May you have the Foresight to know where you’re going, the Hindsight to know where you’ve been, and the Insight to know when you’ve gone too far…
No part of this publication may be copied, reproduced in any format, by any means, electronic or otherwise, without prior consent from the copyright owner and publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places and events are the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2013 EJ McBride
All rights reserved.
For the second time in less than 24 hours, Clara Phelps found herself in handcuffs.
And for the second time in less than 24 hours, Clara Phelps found herself praying for someone to spare her life.
She awoke feeling groggy, that initial sensation of waking up somewhere unfamiliar, only amplified, times a thousand. Her immediate response was to lift her head and scan the unknown room for some kind of clue, a tell-tale piece of furniture, a door or a window that might give her an idea of her whereabouts, but an overwhelming feeling of drug-induced double vision mixed with the darkness of the early morning hours made that almost impossible. She could barely see a few feet in front of her and what she could see, she couldn't see
at all. She yanked at her right hand, with the intention of using it to check her face for wounds, to be sure that she'd not been stabbed or burned, but found it being stopped short after only a few centimetres. Whatever she was cuffed to, she wasn't getting away from it that easily. She lifted her left hand, confirming that her left arm at least was free to move about, and delicately scanned the contours of her face, her fingers gliding quickly and efficiently over her nose, her eyes, her ears. Everything was OK, nothing too bad to report back.
Finding nothing more than a couple of small cuts, she began feeling her way around her surroundings, starting with the ground under her butt and slowly pinching and scraping around in a circle. She realised she was sat upright, leaning against whatever it was she had been handcuffed to. She curled her left arm back behind herself and felt large, vertical clumps of cold steel attached to a thick concrete wall. Surmising that what she was imprisoned against was in fact a large radiator, she reached her left arm across her chest and began feeling for a gap in the metal to slide her cuffs through. She felt slowly up and down a couple of times, pinching and grasping at the dirty metal joints and washers, the dust and gunk lodging itself unpleasantly underneath her finger nails and in the small cuts littered all over her hands. She slapped her hand back down on the floor, defeated at the realisation that her captor hadn't been that stupid.
She switched her focus to her sense of smell. Although this was never going to be her first choice as a means of identifying her location, she knew that a give-away smell like the odour of the seafront or the stench of a smelting plant nearby might make the job of rescuing her easier for the police. Of course, how she was going to alert the police was another matter altogether, but she figured it best to focus on one problem at a time. She inhaled deeply through her nostrils, paying particular attention, more attention than she'd ever paid before in fact, to what she could smell. And what she
smell was an overwhelming aroma of damp, the kind of damp that takes years of neglect to perfect, the kind of damp you simply can't buy or replicate. Wherever she was, she knew she was probably the first person to
there in some time. She could sense dust, realising that with every additional inhale, her nostrils felt dirtier, the particles building up in her lungs, tickling the back of her throat.
Is this a factory?
She thought. It would certainly explain why the place wreaked of damp, and she immediately began compiling a list of abandoned warehouses in her head, even though she was almost certain that she wasn't in New York any more.
'The old smelting plant'
, she thought,
'or maybe the shipping docks'
, her mind utterly focused on finding a factory or warehouse that might fit the bill.
The sound echoed through the room, giving the impression of enormous depth and emptiness. It was as clear as day, whoever had made the sound made no attempt to cover it or muffle it, and it appeared to be no more than 20 or 30 feet away from her. Clara jumped in shock, then sat as far forward as she possibly could, her mouth open slightly as she channelled every part of her concentration into the task of hearing a clue as to who, or what had made the mystery sound. Nothing, just absolute silence, deafening silence. Despite her instincts telling her not to, Clara eventually plucked up the courage to speak.
'Hello, is anyone there?'
Nothing. Total silence. Seconds passed, seconds of torturous quiet that somehow seemed to defy the laws of time and felt like minutes, hours to Clara, until a sudden burst of activity in the same direction as the first noise, the unmistakeable sound of footsteps walking slowly toward her. Clara felt her heart launch itself uncomfortably into her mouth, her stomach sink, the hairs on the back of her neck stand upright. She thought of a thousand different threats she could scream at her captor but settled on an involuntary whimper, a barely audible chirp that achieved nothing other than confirming her absolute paralysis of fear. She felt all of the muscles in her body clench as if bracing for a hit that she knew was coming, and as she strained her bloodshot eyes, she realised that her double vision had now cleared. A figure hovered in front of her, head bowed down toward her, then crouched to get closer to her, a face appearing in the dull light shining in through a window behind her.
She gasped as a tear streamed down her cheek.
It was a colder than usual April morning at the waterfront in Brighton Beach, New York. Clara sat on a park bench, arms down by her side, her hands hidden away inside the pockets of her warm coat, her breath dancing in front of her face with every exhale. This wasn't the first time Clara had stared out at the water from here, and it was one of the few parts of the city where trivial things like rapidly declining temperatures didn't seem to bother her.
'Now?' quizzed Mckenzie, the scruffy thirty-something year old sat next to her, equally cold, and growing impatient with her desire to sit and do nothing.
'Not yet' she replied, not breaking her gaze for even a second. 'A few more minutes.'
She had come here as long as she could remember, sitting in the exact same spot on the boardwalk with her father and her older brother year after year. He'd buy his kids Syrniki, a sweet Russian fritter, his with jam and their's with honey, and they'd all sit on the bench and watch the ocean. It was one of the few activities where Clara felt she could relax growing up; the space, the relative quiet compared with the hustle and bustle of the rest of the island, the constant drama and upset of the rest of her life. They were cherished memories, and whenever she felt as though things were really getting on top of her, Clara would enjoy the natural therapy of starting her day with a trip to the water. She took one final glance out over the gleaming white railings, took her hands out of her pockets and blew them for warmth.
'OK, now' she said, and without uttering another word, the pair stood up and began walking along 6th street and toward Brighton Beach Avenue.
Clara was slight in build, with auburn-tinted brown hair that rested delicately just below her shoulder blades. Despite her self-admitted tomboy tendencies, she still managed to dress in a way that highlighted her feminine side, combining her coat with skinny pink jeans, a pair of Vans and a wooly hat. She was beautiful in that '
girl next door
' kind of way that so many men would find appealing, if only she had the '
girl next door
' personality to complement it. Mackenzie on the other hand was tall, about 6ft 1, but skinny in build. Wearing a long dark coat, his hair in a side parting and thick rimmed glasses sitting on his unshaven face, he could easily pass for '
' if only he had the good looks to pull it off. The pair made an unusual couple, but in this part of New York, few people cared what kind of couple you made, so long as you kept yourself to yourself, something they were both more than comfortable with.
They walked with purpose, not slouching or slowing down even for a second, moving quickly past the rows of houses, their destination the busier streets of Brighton Beach, the parts of town where you could easily spot a potential target without getting yourself into too much trouble. The pair knew exactly what they were looking for without even acknowledging it. They'd worked together for a few years now and every day they would spot someone that they knew would be easy pickings. They generally targeted the older crowd. Brighton Beach was full of old Russian women, often going about their daily errands completely on their own, often without anyone at home keeping tabs on where they were. Not that Clara or Mckenzie would do anything particularly awful to them. They took a certain amount of pride in the fact that in all the years they'd been working together, not once had they physically hurt anyone. Of course, the psychological pain they inflicted was always much worse, but the pair both had an unwritten rule that they would never discuss that.
The pair continued up 6th street at a pace. On their left they passed a newly completed block of condominiums, red brick with tall arching windows and promises of year-round water views. For Manhattan, they weren't that spectacular, but Clara tilted her head as she walked past, glancing up toward the top floors and wondering what kind of life the people up there must live. Despite everything, she'd never given up completely on the idea that one day she might live in a place like that. Sure, she may not have the steady employment and credit history of a college graduate with a high-flying career, but she knew how to make fast money, and she wasn't stupid about tucking a few dollars under a mattress whenever she got the chance. She knew she'd be living in the penthouse suite one day, she just had to figure out the finer points in the meantime. The entire building had been part of the renovation project of this part of New York, a project spearheaded mainly by tax breaks that James Friedman, the wunderkind Mayor of New York and hot candidate for the next Presidency had implemented. Friedman's time in office had so far been nothing but a major success, and whilst Clara didn't consider herself especially politically minded, she liked Friedman, she felt as though he was doing good things for the city, and especially liked his handling of the murder of Helen Berghaus, a political opponent running for mayor a few years before, killed in a botched robbery attempt. She figured that a lesser man could have used the situation for political gain, and whilst his gains had been significant, she admired the class with which he responded to the news. In her experience, it was a character trait that few men in general had, never mind politicians.
After about ten minutes walking, the pair arrived on Neptune Avenue, and stopped to take in their surroundings, leaning casually against the old railings of a dirty apartment building. Mckenzie pulled a cigarette out of his coat pocket, placed one in his mouth and lit, inhaling as he did. Without breaking his forward-facing glance, he closed the packet and slipped it back into his pocket, exhaling and dropping the cigarette in his hand down to his right-hand side. He stared ahead of him, before sensing a pair of piercing eyes looking right through him from his left. He turned and made eye contact with Clara, who was giving him the kind of look that could turn men to stone, could turn milk sour.
'Yes you dick, I know I quit. You could still offer me one. I like being able to say '
'Jesus Christ', responded Mckenzie, not sure whether he was more pissed off at her tone or the fact that she knew exactly what he was thinking, as usual, without him having to utter a word.