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    The Spotlight

                      By Mike Colucci

 

      I awoke in a daze, my head throbbing as if I had just left a dance club. I tried looking at my clock through squinted eyes, but could see nothing. I slowly opened them all the way and realized there was no light streaming through the bedroom window. The street light must be out, I thought. I reached over to wake my wife to get me some Tylenol but my hand hit something hard right next to my head. I also noticed a rumbling sound coming from below me. Through the jackhammering inside my head, I hadn't noticed the rumbling before. I frantically reached both of my hands and feet around my confines, unable to stretch out at all. I was in the trunk of a moving car.

      I tried to stay calm, but panic was rising inside my stomach and into my throat, like how I felt the day my wife went into labor with my son. What was I going to do? I thought the same thing that day as I was now. I tried listening carefully to the sounds outside the car, but nothing sounded familiar. We were just driving down a straight, paved road. Nothing that would help discern where we were or where we were going. I heard no talking coming from inside the car, just the rumble of the tires beneath me.

      Where had I been? How did I end up in the trunk of a car? Who had put me here? And, perhaps most importantly, why? I tried going back through what I had done that evening, making a mental timeline of occurrences. Sandy, my wife, had cooked dinner. We had eaten it together in the dining room, the first "date" we've had since our son, David, was born two months prior. David had gone with my parents for the night so we could get some much-needed rest. Sandy and I made love, also a first since David's birth, and Sandy had quickly fallen asleep.

      Unable to sleep, I had gone to my study to write some more of my novel. My first two had been national best-sellers. My third, though, had been stalled by a serious case of writer's block. I thought I'd had a great idea to keep it flowing, but after just a couple of pages, I was stuck again. I decided to go for a drive down to the park and walk around the boardwalk that goes along the river. It was my favorite place to be and it was here where ideas often popped into my head.

      Getting out of my car was the last thing I remembered. Someone must have hit me over the head with something after I got out of my car. I still couldn't fathom why, though. But I knew I'd find out soon enough and I feared what would transpire when the car finally stopped.

I kept feeling around with my hands, hoping to find a secret latch or lever that would open the trunk. I was willing to jump out of the speeding vehicle if I could manage to open the door. But, as expected, there was no magic lever to help me get out. So I resorted to screaming.

      "HELLO?" I bellowed. "CAN YOU HEAR ME?" The only sound that came back was the continued rumbling of the tires next to my head. My head. It was still pounding. I ran my hand over the back of my head and felt an egg-sized lump there. I winced at the pain. I wasn't sure how long I'd been unconscious. It was possible that we had been driving for hours, but unlikely.

I felt the car turn for the first time, ninety degrees to the left. A bump that sent me tumbling followed, then louder rumbling. We were on a dirt road. We were on my road. If I was correct, my house was just a mile away, at the end of the dirt road. There were only four houses on this road, with quite a distance between each. It was the perfect road on which to live for a reclusive writer like myself - no traffic and no visitors.

      The car slowed and came to a stop. My head felt like it was throbbing more, but it was probably just intensified now that there was silence again. A car door opened and closed. Footsteps approached the trunk, crunching on the gravel driveway. Car keys jangled as my captor found the key to open the trunk. Of course he wouldn't use the latch inside the car because he'd be afraid I'd jump out and run before he was able to get out.

      The key slid into the lock and the trunk opened. The first thing I saw was the barrel of a pistol pointed between my eyes, less than a foot away. A flashlight blinded me, preventing me from seeing the person on the other end. "Get out," he said in a commanding, deep voice. "If you scream, I'll shoot you in the kneecap." I obeyed, climbing out as I shielded my eyes from the flashlight with one hand. I rubbed the egg on the back of my head again. It felt like it was getting bigger already.

      "Who are you?" I asked, wincing again in pain, my words seeming louder than normal.

      "I'm a fan of your work, Mr. Pinkney, and I need you to do me a favor," he said very calmly. I could make out his silhouette and he was several inches shorter than me, but the gun made him seem like a giant. There was no way I was going to overpower him.

      "What do you need?"

      "Your cash stash. In your bedroom safe."

      "What cash? I don't keep cash in my house." I was confused. This guy knew my name and knew that I had a safe with cash in my bedroom, but how? I looked up at my Victorian house, hoping to see Sandy looking out from our bedroom window, which overlooked the driveway. I was hoping she had heard the voices and called 911, but the windows were all shut and every light was off. The moon shone right above, making it look like a haunted house.

      "Don't play games with me, Mr. Pinkney. I read The Big Gamble. I know you keep $100,000 cash in your safe." The Big Gamble was my most recent best-seller, about a man who inherits millions of dollars and always keeps $100,000 in his bedroom safe so he could host high-stakes poker games at his mansion. I, however, wasn't that stupid; I only kept about $5,000 in cash in case of an emergency.

       "Mark Simpson was a fictional character!" I scoffed.

      "I'm not an idiot, Mr. Pinkney. I know the difference between real and fiction. But I also read an interview where you said you based Mark Simpson on yourself, which tells me a man with as much money as you probably also keeps $100,000 in his bedroom safe for emergencies and whatnot. I've been casing your house for a week, unsure of how to get the money. Then I saw you on the boardwalk tonight and I knew this was my chance." The man remained dead calm, like a vulture circling over its weak prey. I was growing more and more frustrated.

      "I based his personality traits, not his actions, on myself. I am not a gambler and I keep all my money in the bank!"

      "Fine. Have it your way. I'll do this the hard way. Get back in the trunk."

      "Wha-?" But I didn't have time to fully respond, as he dropped the flashlight and pushed me back into the trunk. I again banged the back of my head as I fell in and I screamed out in pain as the door slammed, muting my scream. The man's footsteps crunched away from the car as he headed for the house. I screamed at the top of my lungs. Nothing sensible came out but I just kept screaming out of sheer panic. Sandy was asleep inside and this man was about to go in.

      I screamed until my throat went raw, all the while scratching at the inside of the trunk door and the back of the seat. I was in full-blown panic mode like I'd never been in before, and claustrophobia was starting to set in. I have no idea how long I screamed, but suddenly the trunk opened again. I had been screaming so loud that I didn't even hear the footsteps approaching.

      Again, the first things I saw were the gun and the flashlight. This time they backed away a little and I took his cue and began to climb out. The flashlight turned away from me and to my right. My wife was standing there, tears streaming down her cheeks and her hands duct-taped together at the wrists. Her eyes were wide, even more panic-stricken than I was. I started crying.

"What the heck do you want from us?" I screamed between sobs. I was desperate. No one would be able to hear me now that my wife was captured, too.

      "I want the money." He was starting to get a little agitated. I was afraid of what might happen if he became a lot agitated.

      Car lights suddenly appeared from the end of the road, and the crunching of gravel underneath the tires got louder as a vehicle approached. "Damn! Get down behind the car!" The man pointed his gun at us and waved us down.

As the car got closer, I recognized my dad's Nissan Altima. Damn. He would only be coming back if David was sick. Which meant that my infant son was with him. The situation couldn't get much worse. When the car stopped, I could hear the screaming from young David. Sandy looked at me, fear in her eyes.

      As my dad opened his door, the man with the gun raced over, his gun up, and yelled, "Get out of the car!" Now he was downright pissed. I finally got to see the face of our captor; he looked mean, like he had grown up on the streets. A thin layer of stubble covered his cheeks and chin. His hair was shaggy and greasy, like he hadn't showered in a week or more.

      My dad instinctively put his hands up, like most people would probably do if a gun was shoved in their face for the first time ever. Eyes wide, he climbed out of the Altima and looked at me, confused. I returned the look.

      "Why are you here?" The man spat at my father.

      "Who are you?" My dad was a stubborn old man. Our captor pistol-whipped him, but just hard enough to scare him. Maybe the man had a heart. Or a father of his own. My wife screamed and tried to run to my dad's side, but the man waved her back with the pistol.

      "I'll ask one more time. Why are you here?" the man asked, pausing between each of the last four words to make his point more clearly. My dad looked up through the blood pouring down his face.

      "The baby is sick. I didn't have a thermometer, so I was going to bring him back here and check his temperature." The man looked in the Altima's backseat and saw the source of the wailing.

      "Damn. This is just great, man." He paused for a minute, trying to size up the situation. "Leave the baby in the car and go up against my car. You, too, Mrs. Pinkney." He waved the pistol at her. "Mr. Pinkney, go get the money. I've disabled your phone, so you won't be able to call for help. I also know, thanks to both of your protagonists, that you do not own a cell phone. I expect you to take less than five minutes. For every minute beyond five, I shoot someone. I'll start with your father, then your wife, then your sweet little son, so I can shut him up. Now go!"

      Now I didn't have a choice. I looked at the panic-stricken faces of my father and wife, both silently pleading with me to fix this. I didn't know what to do. David continued to wail inside the car, the sound muffled by the closed doors. I started walking to the front door. Why hadn't I ever bought a cell phone? The man was right about that part, too.

      I heard the quiet voice of my wife behind me, pleading with our captor,    "Can he turn the garage spotlight on so I can see my baby and make sure he's okay?" He grunted his approval and I continued walking to the door. The man was clearly thrown off by the alterations to his plans with the addition of my father and son.

      I didn't think the garage lamp would cast enough light to reach my dad's car, but I didn't want to question it at that time. I reached the landing and opened the screen door. The man had left the door open when he took my wife outside. I flicked the inside lights on, illuminating the entryway and stairs to my bedroom, and then flipped on the garage light. I looked back out and confirmed that the light didn't reach the cars. Sandy should have known that, I thought. It seemed like a strange request, but she was in a strange situation. I figured I only had about four minutes left. I had to hurry.

      I padded up the first flight of stairs, pausing at the landing to look out the window at them in the driveway below. Sandy was looking up at me, seemingly urging me on. My dad was leaning against the car, looking at the ground and holding his head in pain. The still-unnamed captor was standing about ten feet away, gun at his side, pointing the flashlight at the two of them. I couldn't hear David anymore, but I was sure he was still wailing. He needed to get to the hospital.

      I continued up the stairs to my bedroom and turned the bedroom light on. I moved directly into the walk-in closet, where the small, portable safe sat on the floor. I hoped my emergency stash of cash would be enough to satisfy the captor. I kept the key to the safe under a loose section of carpet in the corner of the closet. I moved over to lift it up, but I had to move my spotlight out of the way. My spotlight. I hadn't thought about it for a long time. When I was a freshman in college my grandfather passed away. After a lifetime of running a theater, he left various stage parts to family members. I received the spotlight because I always enjoyed playing with it as a kid. It came in handy in college, when I lived on the fifth floor of my dormitory. At night Sandy and I would put the spotlight up in my dorm window and point it at the walkway down below. As drunk partiers would come walking by in the dark, we'd call down to get their attention. When they looked up, we'd shine the incredibly bright spotlight down in their eyes, temporarily blinding them. It was stupid, pointless entertainment for a couple of college kids. We'd laugh and laugh, then turn it off and wait to do it again to the next group of passersby.

      This was why Sandy had asked me to turn the garage spotlight on. It was why she had used the word spotlight. She didn't really want me to turn the garage light on; she just didn't want to alert the captor to her idea. By mentioning the garage light, she was telling me her plan in a subtle enough way that I should have understood but the captor wouldn't. It took me a little while, but I finally got it.

      I rushed over to the doorway and flicked the bedroom light off again, then hefted the heavy spotlight out of the closet and dragged it through our bedroom and to the window that overlooked the driveway. I carefully raised the window as quietly as I could, instantly hearing David's screaming below. The man was now complaining about how long I was taking, telling my father that I only had one more minute before he was dead. Quietly pushing in the pins on the screen, I slid it out of its sliders and set it on the floor. The man hadn't heard a thing over my son's crying, which was getting louder, if possible.

I stood over the spotlight and took a deep breath, then wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans. Gripping onto the handle on the top, I quickly lifted the spotlight up and onto the window sill. As I went to point it at the man, I heard a gun shot below. I looked down to see my dad collapse onto the dirt driveway. He had shot my dad! My wife screamed and this time ran over to her father-in-law, who lay motionless in the dirt. My heart raced; sweat poured over my face. I knew I had less than a minute before my wife got the same treatment. I pointed the spotlight right down at the man, who was standing over my dad; a sick, satisfied look on his face. My time was up. I yelled out, "HEY!"

      As soon as the man looked up at me, I turned on the bright light, shining one thousand watts of light directly into his eyes. Sandy knew what was coming and shielded her eyes with her arm. Sandy used her hands, still taped together, to scoop up the large, metal flashlight that the man had dropped and used it to smash him in the skull while he was still blinded.

      I dropped the spotlight and flew down the stairs, feeling like I wasn't hitting any of them. I hit the landing and threw the door open and looked out into the driveway. Sandy was standing over the unconscious man, still holding the flashlight over him, ready to hit again if he woke up. A wave of relief rushed through me when I saw my dad pointing the gun at the man, holding his shoulder, where he'd been shot. Blood now ran down his arm from his shoulder, joining the blood from his head. Sandy ran to me and jumped into my arms, bursting into sudden sobs. I assured her that it was over.

My dad shook his head at me and laughed. "What the hell was that?"

"Grampy's old spotlight from the theater. When Sandy mentioned the garage spotlight, she was actually trying to tell me to use the spotlight on the man." I went on to explain our prank in college.

      Dad laughed. "Couldn't you have warned me? I'll be seeing spots for days!"

      "Sorry, dad. By warning you, we would have been warning him," I said, nodding down at the man, who lay motionless on the ground. "Plus, you have more pressing matters to worry about," I said, referring to his injuries. "How'd he only get you in the shoulder? I thought you were dead!" I went over and hugged him, trying to be gentle.

      "He was a bad shot. They'll fix me up at the hospital."

      Sandy told us she was going to run down to the neighbors to call 911. I scooped David out of his seat and made sure he was okay. He stopped crying almost immediately. His head was hot, but he'd be fine for a little while until the police arrived. They showed up fifteen minutes later and immediately recognized the man on the ground. "That's Peter Crups," one of the police officers exclaimed, "He's been wanted for months for robbing about a dozen houses up and down the coast. I'm glad this one ended without any serious injury. The last guy he robbed ended up in the hospital for three weeks after Crups shot him in the stomach. Apparently the guy came home earlier than Crups had anticipated. His violent behavior was escalating. He'll be going away for a long time, thanks to you folks."

      My stomach sunk as low as it could go. We had been really lucky. "I'm never telling anyone any of my secrets through my characters," I decided out loud. "And I'm buying a cell phone and keeping my money in the bank." Sandy and my dad laughed, letting the jitters out. After a little questioning from the police officer and going over my story, I said, "I find it ironic that being in the spotlight got me into this mess, and using a spotlight got me out of it." This elicited more laughter from everyone. I was thankful for the opportunity to hear their laughter again.

 

 
 
 
 

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