Location Unknown; December 22nd, 2011
It had to be the splitting headache that woke Janie an immeasurable time later to blackness and the stench of human excrement. For a moment, she assumed she was lying in bed back at the hotel, until she rolled over to get up and felt only cement beneath her. Feeling along the floor as she crawled, she found that the room was completely empty, aside from a single hole in the floor, the use of which was apparent from the smell. The room was large enough for her to stretch out completely on the floor, her five-foot-six putting her palms flat against one wall and the soles of her sneakers against the opposite. As her eyes adjusted to the dark, she noticed that the room lacked windows, and the only way out was through a locked, steel door.
The silence was loud. There was no clock on the wall or the glare of sunlight into the room; Janie couldn’t tell if she’d been there already for hours or days, but the fierce growl of her stomach hinted that she needed to get out as soon as possible. Every cut and bruise on her body and face hurt tenfold with each shiver of her body against the frigid ground, and the ensemble she wore offered no protection. The pounding of her head threatened to push her eyes out of their sockets, and her hunger had become physically painful. Nevertheless, she pushed herself to her feet and grabbed for the door.
It didn’t budge. “Hello?” she called, hoping for an answer, but regretting her outburst almost immediately. “Is anybody else here? Hello?” The silence stretched on.
She slid to the floor in the corner, head spinning from the smell of human waste in the hole across the room and the need to sleep again. It was difficult to decide whether or not she was hungry when her appetite was quickly waning, substituted by her need to vomit. Sweat beaded up on her forehead around bloodshot eyes as the minutes ticked on with no sign of her captors. For a long time, the only sound was the gurgle of her empty stomach. She dozed in and out of sleep.
The shriek of metal on metal woke Janie again from a dreamless sleep. Dazed, she looked around for the noise, but her eyes failed to adjust before a thick cloth sack was shoved over her head. Immediately thrashing against the arms binding her, she managed to elbow a soft piece of bared flesh and the arms around her fell away. Frantically, she threw the sack away from her, glancing over her shoulder at the unfamiliar man with his hands around his throat, gasping for air. Then, she was running again with a fervor she didn’t know a person could possess.
The halls of this unknown place were lit by naked bulbs, but they were the only objects in the room. At the end of the short corridor, there was one door, aside from the one she’d been stolen from, and a metal staircase. She went to the door first, hoping it would lead to the outside world, but it was only another prison. Looking back, though every fiber of her being begged her not to, she caught a glimpse of the man she hit staggering to his feet. With a yelp, she scaled the stairs and threw herself into another diving sprint toward unknown territory.
She didn’t get far.
The moment she reached the floor above the prison, she was met with a room that appeared to be a cross between a living room and kitchen. Everything about it was filthy. However, the scum on the refrigerator doors and the mud caked on the floor weren’t the frightening part of this room. Every kind of gun that she could picture in her mind was leaned up against the wall across the room from her, just passed the table seating six men. Janie entertained the thought of grabbing one of the guns as she ran away, but knew she wouldn’t stand a chance at wielding it even if she could get away with one.
Once the shock of her sudden arrival had subsided, other unfamiliar men sprung up to follow before she could get away. Janie passed through the room quickly before she entered a narrower hallway. There was a door in the room at the end of hall; she could see it. No one was close enough to catch her before she went out that door and she knew it. A wide smile broke across her face as she prepared herself for the homestretch to freedom.
Pain erupted in her chest so quickly she had no chance to see where it had come from. Her body was thrown backwards and crashed to the floor with a force that shook her followers as they ran after her. She gasped for breath but her lungs wouldn’t cooperate. She stared up and through the black dots that shimmered around the corners of her vision, she began to make out a slim arm outstretched like a statue at chest height where she’d just tried to run. The arm dropped, stiff as a board, and a woman stepped into sight. Feeling nauseous again, Janie made the connection between this woman and her photos.
“Poor baby,” Natalia clicked her tongue, clacking against the floor when she walked in her heels. She was like a cat, Janie noted, watching the predatory stride used by the other woman. She was obviously aware of the taunting way Natalia circled her, knowing the younger girl didn’t stand a chance. Natalia gripped the front of Janie’s shirt and lifted her off the ground with little effort. “You were so close,” she smiled, showing teeth.
Janie whimpered, but she couldn’t collect her thoughts well enough to come up with a response.
“Unfortunately, escape is not something we look lightly upon here,” she sang, dropping Janie. Natalia dragged her across the floor behind her by her hair, ignoring the girl’s shrieks of pain, especially as they journeyed back down the stairs. She pulled open a wooden door on her way through the hall of familiar steel doors. “I have been meaning to speak with you, myself, anyway,” she continued, pushing the captive onto her stomach on the cold floor. Taking a pair of stolen handcuffs from the belt loop of her designer slacks, she bound Janie’s arms behind her back. She lifted the girl up by her hair, which had come loose at some point the previous night.
“This is how it is going to go, moy drug,” Natalia ordered sternly. “I am going to ask you questions, and you are going to answer them truthfully, or I will drown you. Do you think you can remember that?”
There wasn’t any doubt in Janie’s mind that this woman was serious. Wordlessly, she nodded, though she had no idea where this water would be coming from.
“Good,” Natalia proclaimed, chipper façade firmly in place. Using the hand that was still entwined in her hair, Natalia yanked Janie toward the large cement trough against the opposite wall and forced her to kneel before it. Janie cried out as her hair was pulled, but could put up no resistance while her arms were cuffed behind her. “And if you even think about kicking me,” Natalia annunciated in her thick accent, making her words all the more cruel, “I will show you just how badly I can maim you and keep you alive.”
Janie decided to listen.
She stared down into the dark water of the trough, seeing her swollen face reflected back at her. A thick gash on her forehead split her skin from hairline to eyebrow, crusted around the edges with dried blood and flaming red flesh. She wasn’t a doctor, but she’d received enough cuts in her lifetime to know that it was most likely infected. It was really no surprise, considering where she’d been forced to live since receiving it. She made a face, testing the skin and found out how tightly stretched over the bone it felt. Her head pounded in protest.
“Now, vozlyublennyy, where did you hide those pictures you took at the museum?” Natalia inquired politely.
Janie debated for a split second whether or not to trust that the assassin would let her live if she told. Either way she went, she couldn’t foresee a positive outcome. With that in mind, her brilliant utterance was, “What pictures?”
Her head had been shoved into the tub before she’d even gotten the entire word out. Unable to catch a breath before she was plunged into the cold, Janie floundered to no avail. Her lungs burned from the lack of air, bringing out her more desperate instincts, eventually leading to the kicking she’d been warned against. Her sneaker connected with the hard abdominal muscles of the older woman, but she was unyielding, keeping Janie from moving an inch under the water. That fact alone was enough to inform Janie that she’d just made a huge mistake.
The force that struck and pierced Janie’s calf was unmistakable: a stiletto heel. Warm blood spilled over her skin and hot agony shot up her leg. Unable to scream when there was nothing in her lungs to expel, Janie, impulsively, inhaled the icy, disgusting water. The pain of her leg was forgotten, however, in light of the ache of deprivation in her lungs. As she coughed, more water forced itself into her lungs.
Her head was abruptly dragged out of the tub.
“That…was not a good idea,” Natalia scolded like a parent to a child.
Through Janie’s heaving, she sobbed. “Don’t put…me back…in the tub,” she sputtered as loud as she could manage.
“Are you going to cooperate?” Natalia asked, jerking her head back to look her in the eye.
Janie nodded once, biting her lip, hoping she couldn’t decipher her lie. Natalia glanced at her captive’s face for less than a second before she found what she was looking for in Janie’s eyes. Unfortunately for the younger girl, the fist that split her lip once she’d falsely agreed was a clear sign that her wish went unfulfilled. Her head was submerged again. Shaking with hysteria, she gasped for a breath and wailed over and over again when her face was brought to the surface, “Don’t put me back in the tub!”
“Tell me where the pictures are, and I will give you something to eat,” Natalia promised sweetly.
Janie licked the droplets of blood and water away from her growing bottom lip, but gave no answer. She braced herself to be submerged again. True to her word, Natalia pushed her under a third time. “Do not be fooled into thinking that you are being brave, Miss Campbell. In my experience, I have found that what others call ‘brave’ is what others, including myself, would consider stupid.”
Janie kept silent.
“Is your own welfare not motivation enough? Would you be willing to assist me if I told you I could track down your parents? Would you condemn them to this so that you could retain your sense of heroism?” she snapped.
Janie’s mind snapped to attention. “How do you know my name?”
“Ah, she speaks!” Natalia cheered, moving to sit on the edge of the tub. “I make it a point to know everything about everyone, dorogoy, especially my captives. And you told my friend from the hotel. It was not difficult to find out, Miss Campbell.”
Janie didn’t understand the word she’d called her, but knew immediately that it was sarcastic. She scowled weakly. “Leave them alone.”
“Tell me the location of the pictures you took.”
Janie stared into Natalia’s face, one that could have been chipped from stone. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have any-” She was under again. Don’t put me back in the tub, she begged; don’t let me touch the water.
As Natalia felt the fight in Janie begin to wane, she heard her cell phone shriek. It took very little effort for her to throw the motionless body roughly to the floor and answer the phone. “Petrov.”
“Leave the girl for now. I have another mission for you,” the scratchy voice of her employer admonished.
“Mr. Cole as well?” she requested.
“No,” he replied curtly. “Go alone.”
She obediently agreed and listened to his instructions as she dragged Janie back to her prison. Janie, for her part, had no other option but to be pulled by her ankle back to the room she’d woken in. Natalia threw the limp body into the dark prison, snapping her phone shut when the employer hung up. The hollow thud of Janie hitting the hard floor echoed in the assassin’s ears.
“Please, have a good evening, Miss Campbell,” Natalia bid before slamming and locking the door after her. As the older woman walked away, the sound of quiet sobbing echoed through the corridor around her. She smiled.
Janie lay still and broken on the floor for a long time, enjoying the warmth of salty tears running down her face. She missed everything about her home in Texas, from her messy dorm room to her parents, whom she hadn’t seen since the start of the semester. She wanted to go home, but if she was to be punished in the same way for attempting another escape she would rather rot there on the floor, burning with fever from infection and nursing a gaping wound in her leg from Natalia’s shoe. She was in serious need of medical attention and something to eat, but she knew she would get neither. Rather than run the risk of invoking another session of torture with the cruel Czech woman, Janie remained sprawled out on the concrete floor and begged sleep to overtake her and ward off the pain of consciousness.
Don’t put me back in the tub. Don’t put me back in the tub. Don’t put me back in the tub.