The incandescent light bulb flickered—revealing shackled bodies of a man and a woman in a dimly lit room. The hapless victims laid motionless as their hands were joined together in the middle by a professional grade handcuff; while both their legs were secured separately at the opposite corners of the room by chains with locks.
For whatever reason, each victim’s left arm was free. Whether or not it was by choice or an inadvertent oversight on the kidnaper’s part is immaterial as both loose hands would be of no match to these restraint devices. They are not going anywhere; even if they wake up soon and struggle—unless there’s a key hidden somewhere.
A knife-wielding man appeared from the shadows and walked towards the room. He opened the door and adjusted the light bulb. He then took a vial of “spirit of ammonia” from his left jacket pocket and placed its mouth beneath the victims’ nostrils to wake them up from a drug-induced sleep.
“Congratulations Catherine and Kevin or dare I say Mr. & Mrs. Bishop. Welcome to Paradise Valley. How’s your stay so far?”
“Who are you and why are we here?” Catherine faintly answered as she rubbed her eyes and tugged her handcuffed hand.
“The right question is why,” the kidnapper answered. “See, you’re so predictably cheap. I linked a ‘travel getaway contest’ in your Facebook account and you took it—hook, line and sinker. Even with millions of money in your bank accounts you’re still incredibly cheap.”
“So this is about money, you low-life scumbag!” Kevin yelled as he squinted his eyes to adjust to the light. “Hey I know you. You’re the travel agent who fetched us at the airport this morning.”
“You think it’s about money?” the kidnapper shouted as he choked Kevin and pointed the knife against his face. “Not everything is about money! I could’ve robbed you and left you for dead if that were the case.”
“So what is it then?” Catherine asked. “Why are you keeping us here?”
“I was getting to that so stop interrupting me,” the kidnapper answered. “September 9, 2016.”
“How do you know the date of our wedding?” Catherine asked. “Are you a stalker or something?”
“Not quite silly. I was the wedding cinematographer who you stiffed and deliberately embarrassed in front of would-be clienteles. As if that wasn’t enough, you slapped me with a lawsuit so that I’ll give you the videos for free and subsequently had my license revoked.”
“You mean the incompetent cinematographer who can’t seem to meet the deadline?” Kevin exclaimed in disgust. “I’m glad we didn’t pay your useless ass! You can’t even handle simple demands you moron!”
“Simple demands? Are you fucking kidding me?” the kidnapper shouted. “You changed the date five times and kept changing the concept. I even told you I should be at the hospital bed with my son on the 9th and you had none of it. Thanks to the lawsuit cause I was driven into financial ruin. I lost my son and my wife because of you!”
“Oh cry me a river you useless piece of shit!” Catherine yelled back. “You just can’t take criticisms like a man. Even if those reasons you’ve mentioned were indeed true, those wouldn’t be enough to drive a sane person to do something as heartless as this. You’re sick!”
“I’m heartless? Even if I hate you, I still found it ethical to dilute your drug dose so as not to hurt the baby inside your womb.”
“What baby?” Kevin’ s eyes widened in shock.
“Oh he doesn’t know?” the kidnapper answered with a slight grin. “Would you mind telling him that Catherine?”
“Don’t listen to him!” Catherine responded as he faced Kevin with a concerned look.
“See, Catherine here has a passionate business relationship with Mr. Tan, your business associate. Why do you think your merger went so smoothly?”
“Is it true Cathy?” Kevin asked as he lifted Catherine’s face with his left hand.
Catherine’s eyes welled up with tears.
“How long have you been lying to me?”
“About a year,” Catherine answered hesitantly.
“How could you?” Kevin screamed at the top of his lungs. “After all that I did for you, this is how you’ll repay me? You’re an ungrateful slut!”
“Enough of the sappy talk!” the kidnapper interrupted. “Let’s focus shall we? I may hate you but I’m not cold-blooded. I’ll give you a way out of here if you’re willing to play. See, I’ve doused this whole place in gasoline but I’m not gonna burn it just yet.”
The kidnapper tossed a key at Kevin.
“Use that to free your legs and here’s an axe. Don’t waste your time striking that against the handcuff or the chains cause it’s not even gonna make a scratch. But don’t worry, that’s sharp enough to tear through human flesh so be creative. Oh and before I go, I’m gonna give you an extra motivation if you know what I mean. There’s a duffle bag full of cash at the doorstep. I know you won’t pass up on the good ol’ cash right? Have fun lovebirds, am out.”
“Hey don’t leave us here!” Catherine shouted.
The kidnapper didn’t listen, turned his back, walked out the door and disappeared into the darkness.
“How could you lie to me Cathy?” Kevin screamed as his face turned purple with rage.
“Will you cut that out? Let’s find a way to get out of this hell hole and discuss that stuff later.”
“I’m getting out of here alright but not you.” Kevin took the key, unlocked the chains around his feet, took the axe and stared at Catherine blankly.
“What are you planning Kevin? Whatever it is please don’t do it. I’m sorry! Please forgive me!”
Kevin wiped Catherine’s sweaty face with his hand and kissed her. He then pulled the handcuff to extend Catherine’s hand on the floor. “Goodbye darling.”
“Kevin don’t!” Catherine shouted, her eyes dilated and her entire body was frozen in horror for what she thought was about to happen.
Kevin lifted the axe straight up which made the razor-sharp blade shimmer in the light. And with all his might, he swung it towards Catherine’s right hand. The axe made a thudding sound against flesh and bone--spraying fountains of blood in both their faces. The swinging force was so strong that it severed Catherine’s hand with just a single strike.
Her bloodcurdling scream was deafening but Kevin remained impassive. He walked towards the door, dragging the handcuff with Catherine’s bloody severed hand still attached to it. He opened the duffle bag at the doorstep only to find out that it was just full of prop money.
He dug into the pile and found a short-sized bond paper with a message written in all caps that said: YOU’RE SO PREDICTABLE!!! THE POLICE ARE COMING ANYTIME SOON. THERE’S A LIGHTER INSIDE THE LEFT POCKET OF THE BAG TO TORCH YOUR WORTHLESS LIVES!
Kevin tore the paper apart and threw his head towards the ceiling.
“NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” he screamed in despair. With shoulders drooped and expression visibly darkened in defeat and frustration, he reached inside the left pocket of the bag for the zippo lighter.
Kevin looked at Catherine with an empty grin. “Well I guess the wedding cinematographer won Cathy.”
He sighed deeply, lit the lighter and threw it on the gasoline-soaked floor; igniting it instantly. The fire traversed through a serpentine trail that led to a gas oven at the far-right corner of the house, causing a huge explosion upon contact.
The house burned while the kidnapper watched from a distance. He reached inside his jacket pocket for a piece of paper. He unfolded the paper and crossed out Mr. & Mrs. Bishop from the list.
“One down, five to go!”