I originally wrote this book as Alison Drake, in the early 90s. It’s the first book of four in a series that takes place on the fictional island of Tango Key. Available for Kindle and Nook and other e-readers. $3.99.
July 5, 4:00 P.M.
Light presses against the blindfold like a hot hand, telling her the sun hasn’t gone down yet. Eve imagines it striking the window in front of her, exposing the dirt, the accumulation of grime on the glass. She doesn’t think the window is open—it can’t be, the room is too stifling. Every time she inhales, it’s like drawing melted butter into her lungs.
Sweat has made her skin slippery, and when she moves, the ropes that bind her ankles and wrists slide around, rubbing the flesh raw. The gag slices into the corners of her mouth and keeps soaking up the saliva. In the last few hours, her thirst has become a presence; it lives inside her like a virus. She begins to whimper—a low broken sound that is worse than the white burning against her raw skin, the heat, the terrible pressure in her bladder.
She hurls her thoughts away from her like a handful of pennies, up through the roof of this terrible room, out over the island. They scatter. They become birds. They soar into the hot blue sky over the island, looking for whoever will rescue her. Someone will. Someone has to.
She imagines the car, coming to her.
Tango Key is shaped like a cat’s head, and the car is traveling swiftly from the main town, Tango, at the south end of the island, roughly where the cat’s mouth would be. She can’t tell what kind of car it is, but it’s looking for her. She’s certain of it.
Now it has reached the cat’s nose and whiskers, where the hills begin, natural hills, big hills. These hills wouldn’t excite people from Colorado, but in a state flatter than anything Columbus imagined, the hills hypnotize. They are magical. Now the car is zipping toward the cat’s left ear, where Pirate’s Cove is located, the most exclusive development on the island, with its two-million-dollar marina, the rich man’s Eden where she has lived for the last two years. Hurry, she screams at the car. Oh please, God, hurry.
The car flies along the Old Post Road toward the cat’s right ear. This part of the island is still undeveloped, a moraine of wilderness covered with pine and mango trees, banyans and ficus. There are cliffs here, three of them, and the Old Post Road passes them all.
About a quarter of a mile in from the road, on one cliff, is the old Pleskin place, where she is.
And the car is speeding toward her, she sees it now, oh God, please, in here, she’s here. . . . It’s gone.
She cries into the gag. How many? How many cars have passed? A dozen? Four dozen? How many have swept past the turnoff for the old farmhouse?
The place looks like a dung heap the weeds are rapidly claiming, the farmhouse and barn so old, so decrepit that a strong wind will topple them. The front windows, covered with blankets, stare out into the yard, as blank and empty as the eyes of a dead bird. Pale lavender periwinkles, growing with wild abandon, poke up through the crumbling sidewalk. Vines climb the sides of the farmhouse. She is in one of the back rooms where the air stinks of mold, dust, a smell like wet shoes, the fetid stench of endings.
Cars whiz past and do not stop. No one stops. No one knows she is here.
A while ago, she tried to scoot her chair closer to the window. She hoped to somehow turn the chair around so she could smash the back of it through the glass. Instead, the chair fell over. Now she lies on her right side, cheek squashed against the dirty floor. If her ankles were tied together instead of lashed to either leg of the chair or if her hands were bound in front of her instead of behind the chair, she might have been able to muster sufficient leverage to get herself upright again. But like this, the chair is an extra limb, a Thalidomide monster that grows from her back and keeps her trapped against the floor, in the dust.
If she can scoot around enough to press her feet against the baseboard, maybe . . . All right. She will try it. She will try anything, because if he finds her like this when he returns, he will think she tried to escape and he will punish her. He will deprive her of water. He won’t let her use the bathroom. He will . . .
A violent spasm of fear bites into her spine. Move, do something, try anything. She shifts her shoulder, then her hip, shoulder, hip, her cheek scraping painfully against the floor, dust swirling into her nostrils. Little by little she is moving. But where? Is she inching farther away from the baseboard? Toward the platform where the bare mattress is? Toward the door to the room?
Suppose he finds her halfway across the room or out in the hall? She can hear him saying, Where’re you going, babe? Think you’re leaving, babe? Don’t count on it, babe.
Hysteria flutters in her chest. Tears burn holes in the corners of her eyes. She grunts into the gag, murmurs into it, hums deep in her throat. The noises calm her, reassure her she is still alive. And that’s the point: to stay alive. He won’t kill her if he finds her like this, on the floor. He won’t kill her, because he isn’t finished with her yet. He is like a cat. He has hunted her down, and now he will play with her awhile, terrorize her, feed off her terror. Then he will kill her.
Eve stops moving. She tries to root herself in time. It was dark when he brought her here, around four or four-thirty this morning. He forced her mouth open and made her swallow something. It drugged her, whatever it was. When she came to, she was blindfolded, tied on the mattress, but there was light against her face. The sun had risen. She heard the shriek of gulls winging over the farmhouse. The room had been much cooler then. She guesses it is late in the afternoon of the same day. So ten, maybe twelve hours have passed.
Some of her memories are missing. She can’t remember, for instance, how she got from the mattress to the chair. And when did she put on this skirt? When did she last eat? She won’t think about the memories that aren’t there. She’ll think about time, about how the minutes and hours have slid into a cubbyhole, about the time . . .
Before I die.
Panic claws at her throat. She can barely breathe. She pulls back into herself, erecting small, brittle walls at the edges of her mind, her heart, her spirit. Because that is really what he wants—the invisible parts of her—to break, remold, to claim. She sinks deeper into the embryonic waters of her own being, sinks until she touches memories of light and color. She floats there like a leaf, then sinks again, the color leaking away, the light darkening as the sediment of the past month eddies around her. That was when it started. She, Eve Cooper, had come home and decided to go for a swim. She walked down to the beach and her life turned inside out like a dirty sock.
Now here she is, tied to a chair in the gut of an abandoned farmhouse on a remote part of Tango Key. He will not kill her tonight, maybe he won’t kill her tomorrow night or the night after that. But when he is ready, he will kill her much more slowly than he killed her husband.