by Victor Thomas

Chapter 14

I began to lock the door to The Ab Crunch when I felt something hard poke into my back.

"Leave it unlocked, Bryce, I'm expecting company," said Paxton.

I wondered if he really had a gun or if he was just poking a length of pipe or something into my back.

"You're playing a dangerous game, Paxton. Just what do you hope to accomplish?"

"You're the one who's playing a dangerous game, Bryce, and tonight it ends. Now, turn around slowly."

I heard him take a few steps back. I did as I was told. The gun was real, all right. If I wasn't mistaken it was a .357.

"If I shot you with this, you won't be getting back up. This thing can turn a concrete block into dust. Just imagine what it can do to your chest."

I swallowed hard. I wondered what he was playing at. There was no way he was willing to sacrifice his entire future just to get rid of me. Maybe he thought he could frighten me into letting go of the control I had over him. If that's what he thought, he was dead wrong.

"Now, turn out the lights," he ordered.

I did as I was told while I considered my options. I heard the door open again and turned. Wyatt stepped in, and so did Carson. I was truly confused and more frightened than ever. I still had the upper hand, however. I was outnumbered three to one and Paxton had a gun, but I was still more powerful than all of them put together.

"Do you three losers want to tell me what this is all about?" I asked.

Before I knew what had happened, Paxton had smashed me in the face with the gun. I began to lunge toward him, but he leveled the pistol at me.

"Don't make me shoot you, Bryce. It would ruin the plans we have for you."

"I don't know what you have planned, but you know what happens if I disappear or end up dead."

"Oh, yes, the sealed letters and the tapes," said Paxton. "Carson."

Carson took off his back pack. He dumped the contents on the counter near me. My eyes grew wide at the sight of five sealed envelopes and the same number of sealed packages, all addressed in my handwriting to various individuals, including Coach Benson.

"You shouldn't have made so many enemies, Bryce," said Wyatt, with a look of smug satisfaction.

I didn't know how they'd managed to get their hands on the envelopes and tapes. I'd told no one who had them, not even the others holding the same packages for me. They'd done it, however. Somehow, they'd obtained them all.

"Aren't you forgetting my own copies?" I asked.

Carson pulled out not two, but three more packages.

"Here you are, buddy," he said. "Your own personal copies and also the copy of the tape you keep in your dresser drawer to jerk off too, you fucking faggot."

My face blanched. I'd thought I'd been very clever in protecting myself, but somehow my efforts had failed. I realized I was in perilous danger. I had to think of something fast. Maybe there was yet a way to save my ass.

"You look scared, Bryce. That's not a look I've seen on your face before," said Paxton.

"Okay," I said. "You've got the information and the tapes. I'm smart enough to see that the balance of power has shifted. I won't bother you guys anymore."

It was lame, but I could think of nothing else to say.

"You're god damned right you won't!" yelled Paxton. He turned to Carson. "Tie his arms behind his back."

"Paxton, I don't know what you have planned, but we can make a deal…"

"You're not in a position to make deals, Bryce. Your sick little game is at an end, and now you're going to pay."

I stepped away from Carson as he came toward me with the rope, but Paxton quickly closed the distance between us and pointed the barrel of the pistol right between my eyes.

"Feel familiar, Bryce?"

I was fighting not to shake. Memories of Shayne flooded my mind, the way he'd held the gun to my forehead, the paralyzing fear that he'd pull the trigger. It was my nightmare revisited. I remembered the image of his head exploding. I knew what would happen to me if Paxton pulled the trigger. Before I knew it, my wrists were bound securely behind my back.

He shoved the pistol into the front of his jeans, then slugged me in the face a hard as he could. My head snapped around so hard I thought he'd broken my neck. I struggled against my bonds, but Carson had tied them too securely.

He then grabbed the hair at the back of my head and jerked down hard. He brought his face to within inches of my own.

"Now, we're going to take a little trip, Bryce, and pay you back for what you did to us."

"Paxton…" I began, but he punched me in the gut with all the force he could muster.

I tightened my abdominal muscles, but it still hurt like hell. The second punch nearly knocked the wind out of me.

"I'll tell you when you can talk, bitch!"

He grabbed me by the hair again and dragged me toward the door. He pulled the pistol back out and pressed it into my back.

"You cry out for help, and I'll kill you right here."

There was something in the tone of his voice that let me know he meant it. I began to wonder if I was going to get out of this alive.

I was unceremoniously shoved into the trunk of Carson's car. The lid was slammed shut, and moments later the car began to move. I thought about screaming for help, but no one was going to hear me. I struggled against the ropes, but it was a futile effort.

It wasn't long at all before the car stopped. I heard the doors slam, then the trunk opened. Paxton and Wyatt jerked me out of the car. We were behind the bleachers at the football field.

"Hey, Bryce," said Wyatt. I turned my head toward him and he slugged me in the face. "That's for making me suck dick!" He hit me again, harder. "And that's for making my life a living hell for all these weeks!"

He stood there, glaring at me, breathing hard. He had murder in his eyes. Paxton put his hand on Wyatt's chest and pushed him back.

"Not here," he said.

Wyatt nodded, then leaned in close enough to my face that I could feel his hot breath.

"Just wait until you see what I'm gonna do to you for raping me."

With that, I was shoved towards the forest path. Blood trickled from my nose and the side of my mouth. My jaw felt like it was broken and my gut ached. I never thought I'd find myself in such a situation. I'd thought it all out. It was all so carefully planned. What had gone wrong?

The forest loomed before us, dark and menacing. My fear increased, causing my heart to race. I looked over at my former best friend, Carson, and he returned my gaze with hatred. He was wearing his back pack. I stopped.

"Keep moving, faggot!" yelled Wyatt, punching me hard in the back.

I fell to the ground in agony.

They jerked me to my feet, practically pulling my arms out of the sockets. I actually considered pleading with them, but I knew I was fucked. They were going to beat me senseless, or worse. I wasn't going to beg for mercy. I wouldn't give them the satisfaction.

They led me far down the forest path, lighting the way with flashlights. Fog was rolling in, and the beams of their flashlights cut eerie shafts through the darkness. We cut off the path into the trees. Wyatt led the way, his passage sending limbs whipping into my face. I could feel welts rising. We didn't travel far before we reached a small clearing. The moon escaped the clouds above and illuminated the low-lying fog. It was like a scene out of some horror movie. The only thing missing were tombstones and eerie music.

Paxton, Wyatt, and Carson just stood there gazing at me for a few moments, perhaps trying to unnerve me, perhaps waiting for me to beg. I stood there trying to appear as calm as possible, but I was trembling slightly and on the inside felt abject terror. My arms were securely bound. I was helpless.

"Do you have anything you want to say?" asked Paxton.

"Don't you mean aren't you going to beg for mercy? The answer is no."

"We're going to beat that arrogance out of you," snarled Paxton.

"Why don't you guys stop now before you get yourselves in real trouble," I said.

"That sounds a bit like begging to me," said Wyatt.

"You wish."

Wyatt viciously punched me in the abs. When I bent over from the pain, he kneed me in the face. My mouth opened in a silent scream, but I let no sound escape.

"If you stop this now, I can forget the whole thing. We can all walk back, then tomorrow everything will be different. You've got the tapes; you're free now. I can't touch you."

"You're so generous, Bryce," said Paxton. "You're going to let us off without punishing us." He actually laughed in my face. "First off, faggot," he said, yanking my hair so I was forced to look up into the sky, "there is no fucking way we're letting you off that easy. Secondly, I think we all know that you would never just let this go. You're so fucking cocky; you think you're so superior that the first thing you'd do is seek revenge. All of us know what you're capable of, Bryce."

"You're afraid of me," I said, taunting him.

He reached up and gripped my left pectoral muscle with his hand and squeezed hard. Tears flowed from my eyes. It was sheer agony. A small cry escaped from my lips.

"You never learn, do you, faggot?"

He shoved me roughly away, and I fell on my back, nearly snapping my wrists. Wyatt grabbed me be the front of my shirt and yanked me to my feet, ripping my shirt to shreds in the process.

"This is for raping me, faggot!"

I could see his fist hurtling toward my face, but could do nothing to stop it. It connected; I felt the left side of my jaw snap. I screamed in agony. His next punch hit me in the chest, the next in my gut. He knees me in the face again, then grabbed my nuts and squeezed with every ounce of force he could muster. I tried to hold it in, but I couldn't. I screamed in pain.

It was all a blur after that. Paxton and Carson jumped on me, too. They all savagely beat me as if they'd gone insane. I cried out in pain, not even trying to hold it in anymore. They punched and kicked every inch of my body. I felt my ribs breaking. Blood flowed from my mouth and nose. They shouted obscenities as they beat me; faggot, bitch, whore, cocksucker, and more.

My head swam with pain. I'd been in plenty of fights in my life and considered myself tough, but nothing had prepared me to withstand such a beating. My wrists were bound securely behind my back, but my strength was failing and even if I had managed to miraculously free myself, I wouldn't have stood a chance against my attackers. All I could do was lie there and take it. Carson kicked me hard in the head. I saw stars and all went black.

The Chouteau Advance

Thursday, February 17, 1999

Local Athlete Murdered, Second Lynching in Chouteau

The body of Bryce Mackenzie, aged 16, was found in the woods behind the local football field last night by hunters. The cause of death has not been officially determined, but Labette County Coroner, Dr. Anthony Clark believes there is little doubt Mackenzie's death was the result of lynching.

"The body had been so disfigured by a severe beating that Mackenzie could have died from his injuries, but why hang someone after they're dead," said Clark.

Mackenzie was an extremely popular student and local football star.

"As far as I know, Bryce had no enemies. I can't believe this happened. I'll never get over it," stated his longtime friend, Carson Bressler when asked for comment.

Whatever the motive, Mackenzie's killers were especially vicious.

"In all my years of service, I've never seen a body beaten this badly," stated Labette County Sheriff, Stuart Crane. "Whoever did this was either certifiably insane or had unbelievable hatred for the victim."

"Normally, it would have taken much longer to discover the identity of the body, but we'd received a call from Bryce's mother not an hour before his discovery. She asked us to be on the lookout for him, because he hadn't returned from work and was hours late. The corpse fit the general description, but we ran a match on dental records and DNA, just in case. There's no doubt about the identity of the victim."

As disturbing as this lynching may be, it is not the first.

"It was only a few months ago that another boy was found lynched," stated the Sheriff. "The other victim wasn't beaten as severely, but he'd been worked over. No one deserves to die like that."

The previous victim was 14-year-old Oliver Triplett, also of Chouteau. His body was found not fifty yards from where Mackenzie's body was discovered last night, leading authorities to believe that the lynchings are connected."

"I would suspect a connection in any case," said the Sheriff. "Lynching is far from common, and both victims were severely beaten. That would be enough to make an obvious connection. The close proximity of the crime scenes is merely another connection between the murders. In the previous case, the victim clearly died of a broken neck. We're not so sure about the latest victim."

"The evidence is inconclusive," said Coroner Clark. "The victim's neck was not broken. He most likely died of strangulation. It's not a pleasant death."

No more details were available at the time of publication. Currently authorities have no suspects in either case.

"Neither of these boys appear to have enemies," said Sheriff, Crane. "Without motive, these could be very hard cases to solve."

Authorities are advising caution.

"Don't go out alone if you don't have to. We don't know who we're dealing with here. Teenagers in particular should be careful, but everyone needs to be cautious until be can solve these crimes," said Sheriff Crane.

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