Chapter 10

© Copyright 2006 by Kendra Cornell

Karen awoke with a massive headache. Her hands were bound in front of her and she was lying on the same couch she had used during her interview the night before. Window blinds blocked the entrance of the morning sun, which nevertheless fought valiantly to breach the obstruction.

Karen groaned miserably. Jeff appeared from the kitchen with a plastic bag wrapped in a dark blue washcloth. She assumed by its bulky appearance that it was filled with ice. He placed it on her head, not looking into her eyes. He also produced another spotless glass filled with ice water.

“Open your mouth,” he ordered.

Karen stared at him, not complying.

“Look,” he said coldly. “It would be my guess that you probably have a pretty bad headache right now. All I have are a couple of extra-strength Tylenol. If you want to suffer in some kind of Neanderthal display of womanhood, that’s your choice. But if you want it, then open your mouth.” He tipped his hand, showing three red-and-yellow-coated tablets.

Karen thought for only a moment, and then opened her mouth. Jeff placed the caplets on her tongue, and held the glass of water to her lips. Karen attempted to lift her head and bursts of pain lit inside like fireworks. She coughed and spluttered as she attempted to swallow at least a little water. He backed away in distaste, muttering under his breath.

A few moments later, he returned. "I have to work now. But let's just say, in a few hours, you won’t have to worry about me anymore. I’ve left water out, although I tied your hands in front, so you should be able to manage to take care of yourself to some extent. There’s some food in the kitchen. Watch TV—I don’t care. You’ll be gone by the time I get back.” He looked her up and down, and a muscle clenched in his jaw. He wasted no more time talking, but gathered his things and left through an attached garage.

Karen heard the automatic garage door and the hum of an engine as it backed out and drove away. Here she was, stuck on a couch with a throbbing headache, and little sense of what reality entailed at the moment. She closed her eyes, hoping the medication was only Tylenol, and that it would start working soon. On the coffee table in front of the couch lay a remote control to the TV. She fumbled slowly for it, and turned it on. Not surprisingly, the TV was tuned to Channel 8. Karen listened to the news, not yet being able to bear the thought of opening her eyes.

“There has been a new development in the investigation into the murder of Elizabeth James. The Denver Police Department is asking for the public’s help in locating Karen Cook, now being named a person of interest in the case. Cook, a professional political consultant, went missing after leaving work last evening. Her employer, Jack Jenkins, spoke briefly with us this morning.”

At this, Karen’s eyes popped wide open as the image switched from the reporter to footage of Jack speaking, “All we want to say publicly is that we have no knowledge of Karen’s whereabouts or situation. Tom Delaney is concerned for the well-being of an esteemed colleague on this campaign, and would also like to send his deepest regards to the family of the victim.” Here, Jack turned to the camera. “Karen, wherever you are, call us. We are worried about you.”

A person of interest? Didn’t that usually mean that person was generally a suspect in a murder?

You have got to be joking. Now they’re trying to pin a murder on me? What is going on here?

As the news changed to the next story, Karen tried to get up. Swinging both feet to the floor, she placed her hands in front of her and heaved forward. But vertigo hit hard, and she fell back onto the couch in a dizzy heap. Again— Try again. Slowly and cautiously, Karen managed to get to her feet.

Slowly, with great difficulty, she took a few steps. Her head was still throbbing. Her hands were bound with several layers of silver duct tape, but there was still circulation in her hands- a consequential benefit in the midst of this nightmare. She made it to the dark granite counters of the kitchen and bent over, her face soaking in the coolness of the countertops.

Jeff had indeed left her a few things. There was yet another glass of ice-water, its condensation weeping onto the surface underneath. He had slid a loaf of sliced wheat bread out of its bag and left it drying on the counter.

Yum— Dried out bread. My favorite, she thought sardonically. Karen stood up and shuffled to the stainless steel refrigerator. Opening it, she encountered the barest minimum of human standards- a bottle of mustard, half a quart of expired milk— some pickles?- nothing with which she could make anything remotely appetizing.

She took the glass of melting ice water and dumped it down the kitchen sink. She then refilled it from the tap, not trusting that Jeff hadn’t added something to it. She fumbled awkwardly, each movement singular and time-consuming. Karen managed to eat several slices of the bread, realizing that she hadn’t eaten for almost twenty-four hours. She washed it down with the fresh water, and felt better almost instantly. The shakiness and jitters were beginning to subside. Her headache was even beginning to recede.

Now what? Karen thought of the veiled threat in Jeff’s words, “You’ll be gone by the time I get back.” Was someone coming to get her? If so, the first thing to do would be to get out of here before this other person arrived. Karen walked to the front of the house and looked out one of the windows to where she had parked her car last night. It was no longer there. Where would he have moved her car? She stumbled back through the house and to the garage, her taped hands making her motions oafish and uncoordinated. She worked to turn the knob without free range of motion, and by contorting the rest of her body, she managed to open the door.

Her black Audi was parked in the far space of the two-car garage. Okay then— Now I just need the keys. Karen returned to the living room where she had previously placed her purse and keys, but it was no longer there. With a sigh of exasperation, she turned and surveyed the room with no luck. Nothing met her eye. Jeff had apparently hidden her keys and her purse.

Fury coursed through Karen’s veins. There is no way that I am going to let that shiny-headed, fleshy little Mama’s boy get the best of me after what I went through last night. As well as she could manage, Karen stumbled into Jeff’s study. Nothing obvious— so Karen ripped into his desk. She scattered papers looking underneath for her keys. She opened cupboards and pawed through the contents strewing them about. A thin file was swept out from underneath a series of papers. Karen managed to pick it up and open it. Inside were police reports- Jeff’s mug shot on several of the pages. His hair was longer and he looked much younger, but it was certainly him. All the names were blacked out, but it seemed that several years ago, Jeff had gotten into a lot of trouble with the law. Breaking and entering, criminal mischief, attempted assault on an officer of the law— How did a man with that kind of a background get a high-profile job with Channel 8? Karen closed the slim file, and carried it to the kitchen where she set it on the bare, polished counter.

Karen surveyed the room, opening cupboards with haste. She knelt on the floor and knocked over a blender that sat alone on a lower shelf. Angrily, she shoved a toaster aside thinking, Now THAT might’ve come in handy a little while ago. Still she found nothing in the way of her personal belongings.

Climbing the stairs, Karen entered the guest bedroom to which Jeff had directed her last evening. He’d be an idiot to hide them in here. Nevertheless, she toppled pillows and searched under the bed. A massive pine armoire loomed behind her, and she turned to that as well. Empty.

A jack-and-jill bathroom attached itself to the guest bedroom, and Karen managed to search that room as well, but made no progress. With apprehension and growing panic that she tried desperately to swallow, Karen faced the only room that she hadn’t yet searched- Jeff’s bedroom. The bed was low to the ground and neatly made in all white. Dark wooden furniture stood in stark contrast to the all-white walls and bed. There was no character, no personality to what should have been the most intimate of all rooms. The only personal adornment was a series of photographs on the window ledge. Karen walked over to them, and viewed the unfamiliar faces. Mostly unfamiliar faces—

Wait a minute
, thought Karen. What on earth is Jeff doing with Tom Delaney? The two had struck a familiar pose, their arms around each other, formally smiling into the camera. A montage of other people stood around them, also posing. So Jeff and Tom know each other— Should I be surprised? She mentally filed the image away before turning again to pursue her personal items. There was nowhere else to look. Karen tromped back down the stairs and into the kitchen where she sat on a bar stool at the counter. She smiled grimly at the mess she had created, wondering what kind of reaction it would garner from Jeff Yendale.

“Alright Karen,” she said thinking aloud. “You have to get out of here, and you’re apparently going without your car. So you’re going to need your hands girl. Get to it.” There was no sense in leaving the house bound and with a knot on her head, especially if the news media was releasing a statement asking for the public’s help in finding her. She didn’t need to paint a huge red blinking arrow over her head. As she began to search for something to release her hands, she thought to herself, Why didn’t I do this sooner? It was another way she knew she was losing her edge- not thinking clearly.

Karen went through the meager contents of Jeff’s silverware drawer. She found only a series of butter knives and a bottle opener. Karen chose the bottle opener, as it had at least one sharp edge. Managing to turn it she began to saw at her bindings. The edge of the implement only became gummed up with dregs of the sticky tape. And no matter how hard she tried, she could not manage to hold it in such a way that any real progress was made.

Surveying the house from her vantage, she looked for anything, anything that she might use to cut herself free. Karen’s eyes fell on the painting that hung in the hall outside the kitchen. If it was hung on nails, then maybe— Maybe I can use that. Karen walked over to the tall, heavy canvass. She managed to disengage one side so that it hung lopsidedly, one heavy corner thunking to the wood floor. She wedged herself behind the painting and pushed. She was doing none of this with grace or flair, but it was getting the job done, wasn’t it?

The wire detached itself from one edge of the work, and it wobbled and shuddered as it crashed to the floor. Two nails hung underneath the painting, and Karen exhaled with relief. Slowly, from the edges in, she began to create cleavage in the bindings. She had to stop repeatedly as the nails were at a height that drained the circulation from her hands, resulting in an uncomfortable numbness. But finally, with a cry of exultation and pain, Karen ripped the remnants of the tape from her wrists. She rubbed her raw skin, and the glue caught on her palms.

At that moment, Karen heard a scuffling in the lock of the front door. Whoever was set to arrive had apparently done so. Acting on instinct, Karen turned quickly back into the living area and grabbed the file off the table. Large, French doors led onto a landscaped terrace. No longer needing to fumble, she quickly unlocked the doors and stepped into the private backyard. She had barely closed the doors when she heard someone’s boots heavy on the floors inside. She peeked into the window, choking back a gasp. A man, clothed in black from head to toe, body turned away from her, his face hidden. Stifling a gasp, Karen slipped away from the doors, panic giving flight to her movements. She ran across the yard, hoping that he wouldn’t turn to look out the window until she had gone. A beautiful gated arch led to the alley behind the house, and it was there that Karen took her leave, barefoot, void of identification, and with nowhere to go.

HEY! and don't forget to e-mail Kendra Cornell if you have a comment! She would really like to hear from you.

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