Cafe La Veranda
Just as Kevin took his seat opposite Philip at their usual table in the middle of the Cafe, the waitress arrived with their usual orders of two cups of cappuccino, a blueberry muffin and two croissants. It was same cute waitress again. This around, she'd left her hair open. Not that Kevin was complaining. He made a mental note to ask her name sometime.
"So, how was your week?" Philip asked, sounding casual and routine. Kevin understood. They'd have to make small talk until the waitress left.
"It's been hectic at office. My editor wants me to cover the Municipal elections. I tried shrugging it off, but the bald chap was adamant. I just hope the rumors are true. My career wont reach anywhere if he sticks around much longer."
He stopped to thank the waitress as she left. "Alright, now get on with the story," he said, looking impatient. Philip enjoyed a bite of his muffin, pleased with the effect his story was having on Kevin.
February 18th, Burbanke Hospital
Sunlight streamed into the room, illuminating the motionless body lying on the bed, as well as the five men surrounding him.
Alex and Tim were sleeping on the couch, while Ben read a magazine without interest. James paced around the room. Mark sat next to the bed, watching his friend breath with the help of a tube.
"We need to get to work," he finally said, sounding hollow. He hadn't slept for two days now.
Ben lowered his magazine and looked at Mark. "By work you mean-?"
"The second Kid. We need to start planning now, if we're gonna get it done within a week."
None of them had forgotten Hector Cotridge's 25 day deadline. They had less than three weeks left now, and four more men to kidnap. As well as a near dead Richard to take care of.
"Ben, get back to the hotel and make sure Alex Passon's safe. If he gets to know what happened, we're in deep trouble. And James," he said, tossing the red file across, "I need you to tail Craig Harper today. Find out what we're up against, alright?"
Nodding their heads, Ben and James left the room. Moments later, Mark closed his eyes to take a quick nap. He slept for the next six hours.
Six Years Ago
Alex and Tim ran through the corridor as fast as they could, their hearts beating wildly. Just as they reached their dormitory, Mark and James rammed against the door, trying to break it open.
"What the hell is going on?" Alex asked, looking terrified.
Without replying, the two of them took a step back, and rammed the door again. With a small crack, the lock was broken, and the door swung wide.
Lying in the main hall, his body sprawled in pain, was Richard. The big burly figure looked pathetic, his arms trying to reach for something placed on the table next to him.
"Dear God!" Tim yelled, covering his mouth in disgust. James knelt on the floor, looking calm and slightly indifferent to it all. "He needs a lot of water. We need to flush out whatever he's overdosed on. Help me get him into the tub."
The four of them pulled up the heavy body, and dragged him into the bathroom. It was the first time they'd saved Richard from killing himself.
Over the next few weeks, Tim stopped covering his mouth in disgust. It had become all to familiar. Richard bunked every class they had, spending the whole day in the dormitory.
Most of them time he'd lock himself from everyone else, rarely coming out for food or water. He lost weight drastically; many friends hardly recognized him with the protruding cheek bones and skinny arms. He'd turned into a ghost of a person.
But the worst was yet to come.
February 18th, Nikkon Corporate Towers
If James had walked out of the hospital with a sense of disillusionment, by the time he'd finished spying on Craig Harper, he felt sure that Richard's condition was the least of their problems.
Craig Harper was one of the best real estate agents in the country. And judging by his Audi R6, tailored Armani suit and expensive Rolex watch, he was one of the richest as well. For the next two weeks, he would be staying in a private suite in the Nikkon Corporate Towers, as a guest for a conference.
He was a man who'd found his way to the top, not merely by smart judgment, but caution as well. James watched him as he interacted with his clients, tipped the waiter at the restaurant, and walked through the shopping complex in the Tower.
There was only one way to find out how tough a nut Craig Harper really was. Though Mark would never approve of it, James decided to try the Dummy Test.
As Craig Harper walked through the underground parking lot of the Tower, a thug sprung up on him, brandishing a gun. "Hey man, gimme your wallet. Gimme your wallet or I'll-"
He never got to finish his sentence. With a swift blow to the arm, the 38 year old real estate agent hit the gun out of the mugger's hand, and continued to strike a blow to his head until he was flat on the ground.
"Try picking on someone your own size," Craig said, before driving off in his car.
Dammit! James thought. Not only was Harper gonna be a tough one to kidnap, he'd have to pay Tony extra for the stitches.
Six Years Ago
No one sitting around the table were paying attention to Desert Rose as it blared from the speakers. The Bar was teeming with youngsters, but the five men listening to Fenster seemed most sober of all.
"Guys," Fenster said, coming straight to the topic without wasting time, "you all know Richard's been on drugs for the past three months or so, right?"
Mark and the rest of them nodded solemnly.
"And Mark," Fenster continued, "Because you've helped me out in the past before, I agreed to stop selling him anymore. Right?"
"Right," Mark said cautiously. Fenster was usually the blabber mouth, the type of guy who'd use ten words in place of one. Yet presently there was a look of guilt on his face.
"There's no easy way of saying this, so I'll be blunt. Richard owes a lot of money. In the beginning, whatever he bought was paid in hard cash. But the last one month, he's racked up a lot of credit."
"How much?" James asked. He was always matter - of - fact, especially when it came to Richard.
Ignoring the question, Fenster continued. "Now I had warned him about it, but he brushed me off. And you cant argue with a guy whose high, you know what I mean? So - so, it all went straight without anyone knowing. But now - now that he's stopped. Well, they've been asking me about the money, Mark."
His voice lost its calm, and Mark could hear him plead. None of them asked who 'they' meant. It was understood.
"Alright," James said, cutting Fenster off rudely. He got up, pulled out his wallet, and took out two hundred dollar notes.
"There are five of us. That makes it a grand. How much more do does the prick owe you?"
Stuttering slightly, Fenster replied.
"Forty - forty three thousand eight hundred."
The atmosphere in the dormitory was tense. Alex and Tim sat on the couch, watching James pace around the room while Mark stood near the table. Ben was sitting on the floor, his body leaning onto the bed.
"Do you know how much 43, 800 dollars is?" James yelled, looking furious.
"Yes, James, I do," Mark replied diplomatically. He was the only one who'd ever managed to calm James. But this time it wasnt working.
"No, I dont think you do. Your telling me that we should pitch in everything we've got, so that the hippie can pay for drugs that he snorted up his nose. Are you insane?"
"Mark, we cant get so much money within two weeks," Alex said, hoping to sound reasonable, and not insensitive.
Mark paused for a moment, thinking of the best way to convince them. Finally, clearing his throat, he said. "Guys, I'm going to do whatever I can to help Richard. If you want, you can help out. Is that clear?"
Three hours later, James had finally calmed down enough to join in the discussion.
"How can we make 43 grand so quickly?" Tim asked, sounding redundant. They'd already discussed the obvious possibilities - family wealth, trust funds, bank loans, wealthy uncles.
"Who do we know has 43 grand?" Mark asked suddenly. Everyone stopped to listen. "You're gonna ask for a loan?" Alex asked innocently.
"Not necessarily," Mark said, sounding omnious. He'd long given up on thinking straight. They were up against drug dealers, not bank officials. If they didnt pay up, no one would try to repossess their belongings. Things could get ugly
"We could rob a bank," Tim said lightheartedly.
Chuckling to himself, Alex shook his head. "It's too risky,"
"What about stealing from someone?" James asked, sounding less jovial than Tim.
"Dammit!" Ben suddenly yelled. "Sorry," he quickly said as the others turned towards him. "You know what we should do?" he said, looking annoyed as he tossed his Final Year Project file, "we should get rid of Professor Hockney. You know, like a hitman job."
The four of them laughed loudly. "Too bad no one would be willing to pay for it," James said wryly.
"We could kidnap him you know," Tim said excitedly, getting carried away for a moment. "Hold him for a randsom or something."
"Ha!" Ben said, collecting his scattered project papers again. Looking at the title: A Study of Private Limited Companies, he chuckled to himself.
"Yah, and we should call ourselves The Kidnappers Private Limited, just to rub it in his face."
As the four of them laughed again, Mark smiled to himself.
He knew how they'd make 43,800 dollars...
To Be Continued...