Max Lasalle sat on the dirty basement floor, cheeks swollen and blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. His bulbous arms were tied behind his back, keeping him rooted to the foundation beam.
“Where’s the woman?” Sal Notti kneeled before him, talking in that calm, accented voice of his.
“Up my ass.”
A quick left jab rattled Max’s teeth.
“Still holding out?”
Max swished his lips and spat out a gob of blood the size of a leech. “I’m unbreakable.”
“Fine.” He gave Max a quick jab to the solar plexus. “I needed the exercise anyways.”
As Max reeled, Sal turned to the stick thin man with the big eyes who idled nearby. “Hand me another beer.”
The stick reached into the cooler and handed Sal a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. He downed half of it in one swig.
“You sure you should be drinking these?” asked the stick.
Sal furled his brow. “The reward’s gonna buy me at least another case or two, won’t it?” He took another swig. “Besides, I’ll be breaking this punk in no time.”
Sal smirked but the stick looked less certain. He shot Max a furtive, nervous little glance. In response, Max grinned with stained red teeth.
“What if it takes days? We don’t have that kind of time.”
Sal burped and crushed his can. He tossed it to the corner of the room, where it rattled past a row of tools. He fished himself another cold one.
“He’ll break.” He cracked the beer, eyeing their guest.
Sal was right. Max knew he wasn’t going to hold out another day, much less another couple of hours. His only hope was to wait for an opportunity.
Sal set down his can and approached max, cracking his knuckles. “Okay bud, time for round two. Where’s the woman?”
Max grinned. “Up my ass.”
An hour later, after two more sessions with Sal left his vision fuzzy and his ears ringing, Max spotted his opportunity.
Sal polished off the last of his beer and tossed it to join the other dozen or so tin soldiers. He burped, unpleasantly, and held his gut.
He turned to the young man. “Listen, I’ve got a business call to take upstairs.”
“What should I do?”
Sal pointed to a sledgehammer propped against the wall. “If he tries anything funny, break one of his knees.”
He seemed aghast. “Which one? The left or the right?”
“Whichever. Just make sure it goes snap.” He clicked his meaty fingers for added gravitas before running up the stairs.
The young man dragged the sledgehammer closer and stood guard over Max. The way he held the weapon, nervous and noncommitting, told Max it was now or never.
“You don’t have it in you.” Max spoke calmly. “And that’s okay. You’re not ugly like Sal.”
“Shut up.” He clenched the hammer but his voice was meek.
Max shook his head. “Tell Sal I slipped the ropes while you were distracted. Better for your conscience. Not everyone is cut to be a bounty hunter.”
The young man bit his lip and lowered the hammer. He took two steps closer. Max could see that it was time for the coup-de-grace to end this debacle once and for all.
“Besides, this is all bullshit. Sal knows that woman is dead as much as I do. No reward for a dead body.”
Something changed in the young man’s features, but not the way Max expected. Instead of loosening the ropes, his grip on the hammer hardened.
“Wait–” but before Max could finish his sentence, the hammer came down on his knee. The bone exploded with a sickening pop and crunch. He screamed.
The young man’s eyes became fire. He grabbed Max by the hair.
“My wife is alive, and you’re going to tell us where she is.”
“I’ll talk! I’ll talk!” Max screamed, but the hammer came down on the other knee.
His legs burned. The room spun.
The last thing Max saw before passing out was the sight of Sal rushing down the stairs, buttoning up his pants, a look of amazement covering his face.
“I guess we broke Max.”