An innocent man, p.26
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       An Innocent Man, p.26

           Mark Z. Kammell
because they’re trying to act like they’re being cooperative, but basically, they’re saying just listen, smile and nod, and get involved if you need to do things like torture, but don’t, for goodness sake, pretend you know anything about security. When they first told me, I was, really? Honestly? Then they told me it was you and I relaxed. You know why, Sylvain? I mean, yeah, I said I know you were nice to me and everything. But it was more than that. When they first accused me of stealing that cloak, you know, I was livid. I swore I’d get my revenge back and I did, with Jared at least, though I’m not finished on that score. But then I found all the documentation, all the minutes and everything, everything they used to pin it on me. There was fuck all there, of course. But you know that, don’t you? Because I saw the transcript of that meeting, the one, you remember, Sylvain? You remember, the one where you were the only one – the only one who said no, who said, but we can’t do this, there’s no evidence at all against Beryl. You were the only one to stand up for me. And for that, Sylvain, I’m grateful. Really. Honestly, Sylvain, if I (she nodded at Justin) find out this little shmuck had sold the G6 to you and you were feeding it to the Russians, I wouldn’t shop you. I believe in loyalty. I’d make sure he (nodding at Justin again) was never, ever able to tell anyone about it, and that would be that. In fact, I’d probably make it worse for him, just to teach him a lesson. You get me? Sylvain? You ok?

  I guess I was – better than Justin at least, who had gone even whiter. I’m fine, I stammered and tried to give Justin a surreptitious smile, just to show there were no hard feelings.

  I’m not going to go into the details of what happened there, I’ve decided I’m really not into torture and I very much hope you’re not either. Respect to Justin though. Beryl tried to get something out of him, she tried very very hard, but he gave nothing away. He begged for forgiveness, and he begged both of us for mercy – mainly me – but what was I to do? I had no power there. And Beryl, to be fair, explained this to him. She also explained that her hands were tied, and she was sorry, but it was beyond her control. I did manage to stop some of the excesses, I have to say. When Beryl was about to start using the pliers on his teeth, I did say, look, maybe you’ve gone far enough, I know Justin and he’s a weak man, he isn’t going to tell us anymore. Justin’s line was that he took the G6 himself – recreational use (at least that’s what I think he said, his words became less and less coherent) – and that was a good explanation, though I could tell Beryl didn’t quite buy it.

  He also denied any involvement in the theft of the VDE, which again she didn’t buy, and they both were surprised at my line of questioning about serial killers. But Beryl eventually sighed and put her tools down. She looked at the bloody mess that was Justin and put her hands on his cheeks. His eyes were full of fear. She pulled the hood back over his head and got up. Justin started to let out a low moan, and Beryl gently took my arm and guided me up. Let’s step out of here, she said softly. I’m done with him. It will get a little messy now. Justin was led away gently, it seemed, by a sour faced man in a strange suit, whom I thought I recognised. I looked at Justin’s shaking body as he stumbled towards the door, and I felt Beryl’s hand on my shoulder. It wasn’t you, she whispered, in a surprisingly gentle voice; but wasn’t it? I could see the pleading in Justin’s face as the torture became more and more cruel and I did nothing about it. What could I have done? Well, lots of things, I think. I could have begged Beryl to stop, for all she felt she owed me, I could have confessed and thrown both of our fates on her mercy, despite what she said. I could have told her I knew it wasn’t him, in fact it was me, I took the G6. Instead I sat and watched as she put him under more and more pressure, as she subjected him to unspeakable acts, and I did nothing. I looked at my hands and for some reason I thought – hands of a killer – I shivered and looked back at Beryl.

  What will they do to him? I asked, and she breathed softly, and took my hand and led me out of that room.

  Will they let him go? Are they going to take him to a hospital? I asked as we stood outside a café, smoking French cigarettes and drinking black coffee on that cold sunny day.

  You’re a good man, Beryl replied. You try and do what’s best. She took a deep breath, and glanced around her. There was no one there, it was eerily quiet. I talked to him, she said. I talked to him before you got there. That – what you saw – it was for show, he’d already confessed everything. He told me it was you that he got the G6 for, he told me he’d been getting it for you for weeks, he was getting seriously worried about it. He told me he had warned you not to take it, as soon as he found out what its side effects were, but he thinks you ignored him and did anyway. She put her hand up to stop me speaking, though I had no idea what to say, I didn’t understand why Justin would lie. He also told me, she continued, that the last time he got it for you, you were covered in blood and moaning about having killed someone.

  It’s not true, was all I could say.

  Beryl lit another cigarette, stepped back and studied me. Look, Sylvain. You don’t need to worry about Justin. You know what they’ll do to him? No? Well, I’ll tell you. They’re all just desperate to get to this place G, that they think they’ve uncovered. I mean, really desperate. You’d think they think the world was about to end and they’re determined to leave before it does! They’ve got the technology working, but the big problem they’ve still got is energy. This bridge – well, you’re a scientist aren’t you, you know this more than me – I’m just a cleaner – this bridge, they need tons, and I mean tons of energy to open it, and to get people through. And, well, this is going to sound really sick, but they tell me not to worry about the body, because you can suck, you know, millions of volts of energy from a human body. And that’s what they do. They put it in this kind of chair and literally suck it dry. I’ve seen it, it’s disgusting, it’s like the electric chair, all metal and wires and everything, and you literally see the body shrivel up and end up a pool of, I don’t know, body stuff, on the ground. Beryl sighed. At least there’s no evidence. So when you ask me, will they let him go? Are they going to take him to hospital? No, they’re not. They’re going to put him in one of those chairs, and they’re going to suck him dry and that’s the last we’ll ever see or hear of Justin. Look, mate, I don’t know what you’re into but if I was you I’d stop being into it. These are not people you steal from and get away with it. You know what I’m going to say, I can only protect you so far, you know? You do know that, don’t you, Sylvain?

  I feel guilty about this – I really do. I am not a killer, I believe in the sanctity of life and the right of people to live. I don’t believe in a life broken and caught, in the twists of fate that mean we can look forward without the fear of looking back, but… But. I could only imagine Justin’s screams and terror in whatever hell they had put him in, but it did mean that no one would be looking for me in connection with the theft of G6. And, remarkably, none of its symptoms seemed to be manifesting themselves in

  Who is this? (Louise repeated, for maybe the tenth time).

  I keep telling you, this is Beryl. We’re colleagues from work.

  And you’re sleeping with her?

  Well, no, of course not, I replied, but the evidence seemed to point to the contrary. We were both naked under the covers and we were both sweating and the atmosphere was heavy with sex, though when Beryl looked at me I couldn’t for the life of me remember actually… having sex with her. There was an empty bottle of what may have been gin, or vodka, on the side table and maybe that offered an explanation. Beryl didn’t even react; she pulled the covers back, and stepped out of bed, completely naked, walking past Louise and back to the living room where, presumably, we had ripped our clothes off in naked passion. I smiled and shrugged to Louise, hoping that at least she would do me the decency of stepping out of my bedroom, or getting my clothes for me, or something similar. For all the history that passed between us, getting up and out of bed, my naked body in front of her, was something that I just couldn’t
do. But she didn’t do any of these things, instead she stood there, hands on her hips and an expression of utter disappointment on her face, watching me.

  Well? As if that was enough of a question. As if it was now down to me to explain everything to her. What do you want me to say, I thought, though I’m pretty sure I didn’t say this out loud. Sylvia kicks me out and you reject me, Lou, and I’m on my own and I need something, so what right do you have to judge me, Louise? What right at all?

  Somehow when I tried to say this to her, it came out as Sorry. Louise gave me a look that suggested sadness and disappointment and resignation all in one, and she turned her back on me, just enough to allow me the chance to scamper out of bed and put on the first clothes I could find – black jeans and a white t-shirt and no pants, because the pants were in a drawer just in front of where Lou stood and that was just not going to happen. She turned back just as I was pulling the t-shirt over my chest; she walked over to me, close enough that I could smell her perfume and see the lines under her tired eyes.

  Sylvain, you had
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