He was charming, intoxicating, as heady as the dry white wine coursing through Britney’s system, leaving her feeling carefree and light as she let her guard down. She was tapping her feet and swaying slightly to a catchy beat that was blaring through a speaker mounted above the brightly lit bar she and Frank were sitting at.
“Don’t just sit there,” Frank leaned forward, giving her a whiff of his musky cologne with the most delightful hints of spicy and warm.
“Shall we?” he was already holding out his hand to her.
Britney started to protest. She had never been one to dance in public. And besides, no one was even dancing in the small bar, just milling around exchanging banter and holding their drinks close. But she found herself extending her hand, slipping it into his, inhaling his scent deeply as he led her a few feet away from the crowded bar.
It could have been the wine, or the full moon peeking through purple clouds somewhere outside, or the flashing lights in the cozy establishment, or him or her…all Britney knew was she lost herself in a magic that seemed to seep out of every part of the night. She danced, her eyes closed, giving herself to the music, bobbing to subtle beats hidden within the song, feeling the bass reverberate.
She was smiling when the music changed and she opened her eyes, grinning even more when she saw Frank smiling down at her.
“I was,” Britney felt stirrings of embarrassment, but stopped as he interjected.
“You were perfect,” Frank’s voice dropped several octaves and she could feel it resound in his chest.
That had been months ago. The dry, hot season when they had first met turned slowly cooler, with a cloud cover that grew thicker by the day, sinking lower. Until one day, out of nowhere, the blue skies were a dark grey and they split open, releasing a shower that signaled the rains had come.
The brown earth turned green and tiny new buds poked their heads out of shoots newly sprung from moist soils. The seasons had changed, but Britney and Frank’s magic had withstood time.
“Hello?” Britney answered her phone, juggling the heavy handbag and bag of groceries she was carrying, she planned to make Frank a special dinner tonight, “Hello? Who’s this?” she stopped fussing with her bags and tensed at the silence, then shrugged and hung up, starting for the lifts up to the apartment they shared. She was just about to summon a lift when her phone went off shrilly again.
“Hello?” she was irritated now and didn’t bother to hide it.
“You better not hang up if you ever want to see Frank again.” The voice was deep, rumbling even over the phone, and Britney dropped the bag of groceries clutched under her armpit, not noticing as half a dozen oranges went rolling across the building’s lobby, “Try the cops, he’s dead,” the voice came again, clipped, “Trace this call, he’s dead. You understand?”
Britney shook her head dumbly, shock cementing her where she stood, her eyes barely seeing as the lift opened and a tipsy couple got off, giving her strange looks even though they could barely walk straight.
“What,” her mouth was so dry she could barely form the words, “do you want?” she croaked out.
“Money!” a harsh laugh followed, resonant in its nature, but Britney couldn’t pick up on any nuances as her mind reeled. Frank was in danger! He could be hurt even now as she stood staring yet seeing nothing but his face in her mind’s eye.
“Five hundred thousand…now. We’re sending you a number, deposit it or…he dies.”
As the phone went dead, Britney scrambled to her senses. A tightness in her chest caused her breathing to come in shallow gasps and the lack of oxygen did nothing for her logic or to calm her down.
Her panicky mind searched for someone she could call, someone who could tell her what to do, but no one’s name came up.
Her family couldn’t be involved. How could she explain it when she barely understood it herself? Her friends were out of the question. She didn’t want to be a topic of gossip. Her lawyer would immediately call the cops and then Frank…
Britney held back a sob as the only resolution there was stood out simply albeit painfully. Robotically, she copied the number sent to her by the anonymous caller and withdrew the entirety of her mobile money account and a portion of her savings from her mobile banking app. Sighing but resolute, she watched as a confirmation message popped up with no name attached, stood for a moment more, then picking her grocery bag off the floor sans the oranges, she went up to her apartment, thinking what she should do next.
Dropping her keys twice as she attempted to unlock the door with her violently trembling hands, Britney stumbled into her living room to be met with a shock that pushed her over the edge. She stood still for a second then threw her head back and laughed wildly.
The deep voice, the resonance of it, and her now empty apartment devoid of furniture and furnishings, confirmed the crazy thought that floated and sat prominent in her mind.
Frank was a fraud, and she’d been tricked.