March Madness Chapter Twenty-One

Copyright Amy L. Montz

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

            “March, come on. Wait up.”

            “Fuck you, Reggianno.” I didn’t even turn around to say these words, didn’t even care who heard me and what they thought of me. Damn them all.

            There was a sharp hiss of indrawn breath behind me. “March.” Dominic’s voice was softer now, but whether it was in rage or persuasion, I didn’t know nor care. “Let me explain.”

            I waited until we had both exited the precinct before I met his eyes. They were bloodshot and narrowed against the light of the after-rain sun, so bright as it splashed against the wet pavement and moist sky. “There’s nothing to explain. I told you something, in private, that you went and told the one person in the world that did not need that information.” My homicidal yellows were back with a vengeance, and I took a step towards Dominic. “What did you think he would do, Dominic?”

            “I didn’t expect this.” He reached a hand towards me, in apology, and winced when I cringed away from it. “Look, whatever happened between us the other night–”

            My laugh was sharp. “And to think I almost forgot all about that. Was that what this was about? Revenge?”

            The surprise on Dominic’s face was genuine. Not revenge, then. “Is that what you think of me?” He took a step closer and I took one back. Dancing to a mad girl’s love song once more. “That I would try to get revenge on you for… for…”

            “For kissing Jackson. Go ahead and say it, Dominic. That’s all I did. Kiss Jackson. You, however, betrayed my trust, told my twin my most private and intimate secret. I think the scales of justice are pretty well tipped in my favor, don’t you?” No wonder our relationship died before it was ever born. We would have the worst fights possible. Never mind the big guns. We would stab to the quick with Shakespearean commandments, with words, words, words.

            “Your brother came in town. He said he was here to pick up David, but he didn’t want you to know that. So he decided that he would take care of business first, and then visit you.”

            “That doesn’t even make sense!”

            “No, it doesn’t. It didn’t even occur to me or Bobby that he would be here to… to do what he did.”

            But Remy didn’t know about David until after he arrived. That meant that the boys may have sent Remy to pick up my ex after all. But why? Why Remy and not Joey, or Jordan, or hell, one of the other police officers who weren’t related to me? “Did he have papers?”

            Dominic didn’t even miss a beat. “Of course he did. We’re not idiots, March.”

            “Not all the time, anyways.” But the barb was half-hearted at best, cracked from side to side, like Lady Shallot’s mirror. The curse was upon me after all. I shook my head and tried to escape my escape route, my long, circuitous journey on that rattle-trap Streetcar Named…

            After a long breath, I willed my brain to stop working in fictional arenas and face the situation at hand. “So he was legitimately here. What went wrong?”

            Dominic glanced over his shoulder for a moment. When he looked back at me, he looked older than his twenty-eight years. Aged somehow, between last night and today. “Pretty much what Bobby said. We took him out, we all got drunk, and… and it just sort of slipped out.”

            “How in God’s name does something like that just slip out?” I wanted to slap him, grab his shoulders and shake him, anything to get some of this overwhelming anger and hurt out of me. To make him feel a fraction of what I was feeling.

            “We got to talking about the other night, how David showed up, how you helped take him down. Bobby said he had never seen you so scared, not even after your kidnapping. And I said…” he paused to run a hand through his hair. “And I said it wasn’t surprising, after what David did to you.”

            “Remy figured it out,” I said in a whisper. “Of course he did. He’s probably always suspected.”

            “Well, he has those goddamn ‘feelings,’ doesn’t he?” He was reaching out, trying to replace self-anger with sarcasm. “He just nodded, so I assumed he knew.”

            “I told you he didn’t.” My fist clenched until my nails dug into my palm. I knew that there would be four half-moon indentations in my palm for the rest of the day. Maybe forever. Betrayal was forever, wasn’t it?

            “And Bobby figured it out, of course, and said he wasn’t surprised you got out of the marriage. Never pegged you for someone who would stand by and let… let things like that happen to her. And that was it. We moved on to another conversation, and when Jeremy came by to pick up David this morning, something felt off.”

            “But you didn’t know.” I edged back until I bumped against the concrete block surrounding some flowerbeds, and sank down. Sitting helped.

            “I suspected.” I was surprised when Dominic sat down next to me. “But I kept brushing it off and brushing it off, until I couldn’t anymore. We found Jeremy at his hotel room, beating the shit out of David, and barely managed to stop him.”

            “Of all the people in the world, Dominic, it shouldn’t have been Remy.” I willed myself to meet his eyes. “Anyone but Remy.”

            “I can’t tell you enough how sorry I am.” Dominic put his hand over mine and I let him. “But understand that it wasn’t vindictive, or purposeful. It was an accident, pure and simple.”

            “In vino veritas,” I said as I stared at his hand, hovering over mine. Not clenching, not holding, just… there. “How much is bail?”

            “He’s not arrested, not really. Just in there until he cools off.”

            I understood that. They wouldn’t arrest Remy, not for beating up the man who beat up his sister. Chicago was so much like Baton Rouge it was eerie. You can be a good ole boy no matter what side of the Mason-Dixon you were on.

            “I was going to call you,” Dominic said in a voice so soft I almost didn’t hear him.

            Yes, of course he was. After he, too, had cooled off. Or maybe after my stalker started talking. Or maybe, just maybe, when he needed to use me for bait again.

            “It’s just… the timing wasn’t right. I was going to apologize.” Dominic’s fingers twitched against mine. “I’ve missed you, kid.”

            There was a clench, deep in my gut, and I recognized it, that odd, painful clench. I hadn’t felt it since that fateful day I went for a cup of coffee and ended up flat on my back in the middle of a city sidewalk. Loneliness. I had lost so much in Chicago it almost made the last few months in Baton Rouge feel like Jazz Fest, all glitter and gold and music and sun. And now, I had lost Remy. Maybe forever. “Take care of Remy for me. Make sure he doesn’t do anything else to David, okay?” I stood up so fast I stumbled over my own feet. There was so much to do, so many plans to make. I had to call Sister Joan at Our Divine Mother, Sister Regina at St. Martha’s. Out of one job, into another. I had fought Chicago, and Chicago had won.

            “March,” Dominic said again, but I was running now, down the street, and I knew, on some instinctive level, that he wouldn’t follow me. Not anymore. There was nothing left for me in Chicago. There was no new start here. Maybe there had never been one to start with. I was a weak, selfish little girl who thought that she could run away from her problems. But instead, my problems found me again just fine.

            The pinky toes on both of my feet began to ache inside my Mary Janes, but I didn’t care. Wind rushed through my mouth and nostrils, forced itself into my lungs and it was something. It was better than thinking about running back to Baton Rouge with my tail tucked between my legs. I had lasted approximately one month. Just one goddamn month.

            I ran all the way home, up my stairs, and stormed into my apartment with such force that Artful took one look at me and scampered away. I found him under the kitchen table, with his head tucked between his paws and his tail between his legs, just like his Momma’s. “I’m sorry, baby,” I said as I scooted across the floor on my stomach, treat in hand.

            Artful scooted on his stomach closer to me until his nose bumped against the treat. And we both lay there, under my kitchen table, the tile cool against our underbellies. Even my dog was braver than I am. Despite his fear, he allowed himself to be coerced out of his hiding place.

            “Hey, Ms. Sanderson.”

            I sat up so fast I knocked my head on my table. A dull thud reverberated through my skull and along my shoulder. At this rate, I’d be at the hospital again in no time.

            “What you doing under the table?” the man asked as he crouched next to the object in question.

            “Hey, Bit,” I said when I met his amused gaze. “I scared Artful coming in.”

            “Yeah, you scared me, too. Come on. Get off the floor.” It was the most I had ever heard him say at one time.

            I took the hand he offered and let him pull me into the open kitchen. Only when I was standing did I remember to wonder what the hell he was doing here. A quick glance behind me showed that my apartment was empty. “Is everything all right? Is Tony okay?”

            “Yeah, Boss is fine. Don’t worry about him.” Bit rested his bulky frame against my counter. As he slouched, his stomach poked out a bit more. I was right. He wasn’t as well put together as Tommy, but he was muscle, all the same.

            “Then what are you doing here?” There was the strangest feeling in my stomach, and it was becoming all too familiar. Premonition.

            “Tommy told me to keep an eye on you.” When he smiled, his eyes crinkled in the corners. “Thought you might want some lunch or something.”

            What was it with the Mafia and their imperative to feed me? “I’m really not all that…” my voice trailed off as he turned towards the counter and lifted a brown grocery bag. “That smells wonderful.” Great, Sanderson. Be swayed by a yummy meal, why don’t you.

            “It’s Miss Lotta’s famous manicotti and red gravy.” He pulled out a large Tupperware container and gestured it towards me. “Ain’t that what you say in Louisiana? Red gravy?”

            “To the dismay of every non-local.” My feet started moving towards the manicotti of their own accord. It smelled like heaven in my kitchen, pure and simple. When Bit took off the top of the container, my mouth actually watered.

            “They say Miss Lotta’s manicotti is magical or something.” He glanced around before his eyes lit on my microwave. “She brought her mother back from the dead with her manicotti. Did you know that?”

            “No, I didn’t. And Miss Lotta is Tony’s wife, right?”

            “Yep. She said she thought you would be hungry, what with everything that’s been going on.” He reached into the bag and pulled out three more containers. One had garlic bread, one a lovely antipasto salad, and the last about a fourth of a large chocolate cake. “And Tommy’s busy right now, what with all that Bineski crap going on, so they sent me.” He beamed at the last, as if being sent to bring me food and keep an eye on me was a great privilege.

            But something wasn’t clicking. “Aren’t you supposed to be watching Big Tony?” I asked.

            Bit’s forehead wrinkled in unison with the chime of the microwave. “Tommy’s watching Boss.” He started opening drawers until he found two forks.

            “No, Bit, Tommy said that he was watching me, and you were watching Tony.” The prescient feeling in my stomach warred with hunger and I felt a little faint.

            “No, Tommy’s watching Boss,” Bit said again, slowly, as if I were a small child.

            But Carlotta Gasconi wouldn’t pull her husband’s bodyguard, would she? Not to send me food, no matter how magical her manicotti was. “I just saw Tommy, not an hour ago.”

            Bit’s confusion seemed genuine. “But Sal said that Miss Lotta wanted me to bring you lunch.”

            This was it. I wasn’t being used as bait any longer. Instead, I was the distraction, the red herring. I grabbed Bit’s hand and tugged him towards the door. “It’s a set up,” I said as I searched for Artful’s leash, my hand still clamped on Bit’s. “Who is this Sal?”

            “He’s one of the boys, Ms. Sanderson. He ain’t gonna set up nobody.” But even Bit sounded a little unsure.

            In that moment, I was aware of two truths: one, Bit didn’t know about the coup d’état. Tommy and Tony must have kept him in the dark, but why, I wasn’t sure. And two, whoever Sal was, he was one of the bad guys. Perhaps Brutus himself. “Did you see Tommy?” I found Artful’s leash tucked behind a bag on the table, and I crouched down to leash my puppy.

            “No, but he called me and said to go watch you.” Bit pulled his hand away and when I turned towards him, Artful’s leash in hand, he was dialing on his cell phone. “It’s just some misunderstanding.”

            “Yeah, a misunderstanding,” an unknown male voice said behind me.

            Bit’s face went pale, and before I could finish reacting, before I could reach for something, anything, to use as a weapon, I saw a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye.

            And before the butt of a gun crashed down on my skull, I had one final, brief revelation. Sal, whoever he was, wasn’t Brutus.

            Tommy was.

            And then, there was a stinging white light behind my eyes, so bright it blinded me, before everything went dark and still.

#

I blinked against the blackness and light trickled into my eyes, making my head throb against my temples.

Mafia. Kidnapping.

I fought down the immediate panic that rushed through me and tried to lie as still as I could. No need to let the kidnappers know I was awake. A woman’s greatest defense was the element of surprise after all, and if they thought I was unconscious, they would unveil the Big Board and I would figure out what was going on, why I was kidnapped again, for the second time in almost as many weeks. Was this a world record? Would Guinness give me a medal, or put my name in a book somewhere? How did this shit always end up happening to me, and God, why?

These were Tony’s boys, the ones who staged the coup d’état. I was sure of it. They knew Bit, and Bit had recognized them back at my apartment. But why me? What could they possibly gain from kidnapping me, again? This wasn’t a warning to stay away from Big Tony, and I was pretty sure these kidnappers wouldn’t be as willing to throw me out of a moving car.

And we were moving, weren’t we? There was a sense of speed underneath me, and a slight vibration that suggested we were traveling at high speeds, probably interstate. I had a flash of memory, of lying in the back of my uncle’s van as we trekked across state lines to spend a weekend in Gulf Shores. As the youngest, Remy and I had to sit at the very rear of the vehicle. I had fallen asleep, somewhere in Mississippi, the rushing ground and bumpy tires almost soothing me to unconsciousness. This felt exactly like that memory, with the same sense of close movement and bumpy tires. We were in a van, and I was on the floor. Besides, the dormant panic of claustrophobia deep within me suggested that I wasn’t in a trunk. Dammit, claustrophobia aside, I might have had a chance in a trunk. I could have kicked out the taillight, or something. Wasn’t that what a kidnapped woman trapped in a trunk was supposed to do? Kick out a taillight?

The faint sound of Creedence Clearwater Revival informed me that there was indeed a bad moon arising. Maybe the bright sunlight burning through my eyelids counted as a bad sun. When I opened my eyes this time, I did so with such slowness and dexterity that only Edgar Allan Poe would appreciate. The sunlight continued to spill through the window to burn my eyes, but after a few moments, I adjusted to the brightness. Still, though, I didn’t move a muscle. My eyes strained with the effort, but I forced myself to scan the area and try to gauge my surroundings. The only sunlight came through the front windshield, so the back windows, if they even existed, were blacked out. No taillights to kick out or windows to throw myself against in the hopes that someone, anyone, would see me.

Personal checklist next. My head was throbbing from the gun butt, but other than that, there seemed to be no more injuries to speak of. There was a pulling on my hands and feet, and as I tested the pull, I was rewarded with stinging shoulders. Ankles tied, wrists handcuffed behind my back. Whoever had done this had done a thorough job. They hadn’t taped my mouth, though. Weren’t they worried I would start screaming? Rant and rave so loud that someone would eventually have to hear me?

But who would, on the interstate, traveling seventy miles an hour or more? It could have been an oversight on their part, but for some reason, I was sure it wasn’t. It seemed deliberate, somehow. Why go through all the trouble to tie me up and then not tape my mouth shut? And then, the eternal question, who tied me up in the first place?

I turned my head ever so slightly to catch a glimpse of my kidnappers. Three men: one driving, one riding shotgun, and one sitting on the floor of the van about seven feet away from me. All I could see of the driver was a shock of grey hair hovering over the seat’s headrest, and a leathery arm resting on the steering wheel. From my angle, I could see the passenger a little better. His face was in profile, but it was a hard face, with a bulldog jaw and strong cheekbones. He looked familiar, somehow, but I couldn’t, for the life of me, place him. I moved my gaze to the last man, the one hovering between the Driver and the Passenger. He was wearing a leather jacket despite the heat of the day, and held his gun with a casual hand, resting it on his knee as he murmured with the men in the front. He seemed to be the one to watch, the one with the gun ready and able and so damn visible. I labeled him the Thug and strained my eyes to look in the rest of the van. No one else, and no sign of Tommy anywhere.

            But why would Tommy be here? Even if he was Brutus, the grand conspirator of the coup d’état to take down Big Tony, he wouldn’t dirty his hands with something as potentially visible as kidnapping me, would he? No, he would have to stay close to Big Tony to keep his hands as clean as possible. Bit had said Tommy had called him and told him to keep an eye on me, but why?

            No matter how many ways I looked at it, how hard I picked it apart, it still didn’t make sense.             Despite everything, despite all of the evidence mounting against him, Tommy seemed as likely a candidate for grand conspirator as I did. Tommy wasn’t smart enough to pull something like this off, was he? Or even a good enough actor to convince everyone, including Big Tony, and including me. Maybe Tommy hadn’t called Bit after all? Maybe someone called Bit pretending to be Tommy, or maybe Bit was the–

A cell phone rang, cutting me off in mid-thought. It wasn’t a cutesy ring–mine varied depending on the caller–but a standard, shrill cell phone tone. The Passenger tapped a hand along the dashboard until he found his cell phone, a gold pinky ring glinting in the sunlight as he did so. “It’s him,” he said. His voice was low and a little gravelly. I recognized that scratch, heard it in my Aunt T’Ann’s voice, and my Uncle Mikey’s, and in Billie’s and Beth’s. It was the product of years as a dedicated smoker.

“He’s like a mother hen, always worrying,” the Driver said. His voice was deep and dark and smooth. He should have been an actor with that voice. He would have seduced any audience. He lowered the radio, cutting off Creedence in the middle of asking if we were prepared to die.

The Passenger answered the phone with a brisk, “Yeah?” He shifted in his seat so that he faced the Driver more fully. “We’re taking a ride, is all.” Pause. “No, nothing’s wrong.”

“He knows,” the Thug said in a soft voice.

I slammed my eyes shut as the Passenger turned towards us to hiss at the Thug between his teeth. “Well, he’s a liar. I told you not to trust him.”

“Son of a bitch,” the Driver said. “What’d Bit tell him?”

I opened my eyes again, and the Passenger had turned back towards the Driver. He looked like he was about to say something, and then thought better of it. “So what? We’ve got to…” his voice trailed off and there was a long pause. “No, no, you’re right. Of course.” Pause. “We’re about five minutes out. Where are you?” Pause. “It’ll take you a few hours to get to us. Just meet us there.” Another pause.

“Where’s he at?” the Thug asked.

The Passenger held up his hand as he nodded. “Right. Sure.” Pause. “No, I got it. No tape. We’ll take care of it.”

As if on some unknown command, the Thug turned to look at me a split second before I comprehended what he was doing. As my eyes slammed shut, I heard the faintest chuckle.

“No, she’s still out,” the Passenger said into the cell phone.

“No she ain’t,” the Thug said.

I felt my hands trembling behind my back, but whether it was with fear or muscle strain, I wasn’t sure. I willed my eyes open and saw the Thug and the Passenger all staring back at me.

The Driver glanced over his shoulder as he scratched his beard. “You awake, girl?”

“Yeah, I’m fucking awake.” I tried to snarl out the words, but my voice cracked in the middle. The Thug found this highly amusing and began laughing.

“She’s fucking awake,” he said to the Passenger.

“She’s awake,” the Passenger said into the cell phone.

I felt the first traces of hysteria begin to course through me. No wonder the Thug found this whole thing funny. I wondered if they would all repeat everything I said, over and over.

“Go ahead and make the call,” the Passenger said. “Tell him to come alone. I don’t want Tommy anywhere near this.”

Hysteria gave way to confusion for just a minute. Tommy wasn’t the grand conspirator after all? And from the way they sounded about Bit, neither was he. Then who?

When I looked up again, I saw the Thug crawling towards me. I began to struggle against the handcuffs and rope and ended up losing my precarious balance. I rolled to the back of the van and slammed into the door. Once again, the Thug burst into laughter.

“Shut the fuck up,” I said, my words muffled against the metal door of the van. “Shut your fucking mouth.”

“She’s got a mouth on her, don’t she?” the Driver said.

“We’ll see you soon,” the Passenger said, and there was a slight click of a cell phone folding shut. “Leave her alone. We need her for this.”

“Yeah, just a minute.”

A hand grabbed my waist and rolled me on my back, my handcuffed wrists crushed underneath me, the metal cutting into my skin. I bit back the whimper of pain, trapped it in my mouth. Damned if I would let them hear my cry.

But I wasn’t fooling the Thug. He straddled my legs and ran the muzzle of the gun down the side of my face. The metal was cold, so goddamn cold against my cheek. “Somebody’s going to be very happy to see you,” he said in a soft voice. “Somebody’s been waiting for you to just make their day.”

“His or her day, asshole.” God, this was really happening. I was correcting his grammar as he caressed me with a loaded gun.

His smile widened. His front tooth was chipped. “You are a fucking cunt, aren’t you?” He lowered the gun and began trailing it up my thigh, sliding it under my skirt. I fought the urge to panic, fought the urge to buck underneath him because I knew that that was what he wanted. He wanted me panicked. He wanted me to move underneath him. He wanted an excuse, any excuse, to make me vulnerable. To hurt me.

So instead of panic, instead of fear, I gave him sarcasm and coldness. My mouth curved into the cruelest smile I could drum up. “Sticks and stones, darling,” I said.

“That’s enough,” the Passenger said.

But it wasn’t enough, not nearly, not for the Thug. He slammed the gun into my side so hard I had to clench my teeth to keep from screaming. “Give me one good reason,” he said in a soft voice.

“I’d give you a hundred, you pathetic son of a bitch.” I pulled back a little and spit in his face. “You’ve got balls, don’t you? Must be really hard to threaten a woman who’s handcuffed and tied.”

“Not hard,” he said. “But fun.”

A hand appeared on his shoulder and shoved him off of me. The Passenger was crouched on his knees, a gun of his own pressed against the Thug’s head. “That’s enough,” he said again. “We need her.”

“We don’t need shit.” The Thug turned back to me, but he didn’t move towards me.

“We’re here,” the Driver said. “You about done back there?”

“You’re on the back door,” the Passenger told the Thug. “Stay the fuck away from her until he gets here. You got that?”

The Thug was quiet for a long minute, his jaw clenched so tight I could hear his teeth grinding. Then he relaxed, and nodded, and climbed out of the van.

The Passenger didn’t say anything as he pulled me into a sitting position, and it was all I could do not to scream as sharp needles, hot pokers, tiny ants ran up and down my legs. He holstered his gun, grabbed me under the armpits, and began to pull me towards the open side door.

My body began to act on its own accord, partly to revive any body part that had fallen asleep, and partly to resist. The van was safe at that moment. What was beyond it wasn’t. I had a fighting chance in the van, a small possibility that someone would see me, hear me. Just as I opened my mouth to scream, the Passenger pulled one hand away and punched me so hard in the jaw that my mouth slammed shut.

“You’re going to walk to the door,” the Passenger said. “And if you scream, or try to call attention to yourself in any way, I’m going to let my friend have twenty minutes alone with you in a room.”

I knew a bluff when I heard one. He wouldn’t let the Thug touch me before, and I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to now. Not until that “someone” showed up, at any rate. It was a gamble, but I was a gambling woman. “Fuck you,” I said, and started screaming.

The Passenger slapped a hand over my mouth and I bit his finger so hard, I tasted blood. He muttered a long string of curses under his breath, but didn’t remove his hand from my mouth. His other hand grabbed me by the hair and began pulling me towards the door.

They had apparently decided to take their chances. The Driver grabbed me by the feet and they ran with my struggling, bucking body the short distance from the driveway to the door. It wouldn’t have mattered anyways. There were no other houses anywhere nearby. I caught glimpses of the house we were rushing towards. A one-story wood cabin. Wraparound porch. Short white fence around the garden. Red flowers in bloom. I had the strangest sense that we were nowhere near Chicago. Not anymore.

The house was quiet and still as we entered. The Driver dropped my feet to flick on an overhead light and I felt the rush of air-conditioning caress my flushed face. The Passenger removed his hand from my mouth and leaned over to whisper, “No one will be able to hear you. You can scream all you want.”

So I did. I screamed. It didn’t do any good. My Mary Janes dragged across the wooden floor as he carried me past other men in a living room, through the hallway, and into a room the back of the house. When we were all the way in, he threw me down on the ground. Then, and only then, did the Passenger pull me into a sitting position against a radiator.

“You never asked me what he said on the phone,” he said, but not to me.

“Yeah?” the Driver asked. “What he say?”

“He said that we should have talked to him first. Again.”

I struggled against the radiator, but the Passenger just backhanded me with a casual flick of his arm. There was a betrayer still, the mysterious man on the other end of the phone call. But who?  

“No, what’d he say about the girl?” the Driver asked.

The Passenger glanced up. “He said that she doesn’t like being tied up.”

“Course she don’t like being tied up,” the Driver said. “No one likes–”

“No, he said that she hates it. She’s scared of it or something.”

“He said that?” a voice asked from the doorway.

We all turned to see the Thug leaning against the frame. “I thought I told you to watch the back door,” the Passenger said.

“Ain’t nothing out there but trees and rabbits. So big tough bitch is scared of being tied up?”

Of all the men in the van, I had pissed him off the worst, even before our fight in the back of the van. But I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out why. I struggled against the Passenger and gasped as the handcuffs bit deeper into my wrists. He had locked them tighter than before. “I’m not scared of being tied up.”

“No,” the Passenger said as he turned back to me. “Not just of being tied up, though. He said she’s really scared of the dark.”

I felt my eyes widen as I strained against their holds. Of course. I had told Dominic that not all mysteries end at the end of the book. Some end in the middle, just to throw the reader off. It didn’t matter who these men were, and why they had kidnapped me. No, the grand conspirator was the important link. He wasn’t Big Tony’s betrayer. He was mine, and whoever he was, he knew I was claustrophobic. The only person outside of my family that knew I was claustrophobic was–

“Small places, complete darkness, locked rooms,” the Passenger continued. “So I’m thinking if we don’t want no problems from her, we should put her in the closet.”

Oh God oh God oh God. It took me a second to realize that I was repeating the words out loud.

The Thug’s smile grew as he reached for the duct tape.

“But no tape,” the Driver said. “She’ll hyper… hyper…”

“Hyperventilate,” I whispered.

“If she’s that scared of it, she’d probably stop breathing, so no tape.”

“That’s what he said.” The Passenger looked down at me. “We can’t have her die on us.”

The Thug began to move towards me and my arms were behind my back and my ankles were bound and soon I would be trapped, trapped in darkness and unable to move.

I heard a high-pitched keening, a sob torn from a throat in low volumes, and I realized that I was making those sounds. No one knew I was claustrophobic, no one except my family.

“Over the river and through the woods, into the closet we go,” the Thug sang as he dragged me towards the closet.

And Dominic knew. I had told Dominic.

I couldn’t even struggle. I couldn’t even move. I was frozen. I was frozen and I couldn’t move and there was darkness, complete and utter darkness and the tiniest of closets before me. I couldn’t fit in there, could I? They wouldn’t try to put me in there and–

And I heard a voice in my ear, cutting through the noises coming from my throat and the rapid pressure on my chest. Breathing. I needed to breathe just breathe just–

“You better be lucky I follow orders, you fucking bitch, or I’d just take advantage of this situation.” The Thug gave me one last cutting smile. “Sweet dreams, princess,” he said as he closed the door with a long, dramatic sweep.

There was still light, light edging in from under the door and I shifted, scooted down so that my face was pressed against the bottom.

But the light started fading and I saw bumps of terrycloth moving against the doorframe and blocking out the light. There was someone screaming, someone screaming and slamming against something wooden as she tried, tried so damn hard to rage, rage against the dying of the light until–

The last bit of light winked out of existence and the closet, the tiny, tiniest little closet in the world was plunged into complete darkness and I couldn’t see, couldn’t even see the door in front of me and I couldn’t move and I was screaming, wasn’t I? But no, there was silence, complete and total silence and nothing, nothing in the world but darkness. Utter and complete suffocating darkness.

And then time and space, as I had known them all of my life, ground to a halt and I began to lose them both.

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