Dont let go, p.21
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       Don't Let Go, p.21

          
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  That's what I'm thinking right now: I have his fingers so he can't shoot me. I'm safe.

  And that thinking ends up being tragically wrong.

  He twists one more time. For a second I feel the cold metal hit the top of my hand. But only for a second. I see now that it's not a gun. It's too long. It's in the shape of a baton. I hear the crackle of electricity and feel the pain at the same time, the kind of pain that closes down everything else, that makes you recoil to avoid any more of it.

  The volts run up my arm, rendering it useless.

  Andy Reeves easily pulls his wrist free of my now-nonexistent grip. Then with a gleeful smile, he pushes the device--stun baton, electric cattle prod, I don't know--against my torso.

  I start to convulse.

  He does it again. My muscles won't work anymore.

  He reaches into the backseat and pulls out something else. I can't see what it is. A tire iron, maybe. A baseball bat. I don't know. I'll never know.

  He hits me in the head with it once, then again, and then there is nothing.

  Chapter Twenty-six

  I swim my way to consciousness in the strangest way.

  Do you know the dreams where you can't do the smallest of physical tasks? You try to run from danger, but it's like every step is a trudge through wet snow at hip height. I was feeling something like that now. I wanted to move, to run, to escape, but I was frozen in place, like my whole body was encased in heavy lead.

  When I blink my eyes open, I'm lying on my back. I see pipes and exposed beams. A ceiling. In an old basement. I try to stay cool, calm, not make any sudden moves.

  I try to turn my head to take in my surroundings.

  But I can't.

  I can't move my head at all. Not half an inch. It feels like there is a vise locking my skull in place. I struggle and try harder. No go. No give at all. I try to sit up. But I'm strapped to some kind of table. My arms are belted against my sides. My legs are wrapped up tight.

  I can't move at all. I'm completely helpless.

  Reeves's whispery voice says, "You need to tell me where the tape is, Nap."

  Conversation won't work here. I know that right away. So without saying a word, I scream for help. I scream as loud as I can. I keep screaming until he jams a gag into my mouth.

  "Pointless," he says.

  Reeves is performing some kind of task--he's humming as he does it--but I can't move my head to see. I hear the sound of a faucet being turned on, of someone filling a bucket or something. Then the faucet goes off.

  "Do you know why Navy SEALs stopped using waterboarding as part of their training?" Reeves asks. When I don't answer--can't answer with the gag in my mouth--he says, "Because the trainee would crack so fast it was bad for morale. CIA recruits lasted an average of fourteen seconds before they begged their instructor to stop."

  Andy Reeves stands over me. I look up at his smiling face, and I can see he's enjoying this.

  "We would play an entire psychology game with the detainee too--a blindfold, having him escorted in by armed guards. Sometimes we would offer him hope and crush it. Sometimes we would let him know that there was no escape. You play it different ways depending on the subject. But I don't have time for those theatrics tonight, Nap. I feel bad about Diana, I really do, but that wasn't my fault. So we move on. You're already strapped to the table. You already know this is going to be very bad."

  He moves toward my feet. My eyes try to follow, but he's out of sight now. I try not to panic. I hear something cranking, and now I realize that the table I'm on is starting to tilt. I hope maybe I'll slip right off the table, even onto my head, but I'm strapped so tightly, gravity doesn't shift me even a little.

  "Inclining your head and raising your feet," he explains, "keeps the throat open and makes filling the nostrils with water easier. You are imagining this is going to be awful. It is going to be much worse."

  He moves back into view and pulls the gag from my mouth.

  "Are you going to tell me where the tape is?"

  "I'll show you," I say.

  "No, that won't do."

  "You can't get to it on your own."

  "That's a lie. I've heard all this before, Detective Dumas. You'll make up a story now. You'll probably make up new stories the first time or two I take you through this process. That's why critics call torture unreliable. You're desperate. You'll say anything for a reprieve. But that won't work with me. I know all the tricks. Eventually you will crack. Eventually you will tell me the truth."

  Maybe, but I know one thing for certain: Once he has the tape, he'll kill me. The same as he killed the others. So no matter what, I can't give in.

  As if he can read my mind, he says, "You'll tell me, even if it means your death. A soldier who interrogated prisoners in the Philippine-American War once described what you're about to experience this way: 'His suffering must be that of a man who is drowning but cannot drown.'"

  Andy Reeves shows me the towel. "Ready?" Then he places it against my entire face, blinding me.

  The towel is just lying on my face, not even being held down tightly, but I already feel as though I'm suffocating a little. I try to move my head again, but it still won't budge. My chest starts to hitch.

  Calm down, I tell myself.

  I try to do that. I try to slow my breathing and prepare. I know that I'll need to hold my breath at some point.

  Seconds pass. Nothing happens.

  My breathing doesn't become more regular. It stays jangled and uneven. I strain to hear something, anything, but Andy Reeves isn't speaking or moving or doing anything.

  More time passes. How long? Thirty seconds, forty seconds?

  Maybe this is all a bluff, I start to think. Maybe this is just a psychological game, a way to stress . . .

  That's when I hear the splash. A second later, no more, water starts to seep through the towel.

  When I feel the wet hit my mouth, I lock my lips and close my eyes and hold my breath.

  More water comes in, first a trickle, then heavier.

  I feel it start going up my nostrils. I tighten up, keeping my mouth closed.

  More water cascades in. I try to move my head, try to tilt my head up or find some way of escaping the onslaught. But I can't move. The water completely fills my nose. I'm starting to panic. I can't hold my breath much longer, and I need to get the water out of my nose and away from my mouth. Only one way. Blow it out. But the towel is there. Still, I try to exhale now, to push the water out, and for a second, maybe two, that works. I try to keep exhaling, try to empty my lungs so as to keep the water at bay. But there is too much water flowing down, and now the big problem:

  A man can exhale for only so long.

  And when you're spent, when the exhale is over--and this is the awful part--you eventually have to inhale.

  That is where I'm at now.

  When my exhale comes to an end, water starts pouring back in, filling up my nostrils and mouth. I can't help myself. I'm running out of air, and that agony overcomes all else. Holding my exhale is killing me, and yet I know what awaits. I have to inhale, have to breathe in, but there is no air. Only water. Lots of water. The inhale opens the floodgate. The water flows freely down my nose, into my mouth. No way to stop it. My inhalation drags water through my mouth and down my windpipe.

  No air.

  My body goes into spasm. I start to buck, try to kick out, try to flail my head, but I'm strapped down. There is no escape from the water. There is no relief or letup at all. It just keeps getting worse.

  You don't just want it to stop. You don't just need it to stop.

  It has to stop.

  It's like I'm being held underwater, but it's worse. I can't move. I'm locked in concrete. I'm drowning, Leo. Drowning and suffocating. All rational thought is gone. I can feel a little part of my sanity start to give way, a permanent rip in my psyche, something from which I know I'll never recover.

  Every cell in my body is begging for oxygen, for just one breath. But there is none. I'm gasping and taking in more water. I want to stop, but my gag reflex is unconsciously forcing me to exhale and inhale. The water floods my throat and trachea.

  Please, God, let me breathe . . .

  I'm dying. I know that now. A primitive part of me has given up, surrendered, wishing death would speed along and get it over with. But it won't. I flail. I convulse. I suffer.

  I hallucinate.

  I hallucinate a voice yelling to stop, to get away from him. If every part of me wasn't starving for air, if every fiber of my being was concentrating on my need to escape this, I might say the voice was female. I can actually feel my eyes start to roll back in my head as I hear the blast from somewhere deep inside my brain.

  And then I see a light.

  I'm dying, Leo, dying and hallucinating, and the last thing I see is the most beautiful face imaginable.

  Maura's.

  Chapter Twenty-seven

  I'm unstrapped and rolled to my side.

  I suck in air, paralyzed to do anything more than that for a while. I gasp and try not to swallow. Water pours out of my mouth and nostrils, pooling on the floor and diluting the crimson blood oozing out of Andy Reeves's head. I don't care about any of that. I just care about air.

  It doesn't take all that long for my strength to start returning. I look up to see who saved me, but maybe I am dead or my brain was starved of oxygen too long. Maybe I'm still being waterboarded and this is some weird state I've reached because the hallucination--no, mirage--is still there.

  It's Maura.

  "We have to get out of here," she says.

  I still can't believe what I'm seeing. "Maura? I . . ."

  "Not now, Nap."

  And something about her using my name.

  I'm trying to put it together, figure the next move, but all that "stay where you are" logic has flown out the window.

  "Can you walk?"

  I nod. By the time we hit the second step, I'm back in the moment. One thing at a time, I tell myself.

  Get out of here. We reach the ground floor, and I realize we are in a dilapidated warehouse of some kind. I'm surprised by the silence, but it's probably . . . what time is it? I met up with Reeves at midnight. So it has to be deep into the night or early morning.

  "This way," Maura says.

  We head outside into the night sky. I notice that my breathing is a little funny, faster than normal, as though I'm still fearful the ability to do so might be taken away from me again. I spot his yellow Mustang in the corner, but Maura--I still can't believe it's Maura--is leading me toward another car. She hits the remote in her left hand. In her right I see the gun.

  I get in the passenger side, she the driver's. She starts up and tears in reverse. Two minutes later, we are heading north on the Garden State Parkway. I stare at her profile, and I don't think I have ever seen anything that beautiful.

  "Maura . . . ?"

  "It can wait, Nap."

  "Who killed my brother?"

  I see a tear run down that beautiful cheek.

  "I think," Maura says, "maybe I did."

  Chapter Twenty-eight

  We are back in Westbridge. Maura parks the car at the Benjamin Franklin Middle School lot.

  "I need you to give me your phone," she says to me.

  I'm surprised to find it's still in my pocket. I use my fingerprint to unlock it and hand it to her. Her thumbs dance across the screen.

  "What are you doing?"

  "You're a cop," she says. "You know that these phones can be traced, right?"

  "Yes."

  "I'm loading on a sort of VPN antitracker, so it looks like you're in another state."

  I didn't know that kind of technology existed, but I'm not surprised. Her thumbs finish the dance. Then she hands me back the phone, opens the car door, gets out. I do the same.

  "What are we doing here, Maura?"

  "I want to see it again."

  "See what?"

  But she starts toward the Path and I follow. I try not to stare as she moves, her walk still panther-like, but I can't help it. As we head up into the darkness, she turns around and says, "God, how I've missed you," and then turns back around and keeps walking.

  Just like that.

  I don't react. I can't react. But every part of me feels ripped open.

  I hurry to catch up to her.

  The full moon tonight gives off enough light. The shadows cut across our faces as we start up the familiar route. We stay silent, both because the darkness calls for that and because, well, these woods used to be our place. You would think tonight of all nights that would haunt me. You would think that tonight of all nights, walking with Maura, the ghosts would be surrounding me, tapping me on the shoulder, mocking me from behind the rocks and trees.

  But they are not.

  Tonight I'm not falling back. I don't hear the whispers. The ghosts, oddly enough, stay hidden.

  "You know about the videotape," Maura says, part question, mostly statement.

  "How long have you been following me?" I ask.

  "Two days."

  "I know about the tape," I say. "Did you know?"

  "I was on it, Nap."

  "No, I mean, did you know Hank had it? Or that he gave it to David Rainiv for safekeeping?"

  She shakes her head. Up ahead the old fence comes into view. Maura veers off the Path to the right. She bounces a few steps down the hill and stops herself by a tree. I make my way there. We are getting closer to the old base.

  She stops and stares at the old fence. I stop and stare at her face.

  "I waited here that night. Behind this tree." She looks down at the ground. "I sat right here and watched the fence. I had a joint from your brother. And I had my flask from you." She meets my eyes, and maybe it's not the ghosts, but something smacks me hard in the heart. "You remember that flask?"

  I'd gotten it at a garage sale at the old Siegel house. It was old and dented. The color was gunmetal. The faded engraving read: A Ma Vie de Coer Entier, which was a fifteenth-century French saying, "You Have My Whole Heart for My Whole Life." I remember asking Mr. Siegel where he'd gotten it, but he couldn't remember. He called over Mrs. Siegel and asked her, but neither of them could even remember owning it. It felt somehow magical and stupid, like a genie's lamp I was supposed to find, and so I bought it for three dollars and I gave it to Maura, who giddily said, "A gift that involves romance and alcohol?"

  "Am I not the perfect boyfriend?"

  "You are," she'd said. And then she threw her arms around me and kissed me hard.

  "I remember," I say now. Then: "So you sat by this tree with a joint and a flask. Who else was with you?"

  "I was alone."

  "What about the Conspiracy Club?"

  "You knew about that?"

  I give a half shrug.

  Maura looks back toward the base. "We weren't supposed to meet that night. I think seeing that copter, making that tape--it freaked some of them out. It was all a game before then. That night made it real. Anyway, I wasn't really part of the"--finger quotes--"'club.' My only real friend was Leo. He had plans with Diana that night. So I came here and sat against this tree. I had my joint and my Jack in the flask."

  Maura slides now to the ground and sits just as, I assume, she sat that night. A small smile is on her face. "I was thinking about you. I wished I was at your game. I hated the whole jock thing before you, but I loved to watch you skate."

  I don't know what to say to that, so I stay still.

  "Anyway, I could only get to the home games, and you guys were playing away that night. Summit, I think."

  "Parsippany Hills."

  She chuckles. "Figures you'd remember. Anyway it didn't matter. We'd be together in a few hours. I was just getting a little ahead of you here in the woods. The kids call it 'pregaming' now. So I kept drinking, and I remember feeling a little sad."

  "Why sad?"

  She shakes her head. "It doesn't matter."

  "I want to know."

  "It'd be over soon."

  "What?"

  From her spot on the ground she looks up. "You and me."

  "Wait, you knew all that when you were just sitting here?"

  Maura shakes her head. "You can still be so obtuse, Nap. I had no idea what was about to happen."

  "Then--?"

  "What I mean is, I knew you and I would never make it. Not for the long haul. We'd finish senior year, maybe last the summer--"

  "I loved you."

  I just blurt it out, like that. It startles her for a second, but not much longer than that.

  "And I loved you, Nap. But you were off to a fancy college and a big life and there wouldn't be room for me and, God, what a cliche, right?" Maura stops, closes her eyes, shakes it off. "There's no reason to revisit this right now."

  She's right. I help her ease back on topic. "So you were sitting here drinking and smoking."

  "Right. And I'm getting a little wasted. Not terribly. Just tipsy. And I'm staring at this base. It's always so quiet there, but suddenly I hear a noise."

  "What kind of noise?"

  "I don't know. Men shouting. An engine starting up. So I stand up"--Maura does that now, sliding her back up the tree--"and I figure what the hell. Let's get to the bottom of this once and for all. Be a hero to the whole Conspiracy Club cause. So I start marching toward the fence."

  Maura marches toward the base. I stay right with her.

  "What did you see?" I ask.

  "There were a bunch more of those warning signs. Like a ton circling the base. They were all bright red, remember?"

  "Yes."

  "Like, 'this is your last chance, go back or die.' We were always afraid to go past them because they were too close to the fence line. But that night I didn't even slow down. I actually started sprinting."

  We are both back there now, on that night, and I almost hesitate at the spot where those red signs used to be. We cross the invisible barrier, heading straight toward the rusted fence. She points to the top of the corner pole.

  "There was a camera up there. I remember thinking that they might see me. But I was flying high, not a care in the world. I just kept running and then . . ."

  She slows, stops. Her hand comes up to her throat.

  "Maura?"

  "I was right about here when the lights came on."

  "Lights?"

  "Spotlights. Huge ones with big beams. They were so bright I had to put my hand up to shade my eyes." She does that now, shading her eyes from an imaginary light. "I couldn't make out a thing. I was sort of frozen there, in the beam, not sure what to do. And then I heard the gunfire."

 
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