The Bazaar: Chapter 22


The more of the prison Emily saw the less she believed it actually held inmates.

All the cells were empty — the equipment disused, rusted and generally falling apart.

“Do they actually hold anyone here?”

Pritchard shrugged. “The ones who can’t pay. Or won’t, maybe.”

The commandante assigned a pair of guards to take them down to see Jefe. He said his staff would beat on Jefe as much as Emily and Pritchard wanted, adding cheerfully that they could torture him themselves for an additional fee. Pritchard of course declined this in deference to their ever-shrinking budget.

He (Pritchard) gave her a pair of sneakers so she no longer had to go barefoot on cold concrete. Brand name knockoffs with a misspelled logo, courtesy of a street vendor. The commandante returned the ear bud pre-loaded with Espanol Made Easy (“Apologies for the inconvenience, my dear”). Her weapon, on the other hand, was nowhere to be found. Not that it surprised her. A recent-model compact PDW would probably fetch a full year’s income on the black market.

Jefe had a cell block all to himself. They found him doing push-ups in his cell, banging out reps one after the other with perfect form. Emily gave him credit for that. He wasn’t built for it. Then again neither was she.

He had stripped off his shirt so she could see the muscles in his back work with each rep. A faded tattoo of the Virgin Mary sat square between his shoulders. The Blessed Virgin rippled as Jefe’s muscles flexed. It occurred to her that he was awfully strong, for a scrawny little monkey.

“Why’d you set me up?” she asked. “Is my money no good here?”

Jefe knocked out three more reps before answering. “Their money was better,” he replied, without looking up. His voice crackled as Emily’s ear bud calibrated to his tone and the background noise.

“I didn’t think the cartels were allowed to strong-arm brokers.”

He laughed a little without breaking form or pace. “What do you know about it?”

“They killed your boy.”

In fact, Flannel Shirt was probably still lying face down in that scuzzy hotel room.

Jefe finished a rep. He paused at the top of his form. “I have plenty of boys,” he said, then adjusted his hands for triangle push-ups and began again.

“Okay. We don’t have time to screw around. I’m going to ask you what I want to know. If you don’t answer that’s fine, but these guys-” she gestured to the prison guards “-are going to beat the shit out of you. All I want to know is this: who are the freelancers who set us up, and where do they work?”

Jefe ignored the question.

Emily hadn’t been trained for interrogation in The Program.

At first AEGIS hadn’t authorized her to do interrogations, either.

Not till Syria.

Everything she knew about psyops she learned form the militia. The elder statesman of the Democratic Liberation Front, Dr. Kamel, had a doctorate in psychology. He was a thoughtful, bespectacled man with wispy, receding hair. Before the war he practiced in a wealthy Damascus neighborhood.

Dr. Kamel refined his technique with scientific precision. He kept notes on his methods and results in a thick, spiral-bound notebook, fitting two lines of his cramped Arabic characters into every ruled line.

He did not approve of brute force torture.

Cut a man. Burn a man. Make him believe he is drowning. Insult his family and religion. Spit on the things that are sacred to him. Strip his clothes off and abuse him like an animal.

There Dr. Kamel paused to adjust his glasses on the bridge of his nose.

Hurt a man like this and he may talk. He may tell you this thing or that thing. But he will only give you bits and pieces in proportion to the pain, and only enough to make the pain stop. To break a man you must break his mind. Then it will all come flooding out like water through a crack in a dam. You will know everything he knows, as if by magic.

His technique of choice was burying prisoners alive for days on end with no food and limited air, then digging them up after they thought they’d died. At which point they’d usually spill their guts – in between convulsions and sobs, of course.

Dr. Kamel was living proof you had to worry about the quiet ones.

And while he wouldn’t approve of what Emily was about to do to El Jefe, she had neither the time nor energy to drive the little bastard slowly out of his mind. “Go to work,” she told the prison guards. “Extra money if he begs for mercy.”

The men began rolling up their sleeves.

“Extra?” Pritchard coughed — and she could have sworn his eyes were watering.

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