I KILL RICH PEOPLE 2, page 22
Between Google Maps and other web resources, any lone wolf could handle reconnaissance basics. Not one shred of evidence indicated either the need for or actuality of any conspirators. Whether that was what the APA wanted to hear was another story, but wasn’t it better to tell them get it over with rather than wasting their money by dragging this out any further?
Interrogation made sense. That was about extracting valuable information. But with nothing, zip, zero indication that the prisoner was employed by any group or persons, the only plausible, evidence-based conclusion was that he acted alone. Waterboarding Spencer again would be torture, pure and simple. You can’t expose what isn’t there. He acted alone. If Jeffers didn’t want to hear the truth Bishop knew he should walk away. That was real freedom, having enough money to walk away. The thiopental sodium had crossed the line. APA might be his cherry client, but he was sick of secret prisons and torture.
Bishop vacillated, wrestling with whether or not he could continue collecting paychecks. He tried to convince himself that if he walked in and told the truth Jeffers would appreciate a honest show of economy. Wasn’t it better to play it straight instead of milking the cow until APA pulled the plug? It was hard to walk away from that sort of cash flow. He rewound and reviewed interrogations, going through one last sickening pass to reinforce his decision. On the screen, the prisoner was strapped onto the water board, the black hood puffing out with each exhale as Bishop left him waiting to begin again. In the picture, the Velcro was digging into Spencer’s forearms. He was breathing slowly, taking in deep breaths through the black hood while the fabric drew in and puffed out again. The fabric rode up inside his nostrils each time he inhaled. Respiration was up. Pulse rate, too. His arms strained against the Velcro. He arched his back and tried twisting to get enough torque to get the straps starting to open, to hear something start to tear. Spencer’s abs tightened as Bishop moved closer. His fingers balled into fists. Bishop watched himself glancing up at the green light and the camera lens before filling the bucket.
He watched the entire session, the hacking, the vomit coming out his nose and mouth and welling inside the hood.
Bishop would have liked to know what Spencer meant by “Controlled Burn,” but strategy and ideology weren’t the hot topics. Nope. Spencer was alone. One of the hundred-thousand nameless, faceless prisoners shut up in “Special Detention” or “Segregation Units,” or whatever other euphemism was in style for solitary confinement. Spencer would probably have been better off if the thiopental sodium dosage had been a measure higher; instead of staring at four walls, two hundred milligrams more would have ended things right there.
Did you enjoy your show? Bishop wondered to himself, thinking of Vision Partners on the other end of the camera feed enjoying themselves like Roman emperors inside the Coliseum, cheering for more gore.
The APA might not care to know facts, especially facts that deflated their big conspiracy. So long as they were entertained, he could probably go right on collecting the paychecks.
But he was done.
“Go back and try again,” Jeffers told Bishop.
“I can take your money, but what is the point in digging if we know the well is dry.” He was trying to keep the APA from wasting money, but his appreciation of their wallets didn’t seem to register at all. What don’t you understand? Bishop asked himself. Spencer had acted alone. Strictly a lone wolf. No conspiracy. There was no indication of anything further to worry about.
“It’s our money. If we’re worried about it, we’ll let you know.” Jeffers scanned a file on his Smartphone, a short report on Bishop that critiqued and scored daily efficacy on a ten=point scale.
“Use the sodium thiopental,” Jeffers ordered. “You were getting somewhere with that.” He wasn’t ready to reach a lone wolf conclusion and lose all the momentum—flow of funds, rallying the faithful, growing the cause. There was too much to accomplish yet to call it quits.
“It nearly killed him.”
“And?” Beyond whatever useful information Spencer held, he was only alive because nobody up the chain of command was going issue the order to terminate. Nobody at APA was going to issue that order, either. That was the universe they lived in. Nobody with the ego and ambition to get to those positions would ever put himself on that line. Sometime, could be a decade from now, a new administration could come along with old memories; a new director gets appointed, faces change on Senate Committees, somebody hacks the system and gets things to the press, somebody gets in a pickle and leverages a name to get himself off the hook. When you plan on having a long career, rule number one is plan for leakage; you cover your butt and you never ever trust anyone. But dying during questioning? That was excusable. You can’t make an omelet without cracking eggs, after all. A certain amount of attrition was to be expected.
Bishop realized that he had no wiggle room. You either say no or sell your soul.
“You could suck out his brain and spread it out like butter and there’s not going to be anything more of real value to you,” Bishop told Jeffers. Interrogation was one thing. Waterboarding and using hot rods and strapping the prisoner’s forehead without the prospect of drawing valuable intelligence was just plain torture.
“I’m delivering the intelligence,” Bishop continued, “But short of manufacturing the content of that intelligence, there is nothing of any additional value that I can deliver. Mr. Jeffers, I’m into my third decade with interrogations and pursuit. I know how to do my job. This happens. You work and probe and take twenty different approaches and still there is nothing there! What I can tell you is that I have never failed to bring in a suspect and I have never been proven to have missed critical intelligence that has lead to a subsequent event. Not once.”
“Let’s take a break,” Jeffers suggested. Another month to six weeks would be about right; the wheels were already in motion. “We’ll table this for now; we’ll let you know when we’re ready for closure. Hold off on your report and revisit the topic after the casts come off his legs. Your sodium thiopental therapy can wait until then.” He looked across the screen intently, straight at Bishop’s eyes. “Submit billings through the end of this week and I’ll see that we deposit a retainer for those same totals to date when you resume.”
Bishop looked at the graying monitor as the screen faded out. He had just been offered $150,000. Why? The one most probable conclusion was that Jeffers wanted to retain him as executioner. One hundred fifty thousand dollars to buy one extra eyedropper of clear liquid? The idea made him physically sick, which was surprising. He didn’t think anything could give him that feeling. Not anymore.
“Master Sergeant Spencer,” Bishop began. There were no hoods, just the two chairs, Spencer’s recliner and Bishop’s straight-backed metal desk chair, in the dimly lit space. Spencer looked up the seat from where his wrists were cuffed and shackled around his waist. A rubber band wrapped around a rag was covering the camera lens up in the corner. “This may be the last time we meet. I thought we ought to be face-to-face.”
Spencer looked around the room, which was about how he imagined it would be. The plastic bucket sat on the floor beneath the spigot. If his eyes could fire lightning bolts, he would have turned that bucket into ashes.
Bishop picked cigarettes from his shirt pocket, took one in his lips and gestured to Spencer, offering him a smoke. Spencer tried to raise his hands but could lift them only as high as his sternum; he didn’t smoke, but if it could result in getting his hands free, it was worth trying.
“Of course,” Bishop responded. He reached the cigarette up to Spencer’s mouth but didn’t call out to Stocky for the keys.
“Off the record, here is your chance to talk. No agendas. We’re done with all that.”
“I want a TV set,” Spencer told him. A TV could tell him where the hell he was being held.
“Is this for real?” Spencer wanted to know, pointing his chin toward the covered camera.
“Yes,” Bishop agreed. “My job here is done. Yours, too. We both know you were on your own. They, the men with the cameras, might want to think otherwise, but I don’t write fiction.”
“Where am I?” Spencer wanted to know.
“Can’t say,” Bishop told him truthfully. He had signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement within his contract that specifically precluded any hard information exchange, on camera or not.
NDA aside, Bishop admired Spencer’s determination. While he breathed, there was fight left in him.
“Then why should I talk to you? What’s in it for me?”
“An opportunity to tell your side. That’s what I can offer.” Bishop lit himself a cigarette and took a deep pull.
Spencer eyed Bishop. No empathy there. What did he care why?
“You ever been to Afghanistan?” Spencer asked finally.
“No. But I spent time in Iraq. A lot of overlap, I imagine.”
There wasn’t much overlap. Afghanistan had seen the Macedonians. Alexander the Great had conquered the Persian Empire and got his ass kicked in Afghanistan. The Arabs swept through, but the tribes were never conquered. Genghis Khan and the Mongols, Timor, the Russian Empire, the British Empire, the Russians again, and the US-of-A. Compared to what was done to the Afghans, the torture they laid upon him was a walk in the park.
“I killed 131 Afghans doing my job. Over there, in their country.”
Bishop waited through minutes without another word being spoken. “And you got screwed when you came home,” he finally prompted.
Spencer nodded. But it wasn’t just that he was screwed. Being washed out was only the spark. The reasons for what he did were big, bigger and more important than any one life, including his own.
“How did you get from that place to killing rich people? That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out. Middle-class kid. A year of college with good grades and then you drop out to join the military where you become an all-star soldier. What’s the connection? What makes you hate rich people?”
Spencer eyed Bishop. “Do you hate me?” Spencer asked back.
“But you nearly drowned me, you shot me full of drugs, you used the electric prod, “Spencer pointed out.
“If you don’t hate me, what made you do it?”
Money, Bishop thought immediately, but he didn’t say it. “Point taken,” he replied.
“I don’t think armies hate the enemy. It is hard to sustain hate. For most people, I think it is. I didn’t hate the 131 Afghans,” he said. “Maybe we should only kill people we hate. That would make it hard to go to war. I’ve thought about that a lot.”
“Tell me about ‘Controlled Burn.’” Bishop waited again, giving Spencer one more chance.
“Last chance,” Bishop announced.
Spencer thought about the Controlled Burn, wished he could articulate it, but he knew it would never come across correctly. God, he thought, Captain Sam, you should be explaining this, not me.
“You throw me in this place. You nail me in the balls with electric pokers. Whatever else I did, I spent nineteen years serving my country. I earned better than this,” he said.
“You want to know what ‘Controlled Burn’ is about?” Spencer spat. “It’s about fighting for my country in my country. It’s killing the few so the many can have a chance. It’s about optimism and hope, not rich people walling themselves behind castles and covering the walls with weaponry. It’s about shifting the way this country is run before it is too late.”
Spencer looked down the length of the leg casts and raised his eyes to face Bishop. “You work for the government, right? How do you rationalize what you’re doing?”
“You killed twenty-three Americans,” Bishop replied. He rose slowly, dropped his cigarette and crushed out the butt and then turned and rapped hard on the door for Stocky and Slim to let him out.
He turned slowly back toward Spencer as the heavy door creaked open. “Am I the one who is rationalizing?” he asked.
Pulse, breathe, minutes, hours, days, weeks… Spencer was left inside his head in the windowless concrete room. The war hadn’t been perfect; even Spencer got sick of the war sometimes, but he was perfect at it. In Afghanistan he spent lots of nights imagining how he could stay there after everybody else pulled out. He understood those men, their Pashtunwali—their code was elemental; it required no language. Killing them or if they killed him was circumstantial, no less, no more. A quirk of fate, a decision by far-away men neither of them was ever going to meet.
How could a billionaire understand Pashtunwali?
Spencer reviewed his evolution, starting like every other sniper, going out with sixes, six-man squads with a team leader, second team leader, security, the whole thing. Mostly drop and crash stuff, in and out of a building, sometimes to secure a drop zone, sometimes to take down a target, sometimes a snatch and grab to get a high-value prisoner. Back in those days he was a specialist, not a sergeant or even an ATL, much less a team leader taking orders and calling the shots on the ground that meant everything to mission success or failure. His job was handling C-4, setting donuts around door handles and pancakes on mud walls to open access for the entry squad while he had to wait outside on security.
He shifted to twos just before he circled the first time, before he was rotated stateside, then twos again when he deployed for the last tour. Twos are all about target elimination. Minimum profile, snake in the grass. You get your butt down and hold tight for hours, for days, until you get the one second to get the high-value shot. 800 to 1500 meters, mostly.
He pictured Mo Singleterry, the Specialist he had spotting for him. Good guy. Reliable. Kept it light, but always had his head on a swivel. Sharp. Six months together, then Singleterry got himself fucked up by an IED. Captain Sam was all wrong about explosives. Improvised explosive devices were indiscriminating sneak attacks. No honor, no commitment; chickenshit. Target precision was what it is all about. Not drones, not mortars, not bombs. Then boom. Singleterry was on an airlift out, leaving behind his right ham muscle and a kneecap. Gone. Spencer never saw him again. Never tracked him down afterward, either.
After they evacked Singleterry, then it was just Spencer. They moved him to fill in with weapons training for a couple Afghan police units coming out of Helmand. He was reassigned to Miller after that. Then the work picked up fast. His assignments came through Miller; CIA, he imagined, although that was never spelled out. Solos. Sneaking in and getting out intact. Fast. Nothing that needed a spotter. Nothing over eight hundred yards.
He was coming in after a lap around the airport when he heard the news, then turned around and ran a second lap, trying to perspire enough to purge the taint from what had just happened. Gunmen took all sixty recruits, men with wives and children, men who wanted to do good, to really do good. Two busloads of new graduates who had just finished the joint-training program, the same program he had helped in training, got stopped practically right there in Kabul, right by Park Khairkhana. They took them off the two buses, zip-tied them, had them kneel beside the road. They called them kafir and shot them in the head. That was right before his last mission. Before Manchester United. Almost all the snow was melted, with just a dusting left at the very tops of the mountains outside Bagram.
With his eyes shut, Spencer put himself right back there. He was running the perimeter and trying to get right, thinking about heading for the mobile shower structure and holding his head under cool water forever. But Miller helicoptered in with orders. Maybe that was better than the shower, he figured. He needed a mission
A soccer kid in a bright-red jersey and his mom. If the buses hadn’t been stopped, if the recruits hadn’t been executed, would he have made it a game? Would he have used a single bullet to kill son and mother both? Would he have done it differently if his finger hadn’t been poked through by the damned thorn?
He knew now that if there was a hell, that one bullet was going to send him to it.
Miller had put his man, Afif, up to the stabbing. There was nothing random. It took Spencer weeks after the stabbing before he put the pieces together clearly. Miller’s tribesman didn’t have any reason to kill him. He had every reason not to do it. Then after Afif stabbed him, Miller’s man was caught and under control. But Miller shot him dead.
It was all Miller.
Keeping up with the exercises felt futile. Day after day inside monotone gray. The blank, soundless fluorescent void; he could feel it taking him down like quicksand. The more he fought it, the deeper he sank. He thought about Captain Sam, too much, ruminating over the captain’s ideas in a continuous loop. Sometimes he loathed the captain even more than he despised Miller.
Now, stuck there endlessly in the monotony of the concrete box, Spencer’s brain was entangled again with the captain. He cried just like he cried after running out of the ward building toward the Harley. He thought as he rode that he had only ever listened to the captain because the captain needed someone there to listen to him. Somehow it had all stuck; somehow every word felt like it was carved inside his brain like words carved into a monument. A government of the rich, for the rich, by the rich will perish from the earth.