She lies on the cold concrete floor, damp from urine and sweat, slick with mildew. There is no light but a thin ray which has escaped from a crack in the plywood covering the window ten, fifteen feet above her crumpled, near-lifeless body. She breathes, but with great effort, slow, shallow, laboured. At last count, she’s been here for twenty-four days, give or take a day or two spent unconscious. Twenty-four days in the dark. Twenty-four days standing, then sitting, then laying on this cold concrete floor.
The dress she wore on the night she was taken, once perfectly pressed delicate chiffon, was now ripped and stained. Blood from her tortured, weathered body, ravaged and pillaged by her captors, torn and battled, worn and tested. They left her clothed, but her heels were taken, leaving her feet bare and vulnerable.
She can manage the discomfort, pain is temporary and a state she has been in before, but she was losing her fight with hunger and thirst. They had given her food when they first brought her here, a slice of bread, some lukewarm broth, a cup of stale water, but those albeit infrequent meals stopped somewhere around Day 15. The water kept coming until three days ago, when her captors stopped returning altogether. Since then, she hasn’t heard a sound except a drip from far outside the bolted and padlocked door and crickets who have camped themselves outside the boarded window.
“This is how I die.” We ask ourselves in times of morbid curiosity how we believe we may eventually pass away. Most of us hope it’s in our sleep, when we’re old and gray and have lived our life fully. Some want to make a grand exit, a skydiving accident or while saving a child from a burning building. A few make the decision to take control of their final destiny, leaving no question as to where, how or why. It’s an odd thing to know the answer to those questions. She will die here, in this room, with the smell of death already thick in the air. Her body will fail, abandon all hope, and eventually simply stop living. The why. Very rare is it that a person learns the reason why they’ll die. She will die knowing exactly why.
For the first time in days, she heard the familiar sound of hard, heavy footsteps growing nearer and keys unlocking the door. She tried her best to sit up, pushing with what little strength she had left in her frail arms. The door opened and the room was flooded with harsh, incandescent light. It burned her eyes and she felt a rush of warmth. In walked the three masked men whom she had grown to know by scent, along with a fourth she’d never seen before. He wore no disguise and she knew exactly who he was.
He knelt down beside her, visibly disgusted in her appearance, and held out his hand for her to shake. She ignored it until he pulled it back and stood up.
“Hello, Agent X. I am such a fan of your work. It’s unfortunate that we meet under such…undesirable circumstances. Do you know who I am?”
“Of course I do.” She struggled to speak without sounding weak. “To what do I owe the honor?”
He looked annoyed while he played with his gold watch. “I think you know. These men of mine have been asking you a question throughout your stay with us, X. I’d like to know the answer.”
“I told them my answer.”
“Unfortunately, they don’t believe you. These men are very untrusting, as you’ve come to know. I told them you wouldn’t lie, but they’re skeptical. They think you’re holding out on us. Please don’t make a liar out of me, X. I would hate to be called a liar.”
“I’ll tell you what, how about you ask me.”
“Where is he?”
“I don’t know.”
His face contorted, embodying rage and hate and aggression, and he swung his foot to her face. She fell back to the floor and felt her bloodied lip, loosened teeth and cracked jaw. She felt these with her hands, but felt no pain. She pushed herself upright, using the wall for balance and leverage, her legs weak and shaking, and stood for the first time in a week. Turning slowly, carefully, she straightened her back and raised her chin, looking him in the eyes. She used the memory of every moment she has spent in this room, every minute spent with his men as they struck and kicked her, whipped and raped her, screamed at and starved her. She used those moments as strength and stared at him, stoical, unblinking.
“Where is he, X?”
“I don’t know.”
“WHERE IS HE?”
“I don’t know.”
“Last time I ask, X. Where is Agent Z?”
“I don’t know.”
He turned and walked out of the room. His men left behind him, locking the door, abandoning her for good. She slumped down to the ground, out of breath, shaking from adrenaline, buried fear and cold. She will die here, in this room, her body having abandoned all hope, and she will know exactly why.
To what do I owe the honor?