wouldn’t like it. I’m not without compassion, you know.”
I said nothing.
“Well, I’m not,” he said. “That’s why I’ve given you the radio, the books, and magazines. The paper and writing tools, too. Why, with all that paper you could write your memoirs. I’m sure they would make fascinating reading.”
I had nothing to say to that, either.
“At any rate,” he said, “if I hadn’t provided all those things to occupy your mind, you surely
go insane. So you see? That isn’t what I want at all.”
“I know what you want,” I said. “If I stay sane, then I suffer even more. Right?”
“Suffering is what punishment is all about.”
“Punishment. All right, why? Why all of this?”
“You still don’t know?”
“Think hard. Try to remember.”
“How can I remember if you don’t give me some idea of who you are, what you think I did to you?”
you did to me?” Suddenly, violently, he came up out of the chair, almost upsetting it, and pointed a shaking finger at me. “Damn you, you destroyed me!” he said in a voice shrill with rage—his normal voice, I thought, but still too muffled by the ski mask to be recognizable. “You destroyed my life!”
“How did I do that?”
“And you don’t even remember. That’s the kind of man you are. The kind of
you are. You destroyed me and you don’t even know who I am!”
“Tell me your name. Take off that mask and let me see your face.”
“No! You’ll remember on your own. Sooner or later you’ll remember and then you’ll know and then you’ll be dead and I’ll have my peace. That’s the only way I’ll ever have my peace, when you’re dead, dead, dead, dead!”
He spun on his heel, half ran across to one of the closed doors, yanked it open, disappeared into the room beyond. Reappeared seconds later, and he had his gun—a snub-nosed revolver—upraised in one hand. He stopped alongside the chair and pointed the gun at me. I saw his thumb draw the hammer back and heard the click it made, saw the way his arm was shaking, and I thought in that moment he was going to shoot me. Thought he’d lost his tenuous grip on sanity, forgotten his purpose in bringing me here, and in a matter of seconds I would be dead. It took all the will I possessed to sit still, keep my eyes open, keep the fear dammed up so it wouldn’t leak through to where he could see it when he pulled the trigger.
But he didn’t pull the trigger, just stood there holding the revolver extended in his trembling hand. It was several pulsebeats before I understood that he wasn’t going to use the gun, had never intended to use it, had himself back under control despite the shaking or maybe had never lost control in the first place. That behind the ski mask he was probably smiling. That this, too, this little charade, was part of the psychological torture.
He let it go on for another half minute, wanting me to break down and beg for my life, hungering for it with a kind of feral lust that I could almost smell. I sat very still, showing him nothing, hating him with some of the same visceral hatred he had for me, and waited him out.
When he finally lowered the revolver he did it in slow segments, inches at a time, until the muzzle pointed at the floor. Then he said, still carrying out the charade, “No. No, I won’t do it, I won’t make it easy for you. I’m not your executioner. I’m only your jailer.”
He wanted me to say something; I said nothing. There was a hot dry burnt taste in my mouth, like ashes fresh from a stove fire.
I watched him pick up the chair with his left hand. “It’s time for me to leave,” he said, and he turned, carrying the chair, and went across to the same door and then stopped again and turned back—all of it calculated, like the game with the gun. “One more look at you,” he said, “one last look at the condemned man. Do you have anything else to say before I go?”