Betrayed – Sharon Sala

Asingle gunshot shattered the ennui of a hot Louisiana night, and when it did, sixteen-year-old Logan Conway reacted the way any sane person would who lived on the south side of Bluejacket. She hit the floor belly down, all but certain there would be other shots, and there were. She began hearing sirens about the same time she heard someone run past her house —likely one of the shooters trying to get away, and hid her face against her arms, willing herself not to cry. Tears had no place down here. Being weak got people killed, and she wouldn’t be so freakin’ scared if Damon was home. “Dammit, brother, where are you?” The sirens were coming closer and so were more footsteps. Suddenly they were on her porch, and someone was pounding on the front door. “Logan! It’s me, T-Boy. Let me in!” She jumped up, grabbed the baseball bat from beside the door, and swung it against the wood frame like she was swinging for the fence. The thud was loud. The door shook on its hinges. “Thug, you get off my porch, or I’ll send my brother after your ass.” “Sorry, sorry,” T-Boy said, and bolted. Moments later the neighborhood was awash in cops, sirens, and red and blue flashing lights. A cockroach, knocked loose from its hiding place from the impact of the bat, made a run for the baseboards, but she was quicker.

She stomped it with her shoe, then stood the bat back in the corner. “All the creeps are making a run for it,” she muttered, then sidled up to a window facing the street and peeked through the shades. When she saw a body in the street and a spreading black pool beneath him, she froze. Oh my God, that is blood. The cops would be knocking on doors looking for witnesses, but she knew the code of the southside. See nothing. Know nothing. Damon Conway was late coming home. He should have called Logan a long time ago, but got busy and forgot. Still, he was coming home with a hundred extra dollars for hauling off tree limbs for a woman on the north side of Bluejacket.

He was late because he’d stopped off afterward to drink a beer at Barney’s. He was thinking about supper and a shower as he turned onto his street, then he saw the cop cars and the flashing lights, and panic rolled through him. Oh Jesus, Logan. Please be okay. Seeing part of the street had been blocked off, he took a quick left and circled the block, coming in from the other direction. When he pulled into the drive, he got out yelling her name. “Logan! Logan!” The door swung inward moments before he crossed the threshold. She was standing behind it, holding his old baseball bat. “Are you okay? What the hell happened out there?” he asked, shutting and locking the door behind him. She shrugged.

“Shots in the street. Someone’s dead. Two people ran past the house. T-Boy beat on the door wanting me to let him in.” Damon groaned. “I’m sorry, kid. I should have been here. I took an extra job after work hauling off some tree limbs for one of the north side’s fine citizens.” “It is what it is, Damon. Your supper is on the stove.

Give me a couple of minutes, and I’ll heat it up for you.” He hugged her, feeling the tension in her body as she resisted the attention. She was pissed. He sighed. He shouldn’t have stopped off for that beer. A few minutes later, he sat down to eat while Logan poured herself a glass of sweet iced tea and sat with him. Damon glanced up. Her face was expressionless. She was tough, this kid. “Were you scared, Sissy?” The childhood name slid past the wall behind which Logan lived.

Her chin came up, her eyes glittering with unshed tears. “Of course I was scared. Bullets can come through walls and they don’t care who’s on the other side. I wasn’t planning to die today, so I did what I could to prevent it. I faceplanted on the floor.” She had tears in her eyes, but not a shred of emotion in her voice. It gutted him. “I’m sorry…really sorry. I made a hundred extra bucks hauling those limbs, but I didn’t have to stop at Barney’s for a beer and I did.” He laid his fork on the plate and reached for her hand.

“I don’t take very good care of you. Mostly you take care of yourself and me. But I love you, and I’m proud of you. You’re pretty, but you’re also smart, and it’s brains that will take you far in life. Not looks. I may not always be around. Accidents happen. Remember that, okay?” Her fingers tightened around his hand. “Don’t talk like that. You talk like you’re gonna die or something.

” He shrugged. “Everyone dies, Logan. The unknown is the time and place.” He shook off the seriousness and winked at her as he finished his food. “I’ll wash up the dishes. You can have the bathroom first, if you want.” She stood and hugged him, maybe a little too tight, but he was her anchor, and he was home. Damon had regrets in his life, and not being a better parental figure was one of them. He cleaned up the kitchen and was going down the hall to his bedroom when his cell phone rang. There was no Caller ID coming up, which made him hesitate to answer.

Logan was running water for her bath when she heard his phone ringing just outside the bathroom door. She paused and glanced at the clock. It was almost midnight. Who would be calling him this late? Always worried about Damon’s choices in life, she put her ear to the door. It rang for the fourth time before he answered, and then she could only hear his side of the conversation, but she didn’t like the sound of it. “Hello? Yes, this is Damon Conway. Who? Oh, yeah, what’s up, man? What kind of a job? What do you mean, not over the phone? I don’t hire out for shit that can’t be talked about in polite company. Yes, but—I don’t… Ten grand? Meet you where? Now? Shit man, I just got home and my kid sister isn’t—Yeah, okay. I’ll meet you there, but I reserve the right to tell you ‘no’ without a hassle.” Logan panicked.

She didn’t know what he was about to agree to, but it sounded both illegal and dangerous. When she heard him go into his bedroom still talking, she began draining the tub, then left the water running so he’d think she was in the shower and slipped across the hall into her bedroom. She stuffed her wallet and house key in her back pocket and under the glow of a big, yellow moon, she went out her bedroom window. Sundown hadn’t cooled the temperature a lick. Heat was an immediate slap in the face as sweat broke out above her lip and beneath the long hair hanging down the back of her neck. The buzz of locusts seemed to sound their own alarm at her sudden presence, raising her panic and anxiety. With only seconds to secure a hiding place, she started toward Damon’s truck at a lope. The cops were at the other end of the block, but it was only a matter of time before they came in this direction asking questions, looking for witnesses. With no time to waste, she leaped into the truck bed and got down on her hands and knees, crawled beneath the old waterproof tarp her brother kept over the bed to protect his tools. She was tucking the tarp down around her when she heard the front door slam, and then his footsteps as he hurried toward the truck.

She hunkered down in the corner and buried her head against her knees, trying not to think of what else might be under this tarp with her. He started the engine, backed out of the drive, and took off up the street in the opposite direction of the crime scene. She gripped the loose sides of the tarp to keep it from blowing up and hung on. Not once did she second guess her decision to do this until she realized he was driving out of town. After that, her concern was not getting caught. She lost track of time, but could tell by the rough road, and number of potholes he hit after he had turned off the highway, that they were now traveling on blacktop. A short while later, he turned once again onto what had to be a dirt road. She heard the scratch of limbs along the top of the cab and on the sides of the truck bed. When she began smelling what could only be the swamp, she got scared. Who wanted a meeting in the bayou, and how the hell did Damon know where to go? When he stopped, he put the pickup in park and left it running.

Worried about where they were now, she took a chance and looked out from beneath the tarp, only to see cypress trees heavily laden with Spanish moss, the shimmer of moonlight on the black bayou water, and the headlights of another vehicle coming up behind them. She lowered the tarp and flattened herself against the truck cab. Oh my God, oh my God! Damon, what are you doing? Go home! Now! She heard Damon get out and actually debated with herself about revealing her presence until she realized it was too late. The other driver was already out of his vehicle and talking as he approached. The distant rumble of a bull gator made her skin crawl. The call of an owl in a tree above her head echoed what she was thinking. Who the hell was out there with Damon? The chorus of frogs out in the murky soup of the bayou was as loud as the locusts had been back in Bluejacket, making it difficult to hear everything being said until they came closer to the truck, and she heard Damon’s voice. “So dude, what’s the big job you want me to do, and why all the secrecy?” Damon asked. “I heard you were a guy who’d do anything for extra dough.” “Ten grand is a hell of a lot more than extra dough,” Damon said.

“So, what I need you to do involves a degree of danger, thus the rise in payoff.” “I got a kid sister to consider, so spit it out. What do you want me to do, and I’ll make the decision on the degree of danger myself?” “I want you to kill my wife and make it look like an accident. Five thousand right now, five thousand more when it’s done.” Damon didn’t hesitate. “No, man. No hard feelings, but I don’t kill people. I’m out’a here.” “Wait, wait,” the other man said. Logan held her breath.

She could only imagine what Damon was thinking. She knew when she heard the request that he would say no, but how was he going to get out of this? Then she heard fear in Damon’s voice. “Hey dude. What the hell?” Damon cried. “So, you know what I wanted, and now you know why we’re all the way out here, because you’d be the first one to turn me in when she showed up dead at someone else’s hand.” “No, no, no, don’t shoot, man. I wouldn’t tell. I swear.” The first shot was so loud every muscle in Logan’s body jerked. The second one broke her heart, because she knew her brother had to be dead.

“My bad,” the man said. She heard him rustling around in the bushes, and then heard something hit the water. Maybe he’d thrown the gun into the swamp. She was shaking so hard she could barely breathe, and when he walked past the truck bed so close, Logan could have reached out and touched him. It was all she could do not to scream. She heard a door slam. He was getting back into his vehicle! Then she heard a motor revving once, gears shifting, then he revved the engine and gears shifted again! He was turning around! That’s when she crawled out from beneath the tarp and peeked over the tailgate of the truck. She saw just enough of the vehicle to know it was a white, late model Chevrolet Silverado, and then he was gone. Panic rolled through her as she vaulted out of the truck bed and ran toward Damon’s body, moaning as she dropped to her knees beside him. The absence of a pulse shattered the world as she’d known it.

“Oh no. God, no!” Choking back tears, she was frantic to find out who’d done this and began looking for his phone. She would see the number of who had called him last, but after a frantic search, she realized it was nowhere on or around him. She jumped back up and ran to the truck, tearing through the front seat, looking to see if it had fallen out of his pocket, or if he’d left it in the console, but it wasn’t there either. Then she remembered the splash. Damn! The killer hadn’t thrown away his gun. He’d thrown away Damon’s phone. She ran back to his body, dropped to her knees and began patting his cheek, and then his shoulder, as if he might wake up and talk to her. “Help me, Damon. Oh my God, why? Why? I don’t know what to do? Someone… Damon… tell me what to do.

” But there was that hole in his chest and the other one in his forehead to consider. When she laid the flat of her hand on his chest, it was the absence of a heartbeat that finally broke her. She rocked back on her heels and let out a scream that sent the owl into flight and silenced the frogs, leaving the tragic tableau of brother and sister in the headlights of their old truck. Then she staggered to her feet and threw up until there was nothing left within her but despair. The reality of her situation was sobering. Her brother had been murdered. But now what did she do? If she told the cops, the killer would view her as a witness, and she’d be next, even though she didn’t know who’d done it. If she just went back to Bluejacket and said nothing, she’d wind up in Foster Care. “Damn it, Damon. Look what you’ve done,” she wailed.

“You leave me no choice. I have to hide you, but how…where?” Then she thought of the tools in the back of the truck and pulled the tarp aside to see what was there. The glow from the moon overhead was enough for her to see what had been under the tarp, and the first thing she spotted was a shovel. She could dig a grave! Because of the gators, she had to dig a grave. It was just a matter of time before they smelled blood, and she wouldn’t give him up to the swamp. In a panic, she leaped into the truck bed, threw the tarp and the shovel over the side of the truck, then jumped out and killed the engine. When she turned off the lights to save gas and battery power, it left her with nothing but moonlight by which to see, and the sight was daunting. The knees on the Cypress trees growing out of the water were shiny, like they’d been coated with oil. On the other side of the shore, the eyes of animals that called the swamp home glowed yellow within the undergrowth—an eerie reminder that she was not alone. With no time to waste, she dragged the tarp over Damon’s body, then picked up the shovel and ran toward the thicket of trees a few yards away from the water.

Moonlight was stingy here, and so she had to trust her instincts as she began jamming it into the ground until she found a spot soft enough to dig. Emotion shut down at the first shovelful of earth she dug up, and then it became rote, taking one shovelful out after another without an awareness of time. Before she realized it, she was down one foot into the grave, then two feet, all the while keeping an anxious lookout for snakes and gators. At three feet, she stopped to take a breath and looked up just as a shooting star shot across the sky. The notion that it was her brother’s soul on the way to heaven was fanciful, but poignant enough to shatter her concentration. Tears rolled, but they did not slow her down as she resumed digging. Hours passed without notice until the hole she was in was so deep she had a difficult time crawling out. There wasn’t a dry thread on her body and sweat was pouring out of her hair. She’d lost focus on everything except getting the body into the hole. She dragged the tarp off Damon’s body, knelt beside him once more, but this time, she began going through his pockets, removing his wallet to take out the money, which she put inside the truck.

Then she poked around beneath the seats until she found a plastic bag from a grocery store and hurried back. She dropped the wallet with all of his identification into the bag, wrapped it tight, and stuffed it into his pocket. You couldn’t just bury a body in Louisiana because of the water level. After a short time, they always came back up. She also knew it wouldn’t take long for the body to decompose. With a strength she didn’t know she had, she rolled the body onto the tarp, and then began pulling it toward the grave a few inches at a time. Long, agonizing minutes passed as she pulled him closer and closer. She was so exhausted her legs were shaking, but she wouldn’t look at his face again. She’d see it in nightmares for the rest of her life. When she was so close to the grave that one wrong step would send her plummeting into the deep hole, she began rolling him up like the cigars he liked to smoke at Christmas, until he was only inches from the edge of the grave.

A flash of panic washed through her as she realized what she was about to do. How could she do this? How could she leave him here all alone and in an unmarked grave? Renewed horror for her situation overwhelmed her as she dropped to her knees and threw herself over his body, sobbing uncontrollably until it hurt to draw breath. It was the sudden splash in the water off to her right that jarred her back to the task at hand. She rocked back on her knees and began pushing the tarp-wrapped body into the grave, wincing as it hit bottom with a solid thud. There was a moment of complete exhaustion when she was flat on her belly, her face in the dirt, so tired and so damn scared she wanted to crawl into that hole with him. Instead, she made herself get up and began looking for something to weigh him down so the body wouldn’t float up with the first big storm. There was plenty of deadfall, but very few rocks. So she started with heavy limbs, pulling two large ones to the grave and rolling them over the edge before going back for more. She tossed in a shorter one that landed crossways, unintentionally making it look as if there was now a wooden cross over his body. She was sad to the bone, but crying time was over.

His body still wasn’t safe, so she began tossing in limb after limb until the tarp was no longer visible, then she rolled the two largest rocks she could manage on top of the limbs. The grave was almost full, and she still had to cover it with the dirt she’d taken out. The moon shown witness to her exhaustion as she tossed the first shovelful of dirt down into the hole, followed by another and another until there was no dirt left. Then she began tamping it down with the back of the shovel until her arms were aching and her hands numb. Once she was through, she pulled more deadfall on top of the grave to hide its presence, knowing it would flatten with time. But she’d done it. Damon’s body would be safe here. She turned back toward the truck, shining in the moonlight like a rescue beacon when it hit her. She had no idea where she was. She’d lost her brother, but she couldn’t lose his body—not forever.

With her last bit of strength, she staggered around behind the tree nearest the grave, and without meaning to, blindly stepped off into water. She came up gasping, her heartbeat thundering in her ears for fear she would become the victim of the nearest snake or gator, and dragged herself out. “Oh my God, oh my God,” she moaned, shaking from the shock, as she felt around for the shovel she’d dropped. Once it was recovered, she began using the edge of the shovel as a knife, chunking off bark until there was a deep, crude version of an X down near the roots. X marked the spot. She came out of the bushes, pausing to pull a leech off her arm. It didn’t look like a grave, which was vital to keeping him hidden. Broken in both heart and spirit, she staggered, then caught herself before she fell, and looked around, fixing this place in her mind, accepting that she’d done what had to be done. “I love you, brother, but this isn’t goodbye. I’ll be back.

I’ll find out who did this to you, and make them pay.” She tossed the shovel into the back of the pickup, then slid in behind the steering wheel. She reached up to adjust the rearview mirror, then gasped, shocked by the sight of tear tracks through the dirt on her face. She’d just put her brother in a grave, but she looked like she’d crawled out of one. “Go home. It’s time to hide,” she told herself, so she carefully backed up to turn the pickup around, then took note of the mileage before following the tracks back to an old blacktop road. There, she made a mental note of the mileage again, then sat for a moment, trying to remember if Damon had turned left or right when he left the blacktop. Left, it was left. She glanced at the sky and then at the time. Nearly dawn.

“Help me, Jesus,” she muttered, knowing she had to reverse every direction she remembered to get back to Bluejacket, and turned right. Within moments, dawn was happening in front of her, which meant she was heading east. Once she reached the highway, she breathed a sigh of relief. Now she knew where she was. She glanced at the mileage again before she turned right and drove south, straight into Bluejacket. She marked the mileage one last time at the City Limits sign, then drove to her house the same way they’d left, coming into their neighborhood from the back way and praying the cops had long since gone home. The street was vacant of people. A few lights were on in houses—people already getting ready for work. The thought that Damon would never wake up again was gutwrenching, but her focus was on just getting inside. The moment she pulled up into the drive, she began to shake.

The adrenaline that had carried her through this ordeal was waning. She was about to crash. “Steady, girl, steady,” she whispered, then grabbed the money from the console, got out, and locked the truck before heading up the steps. The cool waft of air surrounding her as she opened the door was so shocking she flinched. She’d forgotten there was such a thing as cool. She stumbled over the threshold, turning both locks behind her. When she heard the water running in the bathroom down the hall, she panicked thinking someone was inside. Then she remembered she’d turned it on before she left and staggered down the hall to turn it off. The water heater had long since emptied itself of hot water and was running nothing but cold. She was filthy, and wanted to strip where she stood and get in beneath the spray regardless of the temperature, but she still had priorities, and self-preservation was at the top of the list.

Damon never used banks, so she went back into the kitchen to where he kept his stash. Before she did another thing, she needed to know what she was working with. She opened the freezer, pushed aside the bags of frozen vegetables, and reached for what looked like a box of frozen shrimp. She shook out the contents, added it to the hundred dollars in her hand, and started counting. Twice she had to start over because she was blind with tears, but by the time she had it counted, she was seven hundred and ninety-two dollars to the good which was enough to get her out of Bluejacket and into a new life. She took the money back to her bedroom, stuffed it inside her purse, and then carried it with her into the bathroom and hung it on the hook on the back of the door. Self-preservation kicked in once more as she began to strip. The shock of seeing so many leeches on her was lessened by her exhaustion. Once she was naked, she poured bathroom cleaner into the toilet bowl and began peeling off leeches as she went, ignoring the free-flow of blood from the little wounds they left behind. She quit counting after ten, tossing each of them into the toilet and digging the ones on her back off with the long handle of the shower brush.

When she was through, she flushed them and closed the toilet lid. She turned the shower back on, grabbed a washcloth, and stepped into the tub, pulling the shower curtain closed behind her. The blast of cold was shocking, but watching the mud and blood washing off her body justified the shock. Ducking her head beneath the spray, she squirted shampoo into her hand and started scrubbing. Once it felt clean, she soaped up her washcloth and did the same thing to her body until her skin was stinging and the wounds left by the leeches had quit bleeding. Turning off the water was as shocking as turning it on had been. Now there was nothing to hear but the thump of her heartbeat in her ears. She crawled out of the tub and collapsed onto the toilet seat, intending to just take a breath, but it turned into a sob. After that, she couldn’t stop. She cried until she was emotionally drained and the pain in her chest was too sharp to acknowledge.

She couldn’t afford to cry again. If she did, she knew she would die. She got a handful of cotton balls and a bottle of alcohol to begin doctoring all of the wounds left from the leeches, then stepped back into the tub and poured the rest of the alcohol down her back on the little wounds she couldn’t reach. After that, she was on auto-pilot. She combed the tangles out of her long, dark hair, ignoring the water dripping down her back, and went to get dressed. Clean clothing had never felt so good. Afterward, she paused in the middle of her bedroom, looking around at the dirty clothes and the bits and pieces of things that belonged to her and not the house, trying to gauge what she could take. The reality of leaving Bluejacket was upon her, but first things first. She gathered up all of her laundry, as well as Damon’s, and put them in the washing machine, emptied what was left of detergent in with the load, and turned it on. There was no way to know how long it would be before she got to a place where she could do laundry again.

While the washer was filling, she ran out to the little storage shed in their back yard. Damon had a habit of keeping boxes, and she knew there were plenty out here. She carried what she wanted into the house, and while the clothes were washing, she began packing up their dishes in one box, the pans and skillets in another. After wrapping up the eating and cooking utensils in dish towels, she put them on top of the dishes and sealed the boxes. By that time, the washing machine had stopped, so she tossed the wet clothes into the dryer and then carried more empty boxes down the hall. Somehow she had moved into survivor mode, calmly sorting and packing what needed to go, including all of Damon’s clothing. She couldn’t leave them behind without alerting people to the fact that he wasn’t leaving with her. When the dryer finally went off, there was nothing left to pack but the clean clothes. She folded everything and packed them into the last box of clothing, then carried it to the pickup and put it into the back seat. She’d put dishes and pans into the truck bed, knowing if it rained on them as she drove, the only thing that would ruin would be the boxes.

She popped a couple of her brother’s no-doze pills, left the front door key on the kitchen table, then backed out of their yard and drove away. She lingered long enough to stop at Friendly’s grocery for deli food and coffee, then drove away from Bluejacket and never looked back.

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