Authors: Vincent Zandri
When I come to, I’m seeing orange. Blaze orange. An orange so
bright it almost hurts my eyes to look at it.
My head hurts. But then, that’s not
surprising considering the sucker punch those bearded bastards snuck in on me.
My eyes suddenly regain focus and I realize the blaze orange I’m staring at is
myself. Rather, the baggy jumper that’s been placed over my own clothing.
While several pieces of thick duct
tape gag my mouth, my hands are bound behind my back with one of those plastic
ties soldiers and riot police use to neutralize violent offenders. My ankles
are bound with an identical plastic tie. I’m lying on my side on a damp stone
floor, fetal position, my eyes focused on my thighs and knees. The floor smells
like piss. In fact, straightening myself out, and shifting myself onto my back,
I realize the entire place smells like a combination of piss, sweat, and the
excrement of not one animal, but several varieties.
There are no windows, only
window-sized rusted grates and grills installed at the very tops of the old, if
not ancient, stone walls, with screens over them for ventilation. A couple of lightbulbs
are hanging down from the ceiling by means of naked wires. Also hanging down
from the ceiling are several more wires to which meat hooks are attached.
Installed in the center of the concrete floor is a drain. This is most
definitely not a happy, feel-good-about-the-future kind of place. And as far as
I can tell, the only way in and out of the room is by means of an old solid
metal door. Otherwise, the place is simply barren and cold and reeks of death.
My own death … and the tortured
deaths of many who’ve come before. For years or maybe centuries.
Struggling against the ties that
bind me, I’m able to hear voices coming from the opposite side of the steel
door—voices speaking a version of Arabic. Naturally, I have no idea what they’re
saying. But I know it can’t be very good, whatever it is.
Thoughts spin through my head, not
the least of which is: will I ever get to see my daughter again? That ten-year-old,
long-haired brunette is my only connection to real love, real sanity. Lying
here on this cold, rotten smelling floor, I can only wish that I’d been a
better father to her. More available to her, more steady and stable. It’s
possible that if this situation continues to go in the direction it’s going, I
won’t ever get the chance to tell her I love her again. And that’s the most
heartbreaking situation of all.
The voices grow louder. The men
standing outside the steel door are barking at one another. The sound of a key
ring jangles, and then a key is inserted into the lock. The door opens, the rusted
hinges squeaking, the door slamming loudly against the stone wall.
The same two young, bearded lumberjacks
who abducted me enter the room ahead of a third man. While the lumberjacks are
dressed in the same clothing they were wearing when they extracted me off the
street, the third man is dressed in black pants over which hangs a knee length
black robe and a black hood, exposing only the eyes. Dark eyes. Eyes that seem
to be missing most of the whites.
The lumberjacks do not arrive empty
handed. While the one on the right carries a video camera and tripod, the one
on the left is carrying a portable lamp in each hand. Both of them are carrying
sidearms, holstered at the hip. Nine millimeter semi-automatics by the looks of
While Man in Black stands by the
open door at attention, the lumberjacks go about their business setting up
their portable media center only a few feet away from where I’m lying on the
floor. They’re running the electrical connections, and the yellow extension
cords they are attached to, out of the open steel door. No outlets to be found
in this old sewer pit.
I don’t like the looks of this.
Heart pulses and pumps not inside my chest cavity, but inside my mouth. This
party has all the makings of a beheading of the ISIS variety. You see news video
of these grisly beheadings online and on cable television. You see the poor
victims—usually Christians, Jews, or journalists—down on their knees while some
black-masked son of bitch recites from the Koran, and you just want to scream
at them to get up and run. But right now, as terrified as I am, I’m not even
sure I could find the strength to stand, much less run for the hills even if my
ankles weren’t bound together.
Lumberjack One flicks on the bright
lamps. The LED light burns my retinas. Lumberjack Two stands behind the camera,
turns it on. He adjusts the auto focus and cracks a smile when he’s satisfied.
Then, stepping forward, he kicks me in the gut, driving the air from my lungs.
“On your knees, infidel,” he says,
his voice gruff, accented.
I’m not entirely sure where I find
the energy, or the leverage, but as soon as the pain abates and a semblance of
oxygen returns to my respiratory system, I manage to do it.
“Face the camera,” he goes on. “You
know the drill.”
He’s right. The bastard is absolutely
right. I know the drill. These radical creeps and their evil murders have
become so ingrained in the global culture that I know the drill precisely.
I shift myself, face the camera.
What the hell else can I do?
The lumberjacks speak something to one
another in Arabic, then readjust their positions so they stand behind the media
equipment, like the producer and director of some cheap pornographic snuff
flick. That’s when the big, black-robed man steps forward, takes his place
directly beside me.
Lumberjack One behind the camera
raises up his hand and then brings it down swiftly like he’s saying, “Action.”
On cue, Black Robe assumes the
stance and positon of a tough guy. Reaching inside his robe, he pulls out a
military style fighting knife, which he thrusts in the direction of the camera.
Lumberjack One seems to be so enthralled by the drama of it all, he plants an
ear to ear smile on his bearded face. Lumberjack Two, behind the lamps, is also
smiling. I guess for these three creeps, beheading innocent human beings is the
most fun you can have with your robes on.
I’m looking up at Black Robe when
he turns to me, peers down into my eyes. Reaching with his free hand, he rips
away my gag. My lips feel like they were torn away with the tape.
“Recite the first line of the Koran.
If you know the Koran, your life will be spared.”
Somehow, I don’t believe my life is
going to be spared no matter how much or little of the Koran I have memorized. Which,
of course, is not a goddamned word. More thoughts spin through my adrenalin-soaked
brain. Was I a random kidnapping? Or did Dr. Belli from the da Vinci Museum
place a call to them, warning them of my interest in the
Book of Truths
and its connection to the da Vinci Cave? My employers at MI16 warned me about
the Russians and the Iranians teaming up to locate the cave, but other than
flashing their nasty images on that ceiling-mounted HDTV, they never mentioned
a word about an ISIS cell being involved. At least, not directly. But that
doesn’t mean ISIS wouldn’t be interested in locating the cave. Why not? They
seek world domination, so why not seek out the cave and the powers it houses? It
would make them invincible.
I stare into the camera; my tongue so
dry it feels like it’s stuck to the roof of my mouth.
“What is the first line of the
Koran?” Black Robe shouts.
I turn, stare directly into the
camera then, once more, refocus my attention up at Black Robe.
“Closer,” I whisper.
“What?” he says.
“Closer,” I say. “I’m afraid I’ve
lost my voice. I need you to come closer, so you can hear what I’m about to
Lumberjack One behind the camera
raises his right hand again, makes a spinning gesture like,
It’s okay, just
With his hand still tightly
gripping the fighting knife, he bends at the knees and leans toward me, as if
he wants me to whisper the first line of the Koran into his hood-covered ear.
“The first line of the Koran goes
something like this,” I say. Then, turning back to the camera, my eyes looking
directly into the lens, I bark, “Kiss my Judeo-Christian ass!”
For a beat or two, no one says a
word. It’s like the three creeps are dumbfounded by my response. And they are.
Until Black Robe stands tall, but
with his eyes still peering down at me.
“What did you say?” he says.
“I said the first line of the Koran
is: Kiss my Judeo-Christian ass.” Puckering my lips, blow him a kiss.
Black Robe lets loose with a Darth
Vader roar that just about shatters the concrete walls. The lumberjack
production team are glued to their lights and cameras, clearly loving the action,
the drama, the cinematic glory of their production.
Grabbing hold of my throat with his
forearm, Black Robe heaves up against my chin, as if to lengthen my bare naked
neck. He’s choking me, but that’s the least of my problems considering the cold
steel blade pressed against the flesh immediately beneath my Adam’s apple. I
struggle, but he’s too strong, too experienced in this brand of radical
Oh, dear God. Here it comes,
Here it comes. I pray, dear God, it doesn’t hurt. I love you, Ava,
I love you. God, make it all go quick, make the pain stop now, just take me,
God, just let me die fast …
And then the walls explode.
Not the walls exactly, but the four grates located at the top
of the four walls. They blow out in a timed explosion, followed by four
individuals dressed in black tactical gear who slide down from ropes onto the
Taken by surprise, Black Robe turns,
pulling the knife away from my neck. That’s my cue to drop onto my side, cock
back my bound legs at the hip, then thrust my Vibram-soled boot-heels forward
like a battering ram against his right knee.
I hear the distinctive pop when his
knee explodes, followed by a burst of the machine gun fire that evaporates his
cranial cap so that he’s dead before he even hits the stone floor. Glancing up
in the direction of the cameras, I see both Lumberjacks reaching for their sidearms.
But neither gets the chance to pull their guns from their holsters before the
multiple rapid-fire rounds catch them at waist level.
Expert shooting from an expert
When the shooting stops, my ears
ring. This is a stone chamber after all, and the sound bounces as opposed to
being absorbed. I can hardly breathe. But I’m alive. I’m fucking alive. I barely
make out the sound of boots soles through the ringing, when I see one of the
black clad soldiers standing over me. A second soldier cuts my ankles and
wrists loose and helps me get back up onto my feet.
“Who are you people?” I ask.
The black-camo-faced and night-vision
goggled soldier facing me reaches up, pulls his black cap off. Pushes up the
He’s not a he at all. But a she.
“You and me, boyfriend,” she says. “We
need to talk.”