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My bangs stuck to the small bit of forehead above my blindfold in matted clumps. Mostly from sweat, but also from the dirt and grime of living in this dirty shit hole for the last month and a half.
I lifted my butt off my heels from where I was kneeling to avoid getting cramps in my thighs, and swayed slightly from side to side as I got light headed from the sudden movement and blood rush. If they don’t feed us before we move again I don’t think I’ll survive the trip.
My knees gave a small pop as they cracked when I sat back down again. Through the cracked wooden door I could hear the screaming among the rhythmic thwacks. What was it today? Broom stick? Cricket bat? Whatever it was it sounded relatively light. I always thought it strange that lighter things tended to hurt more when you were hit with them.
The noises of beating subsided and I heard some hushed words exchanged angrily. There was some rustling, a creak, and then the sounds of dragging feet.
The door flew upon with a bang, and I heard the ground thud in the middle of the room where they had thrown Mitch.
The guards exchanged some words in Arabic, and then I felt my blindfold rip back, the light of the world despite being in this dingy mud hut blinding. They yanked me up to my feet as the room came into focus. This wasn’t a face I was used to. This one was new. He stood in front of me in clean clothes, his beard well shaped and tended to.
We held each other’s stare for a while, and then he smiled. Showing a few missing teeth.
“We will saving best for you.” He said in a heavy Arab accent.
With this, they dragged me out into the other room and I heard the door slam shut behind me. They threw me down in the center of the room.
I rolled over onto my side and looked around the room. The translator stared down at me from the corner, looking frustrated. The two who dragged me in and the new guy stood there near the doorway, just looking at me.
The new guy said some words in Arabic which I had come to know quite well. They walked over, each put a hand under my arm pit and lifted me up into the chair. The first one walked behind it and steadied it, the second slowly maneuvered in front of me. A dance I was all too familiar with.
I looked up into his face, never dropping my gaze. He looked especially angry today.
The new guy shouted a quick word in Arabic that might as well have been a bell in a boxing ring, and the angry guy went to town.
He put two hard punches right into my gut that kncoked the wind out of me and sent me hunching over.
“How do the Americans plan to take the city? When will they attack?” The translator asked.
I answered him with solemn silence.
The left side of my head exploded as I was slapped hard with the meaty flesh of an open palm on my ear. The ringing came immediately.
“Which hideouts do they know about? Where do they think we are hiding?”
Silence again, and then a hard shot to my rib cage, followed by another quick punch to my temple that blew me into tunnel vision.
This continued on for a few minutes. The incessant and repetitive questioning, the beating, the panting for breath and the fight to remain conscious. Yet somehow, I was still worried about the new guy.
Once the angry guy was out of breath, I heard a few words in Arabic come from the side of the room. My head hung on my chest, throbbing uncontrollably.
I heard the door open. Good, it was over.
But then I heard footsteps from behind my chair, as the one holding me in place walked into the other room.
Without him to hold me up I slumped to the floor in a pile of breathlessness. I opened my eyes just in time to see them dragging Danny in. They untied his hands and pushed him down into an arm chair where the translator usually sat. They then tied his hands down to the arms of the chair, and then his ankles to the legs.
When they were done, they walked into the living room and out of sight. I looked up at Danny who was staring around the room, at everyone in it, and then down at me. All the while the new guy stood silently against the wall, twisting the very end of his beard.
The footsteps returned from the living room along with clanking of glass. First came the guy who usually held my chair, as he put a small table down next to me, and then the beater, who put down a large bottle of water so cold that it had already begun to condensate, and a plate of bread and lamb. The lamb was cold as well but I could already smell it wafting over to where I lay on the ground helpless.
Next, the two men walked over to a closet and opened the door. I heard them dragging something out but couldn’t see it from where I was laying. I heard them shuffling around and tinkering with it, then some more movement I couldn’t see, the sound of them dropping something down on the ground that seemed heavy, and then finally they walked over to where I was laying and lifted me back up into the chair.
I lifted my head from my shoulder and forced my eyes open. There, looking straight at me was Danny. His eyes then dropped to the table next to me as did mine, the carafe of water and the plate of bread and meat close enough I could practically taste it. I knew he could as well. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw what the two guards had been constructing that whole time.
Against the wall of the room sat a generator. A cord ran from this over to a big black machine, with a long hose and what looked like a garden wand attached to the end of it. I stared at it puzzled. Then, one of the guards walked over to the generator and pulled the cord. It revved into life, spitting and choking on the first bits of fuel. I saw the hose leading from the black machine away and out of the room and horrified, it dawned on me.
It was a pressure washer.
The new guy slowly walked over and picked up the black end of the hose that shot the water. He carried it over in his hands with him as he leaned down to look straight into my eyes.
“’Imma ‘an tashrab, ‘aw yafeal.” He said with a smirk.
I looked worriedly at the translator, who even himself looked scared.
“He says, ‘either you drink, or he does.’”
The new man slowly walked back over to where Danny sat, turned and looked at me with that same smirk, raised the end of the pressure washer an inch away from Danny’s exposed calf, and pulled the trigger.
The smell of warm water and the explosion of screaming filled the room. I sat and stared in horror as the rushing force of the water ripped the meat from his leg little by little, a puddle of muck and blood accumulating under his foot and splattering against his other leg.
After five or so seconds of this the water stopped, and Danny’s screaming rebounded off the walls unencumbered, sinking into my bones.
The new guy nodded at the guards, who bent down behind me and cut the ties on my wrists. I pulled my hands in front of me and rubbed where the ropes had gnawed at my skin and turned it bare.
The new guy stared at me with a toothy smile.
The translator turned to me.
“He says ‘drink.’”
I looked down at the water and then back up at him. He smiled.
Slowly, I reached my hand out towards the water.
He then shouted something in Arabic that startled me and caused my hand to recoil.
“He says for every sip, you must answer one of my questions.”
I stared back up at the translator who was now smiling as well.
Now I understood the game.
“And if I drink, and don’t answer?” I asked him.
There was a quick exchange in Arabic, and then a prompt response.
“Then so does he.” The translator said as he nodded over at Danny, whose screaming had subsided into whimpers, his head hung staring at what was left of his leg.
My stomach dropped, and I felt my chest tighten up like a coiling snake.
I looked back up at the man holding the pressure washer, begging with my eyes not to make me do this. He smiled back, and then the smile slowly faded into an angry scowl.
He took the end of the pressure washer and lifted it up against one of Danny’ hands where it was tied down, and pulled the trigger.
The room was instantly filled again with humidity and screams and the smell of fresh wounds. I attempted to sit up but the two guards behind me shoved me back down and held me by my shoulders. Danny was jerking his upper body wildly trying to pull away from the pain. His fingers twitching and spasming like the legs of a wounded spider.
After what seemed like an eternity the water stopped, and I saw what remained of his hand. A mass of torn flesh and pale white bone. Danny was crying now, his body limp.
“SHURB.” The man yelled at me.
I began to cry as well.
“Danny, they’re going to kill you.” I sobbed.
He panted and hiccupped, but couldn’t force any words out. We both sat there together in the room and cried. Only a few feet away but worlds apart.
“I can’t do it. I can’t just sit here while they kill you.”
The new guy was smiling again. He was slowly leaning down to get on eye level with us, soaking it all in.
“We made a deal, Jeff.” He said between sobs. “We knew it was going to come to this. We weren’t scared.”
“But I’m scared now Danny.” I sobbed back, realizing what he was saying. “I can’t do it. I can’t.”
Danny raised his head just enough to look me in the eye for one split moment.
I squeezed my eyes shut and tears ran down my face, sobbing uncontrollably. I raised my left arm and swatted the top of the table with the back of my hand, sending the plate of food and glass bottle careening against the wall and floor where it shattered.
We both sat there and sobbed.
There was shouting in Arabic but I couldn’t hear it. I looked up and took one last look at my best friend, one of the guards producing from his belt a gleaming machete. I’m not sure which one gave it to him, I didn’t care.
The pressure washer clamored to the ground as he threw it in anger, taking up instead the machete in both hands. He continued to point at me and yell in Arabic but I wasn’t listening. I was too busy drinking in every last moment I had with my friend.
One of the guards walked over and grabbed Danny by the hair, pulling his head down so he was bent over. The new guy wasn’t smiling anymore. He was furious. Screaming at me in Arabic and swinging the machete up and down like a madman.
He positioned himself to the side of Danny so he had a clear cut. He turned and looked me in the eyes and yelled again. Raising the machete above his head.
“NO! PLEASE STOP!” I shouted into that dimly lit and hellish room.
The machete came flying down in a bright glare of metal and reflecting light, it hit the back of Danny’s neck and then everything blew up at once.
I felt myself screaming before I woke up. As everything was making itself real again I felt my chest vibrating and shaking while I thrashed upwards until I was sitting.
My scream was replaced by the lazy hum of the air conditioner as I sat there sucking in the cold dark air. I was sweaty and panting. A shiver ran down my spine as the nightmare’s muggy air was replaced with the cool dry reality.
The light on the other side of the room clicked on as shapes in the dark became recognizable.
“Are you alright?” Mary said timidly. “You were thrashing.”
“Yeah, yeah I’m fine.” I pushed out between breaths. “Just a nightmare.”
There was a long silence between us as I continued to catch my breath.
“The box?” She asked, scared.
I collapsed backwards onto my pillow and put my arms over my head.
“The box.” I answered.
She laid back down and cuddled up against me, putting her head on my chest. I brought down one of my sweaty arms and put it around her, scratching the back of her head. She started to cry quietly.
“Hey, hey now. I’m alright, I’m here.” I assured her, lifting my head so I could look her in the eye. “It was just a bad dream.”
We laid there for a short while in silence. She was beginning to stop crying, I was going over the dream in my head. What was it that he said right as it ended? “Ubloo?”
I picked up a little bit of Arabic but I don’t ever remember hearing this. I shook the thought from my head. Just then the door whined on its hinges as it was gently pushed open just a crack.
My wife rolled over back onto her pillow as I sat up and swung my feet onto the ground. I pushed myself onto them and walked slowly over to the door, where I squatted down.
“Sorry buddy, did I wake you up?”
He nodded at me from the hallway, half his face buried in the stuffed black lab that he was almost surely too old to still be attached to.
“I’m sorry to wake you up pal, Daddy just had a bad dream that’s it.”
He nodded again and stared down at the floor, worried and embarrassed.
“Say, why don’t you come in and keep me company? I don’t want Mommy to know that I was scared. I’m not brave like you.” I said though the crack in the door.
His eyes lit up.
I opened the door and he trotted in slowly and sleepily. I shut the door behind him and then picked him up and carried him to the bed, where I lay him down between myself and Mary.
She smiled at me as I handed him a pillow and rolled over to turn off the light.
In the dark my son rolled over and draped his hand over mine.
“I love you Daddy.” He said dreamily through the fake fur of his stuffed toy.
“I love you too Danny.”
. . .
Phones rang as people bustled half-awake around the station. I took my first sip of black coffee and frowned when I tasted the stale burnt liquid.
“Hey Bill, great job on the coffee today bud!” I said sarcastically as I passed his desk.
“Thanks Jeff!” He responded excitedly, not knowing what I meant.
I threw the binder down onto my desk and wiggled the mouse until the computer screen returned to life.
There staring back at me was the face of Thomas Abian.
I took a long drink of coffee and ran through the file one more time.
Resident of Stoneham, Massachusetts. Practicing psychiatrist and if what the receptionist told me is true, a damn expensive one to boot. One day he just up and leaves everything, goes completely dark and winds up in Tawson, Louisiana with a car packed to the brim with shit, pills and empty booze bottles and a gun in his mouth at the local haunted house.
I shook my head. Local news is going to have a fucking field day with this. The vans are already beginning to circle the place like vultures. I’m just glad we were able to get the body out before any of them had got there.
“Hey, Jeff.” I heard just before the folder slapped onto the desk next to me. I looked up to see Reg, our Chief. “Autopsy is in on your body.”
“Nice, thanks boss.” I said as he walked away, sipping his coffee.
I liked Reg. He was a no-nonsense, old military guy like myself. Though admittedly, he had plenty of years on me.
I opened the autopsy report and began reviewing the information. Death by fatal gunshot wound, that much was obvious. Angle reflects self-infliction, no foul play suspected…
The file went on and on, and then one bit of information caught my eye:
“Cadaver showed rapid signs of cardiovascular distress associated with extreme sleep deprivation, along with intermittent premature liver damage that suggests sudden abuse of alcohol.”
This was curious. Sleeplessness I can explain because of the Adderall. Hell, the guy had somewhere between ten and fifteen empty bottles in his car alone, and drinking I could have guessed given it looked like the guy drank a whole gin distillery on his way down here, but sudden?
I sat back in my chair and rubbed the stubble on my chin.
Why would a wealthy, well off Doctor up and leave everything, turn to the bottle and pills and high tail it down to Louisiana? It just made no sense. I continued to rub my chin, and then leaned over to my desk phone.
I pulled up google and ran a search for hotels in the area, starting with the closest to the old school and moving outward. On the fourth one, just outside of Tawson, I got what I was looking for.
The drive over was short and enjoyable. It was relatively early in the morning so there was no traffic, and I just managed to catch the end of the sports radio segment I usually played while on patrol.
I parked my car right in front of the hotel lobby and walked in. One of the perks of being a cop; you never have to walk too far across parking lots.
The hotel lobby met me with a blast of cool air conditioning. I approached the mousy receptionist who was just sending off an elderly couple with a bellhop to their rooms. When she saw me approaching she smiled and her eyes flashed in a brilliant shade of blue.
“Hello Ma’am.” I began. “Office Jeff Danvers with Tawson Police, I believe we spoke on the phone?”
“Yes Officer.” She responded with another flirting smile. “We’ve been expecting you.”
She rattled away on her keyboard for a few seconds and then pulled a key card from the drawer next to her. She looked up at the screen and then punched in the numbers from the back of the card into the computer.
“Here you go.” She said sliding the card across the hotel desk. “Room 359, on the corner of the building.”
I returned the smile and took the card off the desk. I had begun to turn but then stopped.
“359, is that a corner room?” I asked.
“Well, yes in fact it is Officer.”
I stood and thought for a few seconds.
“The room right on the fire escape, yeah?”
She was a little surprised, as anyone would be.
“Yes, that’s correct.”
That was interesting. As I was walking away I heard her pipe up from behind me.
“Officer!” She called out. I turned around and saw her staring at me. “Is it true that… That he…”
She brought her finger up to her throat and made a slashing motion across it. My mind jumped to hazy images of machetes.
“That’s classified sweetheart.” I said in as calming a tone as I could, and entered the open elevator.
There was a ding as the doors opened. Red patterned carpet that matched the lobby’s lined the floors of the hall. There were two signs directly opposite the open elevator.
“301-325” and an arrow pointing left. “325-360” and an arrow pointing right.
I poked my head out and looked both ways. No one was around. I began the long walk down the hallway towards room 359.
Hallways creeped me out. That fact is something I just can’t seem to deny anymore. I’m not sure if it’s from watching ‘The Shining’ with my mother as a kid on winter vacation but if I were a betting man I’d say that sealed the deal. I think above all else it’s the feeling that you only have one direction to go if you’re being chased down one. One choice, no other options.
Before I knew it I was in front of room 359. I took a deep breath, slid the card in the door mechanism, saw the green light illuminate and pushed it open.
The smell of stale gin was immediate and overwhelming. The shades were drawn despite the bed looking perfectly made.
I flicked on the light and saw that the room was littered with empty gin bottles. Among them were a few boxes of paperwork. Cases he took with him on the road? Shrugging to myself, I walked around the room as I put on a pair of white rubber gloves.
Aside from the bottles it was relatively well kept. There was a short stack of laundry neatly folded next to the window and a spare set of car keys, along with a new pair of shoes. I opened the blinds to see that it led directly to the fire escape and my suspicions were confirmed. Someone was after this guy. He had his getaway route planned in advance and had the presence of mind to leave it there when he left, just in case he forgot to set it out again when he got back. You’ve gotta admire the preparation there. He earned every cent of those paychecks with that mind of his, I can imagine.
I opened the dresser and saw that it was empty. The coat hangers in the closet were bare and there was nothing on the carpet aside from empty gin bottles and a bare pill container.
I walked over to the desk and began opening drawers. The first was empty. I felt something rolling as I pulled on the second and found it to be full of loose bullets and Adderall. I picked one up and examined it. Magnum, .357, matching the weapon used. I placed the bullet back down and opened the top drawer. The contents of this made my eyes widen.
Slowly and carefully, I pulled the notebook out from the desk drawer. I held it in my hands and examined it for a few seconds just to be sure it was real. It was a blue, spiral-bound notebook with something scribbled hastily on the front.
I heard the floorboards outside the room creak. I turned suddenly to see something standing in the doorway. As I snapped from the trance I was in I could see that it was a man. He wore brown slacks with shined brown shoes. There were suspenders over a white button down shirt that matched his hair and goatee. I could see the glasses halfway down his nose over his dark brown skin, and saw that he was a much older black man with deep crow’s feet.
We stood there and stared at each other, and then he looked down at what was in my hands, and so did I. The notebook I held read across the cover:
“The Diary of Thomas Abian”