The sharp crack of a door jam exploding snapped me out of a lovely dream and into the darkness of the cheap apartment I had occupied for the past week. Muffled orders preceded more doors being kicked in. Each one echoed down the hallway as they cleared every room en route to mine.
Throwing the covers aside, I rolled onto my back and wove my fingers together in a makeshift pillow behind my head. I knew what the risks were when I accepted the assignment. And there was no escape now.
As my door frame shattered into a hundred pieces, the instructions that I had spent the last six months learning ran through my mind. A soft hiss and the thud of a dart sent me quietly back to dream land.
I woke up to find my head resting on a wooden table in front of me. How long had it been this time? The beatings made it hard to separate what was real from my dreams. I lost all sense of time amid the constant slips into and out of consciousness. It didn’t really matter now. Things had changed. This would be the final step.
I sat up cautiously to take in my new surroundings. A quick peek under the table revealed no drain in the bare floor, which meant I was not brought here for more torture. A soft chuckled rolled through my chest as I thought about the two kinds of men who check rooms for drains. As I twisted to look over my shoulder I realized that my right eye was swollen shut. Plaster covered the blank wall that matched the other three exactly. The only variations in this prison of white were the cameras mounted high up in the corners and the steel-grey door that lay directly in front of me.
Slowly, I stretched out my arms to inspect the damage and check for breaks. A bulky bandage covered my left hand and hinted that I might be missing some digits. Apart from that, I found only cuts and bruises in various stages of recovery. Quickly repeated the process over the rest of his body, I found a variety of different marks and wounds. I stood to inspect my legs and noticed that I was not restrained in any way.
The creak of metal against metal reverberated through the room as the door swung open. A thin man in a dark suit stood at the threshold. Grey hair along with the soft features of his round face would have given him a look of warmth had it not been for the predatory look in his cold blue eyes.
“I have come here to ask you some questions. Sit down.”
I complied and rested my hands on the table before me. My questioner took a few steps into the room and the door closed behind him with the same protest from the hinges.
“You are a very intriguing man. I would not have believed a simple plumber from New Jersey could hold out against our team of information extractionists until I saw it with my own eyes.”
I knew it was dangerous, but I could not hold back a laugh.
“Oh Bob… Can I call you Bob? Information extractionists? When did the term ‘torturer’ become politically incorrect?”
Hearing my voice for the first time caught me by surprise. It had the rasp of an old man who had smoked his entire life. “Bob” tilted his head and looked at me the way a bird watches a worm just before devouring it.
“They snipped off your pinkie with bolt cutters without so much as a murmur from your lips. They forced you to drink boiling oil and when finished you mocked them by asking for seconds.”
He said this matter-of-factly, but the question that hid beneath the surface was obvious. I cleared my throat, but my voice remained cracked as I replied.
“Ah… That explains why I sound like this. I don’t even remember that one.”
Bob slipped into the seat across the table from me with the comfort of old friends meeting for lunch.
“Your threshold for pain is incredible, but we can play this game for as long as it takes. I hope you did not have any plans on becoming a pianist in the future. Or maybe you would like to see what life would be like as a eunuch?”
“My threshold for pain is non-existent. I have a rare genetic condition called CIPA. So even though I have my sense of touch, it makes it impossible for me to feel pain. Drove my parents nuts as a kid.”
“That would explain why you were chosen to be a spy.”
I just smiled. My training had drilled this into my head. I could not openly admit this and expect to ever leave this place. Bob continued his version of small talk as he studied me with great interest.
“We have other ways of getting information from you. You may not be able to feel pain, but your body cannot counter the effects of sodium amytal.”
“Truth serum? You know studies have shown that information collected while a subject is under the influence of that drug is unreliable at best.”
For the first time, a smile cracked Bob’s lips. I had seen that look before. It was the same look my brother had when we would play chess. I had never beaten my brother, and now the stakes were much higher. I needed every move to count.
“Besides, there’s any easier way.”
“Oh? And what might that be?”
“You could just say please.”
The smile disappeared from Bob’s face as quickly as it had come. A mask of pride returned that clearly did not enjoy being mocked.
“Are you telling me that all I have to do is ask and you will tell me everything?”
“I want to know who you are here to meet and what information you were given to pass along to them.”
I was playing a dangerous game, but I could not resist. Tilting my head to one side, I raised my eyebrows reminding him that he had forgotten something.
It came out with a snarl, but I was a man of my word. Over the next hour I recounted the three stories that I had been given to memorized. He listened to each word with the quite concentration of a gargoyle. My voice was nearly gone when he spoke again.
“And who were you to deliver this information to?”
“I don’t know. I was told that they would find me after I arrived in the city. Once they did, I was instructed to tell him, or her, the three stories. Somehow they would know which one contained the correct information.”
“And have you been contacted since you arrived here?”
Bob leaned back and rubbed his chin with the back of his fingers as he thought about the situation out loud.
“You Americans are very clever. If I kill you, I will never find the traitor I seek. But the information you have given us is useless to me without knowing what is true and what is a lie.”
“It’s a pickle.”
Bob stood and began to pace slowly as he thought about the situation. The way he stalked back and forth across the small room reminded me of a tiger in a cage and I did not enjoy sharing this cage with him anymore than I would have a real tiger.
When he stopped mid-stride, I saw that the smile had returned to his lips.
“Have you ever done much fishing?”
“A little. When I was boy. My pop used to take me from time to time.”
“And did he teach you what to do when you caught a fish too small to eat?”
“I’m gonna say… You just let it go and forgot you ever caught it?”
Bob laughed as if he could see three moves ahead and I could not escape checkmate. He straightened his tie and strode over the door. It opened for him as if by magic. As he left, I heard the last thing I would ever hear from him.
“You’re half right. A good fisherman takes the small fish he catches and uses them as bait for the bigger ones.”
Colonel Perkins watched impatiently as the nurse finished dressing the last of my wounds.
“And they released you after that?”
“Yep. They tried to use me as bait to catch the guy on their side. I just went back to the apartment they grabbed me from and slept for about 18 hours. You guys swooped in the next day and brought me back here.”
The nurse instructed me to lay down and promised she would be back in a few hours to see if I needed anything. As soon as she left the infirmary Colonel Perkins asked the only question he really cared to know.
“You delivered the message to our man?”
“Are you sure it was received?”
“I’m sure. He used the code.”
“What were his exact words?”
” I hope you did not have any plans on becoming a pianist in the future.”