It awakened long-distant memories. It reminded him of work, of long Sundays, of croissants, of Paris. His mouth watered in automatic response to the rich aroma and he licked his cracked lips in anticipation – an old habit.
He sat up, catching his breath as shards of pain arrowed across his chest. He lifted his shirt and in the one shaft of light piercing the darkness from a hole in the roof, he could see a large shadow hovering over his ribs – a bruise. He touched its dark centre, lifted his fingers to his mouth, tasted blood and felt grit on the end of his tongue. Recoiling, he spat, trying to clear his mouth of the metallic tang.
The coffee. He groped in the gloom, following his sense of smell. His fingers found a plastic cup. He grasped it in both hands, inhaling the glorious, comforting smell before swallowing, desperate to lubricate his dry mouth and throat. It was proper coffee, not instant. Someone had good taste, and time to spare to brew it.
“Hello?” he called out. His voice rang, bouncing off the metal walls. It had not been a dream, then. He was still in the shipping container. Panic prickled, flooding his bladder. No, no, no, he thought. You don’t get to flip out yet. They made you real coffee – that’s got to be a –
“Who are you?”
The thin, female voice came from the other end of the metal box. She must be terrified. More terrified than you, you idiot, he thought.
“I’m David. And you?”
“Lisa, I – no! Don’t! Stay back!”
The air whistled as something zipped towards him and then –
‘Hey! What the hell?!” David slapped his hand to his cheek, a thousand swear words rising to his lips. He backed into the corner, groping behind him desperately. Where the hell was it?
“Looking for this?”
A sudden, brilliant blob of light split the dark. The glare drilled into the back of his retinas and David shielded his eyes in desperation. Footsteps crunched across the rubbish-strewn floor, the light brightening and bobbing from side to side in a crazy dance. The boots and the light came to a halt and a tyre iron dropped to the floor at his feet, the clang accompanying David’s groan of pained anticipation.
“I took it whilst you were out for the count. It seems you can’t be too careful these days.”
“You have a lamp? And a whip…” David saw the loops of leather, its handle held tightly in the woman’s hand. Her knuckles were white with tension. Not a surprise.
“Sorry about that. I could have done more damage, that was just a light tap,” she said, crouching down, setting the lamp on the floor. David heard it hiss in the silence as she inspected his cheek for damage. “It’s just a small cut, you won’t bleed to death.”
He grunted, non-committal. “They let you have a lamp and your weapon of choice? How’d you manage that?”
“It’s not a weapon. I’m a cowgirl. They picked me up off the ranch a couple of days ago. But yeah, it has its uses in tough situations.” Lisa picked up the coffee, sniffing it suspiciously. “Smells OK – I don’t think they’ve drugged it.”
David watched as she drained the cup. She’s not terrified after all, he thought, admiring her strong silhouette, backlit by the lamp. Her shadow extended across the floor, the light stretching her slightly stocky frame into something more girlish and delicate.
“What made you choose a tyre iron?” she asked, settling cross-legged in front of him, moving the lamp to one side. Now he could see her face. She was looking at him, head cocked to one side in frank appraisal. “You’re not a mechanic – your hands are too clean. Your clothes are too expensive – leather-soled shoes, cashmere sweater, expensive watch…”
That’s what was wrong, he thought, right hand reaching to his left wrist, encountering skin where he normally felt smooth, articulated metal. Regret consumed him, swiftly followed by a hot shard of anger. “That was a bloody heirloom! You bi-!”
“Hey! Hey! They took it – not me!” Lisa shouted, stung into sharp, biting denial. She shuffled backwards, just out of his lunging grasp. “I saw them do it! They opened the door, pushed you in, you fell and then they took your watch, your wallet and your keys. What would I do with a watch, in here?”
“OK, OK.” David bowed his head, holding up his hand in front of him. “Shut up a minute. Did they knock me out, or something? My head’s thumping like crazy.”
“No, I think you hit it when you fell. You don’t remember crawling into the corner?”
David shook his head in denial. The last 24 hours of his life were beginning to fall into place. “I’d been out drinking – celebrating actually. We all had a bit too much – you know, Friday night, end of the week, we’d just won a new contract. I was trying to find a cab, along with the rest of London. I had to get one of those dodgy ones, all air freshener and beaded seat covers,” he paused. God, he felt sick. “That’s the tyre iron story – it was on the floor of the cab. I picked it up and stuffed it in the sleeve of my coat, in case he turned into an axe murderer…”
Lisa snorted. “You Brits are crazy. An axe murderer?”
“He was wearing driving gloves! Nobody wears them these days. I thought he was trying not to leave fingerprints or DNA!” David shrugged. “Come on! I was drunk, for God’s sake! And he drove the long way back…”
David shifted on the metal floor, half-gasping, half-grunting. Dizziness unsettled his stomach. He was really regretting that coffee. “Uuugh…!”
Lisa jumped up as he retched, grasping his chest defensively. “Okaaaay. You’re not in great shape, are you, fella?”
He leaned back, gasping, relieved that he hadn’t totally disgraced himself in front of Miss Rawhide. Dry heaving was painful, but not as embarrassing as chucking up all over her jeans. Sweating and shivering, he closed his eyes, waiting for the sickness to pass. Suddenly, her workmanlike hands were lifting his shirt, inspecting the damage. She had cooling fingers, or at least that’s how it felt.
“They did this to you? Dammit! That’s not right!” she cursed some more under her breath, shaking her head. “Looks like you have a cracked rib or two. Was that the tyre iron?”
He shook his head. “No. I tripped over as I got out of the cab – I landed on the kerb. Bloody hell, it hurts.”
“You ass – but hey, we’ve all been there. You’ll be fine – although painkillers would be a good idea. You have any?”
David smiled wryly. “I’m a salesman. I went out and got pissed on a Friday night. Do I look like someone who comes prepared?” He gave the three-fingered Boy Scout salute.
“Naaa, me either. Cowgirls don’t feel pain,” said Lisa, returning his smile. “What a pair we are!”
A comfortable silence settled over them for a few minutes, broken only by the constant hiss of the lamp, which flickered every now and again, causing their shadows to dance on the walls that were now their world.
“Does anyone know you’re gone?” David asked, scrutinising her fingers for a wedding band. “Bloke? Kids?”
“The boss. The guys I work with. Lacey.”
“Lacey?” David’s voice rose, despite himself, his swimming head. “Are you -?”
“My dog, you ass! God, you guys are so damn predictable!” Lisa leaned back on her hands. “I work in the middle of nowhere, I travel from ranch to ranch – that’s all I want and need, right now. You get it?”
“Alright! Sorry for being interested!” David sighed. Brilliant. Still making an idiot – no, ass – of yourself right there, mister, he thought.
“I’m just yanking your chain! I know you guys only think about one thing, mostly. It’s your design fault. For us gals it’s… hey, I’ll have to get back to you on that!”
David chuckled. “OK, sorry anyway. I’m guaranteed to say the wrong thing to women, especially when I’m not on top form. Or hung-over. With a broken rib. And a bump on the head.”
“Yeah, things aren’t so great are they? I wonder how long they’ll keep us here?” Lisa pulled at a loose thread dangling from her shirt, biting it free.
“Your guess is as good as mine. Do you think we should prepare ourselves, work out a plan, you know…” David tailed off, realising he had no idea what to do. Should he protect her? How would he do that?
“What can we do? Do you really think a whip, a tyre iron and a lamp are going to stop them?”
“Alright. So, what do we have in common that made them choose us this time?”
“What, a scruffy cow girl from the middle of nowhere and a successful, oh so British businessman? Well, we already established you have money… I don’t, in case you’re wondering. I don’t know – I guess I have endurance, stamina. That must be – amusing to them. I can’t buy my way out of this like you can. Who knows how they’re minds work!”
“You make me sound bloody useless!” grumbled David, wondering if she was right, about him at least. It sounded so feeble – being able to buy your way out of tricky situations. For a moment, he envied her basic, burden-free lifestyle. If he managed to make it out of this….
“No, not useless. We’re just different. You made your own money, right? Not an inheritance from a rich daddy?”
“God, no! My dad was a steelworker, worked hard all his life, had a heart attack and died 3 weeks after he retired. I’m not planning on working myself to death like that…”
Lisa patted him on the arm, a gesture of understanding. “So, you’re not useless. You have drive – just like me,” she paused. “My dad ran a casino in Las Vegas, made a fortune, splashed it around. He ruined himself on Scotch, cigars and women, got mixed up with the dark side and was found dead out in the desert, a bullet to the back of the head and a gambling chip stuffed in his mouth. He left me and my sister with nothing.”
David’s eyes widened, aching body forgotten for the moment. “God, I’m sorry! I don’t know what to say… But, you have a sister? You said nobody would miss you…?”
The question hung in the air, suspended between them.
“She liked Vegas too much. She works there, last time I heard. You know…”
David didn’t know. But he understood it was better not to ask. “So you got away, no fancy gadgets, no stuff to weigh you down, just you, your pick-up and your dog?”
The sombre moment passed and Lisa grinned. “You got it, fella! It’s a fine life. Most days, I forget where I came from – and that is exactly what I wanted!”
“You do know they’ll use it against you? You do know they’ll have found out all of this stuff?”
“Yeah, I know. But I’m a big girl now. I’ve dealt with my demons – and not a cent paid for therapy!” Lisa punched the air in mock celebration.
“Do you think we’ll make it? You’ve seen the news?”
“Oh yeah, we get news in Montana,” said Lisa, raising an eyebrow. “Each time, they get more extreme, right?”
“Yes – this shipping container thing – I don’t think they’ve done this before. Do you think they have limits? Is there a point where they just lose control completely?”
“Because things aren’t crazy enough?” Lisa stretched her legs out in front of her, flexing her feet. “I guess the best we can do is stick together, remember they’re the enemy and… well, that’s a pretty lame plan, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know. We have nothing else – “
“Shut up! I hear something!” Lisa wagged her hand at David. “Holy hell! They’re coming! Grab your tyre iron!”
Rusting hinges screeched as doors at the far end of the container swung apart. Arc lights glared, silhouetting six men standing ominously still in the opening. The two captives scrambled to their feet. Lisa grabbing David’s arm, throwing it over her shoulders as he swayed, then retched. This time the coffee splattered on the floor.
“What a sorry sight!” A disjointed voice boomed above them, bouncing off the walls. “This guy isn’t going to last five minutes, is he? What do you think?”
Another voice, female this time. “I agree. It looks like we caught him at a – difficult moment! Still, I understand that he has resources to buy his way out of this little predicament…”
“And finally, in entertainment news, the latest participants in “The Captives”, the sensation that is wowing TV audiences the world over, have been revealed. David Millar, the successful, not to mention young and handsome, CEO of newly-listed British company Millar Marketing, looked to be in poor shape for his first appearance earlier this evening, but we’re sure it’s all an act, aren’t we Andrea?”
“Indeed we are, Kevin! His companion is Lisa McBride, a cowgirl – yes, a real live cowgirl! Now, she has been snatched from obscurity in deepest darkest Montana – and Kevin, I’m not even certain whereabouts in the good old US of A that actually is! Still, I’ve been doing some digging, and it seems she has a bit of an interesting past. Her father was a hotshot casino boss in Las Vegas – and I do know where that is! – until he came to a bit of a sticky end out in the desert. Very CSI!”
“So, two very different characters there, Andrea. I wonder how long they’ll last? Do you think David will buy himself out? Or, will he hang on in there to protect his country gal?”
“Who knows, Kevin! But what we do know is that it will be super-exciting! Every series just gets better and better, and like everyone in the world, I am totally hooked!”
“On a more serious note, we will be interviewing a number of campaigners protesting against The Captives, later in the programme. They claim that – and I’m reading directly from their manifesto – ‘Using data gathered by governments from around the world to locate people and abduct them for entertainment purposes is illegal, puts lives at risk, and the situations experienced by the participants causes irreversible psychological damage. Abducting people without warning is simply not acceptable.’”
“Well, that’s all very depressing, isn’t it? Of course, we will have a representative from Pseudo Media to discuss this with the group who call themselves – well, they haven’t called themselves anything yet, which is a bit disappointing. I am sure that Pseudo will have all these bases covered, aren’t you?”
“Absolutely, Kevin! There is no way a global media group would risk their reputation like that. The viewing figures are rocketing, and anyway, everyone who takes part has a chance to win that ever so tasty billion-dollar prize. Would you say no to that?”
“I certainly wouldn’t Andrea!”
Now, it’s time to pass our viewers back to the news team in a few moments. I understand that the G20 governments are meeting today to discuss data usage. All our documents will soon pop through our letterboxes accompanied by a big, fat disclaimer – as if anyone has time to read that, Kevin!”
“Well, Andrea, I certainly won’t! If the government wants to sell information and raise lots of money for the economy in the process, I’m all for it!”
“Me too, Kevin, me too. Right, we’ll see you all back here in 15 minutes.”
“Yes, with the latest update on The Captives, live as it happens, and a breaking story about a certain leading lady and her toyboys – yes, you heard me correctly – toyboys!”
“Bye for now!”
“Bye for now!”