It wasn’t so much raining, as it was misting. The tiny droplets against the darkening sky created an eerie fog-effect. As I stared out the window, I thought that it looked like the kind of evening that would start off a cliched mystery or horror story.
I was really enjoying the way the light breeze and changing air currents were visible thanks to the moisture enveloping the world. For one of the few times in my memory, there was nothing running through my mind. There was no stress, just quiet enjoyment of the scene unfolding.
But that was all about to change.
Judging by the light, I’d say it was just past 6 when my generic ringtone started to emanate from the speaker on my phone. Being the generic ringtone, I was ready to ignore the call since anyone I wanted to talk to had their own ringtone; but curiosity got the better of me and I checked the screen.
I will never stop regretting that decision.
The name on the screen showed as Unknown, but the number had a 202 area code. Having worked in telecom, I knew that area code was assigned to Washington, D.C. But having worked in technical support I also knew of services like Google Voice, which allow you to pick just about any number not taken.
“Probably a bill collector or telemarketer,” I figured.
Still, as it was getting too dark outside to continue to enjoy my weather meditation, I decided to answer the phone for a little fun.
It would be the second bad decision that day.
“Yellow!” I answered.
“Do not disconnect this call. We have your cats. If you want to see them again, you will do everything exactly as we say. Do you understand?” spoke the electronically disguised voice at the other end of the line.
“Hahaha, Paul. My cats? You couldn’t do better?”
“This is not Paul. If you doubt our seriousness, just call your cats.”
“Jesus Paul, nice try. Everyone knows cats don’t come when you call them!” I laughed.
“This isn’t fucking Paul!” screamed the agitated computerized voice, “Go look for them, or open a can of fucking tuna or something! Oh wait, I have an idea…”
The phone buzzed and lit up. I took the phone away from my ear to look at the screen. I had a new picture message. It was my cats, in a cat carrier, in what I would later learn was the back of a van.
I put the phone back to my ear.
“Did you get the picture? My service is a little spotty,” said the voice.
“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my cats go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you*,” I said.
“Nice try, Liam,” replied the voice.
“Shit! You better not hurt them!” I shouted.
“Hurt cats?” the stunned voice asked, “What kind of monsters do you think we are?”
“The kind of monsters that would take someone’s cats!” I replied.
“Oh, well I guess there is that, but we’d never hurt them. We’ll just keep them for ourselves.”
“Bastards! Okay, what do you want?”
The voice instructed me to go out to the street and look for a white, windowless van. I was to enter on the passenger side and sit up front next to the driver. I was told that if I called the police or was followed, the van would drive away with my beloved cats, never to be seen again.
I did as instructed. When I entered the van, I asked to see my cats to make sure they were okay.
“Turn around,” said the impeccably well-dressed (aside from the ski mask) driver.
So I looked into the back of the van and saw my cats, doing just fine in the carrier, guarded by another very well-dressed (again, except for the ski-mask) man.
“I can’t overpower both of them,” I thought to myself.
The driver told me to buckle my seatbelt, and to try my best to enjoy the long drive.
“Where are you taking me?” I demanded.
“Washington, D.C.” replied the driver, “We have a job for you to do. If you help us, you’ll get your cats back when it’s over.”
“When the job is over, I get my cats back, and go back to my life?”
“No, the election,” laughed the suddenly familiar voice.
And that is how I came to work for Romney for America in 2016.
*This bit of dialogue is obviously not my own content, but is the speech from the Motion Picture “Taken”, except substituting the word “cats” for “daughter”, hence the “Nice try, Liam” line after, genius.