Sitting in the dirty room I force myself to breathe. One hand is cuffed to the chair, and that fact is making my skin dampen with panic sweat. I’ve been restrained before and I’ve kept it together, so I breathe in, and I breathe out. I’m in a locked room on a Army base in the middle of Afghanistan. They can do anything they want and no one would know, so I force myself to wait. I feel a line of sweat trickle down my back. And all I can think is let’s get this show on the road.
At that thought, the door swings open and I keep my expression blank as a soldier walks in. He swings the chair across from me around and straddles it. “So, I hear tell you pulled some merc’s asses out of a sling.”
I smile, and I’m sure the bitterness shows through. “But you don’t believe it’s that simple. So, you want my life story, which you won’t believe anyway. And what I’ve been doing here for these years, which you’ll also disbelieve, and you can’t verify.”
The man’s brown eyes are greedy as he leans towards me. “Then what should I do with you?”
I shrug, and ignore my shoulder’s protests as the healing bullet hole pulls. “Shoot me or let me go.”
“Shoot you huh? There are other options than that.”
I feel my muscles tense, and my wrist tugs against the cuff holding me to the chair.
He sees the reaction and his eyes narrow fractionally, “For all I know you’re an enemy combatant sent in to assess our base. Since this is war, and you are an unknown, I can treat you as a terrorist. And since you aren’t on U.S. soil I can do whatever the fuck I want to you.”
The show’s on the road now. In a back corner of my mind the girl I used to be screams and screams and screams. In fear, in rage, in pain, in exhaustion. But I’m not that girl anymore, so I lean back and smile, cause this is a game I can play well. “You can’t do anything to me that hasn’t already been done. So, stop wasting my fucking time. Get me some food or strap me down and have at it.”
He leans forward a little and casually backhands me across the face.
My left cheek goes numb for a moment before the fire sets in. I feel a dribble of blood ooze down from the corner of my mouth and I smile, “Let’s go asshole, but remember this, I always pay my debts.”
The door slams open and the three Americans I came over the mountain with walk in followed by another man. He shoots a glance at the soldier, and it’s a glance meant to wither a man. “You’re dismissed.”
“Get the fuck out.”
I spit a mouthful of blood on the floor as the man storms out. Grey Eyes takes a seat. “Jacobsen is an asshole. My apologies.”
I remain silent and eye the two men behind him. All three men are in civilian clothing now. My curiosity kicks up a notch. But I draw my attention back to Grey Eyes as he leans towards me. He doesn’t follow in his predecessor’s footsteps. Instead he unlocks the cuff from my wrist and lets it clang against the chair. I leave my wrist on the chair’s arm and watch him eye the bloody band around it where the cuff dug into my skin.
“Jacobsen was told to watch, not question. He’ll be dealt with.”
I slouch in my chair and lean back, “Oh? How’s that? You’re not private sector.”
“Uncle Sam likes me better than Jacobsen.” His grin is feral.
I shrug, “I always pay my debts. Myself.”
Grey Eyes smiles and I’m surprised to see it actually reaches his eyes. “I thought that might be your answer. Now Jacobsen wanted answers. He’s an asshole. Doesn’t change Uncle Sam needing answers. So of course there’s a few questions to get it finished.”
“Why should I answer?”
“You don’t have to. But I have to ask them. So, what’s your name?”
Behind him Jake muffles a snort of laughter.
“My name’s Nolan Slade. I’m a former Navy Seal gone private sector. As are Jake Armstrong, Jericho Mills, and Willie Blackstone.” Behind him the three men flip casual salutes as Nolan names them off.
I look back at Nolan, “Ciara.”
Behind Nolan, Jake hands a five-dollar bill to Willie who grins, “I told you, an Irish lass she is. But no, you had to say she was English.”
Nolan ignores the exchange and continues to watch me. “Okay, Ciara what?”
I give him my best blank stare.
“What were you doing in that compound?”
I can’t stop the laugh, “Compound? That isn’t a compound, that’s hell. And like I said, I pay my debts.”
“Were you captured and taken in?”
“On the mountain you said you were held for two years starting in 2005. It is now 2008. Care to explain the time difference?”
“I escaped after two years. Stayed in the wilds picking them off before I was caught again. That was about three months ago.”
“Clearly you had the skill to stay alive. Why not use that skill to get out, get to a base?”
“I’m Irish, I can hold a grudge for a lifetime. The guard whose throat I slit was the last debt I owed in those walls.” It’s the truth, just not the whole of it.
“Why didn’t you try to make it home when you escaped the first time? Let your family know you survived.”
“The girl they knew died a long time ago inside those walls.”
“Oh, when did she die?”
“I don’t know when. Maybe the first time she was raped, or maybe it was the 50th time. Or maybe it was the first time they used knives on me or electrocution or after the first weak in the hot box. But she died and I lived.”
There’s no sympathy in his eyes and I appreciate it. “And who are you now?”
“I’m a different sort of animal.”
“We let you out of this room are you going to rabbit on us?”
“Not immediately. I’m hungry. I’ll think about it after I eat.”
He smiles as he leans back in his chair, mimicking my slouch. “Alright, we’ll save more questions for later. Let’s go eat.”
“I’m under escort then?”
“Honey, Jake, Willie, and Jericho told me what you did on that mountain. I’m not turning you lose on these poor soldiers quite yet. I have a feeling you’d plow through regular soldiers like a goddamn tank.”
As the five of us walk towards the mess hall I take in the layout of the base. The hustle and bustle rolls on around us. I smile a little; I could be out of this place in less than three minutes. But for now, I’m enjoying the atmosphere, and I settled my last debt in that godforsaken hellhole of a prison so I’ve nowhere to go. My da would call it footloose and fancy-free. I wonder if he’s still alive and blowin things up. Probably, we Magees are a hard lot to kill. As we enter the mess hall, I scan the tables and spot Jacobsen. In front of me Nolan grabs a tray and moves down the line, grabbing random choices as he goes. I follow suit, and slowly fill the tray to a rounded heap. Jake leads the way to a corner table that’s vacant and they sit me in the corner. That’s okay with me since it gives me a great view to scope the room as I shovel food in. It takes a minute or two before I realize the four men are staring at me in awe. I swallow my mouthful, “What?”
Willie shakes his head, “I’ve never seen a woman put food away like that.”
I look down at my tray and shrug, “Food isn’t always around, I eat it while I can.”
I finish my tray before the three men do and ignore the stares of the people at the tables near us. By now the gossip has spread and quite a few eyes are pointed my direction. I see Jacobsen rise to dump his tray and run my tongue around my swollen and split lip. I shoot a look at Nolan. “Can I dump my tray or do I need an escort for that too?”
“Jake, go with her.”
With Jake in tow I head towards the dumping area. I reach it just as Jacobsen dumps his and turns. There’s a moment where he sees me and pauses. Using both arms I swing the metal tray against his face. He twists and, in slow motion, I see his knees go to jelly. I smash an uppercut into his jaw then punch a wicked front kick into his face before Jake pins me against the food counter. Over his shoulder I see Jacobsen on the floor spitting teeth and blood. Nolan’s yell puts a lid on the chaos. He spares a glance at Jacobsen who is now being stood up by fellow soldiers. He turns on me, “What the fuck was that for?”
Still pinned against the counter by Jake I smile and my swollen lip begins to bleed from its split again “I always pay my debts.”
He runs a hand through his hair, “Goddammit woman! If this is how you’re going to be when anyone crosses you I’ll lock you up myself.”