Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Turned Tables

The tip of the long triangular glass shard pressed against the base of the woman's throat, indenting the soft flesh, my shaking hand tracing a tiny cut back and forth as the first drops of blood begin to slowly well up from the shallow wound. Dimly, I could hear the young woman's panicked breathing, just as I was vaguely aware of the rise and fall of her chest as she struggled for enough air to calm her panic. My left forearm clamped tightly around the side of her neck, and I used as much pressure as I dared without choking her. Looking down at the hand that moments ago had punched its way through an observation window in the medical suite we now found ourselves in, the hand that, with its partner, had battered two members of this cult just hours earlier, I marveled at its effectiveness. My hand, already beginning to bleed from the press of the sharp glass against palm, knuckles grotesquely bruised, purple, and swollen, strips of thin pink flesh hanging limply in jagged tiger stripes from the tips of my fingers to the top of my elbow. Looking down at that great tool of our humanity, five fingers, a thumb, and, when necessary, a fist, I steadied my hand and my resolve. They took my wife. They took my son. If I had to take one or all of their lives to get them back, I was steadfastly determined to do so.

As we stood there, panting amid the upturned exam table, rolls of gauze and tape littering the floor, obscuring somewhere in their midst the syringe loaded with god knew what that had surely been meant for me, I considered my options. I didn't want to kill this woman, at least not yet. Over the past few days, my compunction about killing my fellow man had waned significantly, but I still didn't feel like a murderer inside. Besides, I needed this girl's heart to continue thumping in her chest for a least a while longer until I could figure out an angle and gain some real leverage in the situation.

I stood there thinking, the slim, older man who had accompanied this woman to the medical suite where I was locked, started to back slowly toward the door that led down the hallway. I locked eyes with him to let him know that I saw him, and he froze I realized that they must see me as a madman right now.I had hours earlier beaten two of them as badly as I was able until I realized they had taken Finn, and now I had another of their friends gasping for air with a shard of bloody window glass at her throat.Trying to regain some measure of sanity over an already insane situation, I looked hard at the man.

"Hey, buddy.What's your name?" The man started at the sound of my voice and I realized that I hadn't actually spoken until now.

"Your name buddy." I said, more forcefully and with growing anger, "What is your fucking NAME?” He gulped a bit, and stammered, "Hawthorne...what are you going to do to Ginger?"

I paused for a moment to calm down, then forced myself to speak as calmly and amiably as I could "I'm gonna kill her where we stand if you don't find a way to bring me my wife and my son, in one piece and in about two minutes Hawthorne." The girl, Ginger (I hated knowing her name) sobbed when she heard this, and I tightened my grip around her neck. Hawthorne stared stupidly at me for a moment, as if he couldn't believe what was happening. Then something in his eyes changed and he turned and ran down the hall. I heard his footsteps retreat as his shoes slapped the linoleum floor.

It's a long two minutes, holding a hostage. Not a lot to keep your thoughts at bay, and as each moment passes your mind oscillates wildly. You begin to wonder if you have the nerve to do this thing, to kill this person who has, reluctantly to be sure, protected you so far. You wonder if maybe you shouldn't just let go, make a break for it. Maybe kill the girl as a diversion. I tried to think of a story from the news or even a movie or television show where the hostage taker came out ahead. All that came to mind were murder suicides, police snipers, and swat teams. Not a lot of comforting thoughts.

I heard the sound of footsteps approaching. I am annoyed and a little unnerved that they sound so...casual, the footsteps of a Sunday stroll. When Hawthorne steps into the room, it is with a renewed confidence. Behind him, an older man, bald with a short cropped white beard. He had the look of a modern-day Freud without the pipe or pretension. I distrusted him immediately. I was clearly the only one. Upon his arrival into the room, I could feel Ginger relax a little and her ragged breath turned into even, steady gasps. This was a development I wasn't expecting. Clearly, this man was in charge around here, and he showed no outward sign of concern over the sight of one of his (followers?) friends clutched back to belly with an apparent lunatic. I sensed immediately that he would try and defuse me, to talk me down as it were. I immediately sought to defuse myself and thus foil his gambit by remaining calm and steady.

Who are you?" I demanded, striving to keep my voice in check.

"My name is Sage," the man spoke calmly, evenly, "who are you?"

I debated about giving him my real name for a moment before I answered, "Tom. Where's my family, Sage?"

"They're safe, just like you are, and just like I know Ginger is. You're not a killer Tom; I know that. So why don't you just let Ginger go, and we'll talk about this." He sounded comfortable, confident, like a man who was used to having people follow his lead. I tried to disappoint him.

"Why don't we talk about this right now, with Ginger here?"

He sighed as if my answer upset him and looked down for a moment. In a flash, his head snapped back up and he had a pistol aimed at us. I felt Ginger tense, and before I could do more than tighten my grip on her neck and twist, he fired. Instead of the sharp report I expected, there was a soft whoosh of gas escaping at speed. That small defensive twist was all I needed however and the dart hit Ginger in the shoulder. Almost immediately, she began to sag. As she fell, I was forced down with her until she lay passed out propped against me, both our butts solidly on the cool linoleum floor. Her unconscious body formed a near perfect shield, but completely pinned me to the ground. Getting up and running was out of the question. I decided to force my hand. I held up the shard of glass, now sticky with my own blood, and showed it to Sage. Slowly, deliberately, I lowered the tip to her throat and started to push. Almost immediately, blood began to run from her neck. So far, I knew the wound was superficial at best, but it wouldn't take much of a slip to end this poor girl's life. This was a bluff, but I had to make it look real. I pressed harder and the first couple of millimeters of the makeshift blade disappeared into Ginger's flesh. The blood began to flow a little more freely. Although not the rhythmic spurt of an arterial gush, it was a steady stream of crimson now.

"All right, all right," said Sage wearily, "I'll take you to them. Just let Ginger go."

"No deal. The girl comes with me.I want a wheelchair and I want it now.I'm done playing games here."

Sage nodded to the tall man who ran a short way down the hall.In the moment he was gone, Sage and I stared at one another, each desperately trying to find weakness in the other. Soon enough, Hawthorne returned with the wheelchair and made as if to push it toward me. Realizing I couldn't maintain my position and move the unconscious girl into the chair, I settled on a new ploy.

"No. Sage, you get in the chair." Hawthorne made as if to protest but was waved off by Sage, who sighed another world-weary sigh and sat reluctantly in the chair. Hawthorne looked confused and terrified. "Okay, now Hawthorne, turn the chair around and wheel him, back first to me." He turned the wheelchair around and pushed it to about three feet in front of me. "Closer Hawthorne, all the way to my feet." He obeyed, but stood there unsure what to do next. "Okay, now you go out into the hallway and stay turned away from me. I want to see your back. If you so much as twitch, I'll kill both of them, so this is on you, get it?" He nodded and began walking into the hallway. When he got about a dozen paces into the hallway he stopped. Slowly, carefully, I stood up, letting Ginger go for the first time in an eternity. I stepped forward to the back of the chair. "Put your arms behind your back." He did as he was told, and I watched those arms fixedly as I knelt down, heart in my throat, and pulled a shoelace as quickly as I could from my shoe. I tied his hands together and put the shard of glass to a new throat. "Time for us to take a little walk Sage. I'll drive, you navigate.Take me to my wife."

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