Garrett Riggs gasped uncontrollably for breath. His body’s reaction to near-drowning was overwhelming panic. Coughing and retching, he expelled more water than his lungs were meant to accommodate. So, this was what waterboarding was really like – it was more terrifying than he could ever have imagined.
Spluttering, he begged, “Please… no more,” before spasming into another helpless coughing fit.
His tormentor only snatched him again by his hair, yanking his ashen face towards him to meet his stare. “Perhaps you can end all of this, Mr. Riggs, by telling me and Mr. Sebastian here about the conversation you overheard when you were so ungraciously snooping on us earlier. Hmmm?”
His hands duct-taped behind him, tied to a chair, Riggs could do nothing but gape at Professor Alastor Huxley and his graduate assistant, Estebe Sebastian. Rivulets of water streaming down his face, his hair plastered to his forehead, Riggs blubbered, “I’ve told you over and over, Professor, I only overheard you and Estebe in the hallway that evening as I was leaving the language lab. I had fallen asleep after cramming for my finals and was headed back to my apartment.” He swallowed hard, his teeth chattering as he continued, not meeting their eyes. “The two of you were in your office whispering, and well, naturally I was curious… so I stopped and listened. I shouldn’t have done it, I know, but I overheard some stuff that caught my attention. I swear I have no idea what you were talking about!”
Sobbing, Riggs hiccupped and coughed again sending a spray of water and snot onto Huxley’s jacket. The Professor rolled his eyes and dabbed at his jacket with the rag he was holding – smearing the sputum in an attempt to wipe it away.
Huxley smiled to himself. It was always the same, wasn’t it? Whenever the cold reality of imminent death presented itself, those threatened always went to extraordinary lengths to attempt to save themselves. He could see Riggs’ swollen, bloodshot eyes, and knew that it wouldn’t be long before that last glimmer of hope was dashed. The acceptance of impending death would overrule and that hope would extinguish itself as surely as a quick puff extinguishes a candle.
Sighing deeply, Huxley looked sympathetically into Riggs’ pallid face. “Mr. Riggs, I’m quite sure you meant no harm, I truly am. But you see, Mr. Sebastian and I were discussing some very sensitive matters. We mentioned the names of several persons no one else was meant to hear.”
Riggs shuddered, his breath catching and tears streaming down his face.
“That is why my office door was closed, Mr. Riggs. We were having a private conversation. A very private conversation…” He tutted and shook his head. “Sadly, you happened by at a most inopportune time – for you, unfortunately.”
Huxley saw it then. Riggs’ pale green eyes went dull as if someone had thrown a switch. That was it – the hope was gone, replaced by the finality of his situation. He rose and went to the cabinet by his desk, removing a bottle of bourbon, unscrewing the top as he spoke.
“I think it would be appropriate for you and me to have a few drinks together.” He paused, grinning at Riggs. “Well, actually, Mr. Riggs, you will be the only one drinking, and I’m sorry to say you’re going to be drinking quite a lot – too much actually. Then it will be a good time for you to do a little late-night swimming. I hope you won’t have had so much to drink that you might… drown.”
Sebastian grabbed Riggs by the face before he could react and forced his mouth open as Professor Huxley began pouring the alcohol into his mouth. Gagging, Riggs swallowed and coughed up some of the bourbon as it burned his throat. “Please, I-I…”
“Shush, Mr. Riggs,” Huxley purred. “It will do you no good to fight this. As you know, Mr. Sebastian is an All-Conference wrestling champion, and I feel sure he’ll be able to ‘encourage’ your participation in our little drinking game. So, let’s enjoy it, shall we? Fortunately, as a bourbon aficionado, I have a well-stocked liquor cabinet, and the night is young, so – as they say… ‘Salud’”
His eyes wide with fear, staring into the grim face of the graduate assistant, Riggs began what he knew would be his first and last night of college binge drinking.