Fiction Fiction Issue


Her abductor didn’t want money or sex. So what was he after?

Illustration by Brian Hubble

It was dark when Maureen left the Hundred Club. She stopped just outside the door, a little thrown by the sudden cold, the change from daylight to night. A gusting breeze chilled her face. Lights burned over the storefronts, gleaming in patches of ice along the sidewalk. She reached in her pockets for her gloves, then hopelessly searched her purse. She’d left them in the club. If she went back for them, she knew she’d end up staying—and so much for all her good intentions. Theresa or one of the others would pick up the gloves and bring them to school on Monday. Still, she stood there. Someone came out the door behind her, and Maureen heard music, and voices raised over the music. Then the door swung shut, and she tightened her scarf and turned down the sidewalk toward the lot where she’d left her car.

She had gone almost a block when she realized that she was walking in the wrong direction. Easy mistake—the lot where she and the others usually parked had been full. She headed back, crossing the street to avoid the club. Her fingers had gone stiff. She put her hands in her coat pockets, but then yanked them out when her right foot took a skid on the ice. After that she kept them poised at her sides.

Head bent, she shuffled in tender steps from one safe spot to the next—for all the world like her own worn-out, balding, arthritic mother. Maureen allowed herself this thought in self-mockery, to make herself feel young, but it did not have this effect. The lot was farther than she’d been aware of as she strolled to the club with Molly and Jane and Evan, laughing at Evan’s story about his manic Swedish girlfriend. She’d had an awful day at school and was happy to let the week go, to lose herself in jokes and gossip and feel the pale late sunshine almost warm on her face. Now her face was numb, and she was tense with the care of simply walking.

She passed a hunched, foot-stamping crowd waiting to get into Harrigan’s, where she herself had once gone to hear the local bands. It had been called Far Horizon then. Or Lost Horizon. Lost Horizon, it was.

She scanned the faces as she walked by, helplessly on the watch for her daughter. She hadn’t seen her in almost two years now, since Grace walked away from a full scholarship at Ithaca College to come back and live with one of Maureen’s fellow English teachers from Saint Ignatius. It turned out they’d been going at it since Grace’s senior year at SI—and him a married man with a young daughter. Maureen had always tried to see Grace’s willfulness as backbone, but this she could not accept. She had said some unforgivable things, according to Grace. Since when, Maureen wanted to know, had a few home truths become unforgivable?

She was still trying to bring Grace around when Father Crespi got wind of the whole business and fired the teacher. Maureen had not been Father Crespi’s source, but Grace wouldn’t believe it. She declared things at an end between them, and so far she had kept that vow, though she dumped the luckless fool within a few weeks of his leaving his wife.

Grace was still close to Maureen’s mother. From her, Maureen had learned that Grace was doing temp work and keeping house with another man. Maureen couldn’t get her mother to say more—she’d given her word! But the old bird clearly enjoyed not saying more, being in the know, being part of Maureen’s punishment for driving Grace away, as she judged the matter.

Maureen crossed the street again and turned into the parking lot—an unpaved corner tract surrounded by a chain-link fence. The attendant’s shack was dark. She picked her way over ridges of frozen mud toward her car. Last summer’s special- offer paint job was already dull, bleached out by road salt. Through a scrim of dried slush on the window, Maureen could see the stack of student blue books on the passenger seat—a weekend’s worth of grading. She fished the keys from her purse, but her hand was dead with cold and she fumbled them when she tried to unlock the door. They hit the ground with a merry tinkle. She flexed her fingers and bent down for the keys. As she pushed herself back up, a pain shot through her bad knee. “Goddammit!” she said.

“Don’t curse!” The voice came from behind Maureen, a man’s voice, but high, almost shrill.

She closed her eyes.

He said something she couldn’t make out; he had some sort of accent. He said it again, then added, “Now!”


“The keys. Give them to me.”

Maureen held the keys out behind her, eyes pressed shut. She had just one thought: Do not see him. The keys were taken from her hand, and she heard the door being unlocked.

“Open it,” the man said. “Open the door. Yes, now get in.”

“Just take it,” Maureen said. “Please.”

Please, you will get in. Please.” He took her arm and half pushed, half lifted her into the car and slammed the door shut. She sat behind the steering wheel with her head bent, eyes closed, hands folded over her purse. The passenger door opened. “Compositions,” the man muttered.

“Exams,” she said, and cringed at her stupidity in correcting him.

Maureen heard the blue books thud onto the floor in back. Then he was on the seat beside her. He sat there a moment, breathing quick shallow breaths. “Open your eyes. Open! Yes, now drive.” He jingled the keys.

Looking straight ahead over the wheel, she said, “I don’t think I can.”

She sensed a movement toward her and flinched. He jingled the keys beside her ear and dropped them in her lap. “Drive.”

Maureen had once taken a class in self-defense. That was five years ago, after her marriage ended and left her alone with a teenage daughter—as if the dangers were outside somewhere and not already in the house, between them. She’d forgotten all the fancy moves, but not her determination to fight, for Grace or for herself—to go on the attack, kick the bastard in the balls, scream and kick and hit and bite, fight to the very death. She hadn’t forgotten any of this, even now, watching herself do nothing. She was aware of what she was failing to do—was unable to do—and the shock of understanding that she could not depend on herself produced a sense of resignation, an empty echoing calm. With steady hands she started the car and pulled out of the lot and turned left as the man directed, away from the lights of the commercial zone, toward the river.

“Not so slow,” he said.

She sped up.


She slowed down.

“You are trying to be arrested,” he said.


He made a mirthless laughing sound. “Do I look like a fool?”

“No … I don’t know. I haven’t seen you.”

“I am not a fool. Turn right.”

They were on Frontage Road now, heading upriver. The night was clear, and the almost-full moon hung just above the old tanneries on the far bank. The moon made a broad silver path on the smooth water in the middle of the river, glimmered dully on the slabs of ice jammed up along the sides. The moonlight on Maureen’s bare hands turned them ghostly white on the steering wheel. They looked cold; they were cold. She felt chilled through. She turned up the heater, and within moments the car was filled with the man’s smell—ripe, loamy, not unpleasant.

“You were using alcohol,” the man said.

She waited for him to say more. His knees were angled toward her, pressed together against the console. “A little,” she said.

He was silent. His breathing slowed, deepened, and Maureen felt obscurely grateful for this. She could feel him watching her.

“Over $70 is in my purse,” she said. “Please just take it.”

“Seventy dollars? That is your offer?” He laughed the unreal laugh.

“I can get more,” she said. Her voice was small and flat—not her voice at all. She hesitated, then said, “We’ll have to go to an ATM.”

“This is not about money. Drive. Please.”

Presented by

Tobias Wolff’s story in this issue is part of his new collection, Our Story Begins, which will be published by Knopf in April 2008. His most recent book is the novel Old School (2003); he also teaches at Stanford University and is a frequent contributor to The Atlantic.

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