Blind legal eagle. Mafia Don ex-husband. What could possibly go oh-so-wrong"Books by Author:Theodora Taylor Books
Dancing In The Dark
Strangers In The Night
The guy locked up in our basement is bad. He has to be.
The only men who end up in our basement are the bad ones. That"s what my father tells me.
I only didn"t believe him once"after one of his half-deads begged me to help him while I was delivering his daily meal. I"d burst into the living room where Daddy and Mama were snuggled up on the couch, drinking whiskey and guffawing over an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, and I"d actually dared to challenge him. Because the half-dead had a family. Teenage daughters and a wife and a mother with cancer, who all depended on him.
"C"mere, Bel," Daddy had said, turning off the TV and patting the seat beside him on the couch. Then he"d told Mama to bring him his laptop.
"Danny, that"s too much. She"s too young to be looking at all that," Mama kept saying as he showed me pictures and news stories about what the man had done to other people. But Mama never told him not to do it. That wasn"t how their relationship worked.
So, I got shown while snuggled up under my father"s arm: pictures of dead men lying in pools of their own blood, little old ladies who"d had their life savings swindled, and girls even younger than his daughters forced into prostitution"all to line the pockets of the guy in our basement. All of this was explained to me by Daddy who smelled like Lava soap and Acqua Di Parma, while the man downstairs smelled like blood and misery. And I stopped believing the prisoners didn"t deserve everything my father did to them after that.
I grab my light winter coat, shrug it on, and open the door to descend into our freezing unfinished basement. No matter how high Mama and I turn up the heat, we can"t ever get it warm in the basement. Even in the dead of summer. And it"s only the beginning of spring now. It"s been raining since early this morning, and Mama fretted about driving in it, before sending me downstairs to take the prisoner"s meal order.
The guy Daddy"s been keeping downstairs doesn"t look like a man. I thought that back when Daddy dragged him through our house, unconscious. And I think it now as I walk down the stairs into the strong metallic smell of stale blood and the even grosser stench of other bodily fluids.
I come to a stop outside the cell Daddy installed. Steel bars hang from the ceiling with a small gap left beneath. Just high enough to pass a plate under without me needing to open the door, but not high enough for the men to have any hope of escaping.
He"s going to die today. Or as Daddy calls it, "take a walk in the woods."
I know because Daddy left the house with a shovel earlier this afternoon, grumbling about having to "do this shit in the rain." And Mama told me to take the man"s order. She only makes special meals for the men Daddy puts in this cage when it"s going to be their last.
But the thing is, the guy inside the cage looks like a boy"a teenager. Maybe even the same age as me. Whip thin under all the blood from the cuts. And though his face is a mangled mess, I remember thinking the first day I came down to give him food that he was way too young to be here.
Also, way too pretty. That was the other thing I thought on that first day when I slipped the one meal a day Daddy allows under the bars"that he was one of those boys. Pretty like you see on TV, even as he accepted the hot plate of food with chattering teeth.
He took the food, but he didn"t say anything else. Didn"t try to bribe me or bargain with me like some of the other guys had after their first beatings. Maybe that"s why I lingered outside the cage a little longer than I should have. Daddy hadn"t touched the new guy"s face, I noticed. Yet" I pre-mourned the end of his perfect looks as I watched the play of shadow over his high cheekbones and strong jaw and marveled at how sharply his crystal blue eyes contrasted with his dark wavy hair.
I guess looks are something we have in common. Mama"s always saying I"m pretty like the girls on TV. Daddy says that"s why he told her to name me Bella, because I was the cutest baby he"d ever seen, even more beautiful than his real kids when they came out"and not just because I"m a girl and they"re boys.
But today, while I stand outside the cage, still pretty and upright, the boy just lies on the concrete floor, a pile of blood covered bones. Teeth no longer chattering, even though the basement remains the same bitter cold. Face no longer like the boys on TV.