Theater Masks

Theater Masks

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Monday, March 24, 2014

At the bookstore this past weekend I bought a book of writing prompts to keep me writing while I'm between books. Here's one I whipped up tonight to the prompt: "Write a story that starts with a ransom note." 

                                                     Who Is At the Yellow Tomb?     

                                              Carol has been taken.
                                              Her home was broken into
                                              And she is being held for
                                              One hundred
                                              Thousand dollars at
                                              The Yellow Tomb at midnight tomorrow in 
                                              Englewood Park. Come alone.
                                              Do not call the police or
                                              I will be forced to take actions I
                                              Do not wish to take.
                                              If you do not do this
                                              Then I will kill Carol.

                The note was one of those pasted together jobs with magazine headlines clipped out letter by letter and attached to a piece of notebook paper. I held the paper in my trembling hand and read it again.
“What is it?” Sarah asked.
I handed the paper to her. I knew my face was ashen and my hand was shaking. She read it to herself and covered her mouth in horror.
“Carol?” Sarah said. “She’s in her room. Carol! Carol!” She called to our daughter, her hand on the bannister, the red of her nails contrasting sharply against the mahogany railing.
Of course she didn’t come.
“Who could have done this? Who could have taken her?”
“I don’t know,” I said. I rubbed a hand through my beard. My hand would not stop shaking.
“I have to see,” Sarah said, climbing the stairs.
“Her room. Maybe…maybe she’s just upstairs asleep and it’s all a joke.”
“Sick joke,” I muttered, but I followed behind her half-hoping it was true. I knew when we reached the door it wouldn’t be. Carol was seven years old. She loved the blue dress her mother had bought for her last year, and she had worn it every day for the past two weeks.
The dress lay on the bed, clean from the last time Sarah had had it washed. Charlotte, our maid, was dusting the shelves. “Hello, sir. Ma’am. Where’s Carol today?”
Sarah handed the note to Charlotte, shaking her head, unable to speak. Charlotte threw her hand to her mouth in the exact way Sarah had. “Oh no! Who could have done this?”
“We don’t know.”
“What are you going to do?” she asked, her dusting duties forgotten for the moment.
“Pay, I guess. What else can we do?” I felt like such a wimp. But it was Carol.
Charlotte nodded sadly. “Have you told the rest of the staff?”
Sarah shook her head. “No, not yet. Could you?”
We had seven people on staff. It was something of a shock that the kidnapper had asked for only a hundred thousand dollars. That was a drop in the bucket. I would have paid millions and been hardly the worse for it.
Charlotte nodded. “Of course, ma’am.” She curtsied and hurried out of the room.
Sarah sat on Carol’s bed and buried her face in her hands. I put a hand on her back between her shoulder blades. “We’ll get her back, Sarah.”
“You don’t know that.”
“We’ll get her back.”
                We sat in the car, Sarah beside me. “I’ll give the kidnapper the money and Carol will be returned to us. It will be okay,” I said.
                “You don’t know,” she answered.
                “No, I don’t.”
                “We’re going to make him pay,” Sarah said.
                “Make who pay?”
                “The kidnapper, of course.”
                “I don’t know. We will. That’s all.”
                Eleven fifty, Englewood Park.
                The Yellow Tomb was not a grave as the name indicated, but a statue representing some general or other from the Civil War. I stood with a bag in my hand, scared, praying that Carol would be returned to me. Sarah waited in the car, watching me, I’m sure nervous as hell.
                The park was empty. I had followed the kidnappers instructors. I didn’t want to risk Carol’s life, and I was already terrified.
                In the distance, I saw two figures approaching. One wore a cloak with a raised hood. Whoever it was looked small. It was a woman. The other was my little girl.
                They approached me. The figure in the cloak held Carol’s hand. I could see a white mask on the woman in the cloak.
                “Are you all right?” I asked her.
                “Yes, Daddy.”
                “Good.” I turned to face the figure. “Here’s the money,” I said.
                A hand reached out and took the bag. The figure didn’t say a word. She opened the bag singlehandedly and looked down. She nodded, and let go of Carol’s hand.
                My little girl ran into my open arms. Before I could even look up to attempt to see who had taken Carol, the woman had vanished.
                The next day, as we sat and ate breakfast, Sarah rang a bell to call for Charlotte.
                No one answered.
                She rang again. Jim, our butler, came into the kitchen. “Sir, madam.”
                “Where is Charlotte?” Sarah asked.
                “I do not know, ma’am. I will check her quarters to see if she is there.”
                She did have a tendency to oversleep.
                A few moments later, Jim returned to the kitchen with a note. “This was on her bed, sir.”
                I took the note, read it, and nearly fell out of my chair. "I know who did it."
                “Shawn, what is it?” Sarah asked.
                I handed the note to Sarah. As she read out loud, I went to the stationary drawer and removed the kidnapper’s letter. “Sir, Madam. I have enough to send my daughter to Downside Academy. I quit. Charlotte. Shawn, I don’t understand. What does it mean?”
                I gave Sarah the kidnapper’s ransom note. “It's so obvious, Sarah. Downside Academy. It was right there in front of us the whole time.  It was right there.”