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Jo had just finished securing her bag to the back of her bike and slung one leg over when she heard the crunching of approaching footsteps through the snow.
"Jo, tell me you are not thinking of riding your bike home tonight in this snow!" That was Tootie's voice and as Jo looked over her shoulder she could see Natalie's expression matched Tootie's words and tone.
"Yeah, what will Mrs. Garrett say? There's gotta be a foot of snow."
"Yes I'm riding my bike home. I can't leave it on campus overnight. And Mrs. G won't find out so - no problem." Jo kicked at the drift near her foot. "And there's six inches, max. I'll be careful, don't worry. I've ridden in worse." That was almost true, but there was no need to worry her younger friends. The freak early spring snowfall had started first thing in the morning and had fallen heavily all day it was a little lighter now but still falling. Jo hadn't expected snow but she wasn't going to leave her bike out in it all night. She felt the disapproving eyes of her roommates and shook her head slightly. Looking to change the subject she glanced upwards saw a familiar figure half a mile away.
"Is that Blair? How did she get so far ahead of you?" Blair was walking very daintily trying to keep her boots dry Jo figured and would take half the day to get home at that pace.
"We stopped at the gym to watch the basketball practice for a few minutes."
Aaah. That explained it. As she watched Jo saw a quad cap pickup slow down and stop slightly ahead of their blonde roommate. Someone offering her a ride, probably. Surprisingly three people actually left the vehicle and approached the blonde, though her head was down and she didn't seem to notice until one of them was right in front of her.
"Shit." Jo fumbled with her helmet strap but it was caked with snow, she pushed her helmet into Natalie's hands. "Get to a phone. Call campus security. Call the police." In the distance one of the men had grabbed Blair's arm and was pulling her toward the truck she was clearly trying to pull away. Natalie and Tootie followed her line of sight and suddenly comprehended what Jo had realized.
"Jo, what are you going to do?!" Tootie was clearly torn Natalie was already starting toward the nearest building.
"I don't know Tootie. Go get help. Please." Jo stomped on the starter and her bike rumbled to life. She didn't know, not really, but she knew Blair was in deep trouble. She got the bike onto the road and accelerated, getting going despite the slippery, snow covered surface. As she got closer she saw two of the men had Blair fairly wrapped up and were dragging her toward the pickup - the third man had flipped down the tailgate of the pickup and was swinging up the truck bed cap window. She couldn't begin to believe what she was seeing. The men were kidnapping Blair Warner, right here on Langley campus, in broad daylight. Okay, it was getting dark but Jo didn't have time to finish the thought or really come up with any kind of brilliant plan so she just acted. She put the bike into a skid, laying it down just as she got to the truck. The back wheel hit the goon behind the truck, sending him flying. She skidded with the bike then scrambled to her feet as it clunked into the truck's back wheel. The guy she had hit was down, hollering and grabbing at his legs she lowered her shoulder and tackled the nearest figure the guy holding Blair's legs. He saw her coming but his hands were full and the ground was slippery they went down in a heap.
She thought Blair may have just twisted free but then all her attention was on dodging the fist that was coming at her face. She got someone's kneecap with her heel and was rewarded by a loud profanity as he dropped. Someone had a hold of her jacket - she elbowed him just as all the wind was driven from her chest. Shit. She struggled to breathe even as she lashed out with her feet. Suddenly a gunshot at close range, the sound unmistakeable, and she froze. Breathing hard, she twisted and realized there was a fourth man, and he was holding a gun to Blair's head. Shit. There had been a driver who hadn't gotten out of the truck before. Blair looked absolutely petrified. Jo froze.
One minute she had been halfway to the truck bed, the next she had been thrown nearly to the ground as all hell broke loose. She realized a moment later that "all hell" was actually a very pissed off Jo Polniaczek and when she heard the shouted order to run, she did. Unfortunately she only made it about three strides before she was caught from another direction and realized too late there had been a fourth man. This one was armed, and this one was clearly in charge. He dragged Blair back to the tailgate and she nearly collapsed as a gunshot rang out mere inches from her head.
After the warning shot Blair felt the cold metal pressed to her temple, a strong forearm was tight against her throat she was terrified into immobility as the sound of the first gunshot still resonated in her right eardrum. This was not happening.
"You will stop or she will die." Blair felt helplessness wash over her and bit back a sob of sheer frustration. In front of her three men got to their feet, two obviously limping, and Jo straightened slowly.
"Please don't do this. Let her go."
Blair could see Jo was breathing hard, but was calm and moving carefully trying not to make a bad situation worse. Blair could see the goons had closed around her roommate, but Jo's attention remained on Blair and her captor. Blair was astounded by how calm she appeared. Pissed off, but calm.
"Now that isn't part of the plan. Neither are you." Blair felt more than saw him tip his head slightly she could see Jo had seen the motion and knew what it meant but couldn't do a thing with a gun to Blair's head.
"No wait!" Blair found her voice as she watched Jo get blindsided, and then clenched her eyes shut as the three goons let loose on her roommate with fists and feet. "Stop stop it!" After endless minutes it fell quiet she could hear the men's breathing, hot and heavy in the cold late afternoon air. She pried her eyes open, could see Jo was curled around herself, lying on the snow-covered pavement. Still breathing, thank god, though each breath was a laboured effort.
The man behind her prodded Blair toward the back of the truck mutely she offered no resistance, but climbed into the shelter of the pickup bed's cap.
"Tie her hands. Put her in the back. We've been here too long. Move." Two of the men swung Jo into the back, and then the tailgate came up with a resounding clang.
"We have a ways to go Ms. Warner. I would suggest you get comfortable, and stay cooperative, otherwise your friend gets it."
The rear cap glass came down and they were alone. Blair felt the truck shift as the men climbed into the cab then the big engine came to life. She slipped onto her backside as the truck started to move backwards at first, heard the shrieking grinding clatter of metal on metal, and breaking plastic. She knew it had to be Jo's bike the big truck must have crushed it like an empty trash can. And then they were changing gears, lurching forward and gone.
Blair took stock quickly as the shock faded and she realized she wasn't just dreaming - this nightmare was very real. The windows of the truck cap had been spray-painted black though the job was poorly done and uneven. What light there was came from the more translucent patches - just enough to see the shadowed lump of the spare tire, a couple of thick rough blankets and her breath in front of her face. It was cold.
"Jo." Getting her sea legs in the moving truck bed Blair moved to where Jo still lay against the tailgate. Her roommate was covered in snow Blair brushed it off as best as she could. Jo wasn't moving though thankfully she was still breathing. Blair didn't want to contemplate the alternative.
"Come on Jo." Their captors had indeed tied Jo's wrists together with some kind of plastic ties though it seemed redundant after beating her to unconsciousness. She couldn't see how to get the ties loose. She didn't know what to do. Finally she took a handful of Jo's jacket and pulled her roommate up toward the cab. Minutes later she had them half wrapped in the blankets though she didn't want to guess where the woollen fabric had been. Silently she waited for her roommate to wake.
Movement. Pain. Disjointed images. Snow. Blair. Men. Gun. Boots. Cold. Dark.
She was moving. There it was again. Motion, like being on a boat, but different. Jo shifted slightly, sucked in her breath as her side protested the small motion.
"Hey. Welcome back you had me worried."
"Blair?" Jo pried her eyes open, blinked in the dim light and realized slowly where she was. She and Blair Warner were in the bed of a pickup. The air was cold she could see her breath but she was otherwise fairly warm at the moment. Blankets they were wrapped up in blankets that explained it.
"How do you feel?" Jo ran her tongue over her teeth tasting blood but finding nothing missing. She felt like shit. She should say something positive.
"I feel like shit." So much for positive. Jo mentally kicked herself, but felt Blair laughing next to her.
"Thank you for being honest with me. Can you move?" Jo catalogued a world of aches and pains, but was able to nod.
"Yeah, I'll be fine. Where are we? We gotta get out of here."
"I don't know. I think we've left Peekskill. It's been maybe an hour "
"An hour?" That got Jo moving. She ignored the dizziness and pushed herself to her haunches. She focused on Blair's eyes, saw the concern there and knew none of this could have been easy on her roommate. An hour in the back of a pickup, kidnapped, going who knows where. Not to mention how worried Blair would have been with Jo unconscious the whole time. Blair was doing really well, considering everything. Jo forced herself to relax, extended her hands and caught Blair's gloved hands with a squeeze.
"Sorry Blair. Look. We'll be fine." Jo focused on the movement of the truck beneath them, could hear the tires crunching slowly through what sounded like unplowed snow. "It doesn't seem like we're going very fast, does it?" She saw Blair nod.
"I think we were on the highway then there were more turns and hills."
"So backroads." Jo nodded, moved gingerly to the back of the truck. Her hands were tied in front of her but she could still use her fingers. She played with the latching mechanism for a minute, feeling her roommate join her.
"What are you thinking Jo?" Jo focused on her fingers, on manipulating the lock.
"I think I'd like to get this open. And if there's a chance at all, I think we should jump out and take our chances outside. We're moving fairly slowly if it is still snowing it might be a soft landing."
"You want to jump from a moving vehicle." Blair regarded Jo with an incredulous look she recognized very well. Jo felt the latch give, and gently eased the back glass up. Immediately there was a new gust of cold snowy air, and Jo realized the weather was even worse than she had known. Unfortunately it was also dark middle of nowhere dark the only sound was the truck engine and the deep squeaking rumble of rubber tires digging through deep snow. She started to think better of her plan. Next to her, however, Blair seemed to sigh.
"What?" Jo turned to face her roommate who was now looking out into the deep snowy darkness.
"Even if we're in the middle of no where, we may be able to find a house, a car, something I think that you and I would both agree we do not want to go wherever these men are taking us. I would rather take our chances out there." Jo regarded Blair for a long moment before a genuine smile warmed her face.
"I knew there was a reason I liked you Blair."
"I didn't know you liked me."
"Yeah well, don't tell the others. It'll ruin my reputation."
It was insane. Blair watched for a moment as the ground slipped quickly by below her, the unplowed snow even and smooth except for the two furrows where the tires cut their parallel paths. Stay or go. Stay or go. Unbidden the memory of three men beating Jo Polniaczek to a bloody pulp came to her. These men were vicious and cruel, and they wanted her for some reason. To extort money from her family, probably. They hadn't hurt her, and maybe they wouldn't she was the bargaining chip after all. But Jo - Jo was just unexpectedly along for the ride and they'd already shown she was fair game. Taking a deep breath Blair let herself topple slowly from the bumper into the snow, remembering what Jo had said.
Tuck and roll, tuck and roll
The impact was harder than she had expected, Blair found herself gasping for breath as she skidded to a standstill in the deep powder. That hurt. She rolled to her side, finding the taillights moving steadily away silently praying to not see the brighter flash of brake lights. The snow was still heavy, soon she lost sight of the lights entirely, and then there was just darkness and the sound of large flakes settling into the new snow. She wanted to call out, to find Jo, but was absurdly afraid the men might hear her. Stiff and sore she propped herself up onto her haunches, wrapping her blanket more tightly around her shoulders as a gust of wind tried to whip through her. She shivered, hoped the wind would die then realized the wind would obscure their tracks and prayed for it to stay. She was starting to worry then heard the shuffling of boots in the snow.
"Yeah. How do you feel?" Blair straightened to her feet unsteadily, tried but failed to see her roommate's face in the darkness.
"I feel like shit." Despite the seriousness of the situation they were in, Blair heard Jo laugh and had to join her. "What took you so long?"
"I didn't want the rear glass to bang I re-latched it before I jumped. Come on, I might have seen a laneway back here."
Blair followed in her roommate's footsteps as they retraced the tire tracks Blair was amazed to see the tracks were already half filled in with snow. In the darkness she concentrated only on following the figure in front of her, on putting one foot in front of the other. It was cold. Her face stung. The blanket around her was getting heavy with snow. At some point Blair realized she couldn't see any tire tracks any more just the shuffled footprints she followed.
"You ok?" Blair nearly bumped into Jo, realizing just in time her roommate had stopped and asked a question. She shook the cobwebs from her head.
"Yeah. Getting cold. You?"
"Mmm. Same. I think we have a fire road here. Might lead to hunting camps. Do you want to keep going and see if we can find a main road, or do you want to see if we can find a cabin?" Blair considered then nodded toward the fire road Jo nodded her agreement, and they were moving again. Blair concentrated once more on following, on lifting each foot and placing it after the next. God she was cold. Part of her wondered how much warmer she might be if they were still in the pickup, but that traitorous thought was quickly extinguished. If they were still in the pickup Jo was as good as dead and it was likely so was she. Blair stumbled, realized hands had reached back to steady her.
"Come on Blair, only a little further." Blair realized they were no longer on the fire road. They were on little more than a track that meandered through the trees and through drifts that were more than knee deep. Slowly Blair realized that Jo had been breaking their trail the whole way if Blair was tired, there was no telling how exhausted her friend was. She focused and followed.
"Oh thank God." Blair heard the words and nearly fell over her guide she realized Jo was on her knees in the snow. Blair realized she could see the dark shadowed outline of a building a cabin or a cottage. It was clearly still closed up for the winter, but it was shelter and she knew exactly how relieved her roommate felt. She tugged on Jo's arm.
"Come on Jo, let's get inside."
It took several minutes but they managed to get a door open then they were both inside - shivering, wet and cold - but inside. Jo had sunk to the floor in an exhausted heap Blair nearly followed suit but caught a glimpse of a familiar silhouette against a window.
"A phone. I think I see a phone."
For the first time she could remember Edna Garrett felt old. She realized vaguely she must be in shock. She knew both Tootie and Natalie were they were nearly soundless as they sat listening to the police officer who had questioned them and now remained in case the kidnappers called here instead of the Warner home. The Warner family had been contacted and warned what to expect. No one had managed to reach Jo's family, which, Edna decided might be for the best until they had more information. It was unlikely the men would be calling the Polniaczek's with ransom demands. The phone was rigged to a speaker, a recorder and some other instrumentation. Edna had seen the campus security video the police had played it for them in the hopes someone would recognize the vehicle, the men, anything that might help them find the girls. She had only seen it once but it seemed to be playing on a loop in her mind's eye. She had hardly believed these dark figures could be trying to put one of her girls in their truck had believed it even less when Jo's familiar motorcycle skidded into the frame, taking out one of the men. All hell had broken loose, the skirmish frozen as a gun was fired into the air. The security camera didn't have sound but the reactions were absolutely clear. And then Jo had clearly been beaten into unconsciousness and both ladies loaded into the truck. It hadn't taken ten minutes from start to end. Edna forced the images away again and focused on the officer's words. Officer Callaway seemed nice; he was genuinely reassuring in his words and mannerisms. The police were doing all they could the girls would be found and they would be fine. If the men wanted a ransom they wouldn't act too rashly.
The phone rang and all of them seemed to jump. Edna forced herself to take a breath and picked up the phone as Officer Callaway signalled her to do so.
"Mrs. Garrett?" Edna was glad she was sitting down her knees would have buckled beneath her if she had been standing the voice was so welcome and familiar she could hardly believe her ears. Tootie and Natalie were suddenly on their feet, leaning closer to the speaker.
"Blair? Are you okay? Where are you?" At any moment Edna expected another voice on the line, a stranger, with demands and threats, but Blair's voice seemed exuberant.
"Mrs. Garrett! Oh I'm so glad I reached you. We're okay. We're okay. We got away." Officer Callaway signalled she should give him the phone she was reluctant but knew she should.
"Oh Blair I am so glad to hear from you. I have a police officer here who needs to speak with you. Do you promise you're okay. And Jo's okay?"
"I promise. I'm fine but they roughed up Jo. She got us out of the truck. We walked we found this cabin. We don't really know where we are."
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