By: Jared Ford
"Stand up and place your back against the wall!" a voice shouted through the small slot being held open at the bottom of my cell door, flooding the tiny room with light.
"Fuck you!" I screamed, or at least, I tried to scream. My voice was so hoarse at this point it was hardly audible. I have no idea whats going on, where I'm at, or who the owner of that voice was... but I was pretty sure "fuck you" was the appropriate response.
"Stand with your back against the wall or you can skip another meal," the voice replied. I felt the saliva pooling in my mouth at the thought of food. Pavlov would've been proud to see such an instantaneous result. I wanted to resist, to scream, to growl and gnash at my visitor but I knew it was futile. It hadn't made a difference these past...24 hours? 72? Shit, it could be a week for all I knew. I drifted in and out of consciousness with such regularity, I couldn't tell dream from reality, much less the passing of time. What I did know is that I was hungry. Very hungry. I was weak. Very weak.
I lifted myself to my knees, palms to the cold concrete. I pushed my weight up but my arms gave out and my head smacked to the floor with a thud. The only light was what streamed through the open slot but suddenly my entire field of vision was awash in bright yellow. I rolled on the floor groaning, cradling my head in my hands. There was some murmuring outside and then the metallic sound of bolts sliding on steel.
"He's still sedated. He shouldn't give you any problems."
The door opened and sunlight fully illuminated my cell for the first time since my placement within it. If I thought my head hurt before, it paled in comparison to the pain I felt now. I shielded my eyes and crawled into the corner. The silhouette of a man appeared, holding a handgun aimed at my heart. He stood there like a statue as two other men entered on either side. Each grabbed an arm and lifted me to my feet. I had no strength to resist and I had the fleeting thought that it felt nice to be supported.
"My... my brother," I muttered, "please...tell me...where's Mikey?"
"He's not here. That's all you need to know."
Not here? He's not here?! Where is here? I thought hard, trying to retrace the events that led me to this room. The villa, that's right, and the cave, the cave! I'm in the cave! Yes, that's right I brought Mikey into the cave! My mind felt like it was traversing quicksand, thoughts and memories intertwined in a sticky mesh. Think harder Teddy, think.
Oh no. Cortez got Mikey. It was coming back to me now. I pressed myself to remember it fully...
We'd been had. Our grand escape from the mine foiled by Cortez and his men. They had us surrounded. Mikey was sitting in the driver seat of the buggy, staring forward into Senor Cortez's eyes.
"Come now," Cortez said, "there is no escape, and there is so much to be discussed."
"Yeaaaaa, I think I'll pass on that one hombre and maybe you should too, unless you want me to add another bullet hole to that other ear of yours" Mikey retorted, raising a finger gun and pointing it at Cortez, "pew-pew, two holes for you!" The sound of a hundred rifles firmly set against shoulders filled the air.
I punched him hard in the ribs. "Shut the fuck up Mikey! This is not the time to be a smart-ass."
Cortez leaned his head back, laughing maniacally. "Oh Michael, Michael, Michael... you haven't changed one bit these past 20 years!" He looked back at us, now stern and serious, "and that is going to make torturing you all the more enjoyable mi viejo amigo. Seize them!"
I looked over at Mikey just in time to see a hand press a needle deep into his neck. The thumb pressed down and cloudy liquid disappeared beneath his skin.
"NO!" I screamed, scrambling at my safety belt release. He locked eyes with me—for just a moment—and then his head fell limply to his chest. The soldiers closed their circle, tighter and tighter, closer and closer, and just then—I felt a shooting pain as a needle entered the side of my neck too.
Time stood still. The drugs quickly immobilized my body. The soldiers seemed to rock to and fro, ever so softly, until they eventually faded into squiggly lines against the horizon. My feelings of abject terror dissolved as a warm and fuzzy feeling washed over me. What was I so worried about again? I fell back in my seat and gazed up to the sky. The clouds moved and morphed into funny shapes and I could have sworn I saw my mother just then, looking down at me, holding something bundled in blankets.
"You're a big brother now Teddy, do you know what that means?" She asked.
"What?" My five-year-old voice rang out innocently.
"You're going to have a new best friend," her smile was so warm and loving, "and you have to always protect him Teddy. Always. You're going to be his biggest hero."
And then, everything faded to black.
And then I was back. Back in the dark, musty cell. The silhouetted gunman still as ever, gun aimed at my heart. The two other men were strapping my arms and feet to a gurney bed.
"You - you took Mikey," I grunted, "you took him! Where is he?" I struggled to shake my hands free. The two men laughed.
"Save your questions for Cortez," one of them said.
"Then take me to him! Now!"
"Where the hell did you think we were taking you pendejo? For a nice view of the ocean?" The two laughed again.
He said ocean. Why would he say ocean? Were we near the coast or... on a boat? As if to answer my question, a loud boat horn sounded from somewhere on board and I was ushered out into the sunlight on my gurney. I looked to the left and gazed through a repeating series of portholes. Yup, I was on a boat alright, and judging by the height of the portholes above the water, it was a very large one.
Any moment now, I was going to be face-to-face with Cortez once again. Fuck.
Mikey Sanguis knew he shouldn't have mouthed off to Cortez back at the mine exit, but he had a tendency to take a smart-ass approach when confronted, even when the odds were stacked against him. The truth of the matter was that seeing Cortez after 20 years scared the shit out of him. It had been so long that he had almost completely repressed the memory of his time in Venezuela chasing that man down.
When him and his brother Teddy had been privately selected from the Navy Seals Special Ops for a clandestine operation in Venezuela, he had been ecstatic. Him and his big brother on a top-secret mission, in South American jungles, to topple a violent cartel leader? Awesome! Their assignment was simple: assimilate, infiltrate, investigate, and terminate. It seemed like the ultimate adventure. Instead, he found himself swept up in a hellacious whirlwind of chaos and fear.
Fernando Cortez was supposed to be an easy target. A low-ranking general in the Venezuelan National Guard who was believed to have been recruited by a group colloquially called The Cartel of the Suns—a ring of corrupt military and government officials who specialized in trafficking Colombian narcotics. While his military career appeared stagnant, his surging wealth was evident he was rising quickly in the ranks of the cartel. In surprising pace, Cortez had secured transport routes from the Colombian border all the way through to the Venezuelan coastal city, Maracaibo. He had purchased an impressive estate in the wealthy La Virginia neighborhood, within walking distance to the local boat club. From there he had set up an operation of loyal, discreet exporters who trafficked the pure cocaìna to affiliated cartels in Northern Mexico, where it was then cut, repackaged, and smuggled into the U.S. via multiple entry points.
Mikey and his brother spent months monitoring Cortez, bugging his phones, tracking his routes, recording his associates and security details, when he called his wife, the hospital where his ailing mother was kept. They learned his favorite foods, drinks, pastimes, even when the man was most likely to take a shit. Mikey could still picture the walls of that little casita that served as their base of operations, covered from top to bottom in information on Cortez. They had every aspect of the man mapped out. No detail was unnecessary.
A door slammed shut and Mikey's trip down memory lane came to a crashing halt. His heartbeat pounded. He furiously tugged at the ropes that bound his hands to the back of the chair, desperately hoping they had somehow become loosened. They had not. The fluorescent light flickered on above him and there stood Cortez, grinning like a madman, a cigar clenched between his teeth.
"You're not looking so well Michael, or should I say... Ricardo?" he chuckled, took a long drag of his cigar, flicked ashes onto the dirty floor. He laid a thin, rectangular box on the dilapidated metal table that separated them, and slowly circled around it. "Ridiculous names you two chose back then. You know, I often wonder how it took me so long to see through your pathetic charades. Ricardo and Julio Santos, the Gringo drug-traffickers from the Estados Unidos! Come to Venezuela to directly source Colombian cocaína for the Americans. Ha!" He took another long puff from his cigar, "How stupid of me!" he yelled, smashing the cigar embers into the side of Mikeys neck.
"AHH! Fuck you Cortez, you son of a bitch!" Mikey screamed, seething through clenched teeth, he glared angrily into his eyes. The stench of charred flesh and tobacco hung in the air between them. "Jokes on you maricón, I'm into this kinky shit. Do it again!"
"Oh, you called me a faggot? So you haven't completely lost your Spanish, I see." He laid the extinguished cigar on the table, removed the lid of the box, and picked up a long stick of sharpened bamboo, "Let's see what other "kinky shit" you're into Michael. Have you ever heard the way a man screams when his fingernails are separated from his finger, one at a time, with bamboo splints? Even the strongest men will cry, I've seen many who-"
"Bitch, you have no idea the amounts of torture I've endured voluntarily in the Seals. Try me." Mikey had went through rigorous torture training in the service, but that had been decades ago now. He knew how terrible bamboo torture was, and he certainly did not want that shit shoved under his fingernails. "This is really all you wanted after 20 years? To torture the fuck out of me? Hold a grudge much? I've gotta say, I'm flattered, really. All this effort and manpower to settle a vendetta. I must mean a lot to you maricon."
Cortez paced the room, circling behind Mikey.
"Michael... lets not play stupid, okay? You know what you stole from me, and I need it back. You will tell me what you and your brother did with it or you both will die slow, painful deaths protecting your little secret." Cortez was inches from the back of Mikeys neck now. "Either way, I will be happy" he hissed.
That damn compass. That's what this is all about? Mikey thought. He had let go of that memory years ago. Sure, it was a gorgeous piece of work. It was made from pure gold and had a design of some sort of church etched into it, but it couldn't have been worth too much, not enough to justify this level of dedication in its return. Cortez probably sleeps on a bed of cash and bathes in blood diamonds by now. How could that little thing be worth all this effort?
"Hold on just a minute... This is all about that damn compass? And here I was thinking you were just pissed that I fucked your wife! But I knew I could trust her to keep our secret after that series of orgasms I gave her. Quite a wom- AHH FUCK!" Mikey screamed in pain, staring down at the long bamboo rod now protruding from his left thigh. Blood quickly pooled around it, staining his khaki shorts. "Damn it man, why'd you have to stab me there? These shorts were expensive!"
"I've had enough of your jokes Michael" Cortez shouted, slamming his hands on the table in front of him. "The compass! Where is it?"
They were close to completing their mission, back in '98, when he stole the compass. Cortez kept an immaculate study, designed with floor to ceiling bookshelves teeming with expensive items, artifacts, and artworks, a collection years in the making. He displayed them proudly, often inviting his guests to handle them, even touch them if they wanted. He relished in their admiration, and perhaps, their envy. The compass, however, seemed unimpressive, if not worthless, among its fellow inhabitants. So when Mikey stole it, he expected to be long gone before its owner even noticed its absence from the study.
"We hid it," Mikey said, "20 years ago. I couldn't report back to the States with it so I figured I'd come back for it some other time, after we had exterminated your ass."
"Where Michael? Where?"
"Yeah," Mikey chuckled, "if you think I'm going to tell you where its at while you've got me n' my brother in chains, you're a god damn moron." He tugged again at the ropes securing his hands. Was he imagining it, or did they feel just a bit looser? "Why is that compass so important to you anyways? What's it worth, four, maybe five thousand US? I know your economy is fuckin' tanking, but surely you ain't hurting for cash that bad, are you Fernando?"
Cortez glared at him for a long moment, chewing a thought over in his mind, before finally releasing a long exhale. He pulled the chair across from Mikey out, sat down, crossed his legs, and folded his hands over them. Mikey recognized the pose, having seen it many times before with this man. He was in for story time.
"You've heard of the Treasure of Lima before, yes?"
"Good, then I'll allow you the luxury of this little history lesson before I poke more holes into your stupid, uneducated, American flesh."
"Wow, sick burn bro," Mikey rolled his eyes, discreetly twisting his wrists, tugging at the ropes. He wasn't imagining it, they were looser, ever so slightly. Fernando Cortez loved hearing his own voice, and maybe—just maybe—if Mikey could keep him talking long enough, he could manage to slip a hand out.
"In 1820, " Cortez said, "The Kingdom of Spain was in control of Lima, in what is today Peru, long after they defeated the Incas peoples. The Catholic Church there had stockpiled a massive trove of riches, a nearly unimaginable wealth for their time. So, when the indigenous rumors of revolt within the colony began turning into reality, the church decided to relocate their treasures to a safe location in Mexico. They enlisted a Captain William Thompson and his ship, the Mary Dear, for transport. Along the way, Captain Thompson and his crew found the temptation too great. They slit the priests necks, slaughtered the guards, and tossed them all overboard."
"Uh-oh, thats a no bueno amigo. Express ticket to hell, am I right?" Mikey said, "And then what happened?"
"They took the ship to Cocos Island, off the coast of Costa Rica, and buried the treasure in a secret location, vowing to return to divvy up the loot once the fiasco had blown over."
"OK, OK, and how the hell does this have anything to do with that shitty compass?" Mikey asked.
"The men," Cortez continued, unphased, "were captured before they knew it, and put on trial for piracy. Every one of them were sentenced to death by hanging. To save their lives, Thompson and his first mate agreed to lead the Spanish to the treasures hidden location. But, when they had led the Spanish to the island, Thompson and his mate proved more wily, fighting their captors off and escaping into the jungle, never to be seen again."
"Wow, that must have been mucho embarrassing for those Spanish guys huh?" Mikey said. The ropes had loosened maybe an inch now. He struggled to pull his hand free of them but they held taut. It was almost enough though, almost!
Cortez ignored him, rising from his seat and turning his back to the table. Mikey noticed the handle of a Ruger SR9 tucked into the waistband of his pants. Well, that certainly makes things more interesting, Mikey thought, using his moment out of view to furiously pull his left hand from the bindings, tearing his flesh as it slowly slid from them.
"And it has now come to my attention," Cortez continued, "that just before Thompson escaped his Spanish captors, he had managed to steal a single item off of them."
"I'm listening" Mikey said. Cortez twirled around, slamming his hands down on the table again.
"That fucking compass you stole from me!" he screamed, "and just like Thompson and his mate, you and your brother are going to lead me to it, only you will not be able to escape me Michael, no, never again."
"Aaaand, if'n I dont?" Mikey retorted. Cortez crossed the room, grabbed a handful of Mikeys long hair and yanked his head back violently, glaring down into his eyes. He leaned low and hissed into his ear.
"I'll cut off your eyelids and force you to watch, while I blow your brothers brains out in front of your smug fucking face."
Mikey's grin grew into a beaming smile, before finally erupting into guffaws of laughter. Cortez yanked his hair again in anger.
"Killing your brother is funny to you, Michael?" he growled.
Mikey caught his breath. "No, no, it's not that" he said, "It's that I just realized that, in this situation, you're right. I am Captain Thompson and you're the Spanish captor." Cortez's face contorted in confusion as Mikey ripped his left hand free of his bindings. He jerked the bamboo rod out of his thigh, flipped it, and thrust it up and into his captors stomach. Cortez stumbled backwards to the wall, stunned. Mikey tried to leap from his chair, but fell to the ground in front of it. He hadn't stood up in days and it didn't help that he'd just had a bamboo rod through his left leg.
Cortez, recovering from his shock, retrieved the Ruger from his belt and took aim. Mikey rolled under the table and kicked it onto its side just as the bullets rang out, leaving deep dents in its metal surface just inches from his head. Mikey reached out and grabbed the leg of a chair.
"Guardia! Guardia!" Cortez shouted at the door. He slowly advanced towards the table, curving around the room with his pistol at the ready. "You're done now little Michael. I'll finish you! You're all out of tricks now, mi amigo."
"Please sir, can't I have just one more?" Mikey asked, standing up and launching the metal chair at Cortez. It struck him square in the face and chest with a loud CLANG, sending the pistol sliding across the floor. Mikey scurried over, grabbed it, and aimed it at Cortez, who was now cowering behind the metal chair as if it were a shield.
"No! Please!" Cortez pleaded, "Don't kill me! I'll pay you Michael, anything you want, just don't shoot!" Mikey tore the chair from his grasp and grabbed a handful of Venezuelan hair, yanking his head up to face his as Cortez had done just a moment before to him. He pressed the pistol to Cortez's temple.
"Where is my brother, Fernando?" Mikey said, pushing the barrel harder into his skull.
"Don't kill me and I'll tell you!"
Mikey grabbed the bamboo rod and twisted it further into Cortez's wound, growling into his face, "last chance Cuno, where the fuck is my brother?"
"He-he's below this deck. Starboard side of the st-st-stern!" he stammered. A pool of piss gathered below him. Mikey had never seen this prideful man in such a pathetic state, and he had to admit, he was thoroughly enjoying it.
"Thank you," Mikey said, throwing the Venezuelans head down to the floor. Cortez cradled his head in his hands as if somehow that might protect him from a bullet released from the Ruger in Mikeys hand. "There's one last thing I still don't get about your story Fernando. What does that compass have to do with the Treasure of Lima? Is it fucking magic or something?"
"P-please, don't shoot me, don't kill me," Cortez sniveled. Mikey kicked him hard in the ribs.
"Thompson, Captain Thompson... He secreted the treasures lo-location into that c-compass somehow. I don't know how, th-thats all I know! Please..." his voice faded off, and was replaced with chest heaving sobs. Mikey almost felt pity for the man. Almost.
"Jefe? Esta todo bien?" a voice called from outside the door.
"AYUDA! AYUDA! GUARDIA!" Cortez wailed.
Fuck. Mikey ran across the room and placed his back against the wall beside the door. The door opened and a pistol entered the room, followed by an arm. Mikey brought his hand down hard on the mans elbow, knocking the gun out of hand. He grabbed the arm and pulled the stranger into the room. Wide eyes met his as he shot two rounds into the mans heart. He hit the metal floor like a ton of bricks, the sound reverberating through the floor and walls.
Mikey could hear shouting and the pounding of feet on the metal walkways above deck. He had to hurry if he had any chance of saving Teddy.
"This isn't over Cortez. I'll be seeing you soon." he said, and darted out the door into the hallway. Below deck. Starboard. He turned and ran aft towards the stern. Stairs. Stairs. Where the fuck are the stairs?
I guess it's a really stupid thing to wish for in my current predicament, but damn, it would sure be nice to have a decent pair of sunglasses right now. Like those military issue Ray-Bans we used to get. Those were some damn good shades. I chuckled to myself. The sunlight was so bright it was making me dizzy. Or maybe that was these drugs... If I wasn't determined to know where my brother Mikey was, I'd be tempted to ask them to return me to my cell just to be relieved of this new torture. Wherever these men are taking me right now, I sincerely hope it doesn't have windows.
Ooh, one of my favorite sounds! Gunshots. So pleasing to the ear.
"Que? Que fue eso?" The statuesque gunman said. So he does speak after all! The men carrying my gurney exchanged nervous looks.
"El jefe no pudo resistirse?" One of them said. The boss couldn't resist? The boss is Cortez. Cortez couldn't resist? Resist what? Oh no... Mikey! Please God, don't let that be it.
"MIKEY!" I screamed, my voice cracking. "MIKEY!" I fought at my straps, thrashing with all my might.
"Stop that! Right now!" the gunman demanded, turning to face us. The men stopped walking while they tried to calm me. One of them placed his hand over my mouth and I bit it so hard I could taste his blood. Salty. He screamed, dropping his side of the gurney—and me—to the floor.
"I'll kill you Cortez! MIKEY! MIKEY!" I wailed and thrashed and pulled with all of my sedated might. It was useless. The straps were secure. The two men regained their grips and lifted me from the floor.
"Do not drop him again! Do you understand? We need to hurry. Vamanos." The gunman said, and then his forehead exploded, painting the other two men red in a wave of blood. They dropped me. Again. I hit the deck hard and the wind was knocked from my lungs. Gasping for air, I gazed upwards at the two shocked men just in time to get showered in blood and chunks of brain as the backs of their skulls opened up like fireworks on the 4th of July. They fell backwards, landing hard beside me. One on the left. One on the right.
What the hell was in these drugs? Am I tripping? What is happening? I heard footsteps running towards me on the metal walkway. My heart pounded, the adrenaline coursing through my body triggered my bodies fight or flight system. Funnily enough, I was in no position to pursue either of those options. The footsteps were closing in on me and, since I was defenseless and hopeless, I closed my eyes and resolved myself to face my end. I just hope the assailant killed me as quickly as my acquaintances here got it.
"Teddy! I found you!" Mikey said. My eyes shot open and my little brother was right there, leaning over top of me.
"Mikey?!" I gasped, finally catching my breath, "I thought you were dead!"
"Not yet, big brother, not yet!" he released one of my arms from its strap.
I stared at him incredulously, "Is this real Mikey? Is this a fucking dream again?"
"What have they done to you man? Are you drugged?"
I laughed. "Oh yes. Absolutely." I lifted my newly freed arms while Mikey worked on my legs. I wiped blood from my face, and started removing chunks of human from my body. "Damn good shootin' Mikey, damn good."
He released the final strap. "Can you walk Teddy? We've got to get moving like yesterday." He grabbed me by the armpits and lifted me to my feet. My legs faltered, and shook, but they held my weight.
"I might need a little help," I said, wrapping my left arm around his shoulders. I could hear voices barking orders in Spanish on the deck above us, "but let's get the fuck out of here." We hobbled as fast as we could towards the stern of the boat.
"I don't really have a plan for that one Teddy... I don't think either of us can swim for shit right now either." Mikey said. I looked down and noticed his left leg was wounded. Those bastards.
"Dinghys," I said, "a boat this size, there has to be a dinghy or two. Has to be."
The voices were behind us now. I glanced backwards. Cortez's men were streaming onto the walkway from a stairwell. Mikey fired several shots back at the men and they scurried for cover. I don't how he got the handgun, but for a brief moment, I was lost in a moment of pride. Pride for my little brother. Look at us now Mom, I thought, Mikey's the one protecting me.
Mikey slung us both around a corner just as our enemies returned fire, bullets and thick paint chips ricocheted off the walkway railing. We were at the end of the boat now, momentarily protected until the assailants finally rounded the corner. I leaned over the railing and looked down. Sure enough, there were two small, inflatable dinghys being towed behind. The problem, however, was that we were still several decks above water level. Mikey was staring at me wildly.
"We have to jump. It's the only chance we have to get out of here alive." He said.
I gauged the distance again. It was maybe a 40, 50 foot drop to the dinghys. "That, or we drown to death together." We shared a grin.
Mikey tucked the Ruger SR9 into his waistband. "Aim for the left one!" He shouted, and we threw ourselves over the railing. Those several seconds of slow motion free fall were exhilarating, enlightening. I felt like a kid again and a rambunctious yell escaped my lips.
Smashing into the inflatable dinghy ended that real quick. Damn it, did that hurt. If we survived this shit, I was going to need some serious TLC. Mikey landed hard on the dinghy wall behind me with a splash, sending me flying forward to my knees. He was half in the boat, half in the water. Shaking my head, I pulled myself together and hauled him in by the wrists. It took everything I had. He didn't miss a beat, crawling over me to the front of the craft. He let loose the tow ropes and our little boat began drifting away from the large ship. Just as he got the engine cranked, I saw Cortez's men appear at the railing.
"Mikey! The gun!" I said. He slid the pistol back to me and I popped the clip out of the handle. 3 bullets left. Rifle fire began raining down on us, plopping into the water around us. I returned cover fire with 2 shots as Mikey spun the dinghy around and proceeded to speed away. Gaining distance, I lined up my final shot, and pulled the trigger.
There was a booming pop as their remaining dinghy rapidly deflated.
"We're not that far from shore, Teddy, It looks like there's a small town up ahead." Mikey yelled over the crying engine, "A ship that big, they're not going to be able to find a dock anytime soon. I'll have us back on land in no time."
"Thank God," I said, "I'm fuckin' starving."