Anything We Want
I watched while Dana eyed the intruder, and after a moment he said, “My name is Dana. Do I know you?”
The kid stared at Dana and said, “You should. I’m Doug Carsten.” He added, kind of bitterly, “My friends call me Silver.”
Dana seemed to be drawing a blank, so I said, “Must be the wrong Dana Morasutti, Doug.”
The guy’s look softened, “Come on, Dana. Last year: All State Juniors?” He looked back at his friends, who were also standing. Doug smiled, “I was a shoo-in for gold in the downhill, maybe the giant, then Dana showed up. He’s all dressed like a refugee, and he uses freakin’ antique skis.” He looked back at Dana and grinned, “You cleaned my clock, man! In both races! You can’t tell me you don’t remember that!”
Dana grinned, and stood, his hand out to shake. “I remember now. I think you were about my size then.”
Doug shook Dana’s hand, then held on. “I trained hard, Dana. I took a quarter second off my GS, and two-tenths off the downhill, and you never showed this year. What happened?”
Dana looked down and mumbled, “Couldn’t make it.” He looked up hopefully at Doug. “How’d you do?”
Doug said, “I silvered again in downhill, crashed both GS finals. My legs are gettin’ too long for slalom.”
Dana nodded, like long legs on a racer were a known bad thing. “Who beat you in downhill?”
“Guy named Danaher,” Doug mumbled. “He looks clumsy as hell, but the clock don’t lie. This was his third year at State, his first show.”
Dana smiled, “Well, there’s always next time. I couldn’t swing it this year, but next year for sure.”
“You’re still skiing?” Doug asked, and on Dana’s nod he muttered, “Great. Maybe I’ll just take up knitting. You can avenge me.”
His friends laughed at that, and Doug gave Dana a friendly shove. He looked at his friends and pointed a finger in Dana’s direction. “This guy is the best skier I ever saw.” He grinned, “Now you can say you met him.”
A poke told me that I was the only one from our table paying attention to those two, and the only reason I did was I thought at first that Doug intended trouble. The source of my poke was Lisa, who asked, “What are you doing?”
I looked squarely in her eyes and said, “Sorry. I get distracted sometimes, like when I’m not being kissed.” I lifted my eyebrows hopefully, and got a giggling reward, then a second and a third.
The guy behind the counter called, “Hey, Lisa!” and we turned to him. He had a wide grin and said, “If you’re thinking of fornicating, take it outside with the rest of them, okay?”
I know my face burned red, but Lisa smiled, balled up her fist, then she punched upward with a gesture that I thought was known only to Boston cab drivers.
That got a laugh, even from the other patrons, and kids started banging on their tables, chanting, “Take it outside! Take it outside!”
We were done anyhow, so I stood and held my hand to Lisa, who looked around cautiously before standing. I led her out to the sidewalk, followed by more hoots and catcalls, but by then we both thought it was funny. I pressed my luck and looked around quickly, finally asking, “We’re supposed to fornicate here?”
Lisa let go of my hand and stopped in her tracks. With an uh-oh forming, I turned to look at her. “Look around, Paul.” Her eyes twinkled, “This is the self-gratification area, and I’m not in the mood right now. If you are, then do what you must. I’ll be over there in the hardware store, looking at their summer axe ensemble.”
Arizona had come up behind me, and her laugh hurt my ears. “Go Lisa!” she cried, then hugged me from behind and chortled on, with her chin on my shoulder, and half her chest weaponry trying to dislocate that same shoulder from behind.
Now I’ll admit this right here. I like funny, and I love to laugh. I like people who can make jokes, and I doubly like them when they can also take a joke. My present companions were all tens in both respects. What I don’t like is spectacle. I swear, no matter what I do, if I get famous I will never appear on Oprah or Letterman to proclaim my genius. I certainly didn’t choose to appear on a sidewalk in Brattleboro, with strangers going by in all directions, while my friend Tommy asked, “Aren’t you going to fornicate? C’mon, I want to see how it all works.”
Dana’s voice piped in, “Yeah, How we s’posed to learn?”
I was embarrassed, which is a rare thing, and I was doubly embarrassed for Lisa, which may have been overreaction on my part. She had her finger in Tommy’s face, pointed right between his eyes. “You want fornication?” She turned the finger to Dana, who cowered, “Fine. Wait here and I’ll get some whipped cream, and you two can fornicate to your heart’s content, the same way you always do.”
I took Lisa’s hand back in mine, and when she turned back to me she said, “Let’s walk.” Her face crinkled into a grin and she said, “Is this bizarre or what?”
I was only too happy to walk, and we took up a brisk pace to the next corner, where things seemed calmer and more within our own control. Traffic had picked up, and we had to wait to cross the street. That let Tom, Dana and Arizona catch up with us, and they’d left all talk of fornication behind. Just when I was ready to cross, Dana asked, “Where are we going?”
We all stopped. There’s no real way to explain our pattern when downtown, nor is there any good reason for it. It’s just ‘the way’, and there may as well have been arrows on the sidewalk to point it out. It was basically a route that led to or past absolutely everything downtown that might interest a young person, while skirting such things as the Hallmark store, the J.C. Penney catalog outlet, the vacuum cleaner repair place, and the cloth emporium.
I really like Brattleboro. It has a sense of place that comes from the reality that it’s basically the same place it was a hundred years ago, and two hundred years ago. The buildings get modernized inside sometimes, but the exteriors get loving maintenance instead of major updates. Some places are a bit rustic, but nothing in the center is really run-down, and the town has a cozy feeling all year long.
I’ve mentioned that it’s a funky place, and I mean that. It’s really funky. The biggest single event is the ‘Strolling of the Heifers’ in June, better known locally as the Cow Parade. That’s just for fun, and kid-oriented. The local bus system is now called the Moover. Everything seems to have two names, one for tourists and one for locals.
The battle of the bands is called ‘The Brattleboro Fest” publicly, and it’s subtitled “Wingnut/Anarchist/Folk-Punk Music Festival.” That’s a mouthful, and it’s known to local kids as the music weekend. It’s typical for Brattleboro, too. For a little river town in the foothills of the Green Mountains, Brattleboro offers a lot. Being from Boston, I find that in Brattleboro I don’t have to look for things to do. It’s such a small place with so much going on, that someone is certain to grab hold of me and take me with them whenever something is happening.
Anyhow, our trail hugs the central few blocks of Main Street, which sport a variety of crafts shops and some pricey furniture stores, as well as several cafes and restaurants. Then it branches off into an alley, which leads to a block of shops surrounding a parking lot. There’s another book store there, a used-clothes shop, a bicycle shop, and the main draw: a sporting-goods store, as well as a café and a health-food store. From there we follow a narrow alley, with only one underground coffee shop. It’s denoted by a downward slanting arrow, an iron railing, and crumbling brick steps.
Our little route takes us past the tattoo parlor, two piercing shops, the big music store, the little music store, a glass-blowing factory, and a print shop that will do you up a tee shirt on your whim, while you wait.
Then it’s down to the river, where we can look across the roiling water to the massive granite cliff that announces New Hampshire. Vermont got the good end of that deal.
Dana wanted to stop everywhere, and we indulged him until lunch time. He was like me that one day in Moscow, and we all lent him money when his twenty ran out. Tom and I begged off at the tattoo parlor, claiming we needed a bathroom, then we headed up into adult territory to scope out the dollar store.
Everything for a dollar. I should have brought pencils there to sell, because even a plain yellow one was a buck.
That didn’t matter. Tom asked, conspiratorially, how many ‘ships’ we should make. Like anyone, I would have liked a fleet of starships, but our reality was that we’d have to slip out on a family get-together, so one big sucker made a lot more sense.
Tom led me to the aisle where the little lights were, and while he pointed them out, I noticed others. The first ones just shone: red, blue and white. The other ones blinked in digital patterns instead, and came in red, orange and green.
Tommy whistled. “Whoa, this could cost some money!” He asked “How much you got?”
I counted my bills and said, “Eight dollars after the ice cream and Dana. You?”
He mumbled, calculating the costs in his head, then jumped in sudden glee. “That’s it! I have twenty. Four pails, four coal bricks, and five lights for each pail!” He pounded my shoulder happily, “You’re a genius, Paul! Oh, man, we’ll make the news, just you watch!”
We took our loot to the checkout, and came up lacking almost a dollar in tax. I told Tom, “Wait here. I’ll go get a dollar from Lisa.”
That would have been true if I could find her, but our friends weren’t to be found. I started trotting the route we had come, but didn’t see them. It didn’t take me all that long to realize that I knew half the people I passed, and I hit a kid from school up for a dollar, then hurried back to the store.
After that, I had to find Dana, at least, so I walked Tommy to his bike, and he rode off toward home to work out an aircraft design.
I wandered around for awhile, hoping to run into my friends, then decided it would be better if I found a place where I could stay put, and still be seen. I decided on the River Garden, which is part-park and part atrium. I walked through quickly to see if they were at the little food court, then sat on a bench out front. There was a busker inside with an accordian, and the sounds he made surprised me with how un-accordianlike they were. He played a short song where his accordian sounded just like an oboe, and the next one was powerful sounding, more like a pipe organ.
I was uncomfortable. I didn’t know where my friends might have gone, and I was both hungry and broke. Hungry and penniless is not my native condition, and I didn’t really like it. I was just thinking about leaving a note at Dana’s bike and heading home by myself, when I saw Elenora across the street. She was window shopping, and sure enough, it was my father beside her, with her elbow in his hand.
“Dad!” I yelled, then had to wait for cars to pass before I could cross, but I had his attention. I was excited when I finally reached them, and tried to be polite.
“Hi,” I smiled at Elenora, then I turned to Dad and asked, “Can I have some money?”
“You left without money?” he asked.
I said, “You know better. No, I bought some ice cream, then Dana wanted to get his tongue pierced, and after that it was a tattoo.” I looked at Elenora and said, “Wait’ll you see. You’re gonna love it!”
To be honest, it looked more like she’d faint, so I smiled my brightest and said, “April Fool!”
She really had gone whitish, and my father steadied Elenora while he grinned at me and lied, “That’s not funny, Paul.”
I tried to sound indignant. “Well, gee. It’s not like it’s true or anything.”
Elenora smiled, and pushed back the hair on her forehead. “Thank God for that! Dana wants a tattoo! He’s always doodling things on his arms.”
My father had a handful of money, and asked, “How much do you need?”
“Just to eat,” I said. “I’ll pay you back.”
I would pay him back, too, and accepted ten dollars. “Thanks,” I said. If you see Dana, I’ll be at the food court in the park, okay?”
I headed back to the park, my mind set on Chinese until I saw the bright gyro cart there. That was like a magnet, and the guy who owned it looked like some kind of Gypsy, and he was a lot of fun. He was there wearing a red bandana to hold back his long, black hair. His moustache looks like it weighs a pound, and he wore an ornate red tee shirt, and white pants that look like bedsheet material. The pants have baggy legs that end way above his ankles, with a fancy green pattern instead of cuffs. After that, it was just sandals.
He’s not an old guy, probably not thirty, and his English is limited to lamb, beef, yogurt, some numbers, and dollar. I think I’ll know Greek before he does much better with English. At least I know, from many lessons, that to get a gyro you ask for a yee-roh, at least when ordering from a Greek.
After two years of practice, I knew my business with this guy. I held up two fingers and said, “Two yee-roh,” then just one finger; “One lamb,” and I emphasized with that finger, “One beef. Okay?”
He grinned, “Yeah, boss!” Then he turned to drop two pitas on the grill to heat, and proceeded to slice goodly amounts of meat from the two rotating gyros with his machete. He laid the meat slices on the warming bread, then spread shredded lettuce over it, and several thin tomato slices, and put each on a paper napkin. He rolled up the pitas and put a big dollop of plain yogurt on the wide opening of each, and topped it all off with chopped black olives.
He put them on a paper plate and handed them to me, with a bunch of napkins. “Fi dollar,” he said, holding out his hand.
They would have cost four the last year, and I asked, “Five?”
His face suddenly looked sad, but his eyes still danced. “Yeah, boss. De gas, she go up. De meats, dey go up, too. De yogurt, she go way up.”
I handed him my ten, trying to smile while I almost drooled on my food. To be honest, it didn’t matter to me what those gyros cost, I was only questioning the difference from the year before. I’ve had gyros in both Athens and Istanbul, and Brattleboro gyros are their equal in every way.
The food court was fairly empty, so I sat at a table where I’d be easy to see, and just enjoyed my food.
Food gone, and fingers as tidy as I could get them with little paper napkins, I finally gave up the wait and decided to go home. Whatever Dana, Lisa and Zoner had found to do, it had to be indoors somewhere.
I was disappointed, but not worried. They went to a museum or a movie, or perhaps a gallery. I was fairly certain they weren’t hanging upside-down from meat hooks in a dungeon, waiting to be boiled by the local witches.
When I went to get my bike, it was alone in the rack, so they’d done something else altogether. I’d have left a note if Dana’s bike was still there, but they hadn’t done me the favor. I started pedlaling home lazily, and was just to the north of town when I heard Dana’s voice. “Hey, Paul! Paul!”
I stopped and looked around. I was just in a neighborhood of homes, and I didn’t see Dana at first, but he called again and I saw him there. He was with Lisa and Arizona, their bikes in a pile by a tree, and they were eating Italian sandwiches on someone’s front lawn.
I walked my bike over and parked it, then looked down at them. Lisa scowled, “Where did you go to find a bathroom? We looked everywhere.”
I sat with them, on the grass next to Lisa. “I looked everywhere, too. Then I sat at the River Garden so we’d see each other. I was just going home now.”
Beside Lisa like that, I put my hand on her back and stroked her gently. She was munching a fat sandwich, but I felt her relax, and something like a smile appeared on her face. I asked the obvious question. “Why are you eating on somebody’s lawn?”
Dana said, “We’re hungry.”
Arizona added, “We were going to eat at the playground, but it’s closed, ‘cause they sprayed the grass.”
My cell phone rang in my pocket. When I pulled it out, it was from my father, so I answered right away. “Dad?”
“Paul Dunn?” an unfamiliar male voice asked, and I immediately felt queasy.
“Speak with your father. Pay close attention.”
I was about to ask what was going on, then my father came on. “Paul, I want you to go home right now. Have your friends find Elenora right where I last saw you, and bring her home. Don’t use your cell phone except to take calls from my phone, and don’t call me back. Use the home phone for everything else. Are you with me so far?”
“Dad, what’s going on?” I asked, already beginning to panic.
“I’m kidnapped, Paul. This is for real. Call Bernie Sutton in Boston first thing, and tell him to expect a ransom demand. Then call your mother to come and take care of you.”
“What about the police?” I asked.
“Of course you can. I don’t know what else to say right now, but for once, don’t start anything with your mouth. These men are serious.”
“I …” but the signal was cut.
I leapt to my feet and cried, “Dad’s been kidnaped! I gotta go home right now.” I looked at Dana, “Take Zoner and Lisa and go find your mom. She’s somewhere right around the River Garden. I don’t think she knows. Call the cops, too! I was hesitant to leave on such skimpy information, but I felt compelled to get home, so I only added, “Don’t call my cell; call the house. I gotta go!”
Lisa was by my side by the time I closed my mouth, and as white as a sheet. “Paul?”
“This is real,” I said. “Wish me luck!”
She kissed me quickly, and I ran to my bike and left, pedaling like a madman until I was completely out of breath. By the time I had to slow down, I was nearly home anyhow, but I only had the juice left to walk my bike up the driveway, where I dropped it on the lawn.
Once inside, I ran for the phone in the hallway, found Mr. Sutton’s number in the directory, and called. It was his office number, and a Saturday, but they were always excellent at getting in touch with him. He was in that day, anyhow, and when I told the receptionist who I was and what it was about, Bernie was on the line in seconds.
“Paul? Are you okay?”
“I’m … I don’t know. I’m okay. I’m scared.”
“Paul, listen. I want you to get yourself a glass of water, drink it down, then pour another one and come back to the phone. I’ll be here.”
I didn’t argue. I wasn’t thirsty, so I took a small glass and drank it down, then refilled it and went back to the phone. I was only gone about thirty seconds, but I was definitely calmer and more lucid. I told the lawyer what I knew. He didn’t sound very happy, and asked, “No mention of how much they’re looking for?”
“No idea,” I said.
He was silent for a few moments, then said, “Tell you what. Give me directions to your house. I can be there in three or four hours. Is there an extra bed?”
There were plenty of beds, I told him, and he gave me some more numbers to reach him at, including the satellite phone in his car.
Next, I called my mother’s cell phone. I wasn’t really certain where they’d gone for the weekend, but they were home in Boston. My mother freaked out when I told her, but they were on the way, too. With Ally driving, they were a good bet to beat Bernie, even with his half-hour head start.
When I hung up I went to the bathroom, and Elenora was coming in the front door when I came out. She was followed by Dana and Lisa, then by two uniformed policeman, and a woman in business dress.
I was as nervous as a cat leading them into the living room. The uniformed guys introduced themselves as Officer Rosen and Sergeant Thorpe, and the woman with them as Chief of Detectives Stacy Campbell.
I sat on a chair and Lisa sat on the chair’s arm. Dana and Elenora took a sofa, and the police stayed standing. Chief of Detectives Campbell looked ready to start things off when Tommy burst into the house, and skidded to a stop at the parlor door. “What’s going on? I saw the police cars and … oh, hi Mike,” he offered to Officer Rosen. He shot me a querolous look.
“Somebody kidnaped Dad,” I said. “Find a seat.”
The police questioned me for half-an-hour about a one minute call, but they picked up things I wouldn’t have known, and in the process they made me glad that my father is the geek that he is.
Even under stress, I’m bad. I couldn’t go on forever calling Ms. Campbell Chief of Detectives, so I mentally shortened it to COD, which any proper Bostonian knows is a type of fish. Any connoisseur of codfish knows that the cheeks and lips are the real delicasy, so I asked, “Chief of Detectives Campbell, can I call you Cal?”
Her eyebrows went up, but not in anger. She smiled, seeming to be amused. “Sure. It beats Camel.”
I was getting nervous because I hadn’t heard back from Dad or the kidnapers, and it had been an hour already. I took my phone out and looked, and to my horror there were messages.
I felt so stupid that I started to cry as I pushed buttons on the phone. Stupid, stupid, stupid! The one thing I truly hated about that phone is that where your thumb naturally falls is right on the volume button. The ring volume. I had inadvertantly shut the ringer off so many times that I couldn’t count them, and had learned to always check it when I was actually expecting a call.
Now I’d forgotten again at the worst possible time, and I cried from frustration, anger, and fear that my father had already been murdered owing to my own inattention. I couldn’t get words out to let the people around me know what was wrong. I just cried out loud, my thumb on that idiotic, misplaced button all the time. Lisa and Elenora were trying to console me, but panic and grief had taken over my head.
The phone was pulled from my fingers, and I heard Tommy telling people that I often turned the ringer off by accident. Of course, that was the moment that the phone rang, and I heard it hit the carpet when Tommy jumped away. Blind with tears, I dove at the sound and flipped the thing open. “Oh?” Is what I heard myself say.
“Paul Dunn?” the same voice I’d heard earlier asked.
“It’s me,” I gasped. “This is Paul. I’m sorry about not answering. It’s this phone!”
“Never mind!” the voice said. “Listen, and listen carefully. Monday morning at exactly 9am, you will transfer one hundred million US dollars to an account that will be disclosed to you at eight fifty-five am. Do you understand that?”
“I understand,” I gulped. “I don’t know if we have that much.”
“One hundred million, or say goodbye to your father. Is that understood?”
“Can I talk to him?”
“No. You can listen.”
I heard my father call from the background, “Don’t worry, Paul. I love you boys.”
The phone went dead.
Boys, he’d said. I looked at Dana, who looked as frightened as me. I wanted to reassure him, but all I could come up with was a grimace. Dana returned it, then I had to repeat the conversation.
When I got to the ransom demand, I looked around. These weren’t the people who knew all about my father, and I hesitated for a long time. I finally asked, “Cal, can I talk to you alone for a minute?”
She nodded, and followed me into the hall bathroom, of all places, but it was the most private spot on the ground floor. When I closed the door I looked at her. She was average looking in most respects: maybe forty, a bit chunky, well-dressed, and healthy looking.
I said, “They want a hundred-million dollars.” I took a breath and added, “People know we have some money, but not really how much. Well, I guess sombody knows how much We … I …” I got flustered. “We don’t need that money. We’re really trying to get rid of it.” I realized I still had my Danamat hat on my head, and pulled on the beak to point it out. “We just bought a laundromat. I just don’t want everybody in town knowing all this. Is that okay?”
Cal looked a bit stunned, but she recovered nicely. “You could pay that kind of ransom?”
“Technically, yes,” I said. “I mean, there is that much, I just don’t know where, and I don’t know how. Dad’s lawyer is on his way. My mother is on her way. She could cover it too, but I don’t think anybody has that much in their back pocket.”
Chief of Detectives Cal stared at me, smiled a little, then she coughed, and her cough turned into a laugh. She seemed embarrassed, and said, “I’m sorry. I sense that you value your privacy, but damn! I’m in a new league here, and I have to get the State Police involved, and they will engage the FBI. Given what you’ve told me, I think it’s fair to assume that terrorism is a possibility.” She smiled, “Is there a private place I can call from that doesn’t have a toilet in it?”
I liked her. “Yeah, sure. Upstairs.”
News travels, even in Vermont. Leading Cal upstairs, I saw that Lisa’s father was there, and Tom’s mother, along with Shea Luellen. I hadn’t seen Shea in a couple of days, but he was there, looking as mortified as everyone else.
When I came back down, I didn’t know what to expect, but it seemed clear that the basic problem was known, and everyone was somber.
Other people showed up, and the phone kept ringing, with Lisa answering. I felt dazed, and could easily have taken a nap, except I was scared of what would happen if I even blinked an eye. I’d already messed up with the phone, and didn’t trust myself to do the next thing right.
More police came, but they didn’t seem to need me. Mr. Luellen came down and asked if he could sit with me while I waited, and soon enough, a tray of ribs showed up from Tom’s house.
In the midst of my personal terror, I felt surrounded by caring people. Dana hadn’t said anything, but he was hanging close to me. Elenora had been sweet and comforting, and I appreciated her, but she didn’t really make me feel any better.
Lisa had been hanging on to my right arm, cuddling when she got the chance. Her father came to me and said, “My best, Paul. I don’t know your father, but he’s highly recommended.” He smiled and kind of gently punched my cheek. “You watch. This will work out. It will.”
I smiled my thanks for his thoughts just when my mother ran in, spied me, and hugged me as if to kill. “Ma!” I squeaked.
She stepped back, a hand on each shoulder, and eyed me up and down. “You’re alright?”
I lost it right then, and couldn’t even say no. I just hugged my mother to me and cried. How could I be alright? How could I be okay? How could I ever be happy until I had my father again? I didn’t care about the money. They could have it all if they wanted it, as long as they didn’t hurt Dad.
I couldn’t stand the idea of that. If my father got killed by some cold-blooded, money-hungry, so-called piece of humanity, then my life would be over, just like they’d murdered me as well.
I wasn’t doing well at recovering, and my mother and Ally helped me upstairs to bed, while Tom’s mother called a doctor she thought would come to the house.
I didn’t try to sleep. I sat up in bed with the blinds drawn. I stared at the darkened wall opposite me until a red dot appeared, and I lost myself in that dot. I don’t know how it worked; I was conscious, but only aware of the dot before my eyes. There was no thought, no feeling, no emotion; just the red dot. When there came a tap on the door, I was back together, ready for war if necessary.
“It’s open,” I said softly.
The door opened enough to reveal Dana and Lisa there together. I couldn’t find a smile even for them. “It’s okay. Come in.” I thought to add, “Turn the light on.”
I wished I hadn’t said that. Dana had been crying too, and I felt like crap for just ignoring him earlier, even though it wasn’t on purpose. Dana loves my father like I do, and with a good whomp more of gratitude than I usually show.
I focused my attention on him, and said quietly, “Dana. The last thing Dad told me was I love you boys! With an ‘s’ on the end, meaning both of us.”
Dana’s eyes started tearing up, and I patted the bed beside me. Dana sat, and Lisa sat beside him. “We’re sharing a father,” I said lamely to Lisa. “Me and Dana.”
Lisa nodded nervously, and damned if she didn’t get tears in her eyes.
“Listen,” I said. “We’ll do this the way the bad guys want. I just want you to know that if they do anything to my father … anything at all … then my mission in life will be to get even. More than even. I won’t want justice; I’ll want revenge.”
I watched Dana’s look harden while Lisa looked worried, but we didn’t say anything else.
We sat in silence until a man appeared in the doorway. He asked, “Am I interrupting?”
I had to do a double take, because Mr. Hutton had put on some serious weight since I saw him last, which was when I was thirteen. He represented both my parents in their divorce.
Bernard Hutton was widely acknoledged as one of the best legal minds in the nation, and it didn’t matter to the people who believed in him that he was kind of a frumpy guy. He entered the room smiling, a red, rib-knit sweater on over his dress shirt and tie. He still wore the pants to the suit he must have been wearing on a Saturday, when he decided the sweater would give him a ‘Vermont’ look.
He shook hands and bowed to Lisa, who he called a lovely young lady, then Dana. “Oh, Dana! I’ve heard much about you.” His tone softened, “This must be a challenge for you. Let’s talk later, okay?”
Dana nodded, and I was on my feet by then, my hand extended. Bernie took my hand and held it. “Paul. It’s been too long.” He smiled, “You’re well?”
I had to smile, but it turned into a grimace. “I’ve been better. I’ve never been worse Do you know what’s going on?”
“Only the preamble, I’m afraid. I’m late because I lost the way in Springfield. Tell me what you know.”
I looked at Dana and Lisa, and decided on the spot that money secrets weren’t worth keeping. I said, “Give me a minute. I need the bathroom.”
Bernie smiled and said, “Me first?”
I said, “Sorry,” and led him to the bathroom door in the hallway, then Dana joined me while I waited Lisa stood at my bedroom door gazing at me, her expression a mystery.
The toilet flushed, and in a moment Bernie came out, and I dashed in while the door was still open. I suddenly had to do more than pee, and I think my insides almost came out, so I was a long time. I felt sweaty and dirty, and washed up at the sink, brushed my teeth and tried to comb my hair. When I came out, the hallway was vacant, as was my room. I was still in shorts and a tee shirt. I pulled a pair of jeans on and dug a long-sleeved jersey out of my drawer. I felt a lot better when I went downstairs, and as somber as the day had turned earlier, Bernie Sutton was laughing loudly at something, and a lot of people were laughing and chuckling with him.
They quieted at my appearance. The police were still there, as well as everyone who’d ben there earlier, and some additions. Bernie gave me a look that I took to ask if I was ready, and I nodded. He excused himself saying he had to talk to me, and when he passed Dana he gave him a tug. Dana looked at me with a hopeful expression, and I nodded, so he followed Bernie, who followed me upstairs to my father’s office.
I never spent a lot of time in there, but it’s private, and the décor belies the rest of the house with its modernity. The chairs are chrome, slung with leather. The tables, and my father’s desk, are also chrome, topped with smoked glass. The carpet is beige, the walls off-white, decorated behind his desk with his engineering degree from M.I.T. and his economics masters from Harvard. There are also three large, framed posters hanging. One is of Mickey Mouse as a wizard, his wand dripping star-shaped sparks in a large arc. Another is of Calvin and Hobbes, and the last is Doonesbury. Dad’s mentors, I think. It’s the only room in either house that my mother didn’t have a hand in. The only touch of whimsey Dad allowed himself is an old, oaken phone booth in one corner, with a working pay phone from the 1950’s. It takes dimes, and there is a small dish of dimes on the little table that protrudes beneath the phone. The handset weighs a ton.
Nobody sat at the desk; we all took chairs. Bernie smiled at me and said, “You’re feeling better? Have you eaten?” I noticed that he had a big waterglass full of red wine in his hand.
I said, “I feel better, but I took so long because of eating. I think I’ll lay off.”
Bernie nodded, then got right to business, and I again recalled the details of my calls with my father and his captors. I made a point to look at Dana when I said, “They want a hundred-million dollars Monday morning. Please tell me that’s not a problem.”
Bernie’s eyes were round then, and Dana’s had taken over his face. Bernie said calmly, “That’s a challenge, but we can do it. That’s it? No terms and conditions?”
I repeated that they’d call five minutes in advance with instructions, and that’s all I knew. Bernie said, “Leave me alone, then. I’ll get things rolling, but it’s Saturday night, and people will be grudging.” He flapped his fingers at me and Dana to dismiss us, then smiled when he saw my face. “Paul, you are your father’s son, and Dana, so are you. You’ve done your part here. Let me do mine, okay?”
Put that way, it was definitely okay. I left the room with Dana, and was immediately joined by Lisa, who put her arm around my back.. As soon as the door closed behind us, Dana stopped. His face seemed to search mine, and he came up with a cockeyed little grin. “Thanks,” he whispered. “There’s really that much money?”
I looked at Lisa and asked, “It doesn’t matter, does it?” She shook her head. I looked at Dana and said, “I guess. I never saw an exact number, but there’s a lot. Way more than that, I think. I just wish they’d take what they want and send Dad home.”
I made myself worse with that thought. What if they didn’t? My world was full of reasonably honest and honorable people. Yes, people lied, people cheated, people shoplifted, and people tried to get you to do what you wouldn’t do.
This was different. My father was a captive, taken off the main road in Brattleboro in the middle of the day, and now being held for ransom. I had my rage under control, but had no reason at all to expect honor or honesty from the people holding my father.
I had some feelings about them. If they were international terrorists, they would have had a better reason to take my father than a hundred-million dollars. If they went to the trouble, they would have gone all the way, and been asking for the billions he was worth.
That made it seem more local to me. Not Brattleboro, or even Boston, but some American-bred punks with more balls than brains. Somebody knew my father, though, and they had him. All I could do was to hope that they’d be caught, or they’d get their blood money and do what they promised.
So far in my life, I’d been afraid a lot of times. I was terrified of our basement at the house in Cape Cod, and it was a terror that I could never rationalize or explain. Monsters, probably, but I’d get halfway down those steps and just panic, and one more step would double my feeling of panic, and then I’d be back upstairs, with the door closed behind me.
I was afraid of a lot more normal things, too: like being run over, hit by a baseball, drowning in a riptide, being bit by a dog. Those were timely fears though, not persistent ones. I didn’t fear baseballs if I wasn’t playing, nor did I worry about riptides away from the beach.
The fear I was feeling was a new one, and a persistent one. I was afraid for my father’s life, and even more than if he’d been a soldier in a war. If that was it, he could kill or be killed, or maybe nothing would ever happen. He was like a hostage, though, even if it was for ransom. The people who had him could do whatever they wanted to, and for whatever reason, and I was powerless to intervene.
They could shoot my father with a gun, split his head with an axe, slit his throat, blow him up, drown him …
I was thinking too much, and when Ally came to me and said, “Oh, there you are!” it was a big relief.
I’d been aware of people coming and going, and Ally said, “There’s an FBI agent in the kitchen. Will you talk to him?”
I nodded, and on the way to the kitchen I noticed that the natural-born hostess in my mother had taken over. Everyone had a glass of something, and a dish with ribs and finger food, and for the most part people were socializing like they might at a regular cocktail party.
In the kitchen, I met Special Agent Norman Renfrew, who was a very tall man with a big square chin and a big nose. I just stared, and he smiled when he held out his enormous hand. “Hi, Paul,” he said. “Six-six, if you’re wondering. Why don’t we sit down?”
We sat at the kitchen table and we talked. We were alone, and I wasn’t sure exactly where I’d become detached from Lisa and Dana. Nothing new came up, and I told the story once more. Renfrew was also impressed by my father, and I finally asked why. Cal had mentioned how helpful Dad was, and I let it go by me, but now I was interested.
“It’s in the subtle things, Paul. Your father didn’t say people had him captive, he said men, and in the plural Just that knocks off half the population, but the big thing is that he’s leading his captors on a cell phone chase. By only using that phone, we have half a chance of getting a location.”
I looked at him curiously, and he said, “Okay. When your cell phone is turned on, it looks for a signal, and when it finds one it says a kind of digital hello. Your phone has a fingerprint, which is in its digital signal. When the phone is on, it searches constantly for the best signal. That’s where you get your signal bars, and that activity is logged by your provider. What this means, is that right now, your cell phone company can tell me exactly which cell your phone is communicating with, even while your phone is in your pocket. It’s not exact. Your cell might be right across the street, or it might be miles away, but it won’t be in Kansas. It’ll be somewhere nearby, and your father obviously thought of that when he insisted that you use your cell phone, and only take calls from his.”
I blinked, amazed. “And that means …”
“Yes. His captors don’t seem to know that, and may not be too bright.” He leaned forward, “That doesn’t make them any less dangerous. This was a beautiful snatch. I know somebody saw something, but they don’t know they saw it, and that’s like nobody seeing anything.” His big hand reached for my shoulder when my tears came back, and he said, “Hang in there, Paul. I think we’ll figure this out.”
I nodded, and realized that I was both exhausted and starving. I stood to see Ally by the stove, and said, “I gotta eat.”
She smiled, and in a minute I had a little dish of plain white rice in front of me, a pat of butter melting in.
I may be part Asian, but if I am it doesn’t show. I love rice, though, and white rice: not anything fancy or exotic.
I started eating my rice, then a couple of Mr. Timek’s ribs appeared, then a little apple sauce, then some cooked carrots.
While I ate, people gathered in the kitchen, most of them saying goodbye, and promising whatever we might need. I was struck by the kindness offered. We knew some of these people pretty well, and others were only acquaintences, yet their offers of assistance all sounded sincere. It certainly belied the image of taciturn, aloof Vermonters.
My mother and Ally figured out sleeping arrangements, and I was seriously ready to go to bed. Ally did the math, and I’d share the trundle bed in my room with Dana while Mr. Sutton would sleep in my bed. Elenora got my father’s room, and Mom and Ally had their own.
Shea was still there, and his father came looking for him. He looked pretty frazzled himself, and explained he thought it best not to tie up our phone. The look on his face got Ally worried, so she sat down to talk to him, and I overheard.
One of Mr. Luellen’s fears since he’d first won the lottery money was that his own family would be targeted by kidnapers, or other violent criminals, and that was more than a little bit of the reason they’d given up their home in favor of Vermont. Now my father, his next-door neighbor, had been kidnaped for ransom, and his fear was obvious. He’s a good guy, though, and didn’t try to elevate his own worries anywhere close to our present reality.
When he left with Shea, they had each other’s hand in a firm grip.
The police had left earlier, but officer Rosen came to the door to say that some witnesses had come forward after the story was on the television news, and they were being interviewed at that time. He left us with a list of numbers to call if we heard from the kidnapers, and said agent Renfrew was staying in a van in our driveway.
That, of course, set my mother off, and she went off in a huff to retrieve Agent Renfrew, but was back shortly. His ‘van’ was a small RV, and equipped with not only a bed, but his own communication center, and all he needed was permission to plug in to an electrical outlet, which he’d already done, and planned to ask for in the morning.
We were all reluctant to do it, but headed to our beds. Dana helped me to pull out the trundle, which was made up except for pillows, and I got two from my closet. I left the night light on for Bernie Sutton, who had gone back to Dad’s office to call people, and he promised to be quiet when he came in.
The trundle bed is small, but not uncomfortable. There was room for me and Dana, and we both reclined on our sides, back-to-back. We didn’t say anything, but after awhile I didn’t feel sleep coming on, so I rolled over onto my back. I glanced at Dana, seeing the back of his head, and it seemed that he’d found sleep, so I shut my eyes and tried to find that peaceful spot that put me to sleep most nights.
Dana whispered, “Are you awake?” which startled me.
“Kind of. You?”
I rolled over to look at him, his face inches from mine. He whispered, “Do you think Dad is sleeping?”
I loved it when Dana called my father dad. It startled me every time, yet still pleased me.
“I don’t know,” I said. “If I know Dad, he’s probably zonked. He sleeps better than most people.”
Dana snickered. “He told me that once he fell asleep at a traffic light. Do you think?”
It was my turn to giggle. “Once isn’t true. He does it all the time. I think he lives a half-inch from sleep all the time. Listen to this! One time, we were coming home from Long Island, and I fell asleep in the car. It was noise that woke me up, and I looked at Dad. He was sound asleep, and the noise was snoring, and we were pointed right at a bridge on the parkway. I yelled, ‘Dad, wake up! You’ll kill us all!’ and you know what?”
“He woke up, and we didn’t crash, and he said he was just testing me. We ended up at a motel near New Haven for the night.”
Dana chuckled, “That’s funny, but it probably wasn’t then.”
I said, “You’re right. I don’t know if he can sleep through being kidnapped or not.” I choked a little on my own worry and croaked, “I hope he can. I hope he’s sleeping right now.”
I sensed that Dana was weeping, and stroked his shoulder. “It’ll be okay. You’ll see.”
He said, his whisper hoarse and broken, “I’m scared.”
“Me, too,” I said as I rolled a little closer to Dana. “I’m very scared.”
We stayed like that until we slept. I don’t know how much time had passed when I sensed someone else in the room, and the light from the hallway shone in. Then Bernie Sutton’s hand touched my shoulder, and he said, “Wake up, Paul. You have to come with me.”