He met her at a bar a block away from his new apartment, the apartment where most of his stuff was still in boxes and maybe still was in boxes if not just tossed away or set on fire or sold off, not that he owned anything worth selling. It was a bar a block away from his new apartment, and if he hadn’t gone to that bar that night everything would be different, but he did go to that bar because he was in a big new city and he was surrounded by half-packed boxes and he didn’t know anybody and he just wanted to hear other people’s voices. He didn’t even need anyone to talk to him, he just wanted to sit at a bar with a beer and be surrounded by people and watch whatever game was on the television. He didn’t plan on approaching anyone and he didn’t plan on being approached but then there she was, taking the stool next to him and ordering a vodka cranberry.
“There’s a look people get when they live in this city long, and you don’t have it. So, either I’ve missed my mark, or you’re new in town.”
Christ, had that been all it had taken? No, no, no, don’t do that, if he started blaming himself he’d never stop and none of this was his fault, he couldn’t let himself believe that. He was in a new city with no friends and had left his last city because every relationship had somehow managed to blow up at the same time. Of course when a pretty woman sat next to him and started making effortless conversation he was going to talk back. Tell her that yes, he was new in town, that he hadn’t really met anyone yet, that he hadn’t started his new job and hadn’t even met anyone there, the interview had been over the phone. Told her how things had ended back in Seattle, how ugly the break up had been, how it had turned out all their friends had actually been her friends and it had just felt like a good time for a change. He’d even mentioned his family, or what little was left of it and how little they actually spoke. And not once had he felt like he was oversharing, because this pretty woman, this Nina, with her green eyes and long nails and impeccable make-up, she had just kept asking. She was clearly interested, and not once did she look bored. Nina was just a nice woman who was interested. Was it wrong to believe someone could be interested in him?
They went on an actual date in a restaurant that cost most of what he had left in petty cash and ate an actual meal instead of bar food and had a good conversation and of course now he could look back and see that she’d barely talked about herself but at the time he was just over the moon about his luck and couldn’t see it. After dinner, when she wanted to go somewhere quieter, he was relieved when she suggested her own apartment and not his, because his was still full of unpacked boxes and he didn’t even have a couch set up.
He remembered the wine at her place had tasted weird. But he didn’t drink wine and it hadn’t tasted weird enough for him to say anything. She was drinking from the same bottle and seemed to be enjoying it and he didn’t want to offend her. So he kept drinking it, and she kept filling up her glass, and if he ever realized he had drank much more than she had before he lost consciousness, he didn’t remember.
What he did remember, after the wine, was waking up because he was cold. Not the right kind of cold, either, like where the air conditioning is up too high. This was a damp cold, with a continuous breeze in his hair, and as he woke up more he realized the white noise in his ears was rising and falling and crashing. Waves. And was that sand beneath him? Had they come to the beach?
“Wakey-wakey, Alex,” he heard Nina say as someone shook his foot. Presumably Nina, but when he finally managed to open his eyes he found that it was not just him and Nina on the beach, but him and Nina and two other barrel chested men in suits who towered over Nina and looked like they’d be taller than him, too. They must have come to the beach, he thought, and now they were being attacked by these men. Or had been attacked. If one of them had hit him over the head it would explain why he couldn’t remember getting there.
“Do they want our wallets?” he asked, trying not to mumble but it was hard to move his mouth and he was starting to think he was concussed. He was also noticing that Nina didn’t look scared or even concerned. There was enough light coming from the city that he could tell she looked amused.
“This is my favorite part,” she said, “these exact moments where they realize something is going horribly wrong.”
She wasn’t talking to him, she was talking to the other men. They looked nearly as amused as she did. He put his hands to his head, looking for blood or a bump or at least a sore spot but found nothing. It didn’t even ache. And the longer he laid there in the sand, the better he was feeling. Less like he’d been hit in the head, and more like something was wearing off.
“How are we on the beach?” he asked, sitting up.
She stood up, and it was too fast. Much too fast. She was down, and then she was up there and there hadn’t seemed to be anything in between. She started pacing between the two men, gesturing wildly. “Oh, come on. You’ve got to have more questions than that. Who are these guys? Why are we here? Why did that wine taste weird?”
“I don’t drink wine, I didn’t…did you drug me?”
“I did, sweetie. I put drugs in your wine and brought you out here, and that’s not even half the things I’m going to do to you.”
Whatever had been in the wine was wearing off but things were making less and less sense. She was just a woman he had met at a bar, they were supposed to start talking and dating and even if they didn’t start dating at least he would have a friend. Things were supposed to go better here and they were right up until he had woken up on this beach and now this woman who was supposed to be his new friend was threatening him. She was barely five feet and very thin but she was threatening him and the worst part was he was afraid of her, not of these two men who had shown up, no, he was afraid of her.
“Now, before you run – and you will run – I just want to clear a few things up. Not because I think you deserve it, but because moments like these are the ones I wait for,” she said. “When I saw you at the bar, I just knew you were the one. Did my research and it turns out I was right. You could just up and disappear and there’s not a person who would care. So I began. First, I sold tonight. Your first time, always very special, and I have a particular client with deep pockets who just loves a good chase down the beach. Second, I’ve set aside the next few nights in my schedule for some ‘us’ time. You’re not going to like it. At least, not until I say you can. Then, well, we’ll just see where life takes us. Essentially, my darling, you have just been taken out of circulation.”
Alex was standing now, his eyes getting wider and wider. Nothing she said made any sense but she kept on saying more and with such confidence that by the end he was filled with a back breaking terror he thought might kill him on the spot.
A rustle from somewhere behind her. So small it could have been a bird. It wasn’t. Even without the look on her face he knew it wasn’t.
“It’s time to start running.”