Chapter 28

MATT HESITATED in the doorway to Room 515 but not for very long.

He had no choice here. He couldn't stay in the corridor and try to talk to him. So he started to move inside. He still was not sure how to present this, what role Talley was playing. Matt had decided to play it fairly straight and see where it led. Did Talley know he was part of a setup? Was he the guy in the video- and if so, why had the other picture been taken at an earlier time?

Matt entered.

Charles Talley was still talking on his mobile phone. As the door started to close, Matt said, "I think we can help each other out."

And that was when Charles Talley touched his chest with the cell phone.

It felt like Matt's entire body had suddenly short-circuited. His spine jolted upright. His fingers splayed. His toes went rigid. His eyes widened.

He wanted the cell phone away. Off him. But he couldn't move. His brain shouted. His body would not listen.

The gun, Matt thought. Get your gun.

Charles Talley reeled back a fist. Matt could see it. Again he tried to move, tried to at least turn away, but the electrical voltage must have stopped certain brain synapses from firing. His body simply wouldn't obey.

Talley punched him in the bottom point of the rib cage.

The blow landed against the bone like a sledgehammer. The pain burst through him. Matt, already falling, dropped onto his back.

He blinked, his eyes watering, and looked up into the smiling face of Charles Talley.

The gun... get the damn gun...

But his muscles were in spasm.

Calm yourself. Just relax...

Standing over him, Talley had the cell phone in one hand. He wore brass knuckles on the other.

Matt idly wondered about his own cell phone. The one on his belt. Cingle was on the other end, listening. He opened his mouth to call out to her.

Talley hit him again with what must have been a stun gun.

The volts raced through his nervous system. His muscles, including those in his jaws, contracted and quaked uncontrollably.

His words, his cry for help, never made it out.

Charles Talley smiled down at him. He showed him the fist with the brass knuckles. Matt could only look up and stare.

In prison, some of the guards used to carry stun guns. They worked, Matt had learned, by overloading and thus disrupting the internal communication system. The current mimics the body's own natural electrical impulses, confusing them, telling the muscles to do a great deal of work, depleting energy.

The victim is left helpless.

Matt watched Talley pull back his fist. He wanted to grab his Mauser M2 and blow the bastard away. The weapon was just there, in his waistband, but it might as well have been out of state.

The fist headed toward him.

Matt wanted simply to raise an arm, wanted to roll away, wanted to do anything. He couldn't. Talley's punch was aimed straight for Matt's chest. Matt watched as it moved as though it were in slow motion.

The knuckles smashed into his sternum.

It felt as if the bones had caved in on his heart. Like his sternum was made of Styrofoam. Matt opened his mouth in a silent, anguished scream. His air was gone. His eyes rolled back.

When Matt's eyes finally regained focus, the brass knuckles were heading toward his face.

Matt struggled, but he was weak. Too weak. His muscles still wouldn't obey. His internal communication network remained shut down. But something primitive, something base, was still there, still had enough survival instincts to at the very least turn away from the blow.

The brass knuckles scraped off the back of his skull. The skin burst open. Pain exploded in his head. His eyes closed. This time they did not reopen. From somewhere far away he heard a voice, a familiar voice, shout, "No!" But that was probably not real. Between the electrical currents and the physical punishment, the brain's wiring was probably conjuring up all sorts of strange delusions.

There was another blow. Maybe another. Maybe there were more, but Matt was too far away to notice.

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