Ah, relief! Done studying for finals, I headed out to commiserate with my friend. 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a gauzy white shirt with blue embroidered trim, Levi’s 501s, and earth shoes – remnants of my New Jersey wardrobe, but outdated for Los Angeles in 1981.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 walked 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 and grinned. “Hey doll, my name’s Vincent, what’s yours?”
Several other women sat nearby, but Vincent fixated on me. I sat up straight while tilting my head. The driver tossed a glance my way but focused on traffic. Vincent appeared to be barely twenty with his perfect skin, wavy shoulder length hair, 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 mind.”
“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 the van rounded the corner again.
Another few minutes passed. I continued to wait. I checked my watch and huffed in frustration. The old lady next to me nodded and 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 Mercedes and beaters. I stood and walked toward the van.
Vincent opened his door, hopped out, and I climbed in. I kneeled between the two front bucket seats. My long legs stretched out into 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 thrust me down with such force my head 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.” The van 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. I could see the back window of the van and blankets in a pile. 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 the lecture my high school chemistry teacher gave when he picked me up hitchhiking, despite this being a common practice in the 1970s. I recalled 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. He raised himself into a stoop and sat back. Released, I crawled to the rear of the van. My skin felt sticky from the flood of cold sweat. My brain 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 only lived in Los Angeles for 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 the back doors behind me. One of them removed the fuel cap and gas flowed into the tank. I thought 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. 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 the van. He bent forward and snarled, “Just sit there.”
I fixated on the van’s sliding side door, which was nearer to me than to Vincent. I recognized the silver L-shaped handle. I had opened this heavy door in other vans. I calculated the time it would take to reach it, engage the lever, and slide the door 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 only attempt 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 of the van 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. Although only a few minutes passed, I felt like I had engaged in this agonizing debate for hours. Sick with foreboding, I struggled to hold back 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 peered into the rear view mirror. “Vincent, we’ll be there soon.”
Vincent now behaved as if we were headed 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 fuck 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. My brain assessed ideas, discarded 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 thought 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 many of the boys in my small hometown owned vans like this and that I recently moved to LA for college. 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 flash 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. “Not even close.”
Vincent and Doug reminisced about a party they attended the night before. They compared me to a hot blonde who ignored them both. Bob peered out the window, sipped a beer, and chain-smoked. Vincent chided him for being a wet blanket, so Bob began singing along to the radio.
We exited at Long Beach. 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 boy right.”
Birthday boy Bob shuffled to the back. “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. I raised my head. “It’s OK, honey. Everything’s fine.” I leaned in, 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 took off my shirt and bra. I crouched in front of him and leaned forward to offer my bare breasts.
After Bob finished his half-hearted bumbling and brief penetration, he slowly dressed. I strained to hear Vincent and Doug, but could detect only the muffled crunching of feet on gravel. My anxiety escalated and my heart thumped as each additional second passed.
As Bob left the van, 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. Blood rushed to my head. I felt so dizzy I thought I might pass out. I slowed my heart rate, swallowed my terror, and focused on the task at hand.
Doug sat close and offered me a drag from his cigarette. I opened my mouth twice, trying to start a conversation. But my brain would not cooperate. I bit my lower lip. I unbuckled his pants. “Come here baby.”
I heard Vincent and Bob’s intermittent laughter and sometimes 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, grinned, and left.
Vincent entered the van in a fine mood and flying high. “Apologies for spoiling your plans to visit your friend. I just can’t understand why I had to help a good-looking eighteen year-old lose his virginity.”
Vincent first approached me as a lover, trying to arouse me. So I moaned and pulled him close. Sometimes he called me a whore and demanded that I admit I waited at the bus stop to pick up men. I denied this and forced myself to look into his eyes to convey my sincerity. I sucked his dick on my own initiative and changed positions several times at his command.
Afterward, he told me to get dressed. I wondered if they were preparing to lead me to a better killing spot. Instead, Vincent thanked me for being a good sport and promised they would drive me to my 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 shifted from feeling giddy with hope to being fearful and wary.
Bob rode in the back with me. 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 heading back to Hollywood? I did not recognize any of the street names, but that meant little. It was midnight, so I could distinguish only the brightly lit fastfood restaurants. When we exited on Sunset, I exhaled slowly. Vincent turned to me. “Almost there.”
We pulled up to my friend’s building. Vincent slid out of his seat and into the van’s 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 said, “RUN, RUN, before they shoot you in the back.” My feet hit the ground hard.
And I ran.
Mary Beth O’Connor currently is writing her memoir. This piece won First Place in Book Length Nonfiction Memoir in 2016 at the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference and was published in the Noyo River Review. This year I was awarded third place in novel in the Mendocino competition. I also won Best of Show Memoir in 2017 and Honorable Mention Memoir in 2016 in the Literary Arts Competition at the San Mateo County Fair. Both pieces are published in the 2016 Carry The Light anthology. Another piece won Honorable Mention in the Keats literary competition. That piece was separately published by online magazine The Ravens Perch.