"Gosh," they would say. "Those are not bad things you did. You hardly deserve to be here, for Pete's sake! Crap!"
And when he was put back on the street, law-abiding citizens would fearlessly mock him, at Target, church, and the playground: "Ooooo! There's Mr. Abductor!," well-adjusted citizens would say, "I'm sooo scared!"
But Howard was unfazed by this ribbing. He knew who he was. He was "comfortable in his own skin" -- a phrase he had learned while reading Oprah magazines in the Crowbar Hotel.
He was such a nice guy that even judges couldn't take him seriously. When he was found guilty, he would often receive nothing more than a slap on the wrist -- literally. The judge would nod at the bailiff who would then take Howard's arm, slap his wrist -- twice if the abductee was a minor -- and send him on his way.
As an abductor, Howard wasn't choosy about age or sex. And as for sex, Howard never got the appeal, didn't see what all the fuss was about, what's the big deal, so what? Why do something like that unless, of course, you wanted children, and since he saw himself as a criminal, he felt morally obligated not to pass on his genetic make-up. "That's just how I was brought up," he told investigators.
So his abductees could relax on the sexual front. Even as he was gently applying the duct tape over a victim's mouth, he would assure him or her, "Don't you worry about 'you know what.' I'm not into that scene."
Whether he abducted a runaway teen or a kindergarten kid or a deranged old coot on the lam from an assisted-living facility, he never hurt them.
Howard simply needed a little extra dough here and there to fuel and maintain his swanky 1965 Buick Riviera. Occasionally, when his massive tires began to lose their tread, he would break down and get a job like a normal person, usually as a janitor (he hated the term "custodian") at a daycare, but would soon be fired for the many days he missed while abducting people.
Always considerate, he was well known for giving his captives healthy snacks while they waited for their parents or caretakers to miss them. Grilled-cheese sandwiches smeared with guacamole was one of his favorites, along with tofu cubes floating in a bowl of unsalted vegetable broth. He would encourage but not force them to eat a few olives because "they have the good kind of fat."
The only thing the least bit weird about Howard was that, in the room where he locked his victims, he had a large freezer full of dead squirrels he collected from tree-lined streets winding through suburban neighborhoods. On the freezer was taped a piece of printer paper with "For Later Use" scrawled in huge purple letters.
The real story here, though, is Tally Dolcet, his current abductee. Shortly after he seized her while she was enjoying a smoke break from her welding class, she asked nicely not to be bound and gagged, so he gently escorted her to the usual room, whipped up the ol' cheese'n'guac, turned the TV on to Lifetime, and the two small-talked casually until her parents called, as they had been instructed to do.
|Before the freezer|
After the usual brief negotiation, Howard wished Mr. and Mrs. Dolcet "a blessed day," then turned to Tally, a huge smile revealing almost all his remaining teeth. "I can NOT believe this! They're gonna give me $25,000 to release you! All's I said was, 'Make me an offer!' This is the happiest day of my life! I'm gonna have the most rockin' Riviera in town. Grab your cigarettes and welding helmet, sister, you are headed home!"
Tally's face reflected neither delight nor relief. As she sauntered over to the squirrel freezer, she appeared to be trying to conjure some distant memory. She opened the door part way, and gazed at the many lifeless tree rodents, frozen in time due to an obscure law of nature that kicks in once the temperature falls below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
"Howard, if you were to have children, and they were taken from you by someone like you, what would you give to get them back?"
"Until your parents hand over the 25k, I don't have much to give. But once I got the wampum, I'd give'm that."
"All of it? All $25,000?"
"Hey, it's my kids you talking about. The fruit of my own loins! Heck, I'd give'm my Riviera."
"How about your frozen squirrels?"
"I'd hafta to think about that, but right now I'm leaning toward it. They're for later use, you know."
Tally gently shut the freezer door, remaining motionless except for tapping her fingers on its surface. "Howard, I learned in an American History course that a female slave in the Old South would cost as much $120,000 in today's currency. Why am I worth less than a slave?"
"Probably, if you work in food and feminine products, girl slaves cost a heckuva lot more'n that," Howard said. "In your case, though,I reckon the $25,000 would cover the few cheese'n'guacs you ate. And you haven't used any feminine products that I know of, even though I do keep some on hand for when I abduct pre-mennies, as I call'em.
"Plus your folks are probably thinking they already pretty much own you in a biological sense, plus you already ate up a good chunk of your life, so they're not really buying the whole you. Did you wear braces?"
"Okay, right there you got another $7,000 dollars."
"Howard, Howard. What, really, is the value of a human life?"
"They's a whole buncha theories on that, Tally. Why, you look back at the Anglo-Saxon days and they had this thing called wergild, that laid out how much a fellow would cost. Let's say I abducted and killed your uncle. Now, you can kill my uncle and we're all done here, but if I don't have an uncle, I gotta pay you whatever an uncle was going for at the time. That payment was called wergild.
"Things have changed since then, of course. I read in the Huffington Post just the other day that $6 million is the current value of a human life, before taxes, that is, and if you live within our borders. If you get shot up accidentally by our military, it could be as little as $6,000. But if you really want to hit the jackpot, get somebody to video you changing your clothes in a hotel room, and you'll be awarded somewhere in the neighborhood of $55 million. Just ask Erin Andrews! Your dignity is worth a lot more than a normal person thinks it is!
"But if you's picky about dollars and cents, you'd wanna get down to what they call 'value theory,' and its branches like 'consequentialism' and 'axiology,' and distinguish between intrinsic and instrumental value, as well as relational, now that I think of it. Nuther words, what is your value in and of yourself, compared to your value to those who know you?
"I think you might want to factor in investments and holdings and such, too, in most cases. Like if you own a house -- I know you're too young for that -- how much of it do you still owe? And is your car paid for? And what are your stock vestments likely to yield according to the Wall Street Journal?
"Anyway, what I'm really saying is, folks don't think twice about laying out $657,000 for a bigger house than the one they living in, but you take a young'un from them and out comes the calculator to see how much they can pay without it pinching too much. Then they gotta do research on what other folks of their income level forked out to retrieve their beloved offspring. Nothing's more shameful than, say, offering a reward that's less than the ones your neighbors offered for their missing kid!
"Dang it (forgive my language), Tally, you got me thinking too much. I ain't earned any $25,000, and you worth much more'n that anyhow. I think they's an opening for a janitor at the elementary school over on Medford Avenue, so I'm gonna go check it out. Abducting ain't no way to make a living. Something just don't feel right anymore."
Nothing was ever the same for Howard and Tally after this incident. Howard did such good work as a janitor, he was quickly promoted to Assistant Principal in Charge of Abduction Prevention (APAP), and received frequent grants to conduct in-services on "Cryogenics and the Sciurus Carolinensis," along with coaching the kids on "four square" during their 10-minute recess.
But in the Dolcet household, the tension was so icy it reminded Tally of Howard's frozen squirrels. Members of that well-kept suburban home-turned-igloo communicated only when necessary, and then only with nods and gestures, and they never broached the topic of the parents' paltry, piddling, penny-pinching pittance of a parsimonious payoff.
Did Tally die a bitter, resentful hard-hearted welder or did she quietly find her way back to Howard, and stand bravely by his side, supporting him as he aspired to achieve fame as a public school administrator without wearing an orange jumpsuit, and standing by his side each time he relapsed into his life as an abductor, "the nice one who drives a 1965 Buick Riviera"?
These and other questions will be answered in the next installment, should there ever be one.