“YOU WILL TELL ME WHERE THE SMOKING MONKEY IS OR YOU WILL EAT THIS SANDWICH.” Lily slapped Joe around the face with the ‘this sandwich’ to add emphasis to the threat.
“No,” Joe moaned, gag reflex barely under control, “no more sandwiches, please.”
“This can all end; all you have to do is provide a location.” Lily’s voice had softened to her best imitation of ‘good cop’. “I don’t enjoy this, really I don’t.”
I could tell that she didn’t ‘enjoy this’ in the same way that your average house cat doesn’t enjoy playing with its ‘food’ before it kills it, and then leaves it someplace for a human to stand on in the dark.
There was a blur of motion, followed by the sensation of sandwich filling sliding with mucus-like viscosity down Joe’s left cheek. This was accompanied by the sensation of burning, and a temporary loss of vision in his left eye.
“Now look what you’ve made me do,” Lily cooed, leaning into the coo close enough to Joe’s nose that fetid breath mingled with the smell of sandwich-burned face. “You were supposed to eat that sandwich. Still, it’s no matter; plenty more sandwiches left on the plate.”
Joe vomited stomach contents, and coughed up what may have been lung-bits onto the floor.
“Oh dear, it seems we’ve had a little accident, Mr. Smote.”
“I’ve already told you everything I know,” Joe spluttered weakly, “there’s no more to tell.”
“No, you’ve told us everything we already know.” Lily reached for another sandwich. “Now, let’s try this again. Where is the smoking monkey?”
∗ ∗ ∗
This was an unforeseen complication: Joe was not being held where Harold and his team expected him to be. Intelligence from Dave was normally so reliable, too. Harold would have words with him later; this is the kind of intel failure that can get someone killed, or, at the very least, maimed. But the fact remained that they had reached the sub-basement level and there was no sign of anything even closely resembling a cell block. Instead, what they had found was an open cavernous expanse populated by… well, it wasn’t entirely clear what these things were. Or rather, it was clear, but defied belief. They just didn’t move how you’d expect them to. Whatever they were, they looked dangerous, and there were a lot of them. Fortunately, Harold and his team had not been spotted, and were able to formulate a new plan from the shadowy safety of the cat-walk above the main floor.
“So, what now Chief?” The question had come from Trinket, Harold’s Executive Officer and demolitions specialist. She had asked the question in such a way that he could tell she hoped that whatever came next would involve explosives.
“It won’t be explosives Trinket.”
“Come on… really? Not even just a very tiny grenade?”
“No.” Harold said firmly. “This is a stealth operation, and we’ve already shot quite a few people. I am sorry, Trinket. Perhaps you’ll get to blow something up next time.”
“Alright. But next time, you promise?”
“I’ll see what can be arranged; that’s about all I can say for sure.” Harold looked to the rest of his team. They also appeared slightly disappointed that there would be no explosions. “Quacks, I need you to take photos of this for later analysis. When you’re done, return to the extraction point. The rest of you follow me. We’re going to have to engage in some stealthy on-site intelligence collection.”
∗ ∗ ∗
“How many more plates of these do you think we’ll have to make? The fumes are really playing havoc with my sinuses.”
“I don’t know Sam, as many as we can get done before the end of shift. That’s what they told me, and so that’s what I told you… several times already.” Finley despised working with Sam, he complained about everything. Once, Sam had moaned about how there weren’t enough coffee breaks during shift, and when they had one, he’d complained that he had to drink too many cups of coffee, and would have preferred tea. How Sam had been recruited to Interrogation Catering was beyond Finley; the guy couldn’t even smear an eyeball on bread properly.
“You know, I was talking to the Colonel and she said that I’d get a promotion soon.” Sam looked smug as he said this.
“You were talking to the Colonel?” In all the time that he’d been there, Finley had never even seen the Colonel. She loomed in his imagination as a creature of myth and horrible aspect. “You know her?”
“Of course,” said Sam, puffing out his chest like a bullfrog, “she’s my mother.”
That, thought Finley, explains a lot. He grabbed another slice of bread and began spreading eye-jelly on it. If he concentrated just hard enough, he could almost believe it was from his co-worker’s eye.
“Yes,” Sam continued, “I’m her only child, which makes me precious. Also, Mom says that I’m really smart, which is why I’m getting that promotion to… Covert Operations.”
That’s it. The next sandwich is going to use Sam-eye-jelly at its base. Finley tightened his grip on the butter knife, and began a slow turn towards his colleague. He was going to enjoy this. But before he could deliver the ‘blinding-stroke’, he was distracted by noises coming from beyond the kitchen door. They sounded a lot like two very heavy thuds. “What was that?”
“What? I didn’t hear anything. You see, this is exactly why you’re not Covert Operations material and I am. You imagine things that aren’t there. Don’t feel bad, hardly anyone is as good as I–“
The kitchen door crashed open, its hinges snapped clean out of the frame, and there was a quiet popping sound. Sam collapsed to the floor, unable to finish his sentence. This was bad. Still, however bad this was, Finley was not as unhappy about it as he could have been. Sam had clearly been shot, after all. That seemed like good news.
Two armed men walked through the now doorless doorway, weapons trained on Finley’s central mass. The men were followed by a woman, dressed quite literally to kill – unless he was much mistaken, most of her outfit consisted of hand grenades and other accoutrements of war. Beyond the doorway, he could just hear a murmur of voices: someone dispensing instructions, and more than one whispering acknowledgement. ‘Not Covert Operations’ material my ass, thought Finley, I can hear whispers and thuds behind walls and under pressure.
A last man came through the door, this one had been giving the instructions if Finely was any judge, and recent events had taught him that he was. The new man looked at the plates of sandwiches, all of them lined up in order of their delivery and sealed in protective plastic.
“These are interrogation sandwiches, are they not?”
Finley nodded affirmative; he’d been trained not to talk when questioned by the enemy. Nobody had said anything about movements of the head in such situations.
“You have prisoners being interrogated at the moment?”
Another affirmative from Finley.
“Do you know how many prisoners?”
Finley shrugged that he was unsure. This was still technically not talking to the enemy.
“How well guarded is the detention level?”
No bodily movement in the lexicon to answer that one. “Ummm?” Did that count as talking?
“Trinket, I’ve changed my mind, I think I might allow you to blow up this young man with one of your tiny grenades.”
“No, wait! It’s not well guarded. No one is really expected to make it this far, and guards are expensive, so they don’t bother with more than two at the entrance at any one time. Sometimes they don’t even bother with that. Nobody has ever escaped.” It’s alright man, everybody breaks, everyone talks eventually.
“I take it you know where the level is, and it is the same place that these sandwiches are going?”
“You will, of course, take us there.” Not a question. “Grab a plate of sandwiches and lead on…. What is your name young man?”
“Finley.” They wouldn’t grenade him now that they knew his name, right?
“Finley. Good name. Now, grab the sandwiches and lead on. Don’t worry, it will be fine… if you do exactly as I just asked.”
As Sam’s body was stuffed into a cupboard, Finley did exactly as he’d just been asked. Everybody breaks.
∗ ∗ ∗
While it is probably true that everybody breaks eventually, it is not always true that they are believed to be quite broken enough. This is no small difficulty for the one who has been broken, and no difficulty at all for the person doing the breaking. Joe had learned this lesson before, and so was less-than-sanguine about the refresher course he’d been taking at the hands of the deeply unpleasant Lily. Quite simply, Lily didn’t believe a word of what he said, ever. Never mind that Joe had been telling the truth the whole time – for he considered himself a man-of-truth, for the most part – Lily stubbornly refused to accept what he said at face value. This meant that a lot of really awful burn inducing sandwiches had been stuffed in Joe’s face as an incentive to ‘come clean’ about the whereabouts of one smoking monkey. Joe really had no idea where the monkey was, and Lilly stubbornly held on to the belief that he did. Which just goes to show, the nature of belief is such that it doesn’t have to have any solid connection to the truth.
Although it went against his personal ethic, Joe had come to the conclusion that he was going to have to change his strategy. Speaking truth was obviously not effective, and so Joe had decided to compromise his moral center: he was going to lie. His hope was that it would at least put a stop to the endless stream of sandwiches; probably through death, but Joe was at one that. He was so very broken at this point.
The problem was that whatever lie of location he spoke, it would have to be acceptable: a believable location. This meant that it had to be a real one, which in turn meant that perfectly nice people would have their door kicked in and – as there would be no monkey present – be invited to lunch. Joe couldn’t bring himself to inflict Lily’s catering on the innocent, and so was left with a serious dilemma: give a false location that would be unlikely to end his suffering, or a real one that would end up force-feeding the innocent.
In a coincidence that some would call irony, but probably wasn’t, Lily had unwittingly provided him with the material he needed to construct a good falsehood. Lily’s normal interrogation practice involved forceful attempts to get Joe to write down an address on a piece of paper, and every time she visited him – in addition to ‘refreshments’ – she would bring a notepad and pen for this purpose. Because of his dilemma, Joe had been unable to write anything down. Not that he wasn’t tempted, but his soul was not quite as black as he tried to get people to believe, and he couldn’t bring himself to do it. On the day the solution presented itself, instead of pad and pen, Lily had brought a list. Joe had been a fan of lists for a long time; it seemed appropriate that one should lead to the end of his torment: this was a list of addresses, real ones.
“These,” Lily had explained, “are locations we believe may have the monkey. It is one of these, but we don’t know which one. You, as I am sure you are aware, do know which is the correct address. All you need to do is put a mark next to the right location, and all of your trouble will be over.”
Joe had reasoned that any address suspected of harboring a monkey, and that also appeared on any list Lily had in her possession, probably didn’t have nice people living at it. All he had to do was pick one. But he couldn’t be seen to surrender too quickly – he would have to continue to resist, and endure foul-burny foodstuffs for a while longer, or she would smell the lie. Getting the lie started presented no problem, though. He already had a weapon designed to suck in the unwary: the hard-boiled monologue.
I had seen an address that was on that list, and I knew it to have an infestation. The kind of infestation that contains exactly one monkey that smokes. But I was not going to tell that fat bitch anything.
Lily had smiled; she’d taken the bait: the dance of deception had begun.
And so now they were at the dance’s last waltz. Lily believed that all but the last two addresses on the list were false locations and, whatever one Joe picked next, the one left over would be the correct one. Joe had counted on this, he knew that the number of addresses was small enough now that Lily could have had them investigated, but she wouldn’t. No, he knew that she would want to break him all the way down to the last address; mostly because she was an evil cow. He wanted her to do this because he was a difficult man, and the longer he held out the more her blood pressure would go up. There was no real benefit to Joe in buying more time, he just wanted his last hours on Earth to be really inconvenient for someone.
Lilly leaned in closer. “Just one more address Joe, that’s all I need. One more, and it’s done.”
Joe looked at the remaining two addresses. He would pick one soon. But not just yet. “Maybe I could have another sandwich first? I’m sort of starting to enjoy them.”
Lily’s face turned an angry, rabid scarlet. If Joe was really lucky, maybe she would have a small stroke. He grinned at her; a hopeful mischievous grin.
END OF CHAPTER 8