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Me, Myself & I
Sapphire Angel – Beginnings (Chapters 26-27)
Written by CJS :: [Friday, 26 July 2019 20:34] Last updated by :: [Friday, 26 July 2019 20:46]
As her captor walked from the barn with Beth slung over his shoulder, she searched for some way to escape. Her job was made difficult by her position, draped over his shoulder and facing backward. Worse, the young woman’s wrists and ankles were bound, and his strong grip held her slender form tight. One of the man’s arms wrapped around her thighs like a boa constrictor, while his opposite hand pushed down on her lower back. His hold made it difficult for her to even look up, let alone escape.
Beth yelped the first time his hand moved from her low back to her buttocks and gave a squeeze. When he did it again a few seconds later, though, she ignored his groping, and used the opportunity to arch her back and take in her surroundings. She was at a farm, but couldn’t deduce more. An old farmhouse stood thirty yards to her left, its paint peeling and its crooked porch in need of repair. They were moving perpendicular to the house.
Dominick exited the barn behind them, but did not follow. Instead he turned away, to her left, with her bag and costume in his hands. She felt her hopes walking away with him. Her captor pushed her back down over his shoulder, but with a turned head she saw Dominick heading toward the farmhouse.
A few seconds later her captor paused, and she heard a door creak open on rusty hinges. They entered another dimly lit room. Just before the man turned to flick on a light switch, she noticed a key hanging on a hook next to the switch.
As he turned to turn on the switch, and presumably to grab the key, she faced the interior of the room. She saw a long, narrow, low-roofed structure with five stalls running along the opposite wall. At some point in the past, the stalls probably held animals. Now, though, the enclosures clearly served a different purpose. Metal bars enclosed each stall, with a gate at the front of each one. A chain metal mesh acted as a ceiling on top of the stalls..
The pen. This had to be it.
She saw movement. People sat on the floor of the stalls, but she couldn‘t count how many. Perhaps two or three in each enclosure. Faces peered out at her. Young faces, about her age. One stall to her left was empty.
The man turned and marched toward the enclosures, again blinding her to his actions. As he paused, the sound of screeching metal filled the room, and moments later he hoisted her from his shoulder and dumped her inside a stall. As she tumbled to a stop, he slammed the gate shut. Beth watched helplessly as the man returned the key to the hook near the door, before exiting the building and shutting the door behind him.
Beth righted herself, and a female voice came from her left.
“Are you okay?”
The voice sounded monotone, devoid of emotion. Beth turned her head, making out two faces looking at her through the bars, from the adjoining stall to her left. A man and a woman, both about her age, stared at her. The man’s face looked familiar.
It hit her then. The billboard she had seen on the way to the Fizzure building with John. The missing man. And the other missing people. All about her age. Here they were.
“Are you okay?” the female voice repeated.
Beth blinked, studying the man and woman closer. They wore jeans and t-shirts and looked like they hadn’t bathed in days. The woman’s short black hair was tousled and unkempt, and her face was dirty. The man’s face was narrow, with wide, dark eyes staring at her as if she were a ghost. Unlike Beth, the man and woman weren’t bound.
“I’m okay,” Beth said. “What is this place?”
The woman shook her head before mumbling, “I wish I knew.” Mixed in with the flat words, Beth detected a hint of emotion, waiting to break out. She waited for the woman to continue, but the stranger remained silent, staring right through Beth.
Beth turned her gaze to the man. “Where are we?”
The man paused several seconds before replying.
“A farm,” he answered with a nasal voice. He eyed her warily.
Beth forced a gentle smile. She needed to put him at ease.
“What’s your name?”
“I’m Tom. That’s Nicole.”
“Hi, Tom, I’m Beth. It looks like we’re in this mess together, huh?” She used a soothing tone, and kept the smile on her face.
He nodded. “Why are you tied up? They didn’t tie any of us up.”
Beth started to speak, but halted. She knew the reason. Her captors didn’t know she got her powers from her necklace, and wouldn’t want to give her a chance to break free before they locked her up. But she couldn’t tell Tom. Not only had Stanley cautioned her against revealing her secret, but she needed to win the trust of these people. Telling them a far-fetched story wouldn’t help.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Probably just being overly cautious. How many of you are there here?”
“There are 11 of us now,” Tom answered. Nicole continued to stare with a blank gaze, saying nothing.
“Now?” Beth replied.
“Sometimes somebody else gets tossed in here, like you, or like that guy in the stall on the other side of you,” he gave a nod past her as he spoke. “And sometimes they take someone away. We never see them again.”
Beth look over her shoulder at the stall to her right. A man lay crumpled on the ground, his back to her. She pursed her lips as dread crept up from the pit of her stomach.
“Do you know where they take them?”
Tom shook his head, but didn’t speak.
“Tom, how long have you been here?”
“I don’t know,” he said, his voice cracking. “Too long. I kept track in the beginning. I got to 20 days. Then it seemed pointless. Maybe a bit over a month?”
She thought back to the billboard. Missing since October 1. His math made sense. By her recollection, other disappearances came earlier. No wonder they appeared to have lost hope.
“How about Nicole or the others?”
“Some have been here longer, some shorter. Rudy has been here almost a year.”
A year. Anger flared up in Beth. She didn’t know how, but she would find a way out of this. She would make their captors pay for what they had done to these people. To her. To John.
“What did I say?” Tom said as he saw her reaction, and sank back from the bars.
Beth took a deep breath. She needed to keep her cool. Losing her temper would just prevent her from thinking get in the way of thinking clearly.
“You didn’t say anything, Tom,” she said, forcing a calm to come over her voice. “I’m just upset at the people who are holding us. It’s not right.”
“No, it’s not right,” he said.
“How many people have you seen here, not counting the prisoners?” she asked.
Tom scrunched his nose and counted on his fingers. After a few moments, he spoke.
“Besides the guy who brought you here, five more. Never more than two at the same time, though.”
They probably work in shifts, she figured. Or they didn’t all stay at the farm around the clock.
“Was one of them a large black man?” Beth asked.
Tom shook his head. “They’ve all been white guys.”
“When they take us to use the outhouse, they have guns. Handguns. I don’t know guns, so I couldn’t tell you what kind. They usually take us one at a time, but sometimes two. Why are you asking?”
“I need to get up to speed, Tom. I don’t plan to stay here.”
“You can’t get out,” he said. “Nobody gets out. Vance tried once, and so did Rachael. They slipped away but weren’t gone five minutes before they were back in here.”
“How did they get away?”
“Vance is a big, quick guy. He bulldozed one guy and made a run for the woods. They caught him, though. They beat him silly, and he didn’t eat for a day or two after that.”
“She pickpocketed a key off of one of them, But they caught her, too. Slapped her around. Told her if she did it again, their men would have fun with her. And ever since then, they don’t carry keys. They only use the key hanging over there and put it back right after they use it.”
Beth glanced over at the key hanging by the door. It hung, out of reach, like a tease. Too far to reach, but always in sight.
“Tom, if I turn around and put my arms up through the bars, can you untie my wrists?”
Tom bit his lip. He didn’t speak.
“I understand you’re afraid of them,” she said. “I’ll tell them I worked the ropes free myself.”
He stared at her for several seconds, the uncertainty clear in his eyes. Finally he nodded. She slid over into position, pushing herself along with her hands and feet below her, until she reached the side of her stall. She extended her wrists through the bars. He went to work on the ropes binding her wrists. It took several minutes, but he worked the rope free.
She moved away from the bars, more easily now that her hands were free. She distanced herself from Tom in the event that any of their captors entered the building. With her hands free, it didn’t take her long to untie her ankles.
She rose to her feet and walked around the stall, examining her prison. She saw no obvious way to escape. The bars and gate were solid, and the chain link mesh roof was attached by thick welds.
She sank back to the ground, leaning against the bars at the rear of the stall. She couldn’t keep a pout from crossing her face.
“We all thought we could get out, too.” Nicole finally spoke. Beth turned her head toward the woman. “This place sucks the life out of you.”
Beth balled her fists at her side. She would not end up like Nicole. She would not give up hope.
Nicole retreated away from the bars, moving to the other side of the stall and leaving Beth alone with her thoughts. A burning need to help these people was rising in Beth again. The feeling reminded her of her desire to enter the Fizzure building a few nights earlier, after seeing the billboard. John‘s words came to her. You don’t always need to butt in when you see someone being victimized. He saw her inner fire as a flaw. She saw it as a virtue, a motivation arising from the one time she had been helpless herself, drugged by an ex-boyfriend so he could have his way with her.
John’s sickness and death had been like a firehose, though, attempting to douse the fire burning in her. When he first became sick, her guilt nearly extinguished the fire. She couldn‘t be a hero with those thoughts in her head. Hope had caused it to burn again when she thought she might use her powers to save him. But then his death had nearly smothered it, sucking the life from her.
Now, though, seeing these people here, her anger and desire to help was fighting to the surface again, overwhelming any guilt and reluctance. She needed to help, even if it meant being a hero. Being Sapphire Angel.
That possibility seemed far away now. Her necklace and costume were gone, taken from her by her captors, and she was trapped in a seemingly impregnable cell. But her chance would come. If it didn’t, she would make it come.
The creaking of the door at the entrance caught her attention. A man entered, walking straight toward her cell. She didn‘t recognize him. He was tall and thin, with a bald head and cruel eyes. Beth rose to her feet, standing in the back of the cell and glaring at him, hands on hips. He looked at her, licking his lips as his eyes traveling up and down her body. She stepped back, feeling that piercing gaze and wrapping her arms around her torso. She recognized that look. Hunger. Desire.
His eyes fell to the ropes on the ground and he frowned. He turned and walked out the door.
The young beauty sighed in relief, believing she had escaped, at least for now, whatever unsavory ideas he had planned for her. But he returned a few moments later holding a pair of handcuffs in one hand and a handgun in the other. She swallowed and stepped back further in her stall.
He stepped to her cell and tossed the handcuffs in between the bars. They landed a few feet away from where she stood.
“Put those on,” he said.
She didn’t respond, maintaining her defiant pose. She would not let him drag her away, defenseless, as he had his way with her.
“Put those on, or you can stay in there and rot,” he said, impatience growing in his voice.
“The boss wants to talk to you.”
She stared at the handcuffs on the ground and chewed the inside of her lip as she considered her situation. She wasn’t getting anywhere in here. If he wanted her to talk to “the boss,” and the boss wasn’t here, that meant they were taking her somewhere. Perhaps to the farmhouse. Maybe near her necklace and costume. Of course, he might be using this as a ruse to get her to put the handcuffs on, so she couldn’t defend herself against his advances. Or perhaps they planned to take her somewhere and kill her. But wouldn’t they have done that already if that was their intent?
She stepped forward and grabbed the handcuffs. She needed information, and she couldn’t get it in here. She clicked them in place around one wrist and then the other. The man stepped to the door and retrieved the key.
“Stand back,” the man said as he moved toward the stall gate.
He kept one eye on her as he took slow, tentative steps forward. She realized he was afraid of her and wasn’t taking any chances. He had no idea she was powerless without her necklace.
The man opened the door and motioned for her to step out of the stall. She obeyed his instructions and walked ahead of him when he gestured toward the exit with a wave of his gun. On their way out, he returned the key to the hook. She squinted her eyes as she stepped into the sunlight.
“To the farmhouse,” he ordered, giving her a jab in the back with his gun. She turned toward the old structure, walking through ankle-high grass. As she glanced over her shoulder at him, she caught him checking her out. She would need to be wary of this one.
She reached the crooked porch and climbed the stairs to the front door. The wooden door to the farmhouse sat as crooked as the building itself, with only remnants of its maroon paint still present. She glanced down at the doorknob, not seeing a deadbolt or any other lock aside from the simple knob. These people weren’t worried about the security of the building.
“Open it,” the man ordered from behind.
She opened the door, revealing a hallway going straight back, next to a stairwell climbing up to a second floor. A bedroom door stood open to her right, and an open doorway led to a living room to her left. Two easy chairs and a sofa were arranged around a fireplace on the far wall. Worn hardwood floors and white walls gave the place an old, tired look.
Demarco Dominick sat in one of the easy chairs, his thighs wedged between the sides. He smiled in her direction.
“Come this way,” he said in an even voice.
Beth hesitated before noticing what rested on the end table next to him. Her costume and necklace. The entire ensemble was there, from the one piece outfit, to the boots and tights, to the gloves and necklace. The items glimmered in the sunlight coming through the two window, as if beckoning her.
She tried to maintain a steady pace as she stepped into the room. She didn’t want to reveal just how important the items were to her. But they called out to her like a lifeline. A lifeline so close, yet so far away. With her hands cuffed, she’d never retreive the items and fasten the necklace before the men got to her. She needed to bide her time.
“Sit, please,” Dominick said, gesturing with a nod to the sofa across from him.
She obliged, and after she had settled onto the lumpy cushion, he returned to his place in the easy chair. The floorboards creaked with his movements.
“Should I call you Elizabeth Harper, or is it Sapphire Angel?” he asked with an amused twinkle in his eyes. Beth didn’t answer. She stared back at him, keeping all emotion and expression from her face. He met her gaze, and when it became clear she wouldn’t speak, he frowned.
“I’m not too proud to admit we had the situation all wrong, Ms. Harper. We figured the Devor kid knew something, and maybe he told you. So we watched the hospital, figuring you’d come back. But it appears we had it backwards. You, as Sapphire Angel, were the one poking around into our affairs. Not him. He just helped get you into the building.”
Beth maintained her blank expression. Dominick was correct, but not in the way he thought. John had helped get her into the building, but not because she had any sort of grand plan. She just had an unfortunate curiousness and desire to help that had led to trouble.
“What I want to know,” he continued, “is why. Why is the city’s new superstar interested in us?”
The city’s new superstar. Three days ago those words would have sounded preposterous to her. But he spoke the truth. Sapphire Angel was all over the local news and the Internet. But it did her little good now. She was helpless.
She realized Dominick did not understand just how helpless she was. His words also suggested he knew little about what had happened. His suggestion that she, as Sapphire Angel, had brought John to the facility meant he didn‘t know she had gained her powers that night. He seemed to think was already a full-blown real-life superheroine come to stop an evil corporation.
She wanted to ask him questions, to find out what Fizzure was doing in that basement, but her intuition stopped her. If he realized how little she knew, he might have no reason to keep her alive.
He stared at her, his face growing redder as she stared back without responding. His demeanor had changed in an instant, like he was two people. Or one person who was very unstable.
“You can ignore me, and have a very unpleasant stay here, or you can talk.” He sneered as he spoke.
“A pleasant stay? Like those other kids you’ve held here for months, locked up in cages like animals?”
Dominick raised an eyebrow as she spoke, but his face quickly shot red with anger again.
“Those kids deserved it!” he snapped. “They’re all scumbag druggies. They belong in a hole.”
“Druggies? Do you mean addicts? Is that how you justify this?”
“Kids like them decided my daughter’s fate,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion. “I’m just returning the favor.”
Beth paused. His daughter? This was clearly a sore subject for him. She remembered Stanley talking of the girl's sickness, from drugs. But what did that have to do with all this?
“Your daughter? Tell me about your daughter.”
“I’ve told you enough,” he said, wiping fingers below his eyes. He looked to the man behind her. “Take her back to her cell. We’ll do this later.”
Dominick rose from his chair and turned away from her, still rubbing at his eyes. The man behind Beth spoke.
“Let’s go,” he said.
She eyed Dominick momentarily, but he kept his back to her.
“Now,” the man behind her said, his voice sharp this time. She felt his gun jab her in her neck. Her heart skipped a beat as she thought of her cousin, shot by a jilted lover.
She rose, glaring at the gunman and heading for the front door. As she descended the steps, she tried to strike up a conversation with the man.
“What happened to his daughter?”
“Shut up and walk. Girls like you should be seen and not heard.”
“You really are a neanderthal, aren’t you?”
“How about I show you? You could use a real man. Not them pretty boys you probably hang out with.”
“I think I’ll pass, thanks.”
“It won’t be your decision, bitch,” he said, and she could feel his sneer without seeing it.
She kept quiet, and a few moments later she was stepping back into her cell. As the man locked the door, returned the key, and exited the building, she detected movement to her right, from the cell of the man who hadn’t been moving earlier.
He sat with his legs crossed, staring at her. She recognized him. Dirk O’Shea. Stanley’s missing investigator.
“Beth Harper,” O’Shea said with an amused smile as Beth walked to the bars separating their cells. The stubble on his face was thicker than in the photograph Stanley had shown her, adding to his rugged good looks.
“Dirk O’Shea,” she replied.
He raised an eyebrow, clearly surprised she knew his name.
“Stanley showed me your photo,” she explained.
“Same,” he said with a slight grin as he climbed to his feet, still holding her gaze. She found it hard to pull away from the twinkle in his eyes.
“How did you end up here?” he asked, moving closer to the bars separating them.
“Grabbed in a parking garage. You?”
“Jumped outside my car, near Philip Gruden’s home,” he said, his face turning sour. “Totally careless, and too focused on what was in front of me. Stanley probably thinks I’m dead. When did you last talk to him?”
Beth bit her lip and looked away for a moment to compose herself. After a few seconds she turned back toward O’Shea.
“Last night, I think. I can‘t be sure because I was unconscious. I last saw Stanley at the hospital, when John died.” Her voice cracked as she spoke, and she looked away again.
“Damn,” O’Shea murmured. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know he didn’t make it.”
She took a deep breath, composing herself. “We need to stop these people.”
“Obviously. But to do that, we need to get out of here. That will take some doing. But it can be done.”
“How?” she asked. “The key is out of reach, I’ve got these handcuffs on, and we’re behind steel bars.”
“Yea, what’s up with the handcuffs? Why you and nobody else?”
Beth shrugged and shook her head. He worked for Stanley, but she wasn’t ready to tell him her secret.
O’Shea moved toward the lock to his cell.
“These things are pretty basic,” he said. “It wouldn’t take much for me to pick it.”
Beth’s head jerked up. “You can pick that?”
O’Shea shrugged. “I’ve learned a few tricks over the years. But I can’t just use my fingers. A couple of paperclips would be a good start. I just don’t know where we’re going to get anything like that. I’ve only been here and the outhouse.”
“They’ve had me in the farmhouse,” she said.
“They want me to tell them what I’ve learned about their operation. I didn’t talk. But I think they will try again soon.”
“They won’t let you out of their sight in there.”
“Maybe, maybe not. I can be persuasive. We have to give it a shot.”
O’Shea nodded, but said nothing.
“Have you learned anything about what‘s going on here?” Beth asked.
O’Shea shrugged. “Not really. Just that the people in here are being used for something. An experiment, maybe? That’s a guess. But everybody in here is around the same age. Maybe they satisfy a demographic or something.”
“You don’t,” Beth observed.
“Yea, I thought about that. I’m probably not as old as you think, but I get your point. It could be they just had nowhere else to hold me and didn’t want to kill me. Or, if they’re doing some sort of medical experiment, they’re keeping me around in case they run out of ideal candidates. I did hear them call me a ‘last resort,’ whatever that means.”
“That sounds scary.”
“Yea, it does. And I think it’s the more likely explanation, as opposed to them keeping me here because there’s nowhere else. I don’t put murder past these people. The other prisoners never come back, after they’re taken from here.”
Beth balled her fists at her side. “How many of them are there?”
“The prisoners, or the goons holding us? There are 12 of us now, and I haven’t seen more than six people come in here to watch over us. But there could be more.”
Beth nodded and scanned her surroundings. She looked closely at the bars, the floor, and even the ceiling.
“Don’t worry,” O’Shea said, noticing her actions. “They haven’t bugged this place. Or if they did, it’s state-of-the-art stuff. There’s not much to do here to pass the time, so I’ve been over this place with a fine-tooth comb.”
Even with his assurances, Beth came closer to the bars, leaned forward, and spoke in a hushed tone.
“They‘ll pay for what they’ve done. I’ll get back into the farmhouse and find something for you to use on the lock. Then you’ll break us out of here.”
Beth also hoped she’d be able to recover her necklace and costume. If she didn’t, her career as a superheroine would be a short one.
Demarco Dominick watched as the small plane taxied down the grass runway, coming to a stop thirty yards away. A few moments later the stairs descended and the robed man climbed out. The man gave a nod toward the pilot and started off toward Dominick’s car. Even at this distance, Dominick could feel the man’s silver eyes boring through him.
The Fizzure CEO shifted uncomfortably as the man stalked toward him. Dominick only looked up to meet the gaze from those eyes for a moment before the man slid into the rear of the car with him.
“You still have her?” the robed man asked Dominick as the car moved.
“We do,” Dominick said. “I need to learn who she’s told about our plans. But what do you want from her?”
“She showed up as your project got closer to the finish line. Do you think that’s a coincidence? It isn’t. She could be a key to us taking the next step and getting the results we need. But she could also bring this entire endeavor crashing down.”
Dominick wasn’t sure which part to touch first. “She’s locked up in a cage. How can she bring this thing crashing down?”
“Don’t underestimate her. She can be very dangerous.”
“I know she can, under normal circumstances,” Dominick said, exasperation creeping into his voice. “But she’s not a threat now.”
“Don’t assume anything.”
“Fine. I won’t,” the Fizzure CEO said. He moved on to the more important question. “What do you mean, that she can be a key to a breakthrough for our work?”
“Like I said, you think it is a coincidence she is here now? It’s possible that whatever gives this girl her powers, could also be what we need to achieve our goals. Or at least point us in the right direction.”
Dominick chewed on the man‘s words for a moment. “Possible doesn‘t help. How will we know?”
“Once I see the girl, and confirm it is her, we need to take her to the facility, and run some tests.”
“Tests on her?”
“Yes, tests on her. We need to find out just what makes Sapphire Angel tick, and unravel all her secrets. That could get you over the finish line.”
Dominick smiled. He liked the sound of it.
“Tell me what tests we need to run,” Dominick said, his hands tightening on the front of the leather seat as he leaned forward.
“In due time. I need to keep some leverage, don’t I?”
Dominick sat back, deflated. The robed man’s words sounded almost like a threat. Of course they did. If Sapphire Angel held the key to their success, the robed man couldn't reveal it all to Dominick now. Once Dominick saw a certain path to success, the Fizzure CEO might have less of a need for his help and his funding. Especially if the only tool Dominick needed was Sapphire Angel.
They didn’t speak as the countryside rolled past, and the car was silent until Dominick’s iPhone rang. He glanced at the screen on his dashboard and saw it was the man in charge at the farm. Dominick tapped a button on his screen to answer the call on his phone, instead of over the car’s speaker.
“What’s up?” Dominick asked.
“She said she’s ready to talk, with a condition,” his man at the farm said.
Dominick fought back a scowl. He didn’t like conditions being dictated to him.
“Pretty simple, actually. She’s been cooped up in that barn for hours. She said she wants to ‘freshen up,’ and get a shower. She also wants a nice meal for herself and the other prisoners.”
This made no sense. She had leverage, and all she wanted was a shower and a meal? There had to be something more to this. An escape attempt, perhaps. Still, she was just one girl, and he had several men at the farm.
Dominick glanced over at his passenger, being careful not to turn his head. The robed man’s goals didn’t align perfectly with Dominick’s. Dominick needed to look out for his company and find out who the Harper girl - Sapphire Angel - had told about his operation. The man with silver eyes wouldn’t see the point in meeting Harper’s demands to achieve that goal. He didn’t need to know.
“Those terms are agreeable,” he said, choosing his words carefully so as not to tip off the man with silver eyes. “Get started now, so this is ready when I’m done driving. Just take all precautions, using all resources. I don’t want any surprises. I there in under an hour.”
“Uh, okay,” his man replied, sounded confused by the cryptic words.
Dominick ended the call and glanced over at his passenger.
“Regular work must go on,” he said, eying the man for any sign he knew the call had concerned Harper. A thin smile crossed the man’s face, and he gave a slight nod in reply.
“Just make sure you make smart business decisions,” he said, as his eyes pierced straight through Dominick’s core.
The rental car was not made for these kinds of roads, but it would have to do. Stanley pushed it to the limit, causing the car to bounce over the dirt road. In the passenger seat, Ethan held one hand against the dashboard, while the other handheld Stanley’s iPhone.
“This says it’s another 20 minutes,” Ethan said. “Are you sure it’s right?”
“It’s our best bet,” Stanley said. “According to GPS and cell tower data on the thug’s phone, he came here each evening.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“Me too,” Stanley said. “Make sure you have the State Police number ready on your phone and mine, so we can get the word out, once we know Beth is here.”
Stanley felt a clock ticking down in his head, and stepped on the accelerator.