“You frustrate me.”
Richard felt a muscle in his back spasm, jerking him awake and forcing his eyes open. With a deep, shuddering breath, he blinked his eyes and tried to meet Hendrick’s head on. It was a great struggle; his lids were heavy and he couldn’t hold still.
From his crouched position before him, Hendrick gave Richard a crooked smile, noting the way he twitched and shifted in his chair. “It’s amazing, really. Most men’s endurance would have faded long ago. But not yours. I have to give you credit for that, if nothing else. Your endurance is highly commendable.” The smile faded. “But my admiration for you is quickly fading in light of the fact that you… frustrate me.”
Richard said nothing, staring dazedly back at his captor. He made an attempt to swallow slowly, though the rough, dry texture of this throat made anything hard to do. Feeling phlegm collect over his vocal cords, he cleared his throat. It sounded like a loud groan. “Why… do I frustrate you?”
“You refuse to give me answers. It’s as simple as that. No matter what we give you, no matter how many times we give it to you, no matter how many times it makes you vomit… you refuse. Extremely commendable and extremely stupid.”
“Weird, isn’t it? Frustration and… admiration… for the same person?”
“It’s not something I’m used to having to live with.” Hendrick stood straight and walked over to the cooler, pulling out a bottle and lifting it to show Richard. He shook it; the water inside, less than half full, caught the reporter’s attention immediately. “Though, I must admit – for one who is… fantastic at keeping secrets, you make it very obvious when you’re thirsty. Tell me, do you think what we’re giving you is making you dehydrated, or is it because you haven’t had any food since you’ve been here? Water has been your only source of life, I believe.” He unscrewed the cap and took two long strides to his seated hostage, kneeling before him with a small smile. “It’s really a wonder that I’ve kept you alive this long. My patience usually runs out.”
Keeping his eyes locked with Richard, Hendrick rotated his wrist and drained the remainder of the bottle, letting the stream flow before Richard’s eyes. Richard unconsciously wet his dry lips, making another difficult effort to swallow. When the last drop collected on the large pool between them, Richard met Hendrick’s smile with a defiant gleam in his eye. “Is that supposed to intimidate me?”
“Not really. But that was your water supply for the remainder of the day. I have a feeling you’re going to regret not telling me what I want to know before then.”
“How can I tell you what you want to know when I don’t even know what you’re talking about?”
The chiseled jaw clenched hard. Hendrick’s eyes were cold and heartless. “Don’t frustrate me anymore, Mr. White. You’re in a far more dangerous situation than you realize.”
Two loud knocks broke the tension in the room. Before Hendrick could answer, a man appeared from behind the crates, eyes wide and alert. He carried a folded newspaper in his hand, but no matter how hard he tried to focus, Richard couldn’t read the date. He stopped before the two of them and nervously ran his hands along the paper’s edge. “Sir, we have a small situation.”
Hendrick seemed irritated at the interruption, turning his cold gaze to the other man as he stood, standing straight. “What is it?”
“There’s been an article in the local paper I believe you should know about.”
Hendrick’s expression changed from irritable to interested. “What about?”
The other man’s confidence slowly faded away. He handed Hendrick the newspaper, pointing to a small headline on the front page. “It’s from the International section. Someone’s on to us.”
Hendrick snatched the paper out of his hand. He seemed to be reading the article, but Richard couldn’t tell with his back to him. International? That could mean anything. That could mean Lois… After a moment, his dark head raised and he stared at the other man. “What did I tell you? Weren’t you given specific instructions?”
“Yes sir, we were, and I can assure you we followed those directions to the best of our abilities. But apparently, someone didn’t follow them completely.”
“Someone you handpicked.” Hendrick said coldly. “Someone you said could be trusted.”
“He’s never failed us before, sir. There was never any reason for us not to trust him.” The man’s voice began to noticeably rise in pitch, his nervousness more and more evident. After a moment, Richard noticed his ears began to ring with all the noise in the room. He must have been drugged at some point while he was unconscious. His stomach twisted in fear, but he refused to show it. Resisting the urge to close his eyes and try to somehow block the noise, he stared at the two men and focused on their mouths.
“Apparently, he’s as lazy as you are.” Hendrick growled, raising the paper to the other man’s face. “How does this reach Metropolis newspapers? How?”
“Sir, there must have been a leak somewhere…”
“I told you to take care of it.”
“We moved it to the brush of the island like you told us, sir.”
“Apparently, you didn’t hide it well enough.” For a moment it seemed Hendrick was teetering on the edge of completely exploding. His glare was complete ice, and suddenly Richard realized, as dangerous as his situation was, it could become even worse. As he had seen numerous times, the glare faded, masked into an emotionless expression. He lifted the paper again. “Where is this man? The one featured in this – is he here?”
“Yes sir, he should be.”
“Find him. Bring him in here. I want to see the both of you now.”
Nervously, but moving quickly, the man hurried out of the room, his footfalls echoing before the door completely closed. After a moment, Hendrick turned back to Richard, offering a lifeless smile. Whatever was bothering his captor was too obvious for him to hide. “I’m sorry you have to see this, Mr. White. I had hoped we wouldn’t have to resort to this.”
Hendrick’s voice, though low and quiet, rang in Richard’s ears. I had to have been drugged. The noise, the colors… it’s all so loud… “Resort to what?” he croaked, wincing at his dry throat and the volume of his own voice.
“Drastic measures.” Hendrick answered simply. He observed the newspaper again before turning to the creaking door. The man had returned; this time he had a younger accomplice in tow, pulling him into the room and to one side of Richard while he stood on the other.
Hendrick blinked, never taking his eyes off of him. “This is the man?”
“This is him.”
Hendrick continued to stare back for a long time, his eyes darkening and his face turning to stone. Whether or not his expression was casting fear into the young man, Richard couldn’t tell, but he felt tension rise in the room faster than it had earlier when the first man had left.
“You fool,” Hendrick said quietly… deadly. “What did you think you were doing?”
“Following orders.” The voice sounded normal to Richard’s sensitive ears, but the fear and strain in it was alarming.
“This is not following orders,” Hendrick held up the paper and pointed at the article. “This is blatant disregard of a carefully formulated plan. Did you honestly think you were accomplishing anything by doing this?”
“We were doing what you told us—“
“Obviously not.” Suddenly, Hendrick’s gaze turned from one man to the other. Richard could easily see how both men froze where they stood, terrified of the power Hendrick had yet to show. “Neither of you followed orders.” Hendrick turned back to the younger man. “You were told to do something simple that had simple limits, and you…” here, he turned back to the first man. “Were told to make sure orders were followed accurately.” He broke his lock on the two men and sighed deeply, staring blankly at Richard’s feet. “We might have to go to our backup plan, then.”
The first man noticeably relaxed, but tried to hide it. Richard could see his throat bob up and down with his gulp. “What is it, sir?”
Hendrick took a hand than ran it through his hair… and the glare that followed was more evil than Richard could have ever imagined. With a swift, fluid movement, Hendrick raised his other hand and reached inside of his jacket, pulling out a handgun and quickly firing two shots. In the small space, the sound rang in Richard’s ears until he thought his head would burst. Two thuds, one on either side of him, quickly followed. Immediately after, Hendrick slammed his hands on Richard’s forearms, putting his face close to his.
“Don’t frustrate me, Mr. White!” he screamed. Richard hardly noticed how badly his ears rang from back-to-back gunshots, or how the metal of the gun was pressing into the wounds at his wrists. He was frozen with terror at the sheer rage and fury that poured forth from Hendrick in waves, alerting him to the true nature of his captor. Slowly rising, but never breaking his gaze, Hendrick pocketed the gun in his jacket, then turned and walked to a black box sitting beside the brown bag. He couldn’t see what he was doing, nor did his movements give anything away. It was only then that Richard noticed the sharp smell that was flooding the room. He didn’t dare take his eyes off of Hendrick’s form, but he could only guess it came from the blood of the men beside him.
“Drastic measures, Mr. White, are taken when one does not get what he desires.” Hendrick turned and revealed to Richard what he had been doing; in his hands he held a syringe nearly filled to the top and a small glass bottle. Calmly, he set the bottle on the crate behind him and walked to Richard, the needle pointing upward. “And when one is desperate, he will do anything he needs… even if he isn’t sure how to do it.”
Richard could feel the blood drain from his face with every step Hendrick took towards him. He winced when Hendrick roughly removed the worn and filthy sleeve from his arm, revealing the bruised skin underneath. For a moment, Hendrick stood and regarded the purple skin, lightly running a finger over it, trying to feel for a vein. Impatient, he flicked the skin harshly before sticking the needle in randomly, guessing the accurate location. Richard grunted, but tried to keep his composure.
“Does it worry you that I’ve never done this before?”
Richard nearly froze with fear, but kept his face forward, trying to ignore Hendrick’s voice or the pain shooting through his arm.
“I hear there are several things one should worry about before getting stuck with a needle. Whether or not the needle is sanitized is one of them.”
Richard felt the familiar ache of the fluid running through his arm, but fought the sound of Hendrick’s voice, trying to think of his family, his home…
Suddenly, pain set his arm on fire. He took a deep, sharp breath, his eyes widening and his breath coming out in a loud shudder. He refused to groan, refused to give in to the fear Hendrick so obviously wanted…
“I hear twisting a needle is never a good thing, either.” Slowly, maddeningly, Hendrick twisted the syringe the other direction, watching Richard’s expression. “Especially when one decides to head… downward.”
White flashed before his vision. Richard clenched his jaw shut and dropped his head to his chest, fighting a scream with everything in him. His arm felt numb. A pathetic whimper finally made its way out.
Hendrick seemed satisfied with that. Pulling the needle out, Hendrick stood just out of Richard’s line of sight. Whether or not he was cleaning the needle, Richard didn’t know. Nor did he care to know. Just don’t look up. Whatever you do… but God, it hurts…
“That’s more than you’re used to getting, I believe. I don’t really know.” Hendrick’s voice became distorted and loud, making Richard wince and wish the man would just shut up for once… before my entire head explodes. Please…
“You shouldn’t plan on being comfortable anymore, Mr. White. Your stay will be very unpleasant from now on.” Echoes surrounded him. A door opened, closed. The sound was so loud, and the smell… a rich, copper-like smell… the smell of blood… making his stomach churn and his head dizzy… darkness settling in…
Richard, finally alone, groaned, wincing at the odd mix of comfort and irritation it gave him. I’m not going to make it out of here alive…