The wall tile was chipped. The wallpaper above it was shredding. The carpeted floor was worn almost completely. Up an old, leaning wood staircase was darkness.
At the end of the hall was the front door. Through the faded, dirty window pane she saw the reflection of multi-colored lights.
Almost as if hypnotized, she took a step, then another, then another, preventing the shoe heels from clacking.
She passed one old apartment door on the right, then another on the left. Then she was at the front door. Hazarding a glance behind her, she saw no one.
Turning back, her arm muscles bunched, turning the old, dented knob. The door creaked back, and there was the building vestibule.
She could see that it, and the sidewalk outside, were empty. She stepped forward hurriedly unable to keep her shoes from clacking, then wrenched wide the final door between her and freedom....
The fresh air hit her like a wall. She stared at Atlantic City in the distance the way Dorothy first looked at Oz.
It was a stunning moment as she realized where she was, and where she could go to be saved. She took the first step outside.
She never took another, of course. A huge black hand descended on her mouth and a big muscular black arm clamped around her arms and waist.
She felt herself being lifted and turned, slamming face first against the wall, her face protected by the huge paw over her lips. Her breasts squished against the rotting plaster and then the arm around her waist disappeared and another hand grasped her right wrist. By the time she tried to scream her right arm was wrenched so high up her back she thought it would tear off.
The scream became a sharp gasp of blinding pain, and then she was being dragged back down the hallway. Within seconds she had been pulled back into the room, her free arm clawing desperately for the door frame.
A piece snapped off in her fingers. The door slammed, a bolt could be heard sliding into place, and then the hall was as silent as the tomb... dust settling as if it had never been kicked up.
When I saw her again she was sitting heavily in the chair, dazed, exhausted, and aching. Her arms were wrenched behind her and tied so cruelly to the chair with thin, coarse rope I thought she was lucky to still have skin. Her waist was also tied to the chair so tightly it nearly disappeared into the slot between her shirt and skirt. The clothing was streaked and torn in several places, revealing the swell of one breast and the sleekness of one thigh almost to the crotch.
He had obviously been very rough with her. Her ankles were tied wide to the chair legs, her own legs bent back, the tightness of the skirt barely keeping her knees in close proximity. The shoes were still on, scraping the dirty floor.
More ropes on her upper body held to the seat, one sinking between her breasts, another under her arms -- all lashed more tightly than I thought possible. And her mouth. Her cheeks were bulging, obviously stuffed to capacity.
I could see through the top gag that another cloth was knotted between her teeth, holding the stuffing in, and the final one covered her lower face so tightly it all but sunk her lips into her mouth.
Incredibly, the gags were tied as unbelievably tight as the ropes. Her head was back, her eyes glazed in pain and effort, her beautiful dark red hair hanging down. And seated beside her, watching her like a misbehaved pet, was a tall, rangy, black young man.
From his height and build he could have been a basketball player, but the dullness of his eyes bespoke an impediment.
"She tried to get away," he said to me in a monotone. "I stopped her."
"Yes," I agreed. "You did." He looked at her again with pride, then back at me.
"She looks good, huh? Just like book girl, huh?" He held up a worn old paperback. On the cover was a painting of another girl, almost as pretty, but a brunette, who was tied to a chair much like this one, in a room much like this one, the same way Erin was tied. Even the clothing was torn and streaked in much the same way as the clothes on the book cover. Only Erin wasn't a painting and these impossibly tight ropes and rags were real.
"Yeah," I said. "Better."
Erin's eyes opened. She looked at me. With what? Hope? Desperation? For what? Help? But mostly it was suffering I guess.
"Okay," the tall black man said happily. He took a final look at the book cover then put it back on the table.
As if on cue, Ida appeared in the doorway.
"He do it yet?" she asked me.
"I don't think so."
She looked at the tall black man. "You do it yet, Jim?" He replied absently. "Not yet, ma."
"Well, do it!" she snapped. "We can't stay here all night!"
TO BE CONTINUED