No One Left to Help
"Where's Nicki!?" Samantha looked worriedly around the tower. She and Jessie had returned from their mission to post the signs, but Nicki was nowhere in sight.
"I can't believe her; Mr. Smarr made it quite clear she was to stay here at her post!" Jessie vented her frustration as a loud rumble of thunder could be heard from the ocean, "Just when we could get out of here, now she has to run off and do God knows what so...!"
"Jessie, come on, calm down!" Samantha shouted at her, "I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation. Let's go check and see if anyone else knows anything."
She switched on the radio. "Everyone, it's Sam at Tower Twelve; anyone hear from Nicki at all?" she asked the other lifeguards all up the beach.
"Yeah, Sam; she got a call about a boat in trouble about fifteen minutes ago or so, and went out to see if she could help," came a scratchy voice.
"She did what!?" Samantha went pale. Her gaze fell on the angry waves smashing ashore closer and closer to the tower, "She went out in this mess, knowing there's a storm coming!? Have you heard from her since she left?"
"No. Have you?"
Before Samantha could say anything, every fire alarm in town rose up, adding an unearthly tune to the howling wind, which rattled the wooden tower loudly. "Evacuation time," Jessie shivered, nervous, "Where's Nicki, Sam?" she fixed the brunette with a deeply worried look, "You didn't just say she went out to sea; tell me you didn't just say that!"
Samantha nodded grimly. There was a switching on the radio. "All lifeguard personnel please evacuate immediately," came Mr. Smarr's authoritative command, "Repeat, the eye of the hurricane is headed for Coronado Beach; all lifeguard staff evacuate the beach immediately."
"Wait, wait, we can't leave yet!" Samantha cried over the radio to him, "Nicki's still out there; we've got to go looking...!"
"Sorry Samantha, but she acted knowing the risks," he cut her off, "She's on her own now; if she makes it in, great; if not, it was her own fault. Batten down your tower and find shelter immediately."
The radio clicked off. "Why!?" Jessie sounded like she would explode in both rage and fear, "Why would she do this now!? What are we supposed to do now!? My parents are going to expect us there at the house to head to my aunt's any minute now; I...!"
"What's going on!?" came Adam's voice behind them. He frowned in worry himself, seeing only the two of them. "Where's Nicki!?" he looked frightened, "I just wanted to check to see if she's..."
"She's out there, Adam," Samantha pointed numbly at the churning, foaming ocean, "Which means only one thing: we've got to go out and find her."
The waves crashed hard against the wall behind Nicki, each one sounding like a bullet being fired at her back. The roar of the surf and the howl of the wind were almost deafening to her, drowning out any other sound she could have possibly heard to give her a clue of where she was.
She sat largely stock still, terrified of doing anything that would discharge the gun, which she could feel pressing ominously against her right temple. This was far a more terrifying experience than anything Claudia ever went through in her series. Come to think of it, she realized, Claudia had it very easy in similar situations; either she was simply locked in a closet or something, or when she was tied up, it was either lightly enough to work her way loose or she was close to a convenient object she could use. Nicki knew she had neither luxury. It couldn't, she supposed, get any worse that she had it now: handcuffed, tied up, gagged, blindfolded, wrapped in a net, chained to the wall, and with a gun taped to her head. And locked in a secure room well away from any human contact, with a hurricane about to start raging outside, and killers lurking around the bend, threatening to kill her at a moment's notice.
She pressed her hands up against her back, trying desperately to get them out of the handcuffs. If only Edgar had tied them like the rest of her body, she rued, she might have been able to use Adam's ring, still secure on her finger, to work the ropes. But with handcuffs on her wrists, she was helpless in that regard, and her fingers were pinned helplessly downward from the way she'd been tied, useless to use the ring on any other ropes.
"Come on, please!" she begged her wrists, straining as hard as she could to make them narrow enough to slip out of the handcuffs. Nicki pushed and pushed as hard as she could, but it was no good. They fit snugly around her wrists, leaving her little leeway to work with. She'd have to come up with some other solution, she acknowledged grimly.
A sharp crack of lightning almost right outside made her jump. The storm was here in full force now, she knew. And that all but eliminated rescue from the outside. If she was going to escape her predicament, she'd have to do it on her own. But that seemed impossible, particularly since the chains holding her to the wall were locked over the net the thugs had wrapped her in. If she was to have a chance, she'd have to get out of the iron restraints-which were securely padlocked, and her captors likely had the keys. The chain to Nicki's waist restraint was right under her fingertips, and it was on a whim that she seized hold of it and yanked as hard as she could on the chain. It went taut quick and stayed taut no matter how hard she pulled. Yes, the chains were quite secure, she conceded glumly, although she continued pulling the chain for lack of a better thing to do. Only the key would help her.
She jumped again as a particularly powerful wave slammed into the wall behind her. Nicki wished her kidnappers hadn't left her in such an uncomfortable kneeling position. Already her back was getting stiff and her legs were getting numb from the posture. The weight of the chains-which also made her feel like her arms and legs were being pulled backwards-and the heavy net encircling her were holding her down in place, ensuring she couldn't go far even if she wanted to. Nicki felt like a caterpillar in a cocoon, immobile and helpless. It was clear Edgar was a professional kidnapper now, given he'd left her no hope to escape on her own.
"Why'd I have to fall for that trick!?" she ripped herself up mentally, "Curse you, Price; you had to care too much, and now look what you've gotten yourself into!"
Well, she realized, it wasn't really a crime to care too much; her mother's favorite saying was that one never could care too much. Still, she thought glumly, she should have probably called for backup to help her. Then she probably wouldn't be a hostage now in God knew where.
Lightning crashed again right behind the wall, making Nicki topple to her right in surprise-which in turn made the rifle taped to her head smack against the floor. Her heart in her mouth, she completely froze up, but to her immense relief it did not go off. Sighing through her nose, Nicki gently twisted her way back upright. She couldn't go on like this much longer, she thought to herself, slowly jerking her shoulders around in place. Impossible or not, she had to put all her energy into at least trying to get free; it was better than just sitting around doing nothing.
"Are you two sure you want to do this!?" Adam had to shout to be heard over the wind, which was knocking over anything that wasn't tied down around the lifeguards' boat dock.
"We have to!" Samantha shouted over the wind and pounding rain, "You just get back to the tower and stay by the radio! If Jessie and I don't find Nicki in fifteen minutes, we'll come right back in, I promise! Cast off, Jessie!"
The redhead reluctantly untied the boat they were in from the dock as Samantha started the engine. "Hey, hey, hey!" Mr. Smarr came rushing up, "What do you two think you're doing!? I won't let you go out in this!"
"We've got to find Nicki!" Samantha shouted as loud as she could, "Sorry, Mr. Smarr, but she's our friend, we owe it to her!"
"Come back here this minute or...!" Smarr's voice was drowned out as she zoomed out towards the dangerous ocean. Immediately the boat was violently rocked from side to side. "I'm not sure this was the best idea, Sam!" even though they were no more than two feet apart, Jessie had to scream to be heard.
"It's the only way, Jessie!" Samantha shouted back. She activated the radio. "Nicki, it's Sam, if you're near the radio, answer me!" she cried. Only static could be heard on the other end. "Nicki, it's Sam; please don't do this to us; talk to me!" she begged.
"WATCH OUT!" Jessie pointed in terror at a giant wave approaching them. Samantha spun the wheel hard to get out of its way, but even though they avoided the worst of it, they were still swamped with a wall of water. "This is terrific!" Jessie coughed, splashing as much water overboard as she could, "If we do find Nicki alive remind me to kill her for...oh great!" she groaned, searching desperately around the boat, "I think my cell phone got washed overboard! I can't let my parents know where we are anymore...I don't even know where we are anymore!" she glanced around worriedly, for the sheets of rain pouring down lent the girls almost zero visibility.
"Well the shore's back in that direction!" Samantha pointed backwards, "All we need to do is remember that, and when the time comes...hold on!" she pulled Jessie down as they just managed to top a wave before it broke, but the force of the backside almost tipped them forward enough to capsize them. "This is crazy!" Jessie was mortified, "Even if Nicki's our friend, it's not worth this to...!"
"Shut up, I see something coming right at us!" Samantha squinted through the rain, "It looks like...some kind of boat...oh my God, Jessie, that looks like one of the lifeguard's boats...!"
Her heart froze in her throat as what was clearly an overturned lifeguard boat. "Oh my God!" Jessie choked up, "Nicki...there's no way she could have...!"
"No," Samantha shook her head sadly, fighting back the tears, "She must have gotten caught in the...with the surf like this, she didn't have a chance...!"
She broke down as she reached out and touched the overturned boat as it drifted by them. Her hand was shaking as she turned on her own boat's radio. "Adam, are you there!?" she could barely manage the words, "I have to tell you that Nicki..."
Suddenly Jessie let out a bloodcurdling scream behind her. Samantha turned, and just had enough time to see the green creatures climbing into the boat behind them before the one closest to her brought down its club on her head, and everything went black.
"What was that, Sam!?" Adam tapped the radio desperately back in the tower, "Sam, Jessie, either of you there!?"
There was only a hiss of static on the other end of the line. Adam twisted the knobs in every direction. "Sam, Jessie, talk to me!" he pleaded. Abruptly the static stopped, leaving only silence to be heard. A deep pit formed in Adam's stomach. He glanced numbly towards the churning ocean. "Nicki..." the words barely escaped his lips. It looked bad for her now. Why had she gone out in the middle of a storm? Because she cared too much for people not to try and help whoever had been out there, he knew sadly. And now her kindness had likely cost Nicki her life.
He gasped as a waved crashed into the tower right against his legs, the force of it knocking over everything in its path. The storm surge was coming inland, and he'd be inundated if he didn't get out of there quickly. He leaped off the tower and slogged through thigh-high water and curtains of rain shrouding the now deserted beach towards still-dry land. There was still one last hope; perhaps the radio in the main lifeguard center was still working. If he could get the frequency for Samantha and Jessie's boat-which would have to be a shot in the dark, as he had no idea which frequency was which-maybe if they were still on the other end...
"There you are!" came Heather's furious voice from his right. Adam increased his pace, but she still caught up with him. "We need to talk, right now!" his now ex-girlfriend demanded.
"I have nothing to say, Heather," Adam told her roughly, "It's over, and I love someone else."
"Oh really, and you think that outsider creep Price is worthy of you!?" Heather upbraided him, "You're mine, Adam, and you know it!"
"Look, just leave me alone, Heather, I've got important business to take care of," he saw the outline of the lifeguard central control building ahead and bustled as fast as he could towards it.
"Oh I see, even though the little jerk was stupid enough to go out to sea in a hurricane and she's probably dead now, you're still willing to endanger your life for her!? I won't let you do something that stupid-and don't walk away from me, Adam!" Heather wasn't letting it drop, seizing his arm as he groped through the rain for the doorknob, "You're not blocking me out because you think...!"
"HEATHER, SHUT UP AND JUST LEAVE...!" Adam opened up the door, but stopped and had just enough time to cry in terror as the knife above him in the doorway came suddenly slashing down, leaving Heather to scream briefly before she too fell abruptly silent.
Nicki twisted her upper body in all directions. It still wasn't going well. She'd been squirming around for at least an hour, and the ropes weren't getting any looser. They dug hard into her arms and legs, making every move she made a painful one. She had lost feeling in her hands and feet by now, and the numbness was spreading quickly up her arms and legs.
She was crying as loud as she could into her gag in the faint hope that by some miracle there would be someone around to hear her. But deep down Nicki knew it probably wasn't going to work; the raging storm outside was too loud, and the thick cloth muffled her cries to barely audible moans anyway. Why the kidnappers had felt they'd needed to gag her when clearly no one was around to hear her, she had no idea. Nicki was desperate to somehow get the gag off, as it was pulling even harder at the corners of her mouth now, affecting her concentration with the ropes. But there was nothing she could use to work the tight cloth with in her position. She had nothing at all.
She stopped struggling. Sweat was pouring down her face. It was hopeless. She'd been struggling for at least an hour, maybe much even much longer, and had nothing to show for it. Worse, she could now feel her wrists bleeding from her efforts to get them out of the handcuffs, matching her still-bleeding arm from the knife wound earlier. Nicki's head was starting to spin from the loss of blood. The cuts hurt, and the ropes hurt, and the gag hurt her mouth, and the blindfold hurt her head-she knew now how the kidnappers had planned to make her suffer. And she indeed felt like she was suffering at the moment.
She moaned as a large blast of surf from outside splashed in through a window somewhere overhead and doused her. She felt tears welling up behind the blindfold. Why was this happening to her!? She'd only gotten involved in the mystery because she was worried about what had happened to Lynn in the first place. And for her kindness, here she was, completely alone and helpless, with no idea where she was, unable to move a muscle in her body, and with her life hanging right in the balance at every second. And no one was coming to save her. She was alone in the maelstrom. Utterly alone...
With a low sob of terror, Nicki lowered her head and started crying hard until the blindfold was saturated from her tears. She needed Samantha and Jessie, to have at least their company! Or Adam, dear caring Adam, to hug her close and kiss her troubles away! Or her parents, a thousand miles away, unaware she was in danger...oh what she would give to have them her to comfort her now, to help her...would she ever see them again...!?
She lost all self-control at this thought and started jerking wildly in all directions, straining as hard as she could with her bonds and screaming as loud as the gag would allow. It just had to work, it just had to! She needed to get back to her parents; she wanted to go home...!
A key turned in the lock, and the door swung sharply open. "Calm down, Miss Price, right now!" Rex ordered. Nicki barely heard him. She was too overcome by the hysteria of the moment, desperate to get free somehow, throwing herself wildly from side to side, not caring about the gun taped to her head going off or not...
And then she felt it, without warning: she screamed at the top of her lungs as the knife was jammed hard into her upper abdomen right above the iron waist restraint. "Like I said, stop it!" Rex warned her, pressing harder on the knife handle and pushing it in deeper, "Or would prefer I kill you now!? It's your choice, Miss Price."
Nicki shook her head emphatically, trying to block out the horrific pain searing through her entire body. There was an agonizing silence before Rex casually remarked, "OK, you'll live for now." He pulled the knife back out to her immense relief. "But if I see you acting up like that again," she felt the knife pressed right against her throat, "I'll slit this real good and end you real fast. Understood!?"
Terrified, Nicki nodded hard. The knife was removed from her throat, and Rex walked back outside, locking the door behind him. Nicki slumped forward as far as the chains holding her to the wall would allow and started sobbing again, much softer this time, hoping her life wasn't just ticking away now from the stab wound. But she knew she was going to die either way, and no one was going to save her. It was all just a matter of time now...