Authors: Matthew Klein
NO WAY BACK
Matthew Klein graduated from Yale University in 1990. He founded several technology companies in Silicon Valley. Today he lives in Westchester County, outside New York City, with
his wife Laura, his two sons and a whippet named Zeus.
In addition to writing novels, he runs Collective2, a financial technology company. He can be reached at matthewklein.org.
Published in trade paperback in Great Britain in 2013 by Corvus,
an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd.
Copyright © Matthew Klein, 2013
The moral right of Matthew Klein to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual
persons, living or dead, events or localities, is entirely coincidental.
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Trade paperback ISBN: 978 0 85789 858 6
E-book ISBN: 978 0 85789 859 3
Typeset by carrdesignstudio.com
Printed in Great Britain
An imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd
26–27 Boswell Street
(Just skip over the sex scenes, please)
I tell you a truth. No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.
Things are not what they appear to be. Nor are they otherwise.
How long could the victim last?
That was always the question, when he tortured someone. Over the years, he had developed some rough rules: women lasted longer than men, blacks longer than whites. Smart people lasted longer
than dumb ones, rich longer than poor. He had long ago given up trying to find reasons for these apparent truths: did the rich fight longer because they had more to lose? Were blacks better
physical specimens than whites, as the racists suggested? Were men cowards and women strong?
His tools varied. Knives were effective, particularly when used to amputate, rather than stab. Stabbing was messy, but more than that, it made people frantic, unable to concentrate on the
question at hand. For him, torture was about getting answers. When a victim focused on the knife hilt in his gut, his answers were incomplete.
So he would chop a finger right away, to prove his seriousness, and then another while the victim still couldn’t believe the first was gone. He’d leave the stubs on the floor, in
front of the victim, little talismans of bone and skin, a testament to his power and their doom.
Even with his rough-hewn rules, he could be surprised. People he thought would break quickest often fought longest. The confident, muscular man – the former cop, the rival gang boss, the
ex-Marine – might give up in minutes, after the loss of just one eye, or one testicle – and become a whimpering, snot-dripping mess. In contrast, the weak Jew, or the wispy Chinaman, or
even the coked-up whore, might astound him, and last for hours, unafraid, stoic, dignified.
So how long would this one last? This victim was bound to a wooden chair, in the middle of a rude shack. Near him, a video camera stood on a tripod, recording the events with a dull unblinking
eye. Black wool blankets – moth-eaten and horrid – were taped across the windows. In the corner, water dripped into a rusted sink. The victim’s ankles were wrapped with electrical
tape to chair legs, a sock stuffed in his mouth. His face was frantic, breathless – but not yet resigned. There was still more work to do.
The torturer held a finger to his own lips, and said, ‘Shh.’ He said it gently, the way a nurse comforts a patient. ‘Now, shh. We can make this all stop. All of this can
The victim whimpered and nodded. He did want it to stop. He did indeed.
‘I need to know certain things. I have questions. You must answer them honestly, yes?’ The torturer spoke with an accent, which the victim knew was Russian.
The torturer reached out, grabbed the sock in the victim’s mouth. ‘I will take this out. Do not scream. No one can hear you. Yes?’
The victim nodded. Tears wet his cheeks.
The torturer removed the sock. The victim breathed hard through his mouth, in great gulping relief, as if – for the last hour – the problem had been the sock in his mouth, and not
the fact that five of his fingers had been removed with a hunting knife.
‘This is better, yes?’ the torturer said.
‘Yes,’ the victim agreed, weakly.
‘You know who I am, of course.’
More a statement than question. The victim had made a point not to look at the tormenter’s face – in forlorn hope that this somehow might spare him – and even now he continued
to look away. But the truth was that he did know. He knew his tormentor’s name.
‘You think,’ the torturer said, ‘that if you don’t look at my face, I will let you live. That is what you think, yes?’
‘No,’ the victim said. But he was dismayed. How had the man known his thoughts?
From outside the log walls of the shack came the sound of lapping water – the gentle sound of ocean, of pebbles skittering into surf.
‘Please,’ the victim said. ‘Please let me go.’ But his voice was a whisper, without hope, because he knew now that no words would save him.
The victim was nearly ready, his tormentor knew. Hopelessness was key. Soon answers would pour forth, unbidden. A surfeit of facts, and details – so much information that it would be hard
to capture it all. It would break over them both like long-awaited rain over hard-packed earth, flooding dry gullies; and the torturer would drink it down eagerly. He would tell his victim to slow
down – slow down, please – go back to the beginning, and tell him again, and focus on just one moment. The first time the victim met his wife, for example, or that summer night they
listened to music under the stars – please, go back to that time again, and tell me every fact you remember – every detail: what she wore, how she smelled, what her mouth tasted like
when you kissed. He needed to know everything. No detail was too small, nothing that happened unimportant.
‘Of course no one who sees my face, or hears my voice, lives to see the sun again. You’ve heard that about me? You’ve heard the stories they tell?’
The man in the chair whimpered and nodded.
‘But there are other considerations. Family, wife, friends. Their children. Do you understand?’
‘I have so many questions,’ the torturer said, taking a deep breath, as if steeling himself for new exertion. ‘More questions than you have fingers left, I’m
afraid.’ He held up his knife, and laid the blade gently against the victim’s cheek. ‘Should I remove your eyes?’
‘Will you answer my questions?’
‘Yes. Anything. Anything you want.’
‘You must think carefully. I will ask you for so many facts! You will be tempted to ignore some details. You will think them unimportant. But details are what I care about. The smallest
details. I love them, and I want to hear them. Every single one. Do you understand?’
‘Good.’ He lifted the knife from the victim’s cheek.
The victim exhaled, relieved at the apparent reprieve he was being granted.
When the next scream came, it was so loud that someone standing outside the shack would have heard it. Someone standing as far away as the edge of the beach would have heard it, muffled through
the log walls – that long despairing wail of horror, rising and falling, that scream of pain and shock and disbelief.
But no one did hear that scream. No one was standing outside the shack. No one was walking on the beach. The torturer and his victim were alone.
When the screaming subsided, and turned into quiet whimpering, the torturer said, so gently that his words could have been a caress, ‘Should I take your other eye too?’
‘No, no, please,’ the man whispered. ‘I’ll tell you everything. Everything you ask. Everything.’
‘Every detail! I promise.’
There. Now he was ready, the torturer knew. Now the man would reveal everything.
The torturer would learn everything he needed to know. He would work slowly. He had all night.
He had all the time in the world.
On Monday morning, at one minute past nine o’clock, I sit in a Florida parking lot, counting cars.
It’s an old trick, the easiest way to take a company’s pulse: arrive at the beginning of the business day – on the dot – and see how many employees have bothered to show
up. You can tell a lot about a company from its parking lot.
This Monday morning, in this parking lot, at this company, there are twelve cars.
Twelve cars would be a healthy number for a company with fifteen employees.
Twelve cars would be an acceptable number for a company with thirty, or even forty, employees.
But Tao Software LLC – the company that I have been hired to rescue – has eighty-five employees. That’s eighty-five
employees. That doesn’t include
contractors or part-timers – people like the masseuse who comes in twice a week to give back-rubs, or the guy who maintains the two cappuccino machines in the kitchen.
Twelve cars. Eighty-five employees.
Even before I’ve walked through the front door – before I’ve studied the Balance Sheet or the P&L – I have all the numbers that I need. They are: twelve and
eighty-five. Investigation complete.
I’m conducting my inquiry from the front seat of a rental Ford, its air conditioner blasting. I study the cars around me. They differ in hue and upkeep, but what they share is the same
relentless grinding economy: a Taurus, three low-end Hondas, a couple of Nissans, and a beat-up Chevy truck with dings in the door. Nothing showy, and, more importantly, nothing that indicates that
the company’s highly-paid executives have yet arrived.
I check my watch one last time, to make sure I haven’t made a simple mistake, and perhaps arrived on a Saturday, or maybe an hour too early. I’ve done both those things, once even
showing up for a Board of Directors meeting on a Sunday, and then proceeding to place outraged phone calls to the homes of the other board members who were so rudely late. But I was high on coke at
the time, and everyone knew it, and so we all had a good laugh.