“What do you mean, you’re letting me go?” Rory strained to see in the darkened cellar. The man in the hood had his back to the single, low-hanging light bulb. “Have they sent the money?”
The silhouetted man shook his head: no.
“Then you’ve come to some other kind of arrangement? You’re going to pick up the money when you drop me off. I’ve seen how they do it in the films.”
A gloved hand rose to the hooded head. “I don’t know how to tell you this, Ror’ but well, see for yourself.”
He held a piece of paper for Rory to read.
“You’re standing in the light.”
The man stepped aside. Rory skimmed the words.
“Is this a joke? Is this some kind of tactic to break my spirit?”
The man pocketed the letter. “It’s authentic. Truth is, Rory old son, nobody wants to pay the ransom. Not your family, not your employer, nobody.”
Rory mulled this over. “Oh.”
“So, we’re letting you go.”
“Is that a euphemism? Does it mean you’re going to kill me? Make me sleep with the fishes?”
“It means what it says. We’re letting you go. You’ll be driven out into the countryside – blindfolded, of course – and then we’ll drop you off. We’ll even give you money for a taxi.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The thing is, Ror’, we’ve had enough. We’ve treated you humanely, kept you fed and watered. We’ve even let you win at cards.”
“But – but – what did I do wrong?”
“Nothing! Don’t think that – well, actually, you are a bit boring.”
“All those pointless anecdotes, none of them amusing in the slightest.”
“Well, that’s your fault!” Rory protested. “You should have gagged me.”
“You say that now. Look, it’s for the best. This is where we part company.”
“But it’s been three months!”
“Three long months…”
“Oh, please! Untie me so I can beg properly. Don’t send me away! You can see in that letter that nobody wants me around. Nobody misses me. Let me stay here with you. I could join the gang – it is a gang, isn’t it? I could help you with the next kidnapping.”
The hooded man shook his head. “That’s not possible. I’m sorry.”
“But – but – but why?” Rory’s lip trembled and tears spilled from his eyes.
“We’ve just got our eyes on someone better.”
“Oh, I see,” Rory nodded. “Not good enough for you, am I?”
“Don’t be like this, Rory. It’s not personal.”
“Well, it feels personal to me!”
“Oh, Christ. You’re too sensitive, that’s your trouble.”
The man pulled Rory to his feet and bundled him up the stairs. Another man in a balaclava was waiting with car keys at the ready.
“All right, Rory!” he said.
“No!” Rory pouted. “I am not all right! I thought you guys were my friends.”
The hooded man made a helpless gesture. The man in the balaclava took Rory’s arm. “Come on, mate; let’s be off. We don’t want any fuss. I’ve cleaned out the boot; you’ll be quite cosy in there.”
“You’re too kind!”
“Do you know, if you weren’t so bloody sarcastic, people might like you better.”
They took Rory out to the car and folded him into the boot.
“Is he going to be all right, do you think?” Balaclava asked Hood.
“I’m past caring,” sighed the hooded man. “Give me the keys. And next time, I’m picking the victim.”