Wednesday: January 1, 2020
12:00 AM; MINNESOTA, NEW YEAR’S PARTY
He had been studying her for weeks. She had been a backup, just in case something went wrong with the other girl. She was a spare. Like waiting for a tire to blow out, she had been there as a fallback.
Well, the tire had blown out, and he needed her. Now. Tonight.
Drink in hand, he walked over to her. His steps faltered the closer he got, and, as her attention shifted to him, it felt as though the air had been knocked from his lungs. God, she was beautiful, almost perfect.
“Can I buy you a drink?” he asked.
She smiled faintly, but it didn’t hide the sadness in her green eyes. “I’d like that,” she said.
“Bartender, another of what she’s having, please,” he said softly.
The man shifted his gaze back to the girl’s face, a soft smile lifting either corner of his mouth. It softened his features, defined his strong jawline. “Tell me, who was foolish enough to leave you all by your lonesome?” he asked.
She looked up at the bartender, thanking him as he set her drink in front of her. She shook her head, scoffing softly. “Some guy I met on the Internet,” she said.
“Ah. I prefer meeting someone the old fashioned way,” he said. “You can never trust those Internet dates, you know?”
She nodded, gently tucking her blonde hair behind her ear. “I’m realizing that,” she said quietly.
It was clear to him that she felt betrayed by this other man, the date that had stood her up. The man knew this was good, though. For him. Hell, he had made sure that it would be good for him. “I could show you a good time, something… festive to start out your new year,” he said.
She laughed, soft and delicate. It was like music to his ears. Her laugh was perfect, too. “You know, it might be the margaritas talking, but I’m all for that,” she said.
He chuckled, holding up his own drink. “To twenty-twenty. Let it be better for all of us,” he said.
She clinked her glass against his. “To twenty-twenty,” she repeated. He downed his drink, and she quickly followed suite. Paying for both drinks, the man held out his arm. She slid elegantly off her barstool and linked arms with him. They walked out of the bar, immediately greeted with the soberingly cold air of a Minnesotan winter. She wrapped her free hand around his arm, walking closer to him than before.
In the parking lot, he unlocked the doors of his car and pulled open the passenger door. She thanked him and slid into the seat. He smiled down at her before shutting the door again. She found it surprising that he was driving. She had assumed he was drunk, but she wasn’t planning to say anything about it.
He got into the driver’s seat and closed the door. He sighed softly before pulling his seatbelt across his body. Safety first. Always. He had learned that lesson the hard way. “Buckle up, darling,” he said as he started the car.
They had places to be, and through a windshield wasn’t one of them.
12:23 AM; MINNESOTA, THE SURGEON’S HOUSE, BASEMENT
She didn’t fight him on the way down the basement stairs. She didn’t fight him as he led her into a bedroom in the far corner of the basement. It wasn’t until he shut the cell-like door that she realized it wasn’t exactly a bedroom, per say. While the door looked like it belonged in a prison, the interior of the room was decorated like that of an actual bedroom. A king-sized bed, a vanity, a dresser, bedside tables, art hanging on the walls, an area rug on the floor.
“What the hell’s going on?” she asked, her voice suddenly rising above a shout.
“I’m making my new year’s resolutions come true a lot sooner than they usually do,” the man answered. He let his hands wrap around the cell door bars, tilting his head to one side as he stared at the woman. She was thin, but she was tall. An inch more and she’d be six foot. She was a runner, athletic, and, boy, did it show. “You’re almost perfect, but… not quite. You need to put on a little extra weight right here,” he said, poking a finger into a spot just above her hip bone. “I’m going to make you something for breakfast, a rather early breakfast…”
“Somebody help!” she screamed.
“Nobody can hear you, darling. It’s just you and me,” he said. He reached through the door and touched her cheek. She jerked away from him. “That’s okay. You’ll get used to my touch eventually.” He smiled in a way that actually made him look friendly, something that made her stomach churn. “I’ll go make breakfast, darling.”
As soon as he was up the stairs and out of her sight, she grabbed the cell bars and rattled the door, screaming for help. Off to her left, there was a sigh. “I-is somebody there?” she asked.
“He’s right, you know. Nobody can hear you scream down here,” a girl’s voice said.
“Who are you?”
“The girl he kidnapped before you,” the voice said.
“H-how long have you been here?”
“Umm… I don’t know. What’s today?” the voice asked.
“January first,” she said.
“Oh.” A pause. “I was taken on Christmas Eve,” the voice said.
“Wh-what’s your name?”
“Natalie. But… when he’s around, you have to call me Brooke,” the voice said softly. “What’s your name?”
“Well, Cleo, welcome. Your new name’s Lauren. If he calls you Lauren, answer. When he tells you to do something, do it. Don’t complain. Don’t resist. Just do it.”
“Why?” Cleo asked, her voice trembling.
“Because an hour ago, before you showed up, there was another woman who was supposed to be you, supposed to be called ‘Lauren’. She didn’t want to eat when he told her to. Dead.”