Blood Victory

Page 22

A low, droning whine echoes up the concrete walls, a sharper, more high-pitched sound than the idling truck’s engine. She’s rising slowly into the air. That’s what she glimpsed on the wall a moment before, a track for some sort of automated platform underneath her. There has to be another track on the wall behind her head given how smoothly and evenly she’s traveling toward the open storm doors above.

Blinded, rising toward diesel fumes, she has the sudden, overwhelming fear that he’s going to back the truck over her once she’s level with the garage floor. It’s irrational, but so is everything else about this situation and this place and this horrible man. But still, it makes no sense that he’d go to all this trouble to take delight in crushing her with giant tires. She’s cargo, not roadkill. Maybe in his twisted mind she’s a wretched mix of both, but still, if he does try crushing her and he starts with her legs, she’d trigger for sure and be able to tear the tire off the damn truck. But if he starts with her head . . .

The cloth blindfold isn’t blackout material, so she can tell her surroundings are changing. She can see the truck’s taillights as she rises past them. Then she’s pulled sideways suddenly. The platform lifted her until she was level with the truck’s open cargo door. She hears a screech just underneath her, then a vaguely familiar rumble: wheels meeting a metal floor. The wheels confirm her initial suspicion: this is a gurney he’s tied her to, but the mattress pad has been removed, turning its hard surface into a subtle form of torture. He’s pushing her toward the truck now. Someone else, someone without her strange history, might be assaulted in this moment by upsetting memories of hospital visits with dying relatives. But the last time Charlotte was tied to a gurney by a psychopath, the psychopath ended up with multiple broken bones; the guy’s on death row now, clinging to sanity as he babbles incoherently to a host of prison psychiatrists about the “angel of darkness” who redeemed his soul.

Organ harvesting, she thinks. Is that what this shit’s about?

She doubts it. Cyrus Mattingly’s strange rituals—from his masks and gags to his startlingly petty method for selecting his victims—don’t suggest something so clinical and cold.

“I need to remove your gag.”

Again, she notes the distinct absence of emotion in his voice. He either lacks the deranged convictions of the last two killers she took down—one of them fatally—or he’s a devoted practitioner of his own maxim: silence equals strength.

To signal consent—as if such a concept can exist in this moment—she opens her mouth so wide she feels air on her gums, hoping he can see her teeth clenched around the gag. Without touching her lips or face, he grabs the gag and tugs. It’s a smooth, practiced gesture, but her throat still spasms when the tendril-like extension leaves. Hot saliva slicks her bottom lip and those few parts of her chin that aren’t covered by the mask’s leather straps. Her coughs are so strong they cause her to buck against the restraints that tie her to the gurney. Once they stop and she relaxes again, she feels him carefully wiping the spit from her jaw.

She’s rehearsed this part. She just thought she’d have to do it sooner.

“Please,” she whispers, “please . . . my parents have money.”

“Your parents don’t have money.” He sounds bored.

“They do, promise. I . . . please, I won’t say anything. You can just let me go and I won’t tell anyone. It’s true. I won’t tell, I won’t.” When her tears dampen the cloth covering her eyes, she realizes her performance is so good she’s convinced herself. “Just tell me what you want.”

He grabs her jaw with sudden force unlike any he’s shown so far. “Your silence,” he growls. “What I want is your silence.”

He releases her jaw. Then she assumes he’s rooting through a pile of tools, but the sounds he’s making are a plastic-sounding clatter—not the clinking of metal on metal you’d expect. A few seconds later, he grabs her chin, squeezing until she opens her mouth. Braced for the nausea-inducing violation of another gag, the first thing she notices is the different taste—less like pungent rubber, more like bland plastic. It’s forcing her mouth open wider than before, but when it stops short of the back of her throat, relief washes through her, holding Zypraxon at bay once more.

She’s surprised when he starts to untie her wrists from the leather straps that have secured them to the gurney during her confinement. But just as quickly, he ties each one to something else, and whatever cable or rope he’s using puts tension on both wrists. When he’s done, she realizes the taut cables suspend her wrists at her waist, but about two feet off the gurney.

“Don’t move,” he says quietly, but he sounds distracted. Maybe because he’s still working. There’s another plastic clatter similar to the first, this one accompanied by what sounds like small wheels, smaller than the gurney’s, rolling across the cargo bay’s metal floor. He’s putting something into place, she realizes. The plastic tube inside of her mouth starts to wiggle. The top end of it is being repositioned. Then the tube goes suddenly still, indicating it’s been fitted inside something above her head.

“It’s time to take your blindfold off,” he says. “No matter what you see, no matter what happens, you have to stay quiet. And you can’t move. I’ll explain why, but first I need you to agree by grunting once.”

She grunts once, and he pushes the hood’s fabric up onto her forehead again.

The truck’s cargo bay is illuminated by those soft blue lights you stick on walls and press once to make them light up like cracked glow sticks. It gives a vaguely nightclub-style glow to what he’s done to her, maybe because the contraption she’s been attached to is made almost entirely of transparent Lucite. The tube wedged inside her mouth extends up into a large transparent cube about three feet above her head. The cube is supported by metal legs that extend to the floor on either side of the gurney. The cords on her wrists are secured above her head to a Lucite panel that divides the cube horizontally and extends out from either side. After a few seconds of blinking madly, she can see the horizontal divider is actually two pieces that fit snugly around the open end of the tube, creating two spaces inside the cube: a top half that’s exposed to the tube’s open end and a bottom half that’s shielded from it. Finally, the cables make sense. If she moves her hands in the slightest, she might pull the divider inside the container apart, exposing the tube’s open end to the lower compartment.

It’s not just a cube, she realizes, it’s some sort of container, and it’s empty. For now.

This isn’t just about silencing her. It’s just as she feared. The ride itself is going to be a form of torture.

Cyrus Mattingly stares down at her dispassionately. He’s lost his baseball cap, and his hair’s a thick mane brushed back from his broad forehead. She stares back, hoping Kansas Command is devouring and analyzing every image her TruGlass lenses are capturing of this monster. So occupied is she by this hope, she’s afraid for a moment that she forgot to affect the necessary level of quivering fear.

“Whatever’s in here,” Mattingly says, tapping the side of the empty container, “you don’t want to get in here”—he taps the side of the tube extending into her mouth. “You do that in two ways. You stay quiet, and you stay still. Whatever you do, don’t move these.” He taps one of her wrists.

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