Caleb’s presence made Mrs. McNutt’s labored breathing even more jagged. Walking by her on his way to Skylar, Caleb said, “It’s okay, ma’am; nobody’s going to hurt you,” and patted her well-padded shoulder.
She recoiled, nostrils flaring, and head quivering rapidly left to right half-an-inch on a side. A damp slickness covered Mrs. McNutt’s face and she swallowed bile before uttering, “Please leave her alone. Please leave us alone. Can’t you just leave before anything truly terrible happens?”
“Afraid I got business. Business with Marti in there and business with Karla. Now, don’t you fret. Ain’t no harm gonna come to you.”
“Everything’s wrong with you here,” Mrs. McNutt sobbed. “My stomach hurts, my shoulder’s aching, even my jaw hurts. Please. Just go. I won’t call the police. Leave that woman, leave Skylar and just go. And my arms. You have my arms too tight. They ache,” she moaned, lip trembling and eyes tear filled.
“I’d like to, but I can’t,” Caleb said. “I got business. Plus, my vans stuck, so I guess you’re stuck with me.”
“No! No. Take my keys. Take my car. Just leave us alone.”
“Well, thank you, ma’am! I’m sure I’ll do just that, but not yet. Why own’t you just simmer down and relax. I needs to check on Skylar,” Caleb said with a condescending triple nod.
Turning from the couch to the kitchen chair Caleb looked down at his daughter, eyebrows raised. “You holding up? Where you figure your mama’s at?”
Skylar, head down but eyes up, did not answer. “Oh, Jesus, girl. Really? You ain’t seen me since you was in kindy-garden and now you won’t even talk to me? See what your mama’s done with her lies? With her stealing you? You been poisoned. That’s okay though. We’ll make it right; you just wait.”
“What are you doing with Marti?” Skylar asked through clenched teeth. “You said you’d untie her.”
“No, little girl, I did not. I said I’d come back and get her and I sure as hell did, so don’t be calling me no liar. It’s your mama who’s been lying to ya, not me.
“I’m educating, Marti, that’s all. Teaching her things she don’t know nothing about. And I gotta get back to it. She’s mighty lonely in there. You okay? Need anything?”
Caleb shrugged his shoulders in response to Skylar silence. “Okay. Suit yourself. I’ll be back,” he muttered, rising from his crouched position, turning on his heel and heading back into the master bedroom.
From his position by the second window on the wheelchair ramp Manny heard Caleb’s and Mrs. McNutt’s voices but couldn’t make out any words. The white ranch stood on a three-foot-tall stone foundation, something rarely found in Florida, and the extra elevation made for a long, straight ramp. “Come on, guys,” he whispered to himself, again scanning Black Lake and State Road Fifty-four for emergency vehicles. “This ain’t my job no more.”
The voices ended, and Manny carefully made his way up the ramp past the two single windows near the bottom up to the triple singles that stood in for a low-cost picture-window. The curtain lace that covered the windows obscured Manny’s vision, but he could make out a lone figure sitting on the couch and another sitting close by on a straight-backed chair.
Manny crouched down so only the top of his head was above the bottom of the window pane and listened intently. “The last thing I wanna do is play hero. No,” he corrected himself, “the last thing I wanna do is sit outside while an innocent kid gets hurt. Come on, Easton. Get here!”