The call came about 4:00 in the morning.
“It’s Susie,” my wife said as she handed the phone over to me. “Tommy’s in the emergency room.”
“What?” I asked.
“Tommy’s in the hospital,” she repeated. “It’s his wife on the phone, Susie.”
I took the phone.
“Come to the hospital,” said the voice quivering on the other end. “Tommy needs to talk to you. He’s badly beaten. Oh Chuck, please.”
I had received an e-mail from Tommy just a few hours earlier, electronically time-stamped around 9:30 p.m. This meant that six hours earlier he’d been in his White Rock home; now he was in a Santa Fe hospital.
Susie’s words cycled in my head as we drove; my mind churned, trying to figure out what was going on. Tommy had informed me a couple of weeks earlier that someone declaring himself to be a laboratory auditor had called him, sounding scared over the phone and claiming to have information to provide for Tommy’s upcoming meeting with congressional staffers.
But he was only willing to disclose what he had in person, so the conversation ended with the caller promising to get back with a time and place to meet. I hadn’t heard from Tommy since then.
My wife and I were allowed into the hospital treatment area only after Susie came to escort us in. She was in a controlled panic. “Tommy . . .” she said. “You won’t recognize him.” Tears clouded her vision. “They left shoe prints on his face,” she continued.
“Why . . . why did they do this?”
It was a rhetorical question. How does one rationalize the merciless beating of another person? The numbness of the moment turned to disbelief when we saw him. Tommy was, as Susie had pointed out, unrecognizable. His face was swollen, bruised, and stained with blood, his eyes barely visible through ballooning eyelids and a broken jaw. On his cheek was a ghostly imprint—the tread mark of someone’s shoe. Suddenly, with a slight movement of his hand, Tommy waved me in closer to hear him. Speaking softly through lips that barely moved, he said,
“Be careful . . . They kept telling me to keep my fucking mouth shut; they kept telling me to keep my fucking mouth shut,” he repeated.