knowing what she was up to.

 

Chloe laid in bed exhausted but surprisingly happy. She felt free, like she could talk about Shona openly to somebody at last, well, maybe not quite as openly as she imagined in her head, but she was finding more and more about her. She drifted off into the best night’s sleep she had in a long time.

 

“Kyle? Its me…..lets meet up….yes tonight, Reds 9 o’clock. We got some things to discuss”

 

Larry put down the phone slowly as if already calculating his plan.

 

The following day, Chloe got up, showered with a renewed vigour, eager to meet up with Dorothy again. She felt welcomed there, listened to and equally she loved listening to her stories.

 

 

 

“This place feels different without Miss Chloe here right?” Elbe said sweeping up the dust that had swirled into the tool room.

 

Cuban looked at Shona

 

“Yeah…certainly does” Shona said, looking a little forlorn.

 

 

Dorothy was going through all her photos with Chloe. They discussed fashion, music and movies, laughing most of the time.

 

“Dorothy…You hungry?” Chloe asked, knowing that Dorothy probably doesn’t get to eat full meals all the time.

 

“Um a little dear….Why do you ask?” Dorothy replied

 

“I’d like to take you out to lunch if I may?” Chloe beamed a warm smile, which Dorothy reciprocated, with her eyes lighting up. She hadn’t ventured out of the house since Shona left.

 

“Oh my…but I…my money doesn’t really stretch that far-“

 

“It’s my treat and my pleasure” Chloe reassured Dorothy who put her hand over her mouth in shock at Chloe’s kindness.

 

With care, Chloe helped Dorothy into her car and they headed for the most upmarket restaurant. Chloe wanted to make Dorothy feel like a V.I.P for the afternoon.

 

Again, they chatted and the time flew by. By around 2pm, they returned to Dorothy’s house.

 

“Come in for a tea?” Dorothy asked

 

“I’d love to…”

 

The conversation went back and forth and never dried up. Then from nowhere, Dorothy stunned Chloe.

 

“Sweetheart, want to see Shona’s room?” Dorothy asked knowing it would cause some kind of feeling.

 

“Um…would that be ok?” Chloe said, her face a little saddened

 

“Of course, I haven’t changed a thing other than strip the bedsheets…come on up”

 

Dorothy clearly struggled with the winding rickety stairs. They creaked as they made their way up then along the hallway, and there at the very end was Shona’s bedroom. Chloe felt nervous like she was intruding.

 

“Here it is…” Dorothy said opening the old wooden door revealing more and more about Shona’s life. On the wall, pictures of the mountains, beach, rivers…Shona really was a free spirit.

 

“May I?” Chloe gestured towards sitting on the bed, Dorothy nodded and smiled. She could see that Chloe was appreciating every second. She stroked the bed knowing that Shona spent many nights there, curious as to what she would have been thinking about, knowing that many nights would have been spent confused, in fear, lonely and upset and this broke Chloe’s heart, especially as Shona had assumed the responsibility to look after Dorothy. Chloe found it difficult to say goodbye to Dorothy after only spending a day with her let alone years. It must still wrench at Shona’s heart that she is never likely to see Dorothy again.

 

“I’ll give you a moment” Dorothy said sensitively, and she shuffled out into the hallway, leaving Chloe to collect her thoughts.

 

By now, Chloe felt a plethora of emotions, excitement, upset, fear, confusion, guilt, shame…everything. She couldn’t wait to Shona back at home, but she was scared at what she admitting to? Was it curiosity? It was a long way to drive for that. Was it lust? She knew that really, she could get any man she wanted. What was it?

 

Chloe came down the stairs, almost stomping in an insular protest at having to leave. She looked at her watch and she had spent forty minutes just in Shona’s room.

 

“Stay?” Dorothy asked, her eyes pleading with Chloe. “Stay one more night…It’s been a long time since I had company in this house. Been too quiet.”

 

Chloe huffed. She was in conflict. She really should be getting back to the hotel, but what for? She would be alone and Dorothy would be alone.

 

“Ok…” Chloe’s mind was made up. This may be the last time she sees Dorothy.

 

“You can stay in….Shona’s room if you like?” Dorothy smiled. It was the best she could do to bring the girls closer.

 

Chloe nodded with an appreciative and knowing smile. Although, she knew this changed everything.

 

They talked and talked, then Chloe left to get her remaining belongings from the hotel and to settle up the bill, then she returned to Dorothy’s house.

 

When it came to going to bed, Dorothy got tired early but Chloe found it difficult to sleep, she wanted to mentally explore Shona’s room in the middle of the night. What was Shona thinking when she was laying here? It was quite an emotional and confusing experience for Chloe, laying in Shona’s bed. What did this mean? What did it really mean?

 

 

“Can you patch me through to Miss Chloe Bruce’s room please…. Yes Chloe Bruce…. It’s her father you idiot, Larry….!”

 

Larry Bruce had called the hotel Chloe was staying at the following morning from his office, Kyle sitting opposite, eager.

 

“What?…..What do you mean?…Can you tell me anything useful at all?”

 

Slam!

 

“What? What is it?….Where is she?” Kyle asked rapidly

 

“The guy on the desk said….she came back briefly to settle up, get her things then she went, and he hasn’t seen her since..”

 

Larry was a mixture between furious and concerned about his daughter.

 

“So where in the hell did she spend the night!?….And who with!?” Kyle slammed his fist on the desk.

 

 

Chapter 108

 

“What’s up with you? You look miserable…I mean, I understand as you’re working in this dump but….You’re normally the one who cheers us up” Elbe said directing towards Shona who wasn’t working at her usual pace, Cuban had an idea why, he just gave Shona a knowing look.

 

“I’m fine…I’m fine…” Shona replied. She wasn’t fine. She missed not seeing Chloe, especially around the 10am break.

Larry and Kyle were still seething from not knowing where Chloe was when he had another call patched through to him.

 

“Yeah?…….Oh Tony, how are you?” Larry changed his tune when he heard he was speaking to one of his new big investors.

 

“Hey Larry…listen, my wife said she loved the fete, great event and all, but…she said she caught sight of that damn nigger round back and …I just can’t see a future, especially a place where I’m pouring my money into, where we start being overrun by ‘em you know? It sends out the wrong message. You hear what I’m saying Larry….”

 

Larry heard it crystal clear.

 

“You know its Jeffrey who…is the stumbling block, he wants to give ‘em all a chance whilst I want to…send them back where they belong, so you can see my dilemma here..me and you, we are on the same page Tony”

 

“Yeah?…Well, Jeffrey is the past….you know he is just biding his time, he wants out, his wife aint well, he don’t want none of this bullshit he’s getting on a bit…I’d be willing to invest a lot, I’m talking a lot, but I don’t want to be associated with giving work to no niggers. Until then, I’ll be holding back on my investments Larry….There’s a boom going on, lots of companies springing up, you know that, I just want to get the best return but.. people aint liking that you employ niggers……”

 

Larry was squirming with rage, he started to despise Jeffrey for making him feel this embarrassment. Tony was right, he was the future, Jeffrey was the past.

 

Kyle looked on curious at what was being said in the conversation.

 

“Tony…you listen to me, I hear you….You have my word I’ll deal with the situation…You understand me don’t you?”

“I understand Larry, let me know when anything changes”

 

Larry put the phone down and looked at Kyle coldly.

 

“We need to….deal with the nigger. I’ve lost patience, and I certainly aint gone lose money over that dirty son of a bitch especially when Jeffrey hardly aint here anymore and Chloe is….out of town so, if there is gone be an opportunity, it’s now. You hear me Kyle?”

 

He nodded, he knew exactly what Larry meant, a sly smile creeping across his face. “I got an idea”

 

Kyle left Larry’s office and grabbed some expensive items from the bottom of an unlocked drawer, including a knife and made his way downstairs.

 

 

“Keys” Kyle demanded from Deputy Paul when he found him downstairs laughing with the boys. Deputy Paul looked confused but complied.

 

 

“Damn it…” Shona dropped the last of her cloths into a pile of oil when she was cleaning one of the trucks and it had to be finished as soon as possible.

 

“Cuban, you got any more of these over there?” Shona called out, holding up the dirty cloth.

 

“None here…. But I got a couple of clean ones in my locker….” Cuban replied, Shona walked over to him.

 

“Great”

 

“I just got to unload this delivery or Deputy Paul will be on my ass, here’s my keys, help yourself, there are in my locker at the back on the right”

 

Cuban had his hands full with the delivery, Shona took his keys and made her way to the cramped cupboard space just off the canteen area, she unlocked the first door and went in, taken aback by the damp smell, he definitely had the worst of everything, but he was lucky he had any space that he could lock, it was only because Jeffrey Ellis had insisted on it. Shona looked for the locker key amongst the keys Cuban gave her and tried a couple that didn’t work.

 

“Come on…come on” Shona said in frustration, knowing it would probably be the last key that she tried that would work, which it was.

 

“There we go” Shona said to herself, opening Cubans locker.

 

“You poor soul” Shona saw a picture of Cubans family stuck to the inside of his locker, the wife and children he lost in the fire when the Klan attacked them. She gently ran her finger over the picture and smiled, they were a truly beautiful family. She didn’t want to appear to be looking through Cubans things so just felt in the locker at the back to the right for the cloths.

 

“What the hell you doing in here!?”

 

Shona span round. It was Kyle.

 

“What you doing in here!?” Shona couldn’t believe she spoke back at Kyle.

 

She notice he had lots of things in his arms and he looked furious.

 

“Get the fuck out and get back to work you hear me!” Kyle raged, he had been caught.

 

“Not til you tell me what you’re doing in Cubans locker room! You needed to have a key to get in, why you in here….with…that?”

Shona looked and saw a knife amongst the other objects, including a watch, a couple of bottles of booze.

 

“This is no concern to you…So get the fuck out and back to work you whore!”

 

Shona had never seen Kyle so enraged, he was about to blow. He quickly put the bottles and watch on the side and took the knife out and held it up against Shona with his right hand and he grabbed her face with his left hand and pinned her against the wall. Shona took a large intake of breath in shock.

 

“Do you understand me now bitch!? When I tell you to do something, you fucking do it! You know what they say about you here…that you aint… right, you’re…..fucked up. Me? I know all about you….I know about your past, what you are…and believe me, once we have dealt with this fucking nigger….we will deal with you next. It’s just a real shame that you walked on me planting few things in his locker, would have been a real neat plan…..I go to Jeffrey say he’s been stealin’ and off he goes…and I’m sure he won’t last more than ten fucking minutes in this town. But you, you’re in my way…again! You have to be there, getting involved. But I know why…I know that you’re into…women.”

 

Kyle pressed the knife right into Shona stomach, she felt the blade start to cut her clothes, she was petrified, but she felt that she had nothing left anyway. Her secret was out, she wouldn’t last long in this town either. It was a matter of time.

 

“I don’t know….what you think you know…But…You won’t get away with this..” Shona had tears coming down her cheeks, but yet she still found strength.

 

“Really!?…Oh whys that?…Because Jeffrey is gone save you? Oh he’s out of town today…and Chloe? She’s out of town too. That’s all bad fucking luck for you and that dirty, thieving nigger!”

 

“He aint stole a thing!” Shona still trying to stick up for Cuban

 

“He will have done, by the time I put these things in his locker and conduct a ‘random’ search. Chloe won’t be able to save him this time” Kyle said, his face getting closer to Shona’s, his grip tightening

 

“You’re a fucking animal!” Shona said struggling to get out of his strong grip, knowing that at any point he could plunge the knife into her.

 

 

“Woah, woah woah…Whats going on here!” Randy heard some commotion and came to investigate and saw Kyle pinning Shona up against the wall with a knife held against her.

 

“Help me…Randy…help me” Shona pleaded calmly, her breathing was erratic.

 

“Kyle? Whats goin’ on?” Randy knew he had to stay calm but was concerned for one of the only people that has stood up for him.

 

“Randy..this is no business of yours…now go out and don’t say a word, you understand this is nothing to do with you” Kyle said in a sinister manner.

 

“No..Randy, please!” Shona managed to say until Kyle covered her mouth, her eyes pleading with Randy who slowly backed up in shock at what his intimidating and fearsome boss was telling him to do.

 

“Shut the door Randy, shut the fucking door!” Kyle barked, Shona powerless.

 

Randy turned, shut the door and darted off.

 

“Now..there’s nobody here that knows..there’s nobody here that cares what the fuck happens to you. You’re white nigger lover that makes you quite unpopular…mixed with that, you like women…don’t you?” Kyle whispered menacingly in Shona’s ear.

 

Shona just wanted it over with, whatever he had planned. She just wanted to die, but she knew it was going to hurt, Kyle wouldn’t let her go quickly.

 

“You know nothing about me” Shona whispered through her tears, muffled as Kyles hands still covered her mouth.

 

“The thing is…and what frustrates me is…You’re actually quite pretty for a…you know….When you first arrived, you drove my guys nuts…they put bets on who you would fuck first, I mean…that had to be the reason why you came here….line ‘em up right?….Then I heard about your ‘condition’ where you’re fucked up in the head and took a dislike to men…..what, we no good for you? I bet you aint even been with a guy…or have you? If you have, he’s gotta have been the wrong one….he obviously doesn’t know how to please a woman….”

 

Kyle moved his left hand from Shona’s mouth to slowly moving downwards, caressing her neck, his breath stank of booze and coffee and his breathing got deeper.

 

Shona just stayed still, she was still alive and this surprised her.

 

“I’ll be honest, its driving me crazy that I haven’t fucked you already, women can’t get enough..they throw themselves at me but you didn’t, and I aint used to that….now I know why, but I tell ya, I can’t help but wonder what it must be like to fuck you…and I bet you secretly wonder the same….”

 

Kyle grinned, his nose against the side of her face and his left hand cupped her breast, and she felt him get excited up against her.

 

Looking at him with utter contempt, and through tears Shona said ‘Go fuck yourself” she knew she would die and didn’t want him to have any satisfaction that she had somehow fallen for his charm, she despised him and wanted him to hear it in her voice.

 

“Oh its gone be like it is it…It actually turns me on more when I gotta work at it, I love it when women say no..I like the fight”

 

Kyle was right, he seemed more turned on, he grew in strength. He threw the knife on the floor and got to work. He ripped at Shona’s top, then lifted it up to expose her breasts, he was biting at her neck. Despite Shona’s strength, he was too strong.

 

 

“Cuban! Cuban!!!….” Randy ran over to Cuban who was outside in another storage area packing away the delivery.

 

“You ok Randy?”

 

“Cuban….Your locker room, you need to go. Now!”

 

“What? What you talkin’ ‘bout?”

 

“Your girls in there…with Kyle, she needs you!” Randy said wide eyed in a panic.

 

Cuban dropped what he was doing and sprinted.

 

 

“Come on Shona…You wanna feel what it’s like, you got me going here” Kyle breathing heavily in Shona’s ear, she couldn’t fend him off, he was grabbing at her breasts.

 

“You wanna undo my trousers or shall I do it, come on…I can’t promise I’ll be gentle as I like it rough and I’ve been waiting a long time to fuck you….”

 

Shona heard Kyle groaning in her ear as he rubbed himself up against her, she could feel him through his clothes against her inner thigh.

“It might hurt..but it’ll be worth it” Kyle dribbled on Shona’s shoulder as he started to pant and grabbed at Shona’s crotch area which made her shudder, but that only made Kyle more excited. He quickly pulled at his trouser button and unzipped, Shona cried waiting for the pain.

 

“Come on Shona..this will help things believe me. If you let me fuck you, you’ll keep your job and I won’t say a thing. This be our regular meeting” Shona silently sobbed on his shoulder, she was helpless.

 

 

“Get the fuck off her!!!” Cuban burst in, Kyle span round trousers undone, almost exposing himself, Shona a sobbing wreck.

 

“Trust me nigger, you don’t want do this…for your sake. Walk away….now!”

 

Kyle still panting, he was astonished that Cuban didn’t immediately comply. Cuban was astonished that he refrained from ripping Kyles throat out. He didn’t want to ever use violence if he could help it.

 

“Shona, you ok?” Cuban called out, clearly seeing that she wasn’t. Shona nodded unconvincingly.

 

“I’m warning you…I will fuck you up nigger…or.. you wanna watch me fuck her? Wait, is it because she wont fuck you? She got you all worked up like the rest of us, and you’re jealous that I’m about to give it to her for her first time, show her how it’s done….”

 

Kyle turned back round to Shona smirking convinced that Cuban won’t do anything or else he would have done it by now. He got a strange kick that he was being watched. He pinned Shona back against the wall and ripped at the button on her trousers, and unzipped and groaned as he did so. Shona looked over Kyles’ shoulder at Cuban who couldn’t take it, he launched at Kyle, dragged him off. Cuban’s strength was far superior to Kyle’s that why he was careful at who he used it upon.

 

Cuban flung Kyle to the floor, who grabbed the knife that was discarded in the heat of the moment, and plunged it into Cubans ankle. He let out a horrific shriek.

 

“Cuban! No!” Shona leapt at Kyle and all three were embroiled in a fight.

 

Cuban mustered up the strength to unleash and batter Kyle so that he stayed down enough time for Shona to be fully out of his clutches.

 

“You better run…nigger..This will be a game for them when I call ‘em..” Kyle said from the floor, out of breath, clothes dishevelled from the incident, a cut to his lip.

 

“Cuban…run…don’t stop running!” Shona knew that it was good bye in whatever way shape or form.

 

Cubans’ eyes wide with fear, in shock, not knowing how this situation even happned, looked at Shona dead in the eye knowing he would miss her hugely, but that he had to flee for his own life now. He sprinted out, at first not feeling the pain of his ankle but noticing that it was bleeding profusely, he started to limp but at pace at first. People wondering what the hell was going on as he barged into them panicking to get to an exit.

 

Kyle got up, quickly tuck himself in, gave Shona a dirty look and spat at her in contempt and went to the nearest phone which was in the room opposite.

 

“Larry, its me..call the boys, call the boys now, its time, the nigger’s running down the road, don’t let him get to the main road!”

 

Kyle went outside to see if he could watch his plan in action, Cuban was on the floor screaming in pain just at the start of the long road leading to the main road, a pool of blood round him. Kyle watched him suffer. Cuban got up and limped 20 yards then stopped in agony. Kyle grabbed Shona who rushed out to help Cuban.

 

“Get off me! Get off me!” Shona screamed in horror

 

Other workers daren’t intervene, just watched.

 

“Wanna watch now?” Kyle barked at Shona, forcing her in front of him, grabbing her face so that it was looking at Cuban grimacing and limping.

 

“Run! Cuban! Run….get out of here!” Shona screamed, Kyle delighted in hearing the panic in her voice.

 

Cuban looked back hopelessly at Shona, knowing his fate was sealed, but not giving up without a fight, he gathered up a little speed hoping he could at least make it to the end of the road then he could hide, Shona willing him on ‘run…run’ she whispered to herself.

 

“Shona!?” Elbe called out after hearing what happened and seeing Kyle grabbing hold of her

 

“Get your hands off her!” Elbe yelled at Kyle

 

“Go away old man!” Kyle pushed Elbe to the floor who grimaced as he his head hit the hard ground, Shona goind mad to wriggle free.

 

“Now watch this…” Kyle directed into Shona’s ear after looking at the top of the road. A familiar green truck sped down the road heading straight for Cuban who then diverted to running across the uneven field.

 

Bang!

 

A shot expertly fired into Cuban’s leg. They didn’t want to kill him. Yet.

 

Two guys ran out, then a dog towards Cuban and they were carrying rope.

 

“My god…” Elbe said to himself as he sat up gathering himself seeing everything unfold.

 

“Cuban!!!!” Shona screamed, knowing it was hopeless. She saw Cuban with his arms flailing trying to fend off the two men and their savage dog attacking him, they tied the rope to Cubans bloodied legs who now had no chance of running. He still tried to get up and fell, got up again and fell.

 

The two men tied the other end of the rope to the back of the truck, called the dog in, slammed the doors shut and revved the engine. In his fascination and delight in the scene in front of him, Kyle unknowingly loosened his grip on Shona who wriggled free and made a run for it, in the hope of at least being with Cuban at his end. The rope was long and took an agonising three to four seconds to become taught as the truck slowly gathered some speed, Shona was sprinting and was ten metres away from Cuban when he was horrifically dragged from the bumpy ground legs first, the truck revving more after the driver could see Shona making some ground. Cuban yelling in agony as his skin was being ripped off from the harsh uneven ground as the truck was at speed and totally out of Shona’s reach now.

 

“Cuban! Cuban! I’m here! I’m here!!” Shona still running watching her best friend being dragged up the long road, dust flying everywhere. She gradually reduced speed when she saw Cubans flailing arms become still. She knew he was dead and he would have been in pain.

 

Hands on her knees she sobbed uncontrollably then vomited several times. She didn’t know what to do first. She had never felt so alone. Through her tears, she saw the truck stop at the top of the road, the men got out, dragged Cubans lifeless body, put in the back of the truck and speed off.

 

Shona thought she may as well be dead too and she saw flashes of her suicide. There was no hope anywhere. Jeffrey Ellis was out of town. Chloe was away, she didn’t know how long for and if she ‘did’ go to Wreckers would know all about her by now and would despise her. If Chloe didn’t go to Wreckers, there’s no doubt that Kyle and Larry would tell her about her past and again, Chloe would despise her. It won’t be long before the whole town knew and she would be forced to go on the run again and she didn’t have the mental strength to do that anymore, especially as she adored Tom and Ruby, but they had endured enough with her and Cuban living there. Shona knew that Elbe didn’t have long, Jeffrey Ellis was planning to properly leave the business and he was the only one who keep Larry from total domination, but now that Kyle was working with him, the future was horrendous on a good day.

 

Shona was in physical pain with the shock of witnessing her best friend’s murder.

 

Kyle squinted in the distance wondering where Shona was headed.

 

Before she was to commit suicide, she wanted some kind of justice for Cuban. Anything. To speak out in some way. As she was over half way up the road, she continued.

 

To the Sherriffs office.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 109

 

Elbe cautiously got up, but wobbled on his feet. He winced as his head pounded when he hit it on the ground. He trudged, sickened by what he had just witnessed only stopping when had pains in his chest. This was all going in the diary, and before he was to pass away, he wanted to make sure that diary got into the hand of people who would expose those at Ellis and Bruce for what they are. He felt lost without his best friends.

 

 

“Can I help you?” The snooty receptionist eyes Shona up and down

 

“I need to see the Sherriff” Shona snapped

 

“He is very busy, can I take a message?”

 

“No..I need to see the Sherriff! I want to report a fucking murder!” Shona slammed both hands on the receptionist’s desk which prompted her to go and get the Sherriff.

 

 

“Can I help you?”

 

“I saw my best friend get murdered right infront of me by those pieces of shit in a green truck..no doubt called by that animal Kyle who tried to rape me-“

 

“Let me stop you young lady…who’s truck?”

 

“I don’t know…but I’ve seen it around town” Shona looked up at the unsympathetic Sherriff, the receptionist was standing behind him.

 

“Whats your friends name?”

 

“Cuban”

 

The Sherriff put his pen down, Shona wondered why he didn’t write Cubans name down on the incident sheet

 

“You witnessed this murder?”

 

“Yes”

 

“So you can tell us where the body is?”

 

“No, they drove way with him…he was dead, they tied his legs-“

 

“- So at the moment he is only…missing?” The Sherriff said in a patronising voice

 

“no…he is definitely dead…look, I can give a description of one of the guys…-“

 

“I’ll tell you what we’ll do, I ask my guys to…you know…look around for this green truck and we’ll see what we find if anything, if we find a body, we will let you know”

 

The Sherriff wanted to get off the subject and Shona knew it, her face showed her emotional exhaustion.

 

“Rape?…That serious enough?” Shona’s voice echoing her hopelessness.

 

“Rape?…Who?”

 

“Me..that animal Kyle..You know who he is” Shona said through gritted teeth.

 

“Ok..tell me about it” The Sherriff still wasn’t writing anything down, but sat back in his chair.

 

Shona described all what happened in detail, relieving the ordeal.

 

“So what you’re saying though, is that he didn’t actually rape you? He messed around a bit, I mean, he’s a guy….got a little excited and no real harm done”

 

Shona was shocked and wanted to vomit again. She couldn’t come back with anything. She knew there no hope, she was being hushed up. Nothing was being written down. She wanted to collapse, but in a blur, she left the Sheriffs office and through getting a lift from a guy she met in town who saw her staggering home, she made up her mind that after telling Tom and Ruby what had happened to Cuban and then saying goodbye to them, she would end her life, and end her pain.

 

Chapter 110

 

Shona wandered round the communal area she shared with Cuban where only a man-made divide had separated their sleeping space. She was absolutely lost and still in shock at what she had witnessed earlier. Tom was consoling Ruby at the kitchen table still after Shona had broken the news.

 

The bench that Elbe and Shona started making together was just in front of Shona, she pretty much collapsed in it and violently sobbed. She shut her eyes and all she could see was Cubans lifeless body being dragged by those animals. She couldn’t bury the horrific images no matter how hard she tried. Seeing Cuban’s skin ripped from him would be the first thing she would visualise when she thought of him. Through intakes of breath, Shona could hear Ruby crying through the thick walls. Cuban was sorely missed. His heart was pure gold, nothing was too much trouble, he had impeccable politeness and a work rate of three men put together.

 

Lost in her grief, Shona didn’t hear the creak of the door open. It was Tom looking nervous and grief stricken too. He was reluctant to disturb Shona. He looked around the barn as if to wait for an opportune moment, but there didn’t seem to be one until a good few minutes when Shona looked up, jumped slightly at the sight of Tom just standing there with a comforting warm smile.

 

“Shona…” Tom whispered.

 

She wiped her nose then her eyes so she could see Tom more clearly.

 

“Shona…..Chloe’s here”

 

 

Chapter 111

 

 

Without any strength in her, Shona stayed where she was on the bench, she was utterly exhausted with grief. Now, she was overcome with confused emotion. She was glad Chloe was here, but hated the circumstances. She wanted to be polite, but she didn’t care about many humans anymore, she had only known pain and disappointment, yet she always knew Chloe was different. She finally mustered up a ‘hi’ and slight smile. She did appreciate Chloe coming over.

 

“I’ll leave you to it” Tom gestured his head towards getting back to Ruby and shut the door to go back in.

 

For a whole minute that Chloe stared down at Shona sitting on the bench, felt like an eternity, Chloe’s heart was pounding, for a multitude of reasons. It always seemed to around Shona, Chloe herself was in shock at the news that she had heard from the guys at work and then what Tom and Ruby had told her. Chloe was still processing everything that Dorothy and the people at Wreckers had told her, it only made her want to be around Shona more, and yet she had to hide that, now wasn’t the time, but telling her butterflies that was a different story.

 

Chloe whispered a ‘hi’ back and slowly made her way round the bench, tentatively. Shona looked pale with grief. Chloe stopped to where she was almost in front of Shona who whispered ‘may i?’ hinting at sitting next to a distraught Shona who through fresh tears nodded. Chloe gently sat down next to Shona not sure what to do with her hands. Everything screamed at her to hold Shona and it didn’t feel wrong, but Chloe felt guilty that she was doing it for her own intentions. She wanted to blurt out a thousand questions about everything, what exactly happened to Cuban, what’s been going on over the last couple of days, Shona’s version of what happened prior to her leaving Wreckers, Dorothy…Everything. But it would have to stay locked up for now.

Chloe started welling up when she stared at a pure defenceless, Shona rubbing her eyes. She cared for her. Chloe loved the fact that at any time, Shona didn’t fawn all over her like others, it made her even more appealing, and now even despite after a horrific event and all that Chloe had learned about Shona, she was more drawn to her than ever.

 

“Come here” Chloe whispered as she slid along the bench and held out her arms, Shona momentarily stopped crying and looked at Chloe in the eyes, not saying a word leaned into her, smelling her amazingly inviting scent and trying to, unsuccessfully, put it out of her mind. Chloe took a large intake of breath to cope with her heart racing. Her lips were resting on Shona’s head, she could feel Shona’s breathing rate increase, but she didn’t know whether that was down to the grief. Chloe gently smelled Shona’s hair as she took a breath in, she wanted to somehow explore, knowing now might be the only time she would be this close. She seemed to be getting no reciprocal feelings from Shona, but this was the wrong time be finding out.

 

Chloe had her left arm round Shona and her right hand resting on her own lap, Shona was huddled, occasionally breaking out in a wave of grief, Chloe just held her through it, but her lips would seem to wander ever so slightly around the side of Shona’s head feeling the gentle blonde locks against her face, it was innocent at first. But the more at ease she felt they both were, the more exploring she did. Her left thumb gently stroked Shona’s arm, Chloe’s right hand moved to Shona’s knee almost without her realising, but it didn’t feel wrong. Chloe felt a pang of embarrassment as she knew she was finding it hard to keep her breathing under control as her chest led Shona’s head to move up and down the same time, almost a visible sign of the stirrings that were going on inside.

 

It was now or never.

 

Chloe pursed her lips and with the deftest of movements planted a kiss on Shona’s head. She was waiting for the reaction.

 

There was none.

 

So she did it again.

 

Chloe could still feel the occasional whimpering from Shona, but there were no words exchanged, which made it more scintillating.

 

By now, Chloe was placing light, butterfly kisses on Shona’s head, who had stopped crying. Chloe’s right hand as if with a mind of its own, was gently stroking Shona’s knee, who didn’t flinch. Their breathing started to be in tune with its heaviness. Shona was in two minds whether to stay where she was and not look Chloe in the eyes otherwise her secret would be out, there would be no denying what her eyes would give away, or to look up and have her lips be on the receiving end of Chloe’s gentle kisses.

 

Shona looked up.

 

This would be where Chloe would look back in horror and flee…or…not move.

 

Shona daren’t speak. She didn’t know what words to use anyway. It was all about looks and feel. They said everything.

 

Chloe looked back at Shona, her eyes wide as if searching for what’s behind Shona’s.

 

 

Chloe smiled first, Shona desperately wanted to know what that meant, but reciprocated with a smile. Their breathing said it all.

 

Chloe moved in and kissed Shona’s forehead, who took in Chloe’s beautiful perfume. Shona wanted to kiss Chloe back, but after her ordeal, needed to be a thousand per cent certain. She gripped hold of Chloe’s arms to pull her in slightly, that was her way of letting her know it was alright.

 

With another gentle kiss placed just above Shona’s nose, this sent shockwaves through Shona’s body who by now was aching to explore Chloe’s lips, but still wanted to wait until it was completely undeniable.

 

Chloe placed more gentle kisses on Shona’s forehead and near her cheeks, until with her right hand stroked Shona’s chin as if to gesture it to lift to where the pair were as close as anyone can be, eye to eye.

 

Still caressing Shona’s chin, then deftly exploring her neck, Chloe moved in, first planting little kisses on Shona’s cheek. Shona was stirring between her legs, she had tried to bury the feelings, but they were getting to hard to ignore, they had to be satisfied and it looks like they would be, right here, on this bench. Shona knew she wouldn’t be able to control herself no matter how hard she would initially try, it was too pent up. Shona somehow resisted to grab Chloe’s hand to bury it between her legs, but knew it would happen, there was no doubt where this was leading. Instead, with Shona’s right hand, she gently placed it on Chloe’s knee, circling her fingers gently and inch by inch moving it up reaching the inside of Chloe’s thigh.

 

Chloe let out the quietest of moans, to her embarrassment, but Shona gestured for her to keep going, Chloe couldn’t stand it anymore, she had to kiss Shona full on, hungrily.

 

“Get out!”

 

Chloe and Shona pulled apart instantly after hearing Tom shout from inside.

 

“Get out of my house!” Tom shouted again.

 

“Where is she!?”

 

Chloe and Shona looked at each other in utter shock. They knew who that ugly voice belonged to.

 

Kyle.

 

 

 

Chapter 112

 

Without speaking to eachother, the pair broke away, shocked at how close they had got. Chloe shot up and out the door heading towards Kyle, furious.

 

“What in the hell are you doin’ here!?” Chloe raged at Kyle

 

“I saw your car, I was worried. I hadn’t seen you since you been back…I figured you be here”

 

Kyle said, getting in a dirty look towards Shona who emerged into the hallway, Tom and Ruby confused.

 

“I don’t know what happened while I was away, but I’m gone look into it…until then, we have lost one of our employees in the most horrific manner and Shona had to watch while some animals killed him right in front of her…”

 

Chloe got up into Kyle’s space.

 

Kyle daren’t open his mouth to reveal he knew the identities of who killed Cuban especially not in the barn where he lived.

 

“So….” Chloe continued “Shona is gone have at least a week off…fully paid. It’s the least we can do”

 

Chloe was scared to look back at Shona, she didn’t know what she would have wanted to see, but any reminder of what when on the outhouse made Chloe uneasy in the cold light of day. What did it mean? What did it make Chloe? However, it felt so right at the time. She stormed out the barn, infuriated that Kyle felt it ok to stalk her, she hated being in his company, because ultimately everything got back to her father. Kyle followed and got into his own car and they both sped off in different directions. Everyone left behind stayed silent.

 

Shona had some serious thinking to do.

 

At work, every time the buzzer went, Chloe missed not seeing Shona from the management balcony. Instead, she saw poor Elbe looking lost. So she went and spoke to him after the mornings briefing.

 

“Hey Elbe…” Chloe said gently

 

“Miss Chloe” Elbe tipped his hat and faked a smile.

 

“How you….doing?” Chloe knew it was a difficult question

 

“I’m ok…With all due respect Miss Chloe, I’m looking forward to retiring. This place aint for an old man like me anymore.”

 

Chloe looked sad, she’d grown fond of Elbe and his jokes and words of wisdom that his late wife used to tell him.

 

“I’m sorry to hear that Elbe. When you retire, you will be missed. You know that?”

 

Elbe could only force another half-hearted smile.

 

“You know…Shona…Now she is something special. She was Cubans’ rock…and mine and all I see is that….that…useless ass, Kyle and Co. treating her real bad. She’s got a heart of pure gold.”

 

Elbe looked directly at Chloe as if saying more than what he just said, like he could feel the attraction between them too.

 

“I know” Chloe replied, not wanting to give much away, but she mentally noted everything.

 

Meanwhile back at the barn Ruby was trying her best to keep things relatively normal by making Shona her favourite dinner.

 

“Tom, can you shout to Shona that dinner is nearly ready”

 

“I would but she aint here…Last I saw of her she was galloping off on that suicide horse, Storm”

 

That she was. By galloping up and down the River Weaver seemed to stomp out the grief in some way, and she even thought it would stomp out the feelings that she wanted to bury but couldn’t. She was riding with tears streaming down her face. At times, Storm bucked and bucked and Shona almost wanted to fall off and feel instant deep pain that would somehow disguise the mental pain and grief and confusion she was going through at the moment.

 

Over the next few days, Shona did the same thing. Tried to gallop away her pain. It seemed to work a little, only the pain turned into anger. If she wasn’t withdrawn before, she became even more so now. She didn’t trust a soul.

 

It was the morning of Shona’s first day back. She looked dishevelled, unclean and unhinged. Chloe noticed from the management balcony at the morning briefing. Kyle noticed Chloe looking at Shona. Chloe still didn’t know the full story about Kyle molesting Shona, who thought there was no point as the only witnesses were Randy who would be too scared to back her up and Cuban who was dead. Nobody would believe Shona, apart from Elbe who put it in his diary.

 

“Shona…”

 

“What” Shona snapped. She was rolling new tires in the scorching heat.

 

“I heard what happened to Cuban….I mean I know we aint supposed to like niggers but…..I liked him.”

 

That was Louis, a young guy who would normally go along with the pranks of Deputy Paul’s lot and stay in the background, not wanting to go against the intimidating crowd in order to keep his job. Shona knew it would have been hard (and dangerous) for him to come out and admit that. Still, she was cagey and just replied with a brief smile to acknowledge him and walked off.

 

Chloe was nervous looking on, wondering when if ever would be a good moment to talk to Shona. She has so many questions, almost forgetting about her trip to Mississippi and Wreckers. The waiting was unbearable. She almost regretted giving Shona the time off.

 

That evening, Shona went straight to the outhouse, not having any dinner, saddled up Storm and went out into the wild. Cuban was one of the only people who really ‘got’ Shona and he was dead.

 

Buzzer

 

The ten AM break brought everybody into the canteen. Shona could tell people were staring at her after what happened to Cuban. She was likely to snap at any time.

 

“Hey..” Elbe cautiously sat down and joined Shona for break. Shona nodded her acknowledgment.

 

Chloe was nearby deciding whether now was a good time to finally speak to Shona, and casually strolled over towards her table, purposely making small talk to others who were only too happy to be in Chloe’s company.

 

“I haven’t seen you eat….you gotta eat” Elbe nagged at Shona who just stared at her coffee.

 

“Shona…You were the best damn friend he ever had, and he was yours, and I bet he would want you to get out of this dump, and leave for the coast, like you always wanted. What you waiting for? I’m retiring soon, Cuban’s gone, Tom and Ruby have each other. Chloe…well…let’s face it, she will be married off into a rich family and will never need to work. It’s all coming to a new junction” Elbe tried to be gentle, but this place was brutal.

 

Shona was visibly upset with the mention of Chloe moving on, she hadn’t told a soul what happened on the bench in the outhouse. She would probably tell Dorothy in a letter when she could face it.

 

“Shona?….You hear me?” Elbe verbally prodded.

 

Just when she was close to responding, a guy had accidentally barged into her back as he sat down. Shona flipped.

 

“Watch what the fuck your doin’!!” Shona turned round, slammed her fist on the table to emphasise the point, the whole canteen went silent. The worker was too much in shock to retaliate, nobody had ever seen Shona like this. She was a loose cannon. Slamming her chair in the guy’s chair, she got up and stormed out, punching a wall.

 

Kyle watched from above smirking, Chloe stopped in her tracks. Shona hadn’t even acknowledged her. She would have to carry on her agonising wait to get answers. Now wasn’t the time.

 

 

 

Back at the barn, Ruby brings out a coffee for Tom who is taking a break.

 

“Here….” Ruby lovingly hands over the mug, Tom smiles his gratitude.

 

“Well Ruby…I tell ya, with how Cuban went, if we were left in any doubt with how dangerous this town is, we aint in no doubt now. I just keep thinking of how much damn pain that poor son of bitch would have been in when he was taken…”

 

Tom sipped his coffee.

 

“I know….It felt like…like losing another son. I know it seems madness to compare losing Cuban to losing our two day old son, but…..I felt responsible for them both,I hugged and loved them both”

 

Ruby was getting upset recalling the tragic event all those years ago that somehow only made her relationship with Tom even stronger. Tom put his arm around her.

 

“I just hope Shona’s gone be ok…at least they had each other to fight those bastards but…in my head, the safest place for her is to be well shot of this town…. but that means…..we lose her too and I just imagine this place without her in it”

 

It was Toms turn to be visibly upset. It was a testing time for everybody.

 

 

“I got a message that you…wanted to see me” Shona said to Chloe in the doorway of her office.

 

Chloe took a second or two too long staring at Shona’s dulled face, with bags under her eyes, yet still strikingly beautiful.

 

“Yeah…I…um..take a seat…please” Chloe gestured towards the comfy chair opposite.

 

After sitting down, Shona let out a big sigh.

 

“You…ok?” Chloe asked tentatively knowing full well she wasn’t.

 

Shona just nodded, unconvincingly, waiting to find out why she was called up to the manager’s office.

 

“How’s Tom and Ruby doing?” Chloe asked

 

“With all due respect…ma’am, why d’you call me up here? I got loads of work to catch up on”

 

Shona could hardly make eye contact, but had tears of frustration waiting to creep out the corners of her reddened eyes. Truth be known, Shona didn’t want to be anywhere else, but she was petrified of giving anything away, it was far too dangerous.

 

“Oh…Yes, I’m sorry…um…it was just to check on you. I haven’t had chance to speak to you since you’ve been back” Chloe was visibly moved by Shona’s lack of affection in her voice. She missed Shona, it was as simple as that.

 

There was silence for the longest twenty seconds either had ever experienced. It was excruciating for both of them.

 

Shona swallowed hard, one lone tear dropped onto her hand, Chloe noticed, then Shona asked if she could leave.

 

“Of course…” Chloe said reluctantly, every inch of her wanting to grab Shona back, to hold her, ask her everything, maybe she could, when would be the next time, does Shona not think about Chloe, what she thought about what happened in the outhouse. All of a sudden Chloe blurted out.

 

“I know why you really left Wreckers”

 

Shona stopped in her tracks and spun round, eyes wide. Chloe’s heart was pounding. What had she done?

 

“What?” Shona heard the first time, but couldn’t believe her past may have caught up with her and ruined everything.

 

“I spoke to your boss..and others” Chloe bit her lip, afraid of the damage she maybe causing. Shona may flip out, leave the company or…reciprocate.

 

“Do I…still have a job here now that you know about….. Wreckers?” Shona was testing the water meaning ‘is Chloe bothered by what she heard?’ Shona ached for the two seconds it looked for Chloe to reply, she was just about to when:

 

“Wreckers?…Thats where you visited wasn’t it Chloe?” It was Kyle barging in.

 

‘Christ! Couldn’t we just have two minutes alone!?’ Shona thought.

 

Chloe nodded, exasperated at seeing Kyle everywhere she was, especially when Shona was around.

 

“Yeah..I heard all about Wreckers when I called them on the phone a day after Chloe visited. It was quite…informative Shona.”

 

Kyle was nearly in Shona’s face, almost warning her without speaking as if to hint ‘you wont say what happened prior to Cubans’ death and I wont out you to the town where you are likely to be beaten’. What a shit situation.

 

“Can I go?” Shona bit down on her teeth in frustration wanting to get out of the office. Chloe nodded, it was for the best.

 

“What did you do that for Kyle” Chloe snapped after Shona had left.

 

“What did you really go to Mississippi for? You only visited Wreckers” Kyle replied sitting on the desk.

 

“How did you…..?”

 

“I called all the companies in the area. Only Wreckers said they saw you. Listen, you’re the most eligible woman in Alabama, your father wants you protected, you travelled on your own what was we supposed to do?”

 

Kyle smirked, biting an apple in Chloe’s fruit bowl.

 

Chloe shook her head, she had never felt so claustrophobic in all her life, did Kyle know everything about Shona by finding out from people at Wreckers like Chloe did? If he did, Shona’s life really was in danger, and they were just playing with how to end it. Chloe knew the best thing was for Shona to leave Daynes, even Alabama altogether, but the reality of Chloe not seeing Shona again filed her with so much sadness she hoped there could be another way.

 

She began to dare to think of another way.

 

Chapter 113

 

John one of Deputy Pauls’ cronies was on a table near Shona at break, who overheard him slurping his soup loudly, spitting as he spoke about inappropriate stories. Four other guys on his table, including Deputy Paul hung on his every word. With his flat cap off centre, two scars down his cheeks, dirty fingernails and wrinkly face, he wasn’t pleasant to look at, or get on the wrong side of.

 

“So…we were coming out of Reds last night, I’d lost a fortune at the table, June was gone go mad and we…staggered along and there they were. These two…faggots, tryin’ to hide down some alley, we saw one kiss the other goodbye so….we took care of things” John sniggered

 

“What did you do John?” another crony asked, Shona froze

 

“Well, we followed the both into that alley and let’s put it this way, they aint ever gone be able to use their dicks again!”

 

The table erupted.

 

Shona stared into space, fearful, then casually got up and out the conversation, not meaning to, but ignoring Elbe as he approached her.

 

Shona made her way back to work early feeling ill at what she heard. She felt for those poor men who were likely to have beaten to within an inch of their lives. That could be her.

 

“Shona” It was Chloe. Damn, Shona didn’t need this right now. It was thoughts about Chloe that got her into this situation.

 

“Hi”

 

“I’m sorry about earlier….listen, rather than talk here as we seem to…always get interrupted. Want to go for a drink me…tonight?”

 

Chloe asked, totally unsure, she could never read Shona’s face.

 

Her heart wanted to say yes, just one last time, but every inch of Shona’s body screamed at her to say no, it was far too dangerous. What if they were seen, what if Chloe knew exactly how Shona felt?

 

Shona decided to listen to her heart.

 

“Ok…I’d like that”

 

At the Copperpot Inn, that had come recommended by Jeffrey Ellis, Shona was anxious at being seen when she walked in. She was immediately taken to the VIP area where she felt a little more relaxed as the booths made it feel more private. Chloe already had a drink.

 

“Sorry I’m…a little late, I was still deciding whether to walk in or not…”

 

Shona apologised

 

“Well…I’m glad you did….drink?” Chloe asked with a hint of a warm smile.

 

With the song Blueberry Hill softly playing in the background, there was definite tension in the air when the waiter brought Shona her water.

 

They made small talk, often looking at each other for that second too long as if trying to read signals.

 

“How you holding up?” Chloe asked, sipping her wine

 

“I just miss him…you know. Its not so much that he’s gone, its how. I was so powerless. And it was my fault”

 

Shona’s eye were welling up

 

“What do you mean your fault, it was animals who saw outside right?” Chloe asked with a hint of naivety

 

Shona knew that Chloe had no idea that Kyle had assaulted her and likely to have called for these animals to come get Cuban. But she didn’t have it in her to say it, she wouldn’t be believed anyway.

 

“Nothing” Shona said, looking into her glass reflectively.

 

The waiter pours Chloe another wine with ‘You Send Me playing from the speakers.

 

The lyrics seemed to spill Shona’s secret and she felt an inner embarrassment, this Chloe could read.

 

“Here…what do you think?” Chloe in a bit of a tipsy mood, made a swan out of the napkin and presented it to Shona who smiled her approval, even though it was terrible.

 

“Just…fold this bit over here….That bit there….see..perfect” Shona improved Chloe’s swan accidentally touching Chloe’s hand in the process sending tingles up her spine.

 

“Perfect” Chloe smiled

 

“Listen, it’s getting late and…we should probably be heading home, you can ring for your driver right?”

 

Chloe’s smile vanished when she heard this.

 

It was now or never

 

“You don’t have to be afraid” Chloe said cautiously, Shona couldn’t make eye contact

 

“I was scared when you…went to Wreckers” Shona said, circling the top of her glass with her finger, still not looking at Chloe.

 

“Why?”

 

“I’m……different” Shona felt her throat sting

 

“Not to me” Chloe felt emotional, her heart was pounding

 

“What exactly did you….find out?”

 

“I know pretty much everything….I met…Dorothy”

 

Shona’s head shot up at the mention of her name. At first she was in shock, but strangely she felt relieved that they had somebody in common.

 

“How was she?” Shona’s eyes filled with tears

 

“Fine I….made sure she was…looked after…money wise when I left”

 

“Thank you…..that means a lot, she has nobody but me and….I can’t go back and see her”

 

“I know”

 

There was so much tension in the air, they could both feel it, but it went unspoken. Both felt that if they said the words, it would mean they were admitting something shameful. They liked the version in their heads, it was understood.

 

“I’m gonna…..I’m gonna go…Thanks for tonight”

 

Shona reluctantly got up and took her time pushing her chair in as if to savour the seconds she spent in Chloe’s company, but it just hurt too much being around her and not being able to really do something about it. And Yet, it was agony, being away from her.

 

And that feeling was evenly reciprocated.

 

Chloe finished her drink alone and with sadness. There were many men in that bar, who were making eyes at her and who were wealthy and would be a great ‘match’ for Chloe and would be only too willing to spoil her, but the scary realisation, was that she wanted Shona in her life in whatever way possible.

 

Shona trudged home and flopped on her bed.

 

Chloe walked through her front door.

 

“Nice drink?” Her mother asked being nosey

 

“Yes thanks, I’m going to bed” Chloe stopped the conversation from going anywhere further. She sat on her bed, head in her hands, confused and feeling messed up. What was she hoping from Shona? Why was it so hard to say out loud to her? She fell back into bed sure she had spoiled the friendship with Shona, by her leaving early that surely meant she wasn’t interested.

 

The next morning at work, Chloe felt tired, a little spaced out from the night before. She hadn’t slept much. Starting to hate the day to day running of Ellis and Bruce, she resented any meetings she had. Her secretary told her about her day, but Chloe wasn’t interested and just nodded in all the right places.

 

She went to her mail box by the entrance to get any correspondence that needed her attention and she felt something soft. Looking inside, she saw a folded napkin in the shape of a swan. It wasn’t there yesterday evening when she left.

 

‘Shona’ she immediately thought. That told her everything. With a spring in her step, trying to hide her excitement to receive a little present that had zero monetary value, yet meant so much, she went up to her office, closed the door and took out the swan. It was skilfully done. Chloe sat back in her chair with a smile on her face.

 

“How’s the plans coming along for sending her back?”

 

Larry Bruce asked Kyle impatiently, both men talking in a side room.

 

“There’s been a delay as the guy I’m after is on holiday can you believe it, but don’t worry Larry, it’ll happen”

 

Kyle tapped Larry on his arm.

Shona was outside rolling tires old, damaged tires into a pile, only stopping to wipe the sweat from her head. She was missing Cuban, he would have normally stopped by, helped her with a couple and got back to what he was doing. But there was no stopping by.

 

“Shona…I wouldn’t normally ask but”

 

“–Then don’t!” Shona snapped, not even wanting to hear the end of the question.

 

It would take quite something to bring her out of this dark mood.

 

Buzzer

 

Shona grabbed some water, a sandwich and sat purposely with her back to everybody in the canteen, she didn’t want to engage.

 

“I found this”

 

Shona spun round hearing Chloe’s voice and saw her smiling at her from behind her chair, so close she could smell her perfume. Chloe had put the swan on the table by Shona’s’ plate. Shona looked at the swan and gently smiled and joked ‘Who made that?”

 

“May I?” Chloe asked to sit at Shona’s empty table, who nodded.

 

“How’s your morning going?” Shona asked, wanting to really ask a thousand other questions, but this kind of question felt safe

 

“Ok….Ok…. you?”

 

Fiddling with the bread, Shona looked a little down

 

“I just miss him….I miss Cuban”

 

“I know…Listen um….there’s a movie I want see 12 Angry Men it’s called. Would you like to come with me?” Chloe asked hopefully

 

Shona knew they were both hating any time apart and it wouldn’t be long before people started to see them out together more and more, but the attraction was just too strong.

 

“I’d like that” Shona responded trying to keep it together inside

 

“Who made that!? Hi Miss Chloe, may I sit next to you?” It was Elbe with his plate

 

“Of course, and how are you Elbe?” Chloe asked, Shona liked that she took time out to ask him. Elbe felt invisible here of late.

 

“I’m ok…. you know…looking forward to retirement and getting to see my grandkids in Colorado, I haven’t seen ‘em in four years….did you make that?” Elbe said, pointing towards the swan still sitting in front of Chloe.

 

“No I…um…found it, in my mailbox” Chloe blushed, not wanting to make eye contact with Shona.

 

“Secret admirer? I bet you got a few Miss Chloe pardon me saying…I hear it all the time, many guys here would love to take you out to dinner but….I can’t think of any who deserve to” Elbe said in a hushed voice

 

“That’s very kind Elbe, very kind” Chloe said. The tension was palpable between her and Shona.

 

“I need to get back to work” Shona gave Chloe a fleeting warm smile that she had struggled to find of late, Chloe was careful not to give anything away as she faced the rest of the canteen. She continued to chat to Elbe as he ate. All being observed by Kyle.

 

 

 

That evening, at the dinner table, it was still a sombre mood with Cubans’ absence. Ruby did her best cooking a mean beef dinner.

 

Shona despite being starving hungry barely touched her plate, she was engulfed with nerves and excitement.

 

“You not hungry…not like you?” Tom asked, chewing.

 

“Yeah…I mean…it’s delicious, as always but…I just got some things on my mind”

 

Ruby smiled sympathetically

 

Shona continued “I need to be getting ready, I’m getting picked up”

 

“Who by?” Ruby asked

 

“Just um…Chloe”

 

“Miss Chloe is coming round to pick you up?” Tom asked raising his eyebrows in surprise, he understood how in demand her time was

 

Shona just nodded not wanting to give anything away. Too late, when she left the table, Tom and Ruby looked at eachother knowingly.

 

 

“Where you off out to?” Larry asked as he walked past his daughter’s bedroom. She was trying on different outfits, looking stunning in all of them.

 

“Just the movies” Chloe replied not wanting to give anything away

 

“Who with?” Larry questioned, impatience in his voice

 

“Does it matter?” Chloe looked round, annoyed

 

“If its one of the fly boys at work it does, I know they all got a thing for you. I don’t want you embarrassing me now”

 

“It’s not a boy from work” Chloe returned her attention to the mirror

 

“Whys it a secret then?” Larry asked sternly, raging inside

 

“It’s not a…secret…”

 

“Then you’ll have no problem telling me, you’re my daughter, you’re well known in this town, people get jealous, I worry”

 

“It’s Shona alright! It’s just… Shona….” Chloe blurted out after not bearing the weight of the secret anymore. Larry was fuming and stomped off.

 

Right on 7.30pm Shona saw the headlights coming down the track and took deep breaths.

 

When the famous red deluxe car pulled up alongside, Chloe smiled at Shona to get in, one last deep breath and she opened the door. They were finally on their own without anybody listening.

 

“You drive fast!” Shona said, gripping her seat

 

“Scared?” Chloe smiled

 

“Surprised”

 

“Why?….because I’m more James Dean than Grace Kelly?” Chloe said putting her foot down more

 

“OK….I’m scared” Shona joked

 

 

 

They arrived a few minutes early before the movie and got shown to their seats, Chloe drawing some admiring glances, these didn’t go unnoticed by Shona.

 

They were sitting at the back with Shona next to the wall, nobody sitting next to Chloe. Every time the sound went down momentarily, Shona was conscious of her breathing, her heart was racing. She felt trapped but in a place she didn’t want to escape from. She was unaware because of Chloe’s cool exterior that she actually felt the same and they made small talk.

 

The lights went down and they both saw how close their hands were to each other’s. Now would be a good time to ‘accidentally’ test the water. But neither wanted to leap into the scary and dangerous unknown. Shona looked down and saw Chloe’s fingers trace the arm rest as if searching for something, her hand perhaps? Shona froze. She had been here before but she was almost sure it wouldn’t be the same with Chloe. Or would it? Shona got stirrings between her legs. She felt like her heart racing and deeper breathing were giving her away.

 

Chloe didn’t know what else to do. Every bone in her body was trying to communicate to Shona that she was curious about them and tried to move her fingers ever closer, but she was careful not to get rebuffed, it would be humiliating and extremely dangerous whether it was reciprocated or not, but they were both in too deep. If only Shona would at least touch Chloe’s right little finger, that would tell her everything even though she felt it in her heart, it wasn’t the same as physical evidence. Shona still froze, gently breathed out but she was sure Chloe could tell. She moved her finger ever so slightly nearer Chloe’s little finger, just a little nearer waiting to feel the electricity between them. Without doubt, it was one of the most erotic moments of both their lives, save for the bench incident. Shona felt brave enough and sure enough to move a little nearer, Chloe moved her hand nearer still until…

 

“Here is your seat Sir….Madam”

 

The usher had shown two people who were late to their seats, the man sitting right next to Chloe. They both snatched their hands away in fear.

 

They watched the movie in almost a blur, their stirrings going unsatisfied again.

 

Chapter 114

 

The lights went on and everybody left the movie theatre, Chloe seemed to take her time leaving her seat savouring every second she was in Shona’s company, and the feeling was mutual if unspoken.

 

“What did you think of it?” Chloe asked Shona when they were outside walking towards the car.

 

“Yeah…I mean it was good. I feel for anybody being judged by others…especially with their prejudices… then having their fate sealed. Just don’t seem fair to me’”

 

Shona wasn’t just talking about the movie and Chloe caught on.

 

“Wanna grab a shake at Ed’s Diner?” Chloe desperately wanted to extend the night.

 

“Sure” Shona was only too happy

 

They were two of only around five customers and before long, it was just the two of them, ordering drink after drink. The owner didn’t mind, he liked Chloe and gotten to like Shona too.

 

They talked for hours and only realised it was 1am when Ed himself reluctantly asked them to go after he had cashed up.

 

“One AM!? God I’ve gotta be up in a few hours…that’s gone hurt” Shona said grinning, but she didn’t regret a second.

 

“I’d better get you home then….bye Ed!” They both waved goodbye and got into Chloe’s car.

 

For a few excruciating seconds, Shona waited in the car parked outside the barn, not sure what she was hoping. It was unspeakable, almost unthinkable…but she did think it. She wanted Chloe to know she had fallen unquestionably in love with her, but it was painful to admit it because of the consequences that come with it.

 

Chloe sat in the driver’s seat, not wanting to hurry Shona, she didn’t know whether she should make a move. She was aching to, and puffed out her cheeks in inner despair at the situation. Here she had found somebody who brought her alive, made her want to try things, travel, be a better person, and yet it would be doomed from the start. But Chloe was starting not to care. The men she had dated and who were in interested in her made her feel dead in inside, not Shona.

 

“I guess I…I guess I better go…..Thank you for tonight. I really needed it to help……think of something different for a change.”

 

Shona flashed a beautiful sincere smile.

 

Chloe couldn’t speak because she wanted to stop Shona from going inside and tell her her feelings, but that was ludicrous. Her heart was smashing against her chest, she was certain Shona felt this between them, what if they just kept ‘this’ secret?

 

Next time, Chloe said to herself. Next time, for sure, she would make her feelings known when they were next alone. This had gone on long enough and Chloe couldn’t handle the tension.

 

“Good night Shona” was all Chloe could manage.

 

Chloe drove home, feeling the most alert and alive she had ever felt. She kept replaying the night over, anytime Shona looked at her she tried to read it back. Without realising, she had arrived home and the smallest of tears trickled down her cheek.

 

She was in love.

 

Putting her keys in the door, she was already planning in her head their next meet, it had to be somewhere quiet, nobody around, maybe the horse riding again…

 

“Good film?”

 

Chloe was stopped dead in her thoughts and she was snatched back to her cruel, cold reality. It was her mother in the rocking chair, in the living room still up waiting for Chloe to return home, not looking pleased.

 

“Um…yeah it was…good. Mother, why you still up? It’s late”

 

Chloe was still trying to come to her senses.

 

“Your father and I have been talking”

 

“Ok…..?”

 

“The business could be in trouble” Eleanor lied, not making eye contact with Chloe, still looking out the window.

 

“In trouble? Why?”

 

“Investors…You know what they’re like, want a sure thing”

 

“I don’t understand mother”

 

“Business insight isn’t exactly your strong suit” Eleanor said with a hint of venom, Chloe let it slide.

 

“What’s happened?” Chloe was growing impatient.

 

“Well…a young hotshot potential investor was in town for one night only on business and called a meeting with Ellis and Bruce bosses. Your absence tonight was noticed…”

 

Chloe felt a wave of embarrassment consume her, she’d been at the movies trying to get a woman to fall in love with her.

 

Eleanor continued “Anyway, they were discussing how Jeffrey and your father were getting old and naturally wouldn’t be around forever and were asking questions about the future of the business”

 

“And…?” Chloe asked coldly

 

“And…they were concerned with a…how do we put it, lack of focus from the next in line…..you. They haven’t seen you at events, you weren’t there tonight, you were supposed to visit several businesses for good practice and only ended up at one asking more questions about Shona than anything else. Can you see why they have concerns Chloe?” Eleanor was getting more and more agitated.

 

Chloe felt humiliated. It was like all her indiscretions were being played out in front of her. Maybe she was in a dream world. She wished she was there right now.

 

“How was it left?”

 

“They wanted….. assurances” Eleanor gently span her chair round to face her daughter.

 

“What kind of assurances?” Chloe was nervous

 

“Knowing that when Jeffrey and your father are long gone, the business will be in safe hands. You haven’t given them that impression, but they….seemed to like..Kyle”

 

“Kyle!!?” Chloe screwed her face up, she hated him.

“He’s shown commitment to the company, zest, ideas and a willingness to potentially take over.”

 

Chloe shook her head in disgust.

 

Eleanor continued “He also mentioned that….he would take care of you which your father and I were naturally thrilled about especially as lately you’ve been a little….mixed up”

 

Chloe, wide eyed fixed her gaze on her mother who sat their motionless.

 

“Meaning?” Chloe said through gritted teeth

 

“Meaning that if you two were…how do I say…a united front, the old investors are likely to stay, and this hotshot will be sure to invest his newfound wealth with us when as you know, there is a boom…a rise in new businesses shooting up all over the place.He could easily go elsewhere that will no doubt be our competitor and put us out of business, you understand?”

 

“What are you really asking mother?” Chloe had tears in her eyes

 

“It’s no secret, Kyle likes you, your father likes the business being in Kyle’s hands. You two together make a great team”

 

“For who?” Chloe was annoyed and was daring to snap back

 

“For all the employees…..you see, If you, don’t like the idea, we may have to….. lay off some staff. You know what I mean by this. It would be starting with people like for example……Shona….Elbe, they won’t be needed anymore. They’ll have to try to find jobs elsewhere and I think you understand that will be impossible in this town, maybe even in this state.”

 

Eleanor knew she had Chloe with this.

 

“That’s blackmail”

 

“That’s business sweetie, we have to do right by our men and by our business”

 

“So what you’re saying is….I have to be with Kyle, in order for Shona and Elbe to keep their jobs, is that what you’re saying?” Chloe was disgusted at what she was being asked to do

 

“It’s hardly a chore Chloe, I mean look at him, Kyle is handsome the most sought after man around, comes from wealth, what’s not to like?”

 

Chloe couldn’t help it, she started to cry. Her predicament was simple, she starts dating Kyle and everybody see’s the business as having a strong future, but anything between her and Shona will have to remain buried and forgotten. She refuses? Then it will be goodbye to Shona and Elbe forever who will have no possibility of getting a job after her father and Kyle put the word out. This was a horrific situation, there were no winners, well, perhaps Kyle.

 

“I’m off to bed, I’ll it with you, I’m sure you’ll make the…right decision for everybody” Eleanor said with a smirk.

 

Chloe was in pieces and hardly slept a wink.

 

 

Chapter 115

 

“Shona….Shona, I think you’ve overslept. You need to get up!”

 

Shit!

 

Shona couldn’t sleep when she got in, she was on cloud nine until eventually drifted off an hour ago, and went into the deepest sleep ever. If she arrived late for work, she would lose her job, simple.

 

“I’ll take you…” Tom beckoned Shona into his truck

“Thanks Tom” Shona said breathlessly

 

There was some hold up on the road.

 

“Damn it!” Shona shouted

 

“It’s not moving…some truck spilled some shit over the road or something” Tom said trying to see

 

“I’ll have to run…cheers Tom” Shona got out the truck and sprinted the remaining distance, around 400 metres.

 

 

“Look at this….” Deputy Paul gestured with a grin to Kyle to look out the front entrance at Shona sprinting towards work.

 

“This would be too easy….come on, just one minute late and you’re gone…..tick tock” Kyle said nastily

 

 

Shona sprinted with tears of frustration, this kind of end wasn’t in the plan, she was almost there. It was more than she wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Chloe more than losing the job she detested.

 

“What you guys looking at?” It was Ron Black, he peered out the door, realised it was Shona in distress. Deputy Paul and Kyle rolled their eyes at the ‘do-gooder’.

 

“Shona! Its ok… Its ok, calm down..” Ron shouted at Shona as she approached work collapsing at the door just at the buzzer to signal start of the working day.

 

“Take your time, you’re never late, and you just made it…its ok”

 

Shona needed to hear these reassuring words from Ron, she spotted Kyle and Deputy Paul sneering at her as she tried to catch her breath.

 

“Well I can’t fault you for commitment to get here on time, I think you broke a world record!” Ron Black joked then left to get to work, Shona too exhausted to laugh properly.

 

“Out late last night?” Kyle asked Shona as she had her hands on her knees.

 

“Pardon me?” She replied, she had heard him.

 

“Maybe you should rethink the company you keep……You were lucky, this time. You won’t be lucky again. It’ll be my pleasure to shut that door in your face, got it?” Kyle left in a huff.

 

Shona kept her head and stacked heavy boxes of vehicle parts for the repairs that had arrived, she couldn’t wait to see Chloe at the 10am break.

 

Knock Knock

 

“Come in” Chloe said coldly

 

“How are you?” Kyle asked smugly, Chloe looked at him with inner disgust, but faked a politeness

 

“I’m ok…..you?” She never normally asked how he was, she didn’t care.

 

“I would be a lot better if you accompanied me to drinks after work? Everybody will be there”

 

The work ‘yes’ choked Chloe, she wanted to spend it with Shona, but she knew what had to do.

 

“Ok…sure”

 

“That’s great, I’ll pick you up around 7?” Kyle said grinning

 

Chloe nodded

 

At 9.55am, Shona smartened herself up as much as she could, tidying her hair, trying to look her best to see Chloe hopefully carrying on from where they left off early this morning.

 

Buzzer

 

10am

 

Shona had butterflies and couldn’t eat anything yet she wanted to remain casual. She sat in the seat at the table away from everybody waiting for Chloe.

 

And waited.

 

And waited.

 

Shona looked around and Chloe was unusually nowhere to be seen at the 10am break.

 

“You ok Shona?” It was Elbe sitting down

 

“You seen Chloe anywhere?” Shona asked impatiently

 

“She’s around, but I haven’t seen her in the past hour or so…You haven’t touched your food”

 

Elbe nagged

 

“I know..I’m…not hungry” Shona pushed her plate away

 

“You didn’t eat breakfast” Elbe pointed his fork at her

 

Shona had too many butterflies to care about eating.

 

“I’ll be ok” She huffed

 

“There’s a damn works drinks do kinda thing tonight at the usual place, they want us all to go, you going?”

 

Elbe asked

 

“Don’t know..maybe”

 

Shona was so busy with work, yet the day dragged when she didn’t see Chloe, she realised how much she missed her. Her day was empty.

 

On the way home, Shona caught a bus into town and stopped by an arts and crafts shop.

 

“Can I buy this….and this please?” Shona asked the shop keeper

 

She bought a blank canvas and a paint kit for Chloe.

 

She saw a kid peddling fast on his bike. It was Jonathan, Eds grandson from Ed’s diner

 

“Hey Kid!” Shona purposely got in his way

 

He skidded to a stop.

 

“Want to make some money?” Shona asked him, smiling

 

“Yeah!”

 

“You’re Eds grandson right?”

 

“Yep!”

 

“Well, you know Riverside Drive?”

 

“The one with the huge white house in it?” He said

 

“Yeah that’s the one, listen, if you deliver this tomorrow morning, I’ll give you fifty cents now, and a dollar when it’s done, you got it?”

 

“Sure!”

 

“Don’t let me down now, your grandpa likes me, I’m a good customer!” Shona smiled

 

And off the kid went with the bag with the canvas and paints in it.

 

Shona debated whether to go to bar for drinks, Elbe had bailed as he couldn’t stand most of the guys nowadays. Shona hadn’t seen Chloe all day and was hoping they could speak and arrange another evening out.

 

The bar was packed, filled with laughter and the stench of beer. Music playing in the background. Shona looked up and saw the stairs that led into rooms knowing that already there were probably many Ellis and Bruce men in their with prostitutes. It was something fairly unspoken about especially as some of the investors had regular been spotted frequenting those rooms. Their wives wouldn’t be happy no doubt, but their men were too powerful to be kept on a leash.

 

“I’ll just have a…water please?” Shona asked the barman, she scoured the busy room. She saw Deputy Paul romancing two women, Ron Black was chatting to one of the new guys. She spotted Larry laughing loudly clearly enjoying himself.

 

“My god” Shona whispered to herself.

 

She couldn’t believe what she witnessed.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 116

 

Over by the jukebox was a stunning looking Chloe in a tight red dress picking out the next few songs, with Kyle sidling up to her then behind her putting his arms around her waist, but she wasn’t flinching or discouraging him. Instead, she was………she was flirting back. This made Kyle smirk and eager to see the jealous men who wished they were in his position, it wasn’t about Chloe it was about how good he looked.

 

‘Son of a bitch’ Shona whispered.

 

As if telepathically Chloe heard, she faced Shona with a look of shock and shame. Shona stared back for a second then stormed out of the bar.

 

“Hey what’s up?” Kyle said, stopping Chloe from leaving his grasp.

 

“Nothing…I um…forgot I need to do something” Chloe said seriously, itching to follow Shona

 

“Nothing that can’t wait after another drink” Kyle said intimidatingly.

 

Chloe’s parents watched approvingly in the distance, she felt sick as if on show. Some of the investors had already commented on what a good looking couple they make.

 

Chloe necks the drink and takes advantage of Kyle using the mens room to escape and drive.

 

 

Knock knock knock

 

“Miss Chloe?”

 

“Hi Tom, sorry to just….turn up like this, is um….Shona around?”

 

“She is…well….I aint see her like this before, I thought she was getting better with dealing with the Cuban stuff, but she came back with tears in her eyes, stomping around…..to top it off she’s gone out on Storm. That’s like suicide I tell ya”

 

Chloe’s face dropped.

 

“Do you know whereabouts she’s gone?”

 

“By the river no doubt, but riding Storm, she’ll end up breaking her damn neck, but there was no telling her”

 

Tom smiled at Chloe as she said goodbye and got in her car and sped off to towards the river heart racing.

 

It wasn’t too long before she spotted a rider galloping at crazy speed along the river bank parallel to the road she was on. Chloe sped up to try and catch the horse which wasn’t an easy feat.

 

Eventually, knowing the rider would have to turn left towards the road, Chloe put her foot down so that the rider would have to slow down. Seeing the blonde locks, Chloe was in no doubt it was Shona.

 

As hoped, Shona turned left and galloped towards the road not looking like she cared if there were cars or not, and continued at speed towards the car until at the very last second, Shona pulled on the reigns and Storm threw Shona off.

 

“My god! Shona! You ok!?” Chloe got out and rushed towards her.

 

Shona groaned but she was moving.

 

“What the hell you doing here pulling out on my horse like that!?”

 

Shona wasn’t happy to see Chloe so it seemed

 

“I’m sorry…I’m so sorry I just….I know what you think you saw at the bar”

 

Chloe pleaded

 

“I know what I saw and I was…..surprised. You hate him!”

 

Shona screwed up her face when she spoke.

 

“I know what it seems but…..you don’t understand what it’s like for someone like me”

 

Chloe had emotion in her voice

 

“Why? Because I’m not smart?….Or because I’m not rich?” Shona said breathing heavily, gradually getting up from off the ground.

 

“That’s not what I mean. I have to….behave….in a certain way if. I can’t just….do what I want”

 

Chloe said tears appearing

 

“Why?….Who’s stopping you? You can be as free as what you want to be. You want to drive to the coast with the roof down? You can do that. You want to paint, you can do that too. Because that makes you happy. Those who don’t want to see you do that stuff….don’t care about your happiness, so why would you give a shit about what they want?”

 

Now it was Shona who was emotional.

 

“Because I was given a choice that meant there were no winners… trust me”

 

Chloe said coldly recalling what her mother had told her.

 

Shona looked confused and disgusted at the same time.

 

“He wins…Kyle. He wins out of all of this. It’s what he wanted all along….you. We hear about it all the time on the floor….You got no idea who you’re messing with with that man. Do you… like him? You think you can…love him?”

 

These words were painful for Shona to say, she was petrified of the answer. She knew she should warn Chloe but Kyle had warned her about telling anyone about when he assaulted her.

 

“I don’t know….I don’t know. It just….makes sense and has to be this way” Chloe said, crying, not convincing anybody, least not herself

 

“For who? Him? Your parents?….Definitely not you.” Shona pleaded knowing it was already too late, she could almost hear her heart breaking second by second.

 

Chloe couldn’t answer

 

Sorting the reigns, Shona got back on Storm.

 

“Then let me ask you something….If he is where your life is, where you should be, where your…happiness is…..then what the hell you doing out here?”

 

Shona asked looking directly at a broken Chloe.

 

They both knew the answer, but neither could vocalise the dangerous and controversial thoughts.

 

There was so much left unsaid between them and it would remain that way as Shona galloped off not getting an answer, leaving Chloe sobbing by the side of her car.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 117

 

Driving back towards the bar, Chloe spots her father, drunk outside it being propped up by her mother. He stumbles into a black man minding his own business.

 

“Damn nigger! Watch where you’re goin!” Larry said, then he took a drunken swing at the guy and missed, fell on the floor. The black man put up his hands in a surrendering fashion not wanting trouble. Chloe looked on horrified as her father picks up a plank of wood that was next to him on the floor by a pile of rubbish and swipes it at the man who immediately falls to the floor in pain, but Larry keeps hitting him while the guy pleads. Chloe speeds over to help the man on the floor.

 

“Father!” Chloe shouts, this was enough for the beating to stop as Larry looked up to see his daughter. Kyle came out just as Larry was finishing the beating and smirked.

 

“Why did you make your father stop?” Kyle asked Chloe sniggering. Shona was right, Kyle did seem to have a sinister side.

 

The black guy looked gratefully towards Chloe and limped off.

 

“I think we should all go home” Chloe suggested.

 

“That’s a fantastic idea” Kyle said in a smarmy manner putting his arms around Chloe in full view of her parents.

 

“Father? Mother?..I’ll drive us home” Chloe said wanting to break away from Kyles grasp but not making it too obvious.

 

“We have somebody taking us home, you two enjoy yourselves, the night is still young” Eleanor said winking at Kyle who returned the wink.

 

This was it. Chloe and Kyle were fully alone in her car.

 

“I’d be…very grateful if you could….take me back home” Kyle said charmingly.

 

Chloe didn’t reply, just looked ahead, feeling frozen and trapped. What had she agreed to?

 

“By the way…you look delicious in that dress…I know that I’ve had too much to drink, but I’d say it anyway, you look good enough to eat…..every man wants to be right where I am right now”

 

Kyle said deftly walking his fingers up Chloe’s thigh. She couldn’t act frozen, so just laughed nervously.

 

“Don’t be silly” she replied

 

“You know I’ve wanted you for a long time now…I’m gone make you real happy”

 

His fingers got higher up her thigh, disregarding her lack of encouragement.

 

“Right, here we are” Chloe tried to change the subject as they pulled up at Kyle’s house

 

“You can’t expect me to look after myself tonight…I’ve had a few too many. I’ll hold you responsible if anything happens to me!” Kyle sniggered as he hit his head getting out of Chloe’s car and nearly fell on the grass.

 

Huffing, Chloe got out the car and helped him to the front door.

 

“Come in…I promise not to….bite” Kyle looked at Chloe straight in the eyes, she felt scared, but she felt she couldn’t back out or back down. She was his boss and couldn’t act scared of him.

 

Chloe looked round and there were lots of boxes with things that still hadn’t been unpacked and she thought this looked unusual but cautiously ventured inside. Kyle went straight to the liqor cabinet and immediately poured another whisky and downed it.

 

“Want one?” he asked, selfishness after he had finished his.

 

Chloe shook her head.

 

“I better be getting back” Chloe said gesturing towards the front door

 

“Why? Your parents know where you are and have encouraged us to have fun….we could have…a lot of fun” Kyle leaned down and planted a liquor stenched wet kiss on Chloe’s cheek. She froze. Kyle took it that she wasn’t rebuffing him and kissed her again on the other cheek and in quick succession as if not believing his luck he kissed her on the mouth then forced her mouth open with his probing unwelcomed tongue.

 

Chloe was startled but his mouth slobbering and covering hers meant she couldn’t say anything. She was frightened this moment would come, but didn’t expect it to be now.

 

Kyle pushed Chloe back so she was pinned against the kitchen table that dug uncomfortably in her spine. His groans getting louder signalled his excitement. Chloe was trying not to vomit from Kyle’s slobber forcing itself in her mouth. She gagged but Kyle took no notice. He grinded his hips up against hers and started to bite hard into her neck, it was painful not pleasurable.

 

“Should we not…wait?” Chloe said, almost pleading

 

“What for? I want you now god damn it” Kyle groaned

 

Chloe could feel through his trousers he was erect. She wasn’t ready, but she knew if she didn’t ‘perform’ for her new man there was something wrong with her. She was waiting for there to be some tenderness from Kyle, but it was just rough, cold and all about Kyle’s enjoying at about to bed the most sought after woman in the state.

 

Kyle grabbed Chloe’s right hand

 

“Undo my buttons” He ordered with urgency, strangely out of a sense of duty she complied. She felt his spit all over her face and neck. His saliva smelled disgusting.

 

Kyle groaned when he released himself from his underwear.

 

As he looked at Chloe in her eyes, he smirked then ordered “Turn around”

 

Chloe was stunned and confused, there was no loving gaze, tenderness, instead, he grabbed her and forced her to put her hands on the kitchen table as he lifted her skirt, pulled her underwear to the side and entered her roughly, Chloe winced as he thrust.

 

“Ssshhhhh…..You’ll love it” Kyle whispered, putting his hand over her mouth as he continued to thrust. Chloe’s body still wasn’t ready, but that didn’t make any difference to Kyle, he kept moving until he was satisfied. After only a dozen thrusts, Kyle collapsed on Chloe’s back completely spent.

 

Chloe was in shock, she felt humiliated and trapped. She turned around and saw Kyle pull his trousers up and go over to the sofa and fall on it.

 

“You can help yourself to anything” Kyle said only his feet visible from behind the sofa. Chloe adjusted her dress. She felt cheap. He couldn’t even be bothered to make her a drink, she had to do it herself.

 

She sat at the kitchen table drinking a glass of water, eyes wide at what just happened. She was confused at what she was ‘supposed’ to do, she ‘wanted’ to escape, but she was no Kyle’s property and everybody apart from her…..and Shona would see that it was a good match on paper. Never had she felt so alone and so ignored.

 

“I…..I need to be going….Kyle?” Chloe said, her voice shaking

 

She heard snoring, so Chloe got up and quickly left, driving home fast feeling utterly disgusted. The first thing she did when she got in was take a long shower to wash every part of him off.

 

Chapter 118

 

Chloe tentatively came down the stairs the following morning, she had a stinging pain between her legs from Kyles roughness, the roughness he said she would enjoy. She wasn’t enjoying not being able to walk without being uncomfortable. It’s not something she could bring up with her parents either, not that they would have cared. It was a ‘woman’s duty to satisfy her man’.

 

“Nice evening?” Eleanor Bruce appeared at the bottom of the stairs with a glint in her eye.

 

“Yeah…..yeah” Chloe faked a smile, hoping to please

 

“So…? You gone see the dashing Kyle again?”

 

“Of course..I work with him” Chloe said holding on tight to the bannister.

 

“Oh you know what I mean Chloe…half the town will be talking about it. I couldn’t help myself but I’ve told quite a few of the women in town this morning, they were real jealous I can tell you. There’s a loooong list of women who jump to be in your position I can tell you.”

 

Chloe thought ‘they can have him’.

 

“Mother….why would you tell everybody? Its early days yet” Chloe was fuming.

 

“I know but I couldn’t help myself…You know I like to gossip” Eleanor chuckled not hearing the plea in her daughters voice.

 

Chloe made it to the bottom of the stairs trying to act casual.

 

“Anyway Chloe, while you were sleeping, Mr.Handsome must have delivered this..’

 

Eleanor went over by the front door, Chloe frowned with curiosity.

 

“What is it?” Chloe asked walking over to a brown square paper bag.

 

“It’s for you, isn’t he the best?” Eleanor looked so pleased with her matchmaking

 

Chloe cautiously ripped the paper and inside it was a blank canvas with some paint brushes and a few small basic coloured paints, she was confused. She had hardly spoken to Kyle about painting and when she did, he said there was no money in it and cut off the conversation.

 

“Who sent it?” Chloe asked her mothere

 

“We don’t know…somebody knocked at the door and must have ran. He probably sent a delivery boy knowing Kyle” Eleanor chuckled

 

“Oh…” Chloe seemed in a daze

 

“Well…don’t you spend too long on those silly paintings, I mean not know you’re part of the hottest couple in town. You have events to go to and clothes to pick out, you aint got time for….all that” Eleanor said swishing a finger at the canvas.

 

Chloe didn’t reply.

 

“Oh by the way…Kyle is coming over for dinner tonight, you know to welcome him to the family properly”

 

Eleanor walked off, not bothering to get a response. Chloe’s world was changing right in front of her. She almost felt like she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t escape. What had she done? What had she agreed to? Everything was being planned for her, without her permission. She had become invisible.

 

 

 

 

“You need to eat something” Ruby said to Shona gently.

 

Both she and Tom had noticed her drop in apetite since Cubans death and now she was distant from Chloe. Just at the point she had things figured out, they were ripped from her in some way.

 

“I know I just….aint hungry….but its delicious Ruby it really is.” Shona never wanted to cause offence, she just couldn’t stomach food right now.

 

Shona got up and headed off to see Elbe in an unannounced visit.

 

 

“You are one lucky lady!” Melissa screamed as Chloe entered the posh clothes shop, she had come alone despite her mothere nagging her to come along.

 

“Um…thank you, why?” Chloe asked, confused at the high emotion

 

“We heard about you and Kyle from your mother and eventhough we….shouldn’t say anything, we can’t help it…Kyle came in here earlier to buy a dress for you”

 

“What?” Chloe went further into a daze

 

“Then he told us everything….like everything about last night. You are so lucky! The whole town is talking about it”

 

Chloe felt sick and annoyed that Kyle felt the need to brag that he had bedded the wealthiest woman around last night, although Chloe thought, she wished there was a bed, not just a quick bunk up at the table.

 

“Right…well, I need to be off” Chloe found it difficult to be polite to these people who were only interested in gossip. She felt her lungs tighten again, she felt eyes on her and heads turn as if people were playing over what had happened the night before, something she wants to forget.

 

 

 

“Hey Elbe” Shona said as she approached Elbes farmhouse, he was tinkering on his truck

 

“Shona! What a lovely surprise! Come in…I’ll make us a drink”

 

Elbe had a way of making Shona feel better, not that Tom and Ruby didn’t, they were fantastic. But Shona felt like her and Elbe needed eachother and both knew exactly what it was like at work and both were feeling the grief of losing Cuban.

 

Elbe poured Shona a glass of something cold and sat down with her at his kitchen table. He noticed that Shona looked as if she had the weight of the world on her shoulders.

 

“Come on…talk to me. There aint no point keeping this all in, you hear? What I wouldn’t give to be able to talk to my wife well…..and there are people that are here and want to listen, don’t forget that.”

 

Elbe said squeezing Shona’s hand, she responded with a genuine half smile.

 

As if a building had been crushing her chest, Elbe’s word magically started to lift it.

 

Fuck it

 

“I miss Cuban and I……um……miss Chloe”

 

Shona’s eye started filling up, Elbe slowly sat back in his chair taking in the words.

 

Shona continued ‘She’s with that creep and there’s nothing I can do about it. I don’t expect you to…..understand Elbe. Cuban said he had confided in you about my feelings for her. I could talk to him about anything.”

 

“Listen….I might not understand it….but I understand love.” Elbe said gently holding Shona’s hand in a supportive way that meant the world.

 

He continued “Yeah Cuban did come see me, told me everything. He was worried that…he wasn’t enough, he said that you’d saved him, gave him a shot at life when everybody else shut their doors on him. I don’t care who it is you love, I just care that you’re happy. You’re one of the special ones, the rare ones”

 

Elbe smiled with a tear in his eye that set Shona off and they hugged tightly.

 

When they broke apart, Shona wiped her face, her sleeve soaked in tears.

 

“What do I do Elbe, what do I do apart Chloe? I mean its such a mess”

 

“You wait”

“Wait?” Shona looked a bit confused

 

“Yep…you’ll win her by being you. That’s what made her come to you in the first place. Nothing gets by me, I could tell she had a thing for you. She came up to me a lot to ask where you were and when I offered to pass on any messages she always, always insisted on doing it in person. I can tell when there’s a glint in somebody’s eye for someone. You two both have it”

 

“Yeah?….But she’s with him, she doesn’t know the half of what a monster he is”

 

Shona said fiddling with her glass

 

“She will…and guess who will be there for her no questions asked?”

 

Shona looked up at Elbe, she couldn’t believe how understanding he was and even encouraging her to be with Chloe.

 

“Bide your time…and just be you” Elbe smiled

 

 

 

 

Doorbell rings

 

“Thats him!” Eleanor screamed excitiedly as she ran down the stairs almost pushing the housekeeper out the way.

 

Chloe’s face sank.

 

She could hear muffled voices of greetings and her mother doting on Kyle and hanging on his every rubbish joke.

 

“Chloe! Honey! Come down here!” Eleanor called up the stairs, Chloe was putting off coming face to face with the man who so coldly took her dignity the night before and then bragged about it to everybody in town the very next morning.

 

“Hello my sweetness” Kyle tightly grabbed Chloe’s shoulders and kissed her, he had been drinking.

 

Chloe tried to play her role, but it was like she didn’t know the script, she was so out of it.

 

“Kyle!”

 

“Larry! Fancy a late nighter at Reds tonight?”

 

“How can I say no?”

 

Eleanor faked a sigh

 

“Men eh? You’ll get used to it Chloe” Eleanor said smiling at her daughter

 

Chloe didn’t want to get used to it.

 

All four of them got round the dinner table.

 

“Oh I almost forgot..” Kyle went to his car and came back with a large shiny box.

 

“For you my princess” Kyle smarmed

 

He gave Chloe the box, all eyes on her at the table.

 

“Oh…um thanks, what is it?” Chloe faked

 

“Open it” Kyle ordered

 

Inside was a black cocktail dress, that couldn’t have been more opposite Chloe’s taste.

 

“Um…wow….um…thank you…Kyle….Thanks” Chloe wanted to hide, to scream, to run.

 

“Put it on” Kyle said with a hint of a demand

 

“What? Now? I’m wearing this” Chloe said pointing at her light coloured loose dress.

 

Her comment made the tension worse as she dared to stand up for herself.

 

“Honey, Kyle has gone to the trouble to buy you a present, its rude not to go try it on” Eleanor said embarrassed, Larry was slowly chewing on some bread staring menacingly at Chloe, no support there.

 

Outnumbered, and ‘bound’ by her duty to her man, Chloe reluctantly got up and went upstairs wanting to sob at the same time try to fit into this skin-tight revealing black dress.

 

Looking sad in the mirror, Chloe heard muffled voices from below

 

“I don’t know whats got into her Kyle..but you have our permission to sort that crazy head of hers out” and then Eleanor laughed as Kyle replied with some inappropriate joke. He could do wrong.

 

“You ok honey? Want me to….come up and help?” Kyle called up grinning

 

“No! No…um I’ll be down in a minute” That was the last thing Chloe wanted.

 

“Wow….” Kyle said looking up the stairs as Chloe came down reluctantly trying to fake an appreciative smile.

 

“See?….now um, I better get changed…I don’t wanna spill anything down it…”

 

“Keep it on” Kyle said with a smile with hidden intimadtion

 

“Um…”

 

“Keep it on..you look stunning” Kyle tried a gentler approach

 

“Aren’t you lucky your new man already buying you gorgeous gifts!” Eleanor said with her hands on her face looking pleased

 

“Trust me…this is just the start” Kyle said winking at Chloe who pretended she didn’t see and just focused on her soup.

 

“And Kyle…not that I want you to encourage our Chloe with wasting her time with painting and all that but it was very sweet of you get that canvas delivered this morning” Eleanor said in between slurps of her soup

 

“What? What canvas?” Kyle said sitting slightly back in his chair

 

“The gift? This morning?…Had a tag with just a kiss on it, I assumed it was from you” Eleanor said looking backwards and forwards to Kyle and Chloe.

 

Chloe didn’t realise it had a tag on and that it had a ‘kiss’ on. She didn’t and couldn’t make eye contact with anybody until forced.

 

“Another admirer Chloe? Well, you wont have time for all that nonsense, not with what I have planned for us.” Kyle asked clearly annoyed but trying to make a joke of it

 

“What? I don’t know, like mother said that’s all it had on the tag. I have no idea who sent it…” Chloe went back to her soup.

 

Kyle knew EXACTLY who would have sent the gift.

 

 

 

Chapter 119

 

Two weeks passed, Chloe kept herself to herself at work. She wanted desperately to speak to Shona, just to see her, but she felt she had the word ‘traitor’ all over her.

 

“Damn it!” Chloe had made another mistake. She couldn’t concentrate.

 

“Whats up sweet pea?” Kyle heard and walked in faking concern.

 

“I just have to…go over these figures…again!” Chloe said rubbing her eyes

 

“Hmmm..anyway, I’ll be out with your father tonight, you know, boys bonding time” Kyle smirked. He knew he didn’t have to asked permission, Chloe was owned now.

 

“Again? That’s three nights in a row..” Chloe said with a hint of inner frustration seeping out

 

“Well you can…be ready for me when I get home” Kyle said kissing her forehead hard.

 

Chloe didn’t want that, she just meant that now she had pretty much moved in with Kyle, she had nobody, he didn’t like her going out in the evenings.

 

The day passed without event, Chloe felt dead inside, like she had no life in her veins. She was going to her new home to cook Kyles dinner then he would go out and enjoy himself leaving Chloe alone not being able to go out herself.

 

Locking up, Chloe turned round and literally bumped into Shona which made her jump, as she was actually thinking about her.

 

“Sorry” Shona apologised for startling her

 

“That’s ok….you alright?” Chloe asked

 

“I’m fine…Ron just asked me to give these order forms to you that’s all….have a good evening” Shona turned to walk away reluctantly

 

“Thanks…thanks for the canvas” Chloe said before Shona made I anywhere. She continued “I know it was you who sent it”

 

Shona nodded without emotion.

 

“You used it yet?” Shona asked already knowing the answer

 

“Um…no”

 

“That surprises me” Shona said sarcastically

 

“Look…I’ve…gotta go home. I’ve gotta cook dinner, can you believe that?” Chloe said with a forced grin

 

Shona stood there in front of Chloe wanting to do and say a thousand things, but she felt like her body was made of concrete. She simply replied “Have a good evening Chloe” and she walked away leaving Chloe feeling empty.

 

 

 

Chloe put the keys in the door of her home she was sharing with Kyle who was watching the TV already with a beer.

 

“I feel like some tasty chicken tonight honey, you can rustle something up can’t you?” Kyle called through, not even getting up.

 

Chloe felt trapped.

 

She had always had her housekeeper to do meals and it wasn’t like she wasn’t willing to learn, but she felt overwhelmed at how her life had changed, and not for the better.

 

“Ok..” is all Chloe called back

 

Taking a deep breath, Chloe looked through cupboards to find ingredients when there was a knock at the door, Chloe was nearest so she went to get it.

 

“Wait! I’ll get it!” Kyle called out assertively, jumping off the couch but Chloe was already there.

 

A serious looking man in a grey suit was standing on the doorstep, his stern face broke a little when he saw Chloe’s face.

 

“Sorry to trouble you Miss Chloe, but is Kyle in?”

 

“Um..yes..yes he’s here”

 

Kyle almost sprinted to the door. “Honey, can you go wait out back this is private business” he said coldly, gesturing with his head for Chloe to move..now

 

Without saying a word for fearing she couldn’t, she did as she was told and went ‘out back’ but only as far that she was out of sight, not out of ear shot.

 

“Listen Jimmy, you know I’m good for it…just give me a couple more weeks, you can see my new…situation here, things are gone be looking up if you know what I mean” then Kyle sniggered

 

Chloe frowned as if that helped with hearing.

 

“You owe two months rent and its only because you know the Bruces that I don’t come in there myself and change the locks you hear? I own this, not you…..You got 2 weeks Kyle!”

 

Then there was a door slam.

 

Chloe was in shock. Kyle had lied to her face. He bragged to her and others how he paid cash for his home as soon as he swanned into Daynes, instead it was rented and not only that, he was in arrears.

 

If he was lying about that, what else was he lying about? Chloe knew Shona was right and knew more than what she dared let on.

 

“Um…everything ok?” Chloe asked, faking that she hadn’t heard anything, Kyle wasn’t so sure and looked coldly towards her.

 

“Nothing that I can’t handle..You got that dinner going or what?” Kyle said grabbing another beer and slumping on the couch.

 

Like a dutiful but unreluctant partner, Chloe made dinner.

 

“It’s too damn dry, you not cooked chicken before?” Kyle pushed his plate away in disgust

 

“Well, not really, we had our meals cooked for us, I looked up recipe”

 

“Well…sweet pea, you definitely need lots of practice. I’ll grab something when I’m out, make sure you’re awake when I get home. I’ll be thinking about you lots” Kyle kissed Chloe on the mouth, she had to hide her grimace.

 

How times had changed, she looked round the mess in the kitchen. She had better get going at clearing it up.

 

 

“Larry!..”

 

“Kyle, I’ve got us a drink…how you treating that daughter of mine?”

 

“Like a princess”

 

“Good”

 

“Listen Larry, I don’t know how close you really are to Jeffrey and…you know, how his loyalty is towards you..?” Kyle probed

 

“I can’t stand him, you know that…tell me whats on your mind?”

 

“Well..I’ve got an idea, you’ve got the boys to do it, we could make a little money via the back door…and its not like Jeffrey aint got the money is it now…”

 

“Go on…”

 

 

Kyle then reveals his money making plan.

 

 

It was gone 2am when Kyle rolls in, staggering up the stairs waking up Chloe.

 

“Sweetie? Sweetie Pie?….Do you know how many woman want to be in your position right now, they were all over me tonight…all over me….but it was you on my mind” Kyle was drunk, tripping over his own feet heading towards the bedroom.

 

Chloe froze, not knowing in a split second whether to pretend to be asleep or not.

 

She felt the bed cave as Kyle slid in beside her reeking of booze and food.

 

“Honey….you awake?” Kyle purred, Chloe could tell he was grinning

 

Chloe pretended to ‘wake’. “I’m real tired….”

 

“Trust me, I wont take long….you drive me crazy you know that?”

 

Chloe felt Kyle’s hand reach into her underwear, he was freezing cold and Chloe flinched.

 

“Kyle Um…I’m not really up for it tonight..” Chloe grimaced

 

“You will when I give you Kyle lovin’” He began to kiss the back of Chloe’s neck, getting more aggressive with her underwear.

 

Chloe clammed up, she didn’t know how else to say no, he just didn’t hear it, or chose not to.

 

She felt a rip, it was a fabric sound, then Kyle entered her roughly from behind, despite Chloe’s whimper because of the sharp stinging pain of not being ready, he continued almost enjoying it more because of the power.

 

This was to be Chloe’s life from now on.

 

 

Chapter 120

 

Early the next morning, Shona, not being able to sleep gets up around 5am and goes for a ride on one of the more tame horses. Through sheer curiosity, Shona heads into an eerily quiet town towards the Bruces’ mansion. She knew what she was looking for and she knew how she would react when she got there.

 

Slowing from a trot to a walk, Shona pulls on the reigns sharply and peers round the side of the white building with the Bruces inside. All of them, apart from Chloe.

 

There was no familiar red car outside. Shona’s head dropped, that only meant one thing, she was at Kyles a few blocks away. Even though Shona knew that would be the case, it was still a cruel punch in the face.

Looking round sheepishly, Shona headed towards Kyle’s place. Cautiously trotting, feeling like she was stalking, she approached the road to her left where Kyle lived.

 

All of a sudden, her horse spooked.

 

A green truck came speeding out of the turning Shona was about to head into. Some guys in the truck with the windows down were laughing loudly swigging a bottle, Shona heard a dog barking inside the truck too.

 

Shona immediately recognised that truck. It was almost certainly the one that dragged Cuban to his death. She struggled to keep her horse under control to do anything about it. Luckily, she wasn’t on Storm otherwise she would have been flung in the road no doubt.

 

“Come on…easy girl….easy” Shona tried to calm the mare, still looking at the truck speeding off into the distance.

 

“Bastards!” then Shona quickly came to her senses. Why was that truck coming out of Kyle’s road, and at this time in the morning?

 

Breathing heavily, Shona tentatively approached Kyle’s house being careful not to be seen, but there it was.

 

Chloe’s distinctive red car in the driveway.

 

Seeing it made her heart break, there was not a hope she could prize her away from that asshole.

 

“Enough now….that’s enough” Shona whispered to herself shaking her head slightly. She couldn’t keep putting herself through this. Chloe wasn’t hers it’s as simple as that.

 

Shona turned the horse around and trudged home, she’d seen enough.

 

“What you doing? Why you up?” Chloe asked in a sleepy haze

 

“Nothing to worry about honey, go back to sleep” Kyle said assertively.

 

All arrangements had been made with his visitors who had just left.

 

 

Chapter 121

 

“Jeffrey…It Larry….I got some bad news”

 

Jeffrey sat bolt upright in bed after his wife passed him the phone at 6.20am

 

“What is it?” Jeffrey squinted

 

“Gone…everythings all gone, we’ve had a robbery. Every piece of machinery has been stolen, damn sons of bitches.”

 

“What? This a damn joke Bruce!?” Jeffrey scowled

 

“I wish it were, theres no work today, man…how much we gone lose?” Larry said probing

 

“Well…what do you need? We can’t afford to lose too much, otherwise we gotta cut jobs”

 

“Exactly” Larry said, trying to hide the grin in his voice

 

“Ok, what we talking about money wise, Bruce? You got some guys that can go and get some good deals on machinery?” Jeffrey hoped, he hated laying people off.

 

“Yeah, sure have, the quicker the better though eh? We need to act fast in getting new stuff” Larry sat back in his chair

 

“Yeah…You got any idea who did this? Please tell me you’ve contacted the Sherriff?” Jeffrey was surprised this hadn’t been mentioned.

 

“Um…his next on my list of course Jeffrey”

 

“Good…keep me up to speed Bruce, we need to get these sons of bitches. Just um…..just take what money you need out the safe, I’ll sign the paperwork when I come in”

 

“Will do Jeffrey” Larry waited until he put the phone down and punched the air. He had full access to the safe.

 

News soon spread about the ‘robbery’, a couple of days later, Jeffrey made a visit to the Sherriff.

 

“Mr. Ellis, what a pleasure!”

 

“Who stole from me, tell me you know who these assholes are..?”

 

“Um…we’re working on it” The Sherriff sat down nervously

 

“Yeah? Really?…..work on it faster. People don’t steal machinery without it being noticed, you know that….I know that. Please do your job Sherriff”

 

Jeffrey Ellis spent a second too long burning the Sherriff with his stare, knowing he spent an unacceptable amount of time in Larry Bruce’s company.

 

The Sherriff nodded, and couldn’t wait for Jeffrey to leave.

 

 

Later that evening, around 8pm, Shona gets the bus into town to see the mother of the missing black boy.

 

“Any news yet?”

 

“No Shona….no. But I can’t give up hope, nope…for my boys sake I can’t give up hope.”

 

“We’ll find him….I promise we’ll find him” Shona squeezed her hand tight for reassurance

 

“And Cuban?…They found his….body?” The mother asked tentatively

 

Shona sadly shook her head.

 

“Well….I’ll be praying for the both of us then” The mother then squeezed Shona’s hand.

 

Shona left an hour or so later and trudged through the street that was lined with bars, including the infamous Reds. She was around fifty paces from the bus stop that would only take her so far then she had to walk the dark lonely road back to the barn when she was passing Reds, looking inside seeing moody lighting only guessing what really goes on in there and the typical customers.

 

As she was walking past it, she casually peered down a darkened alleyway that was right next to the entrance and stopped in shock.

 

She spotted two silhouettes, a man and a woman giggling, she recognised the man’s voice.

 

Kyle.

 

Was he with Chloe?

 

Shona could just make out that the woman had darker, shorter hair and was wearing a tight mini skirt, something Chloe wouldn’t be seen dead in.

 

“Nooooooo” Shona said to herself in shock, she quickly tried to hide but to where she could still see them.

 

Peering round the wall down the alleyway, she saw the young petite woman reach for Kyle’s belt.

 

“That’s it…”Shona heard Kyle say

 

Fixated in disgust, Shona watched as the woman dropped to her knees under Kyle’s orders, arching his back against the brick wall and grabbing her head, keeping it in position, groaning as she performed.

 

“Ooo sorry young lady!” a drunk guy had accidentally barged into Shona who was pushed slightly into Kyle’s view.

 

He looked towards Shona and saw her, their eyes met for a split second but long enough. Kyle seemed to get off on being watched.

 

Shona got out of there quickly, heart racing, sickened by what she saw.

 

 

Over the next two days, as if by magic, new machinery had arrived and worked commenced at Ellis and Bruce. Mysteriously, the Sherriff never found out who stole everything which made Ellis fume.

 

“Elbe….Elbe…come here” Shona whispered as she was sweeping up and saw Elbe come into the big workshop.

 

“Hey Shona!”

 

“Sssshhhhh….guess what?….Guess what I saw the other night?”

 

“No…what?” Elbe looked intrigued wondering why Shona was almost whispering

 

Shona then told Elbe all about seeing Kyle with the other woman down the alleyway, he was as shocked as disgusted as Shona.

 

Shona knew that would be going in the diary.

 

Buzzer

 

Elbe and Shona reluctantly trudged to the meeting place under the management balcony.

 

Shona found it painful to see Chloe especially knowing what she does about Kyle.

 

“Right everybody…” Larry started “We have a potential new investor called Ed Dawson, you probably will have heard of him. He is thinking of ploughing lots of money into us…IF…IF he is impressed at what he sees on his walk round. Now I don’t need to tell you that, he WILL be impressed right?”

 

Everybody in the audience nodded in unison fearful if they didn’t.

 

“Now…if for some reason he isn’t impressed, I wouldn’t like to be in your shoes, you understand? You make sure that you can eat your dinner off whatever surface surrounds you. I’ll be sending my trusted manager Kyle round to inspect, he knows my standards, right Kyle?”

 

“Absolutely Mr.Bruce” Kyle smirked at his power

 

“What an asshole” Elbe whispered

 

Shona sighed when they were told to go. “Great, let’s get to it then”

 

Thirty minutes into the deep clean in the workshop, Kyle appeared and made a beeline for Shona who stood upright as he approached her.

 

“Shona…I hope you listened good to what Mr.Bruce expects, the investor is on his way round”

 

Shona nodded trying to hide the face she really wanted to pull.

 

“Oh and another thing, Shona. What you saw the other night….you didn’t see, you understand what I’m saying don’t you? Nobody would believe somebody…..like you anyway. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, be careful Shona. I got shit on you too”

 

When Kyle left, he kicked over the bucket of dirty water, they had three to four minutes before Ed would be in that part of building.

 

“Son of a…..!” Shona tried to stem the flow of the disgustingly dirty water, Larry and the new investor would be round in minutes.

 

“I swear…I swear Elbe I’m fucking telling this…..this…Ed guy all about this fucking place. I’ve had it! I’m fucking telling him everything!”

 

Shona and Elbe frantically tried to clear up the mess, they could hear the laughter and pompous of the entourage nearing where they were.

 

“Shona listen to me…listen to me. You go and tell that guy…that…Ed. Then what? You hope that he will save you? Save us? We mean nothing, you hear? Nothing. All that will happen is you’ll end up getting yourself killed. You wont make it home tonight, did you not learn with what happened to Cuban? These are dangerous, dangerous people. You’d be a fool…..and you’d die in vain.”

 

“He needs to know….he needs to know where he’s gone spend a lot of his money.”

 

Shona seemed determined, fire in her eyes almost waiting for them to come through the door.

 

“Shona, I’m warning you…I can’t let you do this, not this way. I got a plan, you know that. Don’t do it like this, I’m begging you”

 

Elbe was pleading, he feared for his enraged friend.

 

“So Ed, this is one of the places where we fix, repair you name it.” Kyle was schmoozing with Ed, Larry in tow along with Ed’s accountant friend and Chloe right at the back looking frozen out.

 

“Right…looks nice and clean in here” Ed smiled towards Shona whose heart was smashing against her chest.

 

Shona faked a smile feeling eyes on her.

 

“So…who are you?” Ed asked warmly

 

“Oh..this is Shona, the only….female we have here…anyway..moving on, we got lots to get through Ed” Kyle tried to nudge Ed out of the workshop

 

“Hang on Kyle, I’m interested in …Shona? Is it? I mean, wow, it’s quite something that you are amongst all these guys, what’s it like working here..come on…tell me the truth now. Pretend these fellas aint here” Ed asked jokingly with a wide smile.

 

Shona wasn’t smiling.

 

“Don’t do it Shona…don’t you dare do it” Elbe whispered

 

Shona opened her mouth to speak.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 122

 

“Its…Its….a pleasure to work here Sir” Shona felt like she had just choked on those words. Elbe breathed a sigh of relief and shut his eyes as if thanking that his prayer was answered.

 

“Good…..thats…great Shona, keep up the good work” Ed was led on by Kyle, Debuty Paul giving Shona a deathly stare as he walked behind the entourage.

 

“You did the right thing, they’ll get whats coming to ‘em soon enough” Elbe said, gently patting Shonas arm.

 

 

“Princess..” Larry went into Chloe’s office who met him with an empty look.

 

“Its good news from Ed, he was impressed, let’s celebrate tonight with a family dinner at ours”

 

Chloe felt like she wasn’t being asked, but told and dutifully nodded, she had no voice, or opinion now. It didn’t count.

 

 

Elbe was stacking some boxes of spare parts when Chloe was walking by in a world of her own.

 

“Miss Chloe?”

 

Chloe looked up with a genuine smile for Elbe.

 

“Um Miss Chloe, sorry to bother you, I know you’re a busy lady and…forgiving me for saying but, Shona is um…Shona is finding life pretty difficult right now and….she could really do with a friend. That’s all I wanted to say”

 

They both stared at each other for what felt like a while knowing what it really meant. But Chloe felt powerless and could only manage a half smile and carried on her way.

 

At dinner, at the Bruces, everybody was in a jovial mood, apart from Chloe who was sat tense at the table whilst Kyle popped the cork of the champagne.

 

“Heres to us all, great day today, Ed absolutely loved us. I can almost smell the money already!” Kyle snorted, shortly followed by Larry. Eleanor was playing the dutiful wife by looking proud.

 

“Here you go darlin’, not too much for you, you’ll start playing up” Kyle said only pouring a delicate amount of champagne into Chloe’s glass. This infuriated her, but she daren’t say a thing. She was seen as Kyle’s property now.

 

“Well done boys!” Eleanor raised her glass forgetting to mention that Chloe played an integral role in persuading Ed to invest his money in Ellis and Bruce over their rivals.

 

Reluctantly, Chloe clinked glasses. She was torn between making the evening last as long as possible at her parents or going home for an early night, but that only meant that Kyle would be in an even more ravenous mood. She opted for the lesser evil to prolong the dinner.

 

“I went into town today to get my dress altered for the dinner next week and god…I saw those two filthy, disgusting animals outside Johns shop…makes my skin crawl” Eleanor screwed up her face to emphasise.

 

“Pete and Ronnie…they still here?” Larry said putting down his knife and fork

 

“Yeah, they need putting to sleep before they poison this town and give it a bad name, I’m surprised that nobody has….um…had them removed. We all know they’re together, they live together, no children, no wives it’s the worst kept secret in Daynes in ten years” Eleanor lifted her shoulders.

 

“Do they look happy?” The table fell silent as Chloe finally spoke up looking at the condiments, she didn’t want to make eye contact with her mother.

 

“Say what?” Eleanor asked Chloe to repeat

 

“Pete and Ronnie….do they look happy together?” Chloe looked deadly serious

 

“I don’t care if they are happy, they’re dangerous, they’re sick. They’ll prey on all the children in this town, you’ll see. You stay away from them. I’m sure your father will have a word with the Sherriff to see about….. eradicating ‘em” Eleanor said with venom.

 

Chloe didn’t reply. A single tear formed but daren’t drop.

 

Eradicating them’ that’s what Chloe kept hearing in her head. ‘Eradicating them’

 

Pete and Ronnie weren’t seen around town again. It didn’t take a genius to work out what had happened.

 

 

 

Chapter 123

 

A couple of miserable days later, Chloe called for Shona for a ‘meeting’ at work. Both hadn’t spoken properly for what felt like forever and Chloe had a dull ache that she couldn’t shift. It only went away when she was in Shona’s company. As Chloe was one of the bosses, she knew she could get away with summoning an employee to her office, no matter what her real intentions were.

 

Knock Knock

“Um..” Chloe coughs a nervous cough “Come in”

 

Shona cautiously opens the door worried Kyle would be in there but was visibly relieved when he wasn’t. They were alone.

 

“Um..I was told you wanted to see” Shona said in a quiet voice, her normally bright blue eyes seemed dull due to constant struggle, hurt and disappointment.

 

“Yes…..yes…Um, please….have a seat” Chloe seemed the more nervous, feeling her ulterior motive was beaming from her face.

 

“Thanks”

 

Shona sat down and folded her arms protectively, looking round the office whilst Chloe got her notepad opened, pen poised.

 

“Ok..Shona…I was asking a few employees for….feedback, so now it’s your turn” Chloe lied

 

“What kinda feedback?” Shona frowned, confused

 

“You know…um how to make this place a little better” Chloe half smiled, struggling to control her heart beating out of her chest.

 

Shona was thinking she better not say that by beating Kyle and Chloe’s father to a pulp would make life a lot better.

 

“I’m not sure….” Shona looked disengaged, tapping nervously, she was hurting big time, totally distracted, she couldn’t think straight. Chloe, instead of finishing the conversation, tried in vain to extend it by hinting about the ideas Shona told her when they were Eds Diner.

 

“Ok…what about what you told me in….Eds Diner? You remember?” Chloe said, hopefully

 

Shona half smiled thinking that seemed an age ago where she could remember the sweet scent Chloe was wearing, the hope she had that things might have been different between them, not how bleak life is now.

 

“Umm…. Wreckers and here are….completely different. I’m sure those things could happen here.”

 

Shona said, downtrodden

 

“Well…..let me try at least” Chloe was almost wanted to be tested, so she could impress Shona with her ‘can-do’ attitude. Why? That was too scary to think about.

 

Shona just about had the strength to look up and make eye contact with Chloe, the pang of hurt almost intolerable for them both.

 

Licking her lips as if preparing herself to open up a little, Shona reeled off some ideas that would help life at Ellis and Bruce, including better food, finishing earlier on a Friday, better more comfortable overalls, slightly longer breaks who knows if Chloe would be able to implement them, but Shona had put it out there. She was surprised to see Chloe frantically writing everything down, really paying attention.

 

“Any more?” Chloe asked, pen still hand hoping their meeting would last a little longer.

 

Shona shook her head.

 

“Well, thank you…Shona. I’ll see about getting some of these things here”

 

Shona stifled a sniff of ‘yeah right’ as she knew how tough it really was here.

 

“Ok…can I go?” Shona looked almost too eager which broke Chloe’s heart, but under the circumstances, it was understandable.

 

“Of course….um..Shona ..you well?” Chloe asked trying in vain to claw back another minute or two in her undivided company.

 

“Yeah..” Shona lied “You?”

 

Chloe wanted to burst into tears at how miserable she was with Kyle, how badly she was getting treated at home and now at work with being the ‘little woman’ but it was too dangerous a place to confess.

 

“Yeah” was all Chloe could manage.

 

“Ooooo what did I miss!?” Kyle barged into Chloe’s office just as Shona was about to walk out.

 

“Just a……feedback meeting that’s all” Chloe replied quickly

 

Kyle stared at Shona with rage

 

“Oh…please share your feedback Shona, I can’t wait to hear it” Kyle said sarcastically

 

Shona stared equally as hard back, not saying a thing.

 

“Um..Kyle, I’ll share with you …Shona needs to get back to work”

 

Without a word and an extra second or so stare at Kyle, she returned to work.

 

Chloe hid her notes from Kyle as he closed the office door and approached her desk. She was still struggling to calm her heart beating out of her chest, she didn’t know whether it was she was nearly ‘caught’ with Shona when she knew she hadn’t asked other employees for feedback, or because she felt strong stirrings whenever she was in Shona’s company.

 

Chloe knew deep down what it was.

 

 

 

Chapter 124

 

For the next long week or so, Shona and Chloe kept an aching distance. Shona was starring to accept that Chloe would never be like she was; free and happy. It was an unspoken pain whenever they were in each others company or whether they went too long without seeing each other.

 

Chloe broke first.

 

“Shona..” Chloe knew where Shona was working, sweeping up after the one of the trucks had been repaired and driven to its destination. Chloe’s voice startled Shona who was in her own world, but was spooked and quickly looked behind her to see Chloe walk towards her. The breeze ensuring that Shona was engulfed in the usual sweet scent she had loved.

 

“Um….Miss Chloe” Shona nodded, trying to remain cool.

 

“You…well?” Chloe asked trying to look professional and boss-like with her clip board, making pretend ‘notes’. It was just an excuse.

 

Shona smiled a sarcastic smile as if to say ‘you gotta be joking’ but remained polite and just nodded her reply and began to slowly sweep.

 

“Hows….Tom and Ruby?” Chloe said looking like she was writing something down, if only Shona knew it was doodles.

 

“They’re ok….thanks” Shona looked up for a second or two then plucked up the courage to ask her own question that she had been dying to ask.

 

“You been painting?”

 

“Excuse me?” Chloe stopped ‘writing’

 

“Painting…on the canvas I sent” Shona stood upright with the broom in one hand.

 

“So that was you…?” Chloe tried in vain to hold in her feelings, it was excruciating.

 

Shona nodded “I couldn’t exactly…shout about it could I?”

 

They looked at each other dead in the eyes, speaking more things than was what coming out verbally. They felt a physically pain at not being able to speak freely, but this was all they had.

 

“No…I guess not” Chloe half smiled, totally understanding.

 

“So have you?…you done any paintings I could see?” Shona asked a little more softly

 

“Um..no…no I’m afraid not. Been to…busy, you know how it is” Chloe lied

 

Shona softness disappeared

 

“You mean…Kyle don’t like it, thinks it’s a waste of time, got you doing other things…or…all the above?” Shona was feeling brave, but she didn’t care anymore

 

“Shona…may I remind you that Kyle, is your boss and I wont speak bad about him in an unprofessional manner” Chloe couldn’t make eye contact, as she didn’t believe her own words.

 

Shona nodded, slightly screwing up her lips.

 

“Uh huh…well… from where I’m standing, he’s not just my boss…is he?” Shona said with a hint of anger, she didn’t bother waiting for a reply instead just saying “Good day Miss Chloe”. That wasn’t easy for Shona to do when everything was pulling her back.

 

Shona walking away from Chloe was like a knife to her thudding heart.

 

Chapter 125

 

The end of the week and Shona was doing some overtime with Elbe, they didn’t have a choice. A lot of the workers were heading out for a work ‘meeting’ at the local high end bar, so everybody was dressed up at work as that was the meeting place.

 

“My goodness, what a beautiful young lady..” Elbe stopped what he was doing as he spied Chloe coming out of her office dressed in a clingy red dress that had one shoulder cut off.

 

Shona didn’t reply, but agreed in her head. Chloe looked stunning. Shona snapped out of her staring when Chloe caught her looking up,but it was too late. Strangely, Chloe felt reassured that Shona ‘saw’ her. Chloe wished Shona was coming, but as always, Kyle made sure they were far apart.

 

Kyle greeted Chloe with a kiss on the balcony and whispered:

 

“Just think, every woman wants to be where you are…and every man wants to be where I am….I can’t wait to rip this dress off you tonight, it’s getting me hard just thinking about it” then he nuzzled Chloe’s neck.

 

Chloe felt cheap and the total opposite of aroused.

 

Shona looked on and swallowed hard in anger, it was agony to watch.

 

“Anyway, whats these…ideas you plan on talking about tonight?” Kyle asked as he stroked Chloe’s behind as if claiming his property.

 

“You’ll see…it’s a surprise” Chloe faked her smile and made a bee line for the transport to take them to the bar.

 

 

Chapter 126

 

Early the following morning, Shona and Elbe were amongst the first in. She knew a lot of people would be hung over from the ‘work meeting’ the night before and just got on with it.

 

“Shona” Ron Black made her jump, she wasn’t expecting to see anybody for at least a n hour or so, but Ron was one of the good, eager guys.

 

“Ron…” Shona replied

 

“I just want say well done…well done on getting your ideas across. You’ve made this a better place to be, damn good ideas there”

 

Ron playfully slapped Shona on the back who was confused.

 

“Did you see that, Elbe?” Shona said still frozen in her ‘back slapping’ position eyebrows raised in surprise.

 

“Sure did…what in the hell is he talkin’ bout?”

 

Shona shook her head.

 

Gradually, a hive of activity ensured at Ellis and Bruce as hungover workers relived the night before. They seemed to be in quite a jovial mood, it was strange.

10 am Buzzer

 

Shona and Elbe make their way to the canteen but are stopped every couple of metres.

 

“I gotta say it, thanks a lot Shona, I judged you when I shouldn’t have”

 

“Nice one girl!”

 

“You aint so bad after all! Thank you!”

 

Shona and Elbe couldn’t believe the turn around,and they had no idea why.

 

One table even clapped appreciatively in Shona’s direction.

 

“This is weird, what the fuck is goin’ on?”

 

“No idea” Elbe couldn’t believe what he was witnessing.

 

 

Shona got up to get some food from the head chef (which she always dreaded) but the mood was completely different. She heard him singing..a happy tune.

 

“Shona!…well, listen honey, I had you down as nothing but a nigger lover, a broad who wanted to cause trouble here well, but I see you as so much more now. Hell, you can have whatever you want, I’ll cook it for you on the spot!”

 

The head chef seemed genuine as it was freaking Shona out.

 

“Um…..can I ask..why?” Shona was now really confused.

 

“Why!? Well darlin’, whoever makes it so I get a pay rise, I get Friday afternoons off to go take my little girl to dancing lessons, gets me some help in this kitchen, better uniform rather than this itchy piece of shit and better quality food of my choosing…is more than alright with me” He said with a genuine smile on his face.

 

This still didn’t clear things up.

 

“Randy….Randy, can I borrow you a second?” Shona discreetly called over to Randy who beamed when he saw Shona and instantly came over to her table.

 

“Hey Shona! Quite the hero!” Randy said giving Shona a side-on hug squishing her.

 

“Yeah…Um about that, how come? What the hell is going on?” Shona asked quietly, Elbe leaning in to hear across the table.

 

“You don’t know? Oh…you weren’t there last night were you? Well, we had some ‘well done’ dinner and drinks organised by the beautiful Miss Chloe and she got up and did a speech…”

 

Randy said, leaving Shona hanging on

 

“And…? What did she say?” Shona leaned in, edge of her seat.

 

“She said there were gone be some immediate changes, and they were all your ideas so that we should thank you” Randy smiled

 

“Wow…um…” Shona looked at Elbe who raised his eyebrows in a knowing way as if a code between him and Shona.

 

“So, what ideas did she use?” Shona eager to learn more

 

“I can’t remember all of them, but there’s a few!…Um..to start with, we are all getting a pay rise, getting better overalls, Friday we finish at 12 on same pay, we start half an hour later, we are getting better equipment…that’s to name but a few. You really are a miracle Shona. How in the hell did you pull that off. I don’t even think she listens to Kyle the way she has listened to you!”

 

Randy playfully back slapped Shona and went back over to the guys leaving Shona in shock.

 

“Here let me get that for you Shona” One of the guys who usually went out of his way to make life miserable for Shona, helped her with some heavy boxes full of parts. Shona smile her appreciation.

 

“Quite the hero round here”

 

It was Chloe

 

Eventhough Shona wanted to be tough around Chloe, she couldn’t fail to smile, it was a nice moment between the two of them.

 

“Yeah, seems like it….all thanks to you I hear” Shona grinned

 

“Well, I just….listened” Chloe’s chest was beating fast.

 

“I appreciate it, and so do the guys. How did you….get it past it…Kyle, your father, how?”

 

Shona frowned when she asked her question, she was amazed that her ideas would be backed.

 

“I have my ways” Chloe looked a little uncomfortable, but Shona didn’t care.

 

“Thank you…thank you for listening” Shona smiled and hoped Chloe read her mind.

 

She did.

 

 

“Who in the hell does this… whore think she is, manipulating my daughter Chloe into bringing these ideas to my company!”

 

Larry Bruce was fuming as he saw Chloe walking away from speaking to Shona out of his office window.

 

“I don’t know Larry, Chloe told me they were her ideas, hers, not that…..bitch Shona. I would never have agreed to the changes if I knew otherwise. She’s made a fool out of me that Shona and Chloe. What she some white Rosa Parks now messing up the system?”

 

Kyle punched the wall, Larry didn’t flinch.

 

“I thought it was all calming down Larry, I swear, I made it so Chloe and…..her had little to do with eachother, but this is….this is beyond the joke. Shona has got into her head, she’s putting your daughter in danger Larry, we gotta do something”

 

Kyle slumped in his office chair raging

 

“Let me have a think young Kyle. You never win a war in anger. We let it go calm, you hear? We let it go calm. But it will be the calm before the god damn storm from hell”

 

Larry swigged some more whisky.

 

 

Chapter 127

 

Things did seem eerily calm around Ellis and Bruce, jovial even. The workers were loving their new conditions, and the prospect of Friday afternoons off, mostly everybody tipped their hat to Shona when they saw her, she was almost a damn hero! Almost. There were still the hard cores who despised her.

 

 

“You know Elbe, with that extra cash in our pockets, looks like our dreams are getting nearer eh?”

 

Shona was fixing a shelf that had come away from the wall, Elbe was secretly writing in his diary.

 

“Yeah, and that’s all because of you…and Miss Chloe. I tell ya, it’s a god damn miracle that she managed to get those changes, my god, the food is delicious now!”

 

Shona smiled, she actually felt quite proud of herself..and Chloe.

 

“Sweetie, we have a dinner tonight, at the Redmans..business, make sure you cover up this time, think you’ll give Bobby a heart failure if your skirt is above your knees again..”

 

Kyle wasn’t asking, he was telling Chloe as he walked into her office. Chloe felt like she was ‘caught’ daydreaming….about Shona. It was impossible not to think of her, she either missed her or everybody was talking about her with all the new changes round here.

 

“Oh…um what?” Chloe hadn’t taken in a word

 

Kyle repeated, looking annoyed, his girlfriend getting more and more distant.

 

Chloe felt claustrophobic, she hated these dinners. It consisted of dinner then the men spending hours smoking cigars, bragging and drinking whiskey when then led to Kyle insisting they make love…whether Chloe wanted to or not.

 

Kyle left the office, not even waiting for an answer.

 

Chloe’s heart was pounding, she couldn’t face being at another dinner with a man she detested drinking with people she couldn’t identify with.

 

Getting up, knocking a pen off the desk, feeling anxious, she marched into Kyle’s office down the corridor.

 

“Um…I wont be at the dinner tonight, I’ve made other plans”

 

Chloe said, not wanting to admit it, but she was intimidated which was crazy as she was Kyle’s boss.

 

“What? What you talking about? Where you going?” Kyle snapped

 

“Out…with the girls, some girls in town, or maybe round their houses, you know, trying on dresses and stuff” Chloe lied

 

“Which…girls? You never mentioned it” Kyle got up slowly

 

“I do have friends Kyle” Chloe tried to laugh, but it was fake

 

And she left.

 

Kyle was enraged.

 

 

“I’m gone jump right in that ocean when I get to the Californian coast I tell ya, clothes and all!”

 

Shona joked with Elbe

 

“Good luck to ya…I’ll be taking my granddaughter to school, Oh Shona I can’t wait!”

 

Elbe replied, smiling from ear to ear.

 

“Shona!”

 

“Chloe?….You alright?” Chloe burst into the tool room, Elbe instinctively hid the diary, but once seeing it was Miss Chloe felt safer.

 

“Yeah..listen, will you meet me…tonight?” Chloe asked, almost out of breath

 

“Um..ok..where? When ?” Shona looked confused

 

“The riverbank…you remember?” Chloe gave Shona a knowing look, it was where they spent a lovely time riding.

 

“Yeah..of course” Shona swallowed, it felt painful to remember

 

“8 o’clock, gotta go!”

 

Chloe disappeared as quick as she arrived.

 

“What in the hell was that all about?” Elbe asked fixing his cap

 

“No idea” Shona replied, but you could bet that Shona would be there.

 

 

Chapter 128

 

“You’ve hardly touched your food. You ok Shona? I thought chicken was your favourite?” Ruby looked a little disheartened at Shona’s almost untouched plate, Tom looked on.

 

“It is…It’s amazing, I’m just..I need to freshen up and head out, got some thinking to do”

 

Shona played with the veg with her fork

 

“Where you goin’?” Tom asked, concerned

 

“Just by the Weaver, I’ll take Storm give her a run out. Listen, thanks for dinner”

 

Shona got up, scraped the leftover food into the food waste bin, and washed her plate and cutlery in silence, freshened up, got Storm and headed to ‘the’ place by the Weaver heart racing.

 

 

The evening was perfect, still bright, warm and inviting. Storm was busy eating shrubs and safely tied to a tree, Shona kept taking deep breaths awaiting Chloe’s arrival. What did she want? Was she leaving Ellis and Bruce? Was she getting married to the asshole Kyle? Literally every scenario went through her head, but a few she daren’t not dream about. They were too painful.

 

Chloe still hadn’t arrived, she was ten minutes late, twenty.

 

“God damn it!” Shona kicked some stones out of sheer frustration and hurt, which momentarily spooked Storm, who then continued eating.

 

“What do I do Storm? Do we wait? Or we head home huh?” Shona stroked Storm wishing for an answer.

 

Shona left it for another couple of minutes and jumped up on Storm to take a slow bimble back to the barn when Storm was spooked again and bucked.

 

“What is it!?” Shona asked out loud

 

Getting Storm under control, she spun her around to see a familiar Red car speeding down the road parallel to the river.

 

It was Chloe.

 

Shona’s heart starting racing again, she didn’t a clue what Chloe wanted to meet about, she was getting fed up of being hurt, being hopeful, then being hurt again.

 

“Come on..” Shona led Storm over to Chloe’s direction who had abandoned her car into lay-by and got out and started walking fast towards Shona.

 

“Shona..” Chloe said out of breath, looking round and over her shoulder.

 

Shona, suspicious said a polite ‘Chloe’ back

 

“Listen, Shona…I’m so sorry I’m late um…”

 

“Kyle right?” Shona knew what the issue was

 

“Something like that” Chloe admitted

 

“Does he…know you’re meeting me ‘cos that man hates me, he will go nuts if he doesn’t know and will make my life hell, just when…if I’m being honest, it’s started to be kinda….alright”

 

Shona felt a little bad for essentially implying that Chloe was ‘bothering’ her.

 

Chloe’s face dropped

 

“He …doesn’t know, no. I told him I… was meeting some of the girls”

 

Chloe felt ashamed she had to lie to her ‘boyfriend’.

 

“Uh huh…does that seem right to you? I mean, it aint my business and all that, but don’t you think its worrying that you have to lie to him?”

 

Shona weirdly felt more confident than Chloe.

 

“I know…I know” Chloe struggled not to be upset and rubbed her eye, smearing some of her make-up.

 

“I don’t know if you know what that man is capable of but-“

 

“-I do know Shona, I do know” Chloe snapped

 

This took Shona back, how the tables had turned. Shona maybe the poorest, but strangely she was the happiest out of the two of them, and felt freer and somehow able to move on.

“I’m sorry…” Shona replied feeling sad for the stunning but shadow of a woman in front of her.

 

“Chloe um…can I ask…um…why you wanted to meet me…here?”

 

Shona prodded gently as she got down off of Storm.

 

Chloe started to cry, Shona was reluctant to hold her, she wouldn’t want to let her go, it was hard enough mentally moving on as it was.

 

“I feel so….trapped. I don’t know what to do Shona” Chloe started sobbing.

 

“Here…come and sit here” Shona led Chloe to a comfortable patch where they could sit.

 

“You have no idea what it’s like living as I do, having to be a certain way, dress a certain way, be with a certain man who has to be wealthy” Chloe continued

 

Shona gently rubbed Chloe’s back to soothe her, being careful not to get too close, it was painful as it was.

 

“I know…” Shona whispered

 

“The dinners, the parties, the….fake people, my family. If only they knew”

 

“Could you not just tell them that….you and Kyle have split?”

 

Shona asked, Chloe looked round at Shona, directly in her eyes, confused.

 

“What are you talking about?” Chloe asked

 

“You and…Kyle? I mean, I know it probably made good business sense you two being together, but if he doesn’t make you happy, to hell what everybody thinks, people split all the time…”

 

“You don’t get it do you?” Chloe shook her head as she spoke only inches away from Shona.

 

“Get what?” Shona frowned in confusion

 

“It’s you….It’s you I’m talking about, my feelings for you, I can’t keep them inside anymore”

 

Chloe then sobbed uncontrollably, leaving Shona completely stunned as Chloe buries her head into Shona neck.

 

Shit.

 

What happens now?

 

 

 

Chapter 129

 

“Wait….wait a minute, what are you saying? What are you really saying?” Shona shot up, almost spooked by what she heard, leaving a crumbled Chloe wiping her face, completely broken.

 

“You know what I’m saying. It’s like….I want to scream but I feel so damn trapped, and yet what I feel about you makes me feel so….right. It always has. I tried to shut it off, but the pain got …worse” Chloe said, looking quite pathetic, but still beautiful.

 

“That kinda…feeling is dangerous in these parts, you know that. Not to mention that Kyle is the nastier piece of work I ever met…apart from…..your father, sorry, but he is. Do you know how many days and nights I have prayed for you to say those words, I mean begged for you to say that, but….when I saw you get with..him I made a decision, I was gone move on with my life and it hurt real bad seeing you two together especially as I know how unhappy he makes you. But you know what?…The pain, every day, it started to get a little less, I got used to ..not seeing you as much, and…then, things started getting….better at work. Kyle and your father left me alone and now I’m planning for trips. So…I just feel that it’s…too late for…this…us. This town, this state I don’t know, we could never, you know.”

 

Chloe was completely heartbroken and put her head in her hands, that wasn’t the response she thought she’d get. She had nowhere to turn, Shona had rejected her and Kyle was a monster. Shona couldn’t believe she was turning down the most eligible and stunning woman in Alabama.

 

“I know all about you…” Chloe said through tears, half smiling

 

“What do you mean?” Shona questioned

 

“I met Dorothy, I asked about your past…I know why you had to leave Louisiana”

 

Shona looked shocked, her past was literally coming back to haunt her, most people would be disgusted, but not Chloe so it would seem.

 

“Why did you…visit Dorothy? She ok?” Shona looked a little alarmed

 

“I just wanted to know more…I missed you, I missed you like you wouldn’t understand” Chloe said, another tear falling

 

Shona did understand.

 

Chloe continued “ I know about you being set-up and everybody finding out, I know about your father, your mother and how she died….”

 

This freaked Shona out, they were memories that she had buried and now they were being raked up, maybe Chloe didn’t mean to, but the panic came back of when she ‘fell’ deeply for that prostitute (‘Loose Lucy’) she got hurt, ridiculed then beat like you wouldn’t believe. She had never allowed herself to let anybody else in.

 

“Then you’ll understand how dangerous it can be” Shona said coldly, with a tear fighting to drip from her own eyes.

 

Chloe looked surprised at how tough Shona was being, she didn’t understand it was to protect her.

 

They stared at eachother for a second or two in silence.

 

“Listen, I’m sorry Chloe, I gotta go…Bye” Then Shona swiftly got up on Storm and trotted back to the barn leaving a devastated Chloe to go back to a cold, cruel home she shared with a man she hated.

 

 

“Which friend did you say you were seeing?” Kyle verbally pounced on Chloe as soon as she came through the front door, she had only just got her face to ‘look’ like she wasn’t upset anymore.

 

“Um…Cindy” Chloe couldn’t make eye contact with Kyle as she put her keys down and took her bag off.

 

“Cindy?…You sure?” Kyle stared directly at Chloe

 

“Yeah…you know, Cindy” Chloe went to move past Kyle when he grabbed her and pinned her against the wall

 

“Kyle! What you doin’!?” Chloe pleaded

 

“Cindy….you say? We both know that’s a fucking lie! I went to all your friends, none of them know a fucking…Cindy! Nobody knew where you were, so where the fuck were you!” Kyle slammed Chloe’s writsts against the wall as he was grabbing them, leaving Chloe petrified.

 

“Kyle you’re hurting me!” Chloe said crying with fear

 

“Nowhere near like you’re hurting me….who you fucking!?”

 

Kyle then grabbed Chloe’s face to where they were nose to nose, she could see the rage in his face, he still had hold of one of her wrists.

 

“Nobody!…Nobody!..I just went for a drive, I needed to think” Chloe ‘confessed’, never daring to mention Shona’s name

 

“So you did fucking lie to me!” Kyle shouted then he slapped Chloe, hard around the head, purposely avoiding her face, it sent her to the floor like a stone with the force.

 

Shaking in absolute terror, Chloe tried to sit up

 

“I’m sorry…I’m sorry Kyle, please, I’m sorry” She held her hands up in a ‘please don’t hurt me anymore’ manner.

 

“Look at you, who the fuck would want you anyway, the state of you” Kyle snarled

 

He got on his knees so he was level with Chloe, she was scared he would attack her again and flinched

 

“Oh Chloe…Chloe…sweetie…You’re nothing without me, the business would go bust without me being with you, you just don’t understand how lucky you are to still have a job, and a business… well, you’d better start appreciating”

 

He dragged Chloe up off the floor she yelped as he wrists were red raw already, he spun her around to where she was facing the wall, he undid his trousers, lifted up Chloe’s dress, ripped her underwear and entered her roughly.

 

 

“So..how’d it go with…you know….Miss Chloe?” Elbe whispered to a distant looking Shona who was back at square one with her confusion.

 

“She told me everything…she has…feelings for me Elbe, real feelings like she wants to be with me” Shona whispered back as they were cleaning the sides down in one of the workshops.

 

“Well? That’s great aint it!?” Elbe smiled

 

“It should be but…I think its just come too late” Shona said sadly

 

“Too late for who?….In my book, love is never too late to grab a hold of, even if you only spend a day together in love, that will be the best day of your life, trust me”

 

Shona couldn’t believe Elbe was so understanding about…everybody. It got Shona thinking.

 

 

An hour or so later, Elbe was walking past Miss Chloe’s office when he saw he struggling with a some box files to put up on a shelf.

 

“Here, let me help Miss Chloe” Elbe darted in to help.

 

“Oh thank you Elbe..thank you” Chloe replied

 

At the exact same time, Elbe spotted Chloe’s uncharacteristically long sleeved shirt rise up her fore-arms exposing deep black and blue bruising on both wrists as she was about to hand the box over.

 

“Um…” Chloe looks devastated

 

“Miss Chloe..? You…Ok?” It broke Elbe’s heart, he knew what the bruises meant.

 

“Um..yes..Yes I’m fine Elbe, thank you for your help, now, I’m pretty busy, so if you’ll excuse me” Chloe couldn’t make eye contact.

 

“Of course Miss Chloe…of course” Elbe, saddened walked out of her office, to find Shona.

 

 

“Its time” Elbe said assertively

 

“Time? For what?” Shona asked confused

 

“It’s time I expose that son of a bitch Kyle and all the others”

 

Elbe said looking for his diary and quickly scribbling in it.

 

“What are you talking about?” Shona said looking round to make sure nobody was in ear shot.

 

“I’ve just seen Miss Chloe, and she got bruises, nasty bruises all up her forearms and she looked mighty embarrassed that I saw ‘em too. What do you think that means huh?” Elbe said with emotion in his voice

 

“Oh no..” Shona said head dropping

 

“Nobody…especially no woman deserves that, she’s such a lovely little thing too” Elbe said finishing up the last few words

 

“So what you gone do Elbe?” Shona looking back at Elbe huddled

 

“I’m gon’ go to the damn paper and tell ‘em everything”

 

 

Chapter 130

 

 

That night, all Shona could think of were the bruises that Elbe told her of on Chloe. And they were only the bruises she could see, what horrors had she really gone through?

 

It was times like this, in the middle of the night, she missed Cuban, it felt so cold and lonely without him, she drew strength from him. It would be another painful hour or so before she finally managed to drift off.

 

 

“Thank you Jimmy” Chloe said to Jimmy handing her some paperwork the following morning. Her head wasn’t in work, she was all over the place, feeling lost, rejected, confused all rolled into one.

 

She had started to try and work late in order to avoid going home to Kyle, but cottoned on to that and ‘insisted’ Chloe came home at a reasonable hour. There was no escape.

 

Chloe, head down walked to her in-tray that was just inside her office door to put Jimmy’s figures in when she spotted something tucked underneath a few sheets of paper. Slowly lifting the paper up, she a perfect swan made out of paper and a smile crept across her face, it could have only been made by one person; Shona.

 

With her heart racing, she struggled to understand what this meant, was it just a kind gesture, something more?

 

“Hi honey….ermm what you doing?” Kyle walked in unannounced catching Chloe quickly shuffling paper to hide the swan down the side of the in-tray out of Kyles’ sight.

 

“Nothing, nothing…just…trying to sort these damn papers out, you know?” Chloe couldn’t’ make eye contact

 

“Uh huh…” Kyle wasn’t convinced, in fact he was highly suspicious. Chloe wasn’t allowed to do anything without his say-so now.

 

“Anyway” Kyle says “We have a dinner tonight at the Langdons…don’t wear something that makes you look cheap again, understood honey?” Kyle said gripping Chloe’s arms a little too hard

 

“Yeah, of course..” Chloe was broken and said whatever she needed to give her breathing space

 

 

 

“Listen Elbe, do you really need to…go to the papers? I mean that’s dangerous, what about just telling Jeffrey?”

 

Shona and Elbe were sitting together at the 10am break, almost huddled aware there were ‘ears’ around them.

 

“Because he is one man… have you tried to ever get to him on your own? I tried that twice already and I know that Kyle thinks I’m up to something as he’s been nearby when I’ve tried to get Jeffrey on his own. Now I got one shot at this, its gotta be right, and its gotta be big. We need the whole town on our side, not just one man and… boy…when that story lands, Larry Bruce and his thugs will be……history”

 

Shona could see how serious Elbe was and it frightened her.

 

“Shona..” Shona spun round and saw a pale Chloe trying to smile at her, Elbe could feel the chemistry between them.

 

“Chloe…You….ok?” Shona asked gently

 

Chloe nodded unconvincingly.

 

“I just wanted to say…thanks… I got your…message in my in-tray” Chloe smile hoping she would receive some kind of acknowledgment back

 

She did.

 

Shona slowly beamed, he eyes too and she replied “You’re very welcome”

 

“Well I…don’t want to take up too much more of your break so…have a good day” Chloe said as if she was an introvert

 

“You too”

 

“Bye Miss Chloe” Elbe said, given Shona a knowing look.

 

 

After work, Elbe went to the same coffee shop he knew where the reporter hung out and was surprised that he spotted him right away.

 

“Business must be slow if he is always in here..” Elbe said to himself before he walked up to the table where the reporter was sitting.

 

“Hey young man, you looking for the story of all stories?” Elbe said to the Reporter who had been waiting for this moment for a long time.

 

 

Chapter 131

 

“Larry? Its me….yeah….Listen, who you been upsetting? I just had one of my reporters tell me he has a major story on you, this old guy, Elbe..its got here… has been keeping details in some diary that he’s gone bring with him tomorrow night. What do you want me to do?”

 

The editor of the only major paper in the state listened intently for the answer.

 

“You leave him to me”

 

Larry hung up.

 

 

The next day, everything was an eerie calm at work. Elbe tried to cover his shaking, nervous hands when he was cleaning or mending. He may have been tough, but this what highly dangerous what he was doing.

 

“You alright?” Shona whispered to Elbe

 

“Yeah…I’ve wanted to do this for a long time. Listen, Shona, you know where my…escape box is, don’t you?”

 

Elbe asked quietly

 

“Yeah, course I do…why?” Shona was concerned, she hadn’t heard Elbe like this before.

 

“Everything in there….its yours, understand?” Elbe voice cracked a little.

 

“Elbe, what you talking about?” Shona looked around to make sure nobody could hear them.

 

“Just in case, just in case” Elbe smiled and patted Shona’s arm who feared for her beloved friend.

 

 

“Maybe you should consider working…in another company for a while, you know, to see how they do things, good for experience”

 

Kyle said intimidatingly to Chloe, he knew there was still a connection between her and Shona.

 

“Um…no, I’m fine here Kyle…Thanks” Chloe had a bit more bite in her reply, the thought of being too far away from Shona made her go cold.

 

“Well, let’s see what your father says” and Kyle left the table they just finished a meeting, leaving Chloe fuming.

 

 

“Hey Elbe, here’s my money, I always pay up!” Tommy Dunn gave Elbe his bet money after Tommy lost again on the baseball.

 

“Hey Tommy, it’s a pleasure taking your money, and you bet I’ll be taking it again! After the weekend!” Elbe said smiling, putting the money in his pocket after getting out of his truck near to where he was due to meet the reporter.

 

 

Two men were keeping watch near the door to the diner where Elbe was meeting the reporter.

 

“There he is”

 

“Yep that’s him, let’s go”

 

 

“You’re coming with us for a little ride Old man” The two men grabbed Elbe, breaking his arm, punching him unconscious just as he was about to scream and dragged him to a nearby car.

 

He was dumped by the side of a road two miles away, dead.

 

 

 

After Shona was given the news of Elbe’s death, devastated, she dragged herself to see the Sherriff, even though she knew there was no hope.

 

“Excuse me..can you tell me what happened to Elbe, the guy beaten to death earlier, you caught the guys yet?” Shona was choking on tears.

 

“It’s the Sherriff you really need to speak to, I just have access to the items on him, you family?” The snooty receptionist said looking down her nose at Shona

 

“As good as, what did he…have on him…?” Shona said just managing to lift her head to make eye contact

 

“Ermm…well let’s see now… 3 dollars, a pencil, some scribbles, a hanky, that’s about it”

 

“What are the notes?” Shona asked frowning, her head was pounding

 

“One says ‘Box’ the other says…..’Escape’, ans this one says ‘Shona’….well that’s bizarre, why did he write it on three separate slips?” The receptionist looked almost dismissive

 

Because he wanted to tell me a message Shona thought, the escape box, I’m to go to the escape box.

 

“Was there…anything else? In his bag? A book? Diary type thing?”

 

“No I’m afraid not” The receptionist shook her head

 

 

Shit.

 

Elbe had no doubt put everything in that diary, would he have unwittingly put Shona in danger? She had to get her hands on it.

 

“Sherriff?” Shona waited two hours to speak to him

 

“Yeah?”

 

Shona introduced herself as to why she was there

 

“It wasn’t just a random beating Sherriff” Shona said, a bit more grit about her

 

“I think you’re right …Shona? Is it?” Sherriff replied, Shona nodding

 

He carried on “It was a mugging gone wrong, a witness even claimed they saw a man give Elbe money then it was after that he was attacked, so there you go, cut and dry, the man was robbed and unfortunately beat”

 

The Sherriff, annoyed at being questioned thought that would shut Shona up.

 

“Yeah? Then why did he have money on him still?” Shona said looking the Sherriff straight in the eye.

 

“As you seemed to be a…better detective than us here, I’m sure you’ll do all the work yourself” the Sherriff said menacingly.

 

“It was targeted Sir, just find the scum that did this….please” Shona’s eyes were filled with tears.

 

Shona quietly left to break down in tears at the barn where Tom and Ruby did their best to comfort her.

 

 

The next day at work, it was a sombre atmosphere. People were genuinely frightened, it was a general view that it was a targeted attack as most people liked Elbe.

 

The first thing that Shona did was to head to the tool room and to find the escape box, making sure that nobody followed her.

 

Inside, the place was a mess, totally tipped upside down.

 

They were looking for the diary.

 

Wait, what?

 

Shona thought if they were looking for the diary, Elbe couldn’t have had it on him, why?

 

Heading over to the floorboard, she reached and picked up the wooden slat and found the escape box still intact, they hadn’t got to it.

 

Inside the shoebox sized ‘escape box’ was a note, two envelopes and the diary, thank god there was the diary. One note clearly said Shona on it, careful not be seen, Shona quickly scanned it and prepared herself:

 

 

To my friend Shona,

 

If you are reading this, the bastards got to me. The good thing is, I’m with my beautiful wife…finally. Boy I’ve missed her.

 

I had a feeling ‘they’ were onto me, so I didn’t take the diary. I just wanted to tell the reporter everything, that damn diary is too precious.

 

I have two envelopes, one for you and one for my daughter. Can you see she gets it? Her address is inside with the money I want to send her.

 

I want you to have the money in your envelope, it’s not much, but it will hopefully help you get nearer to that beautiful coastline you always talk about.

 

I wish you nothing but happiness young Shona, you deserve it. Anybody, and I mean anybody will be damn lucky to have a beautiful young lady like you. But please, get out of there as soon as you can. Say thank you to Jeffrey for keeping me on.

 

And to you, Shona, thank you for being my best friend,

 

Love,

 

Elbe

 

P.S. have a sip of something strong on our bench

 

 

 

Shona was in pieces. Elbe knew he was likely to meet his death, but wanted to try and get word out anyway.

 

What shall I do with the diary? Who shall I give it to?

These were questions flying at speed round Shona’s heavy head full of emotions.

 

She had lost two of her best friends in the most horrific way, it wouldn’t take a lot more money now for Shona for to get out of here, but she also had the small matter of Chloe. She knew Chloe was in danger too.

 

Buzzer

 

It made Shona jump, she quickly dried her tears and put the diary back in the escape box back in the floorboards, she would collect it later and now head to the canteen area, it wasn’t break time.

 

Workers who had been in fairly high spirits since Shona’s changes were sombre walking into the area below the balcony where an intimidating Larry and Kyle were standing, even Ron Black didn’t know what the meeting for.

 

“I’m sure you’ve all heard about the news; Elbe is no longer with us.”

 

Larry said in an authoritative tone, workers looked at each other then at the floor. He continued

 

“Such…..sad news, it looks like he was robbed and fell and hit his head when they ran off”

 

Shona was raging inside and it was then that hers and Larry Bruce eyes met even at distance. Shona’s lips looked like they were snarling at the lies she knew Larry was telling to put everybody off the scent.

 

“Anyway, our thoughts are with his family…In other news, if people…..how do I put this…are not appreciating their very lucky situation at being employed here,they really should just leave, there are…..plenty of others would want to be here. Just gone leave that there, back to work people”

 

Larry disappeared and then Kyle followed, again, at a controversial time, Chloe was always out of the building on business.

 

 

“Hey Miss Chloe” Later that evening, Tom opened the door to an upset looking Chloe.

 

“Hey Tom, how are you?” Chloe said sympathetically

 

“Well…we’re ok, its Shona, she’s been through an awful time of late, no help from the Sherriff, they don’t wanna know, come in, come in, she’s out back”

 

Chloe knew her way, saying a quiet ‘hi Ruby’ when she passed the living room.

 

“Hey Shona” Chloe stood at the doorway of the outhouse part of the barn where Shona’s living space was. She was slouched on the bench she and Elbe made with a stiff drink in her hand, but she hardly drank alcohol but ‘toasted’ Elbe like he asked.

 

“Hey…you ok? What you doing here?” Shona asked sleepily, the drink, mixed with exhaustion, mixed with emotions had gotten to her.

 

“I heard about Elbe, Shona I’m so sorry” Chloe edged closer nervous about getting too close but wanting to.

 

Shona nodded her appreciation.

 

“May I?” Chloe asked, gesturing towards sitting with Shona.

 

“Of course” Shona was all over the place with feelings, grief, anger, fear, excitement that Chloe….Chloe of all people was wanting to sit next to her.

 

“Elbe told me….he….saw bruises…on your wrists, that right?” Shona asked cautiously but at the same point she was so low, she had nothing to lose, Elbe had died trying to get word out.

 

Chloe started to cry, not making eye contact, but Shona’s gaze dropped to Chloe’s sleeves that Chloe slowly rolled up.

 

There were fresh bruises on top of what Elbe must have seen.

 

“My god” Shona’s eye widened then looked straight at Chloe

 

“Kyle…went mad at me when I….found some women’s names and phone numbers in his coat, which also stank of perfume.” Chloe biting her cheek trying not to relive it too much.

 

“Does your father know?” Shona was shocked

 

“My father…. Believes certain things about ….a woman’s role at home, she stays quiet, does as she told and she gets looked after” Shona knew this probably meant that Larry goes around hitting Eleanor Bruce too.

 

“I’m sorry about that….I wanted to give you…this, wait there a minute”

 

Shona got up and went over to a drawer by her bed and pulled out a necklace with black string.

 

“Here…I made it, well…Elbe helped me make it…for you. It’s the stone you liked remember? When we went riding along the Weaver, Elbe carefully drilled a hole and polished it up”

 

Shona carefully placed it in Chloe’s hand who started to cry at the meaning of the necklace, it was more precious than any diamond necklace she had received.

 

“My goodness, Shona…thank you. I do remember, course I do. I think about it, a lot”

 

Chloe gently ran her thumb over the stone knowing the amount of work and thought that went into it.

 

The chemistry between them was so that it was almost uncomfortable to ignore, but it always felt like the wrong time to act on.

 

“Shona if….I wish things were different..”

 

“I know…I know” They both knew what each other meant, it was painful not to speak the words, but painful to keep them locked up.

 

 

“Hey Miss Chloe, can I get you a drink?” Ruby came outside, knocking lightly on the door for politeness

 

“Not thanks, Ruby, I umm… better be going, somebody will be wondering where I am, I couldn’t really stop”

 

Chloe looked like she had been woke up from her blissful dream and now having to face her cold reality of going back to him.

 

“What did you tell him…where did you tell him you were?”

 

Shona asked as Chloe was getting up

 

“I didn’t, god knows what will greet me when I get in” Chloe said sadly as she stood up straight.

 

“Listen, I really appreciate you coming over, thank you, take care..you hear?”

 

Shona was genuinely concerned for Chloe’s welfare and knew she was trapped.

 

“My pleasure…I’ll see myself out, bye Shona” Chloe eyes told Shona she didn’t want to leave, but staying caused a world of problems.

 

 

Chloe pulled up on the driveway, huffed and sat back in her driver’s seat, dreading walking through the front door.

 

“Honey?” Kyle called out from the living room as Chloe walked in nervously putting the necklace in her large coat pocket.

 

“Um yeah…umm you ok?” Chloe replied trying to act the dutiful partner

 

“Yeah, you?” in almost a blink he appeared right in front of her making her flinch.

 

“I’m gone take a bath and…get an early night” Chloe said without trying to engage with a suspicious looking Kyle.

 

 

Running the bath seemed to take hours, although it was only minutes, Chloe couldn’t wait to ‘act’ as though she was asleep, then she didn’t have to have sex with her ever demanding boyfriend.

 

Sliding into the hot water, Chloe felt like the liquid was hugging her, a pleasurable feeling. Kyle seemed busy downstairs watching some sport on the TV.

 

She gently washed herself, wincing at the mounting bruises when hot water made contact with them. But repeatedly saw Shona’s smile, it was almost like Shona was right there with her hiding from Kyle.

 

Chloe could almost feel that Shona would be gentle with her, with her embrace and her….touch, the complete opposite to what she was used to. What would it be like to.. feel Shona where they had all the time in the world? Shona always smelt real nice, fresh and inviting, that only made Chloe more curious. Laying back in the bathtub, Chloe played out the scene in her head:

 

She was with Shona on the bench, but they didn’t get interrupted. Staring at each other, electricity whirling through them, butterflies in their stomach, it had come to this moment they had waited for; they weren’t at work, nobody knew where Chloe was, she felt safe and… incredibly aroused.

 

The bench creaked as Shona, after the look from Chloe indicating it was ok, edged closer…and closer. Chloe nervously searching for Shonas’ thigh to rest her hand on and to maybe explore. Shona’s body language by shifting closer, where they were nose to nose, showed Chloe it was wanted.

 

Shona swallowed hard and searched for Chloe’s lips with hers with a feeling they both won’t ever forget. It was like an explosion of heaven as their lips fitted perfectly. Temporarily pulling apart as if to check each other was ok, they both smiled. This time it was Chloe who initiated it and stroking Shona’s thigh, making her way up to where Shona had craved it ever since they first laid eyes on each other. Poor Shona was trembling with an overspill of excitement and love maybe? Chloe calmed her by pulling her closer and placing Shonas hand up inside her top, their lips still together, parted and for the first time, they both experienced feeling a woman’s tongue gently exploring their mouth. Shona quietly groaned with pleasure feeling a mixture of wanting to ravish Chloe right there and wanting to take her time and explore every inch of her perfect body. Chloe, being more confident now, searched and found Shona’s trouser buttons and ripped at them, one button flying off, Shona temporarily helping her but not wanting to stop for more than a second. Once Chloes hand was inside Shona’s underwear, she let out a groan of pure ecstasy, this was the sweetest sensation she had ever felt, her wetness confirming it.

 

Shona, taking her hand from under Chloe’s top and from her right breast, she ached to feel between her legs too, but had to stop and arch her back with the pleasure she was getting from Chloe’s expert fingers.

 

“Can I?” Shona whispered, breathless, indicating she wanted to slide her hand up Chloe’s dress

 

Chloe nodded enthusiastically, they couldn’t bear it any longer, they needed to feel the explosion that had been building up.

 

Shona quickly ran her left hand up Chloe’s skirt, trying to be gentle, but Chloe moving her hips so that Shona would get there sooner, this time Chloe let out a groan of pleasure as Shona had found the place she was aching for, they both continued to kiss, tongues gently probing, sometimes having to stop to enjoy being touched in the most sensual of places, Chloe could feel the orgasm building like she had never experienced before, but she didn’t want it to end, this was the height of pure heaven they were feeling.

 

“Don’t stop Shona, please…don’t stop” Chloe said breathlessly was almost biting into Shona’s neck as Shona could also feel the orgasm building and then-

 

“What in the hell are you doing!?” Kyle walked in and caught Chloe, eyes closed, with her hand between her legs.

 

Splashing with pure embarrassment, she sat up, trembling, looking shocked.

 

Kyle had a disgusted look on his face and slowly walked closer to the bathtub, it was more eerie that he wasn’t shouting.

 

“Thinking of me…I hope?” He asked with a hint of sarcasm, knowing it wouldn’t be true, Chloe never ‘let go’ with him, it was over too quickly anyway.

 

“Of course..” Chloe just answered anything, her face giving away her lie, she instinctively closed her legs and pulled her knees up as if protecting herself against him.

 

“Or are you thinking of….whoever gave you….this?” Kyle unwound the black string of the necklace that Shona had given her earlier.

 

Chloe’s face was of pure horror, but she tried to regain her composure.

 

“That? Of that…is just…I bought it in a craft store, some kid was buggin me, I couldn’t say no”

 

Chloe found it quite easy to lie to Kyle as he meant nothing.

 

“Really? Then you won’t mind me getting rid of it then will you?” He said starring straight in her eyes.

 

Chloe shook her head as if to agree that it wouldn’t matter, but she was heartbroken. The effort and thought that had gone into that by Shona and Elbe and now it would be gone forever.

 

“Well…now that it looks like you’re ready, get out and come with me, I don’t wanna waste this opportunity”

 

Kyle said a smarmy look on his face and already unbuttoning his belt. With his back turned, Chloe squinted her eyes in disgust, she knew what would be happening next and she wouldn’t enjoy a second of it. It hurt every time and Kyle didn’t care.

 

 

The following morning at work, Chloe, in slight pain from the night before made her way to the tool room with some papers, a clipboard looking official.

 

“Shona” Chloe said in an almost unrecognisably assertive, boss like voice

 

Shona turned around, two other guys with her wondered what Chloe would be saying.

 

“Shona…this is for you, some jobs I need doing, needs to be a good standard, ok?” Chloe looked at Shona for a second too long before turning on her heels and striding away.

 

Shona, surprised, opened the envelope she was given and felt faint at what was written.

 

“You alright Shona?” One of the guys asked when they saw Shona’s face turn a different colour.

 

 

Chapter 132

 

Shona’s heart almost thudded out of her chest when she read the words:

 

I love you,

There, I said it.

C x

 

Shit.

 

What does this mean? What do we do now? Shona thought.

 

“Um yeah, it’s just some jobs she wants doing you know, gone be hard to get ‘em all done that’s all” Shona lied

 

 

Shona rushed into the tool room to find some paper and pen and scribbled a note.

 

Being careful not to be seen, Shona heads up to Chloe’s office. Seeing Chloe’s in-tray and leaves the note under some papers feeling like a school girl, she scarpers.

 

 

After a meeting in Larry Bruce’s office, Chloe comes back in to see what’s left for her in her notes still speaking to Kyle.

 

“Kyle, I don’t think we should backtrack on the changes for the guys, I haven’t seen them as happy as what they are now”

 

“Happy? Happy isn’t good business, profit is what is good for business, it was good at the start to get them all motivated and what not, but we just say we need to take a cut and start building our profit again”

 

Kyle said making himself at home in Chloe’s office whilst she sifts through her mail and paperwork.

 

“A cut? Our productivity has increased since the changes, we have had less guys off sick, more people willing to do overtime, I haven’t known it to be as positive…I’m telling you, we aint changing things back to how they were” Chloe said to Kyle with a loaded look of ‘I’m still your boss’. Kyle looks at her as if to say ‘wait til we get home, I’m the boss there’.

 

Chloe gave her attention to her mail and froze when she saw a note, she felt that Kyle read the change in her face.

 

“You ok honey? What is it?”

 

It was note. From Shona:

 

What you said,

Me too

S x

“Honey? What is it?” Kyle got up.

 

“Nothing, nothing, just something I thought I needed to deal with but its old news so…anyway. I need to get back to work”

 

Chloe’s heart was racing and she couldn’t look at Kyle and he was instantly suspicious.

 

“Anything I can help with?” He asked following Chloe with his eyes as she seemed to scurry to her chair at her desk.

 

“What? No…No..Everything is fine…thank you” Chloe’s cheeks were red.

 

Kyle slowly got up out of the chair opposite Chloe, she still hadn’t looked at him, he felt rejected, and this was never good.

 

“Ok, well…You know where to find me”

 

“Uh huh”

 

 

The office door slammed, making Chloe jump. She was likely to pay for that later.

 

Buzzer

 

Kyle witnessed Chloe hurry down to the canteen and go over to Shona who was already sitting alone eating lunch.

 

“Hey” Chloe said nervously, standing as if waiting to be invited to sit down.

 

“Hey you…wanna sit ?” Shona said quietly gesturing to the chair.

 

Chloe took a deep breath, she knew she would likely be being watched.

 

“I got your….message” Chloe whispered, leaning in.

Shona smiled.

 

“I’ll be honest, what in the hell do we do now?” Shona asked looking perplexed as she grinned.

 

“Oh god I don’t know….It’s so…dangerous.” Chloe said looking over her shoulder.

 

Shona’s smile disappeared as if she wanted Chloe to know the seriousness of what she was about to say

 

“I just wanna…be alone with you, talk with you, properly…go where we wanna go, without…..worrying, you know? I’ve missed you”

 

Chloe had to fight the urge to grab Shona’s hand that was holding a cup.

 

“God…why does it have to be this way?” Chloe said almost looking up at the ceiling in anguish.

 

“It was…kinda brave what you did though….giving me that note. How did you know I felt the same?” Shona asked meeting with Chloe’s eyes that were filling up with emotion

 

“I always knew, I just….couldn’t deal with you not…being in my life. I missed you too”

 

Chloe was conscious that people would be wondering she was spending so long with Shona.

 

“What kills me is that…we can’t…go anywhere”

 

Shona said looking sad, Chloe knew exactly what she meant.

 

“One day, soon…It won’t be much longer. I just need to get my head around things. Kyle will be…suspecting something if I’m not careful.”

 

It broke Shona’s heart that Kyle got to share a bed with Chloe and yet he mistreated her.

 

Shona was aching to just touch Chloe’s hand across the table, it was agonisingly close.

 

Almost in reply to Shona’s want, Chloe tapped her finger three times inches away from Shona’s fingers.

 

Frowning in confusion, tilting her head to the side Shona whispered ‘what?’

 

Chloe did it again.

 

‘Tap, Tap, Tap’

 

“What does…that mean?” Shona whispered

 

“I.Love.You…..If we can’t say it, we can still…say it” Chloe smiled

 

Shona breathed out heavily, it was so intense between them, they were both aroused and had to suppress it. They were having an incredibly dangerous conversation, but there was literally nowhere they could go here.

 

“I hate you going back to him” Shona replied

 

“He’s not where my head or my hearts at, it won’t be long. We’ll figure a way somehow.”

 

“People get hurt in this town, you know that, I know that.” Shona said with a hopeless tone to her voice

 

“Then we won’t stay in this town” Chloe reassured her with a smile.

 

Shona’s eye wide with surprise and excitement, Chloe really seemed to mean it; she would give it all up.

 

“I better go Shona….remember ‘tap, tap, tap” the last part Chloe whispered

 

“Tap, tap, tap..” Shona replied grinning at the silliness of it but she knew they were playing a serious game if they were caught saying what they really wanted to say.

 

 

Over the course of the next week or so, when Management called meetings from the ‘balcony’ Shona would purposely stand at the back of the workforce looking up at Chloe, even if she wasn’t the one delivering the message and she see Chloe in any way she could tap her clipboard with her pen three times, anything to help the agony of not being able to be together.

 

Shona would smile knowing that when she heard the guys drooling over Chloe, it was her who had Chloe’s heart, but both felt they were exuding the passion they felt more and more and found it was near impossible to be near each other without giving it away.

 

Chloe looked in her in-tray to find simple messages like:

 

Tap, tap, tap

 

It were these messages that were left hidden by the two of them, that kept them going whilst they figured out what they could do about the situation and hopefully in the not to distance future, finally enjoy a night together.

 

Shona often fantasised about that night, often ending with her having the most intense orgasm.

 

 

Chapter 133

 

“I’m worried Larry, really worried” Kyle downed another whisky sitting in the chair opposite Larry Bruce in the meeting room in a late at night meeting.

 

“She’s not herself that’s for sure” Larry replied swigging his whisky

 

“I mean, I give her everything, everything she could want, but she….doesn’t seem grateful. Not to mention she’s pretty cut up about Elbe going and now more than ever she’s hanging round that whore….”

 

“Yep, but she’s the last one of the three, the toughest one..granted but we hang in there, otherwise people start talkin’ So far, nobody has a clue.”

 

Larry spoke with experience

 

“Yeah, you’re right Larry…paying the guys this extra money is making it more difficult to um…filter out money, Jeffrey will start asking questions when I profits are low but productivity is high.”

 

Kyle was looking through some figures.

 

“Damn it, I’ve got the wrong ones, I gave Chloe the latest..I’ll go get ‘em” Kyle got up and walked down the corridor on the balcony into Chloe’s office, she had gone home for the day.

 

Sifting through her in-tray, Kyle recognised the paper with the figures on it, but it was covering something.

 

Looking closer and lifting up some sheets, he pulled out a folder up swan with the letter ‘S’ and ‘X’ inside.

 

Screwing it up in a hidden rage, he grabbed the figures and marched back into Larry’s office.

 

“Fuck waiting, this bitch is getting way to close to your daughter! What do we do Larry? What do we do?”

 

Larry sat almost motionless which was more frightening as it meant one thing.

 

He was plotting.

 

 

 

Chapters 134

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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