© 2010. J. Chad Barrett, Sr. All Rights Reserved.
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All was still. Calm and silent. He smiled. Then his eyes fluttered a bit, and he shook his head.
An hour later the rain was coming down hard as he pulled into the only parking place in front of The Cellular Superstore. Life couldn’t have gotten worse for John Whitley. His wife wasn’t speaking to him after their last fight, and now his cell phone had been dropped into a puddle in the rainy weather.
“One hundred fifty dollars?” John asked the young lady behind the counter. “I’m sorry. I can’t afford that. You got anything cheaper?”
“Well, we have this one. It’s used, but it works well,” said the clerk. “Only $49.99.”
“OK. I’ll take it.”
Later that evening, John parked his car and placed a call on his “new” phone.
“Katherine, it’s me. Please call me back. This is ridiculous. I’m sorry for what I said. Call me back, and I’ll make it up to you. I promise. Cross my heart, hope to die. I promise. Come on, call me back, Babe. Let’s put this behind us.”
John ended the call. Then he began browsing around, trying to figure out his cell phone since it didn’t come with an owner’s manual. There were no pictures, but he found a series of texts. Apparently, the phone’s previous owner had recently been fired from his job, and he wasn’t very fond of his phone either.
One text read: No, don’t like it. LG. Gonna take it back. Some1 else can have it. Whoever u r, if ur reading this: the phone sux. Enjoy.
About an hour later, John was devouring a plateful at a Chinese buffet. Suddenly, his phone vibrated. He pulled it out of his pocket and noticed a text received. “Please be you, Katherine,” he said as he opened the text.
Don’t ever call me again.
It was Katherine. John slammed the phone on the table, attracting the attention of the nearby customers. He nervously ran his fingers through his hair. How did his marriage come to this?
Then his phone buzzed again, and he quickly picked it up. But this time it wasn’t Katherine.
Enjoying ur new phone? Told ya it sucked. By the way, watch ur back. Someone’s following u.
The number from the text was blocked. John texted back to see who it was, but there was no reply. He fluffed it off. Surely it was just a prank from one of his friends at work.
The next morning John opened the door of the local Starbuck’s and walked in. He was third in line, and he hated waiting. He thought about trying to call Katherine, but he figured it would be no use. After all, he was planning to drive there after work anyway.
Just then his phone vibrated in his pocket. It was another text—the third one this morning—but this time chills ran up his spine as he read it.
Someone’s following u. I think they want to kill u. Watch out.
Who is this? Tell me now! John replied.
“Sir, what can I get you?” asked the barista behind the counter.
John looked up at the barista, and then he turned to look behind him. There was a man waiting and a woman behind the man. John viewed the small crowd seated in the coffee shop, and his attention was drawn to a man sitting in the corner. He was wearing a black jacket and white pants, and he was staring directly at him.
Ignoring the barista behind the counter, John fled the coffee shop. He got into his car and started it up when he noticed the man in the black jacket walk out. Then another man joined him, and the two started running after John. John threw the car into reverse and punched it. The screeching sound of the tires drew the attention of bystanders and pedestrians. Then he slammed on the brakes, shifted into drive, and punched it again.
A few minutes later another text came in: I can’t tell u who I am. U might know me. Ur wife knows me. Very attractive. Shame she hates u.
John tried calling Katherine, but, as usual, she didn’t answer. He left a dreadful message, “Honey, please call me back! Something awful is happening to me, and I’m afraid! You might be in danger, too. Call me back!” Then he drove to his cell provider’s store, AirOne Cellular.
He burst through the door and ran up to the counter. Out of breath, John said, “I wanna change my number.”
“Okay, sure. Just give me your current number,” said the clerk, who was a little taken off guard at the demeanor of her new customer.
Two days went by. Finally, two days of peace. John was returning home from work. He had noticed that Katherine also changed her number. It angered him that he had no way of contacting her, but he was glad he had left a voicemail with his new number before she changed it. And he was really struggling with the fact that she had moved out of the apartment.
Just as he thought how glad he was that the texting had stopped, his phone signaled one received: So u thot u could get rid of me? Never. Just for that I’m gonna kill u and ur wife. I’m watching u.
John pulled over and texted back: I’m going to the police.
Then ur wife will die today.
Wait! Please, no! I won’t! replied John, but there was no answer.
It was midnight, but John was wide awake. He went through the corridors of his mind trying to figure out who could be threatening him—who would be able to get his new number. He thought of co-workers, past enemies, and even Katherine. No. It couldn’t be Katherine. Could it? Then he thought he might be going crazy. Could this really be happening?
So there John lay with his hands behind his head. His eyes were wide with fear, doubt, and anxiety. And then he thought of a plan.
The next morning, he sat next to a friend of a friend—a computer hacker who had the reputation of being able to break into almost any website, through almost any firewall, and was arrested twice for it. John gave him his cell, and the hacker got to work. Fingering the keyboard as fast as lightning, he brought up page after page—typing code after code. Finally, he broke through the system and was able to retrieve an address.
1610 South Freeway. Apartment #12. Cincinnati, OH.
John knew that if he called the police, his Katherine would be gone forever. So later that night, he paid the hacker to make a call to 911 saying that a burglary was in progress at the address.
At a distance, John watched from inside his car. The police arrived at 9:35 p.m., and in minutes they were walking out of the apartment calmly and with no one apprehended. John got out of his car and approached one of the officers.
“Excuse me, sir. What happened here?” he asked.
“Oh, must’ve been a prank call,” replied the officer. “Someone said they saw a break-in, but no one was there.”
“Really? No one? I mean, that’s good!” John said.
“No. Not a soul. In fact, the apartment is totally empty. The landlord said it has been empty for six months,” replied the officer.
To say John was frustrated would be an understatement. He got back into his car and watched as the police drove away. Suddenly, his phone vibrated, and he read the text: Now that they are gone, come on inside.
“No way,” he said aloud, pounding on the steering wheel. “There’s no way I’m going in there!” For a split second, he thought about calling 911, but quickly rejected the idea. After a few minutes of arguing with himself, he leaned over, opened the glove compartment, and pulled out a .38 revolver. He would do anything for Katherine, no matter how she treated him.
John walked up to the apartment door and turned the knob. It was unlocked. He looked around to see if anyone was watching. No one. And he walked in.
“OK. I’m here!” John yelled. He was tired of the secretiveness of this whole ordeal. He was ready to face his unknown enemy, even if it meant he had to use his gun.
His phone buzzed.
“Why don’t you just come out and talk to me? Huh?” John said.
He read the text: Master bedroom. Closet. Secret door.
With his gun in hand, John forced his right foot forward to take a step toward the master bedroom. The electricity was off, so he had to feel his way in the dark. He held up his cell phone to use as a flashlight. Then he found the closet door.
John stood there for over a minute, trying to move his hand to open the closet door. His phone buzzed again: Are u coming in, or not? We’re waiting.
He took a deep breath. Exhaled. Another breath, and he opened the door. The closet was completely empty. Nothing in sight—not even a clothes hanger. “What do I do?” he whispered to himself. He looked at his phone, expecting more instruction via another text.
Sure enough, he received one: Turn to ur right. Find small finger hole. Pull door open.
His eyes fluttered. Nervousness was overtaking him. He shook his head and pointed his gun directly at the hidden door. It creaked as he pulled it open.
Then his eyes widened! The small doorway opened to a large room. There was a huge desk with lots of computer equipment, and all of it was running. He walked slowly toward the three monitors on the desk. Suddenly, John gasped in horror.
“No!” he screamed. “No! No! No!”
In the middle monitor, John saw a live feed of his wife tied up and gagged. He fell back 3 steps; his nerves were completely shot! Eyes fluttering and head shaking, he noticed his phone buzzing. He read the text: What would you do to save her?
“Let her go! Please! I’ll do anything! Just let her go!”
That’s not what I asked, replied the text.
John moved closer to the monitor, his breathing very heavy. It was a clear and close view of Katherine. “Katherine, Baby, can you hear me?” She didn’t respond. “Please, whoever you are, just let her go. Tell me what you want me to do, and I’ll do it. Just don’t hurt her—please!”
I asked you a simple question.
“You’re crazy, man! I’m gonna kill you! I promise—I’m gonna kill you!” John yelled, trying to catch his breath.
The question, John. Just answer the question. What would u do to save ur wife, John?
John leaned on the desk with his head down, trying to catch his breath. Then with sudden calmness in his voice, John answered the question, “I would give my life for her.” He waited for the next reply. He waited 2 minutes. 3 minutes. 5 minutes.
Finally, a reply came: Well, John. U have a gun in ur hand. R u gonna use it, or what?
John was sweating profusely. No matter how Katherine had been treating him, he still loved her very much. He would chase her to the ends of the earth if he knew there was a chance to reconcile.
“Katherine, if you can hear me, know that I would do anything for you. I—I love you very much.”
He looked at the gun in his hand. Then he looked at his bride tied up in the chair. He fell to his knees and cried.
“Why are you doing this to us? Why?”
There was no response. John slowly moved the gun closer to his head. Then he put it back down.
“How do I know you’ll keep your word?” he asked.