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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Chapter 16 - Another Prisoner

What do you mean Jonathan's not locked up in solitary confinement?  So the idiot's too stupid to have figured out an escape plan, and then he's too boring to have gotten himself properly locked up?  What the hell kind of story is this?  One of those "good guy gets unfairly imprisoned, the court reconvenes, and then everyone goes home happily ever after"?  I mean, shit, he's not even trying to save the girl or his army buddies.  I mean, if I was the author, I'd have this protagonist shot.  And I don't mean in the leg.

16 – The New Girl

                Three days passed.  They had fallen into this strange place on the eighth of June – now it was the eleventh.  He had lost track of how often the guards lighted the torches and how often they snuffed them out – maybe it was five of their days, maybe four.  It didn’t matter.  He was tired.  His joints ached.  And he was supposed to feel bad about leaving his unit behind and getting captured.  But he didn’t.  Not enough, at least.  For the most part he was bored.  Like his brains were dripping out through this eyeballs with every moment he stared down at the floor stones.  So he spent most of his time on his back, with his eyes on the ceiling.  It somehow relieved the strain on his eyes.  And he pretended that his skull could better hold in his brain this way, like a bucket holding water.  Or, in this case, his sanity.
                But then the guards brought him a companion.  Two of the younger ones walked up with their crossbows cocked and ready.  They walked up so softly as to catch Jonathan by surprise – he sat up in a start at the sight of them.  They couldn’t have been much older than sixteen.  They came forward on their tiptoes as if hunting some kind of wild game – the one on the right shook noticeably as he aimed through the bars with his crossbow.  It occurred to Jonathan that he should have been afraid, but the two of them seemed just too ludicrous.
                “It’s all right,” he said, “I don’t bite.”
                This just made the two guards more nervous.  They startled easily as the old chief guard sauntered up from behind them.  He made some loud comment in that weird language – clearly half in jest, judging by the chuckle – and the two men averted their eyes.  It was pretty clear that these were the new guys – even by the flickering yellow firelight of the wall sconces, he could make out the bright sheen of new fabric.  Their helmets were polished and shiny – a stark contrast to the weathered helm tipped back on the old chief’s head.
                Jonathan was so busy watching these details that he almost missed the fourth visitor entirely.  The guard chief had a young woman in tow.  He pulled her along by a slender silver chain secured around her wrists, and she followed with her head down.  Jonathan’s first thought was that it might be the Iraqi, but it wasn’t.  This girl had blond hair, and she was too tall and gawky to match the quick strides of the girl in black.
                As the underlings aimed their crossbows through the bars to either side, their chief flipped through the ring of keys clipped to the thick leather belt that hung from his waist.  He apparently didn’t know which key opened Jonathan’s cell.  After what must have been a half-dozen tries, he found one that fit the lock.  He wiggled it into place, twisted the latch, and then pulled open the door.  The hinges squealed with the weight of the bars.  Jonathan shifted his weight forward, half thinking he might push his way out, but the underlings with the crossbows both jerked forward at his first movement.  He looked from one to the other of the two men, staring at the fear in their eyes.  They weren’t just twitchy – they were afraid.  And he had no idea how much of a squeeze it took to set off a crossbow – he knew only how much it hurt to have a shaft of wood impaled through him.
                The old guard gestured for the girl to hold up her hands and then unfastened the silver chain from around her wrists.  He gave her some directions under his breath, and she quietly stepped into the cell.  She offered Jonathan a wan smile as the door clanged shut behind her and the bolt thunked back into place.
                The two subordinates relaxed almost immediately.  Jonathan could almost hear them exhale as they lowered their crossbows.  Moving carefully – as if still working with unpracticed fingers – the two guards reached back to the bowstrings and pulled up to release the tension.  The older guard rolled his eyes as one of the young men dropped his crossbow.  He made some comment – something that drew a thin laugh from the younger men – and then took the two men by the shoulders and to steer them back to the dungeon’s entrance.
                Then Jonathan looked to his guest, the girl.  He offered a smile, and she curtsied.  It was a such a strange thing to do, and he felt rather strange accepting a curtsy while sitting on a dirty stone floor.  He wasn’t even properly dressed – his boots were in the corner, his desert top was balled into a pillow, and he hadn’t had a shower in over a week.  Oh well – it wasn’t like he was welcoming her to the Waldorf Astoria or anything.
                He decided to start with the basics.  He thumped his chest with his thumb.  “Jonathan,” he said.  He repeated.  Then he pointed to her, hoping to learn her name.  He should have done that with the Iraqi – Suha – but he’d been too busy trying to keep his head that he’d forgotten his wits.
                The girl leaned back against the bars.  Jonathan guessed that she hadn’t understood him, and he thought about repeated himself.  But he figured it could wait – they were, after all, locked in a cell together.  Besides, she looked worn out – she had the taught face and arms of someone accustomed to work, but it was hard to tell anything more than that.  Her dress pretty well covered the rest of her – a dark gray frock, a pale orange-or-lemon apron, thick sleeves down to her elbows, and the creased hints of still more layers beneath.  There was the faint thought of what she looked like under all that, but Jonathan tried not to think about it.  Which is another way of saying that it was all he could think about.  They were, after all, locked in a cell together.
                The girl rolled her head from side to side.  She reached back as if to rub a crick from her neck.  Judging by the rings around her eyes, she was probably exhausted.  Maybe she’d even gone a few days without sleep.  For all Jonathan knew, she was really just there to trick him into falling in love so she could better interrogate him.
                He thought about that again.  Yep – she was there to interrogate him.  There was no way they’d lock him up in a dungeon just to set up conjugal visits – that was clear enough.  So he tried to think of some way to hate her.  And that was hard.  For the longer she kept quiet, the harder and harder it was to imagine some hint of ill will about her.  She did, after all, seem more nervous than menacing.
                “Mitchell, Jonathan S.,” he said, remembering the Geneva Conventions.  Because yes, he was a prisoner, and what else did he have to go on?  “I’m a private first class,” he said.  He almost gave his “serial number,” but that still didn’t feel right.  It was a his Social Security Number, for Chrissakes – he wasn’t going to just give that out on a whim.  Even if this was some alternate dimension where the dragons outnumbered Visa.
                Then the girl looked up at him.  “You aren’t from Vancouver, by chance, are you?”
                Jonathan blinked.  “Vancouver?”
                She nodded.  “My hometown,” she said.  “One-in-a-million shot, I know, but you aren’t familiar with King David High, are you?”
                Jonathan brought his hands up into his lap.  This was like no interrogation he’d ever heard of.  “I’m afraid I don’t follow.”
                “Are you at least from Canada?” she asked.  “Or Jewish?  Maybe you’ve heard of Rabbi Fischer?  He’s published  few books.”
                The girl looked expectant, and Jonathan didn’t know what to say.  He found himself scooting ever so carefully back – at least until he was up against the rear wall of the cell.
                “Who…who are you?” he asked.
                The girl shook her head.  She slowly crossed her feet and then lowered herself Indian-style to the floor.  “It was worth a try,” she said, holding out her hand.  “It’s Mira.  Mira Miranda.  And yes, my parents have a sick sense of humor.”

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