Milton still hadn’t said anything. They had held him there for over a month now. Smiler – the one Milton had come to refer to as “Gold Tooth” during Question Time, was convinced that he didn’t know anything. The Greene woman was nowhere to be found. Walters was worried that this was a waste of time.
Needler – Milton’s “Thin Woman” – approached him outside the soundproof barrier. Walters had known Needler from a previous operation, and had picked her specifically for this. Her real name was Alisandra Jennings, and you would never suspect that she was such an accomplished torturer. They’d drafted her out of National Intelligence back when she was a Safehouse administrator off in some hell-hole out in the Redlands. Her record was not perfect – whose was? But she never showed any hesitation. And she was a genius with the psychotropic concoctions she administered.
Walters trusted her as far as he was willing to trust anyone. So when Needler approached him and told him what she had seen Milton do, he grew concerned.
“He just stared there, out into the black? I don’t understand.”
“Not the black. His eyes were focused on something nearby. Something just on the other side of the window.”
Walters looked over the files, not entirely sure what he was looking for.
“Could it be your drugs?”
“No. Impossible. They all break down within an hour. They should be harmless.”
“Well, we have been putting him through the ringer. Maybe he’s starting to crack.”
“If he had cracked he would have talked by now.”
Jennings stood there, rigid. Walters thought that she might be pretty if she put on a little weight. As she was, however, too much of her skull was visible beneath the flesh of her face. It was unsettling. It probably helped her do her job, though.
“Smiler thinks he doesn’t know anything,” said Walters.
“Smiler is an amateur. He’s just impatient.”
Walters nodded and closed the file. “He hasn’t said anything to me about it. Actually, he hasn’t spoken much in the last few days. But I think you’re right. I sometimes see him glancing at something, like a spot of dust on the glass.”
“Good,” said Needler. “I was starting to think I was going crazy.”
“Not good. If Milton is, we’re going to be worse than where we started.”
Needler sat down in the ratty office chair in the corner of the room. “Any news from the bosses?”
“Nothing for you.”
She seemed to take some kind of special offense at this and walked out of the room without another word. Walters rubbed his temples. He had been down here too long. Then it happened again.
His foot was asleep. He had not been holding it in any particular position, but there it was, totally numb. He tried to wiggle the toes, but he could not.
You’ve been sitting still too long. You need to get up and walk around.
He climbed up from his chair, nearly falling when he put his weight on that foot. This had been happening for several days now. It wasn’t always his foot – sometimes it was his arm, or just a finger. One time, to his horror, it had been his entire chest. He was convinced he was having a heart attack, but after a few minutes the sensation - or rather, the lack thereof - passed. Afterward, there were never pins and needles, though. Just dead weight slowly drifting back into feeling.
It was time for a trip to the facilities. He walked through a door, past the door into the cell room,
There’s someone else in there, you know.
and into the bathroom. What was that? He had just thought something… but it was gone. When he was finished, he washed his hands and looked in the mirror. The room was lit with old fluorescent lights. Walterss looked half a ghost. His skin was growing pale, and his hair looked grey. He was exhausted. He had not been out in the sun in far too long.
But the orders were that they were to stay in the building with Milton. Barclay, that spectacled prick who dragged Milton there in the first place, had told him about fifty times. Perhaps Barclay had known it would take longer than Walters had expected.
Walters had been recruited through his usual channels, and one of his trademarks was discretion. He would never ask for whom he was working, but it was usually pretty clear. The money would always come in to an anonymous account over on Hosos.
Barclay had the look of Narcian Internal Defense – the military’s domestic intelligence network. Theoretically it wasn’t supposed to exist, but Walters had been working these sorts of operations long enough to know that no government played by its own rules.
A quiet buzzing came from his watch. They were keeping Milton on a 30-hour day, which meant that Question Time came at a different hour every time. Unfortunately that meant that Walters had to adhere to a similarly confusing schedule. Walters walked back to his office and picked up his notes.
He entered the cavernous room outside of Milton’s cell and placed his folding chair on the ground. He sat, then shuffled to the side with the chair to get a better view. Milton was staring at that spot on the window again.
He began. “Commander, where is June Greene?”
Milton smiled. “She’s in all of us. She’s in you, Shabby Man. Right here,” and he pointed to his heart.
“I see you haven’t lost your sense of humor.”
“Well, you’ve either got to laugh or you’ve got to cry, right?”
“You haven’t been enjoying the Games lately, have you?”
“Oh, you know, games can be fun, but they get a little tiresome after a while.”
This behavior was surprising. The last time they had spoken, Milton appeared almost catatonic. “Jack, you seem to be in a pretty good mood.”
“Well, don’t tell anyone, but I’m getting very popular.”
“Is that so?”
“Oh yes, I have a lot of friends here. I have an assistant who brings me coffee, and this fellow who stands watch.”
He pointed up to that spot on the window. There was nothing there, but at the same time, Walters felt suddenly and profoundly terrified. His eyes repeatedly told him that there was nothing to be seen there, and yet it was like a part of him was screaming, pounding on his back, pointing out the horrible, faceless…
But the thoughts could not stay still. They shimmered through his mind but in an instant he had forgotten that he had been so upset.
“How’s the knee?”
“It’s fine, Shabby. Just fine. Are you all right?”
“Why do you ask?”
“You dropped your notebook.”
Walters looked down. His left arm was hanging, useless, from the shoulder. His notes were spread out on the floor to his side. He bent down and began gathering them with his right hand. Very slowly, feeling began to come back to his left.
Milton was grinning as Walters got back in his chair. It was a madman’s grin – something deranged within it. Walters was very glad there was such thick glass between them.
“What are you smiling about?” asked Walters, betraying his discomfort with a slight crack in his voice.
“Oh, I just love the smell of coffee, don’t you?”
(Copyright Daniel Szolovits 2012)