Sliding my hand back down, I retype the passcode and begin tapping out the most important text of my life, my index finger clumsy on the touchscreen, each word taking two or three attempts to complete as auto-correct wreaks havoc.
The barrel of the gun digs into the back of my head.
I react, swerving into the fast lane.
“What are you doing, Jason?”
I straighten the wheel with one hand, swinging us back into the slow lane as my other hand lowers toward the phone, closing in on Send.
He lunges between the front seats, his gloved hand reaching around my waist, snatching the phone away.
Merge right onto the Eighty-Seventh Street exit in five hundred feet.
“What’s your passcode, Jason?” When I don’t respond, he says, “Wait. I bet I know this. Month and year of your birthday backwards? Let’s see…three-seven-two-one. There we go.”
In the rearview mirror, I see the phone illuminate his mask.
He reads the text he stopped me from sending: “ ‘1400 Pulaski call 91…’ Bad boy.”
I veer onto the interstate off-ramp.
The GPS says, Turn left onto Eighty-Seventh Street and proceed east for three-point-eight miles.
We drive into South Chicago, through a neighborhood we have no business setting foot in.
Past rows of factory housing.
Empty parks with rusted swing sets and netless basketball hoops.
Storefronts locked up for the night behind security gates.
Gang tagging everywhere.
He asks, “So do you call her Dani or Daniela?”
My throat constricts.
Rage and fear and helplessness burgeoning inside of me.
“Jason, I asked you a question.”
“Go to hell.”
He leans close, his words hot in my ear. “You do not want to go down this path with me. I will hurt you worse than you’ve ever been hurt in your life. Pain you didn’t even know was possible. What do you call her?”
I grit my teeth. “Daniela.”
“Never Dani? Even though that’s what’s on your phone?”
I’m tempted to flip the car at high speed and just kill us both.
I say, “Rarely. She doesn’t like it.”
“What’s in the grocery bag?”
“Why do you want to know what I call her?”
“What’s in the bag?”
“It’s family night, right?”
In the rearview mirror, I see him typing on my phone.
“What are you writing?” I ask.
He doesn’t respond.
We’re out of the ghetto now, riding through a no-man’s-land that doesn’t even feel like Chicago anymore, with the skyline nothing but a smear of light on the far horizon. The houses are crumbling, lightless, and lifeless. Everything long abandoned.
We cross a river and straight ahead lies Lake Michigan, its black expanse a fitting denouement of this urban wilderness.
As if the world ends right here.
And perhaps mine does.
Turn right and proceed south on Pulaski Drive for point-five miles to destination.
He chuckles to himself. “Wow, are you in trouble with the missus.” I strangle the steering wheel. “Who was that man you had whisky with tonight, Jason? I couldn’t tell from outside.”
It’s so dark out here in this borderland between Chicago and Indiana.
We’re passing the ruins of railroad yards and factories.
“His name is Ryan Holder. He used to be—”
“Your old roommate.”
“How’d you know that?”
“Are you two close? I don’t see him in your contacts.”
“Not really. How do you—?”
“I know almost everything about you, Jason. You could say I’ve made your life my specialty.”
“Who are you?”
You will arrive at your destination in five hundred feet.
“Who are you?”
He doesn’t answer, but my attention is beginning to pull away from him as I focus on our increasingly remote surroundings.
The pavement flows under the SUV’s headlights.
Empty behind us.
There’s the lake off to my left, deserted warehouses on my right.
You have arrived at your destination.
I stop the Navigator in the middle of the road.
He says, “The entrance is up ahead on the left.”
The headlights graze a teetering stretch of twelve-foot fencing, topped with a tiara of rusted barbed wire. The gate is ajar, and a chain that once locked it shut has been snipped and coiled in the weeds by the roadside.
“Just nudge the gate with the front bumper.”
Even from inside the near-soundproof interior of the SUV, the shriek of the gate grinding open is loud. The cones of light illuminate the remnants of a road, the pavement cracked and buckled from years of harsh Chicago winters.
I engage the high beams.
Light washes over a parking lot, where streetlamps have toppled everywhere like spilled matchsticks.
Beyond, a sprawling structure looms.
The brick façade of the time-ravaged building is flanked by huge cylindrical tanks and a pair of hundred-foot smokestacks spearing the sky.
“What is this place?” I ask.
“Put it in PARK and turn it off.”
I bring the car to a stop, shift out of gear, and punch off the engine.
It becomes deathly silent.
“What is this place?” I ask again.
“What are your Friday plans?”
A sharp blow to the side of my head sends me slumping into the steering wheel, stunned and wondering for a half second if this is what it feels like to be shot in the head.
But no, he only hit me with his gun.
I touch my hand to the point of impact.
My fingers come away sticky with blood.
“Tomorrow,” he says. “What do you have scheduled for tomorrow?”
Tomorrow. It feels like a foreign concept.
“I’m…giving a test to my PHYS 3316 class.”
“Take off all your clothes.”
I look in the rearview mirror.
Why the hell does he want me naked?
He says, “If you wanted to try something, you should’ve done it while you had control of the car. From this moment forward, you’re mine. Now, take off your clothes, and if I have to tell you again, I’m going to make you bleed. A lot.”