Rain drizzled softly on the cardboard box, lulling the sleeping girl inside with a momentary sense of security. A can rattled along the cement and crashed into a brick wall. Kira’s head snapped up, her startled heart pounding as she stared into the night, scanning for the source of the noise.
She wished for moonlight but saw only creeping steam rising from the sewer drains and crowding the alleyway. Shifting within the overturned appliance box, she pushed her sleeping bag off her shoulders to lean out of the box and gaze into the alley.
Madame Fortuna’s neon sign buzzed and flickered, casting an eerie green glow on the steam, obscuring her vision even more. Kira waited and watched silently. Probably just a four-legged dumpster visitor, scavenging for food.
The aroma of baking bread told her it was pre-dawn, the only time of the day a pleasant smell competed with the rotten vestige of overflowing garbage. Kira’s stomach grumbled in protest, but she was used the sound by now. And the numbness that followed.
When no other sign of movement came from the alley, she released the breath she’d been holding and inched backward into her box. She tugged her sleeping bag around her shoulders and listened to the sound of the light morning rain.
It was always drizzling in Portland. Most of the homeless learned to place their lean-tos, boxes, or shelters on top of a wooden pallet to separate themselves from the pooling water and to stretch a tarp over their shelter. Someone out there was benefitting from Kira’s tarp even now. They’d stolen it just before nightfall, and she had very little hope of staying dry much longer. She’d have to find another box or tarp.
A shadow moved in front of her box’s opening—bigger than any animal. Kira froze, her eyes narrowing as she reached into the small space behind her for the broken two-by-four she’d spiked with jagged nails. The shadow moved again, and a pair of big black boots stopped right in front of her box. Men’s. Her mouth curled in a feral grin, and she pulled back the club to stab the ankles if the owner of the boots moved toward her.
She wasn’t prepared for the assault to come through the top of the box. A second attacker’s hands burst through the wet cardboard and gripped her neck. Strong arms pulled her against a solid chest, and a big hand covered her mouth with something foul-smelling. She kicked, fought, and scratched at the vise-like arms. But nothing helped. The arms lifted her high into the air, leaving her bag, club, and few possessions abandoned in her destroyed box as her assailant dragged her across the alley.
He smelled worse than her lecherous stepfather. She’d have to escape again. Good thing she’d had so much practice.
Hands removed a heavy grate from the sewer drain, and Kira screamed into the rag at the darkness below. The purple curtain in Madame Fortuna’s storefront moved, and a pale, gaunt face appeared in the window, but the curtain quickly dropped back into place. Clearly, the old fortune teller wasn’t interested in what lay beyond her fake crystal ball, heated flat, and big screen TV.
Or perhaps she’d already seen Kira’s future. The woman had confronted her in the alley just the other day, her salt-and-pepper braid in much need of a thorough combing. Small gold rings made her plump fingers look like sausages as they’d poked seventeen-year-old Kira in the chest.
“Death!” Her voice rasped. “Death surrounds you.”
“Go away, you hag!” Kira pushed her sausage finger away.
“Kira Lier,” she chanted in a singsong voice. “Kira Lier brings death to us all.” The woman had wandered back to the side door of her shop and hadn’t come back out to bother Kira since. Now she wished she would.
She wished anyone would.
The sour gag in Kira’s mouth turned her stomach. All she could make out around her were rough hands and darkness. They pushed her along tar-black passageways, the thinnest light slanting through each time they’d pass under a sewer grate—barely enough to illuminate the faces of her kidnappers, and even that for mere seconds. Two men. One was tall with long brown hair pulled in a ponytail, the other short with dark skin and a bad buzz cut.
Both had an unbreakable grip on her forearms. She would sport bruises the next day, if she lived that long. But she wouldn’t panic and start crying like most girls. She would wait and plot. If she struggled, she could blow her one chance of escape.
She didn’t know where she was, other than underground. Her kidnappers obviously knew the sewers, knew where they were taking her. Right now, her best bet was to play the scared and compliant hostage. They might let their guard down.
“Dis one is quieter than the o’ers,” the short one commented. He sounded almost disappointed.
“Alpo, do you miss the screaming? Just be glad this one isn’t a biter. I hate when they bite.”
“Oi just miss the begging. Oi like it when they beg for their life.” As if trying to elicit a response from Kira, Alpo dug his nails into Kira’s arms, hard.
Kira let out a whimper through her gag for him. She wouldn’t fake tears, but it was time to pretend to be scared. Using her tongue, she pushed the gag out of her mouth and watched as it landed on her old worn army boot. She kept her head down to hide what she had done.
Alpo chuckled at Kira’s whimpers. “Ya see, Vic, oi can still make them whimper.”
Vic sighed, “Yes, and you’ll get to hear plenty of screaming and begging when this one is taken to the pens. Don’t worry none.”
There was less light as Alpo and Vic pulled Kira farther into the tunnels and away from the sewer grates. Rank smelling fluid leaked in through the soles of her boots, cold and wet. She ignored the odor and cold as she counted steps and turns, hoping to retrace her route out.
She didn’t doubt that she would escape.
They stopped at a dead end. Kira looked up, puzzled. Alpo let go of her arm and stood in front of a huge cement block covered with bad graffiti and the word Monsters, outlined in neon pink. She had to stop herself from snorting in amusement at the bad artwork.
Alpo walked over to the side of the brick wall and dug his fingers into the cracks, pulled.
She wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but watching a five-foot-nine man move a two-foot thick brick wall with his bare hands was not on her list. It wasn’t humanly possible. Maybe it was a faux wall, a movie prop used to camouflage the entrance. Or maybe there was a lever and hidden lock used to swing the massive door. A dark passageway opened up behind the wall, and a stagnant smell blew from the darkness. The hair on Kira’s arms stood.
They hadn’t blindfolded her, so they clearly believed this was going to be a one-way trip. And if they dragged her in there and closed the wall she probably would be trapped. There was no chance she could move that wall on her own. And only one person held onto her arm for the moment.
Kira planted her feet and pulled as hard as she could away from Vic. When he gripped tighter and yanked her towards him, she used the momentum to throw a left-handed punch.
Vic yelled and dropped her arm to grab his bloodied nose. It was a shame Kira had to use her weak arm. She’d aimed to break his nose.
Kira sprinted in the direction they had come, praying she could remember the turns correctly. Adrenaline made her legs fly beneath her. It was harder to reverse the directions under pressure, but she refused to look back, to give in to the voice that was screaming in her ear, Turn around. Look.
Vic was screaming at Alpo behind her, and their longer legs were quickly catching up to her. She ran, turned left, turned right. Did I pass that lump of garbage already?
Fear flooded her.
Breathing hard, she spun to correct her mistake.
Too late. Arms like iron encased her. Alpo grunted into her ear and tried to squeeze the breath out of her.
Kira kicked. She bit. She squirmed, used every technique her Navy SEAL father had taught her. She wasn’t going down without a fight. She wouldn’t betray his memory that way.
She’d never quit trying like her mother had.
Vic came up behind Alpo, wiping the blood from his nose on his sleeve. “Well, you have definitely made this interesting.”
His viper-like grin ticked Kira off. She spit in his face.
Vic’s grin turned ugly. His eyes darkened, and his hands clenched her throat.
No air. Between Alpo compressing her chest and Vic strangling her, she was losing consciousness fast. Her father’s smiling face flashed in front of her.
I’m sorry, Dad
END OF SAMPLE
RELEASES TUESDAY APRIL 5TH 2016