At the Lake House
By Patrick M. Tracy
She wakes up, the drugs no more than vapor in her system. Ellison watches her. A pretty thing, a nice girl. He doesn’t like the idea of what he’ll do to her. He’d rather hurt someone else, but has no room for qualms now. When you can’t get to the target, you have to use whatever leverage you can find. Sometimes, that leads to distasteful choices. It’s the nature of the business. There was a time to have second thoughts, to chicken out. The girl is kidnapped already, the deed too far along to come away clean.
She sees him at the table, looks down at her unfamiliar clothes, the sparse room, the stout door, the window too narrow to climb out and too sturdy to break. Ellison knows she’s not totally aware of how bad things get. Sally-Anne has had a good life. Things have been easy for her. She’s been shielded from the ugliness of the world. She knows this is all wrong, but she hasn’t tumbled to the fact that this is a torture room. That’s okay. Ellison has a deed to perform, and he’ll do it, but he’s not averse to giving her these last few minutes of innocence.
“Where am I?” She puts her palms against her eyes. “Jesus, my head hurts. Where’s Justin?”
“Justin is in no danger, Sally-Anne. He’s resting comfortably. You’re just waking up after a fairly heavy sedative we gave you. The headache will go away if you eat something. You’re at the Lake House.”
This last, of course, means nothing to her. Only people in the business have heard stories about the Lake House.
Ellison smiles slightly. “Sure. Fit as a fiddle.” Like fiddles, Justin is cool and quiet. He has nothing to worry about. The quicklime is already eating away at him, and he’ll be down to the bones within a few months. “Come on over, Sally. I’ve made this ham and cheese sandwich for you, and there’s a nice cranberry apple drink, as well. They tell me this is your favorite lunch.”
“Are you, like, the Secret Service or something?”
Ellison smiled vaguely. “I work for a government agency, yes.”
She rises out of bed, the quick recovery of youth on her side. She’ll feel fine in another hour. Once her body is fueled for her ordeal and the meal well-digested, he’ll have to begin.
Sally-Anne stretches, making a cute noise that Ellison couldn’t have resisted in his teen years, long passed. The blue t-shirt pulls upward just enough to show a small swath of taut belly. She smooths her hair down and comes to the table, sitting down. “I am hungry. How long was I out?”
“Several hours. You slept all the way up here.”
“I don’t remember much after the car crash. Just shouting, lights, booming noises. I passed out.”
“Don’t worry about that now. It’ll all get ironed out later.”
Sally-Anne picks up the sandwich, made on deli rye and with the finest ingredients. Ellison watches her eat from beneath veiled eyes, so as not to make her uncomfortable.
“This is a great,” she says around a big bite. “Tastes like Vultaggio’s, almost.” Sally-Anne opens the juice and holds it in both of her small hands, drinking with gusto. She puts the drink down and gives him a bright grin. “So you must have saved me from, like, the bad guys, huh?”
“We don’t like to use that sort of terminology. There are people who disagree with us about how the country should be run. Sometimes, it results in some unpleasantness.”
“Huh,” she mutters, not really listening. “Thanks, though.”
Ellison feels something curdle inside him. She isn’t like one of the hard guys who know the score of the game. They’d eat the sandwich, too, but they’d eat it with sweat on their brow. They would treat it like a last meal.
Soon, the food is gone. Sally-Anne leans back and puts her hands on her thin belly, staring at the edge of the table for a moment. “Is there a restroom?”
Ellison inclines his head toward the cramped lavatory beyond the pocket door. There’s no way out going that way. He’ll use that room to clean Sally’s blood off of his hands later.
After several minutes, she comes out, cleaned up, hair slicked-down. “Am I going to be here for a while?”
Ellison nods. “A few days, yes.”
“I might need a few things. Clothes, soap…stuff like that.”
“I’ll take care of everything. You should get a little more rest. We’ll have to have a talk later, and I want you to be fresh when we start.”
“Just like that. Until then, rest up. I’ll be outside the door.”
She puts her hand on his arm. “Really, thanks. I mean it.” Even after the ordeal, she smells like sweet jasmine.
“No problem.” Ellison grits his teeth and closes the torture room door behind him. Oliva frowns at him from the console. He’s been monitoring things, recording the whole by-play.
“Fucking cruel, man. I hate it when you make friends with them first. It just makes it tougher on them, the betrayal.”
“This one’s going to be tough. Makes you wonder why you’re in the game. You have to get them to eat, though. You know that. Fasting, they pass out before anything productive can be done.”
Oliva says nothing, shaking his head. Everybody’s a star pitcher when they’re sitting in the dugout.
Ellison goes out onto the stoop and looks across the frozen lake. Dusk is coming, and he’ll have taken away everything Sally-Anne ever hoped to hold sacred by morning. Knowing that, Ellison hates her grandfather all the more. For the good of the country, a man that evil and powerful has to be brought down, has to be made to accept reason. A man like her grandfather dooms himself and anyone under his aegis. With Sally-Anne’s innocent smile lingering in his head, he shakes out a cigarette and lights up. Turns out, even taking a monster like Sally-Anne’s grandfather down brings that same doom, if only slower, like rotting from within.