Ah, relief! Done studying for finals, I threw on a gauzy white shirt with blue embroidered trim, Levi’s 501s, and earth shoes – remnants of my New Jersey wardrobe, but outdated for Los Angeles in 1981. I dashed out to commiserate with a friend. I sprinted to the corner of Sunset and Fairfax and plopped onto the bus stop bench.
As I craned my neck looking for the overdue bus, a dilapidated van pulled up to the light. A brown-haired guy leaned out the passenger window. “Hey doll, my name’s Vincent, what’s yours?”
Several other women sat nearby, but Vincent fixated on me. I sat up straight and peeked at him through my lashes. The driver tossed a glance my way but focused on traffic. Vincent appeared to be barely twenty with his perfect skin, wavy shoulder length mane, shiny hazel eyes, and radiant smile.
“Where are you headed?”
“To my friend’s apartment on the other side of Hollywood.”
“Want a ride?” Vincent tapped the door in time with the music. Pointing to the driver, “Doug won’t care.”
“No thanks, the bus will be here soon.”
Vincent started to reply, but the light turned green, so he waved as they turned right. Five minutes later, the van again stopped at the corner. “Still here? Sure you don’t want us to drop you off?”
“I’m fine. But thank you very much.”
“Come on! A girl like you shouldn’t take the bus. You deserve two chauffeurs and we’re offering our services.”
The light changed and they rounded the corner again.
Another few minutes passed. I checked my watch and huffed in frustration. The old lady next to me grumbled about the bus company lacking respect for people’s schedules.
And then the van returned. Vincent smiled. “I don’t think that bus is coming, darling. Why don’t you let us give you a lift?”
I shielded my eyes from the sun and gazed up Sunset —just the usual mix of Benz’s and beaters. I stood and walked toward Vincent.
He opened his door, hopped out, and I climbed in. I knelt between the two front bucket seats, my derriere stretching toward the empty space behind. Pointing ahead, I explained where my friend lived.
After we drove one block, two strong hands grabbed my waist from behind. Someone dragged me backward, and swung me and thrust me down with such force my forehead bounced off the floor. The assailant shoved my right arm against my spine, sat on my legs, and stuck something hard into my back.
Vincent screamed, “DON’T MOVE! Don’t you fucking move. He’ll shoot you.” We picked up speed. “Bob, do you have her?”
In that moment of total shock, in every molecule, I knew they would rape and murder me. My heart pounded so hard blood roared in my ears. I winced in pain from the arm wrenched behind me and Bob’s weight on my legs. The rough worn carpet chafed my left cheek. Scanning a pile of blankets, I wondered if Bob had hidden there.
I felt terror but not complete surprise. For a long while, part of me had expected to die like this. I recollected the stories my great-grandmother read from the scandal rag about women being tortured and killed. I thought about my high school chemistry teacher’s lecture when he picked me up hitchhiking, despite this being a common practice in the 1970s. I conjured up the daily fear of living in the house with my violent stepfather.
“We’ll let you up if you’ll remain calm,” Vincent promised. I managed to blurt out, “OK, OK.”
Bob freed my arm and paused for a minute, before he raised himself into a stoop. Released, I crawled to the rear of the van, my skin sticky from the flood of cold sweat. I absorbed every detail of the vehicle: green color, two upholstered seats, and a six pack of Bud.
I turned my attention to my captors. Bob smoothed his golden locks into place as he gawked at me. Meeting my gaze, he averted his baby blue eyes. Doug laughed and yelled “asshole” when a Corvette cut us off. Vincent turned in his seat to verify my cooperation.
I heard the horns of nearby cars and sensed even slight turns of the wheel. I controlled my breathing. I shrugged my shoulders twice to loosen my muscles. I sat against the back doors and looked past them to track our path. But I had lived in Los Angeles for only six months and we soon left familiar territory.
Doug said we needed gas. Vincent snarled, “Jesus Christ!” We pulled into a service station. Doug and Bob stood outside directly behind me. One of them removed the fuel cap and gas flowed into the tank. Bob muttered something about not wanting to do this. Remnants of Doug’s reassuring and then dismissive response floated over me.
Vincent moved from the passenger seat to Bob’s position behind the driver’s. He sat in the shadows. “I swear to God, I will kill you if you move or make a sound!” He ranted about the stupidity of forgetting to fill up. He bent forward and snarled, “Just sit there.”
I fixated on the closest exit, which was nearer to me than to Vincent. I recognized the silver L-shaped handle on the cumbersome sliding door, from similar vans owned by boys in my hometown. I calculated the time it would take to reach it, engage the lever, and propel it to the right. My mind shifted to the door behind me and assessed the long seconds required to rise on my knees, turn, and push it ajar, which I could attempt only after Doug and Bob filled the tank.
I heard people outside and tried to determine how close they were. I deliberated cracking a door partway and screaming for help. I estimated the distance between Vincent and me. I pondered the likelihood that he had a gun, because I had not seen it. I considered his rage if I failed to escape. I thought about how my death could be very painful if this man chose to make it so.
I weighed the probabilities of success and failure. Maybe there would be another chance or maybe I could manage my kidnappers well enough that they would set me free – but the odds did not favor either possibility.
Ultimately, I did not believe I would make it out before Vincent shot or tackled me. It was unlikely I could open a door wide enough to yell for help. I did not trust that the strangers outside would react even if they heard me. The pummeling from this three-minute debate drained me. Sick with foreboding, I struggled to suppress my tears as I decided not to try.
Doug and Bob returned and settled into the front seats. Bob squinted at me and began organizing his wallet. Before we drove off, Doug adjusted the rear view mirror. “Vincent, we’ll be there soon.”
Vincent now behaved as if we were en route to a party. “Bob, turn up the Zeppelin!” He gave me a beer and let me smoke a cigarette. He told me I was a birthday present for Bob, who was too old to remain a virgin. “Isn’t that right, Bob? You’ve been too afraid to screw a girl.”
I remained calm and interacted with Vincent as if we were new acquaintances getting to know each other. I remembered reading that it was important to make your kidnappers see you as an individual. So I assessed ideas, jettisoned some, and selected others, with the goal of creating a bond and convincing them of my humanity. I chose a gentle but engaged tone and relayed information I surmised might be meaningful to them.
I spent the next thirty minutes talking about various innocuous subjects. I babbled about my part-time job typing orders for personalized pencils and matchbooks. I amused them by maligning my rich classmates at UCLA. I mentioned that I recently moved to LA for college from a small working class town. I listened to their conversations and watched their interactions. Vincent said I was pretty and that everything would be fine. I beamed and nodded.
He took out his drug kit and we snorted cocaine. The white powder burned before initiating a wave of euphoria. Warmth flooded my body. I uttered an involuntary “Wow.” But after this burst of positive energy, the coke further heightened my distress level. I spent a few seconds recalibrating my breathing.
“Do you have anything this good in New Jersey?”
I never had used coke before. Still, I grinned. “Nothing like this.”
Vincent and Doug reminisced about a party they attended the night before. They compared me to a hot blonde who ignored them both. Bob gaped at the blinding streetlights, sipped a beer, and chain-smoked. Vincent chided him for being a wet blanket, so he began singing along to the radio.
I glimpsed “Long Beach” as we hauled ass off the highway. I recalled that the Queen Mary docked there, but this exhausted my knowledge. I saw bright lights in the distance. We parked in a dark isolated spot near a marina. As he departed with Doug, Vincent advised, “Treat my bro right.”
Birthday boy Bob shuffled toward me. “I’m sorry about all this.”
I contemplated asking for help, but knew he would never oppose Vincent. I allowed myself one silent resigned sigh. “It’s OK, honey. Everything’s fine.”
I smiled and caressed Bob’s neck. We kissed and talked and kissed and talked. Today was his eighteenth birthday. His family surprised him with a barbeque. And his sister still owed him a gift.
As he spoke, I listened to Vincent and Doug in deep discussion near the front of the van. I could not make out the words, but the intensity of the tone concerned me. I needed to balance making Bob feel special with my apprehension about leaving his buddies together too long. When I thought Bob felt comfortable, I discarded my shirt and bra. I crouched in front of him and offered my bare breasts.
After Bob finished his half-hearted bumbling and brief penetration, he slowly dressed. I strained to hear Vincent and Doug, but detected only the muffled crunching of feet on gravel. My anxiety escalated and my heart thumped as each additional second passed.
As Bob left, Vincent ribbed him. “How’s it feel to be a man? Well, at least not a cherry boy!”
Driver Doug joined me. This surprised and concerned me to the point of panic. As the leader, Vincent should not go last — unless he planned to murder me immediately afterward. Dizziness enveloped me as blood rushed to my head. I slowed my heart rate, swallowed my horror, and focused on the task at hand.
Doug sat close, reeking of pot, and offered me a toke off his joint. I opened my jaw twice, trying to start a conversation. But my mind would not cooperate.
Clamping my teeth onto my lip shocked me into action. I unbuckled his pants. “Come here baby.”
I heard Vincent and Bob’s intermittent laughter and half believed I might survive the night. Doug pounded me from behind. “I know you like it. Being fucked by a real man.”
He came, flashed me a smirk, and left.
Vincent flung open the door and leapt to a squat. Sparks flew as my cigarette tip swiped his jeans when I scurried out of the way. He fondled my leg, snatched my Salem, took the last drag, and crushed the butt into the wheel well.
“Apologies for spoiling your plans. I can’t understand why I had to help a foxy – isn’t that what you girls say? – eighteen year-old lose his virginity.”
With one hand, Vincent slithered out of his black T-shirt, exposing his nearly bare chest. He kicked off his grungy work boots and wiggled out of his brown corduroys. His half-erect penis glowed in the light.
“I never wear underwear.”
As I approached him on my hands and knees, I considered drawing this rape out, to extend my life another thirty minutes.
Vincent French-kissed me and twirled my nipples.
“Relax, honey. This can be fun for you too.”
I lowered my mouth, began sucking his dick, and moaned. On the verge of ejaculating, Vincent thrust my face away. “I knew you were a whore. Waiting for the bus, my ass. Admit it! You swallow cock for money.”
I squeezed my lids shut and my jowl clenched. I jiggled the muscles loose and peered into his eyes.
“No baby, no. You got me so hot, I could go down on you all night.”
Vincent hoisted me on top and I rode him until my thighs ached.
Afterward, Vincent told me to get dressed. I wondered if they were preparing to lead me to a better killing spot.
“Don’t worry, darling. You’ve been a good sport. We’ll drop you at your friend’s place.”
As we left the marina, I imagined this might be true. Doug and Vincent appeared happy as they discussed the best route to take. Bob seemed relieved. I oscillated from giddiness and hope to fear and trepidation.
Bob resumed his original position in the van’s empty center. He lay on his side, propped up by his left elbow. He closed his eyes and sipped his beer. I watched the freeway signs. Were we circling back to Hollywood? Generic neon-lit fast-food restaurants punctured the midnight sky. I did not recognize any of the street names, but that meant little. When we exited on Sunset, I exhaled slowly.
Vincent turned to me. “Almost there.”
We pulled up to my friend’s building. Vincent slipped out of his seat and into the dark interior. And he opened that heavy sliding door. Adrenaline surged and my heart raced.
I stepped out of the van. My brain said, “license plate, license plate.” But my body shrieked, “RUN, RUN, before they shoot you in the back.”
My feet hit the ground hard.
And I ran.