Her Last Goodbye Page 7

She’d been selfish and stupid, and William and Tim were no doubt paying the price.

Forgive me.

She took comfort in the fact that her husband was smart, and he would do whatever it took to take care of their baby. William wouldn’t starve.

Chelsea closed her eyes for a few seconds, replaying their brief argument Friday night before she’d left. Sure, he’d been late. Tim had no sense of time, and she’d been cranky. She’d wanted to have time to do her hair and put on some makeup. She’d wanted a break. But she regretted her snub of his goodbye kiss. When was the last time she’d told him she loved him?

Tim, I love you. I’m sorry I’ve been such a lunatic. Sleep deprivation was used as a form of torture for a reason. If only she could get a do-over of the last few months.

Too late now. He couldn’t hear her. Would that be their last goodbye? Would she ever get a chance to make it up to him? To tell him that despite her recent exhausted insanity, she loved him.

And there was only one way she was ever going to get back to him.

Putting a hand to her forehead, she lifted her shoulders from the narrow cot. Her head swam with the change in position. She slowed her movements, slowly rising until she was sitting up.

She took stock of her physical condition first. Her body was stiff and cold. A wool blanket was draped over her, but her shoes and coat were gone. She stretched her legs, testing their strength. Something clinked and metal bit into her ankle.

She was chained to an upright barrel that stood next to the cot she lay on.

Her mind reeled.


Like a dog.

Terror constricted her throat, the weight of the manacle on her ankle a solid manifestation of the horror of her situation, and the potential that it would get much worse.

This is not helping.

She took two deep breaths and then scanned her body. She was still dressed in the jeans and sweater she’d worn for her evening out with Fiona. Her sweater was damp. Her breasts had leaked, and she smelled of sour milk.

But other than being filthy and uncomfortable, she didn’t feel any major injuries. She moved her arms and legs. No broken bones.

Moving on to her prison . . .

The cot was a simple folding type common for camping. A single camp lantern shone weakly from the barrel she was chained to. Her room was about eight feet long and maybe ten feet wide. Corrugated metal walls formed a rectangular box.

Keeping one hand on the cot for balance, she eased to standing. Her feet landed on a plywood floor. When the initial dizziness had passed, she stretched her arms overhead, but couldn’t reach the ceiling, which was made of the same corrugated metal as the walls.

Cold, strong steel.

A shudder raced through her.

A shipping container?

She’d never been inside one, but it felt right.

No way to dig or burrow or force her way out. There were no windows, and the space held a persistent chill, a dampness that suggested the container was outside or underground.

Please let it not be underground.

The thought of being buried alive made every inch of her skin itch. Panic hovered around her, buzzing like a swarm of insects.

She pushed it back and felt it fade into the background, lurking, waiting to pounce.

Another flashback slammed into her.

It felt almost like a hallucination, but she knew it was a hazy memory, real in a physical way that a dream couldn’t be.

His shoulder jams into her stomach. She can barely control the muscles in her neck, and her head flops against his back. The smell of his sweat clogs her nostrils. He carries her, fireman style, through the darkness.

The second flash ended as quickly as it began, and with the same rush of nausea. She still had no recollection of exactly how he’d abducted her or when he’d brought her into this room.

Maybe the rest of her memories would come back. Maybe they wouldn’t. What mattered now was trying to escape. Her family needed her.

The night she’d left her house, she’d been excited about a few hours of adult conversation with Fiona. At the time, an evening free of wiping chins, changing diapers, and explaining to a three-year-old girl why her little brother had a penis and she didn’t had seemed glorious.

But now all she wanted was to see her family.

She yearned to walk the floors with William pressed to her shoulder. To inhale the scent of baby shampoo. To snuggle in Bella’s bed at nap time and read a picture book while her sleepy daughter’s eyelids sagged. To watch her daughter race through a pile of raked leaves or practice awkward, crooked somersaults in the backyard.

To tell her husband she loved him.

Images of her children brought tears to her eyes. She had to get back to them. As long as she drew breath, she would do everything possible to return to her babies. She wiped her face and sniffed. No wasting energy on crying.

Picking up the battery-operated lantern, she walked to the end of her chain. She lifted the light and inspected the far walls and corners of her prison, just out of reach.

A gallon-size plastic jug sat in one corner. A bucket occupied the other.

She dragged the chain behind her as she crossed the space. She picked up the jug, removed the lid, and sniffed. Water?

She was suddenly incredibly thirsty, as if her body had come alive at the scent of the water. She shouldn’t dare drink anything he gave her. It was likely drugged. But dehydration would kill her.

She set down the jug and continued her search, moving the light to carefully examine each wall.

On a positive note, she didn’t see any obvious cameras.

As terrifying as the situation was, she had to think. She had to find a way out. No one was coming for her. She was on her own.

It was her only chance.

The interior brightened suddenly, and a beam of light shone from the ceiling. Sunlight. Chelsea walked under it and stared up. Rust had eaten a hole in the roof the size of a bowling ball. Through it, she could see the sun, patches of blue sky, and a canopy of branches. Clouds drifted in front of the sun, dimming the light.

The knowledge that it was daytime grounded her.

A door stood at the opposite end of the room from the barrel. It was the only way in or out. She reached for the door, but the chain on her ankle wasn’t quite long enough, and her fingers fell six inches short of touching the door. Was it even locked? Probably. He’d gone to too much effort to imprison her. There would be a sturdy lock to keep her inside.

She needed to get closer. She needed to free her foot. She tested the manacle around her ankle. It was tight enough to rub her skin when she moved it, far too tight to wiggle her foot free. She followed it to the connection with the barrel. The bolt that secured the chain went right through the metal.

She took the chain in both hands and pulled. The barrel didn’t budge, neither did the bolt. She put her weight into the effort, but it was no use. There was zero give. What was inside it? Maybe if she could somehow empty it, she could drag it closer to the door. But then how would she run away with a steel drum attached to her foot?

Maybe if she emptied the barrel, she would be able to disconnect the chain from the inside.

She returned to the barrel. It was an industrial-size metal drum. Rust grew in patches on the sides and coated the seams. On the top was a cap the size of her open hand. A recessed shape in the cap was shaped like a four-leaf clover with flattened leaves. Obviously, there was a specific tool designed to fit into the impression to open the barrel, like the head of a screw was designed for a screwdriver.

Chelsea tried to turn the cap manually. The fit was tight and the edges were rusted. No matter how hard she turned it, the cap didn’t budge. Her hand slipped, her fingernail catching on a metal edge.

Maybe if she had other tools—a screwdriver or wrench.

She almost laughed, the hysterical snort of hopelessness. Tools? Why not wish for a whole toolbox? She lowered her hand and clenched her fingers. Blood seeped out from under her torn, dirty nail.

Wait. She looked down at the chain. The links were thick, metal, strong. She gathered up a length of it in her hands. The chain was short. In order to reach the top of the barrel, she had to put her attached foot on the cot. Then she inserted two links into the opposite sides of the clover leaf and tried to use them as levers, but the cap still wouldn’t budge. The links were too small.

What did she do when she couldn’t open a tightly sealed jar?

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