Author Note: This chapter contains references to violence, sexual exploitation, and abuse. This chapter also includes racist, crude, and sexist content. If these are triggers for you, exercise discretion in reading.
For the first time in her interactions with Max, Rachel felt genuinely fearful. Something in his tone convinced her he wasn’t lying. Here she was atop a Ferris wheel, five hundred and fifty feet above the boardwalk on a windy day. A stranger in town, she didn’t know anyone. If she screamed, she doubted anyone would hear her because the amusement park was closed for the season. The salty air and the repetition of crashing waves made her feel sick to her stomach. To compound her problems, it had begun to drizzle and like a fool, she had forgotten her jacket. She was stuck in a three-by-two foot metal and wood cart with the scariest man she had ever known, her father-in-law.
“…you betta not sell me out, you hear?” he snapped. “You got a kiddo. I won’t hesitate to kill her and probably Bill too.”
Rachel gulped. Everything about Max screamed intimidation, manipulation, and fear. She could practically feel the waves of anger radiating from his chest. She closed her eyes tightly and hoped to the Maker this would all be over soon.
“Eh… maybe not the babe since she ain’t done nothing,” he wavered as he settled back in his seat. “But yeah… I’d kill Bill. I mean… if you’dda been wiser, you would’da married Dennis. I’d a probably like you better too. Don’t like neither of ’em, Bill… that one’s probably home masturbatin’ to porn or somethin’ while you’re gone, but Dennis at least he got all his brains still, at least when he’s bein’ useful.”
Rachel swallowed hard, disliking the bitter taste of trepidation and leftover tofu dogs from lunch in her mouth.
Max laughed, and rubbed the top of her head like he would a best buddy or a little child before dropping his arm around her. With his rapid change in demeanor, Rachel felt even more uneasy. His behavior was unpredictable. She prayed again she’d make it out alive.
“And ya got more sense that that bitch of his… that I know for sure…”There there… now dear… you passed initiation. I made Silver go through it too just like you. Just had to be sure, ya know? You’re a Racket now,” he put his hands behind his neck and leaned back, rocking the cart. “I just had’ta make sure you weren’t lying to me and screwin me over because there’s nothin’ I like worse than a bitch who screws me…” he grinned lasciviously. “…at least not that way… hey!” he leaned in as if about to whisper something. “Wanna seal the business deal we got and fool around up here? I paid the jerkoff below a couple hun’ for an hour alone up here.”
“No!” Rachel protested and gagged as she shoved him back.
“Good, just wanted to see if how committed you are to Bill,” Max replied, surprising her. “You’re lucky I don’t like the taste of black ass, woman…” he let out a low whistle. “Bill’s a lucky man. Dennis not so much. That bitch of his is screwing him over big time. I knew she would too. She passed her initiation aw’right. I offered her the same deal as you, and you know what that she-dog did?” Max stopped and smirked. “She sucked cock. And I would’da tossed her o’er the side when I zipped my fly if she hadn’t done it so good.”
“You’re despicable,” she spit on him, realizing she was pushing her luck.
“Am I?” he cocked his head. “Or am I just doing what I’ve been taught to do?”
She grimaced, wondering what he meant.
“I’m just a man, not a monster… See?” he held up his hands in mock-surrender.
“Yeah… you keep telling yourself that.”
“Never made the bitch do it again, though sure ain’t the first she serviced, and Dennis ain’t the last. Just wanted to see if she’d do it. Not surprised she did. And don’t worry. I won’t ask you again now that I know you won’t,” Max made a face as if he was disturbed. “Don’t really want Bill’s leftovers anyhow.”
Rachel couldn’t hold back anymore. Vomit pooled in her throat and plummeted over the side of the amusement park ride. Her witchy sister-in-law did it with her father-in-law. No wonder the woman was mental. Max was a sick, sick man if this was his way of initiating new members of the family. No one deserved that kind of initiation. No one. Not even Silver. Rachel decided to try a different tactic, buying time for the attendant to return.
“You’ve spent decades in the biz, haven’t you? If you’re just a man, how did you avoid becoming a monster?”
Max leaned in, his face a mere three inches from her. He looked as though he was studying her, and she resisted the urge to squirm under his observation. His remaining hair whipped about in the seashore winds, and she could see his shoddy attempts to cover up his age spots. The man had to be approaching his mid-eighties. This was a man who ran a criminal enterprise for half a century, who beat his wife and harassed his children, who threatened his lovers, who sexually exploited family members, and who buried his enemies, and yet he’d been bested by his nephew. How did someone like Max evolve?
Sighing heavily, he settled back on the bench. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you a sob story. Is that what you want? Is that what you want?”
His raised voice startled some nearby seagulls. The rain picked up, escalating from drizzle to drops. Rachel sat in silence, focusing on her breathing, and hoping she didn’t push too many buttons. From what she could tell, Max subtly liked when women talked back to him. She was trying to use that tactic to her advantage.
“We were living in the Simiribbean,” Max got a faraway look in her eye. “Ma was a good Jacoban girl. Married. Had three boys. One of us was gonna rule the family roost one day and she tried to raise us right. Then she had my sister.”
Rachel wondered where the story was going.
“Daddy blew her to bits.”
He said that without faltering. Rachel felt sick again.
“Blew her to bits with his gun. It was an antique. And do ya know why he blew her to bits?” Max whipped his gaze back to Rachel. “She was a whore. She cheated on her husband. The man was an imbecile, but she cheated on him, and Daddy couldn’t tolerate.”
Rachel averted her eyes, disturbed by Max’s confession.
“You see Daddy was a naval captain. He sailed the seas. He was expectin’ his wife to remain faithful and his daughter too when he was gone. He discovered Villa fell for another man, a pirate by the name of Dregg. Daddy sent Villa straight to hell for fraternizing with Dregg. He grabbed me by the ear and sat me down afterwards and told me as a man, ‘I ain’t to tolerate no cheatin’ women.'”
Rachel frowned. What did he call having a mistress?
“My Ma took her own life after that. He didn’t care. You’d’da think my brothers would know not to go cheatin’, but Sam? He blew my wife. I blew him to hell too.”
Rachel shivered. She disliked the possessiveness of his tone.
“Why didn’t you kill her?” her voice sounded faraway and detached.
“I said… why didn’t you kill her?” she felt disembodied, as if everything were a horrid nightmare.
Max kicked the side of the cart. “Cuz she’s more fun alive… at least she used to be. She liked playing madam to the girls. Kept track of the money. Took percentages. When the girls failed, she took her percentages and her pound of flesh. Now that’s evil.”
Rachel shuddered. She had a hard time thinking of her mother-in-law as capable of anything like Max described, but after thinking for a moment, concluded that only an insane person would stay with the likes of him.
“You don’t believe me?” Max whooped. “My Marigold is a wild one. Lived down in the Simirribbean with that whore mother of hers. She herself was kidnapped by pirates when she was just a teen. Came back knowin’ all sorts of stuff and doin’ all sorts of things even her own Ma didn’t or wouldn’t. Man…” Max rubbed what was left of his hair. “…We used to have fun. Only here reason I still keep her around is she numbs the pains on the days when she’s got ‘er wits ’bout her.”
Rachel remained silent, feeling wholly unsettled, but she didn’t think she could purge anything else from her system.
“I’m not a monster. I don’t hide under children’s beds and scare them at night. I don’t kill for pleasure. There’s always a reason. Always… that’s somethin’ Daddy taught me. And ya know what else he taught me? He told me women were property… worse than dirt. I needed to teach ’em lessons every once in awhile… teach ’em their place… but you know what I did instead?” Max looked positively pleased with himself. “I made ’em work with me…”
Seeing her surprised look, he continued, “…yeah, keep your friends close and your enemies closer? I mean, women… they got their uses…” Max looked her up and down and licked his lips. “And they got their uses…” he pounded his fist in his hand. “But I’d rather work with a woman any day and you know why?”
“Cuz they’re easier to control than men. There’s only two ways to control a man. Show of force and sex. The first one’s the easiest, but if I must, the second one works too, but it makes a man weak. But ya know… a weak man is easy to control. Bet you’d know somethin’ ’bout that being with Bill and all.”
“You don’t know anything?” Rachel finally responded, feeling the strange urge to defend her husband despite their rather loveless marriage.
“But a woman?” Max continued as if he hadn’t heard her. ” She’ll do a lotta things free if she gets her needs met, and it’s like they got somethin’ more to prove, ya know? So they’ll likely do it anyhow.”
“Why’da’ya think I keep Lu around? She can hold her own…” he rubbed his jaw. “…but she knows her place…” he rubbed the sole of his shoe on the metal frame of the cart. “…and she’s been on that floor twice as much as me. She doesn’t like it but it makes her strong. Failure is a great teacher. She’s motivated when she’s taken down, ‘specially when she goes down for some pussy.”
Rachel blinked rapidly. Did Max just imply Lucy was a lesbian?
“Hey whatever floats her boat… I don’t care… whatever my employees do on their personal hours ain’t none of my business, but when they workin’ for me, they better do it quick and dirty. The dirtier the better. I mean…” he grinned a little too widely. “…how else do we send the competition a message?”
“And who’d suspect a dirty old man like me anyhow? No… I’ve been on my best behavior since I left prison,” Max declared as if immensely proud of himself. “… they never once did pin any of my worst deeds on me. I didn’t even convicted at my brother’s murder trial.”
“Double jeopardy too… I’m smart…” Max tapped his temple. “They can’t ever get me for that. I know ya must think I’m a monster. But I’m not. I just want what’s mine and protect what’s mine. Nothing more. Nothing less. If someone takes somethin’ from me, I take two somethin’s from them. If someone crosses me, I cross ’em back and then stomp on their graves. There are worse guys who do worse. Like if I was another guy, I’d have raped you where you sit now…”
Rachel squirmed. She tried to tell herself he was just trying to scare her, and that he already said he wouldn’t touch her. She was terrified he would touch her, and then blame her for cheating on Bill. He already said what he did to women who stepped out on their spouses.
“But I ain’t. That would make you a cheater… and ya would never… ever… ever… cheat on my son,” he said, leaning closer with each ever. “I might hate him and hope I live to see him dead, but he’s still my son, and you’re a Racket now… and I’m your daddy.”
The ride jerked forward and Rachel audibly and painfully sighed with relief as she slumped against the side, grateful the time was up. Max reminded her everything he said was in confidence, and she was a Racket now. He wouldn’t hesitate to hurt her if she betrayed him. She couldn’t pin anything on him ever even if she tried, making Rachel feel even more weak. They reached the bottom and she doubled over and they walked past the ride attendant. Max put his arm around her and insisted Rachel cut herself and asked for the nearest pharmacy. He had already told her they weren’t going to a hospital.
“Oh and this incident here… it stays ‘tween us,” Max waved the knife around once they reached the rental car cab. “…or ya know… I don’t mind cuttin’ on colored who cross me.”
Rachel whimpered and curled up against the door, trying to remain conscious after the pain, as Max drove them back to the hotel.
He didn’t bother stopping at the pharmacy like he said. He helped her to the room, dumped her on the bed, and pocketed her room key, wallet, and keys to assure she wasn’t going anywhere. Then he left to go “check on Lolly and the baby and football scores… though maybe not in that order.” He swiped her phone off the desk and ripped the room phone cord from the wall and took those things too.
“Cheer up, sweet-haaarttt,” he knocked her on the chin. “You passed with flyin’ colors… better than that Silver… better than that wimpy grandson of mine. Took a whore and a lesbian to make a man outta him. If ya make it through the night, you’ll do just fine in the family biz.”
Max cackled as he left the room. The dizziness overwhelmed her senses, and she clutched the bedspread. She had to get up and clean her wound before the shock fully settled in. Rachel grunted and moaned as she lifted herself from the bed. What had Max said about Shark? Sounded like he had done far worse to her nephew.
Rachel limped to the bathroom, applying some pressure with a bathroom towel on her cut. She was grateful for the antibiotic wipes she kept in her purse, and grateful Max didn’t take her whole bag. She tore a piece of the towel and taped it over the wound tightly with a roll of duct tape she found in Max’s bag. Rachel shuddered. She didn’t want to know what that was for. Pulling her pajamas over her head, Rachel prayed Max wasn’t coming back. She stuck the room deadbolt lock into the door and limped down the hallway to find the house phone. She dialed home.
“Hi…” she tried to sound positive as she balanced the phone between her shoulder and ear, and she looked down at her trembling hands. “I lost my phone.”
“That sucks… and on vacation too…” Rachel heard noises in the background and it sounded like Dennis was playing video games, and probably with Marigold too since he heard her mother-in-law screech at the television.
“Sorry for that,” he moved away from the sound.
“I’m… trying to reach Bill…” she said weakly.
“Oh, he went out about a half-hour ago. Said he was getting a pizza. Do you want me to have him call you?”
Rachel wiped away two tears before placing her hand back over her aching side. “No, that’s okay…” her voice cracked.
He didn’t respond right away and she wondered if he was distracted, or if he had figured out the truth behind her tone.
“Have a good night, Rachel,” he said softly.
“Just Dennis?” she asked hoarsely.
“Tell him…” she paused.
What did she want Dennis to tell Bill? That she’d been stabbed by her father-in-law? That she was terrified? That she needed him? She wasn’t sure she could say she loved him. She wasn’t sure she ever really loved Bill. If only she hadn’t been so stupid and jumped into bed with the man, then she wouldn’t be here in this horrible nightmare of a predicament.
“Tell him… I called, will you?”
“Will do, Rachel.”
With that, Rachel let the phone slip from her fingers. She didn’t even bother hanging it up before she stumbled down the hallway, overcome with dizziness. She removed the deadbolt from the door and then collapsed on the bed as she heard it close.
For the first time since she started her scheming, she was beginning to doubt her resolve. She hadn’t caved and told Max anything, but this was a little too deep. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be this deep, but it was too late. Max’s threat stood, and she couldn’t back out now.
Rachel wished she could be in Bill’s arms and she could hold her baby. She figured Lolly was at dinner with Hope. She wanted desperately to be home right now.
Rachel cried herself to sleep.