The air smelled of detergent and ocean. The night silence only interrupted by the occasional creak of the aluminium shed when the chill wind whipped through.
In the darkness, the girl was just waking up. Her eyelids were heavy, her mouth bone dry, and she was aware of the sensation of cold, hard metal against her skin. Blinking and disorientated, she tried to get her bearings, but her vision was blurry. She could just make out a dim light, hovering in the distance.
As her mind slowly cleared, a shot of pain penetrated her skull so intense, it made her nauseous and shiver uncontrollably. Willing her eyes to focus, she looked straight up. The sight that greeted made her heart race inside her chest, and the bile rise in her throat.
In the full-length mirror suspended above her, she could see herself strapped by her wrists and ankles to a stainless-steel table. Grey duct tape was strapped across her forehead, securing her head, and her golden blonde hair cascaded over the side of the table. The cold air washed over her, numbing her skin, and turning her breath to fog. The cold was made all the more severe because whoever had done this to her, had also stripped her of her clothes. Her body heat did little to ease the violent shivering and chattering of her teeth. Tears filled her eyes, and a small squeak escaped her throat.
“So . . . you’re awake.” A voice said startling her. It was a male voice, gritty and unfriendly, and she struggled desperately against her restraints.
“Plea . . . please—”
“ENOUGH!” He barked.
“What . . . do . . . you—” She said with short, sharp breaths.
“I SAID ENOUGH!” The voice sounding closer this time.
The girl could hear a squelching noise, as though he was walking through puddles. The sound stopped, and a harsh light flickered on above her, stinging her eyes. His face suddenly appeared directly above, making her shriek. He regarded her silently for a few moments. Blinking back the tears, the girl could see he was wearing some sort of protective overalls, a hairnet, and a face mask hung around his neck.
“Do you recognize me?” He asked.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
“No. Please let me go—” she sobbed.
Ignoring her, he continued, “Well, you will soon enough.” He shifted position to her right-hand side, and unnerving silence took over. He stared intently at her face—which was now red and blotchy from her tears. She’s beautiful, on the outside, he thought. Her golden skin was dappled with freckles across her cheeks, and she had round doe-like eyes. She certainly took good care of herself. Finally, he spoke again, “Tell me. Your breasts. Are they real?” His eyes didn’t leave her face.
“W . . . what?”
“Don’t play dumb with me, princess. You heard me.”
The only reply she could muster was squeezing her eyes firmly shut. Adrenaline flooded her veins, and she felt like her heart might explode at any second. The fear that was surging uncontrollably through her body made the need to vomit intensify, and the little saliva she had left, thickened in her throat.
“I’ll try again. Your breasts, are they real?”
The girl’s bottom lip trembled like a child’s, and her breath quickened. She’d had a breast enlargement over six months ago, along with many other cosmetic procedures. Hot tears rolled down her face and dripped onto the table. The waves of anxiety and terror were breaking down any remaining defences she had left.
“Open your eyes and look at me,” the man said firmly.
The girl did as she was told and took several deep breaths in an attempt to calm herself.
“How did you pay?”
“W . . . what?” She asked, confused. Why would he care how she’d paid?
“It’s not a hard question.” The man screwed up his eyes and pinched the skin on the bridge of his nose as if pained by her stupidity and ignorance, “How . . . did . . . you. . . pay?”
“W . . . wo . . . work—”
“And where is it that you work?”
She wracked her brains for an answer, the empty silence making her insides somersault. Words evaded her, it was as if her inner voice was muzzled, preventing her from thinking. Sneaking a sideways glance at her captor, she saw the flash of anger in his eyes.
“Credit cards. I paid with credit cards,” she faltered.
She heard the man let out a long, exasperated sigh.
“Which one is it, princess? Work or credit cards?”
The earlier brain fog returned. Her lips moved, but no words came out.
“Fine.” He smiled. “You had your chance.” And with that, he vanished out of sight.
Panicking, her eyes darted in every direction, trying to locate him in the darkness. With all the strength she could muster, she twisted her limbs in a feeble attempt to free herself. Unsuccessful, she let out a pathetic and defeated wail.
She heard him chuckle, “Don’t bother, princess.”
Hopelessness took over. She longed to be warm and cuddled up in bed with her best friend watching The Hills or The Bachelor with a glass of wine and some pizza. The man’s next question brought her crashing back to reality. “How do you know Mrs Christos?”
A violent shiver ran the length of her entire body, and she let out an ear-shattering scream. She curled her fingers into fists, her long nails digging into her palms.
“That’s okay. We’ll get back to that question.” His voice closer again. “Here is another one for you. Do you know where we are?” He reappeared at her right-hand side and back into view. He held an object in his right hand that was now covered in a blue latex glove. “We are approximately two hundred kilometres southwest of Melbourne.” He continued, not waiting for a reply. “On the coast in a fishing shed in Apollo Bay.”
The smells and the sounds made sense to her now.
“But don’t you worry, the fishermen won’t be arriving for hours.” And with a sickening grin, he lifted his right hand, so she could see what he was holding.
Her screams vibrated around the shed and fear tore at her insides, making her stomach hurt. “NO, NO, NO!” Her body bucked frantically against the table.
“This is a Yanagi, also known as a Japanese filleting knife.” He twirled the knife from side to side, and the blade glistened in the light. “It’s designed specifically for cutting razor-thin slices of fish needed to create sashimi.” He noted how the sight of the knife caused the girl to start convulsing uncontrollably. She wasn’t even listening anymore, but still, he continued. “Three hundred dollars this cost me, and I bet it’ll be worth every cent.” He pressed the cold blade against her cheek, and she felt her throat constrict.
“I’ll . . . p . . . pay,” she shuddered, her breathing becoming increasingly more erratic.
“What exactly will you pay?” The man cocked his head to one side.
“I’ll . . . p . . . pay—”
“Spit it out, princess.”
“I’ll pay her back. Every cent, I promise. I promise. I—” She broke off into a whimper.
“Oh, I know you will,” he said, his voice hostile. “Just not in the manner that you think.” The man moved back to where he started, directly behind her, the knife in his right hand. “I have two more questions for you, and then we’ll get on with things.” He tapped the blade against the table. “One. Do you know what infuriates me the most in this life?” The girl watched as his eyes narrowed, and his jaw tightened. “The lack of justice in this world. Good, honest, hardworking people, going about their own lives, are wronged every single day, and yet there’s no punishment for the vermin who decide to transgress.”
The air within the shed thickened, and she watched as the man’s expression morphed from anger to something resembling bewilderment.
“Our criminal justice system is littered with corruption. Plea bargains, media attention and being on the winning side are way more important than being on the right side. And don’t get me started on the defence lawyers, what a joke they are.” He closed his eyes and breathed in a visibly agitated breath. Opening his eyes, he continued, his voice appearing calmer, more focused. “The truth of the matter is that our justice system is flawed in just about every way imaginable. Lawyers are some of the most dishonest, power-hungry people that I’ve ever met, and the judges . . .” He shook his head as though unable to believe the words coming out of this own mouth. “Well, the judges are no less susceptible to bias than anyone else I’m afraid. Then there are the juries. Those imbeciles make terrible, simply awful, decisions.” Another frustrated sigh escaped his lips. “All in all, people are better off taking justice into their own hands, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I . . . I don’t know.” The girl said, her heart beating so hard and fast that it was echoing in her ears.
“My final question is one I’ve already asked,” he said, grabbing the face mask around his neck, and placing it over his nose and mouth. “Do you know who I am?”
“No.” Her voice laboured from crying.
“NO!” she screamed.
“Well, today, I am justice.”