Jon sang to himself as he entered his office, carrying a cup of coffee and a large bag of donuts. He just needed to get his computer and then his Friday could kick off.
Sally looked up from her computer as he passed and followed him into his office. ”Good morning, Jon. I have some phone messages for you.”
”Good morning, Sal. Can you put them on my desk? I'm kind of late to the writers' meeting.”
”Sure thing. I won’t be here when you get back. You remember I have the afternoon off, right?”
”Do you also remember that you have a lunch date at Pecoral today?” She looked him over, a little bit hesitantly. “The five star restaurant?”
Jon sighed. ”I don’t suppose wardrobe is open today?”
She shook her head. “Sorry. But, you know, you look passable. Nice even. In a casual Friday kind of way. Hey, that’s an idea. Maybe you could go to T.G.I. Friday’s instead?”
”That’s sweet of you, but there’s really no getting out of this. Stephen has been planning this for weeks. If I were to back out now…”
She gave him a look of sympathy. ”Will you get punished?”
He shook his head quickly, practically feeling the blush spread across his cheeks. “Other than having my ear talked off, no.”
He stopped in his quest for his computer to check his phone quickly. Nope, he hadn't received any new messages during his ride over here. Stephen hadn't texted him since last night, when he had demanded that Jon make sure not to smile or look him directly in the eyes at the restaurant, and would not talking to him be too much to ask? The text had soon been followed by another in which Stephen took everything back and begged to be forgiven. Jon had just sent one reply: “Goodnight, babe. See you tomorrow.”
Jon put his phone away. If Stephen kept this up it might mean he was finally getting over his anxiety about coming out.
His computer was on top of the book shelf, hidden under a pile of printouts. Jon retrieved it and carefully placed the bag of donuts on top of it before picking it up with one hand, Styrofoam cup in the other.
”Look, you’re sweet to worry about me, Sal. But you really don’t need to.”
She laughed. “Oh, this is not me worrying. This is me snooping around in search of juicy gossip.”
Jon took a sip of his coffee. The caffeine was already calming his morning nerves. Today was going to be a good day.
”Well, you won’t be getting any from me. Just put whatever you want me to read on my desk and I’ll check it over when I get back. I’ll be in the orgy room if you need me.”
“And Sally?” He fired off what his acting coach had once told him was his most sincere smile. “Thanks for worrying about me.”
Jessica waved her hand in the air.
The writers had all filed out one after the other, to do their last few hours of preparation before the weekend. He had asked Jessica and Sam to stay behind so he could talk to them about what would be expected of them on Monday.
”Please don’t take this the wrong way, boss, but… why am I here exactly? I’m not a writer, I’m fantastic at memorizing my lines and what you’ve pitched today will probably go out the window on Monday.”
Jon nodded. “True.”
”So why couldn’t I just have come in on Monday?”
”You get paid for a full week’s work.”
”I know! I’m not complaining. I’m just wondering what exactly I’m contributing with.”
”I think it’s a good exercise. Since the two of you are scheduled for Monday it’s important that you familiarize yourself with the material.” Jon squirmed slightly in his seat. He didn’t like the way Jessica was looking at him. College-aged people may be his core demographic but that didn’t mean they couldn’t make him uncomfortable sometimes. “Even if the material may change.”
He gave Sam a meaningful look.
She sat up straight and turned to Jessica. “Jon is right. It’s true that I’d rather be at home watching the new coat of paint in the nursery dry, but I recognize the importance of spending several hours listening to the writers dithering through their brainstorming sessions.”
Jon gave her the evil eye. “Thanks a lot, Sam.”
“You’re welcome. Now, if I’m not mistaken, you have an important date in about twenty minutes, so let’s let this little girl off the hook so she can stop creeping me out with that vacant stare of hers.”
Jon checked his watch. Sure enough, it was already noon.
Jessica pouted. “I do not have a vacant stare. That comment was ageist.”
Sam pinched Jessica’s cheek. “You so do, sweetheart.”
Jon took out his phone and dialed Stephen’s number. By all calculations, Stephen would already be on his way to pick him up. Jon glanced down on his chest and sighed. Why had he not remembered to put on anything else but a grey T-shirt? He had a blazer in his office. With a little luck that would be enough for whatever dress code this particular restaurant had.
Stephen was not picking up. Jon put the phone back in his pocket.
”Okay, let’s call it a day for now. But be here at eight a.m. sharp on Monday.”
Jessica nodded fervently. “Absolutely. I won’t forget it. Do you need a ride?”
Jon shook his head. “Thanks, but Stephen promised he would have his driver would pick me up.”
She blinked. “Your date’s name is Stephen?”
”Uh, my boyfriend's name is Stephen.” Jon felt his heart race a little. Sure, Jessica was young enough to be open-minded about these sorts of things but you never knew. “Is that going to be a problem?”
”No, no, no. Hell no! I’m cool with that. It’s just, I was thinking, that’s such a common name. I mean, there must be hundreds of thousands of gay or bisexual men named Stephen who live in New York and have a personal chauffeur.”
Sam put her hand on Jessica’s shoulder. It looked almost maternal. “It’s the one you’re thinking of, sweetie.”
Jessica’s mouth fell open but she quickly composed herself. “Oh.” She had a distinct look of disappointment on her face.
Jon’s mind raced with possible things to say ranging from “Hey, he’s not so bad once you get to know him” to “The heart wants what it wants” when Sam suddenly pointed in the direction of the hallway.
”Is that the fire alarm?”
Jon cocked his head, and sure, he could hear the shrill sound of the alarm.
Before either of them had a chance to react, the door flung open to reveal Rick who looked as worried as he probably was physically capable of looking. “Guys, we need to evacuate. Come on.”
Jon folded his computer and pulled out the plug. “Is there a fire?”
Sam and Jessica quickly gathered their things and were out through the door before he had even gotten up from his seat. He followed his chief of security out into the corridor. “Where is the fire?”
“There’s no fire.” Rick lowered his voice so that the two women in front of them couldn’t hear him. “There is a suspicious package in the mail room. It's probably nothing, but we need to check it out. I'm calling in the bomb squad as soon as I have word that everyone is clear of the building.”
Jon’s first thought was the blazer and how upset Stephen would be if he showed up without it.
His second… “The dogs! What about the dogs?”
”We're short on staff today, both human and canine. Evacuation shouldn't be a problem.”
Jon felt slightly calmer. “What do you mean with a suspicious package?”
“The scanners picked up that it contains some kind of electronic equipment. It's most likely a cell phone but we can't be sure it's not rigged to explosives. And considering it just turned itself on, and that it's addressed to you personally and doesn't have a return address, well, we can't be too sure.”
”What do you mean it just turned itself on?”
Rick shrugged. “It started ringing. Well, ringing isn't accurate. It started playing a ringtone.”
Jon reached for his phone and there, on the screen, the little green receiver was still blinking.
He grabbed Rick’s arm and stopped him in his tracks, which was no small feat. “Which ringtone?”
The package was a brown padded envelope, the kind that he had sent audition tapes in when he was still trying to be an actor. That was way back in the 90’s of course. These days the audition tape had probably been replaced by a USB-stick.
Jon had dialed Stephen’s number several times to make sure that the opening chorus of ‘Some Nights’ started and stopped playing in correlation to his phone calls. The package absolutely contained Stephen’s phone. That didn’t mean it didn’t contain anything else also.
Jon carefully picked it up. It weighed about as much as he could imagine an envelope containing an iPhone would weigh. He ran his fingers over it; trying to trace the contours of the phone, but the padding made it impossible.
The smart thing to do was to call the police and let their technicians examine it.
It was the most reasonable course of action.
He tore the package open.
The phone fell out into his hand, seemingly unaltered. He checked the rest of the envelope. It was empty.
”There's no bomb! You can come back in.”
The door opened and Sam and Jessica walked in. Jessica looked from the package on the sorting table to Jon’s face to the package again. “Jesus Christ, did you open it? Don’t you remember the UNA bomber? You could have been killed!”
“Well, I wasn’t.”
He looked to Sam. “Did you call?”
She nodded. “There was no reply at his home and the assistant producer I talked to said they haven’t seen or heard from him today, but that it’s not unusual for him to skip the Friday meeting without forewarning, so she wasn’t worried.”
”Thanks.” Jon ran his thumb over the phone’s glassy surface. He pressed the button, making the screen light up. The wallpaper was the same as the last time he saw it. He checked the applications to see what had last been added; an app that tracked the movements of brown bears in the national parks. Yeah, that’s something Stephen would download.
”You should check the call log. He might have gotten a call from an unknown number or dialed one.”
“I was just about to do that.” Jon quickly found the right icon and selected it. The top five entries were calls from his number. The ones below were all numbers he didn’t recognize.
He scrolled down to see if any of Stephen’s contacts had called but all he could see was numbers. That was odd. It wouldn’t be strange if Stephen hadn’t bothered to put him in as a contact considering he called him enough to have his number memorized, but the others?
Jon opened the list of contacts. It was empty except for one entry - guiltyascharged – which had been added… at three a.m. this morning. Jon’s pulse quickened. He dialed.
There was a click at the other end and a male voice answered.
”Who is this?”
”I’m really sorry to bother you, but this is my friend’s phone, and…”
He could almost hear the grin on the other man’s face. “Took you long enough, Jon.”
”Do I know you?”
”Is ‘friend’ the euphemism you’re using these days, Jon? I thought New York was a thoroughly liberal place. Or maybe that’s how you see him and you’ve just strung him along all this time.”
The tone of the other guy’s voice was taunting. Jon squeezed the phone harder. “Where is Stephen?”
”He is with me. Now, this is what I want you to do. You come to the co-ordinates I’ve given you, alone and un-armed. Don’t bother wearing a bug or tracer because I have the equipment to detect it. If you notify the authorities I will know and I’ll make sure your… friend is taken care of before you take a single step outside that door.”
Jon’s head was swimming with panicked and conflicting thoughts. “What co-ordinates? You haven’t given me any.”
”Oh Jon, you really need to pay more attention to your employees. Then again, that’s not something you’re known for, is it?”
”If you hurt Stephen... I swear I-“
”Pfft! I wouldn’t hurt him. I’d just be changing his mind about a few things. Carrie Heron was a brilliant scientist, Jon. Traitorous, but brilliant. You know, you really should be happy about this. After all, you’re the one who has a problem with conservative pundits.”
Something inside Jon clicked and fell into place.
”What are you going to do with him?”
”Nothing if you follow my terms. I’ve said all you need to know. You have two hours.”
There was a click and the line went dead.
He stood frozen for a few moments. Sam was suddenly in front of him, giving his arm a firm squeeze. “Jon, what is it? Who was that?”
Jon was still clutching the phone in a death grip. It took a few seconds for him to find his voice.
”Stephen has been kidnapped by Steven Crowder, who is threatening to Counter-Thought him if I don’t meet his demands.”
”Who are you? On second thought, I don't really give a damn about who you are. I demand that you let me go at once!”
The young man who had just entered whistled and leaned back against the table. He was fairly attractive now that Stephen could finally get a good look at him; in a boyish sort of way.
”So impolite, Mr. Colbert. And here I thought you and I were on the same side. At least,” he made a show of looking at his dozen a dime watch. “For another hour or so.”
Stephen struggled against his restraints. “What are you going to do with me?”
His captor took out his phone and started fiddling with it.
”It’s funny you should ask that, because oh boy, do I like the answer! It’s quite simple actually. I'm going to change everything about who you are.”
Stephen didn’t have the faintest clue what the manboy was talking about, but whatever it was, it didn’t sound pleasant. Still, he knew better than to show fear. You mustn’t show weakness in the face of terrorism. He was pretty sure that it counted as terrorism to be kidnapped by a handsome young man without having negotiated it first.
”Why? What do you have against me?”
The handsome young kidnapper looked surprised. After a few seconds he started laughing. ”You? My dear moderately successful namesake, this has nothing to do with you.”