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My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth.
If the world is on all four wheels and nothing is burning, you’ll never hear from guys like me.
But, let’s face it, when’s the last time that was true?
ALMANZEL CAFEZOHER IBN ABI SOLMA STALEPPO, SYRIA
So … they dragged me out of the back of an Iveco LMV that smelled of dog piss and human blood. Even with a black bag over my head my eyes were watering. Can’t begin to imagine how the four soldiers who nabbed me dealt with it. Maybe psychopaths don’t care about smelly cars.
Or, then again, maybe they do. Psychologically-speaking I’m a bit of a freak show myself, and it bothered me. Be kind of funny if I was crazier than a bunch of henchmen working for President Assad.
Musings of a guy about to be tortured and killed.
My hands were zip-cuffed behind my back. The beating they gave me was, I can assume, just a sort of greeting. Welcome to Syria. That kind of thing.
I heard them open a heavy door and then heard it slam shut behind. Heavy locks and the dull thud of a crossbar being dropped into place. I stumbled along with two of them holding me under the armpits. Counting my steps, numbering the hallways and turns. Down one flight, two, three. Deep under somewhere. The place smelled a lot better than the vehicle except for one place where there was a heavy, rancid stink. It wasn’t a dead smell. Not exactly. Not like a corpse. It was more of a gangrene stench, and I wondered if maybe some injured prisoner was locked up, rotting in the fetid darkness. But we moved on and soon I could smell more wholesome things—wheat flour, lentils, figs, and coffee. A lot of coffee. Smelled good, and I could use a cup and a nice pastry. Maybe a namoura with some nuts on top. Yum.
Another door opened. Creaky hinges.
“Daeh hunak,” said a voice. Male, middle-aged and authoritative, speaking Syrian Arabic. “Daeh fi alkursii.”
They did as they were told and put me in a chair. There was a whisk of a knife to remove the plastic cuffs and then a metallic clink as steel cuffs were snapped too tightly around my wrists, threaded through the back slats of the chair. They were being very careful. Then the same voice said, “Khale alghata’.”
Take off the hood. Which they did.
In any hostage situation, it is generally not a good sign when they let you see their faces. It does not, as the saying goes, bode well. One is expected to be filled with a reasonable amount of dread. No problem then. I was sweating heavy-caliber bullets and I’m pretty sure my sphincter was never going to unclench. Ever. Even if I lived through this.
I blinked my eyes clear. They had me in a small storeroom that was stripped of everything except shelves, the chair on which I sat, and a wooden table on which were the kind of items you never want to see outside of a horror movie. They were laid out to impress me, from the scalpels all the way to the bone saw. Eloquent. And, weirdly, a bottle of Diet Coke.
The middle-aged man stood with his back to me. He was average height, slim, wore khakis and a white shirt. I watched him remove a blue sports coat, shake some cellar dust from it, and hand it to a guard. His shoes were highly polished and his wristwatch was expensive, a Tag Heuer Monaco that had to run forty grand. A lot of watch for a guy who was supposed to be a civil servant … but, let’s face it, corruption came with perks. Kind of the point.
The four men who brought me here were dressed in clothes so obviously nondescript they might as well have worn uniforms. Jeans, dress shirts, sneakers. They moved like military, so they weren’t fooling anyone.
The middle-aged guy spent a few moments arranging the instruments on the table. Straightening them, picking one or another up to examine as if they were items at a juried craft fair and he was a discerning buyer. It was all a bit of theater. Psychodrama to unnerve whoever might be cuffed to that chair. I doubted I was the first person to attend this show.
Turn around. I willed him to get on with it. Turn around and let me see those baby blue eyes.
Hoping they would be blue eyes. Just like I was hoping there would be a white streak in his mustache. If, in fact, he had a mustache.
Turn around, Bright Eyes.
And … now I had the damn Bonnie Tyler song playing in my head.
He turned. I almost smiled. He had the biggest, brightest, sunniest blue eyes you’d ever want to see in the face of a practiced torturer and state-sponsored terrorist. And the white streak? Yup. Just under his left nostril.
And he held a slender boning knife the way a conductor holds a baton. Ready to make music.
“We were very clear,” he said, still speaking in Arabic. “They were to send no one. No police, no military.”
“That’s not what I am,” I said in the same language. I tweaked it with a vaguely Eastern European accent.
“My men said you moved like a soldier. You spotted them following you, tried several very professional methods to evade pursuit, and had an unregistered disposable phone.”
“Not a soldier,” I repeated. “I’m private security.”
“Security for whom?” asked Almasi. “We were very specific when we spoke to her father.”
“I know, but I’m not working for Mr. Jacobsen.”
He touched the point of the boning knife low so that it rested very lightly on my crotch.
“Then who are you working for?”
I smiled. “I work for Overlegen Kjemi.”
Copyright © 2019 by Jonathan Maberry