just about to lift a cup of coffee to my lips when a finger
taps me on the shoulder. A sleazy-looking white woman in her
50s is standing before me. She looks like an Anne Klein senior-wear
model escaped from a methadone clinic, but incongruously has
her hair in a little girl's pigtails.
me, mister," she says. "My daddy's cell phone is broken.
Could my daddy use your cell phone? My daddy only needs
it for a minute."
that moment a man roughly the same age as this "girl" steps
forward. He is wearing an absurd, clearly fake Pinochet-style
pencil moustache, and his skin looks to be covered in shoe
polish. The polish has been applied unevenly, and his face
is dark in spots, light in others. He is wearing a cheap
morning," he says. "My name is Carlos Vasquez. This is my
daughter, Lucy. We are traveling together and we must call
Mommy at home. My phone, as you can see, is broken. We wondered
if the good señor would let us use his."
he delivered this speech in an unevenly delivered Spanish
accent, he briefly produced the "broken" cell phone from
his pants pocket, then quickly returned it before I could
get a good look.
paused. The sensible thing to do, of course, would probably
have been to get up and soak the both of these characters
with a fire extinguisher. But it was clear they had put
a lot of thought into this performance, and I was curious.
I handed over the cell phone.
señor," the man said. Then, turning his back to me,
he began dialing.
craned my head to listen. He glanced over his shoulder,
saw that I was listening, and then moved several steps away,
as if to give himself some privacy. That only prompted me
to move forward a few steps, too. He sighed and dialed.
Jennings?" he said. "This is Carlos. Yes, that Carlos. You'd
better hope there are no police on this line. Now, we want
what we want, at the drop we agreed on—and no fucking around
shook my head and raced around to face him. "Hey," I said,
grabbing for the phone. "What the—"
be sending you proof of life in the next twelve hours,"
he said, pulling away from me. "One million dollars in unsequenced
bills, you hear me? Otherwise, your little wifey is going
to take a very long nap."
me that phone," I said, grabbing his wrist.
have to go now, Mr. Jennings," he said into the receiver.
"I'll call again!"
me that!" I shouted.
off!" he said, the Spanish accent now completely gone.
struggled for a moment, and finally I pried the phone free.
As we wrestled, something fell out of his pocket right at
my feet. I looked down. It was a human finger. I picked
take that," he said, snatching it away from me and returning
it to his pocket.
kidnappers!" I said.
not exactly," he said. "We're trying to be kidnappers.
Hasn't really worked out too well."
we botched the first job," said Lucy. "We were cruising
through Georgia and we picked up this chick in a wedding
dress. Daddy says to me, 'I bet she's in a hurry. Somebody
will pay a pretty penny for that little filly.' So we pick
her up and drive her to New Mexico. Throw her in the trunk,
she's moaning the whole time. We're getting the ransom demand
ready when she gets away and makes this phone call. Next
thing you know..."
whole country knows about it," says Carlos. "Turns out this
chick was actually running away from her wedding,
not to it. Anyway, when she tells the story to the police,
they don't believe her. Which is good for us, I guess, 'cause
nobody's looking for us. Still..."
money," says Lucy. "A total fucking waste."
stare at Carlos. Something about him is familiar. "What's
with your disguise? It's pathetic. I mean, you're obviously
shrugs. "Yeah, we're still working on that," he says. He
reaches up and pulls off his moustache. "We tried a black-guy
outfit first, but I couldn't figure out how to keep the
stared. It took about 10 seconds. I pointed at him.
you're Tom Delay!" I said. "I knew your voice was familiar!"
smiled. "Nice to meet you," he said, extending his hand.
"This is my wife, Christine."
said Lucy, undoing her pigtails.
so you're Christine Delay," I said. "Haven't you
been embezzling money from your husband's campaign committee
for like four years? Didn't I read—it was $180,000 or something,
like a buck-ninety," she said. "And we're not calling it
not convicted," said Carlos.
shook my head, flabbergasted. "Okay—but what the hell are
you two doing racing around the South kidnapping people?
Are you out of your minds?"
we looked at the numbers," said Christine.
good money in kidnapping," agreed Tom.
there's no paper trail," his wife added. "If you do it right."
kneaded my forehead with both hands. "Jesus Christ, you
two," I said. "You're both crazy. And whose finger was that?
What have you done?"
that wasn't a real finger," Tom laughed.
I said. "That was totally a real human finger!"
no it wasn't," he said, looking off to the side.
me see," I said, reaching for his pocket.
he said, backing away.
off," he whispered.
we struggled, Christine suddenly jumped in and tapped Tom's
shoulder. "Honey-bumpkins," she whispered. "Four o'clock."
both whipped around. Four policemen were advancing rapidly.
Overjoyed, I reached for Tom to detain him—but he was gone,
running the other way.
never get away with this!" I shouted.
police rushed up to me, grabbing me from behind.
I said. "They went that-a-way!"
ignored me. One reached into my pocket, produced my cell
phone, checked the call register.
our guy," said the one to the others. "He's the one."
got it all wrong," I protested. Then I tried to explain
the whole thing—the Hispanic disguise, the congressional
misappropriations, the tie-in to the runaway bride story,
the upcoming ethics committee hearing, and, in sum, the
larger issue of the Republican culture of greed.
me," I said. "I'm a journalist. I know what I'm talking
about. It was Tom Delay—it all fits!"
cop was looking through my wallet. "What kind of name is
they led me away.