His fingers bore into the joint's crevice like spearheads.
Pain - crippling pain - slashed down my left side. My legs gave out. I tried to scream or fight, but I couldn't move. A white van swung up next to us. The side door slid open. The Asian guy moved his hand onto my neck. He squeezed the pressure points on either side, and my eyes started rolling back. With his other hand, he toyed with my spine and I bent forward. I felt myself folding up.
He shoved me toward the van. Hands reached from inside the back and dragged me in. I landed on the cool metal floor. No seats in here. The door closed. The van pulled back into the traffic.
The whole episode - from the hand touching my shoulder to the van starting up - took maybe five seconds.
The Glock, I thought.
I tried to reach for it, but someone leapt on my back. My hands were pinned down. I heard a snap, and my right arm was cuffed at the wrist to the floorboard. They flipped me over, nearly ripping my shoulder out of the socket. Two of them. I could see them now. Two men, both white, maybe thirty years old. I could see them clearly. Too clearly. I could identify them. They would have to know that.
This wasn't good.
They cuffed my other hand so I was spread-eagle on the floorboard. Then they sat on my legs. I was chained down now and totally exposed.
"What do you want?" I asked.
No one answered. The van pulled to a quick stop around the corner. The big Asian guy slid in, and the van started up again. He bent down, gazing at me with what looked like mild curiosity.
"Why were you at the park?" he asked me.
His voice threw me. I had expected something growling or menacing, but his tone was gentle, high-pitched, and creepily childlike.
"Who are you?" I asked.
He slammed his fist in my gut. He punched me so hard, I was sure his knuckles scraped the van floor. I tried to bend or crumple into a ball, but the restraints and the men sitting on my legs made that impossible. Air. All I wanted was air. I thought that I might throw up.
You'll be followed...
All the precautions - the unsigned emails, the code words, the warnings - they all made sense now. Elizabeth was afraid. I didn't have all the answers yet - hell, I barely had any of them - but I finally understood that her cryptic communications were a result of fear. Fear of being found.
Found by these guys.
I was suffocating. Every cell in my body craved oxygen. Finally, the Asian nodded at the other two men. They got off my legs. I snapped my knees toward my chest. I tried to gather some air, thrashing around like an epileptic. After a while, my breath came back. The Asian man slowly kneeled closer to me. I kept my eyes steady on his. Or, at least, I tried to. It wasn't like staring into the eyes of a fellow human being or even an animal. These were the eyes of something inanimate. If you could look into the eyes of a file cabinet, this would be what it felt like.
But I did not blink.
He was young too, my captor - no more than twenty, twenty five tops. He put his hand on the inside of my arm, right above the elbow. "Why were you in the park?" he asked again in his singsong way.
"I like the park," I said.
He pressed down hard. With just two fingers. I gasped. The fingers knifed through my flesh and into a bundle of nerves. My eyes started to bulge. I had never known pain like this. It shut down everything. I flailed like a dying fish on the end of a hook. I tried to kick, but my legs landed like rubber bands. I couldn't breathe.
He wouldn't let go.
I kept expecting him to release the grip or let up a bit. He didn't. I started making small whimpering sounds. But he held on, his expression one of boredom.
The van kept going. I tried to ride out the pain, to break it down into intervals or something. But that didn't work. I needed relief. Just for a second. I needed him to let go. But he remained stone like He kept looking at me with those empty eyes. The pressure built in my head. I couldn't speak - even if I wanted to tell him what he wanted to know, my throat had shut down. And he knew that.
Escape the pain. That was all I could think about. How could I escape the pain? My entire being seemed to focus and converge on that nerve bundle in my arm. My body felt on fire, the pressure in my skull building.
With my head seconds from exploding, he suddenly released his grip. I gasped again, this time in relief. But it was shortlived. His hand began to snake down to my lower abdomen and stopped.
"Why were you in the park?"
I tried to think, to conjure up a decent lie. But he didn't give me time. He pinched deeply, and the pain was back, somehow worse than before. His finger pierced my liver like a bayonet. I started bucking against the restraints. My mouth opened in a silent scream.
I whipped my head back and forth. And there, in mid-whip, I saw the back of the driver's head. The van had stopped, probably for a traffic light. The driver was looking straight ahead - at the road, I guess. Then everything happened very fast.
I saw the driver's head swivel toward his door window as though he'd heard a noise. But he was too late. Something hit him in the side of the skull. He went down like a shooting gallery mallard. The van's front doors opened.
"Hands up now!"
Guns appeared. Two of them. Aimed in the back. The Asian guy let go. I flopped back, unable to move.
Behind the guns I saw two familiar faces, and I almost cried out in joy.
Tyrese and Brutus.
One of the white guys made a move. Tyrese casually fired his weapon. The man's chest exploded. He fell back with his eyes open. Dead. No doubt about that. In the front, the driver groaned, starting to come to. Brutus elbowed him hard in the face. The driver went quiet again.
The other white guy had his hands up. My Asian tormenter never changed his expression. He looked on as though from a distance, and he didn't raise or lower his hands. Brutus took the driver's seat and shifted into gear. Tyrese kept his weapon pointed straight at the Asian guy.
"Uncuff him," Tyrese said.
The white guy looked at the Asian. The Asian nodded his consent. The white guy uncuffed me. I tried to sit up. It felt as if something inside me had shattered and the shards were digging into tissue.
"You okay?" Tyrese asked.
I managed a nod.
"You want me to waste them?" I turned to the still-breathing white guy. "Who hired you?"
The white guy slid his eyes toward the young Asian. I did the same.
"Who hired you?" I asked him.
The Asian finally smiled, but it didn't change his eyes. And then, once again, everything happened too fast.
I never saw his hand shoot out, but next thing I knew the Asian guy had me by the scruff of my neck. He hurled me effortlessly at Tyrese. I was actually airborne, my legs kicking out as though that might slow me down. Tyrese saw me coming, but he couldn't duck out of the way. I landed on him. I tried to roll off quickly, but by the time we righted ourselves, the Asian had gotten out via the van's side door.
He was gone.
"Fucking Bruce Lee on steroids," Tyrese said.
The driver was stirring again. Brutus prepared a fist, but Tyrese shook him off. "These two won't know dick," he said to me.
"We can kill them or let them go." Like it was no big deal either way, a coin toss.
"Let them go," I said.
Brutus found a quiet block, probably someplace in the Bronx, I can't be sure. The still-breathing white guy got out on his own. Brutus heaved the driver and the dead guy out like yesterday's refuse. We started driving again. For a few minutes, nobody spoke.
Tyrese laced his hands behind his neck and settled back. "Good thing we hung around, huh, Doc?"
I nodded at what I thought might be the understatement of the millennium.