Now, when my life depends on it, it's very easy to get the key out, easier than inserting it with a shaking hand into the keyhole. I undo the cuffs and get up unsteadily - either it's the aftermath of the electrocution or I'm feeling the oxygen deprivation already. Ah, the fingerprints! I grab the revolver and thoroughly wipe its handle and trigger with a dry and crusty dishrag found in the sink. Where else did I leave my traces? Basil's phone - it's got my pics now, I have to take it with me. Oh, I need clothes! Basil took off his shirt, he doesn't need it now. I open the door and run to the back room. The shirt is hanging on the wheelbarrow handle, still wet but long. Fortunately, Basil was a big man. I button it all the way down and hope to pass for a decently dressed person from some distance away. There's my bag of toys, as well as my phone and apartment keys, I grab them too. One more lap around the house wiping every surface that I remember touching: door handles, the table, the window frame. Don't forget to pick up my timer lock in the garden and wipe fingerprints from both buckets.
I run out of the gate - and, sure enough, that bitch has stolen my bicycle. Cursing under my breath, I sling the bag over my shoulder, check the navigation app and start walking towards the city as fast as gravel under my bare feet allows.
I don't have money on me for a public transport fee, so I have to limp home for about ten kilometers. When I get out of the summer cottage district on a tarmac road it gets easier on my feet and I gain some speed, trying to not pay attention to weird looks from passers-by. Tired as hell, but I decide to avoid the elevator anyway for fear of running into someone I know. I take the stairs to my apartment. Only when I double-lock the door behind me, do I allow myself to relax and slump down to the floor.
What the hell was that and what happens now? I've got involved in the kidnapping and at least one murder. I've fled the crime scene and tried to cover my tracks. Yes, I was just a witness and barely avoided becoming a victim, but it remains to be proved. Without other suspects at hand our valiant police detectives will gladly pin everything on me just for the sake of an immaculate monthly report. Shit, I hope I didn't forget anything there! That's how they get busted in crime shows. My absent-minded sight wanders around and focuses on my feet. What's that on my heel? Dried blood?
I get up and run to the bathroom to wash myself. My feet are dirty and sore, but I can't find any deep cuts. There can be just one explanation - it's not my blood. I stepped into the pool of Basil's blood and shuffled about the house for a few minutes unaware of my tracks on darkened floorboards. Oh… My heart drops somewhere under the stomach. I don't know what information cops can extract out of it, but it won't end well for me. Unless… Unless I get them another suspect.
Basil's phone! It may still contain something useful. I'm turning it in my hands, thinking what can I do with it. I can try to guess the pass or remove it with a specialized software, but first I should try a simpler way. I hook the sim-tray cover with my nail and get it out along with the memory card. Please, let me be in luck, so the phone camera is set to write to external memory! I'll get those pics anyway, but it would require much more time and effort. The unerase tool finds the whole bunch of trash on the memory card. I filter for the files created in the last two to three weeks. There are a few of them and I restore them all. There it is. It's not a photo, it's a video.
It's dark, the camera matrix is flooded with multicoloured noise. I see a brick wall and what looks like a basement door, slanted, almost horizontal. The door is metal, one-winged, covered in flaking blue paint. The camera shakes, I see a hand in the corner of the frame, lifting the door. I expect a screech of hinges, but it happens almost silently. I see stairs leading down. It's even darker here, the light bleeds from ahead.
The camera goes down, and I see two female figures under a dim yellow lamp. One is facing the camera, she's bent over another, who's tied face up on top of some wooden crates. Her face is covered with a rag or a towel. The first woman presses the towel down with one hand and with another she pours water over it from an old enamelled kettle. The second woman tries to jerk away, sucks air with a wheeze and chokes. The camera jumps and leaps forward. "Lara, are you mad?" - Basil's voice shouts over the hapless woman's cries and the pleased giggle of her tormentress. The first woman lifts her head and I recognize her instantly. She drops the kettle, whips out a knife and presses it to her victim's throat. "Basil! Stop! Don't come closer, I swear…" The image is tumbling and in a second I see only stains of mould on the ceiling. I hear sounds of wrestling, crash of the wood and a horrible gurgling croak. I stifle the urge to turn off the video, I need to see it through. I hear footfalls receding and then silence. No, I think I hear some distant rumble. And the camera is trembling slightly, it seems. But before I come to a definitive decision I hear footsteps approach, a hand passes the frame and the video ends.
I search for a geotag half-heartedly, but, of course, there's no geo location in the video. So, what do I know? Blue basement door and mysterious vibrations. A subway line? It's good to live in the 21st century - I can load a satellite map of the city. I make a cup of tea and for the next hour and a half I'm inspecting all buildings along subway lines in the highest resolution looking for a blue basement door. At first, I exclude municipal apartment buildings which don't have such doors usually, but when the pool of private houses is exhausted, I survey those too. No match. Alright, it's not a subway. Maybe it's a railway. I start to look over railway lines. Two hours later, when I'm almost sure I'll have to go all over the city in person, I notice a small clump of blue pixels near one of private houses at some minor train station just out of the city limit. Does it look like a door? Or a rectangle at least? Looks like it. I keep staring at the map till my eyes hurt, but I don't find any similar spots.
The day is over, it's dark outside. I'm so tired and nervous that I have to force myself to go make some dinner. The food is bland. But I stuff my face with stale bread anyway - I'll need my strength tomorrow. I would go look for that house right now but for my sore and aching feet. I finish my meal, drag myself to the bed and try to sleep.
The last couple of kilometers to that train station I have to go on foot, no public transport goes there. There's only a dirt road along the train tracks. A couple of times freight trains rumble by. The station building looks dilapidated with boarded up windows and partially broken roof. But I'm more interested in another house, further away from tracks, surrounded by woods. I come near and look over the fence. I see no basement door from here, it's on the other side. But my heart skips a beat - I see my bike near the porch. The gate is bolted, but it can be opened from outside, and I go into the yard. Yes, it's definitely my bicycle. That's what I should do: grab the bike, roll it out the gate, get onto it, ride home and forget the whole story. I put my palm on the handlebar and stand for a few seconds pondering, but then I leave it and go looking for the basement. I turn the corner and bump into the gun barrel.
“I'm a bit surprised,” says Lara quietly. “Move your ass.”
I'm hesitant, evaluating my possibilities. Lara sees it and barks, “Get into the house! My finger is twitching.”
I saw what she was capable of. I'm sure she can shoot me without batting an eye. I walk slowly to the porch, go up the stairs and open the door. Lara shoves me impatiently. We go into a room and Lara shoves me even stronger, I fall to an old creaking couch. She keeps pointing the gun at me, opens a bedside table drawer, rummages inside and tosses me a zip-tie.
“Hands, now! I saw your video, I know you can and love doing it,” she grins.
I fold the zip-tie into a loop, put my hands inside and tighten it with my teeth. Lara doesn't trust me, she grabs the tail and tightens it even more. I yelp as plastic bites into my wrists. A furry black and white cat comes from the next room and looks at us curiously.
“So, how did you get free?”
I obviously don't feel the need to share such information. Lara isn't big on patience. She sees my hesitation, steps forward and swings the gun into my face. I partially dodge it, but the metal kisses my cheekbone anyway.
“Fuck!” I grab my face. “Was that necessary? Broke free, ripped the pipe out. Why?”
“You don't take me seriously, didn't you?”
Lara points the gun down and shoots my leg. The sound of the gun is much quieter than yesterday, but the cat vanishes immediately. I don't feel the pain right away, I think she missed even. But then I look down and see a small neat hole in my right shin, already starting to bleed. The pain comes with the realization that I was shot in my fucking leg! I shriek in fear and Lara snickers irritably.
“Oh, come on, it's just an airgun! You'll live. Start talking or I shoot you in the crotch,” she pointedly set the gun against my shorts.
And I start talking. How I've got free, how I've got home, how I've got the video from the memory card, how I've found the house. I tell her where I live and what bus to take to get there.
Lara paces around the room, scratching her forehead with the gun barrel. I sit, teeth clenched, trying to close the wound with my hands. At last, she comes to the decision.
“Alright, I have to go to your place and erase that damn video. Gimme the keys.”
I awkwardly reach into my shorts pocket with bloodied hands and get the keys to my apartment. Lara snatches them.
“I should just slit your throat right now. But what if you lied to me again or concealed something? Get up.”
I get up and, being shoved in my back with the gun, limp to the hallway and further to another part of the house. At the end of the passage there is an inconspicuous wooden door to a garage.
The garage is dirty and dusty. And it smells horribly, like an outhouse on a farm. Obviously, it wasn't used and cleaned in a while. The outer gate is bolted from the inside. In the middle there's a heap of metal scrap, in the corner there's a workbench with some tools, tins of paint, solvent, and some more chemicals. Lara tosses me another zip-tie.
There's nowhere to sit, I sit right on the floor and tighten scratchy plastic across my ankles. Lara takes a roll of duct tape from the workbench and meticulously wraps it around both my palms turning them into one useless stump. She uses the same tape to wrap my legs over the ziptie and under the knees. Then she grabs some rag from the heap of trash on the floor.
I look with disgust at the dirty rag which apparently was used to wipe oil from hands or something. Lara slaps my face and I open my mouth reluctantly. She shoves the rag inside and wraps the rest of the duct tape over my mouth. She appraises me and returns to the house. I think she's done with me and I start to look around searching for something sharp. I can't see it from here, but I'm sure I'll find something on the workbench. I crawl to it, try to grab the ledge with taped hands, knock off a wrench and a WD-40 can…
“I thought so!” Lara grabs my hair and drags me away from the workbench. I can only mutter to no effect. “Freeze, bitch!”
With a crackle she unreels a roll of cling film and starts to wrap it around my shoulders. Tightly, loop after loop she goes down, wraps it around my hands and torso and continues to stretch the film over my legs. I turn to be wrapped in several layers of it from head to toes. But even that seems not enough for her. She pulls a rusty chain from the scrap heap, loops one end around my neck and locks it with a padlock. I can't see another end, Lara makes it rattle for a few seconds somewhere to the side.
“That's much better,” she says, satisfied. “Now you won't be getting away.”
It's hard to argue with that - I can't even move a finger. But there's a pro thing too - I'm sure my wound stopped bleeding now.
Lara slaps my face again and leaves without a word.
I wait for about ten minutes listening for a floorboard creak or a door slam. It's quiet. I try to sit, the film crunches and resists, the chain clanks. I fail and drop to the floor again. With a corner of my eye I see motion and freeze. Oh, it's just the cat, she came through a half-open door. She comes near, looks me in the face and licks my nose with her raspy tongue. I turn my face away, she jumps off but returns again and starts to rub against my legs.
I'm busy pondering on my joyless prospects for the nearest future and I don't notice at first that the tone of rustling at my feet changes. I lift my head and see the edge of the film has un-clinged itself and the cat is playing with it. I lift my feet, the cat grabs the film, and it unwraps further. I start moving my feet and rub them over the cat. She plays along enthusiastically. I twist and turn, flop over to my tummy and then on my back again. The cat unwrapped about a meter of the film already and she mauls it with all her paws. I'm trying to help her however I can. She rolls around on the floor with the film in her teeth, and I slowly worm my way to the door.
It's hard to breathe, the rag in my mouth is trying to get deeper into my throat, the wound in my leg starts bleeding again. At last, I manage to unwrap enough film to push part of it out of the garage and then slam the door closed with my feet. It pins the film down and now unwrapping it becomes a technicality. I roll around the floor, bumping into the hard metal scraps and smearing my blood all over the place, and unwrap the film until my hands are mostly free and then just slide the rest up over my head.
For some time I just lie there, resting. My back refuses to bend already and my abs ache past bearing. But I can't allow myself to rest for long. The chain on my neck doesn't allow me to reach the workbench with my hands, but I manage to touch the WD-40 can with my feet and roll it towards me. For a few minutes I try to put it upright, fruitlessly, and finally I just put it between my stomach and hands and somehow depress the sprinkler. I feel a cold wave over my hands and I repeat it a few more times. I wait for a couple of minutes and see with some satisfaction that the duct tape over my hands starts to lose a grip a little. I kneel and rub my hands against the floor, the chain, against my legs, unwrapping the unglued end of the tape more and more. At last it's long enough to step on it and unroll the whole wrap much faster. The cat is bored with the film already and just sits there observing my fiddling.
I'm literally drowning in bitter oily saliva, but first I need to free my hands. I grab the chain and pull it. Fortunately, the other end isn't fixed to the wall, it goes into the scrap heap in the middle of the garage. Some large metal form stirs inside the heap, some engine part, probably. I pull vigorously and it comes out slowly, pushing lesser metal bits around, scraping over the concrete floor, and at last ends up near the workbench. I let go of the chain and crawl to the workbench, now I can pull myself up and stand upright. I can't find anything sharp, but there's a triangular file, which I use to saw through the ziptie on my hands and then my feet too. My hands are numb, I can barely move my fingers. With an unspeakable delight I unwrap the last coils of duct tape and spit out the rag.
Plastic film is strewn all over the garage, the floor is spattered with my blood. I'm dirty and bloodied too. It's been about an hour and a half since Lara left. I have very little time left, she must be back soon. I'm sizing up a chain link to clamp it in the vice and saw it through when I hear some rustling in the house. The cat hears it too and starts scratching the door. Fuck, is Lara back already? I'm not ready yet! I grab a metal pipe and stand beside the door, so she can't see me from the passage. The sound is louder now - careful pacing, metal clang. The door opens just a bit, I heft the pipe.
The door swings open catching the chain leading to my neck. My swing is wasted, the chain yanks me so hard, I nearly fall down. Using my confusion, Lara barges in waving a knife around.
“You're a slippery little brat!”
She thrusts the knife at me, I try to deflect the blow with my pipe, but it's just a feint. She grabs my forearm with the other hand and tries to do a foot sweep to me. Fortunately, I'm literally slippery right now because of the WD-40 shower, and I manage to wiggle out. I'm swinging my pipe, but the chain hinders my movement and Lara dodges successfully all the time. I'm cornered near the workbench. Lara is facing me and she doesn't notice that the scrap heap, which I churned up quite good before, starts stirring behind her back. The stench of excrement intensifies. I jump away from Lara's knife and make another attempt to get her with the pipe. She steps back, a metal lid over the garage pit lifts a little and hands, grey and dried out like a corpse, appear from within. Wrists are chained together, but it can't stop them from grabbing Lara's ankle.
“What the…” she shouts and for a second looks away from me, trying to break free. I see my chance and I'm going to use it. She catches a glimpse of the motion of my improvised weapon and tries to dodge, but hands from the pit yank her leg and the move stays incomplete. The metal pipe connects with her head, making a clang, and Lara drops into the scrap heap, rattling.
A smoking metal cylinder flies through the door and the garage fills with bustle of the men in armour and gas masks, shouting and acrid gas which makes my eyes water and my nose run. Lara is lucky, she's restrained and marched out right away, but I have to breathe that shit while they're figuring out how to remove the chain. I get handcuffed too, but it doesn't bother me in the least, considering. Choking on tear gas, I'm trying to tell them there's another live one in the pit.
Later I learn that the police found my tracks in the summer cottage house and traced me by witness statements about a 'dishevelled barefoot girl'. They staked out my apartment but let Lara return to her lair before apprehension. In the garage pit they've found a girl who went missing a month ago. By some miracle she was able to last for almost two weeks with one bottle of water.