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Part III


54

Charlie looked around the room. He never wore a watch, and there were no windows, but he was pretty good at figuring out the passing of time, and he thought that he had been in that room for about five or six hours now. Hed been sitting or standing in the room, studying it, for all that time. There was nothing else to do. There was no furniture. The walls were made of brick, the floor concrete. He walked to a wall and looked at the ceiling, studying it again. A fluorescent strip illuminated the room, but it was too high to reach without something to step on.

He sat on the floor and thought about his mother. He hoped she hadnt learned that these guys, whoever they were, had hauled him in here. She didnt do so well in a crisis, and there certainly was nothing she could do for him now. Hell, it seemed there was nothing Charlie could do for himself. Hed tried to get out of the room for the first hour or so he was here, but with no window, no furniture and the door bolted tight, there wasnt much effort to be made.

Charlie crossed his legs, deciding to practice his meditation. Really, what else was he going to do? He pondered for a long while why these guys had grabbed him, why he was sitting here in this windowless room. No one came to visit him. No one gave him any information. And so, he decided to just accept what was. He had been kidnapped, he guessed, and now he was in this brick room. Surely it would all work out. It always worked out for Charlie.

The door opened. A man hed never seen before stepped inside. He was a handsome man in his midfor-ties. He wore his dark black hair with lots of product in it and a black suit that looked, to Charlies admittedly inexperienced eyes, to be expensive. Under the suit, he wore a mint-colored shirt along with a gray-and-ivory patterned tie. His expression was feral. Charlie had never before used the word feral, but that was exactly the word to describe it.

Charlie waited for the man to speak. He seemed to be doing the same thing-he stood with his arms crossed, staring at Charlie and leaning against the door. It occurred to him that maybe the man had been taken, also.

Did they get you, too? Charlie asked.

The man didnt respond. Charlie was pretty sure this guy wasnt a fellow kidnappee. (Was that even a word? Was that what they called someone whod been kidnapped? He reminded himself to look it up in the future.)

Charlie eyed the door. If he could get around the guy

Dont even think about it, the guy said.

Ah, Charlie thought, a kidnapp-ER.

Charlie studied the guy back. Who was he? What did he want?

But Charlie didnt get much further than that in his thoughts.

Like a tiger, the man took three quick steps and was at Charlies side. At the same time, he raised his left hand and-whack!-hit Charlie with the back of that hand.

Charlie heard the crack, felt himself bite into his lip.

Jesus! Charlie yelled, cupping his cheek.

He had never been hit before, had never been in a fight. Charlie always considered himself a pacifist, even when he was a kid. It was Izzy who got into fights on the playground, arguing with people who tried to bully him and then eventually smoothing things over with words. Lucky for him, Charlie grew tall and soon most people simply didnt bother him.

But this man was not scared of him. In fact, as Charlie gripped his cheek and licked the blood away from the side of his mouth, he noticed that the man was snarling, looked as though he wanted Charlie to fight so he could dish out some more.

Charlie opened his mouth to ask, Why am I here? but before he could form words, the mans arm shot out and-whack-he once again bashed Charlies face with the back of his hand.

The man winced this time, squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his hand, but his face cleared quickly. Thats for your sister, Isabel, the man said. And I got lots more of that.

Charlie said nothing, which made the man sneer.

Ill be back with your phone, kid, he said, and then you and me The guy pointed at Charlie, then at himself. Were going to write some messages. Maybe a text, maybe an e-mail.

The man turned and left the room. Charlie could hear the door being bolted from the outside.

He licked the inside of his mouth again. The blood streamed in earnest now. There was nothing in the room to stop it. There was nothing he could do to stop any of this.


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