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Chapter 1

BOUND IN THE dark, Jacob Dunning thought about all the things he would give for a shower.

All his possessions? Done. One of his toes? In a heartbeat. One of his fingers? Hmmm, he thought. Did he really need his left pinkie?

Unidentified mudlike filth stuck to his cheek, his hair. Wearing only his NYU T-shirt and boxers, the handsome brown-haired college freshman lay on a soiled concrete floor in a very tight space.

An angry industrial hum raged in the vague distance. He was blindfolded, and his hands were cuffed to a pipe behind him. A gag around his mouth was knotted tight against the hollow indentation at the base of his skull.

The indentation was called the foramen magnum, he knew. It was where your spinal cord passed into your skull. Jacob had learned about it in anatomy class a month or so ago. NYU was step one in his lifelong dream to become a doctor. His father had an 1862 edition of Grays Anatomy in his study, and ever since he was a little kid, Jacob had loved going through it. Kneeling in his fathers great padded office chair with his chin in his hands, hed spend hours poring over the elegant, fascinating sketches, the topography of the human body shaded and named like distant lands, like treasure maps.

Jacob sobbed at the safe, happy memory. A drop of lukewarm water landed on the back of his neck and dripped down his spine. The itch of it was unbearable. He would get sores soon if he wasnt able to stand. Bedsores, staph infection, disease.

The last thing he remembered was leaving Conrads, an Alphabet City bar that didnt care about fake IDs. After a monstrously long chem lab, hed been trying to chat up Heli, a stunning Finnish girl from his class. But after his fifth mojito, his tongue was losing speed. Hed called it a night when he noticed she was talking more to the male model of a bartender than to him.

His memory seemed to stop at the point when he stepped outside. How he got from there to here he couldnt recall.

For the billionth time, he tried to come up with a scenario in which everything turned out all right. His favorite was that it was a fraternity thing. A bunch of jocks had mistaken him for some other freshman, and this was a really messed-up hazing incident.

He started weeping. Where were his clothes? Why would somebody take his jeans, his socks and shoes? The scenarios in his head were too black to allow light to enter. He couldnt fool himself. He was in the deepest shit of his young life.

He banged his head on the pipe he was chained to as he heard a sound. It was the distant boom of a door. He felt his heart boom with it. His breath didnt seem to know if it wanted to come in or go out.

He was pretty much convulsing when he made out a jangle interspersed with the steady approach of footsteps. He suddenly thought of the handyman at his parents building, the merry jingle of keys that bounced off his thigh. Skinny Mr. Durkin, who always had a tool in his hand. Hope gave him courage. It was a friend, he decided. Somebody who would save him.

Hppp! Jacob screamed from behind the gag.

The footsteps stopped. A lock clacked open, and cool air passed over the skin of his face. The gag was pulled off.

Thank you! Oh, thank you! I dont know what happened. I-

Jacobs breath blasted out of him as he was hit in the stomach with something tremendously hard. It was a steel-toed boot, and it seemed to knock his stomach clear through his spine.

Oh, God, Jacob thought, his head scraping the stone floor as he dry-heaved in filth. Dear God, please help me.


| Worst Case | Chapter 2