They confronted him shortly after dark, maybe thirty feet from the safety of his car.
Kris Langetieg-husband, father, affable redhead-had just emerged from a school-board meeting. He was walking head down alongside the lightly trafficked side street where he had parked, eager to get home to his family, distracted enough that he didn't notice the two men until they were already bracketing him on the narrow sidewalk. One in front, one behind.
Langetieg recognized them immediately. The guys from the cartel. His loafers skidded on a fine layer of West Virginia grit as he came to a halt. A thin summer sweat covered his upper lip.
"Hello again," one of them said.
The one in front. The one with the gun.
"What do you want?" Langetieg asked, sweat now popping on his brow. "I already told you no."
"Exactly," the other one said.
The one behind. The one closing fast.
Langetieg braced himself. He was a big man. Big and soft. Panic seized him.
A man in front. A man behind. A fence to his right. A truck to his left. All the cardinal points blocked, and his car might as well have been in Ohio. Still, if he could get his legs under him, if he could get his arms up, if he could get some breath in his lungs . . .
Then the current entered him: twelve hundred volts of brain-jarring juice, delivered through the wispy tendrils of a police-grade Taser. Langetieg dropped to the ground, his muscles locked in contraction.
The doors of a nearby panel van opened, and two more men emerged. Both were Mexican and built like wrestlers, low to the ground and practical. They picked up Langetieg's helpless bulk and dumped it in the back of the van.
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."