“And by the power vested in me, I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kidnap the bride.”
The groom hoists the bride over his shoulder and starts down the aisle. Her white satin wedding gown makes a soft rustling sound as she struggles with the man’s cold grip and the harsh ropes binding her wrists and ankles. She raises her head and screams at her mother through her white cleave gag.
Her mother wipes tears of joy from her cheeks as her daughter is carried from the church.
Groomsmen flank the open trunk of the silver on black Bugatti. The bride is dropped inside and the lid is slammed closed.
Startled awake I sit up in bed, my face wet with sweat. I rub my wrists, lay back and replay the nightmare in my mind, this time with the man from my fantasies. He cradles my bound body in his powerful arms, his steel blue eyes never leave mine. My hand slides between my legs.
Two machines that have no resemblance to tractors pass our seats in the press box. Massive tires shred the muddy track. I want to pull my hoodie up but fear my earplugs alone aren’t up to the task and keep my hands firmly pressed to the sides of my head. When it’s over I take a small notebook and pen from my jacket pocket and check the scoreboard. Bits of dirt fall from my hair onto the page as I make notes.
“Do you want a hotdog Cubby?” Chrissy said.
“What?” I said.
She points to her ears and I take out my earplugs.
“I’m hungry.” Chrissy said louder than she needed.
“Then go get something.” I said.
My name is Autumn Hills, junior reporter for The Parkville Examiner, but you wouldn’t know that. My boss Buck Stone insists on calling me Cubby, you know, Cub reporter, so people call me Cubby. I hate that. He also claims I haven’t earned a byline even though I have the credentials. Whatever, more people live in the building I grew up in than read his paper. The Times wouldn’t line their trash cans with his rag.
I got an extra press pass for my photographer. Buck doesn’t have a photographer so I brought Chrissy. She likes all this crap and asking her is easier than learning the details of these fercockta events I have to cover.
“I got you a Texas, I know it’s your favorite, we can share the soda.” Chrissy said.
“Thanks.” I said.
Chrissy hands me the hotdog exposing her wrist from under her jacket sleeve.
“What’s that?” I said.
“My boyfriend was demonstrating his roping skills.” Chrissy said.
“He’s in a rodeo?” I said.
“I’m the only Filly he hogties.” Chrissy said.
“And you let him?” I said.
“You gotta tie ‘um fur you can brand ‘um. That’s what Granddaddy used to say.” Chrissy said.
The loudspeakers boom with the announcer’s voice.
“The pull-off is starting, I’m rooting for Chuck “Yeager” Collins.” Chrissy said.
“I thought it was over.” I said.
“More than one tractor pulled the sled the whole three hundred feet,” Chrissy said, “we were a little late.”
“Who wins is all that matters, so that’s all I need to see.” I said.
“Why didn’t you ask for another assignment?” Chrissy said.
“Our senior reporter got Miss Cornhusk.” I said.
The thunder of engines ends our conversation and I replace my earplugs. My mind is on Chrissy’s words for the rest of the event.
We walk across the fairgrounds toward the parking area. I’m dying to ask more about the tying up but can’t decide how to approach it without sounding interested.
“Hey, there’s Bob.” Chrissy said, and runs toward him.
Damn. The first article I wrote was on Bob Newland and his family, they own the largest farm in the state, depending on who you ask. The assignment was part of my orientation at the paper to ensure I knew the lay-of-the-land as Buck put it. He wanted me to interview Bob but there was so much material on his family at the library why bother, he never knew. It was a waste of time anyway, it never got published. A spread in Antiquated Farming pictured him with his antique tractor collection. This is the first time I’ve seen him in person.
He stands tall, with broad shoulders and narrow waist. His oversize short-sleeve shirt hinting at the muscles beneath his bronze skin. A green and yellow baseball cap covers curls of blonde hair but the shadow cast over his face by the visor can’t hide the sparkle of his crystal blue eyes. A chill runs down my spine.
“Isn’t he adorable?” Chrissy said when I catch up.
“Is that an observation or a suggestion?” I said.
“This is my friend Cubby.” Chrissy said.
“Nice to meet you, how was the event?” Bob said.
“Great, thanks to Cubby we had the best seats. Is that the Farm-all 240?” Chrissy said.
“Yeah, all restored, want to climb on?” Bob said.
“Some other time,” I said grabbing Chrissy’s arm, “we’ll see you around.”
“Take care Chrissy,” Bob said, “it was nice meeting you Cubby.”
“You have something against good looking men?” Chrissy said.
“No, nothing.” I said.
It’s after 7pm when I get back to town. There’s no way I’m getting up earlier than I already have to just to write this piece so I go to the paper. The doors are never locked when the office is closed, I guess manual typewriters aren’t big on the black market these days.
Buck hasn’t been happy with my reporting, wants the reader to feel the excitement of the event. I’m a journalist, you want color commentary hire Mad Cow, but if it stops his complaining.
I feed paper into the Smith-Corona and open my notes, Chrissy said Chuck Collins won, right? Pretty sure. Okay, exciting it is. I pound out a piece on the tractor pull, toss it in the copy tray and go home.
I open the fridge out of habit, the stinging smell of rot and mold hits my nose and I shut the door. There’s one slice of pizza left on the counter, a sharp yank frees it from the box and I head for the sofa. Before I sit down my phone rings.
“Hello dear, I hope you’re well. I had lunch with your Aunt Gladys and she told me your cousin Annie met the most wonderful man, just a treasure, and he’s a doctor.
“He’s a chiropractor, it’s on her Facebook.”
“You can’t waste your whole life chasing runaway farm animals. Why did I send you to the best university if you weren’t going to find a husband? Why don’t you come home while there are still a few eligible . . .”
“Mom, I gotta go.”
I’m not hungry, I put my phone on the charger and go to bed.
She runs down the darkened street, the sound of hoofs beating the pavement getting louder. She finds an opening between the parked cars, trips in the stiletto heels stepping up to the sidewalk and tries to remove the shoes hindering her escape. There are no buckles on the ankle straps. The horse snorts as it rounds the corner.
She pulls on a door, locked. The hoof falls get faster and louder. She stumbles over a sidewalk grate. Silence. She turns. The beast is airborne as it clears the hood of a car. She opens her mouth to scream but terror grips her throat with ice cold fingers. A lasso tightens around her chest pulling her to the concrete.
Wing tip shoes step into view. Her wrists are bound, she’s gagged and pulled to her feet to face the horseman. A black Stetson and red bandana cover his face, only his stone-grey eyes stare out like a predator in the bush. She’s heaved like a sack over the back of the horse behind the saddle. Its hide is wet with sweat and soaks through her dress sending a chill through her body. The rope binding her wrists is pulled under the animal and tied around her ankles. The rider—
Beep. Beep. Beep.
My palm slams the top of the alarm clock.
Guzzling the last of my coffee from the diner, I ditch the cup in the waste basket next to my desk and head down the hall for our staff meeting. I hear laughter from Buck’s office, I’m late as usual.
Two large windows illuminate the nicotine stained walls. Buck is at his desk. Sitting on the torn leather sofa are Steve Barton, Senior Reporter and Alice Martin, Copy Editor, Features Writer, Sales Director and Janitor. The entire executive staff of the paper, also the only staff beside Old Jonesy who runs the printing press in the basement.
I apologize for being late and look at Alice hoping she’ll let me in on whatever was so funny, but she lowers her eyes.
“Listen up people,” Buck said, “this is a big opportunity for Parkville. Because of construction delays at the new Capitol Convention Center the Indian Casino will be hosting a bondage convention and the proximity to Parkville will mean a lot of activity in town, and activity means people and that means money. It’s a casino so they’ll come with cash. I want to move as much money as possible from the one-armed bandits to the local cash registers. We’re going to deliver a free paper to each room of the hotel during the convention, they expect a full house.
“Steve, you’ll cover all the pre-event PR as well as the convention.
“Alice, we’ll run a special Saturday edition with a splashy header and a couple extra pages with photos, make it look like a real newspaper. I want pieces on any entertainment in town, and I mean everything from what music is on the bowling alley jukebox to the blue plate special at the diner. To pay for it we’ll need to sell every ad space so call everybody, if they have an old washing machine twist their arm to list it.
“Cubby, you’ll do a piece on business impact, give it a patriotic angle, really charge them up on supporting locally owned business and how important small-town America is to the economy. Let’s use the Red White and Blue to move some green.
“Any questions? Okay, get out. Not you Cubby.”
Buck closes the door to his office and reads from my copy, “The tips of the exhaust pipes burned like acetylene torches as twin supercharged engines powered Chuck Collins to victory.”
“Like you’re there, right?” I said.
“You nailed it. You did go to the tractor pull, right?” Buck said.
“From the checker flag to the pull down. Off, pull off.” I said.
“Right. Chuck Collins didn’t win. Now we have a parade to cover.” Buck said.
Colonel Nathaniel Park, founder of Parkville, a tiny dot lost in the folds of a map. Today is the annual parade in his honor. It’s the biggest one ever now that the firehouse has two trucks. Behind the high school marching band is Early Ledbetter’s 1934 Packard convertible. Buck and the Mayor are in the back seat. Early owns the largest farm in the state, depending on who you ask. As Early guides the big car past my spot on the curb I snap a photo with my phone. Early gives me a wink, he looks like Roosevelt in his top hat and morning coat.
A canal linked to the river made farming a big business here in the nineteenth century, it still is, but building a big city took a railroad. If Commodore Vanderbilt had extended his a hundred miles in 1867 Parkville might have become Park City. Buck’s personal crusade is to make that happen. What he needs is a highway.
Ice cold beer, nectar of the Gods, and Rosie’s Bar has five varieties on tap. I usually just talk to Rosie, she’s a good listener, but I can’t get my mind off Chrissy’s comments and how it has affected my dreams, and now I have cover. She’s finally back from her family trip so I asked her to meet me here, she never says no to me.
“Get a beer, I’ll grab a table.” I said.
“What’s up?” Chrissy said.
“I wanted to know more about the tying up.” I said.
“Are you doing a story? Everybody’s heard about the convention.” Chrissy said.
“Just background research. How did it start?” I said.
“With my family. Whether it was my brother and I hogtied under the Christmas tree to be sent back with Santa, or my mom and I tied up by my dad’s Scout troop, it was just part of the fun. We can’t go camping without tying someone to a tree, just ask Aunt Rosie.” Chrissy said.
“Rosie is your Aunt?” I said.
“I told you that.” Chrissy said. “You never played games?”
“My mother would invite boys over for tea.” I said.
Chrissy motions for Rosie to come to our table.
“Cubby is researching a story, I was telling her about our family games.” Chrissy said.
“These little rascals got me a few times, this one time was really funny.” Rosie said.
“I’m sure it is, but I’m looking for the adult angle.” I said.
“All five of my kids were conceived while I was tied up.” Rosie said.
I choke on my beer then put my hands in my lap to hide the goosebumps on my arms.
“This is for a story you say?” Rosie said.
“Yes. Of course. Why else would I be asking?” I said.
“My friend Francine could help you,” Rosie said, “I’ll call her.”
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story continues in Cubby 2