A fierce swelling on her forehead, where the squat and grinning man had struck her, throbbed with pain. The hood of the trunk pressed hard against her upward left side, and her hands were bound cruelly tight behind her. Her eyes were open, but the darkness was total. Facing the torturous end of everything, she was alone, more so than ever. Within her head, her life unspooled in a vivid frenzy, a fast-forwarded movie of fragmented images, narrated in a hysterical, babbling voice, by herself, though she was unable to utter a sound. She couldn’t make out all the words, except for the distinct refrain: and now I’m going to die—“
– couldn’t sleep hard floor blanket little but she’s a big girl they said big-boned don’t get to play with the Cootie wanted the Cootie and now I’m going to die, Mama don’t tell Daddy about the lamp caught the scary bat flew around living room big paper sack stepped on it dead inside cried and now I’m going to die, spanking Staci bad girl me too crying spanked again again and now I’m going to die –
The pillowcase over her head, more, the thick sock stuffed deep into her mouth and tied in place with a gag, forced her to breathe through her nose, sliming all her face with mucus and tears. Yet she could smell and almost taste the spare tire her head rested upon, and could smell herself as well; perfume consumed by rank sweat, mingled vilely with the stench of feces and urine. The engine growled jarringly as the car, her car, rolled on and on over unknown roads.
– Arthur in school thick glasses and flat-top liked Staci not me Jaime but didn’t like me back fat ugly always wrong and now I’m going to die, diary had to tear it up Staci read it Staci’s boyfriend and now I’m going to die, felt sorry he drew back leaned forward in his never not ever a man 33 year old maid praying crying dirty thoughts all alone, and now I’m going to die –
Crazy voice babbling because she was so, so scared, but stop, please stop! The car jounced, hard, stopped. No, I meant the voice! Where were they? What would they do?
She wanted to live. God, let me live, let me out of here, please! They’ll kill me! Please God, I never got to live!
She pulled hard at the pain in her twisted arms, and to her surprise, one bound wrist came loose. Both hands and forearms were mired with sweat, and perhaps blood from the cutting bonds. She reached up, tried to pull down the gag, but couldn’t, it was knotted tight and her hand was trembling and weak.
It was no use, she was going to die. If not in this trunk, soon after they opened it. They might shoot her, or they might strangle her. They might bury her alive, or sink the car in a lake. Water would fill the trunk up gradually while she struggled in hideous, hopeless anguish, going insane with terror, suffocating. And now I’m going to die—
The three of them, ugly too, and evil, had taken her at the ATM in the supermarket parking lot. Two were men, one the little squat one, beady-eyed and grinning, and one just an old man with a mean, saggy face. The third was a woman, with a face like old dried wood behind big sunglasses, but skinny and with long, silky, pretty blonde hair.
The camera in the ATM, would it record the scene? When would they look at it? She was standing there when they came up, and the woman pushed something hard into her back. “Stay calm and do what we say, you don’t wanna get shot.” At gunpoint, she withdrew the $500 limit, and got into the car’s back seat, and as the woman began to tie her she began to sob, to squeal. Then the grinning man hit her, and then she was in the trunk.
Yet she’d heard no sirens as they’d driven for what seemed like hours, fast over rough roads, exhaust fumes filling the close compartment until she didn’t know whether she was half-awake or dreaming in a near-death stupor.
The ATM film would be on TV, after she was dead. She would be fat. And dead.
With terror, she heard loud, angry voices,and the trunk suddenly, impossibly opened, stunning her with light even through the pillowcase. It was happening, dear God, no!
“Got some company,” called out one of them, one of the men.
“Think there’s room?” said the other, with a guffaw. “We’ll make room,” said the first, as a large, heavy sack was thrown crushingly on top of her, and the hood slammed down again.
It wasn’t a sack, it was someone, another victim, squirming and making heavy, deep-throated muttering noises. Smelled dirty, musky. A man. She reached out, touched his face.
“You got a hand free,” he said in a low voice. He squirmed up closer to her, whispering and squirming. “They got me tied tighter than a damn drum here.”
“Your face is so hot,” she whispered, “like an oven.” But her voice didn’t come out in words, sounded like a sheep making a baaing sound.
“You’re a woman, huh? Good God almighty. Must be your car, I guess. They know you, or just take the car with you in it?”
She didn’t try to speak again but fondled his face, all over, feeling mouth, nose and eyes, all sweaty, and he shook his head hard. “Quit that,” he said. “Can’t talk and outta your head, huh? OK. Not much time.” His voice was a deep whisper, his chest and thighs pressed against her seemed hard and strong. “Can you understand what I’m saying? You wanna get outta here, right? I do too. We gotta work together, girl. You hear me? These people are psychos, you don’t wanna know what they’re plannin’ to do. But we can beat ’em. OK?”
“Yes,” she said. Though muffled, it sounded like “yes.”
“OK then, that’s good. Listen up and do just what I say. Reach over into my back pants pocket, I got me a foldin’ knife in there. Only thing in there. Pocket on the left, reach over.”
She murmured through her gag, more like a lowing cow this time. Overwhelmed, she had said something that was almost “no.”
“C’mon honey,” he said, lowering his deep voice further, “Y’all can do it. Reach into my pocket, my left back pocket. I can get us out of here maybe, we got us a shot anyway.” He twisted over, alarmingly put his buttocks against her crouch. “C’mon, reach in there, please, goddamn it, please!”
Dazed and fumbling, she did it, pulled free a slender, flat object.
“Awright! Hit that button on it. No, no, hold it away from me, sweetheart! The button on the side. Other side.”
She found the button, pressed it. She heard a click.
“Now, follow down my arm and find my hands, and you cut the cords on my wrists. Try not to cut me, now, be careful. Cut the cord, not me!”
She reached out, running the object across what seemed to be a bare, muscular shoulder, then rough cloth, then a bare arm. The object was twice as long as before. She felt it with a finger – it was a sharp blade. Little, but very sharp.
“OK, OK, now, whatever you do, don’t drop that knife. You’re in the middle of my back. My hands are right there, just feel ’til you find them.”
Her hand shook, she almost dropped the knife, and made a brief shriek.
“Hey now, hey! Now, darlin’, let’s be calm. Gotta be calm. OK? Now, see, I’m lyin’ face down now and holdin’ ‘em out from my back. OK? Can you find ‘em? They’re right there. You’re close! Closer! No, no, the other way. That’s it. C’mon – c’mon –“
She found a hand, then another, then his wrists. She managed to slip the blade under the hard cord. She tried to saw through it.
“C’mon, honey, we don’t have time for nibblin’ at ‘em. Cut upward. You’re right there, yank it on up!”
She did, felt the blade break through and fly free, out of her hand. His thick arms moved, and his back muscles flexed against her.
“That’s my girl. Yeah! Now I’ll kill that double-crossin’ piece o’ shit.” His voice was fierce, dangerous. “”Where’s the knife? You drop it? Oh, never mind, I’ll find it.” A smile came into his voice. “There she is, alright!” He shuffled around. “Yes m’am, it’s our lucky day.” He twisted around again, and her heart rose into her throat as she felt his arms and legs, wrap around her in a vise-like bear hug, and he kissed her cheek through the pillowcase.
“OK, now let me get you. Here, get that thing off your head.” He yanked it away. Still dark. “Goddamn, what they got in you there, a sock?” She felt the blade on her cheek, the gag give way, and involuntarily made a loud and sustained bleat.
He pulled her close. “Now, don’t you say nothin’. Don’t make a sound or I’ll have to put this sock back, hear?” She put her free arm around his neck, sobbing quietly.
“Shhhh, shhh. That’s alright now. Now, you still have a hand tied, huh? Let’s get that.” He rubbed his hands across her back, one with the knife, thrilling her. He felt so strong. The blade cut her arm a bit, and she almost shrieked, but suppressed it. “Sorry, I got it now. There.”
He pulled her close, as she put both arms around his neck. His neck muscles were taunt, his upper back was bare except for a cloth strap on his shoulder. “OK, now we gotta talk, see? We ain’t out o’ the woods yet. It may take the both of us—“
She found that she was able to speak. “I was getting money out of the ATM at the store, and—“
He snorted a laugh. “OK, that figures. Old Roy for you. Now, just listen –“
“How did you know?” Wait, maybe if he knew them, was one of their gang but something happened, and now they were killing him too. Renewed fear blazed through her.
He sighed, and whispered again, right at her ear. “OK. I’m a police officer, OK? These here are desperate criminals. I been on their trail, and they caught up with me. Now, let me tell you something—“
“Please, please get me out of here. I’m so scared, I don’t want to die.”
“Honey, I’ll get us both out of here if I can, that’s for damn sure. You saved me with that free hand, now I’m gonna save us both. Now, what I hope is—“
“I feel like I’ve been waiting all my life for you to save me.” She didn’t know why she’d said it.
He laughed, and laughed some more. “I will, darlin’, I’m gonna save you and me both. We need to just be quiet and wait. They’re gonna have to open the trunk, and when they do, we’ll have to act fast. I hope they’ll have dumbass open it, Billy, ‘cause he’s slower than Ray and I think I can take him. He was too damn dumb to check and catch my knife, that was one break. Next was meetin’ you here, darlin.’ You’re my dream date, OK? Now, shush and let’s just relax for awhile. Be alert. I’m gonna jump up and take ‘im out if I can. He’ll have his gun, I hope.”
“You won’t leave me, will you?”
“No, no, no, you’re comin’ with me, girl. First, I gotta capture ‘em, stop ‘em, anyway. You just stay down ‘til I say otherwise, baby darlin’.”
They laid there together and he held her in his strong arms, sometimes, she thought, caressing her back. He even touched her breasts, saying “Scuse me,” and “Damn it’s hot in here,” and touched them more, and slid his hand down, more daringly still, as she nearly swooned. She worried, her old worry even now, that he might see that she was fat from the way she felt. She also began to worry about the smells she’d produced, though she could smell him as well, an even harsher mix of odors than her own.
All at once the car stopped. “Shush,” he whispered, “Here it comes, be ready. They’re comin’. Gonna happen real fast.”
The hood rose up, light burst in, and she got only a half-blinded glimpse of the squat man opening it with one hand and a gun in the other, when the man in the trunk with her threw himself out, his arm pistoning forward. She didn’t see what happened, but the squat man screamed, and then there was the sound of a gunshot.
She rose up in the trunk on aching knees to look out, still dazzled by the light, but able to see a little. They were at the edge of a wooded area. A big rough-looking man in overalls with dark hair slicked back and falling to his shoulders pointed a pistol at a man coming out of the car’s side door with a shotgun, the old man. The long-haired man, who didn’t look like a policeman, quickly glanced back at her, turned and fired the gun twice toward the front of the car. Another louder shot came, another, then a scream and the voice of a woman, screaming too but angry, cursing. Without looking at her again, the big man ran away, into the trees, and the old man with the shotgun went after him.
At once the blonde hard-faced woman, sunglasses off, was at her side, just as she noticed that the squat man who’d hit her was lying facedown on the ground nearby. Something hard pressed against her head, and she knew it was a gun. “You stay put,” said the woman.
There was another shot. A loud, lingering wail followed, then silence.
“Son of a bitch of a bastard.” The woman sighed as if relieved, but still held the gun steady.
“He said he’d save me.” She turned her face, looking up at her captor, tears burning down her cheeks.
The woman, whose eyes were light grey, flinched and scowled, the web of lines in her face deepening. She snorted, spat, pulled her soft blonde locks back with her free hand, but never lowered the gun. “Shit. Sure he did. They’re all like that.”