One
Michelle Perry


I awoke to pain. A dull but insistent ache in the back of my head, pounding to the beat of my heart. It took over me and for a while, nothing else seemed real. Eventually, through some miracle workings of the human body not to be understood by me, the pain subsided enough for me to think of something else. I tried to remember where I was, and why, but the thought was attached to a sense of dread. I didn't want to go there, so I forced myself to focus on the physical again.

Besides the pain, there was the scent. Well. "Scent" isn't really the word. That's something you use to describe perfume, or hot baked apple pies sitting on some quaint country window sill. This was more of a funk. An offensive medley of sweaty socks, cigarettes and motor oil. Slowly, I began to notice other things as well. A hard surface, rumbling and shaking beneath me. The sound of an engine. The rough feel of ropes against my wrists and ankles. Pressure of cloth tied tight around my eyes, and another in my mouth, knotted behind my head, gagging me. It tasted like dirt and oil. I tried to focus on something other than the many disgusting places it might have been before it was shoved into my mouth.

I couldn't keep the fear at bay any longer. It flooded up along with flashes of memories. Slamming doors. Confusion. Yanked out of bed by a leather-gloved powerhouse. It's more terrifying than you know to fight harder, wilder, more fiercely than you've ever fought before, and still be bodily moved almost as if you aren't fighting at all. I guess he got annoyed when I started screaming. The lights went out soon after that.

I consoled myself with the thought that if he was going to murder me, he would have done so already. But then... women had been taken from their homes, raped and killed elsewhere and dumped in woods for dogs and hikers to find. And this man had managed to get me out of a hotel that was supposed to have guards walking the floor all night. I fought nausea. I couldn't afford to throw up into the gross rag that served as my silencer.

The floor rumbled under me for a long time. The smells and sounds, the feeling of closeness all told me I was in the trunk of whatever vehicle this was. My thoughts alternated between the pain in my head, the amazing discomfort of lying with your limbs tied, and the many true crime stories I'd watched and read involving women being abducted. My mind helpfully provided me with images of dump sites, blood spatter and cold, wrong-colored bodies as examples of my potential future.

Finally, the moment of dread arrived. The rumbling stopped and I heard the door open and close. Footsteps crunched on what sounded like gravel, each step pushing my panic level higher. By the time I heard keys jingling, making contact with the trunk, my whole body trembled. My fists were clenched tight, fingernails almost cutting my skin. The world behind the blindfold went from black to off-black, and chill air wafted over me.

A gloved hand gripped my arm and jerked me out of the trunk. The quick movement made me dizzy, and the pain in my head announced itself again. I was held at an odd tilt, the gravel digging into my legs, while he closed the trunk. Another dizzying swing, and I was slung over his shoulder like some kind of living duffel bag. He grasped my hair and pulled my head closer to him. I could feel his breath tickling my ear. “If you kick me, I will beat you to death.”

I tensed, chilled not only by the threat, but by the matter of fact tone which voiced it. I had no doubt he would keep his word. The next few minutes were spent trying to keep from moving a single muscle, paranoid that the slightest jarring my legs might make against his back while he carried me would be interpreted as “kicking”.

After a while, he stopped walking and keys rattled again. A door opened, and he took a few more steps. The air became less cold, and I couldn't feel breezes anymore. I was dumped off his shoulder, onto the hard floor. I shifted, trying to get enough leverage to push myself away from my captor. I stopped when I heard a second, more familiar voice in the room.

“Are you sure this is the right one?”

Oh God. The voice was unmistakable. Smooth, resonant, positively lyrical. I’d listened to his music for years - his trial for months. “Don’t insult me, Erikson,” the other man spat. “Pay up.”

Jade Erikson snorted. “Don’t get your knickers in a twist, Da-"

Hey!” he snapped. “If you want this bitch alive, keep my name out of this.”

He chuckled. “Okay, friend, okay.” I heard footsteps, felt their vibrations through the hollow-sounding wood floor. A hand took my arm – Erikson, no doubt, because his hand was bare – and turned me onto my back. He took my chin firmly and turned my head. I shivered under the inspection, picturing his ice blue eyes burning into me, even though I couldn’t actually see it. He gave a satisfied, “MmHmm” and let go of me. More footsteps, rustling, shuffling. “There you go,” Erikson said. A grunt from the abductor, followed by even more rustling. “What, you don’t trust this face?”

Hell no. But don’t feel bad. I don’t trust anybody when it comes to money.” There was another pause, while the man counted his pay. At last, he grunted again. “Pleasure doing business.”

“Likewise.”

I heard the kidnapper’s heavy steps receding, and the door shut firmly. Irrational as I knew it was, I wanted to call out to him – beg him to come back. Don’t leave me alone with this maniac.

Erikson grabbed me again, this time by the hair. He dragged me across the floor, lifted me up and slammed me into a wall. I ended up in a sitting position against the wall, his strong hand still gripping my hair. My breaths came in short gasps, and my body shook violently. I felt his hands behind my head, working at the knot on my blindfold. After a few seconds, he shoved my head down with a frustrated growl. I heard a clink, followed by the sound of metal through fibers close to my head, and the blindfold fell into my lap. He lifted my chin up and smiled sweetly, the shiny, six-inch blade glinting in his well-manicured hand. “Welcome to my parlor, Juror Number One.”

The sight of him so close was breathtaking, and not just because he held my life in his hands. Sandy hair with a speckling of gray he was too “down-to-earth” to hide with dye. Strong jaw, chiseled features, perfect teeth for a perfectly charming smile. And of course, the eyes. Sky blue, crinkled at the corners with just the right balance of faint laugh lines for that mature-not-old look, and an icy gleam colder than the lowest circle of Dante’s hell. Jade Erikson was marvelous to behold. Radiant. Gorgeous. Icon.

“I’ve heard you were having some trouble coming to a decision about my case,” he said. “Something about trying to convince people to move past the fact that the evidence in this case equivocal at best. Disregarding the fact that collection of evidence was sorely mishandled. Bringing up the autopsy photos, and all the worthless circumstantial evidence against me again and again.”

“I…” I don’t know what I would have said. Apologize for believing that his influence was being used to change the direction of the case, the way it must have been used to bribe security off of the hotel floor? Remind him that the most important pieces of evidence weren't “circumstantial” at all? Or, more likely, beg for my life and pray he let me go? The question was made moot by the gag in my mouth, and the edge of the blade he held to my lips. He shook his head slightly.

“This is not the time for you to speak.” He pulled the knife away, and studied me for several moments. I looked somewhere around his dimpled chin, unable to face those chilling eyes for more than a few seconds. “Do you remember those photos?” he whispered. “I want you to call them up in your mind.” Against my will, I did. I remembered her mangled face, bruised, cut and broken body. “Imagine how she felt when she realized she was going to die.” Again, I did. I’d done as much in court, but it was so much more vivid and terrifying in my current position. “Look at me.”

Slowly, I raised my head and looked directly into his eyes. His cheerful smile was gone, and the coldness in his eyes was reflected in his flint-hard expression. “Lily. I want you to believe me when I say this. That will be you if you don’t stop trying to sabotage this trial.” He kept his eyes on me for several seconds, after which his face was blurred by the wavering haze of my tears. “Are you right handed?”

I blinked the tears away and frowned in confusion. What the hell did that have to do with anything? He glared and punched me in the shoulder hard enough to send the shock all the way to my fingertips. I cried out, the sound coming through fairly loud despite the gag. “I’d like you to answer me when I ask you a question, Lily. Are you right handed?” I nodded, and the million dollar smile returned. “Great!”

To my alarm, he slid his knife between my right shoulder and the sleeve of my shirt, and sliced through the cloth. He brushed it out of his way and gripped my arm tightly. I pulled away, but he jerked me back towards him. Desperate, I struggled fiercely, straining to get away from him. Erikson let out another frustrated growl and roughly shoved me down onto the floor. Before I could move, he sat on my legs, immobilizing me. Then he started to cut.

I couldn’t tell what he was doing. There was a pattern, there had to be. There were too many cuts, and they were made too deliberately to be random. Naturally, I was too busy crying and panicking to discern anything.

After an eternity, he stopped. He got off my legs, dragging me back to a sitting position. “Take a look,” he said proudly. I obeyed, although the last thing I wanted to see was my own arm sliced and bleeding. Rivulets of blood drained down my arm and dripped onto the dusty wooden floor, obscuring whatever pattern he’d intended. My stomach lurched at the sight. He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped at the blood, making no effort to be gentle. I squeezed my eyes shut, reeling from the pain. “Look at it!”

I forced myself to look at the cuts. They formed what looked like an Asian symbol, probably a Chinese character. The cuts were deep, already overflowing with blood again. “Do you know what it means?” I shook my head. “Jade. It’s a reminder for you. When you’re writing down your decision – and you will be there to write it – I want you to feel this, and think about our little talk.”

He wiped his knife dry on the skirt of my gown. I remembered the victim’s dress. Blood on the hem where another knife had been wiped dry. When the blade was clean, he sheathed it and stood up, brushing dust from his otherwise pristine, black, pin-striped trousers. He picked up the ruined blindfold and shook his head. “Can’t have him getting paranoid and killing her,” he muttered. “I don’t need mistrial, I need acquittal.” He tied the end of the blindfold and his bloodied handkerchief together and tied the cloth around my eyes, blinding me again. “Make sure you wear sleeves long enough to cover that arm tomorrow,” he said. “I don't want anyone thinking you were... unduly influenced.” I heard his receding footsteps, and the creak of the door opening. “Well, Lily, it’s been fun. I’ll see you in court.”

The door closed, and I listened to his purposeful steps crunch through the gravel. I took a breath when I heard an engine start and fade away. I didn’t think about what I would do at the trial. I didn’t think about anything coherent at all, actually. The closest I could come to it were phrases that flashed through my mind again and again. I’m alive. My arm hurts. I’m not dead. Those three alternated the most, peppered once in a while by the disturbing, I met Jade Erikson face to face. That thought was always followed by, And he is a sick, twisted bastard.

I had moved on to thoughts about my leg falling asleep, and the fact that I hadn’t had a chance to use the restroom since a few hours before I’d gone to bed, when I heard another car pull up. I grew nervous again as footsteps drew near. The door creaked open, footsteps approached. Leather Gloves was back. He took hold of my arm, eliciting a muffled yelp. He released me after a few moments, probably spent studying the design. "Freak," he muttered.

He hoisted me up by my other arm, took me out and dropped me back into his trunk. Another uncomfortable car ride, another dizzying trip on his shoulder, this time covered by some type of heavy, stifling cloth. It amazed me that no one bothered him about the giant blanket-covered "package" he carried over his shoulder. I was unceremoniously dumped back in my hotel room. He untied the ropes around my hands and whispered in my ear again. “Do not move until I leave this room. And if you call the police, you're dead, no matter what Erikson wants.” With that, he walked out of the room and closed the door, leaving me to clean up and pull myself together as best I could.

It was a sleepless night.


My arm hurts. The mantra wasn't finished with me. I stared at the small card, pen in hand, touching the line where I was to write my decision.

Just one word. All I had to do was write it down. The others were still thinking, brows furrowed in deep concentration. No one else in the room looked as if they'd spent the night with a demon.

I thought about her. Images flooded back to me again. They had haunted me all night, and they weren't done with me, either. Head twisted at an odd angle. Legs broken and bare. That will be you. Almost a plea. Help me help you. Her parents cried throughout the proceedings. Every day of the trial, they showed up. Every day of the trial, they held each other and wept. They held each other and prayed for justice. I want you to feel this. His knife slicing through me like my flesh was nothing. Jade. It's a reminder...

I stared at the page. My arm hurt. My hand shook so that I could barely keep the pen on the line. Just one word.

I wrote it down.


“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. Have you reached a verdict?”

“We have, Your Honor.” The bailiff took the folded card stock from me and handed it to the judge. I couldn't watch her look at it. I kept my eyes on the rail enclosing the jury from the rest of the room. It felt safer. The bailiff gave back the card.

“Will the defense please rise?”

I stood at those words. I couldn't help but look at him then. His expression was smug. No remorse. No fear. I raised the card, wondering for the ten thousandth time since last night why I had been chosen as the foreman. In the movies, the foreman always spoke with strength and security. Sometimes, he looked at the defendant with a sense of satisfaction. Justice was being served, and he was the voice to speak it out.

I was not in the movies. My hands shook, audibly rattling the card. After that first glance, I kept my eyes away from Erikson, gazing at the card as if it held the keys to the universe. Maybe it did.

“In the case of-”

“Madame Forewoman. Please speak so that the court can hear you.”

I swallowed and nodded at the judge. “Yes, Your Honor.” I looked at the words again. I looked at her parents. They continued to weep, clutching each others hands. Back to the card. Stronger this time. “In the case of the State versus David Jade Erikson, for the abduction and murder of Sarah Doris Wells, we find the defendant...” Just one word.

Guilty.”

Fin


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