Whack! I woke up to a burning pain against my cheek. Whack! Again something hit me. Whack! A third time. I moaned.
“You lied.” Whack! This time it was followed by a kick to the stomach. I was seeing stars and I wasn’t even sure if my eyes were open or closed. I was hanging by my cuffed wrists again. “I will kill you.” It was the Boss. Whack! I choked. A metallic taste filled my mouth.
“Stop,” I wheezed. I was swinging, and still couldn’t really see anything but grey, meaningless shapes. It took a minute for me to realize the pounding had stopped. Slowly my vision started to return, but I couldn’t quite focus. “I didn’t lie,” I lied. “What’s going on?”
“I have your notebooks,” the Boss fumed. “There’s nothing in here.” He shook a tan colored blob in front of me and I was aware that it must be one of my school notebooks, and that he’d been hitting me with it.
“I told you it was in code,” I wheezed. My head felt like it was going to burst in a super nova explosion that would destroy half the Milky Way galaxy.
“There is no code in this. It’s just notes from your class,” he said, and took another swing at my head with the notebook. The stars returned to my vision, and a warm liquid dripped down my face.
“Yes, there is,” I whispered. Another few whacks and I’d lose conciseness. I had to make him stop. I had to stay lucid. “I told you it’s complicated.”
“Tell me,” he growled.
I sighed. I could barely think, my vision was blurry, and I felt too weak to move, but I knew that if I said the wrong thing now I was dead. “You find the right page,” I started, then took a breath. Think. It has to be something he can’t figure out. My voice was shaky and I couldn’t hold in a sob. I was close to panicking. “Then count down three lines. Find the first…” Breathe. What can I say? “Find the first capital letter. That is the first word.”
“What is the right page?” he asked and I heard pages rustling.
“I didn’t number the pages in my notebook,” I said. “I just know it when I see it.” He growled and I felt a swish of air pass by my face. He must have swung the notebook again but he hadn’t hit me.
“Let me do it,” I begged. “I can do it.” If he said no…
There was a pause, pressure on my wrists and jangling of the chain. Then I was released and fell to the floor. He dropped the pile of notebooks in front of my face. “If you are lying to me,” he seethed, “you will die in such a terrible way, you can’t even begin to imagine it.”
I tried to ignore his statement and calm myself down. I’d bought myself time. “I’ll need paper and pencils,” I said. “And an ice pack.” I held up my wrists so they could un-cuff them.
“No ice pack,” He said.
“If I can’t see, I can’t translate the code,” I said. “My eyes are practically swollen shut.”
“Go,” The Boss said, and I heard footsteps, then the door opening and shutting. “But the cuffs stay on.”
“That will slow—“ I started but he cut me off.
“No! You will do this. And if I have any suspicions that you are lying, you will pay for it.”
A few minutes later, the door opened again, and a couple of number 2 wooden pencils, an 8×10 pad of lined yellow paper and an ice pack were tossed in my direction. Without a word two sets of footsteps walked away. The door opened and closed again and it was quiet. I was alone.
I picked up the ice pack and held it over my right eye, which seemed to be quickly swelling closed. The left wasn’t as bad. Since my hands were still cuffed, I could only do one thing at once, but that didn’t bother me. It would take me a moment to collect my thoughts and I used the ice pack as an excuse to sit quietly. But not for too long. No doubt someone was watching. I couldn’t afford to anger the Boss again. I set down the ice pack, and spread the notebooks out. Since the code was a lie, I’d have to figure out a way to make it look like I had recorded a code, just a complicated one, while actually writing down some of what I remembered from my real research.
The real stuff didn’t concern me. I could remember enough to make it seem believable, but making it fit into a pretend code would be difficult. There were four notebooks: English Literature, Trigonometry, Chemistry, and Spanish. Fortunately, they had stolen all four. I might need more than one. I decided to start with chemistry. It was likely to have more of the words I needed than the others.
I flipped through the notebook until I found a page that might provide a good starting point. Giving a power hungry criminal too much information was the least of my concerns, though I imagined the agency wouldn’t appreciate it. But then if I was dead, I wouldn’t care what they appreciated. I began circling words in the notebook, formulating rough, fragmented ideas about a small weapon.
As I wrote, one hand dragging after another, I expected a visit at any time, but no one came. After a few pages, I stopped trying quite so hard to make the code look real. If they checked, I doubted they’d scrutinize more than a page or two.
Every half an hour or so, I took a break to put the ice pack to my head, but never for long. I would have to figure out how to get out of here after this. He’d given up all the information he was going to, and I couldn’t afford to get knocked around for much longer.
Eventually the ice pack melted and my headache grew until I almost couldn’t focus on the words I was writing. I’d been through two of the four notebooks when I decided I’d given him enough. I said I’d found three sources, which was only a quarter of what I’d really done, and I had suggested there could be much more, so I figured giving him five to ten percent of my knowledge would satisfy him. I’d drawn it out in convoluted phrases, equations and diagrams that didn’t fully make sense. Ethan and I were working through these same equations to unencrypt them further, but the Boss didn’t know that.
Five pages of yellow paper were covered with smeared pencil markings that I could only hope would satisfy the Boss. I couldn’t see out of my right eye, and a continuous pulsing behind my left was too distracting to go on. I decided to lie down for a few minutes and rest before I started formulating an escape plan. I was sure the throbbing in my head would keep me awake, but when my eyes closed my mind completely shut down, and I was asleep.
“Hey! Get up.”
I opened my eyes, which really couldn’t open very far and stared up at Joe, who was standing directly over me.
“I said get up!” He growled.
I rolled onto my side still putting my thoughts into place. I’d fallen asleep. My notebooks, the pencils, and papers were gone. Joe grew impatient and grabbed my arm yanking me to my feet. He let go, and I swayed, but found my balance.
Joe scowled. “Follow me.” He turned and headed for the door. My head fully cleared at the possibility of getting out of this room. My hands were still cuffed, but I could work around that. And knowing more of the building’s layout could be lifesaving. I had to consider this a good sign. They must have collected the notebooks and been pleased with the results. Joe walked out the door without looking back and I thought perhaps I could just run now, and by the time he turned around, I’d be gone, but Jones was waiting outside the door, and fell in right behind me as I followed Joe into a dingy poorly lit hallway.
Joe continued his impatient pace in silence, while I stumbled stiffly and Jones walked a little too close behind me. We turned into a similar hall that had an exit sign at the end, a good 75 yards away. I silently thanked the government regulators who forced buildings to clearly mark their exits, even when they were old and used by creepy criminals. Before getting even half way to the exit, we turned left into another identical hall, minus the exit sign, and Joe stopped abruptly before a door, marked as a men’s/women’s bathroom. Things were really starting to look up.
Joe pushed open the door and let it swing free. He unlocked my handcuffs. “Take off your clothes,” he instructed.
Just when I was beginning to cheer up. “Excuse me?” If they thought I was just going to do a striptease for them here in the hall, they had another thing coming. I didn’t dare look at Jones to guess at what he was thinking.
“In the bathroom,” Joe said with contempt. “Put your old clothes out here. Someone will dispose of them.” He grimaced to indicate his opinion that burning them five times would not be enough. “Clean yourself up thoroughly. Boss’s orders. Everything you need is in the shower. There are new clothes on the counter.” He folded his arms as if challenging me to try and defy him.
I eyed him suspiciously, but I had a feeling this was my reward for the notes. I would be foolish to pass up the opportunity. I stepped into the bathroom. Joe pulled the door shut behind me warning me not to “take all day.”
My first order of business was to lock the door. It was a flimsy lock. Then I used the toilet. It was probably Tuesday and in the process of being beaten over the course of two days I had not been able to hold my bladder. No one could do that. But having an actual flushable toilet was a relief you really can’t imagine.
Apparently, Joe hadn’t been joking when he’d said I shouldn’t take all day, because I’d barely flushed the toilet when he banged on the door. “Your clothes. Now!” I eyed the small stack of clothing on the counter and peeled off my shirt and slunk out of my pants. Standing behind the door I opened it and stuck them out with exposing any of my body. A hand grabbed them and I quickly shut the door.
Another bang on the door. “All of your clothes.” The only clothing I had left was my bra, underwear, and shoes. I should have guessed the Boss would make sure even my reward was humiliating. I sighed, and slipped out of them, again cracking the door open just enough to get my hand through. I dropped them on the floor and shoved the door shut, not wanting to risk Jones barging in to see me standing completely naked with only my knife strapped around my thigh. I was lucky they hadn’t found it.
Joe must have been satisfied. “Now hurry up!”
If there had been a window in this bathroom I would have been gone in thirty seconds, but there was no window. I turned on the dirty looking shower and unstrapped the knife, placing it under the pile of clothing. Despite the questionable cleanliness of the shower, the water was hot and perfect against my aching body. I let it run over my head for just one minute before grabbing some of the soaps and shampoos and cleaning myself up. Everything was rose scented.
As I lathered my hair, then rinsed, the water swirling down the drain ran pink from the blood that had crusted in it. The soap on my body was heavenly. I really don’t like being dirty. But then I really don’t love the smell of roses either, and I suspected the scent was not accidental. I can shower in about three minutes if necessary, but I made this shower last as long as I thought wise, and then a bit longer. As long as Jones didn’t come in after me, I figured I could push my luck.
When I turned off the shower the room was steamy and I grabbed a towel and wiped off the mirror to get a good view of my injuries. The shower and heat had helped. I looked like a domestic violence victim, but the swelling was already starting to go down. I knew now that the shower was off, Joe would be getting impatient, so I hurried to put the clothes on. There wasn’t much to put on. Very small underwear that matched a black lacy bra. A pair of cut off jean shorts that looked more like they were supposed to be underwear themselves, and a lacy black tanktop that didn’t fully cover the lacy black bra. No shoes. I was dressed like a slut. Or worse. This was no accident, and I hoped Jones had wandered off to do other thug tasks.
My knife was not going to fit under the shorts. Instead I strapped in around my waist so it sat in the small of my back. I suspected the tank top was supposed to be tight, but although they had done a decent job estimating my size, the top was a little loose. You couldn’t see the knife, but if anyone touched my back they would find it. All the more reason to get out of here quickly.
I was brushing my hair when Joe lost his patience and pounded on the door again. “Time’s up.” He yelled.
“Give me a second,” I spat back, finishing my hair. It hung wet and limp past my shoulders. I opened the door. “There aren’t any shoes.”
Joe’s eyes opened wide at my transformation and Jones (who hadn’t left to go do thug things) leered so obviously, I took an involuntary step back just to put some distance between us. Clearly Joe was also having new thoughts about what he would like to do should we get some time alone and I scowled at them both.
“Shoes?” I asked again, trying to get their focus off something besides my scantily clad body.
It worked, at least for Joe. “You can live without them. Follow me.”
We walked back the way we came passing the door that had served as my prison and continuing on in another direction. I noted two more exit signs. Around the next corner, we stopped at the second door and Joe knocked. Jones, pretending to be lost in thought, bumped into me from behind. I stumbled forward just as the door opened and I almost fell into the Boss’s arms, but managed to catch myself before that could happen. He smiled gleefully at my graceless entrance and stood aside to let me enter.
“I will call when I need you,” he instructed his two minions, and before slamming the door in their faces, I caught both of their disappointed expressions. One on one with the Boss, and the room had a window. This might be the chance I was looking for. The rest of the building may have kept its authentic run-down warehouse aura, but this room was elegant and clean. There was a black leather couch with matching chairs on one side. The other held a mahogany hand-carved desk. Two chairs faced the desk and one behind. The window was conveniently located over the couch. Behind the desk was a door leading to some other room. Perhaps his personal torture chamber or perhaps just a personal restroom. On the wall near the door was a bookcase that had a good number of Shakespeare’s works on it.
“Please take a seat,” the Boss said smoothly, indicating the leather couch. There was no way I was going to sit on that couch right now, dressed like this. Instead I slid over to one of the two chairs in front of the desk and sat down, making a point to not look at him as I did so. My notebooks were stacked neatly in a pile exactly in the center of the desk.
It took him a moment to follow. I supposed he was annoyed by my choice to avoid the couch, but eventually he came and sat in the second chair turning it and moving it closer so that our knees almost touched. He smiled at me in the way a man does when he thinks a woman is his object to use as he pleases and I crossed my legs to put more distance between us. As I did so, his eyes drifted to my leg, now more fully exposed and his smile grew. I glowered, knowing that if I put my leg back down, he’d realize how uncomfortable he was making me, and that would not help anything.
The Boss waited for me to speak, but I remain obstinately silent. His jacket now hung on a coat rack next to the door and the sleeves to his mauve colored shirt were rolled up to the elbows, the top button undone. This more casual look allowed me a full view of the gun at his waist. I could see from where I was sitting that the safety was not on. I was pretty sure I could take him. Sure he was stronger, and I was wounded and weak, but he wouldn’t expect it. However, I didn’t know how skilled he was, and it was critical that I take him down quickly before he could sound an alarm and/or shoot me. Perhaps he would let me walk out of here, believing I’d finish my work, in which case there would be no need to fight. As long as things stayed cordial I decided to hold off.
My brother tells me I’m entirely too stubborn for my own good. He may be right, but I happen to believe that my stubbornness has served me more than it has hindered me. It was an asset now, as I saw the Boss’s discomfort grow as each second ticked by. Eventually he couldn’t take and spoke first. “You look quite…different now that you are cleaned up and have a fresh outfit.”
I scowled. “Yes well, you knew I would. You picked out the clothes.”
He leaned back in amused surprise. “You don’t like them?”
“You expected me to?”
“I was expected a little more gratitude than that,” he answered and leaned forward focusing his eyes on the place where the bra was visible at the top of the shirt. I don’t know why that view seemed to satisfy him so much. My chest is nothing anyone could ever get excited about.
“Yes, well, as good as it feels to be clean, I’d rather not be forced to dress like a slut,” I said coldly.
He laughed again, which was annoying. I wanted him to get angry. I wanted him to lash out and just try and hit me again. Now that I wasn’t chained up, I just wanted him to try and see exactly what would happen. “I assure you I attempted to choose clothing I have seen other young women trounce around town wearing. Some of your classmates probably have identical attire. I apologize if I did not choose a style that you prefer.”
We both knew exactly why he chose the style he did, but he was also correct. The clothing I was wearing was a sought after fashion for many of the high school students that were supposed to be my peers. “Yes well I’m not planning on making prostitution my career choice,” I snapped.
He laughed again, annoying me further, which may have been what he wanted. “I’ve read through your notes. That is quite the code you created.”
“Yes well, I didn’t want anyone else to be able to decipher it,” I said peevishly. I searched for any sign that he suspected it was all a lie, but he seemed pleased.
“Your work is impressive—if slow,” he continued.
“I’ve gotten farther than you, haven’t I?” I snapped.
I had managed to irk him and he scowled back at me briefly before relaxing his features back into a tight smile. “Perhaps, since we are now working together we can solve this riddle faster than we would have apart.” Now we were finally getting down to business.
“So you want me do to all the work, and hand it over to you, instead of my client,” I responded. “Clearly that is ideal for you, but I fail to see how that benefits me.”
“For one, you don’t end up dead,” he growled back rapidly, before trying to re-gain control over his emotions. I was ready to spring, and welcomed the loss of control he was fighting, but getting out of here without more violence would logically be preferable, so I didn’t pounce. “But I assure you I will take care of you.”
“So you’ve told me. That’s a little on the vague side, don’t you think?”
“Since you will now be my employee, I think you probably shouldn’t worry about it,” he answered back quickly. “But since you’re asking, I’ll assure your protection in case the client decides revenge is in order. You will work exclusively for me and will be compensated appropriately according to how well you perform.”
“What if I don’t want to work for you in perpetuity?”
“That is not an option you have on the table, Jamie,” the Boss responded icily. “You will be with me as we take over the energy sector of the entire world economy. Think of the power and the wealth I am offering you. It is an offer you can’t refuse.”
I stared at him thoughtfully as if I was actually tempted by wealth and power. “So you are going to give me all that, let me walk out of here and return to school and finish what I started?” I asked incredulously. “Then you’re going to pay me plenty, keep me happy and eventually allow me to become one of the most powerful people in the world?”
“You don’t believe me.”
“Last time I saw you, you practically bashed my skull in. I’m a little skeptical,” I retorted. “That’s a pretty quick change of direction. But if that’s the case, I agree.” I abruptly stood and turned toward the door.
“Where do you think you’re going?” He growled grabbing my arm roughly.
“I’m going to finish finding Sheagul’s secret, of course,” I answered coldly, not cowing to his threatening actions. “What else would I be doing?”
“Not so fast,” he said, standing and yanking me back, his eyes leering hungrily. “You have one more test to prove your loyalty.”
I had hope it wouldn’t come to this. I had hoped that despite the suggestive looks and the clothing we could avoid this part, but clearly the Boss wanted more. Oh well, I’d tried to get out of here diplomatically. Now it would have to be a fight.
He grabbed my hip with his free hand. This was the point where I was supposed to submit myself to this creep. Sell my body for a place next to him on his rise to power. I felt a righteous rage building in me. Did he really expect me to believe all that crap about wealth and power and rising by his side to take over the world? He wanted a whore, and he intended to use me until he tired of me, and then he’d throw me out with the trash. I may be young, but I’m not stupid.
The Boss tried to pull me against him, and I responded by kneeing him in the groin. This was very satisfying, however I did not have time to enjoy it, as now that I had initiated violence, I had to finish it before he could recover. The Boss had been expecting compliance, possibly because I was such a convincing actress, but more likely because he was an arrogant fool, and so the pain and the shock of my response left him both speechless and motionless. I used the moment to disarm his gun. As he started to finally react I swept his feet out from under him, and used his own gun to hit him across the temple. The first hit dazed him. The second knocked him out cold.