Chapter One

Dana Brand nearly ran over the parking valet in her haste to depart the Riverbank Club. She ignored his sputtered protests, conscious only of a tension headache building at the base of her skull. Turning from Decatur Place onto Commonwealth Avenue, Dana gunned her Kia Sorrento and began weaving through slower moving traffic. She steered one-handed while rummaging in her shoulder bag for Advil. The on ramp for the Crosstown was posted at 30 MPH but Dana entered it at 45, unconcerned that some alert uniformed cop might pull her over. In the unlikely event her good looks weren’t enough to avoid being cited, there was always her gold detective shield.

Dana stole a glance at her watch: nine after one, leaving her forty minutes to reach Serenity Day Spa in the outer ‘burbs. The single-use pass in her bag entitled her to a full hour of pampering at the hands of Serenity’s all-female staff, and in the aftermath of a disastrous luncheon with her mother she was in dire need of stress relief.

Traffic volume on the outbound Crosstown was light at midday. Dana exited at Merrill Road and sped north. She had learned in reading the spa’s website that Serenity operated out of an old Georgian Revival mansion built for some 19th Century railroad baron. His heirs attempted turning it into an upscale bed & breakfast but decades of neglect had taken their toll, prompting building inspectors to shut it down. By 2012 the house had fallen into a sorry state of disrepair and stood vacant. Internet entrepreneur Celeste Slocum acquired it for a fire-sale price in 2014. She hired skilled contractors to first salvage the mansion, then restore it to its former elegance. In the years since, Ms. Slocum had realized a handsome return on her investment.

A discreet sign alerted Dana to the turnoff. She coasted along a gravel drive wending its way between stately old chestnut trees. The parking lot at the end was occupied by gleaming ranks of BMWs, Range Rovers and Audis. Dana felt vaguely like a trespasser parking her Kia among all these high-end rides. At least she hadn’t arrived in the rusted-out utility van parked at the portico entrance. Likely a tradesman on a service call. She pulled into the first open space and cut the engine.

A “Boys of Summer” ringtone piped from the inside pocket of her bolero jacket. Dana shared her boyfriend’s unaccountable fondness for Don Henley and the Eagles, Poco, Linda Ronstadt and other country rockers from the long-ago 1970s. She answered at once, yearning to hear Kit’s voice.

“Hey, Golden Girl,” he greeted in that soothing Cajun drawl that invariably made her feel all warm and melty inside. “Did you enjoy lunch with your mom?”

“Next question.”

“That bad, huh?”

“Words fail me.”

“Did my name come up in conversation?”

“My mother never refers to you by name. You’re ‘that artist fellow’ or ‘that cartoonist.’ Christ, she talks about you like you draw pornographic pictures for a living.”

“Probably not a good time to show her my nude sketches of you.”

“Kit, what are we gonna do?” Dana slumped in her seat, raking a hand through her tousled blonde mane. “Mom hates you, Dad and I are barely on speaking terms these days—”

“I thought he was so proud of his daughter the detective.”

Acting detective,” she reminded him. “My rank isn’t permanent for another seven months. As for my father, he keeps reminding me what a mistake I made not marrying Ron Hayden.”

“You fell prey to my seductive charms instead.”

“Bullshit. I’m the one who seduced you, as you goddamn well know.”

“Have you seen or heard from your ex lately?”

“I thought we agreed never to talk about him.” Dana still cringed at the memory of her onetime suitor, hedge fund manager Ron Hayden. Based on what she’d gleaned from reliable sources Ron still thought of himself as her fiancé, never mind that he hadn’t proposed so much as propositioned her over dinner that night. Proving, she supposed, that Mark Twain had it right when he said denial wasn’t just a river in Egypt.

“Sorry,” Kit said. “Forget I mentioned it. Him, rather.”

“Consider it forgotten.” Dana released a sigh. “Why can’t my parents be more like yours? When we visited them over Christmas, they treated me like the daughter they never had.”

“Mom is on my case about a wedding date, or least announcing our engagement. Daddy says I’m a fool not to get a ring on your finger.”

“What do you tell them?”

“The truth. That we’re in a holding pattern for now. Waiting for Dark Horse or IDW to buy Misty McShane. Waiting for you to clear probation. Dana, marriage is a big enough challenge as is. Let’s make sure we’re on a sound footing financially. I may be a starving artist, but that doesn’t mean I want to live in a garret with no heat.”

“I’d live with you in a cardboard box under the freeway.” The words came unbidden first to her heart, then her lips. “That’s how much I love you, Kit.”

“And I love you, Golden Girl.” Deliberate pause. “Where the heck are you, anyway?”

“Out in Redford Township. I decided I’d cash in that one-day pass at Serenity Day Spa.”

“Treat yourself to a hot stone massage?”

“No, I thought I’d change into a swimsuit and soak in their hot tub for an hour.”

“The staff and clientele are one hundred per cent female. No one with a Y chromosome allowed. I think you could get away with soaking in the nude.”

“I still have a conventional bone or two in my body.”

“And an amazing body it is.”

“You horn dog.”

“Yeah, but I’m your horn dog. What time should I expect you home tonight?”

“Look for me around four. Don’t forget, we’re having dinner with Matt and Marlene tonight.”

“Saudelli’s at seven, right?”

“Right. Marlene and I have declared a moratorium on shop talk, by the way.”

“I happen to enjoy listening to you and Wolo talk shop. Better than having a technical advisor. Hey, any late word on those missing women?”

“Matty and I aren’t on the task force, so we have no need to know. Chris honey, I’ve spent all week interviewing twelve-year-old twins who were abused by Mom’s live-in boyfriend. I just want to enjoy a pleasant night out with my sweetheart and my friends and forget about police work for a while.”

“Whoa, I know you’re serious when you use my given name. No shop talk, you have my word.”

“Don’t embarrass me by checking NBA scores on your phone every five minutes and there’s a decent chance you’ll get lucky later on tonight.”

“What is this NBA of which you speak?” Kit asked innocently.

Dana unfolded herself from the Kia, inhaling deeply of pine-scented April air. The mild temps prompted her to shed the bolero jacket and leave it folded neatly on the passenger seat. Before setting foot inside Serenity she needed to secure not only her service weapon but her phone as well. Cellphones, tablets and laptops were prohibited in the therapy rooms. “Serenity is a place where our clients disconnect from the clamorous outside world,” explained Celeste Slocum in a video on the spa’s website. “Therefore, we insist that all personal electronics be checked at the door.” Dana Brand was not about to entrust her iPhone 6 to a receptionist, let alone a loaded firearm. She opened the Kia’s rear hatch and stowed her .40 Glock in the lock box Kit’s friend Harry Stauffer, who taught metal shop at RFK High, had built for her. The box was bolted to the floor of the cargo bay, meaning anyone who wanted her pistol would have to steal the goddamn car first. Her phone, handcuffs and spare ammo magazine went inside the box as well. She then locked up, hefted her shoulder bag and walked briskly toward the canopied entrance.

Much to her surprise, a cowboy lounged against the side of the parked van, waist-length denim jacket and boot-cut jeans caked with authentic trail dust. He unexpectedly detached himself from the van as Dana neared, sweeping a sweat-stained Stetson from his head and crushing to his breast. Proving that chivalry isn’t dead after all, she mused. Stop that! Kit opens doors for you and serves you breakfast in bed.

“You’re Dana Brand,” said the cowpoke. “Aren’t you?”

“Guilty,” she responded. Dana was accustomed to being approached by strangers; it was the price she paid for being a celebrity, albeit an unwilling one. Within a week of her single-handed apprehension of Bruno Hess, the notorious Bondage Burglar, Police Chief Matlovich had arranged to fly her to New York to be interviewed in full uniform by Savannah Guthrie on Today. When Dana expressed misgivings, the chief assured her of a quid pro quo for making the scandal-plagued SCPD look good. True to his word, he announced Dana’s “merit” promotion to Detective III shortly after her return from the East Coast.

“Thought so,” said the stranger. “I seen you on television.”

“So did twenty million other people.” Dana winced even as the words left her mouth. “That was rude, I’m sorry. After a certain point I get tired of talking about it. I had fun, okay? I got a limo ride from my hotel to Rockefeller Center and back. Matt and Samantha and Al were all very sweet. Of course, this was before everyone learned what a creep Matt Lauer was. I had my picture taken with three New York City cops stationed outside the studio. Anything else you’d like to know?”

“I’m forgetting my manners.” He thrust out a calloused hand. “Micah Thorne’s the name.”

“Hello, Micah.” Dana accepted his handshake, thinking he was good-looking in an off-center way even if he was in dire need of a shave and haircut. And a cosmetic dentist, she added to herself.

“It’s a real honor meeting you,” Micah persisted. Dana braced herself in expectation of a request for her autograph or an invitation to dinner, possibly both. The former she could handle; the latter was a non-starter. She could not picture herself sharing a booth at Texas Roadhouse with this shitkicker, even if her heart wasn’t already spoken for.

“Please don’t take this personally,” Dana said, “but unless you’re picking up a spouse or girlfriend you probably shouldn’t be on the premises. The whole selling point of this place is that it’s run by women for women.”

“No worries,” Micah said in his folksy twang. “I’m waiting on the boss lady, Ms. Slocum.”

Dana eyed him dubiously. “You…work for her?”

“I’m what you might call an outside contractor. I specialize in acquisitions and forwarding.”

“Micah!” barked a strident female voice. A petite woman sporting a brunette pixie cut emerged from the front doors clad in hot pink tee shirt, white shorts and running shoes. “I don’t care how tight you think you are with Ms. Slocum. You know the rules, no socializing with the guests!”

“I didn’t mean no harm,” Micah mumbled contritely.

“Welcome to Serenity Day Spa,” said the brunette, taking Dana by the elbow. “My name is Odette. I’ll be looking after you this afternoon. Let me apologize for Micah. Sometimes he forgets his place.”

“No harm done,” Dana assured her. Glancing over her shoulder she noticed Micah tracking her with his eyes. The predatory smile on his face triggered alarms in her back brain.

Nonetheless she followed Odette inside. They paused at the reception desk, where Dana tendered her single-use pass. “Which of our therapy rooms will you be using today?” chirped the receptionist, a blonde Valkyrie attired in the same pink and white combo as Odette. Katya was embroidered over her left breast.

“The hot tub,” replied Dana.

“In which case…” Katya handed her a clipboard. “If you plan on using the tub solo you need to sign a waiver first. Otherwise a staff member must be in the tub with you the entire time. State regulations.”

“I understand,” Dana said. She skimmed the attached checklist, ticking off the appropriate boxes to certify that (1) she had not used alcohol or controlled substances anytime in the last twelve hours, (2) she was not pregnant, (3) she had not been diagnosed with heart or respiratory ailments…

Dana affixed her signature and returned the clipboard. Odette escorted her through a doorway labeled GUESTS AND STAFF ONLY, then down a corridor. “Your hour starts at two,” she said. “We ask that you shower first, enter and exit the tub s-l-o-w-l-y, try not to stay in the water more than fifteen minutes at a time. Even with the signed waiver I still have to check on you at ten-minute intervals.”

“State regulations,” Dana guessed.

“We want to avoid liability issues wherever possible.” She stopped at a brushed aluminum door recessed into the wall and tapped a four-digit code into a keypad. The door whispered open.

“An elevator?” Dana wondered aloud.

“Hot tubs are downstairs in what used to be the wine cellar,” Odette explained. “Couldn’t put them on the ground floor without reinforcing the joists to support the weight of all that water. We were already in danger of going over budget on the renovation. Shall we?”

To Dana’s surprise the elevator descended not one but two levels. “How far down are we?” she asked as the door opened onto another corridor.

“Far enough. Changing room’s through that door. I’ll just be down the hall. See you in about twenty.”

Alone in the changing room Dana fished her bikini—Kit’s favorite, blue Lycra spangled with white stars—from her shoulder bag. After stowing the bag on the top shelf of her locker she began to undress: boots and socks first, followed by ribbed pullover and blue jeans, followed by brassiere and panties. She noticed a full-length mirror on the far wall. Though not vain by nature she found herself irresistibly drawn

to her own reflection. Standing before the mirror she tossed her head, tawny hair cascading to her bare freckled shoulders.

At a svelte 5’9” Dana Leigh Brand enjoyed a two-inch height advantage over her boyfriend. An adolescence spent on tennis courts and in swimming pools had left her with toned muscles and delectable curves. Her ripe 34C breasts were tipped with lovely coral nipples. Dana was rightfully proud of her figure and needed little encouragement from Kit to pose for him in various states of undress. For Christmas he’d drawn her portrait, capturing in colored pen the delicate contours of her heart-shaped face, the wit and warmth in her smoke-gray eyes, her full-lipped, impudent mouth. The framed drawing now hung on their bedroom wall. Best Christmas gift evah.

Dana smiled to herself. Prior to meeting Kit Arseneau she’d been too self-conscious to view her own nakedness. She’d always been the dutiful middle child, staying up late to complete homework while her classmates were out partying, excelling in academics while her older sister and kid brother made regular appearances in Juvenile Court. Her first true act of rebellion had been applying for the SCPD academy straight out of college. She further outraged her parents by dumping Ron Hayden, the man they’d designated her future husband, in favor of an impoverished comic book artist two years her junior. Kit’s degree from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design did not impress Mom and Dad in the least. Dana gave a rat’s ass for their opinion of her beau. Christopher Arseneau was sweet and funny, a good listener and an accomplished chef. He treated her like royalty in public and worshipped her in bed, doing things to her body that made her whimper—there was no other word for it—with pleasure.

Raised voices outside the locker room jolted Dana from her thoughts. Odette was arguing with someone—not Micah the Cowboy, another woman. Dana was not about to intervene given that (a) she was off-duty, (2) well out of her jurisdiction, and (3) completely naked. Her eyes flicked to the wall clock, which read two minutes past the hour. She quickly laced herself into her swimsuit, what there was of it. A perfect fit. Even dry the Lycra fabric adhered to her breasts and ass like a coat of blue lacquer.

She folded her clothes and placed them in the locker, after which she padded barefoot into the adjacent spa. Steam rose from the bubbling tub and scented candles tinged the air with the fragrance of jasmine. A wicker basket suspended from a ceiling hook contained an assortment of aromatherapy salts and liquids. Dana selected a bottle at random. As she did so, what appeared to be a credit card fell from the basket and landed at her feet magnetic stripe side up. She stooped to retrieve it, realizing it was in fact a driver’s license. How did it end up here, I wonder? Better see who it belongs to, so I canholy shit!

Dana felt her heart clench. The words KIDNAP HELP ME were scrawled across the license in red lipstick. Looking closer she recognized the color photo as that of Marissa Marshak, weekend sports anchor for the local ABC affiliate and the first of four high-profile women to go missing since February. A task force comprised of SCPD detectives and FBI agents had so far failed to develop solid leads in any of the disappearances.

She inhaled deeply to steady her nerves. Her complimentary hour in the hot tub was on indefinite hold if not cancelled altogether. First order of business was getting dressed and retrieving her phone in order to contact Matt Wolochek. That was the plan at least. Just as she reached her locker a woman in a double-breasted suit strode unannounced through the door on stiletto heels. Eyeglasses with designer frames lent her an owlish appearance. Placing hands on hips the woman raked Dana head to toe with gunmetal blue eyes.

“Welcome to Serenity Day Spa, Detective Brand,” she said. “We’ve been expecting you.”

Even severely underdressed Dana Brand was not easily intimidated. She fearlessly returned the stranger’s penetrating gaze. “You could have knocked first,” she responded.

“It’s my locker room,” sniffed the woman. “My building in fact.”

“Then you must be Celeste Slocum.”

“Correct. My staff dropped the ball in not alerting me to your arrival.”

“Do you greet all new clients by barging in on them like this?”

“You’d do well to lose the attitude,” said Ms. Slocum through thinned lips. “It won’t play well where you’re going.”

“Who says I’m going anywhere?” Dana asked warily. At which point Katya the receptionist followed her employer through the door brandishing a police-issue Taser. She thumbed on the integrated targeting laser, “painting” Dana’s bare midriff with a pinpoint of ruby red light. Only then did the bikini-clad beauty appreciate the precise depth of the shit she was in.

“Unless I’m mistaken you were on the receiving end of a Taser as part of your training as a police recruit,” remarked Ms. Slocum.

“It’s mandatory for all new hires.”

“I imagine it was unpleasant.”

“It was like being hit in the back with a red-hot sledgehammer,” Dana recalled.

“Then unless you wish to relieve the experience you’ll do as your told. Any disobedience or acts of defiance on your part will result in fifty thousand volts being cycled through your body for as long as it takes to correct your behavior. None of my paying customers upstairs will hear you scream. We’re two floors down and this room is soundproof.”

“If this is your way of asking me to sign up for a trial membership, you’re going about it all wrong.”

“For now, I’d like you to kneel facing away from me, lace your fingers behind your head and cross your ankles. You know the drill.” With the Taser trained unerringly on her Dana had no choice but to comply. Sinking to her knees in stricken silence, she told herself to play for time until she could figure a way out of this nightmare scenario.

Ms. Slocum’s eyes came to rest on the driver’s license in her hand. “What do you have there, my dear?”

”Nothing that concerns you.”

“I beg to differ.” Leaning forward she plucked the license from Dana’s fingers. “Well now, we tore the place apart searching for this. Wherever did you find it?”

“You’ve just become a person of interest in her disappearance,” Dana said. “No, strike that. You’re the lead suspect.”

“How very impertinent of you. The sooner you’re bound and properly gagged the better.”

“Holding me against my will constitutes false imprisonment,” warned Dana, though she would have sounded more authoritative without the tremor in her voice.

“Please don’t be tiresome, Detective Brand.”

“My boyfriend knows where I am. If I’m not home on time, where do you suppose the cops will start looking for me?”

Ms. Slocum tucked the license into a side pocket of her jacket. “Oh, we fully anticipate that your brothers and sisters in blue will show up here in force sooner rather than later. They’ll demand to view surveillance video and of course we’ll cooperate. The footage we present them with will show the body double we hired for the occasion crossing the parking lot to your car and driving off shortly after three. They’ll be forced to conclude Serenity Day Spa is an investigative dead end and resume their fruitless search for you elsewhere.”

“I don’t know what weird shit you’ve been smoking,” Dana said, “but these people are professionals. I work with them every day. Do you seriously believe they’ll buy your bullshit story just because you parade some skank in a blonde wig before the camera?”

“Hmm, I can see we have your police officer’s inherent skepticism to overcome. Katya, where exactly is Adriana?”

“Waiting in your office as instructed, ma’am.”

“And Odette? Why isn’t she here yet?”

Dana heard the door open behind her. “Someone mention my name?” Odette asked brightly.

“I’ll be back shortly. Tie up Detective Brand in the meantime.”

“A pleasure,” said Odette with unmistakable relish.

Dana waited for the Slocum bitch to leave before speaking up. “So, does this job come with full medical and dental plus a 401K?” she inquired. “I can’t imagine why else you’d risk serious prison time.”

“Ms. Slocum treats us very well, not that it’s any of your goddamn business,” Katya said. She stood to Dana’s right, keeping her covered with the Taser while Odette teased an eight-foot length of braided jute rope from her satchel.

“Hands behind your back, palms facing,” she ordered.

Dana flinched as Odette snaked the rope around her biceps, snugging it tight, tighter, until her arms were pinioned behind her. Ms. Slocum’s underling finished with a set of merit-badge-worthy knots Dana had no hope of reaching let alone undoing.

“No gun, badge or backup,” sneered Katya. “I’d say you’re pretty well fucked, honey.”

Dana moistened her lips, acutely aware of fear’s coppery taste on her tongue. “So far all you’re looking at is assault and false imprisonment,” she said in desperate haste. “Untie me and let me go before your boss returns. My father’s an attorney, he knows people. He could find you a good lawyer.”

“We know all about your daddy, Detective Brand,” said Odette as she bound Dana’s wrists, cinching the rope taut to eliminate any slack and with it any chance she had of freeing herself. “Assistant DA who traded up for some white-shoe law firm downtown. Plays handball with the mayor and chief judge twice a week. Well, your father’s money and influence won’t help you now.”

“What do you plan on doing with me?”

“I’ll leave explanations to Ms. Slocum.” Odette tied a variation on the Sommerville bowline, a self-locking and escape proof knot. She and Katya then helped Dana to her feet and seated her on the locker room bench. The captive policewoman was powerless to resist as Odette lashed her trim ankles firmly together, then her sleek legs above the knees.

“Sure you used enough rope?” Dana asked bitterly.

Katya waggled the Taser. “Shut your mouth, lady cop, or I light you up just for grins.”

“You can’t keep me here forever, even if I am bound hand and foot.” Hard to believe she’d uttered the last four words with a straight face. The phrase had an undeniably archaic ring, evoking images of plucky but beleaguered heroines roped to the rails in the path of an oncoming express train. And yet here she sat, trussed up in her string bikini with no hope of rescue on the horizon. Dana tested her bonds, a stupid and futile gesture to coin a phrase. The ropes were unyielding, the knots solid and tied beyond reach of her fluttering fingers. Bitch knows what she’s doing, she thought grimly. This isn’t her first rodeo, that’s for goddamn sure. No way in Hell am I getting untied on my own.

“We’re back,” announced Celeste Slocum, breezing through the door. Dana’s breath stalled in her throat at the sight of the younger woman accompanying her.

Odette looked from Dana to the newcomer and back again. “Whoa,” she said. “I think we have a winner.”

“A striking resemblance,” agreed Ms. Slocum. “Detective Brand, allow me to introduce Adriana Locke, at least that’s her stage name. Her birth name is of no import. Suffice it to say she is an underemployed young actress barely making ends meet in between bit parts on television. I had to scroll through a thousand or more head shots on Internet Movie Data Base before finding her. She jumped at my offer of twenty-five thousand dollars to impersonate you for all of two minutes. Lodging and airfare between here and Los Angeles came to another fifteen hundred, an out of pocket expense I’ll recoup a hundred times over once your buyer pays me in full.”

“My…buyer?” echoed Dana, still recovering from the seismic shock of coming face to face with her lookalike. Same height and built, same abundant blonde hair, same fine-boned features. She could have passed for Dana’s sister or at least first cousin.

“You were auctioned off on the Dark Net,” Ms. Slocum explained. “A Central American drug lord bid a quarter million dollars after watching your Today Show interview and becoming enamored of you, but he

was immediately outbid by a man with a personal interest in possessing you for his own. He paid me five hundred thousand, half in advance, the remainder on delivery.”

“You make it sound like an eBay transaction,” Dana said sullenly.

“The prep room next door is occupied at present, otherwise we’d move you there immediately. You’ll be held there until your flight departs, which should be no later than ten tonight. By this time tomorrow you’ll be relocated to your new abode.”

“New abode?” Dana did not care to ponder the sinister import behind those seemingly innocuous words.

“A cabin on the shore of Creed Lake.”

“Which is where, exactly?”

“Northern Manitoba, less than a thirty-minute drive from the border with Saskatchewan—or would be if there were any roads. One of the last unspoiled wilderness areas on Earth. Only way in or out is by pontoon plane. Once a month your new owner will fly in to visit and resupply you. In appreciation you will let him fuck you like the submissive slave girl you are before he flies out again, leaving you in total isolation until his next layover, so the speak. No contact with the outside world, zero hope of escape or rescue.”

“Jesus,” Dana said in near-reverent tones. “You truly are fucking insane.”

Ms. Slocum yawned. “Katya, I believe we’ve heard enough from Detective Brand for one afternoon. Be so good as to silence her.”

“Been looking forward to this part,” said the henchwoman. Approaching from behind she dangled a red silicon ball gag before Dana’s dismayed eyes.

“You evil fucking bitch!” seethed the bound and helpless blonde, her last utterance before the gag was tamped between her teeth. Katya swept her hair aside long enough to buckle it in place at the nape of her neck.

“Much better,” said Celeste Slocum.

To Be Continued...

Illustration by Joseph Jones

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