As God is to man, broken bones and head wounds are a higher order of pain. They’re deeper, more personal. One cripples, the other kills. In these wounds there is no pleasure, no masochistic fulfillment to be found. Only pain. Suffering. Broken bones and head wounds reveal who the person is when nobody is looking.
Pain exploded across Chef’s midsection.
“Wake up,” a voice shouted before another blow landed, this time on Chef’s chest. Chef gasped and choked, trying to suck in a breath.
A blurred fist flew across his vision. Chef threw his arms up to intercept the fist, but found he was restrained at the wrists. He felt blow after blow impacting him, and couldn’t do anything to stop the pain except hold onto the hope that it would end.
When the hits did finally stop, Chef could only sit and gasp for breath, for how long he couldn’t tell. It felt like hours before his vision cleared and breath came again.
On an upturned orange bucket sat his assailant, presumably Ethan Hatcher. In faded jeans and an old Raiders jersey, he could have been just another person on the street. He had an impeccable tan, and bleached tips atop his faux-hawk. Skip’s file had indicated he was fresh out of Miami.
“Who are you with, the Bureau? You ain’t a local cop, you’re not fat enough.”
Chef didn’t know what he expected, but it wasn’t the man sitting in front of him with angry red knuckles and a faint southern drawl. Ethan Hatcher looked only vaguely like his decade-old mugshot. Chef did everything he could to hide the rage boiling inside of him. This couldn’t look personal.
Ethan stood and smiled, revealing perfect teeth. “I guess it doesn’t matter who you’re with. You’re a cop,” he stepped closer, “and you’re going to die before anyone figures out where you’ve gone,” and swung a Nike-clad foot at Chef’s chest. A loud crack announced the breaking of at least one rib. Chef screamed. Ethan knelt down, grabbed a handful of Chef’s hair, and pulled up, forcing eye contact. Through the haze of pain, it registered that Ethan had unfair good looks. “But first, you’re going to tell me how you found me.”
Blood and spit leaked from the corner of Chef’s mouth. “Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends.” He showed Ethan a full, bloody smile before a fist impacted it. The punch threw Chef’s head back into the wall. His vision blurred again. A thin, hot trail dragged down the back of his neck. “I take it you’re not a Beatles fan, then? The classics are lost on you kids, these days. It’s a real shame.” Mustering the breath to speak ached intensely, but he was rewarded with almost being able to hear Ethan’s teeth grinding.
He was also rewarded with another flurry of blows that left him dazed.
“How did you find me?” Ethan shouted, his voice frantic, almost afraid.
Chef didn’t answer, he couldn’t. Though his jaw worked, the words refused to form, either in his head or mouth. He panicked. Much more abuse could mean permanent damage. He became suddenly keenly aware of the blood streaming down his back. Forcing himself to slow his breath and relax his body was the most difficult thing he could remember ever having done, but it was no effort at all to let his head hang and rest his chin on his chest.
“Fuck!” Ethan kicked the bucket and stalked away.
Chef waited, listening to the filthy wood floor creaking beneath Ethan’s feet. He counted slowly, his eyes closed and body unmoving. One hundred, two hundred, three … . His count reached eight-hundred before the sounds of movement stopped, and still he waited before moving. If he were able to get himself free, it would be for nothing if he drew attention himself. So he waited. Tentatively, tried to open one eye, but couldn’t. He cursed silently, praying that his other eye would open.
It did, if only barely, and gave him his first opportunity to examine his surroundings. Chef sat on a shattered tile floor, his back to a stud in an exposed area of the wall, hands tied behind it. He sat between two rooms, kitchen on the left and living room on the right, like his own house had been, until he’d put up a wall to separate them, only Amberly would suffer a meltdown if a mess even vaguely resembling the one in this house were left. Empty bottles of bleach and other chemicals lay among food wrappers and half-empty Mountain Dew bottles in an orgy of filth. Trails of clean floor wound through the mess, seeming even to have been recently swept.
In the corner, a section of floor had been cleared out and a clean, white mattress lay on the floor with a short stack of books next to it. The spines were turned away from Chef, and it made him wonder all the more what kind of books this kind of bastard would read. He squeezed his eye shut, hating himself for having the thought. He shouldn’t care, and didn’t want to know.
The floor creaked in another part of the house.
Another creak, closer this time. Ethan was coming down the stairs. Chef panicked, tried to regulate his breathing, afraid that he was failing. His chin found his chest just as the man stomped around the corner. It was either that noises were louder in his panicked state, or Ethan just had a heavier gait than most.
“Oh, good, you’re awake.” Ethan said.
Chef’s body tensed, and unbidden, a surprised grunt fled Chef’s lips.
“What,” he said, righting the orange bucket. “Did you think I was stupid?”
“Heh. I guess I did.”
“You law types are all the same.” They were Skip’s words coming out of Ethan’s mouth. A chill raced through Chef. “I’m a little different than you, yes, but I ain’t stupid. I saw you curling up your lip at the place. I’ve been watching you.” He pointed to a potato chip bag with a little camera hidden inside among some chips. “Picked up that little gem while you were out. You can’t do anything without me seeing you.”
“So, it’s just you in this city, then?”
“I guess you would want to know that, wouldn’t you? I’m not going to tell you that, it’d ruin all of the fun.” Ethan bent down, picked up a two-by-four with a small splatter of blood on a short end, and stood. “I guess it really doesn’t matter, you’re not going to walk out of this house either way. You, though, you are still going to tell me how you found me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to kill you, but how soon you tell me is going to determine how quickly I do it.” He drove his point home with a kick to the ribs. “You won’t be the first cop I’ve killed, and you won’t be the last.” The two-by-four in Ethan’s hand found a spot to rest on Chef’s shoulder, tapping his cheek softly. “I have to give you credit, Officer, usually, cops fuck up in three ways, but as of right now, you’ve only got two.”
“The Beatles Sucked. And you parked just down the street.”
Chef looked up at Ethan, trying to keep the fear out of his eyes and knowing it was futile.
“But, I can’t have you awake while I go take a peek, can I?” Chef wasn’t conscious long enough to see the full swing of the two-by-four.