The Taste of Copper

Military Intelligence had been at the guy all night. He refused to break. They tried everything: stress positions, waterboarding, hanging him eight inches off the ground by his thumbs with his hands tied behind his back. Most other prisoners would have been tossed straight back into their cell to let them soften up for a few more days, but apparently this guy was special. You could tell just from the way he looked, from the way he held himself as the MI guys led him into the room.

I watched from behind the pane of one-way glass with the rest of the interrogators. The guy was overweight, which was unusual, considering most of the prisoners were getting fed the human equivalent of wet dog food. That meant that wherever he was from, he was much better fed than most of the scrawny punks I had to deal with. And he walked with purpose; ignoring the fact that armed military escorts flanked him, the guy walked haughtily into the room like he was about to give an important presentation to a board of directors.

The MI guys laid him out on the table and strapped him down. One of them tapped on the glass before they both left the room: our cue.

I reached down to my waist and pulled out my Pez dispenser. With a well-practiced motion, I flicked back the White Rabbit’s head with my thumb and inhaled through the small opening, first with my left nostril and then my right. I closed my eyes and felt the numb tingling spread through my sinuses and calm my headache.

When I opened my eyes, the world seemed a little clearer, felt a little more real, and my hands jittered with uncontrollable energy. I slipped the Pez dispenser back into my pocket and pulled my mask up over my face. I could barely contain myself in the short walk from the observation room to the interrogation room. I had to bite my nails to keep from shouting. I had already bitten them down to nothing, so one or two started to bleed. It’s a funny feeling, watching yourself bleed and knowing there should be pain but not feeling any. We walked into the interrogation room, and Major Dennisen locked the door behind us. For some reason, the pure authority of that act, combined with the fat man strapped down to a table with a look of arrogant disinterest on his face, made me laugh out loud.

I caught a glance of myself in the mirror that took up one entire wall of the room, and for a moment I could feel the bottom drop out of my stomach. Who was this insane woman in front of me, wearing a skull mask, blood streaming off her hand while she laughed as she prepared to mutilate a fellow human being? Then the feeling was gone, replaced with a chemically induced euphoria.

Then I realized that I had stopped laughing, and what I was hearing was just a ringing in my ears. I put my index finger in my mouth and sucked on the blood as it poured out.

It tasted like copper.

Major Dennisen asked the fat man what he was going to tell us. The fat man replied “Nada, de nada,” with a self-satisfied little smirk.

Dennisen returned the smirk, and I had to bite down on my finger to keep from laughing again. I knew what was coming. Everyone in the room did. Everyone except the fat man. He seemed to assume that he’d been through the worst, and that as good Americans we would play by the rules. Without changing his expression, Dennisen looked up at me and nodded.

My leg had been bouncing up and down as I stood still awaiting orders, but now that I had a duty to perform, all the excess energy drained out of me. In an instant I had transformed into a professional killer, a well-oiled machine of precision built by Uncle Sam and the private dollar, and fueled by narcotics and aggression.

There was a concrete saw lying just in front of the one-way mirror. I picked it up and walked deliberately around the table where the fat man lay, making sure that he could see the intimidating bulk of the construction implement. Then, I started the ancient gasoline engine and revved it a few time to get the blade spinning. I held the saw at an angle so he could see his reflection in the shiny metal of the diamond tipped blade.

Blood dripped from my fingers onto the still spinning saw. Centrifugal force pulled my blood into a twisted star-shaped pattern.

The fat man broke out into a cold sweat.

I held the saw straight above his outstretched hand and, holding down the trigger, brought it to bear on his tied-down fingers. I could have gone through his thumb and trigger and middle fingers in an instant, if I wanted to. Instead, I tried to make it last as long as possible. The fat man howled in pain, and blood and flecks of tendon splattered against my white utility uniform. The tip of his thumb struck my lips and bounced off. The blood soaked through my mask, and I could taste it on the tip of my tongue.

It tasted like copper.

 He began to sob as I walked around the table towards his other hand. He was blubbering and snotting and sobbing and he began to beg in broken English, not to me or God or Dennisen or to anyone in particular.

“I will say something to him!” The fat man shouted. “I will say to him what you want to know!”

I stood over his out-stretched arm and revved the engine again.

“No! Por favor! I want to speak!”

I hit the off switch and the engine cut immediately, spewing a last puff of noxious smoke in retaliation as I tossed it unceremoniously aside. The fat man continued to sob and babble as the MI guys unstrapped him and rushed him to the infirmary. And in my mouth?

The taste of copper.