In thirty minutes of driving they had left the city, suburbs, and most of the traffic behind. The area through which Sylvia drove now was mainly swampland, covered in trees standing shoulder to shoulder. In north Georgia it was either this or mountains. Sylvia was conscious of hurtling at seventy miles an hour towards an unguessable future. Where, she wondered, could we possibly be going? She knew Judy lived in the city. The possibility that Judy and Peter could afford a second home out in the boondocks couldn't be completely discounted, but seemed highly unlikely. That Judy meant to kill her in some remote area, despite her assurances to the contrary, seemed a better bet.
I could crash the car, Sylvia suddenly thought. Beside the highway there was a small gully, carpeted in long grass. I could, she told herself, probably veer into that without risking death, just to cause enough confusion so I can grab Judy's gun.
Sylvia cursed herself for her habit of not bothering with the seatbelt. The airbag might save me, she speculated, while Judy gets knocked unconscious. Sylvia frowned, remembering having heard that it didn't usually work that way. Without a seatbelt, she risked serious injury in any crash severe enough to cause airbag deployment.
I have to try crashing, she decided, but not without the seatbelt. Casually, she reached toward the door, grasped the end of the belt, and pulled it downward across her chest. She winced as she heard Judy begin to stir behind her just as she'd clicked the belt closed, and suppressed a moan when she heard Judy securing her own seat belt. Sylvia berated herself. That was so stupid, her inner voice said. I should have found some excuse to stop the car -- restroom break? Then I could have buckled up when I got back in, and Judy probably wouldn't have noticed. Now it's too late. She's onto me, as far as that idea goes.
Sylvia was amazed. All of this is happening, she reminded herself, because of a few minutes of fun with Peter. Sylvia had been aware, for a long time, that the game she played carried some dangers. Maybe that was part of the attraction, she thought, but only a small part of it. The excitement came from... control, she decided. Manipulation. Exercising her ability to make a man want what she had no intention of giving him.
She had not had actual sex with a partner since college. It wasn't that she didn't enjoy it, while it was happening. The aftermath was the problem.
It had taken her several years to identify the source of the feeling of letdown that invariably followed her sexual encounters with men, which had eventually soured the taste of intercourse itself for her, knowing that the letdown was coming. After her sex partner had achieved what he wanted, all of her control over him vanished in a puff of smoke -- or in a spurt of semen, more accurately. The joy she had taken in her power to lead him around by his penis -- it was gone, and never to be repeated. She might have sex with the same man again, but it was never the same. She could never feel quite the same degree of power as she had with a man who had never yet succeeded in getting into her pants, and who desperately wanted to.
And so, with the same logical mind that would get her through law school, she had evolved the game, or as she realized she should probably think of it, The Game, capitalized. She could so easily bring almost any man she met to a frenzy of this-is-it-I'm-going-to-get-this-babe-in-bed! anticipation, and leave him in that condition as she went home and, focusing her mind on the man who was still at that moment wanting her, needing her, fantasizing about her, not yet realizing she was gone from his life forever, she would rub herself to a screaming orgasm far more explosive than any she had ever had with a partner. She had given herself, she decided, the perfect sex life, a source of immense physical satisfaction that didn't require her to end up stuck with some idiot who would sit reading the sports page in his underwear and expect her to make him breakfast.
This is so unfair! she insisted to herself. It was just a kiss! Ninety-nine percent of marriages could have weathered the storm, or not even experienced a storm to begin with. Why did I have to run into the one nutcase?
She sighed. "Is it okay if I turn on the radio?"
In the mirror, she saw Judy shrug. Sylvia reached out and
twisted the power knob, and spent a few minutes with the Seek button searching
for an all-news station. Many of the stations, she realized in dismay, were
already getting scratchy with distance, but the larger Atlanta stations were
still coming in clearly. She found one just beginning a news segment, and
listened for a report on the "kidnapping of Atlanta attorney Sylvia Powell." There
was nothing, of course, and she realized no one could possibly know what was
happening to her right now. Monday, when she failed to show up at the office,
a search would begin. Or maybe the day after. Didn't the police wait
twenty-four hours before starting a missing-persons investigation? The thought
that Judy might still be holding her four days from now appalled her. Or will
I even still be alive then? she wondered. Am I going to be dead before anybody
even knows I'm gone?
After ninety minutes on the interstate, most of the radio stations had faded out, except for a few based in nearby towns, playing twangy country music. Sylvia switched the radio off, and was startled when Judy, silent for the last hour, suddenly said, "Take the next exit and go left."
Sylvia, making the turn at the end of the offramp, took hope from the sight of a Shell station beyond the bridge over the interstate. "We need some gas." Being able to get out of the car around other people would offer a chance.
Judy's responded in a flat voice, "I can see your gas gauge from here." A quarter of a tank remained.
Sylvia sighed. Another failed idea.
I can't let her get me to wherever we're going! Sylvia told herself. She fought with her terrified brain for ideas on how to stop the car without getting shot. Thinking was made harder by the quality of the road, or more accurately the lack of it. It was a two-lane asphalt country road, its edges raggedy with wear, its interior pocked with potholes Sylvia had to steer around several times a minute. They passed through a couple of tiny towns, each one's presence signified by little more than an off-brand filling station and a general store, inevitably fronted by two or three old men in rocking chairs. Between the towns, trees on either side of the road, through which farmland was occasionally visible, were sufficiently lush and crowded together as to form a nearly unbroken canopy above them. The ground beside the road was thickly covered by the inevitable crawling ivy called kudzu. It was 8 p.m., and there was still plenty of summer sunlight, but under the canopy it was hard to see. Sylvia switched on the headlights. Over the next half hour, the gas gauge needle slowly edged farther to the left. I wonder if there'll be any gas stations around when we do run out of gas, Sylvia fretted. Will Judy just shoot me right there?
Sylvia was startled again when Judy spoke after another long silence. "Slow way down. And turn your lights off." Sylvia complied, understanding that the point had been reached where a certain degree of furtiveness was called for. She wondered who could possibly be watching. They hadn't gone through a town in at least fifteen minutes, and there was no traffic ahead of them or behind them, for as far as Sylvia could see. Allowing the car to crawl at ten miles per hour, her heart pounding, she wondered: is this it? Am I going to die here? It wasn't until Judy said, "Turn right, here," that Sylvia detected a minor break in the wall of trees, wide enough for a two-lane road, but unpaved.
Sylvia frowned at the contradictions presented by the road she had turned onto, as she squinted in the dim light. It clearly was a road, along a corridor of trees that rarely widened or narrowed -- obviously the path wasn't an accident of tree distribution, but something consciously cleared -- but equally obviously, it hadn't been in regular use for years, and was now overgrown with the local vegetation. Yet Sylvia could see tire tracks in the dirt, which had to be recent, as they would disappear in any heavy rain, and frequent small bushes uprooted as if by the passage of a vehicle.
There had been no sign to indicate the road's destination, or even its existence.
Judy didn't take me all the way here to kill me, Sylvia told herself over and over. She could have found ideal places for that a lot closer to home, in a lot less time than it took to get here. It has to be that she wants to show me something specific.
Sylvia gasped and braked suddenly as, after about ten minutes of car-suspension-challenging driving, the car crossed a bridge over a creek, rounded a gentle bend in the road and the "something" came into view.
There seemed to be a wall of concrete and stone across the road, about twelve feet high, topped by a tangle of barbed wire that was orange with rust. A large iron double gate, wide enough for a truck to pass through, served as the only visible break in the wall, at the point where the road met it. The gate was flanked on either side by booths that might be guardhouses. Sylvia stared at the gate, from about thirty feet away, as the car's engine idled. Her throat suddenly dry, she swallowed convulsively. "Wh-what is it?"
Judy, suddenly cheerful on the arrival at her destination, said, "It's a women's prison, Sylvia. Or was. It used to serve a dozen counties around here, but it was abandoned fifty years ago when they built the big new state prison." Judy pointed to the right of the road. "Pull the car off into the woods here. Drive it between those two trees there and turn it behind the larger one."
Sylvia maneuvered carefully to the indicated spot, and took one more look at the gas gauge. Not much left, she observed, but enough to get us back to that last gas station we passed. She turned off the engine. "Who are we hiding from?"
Judy gave a short laugh. "Nobody, I hope. As far as I can determine, nobody lives within at least two miles of here. No one wanted to be that close to a prison, and I know it's closed now, but it's not like they've had any new settlers here since the closing. I really had to dig around in the local library to find out exactly where this place was, and even with a map it took me a couple of days to find it. I didn't want to ask anybody, in case they got curious about what my interest in it was." That would explain the tire tracks on the way here, thought Sylvia. They were Judy's. Judy went on, "So nobody on Earth knows we're here."
Sylvia shivered as the last bit of information sank in. This might not be about killing me, she thought, but it could well be something worse. She opened her mouth, and could force nothing out. She coughed to clear her throat. "Ju..." She tried again. "J-Judy... Wh-what are you going to do to me?"
Judy lifted the gun higher. "I will not kill you, as long as you do everything I say. I swear that on God's name."
Sylvia blinked. Judy had made the same promise earlier, but without invoking any deities. That seemed to put a slightly different spin on it. A promise like this would mean something to Judy.
Still, it was obvious that whatever Judy had planned, it would definitely be very unpleasant, and likely very painful. And Judy had gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent any interference. We're at a prison, Sylvia reminded herself. What's she going to do, lock me up? For how long? Is there an electric chair in there?
Sylvia had to find a way to get out of this without being killed. I cannot, she told herself, must not let Judy get me inside that gate.
Obviously, they were about to get out of the car. Sylvia eyed the surrounding trees. If she could suddenly dart behind one and start weaving among them, Judy wouldn't be able to get a clear shot at her.
She took a few slow, deep breaths, trying to prepare her body for sudden exertion. She would have to try to click open the seat belt, jerk the door handle, and throw herself out of the car in one motion. She wasn't sure, she realized, how to get back to the car after eluding Judy. She decided she would forget the car, walk through the woods parallel to the road, hiding behind the trees, until she came to the paved road they had turned from, and try to flag down a passing car.
Her concentration on plans of escape was broken by an unexpected sound behind her. Judy had bent down to pick up something from the floor of the car. The sound had been a metallic rattling.
Judy put her free hand forward. "Give me the car keys."
Sylvia saw that Judy's full attention was on her. No quick moves, she told herself. Maybe handling the keys after I give them to her will distract her. Sylvia removed the key from the ignition, and handed the keyring to Judy. It's okay, Sylvia told herself, I'd already decided to ditch the car. It occurred to her she would also be leaving her purse behind, with her credit cards and driver's license... she sighed again. She could make do without them. People lost their credit cards and identification all the time. It wasn't the end of the world. She had qualms about leaving her day planner behind, but there was nothing to be done about it.
The sound preceding Judy's request had been caused by movement of the large satchel she now held, into which she now, without taking her eyes off Sylvia, put Sylvia's purse, after dropping the keys into the purse -- all done with one hand, while still holding the gun pointed at Sylvia. And from the satchel, Judy withdrew what seemed to be the source of the rattling. "Here. Put these on before you open the door. And before you unbuckle your seat belt."
Judy dropped the device into Sylvia's hand, and Sylvia stared at it, slack-jawed. Coiled in her hand was a chain, about eighteen inches long, with what appeared to be hinged semicircles of steel at either end. "Put... what? How?"
"Oh." Judy giggled. "On your ankles. Those are ankle cuffs. Close them around your ankles. Do that before we get out of the car." She raised the gun. "Now."
Sylvia bit her lip and clamped down on the moan that threatened to tear its way out of her throat. I can't run in these! her inner voice screamed. Judy can keep up with me at a casual walk, no matter how fast I try to go! As soon as I put these on, my last chance to escape is gone.
Sylvia had never seen real handcuffs, but had seen them in television cop shows any number of times. These seemed to be the real thing.
I've only got seconds before she loses patience, Sylvia told herself. Her heart tried to bang its way out of her chest. Seat belt, door, run!
But Judy was watching more intently than ever. Sylvia knew she would be dead an instant after the seat belt clicked.
She bent over in her seat to put one of the cuffs around her right ankle. Ever conscious of the gun at her back, she slowly closed the cuff around the ankle. As the ratchet mechanism clicked, she stopped suddenly, as one last idea occurred to her.
She put the other cuff around her left ankle, while keeping her right hand on the right cuff. As she held the left cuff in place, she completed the closure of the right. With the two sets of clicks separated in time, she had decided, she might fool Judy into believing she had secured both cuffs.
She unfastened the seat belt, drew in a slow, deep breath, reached for the door handle, and froze as Judy said sharply, "Wait." Sylvia sat there, her heart pounding, until Judy said, at last, "Show me."
She cursed herself for being unable to mask her anxiety as she lifted her right ankle into view, then her left, fervently hoping the cuff hooked on her left ankle looked closed.
She saw Judy smile tightly, and waggle the gun, and shake her head, dashing Sylvia's hopes. Sylvia choked back a sob as Judy said, "Be good and finish the left."
Terrified now of what would happen if she delayed any further, she bent quickly down and closed the left cuff before she could talk herself out of it.
She sat back upright, took several deep breaths to try to still the trembling of her lower lip, and angrily brushed a tear out of her eye. She succeeded in speaking calmly. "May I get out now?"
Judy simply gave her a go-ahead gesture. Sylvia opened the door, and tried to step out normally. After the chain between her ankles jerked taut with a clinking snap, she sighed in frustration and turned herself sideways on the seat, putting both feet out and onto the ground.
Sylvia felt immediately assaulted by the stifling heat. It was normal for July, that is to say, intolerably hot -- probably still 90 degrees, in spite of the waning sunlight, and breathlessly humid. It was easy to imagine she was exploring an African jungle rather than being in the same state as her comfortable apartment. She stood, feeling her high heels sinking into the soft ground. She yanked them up and out angrily and backed off two steps, then several more as Judy waved her away, obviously not wanting Sylvia too close during the vulnerable moments while Judy was getting out of the car. Sylvia remained on her tiptoes, watching as Judy emerged awkwardly, keeping the gun in one hand while using the other to heft the large satchel, over which was draped the blanket under which she'd hidden herself back in the parking garage. Sylvia held her breath, watching desperately for an opening, but saw no way to close the distance, especially in her awkward heels, quickly enough to avoid being shot.
Standing upright now, Judy set the satchel on the ground and tossed Sylvia the blanket. "Be useful and cover the car with this. You should be able to hide it completely. I measured it beforehand."
I'm sure you did, Sylvia thought grimly. She marveled at the amount of planning it had taken just to get this far. Looking down at her shoes, she decided she was worse off with them than without them, at least for the present. And what the hell, she told herself, the ankle cuffs have already ruined these panty hose. Sylvia shook her head at her lack of perspective. The loss of a pair of panty hose purchased just last week was the least of her problems. "Can I take my heels off?"
Judy shrugged. "I'll keep them in the bag for now." Sylvia bent and tugged off the shoes and tossed them to Judy. There was no point in throwing them with any force, she decided. A gun is going to beat a shoe as a weapon any day. She remained conscious of the fact that, whatever momentary advantage she might gain in any attack, there was no way to run away. And Judy was maintaining a ten-foot distance between them since emerging from the car. Sylvia watched as Judy dropped the shoes into the satchel, sighed once more and shook out the blanket.
It did indeed seem more than big enough. Made of a thin denim-like fabric, it was colored mainly leaf green, mottled with darker patches -- perfect jungle camouflage, in fact. Sylvia threw it across the top of the car and walked slowly around to the other side to pull down the edges, learning within a few steps just how far she could step without the chain snapping taut and yanking at her ankles painfully. She winced occasionally as her shoeless feet encountered harder rocks in the soft earth.
As she finished, breathing hard, she felt the sweat running down her back under the silky blouse. She wiped the moisture from her forehead, only to have it reappear an instant later. She disliked physical exertion even in nice weather, and loathed it in the full heat of summer. Judy gestured for Sylvia to follow her back to the road. Sylvia used up another sigh, knowing that the last thing she wanted to do was follow Judy to wherever she was going, but Sylvia's frustrated brain was still failing to see alternatives.
She looked back as she reached the road. She could barely pick out the camouflage blanket amid the undergrowth around the trees, and only, she realized, because she knew it was there. Nobody else standing where she was, she knew, would notice its presence.
Even on the road, it was hard to walk. The chain, scraping on the uneven ground between her feet, kept snagging on small projections, twice nearly tripping her. Judy was up ahead of her, standing by the guardhouse to the left of the gate, gesturing towards the gate with her gun. "Push it open. It was locked, but the mechanism was rusted through. Then keep walking along the driveway. I'll tell you where to go."
I'd be glad to tell you where to go, Sylvia thought sullenly. Going beyond the gate, and putting herself even farther out of the sight of anyone who might possibly help her, was a very hard thing to persuade herself do. But she reminded herself, again, that Judy could already have killed her easily if that was her plan. Even if it was possible that someone might be watching them now and would witness a murder if it occurred, Judy had made it convincingly obvious that she didn't care about possible witnesses. Since she would kill herself immediately after disposing of Sylvia, any consequences of shooting Sylvia would not concern Judy at all.
I'm going to have to go in there, thought Sylvia. As dangerous as it seems, I have to do it. Because Judy, while promising not to kill Sylvia, had assured her that that would all change if Sylvia resisted doing anything Judy demanded of her. And Judy, as she had since leaving the car, remained too far out of reach for Sylvia to consider attacking her, especially hobbled as she was. She couldn't get halfway to Judy without being shot.
Sylvia moaned helplessly, and pushed against the gate. It was heavy and resisted movement, but in the end it creaked open.