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PART EIGHTY-THREE

“What are you doing!?” Skylar screamed at her father. “Why are you hurting people?!”

With one hand Caleb held both of his daughter’s skinny wrists behind her back while he finished securing Mrs. McNutt with the roll of duct-tape. “I’m sorry if I hurt you, Skylar,” he said, not looking at his daughter. “And I got no intention a hurting you or Mrs. McNutt here. I got business to attend to and I need a place to do it and I’m afraid Mrs. McNutt might be tempted to call the cops and I can’t have that. Me and Hot, er, me and Matzah Marti got some business to attend to and then we’re just gonna wait on your mama. After I’m done with Karla and Marti I’ll leave good ole Mrs. M here all fine and dandy and be on my way.”

“You are despicable, preying on an old woman,” Mrs. McNutt wheezed from her restrained position. “You called me a fine Christian woman, but what are you but a low-life, uncivilized animal?”

“Animal?” Caleb said excitedly. “No. You got it wrong,” he added more sedately. “I been caged with animals. That’s what this is all about. I’m a zookeeper now. God’s zookeeper. That’s what me and Miss Marti pants are gonna get to. Dirty little temptation is what she is. And then me and Karla. After that I’ll be on my way and you won’t be anything but a little bit bruised. For which I am truly sorry.

“Now. I gotta go get Kikey Kohnen. You gonna stay quiet or do I gotta gag you afore I go.”

Mrs. McNutt did not answer, and Caleb smiled. “Don’t wanna lie, huh? I knew you was a good Christian woman. Alright. I gotta gag you then. Don’t worry, I done it before an I’ll be careful,” he added, rolling Mrs. McNutt to her back so he could duct-tape her mouth shut, making sure to stay well clear of her nostrils.

Looking into the old woman’s eyes he said, “You’re proly feeling all panicky right now. Just try to relax. Maybe say some prayers.

“No, no!” He added in response to Mrs. McNutt’s eyes widening precipitously. “I own’t mean ‘say your prayers.’ I just mean, you know, take your troubles to Elohim. To God. He’s a God a vengeance against the wicked but He’s a great comfort to those who claim Him as savior. Just breathe and relax. I won’t be but five minutes. Breathe and relax,” he repeated, nodding slowly and breathing exaggeratedly.

“Skylar?” he asked, turning his daughter around so she faced him. “Same question. I’m gonna go get Marti from the van. I got three choices for ya. A, I can leave you here all hogtied with Mrs. McNutt. B, I can duct-tape your mouth and let you walk up to the van and back with me, or three, we can walk up there as father and daughter together. You free to do what’s right and proper, obeying Commandment number six; honoring your father and doing what I’ll say.

“What you think? You wanna be hogtied, you wanna walk free or you need ta have yer mouth taped just in case? Sup to you,” he concluded, eyebrows raised in interrogative.

Skylar’s face was awash in emotion. Anger, fear, astonishment telegraphed in eyes, brows, mouth and head tilt.

“Not sure, are you, baby? That’s alright. I know this is all new to you. So, here’s what we’re gonna do. I’m gonna go with option two? B? Let’s just right careful tape yer mouth,” Caleb carefully placed tape on Skylar’s mouth as he spoke, “and then you can walk with me. You do good that way and I’ll untape you when we get back here to Mrs. McNutt’s with Miss Yahoodi Judy.

“Alright,” he said, raising his eyebrows and looking into his daughter’s eyes one more time, “let’s go get us little Miss Palm Beacher.”