As the last two customers finished their enchiladas, Joslynn began to close for the night. She preferred being at work—or even school—ever since her mother’s boyfriend had moved in. He liked drugs and so did her mother, but his leering eyes made Joslynn’s stomach tie itself into knots.
Mothers are all slightly insane, Joslynn had highlighted in her tattered copy of The Catcher in the Rye. Her English test began in less than nine hours, so she snuck in snatches of reading whenever she could.
She’d already plugged the beer taps, sanitized the soda machine, and refilled the napkin dispensers. She considered wiping down the menus, but her shift had been over for fifteen minutes. The day shift could do that.
Instead, she began to file her long nails. She walked over to the men’s table when she noticed they had finished their meals.
“Is there anything else I can get you?” Joslynn asked.
“More chips,” the short one mumbled, his mouth half-full.
She nodded curtly in reply.
His fourth fucking basket of chips.
Silently, she refilled the basket, placing it unceremoniously on the table.
“And salsa,” he added.
“Hey,” the tall man called out, a few minutes later. “Bring the check.”
Getting up from behind the cash register, Joslynn used her nail file as a bookmark and tucked her paperback into her back pocket.
“What are you reading?” the tall man asked. Something that vaguely passed for a smile crept across his face.
“You like reading?”
“I’m quite illiterate, but I read a lot,” she quoted from the book, mimicking Holden Caulfield’s snarky tone.
The check remained untouched.
“So, are you paying by cash or credit?”
“Neither,” he replied, one of his meaty hands encircling Joslynn’s wrist.
Joslynn reflexively jerked back, but the tall man held her fast.
“There’s like fifty bucks in the register.” Her voice quavered. “I have twenty in my purse—”
The short man gave a guttural laugh. He walked quickly to the front door, holding it open while the tall man half-dragged, half-carried Joslynn outside.
I need to scream, she thought, panic tunneling her vision. But before she opened her mouth, the short man hit her square in the stomach, doubling her over.
As the men muscled Joslynn across the parking lot, she watched the short man open the roll-up door of a white moving van. Before being shut inside, Joslynn heard the kitchen staff speaking and clattering dishes through the restaurant’s open windows.
People never notice anything, Salinger had written.
When the van’s engine started, she wept.
They picked up two more women, far older than Joslynn. One was unconscious, dressed provocatively; they loaded her into the van like cordwood. The other seemed to enter by choice. Underneath her smeared makeup, she was pretty. She clutched a backpack, mouth set into a thin line.
Joslynn licked her dry lips. “I’m thirsty. Could I have—?”
The short man replied by striking her across the face. The roll-up door slammed shut.
As Joslynn burst into fresh tears, the older woman rummaged in the backpack, pulling out a thermos.
Joslynn nodded, took it, drank greedily.
“I’m Cassidy,” the woman introduced herself. “Do yourself a favor. Don’t ask those two for anything.”
“Who are they?” Joslynn whispered.
“Bad guys,” Cassidy replied. “And they work for someone worse. Did they give you time to pack?”
“Pack for what? All I have is this stupid book.” Joslynn pulled out her paperback. “I don’t understand—”
“I think Salinger wrote, ‘Say something nobody understands and they’ll do practically anything you want them to.’”
Joslynn blinked. “You’ve read this?”
“Everyone reads that in high school. You just don’t understand it until later.”
“Cassidy,” Joslynn pleaded. “What’s going on?”
“We’re being transported.”
“A hotel, a condo, someone’s basement. It doesn’t matter. It’ll be the same wherever they set us up.”
Joslynn’s eyes widened at the implication before throwing up Cassidy’s iced tea.
“Why me?” Joslynn asked, once her crying jag abated. “Why was I kidnapped?”
“You weren’t kidnapped,” Cassidy explained. “These guys only take women who are sold.”
“What’s the difference?”
“When you’re kidnapped, people look for you.” Cassidy lit a cigarette. “No one is looking for any of us.”
In time, Cassidy fell asleep, using the thigh of the other woman as a pillow. Joslynn sat ramrod straight, puzzling out what Cassidy had said.
Sold, not kidnapped.
Her mother’s recent behavior had worsened. They had argued. She’d pilfered from Joslynn’s wallet more than usual. All the while her mother’s new boyfriend had lain on the couch, a smirk across his face.
Joslynn reached for her paperback, removing the nail file that marked her place.
She reread a section she’d highlighted in yellow: Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior.
She closed the book, tracing the red, raging carousel horse on its cover.
At dawn, the roll-up door opened a third time.
A thin, prepubescent girl entered the back of the white van.
Taking one look at the child’s pallid face, Joslynn’s pupils narrowed. Her jaw clenched.
In the weak light, Joslynn read her book as Holden continued to complain: What made it even worse, my eyes were sore as hell.
The older women slept on. The young girl clasped her hands as if in prayer.
Joslynn dog-eared the page of her book before methodically sharpening her long nails into stiletto-points.
“Do you know why we’re here?” the little girl asked.
“I do,” Joslynn answered, her outrage at the men rekindling, steeling her resolve, giving her courage.
“We’re not supposed to fall off the cliff,” Joslynn explained.
When the short man opened the roll-up door for the last time, Joslynn’s talons dug deeply into his eye sockets.
His unnatural howls alerted the tall man, who arrived just in time to see a young woman catch up to a little girl—running together across a field and into a service plaza, hand in hand.