This story is by Melody Kenoyer and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Lizzy Duncan’s head throbbed and it took a few minutes to clear her vision. She tried to assess her surroundings. A bright beam of sunlight made her squint. It came from high above the rafters of an old, dilapidated building. The damp air sent a chill through her. A musty hint of fish tickled her nose.
She tried to sit up from the makeshift bed and realized her right wrist was handcuffed to the frame. A metal spring poked at her back. Using her free hand, she inch-wormed herself up a bit and leaned against the headboard.
Taking inventory, she noticed buttons missing on the front of her blouse and her jewelry was gone. It was mostly cheap costume jewelry but… her ring. Oh, no – My ring! Jason! The memories screamed toward her like a freight train. They took her engagement ring.
Lizzy tried to slow down her thoughts and go back through them methodically. It was mid-morning, her first big assignment as a reporter. She was in front of the Mini Mart just on the edge of Chinatown with her cameraman, Bert. They hadn’t worked together long but she liked him. He had an easy way about him that calmed her nerves.
“A robbery investigation, how ironic,” she muttered to herself while thinking about her stolen ring.
The van. She heard tires screech and an arm snatched her around the waist and dragged her inside. Bert saw the whole thing; she saw the horror on his face as she screamed out. Maybe he got a look at them. Maybe… It happened so fast. They raced off and pulled a dark hood over her head before she saw anyone’s face. The van door slammed loudly. She fought with all of her strength but quickly lost. Her head exploded in pain when something hard hit her and she blacked out.
Lizzy sighed and tried to hold back her fear.
She was supposed to do her segment and then meet Jason for lunch at the Yacht Club to celebrate. He must be worried sick. She felt her empty ring finger and began to cry. All she wanted was to be with Jason. Her career was the only thing she cared about until she met him that fateful day. Jogging past the maritime building his father owned. She tripped into Jason’s arms as he ran through the revolving door, catching them both off guard. They locked eyes and it was all over. That was a year ago spring and now they’ve been planning their wedding for September.
She wiped her eyes with her free hand and a large brooding man entered the room. Thug. Her reporter instincts kicked in. She needed to get back to Jason.
“Who are you!” Lizzy demanded. “What do you want with me?! Where am I?!”
He smirked “You’re a feisty one, aren’t you,” it wasn’t a question, “you’ll find out soon enough.” He unlocked her handcuff and let it dangle from the bed frame.
“Come with me and no funny stuff,” he held her by the upper arm, “we know what to do with troublemakers”. He looked down her open blouse and smacked his lips. A shudder went through her and she grabbed her blouse, holding it closed.
“No talking,” he commanded firmly. She was led down the hall and peered into some offices. She caught a glimpse of young women, some just girls, handcuffed to dingy mattresses just as she had been. Human trafficking!
“What are you doing with them!” she demanded.
“Quiet!” the thug said as he tightened the grip on her arm and dragged her toward the open warehouse. The fishy smell was stronger here. She glanced around and noticed boarded windows and broken equipment. It was so familiar. I know this place! It’s the Cannery building! Her heart soared.
She remembered walking hand-in-hand with Jason last summer, all over the embarcadero. They were tipsy from the wine they drank at the party and left early. They had been here. They snuck inside and explored more than the building. He told her about the history of the place but all she wanted was his kiss. She shook the memory away.
The thug delivered her to a bald man with steely eyes standing in front of a camera ready to record a message. They moved quickly. It was obvious they had done this many times before. The thug held her arm tight and positioned her in view of the camera. The bald man began his speech. She knew this was the ransom message he was recording. Jason would see this!
She heard the man say, “I want two million dollars in unmarked bills…” She stopped listening. She started rubbing her hands together and rubbed her sore wrist. She crossed her fingers then made the hang ten sign. The man was finishing up “I know daddy is good for it. You have 24 hours. You’ll get instructions.” He turned off the camera and walked toward Lizzy.
“What are you doing!”
“My wrist hurts,” she said curtly and glared into his eyes.
“You better hope we get our money.” He spat back.
“Don’t damage the merchandise or you won’t get a cent!” she countered as he walked away.
“Get her out of here and make sure she sleeps for a while,” he said to his partner and turned his attention to the camera. She squirmed as the thug dragged her back to the bed and cuffed her. She winced. He shot something into her arm and her world went dark.
Jason stood at his penthouse window, staring at the glistening buildings. The late morning light came just as the fog started to burn off. His place was tastefully furnished, modern and currently occupied by five FBI agents. They all were sharing a third pot of coffee and waiting.
“That’s quite a painting,” one was saying to another. The original oil took up an entire wall and the blue ocean waves were rough and white capped. There was an odd sailing ship in the foreground, modern – The America’s Cup. Jason glanced at him.
“My father built that ship,” he said quietly and turned his attention to the FBI Captain. “How long does this usually take? I need to know she’s OK!” He sat down and rubbed the back of his neck. A gloved FBI man burst through the front door holding a FedEx envelope.
“Hey Cap,” he said, “I think this is it! I saw the delivery truck. Smart. No way to trace it.” He handed the envelope to his captain and pointed out the hand-written dollar sign next to Jason’s name. Jason and the others watched intently.
“What about the tracking number?” Jason blurted out. The captain put on thin rubber gloves and tore the strip open, revealing the contents. A thumb drive fell onto the table. He looked at Jason.
“We’ll check that out but it’s usually just a wild goose chase. Calls are easier to trace with today’s technology. These guys are smart. That’s why they chose Lizzy. They knew the risk of public attention but took the risk because they know who you are… and your father.”
He picked up the thumb drive. “Here we go,” he said, taking a deep breath. He had a computer ready and carefully shoved the stick into the USB port as everyone gathered around to watch. He hit play.
Jason’s heart leapt as he saw her in the background. She looked tired but beautiful. Her long chestnut hair was tousled. Rage grew in him. He felt a hand press down on his shoulder. “Hang on” the agent said. “We’ll get her back”.
Everyone listened to the demands but Jason just watched her. He noticed her hand made an awkward motion, a hang ten sign. The FBI men were going into ransom mode but Jason knew there was more to this.
“What was that? Back it up,” Jason said urgently. “Look at her hands. What’s she doing?”
“She’s rubbing her wrist. It looks red. They use handcuffs sometimes…” the FBI man let his voice trail off.
“No!” Jason interrupted. “Slow it down”.
“A hang-ten sign?” the agent said. They watched it a few times and Jason knew.
“It’s not a hang-ten sign… it’s a ‘Y’. It’s sign language!” He looked at the captain and explained, “Lizzy was teaching me the letters. Her aunt is hearing impaired and Liz wanted to do something special at the wedding for her.”
The captain shouted, “Someone get me the letters, Google it!” They scrambled and found a sign language chart and projected it on the wall. They backed up the video again and slowed it down, freezing it to see the signs. Taking turns, they sounded out the letters.
One of the men said “Canary – like the yellow bird, it’s a song bird, right?” Jason shook him off.
“No, look, she’s doing the ‘N’ twice. It’s Cannery.” Jason’s mind was whirling. He looked at the image on the screen, everything around Lizzy. Yes, it was familiar. “It’s the old cannery building! We were there last summer. She knows it. That’s where she is!”
They sprang into action. They had a SWAT team ready and Jason rode with one of the agents.
When Lizzy opened her eyes, she thought she was dreaming. It was Jason’s face. He was looking right at her. “Jason?” she whispered. A Paramedic was checking her vitals. She was still disoriented but the excitement of seeing Jason helped wake her up. He smiled at her.
She smiled back in astonishment.
“Jason, you got my message!” she cooed. “I knew you would!” She threw her arms around him and he held her, kissing her softly.
Activity bustled all around them and she saw girls of all ages being cared for by aid workers. A Social Worker arrived on scene and was handing the girls blankets and asking questions. They seemed in good hands. She saw the thug being marched out in handcuffs.
One of the FBI agents was carrying a cigar box full of jewelry and walked past Lizzy.
“Take a look at this Captain,” he whistled.
“My ring!” she cried.
Jason dug through and found it. The captain smiled his permission and Jason took Lizzie’s left hand and slipped it back on her ring finger. Tears streamed down her face and she kissed him. The Paramedic interrupted them.
“Excuse me miss, we’d like to take you to the hospital to get checked out if that’s alright with you.”
She looked at Jason “I just want to go home.” He lifted her into his arms and she sank into his shoulder as he carried her effortlessly toward the door.
“You are home.”