It was a total accident, which made it all the better. One moment the male nurse was looking around the backwoods county store with his gym teacher bride, the next moment he saw her -- down the tall, narrow, full aisle, looking obliviously down at the soda hamper.
"Hey," Tom Brannigan said softly to his wife of more than twenty years, "that's Leesa Mendaski, isn't it?"
Agnes Brannigan looked over, her gray eyes narrowing. She didn't say yes or no, just: "Haven't seen her for five years, have we? Not since she broke our boy's heart...."
The compact, muscular man with the crew cut stood still and silent beside the wiry, hawk-faced woman with the stringy hair.
They took in the young girl's long, straight, silky, dark blond hair, her blue eyes, her sweet face, and her tall form in the deep u-necked, spaghetti-strapped, pink t-shirt, tight; beltless jeans; and sandals.
"Look at those legs, would ya?" the woman said quietly. "Longest damn things I ever seen...."
The man only glanced at them, his eyes resting elsewhere. "She grown a bit since we saw her," he breathed. "What you think? 36C?"
"34D," his wife said expertly and began glancing around to see who else was in the little store. Like so many suburban shops in a lake town, it was dark, dusky, and crammed with stuff. It was also late in the afternoon, between the time vacationers came in for lunch and headed home for dinner.
"She ain't here with friends," the woman murmured. "What you think?"
The man tore his eyes away and was immediately on the move. "Be right back."
He sidled toward the front door while the woman stayed still, watching the unknowing girl check out the soft drinks.
Outside the man checked the girl's car in the small gravel parking area out back, admiring the packing job in the back seat. Galvanized by the sight of all the suitcases, he hastened to his own car parked alongside. He grabbed at the pulpy white pad in the clear plastic freezer bag within the glove compartment and headed back.
On the way, he carefully let the air out of the tire on the bicycle that was propped under the shop's front window. During the entire time, not one car passed by on the narrow, wood-lined road.
"Hey," he told the kid behind the counter as he reentered the store. "Your front tire's flat,"
"What?" the kid exclaimed, looking up from the dance magazine he was studying. "You're kidding! Damn!" But he was already coming around the counter, heading outside.
The man was back at his wife's side in nano-seconds, his hand slipping into the plastic bag. With one move of his head, he was moving toward the still oblivious girl, the bumpy, pulpy, sodden white pad held low. Without a word or hesitation, his wife was by his side.
"Leesa!" the man said, moving in front of her. "Long time no see! What are you doing here?"
The girl looked up in mild surprise, impressing the man again with her farm-fresh innocence, obvious intelligence, calm maturity, and natural good looks. "M-mister, Mrs. Brannigan!" she said with a little dismay.
By the fleeting expression on her face, they could see she obviously reminded herself that the discomfort she instinctively felt was five years old, and had to do with their son, not them.
The man noticed she couldn't help quickly glancing around to see if their son was with them before going on. "Uh," she said, "just taking a break from school...."
Before she could continue, the woman interrupted pleasantly. "Why, your parents didn't tell us!"
"I'm, uh, surprising my folks," she stammered, her expression telling them that she didn't really want to reveal that. It was no matter. The cheery banter had served its purpose. Seemingly because of the aisle's narrowness, the man was in front of her and the woman slightly behind. "Hey, the girl said, her nose wrinkling while her eyes blinked. "What's that smell...?!"
It was the last "normal" thing she ever said.
The couple pounced without warning, almost before Leesa got the last word out. The woman grabbed the girl's wrists, just above her simple bracelet and watch and jammed them behind her. The man slammed the thick, sticky, lumpy cloth over her lower face.
Leesa's bright eyes bulged in her shocked face, but before she could even react, they had sandwiched her tightly between them, his other hand tight behind her head, forcing her face even deeper into the noxious pad.
She jerked and tried to scream, but it was way too late. Their hard bodies pinned hers, his muscular legs on either side of her long, shapely ones. The woman's clawed talons locked her wrists like shackles. The girl's shoulders wrenched, trying to grab at the thing over her lower face, but it only made her collar bones stand out prettily, and her shirt top fill with her gasping milky orbs, which mashed against Tom's chest.
"Feel that?" the man hissed, his face an inch from hers as he shook her head tightly. "Took me months to develop this at the hospital. Sticks to your face like glue, stops up your mouth, fills your nose with the special sauce. Night-night Leesa...."
TO BE CONTINUED