Max Manchester, an All-Pro Miami Dolphin linebacker, was in the living room of his elegant Key Biscayne home, watching Sunday Night Football on ESPN when the front door burst open. Max jumped to his feet as three men entered. Two of them were huge, with multicolored tattoos covering their strong arms. They looked like professional wrestlers. The third was a short, balding, gaudily dressed man in his mid-fifties.
“Who the hell are you?” Max shouted.
The two large muscle-bound men rushed at him, and then the three, all big men, engaged in a vicious fight. Lamps and vases smashed onto the reddish-brown tiled floor; chairs and tables overturned; a mirror and several works of art destroyed. Throughout the melee, the short man stood by the open doorway and watched calmly. Max, wild and violent, was holding his own against the two men. After a minute or two, the short man, who was evidently in charge, seemed to realize his goons weren’t going to be able to subdue the strong pro football player.
He pulled a gun and struck Max on the side of the head. Dazed, Max fell to his knees. Through glassy eyes, he looked up at the short man, who struck him again with the gun.
As Max Manchester regained consciousness, he was choking. Slowly he opened his eyes and spat the liquid; he saw that it was blood. The three intruders were looking down at him. He was lying on his back, spread-eagled on his king-size bed with all four limbs tied to the bedposts. He struggled to move his arms and but couldn’t. Then he tried in vain to kick at one of the huge men standing at the foot of the bed.
“What the fuck are you bastards doing? Whatta you want?” He coughed out the words and then spat at the short man standing to the right side of his head.
The target of the bloody spittle stepped out of the way and then hit Max’s hand with his gun. Max winced and groaned.
“Max, you were a badass to my nephew, Dr. Rhineman’s son Jeffrey,” said the short man, grinning at him.
Max stared. “You’re here beating the shit out of me because of that little queer asshole? Christ, that was years ago!”
“No, it’s not about him. We’re here because you received a small piece of red paper that’s part of a puzzle. It was in a letter mailed to you from my late brother, Dr. Frederick Rhineman, who hated you,” said the short man, still grinning.
Max sneered. “He was an asshole too.”
“I agree with you on that.” He chuckled as he pulled out a cigar and lit it. “Okay, enough of this small talk. Where’s the piece of red paper?” he demanded.
Max yelled, “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!”
The short man nodded to the goon standing at the left side of the bed. The man punched Max in the face. Max felt more blood pouring from his nose but said nothing. The goon at the foot of the bed walked out of the room and came back with a butcher’s knife and a broom handle. The tattooed man handed the short guy the knife, then whacked Max across the chest with the broom handle. Max’s body heaved, and he cried out in agony.
“Max, I’m sorry. I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Benny Rhineman, the late doctor’s twin brother,” said the short man as he took a puff on his cigar.
Max looked up at Benny Rhineman and forced a sour grin. “You got to be shitting me. You’re an ugly runt, compared to Dr. Rhineman.”
The big man next to Benny brought the broom handle down hard across Max’s shins. Max gritted his teeth against the pain.
Benny pulled the cigar out of his mouth and pressed the hot end of it against Max’s ankle. He continued to hold it there as the room filled with the smell of burning flesh.
Max groaned, “You bastard.”
“We can do this all day, Max. Where’s the piece of paper? I know you got a letter from my brother that contained a piece of the puzzle,” said Benny.
Max remained silent.
The man with the broom brought the handle forcefully down between Max’s legs. Max let out a gurgling scream and coughed up the blood running into his open mouth from his bloody nose. Nothing was said for about fifteen seconds as Max lay on the bed moaning and coughing.
Through clenched teeth, Benny said, “Max, you can’t win. The only way for you to come out of this alive is to tell me where you put the piece of red paper.”
Max pulled at the rope that tied him to the bedposts.
Benny handed the butcher’s knife to the man standing at the head of the bed. “My friend here can cut you free if that’s what you want.” Benny smiled as he pointed to Max’s left arm.
The big man ripped the knife across Max’s arm. Max felt his flesh tearing.
He screamed. “Jesus Christ! What are you doing?”
“He’s cutting your arm off,” Benny answered, laughing. “You want to be free, don’t you?”
“You bastard, you’re insane!”
The broom handle came down hard on Max’s face, hitting his right cheek and eye. Blood squirted into the air. He groaned as he lay bleeding.
“Max, your football career will be over if we finish cutting off your left arm. Tell me where the piece of paper is, and we’ll leave,” said Benny.
Max remained silent.
Benny shook his head and nodded to the man with the knife. The man jabbed the knife deeper into Max’s arm.
Max shrieked. “Okay! Okay, no more!” He looked up at the white fan over his bed. “It’s taped to a fan blade.”
The goon with the broom handle climbed onto the bed, retrieved the piece of the paper, and handed it to Benny.
Benny examined it.
“You coulda saved yourself a lot of pain, Max.”
Then he put the piece of paper in his pocket and shot Max in the forehead.
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