“We are going to play a game.”
I stood perfectly still with a practiced patience in front of the American. We were alone in a room with nothing but two chairs and a small table to separate them. The room was dimly lit, morbid and cold; an appropriate dark pit where men were sent to rot and to suffer. I called it home.
“Perhaps I take liberty with the word. It implies that you and I are equals.”
Silence. I expected it. Welcomed it. They often did not speak at first. I had to coax them, probe them and strike at their barriers. Uttering even a single word to me was the beginning of submission.
“You remind me of myself from years ago. I too was held by soldiers. Foreign soldiers. I thought that my life was over…what little of it that I had. But I learned through my captivity that pain unlocks our capacity to be more than what we are. Our true selves. You see there is life and those who cling to it, and there are those who deserve it. Let’s find out which one you are.”
He remained steeled.
“Shall we begin?”
It always began the same. My playthings would be brought in and forcefully made to sit on the chair in my room. Then I would begin my work. There were no complications. There were no politics. There was no moral quandary. It was simply about the work. That was how I preferred it. The world out there ceased to matter. Time was of no importance. My room stood isolated, free of all the noise out there that would dare contaminate it. And my blood would flow like liquid fire.
The moment they had brought in the man before me I knew that I would be facing something riveting. My employers had captured a veteran soldier. His name had been mentioned: Sergeant Chris Walker. His crime was knowing the locations of two of my employers’ missing officers. I had no interest in their war. I did not care for who my clients or employers were or which side they chose to call their own. What I did in my room was all that mattered. It was my art, and Walker would give me a wonderful canvas. He was a true patriot, which I saw as a euphemism for many things and none of them were flattering. But it meant that he would not talk. It meant that he would resist. It meant that I would be entertained and breaking him would be a true reward.
I studied the soldier as he sat bounded in the chair. His breathing was slow and measured, and he sat up straight with an expected discipline for someone of his background. He had been trained not to show fear. He had been trained to endure both mental and physical pain. Most days I interrogated spies or weaklings. Snakes of deception with minds only for self-preservation. Not men of virtue and raw power like Walker. That was why I would enjoy it all the more. To ensure that I did I had refused my employers’ offer of his personal file. It would detail his life and family connections and give me tools to use against him. That took the spirit out of it. Walker was to be my puzzle. It was my game and my design. I required no assistance. I simply had to play and I would find his pressure points. Some men feared pain itself. Some men responded only to certain kinds of injury. Some men feared the clock more than the agony itself. Some men feared the weight of threatening words alone. But all men broke in the end. In spite of myself I struggled to hide my smile. I took my seat in front of the soldier, savouring the minutes I delayed the game; the sweet taste of pain already in my mind’s eye. My weapon of choice, and my indulgence, would be patience.
“I have a question for you. Is the information you have truly worth suffering for? I ask simply to offer you one last chance to reconsider the mistake you made coming to me.”
As my words danced around his mind he looked at me with a glaring defiance laced with a stint of pride. A typical soldier. However it took a few seconds before I noticed the confusion in his eyes as he studied my face. I assumed it was because I was distinctly English and my employers were not.
“You’re one of them? What is the meaning of this?”
“There is none. I was hired to do a job. That is all. Do try not to make it personal.”
He looked away.
“Look at me.”
He did not. My mind burned with a fury. Disrespectful cunt.
“Look at me!” I commanded with a growl.
It was slight but I saw him jump. He turned. I had his attention.
“Patriotism is for blind fools who end up dead and absent for the glory they all so crave.”
“I won’t talk. You’re wasting your time, boy.”
“On the contrary I’m just about to start enjoying myself with you.”
His eyes narrowed.
“Allow me to help you come to an understanding of how fucked you are. I do not care what my employers want from you. I do not care about their soldiers’ lives. I certainly do not care who you are. You are all inconsequential. You may think that by virtue of the fact that I want something from you that you have some kind of an edge. You do not. These are my walls. In here you are nothing more than my entertainment. I implore you to resist. To fight. It makes the journey to the inevitable so much more riveting.”
I breathed in deeply and felt calmness restored to my veins. Walker’s brow twitched. It had been subtle enough to nearly miss but I had caught his first showing of nervousness.
“Thank you for not interrupting me. You’ve earned something in return. A small secret.”
I leaned forward to make sure that he saw the joy in my eyes.
“You know I told them not to give me your file. It contaminates the purity of the game if I know your pressure points beforehand. It’s like cheating. I do so despise cheating. I believe in a fair game. I do not know you but I will. And I will break you apart.”
Walker spat at my feet, “You talk a big game, but your words are empty.”
I stood. He instinctively went rigid. I slowly walked around the table until I was at his side. There was a reason why what I did was rightfully art. Anyone could inflict pain on another. The art of torture was in showmanship, calculation, the mind and the game. It was in the confidence of knowing you’ve won before you even made the first cut. It was in ensuring that your subject understood that particular fact. I would make him understand in due time.
“Answer me this: if the good people would have you believe that we are civilised, then why do men like us enjoy the violence so intimately?”
I reached for one of my favourite tools. It was a brilliant stainless steel hammer shined to perfection, except for one distracting detail: a faded bloodstain on the head. It was one, small visual cue deliberately left to induce fear. It was evidence that the weapon had already drawn blood yet its impeccable state indicated that it had required minimum effort to do so. I took a moment to admire the weight and aesthetic of the weapon. I wanted to hear it sing. With a growl I brought the hammer down onto his knee cap. There was a thunderous crash. Bone shattered. His roars of agony lit up the entire room for eons, and I bathed in the pleasure of his wondrous screams.
At times I could be overzealous, but I was seldom without purpose.
He fought to remain in control of his pain. Admittedly using the hammer was little more than an indulgence on my part. I had not needed to. But his cries of pain alone had made it worth it. As Walker focused on that pain he could not see me reach for the tool that was already concealed in my coat pocket. I looked down at his hands in their bonds. I moved in a flash of lightning and gripped his ring finger with the pliers. He could not react. I would not allow him the time. The surprise would do most of the work. With a savage twist I broke his finger. He screamed more from the shock than the pain and I listened for a moment. I broke another in quick succession and he thrashed in his chair and against the restraints only further hurting himself. I then forced the table out of the way so that I stood towering over him. It was time for the big soldier to feel small.
“You think that’s going to make me talk?” he spat through heavy breaths.
I smiled, “Of course not. That was just a little test. Be still now you’ve got eight left.”
“Fuck you!” he growled.
I bent down to just above eye level but far enough that he couldn’t use his head or teeth.
“Your response to pain is intriguing. Your training has taught you to block it out but you have a glaring weakness that you’ve just demonstrated to me. How unfortunate for you.”
His breathing began to stabilise, but perspiration had already formed all over his brow. Yet he still foolishly spoke as if in control, “And what’s that?”
“An ordinary man would have cowered by now. Pain and truth do tend to go hand in hand like lovers. You, on the other hand, have not faltered an inch. You think that this is what makes you strong but to me it’s simply what exposes you.”
He did not reply. I began to circle around his chair. I took my time toying with the weapons from the rack. I was not going to use most of them, but he did not know that.
“You patriots amuse me. There’s a funny thing about war these days, Sergeant. Your hour is past. Your battle is no longer at the centre of the world stage. Real war went out of fashion years ago. Now it’s just cold politics and the games of corrupt shadows. Time changed it all. Washed the blood clean. You soldiers have become playthings on political strings; only fit for appearances and PR for the masses. Do you really think your precious struggle makes a difference?”
Again no answer.
“I can see it on your face. You truly believe in your country. God bless America. It’s war. People die. But those few thousands die so that we may save millions. Is that it?”
He held his head high with a feint pride. It was impossible for him to mask. I began to laugh.
“What is so fucking funny, you cocksucker?” he growled.
“I’d wager that if you have a family somewhere back home you would put your country before them. You are bound to your service. But it’s not about saving lives at all.”
“What the hell do you know?”
His response confirmed it. I returned to my seat in front of him.
“Your weakness is that pride of yours. The lives of my employer’s soldiers mean nothing to you. A family man would put them first in this situation and give the locations up. Your refusal to act in a way that you believe would betray your country is the giveaway. You’re a man in your fifties. You’re long devoted to the war by now, Sergeant. Ordinary life has nothing more important for you. Broken bones do not deter you. Pain is just part of what you love. Your body is scarcely your own!”
“Is there a point to your bullshit?” he hissed, “I actually preferred taking the beating.”
I could see the hints of pain between his words. I looked directly into his eyes. I saw him shiver ever so slightly. The eyes were the doorway to the soul after all.
“The point, my dear little soldier, is that I see you. Your real, oh so fatal flaw.”
I rose slowly. I went over to the set of weapons and tools I had at the corner of the room and I took what I needed. A brilliant knife and a lighter. I returned and stood behind him for a moment. I flicked the fire to life. I held the flame underneath the tip of the blade. He could not see what I’d done. When the knife was ready I placed my hand onto his shoulder. He flinched. I closed my eyes and basked in the wonders of the coming moment. I was already deeply aroused.
“Your pressure point is your unquenchable thirst to serve.”
I raked his head back and jabbed the scorching blade into his left eye. His monstrous screams would have left ordinary men with nightmares for the rest of their lives. To me it was but a sweet symphony. One that marked the glorious sort of progress. The cut to his eye was shallow but it was enough to be blinding. His blood mixed with gooey discharge and spilled down his face onto his ruffled uniform. I stroked the back of his head soothingly as he howled and thrashed.
“Do you regret your pride now? This is the reward for your absurdity.”
He yelled out profanities and vile phrases that I ignored. I smiled at him and I could see the hatred in his eyes because of my mockery. It was all with purpose: to break him down. And he was nearly broken. But I also knew that I did not have a lot of time. His wounds would be severe if they were not treated. On the other hand I was just so entertained. But I knew it was time to get the information and part ways with Sergeant Chris Walker. I placed the knife underneath his right eye.
“I wonder…do they find a use for blind soldiers in your ranks?”
I could see the tremors sweep over his body as he finally realised what I threatened him with. His skin went limp and cold, and for the first time I smelled the sweet scent of fear in the air. I grinned fiercely in light of my approaching victory. But I still had one nail left for his coffin.
“You know I’ve heard the stories about tired old vets who return home. Well home is not quite what it used to be. You won’t be paraded around the streets like a champion of war. Free drinks all round for the boys who made it back, hmm? Let me tell you something, old man. The new generation who have inherited the earth are an apathetic bunch. You’re at war here, but you haven’t seen what peace looks like back there. They don’t spare an inkling of a thought to you and your brothers lying in the crimson sand dying for no reason at all. They’re a purer breed. They’ll never bother to know your name or your cause. You’d be lucky to even get a Facebook post about your legacy. All that awaits you back there is a long road to oblivion, lost in a world that has grown bored with war and its heroes. But the rush is here on the battlefield! War is what you know. It’s what you love. Don’t make me take it from you. Put aside your ego. You’re worth more than living out your days a cripple; alone and waiting for the relief of death. Instead among your men you can be a war hero who lost an eye in service to his country. It’s an elementary choice. It’s mercy.”
Then I waited. The silence stretched on with only his heavy breathing to break it. Whoever spoke first would lose. I was content to be patient. Walker didn’t have the same luxury of time. There was no doubt he would be feeling the effects of his injuries on his body. He would be feeling the effects of my words seeping into even the most stubborn parts of his weakened mind. I made no sound as I waited with anticipation. I waited for the inevitable high that victory would give me.
After all I never failed to win the game.
It took nearly a full, blissful minute to confirm my success but I knew that he’d surrendered the moment I saw his shoulders slump and his barriers wither away to ash. I had to hide my smile from him lest his ego took over his sensibility. As he gave me the locations of my employer’s officers the familiar feeling of elation mixed with a tinge of disappointment at the game being over swept through my body. I noticed that my hand was gripping the knife so hard it had turned white. And I found myself having to subdue the urge to cut out the soldier’s other eye just to feel that rush of ecstasy again. I did not act on it, though I knew I would hate myself later for holding back. For emptiness always lingered after triumph, leaving me yearning for something more. I left the soldier. I left the room. I left the blades. But the howling in my gut followed me out into the light.