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An Excerpt from Kidnapped
I took my afternoon walk with my dog. We climbed along the trail that winds uphill in a switchbacked, clockwise loop from our house in Sam Dent through the woods along a rumpled ridge and back down to the house. The understory is thick and brush impacted, the overstory leafy and low. There are no grand views up there of the surrounding mountains and valleys and the village. The woods itself is the scenery.
     It’s a forty-five-minute hike. The trail, mapped and marked and maintained by my wife and me over the decades that we have lived here, passes uphill through dense stands of birch and oak and maple and poplar, a tree the locals call popple. At the top and along the north-facing ridge, the mix of hardwoods is displaced by a descending grove of conifers, mostly scrub pine and balsam. Every spring my wife and I clear the trail of blowdown and rake away the previous autumn’s moldering leaves that would otherwise obscure the trail and encourage new growth, or our way through the woods would soon be lost to us. Sometimes we are forced to reroute the trail around the immovable fallen trunk of a mature tree uprooted by a winter gale. In spring the trail often erodes in places and turns to mud, and we shift it to higher, drier ground nearby. In these small ways the trail keeps changing, and the changes add up, until after a decade or so we no longer remember its original route.
     I thought about that, and then I thought about how the lumber companies scalped the hills and valleys in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, before shifting south to clear-cut the forests of Georgia and the Carolinas. For a few generations, local farmers pastured cows and sheep and kept the land bald, save for a few scattered oak and chestnut trees nurtured to shade the grazing herds, until the farmers and herdsmen too abandoned these bare northern hills for flatter, greener pastures in the Midwest and West or for city and suburban life.
     A few solitary, century-old oak and chestnut trees spared to shade the livestock remain, surrounded now by robust second- and third-growth trees. They are almost invisible, until you find yourself standing next to one. Our switchbacking trail passes near one ancient oak in the middle of a birch and popple grove on the way up and another located in among the scrub pines on the way down. They no longer produce descendants. Their bark is crumpled and withered. They are lightning struck and wind torn, split and scarred, and many of the largest branches are leafless and about to fall. Fungi—chicken of the woods and mazegill and bracket—cling like carbuncles to their thickened, corrugated bark.
     Were it not for these old oaks, isolatoes among the younger hardwoods and conifers, we would think this was the same forest now as when it was threaded by paths made by the Iroquois and Algonquin natives crossing seasonally from the St. Lawrence valley to the Hudson, before the arrival of the white people with their steel axes and saws and their plows and domesticated animals. We would think it was the forest primeval itself, timeless, unchanging, the way the world at this exact crossing of longitude and latitude and altitude and soil and climate was meant to be and had always been.
     But we would be wrong. A second-growth forest is not the same as a first, and a third is not the same as a second. Those old dying oak and chestnut trees saved a century ago from axe and saw to shade the grazing livestock are surrounded now by all the wrong progeny—birches and popple in one case, pine trees in the other. Absent a mature overstory’s broad canopy, the understory receives too much unfiltered light, and low thickets and dense copses of trees and shrubs all the same age spring up.
     In ancient times a carpet of fallen leaves and ferny ground cover was lit by long beams of sunlight descending from openings in the treetops as if from the clerestory windows of a great cathedral. Humans and other animals walked easily among the tall, straight trunks and had unobstructed views from glen to vernal pond and stream to the glacial moraine beyond. That was a forest, not a woods. But the forest was not replaced by itself. It was displaced and replaced by these woods, which is a different and lesser thing.
     My dog darted through the brush ahead of me, tracing the lingering spoor of a deer or bear or coyote, led by his nose instead of our man-made trail. And as I walked I remembered again a story from the village, part of which I saw, part of which I heard from witnesses, and part of which I imagined.

The story, as it shaped itself in my memory and imagination, began one night late in August of 2019, a few months after Franklin and Elizabeth Dent, known locally as Frank and Bessie Dent, sold their house in town. They moved their twenty-year-old grandson, Steven, whom they called Stevie, into a single-wide trailer they bought for him on Route 9N and took up living in the one-story, one-bedroom, prefab log house they’d built on a wooded forty-acre lot up on Irish Hill that had been in Frank’s family for generations.
     Frank and Bessie had designed their house on Irish Hill several years earlier for their coming old age—all the rooms on one floor, door openings wide enough for a wheelchair, though neither had need for one yet, kitchen cabinets low and easy to reach, walk-in shower and grab bars in the bathroom, ramps leading to the front and back doors, and an attached, heated garage for their Subaru Outback. They were rational pessimists, the kind of people who anticipate disaster and make careful plans to avoid it. Stevie didn’t object to the move. He said he’d intended to find a place of his own anyhow. The single-wide on 9N a few miles from his grandparents’ home suited him perfectly, he said.
     That was the night Frank and Bessie were kidnapped. But the story doesn’t begin there. It began years earlier. They had both retired at seventy—Frank from Gordon Oil Company in Au Sable Forks, where for forty-two years he had worked his way up from driver to office manager, Bessie from the Lake Placid branch of Adirondack Bank and Trust, where she had been a teller. She started at the bank right out of high school and quit in 2005 in order to raise Stevie and returned nine years later when Stevie started high school.
     Stevie’s father, Chip, Frank and Bessie’s only child, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2004, leaving behind Chip’s twenty-three-year-old widow and five-year-old son. The widow, Amy Dent (née Clarkson), was from an old, respected Sam Dent family. She got into drugs, or she was already into drugs and Chip didn’t know about it, or he never would have enlisted to go to Iraq to fight the terrorists. But after he was killed and his remains brought back and buried, she was arrested a few times and was in and out of rehab. Frank and Bessie took Stevie in, until finally we heard Amy had run off with her biker boyfriend for someplace down south, New Orleans or Miami, where after a few years she was rumored to have died of an overdose. In town it was kind of expected. Her parents, both of whom had dementia, were living by then in a retirement home in Plattsburgh, where children weren’t allowed, so Frank and Bessie raised Stevie as if he were their son, and they loved him dearly.
     Because of their grief over having lost their son, Chip, in the Iraq War, they loved their grandson even more than they had loved Chip at the same age. Also, when they were raising Stevie they were older, if not wiser, in their late fifties and sixties, with most of their life behind them. Some people, as they grow old, live in the past, because there’s more of it. Others live in the future, despite there being less of it. Frank and Bessie lived in the future.
     For them, the past, after the loss of Chip, was tainted by grief and guilt. After the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, Chip, like so many Americans, believed that it was his patriotic and religious duty to fight and defeat the Muslim terrorists. Frank encouraged him to enlist in the Marines, just as his father, a World War II veteran, had urged Frank to join the Marines and go to Vietnam to fight and defeat the godless Communists. For different reasons than Frank’s, Bessie also encouraged Chip to enlist. She was no friend of her son’s marriage to Amy Clarkson and hoped the wartime separation might tempt Amy to leave him. Bessie had already begun back then to imagine raising Stevie herself with Frank until Chip found himself a new and more stable, drug-free wife. Chip was a good catch, handsome and athletic, with an associate’s degree from Adirondack Community College, and he had his old job as a lineman for NYSEG waiting for him when he returned from Iraq. Chip loved little Stevie, and Bessie believed that, if he had lived, Chip would have fought for custody in the divorce, and Amy, with her drug history, would have had to give him up.
     After Chip was killed, Bessie preferred not to remember those thoughts and plans. Frank tried to forget telling Chip that, because of the radical Islamic attacks of September 11, 2001, if he was a young man, he’d be headed to Iraq alongside him. For different reasons, Bessie and Frank felt guilty for the way things had turned out. But forgetfulness was easier of access and less complicated than regret. So Frank and Bessie lived in the future, and for them the future was Stevie.
     They doted on the child and bent their will and wishes to his and believed that he was brilliant and beautiful, and they rarely hesitated to say so. At Bessie’s urging, they had become regular parishioners at the Westport Bible Church, even though it meant a seventeen-mile drive from their home and back. The too-liberal minister of the Congregational Church in Sam Dent had married a gay couple, two women, and they’d had enough. They enjoyed telling the story of how, whenever they were in the parking lot of the Westport Bible Church, Stevie, who was only five then and in kindergarten, called out random-seeming numbers as they walked past the parked cars. “Seventy-seven!” “Ninety-one!” “Forty-three!” The way Frank told it, one Sunday morning, walking from their car to the church door, he followed the boy’s gaze and realized that he was adding up and calling out the sums of the individual numbers on the number plates. Bessie credited Stevie’s love of numbers to Pastor Rob Williston’s habit of quoting chapter and verse from the Bible by number. Frank said it proved he was a little Einstein. It’s possible they were both right.
     Some folks in town, friends of Frank and Bessie, who were themselves no longer raising young children but remembered their own when they were Stevie’s age and had grandkids whom they saw frequently, thought that actually Stevie was unexceptional and just spoiled. The kindergarten teacher, Elsa McCann, did not think he was a genius. She had taken a child psychology course at Plattsburgh State and believed Stevie had serious anger issues and might be borderline mentally ill. She didn’t know in what way, exactly. The other children were a little afraid of him, and she could hardly wait until he moved on to first grade. He seemed to have no friends, but appeared not to care, as long as he had his grandparents’ love and constant attention. He rarely spoke to others, whether children or adults, but when at home he talked constantly to Frank and Bessie, telling them in a jumble of words in frequently disconnected sentences everything that passed through his mind, which they took to be a further sign of his genius.
     Bessie sometimes worried about Stevie’s strange behavior and lack of friends, but Frank said, “Really smart kids like Stevie, they play the game by different rules than the rest of us.” The boy did not seem unhappy or lonely, Frank pointed out. He enjoyed showing off to his grandparents, who understood him and loved him without restraint and raised him restriction free. “He withholds himself from the other kids on purpose,” Frank said. “Kids with normal IQs and interests, they probably bore him. Chip was a little like that when he was a kid,” he reminded her.
     Despite Frank’s reassurance, Bessie was afraid that Stevie’s mother’s genes and her drug addiction and Chip’s departure for Iraq and subsequent disappearance from Stevie’s life, even though he was little more than a toddler when all this happened, had combined to warp Stevie’s young psyche in ways that did not necessarily produce signs of higher intelligence. It occurred to her from time to time that their grandson was “mentally disturbed”—Bessie would not say “mentally ill”—and as he grew older and exhibited increasingly odd and antisocial behavior, first in elementary school and later in middle and high school, she watched him with growing fear.
     She wasn’t afraid of him; he was extremely passive and nonviolent. She was afraid for him. In Sam Dent, except for the few who are homeschooled, all the children from kindergarten through twelfth grade attend the same school. There are usually thirteen to fifteen students to a class, and they are classmates from early childhood to early adulthood and grow up almost like first and second cousins. It’s tribal, practically familial, and the roles they acquire early they keep all the way to graduation and beyond, when they become adult members of the community. Except for the few who move away for college or the military or marry someone from another part of the country, they retain the roles they acquired as children all the way to old age and decrepitude, and after they’re gone that’s how people remember them.
     From the start, little Stevie Dent was the self-selected outsider, the deliberate loner, the boy and eventually the man who, except in the company of his grandparents, kept his thoughts, opinions, and feelings to himself. And he was indeed little, slightly built and always the shortest member of his class, even shorter than the girls and later the women, topping out when he was eighteen at five feet four inches. In that sense, as Bessie feared, Amy’s genes were kicking in, for she had been a tiny woman, barely five feet in height and weighing less than ninety pounds. Stevie’s dad, Chip, like Frank and Bessie, had been tall and muscular and well proportioned and athletic. Chip had been a varsity athlete in three sports all through high school and after graduation played first base for the Beavers’ town team alongside his dad. Frank for many years was the catcher for the Sam Dent Beavers, the men’s town softball team, and Bessie was an avid ice skater and cross-country skier. Stevie, though, never tried out for any team and was not known to have participated even in nonteam sports, like golf or fly-fishing or hunting. Which is unusual in a town like Sam Dent, where athletics, sports, are a way of life, a maker and marker of social status and value.
     After high school, Stevie turned his part-time summer job at the Willow Wood Nursery into a full-time year-round position and continued living in town with his grandparents, who had not yet moved into their small, carefully planned retirement house on Irish Hill. He no longer attended church with Frank and Bessie, which saddened them, especially Bessie. Frank assured her that Stevie would eventually find Jesus on his own, just as they had. For graduation—at the bottom of a class of fourteen—Frank gave his grandson a new, shark-gray Ford F-150 pickup truck, although he financed and registered it in his own name. Stevie enjoyed driving the truck and never walked anywhere if he could drive it, and he liked working at the nursery. The long, silent, solitary hours spent outdoors all summer transplanting and weeding and composting and watering the flowers and shrubs and seedlings and saplings calmed him, and in winter he was glad for the humidity and fan-blown heat of the greenhouse and loved the turbid odor of the black soil in the beds.
     Because of Stevie’s evident lack of ambition and his uncomplaining, solitary ways, the couple who owned and managed the nursery, Benny and Cecelia Brown, thought he was perfect for the job. “Stevie’s been a steady worker from day one, reliable and honest and on time,” Benny said to the reporter for the Adirondack Weekly Harbinger who came to the nursery to question the Browns about Stevie after the news broke that his mother had been killed and his grandparents kidnapped.
“He doesn’t talk much under the best of circumstances. Don’t be surprised if he won’t talk to you, especially now,” Benny told the reporter. He was correct. Stevie did not agree to be interviewed, not then, not later. Not ever.

The kidnapping occurred on the night of August 16 in 2019, where I began this story. It was after supper, the dishes were washed and dried and put away, and Frank and Bessie were trying to watch America’s Got Talent on their new flat-screen TV, but Frank kept screwing up the remote commands and couldn’t find the channel. Finally he passed the remote over to Bessie.
“You do it, you’re so darn smart,” he said and got up from his La-Z-Boy recliner and walked to the deck window and looked out. There was still enough dusky light for him to see across the driveway to the road. “Times like this,” he said, “we need Stevie,” when a gray Ford F-150 with tinted windshield and side windows turned off the road into the driveway. “Well, whaddaya know? Seek and ye shall find,” he said. “Knock and it shall be opened to you.”
     “That’s Matthew, dear. Seven seven. Who is it?”
     “It’s kind of late for him to drop by without calling. Nothing’s wrong, I hope,” she said.
     “Probably needs a tool or a ladder or something. That trailer of his is pretty bare-bones,” Frank said. He grabbed his red MAGA cap off the hook by the door and put it on and walked out to the deck and threw a grandfatherly wave of the hand at the truck as it pulled up and stopped, facing the garage. That’s when Frank saw on the rear bumper the blue-and-white Quebec number plate with the motto that always annoyed him, because he didn’t know what it meant. Je me souviens.
     “It’s not Stevie,” he said. “It’s Canadians. Canucks. Must be lost or something.”
     No one had stepped from the truck yet, and Frank couldn’t see who was inside or how many there were. It was a SuperCrew with four doors and a rear bench seat, a year or two older than Stevie’s F-150. He walked to the edge of the deck and stood at the top of the ramp, so the driver and passengers, if there were any, could see him. He waited for someone to get out or lower the window and ask for directions. Tourists, he figured. It was a Friday, and he wondered if it was a Canadian holiday weekend, their Thanksgiving or Independence Day or something. They should sync their national holidays with ours, he thought. It would make it easier for everyone.
     The driver’s and the front passenger’s doors opened simultaneously, and two men emerged from the truck. One, the driver, was tall and gaunt, the other short and wide and bulging with muscles like a bodybuilder, both wearing orange safety vests over bright yellow road-crew T-shirts with SINTRA printed across the front. For a second, Frank thought they were workers and must have crossed the border after work to drink at one of the north country roadhouses and taken a wrong turn heading back to Canada. Something like that. Drunk, probably.
     They got closer, and Frank saw that their heads were wrapped in women’s nylon stockings knotted at the top. He removed his glasses and let them hang from his neck by the string and rubbed his eyes. The men looked like Martians. Then he realized that they were aiming handguns at him.
     The taller one said, “Just stand there, Papé. Hands on the banister, and you will do OK.” He spoke English with a diluted French accent. Red, blue, and green tattoos of serpents and saints crawled up his skinny arms and disappeared under the sleeves of his T-shirt, reappearing at the neck.
     “Yeah,” the other said. “Papé.”
     Bessie called from the living room, “Frank, the show’s on! You’re going to miss it!”
     “Is there anybody more here, Papé? Just you and the old lady?”
     Frank shook his head no. His mouth was too dry to speak. His legs were trembling, and he clung to the railing, not because he’d been ordered to at gunpoint, but so he wouldn’t fall.
     “Recueillir la grande-mère,” the man with the tattoos said to the other.
     “No!” Frank cried. Without understanding French, he knew what the man meant. La grande-mère was Bessie.
     “Don’t worry. As long as you do what we say, nobody gonna get hurt.”
     “Yeah,” said Muscles. He walked past Frank through the open door into the living room, and Frank heard Bessie scream. He heard Muscles say, “Shut the fuck up, Mémé.”
     Frank found his voice and called to her, “It’s OK, just . . . just do what he says! Give them whatever they want!” He turned to Tattoos. “What do you want?” Frank thought he could detect a smile and a thatched mustache behind the mesh of the stocking mask.
     “What have you got?”
     “Nothing! We don’t have any valuables,” he said. “We don’t keep any cash, except for groceries and such.” He was talking fast now. “Credit cards? Want our credit cards? I’ll give you our Adirondack Trust ATM cards too, and the number codes, the PIN numbers. You can withdraw up to five hundred dollars with each card,” he said. “Same with the credit cards. That’s two thousand dollars in cash right there.”
     “OK, OK. We’ll tap the cards and the ATMs when we leave town. First we want you and Mémé in there to make a phone call for us.” He waved his gun in the direction of the door. “Inside, Papé.”
     Frank let go of the railing and walked into the living room, and the tattooed gunman followed close behind.
     Bessie, wide-eyed and blinking, looked up at Frank from the sofa expectantly, as if he could explain what was happening. She said, “Frank?”
     Muscles stood behind her, gun at his side, watching America’s Got Talent on the TV.
     “They want our credit cards and ATM cards,” Frank said. “And they want us to make a phone call.”
     “A phone call? To who?”
     Muscles said, “Tu as vu ce spectacle, Denis? C’est étrange.” “Pas de nom, asshole,” Tattoos snapped. “And stop watching the fucking TV,” he said in English. “Désolé.
     Frank caught their meaning, if not the exact words. He wondered why the man didn’t want them to know his name, his nom, when his tattoos identified him so well. The name was French anyhow, weird sounding, like a woman’s. Dinnee. Frank couldn’t have spelled it and knew he’d forget it. Not the tattoos, though. Or the muscles. He decided that the men were too stupid to be dangerous. He suddenly wasn’t afraid of them. He hadn’t been afraid of anyone since 1972, when he came back from Vietnam. If they were Americans, he knew that he and Bessie would be dead by now. These guys are clowns, he thought, French Canadians with guns. He decided to be nice to them.
     Frank said, “Don’t you have a phone of your own?”
     “We need to use yours.”
     Frank said. “Those T-shirts and road-crew vests. You guys really work for something called Sintra?”
     “I dunno. Just curious.”
     Muscles said, “We used to work for them.”
     Denis said, “Shut the fuck up, Paul!”
     “Pas de nom, asshole,” Paul said and laughed.
     So it’s Dinnee and Pole, Frank thought. Tattoos and Muscles. Got it. In his mind he was already testifying at their trial. He said to Bessie, “Just be calm and do whatever they say. We’ll be OK, I promise.”
     Denis asked if they had any guns in the house, and Frank said no. Denis said, “Don’t fucking lie to me, man. I know you got guns. You’re American. Look at that hat you got on. You’re a goddamn Trump supporter. I’m not stupid. You got guns?”
     Frank shrugged and led the men with Bessie back to the dressing room off his and Bessie’s bedroom where he kept the metal gun cabinet. He liked showing off his firearms and rarely had the opportunity. He unlocked the cabinet with one of the dozen keys dangling from the carabiner that he wore clipped to his belt loop. Bessie said it made him look like a janitor, but he didn’t care. He swung the door open. The cabinet held his M16 and his 30.06 and his 20-gauge shotgun and his .22 caliber rifle and the two handguns, the Glock and the 9mm Springfield. There were a half dozen boxes of ammo on the shelf at the bottom of the cabinet.
     “Sweet,” Denis said.
     Paul said, “How come you got so many fucking guns?”
     “It’s not so many. Well, for hunting,” Frank said. “And in case of a home invasion, I guess.”
     Denis laughed. “What the fuck you think this is?” In French he told Paul to put the guns and ammo in the truck under the false bed liner and walked Frank and Bessie back to the living room.
     Frank sat on the sofa next to Bessie and pulled his cell phone from his pants pocket. He held it out and said, “OK, so who do you want us to call? Or do you just want to borrow my phone?”
     “Call your grandson.”
     “You mean Stevie?”
     “Yeah, Steve. Stevie. Whatever. If he sees it’s you, he’ll pick up. He don’t seem willing to answer when it’s us. We spent all morning at his trailer and the afternoon at that place where he works, waiting for him to show up, but the guy has fled the coop.”
     “Why do you need to talk to Stevie?” Frank said.
     “Don’t worry about that. Just call him. When he answers, tell him hello so he knows it’s you, and give me the phone,” Denis said. “Switch it to speaker first,” he added.
     Frank nodded and put his glasses on. Bessie clutched his arm while he put the phone on speaker and punched in Stevie’s number.
     After the third ring, Stevie answered. “Hey, Pops. Wussup?”
     Frank said, “Stevie, there’s someone here wants . . .”
     Denis grabbed the phone, cutting him off. “I got your fucking grandparents here, Steve! You want to see them alive again, you know what you gotta do.” A few seconds of silence passed. “Steve? I know you’re listening. This is Denis, Steve,” he said, and the phone went dead.
     “Asshole!” Denis threw the phone down on the coffee table. “I like you, Papé, but your grandson, he is a fucking asshole!”
     Bessie scowled and said, “Don’t you dare talk about Stevie that way! Shame on you!”
     Paul entered the room. He spoke a few sentences in French that sounded like questions, and Denis answered, and Paul shook his head and bit his lower lip and looked disgusted.
     Frank picked up his phone and turned to Denis. “You told Stevie, ‘You know what you gotta do.’ What do you mean by that? What’s he gotta do? Maybe Bessie and me, maybe we can do it for him.”
     Denis said, “Your boy Steve, he has kept something that don’t belong to him for longer than we agreed. Other than that, you don’t need to know.”
     For a few minutes Denis quizzed Frank and Bessie about their grandson. He wanted to know where Stevie hung out when he wasn’t at his trailer or working at the plant nursery.
     They answered truthfully. He hung out with them, usually here, at their house, watching TV.
     Denis asked for the names of his friends.
     They said he didn’t have any close friends, just acquaintances, people he’d gone to school with.
     “No girlfriends?” “No girlfriends.”
     “What about his mother, Amy? She have any friends here?”
     Bessie said, “We don’t have anything to do with her. And neither does Stevie.”
     Frank said, “We heard she was back in the area. But she’s not tried to get in touch with him.”
     “She better not,” Bessie said.
     “Stevie would’ve told us if she had,” Frank said.
     Denis said their grandson, Steve, and his mom had business dealings with a few local people who did business with other local people. Denis and Paul were wholesalers; Steve and his mother did mainly retail. They dealt in and around Sam Dent, and their customers bought and sometimes resold. Denis wanted to know the names of the people Steve and his mother did business with.
     But Stevie? Maybe Denis had him confused with someone else from town. Frank and Bessie knew there were several groups in and around Sam Dent, mostly young people, who bought and sold drugs—opioids, marijuana, meth, even heroin—and sometimes they gathered at drug-fueled parties after the Spread Eagle closed at eleven. A half dozen deaths and near deaths from overdosing in the region had recently made it to the evening news. Pastor Rob had given a series of blistering sermons on the topic last month at the Westport Bible Church. Frank and Bessie knew about drugs.
     Stevie’s mother, their daughter-in-law, had been a drug user. But that was fifteen or sixteen years ago, and she had abandoned him and left town and for years was rumored to have died somewhere down South of an overdose, and Stevie knew all about that, because Frank and Bessie had wanted him to know. They had raised Stevie to be as wary of drugs and his mother as they were. They’d heard she was alive and had come back to the North Country and was living in Plattsburgh, but hadn’t mentioned it to Stevie. Besides, Stevie was a loner, he never went to parties or hung out drinking at the Spread Eagle, and he had a steady job at the Willow Wood plant nursery and no loan on his truck to pay off or rent for his single-wide, thanks to the generosity of his grandparents, so he didn’t need the money. Why would he sell drugs? Why would he be involved with his mother, Amy? Why would he be doing business with men like these two Canadians? There must be some terrible mistake. None of it made sense.
     “You’re looking for the wrong Steve Dent,” Frank declared. “Steve’s a pretty common name around here.” But he was starting to think that maybe it did make sense. It was only a glimmer of an insight into his grandson’s personality and character, and it contradicted everything that he had believed and said about him since the day they first took him into their home and raised him as their own. He thought about Stevie being abandoned by his mother and, in a deeply felt sense, by his father too, and spending his childhood and adolescence in the care of two overprotective elderly people and always being the smallest kid in his class and possibly, despite what his grandparents claimed, not a genius, not even the brightest or cleverest kid in his class, and maybe he was, like his kindergarten teacher once said, mentally ill and not just different from normal kids. OK, he was definitely different. But maybe that didn’t mean what Frank and Bessie had taken it to mean.
     These thoughts came to him as a jumbled, unsorted cluster of insights, and they filled him with sorrow and pity for his grandson, and for a moment he could imagine how the boy might have tried to make himself important and essential to the crowd, all the other young people in town who had never respected or especially liked him, by procuring drugs for them and their friends and the drug-using summer people from downstate. He could imagine Stevie selling the drugs too cheaply or maybe even giving them away to curry favor with them and not making enough money to pay back what he owed these Canadian dealers. He remembered the bartender at the Spread Eagle greeting Stevie as “Candyman” once when he and Bessie and Stevie went there for supper to celebrate his twentieth birthday.
     He saw that his pride and vanity and his refusal to acknowledge the logic of her apprehensions had hurt both his wife and their grandson, and now it had placed his wife and grandson and him too in grave danger. And for a second he understood how his pride and vanity had contributed to the death in Iraq of his beloved son, Chip. Frank had pretended that Iraq was Vietnam. He had let himself think that he was his father and Chip was him. He had been wrong on all counts. He wanted to share these feelings and thoughts with Bessie. But he couldn’t say them aloud to her in front of these men. He could barely say them in silence to himself.

This is an excerpt from the novella “Kidnapped,” which appears in full in our fall 2022 issue, Conjunctions:79, Onword

Russell Banks, twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, was one of America’s most renowned fiction writers. He published ten novels and six short story collections, and his award-winning work was translated into twenty languages. His latest novel is The Magic Kingdom (Knopf).