The war on terror knows no martyrs

The war on terror knows no martyrs

The war on terror knows no martyrs

Scott Hafier’s face was weary as he stepped into the bare room. He looked dejected, his shoulders were slack and there was something about his general demeanour and unkempt hair that spoke of a few sleepless nights. He retched slightly at the stench and blinked, standing in the doorway for a few seconds to allow some fresh air to enter the interrogation room, before shutting the door behind him. Rod Les did not look up. Scott was not sure he was conscious. Slumped forward in a small wooden chair, he was plainly held from falling over by the restraints that secured his wrists to the chair’s back. Matted hair covered his face, his clothes were torn in places and the front of his t-shirt was soaked in blood. His nose must have been broken. He had soiled himself and stank abominably.

“Jesus Christ, Rod…” murmured Hafier, advancing gingerly, trying to avoid the scattered pools of his best friend’s blood. Rod grunted “I thought they’d never let you…” he spoke as through mouthfuls of hot soup, drawing shallow, rasping breaths. His words were slurred and, as he looked up, Hafier could see that one of his incisors was missing. Blood had clotted in small, black lumps at the corners of his mouth.

“What have they done with Geoffrey?” he asked
“Rod….”
“They’ve killed him.”
“Rod, listen… ”
“They’ve killed him, haven’t they?”
“The officers responsible will be facing an enquiry….”
“What did they do to him? Tell me what they did to him!”
“I can’t be sure.”
“An enquiry…. my ass… beasts. Fucking beasts. Give me half a chance and I’ll gun them down one by one. Do you hear me you sick motherfucking swine?” He shouted at the closed door.

“For Christ’s sake, Rod!” Scott was finding it hard to keep a pleading note out of his voice “it was standard interrogation procedure!”
“Tell me about it….”
“He was a terrorist…”
Rod snorted with derisive laughter “And what am I, Scott?”
“You’re my best mate” Scott choked “And you’re a fucking moron” he finished in a hoarse whisper, angrily brushing a tear off his unshaven cheek.

Rod seemed to deflate. After a few moments he drew a deep sigh. “Are they giving you a rough time too?” He asked, nodding towards the door. Scott shrugged “they are asking questions, as they always do. They weren’t keen on letting me come to see you, I can tell you that much.”
“I bet they weren’t. Looks like I might have gone and screwed up your promotion prospects, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be daft.”

Scott stood and gently cupped Rod’ chin in his hand, tilting his head back towards the sickly light of a single neon plaque, right above them. Rod winced. “Good God” Scott whispered, delicately brushing back the greasy strands of Rod’s hair to reveal his bruised face. The left eye was swollen and completely closed, a shiny, purple golf ball resting at an odd angle over a clearly fractured cheekbone.
“If I had known they were gonna get me” Rod panted “I’d have given this back to you last week.”
“What are…”
“The t-shirt.” Rod attempted a smile through cracked lips, but it immediately turned into a pained grimace. Scott looked at Rod’s chest and recognised, through the large, black blood stain, the T-shirt Rod had borrowed the last time he had slept at his place. They had watched the match and drank their way through enough beer to stock a medium-sized bar. Too drunk to drive home, Rod had collapsed on Scott’s sofa for the night, and in the morning he had borrowed his grey Rolling Stones t-shirt. The red mouth was now barely distinguishable in the dim light, and the curve of the blood-stain grazing the cartoon-tongue looked vaguely obscene.

“Why, Rod?” The question had been hanging heavy in the stale air since Scott had stepped in.
“Can’t you guess?” Sighed the bound man, sounding suddenly far too old.
“For my life, no. No, I can’t. I don’t get it.”
“No” Rod smiled “You don’t.”
“You were supposed to infiltrate the rebels and pass information to the Department, not the other way round. How did this happen, Rod? How did we end up not being on the same side?”
“Because it was the wrong side and you know it.”
“I know no such thing!” hissed Scott. Tears were welling up in his eyes. “Look at yourself you thick sod! You’re gonna get yourself sent down to the camps for this!”
“Doesn’t that bother you, Scott?”
“‘course it bothers me!”
“And yet you are on their side. You’re still wearing a uniform, sergeant Hafier, and I bet you still have a lovely framed picture of our right honourable Chancellor hanging on your living room wall.”
“So do you, as I seem to remember…”
“So does everyone” Rod chortled “Are you saying you’re faking it too?”
“Stop it, Rod, Jesus Christ!” Scott said in a terrified whisper “Are you completely insane? I’m trying to help you for fuck’s sake!”
“Wanna help? Couldn’t untie me for five minutes, could you? I can’t feel my right arm. I won’t try and strangle you, I promise” he added, with a feeble attempt at bravado “couldn’t really, even if I wanted to. Your neck’s too bloody thick.”

Scott tried to laugh, but only managed a wet grunt. He squatted behind Rod’s back to examine his hands: they were tumescent and dark from the tight strap biting into the flesh of the wrists, stopping the blood flow. Rod’s fingertips were bloodied and he had no fingernails in his right hand. Scott guessed they must be scattered somewhere on the slushy floor, together with his missing tooth.

He stood up and walked to the door. As it opened, he exchanged a few hushed words with someone on the other side and went back to the chair, squatting again to work on Rod’s restraint. He slowly eased the strap open and supported Rod’s right arm, gently guiding it back to a more natural position, then he did the same with the left arm. Rod was looking at his misshapen and maimed hands, tentatively flexing the fingers and moaning softly from the pain of each movement.

“Here, let me.” offered Scott. He held his palms upwards and, once Rod’s palms were resting against his, he traced small circles on the back of his friend’s hands with his thumbs, working his way delicately up to the wrists, easing the blood back into the other man’s forearms until Rod had regained enough feeling to move his fingers.

“Do you reckon you can walk?” asked Scott.
“Dunno. Think I might have a few broken ribs. Why, wanna take me somewhere nice for dinner?”
“Rod, this is serious”
“No it isn’t, it’s a bloody farce, this is!”
“Let’s get you over there” said Scott, nodding in the direction of a filthy mattress in a corner of the room. He gently put Rod’s arm around his neck and helped him up carefully. Rod drew in a sharp breath and cursed aloud.
“How you could stand all this and not tell them anything is beyond me…” Scott mused, as he supported his friend’s shuffling steps towards the mattress.
“Not tell them anything? On the contrary, I told them all sorts. I told Gibson I was gonna fuck his mother’s head until her eyes popped out and I told Cruz he was welcome to sit on my big stiff cock since he was so obviously gagging for it. I think I was remarkably loquacious, all things considered.”
“No wonder they broke your ribs then, is it.”
“Not really, no. Geoffrey must have been more imaginative though…”
“Rod-”
“Why are you here?”

Scott didn’t answer. There were a few minutes of inarticulate grunts on both parts and involuntary moans from Rod as they negotiated the complex task of lowering a standing man with broken ribs and aching joints onto a mattress on the floor. When they had managed it, Rod let his head rest with a sigh of relief, closing his good eye, and Scott drew the chair closer, sitting across from him, so that he looked like a relative visiting a patient in a seriously sub-standard hospital.

“I will try and get you something to eat.” he said quietly.
“What for?” Rod asked, not a hint of sarcasm in his voice “I’d rather be faint and delirious when they come back to finish what they’ve started. And you didn’t answer my question. Why did you come here? Why did they let you?”
“I had to beg on my hands and knees, if that’s what you mean. ”
“But why though? What purpose can this possibly serve?”
“Why didn’t you tell me what was going on, Rod?” Scott asked, changing the subject.
“Why, what would you have done if I had, stopped me? Reported me? I was protecting you.”
“Protecting me…” he scoffed “If you had told me, I’d have talked some sense into you, just as I’m trying to do now.”
“I was under the impression you had come to say goodbye, although I’m still surprised they allowed it. I wasn’t aware they had a shred of humanity left in them.”
“Don’t!” Scott almost choked “I have no intention of saying goodbye, I will not stand back and watch as you get yourself killed!”
“Aren’t you? What are you gonna do, sling me over your shoulder and walk out of here?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. The Chancellor himself couldn’t do that to someone convicted for high treason, and he has power of life and death ov-”
“He doesn’t though, does he?” Rod cut across him.
“What?”
“He has no power of life and death. His thugs and his whole sodding Department got me in this hole and will break my neck in the next day or so, no doubt, so he does have the power of imparting death. But, as you rightly said, he allegedly couldn’t – should the mood take him – release and spare me, so he does not have the power to preserve life. There’s no power of life left in this world, Scott, we have driven it away.”
“This is not the time or the place for philosophy.”
“Oh but it is. When you’re caked in your own shit, with a few broken bones and bits of you scattered on the floor, you’ll find that philosophy is one of the precious few luxuries you can afford. It comes easy. Easier than football, say, or competitive sports, at any rate.”
“Will you be serious?” Scott snapped “How can you not be serious at a time like this?”
Rod opened his right eye and turned slowly to look up at Scott: “You’re wrong, you know.”
“About what?”
“They won’t send me to the camps. They can’t, lest I talk to other prisoners and word gets out that a junior officer has been helping the rebels, undermining the work of the whole Department. For the same reason, I can’t be publicly executed. It wouldn’t look good, it could give people ideas. It could raise hopes. I’ll be declared missing in action, that may actually already have happened…”
“That is… in fact… yes, that’s what they said.” mumbled Scott.
Rod continued without seeming to take any notice that the other had spoken “When they’re done with me, if my corpse has not yet been mashed to a pulp, they’ll dress it up in a uniform and put it in a coffin for my mother to cry over. If I look too much like someone who’s been tortured by skilled professionals, they’ll do the same thing, with an urn instead of a coffin. I’ll probably get a medal and in either case my family will have acquired a hero. They might even get a small pension out of it. Either way, this is likely to be the last time we ever see each other, so I suggest we try and make it pleasant, as we both know there’s nothing you can do to get me out of here alive.” He finished and closed his eye again. It looked like the sheer effort of speaking had drained the last of his energy, leaving him exhausted and out of breath.

Scott leaned over and ran the back of his fingers very softly across Rod’s bruised cheek. This was not at all usual, it wasn’t part of the acknowledged grammar of their relationship and Rod’s eye snapped open at the touch.

“Man, I must look like I’ve got about three seconds to live.” he commented with what, on a normal face, would have been a smirk.
“You could still walk out of here, Rod” Scott pressed on, now pleading in earnest “please…”
“Fat chance. ”
“Just give them what they want. You can’t win on this one, you know.”

Rod sighed. Then, with excruciatingly slow movements, he raised the upper part of his body and shifted onto one side, resting on his right elbow, his face almost level with Scott’s. He spoke in a low, menacing hiss “If that’s what you’ve come for, I think you should leave now. I can bear to be disgraced in my best friend’s eyes, but I can’t bear the reverse. Don’t be a part of this, Scott. Get out. Now.”

Scott’s face contorted in a pained expression and he bit his lip.
“I’m just trying to save your life. ”
“You’d rather I despised my life then?”
“For fuck’s sake Rod!” Scott cried in exasperation “I feel like I don’t know you anymore! They’d let you go in exchange for a couple of names and yet you’d rather do this! This!” he gestured impatiently at Rod’s distorted features “to your family… to me…”
“They’re my friends and my comrades, Scott.”
“I thought I was your friend.”
“You are. And I would do the same thing for you, if your life was at stake. But it isn’t. Someone else’s life is.”

They were silent for several minutes.

“I don’t know how certain you are that you’re on the right side, Scott” said Rod, as his friend buried his face in his hands “I don’t even know how much thought you have given it. But this can’t last. I will not ask you to share my beliefs, especially not in a room packed with microphones and cameras, but this is the way I’ve decided to go.” He stared, unseeing, for a few seconds.

“Microphones.” He shook his head “That’s how they got me. They had dozens planted in my house. They made me listen to the recordings. They go back five years. Five fucking years. And I never knew.”

There were three loud knocks on the metal door, then an impersonal voice rang through the intercom “Sergeant Scott Phileas Hafier, your visiting time is up. Please step away from the prisoner and be ready to leave interrogation room 9. Prisoner Rodrick Hans Les, stand against the wall with your hands on your head.”

Scott complied. Rod struggled for a full minute to obey the order. The door opened and two armed officers stepped in, either side of it, which was the signal for Scott to leave the room. He looked cross.

“One last thing, Scott…” Rod began “Prisoner Les!” barked one of the officers, training his gun on Rod’s head. Scott raised an apologetic hand and motioned for Rod to continue “How did you know?”
“How did I know what?”
“How did you know I was here. How did you know I was not missing in action.”

Scott seemed to consider this for a moment. Then he shrugged “I saw you as they brought you in, three nights ago. I was working late, I saw you being dragged down cell-block G. You were unconscious.”
“So I was…” murmured Rod, looking at his feet. A single tear squeezed out of his swollen eye and landed with an audible tick on the dirty floor.

***

“I really don’t see why you should be complaining, Sergeant Hafier. Or – I should say – Inspector Hafier” Colonel Shipwright, head of the Intelligence & Information Department, took off his glasses and polished them with a tissue, without looking up from the tidy stack of papers that sat on his desk.
“You got your promotion. I should have thought a celebration was in order.”
“I do not believe, sir” Scott was straining to contain his anger “that my efforts were adequately rewarded, given the… circumstances.”

Shipwright looked up with a supremely bored expression. Scott was being made to feel like a petulant child and he hated it. The Colonel spoke.

“And what circumstances would those be?”
“He is getting a medal. You are giving a medal to a terrorist. And what of the man who brought him to you? What does he get for his trouble?” He advanced and placed both hands on the desk, only to retract them hastily when Shipwright shot him a withering look.
“You got promoted, Inspector Hafier, is that not enough?”
“With respect, sir, I would have been promoted anyway with two more years of service. I do believe that the time I devoted to this operation and the risks I ran deserve more than the rank of Inspector.” he spat out the last word in mild disgust “Given that the traitor I smoked out of my own division is getting a medal.”
“You know full well, Inspector, that this particular aspect of the operation has to be carried out for the sake of appearances. I assure you I no more want to give that criminal a medal than you do. You should know, however, that your dedication did not go unnoticed: the Chancellor himself commends your work and sends you his best regards. I hardly need to point out, though, that the last part of the operation did not live up to the Department’s expectations.”

Scott stood to attention and saluted at the mention of the Chancellor, but he was not deterred.

“I fail to see, sir, why I should be to blame on that particular account.” He said, in what he hoped was a dignified tone.
“Oh you do, don’t you Inspector?” The Colonel managed to make the rank sound like an insult “Shall I remind you that neither of the terrorists you contributed in apprehending provided us with any valuable information on the whereabouts of the rebels’ headquarters? Part of the point of your whole undercover operation was to allow you to gain information that could not be extracted under duress. Not only did he not confide in you when he thought you were his friend, he might even have worked out that you had turned him in when you interrogated him!” He finished, bringing a massive fist down on the desk in time with the last four words.
“All the same, sir” Scott was horrified to hear a distinct quiver in his own voice “Every single bit of information the Department gained in this operation can be traced back to me, for personally bugging the subject’s house, his car, even his bloody garden shed!”
“Language, Hafier!” Shipwright snapped.
“I apologise, sir.”
“Oh well” Shipwright cut across him impatiently, rooting in the right-hand drawer of his desk and producing a form, on which he scribbled quickly before pushing it across to Scott “How about that, then… Chief Inspector Hafier?”

Scott picked up the slip and read it carefully. “Thank you, Colonel.” He saluted and left the room.

He got home slightly tipsy that evening, humming the opening bars of I can’t help falling in love with you. His wife later remarked on several occasions that he had never made love to her with such passion and gusto before or since.

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