DOWN IN THE VALLEY
By J. Strauss
Arch completely understood Virginia’s need to toss him from the room and get on her cell phone. The active career he’d only recently retired from demanded he understand and leave immediately after the short dinner and even shorter get together in her room. The mess of her room that they’d destroyed together seemed such a warm and inviting relief from the rest of Arch's mostly cold universe.
“Might go over to Ola’s for a nightcap,” Arch said back to her, as she closed the door, cell phone already glued to one ear. He went up to his room to clean up and call it a night, although it was only nine o’clock. They hadn't talked about he mission or what had happened to him during dinner or after. It was like either there was no real mission or they had been allowed a recess for personal time. He went back to his room to freshen up and change shirts, but couldn't help checking out Virginia's lanai one more time before he went.
Number 217 was brightly lit, Arch noted, but that wasn't what drew him to peer out from inside his own darkened room with the Leica fifty millimeters. The two men had returned to her small outside lanai, standing as before, facing inward. The Leica’s brought both into sharp relief. Arch had never seen either man before. They wore casual trousers and aloha shirts. One man wore loafers while the other gave himself away by wearing hand-worked spit-shined shoes common only to elite elements of the military. He also wore white sox. Arch kept a pair of shoes just like them, always ready in little cloth bags at the front of his closet in Santa Fe, but would have rather been caught dead than wearing them with shorts and white socks. Virginia was back practicing her craft.
He focused the Leica binoculars on Ola Bar and Grill located just above the sand beyond the tidal pool area. There were few people around, although the place would remain open until midnight. Flambeau, the crazy chef, could be seen moving quickly about, wearing his bright white and spotless cotton coat. Arch smiled. He liked the expressive man. He decided to spend the rest of his waking hours at the bar, regardless of what Virginia decided. Being entertained by the chef’s outrageous cooking stories would be fun, no matter what, and his cooking was some of the best on the island.
Arch tossed the glasses on his bed and headed out.
There were only two ways to get to Ola's from the main building. Both ways came together at the apex of a “Y” just before the restaurant entrance; the nexus of the “Y” was in the middle of a dark overhanging cluster of tree branches and dense tropical bushes. It was there they took him.
Some sort of heavy padded object struck Arch on the side of his head, stunning him to the point of collapse, although he never impacted onto the crushed coral lining the path. Strong arms grabbed and carried him away. The only thought that rose to the top of his semi-conscious mind was relief. He hadn't been struck on the side of his head with the healing contusion he’d received from the earlier tree branch. His wrists and eyes were taped in seconds, as the men held him pinned against the side of big black rental car.
Instantly, he was hoisted into the air and plopped uncomfortably atop the spare tire in the car's trunk. Arch tried to think through the pain and mark the vehicle’s passage as it pulled away.
He could feel the rental pass over the speed bumps built into the private road leading out of the resort. The car turned right onto Kam Highway. Arch began to count. He knew the team members who had him were pros. They were too fast and too well coordinated to be anything else. And no crew of robbers was dumb enough to penetrate deep into the body of a huge resort and simply cart away one man in the dark. The car would not speed to avoid police interference. The limit was forty-five on Kam Highway, which took about seventy seconds per mile. The Lincoln, or whatever full size car it was, turned after three hundred seconds, or about four miles by Arch’s count. He knew the area. They’d had to pass through one signal in front of the only grocery store on the North shore but it must have been green, as they hadn’t stopped. They were moving a short distance toward the ocean just before Sunset Beach. There was only a short distance they could move before they’d be in the water. He tried to remember what was located along that part of the shore, other than super-expensive luxury homes. The car came to an abrupt stop.
The trunk popped and Arch was painfully pulled from the floor. He gave no resistance, simply trying to prevent more bruising by being banged about in his blind condition. He walked, guided by two men holding his elbows. Nobody talked. The men opened a door, took him through, flipped him around and sat him in some sort of wooden chair. He could hear the duct tape being stripped from a roll before it was used to tape his wrists to long flat handles protruding out from under them. Arch concluded that the chair was an outdoor Adirondack sort of thing.
“Sit there and shut up. Somebody wants to have a word with you,” a deep raspy voice stated flatly. The door slammed and the men were gone.
Arch wondered if the room was lit. They’d taped his right wrist bare, with the tape covering his skin, but his left wrist was taped over the cuff of the long sleeve shirt he’d chosen to ward off the cool trade winds from the ocean that swept through Ola’s open windows during evening hours. He could twist, turn and lever the wrist. He concluded, with his eyes still covered, that the room had to be dark or the men would never have made that mistake.
After only a few moments Arch was able to gently pull his left hand through the sleeve of his shirt, but he didn’t try to fully break free. He calculated that there were at least four men outside the closed door. Arch knew he was no match for them. He didn't even know if they were armed, but had to assume so. He had to have more information about the shack he was in. He knew it was one of the few surfer shacks left on the expensive pristine shore. Why there were any left at all Arch never understood. Inexplicably some had survived the ravages of constant salt spray and onset of rapid development around them. Instead of trying to pull free from the chair Arch leaned forward so his face was close to his left hand, which he could move fairly easily. He worked the blinding tape over his eyes loose until he felt a small space break free between the tape and his left cheek. He needed some vision, although he could see nothing in the total darkness.
Arch sat with his back pressed against the hard wood of the severely angled Adirondack. He thought about what had taken place on the mission, which was not supposed to be a mission, until he’d come to arrive in the chair. He hadn’t been truly angry before but he was rapidly becoming so. Possibly, he’d passed on his only chance to break free by not taking advantage of the amateur taping job of his captors. He realized that but no longer care. He’d become enraged to the point of not caring. In all of his years as a successful field agent he’d never been in such a personally compromising situation. That he was, and that it seemed at the hands of his own people, was humiliating and more than enraging. The door opened. A sliver of light penetrated through the crack at the bottom of his left eye. Arch could make out the clapboard floor of the shack.
“Hello,” a friendly male voice said from a position just to his right side. The tone caused a small shiver of fear to run up and down Arch’s back. Aggressiveness was an understood quality in the business he’d been in. Calm delivery, such as what he was hearing, was the sign of a very serious, professional, and quite probably at least a mildly sociopathic player. Arch didn't reply.
“We have some questions. And we need some immediate answers. I’m not going to ask any questions just yet. I need you to understand how serious we are.”
A lancing bright pain caused Arch to flinch as a needle was punched into his thigh, right through his light twill trousers.
“You’re going to grow quite violently ill for about fifteen minutes. I’ll return and give you another shot that’ll make you feel okay again. We have all night to go through this however many times you feel comfortable with.” The door opened and closed. The light went out. And then the nausea hit.
Waves of sickness swept through him, like ever increasing ocean waves in a set, but the set never stopped. Projectile vomiting every ten seconds fouled his pants and shoes as he leaned as far forward as he could to keep from choking on vomit, until there was no more vomit. And then the sickness got worse. His stomach heaved into spasms that he could not stop. The pain of the spasms was almost too much to bear. Arch went back to Vietnam. The shots that had pierced his torso had caused the same pain. He’d withstood that pain without medication for five hours by controlling only those things he could. He slowed his breathing between the waves of pain. He imagined his heart and worked to slow that, while also thinking about and working on his blood pressure. An age later the door opened and lights were again thrown on. Another sharp pain, this time in his right shoulder, brought Arch out of his concentration. He gasped. The door closed, but this time the light remained. The nausea began to fade. The speed of its departure induced euphoria, as the sickness and pain passed to the point where it seemed, except for the wetness and stink of his vomit, as if it’d never occurred at all.
The door opened and closed again. “Hello,” came from the player standing in front of him, although far enough away to be outside the radius of the mess Arch had made. “I do so hope you are going to go along with me on this.”
“Okay,” Arch rasped out. Whatever the men wanted to know simply was not worth the suffering. Torture, physical torture, always worked Arch knew from his long experience. At some point of applying terrible the subject always came to decision point. The worth of the information requested, when weighed against the ever-increasing terror and pain, overwhelmed the decision-making process. Arch had been shot, whipped, poisoned and knifed, but he’d never been deliberately restrained and tortured before. His understanding of surrendering in the face of real visceral experience was new although his decision was analytical. He just didn't give a damn about the mission, the Agency or even Virginia anymore.
“Oh good. I do so hate the detestable mess we end up with using this process. Blood is easier to bear, but I do have the instructions I must follow. I’m sure you understand,” the man finished and waited. His tone and the way in which he expressed himself scared Arch even through his rage. For the first time he wondered if he was going to survive the questioning. The only hopeful note in the man’s delivery had been about his having ‘instructions.’ The fact that blood had apparently been ruled out seemed to weigh in Arch’s favor, but he was anything but certain.
“Exactly what do those crazy Hawaiians have in weaponry and pyrotechnics on Manana Island?” the man asked.
Arch knew the man was talking about Rabbit Island. Manana was the formal name for the place, located just off of Bellows Beach and known to so many Americans simply because it was in almost every backdrop of Robin's Nest in the T.V. show Magnum P.I. The locals had renamed the place many years. Rabbits had been raised there for butchering at one time in the distant past, hence the name. Tourists thought the island was named rabbit because it looked like a laying rabbit, which amazingly, it did.
Arch blabbed everything he knew about what Matisse had told him, even adding some grenades and rockets to make it sound the more believable.
“Good, good, you’re doing fine,” the smarmy dangerous player intoned, as if he was encouraging some fourth grader to snitch on his companions.
“About this nuclear detection stuff, crazy as it seems. Do they have a scintillation counter over there, or has one been used?”
Arch began a long uncontrolled inhalation of his breath. He focused the lens of his left eye to peer beyond his spray of vomit to the feet of the man before him. Brightly shined shoes with white socks. A glint of light sparkled off the man’s regulation shoes. Scintillation. The word last used only hours before by Virginia, now repeated by one of the men who’d stood talking back to her on the lanai of Room 217.
“I’ve never heard of a scintillation counter and I don’t think they have either,” he replied, truthfully. “These locals aren’t technologically savvy at all. I think Matisse has an old WWII surplus Geiger counter, but that’s it. I don’t think it’s very accurate either, as I passed it over my watch hands and it went crazy,” Arch lied. He had no idea where or what Matisse’s Geiger counter was and his Breguet chronometer used Lumi-Nova hands, not the old radium things that’d been radioactive.
“Stay here,” the spit-shined shoe man said, using more of his strange stupid humor. “I must consult with my associates.”
Arch worked his left hand back out of his sleeve under the tape, but his timing proved terrible. The door opened and a man wearing loafers appeared and grabbed Arch’s arm before he could do anything.
“Ah, our prisoner thinks he’s leaving, eh? Not just yet he’s not. I’ve been waiting to use this for a long time on some asshole like you,” the man’s deep voiced whisper penetrated to Arch’s very soul. His imagination ran wild with whatever device the man could be talking about. Suddenly, the deadly evil of the shoe-shined man was preferable to what was in front of him.
The man worked with something he’d taken from a shelf nearby. Soft metal on metal sounds permeated the inside of the shack, and then the movement of a metallic action. Arch heard two hard but quiet ‘swishes’ before cold metal pressed down hard on his left hand to the flat wooden chair handle. Three louder bangs cause Arch to grunt and curl himself inward in extreme pain. He would have screamed but nothing would come out except a pitiful mewling sound.
“What was that,” the soft-sounding sounding player asked, obviously from just outside the door.
“I just nailed this Haole to his chair. He was trying to escape. I love this God damned automatic nailer thing,” the raspy man replied. The sound of three more bangs in quick succession took place, with resulting impacts against one of the wooden walls nearby.
“Put that thing down. No blood. Our instructions were clear. Are you a complete idiot?”
“No blood,” the raspy-voiced man replied. “Look. Clean as a whistle. He’ll be some time getting out of that chair.”
“Jesus Christ. Take that thing out of here. Leave him. We’re done here,” the shoe-shined man instructed. After a few minutes of what sounded like preparations to leave the man leaned back through the door. “Sorry about him. I’m sure you’ll be fine. Just needed some data. Sure you can understand.”
Arch listened to the men depart. The door was left gaping open with the light on. Arch’s left hand was aflame in pain. Through the crack under the tape he could see the heads of three nails, neatly appearing in a row behind the knuckles and between the bones on the surface of his splayed out left hand. The nailing man had not lied. There was no blood at all. But the man had made a mistake. The great force of the driven nails had split the vertical arm support into several failing pieces. Arch breathed in and out, gathering his strength and endurance. The pain in his head, and the pain from the sickening shot, and even the pain of the nails sticking through his hand were nothing to pain in his heart.
“Virginia,” he screamed in whisper, in agony of body and mind. Arch tore the handle from the chair, blood flowing amongst the other fluids he'd expelled.