“Do you want a drink?” Maxine cheerily asked me as I took my seat across the restaurant table from her. Quietly I nodded my head. She gave me a smile as she walked to the other end of the room where the bar was.
I took deep breaths, trying to calm my anxiety. I wish I wasn’t the one who has to tell her. The one who has to break the news.
I rubbed my sweaty palms on the thigh of my jeans. I could feel my heartbeat, its tough rhythmic pattern. It felt too strong. My rib cage, too weak. I closed my eyes to focus on my breathing.
“Here.” A voice interrupted my concentration. It was Maxine. “I wasn’t sure what you wanted, so I asked for a Coke.” She said as she set the glass in front of me and returned to her seat. “Hope that’s okay!”
I gave her a weak smile as I sipped from the bobbing straw. She sat with one elbow on the table, her chin resting in her hand. “So, you said you needed to talk to me about something?”
My body froze, causing me to choke on the bit of drink I was trying to swallow. She looked at me with a worried expression as I lightly coughed and sputtered, but I gestured to assure her I was okay – although I definitely didn’t feel okay.
“Yeah, uh . . .” I nervously began to say after clearing my throat of whatever carbonation was left to burn it. “Well, this is kind of hard to say . . .” With wide intent eyes she looked at me, silently begging the words to leave my mouth; patiently waiting for the tension to break. I took a deep breath. “I got a call. It was from someone who wasn’t in my contacts, and when I talked to them they didn’t say their name. Even the voice was unrecognizable . . . they told me they know about the money I have. They know how much of it and they want some. They said if I didn’t pay them the price they were asking for, they would hurt something of a friends. I thought they were bluffing, and I hung up.
“That was a couple weeks ago. Since then, strange things have been happening with my friends. Little things of theirs would go missing. Like, a favorite book, their phone, their TV, a photo album full of memories. Each thing was different, and it was either something they deeply cherished or, if they seemed to not have something with a deep emotional connection, something valuable would be stolen. But, these things were returned somewhere between a few hours to a day later. Without a trace of anyone being there. I don’t know why they return the things, I think it may be that there wasn’t a significant enough emotional connection.”
She stared at me, seemingly at a loss of words. “Why are you telling me this?”
“All of my friends have been affected. All but you. I wanted to ask you if you’ve lost anything recently.”
She furrowed her brow, “No . . . I haven’t.”
“Okay, that’s good.” I felt my heartbeat slow to its normal pace. “Maybe it’s over.”
She gently nodded. “Well, since we’re here do you want to get something to eat? I haven’t eaten in a few hours.” I motioned to a waitress after agreeing that that would be a good idea. The waitress wandered over to our table and began taking our orders – but was interrupted by a phone call.
“Hello?” Maxine answered. I could quietly hear the voice on the other end of the call. It was Sandra, the girl who walked Maxine’s dog. She sounded frantic as she explained something about Maxine’s dog, Rae. The words were pouring out of her mouth. I watched as Maxine’s calm expression contorted into one full of worry. Hurriedly she hung up the phone and scooted out of our booth.
“Is everything okay?” I asked as she excused herself past the waitress.
“No, Rae is gone.” She huffed as she rushed out of the restaurant.
I felt my stomach crumple into a ball. What if this, the taking of Rae, is the last warning?