The latch clanged into place and the men came back. This time they stopped directly in front of the Sec Def’s cell. Out of the corner of his eye, Jackson watched as the flashlight illuminated the body draped over the second man’s shoulders. Whoever he was, he was already dead. Blood covered his face, head and the light blue oxford shirt he wore. One of the Sec Def’s personal security detail.
The tall man whispered something, and the one carrying the dead man shuffled off down the corridor. Then the tall one, who had to be the leader, hunkered down so that his face was lit by the flashlight beam. Unable to stop himself, Jackson risked a glance at him. He had a full dark beard and a light complexion. His eyes were a strange yellow-hazel. Jackson forced his gaze back to the floor as the leader spoke, in English.
“Hello, Mr. Secretary. I am honored to have you as our guest.” His heavily accented voice was pitched low, but what really upped the creep-out factor was the maniacal gleam Jackson had seen in those hellish eyes.
When Doug didn’t answer, the leader let out a low chuckle, as though his prisoners’ silence delighted him. “We have important plans for you while you stay with us.”
White noise. It was all just white noise, Jackson reminded himself. He had to tune it out and focus on reinforcing his will to survive.
“Eventually we will expect you to tell us about coalition operations in the area and make a recorded statement denouncing the war for the world to see, but you would obviously be unwilling to do so at this point. Unless I am wrong?” Silence was his only answer, and Jackson swore he could hear the smile in the bastard’s voice when he continued.
“Then instead I believe I’ll start with a less worthy opponent. Mohammed,” he commanded and rose to his feet as the young one hurried down the row of cells into the darkness. Another screech of mental hinges, then the sounds of a scuffle, quickly ended. The metal latch clanged into place, and Mohammed returned with another prisoner draped over his shoulders. Jackson could hear the prisoner’s harsh breathing, a stifled, painful moan.
The leader said something, and Mohammed lowered the prisoner to the floor. A sense of foreboding swept through him. Despite himself, Jackson had to look. The man grabbed a handful of the prisoner’s hair and yanked, forcing the person’s head up. The beam of light illuminated a pair of frightened blue-green eyes before they squeezed shut against the sudden glare.
Jackson’s heart stopped beating.
He jerked like he’d been electrocuted, barely managing to swallow back the cry of denial lodged in his throat. Staring into her pinched face, he felt like someone had stabbed him in the gut.
“Do you recognize your fellow guests?” the leader purred, swinging the beam of light at Doug, then at Jackson. He squinted but couldn’t make himself look away and when the light shone on her once again, she was staring right at him, her expression utterly haunted. Jackson squeezed his numb hands into fists of helpless rage.
Maya didn’t answer but her devastated expression said it all. She’d seen and recognized him. From the look in her eyes it was clear she understood that whatever hell they put her through now, she’d have to withstand it alone. And somehow he’d have to endure that knowledge while battling the crushing agony that there was nothing he could do to protect her from any of it.
Jackson held her gaze, trying to give her strength. Sweetheart, please hang on. Whatever they do to you, just hold on. F*ck, he wanted to throw up.
“No? Ah, well.” The leader sounded almost disappointed in her lack of reaction. “Now that you have seen your fellow guests, I think you and I should become better acquainted.” He jerked Maya’s hair, forcing her to her feet, which were still bound.
She shot a look of terror in Jackson’s direction that made his guts churn and it took everything he had not to call out in protest as they dragged her away. He thought he’d understood what fear felt like before? Not even close. But he did now.