The man trapped inside would remain a prisoner until early November, or if his captors became hard-pressed—terminated. The choice was his.
The small basement level apartment held the man captive deep inside the Washington Highlands area of D.C. There was no public access to the red-tagged building, so foot traffic was almost nonexistent. Only those with less than righteous thoughts ventured into the neighborhood, and any attempts of drawing their attention to his predicament were met by well-dressed men with guns.
The hopper window, located a good arm’s length above his six-foot frame, provided no glean as to his location, just weather conditions. The windowpane was covered in a yellowish, snot-looking film, making it tough to even see the weeds and starved tree branches. The corroded latch was rusted shut.
The small apartment had two exits. Outside the front door was a heavily armed fellow itching to unload his gun. Above him was the window. Neither seemed optimal. If he had the time—which he hadn’t—and was lucky enough not to get shredded squeezing through the shared glass—which he wasn’t—the guard would be on him instantly emptying his semi-automatic into his overweight belly. At which point, the medical examiner that drew the short-straw would have to rely on an Ouija board for identification.
The room was gutted and had the markings, and odor, of a teenage boy's first apartment. There was a battered U.S. Army cot with pillow and blanket, both drab green, and a shabby looking dresser complete with a scattering of clothes stolen from the local Goodwill. The bathroom was in working order, generally. The toilet bowl was stained with a soiled plunger at the ready. He had one roll of ass-wipe, no deodorant, toothpaste, but no toothbrush.
The last memory seventy-eight-year-old Senator Scott Matheson had was rubbing elbows with affluent members of his super PAC. Fast forward, he found himself waking up in a dungeon reminiscent of the Count of Monte Cristo and suffering from a massive hangover. He heard about people being slipped a mickey but never had an inkling to what that meant. Not until now.
The Senator from Maine was the presumptive nominee for President of the United States. His opponent, the incumbent Command in Chief and his White House staff were pissin’ in their pants, terrified that the latest poll numbers were reflective of the election’s inevitable outcome. The public was getting wise to their gaslighting tactics while the Senator’s popularity was off the charts, and amazingly it was from both sides of the aisle.
After the drugging, the kidnappers left the Senator locked in the apartment to recover on his own. Since then, every evening around nightfall, they provided him with a meal. They never spoke, nor answered questions.
* * *
As the sun set, Senator Matheson sat on the floor and watched the steady stream of ants marching along the base of the window facing wall. As ants do, they took the path of least resistance entering through a gap between the rusty window frame and stone wall making their way to the floor, then exiting through an equally small crack in the wall—and to freedom.
He heard the familiar scratching by the door.
It’s about time. I’m starving, he thought.
Turning his attention to the door, he saw a piece of paper shoved underneath.
He hoped it would’ve said something like, “you’ve been kidnapped and will be released shortly because our ransom demands have been met.” Or, "we're really sorry, but we've made a terrible mistake and kidnapped the wrong guy."
I know, I know…raise your arms and get up against the wall.
The Senator placed the note in his slush pile and assumed the position.
Right on queue in came two men with semi-autos drawn, a bandana covering their nose and mouth. Seeing the coast was copacetic, the one with the buzz cut snapped his fingers. A third guard promptly delivered the meal placing the tray on the floor just inside the door. He left after retrieving the previous night's trash. Mr. Snapper Man signaled his associate. The guards left, never taking their eyes off the prize, locking the door.
They’re not much on conversation.
Looking at the tray the Senator saw the meal was the same as yesterday, and the day before that, with little variation: it was always something from a can. Tonight, it was Chef Boyardee ravioli. Not bad, but hardly filling. Last night it was chicken noodle soup with a measly three bites of chicken or a reasonable facsimile. He looked forward to the cup of coffee. He dreaded drinking the water coming out of the bathroom tap, which had a tinny taste to it. It was no wonder the building was condemned, piping in poisoned water. The coffee was served in a Starbucks Styrofoam cup, but it tasted more like a generic brand.
He braced his back against the wall and slid to the floor, his knees buckled on the way down. He gave the ants plenty of leeway on their march to freedom. He didn't want them helping themselves to his pasta.
He looked over the meager rations and shook his head. His late wife’s basset hound ate better than this. He dug in with his plastic spoon and ate slowly.
Sipping the last bit of joe, he rested his gray-haired head against the wall. He ran his palm across his out of control stubble, thinking he'd been here for weeks. He imagined he was a sight. For a moment, he was glad his wife wasn’t alive to see him looking so disheveled—but only for a moment.
* * *
Senator Scott Matheson woke from another restless night. His weak bladder saw to that, that and his anxiety. Swinging his legs over the edge of the cot and putting his feet on the floor, his back let out a scream. He didn’t like cots when he was in the military, and he liked them less now.
He sat hunched over and felt a shiver run down his back. His body shook suddenly. It was late in the year. Snow was coming. Looking down at the cold floor, his shoulders swallowing his neck, he swiped at the gray hair dangling in front of his eyes and checked the view out of the window. The lack of sun hidden by the overcast skies mimicked his mood.
The ransom should’ve been paid by now. Something’s gone wrong!
He went to the bathroom to take care of business and clean up. He dabbed a little Colgate on his finger and brushed his teeth. There wasn’t a mirror, but he still stared straight ahead out of habit. His stomach growled. He opened the sink’s tap gulping the tinny-tasting water. It tasted horrible but it temporarily eliminated his hunger.
I gotta get outta here.
* * *
The Senator hadn’t seen a note slide underneath the door in three days, and no note meant no food.
He’d long thought about breaking the basement window and calling for help, but his kidnappers stopped him cold. They planned for every eventuality. They secured the cot to the floor and the dresser drawers were too heavy for a weakened seventy-eight-year-old Senator to use as a projectile. He couldn’t throw the food tray lest the well-dressed men with their semis locked and loaded would show up telling him to shut the hell up or else!
On the first night, he pounded on the door and screamed. He threw an empty meal tray at the window, repeatedly, trying to break it or at least cause a stir. He thought for sure the men with the semi-autos would bust through the door and threaten him as before, but no one came. Day two was no different.
Fatigued and light-headed, he lay next to the door on the third night. His hand throbbed like his beating heart from pounding. He could barely speak from yelling at the top of his lungs.
It was dead quiet except for the occasional howling winds and twigs hitting the window.
Why would they leave? What happened?
Exhausted and with a pit in his gut, the Senator had a feeling (a real bad one) that his initial suspicions of ‘why’ were true. Now was the time to find out.
Crawling on his hands and knees, Scott slowly made his way to the dresser and righted himself, gasping. Using both arms, he managed to yank out the bottom drawer just enough to get at the contents. Inside was every note the guards slid under the door. There were more notes than he thought. One note equaled one day. He began to count.
Not having anything to write with, he placed the papers in piles of ten.
Each piece of paper represented a day of his life. A day lost. Why was he kidnapped? And why did his kidnappers leave all of a sudden? He thought he might know the answer, and it scared him, for himself, but mainly for his country. He began to breathe heavily, his hands started to shake.
The guards never spoke. Not to him or each other. No jokes or sarcastic remarks about his political affiliations. Not even about a ransom. It was as if they were totally disinterested in him like he was simply a dog chained up in the back yard to be fed and watered once a day.
Was he kidnapped for political or financial gain? The more notes he counted, the more certain he knew the answer.
Feeling unsteady, he leaned against the dresser to recoup.
Now, let me think. I accepted the nomination in mid-July in Milwaukee. That was July sixteenth. Then I did a boatload of campaign rallies, town halls, and fundraisers, all across the country, not to mention a couple of Presidential debates. My pet rock had more brains. But when was that last event? That’s when they must’ve drugged me. Think, old man, think…
The last thing Scott remembered was doing a fundraising dinner in Arlington, Virginia, which was about a month ago. The food was delightful, as were the women, and the drinks plentiful. He reasoned it was a perfect time to be slipped a mickey finn. His kidnappers probably told everyone he’d had a bit too much champagne before whisking him away.
The Arlington fundraiser was on October third. Add thirty-one days, which was the last time the guards delivered a note, and that comes out to—November third. Election Day!
Senator Scott Matheson, the presumptive nominee for President of the United States, leaned against the side of the dresser with his mouth open, his mind a blur. His stomach moaned for a can of Chef Boyardee.
Oh my God! It’s over! The election is over. They never wanted money. They just wanted me out of the way.
He turned his gaze toward the movement of life. The constant flow of ants still marched down from the window to the floor, then out to freedom through a hole in the wall.