Being bound by rope to a metal pole in the middle of a dark room probably should have elicited more fear in Gabby. Most fifteen-year-old girls would be trembling in fear and screaming at the top of their lungs. She was doing neither.
This wasn’t her first rodeo.
Like most of her misadventures, she was partially responsible for ending up here. Bad decisions leading to bad outcomes had become her modus operandi lately. As she felt the coarse strands of rope rubbing against her wrists, she knew she had no one but herself to blame.
It would have been different if this were one of God’s divine interventions. It would still suck, but at least it would have had a greater purpose. Not this time. No infusion of knowledge. No feeling of intention. No grand sacrifice.
Well, at least, not yet.
No, this was Gabby’s invention, and, for better or worse, it was going as expected.
Okay, make that worse.
Even if this was her third time being held captive, staring down a self-proclaimed sociopath threatening to skin her alive, she still should have been more bothered by it all. The fact that this had become somewhat normal made her a little sad. For most people, fear was fueled by the unknown, but Gabby had come to expect such nefarious behavior since the tragedy on the Fourth of July. Her world was populated by classmates and criminals alike, and it appeared she couldn’t escape either of them.
Fortunately, she wasn’t alone this time. Well, fortunate for her, not so fortunate for Hamilton, who was tied to a pole next to her. Ironically, she found his thin, shaking body kind of cute. His nervousness meant their friendship hadn’t hardened him yet. For the most part, he’d only lived on the periphery of her existence, sensing danger and feeling threatened, but rarely fully exposed to its wrath. Sure, he had a few brushes with a hitman, a suicidal trust-fund brat, and he’d tried to help Gabby before their town exploded, but compared to her life, that wasn’t so bad. Him being on the verge of freaking out proved there was still purity and naiveté in him.
At least for the next few seconds.
Today, he was no longer orbiting Gabby’s strange existence. He was now at the center of it, the focus of a madman’s threats, and, unfortunately, the solution to his problems.
“Gabs, how does he know who I am?” Hamilton whispered. “Why did he pick me?”
“Who knows?” Gabby said, pulling at her binds. “The Internet is a powerful tool.”
“But I’ve worked really hard at protecting my online footprint. I treat The Hamilton as a brand, not a person.”
“The Hamilton? I thought we talked about this.”
“It elevates me, Gabs.”
“It makes you sound like an ass. I don’t call myself The Gabby. Our kidnapper doesn’t call himself The Russian Thug. Only narcissists put a the in front of their name.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You’re Gabby Wells. Everyone knows who you are. Everybody loves you.”
She glanced at him and mumbled, “Not everyone.”
“I’m the outcast, the un-athletic nobody in a school full of jocks. Outcast. I love books. Outcast. I love working at the library. Outcast.”
“You also good with computers,” a voice bellowed from the shadows, his thick Russian accent pouring over each word like syrup. “You are hacker, like bull.”
“To clarify, bulls aren’t like hackers,” Hamilton said. “Nor are hackers like bulls, for that matter.”
“See? You are smart.” A barrel-chested man with scraggly hair and an unkempt beard stepped through the darkened doorway and into the small, overhead shafts of light. He plopped a heavy metal briefcase onto a folding table with a thump.
“Now, you will hack, like bull, or you will die,” he said.
“Why me?” Hamilton asked, his voice trembling.
“Because my crew got, what you say? Pinched? My time is short and I hear of you, so I come calling.”
“How? How could you possibly hear about me?”
“Stop asking questions, Ham,” Gabby said. “Just do what he says.”
“Yes,” the Russian said. “Listen to your girlfriend.”
“Who?” Hamilton asked. “Gabby?”
“Is that her name? She looks cute in gray ball cap, don’t you think?”
“Are you talking about Gabby?”
“Yes, Ham,” Gabby grumbled. “He’s talking about me! Now, just say yes.”
“Okay,” Hamilton said. “Yes. Her hat makes her look cute. Now will you let us go?”
“Of course not.” The Russian unlocked the briefcase with a couple of clicks and lifted the lid, pulling a large knife from it.
“Whoa,” Hamilton said. “What’s… what’s that for?”
“Look at you. You are shaking. Good. We call this motivation, yes?”
“Yes. I am undoubtedly motivated.”
“Good. I will cut you loose, yes? You will do as I say, yes? Not run, yes?”
“No. I won’t run.”
“Because I will have to hurt you and your cute girlfriend.”
“To be clear, Gabby and I aren’t dating.”
The Russian stepped up to Hamilton, his wide shadow doubling his thin body. “Is she not good enough for you?” he asked, sliding the dull edge of the knife across Hamilton’s face. “She not up to your high standards, is that it, hacker bull?”
“No. She’s awesome. I was just clarifying our social status.”
“In case I am to post this breaking news on social media, is that it?”
“I’m sorry,” Hamilton said. “I get chatty when I’m nervous. Do you get chatty?”
“I get grumpy. Not good grumpy. You, you not like bull, like shy calf,” the Russian said with a chuckle as he walked back to the briefcase.
“Ham,” Gabby whispered. “If he leaves an opening when he cuts you loose, take him.”
“What?” he whispered back. “Take him? How?”
“Hit him with the briefcase or something.”
“I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Hamilton. Un-athletic, weak, and ready to soil his pants.”
“Just focus on the job, Ham! That’s what I do. Focus on what comes next, not on yourself.”
“So you want me to knock out the Russian Goliath and then what?”
“Then free me. C’mon, you can do this!”
The Russian turned and looked over his muscular shoulder. “What are you two love birds talking about? Dance, perhaps? A hot and heavy date, yes?”
“You got us, Vlad,” Gabby said. “I wanted to make sure his corsage matched my dress.”
“I am not Vlad. I have cousin named Vlad. Short man. Bad breath.”
The Russian spun the case on the table, revealing an active laptop inside. “Now we get to business, yes?”
“I guess so…” Hamilton said.
The Russian approached them like a boulder with legs. “She calls you a ham? Interesting. You like pig, not bull.”
“You have an odd fascination with animals,” Hamilton said. “Did you grow up on a farm?”
“Where I grow up not important.” The Russian forced the knife between Hamilton’s hands, slipping the blade beneath the rope. With a quick jerk, he sliced the binds in one pull. “What you do for me now? Important. Very important. You could call it life or death.”
“I get that,” he said, trembling.
The Russian’s large hand enveloped the back of Hamilton’s neck as he led him to the table.
“If you don’t mind me saying, Mr. Russian fellow, you look familiar,” Hamilton said. “I feel like I’ve seen you before.”
“Impossible. Never been to Sunshine State. It is nice. Where I come from, cold. Always cold.”
“So, you’re from Siberia?”
“No more geography questions, young bull. You hack now.”
“What am I hacking?”
“You hack this,” he said, his tattooed hand slapping a stained and wrinkled piece of paper next to him.
“This is… what is this?” Hamilton asked.
“IP address. You hack. You transfer money from here…” The Russian’s nubby finger pointed to one line of numbers. “To here…” He gestured to another line of scribbled digits.
“How much?” Hamilton asked.
“All of it.”
Gabby watched as her frightened friend put his hands on the keys, his chest rising and falling in quick succession with shallow breaths.
“Are you going to kill us when we’re done?” Hamilton asked.
The Russian bent down and leaned next to him. “First things first. You hack, and then I decide if I hack.”
Tomorrow – Chapter Two
This novel follows up almost immediately after the events which unfolded in Kneel & Prey, Lost & Found. and Sins & Suicide,. If you haven’t read the first novel, download it for free. I hope you’ve enjoyed this free sample and let me know what you think in the comments.