"Always take a good look at what you're about to eat. It's not so important to know what it is, but it's critical to know what it was."
Lopez smirked, thumbing through the little book he'd found in Tom's bag.
The abduction had been far easier than he hoped. And not once, but twice, the young man stepped right into his hands. All Lopez had to do was wait and pick his moment. And when Tom poured a bowl of cereal at the table with his back to him, it was all too easy. One bop over the head with the butt of the gun, and everything kept falling into place.
The bandit had used his time well since seeing the family photos of Tom and putting two and two together. It took about an hour to prepare the laundry room into a holding cell. It was small and had no windows. Just one narrow door and a few cupboards that were cleaned out, so as not to leave any tools to chance. To be extra sure, he duct-taped a pillowcase over the unconscious man's head, and bound his hands and feet.
It had been more than a day since Lopez had any sleep. There had been a lot of stimulation in that time. He was tired, but couldn't doze yet. The rich old lady was still unaccounted for. He couldn't be sure if or when she might show up.
"Where's your mamma?" he prodded Tom at gunpoint before knocking him out. The kid swore he didn't know. Kept swearing he didn't know anything. Said he was wondering the same things. Lopez believed him. The kid was too soft to lie well in the situation.
So for now, Lopez kept reading the witty little book he found in Tom's bag. He'd stay awake and ready until nightfall, when it would be safer to assume the lady wasn't coming.
"There never was a horse that couldn't be rode. There never was a man that couldn't be throwed," read another page.
That's the truth, Lopez thought.
Tom came to in a fog. His mind raced and screamed for air but his body wouldn't move. He was stuck on his right side with his face pressed into the cold, hard floor. It was hard to breathe and he couldn't move. His skull throbbed. He was thirsty, but he strained for air more than anything. He told his body to move and it wouldn't respond, as if caught in a dream he couldn't escape. His heart raced, increasing the need for air. At last, an arm twitched to life, but he still couldn't move it. Something was holding it down. Finally the arm underneath his body stirred. He reached for the fabric covering his face and both his arms moved in unison.
They were stuck together. Tied together. No, taped together.
He rolled onto his back, finally able to breathe. Wherever he was, it was dark. No light filtered through the fabric covering his face. His left elbow bumped a flat metal surface that resounded with a reverberating thud. I'm in a laundry room. It took a second for his concussed memory to catch up. I'm at Mom's house. He remembered coming home, but still couldn't quite recall how he ended up there. He wriggled some more, testing his binds. Definitely duct tape. ... That guy. He pulled a gun on me. ... He hit me? Must have.
Tom wriggled some more, trying to be quiet, but in the narrow space he clanged into the washing machine a couple more times. The duct tape was wrapped liberally around both hands all the way up to the elbows, and his legs were bound almost up to his knees. He also felt a band of it around his throat, keeping the pillowcase over his head. He had to give up and lie still to catch his breath.
Think. Think, he told himself. What's in this room that might help me? His mind visualized the old familiar cupboards above the machines. He flashed back through memories that no one ever tries to remember, trying to picture what his mom kept in the room. Could he even stand up the way he was? Even if he could, how would he grab anything or open a cupboard? No use even trying until he thought of something that might be useful. Think, think, think. Come on!
He thought of Winnie the Pooh, the cartoon bear he used to watch as a kid. Stop thinking about that. Come on – think! But the mantra kept circling his mind back to Pooh. The mindless thoughts calmed him, and Tom spaced out, as relaxed as he'd been since waking. His head still hurt, but imagining himself in the shoes of Pooh Bear sitting on a tree stump, muttering, "Think. Think," removed him from the immediate situation.
Eventually his thoughts arched outward into another ring of thought. He started remembering a book given to him on his 18th birthday, titled "The Tao of Pooh." He didn't get around to reading it until after college, but it spoke to him when he finally did. He'd highlighted and memorized some of the Taoisms over the years since, and that is what Tom's mind whirled into. He caught himself muttering, barely audible, but breathing the calming words from mindless memory:
"I am me,
And you are you,
As you can see;
But when you do
The things that you can do,
You will find the Way,
And the Way will follow you."
He'd been repeating it to himself for a while, not hearing what he was saying. He'd just been breathing it, really, not thinking at all. But an idea came to him – something he could do. Or at least try.
Tom brought his knees up to his chest and lifted his arms over the top of them. He could spread his knees apart just enough to jam the blunt point of his left knee in between his elbows, using the knee as a wedge. At first, progress seemed hopeless. The wraps of duct tape only seemed to tighten on his skin. It felt like the indian burns his sisters gave him by twisting their hands in opposite directions around his forearms when they were young. The tape ripped hair and pulled skin. He had to stop every so often to catch his breath. When he did, he found that as much as the straining hurt, every time he removed his knee there was a little more wiggle room in the binds. And the more he struggled, the more he sweat, moistening the glue of the tape.
Yes! he thought, chest heaving. He had no clue what he would do once he freed himself, besides get the goddamn pillowcase off his head, but it was a critical starting point.
A pair of cowboy boots clicked down the hall. Tom stopped and listened. He heard the boots stop outside the door. There was a long pause and then a knock. "Hey, gringo, you awake in there?"
Tom tried to hold his breath, though his chest still heaved.
Two more knocks on the door.
After another pause, the boots retreated back down the hall.
Why wouldn't he just open the door to check on me? Thomas wondered. There wasn't any lock on the door, and it opened into the room, not out into the hall. He must have it rigged to stay shut somehow. It wouldn't be worth it for him to undo the rigging just to check on me. He must be pretty confident that I'm stuck in here for good. Shit. That means it's probably going to be pretty damn difficult to get out of here.
Lopez did have the door rigged, and he was confident. He'd hammered a couple of beefy U-nails into the log wall across from the door, which he used to anchor a snug bit of nylon rope around the doorknob to keep it from opening inward. The kid would have a better chance of breaking through the door, or breaking the doorknob off, except this was an old house, which meant the door was solid, hand-carved wood. And any racket loud enough to break that door would be loud enough to tip him off.
The only thing that could make Lopez more content at that moment was some food. He went into the kitchen and made a sandwich. A big, sharp knife flashed in his hand, dicing a tomato with swift, precise strokes.
Nice tools in this house, he thought, glancing through the window. The sun sank like a dying note beyond the frozen hills, dimming the room into a grey light. Soon he would finally get some sleep.