By PB DeBerry
with Joseph Simmons
Nate Waldo, he’d made it to his mid-sixties. Somehow he’d made it through all of the miserable years, gotten through it. Gotten through the pain that had brought him to that dark room.
He stood in the dark watching the man in the chair. Waldo’s life had been miserable for a long time. That day, though, that way was the greatest day of his miserable life.
Paulie’s tongue worked around inside his mouth in slow motion. His tongue wouldn’t work right. His brain was telling him it to move but it was a beat behind. And his face was numb. There was no strength in his neck. When he tried to lift his head it felt like it weighed a ton. A big rock on a neck that didn’t work. Willpower was the only thing keeping it from falling forward, then backward, even though he hit the wall a few times. And each time he hit the wall, he remembered that he’d forgotten there was a wall behind him. His arms and legs were raw and burning from struggling to free himself against the rope and chains that bound him to the chair that was chained to the wall…
The room he was in, the room where he was tied up, kept a prisoner, was cold. It was cold and smelled like shit and piss. He tried to shift his position and felt his jeans rub against him, and felt something in the seat of his pants. In his daze, in the haze of his brain, he knew the smell was him. To smell like that he would have to have been there for days.
Days, have I been here days, Paulie thought. The voice in his head sounded like his but he wasn’t sure. Part of him wasn’t sure if he’d said it out loud and that scared him as his slow-motion tongue felt a chunk of flesh inside his cheek that was ripped. Then it caught the corner of a broken tooth and he wanted to wince but couldn’t, all he could do was feel the pain and lob his head around, staring at nothing.
“Paulie! You’re awake,” came a cry from the darkness. “I was getting worried.” The voice was happy. Happy meant, good, right? Paulie’s mind was cloudy.
A light bulb in the center of the room clicked on, burning Paulie’s good eye as he tried to focus. The other eye couldn’t help, but he tried to open it anyway. No use. That eye was closed forever.
The man who owned the voice was standing in the center of the room, his sleeves rolled up, his hands in his pockets. Everything was color and memory, he couldn’t make out any other features, the man was too far away for his blurry vision to see. The room was small, a square made of bricks with a door opposite where Paulie was tied up, a drain to his left and a bare, bright light bulb on a chain overhead.
Paulie struggled and picked up his head. He tried to beg and ask for forgiveness. Instead of words, blood exploded from his mouth as he tried to speak. The blood was hot on his lips that felt too big, swollen. He had a memory flash of inflicting the kind of damage he was feeling on other people and it scared him. He wondered if he should ask God for forgiveness.
The man laughed. Paulie wondered if he could read his mind. Could people do that, or was that only in the movies?
“Oh, shit! Don’t try to talk kid. Your jaw is broken! I’m sure your lungs are punctured, too. I’m a little surprised you’re still alive. When I walked in here a few days ago I thought for sure you were a pussy, I’d never get the chance to talk to you again. For the last four days, they’ve been kicking your shit pretty hard. But you made it and I want to thank you.”
The man was smiling, Paulie could see a blur that was his white teeth on a big pink face.
Thank me, Paulie thought. He wants to thank me?
The combination of the lighting and Paulie’s poor vision made it impossible for him to see the man, to make out any details. The man knew this and stepped forward, but was still nothing more than a blur.
The man reintroduced himself as Nate Waldo. The voice and the name clicked, opened a memory bank in Paulie’s head. He knew him. He shivered and spasmed when he remembered being picked up then thrown in the room. Some of the haze was gone and it terrified him. The tears he felt streaming from his good eye confirmed that he would have rather stayed in the dark.
Nate Waldo was a man Paulie hadn’t met before. Never heard the name until the man said it himself in that very room, before the beatings began. He wasn’t like the others, never tried to hurt Paulie or ask questions about the missing girls. More memories coming back, his days of tortured captivity were starting to unfurl.
No, Waldo claimed it had nothing to with the missing girls. Well, not entirely. Nate Waldo patted Paulie on the head after he’d been picked up and put into the room, tied and chained to the wall and said he would be back in a few days.
Try not to die, Waldo said. Try not to die. Then the men came in with their fists and their pipes and their bats and their boards and their chains and their questions. Paulie managed to not die and Nate Waldo returned as he promised.
“Thanks to you, you have made a lot of people very happy. Probably the happiest they have been in many years,” Waldo said. “For the first time in eighteen years, I managed to get a restful sleep. Shit did it feel great! I owe it all to you, buddy.”
Nate Waldo leaned into Paulie and hoped he could see his face. His good eye looked pretty bad, the pupil was huge, the whites full of blood. Waldo ignored the smell of the man’s waste and stared at him, stared into him, wanting him to know exactly who he was talking to.
“This is all very good news, Paulie,” Waldo said, “You will dead and all those poor parents will have closure.”
Nate pushed hard down on Paulie’s chest. Where it should have been solid, strong bones holding him together, it was jagged fragments that were loose under the skin. Waldo smiled as Paulie tried to scream. He didn’t mind the blood that sprayed on his arms and clothes from his broken mouth.
“You’re doing a good thing for these people, Paulie. Families are desperate for closure for this sort of things, the things you do.”
Waldo got up to walk out of the room, took two steps toward the door and stopped under the light. Paulie looked up at him. The man was glowing, his white shirt reflecting the light in the poorly lit brick room like a beacon.
“If I had closure for my little baby,” Waldo said, “If I had my closure, neither one of us would be here right now.”
Waldo paused. Paulie was glad he couldn’t see his face. “Well, I wouldn’t be here.”
“You are a sick motherfucker! And I mean that very literally. The stories your poor mother told me before I killed her. Goodness!”
Paulie knew it was hopeless but tried to free himself for the millionth time. The chair he was restrained in was chained to the wall and bolted to the floor, no chance it would ever move. Not that he could move very much anyway. What felt like a struggle to Paulie looked like a man wiggling back and forth to Nate.
Paulie couldn’t escape, Nate Waldo knew this. That’s how the whole setup was designed. He knew the little room was Paulie’s tomb.
Nate Waldo put his hand on the doorknob and turned back one last time to the slowly dying Paulie. “There is one more group that would like to say their goodbyes.”
Paulie watched Waldo reach into his pocket and pull out a knit stocking hat, then pull it on. Waldo smiled at him, he could see the white teeth on the blurry pink face before the hat became a mask and covered.
He jumped, the broken bones in his chest and side digging into flesh, as the bright light clicked off before the door clicked shut.
Masked, Nate Waldo left the room and walked through the corridor full of doors on both sides similar to the one he just exited. He went around a sharp corner and stepped into a larger room.
On a bench was a couple, their appearances hidden behind masks. They rose to their feet, the woman holding a baseball bat tightly in her grip as the man reached for a gas can. Their hands were shaking but they did not hesitate as Waldo spoke one word, the room number where they could find Paulie.
Waldo took his mask off and waited as he heard the hesitant footsteps click down the corridor, then stop. A moment later, the door opened. He heard the woman scream something unintelligible and a noise from the man before the door slammed shut.