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Authors: William Bernhardt

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General, #Suspense

Capitol Conspiracy

BOOK: Capitol Conspiracy
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For Karis, my sister
mother, doctor, darling

Constitutions are merely the lengthened shadows of men. They are invented by men to protect themselves from one another. When they fail to do that, when the fate of human society is at stake, more drastic measures must be taken for society’s own sake.

—R
ALPH
W
ALDO
E
MERSON

Prologue

A
BANDONED
WAREHOUSE
G
EORGETOWN
, W
ASHINGTON
, D.C.

Y
ou’re a proud man,
Marshall told himself when he regained consciousness,
and a proud man doesn’t scream. No matter what they do to him.
He was a former marine. He was trained to resist. So when they first began hitting him, he almost wanted to laugh. Did they seriously believe he would betray his country because of that? They would never get anything out of him. This became his mantra. It was a form of self-hypnosis; he would immunize himself against the pain.

It worked—for the first four minutes. Then he screamed with such ferocity that he could not stop long enough to breathe.

They did not relent. They hit him again and again.

He was securely tied to a chair; there was nothing he could do to stop them. They took turns, one after the other, which made the blows rain down on his battered body all the more quickly. The one called the General worked on his abdomen while his sadistic underling kicked him repeatedly, at the base of his spine, his groin, the front of his kneecaps. He kicked and kicked over and over again on the same tender knee until Marshall felt something break. He realized to his disgust and despair that despite the unbearable new shock wave of misery that coursed through his body, it was not physically possible for him to scream any louder than he was already screaming.

“You will give me the code name,” the General said, and then he hit Marshall again, without even waiting for a reply. Marshall couldn’t make him out: he wasn’t sure if the man was dark-skinned or merely shrouded in darkness. The room was nearly black but he sensed a window behind him that permitted the faintest moonlight into his utterly barren surroundings. It didn’t help for long. Nothing was visible to Marshall now, because his eyes were swollen shut.

“Can’t…,” Marshall mumbled in a broken voice that sounded nothing like his own.

“You mean you won’t,” the General said, and he drove his fist into Marshall’s putty face with such blinding speed that it burst his nose like a balloon. Blood and cartilage flew through the air.

The General grinned, wiped the mess away with a rag, flipped it back into Marshall’s face, and repeated himself. “Give me the code name.”

Marshall could taste his own blood and flesh. He wanted to wipe it away, wanted to feel himself to see what was left of his face, but his hands were bound fast. “I…can’t.”

“Won’t.”

“I can’t.”

“Won’t.”

“Can’t!”

“Will.”

His scream was silent, as Marshall felt the second kneecap shatter, because he had no more air left in his lungs. But the sound in his head was more intense than anything he had heard in his entire forty-seven years. And then, mercifully, he succumbed to unconsciousness.

         

They woke him.

And when he still refused to talk, they cut him. They put a bowie knife at the base of his receding hairline and skinned him, scalp and hair and all. They sliced off an ear. They ruined his face, cutting around his eyes and down his cheeks, always careful not to inflict a fatal wound, avoiding the eye sockets and the carotid artery, but skillfully inflicting the maximum pain possible. Nothing bled like a head wound, he knew, and soon his face was bathed in his own blood. And still they would not stop cutting.

Every nerve was on fire, sending electrical ribbons of pain radiating through him. As unconsciousness clamped its cold black shroud around him once more, he was gripped with terror—but not because of the pain.

He realized, when they ruined his face, that there was no chance they could ever let him go.

         

The next time Marshall woke, at least the next time he remembered, he had been stripped naked and strung from the ceiling, hanging by his outstretched arms like raw beef in a meat locker, his useless legs dangling tantalizingly close to the floor without touching it. He did not know how long he had been hanging, but he knew they had been working on him the whole time, even while he was unconscious. Hours. Days. Every muscle and tendon was stretched beyond capacity. His arms felt as if they had been ripped from their sockets. Perhaps they had been; surely the pain could be no worse.

“I can make this end,” the General growled. “All you must do is give me the name. Then it will be over.”

“You’ll…never…let me live,” Marshall mumbled, his tongue thick and numb.

“Nor did I claim I would. But I can make your suffering end.”

“Can’t.”

“Don’t be a fool.”

“Can’t…
aaaahhh
!”

Marshall thought he had been skewered like a bull polished off by a matador, like a dumb animal in a slaughterhouse. He wanted to curl up in a fetal ball, but he couldn’t—couldn’t move at all. He could only dangle like a piñata, unable to help himself, unable to do anything but wait for the next blow to arrive.

If they were less…effective, Marshall was certain he could resist indefinitely. If they went too far and killed him, it would be over. But he knew they would not do that. And he realized now that even he, with all his strength and training, could not resist forever.

“Give me the name!”

“It’s…it’s…” Marshall tried to catch his breath, tried to enunciate despite his missing teeth. “…Hawkman.”

Even though he was blind, Marshall sensed the slight change, the tiny play of the General’s expression. He was considering.

The wait seemed eternal. The beating briefly subsided. Marshall could feel his heart pounding fiercely as he waited for the verdict.

“No,” the General said finally. “You are lying.”

“No,” Marshall choked. “I’m not!”

“You are. The valiant always attempt a lie at first, until they learn that it will hurt them, not help them. I am not a man who likes to be lied to. You have made your situation much worse.”

Worse? Could it possibly be worse?

“A man such as Blake would never accept such a code name. It is too…politically suggestive. You’re lying.”

Marshall braced himself for the excruciating agony he knew would follow—but it did not come. Somehow that was even more frightening.

He heard a faint click of rubber-heeled boots receding, then returning. A moment later, he heard a splashing noise.

“I wish for you to recall,” the General said, as the splashing continued, “that you have no one to blame for this but yourself. I have given you every possible opportunity. But it will soon be daylight. I must have this information.”

Marshall knew his thinking was muddled; all the blows to the head had probably given him a concussion, maybe brain damage. What was coming next?

And then, despite the extreme damage to his nose, Marshall detected the acrid noxious fumes that fired every broken capillary in his nostrils.

Gasoline fumes.

After the General had splattered the floor in a circle around his dangling victim, he doused Marshall himself. Marshall felt the fuel enter his mouth, his eyes, the open wounds and festering sores that covered his body.

“Please…don’t,” he managed, his voice rasping.

“Give me the name.”

“Please don’t do this.”

“The name!”

“I have a wife. Three girls—”

“Give me the name or I will burn you all to hell!”

Marshall’s jaw dangled open. He had resisted so long, had endured so much. But who could possibly have the strength to let this sadist burn him alive?

“Samson,” he whispered, weeping, tears somehow managing to seep out of his swollen and bloodied eyes.

“Samson,” the General repeated, and again Marshall could sense him running the possibility through his head. “Yes, that I can believe. It would flatter his ego.” The General pressed himself close to Marshall’s broken face. “And the other?”

“The…other?”

“Do not play games with me. You know what I want. Samson and—what? What is the other name?”

“Delilah. I—isn’t it—” He found it impossible to catch his breath, the pungent scent of gasoline was so pervasive. “Isn’t it…obvious?”

“Ah.” Again, the General considered. “Yes, it is obvious.” Another pause. “Much too obvious.”

Marshall heard a flicking noise, then felt heat on his cheek. Even with his eyes sealed shut, he knew his torturer had just ignited a lighter.

“Juliet!” Marshall shouted. “Samson and Juliet!”

The General emitted a soft chuckle of appreciation. “Clever.” And then he dropped the lighter.

Flames encircled Marshall. He could feel fire licking the hair on his broken legs.

“But—but you said—”

“Now you will give me the defense formation,” the General said calmly. “Every detail you know.”

“But—I can’t!”

“Must we go through all that again? Your feet are already black. You are burning like a chicken on a rotisserie spit. Is that not enough? Fine.” Marshall heard a sudden splashing noise that told him the bastard was adding more gasoline to the flames.

He heard a sudden whooshing sound that signaled the floor erupting with fire.

“Nooooo!” Marshall screamed as he felt his own flesh peeling away. His feet were already dead, gone, and the flames were working their way up his legs.

“You will be dead in seconds,” the General said, “if I do not douse the flames.”

“And…you’ll never get…what you want…”

In one rapid movement, the General brandished the knife used to mutilate Marshall’s face and cut free the ropes that held Marshall’s arms to the ceiling hook. Marshall tumbled into the inferno. He cried out and gagged as his lungs filled with smoke and his flesh began to swell and bloat. His assailant was right—he would be dead in seconds. And he was glad.

To his great disappointment, the General hauled him out of the flames. “Tell me what I wish to know!” he bellowed.

Marshall wanted to laugh. He knew he would be gone soon. What more could the man do to him? “Never.”

The dark man pressed both thumbs into the most tender and seared part of his thigh. The pain was like nothing Marshall had ever experienced, not even throughout this entire unbearable ordeal. It was as if his body had been turned inside out and a branding iron had been thrust into his heart.

“I do not have time for this!” the General bellowed.
“Tell me!”

“It—won’t help. I’ll be missed—”

“We know about your meeting with the senator. Arrangements have been made.” He pressed several fingers deep down in the same open festering third-degree burn. “Tell me!”

“No!”

Marshall felt himself being hauled by the neck, his exposed scalp and one remaining ear dragged bleeding across the floor. He sensed he was moving closer to the window. But his attacker did not bother to open it. He hoisted Marshall’s broken body into the air and heaved him through it.

Marshall felt himself falling—then jerked to a sudden stop.

The General held him by one charred foot dangling limply from a shattered kneecap. “You are forty-five feet in the air. After you fall, I will take what is left of you and feed it to your wife. And then I will do to her everything I have done to you. Except more slowly.”

“No. God, no,” Marshall cried, whimpering.

“Then tell me!”
the General shouted.

And then the information spilled out, one detail after another, everything Marshall had. He knew he was betraying his country and so many who trusted and relied upon him. He could not help himself.

“And the defense formation?”

“Domino Bravo! It’s…Domino Bravo!”

The General slowly drew in his breath. “At last. I was beginning to think—well, I’ve never done this before.”

Through his clouded brain, Marshall tried to understand. “Never…tortured?”

He heard a soft chuckle. “Never tortured the director of Homeland Security.” And then he released Marshall’s foot and listened to his final screams as he plummeted to the concrete embankment that would shatter each of the few bones in his body that remained intact.

U.S. C
APITOL
B
UILDING
W
ASHINGTON
, D.C.

“Still no word from Marshall?” Senator Robert Hammond, D-Iowa, asked his secretary of thirty-two years.

“No,” Marjorie replied, pushing her wide-rimmed translucent pink eyeglasses up the bridge of her nose. “But he’s only ten minutes late.”

“The man has never been late for a meeting in his life, Marjorie. He’s a former marine, you know.”

“I think you could give him five minutes before you call out the search and rescue dogs.”

“Are you suggesting that I’m overreacting?” Hammond replied, with mock irritation, tugging at his vest. Hammond was perhaps the only senator left who still wore three-piece suits every day he went to work. He felt they worked better with the bow tie.

“As I recall, when Bill Clinton was ten minutes late for a meeting, you were on the phone to the Secret Service.”

Hammond grinned. “And as it turned out, they didn’t know where he was, either. Should’ve called his intern.”

“When former President Bush was late, you called the secretary of defense, suspecting some dastardly plot. What was it again?”

“Decided to jog another lap around the Rose Garden with Barney. His dog.”

“And if I’m not mistaken, when they first allowed female pages in the Senate, you predicted the end of the world.”

“You’ve made your point, Marjorie.” Hammond gazed out the window of his premium office in the Rayburn Building. As Senate minority leader and the official liaison with Homeland Security, he was entitled to a perk like this view of the smooth green expanse of the Capitol lawn with the Supreme Court building in the background. Beyond that he could just barely make out the Potomac as it flowed from Georgetown on the west all the way to Anacostia on the east.

There were other more tangible privileges for a man in his position. Twice as many hideaways as any other senator. The best illegal Cuban cigars, the first-cut Kentucky bourbon…and a few other perks that kept him very warm at night. He’d had a good career and he didn’t plan to see it end any time soon, thank you. Many had tried to bring him down—from LBJ to Ben Kincaid. But guess what? He was still here.

BOOK: Capitol Conspiracy
13.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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