Alpha, p.4
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       Alpha, p.4

           Daniel Schmidt
 

  Chapter 4

  I stepped from the soft blanket of leaves that covered the graveyard on to the street and once again saw the woman leaning against the grill of my truck. She wore tight-fitting blue jeans and a thin, well-fitting leather jacket. She had to be the most attractive terrorist ever, which didn’t make much sense.

  I walked up, stopped a few paces from her, and asked, “Do you do this a lot? Approach random men you don’t know at graveyards.”

  She smiled. “Did you think about what I said?”

  I chuckled. “I’m a little confused because you’re here offering me a job I never applied for, and I don’t even know you or what organization you belong too. Why are you here and what exactly are you asking me to do?”

  “You don’t ask to be part of or apply to our organization. You get approached when you have proven yourself.”

  “And when did I prove myself?”

  “We’ve done our research and we like what we’ve found. Like I said before, I might know you better than you.”

  “What exactly is this job? Is it legal?” I asked.

  “I can’t give you a lot of the specifics. Our clients demand secrecy.”

  “What am I going to be doing?” I asked.

  “You’ll be running protection for our clients as well as fighting for our cause.”

  “What cause is that?”

  “One worth your sweat, your blood, and your life,” she said.

  “Why don’t you just tell me what cause you’re fighting for?”

  The woman reached into her jacket. I had the urge to reach for my pistol but stopped myself when I remembered I hadn’t brought it – an order from Luke. She took out an envelope and tossed it to me.

  The envelope was thick with money.

  “That’s your first month’s salary,” she said.

  I counted it more out of curiosity than anything. It was twice what I had ever earned in a month.

  “This is a lot of money, hard to turn down.”

  She smiled for a second. “I know the money’s not important to you. You’re a soldier and the most important thing to you is camaraderie and a worthy cause to fight for. I assure you our organization has both. Come and fight for us.”

  I smiled because what she said was more true than I would have liked to admit. “Who are your clients?” I asked, trying to make it seem like I didn’t have to take her offer.

  The woman stepped close to me and her blue eyes locked onto mine. “You don’t have to hide anymore Paul. Come fight for us and I promise you’ll find yourself, you’ll find a reason to live again.”

  I didn’t say anything, although a million things were running through my head. The woman held my gaze for a few moments and then said, “or go back your empty, meaningless and lonely life. It’s up to you.”

  The woman turned and walked away. She got about ten meters away before I came to my senses and shouted to her. “What’s your name by the way?”

  She stopped and only turned her head towards me.

  “Christine.”

  I nodded my head. “Christine, I’ll do it.”

  She smiled. “I knew you would.”

  She waited for me to catch up to her before walking again. “You have proven yourself to me. You now have to prove yourself to the men you’ll be fighting next to. They will test you and it’s going to be hard, but don’t take it personally – it’s just part of the process.”

  We turned down a side street and I saw a sedan parked about a block away. Christine continued. “It will be hard, and if you want to quit, just say so, but I don’t think you’re that kind of man.”

  As we approached the sedan two men exited. They were dressed in light-colored fatigues and held assault rifles. The one at the passenger’s door was tall, a full head taller than me, and was bulging with muscles. He had blond hair, a square jaw, and massive hands. The one at the driver’s door was tall and athletic but much leaner.

  Christine nodded at the men. “This is Mr. Big and Mr. Little. They’ll be showing you around.”

  “Sounds fun,” I said, eyeing the men who showed no expression. The smaller man searched me and I was thankful a second time for following Luke’s order about not bringing my pistol. The man opened the back door and motioned inside.

  Christine lightly grabbed my elbow before I moved. “Stay strong. I’ll see you after you’re done,” she said before walking away.

  The big man pushed me towards the door and I slid inside. Both men sat in the front seats and the big one turned back towards me.

  “This is real simple. Don’t move or do anything until we tell you to. Don’t speak unless you’re spoken too.”

  “Simple enough,” I said.

  He threw me a cloth bag. “Pull that over your head and lay down on the floorboards.”

  I pulled the cloth over my head and eased myself down onto the floor. I felt the car accelerate shortly afterwards, and I realized if they were here to kidnap or murder me, it was a foolproof plan. With the way Christine looked and talked, the vast majority of men would have done anything she asked of them, including jumping into a car with two armed men they didn’t even know. I wondered if she had done this to other men, and if it had been so easy.

  We drove for over an hour and made so many turns I lost track of where we were. I kept imagining ending up in the middle of the forest standing in front of a freshly dug grave, awaiting a grisly death. I tried to calm myself but nothing really worked.

  When we finally stopped, I heard the doors open and felt hands grab me. I was ripped out of the car and pulled to my feet. I couldn’t see anything with the cloth bag still over my head but they dragged me forward. I heard a door open and was led into a building, the hard floor being the only thing I could distinguish about it.

  I started to panic a little, not knowing where I was or what they were going to do to me. But like I had many times before, I told myself it was going to be okay and they weren’t going to kill me. I reassured myself that they didn’t know I was a cop, that this was just part of the process.

  I was pushed down onto a chair, my arms were forced behind me, and then my hands were tied and strapped to the chair. My ankles and forearms were restrained shortly afterwards. Fear crept into my stomach but I was able to fight it off for the moment. I heard two pairs of footsteps moving around me for a couple minutes before the cloth bag was ripped off my head.

  I was seated in the corner of a large utility room. A water heater and industrial sink stood in one corner, a tool bench with a few hammers and saws in the other. My eyes paused on the hammers and saws for a moment, my mind quickly running through all the horrible and grisly things that could be done with them.

  There were no windows, just gray block walls and one metal door. The floor was concrete, old and chipping, and in the center of the room was a two-foot by two-foot hole cut into the concrete. Above the hole was a rope and pulley system.

  My eyes turned back to the hammers and saws. Ever since I got into undercover work I imagined an end like this, being tortured and then killed in some dirty, dark room. I gently tested the restraints and knew I was probably not going to get out of them easily.

  Mr. Big and Mr. Little stood on either side of me. Mr. Big patted me on the shoulder. “Paul, we know you’re a cop. We know you were sent here to infiltrate our organization.”

  My heart nearly jumped out of my throat. My stomach felt like it was going to fall out of my backside. My eyes moved back to the saws and hammers. Of course they knew I was a cop, how could they not? Christine knew my real name and with that it wouldn’t be hard to figure everything else out. I never should have agreed to come. I should have listened to my gut.

  Mr. Little tapped me on the shoulder with a Taser and then walked out in front of me. He flipped the safety off, sending a red laser dot onto my chest. Mr. Big squeezed my shoulder. “The only thing we don’t know is exactly who
sent you here. So tell us Paul, who are you working for?”

  Somehow, someway, I didn’t freak out. I didn’t cry or beg for mercy or babble. My brain on occasion has an uncanny ability to reason its way around what seems emotionally obvious, and the answer that came to mind was familiar.

  Nearly every group I had infiltrated had accused me of being a cop or at the least an informant. They would point guns at me, threaten the family they assumed I had, rough me up a little to try to get me to admit. It was criminal paranoia; they think everyone is out to get them and this time was no different. It was a test for anyone and everyone.

  “That lady Christine asked me to come here,” I said, surprising myself by how calm I sounded.

  Mr. Big smiled. “Yes she did, but who else asked you to come? What agency?”

  I looked back and forth between Mr. Little and Mr. Big. “I was just minding my own business when Christine contacted me, asked me to come here. I’m not with any agency and no one else asked me to come here.”

  Mr. Big nodded at Mr. Little, who fired the Taser. The Taser prongs smacked into me and sent a jolt of electricity shooting through my body. My body tensed up as the electricity ripped through my body. After five seconds it stopped and I cursed. “You guys asked me to come here!”

  Mr. Little gave me another shot of electricity.

  “Who sent you?!” Mr. Big yelled.

  “No one,” I hissed.

  Mr. Little gave me three more shots, one right after the other.

  In the Army, I had received training on being captured and tortured, but the only thing I really learned was that everyone has a breaking point, that after so much pain you’ll tell anyone anything, literally anything to make the pain stop. I wasn’t there yet but I wondered how far they were going to take it.

  Mr. Big kept accusing me, and I kept denying everything and getting more and more shots from the Taser.

  After nearly an hour or so they tore the Taser prongs out of me. The two of them dragged me, chair and all, to the edge of the hole in the center of the room. They hooked the chair up to the rope and pulley system, and then lowered me down into the hole.

  It was filled with ice cold water that immediately took my breath away. They kept lowering me until just my head was above the surface.

  Mr. Big continued to accuse me, and I continued to deny. They brought me up out of the water a few times, and then sent me back down below the water. After a few iterations of this, they sent me all the way under.

  With my head underwater I panicked for the first time. I thrashed against my restraints, kicking, pulling, doing everything I could but to no avail. They let me stay under the surface for about ten seconds and then pulled me up.

  They did this a few more times, and I realized I was approaching my breaking point. The feeling of drowning was overwhelming. More than physical pain, it was primal fear.

  Luckily they stopped with the water and went back to the Taser. This continued for a couple minutes, then I went back into the water, then back to the Taser, then back to the water.

  After a few more dunks they pulled me back into the corner of the room. I was close to my breaking point, the point where I would start pleading with them to stop. Not much past that was where I would confess. I knew it was close.

  Mr. Big bent down in front of me. “We’re going to let you cool off for a few minutes in here, let you think things over, and we’ll be back to talk. Remember, just tell us who sent you here and this will all end.”

  Both men left the room. I knew I couldn’t last much longer, especially if they went back to the water. I pulled at my restraints but they weren’t going anywhere. The chair and the straps were custom built for this very purpose.

  I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the faces the agents that had been killed and the woman who had been kidnapped. I tried to remind myself about why I was doing this, but as usual it didn’t help much.

  I shivered, my wet clothes quickly sucking the heat from my body. After an hour or so I really started to shake, violently shake. Next came numbness in my limbs. I got light headed and sick to my stomach.

  The door slammed opened and Mr. Big and Mr. Little barged in. They hooked me up to the ropes and dangled me above the water. I almost started pleading. Mr. Big looked up at me. “Just tell us who sent you here and we’ll let you go. You don’t have to put up with this anymore.”

  I cursed at him, my words slurring through blue and frozen lips. “I’m not a cop, I don’t work for cops, no one but Christine asked me to come here. I don’t know what you want me to tell you.”

  They let me dangle above the water for a few minutes and I saw them exchange glances a few times and then Mr. Big nodded his head. They pulled me away from the hole and lowered me to the concrete. Mr. Little undid my restraints. I couldn’t stand, my legs were so numb, and Mr. Big helped me through the door and outside.

  We were in the middle of the forest, and besides the small cabin, there was nothing else in sight besides pine trees. Mr. Big helped me into the living room of the cabin where he had me take all my wet clothes off. He threw me a fresh set of fatigues, a set of boots, socks, and a blanket. I pulled the clothes on and draped the blanket over my shoulders.

  Mr. Big squatted in front of me. “We have to do that with everyone to make sure you’re not a cop or an informant.”

  I felt a ping of relief. They had almost gotten me to break… almost.

  I just nodded my head.

  “This isn’t over. That was just the first part. As soon as you’re thawed out, we have more work to do.”

  “Nothing that involves water I hope?”

  Mr. Big chuckled. “No more water.”

  After about fifteen minutes, Mr. Big dumped a backpack in front of me. From the sound of it hitting the floor I knew it was heavy.

  “Throw that on and get outside.”

  I hoisted the backpack onto my shoulders, judging it to be roughly eighty pounds or so and joined Mr. Big and Little outside. They both had light backpacks and walking sticks.

  Mr. Big handed me a compass and a map and pointed out where I needed to go. I got my compass direction and set off, with both Mr. Big and Little following close behind me. I arrived at the location several hours later and found a pile of basketball-sized rocks waiting for me. Mr. Big pointed up a hill nearby and indicated all the rocks needed to get to the top of the hill. He asked me if I wanted to quit, and when I said no, he motioned to the rocks.

  I dropped the pack and went to work, taking two rocks at a time up the hill. It wasn’t long before my hands bled and my forearms ached. Once I was done, Mr. Big pointed out another spot on the map, and about an hour later and with sore feet I found a tractor tire that needed moving down a road. Once that was done, Mr. Big gave me another destination.

  This continued through the night, into the next morning, and even through the next night. They gave me all the water I wanted but no food. Mr. Big would give me a destination; I would carry the heavy pack there and then have to perform some physically excruciating task like pushing a truck through sand or dragging sacks of dirt through a tunnel. He would always politely ask me if I wanted to quit and when I said no, I would go to work.

  They finally gave me a few hours of sleep when the sun started to come up on the third day. When they kicked me awake I felt like death. Every bone in my body ached, my feet full of blisters and blood, my hands cut, scrapped, and raw, and my muscles like jelly. I felt worst after the short rest.

  The punishment continued into the day. When the sun dipped in the sky I came to the base of a large hill, where Mr. Big indicated I had to go. There was a large log on the ground and I plopped down next to it.

  “Want to quit?” Mr. Big asked.

  I certainly felt like quitting. My body wanted me too, but I shook my head.

  Mr. Big pointed to the top of the large hill. “Get that log to the top.”
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  I glanced at the log and guessed it weighed around three to four hundred pounds. I groaned a few times, cursed, and pushed the log up the hill.

  The log was too heavy for me to lift so I had to push it up the incline. The hill, mostly loose dirt and sand, made pushing it all the more difficult. Several times I pushed the log a foot or two, only to lose my footing and slide backwards a few feet. To make it worse, because the hill was so sandy, if I didn’t keep constant pressure on the log, it started sliding back down. If I dared to rest, I would just lose ground.

  After an hour or so, I had only moved the log about a fourth of the way up the hill and I was loosing strength by the minute. My body started to shut down – it didn’t have anything left.

  I pushed and pushed but couldn’t move the log any further. I tried for several minutes but went nowhere. I collapsed to the ground, allowing the log to push me several feet down the hill until enough sand piled up behind me that I stopped.

  Mr. Big let me lie there for a few minutes before he patted me on the head. “Look up at the top of the hill,” he said.

  Slowly and painfully I lifted my head to look. I saw about ten to twelve people at the top. One of them was Christine, her long fair hair being easy to spot.

  “That’s the men you’re going to be fighting next too. Get that log up to them and you’re done.”

  It took a moment for what he said to sink in. This was the end. Finally the punishment could stop. That knowledge somehow, someway, gave me more strength. I rose to my hands and knees and pushed the log, inch by inch, foot by foot, up the hill.

  About half way up all the men came down to me. They were all about my age and they encouraged me and cussed at me to get the log to the top of the hill. They cheered and shouted with each heave. Christine remained at the top of the hill, looking down at me.

  When the sun was just a glow on the horizon, I got the log to the top and collapsed onto it. The men cheered, threw out a few whistles, and patted me on the back. Christine walked up to me and I stood up, swaying heavily from side to side.

  She let a huge smile spread across her face as she looked around at the men. “Does this man have what it takes to join our ranks?”

  The men let out a cheer and Christine reached out to touch my shoulder.

  “Welcome to the brotherhood,” she said softly.

 

 
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