The Crow tilted his head towards the clock. Beads of humidity ran down the off-color wall as the thin hand ticked away. “You have 30 seconds,” he said, business-like, “to tell me which of you is leader.”
We stood in a line, hands roped behind our backs, the five of us, and waited. The Crow, so named perhaps for his sharp features or perhaps for his love of carrion, stood steadily looking from one of us to the next. At 33, I was the oldest man in the group. Sweat ran down my back and soaked through the worn shirts of the men. We were losing precious water. We hadn’t eaten right for weeks. We couldn’t hold out forever, and no one knew this better than The Crow.
He’d caught us at the outer fence. Moments before young Richard had the chain links cut and the hole wide enough for us to squeeze through. We were nearly out. A minute more, and we could have made it.
I glanced at my men. They stood straight, all four, though exhaustion would have toppled lesser souls days earlier. The night had not been easy on us. The Crow made sure of that.
He glanced once more at the clock, ticking towards 30 seconds past. Reached it. He gave an impatient huff of a sigh, and stepped toward Richard.
Blue ice met grey metal as their eyes locked. “Tell me,” The Crow said evenly.
Richard made no movement. I watched him, heart pounding in my ears. The Crow’s gaze fell on me, then back to Richard. The boy was barely 18.
The Crow lifted his hand, flicked it towards Richard in a small gesture, and stepped back. Immediately the man by the door took Richard by the arm and led him into the room on the other side. The room with the bar on the inside, with one chair, and one small window, and old blood left to stink in the heat.
He didn’t look back. Not one glance to me, who lead him to that fence, who convinced him to try to leave this wretched place. Who should spoken, had the courage to say something when he had the nerve to remain silent. The door closed behind him with a sickening thud.
I realized then that he took my place. And I let him.
When the rescue party came that afternoon, Richard should have been in the room. He couldn’t be found. He never was, these past three years.
Bodies are buried without markers everywhere in that place. It’s not uncommon. But The Crow wouldn’t have killed him. Richard won’t give, and neither will his tormentor. The Crow took the youngest of us, thinking him the weakest. But Richard has a braver heart than anyone.
I know he’s alive. He’s enduring hell, because of me. I’ve barely the guts to go back and take him out. If I can keep up only half his grit, I’ll make it.