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"I think what we need here is a distraction." Nodding to himself, he motioned with the knife toward the living room door which stood open, some six inches ajar. "Know any decent jokes Quentin?"
The man's calm -trespassing on cheerful- tone barely penetrated the ringing in Quentin's ears. His words served only to divide the hard shaft of his own personal terror, splitting it in two and denying Quentin the luxury of worrying only of his own lot.
Quentin yanked his blood-stained attention back to his captor.
"If I wasn't so prone to looking on the bright side, I might have thought you were ignoring me there buddy?"
Squinting through swollen, blood-veiled eyes, Quentin shook his head as much as the corroded hinge of his neck would permit and in a raw, hardly discernable whisper, said; "No."
"Good, cos manners cost nothing. Do they Quentin?"
Another barely perceptible head shake. It's chaffing fibres having already drawn blood, the rope branded itself further into the podgy flesh of Quentin's throat.
In partnership with his other woes, the edge of the dining chair to which he was bound carved uncomfortably into the tendons behind Quentin's knees. The position of his hands, bound tightly behind the chair's back, added an extra dimension to the throbbing, almost rhythmical, agony in his right shoulder. Quentin was sure the bastards had dislocated it.
But his own physical pain paled in comparison to the silence beyond the door. That was the real agony. It taunted him, dispatching his imagination to the darkest rescesses of his soul, where terror and despair writhed and copulated and sired the hope-devouring monster rampaging inside him. When she was screaming, BEGGING, Quentin knew she was, at least, alive. And even though the chilling sound track of her pain raked his heart -the melody infuriatingly froced from her sweet mouth at the insistence of another man- he, nevertheless, derived a kind of distorted reassurance from it.
"There's comfort in the familiar Quentin!"
"What?" Quentin croaked, not realising, at first that the voice had spoken INSIDE his head.
"A joke buddy" his captor replied, absently flicking the knife in Quentin's direction, "Asked if you knew any?"
Quentin faltered, his mind riding the pregnant pause that followed, searching his stuttering thoughts for something that might placate this lunatic infront of him. At the same time he prayed to the half-foot of blackness dividing the door from it's frame for a sign, straining to hear even the tiniest scrap of evidence that his wife was still alive. ANYTHING.
"Not a jokey kind of guy eh?" said the man, rising slowly from his own seat directly infront of Quentin, "Maybe I can help to get the old juices flowing?"
He flashed a glance behind him to the door and for a heart-stopping second, Quentin believed he was about to issue instructions to his associate, the bastard who had Barbara. The shit-bag who was doing all sorts of unthinkable things to his wife. How fucking DARE he. She was HIS wife, no-one else's She belonged to Quentin Belsay. She was HIS. If those bastards hurt her he would-
In two ambling steps the short distance between them was gone and Quentin's tormentor stood just inches infront of him. Quentin flinched -all too aware that the bastard's calm facade was an easily-peeled veneer- and almost toppled his chair. His captor steadied him with a hand on Quentin's injured shoulder. Quentin screamed.
"You seem a little tense Quentin?" the man said, his voice rising above the sound of his hostage's agony, "Nerves probably. Bet you're one of those guys who always fluffs the punch line?" He paused, absently studying the tip of the knife, "Doesn't matter though" he ran an index finger lightly along it's serrated teeth, "s'long as you make the effort!"
From the barren soil of his mind, mental fingers tugged and pulled at vague husks of jokes Quentin had heard before, uprooting beginninga and middles and fractured punch lines. Still nothing. Still silence from beyond the door.
Abruptly the man slapped his own forehead as though suddenly recalling something of obvious importance. Given the nonsense that had spewed from him thus far, Quentin half-expected him to say he'd left the landing light on at home, or that he's inadvertently placed a spoon in the knife draw. "Here's me banging on about manners" he said instead and thrust out a hand, "Lenny!"
Wrists bound together painfully behind his back, Quentin peered myopically from the proffered hand suspended near his flabby, naked chest to the wild-dog eyes of it's owner, waiting out the short recess for a punch line.
After a pause, during which the obvious ridiculousness of his gesture seemed to sink in, Lenny shook his head slowly from side to side, clucking his tongue. Quentin -unsure whether the realization was genuine or just part of the bastard's warped game of humiliation- simply blinked.
"Not with it today buddy" Lenny withdrew his hand, examined it briefly as though it had offered itself of it's own volition, then let it fall back to his side. "Pleased to meet you anyway." he said, donning a thin, appologetic smile.
"Likewise" Quentin croaked, deeming that this show of 'manners' required a response yet, despite his tumult, finding himself unable to surpress a sarcastic inflection.
"THERE!" Lenny shrieked, his face beaming, "Now were CONVERSING. told you it was just nerves, didn't I Quentin?"
He ruffled Quentin's sweat-logged hair, chuckling like a father pleased with his young son's cleverness, and retreated back to his seat.
"So" he said, sitting down, "you got a joke for me or what?"
The dead field again. The shallow graves of half recollections and decomposing memories. And all the time, Quentin's blood-impaired attention on the knife.
"Nothing?" Lenny asked.
Turning the knife in his hand he seemed to consider it's deadly implications before nodding sagely and dropping it on the plush carpet between his feet. "Better?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Thanks" Quentin replied, his ruined lips contorting into a grousome facsimile of a smile.
Another protracted silence, during which Quentin could recall nothing and the quiet seemed to incubate his captor's impatience.
"Come on Quentin. I'm a guest. Show me some fucking hospitality you selfish bastard!"
And suddenly, inspired by that last Quentin found something, the wagging tail-end of a joke he'd once heard. In his mind he grabbed it and pulled, reeling it in hand over hand until, at last, he was confident of recalling it in it's entirety. "Got one!" he said, in a strained whisper.
Lenny leaned forward and grinned. he braced his elbows against his knees, "Ready when you are buddy." he said and cupped his chin in his hands, staring raptly.
Quentin composed himself, inhaled a deep, moisture-inhibited breath, and opened his mouth to speak............just as the awful silence from beyond the door allowed entrance to a subtle visitor.