An Unexpected Distraction (Judge # 3) by Catherine Bybee

“I’m taking a nap,” Jax informed her.

Someone laughed.

A male someone.

“I thought for sure it would be Claire or Cooper,” Jax said.

“Not this year.”

“Is Neil with us?” she asked.

“Nice try. I’m the only voice you get to hear.” Sasha’s words were spoken in Russian.

Jax found herself listening more intently with the language change.

“If you were actually being abducted, perpetrators would watch your body language to see if you understood. It’s always best to hide your knowledge as long as you can,” Sasha told her.

Jax had heard that before, but never thought it would apply to her.

She kept her hands on her thighs as the van bounced down the road. She’d paid attention to the turns until she was fairly certain whoever was driving was going in circles.

“When we get to the location, you’ll be put in a room with a change of clothes. Everything comes off, even your earrings. The simulation is that of a full body search.” Sasha switched to German, a language Jax was one hundred percent fluent in. She made a point of not moving even a finger when Sasha spoke. “From there you’ll be in a room, a single chair, hands behind your back. This is meant to make you think. If at any time you feel truly trapped, use the safe word. We’ll put you in an adjacent room with a bed and food to wait out the team.”

Jax sucked in a breath. If memory served, the last two years they’d found the victim comfortably in a room watching TV and eating popcorn.

Jax leaned her head back and closed her eyes . . . for real this time.

Eventually whoever was driving stopped the van, and she was led out into the cold, damp air.

She smelled the ocean, stronger than being a half a mile offshore.

Although she tried hard to keep her balance, Jax found herself stumbling even with someone on each side keeping her from falling.

None of them spoke.

They stopped, and the sound of a beeping keypad preceded the noise of a metal gate opening.

Then they were walking slowly, descending in elevation, her shoes gripping the surface. Once the ground leveled, it moved.

The soft lapping of water and creaking of ropes told her they were on a dock.

Motion sickness had never been something Jax was burdened with, but she felt a little nauseous walking on the moving surface while she was unable to see.

As soon as she was on board the vessel, she was put in a cold space and told to wait.

Once Sasha was out of the room, an intercom crackled. “You can take off the hood, change your clothes. Leave everything behind . . .” Sasha hadn’t stopped talking and already Jax took off the hood that had covered her head. Even with the dim light, there was comfort in seeing the world around her.

“There’s a restroom to your left. Use it. When you’re done, put the hood back on and stand facing the door with your hands behind your back. In the real world you would fight. You would get hurt. You might even escape. But most times this is where the victim is debilitated enough to make it impossible for them to get out on their own.”

As promised, she was placed in a room, hands tied behind her back and sitting in a straight-backed chair. They replaced the hood with a blindfold.

As soon as she was alone, she started working on getting the blindfold off.

Not seeing what was around her was freaking her out more than she would have expected. The slight sway of the ship wasn’t helping.

She shifted in the chair, quickly realizing that even though her hands were tied to the edges of the chair, she had some give as the rope slid up and down.

In what felt like a half an hour she managed to get a tiny gap in the bottom of the blindfold so she could see the floor.

But the room was dark. Her field of vision was next to nothing.

If she had shoes on, and those shoes were hiding some kind of sharp device . . . she might be able to kick her feet back and remove it with her fingertips.

She found a slight laugh on her tongue. The next time she planned on getting abducted she’d have to be wearing said shoes with said knife.

For a moment, Jax considered trying to stand and walk with the chair on her back to determine if she could see anything in the room. But Sasha had said the room would be empty, so what was the point?

Instead, she tried to relax and let her body listen.

When one sense was turned off, the others were known to turn on.

She quieted her brain and took in her surroundings.

The space was quiet, the boat gently swayed. A soft hum of power, maybe from a refrigerator or something like it, came from just beyond the room. Every once in a while, it felt as if the boat pushed up against something. The dock.