Set-up: Mark is in the base hospital after passing out in his cell.
* * *
“Open your eyes!”
A hand shook his shoulder and Mark blinked awake with a start. He squinted at a greenish curtain dangling from the ceiling. Where the hell was he? The room wasn’t the same as the interrogation room and he was in a bed. A real bed. With a real pillow. He smoothed his hand against the mattress, and sheets. Scratchy ones, but they felt heavenly to him. Blankets covered him up to his chest. He wanted to close his eyes and burrow into them, but the hand shook him again.
The voice came again, “Oh no you don’t. No going back to sleep.” While still commanding, it wasn’t threatening.
“What?” Mark tried again when his first attempt came out as a croak, and he sought out the speaker. Jim.
Mark jerked and tried to scoot to the far side of the bed. A clip on his finger fell to the floor and he nearly tore his hand off when the handcuff attached to the bed pulled him up short. What did Jim want? He blinked, and rubbed his eyes against the top of his shoulder as a wave of dizziness swept him. A loud beeping began, adding to the confusion.
“Christ! Lie down before you pass out again.” Jim put a hand on Mark’s arm, urging him back against the bed. “Stick your finger out. You knocked this thing off.”
Mark complied, but never took his eyes off the other man as Jim put the clip back on Mark’s finger. At least the annoying beeping stopped. He licked his lips; they felt dry and cracked.
Jim looked over to a guard by the door. “Free one of his hands, would you?” When the guard had done so and moved back to his post, Jim picked up a pitcher on the rolling table and poured some water into a cup.
Eyes wide, Mark watched, an alarm from some monitor barely audible over the sound of his heart beating in his ears.
“Here.” Jim thrust the cup at him.
Mark recoiled, batting it away. It sailed into the curtain, splashing water across the bed and onto the floor.
Jim looked from the cup, still rolling on the floor, to Mark. “What the hell did you do that for?”
Mark didn’t cower, but he couldn’t look Jim in the eye. He took a deep breath and forced an answer. Remaining silent would only make it worse. “I’m not thirsty, sir.” It was a lie, but the truth, that shoving a container of water in his face sent his pulse racing, was too embarrassing to admit.
“Bullshit.” Jim glared at him and then said, “And I suppose you aren’t hungry either.”
“No, sir.” That was true. He couldn’t recall the last time he had eaten, but he was beyond hunger.
“Well, you’re going to buy yourself a feeding tube. We aren’t in the practice of starving inmates to death.”
“No, sir. Drowning is quicker.” Mark flinched at the dark look on Jim’s face. What made him say that out loud? Fear pounded through his veins, only one beat ahead of the hate and shame.
The man stepped closer, face stiff with anger. “They’ll be in shortly to insert the tube. I heard it’s not pleasant.” Jim turned to leave, motioning to a guard on the other side of the curtain to come sit in the room with Mark.
The thought of a feeding tube scared the hell out of him. He couldn’t handle that someone would be shoving food into his stomach. It was just one more thing beyond his control. “Wait...sir.”
Jim held the curtain with one hand and turned back. “Did you decide you were hungry after all?”
Mark nodded. “Yes, sir.” He went limp against the pillow. They had won again. He expected Jim to leave then, and was surprised when the man came back and stood beside the bed. He studied him until Mark began to squirm.
“The doc here says you’ve lost twenty pounds since you came here. How is that possible? We’re very careful about supplying enough calories.”
“Did you go on a hunger strike?” Jim’s voice was quiet. Almost like he cared.
“No, sir. My stomach just couldn’t handle food after...after the last time you questioned me.” Mark stared at the foot of the bed. Chains snaked out from under the covers, attaching to steel loops on the foot board. He moved his leg, feeling the scrape of the shackle against his ankle.” After awhile, I wasn’t hungry any more. There didn’t seem much point in eating.”
Jim tilted his head, his tone sarcastic, “No point in eating?”
Anger shot through Mark. It felt good after days of feeling nothing but fear. “Yeah. No point. You guys are going to kill me anyway. What do you care? Am I taking the fun out of it if I kill myself?”
“If you would just come clean—”
“I didn’t doanything!” Mark glared at Jim, his rage bolstering his courage. “I’d rather die than confess to something I didn’t do.”
Jim turned on his heel and stalked out of the room.
* * *
Jim brushed past a guard at the door. “Have them get him a tray of something decent to eat if the doctor okays it.”
I’d rather die. Taylor’s answer rang in Jim’s ears. Maybe the guy didn’t start out trying to kill himself, but he sure as hell didn’t seem to care if he ended up dead. Jim made the long trek from the naval hospital to the brig across the base. He could have driven, but it was just close enough to make him feel guilty for not walking. He hated laziness in others, and held himself to a higher standard.
How could Taylor have not eaten for a week and nobody had told him? Jim swore under his breath and wished he hadn’t traveled to Washington, but it wasn’t his choice. At least he’d been able to see his son, so it was worth it except in the two days he’d been back, nobody had mentioned Taylor’s food strike. If the guy died in custody, the press would have a field day. Already, there had been a few articles from the left calling for Taylor’s release, but so far, there hadn’t been much public outcry. Jim intended to keep it that way—even if it came down to force feeding.
Jim strode past his own office and went straight to Bill’s. He entered without bothering to knock.
Bill looked up from his computer. “How is he?” Before Jim could answer, Bill went back to typing.
“He’ll live...for now, even if he doesn’t want to.” Jim paced the confines of the office. “He thinks we’re going to kill him, so he figures he might as well control how he dies.”
The typing stopped and Bill swiveled his chair to face Jim. “He said that?”
Jim shrugged and shoved his hands into his pockets. “Basically. He’s given up.”
“I thought we were getting close to cracking him.”
Jim sank onto a chair. “Oh, he’s cracking all right. Just not like we had hoped.”
Bill grunted and leaned back into his chair. “Is he salvageable?”
He knew what Bill meant. Had Taylor been so broken that he was useless as a source of information? Taylor’s burst of anger at the end convinced Jim the man wasn’t quite there yet. “Did you ever think maybe this guy is innocent?”
“Nope.” Bill flipped through his desk drawer and pulled out a pack of gum, popping a stick in his mouth before holding the pack out to Jim, who waved him off. “The guy was fingered by a confirmed member of al-Qaeda. He went to Afghanistan--we have proof of that. We also have the tapes of the calls he made just a few hours before the attacks took place. How else would he have known about the attacks?” Bill shook his head, his jaw working the gum like he had something personal against it.
Jim looked out the window, a few cherry trees bloomed, their color brilliant against the blue sky. Bill had a point. Taylor had to be guilty. He took a deep breath and brought both hands down on the arms of the chair, levering himself up. “Yeah. I guess so.” He began to leave, but turned back, adding. “I just hope we get some good information before he goes completely over the edge. He’s teetering.”
“So, we give him a little break. Question him a few times without any physical persuasion.” Bill grinned and wiggled his eyebrows. “Then, when he’s relaxed, bring him in again and twist the thumb screws.”
“I think you enjoy the interrogations just a bit too much. You scare me, you know that?” Jim was only half-kidding.
“Hey, these guys are getting what they deserve. Every time I see pictures of that mass of rubble in New York, I get pissed and you should too.” He shoved another stick of gum in, his usually pleasant expression darkened with anger.
“I know. I get angry too, believe me, I just want to make sure I’m getting angry at the right people. That’s all.”
“Don’t worry. You are.”
Jim nodded and left. He wished he was as confident of Taylor’s guilt. It would make his job a whole lot easier.