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mouth so tightly gagged that the corners had split, her wrist and ankles bound to the bedpost with strong, thin wire. The room around her was dank, unfamiliar, and held a curious repulsiveness that exceeded its strangeness. It had all seemed so unreal at that moment, so impossible. If only it were a dream.

In the distance, in another room somewhere, she heard the high, fast rhythm of Blue Suede Shoes blaring through a radio.

The dull throb at the back of her head had been a sharp pain then, still bleeding from the blind-side blow Russell had delivered as she passed the recessed door along the alleyway: a shadowed hole in the brick wall that she’d passed dozens of times before but never noticed, never cared about.

It had been the middle of the day, and the shortcut through the alley was the same one she always took on her way to old lady Cora’s Five and Dime. Today it had been to get another pacifier for Danny. In less than two years he’d lost at least a half-dozen of the little face plugs, each time considering buying a couple of spares, and each time putting off the extra cost, telling herself that this would be the last. But not for Danny, he’d have nothing to do with parting with the damn things....

Suddenly her mind blinked, not a slow, lazy fade but a harsh, abrupt blanking to total nothingness, then like the bright quick flash of a camera, all at once it filled with a soul-shuddering fear, a panic more intense than any she had yet to entertain. At that instant Angela’s thoughts abandoned her problem and settled on something so much more important, more precious even than her own life. She closed her eyes softly and found his face, the beautiful, fat, shining face of her not yet two year old baby son.

“Jesus, Joseph, and Mary,” she whimpered, as her throat clenched with a new kind of anguish. The image of Danny as she’d last seen him, standing in front of the TV, his head tilted back and the bottle raised high, diaper drooping between his short, chubby, adorable legs, flooded her mind. And inside her chest, deep down, in caverns of the heart larger than any ever explored, a hollow emptiness seemed to be consuming whatever life still remained.

Angela’s eyes filled. Tears traced paths across her cheeks like trails along a ski slop.

He needed his diaper changed by now. Who would do it? Katie? No. And would she stay with him? Was she with him now, or had she already abandoned her charge and went back to her dolls. She was only nine. What would she do when it started getting late? Or if Danny started up again after the bottle ran out and resumed the bawling that had sent her into a frantic search for the damn nipple to begin with? Surely Katie would know enough to go back to her apartment down the hall and get her mother. Wouldn’t she? Maybe, but then again, maybe not.

With new found strength and a confidence born of a mother’s insurmountable need to protect her child, Angela tried the bindings, she pulled and twisted, yanked and kicked her feet. She stretched and tugged, grunted, gritted, and moaned. And when she was done, when the message of her captivity made its way through the thick determination of her mind, she realized the first of many warnings. The thin, mean wire had bitten viciously into smooth, tender skin, skin meant for bracelets not bindings,

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