Starting out, Chip had pictured a damp basement full of spiders and roaches crawling around, pipes dripping, his hostages huddled against the wall in chains. He wanted it to be as bad as any of the places in Beirut he’d read about.
He told Louis and Louis said, “Where we gonna find a basement in Florida?”
All right, but the living conditions had to be miserable, the worse the better. They could certainly find a place infested with bugs, those big palmetto bugs. Maybe a shack out in the Everglades.
Louis said, “We gonna be out there with the hostages and the bugs? And the different motherfucking kind of swamp creatures out there like alligators? We already got ants upstairs in the room.”
All right, then some place with concrete-block walls. Drive in steel staples and hook up chains with two-inch links, the kind they used over in Beirut.
Louis said, “I don’t know nothing about any steel staples or how you drive them into concrete. Chains with two-inch links-how you bend a chain that size around a man’s ankle? Bicycle chain’s what you use, the kind you chain your bike to a post with so nobody gonna steal it.”
Chip said they’d feed their hostages cold rice and mutton, hard stale cheese… Spill the food on purpose, the way the guards did over there, and make them eat it off the floor. He favored leaving overripe bananas in the room, out of their reach, the smell becoming worse each day.
Louis said, “Worse for anybody has to go in there.” He said, “Where we gonna get mutton around here? The same place we get the straw mattresses? Spill the food-who cleans it up, me or you?”
When he brought in cookies and potato chips and stuff, Chip wanted to know if they were holding a hostage or having a house party.
Once they saw they’d have to use this place, Louis said, “Chipper, there’s no way to treat hostages like they did in Beirut in a five-million-dollar house in Manalapan, Florida.”
This morning, Thursday, Louis said, “Almost a week now I been taking the man to the toilet. Have to unchain him, wait for him to do his business and chain him up again.”
“In Beirut,” Chip said, “the hostages had ten minutes in the morning to wash up, wash their clothes, brush their teeth when they had toothbrushes, and take a dump. Ten minutes. If they didn’t have to go right then but had to go later on? They had to hold it till the next morning.”
Louis said, “We ain’t over in Beirut and I ain’t a Shia. I ain’t even trying to pass no more as Abu the Arab, am I?”
He went upstairs and added ten feet of bicycle chain to the end hooked to the ring bolt. As he was working on it Harry said, “Are you the one?”
Louis kept his back to the video camera mounted high on the wall, like in a bank. Hunched down over the ring bolt he said, “What if I wasn’t? Man, you keep your mouth shut ‘less I say something to you. All right, what I’ve done, you can feel your way into the bathroom now by yourself.”
“I appreciate it,” Harry said.
Louis looked up at him sitting blindfolded on the cot. “Man, you beginning to smell.”
“What do you expect?” Harry said. “I haven’t washed in… how long’s it been, a week?”
When Louis came down to the study again, to Chip pushing buttons on the remote, the man trying to look eagle-eyed staring at views of his property, Louis said, “Harry needs to wash hisself and shave. He can’t do it with that blindfold around his head. How’d they manage over in Beirut?”
Mr. Chip Ganz, the authority on hostage-living, didn’t say anything right away. Louis saw he had to think about it.
“Well, there were different ways. The guy that was there the longest, they moved him around a lot.”
Louis said, “Blindfolded?”
“Yeah, they put a cloth over his head and taped it on, the same way we did. They’d say, ‘Death to America’ and give him a slap.”
“So they spoke to him.”
“They’d say things like, ‘No move, no speaking,’ but he didn’t know them, so he wouldn’t recognize any of their voices.”
“Didn’t you tell me this man read the Bible, he played chess?”
“He made the chess pieces out of tinfoil some of the food was wrapped in.”
“How could he do that, you say he was blindfolded all the time?”
“I meant when the guards came in the room. If they caught the guy trying to peek out under his blindfold, they’d beat him up.”
“So the hostage could take the blindfold off if the Shia wasn’t around.”
“Sometimes; it worked different ways,” Chip said. “Harry has to be kept blindfolded because he knows us.”
Louis said, “I’m gonna look around the house, see if I can find something the man can slip over his head when we in there and slip off when he needs to clean hisself up.”
“What do you mean, something he can slip on and off?”
“Like take a mask and tape up the eyeholes.”
“This Bobby’s idea?”
“Be cool,” Louis said and turned to leave.
“Wait. Where is he?”
“Bobby? Getting dressed. We going to see if Mr. Ben King’s ready for us.”
“Are you serious? You’re gonna pick him up in broad daylight?”
“I told you about it. We’ll see how it looks.” He turned again toward the door.
He stopped and looked back.
“Last night you said you knew someone at the bank in Freeport, where Harry has his account.”
“I said I’m from there, so I might know somebody.”
“You said you’d mentioned it to me before.”
“Louis, why do I get the feeling you and Bobby are into something you don’t want me to know about?”
The man was maintaining on reefer, Louis could tell, so he’d seem to be relaxed.
Louis said, “I tell you things and you forget is all.”
“You’re changing the whole setup, to the way you and Bobby want it.”
“What you mean, like the blindfold? Man, we new at this hostage business. Have to see what works here and what don’t.”
“Louis, what’s going on?”
The weed making him think he was cool and knew things.
“Ain’t nothing going on you don’t know about,” Louis said, turning again to the door. “I’ll see you.”
Chip’s voice raised as he said, “You put a blindfold on Harry he can slip on and off… Louis? You know sooner or later…”
Louis was already out the door.
He went upstairs to the bedroom Bobby was using that used to be Chip’s mama’s room, dark in here with the dark furniture and the heavy rose-colored drapes almost closed. Sunlight came through the narrow opening, across the rose bedspread and the rose carpeting to where Bobby stood at the dresser looking at himself in the mirror. He had on his black silk pants and lizard shoes, no shirt, and was gazing at himself with his arms raised, muscles popped, twisting his ponytail into a knot.
Louis said, “You getting ready?”
“We have time,” Bobby said to himself in the mirror. “What’s going on?”
“The man thinks we’re planning shit against him.”
Bobby said, “Who knows, huh?”
He watched Louis, in the mirror, open the door to the closet and begin pawing through the woman’s clothes.
“You looking for something to wear?”
“I won’t know what I’m looking for,” Louis said, “till I find it.”
The phone rang.
On the table next to the sofa where Chip was sitting on his spine staring at the television screen: the front drive on, the hidden driveway. He had made up his mind to go out, give Louis the watch and get away for a while. He thought of Palm Beach and the Au Bar, where he used to hang out, back in the days when his credit cards were good.
The phone rang.
They were spending the money Harry had on him for food. Guy with all his dough, a hundred and seventy-six bucks in his wallet. But now the credit cards… Why hadn’t he thought of them before? They weren’t doing Harry any good. The credit cards could come in handy.
The phone rang.
He pushed a button on the remote and was looking at the patio now, the pool and the sweep of weeds that used to be a lawn extending to palm trees and sky, clear blue. A path through the bushes beneath the trees led to the beach. At one time he thought of the ocean here as part of his property.
The phone rang.
He had to get out for a while. Not go to a bar-take his clothes off and walk down to the beach and look at the ocean, smoke another joint to clear his mind, see everything enlarged…
He didn’t answer the phone because he wasn’t supposed to be here, but then, without thinking, as it was ringing again, he picked it up.
Dawn’s voice said, “Chip?”
“Hey, I was about to call you.”
“Really, I have your money.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“Don’t get pouty on me. Meet you in Delray?”
“Why don’t I stop by?”
“Honey, you don’t want to come here, not just yet. If you get my drift.” He liked that. And liked the silence on the line, Dawn pulling in, reconsidering, seeing she’d better not be so fucking aggressive. He said, “I’m gonna be out and around. Why don’t we meet at Chuck and Harold’s for lunch? Twelve-thirty?”
She said, “Chip? You’d better be there.”
Threatening, with nothing to back it up.
He told himself to be nice and said, “I’ll be counting the minutes,” and hung up. He wouldn’t show and tomorrow he’d put her off again, think of an excuse. Busy for the next few days doing something, he’d tell her, she would definitely not want to know about. He said out loud, “Okay? You told me you didn’t want to know anything, and if I tell you then you’re involved in whatever it is, right? Hey, you’re already involved. So quit your bitching.”
Send Bobby to see her…
Saturday go to a Huggers Gathering and try to scrounge up the fifteen hundred. Find a runaway whose daddy misses her.
He should’ve asked Dawn about the guy, the dude in the hat, what he was like, what they talked about.
He pushed a button and was looking at the front drive again, Christ, thinking about the guy and there he was, in his suit, the hat, coming through the trees toward the house.
Ganz hurried out of the study to the front hall, started up the stairs and yelled as loud as he could, “He’s back! The guy’s back!”