The Chain - Adrian McKinty
Thursday, 7:55 a.m.
She’s sitting at the bus stop checking the likes on her Instagram feed and doesn’t even notice the man with the gun until he’s almost next to her.
She could have dropped her school bag and run across the marshes. She’s a nimble thirteen-year-old and she knows all the swamps and quicksands of Plum Island. There’s a little morning sea fog and the man is big and clumsy. He’d be nervous about pursuit and he’d certainly have to give up the chase before the school bus came at eight o’clock.
All this goes through her head in a second.
The man is now standing right in front of her. He’s wearing a black ski mask and pointing the gun at her chest. She gasps and drops her phone. This clearly isn’t a joke or a prank. It’s November now. Halloween was a week ago.
“Do you know what this is?” the man asks.
“It’s a gun,” Kylie says.
“It’s a gun pointed at your heart. If you scream or struggle or try to run, I’m going to shoot you. Do you understand?”
“All right. Good. Keep calm. Put this blindfold on. What your mother does in the next twenty-four hours will determine whether you live or die. And when…if we do let you go, we don’t want you to be able to identify us.”
Trembling, Kylie puts on the padded, elasticized blindfold.
A car pulls in next to her. The door opens.
“Get in. Watch your head,” the man says.
She fumbles her way into the car. The door shuts behind her. Her mind races. She knows she shouldn’t have gotten into the vehicle. That’s how girls vanish. That’s how girls vanish every day. If you get in the car it’s over. If you get in the car, you’re lost forever. You don’t get in the vehicle, you turn around and you run, run, run.
“Put her seat belt on,” a woman says from the front seat.
Kylie starts to cry under the blindfold.
The man climbs into the back seat next to her and puts her seat belt on. “Please, just try to keep calm, Kylie. We really don’t want to hurt you,” he says.
“This has got to be a mistake,” she says. “My mom doesn’t have any money. She doesn’t start her new job until—”
“Tell her not to talk!” the woman snaps from the front seat.
“It’s not about the money, Kylie,” the man says. “Look, just don’t talk, OK?”
The car drives off hastily in a slew of sand and gravel. It accelerates hard and moves up through the gears.
Kylie listens as the car drives over the Plum Island bridge and with a wince she hears the tubercular grumble of the school bus go by them.
“Keep it slow,” the man says.
The doors power lock and Kylie curses herself for missing a chance. She could have unclicked the seat belt, opened the door, rolled out. Blind panic is beginning to overwhelm her. “Why are you doing this?” she wails.
“What should I tell her?” the man asks.
“Don’t tell her anything. Tell her to shut the hell up,” the woman replies.
“You need to be quiet, Kylie,” the man says.
The car is driving fast on what is probably Water Street near Newburyport. Kylie forces herself to breathe deep. In and out, in and out, the way the school counselors showed her in the mindfulness class. She knows that to stay alive she has to be observant and patient. She’s in the eighth-grade accelerated program. Everybody says she’s smart. She has to be calm and notice things and take her chances when they come.
That girl in Austria had survived and so had those girls in Cleveland. And she’d seen that Mormon girl who’d been kidnapped when she was fourteen being interviewed on Good Morning America. They’d all survived. They’d been lucky, but maybe it was more than luck too.
She swallows another wave of terror that almost chokes her.
Kylie hears the car drive up onto the Route 1 bridge at Newburyport. They’re going over the Merrimack River toward New Hampshire.
“Not so fast,” the man mutters, and the car slows for a few minutes but then gradually begins to speed up again.
Kylie thinks about her mom. She’s driving to Boston this morning to see the oncologist. Her poor mom, this is going to—
“Oh my God,” the woman who’s driving says, suddenly horrified.
“What is it?” the man asks.
“We just passed a cop car waiting over the state line.”
“It’s OK, I think you’re in the…no, oh Christ, his lights are coming on,” the man says. “He’s pulling you over.