The Wrong Man
“The first thing I want you to know about me is that I am honest. I never tell lies.” Tell me where it is and this will all be over.” His voice was calm and cool as he spoke.
The bound man just sat there blinking unsure of where he was or what was going on. He saw a bright flash of light as his captor struck him hard across the face. He let out a yelp but it was muffled by the gag in his mouth.
“When I remove that gag all I want to hear is the location, one word, maybe two. If you say anything but what I want to know then things are going to get bad for you very quickly.” He glared at his captive appearing ready to strike at any moment.
The man in the chair was no one special. He ran a used book store. He had no enemies as far as he knew. As he sat there immobile and completely at the mercy of this apparently deranged man he struggled to grasp what was going on. He felt as if he’d been drugged. No matter how hard he tried to shake it off the fog in his mind would not lift. John kept asking himself silently, “what have I done to earn such punishment?”
Garner is what they called him. Even those who knew him best didn’t know his given name. It was better that way. His assumed identity kept those he had once been close to safe. He had devoted his life to the job and to be associated with a man who doesn’t exist is a good way to find yourself nonexistent as well. He removed John’s gag but John sat there stupidly shaking his head in silence for fear of another onslaught.
“You will tell me what it is I want to know. Where is the book? “Garner turned around and John could hear a zipper opening. “This is going to hurt real bad you know?” Garner asked but his voice never changed pitch or tone.
Before John could blink Garner had turned and for a split second John thought it was all over he had a gun, but no sooner than he realized it was nothing more than a squirt gun Garner squeezed the trigger. Had anyone been near enough to hear, they would have surely sworn someone was being torn apart limb from limb very slowly. John’s screams, as deafening and blood chilling as they were, did not possess the power to change the expression on Garner’s face even in the slightest.
Garner didn’t enjoy this type of work but it didn’t bother him either. He was indifferent. He would do what it took to succeed in his mission each and every time. If someone needed to be hurt, he hurt them. If someone needed to be killed then he would kill them. He had no personal stake in his work. It was business and he treated it as such.
The squirt gun contained acid, not an extremely powerful one. On the skin it would cause burns but to the eye. It was an excruciating, yet effective negotiation tactic. After about three minutes of John’s ear splitting screams Garner turned and produced a spray bottle. He did not explain to John what was in this bottle but no sooner than he squirted it into John’s eyes the burning stopped and with it John’s screams.
“I can make this stop. I can make it all go away. Tell me what I want to know and I’ll walk out that door and I’ll never darken your doorstep again. I swear it, but I’m not leaving until I have that book.” John knew this man was a killer but even after such pain John did not know what he was after.
“Please,” John begged. “I swear to you I don’t know what you are after. I run a bookstore. There are thousands of them there. What book do you want?”
Garner surveyed his face for any sign he was lying. There was none, but he had to be sure. “That hurt did it not?” Garner asked menacingly.
“Oh God yes please don’t, no more. I’ll tell you anything but I swear to you I don’t know of anything special enough to warrant this.” John’s eyes poured tears from the burn as well as this sudden collision with his own mortality.
Garner turned once again to his bag. He half turned and John could see he had on elbow length laboratory gloves. His eyes were blurry but he could see well enough to know something even more horrific was in store for him.
“I need these gloves you see,” Garner held his arms up before him and wiggled his fingers. “For what’s in this jar is far worse that what I squirted in your eyes. After I release its contents you’ll beg me to spray you with that squirt gun again, because that pain will feel like a cool rain in comparison. Oh and I almost forgot.” He turned back around and when he again faced John he was wearing a large gas mask.
John was hysterical. Snot ran from his nose uncontrollably, his eyes poured tears like a fountain, and he had begun to drool. “Please.” John begged again and again.
Garner held the jar under John’s nose feigning as if to open it and as John’s shrieks and pleas hit even higher tones Garner just sighed. He returned to his bag and began returning the items he had removed. He knew now this man was innocent and he had been telling the truth all along.
“Please don’t kill me. I swear I don’t know what it is you want.” John pleaded.
“I know,” Garner calmly replied. I am sorry but what I am after is of vital importance. The contents of that book could potentially save millions.”
John didn’t understand and asked. “You think I’m a terrorist?”
“You were apparently wrongfully identified as a potential threat. Vital documents are missing and you sir fit the description and whereabouts of the perpetrator right down to the crew cut, the location, and the hour. “He paused not wanting to give this civilian so much Intel but he had just been torturing an innocent man. “You were in the army?” garner had noticed John’s tattoos.
“Yes,” he choked on his own bile still reeling from the chemical assault. “Yes, I was in eight years. I took a piece of shrapnel in the kneecap.”
“Your country owes you a debt. You will be compensated for this, but keep this to yourself. This is a matter of national security. “Garner stopped a moment then came close to John’s face this time his expression was almost sorrowful. He did feel bad he had harmed the wrong man, but he would willingly torture a thousand innocents to save a million. To him the numbers made sense and that’s what mattered.
John was thinking his claim of compensation was doubtful and Garner picked up on his thoughts from his doubtful gaze.
“Remember what I told you, I never lie.”
John passed out and had no memory of when his bindings were cut or when the man who had held him captive and tortured him had left. His head throbbed. He was in the basement of a beautifully restored nineteenth century home. He was still very confused and his eyes ached. He needed to wash his face and to try and get his head clear. The night before was a dark haze of pain and confusion. He found a bathroom and oddly enough there was a sign above the door stating “Public Restroom.”
He went in and washed as best he could. The cool water felt exquisite on his damaged eyes. After a few moments he set out to find out where he was. In the foyer was a plaque, he could not read the writing. His eyes were far too blurry to make out the small print. It was some sort of historic site. They were spread out all over the country here and there.” Some big time land owner from long ago blah, blah, and blah.” His throat was sore and his voice was barely audible even to himself.
He couldn’t find his keys, cellphone, or his wallet so he made his way back to where he had been bound in the hopes he would find them there. He stumbled over an old coffee table and nearly fell into the chair where he’d spent the previous night. He found his wallet, his phone, and his keys all neatly placed on the table the mad man had used.
John noticed a jar sitting there beside his things. It was the jar he had been threatened with. He picked it up and held it up to the morning light streaming through the leaded basement windows. His eyes were still very blurred but he could see well enough to know that this jar was full of nothing but air.
“You never lie do ya?” He asked the vacant room, he slammed the jar down a little too hard and it toppled and rolled off the far side of the table shattering on the ancient stone floor. John was walking up the steps when he heard a sound he didn’t quite recognize coming from behind him.
He jerked around and strained to see the source. He thought for certain he was hallucinating because it looked as if the paint on the walls behind him were beginning to peel and turn to dust. Pieces of the ceiling began to powder and fall gently drifting to the floor below which also seemed to be turning to dust before his very eyes. He grabbed a lamp from a table by the door and tossed it to the other side of the room. The lamp, the shade, the bulb, and the chord all turned to dust before they even reached the floor. His eyes were blurred but he was certain he knew what he just saw.
Garner had left the wrongfully accused man sleeping, and had headed back towards town to his rented shower and his things. It was time to pack up and go after the next lead. He was accounting for all his belongings careful not to leave any trace. It was then he noticed the jar was gone.
“It comes to this old friend.” He spoke aloud to himself. He stopped his hasty departure grabbed a beer from the mini bar and kicked back on the bed. Garner knew there was no use in trying to escape. What was done was done and there was no place on this world or the next he could hide from what was coming.