Brigham awoke disoriented and with what he thought must be the world’s worst hangover. He had bruises on his bruises, and everything ached, but his worst pain emanated from the back of his head. Once he registered that he was awake, he tried to open his eyes, only one of which opened enough for him to take in his new surroundings. He was in a room, some kind of cell, with metal bars and all. Twenty other men, all Chinese, were sitting, huddled around piles of what looked like miniature, dismembered children. Another man lay next to him, sleeping.
As the cobwebs of Brig’s mind cleared, he remembered his encounter with the police. He reached towards his pocket and panicked as he realized that his pills were gone, as was his pack. He was already feeling the early stages of withdrawal. Brig painfully raised himself to a sitting position, and several fellow prisoners took note.
He heard a voice to his left say, “You’re alive.” He turned his head to see Tommy stand up from one of the piles of body parts and limp towards him. A large Chinese man standing in the corner of the cell yelled at Tommy to get back to work.
“May I see to my friend?”
“No, get back to work. And you!” Brig noticed that the big man was pointing at him. “Get over there and get to work.”
“He doesn’t understand Chinese. He’s an American.”
“Not anymore. Now he’s just another piece of shit that I get to beat on.” The burly man walked over to Brig, who cowered on the floor. The man kicked him in the upper thigh, yelled “Get to work!” and pointed at the pile of body parts that Tommy had been hovering over.
“What the fuck did you do that for?” Brig asked, causing the man to kick him again.
Tommy ran to Brig’s aide. “Please. He’ll work. Let me show him how.” The man huffed, turned his back, and walked back to his strategic spot in the cell. Tommy pulled Brig up to his feet, maneuvering him to a pile of small legs, arms, torsos, and heads. Brig saw that the pieces were doll parts, and the men were assembling them into complete dolls.
“Don’t you fucking touch me!” Brig seethed and would’ve shrugged Tommy off if it didn’t hurt so much.
“Listen. I’m sorry, but there are a lot of things you don’t understand.” Tommy said as he picked up a plastic torso in one hand, and a right arm in the other.
Brig looked away from Tommy, in disgust, struggling to make sense of the situation he was in.
“You’ve got to work, or he will beat us both, and by the look of you, you haven’t many more beatings that you can take. This work doesn’t take an engineering degree, only persistence. And I know you have that.”
“Less talk! More work!” the foreman yelled at the two.
Brig moved from his ass to a kneeling position. The other men squatted as though they were working a rice field. Even in the best of circumstances, Brig doubted he could hold that position for five minutes, even if he weren’t beaten up. He had once tried to use a Chinese toilet that was just a hole in the ground, what the missionaries called “a squatter,” and nearly fell into his bowel movement.
He picked up a doll head and examined it. Blonde hair, blue eyes, bright red lips. A Barbie knockoff. He looked up and noticed a colleague from across the pile trying to get his attention. Brig nodded to the man, in a “what’s up” sort of way. The man took a quick glance to make sure the boss wasn’t looking and held two small plastic legs up to his cheeks, legs splayed apart, and stuck his tongue out in a licking fashion. Several of their companions chuckled, which drew the boss man’s attention.
“Tell your foreign friend that if he doesn’t get to work and shut the fuck up, I am going to crush your skulls.”
“Brig. Take my advice. Keep your head down, eyes on…” Tommy implored.
“No. You listen you fuck. I’m through listening to you. Do not speak to me again,” Brig grimaced as he got to his feet. The cell boss sprinted menacingly toward him. “And you, you fat bastard. I’m an American, and…” the boss didn’t stop but rammed him full force, sending the weakened Brig into a wall of bars behind him. His body crumpled to the floor.
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