I KILL RICH PEOPLE 2, page 19
The discipline that it took to resist did honor to his army training and to his combat experience. The army may have tossed the soldier out like a sack of garbage, but the warrior in him was right there, right at the front line.
Torture could fascinate, pressing his senses inward; he traced inside pores and rode blood vessels like water slides, pumping down through his own body and up again. He discovered that the body is color, that there is a glowing core within, a shape he had never before imagined, like a warm orb, sun-like but not the sun. It was like looking out from inside an infrared lens, being surrounded by sunset brilliance that people in the regular world would never ever see.
He ought to be dead. He beat the odds for a while, but in the end, the house always wins. He deserved death. But death might be too easy. He pictured the bright red Manchester United soccer shirt, the kid and his mother; a soccer ball-dribbling youth in a red Manchester United t-shirt, a mother in burqa, the father’s loose kameez, still resonated in his guts. Their images played in his mind, overlaid by the graduated crosshairs of a Leupold Mark 4 scope. This, the torture, was his just desserts. But they wouldn’t break him. He came in a hardass and he was going to leave the same way.
“Asalamo Alikom,” Spencer offered.
His fingers, hands, eyes had snapped out the lives of 131 Afghan people, people who were tied to their lands, their families, their tribes because without their ties they would be adrift on a landscape where no one could survive alone. How many of them ever owned a car? A motorcycle? Had a flushing toilet? Every single one of them would understand why he killed billionaires. They would never need an explanation.
“Kill the head and the whole snake dies,” the captain had said. “You shut down their leaders and every other billionaire buying off the country shuts down with them.
“When I was a kid, I remember saying to myself that if I saw Hitler, I would have killed him,” Captain Sam explained. “I’d be a hero and save the world from all that evil. But these bastards are right here, still breathing, still tying this country in knots.”
Captain Sam could never have gotten near anybody important. The captain didn’t know the first thing about tactics. Spencer had intended to kill 131 rich Americans. Targeting specific individuals was impossible. Maximizing the variables was the only strategy that might work. But he failed at that and he failed the captain, too. The serpent was still out there. He never cut off its head.
Spencer tried a new exercise, stretch-planks raising his mid-section up with his body weight on his fingertips and the edge of the casts beneath his toes. One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand, four. The thigh bone connected to the jaw bone. He breathed in and out through his nostrils, and then tried again. Five one-thousand.
Where is this? Slim, Stocky, the Twins, the doctor. All Americans. Not foreign contract hires. U.S. construction; American Standard was stamped into the underside of the toilet, GE logo on the light bulb. The electricity had never even dropped current, much less gone dark. Not one time.
Could I be right back in Afghanistan, he pondered? No. Wherever this prison was, it wasn’t Afghanistan. There was no war smell. Too many clean shoes, too. In Afghanistan you can’t keep shoes clean for ten minutes.
Urban or a fully supported American black ops base? He picked up more color showing on Slim’s hands. The doctor’s, too. More sunshine. Northern Hemisphere. Too early for northern sun. Not Canada. Not Poland or Bulgaria. Not likely.
There was so much he needed to know: What was this place? Where was this place? Entry and egress procedures? Card security, code security, biometrics, a combination of these?
Captain Sam had asked him “You ever heard of Joseph Goebbels?”
All he knew was that Goebbels was part of Hitler’s inner circle.
“Goebbels was Hitler’s propaganda minister,” the captain explained. “He said that ‘It is not propaganda’s task to be intelligent; its task is to lead to success.’ He didn’t invent the idea, but he pushed the practice that when a lie is told enough times it becomes the truth.
“Goebbels laid the groundwork for a lot of what is wrong with America today. But nobody stops it.”
“What happened to him?”
“He and his wife murdered their six children before committing suicide when their Reich collapsed.”
“So how is it that a thousand politicians and talking heads spout the same lines on the same day?” Captain Sam asked Spencer. The captain spent lots of time listening the radio, politics, and thinking about history and politics and what makes people do what they do. Captain Sam made Spencer listen with him a couple times just to prove his point. Didn’t it seem weird that nobody seemed to know where these canned lines come from? Every talking head acted like it was their same original thought at the same moment and people actually bought it. Goebbels’ power of repetition. So was there a room full of advertising writers and all-night focus groups working together in some underground laboratory?
The lines were coming from one source, day after day after day, they originated from one point. Where?
“It comes from the Koch brothers, I’ll bet you anything.” Spencer smiled, thinking how he always tuned out when Captain Sam mentioned the Kochs. There was no way to stop him or change the subject.
“They hit us on TV and in the papers and on the radio and on the web, pounding like a monsoon shower from all sides. But it’s one message coming from one spot. Somebody writes these things. They get delivered every day so the goose-stepping jerks can shout them in unison. They go out to thousands of people.
“Christ, Jonathan. I lost my hands and eyes to bring democracy to Iraq, a country that never asked for it. Now here I am, stuck in this lame body when I ought to be fighting for democracy right here at home.”
For a big man, Stocky moved quickly. A wrestler or a nose tackle in high school? Spencer couldn’t decide. All forward attack. No lateral movement. Knees, eyes, sides of the neck. Stocky was vulnerable at every one of these points.
While Stocky opened the hood and yanked it down, Spencer reviewed motions for each of the standard disabling blows in his imagination. Eye gouges, windpipe thrusts, breaking the pelvis with the heel of the hand. You’ve done them all ten thousand times.
Killing strikes require precision; in the primal hierarchy, men are large animals with thick necks and skulls that are harder than fists. Aortic walls that are hard to burst.
Lying perfectly still, he could imagine the shifting balance that every move called up, the concentrated power as multiple muscle groups functioned in beautiful unison… krav maga, aikido, even the cerebral delights of the tai chi.
Spencer sensed the power in Stocky’s hands when the big guard squeezed the gurney.
“Take off that hood,” the doctor ordered him. “This isn’t Groundhog Day, so let’s not start like its day one. Unlock the chain rig and cuffs.
“Darcy, take his ankles. We’ll shift him on three.”
The zip ties were wrapped inside his shirt pocket in a rubber band. Darcy used a long one to attach Spencer’s wrist to the bedrail before Stocky unlocked the metal cuff.
Spencer looked up at the camera. Still unplugged, the green light off.
Both guards stepped out of the room.
The doctor turned to Spencer to explain that “The internal sutures will be dissolving.
“We’re going to get some new photos and see about removing those staples.”
“Captain, where are we?” Spencer asked him.
“Don’t ask questions I can’t answer. And just ‘doctor’ will do.”
Spencer locked eyes with the doctor. “They’ve tortured me. Thirty-three times.”
“Don’t,” the doctor insisted, w
“I figured you’d have to be an officer, being a surgeon and all,” Spencer responded.
“They own me for two more years. Then I’m a free man It’s called paying for ten years of college.”
Spencer looked over toward the doctor’s hands as they moved over the portable table beside the bed: the small circular saw for removing the casts, gauze, a toothpaste tube of something, surgical scissors rounded at the tips, forceps, tweezers a foot long, a metal snips, pliers, the filled syringe and the vial. This time he could read the label. Ketamine.
“What’s ‘ketamine’?” Spencer asked, testing a second time.
“While you’re in this room, you’re my patient, but when a patient acts up in this room he becomes a prisoner again,” the doctor told him coldly. “Ketamine is to settle down prisoners, settle them right down.
His tone rose again, more upbeat. “Let’s get to these legs of yours. You’re a lucky man, you know that? Even twenty-five years ago you’d have lost that leg right up to the hip. In six months you’re going to be walking again.”
After the casts came off, Spencer’s leg began again to spasm. Except he was faking it this time.
“Darcy,” the doctor shouted. “Come back inside!”
His shout went unheard. He had to go to the door and open it in order to call for help. Spencer registered the data point. Solid-core, soundproof doors. Out in the hallway, they can’t hear.
Slim—Darcy—came to the base of the exam room table and held Spencer’s ankles, leaning over the legs with his weight forward. The doctor fitted Slim with a lead vest and spread a lead mat across Spencer’s groin then swung the x-ray camera into position over the table, taking five different angles on the right leg and three on the left, replacing the film brackets in between.
Spencer watched him moving fluidly between tasks. Efficient and professional. But not military. Repaying student loans? Not government, either.
The doctor went into a white melamine cabinet and came back with an aerosol spray that he shook first and then sprayed down the length of the Spencer’s right thigh from hip to knee. “Topical anesthetic,” he explained. It felt cold. The doctor seemed to be counting out seconds in his head before he poked his finger along the closed wound. “Feel that?”
Spencer nodded. He could feel, but he wasn’t bothered by it.
“I’m going to remove the staples,” the doctor told him. “If it becomes too painful, I need you to let me know.” He snipped through the first staple then used the pliers to remove it, tested the closure with his gloved fingertips, and then moved to the next. After he had four removed, he went back to the cabinet and returned with a small tube that he opened and squeezed over the thick line where he had just removed the staples. “Super Glue,” he explained. “We don’t want you opening up inside the new cast.”
“What are you, Jonathan?” Captain Sam had asked him. He remembered thinking about that while they were lying on thick green grass beneath their oak tree. The captain had a way of drilling down to the essence of everything, deconstructing the components of the military, the war, politics and economics and history, then reassembling them around motives that went much deeper than slogans like love of country, service, and sacrifice.
“We’re nurturers, teachers, healers, or warriors,” Captain Sam said. “Sometimes we’re more than one, but no matter what your job is or whatever the title is that anybody calls you, you have to know, really know in your head and in your heart that you’re one of those four things or else you’re nothing. Without nurturing, teaching, healing, or fighting for something bigger than ourselves, we don’t exist; we’re just taking up air.
“So what are you?”
“I’m a warrior.” The answer came easily. Wasn’t that obvious?
“Are you? Jonathan, one day, maybe soon, you’re not going to be a soldier. So how are you going to be a warrior then?
“Ah Christ, Captain,” he swore aloud while the green light stared down high from up in the corner. Was it worth this? Concrete walls and nothingness lit by one fluorescent bulb. Now he looked forward to being tortured just so he could hear a human voice.
I messed it up, but I tried. The military treated him like used-up trash and threw him away, but he was a warrior. He always would be. Nobody could take that away, not ever. No one man alone could be the captain’s Controlled Burn; he had struck the match, which was what he could do.
Jesus, he thought. Be a warrior. Stop the pity party. Think of something else.
He went back to the fall. It still made no sense. The black detective at Citi-Field was the same guy who had been in one of the speedboats on the Hudson. He was sure of that. He had seen the face through his scope then again on the TV news, and again at the stadium. But how? How did the guy know exactly where he was going to be?
Why the hell would you even think about checking out that stadium? You knew better but didn’t listen to your instincts. You knew better than that!
If it hadn’t been for that cop letting go, that one choice, then he wouldn’t be looking at four gray concrete walls. Why did he do that? What made him let go? The last thing Spencer remembered was the sensation of Tremaine Bull’s body bursting under him. It felt like a melon splitting. When they hit the concrete, it was all percussion, slapping flesh and snapping bone.
Why would he do that? To save rich people? What would the captain say to that, he asked himself? A cop giving up his life to save billionaires with lives so different that they might as well be living on another planet?
“You should have hung on,” he said, thinking of the black detective. “You, man. You were a warrior. I would not have let you die.”
Spencer’s right leg started spasming again; the pain moved from the splintered thighbone and settled into the hinges in his jaw.
He held on until the intensity dropped. He could identify every metal pin, screw, and the steel plate that anchored the brittle fragments along the path where two inches of his right femur had broken through taut muscle and skin, nicking the artery when he slammed against the concrete.
He tried to turn himself over, but even the simple act of shifting onto his belly frustrated him. With the heavy casts, he felt like a tortoise on its back. The best method he found was to twist his upper torso against the wall behind the pallet then push off hard, twisting at the same time to drive his hips over so the legs would follow. After the pain subsided he reached beneath the pallet, feeling for the spot where his left thumbnail fit between the layers of plywood. He began again working the wedge further apart to separate a sharp edge.
His fingernail hit glue and ripped back from the skin when he pressed into the crack. Spencer folded the thumb inside his fist, brought it up and sucked the blood from it, tasting iron in his mouth. He rolled himself over again. He couldn’t continue working on the crease without the use of his thumb. He pressed himself to think.
What did the interrogator mean that he was being paid by the hour? At a black ops site? Weren’t they all CIA and government contractors? And what about the doctor… not military; working off medical school costs? What was this place?
Texas didn’t seem to want to believe he was acting alone. Was it beyond them to imagine one man, acting on his own, could make every law enforcement agency in the USA chase their tails? But if did convince them that he was acting alone, why would they keep him alive?
I executed upon those missions all alone, by myself. Me, I did that, nobody else. Captain Sam’s Controlled Burn.
They’re scared. They thought they were untouchable and you got to them!
He was one man and still he had reached out and he touched them where they lived and they were scared. The epiphany was comfortin
They need their fantasy. They need to believe one man couldn’t do it alone.
Had he started the Controlled Burn? Were other veterans fighting back? Captain Sam predicted people would stand up; they just needed an example to believe in. They needed to see that one man can make a difference! The captain said we would take the country from the billionaires: “It won’t change, Jonathan, not unless we put a huge price tag on being rich.”
Fuck… you’re a doer, not a talker… keep talking to yourself and you’ll lose your mind.
Starting at his toes, he tensed his way up his legs muscle by muscle, mentally mapping the broken bones and the torn tissues. He felt his scalp and his forehead, his nose and his upper lip. His tongue ran around his mouth, feeling the smooth fronts of his teeth and the individual definition of each molar and canine, rubbing the tip along the narrow edge of the incisors. He clenched and relaxed his jaw, tensed the back of his neck and could feel the plastic lanyard riding against his throat. He flexed his shoulders forward, felt his triceps and biceps, pressed his forearms against the straps and cast tension from his outstretched fingers. In one motion, his pectorals, buttocks, and latts unified into one.