Authors: Sara Schoen
I shoved the clothes I had brought with me into my suitcase. The hotel we were staying at had been paid for by the bureau, and was relatively nice since we never really spent any time here. Normally we would end up sleeping in the police station for the night just out of convenience or by accident. This job took a lot of time, and most nights when we were on a case was brutal. There was very little sleep, even sometimes at home. The nightmares would get to you, it was only a matter of time with the things we saw. There was always something, everyone had their breaking point, and in this job it was only a matter of time until you found it, or someone found it for you.
Callum had promptly kicked me off the team for bringing up his breaking point. He had lost his team, and I thought he was upset because he was the one making the calls, but even when I brought up the fact he had done everything he was supposed to do, it made it worse. I guess some things just belong in the past, and it was impudent of me to bring it up. He deserved peace after such an awful tragedy, and I hadn't given it to him. But he also couldn't live with that weight on his shoulders forever, it was going to bring him down one day. I just hoped he realized it before the emotions drowned him, and there wasn't a man to save anymore.
I left the hotel, into the awaiting car that was going to take me to Audrey and Damien before I got on the plane back to Virginia. Jason was going to follow a lead with Callum, so I was told that before I left I would act as the agent with them. They hadn't told me the lead, and I had a feeling they weren't going to share anything with me anymore. Kate must have been furious, that is if Callum told them why he sent me home. He could have lied to them; he seemed good at that.
Jason didn't speak much as we drove to the apartment Audrey shared with Damien near the college campus. He said that he would leave the car for me in a parking lot nearby, and warned me to be careful. Security had been increased due to the kidnapping and fear of another possible attempt on students, but that meant if the unknown subject was as organized as they believed him to be then he could figure out times and patterns.
"So all the cops just make people think they are safe?" I questioned as Jason put the car in park next to Callum’s SUV.
"Sometimes, that's all we can ask for. To feel safe," he said before he got out of this car and into Callum’s. Callum pulled away, not even taking the time to look in my direction. I knew his eyes would be filled with pain, annoyance, anger, or some strange mixture of the three. Maybe it was better that he hadn't looked at me, it would have only made me feel worse.
I stepped out of the car into the cool, crisp autumn air, and shivered. I despised the cold, and hated having to be outside when the temperature dipped below sixty degrees. I wrapped my arms tightly around my body and walked briskly to Audrey's apartment about two blocks from the parking lot. The streetlights shone brightly, giving the allusion that you could see whatever was coming toward you in the night, but you wouldn't know until it was too late. There was a cop car parked in the green area across the street, sitting empty, again just a placebo to make the students and faculty feel a little bit safer. With some subjects, it didn't matter the measures that were taken to improve safety. They would do anything to get the release they required or the person of their obsessions. It was a waiting game for them, and sometimes they could wait years to do it.
I knocked on the door until my hands hurt from the cold air letting the knock reverberate through my bones. There was yelling as someone said they were coming, from the high pitch I assumed it was Audrey, but Damien opened the door. He was covered in what looked like flour and chocolate. It coated his clothing and the flour was dusting over the black color of his hair. He reminded me of Jack Frost from a children's story when I was little.
"Audrey's cooking," was the only explanation he gave before he moved from the doorway to allow me to enter. "She was trying to make you dinner before you left, but she burnt the chicken and her dessert is now all over me." He gestured to the chocolate and when his hand went toward his head he said, "This was the second attempt. Clearly it didn't make it that far."
"That's fine, I already ate. Thought I would try a local restaurant at least once before I left. I think it was called Native Foods, the café a little uptown from here."
Damien offered a nod as an approval of my choice, but before he could answer Audrey piped up from the kitchen.
"You already ate?"
"Yes she did," Damien said as he pointed out a seat for me to sit in. "So let's give the kitchen a break before we have to clean up and come talk to Jessi, since she probably isn't going to visit us again after this."
"I will visit, I promise!"
"You said that two years ago," Audrey said, emerging from the kitchen covered in what I only imaged was the dessert she had attempted to make. There were chocolate smears over her clothes, as Damien had, except hers looked like she had dropped a whole chocolate cake and attempted to catch it with her shirt.
"My job is just so busy, it's hard to come out here to visit," I pointed out. It wasn't a lie, it was hard to visit, but to be honest I also didn't put a lot of effort into to visiting either because by the time I got home I was too exhausted to plan a trip. I never really knew my holidays until the week of, and even sometimes I was called in when I was supposed to be off. It was a hard job, but only someone in the profession would really understand.
"And now you don't even have a guy to come out here to visit. So I don't expect to see much of you after this case is done," Audrey stated with a smirk.
"It wouldn't have worked out anyway. We were too different." Even as the words left my mouth I could taste the displeasure in my own words. I had wanted it to work for a while, but there was just no way it could work between Callum and me. We were polar opposites, poles apart from each other.
"I think it's because of the case," Damien stated. "Look at Anna and Garrett, they made it through. We made it through, and hell, I was the one that took her." Audrey playfully slapped his chest, and offered a soft giggle at the reminder of their own kidnapping scenario. "It takes time, and sometimes it just falls into place."
"You guys were on the other side though. Anna and Garrett were stuck together, you were trying to hide her from Steve and it just happened to work out. Now I'm on the other side of the case. I'm the one looking for these girls and the man that took them. It's a different game when you're on this side. There's just so much on your shoulders, the stress, the parents crying about their children, and the body," I shivered absentmindedly. "We could have worked, maybe, under different circumstances, but being on this side of the case, it's more than I could handle."
"Maybe when the case is over he will come find you and give you a big romantic gesture and say he was so dumb to let you go, like in those Lifetime movies," Audrey suggested with a smile, imaging the romantic gesture possibilities. I almost hated to burst her happy bubble, almost.
"Something tells me Callum isn't a big romantic gesture kind of guy," I said, watching her face fall before she sighed.
"I'm sorry it didn't work out."
"It's not your fault, it's mine really. You were right, I was only thinking of myself. In the long run it wasn't going to work to think only of myself. I had to start thinking as a team, but I couldn't do it. I messed up, me alone and now I pay the price for it. Hopefully it just won't go on my record or something that I'm hard to work with. Then it would be hard getting another case with a team."
"Hopefully," Audrey agreed before turning the topic back to us. We talked for hours, until there was a knock on the door and Jason and Kate stepped in to take over for me.
I told Audrey and Damien goodbye, refusing to hug them and get myself covered in the dessert that covered their clothes. There was a promise about visiting more often than every two years, and even Jason and Kate wished me good luck for when I got back to Virginia. Jason had brought up something about another case I was supposedly working on. I tried to hide my confusion realizing that Callum must have said that I was needed in a different case instead of telling them I had been overly disrespectful to him and brought up a painful past.
It was for the best for me that he did that, he could have ruined me if he had told them the truth. It was just awful that I had to leave when I felt there was so much I could help with and I was learning so much. For once I had the chance to be useful, and the people here didn't treat me like glass. I had messed it up before I got the chance to make a difference, but it was no one's fault but mine.
The air had chilled since I had arrived, dropping about fifteen or so degrees. I could see my breath in the cold night air. The lights were still on, the cop car was still parked in its spot and the few people that were out were walking in pairs. There was a safety in numbers, at least according to safety videos I had watched in public school. Little did they know that those videos just scared kids and teens instead of educating them. If they considered teaching stranger danger, they should have realized that very few people that attack others don't know them. Most are people we know, and would never consider dangerous until it's too late.
I slipped into the car, and slammed the door behind me. There was a knot in the pit of my stomach, I would have to tell my dad I was coming home and why. He would hear about it through the grape vine, whether the story Callum had told his team or the one I was going to tell him, one way or another he would hear it. I flipped open the old cell phone I had and started to type in my father's number, but I never got to make the call.
The door flung open, and before I could react I was dragged from the car. I thrashed, screamed, and called out for help, but nothing came. I tried to push off the car and knock him over so I could escape, but he held on too tightly. We struggled until I landed my elbow into his stomach, he let go for just enough time for me to escape.
My feet slapped along the pavement; I could hear him chasing me. There was nowhere for me to go, I either went to Audrey's and led him right to her or down an empty street. I decided that it was best to race toward the FBI agents that were currently sitting in Audrey's den instead of worrying about leading him to Audrey. I ran as fast as I could. I could see the empty police car, the lights on in her apartment, but before I could make it to the door, he grabbed me. There was a sudden blow to my head, and I was silenced. The world started spinning, I started to fall and soon I couldn't see anything except black.
A chill raced through my veins. Goosebumps prickled the length of my arms. There was darkness everywhere, even after I woke up. I couldn’t tell the difference between when I closed my eyes and when I had them open. The sound of dripping water was a constant plop in my ears, making my head hurt worse with each droplet.
My head was throbbing wildly, it felt like a bass drummer was practicing a long solo on my head, but at least it was rested against something soft. I felt as if I was lying on a mattress, but I didn’t have the strength yet to move and figure it out. There was a gentle clicking of fence links hitting the post, a sound I hadn’t heard since I was a little girl playing idly in the backyard. Out in the open, free for the taking. It was sad to think that the innocence of child’s play could be ruined in one moment, the moment a mother gave up her daughter to save herself.
It was pitiful to think about in my opinion. There was nothing that could have made me give up another person to live with Steve Bennett. It was sick, and completely unforgivable. Even when my mother tried to apologize after I was returned, and years later as well. I just couldn’t bring myself to forgive her, for her allowing my innocence to be taken from me and sending me into a life where I was constantly looking over my shoulder and knowing the awful truth of the world we lived in. That no one was safe from men like Steve Bennett, not even children.
The fence links hit the post again, louder this time as if the wind was forcing them against each other, but there was no wind. The water dripped loudly somewhere close by, the fence would rattle, and then there would be soft voices drifting through the air. I could be outside, I thought as I reached my hand over the soft padding beneath me and went to touch the grass that should lace through my slender fingers, but what I found instead brought a new horror. Instead of the soft crunch of blades of grass beneath my fingers, there was only hard concrete. My hand slapped loudly onto the cold floor, and caused the echo to reverberate around the room.
Fear spiked through my body, as my mind started to piece together the events of the night before. A man, in dark clothing, had pulled me from the car.
I had been making a phone call,
I remembered trying to think about how I could be so stupid to make that mistake. It was a very high statistic that since women would get into their cars and do something before pulling out of the parking lot, most were put into dangerous situations. People could get into the car and pull a gun to order them somewhere else, demand money, injure or kill and even kidnap. A heavy sigh left my lips, I had been careless, and it got me in trouble.
I tried to ignore it, but a part of me wondered if Callum and his team had found out yet if I had been taken. How long had I been out? Would they find me alive, or dead? I shook my head free of those thoughts. I had to focus now, I had to get out and find my way back to town. Otherwise, I was waiting for another man, just like Steve Bennett, only obsessed with succeeding in his sick dream this time.
I forced myself off the mattress, my body aching every time I moved. Eventually I got to my feet again, only to collapse to the ground when I got dizzy. I hit a fence, my fingers slipped through the familiar diamond shaped slots from the fence around my yard as a kid. Slowly, I slid back to the ground and rested my head against the cold metal links.
“What the hell is this place?” I cried.
“That’s just it,” a new voice, hoarse, but obviously female stated. “Welcome to Hell.”
“Who said that?” I asked curiously as rustling and movement met my ears. There were soft slaps of skin against the ground, as if someone was barefoot and slowly moving across the floor in fear of being heard. “Who’s there?”
“Shut up,” the voice came again. “Quiet down, if we are too loud he will come down, or worse he won’t feed us for days again.”
“Who’s he? And who are you?” I asked again, suddenly relieved I wasn’t alone, but also guilty because I was pleased that someone else was in this just like I was.
“My name is Tegan, I was taken who knows how long ago. There are a few other girls here too, but they are too weak to speak and sometimes to move. Casey was the last to arrive, but she’s still in shock and his visits don’t help her cope.”
“Tegan? As in Tegan Richards? From Maine?”
“Yes,” she said hesitantly. “Do I know you?”
“I’m one of the investigators on your case,” I explained. “I work with the FBI and was trying to find you, you were the last girl we heard about going missing.”
“Missing,” Tegan scoffed. “More like taken, abducted, kidnapped, anything other than missing. I didn’t willingly come here!”
“I didn’t say you did,” I tried to ease out of the conversation, but it didn’t work. She continued her speech and gradually increased her tone as she went, growing angrier the longer she spoke.
“I was taken from my home, my life, and my friends,” she stated. “And to do what? Live in a basement with five other girls that were all going to die?” There was a cry from somewhere nearby. One of the other girls must be terrified knowing that they weren’t going to make it out of here alive. “I’ve been here for how long?”
“Tegan, you’re being too loud,” another girl’s voice warned.
“About three weeks,” I replied.
“Almost a month of my life has been spent in this basement, and you wouldn’t believe what I’ve experienced so far. You don’t have any idea what it’s been like here—”
“It’s been horrifying. You’ve seen things that you thought were only made up for television ratings,” I started. “You feel as if you have nothing, that you are nothing because you don’t know if anyone is looking for you. You feel hopeless because you are at the mercy of this man that you don’t know, and what’s worse is that you don’t have a choice in the matter, until now.”
“You can’t be serious,” she huffed in annoyance. “You’re a cop and you were taken. The only reason they would find us now is because you’re here.”
“That’s not true,” I stated. “They have been working on finding you girls for almost three months now. Well before I was called in, and they aren’t going to come looking for me unless they know something is wrong because I was heading back to Virginia and the team was going to take over the investigation. It could be a while before they realize anything is wrong or until they find the car to see that everything is still in it.”
“That’s great, so we are stuck. What good are you if it means we won’t get out before he decides to get rid of us?”
“Why would he get rid of you? You all play some role in his fantasy, and it’s important enough to keep you alive for so long.”
“What are you talking about fantasy?”
“Most of these people have a type, they are trying to live out some fantasy and so they look for a person that’s close enough to the person they want so they can relive it again and again,” I explained, hoping to bring them some kind of peace, but I should have known better.
“This is for fun? For him to relive something about his live with some other person? I don’t see it, nor do I want to. I just want to go back home and see my family again before he decided that I’m not needed anymore, just like the other girls. I’ve watched them die, and the girl before me, one of the very first taken, told me everything she’s seen since she was taken.” Tegan scoffed lightly, clearly annoyed, before she rattled off some of the things the other girl had told her about. “He used to make them marry him, then he stopped that realizing that most of the girls weren’t what he wanted. He’d give them a ring that was too tight so they couldn’t take it off, then cut off their finger to get it back before they died. Then she told us of the massive death rate after the police angered him, but you’re right, she was important to him for a while. She was kept alive to pass down her knowledge to me before he killed her too,” Tegan growled angrily. It was easy to understand that she was distraught after what she had seen, heard, and been through. I hoped there was a way to calm her, before she caused a scene and forced the man to come downstairs to stop it.
“Tegan, you’re getting too loud. We don’t want to push him to get rid of us; especially if she is a cop. We could finally get out of this,” a girls voice spoke up from somewhere near me.
“Shut up, Nicole, we aren’t getting out of here. The people before us tried everything, there’s no way out of here without his help, and that’s not happening since then he’d have to worry about us running off to tell his secret. And when he’s done with his little fantasy,” she sneered, returning to our conversation, “we are as good as dead. So welcome to the club because you just killed another one of us. You’ll take our spot and we will take one in the ground.”
“What are talking about, I took a spot?” I asked curiously, and suddenly fearful for the girls around me. Had I sent one of them to their death? If that was the case, then each of these girls must have sent another to their grave. They knew that by having another girl coming in, another would have to die. They must have felt awful for the girl that died in their place, but they shouldn’t. It wasn’t their faults; it was his.
“There can only be five left alive down here, because that’s how many cages he has for us. He doesn’t want too many of us in one of them in case we try to escape. He’s told us now that you’re here our time is done. We aren’t useful anymore. You’re the one he has been waiting for, and now the rest of us are disposable!”
I was the one he had been waiting for, what did that mean? I hadn’t been on this case except for the last two weeks. How had he known about me? There was rarely anything about me in the paper, and nothing on the news unless we had been recorded getting off the plane or arriving at the police station. Why would he have fixated on me? In the long run, I was no one. At least no one important in my job, just ask Callum I’m sure he would agree. So why wait for me?
“What did you say?” I asked, but Tegan continued as if I hadn’t said anything.
“Amanda Green, Grace Kaiser, Megan Rockwell, Melinda Crass, Ruby DeChirco and countless others. They were all here, and now they are dead!” Her voice echoed off the bare walls, and into my head until the only names I could remember were those girls. She was about to speak again when heavy footsteps started to get closer to us. The thud of the boots sent the girls into a terrified frenzy, all of them trying to get in the corners of their separate cages. “Always remember their names! They didn’t deserve this,” she said as the door creaked open and the lights turning on momentarily blinding us. A dark figure stepped into the room, and something told me this was just the beginning.