Jack strained to hear any type of confirmation that would assure him that Frank had successfully gotten clear. But a thick silence filled the cell block. The heavy block walls effectively cut off the normal sounds of a town slowly waking. Even his fellow prisoner down the hall had ceased his moaning.
It was “moment before the guillotine drops” silence… “calm before the trapdoor springs” silence… “seconds before the predator attacks” silence…
Jack drew in a ragged breath, leaned his head against the rust-encrusted bars, and closed his eyes. Silence… that was a good thing. Right? No shots were fired. He would have heard shots even in here. No shouts. Nothing. That meant Frank and the kid had gotten clear. That meant there was still a chance to get out of this mess. Please God get them out of this mess.
Frank’s pale pain-etched face haunted him in the gloom. Frank always had been a lousy actor and they’d been together way too long for that ‘casual routine’ bullshit to fool him. He was so pig-headed stubborn there was no way he’d bail out and go get the medical attention he needed while Jack was still locked up. No way… the loyal idiot. The agony Frank had been unable to hide when that bastard with the moustache hit him was obvious, too obvious. Frank was in trouble with a capital ‘T’.
That was two he owed that sorry son of a bitch guard. Jack stared down at his battered feet. He’d be lucky if he didn’t lose most of the nails. They’d stopped bleeding, but the pain was keeping a steady beat with his racing pulse. Here and there through the ruined nails a thick yellow purulence beaded and spilled over in putrid rivulets, adding his own contribution to the stinking filth on the tiled floor.
Damn, it was going to make it hard to hike out of here when rescue came if he couldn’t wear his boots. So maybe he’d start a new fashion statement, he thought morosely. Combat sandals. Frank would love it. So if anything good came out of this whole entire mess…
Limping painfully over to the bench, Jack shifted around, trying to find a small bit of comfort and finally settling on the position of least discomfort. His head ached abominably and he would have cheerfully sold his soul to the devil for a couple of aspirin. But he doubted even the devil had much use for him at this moment.
The sound of a sturdy door ricocheting on its hinges against the wall as if it had been kicked, shattered the silence Jack had insulated himself in. Heavy footsteps marched purposefully down the hall alerting Jack that he had company.
The captain was barely recognizable as the same arrogant man who had callously stood by and watched as his men sought vengeance on a helpless bound man only hours before. Now Jack could read nervousness and fear in the man’s eyes. The persistent licking of his lips and the myriad of movements as he shifted his weight back and forth were the very picture of agitation.
He pointed a finger towards Jack. “Here is the Americano, coronel. Just as I told you. We have captured a very suspicious hombre, sí? My men and I, we were right to call you, were we not?”
“Silencio, fool!” the man standing next to him ordered.
He was a trim man of medium height sporting a heavy moustache laced freely with gray, which while not as impressive as Rios’ would never have passed muster back home. The silver hair did nothing to soften the hard demeanor of the man. There was a steely aura about him which could mean only military.
The man stood eyeing Jack, through the bars, his arms locked easily behind him. He gave the impression of a man enjoying an afternoon at the zoo while he watched a rare and favored breed of animal.
It was his eyes which caught Jack unaware and sent a shudder throughout his entire frame. In the dim lighting they appeared coal black. Sinister eyes, devoid of all human warmth or compassion for the man he was scrutinizing. Eyes that suddenly reminded O’Neill of the rat staring at him before scampering through the bars.
The stiff stance of the two heavily armed guards standing behind the man gave testimony to strict military discipline, something Jack had failed to see up to now during this entire mission. Combined with the reaction of the local police, Jack wasn’t entirely sure this was a good thing. Come to think of it, he rather missed the laid-back attitude he had observed thus far. The local bully boys may have attacked him, but it was out of anger and frustration over the war ravaging their country. In a way, Jack could almost understand what they had done. Condone it, no, but certainly understand it.
This man was different. Every precise movement, the self-assurance oozing from his very pores, spelled professional soldier. This man was dangerous. This man represented everything Jack had been taught that Ortega’s Sandinista army stood for. Not children fighting a man’s war because it existed in their backyard, as they became the toy soldiers they should have been playing with. This man and others like him used those children, manipulating them like the arms and legs on a GI Joe, to further their own cause and that of their leader. This man represented why Jack and Frank had been sent down here in the first place.
Lighting a cigarette, the man took a deep drag, exhaling a cloud of smoke which slowly drifted towards Jack. “Cigarette, Americano?”
Jack shook his head. “Not my brand.”
The man cocked his head and gave an amused smile that was light years from his eyes. “Very humorous for an American spy. That is very good. I enjoy a laugh now and then.”
“Yeah, I bet you’re a riot at parties.” Jack really wished he would keep his mouth shut sometimes. Like now would have been a good time to start. But it was too late.
The man’s face lost the amused look of tolerance in an angry flush. “You would do well to be more respectful to coronel Vicente, Americano. You will not be making such disrespectful remarks, I can promise you.” His eyes narrowed and pierced Jack with their intensity. “Because if you do, I will have your tongue removed before sundown.”
As Vicente spun and marched purposefully down the hall, Jack didn’t doubt the validity of his threat for one second.
His name was Alvaro. His mamá had once told him it meant guardian of all, but he didn’t think much about that since he had mistakenly confided that tiny seed pearl to Rios, failing to mask the pride that his parents had thought him worthy of such a name. Rios and his compañero had ridiculed him and called him Alvaro, guardian of the rat dung.
From that day, Alvaro quietly went about his job, sweeping the jail, emptying the slop buckets, and running errands for el capitán and the others, to earn enough dinero for him and his two sisters to live. His twisted foot, the result of a badly broken ankle which had not healed properly when he was a young child, assured that this servile job was the best that he could hope to find.
Alvaro slowly worked his way down the long hall with his straw broom. When he reached the end cell he stopped momentarily and looked curiously at the American prisoner who had the entire jail in an uproar. The man was watching him. In his dark eyes Alvaro could read sympathy, but no pity. There was none of the mockery he was so accustomed to seeing in the eyes of others.
Alvaro was so engrossed in reading the man’s eyes that the voice startled him. “Hey, kid, any chance you could empty this bucket for me. It’s slopping over and Channel Number 5 it ain’t, if you get my drift.”
He didn’t. But he did understand enough to be able to reply. “I am sorry, señor, but el capitán has forbidden me to enter your cell as long as you are in it. He said you are very tricky and dangerous.”
“Oh yeah, Butch Cassidy and Jesse James all rolled into one. I’m one desperate outlaw.”
“I am sorry señor, I do not understand.” Alvaro heard the emphasis the man put on the word ‘desperate.’ He understood that there was another meaning, another message this man was telling him, but he did not understand. He suddenly wished he could decipher the double meaning of the words. But instead he said, “Señor, I overheard coronel Vicente say he will soon bring you out of your cell. Then I will go in and clean the bucket for you, sí?”
There was grim determination battling with worry, and fear on the man’s face as he answered quietly, “Sí, muchos gracias, amigo.”