It was a trap!" Nicki realized in horror, "They set this whole accident up to lure me out here alone!"
Steeling herself, she delivered a powerful kick to her captor's shin. He howled and released her. Nicki shoved him to the floor and dashed out of the cabin-only to be seized around the waist by a second man. "Going somewhere!?" he snickered, "I don't think so."
"Let go of me!" she sank her teeth into his hand, making her release her too. Kicking him in the chest for good measure, she lunged for the railing and her boat, but a pair of powerful hands grabbed her by the ankles, tripping her. He roughly shoved her head down under the water for a minute, perhaps to take the fight out of her, and started dragging her backwards as she toppled to the deck. "HELP!" she screamed at the radio on her boat, begging that it was turned on, "This is Nicki Price, I'm at twenty-four degrees north, seventy-nine degrees west; I'm being kidnapped! Send all...!"
A hand was clamped over her mouth again. Before she could twist free this time, she felt a handcuff snap around her right wrist. A second snap could be heard now as well, and she saw with a sinking heart he'd locked the other end of the handcuffs to his own wrist. "The only place you're going, beautiful, is where we take you from here on," he growled coldly at her, "Come on, you've got a date with the boss. We're ready; come on up," he said into a radio he was holding.
Keeping his hand firmly over Nicki's mouth, he dragged her towards the stern as a loud splashing could be heard. The second man walked behind Nicki, keeping his knife pointed right at her back. Handcuffed to her captor, Nicki had no choice but to be dragged along behind him. She glanced down as he led her over the railing and down the ladder on the side of the boat, and saw that a small submarine had surfaced next to the decoy boat. So THAT was what the loud splashing in the ocean had been the night of the party, she realized, and that was where the supposed sea monster that had wrecked their boat yesterday had been. She only wished she would be able to share this information with someone...
She was pulled towards the hatch and down the ladder into the sub. "Mission accomplished, Rex; we've got her," the first man called to the front of the sub.
"Very good, Edgar," the cold-faced, unshaven man at the wheel walked forwards towards Nicki. "Well, well, the pretty blonde lifeguard cared a little too much and walked right into our clutches," he sneered right in her face, "I hope you're not too upset, but it was the only way we could bring you out of the way without arousing too much attention. Have you anything to say for yourself?"
The hand was finally removed from Nicki's mouth. "This is kidnapping!" she snapped defiantly at him, "You can't hold me like...!"
"Shut up!" the second man's hands abruptly closed around her throat. Gasping desperately for air, she whaled at his shoulder with her free hand, but he instead tightened his grip. Her head was starting to spin; if he didn't let go soon...
"OK Chester, we don't want her to suffer too much yet," Rex told the man, who released her throat. She gasped desperately to regain her breath. She frowned at her captors. Her memory was starting to click: just after she had come to Coronado Beach for the summer, there had been a report on the news about a trio of convicts that had escaped from a maximum security prison about thirty miles north of Coronado Beach. Rex the man before her was convicted of multiple counts of violent murder, and had been said to be very dangerous. Edgar the man she was handcuffed to was a professional kidnapper, with ten counts to his credit. The third man Chester had half a dozen first degree assault and batteries to his credit. She was now in the clutches of three men that clearly would have no qualms about doing terrible things to her...
"So you're willing to risk your whole operation here to kidnap me?" she tried to stall for time while yanking hard at her wrist, trying to get it out of the handcuff, "Don't you know the heat you'll bring down...!?"
"We're not scared of the cops," Chester cracked his knuckles right in front of her, trying to menace her, "They don't know anything. It's you that has to be scared, Blondie. Shouldn't we just kill her now, Rex?" he asked the killer, twirling his knife in his hand, "If we're going to put her out of the way..."
"I want our friend here to suffer a little, just like she made our whole operation suffer all week," Rex interrupted him, advancing towards Nicki with a cruel expression, "I want to teach her a little lesson about meddling she'll never forget before she does die."
Without warning, he slapped her hard across the face twice. Nicki grimaced hard and fought to keep the panic at bay. "You're not going to get very far even if you try and get out of here with me," she said as bravely as she could muster, "My friends know exactly where I am; if I'm not back at the beach in ten minutes, they'll be sending out an...!"
"You're bluffing," Rex cut her off, "No one knows where you are. And they won't bother to know, because they're going to think you tipped over in the high surf and drowned going out to try and save a ship in distress. And with no bodies aboard that boat, and with your own overturned, and this storm brewing, it'll be a very easy story to believe on their part. So you're going to have a nice funeral back on the shore, and if you misbehave at all, you'll have an early one yourself."
"You can't do this!" she was fighting hard to suppress her anxiety, yanking harder on the handcuff against hope that she could pull out of it.
"You shouldn't have stuck your nose into what wasn't your business," he growled at her, "You ignored every warning I gave you, sweetheart, so now you're going to pay the price big. Gag her and tie her up real good, Edgar," he ordered the kidnapper.
"No please, don't," Nicki begged desperately, the fear starting to overtake her bravado, as Edgar seized her free arm and bent it roughly behind her back. The other end of the handcuffs was locked around her left wrist as well, "You don't have to tie me up, mister; I promise I won't be any trouble; I'm begging you, you don't have to...!"
"Gag her, now," Rex ordered impatiently. Edgar obligingly whipped out a large white cloth. "No, don't!" Nicki rolled her head around, trying frantically to avoid the cloth, "I'll be quiet, I promise, I swear to you; just please don't gag...!"
It was no use; the gag was stuffed roughly between her teeth, then pulled behind her head and tied in a very tight knot. Nicki coughed in shock into the cloth, grimacing as Edgar finished tying it in place as tightly as he could. She felt numb. In her series, Claudia had been gagged a couple of times, but they never mentioned how unnerving the experience could really be. She had to force herself to breath through her nose to avoid choking on the very thick cloth, which pulled at the corners of her mouth intolerably. "Comfy?" Edgar snickered right in her ear.
"Mmmmmmm!"she could barely hear her low cry that managed to escape the gag. "Well, if not, you'll feel comfy real soon, because we're not done with you yet, blondie," Edgar was hefting several long pieces of heavy rope from underneath the sub's rear seat and passing it to his partners, "Oh by no means are we done just yet."
Nicki desperately rushed towards the ladder leading up to the hatch, but the three men descended on her before she could reach it and pinned her down to the sub's floor. Slowly and methodically, they tied Nicki's shoulders, chest, waist, knees, thighs, and ankles together with the ropes until she couldn't move a muscle in her body. "That should keep you out of trouble, you little brat," Rex snickered coldly at her, "Now, let's put you right back here where we can keep an eye on you," he dragged Nicki backwards up against back of the sub's rear seat, "Edgar, you keep watch on her; kill her outright if she tries anything. Chester, go set her boat up to look like an accident, and make it quick; I want to get out of here as quickly as we can," he ordered his partners.
"Right," Chester rushed up the ladder. A distant rumble of thunder could be heard as Edgar sat down right in front of Nicki on the floor, aiming the gun he was now holding right at her. "You could have avoided all this if you'd taken our warnings seriously," he reminded her, "Don't entertain any thoughts of getting out of those ropes either; after a decade of tying people up, I'm an expert at making sure no one has the slightest slack to work with. Now the question really is, will you die now or die later? It's all in your hands, missy."
Nicki was too numb to say or do anything. It didn't look good for her, she conceded in horror to herself. Her only hope was that the radio on her boat had been turned on and someone on the other end had heard her brief cry for help. If not, she was completely at the mercy of these dangerous men.
She heard the decoy boat's engine start up, and then a loud splashing sound before the engine just as suddenly died down. "Done," Chester announced as he slammed the hatch shut and bustled back down the ladder, "Let's take our pretty young friend to her new home."
"You betcha," Rex rushed forward. Nicki heard the sub's engine start, followed by a crackling feeling in her ears as it started diving. She hung her head. She was beyond help now. No one would think of looking for a submarine underwater.
What would happen to her now, she thought with horror to herself? Were they going to kill her when they reached whatever their destination was? Or was she meant for more suffering like Rex had said, maybe even torture? Her heart froze at the thought of the possibilities that could be awaiting her...
"Scared?" Edgar was almost mocking her now, "I would be. No one's lived longer than a few hours since we started this little operation of ours started. Of course, you'll probably have a little more time to work with...unless of course Rex was just getting your hopes up. Oh sure, we haven't always killed everyone right away; if someone was pretty enough or important enough-looking, we'd tie them up like we have you now and take them along for a little while, but we did them in in the end anyway, just like you will be in time."
He snickered loudly. "Rex was in the navy for a while before they threw him out," he related to her, "He felt if we all stayed at sea, there'd be less chance of us being caught-and we'd be able to continue what we do best. And so for the last month or so after we lifted this baby we're in from the scrapyard just north of here, we've followed our quarries, stalked them until the opportune moment, then went on board in our little disguises, killed them, and took whatever valuables they had. It was the perfect little operation until you had to stick you nose into it."
He abruptly seized her by the shoulders and smacked her face first into the wall, oblivious to her cry of pain. "Hurt!?" he snarled, "It had better hurt, you little brat! This was the perfect job with the perfect cover until you started asking questions! Now that the cops have started patrolling the waters, we can't do anything here! Of course, it won't matter in the end; there's plenty of places we can hide out all up and down the coast, and even in international waters. You, on the other hand, have reached the end of the line one way or another. Mark my words, Blondie, this afternoon was the last time you'll ever see your folks or even the sun again."
He went quiet again, apparently satisfied he'd gotten his point across. Nicki glanced weakly around the sub. There in the corner was a box in which several green suits could be seen. Yes, this all explained everything. Unfortunately, it was already too late.
She hung her head again, her eyes starting to moisten. With the hurricane bearing down on Coronado Beach now, the window of time to search for her was getting narrower by the minute. Much as Adam, Samantha, and Jessie might not give up hope once her overturned boat was found, she might well be long dead by the time they did get the chance to look for her. And these men were right; with no extra evidence suggesting she was still alive, the authorities would probably buy the story that she was dead no questions asked.
Hopeless, she thought as she lost all her will and started crying. It was completely hopeless. This had all started by her wanting to help a drowning woman out of the ocean, an act of pure kindness. And now here she was bound and gagged in a sub heading who knew where, thousands of miles from her parents and her home, dozens of miles and widening from her friends, in the hands of violent killers. How, why, had it had to come to this!?
How long she sat there crying she didn't know, for in her grief she lost track of time. But abruptly her ears started crackling again. The sub must be surfacing again, she realized. She glanced around the back of the seat she was sitting up against, desperate for a clue to her whereabouts, but only dark water could be seen through the windshield of the sub. With a loud splash it broke the surface-somewhere. Rex shut down the engine and walked back to where Nicki was seated. "Welcome to your new home," he told Nicki with a sick smile, "But I wouldn't want to spoil a surprise for you-none of us do. Blindfold her," he ordered Edgar, who pulled out another large white cloth, "Better this be a secret location for her as well."
Nicki tried to avoid the blindfold, but Edgar was right on top of her, and in seconds she could see nothing at all. She grimaced as he tied the blindfold into place as tightly as the gag-then cried out as what felt like a net was flung over her. "Let's go," Edgar picked her up like a sack of potatoes and carried her up the ladder out of the sub. It was taking all of Nicki's resolve to maintain any degree of calmness at all. She listened for any telltale sign to her location, but only the crunch of the men's shoes off a rocky floor and the distant yet intense lapping of waves gave any sign, and that wasn't enough for her to make an educated guess. She was, though, carried up a set of steps for some time before Edgar came to a sudden stop. A heavy iron door creaked open before he started moving again. He made a left turn and then a right before coming to a stop again. "In here?" he asked.
"Yeah, this'll do nicely," Rex said with grim delight. Another heavy door creaked open. "OK Miss Price, home sweet home," Edgar chuckled darkly as he turned to the right, making Nicki frown in wonderment at how he knew her name, "Let's get you nice and comfy in here. Kneel down."
He forced Nicki down in a kneeling position on a cold, stone floor and pressed down on her shoulders to hold her still. To her great disappointment, the net was not removed from over her, but rather the ends were tucked underneath her feet. "Now what are they doing!?" she thought with a quivering heart, not completely sure she wanted to know. She got somewhat of an answer when she heard the clanking of a metal chain of some kind behind her. Without warning, something large, cold, and metal was pushed up against her lower back and closed around her waist from behind. What was clearly a padlock was snapped into place in front of her waist, securing the metal in place. But this wasn't the end. More chains rattled, and she felt another set of heavy chains being wrapped around her ankles, securing the net in place and locking her feet to the wall behind her. A third set of chains went under the netting and were wrapped around the middle of the handcuff chain before being padlocked as well, essentially securing her hands to the wall too.
"That'll hold her good," Rex proclaimed, their work securing her apparently now finished.
"Yep, but I think we still need one more thing, something that'll make sure she'll think twice about trying to get out of this," Edgar commented, "You guys thinking what I'm thinking?"
"Oh yes," Chester said. Nicki heard the tearing of tape. A hand pressed down hard on her head just before something was placed against her right temple...the barrels of a double-barreled shotgun. Deathly white, she strained against the hand holding her head still, but it kept her in an iron grip as more tape was wrapped around her head, securing the gun in place to the side of her head. "You see, sweetheart, this is fully loaded and armed," Rex whispered in her ear, "The slightest tap will set it off and end your life early, so if I were you, I'd hold real still until further notice."
He stepped back away from her. "And now we'll leave you to your thoughts, my lovely," he told her, "But one of us will be on guard outside at all times. I'd spend this time thinking over why being nosy isn't good for your health, and how we wouldn't have to do this to you if you'd been smart. Oh, and one more thing: as a going away present..."
The most horrible pain imaginable slashed into Nicki's right arm. She let out a bloodcurdling scream of agony that was heavily muffled by her gag into a very low moan. "You have to appreciate the irony, Miss Price," the thug leader almost laughed in parting, "You've spent all summer saving people's lives on the beach. Well, who's going to save the pretty blonde lifeguard when her life's in danger? No one, that's who."
He laughed for real, followed by his colleagues. Their footsteps receded away from Nicki until the heavy door slammed shut. Nicki's heart sank as a key turned in the lock and their footsteps faded away outside until only the pounding surf could be heard outside her room. She lowered her head again, wondering how she could possibly get out of her predicament alive...