Mirrors in Belfast
  by Winfred S. Jones, Jr.

Author's warning: Adult content - graphic violence


"The Bird in Hand" was a seedy dive located only a couple of blocks away from the river. You could get a pint of your favorite at the bar. Additionally, there were plenty of dark corners in which to down the pint. I could see the flash of lighters or matches in those dark recesses. Cigars, cigarettes, and pipes were being lit. Tiny stars glowed red momentarily in the darkness. Most of the flames, however, were utilized in lighting substances other than tobacco. Some even were held wavering under cheap tin spoons. Sharp slivers that were needles held in trembling hands anxiously awaited the correct moment to suck up the liquid shimmering in those spoons.

Doors groaned open and shut. The back rooms, too, were busy. Dark shapes stumbled and shuffled their way down dank narrow hallways to the rooms beyond. Floorboards and tottering bed frames squeaked cries of protest. Stairs ached their disapproval as scuffed, torn shoes tread wearily up and down their uneven surfaces, exposed nails often snagging ripped soles and heels.

Crumpled bills also made their furtive way through the darkness; from filthy hand to grasping, clutching hand. Followed by dark packages, wrapped in heavy paper, often tied with assorted bits of string.

"The Bird in Hand" was a pub that didn't mind catering to a wide range of clientele or their equally varied desires.

I sat on a wobbly captain's chair and rested my elbows on the worn wooden arms. The corner was very dark. I heard the sound of water sloshing as a pail was set down. It was a good sound. It meant that someone was going to clean up the vomit.

I rubbed my knuckles. They ached with the beginning of fresh bruises. Thank goodness when I did hit the bum full in his fat belly he'd had the courtesy not to throw up on my overcoat. Some had splashed on my shoes but I'd wiped them off on his jacket as I'd stepped over his prostrate body. His knife probably still lay somewhere beneath the tables. It held no interest for me now. It was no longer a threat; just a dull gleam among the other clutter on the floor. Someone would pocket it soon enough.

I looked slowly around the pub again.

I smiled.

Those packages being exchanged contained everything from heroin to semi-automatic weapons with their identifying numbers carefully filed off. I shifted the package held in my hand. It was heavy. I had included nine millimeter ammunition preloaded in several clips for the Berettas. The weight was satisfying. Solid.

I had been told while still in training outside London that Belfast could be a very dangerous city. Perhaps the most dangerous outside Berlin. The information had been correct. And there was, I'd also discovered, undoubtedly a fortune to be made smuggling weapons into the city. If the IRA didn't kill you first. Or the British.

I smiled again.

None of the chaps I went to school with would recognize me now. Probably not even the spooks with MI-6 would realize that under this grizzled, filthy apparition was one John Steed, Esquire.

I scratched at a three day growth of beard. My nails needed trimming. And cleaning. My ill fitting suit was coarse, heavy wool that was baggy enough to easily hide an assortment of weapons. It was dirty, as was the black turtle neck that clung itchy to my gritty neck. My hair, where it stuck out from under a sweat stained cap, was matted and hung in greasy strings over my ears and my collar. It badly needed, among other things, cutting.

I looked around with bleary eyes.

The undercover operation had been going on for two months. I'd started off small. One didn't want to attract unwanted attention by bringing in too much too soon. These people made a habit of looking gift horses in the mouth. Usually with the tip of a very sharp knife worrying its way up one nostril. Or a revolver pressed up under the chin.

The horse I brought in was just of sufficient quantity and impurity to get me contacts with the right people. These people didn't trust heroin addicts but didn't mind using them to bring in heavier stuff. Less overhead involved with addicts. Much less. If they gave you a problem, it was simple to slip them an overdose. No one paid much attention to the odd dead addict lying about. Least of all anyone in authority.

The chap with the bucket of water began moving a mop back and forth over the floor. A couple of men who had been speaking quietly with the bar tender, obviously bouncers, finally came lumbering out from behind the bar and walked over to my table. I looked up at them. They were holding heavy iron pipes. Two foot long iron pipes.

"You goin' to clean up your mess?" they questioned jerking their heads in the direction of the unconscious form sprawled on the floor.

I had slipped one hand under the table during their approach.

"Sorry," I said, "but I didn't start it."

"No, but you sure as Hell ended it!"

I smiled warmly. The fat man had come at me with a knife that had flashed out from one baggy, frayed coat sleeve. I had slapped the knife away with the edge of one hand, kneed him in the groin then punched him squarely in his pot belly as he was folding over. He had started vomiting just before I cracked the package I'd been holding down sharply on the back of his head. The hollow "thunk" had been most satisfying.

Now he lay on one side, breathing heavily. He was lucky. Had he fallen on his back he would have most likely drowned in his own vomit.

The men gestured with the lead pipes.

"What's it going to be? You gonna get his fat arse out of here or do you want to end up snuggled beside him?"

I noted absently that the speaker was missing several teeth.

"Actually," I drawled, "the real question is do you gentlemen want to keep your knee caps intact or not?"

I brought the Walther casually into view. It was a small pistol with limited range, but quite appropriate for this situation.

They backed up a step and glanced nervously at one another.

"This fellow," I waved my weapon casually in the direction of the chap with the mop, "is doing a bang up job cleaning the floor, don't you think?"

They recognized the validity of my statement judging from how eagerly their heads bobbed up and down in unison.

"Why don't you two sports lend him a hand by carrying out the trash?" I now waved the gun at the fat man.

My smile broadened.

The pipes made clanging noises as they bounced on the floor. Obviously, these two realized my suggestion was one of great merit. They gathered the fat man under his arms and, grunting with effort, dragged his ample frame out the front entrance.

I pocketed the Walther and, motioning to the now pale faced bartender, ordered a drink. Irish whiskey. Good thing I had a taste for it because I'd been drinking an inordinate amount over the last few weeks. My liver was going to be upset with me for some time.

The whisky nearly splashed over the side of the heavy tumbler as the nervous bartender set it on my table. Tossing him some coins, I picked up the glass and observed the amber liquid a moment. I sighed heavily. The tumbler could have been considerably cleaner. The things I do for jolly old England. The whisky went down smoothly and bloomed into a most pleasant warmth in my stomach.

A lot of this business was spent waiting; simply waiting.

My cover story was that I'd been drummed out of Her Majesty's Royal Navy for assaulting a fellow officer and had spent the last few years working my way around the Mediterranean doing the odd bit of smuggling from port to port.

I had made it known since arriving in Belfast that I had come into possession of a large quantity of illegal weapons; everything from Browning Automatic Rifles, to World War II vintage German machine guns, to American hand grenades and explosives.

With the bait in the water I waited for nibbles.

To keep a visible presence while waiting for this information to make the rounds, I wandered the darker sides of the city dealing small quantities of heroin, among other goodies, mostly to fellow agents. Occasionally I had, unfortunately, to deal with real addicts. Had I not done so the word would have gotten out quickly that horse dealer was suddenly having unseemly qualms about his profession.

The result would probably have involved my taking a lengthy tour of the bottom of the river. With cement for shoes and chains for shoe strings.

So, along with the Irish whiskey, I swallowed my concerns for the poor addicts and focused on the larger game to be hunted.

The IRA desired weapons. Thanks to the Ministry I had weapons.

The British government wanted the mastermind behind the IRA in Belfast.

I would find him. Then bring him in. Or kill him.

With any luck that process might commence this evening.

I had received a cryptic message earlier in the afternoon requesting my presence at "The Bird in Hand" at eight PM. It also strongly suggested that I bring along some examples of the merchandise I was purported to have in my possession. So here I was. The heavy box that sat on the table next to my drink contained a couple of Beretta semi-automatic pistol along with six full nine millimeter clips, several American hand grenades, and a half pound of plastic explosives.

The fat man had been following me for several blocks before finally accosting me in the pub. I didn't think he had any ties with the IRA people, though I couldn't be positive. I'd seen him about the city before. He had a reputation of shaking down small time people. He liked to convince them at the point of a knife that their belongings were better off in his possession. I'd not given him the opportunity to make his case to me. In addition I'd provided vivid evidence for any other interested parties that I was not a small time operator who could be taken lightly.

I raised the whiskey to my lips again, drank, and waited.

At precisely eight fifteen three big men ambled over to my table. They pulled a couple of chairs from nearby tables, actually dumping one unconscious form out of his chair as they did so, and sat in a semicircle facing me from across my table. I had not seen them enter from the main door. I raised an eyebrow. They obviously knew their business. It gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling knowing that I was not working with amateurs. They wouldn't be as likely to make mistakes. Mistakes were not good in this business.

I raised my glass and said, "Cheers."

They watched me drink. The chap in the middle addressed me. I noted a long scar that meandered down from his left ear into the darkness beneath his jaw.

"You got the merchandise?"

"Samples, gentlemen, "I replied, "Mere samples."

I gestured to the wrapped box.

"Much more where these came from…."

He nodded slowly.

"Ok. Time we took a drive then."

They all rose as one, the chairs squealing as they were pushed back.

I finished the dregs of my drink, wiped my mouth off with the back of one hand, and rose as well. We turned and, as I followed scar face, the other two men fell in behind me, one to either side. Their hands, I noted, stayed deep in the oversized pockets of their winter coats. It was, after all, a chilly night.

We left the pub. There was a large, dark car, sitting next to the curb. The smoke from its exhaust burbled up into the frosty air. A door opened and I soon found myself comfortably seated in the back, the two chaps who had been behind me sat to my left and right while scar face plopped down across from us on a wide seat that faced the rear of the sedan.

Scar face yanked the door shut and, as the car pulled away from the curb, produced a dark hood from a coat pocket which he held out to me.

"Put it on," he said in a flat, monotone voice. "While my friends frisk you."

I handed him my package, removed my cap, and did as he asked. His partners were thorough and quickly relieved me of both of my Walthers as well as the thin stiletto that had been taped to the outside of my right calf. I didn't mind this at all since they didn't take the more important items from me; things like my wrist watch, pocket change, or the fountain pen stuck in my inner jacket pocket.

"I do hope you will return my toys later," I said cheerily in a voice muffled by the hood.

I got a grunt from one of them in reply.

We drove around for at least forty-five minutes. For fun I tried to keep my bearings. Within fifteen minutes, however, I was totally at a loss as to our location. I had expected this but the mental exercise at least broke up the boredom of just sitting there. Finally the car slowed and turned for a last time. I heard the crunch of gravel beneath the tires. We drove up hill for a short time then stopped.

The hood was pulled off my head. My hat and package were returned to me.

I noted, not surprisingly, that none of my weapons were returned.

I blinked and looked about. From the surrounding darkness and stillness I could tell we were somewhere outside the city proper. As the back car door swung open I saw a large country estate home. Late eighteenth century was my rough guess.

We got out of the car. Scar face and I took the lead with the two heavies just behind me.

Just like old times, I thought.

We entered the fine old home and I was soon led to a room that was obviously the library. Dark oak bookshelves lined the high walls. There was a small ladder attached to a railing which ran around three quarters of the room that could be used to reach the upper level's volumes. A tall, slender man wearing gold, wire rimmed glasses was standing at the top of the ladder replacing a richly bound book. I was ushered to a large leather chair, one of a matching pair that sat just across from a very large marble fire place. Wood was stacked carefully to either side and a cheery blaze warmed the room nicely. Scar face pulled my cap off my head, none too gently I might add, and tossed it to one side.

The thin man looked rather distastefully down upon me.

"This is the fellow?" He asked scar face with an emphasis on the "this".

Scar face shook his head in the affirmative.

"I shall have to have that chair cleaned."

Scar face shrugged his shoulders.

Almost daintily the thin man climbed down the ladder. I almost expected him to hold his nostrils closed with a finger and thumb as he approached me. Or at least to wave a handkerchief in front of his face.

"Is that the merchandise?"

I put the package on the low marble topped table and slid it over to his side.

He sat down on the matching leather chair and motioned to scar face. The big man produced a pocket knife, cut the twine, then removed the heavy brown wrapping paper from about the box. He paused a moment until the slender man shot him an impatient look, then removed the top of the box as well.

For a moment the slender chap just stared into the box. Then he reached in and pulled out one of the pistols. With surprisingly deft hands he checked out the Beretta semi-automatic. He removed the clip, briefly inspected the ammunition in the clip, and then slapped the clip back into place. He placed the weapon carefully on the table then removed the plastic explosive. His fingers, I noted, were long, slender and perfectly manicured. A pianist's fingers I thought.

He carefully examined the explosive.

"American?" he asked.

I nodded my head.

"Some of the best." I said.

"As are these?" He removed one of the hand grenades. His fingers caressed the metal as if it were a woman's breast.

I nodded my head again.

"Very good," he said. "Very good indeed."

He looked directly at me.

"And you have more merchandise available, I am to assume?"

"Much more." I replied. "More than you could ever imagine."

He smiled. "I can imagine a lot."

"I just hope you can pay as well as I imagine." I responded dryly.

He paused a moment.

"Hmm, your name is Steed, is it not?"

"You can call me John, if we're doing business. And I'll call you anything you desire once the cash is in my possession."

"Well Mr. Steed, it certainly appears you're the ideal fellow with whom to do business."

I smiled.

He put the grenade carefully back into the box and picked up the pistol again.

"So, it sounds like you've done some checking up on me?" I asked.

"Yes, indeed, Mr. Steed. We have most carefully checked you out."

He absently tapped the gun barrel against his cheek as he recited the particulars.

"Booted after only a couple of years of service from the Royal Navy for assaulting a superior officer, over a woman if I'm not mistaken."

He glanced at me and I shrugged.

"Followed by several years of smuggling in and out of nearly every port on the Mediterranean. And now it appears you've managed to come upon the mother lode of all weapons that you would like to dispose of quietly. Just the sort of goodies we members of the IRA would be quite interested in obtaining."

He smiled a very, very cold smile.

"Yes, Mr. Steed. You check out perfectly."

He chambered a round and leveled the pistol at me.

"That's the crux of our problem, Mr. Steed. You do check out perfectly. Too perfectly. Every story I've ever had examined in detail always had some missing time or some flaw that didn't match the facts exactly. However in your case all the facts seem to line up to perfectly match your story. Not most of the facts but all of the facts. One might say 'to the 't'."

I felt a distinct sinking feeling start in the pit of my stomach.

"My boss tends to get uneasy when someone sounds too good to be true. And you, Mr. Steed, in spite of your disgusting appearance and your recent nefarious dealings around Belfast, sound too good to be true in her opinion. And mine as well."

I started to mutter a protest but he cut me off before I got started.

"Don't go on so, my good man. You'll have plenty of time and incentive to tell us all about yourself." His smile turned glacial. "And believe me, you will tell."

I didn't much care for his emphasis on "will" however I've always thought it only prudent to never disagree with a man pointing a loaded pistol in my direction.

"And if your story is, indeed, true we will recompense you quite handsomely for your troubles. Enough in fact that you'll likely be able to afford to have the appropriate repairs made to your body and be good as new in no time. If, however, your story is just that, a story, well…." He gave a little shrug of his shoulders.

I didn't like that shrug at all. I liked the idea of "repairs" to my body even less.

A phone sitting on a table just to his left, as if on cue, chose that moment to ring. He picked it up, careful to keep the Beretta leveled at me. I thought that was unnecessary since old scar face and his two thugs had already produced assorted pistols and revolvers from their winter over coats and had the weapons trained upon my defenseless self.

And, if looks were to be trusted, it didn't appear that it would take much of an excuse for them to start blasting happily away at me.

Being a man of some intelligence, I shut my mouth and sat as motionless as possible.

"Yes, my dear, he's here." The thin man smiled in my direction. "We were just about to take him downstairs. Thought we might toss him in with the others and see if he's still alive in the morning. Of course if you prefer to…." He listened intently to the voice. I could tell that it was a woman's voice but not much more. The phone was just a bit too far away.

"If you're quite sure…. Ok, very well then my dear. We'll go that route"

With that he replaced the phone in its cradle.

The whiskey which had warmed me earlier in the evening had become a cold metallic lump in the pit of my belly.

"Well, Mr. Steed," he said evenly. "I think it's time to give you a tour our wine cellar."

He rose with a fluid motion then waved me up with the Beretta. I got to my feet and shuffled off in the direction he indicated. We went through an open doorway, traversed several wide hallways, down a twisting flight of stairs, then down a much narrower, darker set of stairs. The air grew dank, moist, and moldy smelling as we descended.

I thought briefly of attempting an escape but that would only firm up their suspicions about me and ultimately make it impossible for me to ever get near the mastermind behind their organization in Belfast. I decided my best bet was to stick it out and trust that my story would stay iron clad. So I told myself.

The cold lump in my stomach, none less, seemed now to spread to my bowels.

I had been taught a number of methods to resist torture. I'd also been taught that none of the methods would matter in the end. Given enough time they would undoubtedly break me. I decided I would not allow them that much time. Once I felt that I was approaching that breaking point I would endeavor to escape, the consequences be damned.

Until that time, however, I'd maintain my story with dogged determination. After all I was a young, strong, resilient Englishman.

We finally entered a vast wine cellar. I looked approvingly upon the small fortune in wine stacked lovingly in row upon row as far as the eye could see in this dimly lit grotto. I was led to a huge cask lying on its side where we stopped for a moment. The slim man pulled down a latch that was hidden in the deep shadows and the false front of the cask creaked open to reveal a long even more dimly lit hallway.

We entered the newly revealed passageway.

To either side were rows of cages built into what appeared to be solid rock. The iron bars, though rusty at spots, were still firmly embedded into the bedrock. There were men in a number of the cells. Most shrank back as we approached them.

Finally the thin man signaled me to stop before one of the larger cages then produced an ancient looking key from a pocket. He inserted it into a lock, turned it, and unlocked a heavy iron gate. It squealed as he opened it. He stepped back and, using the Beretta, gestured that I was to enter. I had to lower my head to pass through the doorway.

Within were over a half dozen men. Hard, rough looking men. Big men.

I smiled in their general direction.

They did not return the smile.

"Well my good man," said the thin man as he shut the door behind me. "We'll be back in the morning to see how you are getting along with your new friends."

Now the hard knot of men began to smile as one.

The thin man slammed the barrel of the Beretta against one of the iron bars. This got their undivided attention. And mine as well.

"You may do with him as you please, so long as you don't kill him or tear his tongue out. Do either and you'll not live long enough to regret your actions!"

I supposed I should have felt relief at this stern warning to my fellow inmates.

Regretfully, I did not.

"Carry on!" the slim man said.

Scar face and the other two goons chuckled as they walked away.

I placed my back against the bars. This, I thought, might fast become interesting.

The knot of men began to move towards me. Two of the biggest brutes shouldered their way to the front. In a growl that was more animal than human the larger of the two told the rest to "bugger off! E's ours first." The look in his eyes was not reassuring at all.

"Gentlemen," I said. "Let's see if we can work things out to our mutual advantage."

"Oh, we'll work things out all right." The larger of the two smiled even more savagely. "We've been needin' some fresh meat!"

I sighed resignedly. I then crouched slightly, my weight evenly distributed on the balls of my feet. I hadn't asked for this but, once again, I'd better damned well finish it. And quickly at that.

I waited to see which one would make the first move.

The nearer inmate swung a hammer sized fist at my head. I ducked to one side, then drove my right fist hard into his solar plexus as he came towards me. He grunted once with an astonished look on his face at the power behind my blow. I took his left arm, twisted slightly, then, using my forearm as a fulcrum, broke it just above the elbow. Bone and blood ripped through his torn shirtsleeve. His astonished look dissolved to a blank stare. His eyes glazed over and he dropped face first onto the stone floor.

His partner growled a curse and lunged towards me with arms open and hands like clutching talons. Instead of trying to dodge, I stepped into his embrace and drove the fingers of both hands up into his throat. I felt his windpipe crush. He fell away and his arms, instead of clutching for me, grabbed at his throat in agony. He dropped to his knees then tumbled slowly over to one side.

Warily, I watched the others as they watched him trying, in vain, to breathe.

"Anyone else?" I questioned over the burbling noises that came from the body at my feet.

The rest of the inmates moved back as the burbling slowed.

It took him nearly five minutes to die.

I found that I now had this corner of the cell completely to myself.

Except, of course for the dead and the unconscious men.

I took off my overcoat, rolled it up against the wall and sat down with my back to the corner. With nothing more pressing at the moment, I dozed. Considering the circumstances it was surprisingly easy to slip into and out of a gentle sleep.

During my more wakeful intervals I also thought over my options. The one big card I had that the IRA people weren't aware of was a mole in their organization. He or she had been in place for some time but had, unfortunately, not risen high enough in the ranks to have access to the upper echelon. I didn't know who that person might be but felt confident that when the time came he or she could be of invaluable assistance. The code phrase, "Welcome to the Emerald Isle" would identify them to me. My response would be, "I'd rather be playing golf in Scotland." Silly stuff to my way of thinking. The Ministry thought otherwise.

It was made painstakingly clear to me, however, that he or she was to be my absolute last resort and that I could expect no assistance whatsoever from that individual until and unless they deemed it appropriate.

For the moment, however, I was strictly on my own.

I did have a few gadgets on my person that had been overlooked. A couple of coins had diamond coated wires hidden within them that could cut through these old iron bars in no time at all. They also could be utilized as an excellent garrote capable of ripping through a neck to the spinal column in seconds. The fountain pen held a small supply of potent gas that could easily knock out several people at once over a short distance. The watch doubled as a compass and a small, very flexible, set of lock picks was hidden in the band.

So I sat with my back to one corner, dozing and waiting. When you can do nothing the best thing to do is rest as much as possible. I did rouse myself once to use the miserable excuse of a toilet that tottered unsteadily in one corner.

The man with the broken arm returned to semi-consciousness on a couple of occasions but almost immediately passed back out each time. The blood that oozed from his arm made a small black pool on the rough floor.

Somewhere in the vicinity of 6:30 the next morning according to the luminous dial of my wrist watch I heard footsteps coming down the corridor. I didn't move from my position but watched the party approach through eyes barely open. They stopped in front of my cell and I heard a low toneless whistle.

"My, my, what have we here? Mr. Steed, " at this I raised my head. "It seems you've been a naughty boy. Impressive." I saw that the speaker was the thin man. He seemed more amused than angry judging from the way his eyes sparkled behind his glasses.

"Gentleman," he addressed the men who were gathered behind him, "be very careful in your dealings with Steed here. He could prove to be rather dangerous."

Assorted weapons appeared in their hands as if by magic.

Slowly I stood and stretched. The stone floor hadn't been very comfortable.

"Would it help if I told you it was self defense?" I asked.

"I'm sure it was." He drawled. "No problem, Mr. Steed. No problem at all. Except that I see you only killed one of them"

He smiled coldly, turned to one of his henchmen and nodded in the direction of the man whose arm I'd broken.

The gunshot was extremely loud in these close quarters. The body which the broken arm was attached to quivered once then lay still. There now was a second, larger, pool of blood spreading slowly over the floor.

"There now," continued the slim man, "that will make tidying up simpler."

Suddenly I realized that a young woman had been standing all this time behind the slim man. She was clothed only in a dirty and torn slip, the thin straps nearly drooping off her shoulders. Neither shoes nor hose were evident. Her hair, a deep red bordering on auburn from what I could tell in this dim light, was long and disheveled as it flowed halfway down her back. She was tall; at least five eight or five nine in her bare feet.

She moved as if to pull away and I noted that her hands were tied behind her back. The thug holding her arm sharply yanked her back to his side. She tried to bite at him but he casually slapped her across the face for her trouble. She sagged in his grip as though she'd finally realized the futility of struggling. From the way her breasts moved beneath the silky material it was obvious she was not wearing a bra. And, judging from the smooth unbroken contours where the slip clung to her hips, it was doubtful that she had on any other under-clothing whatsoever.

The men sharing my cell, with the exception of the corpses, of course, suddenly became aware of her presence as had I. They edged nearer the bars, eyes wide, breaths quickening, and tongues licking suddenly dry lips in hopeful anticipation.

"Gentleman," announced the thin man. "We've discovered recently, to our great surprise and disappointment, that this young woman has developed decidedly anti-IRA leanings." He lifted her head, his hand under her chin, that we might observe her features.

Her face was lovely though showing signs of obvious strain and a spotty redness on one side where she had been slapped.

"This in spite of our welcoming her into our family with open arms and treating her as we would have our own daughter."

I began to wonder if she was the mole I'd been informed of in London.

"Now she must learn to the fullest extent how we treat traitors and mal-contents."

He removed his hand from her chin and her head fell forward. I thought I had seen tears in her eyes. I knew I had seen terror there.

The slim man reached into his jacket pocket and produced a pair of dice. Idly, he tossed them in one hand.

"We've decided to give her to one or all of you for the day. Perhaps even longer."

At this announcement a low noise, a cross between a growl and a moan of anticipation, could be heard within the cell.

"The only fair way to decide who will have her first is by chance."

He tossed the dice into the cell.

"Highest roll wins her and may do with her as he pleases."

The men sharing my cell fairly pounced upon the dice. One after the other they shook the ivory squares in filthy hands then tossed them against one rough stone wall. Curses erupted at low casts. Howls of delight indicated higher numbers had been rolled. The highest number thrown so far had been a ten. It had been cast by a delightful looking chap sporting a broken nose that had healed crookedly and who was missing at least a half dozen of his front teeth.

"Here, guv," he said as he pressed the dice into my hand. "Beat my ten if you can!"

I shook the dice a moment then tossed them against the wall. When they rolled to a stop one die had six showing, the other only three.

"Mine by God!" shouted the almost toothless chap, nearly leaping about with joy.

I looked at him a long moment then, silently, reached out with the toe of my boot and turned the die that was showing three until it now showed a six.

"I believe the Yanks call this roll a 'boxcar'." I said looking directly at the nearly toothless man.

"I win."

He sputtered a moment looking first at the dice then at my smiling face until, madly, almost insanely enraged, he leaped at me with a guttural roar of anger.

Turning, I grasped the back of his filthy shirt in one hand, spun him along past me and introduced his face to the unyielding stone wall. From the sound it seemed, in my estimation at least, quite likely that he had lost most, if not all, of his few remaining teeth.

I observed the rest of my inmates. They sullenly moved back a bit. I could hear low muttering. None, however, dared look at me directly.

I now turned towards the slim man.

"She's mine," I said. "And mine alone."

The thin man clapped his hands slowly.

"Bravo!," he said. "We shall have to give you a cell to yourself before you kill or maim all our prisoners. If you are as ruthless with her as you have been with these men I'm sure the lesson we intend will be driven home in no uncertain terms."

With that he motioned my cell mates back, produced a key, and unlocked the door to the cell. Two of the thugs entered and dragged out the two bodies while the rest covered us with their weapons. A quick check of the now toothless man found him to be merely unconscious, so they left him where he lay. One of them retrieved my overcoat. They then escorted me out of the cell, pistols held guardedly against my back.

I put my hands over my head and kept them that way as we exited the cell. Fighting unarmed men is one thing. Fighting cold lead is another all together.

The thin man led us a slight distance down the passageway to another dimly lit cell. Once again he produced a key and unlocked the door. It opened with a rusty creak.

He motioned to another of his henchmen who produced a pocket knife with which he cut the girl's bonds. She and I were roughly pushed into our new home. My overcoat was tossed in after us.

"You should have a bit more privacy here." The men all laughed.

The door was shut on us with a loud clang and relocked. This cell, unlike the other one, actually had a small bed bolted to the floor at the far end. There was also a small sink and toilet in one dank corner.

"I bid you a fond adieu, Mr. Steed," said the thin man. "Indulge yourself until later this evening. Perhaps the lady's company will be an inducement for you to speak more freely when we return?"

The party of men laughed as one, and, shouting various obscene suggestions on how I should while away the time, made their way back down the passageway. Four of them picked up the bodies and lugged them out. In a moment they were gone.

I turned to the young woman.

She shrank back from me as I approached her, shaking her head back and forth, and muttering "no… no… no…" as she did so while holding her hands out piteously in front of her as if to somehow ward me off.

She looked up at me with uncomprehending eyes as I bowed and offered my hand.

"Steed," I whispered to her, "John Steed at your service."

After a long moment of hesitation she took my hand numbly.

Her eyes looked like a doe's facing a crouching tiger. They were a beautiful shade of emerald green I noted. There was a delightful sprinkle of light freckles over her upturned nose and cheeks.

"Listen," I said continuing to whisper. "I have no intentions of harming you but we've got to make this look and sound real. So do pardon me…."

With this I picked her up bodily and, to a sudden chorus of her screams, tossed her on the bed. In a moment I was on top of her. She tried to strike me but I caught her wrists in my hands and easily restrained her struggling form with my weight.

"Forgive me the indiscretion," I whispered into her ear. "You're doing wonderfully so far! Please continue to scream for a bit longer." I nodded my head in the direction of the other cell in which I had been incarcerated. "They'll expect a lot of screaming."

She did so with such gusto that I actually began to fear for her vocal cords.

"I repeat," I whispered as loudly as I dared. " I'm not going to harm you, but we must make it appear that I'm raping you or you'll be tossed in with those animals and raped for real."

Her screams slowly became sobs then ragged whimpers as she finally realized what I was trying to tell her. They abruptly started up again with renewed volume when I began humping up and down against her causing the bed to creak and squeal in protest.

"If they don't hear us on the bed they'll grow suspicious." I explained. "Do you understand me? We've got to make this look and sound real!"

She finally recognized the urgency in my voice, realized that I hadn't removed any of my clothing or hers, and understood that I wasn't, in fact, attempting to rape her.

She looked up confused and wonderingly into my face.

"You're not… you're not going to… you're really not?" Her voice was filled with uncomprehending awe.

As proof I released of her arms.

"Do forgive me." I said. "This is a most awkward situation for both of us to say the least. I couldn't stand idly by and let those brutes have their way with you. Sorry but this was the only way out I could think of on such short notice."

And, indeed, I did feel awkward in the extreme. Here was a beautiful woman, all but nude beneath me, whom I had never met before, who's very name I did not know, and whom I had to pretend to be raping.

Realization of the situation and my sincerity finally came fully home to her and, to my utter surprise, she wrapped her arms about my neck.

"Thank you… thank you… thank you…." She whispered as she hugged tightly to me.

I could feel her softness pressed up against me and, to my chagrin and embarrassment, I found my self suddenly becoming noticeably, unmistakably aroused.

She began to kiss my neck and face, seemingly uncaring about my three day beard, and, finally, found my lips with hers. Then she gasped, though it was far from a gasp of fear, as she felt my manhood surging against the confines of my clothing and pressing against her nearly naked flesh.

In an instance, again to my surprise and amazement, her intense gratitude was transformed into equally intense desire and, before I knew fully what was happening, she was undoing my belt and unzipping my trousers. Her slip had been worked up to her waist and I felt the warmth of her inner thighs as she moved her legs up and around me.

Awkward situation or not my body reacted as any normal male would when confronted with a desirable, willing woman offering herself to you. I don't remember exactly when or how each step happened but our clothing ended up on the floor while we ended up entwined in one another's arms. She didn't need to guide me into herself. In one sweet moment I found myself inside her. Our bodies melded together as we moved against one another in motions as old as the earth and as new as the morning dew.

Her body was exquisitely beautiful, firm where it should be and soft and yielding were it should be. My hands explored her greedily even as I felt her hands roaming over my flesh. We moved together giving each other almost painful pleasure. I'd never known passion to blossom so quickly and so fully in my life.

She began with low moans and soon was nearly screaming. All too soon I felt her shudder in the grips of her orgasm and realized at that moment that my own orgasm was roaring down on me like a freight train. I had as much chance of stopping that train with a marshmallow as delaying this moment. I grunted, groaned, gasping for air as though there wasn't enough oxygen over the entire earth for my desperate lungs, then emptied myself into her in great, shuddering gushes.

Time ceased to exist.

We were one with the stars, pulsing in a universal rhythm that moved even the galaxies in shuddering swirls through the immensity of all space.

When full consciousness all too soon returned, I found myself lying on her sweet body, our sweat intermingling into beads that ran down over her flesh and soaked into the rough mattress. We looked at each other and smiled very contented yet oddly shy smiles.

"I thought I made it clear we were only going make this seem real?" I said with a good bit of chagrin in my voice.

She wiped a bit of my hair out of my face. Her lips rose and gently touched mine again.

She smiled again and I saw how beautiful she really was….

"Sorry," she said. "It was more my fault than yours. But you were so wonderful to me and no one has been wonderful to me for so long. I couldn't help myself. Thank you, Steed. Thank you."

"In that case, you're most welcome, uh…" I realized that I still didn't know her name. She saw my blush and instantly knew the cause.

"Heather MacNee," she said. "Glad to make your acquaintance Mr. Steed."

We both laughed and any embarrassment we may have felt vanished with that laugh.

We dressed. That is to say she put on her slip and I my clothes. I offered her my overcoat and she gratefully accepted it. She was swallowed up in its depths but it would both cover her nudity as the slip never would and it would serve to keep her warm in this cold cell.

We sat on the bed and talked in soft voices.

She had been born in Belfast some twenty three years earlier. She had lost her father and one brother to British forces and had joined the IRA in hopes of obtaining retribution for their deaths. After some months she discovered that the revenge she had hoped for was a bitter dish, even served cold, and that being party to British deaths did nothing to soothe her loss. She had foolishly written her mother about her disillusionment and the IRA had gotten wind of her change of heart when it had intercepted the letter.

They had picked her up the previous night, questioned her at some length, and had forced her to remove all her clothing except for her slip. She had been told that this was a precaution to convince her of the futility of any escape attempt. Belfast in December was no place to be running about clad only in a slip. She had been locked in a small closet for the night. Before dawn she had been retrieved, her arms bound, and then brought to the hidden cells where she was "won" by me through my use of rather devious methods.

She had, I decided, shown a great deal of courage under very trying circumstances.

For my part I mostly listened and volunteered only fragments of my story. There was no need to get her involved more than she was already. For some reason she refused to believe that I had been a smuggler for the last several years.

"No man who would save me as you have could ever have done the things you claim. I don't believe a word of it!" were her only remarks. I could only shrug my shoulders.

Around midday we heard the hidden door open. I had her hastily retire to the far corner where she sat with her head buried in her arms as if in mortal fear of me.

We were brought a couple of bowls of luke-warm potato soup, several slices of bread, and a large container of water. These were slid to us via a smaller opening set into the door of our cell.

The jailer laughed when he saw Heather huddled in the corner.

"Make sure she eats," he advised. "I'll bet my first born she'll need to keep her strength up!" He cackled a coarse laugh.

I merely grunted and took the food over to the bed.

After he departed we ate. We were both quite hungry and the meal barely quelled our appetites. Still it was better fare than I had expected.

An hour later and the sounds of the hidden door opening came once again to our ears.

The slim man and four of his henchmen, including scar face this time, approached the cell. Before they came in sight I had Heather curl on the floor at my feet.

The slim man laughed upon seeing us. His glasses flashed in the dim light.

"I see you know how to handle women, Mr. Steed."

I shrugged and gave Heather a kick that looked far more vicious than it was in reality. In fact I pulled the strike so that my foot barely touched her. She moaned quite convincingly and cringed away from me as if in mortal terror. Not a bad actress, I thought. Not bad at all. Particularly considering the circumstances.

"Gentlemen!" I said more cheerfully than I felt, "How might I be of service?"

Weapons appeared in scar face and the other henchmen's hands.

The slim man unlocked the gate.

"Come, Mr. Steed," he gestured down the passageway. "Time for a little talk."

"And her?" I gestured towards Heather.

"You seem to be having the desired affect on her." He chuckled. " I think we'll let you keep her a few more days."

At this pronouncement Heather gave a most terrified groan. A very good actress, indeed.

He shut and relocked the door after I exited.

The wine cellar, it seemed, housed more surprises. We exited the passageway via the false cask door and proceeded to the opposite side of the grotto. A thick, heavy door set into the wall was opened and I was led into a little chamber of horrors.

Torture, you must understand, is an old art form. Its methods or implements haven't changed substantially over the last few centuries. The latest innovations have to do with the use of drugs and electricity. My hosts decided to start with the latter.

I was rudely stripped and strapped to a metallic platform that was bolted to the floor. It was soaked thoroughly with salt water which dripped into a trench that bordered the platform. Pure water, oddly enough, is actually an insulator. Salt water, however, with all the impurities floating about in it, is a fine conductor. Not a great conductor, such as copper or silver, mind you, but one quite adequate for the job at hand.

Current, or amperage if you prefer, is the killing force with electricity. Two hundred amps applied to the human body with ten volts are far more dangerous than twenty thousand volts applied with almost no amperage. High voltages with small amounts of current are, therefore, far more desirable for the torturer than high amperage with small voltages. The latter will render the recipient unconscious and very likely dead within minutes. The former can, it must be noted, cause untidy burns if applied with too much vigor; however, it is much less likely to leave one trying to question a smoldering corpse. Corpses, it is well documented, don't talk very much except to trained forensic scientists

Variation is also a key ingredient for any student of effective torture. One doesn't just repeatedly zap the victim every thirty seconds or so with two thousand volts across the shoulders. A certain amount of tolerance can be built up in those circumstances. It is far better to alter the amount or size of the shock, the duration of the shock, the location of the shock, and the timing of the shock.

Just hearing the hum and feeling the hair on one's body rising as a slowly increasing voltage is applied can have remarkable results on their own.

The slim man, it soon became evident, had, at some point in his life, learned these lessons well.

With adhesive tape he attached a series of small conductors all over my body from my forehead to the soles of my feet. The machine that controlled the output of the electricity was situated at my head but at sufficient distance that I could not see which levers or switches were being set to direct the current. Each conductor was apparently on a separate line so the shocks could be concentrated in one area, say a forearm or calf, or spread over a wider area such as the chest or stomach. There was also a mechanism so that shocks could be directed simultaneously to separate areas. For example the right foot and left shoulder could be stimulated at the precise same instance.

This variety made it impossible to guess where the next shock would be directed. Not knowing when or where they would occur, the anticipation soon came to be almost as terrible as the actual shocks.

The slim man's interrogation methods were textbook as well.

He kept his voice low, calm, and reasonable. He didn't really want to subject me to such pain. He just wanted to know the answers to a few simple questions. Who was I working for? Why was I in Ireland? Where did the weapons come from? No, he didn't want me to name my superiors or comrades! That wouldn't be reasonable and he was a very reasonable man. He even apologized for the necessity of going through this process. He didn't like it one whit more than I. He, unfortunately, had superiors who had made him responsible for finding out these little facts from me. He had much rather sit down and discuss these matters over a good whiskey or a smooth brandy. Would I mind repeating that last response one more time?

The muscles, I think, suffer the most. The electrical impulses cause them to tighten convulsively so that after, say only fifteen or so minutes, they are screaming with fatigue from the unnatural strain. Even when the current has stopped they tend to contract randomly on their own until it feels like they might tear themselves from the bone. Additionally, when the contractions stop the residual ache is far worse than that of a marathon runner's legs at the end of twenty miles. You hurt as if someone had been busily beating your entire body for hours on end with the proverbial rubber hose.

I was given a mouthpiece of formed rubber to bite on. It was explained that the thin man didn't want me to accidentally bite off my tongue. Very considerate, I thought. He then started at my feet and worked his way leisurely up my body. At first the sensations were merely uncomfortable - an itch one couldn't quite scratch. Or escape.

I twitched and strained against the restraints in sudden reflexive movements, while I attempted to count my breaths.

That was an old Zen trick, though trick is doubtless an incorrect term, I had been taught some years before during one of my Oriental interest periods. One simply counts each in and out breath. One for the air coming into the lungs. Two for the air on its outward passage. Three in. Four out. Repeat up to ten, then start again. Simplicity itself.

It is, however, remarkably difficult to do over any period of time. Try it some time and you'll quickly see what I mean. You tend to get distracted by your thoughts and lose count. Of course, if you should lose count, you simply restart at one again. Controlling your thoughts without consciously "controlling" them is the key. I was once told to let my mind become a mirror that merely reflected, without holding to or considering or elaborating on, any thoughts that inevitably popped into my head. An interesting image yet one that I found to be very appropriate during practice sessions.

The results, if properly executed, can be quite fascinating. One becomes acutely aware of one's surroundings almost on a precognitive level. For instance if one is driving while doing this meditation, the flow of traffic around one, the patterns in that traffic, and the individual movements against the background of the flow suddenly become recognizable and comprehended on a level beyond simple consciousness. One simply "knows" what the car to your side is doing, or is going to do and reacts to its say, sudden change of lanes, without having to sift all that data through one's mind in a step by step or logical process. The same is true of all the cars around you. You instantly slip over to the next lane already knowing that it is empty and that the sudden movement can be done in complete safety. You flow with the reality of the traffic, totally aware of everything around you without having to process or digest, if you will, that information on any conscious level.

So, as the voltages were applied, I attempted to relax and count each rise and fall of my chest.

Needless to say the shocks made it difficult in the extreme to keep the count going for any length of time. Breathing was usually a series of gasps followed by grunts as a new shock forced the air from between my clenched teeth as though I had been kicked in the belly by a horse.

Also thoughts, in vivid detail, of how pleasurable it would be to slowly strangle the thin man to death with my bare hands kept interrupting my counting on a disgustingly regular basis. Most annoying.

And, as the charges slowly increased in strength, duration, and repetition, causing my body to thrash against the restraints, either in vain attempts to escape the pain or as simple reactions to the current flowing through and contracting my muscles uncontrollably, I found myself less and less able to approach any semblance of calmness. I couldn't flow with the now for literally being jerked about by the force of the electricity passing through me.

I don't remember very much of the experience to be quite honest. I know I screamed in pain on several occasions. I know I was soon thankful for the bit of rubber clenched in my mouth. I recall that, when the mouth piece was removed, I found I could be relatively sure that no major shocks were to be administered because a verbal response was desired and, just as importantly, it was preferred that my speech be understandable. I know that, during those times when I was allowed to respond, I managed to stick firmly with my cover story and earnestly swore on several yet to be born children's heads that the story was absolutely, totally true.

I recall how the sweat poured off my body in thick drops that I could feel vibrate on my flesh in time with the humming electricity as the newest shocks were applied.

Embarrassingly I remember, of all things, experiencing an enormous erection at one point as a relatively low charge was passed along my thighs and groin up to my stomach. This erection, however, unlike all preceding ones in my past was anything but pleasurable by the time the voltages were increased. Needless to say it was not maintained for any length of time under these circumstances.

At another time the shocks were suspended briefly while someone sprayed a vigorous, cold stream of water over me and the table to wash away the resultant feces and urine when I had uncontrollably voided both bowels and bladder during the course of one particularly savage set of shocks. Strangely that humiliation bothered me far less than had the unwanted erection, though both had been punctuated with loud, coarse, uncaring laughter and comments from the men present.

Except for scar face and the thin man. They merely observed in a studied silence.

At the end of several hours the slim man switched off the machinery and removed the conductors and sweat stained restraints from my still shuddering flesh. Two of the guards then partially dressed me, roughly pulling my trousers back on over my legs. This process hurt almost as much as the shocks earlier. My arms and legs tended to contort in jerky motions when least expected.

I had managed not to scream too loudly or for too long a time during the torture, but the glass of cold water they had forced between my clenched jaws prior to getting me back into my trousers had a soothing affect on my raw throat none the less.

They had to almost carry me back to my cell, dragging my twitching body between two of the larger thugs. I alternately winced and gasped as muscles I didn't know existed screamed out in pain from the mere effort to walk, to raise my head, to move an arm or shoulder, or, for that matter, to wince and gasp.

I was thrown roughly into the cell and rolled helplessly to crash sprawled against the bed. Heather was cowering against the far wall, still wrapped in my winter coat. The men laughed at her derisively.

"Relax luv! Don't expect you'll get much loving from your man tonight!" they told her as they tossed the rest of my clothing into the cell. Their laughter was coarse and crude and followed them all the way back down the passageway.

As soon as they were out of sight Heather was on her knees beside me, cradling my head in her lap as she pushed my sweat soaked hair away from my eyes. I tried to smile and managed to croak out a, "see, that wasn't too bad at all…" before my eyes teared up too much from the pain to see her clearly.

"My poor, poor darling…" she said over and over again.

She somehow got me onto the bed and out of my trousers. Then she spent what seemed like hours gently, but firmly massaging my aching, twitching limbs and torso while ignoring my feeble protests that I was quite all right. At long last her attentions were rewarded as my muscles relaxed into an exhausted state that was only fitfully interrupted by random, short lived spasms.

Finally she pulled the heavy winter overcoat over both of us and, pressing her body upon and against mine, kept me warm as possible in the dank, cold cell. Thankful for her mere presence and the warmth from her body that helped ease my aching muscles, I finally fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

I awoke feeling incredibly sore all over but delighting in the warm softness that was lying partially over me. Thanks to Heather's strenuous massage of my muscles from the night before and how she had shielded me from the cold of the cell with her own body beneath my heavy overcoat, I was feeling far, far better than I had any right to feel.

I looked at her beautiful features; the upturned, almost impish nose, the gentle field of freckles that splashed over her high cheeks, the curve of her jaw moving almost into the winding curves of her ear, soft strands of deeply red hair floating over then beneath her neck. I found myself once again becoming aroused and more by the touch of her nearly nude flesh. I began gently kissing her hair, forehead, and the side of her face to a point just below her ear. She stirred and the movements of her body against mine were all I needed to become completely aroused. She moaned tenderly and began kissing me back even before she came fully awake. Her legs soon straddled my groin as she slid herself sweetly onto my erection and, again, we became one with her moving above me in gentle sliding motions. Her breasts rubbed along my chest and I could feel the nipples hard with desire. I hardened even more as well and she increased the tempo until she was thrusting herself upon me in abandoned lust. My lips were making moist trails over her throat, cupping her chin with my mouth as she arched her head back and moaned. Her mouth found mine again, our faces engulfed in an auburn tent formed by her long, tumbling hair, and we surged together in mounting urgency. I'd made love many times before, but nothing approaching the sweetness of this union of body and spirit. I was beginning to feel more, much more, than mere lust or passion. Perhaps it was her helplessness and yet her courage in the face of that helplessness. Perhaps it was an inborn desire to guard and protect such an innocent beauty. Perhaps it was knowing that I was all that stood between her and a fate that no woman should be subjected to. I don't know except that I wanted this woman for myself with a depth that I'd never before experienced. And I wanted to give myself to her more completely than I had any other woman. All too soon we were shuddering together in the throes of what the Japanese call the clouds and rain. Heaven, itself, could not be more perfect than that moment.

And, when it was finally, almost sadly, over and she lay softly panting in my arms, I realized, unquestionably and to my utter astonishment that, going against every rule I'd been taught, I'd come to love this delicate creature with all my heart.

I'd had affairs before. I'd experienced, though fleetingly and childish, what I had thought was love. None approached the feelings I found I had for this dew fresh girl; this so resilient in the face of danger young woman I had known for barely more than a day. I didn't begin to understand the why of it and I, frankly, didn't care whether I understood it or not. I just knew that for the first time in my life I was totally, hopelessly, gloriously, completely in love.

I vowed to myself that I would escape from this place with her, the IRA be damned, the Ministry be damned, and take my new found love back with me to England. I would take her away from all the pain she had known in her native land and try my best to give her half the joy that simply being with her gave me.

"Well, Mr. Steed," she sighed, her head lying upon my chest, "you've certainly made a remarkable recovery!"

"I owe it all to a wonderful nurse."

She smiled.

Remind me to be tortured more often." I replied.

She sat up suddenly and placed her fingers on my lips.

"No," she said, "don't even joke about it!"

She shook her head vehemently. "I don't ever want to see you in such pain again!"

I reached up and, gently pulling her head down, softly kissed those sweet lips once more.

"I'd gladly suffer more than that if being with you like this is the reward."

I felt myself falling into those deep emerald eyes. She again smiled down at me.

I sighed contentedly.

"This is hardly the time or place I'd had in mind for such things but there's something I must tell you."

Now her eyes were puzzled.

"When we escape this place, and I guarantee that we will escape, I want you to come to England with me. I don't know why or how it's happened," here I paused for a moment, "but I want you with me. Always."

"Steed," she said, "I owe you my life and more. There's no way I can ever repay that debt. Of course I would go with you to the ends of the earth."

I shook my head.

"No, my dear, you don't understand. It's not your gratitude I desire. It's your love."

I took her face ever so gently in my hands and looked into her still puzzled eyes.

"I'm trying to tell you I'm in love with you."

She started. Then she looked quite seriously down at me.

"Steed," she replied. "You've been through hell and you've saved me from more than hell since fate cast us together. How can you be sure of what you're feeling?"

"In the same way I'm sure that the sun will rise tomorrow. "

She shook her head. "Please understand that I'm not saying no to you. I've never felt so completely safe and trusting with a man as I do with you. I have feelings towards you that I simply cannot put into words. I will go with you and, if after this is over, you still feel for me as you say, I will gladly be yours to the end of our days."

We kissed a long, slow kiss that I wished would have never ended.

When our lips parted she looked seriously at me once more.

"Will they come for you again today?" Her voice trembled with fear.

"Probably," I admitted.

"Didn't you tell them what they wanted?"

I shook my head. "No. My aunt Maude always said I'd inherited her stubborn streak."

She dropped her head to my chest again.

"Please," she implored, "just tell them what they want so they won't hurt you any more."

"If I did that, my dear, I expect that, instead of tossing me back in here with you they'd be throwing odd bits of me into the river for the fishes. I'd much rather be in your tender care, thank you just the same."

"Why would they do that?" She questioned with exasperation in her voice. "After all you're just a smuggler. Surely they'd let you go."

I laughed.

"And I thought you said there was no way I could possibly be a smuggler!"

She raised her head and looked at me with pouting lips.

"I did. And I meant it too! No man with the background you claim to have could ever be so gallant to a perfect stranger. You are much more a story book gentleman than a story book smuggler."

I caressed the side of her face with the back of my fingers.

"Well, you're hardly a stranger any more, though I'll gladly grant you the perfect part. And if they saw through me as easily as you do I'd definitely be in hot water."

"I knew it," she exclaimed with child like glee. "Who are you, really, Steed?"

"Shhh…" I placed my fingers on her lips. "There might be ears about."

She tossed her head in the direction of the other prisoners.

"They can't hear us. At least they can't hear us now."

She smiled a sinfully decadent smile that made me break into a grin as well. We had, indeed, had a tendency to be a bit noisy during our love making.

"You have a point," I acknowledged. "Plus I haven't seen any possible hiding places for microphones in this small cell. The bedrock would show markings that couldn't be hidden if wires had ever been run into here. And I feel fairly confident that you aren't wearing a microphone!"

She pinched me in the ribs, but carefully, so as not to bruise my already bruised flesh.

I looked at her steadily for a long moment, trying to decide.

She leaned down and gently kissed me. I sighed in surrender. There was simply no way I could lie to this woman I so suddenly come to love.

"Let's just say I am a minor employee of Her Majesty's Government."

Her eyes grew wide and her eyebrows arched up while her beautiful lips circled into an "O" of surprise as her jaw fell open.

"This is my first field mission for the Ministry." I admitted. "I'm here to find out the identity of the mastermind behind the IRA's Belfast operations."

She gave a small, sharp gasp.

"You mean you're fighting against these people?"

"Trying to fight. Though I don't seem to be doing very well at the moment." I stretched my still aching muscles. "Time to change that."

Heather looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face.

"Much as I hate to ask this, would you please hand me my trousers?"

Reluctantly we dressed. I fished a couple of the coins out of my trousers pocket and verified they were minted in 1939. I then pressed and twisted at just the right places, popped each of the coins apart, and, voila, out slipped the thin, diamond coated wire, each end firmly attached to one half of the coin in which it had been hidden. Heather's puzzled look was replaced by one of astonishment.

"I've enjoyed myself immensely but it's time we were bidding our hosts adieu. Besides," I nodded towards our little cot. "I think we could use a larger bed."

In a moment we were cutting through the bars.

I would have picked the lock but it was such an old and large one that my picks, made for smaller, more modern locks than these ancient relics, would have been quite useless.

The wires were surprisingly silent in their efficient operation so that none of the other prisoners were even aware we were attempting to escape until, hand in hand, we strolled past their cells. There were a nice mixture of exclamations, curses, and pleas for release when we were seen. Under normal circumstances I would have freed most, if not all of them. Heather's presence made such actions impractical.

I had noted upon my more lucid trips down the passageway that there were no cameras present that could have alerted our captors to our newly regained freedom. I was fairly certain that no similar electronic obstacles stood in our path until we might reach the upper floors. I was not so sure about the human obstacles.

We tripped the mechanism that opened the disguised doorway and, keeping to the shadows as much as possible, made our way to the stairwell. To my surprise, no guards were evident. Apparently the cells were considered to be far more secure than they had turned out to be, thankfully, in our case.

We made our way silently and cautiously up the dark stairwell. We were going around the last turn when I heard humming from above. I glanced at Heather and smiled.

"Stay here," I mouthed to her. She shook her head in acknowledgment.

I crept up the stairway and cautiously peeked around the corner.

A guard stood with his back to the wall some ten feet down the corridor. He was humming tunelessly. He had a machine pistol looped by a leather sling over one shoulder. There was an American Army forty-five heavy in a holster at his waist. The hallway, unfortunately, was well lit. He was fortunately looking away from my direction at that moment. Once I saw his head beginning to turn towards me, I quickly, but silently, slipped out of his line of sight then back down the stairs. I motioned to Heather and we moved back down one more flight of stairs.

"We've got a small problem," I whispered.

I explained the situation. There was no way we were going to be able to catch the guard unawares. I did, however, have an idea.

"That's so outrageous it might actually work," was Heather's comment once she heard my proposition.

I removed my jacket then my turtleneck and we tore several strips from its long shirt tail. Heather removed my winter coat, which she had been wearing. I proceeded to tie her hands and ankles with the strips of cloth. Once she was seemingly securely tied, I put the turtleneck and jacket back on then shrugged into the winter coat.

"Here goes nothing," I said giving her a brief kiss before I tied one of the strips around her mouth to serve as a gag. I lifted her easily into my arms.

Then I began bounding up the stairs shouting out "O'Hara, O'Hara, I've got her!" over and over again as I did so.

When we reached the top of the stairs the guard, with a puzzled look on his face was standing in the middle of the hallway. He had us covered with the machine pistol.

"What the Hell is going on?" he demanded, watching us warily.

"Aren't you O'Hara?" I replied.

"O'Hara?"

"Yes, you idiot! O'Hara! He was supposed to be on guard when I got the girl!"

"What girl?"

"This girl, you moron! Here, hold her and I'll explain."

With that I literally tossed Heather into the befuddled guard's arms. The machine pistol dropped from his hands to dangle, swaying, at the end of its sling as he caught her.

"What should I do with her?" he asked, totally confused.

"Just hold her a moment and I'll explain everything." I said.

He did so. Why not? She was, after all, a very nice package, indeed, to hold.

With that I hit him flush on the jaw with a right cross that might have felled an ox.

As he collapsed, unconscious, I nimbly plucked Heather from his arms. I was grinning as I untied her. She only shook her head in amazement.

"Always do the unexpected, my dear. Always do the unexpected."

In moments she was wrapped in my overcoat again. But now she had the machine pistol's sling over her shoulder. She handled the weapon, I noted approvingly, with some familiarity. She thumbed the safety off and held her trigger finger, as one is supposed to do, on, but not within, the trigger guard. I was pleased, since time was of the essence, that it wasn't going to be necessary to brief her on how to actually use the weapon. No doubt her time with the IRA had been at least partially spent in training with various guns.

I tied and gagged the senseless guard with the strips we had used on Heather, then pulled his unconscious form down the stairwell two flights. Hopefully he wouldn't be found for some time.

I relieved him of his forty-five, its belt and holster. The belt, I was pleased to note, held a couple of extra fully loaded clips in a snap-over compartment next to the holster. They might be needed. The forty-five's kick would undoubtedly be more than Heather could have controlled easily and the machine pistol, a much smaller caliber weapon, would be far more reasonable in its recoil.

We had now become a force to be reckoned with.

We continued cautiously up the wider set of stairs.

I had kept a close lookout for electronic monitoring devices and my diligence was soon rewarded when, coming around the last bend in the stairwell, I noted a surveillance camera mounted above us in such a way as to monitor traffic coming to and from the stairway.

I nudged Heather and indicated the camera. It was rather a bulky affair and its mounting was an immobile one. Fortunately it was facing the main hallway and there was a door on a side corridor that might allow us to bypass its unblinking eye entirely. I had Heather wait while I made sure no human guards were lurking down the short side corridor that the camera was not facing. The hallway was empty and I motioned for her to join me.

I eased around the corner, reached over, and tried the door handle. It turned. I cracked the door open and glanced into the room. It was dimly lit by a small wattage lamp on the far side that sat on a large wooden desk. There appeared to be no one present but, more importantly, there was another door dimly visible behind the desk. Hopefully it would not simply lead to a closet. I slipped into the room and Heather followed closely behind. I had taken perhaps a couple of steps further when a familiar voice from across the way halted me.

"Ah, Mr. Steed," it said. "How fortunate!" Too late I saw a glimmer of metal in the shadows behind the desk, and the tall form standing in the near darkness.

Scar face continued with a shrug, "I see you're an early riser like myself. Welcome to my office. I was just about to come down to fetch you. And the young lady. You've saved me the trouble. Now please be so kind as to place your weapons on the floor and kick them to one side before something happens that we both would regret. You'll get them back in a moment, but first I need to tell you…."

At this point Heather suddenly broke past me, dashing to my left. I saw the metallic shape in scar face's hand turn to follow her movement.

"No!" I shouted in horror, as much at Heather as at the scarred man. The forty-five in my hand bucked twice before the man could fire. The bullets turned him first right then left as they slammed into his chest. The gun he was holding clattered against the floor as the shock of the impacts knocked it from his hand. He slumped back against the wall and leaned there for a moment. In the dim light I could see twin pools of darkness spreading quickly over his shirt. He looked at me with an odd expression on his face.

"Welcome to the Emerald Isle." He finished. Somehow he managed a crooked smile.

I stood riveted to the floor in shock.

"So it was you." I turned as in a dream to see Heather speaking.

"I thought it might be but I wasn't sure until now. I'll bet you'd rather be playing golf in Scotland at this moment. Right?"

I looked dumbly at her, hearing but not truly understanding her words. They seemed to be coming from a place far, far from me.

"You know the penalty for traitors to our cause." Her voice was colder than the December weather outside.

"You?" scar face managed to say. Blood trickled out one corner of his mouth. The word somehow contained enormous incredulity.

"You!" he repeated.

There was a flash from Heather's hand. I never really heard the report.

A small hole suddenly appeared in scar face's forehead and the wall behind his head was splattered with brain tissue and bone.

He slid, lifeless, to the floor.

I turned incredulously towards Heather. There was another flash at her hand. I felt the bullet tear into my left side. It spun me around and down into darkness….

I was dreaming. The dreams were bad. Someone was shooting at me. I couldn't seem to move my feet or body except in the slowest of slow underwater like motions. I could see the bullets twirling towards me. It was like the air itself was suddenly thick so that the bullets had to dig their way through it. They were slowed but they were not stopping as they bored steadily towards my helpless body. I opened my mouth to scream….

I woke to someone slapping my face. Their fingers were long, slender and perfectly manicured. Like a pianists fingers I thought just before the back of the hand hit me again. My head turned violently to one side and bits of blood and spittle flew from my mouth. My eyes blinked several times and suddenly I could see and hear again.

"He's awake." I heard the slim man say in his monotone voice.

I was seated in a plush leather chair behind a large oak desk. There were papers on the desk. Beside the papers were the meager contents of my pockets; a half dozen coins and my fountain pen. The slim man was on one side of me and a man I recognized as one of the burly guards on the other. They both were armed with machine pistols.

My left side hurt like hell. I was dimly aware that it had been taped and bandaged.

A window was open to my left and noon day light poured in. I blinked as my eyes recoiled against the brightness.

Across the desk, seated on an equally plush leather sofa was Heather. The machine pistol we had taken earlier lay on the sofa beside her. She was wearing a knee length dress of emerald green and hose that was the palest of greens. Her hair had been made up, it was flipped up at and below her shoulders, and she had on a very light pink lipstick. She was casually buffing her nails. She blew on them and looked up at me with a stranger's eyes.

"Hello Steed." She said. "You've been out for a couple of hours."

She smoothed a non-existent wrinkle on the dress where her legs were crossed.

"Just long enough for me to get cleaned up. I'm finally starting to feel human again."

She took a deep breath then sighed contentedly.

I stared at her, beginning to understand and not wanting to.

I started counting my breaths.

"Well you were sent to find the mastermind behind the Belfast IRA. And you have."

She paused a long moment then spread her hands apart.

"Here I am, you British pig."

Her laughter was far worse than all the electric shocks that had been administered to me on the previous day.

"What's this? You actually seem surprised. You said it yourself; always do the unexpected. Even you English bastards have a woman as Queen! We women can do jobs you men could never manage, as you, of all people, can certainly appreciate now."

Again, as if from some unfathomable distance bubbled the dark laughter that cut through me with knife edged sharpness.

I continued to count each breath, starting over again. One. Two….

"You poor fool. Do you think that simply because I was willing to have sex with you I could ever love one of you twits? I'd sleep with the Prime Minister himself if it would help my country's cause!"

Three…. Four….

"I thought when you first appeared in Belfast, that there was something wrong about you. You were tough enough, dirty enough, ruthless enough, but there always seemed to be a bit of unseemly polish about you; something of a gentleman lurking just below the surface that simply didn't ring true. I decided to see how you would react to a poor, defenseless woman being tossed in among men who had been reduced to savages. A little play acting on my part and you took the bait like some stupid trout. When you didn't rape me I knew you were a fake and a spy. But I also had suspected there was a mole among the underlings. I keep my distance from the rank and file as it were. The less parties who know my face or my true position the better. I felt sure we could get the mole to show his hand if we pushed you hard enough. And you came through far better than I could have hoped. You were even kind enough to shoot the son of a bitch for me! Oh, I finished him off but he was already dead on his feet thanks to you. Excellent shooting I must say. You English can be most efficient at killing innocents."

I stared silently. What she was saying was true. That was the worst of it.

"What I told you about my father and brother was true. What I didn't tell you was that you bastards also killed my husband."

Now steel crept into her eyes and her voice.

"I'll never rest until you British scum are out of my country and sent packing back to your shitty Commonwealth with your tails tucked between your legs."

She was trembling with emotion. She consciously took a very deep breath. I could see her relax again, become something like the woman I thought I had known.

I counted and searched for calm within the storm of my emotions.

"Now you have a part to play, in turn, for me. Before you is a neatly worded confession. It points to the British secret service as the perpetrator of a number of illegalities in Northern Ireland. Some of them are even true, such as the sale of heroin and the like, with which you were directly involved. The others, if not exactly true, are what you pigs would do if you felt you could get away with it."

She paused and looked intently at me. I wondered if I had ever really seen her face before now. It was somehow all hard angles in the sharp light.

"I'm going to have you hung from a lamp post later this evening. The only question is whether you will already be dead or not when we hang you. Sign the papers and I'll have you killed quickly and painlessly. Don't sign and, well, we have many more methods available in the basement to convince you of the errors of your ways. And, if you are still as stubborn as your Aunt Maude, we'll just forge your signature and hang your gutted body anyway."

She smiled and spread her hands again.

"There you have it, Steed. What is it to be?"

I stared back at her for a moment then slowly nodded my head. My throat was too knotted to attempt to speak. My stomach felt as if the thin man and his companion had been kicking me the entire time I was unconscious.

I reached for my fountain pen. My hand was steady as my counting.

"That's a good boy, Steed. I'll remember you fondly."

Her chuckle was far worse than the hum of the electricity as the voltages were increased.

I uncapped the pen.

My breath reached ten and I started the count over. Everything was flowing almost in slow motion around me.

On two I took and held a deep breath.

I twisted the pen and, as it hissed almost noiselessly, fell over onto the desk.

As I had expected, the thin man and his cohort leaned over me to see what was wrong.

The gas knocked them out almost immediately.

As the thin man was still falling I pulled the machine pistol from his grasp and dove to my right side. I didn't think I could remain conscious had I fallen on my left side.

Heather was already standing. She had the gun in one hand and was raising it.

"Don't!" I managed to shout as I struck the floor and skidded across it. My side was molten agony. I used the pain to retain consciousness.

Three, I counted to myself.

There was nothing but hate in her eyes, her sweet lips curled in a sneer of animal anger.

She raised the weapon towards me. I saw the first flash.

Four. My mind was truly like a mirror. It reflected all the thoughts that were rising, unbidden from my deepest, most hidden depths, like the weapon in my hand was rising, and held to none of them.

Five. I felt the machine pistol buck. It was, as I had feared, on full automatic. I had wanted to fire only once to wound. Instead nearly a dozen shots rattled off.

Heather's green dress blossomed crimson.

The gun in her hand continued to flash and I watched dispassionately as bullets stitched their way over the floor towards me.

Six. And the splinters from the floor rained across me.

I watched her fall against the couch. She rolled slowly to the floor. Her hair spun like fine spider webs holding morning dew against the sun. It was auburn I saw in the noon day light; a fine, beautiful spray of auburn.

Seven. And she rolled to a stop so that her eyes looked into mine.

We lay there staring at one another.

I love you, I thought. And felt the mirror burst.

I realized that she was no longer staring at me, but at infinity.

Slowly I struggled to my feet. I placed one hand on top of the desk and willed myself to stand in spite of the pain.

The gun, I suddenly realized, was still in my other hand.

With a curse that was more a cry of pain than anything else I threw the damned thing through the window. My hand, where it had been holding the gun's pistol grip, felt incredibly filthy. Guns, I had discovered, kill all too easily.

I took a shuddering, deep breath. I did not count it. Not any more. There was no need.

There was a phone on the desk I noted. I picked up the receiver and held it to my ear. I heard dial tone. I spun the dial with my forefinger. There was a nice series of clicking, whirring sounds. The other end was picked up on the third ring.

I spoke.

From a great distance, they answered.

I placed the receiver down on its side on the desk so that the call could be traced. It would take some time.

I checked the bandage. It was a good one. I would be able to wait for them to come for me without losing too much blood. I sat back down in the leather chair and waited to see if my comrades would reach me first. The house was curiously quiet now. I could hear no footsteps approaching. Perhaps gunfire was the norm in this place. I didn't seem to care.

Ministry worker bees, I expected, would quickly see me back to England. As soon as possible, considering the severity of my wound, I would be debriefed. The mission, the Ministry would eventually determine, had been a success. One of our men had been lost and the IRA head was dead instead of captured, both unfortunate incidents indeed, but the mission would have been completed quite to their satisfaction.

I had done, all things considered by their reckoning, quite well.

My future with the Ministry looked bright. Was bright.

In time, the doctors would tell me, I would heal.

And they would be correct, as doctors most often are about such things.

I would, however, I decided, never be the same. I'd never allow myself to make such stupid mistakes again. I'd never open myself so completely to anyone again.

Never again.

I had stopped counting my breaths. I considered, instead, how I would scar.

I waited.

The mirror to my soul had been broken somewhere just outside Belfast. I would look at the shattered pieces from time to time, but never at the reflections that would always be lurking in those shards.

Never again.

Never.


- Jones, 28 May 2003

 
©  W.S. Jones, Jr. - 28 May 2003
No aspect of this story may be used elsewhere without the expressed prior written consent of the author. These stories may not be altered in any way or sold; all copyright information must appear with this work at all times. Please read disclaimers and warnings on top of each story. Feel free to send constructive comments to the author.. :o)  

 
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