-Alexis Phillips-

She remembered that beautiful spring morning clearly. She hopped out of bed singing to herself, and her dorm mate, Alicia, promptly threw a pillow in her general direction. The poor girl missed, of course, having dragged herself in early that morning, hung over as usual.

"Shut up, Alex. My head is killing me."

It must be nice to have parents that will pay for their daughter to repeat semesters, Alex thought as she sang herself into the bathroom for her morning routine of hygiene.

The air was crisp and cool, and a slight breeze blew through the quad as Alex made her way from the dorms to her morning class. Mid-terms started next week and she would do everything in her power to maintain her grade point average. Her scholarship demanded a 3.8GPA minimum, though Alex comfortably pulled a 4.1 every semester. This time, she would shoot for a 4.5.

Alex would not hesitate to lock Alicia out – again – if it would better her chances at honors level grades.

Classes passed as classes will for someone who really did not need to attend. If her GPA did not depend on actually showing up for lecture hall, Alex would have happily stayed in the lab or in the library.

Today was Friday. The one night a week she allowed herself to cut loose and have a good time. Her study friends wanted to see the show at the Paris Las Vegas. The hotel let a quiet deal slip onto the campus at UNLV that any student with a valid, current ID would get in complimentary. Plus, the hotel had a brilliant buffet spread. Though she knew it would go straight to her hips, Alex decided that once in a while it was okay to indulge.

She met her friends at the bus stop, and they piled in and enjoyed the light show coming from The Strip while another planeload of gamblers landed at McCarran.

Dinner was simply delicious. Alex was glad her scholarship included enough spending cash for these rare little jaunts into town. Since her mother could not afford much as a bean counter in a cube farm, Alex pretty much had to make her stipend stretch for all it was worth. Besides, rice and veggies were cheap if purchased in bulk. Alex wished her father could see her as she wore her Runnin' Rebels hoodie with pride.

No one ever dared call him dad, or papa or even father; The Major demanded only the best from his children. Mom, being who she was, simply backed his play. When Alex's oldest brother John joined the Marine Corps, The Major only sighed that he should have gone to college first and become an officer. Her sister Marianne married the first rich boy to catch her eye and bounced to New York somewhere. The first of Alex's siblings to even gain a smile from The Major was Frances when she announced her acceptance into UNLV. His smile faded quickly when he learned she was going into the university's Psychology department. "Psycho-babble mumbo-jumbo quacks who can't cut a real medical degree," The Major had declared.

Of all her siblings, Allan was the only one who had managed to earn The Major's grudging respect by getting into University of Miami. By The Major's reckoning, biology was at least a real science.

It was to Alex's shock and secret relief that the Major died just after her high school graduation. At least she no longer had anyone but herself to impress.

The Major's Air Force buddies all came and gave their condolences at the funeral, of course. The Vietnam generation was tight like that, they claimed, since no one else would have them. Alex didn't care. She had just received her acceptance to UNLV and a full scholarship from one of the premier research labs in the world. She had a plush job waiting for her when she graduated.

Mom briefly toyed with the idea of going back to Thailand, but she had roots in America now. Her children were here; her life was here now, and so she stayed. She prayed for The Major, and she prayed for her children. Alex could never begrudge her that. She knew that Mom had no real ambitions in life except to die loved by those she cared for.

Alex loved life. She had plans. She was going places; to the top or as near to it as her Chemistry degree would take her. But at this moment, she was on her way to see a show.

The last bus left just as Alex and her friends left the Paris. The group consensus was to split a cab. Problem was, there were more people than would fit in one cab. Alex knew she didn't have enough money to share with her other friends and refused to impose. Satisfied that the campus was so close and that no one would try anything this close to The Strip, Alex reasoned she would be safe. She waved her friends off and set off down East Harmon.

Her luck did not hold.

At the intersection of East Harmon and South Grand, a group of thugs rounded the corner and approached Alex. She lowered her head so that her fringe covered her eyes. Reaching into her bag, Alex felt the comforting Kraton handle of her Gerber folding knife slip into her hand. The toughs drew closer, and Alex grew more afraid. Now she wished she had taken her friends up on the cab ride.

It was far too late for regrets as the thugs surrounded Alex and began taunting her. Lewd and suggestive comments were thrown about with no regard for her sense of decency. As she tried to pass, they only pushed her back into the circle they'd formed around her. That was when she made her second mistake.

Alex withdrew her knife and whipped its blade across the chest of the nearest thug, wounding him, but only enough to make him angry. The rest of his group descended on Alex and dragged her kicking and screaming into a van parked at the corner.

She remembered that night vaguely. Pain. Searing, stabbing, thrusting pain. Alex felt more than knew her innocence had been forcibly taken from her. Her body screamed in agony as it endured over and over the violations they inflicted upon her. She could feel the flesh of multiple men, often two or more at once, as they had their way with her despite her protestations; despite her pleas. She choked on them, felt herself impaled, flattened beneath them and between them. Her humiliation lasted for as long as she could bear and longer. They were rough and cared only for their own pleasure. Alex stopped counting how many times she'd suffered each of them. She gave up even trying to remember their faces or what they smelled like. In her mind, she could hear Mom chanting her sutras as the smell of incense filled the small room set aside for the Buddha.

At this point, Alex could no longer differentiate between the smell of blood, sweat or semen. A foul mixture covered her body and encased her in a thin film of filth. Her tormentors seemed to tire of her, for the pain in her abdomen subsided. Or perhaps her body simply became inured to the feeling and her brain no longer registered the repeated thrusting. Either way, the sutras echoed in her brain louder and louder as times long forgotten on her knees at her mother's side came flooding back. The final act of depravity came as the man she had cut stood over her laughing. Using the same knife she'd cut him with, he proceeded to carve her.

He took his time with Alex, like he was creating a masterpiece. His knife work was deliberate, careful not to puncture something vital. No, he wanted Alex alive to feel every inch of steel as it slid into her flesh. Each new wound elicited a fresh scream.

Eventually, her mind dulled to the pain as it had to her rape. Tiring of his toy, the man and his group decided to be rid of Alex and find a new masterpiece.

Torn, bleeding, and alone, Alex waited only to die, but death would not come. All she heard was the laughter of her tormentors over her sobs. Soon even her tears stopped as the feel of something cold and razor sharp drew itself oh so smoothly and deliciously across her throat. There was no pain, only the choking and then drowning sensation as the girl struggled to empty her lungs of blood and replace it with air. Her voice left her at that moment, but Alex was too far gone to realize.

Alex felt herself land with force on a hard and dusty surface. A new smell, unfamiliar, but tinged with iron oxide filled her nostrils even as she gasped for air. Alex barely registered the rising sun and all its warmth as it spilled from the heavens upon her. In her delusions, Alex perhaps let a moan slip from her lips, but looking back, nothing was real except the expectation of more pain and finally, mercifully, death. She would have reacted to the gunshots that rang out had she the strength to do so. Instead she lay still in the dirt and allowed the blurred form to fill her dying vision as she awaited his ministrations as well.

Until.

He became to her at that moment an Angel of Mercy. He descended upon her and carried her in his muscular arms to a waiting expanse of something smooth and cool to the touch. The rumble of power throbbed at his command as words of comfort floated over the dull roar.

"Ever'things goin ta be ahright, darlin'," the voice comforted. "Just you hang on, y'hear?"

-Ricky Forrest-

The young man stepped outside of the old auto shop with a cup of coffee in his hand. Gonna be another scorcher today, he thought as he walked to the mailbox and retrieved its contents.

Richard Forrest had brown hair, brown eyes, was of average height, average build, and was just plain average. He wore coveralls and steel-toed boots while he worked in the auto shop he stood in front of. In a crowd no one noticed him because he was so plain, but there was something about his eyes. He squinted as he looked back at the old building, his eyes seeking, searching for anything out of place. The building looked like something you would find off of Route 66. An old gas station, concrete block mixed with wood frame, two auto bays with rollup doors. An old Sinclair Dino sign still hung from the front of the office even though the gas pumps had been pulled out long ago. Oak and cottonwood trees surrounded the sides and back making a cool spot of shade in the desert heat of Enterprise, a suburb of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Nice place, Ricky thought as he sipped his coffee. I just wish it was mine. He had come to Las Vegas from Mississippi to work for a construction company that had since gone bankrupt, leaving him stranded with no funds to get home. After working odd jobs for a while he had run up on an old man named Claude that needed someone to help out. At 26, Ricky had been driving since he was 8 and working on cars since he was 12. He fell right into place and began to enjoy life in the sedate little world two blocks off of Highway 160.

That is, until Claude had a stroke.

Ricky found him that terrible morning, lying on the floor of the office as Ricky came down from the apartment over the shop. Ambulance, hospital, and doctors came and went until he was in a nursing home, where Claude now just stared into space. Ricky lived in fear of the day the old man died and someone would come and take away the life he had gotten used to. As far as he could tell, Claude had no relatives, but he always felt there was someone somewhere that would show up and throw him out. Ricky faithfully went to see Claude once a week on Sundays.

A silver Lincoln Town Car eased down the street and pulled into the driveway, a shock of tall blue hair sticking up above the steering wheel while the short woman attached to it had to look between the dashboard and wheel to see the road.

Ricky smiled as he walked over to the car. The woman rolled the window down and in a loud, shrill voice asked, "Ricky? Is it time for my oil change yet?"

"Morning, Mrs. Johnston," Ricky called as he leaned over to look at the oil change sticker on the windshield. "No ma'am. 'Bout another week I would say."

"OK. I'm heading to the casino. I got a feeling it's going to be my lucky day!" she exclaimed as she slowly rolled out of the drive and down the street.

Ricky chuckled as he watched her putter away. Blue hairs are the same everywhere I guess, Ricky thought. Mrs. Johnston was typical of many of the customers the shop serviced. The older set liked the personal feeling Claude and Ricky gave. They wanted to know who was putting their hands on their property, unlike the big shops where their car disappeared into the back and then returned with an astronomical bill. Ricky liked the fact that most of the cars that came in were older and did not require a lot of electronic gear to work on. He could work on newer cars but preferred the old heavy metal of a bygone day.

Having already done two tune-ups and an oil change that morning, Ricky decided he could close up for a while and ride to the junkyard to look for parts. After changing into jeans and a denim shirt, Ricky left a sign on the door that said he would be back later and for anyone needing work to leave a note.

After shutting the doors, he walked around back to the private garage to get in his car. The starter whined as he turned the key, allowing the 396 cubic inch motor in the 1970 Chevelle to rumble to life. Easing out onto the road, he slipped the clutch and left rubber in a whirl of smoke as the big block roared, chirping the tires as he shifted gears and accelerated towards the highway.

Thirty minutes later, he pulled up to a junkyard with a simple sign over the office door that said, "PETE'S". Ricky got out, walked to the back of the Chevelle and opened the trunk. Reaching in, he pulled out an army pistol belt with a revolver on it and put it around his hips. Can't be too careful with all the lowbellys around, he thought. Drawing the gun, a Ruger Blackhawk .45 Conversion, he checked the load and replaced it in the cross draw holster.

Walking towards the office, Ricky called out to the man leaning back in a chair out front, "Hey Pete! I'm going to walk the back 40 for a bit!" The man, knowing Ricky was honest to a fault, just waved as he sipped the beer in his hand.

Ricky strolled the lines of old cars, lifting a hood here, opening a door there, while thinking of parts he might need in the future to keep up some of the cars the older folks brought in. He had worked his way to the back of the lot and was near the fence that ran beside a side road when he heard a low moan.

Stepping carefully around the last car in line, hand on his pistol, Ricky found the body of a near-naked young woman covered in blood lying on the ground. By the Goddess! he thought as he reached down and felt for a pulse on the side of her neck that wasn't cut open. Thank the gods Pete doesn't keep dogs anymore!

Stepping back out into the aisle between the rows of cars, he drew the Blackhawk and fired three shots into the air. Waiting a second he fired three more before putting the pistol back in it holster. Thinking quickly, Ricky grabbed a handkerchief from a pocket and wrapped it around the still oozing neck wound.

He knelt down and carefully gathered the woman in his arms, moving as fast as he could back towards the office. Pete, hearing the shots, met him half way. "Oh my god!" Pete exclaimed, "Where the hell did you find her?"

"Down at the end of row six," Ricky said. "Open the door to my car and then get on the phone to the sheriff, tell them to meet me at the hospital. Somebody tried their damndest to kill her."

Pete ran back to the parking lot and opened the door of the Chevy before running to the office. Ricky eased the woman in the car and grabbed an old army blanket from the back seat to wrap around her. That's when he noticed the blood and bruising on her legs and thighs. Shit, he thought, They raped her too? Carefully putting the seat belt around her he closed the door and ran to the other side.

Once again the big motor roared as the Chevy raced out of the parking lot and onto the highway. As Ricky tagged gears passing everything in sight, he heard another moan from the woman. Glancing at her he saw her eyes on him with tears running down her face.

"Ever'things goin ta be ahright, darlin'," he said, "Just you hang on, y'hear?"

000

Tires screamed as the big Chevy slid to a stop at the doors of the emergency room. A male nurse and an ambulance driver stood staring with their mouths open, cigarettes they had been smoking forgotten in their hands.

Ricky leaped out of the car and screamed, "MEDIC! I NEED A MEDIC AND A GURNEY NOW!" He raced around the car as the nurse headed inside and the driver ran to assist him. The driver held the door as Ricky lifted the woman out and started toward the ER.

The nurse and another orderly came out with a gurney and Ricky carefully lay the woman on it. "She has deep cuts all over and I think she's been raped too," He told the medics as they started inside.

Ricky stopped as a Sheriff's cruiser pulled up. He turned and headed toward it as a big black deputy stepped out and said, "You the man Pete called about?"

"Yep," Ricky replied as he held his hand out to the deputy. He froze as he noticed the lawman's hand on his gun and a steely look in his eyes. "Err, something wrong?"

The big man nodded and motioned to Ricky's waist, "You want to explain that before you make another move?"

Ricky looked down and realized he was still wearing the Blackhawk. "Crap, sorry. I forgot I had this on. Is it okay for me to take it off?"

"Slowly," the deputy smirked a little as he nodded. He reached out and took it from Ricky as he unhooked the belt. Drawing the pistol, the deputy checked it and saw it had been fired but was unloaded. "I see it's been fired; why?"

"I was in the back of Pete's place when I found the girl. I fired off six shots to get his attention. Old lost hunter's trick. I had it on because of snakes."

The deputy smiled and nodded as he handed the gun back to Ricky. "Understood. I just had to be careful. Got somewhere safe to put it?"

Ricky took his Blackhawk and wrapped the belt around it, "I'll put it in my trunk. That's where it stays anyway."

Ricky reached in his pocket and got his keys as they walked around the back of the Chevy. Both looked up as they heard the sound of an ambulance siren in the distance. "We better move these vehicles. I think they're about to get busy," the lawman said as Ricky nodded.

A few minutes after moving the cars, they stood in the ER watching as the medics rushed back and forth dealing with a new influx of wounded from a gang shootout.

Ricky told the deputy, who had introduced himself as Joe Davis, what he knew about the woman he had found.

"Ok," said Davis, "let me get inside and see if I recognize this girl from any we have on the missing list"

"Sure thing, Mr. Davis." Ricky said.

Davis smiled, "Just call me Joe please. A man that's acted as cool headed as you have in this has earned that right."

Ricky blushed a little, "Alright Joe, please just call me Rick or Ricky then."

Davis nodded and walked back to the nurse's station. Without meaning to, Ricky chanced to overhear the girl's name; Alexis Phillips. Davis returned a few minutes later nodding his head solemnly. Ricky's stomach clenched as he grimaced. He knew exactly what Davis was implying. "Damn bastards that would do that should be hung up and shot. Does she-?"

Davis mimed Ricky's expression, "I'm sorry, Rick, but I can't tell you anything more."

Ricky's heart sank into his chest. Davis scowled slightly and turned his focus to his notepad.

"Tell me how it is you came to find the girl," he asked.

As Ricky started to relate his tale, a young woman burst into the ER. "Where is she?" she demanded hysterically. "Where's Alex? Where's my baby sister?"

The head nurse had to use all her skills to calm the screaming woman down. Davis excused himself from Ricky, admonishing Ricky not to go anywhere yet.

"May I help you miss?" Davis asked.

The woman rounded on Davis. "What happened to her? What did they do to her?"

"First, I need to know who you are," Davis said calmly. This was obviously not his first time dealing with an angry or distraught relative.

"My name is Frances Phillips. Alexis is my baby sister."

As he watched the scene unfold, Ricky let a sigh of relief slip past his lips. "Least she won't be alone," he muttered under his breath.

The head nurse invited them into the grief room for privacy. Fidgeting angrily, the woman demanded to know what happened.

"Miss Phillips," Davis took note of the name. "I don't have all the details, but your sister Alexis is in surgery for injuries sustained in an attack."

"What?"

"I don't have all the details," Davis waved Frances off. "All I do know is that the man who found your sister is in the main room. I am getting his statement after I get yours."

000

Ricky paced the floor just inside the ER. There was really not much to tell Deputy Davis about the incident. Ricky just happened to find the girl that morning as he was rummaging the scrap yard.

Ricky watched the waiting room clock sweep past 8pm. An ER nurse politely knocked on the grief room door and waited to be invited in.

"Are you Alexis Phillips' sister?" she asked.

Frances nodded through tears.

"My name is Helen," the nurse introduced herself. "Alexis is in critical condition right now. Her survival is nothing short of a miracle."

"Will she live? What happened?"

"We won't know the answers to either question until Alexis regains consciousness," Helen explained. "Right now, it's touch and go. The surgeons have just finished the major repairs. Is there some way of contacting you?"

Frances handed over her hospital business card.

"My cell number is on there as well," she said dully. "I also maintain a private practice in Henderson. I can be here in twenty minutes if I need to."

"We are doing everything we can for your sister," Helen comforted. "Now it's all up to Alexis."

Deputy Davis excused himself and left the women to talk among themselves. He found Ricky pretty much where he left him and pulled him aside.

"Where did you find Miss Phillips?"

"At Pete's Salvage Yard in Enterprise," Ricky answered.

"About what time?"

"Mid day, thereabouts," Ricky guessed. "I was going to hit the diner for lunch on my way out."

"Was there anyone else there with you?" Davis asked.

"Not that I'm aware, no."

"Is there some place I can contact you if I have further questions?"

Ricky volunteered the number of the garage, saying he lived there as a caretaker and mechanic for the invalid owner. Davis took down the info and politely informed Ricky not to go anywhere while the case was under investigation.

"Yes, sir," Ricky replied. "Will the girl be okay?"

Davis frowned, "They don't know yet."

Ricky thanked the deputy, shook the man's hand and watched him go. As he was about to exit, Frances burst out of the grief room and cut him off.

"You!" she said accusingly. "What happened? What did you do to my sister?"

"Whoa, I didn't do anything, Ma'am," Ricky said defensively. "I only found her in the scrap yard and brought her here."

"Don't you ma'am me," Frances let her voice rise. "I want to know what the hell you were doing out there and why Alex was there!"

"I was out at Pete's looking for parts, miss." Ricky defended. "I have no idea how she got there or where she came from. That's the honest truth."

Ricky stood there and allowed Frances to vent her frustrations. Frances continued to glower for some minutes while Ricky softly held his ground. Frances looked askance at Ricky before lowering her gaze.

"I'm sorry," Frances apologized. "I'm just worried sick about her."

Ricky nodded and smiled sadly.

"I shouldn't blame you," Frances continued. "It's just human nature to demand answers, even when there are none."

Ricky nodded and offered to move them to a couple of chairs in the waiting room. Accepting graciously, Frances sat down and held her face in her hands.

"What did you tell the sheriff?" she asked, sobs evident.

"Same thing I told you, Miss. Frances," Ricky explained. "I found her in the back 40 and brought her here. Then you arrived."

"Who would do such a thing?" Frances wept. "Why?"

Ricky could offer no answers but thought, I know what should be done to them. Frances continued to weep as Ricky kept a silent vigil. Eventually a duty nurse came over.

"Are you Alexis Phillips' family?" she asked.

"I am her older sister," Frances looked up.

"Your sister is out of surgery. The only serious injury Alexis sustained was the trauma to her throat. She had several dozen other wounds, but they were deemed largely superficial by comparison. Unfortunately, the scarring will be significant. To be safe, we've moved her into the ICU for strict observation. I would suggest that you go back home and get some rest."

"I want to stay here, in case…" Frances trailed off.

The nurse smiled comfortingly. "I understand," she reassured Frances. "The cafeteria is just down the hall, through those doors. Why not get something to eat?"

Frances smiled and thanked the nurse.

"I probably should get back to the shop," Ricky said as he stood.

"Wait," Frances held out her hand. "Is there some way I can get a hold of you?"

"Yes'm, I don't see why not."

Frances shook her head.

"I just need someone to talk to," Frances replied.

"Are you sure I'm the one for that?" Ricky asked skeptically as he squinted at her.

"At least let me give you my card," Frances said. "I want to be able to thank you in some way for everything you did to save Alex."

Ricky blushed. Frances slipped a business card into his hand.

"It's no big thing," he tried to wave Frances off. "That's just the way we do things back home."

"Where is home, if I might ask?"

"Water Valley, Mississippi." He replied.

"I really can't thank you enough," Frances said. "If there is any way I can help you in the future, you just call the number on that card."

Ricky placed the card in his shirt pocket and exchanged it with one of his own.

"You can thank me by letting me know what happens with Alexis."

Frances took the card, glanced over it briefly and placed it in her pocketbook.

"I can do that."


A/N: Draco38, MarshalZhukov and jm1681 are the authors of this tale. This is very much a work in progress and there are somewhere around six chapters so far. You input will help us decide if we want to post more.

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