Sterling snapped awake as her chin hit her chest, blinking rapidly to try to clear the drowsiness from her mind. She had no idea how much sleep she had actually had in the past three days, but it wasn’t much and certainly wasn’t restful. She had used the time since he had left to search through the various rooms to try to find anything of use. It had only been when she explored the pantry that she had realised she hadn’t eaten in days. Despite the anxiety regarding her situation, she forced herself to consume some food to provide her with some energy for whatever came next. There had been a moment of hope when she had opened one of the cupboards in the pantry and found a gun safe hidden inside. However, that hope had been short lived when after trying every possible combination of numbers she could think of that may hold meaning, it still remained firmly locked. With the code being four numbers, that meant 10,000 different possible combinations so certainly a very remote chance of stumbling across it by entering random numbers.
She shifted in her position to stretch out her sore muscles. For a fleeting moment she considered if her current position, seated on the floor of the pantry, tucked out of sight of the hallway was the best position. Yet her options were limited. She couldn’t risk any of the bedrooms as they each had locks on the doors, the bathroom had automatic lighting that should be move at the wrong time would draw attention to her location and the rest of the space was open plan. Standing for a moment she stretched her arms and legs, an effort to both keep herself ready for any movement needed and help to keep her alert. All the while she ran through her plan in her head over and over again, making sure she hadn’t missed anything as she was only going to get one shot at this. As much as she hoped that a rescue would be forthcoming, having seen Blair and Bowser leave, she knew that there was only one person who could get her out of this now…herself.
April glanced down at the caller ID on her phone and saw her mom’s name flash up on the screen. She knew that leaving as she did would lead to questions but she didn’t have the time to waste giving her mom an excuse. She considered just declining the call but the realisation that her mom might call her dad to let him know about her erratic behaviour was a risk she couldn’t take. With a deep breath, she accepted the call.
”April Stevens, just what do you think you are doing running off like that?” Her mother’s voice rang through the car, her tone leaving no room for misinterpretation about her feelings on the matter.
“Sorry mom but I had to go.”
“And just where do you have to go in such a rush? David was utterly aghast as your rude behaviour.” There it was April thought, there was no concern for her welfare, just justification for her embarrassing her mother in front of one of their acquaintances.
“One of my friends needed me urgently. They are in trouble and I have to help them.”
“I fail to see how it is your responsibility or why you couldn’t have taken the time to explain yourself before making such a scene.”
April wanted to drop all pretences and just announce there and then that she had to follow her abusive father to where he was holding her girlfriend hostage and she feared what he would do when he got there. Yet the part of her that still retained some higher-level functioning prevented her from dropping that bomb. Even when her dad had been arrested, her mom still stood by him and the only anger she held was that her precious reputation had been tarnished. She knew that her mom wouldn’t believe a word of it and would call her dad about the outlandish lies his own daughter was spreading. “I’m Fellowship leader and they are in crisis. How could I not help them? It is the Christian thing to do.”
“We will be discussing this when your father is home later young lady. You will not drag the reputation of this family down in the community.” The thought that her helping someone would lead to the family name being dragged through the mud more than her father beating a prostitute was almost voiced. However, before April could reply, she was greeted with the sound of the disconnected call tone. Her mother had hung up. Glancing at her phone she saw how much closer her dad was to the lake house now. All thoughts of the conversation with her mother vanished from her mind and she pressed the gas pedal down further.
Sterling felt her whole-body tense. The silence of her surroundings was broken by the sound of metal bolts retracting, the noise echoing off the walls. She reached down to retrieve the knife she had as her only means of defence or attack, her only bargaining tool to get out of this place. The steel of the handle felt cool against her skin. Rising to a crouch, she waited. She was aware of the pounding of her heart in her chest, part of her feeling sure that with the force that it must be audible in the silent room. She leant closer to the entrance of the pantry, listening for the tell-tale sound of footsteps denoting the approach of her captor. The silence seemed to stretch on for an immeasurable length of time, each second felt like it was being drawn out far longer than it should last. Then she heard it…
The rhythmic sound of shoes across the solid flooring, slowly approaching. Each step that fraction louder as the individual responsible drew ever closer to her position. She had paced out the distance from the door to her hideaway to know how many steps to expect. Twenty steps. Twenty steps was all that lay between her and the exit. As she counted the fifteenth step, she drew in a breath and held it, not daring to exhale.
Three more steps. She heard the sound of metal clinking together join the sound of the footsteps. Her mind filled in the image of what was responsible for the new noise…keys. Keys to unlock the door behind which he expected her to be. A door which as soon as the key entered the lock, he would realise wasn’t locked. Sterling rose to her feet fully, clenching her hand against the steel handle in preparation.
The footsteps stopped. As soon as the silence returned, Sterling slipped out from her hiding place. As she rounded the corner, she was greeted by the sight of his back as his attention was on the task in hand. The sound of the metal of a key being slipped into a lock accompanied her motion. She stepped up behind him, extending the arm holding the knife towards him. She pressed the tip of the blade into his back. Just enough to make its presence felt, to provide the warning that she wasn’t bluffing.
“Don’t move. I’ve got a knife.” She could hear the edge of fear in her own voice but despite that, he froze. The key in the lock, his hand still holding them. Sterling could feel her own heart pounding against her ribcage. She watched as he raised his hands.
“Ok, no need to do anything drastic.” Sterling felt a laugh bubble inside her chest at the words but managed to suppress it at the last moment before it spilled from her lips. “I’m sure we can find a way out of this.” He turned his head slightly, so she was able to see his profile. “What do you want Sterling?”
“I want to go home.” She desperately tried to maintain her composure, to not let any sign of weakness show but as soon as the words were uttered, she felt a tear slip down her cheek with the honesty of the admission. All she wanted was to go home. She wanted to get out of this place and see her mom and dad. She wanted to have Blair lie in bed next to her as they ran through a top five list. She wanted to have April wrap her arms around her and tell her that she was going to be OK.
“Ok then.” The words snapped her back to the present, the thoughts of those hopefully waiting for had fading.
“I’m not about to die down here and it seems to me you have the upper hand.”
There was an element of truth to the statement but she couldn’t shake the feeling of apprehension that she was missing something. She couldn’t believe that after all this, he would just let her walk out of here and report him to the police. “Why would you let me leave? You know I’ll go to the police.”
“Maybe…But what’s my motive for this? Why would I kidnap a teenage classmate of my own daughter?” The realisation hit Sterling then. The reason for all this was because of her bounty hunting. Something that she was not legally allowed to do. Something that had been kept a secret for so long because of that very reason. “Besides I’ve been dealing with a business issue these last few days and have the alibi to back it up.”
Sterling processed his words for a moment. She didn’t doubt for one second that he had managed to convince someone to provide him with an alibi. After all, he had somehow got charges dropped when there was video evidence against him. A conversation she and Blair had overheard so long ago about Gerald being willing to turn himself in for the man echoed in her mind. The reality was that admitting to the motive behind the whole event would create problems for herself, Blair, Bowser and Yolanda.
The sound of his voice brought the rapid-fire thoughts to an end. “Move.” She pressed the blade into his back with a touch more force to start him moving back towards the main door. She matched him step for step. Not daring to blink in case she missed any sign that he was going to try something.
They came to a stop in front of the steel door. Sterling could feel hope start to bloom that this ordeal was almost over. She was so close to being out of this place. “I’m just going to enter the code to open the door.” She watched as he raised his hand to the keypad and began typing.
April knew that Blair and Bowser were not going to be able to get to the lake house soon enough. Even if they broke every speed limit and hit no traffic, they were too far away. As much as she wanted to believe that she could handle whatever she was walking into, she feared she wouldn’t be able to stop her father. Her destination was mere minutes away. Reaching a hand out, she pulled up the keypad on her phone and dialled.
“911, what is your emergency?”
“He’s going to kill her.” April wanted nothing more than to push the speed she was driving at but as she drew closer, the roads became more rural and twisty. Ending up wrapping her car around a tree would be no use to anyone so she was having to accept the slower speeds despite her growing agitation.
“Can I take your name?”
“April. You have to send the police now. John Stevens has kidnapped Sterling Wesley and he is going to kill her.” She knew that the nearest police station was still a good thirty minutes drive from the lake house, even if they pushed the limit of safe driving speeds for the roads. She hoped that they would dispatch officers immediately but even then, she had to somehow prevent anything from occurring before they could arrive. She took the final turn onto the road that led to the lake house.
“How do you know this?”
April ignored the question reeling off the address of the lake house to the dispatcher. “Just hurry…please.” With that she ended the call, knowing that she was moments away from arriving and having to face her father. From having to find Sterling before any further harm could come to her. She just hoped she want already too late.
The sound of the metal bolts sliding back into the door, allowing the steel barrier to finally open made Sterling want to cry with relief. She was no longer confined to this space, the fear of never getting out of there began to fade.
Sterling glanced towards the door. If she walked out first, she was walking into the unknown and he would be behind her. If he went first, she would have to be certain that he didn’t get beyond the threshold of the door and close her back in once more. She knew she couldn’t let that happen. The only reason she was so close to escape now was due to having the element of surprise on her side. She wouldn’t be so lucky if there was a next time.
“You first.” She nudged him forward, watching as he opened the door fully and stepped across the threshold. She stayed close behind him, not willing to risk being trapped once more. She took in her surroundings as they stepped through the door. The walls were concrete and before them was a steep flight of concrete stairs. The sparse lighting on the walls did nothing to ease the feelings of disquiet that resided within her with every step they took. The lighting was barely enough for her to see where she was placing her feet. He ascended the steps and as he neared the top he reached up. “What are you doing?”
“Take it easy. Just opening the hatch.” Sterling saw him glance over his shoulder at her. She kept her eyes on his hands as they reached up and slid a bolt back before pushing up. As soon as the hatch rose, bright light flooded into the stairwell. Sterling ducked away from the sudden illumination. As soon as she did, she realised her error.
April slammed her foot on the brake as she pulled up the gravel drive, she could hear the grinding of the stones against the tyres as they struggled to find purchase against the loose surface. Her eyes caught on the sight of her dad’s car already parked in its usual space. While she had managed to close the distance between them by breaking every speed limit on her way up there, he had still arrived ten minutes before her. As soon as the car came to a halt, she threw the door open and flung herself out of the vehicle, not even bothering to stop to close the door.
She ran towards the front of the property, hand shaking as she tried to type the code into the keypad on the door. The tremors in her hand made her inadvertently press the same number twice. “Fuck!” She reset the lock and clenched her fist a couple of times in an attempt to steady it. She then reached out once more to enter the code. The sound of the lock clicking open brought a fraction of relief. Relief that was quickly replaced with the cold truth that Blair and Bowser had searched the whole property and found nothing. Pushing the thought to the back of her mind as she pressed the door open, she tried to consider what her dad would do first. The house was silent aside from the sound of April’s hurried footsteps on the floor as she made her way to her dad’s den.
She pushed the door open and looked around the space. Her eyes caught on his keys and phone on the table. There was her confirmation that he was here. Then she saw the door to the back was standing open. She started to make her way towards it when out of the corner of her eye she spotted the gun safe. Her footsteps faltered as the thoughts rushed through her head before she stepped over to the cabinet. She typed in her dad’s usual code. The code he thought she didn’t know and watched as the door opened. It felt like her hand was moving independently of her body as she reached forward and removed the Glock that her dad had bought her to teach her how to defend herself. Knowing that she was considering using the weapon to defend herself against her own father probably never entered his mind. April loaded the gun and turned towards the open door. The only reason the door would be open was if her father had ventured through it, stepping towards the open door. She just hoped that she would be able to locate the blonde where Blair and Bowser had failed.
Before Sterling could rectify her mistake, she felt a foot connect with her abdomen. The unexpected force on the narrow steps sending her careening backwards. Her eyes flew wide as she reached an arm out to try to brace herself against the wall but there was nothing to grip. Everything seemed to slow as she felt her body tipping further back. Felt her fingers graze across the rough concrete. Then she felt nothing but the cold brush of the air against her skin as she fell back, losing that final contact against the ground. There was a fraction of a second where she felt completely disconnected, almost weightless, as each moment stretched on for longer than time dictated it should. She watched as his face turned to watch, a cold smile playing across his lips. The moment her back hit the first step she was vaguely aware of a cry leaving her body, whether it was through shock or pain, she didn’t know. Her body kept tumbling, each impact jarring already bruised skin. Her head cracked against the stone with a sickening thud causing her vision to grey out as everything spun. Finally, everything stopped.
She could feel the pounding in her chest as she sucked in gulps of air, screwing her eyes shut for a moment to try to get her vision back into focus. When she opened her eyes, she wished she hadn’t. Towering over her prone form was John Stevens. Sterling didn’t give herself a moment to think. She shot her arm forwards. She knew the moment the blade struck its target, could feel the way it met resistance as she was no longer moving through air but instead flesh. A glance down the length of her arm revealed she had driven the knife deep within his thigh, the majority of the blade now buried deep in the tissue.
“YOU BITCH!” The words had barely registered before everything went black.