The Hefner Project
by Melodie Corrigall
Shivering and frightened, he huddled in the center of the crypt, as far from the sound of the rats as possible. Would someone discover him years from now, the only skeleton not encased in a coffin? Although terrified, he was reluctant to do what they demanded, uncertain if it would save him.
They had lied to him when they promised a Hugh Hefner evening with hot party girls. Their plan, from the beginning, had been to destroy him. To leave the most powerful man on earth alone in a rat-infested vault if he didn’t give in to their blackmail. One thing for sure was that the loser lady was behind the kidnapping. He should have strung her up when he could.
If he had his cell phone, one call, one beep, and the security people would be smashing in the door. He’d be saved and none of them would escape. But they’d tricked him into leaving his phone in the administrative building and without it he was helpless.
“Our challenge,” one of them had admitted when he first realized something was amiss, “Was to ensure you weren’t followed.”
Still feeling invincible he had snarled. “Your challenge will be to get out of jail or to escape the electric chair for kidnapping me.”
“But we didn’t kidnap you,” the scrawny one, who sounded like a lawyer, smirked. “You agreed to put yourself in our hands.”
“You promised a Hugh Hefner evening. I expected to have fun.”
The one, under that long black cloak, smiled, “We are.”
She leaned forward her perfume wafting across his face. “Why would we be in jail?” she purred, squeezing his cheek, and leaving a bleeding scratch, “We’re just having a good time.”
“I’m not,” he growled. “I didn’t know what was planned.”
“Neither did we when you leered or pinched.”
“Kidnapping isn’t a pinch.”
To think he had looked forward to this night. From the moment he’d been invited to what they called The Hefner Project, two weeks earlier, he had relished the idea. It would be a chance to escape scrutiny and enjoy an evening with some beautiful pieces of ass. Oblivious to all the flack around him, he had thought of little else.
As they instructed he had been careful not to “tweet his head off,” although he did send one note saying, “You’d be surprised at what I’m up to next.” Probably thought it meant pushing the red button, which now he wished he’d done.
The evening had started off as expected. The chauffeur and two security guards drove him to the designated spot buried in the snowy woods. (From the car, they could see shadows moving across the windows of the park building.) Anxious to join the celebration he jumped out the car, undeterred by the wind that whipped his coat and sent a cold finger up his spine.
When a security guard had started to follow him, he turned and hissed, “I warned you I was to be alone. Do not follow me. Do not contact me. I’ll be back when my business is complete.”
“But sir, security…”
“I’ll security you. If any of you move from the car the next words you’ll hear will be ‘You’re fired.’ And I’ll leave you out here to find your way home.”
That shut them up, if he fired them and he left them out here miles from the main road, they’d freeze to death in their thin coats and fancy shoes.
The Hefner planners had stressed that no staff come inside and they were right. No one was loyal enough to keep their mouths shut if interesting things happened.
As he strode towards the building, the door opened, and a buxom blond in a hooded coat, pulled him in. Looking good, he thought, but why the coat?
She gave him a conspiratory wink and hurried him across the empty room towards the back door. Empty room? He stopped.
“Where are the people we saw from outside?” he said, drawing back.
“The images were projections to keep the security folks happy. They’ll see you in the window from time to time.”
He could see their point. He patted his cell phone for reassurance.
“Oops,” she said. “We’re going down the road but we need to leave your phone here.”
“No way, I have it with me at all times.”
“You’ll have it back later but if they realize we are leaving the building they’ll be after us in a flash.”
Having taken his phone, she pulled him to a back door and opened it to a shadowy winter scene. She pointed to a waiting car, motor running.
“We don’t trust them. We’re moving down the road. If the media got wind of what’s up and followed you, you’d be caught in the act and then what?”
“Good thinking,” he said. “I don’t want more fake news.”
The car, one of two, was warm and comfortable. When he slipped inside, he was startled to discover a nun at the wheel.
“Disguise,” she said. “Just in case someone sees us although that’s unlikely as the road is deserted in winter. Don’t worry we’ll end up in better or no costumes,” she laughed poking him in the side.
He didn’t like the idea of no costumes. He didn’t look his best out of his suit.
Now hours later, having banged on the crypt door and dug around in every corner for something to break it down, he scrambled to think how he could escape. Their plan was like a military operation with him as the enemy. And he had walked into it.
He had been blasting someone on twitter—he couldn’t even remember who had been upsetting him that night when a strange message came across his screen. Who is that he had wondered? Who could do that?
“Let’s do it up right Birthday Boy,” the message had said. “Your rich friends and reluctant colleagues are planning something long and tedious. We can arrange an evening that will be fun, just like Hugh Hefner used to do. Signed ‘Your bunny friends.’”
When he went to reply, the screen went blank and then a line of very hot girls popped up and waved and it was back to his twitter.
For the next forty-eight hours he savored the tantalizing message. Two nights later a second message, “If you dare have a fun night, ask your keepers to take you to Rudolph Park, the administration building at 7 pm on June 13. Under no circumstance let anyone else go with you to the building. Follow the well-lit path, and we will look after everything.”
“I’ll do it,” he had typed back. “I’m happy to join you. Rudolph Park, the administrative building at 7 p.m.” then the screen went blank.
There was no risk in going, he had thought. The security forces would be out front. He’d have his cell phone to call if he wanted to leave, and finally he could enjoy himself, get more than just money from his term.
As he drove along the road with the nun, the snow swirled around the front of the car. “Good thing we have four-wheel drive and winter tires,” she said. “Imagine being stuck out here on this deserted road. ”
“Must lead somewhere, they plowed it,” he said.
“No, we did. In winter it’s never used.”
The heater was blasting but he felt a chill. “Here drink this,” she said thrusting a ceramic bottle at him.
“I don’t drink alcohol.”
“It’s coffee, to help keep you alert,” she said patting his leg.
He gulped down the coffee, relaxed into the seat and dozed off as they hummed along. Suddenly, he was jerked awake in front of a stately building that looked like Hefner’s mansion.
“What’s that?” he said. “I never knew anything like that was out here.”
“It’s just for you. Money’s no object for a prince and his castle.”
“Or a king,” he chuckled.
As they neared the door, it opened and light poured out. A woman dressed scantily but with a golden masque cried, “Welcome, welcome. We’re ready for you.”
Once inside the door, he was blinded by flashing strobe lights. A soft hand gently took his and pulled him into a small room where several beautiful young women stood like expectant mannequins.
“We will bathe first, won’t we?” his guide said.
“I don’t need to bathe, trust me,” he said laughing. But she pushed him into a small bathroom, with a shower and gold faucets.
“We must, it’s part of Hugh’s ritual.”
He quickly showered, toweled down and looked around for his clothes and watch.
The young women stepped from behind a partition and smiled. “We have something special for you to wear, but we must sneak down these stairs.”
He followed her hesitantly down the dark passage; what looked like silver cobwebs hung from the cramped staircase. He pulled back. “It’s freezing I need clothes.”
“We have something for you,” she said opening a door to a small dark room. “Be prepared if the girls jump out and shout surprise.”
She handed him a thin plastic rain poncho.
“It’s special material Hugh wore,” she said. “It shimmers like gold.”
He pulled it around his shoulders. It looked like something tourists wore if caught in the rain. The door slammed shut. And immediately there was a loud racket from above.
“What’s that noise?” he asked. “It sounds like they’re tearing the place apart.”
“They are, it’s only a false front but it will soon disappear. Nothing left but our little basement hideout.”
She snapped her finger and silver lamps flashed on.
“What’s going on?” he said. “This looks like a damn crypt.”
“Yes. You got it.”’
“Okay, this is no party. What do you want?”
“You’re a deal maker. We want to make a deal.”
“What kind of deal. No deals without my clothes and phone. Get them now.”
“Sorry, your clothes are needed elsewhere.”
“Needed for what and what do you want?”
“We want you to sign a form on the computer agreeing that the charges against you by the women who are listed are accurate.”
“No way, I’m not stupid. She put you up to this. Why would I do that?”
“Because if you don’t we will leave you here in your Superman cape.”
“I’ll go upstairs and get help.”
“You forgot there is no upstairs.” He listened; all was silent overhead.
“But signing this is for security,” she said, “It’s not our main goal.”
“No, I bet it isn’t. You want money. But I don’t make deals without my clothes on.”
“We don’t have your clothes and we don’t want your money. Our goal is to have a list of laws enacted within a year. If you do that, we’ll not publish your confession.”
He shoved the list back at her. “Are you crazy? My lawyers will eat you for lunch?”
She ignored the threat. “Sign on the computer screen, we will receive it and then the door will open for you.”
“No way. You wouldn’t dare hurt me.”
“Try us. If you don’t sign and quickly then you will be left here. You’re not in a park now.”
He paced back and forth in the confined space, slapping his arms against his body.
“If I do sign, will someone drive me back with my clothes to the park building?” he asked, watching in case the women moved to the door. Once it was open he’d be out of there in a flash.
“No, a self-directing helicopter will take you back.”
“There’s no such thing.”
“You’d be surprised what technology our friends have.”
Startled by a crash from behind, he swung around and tumbled backwards. He heard the door open and scrambled to his feet only to see the women rush out. Before he could stumble to it, the door slammed shut.
He banged against the exit and rattled the knob to no avail. What the hell, he’d sign.
Of course, he’d no intention of letting it stand. When you were in a fight for a deal or to the death, you said and did what made you a winner. He approached the machine, the message read, “Sign and then move away from the machine.”
He took up the marker and signed. On the screen there was a swirling of colors, then black. “Move away, move away,” the machine said. When it started to emit strange noises, he edged backwards.
The machine shook, flames erupted and an explosion threw him across the room. When the dust settled, only ashes remained where the computer had been.
“I signed damn you. Let me out.”
Were they going to leave him here to die? He should have read before he signed. Maybe it was a suicide note. With an eerie creak, the door jerked open. He ran outside into the freezing cold. Stabs of pain jutted up his bare feet. The door slammed shut. Shadows of tall ghostly tree trunks swayed above the pale, grey snow. The black night was quieter than the crypt. “You lying sons of bitches,” he roared. “I did what you asked.”
Jumping from foot to foot, squeezing the cape around himself, he scrambled for some way to escape when above the sound of his puffing he detected a faint hum; the sound got louder. He looked up to see a small helicopter circle twice and then slowly land.
A door popped open, he saw a blanket on a metal seat but no clothes. “Get in, get in, get in,” a ghostly voice called out. He ran forward, stiff with ice, and leaped inside. He grabbed the rough blanket and curled inside it. The door clicked shut, the voice stopped and the helicopter lifted. It turned and began to fly in large circles. “Land you stupid machine,” he ordered searching desperately for any means of taking control.
Seeing none, he pushed his face against the icy window looking for any sign of life below. Finally, amidst the swirling snow, he saw the building he had hoped to party in and some cars. On hearing the helicopter, armored men, leaped from their vehicles and swung their guns towards him.
“It’s me. Don’t shoot you ass holes. It’s me. Your boss.” He thumped on the window and watched in horror as more men burst out of the woods swinging huge machetes. The guards tried to push them back but the men surged forward.
“Take their guns,” he hollered, “They’re going to shoot me.”
From below a voice bellowed through a loudspeaker, “Land immediately. Your plan has been averted. The President is not here. He is safe.”
“I’m here, you fools. Don’t shoot. I’ll fire you all,” he shouted banging on the window.
As he got closer, the men’s guns rose higher, pointing towards him. He screamed, “Don’t shoot, it’s me,” but these, his last words, were drowned out by the blast of bullets peppering the helicopter and an ear-shattering explosion. Few reporters were present to witness this dramatic moment.
Most media had covered the earlier story, which had stunned the nation: the President’s late-night address. Surrounded by his bemused colleagues, the President had revealed that he had consulted a spiritual leader—whose name in respect he held in confidence—and had had a revelation. He would no longer be putting his business considerations above all else. Instead, he was going to bring all parties together for the greater good.
Later that night, a security guard, who was there when the President left the administrative building told his wife, “He looked exactly like the man who went in six hours earlier but he was somehow different.” A reporter likened his conversion to that of Saul on the road to Damascus. Even those who stood to lose money professed that they were pleased the newly revered leader had escaped the terrorist attack, which had failed because of poor timing and the CIA’s swift response to a tip-off.
Bio:Melodie Corrigall is an eclectic Canadian writer whose work has appeared in Litro UK, Foliate Oak, Toasted Cheese, Emerald Bolts, Earthen Lamp Journal, Halfway Down the Stairs, Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, Corner Bar, Persimmon Tree, Literally Stories and The Write Place at the Write Time (www.melodiecorrigall.com)