On the Saturday night before Christmas, after the creative writing department holiday party, I showed up for the second time at a warehouse store on the outskirts of Detroit drunk on cheap scotch and self-righteous bullshit looking to buy supplies for a kidnapping. It was ten minutes until closing time and I was telling the wide checkout girl in the wide orange apron about my fictional dog.
“Got the bladder of a senile old man,” I said.
“Poor thing,” she said.
“The plastic is for the carpet, to protect it. Not to wrap his dead body in or anything. I didn’t kill him.”
The cashier frowned and kept her eyes on me as she scanned the plastic. I looked longingly behind the cashier at the self-scan checkout already closed for the evening, wishing I could have avoided this whole person-to-person aspect completely.
“Seems like later at night like this they’d want to keep the self-scan open and close up these manned stations,” I said, trying to change the subject.
“Well, Dominick, then I wouldn’t have a job. I like my job. My daughter likes my job.”
Shit. This was how it started at the party. Simple comment, botched context, swift descent into madness.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to…wait, how do you know my name?”
I had explicitly avoided using anything that could be traced back to me and had even passed up the 5% discount I could get as a rewards member to maintain my anonymity.
She pointed to my shirt and I looked down at the name tag everyone had been forced to wear at the party.
“What kind of dog did you say you had again?”
You’d think this would have set off alarms that maybe I was in over my head, but believe it or not, this was the smart part of my plan. Half an hour earlier I almost went through the same checkout occupied by the same checkout girl with a cart full of items—plastic sheets, rope, knives, and duct tape— that might as well have been packaged as a kidnapping value pack.
I’d thought about adding more items to make it all look less nefarious, but the last of my teaching stipend had gone to cover a bad night at the casino during a failed “research trip” for a heist novel I wanted to write. There was barely enough in my bank account to cover the essentials, so I put back everything except the plastic and initiated the charming commentary on my imaginary dog’s bladder adventures.
There wasn’t another flash of common sense until I stood outside The Professor’s back door, three 24-hour store visits later, holding the plastic under my arm while trying not to drop the knife or the rope. The element of surprise I’d been hoping for quickly turned to the element of boredom when The Professor still hadn’t returned home after almost half an hour. My adrenaline was starting to wear off and the booze was starting to set in, and if I waited too much longer I was afraid I’d fall asleep.
Then I remembered why I was there in the first place, why I drank cheap scotch instead of the 20 year-old Macallan that had been making the rounds.
The Professor—Parker Farmington, Adjunct Assistant Professor, MFA East Ass End of Nowhere U—had refused to sign off on my final novel project, jeopardizing my second chance fellowship in New York City. Without the fellowship I’d have no other choice but to work the midnight shift at some godforsaken truck stop along I-75, destined to be shot to death by an angry trucker or a skittish hooker, a box full of unfinished manuscripts and second rate online publications as my final legacy.
The only other place The Professor could be was Posey Wade’s house. She and The Professor had been flirting and touching the whole time at the party. Nobody was officially supposed to know they were together, but it was common knowledge in the department. Posey was one of the better writers in the workshop and we shared a passion for Michael Chabon and The Simpsons. I’d been to her house in the student ghetto near the campus a few times and was pretty sure I could find my way back, even buzzed. It was a neighborhood where one wouldn’t particularly stick out walking down the street carrying plastic and rope.
By the time I reached Posey’s house, I’d re-run my last encounter with The Professor at the party until my rage supplanted the alcohol-induced lethargy threatening to derail my plan. It started toward the end of the party during a conversation about movies, one of Farmington’s favorite topics as well as one of my own, and I was looking for a scrap of conversation that I hoped could turn into a discussion about my novel.
But The Professor quickly spun the conversation toward a short story I wrote that included a snippet of screenplay format to show a character reliving a painful experience. I made things worse by trying to defend myself and mentioning the story had gone on to be published in a respected crime fiction journal and shortlisted for—
“Respected online crime journal,” Farmington said.
“Like a whore with morals,” a slicing blonde literature professor said.
“Or a pedophile who tithes,” a lumpy black essay lecturer said.
Farmington then took the opportunity to bring the story up on one of the library computer with a giant monitor so everyone could see it and my accompanying author photo where I was holding an old-school Nintendo video gun with the cord dangling seductively from my mouth. It wasn’t long after that someone printed the story and began an impromptu live reading that devolved into a Rocky Horror Picture Show-style assault on every piece of the story.
Then the cheap scotch.
Then the trip to the home improvement store.
Then the cashier with the apron.
Then the dog.
My plan outside of Posey’s house was slightly more developed than the previous incarnation, but it was all for naught because the first person I saw was Posey Wade sitting in a hot tub and she told me Farmington was already gone.
“Did you need to see him about something?” She asked.
“Kidnapping,” I said. “Wait, no. I mean it’s about my thesis.”
“You have plastic, and what appears to be rope.”
“Why are you in a hot tub? It’s freezing out.”
“It’s invigorating; the mix of hot and cold. Also, I think one of the girls who lives here does a nude webcam to pay her rent and we sure as hell don’t want that inside the house.”
“Right. You wrote a story about that for workshop,” I said. “It would have made a great crime story.”
“Some of the other students, not me because I like you and your writing, they call you Murder Boy because you always kill people off in your stories, even the romantic ones.”
“You like me?”
If I’d had a tail, it would have been wagging then with eager thoughts of Posey’s approval of my life choices. Maybe she’d scratch my ears, or suck my—
“Sure. You have a great voice and your characters are always a riot. Your dialogue is some of the best I’ve ever heard.”
And then I felt as deflated as the bladder of the dog I’d made up earlier. I was drunk enough where the pee I felt running down my leg could have been literal rather than metaphorical.
“Oh, you like me as a writer.”
“I mean it’s not real dialogue, like how people speak in real life, but in real life people are boring and say ‘um’ a lot.”
“Were you in the hot tub with Professor Farmington?”
“Everybody knows you two are together. You should embrace it.”
“So he’s not here, then, right?”
“No. He screwed me then left me like he always does. Just once I want to stay over at his house. It’s a nice house.”
“I just came from there,” I said, holding up the plastic and the rope. “He won’t sign my thesis.”
“Are you still drunk from the party?”
“Sort of. I think there was something wacky in the punch.”
“You don’t look good. Come sit in here with me and relax.”
“You’re going to tattle on me, on what I was planning.”
“Come here. You really look like you could use—”
“I’m just frustrated. I wasn’t really going to do anything, and even if I wanted to I can’t pull something like that off. But he’s just such a…I mean since I’ve known him he’s always—”
“Are you crying?”
“This is my future he’s screwing with.”
“I’d come out and hug you or something for comfort,” Posey said, “but I don’t have any clothes on.”
“Ew,” I said. “Why are you naked in the porn tub?”
“I, uh, I tend to throw my clothes when I’m really getting into it.”
She pointed toward various pieces of clothing spread across the yard and in the tree next to the hot tub.
“Should I take off my clothes?” I asked.
“See, that’s why I like you. That sounds like something one of your characters would say.”
I laughed and stripped down to my boxer briefs, but paused before removing them. I’ve never been a prude and have what some may determine is a socially backward lack of shame in my body, but the last thing I needed was Farmington coming back and catching me naked in the hot tub with his girlfriend. I’d be forced to defend myself naked and whether I won or lost, it wouldn’t matter; this was my life with Parker Farmington. Even if I screwed his mistress, he’d still win and I’d be screwed
“Are you sure this okay? I mean will—”
“Come on already,” she said. “The heater’s on the fritz in here and the water is starting to cool off. I could use another body.”
If I really was going to be stuck in Detroit with a dead-end job for the rest of my life, this could be the last chance a naked woman would ever invite me into her hot tub without charging me. So I stripped off the underwear, shoved any thoughts of how many amateur porn stars had preceded me in the hot tub, and climbed in next to Posey. She reached over the side of the hot tub and came up with two cans of beer.
“Now let’s keep that buzz going while you tell me about this kidnapping plan of yours.”
* * *