Frank (Moose) Molinari was pissed. He had been on the phone for an hour with his boss back in Chicago, and the old man hadn't been happy that the girl had given him the slip.
"You had a God damned tracker on the car," the old man yelled through the phone, "so you should have been able to pick her up any time you wanted! Why the hell did you wait so long?"
"You told me to wait, Boss. You wanted to know who she was running to," Moose replied, trying not to lose his temper.
"Bullshit! I wanted her picked up, period! And now you tell me you lost her in the desert!"
"Yeah, Boss. But she ain't going anywhere. She's naked and Georgie got a set of handcuffs on her before she ran. She's GOT to come back to the highway if she wants to live."
The old man back in the city started to laugh, "I wouldn't rely on her will to live if I was you. She'd probably prefer dying in the desert to coming back here."
"She'd be crazy to want that, Boss," said Moose with determination.
"Crazy she is! You go back out there and find her. I want her alive, but if she IS dead I want her body. You don't come back here without one or the other. Is that understood, Frank?"
"Yeah, sure thing, Boss," Moose said, thinking that the only way he'd be likely to find Charlotte out there in the desert would be to wait a few days and follow the buzzards.
"I'll send a few more guys out to help you. They should get there tonight. Don't fail me, Frank. Find my daughter."
"Don't worry, Mr Lowe. I'm on it!" replied Moose, but he was talking into a dead phone.
Now he was back out on the highway and angry all over again. The man who had found Charlotte's clothes had only now told him that he'd found them next to a water supply. Moose was mad because that pool should have been staked out because Charlotte would certainly return to it for a drink.
He wasn't going to get a chance to follow up on that idea though because the wind was picking up something terrible and sand was blowing around from every direction.
"It's like a fucking sand blaster out here!" one of the other men shouted over his radio.
"Let's clear out," Moose ordered, "as long as this shit is going on she ain't moving. We can come back later and look for her!"
He got no arguments.
Charlotte woke slowly, the smell of beef stew pulling her from the darkness of her subconscious. The ache in her stomach prodded her awake and she was aware of the food bowl on the straw nearby before she remembered the rest of her predicament.
She struggled to a sitting position and looked around for her captor, but she saw that she was alone. There was nothing to see but the inside of the two-stall barn and the chains that bound her.
And the food.
There was also a big mug of water sitting with it and after a brief hesitation Charlotte moved over to it and picked it up. The water was sweet to her parched taste buds, but it was awkward holding the cup in both hands because of her cuffed wrists. It reminded her that she was again a prisoner, a pretty vulnerable one at that, due to her naked state.
There had been plenty of lows in her life but sitting naked on a pile of straw chained to the back wall of a horse stall was one of the lowest she could remember. She had no idea where she was or who had her, and she was scared. She was also hungry though and was happy at least that the strange blonde man had seen fit to feed her. If he was going to rape and kill her, would he bother to feed her first? Charlotte thought about this as she scooped up some of the cold stew with her fingers and popped it into her mouth.
It tasted so GOOD! But then Charlotte would have thought that about pig slop had she been given it to eat after being hungry for so long. It was food and that was all she cared about as she emptied the bowl. The chain attached to her cuffs kept getting in the way but she didn't care about that either until both food and water were gone.
Sated, Charlotte sat back and tried to figure out her options, but she quickly realized she didn't have any. Until her captor freed her from her restraints she was stuck. Or was she?
Charlotte got up, aware of her nudity with every move, and looked at where the long chain was attached to the wall. Her heart sank when she saw the huge D ring padlocking it to the wall. Something built to keep a horse tethered was far too much for a small young woman to overcome.
She heard a sound and turned quickly to look. Someone was opening the door. Quickly, Charlotte dove for the pile of straw she had been sleeping on and dug underneath it. She tried to cover up her naked body. Even though this guy had already gotten a good look at her, she'd be damned if she was going to let him get another one. Whatever he wanted, she wasn't going to make it easy for him. She looked up defiantly, ready to yell at him, but she froze when she saw that he wasn't alone.
He gave her an easy smile as he walked in, eyebrows raised as he noticed the straw that covered her. His eyes flickered briefly toward the food bowl and Charlotte fancied she saw him nod slightly.
Behind him was an old man, shabbily dressed in well-worn dungarees and a plaid shirt. This man eyed her critically, his expression suspicious. He glanced over her barely concealed body a few times but otherwise focused on her face.
Charlotte was glad to see that behind HIM was a woman, also elderly, in an old dress and sweater. She had a much more concerned look on her face and carried a white plastic bag. It was she who spoke first.
"Are you okay, child?" she asked, her voice surprisingly youthful. "Zachery here told us he found you coming in off the desert."
Charlotte sighed with relief, "Yes, I came from the highway. Can you let me go now, please?" She extended her cuffed wrists toward the old couple.
"What's your name, girl?" asked the old man angrily, ignoring her plea for release.
Charlotte looked up at him, recoiling a little from his anger, "I'm sorry? Look, all I need is something to wear and I'll get out of here and never bother you again!"
"I asked you a question, girl!" said the old man, taking a step toward her.
Charlotte actually flinched, but she wasn't the only one who moved. The blonde-haired man whom she assumed was Zachery, grabbed the upper arm of the old man and shook his head. The old woman also moved, pushing aside the old man and glaring at him.
"Excuse my husband, child," she said, digging in her bag, "but he can be rather gruff with new people, and to be honest, we don't see that many here in Temperance."
She pulled from the bag what looked like another worn pair of dungarees,
or bib overalls.
"When Zachery told us you had nothing to wear I brought these over for you. I had no idea he really meant that you were naked, child!" She glared at the young man who smirked.
"You're a devil at times, young Zachery," said the woman. Zack just smiled.
Charlotte eyed the clothing that was being held out of her reach, as hungry for it as she had been for the food she had just consumed. "Thank you," was all she said before the old man interrupted.
"Before she gets anything...I want my question answered," he said forcefully, "I want to know what she wants here!"
"Don't be a fuss-pot," replied the old woman, "we'll let the Judge sort out why she's here, just like always."
"Judge?" Charlotte asked.
"That's right, child, the Judge will have to see you. Although it's too late today, you'll have to go in the morning. Zachery will have to keep you here overnight at least."
"What?" Charlotte said, surprised and afraid, "Why should I see a Judge? PLEASE just let me go!"
"Oh we can't do that, can we, Levi?" responded the old woman.
"You have to see the Judge, girl," said the old man named Levi, "all newcomers have to pass before him."
"Why?" asked Charlotte, frustrated.
The two old people looked at her as if she was asking a really stupid question.
"Why?" asked the old woman. "Why, to be judged of course!"
Charlotte blinked, not knowing how to respond.
Levi snorted, "Let's go, Hettie. She's secure enough here for the moment."
Hettie nodded. "I'll just give her this then," she said, walking forward and handing Charlotte the overalls. "I don't want her running around without clothes on in front of Zachery...not before the Judge has seen her." She glared once more at Zack who smiled in return.
Charlotte was speechless. These people were actually going to leave her chained up here in this barn.
"We'll be back in the morning...er, what is your name anyway, child?" asked Hettie.
"Charlotte," she whispered, clutching the overalls to her front.
"Charlotte, such a nice name. We'll see you in the morning, Charlotte," Hettie said with a kindly smile. She then glared once more in Zachery's direction. "You see she gets some rest, and no funny business!"
Zack, the only one who seemed to be having a good time, mouthed what Charlotte thought was 'Yes Mom,' and then grinned. He looked right at Charlotte and his stare seemed to bore right through her, making her blush.
"Come on, Levi," Hettie said, and without another word she took her husband's arm and led him out of the barn.
Charlotte didn't know what was going on. She really wasn't going to be freed. But at least she had something to wear now. She looked up at Zachery, waiting for him to go so she could get dressed, but he just stood there with his arms folded, looking at her.
"Er..." Charlotte said, after a moment, "could you like, go away? If you aren't going to take this chain off me could you at least give me some privacy to dress?"
Zack shook his head slowly.
"You want to see me get dressed," Charlotte said flatly.
Zack nodded and smiled, which made Charlotte angry.
"Fuck you!" she said loudly.
Zack shrugged, before reaching forward and grabbing the overalls out from Charlotte's arms before she could react. He stepped out of her reach and silently laughed.
"Hey!" yelled Charlotte, wanting to go after them yet not wanting to get out from under her covering of straw. She felt stupid because she knew the man had already seen her naked, yet she couldn't move. "Please?" she asked after a moment.
He beckoned for her to stand.
"No, I won't," Charlotte said stubbornly.
Again Zack shrugged and he turned to walk away.
"Wait!" yelled Charlotte, realizing again Zack had all the power at that moment. "Wait! Okay, okay!"
Zachery stopped and turned to face her. He held the overalls at his side and beckoned once more for her to stand.
Blushing, Charlotte slowly did as she was told and she stood up, brushing straw from her body as best she could with her hands cuffed.
Zack looked at her for a moment, then twirled a finger.
Charlotte knew what he wanted, "You get off on this, don't you?"
His only reply was a sly smile, so Charlotte did as she was ordered.
She turned slowly around so that he could see all of her. She was ashamed
at being so exposed, yet also ashamed of her body. She knew she wasn't
exactly the ideal body type. She wasn't fat but she was no supermodel
either, and after a day out in the desert she looked a wreck.
The shame of not being seen at her best was almost as bad as being seen at all! Still, she got through the ordeal without dying and Zack handed her the overalls.
With her wrists cuffed she had to struggle to put them on, and from a safe distance away Zachery watched her. Getting the straps over her shoulders was the hardest part, but she managed and even got the fasteners done. When finished, Charlotte pulled and tugged at her only piece of clothing but wasn't that happy with it. She was happy enough to have SOMETHING to wear, but it was too short for her. The crotch cut into her somewhat and the seat was so thin it practically wasn't there. The bib managed to cover her breasts from the front okay, but from the sides they were still rather visible. It was obvious that this was all she was wearing. But it was something.
As Charlotte finished dressing, Zack picked up the empty bowl and mug. He gave her a grin and carried them out with him, leaving her alone once more.
Charlotte watched him go and then tugged angrily at the chain that kept
her prisoner. She started to worry about the Judge and also about Moose
and his gang. For the longest time she wondered if she had just jumped
out of the frying pan.