I hate getting knocked out. It’s usually painful and always disorienting. There is no way to know where you’ve been, how much time has passed, or what has been done to you. And on top of that, you have missed who knows how many clues, secrets, and other information that could save your life later. If you can avoid it, I strongly recommend skipping forced unconsciousness.
When I became aware of myself again, an overwhelming, throbbing pain controlled my whole focus. My head felt like a swollen balloon that someone was massaging with a hundred razor sharp nails. Next, I became aware of a deep ache in my core, just below the stomach, followed by smaller, annoying aches in my shoulders, jaw, and hips. A moaning came from near me, a cold hard floor was beneath, and there was darkness with edges of light.
I have no idea how long I lay there slowly gathering my consciousness. I had no idea where I was or why I was there. I had no thoughts at all outside of the crushing pain. Gradually, I came to realize that my hands and feet were bound, my mouth gagged. The light around the edges of my vision was due to a blindfold. The cold floor was concrete. The moaning was coming from me. I stopped.
“It’s nice to see you are coming around,” he said. It all came back to me with the sound of the Boss’s voice. The documents, Crystal, a Lamborghini, Randy. I was still alive, so at least that gamble had worked out. I hoped Randy was okay. The Boss had spoken when I stopped moaning. He knew I was awake and he knew I was back in control of myself. But that didn’t mean I had to respond. I had a gag anyway, so it’s not like I could have answered. I lay silently and focused on my heartbeat. It was erratic. I went to work evening it out.
“Not too chatty?” He said after a minute or two. “That’s alright. I’ll start. I can’t tell you how glad I am to meet you,” he said in a slithering voice that would have made me gag if I had already been. My heart rate had slowed, now for my breathing. “You are causing me some trouble, and at first I just wanted to get you out of my way. But I realized you might be of some use to me. That is why you are alive.”
I’m alive because I decided to be, I thought, and the Boss laughed. I realized there was no hood covering my face. I must have scowled or something. He had seen it. I relaxed my face again. Emotionless. I heard steps come near me, and stop just at my back. “You have impressive control, considering your condition,” he said. “I think Crystal was in better shape than this when we found her, and she was completely at our mercy.” I kept my face expressionless.
He was silent, and I imagined he was looking down at me, a sick little smile at his lips. I had never seen him, but I could picture him. I knew his type. I was lying on my left side, bent at the waist and knees. I couldn’t feel my left hand. It must be asleep. My right wrist, arm, and both shoulders ached from the awkward position. My hips hurt a little, but nothing more. I could feel my knife in its sheath between my legs. They hadn’t taken it. They had believed Randy. That was a good sign.
I was breathing evenly and slowly now, my heartbeat back to normal, my face expressionless. I pushed the pain out of the front of my thoughts, and instead forced myself to take in every detail of the situation. The Boss’s breathing was the loudest sound. I heard no other voices, footsteps or movement. I was fairly certain we were alone, but I doubted that the minions were far away. Besides his voice, and my heartbeat, there was a dull background noise that sounded like a busy street. Car engines, stopping and starting. We must be near an intersection with a street light.
“Don’t worry about Crystal,” the Boss said when I didn’t respond again. “We helped you out with that one. You didn’t quite finish the job, so we did it for you.” Again he waited for a response and this time when I didn’t move he crouched down next to me. I could felt his hot, moist breath on my neck. “I just wonder,” he taunted, “what feels worse: knowing your best friend is brain dead, or that she betrayed you first.” He was trying to get a reaction out of me, and when I stayed perfectly still, I sensed that he had become unsure of himself. I had begun to gain control.
His fingers were on my throat checking for a pulse. He found it, left his fingers there for a moment, then stood up. He used his foot to nudge me. Softly, at first. Then, with no reaction a little harder. I used the momentum from his foot to roll my body onto my knees and turn. In one (hopefully) graceful movement I was now, by my best estimate kneeling three to four feet away from him, facing the Boss. He, by my best estimate, was smiling and ugly.
I heard steps move away from me, then a click. “Come here,” the boss said to someone else. I guessed into an intercom. More steps in my direction. They stopped five or so feet away. It was silent as we both waited for whoever he called. I stared straight ahead, hoping the vision of a young woman staring at him through a blindfold would mess with his head.
A door opened in front of me, to my right. It sounded heavy, old, and squeaky. Probably metal. It closed with a click, but I couldn’t tell if it was an automatic lock or not. More footsteps, not as smooth and controlled as the Boss, approached. They stopped about the same distance away.
“Our friend here,” the Boss said, “Jamie, I believe is what she goes by, has awoken from her beauty sleep.”
“What’s she doing?” A man said. It was the same voice I’d heard when Randy turned me in. So that meant the minimum number in this operation was three. No limit to the maximum.
“I believe she is staring at us,” the Boss said.
“She has a blindfold on,” the man said, stating the obvious.
“Perhaps if you remove it, she will cooperate,” the Boss said. I forced myself not to smile. I had won round one. “Perhaps if she doesn’t cooperate, we’ll have to show her how we like to treat our guests.” I wasn’t afraid. But he was. I wondered why he didn’t remove the blindfold himself. Why did he want backup?
I heard the man’s footsteps approach, then the blindfold came off and the gag was pulled out. My estimation had been good. I was directly facing the Boss, who was about six feet in front of me sitting on a stool. He wore a moderately priced solid black suit. It wasn’t a designer brand, but you weren’t going to find it on the rack of the run-down department store down the street either. The suit was well tailored. It fit him perfectly. His shoes were black, shiny on top, with dust or dirt around the bottom. He had hair that was graying, probably had it cut every week. His eyes were dark, skin tan, but not like a young surfer. More like an old piece of leather. I estimated his age somewhere between 55 and 60.
While I looked him over, he was doing the same to me. “Well, Jamie,” he said, emphasizing my name once again. “We meet at last. I’m sure you have looked better.” I recalled the blow to the head, administered by Randy, that left blood, which would now be smeared all over my face and hair. I could feel the crust in the hair near the wound. The second blow to the head, the one that knocked me out, had come from the other side, but I didn’t think it had bled. It was probably just swollen and black, making my head look distorted. On top of all of that there was probably dirt from the parking lot and the concrete floor. I must have been quite the sight.
“Are you ready to cooperate?” The Boss asked.
I thought about this question. Should I answer, or should I continue the silent treatment? I looked back at the second man’s shoes, ready to give me another kick in the head, no doubt. Cowboy boots (really?) with a pointed toe. Possibly re-enforced with steel. I’d won one battle. It was time for a little give to match the take. “Who are you,” I said calmly and coolly, trying to match the Boss’s impartiality. My throat was dry and so it came out a little scratchy, but otherwise just as I hoped.
The Boss laughed. “No pleasantries?” Clearly he was happy to have gotten me talking. He was probably also happy I didn’t already know who he was. “That’s fine with me. I’m no one you have to worry about if you are on my good side. In fact, I can be your best friend if you behave. Isn’t that right Joe?”
Joe, surprised, and a little nervous at being addressed, shifted his boot-clad feet and grunted in the affirmative. Obviously, he was not here for his brains.
“However,” the Boss continued. “I believe in very strict, or shall we say severe consequences for those who do not follow through with their end of the bargain.”
“What was Randy’s bargain?” I asked.
He smiled. “Oh just a small sum of money, in exchange for you.” He paused, smiled wider. “And a little something else, but he informed us he took that part of the bargain just before he delivered you to us last night.”
I ducked my head and tried to make myself blush at the reference to our supposed tryst. Now I knew how long I had been unconscious. The lighting in the room, coming from high dingy windows along two of the walls was bright but angled, meaning it was either just after sunrise or shortly before sunset. The temperature in the room was warm as if the sun had been heating it all day. It must be early Sunday evening. The light suggested the windows were on the south and west walls of the room, and presumably the north and east (where the door was located) walls bordered other parts of the building.
My false modesty must have worked because the Boss chuckled. He seemed to be enjoying himself when he spoke, “Yes, that’s right. He told us all about it. How he listened to your sad story, held you in his arms…knocked you over the head, and brought you in. He must be a good actor, since no one else was successful. Not even your best friend.”
“Crystal was too direct,” I said testily. “Where’s Randy? I want to talk to that bastard.”
He laughed again. I must be the funniest thing this guy had ever heard with all the laughing he was doing. “Unfortunately for you, but fortunately for him, Randy fulfilled his end of the bargain. I’m guessing that today he is getting that beautiful vehicle cleaned up after the mess you made of it. Then maybe he’ll blow the rest of his cash on comic books,” he said crudely.
I shook my head angrily. “You still haven’t told me who you are,” I said.
“No more than I’m going to,” he replied. “But you are going to tell me a little more about yourself.”
“Why should I?”
“Let’s not forget who is tied up and who’s carrying a gun,” the Boss said.
I hadn’t seen a gun on him, but now I noticed his suit jacket bulged slightly at the waist on his left side. It wasn’t a big gun, but he wasn’t lying. “You know my name already,” I said.
“Yes, Jamie, right? Well, if that’s what you prefer to be called, I can keep calling you that, whatever your real name is. I want to know who you are. Who do you work for? Why are you here? What have you found?” he said, and stood up, taking a few steps towards me.
It was time to be difficult. “I don’t work for anyone. I’m here because you paid some jerk to sleep with me then knock me out. I’ve found that I don’t really like you.”
The Boss glanced at Joe, who quickly stepped over and grabbed a wad of my hair, yanking me into the air. He pulled hard enough to lift my knees off the floor, leaving my feet dragging at an awkward angle. I clenched my teeth against the pain. My breathing became more erratic again. My eyes were watering.
Since it was obvious that I was suffering and unable to do anything about it, the Boss (slowly) walked towards me. He stopped and bent so that his face was just inches from mine and smiled again. I could smell his breath. Onions. “Under all that grime you might be kind of pretty,” he said leering at me. I felt like the skin was about to tear off the top of my head. I wondered if he would carry my scalp around with him as a prize. He ran a finger down the side of my face, along my cheek, onto my neck. “I might have to take advantage of that later. But right now, I’m feeling generous,” he said.
He stood up, and looked at Joe. I was dropped to the ground, and fell against my left side. My shoulder, elbow, and hip banged against the ground. At least my head was spared. The Boss walked away, and Joe joined him. When they got to the door, the Boss looked back.
“Maybe tomorrow you will be a little more helpful,” he said. “I promise if you aren’t, I will make you wish you were dead. I will make you beg for it.” He tapped twice on the door and it opened. Great, another guard had been there the whole time. And it was an automatic lock, no way through from this side of the door.
“Wait,” I called. He turned back toward me and did I see hope in his eyes? “What about food? I didn’t eat dinner last night before Randy came.”
His eyebrows raised. “Looks like you’ll have an empty stomach to help you figure out how helpful you’re going to be tomorrow.” He stepped through the door, Joe right behind and it slammed shut. I heard their footsteps fade down a hall.
I rolled onto my back and rested, using the opportunity to look around. I was in a large room, part of a warehouse. Concrete floors, walls, and pillars for support. The ceiling was probably twenty feet tall, the windows 15 or 16 feet up from the floor. Some were open, but most looked like they hadn’t been open since before I could talk. Everything was a dingy grey-brown, probably from a combination of dust and grime, animal waste, and exhaust. There were some heavy tables, most broken, behind me away from the door. Metal cabinets and shelves along the north wall. Scrap metal scattered throughout, some construction pieces that probably weighed a couple hundred pounds. Other than the stool the Boss had used, and some trash, that was it. I suspected if I got up and looked closer I’d find rusty old tools left behind and forgotten in the corners and under the other junk.
I was feeling pretty good. This was nothing I couldn’t handle. I could be resourceful. I rolled onto my side and used my elbow to get into a kneeling position again. I scooted over to a pillar and twisted so I was sitting with my back against it. It was almost comfortable. I would take just a few minutes to rest here, and then plan my next move.
It was only a couple of minutes later that I heard footsteps approaching. My heart dropped. They weren’t going to leave me alone for the rest of the night. The door opened and Joe entered along with another man. Another large man. Joe was carrying a thick chain. He kept his eye on me as he stepped up onto the stool and threw the chain over a large pipe, probably once used to heat or cool the room. The other man stared at me, and his gaze gave me the chills. The chain was noisy, and it crashed against the pipe and fell back over. Joe grabbed the other side. He attached a pair of handcuffs to the end. I got goosebumps and started to sweat.
The large man approached, and I flinched. Joe pulled out a gun. My gun. “Try anything and I’ll shoot you,” he said coldly. He wasn’t lying. I knew he wouldn’t hesitate. The large man grabbed my hair again, and yanked me into a standing position, gripping my arm to make sure I didn’t fall. Then he held both arms, while Joe came around and used a knife to cut the bindings that held my wrists. The large man’s grip tightened, cutting off my circulation.
“Over here,” Joe said, and the man dragged me by the arm over to the stool, picked me up and put me on it. Joe eyed the chain and adjusted the length a little. He took my wrists and locked them in the cuffs.
“You don’t have to do this,” I tried, and immediately the large man socked me in the stomach. I lost my balance and fell off the stool. The chain held me up, my toes barely brushing the floor. It felt like my shoulders were going to be ripped off my body. I could hardly breathe, and I swung slightly.
Joe kicked the stool away and walked to the door. The large man reached out and touched my hair. I wanted to vomit. “Let’s go,” Joe said as he knocked on the door. It opened and they were gone.