“What do you mean you lost it?!” Ian Oliver looked like a madman, his clothes hanging loose off his body, worn and patched. His dark shaggy hair, which had grown long enough to cover his ears, stood on end in tufts as he ran his fingers frantically through it over and over again.
“I mean I lost it. I left it locked up in my hotel room, left to get a coffee, came back, and it was gone,” Andrews replied calmly, lounging carelessly against the alley wall. He pulled a cigar out of his silver suit pocket, stuck it in his mouth, and lit it, inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly, the cloud of smoke just visible in the flickering light of the solitary lamp post at the mouth of the alley. “It’s over. Sorry.” His apathetic tone contradicted the apology. Oliver turned on him, enraged.
“Do you remember what’s at stake here?!” But before Oliver could take a swing at Andrews, headlights illuminated the two men, throwing their shadows in sharp lines on the brick wall behind them. When Oliver turned to squint at the approaching vehicle, shielding his eyes with his hand from the blinding yellow light, Andrews scrambled away, sprinting the length of the alleyway into the darkness, his suit coat flapping ridiculously behind him.
Oliver watched him go, a stream of curses issuing from under his breath. He should have known better than to trust a man like Andrews with the money, but all he could think about was his little girl, how terrified she must be, how desperately afraid he was for her. He had no clue how to obtain the kind of cash being demanded. When he’d heard about a man named Andrews who could make money like magic for a small price, it had seemed to be his only option. Andrews had promised Oliver that he could double the amount that was being asked as ransom so long as he could keep the profit. Oliver thought again of his little girl, big blue eyes even bigger with fright, alone in the dark somewhere, and could only agree to accept Andrews’s help. But now the money was gone and Oliver doubted that Andrews had ever planned on sharing it. Oliver had failed, and now he was left standing penniless in the alley, watching the car come steadily closer.
The vehicle, dark colored and neglected, stopped with a whine in front of him. The driver’s door opened to allow the tall man with the deep voice to join Oliver in the dark.
“Do you have the money?”
Oliver swallowed, wet his lips. “One more week,” he pleaded hoarsely. “Please. Then I’ll have it. I promise. Please.”
The headlights gleamed off the man’s teeth, bared in a grim smile. His voice was a deadly whisper. “How does it feel, Oliver, to be at someone else’s mercy? How does it feel to have someone your child?” He was shouting now. “I had a child once too, but you…you…” Rage and bitter sorrow tangled his words together until no more could come.
Oliver shook his head, eyes wide and desperate. The hazy, drunken memory of that night played in his head: the tinkle of glass on pavement, red and blue lights flashing in the dark, a dull, burning ache across his chest and face where the air bag had punched him, an anguished wail echoing through the shattered darkness. “It was an accident, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…” His voice broke.
But the fight suddenly left the other man’s body and he shook his head, already getting back into the car he hadn’t bothered to turn off.
“A deadline’s a deadline, and your daughter will pay for your failure.” The car door snapped shut with a click behind him and the engine revved as the car began to pull away.
“No,” Oliver whispered, horrified. “No, no, no, no, no.” His voice grew stronger with each pained word and he started running after the car, as if he could catch it, as if he could change the other man’s mind, as if throwing his body under the tires might bring back the little life that had been sacrificed to his own vehicle. But the car turned the corner and the alley fell back into darkness and Oliver was left alone, without a dollar, without a dime, without a daughter.