By Charles Stone.
“Good morning, Sandra, what’s going on?”
Sandra has a crush on me, so I try to be extra cordial to her, just to keep her
friendly. One never knows when a friend is needed in the office.
“Hi, Alan. Have you seen the brand new 3-D printer? State of the art, one of the best commercial printers.”
“So the office is finally moving on up, Woo, woo!”
Twelve years I have worked for the Urban League and this printer is the first new piece of office equipment.
She gives her best innocent girl eyes and Hollywood wave.
“See ya later.”
“See ya.” I take off my hat and stroll to the employee’s lounge for my morning coffee.
Ten o’clock and there is nothing significant happening in the office today; this is a good time to run out and scoop up a last minute birthday present for my wife, Coco. I stretch my head around the partition that separates my cube from Michael Rusidie’s, the department’s comedian.
“Hey, Michael, going out for a few minutes, cover for me.”
“Gotcha, Big Al.”
Michael always calls me Big Al because I’m only five feet four inches tall. Michael thinks he is the originator of the joke. Haha.
Market Street, I don’t like this part of town during working hours. When you walk
this part of town alone, every Jesus freak and independent street hustler considers you free and …..
“Hey, stop that man! Stop that thief! He stole my phone.”
The four men on the street look but don’t make a move to chase the thief. The women grab their bags and shriek.
The snatcher doesn’t even hesitate; he runs like he is mad at the pavement. He sticks out his left hand and uses a lamppost to catapult himself through an alley past Starbuck’s.
Unfortunately, I make eye contact with the victim.
“Catch him please, I need my phone. ” She begs.
When a woman uses the word please, I am a complete sucker.
I use the same catapult maneuver to sprint pass Starbucks. The thief is sixty yards away at the end of the alley trying unsuccessfully to climb a flimsy chain link fence. He turns when he hears my footfalls.
He’s trapped like a mouse in a maze. He’s a tall man but rail thin and sports a raggedly, bushy beard. He turns and stares; his eyes like buttons in a plastic doll’s face.
While allowing my breathing to slow, I glance around the alley for a weapon.
Just my luck, the cleanest alley in the city. Apparently my size is enough to frighten the drugged out thief.
He swipes his backhand across his face and squints at me.
“I don’t want no trouble man.” The thief puts his hand up in the universal position for surrender. “I ain’t got no beef with you man. Here, here take the stuff.”
He empties his pockets and backs against the fence.
Keeping my eyes on the crackhead, I scoop up two cell phones.
The crack head sits on the ground. “Bro, can you spare a coupla dollars? Come on, Bro.”
“No.” I turn and walk back to the street.
The screaming lady, who really needed her phone, is nowhere to be found. I ask several people on the street, no one knows. Maybe she’ll call later.
I get back to the office in time for lunch. Everybody is going through the lunch ritual.
Michael says, “Alan, are you going to lunch with us today? We’re going to the spot you like, Caribbean Breeze.”
The morning events still play in my mind. “No, I need to catch up on some work.” That’s the excuse I give.
My morning race with the thief took more out of me than I imaged, and my knees were telling me to take lunch at my desk.
My rest period is cut short by a bird chirping. It’s the cell phone, the one I recovered.
“Mrs. Chou, we have your daughter. We want one million dollars… you have two hours. We know you can get it. If I even sniff the police, she dies. Further instructions to come.
Before I can reply, the phone goes blank. Two seconds later a video flashes
a young Asian girl tied to an armless chair. The type with casters.
Electric tape wrapped around her body. Her arms and legs are pinned to the chair. Her dark straight hair is hanging down in front of her face. I can hear her sobbing loudly.
“Wait, you have the wrong man. What the hell? Is this a joke?”
The phone goes dark.
I stand and look around the office; everyone is out to lunch.
The phone again.
“Hello, you have the wrong person.”
A still picture is on the phone; a large white poster board with a hand printed message. It reads:Bring the money to the Wings, Beer and Sports Bar. Park in the parking lot. Sit in the car for exactly three minutes. Get out of the car and stand on the driver side with the briefcase under your arm, carry it like a football. Stand there until you are contacted. The money will be in small bills. Hundreds, fifties, and twenties. It is now twelve thirty. Be in the parking lot at exactly two o’clock.
I pace like a caged lion.
“Think, Alan, think.
Call the police. No. She’ll die. The phone, the phone you idiot. There has to be numbers on the phone. What the hell, there are no other numbers on the phone. So this phone was just given to the lady. Call the police, Alan. Call the police. Have to do something. Go to the bar and bargain with them? That’s it, I’ll go to the bar and … and that’s stupid. The money, I need to get the money. Where in heaven’s name will I get that kinda money?
Sandra’s voice blasts me out of my thoughts. “What do you need to think about, Alan?
“Whoa, Oh, Sandra, you startled me. I must get this project done that’s all.”
“Are you okay, Alan, you look anxious.”
“I’m good, Sandra.
Okay, I’m going to copy a project. You need anything copied or printed?”
Every nerve in my body is screaming, Leave me alone so I can think! Aloud I say, “No, Sandy, I’m still working on it, thanks.”
“Okay,” she says. And walks away.
I sit on the corner of my desk. “The printer!”
It’s two o’clock and the car is hot. Three minutes to wait.
It’s hotter outside. I feel stupid and afraid standing outside roughneck bar with a briefcase under my arm.
A large man approaches. He’s dressed in all black with a Fedora pulled low on his head. “This way,” he says in a very deep voice that sounds like a disguise.
He stares at me for several seconds and walks away, turns to see if I follow.
He walks around the corner of the bar and disappears.
I follow and stop at the top of a creepy staircase. The sound of footfalls on gravel make me jump, and I almost shriek.
“Don’t turn around, ” the same voice, “And who the hell are you?”
“I’m a friend of the family.”
He pats me down. “Walk down the stairs.”
“There’s no light; I can’t see.”
I reached the bottom of the stairs. A blazing light explodes in my eyes.
“He’s clean.” The same deep voice behind me.
“Who are you?” A voice to my right, flat no inflection. A young person is trying to sound mature.
“Throw the money in this direction.” A different voice, an older man.
“Where’s the girl?” I ask.
I hear the sound of a shotgun round being chambered. I’m sure it’s for effect. If they wanted me dead, I would be dead by now. Still, it works.
“Here.” I throw the briefcase in the direction of the voice. This is it.
I feel like a stone, my mouth is dry. A dazzling light comes on in the corner. The girl is sitting on the floor, hands tied behind her back, a gag in her mouth. Hers eyes are locked on mine. The most frightened look I have ever seen on a person’s face outside of a television screen.
The seconds feel like hours. The only thing I can see is the girl. Everything else around me is pitch black.
A buzzer rings, and I jump out of my skin.
The older voice. “Take the girl and go.”
I look in the direction of the voice, and I’m blinded by a light.
“Take the girl and go.”
I walk over and help her up. We walk hurriedly up the stairs. I’m expecting a bullet in the back, or at least someone telling me to stop.
We reach the top of the stairs. We run.
Charles Stone says: “I am a retired educator, mentor,and child advocate. In my new life, I am a writer and colorist. I live in Pittsburgh PA USA with my wife, Cornis, and our Pit Bull mix named Tango. I am a lover of children, animals and the written word. Currently I am putting the finishing touches on an anthology of short stories depicting human interactions in an array of different genres.”