Owen craned his head, peering up into the dark. The overhead beams creaked as someone marched upstairs. No, it wasn’t just someone, but a pair of someones. He listened to the two distinct sets of footsteps as they shuffled overhead. And when Owen heard the voices, he was certain. If he hadn’t been bolted to the chair, he would’ve launched right into the air. Neither voice belong to Skullet. Better yet, both were female.
Owen bit down on his gag, shifting from side to side. Only a muted pauft-pauft-pauft emerged. He struggled some more, but when it became apparent they couldn’t hear him, he settled. Plus, if he sat absolutely still, he could make out the faintest trace of their conversation. One of the voice stuck out, being loud and self-confident. Owen couldn’t make out the words, but he knew that tone since he’d used it numerous times himself. It was the smooth voice of a salesman.
From the way the pair took their time trudging into every corner of the house, Owen figured this was a real estate showing. The more he heard of the fractured conversation, the more words seemed to pop out and validate his theory: pristine, motivated, must-see, granite, dream. But with everything so garbled, Owen wasn’t certain he was just hearing only what he wanted to hear.
He wondered if that sick bastard had locked him in the basement of some vacant house. That would explain the lack of noise outside of Skullet’s infrequent visits. Owen felt like a dolt for not even considering this possibility before. He’d just assumed this was a dingy warehouse in the industrial area west of the city. Yet from the bits he heard of the conversation, it sounded as though they were describing a typical suburban home. It was unfathomable that Skullet would take such a cavalier risk, but again, he was hardly firing on all cylinders in the first place.
And considering the foul economy, the blighted areas on the outer fringes of the city were far more isolated than any building in the industrial district. Owen considered the possibility that Skullet might even own this property, but brushed the thought away. If so, Skullet would’ve made certain no realtors would stop by for a surprise visit. It was far more likely Skullet had just broken in. He certainly had no problems skirting the law.
Whatever the truth, the only thing that mattered was that these women were here now. Their conversation grew louder until it seemed to echo right behind him. Owen twisted his neck as far as it would reach, realizing they had to be standing behind the doorway at the top of the stairs. He clutched the chair, listening to every faint exhale as though it was a note within a majestic symphony.
“Do not enter?” asked the softer of the two voices. This was the one Owen assumed was the potential buyer.
“Oh, that sign doesn’t apply to us,” the woman with the salesman’s voice replied. Sign? So Skullet had attempted to cover his tracks. Whatever, it didn’t matter. There was a grinding rasp as the door swung open.
“Isn’t there a light?” the buyer asked as they began to descend the squeaky steps.
“It’s at the bottom, but that can change. This is a must-move and the seller is quite flexible when it comes to these things.”
“Can they also fix this stench? Smells like there’s a hole in the sewage line.”
“Okay, I’ll admit it’s a slight fixer-upper, but let me be totally honest with you. For this price, you could hire one of those department store girls to spray perfume all day long and still come out way ahead.”
“I think this needs something a little more professional.”
“Trust me, once you see—”
Owen groaned, bucking in the chair. One of the women screamed. Turn on the light, turn on the Goddamn light, Owen thought, while struggling in his binds. He spat a second time, biting down on the ball-gag as hard as he could in an attempt to force any sound out. Only a vague grumble emerged.
“Holy Christ, something’s down there.”
“Probably a squirrel. It’s been a while since anyone’s lived here, so it must’ve decided to nest for the winter. Totally harmless. Nothing to fear.”
“That’s not a squirrel. That’s big.”
“Okay, maybe it’s a raccoon, but don’t worry. Just one call to the exterminator—”
“No way. Forget it. I’m not going down there.”
A pair of footsteps trampled up the stairs.
“Please, take one peek.”
“Don’t need to. I like the place on Birch Street better.”
From the noise, Owen could tell she was almost back at the top. He bashed another time, pounding with what little energy he had remaining. The blanket on his lap jerked and fell to the floor, but everything else remained locked in place.
“That’s terrific,” the realtor said, now rushing after the other woman. “If you wish to make an offer on the Birch street property, I can call the owner this afternoon.”
There was a thump as the door slammed shut behind her. Owen continued to struggle long after their voices faded into the distance. Now that the blanket had fallen off, a frigid cold settled across his lap. It was uncomfortable, but most of the pain had receded. Still, a gush of tears began to cascade down his face. They were the first since sitting in this wicked chair.