I ignored the question, intent on knowing something more. “Why’d the guys come over yesterday? It looked like they were working on something.”
Dead silence. Suddenly, Breezy Amy had nothing to say. I looked from one to the other, Kelly’s neck twisting even further away, Amy’s jaw working open and closed with no words coming out. I felt like I had just stepped on a landmine and had no idea why. Finally, Amy’s voice box worked. “The guys are always getting together.”
“Guy stuff,” Kelly said dully.
“Yeah!” Amy said brightly. “Guy stuff. I stay out of it.”
“Me too.” Kelly looked up, a false smile pasted in my direction. “Sports stuff bores me.”
“Are your guys also in sales?” God, I can’t believe I forgot their names.
Another uncomfortable pause.
“Sort of,” Amy finally managed while Kelly just held her smile.
I out-faked her in the smile department, then tipped back my Corona, my seed of suspicion growing roots.
(adj.) disciplined or professional, well coordinated
“a tight ship”
After we gave Marcia a clean bed and nursed her back to life, after I watched her trembling hand hold my phone and call her parents, I became a man obsessed. With saving these women, with diving into the guts of this beast and ripping every entrail out. I thought it would be easy, thought that I could hire a few Navy SEALS and clean up the issue in the course of weeks. Envisioned, with the few rays of optimism that remained in my heart, that we’d find or avenge Elyse. I rolled up my cufflinks and waded in next to the men. Became, my large fortune in hand, one of the largest purchasers of women in the business. I became notorious, whispers of my cruelty and insatiable need for more flowed through the underground, fed by carefully planted stories and rumors. Plus, there were my buying habits. I bought anything - every age, race, and size. Our first year we bought 62 women. The second, 104. The third, 129. I opened a house in Miami for rehabilitation and staffed it with a medical team, psychologists, and six caregivers. I saved as many as I could, my weekends spent in the air, the Caribbean and Central America my feeding ground, the thousand miles surrounding where Elyse disappeared canvassed as thoroughly as possible.
Every saved soul was a pebble into the stream that was my broken heart. I threw every pebble in and hoped the water would dam, hoped the hurt would fade, hoped the memories would fade. But the stream never dried, the hurt never ceased, and my pain never healed.
Until I met Riley. I watched her blush and take the slippers. Felt the brush of her hand as we walked. Heard the gasp of her inhale as I thrust. Became lost in her face when she orgasmed around my cock, felt the warmth of her smile when we shared a joke. Felt alive from her enthusiasm for life and living. Enjoyed peace as I watched the sigh of her chest as she slept. I met Riley and - for the first time since Elyse’s disappearance—felt the first hint of something more, of a life outside of my rabid search for a woman who was already dead.
“Why do you ask me so many questions?”
“I’m gathering information.” He uncrossed and recrossed his legs, this time at the ankle, sitting back in his chair and folding his arms on his chest.
I sat on my bed, the handcuffs and bindings removed some time ago. I had, in ways, lost my fight. Could be trusted to sit without attacking, to sleep without destroying my room or myself. There was only so much trouble I could get into in the room, the reason for the cuffs more about domination than anything. Thinking about and remembering the long hours, I rubbed my wrists.
“Let’s play a game, Kitten.”
“I don’t like your games.”
“Well, this one is different. It has a prize.” He grinned widely, like he had just granted me my freedom.
He wanted me to ask. I could feel the words what prize shoving my tongue down, lips apart but I stayed mute. Sat on my bed and examined my toenails. Punished him in the way that hurt him the most, silence - a withholding of reaction, of information, of content to write down in his fucking notebook. I clamped my lips shut and picked at a spot on my big toe.
Seconds turned into a minute. I examined, he sat, seconds ticked. Finally he sighed, a big loud guttural sound that stretched out unnecessarily. I waited, not looking, not responding, my peripheral vision showing movement of some kind. Finally, I broke, turning to him, my eyes falling on a brightly colored gift.
“You want this, Kitten?” he asked, lifting up the box and shaking it.
“Is it a cell phone?” I asked, releasing my toe.
“Then no. Unless it’s a cell phone, or a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card, I’m not interested.”
“Make me happy, Kitten, and you can have this. It will be the only pretty thing in this room, the only thing that is yours.”
“You call me Kitten so that I form an emotional connection to you, isn’t that what you said?”
“You should probably know that every time you say that word I want to either punch you in the face or vomit.”
That sentence earned me a line in his notebook, his pen scratching across the surface, the present wobbling a little on his knee. It was a hot pink rectangular box, the kind that men’s dress shirts come in. It’s probably clothes. What an idiot. I’d probably answer every question in his notebook for a TV with Netflix.
“This could be a good step for us, Kitten. Movement forward. Let’s play, okay?”
“So, you won’t help me to earn this gift?”
“Have you ever studied dog training, Kitten?”
I didn’t answer.
“There is a body of opinion that training a dog should be all positive reinforcement, manipulation with praise and treats. I had a theory I wanted to put into practice and have done so with you, Kitten.”
I stopped fidgeting.
“You’ve successfully completed phase one with me, and given me a lot of information, Kitten. For that, I will give you this present. One last gift from me. But from now on, you will not eat well, or receive anything, unless you earn it. And anytime you disobey me, you will be punished. If you speak back, you will be punished. If you do not answer my questions, or please me, you will be punished. He stood, the soles of his shoes scraping the concrete as he walked over to me. I watched the package as he set it down softly on the bed before me. “Enjoy this, Kitten. Thank you for proving my hypothesis that positive reinforcement is not enough. Sleep well. Tomorrow is a big new day.”