Greg ordered the Shortner’s to carry their chairs along with them and move to the living room where he instructed Tiffany to unwrap the big gift box. In it were some gadgets; a laptop, a remote control and four other black identical devices that appeared to be about one square-foot each. Greg situated a cushion and sat down opposite the chairs the family brought from the dining. He had them place their seats in a row tightly next to each other. Samantha was still in his arms and appeared drowsy. Greg dragged a small glass table close to the cushion then placed the laptop on it. He ordered Tiffany to place a black device each on all the chairs, which she did.
“You can all take your seat, now!” He said as he opened the lid of his laptop, “Gently!”
They hesitated at first until he swung his pistol at them without even looking at their direction. They all heard a clicking sound as they sat on the devices placed on their chairs.
“Hold the hand of the person seated next to you!” He said as he raised his pistol. “You’re family, right?”
Jerome who was seated on the left clenched Chloe’s right hand. With her left, she held unto Tiffany’s and then Tiffany to Jacob’s.
Greg then pressed a button on his laptop and a tone beeped on the devices as red lights came on.
“Don’t panic,” he said. “Each and every one of you is sitting on a 2 pound explosive, that’s a total of about eight?!” He pointed his pistol at them. “Am I correct? If any of you make any sudden move or an attempt to get up…you’ll trigger the sensors and, well…Boom! It’ll explode. And if you scream in order to alert the neighbours, I’ll activate it here myself.” He hit the laptop with his pistol, “If you try anything stupid, remember…we-all-die. Get it?”
They all nodded.
“Mom!” Tiffany said as she began to shiver.
“Don’t you pee on my device, young lady,” Greg said. “It cost me a fortune! However, at this moment in time I’ve got nothing to lose.” He held Samantha warmly as she slept. “For me, I’m ready to go. I don’t know about you guys but from the look of things, I’d say y’all got some more church services, parties, graduations to attend and probably some weddings too!”
Chloe wept. “Please, Greg,” she said, “we welcomed you into our home! What have we done to you?”
“How old is Jacob?” Greg asked.
“They’re innocent children.” Jerome said, “Let my family go, man. Let’s settle this between us. Whatever it is, please!”
“How old is Jacob,” he said as he stood up, “Don’t make me ask again.”
“He is uh-he is only fourteen!” Chloe said as she sobbed.
“Hmm!” He responded, “And Tiffany?”
“Seventeen!” Chloe answered again.
“Well,” he remarked, “I do not intend to stay here much longer. So the duration of this…exercise will be determined by you, the parent.”
“What?” Chloe said in tears.
“Yeah!” He nodded.
Samantha yawned in her sleep as she lied on his chest.
“You two did something terribly wrong today that hurt me!” Greg said. “Something real bad…”
“Goodnight, Uncle Grey.” Samantha interjected as she yawned again.
“Goodnight, Samantha,” Greg said, “Sweet dreams!” He paused and tapped her gently. “Something happened today…” he looked up at the rest of the family, “And I witnessed it, and it hurts. It cut through me, real deep. The sooner you say what it is and admit that it was wrong, the better for us all. So, I’m giving you…” He stared at his wristwatch, “…20 minutes to think and say what it was and as soon as you say and admit to it, I’ll leave you all in peace, and walk out the door, and you will never see me again!”
“I don’t understand! “Chloe added, still soaked in tears.
“You will, Mrs Shortner,” he said, “You will.” He took a step forward, “See, if you fail to say what you did wrong today in the next twenty minutes, you’ll lose a child. And I’ll give you another twenty minutes to try and figure out what you did so you’d be able to save the life of your next child. But…”
“Wait,” Chloe interjected, “What do you mean lose a child?”
“I’ll get to pick which child is next.” He continued, “Are we clear?”
“Please, Greg,” said Jerome. “What is it? Is it money? Is it…what is it? Just say it, if it’s money we don’t keep much at home! Please, leave my family out of this! Is it some old score you’re trying to settle? Did anybody send you?”
“You have eighteen minutes left!” Greg said.
“Oh my God!” Chloe cried as she held Tiffany’s hand.
“Mommy!” Tiffany sobbed along with her mother. Jacob did not utter a word, he only stared at Greg as he held firm his sister’s hand.
“We are neighbours, Greg!” Jerome added, “what did we do wrong that you have to do this to us? Is it about the argument we had last year concerning the fence? I thought we squashed that, man? I offered to pay for it but you insisted. I would’ve paid the guy that fixed it! Please, let my family out of this! Let them go!”
“This is not about anything that happened in the past.” He said, “This is about today!”
“But we only saw…once before you arrived for dinner?” Jerome added, “In church, remember? And we greeted fine, we parted okay, right?”
“Ye-yes,” Chloe stuttered, “And-and you even said that-that you wouldn’t miss the dinner for anything? Was it something anyone said at the dining table?” She trembled.
Greg lowered his head and heaved a heavy sigh. The couple kept talking and bringing up different reasons they believed might have been behind his action but he acted cold.
“Eleven minutes!” He said as he stared at his wristwatch.
Jerome and Chloe looked at each other and wondered what he thought they might have done wrong that day. She mumbled with tears in her eyes, she was so scared her words weren’t clear.
“Are you saying something?” Greg asked.
“I don’t know what we have done to you, Greg.” She said, “This is not you! You wouldn’t harm my kids, would you? Please whatever it is, forgive us. You know that our kids were lucky to have survived a terrible accident just days back, and we invited you for dinner to celebrate their lives, and now this?”
“Come on, man!” Jerome pled.
Greg noticed that Samantha was dead asleep so he walked to the 3 seater sofa and laid her gently. He smiled then took off his jacket and covered her with it. Greg then walked back to his seat and sat down. He stared at his wristwatch once again, picked the remote control and then stood to his feet, “Four minutes left!” He said, “I gave you more than enough time, guys!” He kept the pistol on the table then walked towards Jacob.
“Jacob, no!” Chloe cried, “Please no, Greg. Please! Greg!”
“If you yell again, Chloe, I swear to God you won’t like what I’ll do next.” He said as he pressed the remote in his hand, the red light on Jacob’s device went green. Greg seized Jacob, Tiffany held him tight as they cried.
“Mommy!” Tiffany cried along, “Daddy, please no! Mommy!”
“Oh God!” Chloe said, “We’ll do anything you want, please not the children, Greg!”
“Greg, for the love of God!” Jerome sobbed, “Not my boy! Not my boy! I beg of you!”
“Alright then,” he said, “Hold firm unto your brother’s hand, let-us-all-die!” he snatched Jacob forcefully and Tiffany let go.
Jacob cried as Greg dragged him away from his family. He struggled hard but Greg was too strong for him. Greg dragged him down the basement and his parent heard him cry for help. Then Jacob went silent.
“My baby!” Chloe said as she cried and gnashed her teeth.
Greg returned to the living room with a dagger in his right hand, and blood all over his trousers and hands.
“Oh my God!” Chloe cried, “My baby! No! No!” She repetitively stamped her feet on the floor. “My baby!”
“Jacob?” Tiffany sobbed.
“What have you done?” Jerome said. “You sick bastard!”
“You devil!” Chloe yelled. “I hope you burn in hell! Coward!”
“I-told-you-not-to-yell!” Greg said. “Shh!”
Chloe held her mouth as she sobbed disconsolately.
“Now,” Greg remarked as he sat down on the cushion once again. “You’ve got twenty more minutes to save one of your daughters!” He pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face, pulled off his glasses and cleaned it with his shirt then wore it back. Greg took his time to clean the blood in his hands with the hanky. “That makes it about eighteen minutes left,” he kept the dagger on the table next to the pistol.
“You demented fool!” Jerome said, “Bastard!”
“If I were you, I’ll try and save my children, man!” He said as he sighed, “Okay, let me make it easier on you. Let me give you a clue; the clue is that I’ve already given you a clue!” He snorted.
“My baby!” Chloe couldn’t compose herself, “Oh God, my baby! I am so sorry, baby!”
“Mom, dad!” Tiffany said, “What did you do?” She turned to them on her right. Tears rolled down her cheek, “Please daddy, mommy…I don’t wanna die.””
“You sick baboon!” Jerome yelled, “Okay, I’ll confess! You want confession? I’ll confess you self-righteous prat!”
“Honey,” Chloe said as she turned to her husband, “What are you talking about?”
“I saw his car down at the grocery store this evening!” Jerome added. “That’s what this is all about, right?”
“What about it?” Chloe asked.
“Yeah, Jerome.” Greg said as he laid back on the cushion. “What about it?” He stared at his watch, “sixteen minutes left!”
“You psycho!” He said, “I am no saint! And neither are you, bastard!”
“What?” Chloe responded, “I don’t get it?”
“He must have seen me with her,” Jerome said, “And so f*****g what? Most married folks do it too, in case you don’t know you imbecile!”
“Most married folks do what, honey?” Chloe asked, “What are you talking about?”
“It’s the girl at the store, Christy!” He said. “This is about Christy, ain’t it?”
Greg did not utter a word.
“What about her?” Chloe asked.
Jerome turned to his wife and lowered his head.
“What about her, honey?” Chloe said, “What do you mean by, ‘This is about Christy?’ Who’s Christy?”
“I don’t know! I don’t know!” Jerome yelled, “I don’t know! She was all over me, she probably got my number from their record and she kept texting me and insisted that we meet, okay? I tried to fight it, honey,” he turned to Chloe, “But I was weak. I am weak and foolish, I know that! I told her I’m married, okay? She didn’t care! You know these young girls, baby…She would hold me and kiss me and we did it a couple of times at the convenience. Yes, I said it and I admit it! And I had given her money from time to time, so what? How would I know it’ll get to this? I am human, I make mistakes just like anybody else! But is it enough for this sick bastard to harm our kids?” He sobbed, “Are you dating her? Is she your girlfriend or what? What are you? Some kind of Judge from heaven? I’ll tell you what you are, you fool! You’re nothing but a sick dipstick! That’s what you are!”
Chloe and Tiffany stared at Jerome.
“What?” Chloe said, “You did it a couple of times at the convenience?” She slapped Jerome and spat on him.
“Honey, I am sorry!” Jerome said, “It was the devil! I was tempted.”
“Sorry for yourself!” She said as she spat on his face again, “You disgust me, Jerome!”
Tiffany wiped the tears from her eyes and said, “Please, Greg, can you let us go now? Daddy has confessed!”
“Greg, I admit it, man!” He added as he wept, “Please, let my family go! I beg of you!”
Chloe stared at Jerome with such deep hatred as she breathe heavily. “You had our son killed by a lunatic just because you couldn’t keep your tiny self where it belong?” She said, “And all the while I thought you were different.”
“I am sorry, honey!” He added.
“Seven minutes left!” Greg said.
“Screw me!” Greg whispered.
“Yeah, Jerome!” Chloe said, “Screw you!” She turned to Greg. “Greg, you’re a nice man. Whatever we might have done to you, please forgive us. Is it something one of us did to you or is it the entire family, huh?”
“Well,” Greg responded, “You’re asking for more clues!”
“I can’t read minds, Greg.” She said, “And neither can my…super awesome faithful beloved husband.” She stared at Jerome, “The children are innocent…They know nothing, and I know you’re a man with a good heart. Please let the kids go.”
“It’s not that easy!” Greg said, “It’s not!”
The doorbell rang. Greg reached for his pistol then tiptoed towards the door, he peeped through and sighted two police officers outside the door. He walked back and placed the tip of the gun on Jerome’s temple then deactivated the device on his chair. The police officers continued to press the doorbell.
“Tell them you’re coming.” Greg said as he moved and placed the gun on the back of Jerome’s head.
“I’m coming!” Jerome hollered as he throbbed.
“Go and do what is right,” Greg said as he pulled out a bubble gum from his pocket and handed it to him. “If you want your family to live, you’ll be wise out there.” He dragged Jerome to the door.
It’s the police,” said one of the officers. “Open up!”
Greg hid behind the door and aimed his pistol at Jerome. “Gum in mouth,” he whispered as Jerome unlocked the door.
Jerome unwrapped the bubble gum and threw it into his mouth.
“Hi, officers!” Jerome said on opening the door, “Is everything alright?”
“Mr Shortner, I presume?” Said the male Officer.
“You’ve got that right,” he answered, “How may I help you?”
“Oh, well, nothing really, JS.” Said the other female officer, “This is my new partner, David. We came to uh…check on your neighbour, you know, the I.T guy; Greg Clark?”
“Can I see some I.D, please?” Jerome said.
“Whoa! Okay then,” the female Officer responded. “Show him your Identification Card, Dave!”
The male Officer pulled out his I.D card and showed it to Jerome. “Are we good?” He asked.
“Yes, almost!” Jerome answered, “Can I see yours, please?” He turned to the female Officer.
“My I.D?” She asked.
“Yes, please!” Jerome responded. “Just being cautions; a lot of fake folks trespassing lately.” He giggled as he chewed his gum.
“Ookay!” She emphasised as she pulled out her I.D Card. “So, do you have any idea where we can find him?”
“Alright, Officer…Helen Lavenpour?” Jerome said as he gazed at her I.D Card. “Legit!” He returned it to her, “Is he in some kind of trouble?”
“Oh, no.” She responded as she stood there akimbo, “Not that nice and sexy fellow!” She smiled.
“We just wanted to see him over some personal issues and um…after knocking his door with no answer we figured we should ask the neighbours,” said Officer David, “Also my uh…partner noticed that the SUV parked in front of your yard might belong to him. Do you have any idea where we can find him?”
“Well um…” Jerome remarked as he nodded, “He normally parks here sometimes.”
“Oh, really?” Officer Helen responded.
“Yeah!” He replied.
“We tried his cell phone and it’s off!” Officer David added, “Why would he park here? He’s got like a bigger garage!” He giggled, “No offence meant!”
“None taken, officer!” Jerome said. “Actually his place was burgled some weeks ago, according to what he said and he uh…he said that he hasn’t finished paying for the car so he always parks it here whenever he’s trying to avoid girlfriend issues,” he laughed, “You know, bachelors and their problems?”
“Is that so?” The officer interjected.
“Yup,” he responded as he nodded.
“Well, sorry to disturb you, sir!” Officer David added, “Please if you don’t mind, when he comes back tell him to come down at the station; Precinct 5. Tell him it’s urgent!”
“I sure will, officer.” Jerome said. “You take care!”
“Goodnight, sir!” Said the Officers.
“Goodnight!” He responded as he locked the door.
Greg dragged Jerome back to his chair and activated the device.
“You’ve got two kids left,” he said, “And at this moment, you’ve got less than four minutes left.” He went back to his cushion and sat down looking disturbed.
“You don’t want to do this, Greg!” Chloe said, “I know you, you’re a good person. Please put a stop to this before it gets worse. I’ll do anything you want. Please, let my babies go!”
“Baby, don’t cry.” Chloe said, “God will pull us out of this, okay? Do not cry!”
“Mom, you know he’ll pick me next, right?” Tiffany said as she cried, “He wouldn’t want to harm Sam. You know that, right? Please do something, give him what he wants! Daddy, you said you’ll always be there to protect me, remember?” She wiped off the snot from her nose.
“Don’t say that, angel.” Jerome answered, “Everything will be alright, okay?”
“No, baby, don’t cry!” Chloe said, “Don’t say that about your daddy.” She wiped the tears from Tiffany’s face, “God will intervene! He always does!”
“Then where was He when Jacob got killed, mom?” Tiffany said, “Where was He when this evil man planned his wickedness?” She sobbed, “I know I’m next!”
“Time’s up, folks!” Greg said as he picked the dagger. He also picked the firearm and strapped it into the waistband of his pants. He clicked the remote and deactivated the device on Tiffany’s chair as he walked towards her. “Let’s go!”
“Mommy! Daddy!” She cried, “I don’t wanna die! Not Today, mommy! Not today, daddy! Daddy? Save me! Oh God! Mommy!!!”
“Greg, no! No! No! Greg!” Jerome pleaded, “Please no, Greg! I have confessed to what I did wrong today! You promised to leave us if I admit my wrongs!” Jerome’s eyes became swollen and red with tears. “Please not my family, they are the only thing I’ve got left in this world. Not them, please! They’ve done nothing wrong!”
Greg held Tiffany by the neck and forced her off the chair. She held the chair firmly, he pulled her by the hair and she let go. The device fell of the chair.
They all went silent as they stared at the device. Greg appeared scared too.
“If any of you scream,” Greg said as he held up the remote control, “I’ll detonate this thing right now and we’ll all blow to hell!” He put it back into his pocket and dragged Tiffany away.
“I hate you!” Tiffany yelled as she cried, “I hate all of you!” She peed in her pants. “I’ll never forgive you! I hate you all! Oh God!”
Greg grabbed her and lifted her up with one hand, he covered her mouth with the other then took her down the basement. Chloe and Jerome wept.
“Please, save my baby!” Chloe said to Jerome as she sobbed, “God, please! Where are you? Save my baby!”