Mark Gimenez

The Abduction


4:59 A.M.

Ben Brice opened his eyes to a dog needing to pee.

“Don’t worry, Buddy. I’m still alive.”

This man’s best friend slapped a wet tongue across Ben’s face once more just to make sure. Ben wiped the golden retriever’s saliva on the sheet then pushed himself to a sitting position. He groaned. Each beat of his pulse through the veins in his head felt like a ball-peen hammer pounding the inside of his skull. He didn’t remember finishing off the empty whiskey bottle sitting on the night table. But then, he never did.

He rubbed his bare arms against the chill of an April dawn and stood, but he had to grab the door to stay standing. He leaned against the wall until the world stood still, then he rode a hand-hewn pine log into the main room of the small cabin. He let Buddy out the back door and dropped down to the floor.

Lying face down on the coarse wool rug in his long underwear bottoms, he inhaled the Navajo scent that would forever inhabit the native weave. He closed his eyes and considered trying to sleep again, but he knew it would be in vain: a lifetime of reveille at 0500 wouldn’t allow it. Resigned to his fate, he brought his legs together, placed his hands palms down under his chest, inhaled deeply, and exhaled as he pushed. His triceps trembled as his rigid body rose from the rug. One. He dropped down hard and felt as if he might pass out. But he inhaled and exhaled and pushed his body up again. Two. Down to the rug. Pushed up. Three. Down. Up. Four. He reached a rhythm at twenty-five and finished at fifty.

He rolled over onto his back. He locked his hands behind his head, lifted his knees to a ninety-degree angle to his spine, contracted his abdominal muscles until his shoulders lifted off the rug, and twisted his torso to touch his left elbow to his right knee then his right elbow to his left knee. Then down. And up again and twist right then left and down. And up. Right. Left. And down. Fifty times.

He stood, steadied himself, and walked over to the kitchen sink. He stuck his head under the gooseneck faucet and turned the cold water on full; he braced himself as the well water traveled four hundred feet from inside the earth’s gut and sputtered then gushed out of the pipe. His body shivered; it felt as if he had plunged his head into a bucket of ice water. He dried off with a dishtowel then opened the refrigerator and drank orange juice out of the carton. He closed the door and paused to look at her-the blonde hair, the blue eyes, the bright smile. The refrigerator door was covered with photos of her, alone and with her family, the only blonde in the bunch.

Ben walked out the back door of the cabin and without looking dropped the empty whiskey bottle into the recycling bin filled with empty whiskey bottles. His breath fogged in the cold air. He was now wearing jogging shoes, sweats, and a baseball cap pulled down low to shield his blue eyes from the bright morning sun. The endless sky was empty except for a vulture circling breakfast in the distance. He went over to the garden, picked a few weeds, and watered the neat rows with the sprinkler bucket. Buddy was barking, ready to get it on.

“Okay, boy, let’s go.”

They ran into the rugged terrain surrounding the cabin, Buddy leading the way, Ben lagging behind; his body ached from sixty years of life and thirty years of Jim Beam. He soon lost sight of Buddy in the sagebrush. But Ben knew he’d find his four-legged friend at the rock outcropping two miles out; and when Ben arrived, Buddy was there, sitting and waiting patiently for him to run up, bend over, and throw up, a morning ritual.

Ben spat out the last of the bile and wiped his mouth with a red handkerchief; he took a moment to gather himself. Only his hard breathing broke the silence of the land. All around him stretched the vast solitude that is New Mexico: the Taos Plateau bordered by the snow-capped peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range rising tall into the blue sky, a land so beautiful and harsh that only an artist or a man running from his past would find it hospitable. To the north was Colorado, to the south Albuquerque, to the west Taos, and to the east the solitary cabin situated on a low rise, the metal roof reflecting the sun.

“Beat you back to the cabin, Buddy.”

Ben ran toward the rising sun and Buddy gave chase, delighted-this was the fun part.

Half an hour later, Ben had cleaned up and was wearing jeans, boots, and a corduroy shirt, eating a granola bar, and drinking a cup of coffee brewed from the strongest beans available in Taos; they had come with a money- back guarantee to break through the haze of the worst hangover.

He walked outside, past the garden, and to the workshop. Inside, woodworking tools hung on the walls and what rich people in Santa Fe regarded as fine art in the form of furniture crowded the floor. He pulled a low stool next to the rocking chair he had fashioned out of mesquite, ran his hands along the arms, and began sanding the rough spots. Buddy spun around three times, plopped down in the doorway, and settled in for the day. The sound of sandpaper scraping over wood and Buddy’s snoring soon joined in a melody of sorts, the only music of Ben Brice’s life.

The sun’s rays now angled low across the workshop floor, the only evidence that another day of his life had passed. Ben laid his tools down, stood, and stretched his back. He walked outside and around to the west side of the cabin porch and sat in his rocking chair where he would watch the sun melt and the sky over Taos turn orange, where he would listen to the coyotes’ lonesome cries and sometimes he would answer them, where he would remain until the distant city lights dimmed and the night chill set in. His thoughts would then return to the past, always to the past that owned his life like a bank holding a mortgage that would never be paid in full. He would think of the life that might have been-a young man’s dreams, the great adventure that was not, the death of the brother he never had, a wife who loved him but left him… and then he would think of his failures, revisiting each one until he arrived at the failure that would forever haunt his nights, and he would reach for the bottle. And so his life would go until one morning he would not answer Buddy.

But the day was not yet over and his thoughts not yet there. He whistled, and Buddy appeared and bounded up onto the half-sized rocking chair next to his. Ben reached over and scratched Buddy’s neck then ran his fingers over

the block letters carved into the seat back: GRACIE.

5:47 P.M.

Seven hundred miles away, a blonde-haired girl sprinted down a soccer field in Texas.

“Run, Gracie, run!”

Gracie Ann Brice could run like a boy, faster than most boys her age, ten going on thirty, which made playing soccer against girls her own age seem almost unfair. But she was fun to watch, if your daughter was on her team.

She pushed the ball up the sideline, past the parents cheering in the stands and Coach Wally wearing a Tornadoes jersey and her dad filming her with the camcorder-she made a face for the camera-while shouting into his cell phone: “Cripes, Lou! Tell those New York suits it’s my killer app, it’s my company, it’s my IPO-and the price is gonna be thirty a share and not a freaking penny less!”

Multitasking, he called it.

Without breaking stride, Gracie drove the laces of her white Lotto soccer shoe into the ball, kicking it over the oncoming defenders’ heads and right to Brenda on the far side of the field. Then she pulled up and looked back at her skinny thirty-seven-year-old SO (Significant Other) on the sideline. He was now gesturing with the camcorder, swinging it up and down and videotaping the ground, the sky, the ground, the sky, all of his attention on the cell phone. She couldn’t help but shake her head and smile, the kind of smile grownups use on small children, but only those related to them by blood.

“God bless him,” she said.

Her father was a total geek. He was wearing black penny loafers with white socks, wrinkled khakis, a long-

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