What’s in the Box?
by Belinda Stoner
“Whaddya think’s in the box?” My captor—the one I mentally referred to as Eighty-Five, in reference to his apparent IQ—shielded the screen of his iPhone from my other captor’s view.
I mentally referred to the other captor as Sixty-Five. You can guess why.
Watching YouTube videos of this game provided an endless source of amusement for them. Apparently, it was played fairly often on something called The Jimmy Fallon Show. I’d never heard of the guy, or his show, until a few days ago.
And trust me: I’d now had my fill of both.
Said game was called Box of Lies, and it involved celebrities opening boxes containing bizarre items–a Rubik’s Cube encased in Jell-O, for instance. The celebrity had the choice of either telling Jimmy what the object actually was, or else making something up. Jimmy–who could not, of course, see the object—was then supposed to determine whether the celebrity was lying or telling the truth.
“How the hell am I supposed to know what’s in the damn box?” Sixty-Five sounded petulant.
Although I couldn’t see the iPhone screen, either, I was pretty sure this particular celebrity was Jennifer Lawrence. Well, it was either her or Emma Stone. It seems to be the rule nowadays that all young actresses speak in husky, exhausted-sounding voices. Jennifer (or Emma) managed to stay awake long enough to claim that her box contained a boy band figure and an assortment of Hershey’s kisses.
“Do ya think it’s what she says it is?” Eighty-Five asked his cohort. “Or something else?”
“How the hell should I know?” Sixty-Five sounded even more petulant. Incredibly, he sounded as if he were ready to cry. “You won’t let me watch,” he whined. “So I can’t see her face. You gotta see somebody’s face to tell if they’re lying.”
“If I let you watch, you’ll see what’s in the box,” Eighty-Five explained patiently. “Try and tell if she’s lying by listening to her voice.” He directed a serious, paternal stare onto Sixty-Five’s pouting countenance. “You can also tell if someone’s lying by listening to their voice. Their voice gets all wiggly-sounding when they’re lying.” This gem was bestowed with the air of a guru explaining the meaning of life.
I sighed. Neither of them noticed. I wished that the box were in front of me, and that it contained a gun, or a Taser, or a couple of Big Macs laced with Vicodin–anything that might give me a fighting chance to escape.
True, I was no longer being kept bound and blindfolded. That had proven to be problematic when I needed to use the restroom— the ‘restroom’ being a five-gallon bucket in the corner shielded by a filthy blanket. (Being kidnapped is no picnic. I was learning that the hard way.) But both captors were a couple of decades younger than me, and they remained near the only door of the room—there were no windows—so trying to run past them would be pointless.
Worse than pointless, if it angered them.
This was my third day of captivity. Terror had been my initial companion. And terror, I’d learned, was an overused word. Previously, I’d used terror to describe events that now seemed absurdly mundane: slamming on the brakes as a deer unexpectedly leaped in front of me. Searching for my car keys in a fast-darkening parking garage as the sound of approaching footsteps grew louder. These situations now seemed like nothing more than trivial annoyances. Not terrifying at all.
At this point, my body seemed unable register terror—or any emotion at all, other than resignation. I knew all along that my husband would follow the instructions about not contacting the police. I also knew that my darling Bentley wouldn’t follow the instructions about delivering the ransom.
Being married to a millionaire is no picnic. I learned that the hard way.
I wondered what my husband was doing at this moment. Was he thinking of me? Surely he knew what would happen if he didn’t hand over the cash. Did he feel any guilt whatsoever? Or were he and his girlfriend—a B-list, Scandinavian-born actress young enough to be his daughter—currently sharing a toast at the city’s most expensive restaurant, celebrating my upcoming demise?
A painful wave of nostalgia enveloped me as I recalled how Bentley and I had, at one time, actually loved each other. But he was both incredibly rich and incredibly handsome: a combination, I’d soon learned, that was not conducive to monogamy.
I pushed all those thoughts aside and again tried to focus on escape.
How easy it is, I reflected, to claim bravery in hypothetical situation when the situation is…well, hypothetical.
I recalled an afternoon a few months prior, lunching with friends and discussing the Elizabeth Smart case. We’d also pondered the case of the three young women who’d been held against their will in a Cleveland home.
I was sitting next to Allison, whose husband’s philandering made Bentley seem like a card-carrying member of The Promise Keepers.
“What do you suppose took them so long?” I asked her. “Why on earth did it take those girls years and years to get the hell out of there?”
The two of us agreed that we’d have been braver, that we never would have allowed ourselves to become so paralyzed with fear.
Now I knew how stupid those claims were.
Maybe my current situation was karma. Maybe the universe had eavesdropped on my catty observances and decided to teach me a lesson.
I’d learned it, all right.
I was pretty darned positive that my death was imminent, yet I had no intention of hurrying it along. Trying to overpower and escape from two men in their early twenties—one of whom, at least, possessed a firearm of some sort; Eighty-Five had shoved it against my ribs as I was leaving the mall just days earlier—would likely bring about a speedier conclusion to things than would my continued cooperation. Therefore, I would continue to cooperate, and thus continue living for as long as possible.
Even if my last moments consisted of nothing more than listening to a couple of idiots arguing over YouTube videos.
A familiar feeling crept through my fog of resignation: rage. These men were complete losers. Pond scum. And Bentley! He was no different. Just a more refined model in expensive clothes. I wanted to tear all of them apart with my bare hands.
The rage I was feeling, I knew, could work for me or work against me. If I kept it under control, if I didn’t allow myself to act rashly, I might have a chance.
I decided to take stock of the situation. Yes, there were two of them, and yes, they had a gun. Still, I outclassed them in a couple of very important ways. My brains, for instance. I ventured that I had more of those than the two of them combined.
They were younger than me, yes. They were men, and therefore stronger than me. A biological fact. But neither of them appeared to be in particularly good shape. Sixty-Five was round and pudgy, and at least two inches shorter than me. Eighty-Five was average height—about as tall as me—and incredibly thin and lanky. Sometimes, a thin build can fool you into thinking someone’s weak, when in reality they are wiry and tough. But that didn’t seem to be the case with Eighty-Five. I’d seen his bare arms, and they were as smooth and devoid of musculature as those of a twelve-year-old girl.
I’d have bet that neither of them had ever seen the inside of a gym, nor worked with a personal trainer, nor taken any fitness classes.
I was extremely well-acquainted with all of these.
I’d gotten somewhat obsessed with fitness when I hit my mid-30s. That was when Bentley had dropped all pretense of remaining faithful to me. I suppose I thought that if I were thin enough and toned enough, I could stop him from straying. I tried all of the trends. A personal trainer, which was weird; I disliked working so closely with a stranger who yelled orders at me as I puffed and sweated. Yoga, which was boring; and hot yoga, which was boring and uncomfortable; Zumba, which was embarrassing, I’ve never had any sense of rhythm. Five years ago, I’d finally settled on something that wasn’t trendy at all, but had been the perfect balance of physical training and mysticism, with a dose of morals thrown in for good measure—
There was an abrupt shift in mood.
The YouTube video played on, but the two masterminds had lost interest. They spoke in urgent half-whispers, either not caring or not realizing that I could hear them perfectly well in the tiny room of the vacant warehouse.
Eighty-Five was telling Sixty-Five to “just get it over with” and that he’d meet him at the docks afterward to help him “dispose of the evidence”. Eighty-Five then shut off his iPhone, placed it in the pocket of his denim jacket, and solemnly handed something to his partner: the gun.
Eighty-Five left the room, closing the door firmly yet gently behind him.
I remembered how my mother used to close the door to my room at bedtime. Pretty much the same way.
Only she’d never handed a gun to anyone beforehand.
Sixty-Five stood before me, his expression a mixture of reluctance and determination. Not an ounce of pity or regret, though. He reminded me of how my brother had looked the first time he climbed the ladder to to the high dive at the municipal pool.
Why were all of the these childhood memories coming back? Was this what people meant when they talked about their lives flashing before their eyes?
“I…um…have to go to the bathroom,” I informed him.
He raised the gun until it was level with my forehead. The barrel was less than three feet away. I could only hope he was an incredibly lousy shot.
“Not for long, you won’t.”
I stared at the gun barrel. Then I forced myself to stare at Sixty-Five instead. I wouldn’t cry. I wouldn’t beg. I wouldn’t look away. I slowly rose from the metal folding chair where I’d been sitting.
Because, seriously. “I have to go to the bathroom” would have been a lousy choice of last words.
Everything was now happening in slow motion, like the climax of a bad action movie. I was aware of every detail of every object in front of me—even of those in my peripheral vision. I saw the frayed collar of Sixty-Five’s cheap flannel shirt. I saw the peeling, graying paint on the ceiling above him. And a fly crawling on the door to his left.
Then, time appeared to stop altogether, and in my mind I heard Master Begley’s voice commanding, “FOCUS!”
Sixty-Five’s thumb, I saw, was seemingly suspended over a lever on the side of the gun. I knew basically nothing about firearms, but I realized that this lever was the safety mechanism.
If that’s what you call it.
Sixty-five didn’t even have time to flinch. I doubt he expected any resistance from the middle-aged female standing before him—until I knocked the gun from his hand with a perfectly-executed crescent kick, followed by a magnificent scissor kick to the solar plexus, followed by a skull-smashing blow with the chair.
I retrieved the gun from the floor, inches from Sixty-Five’s twitching fingers, and headed for the docks.
Kidnapping the lonely, neglected wife of a millionaire is no picnic. Especially when she happens to hold a black belt in tae kwon do.
Sixty-Five learned that the hard way.
Eighty-Five was about to learn that, too.
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Belinda Stoner’s work has previously appeared in FATE Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and Reader’s Digest. She’s a former teacher who now works as a landlord and an assistant at her husband’s real estate appraising business. Unlike the heroine in “What’s In the Box?”, she has no expertise in tae kwon do. Her fifteen-year-old daughter, however, holds a blue belt and acted as a consultant while this story was being written.