Tuesday morning 2 a.m.
Stephen Bjornson wakes up and tries to roll over towards his wife only to find he cannot move at all. His thinking feels slow and hazy as if he has been drugged. He opens his eyes slowly to see that the room is dark with only a small beam of light from the full moon breaking through the drapes. He had opened them earlier to make sure the front gate was shut. His son rarely remembers to shut the gate when he comes home for dinner from the neighbor’s house. He surveys his room and continues to fight the fog in his brain as he can feel something is very wrong.
He tries to stay calm, but his mind and heart are racing. He slowly tries to raise each arm and finds that he is tied down to the bed with duct tape across his chest, torso, and legs. With his arms pinned to his sides, all he can do is turn his head far enough to the left to see that his wife, Gwen, is still there, but she is also taped to the bed. Mr. Bjornson notices Gwen has tape over her mouth. Her brown eyes are wide and look very dark in the moonlit room. Her hair is splayed out and crowns her head like a halo. At first, Stephen thinks he must be dreaming. He can’t imagine why he would be tied to his bed and his angel, Gwen, tied next to him. Then, he shakes his head as nothing is making sense. He closes his eyes and reopens them. He focuses on Gwen and realizes that the halo was created by her messy blonde hair as she struggled to break free from the bonds. She keeps sweeping her gaze away from him to stare towards the foot of the bed and Stephen slowly focuses his gaze on the shape of a person behind the footboard. He is terrified at the thought of some stranger in their house. However, he is having a hard time maintaining focus on any one thought.
Stephen starts to remember the early days of their marriage when they fought over silly things like furniture. He and Gwen had spent three months shopping for bedroom sets, picking at each other’s tastes for traditional or modern furniture. The young couple had taken almost every Saturday to go shopping to fill their home. Giddy and in love, their fights never lasted long and often ended in the bed. In hindsight, maybe that was why they had been so careful in their choices. Stephen wishes their lives could be that easy now – just make love to end an argument. He is not able to remember the last time he and Gwen had made time for intimacy. He keeps thinking that now isn’t the time for memories – like having a daydream at work – but he can’t think about what is more important than remembering the good times with Gwen.
He feels a bouncing sensation next to him on the bed and wakes from his drug-induced reverie. Gwen is bouncing her head and moaning beneath the tape. She keeps staring at him and then throwing her head towards the foot of the bed. He remembers that there is a person standing over him and his wife, just staring across the bed at them, waiting for him to wake up. Stephen vaguely wonders how Gwen can be so awake when he is so tired.
He tries to swallow, but his tongue feels like lead. His mouth feels like it is full of cotton. After a few tries, he squeaks out, “Who are you? What do you want?” He is disappointed in the quiver of his voice so he tries again, hoping to sound more intimidating. “Who do you think you are, coming into my house? What do you want from us? We don’t keep large sums of cash in the house.”
The man just stands there, staring down at Stephen and Gwen, not saying a word. Stephen thinks that it must be a man based on the wide shoulders and body shape. Besides, there is no way a woman would do this, he thinks. This man is wearing a dark ski mask. He is also wearing black leather gloves, which particularly frightens Stephen. He has watched enough forensic shows to know that gloves can make identification of criminals much harder. As he begins to become more aware and able to focus, he sees that the man seems to be very well dressed, wearing an expensive suit, button-down shirt, and tie. The ski mask and leather gloves clash against the business attire and Stephen starts to wonder who would dress so nicely to commit a crime. He feels like he is going to drift off again so he shakes his head and tries to maintain focus on the intruder.
Just when it seems like an eternity has passed since he first tried to roll over in his own bed, he jumps as the man yells, “You wasted my time!”
The voice is so loud and deep, that Stephen believes he feels the rumble through the floor into the bed. He jumps and his eyes open wide. He instantly tries to put on a brave face again and stares the man down. After all, this man is threatening his family. Then, he starts to worry if his kids will be woken up by this man. He doesn’t want them to wake and see any of this. Writhing wildly against his bindings, they don’t give. Fear raises his neck hair. This isn’t a normal burglary.
He decides that he is getting nowhere and tries conversation, which is what he is best at anyways. “What are you talking about? Why are you doing this?” Mr. Bjornson says, his voice quivering. All he can do is lie there, thinking about his children just across the hall from him. He has no idea what this madman knows about his family and if he knows the kids are sleeping right across the hall. While he is very concerned for his and Gwen’s safety, he closes his eyes and quickly asks God to protect his children from harm.
It seems like hours that the suited man continues to stand over them, but only minutes pass. Stephen is scared to speak more, worried that any noise will arouse the kids. Just when the angst is going to force Stephen to say something again the stranger finally speaks again, “You wasted my time…Time is money!” Gwen had been fighting her restraints up until that second yell. She lays completely still except ratcheting her head towards Stephen. He looks back at her and can see the tears spilling from her eyes. The moonlight catches the tears just right that they remind him of his playtime with his daughter the other day when they blew bubbles in the backyard and the sunlight glistened off the bubbles in the air.
The man grabs a pen from the top of Stephen’s dresser. He starts pacing back and forth in front of the bed, clicking the pen over and over again. CLICK! CLICK! CLICK! The clicks echo through Stephen’s head and return him to the moment. The man continues to mumble, “You wasted my time…you wasted my time…you wasted my time.” Gwen, still staring at Stephen nods towards the man. He understands that she expects him to do something, but he is at a loss. He cannot free himself so he focuses on what he can do – continue to try to talk his way out of this.
As he is trying to come up with a plan, the man finally kneels down next to the bed, pen still in hand. He leans over and says, “Stephen, is it okay if I call you Stephen?” Stephen nods his head in reluctant approval. Stephen starts thinking, how does this man know my name? Have I met him before? What does he want from me?
“Stephen, I know you and your type. You don’t have a care in the world outside of you and your family’s own little bubble. You don’t think that your actions have any effect on other people’s lives. You see, Stephen,” he intones, “I once had a nice wife and a daughter just like you. We were happy, just like you; we had the perfect life, just like you. But you see, things are not always as they appear. Are they, Stephen?”
Stephen decides not to answer as he fears that the answer to the question is nothing that he wants to hear, particularly from some aggressive stranger. “Answer me!” the suited man shouts directly into Stephen’s ear. Stephen shakes his head no. “You see, Stephen, my wife packed up all her things one day and decided she was taking my daughter away from me. It seemed that she was leaving me for another man. She said I was wasting her time. I couldn’t provide her with what she needed. She needed financial stability and, even though I had a good job that kept us afloat, it wasn’t enough. Stephen, it wasn’t enough because, every so often, people like you waste my time and I don’t make any money. People like you cost me money and you cost me my family.” That comment was chilling. The man walks over to Gwen.
“Please don’t hurt us!” says Stephen whimpering now, his bravado completely gone. “I love you, Gwen,” he murmurs as he starts to sob. He turns his face away so that Gwen does not see him. He feels compelled to turn back as the man approaches his wife who, despite their distance, he loves dearly.
“Oh poor Stephen, poor, poor Stephen. You didn’t tell him, did you, Gwen? I can call you Gwen, can’t I?” Gwen nods her head reluctantly. She is between sobs because the bed is only shaking on Stephen’s side. She starts fighting at her restraints again, trying to push away from the approaching masked man with her feet, trying to dig her heels in. The tape keeps her from being able to arch her body high enough to move towards the head of the bed. Stephen is sick, watching her suffer this way and he starts to fight his restraints, too.
“You see, Stephen, ever since you and I met a month ago. I have been following you and your family, watching you and Gwen, little Billy and Sandy in your daily lives. Now, I haven’t been able to watch you every day because I have a job and time is money, you know. Nonetheless, I have been watching all of you. And what I have learned from watching you is that you enjoy wasting people’s time. Gwen here is not only wasting other people’s time, she is also wasting your time, Stephen. You see, Stephen, your precious little Gwen is having an affair,” he states matter of factly.
At those words, everyone in the room freezes. Stephen lays completely still, weighing whether there could be truth to the words of this madman. Gwen stops moving either because of his words or because the mask is now only inches from her face. She is staring into his eyes and cannot drop her gaze.
Stephen decides that whether it is true or not, this man is not their marriage counselor and has no right to intrude or reveal their issues like this. He musters up more courage and exclaims, “No, that’s not true. I know my Gwennie loves me and would never do that!” The suited man now leans over and whispers into Gwen’s ear, “Tell him, tell Stephen the truth! He deserves that at the very least. Tell him the truth now.” What had started as a whisper has turned into a menacing hiss in her ear. She flinches as he says truth so loud that her eardrum hurt. Stephen watches, helpless, as his wife pulls her head as far away from the man’s face as possible.
The masked man suddenly rips the duct tape from her mouth in one quick jerk. Gwen screams in pain and then throws her head towards Stephen. “It’s not true, Stephen! I love you with all my heart and would never do that to you or our family!” She is crying again and Stephen is not sure who to believe. Why would a man break into his house and lie about this to him?
“Lies, lies, lies…you are wasting my time again, Gwen. Now tell him the truth. Stop wasting my time. Stop it; stop it, stop it…time is money!” he shouts and hits the bed next to her. “Tell him now!” Stephen is feeling impatient about what this man wants and worries about why his children haven’t come in to see what is going on. He starts to fear the worst about their fate, but asking will only remind the man that they are close by.
Between sobs, Gwen begins to choke out her confession in a small pitiful wail. “Okay, it’s true, Stephen. I met someone else. But I love you and I love our kids! You have to believe me, Stephen, I do love you.” The silence hangs in the air, thick and palpable. Stephen feels a gulf widening between them – the woman he so desperately wanted to protect a minute ago has indeed betrayed him.
Stephen’s eyes widen and he struggles against the tape. A slow look of realization comes across his face. His tears stop and his eyes start to narrow to slits. “So that’s why you missed my work luncheon? Is that why you weren’t there that day to pick up Billy from soccer practice? Have you been busy sleeping around?” Stephen’s voice begins to roar, forgetting about anyone, but the two of them. “Who is it, Gwen? Who is he?” he yells, trying viciously to face her. He succeeds in partially turning his body towards her. The suited man steps back, folds his arms, and watches the argument as it progresses. A smile of accomplishment is visible in the mask’s mouth opening. He seems proud that he caused the two of them to fight.
Gwen continues to cry and shake the bed. “I have been seeing David, one of the dad’s from Sandy’s daycare. I never loved him, Stephen. I just needed more than you have been giving me.” With the last statement, her words sound hollow, as if she is wrung out and tired. Guilt creates an ugly mask of her face as she looks into Stephen’s eyes.
The masked man takes advantage of her pause. “See, Stephen, do you see how she is wasting your time? It’s just like you did to me last month when you wasted my time. Now, here’s the difference between you and me. I am here to help you, Stephen; I am going to rid you of your problem so you are no longer wasting time with Gwen.”
As soon as he finishes this statement, he begins clicking the pen again as if he is nervous. Stephen starts to fight his bonds again to stand between the masked man and his wife, who he knows he still loves. The masked man places his hand between Stephen and Gwen. Then he crawls on top of her, positioning himself so he is straddling Gwen and her body is between his legs. After the humiliation he has faced – being told by a total stranger that his wife is cheating – seeing him on top of her is too much for Stephen. He manages to get a leg free from the tape and starts kicking towards the man. However, the bed is wide and he just grazes his arm. He is waiting for the man to pull up her night gown and rape her, but that doesn’t happen.
The man looks back and forth between the two, savoring her fear and his anger. He then thrusts the pen directly into Gwen’s right eye. He jams it in so hard and so fast that she dies almost instantly from the pen penetrating the brain pan. Blood spatters everywhere and the suited man takes a few seconds to survey the results. Stephen can see the man’s teeth in the mouth hole of the mask. His smile is demonic and growing. Vice grips of trauma lock his body. He feels numb. It is a blessing.
“Just like I said, Stephen, I am here to help you. I’m here to stop you from wasting everyone’s time.” The man stands up from the bed and walks around to Mr. Bjornson’s side to sit next to him. He stops talking directly to Bjornson, but the husband can hear him mumbling, “You wasted my time, you wasted my time, time is money,” over and over again.
Stephen, still lying there in shock, wakes up as if from a dream and starts to scream, “No, No. No. Why are you doing this to me? What did I do to deserve this?”
“Okay, Stephen, here is the situation: I’m going to need you to pay me for the time you took from me. After all, time is money. So for the time you took away from me last month, I figure you owe me $633. That would make us even for the three hours of my time you wasted. Heck, I won’t even charge you for the time I just saved you by taking Gwen out of your life, consider that a gift from me to you,” he says in a very calm business-like voice.
Stephen thinks he must have fallen back into a dream because this cannot be real. Money for the time he took from the suited man? Three hours? This was all about three measly hours of time? Where did he meet this guy? How did he waste three hours of his time? he keeps thinking.
“Where is my money, Stephen? I am going to have to start adding to the bill if you don’t tell me where my $633 are. Time is money! You wouldn’t want to waste any more of my time would you, Stephen?” the suited man asks angrily. Stephen shakes his head slowly, still not understanding.
As the man starts rifling through their things, Stephen finally comprehends he is looking for his money. He proceeds to tell him that his wallet is on his dresser in the corner of the room and that there should be enough to cover it. The suited man walks over to the dresser and grabs his wallet, takes out the money and counts it. “You only have $450 here, Stephen. Where is the rest of it? Quit wasting my time!” he screams.
“My…my…wife may…have some money in her purse. It’s in the closet…probably on the floor,” Stephen says, his voice choked.
“You know what, Stephen, I kind of like you,” the man says calmly as he goes to the closet. “I liked you last month, too. Well, that is before you decided to waste my time. I like the fact that you want me to take the money from your wife’s purse. I mean, it isn’t like she needs it anymore anyhow and, after all; it is your money anyway. Am I right?” The man’s laugh is high pitched and evil. He reaches into the closet, pulls out the purse and takes out some money. “All she has in here, Stephen, is two 100 dollar bills.” With that, the masked man takes out his own personal wallet and puts $17 exactly on Stephen’s dresser. He puts the $650 into his wallet and proceeds to sit back down by Stephen. Stephen tries to take note of the wallet to tell the police later, but then he realizes that he may not be alive much longer either.
“Stephen,” he says, “like I told you earlier, I’ve been following you and your family for about a month and noticed that you like wasting people’s time. I mean, you went to the appliance store and talked to a salesman about a new television for almost an hour two weeks ago and didn’t buy it. Then you went into an open house just last week and walked around talking to the realtor about how you were considering buying a new home. You took about two hours of his time with no intention of buying the house or even calling him back. You were just there wasting his time! Like his trying to make a living is a joke to you and Gwen.”
“I was going to call him back, that isn’t true. I was very interested in that house!” Stephen spits out.
“Sorry, Stephen, I know better. You see, like I said, I was watching you closely and, the moment you walked out of the house, you threw the realtor’s card away, while you and your wife laughed. You both thought the house was disgusting and way overpriced. You discussed how you love your house right now and would never leave it. Now quit wasting my time with lies and accept the fact that I know you better than you think I do,” he says with some finality.
“I am going to do the rest of the world a favor here, Stephen. You are right handed, is that correct?” he asks. No sooner than Stephen nods his head, the man grabs the duct tape from the floor and duct tapes Stephen’s mouth shut. He then walks out of the bedroom only to return a few moments later with bolt cutters. He leans over Stephen and whispers into his ear, “I am going to cut off your thumb and index finger on your right hand.” Stephen blanches. The man continues, “So you can no longer fill out any paperwork or sign anything and waste anyone else’s time like you wasted mine, the realtor, and the appliance salesman.”
He then stands up and cuts off Mr. Bjornson’s thumb and finger. As Stephen lays there in unbearable pain, unable to scream with his mouth taped shut, his face blood red , his temple veins popping thick, the suited man leans back in and whispers, “Don’t worry. You won’t die from this. I want you to live and learn not to waste other people’s time anymore. I also want you tell anyone and everyone to stop wasting people’s time. Tell them all how time is important to you now that you have a second chance. Tell them that they need to be considerate of other people’s time and not just their own. You can do that for me, right, Stephen?” Stephen nods frantically as tears flow from his tortured eyes. He feels himself slipping in and out of consciousness as he feels his blood pumping out of his hand. The masked man tears more duct tape from the roll and wraps it around Stephen’s hand almost like a bandage. “We wouldn’t want you bleeding to death before you can get that message out, would we, Stephen?” Stephen shakes his head no.
The man now rips back the tape from Stephen’s mouth, taking part of his moustache off with it. He tastes blood. The tape has ripped off some skin. The man then picks up the phone next to the bed, lays the mouthpiece on the pillow next to Stephen’s mouth and proceeds to dial 911. He picks up Stephen’s bloody finger off the floor and uses it to write, “DON’T WASTE PEOPLE’S TIME” on the wall as the phone rings. He then calmly walks out of the room, whistling as if he has no care in the world. The song he is whistling is very familiar, but Stephen cannot place it. Stephen recognizes the sound of his back door opening and closing. The man is finally gone. As he starts to feel light-headed, he wonders if he is in a nightmare he cannot escape.
The tickle of the blood dripping down the side of his jaw brings him back to awareness. He hears the operator repeatedly asking if anyone is there. Stephen yells hoarsely into the phone as best as he can, “Please help me, there was a man here in my house! He killed my wife. He…..he hurt me. I’m bleeding and I’m tied up. Please hurry – I’ve lost a lot of…” As he drifts in and out of terrible dreams and thoughts, his mind keeps returning to his children. Did the man hurt them? Are they even alive? He prays that they will not find him like this. With tears now flowing along with the blood, he finally closes his eyes to the darkness of what has happened, his body numbing with the shock. Stephen passes out.
It takes almost ten minutes for the ambulance to arrive, followed shortly by the police. The police knock on the door at first, but hear nothing so they break down the door and rush into the house. They yell as they rush around the house, looking for the family, but no one responds.
The smell of copper from the bloody mess the murderer has left behind consumes them as they move up the stairs. With the medics behind them the police clear rooms one by one potentially destroying evidence. The master bedroom is the first room the paramedics enter upstairs as the door stands slightly ajar. There they find Stephen unconscious with blood dripping from the duct tape bandage on his right hand. His right cheek lies in a small pool of blood from his torn moustache. He is still duct taped to the bed and, next to him, lays his dead wife. The first officer in the room takes one look around and runs to the master bath and vomits up his lunch. Today is his first day, and the pen in her eye and the blood surrounding Stephen is just too much for him to handle.
The police officers go back into the hall to allow the medics to work on Stephen. James is fairly new to the force and has never seen such a violent crime. While he is upset that this happened to the family, he is also excited to be involved in what will likely be a big case for his station. His partner, Bob, is tired and waiting to retire soon. He is trying to pass on his knowledge to James, but feels that sometimes James lacks compassion for others.
James enters six year old Billy’s room. Above the red race car bed, Billy’s name is carved into a piece of driftwood. There are little green army men scattered around the floor as if it was the beaches of Normandy. James sees numerous trophies on his dresser top for various sports. James wonders how Billy could have slept through all the mayhem in his parents’ room. He doesn’t want to startle the boy as this is going to be a terrible night for him. The officer wants to take him out of the house before he can see anything that has happened to his parents just down the hall. He tries to lift the small boy up very carefully as not to wake him.
However, Billy isn’t ever going to wake up. Billy lays in James’ arms like a limp doll. The murderer had smothered him with his pillow and, after he was sure he was dead, he cut off his finger and thumb from his right hand. The lack of bruising around the cuts indicates Billy’s heart was not beating at the time. James says a silent prayer that his future children will never go through this and gently places the boy back down.
Written on the wall in blood, only visible after James turns on the car-shaped lamp, is, “LIKE FATHER LIKE SON”. James can only imagine what this monster has done to the little girl. Right then, he gets a huge lump in his throat as he sees Bob walk out shaking his head.
For some reason, James has to see this other room. Maybe by seeing the chaos, he can understand and control it. Sandy’s room is very upbeat. There are pink walls, a princess bedspread, and dozens of stuffed animals on her bed and dresser. He can feel her presence and happiness just by walking into her world. She is only three yet there she is having been smothered with her own pillow. Her finger and thumb are missing, and just like her brother, they were removed after she was murdered. Written in blood on the wall is, “WHORE JUST LIKE MOM”.
Bob drops to his knees and starts sobbing right there. He thinks of his grandchildren, who are about Sandy and Billy’s ages. What would he do if this ever happened to them? How could a human being do this to children? he thinks. James doesn’t know what to do except pat Bob on the shoulder. He is having the same thoughts, but isn’t as affected since his kids do not exist yet.
As James and Bob re-enter the master bedroom, they see Stephen being transferred to a gurney. He has an IV in his arm. He looks up at them and says in a hoarse voice, “Please check on my kids. They’re down the hall.” The officers exchange a quick knowing look. They assure Mr. Bjornson that they will take care of everything while he gets treated.
Stephen starts to feel woozy from the drugs that were given to him by the paramedics and finally closes his eyes into a deep sleep. As they push Stephen out into the hallway the paramedics ask the police officers if they need to help the children. Bob shakes his head no, putting one finger to his lips to indicate silence; He then puts his head down again to pray.
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Genre – Mystery / Thriller
Rating – PG
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