Not that Kind of Criminal
“We can do this the easy way or the hard way, slim. Your call.”
Tom tried to ignore the gaze of the seasoned criminal standing over him like a lion pausing to admire its prey before devouring it. It had been two days since he’d seen sunlight. Two days since he’d seen his five-year-old daughter, Kaylee. Two days since he’d been taken at his place of work and thrown into a van. What followed from that he didn’t know because they’d put a bag over his head.
What he did know was that he’d been tied to a chair, in a dark room, for two days straight. He knew this because he’d counted every hour. It wasn’t that he wanted to count every hour. It was a mental tic. The doctor had said it was likely a symptom of OCD, but there weren’t any amazing treatments that didn’t involve Tom popping pills for the rest of his life. And Tom could deal with counting the hour, if it meant being free from pills. The doctor had warned that sometimes when people take the pills for a while, they build up an immunity to them and the symptoms worsen.
“I have to be there for Kaylee,” Tom had said. “I can’t let my daughter suffer because I need a little relief.” So he’d stuck with the tic and now it was proving useful in a way he’d never imagined. Only he wasn’t sure he liked the information it was giving him. Two days without him there to watch Kaylee. Aunt Taylor checked up on them every other day, so she would have found Kaylee alone. That meant Kaylee was being taken care of at least, but she had no idea where her father had gone and Taylor wouldn’t have any information on it either.
She’s probably called the cops by now, filed a missing person’s report.
The lion man snapped his fingers in front of Tom’s face, “You there, slim? Don’t go to sleep on me. We’ve got things to discuss.”
Tom ignored him, wondering how long until the lion’s grace would run out. Tom’s experience with movies told him that the bad guys loved to torture or beat up their victims, but so far, the lion had done nothing like that. He would come in, every eight hours on the hour, and stand plainly in front of Tom, asking him the same questions, trying to get him to talk. He never threatened, never stated who he was or what his interests were. He simply repeated the same statements, trying to pull Tom into conversation.
It didn’t make sense. Tom was a construction worker for the local Miami area. When he’d been kidnapped, he was working with a team, putting up the foundation for a new library. He didn’t have any secrets. He didn’t live that kind of life. And as far as he could tell, the library was a normal, state-funded, state-authorized building project. The pay was decent and it kept the power on and the water running for he and Kaylee. There was nothing more.
“Alright,” said the lion.
Tom glanced at him and realized the man was talking into a phone. The lion had never talked into a phone before, not in front of him.
“Yeah, I got it,” said the lion. He hung up and centered his gaze on Tom. “The police have a missing person’s report out on you. Why?”
For a moment, Tom considered answering. It was the first direct question he’d been asked. Then he thought of Kaylee and her safety. What if these guys came for her too?
“Ok,” said the lion, “I can see you don’t want to talk. I get it. You have a daughter, her aunt’s a skinny lady who could get beaten up by your five-year-old daughter. You’re worried about them.” The lion pulled over a chair and sat down across from Tom, crossing his legs and steepling his hands. “Nobody is going to do a thing with them. I’m not that kind of criminal, ok? This isn’t a movie.”
Tom turned away and focused his attention on the wall. Even movie criminals were famous for making false promises and then turning around and hurting people. Why would this guy be any different?
“Do me one favor, slim,” said the lion, “let me tell you a story.”
Stories were usually the part where the bad guy tried to intimidate his captor. Tom shook himself of the notion. He was being silly. This was real life, not a movie. He wrenched his eyes away from the wall and met the lion’s gaze. “One favor.”
The lion raised an eyebrow and visibly relaxed, “Alright, one favor. Here’s how it goes: Guy wakes up in the early morning hours with the feel of cold steel on his temple. He understands how guns work, so he doesn’t panic. But he also understands the danger, so he doesn’t make any sudden moves. His captor demands the combination to his safe, or his brains will end up on the floor. Great image, right? Well, the guy isn’t stupid. He knows when he’s been beat. So he gets this thief the combination. After the thief has left, he calls his buddies and reports the robbery. Five hundred thousand dollars is what he’s lost. Lot of money, right? Half a million solid. Untraceable cash. Criminals cash. The guy can’t report it to the police because it’s illegal. He isn’t supposed to have the money in the first place. But a guy like that, he can’t just let it go. He earned that five hundred thousand. So he calls in a few favors and tracks down where the thief works, who matches his appearance. What do you think so far, good story?”
Tom nodded slowly, “It’s ok, but I’ve seen better on the television.”
The lion laughed, “Funny. Now here’s the rest: The guy kidnaps this thief and puts him in a dark room for a couple of days. He tries to get him to talk when he finds time for it. See, this five hundred thousand, it hasn’t broken him. Not even close. But he’s not giving up on it either. It’s a matter of pride, wouldn’t you agree? Letting some thief in the night take five hundred thousand of your money right from under your nose? Would you let the thief get away with it?”
“I know what you’re implying,” said Tom, “but I haven’t stolen anyone’s money.” He shook his head. “I think I understand what happened now. You’ve kidnapped the wrong guy. Mixed me up with someone else.”
“Really,” said the lion, leaning back and putting his hands behind his head. “Cause I got a lot of guys with a lot of experience on my payroll who say otherwise.”
“Yes,” said Tom, “really. I’m desperate, but I’m not stupid. You think I’d steal from a criminal? I have a daughter to think about. I make the wrong move and she has no father anymore.”
“But if you didn’t have a daughter,” said the lion.
“Then I wouldn’t be that desperate.”
“Hmm,” said the lion. He took a deep breath and looked up at the ceiling. “Your reasoning is solid, slim.”
“It is,” said Tom, who felt he was getting somewhere, hanging onto a thread of hope that the man would see reason and release him.
“Only problem is,” continued the lion, “my people aren’t stupid. And their evidence says you’re the thief. So how do you explain that away, slim? How do you explain five hundred thousand stolen dollars and you look exactly like the man who took it from me? Humor me, slim. Rationalize it.”
Tom swallowed hard. The moment seemed to be slipping away. “You could have seen distorted features in the dark.”
“The lights were on,” the lion corrected him.
“He could have been wearing a mask.”
“He wasn’t,” said the lion, “or else I wouldn’t have been able to identify him in the first place.”
“Right,” said Tom, “of course.” He forced a nervous chuckle, searching for something. The lion’s gaze fell on him again and he swallowed, feeling suddenly very vulnerable. “He…he could have a twin. Or, or, it could be a coincidence. A look-alike.”
The lion stared at him.
“It can happen, you know. Mixups. There was a story once where-”
“Yes,” said the lion, interrupting him, “mixups can happen. But since you’re here and you’re my honored guest, slim, how about you tell me who exactly could be your twin?”
“I don’t have a twin,” said Tom. “That was a thought, I- I-” he trailed off lamely, his grasp on the conversation slipping away. The situation was slipping more out of his control every time he opened his mouth. Somewhere deep in his mind, someone was shouting at him. A drop of sweat trailed down his forehead.
“Alright,” said the lion, leaning forward, “who is this twin of yours? Nobody sweats like that because they don’t have a twin. It’s a pretty clear thing, knowing whether you have a twin.”
“He’s no one!” shouted Tom.
The room went silent, as the lion stared him down, and his own desperate response rang in his ears.
“Not all of us are proud of who we’re related to, slim,” said the lion. “There’s no need to be ashamed. All I need for you to do is point me to this twin of yours and the problem goes away.”
“I don’t know where he is,” said Tom desperately. Tears were forming in his eyes and he squeezed his eyes shut to keep them from getting out. “We’re not exactly on good terms. He… he killed my wife.” Tom couldn’t stop the tears any longer and they flowed freely, coating his dry, unshaven face.
The lion patted him on the leg and he flinched.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” said the lion. “Remember? I’m not that kind of bad guy. But I believe in fairness, slim. You see, your twin brother has now wronged us both. You, your wife. Me, my money. All I want to do is take what’s mine and if you’d like, I can make amends for all of this…” he gestured around at the room, “starting with teaching your brother a lesson in manners. What do you say, slim?”
Tom tried to focus on the conversation, as memories of his wife, Jolene, flitted through his mind. “I don’t want you to hurt him.”
The lion sighed and leaned back again, “Like I said, not that kind of bad guy. Think of it like this, slim: When you want to domesticate a cat, you take away his claws. That’s all I want to do with your brother. Make sure he doesn’t go around hurting more people, right? Does that sound like a deal to you?”
“And I can go back to my daughter and you’ll leave me alone?” asked Tom.
“If that’s your wish,” said the lion. “Or… if you’re still feeling desperate, I can send a little money your way, protected and approved by my people. Make sure your girl never starves. Consider it reparations for wasting your time and scaring your family.”
Tom licked dry lips, “You’re sure it would be untraceable?”
“Yeah,” said the lion. “An odd twin or two might throw off my people, but there aren’t any twins to throw them off in the financial world.”
“What do I say to the police?” asked Tom. “What do I say to my family?”
“You took a surprise vacation. Had a nervous breakdown. Needed a break from life. Happens to the best of us and in your situation, I’d say it’s pretty believable.”
Tom nodded and as he did, he noticed the turn of the hour. The lion got up to leave.
“My time’s up,” he said. “I’ll send in some guys to get you out of here. You’ll be back home in minutes.”
“What’s your name?” asked Tom. “In case I need to contact you.”
The lion smiled, “We don’t deal in names in my business. But I’ll tell you what they call me. They call me the lion.”