I woke up with my arms and legs duct-taped to the armrests and legs of a wooden chair. I was in a large, unfinished space with bare cement floors and semi-transparent plastic drop cloths hanging like curtains from floor to unfinished ceiling throughout. The plastic swayed in a light breeze. The only light was from an uncovered bulb hanging by its cord from a metal pipe jutting from the exposed concrete of the ceiling. The bulb was twenty feet away and dim, maybe 60 watts. The space was lonely and gloomy, probably waiting to become offices for a law firm or a digital-age ad agency. There was a soft sound of traffic from way below.
My coat was off; my holster was still tucked under my left armpit, empty. I couldn't see my coat or gun or backpack. My mouth felt as if it had been washed out with vinegar. I guessed that was an after-affect of whatever drug they had shot me up with. I peered as far into the dark space as I could, but saw nothing but the single light bulb, hanging plastic, unfinished ceiling and bare floor. The chair was not secured to the floor, but since I was very securely taped up, the only way I could move the chair would be to push off with my toes and tip backward. Probably concussing myself when I hit the floor. No thanks.
Several sets of footsteps came from behind me. There was nothing hurried about their movement. It was deliberate. And slow. I had the ugly feeling I wasn't going to enjoy what was about to happen.
“Harry?” I said softly.
Michael Flynn, the Cú Chulainn Enterprises security guy I'd hammered with a partially full gallon paint can on Madison Avenue this morning, stepped in front of me. “No, not Harry,” Flynn said with a smile. Then he hit me with a right cross, with his feet planted and the full force of the punch driving through my jaw.
My head snapped back, the chair fell over, and I slammed down on the floor. I felt the back of my skull bounce off the cement and lost consciousness for a few seconds. The next thing I was aware of was several hands pulling me upright, still in the chair.
“How do you feel?” Flynn asked, still smiling.
“I've been worse. You hit like a girl.” The second I uttered it, I knew it was a mistake. His right fist caught me full on the cheekbone, sending me crashing to the floor, where the cement knocked me out.
The lovely ammoniated aroma of smelling salts brought me back to consciousness. I was upright again. It took me a few seconds―I think it was seconds, maybe it was minutes―to focus. Standing around me in a half-circle were the two Chinese men from the Mercedes on my right and Flynn and Bouchard on my left. About five feet directly in front of me stood a small digital video camera and microphone on a metal tripod. A small red light was on, which I guessed meant there was a live feed going someplace.
The left side of my face, where Flynn had connected twice, felt raw and swollen. The back of my skull throbbed with pain. In the future, I would really have to think twice about mouthing off to a goon like Flynn when I was completely powerless.
“Mr. Tyrrell?” Bouchard asked. “Are you awake? Do you understand me?”
“Yes. I guess so.”
“Where's Marissa Carvajal?”
“How do you know who I am? How'd you find me?”
Bouchard looked from me to the Chinese men. All three smiled. Not nice smiles. Self-satisfied, smug smiles.
“How?” I repeated. I wanted to ask them questions to keep them from asking me. I was going to have to stonewall them. In my experience, not answering questions in a situation like this would eventually lead to extremely unpleasant repercussions for me.
“Our company manufactures all kinds of security devices. Including the cameras at Marissa Carvajal's apartment building. We jacked the feed from those cameras, ran it through facial recognition―” she smiled her unappetizing, self-satisfied smile, “the facial-recognition software is fantastic. Bing, bang, boom―we had your name, address, and personal history.”
“Lucky me.” Harry had whisked me past all the security in McGill's building, but we had entered Marissa's like normal people.
“Well, you have quite a record.” Bouchard raised her hand to her ear, as if adjusting an earbud. She spoke softly, “Okay.” Focusing back on me, she said, “Now, tell us where you took Marissa Carvajal.”
“Can we negotiate about this?”
“Negotiate?” one of the Chinese asked. He was taller and better groomed than his Chinese comrade. His accent was barely perceptible; his English impeccable. He spoke the way someone does when he's been very well trained in English as a second language. “What do we have to negotiate?”
“Well, you tell me why you want Marissa, and then maybe I'll tell you where to find her.”
“We don't have to negotiate,” he said. He reached over and tugged at my arm, which didn't budge thanks to a masterful duct-taping job. “Tell us or suffer.”
“She's out of the country,” I said. “Flew to Canada.”
“I doubt it.”
“Wait a minute, you're right. She didn't go to Canada. Who goes north at this time of year? She took Amtrak to Florida.”
Flynn lunged at me, fist flying. I twisted my face to the side―the result: I was hit hard enough for it to sting, but not hard enough to smash me to the floor again. “Let's stop fucking around,” Flynn said.
“Do you plan on continuing to hit him?” the Chinese asked.
“No,” Flynn grinned and rubbed his knuckles. “I got a better idea.” He walked out of sight. I could hear him rummaging through what I guessed were tools. I was secured to a wooden chair in a construction site. I didn't want to imagine the selection of tools Flynn was choosing from and what he would do to me. His footsteps came closer, and he said, “This ought to come in handy.”
He stopped directly in front of me, holding an oxyacetylene torch in his right hand and a striker to light the torch in his left. The shorter Chinese, whom I thought of as Silent Sam, rolled the fuel tanks behind Flynn.
I've seen and felt many awful things and been wounded in combat. I'd like to say that I'm tougher than nails. But in that moment, as Flynn lingered near me with that torch, I was almost overwhelmed with nauseous fear. I've smelt burnt flesh, and it's horrifying. The idea that I was going to smell my own burnt flesh and feel the searing pain made my heart pound extremely hard and fast. I forced myself to take a deep breath. And then another.
Flynn noticed my deep breaths and my eyes locked on the torch in his hand. He stepped very close to me and waved the unlit torch inches from my face.
“The fingertips have a large number of nerve endings,” the taller Chinese man said. “I would suggest you burn one fingertip at a time until Tyrrell tells us what we want to know.”
“That sounds good,” Flynn replied.
Mr. Impeccable English pointed at my arms, “If you don't mind a suggestion . . . ?”
“Undo his tape, turn the arm over, re-tape it to the armrest. Then the hands will be palms up and the fingertips will be easily accessed.”
Flynn nodded, and Silent Sam stepped forward and began to undo the duct tape around my right arm. Bouchard, who had been farther away on the left, walked closer and aimed a gun, my own Ruger, at me.
When Harry and I had worked our last case, he told me that I would get whatever help I needed to do what the Chairman hoped I would do. That was very reassuring until I realized that my definition of need and Harry's―maybe it was the Chairman's definition―were quite different.
As Silent Sam freed my right arm and began to twist it so my palm faced up, Flynn used the striker to light the torch. It hissed with flame, pink at the outer end, blue in near the nozzle. At this moment, it was an absolute, imperative need that Harry or the Chairman intervene, to save me from torture. I wasn't tough enough not to tell them where Marissa was after they used the torch on me. No one was that tough.
Silent Sam pulled a long strand of duct tape loose to roll around my arm and the chair's armrest.
“Harry,” I muttered, chin down toward the floor, “I really need your intervention here. Really.”
Flynn smirked, “Who the hell is Harry?”
Our eyes locked. “He's my guardian angel.”
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