Pud jerked awake, almost sitting up
completely. His mind reeled from the aftermath of the memory. The memory turned
nightmare. One of too many nightmares that never left him, and never would. Time
would not conquer those months he'd spent in that filthy hovel that had been
converted into a cell.
It was a miracle he'd survived at
It took a moment for him to realize
he wasn't a prisoner, even though his chest and neck burned the same
way it had for months after that interrogation. He took several deep
breaths to help calm himself as he listened to the sounds coming
from outside the tent. From the waning light, he could tell the sun
was going down. Had it been morning, the air would have had a
distinctly different smell. A fresher, perhaps wetter scent caused
by the low ground fog or dew.
He clutched his chest as he spasmed
in pain. His fingers encountered the makeshift bandage. Someone had
brought him here. Someone had tended to his injuries.
A memory of a kind face floated in
his mind's eye. "My name is Billie."
He looked around at the interior of
the small, dome-shaped tent. At the duffle bag sitting to one side
of the sleeping bag. As far as he could tell, she was alone. Her
female scent was everywhere. The absence of a male was tangible.
The wind shifted, and the odor of
meat cooking wafted to him. He tried to clear his throat, but
coughed instead. He was too dry. He needed to find something to
He tried to ease out of the bedroll,
when a wave of dizziness overtook him. Lying back down, he tried to
fight the nausea that accompanied it, when a shadow appeared on the
doorway. A woman's head peeked past the flap.
"I thought I heard you awaken.
Would you like some water?"
"Please?" he croaked.
The head disappeared. Shortly
thereafter, the woman crawled into the tent. She carried a bottle of
water, which she handed to him, and a lantern. Pud managed to rise
up on one elbow and drank almost the entire contents before pausing
to catch his breath. He cleared his throat.
She placed the lantern on the ground,
then sat cross-legged, putting as much room between them as she
could in that cramped space. Pud watched as she adjusted herself as
she sat down, and he immediately surmised she had a gun concealed
somewhere on her person. Most probably at her back. He took his time
sipping the remaining water.
"Yeah. Billie Crowne. And, no,
it's not short for anything. Just Billie."
She smiled, and he stared at her in
surprise. She was tousled, wind-burned and sunburned, with no makeup
whatsoever, and she apparently hadn't taken a bath in a few days.
Her blonde hair that hung in two braids over her shoulders needed
shampooing. But he was amazed by how pure she was. As if she
belonged out here. As if roughing it in the middle of the swamp and
marshland came naturally to her.
"You said your name was
Patrick," she stated. She expected him to reciprocate.
"Patrick Davies. Friends call me
She almost laughed. Before she could
ask, he explained. "Patrick Ulysses Davies. P-U-D."
"All right, Patrick. Until I get
to the point where I feel I can trust you, I'll keep it a bit more
formal." She reached behind her and pulled out a snub-nosed
Ruger. From the way she held it, he could tell she was
well-acquainted with the weapon. He watched as she flicked off the
safety, then placed it on her knee, the barrel facing him. It
wouldn't take but a split-second for her to grab it and fire if she
He glanced up into her eyes.
"Smart move," he commented.
She was genuinely surprised by his
remark. Apparently, she must have thought he would try to cajole her
out of using it.
"Well, you never know what you
might come across out here in the middle of nowhere."
He drained the bottle of water,
replaced the cap, and set the empty container on the ground beside
him. "I guess you're wondering about me."
"The thought had crossed my
Sighing, he lightly tapped his chest.
"Thanks for this, too."
She shrugged with one shoulder.
"It's the best I could do, under the circumstances. You're
lucky you didn't take a bullet."
That surprised him. His expression
must have given him away, as she grinned and nodded. Reaching into
her vest pocket, she removed a small plastic container with a lid
and tossed it to him. It landed on the ground beside him. Pud laid
back down again, but didn't reach for it.
"You had a shitload of that in
you. I got all I could find, but it made mincemeat out of your
chest, not that..." Her voice trailed off, and her cheeks
flushed slightly. He sensed why she'd hesitated. She'd seen his
scars. He started to reply when she took a deep breath and
"You need to see a real medic
before you catch something and it becomes infected. Can you
Pud gave her a solemn shake of the
head. "I don't know. I'm feeling a bit woozy. On top of that,
my body is telling me it needs to rest. How far would we need to
"A couple of miles. I have a
boat anchored just on the other side..."
Her voice trailed off, but not
because she stopped talking. As he slowly sunk into blackness, the
sound of her words lulled him to sleep. Into blissful sleep that,
hopefully, would not end with another episode of night sweats.