“Calm down a second,” Marzan begged.
Vaughn was scurrying around the house, not exactly sure what he was going to do but desperately wanting to get on with doing it.
Marzan grabbed him by the shoulder. “Vaughn, you need to think about this for a second.”
“Are you sure this gangbanger is telling the truth?”
“Yes, I’m sure. It all makes sense. If he wanted me to cap the undersheriff he’d just say that Jess was dead.”
“What if you’re wrong?”
“I’m not wrong.” Vaughn shrugged off Jimmy’s grasp. “I have to go get her.”
“So what’s your plan, then? What are you going to do? How are you going to do it?”
“I’m going over there and hold that bastard at gunpoint until I get her back.”
“Oh, just like that? It’s that simple? Think, Vaughn. What if you go over there, all guns-a-blazin’ and things go awry? Then what? They might hurt her, Vaughn. You might never get her back then.”
“I can’t just sit around here.”
“You need a plan. You need to write it all down. Map it out. Your goal is to find out where she is. You need to figure out how you’re going to get that information. Then you need to figure out how you’re going to get her back safely. And on top of all that, you need to figure out how to do it without getting hurt, yourself. This guy is LEO. He’s a professional.”
Vaughn clenched his fists. “What do you suggest?” he snapped.
Marzan walked over to the sink while scratching his head. He took a glass from the cupboard and filled it with water and took a long drink. He paused.
“What is it?” Vaughn asked.
Marzan labored deep in thought for a few seconds. He rubbed his head and looked at the half-empty glass. Angst and resignation filled his face. “This is a complicated situation for a civilian like you, but not so complicated for me.” There was nothing in it for Jimmy Marzan to help Vaughn other than his own redemption. He wasn’t even sure if it would accomplish that; redemption is so difficult to quantify. “Before we do anything, you need to make sure you know what you’re getting into, Vaughn. You need to know that there is no turning back from this. You need to be fully committed.”
“You need to know that…well…you need to understand that it might be…that it might actually be too late to do anything.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not saying that it is too late. I’m just saying that you haven’t heard anything from the kidnappers for a few days, now. You have to be prepared for all possibilities. If the worst-case scenario has happened, how will you respond to that? You won’t be able to think about it rationally when you’re in the middle of it. You won’t have time to sort through the emotions. You have to decide that now, before you go.”
“I’ll kill him then.”
“Make sure you are not rash about this, Vaughn. You really have to think this all the way through. It’s easy to say this or that, here and now, but out there it’s different. I’m not saying you’ll freeze up or anything. It’s hard to know that in advance. I’m just saying you need to decide what you’ll do before you get out there in the middle of it. You have to commit to a plan right now.
“Do you know what this will bring down on you, Vaughn? Do you intend to get away with it or do you even care? What about your daughter? Your daughter needs her father, Vaughn. These are really tough times. If the worst-case scenario has happened, and you go for payback, and you end up getting caught or killed, who will raise your daughter? Are you prepared to ask yourself these questions? Think it all the way through.”
“If Jessica’s dead, I want him dead. My life won’t matter anymore.”
Marzan was tuned in to the devil speaking with Vaughn’s tongue and staring through Vaughn’s eyes. Jimmy had been there himself, being in a warzone 10,000 miles away and in a Humvee with a psychopath. Being in a war somehow legitimized it.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go to the police?”
“I just want to make sure.”
“The kidnapper is the police.”
“Maybe you could go to the FBI or something.”
“It’s chaos out there. They’re not going to help me.”
“Okay. I just had to ask one more time. But I want you to let me help you.”
“No. This isn’t your problem.”
“It is my problem, Vaughn. I believe in fate. I believe fate put me here. You helped me and now I’ve got to help you. I’ve done things like this before. I can help but you must trust me. You have to do things my way. Do you understand?”
“I appreciate that. But I—”
“I mean it. My way. If you trust me then we’ll both get what we want.”
“Do you trust me, Vaughn?”
“Are you certain?”
“Yes. What do we need to do?”
“First, we need to find out what this Garrity knows.”
“And how do we do that?”
“We need to ask him.”
“And what if he won’t answer?”
“Then I’ll use my expertise in the art of persuasion.”
Vaughn parked the truck and he and Marzan started on a half-mile hike over the crusty snow through the pine trees toward Garrity’s house. It was 3:01 a.m. and it was a crystal-clear, moonless night, bitter and frigid and still. They walked as quietly as they could and didn’t speak except in faint whispers.
Marzan scanned the terrain with his night vision for anyone who might be a sentry or a witness. He thought of the insurgents back in Shariastan who quickly figured out how to evade the Americans’ night-eyes. Leaves and twigs woven into natural fibers reduced their contrast and concealed them from night vision. Covering their faces and wearing rubber boots and leather belts and sheathing their gun barrels with cotton socks and t shirts made them almost invisible to infrared. Warfare promotes a sort of violent, accelerated Darwinism. The most adaptable, clever, and ruthless survive to pass their knowledge on. The thoughtless and unlucky are removed from the gene pool. Marzan assumed that the expanding force of American insurgents would soon figure out how to survive their occupiers as well. It would be a brutal process of adapting to technological disadvantage, but there is always a window of opportunity early on, when the occupier’s hubris renders him inattentive.
The only movement in the frozen night was that of the ghostlike plumes of chimney smoke floating silently upwards and dissolving into the stars.
Vaughn stopped. “That has to be it,” he whispered, pointing to the giant cabin fifty yards off through the trees. A lone exterior light shined above the garage. Marzan scanned the windows with his optics. They were all black, curtains drawn.
“I wonder if he has dogs,” Marzan asked.
“Let’s assume he does.”
“What do we do, then?”
“We use them.”
Marzan explained tactics to Vaughn and the two split up with Vaughn making a wide arc to the south of the house. He waited there, hidden in the brambles at the base of an ancient ponderosa tree. After exactly fifteen minutes, he hurled a snowball at the house. Nothing happened. He threw another, this time aiming for a window. He ducked back into the brush after the throw. Again, nothing. Another. Nothing. No dogs, he thought. Better try a couple more times just to be sure. He probed through the snow for a stone or something but came up with nothing more substantial than a handful of pine cones. He looked around again and then up into the tree. He grabbed hold of a dead branch and snapped it off. One more try, he thought. He took a deep breath and hurled the stick into the house and dove back into the shrubs. That did the trick. Two big dogs started barking. They burst out of a doggy door and darted into the yard where they continued barking blindly at whatever was lurking in the night.
Marzan stealthily made his way into the house through a garage window and was waiting patiently in the darkness when he heard the dogs. He followed their barking to the doggy door, which he blocked off on the inside by pushing an armchair up against it. He prayed there wasn’t another door that would let them back in as they sounded like big enough dogs to take him down.
Come on. Wake up, Garrity, Marzan thought. He scanned the house with his optics, switching from starlight to infrared, as there was not enough ambient light to illuminate anything. He was in a lower-level recreation room of some sort judging by the pool table. He squeezed into a corner listening for any footfalls. The dogs continued barking outside. Come on, wake up.
THere was movement upstairs. “God damn it! Daisy! Stossi! Shut up!”
Lumbering footfalls stumbled across the ceiling over Marzan’s head. They paused at the south end of the house. Marzan deduced that Garrity was looking out a window. It was the perfect moment.
Marzan drew his 9mm with silencer attached, took a glance through his optics to get his bearings, then moved silently up the staircase. Once at the top, he looked into living room area. He saw nothing for a moment. He was tempted to use his optics again, but then, as his eyes adjusted, he spotted the silhouette of a large-framed man at a window peering out between the curtains towards the barking.
His moment of opportunity had come. Marzan had to move.
Quickly, silently, he darted into the living room right up behind the unaware and half-asleep Garrity and placed the barrel of his pistol against the base of his skull.
“Do not move. Do not speak,” Marzan whispered. “Put your hands up.”
“Come with me quietly if you want to live.”
Marzan backed him slowly away from the window, across the room, and down the stairs.
“What do you want?” Garrity asked.
“I’ll be asking the questions. Do not speak unless spoken too. If you speak without being spoken to you will feel pain.”
Marzan marched Garrity into the garage where he switched on a dangling light bulb.
“Unfold that chair over there. Good. Now take a seat.”
Garrity, clad only in his boxer briefs, sat down in the frozen chair. “Do you know who I am?” Garrity asked.
“Go ahead and tell me.”
“I’m a sheriff. You’re making a big mistake coming here. What gang are you with?”
Marzan dialed Vaughn on his cell. “I’ve got him in the garage. Yeah, it’s him. Hurry up. Come in through the window on the north side.” He hung up.
Marzan and Garrity stared at each other, Marzan standing, dressed in black, bank-robber-style stocking cap pulled over his face, 9mm in his hand. Garrity sitting, nearly naked, flabby white skin folding over the waistband of his shorts.
“You’re not a gangbanger, are you?” Garrity asked.
“What makes you ask that?”
“Because you don’t hold your gun sideways. You wield it like a pro.”
“You are correct. I’m no gangbanger.”
“Are you sure you know who I am?” Garrity asked again.
“You’ve confirmed it for me. Now, shut the fuck up.”
Vaughn appeared, crawling through the window with a rustle, clumsily carrying his shotgun. He knocked the snow off his sleeves once inside.
“Here,” Vaughn said, “You take my pistol and keep it pointed—right at his chest. If he makes any rapid movements, shoot him two times. Then put another round in his head point blank.” Marzan handed Vaughn the 9mm and reached into his pocket for a spool of kite string. He used it to tie up Garrity’s wrists.
“Where’s my wife?” Vaughn asked, pointing the gun with a shaky grip.
“I’ll ask the questions,” Marzan said. “You just hold the gun.” Marzan lashed and tied off Garrity’s joints to the flimsy chair. The string cut into Garrity’s skin and cut restricted his circulation. Marzan pulled Garrity’s ankles and elbows into unnatural angles. Both of his elbows were cinched inwards towards the chest. His knees were drawn together but his ankles were spread apart with his feet lifted off the floor. His left wrist and most of his hand was lashed to the armrest with his palm down. Garrity grimaced in pain.
“I’m a sheriff! I…”
Marzan smothered Garrity’s face with his hand and pressed his thumb into Garrity’s left eye socket. He pushed it in deeply, pushing his eyeball into his skull.
“I told you twice already to shut up. I warned you that you would feel pain if you didn’t. Keep it up and you’ll be made to feel blindness too. Do you understand me?”
Marzan finished the lashing and knotting and tying. When complete, Garrity was completely immobilized and resembled an insect wound up in a spider’s cocoon.
“Is there anyone else here?” Marzan asked.
Garrity shook his head.
Marzan turned to Vaughn, “He’s a liar. I want you to check out the house. Then find the bathroom. Take those two buckets with you and fill them up with water. Don’t turn on too many lights.”
“What if I find someone up there?”
“Tell them they won’t be harmed if they cooperate. Then bring them down here so we can keep an eye on them. If they resist or run, shoot them, but try to aim for the legs.”
Vaughn left with the buckets and carrying the pistol. He left the shotgun with Jimmy.
“Now for you,” Marzan continued, “I have some questions for you, sheriff. Hmmm. But before we get started…let’s have a look at what we have here.”
Marzan stepped over to a toolbox on a workbench and fumbled around in it with one hand. He intentionally jingled the tools about, making as much clanging noise as possible. A screwdriver fell out onto the floor. Marzan picked it up and drove its tip into the wooden workbench so that it stood upright. He continued digging. “What might this be good for?” he asked, as he revealed a pair of Vice-Grips. He squeezed the squeaky handle a few times in front of Garrity’s face. “Looks like something I could use to pull teeth. Do you like your teeth, Bob? You can answer.”
Garrity nodded affirmatively.
“What else do we have?” Marzan produced a rubber mallet. “Now what could I do with this? I wonder. Hmmm.” He slammed the hammer down on the bench. Garrity winced at the sound. “I imagine I could pretty much hammer someone’s balls flat with one of these. What do you think, Bob?”
“Yes. Yes you could.”
“What else is in here?”
Clang. Thud. Ping.
Marzan pulled out a set of needle-nose pliers. “Interesting. I could a nipple clean off with this.”
“I’m sure,” Garrity answered. “Please, I don’t know what you want but I can get you—”
Marzan used the pliers to take hold of Garrity’s ear lobe, squeezing it as tight as he could without breaking the skin. Garrity screamed.
Marzan spoke calmly. “You have some information for us and you’re going to give it up tonight.”
“What…what do you want?”
Marzan released the pliers. He looked around the garage again. He found an ice cooler under the bench. He slid it along the floor, stopping it just at Garrity’s feet. He grabbed a handful of instruments from the toolbox and set them on the lid of the cooler, aligning them as if he were about to perform surgery. Garrity started to shiver. Marzan held up the locking pliers again and slowly turned the thumb crank back and forth in front of Garrity’s eyes.
Vaughn finally returned with the buckets.
“You weren’t gone very long,” Marzan said. “Did you check the whole house? Anyone else inside?”
“Nobody else here. Just the dogs outside.”
“Where’s my gun?”
“It’s in my belt.”
Good. Now, for you…”
Marzan found a rag on a shelf and soaked it in the water of one of the buckets. Then he stuffed it into Garrity’s mouth. Garrity’s eyes widened as Marzan covered his eyes with a blindfold.
“Give me a hand,” he said to Vaughn.
They tipped Garrity’s chair backward so that his hairy, bare back was resting on the chair back and the cold concrete floor. “Take the 9mm out,” Marzan said to Vaughn. Marzan set down the shotgun and picked up the bucket of water. He poured a stream onto the rag stuffed in Garrity’s mouth. The water splashed over his face and travelled up his nostrils. He reflexively tried to hold his breath but the droplets of water trickled into his sinuses triggering his exhale and cough reflexes. He gasped for air. Marzan stopped after about ten seconds. He took the rag out.
“Now,” Marzan explained softly, “you are going to tell us where is Jessica Clayton?”
Before Garrity could even complete his denial, Marzan shoved the rag back in his mouth and proceeded to pour another stream of water up into his nostrils. This time, he did it for about thirty seconds before stopping.
“Okay,” Marzan said calmly, “I’m going to ask you again, where is Jessica Clayton? But before you answer, I’m going to ask Jessica’s husband over there to go get that hammer ready. Vaughn, please get that mallet right there and prepare to flatten Bob’s testicles. Oh, and when I turn you loose, don’t hold anything back.”
Vaughn grabbed the hammer and was about to let loose—
“Please, I…” Garrity pleaded.
Marzan stayed Vaughn and stuffed the rag back Garity’s mouth and poured the water again. Vaughn stood anxiously with the mallet in one hand and the 9mm in the other. He knew that he had to control his rage or he would never find out where Jessica was.
Marzan poured and Garrity coughed and squealed and choked. Marzan kept pouring until the bucket was out of water. Then he calmly set the empty pail down. The frigid air of the garage combined with the cold water drew most of the heat out of Garrity’s body. He started shivering violently. Steam wafted off him. Marzan took the rag out of his mouth again.
“Okay,” Marzan continued, “are you ready to cooperate or do I need to turn him loose with that mallet?”
“I don’t know—”
Marzan shoved the rag back in and began to pour the second bucket. Vaughn stepped forward with the hammer in his hand and the devil in his eyes but Marzan looked him back. He poured for over a minute as Garrity coughed and choked. Marzan set the bucket down and took the rag out of Garrity’s mouth once more.
“You better wise up, Bob. Because when this bucket runs out of water, I’ll have no choice but to turn him loose. I’m not kidding. Do you understand?”
“Y…y…yes. I do. I’ll tell you.”
Marzan stood up surprised. He didn’t expect Garrity to give up so easily. They were much tougher back in Shariastan. “Excellent,” he answered. “So tell us then. Where is Jessica Clayton?”
“Are you going to kill me?” Garrity asked.
Marzan shoved the rag back into Bob’s mouth and started pouring the water again. But only a short pour was necessary this time. “My water is running low, Bob. When it runs out, we will begin the process of busting your balls.” Garrity shook his head and coughed, spraying droplets of ice water everywhere.
“Tell me Bob, where is Jessica Clayton?”
“Okay! I’ll tell you,” Garrity sobbed.
“Excellent. Now just wait a second…” Marzan interrupted, turning to Vaughn. “Help me tilt him up.”
Vaughn helped lift Garrity’s chair and shivering body upright.
“Get your camera ready,” Marzan ordered.
Marzan set the hammer down and took his cell phone out of his pocket. He turned on the video recorder. The first image he captured was of Marzan pulling Bob’s blindfold off.
“Okay,” Marzan narrated, “we are conducting an interview of Sheriff—or is it Undersheriff?—Bob Garrity. We are in his garage. After enhanced interrogation, Bob has decided to cooperate by answering our questions. Okay, Bob. Tell us, what did you do with Jessica Clayton?”
Bob stammered and coughed. Marzan reached over and grabbed the hammer to remind Bob of what he was in for if he didn’t answer. Garrity lowered his head and wept. Vaughn captured his steaming head bobbing with each pathetic sob. Garrity was shivering uncontrollably and his skin was beginning to turn bluish white.
“Bob!” Marzan shouted. “Bob! Answer the question, Bob. Where is Jessica Clayton?”
Garrity moaned. The twine was shrinking with the cold moisture and drawing tight around his joints, turning his skin purple.
“Bob, this is your last chance.” Marzan slammed the hammer down into his palm. Crack. Crack. Crack.
“She’s…” Garrity stuttered.
“…She’s at a campground. She’s at a campground.”
“Where?” Vaughn shouted, nearly dropping his phone.
“She’s at the campground on the road from Wellington Lake back to Buffalo Creek. You’ll see it off on the north side. Site 21. It’s the only site with an outhouse out there. They just built it last summer. It hasn’t been used.”
“It’s freezing out there.”
“Is she dead?” Vaughn screamed. “Is she dead? If she’s dead I’ll shoot you right here!” Vaughn shook the 9mm in Garrity’s face. “Is she dead? Answer me!”
“No! Sh…she’s underground. We put a propane heater in there. She has water. She’s got blankets. Please don’t kill me. I didn’t hurt her. I didn’t know what I was doing. I…I was insane. I was going to release her after the storm cleared. Please. I just want to get out of here. I just want to get out of the country. I’ll take you to her. Please, just don’t kill me.”
“Shut up,” Marzan barked. He held Vaughn back. He was gripping the 9mm so tightly that his knuckles whitened. “Easy there, Vaughn. Jessica is our priority.”
“What do we do with him? Bring him along?”
“No way. If we get stopped with him we’re finished. And if we’re finished then Jessica’s finished, too.”
“We can’t just leave him. He’ll go for help. Can you stay here and watch him?”
“We should stay together. It might take two of us to get her out.”
“Then what do we do? Kill him?”
“Put that camera away. Hand me your shotgun.”
“No!” Garrity pleaded. “No! No! Don’t kill me. No! I didn’t hurt her. I just…”
Vaughn stashed his phone, reached down to pick up his shotgun and handed it to Marzan. Jimmy walked over to the workbench and set it into a swivel vise. Once the stock was gripped firmly between the jaws, he tied a slipknot into the end of his twine and looped it tight over the trigger. Then he ran the line back under the crank on the vise, up over three rafters above and back down to the floor. They moved Garrity in the chair so his chest was facing directly into the barrel of the shotgun with the string dangling down from the ceiling at his wrist. Marzan grabbed the hammer and tied the end of the string to it, making sure that all the slack was pulled out. Then he put the hammer in Garrity’s left hand. He could barely hold it in his purple fingers.
“Go find Bob some blankets or something.”
Vaughn left but quickly returned with two coats which he placed over Garrity’s shivering body. Then Marzan chambered a shell in the shotgun.
“There,” he said, as he plucked the taut line. “Hang on to that hammer, my friend. If you let it go, the tension will yank the trigger and go boom. We’re going to get Jessica. If we find her, we’ll come back with the police. But if we get out there and we can’t find her or she’s—you know—then we’ll be coming back for you. Do you understand? We’ll be coming back for you and the misery and pain you will suffer in the few remaining moments of your life will be beyond the realm of human comprehension. So if you have anything else you want to tell us, tell us now. This is your last chance.”
“She’s there. You’ll find her.”
Marzan gagged him with one of the dog’s tennis balls and a strip of duct tape. Then he clicked the safety off on the shotgun. He asked Vaughn for his 9mm back.
“Where are you going?” Vaughn asked.
“I’ve got to go take care of the dogs.”