Catherine was terrified. She’d been on her regular morning run when a city maintenance van blocked part of the street and most of the running path ahead of her. Catherine swung to the right, intending to run past. Too late, she saw the open door on the side of the van and the two men in stocking masks. One of them jumped in front of her and pinned her arms while the second man slapped a cloth over her face. Within seconds, she was unconscious.
Now, Catherine was in a chair with her eyes covered. Her arms and legs were bound to the chair. It took her several seconds to realize that she was wearing headphones and that she was hearing the sound track from “My Fair Lady”. A man with a Cockney accent was singing about getting married in the morning. Catherine shook her head violently, but neither the headset or whatever was over her eyes would move. She tried to call for help, but there was something plastered across her mouth. She began to hyperventilate.
The man known as “Bob” closed the notebook computer and smiled at his two partners. “That’s it, then. The money’s been transferred. Everybody has his cut. You guys can hit the road. I’ll baby-sit our little princess and finish up when you’ve had time to get clear.”
“Wow,” said the partner who’d driven the van. “That was the quickest payoff in history. We grabbed her at 7:05 and got paid by 8:50.”
“Told you so,” said Bob happily. “All we had to do was present it like a straight business deal. We had what he wanted, it was for sale and he had the ready cash. The critical part was not giving him time to think.”
The three shook hands. “You can take off,” said Bob. “I’ll make contact with the mark and I’ll handle the wife, just that way we planned.”
Bob sat, sipped from a glass of apple juice and watched a video link on the computer until he was sure his partners were in their cars and gone. Then he placed the computer on a folding aluminum TV tray, pulled on a short dark wig and a thin stocking mask, walked to the bedroom door and opened it. He carried the TV tray into the room and set it near Catherine.
Catherine was sitting right where he’d left her; not surprising, since she was duct-taped to the heavy oak chair. Bob closed the door and, using a pair of wire cutters, snipped the plastic cable tie holding the headphones in place. He pulled them off. “Hi, Catherine,” he said quietly. “You can call me Bob.”
Catherine heard a faint snap and the headphones disappeared, along with Julie Andrews’ voice. She tried to talk, but nothing came out except for muffled grunts.
“Just take it easy,” said Bob. “I’m not going to hurt you. You’ve been kidnapped. Your husband has paid your ransom. I’m going to call him in a minute and let you talk to him, but first we have to get a few things straight. Let me get this blindfold off.”
Catherine felt the man unclip something behind her head and then she was blinking at the light. The man standing in front of her was holding an ordinary sleep mask. He was around average height and appeared to weight about 170 pounds, none of it fat. He was wearing jeans and a T-shirt and a stocking mask that distorted his features. He was a white man and had dark brown or black hair, otherwise there was nothing to distinguish him from millions of other American males.
Bob dropped the sleep mask, the headphones and the attached iPod into a paper bag and smiled. “Now then, that’s better. I’ll take the tape off your mouth when we get ready for the phone call. Before we get to that, I want to tell you what happened.”
Bob took a step back and sat on a cheap metal folding chair. “We snatched you a little after 7 this morning. It’s almost 9 now. We called your husband and told him we had you. We told him what you were wearing, right down to the engraving inside your wedding ring and your bra size. We made a quick deal. He transferred money to numbered accounts and we verified the transfers. All quick and clean.”
Catherine thought, bra size? She looked down and saw that she was wearing a baggy zip-up sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off. She couldn’t feel any other clothes. Had her kidnappers seen her naked? At least her wedding ring was on her left hand.
“Yeah, yeah,” said Bob. “We took your clothes. After you get a shower, you can put on clean ones. There’s a limited selection in the corner.” He pointed across the room.
For the first time, Catherine was able to take her eyes off Bob and see what was in the room. To her left was a double bed complete with sheets, a blanket and three pillows. A small flat-screen TV hung on the wall next to the bed. Below the TV was a night-light, plugged into a standard outlet.
On the bed was a length of light-weight chain that ran off the side of the bed to the right. A shorter length of chain was attached to the center of the headboard. In the far corner of the room was a built-in shelf holding four piles of clothing. In the middle of the wall across from her was an open shower stall with a stack of towels on a cardboard stand. Next to the shower was a toilet. There was no sink. An ordinary interior door was set into the wall to her right. A large office clock hung over the door with a video security camera mounted next to it. There were no windows.
She looked back at Bob. “See,” he said. “All cozy.”
Catherine glared at Bob. He laughed.
“You’re pissed. I don’t blame you. Not much you can do about it, though.” He stood up, reached into his pocket and came out with a cell phone. “I’m going to call your husband and let you talk to him. Now, I told you I wasn’t going to hurt you, but if you say anything except that you haven’t been hurt, he’s going to hear you scream. Don’t talk about where you think you are or how many people took you. Don’t speculate. You can do the whole, ‘I love you, I want to come home’ business. I don’t care about that. Just keep it general and you’ll be fine. Before you say anything, think to yourself, is this going to piss Bob off? If the answer is yes or maybe, don’t say it. Are we clear?”
Catherine nodded. Bob gently peeled the piece of duct tape off her mouth and hit a speed dial button on the phone. When he heard the first ring, he punched the “speaker” button.
“Mr. Collins, this is Bob. I have Catherine here. Say hi, Catherine.”
“Jason, can you hear me?”
“Catherine, are you okay? Did they hurt you?”
Catherine glanced at Bob. “I’m okay. They didn’t hurt me. Did you pay them?”
“Yeah. No problem with the money. Bob said they’d release you. Bob? Where can I find her?”
Bob brought the phone closer to his face. “First things first, Mr. Collins. Honestly, you really ought to throw out that old Harvard T-shirt you’re wearing. It’s an embarrassment, even around the house.”
“What?,” said Collins. “You can see me?”
“That’s right,” said Bob. “Your house is wired for video and audio. I’m watching the feed right now.” He turned the computer so that Catherine could see the screen. “Tell him what you see, Catherine.”
“Jason, I can see you. You’re in the den.”
“And,” continued Bob, “your whole house is wired, including the garage. The audio is terrific. I could hear what you were whispering to Catherine last night while she was blowing you. Very sexy. But back to business.”
“If you contact the cops, I’ll know it. In that case, our deal is off. I’ll run a cable tie around Catherine’s neck and yank it tight. While she’s strangling, she’ll have time to think about how you got her killed.”
“As far as finding her, it’s not a matter of where right now, it’s a matter of when.”
Collins sputtered. “What do you mean? I paid what you asked. You said you’d let her go. What are you doing?”
“Slow down,” said Bob. “I have to give some people time to get where they’re going. I’ll release Catherine about 8PM on Saturday, the day after tomorrow. Believe me, I don’t want to be involved in a murder. That sort of thing attracts attention. You’ll just have to be patient and let this play out. Catherine’s going to be fine, as long as she cooperates with me. I have no intention of hurting her. She’s got a bed and a bathroom and clean clothes. I’ll feed her well. There’s a TV in the room. She’ll mostly be bored, but she’ll be healthy, that is, as long as she does as she’s told. That won’t take much. She just needs to behave herself and not cause trouble for me.”
Bob smiled and winked at Catherine.
“In the meantime, I’ll be watching you. If you make a phone call or take a phone call, I’ll know it. If you leave the house, I’ll know it. If anyone comes to the door, I’ll see who they are and hear what you say to them. Turn off your computers and your smart phone. You stay loose and everything will be fine. You’ll be able to talk to Catherine twice a day on the land line, at 8AM and 8PM. You’ll be on speaker and I’ve told her to keep the conversation general. Don’t ask detailed questions. You’ll get all the details you need when she gets home.
Now, you two can talk a little. I’ll be right here.”
Bob sat quietly and listened to the man and woman talk. The conversation was wholly predictable. Bob was bored and eager to get to the next step.
When they started repeating themselves for the fourth time, Bob cut them off. “We’ll call tonight at 8,” he said and hung up. Bob dropped the phone into his pocket. He sat on his chair and looked at Catherine.
.... There is more of this story ...