I bend over in front of the man tied to my seat, my hand holding my weight against my knee. I look directly at his eyes, and he stares intensely back into mine. I grin gleefully. “Look, Mike.” I say slowly, deliberately. “I can call you Mike, right?”
He squirms against the ropes that bind him to the chair and breathes heavily into the bandana in his mouth. I put the tip of my knife under his chin and slide down his jawline.
“Like I said before. All’s I want’s a name.” I grin at him. “I’mma take the gag out, and y’er gonna give it to me. ‘Zat sound like a plan, chief?” He pulls his head away from my blade and nods vigorously in response. “Attaboy.” I smile, reaching around the back of his head and taking my time undoing the knot.
“Mmough…” he breathes sloppily and coughs several times.
“Ight, my part’s done. Now it’s y’er turn.” I hold my hand out in a gesture that suggests I’m waiting for him to speak.
Mike considers his next words carefully. I admire that. “I know you ain’t gonna let me live.”
“Zat right?” I say eagerly, baring my teeth in a giddy grin.
“I seen your face. I’m a dead man and I know it.” His country accent matches mine in thickness, but his drawl sounds more Texan than Georgian, like mine. “But if I give you this name, you ain’t gonna hurt my wife, are ya?”
“Does the name y’er gonna give me, belong to y’er wife?” I kneel in front of him. He shakes his head twice, slowly, his brow furrowed, his face full of emotions. “Then I won’t so much as breath in her direction.”
His features fall short of relieved, but he does seem less burdened. He sighs, his eyes going shiny with tears. He fears death. My smile widens. I’m going to send him on an adventure. Finally, Mike looks up at me and a single tear slips down his left cheek. “Morren,” he says through a constricting throat. “Coby Morren.”
“And where might I find Mr. Morren?” I ask slowly.
His eyes light up with confusion. “What?” he croaks. “That wudn’t part of the deal.” he pleads. “I gave you the damn name, now y’er s’posed to kill me!”
My smile fades, replaced with an odd sort of impatience. I stand and turn away from him. I see an empty plastic bucket from the corner of my eye, and I kick it in a fit of rage. It flies across the room, landing with a series of awkwardly loud thuds. I chuck my pocket knife into the far wall, leaving the handle stuck out parallel to the floor, and I fling open my toolbox on the floor. I pull out one of my favorite machetes and swipe my thumb across the blade to test the sharpness. It slices open my finger like a scalpel, scarlet red oozing from the newly made wound and down my hand. “Uh huh.” I mutter quietly, running my tongue across my teeth.
I turn on my heel back to face Mike, the weapon wielded tightly in my grasp. As I advance toward him, I expect him to cry out or plead for his life, but instead he sits silently. I blink. The blade tip dips to the ground and my feet falter as I examine him. He’s just watching. He’s not screaming. He’s not crying. He’s studying me. An emotion creeps to the surface of my consciousness, and though I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly, I know I like it. Goosebumps rise on my skin. He’s a speculative little bastard. Wants to look into the face of the man who he thinks will end his life. He wants to see what I feel when I dig my knife into his skin and watch his bright red blood pour out over his chest. I like this one. Maybe he’s a keeper after all.
I lick my lips and remind myself to breathe. “I’m changin’ the deal.” I say seriously, masking my eagerness to ask my next important question. “I’m lookin’ fer a man. Location, location, location. Can’t kill a man ‘less ya know where he is y’know.” Mike shifts uncomfortably in his bounds as I stalk forward, lifting the machete and letting the blade sit flat on his shoulder, the edge just barely grazing his neck. He’s back in deep thought, working through possible responses, I assume.
“Coby’s….” he pauses to swallow. “Coby’s a friend of mine. I-I couldn’t-”
“Couldn’t?” I interrupt. “Or wouldn’t?”
I slide the knife downwards just a centimeter, and the blade leaves the tiniest scarlet trail in its wake. He huffs through his nose wildly, and I round my lips downward. “Anyway I could get ya to, y’know, reconsider?” The knife slides another centimeter.
“Okay!” he cries. “Okay, alright, just…..” I pull the knife away once more. “Listen.” he says, his voice breaking. “He, uh. Coby’s smart. I could tell you where he is, but he’d see ya comin’ from a mile away.” Mike closes his eyes and presses his lips together in a tight line. After a shaky inhale, he sighs dejectedly, reopening his eyes and looking up at me. “Let me take ya there.”
I consider. There’s always the possibility that they’ve set up some intricate trap for me to waltz right into by bringing the kid along, but then again, I haven’t had a good challenge in ages. Not since Martha Downey was smart enough to use a piece of broken glass as knife against me last month. I grin. She was tough. Wonder just how tough Mike is. I kneel by his chair and put the knife against his thigh. His muscles tighten. “Ya ain’t gonna double cross me, are ya, Mike?”
He shakes his head solemnly, staring intently at my face. “I got nothin’ to gain from lyin’ to you.”
I sense a truth in his words. The honesty stage. One of my personal favorites. Besides, even if he is lying or tries to pull something, I’ve got the upper hand. And a pound of C-4 in the truck. I can make him cooperate. I stand and rub my knuckles on his head affectionately. His eyes follow me, and he flinches at my touch, but he doesn’t squirm. If he’s good, maybe I can keep him. My newest addition to the family.
I wink. “Atta’baby.”
(P.S. I pulled the picture of the barn off Google Images. All rights go to the owner)