“Help our school, buy a candy bar?” the high school girl asked as Nicola approached. She was tall with inky black hair and bangs that seemed to have been cut with pinking shears. Her long arms held the chocolate protectively against her chest – or was she just cold? Next to her a boy in combat pants was leaning against the low brick wall that separated the sidewalk from a small parking lot. They were young, maybe sixteen. Nicola didn’t catch the name of their school.
“No thanks,” she said. Then she stopped. What had she just been telling herself? “Wait. Actually, why not.”
“Chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, or something with nougat?” the girl asked.
“What’s the difference between chocolate and milk chocolate or dark chocolate?”
“I don’t know,” said the girl. She wore black jeans and a big puffy black coat and she pursed her lips into an uncertain smile.
“I’ll take the milk chocolate,” Nicola told her.
“A bunch of these got stolen,” the girl said, “from some seventh graders. Can you believe that? Stealing candy from kids?”
“From babies,” Nicola said, looking in her wallet. “Like the saying.”
“Stealing candy from babies.”
“I know, I can’t believe it,” the girl said. “Do you believe in karma?”
“I only have a twenty,” Nicola said.
The girl and the boy exchanged a look.
“You go,” the girl said.
The boy pulled himself away from the wall, and Nicola noticed some duct tape stuck on his jeans. Was this what they used as patches these days? “We keep the money in my mom’s mini-van,” he explained. “Over here.”
He headed towards a caramel-colored mini-van in the corner and Nicola followed him. The lot was just a few feet from the street but it was quiet here and dark and felt weirdly empty after the sidewalk scene and Nicola thought under the right circumstances this would seem creepy.
“Did you know that people who eat chocolate live longer?” the boy asked her. He had a raspy voice maybe a shade too high and his hair was buzzed short, army-style. “Studies show,” he said.
He took Nicola’s twenty then went around to the other side of the van and pulled open the door. For a second he disappeared. When he came back his hand was closed but when he opened it there was no money inside. Instead he suddenly grabbed her wrist.
“What?” Nicola said, as if he had said something she hadn’t quite heard.
“Come here,” he said, and his expression tightened.
All at once she understood and a cold flush went through her. He pulled her towards him and put something — the duct tape — on her mouth with one hard push so that it wrinkled and didn’t adhere very well. Instinctively she pulled at it with her free hand and thought: the girl will help. Then she remembered the girl was with him.
“Hey,” the boy said as she tugged at the tape, and he pushed her hand from her face. “Dave!” he called.
The girl came up from behind Nicola and took her other hand.
“Quickly,” she said.
They were standing in the dark shadows of cars. The boy pulled off another strip of duct tape from his jeans and Nicola felt her arms being pulled behind her from two directions, the boy’s and the girl’s, and she realized they were trying to get her hands behind her so they could tape them up. She struggled and then let her legs collapse so she was kneeling on the parking lot, her head bowed in front of her execution style. Mainly she was just trying to keep her left arm — the arm the girl called Dave was holding — in her lap or in front of her chest so they could not tape her up, and she found herself staring hard at the blacktop: a dark, almost glittering surface.
“Stop!” the boy said in his raspy voice.
Why was no one coming into the parking lot?
“Come on, Dave, you have to be quick,” the girl said to him.
Wait, Nicola thought, which one is named Dave? And as if they sensed her distraction they both pulled on her arms hard at the same time and got them behind her, and the boy quickly taped her two wrists together. Nicola’s mouth went dry and she curled to the ground feeling altogether submissive without the use of her hands. Her mind seemed to have shrunk to a pinpoint which could understand almost nothing of what was happening.
The boy and the girl pulled her into the back row of the mini-van then the girl, who may or may not be the one called Dave, wound some dark cloth around her eyes. She said, “You know, you won’t be hurt.”
Her arms hurt, her face hurt, and she had skinned at least one knee falling down on the black top. The girl tightened Nicola’s seatbelt then climbed into the front seat.
She said, “You did it.”
“Yeah,” said the boy. “Do you have the candy?”
“How did you do it? I don’t think I coulda.”
“Visualization. The whole time we were at it I saw her taped up in the back.”
And here I am, Nicola thought. Although she wanted to believe the girl when she said she wouldn’t be hurt, her mouth was still dry and her heart was still racing. From the front seat she heard the click of seatbelts connecting. Then the boy started the engine, and the doors locked in unison.
St. Martin’s Minotaur • ISBN 0-312-31543-0