a job’s a job

“I looked at the screen hoping for inspiration. After all, this was my first ransom note.” –writing prompt by @writinginfla

a job’s a job

I stared at the screen impatiently. What was I supposed to say? I hadn’t exactly done this before.

“Where do I begin? Where do you think I should begin?” I asked my guest.

“Hrmp errm armph…”

“That doesn’t sound right.”

“Hgga ermppa oomp…”

“If you’re going to be rude, why don’t you just keep your mouth shut?”

Next came the clattering of the chair legs. Such an obnoxious ruckus my guest made. His welcome was already beginning to wear a little thin.

“I’ll just do it myself,” I declared turning back to my keyboard.

The chair slamming grew louder, drowning out my ability to concentrate. I calmly stood up and walked over to my guest. I punched him in the face. He crumpled and slouched back against the chair.

Silence encompassed the room. I returned to my seat.

“Now where was I? Ah, yes. Your ransom. How much do you think you’re worth?”

He didn’t answer.

“Nothing, ay? Probably right.”

My laughter pinged off the walls and echoed back at me. Still, that ransom note hadn’t written itself, and I was going to have to do it.

“Dear Sir or Madam,” I typed.

That was too formal. Too impersonal. I deleted it and started over.

“If you ever want to see your beloved Jimmy again.” That was better. “Then follow the instructions precisely. If you should stray from the course, then your loved one will suffer the consequences.”

I heard the sound of groaning behind me. The guest of honor was stirring. I tapped the disk icon to save my work. I brought myself to stand in front of my guest again.

“Gnkt hikgt mbb.”

“We gonna have a problem?”

“Mmm mmm, mmm mmm.” He shook his head emphatically.

“Sit there quietly and don’t make a sound. Can you do that?”

He nodded agreeably. All the fight had drained out of him. I raised my hand. He flinched. I patted him gently on the cheek. He whimpered.

I returned again to the ransom note. It was nearly perfect. It was only missing one detail. I turned in my chair.

“If I remove the gag, are you going to scream, shout, and yell? Because no one will hear you. You will only succeed in pissing me off. You’ve already seen what happens when you piss me off. You don’t want me to hit you again, do you?”

He shook his head. I carefully kept my temper in check. I removed the gag.

“Look, man, I really think you have the wrong guy. There is nothing special about me. Nobody loves me enough to pay for me, and I don’t have any money myself.”

“Bullshit,” I spat. “I saw your apartment. I took you from your bed.”

He started laughing. A loud sort of guffaw of laughter. I lifted an eyebrow and waited.

“Dude that lives there is a buddy of mine. He went outta town. I’ve totally been crashing there. Squatting, really, since he doesn’t even know.”

I switched eyebrows.

“Seriously, man. You don’t believe me? Go look at all the pictures in the place. Not one of them will have me in it”

I put the gag back on. I scrubbed my hands over my face. I felt my frustration returning. I grabbed the back of his chair and dragged him towards the closet. He began to protest.

“Shut up!”

He stilled and was blissfully quiet. I stuffed him in the closet. A closet I’d reinforced myself for just this purpose. I closed the door and secured it with a padlock. The padlock featured a wordlock. A wordlock that I’d created myself.

E-E-R-F would free him.

I leaned against the door. I could hear the muffled sounds of movement. He wasn’t trying to escape, just readjusting as best as he could under the circumstances.

Wrong guy? Was it possible? I shook off the feeling of dread as I returned to the ransom note. All I had to do was write a few instructions to be followed. Once the ransom had been paid, I’d collect my fee and be on my way.

I gave random rather benign instructions that were easy to follow. They should ensure the feeling of being watched, though I could not be at every step.

Along the way, they would collect a key to a locker down at Central Station. Inside that locker, they would find a laptop supplied by my employer. With the laptop, they would find the final instructions for paying the ransom. I printed the note.

My employer had supplied me with an old-fashioned polaroid camera. I loaded it and returned to the closet.

“E.” I scrolled the first tumbler into place.

“E.” Then the second.

“R.” The third tumbler clicked.

“F.” The lock slid free.

I opened the door. He looked at me with pleading eyes. His face was wet with tears. He didn’t make a sound.

The whir of the old camera brought a smile to my face. New technology lacks the satisfaction of sound effects. I leaned against the door jam while I awaited the final exposure.

Jimmy–at least I hoped it was Jimmy–crept slowly into view. His tear-sodden face was the last section of the image to crystallize.

“Perfect,” I said as I closed the door and resecured the padlock.

I snatched the paper from the printer tray. I tri-folded the note with the image at its center. I slid it into an envelope and sealed it with a damp sponge.

The doorbell rang. I’d finished my missive just in time. My employer had sent a messenger to collect the ransom note and deliver it to the family.

I tidied up the borrowed home. I wrote “E-E-R-F” on a post-it and stuck it to the closet door. I took one last look around, gathered up the few items I’d brought with me, and slipped into the garage.

Ten minutes later, I was headed down the coastal highway towards my favorite burger shack. My part of the job was done. Nothing left to do but wait for the ka-ching sound my phone would make when the payment arrived in my bank account.

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