John Fall woke at the slap of cold water on his face. A thick, crooked finger directed his attention to the display of a digital alarm clock: 11:45:17. The clock sat alone on a small table with foldable legs.
Without smile or sneer on his face, without hate or pity in his voice, a man said, "When the time hits 12:00, you die." And those were the only words that giantóthat Goliathóof a man ever spoke.
John struggledóin more ways than one. He had left the grocery store heading toward his car, sifting through the contents of his pocket for keys; and then woke up bound to a chair. The room he found himself in was unfamiliar. Peeling paint of ugly yellow covered the walls and low ceiling, a concrete floor sloped from all corners to an uncovered drain, in this: a prophesied execution chamber, smelling of mildew and mothballs, of cold and damp air. A sub-basement, a cellar? The dim light of a naked bulb came from behind and all the shadows exaggerated upward. Something in the echo of his breathing and coughing gave him the impression that the room was very large, extending several feet behind him.
Pain stabbed out from behind Johnís ears, down his neck, and through his shoulders. Tingling needles crept up every limb, muscles seized in spasms that begged for movement; but thick wraps of tape held him motionless. He tried to fight against the binding, but his limbs had gone numb from lack of circulation. The binding was too tight, the muscles too weak, the time too short.
Wake up Sleeping Beauty, youíve got fifteen minutes to live. Better start your engines.
John studied his captor. Godlike; powerful. Exemplar of silenceóthe envy of statues. Goliath was well muscled and nearing his mid-forties, stationary with arms crossed, and watching the clock the way men will watch a TV. His head bowed so as not to touch the ceiling. Was it possible for a person to move so little? His chest did not rise and fall with breath, his eyes did not blink, no move to scratch, no muscle twitch, no bead of sweat crawling out of his skin. Was he even alive? A robot maybe?
Goliath did not look excited about killing, clamoring over extinguishing a human life, but he did not look like a man plagued with a troubled conscience. If ever a man had carved his own face into indifference and set it to never change a wrinkle or show an expression, this was the man. Calm, leaning against a pad-locked door that dwarfed behind him. . . with an ten inch knife tucked into his belt.
John could see a sliver of his reflection on Goliathís knifeótired pain and desperation twisted his expression such that he did not recognize his own face. No one recognizes their own face transformed into a helpless and terrified victim. The reflection staring back at John was not that of the hero, conqueror, and survivor that every man thinks he is, but that of the helpless and frightened coward that every man knows himself to be.
"Why are you going to kill me?" the words came out as a slurred mumble of Johnís heavy tongue.
"Will you tell me who wants me dead?"
Your guess is as good as mine.
"Is there anything that you will tell me?"
"If youíre going to kill me why canít you answer me?"
"What did I do?"
Not a twitch. Not a flinch.
"Look, my name is John Fall. Sure you got the right guy?"
"Listen, if I know something that Iím not supposed to know, I havenít a clue what it is. But Iím willing to forget anything you want me to forget."
Goliath said nothing.
The clock said 11:50:12.
John said, "Címon man, just tell me why you have to kill me. If I have to die just tell me why. Thatís all I ask, a reason. Is that too much?"
Why else? Why kidnap a man, bring him to a room, tape him to a chair, set up a table with an alarm clock to face him so he could watch the last fifteen minutes of his life pass second by second? Why not shoot him in the street so he would never see it coming? Why not do it in his home, instead of bringing him to some filthy chamber where he could spy the drain that was soon to drink his blood? Why let him see that shiny blade?
Why just stand there and never say a word, not even looking at him? Why not tell him why he is going to die? Why make him completely helpless, why not give him a fighting chance to defend himself?
By 11:52:00 John had worked up a healthy panic attack. He was getting frenetic, struggling so violently that had he been untied his limbs would have flailed in thrashing; grunting and whimpering from exertion; sweat running from his forehead, face, and neck in glossy ribbons; heart beating violently; trembling uncontrollably; he began to cry.
John ceased his fit when he caught sight of his shadow on the wall, that ridiculous silhouette, perfectly immobile except for the wildly swinging head. The struggle proved useless. Even if he could loosen the bonds, could he subdue Goliath? No, salvation would have to come from argument and coercion.
"Can we make a deal? I give you anything you want."
Goliath did not want a thing.
"Why wonít you at least say something?"
"My family, my parents, my brother and sister, are you going to murder them too? Or have you already?"
There was no way to know.
"Damn you, say something."
Ten minutes had passed. Never had ten minutes been more precious. Ten of the most valuable minutes of Johnís life spent with useless questions and begging. The last five minutes could not be so cowardly, he had to brave up, had to keep a clear head, had to try to think of some way to save himself.
But there was nothing he could do. Nothing to say. Nothing but to wait for Goliath to end his hideous game.
Death was not a friendly companion, if even for five minutes, and less so for one who expects knifing and torture. In five minutes a man can conjure many gruesome images involving a cold steel knife cutting through the sensitive layers of human tissues.
John looked at Goliath, and the clock, and the drain, and the clock, and the tape wrapped across his body, and the clock, and the knife, and the clock, and the knife and the clock andtheknifeandtheclockandtheknifeandtheclock. . . .
Waves of panicÖ. Uncontrollable. John seized in another fit of struggle. More tears and gasping ended with exhausted resignation.
The mountain of man remained perfectly still.
. . . .knifeandtheclockandtheknifeandtheclockandtheknifeandtheclock. . . .
John acquiesced with a sigh, feeling the tape holding him tight.
Goliath used the next thirty seconds to slowly draw the knife from his belt. He held it at his side, eyes steadily fixed on the clock.
"Why did you wake me up? You could have killed me while I was unconscious. Why wake me and then ignore me? This isnít about just getting rid of me, you wanted me to suffer. Iíve suffered. You wanted me to beg? Iíve begged. You want me to scream at the top of my voice, Iím doing it now. Good God, what do you want from me, what do you want?"
"Why are you doing this? Why wonít you tell me?"
Goliath moved, his shadow stretched taller and wider as he neared.
"My cat, will you at least make sure some one takes care of my cat?"
He walked behind John, gripping the chair and dragging it to rest just over the drain. He wrapped his strong and callused hand under Johnís chin to stretch the head back and expose the neck.
When Johnís eyes had left the clock, he began to count.
The top of Johnís head pressed against Goliathís firm belly and he looked straight up to the killerís fleshy chin, but the executioner never looked down to his prey, never once looked him in the eye.
Certainly Goliath was human. The hand that gripped Johnís chin was warm and fleshy, rough and strong. But no motion lifted his stomach for breath, no whisper of moving air passed from his nostrils.
John had lost count.
John squeezed his eyes shut, ground his teeth, strained every muscle in his body, shook with trembles; but he would not let himself whimper.
Something occurred to Johnódeath was too simple. Why go to all this trouble just to kill? This was torture, elaborate and premeditated, not murder. Goliath was trying to humiliate him, show him what a coward he was. Only seconds left till the truth be revealed.
But John never saw behind him. . . .
Never saw the third person in the room. . . .
The person that could have saved him a long time ago. . . .
The person that also was about to die.
Alright, enough of this. Youíve scared me, humiliated me, youíve won the game, but Iíve figured it out and Iíve had enough. Hurry up and get this over with.
The cold edge of a steel blade rested against his throat.
Hurry up andó
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