By Kellyanne Lynch
* Please e-mail ScullySloan@juno.com with questions, comments, theories, complaints, or words of wisdom.
Thursday, 7:48 P.M.
Mark glanced down at the Post-it note that he'd stuck to the dashboard. 8:00, burnt-out restaurant on Fairfax, $50,000, Jesse's DoctorScript sprawled across the palm-sized sheet. He turned onto Fairfax Road and noticed how few cars were on the street. Mark remembered when this section of town had thrived with activity. All the university students would flock to the area every Friday and Saturday night. Steve used to hang around here when he was a teenager. The restaurant was once the most popular business on the street, a place where young couples shared meals and intimacy. But, a few years previously, a fire engulfed The Star-Crossed Lovers Café and snuffed out the local city life.
Mark checked his watch.
"Seven fifty," he mumbled. He put a hand over his closed eyes and sighed. Reaching into the backseat, Mark retrieved a brown grocery bag.
"Steve's life for fifty thousand dollars," Mark shook his head. "That's ridiculous; my boy is priceless."
Mark opened the car door and stepped out onto the curb. A chill swept through the air and down his spine. He shivered. Glancing down a side alley as he passed it, Mark saw a sports utility vehicle parked by the back door of the restaurant. He walked toward it.
The SUV was black as Mark discovered when he approached it. The interior was dark, and the exterior had a layer of mud splattered over the paint. He passed the car and headed for the back door of the restaurant. It was ajar. He took a deep breath and ventured into the café.
Mark held out his hands to feel his way in the darkness. He felt a gritty plastic surface on his right. He ran his fingers along the countertop and gingerly stepped forward. The back door slammed shut behind him. Whirling around, Mark stared into the darkness.
"Put your hands behind your back, Sloan!" a voice barked. Mark obeyed. The lights flickered on, blinding him.
"Turn around!" the voice demanded before Mark could focus his vision. He turned a hundred and eighty degrees.
"Now walk out of the kitchen. We're going to the lobby. Don't try anything. Don't make the mistake of not believing me when I say that I have a gun."
Mark left the kitchen and entered the dining room. As he walked further from the kitchen, he noticed that the tables and chairs were only slightly burned. The lobby was virtually unscathed. The couches, foot rests, and coffee tables were covered with a film of soot.
"Okay. Turn around!"
Mark turned and came face to face with his captor. The man was husky; shocks of white bolted through his raven hair. In his right hand he held a sig sauer, aimed at Mark's chest. Mark held his breath.
"I have the money," he exhaled. "Now please return my son."
The man's eyes widened. "Ha! You think this is about money! How can you not know?" He stamped his foot, and Mark shivered. "HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW?"
"I DON'T NEED YOUR STINKING MONEY!" The man rotated his wrist and held the gun sideways. "I want your heartless brat dead, and you punished for raising such a monster!"
Mark found his voice. "Whatever Steve did to offend you," he pronounced each syllable separately, "I'm sure that it was unintentional."
"Unintentional?" the man raised his eyebrows. "UNINTENTIONAL?"
Mark jumped and dropped the paper bag.
"HE KILLED MY LITTLE GIRL!"
Mark's mouth dropped open. "Tell me, tell me how it happened," he stammered.
"Oh, you want to know now!" the man stepped forward and pressed the gun into Mark's chest. "You only care now when your son's life is in jeopardy, not when it was my daughter's!"
Mark's hands were fidgeting behind his back.
"Hands over your head!" the man with the gun hollered, thrusting the gun into Mark's ribs. Mark flung his arms up into the air.
"I, I didn't even know about her," Mark voiced. "But I can feel your pain. If anything ever happened to my son."
"He dies tonight."
Sweat formed over Mark's forehead. Closing his eyes, he prayed for Steve's safety. He opened his eyes again, his pulse beating in his eardrums, his breathing heavy.
"Please," Mark panted. "I want to know more about your daughter."
The man's icy glare softened. His eyebrows let up, and his forehead became smooth. "Beth," he breathed. "Beth loved that rotten son of yours, and he betrayed her. She was too good for him! Too smart! She was only seventeen but a full time college student. That's where your brat met her, at college."
Mark inhaled through his nose and held the breath during the silence. The man lowered his gun, took it off Mark, who breathed a sigh of relief. Covering his face with his hands, the kidnapper pressed his fingers into his temple. The tips of his nails turned white as the rest of him reddened. He gasped and pushed the gun back into Mark's chest.
"Her note said, Tell Steve Sloan that I love him!" he shouted, his body trembling. "She had so much ahead of her! She was so smart! But she died because of that jerk!"
The man panted through bared, clenched teeth. His eyes bore into Mark's soul.
"She loved him, and he neglected her!" The man reached into his pocket and retrieved a cellular phone. "And now, he will die. And you'll have to hear it."
He pressed a series of numbers and the send button. Then paused.
The man glanced sideways, toward the kitchen door, from where the sound came.
The kitchen door flew open, slamming against the wall.
"FREEZE!" the shadow in the doorway demanded. Mark took a step backward. Catching Mark's movement from the corner of his eye, the man looked back at the doctor, who was still stepping away.
The man fired his gun, and Mark fell.
"Dad!" the shadow at the door exclaimed and raced toward the fallen doctor. The officers behind him circled the culprit
"Dad!" Steve repeated, hunkering down beside Mark.
"Steve!" Mark smiled, rising to his feet. "I'm okay!" Gesturing to the piece of furniture beside him, he explained, "I tripped over this ottoman."
Steve smirked. "I never thought your clumsiness would save your life!"
As the police escorted the culprit from the room, Steve stood to his full height.
"Steve, what happened?" Mark cried. "How did you get here?"
"You see, Dad," Steve put his arm around his father, escorting him out of the building, "there's this brand new invention called the automobile."