Title: Deep Water
Author: N.J. Nidiffer
Word Count: 3,354
Fandom: Dark Shadows
Verse: Gina Lee - Part 1
Summary: Willie picks up a local village woman and her kids after their car breaks down in a storm. And, of course, seeing as this is a story about Willie, bad things happen after that.
A/N: My friend Nik wrote this story, and I thought it was a very good story, so much so that I was inspired to write a sequel of sorts, called Tree, where more bad things happen.
Willie spotted them on the coastal highway, trudging through the slush on the side of the road nearly two miles outside of town. He drove past, and for a moment his foot tightened on the gas. He had somewhere else he had to be.
But. . . .
He tapped the brake, careful not to fishtail the truck on the thickening rime of ice coating the asphalt, and managed to make a three point turn without sliding off the road or getting stuck on the shoulder. He leaned over the seat to roll down the passenger side window and brought the truck to a creep.
"Hey! Missus Logan!"
The woman with two toddlers in tow and a baby in her arms kept walking. She barely glanced at Willie. She didn't know him, not really, but surely she knew of him. Everyone in Collinsport did.
Apparently his reputation preceded him. Willie sighed. "C'mon, Missus Logan, let me give you a ride. You can't haul the kids through sleet like this. C'mon, I can have you home in five minutes. .. . ."
The woman stopped. The two little ones clinging like ragged ducklings to her skirts looked at Willie with big black eyes. They looked tired enough to drop where they stood. The baby was invisible, just a lump wrapped in a cotton blanket that was too thin for the weather.
"C'mon, Missus Logan," Willie insisted. He stopped the truck, leaned over and popped the door latch. "For the little guys, right? It's too cold for them out here."
Gina Logan hesitated a moment more. Her fishwife's face was chapped and red with cold, her coarse hair caught under a kerchief that couldn't be doing much to keep her ears warm. The hem of her rough woolen dress was wet to the knees with slush and tags of ice.
The baby whimpered in its wrappings. That seemed to decide her. She led the toddlers to Willie's old truck, helped them hop onto the bench seat and scoot over until there was room for her. She gave a great breath of relief when she slammed the door and settled the baby more comfortably into her lap.
"What are you doing on the road like this?"
Now that they were in the truck, Willie was a little unnerved by the woman's persistent silence. But she didn't answer him. The two children huddled next to her, their coats steaming in the sudden warmth blasting from the truck's heaters.
He had an idea where they lived, on one of the crumbling back streets near the village cannery, but he wasn't positive. He'd seen Gina Logan only from a distance. All he knew of her had been garnered from local gossip, mostly talk flying over his head as he nursed a solitary beer in his corner at the Blue Whale.
He knew she was married to Ezra Logan.
Third generation fisherman. Pretty good one when he bothered to go out, but that wasn't too often these days. Ez would rather sit in the Blue Whale and drink up what little earnings his wife made sizing smelts at the cannery. Now that the third baby was here that job was probably down the tubes. A woman couldn't very well work and take care of three children under the age of six, not without help. Gina didn't have any family, and the general consensus was that Ezra's surviving kin were all as trashy as he was. Ez was gonna have to get off his ass and start fishing. Word around town was he wasn't too happy about it.
"Missus Logan? Where's your car?"
"Back there." That was Polly. Cute little thing, the eldest of the Logan brood. Couldn't be more than five, but apparently she was already the family spokesman. "Mama's car stopped. The cold musta got it. It was shivering."
Shivering? Something in the engine must have locked up. And here the poor woman was, trying to herd three kids home in sleet that was stinging off Willie's windshield like popcorn off a griddle.
They were already coming onto the wharf. The great grey bulk of the cannery was looming over the water, its hazy outline barely visible in the strengthening storm.
"Where should I turn?" asked Willie uncertainly.
He wasn't too familiar with this neighborhood. The only reason he had occasion to come here was when he was after a beer at the Blue Whale. The rest of the place was a maze to him.
"Not this one. No. Okay, here." Again, it was Polly who supplied the directions. Missus Logan was staring out her window, her right hand absently stroking the baby's shrouded head. Willie stopped in front of a shabby little three-room bungalow. The porch was sagging on one end until it looked ready to fall into the yard. The screen door was half off its hinges. None of the windows were weatherproofed. The ice-coated walkway and straggly lawn were littered with broken toys, tuna cans, and shreds of cast-off fishing nets.
Gina Logan fought the truck door open and slid onto the sidewalk. The children followed. Willie thought she was just going to walk into the house without ever saying a word to him, but she turned as she shut the door and leaned a little way into the cab. There was a healing bruise under her left eye, a scabbing cut on the thin crease of her lip.
"Thank you, Mister Loomis," she whispered before she shut the door.
Willie stared after her as she herded the kids up the walk and into the house.
A man would name his fishing boat the Gina Lee in honor of his wife. He would keep the ship in trim no matter how bad he was drinking. But he would treat the woman he honored like she was less than the dirt beneath his shoes.
Willie shook his head and turned the nose of his truck back to the coastal road. It sure was a world.
Two weeks later Willie had completely forgotten about Gina Logan and her troubles. He had worries of his own.
Barnabas had spotted an antique wardrobe in one of the lesser-traveled tourist traps. Willie was to purchase it and arrange to have it delivered to the Old House. Not a tough job, except that carrying $1,500 in cash in a village where half the working class was on welfare was a little rough on the nerves.
But that was done, the money out of his keeping, the wardrobe paid for, and the receipt tucked safely into Willie's coat pocket. Delivery by 10 a.m. tomorrow—guaranteed.
He didn't realize he was in trouble until a dirt-crusted hand caught him above the elbow and whirled him around to slam him into the side of his truck. Ezra Logan leaned into him, his fist tangled in the shoulder of Willie's coat, his boozy breath making Willie's eyes water. Two other guys were with him, hanging back for the moment but ready to join in if things got interesting.
"Hear you met my wife t'other night," Ezra slurred.
What the hell was this all about? Willie tried to shake Ez off, but the fisherman only hauled him up and slammed him back against the truck so hard that Willie's teeth snapped together on the tip of his tongue. Sharp copper flooded his mouth, bitter as pennies.
"Don't you know better than to chat up someone else's woman?" Ezra shook him again. Willie was sorely tempted to spit blood into his face, but he didn't. Three to one odds were kinda beyond him, even on his best day.
"I gave her a lift into town, Mister Logan. It was sleetin' and she had the kids with her. I didn't do nothin' more than that, you know I didn't."
"How do I know it? Huh? How do I know it?" Ezra was so boozy he could barely keep his feet, but his red-veined eyes glaring into Willie's startled face said he was a mean drunk. "Slut like her and a pretty lady's man like you. How do I know it?"
"'Cause I said it. Now let me go."
"I'll let you go, all right."
Logan flung Willie onto his knees in the parking lot. The minute his hands hit the asphalt Willie tried to scramble to his feet, but the two men waiting in the wings snagged him by the back of his coat and dragged him towards the rear of the store.
No witnesses there.
That realization was enough to make Willie start struggling in earnest, but he was seriously outnumbered. He recognized Ernie Nesmith as the goon with his fish-stinking fingers locked over Willie's left elbow. Mike Parnell was on the right, holding him down with about three hundred pounds of net-hauler's muscle.
He was gonna get the shit kicked out of him for stopping to help a woman and her kids on a stormy afternoon.
The unfairness of it lent him unexpected strength. He heaved his body forward and managed to break Parnell's grip. He was whirling his attention to Nesmith when Ezra Logan knocked him back to his knees.
They beat him until he sagged between them. Once they had him on the ground they gave up on fists and used their boots instead.
"Get 'im up."
That was Logan. Through a dim red ringing haze Willie felt someone drag him upright and throw him belly first against the side of the building. Logan's bulk pressed against him, holding him there. His right arm was wrenched behind his back.
"Gimme your knife."
"Now, Ez, we ain't gonna have any of that." Parnell. Wasn't it? Willie wasn't sure. God, were they going to cut him? He tried to thrust himself backwards, adrenaline lending him a last burst of strength as he tried to break free. All it earned him was another blow to the head as Logan smacked his forehead into the wall.
"Ez, you can't maim a workin' man like that. You know you can't. Bust him up if you want, but you ain't takin' his fingers."
"Ll'right, Mike, if you wanna go soft on me this late 'n the game, we'll do it the easy way." Logan forced Willie's fist open, took hold of his little finger. The dislocating joint gave an audible pop just before Willie screamed. The next two went just as fast. Pop pop. Just like wrenching the claws off a lobster.
"That's enough, Ez. I say, that's enough, Ez, you goddammed fool. You wanna go to jail for this?" The hands that held Willie to the wall released him. He hovered there a moment before his knees buckled. He tried to protect his mangled hand as he fell and only managed to have it under him when he landed.
The burst of pain took him under.
Thank god for little mercies.
He came to himself on the cold brick steps of the Old House front porch. How had he gotten here?
Willie hadn't a clue. He didn't care. He just wanted to rest here with his elbows braced on the top step until he could get enough breath to stand. Nope. That wasn't gonna happen.
Okay, crawl then.
He got as far as the first pillar. He rested his face against the smooth stone, its coolness soothing to his fevered cheek. There was an uncomfortable layer of sweat between his skin and his shirt. If he was sweating he must be hot. But then why did he feel so cold?
He jerked at the voice so close to his ear, but he hadn't the strength to respond further. He couldn't even open his eyes.
"Willie, can you hear me?"
God, he must look pretty bad for Barnabas to talk to him so gentle. Just how badly had Ez and his pals damaged him? Willie wasn't sure he wanted to know.
"I'm going to take you inside. Hold onto me if you can."
Nope. That wasn't gonna happen either. Willie slid back into the dark. The last thing he heard was his own cry of pain as Barnabas discovered his injured hand the hard way.
The mattress of his bed was harder than usual. What the hell had he done with the sheets? Willie stirred, his good hand scrabbling on hard wood. He couldn't feel his right hand at all.
Barnabas pushed him back with a gentler gesture than Willie was used to expecting from him.
"W'r m' I?" He couldn't get his tongue around the words. His eyes wouldn't open. They were glued shut with swelling flesh and dried blood.
"You are in the kitchen of the Old House. It is warmer here than in your room. Besides, you needed the ice."
Ice. Willie realized his right hand was completely submerged in a basin of water and sleet ice scooped from the accumulation that never melted within the mansion's murky shadow. No wonder he couldn't feel anything. He was numb to the elbow. The fingers of his left hand told him he was lying on the broad wooden table to the left of the sink. There was something soft, old towels or maybe his coat, bundled beneath his head. The woodburning stove glowed warmth from its far corner.
"No." Barnabas pushed him back again. "Stay where you are."
A warm cloth was bathing his face, cleaning the mat of blood from his eyes.
This was just too weird. Barnabas never touched him, not unless he wanted to hurt him. But Willie was too hurt, too tired to protest. The warmth if the room was sending him to sleep.
"Hmmm." Barnabas was trying to talk to him. Willie struggled back to wakefulness like a diver fighting a current in deep water. He hovered there, waiting for whatever Barnabas wanted to say.
"Willie, who did this to you?"
The anger in the vampire's voice was like a snap of an ammonia capsule beneath Willie's nose.
He forced his eyes open.
"Wha'. . . ?"
"Who did this to you? Who hurt you?"
Why do you care? Willie wanted to ask. It was probably a good thing he couldn't. Barnabas had hurt him a time or two in the past. Why would he care if someone else took a share? Why would it matter unless. . . .
Ah. That was it. Willie's right hand now held three dislocated fingers. That was going to take some time to heal. He wouldn't be doing many repairs on the Old House for a while. Not one handed, he wouldn't. That's what was bugging Barnabas, not the fact that someone besides himself had knocked Willie around. Unless there was some sort of territorial thing going on. Barnabas considered Willie personal property, as truly his as any other possession in the Old House. He might have reacted the same way to someone deliberating chucking a rock through a window, or busting a lock on a door.
"Willie, answer me."
Uh uh. Couldn't do it. Ezra Logan deserved whatever Barnabas might do to him, but that would leave Gina Logan and her kids without a source of income with a damned hard winter coming on. Ezra wasn't much, but he brought in more than a welfare check would. Willie wasn't about to make Gina a widow. Not if he could help it.
"Willie." Barnabas was lifting Willie's maimed hand from its basin of water. His enormous grip was loose around the damaged fingers. But the threat was there. "Willie. Tell me."
Wait a minute. Tell you who hurt me or you're gonna hurt me? What kinda sense is that?
Willie moaned. He tried to shake his head no. Tears spun from the corners of his eyes. He couldn't do it. He couldn't.
Barnabas' grip tightened a fraction. A red flare of pain seared Willie's arm to the shoulder. Any thought of Gina Logan and her kids flew right out of Willie's head. He just wanted the pain to stop. He just wanted to go to sleep, forget he had ever tried to do anyone a kindness. He just wanted Barnabas to go away and leave him alone.
Give him another target, then.
Give him Ezra.
Willie licked his split lower lip. He couldn't get enough spit to talk. "'Zra," he mumbled. "'Zra Logan."
"Yeh," he whispered. "Logan."
How had Barnabas known there had been more than one attacker? Willie had no trouble giving up Ernie Nesmith, but Mike Parnell had very likely saved him from losing his fingers permanently. Did Mike deserve a visit from Barnabas Collins? Maybe, but not on Willie's account.
"Ernie," he whispered. "Ernie N'smith."
"Who else?" Again that slight tightening on Willie's ravaged hand.
God, Barnabas, don't! Willie choked on the pain, whimpering. He tried to pull his hand away but Barnabas wouldn't let him go.
"Mike! Mike P'rnell. 'T was Mike P'rnell, please let go. . . . 'T hurts. . . . 'T hurts…" He was sobbing, trying to curl himself around the pain, but he couldn't move, not really. His muscles wouldn't obey him. He just wanted to sleep.
"All right, Willie." Barnabas placed Willie's hand back into the numbing water. The pain froze into tiny particles of ice that chilled him to his core.
"I will take care of it," Barnabas said. "They won't molest you again."
And that was that. Barnabas didn't even care why they had attacked him. It didn't matter. He was going to take care of it.
Ezra was dead, and Ernie and Mike with him. All because Willie couldn't bring himself to leave a woman stranded on the side of the road. That was something to take into the dark with him, wasn't it? That was something to dream about.
Willie saw the account in the Collinsport Star less than a week later. The Gina Lee had grounded in shallow water. Her captain and one crewmember were missing, presumed dead.
An investigation was continuing, but Willie could tell that no one was taking it very seriously. So a couple of drunks went over the side 'cause they were drinking when they should have been working.
So what? Gina Logan could sell the ship that bore her name and maybe move the kids to a warmer climate without having to drag her deadbeat husband with her. Wasn't that a good thing?
Mike Parnell had lucked out. The paper said he was sick that night, so he hadn't showed up to ship on the evening tide. Shortly thereafter, he'd discovered a sudden overwhelming urge to visit his ex-wife's family in Nachadoches, Texas. Smart man, was Mike. He knew when a bad breeze was blowing.
Willie flexed his fingers in their bandage.
They were sore, but mending.
That was good. The work at the Old House was piling up. He was anxious to get started before Barnabas got impatient.
'Cause Barnabas was protective of his property.
Wanted it kept in good shape.
Willie dumped the paper in the trash and went to see if his fingers were limber enough for a little simple carpentry.
He kind of thought they were.