Several hours later, she wasn’t sure how many, Maggie heard Stoopid tap up the hall and into the living room from one of the kids’ rooms. He half-walked, half-flapped around the room, then located her behind the couch, and proceeded to advise her, in quiet, almost hen-like brrps that his dinner was late, the weather was inclement, or that her situation looked grim.
Maggie glanced over at the man, who was sitting at the far end of the dining room table. He’d been there for some time, and had either ignored her questions or told her shut up every time she’d tried to engage him in conversation.
Kyle, and then Sky, had eventually fallen asleep with their heads on the table. Maggie had nodded off a couple of times, but only for a few minutes. Each time her head jerked back up, her heart fell again.
Maggie shifted her position a bit to try to relieve the pain in her lower back. As she did, the man got up and walked to the kitchen counter and checked his phone. He’d gone through their chargers earlier, until finally finding that Kyle’s fit his phone, and had plugged his phone in a few hours earlier. An hour later, the power had gone out.
The man had demanded to know where Maggie’s candles were, then had lit a few emergency candles and put them on saucers on the kitchen counter. Maggie had stared at them for a while, wondering how long it would take to burn through the rope on her wrists if she could get to one of them.
As the man stalked over to the sink and got a glass of water from the tap, Kyle stirred, then sat up and looked over at his mother.
“Mom,” he said in a near-whisper. “I have to pee.”
Maggie sighed and looked over at the man, who leaned on the counter drinking her water from one of her grandmother’s canning jars.
“Kyle needs to use the bathroom,” she said. “Please.”
The man put a hand on his hip and stared at Kyle, who glanced over at him, then stared down at the table. Maggie hated the man more for this than she did for her broken face.
She watched as the man stalked down the hall and disappeared into the bathroom, heard him opening and closing the cabinet and the vanity drawer. After a minute or two, he came back out. By then, Sky had roused as well.
The man stood near the table and stared down at Kyle.
“Don’t mistake it for kindness, boy,” he said. “I don’t want to smell your pee the rest of the night.” He stepped behind Kyle’s chair. “Get up.”
Kyle stood, his legs weak and shaky from sitting so long. The man yanked at his wrists and began working the rope.
“I have to go, too,” Sky said, less belligerently than she’d spoken earlier.
“You just might have to do without it,” the man said. “Might teach you some manners.”
Maggie watched Sky chew at the corner of her lip, a mannerism she’d inherited from Maggie, but which Maggie had never really noticed before.
The man left one side of the knot hanging loosely from Kyle’s left wrist, and grabbed his shoulder. “Let’s go,” he said.
He pushed Kyle down the hall to the bathroom and shoved him in, pulled the door shut. He stood there and waited by the door, and a few minutes later, the toilet flushed and the man opened the door. “Come on,” he said, and brought Kyle back out to the table.
Kyle’s face was wet, and Maggie gave him a mental high-five for thinking to get a drink while he was in there, but there was an angry heat in her chest. Her child had to drink from the bathroom tap and ask permission to pee in his own home, from someone who would never be half the man that Kyle promised to become. If he could.
The man stopped Kyle at the chair, retied his wrists, and then pushed him back down. Then he stood there for a moment and regarded Sky, who refused to look at him.
“Get up, then,” the man told her, and she struggled to her feet. He untied her wrists, and she rubbed at them for a moment, the rope hanging from her left wrist, before the man yanked her away from the table and followed her down the hall.
He waited outside the bathroom again, and after the toilet flushed, he waited a moment for her to open the door, then opened it himself. “Hold up,” Maggie heard the man say.
“I don’t have anything,” Sky said after a moment, and Maggie realized he’d been checking her pockets. A moment later, they came back into the main room, Sky in the lead.
Maggie watched the man retie her daughter’s bonds. Sky sat up straight, stiff as a board, but Maggie saw her wince as the ropes were cinched around her small wrists. Then the man looked over at her.
“Come on,” he said. He bent down and grabbed her under the arm, and pulled her up as she clumsily got her footing. The man looked her in the eye. “I’ll put a bullet in this boy’s head if you come out of there with so much as a Q-Tip, you hear?”
Maggie stared back at him, and he jerked Kyle back up out of his chair and pulled the .22 from the back of his jeans, then jerked his head toward the hall. Maggie walked past them, and the man followed.
As they neared the bathroom door, Maggie heard snuffling underneath her door, followed by scratching and a small whimper.
“It’s okay, Coco,” she said, and her voice was hoarse, her throat sticky and sore. Coco whined a reply and sniffed the crack again, then Maggie heard a thump on the door as the dog laid down against it.
When she got to the bathroom doorway, she stopped and turned. The man stepped forward and made a circling motion with his free hand, the .22 right up against Kyle’s temple. Maggie turned around to face the bathroom.
The man began untying her rope. It took a bit of time with one hand. “You got one minute to do your business and get out,” he said.
Maggie had little feeling in her wrists and hands. She only knew her hands were loose when her shoulders relaxed and her arms fell to her side. The man pushed her into the bathroom and shut the door behind her.
Maggie hadn’t realized she needed to use the restroom until Kyle had asked, but now she was desperate to do so. She’d had several cups of coffee and glasses of iced tea that day, and hadn’t used the bathroom since before she’d called Wyatt.
As her numb fingers fumbled with her khaki shorts, Maggie pictured Wyatt asleep in his hotel room, and wished that she were curled up behind him. Actually, she wished that all three of them were.
She finally got her shorts down and sat just in time. As she emptied her bladder, a thousand hot needles began piercing her hands and wrists. She ignored them, and tried to think if there was anything at all in the bathroom that could help her.
She ran through a mental inventory and came up empty. Her and Sky’s razors were packed. Even the big nail clippers were tucked inside her toiletry bag. She didn’t even have some bleach or other cleaner to throw in his face.
She cleaned herself and got her shorts buttoned and her belt buckled, then flushed the toilet. The door opened even as the water was still swirling down the pipes. Maggie flexed and stretched her hands for a moment, relishing the movement, then he jerked his head and she stepped out into the hall. The man gestured at her to turn around again and she did, but not before she swore she got a faint whiff of Kyle’s shampoo.
“Pull them pockets out,” he said. Maggie turned her front pockets inside out, and they poked up like rabbit’s ears from her shorts. Then the man patted her back pockets with his free hand, ran his hand along the inside of her waistband.
“Go on, sit back at the table,” he said.
Maggie preceded them into the dining area and sat back down at the end of the table. She caught Sky’s eye, and hated seeing a look of resignation on her face that hadn’t been there earlier.
The man sat Kyle back down, then walked over to Maggie and stood beside her chair. He seemed to be thinking, unsure of his next step. “Put those hands through the chair there,” he said. Maggie considered this. This was the last moment she’d have her hands free, but trying to take him would get her shot and do nothing to free her children. She put her hands through the spindles on the back of her chair.
The man tucked his gun into his waistband and bent to grab her rope. For a moment, Maggie mentally measured the space between her hands and his waistband. He wasn’t especially tall, but he was too tall for her to snatch the gun, even if she could move faster than he could see. Even so, the nearness of it was almost irresistibly compelling.
“Can I sit by my Mom?’ Kyle asked.
The man had just wound the second loop around Maggie’s other wrist, and he straightened up enough to look over Maggie’s shoulder at her son. Maggie moved her wrists just a tiny bit apart and balled her hands into fists.
“You a mama’s boy, kid?”
Maggie’s heart nearly broke as Kyle lifted his chin. “No,” he said quietly. “I just want to sit by my Mom.”
“We got a girl thinks she can mouth off to a full-grown man and a boy that wants to sit by his Mommy,” the man said. He continued tying Maggie’s wrists as he smirked at Kyle.
“Leave him alone,” Sky said. “He’s just a little kid.”
“Aw. That’s real nice,” the man said. “It’s good that you got a girl who can stand up for you, kid.”
Maggie wanted to head butt him. She wanted to scream at him for insulting her child. But more than that, she wanted him to ignore her, so she sat silently, hoping her kids would forgive her for not speaking up for them.
“You think you’re a badass because you hit women and terrorize little kids?” Sky asked.
“I think I’m a badass because I got a gun,” the man said.
He finished tying Maggie’s wrists and straightened, jerked his hand at the kids. “Go on, switch seats. I don’t care. Be closer to your mama, boy, in case you need to nurse.”
Sky and Kyle got to their feet and edged around each other to change chairs. Once they had sat back down, the man walked over to the kitchen and opened up the fridge. He pulled out another Dr. Pepper, opened it, then wandered over to the counter by the sink, where he had dumped Maggie’s gym bag.
Maggie watched him as he unzipped the bag and pulled out her .45 and inspected it like he was at a gun show. As he did, she un-balled her fists and twisted her wrists. It wasn’t much more wiggle room, but it was just enough for her to stretch her middle finger to the overhand knot he’d used to “lock” the loops around her wrists.
Again, she wondered why he’d used such an inefficient knot. It was likely that he’d just made the best of the rope he had, as best he knew. The men she grew up with were all fishermen of some kind, though, and she knew enough to know that there were several marine knots that would have been better.
Maybe he was a landlubber. Maybe he liked sex games and the handcuff knot was all he knew. Whatever the case, she was grateful. She wasn’t sure she could untie the overhand knot with one finger, but she had a better chance than if he’d known what he was doing.