Everyone has their breaking point. That point where they can’t take it anymore, and they’ll do just about anything for the pain to stop. The man, restrained to an uncomfortable chair in a sinister room, whimpered. He waited for the next hit, punch, snap, or shock to wake him from his lassitude.
“When?” the prisoner mumbled. His voice wafted across the room like barbequed flesh. He said it in his native tongue, and to the only one of the three interrogators that understood his particular dialect.
Special Agent Durnham wiped his brow and then his mouth. It was uncomfortably hot, purposefully hot, but it was just another tactic in the bigger strategy. They had tried the lesser—less painful and less direct—forms, yet the prisoner held the truth in an unrelenting grip. But that, too, was loosening as the interrogation unfolded.
He rolled up his sleeves past his elbows, large sweat stains grew out from under his arms causing his dirty white shirt to become transparent. He straddled a chair and leaned in close, casting a looming shadow over the prisoner.
“Yes. When?” Durnham whispered. “Tell me when, and this can all be over.” The words were right, but he forced the tone and enunciation, his accent as fake as the promise of the pain ending when he heard what he wanted to hear.
The prisoner whimpered again. He could make out the other two men standing in the back of the room near a door, the only door, engulfed in the obscurities and engaged in a quiet conversation as they sucked back cigarettes and leaned on the zapping machine, the one they would roll over when he could feel himself being sucked under the current of death. He would hear a high-pitched whine and a fiery spark of electricity would course through him, forcing him to tense against his bonds, and both revive him and wear him down at the same time.
“When?” Durnham pleaded. “I can help you, but you have to tell me when.”
A whimper was all the prisoner could manage through his broken jaw. This experience is not how he envisioned it, not how ‘they’ explained it to him. The two men that visited him at his home spoke perfect dialect and looked like locals. They said they represented The Ghost, the name itself, causing a shiver to run the man’s spine. As mysterious as he was dangerous. He wasn’t someone to cross, even though no one had ever seen the man.
The men promised him and his family everything—freedom, safety, even riches. He merely had to name his compensation. And so he did. The price he would pay was great, but the rewards for his family were even greater. Then he had hurriedly signed the contract, not bothering to read the mountainous wad of paper they had presented to him.
He was to be a martyr, and his family would be well rewarded for it. All he had to do was pass on the information, but not too easily. He had to drip-feed it, make it legitimate. If he were too forthcoming, the information would be disregarded. They must believe it. They must believe me. Therefore, he needed them to force it from him. He had let them know the who and the what and the where. Now they needed one more piece of information to bring it all together. Which was good, because he only had one more piece of information to tell them.
Through the pain, the intense pain, the layer upon layer of agony, he resisted the temptation to blurt it all out. Just when the pain eased, another wave of aching broke over him like a wave crashing over his fragile body, the screams muffled by pungent rags, a fight against the restraints.
He was not who they thought he was. He was not a terrorist, not even a freedom fighter. He was a shepherd who tended to his flock for fourteen hours a day. He was no one, a nobody. He possessed no other information than what they provided to him by his two visitors. He was the middleman, the messenger.
“Allah, peace be with him, will be overjoyed,” the two men had told him. “And while you live in his sanctuary, your family will live like kings on earth, until you are all reunited and live forever in peace.”
That promise seemed like a lifetime ago, as now he sat in his underwear amongst his own excrement. Fingers were missing from both hands while other digits were bent at extraordinary angles. A man in a white coat, a doctor by any other name, had used some metallic device to remove his right eye, and it now rested on his cheek, the optic nerve still connected into the socket. His vision was split into two with his right field forever staring at the screwdriver that was protruding from his right thigh. His left eye encrusted with tears.
He took quick breaths, his life hanging on by a thread. Wanted it all to be over. Needed it all to be over. He had played his part, achieved what he had signed up for. Now was the time for him to say it.
“When?” Durnham implored. “Tell me when and we can fix up all this shit in the best hospital money can buy. We can move your family out of the country. We will protect them.”
They were already protected, he believed, protected by powers beyond theirs. Perhaps if he knew his pregnant wife and son were both dead, he would have delivered a very different performance. But how could he know that? They were taken from this earth the day after he shuffled near the DMZ with his arms raised, recounting the Quran in his native tongue, and displaying a vest packed with explosives. More than enough to gain and hold their attention.
Oh my, how they panicked. Many men with their machine guns remained at a safe distance until others arrived in their heavy suits to deactivate the bomb. He then laid on the ground until they bound him, placed a sack over his head, and bundled him into a Humvee.
“The Ghost,” he repeated in his native tongue. “The Ghost.”
Another time he would have thought back and laughed at the efforts given to such a simple person with nothing much to say. He was simply the messenger. However, this was not another time and agony crashed over his body, bringing death closer with each passing moment.
“Three days,” he wheezed through his locked jaw, his dry tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth.
Durnham echoed it back to him and the prisoner nodded slightly, despite the anguish.
There. He had done it, and now it could all be over. Please let this be over.
Durnham stood, his mouth curling at the edges, the chair scraping loudly on the concrete. The time and effort had finally paid off. It was always like this. You place enough pressure on a man and he would say or do anything. He acutely knew of false information and was selective in what he asked and how he asked the detainee.
“Kill me,” the captive man rasped. “Kill me.” He resigned to his fate and was ready to die, ready to be accepted into heaven. He was ready to be a sacrifice for his family.
Durnham ignored the request and walked over to the other two agents. He relayed the critical information obtained from the prisoner. The hushed conversation quickly grew into a moral argument, with all three men stating their perspectives with pointed fingers and harsh words. Durnham drew his pistol from his holster and held it against his leg as they continued to vehemently debate the next move. The unofficial dialog ended abruptly when the other two men exited through the door, leaving Durnham staring at the floor and contemplating his next move.
He turned slowly and approached the prisoner.
“Kill me,” the man hushed again. “Please.” He did his best to make the request, given he could only create the words with his tongue, but he knew the agent understood.
Durnham chewed his lip as he stood in front of the mess of a man. “I want to,” he said, his voice clean and crisp, unwavering. He pointed the gun at the prisoner's forehead. “I really do.”
Then Durnham replaced the gun in his holster and bent out of view.
“Kill me,” the gasp came again.
“Yeah,” Durnham said, “I know.”
Durnham pulled a black sack over his head.
“No!” The prisoner moaned. “Kill me!”
He wailed as he watched through the gaps in the thread. The man walked to the open door and paused. An outstretched arm flicked a switch and then darkness fell upon him. The bang of the closing door echoed through him and he was alone.
Alone in the darkness.
Alone with his suffering.
Longing for the death he was so eagerly promised, yet was not forthcoming.