2nd Place – August 2018



Gary Christenson

            Lilly and I played ball in the backyard. She’s seven and the light of my life since my wife died. Lilly has a sweet disposition and beautiful eyes. She brings joy to my otherwise sterile world. That was the last time I saw her.
            It was a life-changing event when they took her. The phone call came soon thereafter.
“What do you want?” I asked the negotiator for the group who had taken my beloved Lilly.
            He told me, “We want cash. If your girl is important to you, gather one hundred thousand bucks and follow directions. Don’t contact the police. We’ll know if you do. Your only concerns are gathering the money, following directions and getting Lilly back.”
            He cleared his throat and added, “We researched your net worth, liquid capital and reputation as a ‘can-do’ type of guy. Don’t go all green-beret on us. We’ll crush you and kill Lilly. Do as you’re told, pay us a fraction of the money you’ve accumulated, she comes home and we’re out of your life forever.”
            The negotiator said, “Drive north on highway 278 from Eureka in the Nevada desert. Twelve miles down that road you’ll come to a sign showing a ghost town to the right. Take the dirt road and continue until you see broken-down houses and businesses. A huge white ‘X’ painted on the dirt road is your transfer point. Arrive around noon. We’ll take a while to confirm you’re alone and there’s no surveillance.”
            The negotiator’s voice hardened as he said, “Don’t get ideas. A trained sniper will have a scope on you the whole time. If you do anything but what you’re told, he puts a bullet in your head, we take the money, and Lilly dies. Got it?”
            I’m a former professional soldier and trained to manage my emotions and react proactively in difficult circumstances. Regardless, my stomach churned as I drove to the transfer point. The light-weight briefcase lay in the front seat beside me. It contained $100,000 in one-hundred-dollar bills.
            Following directions I parked my car, grabbed a bottle of water and my case, and stood on the “X,” the transfer point. The ghost town was several hundred yards down the road. My watch said two minutes before noon.
            After a while I peeked at my watch. Twenty-three minutes had passed, and nothing moved except a black crow hopping in the weeds between worthless houses.
            I looked around thinking I might spot the sun reflecting off a rifle scope. No reflection, nothing. Two buzzards circled in the sky.
            After seventy-five minutes standing on the “X” a faint buzzing sound came from the west. Several minutes later a huge eight-propeller drone hovered in front of me. The on-board video camera focused on me and a moment later the negotiator’s voice announced from the drone, “Open the briefcase so we can view the contents.”
            The drone circled the briefcase. He said, “A cell phone hangs from the underside of the drone. Unhook the phone and connect the case handle.”
            After exchanging the case with the phone, the drone ascended beyond my reach. The negotiator told me, “There are two keys taped to the phone. One key opens the door to the building where Lilly is a prisoner. The other key unlocks her prison cell. She’s healthy. After we’ve examined your payment, we’ll direct you to the building where you’ll find her.”
            The drone rose and flew west toward nothing apparent. I waited.
            The cell phone rang twenty minutes later. “Your money is good. Drive down the road toward the abandoned church and turn left. Behind the church you’ll find a building secured with a new padlock. Open it with the silver key. Inside you’ll find Lilly. The blue key will open her cell.”
            I breathed a sigh of relief trusting Lilly was okay.
            The church was a wreck, but someone had repaired the building behind it. The large padlock and new hardware contrasted with the dilapidated condition of everything else in the ghost town. I opened the door and spotted Lilly. This wasn’t the first time Lilly had been trapped in a cage. She jumped with excitement when she saw me.
            The blue key opened the lock. Lilly licked my face. “How’s my best girl?” I retrieved her favorite dog biscuit from my shirt pocket. She snatched it from my hand and wolfed it down. We left the cage together. Lilly, my honey-colored cocker spaniel, was unharmed.
            She jumped into my car and yelped. I rolled down the window so she could stick her nose into the wind as we drove home.
            Back home I fed Lilly and played her favorite game of fetch until she tired. An hour later we relaxed on the couch. I savored the complex flavors in a glass of wine while Lilly snuggled against me.
            I was out one hundred thousand dollars, which I could afford, and Lilly was home and safe. The transmitter I had implanted in the briefcase might help. I set it to broadcast only after four hours had passed because I didn’t want the bad-guys detecting a transmission while they examined the cash. If they kept the case, the transmitter might lead the police to them.
            If not, Lilly and I make each other happy. We know what’s important in life.

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