The oafish teenager pulls the passenger side door open and swings his left leg in. As he lowers his large frame onto the bench seat, he glances at the driver and freezes. The larger man behind the wheel, must be 6’7”, muscular rock-hard frame, unsmiling features, dark eyes, and a fair complexion. Not that the kid can tell in the meager he street light somewhat blocked by the neighboring Ponderosa Pine, but his hair is a black as Satan’s heart. What stops the big-handed youth in mid-air is the eyes. Even in the dim light the kid sees his black-colored, soul-less eyes.
“Come on in!” the big man encourages the boy with the same cheery voice and roll of his large right hand. The hand retracted a top the bench seat where the rest of the arm lounged. “I, don’t bite.” he assures the 16 year old with an odd emphasis on “I”.
Neither is a deer hunter, so neither recognizes the smell of blood in the station wagon. The youth sits and closes the door. The man’s reassuring smile fades as he shifts into gear and heads south on the still unfinished Interstate-17.
Meanwhile his parents dined at their usual table in their favorite restaurant. His mother taps her blood-red nails on the wine red Irish linen, smiles distractedly at the her family’s joviality and studies the room full of patrons sitting at tables with white table clothes. Her eyes roil heavenwards as she searches her thought. The index finger of her right hand touches her blood red lips a or caresses her chin on occasion as though trying to remember something. The phone rings at the maître de’s station across the busy, crowded restaurant. Maeve concentrates on the conversation. The suave middle aged man staffing the station glance s at her brother in law and immediately crosses the room to their table.
They own an import/export business; nothing odd about calls interrupting diner. Still her left immaculate hand searches out her sister’s ruddier right hand. Her sister Roxanne keeps talking with their waiter
Maeve’s piercing eyes stalk her sister’s husband across the room. He smile when he recognizes the voice on the phone. Few people have that affect on the broad shouldered man. And most of them were at this table. It was one of his daughters. The smile fades, he waves for Maeve’s husband to join him. When her hairy, husband answers the phone, he can’t help himself; he glace at Maeve. Roxanne now watching squeezes Maeve’s hand. Maeve can see him giving orders in his take charge style. He shakes his auburn locks, clearly not accepting something being said. He smile s broadly to produce an encouraging tone in his voice. She can see him give another order, begins to hang up and then waves to his red-headed sister in law to come to the phone. He signals for Maeve to wait with the open palm of his upraised hand and signs that he will go to her with a hooked thumb and pointed index finger. Roxanne gets off the phone quickly due to the growing concern in her sister’s pale features. Her husband asks Maeve to sit as he approaches the booth. Roxanne barely lays the receiver in the c cradle when it rings again. “It’s for you” Roxanne mouths across the quieter room for John. The other patrons overheard "emergency". John takes his wife’s right with his left. Roxanne rushes to her side.
“It’s Benny.” He whispers handing her over to Roxanne’s warm embrace as he returns to the phone
Back in Northern Arizona, the driver like his hitch-hiker scopes out the other under the light that marks the turn off to Mountainaire. He at first thinks the other is a man, but clearly this is a man-sized child, distraught, dressed in threadbare, stained and ill-fitting clothes. His brown hair is cut short. His oafish frame, bull-neck and sad sun-burned facial features betray him as a Mongloid.
“I’m Rugen.” The big man says once he’s shifted into the highest gear and offers his large right hand.
The big child doesn’t know to shake his hand and offers quietly that his name is “Jacob, Jacob Kell”. Then in a louder voice says, “Rugen! That a retarded name.”
Maeve stands rigid and straight backed at their usual table. Roxanne grasps Maeve’s ivory in both of hers and is clearly praying in quiet intense words. The horror of the situation made worse by the unfamiliarity of worry on the woman’s brow. Maeve’s right hand grasps the crucifix at her throat. With shallow slow breathes and an intense stare she gazes into the future. “Say it once more.” She quietly dares her husband.
He touches her elbow before beginning, but her body recoils and anger rises to those black eyes with the faraway look.
“The State Troopers were called to Mountainaire. It’s just south of Flagstaff. They found two families murdered. Witnesses saw Benny leave there with another person. A trooper is headed north to intercept them before they hit Munds Park.
“Rugen” seems to take no offense at the “retarded” comment. “I’m named for Count Rugen in ‘The Princess Bride’, my daddy’s favorite novel. We both have six fingers.”
He shows the child with his palm outward and thick fingers spread. By the dashboard lights the outré hand is visible as is the child’s shiver and the shifting of his weight away from the driver. The motion produces a crinkling noise.
“Sorry” says Jacob in his soft voice. “I sat on some papers.”
He hefts his left cheek and from beneath the faded denim pulls a folder with typed minutes with beautifully handwritten notes and a carbon copy of a business receipt.
“Oh, no problem.” Rugen says as he takes the paper. For a moment it appears he intends to toss them in the back, but he thinks better of it and lays them on the seat between the man and child. “I’m just coming from the church council meeting and picking up - “
“Are you alone?”
The big man’s brow crunches in confusion and his shoulders rise so that he can look around the empty vehicle and say something witty to the kid, but then he smiles believing that Jacob, must have meant, “Are you a bachelor?”
“No. I’m a family man; wife, three kids, another on the way, brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews; big extended family. We’ve got a place in Rimrock we go on the weekends. Everyone else is already there. I just - “
“People ever pick on you cause of your name?” Jacob asks loudly.
“Picking up a hitchhiker.” His mother acknowledges. “Sounds like one of our sons. Who was the other person?” Her sister gasps, so blinded by tears that she stumbles when she turns to Maeve. Benny’s father won’t respond. “The killer.” Maeve announces.
“No.” Rugen replies because no one ever did in his entire life. “But it’s actually my middle name. Most people call me Benny.”
Rugen examines the kid more closely. Jacob keeps his gaze at the darkened floor boards or out the window into the dark night and black forest.
“Benny, why do you live in Rimrock and go to church in Flagstaff?” Jacob asked softly.
“Well actually, we live in Flag, and just come to our property in the Verde Valley on the weekends. We were looking around for some forested land as an investment and I suggested the Rimrock area. When I was a kid, I got into a lot of trouble. I remember my daddy and uncle bringing me here that winter for a long camping trip. Everybody adores my daddy. He was the “parent” in our family growing up. You know the one that goes to all your games and gets you out of trouble when it comes. But, he and I never “bonded” until Rimrock. I had a great time with him and Uncle Stan. I didn’t want to get into any more trouble. So, we decided that my mother would have to take over taking care of me. “
“Were your parents divorced?”
“No. My mother has a temper. Once when daddy was gone she spanked one of my older brothers so hard she broke the paddle and in her rage picked up the largest piece and broke that over his behind too. After that daddy was the disciplinarian in our house, until I came along.”
“Did you mother beat you and make you sleep outside like an animal?” Jacob demands angrily
“No.” Rugen chuckles and then winces in memory of her parenting techniques. “Let’s just say my mother and I have a special relationship.”
“You should kill your mom.” Jacob bellows.
As smooth as a puma sneaking up on an unsuspecting white-tailed doe, Rugen’s foot eases from the accelerator. His body neither tenses for a fight nor does his breathe betray his inherited tendency towards rage and violence.
“I’m going to pull over. You should get out.”
“You should keep going to Phoenix.” Jacob shouts.
The station wagon pulls to the shoulder of the lonely two-lane road. No one has passed them all this time and no cars had been coming towards them for quite a while. Not that Jacob can tell, but they’ve dropped over the Mongollon Rim already and the pine stands are spottier as the terrain gives way to Pinyon-Junipers. Rugen faces the serial killer. His eyes are as black as death. If either was looking they would see the flashing lights reflected on the canyon walls of the approaching sheriff’s departments. Jacob is not so slow in the head that he reaches for Rugen, but he does lift his massive right fist.
Another call . Her brother in law Stan takes it. Benny always drives the speed limit. Trooper from Flagstaff would catch up with him at the same time as the trooper headed north. Maeve still standing begins to quiver. John reaches for his wife again. This time Maeve’s shoulders relax and sigh escapes her aching lungs. Roxanne and John both look to her. A smile spreads across her glacial features turning into a sneer. She licks her lips in preparation to speak and brushes back a stray ebony strand of hair.
When she speaks her voice is sugary sweet. “I talked with Rugen this morning. He stayed behind for more than the church council meeting. He had to visit the vet’s office. “ She licked her lips again and lifted her chin. “Jake’s with him.”
At that moment the Mogoloid feels a large black presence behind him. He feels the hot, wet panting breathe on the standing hairs of his sun-burned neck. He is stupefied by the carnivorous stench curling around to his nostrils. Then comes the low guttural growl of the midnight-black beast risen behind him.
“You should get out.”
Jacob Kell complies, runs off into the Arizona desert and dies.
For more of Benny's adventures see “We Know People”