Tatiana sat in the back seat of the pick-up, her wrists bound, and her head lolling to one side as she fought to stay awake, when a newscast on the radio brought her sharply back to reality.
“Local authorities are asking for the public’s help today as the search for a missing New York woman continues,” said the female DJ in a pleasant, but appropriately somber tone. “The victim, identified as Ana Santiago, 25, went missing from a park near her home in Albany late Friday afternoon. An unnamed couple told police they saw Ms. Santiago being led from the Stop ‘N’ Sip off I-95 in Waskoogie County early Sunday morning into a silver, late model, Ford, F-150 pick-up truck. The missing woman’s boyfriend, Steve Fisher, today made an emotional plea for her return.”
Tatiana’s heart leapt into her throat as Steve’s voice came to her over the radio.
“Ana, if you can hear this just know that I love you and we’re doing everything we can to find you and bring you home safe. I’d ask anyone who knows anything to please…”
Enrique silenced the radio with a slam of his fist and let loose a string of obscenities that were echoed by his accomplice, a man he referred to simply as Chucho.
“What are we going to do now?” Chucho demanded in Spanish. “They’ll be looking for this truck.”
“We need to lay low until things blow over,” Enrique replied.
“But we’re supposed to meet up with…”
“He’ll have to wait. You said it yourself, they’ll be looking for the truck.” Enrique made a right off the highway and followed a series of back roads until he came to a small, dirt road that led up into the mountains. He searched for more than an hour before finding an area he deemed sufficiently remote to set up camp. He pulled Tatiana out of the truck and tied her to one of the towering oaks that surrounded a small, overgrown patch of earth. Using a machete, he grabbed great handfuls of vines and brush, hacking away at them to clear a space large enough for the tent.
Tatiana recognized the vine at once and had to suppress a ridiculous urge to laugh. He’s such an arrogant ass, she thought, he’d probably ignore me even if I did try to warn him. It was, therefore, with smug satisfaction that she watched him itching and cursing the red, puffy pustules that covered his arms and face just a few hours later.
He rounded on her at once. “Do you think this is funny?” he demanded. He did not wait for a reply. “This is all your fault,” he screamed, kicking her torso and sending the first shockwave of pain through her body. “You know that, right?” He kicked her again, same spot, more pain. “If it weren’t for you…” kick “and your fucking…” kick “family…” kick. The fury of the first blow to her face caught her off guard. Her head rebounded off the tree trunk with such force that her surroundings became a hazy blur. Next, he grabbed her ponytail with his left hand and twisted it around his fingers like a leash, holding her steady. With his right, he punched her full in the face and she heard a sickening crack. The pain was blinding. Blood gushed from her nose and filled her mouth. Through eyes filled with tears, she saw the flash of steel and heard the song the machete made as it sliced through the still mountain air. She took a deep breath and held it, sure it would be her last, then felt the rope binding her to the tree fall away. Still using her ponytail as a leash, he pulled her into the tent. An all too familiar, overwhelming panic gripped her. She knew what was coming and, with regret, realized that it would not yet be death.
“So you want to stare at me, do you?” he said through clenched teeth.
She spat the blood from her mouth and murmured, “What I want to see are the pieces of you my father will leave behind.”
She felt a final blow slam down on her face before the tent became a blur. A few moments later, she was grateful for the blackness that engulfed her.