A voice thundered from the dark, “Paulie! You’re awake.”
The voice sounded happy. Paulie banged his head against the wall again as he jumped. He felt himself slide inside his soiled pants. The voice sounded mask-muffled.
Happy voice is a good thing, right? Happy means good, Paulie thought. Happy is happy is happy.
The voice in his head was a question and had no backbone of reassurance. The yellow light in the room felt darker as he tried to see through into the other side.
A large man stepped into the yellow spotlight. Paule put him at six feet tall and weight-lifter thick. The combination of the size, the gloves, and the ski mask scared Paulie. Ropes and the chain ate into his ankles as he tried to back away. His chair held firm.
The big man stood there but was a blur. Looking at another human, Paulie noticed how bad his eyes were. The right eye was definitely fucked. The big man stood there and Paulie saw there was no humor in his demeanor and he desperately wanted to know how he’d gotten tied to the chair in that dark and cold room.
“You look scared, Paulie,” the big man said. “Hope you don’t mind me being so formal.”
Paulie shivered with fear, a tremor through his body that ended with a jolt in his shoulders. The back of his head hit the wall again. His tongue got caught on a jagged tooth as his teeth clamped shut. He tasted fresh blood.
The big man stood and stared. His sleeves were rolled up and he adjusted his gloves as those eyes behind the mask stayed on Paulie. The big man stepped to the right and looked Paulie up and down.
The eye scan brought out pain through his body. Memories were still gone, but he knew it had been a rough trip to the chair. The big man was enjoying the results.
Is this my chair? Paulie thought. Oh, fuck, did they tie me up in my chair?
Paulie struggled and blood exploded from his mouth as he tried to speak. His lips smacked sticky. The big man became a body-blur in the dirty yellow light as Paulie shook his head and wanted to scream.
Is this what all of the girls felt like?
The big man laughed.
He walked to the other side of the lit room and laughed and stared at Paulie. He wondered if the big man could read his mind.
“Don’t try to talk, kid,” the big man said. “Your jaw is broken. They said your ribs are broken. Bet it hurts like a mother fucker to move around.”
Paulie shifted in his seat and got piss//shit smell and pain. He couldn’t stop tonguing his broken teeth.
“When they let me in here four days ago, I thought for sure you were a pussy. I got myself all pissed off and nervous because I thought I’d never get my chance to talk to you.”
Paulie’s good eye went wide as he looked past the big man into the dark. He had appeared out of nowhere. Who else was in the room?
The big man caught on. “Don’t worry, it’s just you and me here. The deal I made was they get you first. Last four days they’ve been beating your ass pretty good. But you made it and I want to thank you.”
Confusion mixed into the blur of Paulie’s mind. Thank me?
The big man reached up with a gloved hand and pulled off his ski mask. His cheeks were red and sweat-soaked hair was matted to his forehead. The eyes were the same.
Paulie had never seen the man before, he was sure of it.
Nate watched Paulie eyeball him and try to make a connection. Nate watched the confusion in the fucker’s eyes and watched him shake his head when he came to the conclusion that he was sitting in front of a stranger.
Nate smiled. He balled both hands into fists as Paulie squirmed. He ignored the smell and focused on the man. Nate’s own pain was his focus and driving force. His pain was his will to live and it had brought the two men together.
“I’m not a rich man, Paulie,” Nate said. “Not one bit and this setup ain’t cheap, let me tell you. After what you did, the wife and I got divorced. When I found out about this, I sold my apartment and my car. I had a little bit of savings and a 401K. I cashed it all out and paid for this.”
Paulie didn’t understand. Nate smiled.
“Looking at you chained to that chair, it was worth every penny.”
Nate took a step forward and Paulie squirmed and cringed. The big man smiled. He was glad the bastard was suffering. Originally, he wanted to do it all, but the rules were the rules. He was getting what he paid for and it was damn near perfect.
“You really don’t know me,” Nate said. “I get it. You keep busy, probably too busy to watch TV. Maybe you only follow the news on your phone. The people who set this up broke into your phone, by the way. They told me what kind of pictures you had in there.”
Paulie shivered and Nate balled his fists and his knuckles cracked inside the gloves. They wouldn’t let him see the pictures. That was part of the contract and was fine. He was going to tell them that. But when this was over, the phone was going to find its way to the police. Paulie had friends, and they needed to be dealt with.
“I’m Nate Waldo.”
Nate smiled and leaned forward and turned his head to hear Paulie as sounds that resembled words came out of his mouth. The prick nearly pulled the bolts from the floor when he bucked at the name. It didn’t matter what he said or was trying to say, the reaction was everything Nate had hoped for.
“You look pretty fucked in the head,” Nate said. “Do you even remember the beatings? Four days? Dig deep, Paulie. Think hard.”
Nate watched him stare into the blackness of the room. The man had to be brain damaged by now, but he tried and tried to think. Every few seconds Paulie winced and Nate hoped that was one of the memories coming back of the last four days.
“I got no questions for you,” Nate said. “I know they’ll never find her. Especially after the past few days.”
Paulie shook his head, pleading. His swollen and broken lips were moving. Nate knew he was trying to ask for help. Begging for his life.
“This isn’t entirely about the girls,” Nate said. “You can stop trying to talk. Even if your ugly mouth could make words, I wouldn’t listen. I don’t even want to ask you any questions. Clearly, you’re having trouble remembering, but you’ve been asked hundreds of questions over the past four days.”
There was a flash of recognition that went over Paulie’s bruised face. Nate caught it and smiled.
“You’re getting it back?”
Paulie stared at his lap and began to cry. Blood-soaked tears dropped onto his soiled pants.
“Ooohhhhhh yeah,” Nate said. “This is good. It’s all coming back to you.”
Snot mixed with blood ran down Paulie’s face. He sat up in his seat and twitched from the pain. He clenched his broken teeth and tried to scream.
“Eighteen years,” Nate said. “More than a lifetime for my girl, you know that? She was one of the first, I know that now. The other parents, they got most of their questions answered. Look at you. They got answers with their fists and their chains and their bats. They told me everything.”
Paulie shook his head, trying to deny Nate. Nate took a step forward and Paulie looked at his fists and stopped shaking his head.
“I’m glad you’re not dead,” Nate said. “I didn’t care if you lived or died, but it’s better for me this way. You gave some parents a little bit of closure, Paulie. Nothing will bring our kids back, but beating you bloody really gave them something they didn’t know they needed.”
Nate watched Paulie, gauging his reactions. He wanted to count every bruise and every cut on the bastard’s body.
“I’m glad I got to give that to them. And you know what? For the first time in eighteen years, I managed to get a restful sleep.” Nate laughed. “I feel great. I owe that all to you, buddy.”
Check back for the final part of Closure (We all Need It)