Damien wasn’t meant to be here.
‘Forty minutes,’ the border control officer said. ‘Usually, you’d be talking by now.’
The name tag on his uniform read Ionada. His portly midsection pressed against his local Guatemalan uniform.
Damien was sitting in an interview room, although he used the term loosely since his wrists were duct taped to the chair’s plastic armrests. Cable ties were fastened over the tape just to be sure. They’d even removed the shoelaces from his sneakers.
That was never a good sign.
Ionada sat behind a table, directly under a sprinkler head fixed to the ceiling. On the table there was a single sheet of paper, face down. Between Damien and Ionada, the linoleum floor smelled of ammonia, searing his nostrils. Vents blew cool air; the room temperature was intentionally cold.
Ionada prodded a tablet with an impatient finger. ‘Are you feeling all right?’
Damien shrugged. ‘As far as being pulled off a bus and cavity searched goes, it’s been a real blast. Some people pay for that kind of experience.’
‘And I expect you’ll pay for this,’ Ionada said. ‘One way or another.’
‘I’d prefer a little Shibari myself. But, you know, we have to start somewhere.’
Ionada frowned. ‘Perhaps you can tell me why you’re here.’
‘You find my aura unusually calming,’ Damien said.
‘I find your criminal record unusually alarming.’
He held up the paper for Damien to see. It was blank.
‘I’m sure you’ve seen that before,’ Damien said.
‘Only once,’ Ionada said. ‘Not too long ago, in fact.’
Just above Ionada’s right elbow, there was a thin band of white fabric. Damien had seen it before, yet couldn’t quite place it. He focused with his enhanced hearing. There was light traffic in the corridor outside, and someone was talking about Damien’s possessions in the opposite room. Ionada’s breathing was a bit faster than it should’ve been.
‘What did you do with him?’ Damien asked. ‘The other one with the blank paper.’
‘Transferred out,’ Ionada said. ‘Friend of yours?’
‘It seems you have a different fate though,’ Ionada said, hand resting on his holstered pistol. ‘There are gentlemen from a department of the United States government who seem rather enthusiastic about meeting you. They should be here shortly.’
Damien felt his pulse race, a dull throb in his ear. He breathed slowly and focused on the officer. ‘And which department is that?’
‘Funny. They didn’t say,’ Ionada said. ‘Are you scared, Damien?’
He knew the answer. He could die here. Or worse, the government could take him. ‘I’m a little concerned.’
Ionada lifted his hand from the holster and inspected his fingertips. ‘So tell me, what exactly did you do? To garner this much … attention.’
‘Why would you believe anything I say?’
‘That depends on what you say.’ Ionada shifted in his seat. His chair squeaked. ‘Two of our officers received burns to their faces and arms. Did you do that to them, Damien?’
‘I don’t have anything to burn them with.’
‘One of them is my friend,’ Ionada said. ‘We’ve been camping together every year since we were ten.’
Damien felt his skin crawl. Maybe it was the cold air, maybe it was Ionada.
‘It might be a while before we can camp again,’ Ionada said. ‘Do you like it when people hurt your friends?’
Ionada’s gaze narrowed, and Damien stared right back.
‘No,’ Damien said.
Ionada gave a slight nod. ‘That’s funny, because neither do I.’
Silence. But not for long.
‘Do you think you’re going to survive this?’ Ionada said.
Damien kept his breathing slow, calm. ‘That depends on who’s pulling your strings.’
Ionada’s tablet buzzed. He checked it, then double-checked it. His lips shivered into a smile. ‘I have some good news.’
The door opened and a pair of uniformed officers entered, then one closed the door. Like Ionada, both wore white arm bands. Their name tags read Price and Gray. Price had an oddly large head and thick eyebrows that twitched when he drew a fixed-blade knife. It didn’t look government issue, and it didn’t glint under the light because it was coated black. Gray didn’t reach for hers, and instead kept a hand near her holstered stun gun.
From opposing sides, both officers approached him.
‘Change of plans?’ Damien asked.
‘No,’ Ionada said. ‘Change of strings.’