Helms opened his eyes.
It was dark.
So he sat up.
The loud metallic thud and crunching pain in his forehead reminded him of his whereabouts.
He was in the boot of a car. Helms supposed that this being Los Angeles, it should be the trunk of an automobile. But he was determined to cling on to his Britishness, even in the midst of a kidnapping.
The pain in the front of his head gave way to the more persistent pain in the back of it. There was a blurred memory of being koshed, then stuffed in here like a child’s resented violin.
Helms could smell his knees.
One arm was pinned down by his whole body, and his legs were bent double into his chest. A slight ethereal scarlet glow was leaking in from the taillights, and the dull monotonous rumble of tires on tarmac provided a white noise that fought hard to silence his mind.
His free hand snapped to the left side of his face so hard it hurt.
His eye was missing.
It must have popped out when they hit him on the head.
The tip of his index finger probed under the dropped and loose lid, feeling the orbital implant beneath. No, it hadn’t slipped back over it. That meant the glass eye was either on a pavement somewhere outside, or in here with him.
Limited by the confines of the trunk, he patted his hand about him, hoping he might happen upon it. It wasn’t anywhere in front of him. Helms heaved himself over slightly, jamming his shoulder against the boot lid, then feeling it slip free, allowing him to search about behind him.
An hour ago he’d watched Dances With Bloody Wolves stealing the Best Picture statue, and now he was rooting around in the boot of a car for his ocular prosthesis. He wasn’t sure which was worse.
And he’d been kidnapped.
He planned on getting quite indignant about that some time soon.
But only after …
His fingers alighted on the little disc of glass, and he struggled to pick it up. It would’ve been even more difficult had it not dried. It took an act of contortion he’d never managed outside of the bedroom to get his hand back to his face.
He put the glass eye in his mouth.
It was covered in carpet fibres. He worked them clean with his tongue, then plopped the eye back into his fingers. With his thumb, he opened his loose eyelid, then slipped the eye back in place. Blinking moisturised it further while he spat out strands of nylon like a cat with a gob full of fur.
Now about this kidnapping.
His bellow of ‘motherfuckers’ was given an even deeper resonance by the acoustics of the trunk. It made his head vibrate so much that he had to check his eye hadn’t fall out again.
Helms thumped his knee up into the underside of the boot lid. A sharp pain chastised that decision, and added another layer of sweat to the sheen that was already clinging to his skin. He would have loosened his bow tie if he could.
It was hot, and the air felt thin. Breathing harder through panic was hard to avoid.
A tire iron might allow him to pop open the trunk from inside. Or maybe there was a release cable somewhere that went to a lever in the front of the car. Maybe he could pry open the locking mechanism, or clamber through the back seats somehow.
His good eye stared at the soft red glow by his head as his mind grasped at impractical solutions. With a crinkle of the brow, Helms reached out with his fingers and found the wiring plugged into the back of the brake light. It came loose with little effort, and the red light died.
Now all he needed was for the goons to pass a bored policeman.
Then he began slamming his foot into the housing of the opposite light, kicking at it until he felt it smash loose.
Another gymnastic effort let him free his trapped arm, and he stretched out his newly liberated hand and pushed it into the exposed hole at the back of the taillight. It was hot, but he ignored it, working his middle finger through and wiggling it about.
His moment of triumph gave way to the realisation that he was simply performing a bad shadow puppet show at the following traffic, his one shape being the bird.
The car hit a bump and he felt his finger crack. With a yelp he pulled it free and bent it over to make sure it wasn’t broken. It wasn’t, but that was little comfort. No doubt those squat-nosed henchmen would be crunching his digits before the sun was up.
Helms didn’t think he could command any sizeable ransom, and knew there were better targets on Academy Awards night. Why hadn’t they kidnapped Costner? Well, given a choice, he didn’t blame them.
Maybe it was some psychotic fan hell bent on making him direct endless remakes of his low-budget sci-fi debut. Helms swallowed back the acidic taste of bile. The memory of lines of them queuing at conventions made him a little queasy.
The heat wasn’t helping either. Helms was finding it harder and harder to breathe properly, and the more he noticed it, the more he struggled. Nausea and panic were rising in equal measure now.
How much was his life worth to anyone, let alone her? She was the only person they’d approach for a ransom, and Helms wasn’t even sure she’d pay up.
It would be the ultimate ignominy, as he felt the sand falling on him in the desert, knowing that she had finally got her hands on the house. It’s all she’d ever wanted, he knew it from the time he was seven and she became a part of his life.
Helms didn’t want to die.
He wasn’t nearly well-known enough to warrant a mention on the boulevard.
Even his idiot Father had one of those, albeit one directly underneath Lassie’s star. An arsehole monument to a monumental arsehole.
Helms lashed his foot out, kicking at the wheel arch. The pain jolted through his leg and he screamed another expletive, venting his fear along with enough pent up anger to make a mountain quiver.
The sound of the tires changed pitched, dropping an octave as the weight shifted towards the front of the car. It was slowing down. Helms fumbled about as best he could, searching for a heavy tire iron to use as a weapon. As soon as the trunk opened, he would come out swinging. They might think twice with a broken jaw.
There was no way he was going to die tonight. He had something important to finish, and not even a goon hell-bent on his demise could stop him.
Helms felt the car coming to a halt now. His hands flashed about in a panic, trying to find something, anything, to grab and use to fend them off. As the car stopped and he heard the driver’s door opening, he felt his fingers grab. He had no idea what it was, but it was better than nothing.
His own breathing echoed in the chamber of the trunk, his chest heaving with fear, but he could hear footsteps. Then a clunk and the boot opened.
Helms sat up and violently heaved his prize towards his kidnapper. It swished limply in the air. The high visibility vest drooped. Helms looked at it impotently, then looked at the face of his aggressor.
She slapped him.
“Sorry yes,” he automatically snapped, grabbing his stung cheek out of habit. “Paula.”
“Get out,” she instructed without emotion.
“What the fuck?”
“Come on, out.”
“No, hang on – OW!”
Her nails dug into his lobe as she dragged him out of the trunk by the ear.
By his feet, Helms saw a wheelchair. Being upright with a proper air supply was making him a little dizzy, and he was glad of a seat. He watched his stepmother digging around in the trunk, unable to do anything himself but blink gormlessly.
When she emerged she had a roll of duct tape, which she preceded to wrap around his chest and the back of the chair.
“I can’t believe it’s come to this,” she said so softly it scared him.
The tape was binding him tight, squeezing his lungs a little, and it made him put his arms up on the rests for some respite. When Paula saw this, she tore more tape from the roll, and quickly bound his wrists tight.
Then, without another word, she stepped behind Helms and began wheeling him up a ramp.
“This isn’t the desert.”
The stupidity of this exclamation was apparent even to Helms. Deserts don’t have automatic sliding doors for one. Nor do they have public address systems that page Doctor Corday.
It was the smell of hospitals that always affected him. It was Pavlovian, and he began to struggle against his restraints, as much from muscle memory as any actual fear.
Paula pushed her knee into the canvas seat back, pushing Helms forward, meaning his chest was being crushed slightly against the taping. It was enough to stop his spasms of indignation.
The signs passed over his head, and Helms realised where she was taking him. He took a deep breath, ready to make a loud protest.
“Don’t make me tape up your mouth,” she whispered, pushing her knee a little deeper into the crook of his spine. It pushed that breath right out of his lungs.
All Helms could do was stare forward as she wheeled him down an endless corridor, inextricably towards his doom. He swallowed back the taste of iron from the excess adrenaline in his system, wrinkling his nose in disgust, not at the taste, but at the impending fate.
Behind him, his stepmother’s heels clacked on the hard floor a little slower now. She turned Helms into a room and left him there.
In front of him a cyborg lay on a hospital bed. The man’s body was hidden by so many tubes and wires he wasn’t recognisable. A machine beeped, then a pump exhaled some air. Another beep, and the pump inhaled.
Helms watched it do this five times before the door opened behind him.
“Talk to him you little shit,” Paula hissed.
The door closed. The machine continued to breathe.
Helms shifted against his restraints, not looking at the bed any more. He clenched his jaw, feeling the muscle twitch, and imagined himself stoic and reserved.