“Tell me we’re not doing this.”
Randy cranked the truck and looked at his partner. “We’re not doing this.”
“Thank God,” Cecil said. “What a nutbag.”
Randy slammed the truck in gear and sped away from the house.
The owner of 822 Poplar Street had some serious issues. He had wanted a man cave, his very own place to hang out with friends, drink beer, and watch football without disturbing his live-in girlfriend/fiancé. Randy and Cecil, the two-man team known as Custom Carpentry Inc., had worked on several man caves throughout the years. But Grayson—if that was his real name—had wanted some strange extras. A secret door. Soundproofing. Even a steel ring affixed to the wall.
Randy braked at a red light and lit a cigarette.
“Sex freak,” Cecil said. “Definitely a sex freak.”
Randy didn’t say a word.
The latter half of the following month found Randy sitting on the sofa drinking beer and watching the local late news. A distraught father, on the brink of tears, pleaded for the safe return of his teenaged daughter. “We miss you, Katy. Your mother and I love you so much. Stay strong . . .”
Enough was enough.
Randy got up and went out on the back stoop to smoke a cigarette. Molly was at work, another split-shift at the Peking Palace. She wouldn’t be home until late. He was restless, anxious, drinking more than usual, sleeping fitfully. Earlier this week, Cecil had asked him if he was okay. Randy had shrugged it off, said he was just feeling a little under the weather.
But that wasn’t the problem.
Randy went inside and grabbed his keys from the kitchen counter. Then he got in his truck and drove to 822 Poplar Street.
Grayson, wearing a bathrobe and flip flips, redolent of deodorant soap and shampoo, came to the door. He was visibly upset. “You’re supposed to call first, Randy. You know this. Those are the rules.”
“Sorry,” Randy said. “I happened to be in the neighborhood.”
“I was getting ready for bed.”
“You want me to leave?”
Grayson thought about it.
“No,” he said resignedly, “come on in.”
“Thanks, man,” Randy said. “I really appreciate it.”
The man cave was exceptional, his best work to date. Too bad Cecil couldn’t see it. Randy had returned that very same day and accepted the job. It was a hard, back-breaking few weeks, working with Cecil during the day, then moonlighting at Grayson’s.
But he had toughed it out. He knew, even then, that it would be worth it.
They say it takes one to know one.
Randy would have to agree.
The two of them had bonded from the get-go. Randy and Grayson. Kindred spirits. And this was a nice arrangement, far better than any cash payment. Sure, Grayson was a little miffed tonight. Surprise visits were forbidden. But he would get over it.
Now Randy stood before her. “I just saw your father on TV. You look a lot like him.”
Katy hung there on the wall, naked and worse for wear. Her spindly arms stretched upward, wrists shackled to the steel ring. She whimpered, mewled. An array of tools covered a nearby worktable . . .
Randy opted for a pair of pliers and a sheet of sandpaper.