Mikel opened the door to the dimly lit room, the low light revealed Marissa’s silhouette sitting in the far corner, on the cold floor. Arms wrapped tight around legs she had pulled close to her chest. She looked small, and if it weren’t for the angry glare in her eyes, he could feel sorry for her.
“Here, put these on.” He dropped a pile of clothes onto the mattress.
The contempt in her face, not lost on him when she tightened the muscles around her face, she sucked in air. “Why?”
“Because, pretty one, I am trying to keep you safe.” He stared down at her.
“What if I say no?” She didn’t move from her spot. Her bravery should be commended, she didn’t show any fear.
“Then I will have to dress you myself.” The thought of undressing her caused him to grin and fantasize for a short moment. “I don’t think that would be such a bad task.”
“I’ll scream and fight. It will be impossible to dress me.” Her tone was only a fragment less defiant than the scowl on her face.
“I could always drug you again, but I am trying hard not to resort to that.” He picked up the clothes and held them out for her to take. Dried tears left streaks on her cheeks, smudged from laying on the dusty cement floor. He continued to stare at her but kept his face neutral even as his breath stopped. An ache pushed at his throat and he pushed back the urge to relent. “Where we are, no one will hear you scream. You have no choice, Marissa.”
He watched her eyes widen, then narrow while her pupils dilated. Her glare was penetrating. “Since you know who I am, at least tell me your name.”
Mikel searched her face, and saw fear, bolstered by something else. It didn’t matter if she knew their names, anyone could find out he owned the restaurant. Maybe telling her his name would relax her a little.
“It’s Mikel. Now put them on.”
She stood and walked over to him, grabbing the clothes. “Turn around or get out, I don’t have any intention of dressing in front of you.”
Mikel sighed. The sense of urgency to get her to a safe place escalated. He turned around, not wanting to waste precious time with an argument. He could hear the clothes hitting the floor.
“What the hell is this?” She exclaimed. “And don’t turn around,” she quickly added. “What is this band thing?”
“You mean the chest wrap?” He stopped himself from turning on impulse. “It is to hide some of the nicest looking tetonas I could ever hope to see. A crime don’t you think?” Her silence, followed by the ruffling of clothes was a clear sign to Mikel he had struck an angry chord. It would be hard to deal with her sad, but anger he could deal with.
A few minutes later, he heard her stop moving. “Can I turn around now?” He didn’t wait for a reply and turned. It felt as if his heart stopped beating. He had hoped, no he had expected some of her allure would disappear with the disguise. But he was wrong. The feminine curves were gone, and the man’s clothes looked shapeless, but instead boring, she looked innocent. “How beautiful,” he whispered.
“I probably look like I rolled out of a Dickens’ novel.” She yanked the slouch hat down over her ears. The whites of her almond eyes brightened against her tawny skin as her black hair was pushed forward by the cap to frame her face. Unable to take his focus from her he stepped closer, he touched her hair. She withdrew, just a step, but he could see the fear in her eyes.
“I won’t hurt you.” The words sounded weak, but he didn’t trust himself to say more. He put his other hand behind her head, and began pushing her thick, silky hair under the cap. Warmth spread to the center of his chest. In slow movements he continued sliding her hair under the cap. When he finished, he didn’t want to let go. Confusion washed across her face.
During the last two years he had seen no beauty, and experienced none of the joy life had offered before Angelique and his mother had died. But Marissa’s stunning perfection overpowered him with the same consequence of a cyclone slamming on shore. Her hair and body, both gorgeous assets in his appraisal, paled in comparison to her face. It was more than beauty. He could see strength, softness, innocence and fear. A primitive urge to protect her at all costs, tugged at him.
A slow breath escaped him, it quieted him and slowed his racing heart. He could not allow her see how she shook him. He stepped away, and gave a sharp nod, “There, now you look more like a man.” He lied. She could never be mistaken for a man.
Mikel grabbed the sunglasses in his pocket. “Here, put them on.” He deepened his voice to hide a frenzy of emotions.
Mari’s eyes narrowed and she snatched the glasses from his hand. “What makes you think I won’t tell anyone after you let me go?”
“Tell them what? Some men you don’t know, held you hostage? They’ll find nothing here Chica.” She could cause him trouble, but Mikel wouldn’t let her know that. “I’ll tell them you broke into my restaurant when it was closed. As an American tourist that could be a bad situation for you.”
Mari turned and marched toward the door, crossing her arms in a defiant pose when she reached the door. He had placed her backpack by the door, so she unwound her arms and snatched the pack. A transient thought about screaming upon exiting the room quickly vanished at the realization it could potentially hurt her cause.
Hopeless, Mari thought, not letting her thoughts reflect in her expression. Mikel had the power and control. She had no alternative but to follow his orders, for now.
Mikel placed a hand on the knob of the door, “Remember, if you do say something, it is your word against mine. The employees will believe what I tell them. Outside, I have less control. The men who you saw earlier are watching the restaurant. If you run, they will catch you and they will kill you. Their boss has police on his payroll. He will either get you sooner or later when you try and leave the country.” His steely eyes searched her face. “Do you understand what I am telling you?”
Mari wanted to run, she wanted to scream, but something in the seriousness of his voice told her to stay. All she could do was nod.
They walked out of the damp room, up a flight of stairs and into a hallway. Aromas of fragrant food caused her stomach to growl. The nudge on her back from Mikel’s hand let her know satisfying her hunger would have to wait. The hallway was the same one she had walked into this morning. A few hours ago it had seemed innocent enough with old solid brick walls, the stale musty odor trapped in the air, offered no indications of things to be.
Mikel stopped her with his arm, gently nudging her toward the wall. He pulled a Glock from the back of his waistband, and held it down toward the door. Mari recognized the gun from the one her brother used. Even though she disliked firearms, Tony had insisted she not learn to become comfortable and proficient with them. They spent quite a bit of time at the firing range where Tony teased if she took it seriously she would become a sharp shooter.
The presence of a reliable gun gave her a small bit of reassurance. Knowing they didn’t have to worry about guns would be better, but if there was a chance she could be shot at, she was glad Mikel had something to fire back with.
Mikel pulled open the inside screen door, holding it with his foot while he pushed open the heavier outside door a crack. Instinct and fear compelled Mari harder against the wall, the cold brick a shock to her tense nervous muscles. A whiff of fresh air filtered through the small opening. She pulled in slow deep breaths, the air refreshed her and she swallowed down some of her anxiety. Noises in the kitchen echoed in the quiet space filling the silence that blew in with the cool air. It was surreal standing there with an armed man knowing someone was preparing meals twenty feet away.
Mikel swung his head outside the door, leaned back and said, “Let’s go.” Before she could answer he grabbed her hand, like a duo in a ballet moving on stage, they graciously left the building.
They crossed the dark alley and Mikel nodded to one of his men who stood off to the side, who nodded back. Plastering himself against the opposing wall, Mikel made the same move to flatten her against it. “We’re going to move to that door over there.” He pointed to a door around 15 feet ahead of them. “If something happens, just run through that door. You’ll be in a hallway similar to the one we just left. Go through the second door on your left, it is a small jamon y tapas shop. You’ll be in the stock room, but go straight through it. Run, go out the front and you will be on a street off the plaza, a white van will be there. Get in it, you will recognize the man driving.
Mari tried to bring moisture to her dry mouth, with little effect. She just nodded. Mikel grabbed her hand and they ran to the door, pushing it open and he quietly closed it when they were inside. The hall was dim and dank like the one they exited. He placed the gun back in his waistband, covering it with his shirt.
They entered the Hogar del Jamon, a typical Spanish market that specialized in hams. Jamon Serrano, Jamon Iberico, every type of ham that would meet a Spaniards expectations. The overwhelming smell of cured and smoked meat reminded her of her hunger, but she harbored no illusions she would eat any time soon. Small dots of grease lined the counter under some of the hams. A burly round man stood behind the counter talking with a customer. He looked at Mikel, and only nodded. Mikel responded similarly as they walked out the front door.
Mari squinted, shielding her eyes from the bright light with one hand, the cheap sunglasses did little to protect her eyes. A windowless van was parked outside the door with the motor running. It was void of any markings but she was sure it was waiting for them. Mikel moved her out the door, opening the van’s rear door in a swift motion. Its engine purred and exhaust filled the air around the van. She turned looking down at the plaza for an escape, though deep down she knew she wouldn’t run. She had seen how Lito’s men had looked at her and that option was far worse than being with her current captor. She would bide her time.
“Don’t try it. If you run remember what you face.” He moved her to the van. Instead of shoving her in as she expected, he held her elbow with an unanticipated tenderness, and guided her gently into the van. She climbed in, and sat on the lone hard bench it contained. She felt the cold through the thin clothing he had provided. Hard too, Mari thought, hoping it would not be a long ride. The hollow echo of the lock clicking, reverberated off the metal walls. The conversation between Black Eyes and the other man continued, but was muffled by the time it reached Mari’s ears. After several minutes, he jumped into the front seat and looked in the rear view mirror. “If you promise to be quiet I’ll leave this pass through window open for air. It will make the ride more comfortable.”
Mari purposely remained silent, as if her lack of response would imply she wanted the window open without the commitment of a promise. He left the glass partition open, but closed a small curtain. It would be impossible for Mari to ascertain the location and direction of the van, but she would pay attention to non-visual clues and try to develop a mental mapping.
There must be an escape route for me, Mari prayed, trying to put her thinking cap in high gear. If she could figure out their location at any given time, she could recognize familiar places where she had met people during her seven week stint in Barcelona. Escaping into familiar surroundings would make it more likely for people she knew in those places to believe her and take her to the authorities. She did not trust Black Eyes’ story about Lito’s connections with the local police, the words came from the mouth of a common criminal. Somehow, she would find a way to free herself.
He frequently hit the brakes, jostling her in the back. That, along with the sounds of car horns and traffic told her they were still in the city. There were a few short stops, at traffic lights she assumed, then the sound bouncing off some of the narrow streets. Barcelona is notorious for ancient narrow streets through which only one car could fit. She wondered how he managed this big van anywhere in the city. She guessed it belonged to the restaurant, even though she hadn’t noticed a logo on the side of the white commercial van. She wanted to kick herself for not looking for the name of the restaurant, but she knew she could walk back to it.
It surprised Mari when, about ten minutes into the ride, they stopped and the back door swung open with a screeching sound she thought she hadn’t noticed earlier. The sound and smell of the city reassured her, but any possible excitement about recognizing their location was squelched by the prompt realization that they were in an underground parking garage. The dimly lit environments made her squint and hope she could see someone she could alert. Mari visually located a gated exit, apparently electronic, and what looked like a security guard standing by it. Before she could yell out to the guard, Black Eyes had already noticed her intentions. “Don’t bother Chica, the guard works for me and will not do anything unless I tell him to.”
His eyes, dark as charcoal and penetrating as daggers, stared at her, but she met them. “I will escape you know.”
A half smile crossed his face. Unconvinced, Mari looked away, still scanning the environment for something or someone who could help flee. “I will have fun watching you try.” The smile disappeared “But you don’t need to escape. After tomorrow I promise you, I will let you go. I don’t break my promises.”