Tuesday, August 30th, 5:12 p.m.
LINDA GOULD juggled her purse in one hand and a stack of papers in the other as she pushed open the door to the underground parking garage. Another weary workday had ended and she wished only to get home for some much-needed rest.
She stumbled through the doorway and peered across the large space. The light near her vehicle was out again. It always took them days to replace a blown bulb and it was difficult enough to see in this dungeon, even with a full regiment of the low-watt bulbs they insisted on using.
As she trudged across the concrete floor, she fumbled in her purse and removed a ring of keys. She pressed the unlock button on the key fob and heard a distinct click from the direction of her vehicle.
A car thundered past, barely missing her as its horn filled the vast area with an echoing scream. She cursed the driver as she stepped back between two vehicles and watched him go out of sight.
She managed to open the driver-side door of her car and climb behind the wheel without dropping the paperwork. She deposited her burden on the passenger seat and pulled the door closed.
But it didn’t close.
It swung back open.
She turned her head and gasped, her eyes frozen on the muzzle of a pistol pointed at her face.
“Get out of the vehicle,” a man’s voice said.
Her eyes drifted upward, away from the pistol and onto the shrouded face of the gunman. He wore a ski mask, so she couldn’t see his face, but his dark eyes were unmoving, fixed impatiently on her, waiting for her to comply with his demand.
The keys slipped from her right hand and jangled to the floor of the vehicle. “What … what do you want?” she managed to ask, her voice barely a whisper.
A gloved hand gripped her shoulder and, impatiently this time, the voice repeated, “Get out of the vehicle.”
She reached for her purse.
“Leave the bag.”
She hesitated, and then obeyed, and the man stepped back, allowing her to exit the car. He seized her and spun her around, her arm wrenched behind her back.
She smelled old leather and tasted the pungent flavor of cowhide in her mouth as a gloved hand cut short her attempt to scream. She struggled against her attacker in vain as she was prodded forward and shoved into the back of a windowless van.
Her abductor leaped in behind and forced her to the floor as the vehicle backed from the parking spot.
He rolled her over and pulled her arms behind her back, her face nuzzled against the cold steel of the van floor, stifling her attempt to scream for help. She felt the vibration of the vehicle as it pulled ahead and heard the zip of a cable tie as it tightened about her wrists.
His knee dug into her back and held her down as a cloth was tied around her mouth. It felt, and smelled, like fresh linen. At least it was clean and she could breathe. She struggled as a sudden panic swept through her, her hysterical screams becoming an unheard whisper, muffled by the rag around her face.
They traveled for several minutes, the van jostling over manholes and potholes, and then came a screech of brakes as the vehicle ground to a stop and the motor died.
The front door slammed, the side door squealed, and then a voice said, “Grab her feet.”
“I can walk,” she tried to say, but she couldn’t be heard as strong hands seized her legs. Her face scraped against the rough steel as she was dragged halfway out of the van. Other hands gripped her shoulders and lifted her free.
They carried her into a building. She counted the steps, one, two, three, and then across the floor and down a flight of stairs. A musty smell was in her nose, stale, like old oil and rotting concrete.
They set her on her feet, twisted her around, and pushed her into a chair. She looked up at her captors. The second one, the driver, was a little shorter than the first and also wore a black ski mask.
They stood back and watched her a moment as she whimpered and begged with her eyes to be set free.
They ignored her silent pleas and she dropped her eyes a moment and allowed the tears to come. They ran down her face and soaked the cloth she clenched between her shivering teeth.
She raised her head and focused her eyes past her tormentors. She was in a basement somewhere, an old forgotten basement. Piles of rotting junk lined the walls. The floor was of pitted and worn concrete, dead, damp, and decaying. The walls were of a similar state, made of outdated cinder blocks, remnants of another age.
Forgotten habitats of long-dead spiders smothered the overhead beams, with new webs taking their place, expertly woven to the walls and ceiling.
A single naked bulb cast a glare from overhead, the lone ray of light in the windowless room.
The stairs were made of heavy wooden planks, probably repaired sometime in the recent past, the only way to freedom and beyond.
She focused her eyes back on her captors as the tall one pointed and said, “Tie her legs.”
The shorter man pulled a pair of cable ties from his pocket and leaned down. She kicked at him but powerful hands held her. The plastic ties bit into her bare ankles and caused her to wince in pain as they held her to the chair.
“Get the rope.”
He swept up a yellow nylon rope from the floor and wrapped it several times around her chest and the back of the chair. He tied a knot behind, tested it and grunted. “That should hold her long enough.”
The tall man removed a cell phone from his shirt pocket and held it up. “Smile for the camera.” She heard a click and then he tucked the phone away.
“Let’s go. We have work to do.”
She watched as they turned and climbed the steps out of sight. She shivered in the cool, stale atmosphere as a door slammed somewhere above, and then all was quiet except for the thumping of her heart and her frantic breathing.
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