The Abduction of Peggy Ann Bradnick
Here's an excerpt from Bicycle Pete, describing what happened in the minutes immediately following Peggy Ann Bradnick's abduction.
It couldn’t have but been ten minutes and someone was already hollering for Peggy Ann. A man’s voice. Most likely her pa. Those kids must have run like the wind to get their pa after Peggy Ann so quick. Before she did something stupid like holler back, he spun her around and pressed the shotgun to her stomach, his finger on the trigger. He didn’t want to say nothing mean to her but there had to be rules—there were always rules—and she had to heed them just like he had to.
“Peggy Ann, if you answer your pa, I’ll shoot you dead right here, right now,” he said calmly.
She didn’t say that it wasn’t her pa, so he must have guessed right. Her blue eyes watered up real quick, but she didn’t bust out crying like he thought she might. There was no way in hell he’d shoot her because he really did love her, but she needed to know that he was a man, not some fool, and a man had to be in-charge of certain things. A man had to take responsibility. He’d treat her right in time, like how she deserved.
She nodded her head slowly, and when she did, a couple of tears streaked down her cheeks.
“C’mon, we got a ways to go now,” he said, lowering the shotgun barrel. He felt a little sorry, but, sooner or later, a girl becomes a woman and she can’t be her pa’s baby-girl no more. That’s just the way things was.
They trudged up a small ridge and then along the top through trees and underbrush. Her pa’s hollering grew faint to the point that it was hard to pick him calling out for her over the noise of their walking and crunching on dead leaves and what-not. Before long, they came to a hollow with a small creek that meandered across their path. Peggy Ann had walked with her back to him the whole way and hadn’t said a damn thing. She stopped just shy of the creek and turned to face him with a questioning look.
“Well, go on,” he ordered her.
She just stood there, acting like she didn’t know what to do next.
“I told you, go on!” he said, more gruffly this time. “I’ll be damned if they don’t get trackin’ dogs out after us, so go on.”
“You mean for me to go through the creek?”
“Well, how do you think we’ll throw off them trackin’ dogs? They ain’t apt to follow us through water, don’t you know.”
He brushed past her and stepped into water that went mid-way up his shins. “Now you hurry it up and stay right behind me,” he said.
He heard her inhale sharply behind him as soon as she stuck a foot into the slow-moving water. It was colder than a witch’s tit but there weren’t no way around it. They had to get wet. He noticed she was wearing shoes that a pretty girl such as her might wear. Brown suede shoes. They’d do for now, but she’d be needing all-weathers like his. Even with the rubber boots, his feet still ended up just as soaked. He wasn’t allowed to have laces back at Farview and he got used to not having them. He didn’t have a use for them no how. Just an extra step, it was. Except it did make walking through water troublesome.
After sloshing through the creek for a quarter-mile or so, he led her uphill to the top of a tall ridge. He figured they might have been about two miles east of Peggy Ann’s home. They hadn’t traveled far, but it was slow going because of the woods and having to climb up the ridge. She sounded out of breath, so he slowed down a bit. He thought about it for a second or two, and decided now was a good time to tell her.
“I’ve been watchin’ you for near three months now.” He paused to let it sink in. I’ve been comin’ over the mountain in the wintertime pretty regular and watchin’ them take you to the school bus in a car. So I waited until springtime, when I knew you’d be walkin’. I came yesterday afternoon and waited but you didn’t show up. You didn’t have school or somethin’? Or was you ditchin’?”
She hesitated for a moment as if she didn’t want to answer him. When she did, she didn’t look him in the face. “I wasn’t feeling well and my mum said I could stay home.”
“Well, just so you know, today I was supposed to go up to a farm above your place and feed some horses, but I decided a woman was more important to me than any horses, so I waited for you instead.”
She didn’t say nothing and he didn’t expect nothing. It was a fact and needed telling is all. He just wanted her to know how important she was to him and that he’d been thinking highly of her for a long while now. He picked up the pace until they came to a small clearing. He stopped and stood silent, listening. No faint hollering. No branches cracking. Just birds and other such nature sounds of the mountain. He scanned the trees around the clearing, looking for any little thing out of place like movement or a glint of sun from a scope or binoculars.
He pulled the goggles off and grunted in relief. He rubbed the indentions they left on his weather-beaten forehead and cheeks. He caught her looking at him, watching but saying not a thing. He thought he detected a wave of familiarity wash over her face but it was gone as soon it came. He almost said something but he was dying to get that thing out of his mouth. It’d been pestering him for some time now and it made him sound as if he was tongue-tied. He poked a dirty finger in his mouth and popped out the contraption along with a string of slobber. He made it from two thin disks of rounded wood—like mushroom caps—connected by a stiff but bendy wire in between.
She had a wide-eyed look on her face when he pulled the thing out. He went ahead and answered without her asking.
“It’s a cheek-filler. Part of my disguise. Made it myself. I wasn’t sure how it’d work out. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought it made me look a whole lot younger, so I decided to wear it.”
“I think I know who you are!” she blurted out suddenly, almost causing him to drop the cheek-filler.
“Well, if you think you do, you probably do,” he said, his smile revealing decayed, brown teeth where there were still teeth left. “Who do you think I am then?
“You’re Bicycle Pete—I’ve seen you more than once…” she said, her voice trailing off.
The smile left his face. He’d hoped that she really did know his name and not what all those people called him. He never had figured out why in the hell people used the name Pete. Some people called him Bicycle Bill but that wasn’t much better.
“I guess you do know me. And that’s another good reason I’ll never let you go.”
He didn’t look at her when he said it, instead swinging the haversack off his shoulder and laying it gently on the ground. It was a home-made affair, dirty green canvas, but it did its job. He carefully stored the goggles and cheek-filler inside. He slowly stood back up and started to unzip his fly. As soon as he did, he heard a startled “Oh!” out of Peggy Ann and she quickly looked away. He continued taking his pants off without telling her not to worry. He wasn’t naked underneath. He was wearing pants under his pants. Part of his plan. He peeled off his jacket as well, switching the shotgun from one hand to the other and back as he needed.
“Here, put these on,” he said, throwing the pants and jacket at her. “That red dress sure is pretty but it sticks out like a sore thumb. Don’t worry, you don’t have to take your dress off. Just put ‘em on over top of what you’re wearin’.”
When she was finished dressing, he motioned with the shotgun for her to start walking again. They headed east toward a ridge leading up to Neelyton Mountain. As they walked along, he was thinking that he didn’t want her calling him Bicycle Pete again. That was what those sorry town folk and damn kids called him. It might be and it might not be an okay name for someone else to use—he hadn’t decided—but he was sure that he didn’t want his wife-to-be using it. Without looking at her and without missing a step, he said, “My name is William Hollenbaugh, but you call me Bill.” It wasn’t an introduction. It was an order.