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68

We found the building easily. We got out of the car and looked at it. My heart thumped as we walked to the door. I looked at my dad. What were we supposed to do here? I had left my purse in the car, putting my cell phone and my ID in my pocket-in case they need to identify me-and now I felt naked, unarmed.

But my dad wasnt.

His head swiveled, his eyes searched the neighboring buildings. What was he looking for? Snipers? I had no idea.

I let my eyes do the same, trying to learn from him, even though I wasnt sure what we were studying.

At the door, my dad found a buzzer and pushed it. He looked at his watch.

Are we here in time? I said.

He gave me a terse nod.

The door popped open but only a crack. Nothing else happened. I stared at that sliver of black in between the door and the frame. It seemed vast, as if an entire galaxy might be contained within it.

My dad pulled it open. We stepped inside. We had to blink until our eyes adjusted to the faint light.

But then I saw him clearly. Dez Romano. He wore a dark suit, black shoes and a blue tie with tangerine and white dots. He looked dressed for a wedding or some other fashionable social event.

Isabel, he said with a big grin. Or I hear you prefer Izzy. He waved his left hand, as if to say, It doesnt matter. You ran away from me that night at Gibsons. You wont be running away from me tonight.

I heard a gurgle behind me, sort of a half laugh, half clearing of the throat. I spun around, flinched. That Ransom guy. The guy with the fucked-up tattoos on his neck. He was smiling big at me as if he was really happy to see me. His lips were thick and moist and one of them had a couple sores on it. I tried not to make a disgusted face. But he must have seen it, and it only made him smile more.

He took a step toward us. I noticed he wore a walking boot on his foot, probably because of Mayburn running over it outside the nature museum.

Spread your legs, Ransom said. His words were the most sadistic I had ever heard-garbled and rough, as if he had stones in his mouth, but with a leer, as though he loved to say them.

When neither my father nor I complied, Dez Romano shouted, Spread your legs. Both of you. Or Ill kill little Charlie. In front of you. Do it. Right. Now.

I snapped into action. My father was slower to do the same. I saw him shaking his head. Ransom went to him first, easily found his gun and tossed it to Dez, who looked at it, then back at my father. I suppose I can let you get away with this. I didnt tell you not to bring any weapons. But I did tell you not to bring any backup. If you did, the deal is beyond dead. And so are you two.

Ransom stepped in front of me then and grinned, his mouth wide and wet.

He ran his hands over my arms first, then my waist. He took my ID and cell phone and tossed those at Dez, too. Then he dropped to his knees, the walking boot not seeming to affect his movements at all. He looked up at me, and I wanted to kick him in the face. I wanted to smash his nose and crush his windpipe with the heel of my shoe, but instead I let him grin, let him look up at me as if he was about to perform some sort of sexual act. He drew his hands up one of my legs, then the other. When he got near the middle of the left leg, he paused, then his hand kept moving up. It was horrible. I stopped my body from trembling, stopped myself from showing terror, and the monumental effort caused something to bubble up inside me, caused movement of the one thing Ive never been able to control. My mouth.

Just so you know, I said, Im easy, but Im not cheap.

Ransoms hand jerked away, and when I looked down, his face went blank. He looked over his shoulder at Dez, who started to laugh.

And then I couldnt control it-I kneed him. Not hard. I knew I couldnt get away from him, and I knew kicking him too hard would only bring more of his sick wrath upon me, but I couldnt help but give him a firm knee into his shoulder when he looked at Dez, just so he knew I could do it.

The action didnt make Ransom fall from his crouch, but it did make him pissed. He glared up at me with a snarl, his wet lips open in surprise, then stood and leaned over me.

Oh, Isabel, Dez said. You really, really dont want to make him mad. You wouldnt believe what he wants to do to you already. Dont make him want it more.

His words made my stomach churn with sickness and fear. But I wouldnt show it.

Get away from her, Ransom, Dez said.

Ransom licked his lips, but then finally moved behind me. I could feel his breath on the side of my neck.

Dez pointed to my father, using the gun. I flinched instinctively. Dez saw it and shot me a small smile, the way you would a little kid whod done something adorable.

You and I, Dez said to my father. We need to talk privately. In case that talk doesnt go well, Im going to let you say goodbye to your son first.

Thats not necessary, my father said.

Sure, its necessary, Dez said. I think goodbyes and that kind of thing are important.

Really, thats not- my father started to say.

But Dez interrupted. Plus your wife is in there, too. Im sure youll want to have a chat with her.

We both froze, looked at each other.

Did he just say your wife?

Dez cracked a big smile now. Ransom, lets show these folks where the rest of the little family is.

Ransom put a hand on my biceps and squeezed hard. Instinctually, I flinched and tried to yank my arm away, but then I heard a soft, distinct click.

I turned to look at Ransom. And found myself looking at the barrel-was that even the right word?-of a handgun. I forced myself to look away, to look at Dez. He was pocketing my dads gun, holding one of his own and pointing it at my dad. Mr. McNeil, if youll walk down this hallway, well just follow you.

My dad did nothing for a second. Then he looked at me, and his mouth was open a little, his face flushing red.

Randomly, idiotically, I thought, I must get that blushing thing from him.

Now, Dez said, dropping his smile.

My father followed orders. We walked the dimly lit hall, our shoes silent on the concrete floor. We passed a few rooms with open doors. Entirely empty.

Ransom held tight to my arm, kept his big solid body right behind me, breathing wet sighs into my ear. I could hear saliva gurgling at the back of his throat. An alarm rang in my brain. Loud. And louder. I wanted to whimper every time I felt that breath, but I steeled myself.

Finally we came to a closed door. Dez shoved my dad against the wall next to it, putting the gun to his head. Then he opened the door and shoved him inside. Ransom heaved a wet sigh into my ear, his lips almost touching my skin. Then he pushed me inside, too, and I heard the lock click behind me.


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