The Swamp (Part 26)

Rosella stood and faced the disgusting creature bound to the chair.

Rosella had seen grisly scenes, in fact, had created them for much of his life and he had never once in all that time puked. But that was before he had come into this room. Now, for the first time that he could ever remember, inhaling the gruesome, malodorous funk coming off Rodriguez in wave after nauseating wave, Rosella thought that yes, finally he might just vomit.

The stench was a diabolical stew of feces, urine, body odor, and something worse, like a long-dead mule carcass left to rot in the sun.

The guard ripped another nasty fart and Rosella lost his battle, yarking into the porcelain utility sink mounted on the grey, moldy wall of the interrogation room.

Rosella breathed hard, sweat pouring down his face and he wondered for a moment if he might not be getting some sort of virus. He had a strong resistance to disease but in the maddening heat of Panama, even the toughest of hombres could fall victim to fiebres, tropical fevers, and other vicious maladies.

He had contracted Dengue Fever once and the bone cracking pain of the fucker was fresh in his mind. Rosella wiped his mouth and smiled, trying not to laugh, spitting into the filthy sink.

The absurdity of the situation was not lost on Ignacio Rosella, who for all of the misery he dispensed, for all of the bowel-trembling fear he had dished out over the years, was a man of deep emotions and even deeper thoughts. He was even sensitive, Carmen, his girl had told him so, and damn it, he liked to think that he wasn’t a bad sort of fellow. He made good money at what he did and even joined the local country club, where he played tennis several times a week.

The difference between Ignacio Rosella and average men was that he could use a power drill on a live human skull and lay down in his bed a couple of hours later and fall asleep soundly after reading a few chapters of The Gulag Archipelago.

In fact, he had learned a lot of his craft from researching the Russians. The way the KGB operated was, well, a type of art, he thought, a thing to be admired. They were ingenious in the methods they used to break a man.

First was terror: the classic 3 A.M. knock on the door, a sound which had left an entire generation of Russians crippled with fear. The KGB was notorious for coming to get dissidents, or more accurately, suspected dissidents, in the middle of the night. If you were so unlucky as to find yourself in that category of human being, you probably did not get much meaningful R.E.M. sleep in Stalin’s motherland.

Even the totally innocent were frightened to death, always on edge. When sixty million people are wiped out by a systematic purge, no one can ever feel truly safe. Every citizen was related to, or knew someone who had been taken from his warm bed in the middle of the night.

Whole families disappeared, and not just immediate families, but anyone even remotely related to someone suspected of anti-soviet activities would be rounded up in the dead of night and taken to Red Square, to the Lubyanka, and, if they survived that, shipped by railroad to the dreaded Gulags. Most of these were located in remote parts of Russia, in sub-zero climates, like the Gulag Archipelago, a prison deep in the heart of Siberia.

Rosella read about how the KGB would keep a man awake for many days at a time. First the prisoner was placed into a brightly lit room which was more like a vertical box, too small to lie down in, with no chair so that the person could only slump over, supported on all sides by a rough wall if they wanted to sleep.

After twenty hours of no sleep, there was no one alive who could resist dozing off, even in this seemingly impossible position. But that was when the sadistic guards would douse them with freezing water or blast horns into their ears, or do a dozen other things guaranteed to wake them up.

Sadly, sleep deprivation was only the first of never ending variety of horrors that awaited the hapless victim.

If information was not immediately forthcoming, and it usually was with the deprivation treatment, then the prisoner would be taken to the back room where the wet work was done. Rubber truncheons, electric shock, smashed testicles, smashed kneecaps, punctured penises, soldered tongues, eyes slit by razors.

In fact, any and all type of gruesome punishments which could be brainstormed by these imaginative goons was eagerly implemented at the Gulag. The Gulag was a place where aspiring monsters with aptitude could hone their various crafts and skill sets. This was like Julliard for torturers, a finishing school for psychotics.

The general information that they plied from their hosts was almost always the same: Names. They always wanted names and more names. And when you had named everyone that you ever loved, your wife, your mother and father, your very children, they still wanted more, always more.

For most, the Gulag was the last stop in their lives. Few made it out alive and those that did hated themselves for the rest of their lives, haunted for turning over everyone they ever knew to the secret police. Few could fool themselves into doubting that these innocents had suffered the same as they themselves had at the hands of these diabolical murderers.

Rosella held his breath and slapped Rodriguez until he woke up screaming. “Oye, apestoso, I am going to remove your spleen for you now. You won’t need it.”

Rosella started the portable saws-all and brought it up close to Rodriguez’s flapping cheek. He used the pliers in his left hand to pull the cheek skin out, and with his right hand he used the blade like an electric carving knife, shearing the cheek from the face in one remarkably smooth motion. Rodriguez screamed in agony, his face gushing blood.

“I told you to wake up, cabron! Don’t fucking fall asleep on me. Your fucking spleen next.” Rosella brought the blade down almost into Rodriguez’s belly, cutting the chief of guards, who screamed for him to stop.

“I’ll tell you anything, please. Stop! Please! What are you doing? No! Noooooo!” he wailed.

“Tell me then, cabron. I haven’t got all day.”

“I was there to sell the rocks.” Rodriguez blubbered.

“Rocks? What rocks?”

“The pink rocks I had in my hand when you knocked me out.”

“Pink rocks? What the hell are you talking about? Estas loco?” Rosella was getting angry now. Was this motherfucker playing with him? Truthfully, he was sick of having to deal with this guy. He just wanted to kill him and be done with it. But of course, he had to wait for Blandon to give the word.

Blandon knew that something was up immediately after Rodriguez had come back from the failed search for Hendricks and had promptly asked for a few days off to go see his mother in Panama City. Not only had he never asked for a day off before, Blandon was not even sure the guard had a mother, in Panama City or anywhere else for that matter.

Blandon himself had de-briefed the other two deputies and they had told him about Rodriguez’s strange behavior. Blandon, suspicious as always, told the warden to allow Rodriguez take some time off.

He then ordered Rosella go to Panama City and follow the prison guard, see what he could dig up. Hendricks had disappeared into thin sea air and had left Blandon infuriated with Rodriguez and his bumbled attempt.

Those idiots had found the God damned boat for Christ’s sake, but no sign of Hendricks. How the hell could that be, he thought, unless perhaps he had been picked up by some passing boat. Or maybe he had just fallen into the sea with the girl. That happened a lot some of the fisherman had said, especially if you’re dying of thirst. The heat made you crazy, they said. Blah, blah, blah.

He didn’t believe a word of that. No, he knew that somehow Hendricks had survived. He’d survived the jungles hadn’t he? No one survived that fucking jungle and those miserable swamps. No one. So if he had survived that, hell, he could have made it on the ocean too.

Rodriguez had gone straight to his mom’s, a tiny hovel with tin siding in a crammed ghetto near the airport. He stayed there one full day before appearing on the front sidewalk the next morning. Rosella was parked down the street and watched him through binoculars. He saw Rodriguez get into the ugly old Datsun and Rosella followed at a safe distance. It was Sunday so the traffic in the city was light. Still it took the slow driving Rodriguez over an hour to drive through the sprawling city.

Rodriguez caught the expressway outside of the city and drove up into the mountain town of El Valle to the sprawling Sunday market there. Rodriguez parked behind a gaily painted school bus then headed out on foot. Rosella parked nearby and followed.

Rodriguez went deep into the labyrinthine market, avoiding the craft stalls and the hundreds of vendors selling everything from stereo equipment to stuffed iguanas to crocodile purses. He finally stopped at one place that looked like some sort of jewelry store, with several cases of rings and bracelets. Rosella was too far to hear, but he saw Rodriguez talking to what looked like the elderly owner. They had a short conversation and then Rodriguez went through a beaded curtain into what appeared to be a small back room.

About ten minutes later Rodriguez emerged, obviously angry, having heated words with the white haired proprietor, who had a jeweler’s loupe over one eye.

Rodriguez wandered around for a while after that, occasionally stopping at various stalls, but obviously very nervous and jumpy. Rosella wondered what had happened that was causing him to behave this way.

He also noticed that Rodriguez kept sticking one of his hands into his pocket and fumbling around, as if he had some sort of itch that needed to be scratched. Rosella had heard of Rodriguez’s disgusting hygiene issues and figured the guy had lice or crabs or something equally repulsive. The torturer himself was a neat freak, never wearing the same clothes twice in a row and showering at least twice a day.

Rodriguez looked nervous and kept looking around furtively. This continued for another hour. Rosella knew something was up but couldn’t quite put his finger on it. He decided it was time to just bring in Rodriguez once and for all.

He followed the guard and by the time they got back to his mother’s it was early evening and getting fairly dark in the old city. Rosella watched as Rodriguez clambered out of his mother’s ancient, rusted Datsun. He noticed that once again Rodriguez seemed to be scratching the side of his legs, mumbling to himself.

Rosella stepped out of his own vehicle and walked toward him, head down.

Rodriguez saw him coming up the broken sidewalk and at first did not recognize him.

“Hola, jefecito. Hold on a moment. I need a word with you.” Rosella smiled and held up one hand, the other tucked into the pocket of his brown cotton blazer.

“Who the fuck are you?” snapped Rodriguez, sweat pouring off his greasy face. He clenched his fists, knuckles cracking loudly. “Get the fuck away from me, cabron. I’m warning you.”

“Don’t you know me, jefecito? I work for El Patron, Don Federico,” Rosella smiled innocently, reaching for a casual handshake, as if they were two buddies meeting by chance on a street corner.

It was then that Rosella first registered the stench coming off the guard.

He winced and added, “Oh man, Rodriguez, those deputies were not lying! You smell like, like, well like an ass hole. And I mean the actual, physical hole of the ass itself.”

Rodriguez snarled at the insulting words, but froze as recognition and realization smacked him in the head simultaneously.

El Mecanico?” it came out as a hoarse whisper and Rodriguez instantly regretted it when he saw the darkness in Rosella’s expression.

“Please, don’t call me that. You know, that name, it’s always felt wrong for me. I much prefer to be called simply Don Ignacio, or Senor Rosella, alright? Now, come along. I haven’t got all day. El Patron, he wants to have a word with you.”

Rodriguez panicked and turned to run into his mother’s shack. In his haste, he tripped on a piece of sidewalk rubble blown up by the roots of a banyan tree and fell down hard.

He scooted away, crab-walking backwards as Rosella approached calmly. Rodriguez felt inside his pocket and alarm registered on his face. He looked down and saw that the handkerchief with the diamonds in it was laying under Rosella’s left foot, unnoticed. He must have dropped it when he tripped.

Without thinking, he jumped at Rosella’s feet, snatching at the cloth. This movement surprised Rosella and caused him to stumble backward. Rodriguez fell on his face, blindly groping in front of him. He looked up, flat on the ground, and saw the handkerchief inches away from Rosella’s foot. Though it was tied in knot, Rodriguez instantly realized that the jostling had loosened the knot and he could even see little edges of the diamonds peeking out.

Rodriguez shouted, “No!” and lunged again, this time grabbing the handkerchief in his hand.

Ignacio Rosella, quick as a fox, stepped neatly out of the way and kicked at the guard’s head with his steel-toed boot. Three teeth came flying out and Rodriguez pitched backward, still hanging on to the stones. His head hit the steel bumper of a parked car and, in the shock of the collision, shrieking in pain, he released the handkerchief.

He watched helplessly as the cloth opened and the stones fell out, clinking off the sidewalk and bouncing into the gutter, where they disappeared into a sewer grate.

Rodriguez collapsed, sobbing like an infant, his mouth full of blood. He must have bit his tongue too because it was numb inside of his mouth. All of his new found fortune, down the fucking drain. He turned and cast a look of pure hatred at Rosella.

Uttering a low guttural croak, he jumped up at Rosella, who was somewhat caught off guard, thinking that the guard had been knocked out.

Hijo de puta!” screamed Rodriguez, launching himself through the air with blazing speed.

Rosella laughed, stepped back, and pulled the taser out of his coat. He shot it at the lunging guard, whose incomprehensible swearing rose an octave in pitch, before and during his graceless fall onto the filthy sidewalk. Rodriguez lay in a twitching, filthy heap.

Rosella stepped up to him and saw that the guard was breathing and awake, but clearly unable to move.

“That was very stupid, Senor Rodriguez. Very, very stupid.”

Trying not to breathe through his nose, Rosella picked up the wiry guard and half-dragged his half-paralyzed body to the back of the black town car.

With a little grunting and huffing he managed to pick up the dead weight. Rodriguez made some blubbering sounds and tried to point at the sewer opening but couldn’t move his arms.

He thought he could see one of the diamonds sitting on top of the square metal pipes. It seemed to be calling to him, like the outstretched hand of a beggar child. He wanted more than anything to be able to reach out and grab it, but his mind and body were like two things separate from each other. All he could do was spit and retch and blink the tears from his fluttering, spastic eyes.

Rosella dumped the body into the trunk, then stepped back, slapping his hands together to clean them as best he could.

“Shhh. Sit back and relax. We have a long drive,” soothed Rosella as he slammed the trunk lid down, muffling the cries inside.

to be continued

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