Jessie had known the deadbolt was there as soon as she’d seen the highway marker for the rest stop. It was a bit hard to work with, with her hands bound. The motion really hurt her damaged rib. She had to bite back a cry at the twist she made to reach the lock, but she kept quiet. She made a bit of noise throwing the bolt, but not enough to tip her captors off until the door was completely locked. Then she sat down on the floor and tried to get comfortable. The bathroom really was like a prison cell, and she really had no way of leaving it. However, it had occurred to her that a prison cell was a lot like a fort depending on how you looked at things.
It wasn’t really possible to get comfortable with her hands tied. She tried sitting, but she thought she felt a little numbness starting in her little finger.
She stood and looked around the room trying to find a place where she could rub her way though the ties. It shouldn’t be hard, the plastic hadn’t seemed especially tough, but the small room left little in the way of helpful corners to scratch against. She recognized the building as an inflated structure. They’d been in use for about 15 years. Jessie had been interested in them since she’d done a report when she was in middle school. They were composed of tough fabric treated with wet cement. They could be transported to a destination packaged so they couldn’t dry out then inflated. The inflation process dried them rapidly and you had a tough cube of cement to use however you wanted after you cut a few holes in it.
The process had originally been used for emergency structures, but the technology had improved a lot since then. Manufacturers had learned how to make the walls straight and smooth, and now they were even sold as pre-built sheds that could have decorative features pressed into them before they fully dried. Still, all the edges were slightly rounded, and it was difficult to make any internal structure. This particular room was basically a soft cornered cube with a toilet and a sink. The sink had some exposed piping and there was a toilet paper holder. She might be able to scrape her bonds off against one of those.
She was considering how to best position herself under the sink when someone began to hammer at the door. “Hey, are you done in there? We’ve got to get going.”
“Not done,” Jessie yelled back. She decided to sit and scoot forward. It would get her pants dirty, but it was really the only way to move with her balance limited by her injury and bonds. The pipe had a bit of rust at the bottom and she thought that might be decently abrasive.
Jessie focused on the movement. She had to acknowledge, to herself at least, that she was utterly terrified. Feeling that, at the moment, wouldn’t do her any good so she’d been thinking of anything else to keep it out of her mind. The nausea had been a great distraction, though she was happy to let getting out of her bonds take its place.
“There’s no noise in there. I’m going to come in.”
“Don’t come in, I’m not decent,” she called back. The statement was so mundane it almost made her snicker. She’d made it back to where she could reach the pipe, but she found it hard to rub the plastic against it without scratching up her skin.
The door handle turned and the door rattled hard in its frame. Jessie was surprised they’d waited that long to try the door. Perhaps they didn’t want to make a scene. She ignored it. It wasn’t that it didn’t matter, but the door was either tough enough to take the abuse or not and worrying wouldn’t help. She hoped it was tough enough. She shifted around a awkwardly, trying to rub the back side of her bonds on the pipe.
Another moment passed while she was working, then there was a tremendous bang from the door. It was loud enough to startle Jessie. She straightened without thinking and hit her head on the underside of the sink. Hard.
There were several more hits on the door. It actually dented. Jessie clenched her teeth and got back into the position where she could work on her bonds. Blood dripped to the floor. She must have split her skin when she hit her head.
There was a series of bangs, and with the first couple the dent got worse. The strap finally parted. She crawled out from under the sink working the kink from her shoulders as she did so. She wondered if she should try to get something to fight with. She looked at the dent and the empty room then decided if they got through there was no point in attempting to hold them off with a roll of toilet paper.
Fortunately, there were a few more bangs and the door didn’t get any worse. It was sort of twisted in its frame, light showed through a substantial crack but the deadbolt was still in place and further hits only jolted the door against the cement without denting it further.
The bangs ended. Jessie sat, this time fairly comfortably. She had no idea what the bounty hunters were doing and that made her nervous. However, she only needed to hold out until some woman walked up to the bathroom and asked what was going on. At best, they’d be gone by then and she could just get a ride home and call the police. At worst, there’d be some sort of fight, but the bounty hunters couldn’t beat up everyone who came to the rest area. They had a hard time limit and Jessie didn’t. There was water and shelter, she could stay put for days if she needed to.
Jessie was feeling pretty good about herself when a wire snaked through the crack between the door and the frame. The wire was covered with grit of some sort. An LED at its base, just visible through the crack in the door, lit and the wire bent into a U shape.
The bounty hunter spoke in a conversational tone, “You know. I sort of respect this escape attempt. Most people try to run or yell for help. That would never have worked. This isn’t going to work either, but it’s a lot more annoying. Just out of curiosity? You thought we never had to pass a deadbolt before?”
The wire settled around the deadbolt and whoever was holding it began to drag it back and forth cutting the deadbolt much like Jessie had cut her bonds. It didn’t take long.
The door creaked as the talkative bounty hunter pushed it open. He had an annoyed look on his face, but didn’t seem overly angry, his partner stood behind him with some sort of wire based cutting tool. “So, will there be more foolishness, or are you going to come with us? I don’t really want to shoot and carry you, but I will.” He wiggled the spell thrower that he still held.
Jessie didn’t want to get shot either, “I’ll go.”
Neither man said anything but they moved out of the way of the door. The guy with the weapon took a couple of large steps back so she couldn’t get to him before he fired. His partner cleared his line of fire, but stayed near the door to grab her when she walked through it.
Jessie considered making them grab her just to be petulant, but then moved forward under his own power. Better to make them think she was cowed. Perhaps there’d be another opening later on. The silent guy grabbed her and they all settled back into the positions they’d held on the way to the restroom.
They’d walked about 10 feet back to the van when there was a creak from behind them. Jessie looked back and found the men’s room had opened. The overweight man from earlier was walking out of looking distracted and drying his hands against his pants.
Jessie screamed for help.
She didn’t honestly expect it to work, but there was no particular reason not to give it a shot.
Things developed better than Jessie had any right to hope. The man’s attention focused on them quickly and he yelled, “What’s going on here.”
“Nothing to worry about,” the normally silent bounty hunter answered. That, Jessie thought, was a really impressively poor lie. A broken plastic cuff was still dangling from one of her arms, no longer covered by a coat, and her face was streaked with blood. The blood had nothing to do with her captors directly, and it wasn’t really that bad a wound. But, being a head wound, it had bled far out of proportion to its size and she now looked like a refugee from a slasher film.
The man took all of this in, then pushed back his coat and drew a gun. “I’m officer O’Connell and I’m going to need you to let that young woman go then hold your hands out where I can see them. Don’t make any sudden movements and just stay where you are. If everyone stays calm, we’ll get this all worked out without any difficulty.”
Shockingly the quiet bounty hunter actually listened to that. Perhaps it was the gun that was firmly trained on him by that point. He let go of her and held his hands wide of his body. Jessie hurried toward the cop trying not to get between him and the man who had just been holding her.
The talkative bounty hunter made his spell thrower disappear somewhere. He spoke up, “We’re Intellectual Property Bounty Hunters. We’re fully licensed and bonded in this state. We are holding the young woman in conjunction with an ongoing investigation.”
Jessie reached O’Connell. “He’s got a weapon.”
The talkative bounty hunter apparently heard that, “I do,” he agreed. “It’s a non-lethal defensive autocaster. I have all the paperwork for that as well.”
O’Connell had a sour look on his face. He clearly didn’t like the drama he’d stumbled into and the players weren’t providing him enough cues to decide who the villain of the piece was. He’d started to cast suspicious looks at Jessie as well. She realized he thought they might be telling the truth and he wondered if she was a dangerous mage. If only; she’d love to have some sort of magic to throw around just then. If she got out of this, she was going to have Kyle teach her how to throw a fireball.
O’Connell spoke, “I’m going to have to ask you to stand clear Miss.”
“Sure. He’s lying.”
“Since the young lady doesn’t want to go with you, I assume you’re transporting her with a warrant.”
“Of course, officer, it’s in the glove box of our van. I’ll just get it.”
“He’s lying,” Jessie repeated herself urgently.
“He can’t. Warrants come with all the details of the issuing court. Once I have the paperwork in hand I’ll call it in. If it’s not valid we’ll know.”
“I’m not even a mage!”
“Then they don’t have a valid IP warrant.” O’Connel hadn’t taken his eyes off the bounty hunters and his gun hadn’t wavered during the entire conversation. That, at least, gave Jessie a little hope. She couldn’t help thinking they were rather outnumbered. She bet the cop was feeling even more outnumbered. “Moving slowly, and holding it by the end, take your weapon out and set it on the ground. Then move to stand by your partner. Don’t move suddenly.”
The bounty hunter was already doing as he’d been told. All of his moves syrup slow and exaggerated. The weapon came out and settled onto the ground. He walked to stand by his partner.
“I’m not even on duty,” O’Connell said. Jessie wasn’t sure who he was talking to. No one probably. “Is your vehicle unlocked?” That was addressed to the bounty hunters.
“And you say the paperwork is in your front, passenger side, glove-box?”
“Right on top. You’ll find everything you need. Some of it’s copys, not originals, but the numbers are all there.”
“Fine, keep standing still.” The cop walked over to the van. He had to sort of walk sideways, but he was able to keep his gun trained and his eyes on the two. The bounty hunters took it all so calmly Jessie started to worry they really did have a warrant for her. The cop crossed to the left side of the van, it was the wrong way to access the glove box, but it let him face the bounty hunters more readily. He opened the door slowly and then leaned inside. It was the first time he’d taken his eyes off the bounty hunters and it was apparently what they’d been waiting for.
Both men took off faster than normal humans could have. The talkative one went for the gun, the quiet one went for the van. The cop noticed, jerked out of the van and managed to fire off one shot across its hood. Jessie had no idea what he’d been aiming at but neither of the men reacted. The one who’d been running for him vaulted the van and came down on top of him before he could fire another shot. There was a quick scuffle that Jessie couldn’t see because of the bulk of the van and then the bounty hunter came up holding the cop. O’Connell was red faced and struggling. He was also disarmed.
“Could you please,” His captor asked.
The other bounty hunter leveled the spell thrower he’d already retrieved and fired a single confident shot. It hit, the cop dropped.
It occurred to Jessie at that point that she should run. She got, perhaps, five feet. There was nothing painful about the magic that knocked her unconscious.