At a quarter till six, dusk was already falling. Brian was walking Cassie home from the ball field where her daughter had just played. Cassie and Nicci were kind of new in the town and Nicci had gone home to spend the night with her own new friend. She only lived a block away but he really wanted to spend more time with her. They were laughing a little self consciously, the way two people do when they are first getting to be comfortable with each other. They didn't notice anything out of the ordinary when the van pulled up.
The man riding in the passenger's seat called out amiably, "Hey, can you tell us how to get to Camp Street?"
Brian had lived in the area longer and he stepped closer, already gesturing into the distance
Suddenly, the side door on the van slid open and two men stepped out, both holding guns, pointing at Brian and Cassie.
The passenger said, "Get in quietly and no one will get hurt."
Cassie froze in terror, eyes wide and white.
The man grinned down at her in the most maniacal way she'd ever seen, showing all his teeth in a horrible sneer. "I might even get around to committing another crime while you're here, darling."
Another man reached out and roughly pulled Cassie into the van and as they were shoved inside, the fourth man put a hood over each head. There were no seats in the back of the van and Cassie stumbled when she was pushed inside. When they'd taken away her sight, her terror rose and she scrambled up against one wall, drawing herself into a tight ball.
They rode for only a very short time and, although she had completely lost her sense of direction, Cassie felt sure they were still in town. It was fully dark now, she could see that much under the bottom of the hood.
When they stopped, she felt strong, rough hands pull her out and lead her away from the van. She noticed first grass, then a sidewalk, then three uneven steps. A disgustingly filthy smell assaulted her nostrils as someone pushed her into a house. It felt hot and musty like it had been closed up for a very long time with rotting garbage left inside.
She was shuffled through the house then almost brutally slammed against a wall and told to sit.
"It's hard to breathe under these sacks," Brian spoke up.
"No one asked you," one of the men answered.
"Go ahead and take them off," the leader intervened. "We may be in for a little wait. Don't want to kill you if I don't have to."
Cassie was almost afraid to move, terrified at what she might see, but she slowly pushed the fabric up off her face. The cooler air hitting her felt immediately better but the smell was suddenly much worse. Nauseating.
She looked around slowly - her eye for detail noting everything.
They were sitting on the soiled carpet, backs against two walls that formed a corner. The carpet was threadbare and stained so badly it was slick and shiny. The house was obviously vacant although the power was still on. The room was dim, lit by a single naked bulb hanging near the far corner where the captors were congregated.
Cassie watched the men carefully, trying to figure out what they wanted. Especially the one that she considered their leader. Eventually she heard one of his buddies call him Randy. To her, he looked more like a charming used-car salesman. He was a handsome man and very charismatic. His eyes gave him away. They were open just a little too wide for a completely sane person. He looked like he was hyped on crystal meth or he was a paranoid schizophrenic. Either way, that meant he was unpredictable.
She wished she'd worn jeans today instead of this short sundress. They kept staring at her and she was continually fighting to tug it down just a little further. She sat cross-legged up close to Brian and kept her mouth closed.
Randy had a cell phone and he used it to notify the sheriff's department of his hostages and his demands. He didn't tell him exactly how many were in the house. He just named a figure and gave a time limit of 18 hours, which would be noon the next day. He said that when the time limit expired, he would shoot a hostage every half-hour till he got what he wanted. He really didn't want to have to do that - it would cut a big chunk out of his profit. He hung up quickly.
"Might as well take a nap, guys," he told them. "Seems like we'll have a bit of a wait."
Nothing further happened for the next five hours. Tension was so thick in the room that Cassie felt her muscles turn to stone. She kept shifting positions, trying to stretch and relieve the ache but nothing seemed to work. They were encouraged to talk but Cassie didn't feel much like talking. Rage was lurking just below the surface and she didn't think it would be too smart to let it escape. Besides, she had nothing to say. Making pleasant small talk was just not an appropriate thing to do at this time.
Brian had been a soldier, she already knew that. In their lowest tones, they were weighing their odds of escape. "If you get a chance to try, take it without hesitating," he told her. "You can bring back help, understand?"
She nodded, wondering if that meant he'd leave without her if he got the chance.
At midnight, Randy made a quick call to check the progress of his expected pay-off. Just before he hung up, he said, "Well, shit!"
When he put the phone down, he strolled across the room and knelt down right in front of Cassie.
"Got some said news for you, baby," he told her with an evil grin. "The cops said they can't find where you have any family to contact. I guess that means when the time comes, I get to shoot you first." It was as if he craved the fear that would cause.
Instead, Cassie's fear had begun to turn to anger hours ago. She'd been on her own too long to let fear turn her into a jellyfish and now this man was threatening to take away the new wonderful life she'd just begun.
"I'm not scared of you," she said coolly.
For just one second, there was a flash of surprise and anger in his face. His need was to be fully in control, to have other people quaking in awe at his power. The moment passed and he laughed a harsh, menacing sound that made her want to turn away.
"You will be though," he promised Cassie. "It just became my main purpose in life to make sure are." He patted her cheek and turned away. The look in his eyes made her blood run cold.
"Don't confront him like that," Brian warned her in a whisper. "He's not playing with a full deck, sweetheart."
But she'd set her jaw. "The worst he can do is kill me."
Brian sighed at her belligerent tone. "No, it's not," he said.
She fell silent, her mind racing, looking for something to do to save herself. It was very difficult to concentrate when she needed to go to the bathroom as bad as she did now. She asked Brian what she should do. Turned out, he had to go too.
"Is there a bathroom here we can use?" he asked. The captors glared at his boldness but figured it might not be a good request to refuse. It would only make the smell worse.
Randy delegated the duty to one of the other guys. "Take them one at a time and don't let them close the door all the way."
The youngest guy Kevin, seemed not quite as cocky as the others, was given the task. He took Brian first, since he'd asked. When they returned a few minutes later, he asked, "Who's next?"
Cassie stood up, feeling unused muscles creak.
He walked behind her down the short dark hallway. It was very eerie because the walls were painted black throughout the house. The bathroom was a horror and there was again only one small bulb burning over the sink. It cast looming shadows in the corners.
As soon as she entered, she saw what she was looking for. A window at the end of the room opposite the door. Now if she could just manage a little bit of privacy.
When she entered, she pushed the door closed just like she would've done under any normal circumstance. This time however, her guard caught the door just before it shut, leaving an unacceptably wide opening.
"Please?" she asked in her most appealing helpless voice.
"You heard Randy."
"But you can give me a little more privacy. At least turn around, okay?"
For some reason that voice always had the desired effect on men. It melted them and rarely failed to get her what she wanted.
His compromise was to keep the door open only wide enough to get his hand inside and cover the lock. As an unhoped for courtesy, he did turn away.
Trying to make it seem an innocuous as possible, Cassie really did take the time to use the toilet. She was surprised to find dusty toilet paper on a roll but not surprised at how rank and foul the room was.
While she used it, she got a closer look at the window just above her head. The lock was broken, which was a good thing. The bad thing was that she would have to climb up on the toilet unnoticed to get out. She wasn't sure if her guard might be peeking at her or not, but if he did, her plan was moot.
When she stood up to pull her panties up, she reached out quickly and quietly to test the window. She was amazed to find it swung out sideways. She'd noticed too that all the other windows she'd seen were covered with thick black tar paper. This one was not... maybe in a past attempt to air it out?
"Hurry up!" her guard called. He'd heard her moving.
"I am. I want to wash my hands." Whether there was water or not, she had no idea but she had to buy some time to get her nerve up.
She moved closer to the door and examined its lock. Though badly tarnished, it was a standard indoor lock, the kind you pushed in and twisted. His hand pressed against it.
.... There is more of this story ...