The truck stopped after a good hour’s ride. You hurt from being bounced around on the metal truck bed. Men spoke in rapid Spanish in which you were now fluent.
“Get the gringos out of the truck, Javier. The Colonel wants them in Room 3 immediately.”
“So, fun and games tonight, eh, Jesús?”
“Si, si. Wear your tightest uniform, guys. The Colonel likes it that way.”
“Electricity, Jesús? That one last week took some juice before he cracked!”
“Si, electricity. After the beatings. The Colonel has his program and it has never failed!”
And so it went on as they man-handled the two of you out of the truck and dragged you into the small building. From the sound of your boots scraping on the ground, you could hear the texture of the change from small stones to smooth concrete, maybe linoleum tiles, hard to tell. The inside of the building was as even hotter than the outside and your black clothes were drenched in sweat.
They stopped dragging you for a minute and you heard a heavy metal door being opened. Then, presumably, you were dragged into Room 3. The room smelled of man sweat, vomit, a faint odor of urine, and a strong undertone of fear, if fear had a smell. You heard the door close behind you. It also sounded like someone else was dragged into the room with you. It was probably Paul.
You were held upright, still hooded and gagged, when you felt your black ops uniform being cut. A knife was ripping through the sweaty fabric. Someone removed your combat boots and jerked your socks off. You were quickly naked; the only part of your body still covered was your head.
The rope on your hands was cut, but then you were pushed against a stone wall. Your wrists were lifted up and cuffed in tight metal bands. You remember hearing a chain rattling and your arms were stretched out way over your head, almost lifting you off your feet. Then you felt your ankles, still roped together, being tied to something in the floor between your feet. The fear component tightened in your gut. So, torture it was going to be. You had expected that.
The cloth bag was ripped from your head and you were startled at the sudden burst of light. Then you looked to your right and saw your buddy Paul. He was also naked, stretched out on the wall in chains. The rope gag in your mouth was untied, but quickly replaced by a crueler version. This one had a large knot tied in the middle. The knot was forced into your mouth, and then the two rope ends were pulled tight and tied off behind your head. It was a classic torture gag: speech was garbled, but the vic could freely scream and drool. And you couldn’t spit on your captors.
A commanding voice cut in as the gag was tied off: “You are Jason McIlvanney, US Army.”
Gagged, you could make no reply. None was needed anyway. The information was on you dog tags.
“And your companion here is Paul Svenson, also Army. Let us not waste any time. You have taken our leader somewhere and we need to know where that is.”
You turn your head and look directly into Paul’s eyes. You think you see a glimmer of hope, maybe defiance. You think the same thing – maybe you can survive this. But then the fear in your gut says ‘no.’
The commanding voice belonged to a tall Columbian officer, decorated with several medals on his uniform jacket. He removed his jacket and hands it to a flunky. His uniform blouse fitted him snugly, defining thick muscles. He striped off the blouse. He was indeed muscular. His chest hairs were matted down with sweat from the heat. ‘Well, at least we’re all uncomfortable,’ you think in gallows humor.
“I will ask you only once, gringos, where our leader has been taken. If you give no answer, then you will be tortured until we force the answer out of you. Have no doubt on this: all men have a breaking point. I am very good at getting you to that point, and I always get the information I want. So, it is your decision.” He stopped for a minute and moved in very close to us, forcing his face into mine.
“So, where is he?” he asked simply. “Where have you taken him?”
He waited for half a minute while Paul and I hung there, sweating, aching from the stretch. There was a scale in my head, sort of a double pan balance like the goddess of justice holds. One side was brave defiance, total silence, no answer. The other side was the certainty of heavy, brutal pain – just like our training instructors had said, beyond our imagining. The problem was the balance kept tipping back and forth. Finally it settled on defiance. You could tell by the look in Paul’s eyes that he agreed with your resolve to defy the Colonel and not answer. You both remained silent while he waited.