It was surprisingly easy to sneak into the US undetected. I had heard all of the stories about hiding in one-hundred degree trucks across the border, but apparently it helped that my speech was so clearly American or that I was Caucasian. Of course, it also hadn’t hurt that Sam had spotted me several thousand dollars and the name of a shipping business happy to take on an extra hundred and twenty pounds of cargo. They even helped me slip undetected through the airport, although their own asses would have been on the line if I’d been caught.
Now I was on my own, in this city that had been home, and wondering why, why? What was so special about here? All these people rushing around, and I had nothing to do. Nowhere to go. I had a vague recollection of a white-walled apartment. A slightly stronger memory of a desk where I had spent most of my days and many of my nights, offering subservience to a corporate master alongside thousands of other drones.
But I couldn’t just walk back into the apartment or show up at work. I had been gone for so long, probably reported missing at some point, but by whom I didn’t know. I didn’t even have keys or any identification at all.
A woman jostled me, shooting back a dirty look before she resumed her path and her phone conversation. I looked down at myself, wondering what she thought of me. I wore another light dress from Sam’s endless arsenal, this one a light pink with white piping around the edges. It had felt feminine when I put it on. Now its bare arms and short hem felt perverse, like I was on display as some sex object.
I rubbed my hands along my arms, trying to ward off the chills. It didn’t matter what I looked like because no one was really looking. I could fade away, and no one would notice. No one would care. Faced with such cold indifference, the cruel attention of the men who had hurt me took on a softer light.
Lifting my hand, I hailed a cab. The dark-skinned man behind the wheel leered at the scoop of my neckline. “Where to, miss?”
“The nearest police station, please.”
His eyes widened for a second of concern, before his lids lowered to complacency once again. It only took a few minutes and a couple of turns before we pulled up at a run-down looking building. Precinct 45, it said.
The little monitor was blank. “How much do I owe you?” I asked.
“It’s on the house,” he said gruffly, not turning around.
Embarrassed by his help, by my obvious need of it, I murmured my thanks and left the cab. For endless minutes, I stood outside the police station, deliberating. Did I have to go inside? There was nowhere else to go. And what would I tell them? I had nothing to offer but the truth.
A man stopped in front of me, wearing a rumpled suit and holding a steaming cup of coffee. I didn’t have time to be afraid, because his posture was clearly so reluctant, as if he hoped I would walk away before he had to intervene. I looked up into his hard face and kind eyes and burst into tears, overwhelmed by the growing certainty that this was my life now and that it would always be this lonely.
He ushered me inside the station and into a small room with a table and a few chairs. His name was Detective Hines, he said, but he would find someone who could take my statement. Probably someone female, I understood.
“No, please.” I didn’t want to face the knowing in another woman’s eyes. The sympathy laced with relief that it wasn’t her who had been hurt that way.
Though it was clear he’d rather be anywhere but here, he agreed. Notepad in hand, he began asking questions. The first few were straightforward: my name, my age, what I remembered of my life. The before was implied.
There was a gap in my memory then, around the time it happened. Not just in the immediate moment when I was taken, but in those weeks, months, who knew how long? It was like squinting into a muddy whirlpool—it made me dizzy to even try.
Talking about my time in captivity was harder. My memory there was spotty as well, but I remembered more than enough details to get the point across. Detective Hines was thin-lipped through my more graphic descriptions but all business, without any of the pity that would have made me fall apart all over again.
I described the day when everything had changed. They were moving us. It was clearly sudden, not well planned. We were outside, naked but not chained. In the mayhem, another man came and told us to follow him. I didn’t recognize him, but we were like sheep—we all would have jumped off a cliff just to obey. People were shouting; I was so scared. I hid in a bush, cowering, waiting for someone to find me and punish me. When no one did, I gained enough awareness to realize this was my chance. I ran.
“I just… kept running, until I reached a town and they gave me these clothes and helped me find a plane that would bring me back.” I spread my hands, pretending they didn’t shake, wishing I could look at him while I lied. “So that’s what happened.”
He had stopped writing during the last, and when I dared to glance up, his expression made it clear that he knew it was bullshit. His voice was even. “That was a pretty lucky break, then.”
“Yes.” My eyes fell shut, then I looked at him directly. “What happened to me was horrible, but I can honestly say I was lucky after that.”
He tapped the pen to the notepad, clearly considering. He nodded, as if he’d made a decision. “All right. If that’s what happened, all right. I’ll need to look into this of course, but without any specifics about where you were, I doubt we’ll find much. Still, we’ll definitely investigate your case. That might be the best clue we have to finding them…and helping those other women.”
I swallowed against a gnawing guilt that I had made it home when they hadn’t. “Anything I can do to help.”
He grunted with something like approval before flagging down a couple of younger cops and barking out orders. The detective escorted me personally to a hotel, where I would have to stay until they had gone over my apartment once again. They had also taken some of my DNA to reinstate me as the real Melody Cole, since my fingerprints had ever been taken and apparently I had no immediate family to confirm.
That part was depressing. I had been nervous about the prospect of some unremembered boyfriend or even husband who would expect my love and loyalty, when I had none to give. But I had been hoping for someone, a mother, a brother, someone to help ease the way.
I stared at the thin walls of the hotel, sat on the thin bedspread and breathed the thin air. What was a home without people you loved but an empty box anyway? Detective Hines had paused before he’d left and said, “It will get better.” But how could it when every second was another one without Sam? I finally allowed myself to think about him, allowing myself to mourn the loss I recognized in his face at the end.
What would he think of the city? Too congested, maybe. I thought he would like Detective Hines.
What would he say if he were here? Spread your legs, subby.
With a private smile, I slipped beneath the covers and obeyed his imaginary commands.