“Hello, sleepy head.”
The voice broke through into her fog-filled mind and Brooke struggled to open her eyes completely; and keep them opened. She shook her head to clear the cobwebs that had developed, but that did no more than create a vertigo sensation, so she lie her head still and waited. It took a few minutes, but eventually clarity started to return; but not comprehension.
“Are you awake now?” The voice uttered so near to her ear that it startled her into opening her eyes fully; not a hint of drowsiness remained. When she turned her head, the sight of her abductor sitting so near to her, startled her so that alarm bells began ringing throughout her body. She struggled to pull herself away from him, finally managing to slide to a half-seated position against the headboard.
“You?” She croaked after taking several saliva-filled gulps to moisten her exceedingly dry mouth. She fought to sit up straighter, as anger replaced fear. “What in hell do you think you’re playing at?” She whispered hoarsely. “I said that I wouldn’t participate in your little experiment, or did you have a temporary bout of hearing loss after you asked me?”
Her abductor smiled, “I told you that I needed a participant, and as I already determined that you would do, I wasn’t going to comb the neighborhood for someone else.”
“This isn’t funny, Christian,” Brooke snapped, slipping slowly from the bed. She tested her ability to stand, then bent over to pick up her stilettos and headed for the door. “And I haven’t time for your stupid games, or your stupid experiments. I’m outta here!”
Christian stepped in her path, “Sorry, Brooke, but I’m afraid you’re with me for the long-haul.”
“I beg your ever-loving pardon? What in hell are you talking about—long-haul? Just how long is this blasted experiment of yours supposed to last, anyway?”
“Thirty-six hours,” Christian said patiently. “Well, thirty-six once the actual experiment begins. If you count…”
“Thirty-six hours!” Brooke screeched, interrupting Christian’s patronizing explanation. “I sure as hell do not have thirty-six hours to devote to you. I told you that my sister is expecting me. Now let me by,” she barked angrily. When he again blocked the exit, she backed up a step and hurled a shoe at his head.
“I told you that I needed an assistant,” Christian said, dodging the spiked heel. “And I explained, rather pleasantly I thought, that you were going to be that assistant. Now, no more petulance, if you please.” He pulled a disposable cell phone from his pant pocket, and then glanced at his watch. Seven-twenty-seven p.m.
“Is this some sort of test? Is that it?” Brooke asked, her gaze narrowing in anger, her breath heaving.
“If it had been, you’d have failed miserably, or did you think that slapping an attacker on the arm would deter him? Did you think standing by while the chloroform did its work was acceptable?” Christian retorted.
“I didn’t slap, I punched, and I know you, you asshole! You’re my martial arts instructor!” Brooke screamed. “So I hardly expected you to abduct me using chloroform or…at all!”
Christian sighed, “It’s time.”
“I said I’m not participating…”
“You are going to dial 911,” he continued, ignoring her outburst.
“I said I’m…what?”
“When they answer, you will have thirty seconds to tell them everything you can; anything that will aid the police in locating you.”
“I get to dial 911?” Brooke asked, incredulous, but the astonishment didn’t last for long as anger welled like a typhoon. “You know what? Screw you! Keep your damned phone. I’m not helping you and that’s that!”
Christian sighed again, and tossed the phone in her direction. “Go!”
Brooke caught the phone instinctively, but simply stared at it in defiance. “I’m not…” she started, but when he pressed a button on his watch to begin the countdown, her survival instincts kicked in and she pressed the emergency button.
“911, what is your emergency?”
“Hello, operator? My name is Brooke Madison. I’ve been kidnapped by a man named Christian Price…”
“Please, you have to listen, I don’t have a lot of time,” Brooke pleaded. “I said that I’ve been kidnapped and I bloody well need help.”
“Do you know where you’re being held,” The operator droned dispassionately.
“If I knew that, it would have been the first thing I told you! All I can tell is that I’m in what looks like a warehouse of some sort. There’s a window way up high. The square kind that looks like it belongs in a basement, only the room is too big to be a basement… Hey! Give me that back!”
“Hello, operator, this is Miss Madison’s abductor,” Christian relayed, putting a hand up to ward off Brooke’s attempts to retrieve the phone. Her yelling, however, was making it difficult to talk to the operator, so he paused his conversation with a polite, “excuse me” and laid the phone on the floor.
He approached Brooke menacingly, which had her backing away, “Either hush now,” he said in a calm that belied his anger at her, “or I may not give you thirty-six hours for this experiment. I’ll end it now, and as ending it now would mean killing you, I don’t think you want that.”
Brooke stared at Christian wide-eyed, but his threat worked at silencing her tirade. He returned and picked up his phone. The 911 operator was trying to get his attention.
Hello, are you still there?
“I’ve returned, and I need you to listen to me well. This is not a joke. Please relay the following information to the police. Inform them that they have thirty-six hours to locate Brooke Madison or she dies…”
“I do hope you were paying attention because I won’t be repeating what I just said. Your time starts—now!” Christian touched the button that effectively ended the call and then tucked the phone back into his pants pocket.
Brooke stared at him, wide-eyed, “Die?” She whispered. “You’re going to kill me? You didn’t say that this experiment was life or death. You said your experiments were to help save lives.”
“I truly hope it doesn’t end in death, Brooke,” he said in such a truthful, sincere tone that Brooke felt tears well in her eyes. “I put my experiments in place to help save as many lives as is possible, but sometimes, in order to accomplish that, a few lives must be sacrificed. Again, I do hope that yours isn’t one of them.”
“Just tell me why?” She whispered, pleading. “Why? Why did you have to choose me for this? Surely there are plenty of other people you could have picked on,” She screamed when he ignored her question and turned to leave.
“This will be over in thirty-six hours,” he said softly. “All the police have to do is their job.”
“Thirty-six hours and you’ll let me go?” Brooke tried again.
“If the police come for you, you go free,” he said. “If not…well then, the experiment is over.”
“You’re experimenting with my life, you bastard! You can’t do this to me!” Brooke yelled, running at him like a football tight end. She collided with him, but he was ready for her and shoved her backward as she neared. She fell on her bottom and let out a squeal of humiliated anger.
“Actually, I already am doing this to you,” he said, the flat tone of his voice belying the sadness in his gaze. “So, accept it and just sit peacefully and await the arrival of the police. That’s all you have to do.”
“But, why? What have I ever done to you? Are you just mad because I didn’t want to help you? Is that it? Or because I failed your little test? Or was I a bad martial arts student and this is payback for not putting my keys on the outside of my purse?” Brooke cried, trying to stall his departure. “Wait! Please? Just…are you the one who killed Sandra?”
He turned and opened the door, stepping into the corridor before turning back to answer her question.
“You’ve done nothing to me, Brooke, and neither did Sandra,” he replied softly, “but I’ll say it again—someone has to be sacrificed if it means saving hundreds of others.” He raised his hands to prevent any further questions. “No more histrionics now. I have to go, but before I do I want to thank you.”
“What for—being an unwilling participant in your sadistic game?” Brooked snarled.
“No, I want to thank you for starting the police off on the wrong foot. It will be a good test to determine just what caliber of officer we have in this city.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking…”
“My name isn’t Christian Price.”