“How far is it to the hotel?” Taylor eyed his watch.
“About fifteen minutes,” Bex looked over her shoulder from the front.
“Right. So if we get unloaded that gives us two hours of sleep before we need to get up for radio.”
“Who needs sleep?” Zac smirked.
“I do,” Isaac insisted, “guy behind me kept kicking my seat. I don’t know why I bothered trying.”
“And I was awake for most of that,” Taylor agreed, looking up in time for the van to slow down.
“What is it?” Mike asked from the back.
“I don’t know,” Dee replied from the driver’s seat, “there’s a van blocking the road. They might have a flat?”
“Can we help?” Zac leant forward.
“This is going to cut into our sleep time,” Isaac immediately grumbled.
“We have to stop,” Dee shrugged, pulling onto the shoulder as they came to a stop.
“We’ve dealt with less,” Taylor slapped Isaac’s knee as he reached over to open the side door.
“Yeah but we’re getting old.”
“Wait,” Mike leant forward to put a hand on Taylor’s arm just as the door clicked, “does something about this not seem right to you? There’s no one here.”
“Maybe we should call for help?” Dee was leaning over the steering wheel, “I see a driver.”
“No cell reception. That’s weird,” Zac frowned, otherwise not moving.
“We might be the only help they get,” Taylor locked eyes with Mike before pulling the door fully open.
He hopped onto the asphalt and eyed the dark van. It didn’t look like it had been in an accident, but anything could have led to it being where it was. Double checking that there was no other traffic on the road he quickly ducked over to check on the driver.
“This is weird man, it’s too quiet,” Mike insisted, scratching at his beard.
“And we need to get going,” Bex added.
Isaac sighed dejectedly, knowing he’d end up being the one to go after his brother no matter what. He unclipped his seatbelt and began out just in time to see Taylor stepping back from the van with a confused frown.
“What is it?” he asked, one foot on the road and the other still on the step.
“It’s not real,” Taylor replied.
Both of them jumped as the side and back doors opened simultaneously, Isaac falling from the step in the process.
“Hands up! Don’t move!”
“Grab these two!”
“Wallets and cell phones, now!”
Neither brother had time to process anything other than the fact that they had guns before gloved hands were on them.
“Stay down!” Mike hissed to Zac, both he and Andrew automatically ducking behind the seats.
Zac frantically went back to trying to get his cell phone to work, jumping at a thud as Isaac was thrown against the side of their van.
“You people! Stay in the van!”
“Take whatever you want,” Taylor insisted once he found his voice.
He was sprawled against the dark van just as Isaac had been splayed against their white one.
“Shut up!” a man to his side – not the one going through his pockets – ordered.
He felt his cell phone go first and eyed the man who took it as he passed it off to someone else already holding one. Then he noticed something odd. Both Isaac’s cell and wallet had been thrown onto the road, and when his own wallet was retrieved it soon joined them.
This wasn’t a robbery.
“What do you want?” he tried instead, this time getting a punch in the jaw for his troubles.
“I said shut up!”
While he was dazed, the one who’d searched him turned him to shove his chest into the van, winding him but making it easy to pull his hands behind his back.
“Clone’s done,” the man holding the two phones dropped Taylor’s before returning to the back of the van on his own.
“This is how it’s gonna go!” the apparent ringleader began – who was currently aiming his gun into the front where Bex and Dee sat with their hands raised in clear view, “you will get a call within twenty-four hours. Do not ignore it. If you do, we kill one of them.”
“What?” Zac gasped through his teeth, using every ounce of self-control to not let himself look up.
Taylor sucked in a sharp breath as he felt the cuffs go on his wrists, now realising what was happening. When he looked over his shoulder he saw Isaac already cuffed.
“If you go to the authorities, we kill one of them. You try in any way to screw us over, we kill one of them. Got it?!”
“We got it,” Mike replied as Bex nodded, unsure if she could talk.
“GO!” he ordered.
Isaac felt his arm being pulled and eyed the closest gun before letting himself be taken to the van. Taylor locked eyes with him in a moment of panic but Isaac looked away. There was nothing he could do.
It wasn’t that he was going to fight, but Taylor froze on the spot. One man couldn’t move him. With most of them already back in the van the ringleader helped move him in before shutting the door on them and getting into the front himself.
The van sped away as soon as it was started and Zac finally pulled himself up. Mike was the first out of the van.
“Hoooooly crap!” Andrew’s hands were in his hair.
“MOVE!” Zac ordered him, wanting to get out.
Mike collected the wallets and phones – including parts that had broken off – before watching the direction the van had gone. By the time everyone else was out it was long gone.
“That has never happened before! Being robbed at gunpoint?! We are good people! We don’t deserve this!” Andrew was panicking.
“Calm down,” Zac insisted, though the colour was gone from his face.
“And we weren’t robbed,” Mike corrected, turning to look at Zac.
“Why didn’t they take a phone so they could call us?” Bex was also starting to panic now that the moment had passed.
“They cloned Tay’s,” Mike had overheard, “probably so they couldn’t be traced.”
“But why take both of them? Why not only one?” Dee’s arms were folded defensively.
“You heard him,” Zac frowned, “they can kill one just to make a point, and still have the other to bargain with.”
“What do you want to do?” Mike kept his eyes on Zac.
There was an awkward moment of silence as everyone waited for Zac to decide.
“I think…” he began carefully, “we need to get to the hotel and collect ourselves and talk it over there. It’s going to be a long morning.”
Without another word, they retired back to the van. Zac paused at the side door to look back down the road, just now realising that his heart was pounding inside his chest.
“Come on,” Mike attempted to snap him out of it, and it worked.
Zac pulled himself up and closed the door behind him before taking up Taylor’s previous seat as Dee restarted the van.
Taylor tried not to panic, but it was hard. At first he couldn’t remember what had happened and why he might not have been able to move, but when the memories came flooding back soon enough so did his blood pressure.
He tried to stay still as he worked out where he was. His vision was obscured – but not completely – by something leather over his face that was holding his jaw closed, despite the tape he could feel wound tight around his head. His hands were still cuffed but he now had some kind of leather pouch over his hands to prevent them from moving much. His upper arms appeared to be zip tied to Isaac’s, his brother seated on a chair behind his and apparently still unconscious. His knees and ankles were both bound with tape but he vaguely remembered that already happening in the van.
The most unsettling restraint however, aside from the mask, was the chain sitting loosely around his neck. When his eyes followed it they led him to a hook on the ceiling where both his and Isaac’s chains had been anchored. He wasn’t able to tell from the angle whether or not they would reach the ground, and suddenly became very conscious of the need to keep the chairs upright.
To his left a rickety staircase led up to a single beaten door. There was a small door underneath the staircase, but aside from the dim lightbulb overhead Taylor couldn’t see anything else in his half of the room.
He’d just started trying to twist his wrists free of the pouch when he felt Isaac move behind him and froze. He couldn’t talk to him, so he needed his brother to recognise the extent of their situation on his own. He could tell it took a while before Isaac even lifted his head, but his breathing heavied almost immediately.
The first thing he did was pull on his arms which made Taylor grunt as the zip ties cut into his own. Now knowing that Taylor was behind him, he paused as he began to focus properly.
There was one thing he could see that Taylor couldn’t, and his eyes were drawn to it right away. They weren’t the only ones in the room.
In the corner opposite the bottom of the staircase lay a petite feminine figure, her shirt slightly ripped and an old pillowcase over her head. Her hands were also cuffed behind her but her legs were free and she had no chain. Her breathing pattern suggested that she were awake and just not moving. Not knowing that Taylor couldn’t see her, Isaac didn’t draw his attention.
Once Isaac had had some time to come around, Taylor started trying to move his hands again. He couldn’t feel what was holding the leather there but whatever it was had drawn his wrists closer and the cuffs were now digging into his skin. He was already losing the feeling in the small finger on his right hand and it was worrying to say the least. Isaac guessed what he was doing but already considered it fruitless. There had to be a reason it was there after all. Instead he kept his eye on the girl, and when she moved for the first time he felt Taylor freeze. Her legs spread as she tried to balance herself, feeling the wall behind her and managing to push herself toward it. Taylor struggled to see over his shoulder to what was going on, but he finally caught a glimpse of her shadow as she managed to sit herself up back against the wall. Once there, she froze again.
Not being able to say anything was already a problem. Taylor had a heap of questions he needed to get out, despite the unlikelihood of getting a satisfactory response to any of them. They didn’t even know if she’d been gagged like they had. Taylor soon worked out – as Isaac already had – that they were well into the waiting game. But considering how hot and humid it was down there, both were already praying that it wouldn’t take long. Both of their heavy jackets had been removed while they’d been out, but both brothers were already sweating under the leathers.
Once they’d been checked in, Mike and Dee accompanied Zac to his room while Bex went into immediate damage control and Andrew called home. Zac sat silently on his bed after dumping his suitcase as Mike closed the door behind them.
“So I guess we’re not calling the police?” Dee’s arms were folded again.
“What happens when people start asking questions?” Mike came back into the room.
“Bex will handle it,” Zac’s eyes were to the floor, “that’s what she’s here for.”
“Shouldn’t you call someone? Nicole or Natalie at least?” Dee suggested.
“Does that count as screwing with them?” Mike pointed out, “one of them might panic and call the cops.”
“Not if we tell them what they told us.”
“They’re going to kill me,” Zac smirked.
“Zac I think you’re-“
“Not them. Ike and Tay’s wives,” Zac ran his fingers through his hair, “they’re going to kill me for not telling them right away, but I don’t want to tell them.”
“What do you want to do? Just wait for the call?” Mike shrugged.
“What else can we do?” Dee looked worried.
“Did you get the license plate on the van?” Zac looked up.
“I did,” Dee nodded, “I also took a picture as they drove away.”
“We’ve got basic physical descriptions on five of them, I don’t know if any stayed in the van,” Mike offered, “but they were all wearing the same thing and we couldn’t see anything but their eyes.”
“They were prepared,” Dee observed.
“This wasn’t a last second thing, they knew what they were doing,” Zac agreed, “so how did they know where we’d be? Were they watching the airport for our flight? How did they know we’d be on that road at that time and that no one else would drive past?”
“It doesn’t sound like a fluke, does it?” Mike pulled a face.
“No it does not.”
“This is assuming that they know who you are and they didn’t just try to target a random car,” Dee pointed out.
“Which we won’t know until they call, and who are they going to call anyway?” Mike shrugged.
“I would think my phone but keep theirs on just in case,” Zac insisted, “no one ignores any calls today as much as we might want to.”
“We’ll need their chargers,” Mike pulled Isaac’s phone from a pocket.
“They’re iPhones,” Zac shrugged.
“Want me to leave them with you? Are you going to leave the room at all?”
“Probably not,” he sighed, “unless Bex needs my help with something but I don’t see why she would.”
“What about the concert?” Dee had to ask.
“Bex will call the venue, the promoter… there’s nothing else we can do,” Zac was dismal, “I can’t go and do the Walk if I’m waiting for the call.”
“You realise their wives are going to be on the phone the second they hear a show’s been cancelled, right?” Mike pointed out, “especially after last time.”
“At least no one’s in hospital this time,” Zac attempted a joke, “…yet.”
“You’re gonna have to come up with something,” Mike shook his head, “and fast. Because this is going to get out soon and we can’t stall it forever.”
“They’re going to want money,” Zac blatantly changed the subject, “I need to see what I can do with the accounts from here.”
“You might need help from Nikki and Nat with that too,” Mike added, “if you need access in Tulsa. Or even just access to theirs.”
Zac nodded, not wanting to think of how that phone call was going to go.
“Maybe. It depends on what they want.”
“I’m going to go and check on Andrew,” Dee awkwardly made to leave the room, “call us if you need anything.”
“Thanks,” Zac watched after him.
It was silent until the door closed.
“You know they’ll be okay, right?” Mike tried to reassure him, “they need both of them as bargaining chips. They can’t hurt them.”
“Yeah I know,” Zac pursed his lips, “but it’s not going to stop me worrying. How often do these things play out without anyone getting hurt?”
“Let’s not look up the statistics right now,” Mike mused, “want me to stay here?”
“No you should get some sleep,” Zac shook his head, “I won’t be going anywhere. Just tell Bex to come see me when she’s done.”
“Will do,” Mike nodded before taking his leave.
Zac waited until the door closed behind him before looking toward the bathroom. He’d gotten more sleep than anyone else but right now he just felt… drained. But he couldn’t fall asleep.
He got up and headed for the basin to wash his face, hoping the cold water would help to keep him alert.
Neither Isaac nor Taylor had any idea how long they’d been there before the upstairs door opened. Right away they were hit with loud music they’d previously only heard in the distance, but they were more concerned with the imposing figure in the doorway. He was still wearing the dark clothing he’d picked them up with, and still wearing the black and white mask. His eyes were on them.
Taylor felt Isaac tense against him.
In his hands were a length of chain and a pole. Isaac’s first thought was that Zac must have gone to the police. This was it – one of them was going to die.
Taylor on the other hand caught on, and while Isaac instinctively ducked away as the chain was attached to the pole and lifted, Taylor watched as it was simply added to theirs so that there were now three chains hanging. That done the man set the pole against the staircase as he walked over to the girl to fasten the other end around her neck. The snap of the padlock that accompanied the move confirmed the brothers’ fears that their own chains had been locked on.
Then he pulled the pillowcase from her head. It was hard for Isaac to see at first as long red hair was suddenly strewn everywhere, but he soon deciphered that she was wearing a ball gag.
“Settle in, get some sleep,” the man ordered as he retrieved the pole, “you’re going out to work tonight.”
With that, he took both the pole and the pillowcase back upstairs and closed the door behind himself. Taylor groaned at not getting any relief either from the heat or from the pressure on his hands while Isaac kept his eye on the girl. She now looked to be maybe early 20’s and vaguely familiar.
The first thing she did was use her knees to force the gag out of her mouth and cough once it was clear. When Taylor heard that, he began trying to shift the chair so that he could at least make eye contact. Isaac grunted to himself but relented, and the movement made the girl look up for the first time. Her eyes widened and Isaac began rushing to think of a way to not let her panic.
“Ike?” she frowned, catching him off guard.
He felt Taylor flinch, but once the pain in his arm died down realised he’d just turned his head sharply.
“And… Taylor? What…?”
She was a fan. That was how Isaac had recognised her. He knew her from the crowd.
But what was she doing here?
“Shit,” she cursed to herself under her breath, before pushing herself back into the wall.
Taylor audibly protested and Isaac could feel him twist their arms. He leant forward a little so that Taylor could do… whatever he was trying to do, but it didn’t stop the pull. Taylor was trying to show her their hands in the hopes that she might be able to help, but she’d turned her eyes away before he could. He gave up when she buried her face in her knees and started to cry.
Now that the chairs had been turned slightly Isaac was having trouble seeing the door, but he figured he’d get plenty of warning through the loud music alone whenever the door did open. He just hoped he got more warning than that when it came time for business.
He also couldn’t stop himself from thinking that now that Taylor was almost directly facing the door, if one of them were going to be killed they might just shoot him from the doorway.