**Chapter 20: Kidnapped **
Mike’s surrounding’s slowly faded into view as he came to. He had been unconscious twice today! It was starting to wear on his mind physically, not to mention his self-confidence.
He soon realized that he was tied, completely unable to move, to a chair in the center of Angelo’s office. The pieces of the broken coffee table still lay in front of the loveseat, though the girl was now gone. He struggled against the ropes that tied him down, but they were tight around his wrists and ankles, and the metal chair to which he was tied seemed too tough to break. It wouldn’t matter much, anyway. There was no way he’d make it out of the warehouse alive. He was more likely to rob a casino and run out of the front door unopposed than to get out of the warehouse with his skin intact.
He was, to be honest, a little surprised to find himself still alive anyway. It was very uncharacteristic of Angelo. But Angelo did have a bit of the James Bond villain in him, and Mike assumed that a delightfully painful death or maiming awaited him.
Angelo entered from the side door, smiling at Mike’s present consciousness. He was closely followed by Marty, the man whose blow from behind had created a lump on Mike’s head that still ached painfully.
“Well, Mike, it certainly is good to see you awake. It’s just not gentlemanly to come and visit someone, then fall asleep while they’re trying to be hospitable.” Mike ignored him as he paced around the chair to which Mike was tied, his hands held behind his back in their customary formation, a smile of supreme, gloating self-confidence written on his face.
“You may be wondering, Mike, why you are still alive after such an egregious breach of my rules, of the trust that you and I have built over these past months.” He paused, waiting for a response from Mike. There was none.
“And well you should. Ordinarily I would have killed you immediately – wouldn’t have blinked, wouldn’t have given you a second thought.” He paused again, ensuring Mike was listening.
“But I like you, Mike. I do. So I thought I’d give you a chance. You’ve always been one to stick to my rules in the past, Mike, which gave me reason to believe that something had happened to you. So, being the extremely generous individual that I am – I am a humanitarian at heart, Mike, you must believe me – I did a little sleuthing and discovered some very interesting things about you Mike.”
Mike bristled. What the hell had Angelo dug up on him? And how had he done it so quickly? Surely he hadn’t been out that long…
“Mike, I don’t know how to express to you my regret that Copeland saw fit to fire you today.” That son of a bitch! “But Mike, you have to understand the company’s position – you simply weren’t performing for them. You were a bad horse to bet on, Mike. And you know something about betting on bad horses, don’t you?” Angelo glanced at Mike, taking a perceptible pleasure in his discomfort at the enraging comments.
“But it didn’t stop there, Mike, and I can honestly say that I fully understand your actions in light of the new developments on the Turner home front. From what I hear, Mrs. Marie Turner has told the police all about her enraged husband who came home early and, in a fit of rage, brutally killed the man she called her ‘one, true love.’ Sad, really. You really need to learn to control your anger, Mike. Didn’t I warn you about that last time we discussed the races? Well, it doesn’t matter… it’s obvious you didn’t listen.” He raised his hands above his head in mock consternation.
“Why do I even try? It’s so obvious that no one ever takes my advice to heart!” Mike struggled violently against the ropes, causing the chair, and himself, to fall to the floor, crushing his immobile arm uncomfortably beneath him as he lay on his side.
Angelo knelt down, bringing his sweaty face within inches of Mike’s. His breath reeked of acrid smoke and stale coffee; his eyes were still bloodshot and spacey from the drugs. The toothpick he chewed in his mouth was crushed to fine fibers from hours of nervous chewing. “The police are crawling the city looking for you, Mike. It won’t be long before they find your wife’s SUV outside… and then, I’ll have no choice but to hand you over. After all, I am a law-abiding citizen – I don’t want to be party to a murder!”
He stood up, resuming his pacing. Mike remained on the floor, looking up at Angelo, whose body seemed oddly out of proportion from this strange angle. “I have a little surprise for you, Mike. A solution to all your problems. You see, I have the resources necessary to keep you from the pigs’ hands. I can keep you safe. And all I ask in return is a little…” He held his index finger and thumb slightly apart, illustrating just how little “a little” was. “…Cooperation. Just a little cooperation. And if this goes well, I may even be willing to forgive you that sizeable debt that you owe me. Now wouldn’t that be something?”
Angelo’s mock-friendliness was beginning to annoy Mike, and the lack of blood flow to his right arm was becoming extremely uncomfortable. He struggled again against the ropes, but he had even less mobility than when he had made his previous attempt, and his movements only confirmed the futility of his situation.
“Oh, Mike, forgive me, please! What a terrible host I am!” Angelo motioned to Marty, who stood Mike’s chair back on it’s four legs. Mike winced as the blood rushed back into his right arm, sending burning needles through its entire length.
“You must forgive me, Mike. Sometimes I just get so caught up in the moment that I forget my guests completely. It’s never intentional, I promise you.”
The phony act was really getting old. “You know what, Angelo, just cut the bullshit and get to the point.”
Angelo frowned. He was having fun. But business was business. “Fine,” he said. “Mike, you’re in deep shit. The cops are after you because of your little ‘indiscretion’ back at your house. So really, you don’t have much choice. You’re going to do what I tell you, or I turn you over to the cops. It’s that simple. Understand?”
Mike chose not to dignify the patronizing question with a response. Angelo continued anyway. “You really should see the pictures of the man you killed, Mike. It’s brilliant, the brutality of it, the unbridled primal passion of it all. It’s damn near a work of art! And that’s what I need – an artist – someone with a sense of the truly brutal, the truly primal. Someone like you, Mike.
“The organization I work with organizes a weekly ‘fight,’ of sorts, and you’re going to be the next prime attraction. You’re going to tap into that vicious side of yourself that you love to channel so much and beat some other guy to all hell. Or you’ll get beat to hell yourself. Either way, I win.”
He got close in to Mike’s face again. “Remember what I used to tell you, Mike. The house always wins.” He smiled eerily. “Tell you what, you think about it, and let us know.”
With that, a swift painless knock against his head brought on the blackness once again.
Ernie was walking alone along the nearly empty street, on his way back to St. Ives. He hadn’t lasted long when James had started telling his story. There were too many details, too many things to remember. Ernie liked his stories short and sweet, and happy too. That was the worst part about James’ story – it had a sad ending.
He had grown bored and restless quickly, so he and Ken had left Ned and Holly and had continued around the area asking people about Darryl. But Ken had grown restless too, worried that his parents would be expecting him soon.
Ned and Holly were nowhere to be found, but fortunately, Ken had already claimed his bike from the back of Ned’s van, anticipating needing to leave before the others. 59th Street was within biking distance of Ken’s home, so he and Ernie set off towards the nice suburban neighborhood, Ernie riding on the rear pegs again.
The corner was empty as they passed by on Ken’s bike; the kids had all gone in for the evening. The sun was sinking low – night was almost upon them.
Ken had offered to let Ernie stay in the garage again, so that Ernie wouldn’t need to make the dangerous journey back to St. Ives, but Ernie had grown hungry again, and he longed for some of Rho nda’s soup and the warmth of his soft, familiar bed. So despite Ken’s protests and his own judgment, he had set off alone back towards St. Ives.
The light had steadily decreased as he had progressed on his trip, until the sun had dropped completely beyond the curvature of the earth, leaving nothing but the occasionally visible stars and moon and the flickering streetlamps to light the way.
Ernie wasn’t particularly nervous. He had made the trip plenty of times before, and even in the darkness, but the stories that he and Ken had been hearing throughout the day of mysterious abductions caused him to be more wary than normal.
There was nothing to give him concern, though. The street was quiet, except for the occasional rustle of a paper cup or newspaper blowing along the asphalt in the wind. Every so often, a car would round a corner and pass slowly by him, but for the most part, he had the entire quiet street to himself.
And so he walked on, not paying much attention to the car that passed by him, moving more slowly than the others, and not noticing that it was the same car that had passed him three ties now. It came to a stop at the curb a half block in front of Ernie, and the back door opened. A nice looking man stepped out, dressed in a suit and tie, wearing a fedora on his head, and smiling broadly at Ernie as he approached.
“Ernie!” he exclaimed as he approached, arms wide in greeting. “I thought it was you! I’m glad I stopped. No music today?”
Ernie didn’t recognize the man. How did he know his name? He stiffened as the man encompassed his body with his arms.
“I haven’t seen you in awhile! Hey, are you heading to St. Ives? How about a ride? It’s getting kind of chilly out here… I’m sure Rho nda would prefer it if you came in and got yourself something to eat. How about it?” He motioned to the still open back door of the car a few meters in front of them.
Ernie nodded. This man may know him, but Ernie didn’t recognize his face, and Rho nda had warned him nev er to get into strange cars with people he didn’t know. In fact, Rho nda had been clear that he shouldn’t even speak with those he didn’t know, but he wasn’t really brea king that particular rule; the other man was doing all the talking.
Ernie stepped around the man and continued on his way, but the man followed him and kept talking. “Oh, come on, Ernie,” he said, wrapping one arm around him as if they were pals. “I really have something I want to talk to you about! I know you have a lot of problems… you know, money problems, and problems remembering things, and stuff… I just want to help you out. Tell you what, get in the back of the car, and I’ll feel you in on my plan… I can solve all of your problems, I can get you out, Ernie, honest, but you need to get in the car.”
If a man ever comes to you, sayin’ he’s got da answer, dat he can get you out, you just gots to do one thing, don’t listen to ‘im. Darryl’s warning came flooding back to him, and he felt a sudden chill of fear. He wrenched his body away from the man’s arm and began to run down the street, but the man’s car was already pulling up ahead of him.
Two men stepped out and ran towards him. He attempted to turn and cross the street, but they were surprisingly quick, and headed him off in the middle of the street. They wrapped their strong arms around his body, and forced a strange-smelling rag in his face. He struggled briefly, and felt his Walkman slide from it’s customary position on his waistband and clatter on the floor. The men dragged him towards the car, and pushed him roughly into the trunk as he passed out.