Stay Close

Page 21


Tawny’s broken finger had made this particular assignment ridiculously easy and unchallenging. Barbie had been a little disappointed by that. She was so good at extracting information. Creative. She had a new soldering iron with a finer tip, one that reached heat in excess of one thousand degrees Fahrenheit, and she really wanted to try
it out.
But creativity meant improvising. Ken had seen right away that Tawny had a broken finger that was causing her great distress. Why not use it?
After Ken punched Tawny in the face, Barbie had locked the door. Tawny lay on her back, holding her nose. Ken put one of his Keds on her chest, in the spot between her huge fake breasts, pinning her hard to the floor. He lifted her right hand toward the ceiling. Tawny bucked in pain.
“It’s okay,” he said soothingly.
Using his foot as leverage, Ken pulled Tawny’s arm straight and then wrapped her in an elbow lock. She couldn’t move. The hand with the broken finger was exposed and completely vulnerable. He nodded at Barbie.
Barbie smiled and retied her ponytail. Ken loved to watch her, the way she took her own hair in her hand, the way she pulled it back, the way it exposed the softness of her neck. Barbie approached the finger and studied it for a moment.
First, Barbie flicked the broken digit with her own middle finger. Not hard. Just a routine twang. But her eyes lit up when Tawny cried out in pain. Barbie slowly wrapped her four fingers around the broken finger, making her hand into a fist. Tawny moaned. Barbie paused, a small smile on her face. The dog, Ralphie, maybe sensing what was about to happen, scampered to the far corner and whimpered. Barbie looked over at Ken. Ken smiled too. She nodded at him.
“Please,” Tawny said through her tears. “Please tell me what you want.”
Barbie smiled down at her. Then, without any warning, Barbie pulled the broken finger back so far that the finger hit the back of Tawny’s wrist. Ken was ready. He moved his foot from Tawny’s chest to her mouth, stifling the long, dark scream. Barbie regripped the finger. She started pulling it back and forth as though it were a joystick on one of those horrible video game systems or maybe something stuck in the mud she was trying to break free.
Eventually, the jagged edge of the bone broke through, shredding the skin and bandaging.
Then—and only then—did they ask Tawny where Carlton Flynn was.
But now, forty minutes later, reviving her twice from blacking out, they knew for sure that Tawny did not know. In truth they knew it earlier but Ken and Barbie did not get where they were today by not being thorough.
They had, however, gathered some potentially useful information. After the pain became too much—after her sanity had temporarily fled—Tawny just started talking in a delirious flow. She ranted about her childhood; her sister, Beth; her thinking that they, Ken and Barbie, were angels sent to help her. She told them about a cop named Broome and her boss, Rudy, and other people at the club. She told them about Carlton Flynn, about how he had been the one to break her finger, about how he hadn’t showed up on that last night.
But, sadly, Tawny didn’t know where Carlton Flynn was now.
Tawny lay on the floor like a broken rag doll. She was mumbling incoherently to herself. Barbie was petting Ralphie, the dog, trying to comfort him. She smiled up at Ken, and he felt his entire being go warm.
“What are you thinking about?” he asked her.
“The playlist.”
He wasn’t surprised. Barbie was such a perfectionist. “What about it?”
“Please be open-minded,” she said.
“I will.”
“I promise.”
Barbie sighed, and again she retied the ponytail. “I think we should open the show with ‘Let the River Flow’ and then move into ‘What Color Is God’s Skin?’”
Ken thought about it. “When do we go into ‘Freedom Isn’t Free’?”
“Right before the closer.”
“That’s awfully late.”
“I think it will work.”
“It will only work,” he said, “if we use jazz hands in the choreography.”
Barbie frowned. “You know how I feel about jazz hands.”
Ken and Barbie were both counselors at Camp SonLit. The T at the end was in the shape of a cross. That was where they met and first… connected. Oh, but not like that. It was all very appropriate. They had both, in fact, taken a chastity pledge, something Ken believed gave them discipline and helped them focus their energy.
Ken had been something of a celebrity at the camp, and so Barbie made it a point to meet and befriend him. The year before, Ken had been a featured singer with the ultraexclusive Up with People, performing around the world with the famed “leadership” organization. It wasn’t love at first sight, but there was an immediate draw, something deep inside that drew them to each other. They both felt it. Neither knew what it was—until another counselor named Doug Waites crossed their path.
Waites was a senior counselor, in charge of the boys ages ten to twelve. One night, after the campers had been put to bed and night prayers were over, Barbie had come to Ken for help. Waites would not leave her alone, Barbie told him. Waites asked her out repeatedly. He looked down her shirt whenever there was an opportunity. He spoke to her in an inappropriate way and treated her in a manner she found disrespectful.
Ken’s hands had tightened into fists as he heard all this.
When Barbie finished telling him about Waites’s transgressions, Ken made a suggestion. He told her that next time Waites asked her out, she should tell him to meet her in a secluded spot in the woods at an hour of their choosing. Barbie’s eyes fired up in a way Ken would grow to love.
Two nights later, after bedtime prayers and all the campers were sound asleep, Doug Waites made his way to that spot deep in the woods for his alleged rendezvous with Barbie. Ken took over from there. Barbie watched, mesmerized, fascinated. She had always been drawn to pain. During a teen tour to Florence, Italy, she remembered visiting the famed Duomo cathedral in the center of the city. On the ceiling of the dome were frescos depicting the most gruesome scenes of hell. Here, in a sacred church where you were not allowed to wear shorts or sleeveless dresses, there were naked people—sinners—having hot pokers inserted into their rectums and private parts. Clear as day. Easy for any tourist to see. Most of the teens had been repulsed. But some, like Barbie, couldn’t turn away. The agony on the faces of those sinners drew her, captivated her, made her tingle.