Hellmouth

Hellmouth

by Meredith Anthony

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781524672911
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 04/07/2017
Pages: 332
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.74(d)

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CHAPTER 1

There wasn't a chance in hell that anyone would stop to pick up this guy. Tall, rangy, unkempt in ill-fitting clothes, he stuck his thumb out from time to time, almost as if it were his middle finger. The traffic was too thick for cars to stop easily and he didn't look like the sort of man you'd want in your car. A dark cloud seemed to surround him. He plodded along the uneven road shoulder, now and then shooting a malevolent glance at the cars that passed.

Helen Goode cursed at the traffic as she drove out of Benedict. She was running late. She was not a morning person and she worked in Canonsburg, thirty miles from her home.

Most often, she drove faster than she should. Part of her commute was a highway where she could speed, but first she had to endure ten miles on this two-lane local road, clotted with traffic and adorned with potholes. She was about halfway along this stretch when she saw him. She braked and swerved onto the shoulder, causing the driver behind her to honk his horn.

The unkempt man stopped and stared unblinking at Helen's car. Even in her rearview mirror, the man exuded menace. He stood there, dusty and dark, like a still from a horror movie.

Helen reached over, wound down the passenger side window and stuck her hand out, waving. The man walked up to her car. He paused, certain that she would take a good look at him and floor it, but Helen favored him with a smile.

"Need a lift?"

Helen was short, middle-aged, and a bit overweight, but she had a killer smile. Her husband told her that she resembled a screen siren of yesteryear, back when women had curves and lots of them. Rita Hayworth, maybe, or Ava Gardner.

"How far you going?" she asked. She didn't wait for an answer. "I'm going all the way to Pittsburgh myself and I hate to drive alone. Hop in, if you want. I could use the company." She flicked the handle and opened the passenger side door.

The man stared at her for a moment, unsmiling. Helen sat back up in the driver's seat, beaming at him as he climbed in and shut the door. He shot her an appraising look, then muttered, "Thanks." His voice was raspy, as if he didn't use it much.

"Why, it's no problem at all. Glad to have you." Helen put the car in gear and stuck her hand out her own window, waving until a truck slowed for her. She steered back onto the road.

"Just one thing, though. I hope you don't mind." Helen glanced over at him. He looked at her with narrowed eyes, his hands curling into fists, suspicious. Helen smiled again. "I haven't had breakfast yet and I'm near starved. I'm going to get on the highway up ahead and pull into that first IHOP. If you'll have breakfast with me, it'll be my treat. I don't like to drive alone and I surely don't like to eat alone. Do you?" The man stared at her, unmoving. At last, he muttered, "No." He turned back to look out the side window. Once, he glanced over at her and licked his lips.

Helen fought down the tiny wave of panic that threatened to overtake her. She maneuvered onto the highway and then took the first exit at high speed. She swerved into the IHOP parking lot as if she'd been doing it all her life, zipping into a spot near the door.

She was out of the car in a moment and stood waiting for her passenger. He climbed out and stared at the chain restaurant as if he'd never seen one before. She had the idea that he was considering running away. Or grabbing her keys and stealing her car. Or worse. She hoped he wouldn't kill her. But, hell, what was life without a little risk?

"Come on, then." Helen gestured him forward, smiling over her shoulder. He followed her in.

She breezed by the hostess, pointing to a booth against the far wall.

The woman nodded and brought huge plastic menus.

Helen smiled again as her companion eased into the booth opposite her, his back to the windows. She shrugged out of her coat. The man looked around the restaurant. He stared down at the bright menu.

The waitress turned their coffee mugs right side up and filled them without asking. She left the coffee pot on the table and stood, hip cocked in the universal waitress stance, pad and pencil at the ready.

"I'll have a tall stack of buttermilk pancakes, a couple eggs sunny side up, hash browns, bacon, extra crispy, a couple of sausages, the link kind, not the patties, and a biscuit or two. Oh, and some fruit salad on the side." Helen handed her the menu. "And orange juice."

The waitress took it down. After a moment, the waitress prompted the man opposite Helen. "What'll it be, sugar?"

He stared at the table. "Same," he muttered.

The waitress took his menu and strode off.

"I can't thank you enough," Helen told him. "And like I say, this is on me. I insist." As if he had made any protest.

He muttered something unintelligible.

Helen was chattering away about long drives and good nutrition when two huge plates piled with food arrived. Helen slathered her plate with maple syrup and pushed the container over to him.

She dug in, sighing with pleasure.

After a moment, he did the same.

That morning Helen had woken up to hear her husband asking her for pancakes. Or sex. He knew he wasn't going to get either one. Not on a week day, but he loved to tease his wife. She had caught sight of the clock.

"Goddamn it, Beau. I'm going to be late."

She jumped out of bed, disheveled and angry.

"I'm going to quit my job today. I can't do this anymore. I surely can't. I hate it."

Helen loved to sleep and hated waking up. Beau, as usual, ignored her morning litany. Helen loved her job and had no intention of quitting. Beau knew that.

By the time he came out of the bathroom and patted her behind with an affectionate murmur of "precious thing," Helen already had on pantyhose and a brassiere with serious engineering and was heading past him for the bathroom to brush her teeth.

"I'm just going in long enough to quit," she gargled, her mouth full of mint toothpaste. The blue foam made her look like a cartoon mad dog. Her hair stuck out in spikes, wild from sleep.

"Of course you are." Beau looked at her with admiration.

At almost fifty, her torso a trifle thickened, Helen was still one of those inexplicably compelling women who made a certain kind of man breathless and sweaty-palmed with lust. Every time she had divorced a husband, her driveway immediately filled up with the Chevys and Fords of hopeful suitors. Men liked that her skin was thick and creamy, her figure voluptuous, her mouth wide and sensual.

And she liked that Beau Goode, her fourth true love, was one of those men who found her irresistible. "You go right in there and quit, pumpkin. You'll have more time to play with me."

He leaned into her bathroom and tweaked what he thought was her nipple, but was in fact a small air pocket in the pointed, business end of the big stiff bra. Helen hadn't adjusted her large creamy breasts yet, but she appreciated the thought and squealed with feigned pleasure.

"Get away from me, you crazy old bastard." She swatted his hand, spraying blue flecks on the bathroom mirror.

Beau sighed. "Sugar, I've got to go over to Harrisburg to talk to the judge there about changing the venue on that three-time B&E artist we got locked up. I want to try him right here in Benedict County." The state capital was a good three hours drive.

Helen was shimmying into a tight red wool skirt and Beau stopped to admire her efforts on his way to the kitchen.

"Then I'll stop for a spell and talk to Doc Morton. He's at his local office. I'm not sure if Congress is in recess or if Doc is taking a little break from serving his country."

"Doc's been taking a break from serving his country for as long as he's been in Congress," Helen said. "And that's a long, long time."

Beau chuckled. "Yes, precious, Doc's an asshole, but —"

They finished the line together, "But he's our asshole." They both laughed, Helen not pausing in her haste to get ready for work.

She grabbed a silk blend blouse with an op art print that could stimulate an epileptic into a full-blown seizure. It had a collar that tied into a bow. She fished high heels out of the welter of shoes in the bottom of the closet, finding two navy and white spectators that matched on the third try. She tugged them on, then leaned into the bathroom and swiped on a little mascara and a slash of bright red color from a lipstick that had been tortured into concavity from heavy-handed use. She ran a brush through her dark red hair.

"Goddammit, Beau. I'm going to be late." She grabbed the jacket that matched the skirt from the closet, sending the hanger crashing to the floor.

"What do you care if you're late, sugar?" Beau had asked, looking sly. "You're just going in long enough to quit."

*
Now, instead of quitting her job, she was sharing a meal with a complete stranger. They ate in silence for a bit, then Helen put her fork down.

"I have to go to the little girl's room. Don't you let her take my plate away, you hear?"

The man nodded, his mouth full. He was eating like he hadn't been fed in a week.

Helen took her handbag and sauntered to the little hallway with the restrooms. She stopped at the payphone, put in some coins and dialed.

"Judge's chambers. Lucy speaking."

"Put me through to Beau right away, Lucy. Tell him it's me."

Lucy knew better than to say the judge was busy, even if he was.

Beau got on the line. "Sugar, I can't talk now. We got a hornet's nest here. Happened just as I was about to leave for the capital. So I'll have to talk to you later on. Okay?"

"You lose something, Beau? You and Andy?"

This made him hesitate when he was about to hang up on her. "Precious? Andy's got an escaped prisoner we got to find before he commits another felony," her husband said.

"Well, that's funny because I found one of those. We're at the IHOP, the first one when you turn north on the highway."

"Helen, sugar —"

"And Beau? Ask Lucy to call my office and say I'll be a teeny bit late." Silence.

"And Beau?"

"Helen?"

"One more thing. Don't rush, darlin'. We ordered a big breakfast and we're going to need some time to finish it."

That last part was a joke. She knew Beau was going to hurry all right.

Helen hung up and went to the ladies' room. She was going to have to make room for all the coffee she planned to drink.

Helen smiled at the hitchhiker as she slid back into the booth. He didn't look up at her. He was concentrating on his food, eating with purpose.

Helen didn't see Beau when he entered the IHOP. He just seemed to materialize at their booth. Not for the first time, Helen wondered how such a big man could move so fast.

She gave a little sigh and dabbed her napkin at her lips. The hitchhiker put down his fork. He did not look up at her. Or at Judge Beauregard Goode.

Helen slid out of the booth. "I'll get the check," she said, grinning.

Beau raised his eyebrows. "I promised."

The other diners began to realize that something unusual was taking place. The cashier's hands shook as she counted out Helen's change. Helen thanked her and handed her waitress an ample tip. The waitress dropped it, as a commotion broke out behind them.

Helen glanced back in time to see Beau standing over the hitchhiker, who was prone on the floor. Benedict Police Chief Andy Furbee had just hustled through the door. He snapped his handcuffs closed over the man's wrists. Then he and Beau hauled the man to his feet and shoved him in the direction of the door where several uniformed officers now waited. All the IHOP patrons were watching, their mouths agape.

As he passed Helen, the man paused, stumbling, and muttered something. Andy shoved him to get him going again, but the man stood firm, for a moment, and turned to Helen.

"Thank you for breakfast."

Helen gave him a little finger wave, her mouth a moue of regret at having had to turn him in. He shrugged and moved forward, persuaded by another shove from Andy.

Beau leaned down as he passed Helen. "I don't know whether to kiss you or spank you, precious," he said, too soft for anyone but Helen to hear.

"Do I have to pick just one?" Helen asked.

CHAPTER 2

It was half an hour later when Helen got back on the highway, going south this time, and drove to her job. She took the exit ramp a little fast, throwing a last oath at the rushing traffic, and swooped into the corporate parking lot, sliding into a space near the door.

As she braked, she bumped the guardrail. The uniformed guard, a spastic young man adorned with virulent acne, gave her a tentative wave as she slammed the car door. She shot him a dazzling smile as she breezed past, much later even than usual. He blushed, causing his pustules to flare cherry red. He was deeply in love with her.

Inside, Helen was greeted with warmth by men and women who had all been at work for more than an hour. Not one of them glanced at the wall clock, tapped their wristwatch, or shook their head with an ironic smile. Everyone she passed, men and women, old and young, from the managers to the janitors, the engineers to the typists, expressed various heartfelt versions of how good it was to see her. None of them knew or cared that she'd had breakfast with a dangerous, escaped felon.

When she reached her office, her fat, homely secretary, Carole Dilly, struggled to her feet and poured the first of many mugs of bad coffee. Handing Helen the World's Best Boss mug filled with a scalding, burnt brew, artificial sweetener, and petro-chemical cream, Carole began her ritualized morning offering of compliments, information, and lies.

"Carole, now you stop pouring warm syrup all over me," Helen purred, thinking back to her breakfast. It was an honest appraisal that neither stemmed the tide of warm syrup nor inhibited its soothing effect.

Helen began to relax under the ministrations of her assistant. Some saw Carole as a cunning, ambitious, manipulative woman who would stab her mother in the heart if it would lead to advancement. Helen saw her as something else, the perfect assistant. Carole knew that her own career was tied to Helen's. Helen was a vice president and Carole had the title of associate vice president, even though she was only Helen's go-fer. Carole was smart and she was devoted.

Helen had always chosen perfect protégés. They worked like sled dogs and she saw to it that they were rewarded. Carole was one of the best. She could curse like a sailor and lie like a priest, and as long as her career progressed, she was perfectly reliable.

Helen got busy. She worked with astonishing expertise. Her superiors, a dimwitted crew of Caucasian men, most of whom were smitten with her anyway, put up with her irreverent attitude, her constant complaining, her chronic lateness, and a host of other employee no-no's. She more than made up for the inconvenience. She worked hard all morning.

Right before noon, Carole appeared in Helen's doorway. She had an unreadable expression on her face. "There's a Mr. Wilson here to see you," she announced in a bland voice but with an imperceptible hesitation that put Helen on alert. Carole, who knew everything about Helen's professional life, didn't know what to make of this visitor.

Helen was intrigued, but perplexed. "Who?" She sped through her considerable mental Rolodex for Wilsons.

"Mr. Wilson," Carole repeated, waiting for an indication that she should deny the visitor admission. "He says it's personal." Her look expressed her skepticism.

Helen made the connection. "Oh, Louie."

She was up and past Carole in a flash. "Louie, come on in. Nice to see you. What the hell are you doing in this neck of the woods?" She escorted the small, aging black gentleman into her office, past the baffled Carole. She gave Carole a smile and a wink, to show her that this was unexpected but okay. Carole could live with that for the time being. Helen closed the door.

She gestured Louie to a seat. Louie Wilson was a wizened, old-fashioned man — the type who always wore a fedora outdoors and took it off inside and in the presence of a lady. He had worked for Beau since Beau's first election as judge and had spent the better part of the last decade in the office behind Beau's, in the courthouse.

Beau had had his choice, according to the measly budget provided by the county clerks, of a paralegal or an assistant, but not both. A paralegal could write up decisions, keep track of evidence, and help with the professional nature of Beau's job. An assistant was a go-fer with a title. An assistant would pick up your dry cleaning, shop for your wife's anniversary present, and take your car in to the shop. Beau chose the assistant.

He reasoned that he'd gone to law school and could write up his own damn decisions. He'd rather have somebody get his shirts from the laundry. He hired Louie Wilson. If Carole was Helen's work wife, Louie Wilson was Beau's. In fact, he was more a wife to Beau than Helen was, when it came right down to it. Outside of conversation and sex, Louie was a damn good wife.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Hellmouth"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Meredith Anthony.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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