The room was completely dark and he was terrified. And alone―though there were others in the room with him. The man and the woman were whispering in the blackness. The deep male voice said not to worry, they'd get out of this, as long as neither of them panicked. The female voice wasn't so sure. The deep voice said the people who kidnapped them must want something, which meant they needed them alive. "They need you alive, maybe," the higher voice cried, "not me―why did they take me?" The woman's voice broke into a sob. Neither of them had said a word to him. Fear and utter darkness isolated him from them. But he shared the woman's question: Why did they take me?

Those two had been together; he wasn't with them. They looked like lawyers or something; he looked like what he was: a homeless bum. He just happened to be standing there when it happened. Again he saw the long, black limo pull up to the curb, the door flying open, and the men in suits grabbing the man and woman. He froze. It all happened so fast there was nothing he could do―except watch. But then they saw that he saw. He heard "Grab him too," but couldn't move, then they had him in the limo too and it was moving again. The man tried to protest, he seemed to be some kind of executive or rich guy who's used to being in charge. But all the suits said was, "Daddy wants to see you."

Now the female voice was crying openly. The man's voice said, "We'll get out of this, it'll be OK," then, a moment later, with less patience, "we just need to be calm and think." Another sob. "Or at least shut up and let me think," the deep voice growled.

"No!" the high voice shouted back, "I'll cry if I want! This is a horrible, insane situation and I shouldn't even be here. Whoever Daddy is, I'm sure he doesn't want to see me. This isn't my fault and I shouldn't be here!"

The shock of the light coming on was enough, but at the same moment the door squealed open. The suits entered and the door slammed. The man and the woman were frozen where they stood. And with them, from his place on the floor in the corner, with his knees pulled up under his chin, he stared at their captors in terror.
Both of the black-suited men were very large, muscled, and handsome, but one had thick curly hair and long sideburns. The other was completely bald. Each had an ear plug in one ear, with a wire running down into their collar. The hairless one pointed at the executive, commanding him to "Stand here," and indicating a spot on the floor directly in front of a video camera in the upper corner of the room. The executive hesitated, but obeyed. Then the bald man spoke.

"You've had quite a successful life, Walter. A comfortable life. But you haven't made Daddy very happy. You've made a lot of money at Daddy's expense, haven't you?"

"What do you mean? I have no idea what you're talking about." But the rich man was sweating through his expensive jacket.

"Yes you do, Walter. You know exactly what we mean. And now it's time to pay. So, how much do you think your life is worth?" The man with the curly hair pulled out a heavy, black pistol.

"Ransom? Is that what this is about?" The executive almost looked relieved. Then he started talking about money and seemed to relax, like he was back in his natural environment. But Daddy wasn't satisfied with a million. Or two million. Even when the executive worked his way up to 7.7 million, it wasn't enough, though the man swore to God it was all he had.

"You think that's all you're worth, Walter?" said the hairless man. "Daddy thinks you're worth a lot more." The man with curly hair raised the pistol and aimed.

"I'd have more but a lot is tied up in my charity. I could turn that over to you―it'll do wonders for your public image. Or you could take control of my whole company!" The rich man was starting to sound frantic.

"Your company, Walter?"

"All my companies! And I have influence, I have friends in high places who can make things happen for you. Isn't that worth something?"

The bald man shook his head. "Not to Daddy."

"I can work for him! I'm good at what I do―and I've got the money and power to get things done." The executive implored the camera now. "I'll work for you for the rest of my life!"

"Your life is over, Walter." Then a shot. The curly-haired man had finally spoken.

The rich man's body was dragged out, and the two men returned. Then the bald man pointed at the woman. As she stepped in front of the camera, she was weeping, but without making a sound. He noticed he was shaking where he sat, but he couldn't stop himself. And he couldn't look at either of the large men.

He just stared at the woman, even when the bald man spoke. "So, Susan, how much do you think your life is worth?"

She sobbed violently. "No," she whispered, "this can't be happening. I don't know anything about this."

"But Daddy knows about you, Susan."

"Who's Daddy?" she shrieked. "I don't know anything. I'm not in on it! I'm just a secretary! I worked for him, that's all."

"This isn't about him. This is about you, Susan, as you know perfectly well. Daddy is disappointed with you."

She stared at the bald man, speechless.

"You've had quite a comfortable life of your own, Susan. You did what you were told, you were a responsible citizen, and so you were well taken care of, weren't you? Some might even say you got more than your fair share..."

"Just a secretary," she sobbed.

"Yes, Susan, just a secretary. So how much? How much for your 'secretary' life?"

When she finally answered, he heard despair in her voice. "I don't know. We have some savings. My husband would give anything. Oh God, this is insane. Insane. This can't be happening. I didn't do anything wrong... just what I was told." She was losing it; rambling. "I shouldn't be here... didn't do anything... oh God. My life isn't worth anything to you! Can't you just let me go? Please..." Her voice fell to a whimper. "Let me go..."

"Yes, you may go." He jerked at the sound of the shot, and saw her fall.

He must have passed out then, because the next thing he knew the curly-haired man was lifting him to his feet. For a minute he was shaky and disoriented. Then he was standing alone in front of the camera.

"I wasn't with them," he croaked.

"We know," said the bald man. "Daddy wanted to see you as well. You have not gone unnoticed."

"But I'm just a bum! I just happened to be standing there!"

"You weren't always a bum, were you?" the bald man asked. "So take your pick. You can tell us what you think your life was worth then―or now."

How? How could they possibly know? Nothing about this made sense. The room swayed; he thought he was going to pass out again.

Then, like a slap, the bald man's voice brought him back. "How much?"

He faltered. "I have nothing. I... I had a life, a wife, children... But not any more. I loved them but... I couldn't help myself. I lost it all. No... wasted it―took what should have been theirs and wasted it all. Then ran. That was the best I could do for them."

"That's very disappointing."

"It was worse for me than them, I'm sure. They were better off without me―and my life ended on that day. But I was dying for years after that. Dying day after day after day, until... But I guess it's all over now."

"We asked you how much."

He looked at the bald man, then at the camera, then at the floor. He wanted to cry, but he couldn't. Finally, he said softly, "Now... to me... it's not worth anything."

He heard the curly-haired man raising the gun. Suddenly he fell to his knees and looked up at the camera. "But please let me live."

The gun remained raised, and the man who held it spoke. "Daddy wants you to tell him why."

Now the tears came. He pressed his hands to his face and the tears ran through his fingers and streamed down his arms. They splashed and gathered on the floor in front of him. Then, slowly, he bowed his head. Lower and lower. Until his forehead touched the puddle of tears. Then he answered. The words bubbled though his lips and were muffled by his hands, but he only had to say them once. "I'm sorry. For all of it. But... somewhere in my dying... in my dying―I changed. Now I just want life. That's all. Just another chance at life."

Then he was being lifted. His vision was bleary and he felt terribly weak, but he was upright. Then the door flew open. And there was light, incredible light. So bright he could feel it. But he didn't cringe or turn away. The light seemed to be calling him, and he stepped toward it. And all at once he understood that the light was life, and that he was no longer alone.

And he knew that the one who was calling him was Daddy. His Daddy. He stepped through the door.

(Download this story as RTF file)