Published in August, 2019 by the online Defenestrationism.net
She hardly realized she’d been kidnapped until the big car was about to speed away. One minute she was pruning roses near the arched brick gate, and the next she was pinioned by the elbows in the hands of two burly, masked men who whisked her through the gate and into the car, wedging her between them in the back seat.
Although it was a long way up to the house, she tried to scream. One of the men clapped a hand across her mouth so hard that it hurt, and so tight that she couldn’t even try to bite.
“Now, Granny, let’s not struggle,” he growled. “Don’t want to hurt you. They’ll send us the money and we’ll let you go, safe and sound. Deal?” He took his hand away.
She shook her head. “Open the door and let me out, please.” It struck her as a bit unusual to be speaking politely to these ruffians, but she knew the importance of civility in managing human affairs and controversies. One should observe the proprieties, not lose control or yield to frustration.
“Fat chance.” A third man, behind the wheel, seemed to be the one in charge. The two men shoulder-squeezing her wore black Lone Ranger masks. The driver wore a gray fedora and a red kerchief over his nose and chin. He stomped on the gas; the car squealed forward. He half-turned – she could see his bushy black eyebrows — to address the one on her right. “Johnny, get her phone and turn it off.”
“Right,” said Johnny. “Granny, you want to give me your phone, or do I have to search you?”
“I’m not ‘Granny’. I’m Elizabeth Smythe, you’re not going to search me and I don’t use those things.”
“Everyone has one.” His voice sounded as though it came from his substantial belly. Like the other man who’d grabbed her, he wore a faded and rumpled business suit, the shirt collar open. She should pay attention to these details, she thought, when the time came to report them to police. Balding, graying hair.
“Not I,” she told him. “I still have a dial phone in the bedroom. My first phone was a party line; you took turns with neighbors to call.” She glared at Johnny. “Cooperating. Sharing. I don’t suppose that would appeal to you.”
“Search her,” the man in front said.
“Don’t be vulgar!” she said. “Have you no breeding? It’s not allowed. You’ll have to have a female accomplice do that. Or else take my word.”
“Take her word, for Chrissake,” the man in front said. “But Granny, we’d better not find out you’re lying. Rich people lie a lot.”
“You know,” she told him, “I wasn’t always affluent. I fed chickens and sold their eggs to help the family. That was in third grade. Did you have work when you were in third grade?”
The man in front ignored her, took out his phone and punched in a number.
“You shouldn’t telephone while you’re driving,” she told him. “It’s against the law.”
He continued to ignore her. “Hello? Is this Peter Smythe? No? Well, you tell him he can have his mother back for one hundred thousand dollars. This is Harry. I’m going to call again in an hour to tell him where to leave the money. Tell him not to call the cops, or he’ll never see her again.” He punched the phone off and handed it over his shoulder. “Turn it all the way off, Johnny. Otherwise they can track us.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, ignoring the phone business, “but can you stop at a gas station? I have to use a rest room.”
“WHAT?” The man in front, who’d said into the telephone that he was Harry, looked over his shoulder. “Are you crazy?”
“If you’re going to kidnap elderly people, you’ll have to get used to it. I used to be like a camel, but not anymore.”
“They can store a lot of water. Goodness, you’re not very well-read, are you?”
“You’ll have to hold it, Granny. We’ll be at the house in ten minutes.”
“I’ll try. My, this highway looks familiar.” She knew the moment the words were out of her mouth that she’d made a mistake.
“Johnny, for God’s sake!” said the driver, Harry. “Haven’t you blindfolded her?”
“You shouldn’t take the Lord’s name in vain,” she told him.
“Sorry, boss,” Johnny said. “Forgot.”
“Well, do it. Now.”
Johnny produced a black silk kerchief and wrapped it around her eyes, bumping her head with an elbow.
“Ouch! You’re clumsy. I bruise easily. You’ll be charged with unnecessary assault and battery.” She would have glared at him, but the blindfold prevented her. “Why do you need to do this anyway?”
“So you won’t be able to tell the cops where we took you, Granny.” She recognized the voice as being Harry’s, in front. “When we get there,” he added, “we’ll take it off.”
“Will there be a lady there? Someone who will understand my needs?”
“Molly should be there,” he said.
“Molly? My, that brings back memories.”
“What?” That was from the man on the other side, whose name she hadn’t learned. A distinctive voice, though, one she might recognize or describe to police. A tenor, albeit rather a scratchy one.
“Molly was my best friend in high school. She helped me take in laundry.”
“You did other people’s laundry?”
“Oh, yes, we had the only washing machine on the block. It had a wringer. You guided each piece between a pair of rubber rollers and then cranked. That squeezed the fabric through to the hanging-up basket, and most of the water back into the washer. That was in seventh grade, I think.”
“Granny,” Harry’s voice said from the front, “you’re a piece of work. I hope your son will pony up right away to get you back.”
“And we hung it outdoors to dry.”
“Outdoors?” That was the man to her left, the tenor.
“My, you have no idea what poverty is. You have no right to harass old ladies.”
“Granny, shut up!” That was Harry.
“My father,” she insisted, “rigged up a pulley line from the back porch across the driveway to a tall tree. So we had to lug the laundry basket up from the basement, where the washing machine was. It was heavy.”
“Granny, I told you to knock it off.”
“Have you no manners? Didn’t your mother teach you to say please?”
Harry said nothing for a time, apparently concentrating on driving, because she felt the car make a turn. “Please,” he finally said. “Shut up!”
“You mean ‘say no more’. You must have had terrible teachers.”
“You want us to gag her, Harry?” Johnny asked from her right.
“No, Johnny. Granny, please say no more.”
“Good boy,” she said. She hoped he might be looking at her in the rear view mirror, and made a pantomime of zipping her lips in front of the blindfold.
In a few more minutes, the car stopped. “Okay with the blindfold,” Harry said, and Johnny took it off as clumsily as he’d put it on. They were stopped in front of a small house surrounded by what looked like farm fields. Almost certainly farm fields, because it smelled as though cow or horse manure had been recently spread. That might help the police figure out where she’d been held.
Johnny came around to open the side door, and actually extended a hand to help her out.
“Thank you for your manners,” she said. Surely no harm in acknowledging small favors, she thought, but she saw his eyebrows above the mask go up in surprise. The poor lout must be totally unschooled.
“I think we should seize the opportunity for some lessons in decorum,” she said. “Perhaps this evening. After you’ve mowed the lawn, by the way. It’s quite unkempt.”
A young woman came down the sidewalk to meet them. “Hey, Molly,” Harry said. “Granny needs to take a pee. I want you to frisk her for a cell phone, then take her to the head.”
“You look like a nice girl, Molly. I guess he wants you to search me.”
“Just don’t do anything you wouldn’t do to your own grandmother. And be quick, please; I’m about to burst.”
“Yes, ma’am. Can you spread your arms and legs, please?”
“What? Not until those men turn the other way.”
“Jesus,” said Harry. “Johnny, Eddie, turn and look at the street. Let’s get on with it.”
“I’ve already told you,” she scowled at him. “You mustn’t take the Lord’s name in vain.” They all turned, and she smiled at the young woman. “All right, Molly.” She tried to think about other things while the woman patted her legs and arms and body, politely but firmly.
Thinking of other things took an unexpected direction: She thought about the clippers with which she’d been pruning the roses. “Do you have my pruning shears, Mr. Harry?” she said.
“What?” He started to turn.
“Don’t turn, please,” she scolded. “I was working on the roses when you rudely abducted me. Those were very good shears. Expensive. Did your ruffians make me drop them in the garden, or are they in your car?”
“Beats me, Granny.”
“Please. Mrs. Smythe.”
“All right, Mrs. Smythe. I still don’t know.”
“Why don’t you have Johnnie or Eddie go look in the car,” she said. “They have bright red handles.”
He sighed. “Johnny, go look. Molly, you finished back there?”
“She’s okay, Harry.”
“Can I go to the bathroom then?” she said, trying to convey her urgency.
“Of course.” Molly seemed more polite and understanding than the men. “Follow me, please.”
The bathroom was less than clean, but serviceable. “Can you find a paper towel so I can wash my hands and dry them on something clean?” she asked Molly.
“You bet.” Molly was back in a moment with a handful of towel segments. She washed and dried her hands with care, then let Molly lead her to a small, dingy living room where the three men were waiting.
“Do you live here?” she asked Harry. “Or just imprison helpless old ladies here? Your facilities are a disgrace.”
“Granny, you’re something else. I’m going down the road to get the team some food. How about a hamburger before I go call your son?”
“Hamburger? No, thank you. I’m a vegetarian. You should try it. Clarifies the mind.”
“Jesus!” he said again. “All right, we’ll see if you get hungry while I’m gone.”
“You’re leaving me here?”
“Not for long, I hope. I’m going to call your son.”
“Why don’t you call right now? Perhaps I could talk with him. Reassure him, you know?”
“Granny, they track phones nowadays. I’ll turn my phone on when I get to some crowded place.” He left before she had a chance to object again to his not using her name.
“Miss Molly,” she said. “Is there someplace I could have privacy for a little nap while we wait?”
“Of course, Mrs. Smythe. You can have my room.”
Really a nice girl, she thought; must remember to recommend a little leniency when this gang goes to trial.
Molly led her to a small room with a small but clean-looking bed. “You get a little rest, Mrs. Smythe. I’m going to take the other car to see if I can find you some vegan food. Anything special you’d like?”
“Thank you, dear. Most places have a veggie burger or a vegetarian chili.”
“How about something to drink? Or will a glass of water do you?”
“I think it would be unwise to drink from a glass here,” she said. “Suppose you get me a can of ginger ale and a straw? In a paper sleeve, please.”
She fell asleep almost instantly, but half-wakened when she heard Molly come in the front door. The aroma of the chili brought her fully to her senses. Molly had brought a plastic fork and spoon and the roll of paper towels. “Thank you, dear heart. You deserve better than to be associated with these men. Are you in love with one of them, poor girl?”
“Harry and I are engaged.”
She didn’t hurry her response. It was usually unbecoming to rush responses, just as it would be unseemly to gulp food down. While she chewed, she held out her left hand, raising an eyebrow to show Molly to reciprocate.
“No ring, poor girl?” she said after swallowing that bite. “You mustn’t let love blind you to uncouth behavior.”
The young woman blushed. “You’re a very wise lady, Mrs. Smythe.”
She wanted to pursue that, but her mouth was again full of chili. Before she had half- finished the bowl she heard the front door again, and heard Harry.
“Put on your masks, you guys, and get Granny to the car.”
“Fantastic, boss,” she heard Eddie say. “You struck a deal?”
“Later, Eddie. Get your mask back on. Molly? Molly? Where is she?”
“Coming, Harry.” The young woman led her out.
It was all very confusing. “What’s going on, Molly?” she asked.
“I suppose your son has arranged the ransom, Mrs. Smythe. I think they’re taking you home.”
“Praise the Lord. Can you come too? I suppose they’ll want me blindfolded again, and these men don’t know how to do it gently.”
“Take her out to the car,” Harry ordered. “Molly, you blindfold her.”
It was dark, and she took the young woman’s hand to avoid stumbling. Molly helped her get comfortable in the middle of the back seat, and tied the blindfold very gently indeed. “You take care now, Mrs. Smythe.”
“Thank you dear. Remember what I said about not being blinded. All right, Mr. Harry; take me home!”
The two men squeezed in on either side of her as before, and she heard Harry get in and start the engine. He gunned it, and she felt the car swerve onto the highway.
“Gently there, Mr. Harry.” She raised her voice to be sure he heard her. “Gently, I said. Your blindfold makes me dizzy, and I’m experiencing some motion sickness. You don’t want me to upchuck all over your friends back here.”
“Sweet Jesus!” she heard Harry mutter from the front seat, but he slowed down, and she felt Eddie and Johnny edge away from her as much as they could.
“Did you get the whole hundred grand, boss?” she heard Johnny say.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Harry said. She sensed irritation in his voice.
He drove on, and they all fell silent for what seemed a long time. She tried to count right and left turns. Finally, Harry spoke again. “Now, you guys get ready. Be sure your masks are on. Take her blindfold off. When I stop, I want her out of the car and on her feet in ten seconds flat, and we’re out of here.”
She felt Johnny fumbling with the blindfold while he spoke. “Aren’t we going to collect the money first, boss?”
“I told you we’ll talk about it later.”
Johnny’s voice sounded strained, as though he found it hard to challenge the boss. “You didn’t get it, did you?” he said in what seemed an accusatory tone.
“You know what her son told me?” Harry said. “He wanted to bargain. ‘You keep her for a few days, and we’ll see if the price goes down,’ he said.” Harry turned to scowl at her over his bandana mask. “Your son, Granny. You raised a cheap bastard.”
“Please, watch your language. I raised a boy not to be a spendthrift.”
“To sell his mama down the river, Granny.”
Harry had by now gotten out of the car come around to the rear door. Johnny had opened it and was waiting. “Well, why are we taking her back, then, boss?” he asked.
Harry reached in, took her hand and almost yanked her out of the car, hardly looking at her as he turned to Johnny. “You want to keep her a few more days, do you?”
Her turned back to her. “Welcome home, Granny.” She couldn’t see his mouth behind that stupid mask, but there was no trace of a smile in his eyes, and she was glad she didn’t need to smile back.” He led her to the locked gate, and wheeled. “You guys get back in the car. We’re outta here.”
She tried to read the license plate as the car disappeared in a roar and squeal of engine and tires, but it was caked with mud. At last she turned back to the gate and pushed the intercom button.
“Who’s there?” It was Peter’s voice.
“It’s your mother. Come open the gate.”
“Mother! How wonderful! How did you get here?”
She thought about saying that she’d saved him a lot of money, and that he should be grateful for having a mother who observes the proprieties, but decided that would itself be unseemly. “We can talk later,” she said. “Come quickly, please; I need to use the bathroom.”
It was a chilly evening. She shivered as she waited, thinking that she must remember next morning to look for the pruning shears.