Chapter 10

Sylvia blinked, shifting her eyes around to take in her surroundings without moving her head -- her head was sending strong suggestions that it wanted to be left alone. She saw she was still in the prison's main entryway. She was sitting upright, seemingly against the front door. The front door that is locked with chains, her memory returned to tell her. Possibly only seconds had gone by, or whatever amount of time it had taken for Judy to prop her up this way. Judy. She was still there. If she was a hallucination, she was a very persistent one. Judy was holding up a plastic water bottle, a straw sticking out of it pointed at Sylvia. Judy, hallucinated or real, said, "Sip. Slowly."

Sylvia lunged forward and took the straw in her mouth. She didn't care what was in the bottle. Judy repeated, "I said slowly," and Sylvia nodded. As Sylvia sucked in a mouthful and swallowed, Judy went on, "Gatorade. You need electrolytes along with your water."

Sylvia didn't care what Judy thought about her medical condition. She only knew how desperately she needed what was coming out of that straw. She continued sucking until the bottle was empty and, reluctantly engaging Judy in conversation out of necessity, whispered, "More, please."

She wasn't surprised when Judy shook her head. "Enough for right now. More later. Sit back, Sylvia. I can tell you some things I didn't mention before."

Sylvia wiped her lips on her shoulder and leaned back against the wall. Her need for water, still present, had at least sunk below the desperation line. Her mind felt more clear, and she knew Judy's presence was very real.

She twisted her hands behind her back, trying to decide whether anything had changed about her bondage. Nothing had. Judy had backed away to her usual safe distance, so it was too late for Sylvia to head-butt her and hop away to safety, if there was any safety to be found and any chance of getting there. Sylvia felt beyond exhaustion. Her skin stung everywhere, and every part of her body throbbed with bruises and strained muscles. But for the moment she felt better than she had.

Judy sat down in front of Sylvia cross-legged, and smiled. "Obviously, that was a performance, that whole thing about killing myself."

Sylvia sighed, and nodded.

But the blood! she thought. What about the blood? Sylvia looked down at her body.

Judy seemed to read Sylvia's thoughts. She nodded. "Yes, that was blood. Not mine, obviously. Pig's blood, actually. I thought it was a nice touch. Like stripping myself naked and throwing my clothes away. And the gunshot, of course. Last week I actually put a sound recorder in the Black Hole and fired off the gun outside it, just to check that the sound came through the door. All of that to make it more convincing."

Sylvia whispered, "Why?"

Judy smiled. "Left your voice behind, did you? Anyway, you shouldn't need to ask why. Obviously I wanted you to be totally convinced I was dead. So you'd think you were doomed. Actually, I did think, knowing how determined you can be, it was pretty likely you'd get free. I put it at fifty-fifty. I was hoping you would get loose, and come this far. Nothing breaks all hope like seeing freedom and then having it snatched away at the last second."

"And... if I hadn't?"

"I would have come down there about this time. Or maybe in a couple more hours. You wouldn't have died. If you'd knocked that key down the hole, you would have had hours thinking about how death was coming and you couldn't stop it. Same if you were caught in the maze down there. So either way it came out, I'd have fun thinking about either the terror you'd been through or the crushing loss at the end."

Sylvia looked at her wide-eyed. "You really hate me that much?" As much as it hurt to try to speak, Sylvia thought it was crucial to use this opportunity. If she wanted to beat Judy, she had to have as much information as Judy was willing to give. She had a feeling Judy wouldn't allow her many question-and-answer sessions.

Judy's eyes narrowed. "You have no idea."

Sylvia sighed and looked away. "I do now." A sudden hope came to her. If that was all Judy wanted, that Sylvia have one traumatic experience or the other... "So now you're going to let me go?"

Judy laughed. Then she took on a businesslike look. "Okay, let me tell you what's coming up. I'll finish feeding and watering you, and then I've got to go for a while. I'll be back tonight, though. See, my car is still sitting in the parking garage. The garage computer thinks I left last night at my usual time, because we used my card to get out. So I won't have anything I need to explain to the police, once I actually get my car out of there. The computer thinks your car is still there. So I'm driving back down to Atlanta. I'll park your car on a side street near our building, and walk to the building and get my car out, using your card, so the computer thinks it's your car that left the garage on Saturday. It will look like you stayed overnight, as you occasionally do when you're preparing a big case and do an all-nighter, and on Saturday you drove out. Then I'll come back up here in my own car."

An unthinkable fear began forming in Sylvia's mind. This, she thought, is all way too complex for just a week or two of fun for Judy. Unconsciously, she began shaking her head.

Judy went on, "Now, I'm going to drive back down to Atlanta again tomorrow night, Sunday, and stay at my house, so I can go in to work Monday morning. There'll be lots of confusion, where-the-hell-is-Sylvia, that kind of thing, but the police shouldn't be involved until Tuesday. I do plan to spend Tuesday night and Wednesday night in Atlanta, because the police will expect that. They may call in the evenings when they think of more questions they hadn't already asked, so I figure I need to be there. When I leave tomorrow night, I'll leave you with four days' worth of water and non-perishable food, in case I can't get back here Monday night. It's going to be up to you to ration yourself. You don't want to run out of it early."

Sylvia thought desperately. "M-my car! They'll find my car. Parked on the street."

"Of course they will. Probably by tracing where your cell phone is, because I'll turn it back on and leave it in the car with your purse. They'd find the car eventually no matter where I put it. Luckily, I can leave it in Atlanta without any trouble. That should make the police think you're still in Atlanta, but in any case it won't give them a clue where you actually are."

"But your..." She stopped, remembering the gloves Judy had been wearing. She wouldn't have left fingerprints on Sylvia's purse or cell phone. "Oh, but hair! They'll find your hair fibers in the car!"

Judy laughed. "What are you, a CSI now? I've been in your car before. When you took us out to lunch for Secretaries' Day, remember?"

The gears of Sylvia's mind spun without connecting. She opened her mouth, but could think of nothing to say with it.

"I'll be doing a lot of driving back and forth over the next couple of weeks, until it's pretty clear to everybody you're not coming back. Then I'll resign, tearfully, and say I don't want to work for anybody but you.

"Now, I've already found a help-wanted ad from a lawyer about fifteen miles from here, who wants a legal secretary just part-time, about twelve hours a week. I won't contact him until about the time I resign, and then I'll apply for the job. So I'll have a reason for moving up to this area."

Sylvia shook her head more vigorously. "You can't live on a twelve-hour-a-week job, for a little small-town lawyer."

Judy snapped her fingers. "Oh, I hadn't had a chance to tell you. Peter's lawyer has offered me a very nice divorce settlement. Not as much as I could have got if I'd hired my own lawyer and really worked at it, but it's about three thousand a month. That's way more than I'll really need, for the lifestyle I'm planning. The job will just add a nice extra amount of spending money, but like I said, it's really just something that gives me an excuse to live up here."

Sylvia had to ask. She had to know what she knew she really, really didn't want to know. "How -- how -- how long are you going to keep me here?"

Judy gave Sylvia a satisfied look, as if that was the question she had been waiting to hear all along. "In this prison, you're a lifer, Sylvia." She paused, and grinned. She said slowly, "And I'll never kill you. How long your life is will be totally up to you."

Sylvia buried her face against her knees. She started to speak again, but realized her whisper probably couldn't be heard. She looked up, tears streaming. "Please, I can't go back in that Black Hole. Please, please, please..."

Judy cut her off. "Don't you remember? That's just for punishments, Sylvia. With good behavior you don't need to be in there again. I've got other accommodations for you."

"What... accommodations?"

"Regular cell. You may have gone past it earlier, but I imagine you couldn't see what I've put inside it. You'll have food, water, a bed to sleep on..."

Sylvia whispered tensely, "Light?"

Judy nodded. "Yes, even light." She stood and picked up her ever-present satchel. "Let me get you set up down there. And cleaned up. Then I need to hit the road. Come with me." She picked up her ever-present satchel and began walking away.

Sylvia couldn't imagine a reason to follow her. She sat watching, waiting to see what Judy would do.

Judy turned and saw Sylvia wasn't following. She said, "Every single exit to this building is locked up like that one behind you." She waited.

I am not going back into that cell block, Sylvia told herself forcefully. I can never get out if I do. If I sit here, she'll have to come back and try to make me move. When she gets close enough, I can kick her in the head. Or break her knees, if she's standing and doesn't bend down. She thinks I'm broken, and won't be expecting a fight. And if I can knock her out or incapacitate her, then I can get that satchel. It's got all the keys I need in it.

Sighing, Judy reached into the satchel and extracted a water bottle. Twisting off the top, she held it out in Sylvia's direction and shook it. "I thought you'd learn faster, Sylvia."

The one drink of Gatorade had helped, but hadn't been nearly enough. Sylvia looked at the offered water and her body clamored for more. It's just like before, she told herself. Judy has all the power here, just from having that water. She knows she can outwait me. Until I follow her, I have no possible way to get water. She doesn't have to come anywhere near me.

Sylvia felt all hope draining out of her, a loss no amount of liquids could replace. With almost all that remained of her strength, Sylvia worked herself to a standing position, with help from the wall. As Judy turned to resume walking away, Sylvia, tears streaming again, hopped away from the freedom beyond the locked door behind her, and followed after Judy.

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