You Can't Hide: A pulse-pounding serial killer thriller (7th Street Crew Book 3), Page 2Willow Rose
Maria sighs and walks back to the bed. She can’t see her purse anywhere, so she doesn’t have her phone. Tara is breathing heavily. Maria leans over her and kisses her on the lips. She can’t begin to say how happy she is that she is still alive and still here with her.
But, now what?
Where the hell are we? Are we at that awful man’s place? What does he want with us?
Tara starts to slowly wake up as well. She is smacking her lips, probably thirsty. Maria realizes there is a small bathroom attached to the room and she goes in there to get some water from the tap. She finds a plastic cup and fills it. She wets Tara’s lips with water. Soon Tara blinks her eyes and opens them to look at her mother.
“Mom?” she says sleepily.
Maria feels like crying, but she holds it back. “It’s okay, baby. I got you some water.”
Tara sits up and Maria lets her drink from the cup. When she is done, Maria drinks some as well. It tastes like chlorine, but it’s better than nothing. She finishes the cup.
“Where are we, Mommy?”
“I don’t know, baby.”
“I wanna go home now.”
“Me too. But we got to wait till the man lets us out, all right?” Maria can hear her own voice shivering as she speaks. She is terrified by what the man wants from them, but she is also determined to get out of here, alive and with her daughter in her arms. No matter what.
“What do you mean, Mommy? Has the man kidnapped us?”
“I…I don’t know.”
Tara is about to cry. Maria wants to cry as well, but she doesn’t allow herself to. She grabs her daughter in her arms and holds her tight.
“It’ll be all right, baby. Mommy will get us home; don’t you worry, baby. Don’t you worry.”
There is a sound behind the door. The handle is moving, and a key is put in the lock. Maria gasps and grabs Tara. She pulls her close to her while staring at the door handle.
Who is behind that door? Is it the guy from Target? What does this person want with us? Will he kill us? Will he take Tara from me?
Maria swallows her desire to scream, as the door slowly opens. A face appears. He is big. His hair thick for his age. She has seen him before, she thinks. He reminds Maria of some actor, but she can’t remember which one. The way he looks at them makes her very uncomfortable. He is wearing a suit that looks very expensive to Maria. The kind of suit her dad’s clients would wear when they came to his office at the law firm.
The man places both hands on his sides and smiles. He walks towards Tara and strokes her cheek gently, with slow yet firm movements. Tara becomes stiff in her arms and Maria tries to pull her away from him.
“Look at you two,” the man says. “Even prettier in real life than in the pictures. I have been looking forward to seeing you both.”
“Mommy!” Tara says and throws her arms around Maria’s neck.
“Where are we?” Maria says, snorting in anger. “Why are we here?”
Maria notices that the door to the room is still left open. She wonders if she can make a run for it.
The man shakes his head. “Tsk, tsk. Now don’t you worry your pretty little heads with that. You’re finally here, and boy how we are going to have fun together.”
“I wanna go home, Mommy!” Tara says, while clinging to her mother’s neck.
“Now, don’t say that,” the man says. “This is your new home. You will stay here with me until I get tired of you. As long as you do what I say, I will keep you alive, huh?” He touches the tip of her nose. He smiles and tilts his head. “Now, let’s see what I have here.” He puts a hand in his pocket and pulls out a red lollipop. He hands it to Tara. She doesn’t want to take it and turns her head away while clinging tightly to her mother.
“Please, sir,” Maria says. Please, just let us go.”
The man sighs. “Now, that is the only thing I can’t do. See, I paid good money for the two of you and I can’t get that money back if I let you go. So…well…” he shrugs and pushes the lollipop at Tara. “Here.”
She shakes her head. Maria doesn’t like the expression in the man’s eyes when she rejects him. Anger is building and it scares her. She has seen it before in one of her earlier boyfriends.
“Take the lollipop, Tara,” she says.
“But, Mooom! You always say…”
“I know what I say; just take it. Do as I tell you to.”
Tara sniffles and looks at the man. He places his hand on her back and caresses it gently. Maria can’t stand the way he is touching her. She feels like screaming at him, but she doesn’t dare to.
Finally, Tara reaches out and grabs the lollipop.
The man sighs. “There you go. Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”
“Say thank you,” Maria says.
“Thank you,” Tara sniffles.
The man reaches out and touches Tara’s hair. Everything is turning inside of Maria. The man stares at Tara’s hair. “You’re welcome.”
“Now can we go home?” Tara asks.
The man burst into a sudden laughter that makes Maria jump. “Ha!” He leans over them and says: “No, you can’t. But we can play a game. Now, what would be fun to play? I know it! How about hide and go seek? Yes, that is my favorite game of all time.”
“I love hide and go seek,” Tara says.
The man clasps his hands. “How wonderful!” He grabs Tara by the chin. “I have a feeling you and I are going to be GREAT friends.” He leans over and whispers. “Now, go…hide.”
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
“Welcome to Cheater’s.”
The half-naked woman greeting Danny Schmidt in the doorway smiles. Danny nods and walks to the back of the place and finds somewhere to sit. Two girls are dancing on the podium, slithering up and down the poles. Another girl approaches him and asks him what he would like to drink. He orders a beer and hands her a tip that she puts in her bra. She winks and leaves him. Danny watches the dancers. One of them is young, barely eighteen, he thinks. Her eyes are blurry. She is very pretty and the men seem to like her. Especially one guy smoking a cigar, he claps at her every move and rains money on her. She barely notices it.
The waitress comes back. She places his beer in front of him. He gives her another tip that disappears into her bra. As she is about to leave, he grabs her wrist.
“Say, don’t you have anyone younger than these two?” he asks.
She stares at him for a few seconds, scrutinizing him. “Sure.” She rubs her fingertips against one another to tell him it’ll cost him.
Danny smiles. “Naturally.”
He hands her a hundred-dollar bill. She smiles even wider now, then leans over and whispers.
“How do you prefer them?”
The way she is standing, Danny can look down her cleavage. “Blonde and young.”
She doesn’t react. She is used to this kind of request. “Sure. We can get them even younger if you’re willing to pay. But it’s very expensive.”
Danny nods. “The younger the better. He opens his jacket and shows her a bundle of money.”
“All right, cowboy. Come out the back. To the VIP-section.”
Danny throws a bill on the table, throws one last glance at the dancing girls, then follows the woman out behind a curtain. She tells him to sit on a couch while someone brings him a bottle of champagne. The girl opening it rubs herself against him. When it has popped she pours him a glass, then sits on his lap and rubs herself against his crotch.
“Enjoy the show, tiger,” she whispers in his ear, and bites his lip before she leaves.
Danny sips the champagne while he waits. A few minutes later, the woman returns followed by three young blonde girls all dressed in sexy lingerie. By looking at their faces, he guesses them to be no more than twelve or thirteen. They’re all wearing h
eavy make-up. The woman tells them to stand on the podium in front of Danny. They’re posing for him. He rubs his chin while observing them. Music is put on and they are told to dance. They show him what they can do. He is very impressed and smiles. The woman approaches him.
“You like what you see, huh?”
“You want to touch? Touching costs more.”
He hands her more money. She signals the girls to come closer. They swarm Danny now and he leans back on the couch. Their hands are on him, everywhere…on his chest, in his crotch. He looks into their eyes. They’re all drugged, blurry. One of the girls is younger than the others, he realizes when looking into her eyes. He grabs her by the chin and looks at her face.
“You like her, huh?” the woman asks. “This is August.”
“I like her,” he says.
“Very good,” the woman says. “She is a beauty.”
“I’d like to spend the night with her.”
Before the woman can say anything, Danny pulls out more money from his jacket and places it on the table. The woman doesn’t say anything else.
“The back entrance is over there,” she says, and grabs the two other girls and disappears.
“You forgot to pack him a lunch?”
I stare at Joey. We’re standing in his townhouse. There is a mess everywhere. Clothes on the floor, cereal boxes left out on the kitchen table, dirty dishes in the sink. He looks like crap. Hasn’t shaved in a week, or even showered, from what it looks like. I only stopped by to grab Salter’s stuff. He’s been with his dad for a few days.
I’ve brought Snowflake so he can say hi to his old friends. Clyde is barking at him while Snowflake sniffs Bonnie’s behind. It doesn’t seem like the animals have been out much, with the way they’re acting up when they see us.
“Well, I didn’t forget; I gave him some money to buy something.”
“You know I hate it when he has to eat that food they serve in the cafeteria at the school. What is going on, Joe? You never used to be this sloppy.”
He shrugs with a sigh. On the floor, I see a bra that, for obvious reasons, isn’t mine. I look at it. “Is that…hers?”
Joey chuckles. “Yeah. Probably.”
“So, that’s it. You’re partying with her and not taking anything seriously anymore?” I ask.
“What’s it to you?”
“We have a kid, Joe, that’s what it is to me. I don’t want him to come here if you don’t take care of him and if there is underwear lying all over the place.” I pick up the bra, holding it between two fingers and hand it to him. “Please, tell your girlfriend to stop throwing her undergarments everywhere. At least keep it where my son won’t find it.”
“You tell her yourself.”
“Yeah. She kind of…lives here now.”
My eyes widen. “What? She moved in? Just like that?”
He shrugs again. “It was easier.”
I can’t believe him. I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to say any more. I am exhausted with this entire situation. I feel so hurt that he would move in with the woman he cheated on me with. Of course, to him it wasn’t cheating, since we were separated at the time. I can’t just move on. My son needs his dad and I need Joey to be a good role model for him. He isn’t with the way things are right now. Joey is hardly working, he hangs out with Jackie, his girlfriend, who now apparently has moved in; they drink beers and party while I am left picking up the pieces of my son’s broken heart. Salter is ten now. He is beginning to figure out what is going on and asking questions I have a hard time answering.
“So, that’s it now? She is definitely a part of our lives?” I ask. “Because I sure hope you’re planning on staying with her, since you chose to bring her into your son’s life.”
“Don’t be so uptight. It’s annoying,” he says with a groan.
I want to shake him. I want to yell at him and tell him I need him to snap out of this, whatever it is that’s going on with him. I owe the guy so much. I owe him my life. We have known each other since we were in preschool and we were married for what felt like an eternity. But now, as I am standing in front of him, I don’t recognize him anymore. All my life I have known and loved this guy, but…now I feel like I don’t know him at all. Why would he choose this life?
“Don’t you have to work today?” I ask.
“Nope. Nothing out there for me.”
“You’re telling me no one needs a carpenter today or even later this week?”
He rolls his eyes at me. It makes me angry. I can’t believe him. Joey has barely worked in two months. I can’t help wondering if he isn’t doing enough to get something, to get the jobs. Is he even out there, or does he just stay at home with her? She works at Juice ‘N Java downtown, but only a few times a week. She can’t be making much. I have no idea how they’re getting by, how they’re paying the rent.
“You know what, Mary? It really is none of your damn business,” Joey growls. Clyde is barking and Snowflake runs after him. Bonnie trots after them, not really engaged in their little fight.
Joey picks up Salter’s sports bag, pulls a few clothing items from the floor and throws them in, then hands it to me.
“Here. This is what you came for, right? Now you can go.”
She is almost bursting with excitement. Paige Stover can’t hide it in the car when she sees the rec center. Paige just started taking basketball lessons and loves hanging out with Coach Joe. Once a week, he gives her a private lesson, since she is very new to the game, and then the team meets every Saturday. It’s expensive for her mother, Nicky, but since her parents died, Nicky inherited a good sum of money.
It feels good to finally be able to give Paige what she wants in life. After twelve years of being a poor, single mother, Nicky is finally able to give her daughter what she deserves. What all the other kids have. Paige is such a good girl, does well in school, and wants to do a lot of sports, even though she isn’t among the most athletic around.
“There she is. There’s my Paige-girl,” Coach Joe yells when they enter the center.
Paige grabs the ball from between her mother’s hands and runs towards him. They hug.
“Have you been practicing flipping your wrist like I told you to?” he asks, and shows her how to do it.
Paige repeats the gesture and he laughs putting his hands on both her arms. He hugs her again. “You sure have.”
Nicky sits down and pulls out her phone, while Coach Joe starts instructing Paige. He asks her to run first to warm up, then dribble while running with the ball. Then he asks her to shoot hoops. Twenty-five shots. She misses most of them. Coach Joe laughs heartily and makes her run again, then do push-ups to build up the strength in her arms. Paige is skinny. She hasn’t played many sports until recently, since they can now afford to pay for it. But she has barely any muscles.
Nicky looks at the display of her phone and goes through her emails. Her decorating business is doing well and there are several requests from new costumers. She looks at Paige and the Coach, then walks outside to make a few calls.
Nicky is very pleased to finally be able to make a living for herself. It has taken her years to get to this point, where the costumers come to her and not the other way around. It all travels by word of mouth, but it takes years to get people talking. It used to be that she had to work another job on the side. She has held many jobs as a secretary for years, but her dream has always been to have her own business. Like her father always used to say, there are two ways to live your life. Either you are busy making someone else’s dream come true or you’re busy making your own come true. Nicky has always known she would one day make her own dream come true. But being a single mother, after Mike left when Paige was just a baby, was hard and required that she have a steady income for many years. She couldn’t just quit her job and devote he
rself to her business. Not until she had enough clients.
Nicky makes a couple of new appointments and plots them down in the calendar of her phone. She looks at the clock. The time is almost up. She hurries back inside, but finds the rec center empty.
Nicky looks around the empty basketball court. Where can they be?
“Paige? Coach Joe?”
Nicky’s heart is in her throat as she walks to the office, only to find that empty as well. “Coach Joe? Paige?” she yells again, this time slightly panicking.
They can’t have left, can they? I was right outside all the time. I would have seen them. Could they have used the back entrance?
“Mom! We’re right here!”
Nicky turns and sees Paige. She is standing in a doorway leading to a room Nicky hadn’t noticed before. Behind her is Coach Joe, both his hands placed on Paige’s shoulders. He is smiling.
“I just showed Paige a small clip from a game last weekend. We have a TV in here.”
Nicky swallows hard while the worry and anxiety are pushed back. She curses her own paranoia. Of course, everything is fine.
Saigon, Vietnam, 1975
Danh Nguyen looks at his sister. She smiles and unwraps his present. He feels the excitement in every bone of his body. He has been looking forward to giving her this doll. His sister is his everything. His beautiful—three years younger—sister, Long, who makes every room brighter when she enters.
Today, she is turning eight years old. All her siblings, five brothers and four sisters, and her parents and grandparents are gathered in the house on their father’s estate. Their father is a wealthy businessman, and they’re fortunate enough to belong to the upper class.
“Thank you! Thank you!” Long exclaims when she sees the doll. She throws her arms around his neck. Danh holds her tight and closes his eyes.