He was calm, too calm. “No one is going to kill anyone Kitten. But I can’t let you go. Just put it down and I promise I won’t do anything to hurt you.” I couldn’t help but laugh. I was holding the gun, but he was the one holding me hostage. Still, my laugh was hysterical.
My mind went to that special place of mine. And perhaps, inspired by the big damn gun in my hands, conjured Dirty Harry. “I know what you're thinking,” I half choked out. “‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?” Caleb’s expression was priceless, somewhere between deep concern (for my sanity) and anger (at my idiocy).
“Kitten,” he began. I cocked the gun, with two hands because I couldn’t manage it with one. In the process my finger pressed against the trigger slightly and for the first time I saw real fear skid across my captor’s features. He swallowed. I eased my finger off the trigger, relieved I hadn’t just done something stupid, or in my case, stupid-er. I reached for the handcuffs and threw them in his direction. He caught them without breaking eye contact. “The gun isn’t loaded Kitten.”
My heart fluttered. “Bullshit Caleb. Don’t make me find out which one of us is bluffing.” He smiled, just a little. If you didn’t know him as well as I did, you’d have missed it for what it was. I don’t know why, but I looked down at his shorts. The bastard was hard. “Cuff yourself to the bed and don’t make me ask again.”
This time his smile was broad, even smug. “Kitten, if that’s what you wanted, you need only have asked?” Really? Would he have let me cuff him to the bed? Livvie! Focus.
“Just shut up and do what I said.” I was caustic. He furrowed his brow and for a moment I had forgotten who had the upper hand. Heavy metal sliding in my sweaty palm reminded me. “Now!” He walked to the post nearest me, still a few feet away and cuffed his wrists together. “Tighter,” I was impatient, nervous. He complied and I breathed a sigh of relief.
I lowered the gun, taking a moment to let the anxiety settle, to allow my vision to clear and the adrenaline to dissipate. “Feel better Pet?” he whispered, still playful. Possessed, I took two steps closer to him and slapped him so hard my hand stung. Instantly he leapt forward, his hands clutching for my hip and his feet sweeping my ankles. I fell flat on my back, the gun flung behind me. He could no longer reach me with his bound hands, but he was trying to grasp me between his legs. I scrambled backward with all my strength, refusing to be caught. I got free and collided with the chair behind me. “You’re going to pay for that Pet,” he panted. The right side of his face sported an angry red handprint.
I shook out my hand, “I already have. That was my change.”
A few minutes later, I finally had the chair close enough to the window. I stepped up and felt around the edge. Please let me be right about this. My heart made a roaring sound in my ears, and I shut my eyes against doubt. Finally, I felt a little switch and my heart stopped all together. I glanced back to see Caleb. The angry expression had left his face though my handprint remained. I said a silent prayer, stepped down, and slid the door open. Caleb’s voice came from behind, “Kitten,” he sounded worried or sad, “Don’t let me find you.” Was that a threat? I wasn’t going to stick around to find out.
I didn’t look back. I ran with all the force my legs could muster. My lungs burned as my bare feet thudded heavily against the dust of the ground. It was still early, the ground not warm yet. I wanted to scream for help, but wasn’t sure if I was far enough away to keep Caleb from hearing me, so I just ran. Up ahead I saw a man in an apron, pushing a dolly of crates into a building.
“Help me!” The man looked in my direction, his expression one of confusion and distress. As I reached him, I all but flew into his arms trying to push the both of us inside.
“Que pasa? Que te paso?” he asked in Spanish.
I shoved him harder until we both nearly fell over the dolly on our way inside the building. My breath came in gasps while I tried to slow down and explain in Spanish that I was an American citizen who had been kidnapped and held against my will. I told him I escaped but that my captor was not far and I needed the police right away.
“Who is this man?” he asked “Who is the man who took you?” he seemed just as frantic as I was and he opened the door to look in the direction I had come from.
“Get away from the door!” I yelled. “Caleb! His name is Caleb, please, just call the police. Where the fuck am I?” Finally, the man quickly shut the door and bolted the lock.
“Sí, Mexico,” the man was exasperated. Fucking Mexico. I knew it!
“Shit yeah you are,” came a man’s gravelly voice from the corner. The man, who I assumed was the bartender, and I looked in his direction. He appeared dirty; not the kind of dirty that came from poverty or sloth, but the kind of dirty that came from an obnoxious lifestyle. It was early in the morning and here he was already in a bar, an American biker. He stared at me intently, took a drink of his beer and licked the foam from his mustache. Suddenly, I became aware of my clothing. I was nearly naked under Caleb’s coat. I crossed my arms and took a step behind the edge of the bar.
“Can you help me please? I need to get to the police.” He took another drink as he shook his head.
“You don’t want to go to the police darlin’, trust me on that. Those dirty Mexicans are crooked as hell. They’d just sell you back to whoever you’re running from. Best thing you can do is try to get back over the border and let our guys help you out.” I looked at the bartender.
“Es la verdad,” he said. It’s the truth.
Exasperated, I yelled, “Well can you help me get to the fucking border then!” The bartender jumped and anxiously hustled to the back room. The biker stood, grabbed his beer and drank it down before slamming the glass on the table and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Well damn honey, you ain’t got to be nasty about it.” He walked over to me, tracing his hand along the bar, purposely eyeing me inappropriately. “I’m sure we can work something out.”
“Fuck you,” I said and looked at him with disgust.
He chuckled. “I was thinking of some other arrangement baby doll, a ransom maybe. A finder’s fee?” He looked me up and down again. “Of course, I’m always willin’ to compromise.”
Just then a loud bang came from the door and whoever stood on the other side wasn’t happy. The biker looked at me, saw my instant panic, and pushed me down behind the bar. “Get the fuck down there and don’t breathe a single breath if you want to live through this!” Acting on instinct alone, I curled up in the fetal position under the cash register. The biker ran into the back room and returned quickly with a few crates of alcohol. Before I knew what he was up to, he stacked them on the ground and pushed them under the bar next to me. Meanwhile, the thunderous banging continued at the door of the bar.
“Don’t move,” he said one last time. He grabbed a glass from the counter and began filling it with beer when a loud bang splintered the wood of the door. I nearly urinated.
“Whoa!” said the biker laughing loudly. My heart pounded hard in my chest, my eyes shut tightly as I worked to imagine myself somewhere else.
“Where the fuck is she?” Caleb demanded, calm and inhuman.
“Where’s who man?”
“Don’t play dumb right now fuckface or I’ll blow your goddamn head off!”
“Well that don’t sound too good. Look man, I’m just here watching Javier’s bar.”
“And where’s Javier?”
“He had some problem at home with his old lady, fuck if I know or care. I’m just enjoying the free beer while he’s gone.”
“What’s with the dropped crates outside?”
“You ain’t ever left someplace in a hurry?” A deafening silence filled the room. “Besides, if you’re in here looking for him with a damn shotgun, he probably had a real good reason to leave in a hurry.” He said with an obnoxious chuckle. More silence. Caleb’s footsteps made a slow steady sound as they came near the bar. I did urinate a little at that point. Not my finest moment, I assure you.
“What did you say your name is?” asked Caleb.
“I didn’t; but you can call me Tiny.”
Caleb let out a short, stern laugh.
“Tiny huh? Well, Tiny,” I heard the distinct sound of Caleb cocking the shotgun. “I’m going to ask you this, one, fucking, time, and then I’m going to blow a hole in your chest. Where’s the girl?”
Tiny cleared his throat loudly, “Alright man look… seems to me you lost somebody important to you, and I swear that if I had any fucking idea where that person might be I would tell you, but I don’t. I was just here having a beer and Javier had to leave in a hurry. I figured what the fuck, I’ll stick around. I don’t know nothing about your bitch. So kindly,” I heard him pull out a gun and cock it. “Get that fucking gun outta my face before I redecorate Javier’s bar with yours!”
The silence that followed crushed the air around me. Sweat dripped down my face, burning my tightly shut eyes. My fingernails sunk into the skin of my arms. I was positive that someone would die while I hid behind crates of piss-warm beer. Suddenly, Caleb erupted into laughter. I bit down hard on my lip to keep from screaming. Tiny soon joined in on the joke and I worried that he had given me away.
“Alright, Mr. Tiny, tell you what. I’ll take you at your word that you don’t know what I’m talking about, and trust that if you happen to run into a half naked girl telling wild stories, that I’ll be the first person you get in touch with. It’s the big house up the road. Ask for Caleb. No one else.”
“You got it man. Can we put these down now?” It was quiet. For a few moments I heard nothing. Then I heard Caleb’s feet moving farther and farther away from the bar. Before I could feel relieved, Caleb’s voice called out from a distance a few feet away, “But if I find out you lied to me, I will find you. And if I find out you’ve done something to my property – I’ll kill you.” And then he was gone.
“Where is she Caleb?” Rafiq’s tone was anger, tempered with restraint. Caleb knew it well. It was the tone Rafiq had adopted whenever he spoke to Caleb in the beginning, when he had been a difficult boy. He didn’t like it, not one bit.
It was early evening and the girl was still missing. She could be hundreds of miles away by now. Why the fuck had he let her go? It wasn’t like him to be so impulsive, or stupid. Though lately, he wasn’t so sure. First he had failed to secure his weapon. Then he’d let her loose in the middle of the night. And now, he’d set unknown factors into play.
“I don’t know where she is Rafiq. If I knew, I would be collecting her now.”
“Would you?” The question held very strong implications. When had Rafiq started to doubt him? When had Caleb ever given him cause? The answer to both questions was of course now. So Caleb replied with the same tempered anger and restraint, “I understand how important she is, Rafiq. I know why I’m here.”
To destroy Vladek. He felt mildly detached. Where and when had he lost that objective? When had his focus wavered? Strangely, he didn’t feel guilty. Already, he was thinking, they could find another way to Vladek. Necessity was the master of invention. Still, he didn’t know why he’d let her go. He’d known she was nearby, perhaps hiding with the bartender, the biker’s body language had told him as much. So, why? Why was he suddenly risking so much when he stood to gain nothing and lose everything?