Joanie stood stock-still, watching the handle turn. Then it stopped, and the irritating jimmying of the door began again. But he hadn’t gotten in – not yet anyway. In the corner of the bathroom, she spied her heavy clothes hamper, which she slid over and shoved up against the door. Next she piled books and magazines from her bathroom reading supply on top of the hamper. Towels and facecloths were jammed in the crack at the base of the door. None of this would keep him out for long but it was all she had, and she thought it might buy her some time.
The incessant scraping of metal on metal was getting to her, so she went to the vanity and turned on the tap, flipping the light switch as she passed. The light didn’t go on. She could have sworn she had just changed the bulb, but dismissed the thought as there were more important things to worry about at the moment. Between the running water and the hard object being jammed into the door lock, there was enough noise to muffle any sound she might make, which is what she wanted. Still, she walked quietly over to the small window, opened it slowly without letting it creak, hoisted herself up onto the sill and leaned her head out to look around. Yes, it was a long way down, but there were pipes and outcroppings to her left and right. Perhaps if she could squeeze through the frame and climb onto the narrow ledge below, she’d at least be able to call for help. Even if people thought she was a jumper, any attention was better than none.
As Joanie leaned further out the window she heard something buzzing. She couldn’t identify what it was or where it was coming from. There was no machinery being operated down below. In fact the street, usually bustling with people, was sadly, empty. But then she remembered it was Sunday, all shops and offices were closed. Craning her head, she listened more intently. Maybe Peter had found some sort of power tool to use on the door? She eased down from her perch and tiptoed back over to the door, but as she passed, she realized the sound was coming from the cupboard below the vanity. Completely miffed, she turned the water off so she could hear better, opened the cupboard and looked inside. The noise stopped. She closed the doors, thinking it might start up again, but nothing. Just as she was about to walk away, she noticed a faint glow coming from a crack between the two doors. Curious now, she opened the vanity again and sure enough, she saw a bluish light coming from behind the Pine Sol and Mr. Clean. Then it faded and went out completely. Down on all fours, she reached into the back of the cupboard space, felt around until her hand landed on something hard, smooth and warm. She grabbed it and pulled it out.
“Oh my god,” Joanie whispered, as she looked at the iPhone in her hands – her iPhone. “How the heck…” But before she could put all the pieces of the puzzle together, the handle to the bathroom door began to jiggle frantically, as if suddenly there was an urgent need for Peter to get in. Quickly, as there was no time to waste, Joanie punched in phone, then recents, and there on the screen was Jake’s name and number four times. She smiled. The door started to creak and crack as Peter began to make headway into the room. She had only seconds. Without missing a beat, Joanie pressed Jake’s name, set the phone back in its place, and put a roll of toilet paper in front of it to block out the glow. Just as she closed the vanity doors and managed to burrow into a corner of the bathtub, the bathroom door came crashing open.
“Well, well, well, what have we here?” Peter brushed his hands together removing splinters and dirt, and sauntered over to the tub. The door hung halfway off its upper hinge, the lower hinge dangled like a loose tooth from the door jamb. Books and magazines lay strewn across the floor.
“Listen, Peter, I had no choice. You made me do this.” She paused for breath. “I tried to reason with you but…”
“Tried? You call that trying? And just when we were enjoying a little one-on-one lip action.” He winked. Somewhat charged up with the success of victory, Peter had a fresh glean in his eyes, although he still looked pale and wan. Joanie could smell the stench of his unwashed body. Under normal circumstances, the male scent would have turned her on. This just made her stomach churn.
“So, what am I going to do with my little Jo Jo, huh?” Peter paced around in the small space, clearly enjoying himself, while Joanie shivered with fear curled up in the corner of the tub. Then he turned briskly to her.
“What?” Joanie asked, confused.
“You heard me. Out. Get out of the tub.” Slowly, Joanie rose and climbed out. Peter was quick to grab her by the arm, to ensure she didn’t flee.
“Ouch, Peter, you’re hurting me. Why are you being like this? What have I done to you to deserve this treatment?”
“Hmmm, let me see…do you want me to start with that time when we were kids and you didn’t include me in the game of kick the can? ‘Peter, Peter, dog-shit eater…’ Sound familiar? I know, I know, that was before we ‘liked’ each other. So, how ‘bout this one: ‘Why’d ya leave, Joanie Scott? Why’d ya forsake us all, leave Charleston – leave me – and move to New York?’ Huh? Can you answer me that?”
Shock and disbelief ran through her bones, but she sat mute.
“That’s what I thought. You can’t answer because you have no guts. C’mon, let’s get out of this stuffy bathroom.” He pulled on her arm again but she resisted, wanting to keep him talking beside the vanity a little longer.
“Oh, Peter, please,” she said loudly, emphasizing his name. “You’re only looking at the worst of the worst. We had good times, you and me. Such good times.” She waited to see if he’d say anything, then continued. “Kids are mean, Peter. You think I didn’t get my fair share when I was young? They called me four-eyes because I wore glasses, and kids used to refer to me as a boy because I didn’t wear a bra till I was fourteen. Don’t you think that was hard? Well it was.”
“I don’t care what you felt, Jo Jo. No one knows what I’ve felt – not then and not now.” He yanked her arm, dragging her over the debris and into the hallway. She cried out, loudly enough she hoped, for the iPhone to register her voice.
In the hall she passed the home phone, grabbed the receiver and pressed on, but there was no dial tone. Then it hit her; the bathroom light, the phone. Joanie quickly scanned the room and realized no lights were on. The usual glow from the digital clocks on the stove and microwave were non-existent. The only light in the apartment was the late afternoon sun that passed through the south-facing windows. Holy shit, she thought. She was on lock-down in her own home.
“No free phone call in this prison, sweet thang.” Peter let loose a dangerous cackle. “Now, get on that bed. NOW!” Joanie did as she was told. Flopping onto her bed, she shimmied up to the headboard and leaned back. Peter took a long coil of rope from his jacket pocket, cut it in two with his pocketknife, went over to the bedpost and proceeded to tie Joanie’s wrists, one at a time, to each post. Gripped with fear, Joanie let her head fall to her chest in defeat. She didn’t even try to fight anymore. What was the point? As her wrists were cinched tight, she was at his mercy. She knew he could do anything he wanted to her now. She was as vulnerable as she could possibly be. Eyes closed, she gave herself up to her fate, her only hope being that maybe Jake, or someone else, heard her cries. Next, Peter cut two more pieces of rope from another coil.
“Spread your legs,” he demanded. Joanie stiffened.
“Peter…Peter, please, please don’t do this. I…I’m not wearing…”
“Wearing any undies? Has that ever stopped you before?”
“Spread ‘em.” Again, Joanie lowered her eyes but not before catching a glimpse of Peter staring directly between her legs. He grabbed one foot and, more gently than she expected, attached it with rope to a baluster at the foot of the bed. He opened the top drawer of her bureau and removed a pair of black stockings. Fearing the worst, Joanie shut her eyes, but Peter simply placed the soft nylon under the rope to protect the skin of her ankle. He did the same with the other foot. When he finished, he stood back to assess his handy-work, a sinister expression on his face. But to Joanie’s amazement, rather than molest her, Peter grabbed a blanket and nonchalantly tossed it across her lower body. She didn’t know whether he did it to keep himself from being tempted by her exposed crotch or whether he was being protective, but she was relieved and grateful for the gesture. More surprising still, was that Peter walked over to the loveseat he had earlier fallen asleep on, and sat down. He pulled a packet of Marlboro’s from his shirt pocket, tapped one out and lit it. She watched him inhale deeply, like he was savoring a delicious dessert.
“Surprised, Jo Jo? I’ve smoked for years now, but you wouldn’t know that, now would you? There’s so much about me you don’t know.”
“I’m sorry Peter. I truly am,” Joanie said, a quiver in her voice. Peter took another drag.
“Me too, Jo Jo.” He fell quiet then, and when he spoke next, Joanie thought she detected regret in his tone.
“You know, Jo Jo, we really had something, didn’t we? I mean, you and me, we could have moved mountains, we could have changed the world – or at least Charleston. That would have been enough.” He chuckled.
“So what happened, Peter?”
“Hmmm, that’s one loaded question, sweet-pea, but coming from my true heart, it wasn’t your fault. I’m only blaming you now because I love you so damn much, ya know?” Joanie noticed beads of sweat accumulating on his brow again, and that same wild look had returned. He sucked long and hard on his filter tip and looked her straight in the eye. She winced.
“I wanted you so bad, Jo Jo. Always did…always will. Funny thing is, even when you teased me, I wanted you more. It kinda felt like love to me, ‘cause you know, I didn’t really ever know what love felt like – till you that is.”
“So, why did you marry Clarice if you loved me so much?”
“Oh, her? I never loved her, and she didn’t love me. I married her because…” He let his voice drop off. “Because Kevin loved her, so I wanted to prove that I could get her. And I did. Big whoop, right? Because Kev got her in the end anyway.” Peter let the burnt out cigarette fall onto the hardwood floor. He butted it out with the tip of his boot. Joanie ignored it.
“Kev and I always competed. Oh yeah, we were best friends alright, but that’s what best friends do, they compete. I will admit that I took it too far that time, but I kinda liked it. I felt so powerful, so in control. It felt like I had won, that is until Clarice and I were married and then the sky really fell.” He pulled out another smoke and lit-up. His hair was damp and greasy looking, his eyes held that hollow look that had earlier haunted her. He jiggled his left foot up and down nervously, inhaling before he could even exhale the stale smoke he had taken in. Then he stood up, walked over to the end of the bed and sat down. Bound by crude lashes, Joanie’s bare feet were stretched out in front of him. He picked one up and, butt dangling from his mouth, began to caress it. Stroking each toe first, he then rubbed his filthy hands up and down her arch. She watched him, unmoved. He spat the butt onto the floor and left it smoldering, then bent over, put her big toe in his mouth and suckled it like a baby. Joanie remained stone still, even though she was scared to death. When he finished he looked up at her.
“You know, Jo Jo, as much as I always wanted you, and you always wanted me, I knew it would never work. Did you know that?” Joanie shook her head.
“I’m surprised by you. Weren’t you aware of my freakishness? Didn’t you wonder why we never actually dated or made-out like other teenagers did, why I never pursued you beyond our light, unattainable flirtations? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s because I love you Joanie Scott.” Peter lowered his head as if he was about to cry. For a brief moment, Joanie felt inclined to touch his head, to stroke his dark matted curls, but of course her hands were tied. Still, whatever it was he was going through, he was still like a brother to her, and her heart went out to him. But no sooner did she feel this way than his erratic mood reoccurred. His eyes flashed when he looked at her, his nostrils flared. Although pale and sickly looking, he breathed heavily and tightened his grip on Joanie’s foot. She tried to recoil but the ropes held her fast.
“You’re too good for me, Joanie Scott, too good. Never once did you even guess how fucked-up I was, not then and not now. I am, you know.” Peter shifted uneasily on the bed, jiggled his leg again, and looked around nervously as if searching for something. He was jittery and anxious.
“Ever since I was a little boy I used to dream of ways to torture things. It started with bugs, little beetles, flies, then it evolved into snakes and rats, then…larger animals. I never…killed anything, honest. But I loved to watch them squirm. As I got older, I wanted to get the same satisfaction teasing and torturing people, even those I loved.” He paused thoughtfully. “Poor Clarice. She had no idea what she was getting herself into when she married me. I thought she was so sexy. She was, you know. All the other guys wanted her, especially Kevin. But I got her. At first I really thought we were a match made in heaven. She came across like she was so sexually adventurous – such a free spirit, remember? But she didn’t want to play the way I wanted to play.”
Joanie turned away. Beyond frightened, she braced herself for what was coming. She understood now that Peter was more than a troubled man, he was dangerous, unpredictable. Even though part of her trusted him because she’d known him her entire life, she realized, as he had pointed out, how little she really understood him. Peter lit another cigarette and continued. A smoky haze filled the filtered light coming in through the window.
“I realized soon enough that Clarice was a big mistake, but it was done. I wasn’t going to divorce her, even though I knew she wanted me to. Maybe that was some of the torture I enjoyed, since I couldn’t do the things I really wanted to do with her. I took away her virginity and took away her hopes of having a family and a happy life. I made her suffer by staying married to her. But eventually she found a way to torture me too, by hooking up with your brother, and my best friend.”
“What do you mean you took away her hopes of having a family? What did you do to her, Peter?”
“Clarice? Oh, I teased her, taunted her sexually, but I never gave in to her. I enjoyed watching her want me, making her squirm, then walking away. I think at first she thought it was a form of foreplay, until she realized my wicked sense of humor was not so funny. Oh, I made her suffer alright.” Peter had a faraway look in his eye that made Joanie shiver.
“Oh, but don’t think I ever hurt her. Oh, no. I never touched her. You see, that was the point. I never, ever touched her. Just like you, Jo Jo.” Joanie looked at him, shocked.
“I know how you fantasized about me. You did it all the time. Do you think you would have had these thoughts about me if I had given in to your fantasies? No way. You fed me. I got off on seeing how much you wanted me, by knowing that when you closed your bedroom door each night, you were envisioning me. You see, I fed you too.”
Joanie shifted uncomfortably on the bed, alarmed at what she was hearing. Somewhere, deep down in her gut however, she knew Peter was right. Her love for him – her fantasies, were based on a young love, an imagined love, that had grown between them since childhood, but it was shallow. What she thought was love was pure lust, which lacked depth and any real knowledge of the other person or his life. When she remembered with embarrassment all the times she had dreamt of him, of them so erotically together, it was exactly as he said it was. It was based entirely on the fact that they were off limits to each other. No one had said they couldn’t be together. In fact, when Peter had married Clarice, everyone who knew them wondered why it hadn’t been Joanie. Somehow all of that just sweetened the pot. What amazed her now was the discovery that he had been doing with her, exactly what she had been doing with him all these years. Oh, there was so much she didn’t know about Peter Thompson, so much she didn’t want to know or ever wanted to find out.
All of a sudden they heard a crash, like the front of the apartment was being smashed down with a wrecking ball. They both jumped. Peter leapt up off the bed, but by the time he turned around to check what the commotion was about, four bullish looking men in uniform stood in the bedroom doorway, guns drawn.
“Police. Stay where you are, and don’t move.” The man in front of the others moved cautiously into the room. He looked squarely at Peter.
“Freeze. Put your hands on your head. Do it! Don’t move.” He grabbed Peter by the scruff of the neck and threw him onto the floor. Before Peter knew what was happening, a large booted foot landed smack on his back and he was handcuffed.
…stay tuned…Chapter 15 will be posted next Tuesday, June 27th…