"Something going on out there, Jon?" Mr. Hilbert asked his son, who was looking out the ranger station window.
"It's just...Christy and her friends still haven't come back yet, Dad," Jonathan said, deep concern in his voice. His gaze focused nervously at Christy's bike and her friends' bikes, still in the rack where they'd been left when the girls had first arrived at the park earlier that afternoon. "It shouldn't have taken them this long to get back down the trail..."
"Yeah, I see what you mean," his father joined him at the window and frowned at the empty bikes himself, "Perhaps I'd better give a call around the park before we close down for the night and see if anyone's seen them."
He leaned down close to his son. "You've got a bit of a crush on Christy Bryant, don't you, Jon?" he asked him gently.
"You don't have to be afraid; I won't laugh. It's only natural at your age, and I can understand if you had a crush on Christy; she is an extremely pretty girl."
"Well, then, yeah, Dad, I do," Jonathan's face became dreamy, "Christy...she's really beautiful, like you said...and the way she smiles...if only I had a chance with her..."
"Oh I'd say you've got as good a chance as anyone, Jon," Mr. Hilbert encouraged him, "Certainly you're..."
The phone rang on his desk before he could finish. The ranger bustled over to it. "Onondaga State Park, how can I help you?" he asked the caller. He frowned. "Oh? I see. Well, I think we can accommodate that. Right, I'll be right here when you get here. Right, see you then. Looks like you were right to worry about Christy, Jon," he told his son grimly, "That was the cops; her parents called the police when she didn't come home when she said she would. They'll be up here to search for her pretty soon, so it looks like we'll have to put in overtime tonight."
Jonathan merely nodded softly. His gaze fell back outside on the bike in the rack, then up at the mountain in the driving rain. "Where are you, Christy?" he whispered softly, wishing he knew and that he could do something to help her.
"Dawn," came the call from across the edge of the woods. Through the rain, Dawn could just make out Jackie waving. She bustled over to where her friend was standing. "Any luck?" she asked her.
"Nope," Jackie shook her head glumly, "No sign of Christy anywhere around here."
"Nothing here too," Bobbie, looking winded, as if she'd been running hard through the rain, came huffing up as well, "How about you, Dawn?"
"No, but I did run into a ranger," Dawn told them, "He agreed to look for Christy with us; I'm to meet up with him where I met him not too long from now. Come on, follow me."
She led the two of them back the way she'd come. Despite the rain, she was able to recognize the path, and within a few minutes they were back near the cave. "Won't be too much longer," Dawn checked her watch.
"Let's at least go in where it's dry," Bobbie was making a beeline for the cave itself, "I need a breather after having been out in this rain for hours."
"Me too," Jackie followed her in. Dawn wasn't going to argue with their logic and rushed into the dry cave interior after them. She wrung her hair dry and slumped against the wall. Several more hours than she'd expected of walking around in the woods had left her very tired out by now. "I could just stay in here all night now," Bobbie was apparently feeling the same way, yawning as she slid to the floor, "In fact, I could just lay down by now and..."
There was an abrupt low cry from Jackie as she toppled over in the darkness. "Jackie, are you OK?" Dawn rushed over to her.
"Yeah, I just tripped over some-" Jackie trailed off as she hefted the object she'd tripped over in the darkness. "Guys, I think this is Christy's backpack," she announced, fear and excitement both in her voice.
"Let me see," Bobbie rummaged through her own backpack for a flashlight and trained it on Jackie's hands. "Yeah, it is Christy's," she exclaimed. "Christy!?" she called out loudly, training the flashlight around the cave.
"Christy!?" Dawn bustled to the back of the cavern, but Christy wasn't inside. This was, still, an encouraging development, although she wasn't sure why Christy would abandon her backpack. Might she have been...she couldn't dream of it...?
It was then she heard the sound of an engine coming. "That's him, guys, that's the guy," she announced to her friends, bounding out of the cave. Sure enough, the ranger van she'd seen earlier was pulling up alongside the cavern. "Hello again, missy," proclaimed the man she'd seen earlier as he climbed out, "Any luck finding your friend?"
"No, but she was in that cave at some point; look what we found," Dawn gestured at the backpack in Jackie's hands, "This is Christy's; we'd recognize it anywhere."
"I see," he nodded solemnly, "Well, why don't you girls climb on in with me and we'll go find somewhere dry for you while we continue searching for your friend?"
"We'd really, really like that, sir," Bobbie eagerly jumped into the back seat, followed by Jackie. Dawn slid into the front passenger seat, glad to not have to walk either. Still, something in the back of her head was telling her that the situation was worse than she might have thought, that Christy could be in some kind of serious trouble if she'd abandoned her backpack...
"So, what's your name anyway, miss?" the ranger asked as he climbed back in.
"Oh, uh, Dawn, Dawn Kersey. These are my friends Bobbie McMillan and Jackie Gregory," she gestured to the two of them in the back seat, "We were all hiking with Christy today, she stopped to take a breather halfway up the trail, and when we came back after she took longer than we thought she would, she was gone. I'm really glad you came along, mister; the three of us got lost ourselves looking for her. I hope you can get everyone you can up the mountain once we get back to base camp; I'm starting to think Christy's in serious trouble now. And with the rain coming down like it is now," she turned to glance out the window at the deluge outside, "There's no telling what..."
Without warning, a thick cloth was abruptly jammed over her face from behind. Dawn's nostrils were immediately overwhelmed with the smell of chloroform. She spun to face the ranger. A sharp scowl was on his face. "Don't you worry about your friend, Miss Kersey, she's actually quite all right at the moment," he told her roughly, pressing the cloth harder as she struggled to resist it, "Don't be alarmed; you and your other friends here will be just fine after we fix you so you can't cause any trouble."
"MMMMMMMFFF!" Dawn moaned fearfully, fighting to break away from the drugged cloth as hard as she could. The ranger, however, had seized her around the waist with his free hand, pinning her arms against her sides, and kept the cloth locked firmly in place over her face. She glanced backwards as loud moans rang out behind her: two other men had sprung out from behind the rear seats and were smothering Bobbie and Jackie's faces with rags too, rags Dawn suspected were drenched in chloroform as well. Their eyes bulging in terror, the two brunettes were fighting hard to escape themselves, but Dawn's eyes started sliding shut just as she registered this; the chloroform was beginning to overpower her now. From that point, it took no more than ten seconds for her to completely pass out.
Sweat poured down Christy's face in rivers. It was getting hot under the sheet now covering her. But she couldn't stop struggling. She knew her life depended on it in the end.
And struggling she was, straining and wrenching her body around so hard that her chair rocked wildly from side to side, coming dangerously close to tipping over and spilling her to the floor. Her wrists were now bleeding from her efforts to get them out of the ropes, and her ankles felt raw enough to start bleeding at any moment as well, but she was bent on ignoring the pain as long as possible. At the same time, she kept screaming into her gag as hard as she could manage, screaming and screaming even though her lungs felt like they would burst and her throat was now bone dry after screaming nonstop for what felt like hours. There had to be someone around apart from her kidnappers who could hear her cries no matter how muffled they were, Christy begged in her mind, there just had to be! She couldn't be that completely alone...!
Being unable to see or hear anything, time for Christy had ceased to exist, the world around her reduced to a silent void. There was no way of telling how long she'd been tied to the chair wherever she was without any points of reference, which was, she felt furiously, extremely cruel of her kidnappers to completely deprive her of. Didn't they have a shred of humanity, or care that she was only fifteen?
"I certainly hope they do," she thought, leaning hard to the left to avoid tipping over after jerking much too far to the right, "Otherwise I don't know how much longer I can stay sane like this!"
She took a deep breath, strained her muscles with all her might, and started struggling even harder with her bonds. Her chair jerked wildly back and forth across the floor, all the while staying under the stiflingly hot sheet that was making the air Christy breathed stale. On and on she struggled, almost tipping over again several times, for who knew how long. Finally, she simply had to stop out of sheer exhaustion. Her muscles now ached terribly from her supreme effort, and she had nothing to show for it; her bonds remained as tight as they'd been when she'd first been tied to the chair, with no sign of any slack. And now that she'd stopped struggling, the pain from the slash wound on her leg combined with the discomfort of the ropes to become unbearable to her-not to mention that the continued bleeding from both the slash wound and her wrists were starting to make her feel light-headed. But she still kept twisting her upper body around in the chair, still kept screaming into the gag, still kept trying everything she could to ignore the horrific pain and the fear that the dynamite taped to her would go off at a wrong move, which was why she was bent on not tipping over...
"Why bother, Bryant?" she thought, depressed, "It's clear by now you're never getting out of these ropes on your own. The only hope you've got is if someone comes by, if someone can come by..."
"Because I have to," her more determined side countered in her mind, "I'm not going to be the helpless little heroine; I'm going down fighting until someone can get here."
Still, she couldn't help feeling terribly exhausted now, and had to scale down her efforts drastically, reduced to simply pulling her wrists and ankles as hard as she could manage under the circumstances. With her hands and feet basically tied to each other, however, it was practically impossible to get any momentum with this. Time continued ticking on and on without any reference point for who knew how long, and the complete sensual isolation was starting to affect Christy's mind...
...when suddenly, without warning, the sheet was pulled up from over her, making her jump a little in surprise. The headphones were then gently lifted from her ears. "Enjoying yourself I see, my dear?" she heard Leo ask, almost tauntingly, "Forgive us for interrupting your quiet solitude, but we'd like to make an important call, and we need you for it."
Christy could hear a cell phone ringing right against her ear now. Finally there was a clicking as someone picked up. "Hello!?" came her father's voice, and he sounded deathly worried, she knew right away. It must be long after dark now, she figured, and indeed, in the background, just audible under the still-pounding rain, she could make out crickets loudly chirping...somewhere. "DAD, HELP!" she screamed at the top of her lungs towards the phone, but the gag muffled her cries to a barely audible, "MMMM, MMMMMMMM!"
"Bryant household?" Leo asked with a small shred of cordiality.
"I'm Michael Bryant. Is this about...!?"
"Your dear little Christina, I presume? Yes, she's right here with us now."
"Oh thank God," he breathed a sigh of relief, "My wife and I, we were getting very worried. Let me talk to her."
"Oh, I would, but she can't talk to you right now, because she's a little tied up at the moment," he snickered.
"MMMMM, MMMMMMFFFF!" Christy repeated the cry as best she could. "Christy, is that you!?" he had apparently heard her, "Oh my God, Christy, what's happened to you!? Are you gagged!? Who are these people!? What's...!?"
"If you'll please control yourself, Mr. Bryant, we can do business," Leo told him sternly, "Your precious Christina will be all right, as long as you deliver on your end."
"What are you talking about!?"
"What else, we're ransoming your little girl for you," Leo told him smugly, "Now, since she's a very lovely young woman, I'd say she's worth a lot..."
"She's my daughter; no price should be put on her!" Mr. Bryant roared at him; in the background, Christy was heartbroken to hear her mother crying now, "Now you let her go this instant, or I swear, whoever you are...!"
"I don't think you will, Mr. Bryant. Allow me to give you a good reason why: a few days ago while waiting for my friends to join me, I ran across another rather lovely young woman, Nancy McCrory was her name, who happened to recognize me from one of my previous adventures, which have in fact been somewhat well-publicized. She almost managed to get away, but I took good care of her, to the point that she was begging me to kill her by the time it was over with. And her fate will be your precious daughter's as well unless you do as I ask. So either pay up, Mr. Bryant, or you'll get your dear little Christina back in little pieces."
Christy let out a bloodcurdling scream into her gag and started thrashing about wildly in terror. She shrieked louder as the knife slashed hard across her left arm, bringing more excruciating pain. A gun was then abruptly thrust to the back of her head to make her stop struggling. "As I was saying Mr. Bryant," Leo continued nonchalantly, "since your daughter's very lovely, I'm sure I can fetch a good price for her-namely, let's say, twenty million in forty-eight hours."
Christy felt faint. There were only weak mumblings from her father on the other end of the line. "And no police, or we'll happily kill her at a moment's notice," Leo laid it out for them, "Christina is currently covered in dynamite, which we will detonate if we find you trick us in any way, Mr. Bryant. We'll give you the drop instructions in due time."
"Let me on, Michael!" Christy heard her mother's voice, frantic, on the other end of the line. "Please, let me talk to Christy, now!" she pleaded, clearly on the verge of hysterics.
"Go right ahead, Mrs. Bryant," Christy felt the phone being held right against her gag. "MMMM, MMMM MMMFFF MMMMMMM MMMMMMMFFFFF!" she struggled to enunciate through the thick cloth.
"I want to hear her voice!" Mrs. Bryant frantically demanded, "I beg you, let me hear my daughter's voice telling me she's OK!"
"Sorry, but your dear Christina likes her gag and wants to keep it on as long as possible, Mrs. Bryant," Leo chided her cockily, "So, till we call again..."
"MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!" Christy screamed as loud as she could manage in the direction of the phone as the headphones were jammed back over her ears and the sheet dropped back down into place over her. She completely lost control and started thrashing around in her chair as hard as she could. A set of sharp slaps were delivered to her face, but she continued unabated, overcome with terror at being held for ransom now. Twenty million was far more than her parents could ever hope to afford...she didn't want to be chopped into little pieces, much less blown up...!
Abruptly the sheet was lifted up again, and a cloth smothered Christy's face. Immediately, she was overwhelmed with the smell of chloroform. She fought to stay conscious for as long as she could manage, but it wasn't long before she lost the battle and blacked out.