Water was pouring over his face. Cold water. Reflexively he tried to breath and got a mouthful of mixed water and air. He started coughing, and crunched up. Finding he was free to move he kicked out with both feet, and felt them connect with someone. There was the noise of something falling over, and then he got his head out from under the water, and his feet underneath. He crouched, using one hand to wipe his eyes clear and the other ready to strike.
He was in a small bathroom with a peach-coloured bathroom suite. There was a bath-mat hanging on a towel rail and two toothbrushes in a small ceramic pot stood on the corner of a basin, where the groove for the soap was. Edward had fallen backwards into the bath and was struggling to get out. Behind him was a shower cubicle with the water running. It took him a moment to realise that that must have been where he was a moment ago. He grabbed Edward’s hand and hauled him out of the bath.
“Where is he?” he said. The bathroom door was closed. “Did he run out?”
“Who?” Edward’s voice was slightly choked.
“The guy who was waterboarding me. And what were you doing while he was doing that? Practising swimming in the bath?”
“No-one was waterboarding you!” Edward sounded indignant. “You passed out when I opened the door, and I dragged you in here to wake you up. Only then you attacked me and pushed me in the bath.” He bent down and rubbed his shins. “That hurts!”
“I passed out?” Martin paused, and thought back. There was a hazy in his memories that felt somehow familiar. The door had been opened, Edward wasn’t being anywhere near cautious enough. There had been a girl, sitting at a desk… had she said something? Everything fuzzed then.
“Yes! You just staggered forwards, your hands at your ears, and fell on the carpet. God knows what you’ve done to the scene out there!”
“There was a girl…,”
“Yes, handcuffed to a desk. She’s still there, she can’t go anywhere.”
“How long have I been out?”
“Three minutes?” Edward checked his watch, which Martin noted was a slim Rolex. “Four minutes and eight seconds now.”
“Right. Right. The girl – was she speaking when we came in? Talking to someone?”
“Reciting,” said Edward. “I’ve put a sticking plaster over her mouth to stop her. She was reciting numbers in Odnose B.” Martin stared at him.
“Didn’t you do your background reading?” he said at last.
“What do you mean? Of course I did! I wrote the background reading!”
“What? No, you’re just another goof-up sent to ‘help’ me with a retrieval job because you messed some other job up. Why would I care what you did wrong last time?”
“Because my last time would have been surviving five minutes of Odnose B.”
The two men stared at each other across the tiny bathroom, Martin’s gaze fiery and direct; Edward’s cold and piercing. Neither man broke eye contact, but Edward said,
“That’s longer than I’ve ever heard anything managing.”
“That’s why you should have done your reading.”
They held their stare for another few seconds before Edward looked down. “Can you take her out to the car?” he said. “I still need to get the books and we’ve lost a lot of time.”
“So long as she can’t speak now, shouldn’t be a problem,” said Martin. “Looks like I’ve been sensitised to the language.”
Edward opened the bathroom door, and then stopped. He sighed.
“What?” Martin considered pushing past him, but then decided that no-one could know that he was in the bathroom at that moment. That might be an edge.
“She’s gone.” Edward walked out into the grubby living room and pointed at the desk. Blood had sprayed all over it, and the handcuffs were still there, still around her wrists, which dripped dark blood onto the carpet. The torn flesh was ragged and long strips of skin dangled, floating slightly in currents in the air.
“Sweet Mary,” said Martin looking at it. “Who rips someone’s hands off just to get them out faster?”
“They did it near silently,” said Edward. Martin snorted.
“The shower is still running,” he said. “You’ve been listening to it for so long you don’t notice it anymore. We gave them all the noise-cover they needed. Where are these books you came for? Let’s get something out of this mess.”