Chapter 40: Found
"Rise and shine!"
The concrete room was suddenly flooded with light and Shana blinked as she slowly straightened. The chains weren't relaxed enough for her to lie down and sleep, she had to sleep sitting up against the wall, but they did give her enough slack to allow her to bring her arms up and almost all the way down, and it wasn't as stressful on the muscles of her arms as lying on the floor of the shipping container had been.
Over the last couple of days she'd been joined in this bare concrete room by four other slaves. Although none of them spoke English, she'd heard just enough from the slavers speaking to them to gather that one spoke Spanish and two spoke some French. They were all women; the one who spoke Spanish reminded Shana of the movie actress Jessica Alba, with golden-brown skin typical of Latinos and long, heavy black hair that hung down her back. The other two, the ones who spoke French, were African; she recognized some of their words as ones she'd heard back in the Congo.
At least once a day they were unchained and led out for a brief time; Shana decided it was probably about an hour. Then they were brought back, unmarked or harmed in any way. She assumed that was so that the women could maintain their physical condition; all four of them were, from what she overheard the guards saying, considered 'exceptional' and so wouldn't be offered up in the regular market, but kept for a private, invitation-only auction reserved for only the wealthiest buyers.
Of the five, only Shana was the one kept chained, not allowed to be free for a moment, and she couldn't even communicate with the other slaves because of the gag. They were using it as a method of control; having once experienced partial jaw dislocation, she had no intention of ever experiencing it again. The inflatable gag had a tube running through the middle of it, and they pumped some sort of thin gruel through that tube twice a day.
She was still getting the needles of drugs, and she was still spending large chunks of each day in a drugged haze, but they hadn't beaten or raped any of the five women in that room. From listening to the guards talk she learned that they were giving the women 'a break' so that when the buyers finally came they'd be in the best possible physical condition and be physically attractive and appealing. So the 'break' wasn't being given out of compassion but out of consideration for profit.
Shana didn't care. It was still a break from the endless cycle of pain and drugs she'd suffered on the African leg of this trip. The doses of drugs she had been getting were, she quickly deduced, 'maintenance doses'—doses carefully measured to ensure that she remained physically dependent on them, but didn't let her start withdrawing from them.
Light now flooded the room, and a man she'd never seen before stepped in. "We have to get you ready for the auction," he announced in badly accented English. "Each one of you will be given soap and shampoo and will need to clean yourself in order to look presentable. Scrub every inch and wash your hair thoroughly." He went over to where there was a showerhead sticking out of the wall by the door, and turned a knob just under it.
Water poured from the showerhead, and Shana saw the little curls of steam rising from the stream of water shortly thereafter. A hot shower! Shana suddenly wanted that hot shower more than she wanted anything else at just that moment, wanted it desperately.
One by one, the other four women went and took their showers, walking meekly over to the showerhead as a guard unchained them. Most of them simply had a shackle around one ankle, padlocked to a ring in the wall; none of them was chained as Shana was, both wrists held wide apart, and none of the others were gagged and fed through a tube. She saw the way they reacted, the obvious pleasure they got as they showered under the hot water, but she simply couldn't see herself submitting meekly to the guards, couldn't imagine not fighting the moment her arms were free.
"Now. You." The man stood in front of her, and she glared at him in undisguised hatred. "You need to go over there and shower. You we need clean more than the other sluts because you are going to cost the most. Will you cooperate?"
Her glare must have been answer enough.
He stood looking at her thoughtfully for a moment, then snapped his fingers at one of the other men. "Go find me one of the cheap girls. Damaged meat. An obedient one." The man turned and left, and Shana's blood ran cold. What would this man do to another girl? Was he going to threaten her to ensure Shana's cooperation?
"Boss needs a girl. Damaged meat, obedient." The guard said to the man outside Cam's pen.
Cam perked up at that, although she was careful to try and hide her interest. Over the last two days as she sat in the pen for damaged slaves, she'd had numerous people ask the dealer for damaged meat, but no one had, thus far, picked her; although there had been plenty who asked for a test-drive. For many, while they might have said 'damaged', they were unprepared for just how scarred she was, and for many it was a turn-off. Several of them tried her out but no one bought her. Sensitive by now to the people who were just looking for a girl to use in a snuff film, Cam's efforts would be awkward or unsatisfactory, and although the last man to do this to her punched her several times, swelling one eye and splitting her lip, the dealer had put a stop to it and quickly forced the man to leave; no one wanted damaged meat to be damaged further.
"I got just the girl for you." The dealer pointed a finger at her. "You there! Hole!"
She did as she'd been trained, so long ago, to do; she crawled to him, knelt in front of him. "Yes, Master?"
He ignored her, turning instead to the guard. "Is this one damaged but obedient enough for you? What do you need her for anyway?"
"She'll work. We got ourselves a fighter back there, real-high-priced merchandise. I think boss thinks if he gets another girl and threatens the meat in front of her she might at least agree to do what she's told."
"She's all yours." The dealer waved the guard off, and the guard picked up the leash hanging from Cam's collar. Cam held still as he popped a hood over her head, made no attempt to remove it as she stumbled after his long strides, feeling her way tentatively because she couldn't see.
She was led along a twisting maze of lefts and rights, unable to track just how far into the building she was, until finally the guard tugged on her leash to stop her. She heard the sound of a rusted bolt being shot back on a heavy door, and moments later she was tugged forward to a stop.
Shana's eyes saw the guard open the door; the heavy boots were unmistakable, and then he turned and tugged on the leash of what was presumably another slave inside. Shana's eyes widened as she saw the slave stumble into the light of the room—there was stark white burn scar tissue on this slave's body from knees to chest, the right breast was burned and covered with scar tissue, and oh, dear God, surely there could not be two people in the whole world with the same scars! She screamed Cam's name behind her gag, tongue working at the inflated portion frantically.
Cam jerked as she heard the frantic, muffled cry. It could have been her name, but…ignoring the man holding her leash, she tore at the hood covering her head, ripped it off, and as she blinked in the light, squinted, and saw who was yanking futilely at the chains holding her to the wall, she screamed.
A fast jerk ripped the end of her leash out of the guard's hands and she ran to her friend, wrapping both arms around the redhead as tears flowed, hot and fast. Shana was crying too, dropping her head to Cam's shoulder, her chained wrists trying to wrap around Cam and failing miserably.
The guard grabbed the end of the leash and yanked backward, choking Cam as he pulled her backward, off balance, to the floor; Shana cried out behind her gag as Cam was dragged backward, away from her.
"You know each other." Shana nodded frantically; she didn't know if she'd be able to maintain her sanity if they took Cam away. How had she gotten here? Had she been kidnapped, like Shana was, from the jungle? Was she a captive, too? She had one black eye, a swollen, split lip; she also had bruises that were all too familiar, now, to Shana; Cam had been beaten just as Shana had. She went through hell like this before, for three years. This has to be killing her! Don't take her away, please, I promise, I'll do whatever you want, just please, don't hurt her…
And to her absolute shock, Cam was crying, pleading, as she crawled to her knees. "Please… please…don't hurt her, please, I'll do anything, just please don't hurt her…"
The guard looked at Cam, looked at Shana, then lashed out with a foot, kicking Cam brutally hard on one cheek. She fell over backward with a cry of shock, and he stepped firmly down on her hair, pinning her head to the floor as he whipped out a knife and laid it against Cam's throat. "You're going to go over there. Shower. Wash. Clean yourself up and make yourself presentable. If you don't, I'll cut her throat." Shana nodded her head frantically, her eyes fixed on the knife blade held too close to the artery in Cam's neck. "You're also not going to remove that gag." This was harder; her jaw ached from the constant pressure, and it didn't help that it still hurt from the partial dislocation from...how much earlier?...but Cam's life was more important, so she nodded, albeit a little more reluctantly.
The guard who had brought Cam in approached Shana warily, unlocking one wrist, freeing it from the shackles that had confined it for so long. Underneath it the skin on her wrists was raw, oozing slightly, but the pain faded into insignificance as she again focused on Cam, lying helpless on the floor, her eyes glued to the knife blade at her throat.
She took the bar of soap the guard handed her and the bottle of shampoo, then stepped under the stream of hot water. It stung the raw wounds on her wrists, but oh, the heat was so, so good… and the soap, as harsh as it was, was certainly cleaning filth and grime and soil, sweat and bodily fluids, from her skin. She took the time to clean her skin thoroughly.
And her hair…oh, her hair. The woman who had washed her had done the best she could, but now Shana raked her fingers through the tangles, letting the dirt and oil and filth that had collected next to her scalp during her captivity on the cargo ship wash down the drain, until she finally stepped out from under the stream of hot water, clean for the first time in God only knew how long. She could feel her legs trembling, but clenched her fists, desperately willing herself to stay lucid for just a little longer, to not give into the drug craving that threatened the edges of her consciousness.
They threw her a towel, and she dried herself off, the gag still in her mouth, her eyes fixed on Cam, lying helpless on the floor with the knife held to her throat. "Good. That's enough. Give the towel back." She handed it back to the guard. "Get back to your place on the wall." This was harder to do, but the arm holding the knife stiffened, clearly threatening, and she quickly stepped back in place against the wall, extending her arms so the guard could close the shackles around her raw wrists again.
Only when she was firmly shackled again did the man with the knife move, and this time he stepped to Shana, laid the knife blade across her throat. "You. On the floor. Get up and get washed. Since threatening you works to keep her in line, we'll use that. She steps out of line, you'll pay the price. Not like you're worth much anyway, ugly skinny little scarred thing like you. No wonder Master Singletary dumped you off here."
Master Singletary? Shana's eyes asked the question, but Cam didn't see her eyes; she grabbed the soap and shampoo and went to stand under the hot water, taking her turn in the hot shower. She closed her eyes as she was washing, and Shana realized that she had longed for that hot water just as Shana herself had; she hadn't bathed in a while either, then. Jesus, had they kidnapped her from the jungle? And what was this about a 'Master Singletary?'
Cam was finally clean, and as she towed herself dry the man appeared to make a decision. "I don't know how you know each other. It troubles me. But at the same time, I don't really care; the scarred one—hole, is what you're called?" Cam nodded. "Hole is obedient enough, and Testarossa seems to be willing to do what we want so long as we don't hurt her friend. We'll use that against each other." He nodded, then reached into a pocket and came up with a syringe. "Time for your nightly dose, then; I can see you shaking from the drug withdrawal. So we'll go ahead and give you enough to let you get some sleep tonight, just so you'll be at your best tomorrow when the buyers come to look at you."
Shana was shaking badly now, and she knew Cam could see it; she saw the anguish on her friend's face as she stared at the needle heading for her arm. The craving was a sharp, physical pain, and she wanted to scream, beg, whatever she had to do to get that needle in her arm faster; the tip slipped under the thin skin of the inside of her elbow, the tiny flash of pain nothing against the rush of overwhelming relief as the drugs she'd developed a physical dependence on flowed into her veins. She leaned her head against the wall behind her, eyelids fluttering closed as the drugs rushed into her head. And in that moment of lassitude, that moment of lucid drifting with no conscious thoughts, a question swam up from her subconscious. She'd taught Cam self-defense. Cam knew those moves as well as Shana herself did. Why hadn't she used them when the guy had held a knife to her throat? Then the drugs took over completely and Shana lost that train of thought as she slipped into darkness.
Cam's heart ached as she saw the naked craving in Shana's eyes. She'd known, as soon as she saw the redhead, that there was something wrong; her body language was a confused mix of half-awake, half-asleep; partly wide-awake and part drugged somnolence. When Shana had clenched her fists to stop her hands from shaking, Cam had been sure of it, and it was that which had kept her from yanking the knife out of the guy's hand, slashing his throat, and grabbing Shana to make a run for it. Shana wasn't going to be able to coordinate her movement well enough with the withdrawal kicking in, and trying to force an escape now would lead to Shana getting dragged back and Cam being killed.
They have to have kept Shana drugged heavily the last few weeks. We saw all those needles and vials in that operating room back in the Congo; they must have drugged her then to keep her compliant and easy to handle, but they gave her too much too long and she's physically dependent on them now. I'll wait; I'll have to observe and see how much they're giving her and how long she has between bouts of withdrawal before I can plan anything. If we escape while she's too heavily dependent on them she could die—or at the very least it's going to require an extended withdrawal period and I can't handle that myself; if we can't find help the minute we break out of here she could die. It's better to stay where we are for the moment until I can get a handle on what she's going through and how bad it is.
As Shana slipped into drugged sleep Cam allowed the guard to grab her leash and drag her out of the room. This time she told herself she would track the turns between where they were holding her and where Shana was, but it turned out not to be necessary; they made a right when they left the room they held Shana in, took her about ten feet down that hall and stopped in front of the next door; when they open it she saw another concrete room, exactly like the one she'd just seen Shana in.
They forced her to sit and chained her to the wall, exactly the way they'd chained Shana; arms apart to rings in the wall. Despite her fear that they would hurt her, they apparently didn't want to get her dirty again; after a last tug to make sure she was firmly chained and couldn't go anywhere, they left, turning the light off and closing the door.
Cam was left alone in utter darkness. Fortunately, having spent her teen years locked in a basement where sometimes the light bulbs had gone out and it would be a day or two before those were replaced, she was used to darkness; it didn't bother or frighten her. She'd swept the room with her eyes when she walked in, saw no one else and nothing else in here, and knew she was alone. So she leaned against the wall, tried to make herself as comfortable as possible, and closed her eyes. As she slipped into sleep, her last thought was I found her, I found her and she's alive…