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Duct Tape, Part 1

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Man did Frank Hardy ever hate duct tape.

Oh sure, it could be great for things like patching cracked leather car seats, or building school science projects, or even removing warts. But it made for really crappy bonds. Crappy, at least, for the one with their hands and feet bound, lying on the floor of someone’s basement, being held captive against their will.

He would have released a long sigh, except that his mouth was taped over too.

“Aah?”

Out of the dimness surrounding him, his younger brother Joe grunted a question, probably Frank’s name.

Frank paused in his efforts at getting his tongue between his lips so he could lick the back of the tape gag. “Uhu.

“I ummah hoooy.”

Now, Frank did sigh through his nose, and he wished he could give Joe a reassuring punch in the arm. Because Joe didn’t really have to be sorry.

“It’s not your fault,” Frank tried to say, but it came out all garbled. He worked his jaw, and finally got his tongue out, quickly loosening the sticky grip with his saliva.

That was one plus of a familiarity with duct tape—you learned its weaknesses. Wet surfaces were the biggest. Unfortunately, these criminals appeared to have some experience as well, because they’d used at least three strips, layering it down under his chin.

Ugh. “This stuff tastes horrible,” Frank muttered into the little air pocket he’d created under the tape.

“Oh, ihing,” Joe mumbled back.

Persistence was the key to escaping any kind of bonds, Frank knew. They both knew. Here they were, nineteen and twenty years old, and they had more experience being tied up than… anyone other than Houdini. So, he just kept wriggling his jaw, poking away with his tongue, even blowing on the inside of the gag. He could hear Joe doing the same next to him.

“How long do you think they’ll leave us here?” Joe finally questioned, his voice still muffled.

Frank stilled, hearing an edge of real fear in his brother’s tone.

Joe was always the first to laugh in their captor’s faces, to grin down the bore of a gun, to joke through the threats. Frank hated to let anyone see his fear either, but he had a better sense of when to tone the defiance down, and avoid the ire of whatever enemy they happened to be facing. More than once Frank had winced at an angry blow striking his younger brother, feeling the sting as if it were his own.

This was different though. None of this had been planned. There had been no warning, no hot-on-the-trail investigation leading them to this place.

No, for once, they had simply been two ordinary college students in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Some kind of drug had taken care of their fighting skills. Frank had never even seen the faces of whoever had taken them. And now they were bound hand and foot, lying on the cold cement floor of a basement with only a faint light coming from the cracks around a boarded-up window set high in one wall.

Frank could see nothing on the walls, no shapes of potentially useful tools; just the suggestions of a water heater in one corner, a furnace in another, and the stairs leading up to God only knew where.

“They’re professionals, clearly,” Frank started slowly. “The drugs, not letting us see or hear them, the completely non-descript basement. How long do you reckon we’ve already been here?”

“Dunno. A few hours at least.”

“Did they empty your pockets?”

“Yeah.”

“Thing is,” Frank went on thinking, “we interrupted something.”

“But what?” Joe sounded frustrated. “A drug deal? Then why didn’t they just kill us? Mob guys are supposed to be cutthroat, ruthless. A heist of some kind? What could you possibly be trying to steal from a university? Old books?”

Frank felt his lips curl up, and he gave a little snort. “Well, there are some people who pay big bucks for some ‘old books’. But you’re right; there isn’t anything valuable at John Jay, as far as I know.”

“We are going to a college that teaches nothing but how to hunt bad guys.” Joe was quiet for a moment. “Maybe these people want to teach us something.”

Um. That was an unpleasant thought. “Well, so far, I’d say we haven’t covered anything new.” Once again Frank started working his mouth, finally managing to pull the tape down below his lips.

“Okay,” he said briskly. “Mouth free. How are your hands taped?”

“Down to the finger tips.”

“Mine too.” That meant more work. “Give ‘em to me.”

He heard Joe shifting, a scraping on the floor, and a sudden grunt. “No.” More grunting, and thudding as Joe bucked against some restraint that Frank couldn’t see. “No. No, nonononono!”

“Joe!”

His brother slumped back down, panting. Frank could just make out the pale circle of his face. “I can’t get any closer. There’s something tied to my feet.”

Frank rolled over at once, rocking his body toward his brother till their faces were maybe a foot apart. And then with a jerk he was brought up short.

He only fought if for long enough to deduce that he was not only taped around the ankles, but also tied by them. Likely rope, since there was no jingle of a chain.

They stared through the near-darkness at each other, panting.

“Yeah,” Joe whispered. “Like you said. Professionals.”

For the first time that day, a wave of true fear washed through Frank’s stomach. But he took a slow breath. “Okay. Are you tied by both ankles, or just one?”

More jerking and grunting from Joe.

“Neither.” And suddenly there was a spark of hope in Joe’s voice. “It’s between my legs and around the tape. If I keep pulling I might be able to pull the tape off, or at least further down my legs.”

“Go for it,” Frank said. “Mine’s around both ankles, underneath the tape.”

“Kay,” Joe answered, and then the air was filled with his desperate thrashing and wordless growls as he tugged and fought against his bonds.

Frank returned to testing his own restraints, working his arms behind his back. For all its industrial stickiness, duct tape could stretch, and until one of them could get their teeth on the other’s bonds, that was where their hope lay.

Listening to his younger brother’s struggle was agonizing, and Frank set his teeth against the helplessness. He counted each time he yanked his arms apart.

26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32…

Joe slumped down, gasping. “I think… it’s working.”

Frank took his own pause. “Attaboy, Joe. You can do it, you’ve got this.”

“Cheerleader,” Joe huffed, before he started up again.

Time blurred. It could have been an hour; it could have been a day.

They fell into a rhythm of fighting and resting, muttering breathless encouragement to each other.

Frank was making very little headway. He wondered if they’d spent an entire roll of tape on his bonds alone.

Joe kept saying, “I can feel it, it’s giving,” and yes, Frank could feel him getting closer, inch by painful inch.

Then the fights started getting shorter. And the breaks started getting longer. Frank’s arms were cramping and seizing, while Joe’s breathing was getting more and more ragged.

Around the window the light was fading out of the cracks.

Frank had lost count of everything.

Once more they stilled, Frank forcing himself to breathe past the pain gripping his arms and shoulders.

“Hey, brother,” he managed to get out. “Looks like we’re gonna be here a while. Maybe we should stop for a while. Try to get some sleep.”

“No!” Joe protested hoarsely. “No, I can’t stop. Have to get us out of here, have to escape.” Desperately he heaved on his bonds again and again.

“Joe,” Frank whispered.

“NO!”

Joe’s roar seemed to fill the basement, and he was lunging in Frank’s direction with an almost animal ferocity, his body twisting and thudding against the floor. Frank felt his brother’s spittle on his cheek, but he did not pull back.

“Fine!” he volleyed back. “Fight, Joe, fight! Fight, dang it!” Well, if anyone else was in the house, they would come running now.

With a shock, their heads cracked together.

After a single breathless second, Joe collapsed, sobbing.

Frank felt exhausted tears burn in his own eyes, as he wriggled in as close to Joe as possible. The room was quite dark now, but he butted his head against Joe’s.

Joe couldn’t seem to catch his breath, his body shuddering with the force of his tears.

“Hey. Joe,” Frank choked out, shifting around till their foreheads were touching. “Brother. Hey, brother.”

“-ank!” was the only strangled response.

The two brothers lay in the darkness, at the end of their leashes, as close to each other as they could get. Frank tried to swallow the jagged lump in his throat, and he suddenly realized how thirsty he was. Dear God, it was horrible to have his hands tied behind his back, helpless to comfort his younger brother.

“Joe, I’m so sorry, Joe,” he murmured, letting his own tears squeeze out. The cement floor was cold against his cheek, but the tears were warm. He pressed his forehead against Joe’s, and almost thought he could feel his brother’s pulse throbbing in his temple.

Frank knew it was mostly the exhaustion that had Joe falling apart like this. Heartache added to the pain Frank felt everywhere else, mixing with anger at whoever the heck had done this to them. He didn’t like not knowing why, let alone who or what or where. What if they were just being left here to rot? What if no one found them? What if they couldn’t get any closer to each other, couldn’t get out of their bonds, and they just… stayed here? Like this?

Oh, God.

He was letting his imagination run away with him, which he supposed was exactly what Joe was doing.

Finally though, Joe’s sobs began to slow, his breathing to deepen. A couple ragged huffs, and he nudged his head against Frank’s.

“Frank?” he croaked.

“Yeah?”

“I’m tired.”

Frank bit his lips together, then decided he didn’t care. “Joe?”

Joe sniffed, gave a shuddery sigh. “Yeah?”

“I’m scared.”

Joe inhaled sharply, almost a gasp. Frank closed his eyes, and shook his head slightly.

“Frank…” Joe softly butted their foreheads together again, and Frank had a sudden longing to see his brother’s eyes, that bright blue, like the sky.

“We’ll be okay. You’ll see.” Joe gulped, sniffled. “We’ll have to figure out how to explain this one to the professors. ‘Sorry, Professor Deanne,’” he mimicked. “‘We got a little… tied up.’”

A laugh broke out of Frank, and suddenly it didn’t matter how much pain either of them were in, or how far they still were from escape. Because they were together. They were in this together.

Frank had Joe, and Joe had Frank. How could they not be okay?

Joe was laughing too. But he broke off suddenly in a coughing fit. “Gosh,” he squeezed out, trying to take deep breaths. “I’d give my right arm for a glass of water right now.”

“Or at least all my textbooks,” Frank mumbled.

“Ah, well,” Joe sighed. “Not the first time.”

“And not the last either.”

“Nope.”

Frank could feel both of them drifting into exhaustion. “We should probably sleep,” he murmured. “We’ll need all the strength we can muster to get out of this one.” Or at least you will.

“Yeah.” Joe shifted a little, gave a hiss. “Everything hurts,” he whispered.

“Yeah.”

“Ain’t exactly The Peninsula.”

“Nope. Room service is a little lacking.”

“No kidding.” Joe was definitely starting to sound sleepy. It had been a long day after all, since 7 o’clock that morning when they woke up in their basement apartment, and made breakfast, and quizzed each other, and headed out to class, and got their coffees at the Starbucks on the corner of 10th and W 57th

God, please. Please let us get back. Please let us get back there. Let us get home safe. Please, God.

It was as uncomfortable as it possibly could be, lying stretched out on their sides, hands bound behind their backs. Frank didn’t think he could even feel his hands any more, and his back felt weird. But neither of them wanted to lose their precious bit of physical contact, the one spot of warmth in the chilly darkness.

To take his mind off it all, Frank began to hum an old lullaby his mother had sung to them when they were small. Funny how he had often thought of it when he was helpless and afraid.

His humming put both of them to sleep. Because they might not have been free, but at least they weren’t alone.