TAGS: torture, violence
WARNINGS: contains realistically described torture scenes and considerable violence
Nineteenth century word from Russian, diminutive of voda … water
His hip was sore. It was a jagged pain that gnawed him, made him grit his teeth against the ache, the unaccustomed bite of razor-sharpness. He lay still, very very still, trying to focus, to recall. And as his head cleared, as the memories sorted themselves into a neat package of tidy recollections, all organized and labelled and arranged in sequence, he realised that he was not, as he had thought, in bed with Mary curled next to him, but he was somewhere cold. Cold and hard and echoing. And, he was naked. Naked and tied, hand and foot. Blindfolded. Tight, thin restraints that cut like wire into his wrists, his ankles.
Shit. Memories of the forest, the snow, the helicopter all filled his mind. They must have been waiting for the team to find the satellite. He hoped the other members were safe. He didn’t remember much of what had happened, merely the sharp jab of the anaesthetic in his neck. He felt sick, nauseous, his mouth dry. And he wondered where the hell he was and who it was who had captured him. It had to be some faction that was not under government control, some group that had power, and influence, that could operate in secrecy. Whoever it was, he had no doubts that they would be asking him questions later.
There was nothing he could do. Except for wait for it to start. The questioning. He wondered what information his kidnappers wanted. SHADO? Possibly, but there were very very few people who know anything about the organisation. There had to be another reason. He just had to wait and he was no fool. He knew of them, those implicit, unstated and vile activities that went on behind closed and barred doors of interrogation rooms across the world. Although he personally had never condoned, had never participated in any way in any questioning of suspects, especially those accused of being terrorists, he was not ignorant of the methods used to get people to talk. A tremor of dismay ran through him as his mind filled with random images and thoughts of what they might do in an attempt to get answers from him.
He lay there in silence, breathing shallow, even breaths, hoping that whoever, whatever, might not realise that he was conscious. There was nothing he could do to stop what was going to happen. But the longer it was put off the more chance he had of being rescued. Before they started.
He concentrated, not on the pain of his hip and shoulder, pressed under and behind him, but on what he could ascertain about his surroundings. The floor, rough, solid, cold, with a jagged edge of broken tile or displaced sliver of stone digging into the soft flesh of his upper thigh. His knee, scuffed and scraped and stinging in the chill dampness. The slightest fractional movement of his fingers, fixed behind him in tight bindings, revealed a powdery flakiness on the floor.
There was the unmistakable sense of dampness, in the taint of the air on his shivering skin but also in his nostrils, on his lips, his tongue. A rank smell of slow decay, rotting wood and crumbling shaling brickwork.
Just the tiniest sliver of light penetrated the rough material wrapped around his face. The blindfold was coarse, and thick and when he opened his eyes against the scratching roughness there was a gleam of illumination. At least he was not in the dark. But that was all he knew. Where he was he had no idea. None at all.
Thirst. That was the next sensation. His mouth, lips dry, his thick and swollen tongue stiff. The temptation to lick his lips to ease the painful dryness was almost overwhelming, but he knew that he had to remain still, had to give the illusion that he was not alert, aware of his surroundings.
‘Colonel Straker.’ The voice was cool, amused, pellucid. Male. A tenor voice, well-spoken, slight Russian accent, with that indefinable lightness of sound that betrays one as a young person. Certainly not the deeper growl and resonance of a middle-aged man. Straker, lying on the cold floor, sightless, motionless, analysed the sound, the timbre in the anonymous voice. Probably someone in their mid-twenties, he concluded, his mind flinching away from what he knew was probably going to come next. He remained silent, not even sure if he would be able to speak.
‘Colonel Straker.’ Again dry, amused and calm. Not a question. It was a clear statement of fact. ‘I know you are awake, Colonel. Do not try to fool me.’
It was necessary to answer, simply to deny the military title and then he would say nothing more. He tried to speak, but his parched throat failed him and all he could force past his lips was a feeble croak, faint and unintelligible. A hand, strong and heavy, powerfully fingered, grabbed his hair, another one pulled on his arms and hauled him painfully upright until he was sitting arms still pinioned behind him, knees bent, feet flat on the cold floor. There was an almost instant relief from the ache in his shoulders and hip. And then, once he was more balanced, more upright, the hand in his hair pulled backwards, downwards until his head was tilted back as far as it would go.
He tightened his lips in fear, but someone with firm pressure forced what felt like a plastic bottle top against his lips. It cut into the soft skin and then grated against his clenched teeth.
‘Water, Colonel Straker. Merely water.’ There was laughter in the voice now.
There was no point in fighting him. He let the hand tip the bottle up, felt the water trickle easily past his lips to be absorbed almost instantly by his parched mouth. The trickle increased and he struggled to swallow the stream of tepid water that seemed to pour into him. He managed to twist his head away, just enough to avoid the torrent, despite the clenching fingers gripping his hair, tugging and restraining him. Water gushed from his mouth, from the bottle, and poured down his chin, his neck, his chest. Spluttering for air he gasped and coughed in an attempt to breathe. The hand let go and he fell backwards, jarring his shoulders and his neck as his bound hands were trapped beneath him.
‘Now, Colonel Straker. Talk to me.’
Straker swallowed thickly, cautiously before he rolled onto his side, feeling water dribble across his chest, cold on his skin. He lifted his head to turn his blindfolded face in the direction of the speaker.
‘Not colonel anymore. Retired.’ His voice was hoarse, muffled and strange even to his own ears.
‘Not anymore? Surely you lie, Colonel?’
He had said enough. Now he had to be silent. Whatever happened. Whatever.
A dreaded anticipation began to build inside him, muscles starting to tense in preparation for what he was sure would come next.
It hurt. Even though he was ready for it, well, as ready as anyone could be, and he was expecting it, it hurt. As he was dragged upright the jagged edges of broken floor tiles scored into his heels, his buttocks, and he was forced again into an upright sitting position. A knee was pressed with rough strength into his spine, his head pulled back once more. His scalp burned from the sharp pain. He did not expect water this time. The fingers loosened their grip, and with a touch that was almost obscene, another hand stroked down the side of his face, a delicate probing and testing of the bone structure. He could feel the thumb caress the bloodied edge of his mouth, where the water bottle had cut into the soft skin. He tightened his lips. And waited.
The sudden unexpected, but also predictable blow, heavy and back-handed across his face, jarred his senses. His mouth filled with fluid, not tepid water this time, but warm salty blood, coppery and cloying from where his teeth had cut into the tender flesh of his cheek. The stinging pain of the contact made his eyes burn and he clenched his fists, clenched his teeth, to prevent himself giving them the satisfaction of hearing him cry out. Swallowing blood thick with saliva, he explored his sore mouth with a swelling tongue. No missing teeth, slightly loose in a couple of places, but still intact.
The second blow, harder, unforeseen, stunned him with its ferocity. It was going to be like this then, he realised as he fell sideways, his head hitting the floor hard, face now pressed against the broken tiles, before his assailant reached down to drag him back up. Old-fashioned brutality. He wondered what they wanted. How much they already knew.
And with a last remnant of dry humour, despite the pain, the encroaching and much welcome blackness he wondered whether Alec Freeman would remember to complete the projected budget plans before the next IAC meeting.
But there was one thing he was sure of, slumped there helpless and struggling to breathe through smashed lips, constricted airways with his assailant’s strong hand now tight on his throat, fingers around his jaw, forcing his bloodied face upwards in anticipation of the next blow, the next strike. There was not much chance that he, Ed Straker would get out of this alive.
He came round lying on his side, with swollen lips, blood still thick and coppery and clotted in his mouth, his head aching, throbbing. Pain in his gut, pain in his back. Ears stinging sharply where he had been clouted. But at least his nose hadn’t been broken.
Irrationally he was pleased about that, thankful that his assailant hadn’t made it even harder for him to breathe. He concentrated, trying to focus on his situation, his condition. Anything to distract his thoughts from the horror of what was going to happen next.
He was under no illusions now. The man would do anything, everything to make him talk. If only he knew what he wanted. SHADO, or Blue Book or any one of the classified military secrets that he had worked on over the past couple of years. But it didn’t really make much difference did it. He didn’t dare say anything.
One word, just one word. That would be enough to open the floodgates. One word and he would have submitted to him, given him, the Voice, what he wanted; his capitulation, his compliance. Acknowledgement of this right to the information. And then everything would come pouring out.
So. Silence. Whatever the Voice did.
Shivering in the cold air, he started to curl up, in an attempt retain some slight warmth, but his movements were stopped by a heavy foot, firmly kicking his legs back. Sharp pain lanced through the bruised bones of his ankles and his shins where the thick boot made contact. He tried again, but this time the kick was followed by the foot crushing down on his wrists before hooking his arms back away from his body. The pain was excruciating. His shoulders felt as though they would dislocate as his arms were forced further and further back.
‘Lie still Colonel Straker.’ The imperturbable, indifferent voice again. ‘Or I will be forced to hurt you. Even more.’
There was nothing else for it. He lay still. Hoping the foot would release his arms, would move before his shoulders separated under the strain. Hissing breaths that seemed so loud in the silence, he straightened his legs slowly, thighs scraping, catching on the chill uneven floor.
The foot gave one last vindictive kick back, and it felt as though his arms would rip from their sockets, before he was released, the tension suddenly gone, the pain still burning viciously through torn muscles, stretched and tormented tendons. It hurt to breath. It hurt to move. It hurt to lie still. But he was silent. Shivering, trembling in the chill, but silent. Somehow.
Fifty eight. Fifty nine. He concentrated on counting each individual breath. Slowing his breathing as much as he could. Deep breaths at first, to push away the surface pain. Then focusing his mind on welcoming and accepting the deeper pain, taking it into himself and allowing it to pour through him, forcing himself to relax tight muscles that screamed from disuse, misuse. From the constrictions that had forced them to remain pinioned and pain wracked. From the thin acid tightness and the stinging cuts that encircled wrists and ankles. The bones rubbing together.
There was nothing else. No rough, jagged floor harsh on the side of his face. No bloody saliva dribbling unchecked from broken lips. No chill draught shivering and twitching his naked skin. No fear of another blow, nothing else. He focused entirely on pain, on acknowledging it, allowing it free run of his body, his bones, his very being. And his breathing eased, his mind calmed, though hateful tears of regret for his lost future tickled, trickled unbidden from his bound eyes to soak unseen into the coarse blindfold that separated him from the brightness of his cell.
He could hear nothing. No sound of other people, no breathing, no eldritch scrapes of chair legs on the solid floor, no rustle of papers, clink of mugs or glasses. Just….. silence. As if the man who was there, was still no doubt waiting there, somewhere very close to him, was content to sit watching, motionless, hardly breathing himself.
The silence spread outwards, until it filled his ears, filled his mind. He concentrated on other sensations. The pain, now subdued and compliant to his control, the floor, cold and hard, the taste of blood, his breaths, rasping and shallow, slow light breaths, just enough to keep him aware, on the edge of consciousness.
If it had not been for those feelings, those sharpened, heightened senses filling him, he would have almost imagined that he was back in the sensory deprivation tank during astronaut training. The silence filled his world. Silence and stillness.
And he lay there, waiting. It was the only thing he could do now.
The voice again, so soft, so gentle it was almost a verbal caress.
‘Colonel Straker. Why do you not answer me? Why be so foolish? So determined to remain silent. You know that you will speak to me, eventually. I am patient. I will sit here and read and wait for you to answer me.’
Straker heard a chair scrape close to him, heard the rustle of pages being turned. He carried on, counting his breaths, six hundred………
‘Dostoevsky. My favourite author. Especially The Brothers Karamazov. An elegantly written work, so evocative. Let me read you this part. Such a……. descriptive passage.’
A page turned, he could hear it being smoothed down, could visualise the hand sliding down the paper, those long elegant fingers that had caressed his face now carefully stroking the pages with sensitive fingertips. The voice continued, calm, assured, with its soft accent. Reading the words in a measured, even tone as if reading aloud while standing at a lectern before a silent, enthralled audience.
‘Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature, and to found that edifice in its unavenged tears….’
The book closed with soft thud. He heard it being placed on a table. ‘So Colonel Straker, you see you are just that one tiny creature and I will do everything necessary, everything, to get from you what I require. All you have to tell me is, what caused that satellite to crash, and what information did it contain that you were trying to conceal from my country. And now,’ there was a pause. Straker stiffened, tensed, expectant. The voice continued as if it had not halted, had not hesitated with such deliberation, ‘I will leave you alone for a while to contemplate your future. Such as it is.’
The chair scraped again, footsteps, measured, paced across the room away from him. A door, opening to let in a rush of even colder air that flowed down over his chilled body. Closing. The sound of metal turning in a well-oiled lock. Then…. nothing. He was alone with the cold, the pain, the apprehension.
It was a relief though, to be alone, to be able to stretch out his legs, to roll over and ease the pain in his arms. To rotate stiff shoulder joints and twist his hands in the restraints despite the deepening scoring around his wrists. To shrug those shoulders and feel the movement loosen tight muscles, to be able to groan quietly with the distress of sharp aches and soreness.
He could, just about, push to the back of his mind the cold and the hurting, but with growing dismay and concern realised that he had a more immediate problem. One that he had not foreseen. His bladder was full, an uncomfortable and painful sensation. It was a pressing urgency that had to be dealt with, one way or another. If the voice, as Straker had come to think of his captor, was in the room Straker would have felt compelled to speak, to make the request, and that would have been seen as giving in, giving control over to his captor. So, he had to deal with this problem himself, in whatever way he could.
There was only one thing he could do.
Humiliation was an acceptable, standard procedure in these situations he recalled. He would deal with it, could deal with it however unpleasant the sensations, the accompanying emotions, the results afterwards.
At least he was alone. He was spared the shame of listening to the voice berating him for his lack of control, for his inadequacies, his inability to maintain his dignity.
It was far harder than he had thought, to simply loosen his tight sphincter and let go. His body refused to do as his mind ordered, and he was beginning to panic, to dread the door opening, to hear the footsteps. But, eventually, although he shuddered at the loss of dignity, the feeling of sheer helplessness, he relaxed enough to allow the first slow stream of urine to trickle across his groin, down, warm almost hot on his cold thighs. He could feel it pool beneath him, quickly cooling in the chill air. The sensation of relief was immediate. A blissful emptiness, an easing of the pressure, the unwelcome discomfort.
Although he was by now desperately tired, more from stress than weariness, he was too cold to doze and uncontrollable shudders wracked his body in the low temperature. Arms ached from being pinioned in the unaccustomed position, hands throbbed from the tight bindings. Hunger, and he was very hungry, he realised, was a minor problem, and one that he might not have to deal with for long. He could see no way out of the situation, unless he ceded to the quiet, softly spoken demand of the voice, and answered him.
And he would not. Whatever happened, he would not, must not, speak. So, it would come down to one simple fact. How long could he last before……..
He must not speak.
Colder air slithered across the floor as the door opened quietly. With his senses heightened by blindness and by fear, he could hear the soft footsteps tread measured steps across the hard floor. Flinching, tensing, he waited.
The voice was …. patient, almost saddened.
‘Colonel Straker. All you had to do was to ask. I am not a barbarian. I would have let you relieve yourself in a more… decorous manner. If you had asked.’
Silence. It was all he could do now. A chair scraped, soft sluffing sounds as someone sat, paper rustling, fingers tapping on a hard surface. He lay still, barely breathing, trying to be as slight, as insignificant as possible.
‘So, Colonel Straker, shall we bring this to an end? I ask only one thing from you. One thing. Just your name. That is all. All you need to do is say, “Yes I am Colonel Straker.” and then I will untie you, bring you some clothes, some food and then we can have a pleasant conversation. It is as easy as that. So, Colonel Straker?’
Silence. His breath caught in his throat. He could feel his heart pounding, as if it would burst out of his chest. Icy sweat covered him, despite the cold.
‘How foolish, Colonel Straker. You will speak. Eventually. You know that. I just wanted to spare you the ….. discomfort to which I will have to subject you. And after all, I do know your name. My organisation has been watching you very closely for the past few months ever since your hypothetical retirement. We both know that you are not retired, that you are still working for your government…. and now we find you here, in my country, in secret, and apparently engaged in espionage. So, Colonel Straker, make it easy on yourself. Tell me your name. Please.’
Silence. He tried to control the treacherous shivering of his legs as he contemplated what would happen next.
‘Very well. You are a stubborn individual Colonel Straker.’ There was a sigh of regret. ‘Perhaps you are thirsty. Perhaps a drink would help to loosen your tongue. It certainly works with my fellow countrymen. One moment….’ there was the sound of the chair scraping again, the sharp chink of glass against glass. He became aware of the close presence of someone, nearby, the sound of breathing closer to him.
Fingers in his hair, hand tightening, tugging to yank him upwards again. He would have cried out with the stinging razor-sharp pain in his scalp, but he bit his lips, stifled the cry, swallowed the groan as his body was twisted, wrenched until he was, once more, sitting numb and shivering in the bitter chill. The hand let go and he dropped his head down towards his bent knees, in a futile attempt to avoid whatever was going to happen next.
He must not speak.
Then. A glass hard against his lips, pressing, prising them apart, a hand also pressing, fingers and fingernails digging deep into his cheeks, into his jaw until his mouth was forced opened under the pressure. The glass, banging roughly against teeth, crushing his tongue and liquid flooding into his mouth. For one moment he thought it was tepid water, then the stinging sensation in those broken and split lips warned him, alerted him. Vodka. There was no strong alcohol taste, as with whisky, no pungent juniper flavour as with gin. Pure distilled vodka. They, he, the Voice, wanted Straker drunk, wanted him to lose his inhibitions, to lose his self-control. He had to be silent. Had to.
He spat as much of the vile liquid out, spluttering and gasping as it burned down his throat, tingled on his lips, his tongue. Unable to turn his head away, unable to close his lips for the hard glass that was crushed against his tongue, he choked on the oily and slightly scented fluid that filled his mouth, his throat and poured down into him.
Again, just as before, he was released and fell, gasping, desperately trying to breathe, to retch out the foul poison that threatened to betray him.
‘Colonel Straker. Please. Don’t fight this. Make it easy for everyone. Just speak to me. Then all this will be over.’
The bound man was silent, panting for breath, his head turned away from the speaker.
‘Colonel.’ An admonition, the voice, still calm still controlled but with a hint of a frown.
Straker would have screamed with anger, with rage at the silkily smooth voice with its promise of release, but even the act of screaming would have been a response. And he refused to respond. In any way.
A sigh. Long drawn out and…. regretful.
‘Very well Colonel. Your stubbornness has forced my hand. I sincerely regret what will happen now but I have no other recourse. I had hoped that you would see sense, that perhaps you would have accepted the fact that you will not leave here until you have spoken. Foolish man.’
A chair scraping on the floor, footsteps, the door opening, colder air rolling across the floor. Sounds. Banging, splashing, rattles of metal, clunks of wood. He could not make out what was happening, what was being done. But there were other people in the room. Other voices, harsher, quieter and in the background a woman’s voice.
Then he was lifted with swift and efficient and silent movements and then dropped down onto a … table? He could not tell. It was hard, he knew that. Wooden, longer than he was tall. His hands, still pinioned behind him snagged on protruding slivers. He felt someone lean over him, warm breath on his bare chest. The restraints holding his hands were untied, and he was dropped down again to lie still as his wrists were held in a vicelike grip. There was no use struggling, other hands were by now holding his feet, and he could feel unyielding and wide straps fastened over his ankles and wrists before being tightened.
His body betrayed him by trembling, not just from the cold but from sudden fear and he felt more vulnerable, more exposed, more fragile than at any other time in his life. Helpless and powerless to do anything other than lie there, blind, paralysed, mute.
A snap. Close by his face. He flinched, expecting to feel a hand hard on his already bruised and broken cheeks. But no. Instead, fingers forced themselves into his mouth, past torn lips, prising open his jaw. Latex-covered fingers probed deeply around his gums, tugging at teeth, fingering his tongue, searching everywhere, the glove squeaking against enamel. The fingers retreated and he swallowed saliva, swallowed the disgust that he had felt as his mouth was raided.
Then he felt the hand touch him again. And his skin crawled with horror. Lips tight together, he stifled a moan of revulsion.
Gloved fingers. He could feel them now, creeping with insidious stealth across his face, outlining the curve of his lips, stroking away the blood that still seeped from split skin. Then, carefully, edged round his jaw, down his neck, stopping for some time to feel the rapid pulse there, throbbing from a heart that was pounding with fear.
The hand moved on, tracing a line down from his throat, before lying flat on his left breast, the contact almost hot on shivering flesh. Flinching beneath the touch, he waited, counting seconds to himself to focus his mind on other thoughts. Blood thudding in his ears, breathing in short gasps he struggled in vain to pull away from the touch.
Warm hands… a memory of Mary, her hands on his shoulders, the scent of her perfume. But these hands were not Mary, these hands were not touching him with love or desire. The hand moved, testing, feeling the muscles beneath the clammy skin. Pushing against his ribcage, downwards, inwards.
Then it lifted and moved down his chest, onto his abdomen, pressing again, fingers probing deep into him, two hands now, palms heavy on his flesh. He gasped as questioning fingers came in contact with bruised and inflamed tissue.
The hands retreated. Straker lay still and silent, hoping, praying that someone would speak, someone would tell him what they were going to do to him.
‘Is he ready?’ a rough guttural voice, masculine, harsh.
‘I haven’t finished. Be patient.’
A soft voice. Light, accented, feminine. And the fingers repositioned themselves on his body, on his hips, the heel of each hand on either side of him, holding him down, pushing him hard against the rough surface for brief seconds before releasing him. Then, one hand slid beneath him, caressing his buttock, before moving further, deeper, beneath. Oh god. Cold wetness against him, then a sharp, intense pain as fingers pushed quickly in, twisting around, feeling deep inside, searching. He could hear small sounds of laughter from someone nearby and felt his face flush, his body shake with the violation.
The hand withdrew, a further snap as latex was pulled off and there was the soft slither of a discarded glove landing on the floor.
He thought it was over, that the person had finished their rough, probing examination, but her hand, bare skin this time, warm to the touch, touched him again on his thigh, stroking gently as if enjoying the sensation of firm smooth skin beneath its palm.
He nearly cried out, nearly betrayed himself as the hand continued its light circling with fingertips against the smoother skin of his inner thigh before moving to his groin. To hold, to almost caress his genitals with interest, as if inspecting his virility. As if he was a mere senseless, unfeeling animal.
He felt her hold his testicles, roll them against each other and then quickly painfully squeeze them together. Just one quick, deliberate compression, before the hand let go.
Nothing was said, no laughter, as if it had been done unseen, merely to satisfy her own need to cause pain. The exploration continued. Skin against his skin, feeling, touching, not caressing, never that. But he felt violated, besmirched, used. And he wanted to hide away, to curl up, to withdraw from her contact.
Hands clasped his face. Not the ones that were even now sliding once more from his groin up the soft hair to his navel and then to feel his ribcage once more. No these hands were male, strong, powerful, gripping his head in a vice-like hold forcing his mouth open once more. He could feel the effects of the vodka befuddled his senses, blur his mind.
‘I told you to be patient. It won’t do you much good if he dies on the table. I am nearly finished.’
The soft voice was close to his head and startled he tried to turn towards it, towards her, but the hands held him, firmly, pressing into his cheeks, thumbs under his eye sockets. Then, he was released. He heard her step back. He could no longer feel her breath, or smell her closeness.
‘Very well. He has nothing concealed on him. There are no broken ribs, no internal injuries. And no loose teeth.’ The soft voice was business-like, efficient. ‘You can begin. I will remain here to ensure that nothing goes wrong.’
Movement. His head lowered suddenly, or perhaps his feet lifted. The alcohol in his blood confused him. Made the world shift around his senses. Blood filled his head, pounding even more ferociously through his brain.
‘Fifteen seconds to begin with. That is long enough.’ Her voice was clinical, robotic.
Lying there, confused, dazed, his senses disorientated, Straker had a terrible moment of clarity, of understanding. There was not even time to take one deep inhalation before a cold wet cloth smothered his face, completely covering his mouth and nose.
He could hardly breathe through the dense, damp material. Unable to turn his head, unable to drag sufficient air into his lungs, he writhed with desperate and frantic struggles in the restraints trying to get free, to breathe, to escape.
The cloth pressed down, harder, crushing against already bruised lips, closing off the slightest small space under his nose. He could feel his dizziness increase as his body fought for oxygen.
And it began.
Water poured onto the cloth, poured onto it, saturated it, drenched it, dribbled through, then suddenly it was flooding through, filling his mouth, his nose. A torrent that invaded his throat, filling every passageway. He choked, tried to swallow then retched, gagged, blood pounding in his ears, the absolute terror of drowning, of choking, filling him, consuming him.
And, despite all his resolve, despite all his tenacity he tried to scream.
But he could not call out, could not answer as the water continued to pour into his mouth, gushing, gurgling, engulfing him. He felt his stomach react, felt vomit filling his throat, acid and burning.
He knew that he would die here, on this table, a slow death as fluid or vomit filled his lungs, as he coughed and retched and gagged and choked and they watched. Impassive and uncaring.
Then as the blackness filled his terrified, irrational mind, as his straining body dragged the last scraps of oxygen from his heaving lungs, the cloth was removed.
Water gushed from his open mouth as he fought to free himself, to lift his head, to drag air into his lungs. Wrists and ankles burning he jerked at the restraints, his violent thrashes arching his back as his lungs heaved and he spewed bile and stale vodka.
‘So, Colonel, now will you co-operate?’
Mary. He would never see her again, would never speak to her, she would never know what had happened to him. And then, with a wry flash of chagrin, even as he almost convulse in his anguish, he visualised the SHADO submarine. He would never get to call it SkyDiver.
He was too breathless to speak, to intent on trying to clear his lungs and then, with horror, he felt the cloth again over his face. And he screamed out to them. The sound muffled by the thickness, drowned out by the water that poured once more over his face, seeping under the blindfold to fill his eyes, blinding him even more thoroughly. His brain reacted almost immediately, sending vicious spasms through his entire body, twisting and distorting his slender frame as he lay there, unable to stop the torture.
With the last fragments of conscious rational thought, before utter terror finally broke him, he steeled himself. Squeezing his eyes tightly he forced himself to take a deep breath. To breathe the water, the acid bile and the alcohol that was even now threatening to choke him once more.
Death would be .. slow. Slow and hideous and unpleasant but inevitable. That was all he wanted. So he breathed swiftly, pulling the vile liquids into screaming, burning lungs.
And the world faded away into sheer agony and despair.
Sharp pain. His throat, his chest, wrists, ankles. Everywhere. He shuddered awake, desperately striving to sit up, to cough foul dregs from lungs that ached and gasped. He was alive. He could breath. Just. Panting, wheezing, breathless and unable to lift himself up to stop the pain, to clear the residue that crackled deep in his chest.
A hand smoothed itself across his forehead, and before he could smother it, a faint whimper escaped his lips. He had failed. They would get everything from him now. And with a stifled sob of utter hopelessness, utter shame he waited for the feel of damp, cloying material across his face once more, knowing that he would not be able to withstand any longer.
Ashamed, humiliated, he turned his head to one side as if to turn away from his own weakness, but the cool hand on his forehead forced him to lie still.
There was movement again, a swirling dizzying movement as if the world had twisted around him. Disorientated and confused, a second soft cry escaped his lips and he realised that he was no longer tilted, that he was lying flat and still, no heavy damp cloth over his face, no hands forcing his jaw apart.
The voice spoke, softly, with just a hint of annoyance behind the clear calm words.
‘Be still, Colonel Straker. It is over. There is no need to distress yourself further. It appears that my …..’ a long, long pause. Straker waited, coughing, gasping, hoping without much real hope. ‘… comrades in the government are under the impression that you are not a threat to our country. So. Your friends will be here to collect you within the next few minutes. But, let me assure you Colonel Straker. Next time we meet you will speak to me and acknowledge your title. Then we will talk. And in anticipation of that meeting I have left you a small memento of our time together.’
There was the sensation of someone near to him; he could smell the man’s fragrance, a heavy musky scent close to his face. He could hear and feel the breath warm on his cold skin. A sharp tightness around his ankles, a sudden constriction as straps were tautened and then released. The same with his wrists.
He could have sobbed with the pure bliss. His movements slow and hesitant, feeling the stiffened and wrenched muscles burning as the blood flowed unrestricted once more, he lifted his arms from his side, wrapped them around his body, wanting nothing more than to curl up and lie quietly, to sleep, to forget. To retreat into a small space and hide.
‘Goodbye, Colonel Straker. And when we meet again you will say to me. Yes, Dimitri Leonov, I am Colonel Straker.’ The dry voice tinged with a sardonic edge of amused exasperation, a definite emphasis on the military title.
The door closed, a final quiet click of the latch. But nothing else. Footsteps faded into the distance. Straker reached up, shaking, his movements jerky, and pulled the heavy blindfold off with numb fingers burning and throbbing with the returning rush of blood.
Lying there, blinking, in the piercing light and staring, still disorientated, up at a low arched ceiling, he breathed deep, great gasping breaths as he recalled the terror of drowning, of approaching death.
Carefully, stiff and wrenched muscles screaming in protest, he sat up, dropping his legs over the side of the wide bench to which he had been strapped. He looked around, too exhausted to do more than just twist his head to inspect his surroundings.
It was a small room, whitewashed, damp, containing a single wooden chair with a shabby, but warm looking blanket draped over the
back, a table with a cardboard box in the centre. And the bench on which he had been strapped. Pools of water, of vomit, of urine on the floor. One latex glove, tangled, discarded.
Grimacing, he stood up, easing himself off the bench, the rough floor cold against his bare feet. Staggering a couple of steps to the chair he lowered himself onto the seat and, reaching out, dragged the battered box closer to him in order to ease the lid up. He was too worn out to do more than tip it over the edge. Wearied beyond belief he peered inside.
He would have laughed, but it hurt too much.
A half-empty litre bottle of decent Russian vodka. And a thick paperback book, well read, the spine damaged from use, the pages creased and worn. One page with the corner turned down. He did not need to open it to know which page it was. He knew that the passage would be underlined. Dostoevsky. The Brothers Karamazov.
With a sigh he wrapped the blanket tightly around his shivering, aching body, feeling some faint warmth creep like slow tendrils back into his hands and feet despite the deep cuts that encircled, and would permanently scar his wrists and ankles. A small insignificant spider, disturbed from its lair in the box, scurried across the table, looking for sanctuary. On any other occasion Straker would have, almost without thinking, crushed the little arachnid under his thumb, but he paused, his head tilted to one side as if listening to a distant voice.
‘One tiny creature,’ he muttered, with a wry twist of bloodied, split lips and thoughtfully watched the spider scuttle to safety.
He put his head down on his arms and rested, unbidden tears filling his eyes as he realised that, even though they had broken him, had crushed him, had revived him against all his efforts, he had survived, and he would be going home. To Mary. To SHADO.
He was sleeping when the retrieval team reached him.
Moonlight and vodka… the glass remained on the table, untouched, a miniature cylinder of crystal, reflecting, distorting the scene as he peered into it. He wondered what he would say to the man he was due to meet, to whom he had spoken to only once before.
Pulling down the sleeves of his fine black cashmere turtleneck sweater to cover his wrists, he checked to ensure that the silver lines of fading scar tissue were hidden. His jacket, tailored in Savile Row, was black as were his denim jeans, and his heavy overcoat was draped over the back of the chair. Appropriate attire for a liaison such as this. A discrete and quiet meeting with the man who had been recommended to him as a suitable command officer for SHADO’s hugely important Siberian base. It had taken the best part of a week to finally arrange this meeting, to get all the checks, the details done. And it looked as if the man he would be seeing here in this scruffy run-down bar was perfect for the role.
Dedicated, tough, not afraid to do whatever it took to get the job done. It was just a matter of sitting face to face, looking into his eyes, assessing him personally.
Straker waited with the impassive patience he had acquired over the years as Commander, lifting his unwanted drink to gaze at it, through it, at the heavy beading of the liquid as he tilted the glass to let the spirit swirl slowly around. From the corner of his eye he noticed a couple of girls, tawdry, blousy, acting exactly as one would expect a couple of cheap call girls to behave. Eyeing him up, grinning at him, winking. Call girls.
He knew better. SVR no doubt. He had obviously attracted some unwanted attention. Damn. There was nothing he could do, apart from sit there, nursing the glass of vodka. Not even decent vodka either. Not that he had touched any vodka, decent or not since ………… He put the glass down on the table and leaned back, waiting. He would be glad to get out of here, back to somewhere warm, somewhere with decent food, somewhere he could relax, could forget….
In the darkness, the smoke-filled gloom, he could not see the figure with any degree of clarity, just the whiteness of fingers as the chair opposite him was pulled back. The man sat down, looked at him, nodded in respect, deference, acknowledgement of his superior status.
‘Commander Straker.’ The voice was cool, pellucid. Male. A tenor voice, well-spoken, slight Russian accent, with a slightly deeper growl than he remembered, betraying the speaker as a man past the first flush of youthful enthusiasm. A voice that contained hesitance, uncertainty, contrition, as if the speaker was unsure of the reception he would receive, as if offering an apology for past wrongs, past misdoings.
And, for only the second time in his life, as the sound of the voice after so many years made his heart pound, his pulse race, his body suddenly sweat with remembered pain, the sensation of drowning and the acrid taste of bile-laden vodka, Ed Straker answered the man who spoke.
He took a deep breath and spoke, his fingers clenched together in a tight grip . ‘Yes. Dimitri Leonov, I am Commander Straker.’