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PART FIFTY-ONE

Stacie sat wordlessly, mouth hanging agape. Suzann, turning in the booth to face Karla, took her hands and placed them on the young mother’s right forearm. “Karla,” she said softly and gently, “if your husband has killed someone and he’s here to kill you we must call the police. If not for your sake, then for Skylar’s.”

Stacie saw Karla’s eyes close as tightly as possible in the split second it took her hands to fly from the table to her face. Karla emitted a wordless sound of terror and grief before taking a jagged, broken gulp of air. Bringing her hands from her face, she reached over with her left hand to pat Suzann’s right as it rested on her forearm, grabbed her water glass and took a long drink before inhaling deeply twice more and answering, “And lose my baby? Because that’s what’ll happen, won’t it? I took Skylar from her Daddy. He’s a Morse. A Gadsden Morse?

“You just don’t get it. The Morses are a very powerful clan in Gadsden. If I didn’t run, then Skylar’d be ruined, and if I go to the police, she’ll wind up with her grandparents, and they’re the ones who created Caleb in the first place. The man is sick and evil. Is that what you want for Skylar?”

“If Caleb killed someone then the police can help!” Stacie declared.

“Some one?! No, no. Not someone, some many!” Karla cried. “I know he did, I know he did, I know he did. He was twisted when I met him; charming but twisted, and then he got more and more twisted once he started running with those Elohim folks.”

Suzann moved her hands from Karla’s forearm to the young woman’s shoulder. “Breathe, darling. Breathe. We can help. We can. But if your husband has killed people then the police can lock him away. You can be safe and stop running.”

Karla shook her head hard, first left and then right. “Mm-mm! You can’t turn in one of Elohim’s Army’s top soldiers and get off scot-free. You just can’t,” she moaned, voice filled with defeat. “That’s why I ran when I got the chance; while Caleb was in prison for the, I own’t know, sixth time? Because when it comes to them Elohim folk the only way out is death or disappearance and I refused to have my little girl around a man like that. Men like that! And women too!

“Oh, Miss Suzann, if Elohim’s boys just saw us sitting here together I own’t know what they’d do. Not because they’re hunting me. Oh, no! Because we’re race-mixing! Race-mixing! And to think I once believed all that crap.”

Despite herself, Suzann’s hands momentarily came off Karla’s shoulder before she placed a false smile on her face and put her left arm around the diminutive blonde. “Okay, okay. Okay. Breathe. And talk. Don’t worry about what we’re going to do. Don’t worry about running or hiding or whether Caleb Ezra Morse is close by or far away. Just tell us what you know.”

“Tell you what I know? What I know could take days. Let’s just hit the highlights, shall we?” Karla asked.

“Do you know when I met Caleb?”

“No,” Suzann replied. “When?”

“Homecoming dance, freshman year at Southside High School Gadsden, Alabama. I was there with a nice boy named Duncan. His mama drove us to the dance because he was a tenth grader and didn’t have no driver’s license. We’re there, having a good time. My first high school dance and all, you know? I’m feeling like a princess, dancing with Duncan and then, wham! I forget all about poor Duncan. Know why?”

Suzann and Stacie both shake their heads.

“Because this gorgeous man walks in with this vision from heaven on his arm.

“I have never met Caleb Ezra Morse, but I have heard of him. Captain of the football team, all around jock and heart melter. I’d watched him play when I’d go to games with my family. Lord, Daddy loved Southside football! Anyway, in walks this man, he’d graduated the year before and if you don’t think a nineteen-year-old-boy looks like heaven to a fourteen-year-old inexperienced Southern girl then you need to rethink.

“Night goes on, my friend Audrey June comes over with her date and asks do we want to meet Caleb, the returning Homecoming football star?

“Do I? It’s everything I can do not to leave poor Duncan standing there and run. Next thing I know I’m meeting him and he is charming with a capital C!

“Looking back, I feel terrible about the way I treated Duncan, but that’s neither here nor there. Anyhow, fore the night is over he comes up and asks for my number.

“Me! Little Miss Karla Kisor, nobody freshman has this big ole dog sniffing round. Could he have it? I wanted to tattoo it on his arm! I give it to him and he puts it in his cellphone. His cellphone! Kisor parents did not give their children cellphones so even that was all cool and grownup!

He calls me the next day and asks if I’d like to go out with him. As if he didn’t know the answer. Dinner and a movie! Big spender. But then he want’s payment, something I haven’t experienced before. And by payment I’m not talking no hand job in the back of the car. He wants me. I tell him no. He tells me yes. I say take me home. He says soon as we’re done.

“Prince Charming rapes me. First time, first date, bam! And it gets better. It gets way better. It gets better when I find out I’m pregnant. Pregnant and fourteen. Ain’t that a MTV show?”