Being the daughter of a real estate mogul sure had perks. As I pumped gasoline into my shiny red sports car I grinned with glee. Daddy had made some lucrative investments recently and they thank the Lord above, trickled down to me. I was fortunate to reap those benefits. Or, perhaps, deserving was a better word.
Placing my stiletto heel on the back bumper, a groan escaped my delicate white throat. "Damn, run," I had complained. My sheer black stockings were ruined. Catching a glimpse of myself in the vehicle's rear view mirror, I tossed my long blonde hair to the side and admired my porcelain-doll features. I was gorgeous. The boys at Bridge Academy were going to love me, but I was looking for a man, not a child.
"Oh, baby," I heard him exclaim. "Look at her." The long, low whistle that I had grown accustomed to quickly followed.
"Mmmm, let's go check out the goods," another male voice had replied with a not-so-suttle guttural laugh.
I had grinned, giddy from the attention, enjoying the playful turn on.
Replacing the gas nozzle into its receptacle, I turned to find two older men, much older compared to my seventeen years, rushing toward me. Looking back, I'm not quite sure how or why I thought they were older, just women's intuition, I suppose.
They were moving fast. Much too fast. Both were wearing black clothing; pants, long-sleeved shirts and ski masks.
Ski masks? In August? In Texas?
"What in the world?" I remembered screaming vividly as one of the men hit me upside my left temple with his tightly-balled paw of a hand.
"Sweet Daddy will pay what he owes when he finds out we have his little girl," the second man's lisping spittle landed across my tight cheekbones as the parking lot shimmered, swayed and went dark.
Stifling heat. I could feel my skin prickle, almost squeezing my insides as a boa constrictor would squeeze its prey. Perspiration poured down my face, neck and chest. I couldn't see it. I just knew. I couldn't see a thing. Nothing. Pitch black enveloped me; threatening to take over my mind, heart and soul. The aching throb in my temple was becoming louder and louder, filling the obviously small space in which I lay.
Shaking my head slightly from side to side, I tried to clear my foggy brain and thoughts. What had those men done to me? Why? Why me? Every fiber of my being told me this was no random act of violence.
Neck muscles straining, I lifted my shoulders and head just a fraction of an inch. My nose touched the top of my enclosed Hell. I pushed and pushed and pushed. I began to scrape and scratch. Pain radiated down both wrists and traveled through to my elbows as three long fingernails tore off into the quick. I could feel tiny splinters embedding themselves into the fleshy parts of my hands, like a rabid dog ripping me apart.
Tears rolled. I knew I must look hideous, mascara staining my pretty face. Oh what a sight to behold!
I needed light so I could see myself. I was expected at Bridge Academy in the morning.
My stomach began to growl. How long since I had eaten? How long had I been here? Short puffs of breath came faster and faster. The air seemed thick; rancid.
I tried to slow my breathing; think rationally. My mother had always been good at that, thinking rationally. It had never been my strong suit, nor Daddy's. We had been lost without her after she died. Lost, until Daddy had become a financial success.
Mother's patient, yet sweet urgings made Daddy the man he was today, in my opinion. Whenever Daddy had something on his mind, he would run it by her. If she felt his latest project had merit, she would say, 'Do or die.' I laughed aloud now at that expression but felt Mother's sweet urgings from the grave. My grave.
I still needed some source of light. I tried to straighten my legs a bit to kick out the end of the wooden box but all attempts failed. My body was becoming weaker, the air more sparse.
I coughed, my chest heaving with spasms. God, I could go for a cigarette right about now! Wait! I am so glad I never gave up smoking! I had heard all the lectures about how smoking is bad for your health but, Hell, being buried alive is pretty damn bad for your health too.
Fishing through my skirt pockets, I clutched my chrome cigarette lighter in shaking hands. Flicking the striker with my thumb, a faint blue spark filled the rectangular wooden box for a minute instance.
I flicked again. And again. And again.
"C'mon, dammit!" I screamed. "Come on!" I clutched the object tightly in one hand, took a deep breath and flicked the striker once more. I almost dropped it in my excitement as the flame caught and held.
The small sliver of fire seemed almost mystical as beautiful oranges, reds, blues and even greens danced in my hand. I had never seen such a brilliant display. I was on the verge of a hypnotic trance.
'Do or die,' I heard my Mother's voice reverberate off the wooden walls. 'Do or die.'
Flinging an elbow over my nostrils, I held the small silver lighter to the spot I had clawed at earlier. Patience was a virtue, I had heard someone say once. Now I fully understood what that meant.
After an eternity, or just a few minutes, I did not know which, I could see, hear and actually taste the wood burning. The small circle was becoming larger and larger as the fire darkened, changing the wood's integrity. I began to cough and gag as smoke slowly filled my lungs.
Then, it hit me. Excruciating pain. An iron grip squeezed my lower right calf and would not let go. A Charlie horse. The cramp lasted several moments. I gasped, coughed and writhed in agony. Unable to contort my body in directions it needed for comfort, I bit my lip and prayed. Salty blood covered my tongue. My stomach gurgled in protest.
"Don't throw up. Don't throw up," I commanded myself. I willed my stomach to settle and continued on with my task.
I was perspiring again, this time more profusely. As I wiped damp hair from my stinging eyes, the cigarette lighter slid through my fingers, falling with a THUD that echoed through my coffin.
I thrashed about like a temper-tantrum-throwing two-year-old. I couldn't do this. I wasn't made to handle situations like this. I took another deep breath and punched my fist at the wood in raw, deep, hatred. Hatred at Mother for leaving me to handle this alone, hatred at myself for not being stronger and hatred at the two men who had caused this entire mess, obviously due to a case of mistaken identity.
I punched and punched and punched. The wood gave way beneath the force of my knuckles and, unbeknownst to me at the time, more than lumber was cracking and breaking. Adrenaline began to flow as did deep, dark soil.
I was able to maneuver my face from the dust and grime that ensued but panic clutched my throat with cold, steely fingers. Had I done the wrong thing? Should I have done something differently? It was pathetically too late now. Dirt was flowing fast and furious.
The next coherent memory I had was walking down Tolley Lane. A car horn was honking.
"Get off the street, lady!" a man was yelling. "You homeless people need to get a job!"
Homeless? I wasn't homeless. I was going to Bridge Academy, the private school for the well-to-do, the brightest and the best.
Reaching my hand up to smooth my hair, I found it tangled and caked with blood and dirt. My skirt was tattered and torn. My legs scratched and bleeding.
Everything came flooding back to me. The gas station, the men in ski masks, the one with the lisp saying, 'Sweet Daddy will pay what he owes ...' And the grave; that horrible burial plot.
I turned onto Harner Avenue, where Daddy and I had lived for the past six years. We had moved in shortly after Mother's death. A fresh start, he had said.
As I approached the house, I noticed my little red sports car in the driveway. I was confused but I just wanted to be inside, to take a hot shower and to call the police.
As I quietly opened the front door, I heard my father's voice.
"You did well, Maurice," he was saying. "No one will suspect that I was the one who plotted and planned this. The life insurance papers will be in the mail tomorrow morning; I can pay off those drug goons, and you, of course, and still have enough money left over to move to the Caymans." He chuckled easily; happily.
"Oh, yes, no more paying for expensive cars, clothes or schools. I can spend my money on the one who counts the most. Me!"
I listened as sadness filled my chest. Daddy? Daddy was behind this?
I heard a long exasperated sigh. "Yes, trust me will you? I told you, I got away with it six years ago when I killed her mother Julie. No one's ever pointed a finger in my direction."
I looked around the foyer for a weapon; anything. Emotions overwhelmed me. Shock, disgust, sadness, betrayal. I cannot begin to describe the depth of my heartache. How could I face this man? No, this monster!
Atop a stack of car magazines on the side table sat my cell phone. Pink case, bling-bling up and down the sides. Forget cars, clothes, hair and bling. All I cared about now was justice.
'Do or die, baby,' my Mother's spirit urged as I dialed 9-1-1.