An excerpt from TORTURED TRUTHS
The first Philip McGuire mystery by Randy Attwood
I could feel the car turning a corner, the centrifugal force smashing my face flat against the side of the dirty pillowcase tied over my head.
"Israel never rule us. We kill everyone first. You tell America," the interpreter's voice scolded me.
My hand had stopped throbbing and that worried me. It was strange. Suddenly, I missed the pain, when all my pleas to God before had been for the pain to be gone. Now, I was worried about its absence.
"Jews ruin America. You should never let them in. Take over everything. Zionism. In their stinking blood. Only way stop them by kill them. You tell America," the interpreter said, only he wasn't interpreting for anybody, just spouting the general Hezbollah philosophy.
I wanted to say something cute like "fuck you," but that might jeopardize my release. I didn't have much courage left. In fact, I didn't have any courage left. My supply had been exhausted in shockingly short order.
The car stopped. The hood was taken off my head. The bright sun of Beirut blinded me. My pupils squeezed tight. My eyes adjusted a little by the time my good hand was untied from the interior car door handle. My captors had the back door open and were pulling me out of the car. I looked again at the face of the son-of-a-bitch, the one they called Mohammed, who had taken so much joy looking into my eyes while the cutter had done his work on my hand, the hand now wrapped in the dirty napkin as I held it high against my heart. I looked at that motherfucker's face and felt the hope that hate gives. The hope that I'd see that face again and have a fair chance to get even. Fuck that. Have an unfair chance. Have any chance to get even. You and me someday, Mohammed. Give me that, God, I prayed. But God hadn't answered any of my prayers lately. Maybe I'd be due someday.
"Cab take you embassy. Go." The interpreter said and pointed to the cab parked in front of us.
Outside, the basic stench of Beirut assaulted my nostrils. Cordite. Maybe left over from the big explosion that woke me up.
Mohammed, his goon friend and the interpreter didn't say goodbye. They got back in their car, reversed it away from the cab they had put me in, pulled out into the street, and were gone.
In the back seat of the cab, I kept still, trying to suppress the relief of being released. It still could all be some sort of a trick, another sort of torture. Maybe the cab would drive me right back into captivity. Right back to the laughing face of Mohammed. But soon the roadblocks built around the embassy came into view and I could see Marine guards in combat fatigues. The cab stopped.
"Go no more close. Get out here. You give tip?" he asked, looking back at me, extending his hand. On his face was a grin acknowledging that what the mouth just asked was outrageous. But what did he have to lose?
Outside the cab, I finally felt safe. The Marines were in sight so courage returned. I took the time to walk to his window. He moved his hand out that window, the grin growing larger, amazed that maybe the crazy American just might give him a tip. I leaned towards him to spit in his face, but my mouth was too dry.
I did manage to say "fuck you," before I walked unsteadily towards the guards.
The embassy was a fortified compound. Weapons were at ready, guards thick as gnats in a swamp. Their faces were haggard and as I stumbled towards them, I heard the clicks of machine guns switching to the ready position.
"My name is Phillip McGuire. The Hezbollah have just released me."
"Yeah?" one of the Marines asked.
"Yeah," I responded.
I thought he looked at me as though he knew all about what I had done and was guilty for the death of all his comrades and deserved to be shot where I stood. Couldn't blame him. I felt that way myself.
"Just a minute."
He picked up a field telephone, spoke briefly.
"Foreign officer coming. Wait here."
If I had to wait much longer, I'd be waiting flat on my back. The guard's face was starting to sway and my hand was beginning to throb again. Odd, that pain can be welcome.
Then I saw Ben Johnson trotting my way. He recognized me at once.
"Phil! Christ, you all right?"
"Free. Alive. It's a start."
"What's with the hand?"
"It'll need looking at."
"Let's get you to the dispensary."
"Ben, could we get me a cold beer first?"
"You bet. I'll tap the Ambassador's private supply."
The beer hit my tongue and throat and life bloomed again inside my desiccated heart. That swig did me more good than all the drugs they pumped in me later. I finished drinking as we walked to the dispensary where they laid me down on a cot. A nurse poked a needle in my arm.
I woke up in a field hospital where a doctor soldier informed me they had to remove the thumb, middle, and ring fingers of the left hand. Gangrene had set in. I needed a good hand surgeon, which they didn't have, so they were shipping me out to Wiesbaden, Germany. Drugs again and I was out.
When I came to again, I was on a plane. I was pretty sure I had seen the guy sitting beside my cot in the hallways of the embassy. My head was pretty clear and I didn't feel pain in my hand. I wondered what combination of drugs created that effect. Wonderful effect. I wanted more.
My hand was wrapped to my chest.
The man introduced himself as Bob. No last name. He said he was from the CIA and would start my debriefing. "Any idea why they nabbed you?" he asked.
"Visited the Marine barracks for story." I said. Boy, drugs made speech pretty blurry. That was okay. Mind was still clear. "They wanted to know the layout."
"And you told them?"
Easier to nod the head up and down than talk. Mind not so clear after all. Really didn't like, mind not being clear, not clear at all.
It felt like my hand had been glued to my chest.
"Before they released me they made me watch the news reports over and over again."
"Two hundred thirty seven Marine deaths," Bob commented.
"Mohammed laughed as I watched the reports and said: "tank you, tank you. Mister McGuire."
"Don't blame yourself. Security was shit there. Letting you tour the place is proof. We tried to warn them, but they wouldn't listen. Layout could have been learned a dozen ways, and probably was. Yours was just one."
"Think so?" I managed to say before the airplane started spinning around. I wanted to believe him. Wanted oblivion more. It came. Oblivion is so nice, especially on an airplane spinning around. Nicey, nicey. Tank you, tank you.
The next time I woke up the hand hurt again, but my mind was clear. I wished I could have another shot of whatever they had given me before, because what was also clear as hell to me was that when I tried to move my hand it felt like what was left of my thumb was stuck to my chest.
I was still on the airplane. CIA Bob was still beside me. Some time had passed because his jaw showed stubble.
"Now, how about some descriptions? Did you hear any names mentioned, other than Mohammed? Get any idea where they held you?"
"Why the hell does it feel like what's left of my thumb is stuck to my chest?" I asked instead.
"Didn't they explain? They're going to try some reconstruction surgery on your hand and they need the skin flap from your chest. They've sewed your thumb stump to your chest. Amazing what they can do these days.
"Now, about those descriptions. It's really important to us."
Obviously more important than my thumb.
I started with Mohammed. And remembering and telling everything helped me to keep my mind off my hand. It also let my mind complete some thoughts I had begun in captivity.
A bottom line conclusion was printed in Second Coming type. The pain in my hand underlined it: I was getting the hell out of journalism. I had had enough. I was quitting. I was a quitter. So what? Fuck you.
Dr. Jack Winkler, a young blond surgeon at Wiesbaden, was enthusiastic after his examination of my hand with the stub of my thumb sewn to a skin flap still attached to my chest.
"Good work. The amputation is well done. So here's the deal. You've still got your little finger, index finger, and the lower joint of the thumb. That's really great. We won't have to use a whole toe to make a thumb.
"Here's what we do," he sat down on a stool and scooted next to me, pointing at the digits as he spoke. "We take part of the second toe of your left foot and implant it for a thumb, and then we'll move your little finger over as your ring finger, because sticking there," he pointed at my little finger, "all alone won't do you much good. Better to have a companion for the remaining index finger. Most importantly, you'll have grasp and pincer movements. Cosmetically, it should be quite acceptable."
"Shall we go ahead and set this all up?" He asked and you had to see the smile to understand the confidence the young man had in himself and make you believe it would be the best course for you, too.
"Sure, why not."
"We'll let you heal a bit first. A week or so. See how it goes. We'll pump more antibiotics into you," he said scribbling notes on a chart. "Call the nurse for a pain shot if the pain gets unbearable. I know it's uncomfortable having your thumb stump sewn to your chest. If you've ever wondered if there was an evolutionary advantage to having a hairless chest, now you know.
"We're going to need that chest skin. You're lucky. Your hand will look pretty decent, not like some of the messes I've had to deal with. Tomorrow we're working on a guy who lost his whole hand. We're going to try the Krukenberg Operation. It was first developed fjust after World War I. You divide the bones in the forearm, cover the stump with skin and given them an active pincer with sensitive skin. You sort of turn the forearm into an appendage that looks like a toothless Moray eel. See you later."
And damned if he didn't whistle on his way out the door. Surgeons love to cut. Makes 'em happy. They whistle when they're happy.
Mohammed's cutter was whistler, too.