The missing W

This is a work of fiction. A short story of 2000 words.

The hood felt like sacking, open weaved but still impossible to see out of. Where it touched his face, it was rough, like coarse rope or string. His mouth was dry, and he felt cold. Even without being able to see, he could tell that he was naked. His rear end hurt, and it felt as if he was sitting on something metal, with sharp edges. He couldn’t move his legs or arms. Something was holding them tight and secure. He looked to his left and right, as if that would make any difference. There was light somewhere, strong light; he could tell that, even though his head was covered.

Javed had been walking to work. Was it yesterday, or just this morning? He couldn’t be sure. The small van stopped just ahead of him, and a man got out of the driver’s door. Smiling, he walked towards Javed, asking for directions. He had a piece of paper in his hand with an address on it. As he started to show him the way, something hit him hard from behind. Then he woke up, sitting in this uncomfortable seat, with a hood over his head. It was like a bad dream, and he wanted it to end. Hearing movement and metallic clangs ahead of him, Javed shouted through the sack. “Hello, is someone there? What’s going on please? Why am I here? What is happening?”

Walker turned to Fine, asking “Do you get what he’s shouting about?” Fine shrugged. “I don’t speak the language, but I can guess he isn’t happy.” Walker smiled, and walked over to the seat.

When the hood came off, the light was blinding. Like the floodlights at the football stadium, or looking straight into the sun. Javed squinted, and it took some time until he could make out the shapes in front of him. The two men were heavy-set and looked fit and well-fed. They had short hair, and wore T-shirts and canvas trousers. He could now see the heavy restraints that held him fast in the strange chair. It was all-metal, and had no proper seat. A metal trough was placed underneath, and the strong lights were fitted to stands a few feet away. He had been right about the nakedness. He was embarrassed by this condition, and turned his head away to avoid looking down at himself, and to minimise the effect of the lights too.

The men began to shout at him. They were speaking English. He had heard enough of it, seen people speaking it in films, and on TV. Many local people spoke it well, and said it was essential for business. He had never learned it though. Leather-workers in Karachi had no need of foreign languages. A few words crossed over of course, but not enough to be able to comprehend the shouts directed at him now. The same words, repeated over and over, until they merged into one long yell. Javed tried to make it out, but it sounded nonsensical to him. “Wezzherbravver?” What could that possibly mean?

Walker showed the man a long stick, holding it close to his face, so he could be in no doubt. He spoke slowly this time, his voice low. “Now I am going to ask you again. If you don’t tell me, I am going to use this on you. Do you understand? Where’s your brother? That’s all I need to know. Just an address where he can be found. That’s not too difficult, is it?”

Javed’s mind was whirring. What could they possibly want from him? His eyes flicked around the room. It was all-metal, like the containers you see on trucks along the highway. Then the hood was over his head again. Something hit his right leg very hard. The pain was so intense, it was hard to think. Then the same on his left leg, just below the knee. He was sure that he had screamed, as his mouth was still open. The hood came off again.

“Please gentlemen, please. Tell me what I have done. Why am I here? What do you want of me?” His voice was coming in gasps, the pain making it hard to speak. Tears flowed freely down his face, and he realised that he was sobbing.

Fine checked the paperwork again. “Don’t know why he’s babbling like that. He speaks good English, says so here. Went to the university too.”
Walker nodded. “He’s good, well-trained I expect, but I’ve only just started.”

The hood went back over his head, and soon it was being soaked with water. The water was cold, and kept coming, the wet sacking clung to his face and around his mouth, making it impossible to breathe. Javed was sure he would suffocate, and tried to blow the wet material back out of his mouth. It was impossible though, as more and more water soaked through it. Just as he began to lose the will to fight any longer, the hood came off again. He took deep breaths, spitting the water out from his mouth onto his chest.

The big man came in close again. “We want Sameer, your brother. We need to know where we can find him. This goes on until you tell us. Do you get me?”

Javed was even more confused. He had understood the name, Sameer. That man owned the phone shop on the corner. What did they want to know about him? ” I know Sameer, yes. He has the phone shop. Well, just a stand really, not an actual shop. What do you want to know about him?” Javed nodded as he spoke, hoping to please the big man with his reply.

Walker heard the name repeated and grinned. “So you do know him then? Where can we find him?” When the reply was once again in a language he didn’t understand, Walker became angry. He replaced the hood, and taking up the long club, he swung it against the side of Javed’s head. “Be careful.” Fine shouted from the back. “You’re likely to fracture his skull like that.”

The blow felt as if he had been hit by a car, or fallen out of a window onto something hard. He lost consciousness, but had no idea for how long. When he came round, he couldn’t hear anything on the left side, and the pulse in his temple was pounding like a drumbeat. The hood came off again. The big man was attaching something to his toes, but Javed couldn’t see clearly. The vision in his left eye was cloudy, and the side of his face was swollen so much, it felt tight. The man smiled at him, holding up two wires for him to see. He walked across the room, and attached them to something.

The next pain was like something he couldn’t ever have imagined. His muscles shook uncontrollably, and it seemed that the pain was inside his very nerves, and there was heat too, a lot of heat. Javed screamed when it ended. He had been unable to move his mouth to scream when it was happening.

Walker wandered over to inspect the man. He turned to Fine. “That’s two toes fried, and he’s still not talking.” Fine closed his paperback book. “I’m calling in for the interpreter.” He reached for the radio handset. “I’m getting bored with this shit.”

Major Riley was what they called a ‘hard-ass.’ He didn’t take kindly to fools, and expected everyone to get the job done, no fuss, no complaints. Now he had been called away from a pleasant afternoon to collect an interpreter, and take him out to The Project. Seemed like everyone was on a day off today. His driver turned into the Turkish airbase. They stopped briefly to show the guard their credentials, then drove a full five minutes to the far end of the field, past all the outer markers, and into an industrial area where an American flag flew on a small flagpole. The marine guard at the gate waved them through, and the car stopped beside a row of shipping containers, each one painted grey.

Inside, Walker turned the switch again. He had moved the connectors onto the man’s chest, and gave him a good jolt this time, watching the body contract, and the teeth grind together. The door opened suddenly, and in walked Major Riley, accompanied by a Sergeant he didn’t know. “Stand easy!” he barked as Walker and Fine came to attention. Riley walked over to inspect the prisoner. “What has he said?” He directed the question to no-one in particular. Walker was keen to answer. “Well sir, he sure knows the name Sameer, he definitely recognised that. Otherwise, he’s acting like he no comprendo.”
Riley shook his head. “You’ve half-killed a man, and that’s it? Let’s see what we can find out now. Sergeant Miller, it’s up to you.”

Miller spoke six languages. He was in Intelligence, and had little time for the jocks in Special Forces, or these Black Ops guys. But they had to get the job done. Couldn’t have these men shooting up shopping malls, or blowing up planes, after all. He addressed the battered man in Urdu. “Hey fella, do you understand Urdu?”

He was pleased to hear his own language, even spoken by this new stranger. He spoke it well too, like someone reading the news on TV. “Please sir, why am I here? Why are these men hurting me? What have I done? Where is this place? Can I have some water?” The words tumbled out, Javed happy to be able to finally speak to someone who could understand. Miller answered his questions in order. “You are here because we need to find your terrorist brother. The men will continue to hurt you until you tell us where he is, they will not stop. You have done nothing yourself, but we are sure that you know where your brother is hiding. This place is Turkey, and you are inside an American facility. And you can have some water when you tell us what we need to know.”

Javed’s mind couldn’t take it in. Turkey. How had he got there? He had never been out of Karachi in his life. “But sir, I have no brother. I have two sisters and live with my mother. I am a leather craftsman in the shop of Mr Abdullah. Look at my hands, see the callouses.” Miller looked back at Riley, translating the reply. The Major reached out to Fine. “Show me that file.” He ordered. As he read through it, Miller asked some more questions. “But you know Sameer don’t you? Tell us about him, and this will all stop. Everything will go away.” Javed was happy to answer. “I know Sameer of course. He has the phone kiosk on the corner of our street. He is about sixty years old, and has always lived nearby. I don’t think that he has ever been in trouble.”

Riley walked over and showed Miller the file. Pointing to some names, he nodded. Miller turned and addressed the man again. “You are Javed Shinari. Your brother is Sameer Shinari, a man wanted for terrorist activity. Do you deny that?” Javed thought for a second. This man’s accent was perfect, so he could not have misunderstood. He smiled as best as he could through the battered face. “But sir, my name is Javed Shinwari, and I have no brother.” Miller turned and translated the reply.

Walker replaced the hood over the man’s head. The four men retreated to the far end of the container, talking in hushed tones. Riley jabbed a finger at the file, and looked at Miller. “Do you mean to tell me that we did all this, and got the wrong man?” Miller shrugged. “I think he’s telling the truth. It’s an easy enough mistake, Major. The surnames are very similar. Someone must have missed the W.” Riley was enraged. “To hell with that. This conversation never happened.”

He turned to Walker. “We’re leaving. You know what to do.”
The door slammed behind him.

40 thoughts on “The missing W

  1. Compelling story, Pete. I like how it is told in a straightforward manner. It is what it is. It is a realistic account of horror, of a simple mistake with profound and wrenching consequences. It makes you think.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. ….and no doubt it’s happened and is happening….events are shaped more often by mistakes than decisions. More thrillers, please.


    1. What I had been thinking is typos is just an excuse for escaping responsibility for mistakes–blame it on the typewriter/keyboard or auto-correct. Your story hit very close to home. Thanks


  3. An excellent story, However, I noticed you documented that Sergeant Miller is employed by Intelligence and that he speaks several languages. Sorry, but I’ll have to investigate the leak. You’ve blown my cover!

    Liked by 1 person

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