The needle drops and that smooth crackle fizzes through the speakers. Alex stands for a moment with his hands pressed against the plastic screen, transfixed by the sound of plastic on plastic until he catches sight of himself in the reflection as the room is briefly illuminated by the opening and closing of a door. He sees the large metal chain where his watch should be and the pain in his wrist and abdomen and cheek come flooding back.
“Where is she? What have you done with her?”
His words go unheeded as Sylvester makes his way to the opposite corner of the room with a small silver platter holding a short cocktail glass.
Alex’ cell measured roughly twelve by twenty feet, no smaller or larger than the average sized living room. The walls were lined with beige wallpaper, the sort you’d find in an average sized living room, and there was a single lightbulb dangling from a cable directly in the centre of the ceiling, framed by a blue turquoise lampshade with a white plastic interior that you would find in most average sized living rooms. The bulb was not illuminated and there was no light switch to be found in the room’s interior, the only other visible contents of the room were a table that was perfectly positioned in the centre of the north wall. It had inward slanting mahogany legs and a shiny, well-polished top; Alex could see the lines and textures of the wood but it was smooth to the touch, made to a high quality and likely to fetch a fair price in a West London antique fair. Atop the table was a candle held in a brass holder with a ringed handle, which had only recently been lit as the wax had yet to reach the green-bronze base, and next to that was a black-plastic turntable. The yellow flame from the candle only rendered its immediate vicinity visible, so as far as he was aware, the only other thing in the room was Alex, held in place by a chain fixed to his right wrist that snaked away into a dark corner of the room. He was just about able to reach the table, which is where he was standing when Sylvester entered.
Sylvester placed the tray down on the floor, but now the room was plunged back into darkness Alex could not discern its contents. He made to approach Sylvester but his chain cut him a few feet short.
“Who are you? What do you people even want?”
Again his words were met with silence.
“Look this has got to be a misunderstanding, I don’t – we don’t know what’s going on. Just tell me where Jean is, I need to know she’s alright. Please, just tell me she’s alright.”
Sylvester reached for his pocket and the chain clanged as Alex flinched in recoil. Sylvester withdrew his hand, holding out a small Polaroid to Alex, who tentatively reached out to take it –
Jean was shown sat on a brown leather sofa. She was wearing the same black dress she had been when she had left for dinner earlier that evening, complete with her comfy ‘commuting’ trainers, and her bag was on the floor by her feet. She was in a relaxed position, her left arm draped over the side of the couch and her right coming to rest across her stomach. She was smiling and appeared unharmed, in no distress whatsoever. Even the woman next to her looked unthreatening, a short blonde woman with extremely pale skin wearing a black cocktail dress, sat cross-legged with black nail-polished toes poking out of an open-toe stiletto. Together, the pair looked like they were attending a 1920s costume party, with Jean having had far less time to throw something together.
“is this – this is now? Where is she?” Sylvester reached out and plucked the Polaroid from Alex’ trembling fingertips and returned it to his pocket. With that he stood up and marched briskly out of the room, struggling to mask a slight limp in his left leg.
“Wait – wait! Is she alri-” before he could finish his question the door clicked shut and Alex was returned to the lonely gloom of the candlelight.
The record was still spinning and with nothing else to focus on Alex began to let the music permeate his senses; light jazz, definitely pre-war, no vocals and budget recording equipment, it conjured images of extravagant dinners, countless tables draped with linen cloths and silverware surrounded by the white upper class discussing what should be done about blacks and jews and women, soundtracked by a live band that nobody was listening to. Background music. Alex felt an urge to upend the table and shatter the record into smithereens.
Instead he approached the tray left behind by Sylvester, and slumped against the wall next to it. He could just about make out the contents of the tray; a small crystal glass containing a (clear?) liquid, a china plate with decorative trim (probably blue?) that held a thinly sliced sandwich, and a plush cotton napkin held in a cylinder by a silver ring. He held the glass to his nose and sniffed; seemed to be odourless; took a hesitant sip; water with a slightly bitter scent. There was probably something in it so he decided it best not to drink any. He then parted the bread to check the filling of the snack, prodding a limp lettuce leaf with his index finger – that was all he could find. A lettuce sandwich. Did that even count as sustenance? Regardless, he couldn’t even remember the last time he ate so he ate it greedily, crumbs dripping down his chest as his lips and teeth and tongue got to grips with the bland invader.
What had even happened earlier? He’d barely had a moment to recollect his thoughts. The weird phone call. The knock at the door. That creepy man – ‘The Governor’ – and his sinister cockney accent. Why was he dressed so strangely? And why was he so thin? And then waking up here. What the hell had happened to him? He strained to focus his mind and fill in that crucial blank but –
A pain flashed through his forehead, close to the bridge of his nose, so intense it made him inhale through his teeth, the type of hot pain you get from eating cold foods too quickly. He took a large gulp of the water(?) absentmindedly, trying to relieve the pressure, forgetting the off-putting taste which came back to him as he swallowed and it slid down his throat, the weird tangy texture irritating the taste buds at the top of his mouth. It was definitely drugged. Shit. On the flip side it had got him over that headache.
The Governor had asked if he could come in, Alex remembered that, and Alex had refused, he remembered that as well. Did he try and force his way in? Had he knocked Alex backwards down the stairs? Unsure – maybe – would explain the aches and pains across his body. Or maybe that was from the brief tussle he’d had with Sylvester when he first woke up in this room and had swung for his guard, lunging clumsily towards him, Sylvester had seen the punch coming from a mile away and deftly blocked the blow, countering with a sharp strike to his abdomen and a firm crack to the side of the head that had put Alex down on his arse in no time.
The pain eased slightly as Alex massaged the bridge of his nose with his thumb and index finger. What the fuck was all this anyway?