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Detainee 717


Chapter 3

When he hears the thump of footsteps coming down the staircase, he opens his eyes and sits up, swinging feet to floor. Because most of the kitchen wall has been obliterated, the staircase descending from the second floor is now visible, and Audi can be seen coming down. Stair by stair he drops segmentally into view, further dissected by the banister’s wrought-iron bars, the kind shaped in a DNA helix twist: feet to knees visible, then feet to hips, feet to waist, feet to chest and, finally, head to toe. The smashed walls open a line of sight from K13’s vantage point through a series of jagged apertures and misshapen tunnels that seem to represent variations on themes of vacancy and absence. The whole first floor duplicates the effect of the Roman Coliseum with its look of dismantlement and disintegration, of shambles in the making. He watches Audi, who this evening wears an umpire’s mask and chest protector, moving toward him with the oppressive and archaic bulk of a steam locomotive, stooping gigantically through holes in the walls that gape like the mouths of ravenous beasts, medallions of plaster crunching beneath his size 16 Nikes. The four-month-old infant he claims is his son sleeps in the cradle of his thickset arms, held stiffly at chest level, with that awkwardness characteristic of new, unpracticed and terrified paternity. The tiny parcel wrapped in the blue blanket makes the six-foot-four, 280-pound man appear even larger than he is. Audi comes to a respectful halt 10 feet away in the place where K13’s bedroom door once stood, stymied by his inability to politely knock; an unapologetic creature of habit, he balks at this invisible threshold every time. K13 finds the umpire’s mask disconcerting and with an impatient hand gesture that evanesces through the region between chin and forehead vaguely mimes lifting a veil or visor. For a time Audi considers which arm to enlist to accomplish the task of lifting the mask. He remains blind to the obvious choice, the bottommost arm not in direct contact with the infant, stretched the length of the forearm above it for reinforcement.

“I can’t lift it,” Audi says in something close to despair. When he speaks his thick animated eyebrows perform jumping jacks, bouncing up and down as though his forehead is a trampoline. “I’m holding Cruel.”


A few hours ago Audi was calling the baby Spin, because, he said, everything that happens on the great planet Earth goes in a circle, around and around, and he wanted to honor that truth with his baby’s name.

“Yes, Cruel, because that’s what you need to be in order to succeed at life on the great planet Earth.” A macrocosmic bloodline that would be deemed extraordinary in any country other than Brazil, a mixture of Japanese, black, Portuguese, Italian and Amerindian strains, prowls with exquisite tension through the features of his face, like a panther slinking through underbrush. He is so tall he stoops at all times, his height imposing a mental ceiling of self-consciousness.

“Audi. Use your bottom arm to lift the mask.”

“I’m afraid. What if I drop him and he hits his head too hard against the floor, like Sis … like Lamborghini dropped me? Wait, I know!” Inspired, he walks over to K13, hands him the baby, lifts the umpire’s mask and proudly takes Cruel back. The infant’s sleep is a territory Audi stoutly tries to defend, marching in place with soldierly resolve to capture a lulling rhythm, his head bobbing with gawky coordination while his arms jounce stiffly up and down.

“So you’re thinking, maybe you’d like to be an umpire?” K13 asks.

Each day Audi dons a different profession-appropriate set of clothing, believing that impersonating a fireman, a policeman, a chef or a cable installer will prompt an insight into the particular vocation, and that he will be better prepared to decide what he would like to do with his life after his work with his sister comes to an end. K13 knows that Lamborghini encourages him to think of a future away from this house, that she is trying to wean him from the world that floats like a disembodied dream between these walls, to prepare him for a time when they might join the throngs of daylit men and women here or in New York or Chicago or Miami, in any one of a thousand cities, openly laughing, crying, loving and hating under the benevolent superintendence of sunlight, a time when they would no longer live as outsiders, as guardians of twilight and secrecy. Even if she is ultimately preparing him for something she does not want or believe is achievable, K13 approves of her soft ductile deception.

“I don’t know yet about umpiring, I haven’t worn it long enough. But Sis … Lamborghini, she’s having an emergency upstairs.”

“Did she tell you to come get me?”

“No. I decided to tell you. She’s got the paddles.” Still marching, he begins to back up, constantly twisting his head to look behind him over his left shoulder. This evening, the broken fragments behind Audi’s eyes have been swept into a neat pile by the tiny old man who lives in his skull and is responsible for clean up and maintenance, coherence and lucidity. This is how K13 imagines it. The mess left by his disordered thoughts has been collected and discarded, leaving the light in his eyes relatively clean and bright. The old man leaning on his broom, taking a well deserved break. On a scale from one to ten, K13 estimates the intensity of the light to be a seven, meaning Audi’s ability to focus is moderately strong. Five minutes from now and the light may be diffuse and dinghy.

He marches backward, stepping through the holes in the walls until he reaches the staircase, then he spins around and mounts them frontally, with K13 following.

Where on the first floor K13 has attempted to glean and defy limits, Lamborghini on the second floor has spun a cocoon of sterile domesticity that embraces them. Upstairs is another world: The overall orientation is formal, rigid, emphasizing precise alignments of color, texture, proportion, with an OCD-like focus on detail. This is a world that could easily be the product of a mind with a dangerous hyper-reliance on symmetry and order. Lamborghini herself, smiling wryly, would probably agree.

He follows Audi down the long hallway, passing a well appointed office, library, three small bedrooms and two bathrooms. Finding their untouchable showroom atmosphere unsettling, he refuses to look into the rooms as he passes. The aesthetic she has imposed either embodies the ideal of an impeccably designed interior environment or subtly mocks it. As always when he ventures into her territory, K13 does not know whether she is in earnest or whether she would like this shrine to perfection to be viewed through a filter of irony. One day he will make her beautiful by asking what she was intending by all this, and then see if he is fast enough to catch her pupils pinwheeling inward like black holes, consuming all the light. She is beautiful, or sometimes can be, but only truly so when she lies and the light in her eyes contracts and tightens as though shrink-wrapped in deception.

At the end of the hallway the master bedroom that Audi hurries into is the one exception to the tasteful paragon of the second floor. The cavernous room remains empty unless she is with a detainee. On those days Audi drags whatever prop or piece of furniture she needs from the sprawling walk-in closet next to the master bathroom and positions it in the center of the floor. This evening he has been told to bring out two office swivel chairs: one for Lamborghini and the one her detainee has been sitting in, now tumbled onto its side. The walls are layered with swatches of foam baffle that look like mural-sized canvasses and corral sounds that would otherwise gallop down the hall and stairs even when the door is closed. The work, of course, gets noisy, the intensity of the interrogations expressed in explosive invective and curses, hysteria spiraling like ambulance sirens, the pleas and moans and cries invoking maternal ancestry whether living or dead. Whether the detainee is male or female, a great lamentation is frequently sent out to the mother, always the mother, and never once, in K13’s experience, has the plaint for mercy been funneled through an entreaty to the father. What can this mean? But the room has been formatted not just to reroute and deflect misery; that is not Lamborghini’s style, at least not the full extent of it. Two huge Infinity speakers are embedded in the walls like steaming asteroids for those times when she decides to work to the strains of music – sometimes classical, sometimes jazz.

On the far side of the room the swaying and marching Audi stands at the threshold of the open French doors, fringed cinematically by the twilight’s brief REM-state pastels, the sunlight’s fluttering eyelid closing toward to evening. Then he steps out onto the widow’s walk, swallowed by the dreaming light. Lamborghini’s detainee is on the floor, on his back.

His short sleeved shirt has been ripped open and the lean chest is mapped by latitudinal ridges of rib cage; his skin is dark but fugitively so, the color that follows loss of consciousness. His arms and legs are wide flung, like the spread-eagle pose in da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. She kneels beside and over him in an attitude of prayer – no, she is in prayer, leaning forward, her shoulder-length hair a sleek shatter of black, the ebony strands pendant as rosaries. A portable defibrillator, the Medtronic Lifepak 500, is on the floor next to her in its gaudy bumblebee black-and-yellow plastic carrying case. Lamborghini would have to look back and over her shoulder to see K13 watching from the bedroom doorway. If she does, he will see a feminized variant of the same exquisite panther of tension that prowls the features of her brother’s face. Turn, turn, K13 wills silently. Let’s see your face, see whether it’s lit up by panic or glows with greed.

But she does not turn, does not sense his presence behind her; she only snaps her head up, hair in satiny whiplash, and yells, “Damn it, Audi, get in here. Put the baby down and slip something under the guy’s head.” Whenever she is forced to meet a challenge, the feather of a faint accent drifts transparently through her voice, so faint it flirts with nonexistence. On the widow’s walk Audi gently places the baby in the bassinet and crosses to his sister in a shuffling run, dropping to his knees and sliding a few feet across the icy sheen of the wenge hardwood floor, stopping inches from the crown of the unconsciousness man’s head. After removing his chest protector, he lifts the man’s shoulders with one hand and slides the protector under the lolling head. “Don’t forget to say clear,” he reminds her. Audi has no accent at all.

“For what?” She deftly applies gel to the detainee’s chest. “We’re the only ones here.”

“I know we’re the only ones here, me and you and Cruel out there.” Audi has forgotten about K13. “Say it anyway. Say, ‘Clear.’ Scream it, like on TV.”

“Scoot away so I can zap him.”

“Scream it, scream it!” he demands, pounding his thighs with his fists. Dropping the paddles on the detainee’s chest, leaning over the sprawled body, she slaps her brother in the face. It produces an echo in the high-ceilinged room that carries a puny debilitated resonance, the sound curiously drained of depth and substance, curiously somehow skeletal. When he contritely drops his head, she picks up the paddles, resumes making adjustments. “Audi.”

He keeps his head down, sulking. “What?”


Lamborghini’s detainee is a reputed organizer of the Arab tribal militia riding rampant on horse or camelback in Chad and Darfur known as the Janjaweed. This is the same man who was deposited at their doorstep 3 days ago at 2:00 am, wrists bound behind him and head submerged beneath a black hood’s shapeless puddle, on a night when K13 sat idly sipping cranberry juice at the kitchen table, unable to sleep, an anemic companion of moonlight stealing through the window above the sink and occupying the chair opposite him. One minute the house was quiet, the next there was a pounding at the door, and the next he had watched Audi prod the stumbling man upstairs with the barrel of his beloved Taurus PT 1911 fixed in the small of the detainee’s back. Appearing suddenly from some nearby adjacency of shadow, Lamborghini lifted the glass from K13’s hand as he leaned the rim against his lower lip. She drank his juice and returned the empty glass to his hand. Roused from sleep, yawning, she was wearing a Winnie the Pooh pajama set.

About her newly delivered detainee she had told him, “If he’d confined himself to the rape and massacre of Sudanese women and children, nobody in this country would have given a shit.” With this statement, it was clear to him that she had already decided to make an exception to the way she typically conducted business, that she was tossing aside her sense of professional neutrality, looking forward to making her involvement personal for once. “But he had to go and dabble in laundering cash for Qaeda. Now, lo and behold, he finds himself here.”

“Much to his chagrin.”

“Guy’s supposed to be part of a set up called Global International Humanitarian Relief, a non-profit front that raised more than six million U.S. dollars last year. Thirteen, don’t you love these PJs?”

“Understatement,” he said.

“Aren’t they simply adorable?”

“Understatement number two.”

“Tick tock, tick tock. Time to punch in.” She rose, turned her back to him, put her fingertips to her lips and flicked the kiss toward him over her shoulder as she walked away.

K13’s suspicion that there were aspects of the detainee’s background that had managed to pierce the shield of detachment she typically stood behind during the course of her work is now confirmed by the dark betrayed look that shadows her face when, after applying the paddles, the detainee’s body arches in shuddering surge and subside but the heart fails to find a rhythm. She leans close to the detainee’s face, as though nuzzling his ear. “You get back here, you whining little bitch. You pussy. I snapped you like a twig the first day and then made you believe you didn’t. I did you that favor, tough guy. My fourteen-year-old sister with a bad case of flu could have lasted longer than you did. If you die now, you know what happens?”

“You’re making your blood pressure go up,” Audi warns.

“If you die now, tough guy, you go to hell: Jahannam. You want to get into The Garden, into paradise? Surrounded by houris? All those virgin hotties there for your eternal gratification? Firdaws, paradise? With your CV? You can fucking forget that.”

She glances at her wrist watch, the clock face twisted to wrist’s underside, where K13 a few days ago happened to notice the corkscrewing strand of a vein pulsing delicately at the silver band’s edge. He does not have to see her face to know that the grace note of a twitch plays in the corner of her left eye, frustration transposed to a neurological minor key. Sometimes he’s unable to turn it off, this trick he has mastered: focusing on the small things about a person provides a restful distraction, enabling you to overlook their more prominent flaws and to shut down the mind, abort analysis. Again she applies the charged paddles and the body surges, but the heart is unresponsive, is an impenetrable stone. A rodent of panic begins to nibble at the edges of her gestures, her movements, feeding on her fear of worst-case scenarios, of failure on both a professional and personal level.

“Guy who’s done the things you’ve done, hacked a six month old baby’s foot off at the ankle and then had it preserved so you could wear it around your neck on a chain? Guy who while the baby was bleeding to death orchestrated the baby’s mother’s rape with her husband forced to watch, and then yanked out his eyes after it was over? And this is just one family that I know about. Because something tells me you were a busy little bee. One family, ten families, maybe a hundred. Surely, a guy like that needs a whole universe of good deeds to get into paradise, and I’d say you’re in a severe good-deed deficit at this sad juncture. Come back, scrape together a couple of good deeds, and maybe you can make up for that baby’s foot, right? How does a place in paradise for Abdel Abdalla sound?”

“He can’t understand you,” Audi says. “You’re speaking in the English Language. You have to speak in his language.”

She repeats everything in seamless Arabic, a language that for her must fill her throat with a peculiar weight, since when she speaks it her voice always sinks to a lower register.

The body marionettes in a shuddering jump, current the puppeteer.

K13 watches her intently, lowering himself to a sitting position on the floor in the doorway with his arms looping his shins, chin resting on his knees. He imagines Abdel Abdalla’s floating form looking down from a place of astral suspension above the body Lamborghini works on with her paddles and her words, the sly psychological poison she pours into his ear to assault him at the level of his core beliefs. But K13 senses that her offensive will not work, that she is overestimating the depth of his faith in Islam. The phantom hovering at the ceiling, watching the whole drama, has a scissors in his hand, and with it he cuts the cord that connects him to his body, escaping Lamborghini. Many years ago K13 had learned from his former wife Skye, a tarot reader obsessed with psychic phenomenon, that this cord was akin to an umbilical cord, a silvery lifeline linking the sprit to the physical body. When the cord was severed, death ensued. He watches the astral Abdel Abdalla triumphantly wave goodbye, rising through the ceiling, higher and higher, the severed lifeline sighing as the spirit’s breath escapes.

“You fucker, I tell you when to die, you get it?” She abandons the paddles, grabbing a handful of the detainee’s hair at the back of his head and pulling, the neck bent forward grotesquely, chin digging into the clavicle, shoulders lifted off the ground. “You think you can do all the things you did, then just have a heart attack and get out of it easy?”

“I think this detainee,” Audi says, walking away, passing though the French doors and out onto the widow’s walk, “is dead.”

Now on her feet, she stares down at the body, briefly considering Audi’s remark. “Well.” She shovels an inhalation into the back of her throat, scooping up some sourness there that threatens to fill her mouth and, leaning down to prevent inaccuracy, spits forcefully in the detainee’s face, a face already placid with the waxy immobility of death. The saliva shines in a foamy lurid star against the dark forehead. Her face registers no surprise as she looks at K13 sitting on the floor in the doorway; she passes him with brisk efficiency, striding down the hall. “This a show now? Do I need to station Audi at the door so he can redeem your ticket?”

K13 does not respond and Lamborghini walks into the bedroom at the end of the hallway, quietly closing the door behind her. An hour later K13 stands on the wraparound porch with Audi, Cruel and Lamborghini, her arms sternly crossed at the level of her solar plexus as she watches two men carry the Arab Janjaweed organizer away in a body bag. The bag is tossed into the open trunk of a Lincoln Town Car idling in a driveway that extends a quarter of a mile before it merges with the access road. (The single time K13 had been in Washington D.C. for a “technical interview,” he had noted that the Lincoln Town Car seemed to be the preferred mode of transportation for diplomats, attaches, foreign and domestic dignitaries.) The access road leads to a little-traveled narrow highway winding north for many miles through dells and moraines backdropped by dairy farms, the highway finally unraveling and widening into a turnpike at the state line.

The idling Town Car, the gaping trunk, the two tall men dressed in black swinging the body bag, the car pulling down the driveway at a solemn funereal pace – all this takes place under a vaporous fluid darkness, as though the cloud-ridden night sky has fallen to ground level and now parallels the earth, streaming slowly across the earth’s surface in thinning and thickening densities. It all seems staged, clichéd, and K13 finds that something rattles in his throat tightly, once, a morocco of laugher given a violent single shake.

“Would you look at our ninja compatriots,” he says, “decked out in black coats and hats like they read it in a book?” Audi rocks the child, marching absentmindedly, staring after the car.

Typically, she would agree with the belittling assessments K13 aimed at their associates, operatives with no names and eyes complex as dull mathematical formulae who appeared suddenly to provide them with whatever was needed, then summarily disappeared; now, Lamborghini only tosses out a noncommittal gesture. “I don’t know. What do you want them to do? Walk around in some kind of neon Elvis suit? In the end, they do what they’re told, just like we do. They get paid, just like we do.”

“We’re a bit testy,” K13 observes, carefully guiding his tone toward jocularity.

“Yes, we are. You would be too.”

“If what?”

“Look, doc. I don’t need a therapy session right now. Not this kind of therapy, anyway.”

K13 shrugs, turns to leave.

“Don’t think I didn’t get what I needed from him.” She stands behind the veil of a light hypnotic trance, looking out through it, watching the Town Car’s taillights receding, disappearing. Her voice inches forward, like a convalescent in a defective walker. “I did. It’s not that. I just … it was over at the end of the first day, and I just kept it going. I kept it going, because I was waiting for the right … time. I knew I was going to kill him, I just didn’t … know when. I paced it. I kept the pressure light, exquisite, never enough for his heart to stop. I was waiting for the right time, but he caught on and slithered away. He outfoxed me.”

“Maybe he did. But you didn’t kill him,” K13 insists, shoulders still held in a hunch, the shrug frozen about his ears, palms open in a gesture of offering. “He had a heart attack.”

Audi yawns. “He just dropped dead.”

K13 finally releases the shrug, finally turns and enters the house, leaving them standing on the porch, staring at the Town Car’s taillights, ruby specks fading across an invisible threshold into extinction.

Next Chapter

Chapter 4

Article By: dglenn

Arts | Fiction | Novels

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