A new original short story: The Ransom Note
Monday, May 25, 2015
The Ransom Note
I must have read it fifty times as it lay there on the table mocking me, laughing at me.
"IF YOU WANT TO SAVE HIM DO EXACTLY WHAT I TOLD YOU. COME ALONE. DON'T BELIEVE FOR A SECOND I WON'T FINISH WHAT I STARTED. THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU'RE DOING, YOU WILL NOT GET A SECOND CHANCE" Each time I read it, it became more real and more terrifying. Twenty four hours previous to this moment I was speaking to the author of this letter. This tentative footnote to an obituary but only now does the surreal quality melt away leaving only the cold reality of what is happening. If only I hadn't heard his gravel voice over the phone it wouldn't now be haunting me, narrating each word in my head.
"Good morning Mr. Carigan, Jimmy, I believe your friends call you isn't it?" "What do you want?" I asked, trying to put up as strong a front as I could muster, but the words betrayed me cracking under the strain that gripped every inch of me. "This isn't the time lose control Jimmy, quite the contrary. This is your final opportunity to to take it back. Now shut your mouth, your ears are all I require for this conversation. Do you understand Mr. Carigan?" I sat saying nothing. Not knowing what to do. "Do you understand!" "Yes!....yes, I understand." "Good. There, that wasn't so difficult was it? I've got a good feeling about you Jimmy. Now, listen carefully because I will only say this once. meet me tomorrow at 3:00 pm sharp, 1740 Bellamy Avenue. It's an old forgotten warehouse Mr. Carigan, right on the corner, you can't miss it. On the side of the building you will find a red metal door. Go through it. Stand and wait. Do not bring money! Money is a dirty, boring and traceable way to do business. Wouldn't you agree? No, what I want you to do Mr. Carigan, is bring me everything you own of value. I'll let you decide what those trinkets might include. Wear all your rings, strap on all of your braclets and remember to cross all your t's and dot all your i's Jimmy, we wouldn't want anyone to know where you were going would we?". The last few words with delivered with a hollow ugly, humorless smirk. "Bring everything that's valuable to you Mr. Carigan and when you get here, let's hope it's enough." Click. That was it. He was gone.
I looked at my watch. It was just before noon. I had enough time to get to the bank and empty the safety deposit box, then come back home and gather all the....trinkets? Who even says that anymore. That's the moment I realized why he terrified me so deeply. He wasn't getting all his satisfaction from the bounty he demanded from me, he was relishing the power. The control. The chance to play God. I was his little rat in a maze and he was watching me run the course knowing he could end everything, wipe out my existence with the sweep of his hand. Ok. Ok easy now Jimmy, pull it together you can do this. You've always faced everything in your life head on. You never let anyone tell you you can't do anything. This is no different. It's a warm sunny day and the bank is only a few blocks away. What you're going to do is walk to the bank and clear your head. You'll still have plenty of time to get back here and gather all the...trinkets..that son of a bitch wants
I stepped onto the sidewalk and started walking. It really was a beautiful day. It's funny how we can have so many beautiful days in our life to enjoy, when you are relatively at peace and happy, yet we let so many of them slip by worrying, thrusting priority onto the most petty of problems. It's only when you are faced with the possibility that those days may be numbered do you stop for a moment to enjoy them, to realize the beauty of a sunny day, the laughter of a child, the warmth of a mothers arms. I began to notice all these things on my walk to the bank. I stopped at the site of a few buttercups struggling for life between the cracks of the pavement beside a young maple tree. In their struggle to live they never for a moment forgot to be beautiful, to be strong and reach for the sun. They brought back memories of her. My mother, I still see the field of buttercups surrounding us the very last time I saw her alive. Why did she leave me? How could she be so selfish and take her own life destroying the only person I believed in? I hate her. I hate her now just as much as I did the day they found her lifeless body. Those tiny buttercups seemed to empower me. Seeing them nourished me to go forward. They were like a a cool cup of water held out to a marathon runner fighting to reach the end of the race.
I reached the bank and walked through the heavy glass doors heading directly to the vault and my safety deposit box. I signed the necessary documents and proved who I was, and was then left alone in a small room with my rectangular vault. Looking inside, as I had many times in the past, I was struck with the Absurdity of how much value I placed on these, well these trinkets all my life. They laid there before me now looking cold and dead. There was no joy in them, no feeling. They laid there basking in their own arrogance. There were some bonds and stocks tucked in amoungst the jewelry. Should I take those too? Does he consider that money? I didn't know for sure so i just grabbed everything and tucked it into a small black duffell bag i had brought with me. I'll figure it out later, I didn't have time to waste.
As I turned to leave my small room and looked up to hand over my key there she stood. A woman so beautiful I can only abandon describing it for fear I would ruin what can only be seen. It was a beauty that stemmed from deep inside. The blue eyes of an angel set against a canvas as pure as the Cliffs of Dover and auburn hair that flowed like autumn leaves in a gentle September wind. But it was the scent of her, the essence of a warm memory that had not yet been created. What was that fragrance? It was so familiar. "Did you find everything you were looking for today James?". I stood dazed for a moment. "What?...I'm sorry umm what did you call me?" "James? James Carigan? I'm sorry is that not your name? The account card says James Car...." "Oh! Yes, yes, of course. Please, it's Jimmy. Only one person ever called me James, my mother. She hated calling me Jimmy." In my best mom impression I said " You were named after a handsome noble King, not a man running a crap game in an alley." "That's what she used to say when I argued with her." We both laughed together, it was a wonderful moment I wished could have lasted forever. "Well I think your mother was absolutely right....James", our eyes met and we could both feel the connection. I had to leave but somehow knew our paths would cross again. We exchanged one last look and I gave her the key. With the empty deposit box tucked back away amoungst all the others, I looked back and had one final thought. I wondered what could be so important to all those people that they felt the need to fortify it behind walls of steel and re-enforced bars. The same people who will leave their children everyday at school, go to work and rarely give a second thought the rest of the day to the most precious of their treasures not protected by any lock.
The house was cold and empty as I walked through the door. I can't explain why it felt different, it just did. As if I something was missing, something that should be so clear yet impossible to remember. It was like when you just enter another room to get something and totally forget what that was. How could you forget when it's the sole reason you came in here? Yet it's no where to be found in your head. 1:45 PM. Ok, I have just over an hour to get my stuff together and get over to the warehouse. Funny isn't it, it's always an "abandoned warehouse", a park bench, a peer or an unmarked van where these things happen. It's so cliche. If I were writing the story I would at least pick something different for the sake of variety. But alright Mr. Trinkets, a warehouse it is. I started loading myself up with everything of value that I had, each piece reminding me of where it came from as I placed it. My high school ring, the necklace Jinny gave me prom night....Jinny, wow. I haven't thought of her in years. We were so young so in love. Last I heard she had two boys and a job she loved working for the family services branch of the government. By all accounts she was very happy and had found the man of her dreams. I'm glad, she had gone through a lot in her life and deserved to be happy.
I loaded myself down with everything I owned that I could find hoping it would be enough. All I needed was a bad Mohawk hair cut and I would resemble a white Mr. T. I frantically glance around the room. Did I get everything? Was there anything left of value I could load onto my already weighted frame? I was about to leave when I noticed a faint glimmer at the bottom of my drawer. I reached in and pulled out the Seiko Quartz watch. It had a brown leather strap and gold buckle. The inscription read "My dearest James, always believe in your heart. Love Mom" Love? What would she know about love? She jumped ship when times got tough and left me to fend for myself. You call that love? Why couldn't she fight? Why didn't she turn to me and let me help carry the weight? Screw it! I don't have time for this stupidity. I grabbed the watch and slipped it on. Grabbing a wind blazer from the hall closet to hide the valuables I had managed to load onto myself, and stepped out the front door. I jumped into my car and backed out of the drive way, settling in to the drive ahead. The weight of all the gold and precious metals didn't compare to the weight I felt on my shoulders.
I arrived at the warehouse with ten minutes to spare. It was abandoned alright. An old shoe manufacturing plant long since closed down. A result of an ever changing economy that realizes how much cheaper they can make the same goods in a third world country at the expense of a few insignificant child laborers. That's my best guess. I parked near the building in the large parking lot, blades of grass piercing through cracks in the asphalt slowly reclaiming their original deed to the property. I walked up to the side of the building and there was the red metal door just as promised. I took one last deep breath and stepped inside.
The inside was a vast empty space filled with dusty old memories from a bustling past. A table and chair were all that remained except for the scattered scrap pieces of rubber and leather littering the floor. Half way up the cinder block wall among the rusted girders was an array of metal paneled window squares many broken, some open most closed, all forgotten. There I stood. Silent, still, as instructed. A few moments later, moments that each felt like an individual life time, I heard the creak of a door coming from the top of a metal staircase to my left. I don't know why I was expecting some overbearing hulk of a presence, it just took me by surprise to see an average size man walking down the stairs towards me. He had on black pants, a black hoody that covered his head and the shiniest patent leather shoes I've ever seen in my life. That was probably the one thing that caught my eye. I was mesmerized by them. When he reached the bottom of the stairs and turned to face me I saw his face which had been obscured until now by the black hood of the pullover he had on. I stood frozen looking at him for a few seconds, not understanding what it was I was seeing. His face was a cold white expressionless silhouette, shattered only by two green eyes surrounded by empty black spaces. "Please excuse the dramatics Mr. Carigan. The white mask may seem a bit over the top, but it does promote the ere of anonymity I was hoping to achieve. Wouldn't you agree?" I didn't know what to do. Should I say something? Would it cause another outburst as it did the previous day on the phone? In the end I stood there, saying nothing and being very conscious of not moving a single muscle and give him cause to react. He slowly circled round me. Eyeing me from head to toe until he came to a calculated stop in front of me. I tried to look into his eyes in an effort to push back, to show him I was ready to see this through to the end. To buy back what he had taken from me, I could no more fool him than I could myself.
"Let's get down to business, shall we Jimmy?" I finally broke my silence. "Wait! How do I know he's safe?" Despite trying to keep my cool, hearing the words come out of my mouth made me frantic. "How!? Answer me! How do I know you haven't already....." "Easy Mr. Carigan, steady. You've come so far, you wouldn't want to lose him now by panicking would you?" With that he reached in behind the back of his black hoody and threw a newspaper on top of the table. Have a look Mr. Carigan. Does the handwriting seem familiar?" I stepped over to the table and saw that he had placed a copy of the Herald, our town newspaper on the table. Second Edition. Now, I know the second edition of the paper come out at precisely 2:15pm ever day because my friend Bill Has a son who works in distribution. It's a source of local pride. According to them, the paper has not been a minute late with it's second edition in all of it's 60 year history. "Tell me Mr. Carigan, does that accurately describe the contents of your safety deposit box?" I picked up the paper and written in the margin was an exact list of the contents of the safety deposit box I had just emptied out earlier this afternoon. Right down to the necklace Jinny had given me. There's only one person who would know that, and the handwriting was unmistakable. So he was safe as of 2:15 PM today. Barely 45 minutes ago. I begrudgingly had to concede that he was still with us. For the moment.
"Alright Jimmy, let's see what goodies you've brought me shall we? I put the paper down and unzipped my jacket. I began removing all the treasures I had brought and placing them on the table. "Not so fast Mr. Carigan. Please, amuse me. Tell me about what you've brought me. Tell me the story behind these precious items you came with to buy your precious cargo back." "Look, isn't it enough that your taking everything? Everything I own? You want me to stand here and tell you where they came from and what they mean to me? Just take your payment and give him back, then we can all get on with our lives." "Jimmy, you misunderstand me. I wasn't asking you. I'm telling you what you're going to do. This is not a negotiation. Do it!" I hated him. I felt the anger rising inside me like a thermometer blazing in the mid day sun. I knew I had to cool down. I had come so close. It's almost over. "Alright. Fine Mr....Mr?" There was nothing but a cold impatient stare. "Right. Ok, well this first item is my high school varsity ring. 14 karat gold, the outside is encrusted with rubies and sapphires, our school colours. I recieved it at the end of my senior year during the commencement ceremonies. Next, this is a beautiful 18 karat gold bracelet that..." "One moment Mr. Carigan, if you don't mind. Tell me about the commencement ceremony would you?" "What's to tell? We stood up on a stage and paraded our rings in front of all the families, then got drunk and puked our guts out." "And was your family there as well Mr. Carigan?" "Yes, my father was there" "No brothers or sisters or...?" "No, I'm an only child. My dad, it was just my dad," "What about your mother? Wasn't she there?" "No, I uh, I never knew my mother she died when I was very young. A car accident." I couldn't look at him when I spoke about her, I knew if I did there would be no hiding the deception in my face. I just hoped to God he would let it go and we could move on. He paused to look down, then up at me. "Carry on Mr. Carigan." I spent the next thirty minutes laying out my goods and relaying the story behind each one and thought to myself I was almost there, I almost had this nightmare behind me. "Finally, there's this fine Seiko watch. One of the best timepieces I've every owned. Ten jewels, fine leather band and solid buckle. My, my father gave it to me as a gift from his trip to Spain. Yup, he was so proud of me for getting accepted to an ivy league college that he bought it specially for me the summer before I left. So. That's it. That's everything I own." He looked at the pile in front of him on the table. He began rummaging through it all, assessing the worth of everything. Turning each piece in his hand, examining them. His attention turned to the watch. "It certainly is a very beautiful watch Mr. Carigan. Impeccable craftsmanship. Oh I see your father even had it inscribed. My dearest James, always believe in your heart. Love Mom. Mom? That's strange Jimmy? Didn't you say your mother died when you were very young? I never knew my mother, that's what you said isn't it Jimmy?" Look!" I found myself bursting out "What does it matter! You have everything alright! Isn't it enough? What else do you want?" I pulled off my jacket and the stocks and bonds I had brought with me fell out onto the table. "Take these too! take everything!" I pulled out my wallet in a frenzy and stretched it open shaking it onto the table in a show of desperation. A few bills, some credit cards and various papers flew out. I dropped the wallet and began to sob uncontrollably.
There was no reaction from him. He looked at me and looked at then back to the array of confusion on the table. He picked up a small piece of folded note paper and gently unwrapped it to unveil a small perfectly preserved yellow flower, clinging to the parchment like a butterfly's wings pinned to the inside of a shadow box. The flower my mother picked from the field the very last time I saw her. When she told me she would always be with me, always by my bedside while I sleep. "What's this Jimmy?" What was that? Staring at the pristine flower a rush of memories came flooding back filling me with emotions that I had tried to bury for so long. How naive was I to believe I could ever do that? When you bury the seed of such a strong pure love all you accomplish is helping it to grow. "What a pretty flower Mr. Carrigan." Beep, beep. Where did you get it?" Beep, beep, beep. a quiet noise began to whistle in my head. I could't figure out what it was or where it was coming from. What had he done? Did he start some kind of timer? Was he planning on killing us all, all along? Had I misjudged his sanity that much? "What? That thing? Jeez, I don't even remember where that came from. What is that noise? It's driving me nuts? Can you hear it?....Beep, beep. " I reached to take the flower back from his grasp but he pulled away, I wasn't in time. "I see, well it is a very pretty flower. You won't mind if I keep it then." "What? Why? It's just a stupid flower. What would you want that for." "I'll tell you what Mr. Carigan, you can keep any two pieces of treasure you want from what you brought me in return forth his insignificant little flower. Eh? What do you think Jimmy? More than a fair trade. Yes, that's what we'll do." Beep, beep, beep. This time I lunged for the delicate package and snapped it from his hand. I was not giving it up no matter what the consequences. "I've had it with you! I'm done! You have taken everything from me. Everything I have in this world. You are NOT taking what's left of my soul!' He stood silent for a long time. His dead eyes never moving from mine, never showing a sign of life, compassion or understanding. There was a deafening silence except for one noise breaking the void with it's incessant, ever increasing volume... taunting me. Beep. Beep. Beep. After what seemed a lifetime he spoke. "On the contrary Mr. Carigan. You've just earned it back."
At that moment he raised his pale gaunt hand to his mask and slid it from his head. But instead of a face, a burst of light and energy flooded from him. As if the mask was not there to hide his identity but to hold it it. It hit me with the force of a tidal wave. Up. Further and further blurring the line between reality and hell.
Beep, beep, beep. My throat was horribly dry. It hurt with each swallow. My eyelids felt as if someone tied lead weights to them. Through a blurred foggy daze I turned my head to see a monitor beside me. Beep, beep, beep. Steadily beeping unrelentingly. I may not have been coherent but surely that must be a good sign. I heard a voice standing over me as I watched the steady rhythm of the monitor. "You gave us quite a scare Jimmy. This is doctor Howard. How are you feeling son?" I nodded as best I could. I could feel an awful knot in my stomach as if I'd been punched by a prize fighter. "You rest now Mr. Carigan, you've been out for three days. There's some people who'd like to talk to you when you're up to it, about why you tried to hurt yourself. We'll talk about that later, get some rest. Your mom's been waiting for you to wake up. I'm going to go to the waiting room and send her her in. Okay?" I nodded half dazed but distinctly. As the door closed behind him I turned my head to the bedside table. Placed upon it was a card, brightly adorned with the scene of a field bursting with buttercups on a beautiful sunny summer day. The gold leaf script on the front read "Get Well soon." It sat slightly open as to keep it propped up on the surface, laying gently between the two halves was a neatly folded letter.
"My dearest James,
Looking into your face, I pray that where ever you are God is keeping you safe and will bring you back to me. I sit here by your bed as the days turn into nights and the nights break into dawn, hoping to hear your voice again. I got you a card today James. A field of bright buttercups. I know you'll think it's silly but I needed to try and bring you something that would remind you of how beautiful you are and the world around you. I wish you could draw as much strength from seeing them as I do. You never believed me when I told you of the strength you had inside you. I named you after a noble King and in my eyes you've never been anything less than one. I think of how I tried to teach you to never give up, never let anyone tell you, you can't do what ever your heart tells you is right. I only wish I had been a better mother, a better friend when the doubt in yourself mounted over the years. When you tried to take your own life, I felt angry. At first only because you would leave this earth never knowing how strong you could be when you needed to. It was always inside you. Later because I didn't want you to leave me. I didn't want you to miss out on all the wonderful things ahead. Your first real love, your children, the love I still need to give you. I remember the day you left for college last fall. The way you wrapped your arms around me and lay your head on my shoulder, burying it into my neck like you had done since you were two. You said "Mom, the first gal I meet that wears Jacob Classique, I'm gonna marry. And that's a fact" We laughed together, then you left. Now I sit here and wish I could give you my strength to see you back to me somehow. Come back to me my sweet baby boy and we will begin to find the answers together. I love you with all my heart James.
The door to the room opened and she walked in without saying a word. She took my hand tenderly into hers and we both smiled.