A lofty full moon painted a jagged swathe of light across Lafayette Avenue. Maggie Anderson glanced at the digital numbers on the dashboard. Four o'clock in the morning.
An eerie calm hovered over New York, the street absent its typical bumper-to-bumper congestion. At least she would make it back to the apartment in good time. Maybe for once she wouldn't have to give him a play-by-play to justify every minute she'd been out of his sight.
A vagrant staggered into the crosswalk ahead of her, beckoning her with a leer. She averted her eyes and reached across the console of the Honda Civic to pat the brown paper bag buckled into the passenger seat beside her, testing again to make sure it was secure. Before driving away from the liquor store, she'd tightened the seat belt around Kevin's precious bottle as if it were a child. It might as well be. She would pay dearly if she slammed on the brakes and sent his next fix flying through the windshield. For a split second the thought caused a cynical smile to tug at her mouth...until an image of the probable aftermath came into focus.
She rubbed her left wrist, remembering his last tantrum, and forced her mind to blank out the scene. No use spoiling these brief minutes of freedom with a dose of reality.
Crossing Clinton Street, she changed lanes and reached to adjust the air-conditioner vent. The cool air caressed her face, a balm for early June temperatures that had barely dropped during the night. She leaned back against the headrest and let out a slow breath, willing her thoughts to carry her to the one place that never failed to bring her peace. She'd become adept at conjuring the scene. The city streets receded to the periphery of her vision, and there it was...
The riverbank, soft beneath her bare feet. Cool water lapping at her toes. And overhead, towering trees that whispered in the breeze, calling her to step deeper into the river's flow. She lowered her eyelids to half-mast, letting herself drift.
Behind her eyelids, a moon like the one that hung over New York tonight cast a yellow glow over the countryside. Except the moon of her imagination was far, far from the city. Where, she didn't know. It only mattered that it was far away from where she was now.
Opening her eyes, she reoriented herself to the road. But the scene remained, warming her from the inside out -- in a way that had nothing to do with the sticky summer heat.
She tried to go deeper into the daydream, but ahead, a traffic light turned from green to amber. Hers was the only vehicle in the intersection. She could run the light and probably get away with it. Instead she tapped the brakes and prepared to stop. The light meant she could spend another ninety seconds in her tranquil fantasy world.
She could truthfully tell her boyfriend it was just the traffic. No help for that. He couldn't blame her. She rehearsed her excuse and touched the paper bag once more to reassure herself that her cargo was safe.
Closing her eyes again, she counted out the seconds before the light would turn green and returned to the riverbank in her mind.
The cool water, lapping at her --
Boom-boom-boom! A series of sharp thuds vibrated the hood of the car. Hot air and acrid exhaust fumes rushed over her, carrying with them the city's distinctive music of distant sirens and taxi horns.
Maggie jerked to attention. A blurry image loomed in her driver's side window. A man dressed in gray sweats...a hooded jacket over his head. A fleece-clad knee held her driver's door open.
He pounded again -- louder -- on the roof of her car. "Get out! Get out of the car!" He spit the words like machine-gun fire.
Heart racing, Maggie tried to yank the door shut on his knee. But his leg pried it open wider. Fingers of steel reached through the opening and clamped around her arm, wrenching her sideways from the seat.
She flailed at the steering wheel, trying in vain to sound the horn. Would anyone pay attention, even if she could? The street was deserted.
"Get out of the car!" the man screamed again, his voice as shrill as a woman's.
She jerked her head from side to side, trying to make things come into focus in the moonlight. Then she saw his hand. His left hand was hidden inside the wide center pouch of his jacket. The shape of a blunt object was outlined against the fabric. A gun?
Panic clawed at her throat. "What do you want?"
"Shut up and get out of the car!"
Her eyes fell on the brown bag beside her. If she went home without the precious Jack Daniel's...She shuddered, knowing that whatever this guy might do to her couldn't be much worse than what she'd have coming at home.
She checked her rearview mirror. Traffic whizzed by on the freeway in the distance, but no other vehicles were stopped at the light. Could this guy be bluffing about having a weapon? She wasn't about to get out of the car in this part of the city in the middle of the night.
When the light turned green, another car eased to a stop at the intersection on her left. The man in the hood opened her door wider. He hissed a curse and wedged himself through the opening. In one smooth motion, he undid her seat belt and, with a meaty hip, shoved her across into the passenger seat. The momentum left her sprawled between the seat and the floor.
He slammed the door and gunned the engine. The car lurched through the intersection.
Maggie cowered from her precarious half-prone perch on the edge of the seat, clawing at the dashboard to regain her balance. "What do you wa -- "
"Shut up, I said!" He raised a sharp elbow and used it like a weapon.
She dodged his aim with a practiced bob and clung to the car door. The whiskey bottle dug into the small of her back. "Here." She reached behind her. "Take this. It's the good stuff. Just, please...let me go."
The man glared at her, meeting her eyes for the first time. He snorted, then trained a laser stare on the road as if he wouldn't dignify the likes of her with a response.
She dug in the pocket of her khaki slacks and took out the change from the fifty-dollar bill Kevin had given her for the liquor store. "Here." She thrust the money at him.
"Keep your money," he barked. "And keep your mouth shut."
Cowed, she returned the cash to her pocket and sat in silence beside him. She gripped the sides of her seat, bouncing at every bump in the road, her mind accelerating to match the engine as the car flew over the city streets. If booze and cash didn't interest him, she hoped the use of her car -- Kevin's car -- was the only thing he was after.
As they reached the end of Lafayette, the traffic picked up a little with early-morning commuters. With one glance in the rearview mirror, the man merged into the flow of vehicles.
Maggie was in unfamiliar territory now. No matter what happened from this point on, it was a safe bet she wasn't going to be delivering anything to Kevin. At least not anytime soon. And maybe never. She stared at the digital clock on the dashboard, watching the numbers flick forward. They'd driven at least half an hour in the opposite direction from the apartment. Kevin would be pacing the foyer and cursing her by now.
She eyed her captor before she angled her body back to attempt a glimpse at the gas gauge. Even so, her view was skewed. But she was pretty certain there wasn't enough gas in the Civic to get her back home.
What would this guy do if the car ran out of gas? A flash of memory took her back to another day on another highway. Kevin had been late for a job interview -- and he'd called her at the office and coerced her into picking him up and driving him to the interview. The car had run out of gas, fueling a rage in Kevin like she'd never seen before. In the end he didn't get the job and pinned the blame on her for not filling up the tank. It was the first time his verbal lashings had threatened to turn physical.
Now her mouth twisted at the irony of finding herself a literal captive to this stranger when, in truth, she'd lived as a virtual hostage to Kevin Bryson for almost two years.
From REMEMBER TO FORGET by Deborah Raney. Copyright © 2007 by Deborah Raney. Reprinted by permission of Howard Books, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.