Beyond The Grave: Seven
“She called me into her office and said, ‘Fran, it’s just not working out.’ I asked her, ‘What’s not working out?’ And she told me, ‘Our working relationship.’ I’m devastated, Danny. How am I going to pay my rent and buy dog food for Maddy? I should have quit. But, no, I had to think I was indispensable to her.”
Danny could see tears in her eyes on their Skype session. “Honey, you have a great work ethic. Any employer would be lucky to have you on their team.”
“You know how difficult it is right now to find work. With the ‘Great Recession’ going on, I’ll be lucky if I can collect unemployment.” Fran planted her face into her crossed arms.
Danny was silent.
“I know you weren’t planning on moving to South Carolina this soon. Tell your landlord you got laid off, she’ll understand. Pack up the place and spend the summer with me.” Danny told her.
“You know how I hate the humidity, not to mention the mosquitos.” Fran was whining now. She knew Danny hated when the octave of her voice changed.
“I’m giving you options. Stay in Colorado or get your butt out here. I have air conditioning, and the complex has a beautiful pool; very tropical. They even allow dogs. What do you say?”
It was Fran’s turn to be silent as she mulled over Danny’s idea.
“Okay. But promise me one thing.”
“You need to call me when I’m on the road. It isn’t safe for women to travel alone cross country.”
“I promise, and you’ll have Maddy with you. She’ll protect you.”
“Right. Maddy’d rather lick a stranger to death than protect me.” They both laughed. Maddy didn’t have a mean bone in her body. She loved everyone, including other dogs and cats.
“Good. It’s settled then. How long before you can get packed up and hit the road?” asked Danny.
“At least two weeks,” Fran said as she looked around her apartment. “You took a good portion of our stuff when you left, so all I have is a few kitchen items, our bedroom set, clothes, and the computer.”
“Better get started then. I can’t wait to see you and show you around. I think you’re gonna love it here. Call you tomorrow, babe. Chin up; jobs are plentiful here. Love you.”
“Hope so. Love you too. Talk tomorrow.” Danny’s face disappeared.
Fran sat at the kitchen table in front of a dark screen for a few more minutes until a cold nose nudged her elbow.
“Well, girl, it looks like we’re headed east to see daddy sooner than we had planned. Hope you enjoy long rides in the car.” Hearing the word, ‘car,’ Maddy ran over to her leash hanging on a hook next to the front door. She was panting and jumping up and down. Fran laughed. “Not now, silly, but soon.”
* * * * *
It took exactly two weeks for Fran to get everything together and loaded into the U-Haul. She paid all the bills with her severance check. As she rolled away from her apartment, she opened the window and shouted, “Adios, Amigos.” Maddy, sitting in the front seat, barked.
When she got onto the Interstate 70 heading east, she called Danny. “We’re on our way. Remember, you said you’d call me every hour to see where I was and to make sure I’m safe. I’ll call you when I stop for gas or pee breaks.”
“Got it. I’ve set my watch to go off every hour. If for some reason I don’t call you, feel free to call me. I could be in a meeting, though I did tell my boss I’d be keeping tabs on you. He understands.”
“Great. Can’t wait to see your smiling face.”
“Same here, babe. Love you.”
The drive through Eastern Colorado was flat; lots of farmland, cattle, and small towns. The weather was perfect for a July day. Kansas had much of the same terrain, and Fran’s thoughts went to a period in history when the Dust Bowl hit the farmlands here. She could see how, because of the flat prairie, tornados formed. She was glad it was sunny; she was deathly afraid of tornados.
She listened to good tunes, ate the apples she had packed, and drank water. Stopping at rest areas to let Maddy do her business, she’d leave the locked truck running with the air conditioner on while she went into the lady’s room. Danny would wait patiently on the phone in the truck with Maddy until she came back.
By the time Fran hit the Missouri border, she had been driving for twelve and half hours. The two rest stops they had hit on the way out only lasted about fifteen minutes each. As she crossed over into Missouri, her phone rang. “Hey.” She said as she answered it.
“Hey, babe. Where are you now?” It was Danny doing his hour check-in.
“I just crossed over into Missouri. I’m getting a little crossed eyed so I think I’m going to stop at the next rest area and grab about an hour or two of sleep and then head out again.”
“Are you sure that’s the safest thing to do?”
“The two other rest areas I stopped at had tons of lot lighting, and truckers who preferred to drive at night were sleeping in their cabs. So, I think I should be okay, plus I have Maddy. She’ll at least bark if someone comes up to the truck. It’s only for an hour or two anyway. It’s hot out, and I’ll lock the truck and keep it running. I’ll call you when I stop and when I get back on the road.”
“Okay,” Danny said hesitantly. “You’re the one who said you were scared to drive cross country alone. Afraid of getting kidnapped, raped, or both.”
“I know. But people seem to be keeping to themselves. And most are traveling with what looks like family. I haven’t seen any creepy guys yet. Guess I should stop watching so much I.D. on the Discovery channel.” Fran laughed.
“Not to scare you, but Interstate 70 has had several Highway Killers. Not in Missouri, but in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi.”
“That would be the 40 Interstate, not the 70. But thanks for telling me. Remind me to smack you upside the head when I see you.”
When Danny mentioned the Highway Killers sent a chill down Fran’s back. What the hell was he thinking by telling me this shit? Damn it! Now I’ll never get any sleep.
The next rest area is five miles away.
She’d pull in to get the lay of the land. If she noticed anything out of the ordinary, she’d keep driving. Maddy was getting hungry and probably needed to pee. She did too.
Dropping her speed as she entered the rest area, she noticed not too many cars or trucks. Most people had probably stopped at a motel for the night, and the truckers, well, they had gotten their daytime sleep in so they could drive at night. There was a lone tow truck parked at the very end of the parking lot. She moved over to the other side of the area designated for cars. Fran called Danny, but it went to voicemail. She checked the time. 9:00 pm in Missouri is 10:00 pm in South Carolina. Betcha he went to the gym.
“Hey, babe. Just me checking in. At a rest area just before St. Louis. Gonna feed Maddy, walk her, and then lock ourselves up in the truck for an hour or two. I’ll call you when I leave here. Love you. Dick head.” That’s for telling me about the Highway Killers!
Fran walked Maddy and then fed her. Fran put on Maddy’s long lead and threw the ball a few times so she could get some exercise. A few cars had pulled in, made a pit stop, and then went on their way again. She then locked Maddy inside the truck and walked over to the restroom. Fran wanted to freshen up, brush her teeth, wash her face, comb her hair.
She hadn’t noticed the tow truck still parked at the other end of the parking lot.
While Fran was in one of the stalls, she heard the bathroom door open. Assuming it was another traveler, she went about her business. She noticed a large shadow next to her stall door. What the hell? And then a slight push on her door. “Someone’s in here.” She yelled out. “Try one of the other stalls. Pretty sure they’re empty.” Silence. The shadow didn’t move. “Hello? Do you need help?” Silence.
Fran’s heart raced. She tried to peer through the crack in the door, but she couldn’t see anything. She cursed herself under her breath for not bringing in her purse, which held her Glock 9mm conceal-carry weapon.
Her mind quickly formed a plan. Flush the toilet and crawl under two stalls and make a run for the truck. If she could get to her gun, she’d have a chance. But what if they weren’t alone? She’d have to deal with it then. But she wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Her plan would have worked if Old Hank hadn’t already loaded her truck onto his flatbed. How long had I been in the bathroom? Fran tried to jump up onto the back of the tow truck. She could see Maddy panting in the back seat as she looked out the window. The bastard turned off the truck! Maddy’s going to roast in there.
As Fran felt a hand on her ankle pulling her off the tow truck, she hit her head on the metal railing, and everything went black. She hadn’t even tried to scream.
* * * * *
When Fran came to, she wasn’t sure if she was dead or alive. It was stifling hot; she could barely breathe. Her head hurt, and when she brought her hand up to her forehead, she could feel the sticky substance of her own blood. Maddy? Oh my God, my baby girl. She started to cry.
But then a wave of adrenaline hit her, and she started screaming at the top of her lungs. “Help! Help me!” She banged on the side of the walls, which were covered in some type of foam. Standing up, Fran took baby steps and scaled the wall with her hands while shuffling her feet a few inches at a time. It seemed to take forever to get to the end. Feeling around, she pulled at some of the foam. She felt the cold metal behind it. She was in a shipping container. Did she get picked up by a sex trafficker?
As the hours passed, Fran realized she was in a nightmare and wasn’t asleep. And even though she wanted to fight, she had nothing to fight with. She’d never see Danny again. She’d never see South Carolina. And she sure as shit would never see her dog again.
* * * * *
Special Agent Kessar and Rodriquez spoke with Danny, Frances Wilken’s boyfriend. He told them he notified VICAP as soon as he realized his girlfriend was missing. Danny had recently read about the launch of their Highway Serial Killings initiative. And while his girlfriend wasn’t a prostitute or a drug addict, she had been traveling alone. The killer had removed the U-Haul from her truck, but they found no evidence. Frances Wilkens and her dog were now added to the list of victims of the I-70 Highway Serial Killings.
* * * * *
The small article in the paper caught Old Hank’s eye about a week after he took Fran. Nice picture of her.
“A young woman, along with her dog, disappeared from a rest area outside of Blue Springs, Missouri, last Saturday night. If you have any information, please notify VICAP at the local FBI office.”