ANTHONY ALLSOPP – NOVEL EXTRACT
From In An Unexpected Future, Free Cheese
Stephen Mercury, CEO of Mercury Entertainment Ltd, had never, before this morning, been kidnapped.
At least, he assumed that’s what this was. Several hours must have passed since he’d first awoken bound, gagged and blindfolded, in what seemed to be a reluctantly moving van. His mind had wandered in that time, as he attempted to conjure some more favourable mental image of his overall situation, but unless he’d somehow managed to skip the whole ‘getting engaged’ element considered a prerequisite for a stag do, alternative explanations for his predicament weren’t exactly forthcoming.
Describing what Stephen saw and felt is somewhat tricky, given that he saw nothing at all, and as far as feeling goes, most people aren’t into bondage quite enough to relate. The issue isn’t so much in the description, I can easily say in a single phrase that he was ‘completely constricted’. The issue is more in making you understand the feeling that should accompany such a phrase. For that reason, I would say that Stephen was experiencing the physical equivalent of working an office job with opportunities to progress into middle management.
Ironically enough, Stephen himself had never worked such a job, so he would never truly know how to relay his current experience to others. Fortunately, he was about to die, so the chances of encountering some awkward communication problem as a result were remarkably slim.
After some indeterminate amount of time, the van stopped moving, and although some part of Stephen found it to be worrying that it had only stopped at least half a minute after the driver had slammed down the brakes, in the grand scheme of things, he supposed, there were more pressing concerns.
Sound echoed outwards as the door of the van slid open, and almost immediately some unknown, but a more than likely much larger man grabbed Stephen by the collar, pulled him out of the van, then dragged him some distance away. The sensation of being dragged along continued for about twenty seconds, and immediately preceded the sensation of being thrown to the floor.
“Get down there,” his assailant said, as if Stephen had any say in the matter of where in particular he was to ‘get down’. His voice sounded rough and gnarly, as if he were a regular karaoke singer with a fondness for heavy metal.
The floor that Stephen was thrown down on was hard, stone cold and more than a little wet, none of which would have been as bad if he hadn’t fallen face first. The shock of the impact reverberated through his skull and his cheek began, with a whiny insistence, to throb. This pain joined the chorus of other complaints that his body had now laden him with, most of which having been directly caused by his current situation. That’s one downside to being kidnapped, bound, gagged and blindfolded that most people probably wouldn’t think to mention: it is rather uncomfortable.
The sound of footsteps echoed out, away to Stephen’s left. Against his better judgment he twisted his stiff, bruise laden neck in that direction, accomplishing nothing but renewed mixture of feeling pain and foolishness.
“So, this is the guy?” a new voice said, voice echoing softly out through the sound of gritted LA attitude. The man stepped closer, and tore away Stephen’s blindfold, revealing himself to be a somewhat rotund not-so-gentle gentleman with rough skin, greased back hair and a far cigar amongst his jagged teeth.
Three others stood around him, two dark haired, wiry guys in their early thirties and a slightly younger, more presentable blond man that Stephen recognised to be the man who’d initially assaulted him. These must have been the guys who’d taken him to this place – it looked like a warehouse. Another man stood behind Stephen, aiming a gun at the base of his skull.
In the very same way that it’s difficult to convey the true experience of being bound and gagged, it’s difficult to truly convey the experience of having a gun levelled at one’s head to a person that hasn’t experienced that for themselves. It’s raw emotion that one can’t exactly feel through watching it on television. Even if that sort of thing were possible, it would probably violate broadcasting codes.
Stephen’s reaction was to freeze like a rabbit in headlights, and to let out a quiet, but audible, whimpering sigh.
“Yeah,” one of the wiry cohorts said, tossing Stephen’s wallet to the rotund cigar chewer. He took a cursory glance through the contents and nodded with satisfaction. At that moment the man standing behind Stephen tore the gag away from his mouth.
Stephen screamed in pain, crying out. It was pathetic and it went on long enough to be more than a little uncomfortable for everyone involved. He leaned forward, taking in harsh breaths – hyperventilating until he started heaving out. The collective of kidnappers standing in an arc around him exchanged a sideways look or two between them, but otherwise, they seemed to do their best to remain stoic.
“Ah, yes. Very nice.” Cigar-Man said. He paused, with an air of impatience, as he watched Stephen convulse and spit up slime, and as he did, his expression slowly drifted from his tough guy persona, towards something betraying some actual concern. “Uh fella, you alright?”
An action hero protagonist, the type that wouldn’t have been whimpering and keeled over in response to being kidnapped in the first place, probably would have said something along the lines of “No thanks to you”. Stephen was not that type of person and instead he just nodded, “yeah… yeah I’m fine.”
Stephen did not look fine, according to his reflection in the floor at least. His appearance and demeanour resembled that of a homeless man that had been shoved into a suit and overrun by a platoon of giant slugs. He also had a befitting look of desperation in his eyes.
“You two, up.” Cigar pointed to Wiry 1 and 2, who pulled Stephen up from the festering puddle and up to his feet, holding him up by an arm each. “I prefer to talk to people face to face.” He turned away from Stephen, looking around the warehouse before continuing.
“Say, Mr Mercury… do you know who I am?”
Stephen didn’t know what to say, he had never seen this man before in his life, as far as he could tell. Still, despite the overwhelming terror, he hoped that it wasn’t worth being embarrassed over, he’d never really been one for names or faces. He supposed that it wasn’t entirely irrational to want to avoid seeming rude to the man that had taken him hostage either way. He searched his mind for any possible answer, but none came.
“Yeah… you’ve… um… “Stephen paused, even he wasn’t good enough at blagging some goodwill out of this. “No… I don’t think.”
“That’s good.” Cigar nodded, “I’ve never met you before in my life.” He walked over to a crate and sat down on it. He seemed relaxed, at home with the situation. As if kidnapping television executives was a not too infrequent hobby that he indulged in and not a major crime. “But I am a big fan of your work.”
Telling a television producer that you’re a big fan of their work is almost always a mistake, and you should consider it, even amongst Cigar’s other immoral actions, to be at once entirely and uniquely reprehensible. This is something that most people are aware of, however, and as such Stephen didn’t know how to react.
“Thank you” was his response, words not often willingly uttered by kidnapping victims.
“See boys,” Cigar said, “this is a man that knows about respect,” He reached around to pat Stephen on the back. “and a man that I can respect, is a man that I know… won’t be a problem.” He chose his words with care, chewing over them the way he chewed on his cigar.
“See, you have a show”, he paused, turned around and shook his head “had a show that… I and my employers believe didn’t quite have enough air-time to truly flourish. You know the show I’m talking about, pal?”
There was only one show that Stephen had any involvement in that could have plausibly fit such a description. It wasn’t a particularly good show. You might disagree with that, but that’s neither here nor there, because I’m not repeating the name of that show here so that you could search it out, watch it and disagree. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
The announcement that this show had been cancelled had caused a bit of an uproar. There had been an outpour of support online – via social media, through message boards, via petition websites that were supposed to have been setup for important issues and not random crap like this, and via videos on a streaming service that was overbearingly popular during the first few decades of the 21st century.
Of course, as ever, if this show of fan solidarity had any effect at all, it was profoundly negative. The executives that had seen this level of demand and support for this product that they were creating were, contrary to popular belief, also human beings, and like most human beings, they didn’t like to be told that they were wrong. Hell, with this level of support, it was almost as if they were being proven wrong. Being proven wrong via being repeatedly told that they were wrong was one step too far for their fragile television executive egos, and as a result they just dug their heels in further and further. If two wrongs wouldn’t make a right, they would just keep adding more wrongs.
Of course, Stephen being kidnapped was proof enough that someone else was quite willing to add some wrongs themselves.
“Yeah, I know the show,” Stephen said.
“Good. It’s good, yeah. Because that’s where the deal comes in. See, we don’t really wanna hurt you, this is a job. We do what we need to get it done, sure, but as far as I can tell, there’s no reason why this should go further.
“Sure, we kidnapped you, tied you up, drove you to nondescript location fuck-knows where and as we speak, you’re being held at gunpoint, but I want you to know, I see this as – what’s the phrase? – …a business transaction.
“You bring back the show, and I won’t end your life. I don’t care why it was cancelled. I don’t read the news, and to tell you the truth, nor does my employer. I don’t care if the star fucked with drugs, kids, or ferrets, he’ll be in thirteen more episodes this fall. Do we have an understanding?”
This was quite a speech, Stephen thought so anyway. Or at least that was one thought Stephen had amongst the many panicked impressions that made way through his mind. Despite the inane length of what Cigar had rattled off, he said it all with a smooth self-assurance, as if he’d rehearsed the whole threat several times the night before, complete with pauses and interruptions. As far as Stephen knew he could even have had a boilerplate threat that he’d make on the regular that this was a variation of. Or maybe public speaking is just easier when the audience is a single man that you have at gunpoint. Hard to tell, really.
In any case, the nature of Stephen’s response to Cigar’s question wasn’t going to be forthcoming. Instead, a shadow shifted in one darkened corner of the warehouse, and a figure, unseen until now, stepped up into view.
“Freeze! Police!” the man said. He walked forwards from Stephen’s far-right hand side, holding a gun in both hands that he aimed directly at Cigar’s head. The man wasn’t in uniform – he wore an orange t-shirt under a lime green hoodie – but somehow, beneath that horrendous piece of fashion, his appearance and demeanour still screamed ‘police officer’ A tall, well built, moustachioed man in his mid to late thirties generally gives off that impression, and you would be surprised by how often that impression is completely warranted.
The appearance of the newcomer had quite obviously caught Cigar and his men off-guard. With a gun trained at their leader’s head, none of the others dared make a move to reach for their own firearm, and the big guy that already aimed a gun at Stephen’s head didn’t seem sure how to succeed. Where Cigar had seemed both astute and practised in this line of criminality, the others seemed inexperienced by comparison. Or at the very least, they weren’t used to things going wrong, and in situations like this, they didn’t know what the correct course of action would be.
Cigar watched the newcomer with an air of cautious curiosity, examining the officer as he stepped up close to the arc of gangsters that stood with Stephen at the base. The officer’s eyes flitted back and forth, making eye contact one by one with the people in the room. When it was Stephen’s turn to meet eyes with the man, the newcomer managed to greet him with a brief flash of a cocksure grin.
Stephen had to admit, things were looking up for him, and it was to feel like his situation hadn’t drastically improved in the last thirty seconds. A police officer randomly interrupting his kidnapping? That was far more than the regular brand of good fortune, that was as close as it comes to Deus Ex Machina.
“Hello, fellas.” The cop said, “I’m sorry to interrupt. Is this a bad time?
Again, none of the gangsters seemed to know what to do. What could they do? Tell him “yes sir, this is a bad time”?
“Don’t come any closer,” Cigar called out, “or my man here will blow this asshole’s brains out.”
The cop held his hands up, still holding his gun loosely in one hand. “It’s okay,” he said, “I only want to talk.” He turned and motioned towards Stephen. “Talk to him.”
Anthony is from Sunderland and is a media student at the University there, he writes speculative fiction, comedy, film scripts and graphic novels,