Chapter 3: A Day In The Life Of A Captive
September 25, 1989
Howie stumbled along trying to work out the date. He knew he had been taken on the twenty-first and had spent that day in the van. That night, the hood had been replaced by a blindfold. They had held a flashlight right up to his eyes when making the change from hood to blindfold. He hadn’t been able to see his captors.
The next day would have been the twenty-second. He had spent a miserable day walking, getting pushed along, tripping, falling, and getting pulled back to his feet. It was not easy walking blind like that. The sun in the morning was on the left side of his face and then shifted to the right side of the face in the afternoon. He figured they had headed south from the camp.
The next day would have been the twenty-third. It was a repeat of the miserable march of the previous day. The sun in the morning was on the left side of his face and remained on the left side after the lunch break. They got lunch, he didn’t. He did get a little water. He figured they headed south for a while and then backtracked for some reason.
The day after that would have been the twenty-fourth. Still blindfolded, they had walked south until their lunch break. He got lunch that day. For some reason, they spent that afternoon in camp. They got dinner, he didn’t. He was getting water more regularly, about once every four hours.
Based on the position of the sun which was now beating straight down on his head, it was approaching lunch time. He wondered if he was going to get to eat or not. So far, he hadn’t had breakfast once since being kidnapped. This irregular diet had really begun to anger him. If there was one thing Howie wanted in his life, that was three meals a day, not one, not two, but three meals each and every day.
Gramps called out, “Hello! We’re bringing in another one.”
“Hey, that’s great. You know where to put him,” said a voice Howie didn’t recognize.
Howie was pushed forward. He stumbled over the uneven ground, but managed not to fall. He was getting better at that.
“Dummy, you get to put him in the shack.”
“Because I said so.”
Howie was pushed along some more. He managed to keep his feet under him.
“Don’t open the door, yet!”
“You don’t have a hood on,” Gramps said.
“Why do I need a hood?”
“So that they can’t see your face when you open the door. You don’t want them telling the police what you look like, do you?”
“No, but how will I see if I’m wearing a hood?” Gomer asked.
“The hood has holes for your eyes,” Gramps said as if he was explaining something to a simpleton.
Howie could have counted to ten before Gomer said, “You’re right. It does have holes in it.”
“Now, put it on so that you can see through the holes.”
Howie could hear Gomer messing with the hood. Gomer may have been dumb as the proverbial post, but Howie knew that he was pretty big and tremendously strong. That had been demonstrated several times when Gomer had just picked him up off the ground like he was a rag doll.
“I got it on.”
“Now tell the others in there to step to the back of the shack, then open the door, and push him in.”
“What if the others try to get out?”
“I shoot them.”
“How come you have a gun and I don’t.”
“You’re too stupid to carry a gun.”
“Now get him in the shack.”
There was the scrape of wood against wood. Howie assumed that they had some kind of wood bar over the door. He heard a board hit the ground.
“Stop! Tell the others to step to the back of the shack before you open the door.”
Howie was thinking that someone needed to put Gomer out of his misery. No one that stupid should be allowed to live.
“Everyone to the back of the shack!” Gomer shouted almost simultaneously with pulling open the door.
The door hit Howie in the face. He then found himself flying through the air and hitting a wall. He then hit the floor feeling pretty shaken up. He could taste the blood from his nose. He wasn’t sure if it had started bleeding when the door hit him in the face or when he hit the wall. He hoped it wasn’t broken.
“Close the damn door, Stupid!”
“You didn’t say anything about that,” Gomer said.
Howie could hear the door shut. There was a long pause before he heard the sound of wood scraping wood. He assumed that Gomer was putting the bar back on the door.
Gramps called out, “You can remove the blindfold and the bindings on your hands now.”
Howie pulled off the blindfold and found that even the dim light in the shack blinded him. He closed his eyes and then opened them just a slit.
“Sit up and let me help you with the gag,” someone offered.
“I’ll untie you.”
Howie sat up. Two pairs of hands started working on him, one pair on his gag and the other pair on the ropes. Another hand pinched his nose in an attempt to stop the bleeding.
A third voice said, “I know the light seems bright to you now, but if you open and shut your eyes real fast a few times, you’ll find that your sensitivity to light will adjust quickly.”
Howie blinked his eyes open and shut a couple of times. Each time, the pain from the light was less. He could make out that he was facing a wall. The guy to his left was pinching his nose. The guy to his right was working on the ropes. With the one guy holding his nose, he couldn’t look to see who was behind him.
“Water?” he asked in a raspy voice once the gag was removed.
A fourth voice said, “We’ve only got a couple of sips left. We’ll give you just a little to get the taste of the gag out of your mouth.”
“Thanks,” he rasped.
He rubbed his hands together to get rid of the stinging sensation once the rope tying his wrists together had been removed. When he got some feeling in them, he reached up to touch his nose.
“It doesn’t feel broken,” he said.
“I’m surprised. You took a pretty spectacular facial into the wall.”
“It was the door that hit me in the face.”
He took over pinching his nose. With his other hand, he used the cloth gag to clean up his face. He kept trying little patches of clean cloth to check when the blood stopped flowing.
One of the men asked, “Do you have any idea of the date?”
“September the twenty-fifth,” Howie answered.
“It feels later in the year than that.”
Detective Paulo Nuzzi was worried. For one thing, his kidnappers weren’t bothering to hide their faces from him. That wasn’t a good sign. It usually meant the hostage, meaning him, was going to die. Kidnappers didn’t like leaving witnesses who could identify them.
At the moment, he was praying for a quick painless death. He’d already watched them torture and kill two other captives. He couldn’t hear much of anything except the screams that were loud enough to drown out the music playing in the headphones they had put on him. He’d seen enough to know that he didn’t want to be tortured.
Unfortunately, escaping without being tortured didn’t seem too likely. He was currently tied to the torture chair waiting for what ever was going to happen next. It seemed to him that he’d been waiting for a long time. The longer he waited, the worse his imagination became. He tried not to look over at the instruments of torture laid out beside him, but his eyes kept returning to them. Every time he looked at them, his imagination supplied horrid scenarios of how they would use them on him.
When the woman in a wheelchair rolled in, he couldn’t stop from blurting out, “You sucker punched me.”
“What’s a sucker punch?”
“That’s when you hit someone when they aren’t expecting it.”
“That’s the best time to hit someone,” she said.
That answer rendered him speechless.
“What are we going to do with you, Detective Paulo Nuzzi?”
“Let me go,” he suggested.
“That’s a possibility,” she said. When he looked hopeful, she added, “but only if you’re completely honest with me.”
“I can do honest,” he said.
“That’s going to be more difficult than you might think.”
“Suppose I were to tell you that we’d free you if you promised not to tell anyone what you witnessed here. Now, if you were to promise us that you wouldn’t say anything to anyone, then that would be a lie and we’d kill you. If you were to tell us the truth, namely, that you’d tell everything you saw to your superiors in the police department, then we wouldn’t let you go. Now, what answer would you give us?”
His stomach fluttered. He hadn’t been expecting a question like that.
“I’d rather not answer that question.”
“Now that is a good honest reply, but it doesn’t answer the question. So I ask again, what answer would you give us?”
“I would make the promise and hope that you’d believe me even though I’d be lying through my teeth.”
“That’s also a good honest answer. It doesn’t get us anywhere, but it’s a good example just how tough the questioning is going to be.”
“Doesn’t the condemned get a last request?” he asked.
“What would be your last request?” she asked.
“Could you just shoot me now and ask the questions later?”
She laughed and said, “That kind of defeats the purpose of an interrogation.”
“I was afraid that was going to be your answer.”
“Let’s get started. What were you doing sitting on the park bench that morning?” she asked.
“I was waiting to observe a kidnapping,” he answered deciding that the truth was going to be the only real option and hoped they believed him.
“That’s an interesting answer. Did you know there was going to be a kidnapping?”
“No. I suspected that there would be one sometime soon. I’ve been out there every Monday and Tuesday morning for a month and a half hoping to observe one.”
“There are so many little questions just begging to be asked as a result of your answer that it boggles my mind. Why don’t you fill me in on some the details that will avoid this from becoming the day of a thousand and one questions?”
“There have been a series of kidnappings of foreign business men over the past several years. Last month I was going over the case files and noticed certain trends. The kidnappings almost always happened on a Monday or Tuesday morning. All of the victims had been abducted while staying at the Teal Deluxe Hotel. The victims had all flown in the day before, established themselves at the hotel, and then left for their first business appointment. They would leave the hotel and then disappear, never making it to their appointment. A month later, the ransom demand would show up at the business that employed them.
“I started staking out the hotel every Monday and Tuesday morning watching the hotel. That morning when you caught me, there was a kidnapping. Because of you, they are going to get away with another one.”
“You did nothing when the kidnapping took place. They had already gotten away with another one,” she said.
“They have now.”
“Why didn’t you do something?”
“I memorized the kidnapper’s faces. I was going back to my office to sketch them and then go through the mugs shots to find out who they are. Then it was going to be a matter of good old fashioned police work,” he said.
“Why didn’t you arrest them there?”
“That’s easy. I was alone. I was across a busy street. They’d have driven off before I could have reached them. I would have only got the little fish who are easily replaced. I wanted to take down the whole gang.”
“Would you stay here for a moment?” she asked.
“I really don’t have a choice,” he said.
Howie stood up and stretched, working out all of the kinks in his muscles. It felt good to be moving freely again. He did a quick self inspection finding the expected bruises from having fallen during the hike to the camp. His nose still hurt although his bleeding had stopped. He knew it would be a couple of hours before his body would start to feel completely right again, particularly his arms.
It was a very small shack, too small for the number of people being kept in it. There was a bucket in the corner for waste, a bucket in the other corner for water, and a wood floor. He walked around the shack examining every board, and every nail in every board. He pushed against a few boards and found they were loose. A few good solid pushes against them would remove them.
The men he was with were malnourished, pale, and filthy. Their clothes were worn and tattered. One of the men had already lost some teeth due to bad diet. They had the kind of lethargy that came from living on a subsistence diet. Their muscles were soft from a lack of exercise. Their spirits had been broken along with their bodies.
He paused to listen to the activity outside the shack. He could hear a half dozen voices talking off in the distance. There was an occasional sound of someone shifting around near the cabin. He assumed it was a guard. He doubted that whoever was on guard duty paid that much attention since the guys in the shack with him weren’t going anywhere. Even if the captives could manage to get out of the shack, he was positive that not a single one of them could run a hundred yards.
“What are you doing?”
“Checking out the new digs,” he answered.
“Why bother? You’re going to know every inch of it before long.”
Howie answered, “Just consider me curious.”
“You’re wasting your energy. You need to sit down and relax.”
“We should probably introduce ourselves.”
Howie answered, “I don’t want to know you guys, and I most certainly do not want to talk about myself.”
He was met with four incredulous stares.
“You’re going to be a problem, aren’t you?” one of them asked.
Detective Paulo Nuzzi handed over the sketch pad to the woman in the wheelchair. He had been a little shocked when she returned with a pad of drawing paper and pencils telling him to draw the faces of the kidnappers. He had taken his time drawing the faces that he had memorized, a little irritated that so much time had passed. Some of the little details had faded with time, and his worries about what was going to happen to him had occupied most of his thoughts.
Sword Lina flipped through the drawings. She pulled out a folder from behind her and opened it. She took out a photograph, one at a time, and compared it to the drawings. She held up a photograph and the corresponding drawing for him to look at.
“This one isn’t very accurate,” she said.
“I didn’t notice you taking pictures.”
“You didn’t notice me, period,” she said.
“I saw you. You just didn’t register all that much at the time,” he replied. “I have a very good memory for what I’ve seen.”
“That’s a good skill to have,” she said cryptically.
She held up a picture of the bellman.
“Why didn’t you take his picture?”
Paulo swallowed heavily upon looking at the picture. He knew who the man was. He had watched him get tortured, and killed while sitting in the chair that he presently occupied.
“He’s always there.”
“Yes, I know. He’s always there. Did he ever report seeing anything?”
“You don’t find that suspicious?” she asked.
“I do now,” he answered. “Lots of people don’t report things that they see. It’s too dangerous.”
“He was their lookout and directed the victim to where they could be kidnapped.”
“What about the other guy?”
“He was a waiter at the hotel. He pumped the victim for information about their schedule for the day,” she answered.
Paulo said, “I knew there were some people inside the hotel who had to be in on it.”
“There is also a guy in reservations. He did the background check on potential victims.”
“Is he dead, too?”
“Not yet. He did show and tell us everything we wanted to know,” she answered.
“I don’t understand.”
“Do you know a gentleman by the name of Francis Baudin?”
“He’s the head of one of our more notorious crime families.”
“Tell me more about him.”
“His family is one of the original families from Franka who lost their family fortune as a result of the revolution. They’ve been running a crime syndicate since then, trying to regain their lost fortune. He’s the latest heir to the empire. He’s so well connected that he’s untouchable.”
“He’s touchable. He’s very touchable,” she said.
“You might get an arrest, but never a conviction. He’s got the President in his pocket.”
“We aren’t in the business of making arrests,” she said.
Looking down at his chair, he said, “I guess you aren’t.”