Every part of my body hurt. I felt as if I had been pummeled all over. As I slowly became conscious, I realized that my wrists, arms, and shoulders were the worst―as if they were being torn from my body. Something heavy was pulling at them and had been pulling for a long time.
A splitting pain sat directly behind my eyes. Probably because an intense, white light was shining on me, burning through my closed eyelids.
I was standing. Actually, “standing” was too strong a word for what I was doing. I was vertical, but my toes were touching the floor, my feet were not planted under me, and my legs were not supporting my weight. Without any deliberate thought, I put my feet down flat on the floor and wobbled into an upright stance. The instant my feet were firmly on the ground, the torturously painful pressure on my wrists, arms, and shoulders eased. I tilted my head back and opened my eyes in a squint. Even with the glare of the white light partially blinding me, I could see that my wrists were manacled to chains attached to the ceiling.
“Ahh, are you awake?” said a husky, Russian-accented voice.
“Oh, I did not know that we were on a first-name basis, Jack.”
“Whatever works for you, Vaddy.” I couldn’t see him. A pair of lamps with single light bulbs and the lamp shades had been positioned to focus all of the light into my eyes. I figured that Vadim was behind the lamps, probably centered between them and probably not alone.
“Jack? Are you paying attention?” Vadim asked, breaking into my pain-infused thought process. “Jack, I want you to answer my questions.”
“I do not think you understand your situation.” He was amused by me. “Take a moment. Take in your surroundings. Take in your . . . ah, what is the word in English? . . . ah, predicament.”
Since I didn’t have anything better to do, I took him up on his suggestion. I realized I was cold. I glanced down and saw that I was naked. There was a momentary flash of humiliation followed immediately by anger. Anger is much better than humiliation. I can use anger to drive myself to escape this ugliness. Still squinting, I examined the room, which wasn’t easy since my arms being pulled up past my ears restricted my view. The floor was cement and the walls were cinderblock. I guessed we were in the basement at 25 Commerce Street. I twisted to my right and was unpleasantly surprised by what I saw: Alex was hanging in chains, naked, next to me. He was still unconscious.
“Okay,” the American word sounded funny with a Russian accent, but it wasn’t the time for a smile. “Now, you are aware of what kind of trouble you are in.” Bezukhov said something in Russian—I thought it was “go ahead.”
My old friend Buzz Cut stepped from the dark behind the lamps and placed the barrel of a Ruger automatic against Alex’s chest, directly over his heart. I had the sinking feeling that it was my Ruger. It was certainly my friend the gun was pointed at.
Vadim said, “Tell me where I can find Donna and Richard Kruger.”
“I don’t know and before you threaten me or him,” I jerked my head toward Alex, which hurt hurt like hell, “please believe me, my partner doesn’t know a thing.”
“He did not have a need to know?” The amused edge in Bezukhov’s voice was damn annoying.
“No, he didn’t. If you let him go, I might cooperate.”
“I doubt that.” Again something short was spoken in Russian.
Buzz Cut pulled the trigger and fired into Alex’s heart. I screamed but couldn’t hear my own voice over the sound of a second shot that went under Alex’s chin and blew out the back of his skull. His body hung limply in the chains, as the shots echoed in the tiny cinderblock space.
I was breathing heavily with anger. “You . . . you son of a bitch.”
“Not very clever. Even by your poor standards. Now that we have dealt with the man who knew nothing, we will deal with you. Where are Donna and Richard Kruger?”
“I don’t know.”
“Very brave. Very stupid.”
“I guess this is where things get really ugly for me.” I managed to keep my voice even-toned and firm.
“You could say that.” Again the Russian for “go ahead.”
A cadaverously thin man stepped out from behind the lamps. He had a pair of small alligator clips attached to electrical wire. He stooped to put the clips on my toes—I yanked myself up on the chains and brought my right knee into his jaw as he bent down, slamming him across the room out of sight in the dark.
“Was that necessary?” Vadim said. His tone was untroubled.
“It was for me.”
“I could have you beaten unconscious and then attach the clips. Or you can cooperate.”
“Well, given that choice, I’ll cooperate.”
The cadaverous man stepped gingerly out of the dark, rubbing his jaw with one hand and holding the wires and alligator clips in the other. He bent down again and attached one of the clips to the smallest toe on my left foot.
I jerked up again, bashing my left knee into his jaw and sending him sprawling on the floor. I looked down and saw that his legs weren’t moving.
“Is that what you consider cooperation?”
Buzz Cut came from behind the lamps and hammered me with a brick-like fist, catching me above the jawline, in the center of the cheek. The blow knocked me off my feet and sent me swinging at the end of my chains. He stepped close to me, tugged me upright, and kneed me viciously in the balls. I collapsed, my arms snapped taut at the end of the chains, my shoulders in agony. I panted in pain and hung at the limit of the chains. The cadaverous man rose from the floor, stepped over to me, and attached another alligator clip to the middle toe on my left foot.
They could have been sadistic jerks, flipped the switch, and jolted me with electricity while I was still recovering from Buzz Cut’s kneeing me savagely in my special place. After all, they had killed Alex without a trace of mercy or concern. Not to mention four Wall Street tycoons. But this time around, they decided to behave like gentlemen and give me a few minutes to recover from the punishment they’d dished out.
No one spoke during the next five minutes. As my breathing became regular, I was able to get my feet under me again, which eased the pain in my shoulders and arms. I was acutely aware that I was naked and attached to electrical clamps. This was going to be a very long, very unpleasant night.
“The three of us have been having a discussion,” Vadim said, the amused tone back in his voice. “A disagreement really. My workers feel that you will tell us what we want to know after one shock. Maybe only two.”
“But you don’t agree with them,” I replied.
“No, I think it will take several more. I would not be surprised if you black out once or twice. In fact, to get you to tell us what we want to hear, I think we’ll have to move the clips from your toes to your genitals.”
“I could save you the trouble and take the birth-control pill.”
He actually laughed at that. “Thank you for the offer, but I think not. No, my guess is that even when we attach the clips to your genitals, we will have to shock you three or four times before you finally tell us what we want to know.”
My stomach was knotted in fear, but my voice was firm, “I’m happy to provide you with entertainment.”
He chuckled and then said, in Russian, “Go ahead.” Buzz Cut stepped forward and raised a rag to jam in my mouth.
I leaned my head away from him and called out, “Harry!”
Vadim said, “No one here is named Harry.”
“I know,” I replied and shouted again, “Harry! It would reflect well on you to respond.”
Vadim was chuckling. Buzz Cut looked to his boss, and Vadim repeated the Russian for “Go ahead.” Buzz Cut shoved the rag so hard into my mouth—he did it so hard I was afraid I might lose a tooth. He stepped away from me.
A switch clicked in the dark.
I felt as if I were burning and exploding all in the same instant. The electric power shook me like a rag doll. My body jerked savagely at the end of my chains, racking my upper body as it jolted at the chains’ limit. I could barely breathe, thinking was impossible . . . everything was burning and more burning . . .
The electricity had probably been on only for a few seconds but felt as if it had been coursing through me for hours. I was utterly exhausted; the burning pain had swept my entire body and my legs below the knees had no feeling at all. I hadn’t fallen unconscious, but I was dazed. I really didn’t know what was going on. There was a burnt flesh odor, and I was dimly aware that the burnt flesh was the skin of my toes.
Vadim waited for a few seconds, making sure I could concentrate enough to answer his questions. “Tell me where they are.” Buzz Cut tugged the rag from my mouth.
I took a deep breath and gasped, “Fuck you.”
The rag was jammed into my mouth, and I heard the switch click . . .
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