Coming round he knew he had at least broken a rib. His shoulders ached too and he could feel his wrists burning behind his back. The cold concrete pressed against his cheek, the throbbing in his ankles. He was bound to a chair, upturned so that he was lying on the floor in a sitting position. His head hurt.
As the synapses of his mind came to terms with the situation his heart pounded in his chest. Why was this happening? He tried to think back to his last memory but his mind was ablaze and it just made the pain in his head even worse. He opened his eyes.
A wall. Cold and unforgiving like the floor on his face. Mouth dry, except the blood, his blood, he could taste. Blood and, was that turrón? It hadn’t been long since he’d last snacked.
Minutes passed. He cast his mind back over the evening. He was on a business trip in Boston. The flight from London was pleasant. It was on the firm. The conference had been work, but interesting, and there were some good people, with chat and laughs and company credit cards behind the bar.
That seemed like another era now. It smelt of damp and there were no windows so he assumed he was in cellar or basement or whatever English speakers called them. The light was dim so guessed it came from a single, low watt bulb somewhere behind him. He tried to move but immediately whatever bound him cut into wrists and ankles. He wondered if he’d ever see Mornington Crescent again.
Slowly moving his head around to try and see what was behind him he froze with fear. Standing right there was a silent person looking down. The silhouette of the light kept the stranger’s face in darkness, but he could make out an athletic figure and the glint of a knuckleduster.
“Where am I?” he began to demand, but his mouth and throat were so dry he choked on the words.
The shadowy figure took a step back and the creak suggested he’d taken a seat on a table, saying nothing.
“What do you want from me? I have money. Take it. Just please let me go. I haven’t done anything. I don’t know who you are,” the adrenalin was firing now and the pain all over his body numbed a little as he pleaded. The stranger was unmoved.
“People know I’m here. When I don’t turn up tomorrow questions will be asked. They’ll come looking for me. I was the website’s top salesman last year. I’m a big deal. It’ll be reported back to Spanish embassy. You’ll be in big trouble,” the last threat was a bluff, no Castilian diplomat would ever concern himself with a missing Catalan, but he had to try something to get this man to talk. The suspense was killing him.
The stranger took a deep breath. “How are PSV Mornington getting on?” he asked in a southern drawl. He may have been asking the time.
“PSV? My football team?” he spluttered. Whoever the American was he was well briefed.
“Only I heard you weren’t faring too well this season,” said the American. Texas. That was the accent.
“Well, the season is only just beginning. Gutierrez and Cazorla are returning from injury, and Charles N’Zogbia will surely find form soon,” this was surreal, under the circumstances the last thing he expected to be explaining away was his team’s lack of creative spark in midfield.
“You didn’t feel you could improve your team?” said the Texan.
Panic. Blind panic like he’d never experienced before gripped his whole body. The tensed muscles pinched his broken rib and he let out a small gasp. A tear formed in his eye.
“Because if my team was bottom of the Kenna League,” continued the sinister stranger, “I would probably make changes at the first available opportunity. I would at least front up to wear the Bramble jersey.”
He knew only too well where this was going and the outlook wasn’t good. It was clear this American was acting on behalf of Kenna HQ. Rumours were everywhere of the ruthlessness of the league’s manager experiences department. Stories of players mysteriously disappearing in the night from team hotels or managers returning home to find the family pet nailed to the floor were far from uncommon.
“Okay, okay, I know I missed the transfer window. It’s just, I felt I couldn’t improve the team and this trip took priority. And I didn’t want to face the shame of wearing the Bramble jersey,” he admitted.
“I may have to teach you something about priorities,” said the Texan and with that knelt down behind the chair.
There was a swish of movement. The stranger grabbed his head with one hand and with the other used a pair of pliers to take hold of the manager’s front tooth.
“No! No!” screamed the PSV manager into the American’s tool. Tears were rolling onto the concrete.
“Where will you be for the February transfer window?” demanded his interrogator.
“I think I’m due to speak at a dinner for Catalans UK,” the American took firmer grip of his head. “No, no wait! I’ll be at the window. I promise, I’ll be at the window!”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, absolutely. I’ll be at every Kenna event from now on. I promise,” he pleaded.
The Texan maintained the position in silence for 30 seconds or so, as the manager felt the cold steel of the pliers in his mouth and a warm sensation fill his trousers.
“You see that you do. These bruises will heal, but a missing tooth, that’s a lot of work for your dentist. Don’t go to the police. You were never here, chorizo boy.”
With that, the Texan released his tooth, quickly cut the ropes around his wrists and left the room with an aplomb the PSV manager thought he recognised from the football pitch.
Just before he passed out from the pain and the shock, he caught a glimpse of the stranger’s face in the dim light of the bulb.
Of course. It was Clint Dempsey.