by CHARLIE ROGERS
Diamond Mine by Kelly Michals | Flickr
If I’m being honest, this is not how I expected my day to go.
I regain consciousness in a place that is not my hotel room, with my hands fastened behind my back, strapped to a frigid metal chair. I’m in my tighty-whities and the rest of my clothes are very much missing. Looking around, I find my girlfriend, Amelia, next to me, unconscious and bound in the same fashion, but she’s wearing winter hiking gear. Did I get that for her? We always plan to take hiking trips more or ever. I’m an aspirational gift-giver, so, maybe?
I give my head a quick shake. Focus.
I peer down. A mass of ropes binds my feet together, and I squirm against the cords binding my hands behind me. My legs have turned a little blue, never a spectacular sign. I don’t mind the underwear but they leave me... exposed. They’re clean, well-fitting, and I usually think I look good in them, but I’m feeling underdressed for the occasion. I wasn’t planning on getting kidnapped and for practicality’s sake I wish I had actual clothes.
The last thing I remember is I’d flown to Portland and checked into a hotel. Amelia planned to meet me the following day, which I guess she has. Anyway, we were visiting Oregon because her cousin is getting married and Amelia is in the wedding party. Someone else’s family wedding versus waking up trussed to a chair in the middle of nowhere. Tough call, now that I think about it.
A short, thin man with bird-like features paces in front of a wall of computer machinery, tapping his fingertips together and chuckling to himself. I note his straw hat and bow tie, and, if you ask me, it looks to me like he’s trying too hard. It’s a lot of look for one person.
“Where are my clothes?” I ask. “Also, who are you? Also—”
The man pounces at me and brings his face so close to mine our noses are almost touching. “This is just delightful,” he purrs.
To my thorough surprise, his breath smells of raspberries, the most overrated of the berries.
“Seriously, though, best day ever: finally, I have captured the elusive Ian Mason, ultra-spy, my arch-arch-nemesis.”
I would scratch my head if I could.
“I don’t know who that is. Or who you are. My name is Mark Brazil. I work at a plant store in Eagle, Pennsylvania. We have nothing to do with—” I gesture with my chin, “—whatever you’ve got going on here.”
We’re in some man-made structure, concentric circles carved into the earth. Somewhat out of place is a large wall of machinery helpfully labeled “MEGAMOLECULAR DIAMOND DESTABILIZER” in bold type. So a diamond mine, probably.
“Do you think you are fooling the brilliant Herr Doktor Professor Helmut Sick?”
“Is that you?” I ask. “Are you referring to yourself?”
Amelia stirs, her eyes still closed.
“Agent Mason, remember that you are my captive. You stole something from me, and if you hand it over, I may be in such good spirits that I allow your companion to live.”
“I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about.” I scan my surroundings. Two interchangeable bald henchmen flank Sick. They could be bargain selections from some henchmen catalog, and I can almost picture Sick settling on their photos: Oh, a buy-one-get-one-free sale. Yes, I’ll take these two. Their combined IQ is likely in the mid-range double digits. “Where are we?”
He smiles, the rictus made creepier by his barbershop-quartet-on-a-budget getup. “Canada. The site of—”
“I don’t want to die in Canada.”
“Who does?” He leans in. “Listen, Agent Mason, I’m not an unreasonable man. I just want what we all want: a wife, a house, maybe a puppy or a well-trained otter, a yard for my trampoline, and total, unquestioned world domination. Now, to get that, which I am certainly owed, I need the key to my machine. Tell me where it is.”
Amelia’s eyes flutter open for an instant, land on Sick, and snap shut.
“Hey, I lose my keys all the time,” I say. Sick doesn’t realize how much progress I’ve made in loosening my bonds, so I need to keep talking. “But I don’t go around blaming others. At the nursery where you refuse to believe I work, in the break room, there’s this funny poster—”
He places a clammy finger on my lips. “I am so going to enjoy killing you. I knew that I wanted to, you’ve foiled so many of my plans, so sure, I’ve had some murder fantasies. But now that I’ve captured you at last — yes, oh, yes! I can already taste the engagement numbers this will pull in on my vlog.”
“Come on now. If you are, in fact, mild-mannered Mark Brazil, purveyor of mulch and last season’s perennials, how is it you’re so calm?”
“Well, we get some riled-up customers in the nursery, if I’m being honest. Like, I’m sorry lady, we’re out of Galaxy Magnolias this season, it’s nothing personal. Raising your voice is not helpful.”
“Retail is the worst! They’ll all be a lot nicer after I enslave them. When I turn on this most ingenious machine that I’ve created, it will liquefy all diamonds in a five-thousand mile radius. Then—”
“Once you’ve decimated the world’s diamond supply, you’ll have the market cornered, and you’ll—”
“What? No. I’m obviously going to collect all the diamond juice and make it the signature ingredient in my already world-renowned smoothies.” He fishes a business card from his pocket and holds it in front of my face: SICK’S SICK SMOOTHIE SHACK, it says. There’s also with a frightening caricature of him on the side, complete with bowtie and straw hat, for extra creepiness.
“Don’t pretend like you haven’t tried one,” Sick continues.
“You’re insane,” Amelia says, her interjection surprising both of us.
“Oh, the young lady has decided to join us!” Sick cackles. “Perfect. Good morning, let me catch you up on what’s happening here. Your boyfriend, who is in reality secret agent Ian Mason — sorry, not so secret anymore — has stolen a vital object from me. It’s distressing. So... long story short, I’m going to have to murder you to death.”
“For real?” Amelia asks. She’s awful calm for someone who has just regained consciousness, strapped to a chair in a diamond mine, listening to the rantings of an obvious madman. I adore that she’s so difficult to rattle, but worrying a smidge that she’s taken a serious blow to the head. All that applies to me too, I guess, and at least she has her clothes.
“Oh, yes. If Agent Mason remains stubborn I might even murder you some more, just for fun.”
The two henchmen — they’re impossible to distinguish, but I’ve nicknamed them Dig and Doug — drag Amelia towards a rock-crushing machine.
“Mark?” She digs her heels in, which makes the dragging difficult. “So... this isn’t a setup where you rescue me from these very weird, scary people and propose to me in the bowels of a diamond mine?” She somehow freed herself from the chair, even though her arms remain bound. The one I call Dig is holding her down while Doug drags her ever-closer to the crushing machine.
“I want to say yes, but you’ll figure out that’s not the case when I can’t produce a ring.” I turn to Sick. “Or your stupid key.”
“I feel like I’m hearing a lot of quipping and not quite enough begging for your lives.” Sick throws his hands in the air. His effort to supervise the henchmen as they attempt to hoist Amelia onto the machine belt is not going well. She lands a foot to one of their stupid faces, then the other, a kick square to the skull. I hear the crack from over here. Attagirl.
“You two are useless,” Sick says to Doug and Dig, crossing behind me. “Do I have to do everything? That’s rhetorical. The answer is yes. I have to literally do literally everything.”
Amelia headbutts Dig, who falls over onto the conveyor belt.
Sick yanks him off, scowling. “You two are lucky you’re union.”
A moment alone is all I needed to wrench a hand free. I get the knots at my feet undone as Doug comes my way. I stand and spin, smacking the back of his skull with the chair that’s still tied to my hand. Dig rushes at me — right into my fist. I work quick to untie my other hand. As Dig hurls himself my way, I introduce my chair to his face. The henchmen try to get up, but a few whacks from my new best friend, The Chair, makes sure that doesn’t happen.
I turn and see the crusher spin to life. Amelia is writhing on the moving conveyor, but uses her legs to keep herself from disappearing under a monstrous, heavy cog. She’s showing off so many skills I’ve never encountered; her legs squeezed around the edges of the belt hold her in place for now.
Before I can get to her, I’m yanked backwards by the throat. Sick is trying to strangle me with his tiny, claw-like hands. It’s cute.
“I’m... not... going... to die.. in... Canada.” I shift my weight, flipping Sick over me and slamming him onto the ground. That’s probably it for him but I’m not done, picking him up so I can use him as a punching bag, which is not as fun as I hoped it would be. It’s akin to hitting a pillowcase filled with iguana bones, so I carry his limp body — one-handed, because I’m showing off at this point — and shove him, feet-first, under the crushing wheel. One foot gets flattened, trapping him, while the other catches the edge of the wheel, jamming it and preventing him from becoming pulverized. Would’ve been a truly Sick smoothie, I’m thinking.
“Ow,” he moans. Seems an understatement, out of character for him.
“You feeling okay, bud?” I ask him.
Amelia unties herself and jumps off the conveyor belt. “You’re not going to tell me you’re, ahem, ultra-spy Ian Mason.”
“Me? Heck no. I was a pro-wrestling jobber in college, so I know how to hit someone with a chair.” I glance over at Dig and Doug, unconscious on the floor. “That was fun. But no, I’m not anyone’s arch-arch-nemesis, that I know of. Pissed off some customers, probably, definitely, but that’s about it.”
Amelia sighs. “So... I have a teensy confession to make.”
“Should I be wearing pants for this?” The adrenaline rush is waning, and I’m reminded that I’m might-lose-extremities cold.
“I think Canada would be a nice place to die. It’s a lovely country.”
“So I hear. But not today, right?” I roll over one of Sick’s henchmen — I’ve already forgotten which is which — and start undressing him.
“Another thing... there is no Ian Mason.”
Sick raises his head, his ridiculous hat cockeyed on his bald head. “What?”
Amelia lifts the hat, pats him on the head, and puts it back. “Sorry, little man. He’s fiction. But I’m not. I’m the spy who’s been screwing up all your plans, and I’m the spy who stole the key to your lunacy machine. Also, your smoothies are terrible, just terrible.”
Well, this is news. The Amelia-is-a-spy part, I mean. The terrible smoothies, that part I could guess.
“Ian Mason is a woman?” Sick gurgles.
Amelia shakes her head. “You’re just not listening to me.”
I stare at her in awe, wearing a huge grin. And not much else.
That’s right, I should continue my effort to forestall imminent hypothermia. Neither of the henchmen’s clothes fit, but between them I’m able to cobble together enough of an outfit that I will most likely not perish. Amelia offers me her coat. Wish I could remember if I bought this for her.
Not going to die in Canada, indeed. Not today.
Charlie is a writer, photographer and part-time hermit who lives in New York with the ghosts of some cats. He writes to keep the demons at bay, which is what he gets for opening that ornate box he found in the basement.