Lester David Blackburn pulled his van to the side of the bustling road in the heart of the bustling city. Wide-eyed, he gazed about at the bright colourful lights, the big billboards, the even bigger buildings, the rushing rapids of foot traffic.
He was here. He was actually here. New York City. The Big Apple.
It was just like the movies…
“The search continues today for Margaret Lindsay,” announced a faint voice from the van radio, “twenty-year-old daughter of A-list actor Chuck Lindsay.”
Lester turned up the volume, interest piqued.
“Margaret was last seen two days ago, leaving her apartment in the Upper West Side,” the voice continued, as Lester looked out his window at the ocean of people swarming about. There must’ve been a few thousand of them at least. As many as there were, he wished there were more. It didn’t really matter, though. They were but a tiny part of his audience, a drop in the bucket.
“If you have any information at all as to her whereabouts,” the voice from the radio went on, “we ask that you please call the hotline that’s been set up. You can find the number on our website. On behalf of all of us here at NYFM, I just to want to say that our hearts go out to Mr. Lindsay and his family.”
“Absolutely, Kim.” A new voice took over. “Our thoughts and prayers are with them. I can’t even imagine what they’re going through. If there’s been any silver lining in all this, it’s been incredible to see the outpouring of support for the whole Lindsay family. We haven’t seen a kidnapping sweep the nation like this since…well, since the Lindbergh baby.”
Lester’s eyes lit up at those final words. A smile touched his lips. He was ready. It was time.
He whipped out his cell — a flip phone — dialled a number, brought the phone to his ear. After a few rings, a voice on the other end of the line answered.
“Margaret Lindsay hotline — do you have something to report?”
“I got her,” said Lester, in a thick southern accent. “And ya can tell whoever’s in charge that ya’ll gonna get her back in one piece, just as long as they do what I ask. Have ‘em call me back within five minutes at this number so I can give ‘em instructions — or she’s dead.”
“Uh, can you just hold on —”
Lester hung up the phone, set a timer on his digital watch for five minutes — all the while, beaming from ear to ear. Excitement buzzed through his body like electricity. He could hardly contain himself.
“Help!” a muffled voice suddenly cried from the rear of the van, the word scarcely discernable. Metallic banging accompanied its cry. Then came another cry and more banging.
The grin ran away from Lester’s face.
Sighing, he made his way to the back of the van, where a bound and gagged twenty-year-old girl lay, weeping and writhing —Margaret Lindsay.
Delicately stilling her with his hands, Lester calmly said, “Woah — take it easy there.”
At his touch, Margaret began sobbing, her body shaking violently with each one.
“Relax,” said Lester. “It’s all gonna be over soon — I promise. Everything’s gonna be fine. Just calm down.”
But the girl continued shaking and snivelling. Looking down at her, Lester’s mouth set in a frown. Another sigh escaped his lips.
“I’m gonna take this stuff off ya, alright, but ya gotta promise you’ll keep quiet?” he said to Margaret. “And no funny business, neither.”
The girl gave a meek nod, shivering.
Gently, Lester undid the restraints binding her arms and legs, removed the gag from her mouth. Sucking in air with ragged breaths, Margaret touched and felt around her newly freed wrists and ankles.
“Please…don’t hurt me!” she begged Lester, sobbing and stuttering.
He nearly recoiled at her words. “Hurt ya? I don’t wanna hurt ya. Why would ya even say a thing like that? Ya been with me for, what — two days now? Have I hurt ya at all?”
Margaret shook her head, lips quivering.
“Exactly.” Shaking his head, Lester continued, “Honestly, I’m offended ya’d even say something like that.”
“It’s alright. Don’t worry ‘bout it.”
Lester checked his watch — the timer was down to around two and a half minutes. They’d better be calling him back real damn soon.
“Is this about money?” Margaret asked Lester, ever so tentatively, like a toe dipped in cold water to gauge the temperature. “Cause my parents have a lot. They’ll give you as much as you want.”
“This ain’t about money, darling.”
The girl’s chin sunk to her chest. “Well, maybe there’s something else I can do for you…”
Margaret started unbuttoning her shirt.
“Tsk!” Lester stopped her.
Again, at his touch, she shuddered.
“Get ya head outta the gutter,” he said, and buttoned her shirt back up.
Margaret broke down, convulsing, fresh tears streaming down her cheeks. “What do you want then? Whatever it is, I’ll give it to you — anything!”
“You’ve already given it to me, darling. Well, just about. Ya just needa relax, alright. Like I said — you’re gonna be fine. This is all gonna be over —”
Lester’s phone started ringing and vibrating. Frantically, he dug it out of his pocket, picked it up.
“Who is this?” he said.
“This is Federal Agent Jerry Dufresne,” answered a voice on the other end. “Who’s this?”
Lester could tell that he was on speakerphone from all the background noise — murmuring voices, breathing, shuffling. It made no difference to him who was listening. The more, the merrier.
“My name is Lester David Blackburn. I’m from Paducah, Kentucky. You the one in charge of this investigation, Mr. Dufresne?”
“Then you’re just the man I wanna talk to. I got some instructions for ya —”
“Hold on there a second, Lester. I understand you called the hotline for Margaret Lindsay a few minutes ago claiming to be with her — is that correct?”
“That is correct. She’s right here, safe and sound, not a mark on her. I can put her on the phone for ya if ya don’t believe me…”
“I’d appreciate that, Lester.”
Lester put his cell on speakerphone, held it out toward Margaret, signalled for her to go ahead and talk.
With a quavering voice, the girl said, “Hi, this is Margaret Lindsay…”
On the other end of the line, someone sucked in a gasping breath.
“Maggie! Oh, my baby girl!” bawled a woman’s voice.
“Mom!” cried Margaret. “Mom — is that you?”
“Yeah, baby. It’s me. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine…but I’m scared.”
“Where are you, baby? Tell us!”
“I don’t know. I’m in the back of some van —”
Lester took his cell off speakerphone, returned it to his ear.
“As promised, the girl’s alive and well. Now, take us off speaker phone, Mr. Dufresne, would ya? The two of us need to chat without distractions.”
The background noise on the other end vanished. Then the voice of Agent Dufresne returned.
“It’s just you and me, Lester. What can I do for you?”
“Camera crews. I want ones from all the big networks — Fox, CNN, ABC. And I want every police, federal, and SWAT officer in New York.”
“What is it that you want them all to do?”
“Come to me. I’m gonna turn myself in, hand myself over. No fuss, no fight. Ya’ll can just slap on them cuffs, take me away, and get Margaret here back to her family.”
“And where exactly is it that you are?”
“Times Square. I’m in a white 1999 Ford E350 van — Kentucky plates. Ya got ten minutes to get everyone here or I will kill her. I don’t wanna—but I will. Oh, and if I see anyone snooping around before the officers and the TV crews show up, anything suspicious, I’ll also kill her. Mark my words.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line. Then Agent Dufresne said: “I’ll get you what you want, Lester. I promise. But you’re going to need to give me a bit more time. Ten minutes just isn’t enough —”
Lester hung up, set another timer on his watch—this one for fifteen minutes. There was no way in hell the man could get everyone there in ten.
Immediately, Lester’s cell started ringing again. He declined the call, put the phone on mute.
On the floor of the van, Margaret sobbed and shook.
“Don’t ya worry,” Lester said to the girl. “I ain’t gonna touch a hair on your head — I promise. I just said those things so they’d take me seriously.”
“What if they don’t do what you said?” Margaret stammered.
“They will — trust me. Haven’t ya ever seen the movies?”
Margaret nodded — a shaky nod — not looking the least bit reassured. Lester sighed, frowning.
“Ya know I am sorry ya had to be the one who got caught in the middle of all this. Wasn’t my intention to cause ya or nobody else no grief. I just…”
Lester’s voice trailed off. He paused for a moment.
“Ya ever heard of Paducah, Kentucky? ‘fore I mentioned it on the phone, that is.”
Margaret gave a timid shake of her head.
“Nah, why would ya have. No one outside Kentucky has. Hell, no one outside Paducah has.”
Lester snorted, shook his head.
“Paducah’s my hometown,” he went on. “Born and raised. Lived there my whole life…wanted to get outta there my whole life. Ya know — make something of myself, become a somebody?”
Margaret nodded along. He could have told her the Earth was flat and she still would have nodded.
“I actually wanted to be a movie star — like your daddy. He’s one of my favourites. But I couldn’t act for shit. Couldn’t do much else neither. So I got me a job at the steel mill down there, like the rest of the nobodies in that Podunk town.”
His foreman was probably wondering where the hell he’d been for the past few days. He wasn’t going to have wonder much longer…
“Working the docks…it’s the kinda shit makes ya think ‘bout life. ‘bout the meaning of it all. The mark ya leave on this world. Yeah, I did me a lotta thinkin’…and I realized that nobody was gonna remember the name Lester David Blackburn after I’se dead and gone. I’d be just another name on a grave. Just another forgotten nobody. Well, now the world’s gonna remember me. Now they gonna remember the name Lester David Blackburn and they ain’t never gonna forget.”
A sudden commotion outside the van’s window caught Lester’s eye. Turning, he saw the crowd from earlier dispersing. The throng thinned out to reveal a knot of camera crews and a sea of law enforcement officers — some in tactical gear, some in their regular old navy-blues, all of them staring directly at his van. Overhead, Lester spotted hovering helicopters and what looked to be snipers on surrounding rooftops.
This was it. The moment of truth. The time had come…
Excitement coursing through him, Lester scurried to the front of the van, threw open the glove compartment. From inside, he drew a pistol. Seeing this, Margaret gasped, began sobbing and shaking anew.
“I thought you said you weren’t gonna hurt me,” she bawled, tripping over her words.
“I ain’t. Don’t worry — I promise.” Lester stuck the gun in his waistband, up against his back. “Just stay down, alright. I don’t want ya gettin’ hurt.”
Lester headed over to the rear double doors of the van, grabbed the handles. He went to pull them, stopped, turned back to Margaret.
“When they ask ‘bout me,” he said, “tell ‘em I wasn’t a bad person, woulda ya?”
Vigorously, the girl nodded. Lester smiled, then he turned back around and threw open the doors.
The officers and the TV crews sprung to action, training their guns and cameras on him. Lester gazed out over them all—slack-jawed — like a movie star on the red carpet for the first time, hounded by press and paparazzi.
A voice amplified by a megaphone boomed, “Hands on your head! Now!”
Dazed by the spectacle surrounding him, Lester was slow to oblige.
“Down on your knees!” thundered the megaphone.
Lester glanced back over his shoulder, inside the van, at Margaret. Then he hopped down out of the van, took a few steps to his right. At his movement, the megaphone roared, “Don’t move! Stay where you are!” and the guns and cameras followed him.
Lester grinned, basking in the limelight.
“Down on your knees! Now!” the megaphone again commanded. “Or we will shoot!”
Standing off to the side of the van, Lester took one final look around at the movie-worthy scene of his creation. At the flock of people, the guns, the cameras — all focused on him. Lester David Blackburn was the epicenter of attention. No one was ever going to forget this.
No one was ever going to forget him.
Beaming, swelling with pride, Lester David Blackburn reached back into his waistband and pulled out the pistol. A burst of gunfire rang out through Times Square.