Jack Harmon moaned. It was a loud mournful wail like the cry of a wounded, trapped animal. Strapped to a chair, his head covered with a heavy canvas bag, he pulled on his bonds and shook back and forth. The bag on his head was filled with animal bile and guts and cinched tightly around his neck. The dark viscous liquid ran slowly down his face, around his nose and into his mouth. It had a wet, fetid smell that made breathing difficult. The stench filled his nostrils and overpowered the rest of his senses. Out of frustration he screamed again, drawing it out, rising in intensity until he ran out of breath.
His chin dropped to his chest in an effort to keep his face free of the bile and guts. He took short shallow breaths to control his gag reflex and forced his mind away from his present situation. He went through mental exercises to dull his senses, to make the horrible sensations fade into the background. He became still, his mind sharpened as he concentrated. Images of his training flashed through his mind, reminding him of his mentor’s mantra. Master your mind and you master the world. As the mentor put him through tortuous training regimes, he would tell him that once you’re the master of your conscious and unconscious mind you could defeat any situation, no matter how bad. At the time he hated that man with everything in his soul, but as he mastered more and more of his mind he saw the wisdom in these words, but he was not sure his mentor ever considered a bag of pig guts over your head as a method of torture.
The scream that came from Harmon’s mouth conveyed unbridled panic.
The purpose of the bag, he was sure, was to make him as uncomfortable as possible. The professional in him admired the tradecraft. It was a simple, effective method employing readily available materials. Some of the most effective techniques of torture were also the simplest. This technique isolated him while it attacked and overwhelmed the senses. It was designed to lower his resistance, a simple method to loosen his tongue and make him cooperative. Harmon was dead certain that this was just the beginning of a very bad evening.
With the bag over his head the only thing he could tell about the room he was in was that it was oppressively hot, the air dead and humid. It added to his discomfort. As sweat and animal chunks oozed down his back, he pulled on the bonds that held his arms in place. They held fast, so he pulled even harder with no success.
He was lashed to the straight backed wood chair that had exposed nail heads protruding from it in various locations. The nail heads dug into his legs, buttocks and back. Again the overall intent was to make him even more uncomfortable. Harmon stirred again and let out a low moan.
There was no response to his moan. The silence was as unnerving as the stench of the canvas bag. His focus wavered and he was flooded with a sudden feeling that he had been left to die a slow agonizing death, abandoned in some hell hole, trussed like a slaughtered pig, left to suffer for days before death embraced him. He called out, first tentatively and then more loudly. There was no answer, not even footsteps from outside of the room.
He closed his eyes, repeated the mantra and regained his focus. Again he called out, more loudly than before, a little more panic in his voice. No one answered so he stayed quiet, straining to hear any noise. There was still nothing. He tried to rock back and forth in the chair, but with the protruding nails it, became too painful. The rocking motion shook loose more bits of debris in the canvas bag. Fleshy bits and thick liquid splashed into Harmon’s face, he spit out pieces of rotted flesh from his mouth. His stomach wretched and he fought the urge to vomit by forcing his thoughts away again. His mind cleared and the assault on his senses faded.
He deliberated about his next move and then began to whimper softly. The sounds that came from him conveyed frustration and fear but his mind was calm, his body still. He was pretty sure he knew where he was, in the basement of a two story brick duplex in the bad section of Manila. Manila had a lot of bad areas but this area was one of the worst. The neighborhood was a tangle of decrepit homes made primarily of wood and brick. Garbage choked the streets, and few people ventured out after dark.
He had watched the duplex from a roof a block over. He had sauntered by it, in disguise of course, on a couple of occasions trying to gauge the security, which had been pretty good. He had seen what amounted to a neighbor watch group that rotated through the area providing an early warning system to any intrusion. He had not been certain he could breach the building without the alarm being raised so he had decided to find another way. That was when he moved from his nondescript motel near the Manila airport to a luxury hotel.
His new plan was to stay at a five-star hotel with a beautiful view of the bay and to throw some money around hoping to make contact with his assignment. Like it always does, money caught the eye of someone with less than honorable intentions and word spread. The money made Harmon a target and the intelligence he had read indicated his assignment had contacts at the luxury hotel. It did not take long before he had been grabbed by four thugs as he exited his Manila hotel and thrown into a van. The thugs had roughed him up a little and then blindfolded him. In the heavy Manila traffic, it had taken over an hour to get to the duplex. When he was pulled from the van, he was in a dark and dusty garage. That was when someone had put the canvas bag on his head and hit him hard in the stomach. He was then dragged down some steps and strapped to the chair.
He sank back into the chair not caring about the nails gouging his back and legs. His head sagged onto his chest again. An inhuman moan emanated from him. It was a deep guttural sound that shook his chest and radiated out like it had a life of its own. Weakly, Harmon called out, a sound that was more a sob than a call for help. There was no response, not even the sound of a footstep. For all he knew he was alone in the building but he doubted it. They thought he had money so he would not be abandoned. Money was too hard to come by and this was his target’s chance to make a big score. Harmon let his mind drift as he flexed muscle groups to keep them loose.
There was a faint noise as if someone had scraped the toe of a boot on the floor. Furiously he shook his whole body on the chair releasing an animalistic scream. He jerked violently on the ropes that bound him, not caring about the pain and lost tissue his movement was causing. His breath was coming in deep gulps filling his lungs with putrid air. His stomach rebelled but he did not stop. After expending all his rage, his head collapsed onto his chest. His body was gripped by loud heaving sobs. After a long time he became silent, his head still down, his breath coming in shallow gasps.
He did not stir as the door to his cell opened. He could tell that someone had turned on a light. Hands grabbed him roughly, the bag was jerked from his head, the ropes around his arms were cut and he was pushed out of the chair. The light stung his eyes, so he clamped them shut. Slowly he opened his eyes and saw that he was in a small windowless room with a cheap plastic table and a couple of chairs. He stumbled forward and fell. He curled into a fetal position and began to moan.
“Get up!” commanded a thickly accented voice.
Harmon did not move but continued to moan. Someone kicked him painfully in the back, but his moaning continued without change. Hands grabbed each arm and pulled him up into a chair. He kept his eyes clamped shut but he could sense that someone had moved in front of him. Suddenly he was shaken and slapped repeatedly.
He stopped moaning and slowly opened his eyes. With great effort he raised his head to look at his captors. There were three men in the room. Each looked distinctly Filipino. They were short, thin and wiry, hard looking men with weathered leathery skin. The leader was the tallest and had a ragged beard with flecks of gray, his teeth uneven and stained. A cigarette dangled from his mouth and his eyes were cruel. The man took a deep drag on the cigarette and exhaled the smoke into Harmon’s face.
Harmon was seized with a coughing fit. He tried to get up but the other two men held him firmly in the chair. Their hands were strong and rough, almost like vice-grips. Harmon swiveled his head to look at each, seeing hatred in their eyes. He was slapped hard.
“Look at me.” The leader said sternly.
“What do you want?” Harmon whined.
He was slapped again, this time harder. Harmon cowered into the chair, unable to move much because of the two thugs on either side of him.
The leader spoke. “I ask the questions and you answer.”
“Please, this is…” Harmon was slapped viciously across the face. His cheek stung and his head whirled.
“You speak only when you are answering my questions. Is that understood?”
Harmon nodded, blood dribbled out of his mouth.
“I’m sorry I didn’t hear you.”
Harmon shrunk into the chair expecting to be hit. “Yes, I understand.”
“Very good,” The man pulled up a chair and sat directly opposite of Harmon. “I am going to ask you some questions, some of which I already know the answer to. If you lie to me, the consequences will be devastating.”
It was not surprising to Harmon, even with the disheveled appearance of the man in front of him, that he was well educated. He knew the man portrayed himself as a man of the people, a peasant, but in reality he was the only son of a wealthy Filipino land speculator. The man had a Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Stanford. He was a man who had all the benefits in life with little hardship. Still there was a stern harshness about him, a man who seemed to have no compromise in him.
“What is your name?”
“Now Mr. Harker, when did you arrive in the Philippines?”
The leader stroked his beard, after a moment he nodded his head once. The thugs pummeled Harmon with blows for what seemed to be five minutes. Harmon’s head sunk to his chest. He did not make a sound or make a movement.
The man across from him lifted Harmon’s head by his hair and lightly slapped him until Harmon’s eyes came into focus. He released the hair and the head lolled to one side. The man sat quietly as his captive began to stir. Harmon’s head snapped up and he blinked his eyes furiously trying to clear his vision.
“I know you flew into Manila three days ago and checked into the Bayview Vista Hotel on the waterfront. Yesterday morning you rented an automobile and drove to Baguio City where you stayed at the Regency Central. I thought that Americans had no balls, but if you braved the traffic in the Philippines maybe I am wrong.” His thugs gave laughed and jostled Harmon. “The concierge at the hotel in Baguio City returned your rental car for you.”
His breaths coming in short shallow gasps Harmon lifted his head. “What do you want?” The words were garbled. Harmon turned his head and spat out a mouthful of blood.
Stroking his beard the man stood and turned his back on Harmon. “I do love the bay at Manila, the golden sunsets painting the sailboats with warmth. I remember as a boy accompanying my father out on his boat for a day of fishing. He was an honest man that believed hard work would be rewarded in heaven. We would leave before dawn with a simple meal and some sodas. It was a simpler time then,” He faced Harmon again, and his tone became harder, more directed “The world has changed into such an unforgiving place. My father’s hard work provided a better life for me, I greatly respect that foolish old man.” He gave a short laugh. “Of course, traffic wasn’t atrocious back then.”
“What do you want?” croaked Harmon again.
“I much prefer the water to the mountains near Baguio. The mountains are so hard and ugly, much like life.” He sat down and pulled his chair so he was sitting nose to nose to Harmon. “The drive to Baguio is pleasant once you get out of the city, is it not? What did you think of Mount Pinatubo?”
He shrugged and coughed, red spittle coating his lips.
“Do you know the last time it erupted more than three hundred and fifty people died. It was a tragedy. Did you know Mr. Harker that there are over forty volcanoes in the Philippines? All that seething pent up danger ready to explode at any moment.” He turned serious. “Much like my two associates standing next to you, they are seething with barely controlled anger. They have much hate and distrust for America, and I can barely contain them.”
Slowly, painfully Harmon looked at each man, his eyes half closed and appearing weary. His mouth moved but no words came out. He licked his lips and managed to say, “Why?”
“Like me, they believe that all Americans are weak and pathetic. I admit you look strong and well-muscled. You have a rugged handsome face, one that has seen the outdoors. You have a dangerous look, but much like America that look of danger is all show and no substance. I think deep down you have no balls. I sense your fear. I think you are afraid that I will hurt you more. Unfortunately, if you don’t give me what I want, you are correct. I will hurt you, but not like before, no, next time I will hurt you terribly.”
Harmon swallowed, his eyes darting around the room. “What do you want?”
“The truth, that is all.”
Harmon nodded his head, the effort of which appeared to tire him out, his head sinking to his chest again.
“Who do you work for?”
“Very good, now we are getting somewhere. What do you do at this place?”
“I am a security advisor.” Harmon’s voice trembled.
“A security advisor! What sort of security advisor are you?”
“I don’t understand.” Harmon answered weakly.
“Tell me about your job.” He spoke as if he were speaking to a child.
“I handle problems as they come up.”
“So you are a trouble shooter?”
“What type of trouble has brought you to the Philippines?”
“There was a security breach…”
The man slapped Harmon hard across the face, leaving an ugly red mark. “I will ask again, this time with little patience, what is the nature of your business?”
“I was to meet a man.”
Harmon looked into the eyes of the man across from him and shook his head. “I won’t tell you.”
“So you have finally grown some balls?” He laughed heartily and was joined in by the two thugs. “You were meeting with a member of the Chinese Government who was willing to sell you some very secret Chinese avionic designs for two million American dollars.”
Harmon’s head sagged to his chest. Without asking he knew what the man wanted.
“How were you to pay the Chinese agent?”
“Once I had the material I was to wire money to his Swiss account.”
“Very good Mr. Harker, that agrees with the information that I have.” He stood and patted Harmon on the shoulder. “Very good,” he put his mouth close to Harmon’s ear and whispered, “I am going to need the two million dollars.”
“How do I know that once I give you the money that you won’t just kill me?”
“I give you my word. Give me the money and I will release you.”
Harmon saw the lie in his eyes. “Why do you need that kind of money?”
“For my retirement fund,” The leader said, and his thugs grunted in laughter. “Actually I want to purchase something that has come on the market. Something that will command the attention of the world and if you do not cooperate immediately I will shoot you and go to plan B.” The leader took out a pistol, cocked the hammer and put it down on the table.
Harmon stared at the pistol for about a minute. “Alright, I’ll give you the money. Is it drugs? It must be drugs you want to buy.” “Don’t be ridiculous. I am not some low-life drug dealer, I am a soldier.”
“So it’s a weapon.”
A small smile crept on his face. “Not just any weapon, a weapon that kills silently, leaving no evidence of its presence, an undetectable weapon that can kill thousands of people.”
“Is it a chemical weapon?”
“Enough talk. I want that money now!”
“I can transfer it electronically, I just need my computer.”
The man picked up his pistol and placed it back in his pocket, he barked orders at one of the thugs who momentarily left the room, when he came back he had Harmon’s computer case. He placed the case on the table and stepped back. The leader took the computer out of the bag and booted it up. Before long the computer prompted someone to enter a password.
Harmon paused and studied the man in front of him and then looked carefully at the two thugs.
“Let me assure you, that I will hurt you terribly if you choose to not cooperate.”
With a nod Harmon spoke quickly, “C – S – T – nine seven two six – control key ampersand shift key pound sign asterisk one one five control D control K eight four three,”
The bearded man typed quickly but when he finished he got a message for an invalid password. Harmon could see the frustration flit across his face, but he quickly regained his composure. He stared at his captive as if deciding his next course of action.
“Let me do it.”
A curt nod to one of his men and the ropes that bound his wrists were released. Harmon rubbed his wrists and got to his feet. He took a wobbly step and gripped the edge of the table for support. Very deliberately he repeated the login routine. The computer accepted the password and his desktop came up. Harmon clicked on an icon and window opened with prompts for names and account numbers. He reached for his bag, but the man grabbed his wrist to stop him.
Harmon lost his balance, almost fell and grabbed the table for support. “I need a CD in the outer pocket.”
As the leader dug into the pocket, Harmon asked again. “What do you need the money for?”
“That is not your concern.” He handed the CD to Harmon who fumbled it and it dropped to the table.
“Sorry.” Harmon glanced at the two thugs and gave them an embarrassed look. He picked up the CD and hit the button to open the CD drawer on his laptop. He could hear the two men snickering behind him. The drawer popped open, but the CD drawer in his computer had been adapted to his owns special needs. It now contained a flat knife with a super sharp edge. The knife popped into his hand and he drove the chair behind him into the thug standing by the wall while slashing the throat of the one standing next to him. Harmon was no longer unsteady on his feet, or the whimpering coward. In one fluid motion he dove forward and buried the knife deeply into the chest of the leader. The man looked blankly at the knife and collapsed.
Harmon spun and hit the remaining thug who was reaching for his gun. The man staggered, still reaching at his gun but before he could pull it Harmon pounced and cleanly broke his neck. Harmon picked up the man’s gun and moved soundlessly to stand next to the door. He remained motionless and listened for over two minutes. He had not gotten all he came for but he had gotten enough. After he was sure there was no one else lurking about he packed, his computer into his bag, stepped over the bodies and let himself out the door.