As the van got under way, the wrestlers blindfolded him, bound his wrists and ankles, and stuffed his mouth with a dish towel, securing it in place with another binding. Each task was accomplished with the ruthless efficiency of men who had done this before.
Langetieg's only sustaining hope was that someone saw what had happened; someone who might even recognize that an assistant US Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia was being taken against his will.
He strained to listen for the blare of sirens, the thump of helicopter rotors, some reassuring sound to tell him his captors hadn't gotten away clean.
But it was a hot summer evening, the kind of night when folks in Martinsburg, West Virginia, were still inside, savoring their air-conditioning. So there was nothing. Just the hum of tires on asphalt, the whoosh of air around molded steel, the churn of pistons taking him farther from any chance of rescue.
For twenty-five minutes, they drove. The ropes bit his skin. The blindfold pressed his eyes. A small corner of the dish towel worked its way farther back in his throat, nauseating him. He willed himself not to puke. He already couldn't breathe through his mouth; if the vomit plugged his nose, he'd suffocate.
Lying on the floor of the van, he felt every bounce, jolt, and jerk of the vehicle's suspension. He could guess where they were traveling, albeit only in vague terms: first city streets, then highway, then country roads.
Soon the ride got rougher. The relative hush of the asphalt was replaced by the cacophony of gravel, of tires crunching on small stones, spinning them up to ping off the underside of the vehicle. Next came dirt, which was bumpier than gravel or asphalt, but quieter. The loudest sound was the occasional brushing of weeds against the chassis.
Finally, they stopped. When the doors swung open, Langetieg smelled pine. The wrestlers grabbed him again. No longer paralyzed, Langetieg bucked and thrashed, howling into his muzzle like the wounded animal he was.
It didn't accomplish much.
"You want to get tased again, homie?" one of the men asked in Spanish-accented English.
Langetieg sagged. They carried him twenty more feet, then up a small set of steps. He was inside now. The pine scent vanished. Mildew and black mold replaced it.
He was untied one limb at a time, then just as quickly retied, this time to a chair.
Only then did they remove the blindfold. The lead cartel guy stood in front of him, holding a knife.
The gag came off next.
"Wait, wait," Langetieg said the moment his mouth was free. "I've changed my mind. I'll do whatever you want. I'll do—"
"Sorry," the man said. "Too late."
I went to the theater that day telling myself this was it.
The last rush from hearing the seats fill up before the show. The last time striding out into the lights and losing myself in a character. The last opportunity to romance an audience.
I had been doing this, at venues both grand and grim, since I was seven years old. It had been a good run. No, a great one: probably better than ninety-nine point nine percent of people who had ever entertained the conceit that they could entertain; certainly better than an undersize, plain-looking, lower-middle-class kid from Hackensack, New Jersey, had a right to hope for.
But it is the one immortal truth of both life and theater that all runs come to an end. Usually before the actor wants them to. Whereas I had once been prized for my precocity and small stature and ability to play child roles as a teenager and teenage roles as a young adult, I was now just a cautionary tale: the former child Broadway star who had finally grown up.
At twenty-seven, I was too old for kid roles (not to mention too broad in the chest and, lately, too thin in the hairline). At the same time, I was too young to play most character roles. And I was definitely too short to be a leading man.