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By:T. R. Ragan

so, he did as she asked.

"Okay, Nicole. What would you do if someone grabbed you, like Sheriff Stuckey is doing now, and told you to get into his car?"

Nicole swallowed. "I don't know." She made a feeble attempt to wriggle out of Sheriff Stuckey's grasp, but she couldn't get loose. "This is freaking me out," Nicole said. "I don't even want to think about it. I don't know what to do." Tears gathered in her eyes. "Please, let me go."

Lizzy raised a brow at Bob, letting him know now would be a good time to let go of Nicole.

He quickly dropped his arm.

The girl obviously needed a few more sessions before she was used as a guinea pig. Lizzy pointed to the back of the room where one girl sat as far away from the others as she could possibly get. The girl couldn't be much older than sixteen, maybe seventeen, but the five piercings on each ear, one on her nose, and one on each brow made her look older, tougher. Her black hair was short and spiky and, despite the February chill in the air, the girl wore a dark blue spaghetti-strapped top, a mini skirt, and worn sneakers without shoelaces. A tattoo of an angel on her collarbone stood out on her fair skin. Ouch.

"What about you?" Lizzy asked the girl. "What would you do if someone grabbed you?"

The girl chewed her gum, blew a bubble, a great big bubble that she managed to suck back into her mouth without leaving a trace of goo on her face. Impressive.

The cold and calculating look in the girl's brown eyes was supposed to cover up what Lizzy guessed to be a severe case of loneliness.

"What's your name?" Lizzy asked.

"Hayley Hansen." She pulled the wad of gum out of her mouth, stuck it to the bottom side of the desk, then stood and headed for Sheriff Stuckey, who looked more than a little worried by the girl coming toward him.

"Go ahead," Lizzy told Sheriff Stuckey when Hayley stopped in front of him and turned toward the class.

Sheriff Stuckey put his arm around the girl's neck, locking her in by grasping his other hand around his forearm.

"Okay," Lizzy said to Hayley. "You're in the park and this guy has just walked up behind you and put a stranglehold on you."

Hayley looked bored out of her mind.

"What would you do?"

"I'd bite a chunk out of the motherfucker's arm." And then she went on to demonstrate.

"Ow! Shit!" Bob Stuckey yanked his arm away and jumped back. "Jesus." His long-sleeved shirt was torn and blood began to seep through the cottony fabric.

Lizzy ran to the other side of the room and grabbed the first aid kit. She handed the plastic box to Sheriff Stuckey and ushered him toward the bathroom.

Parents murmured worriedly to one another.

Once Lizzy found her place at the front of the class again, a few random giggles erupted on one side of the room. Jane Stuckey, Sheriff Stuckey's fifteen year-old daughter, turned toward the other girls. "It's not funny."

"No," Lizzy agreed, "there's never anything funny about someone getting hurt." Lizzy looked at Hayley, who had returned to her seat at the back of the room. "Hayley, I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you didn't mean to hurt Sheriff Stuckey, but I am also going to remind each and every one of you," Lizzy said, making eye contact with every girl in the room, "that this is serious business. And for that reason I'm going to use what Hayley just did to Sheriff Stuckey as an example of what you should do in this type of situation. How many of you think Hayley would have gotten away if she was attacked?"

They all raised their hands.

Lizzy nodded in agreement.

One of the teenager's mothers, who had been sitting at the far side of the room through the entire class, bolted to her feet and said, "I don't see how biting an officer of the law could ever be used as an example of the right thing to do."

Lizzy sighed. "That's because you, Mrs. Goodmanson, have never been held against your will, have you?"

Mrs. Goodmanson opened her mouth to respond, but Lizzy didn't give her a chance to say anything. "Were you ever told to do something you didn't want to do, something you knew was wrong? Were you ever touched improperly? Have you ever had a knife put to your throat, Mrs. Goodmanson, or had a gun held to your head?"

The woman shook her head and sank back into her seat.

Lizzy turned back to the kids whose eyes were now big and round and curious. For the first time since they entered the classroom, Lizzy had their full attention. "Swear, curse, bite, kick," she said loudly, sternly as she paced the front of the room. "Do anything you have to do to get away. Yell at the top of your lungs, ‘HELP, I DO NOT KNOW THIS PERSON!' If you're on a bike, do not get off or let go of the bike. If you do not have a bike, run in the opposite direction of traffic and scream as loud as you can."

Lizzy anchored loose strands of hair behind her ear as she continued to pace the length of the room, using bold gestures to make her point. "If you can't get away and you do somehow end up in the abductor's car, roll down the window and scream. Scream every bad word you can think of...anything that might get somebody's attention. If you come to a stop sign or stop light, jump out of the vehicle and run! If the car is moving and you're in the passenger seat, grab the keys from the ignition and toss them out the window or toward the backseat. While he goes to retrieve them, get out of the car and run."

She let her gaze roam slowly about the room before she asked, "Do you understand me?"

The giggling had stopped a while ago. A severe hush floated across the room.

Every kid in the room nodded, except Hayley Hansen, who looked as if she already knew everything there was to know about bad people in the world. Bad people who did horrible things to innocent people for no reason other than to hunt and victimize, reliving their grotesque fantasies in their minds until the next time.

Sacramento, California

Monday, February 15, 2010 9:12 AM

Lizzy squeezed Old Yeller, her faded 1977 Toyota Corolla, between two cars parked on J Street, climbed out and headed down the sidewalk toward her office. Although it was past 9 a.m., a layer of thick fog still floated below the bare branches of the tree-lined street.

The cold nipped at every part of her. Lizzy rubbed her arms, and then shoved her hands deep into her coat pockets. She was cold. She was always cold. Her sister, Cathy, said it was because she didn't have enough meat on her bones. Maybe so, but one of these days she was going to move to Arizona or Mexico, maybe Palm Springs, somewhere hot, where she wouldn't have to wear gloves and two pair of socks. Her hands were just getting warm when she pulled them out of the warmth of her pockets so she could open the door to her office.

She admired the newly etched sign on the door: "Elizabeth Ann Gardner-Private Investigator." A much appreciated gift from her sister.

Lifting her elbow, she tried to wipe a smudge from the glass but the door came unexpectedly open. She wasn't expecting any clients. She wasn't married. No ex-husband. No boyfriend. No kids. One vacationing intern. One fourteen year-old niece and one sister, neither of whom had a key, which meant she had been burglarized.

Poking her head inside the front room, she heard the faint rustling of papers in the back room. Change the phrase "had been" burglarized for "was being" burglarized.

She slid her hand beneath her jacket and felt her Glock .40 snug within her holster. She unsnapped it and brought the gun to her side. Although Lizzy had never had to use the gun before, she'd been wearing one for ten years now. It was her friend. It made her feel safe.

The door jamb showed no sign of forced entry. She opened the door wide enou