For the next sixty minutes, the passengers inside the dark red SUV remain silent.
The ride to their final destination proceeds without anybody speaking a single word. None of the three hostages make a sound. The two hostage-takers also choose to not engage in conversation. It is an uncomfortable silence, but one that everyone mutually agrees to adhere to.
Dr. Samantha, who is furiously trying to figure out why these four armed men are targeting her specifically, is too frightened to cry. She struggles to breathe even though she is no longer wearing the clown mask. Mistress Nguvu thinks about whether she will die tonight. Jonathan tries to be upbeat about their situation, but resigns to the fact that their captors hold all the decision-making power.
Sixty minutes may have passed. Or maybe it’s seventy minutes. Or ninety. Or fifteen. Regardless, time ceases to exist. Jonathan guesses they’re heading south, judging from the movements of the vehicle. He knows for a fact they’re on the freeway. There shouldn’t be any traffic on the highway at this time, so they must be travelling at 70 or 80 miles per hour. Everyone speeds at this hour in the morning.
Finally, the SUV exits the freeway and they begin to drive at a slower pace. A few twists and turns later, the SUV finally comes to a complete stop. Then it moves again. Then it stops. Then it moves again. They must be taking side streets. Are they driving through a residential neighborhood? Or are they moving through a business district? The answer is anyone’s guess.
Eventually the SUV comes to a stop and the driver turns off the ignition. This indicates they’ve arrived at their destination.
“We’re here,” the driver announces. The two men leave the car and talk to the other two men, who have presumably also parked as well. Jonathan cannot hear what they are saying. Samantha breaks the silence.
“I’m sorry. I’m really sorry about all of this.”
Mistress Nguvu leans over to Dr. Samantha and brushes her head against her shoulder.
“It’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong. Whatever happens to us, it’s not your fault. It’s their fault. Understand?” Jonathan cannot see, but he senses Dr. Sammy nodding in agreement. He hopes she doesn’t feel too much guilt about their predicament. The Mistress is right. This isn’t her fault.
One of the men comes by and opens the passenger door. “Time to take off your blindfolds. If any of you make any sudden moves, you won’t be making any moves ever again, got it?” The three hostages provide weak audible responses.
“Good. I’m glad we’re all choosing to be so cooperative.” The man reaches over and removes the blindfolds of Jonathan, Dr. Samantha and Mistress Nguvu. He instructs the three to get out of the car. Jonathan leaves first and looks around at their new surroundings. It’s a small concrete underground parking garage. It looks more cramped than the one underneath his apartment building. A foul odor greets him as he moves to the side to give Samantha and the Mistress room to leave the vehicle. After all three are out in the open, the Short Man approaches them with a wide smile on his face.
“I trust the ride was comfortable?” He smirks. Mistress Nguvu wants to punch him in the face, but wisely declines after seeing the other three men pointing their guns at their heads.
“Never mind that. Follow me. I’m pleased by how dutiful all of you have been in following my instructions. I have no complaints,” he says. “Fear can be a powerful motivator, isn’t it?”
“Yes it is. You obviously know how to utilize it to your advantage,” Jonathan says. The two women suddenly look at him. Why the hell is he making polite conversation with their captors? Is he out of his mind?
“Yes I do. Come.” The Short Man leads them through a creaky steel door and down a dark and long hallway. There are no windows anywhere. No art on the walls. The paint is starting to chip on the ceiling. A row of dim lightbulbs hang from above, doing their best to illuminate the entire hall. At the end of the corridor is another steel door. One of the armed men opens it and stands guard. The Short Man leads the other two into the room. Inside are three wooden chairs, a small carpenter’s table with nothing on it, a bookshelf with only a small handful of books on it, a toilet, no sink, an old black sofa collecting dust, and absolutely no windows of any sort. After everyone enters the room, the Short Man shows no indication he wants anyone to sit down. All three hostages stay standing.
“Anyone wondering why you’re all here?” the Short Man asks. He looks at all three captives and knows none of them will guess accurately. Satisfied with the level of fear he’s instilled in the three of them, he answers his question for them.
“I’m sure that question has crossed your minds once or twice this evening. Dr. Samantha.”
Everyone in the room turns to face her. Dr. Sammy isn’t crying, but appears to be on the verge of breaking down in tears. Her inner strength will face the ultimate test tonight.
“Why do you think you’re all here? Any idea?”
Dr. Samantha lets out a sigh and bows her head. “No idea at all,” she says. The considerable weight of guilt bearing down on her soul breaks Jonathan’s heart. Mistress Nguvu stands tall and proud, defiantly supporting her long-time friend during this ordeal.
“Really? That’s surprising. Well, here’s the reason why. Your husband, Dr. Matthew Prescott, is the head neurosurgeon at East Wellspring Hospital, right?” Dr. Samantha’s ears perk up. She nods. “Of course he is. He’s without a doubt the most respected employee at that hospital, wouldn’t you say?”
She nods again in agreement. The Short Man’s insistence on tormenting his prisoners by asking endless rhetorical questions annoys both Jonathan and the Mistress.
“So respected, he could literally walk into a restricted zone with no questions asked, am I right?” Dr. Samantha’s patience has worn thin. She bursts out of anger.
“Yes, goddamn it! He practically owns the fucking place. What’s your fucking point, asshole?!” The men with guns laugh at her unexpected display of passion. The Short Man doesn’t blink but glares at his colleagues. They cease their laughter.
“Take it easy there, sweetheart. My point is simple. Every hospital has radiological material stored within it for x-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs, and things like that. Devices containing poisonous radioactive chemicals like cesium-137 are usually stored in a secure location. But he’d be able to access such things, given his prestige at the institution. Do you get my meaning?” Dr. Samantha thinks for a moment to connect the dots. After a brief pause, she nods her head again.
“Yes, I think I do. You want him to steal some of these radioactive devices for you. So you’ve kidnapped me and holding me for ransom. If he doesn’t cooperate or if he notifies the police, you’ll kill us. Am I getting warmer?” The Short Man laughs heartily. The other men smile but do not make any sound.
“Bingo! We want these materials so we can make a bomb. A dirty bomb. Believe it or not, but we’re kind of a big deal in the underground black market. Pretty big deal. Am I right, boys?”
“Hell yeah, sir!” one man responds.
“Fuck yes!” the other one shouts out.
“Yes, we are. We’re not terrorists, but we deal primarily with terrorists. And drug kingpins. And human traffickers. And organized crime syndicates. And third-world dictators facing international sanctions. You know, those kinds of people. The kind of people your media teaches you to hate. You probably don’t like us very much, do you?” The three hostages proudly stay quiet. The short man knows he’s said enough. They get it now. They know why they’re in this mess. It’s now time to break off this conversation and leave them be.
“I thought so. Well, I shall be off. I have several phone calls to make. Including one to your husband, naturally. There’s an armed guard standing outside this door. If any of you attempt to escape, expect a bullet to be lodged inside your fucking skulls. Got it?” Not expecting an answer, the Short Man and his two cohorts breeze out of the room. The door is locked. The fourth man is still standing at guard. Dr. Samantha, Jonathan and Mistress Nguvu are left there, stunned and stupefied. When will this nightmare end? Will there be a clean way out of this?
Dr. Samantha drops to her knees. She doesn’t cry because she doesn’t have any tears left to shed. Mistress Nguvu squats down to comfort her. Jonathan slumps down on one of the wooden chairs and stares at the steel door in exasperated silence.
For what seems like forever, none of them speak. What is there to say?
A sense of disgust grows within Dr. Samantha’s body. Obviously, these men specifically targeted her and her husband. They must have researched countless hospitals, doctors, and doctor’s wives to pinpoint who would make the most logical target. Much to her horror, she and Matthew are the unlucky participants. She feels even more wretched that the Mistress and Jonathan had to also get involved.
“Don’t worry, baby. Your husband will do the right thing. Nothing is going to happen to us,” Mistress Nguvu says. She knows her words will ring hollow, but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t attempt to comfort her friend. Jonathan decides now is the time to chime in.
“There’s nothing we can do right now. What’s about to happen is about to happen. We’re powerless to change the course of events. That sounds hopeless, but it is what it is.” Defeated, Jonathan falls to the floor and covers his face with his hands. He cannot remember the last time he ever cried, but now would be an understandable time to do so. Instead, he lies there and attempts to rationalize to himself how everything will turn out okay at the end.
Jonathan struggles to come up with a plausible reason.
In another room on the floor above, the Short Man picks up a cell phone and calls the home of Dr. Matthew Prescott. The time is near 4:00 in the morning, so he should be sleeping. Whether he went to bed wondering where his wife could possibly be is a question he is about to have answered.
The neurosurgeon picks up the phone. Groggy and grumpy, he inquires who would be so rude as to call someone at this inconvenient hour. The Short Man explains calmly the situation his wife is currently facing. The doctor’s demeanor is surprisingly level-headed and rational. The hostage-taker lays out his deal: By midnight tonight, he must deliver to a certain address a portable x-ray generator machine to a man driving a black sedan. He will deliver the goods, and after an inspection of the device that (hopefully) leads to the approval by the inspector, the doctor will be given a second address to drive to. There, he will find his wife and her two friends waiting for him, unharmed if all goes well. If anything doesn’t go well, he may never see her ever again. Her friends will also suffer a similar fate.
Inside, the doctor is fuming with rage and uncontrollable fear. But on the surface, he appears gentle and accommodating. He agrees to the man’s terms and hangs up the phone. Dr. Matthew Prescott punches a wall and throws a wine glass across the room. The Short Man leans back in his chair and grins with joyful self-satisfaction. He instructs one of the men to contact their boss and inform him the good doctor is willing to be compliant. The phone call is made. The boss expresses his gratitude to his underlings. The Short Man suggests they open a bottle of champagne and celebrate this crucial first step to creating a bomb that will be the envy of scum everywhere on planet Earth.
Imagine the payment that will come with selling a weapon of mass destruction. Rich drug cartels and apocalyptic terrorists have plenty of cash to go around. The men drink to their health and their future success.
Meanwhile, the three hostages still have not started any conversation. There doesn’t seem to be any need to speak. Quietness permeates the room. Dr. Sammy and the Mistress cuddle together on the floor. The dusty black sofa looks disgusting and reeks of something awful. Mistress Nguvu wants to pee. She eyes the toilet, but decides against it. Now is the time to comfort her friend. The time for personal business is later.
Jonathan, on the other hand, gets up to use the toilet. There’s no toilet paper or running water to clean his hands. Oh well. He returns back to his spot on the floor and places his arms behind his head. He stares up at the ceiling. A light fixture stares back down at him. A spider crawls across one of the bulbs. Normally, Jonathan would freak out at the sight of such a repulsive eight-legged creature, but he has no more fear left to dispense. All he can do is stare at it and wish it well. Odds are, the spider is capable of escaping this hell hole. The humans, however, are not.
He shuts his eyes and tries to think of more pleasant memories. None come to mind. Fuck.
Eventually, Jonathan drifts off to sleep. He doesn’t know if Dr. Samantha or Mistress Nguvu follow suit, but he doesn’t care. He’s too exhausted to care. All he wants to do is sleep and wake up in his own bed and find out everything is just a nightmare. He doubts this will happen.