The girl stood there. She could feel the sun on her face. She stood quite still, her arms hanging loosely at her sides. She wore a simple pleated skirt, reaching down to just above her knees, and a college sweater, initials in large letters prominent on her left breast. The sweater hugged her figure, taut over her chest, but the neckline was not particularly low. She wore tennis shoes. There seemed nothing, so far, to set her apart from the thousands of girls like her that attended college across the country. But some things about her appearance were unusual. Her silky blonde hair hung to her shoulders. Her figure, though covered in modest clothing, was well proportioned, if not quite cheerleader thin. Her features were pretty, perhaps even beautiful. It was difficult to tell exactly how attractive she was, as a large blindfold covered her eyes. Though her arms were unrestrained, she made no effort to remove the blindfold.
There was a man standing next to her. Of moderate height, thin, perhaps in his late 40’s. His hair was streaked with grey but showed no signs of baldness. Though he was dressed casually, jacket and trousers, his stance betrayed a certain nervousness. He looked pensively into the distance.
The man and the girl stood together, although it would be difficult to believe that they were a couple. Neither of them spoke. The ground around them was broken, consisting only of rocks. Their size ranged from a pebble to larger than a man’s closed fist. They were mostly white, the heat of the sun reflecting off them uncomfortably. The rocks stretched out, away from the where the man and girl stood. The expanse was flat, or at least as flat as jumbled rocks could be. Too flat, it looked suspiciously man-made. The man had had to help the girl to get this far. Blindfolded as she was, she had needed his hand on her arm to steady her as they walked across the uneven terrain. She could smell the sea and hear the waves. Perhaps they were on some earthworks near a harbour? She didn’t let the thought trouble her for long.
The man’s face broke into a thin smile as he saw two figures walking towards them, picking their way carefully across the sharp rocks. Unlike him they wore suits. One of them, shorter than his companion, carried a briefcase. The man greeted the new arrivals. The words were business-like, the handshakes perfunctory.
“So”, asked the shorter of the two new arrivals, “she ready?” Greetings done, his taller companion seemed disinterested in the conversation. He kept looking around, scanning the area. It was a measured surveillance, his face impassive. An observer, looking closely, might have noticed a slight bulge under the left side of his jacket.
“Of course,” replied the man standing by the girl.
“Okay then, show me.”
The casually dressed man turned to the girl. “There’s a man standing to your left.”
The two new arrivals stood in front of the girl. She may have known that one, at least, stood there from the sound of his voice. Regardless she turned slightly to her left. “Hello,” she said, “I’m pleased to meet you.” Her voice was bright, her welcome sounding sincere.
“And one to the right.”
Again the girl turned in the stated direction. “Hello,” she said, “I hope we can get to know each other better.” She might have been welcoming newcomers to a neighbourhood, or greeting a classmate.
“And remember to smile,” the man standing next to her said.
The girl’s face broke into a smile. Her teeth flashed, white, even. The smile may have been given on command, but it looked genuine.
“Hmm, okay,” the short man said. He offered the briefcase he carried to the man standing across from him. “Here’s the cash. Same as always. Half now, half when we know she’ll perform.”
The casually dressed man nodded as he took the briefcase.
The man who had given it to him signalled to his taller companion. In turn, he dropped his scanning of the surrounds and took the girl by the arm. As the two suited men walked off the girl offered no resistance as she was led into whatever future they had planned for her.
The casually dressed man walked back the way he had come, briefcase in hand.
Janice looked nervously around the lecture theatre. She had started hearing rumours around the campus. That girls had been reported missing. People drop out of college all the time. But too many recently had simply vanished. And they were all young, attractive, women. Janice hadn’t known any of them, but she could imagine how frantic their families must be. The college authorities had put out a warning, for girls to be careful, not to be alone on the campus at night. Apparently there’d been a fight about that. The college had resisted doing anything. They still wouldn’t officially acknowledge that there was a problem. Publicly the signs were simply part of their normal care for the students. The girls, rumour had the college saying, might have disappeared from anywhere. That was if there was a problem at all, and they weren’t simply off enjoying themselves somewhere, free from family and study for the first time in their lives.
The police, however, had insisted. Some of the girls’ families had made enough of a commotion that something had to be done. Janice had seen the uniforms around the campus. And so the college authorities, resisting anything that might be taken as an admission of fault, had reluctantly agreed to warning notices going up.
While Janice didn’t know any of the girls a friend had told her that one of them had been in this class. Janice was sure she could remember the girl, a pretty blonde who had always sat to the side of the lecture theatre. Janice kept giving glances in that direction, the seat the girl had always occupied now empty. Janice realised that it must have been empty for weeks. The girl had disappeared some time ago. Janice hadn’t noticed, hadn’t thought anything about it. Was it that easy for someone to just vanish? Simply disappear and those around her not realise? Janice shivered.
At the entry of her lecturer, Professor Copeland, Janice forced the uncomfortable thoughts out of her head. She should, she told herself, pay attention. Psychology might not be one of her better subjects, but she did like Professor Copeland’s lectures.
“Today,” Professor Copeland began, “we’re going to talk about the links between actions and desires.”
Janice’s hand moved across the page of her notebook as she desperately tried to transcribe all his words.
“We are, to a great extent, defined by our actions, by what we do. The mind, given enough time, will accommodate itself to the actions of the body. A dissonance there produces stress, and minimising stress is a primal need. The mind will, given choice, direct the body to escape a stressful situation. But if it cannot, then the mind will change to accommodate the physical facts if it faces no other choice. A mind that wants to stay sane, that is.”
Professor Copeland waited for the few chuckles to die out. Janice’s eyes flicked to her pen. She’d forgotten to bring her spare and she hoped it didn’t run out.
“This can be summarised quite simply. Put yourself through the motions and soon will come the corresponding emotions.”
Janice thought she knew enough about stress. Later that night she was still hard at work in the college library, trying to finish an essay. She had to agree with Professor Copeland. If she could, she’d direct her body to put down her pen and walk away from her work. She didn’t want to do that though. She was certainly putting herself through the motions of working. Did that mean the corresponding emotions would come? What emotions corresponded? Agitation? Nervousness? Irritated at letting herself be distracted Janice pushed the thoughts away and got back to work.
Essay finished, Janice peered nervously into the dark outside the library. Was there someone out there, kidnapping the girls, perhaps killing them? Janice shivered. She’d heard they’d all been pretty. Perhaps that was just the rumour mill exaggerating, but if someone was going to take the risk of grabbing all those girls, wouldn’t he go for the pretty ones? Janice looked at her reflection in the glass of the door. She knew that other people considered her pretty, with her wavy, almost curly, red hair, upturned nose and nicely shaped face. She looked off to her left, through the door, trying to see her car. She’d tried to park it as close to the library as she could, knowing that she would probably be working late that night. She thought that she could see it from here, but she wasn’t sure. There were lights, she told herself, it wasn’t as if she’d be walking in the dark. And once she got to her car, she’d be safe.
Hugging her books tightly to her chest, Janice summoned up her courage and pushed the door open. Nervously she peered left and right, then hurried towards her car.
Soon enough it was in sight. With each step her car grew larger and larger in her vision. It wasn’t much to look at, an old 60’s dodge, specks of rust showing through some of the paint. It had been all her parents could afford. But to Janice, right now, it represented safety, a link with home. She sighed with relief as she reached it. Quickly she retrieved her keys from her purse and opened the door. She tossed her books across to the passenger side and got in. She placed the key in the ignition and turned it.
To her horror all she heard was the whirr of the starter motor.
“Oh no, oh no, come on.” Janice’s voice was brittle, fear beginning to grow. She could imagine someone in the dark, watching her. She tried turning the key again. And again the only response was a grinding whirr.
“Oh God, no.” A tear streaked across her face. Janice didn’t know what she was going to do. If she sat there trying to start the car she’d probably flood it. She’d learnt that much from her father. But she couldn’t bear to think about heading back out into the night on foot.
Panic had almost overtaken her when she saw the headlights of a car, approaching from her left. She didn’t know whether to ask for help or sink down and try to avoid being noticed. She gripped the wheel, paralysed with fright as the car pulled in beside her.
It was with an audible gasp that she released her hold on the wheel. It was a campus security car. They’d be able to help her. Two men, in the uniform of campus security, got out of the car. One leant up against their vehicle; the other strolled over to Janice’s window.
The second man pushed his cap up as he bent over, “Everything all right Miss?” Janice could smell his last meal on his breath, wondered whether some of it was caught in his thick moustache, but she didn’t care. He could have smelt like garbage and she’d have welcomed him with open arms.
“Oh, uh, my car won’t start.”
“Hmm,” the guard pondered, standing up and regarding the hood of Janice’s car. “Not what you need. Wanna try it again?”
“Okay,” said Janice, her confidence returning. She tried starting her car, but stubbornly it refused to start.
“Yeah, I see,” said the guard. “Could be a few things, flat battery, alternator gone. Are the lights working?”
Janice flicked the lights on. The twin beams streamed out into the darkness, one catching the tail of the guards’ car before spilling out across the campus.
“Not the battery then,” the guard at Janice’s window scratched at his forehead, pushing his cap back. “Wanna pop the hood and let me take a look?”
Janice pulled on the lever. She couldn’t see what the guard was doing, the great sheet of Detroit metal blocking her view. She could hear him poking around and muttering. She could see the other guard, still leaning against his car, a bored look on his face.
Just before Janice lost patience she heard the moustachioed guard cry “Ah hah! That could be it, you wanna come take a look?”
Janice debated for a moment whether she should. But she needed her car. If there was something wrong with it she needed to know what it was. And be able to explain it to her father, if she was going to have to ring him and get him to wire her the money for repairs.
“Now you see this bit here,” the guard pointed his torch into the engine well. The shadows cast by its light played across the engine, casting strange shapes. Janice could hear the other guard coming up behind her. Perhaps his boredom had made him curious, she thought, as she leant forward, trying to see what the helpful guard was showing her.
Janice felt an arm snake around her waist, pulling her back into the other guard. Her breath came out in an “oomf!” from the force of the contact. Her hands flailed in front of her as she tried to keep her balance, tried to find something to hold onto. A scream started to rise in her throat, but was cut off as something was roughly placed across her face. It felt like cloth, held there by the other hand of the guard who had assaulted her from behind. The cloth was thick, perhaps folded over and layered, and moist. Taken by surprise, Janice breathed in, a strange smell invading her nostrils. Desperately she pulled at the man’s arm, trying to free her mouth, to breathe, to call for help. She could see blackness starting to creep in at the edge of her vision. She pulled feebly at the arm still holding the cloth across her mouth, her strength slipping away. She tried not to breathe as she desperately sought for some leverage on her attacker. Failing she tried to wriggle free, but his arm around her waist held her tight. Pain rose in her chest as she held her breath. She couldn’t breathe, she mustn’t breathe. She kicked back at the man’s leg, but her dizziness from lack of oxygen and whatever was in that first, treacherous, breath, sent her aim astray. Her lungs screamed for air. She couldn’t take it any longer, she had to breathe, she couldn’t stop herself. She sucked air through the cloth, tasting the strange fumes of whatever chemical it held. Janice sagged in her attacker’s arms, and lost consciousness.
“And this is number nine.” Carol watched as her boss, Bill Wainwright, pinned a picture of a girl alongside a line of photos. “Janice Thornton, reported missing two days ago by her roommate Helen Fletcher, when she didn’t come home from college.”
The face in the photo looked out at Carol. It was a pretty face, like all the others lined up next to it. Carol looked at it and thought sadly, What happened to you?
“Anything missing from her room?”
“Nope,” replied Wainwright. “Clothes, toiletries, the lot, all still there.”
“How was she supposed to get between the college and her home?”
“She had a car, and before you ask, no sign of it either.”
“Okay, if she ran away she’d have probably taken some of her things,” said Carol, waving at the board where the photos were pinned, “but how do we know the others didn’t just decide to drop out?”
“For some, we don’t,” her boss shrugged, the rumples in his shirt moving across his ample belly. Too many late night stakeouts, too many coffees and takeout meals. “But most of them are like Janice, nothing missing. Read the files.” He pointed at a loosely stacked pile of yellow folders perched on a cabinet.
“I will, I will,” Carol hurriedly replied. Cautiously she eyed the space between her and the files. The only clear space in Wainwright’s office was his desk. Everywhere else was cluttered, files piled on boxes and cabinets. Reluctantly she weighed her chances of getting the files without something falling on her. She wasn’t looking forward to it. She knew that she had a reputation for cutting corners. Paperwork never appealed to her. “But what are we supposed to do about it?”
“Well, there’re no bodies, so it isn’t murder. Not yet anyway. And the local detectives have asked for our assistance.” Wainwright kept his voice determinedly neutral.
‘Asked for our assistance’. Like hell, thought Carol. Totally out of ideas, more like it.
“But what are we supposed to do?” Their division was undercover operations. “How am I supposed to get into anything when we’ve no idea who’s behind it?”
She saw her boss smile. “Well, Detective Taylor, you’re going back to college.”
“What?” Despite the scepticism in her voice Carol knew she could do it. At 24 she was older than most college students. But she looked younger than her years. With her long, dark brown, hair and youthful features she could easily pass for 20. She also knew that she was attractive, just like the girls whose photos looked down at her from Wainwright’s pinboard. “Am I supposed to be bait?” she added suspiciously.
“No, how dumb do you think I am?” Wainwright sounded irritated. “But we need to know if anybody on campus knows anything. And you know what students are like these days. They clam up as soon as they smell the police.”
Carol had to admit the truth of that.
“And,” Wainwright continued, warming to his task, “who else do you suggest I send? Maybe Tom? Or George?”
Carol had to suppress a laugh as she thought of her colleagues trying to act the part of college students. Most of their operations needed a harder edge. There was no way most of the team could ever hope to fit in on a well-to-do college campus. And, apart from her, the one or two who could were deep in their own operations.
“Okay,” she said at last, “okay. But I don’t want to end up on that wall.” She pointed at the row of photos.
“All the disappearances happened at night. It’s in the files.” Wainwright waved in the direction of the folders. “Just don’t do anything stupid and you’ll be fine.”
Janice licked at her lips, desperately trying to give them some moisture. She could feel the cracks in them growing, the pain a constant companion. She looked around the small room. She couldn’t remember how many times she’d done that since she’d woken up. Nothing changed. She knew it was a hopeless wish, crazy, but she had to believe that something would happen. Something that could save her.
She didn’t know how long it had been since she’d been, been, kidnapped. She’d cried, before, but now there wasn’t enough moisture left in her for tears. There were no windows in the room. Well, cabin, she supposed. She was on a boat, or a ship. She had no idea how large it was. Distantly she could hear the thrum of the engine.
Without windows, or a porthole, the only illumination came from a bare light bulb. It didn’t tell her the time, or how many days it had been. Occasionally it flickered on and off, the rapid strobing stopping her from sleeping, but mostly it was on. Sometimes she wanted to take it out, no matter how much it burnt her hands, so she perhaps could sleep better, but it was protected by a wire frame. So she had to endure its light.
Janice knew it couldn’t have been that long since she’d been kidnapped. With nothing to drink how long could you survive? Janice thought it was only two or three days at most. With no view outside and only the erratic light bulb she had lost proper track of time. She had slept, fitfully, a couple of times, but she didn’t know for how long, fear or the flickering light waking her up.
Janice heard the thud as the small view slot on the door of her cell was thrown back. That meant the man was here again.
“Hello Janice,” he said, his tone friendly. It might have been a casual meeting between two friends. Janice could feel anger rising in her again, a resentment that no longer burnt quite as fiercely as the thirst weakened her. She no longer had the strength to shout and curse as she had done. At first. However long ago that was. Then she’d tried reason. And when that failed begging and pleading. Nothing had worked. The man had been immovable. He’d stayed reasonable, his friendly attitude had made her scream, for the first few hours. Now she could barely raise a whisper from her parched throat.
“Would you like something to drink Janice? I have some water here.” It was always the same. She could have something to drink, if only she would say the words he wanted her to say.
“Yes,” she replied, her voice cracking with thirst. “You know I do.” She’d had nothing to drink, nothing to eat, since she’d awoken here. He’d offered her water, but she hadn’t been willing to pay his price. Now though, her thirst was constantly tearing at her. Was it that bad, what he wanted? a little voice asked her. Sure, it wasn’t good, but it was only words. She could say them without meaning it.
“Well,” the man’s tone was casual, as if he didn’t care what decision Janice made. “You know what you have to do. How about it?”
“I.” Pain now accompanied any effort at speaking.
The man waited for a few moments, to see if Janice would continue. When she didn’t he asked softly, “Yes Janice?”
“I … I,” Janice swallowed, a hard, painful, motion with her mouth and throat so dry. Could she say it? She put her head in her hands, telling herself that words didn’t matter. “I’m going…”
“That’s it Janice. Just say it, and then you can have some water.”
Janice felt her whole body shudder. No-one could blame her. It was only words. It wasn’t worth dying not to say them. And she knew that she would die, without water. The man would let her die, he’d told her, in his calm, reasonable voice. Janice believed him. The thought of dying scared her so much.
“I’m going to be a prostitute.” Janice was almost choking on the dry, heavy, sobs that escaped her body.
She heard the man crouch down, the panel at the bottom of the door opening. A small glass, half full of water, was pushed through and the panel quickly slid shut.
Janice threw herself across the cabin. Then she pulled herself up short. She didn’t dare risk knocking over the glass, spilling its precious contents.
“Don’t drink it so fast, you’ll make yourself sick.” Janice knew that the man was right, but she had a hard time slowing down her gulps.
“More, please,” she begged.
“If I give you more now you will make yourself sick,” the man chided. “I’ll be back in a little while with some more. I’ll give it to you as long as you’re co-operative.”
The edge, at least, taken off her thirst, Janice could think again. Had it made any difference to her, uttering those words? She didn’t feel any different. There was no urge to sell herself on some street corner. If saying those words was what it took to get the man to give her the water that she needed to survive, well, she could do that.
Carol forced herself to pay attention to the lecture. She knew that she might be on the campus for some time. None of the teaching staff knew who she really was, so if she didn’t want to draw undue attention to herself then she actually had to do the work. She sighed. Essays and lectures, she thought, were something she’d happily waved goodbye to years ago. Now she was back again. At least Professor Copeland was an interesting speaker. If she was going to have to do the work she’d insisted to Wainwright that she go into classes that were of at least some use to her. Psychology was near the top of her list. She’d done some when she was in college, but a refresher never hurt.
Carefully she looked around the lecture theatre. Despite having to do it, learning wasn’t why she was really here. She needed to start hunting for any leads. As a supposed new transfer, and with the warning signs up around campus, at least she had the openings for conversation. She could play the worried girl from out of town, asking what the signs were all about, what it meant for her. It was a role, and Carol was good at taking on another role. She could feel it, be it, it was what made her good at uncover work. Carol was sure that she could find some students who would be happy to talk, and that might lead to others who could at least tell her more about the missing girls than the detectives working the case had managed to find. The families had all said how good the girls were, how they would never get into trouble. Carol knew from experience that families rarely knew everything that their children got up to on campus. Had these girls done something to draw attention to themselves?
As she filed out of the lecture theatre with the students she saw a group of three of them looking at one of the signs, two boys and girl. The boys were laughing, but the girl wasn’t joining in. Her mouth was set in a thin line and she stared angrily at her companions.
Catching sight of the girl’s look one of the boys stopped, “Hey, sorry, Tracy.” He said, elbowing his friend, “It was just a joke.”
“Not funny John,” Tracy snapped.
Carol decided to seize her chance. She walked over to the group and asked, trying to sound innocent, “What’s the matter?”
“Laurel and Hardy here,” Tracy indicated John and the other boy, “were trying to make a joke out of the girls who have gone missing.”
Carol let a look of disapproval show on her face.
“Yeah, well,” said John, defensively. “It’s true though.”
“That’s why it’s not funny,” muttered Tracy.
“What’s true?” ask Carol.
The second boy interjected, “Two of the girls who have gone missing were in that class.” He jerked his thumb back at the lecture theatre from which Carol had just emerged. Her undercover training made a look of shock easy to adopt, it was what the student she was pretending to be would do, but it wasn’t news to Carol. She’d read the files Wainwright had given her, when he wasn’t around, so she knew what classes the girls had been taking. That two had come from Copeland’s psychology class was just another reason to take it. Maybe it was coincidence, but it was worth checking.
“So we were telling Tracy she’d better watch out or she’d be next,” said John.
Tracy didn’t say anything. Her earlier anger was gone. She was trying to mask her feelings, but Carol had been in the police long enough to know fear when she could smell it.
“Did, did you know any of them?” Carol tried her best little-girl-lost voice.
“Well, I sort of knew one,” said Tracy, “Janice, the last one. Not well, but….” Her voice trailed off.
“Oh,” said Carol, her sympathy genuine, “that must have been hard.”
“Well,” Tracy quickly replied, “I didn’t know her well. Just enough, you know, to say hello.”
The group fell silent, as other students hurried past on their way to class. Carol had to shuffle over to the edge of the corridor as a particularly loud group of males, on sports scholarships by the looks of them, pushed past.
“Hey, look,” she added, “I’m new in, just transferred. I’ve, um, seen these posters. Can you tell the story? I’ve heard bits and pieces, but what should I know?”
John and his friend shifted nervously. Perhaps Carol’s appearance of worry had made them see how callous they’d been. Or perhaps, Carol thought, that was just wishful thinking.
Tracy looked at her. “Yeah, okay. Let’s get a coffee. I’m Tracy by the way.”
“Stephanie,” Carol smiled back. Stephanie Chambers was the name that she was using as a student. It looked like her plan was working. She’d found someone who knew one of the girls.
Janice quickly fell into the habit of saying what the man wanted to get something to drink. But it wasn’t long, a few hours at most, before her satisfied thirst gave way to hunger.
“Please, I’m hungry.” Janice sat on her bunk, one hand on the wall, holding herself up. She could feel a slight rocking to and fro, as the ship made its way to wherever it was going.
“I can give you something to eat. But I need something more from you first.”
“What?” wailed Janice. She was so hungry. “I’ve said what you wanted me to say. Look, I’ll say it again. I’m going to be a prostitute.” The words rolled off her tongue so easily now. “Please, I’m hungry.”
“Not that easy.” The rebuke in the man’s voice was clear. “That was for a drink. You need to say something more for food.”
“What, what do I need to say?” Janice couldn’t keep the fear she felt from showing in her voice.
“I want to be a prostitute.”
Janice put her head in hands. She knew that they were only words. But they were wrong. She didn’t want to say them.
“I’ll come back,” she heard the man say, “when you’ve had some time to think.”
“No, I…” Janice let the words die. She could see her free hand reaching futilely towards the door. She knew the man wouldn’t come back until he was ready, even if he could hear her plea. Would she say the words? She could feel a cramp growing in her stomach, hunger pains coming more and more frequently. She’d said some words, just words, to stop herself dying of thirst. She knew that, in the end, she’d say some more words to be able to eat.
Carol had to admit that Wainwright had been correct. The students had obviously held back when talking to the police. She’d been able to find a lot more information about the missing girls. Well, most of them. Tracy and her friends had been a real find. Through them Carol had been able to talk to people who had known most of the girls. It had taken weeks. She couldn’t afford to appear too eager or she’d raise suspicions. But slowly she’d managed it. In halls, and lecture theatres and coffee shops she’d managed to piece together a good picture of each of the victims.
She sighed as she went over her notes. It wasn’t easy, keeping up with the work a good student had to do while collecting all the information. Rubbing her eyes, Carol tried to keep the sleep at bay. She was happy with what she’d learnt about seven of the missing girls. She’d also discovered a lot about another one as well, enough to raise questions as to whether she was part of this at all. Most of the girls appeared to have been decent enough students. Pretty, but she’d known that from the photos. Interestingly none of them were social leaders, no home-coming queens, though they were all attractive enough. Some were described as quiet, others shy, or even impressionable. Those that were socially popular were followers, not the centre of attention, not leaders. Well, that was seven of them anyway. The other girl Carol had learnt about, Susan Halsey, was a hell raiser. Carol wondered if she was a victim. Her grades had been poor, she’d argued with her flat mate, something the other girl hadn’t told the police, and unlike the others some of her personal possessions were missing. Susan looked like someone who had upped and run. That left one girl, the fourth victim, Holly Campbell. Carol hadn’t been able to find anyone who knew her well enough to be sure yet.
With a quick motion Carol pushed herself away from her desk. Even if she completed her picture of the girls, so what? Nothing in what she’d found had given any clue as to how they’d been taken, or why, let alone by who or where they were now. She was beginning to fear that this was all a waste of time. If she didn’t find something soon then she’d tell Wainwright that it was time to give up.
Janice was used to saying what the man wanted now. If she wanted food or water she did what she was told. A little while after she’d first given in she’d rebelled, refusing the demands conveyed in his oh so reasonable voice. He’d simply refused to give her anything until her resistance cracked. Not that he gave her very much. From the thirst and hunger she still felt Janice thought that he fed her maybe twice a day. But Janice was sure the timings were erratic, probably designed to destroy her sense of time. The flickering light bulb still interfered with her sleep, waking her after what she was sure was only a few hours.
He kept changing the words. Janice wasn’t surprised, she was expecting it now, things that were harder and harder to say. Things that she would never have said before, might never have said, even to get that first drink, when the choice was between that and dying.
“I’ll let a man do whatever he wants to my body.”
“I’m happy to be used.”
“I’m happy to be a prostitute.”
“I’ll do as I’m told.”
At first the man had been satisfied with her simply saying the words. But eventually even that wasn’t enough. He wanted Janice to sound as if she meant them, to sound as if she was happy to say them. At first that had been hard. She’d choked, and cried, but threat was always there. Sometimes spoken, sometimes left unsaid.
“Do as I say Janice, or you don’t get this meal.”
Janice knew that she would give in, every time. Even if she refused for a little while. If the choice was between dying and saying what he wanted then she would say the words. They came so easily now. They slipped off her tongue, traitor words, sounding even to her own ears as if she meant them.
There came a time, Janice couldn’t remember when, that the man didn’t have to ask for the words. She’d say them as soon as she heard him pull back the little panel that let him see into her cabin.
The words never left her, even when the man wasn’t there. They ran around her head, as she lay alone on her bunk. They were becoming part of her.
Then the man said something new. It wasn’t a demand. But it scared Janice, made her curl up on her bunk. She’d said the words, was waiting for him to open the lower slot, push through her meagre food and water.
“You should think Janice, about the actions that go with what you are saying. Use your imagination. You’re an intelligent girl. Just let the images into your mind. How did someone put it? Put yourself through the motions and soon will come the corresponding emotions.”
Janice wanted to scream “No!” but she couldn’t find the strength. She sat on her bunk, arms wrapped tightly around her, staring at the door. She couldn’t, could she? It had been words, only words, she didn’t mean them. Part of her knew that this was what he’d intended all along, had always known it. But Janice had tried to deny it, pretend it was only words.
Images seeped into her mind. The harder she tried not to think of it the harder it became not to. The images were vague. She knew that prostitutes were paid for sex. Intellectually she knew what sex was, but Janice was a virgin. Still, the impression grew on her, no matter how hard she tried to stop it, of something, hard, down there, entering her.
It was some time before she noticed that her food had been pushed through the slot and that the man was gone. Reluctantly Janice reached for it, to eat, to stay alive. A tear ran down her face, as she hoped the food would push the words and the images out of her mind, at least for a little while.
Carol smiled to herself. If she was right she might finally be on to something useful. A couple of weeks ago she’d picked up a rumour, that someone knew something about one of the disappearances. That someone had actually seen something, when the last girl, Janice Thornton, had disappeared. It had taken her days to track it back though the gossip and Chinese whispers of campus life. Eventually she’d tracked it to a boy called Ben, a biology major.
Impatiently Carol waited outside the lecture theatre. She knew what he looked like. She’d slipped into the records office and taken a look at his photo. This was one of his classes. She hoped he wasn’t one of those students who skipped classes. But his grades had been high, so Carol thought her chances were pretty good.
As the students trooped out at the end of the hour Carol thought her luck was out. She scanned each face as it passed, but none was the one for which she was looking. She was sure that there were only two exits from the room and she could see both of them from where she stood. Had she been wrong? Or was Ben less diligent then she had thought?
As she was about to give up her quarry emerged. He was slightly built, with hair just too long to be called neat. Nervously he looked around the corridor. Carol could tell it wasn’t the normal behaviour of a shy student. Ben was afraid of something. Really afraid. She’d have to be careful.
Cautiously she approached him. She clutched her books across her chest, trying to look as much the nervous student as he did. “Umm, Ben, Ben O’Rourke?”
The boy stopped, looked at her suspiciously, “Yeah? What do you want?”
“I’m Stephanie, I’m a friend of Janice Thornton.” A lie, but Carol knew how to lie believably.
“So what?” Ben snapped, his voice tinged with fear. He tried to push past Carol.
She grabbed him by the arm “Please, I’ve heard you know something. About what happened to her.”
Ben stopped, looked at her. Carol could see the calculation behind his look, weighing up whether to take a risk. She forced a look of desperation on to her face. “Please, we just want to know.”
Ben looked up and down the corridor. “Okay, okay, but not here.”
“C’mon, please” Carol pleaded.
“No,” Ben’s voice was firm, “I’ll meet you tonight, in the library.” He stopped for a moment, thinking, “8pm. I’ll tell you what happened. I’ll show you. But make sure no-one’s around. And I mean no-one.” With that he broke free of the grip she still held on his arm and walked away.
Carol debated following him but experience told her that it would do no good. He’d talk when he was ready. If he didn’t tell her what she wanted to know tonight, then she could get Wainwright to pull him in and start grilling him. She hoped for Ben’s sake he told her what he knew.
Carol sucked in her breath as she realised what she had agreed to. Tonight. Night time was when all the girls had disappeared. She’d avoided being on the campus at night. She’d promised Wainwright she’d be careful. Well, she would be careful. The area around the library was well lit. If she stayed in the light she’d be able to see anyone coming. And avoid them if they looked like trouble.
A little before eight Carol eased her car into a parking spot. It was as near to the library as she could manage. It wasn’t as close as she would have liked, but there were no parks any closer. She looked at her watch. There were still a few minutes before she was supposed to meet Ben. She debated whether to wait in her car, see if she could spot him heading to the library. She shook her head, angry at her own nervousness. Ben might already be in the library for all she knew. The area between her and the library was well lit. It was all paving and grass, no handy bushes a lurking assailant could hide in. And anyway she was a trained police officer, not some delicate co-ed. She could handle herself if there was trouble.
Soon after leaving her car Carol stopped. She could see two figures approaching her. She squinted into the darkness. They were probably men, judging by their size, but apart from that she could tell little. They hadn’t reached the lights around the library. Carol hesitated, considering her chances of making it back to her car, or even the library if she ran for it. As she debated the men stepped into the illuminated circle cast by one of the lights. Carol relaxed, as she saw that it was only two of the security guards who worked on the campus. She clutched her bag to her chest, trying to look like a student heading for some late night studying, as she hurried towards the library.
The guards sauntered in her direction, their path intersecting with Carol’s about half way between her car and the library.
“Evening Miss,” said one, dipping his cap in her direction. “Everything okay?” His smile raised the edges of the thick moustache that hid his upper lip. His companion, clean shaven, simply favoured her with a bored look before his eyes flicked away to take in their surroundings.
“Yes, yes thank you,” said Carol as she determinedly headed between the two guards.
Carol pulled up with a jerk as the moustachioed guard grabbed her left arm. “You sure? You seem in an awful hurry.”
Carol swung around to face the man. “Yes, I’m fine, now if you’d please just let me go.”
Carol felt two arms snaking around her, one reaching around her waist to hold her to her assailant, the other reaching up to her mouth. The other guard, she realised, her thoughts becoming frantic. She could see, out of the corner of her eye, that he seemed to be holding something. A piece of cloth, folded over, glistened with moisture in the artificial light. Dimly she could smell something, the scent of chloroform. Desperately she pushed his arm away from her face.
Awareness dawned on her, warring with horror. This was how the girls had been taken. Like her, they’d never have suspected security guards. Mentally she kicked herself for being so trusting. Ben had said to make sure no-one was around. Did he know security guards were involved? Was that why he was so scared?
The man was still struggling to get the drug-soaked cloth over her mouth. Carol raised one foot and brought it down hard behind her. She was rewarded by a yelp of pain as her heel connected with his foot. The man’s grip around her waist loosened. Carol twisted, trying to break free. The first guard, who still held her left arm, was tugged around and collided with his fellow. The hold on her waist disappeared.
“Help!” she yelled as she aimed a punch at the guard who still held her arm. He jerked to the side and her swing flew past his ear.
“Help!” Carol yelled again as the two swung around in a crazy dance. The guard seemed intent on keeping her off-balance. Carol aimed another swing at him, allowing for the movement. She missed again. He’d brought them to halt just as she threw the punch. This time his hand shot up and grabbed her other arm.
“Hel…” Carol’s cry was cut off as the other guard, forgotten in her duel with the first, clamped both hands over her mouth, pressing the drug-soaked cloth against it. Caught by surprise Carol gasped. She could feel the fumes invade her lungs. With one last despairing effort she flung herself back against the man holding the cloth. It wasn’t enough. Caught between the two men, her strength waning by the moment from the effects of the drug, she couldn’t break free. Carol felt herself slump as her consciousness dissolved into blackness.