What was that smell?—dank, musty, mildewy. As consciousness returned , she realized she was no longer sleeping. Sleeping? she thought, as a rising dread began to grip her. No, not sleeping…unconscious. She could feel her lids opening and closing, and groggy as her mind was, she knew no amount of blinking could clear up the darkness that was totally absolute as it surrounded her. Her mind grasped for the most recent memories, trying to piece together any errant image that would produce a relevant thought. She tried to fight the rising panic. It was too late, the levy had broken.
The floor was hard, without the padded feel of carpet. She could feel the cold of stone. It gave her goosebumps on her legs, even through her jeans. Whatever she leaned against was equally hard. In a panic, she turned her head and felt the roughness of cinder block grind against her smooth, right cheek. She was also aware that she was bound, hand and feet, as well as gagged. Almost anyone could easily identify the bonds as duct tape. It took her a moment to notice that the grunting noise she was hearing was actually coming from her own throat… like a half moan half grunt. “HRRRH!!!” She would have called out, screamed even, if she had been able. She knew it would be useless with the swatch of tape over her mouth. Suddenly a flash from her adolescence appeared in her mind’s eye; her little brother was challenging her that he could get the tape off his mouth she was threatening to use to shut him up by working his jaw muscles. That had been almost 15 years before when they were kids, her a new teenager, and him, an annoying seven-year old pest. She felt a solitary tear slip out of the corner of her eye as Noah’s face danced before her, no longer the child who had been the bane of her existence, but now a recent Berkley under-grad, now working on his graduate degree at the University of Denver.
Noah, take care of Mom, her heart silently commanded. Then she prayed for herself. Heavenly Father, I know I have not lived the most pious life these last few years, but I swear to do better if You will only help me get out of here!
But where was here? She turned her head from left to right, and could not even make out shadows in the pitch of her surroundings. It was chilly, but that wasn’t unusual for anywhere is Colorado. Was she still in Denver, or one of the many “mini” cities that encompassed the state capital? She had no way to determine. She moved her jaws back and forth, up and down.
She probably wasn’t in Denver anymore, she reasoned. Although she wasn’t nationally famous, she was a well-known personality in the city. Of course, as the most popular disc jockey in town, at least according to The Denver Post, it was her voice more than her face that people knew. At least those who hadn’t seen her famous finger-guns blazing, larger-than-life image on the mass transit signs or billboards on the interstate that advertised her show, which ran during one of the two “prime times” in radio, the morning commute and the afternoon/evening commute. Hers was the latter. She could hear herself broadcasting as she worked her jaw—up, wide, down, up, wide, down.
“Gooood afternoon, folks. So how’s the traffic out there? Sucks as always, I’m sure. We’ll get an update from Dora Sims on that, as well as hear from meteorologist Ted Summers of KUSA in just a few minutes. You’re here with Superstar, that’s Starr Jennings to those of you just tuning in to KSTR, Denver’s Number One rock connection. Later on this week, we will have two member of the band IED in our studios, lead singer Zach Rohnan and bass master Jason Maldonado, where you, the listener, will get the opportunity to call in and ask them about their music, their madness, and ooh, maybe even there mistresses. You’ll also get the chance to have your name entered in the drawing for a night on the town with IED, including front row seats to their sold-out show, the jam session before and backstage passes. After the break, we’ll return with the debut of their newest single, Darkness Falls, kicking off thirty minutes of non-stop rock…” Ah, Zach. If only you had been there to rescue me this time…
She was almost positive who’d taken her, although she didn’t know his name, at least she didn’t think it was his real name, the creepy caller-turned-stalker, who identified himself as Howard Johnson. When he’d first called into her radio show, she thought his name was a joke, since many of the guys who called in had some sort of sex pitch for her. She remember how she’d teased him over the air about trying to get her to his “place,” i.e. a hotel room. And that’s how it all started.
Giving herself a mental shake, she tried to clear her mind and listen to the void around her, intent on detecting her captor’s return. Up, down, wide…up, down, wide. If she could just get the tape off her mouth, she would be able to use her teeth to free her hands. She heard only mostly silence, which seemed more ominous then if she heard movement. She prayed there weren’t any furry or multi-legged creatures creeping around close by. She detested bugs but most especially hated mice and rats. The thought sent an irrational panic through her , breaking her concentration.
Stop it! she told herself furiously. Focus!
Another image came to her mind, this time making her heart break just a little bit more. This one was of a man, with messy auburn, shoulder-length hair, a small tattoo of a scimitar at the corner of his left cheekbone just under one of his brilliant green eyes. He was reacting to a band mate’s antics, his perfect teeth exposed as he threw his head back in unabashed laughter. That was the first time she’d met him, at the station, when he and Jason came in for the on-air interview. My God, was that really almost a year ago? she thought.
Unable to contemplate the fate that might await her, she let her mind wander back over the previous ten months… Back to that first phone call and back to the interview that would change her whole life.