The pain was incredible. But at least it was definable, even tangible. The waves of sharp, throbbing agony built up slowly like a pulsating dance. The rhythm was consistent with his heart-rate until it reached a climax and he simply could take no more of the madness. And then his body slipped into oblivion once again.
He always emerged from the abyss in a cold sweat; weaker and weaker with each episode. He became more and more frightened with each pain inducing pump of his heart. His strength and his will were declining quickly, and he knew it. As a blessing from the gods, a cool breeze from the river below whipped up to refresh him, if only for a brief moment.
Alternating between the crisis of pain and anguishing despair, his mind cleared and he was reminded of his imminent death. He knew that there would be no surviving this ordeal. He could clearly see the river flowing slowly some twenty yards below and in front of him. He certainly couldn’t turn his head to glimpse the other surroundings, but he knew it was early in the morning, and that the river below him was the incredibly famous, La Seine. He tried to take in his surroundings and begin to make sense of what had happened to him.
The vapor that left his mouth with each torturous breath he took told him that it was very cold. But his body raged at a temperature that alarmed him and sent waves of panic throbbing through his exhausted mind. It was too much, and some part of him yearned for the quiet peace that would surely come quickly now.
Jacob Moore always knew that death was a real possibility with his chosen profession. He’d been doing it long enough to accept that eventually it would be his turn to face execution. He had hoped that it would be peaceful when it came, but even a painful death was to be expected with most of the assignments he had accepted and conducted.
He wasn’t necessarily a brave man, so over the years he had tried a series of mental exercises to prepare himself to be shot, knifed, even to be gassed. How would his body react to these techniques of death? How could he prepare his mind for such a thing? He had forced his imagination to go over and over the different scenarios and possibilities. He had even gone so far as to volunteer to be water-boarded; his face covered in a ski hood, his eyes unable to see and his lungs barely able to achieve an adequate measure of oxygen, all as part of a training exercise - just to experience what he knew might one day be his possible method of death. As a result, he nearly had a nervous breakdown and practically drowned in the process and it took a full week to recover completely from the ordeal.
Fear, pain, anger, and even depression had been anticipated and accepted as part of the process of dying. But all of his mental preparation and crude training methods could not prepare him for the emotion that overwhelmed his mind at this moment. Rage, to be sure, and utter disgust filled his weak frame and shook him to the bone.
He knew that whoever found his bloody, naked body, most likely the Police Nationale, would revolt at the sight. And this thought embarrassed him intensely. How could he shame the team in this manner? What a disgrace for Rusty - and then his family, his children. Would they ever understand? Rusty would, he knew that - in fact, he counted on it in some small way. Maybe his death, and the manner of it, would bring Rusty back into the fold. At least that was something to hope for. But his wife and children would never fully understand, they had never understood the sacrifices he had made over the long twenty six years in the CIA. Especially his wife.
The corners of his parched lips dipped down in a tortured frown as he prepared for the oncoming wave of anguish that was quickly rising in sharp, pulsating madness. Focus! He needed to concentrate.
How long had he been here? Four, five hours? It seemed as though his life had only two parts, the first contained fifty-four years of love, beauty and meaning, and the other - five hours of searing pain. Unfortunately, it was only the second half that would matter now. The end. The peace was coming quickly.
He seemed to recall being dragged through the square in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral. Although he was heavily drugged, he could still sense his nakedness and how odd it had seemed that they would bring him to one of Paris’ top tourist destinations to carry out their murderous plans. The drugs had been somewhat helpful and even euphoric. They had drained him of any resistance, but at least he was able to remember and understand what was happening to him.
Two heavy-set men, Chinese - there was no doubt about it, had held him upright. A third man, a huge and brutish Frenchman, removed a large, metallic object from the car. The men had laughed and talked in Chinese. And then they had… they… Jacob sobbed at the remembrance. What an incomprehensible and barbaric gesture.
Complete and utter sadness overtook him. Crying was a mistake as it brought on and even intensified the incredible pain. His weary body convulsed several times as the extreme, familiar pain clawed up his spine. He finally fainted and a fresh measure of blood rushed down his leg and dripped from his naked toes into the river below.
Strapped to his toe was a tattered piece of rope or thick string. It was wrapped tightly and had cut off the circulation to Jacob’s terminal digit. Attached to the string was a large card - like a holiday greeting card you’d receive at Christmas time. It swung heavily, back and forth in the crisp, morning air, and it had drizzles of Jacob’s precious blood splattered across it.
Jan raced against an unforgivable wave of time and misfortune. It was as though the law of attraction was supercharged and doing everything possible in the universe to slow her down and prevent her from reaching the cathedral. Her shoes wouldn’t fasten, her blouse wouldn’t button, her coat had caught on a door latch and ripped. And morning traffic was possibly the worst it had ever been in the history of Paris.
Her heels clogged and caught the cobblestone as she awkwardly rushed the final block to the Square Jean XXIII that was located just East of Notre Dame. As she approached, she felt a pain in her stomach that ripped at her. Something terrible was about to take place.
Her eyes darted back and forth searching for Rusty. The cathedral was menacing and powerful, like an enormous tombstone jutting out and above the Seine, as the light finally made its appearance on the square. Rusty wasn’t outside the cathedral or anywhere in the square. Was he inside? She slowly approached the front steps, but kept scanning the area.
Where was he? Would she recognize him? Was he in disguise? Highly doubtful, but certainly possible. And then she saw the broad shoulders and back of the man she loved and knew so well. What was he doing?
He was on his knees and haunched over. Was he…? Yes, he was violently sick and vomiting. She rushed across the square ignoring the landmark cathedral and heading to the river.
That’s when her world went black. Time stopped, and everything that she knew and loved came crashing down around her. It was as though she had been pummeled in the face with a brick. She was stunned beyond coherent reason or thought. Her ears were ringing, shutting out every other possible noise.
A few yards in front of Rusty, along the wrought iron fence that overlooked the Seine, was a figure. It was naked, and bloody. So much blood. A large, iron shaft jutted outward to the South and on it was the impaled, dead body, of Jacob Moore. His corps hung limp out and over the river. Blood was still dripping down his naked leg and onto some sort of paper attached to his foot.
A tour boat was heading down the river and had come into view of the grizzly scene. Silence prevailed as tourists watched almost in reverence with their mouths agape. A small crowd began to emerge and stare inquisitively at the spectacle. What first was thought of as a possible prank, or maybe a political statement or type of demonstration, was quickly dismissed - as the reality of death became as cold as the morning air that surrounded them. This was real. This was happening in front of them. This was obscene and grotesque. And that is when shock set in and panic ensued.
Jan fumbled and made her way over to Rusty. Her eyes never left Jacob’s disfigured body. It was mesmerizing and gut-wrenching. She placed her hand onto his shoulder for support and fought back the bile that was forcing itself up her throat. She swallowed hard. The doctor instinct took over and she became cold and clinical. She emotionally detached herself from the situation and assumed the emergency room, crisis mode, problem-solver that years of training had instilled.
Before speaking, she noticed what the large paper was that had been tied to Jacob’s bare foot. It was a large tag, like a Christmas present tag. In huge, block lettering it painfully read:
From: An Admirer
She finally took her eyes off of Jacob’s blood-stained body and looked down to Rusty. He was sobbing violently now. It was as if his body had taken in an evil spirit and was now rejecting it and forcing it’s removal at all costs. He heaved and heaved. The tears flowed from his eyes and mixed with drainage from his nose that dripped onto the ground where he had previously been sick. The smell floated up and into her nose and somehow reminded her of the dissecting rooms back at Washington University in St. Louis. These were smells and experiences that would never leave her nose or memory - for smell did leave it’s mark.
She knelt down beside him. She would have to be the voice of reason, the calming assurance that things would get better, life would continue. She knew that she would regret anything that came out of her mouth at this point, but there was no other option.
“Have you called Brian, at the embassy?” She whispered.
This seemed to throw Rusty into another wave of pain and despair. His body rocked back and forth on his hands and knees. He seemed to be gathering himself, she thought. And then what happened next was as painful to witness as anything she had ever experienced. It was the mirror image of what she had seen and heard those year’s ago in Fallujah. Rusty was transforming in front of her again. Right before her eyes he was turning cold, into the impersonal killer that she knew was buried somewhere deep within his soul. It frightened her and repelled her. She couldn’t let it happen again. She had to stop it, stop him.
He stood and removed a handkerchief from his jacket. He wiped the tears, snot, and sweat from his face and scalp. He scanned the crowd and subconsciously reached into his belt, at the base of his spine, and tapped lightly on the Beretta thirty-eight. Then, without looking back at Jacob he uttered his first words to her.
“Have Brian call Jacob’s family. Someone in this crowd will have called the police by now.”
Then he marched straight ahead and into the large throng of curious and mortified onlookers. She turned briefly to see if he had left anything, and when she returned her gaze and made to follow him, she stopped in her tracks.
He was gone. He had disappeared into the crowd. She slowly retrieved her phone and in a trance, dialed Brian’s number at the embassy.