The gymnast walked onto the floor. A hush fell over the crowd as she waited for her music to start. As the first notes rolled out from the speakers, she began her routine.
Handsprings, walkovers, splits, cartwheels, rolls - all flowed together into one image of grace. She glided across the mats. She did flips, jumps, and turns, leaving the crowd breathless. After the performance, she walked to a table and sat down. Still breathing easily, she began to sign autographs. Boys, girls, children, adults - most every one who knew gymnastics, and even some that didn't, knew of her name. After the crowds had left, she went to her private gym and started working out. Many people had tried to find the location of her private gym but only her and her personal trainer knew where it was and they kept a good secret. It was her place to be alone, to recover from the crowns of admirers and haters alike
Tesha had always wanted to have someone special to share this retreat with - someone with whom she could be close to and share all she had. So far, she had not met this person, "The price of fame," she was often heard to say. On this particular day, Tesha was lifting weights. All of a sudden, a hand clapped across her mouth. As the barbells clattered to the floor, she impulsively screamed but only a strangled sputter came out. A blindfold was tied across her eyes and a gag slipped under the hand and across her mouth. From the beginning she had been struggling violently and now her arms were grabbed and tied behind her back. A soft sweet voice, with an underlying menace to it, commanded "Stand." She complied and the "Move forward" was accompanied with an insistent poke in the back. With little choice she complied. She was pushed and placed in the back of what she thought was a van. Once there, her feet were bound and she was left alone. She struggled briefly and then gave it up as useless. Without warning, the vehicle started moving and Tesha was thrown forward. After steading herself, she settled down to wait out the ride.
Tesha arrived at an unknown destination. Before being removed from the van her legs were untied and then she was forced to walk, stumbling often on the rough ground. She could feel the grass swishing against her legs. Then they walked out onto what apparently was a mowed area because Tesha could no longer feel the grass. She could hear no traffic or other sounds of the city. She was placed in a vehicle of some sort. Her captors (she had determined that there were 2) then retied her legs and departed in the van. Tesha was left alone for about an hour and she discovered that she could inch around and explore things with her hands by backing into them. In the time she was left alone she totally explored, inch by painful inch, the small area she was in. It was totally bare with no sharp edges sticking out so there was no chance of escape. When her captures came back, they immediately started the engine and to Tesha's surprise took off in what was obviously an airplane. Tesha estimated they were in the air about two hours. The landing was very rough and she was bounced around and received a good many bruises. The kidnappers immediately took her from the plane and she was escorted to a room where the sweet voiced one placed a very sharp knife in her hands. She was then left alone to remove her bonds if she could. She succeeded in cutting her arms apart quite easily by shoving the knife in a crack in the wall and rubbing the rope against it. She received numerous cuts from the knife in the process. As soon as she had cut free her hands, Tesha removed the gag and blindfold and stared in wonder. She was in a large room that was outfitted as a gym similar to her own. As Tesha stared in wonder at the gym a very harsh voice commanded her to perform. Jolted back to reality Tesha cut the ropes on her legs and stood defiantly "Why should I?" she demanded.
The voice answered, "Because there is a gun pointed at you." Not knowing if this were true or not Tesha decided she had better acquiesce. She informed the invisible voice that she had to warmup first. The voice agreed and so Tesha began her regular warmup. This lasted 15 min. and then she began to give a gymnastic performance equal to any she had ever given before. The voice informed her of its approval and then a tray of food appeared out of a hole in the left wall. Until that moment Tesha had not realized how famished she was. She sat down and hungrily devoured her food. She was just wondering what to do next when the lights blinked. She glanced at her watch and realized it was 8:00. Tesha looked around the room and discovered a door on the right. When opened, this door revealed a bedroom and bath complete with all the basic necessities. The lights blinked again and she decided to get ready for bed. She quickly performed the regular tasks and then climbed into bed. Almost immediately the lights went out.
The next morning Tesha awoke early and got out of bed. She readied herself for the day and went into the gym. She began her morning routine which she had been doing every morning since she was five years old. A stretching warmup then seventy-five sit-ups, thirty pushups, twenty pull-ups and two laps around the gym. Once warmed up she did a light routine and then some cool down stretches. After she was finished the final stretches, and as if someone had read her mind, breakfast appeared through the hole. After she finished breakfast, she looked around wondering what she should do. She discovered another door on the far right side of the gym and decided to explore. As Tesha stepped through the door she beheld a wondrous sight--at least to her. The room was huge and filled wall to wall with books. She wandered through the aisles gazing with wonder at the hundreds of books. Seeing one she had always wanted to read but had never been able to find Tesha pulled it down. She walked over to a large chair and settled down to read. She soon lost track of the time and was lost in the wonders of her book. She was startled out of the depths of an English cave by a bell ringing. She went into the gym to investigate and saw that lunch had come. She wondered why a bell had rung this time and not the others. Thinking that it was a little early she glanced at her watch and was startled to find it after twelve. Tesha ate her lunch in thoughtful silence, and thought about how perfect this gym was and how nice the accommodations were. She thought how she wished the service at hotels were as prompt even when you forgot about your meals.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
It had been two days since the great gymnast's disappearance. When she had not arrived at a scheduled performance her trainer had gone to the gym and found the weights were she had dropped them but no Tesha. When she had still not shown up by the next morning, the police had been called. The news was not encouraging as nothing new had been found. Her disappearance had had a profound effect on one particular person. He had grown up in a rough neighborhood living on the streets since the age of seven when his father had died. His mother had died at his birth and he had no siblings to his knowledge. His name was Justin and he had long admired Tesha and had never missed a performance. Although he rarely had the chance to see her in person, Justin always went to the nearest TV and watched Tesha perform. He listened with intense concentration to every scrap of information he could get ahold of after her disappearance. Justin even found out where Tesha's secret gym was and snuck into it. With all the police activity it wasn't hard to locate. In the search to find her, the police had taken little care in keeping the location of the gym a secret. He searched the whole place from top to bottom in search of any clues. All he found was a cigarette butt. Justin carefully pocketed it and went to ask around at the stores. Most of the buildings in this area were warehouses with which the gym blended most cleverly. The run down look of the outside of the building screened the sophisticated gym beyond. There was a bar and a small convenience store, though. Justin went first to the bar.
"Had many customers lately?"
"No, actually we've been closed the last two days. Had a doozy of a fight two nights ago. Shut down the whole place the last two nights for repairs. Just opened up again this morning. Why do you ask?"
"I was just trying to track down a friend and had hoped they'd been here."
"Nope. Sorry I can't help you, maybe another time."
"Well, thanks anyway."
Justin headed out into the street and over to the convenience store.
Justin walked in and went straight for the cigarette stand. After glancing over the brands, he found the one he wanted. It was a seldom used brand (that his dad had happened to smoke and Justin well remembered being sent to the store to pick up a pack. Back then in his neighborhood stores would sell just about anything to just about anyone with the money to pay) that matched the stub he had found in the gym. Justin knew that Tesha was a strong advocate for no-smoking and did not smoke nor would hire any one that did smoke. After replacing the cigarette pack, he walked over to the candy rack and picked up a candy bar. He really couldn't afford to buy something but he wanted information. He went up to the counter and while the man was ringing up the candy bar he made small talk.
"Don't get many customers in here, do you?"
"Nope, not many people left round here."
"You know that Marlos brand of cigarettes?"
"Yea I know 'em."
"My brother uses them. He says that not many people do."
"Yea, that's right. Funny you should mention them. Had someone in here two days ago bought a pack of them."
"They always advertise that brand as a lady's brand but my brother likes them anyway."
"I guess a lot of men think that way. This one was certainly a man and he must have been close to six feet. There was another guy with him who was a real midget. Looked real funny walking in here together."
"You wouldn't happen to have a name on that guy. My brother's always looking for anyone who smokes that brand."
"Yes, I do. It's a tough neighborhood and I card everyone even if they look like they're over 70. Besides, he wrote a check. Here it is, David Lung. He lives in Saris. That's about four hours from here, straight west."
"Well thanks, I'll pass it on to my brother." Pleased with his work, Justin left the store and headed for the bus station. He was determined to track down Tesha.
He took a bus to Saris and then looked for a public phone. Finding one, he looked up Lung. There it was. Lung, David, complete with the address. Justin carefully copied down the address and then went looking for a map. He borrowed one and found the address. As the house was fairly close he decided to walk. When he got there, he immediately circled it and found it had only one door that was on the front. He then went to a nearby phone and called a friend of his. "Can I borrow your car?" He asked.
"Of course, I'm coming to town on business and you can have it while I'm in town. I need the exercise and it's a small town," replied his friend.
"Meet me in front of 134 Apple Blossom Lane."
"See you in a bit."
Justin kept watch on the house until his friend arrived with the car. After saying hi his friend left and Justin went back to watching the house. About two hours after he had received the car, a pair of men, just like the shopkeeper had described, came out of the house. There was no mistaking that pair! As long as they were together, they stuck out like a sore thumb. The two men climbed into a car and Justin was careful to mark down the license plate number. He then proceeded to follow the men. He followed them to the store where they bought several cases of soup and an apple sized box of vegetables They also went to a clothing store and bought some girls jeans and T-shirts. Justin thought this was most suspicious. They headed east, out into the nearby country at what seemed a hurried pace. He thought they were not very good at kidnaping because they paid no attention to him at all even with few other cars on the road.
He followed them for about half an hour before they turned down a narrow road, which was almost overgrown and completely surrounded by towering trees. By then Justin was quite some way behind them for he didn't want them to get suspicious. He was creeping along when he saw a side rode and decided to stop while he was ahead. Getting out of the car he crept forward and breathed a sigh of relief that he had not continued in the car. He was at the edge of a clearing and in the middle there was a huge building. It was a basic rectangle with three rooms coming off but only the one on the left had a window. The men were just going into that room which, had an outside door. The only other outside door was in the wall closest to him. A few moments after the men entered the room, a radio started blaring away and Justin again thought how careless the men were.
Justin went back to the car and carefully hid it under some brush and branches. He waited for the men to leave and after four hours they finally did. By then it was quite dark out so he crept up to the window and peered in. The room was outfitted with lots of electronic equipment and there was also a refrigerator. Justin was amazed that there was no alarm system. This was just another example of how careless the men were. There was a curious looking contraption on the right wall of the room and as he watched, a man inside the room prepared a meal and set it on the top of the contraption. The man pushed a button and immediately the top board slid through an opening in the wall and disappeared. About 15 minutes later the tray came back. Empty!
While wondering about that he looked at all the electronic equipment. He began to sort it out and realized there was a P.A. system in there and also video surveillance. There was also a bed where the man apparently slept. Thinking he saw some TV screens Justin moved to the other side of the window for a better view. Yes, there were three T.V. screens. One showed a gym similar to Tesha's and the second one showed an impressive library, and the third a bedroom--there she was! She was getting ready for bed in the third room. As Justin stared, she calmly brushed her teeth and brushed out her hair. After that she put on a nightgown and climbed into bed. Immediately the man in the room flipped a switch and the room went dark.
Since he could no longer see Tesha, he turned his attention back to the man in the room. This man would certainly never stick out in a crowd. He was quite ordinary with brown hair and eyes. He was about 5'4" and fairly slender. He probably didn't weigh over a hundred and didn't look too muscular. Justin watched the man and tried to decide how to rescue Tesha.
Suddenly the man got up from his chair. Thinking he had been seen, Justin ducked down. When he peeked in again the man was lying on the bed. Justin waited until the man began to snore. When he was sure that the man was quite asleep he crept over to the door. He carefully tried the knob. To his amazement and delight the door opened easily. He slipped into the room and made his way over to the feeding contraption in the wall. He soon found the button that made it work, but before climbing through he grabbed a flashlight from the table. Looking around for a way to keep the door open, he found a large book and brought it with him onto the serving counter. He cautiously reached out and pushed the button. The door slid open easily on well oiled hinges. Silently he slid through the hole. The door began to close even before he was through so he quickly put the thick book into the opening before it became closed off. While he was slipping the book in the crack he noticed a small bell next to the door and he wondered what it was for.
As soon as he got off the counter it slid back to the other side but the book held the door open. He turned the flashlight on and crept through the jungle of gym equipment toward one of the doors on the far side. He cautiously opened the door. Yes, it was the right one! He could just make out the outline of Tesha in the bed and hear her gentle breathing. Thankfully and with a sense of relief he slipped into the room and crept to were she lay. He put his hand on her mouth hoping that she would not scream when awakened. He shook her gently and she awoke with a start. He immediately put a finger to his lips and she relaxed. He took his hand from her mouth slowly. "Come quickly," He mouthed and she nodded. As she followed him through the gym she wondered about this handsome man and where he had materialized from. Her musings were interrupted by his whisper. "You first and don't bump into anything on the other side." Tesha nodded and carefully climbed through, watchful not to let the opening close.
Justin slipped through the hole behind her. He set the flashlight where he had found it and replaced the book. With a sense of anticipation he took her hand and led her between the equipment and quietly past the sleeping man. With a great sense of relief and almost jubilation they slipped out the door. He led her through the dark night, across the dewy grass to the car. He uncovered it as she got inside. Pushing the car so as not to awaken the man, they traveled a good 15 yards before Justin climbed in and started it. As they drove down the road Tesha turned to him. "Who are you and how did you find me?" She demanded.
"My name's Justin," he said, then proceeded to tell her how he had traced her. When they got to Saris, they immediately went to the police station. When they walked through the door the desk clerk looked up startled and just stared. "How? Where? Where did you come from young lady!?" he sputtered, "Don't you know that the entire country has been looking for you!?" Demanded the startled policeman, pulling himself together.
"Yes, Yes, Yes," Justin replied, "Now listen up, if you act quick you can catch the kidnappers. Now you go out Military Ave . . . " Justin quickly supplied the startled officer with all the evidence and information he possessed. The desk clerk immediately got some more officers and they headed for the gym Justin had described. An hour and a half later the desk clerk came back with the one man who had been left on guard. The other officers had been left behind to catch the two men when they returned. The brown haired man was quite willing to confess everything he knew. He started by saying that the only reason Tesha was kidnaped was to perform for John Cunningham. It turned out that John Cunningham was a very rich, very selfish man. He loved the grace that Tesha performed with and wanted her all to himself. The other two men were hired thugs and he was just the guard. He had been forced to do it or they would have killed his sister. After the confession the policeman immediately sent some officers to arrest Cunningham and Justin was free to take Tesha home.
The police warned them not to let anyone know that Tesha had been found. "We want to catch the other two." He explained. Justin understood and they left quietly while it was still dark out. The next morning they received a phone call from the police. They had followed John Cunningham to the two thugs' hangout and when all of them had gone back to the gym they had been caught red handed. The two thugs had confessed right away so now that it was over Tesha could announce that she was back safe and sound.
She did her first public performance only two days later and of course Justin was there, this time in person. He possessed a hidden talent for writing music and had lovingly written the score for her new routine. After the performance, as she was signing autographs, she jokingly told her fans, "He arrived Justin time to give my career and personal life a boost!"