Coming In From The Cold.
In an exclusive interview with the New York Times, former Winter Soldier James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes gives Zenat Patel his untold side of the story
Warning: This article contains very frank discussion of torture and rape as well as language some might find offensive.
It’s a golden rule among journalists: the more dangerous the interviewee, the more charming they are. While Teen divas and Hollywood brats compete for the most outré acts before a dictaphone, the real scary guys and girls are almost always overwhelmingly nice.
“Thank you for agreeing to this,” says the dark haired man sitting quietly in the corner of a casual East Village lunch spot. He gives me an endearingly impish half smile. This is a whole new level of nice.
He is on time, He is smiling. He helpfully waved at me as I entered the restaurant in a state of bluster. He waved at me with a hand of solid metal.
“Not quite solid,” he smiles again, looking up at me through unfairly lush lashes. “There’s electronics and all sorts of weird gizmos inside. And carbon nanotubes.”
We’ll get to the nanotubes later. For now, Sergeant James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes gives me a flesh-hand handshake “the other one gets staticky and gives people shocks,” then sits patiently while I compose myself. Once I look suitably settled, he hits me full in the face with an open, blue-eyed stare that I’m glad I’m sitting down for. Sergeant Barnes blue eyes have seen things. They are possibly more frightening than the metal arm.
“I’ve never done this before, so tell me if I’m doing it right.”
You’ve never been interviewed before?
“I think I did some puff-stuff with the Howling Commandos, but that was very one-line ‘what do you miss about home,’” he says, a Brooklyn twang poking shyly through his softly-spoken words. “Nothing formal like this.”
I express surprise that we are meeting in so open a venue. When I was handed the assignment I expected to be whisked away to an unmarked location by Avengers in full battle dress. Instead, here we are in a bright and breezy restaurant slowly busying up with yummy mommies and business lunchers. Sergeant Barnes swirls the sparkling water in his glass before looking up:
There are many reasons why Sergeant Barnes might want to hide. It was only two weeks ago that the International Court at the Hague made public their decision to drop sixty-three charges of murder against him: the sixty-three people he remembers dying in the crosshairs of his rifle. There’s probably more, his memory, he admits, “is still pretty frazzled.” Then there is the Court’s report itself; “a catalog of abuses so extreme, protracted and inhuman it beggars belief that the subject has survived it,” available on-line for anyone with an appetite for atrocities to read.
“Are you having a starter?”
Sergeant Barnes is not having a starter. Pretty soon I find out why he likes this place: he likes the cheesecake. He orders three slices.
“It’s kind of the downside of being a super-soldier. I need about 8,000 calories a day.”
That’s a lot of cheesecake.
“Well Tony [Stark – head of Stark Industries] cut it down. Before he lightened my arm up, I was needing more than I could eat. The Winter Soldier was kind of inefficient. Because he – it took me a long while to call him a he-, was just active for short periods of time, they built him to use up huge amounts of energy very fast. They didn’t have to worry about feeding him, it all went in his arm or pumped down his nose. So when I first got back to myself I almost didn’t know how to eat and I needed enough fuel to power a suburb.”
There’s that smile again, the naughty urchin one.
“I used to eat packets of sugar and tubs of margarine just to keep going. It was as you say – gross.”
He's doing okay on cheesecake now, although he still gets topped up by IV once a week. He’s starting to feel a lot more like eating.
“I had an apple the other day, just for the hell of it. I think a few months ago I would have just seen it as a lot of effort for precious little energy. But I liked it. It tasted apple-y.”
He grins again. Sergeant Barnes was the flirt of the Commandos. The one who was a hit with the ladies. That smile goes a long way to explaining it.
The problem was that Sergeant Barnes wasn’t into the ladies. As a dock-hand in depression era Brooklyn he could keep it on the down-low, even when the sickly, scrawny artist he fell for morphed into Captain America. But the 21st century was not as forgiving. Inevitability, a paparazzi shot brought “Steve Rogers’ scruff-bag boyfriend” to the attention of the world, and from that point it was six months of over-exposure.
“I think a lot of people were pissed Steve likes kissing boys. The people who think because he’s called America they own him.”
Is he a good kisser?
Sergeant Barnes arches an eyebrow.
“I thought we agreed no private questions,” he laughs, “he kisses like he is, big, stupid, full of desire to bring out the good. Then he complains about my stubble scratching his all-American baby-face.”
He adds very quietly. “Even when he was little, he kissed big.”
There it is, the first clang of weirdness. The man in front of me, who looks not a day older than twenty-five, remembers Captain America as the legendary weakling from the hall of fame mythology.
“It’s all true you know. He really did used to be this little weed kid always squaring up to the bullies.” He pauses, and there’s a flash that brings his disconcerting blue eyes to life, “I’m halfways doing this to spare the hassle of dealing with some journalist’s face dripping off of Captain America’s star spangled knuckles. Because I know if they asked him one damn question the wrong way about me, bam! You’d be back to the sixteen year old fire-cracker. And his punch is a lot harder these days.”
The photo caused the usual mutter of disproval across conservative America, but otherwise raised few eyebrows. Captain America has a boyfriend. Move along folks. Nothing to see here.
“April 21st 2015. Day zero of the Nazi cockslut fiasco.” Sergeant Barns breaks off a forkful of cheesecake. “That was the beginning of it, that comment beneath the photo.”
“At first people seemed to think it was Steve getting trolled, someone on the internet no big fan of America. People chimed in about America being fag nation. Then they started to post pictures. Little moving pictures. What do you call them?”
GIFs. They are called GIFS.
“People were joking that Steve had found a replacement Bucky. Then the GIFs started showing up. Winterboy GIFs. The kid kissing Captain America tied down, trussed up, doing –stuff.”
Stuff was about right. As fast as the web-page removed them, more pictures started showing. Graphic pictures.
“See at first they posted the shots of me looking like I was into it. Because there were a lot of control freaks at Hydra who wanted me – they wanted a willing victim. They wanted the shame. So suddenly Winterboy is an Internet porn star and Captain America has been caught kissing Winterboy."
“Because they were like five seconds each they never showed what was behind it all: the stun batons, the electrodes , the beatings. They did some pretty disgusting stuff to get a rise out of me.”
"There's the infamous one of the chick on top; everyone was like – well being in Hydra wasn't all bad, winky-face. I remember that because to get the action they poured a couple of gallons of salt-water into Winterboy’s ass and plugged it in. Then this woman starts riding him. Winterboy’s moaning, too right he’s fucking moaning, it hurt like holy hell.”
“They threw the water over him – after. I remember ‘cos it was all bloody.”
He takes a breath.
“I can’t believe we are discussing this over lunch.”
I’ve not touched my Cesar salad. Sergeant Barnes is on his second slice of cheesecake.
"Are you going to be able to print that in a family newspaper?”
I tell him he’s probably okay these days.
"Good, because I think it needs to be said. I think – when you are the person who has been subjected to that kind of torture – it’s not sex, it is torture, and it got a reaction out of you, for a minute it feels good or something, you feel like the sickest fuck in the world. You feel that it is only you who could ever be that twisted. But now I’ve read up on it, I’ve read up an awful lot about it, it's a really common tack of abusers. They want the victim’s silence and shame and making them feel pleasure is a really good way to get victims to censor themselves.”
He pauses, digging at the base of his cheesecake.
I apologise that my phone is going. Sergeant Barnes raises his eyebrow again as I dig in my bag. There’s no missed calls though I could have sworn I heard vibrating.
“Or the aircon. I get that ‘the aircon’s kind of loud here.’” He leans in conspiratorially. “It’s me.”
Sergeant Barnes rolls up his left sleeve and flexes his hand. The metal plates softly whir. I try my best not to look like I have hit weirdness wall number two.
“So as I was saying,” he continues, letting his sleeve fall back over his mechanical arm, “ to anyone who is scared to come forward because their abuser occasionally made it feel good, don’t be. The people who know know different."
Ignorance didn’t stop outraged of the internet voicing their opinions. By the time HiT! Magazine closed the comment thread there were over fifty thousand replies, most of them horrified that Captain America’s lips were glued to an internationally wanted assassin with a penchant for kinky sex parties.
“Boners never lie,” Sergeant Barnes deadpans. “People were more shocked about that than JFK.”
It was a cliché of my parents generation: where were you when Kennedy got shot? Now I’m eating lunch with his unwitting murderer.
“Things happened really quickly,” Sergeant Barnes continues, starting on his third slab of cheesecake, “and neither me or Steve had been following the thread. The first I knew about it was when I went into work and everyone was like – uh I’m sorry Mr Winter Soldier but you really can’t be here.”
“You went into work?”
“Being a headshot ex-soviet assassin and a washed-up war hero doesn't pay the rent.”
“I think for the first six months or so I was still in shock,” he adds sheepishly, “survival instincts took hold: food, shelter, cover. I just took up the ID of a guy Winterboy disappeared a couple of months back – he was still missing when SHIELD imploded, so I guessed his social security number was still good, and blagged the first recruitment ad I could find.”
“It turned out to be a lucky break. It was a day centre for people with acquired brain injury. Because I think the first thing I needed to do was come to terms with was what happened to me physically, coming to terms with the body Hydra had left me with. A lot of the things I was helping people with – I needed help with myself. I liked it there. Not having to kill people was nice too.”
“The brain stuff - I mean my body is pretty resilient, so it got through a lot of what would have crippled other people. But I suppose even a super-soldier brain is squashy and vulnerable. I’ve got – I mean, when you get brain injured, you don’t have insight into how you were different before. What is real is what is now and when people talk about your past abilities, your past personality, it can be really confusing and frustrating for people. I – I kind of got that.”
I look at the graceful, articulate young man in front of me. Do you consider yourself brain injured?
“I think so. I mean I still don’t really know who the hell Bucky was, even now I can remember where he grew up and things. I’ve got no idea what he felt like, what it was like to be in his skin, looking out his eyes. I only know what I am now, and that person has had whole terawatts of electro-shock to the head.”
“I’m epileptic. I don’t think Hydra knew because I don’t think I was out of cryo for long enough, but I – my head sort of auto resets. I – all that electric, like my brain had got to miss being zapped. I get full on tonic-clonic seizures. It’s weird too because after I have a seizure I get all woozy and foggy brained like I did after a wipe. I’m on medication that controls it now, it controls the ups and downs, the mood salad I was having too, and that's another thing I can thank the 21st century for.”
"I've also got really good focus on a given task, but my executive function is a bit off. Like if there’s lots of things to do in no particular order I can get over-run with conflicting instructions. That’s a brain-injury thing, although Sam (Wilson – fellow Avenger) says it is also a complex trauma thing too, so I don’t know. I’ve also got a really screwed up sense of time. Like everything seems to exist at once, which can be a trauma thing or a head injury thing. Are you going to eat that?”
I hand over my Cesar salad. Sergeant Barnes takes a forkful and looks a little bewildered.
“It's a bit like crunchy, cold creamed cabbage.”
Which doesn’t sound like a recommendation, but he continues munching through it.
“Either way, saying it’s cos of the electric or saying it is because my brain rewired itself because I was living in terror gives the same net result anyway. People don’t like talking about head injury, even though it’s pretty common among vets that have seen active service.”
Sergeant Barnes smiles his little hood-rat smile, straight off the streets of Vinegar Hill.
“I seem to have an affinity for things people don’t like to talk about.”
He waves at the waiter and asks for more mineral water and some coffees.
“Going back to my story, I lost my job and then got a weird-ass phonecall from Sam, sort of telling me to get to Steve’s but not saying why.”
“The why was they’d published our addresses; our un-American traitorous addresses. Someone turned up on Steve’s doorstep and pulled a gun on him. Yeah, good luck with that. But they weren’t Hydra. They were just some idiot, just because he’d been snapped kissing me.”
“They shut down the comment thread after that. But it had already fanned out over the Internet by that point. I was putting Steve in danger and the poster seemed to have a bottomless supply of footage.”
“Tony saved us. No really, Tony Stark is one of the biggest assholes to ever live – I want that in a block quote – but he called Steve up and was like – you and Princess Anastasia need to haul ass to Avengers Tower pronto.”
“I killed his parents and he did that for me. He took me in because he knew Steve wouldn’t come without me. Maybe he didn’t want to lose his best Avenger. Maybe he was thinking that I’d escape justice if he left me out in the wilds. But he took me in for Steve’s sake and that’s still…It was a low point and it helped me believe the world wasn't totally rotten.”
Sergeant Barnes suddenly looks at me.
“You know you haven’t eaten anything for lunch?”
I explain it’s kind of work for me, but the cyborg assassin is suddenly in a full fit of mother hen. I wonder briefly if this is how it feels to be Captain America.
“Do you like spring rolls? C’mon everyone likes spring rolls?”
I nod, completely thrown before meekly agreeing to share a dim sum platter.
“So we end up in Stark Towers which was really lucky because in a week, I have a warrant out for my arrest and Captain America’s unused Facebook account is getting two thousand posts a day about how they hope he gets AIDS from his sloppy-assed Nazi whore."
“I think at that point;” he pauses, blowing on his espresso, “right then was the tough part. Because I think I’m – well I suppose was the oldest kid in my family-, I’m comfortable with making sure everyone else is okay, like I’d make sure Steve had blankets and oranges when he was sick, or giving covering fire so he didn't get his ass shot off. I had it drummed into me that I was the big guy, I made sure everything was okay. Then suddenly I couldn't do that anymore. I just – I was in – I felt like – see this is where the fifteen year old high-school drop-out in me kicks in, I don’t have words for what I felt. But I guess I’d had a way of coping up to then, and suddenly it’s gone.”
“Our side still had some evidence: they had Nat’s file from the KGB and after they’d raided some of the old Hydra bases they’d got hold of some of the equipment they used. They had enough to request bail. Plus I think nobody really wanted the task of raiding Avengers Tower for any missing super-assassins. Tony stood bail for me. Seven million dollars worth of bail. Which struck me as a lot for a guy who was practically catatonic.”
“I’d gone nine months in a body that was for short term use only. I was getting seizures -pretty regularly. I couldn't sleep, I couldn’t eat enough to keep functional and I had 120lb of weight pulling on my ribs every time I tried to breathe. I ended up sort of breathing on just my right side so all this fluid built up in my left lung and I got pneumonia. Super-pneumonia as I’m supposed to be disease resistant.”
"I was in pretty bad shape. Pretty punch drunk too from all the internet stuff. There was like a web page now; The Truth about The Winter Soldier, where they posted the videos, longer ones and not just the porn ones, but pictures of Winterboy getting prepped for a mission, repeating orders to kill people. And there was –please tell me I’m saying this right – a meme that went viral.”
The know-your-meme page seems to have deleted Sergeant Barnes addition to their pantheon. But five months ago no comment thread was complete without his image claiming “I Forgot.”
“Those were probably the nice ones. The ones they posted to Steve’s Facebook, or the Avengers comments thread were kind of ugly. ‘The Gay…insert appropriate image…I Forgot.” Which struck me as particularly stupid because everybody knew I was with Steve so the gay was something I definitely hadn’t forgotten. And there were some that were just totally sick.”
The infamous ‘the Lube…I Forgot.’
“Yes, that’s the first time I was aware that people were answering back: people saying ‘you know this guy is being tortured, right?’ Even though they’d get fifty sassy comments back saying ‘you know this guy’s a serial killer, right?’ But it made me feel better that not everybody bought that I was cool with it.”
So you were following the threads?
That must have been painful.
“Well I ignored it at first but when we got to Avengers HQ …everybody was flapping gums about it and Nat was like ‘wake up guys – your missing something.’ And then we all clocked it at once. Someone had videos of the Winter Soldier, a lot of videos. They had access to stuff that wasn't in Nat’s file, the top security stuff that was off-record. So whoever was posting the videos must have pretty high level clearance in Hydra. We had to keep watching, because the videos meant Hydra was still active, still out there.”
He breaks off a spring roll.
“I’m not that scary am I?”
He looks at my untouched plate.
I say that he’s not scary, but what he’s saying definitely is.
“I guess it is, but life goes on. Eat your prawn toast.”
Yes sir. It is very good prawn toast.
“Well you should try the cheesecake.”
I’m not sure I’m up to cheesecake, but on Sergeant Barnes orders I nibble my way through two slices of prawn toast and a dumpling as he continues:
“I didn't want to be around people, but being in Avengers towers was good for me. It’s harder to feel threatened when you’ve got Pepper bustling in talking about legal precedents and filing documents, JARVIS running a trace on all the email locations, Nat laughing about one of my fanboys she paid a visit to asking if she was going to interrogate him ‘in your dreams pal,’ and Tony sticking a screwdriver in my arm talking smack on outdated Soviet technology and having a baby over carbon nanotubes.”
“Connecting my arm to my body. They’re much more comfortable, much more like what the body is used to dealing with, they’ve got more give than metal so my rib-cage is no longer drafted in as a shock absorber. Plus they’re a lot lighter. It was like getting rid of the proverbial toothache. I had a lot of physical therapy on my back and neck where the muscles had gone weird, but yes, it’s really comfortable now, it feels really natural. Still looks a bit freaky though.”
I really don’t know what to say.
“I had tip-top medical attention care of Stark Industries. I guess I’m on their insurance payroll now. They sorted out my seizures, my lungs, a lot of the damage done. So I’m pretty healthy now, no pain, all functional and correct. The doctors were really good, considering Steve had to practically sit on me to get them near me. They had to do some pretty intense stuff getting my arm fixed up, but they always told me what they were going to do, always asked if it was okay. It's ironic, because I guess my pain tolerance is through the roof, but they never hurt me once.
Still must have been hard after all the medical torture.
“That and…you’ve got to remember, me and Steve pre-date penicillin. And we certainly didn’t have insurance back in Brooklyn. The only quacks we had access to were two steps removed from witch-doctors and you only went to hospital if you were good and ready to die. So I never liked doctors, even before Winterboy’s experiences.”
“I think what was really tough,” he looks into his espresso for a moment, “was accepting help off of other people. As I said, I was used to being the helper, or at least Bucky was. My only experience of letting people do things for me was – unpleasant. So it was hard to hear people say, ‘rest up- we’re taking care of this.’ But it was what I needed to hear.”
"Even after the first time with Zola, the experiments done there, my way of coping was to get right back into the saddle, right behind Steve with my rifle. I couldn't do it this time. For one, I didn't trust myself with weapons. For two, well you don’t want to be giving a machine gun to a guy who loses control of his body on a regular basis.”
“Besides, it was so busy in Avengers Towers, I didn't really feel out of it, even under a comforter on the sofa. JARVIS kept me pretty entertained teaching me how hack sites and trace web addresses, ‘well done sir, you have completed that search most thoroughly. And how many have you done in the time it took? 14371 sir.’ That’s the thing about Avengers Towers, everyone’s got a sense of humour, even the AI. So nobody was letting me sit on my butt feeling sorry for myself.”
Which was good news for Sergeant Barnes, because once his plea of not guilty by way of insanity had hit the news, the insults moved from online comments to the main articles.
“By then it was international news, so all the experts were weighing in,” he sighs, “there were probably some sensible ones, but I only remember the lousy ones. You know, even after it all came out, nobody’s had the balls to say sorry except –rather bizarrely Fox News.”
It isn’t often you hear that outlet praised by celebrities.
“No, one of the anchors who had run a discussion show on whether Captain America should change his name now that his desires no longer reflect the values of mainstream society, went on air to say that they had run the piece without full awareness of the facts and they realised it was hurtful to two people recovering from unimaginable trauma. I was pretty gobsmacked myself. They even wrote to Avengers Towers saying they were completely behind Steve and wished him and me the best. The cynic in me says that Tony must have leant on them pretty hard about missing out on Avengers scoops, but cynical or not they were the only ones who did it.” Sergeant Barnes gives a mock salute. “Nobody else said anything, and there were some lousy, lousy articles. It was like all the bilge-rats had an excuse to crawl out from the wreckage.”
And what a fetid smorgasbord of poor analysis and argument it was, and not even from the usual suspects on the right. The Huffingdon Post aired Terry Cartwright’s ill-judged ‘Is rape officially now a worse crime than murder?’, while over at the Guardian Susan Tufts gave the world ‘America pleads leniency for its super-assassin but keeps Guantanamo Bay open for business.’
“The one that really hurt was the one from – fuck knows, I’m not repeating the name, I’m not giving him more google links, the one that went ‘blah-blah-blah knowing what we know now, isn’t it time to put a stop to homosexuals serving in the US armed forces.’ Like I betrayed my country for a bit of cock. They talked about Kim Philby [Homosexual British double agent] like it was somehow the same thing, the guy was a lifelong communist who gave information to the Soviet Union of his own free will. But that one hurt because it was such a slap in the face to all LGBTQ people who have served, who are still serving and it felt like I had let them down. Right or left?”
For a moment, I thought Sergeant Barnes is asking about my politics. Then I notice the metal hand working a discarded toast corner into a pellet.
Uh – left I guess.
With another of those hand-in-the-candy-jar smiles, Sergeant Barnes flicks his flesh hand and sends his bread pellet flying across the restaurant, hitting the Maitre D’ at the doorway fifty yards away, square on the left earlobe. By the time he turns around, Sergeant Barnes is once again calmly sipping his espresso.
“And that is why queers belong in the US army,” he says.
I’m not arguing.
Some of the other pieces were less easy to refute. A particularly ignorant article by a “qualified trauma counsellor,” on WorldNetDaily, stated baldly that ‘no one who has experienced true sexual trauma would be able to resume normal relationships so soon afterward.’ It coughed out the cliché: ‘true sexual trauma is never arousing,’ and the irrelevance ‘recovered memory has been proved time and again to be a hoax.’ It also referenced a particular video, ‘the alleged victim, a serum-enhanced super-fit assassin is seen alone, servicing an unarmed elderly sugar-daddy. If he was so desperate to escape, why not then?’
“That was when I realised they’d posted the videos of Pierce. And I hit the wall.”
Sergeant Barnes arranges his knife and fork very neatly in the centre of his plate. His shoulders rise and fall three times before he continues.
"Alexander Pierce [former S.H.I.E.L.D director and Hydra operative, deceased] was the centre of my world for seven years. I don’t think Winterboy knew his name. But if he said Winterboy got fed, then it was the gloop down his nose, if he said he went hungry, Winterboy starved. If he said Winterboy went cold, he’d sleep in the dirt on the exercise yard, if he said Winterboy did good, they gave him blankets. If he said enough they stopped the beatings, if he said ‘correction’, they doubled-up, got out the stun batons. He could see somebody patched Winterboy up after, or he could leave him bleeding. He gave the orders for cryo. He gave the orders for the wipes. He told Winterboy to kill. He had total control over him. I’ll leave it to you to figure out why he didn't run away.”
“He was married, but … Well we’ll get onto my crazy commie conspiracy theories later, power is dick in his world, it’s fucking shoving your dick down someone's throat and making them take it.”
“I couldn't clean my teeth properly, when I got free, because it would make me gag, retch. That made me terrified, for some reason, I didn't know why.” He barks out an icy laugh, “so Tony had to pay for a dentist too. But the truth was it reminded me of him.”
“It took a long time for me to say the r- word, a lot of patience from my psychiatrist, because every time I said ‘go down on him’ or y’know ‘blowjob’ she’d correct me. No he raped you. And I was like – but it was my mouth. And she would say – he raped you. He raped – Winterboy. No, he raped you. I couldn't repeat it afterwards for the longest time, because it felt so dramatic, so making-a-big-deal of it. But yeah, Pierce raped me. Out of all of them, some were just kids taking orders, some were just going with the flow, but Pierce he had the ultimate power and that was how he showed it.”
“In a way I think it's kind of worse because I don’t have to look my ass in the mirror each morning. But yeah …”
“In one of the books I read, there’s this woman who’s a counsellor but she’s been a rape victim, and she says, ‘you know the worst thing about being raped. It’s boring. I have to think every day about the attack and it’s dull, I’m bored of it.’ That’s true, because I hate it when I see my face and I’m like oh yeah, that again, it’s been on Pierce’s cock, come up with something else, why don’t you.”
"When I realised they'd posted videos of that I knew they were up way-high, someone who knew something big-time because how the hell did they get hold of that – I didn’t know Pierce had even filmed it. And I knew Steve couldn’t watch them. Ever. Because the thought of Steve watching that, of knowing that happened to me was the worst thing. He couldn't know. I begged him not to watch them, and Steve, because he’s got a heart of gold, didn’t.”
“We watched them together the other night and he just sobbed right the way through it. And I started crying and we were like two stood-up schoolgirls, all snotty, gibbering away. It was ridiculous. But it’s over now. We deleted the files and they’re gone.”
“The other thing happened is suddenly, it became real. You see, up until then, the clearest memories I had were of the killings. When Winterboy was out shooting people. I remembered him shooting Nat and that scientist, I remembered Jacqui Kennedy freaking out, the terrified face of an Indian woman as he had emptied a sub-machine gun into her stomach, the little Pilipino girl he’d gunned down just because she was screaming. I remembered all of that and those were the memories that Winterboy left me. And I thought they…I thought that was the worst. I almost didn't care what they’d done to Winterboy’s body, because after he’d done that, he’d snuffed out lives, husbands, wives, parents – well maybe he fucking deserved it. Or maybe I just didn’t have anything left. But up til Pierce, it was all that was real. The other stuff was like video clips, I’d seen it. I knew it happened to me, but it was more like I knew it intellectually, it wasn't really a memory. Then when they posted the Pierce videos, I get all the stereotypical reactions.”
“I thought about killing myself, which considering I survived falling off the fucking Alps took a lot of thought. I thought that the pills worked to control my epilepsy, they worked in high enough dosage to stop the pain or help me sleep. I thought if I could just get enough pills it could be over. And Steve was like: Don’t leave me alone with this. I didn't tell him. He knew. And I know what he did the last time he thought I was gone. So I had to take a deep breath and let the suicide thought go. Because I couldn't leave him alone to deal with it. Whatever happened, it was us facing it together.”
"He's my best friend. You know, when all of this was going on, Nat was like: so you could get married. Show the world your unity, plus you’d get conjugal visits if Bucky gets sent down. And I’m like – I can’t marry him, he’s my best friend. It’s true, maybe it’s the way I see us because I grew up when it wasn't acceptable to think romantically about other men, but I don’t think romantically about Steve at all. He’s my best friend. We hang out. We get in scrapes together. We’ve slept together, but it’s almost like it changes nothing. I don’t know.”
When he looks up to give the expected quirky little grin there are two delicious pink spots of embarrassment on Sergeant Barnes’ cheeks.
“I don’t know how everyone isn’t a bit in love with Steve, he’s my best friend and I’ve got the biggest man-crush in the world on him, but he’s not my boyfriend or my partner, he’s my best friend. And best friends help each other out, even when they’re not really sleeping together. Is this okay?”
I tell him he’s doing fine.
“Good, because if you think I’m embarrassed, this is going to blow Steve up like a beetroot. Okay, so continuing with operation embarrass-the-crap-out-of-Steve: Tony got us a sexiologist, or whatever you call them. I think she called herself a “personal life coach,” or something. I don’t think she was very impressed with us.”
“One of the things I find weird about the 21st century, you guys all take sex very seriously, don’t you? I mean, you’ve got to have this deeply fulfilling, really athletic experience, and you’ve got to get off like a champagne cork or it’s all just a waste of time. C’mon – lighten up a bit.”
His grin is now practically demonic. I have the feeling that seizures and flashbacks notwithstanding, Captain America is a very lucky guy.
“So this woman is giving us the lecture about – you know, no contact sports and playing solitaire and we are both giggling like teenagers while she tries to take it all very seriously. It was worse than the U.S. Army Health and Hygiene talk, where they lectured us on not getting the clap.”
Captain America got the clap talk?
"Everyone got the clap talk. Except of course servicewomen, because ladies don’t get VD. I’ll tell you something else, no one in 2015 has got a right to whine about condoms. Yes, I know, you guys can’t fuck now unless there’s scented candles and rose petals on the pillow, but if you’d seen the U.S. Army issue prophylactics your grandparents managed to do the dirty with, you’d hang your heads in shame. No wonder there was a post-war baby boom.”
Have you considered becoming a sexologist yourself?
“Hah. That’s what we told the lady. Listen ma’am, we appreciate your trying to help but Steve and I, we could really write the book on how to get off in unpromising circumstances. Because there weren't any rose petals on our bed in Brooklyn, and when you’ve got ten minutes under fire in a trench, you learn how to make an awkward handjob mean something.”
“I think our sort of –your alive, everything else is a bonus attitude to, intimate relations, was kind of helpful. I also – look, I’m not saying it’s not a much healthier climate to be gay in now, of course it is. But Steve and I had a sort of ‘oh yeah we’re just saving on heating’ thinking about being together. I mean, rivers in Egypt and all, but back then it's how it worked. So I don’t associate being in bed with Steve with a pressure for sex, because it never was. It was more like pressure not to touch what you wanted to so bad. Plus we didn't have a clue what we were doing. I mean, you heard stories about sailors and jailbirds down the docks they old guys would tell to scare you shitless - we weren't like that.”
Sergeant Barnes rolls his eyes.
“We weren't queers or anything. We just made out until we got sticky stomachs. And it felt good. It feels good now, it feels just as nice as all the whistles and bells stuff you modern kids get up too. Hell I’m 96 for fucks sake, give me a break.”
“I think, I was just so lucky I was with Steve because he could put it in perspective like that too. After the sexologist huffed out the door and we’d finished pissing ourselves, Steve just looked at me and said, ‘you’ve got PTSD. You get flashbacks. It’s what happens. And sometimes they’ll happen when we have sex. So what. Consider it payback for my asthma.’
Captain America is asthmatic?
“He was, before the serum. He had it really bad. That was another thing us two randy teenagers were up against, how to get Steve off without having to break for artificial respiration. I was like sixteen and had to deal with Steve practically stop breathing at – inopportune moments. Steve had to deal with being sick, real sick a lot growing up, so he has this – patience – about him that helped me come to terms with the times I was too sick to do much, to come to terms with being limited, I suppose. Once he reminded me about the asthma I felt okay about risking my flashbacks. Because he pretty much risked death to be, you know – intimate with me, back then.”
So after the Pierce videos went up online – was that when the flashbacks started?
“Pretty much. It was odd because even though that triggered it, the stuff I started reliving wasn't the sex stuff. I mean, in reality none of it was sex stuff, but that’s my crazy commie conspiracy theory. It was remembering how they talked about Winterboy, like he was a thing, a machine, something so completely dehumanised. I started remembering, I started feeling what Winterboy felt, when they were looking at him, like he was –something ugly they had to put up with to get the job done – and I was suddenly in his head and I was terrified. Because he didn't think like a human at all. Getting Winterboy’s memories back was tough.”
“I think having seizures helped prepare me for having flashbacks. Neurologically, they work on a similar pattern, a part of your brain – the amygdala overfires and takes you out of your awareness of space and time. Have you ever had hangover flashbacks?”
What the sudden eruption of intense shame as a vivid memory of drunken shenanigans interrupts your gentle nursing of a pounding head?
“That’s them. That’s cos when your drinking your brain makes memories in the amygdala and those kind of memories don’t fit into a story like other memories. They just sort of get spat out at random moments. It’s the same with trauma memories, the amygdala doesn’t store memories with a date/time stamp. It doesn't speak to your other memory centres, it’s like the isolation ward for memories your brain wants to protect you from. Sam thought, and my psychiatrist backed him up, that I could remember the killings properly because that was the only time Winterboy wasn't afraid, very, very afraid. So the rest of his memories got tucked up in the amygdala ready to pop out like grenades at the right trigger.”
Like somebody posting a video of you being raped by Pierce?
“Yeah, that did it. Suddenly I’m a wreck. Then a lot of good things happen. It’s okay, your readers are probably about to slash their wrists at this point, this is where it gets better, where the fun starts. Because first up Tony gets me a psychiatrist. A really, really good psychiatrist. When she turned up at Avengers Towers Sam was like “oh my God! Dr Goldmann. Can I touch you.” She’s written books. She’s like Harvard Professor of Psychiatry. And I’m like, uh-huh so this little old lady in her pearls is going to help me.”
“God she was a bitch. I mean, she was really gentle at first, talked about my job, why I liked it, got a feel of who I was. But she was relentless when I started talking about the Winterboy trip. She would let me joke about it, say the most outrageous things, I could probably have given the meme people a run for their money, what do you remember, uh Winterboy’s got the shop open again, same old. But she wouldn't let me minimise it. She wouldn’t let me pop it back in the amygdala where it came from. She made me call Winterboy he instead of it. She made me remember what he was feeling. ‘What the fuck do you think he’s feeling? In that position he’s got the fucking cramp.’ ‘Tell him you know it’s hurting, tell him it’s okay, your going to get him out.’”
“At first I thought that a shrink who encourages you to talk to yourself is really in the wrong business. And I was so scared of my monster memories, scared that Winterboy, that this horrible soul-dead killer could just burst into my head. It made me afraid he’d take over again. I told her he was uncontrollable. ‘I think James Barnes could control him.’ So it felt goofy at first, but I ended up like some kind of horse whisperer, telling Winterboy it was okay, he was safe now, I was listening if he needed to talk. ‘Tell him he’s not ugly, tell him he’s not a machine, tell him what you want for him.’”
“I wanted him dead. I wanted the part of my brain he lived in to be cut out. I think I’d have preferred being lobotomised to the fear of him getting out again. But I told him I had food, blankets, painkillers. I told him it was okay to want that stuff, nobody was going to hurt him. And then one day he started talking back.”
“So, I have Winterboy's memories now. I know how it felt to be hurt, to be constantly hurt, to have no memories of anything except fear, and shame and pain. Winterboy is part of my story now, and it's nearly seventy years worth, so it’s a pretty big part. I’ve been the Winter Soldier longer than I’ve been James Barnes. And James Barnes can live with that.”
I realise I’ve been holding my breath. I was aware of what I was covering when I took the job, I knew that this was Sergeant Barnes telling his story, and what his story entailed. But actually hearing it, from a living, breathing human being is still heart wrenching. There’s a reason for the eerie shutteredness in his wide blue eyes.
"Do you want something sweet? I want something sweet?”
I think I’m okay for sweet things.
Sergeant Barnes orders something sticky with orange and dark chocolate. And two forks, because he has really run his mouth and he doesn't want me passing out before all this is typed up. For good measure, he orders a full-sugar coke.
“Do you need a gin, ma’am?”
“It’s okay. I can’t do liquor anymore because of my meds, but I understand if you need one. That was quite intense what we just got through.”
For the first time in fifteen years I order a full-sugar coke too. Let’s pretend I’m a super-soldier.
“I haven’t smoked since the chest problems either. Tony hated me smoking in the tower anyway. I was going to see just how far I could push the super-serum against lung cancer, but I just kind of stopped. Weirdly, this is probably the healthiest I’ve ever been.”
“Would you eat fruit salad?”
I’m fine with a coke, I tell my feeder.
“It’s okay,” he reassures me. “We are on to the good things now.”
He smiles and chinks my newly arrived glass. “Chin up, ducky.”
“I’m not saying I don’t get flashbacks anymore, but they’re less intense now; much easier to cope with. I know I’m not fixed, I don’t think you ever get fixed from that, but you get on, and you still have the good things in life.”
“The next thing that happens is I get a letter, well I started to get a lot of letters, but this first one was addressed to Jamie, who was the guy I killed. It’s from this woman I used to help with her shopping,” he smiles, defrosting the cool blue eyes by 20 degrees, “Truth was, I was probably as terrified as her in a grocery store. The choice was just, I could see why she got overwhelmed. But I had a job to do. We had crib sheet grocery lists with pictures of things people buy, so I kept the pictures in my head, and helped her find them out of the chaos. I think she helped me more than she’ll ever know. Then she sent me a letter.”
“It was just like the usual stuff at first, saying how people missed me and how they were upset none of the other keyworkers would talk about what happened to me. Then she said: my husband used to do that to me to. And at first I thought she’s someone with a brain injury, of course she doesn't understand. Then I realised it was me who wasn't understanding.”
"She got her brain injury when her husband threw her downstairs. I think I’d seen that in her notes but I hadn't really joined up the pieces, thought about what her life must have been like before the injury. She said it made her angry when they asked why I didn't run away because – she knew what it was like for someone to frighten you and control you until they are the centre of your world.”
"I think - getting that letter was like a weight off my shoulders; someone else out there knew. Even if I got sent down, someone else knew what it was I went through. I mean, I suppose that’s selfish, I suppose it would have been better if I had been the only one. But it made me feel – like there was a point to going on fighting. Like I could get back in the saddle and be Bucky again, because what happened to me wasn’t freakish – the circumstances were, but the acts, they were ordinary, they were everyday.”
“So it was a relief, but it was also terrifying, coming to terms with the fact that – Zola was there, not just the first time, but when I first got the arm. That must have been about ’47 -48. And he was working for S.H.I.E.L.D. then too. And not just him – other people too, senators, ministers, maybe even people in the White House. They might not have known about Bucky, but they knew about the Winter Soldier, the Asset and they knew about the programme. Google ‘Torture’ and ‘ America’ for fucks sake. It made me think about how entrenched, how acceptable the idea – the myth of peace through complete control was in American Society, in a lot of societies. And how that belief, that myth got acted out, not just in global politics, but on the home front, among ordinary people who exist in a society that believes in that sort of control.”
“I wouldn't carry weapons for a long time after the Winter Solider thing. And Steve would nag me, ‘C’mon people are really angry right now, just for self defence.’ And I was like ‘Steve, if I picked up a gun right now, you might not like who I was shooting at.’ That’s how we left it.”
The waiter brings over our sludgy desert. I politely shake my head. Sergeant Barnes arches an eyebrow and picks up a fork, holding it out to me on his open, metal palm.
“That’s my party trick. Like I said, it gets staticky. Humour me and let me do my party trick, alright?”
I pull the fork off his hand with just a little burn of static around my fingers.
“Did I shock you?”
You’ve done nothing but shock me.
"It's alright,” he says, “there’s not much more of my trashy past to go.”
You call it trashy?
“That’s what they called it. My trash party past. They’re right, it’s garbage. It’s what I’d throw out if I could. It’s not what I want being Bucky Barnes to be about but for the moment I’m stuck with it. So I need to say my piece before I move on.”
“I said all this, about Hydra, the Hydra mentality being like quicksilver, running everywhere, right through back home, right through being home, to my psychiatrist. She said – so what you going to do about it? And then I realised there was a way to be Bucky again, to be the one who protected people, the one standing up to the enemy. So I knew I was going to speak out about this. But while the trial was still pending, I couldn’t. But I chewed the ear of everyone in avengers towers.”
He puts a forkful of bitter orange sludge in his mouth.
“Tony never bought it. I’d be like ‘Hydra took over S.H.I.E.L.D, that could only happen if a lot of people were comfortable with a culture of violence.’ And Tony’s like ‘chill out, bad things have happened to you, it doesn't mean half the country was in on it. That’s just your crazy commie conspiracy theory’ and I was like ‘Tony, I am a conspiracy theory.’ He just laughed and called me a filthy red, which was no fair because I’d had a bath that morning. ‘You didn't wash your hair though,’ ‘Shut up, Tony.’
“But Steve thought it made sense, I mean, he was there when the whole Project Insight thing went down. I guess he knew.”
Sergeant Barnes pops the orange-peel garnish into his mouth. I don’t think your supposed to eat the garnish.
“It’s not plastic is it? That’s caught me out a few times.”
It’s not plastic. Sergeant Barnes continues. “The next good thing that happened was the High Court made a statement along the lines of “Sergeant Barnes is due to stand trial for murder. In the interests of justice please refrain from making public any items that could prejudice the court’s decision.” They asked anyone who had relevant evidence to submit it for examination and gave instructions on how to do so. And they said anyone who had relevant evidence but did not submit it could be found in contempt of court.”
“There was the usual scuffle about freedom of the Internet and the High Court got its web page taken down by a DNS attack, but that statement was really helpful. Why if the poster wanted “the truth about Winter Soldier” to come out were they not submitting the videos as evidence?"
“That helped thin the herd of my fan base,” Sergeant Barnes said archly, “JARVIS had analysed the comments, two million of them came from just 500 people, and the most prolific were doing up to 1000 posts a day. Only about 50 of them were using an anonymiser service, and Maria [Hill – former S.H.I.E.L.D. operative] was able to wheedle the data on them out of the companies when she told them we were tracing Hydra. And so we started paying visits to my biggest fans.”
You went out and spoke to the posters?
“Well at first Sam and Nat handled it, kind of good cop, bad cop. They told us what to expect. Sad people, lonely people, people with little connection to Hydra who were fine with Nat running a scan on their computers for links to the Winter Soldier site. It was registered to a trust fund in the Cayman Islands, on a Russian server, which is amusingly ironic, and we couldn't get a fix on who owned it, so the home visits were our best line of attack.”
That – must have been pretty strange.
"Everyone was dead against me doing it. Tony was like –‘ a lot of my money is riding on you staying out of trouble,’ and I was like “I’m going to cause more trouble sitting on my butt dying of boredom.’ I genuinely didn't feel like I wanted to hurt people, or scare people, I just wanted them – I dunno, I wanted them to see there was a person on the end of the posts.”
“So they let me go. And Steve was like ‘okay, if Bucky’s going I’m going too.’ And I was like ‘no way.’ The others were agreeing to it and I was like ‘guys, me and Steve are pretty evenly matched, but I can't guarantee that if he goes fucking supernova I’m going to be able to restrain him.’ Sam was like ‘shoot him in the kneecaps,’ none of them were taking it seriously. They hadn’t seen Steve go off like a V-2 like I had.”
“In the end we both found it kind of creepy. Steve’s hand twitched a few times when people said they were just having a laugh, but in the end it was just depressing.”
"We'd knock the door. They’d let us in, they’d always let us in, and I handled the talking. I’d explain I didn't want to hurt them or scare them, but that we believed Hydra was withholding evidence in the trial, and we wanted to find Hydra. They’d always deny it. Then I’d get out the rap sheet. – that’s your IP ma’am, that’s your computer. I remember this one woman, God knows somewhere between thirty and fifty just staring pudding eyed as we went through the rap sheet, like she must have read a medical dictionary or something, this stuff was biological, ‘yes ma’am my ass is fine thanks for asking,’ ‘did you get any contact from the site you linked to?” No comment. ‘Can we run a scan on that GIF you posted – it’s from the site, we might be able to get some clues.’ She just let us. Then when we were getting on to ‘Thank you for your time ma’am.’ She suddenly asks Steve to sign her T-Shirt. She’s got a fucking Captain America T-shirt. I had to bundle Steve out of that one pretty quick.”
“We couldn't get much from the GIFs, and as I said, the visits were just freaky. We had people say, ‘I can’t believe your real,’ over and over again, we had one guy break down and say he got raped when he was 16 and never said anything about it, He was so angry that I was out there, ‘revelling in being a victim,’ There was a woman who pulled her son in: ‘what the hell you done on our computer?’ before the husband piped up it was him, man, that was awkward. We didn't find anyone who was into Hydra, we didn’t find anyone who was homophobic. We just found a lot of people who were like ‘it’s funny, and you’re a superhero with a big fancy life – you can take it.”
“What we found were the dog pile guys. You know, the guys I’d find on top of Steve, who’d all pile on once they knew he was down. And we weren’t looking for the dogpile guys.”
"Thing is,” he looks at me sheepishly, “I’m going to get political again, and I was a dock hand at fifteen so I talk politics out of my nethers, but maybe that’s oddly appropriate. You see the poster, by posting the – rape videos had made the whole arguments about sex. Which is ridiculous. It is about torture. But somehow people feel okay laughing at someone being raped – especially if it gets a rise out of him, or he’s begging for it or whatever, that they wouldn't feel so comfortable laughing about if the torture doesn't involve sex.”
“There were times when they were hurting me physically, and I’d gone through a lot of pain, but times when they were adjusting the nerve connections to my arm, where it was painful, but I could sort of ride it, go with it, get into a trance state. It was almost like there were some kinds of pain that were a respite, that I could enjoy. But nobody would say I wasn’t tortured because of that. Whereas if sexual torture gets any sort of reaction from your body, whoa! That’s got to be sex.”
“Look I can understand if people think I’m guilty. It was my hand on the gun. I can understand if people think no amount of torture justifies letting someone off with killing people in cold blood. I get that. I think like that sometimes too. I can’t escape the fact it was my hand on the gun.”
“But when they posted the rape videos, it suddenly became about sex. Did he like it, did he enjoy it, why is he giving head not running away? Somehow it became sexy, and because sex is funny -and dirty, it makes the whole thing funny and the person on the end kind of silly. Sort of 'uh huh- we've seen you with your pants down, how can we take you seriously.' Rape isn’t any of those things. It’s just another way of torturing someone.”
“You see there’s a bug in the great supercomputer of our collective unconscious that’s filed rape in the sex folder not the torture folder. So people talk about rape like its sex, what was she wearing? Was she coming on to him? when it’s anything but that, it’s one of the most effective torture methods there is. I don’t quite know how it happens, but being raped is sort of a hotline into the limbic system, the ancient parts of the brain, the animal brain, makes it take over. They’ve done MRI’s of repeated rape victims and their brains have changed, my brain has changed, my limbic system, my fight or flight, it’s hyperactive, it wants to take over the places where I keep my personality. Rape destroys a person's sense of self, it makes you dissociate, splits you from your identity. So what your watching in the videos isn’t a guy getting his jollies, it’s me having my brain re-wired just as effectively as Zola’s chair did.”
“You know, rape was only recognised as a war crime in 2014. That’s how badly we misfiled it. It’s the oldest form of identity torture there is – even I remember the Vikings going out to rape and pillage, it’s in the Old Testament for fucks sake. You raped the women, probably the pretty boys too, to destroy the enemies identity, so the women they came home to were damaged. And it’s only 2014 that we wake up and go, actually, this is torture not sexy fun times.”
“The guys in the video – they were straight. They had wives, girlfriends, Pierce had four kids and had been doing his secretary for 20 years, they weren’t all suddenly turned gay by my super-sphincter. They were doing it for power, as the ultimate statement of power. I suppose Hydra was the ultimate expression of power and control, and those values come out – those values need to be stamped on those they consider their subjects. So they raped me.”
“I think if this case, if the videos and stuff, the court report help us move the rape file over to the torture folder then it’s done some good. I wish I wasn't the poor bastard who it happened to, but hey ho. It happened to me and the evidence is there, so I’m not going to shut up about it.
So are we going to see Bucky Barnes doing a slut walk in his famous blue jacket?
Sergeant Barnes smiles silently for a while.
“Cos that’s what I was wearing?” He quirks an eyebrow. “You know it’s a possibility.”
Sergeant Barnes surveys the empty plates and glasses.
“I’ve really run my mouth now. I expect we should be wrapping this up. It was Nat who got our lead in the end. She got the details of the account paying for the site out of one of her dodgy contacts. And we run a trace through that account, through several others until JARVIS recognised a money pathway Hydra had used. And the last account was registered to a summer house in Long Island. So we suited up. And I lost the superhero bingo game.”
The superhero bingo game?
“Yes well you meet some pretty unhinged people in the Avenging business. People with really crazy plans for the world’s future. But no matter how batshit your opponent is you can’t say the one line. Because it's such a cliché. And I said it. Oh and I’m not, by the way.”
“You’re staring at my eyelashes.”
I mumble an apology.
“It's okay, everybody does it. I’ve got an Irish father and an Italian mother, I’m not wearing mascara.”
I can feel the heat burning from my cheeks.
So does super-serum give you the power to read minds?
“No it’s just everybody asks it, but I’m not. No mascara or any other of the greasy things you ladies do yourself up with. It’s just mongrel heritage and a whole lot of sleepless nights. Tony had JARVIS record our bathroom to catch me at it. I even – about two days after the charges got dropped I got this email from a cosmetics company –MAC asking if I’d be the face of their new line.”
“I let Pepper deal with it. Because I’d have mailed back: I’m no one to be the taste police, but you really don’t want the Winter Soldier as the face of your product.”
Sergeant Barnes looks up at me through those ridiculous dark lashes. Part of me thinks the gentleman doth protest too much.
“You’re off the hook. Shall we continue? We broke into this summerhouse all tools, but there’s no one there except some housemaid who we try not to terrify. And Nat’s like ‘so where’s the computer.’
We get to the computer and start downloading. It’s obvious she’s hit pay dirt, she’s going through stick after stick of footage. She tries to burn the hard drive to a portable and then this dame walks in, about fifty, blonde, familiar with botox, and shoots me.”
“She shot me in the chest with a 9mm that my tac gear took care of, but it certainly stung. Sam pretty neatly disarmed her and she just stood still staring at me. So I asked her ‘why she posted the videos’ and she said ‘you pervert you stole my husband.’”
“I just said ‘you’re crazy,’ and then everyone was like ‘ding – you said it, your fixing dinner,” but I was like, ‘no, she really is crazy. I thought of telling her about the secretary too, but I didn't want to be mean. I just said: ‘you’ve got your husband’s computer, you've seen the footage, you know what they did to me, you know I had no control.’ She just said ‘he’s dead because of you.’ ‘Lots of people are dead because of me, you saw your husband order it. We need the footage.’ And she started crying, 'please don’t, please don’t get Alex caught up in this, you’ve put him through enough, you got him killed, don’t torture him beyond the grave.' "
Nat just said we needed the footage for the trial, really impassive, and she just cried and cried.”
“She honestly believed I’d got Alexander Pierce caught up in Hydra with my magic blowjob skills. She believed, despite all the footage he’d gathered, days and days worth, really old stuff where I’m Bucky, where it's Bucky it’s happening to, the chair, the cryo, the beatings. There’s way more violence on the video than there is sex but she’d been selective in her editing. I guess her head had been too.”
“Eventually she started sobbing ‘I’m going to jail, am I going to jail?' And I said ‘well you did just shoot me in front of three witnesses, ma’am.’ So she’s sobbing again and by now we can hear the cops pulling up. And then, because things hadn’t been weird enough, as they were taking her away she lifted her head and said, ‘take care of my parrot.”
“So now I’ve got custody of a real beautiful African grey. JARVIS looked up all the stuff I needed on care and feeding. I’ve got a metal arm not a wooden leg, maybe I should get an eyepatch,’ he laughs, ‘no prizes what I’m dressing as for Halloween.”
“He says ‘Hail Hydra’ and rather creepily ‘Daddy’s home.’ He gets peanuts for his ‘Hail Hydra’. They mimic the sound you know, they don’t comprehend the words, the fella’s as brainwashed as the Winter Soldier. I was going to wear him on my shoulder to attend court. But they dropped the charges.”
“Those videos really saved my hide. Because even my lawyer was talking about plea-bargaining, going guilty to get away with 20 years. I don’t think I could have done jail. Not after Hydra. I’d got – some plans. I wasn't going down. But the wipes – all the stuff that proved my case made me an unreliable witness, and I was up against some pretty important guys. There was pressure on America too, once their defence force was found to be infiltrated by Hydra. There was pressure to have someone to blame for it.”
“But once the court had verified the videos, it was a cut and dried case. They’d seen what happened to me, hours and hours of what happened to me, more than I can watch. Then they dropped the charges. So Mrs Pierce saved me in funny sort of way, and they’re looking at bringing charges against some of the people identified in the videos, so my unreliable ass is probably going to end up on the witness stand.”
Is that thought intimidating?
“No, because I want them to see me as a person. However the case goes, I want them to see me as who I am, and to know they did what they did to a human being not a machine. Whether that freaks them out or no, I just want them to look in Bucky Barnes eyes and know they did it to him.”
I turn of the dictaphone. Sergeant Barnes watches my fingers click the machine dead.
“So is that me done?”
Yes, I say that’s us done.
“How did I do?”
I think you’re the best interviewee I’ve ever had.
“Really? I thought I just let my mouth run.”
No Sergeant Barnes it was an honour.
He blushes. He takes my hand and says thank you. He settles up the bill as he walks out.
I feel like I’ve borne witness to an international war crime. I feel like I’ve been on a date with a beautiful soldier boy. I feel like I know a lot more about neurology than I ever thought I’d know, care of a high-school drop out. Most of all, I feel that we have lucked out, we have won a jackpot to have people like Bucky Barnes in the world.