Harry would say, “Is somebody there?”
He’d wait, feeling someone in the room with him.
“Will you please tell me what you want?”
Nothing. No answer.
So he’d wait. Sitting on a metal cot, a blanket and a thin mattress, no pillow. His ankles chained and padlocked. His hands free. At the time they brought him here he said, “You’re gonna leave the blindfold on?”
No answer. They never said a word to him or to each other, not even in a whisper.
The last voice he heard was the little girl’s, Dawn Navarro, asking him how much he had in the Freeport bank. Like being half asleep and hearing it, lying in that chair with his eyes closed, and telling her he wasn’t exactly sure, close to three mil… Was that what he said? What he actually had in there was just under two million. Now he wasn’t sure if he’d been awake or actually hypnotized. He remembered lying there waiting… then all of a sudden realizing a blindfold was being taped over his eyes and he thought it was the little girl doing it, so he wouldn’t be distracted. But then there were hands all over him holding him down and tape being pressed over his mouth. They pulled him out of the recliner, got him facedown on the floor, rough hands on him, and taped his wrists together behind his back. The tape covering his mouth touched his nose and he could smell it trying to breathe and turned his head from side to side to let them know, Christ, he couldn’t breathe. He did hear the little girl, Dawn, heard her say, “What are you doing?” yelling it out. That was the last thing he heard-not her asking about the bank account-but didn’t remember her saying it until he was here in this room and began going over in his mind step-by-step what happened. How he tried to calm down and breathe through his nose and that part wasn’t too bad; he could breathe okay if he didn’t get excited and start to panic thinking he was suffocating. It was an awful feeling. They sat him in a chair and never said a word to him or to each other or to Dawn, if she was still there. Maybe they’d done the same thing to her and she was sitting right next to him taped up. He heard them moving around on the wood floor that creaked under them and was bare except for an old braided throw rug-remembering the rug from before, when he was looking around at all the clutter. Then for a while there wasn’t a sound in the little girl’s house, not until he felt himself pulled out of the chair.
Two of them, each taking an arm, brought him outside, shoved him into the trunk of a car and closed the lid on him. Not his car, his still had that new-car smell. He was afraid again of suffocating, his face against the rough texture of the carpeting. So conscious of trying to breathe he wasn’t sure how long he was in the trunk or what direction they went after making a few turns, maybe to confuse him. Harry believed he was in there over an hour before they stopped and pulled him out-Harry ready to be marched into a woods or a swamp out in the Glades and one of them would say okay, that’s far enough. No, they brought him into a house. Harry couldn’t believe it. He sensed it was a house, a residence, as soon as they brought him up a carpeted stairway that curved up to a second floor and along a hallway to what he assumed was a bedroom. But then wasn’t so sure when they sat him down on a cot with a thin mattress. He did feel deep-pile carpeting on the floor and decided, yes, he was in someone’s house and this was a bedroom.
When they pulled the tape from his mouth Harry was so glad to suck in air he didn’t mind the pain; it stung like hell. As soon as they cut his hands free he touched his face, his mouth… Then tensed, expecting them to rip the tape from his eyes, but they didn’t; they got busy chaining his ankles and he asked about the blindfold, if they were going to leave it on.
“You want to tell me what this is about?” He waited and said, “I guess not.”
He could feel them around him, two guys, maybe three. Harry was pretty sure who they represented, so he tried again. “Look, you know I wasn’t skimming on you guys. The individual now running the crew, Nicky, he told me himself I had nothing to worry about.” Harry paused. “Wait. Am I talking to Nicky Testa?”
“What’re you treating me like this for? What do you want, for Christ sake?”
Only the sounds they made fooling with the chains.
He had to get himself calmed down. Thought about it a minute and said, “I didn’t quit on you guys. I was put out of business by the U.S. attorney. I get busted again, I do five years straight up and not at one of those country-club joints either. I’m retired, okay? You mind?” Harry becoming agitated.
“You people can’t talk? What’s the problem, I might recognize somebody’s voice?”
Still no answer
“Okay, I’ll keep quiet. You guys are running some kind of game on me. Fine, I’ll wait. Sooner or later you’re gonna have to tell me what this is about.” He paused. An obvious reason for being here hit him and he said, “Wait a minute. Is this a kidnapping? Jesus Christ, you better talk to me if it is. You know what I’m saying? I’m a friend of Nicky Testa’s. If you guys are smart… Or you’re part of his crew and he finds out, Jesus, what you’re doing…?”
“I said I’m gonna keep quiet,” Harry said, and did, kept his mouth shut after that, sitting there chained and blindfolded. Minutes passed. He thought he heard them moving around and did hear a door close. Harry listened, pretty sure he was alone before reaching down to find a light chain wrapped around each ankle and padlocked, about twelve inches of chain between his legs and the rest of it extending along the floor. Harry got down on his hands and knees and followed the chain, about eight feet of it, to a metal ring bolted to the floor, through the deep-pile carpeting. He stood up and began to shuffle around, touched the wall by the cot, then shuffled off across the room and banged his shin on another metal cot. He felt along the wall and got as far as an open doorway before the chain stopped him.
He wondered if it was the way he came in. If it was… He began to imagine them on the other side of the doorway watching him, some guys he might even know, Harry becoming more sure of it. He said, “You’re right there, aren’t you, you fucks.” He said, “Will you say something, for Christ sake?”
“Talking to somebody he thinks is in the bathroom,” Louis said that first day, watching Harry on the TV screen in the study. “Uh-oh, he’s trying to lift up his blindfold.”
“He’ll learn quick,” Chip said.
They watched, on the screen, the door open and now Bobby was in the room, Harry turning toward the sound, getting all the way around as Bobby clobbered him with a right hand-Chip saying, “Pow, right in the kisser”-and Harry stumbled and went down.
“So now he knows,” Louis said, “no peeking.”
They watched the monitors all that weekend, cutting from the patio to the front entrance to the driveway-watching the driveway more than the other areas now-to the bedroom upstairs, Harry sitting on the cot with his head raised, listening, like a blind man looking around.
Whenever Louis or Bobby got ready to go up to the room Chip would say, “Be sure you don’t speak, okay?”
They both went upstairs one time and Bobby said, “He tells me that again, I’m gonna get the tape and shut his mouth with it.”
Louis said, “I’ll hold him.”
They put a plastic bucket in there next to the cot by Harry’s feet and he got the idea he was to use it to piss in. So they wouldn’t have to run in there every time he had to go.
Bobby said, “Why don’t we give him more chain, he can go in the bathroom?”
“That would make too much sense,” Louis said. “Then he could go in there and do number two by himself and we wouldn’t have to unchain him every time. Last night I took him in there he asked for something to read.”
Other things didn’t make sense to Bobby. Why take the beds out, put in those little cots? Louis said it was how the Shia done it over in Beirut, the Shia having written the book on how to mind hostages. Louis said Chip wanted to use straw mattresses like he read about in one of the hostage books, but nobody made such a thing.
Food, they’d bring in on a tray and hand it to him: all different kinds of TV dinners Louis chose. The first time they fed him, that Friday night, they stayed to watch Harry dig in blindfolded. He took a bite of the Mexican Medley and said, “What is this shit?” but kept eating, made a mess cleaning his tray. Finishing up Harry wanted to know what was for dessert. When he didn’t get an answer or any dessert he said, “How about some Jell-O? If you guys don’t know how to make it, go to Wolfie’s on Collins Avenue and pick me up some. Strawberry, with the fruit in it. Get some rice pudding, too.”
The routine Louis decided on was to feed Harry TV dinners twice a day and snacks in between like cookies, potato chips, candy bars. Louis said the Shia fixed their hostages rice and shit, but no doubt would have given them TV dinners if they had any.
Saturday morning Bobby drove Harry’s Cadillac to a bump shop in South Miami to unload it, Louis following in Bobby’s car to pick him up. On the way back he watched Bobby counting a stack of bills, his lips moving, but never saying how much he got and Louis didn’t ask. Fuck him. He thought since they were alone Bobby would want to talk about Freeport, ask Louis what his idea was to get to Harry’s money; but he didn’t, busy with his own money, and Louis didn’t bring it up.
Coming to Delray Beach, Louis turned off the freeway and headed east toward the ocean. Bobby, looking around, asked where was he going and Louis said to Tom Junior’s Rib Heaven, get some takeout, best ribs in South Florida. He said they had other good stuff, too, like conch fritters, collards-man, blackeye peas. Bobby said he didn’t eat that shit and Louis held on to the steering wheel.
When he turned off Old Dixie and pulled into a grocery store on Linton, Bobby said, “What you stopping here for?”
Louis said, “Supplies,” and got out of the car thinking the P.R. motherfucking bill collector would sit there and wait, but Bobby followed him in the store.
A man and woman that reminded Louis of the Shia, Arab-looking, were behind the counter in front talking to each other in a foreign language, arguing, it sounded like, ugly people. When they looked up Louis said, “How you doing?” He took a cart and started down the nearest aisle, wondering if the woman had dyed her hair orange or was wearing a wig. You saw people like them all over running little groceries and party stores, Arab or something like it. Louis began picking out snacks from the shelves. He got Oreo chocolate sandwich cookies. He got potato chips, tortilla chips, Cheez-Its, pretzels, a box of peanut brittle, some candy bars, moved on to the cereals, picked out-let’s see-Cocoa Puffs, Cap’n Crunch… and Froot Loops. Louis went on to the dairy case for milk, picked up six-packs of beer and Mountain Dew-he’d heard had more caffeine in it than any other kind of soda-and a pair of rubber gloves for cleaning the blindfolded man’s bathroom. Louis put the groceries on the counter and said to Bobby, looking at the magazine rack, “Since you got all the money, you want to pay for this?” Turning, walking away, Louis said, “I forgot something.” He went down an aisle where he thought Jell-O should be and over to another aisle before he found it, all kinds of flavors in color. He took three boxes of strawberry, what Harry said he liked, two strawberry-banana, and an orange. He didn’t see any rice pudding, but there were jars of instant tapioca and he took one of them.
Louis stepped over to the aisle that went directly to the counter, seeing Bobby standing there now and, past him to either side, the Arab-looking grocer and his wife with orange hair. They were watching Bobby doing something.
Throwing a package aside after taking something out of it, it looked like.
Raising his hand in the air then as he pulled a yellow rubber glove down over the hand.
Louis saying, Oh shit, to himself.
He kept on to the counter, seeing Bobby pulling the other glove on and then reaching for the grocer as the man ducked down behind the counter to come up holding a gun that Bobby right away took by the barrel and twisted and the man screamed something in his language, letting go of the grip. Bobby kept hold of the gun by the barrel, a big chrome revolver he hit the grocer over the head with, swiping the man sidearm, and the man screamed again holding his head, blood coming through his fingers as Louis reached the counter and saw the man sink to his knees. The woman was screaming in her language-had been screaming-and now Bobby reached over to grab her by the hair, got a good hold of it-Louis thinking the orange hair would come off in Bobby’s hand, but it didn’t. It was her hair. Bobby now dragged her up against the counter. The woman tried to push away and Bobby let go of her hair, seeing her hands on the counter and looking at them closely.
He said, “That’s a pretty ring.” A heavy gold band with some kind of orange-looking stone set in it. He said, “Let’s see you take it off.”
Looking right at him big-eyed, hair mussed, the woman said, “I don’t speak no English.”
Which sounded to Louis pretty good if she didn’t. He said to Bobby, “You gonna rob the place then fucking rob it, man, and let’s go.” He took a paper sack from the counter and started putting his groceries in it.
Bobby wasn’t paying any attention to him. He said to the woman, “You won’t take it off?”
She said it again, “I don’t speak no English.”
Louis watched Bobby take hold of her hand and pull on the ring to slip it off, but it wouldn’t budge. Louis watched Bobby reach behind him now and take out his pruners with the red handles, holding the woman’s ring finger with the other hand and the woman said, “No, please, please don’t, please.”
Bobby said, “You learn to speak English in a hurry. That’s pretty good.”
The woman tried to pull her hand away, crying now, begging Bobby, “Please, please,” but he had a good hold on her finger, getting it in there between the curved blades of the pruners, telling her, “I want your money, too. All you got.”
Louis picked up the sack of groceries in his arm and turned, expecting to hear the woman scream as he pulled out his shirttail and hurried to wipe off the handle of the grocery cart he’d used. Louis left the store, not looking over at the counter, got in the car, like an oven with the windows closed, turned on the engine, the radio and the air-conditioning up high. After a minute or so he watched Bobby come out of the store counting bills, going through the money quick before folding it over and sticking it in his pants pocket.
When he was in the car he said, “You think I cut her finger off?”
“Never thought you wouldn’t,” Louis said.
That evening Harry said, “How about some booze? I got a condition that requires two fifths of vodka a day or I become dehydrated and liable to die. I know you don’t want that to happen. If you picked me up to whack me out, you’d have done it by now. So you must have another reason, huh?… What do you say? Bottle of Absolut. And a pack of Marlboros.”
Harry sat in the darkness of his blindfold-he believed duct tape they’d wound around his head over a thin towel that covered his hair and served as padding over his eyes. Showing some consideration. But now when he told them he needed to bathe and change his clothes:
Sunday morning he asked how long he’d been here and how long they planned to keep him.
“And why?” Harry said. “You know what it’s like sitting here like this, chained, for Christ sake?”
“’No man who has ever passed a month in the death cells believes in cages for beasts.’ You know who wrote that, you dumb fucks? Ezra Pound, that’s who. Ez was a very dear friend of mine.”
Harry waited, he didn’t know how long. He didn’t hear anything, not a sound, but said it anyway:
“Is anybody there?”
Louis found Chip in the kitchen making himself a Bloody Mary and asked him, “Who’s Ezra Pound?”
Chip said, “Ezra Pound,” stirring his drink and then pausing. “He was a heavyweight. Beat Joe Louis for the crown and lost it to Marciano. Or was it Jersey Joe Walcott?”