Zoe watched her brother leave with a level of fear she had never before experienced. On top of that, she was a mess behind the towel that was stuffed into her mouth and tied around her head. Her nose was running, her eyes were constantly filling up and shedding tears, washing mascara down her cheeks, and a little trickle of saliva was leaking out from under her gag.
In a word, she was miserable.
Her captor seemed miserable as well, though he was far from a nasty, soggy mess like she was. In other circumstances, she would have been drawn to his dark good looks, but here and now there was a feral, desperate look behind his eyes that terrified her.
Something was bothering him about all this, she decided. No, eating at him, and if that were true, she might be able to get herself out of this mess. She tugged at the duct tape that tied her arms and legs to the chair, but they gave no indication of weakening.
“Hey,” she said, though it came out as an inarticulate noise.
Uno, as she had also taken to referring to him as, looked away from the window where he was standing watch and turned to her. She lifted her chin and turned her head side to side, trying to work the gag loose enough to be able to breathe better. “Can’t breathe,” she said unintelligibly.
He frowned and knelt in front of her. She felt her face flushing in embarrassment for the state she was in. She sniffed loudly and rubbed her shoulder at the edge of the towel, hoping he would get what she was trying to tell him.
Pity softened his eyes and he reached out to pull the gag off. He held a finger up before her face. “No screaming,” he said.
She pressed her lips together and shook her head. No, I won’t scream, she thought. She looked him straight in the eye. “Thank you,” she said as quietly as she could. “It was hard to breathe with that thing on, so, thank you.”
He nodded and straightened up, walking away from her. He came back a moment later with a Kleenex and held it out to her. She looked at it first, then up at him. “Umm,” she said, lifting her hands the fraction of an inch the tape allowed her.
He sighed. Holding the tissue in one hand, he placed his other hand to the back of her neck. She stiffened and wanted to struggle, but she knew she had to tread very carefully in order to play him the right way. So she held still while he wiped the tissue under her eyes and down her cheeks and chin, then swiped it across her nose. He then wadded it up and wiped up the little trickle of blood from under her chin and throat.
She wriggled her nose and sniffed again when he was done, tossing the tissue aside onto Zeb’s coffee table as he seated himself on its edge. She gave him a grateful smile. “Thanks. Sorry about that; I must look awful.”
He shook his head almost imperceptibly and then turned his head away from her, looking everywhere but at her. She leaned her head, trying to catch his eye. “Hey,” she said softly, “do you have a name or should I call you Uno like my brother does?”
He looked at her, confused. “Uno?”
She grinned. “Yeah, he said you were the first one he saw and the other guy was second. Hence: Uno and Dos.”
He scoffed and turned away again, keeping his eyes on the door and windows. A few seconds passed. “Andres,” he said, looking at her out of the corner of his eye.
“Andres,” she repeated. “I’m Zoe.”
He nodded. “I know.”
“Right,” she muttered. She couldn’t tell if this was working or not, but at least she felt a little calmer. The hospital where she worked had had an incident a few years back in which a gang member high on who knows what took the graveyard shift ER staff hostage with a .45 magnum. The situation was finally resolved with a syringe full of paralytics, but not before one nurse was critically injured.
She survived, thank God, but the hospital had been caught completely unprepared for that kind of situation. From then on, there had been mandatory training seminars given by the police hostage negotiators twice a year, running the entire staff through mock hostage situations and equipping them with the skills with which to survive them.
One of the major points they stressed was to do everything you can to humanize yourself to your captor. The more they see you as a real, individual person, the less likely they would kill you. Or so the theory goes.
“So, Andres,” she said cautiously, “I’m really scared here, so do you think you could please tell me what’s going to happen?”
“If your brother gives Seve what he wants, we go back to Spain.”
Seve, she noted mentally. She now knew both of their first names. “And, um, what about us?” She didn’t try to hide the quaver in her voice.
He took a deep breath and shrugged one shoulder. “That is not my call.”
Her heart felt like it was being squeezed. She forced herself to breathe through the fear, and the fear let go of her heart. “Okay,” she said as calmly as she could.
He looked at her. “I’m sorry. For what that is worth.”
“Thank you,” she said, tears slipping free of her lashes once more.
His cell phone chirped and he stood up to dig it out of his pocket. “”Yes,”” he answered. He was quiet a moment while the person on the other end of the line spoke. He slid his gaze over to her, then said, “”Got it.””
He hung up and her heart started thudding. He walked over to the coffee table and picked up the scissors from where they lay. She struggled to try to free herself before he could hurt her, but he was there on her in no time at all. “Please! Don’t!”
But then suddenly she was free. She stopped struggling and looked at her hands, the tape cut away to release her. Her feet, too, were now unbound. She started to get up, but he pressed down on her shoulder, forcing her to sit again.
“I don’t understand,” she said, rubbing her wrists. “What’s happening?”
“Plan B,” he told her. He took up the roll of duct tape. “Put your hands together.” She did and he taped them together in front of her. He grabbed her elbow and lifted her to her feet. “Let’s go,” he ordered.
He walked her toward the front door, the roll of duct tape slipped over one wrist. Now was her only chance. She shoved him so that he fell back against the wall, then she threw her elbow into his chest as hard as she could, hoping to replicate a chest thump to disrupt his heartbeat.
She grabbed the door handle and turned it, but it was locked. She unlocked it and jerked open the door, smacking Andres with it when he grabbed for her. She ran down the sidewalk to the driveway, but her car was blocked in and she had no keys.
“Help!” Zoe screamed, running into the street. It was getting dark and no one was outside. She could hear him running after her and remembered that he was a soccer referee, trained to be able to run nearly nonstop for forty-five minute stretches at a time.
She hadn’t played soccer since college and her hectic hospital schedule precluded regular exercise.
In a word, she was screwed.
She didn’t really know any of Zeb’s neighbors and didn’t want to endanger anyone else, but she needed help or Andres would catch her again. She ran up onto the porch of a house that had several lights on, but Andres’ strong arms wrapped around her waist and chest and he covered her mouth with one hand. She kicked and squealed as loudly as she could, but he carried her off the porch and back across the road, taking her to his car.
She raked her insole down his shin and tried to bash his face with the back of her head, but he just turned his head away out of the line of fire, grunted against the pain, tightened his grip and kept going.
“Don’t fight me,” he whispered fiercely. “I’m not going to hurt you.” As if to prove his words, he slackened his grip just enough that she could breathe again.
He set her on her feet at the back of the SUV, pinning her face first against it while he dug the key out of his pocket. He then wrapped one arm around her, crushing her to his chest while he opened the lift gate. He picked her up, tossed her inside unceremoniously and shut the gate.
She landed with a yelp, the wind knocked out of her in a rush, as her arm landed on a bag containing something uneven and painfully rigid. She sat up, hissing in a breath and pressing her injured arm against her pant-leg. She lifted it away and saw a wet spot on her pants – whatever it was had drawn blood.
She started to clamber over the back of the last row of seats, but Andres jumped into the seat in front of her, blocking her way. She lifted her arm and shoved it toward his face. “I thought you said you weren’t going to hurt me!”
He batted her hands away. “You’ll live,” he said dismissively, pushing her back and climbing over into the cargo space with her. She screamed. She kicked him in the gut and he doubled over, but only for a second.
Then he growled in frustration and grabbed her flailing feet. “Stop it!” Andres commanded. He pinned her feet down with one hand and pulled up a strip of duct tape on the roll, wrapping it around her ankles. Once her feet were immobilized, he tore off the end of the duct tape and scooted toward her upper body.
She drew herself up into the fetal position, covering her vitals as best as she could. She could hear him tear off another strip of duct tape. He pried her arm away from her face, fighting her as she struggled against him. Then she felt the tape being slapped over her mouth.
He sat back then, panting deeply. She twisted and kicked, but he just pushed her aside. He gripped her by the wrist and pulled her arms toward him, squinting in the rapidly diminishing light. He examined her arm, then fished around in the bag on which she’d fallen.
He pulled out a large tackle box and opened it. He removed a large bandage and tore open the package. “Ironic that you got hurt on the first aid kit, yes?” She was surprised to hear genuine amusement in his voice. He gave a low laugh, which, again, in any other circumstances she would gone crazy over.
He gently placed the bandage on her arm. “There, that should be better,” he told her. Then he pushed her hair out of her eyes. “I didn’t mean for you to get hurt. Please believe me.”
The funny thing was, she did believe him.