The Parcel
  by Mona Morstein

Author's warning: Mona Morstein adamantly states that any reader MUST be over 18 years old to read her stories and if someone DOES read her story they are agreeing to that point and ARE over 18. If you ARE over 18, ENJOY; if you are NOT, then
other authors have stories you can read and enjoy.

Steed didn't understand how things had spun out of control so wildly in the last couple of weeks. To stave off the black panic lurking at the back of his mind Steed stringently focused on his situation. The fact that George was dead leapt foremost to his awareness but added so much extra pain to his soul that he cringed and went on to other contemplations. He recapped the immediate events: he was captured by an unknown Russian, and no one knew where he was. Purdey was captured as well. The Russian also had Amy somewhere. They would be returning to interrogate him on the whereabouts of the microfilm containers, or, perhaps, since they might be aware that Steed held many other Top Level state secrets regarding innumerable aspects of British security, they would ask him to disseminate upon a realm of topics. And from the hook, the truncheon and the cattle prod, it was clear they had every intention of being persuasive in their inquiries.

A wave of anxiety passed through Steed at the thought of the cattle prod. It was all so like Nee San; where so much of his life had changed, where he had so changed. Li Ming, had she been the last person Steed had actually confessed he cared greatly about? --Li Ming, who had kissed him so softly in response to his admittance, a tear falling down her cheek, and who had a second later watched unperturbed as the Chinese authorities burst in the door to her bedroom and dragged him away. Taken him far from her, she who had betrayed him, far from anyone, to Nee San, in the remote and lonely lands of Manchuria. To a cell, with a small window, and then to the box, dark and cramped and filthy. And endless, endless pain.

And afterwards, after his return to England and his long convalescence, how he had swore to himself that that would never happen to him again. Steed had thought he had referred to never being brutalized again; now, looking back at his life since then, perhaps he had swore to himself more than he had intended to. Had sworn to not repeat his mistake with Li Ming… and he hadn't. Hadn't cared for anyone aside from himself, for years.

He had return to an old training regimen he had kept in his twenties, guaranteed to make him fit and strong and quick, with lightening reflexes, proficient with sword, fist, foot, bow and arrow, handgun and rifle. And he had turned rather hard, ruthless, cunning, and violent, and had stayed that way for quite a long while. Until by chance he had engaged the wary Mrs. Gale to partner with him. Surprising to them both, her morals and ethics had launched the catalyst of change within him, and slowly he had been able to recover his true nature. That of a gentleman, English born and bred.

And through it all he had maintained his training schedule, so secret and private that not one of his acquaintances or fellow agents even really knew about it. He never frequented the Ministry gyms, but, for the last thirteen years trained at Hal Anderson's estate; three or four times a week, he was there for several hours. Oftentimes he went at night, when his dreams awoke him, and their content drove him out of bed to train ensuring his dreams never again became his reality. Only those who had seen his body, still muscular and strong even in his middle-age would know that he was not actually the lazy man about town persona he cultivated. Even when he was with Emma Peel, who had so captivated him he could not help but fall desperately for her, he had maintained both his silence regarding allowing the depth of his feeling for her to be spoken, and his training regimen, protecting himself from ever being so badly hurt again.

It had worked for fifteen years. For fifteen years he had never been captured and badly beaten or… tortured. Steed had avoided that terrifying word, but suddenly there it was, openly in his mind. His heart sped up considerably, and his body instinctively reacted by laboring against the ropes; his wrist screamed at the effort, and a small cry burst from Steed. With it came the brief thought that he had not escaped emotional pain as well as he had physical… but the thought of Emma faded from his mind as this present urgency claimed his attention.

Fifteen years he had escaped this, and now, to be here in Britain, Britain! not some enemy country, facing this again… it was ludicrous. For all the times in the years since Nee San he had snuck about the other side, oh, having an injury or two, sure, but never subjected to this, never this, not for all those years. He had thought this threat was all over, had never believed it would happen again. He was a good agent, an excellent agent, he knew how to avoid this, knew how to take care of himself… how had his life come to this? How had things spun so dreadfully out of control?

To go through this in Britain, this wonderful island, his haven, his home.
He didn't want to be here.

He should have called the Colonel earlier. Maybe Purdey had called for the reserves before she was captured; it hadn't been fifteen minutes, but, maybe she called anyway… Maybe before it began, Ministry agents would arrive. There was that slim hope…

What had happened? He had just given his brother a set of picks; he had done nothing else wrong. All that had happened had been out of his control, he was not responsible. He was not at fault. Except for one thing --if he had told his brother he had loved him, and kept the picks… But, he hadn't been able to. After all, Steed consoled himself, he was English, he wasn't expected to say such sentimental tripe. Really, who would expect him to? It just wasn't done. It just wasn't his fault.

Steed opened his eyes and felt that he was drowning in the black air. He closed his lids again, and continued his urgent ruminations. They would come back and question him. He had to remain silent, had to keep his secrets; so many lives depended on his silence. He had to act like Purdey and Amy were unimportant to him, so that they wouldn't be hurt to convince him to divulge information. If they hurt Purdey or Amy and he was helpless to prevent or stop it… Steed didn't know what he would do then. He had confidence he could hold out against… whatever they did…a long time, and then, if he had to speak, if he had to make them stop, he would lie. Give false information, prevaricate, lead them astray. Yet, the cattle prod worried him a great deal… electricity… Nee San… it could be so very unbearable. And to tell the truth Steed dreaded the beatings not so much for the pain, which he knew he had been trained very well to handle, but the consequences of the beatings. What could be broken in five minutes could take five months to heal, with so much work and rehabilitation needed. He was tired of having to heal. Had done too much healing in his life already.

It was bad; the whole situation was bad. Steed's mind took a detour from reality. Maybe it was just a dream. Maybe it wasn't real. Maybe it wasn't really his life, that he wasn't really here. Maybe it was just an appalling, dreadful dream. Steed kept his eyes closed and put himself back on his horse, riding through the summer fields of England, and he thought, I'm there on Napoleon. I'm there on a warm and sunny day, leaping over hedges. I'm not in a cell. I'm not really here. This is not really happening. This is not my life.

Frankie had a long talk with Mr. Smith in the living room on the first floor of the house. Mr. Smith was passed the point of thinking anything would go smoothly ever again. He had ordered Frankie to drop the four dead bodies of his gang down the ventilation shaft and then rock the entrance up. He assured Frankie that he would give him and his remaining men enough money to set up new lives in any other town in Great Britain; therefore, none of them would have to return to London and face their acquaintances, explaining the lack of return of the others, and creating the inevitable police inquiries. Frankie, knowing there was no alternative, had taken the other five men-- who had been standing in the hallway listening to the two of them converse--aside and after conferring with them, had returned to his seat next to his boss and agreed. He had then rubbed his jaw and assured Mr. Smith that he had no compunction at all about doing whatever Mr. Smith wanted him to do to Steed. At those words, Tony had excused himself and gone outside. No one had noticed.

Kasakov was getting more desperate; he was almost at the end of his available funds. He needed some tangible information to send to Russia. He had held off alerting them to the fact that he had captured a British agent and was about to initiate techniques to extract valuable data. Russia might certainly disagree with such actions on the agent's own homeland. They would no doubt fear that if they were uncovered, Britain would strike such an offensive backlash against the Russian agents in their country that their whole operation would be at risk. So, he was here alone with these English hooligans. He knew that whatever happened, he would have to kill Steed; he could not let him go free and report Kasakov to his own superiors or Dmitri's. However, the woman would never see him, he would assure that, so she would, of course, be released unharmed.

Kasakov's heart was racing irregularly, and a certain heaviness oppressed his chest. For the first time he wondered if he should seek medical aid. But he believed that when this was all over, and he had sent valuable information to Russia, and he was once more comfortably ensconced in the grocery, his heart would relax with the rest of him. He was loathe to notify Russia he had a disability, yet Kasakov had a growing apprehension about the actual state of his heart. It was growing more erratic.

Still first things first. He stood up and motioned for Frankie to follow him, which the man did eagerly, rubbing his hands together. A few of the other men came as well, equally upset at Steed for murdering their mates. If Dmitri had had more time, he would have used drugs on Steed, sleep deprivation, such techniques as that. But he wanted information now, and from his expertise of interrogating prisoners, the employment of barbaric violence was the quickest and easiest way to proceed. It was truly the who rare man could withstand terrible pain, and working with drugs took time and a fine touch. Dosages were so erratic, for one thing; knowing how much to give was a fine art, and people could have bad reactions to them. He would have had to hire a physician to administer the drug. No, no, Dmitri would have sure success with a savage physical attack on Steed. He could die, but Dmitri had every intention of killing him anyway, so that was not a threat unless he died too early. That would put a decided crimp in Dmitri's personal salvation with Russia. But, from what Frankie reported about his body, Steed was in good shape; he should live long enough to tell some important tales.

Smith, Frankie and the others descended the stairs to the cells below them, having work to do.

Purdey sat in the chair of her cell. All in all, she had to admit that she had been very well treated, surprisingly so, in fact. She had been given sheets, pillow and a blanket for her cot, and had been served quite palatable food for supper last night and breakfast this morning, which she had forced herself to eat though she had not been particularly hunger. Worry always made her loose her appetite. She had been taken to the bathroom down the hall to wash up last night and for her morning ablutions, and some man checked in with her every several hours to make sure she didn't need to use the facilities for the typical other reasons one entered such a room. They had even brought her a couple of books, Dickens' Pickwick Papers and an anthology of classical poetry, of all unusual things for vicious criminals to have laying about their hide-away.

She hadn't been able to read them. She couldn't get her mind off Steed; off his tragic and horrid loss of his brother, and of his own dangerous situation. She had waited at the car as Steed had instructed her to do, and so hadn't called for back-up before she had been very surprised to find herself surrounded by armed men, hooded, and captured. She hoped Steed had gotten away. It made her very fidgety to wonder if he had not. If he hadn't, then he was here, in Wales, in this house, at the mercy of these men, and no one knew where they were; they, particularly Steed, were on their own. Bloody Gambit and his stupid parachute antics! Just when the man was actually needed, he breaks a leg.

Purdey imagined that if the idiots had killed the wrong man, Steed's brother, it only made sense that they would try to pry from Steed the same information, figuring that Steed's brother would have told Steed all he knew. But Purdey wasn't sure that Steed did know, though even if he did, he'd never surrender those security secrets. Even if they hurt him, badly, which Purdey had every belief they would if they captured him. So she just had to assure herself that Steed would not be captured, that he would get away, as he always did, that he had already escaped, and had called for "the reserves" as he termed them. She just had to overcome her interminable boredom and wait for him to casually open up her cell door, smile and lift his bowler in greeting, and take her hand in his as he liberated her and ushered her out of this hideous house, driving her all the way back to his home and bedroom, so that there they could make each other moan in pleasure and forget this dreadful experience.

Purdey knew she had lost herself in affection for Steed much more than she should have, but she hadn't been able to stop her regard and respect for the man from growing into blatant sexual attraction, and then… well, was it love? If not, it was very, very close. He was almost twenty years older than her, yes, but he was such…a good man. Noble, strong, amiable, patient, intelligent, witty, astute, mysterious, silent, wise. Combined with his still ravishing good looks; his lean, muscular body--covered in scars he never talked about; his enjoyment of many cultural events from ballet, the symphony, opera, polo; and his plainly evident esteem of and fondness for Purdey, she had found herself head over heels about him after their first few months together. It had taken quite a bit of effort on her part, more effort than she had ever before had to expend on a man, more than she ever thought she would have had to expend on a man, to have him acquiesce to become her lover. It was not that he had not been attracted to her, he had, but, perhaps his age had inhibited him, or perhaps he had thought it not a good idea to become more than a friend with another partner, or most likely his reticence was due to his fear of hurting her…whatever the reason, it had been work, fun work, on her part to wear him down, and make him understand she understood everything, and still wanted to rise above a purely platonic relationship. Although Steed invited her to dinner and cultural events regularly, even now she was still the one who usually had to instigate sex, although Steed responded energetically once he assented.

Purdey knew that nothing permanent would ever come of it; knew like everyone else that in his heart, there was only one woman, that old colleague… But he never spoke about her either, his other scar, and no one, no one ever brought it up. Least of all Purdey, who was just happy with her life for the moment, happy to be partnered with the England's best agent, happy to spend whatever time with Steed she did during or after working hours, happy when he smiled at her, happy when he invited her to picnic with him, happy when he touched her, when he held her so tightly in bed and made her quiver with bliss. It did not detract from her ability to think herself very lucky indeed for knowing him to be resigned to the fact that Steed would never truly be hers; in fact, she knew she wasn't his only lover now. Though Purdey was not really committed to monogamy herself. It was enough, she sighed, to be Steed's valued partner and an occasional lover and know that Steed cared for her deeply, and considered her to be a very dear friend, whom he trusted with his life. It was an honor to be considered thusly, and a rare one, and she knew it. One day, no doubt, it would end, but until then, Purdey was happy with the status quo.

Purdey lost herself in those thoughts, and she closed her eyes and found herself slipping her hand into Steed's and taking him through the beaded curtain in her flat that lead into her bedroom. She suddenly felt pleasant and warm, and settled down into the chair smiling as Steed held her face so gently and smiling, so often smiling, bent over and kissed her lips…

And then Purdey heard the yell. A yell of pure, unmitigated pain. Her eyes flew open and she shot out of her chair to the wall against which her cot lay, placing her hands against the cold cement blocks. She felt hollow inside and froze in anguish, and her delightful daydream of a moment ago vanished into harsh reality. Dear God, Purdey thought, That had sounded like Steed… She was sure it had been Steed. Oh, dear God, they had captured Steed. What would they do to him? Oh, God, Steed.

Frankie, Kasakov, and two other men had come into Steed's cell turning on the light; the harsh illumination from the uncovered bulb bothered his eyes, and Steed tilted his head to his chest until his pupils regulated. Then he lifted his head up and began a schizophrenic disconnection between his words and his emotions, the former to hide his fear, the latter proving it.

"Good day, gentleman," he said. This is not happening. "Do you mind telling me what I'm doing here?"

Steed hadn't expected the rapid use of the cattle prod; it took him completely off guard, and he had no time to prepare himself to deal with it staidly. The new man, one he hadn't seen before, short, portly and greying, Steed understood to be the Russian. He stood directly in front of Steed and the man Steed had punched earlier suddenly stepped around him thrusting the prod into Steed's lower chest, holding it there a few seconds. "Enjoy, you bastard," he said.

The electrical charge was brutal, awful, and Steed's whole body spasmed inwardly as the current surged through-out his abdomen. He could not prevent himself from loudly crying out. When the prod was removed it took tremendous effort to recover his breath, and Steed shook from the shock and the pain. Panic erupted inside him as a light film of perspiration came out on his skin. To regain control of himself Steed forced his eyes to regard the Russian and his tormentor, and he smiled.

"I don't believe we've been properly introduced, and one must follow the forms," he gasped. "Steed. John Steed. And you two are…?"
The Russian stared at him with feral eyes. He pointed to himself, "Smith" he said, and then at Frankie "Jones."
"Well, what you lack in originality, it seems you more than make up for in nastiness." Steed was slowing his shaking a little, even though he noticed Jones picking up the truncheon in his right hand, transferring the prod to his left. This is just a dream.

The Russian pulled up a chair and sat next to Steed on his left, speaking to the side of his head. "Let us, as the Americans say, cut to the chase. This can be easy for you or very, very hard. It is solely up to you."
"Not solely," Steed corrected. I am not here.
"Where are the microfilm containers?"
"What microfilm containers?" This time he was not taken by surprise; he saw Frankie's arm raise and flash down landing the club with all his force on Steed's upper chest. Steed's tightly closed his eyes upon the shock of the blow and kept them closed as the truncheon impacted twice more, on a thigh and on top of his collar bone. This is not happening to me. When he reopened his eyes he could already see solid thick bruises on his skin.

"Smart," Steed said, hoarsely, "using the rubber truncheon. Very apt for producing pain, yet so helpful in preventing those annoying broken bones."
"One of the man saw your brother give you something small in your hand; some microfilm, no doubt. It was not on you when you were brought here. Where did you hide it?"
"It wasn't microfilm. It was a piece of candy. Peppermint. I ate it, although I prefer butterscotch." One of the other men punched him forcefully in his nose and his head flew as far back as it could go. This is a dream. Slowly Steed returned his head forward.

"How much longer do you think you can be so flippant?" Smith growled at him.
Steed considered the question for a moment, as a line of blood flowed down to his mouth. No need to answer quickly and be faced with another inquiry requiring more pertinent details. "Well," Steed drawled, "I'm forty-eight now…at least till I'm seventy-five I should think. Then I have plans to become much more somber."
"I think you shall become somber much sooner than that. Where is the microfilm?"
"Sorry, I can't help you there." Steed saw Jones lift the truncheon again, evil malice deforming his face. This is not my life. I am not here… The truncheon came down. And down again. It was terrible pain, sharp, deep, acute, and Steed realized in despair his little mental games were useless --he was here, it was happening, this was his life.

The session went on for hours, until evening, although the blows and cattle prodding greatly lessened in frequency as the day wore on and Steed could not hear the questions over the pulsations of pain wracking his body. His skin became imprinted with enough bruises he looked like some hideous blue leopard. Frankie and the other men had used punches for awhile on Steed's face; his left eye was completely swollen shut and the left side of his mouth was grossly enlarged as well. It made it difficult to talk, to form words, so Smith had curtailed those beatings.

It had only taken a couple of hours for Steed's hands and arms to lose feeling and for all four of his limbs to demand to be released from the strong ropes holding him. Throughout the blows, themselves excruciating, Steed had focused on continually tightening and loosening his muscles, to keep the blood flowing and stop spasms from developing which would that aggravate his physical distress. His tormentors after awhile noticed his attempts to stave off worsening nerve and circulation occlusions and muscle contractions, and took to hitting him on the muscle group that he was involved in tightening and loosening. Steed was therefore forced to give up those efforts entirely. As the hours wore on and the blows weakened him further, Steed's confinement progressed to the point that it was almost impossible for him to alleviate his stationary discomfort; bodily movement was restricted by the pain of the bruises and the settled numbness of his limbs. Remaining in the chair became unbearable at times. Steed could feel his body desperate for the sheer necessity of movement, to stretch, straighten out, lengthen, get out of the too small box…

Kasakov tried many different techniques on Steed; repeating the same question over and over; demanding Steed tell the story of what happened over and over; yelling at Steed in anger; trying to confuse Steed into relaying information erroneously; trying to ensure Steed that just one little piece of information would stop the beatings, give him some rest, allow him some water, release him from the chair… and they had all failed. Kasakov even threatened to injure the woman, Purdey, or his sister-in-law if he didn't talk.

"Don' care," Steed said, his head hanging low, blood falling in slow drips from his face onto his lap. His head was too heavy to hold up all the time. He was so thirsty his tongue felt like wood.
"I don't believe you," the Russian had answered. "Shall I call your bluff and bring the woman in?"

Steed did not react to his words, but realized Smith had made a mistake. Smith had told him Purdey was here, in the house, and was so far all right. It was information that strengthened him. Meant there was a good chance Amy was sound as well.
"Go 'head," he said, praying it was a bluff.

But Smith didn't bring Purdey in; another mistake. It meant Smith no doubt wouldn't really hurt Purdey. Steed breathed a sigh of relief. It was just him, then. If he could last until he was rescued, somehow, by someone, or until he died, which seemed to him the true, inevitable conclusion he was growing to accept… if he could just keep quiet… not say anything… but it was getting so hard… needed them to stop… stop the pain… let him out of the chair… no… no… he'd float his mind out of the cell…leave the box… take himself to his horses… he was cantering on his horses…"AH!" Steed let his mind wander as he was pushed to the edge of consciousness by another blow, letting his brain decide on its own where it would go if he was free…and the image of a certain auburn-haired beauty appeared in his vision… Emma… Are you sleeping?… Are you calling out my name?…

"Tell me of your networks," Smith demanded, poking Steed into awareness.
Steed felt himself drawn back to the cell. "BBC 1 or 2?" Steed asked, the image disappearing, being replaced with steely eyed men and his gravely wounded body. "Mind you, I don' watch much tel'vision." No microfilm. There's no microfilm. Don't say anything. Don't say anything.

The cattle prod. Steed screamed as his muscles contracted. When the awful device was removed, the muscles continued spasming for another minute or two. "Ooohhh," he heard himself groan from far away. Then, recovering, he added "You know, that stings a bit." Keep quiet. Keep silent. Steed clenched his teeth as tightly as he could.
They stung him again. On his trousers over his genitals.

At nightfall they left Steed still tied to the chair. He was no longer coherent, and his head hung down far onto his chest. He was covered in bulging bruises, and where Frankie had landed more than one blow the skin had torn open releasing blood; blood splattered through some areas of his trousers. His feet were swollen from blows as well, and with one blow Steed had felt a bone snap, even from the rubber truncheon. In the early afternoon they had given Steed a little water to drink when his voice had failed him entirely, but very soon afterwards he vomited up a mouthful of blood. They waited a few minutes and gave him some more, which Steed drank avidly and did keep down, and from then on they gave him sips occasionally. Those small liquid allotments had enabled Steed to continue answering questions while he was able to retain consciousness, but hadn't helped to revive him enough to continue the interrogation by early evening when he was too injured to maintain any awareness. Nor had the shock of actually throwing water over him brought him back to lucidity. Making matters worse for Kasakov, as the day had progressed Steed had grown somewhat flushed, and by the time they left he had a fever, and a worsening cough.

Kasakov just couldn't believe that Steed had not been broken, had not begged for mercy, had not pleaded for the blows to stop. He had told Dmitri nothing. Amazing. Yet, Kasakov still had some hope; he knew that Steed's night would be tormenting. Soon his muscles, confined all day to the chair, would begin to seize up commanding their release; the pain of the contractions could wake even a dead man. He would station shifts sitting outside the door and during the night or certainly, by tomorrow morning, Steed would implore them to untie him. He looked at Steed one more time before he left; he was a mess. Blood fell from his head, nose, lips, eye, and innumerable wounds. They would probably have to beat him much less tomorrow, or they would kill him for sure before he gave Dmitri any useful information. Dmitri had to admit a certain grudging respect for the British agent; not just because he had not told any secrets, but because he had handled the day with such a reserved flair. The Englishman was a breed apart, that was sure.

But, Dmitri was unique in his own way as well, and Dmitri knew that he would definitely learn something from Steed tomorrow. Every man had his limits.
The men filed out. Kasakov closed the door, and locked it, and then turned out the light.

Chapter Fifteen

Tony had watched Frankie and Adams hurting Mr. Steed until he had grown so awfully disturbed by the sight he had had to leave and go for a walk outside. It was terrible, what they were doing to him. And it would not have been happening if Mr. Steed had shot him and Frankie. But, Mr. Steed hadn't, he had hesitated upon seeing Tony, and that had been his downfall.

Tony was not a particularly brave man. He had joined Frankie's gang not so that he could have fun terrorizing others, but so that the others would think twice about terrorizing him. Frankie had been good to him, protected him, let him be the look-out, not one of the robbers, the driver, not one of the burglars. It had worked okay, and if the gang had a fight with another gang, well, Tony had proven his worth, had joined in after Frankie had taught him how to throw a pretty mean punch. It was just that Tony was not a violent man, did not walk around so angry all the time, like Frankie and the others.

If he had just not accumulated all those gambling debts he never wouldn't have come to Wales with Frankie and the others in the first place. And he should've asked more questions. Should have asked what exactly they would be doing here. Then he could've known it'd be wrong for him to come, no matter how many pounds he'd earn. At least the woman was unharmed. She seemed a pretty capable woman, lithe and strong. Level-headed. Mr. Steed probably didn't just choose anyone for a partner. If he let her go, there would be two of them against six others. It was terrible odds. Those six were mean. But, Tony owed Mr. Steed something; for his cousin and himself. Sometimes right was right and wrong was wrong, and this whole situation was definitely wrong. If he died in his attempt to help Mr. Steed, well, his life wasn't really worth that much anyway. Even though Mr. Steed had seen some value in it.

Hours later, Tony brought Purdey her supper. He entered her cell, with two other men behind him for guard. He had convinced them that he should talk to Purdey, and maybe he could get some answers from her. When they closed the door and locked it on the two of them, Tony offered Purdey the tray and then moved to the far side of her cell, sitting down on the floor against the wall. Purdey took the food, and then put it on the cot beside her. She felt sick inside and the idea of eating was repulsive. She sat back down on her cot, her back against the wall, the wall shared by both her and Steed's cell. She had stayed there all day, not out of a morbid inclination, but because she hoped that somehow Steed would have been able to feel her presence there, her support, her prayers, and would have drawn some strength from them. And if she had been forced to plug her ears with her fingers at the first sign of Steed screaming again, she had honestly been slightly relieved when a following yell occurred; Steed's outcry at least proved he was still alive.

"Go away," Purdey said to the youth opposite her, running his hand over the cement floor, "and take your bloody food with you." Unlike Steed, Purdey was known to be more caustic with her vocabulary at times.
The lad didn't say anything; just stayed looking down at his hand.
"Are you deaf as well as horrible? Go away and leave me alone."

Tony looked up at Purdey with such grief-stricken eyes that she was taken aback. Curious, yet wary, she asked, "Well, what on earth is the matter with you, then? It's not like you're being tortured." And she choked back a sob, swearing to herself that she wouldn't weep in front of the youth.
"He's a good bloke, that Mr. Steed," Tony said.

Suddenly Purdey's heart leapt with hope. Where had that come from? Was this youth regretting being associated with the other men who were beating Steed? Did he know Steed? Could Purdey convince him to release her, and help her rescue Steed? Play it slow and cool, Purdey, she instructed herself. This may be the only way to save Steed's life.
"He's the best," she agreed.

Tony stared at her a moment more and then returned his gaze to the floor. "He saved my cousin's life, you know. Last year. Pulled him out of a fire in a warehouse."

Purdey's eyes widened briefly. She had been there; a drug warehouse. The boss deciding to burn the evidence, and whichever of his minions had been still the building when he set off the arson devices. Steed had seen a man at a window yelling for help, and to Purdey's consternation Steed had dashed into the enflamed building and, too many minutes later for Purdey's nerves, had dragged out a young man, pale and covered in smoke. Driven him home with a warning, Purdey recalled.

"I remember," she said. "I was there. The flames were consuming the warehouse."
"Yes, that was what cousin Benny said when he told the story. I met Mr. Steed at my cousin's house."

They were silent. "Mr." Steed was encouraging to Purdey.
"And the reason they captured him today was because he wouldn't shoot me, and then Frankie hit him on the head."

Typical, Purdey thought, pursing her lips at Steed's dangerous tendency to remain a gentleman even when everyone around him was a vicious bastard. She kept quiet. Let the lad think it out on his own, that made it much more powerful.

Tony lifted his head, and tears filled his eyes. "What they've done to him… God, I never imagined… It's awful… I just needed money to pay off my gambling debts or Big Rick said he'd break my arms. And he'd do it too. But, I had no idea that…this would happen…"

Purdey hadn't really heard anything else after "It's awful…" It was as if she had just blanked out, her body had become an automaton, her mind empty. Tony was astute enough to notice that.
"You care for Mr. Steed a great deal, don't you?" he asked.

Purdey nodded. If she had tried to speak she would have wept.
"If I help try to get him out of here, will you or him or someone release any criminal charges against me and give me, say, £5,000?"

Purdey's heart thrilled at his question. She stood up off the cot and crossed the room until she was kneeling next to him on the floor. "What's your name?" she asked.
"Tony," she assured him, "if you help me and Steed escape, you will be a very free and very wealthy man. I guarantee it. No Big Rick's will threaten you ever again." Purdey held out her hand to him.

Tony believed her and clasped her hand firmly. They both stood up, and Tony went to the door, banging on it. "I'll see what I can do. We don't have much time left."
The door opened and Tony surreptitiously waving to her as he departed her cell.
Purdey found herself shaking. "We don't have much time…" What had they done to Steed? What more would they do? Hurry, Tony, she prayed, if we don't have much time left…

In the after midnight hours, having been tied to the chair for eighteen hours, Steed floated in and out of delusions as his body's suffering prevented his release into full unconsciousness. Just when he would be granted the blessing of passing out, of escaping his misery, something would rise above the constant state of pain he was in, something --his wrist, his feet, his cheek, chest, shoulders…-- something would suddenly shriek out its injuries to him and jar him out of his attempts to fade away.
He could no longer really pinpoint any specific area of his body outside from those worsening shocks; it had all merged into a mass of fever, nausea, heaviness, suffering, stiffness. Everything hurt everywhere on him; throbbing, shooting, gnawing, aching, each word described his whole body. And then there was the stiffness. Stiffness enveloped him, contracting his limbs until they seemed to actually be shrinking on him, collapsing, prevented from folding up completely only by the ropes that still held him tightly. How long had he been tied to the chair? How long had they interrogated him? He had not confessed to being a spy. Had not given away any of his agents in the Orient. He was just an innocent businessman, in imports/exports, in Hong Kong to set up some new accounts… People will confirm this… Call the Embassy… Call his business in South Hampton… This is a dreadful mistake… He was not a spy… He was not a spy… He was not a spy…

Steed didn't know where he was, there in the dark. Nee San? Was that it? Had he never left Nee San? His heart leapt in fear. No, not Nee San, he remembered. Wales. He was being tortured in Wales. His brother was dead in Wales. It seemed that even through the distorted agony of his bruises, he could perceive a few wet spots on his face that he thought he had wiped off…

Steed's muscles rebelled against the abuse they had taken from the prod, the beatings and his confinement. His lower back spasmed, and that one additional insult brought tears to his eyes. Coughing aggravated his back, and he was coughing regularly, a dry hack that came from deep inside. He felt charleyhorses form in his thighs, and he was helpless to relieve them. An aching chill covered his bones, the additional dismay of being feverish; it permeated through his blood and skin, making him shiver.

Training. It's just a weak body; the strength lays in one's mind. Remove one's mind from one's body; let the body go. With great effort Steed once more pictured Napoleon, his spirited bay, but strangely he wasn't riding it. Who was on his favorite horse? No. The Commandant of Nee San, Jin Yung. Steed saw the same hatred in his eyes that had terrified him in Nee Sang and still terrified him in his dreams.

No! <"I am not a spy,"> Steed cried out in Chinese. He couldn't move, was he back in that box? That horrid box. Panic swept through Steed --I can't move, can't stretch, can't straighten out-- and in his confusion his struggled mightily against his bonds. I've got to get out of the box, escape from Nee San. He couldn't stand being in the box again. It was Steed's broken wrist that swung the pendulum into awareness again; as he desperately fought to free himself it felt like a crowbar had been shoved through those bones. For a moment he was once more cognizant of his present reality. Not Nee San. Wales. Tortured in Wales. George is dead in Wales. That realization hurt him most of all. Steed was so weak, too weak to fight it all. As the minutes wore on, each one a year, each one a decade, Steed's constricting muscles felt like they were ripping his joints from their sockets, and his mind grew confused again, splitting in an odd way. He found himself yelling for release, a part of him standing to the side watching his disgraceful exhibition, ashamed at himself for losing his calm and cool affectation. Yet he took pity on himself as well; it was terrible being in the box.

Adams, lightly snoozing on the other side of Steed's cell door, heard muffled cries penetrate the thick wooden door. Rubbing his eyes, he checked his watch, 2:00 a.m. Adams frowned, and then stood up. Opening the small viewing hole in the upper center of the door, Adams couldn't see much but could better hear Steed's frantic endeavors to break the ropes, and hear his rushed words, though he couldn't understand what Steed was saying. It was some foreign language.

Adams closed the hole and went to wake Frankie and Mr. Smith. Second night in a row he hadn't gotten good sleep. Adams was in a foul mood and hoped he could take it out on their prisoner.

Steed's cell door opened and the light came on again. He closed his right eye against the brightness, and didn't open it again until he felt his head being lifted up.
His vision was blurry, fuzzy, he couldn't combine all the images into a clear picture.
<"Let me out of the box,"> Steed begged in Chinese. <"But don't interrogate me. I am not a spy. Call the Embassy.">

Kasakov had seen this type of delirium before --an expected result of fever, beating, confinement, and a previously history of interrogation. Such a history had been evident when first he heard of Steed's scars from Frankie, and then seen them for himself. Those factors oftentimes fulminated into a confusion of this type; of being lost in a mixture of the past, which haunted the present, and the present, which was now its own future nightmare. Pity Dmitri didn't understand Chinese; he had gotten information out of other men by using their confusion of past and present against them.

<"Not a spy,>" Steed continued, his muscles obviously in spasm. Kasakov watched Steed's thigh and shoulder muscles contract in a somewhat regular pattern. <"Call my business in South Hampton.">

Dmitri nodded Frankie over to Steed's side and the man came, dumping a full glass of cold water over Steed's head. This time the shock of the freezing water had its effect and Steed's mind cleared, as did, in a minute, his vision. Dmitri could see the pupils constrict as they focused. Steed saw Smith, Jones, a fellow called Adams, and that young lad whom Steed wished he had shot.

"Welcome back, Steed," Smith said. "Would you like to be released from the chair?"
Steed, exhausted, feverish, and greatly injured, took some time to force air deep into his hacking lungs. Not Nee San. Wales. Tortured in Wales. Brother dead…The air helped him to gain a momentary clarity and he made a quick decision.
"Yes," he said.

Kasakov sat down next to Steed again. "Well, as they say, one rubs the back of the other. I will release you, for information."
"What information?" Steed asked, as a wave of dizziness crashed over him.
Dmitri hid his smile. "The microfilm your brother gave you on the road. Where is it?"

Steed waited before answering until Jin Yung's face once more dissolved into Smith's. "In the mine. Dropped it when I fell through hole. Couldn't find it with penlight. Men came. Left it there." It was a risky lie; when they didn't find the film there they would come back even more hostile. Yet it should give him a few hours of rest, should release him from the chair. Steed was frantic to be out of the chair. He had to be released from the chair. He would deal with them returning when they did.

Dmitri eyed him malevolently. "If you are lying to me, Steed, this chair will seem like a king's bed when I am through with you."
"Not lying. In mine by entrance hole. Untie me."

Smith narrowed his eyes, then stood up, and waved Frankie and Adams over. "Untie him. Put him on the mattress."

The men cut through the ropes, and then had to lift Steed up and carry him to the mattress in his seated position, his arms and legs too stiff to naturally straighten out. They dropped him onto the bare mattress on his side, and he shivered relentlessly, unable to stop moaning, unable to move his limbs. "Cover him with a blanket," Smith said.

Tony left and returned with one. He leaned over Steed, gently covering him with the wool blanket. "Just hold on," he whispered to the apparently disoriented man. The men all left on Smith's exhortation to get lamps and head into the mine right now. Again the door closed, again Steed was in the dark.

The pins and needles sensations in his limbs that proved his nerves were now free of their compression grew extreme, was unendurable, but Steed knew it would pass after a few minutes, so he clenched his teeth as hard as he could and waited. He could bear it for a few minutes. He could bear it all for just a little bit longer. He had heard the boy, and a newfound strength arose inside Steed, and a determination was renewed. The tone in the boy's voice… Steed was sure he was thinking of helping him. Perhaps if the lad could free Purdey… Steed might survive this after all. If he could keep from hallucinating. If he could stand being in the dark. If his body could live just a little bit longer. If he could just hold on.

Frankie and the two others assigned to mine duty had complained about going out in the middle of the rainy night; they wanted to get some sleep, and what could waiting five more hours hurt? Mr. Smith had grudgingly relented. When they did leave, Tony realized it would just be him, Mr. Smith, Eddie and Witney in the house. That would make it two against three, much better odds. Tony lay down on the sofa on the living room, his bed in the house, and tried to get a few more hours of sleep.

Kasakov, insomniac from anticipation, realized he was making a stupid mistake. Steed was weak and vulnerable, and had already given up some information. Now was not the time to let him rest and recover his ability to stay silent. He let Frankie, Adams and Phillips sleep; they were the most contrary and vocal, and wanted their sleep before going to look for the microfilm in the mine. Dmitri ordered Eddie and Witney to return with him to Steed's cell. Tony slept on undisturbed.

Steed's stomach shrank as he heard the door being opened, and saw the light flick on. How long had it been? Minutes only. Just minutes. He hated and feared the dark, but it was better than this. He needed a reprieve from this. Smith walked inside and sat in his chair, smiling as he looked down at Steed curled on the mattress. Steed had not counted on Smith returning, he had thought he would have had a few hours to rest and recoup on the mattress. Exhaustion coated Steed's body. He desperately needed to sleep, needed some rest. What if they tied him back up? Anxiety filled him. He saw a man lift up the truncheon, and the other held the prod. They faked hitting each other with the instruments, laughing in their fun. No, not that again. Not this again. Not yet. He wasn't ready. He was supposed to have had some rest.

"Steed," Smith said, drawing Steed's attention to his interrogator. "Let us talk some more, yes?" He lifted the blanket off of Steed. The two men stood on each side of him.

Just hold on, Steed told himself, a paroxysm of coughing tearing at his chest. A few more hours.

"I'm not in a very talkative mood, truth to tell," Steed said, when the coughing subsided.
"Yes, well, that may be too bad for you. Tell me, what is on the microfilm you dropped? How many networks are detailed?"
"I thought we had a deal."
"A deal? Well, of course. I did untie you. Now, how about another deal? No more pain for more information."

Steed was silent. His mind went blank temporarily; he couldn't think. He closed his eye. Just hold on…

"Steed? Don't fall asleep. You won't like how I wake you up. Now, what is on the microfilm you dropped? How many networks are detailed? Are there any more microfilms?"
"I don't know about networks. But, George said that one film was the only thing in Payton's parcel," he lied.
"I don't know if I believe you."
"Torture is one thing; casting aspersions on my character is another." Hold on.
Smith smiled. "Tell me this, then, a new subject, what company is creating and testing your new fighter pilot engine, the GH503-A?"

Steed knew; he had done the security check on the upstart corporation. "Dunno. Not my department. Only work with tanks."

Smith nodded to Eddie, and as Steed covered up his head and torso, Eddie reigned blows with the rubber baton onto his previously unscathed back.
"So, then," Smith continued, "tell me about the new missile-proof tread for your Panther tank. Who's working on that?"

Steed rocked back and forth on the mattress, stunned and unable to speak. Hold on. Hold on.
"Who's working on that, Steed?"
Finally he could catch his breath and form words. "Did I say tanks? Silly me. Meant tents. Waterproof tents."

Eddie bent over him again. Hold on…
And Steed held on, through the beatings, through being dragged to the center of the room, dumped on the cold cement floor and kicked until he felt a rib or two break, and felt a boot do something badly damaging deep in his abdomen that made him roll tightly into a ball, retch with nausea and copiously sweat. They had to wait a half hour for Steed to recover enough to continue the interrogation. Then Steed held on as Smith yelled questions at him over and over and over; some Steed knew, but for all of them he answered back I don't know, I don't know, I don't know. He held on through having his wrists tied and being hauled off his feet and hung off the ceiling hook, the weight of his entire body hanging off his broken wrist swollen two times normal size, and stretching his broken ribs and injured abdomen. And when they punched his kidneys and put the cattle prod to him how many times, Steed's throat burned at his almost uninterrupted screaming, and Steed became so distraught and disoriented he wasn't even aware of pleading for them to stop. Then when it was obvious that the pain had enveloped Steed, encapsulated him, wrapped him in a thick bag through which he couldn't hear the questions, couldn't comprehend them, when once more he began to cry out repeatedly in Chinese, they cut him loose and he collapsed in a heap on the floor. As Steed lay there barely conscious, panting, shaking, groaning, sweating, weeping from his good eye, at first a fathomless despondency overcame him, and Steed knew that he had to say something, tell them anything to stop this, stop them, stop it… it had to stop, it had to stop. But, then as Steed thought of the lives he would endanger telling some secret, trying to convince himself he didn't care, something switched on inside him, and Steed felt the despair transform into a maelstrom of anger, and felt the anger swirl through him, felt it bubbling up like lava inside him, burning away all the restraints he had spent years building up against it; old hot anger from long ago, which was reborn and accepted once again, elevated in intensity into the most vehement rage Steed had ever felt. Steed raged at Smith and his men, raged at all the endless pain, raged at how everything had gone wrong, raged at George's death, the stolen microfilm, and most of all Steed raged at his body, so well trained, so strong and fit that it just would not die, would not release him from this agony; his body, that had proved useless to prevent him from all this, and that now, even without his encouragement, just held on to life. Life, his life, only one day ago, filled with work, home, horses, pleasure, and now all that was gone, Steed couldn't remember what pleasure felt like…he was trapped in his body, in his life here, a life reduced solely to this insufferable pain, this unbearable, horrible, appalling pain. And reduced to rage--rage for this cell, these men, this pain, his life.

When they lifted Steed to carry him back to the mattress he snarled at them, weakly tried to scratch the arm of one, told them to get away from him, rasped "Cowards, filthy cowards. Kill you, kill you all", and as they dropped him unceremoniously back onto the mattress, the last thing Steed acknowledged before passing out was pure and bitter wrath oozing out of him like all the blood from his wounds.

Smith was very unhappy. It was a rare man indeed who did not tell all he knew when treated so terribly badly. He had gotten nothing more out of Steed, and never would. All depended on the microfilm in the mine. He briefly considered tying Steed back into the chair, but he knew it was futile. He had seen that anger develop a few times before; the prisoner confessed nothing from the moment he reached that level of wrath. He was like a rabid dog then, and best left alone.
"Put the blanket back on him," he told Eddie, who did. Why had Dmitri done that? Well, perhaps he had a little respect for the agent.

They left Steed then, the door closing and light turned off. It was over; they could abuse him no more. Dmitri had won one little round, but it had taken immense persuasion to do so. Dmitri knew that he had been too brutal too quickly in his interrogation of the Englishman, but time had been of the essence. England would be searching for him, and Russia wouldn't wait much longer for some valuable information. Dmitri was impressed with Steed's resilience, he had seen other men die from less violence than what he had been subjected to, and at a younger age. He imagined that Steed would die, though, from his untreated wounds combined with what whatever illness had apparently infected his chest. If it did not happen by the time Frankie returned from the mine, well, then he would just have Frankie speed his death up.

Satisfied he had done his best in the situation, Smith was finally able to fall asleep.

In the cell next to Steed's, Purdey had moved as far away from her cot as possible and sat in a corner, tears streaming down her cheeks, her hands compressing her ears flat, her eyes buried in her knees, continually and urgently humming random noise to herself.

She prayed, but only to a scared young lad named Tony.

At 8:00 a.m., Tony, who had been up since dawn, made breakfast for Frankie and the two men going to the mine entrance. He gathered lamps for them, and ropes and give them each a thermos of coffee to keep them warm. After the three left, Smith, Witney and Eddie arrived in the small kitchen, joking about having enjoyed dealing with Steed several hours earlier. Tony held back his dismay at those words, keeping his strained face turned away from the two men. He made them breakfast also, and then fried a couple of extra eggs for Purdey.

"Eddie, since you're done eating, come with me to the woman's cell," Tony said, holding the tray with her food and coffee. Frankie had decreed that two men had to be present whenever Purdey's cell door was opened.

Eddie mumbled "Ok," and finished his coffee in one gulp. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand he descended the stairs to the basement. He opened Purdey's door and watched as Tony gave the tray to Purdey; as Tony did so he slipped his gun from his belt into her hand underneath the tray. Keeping her face blank as she understood and accepted the unexpected gift, Purdey gripped the gun firmly.

"Not hungry this morning," she said, handing the tray back to Tony. "You can have it back." Tony took the tray and set it on the chair, as Purdey stepped around him and aimed the weapon at a wide-eyed Eddie. Lifting a finger to her lips and shushing him, he raised his arms above his head as Tony removed his handgun from a holster attached to his belt. Tony then darted down the hall and got some rope he had hidden in the bathroom before he had gone to bed, and they left Eddie hog-tied in Purdey's locked cell.

"There's just Smith and Witney above. The other three went to the mine to find the microfilm Steed told them was there…." He stopped talking as he saw the look in Purdey's eyes, as if he had just toppled a golden statue of hers and replaced it with a piece of filthy plastic. "He, that's all he said. It was good too, because it got Frankie and Adam and Phillips out of the house. Now we can free him."

Purdey nodded her understanding, but still felt like ashes had coated her insides. She just had never imagined Steed would have said anything. That he would compromise a network; put lives at stake. No matter what they had done to him… even through what she had desperately tried to block out last night. She had still just assumed he was strong enough to protect his fellow countrymen. She felt a veil of disappointment fall over her, mingled with huge anxiety. What could they have done to Steed to get him to talk? She knew she was being cruelly and unfairly judgmental of him, yet the acknowledgment of his being broken, no matter what harm they had wrought on him, made her feel as if she had just eaten rotten, putrid food.

Tony prevented Purdey from immediately dashing into see Steed, by nervously nodding his head upstairs. Purdey was forced to admit to the necessity of incapacitating the other two men first, though it took all her willpower to by- pass Steed's cell.

They climbed up the stairs stealthily, and came out into the hallway separating the living room, at the front of the house, with the bedroom down the corridor. Tony motioned to the kitchen and they crept around the stairway finding the kitchen empty, dishes still on the kitchen table. Purdey pointed her gun upwards and Tony returned to the entryway to ascend the stairs to the second floor. Purdey followed him a minute later. Just as she reached the entranceway the front door slammed shut and she suddenly was face to face with Witney. He yelled "Hey!" and reached for his gun, but Purdey was much quicker and shot him in the chest. Witney flew back into the living room and lay still.

"What's going on?" queried a voice from the bedroom down the hall. Purdey recognized the voice--the man who had ordered Steed to be captured. Purdey ducked down and then poked her head around the stairwell; a bullet whizzed by and struck the blue wall next to the white front door. Purdey returned fire shooting three bullets down the hallway, as Tony dashed down the stairs and crouched at her side. Waiting, Purdey was rewarded with a loud grunt and the thud of something heavy falling to the floor. She and Tony slinked the twenty feet to the bedroom and then Purdey forcefully pushed open the door, jumping into the room with her handgun held straight out in front of her. She saw a short, fat, grey-haired man laying on the floor, clutching his chest tightly, his eyes scrunched together in pain. There was no blood on him. Heart attack, Purdey thought, a massive heart attack. Proving her point, the man's eyes rolled into his head and his hands relaxed, falling to his sides.

"No loss there," Purdey said. "I've got to check on Steed." She and Tony knew that they probably had two to three hours until the other three men came home, plenty of time for them to carry Steed to one of the Russian's two Land Rovers Tony reported were parked outside the house and get him to a hospital.

They descended the stairs to the basement. Tony flipped on the light switch on the wall by the door to Steed's cell, pausing before opening it. "Prepare yourself," he said gently.

Purdey steeled herself, calling upon her rock solid discipline to prevent hysterics. Steed needed her now to be calm, helpful, and dependable. She entered the cell and noticed the rubber truncheon stained with dried blood and the cattle prod on the little table and her urging herself to stay steady wavered already. Steed was laying on his side on a mattress. Purdey felt herself beginning to lose control as she ran to him, kneeling by his unconscious side. His handsome, smiling face! So badly bruised, bloody and swollen. She couldn't even recognize him. Trembling, Purdey pulled off the blanket and she had to hold back from vomiting; instead she burst into tears. Steed, noble, good-natured Steed. What they had done to him? How had all of this happened? She saw his wrist and feet, so unbelievably swollen, and the innumerable hard bruises, some five inches long, covering his torso, back, arms, shoulders, many which were torn and weeping blood. Purdey stared aghast at the spots of blood coming through his trousers where his legs had been repeatedly struck.

She couldn't believe Steed was still alive. Then her heart stopped. What if he wasn't? Hardly daring to breathe, Purdey put her fingers on Steed neck, feeling for his carotid artery. Panic swept through her as she couldn't feel his pulse, but after moving her fingers around slightly she was able to locate it. Slightly rapid, thin, weak, but there.

"Get water, in a glass and bucket and, I don't know, some juice," she told Tony, who had been silently standing behind her. "A cloth, bandages, gauze, sheets and a scissors if you can't find the bandages. He'll need some clothes, socks, if we can get them on his feet. A pillow. Hurry."

Tony left the cell on the errand, and Purdey leaned over kissing Steed on the right side of his lips, which had escaped injury. She felt his heat then, his fever, and could soft wheezing coming from his lungs. She brushed his hair out of his face. "Oh, Steed, hold on," she said.

Tony was back within minutes, putting the articles down by her side, bringing several sheets as searching through the house had uncovered no specific first aid items. Purdey turned Steed onto his back and rested his head on the pillow. She softly washed Steed's face with water, hoping that it would revive him, even temporarily, so that he would know this dreadful episode was over. And, after a few swipes with the cloth, his eye did flutter open, and he started and mumbled something in… Chinese?

"Steed," Purdey whispered in his ear. "Steed, it's me, Purdey. Steed, wake up." She rubbed his neck with the cloth as well, then ran the cloth lightly over his finely haired and battered chest. Steed narrowed his one good eye at her, "Purdey?" he whispered, so hoarse she could barely make out his words. His voice was so faint it sounded like a gentle breeze.

"Yes, it's me, Steed. It's over. We're going to get you out of here."
"Who we?"
"Myself and Tony. The lad you didn't shoot. He rescued me, and now we're rescuing you."
"Good. Have Amy? Safe?"
Amy. Who was, oh, his sister-in-law. "No, Steed. She's not here in the house. I don't know where she is."

Somehow he was able to conform his battered lips into a frown. Then he asked, "Where other men?"
"Well, one is tied up next cell over, and two others are dead. They other three are at the mine getting," it was painful to say, like a hot poker was thrust into her heart, "the microfilm."
"What film?"
Tony answered, "The film you said you hid there."

Steed coughed a few times, wincing as he did so. "Lied. In leg." He pointed to his left knee with his right index finger, then greatly fatigued at that pitiful effort his arm dropped to his side and he let his eye close again. "Need water."
When Steed had pointed to the proof of his resistance in relaying vital security information, Purdey had almost cried out in joy; instead, and she kissed him again. "Purdey," he said, gasping, "not right time, place. Water, please."

She grinned and then wondered if she should give him the liquid. She seemed to remember from her last first aid renewal class that if shock was occurring, nothing should be given by mouth. Yet, so far for all Steed's injuries, his body seemed to be functioning all right… maybe in that case the water would help him. She sighed. Next renewal class she wouldn't sit next to Steed and have him interfere with her concentration so incredibly much by passing her so many doodled filled notes, which she hadn't been able to stop giggling at… The two of them being chastened by the instructor in front of the whole class had been rather mortifying to her, although it hadn't seemed to bother Steed at all…

Really having no idea what was the correct action to take, and since Steed was thirsty, and had lost quite a bit of blood, Purdey set his head on her knees, and brought the glass of water to his lips, a little more off to the right than in the center of his mouth. She gradually allowed a touch of water to moisten his lips, and when Steed opened his mouth to thirstily receive the beverage she slowly emptied the glass into his mouth. Then she offered him the glass of apple juice, which he drank as well.

Purdey realized that before they could move Steed she needed to render some medical stabilization to prevent Steed from going into shock, which, from his injuries and his unknown illness was a definite risk. The bastards who had done this to Steed may even have caused damage to some of his internal organs with their vicious blows, but as she couldn't do anything about that, she just kept working on his external injuries. Purdey cut up the sheets into smaller pieces, which she wrapped around his chest and back, his arms and feet, applying firm pressure over some of his worse lacerations to help stop the bleeding. A few would need stitches, she was sure. She tied the sheets in place. She sent Tony for butter knives which she used to splint Steed's obviously fractured wrist. All the while she kept notice on Steed's shallow, somewhat rapid breathing, as he lay on the mattress completely debilitated, floating in and out of awareness. As they sat Steed up to put a shirt on over the bandages to help keep him warm Steed clearly passed out, and didn't awaken again. She finished the basic medical aid, and then because Purdey had to stop for frequent rests, it took thirty minutes between her and Tony to carry the one hundred seventy-five pound limp Steed upstairs, and put him in the back of the Land Rover, on his back on a mattress she had first made up into a bed.

Finally Steed was in, covered with an extra blanket to keep him warm, Tony by his side to watch for any scary changes in his breathing, or his pulse, or his skin color. Purdey had found the keys to both Land Rovers hanging on a hook in the kitchen; she had taken them both and had also pulled out all the spark plugs from the other Land Rover they'd be leaving behind. Then the three of them were off on the two hundred mile journey to London.

They drove out the driveway and turned right. The Land Rover slid over the muddy road, but was still able to traverse it. Tony directed Purdey back to the main highway. Purdey drove like a professional racer back to London, Steed's completely prostrate body more important than any speed limit. She wondered at times if she should just stop at the clinics and hospitals she passed in the three hour drive, but decided against it as she preferred the extra safety and protection and leading edge medical care she knew the central London clinic for agents afforded. She drove Tony nuts with her frequent inquiries about any changes in Steed's condition, and pressed down on the pedal even harder, when thirty miles outside London, Tony had to tell her that Steed's pulse had become very rapid, and his skin was getting pale and clammy. She didn't need Tony to tell her about Steed's breathing; she could hear the shallow wheezing from the driver's seat. Gritting her teeth, Purdey prayed for Steed to hold on just a little bit more, and ignoring the police car she picked up zipping around London, she headed straight for the Ministry's high tech medical clinic hidden in a warehouse by the river, where she came to a screeching halt. The police car slammed to a stop directly in back of the Land Rover, its siren and lights still blazing. Disregarding the police jumping out in pursuit of her, Purdey ran inside the clinic, fairly screamed the covert code words that gained access to the facility, and before she knew it Steed was on a gurney being wheeled behind doors, the Land Rover was removed from the scene, and the police had disappeared. Tony waited outside for her, the guard not allowing him in. Not too many minutes later it seemed she was surrounded by several Ministry agents, and she saw Tony being led away by two burly fellows. A couple of blue suited men tried to lead her out of the clinic as well, to a black sedan she had glimpsed them putting Tony into, but Purdey spun out of their grasp and pulled the gun out of her jacket. Clicking back the trigger she aimed the barrel at their heads.

That got the men's attention and raising their hands to placate her they left Purdey alone. She retreated to the waiting room, and simply sat, and waited. And when the agents timidly returned and sat down beside her, asking her question after question, Purdey answered them in a heavy monotone as if she was in a trance.
The agents eventually closed their notepads and left, and Purdey just kept sitting, and waiting.

Chapter 16

Daniel Tenby, postman, enjoyed his new route slightly north of London. It got him out of the grime and frenetic pace of the city, a bit into the country, into the fresh natural air. The people were more relaxed, the middle class people in their middle sized homes and the rich people in their country estates. Such a lot of trees and greenery; it fed his English soul. Daniel drove his little postal van down the road to the next manor and stopped at the postal box. He pulled out the mail for the man, John Steed, and put it all in the box except for one parcel, which he took and placed under the seat of the lorry with a two other bits of mail from other people he had decided not to deliver.

Many days Daniel Tenby delivered all the mail to the people on his route, other days he simply didn't. He had no set pattern; he just did as seemed right that day. Daniel liked the parcel though, it was small, and neat, and maybe it would dismay the fellow a bit to not have the parcel, and Daniel figured rich people needed some dismay in their lives. Made them have sympathy for the rest of the folk that were not wealthy and pretty and full of important friends.

Daniel Tenby started up the van and drove on. It really was quite a fine day in the country, sunny and warm and quiet. Daniel would never live here, and never be a beautiful man, but he could hold the post of someone who probably was, touch it, imagine it was his post, that he was John Steed, Esq., or at least, that he knew him personally. And if by taking a letter or two from these people he caused a little loss in their lives, a little sadness, a little havoc maybe, well they had the money to fix it all up so it wasn't that bad. So it wasn't that bad. He never opened the post, he just held it. Stared at it. Kept it safe in a bag. Daniel was leaving the perfumed letter from Lady Lydia Sinclair; no doubt Mr. Steed, Esq. would want that letter much more than a silly old parcel.

Daniel looked forward to placing these new pieces of post on top of the others. Such a collection he was slowly amassing! For the first time in his life, Daniel began actually looking forward to returning to his small, lonely home each night, with his telly and his chocolates, and a bag of other people's post to keep him company. It was like having a party every night, a household of fond, intimate friends. Clive Pepperton, Mr. and Mrs. Wakely, and John Steed would now be added to his growing list of close personal friends. Perhaps he'd imagine Mr. Steed introducing him to Lady Lydia, and perhaps she would find Daniel attractive…

Daniel Tenby smiled as he drove off slowly to the next house down the road. He finally had some close personal friends.

Chapter 17

Purdey waited for hours. At some point a nurse came out and asked her questions about what had happened to Steed, and she answered them as best she could, mentioning the rubber truncheon and cattle prod, and the numerous blows she had heard through the wall; she avoided telling the woman about Steed's screams of pain. Some time after the nurse had left Purdey noticed the Colonel sitting next to her, equally silent and patient. Hal Anderson dashed passed the waiting room, with his kit of homeopathic medicines, beyond the imposing double doors which, he had apparently been granted leave to pass through. Purdey hoped his remedies, which Steed, in his open-mindedness believed had helped him in the past, would help Steed now. None of Steed's relative were there, but Purdey knew it was Ministry policy to not alert relatives of injured agents until it was clear whether they would live or die. If the agent died, oftentimes it was attributed to a plane crash or some such tragic accident, and not the bullet wounds or stab wounds that had been the true cause. Sometimes the body would be returned for a closed casket internment, and sometimes the body was listed as lost and just the death notice delivered. The Ministry, most secret of all security organizations, covered its tracks very well.

Purdey had arrived at the clinic around noon. It was 6:00 p.m. before Dr. Emmitt, the head physician at the clinic, came into the waiting room chart in hand to speak to them. The Colonel stood upon the doctor's entrance, but Purdey, too tired, too exhausted by nervous energy, stayed sitting.

"Well, Dr. Emmitt?" the Colonel asked.
Dr. Emmitt frowned. "He's alive. For the moment anyway, he's alive."
Purdey closed her eyes in thanks.

Dr. Emmitt next words however were not so reassuring. "Steed was entering shock when you brought him here… due to blood loss. He had an internal bleed, one of the arteries to his stomach was torn… from a blow to his abdomen… we operated and were able to find and repair it. Steed would have died from that wound alone within a few more hours. Jesus, I hope you find the bloody bastards who did this to him. If Steed wasn't in such excellent training he never could have survived what they did to him, of that I'm sure. His injuries--" and he opened the chart in his hand and read from it "--are extensive. Badly broken left wrist, broken left cheekbone, broken second metatarsal in right foot, two broken ribs on the right side, stitches in his head--which sustained a mild concussion--his lip, by his left eye, on his left knee. He sustained innumerable contusions, multiple lacerations, and, of great concern, if he survives his injuries, is his chest. He seems to have picked up a bronchitis at this point; in his weakened state it could become pneumonia, and that would be very life threatening." Dr Emmitt closed the chart and looked at them again. "I've put him on antibiotics, given him three pints of blood, and hope he won't worsen. These next few days are very important to gauge his chances of survival. I've seen Steed injured before, but nothing like this. And, I have to be the one to say it, even though he is in excellent shape, he is almost fifty, and he has injuries that could've killed a man half his age. I have hopes for Hal and his homeopathics; they've worked for Steed before to aid his healing potential. And if ever needed such help, it's now."

Dr. Emmitt stopped talking. Purdey and Colonel Dreyford stood quietly, trying to process his words. Dr. Emmitt then reached into his long white coat's pocket and pulled out a piece of microfilm. He handed it to the Colonel. "We took this out of his left leg, where Purdey said it would be."

The Colonel took the film, and placed it in his own jacket pocket. "Thank you."
"Can we see him?" Purdey asked.
"I knew you asked that. He's in intensive care. I'd say you could just have five minutes, but I don't want you pulling a gun on the nurses. Yes, that sort of incident does get around our little clinic, Purdey. So just sit, be quiet, pray for him, and stay as long as you wish. Stay out of the way of the nurses and me." He nodded his head towards the elevator. "One floor up, room 224."

Dr. Emmitt left and Purdey and the Colonel glanced at each other.
"This is a terrible mess, Purdey," the Colonel said. "I read the report of the agents who interviewed you earlier. You really have no idea where the parcel is?"
"No, no idea." The damn parcel. It could wait. Steed couldn't. Purdey began walking out of the room.

Colonel Dreyford shook his head and then followed her. They rode the elevator even though it was just up one flight of stairs. There were not many rooms for injured agents, and they easily found 224, thirty feet to the right of the elevators. They opened the door and entered the room, each trying to prepare themselves for the sight they were to see.

Steed lay unconscious on a bed swathed like the proverbial mummy in bandages, a blanket covering him from waist down. His right foot and left wrist were in casts, and there was tubing entering and leaving him. Blood and some clear liquid flowed into him. Hal was already in the room, putting some drops on Steed's swollen lips. He looked up as Purdey and the Colonel entered.

"Purdey, hello," Hal said, no smile able to grace his face at the moment. "And hello to you too, Sir."

Hal Anderson, out of the Ministry for fifteen years knew that the tall grey-haired man with such an erect posture must be a very important man in the Ministry, but Hal didn't know exactly who he was.
"Hal," Purdey said, "how is he?"

Hal looked down at Steed with sorrow filling his eyes. "He's bad, Purdey. Look at him. If there's one person in the Ministry that didn't deserve to have this happen to them, it's Steed." Hal lightly touched Steed's face. Purdey had met Hal several times, and Hal was in his own right a gentle man, one who wrote poetry and loved flower arranging, and who had taken on the role of personal equerry to Steed. Purdey liked Hal; although a dull, mild, timid man, he was kind and simple. How he had lasted as a Ministry agent for ten years Purdey had no idea. Purdey stood by Hal's side; it seemed right she and him, both in love with Steed, would bond together in an awkward fellowship, and indeed they had.

The Colonel cleared his throat. "Poor Steed, what frightful injuries. They really put him through the wringer."
Purdey's temper flared. "Don't be so bloody coy. They tortured him, dreadfully, trying to extract any information they could from him. But, he didn't say a thing. Look at him. He didn't say a thing."
"Purdey, I am on your and Steed's side," the Colonel said. "Though I can't say that everyone at the Ministry is."
"Well, to hell with them, then." Purdey felt Hal's reassuring hand on her arm.

"It's not as easy as that. I may be the Director of the Ministry, but I do not hold all the power of the organization in my hands. If that parcel isn't recovered, things could go very badly for Steed."
"Worse than this?" Purdey asked pointing to Steed. If they had not been in his hospital room, by his bedside, she would have been screaming; as it was, she kept her voice quiet and controlled.
The Colonel looked at Steed, his face opening up to the dismay he felt. "Yes," he said, "even worse than this."
"Then go back to the damn Ministry and remind them that Steed is their best agent, is England's best agent, and that they are fools to think otherwise."
The Colonel said nothing. Looking at Steed once more, he left the room.

Purdey fumed inside, imagining herself yelling at every Ministry official she could find. What had the colonel meant, "even worse than this"? What was going on at the Ministry? What was going on with everything? It was only Hal's sad voice that pulled her back to the immediacy of Steed's situation. Hal had pulled up a chair for them both and was already sitting in one.

"Oh, dear God, poor Steed. Beaten and tortured again. A cattle prod, you reported to the nurse. Electricity. They used electrodes at Nee San, and everything else as well… That's how we met, you know, at the country clinic they had back then; for the nervous types and patients needing longer term rehabilitation. I had had a complete breakdown in Berlin --how I stayed an agent for another five years I have no idea-- and was roomed with Steed, so traumatized he couldn't even speak at first. Hated being in the dark. Still does, you know. He was thirty-three and I was thirty-two, and even though Steed was thin as a rail, he was still as handsome as could be…" Hal stopped talking and hunched his shoulders over, bending his head to stare at his feet, one foot resting on the top of the other.

Purdey sat down and patted his knee. "It's all right, Hal. He's going to be fine." Purdey caught her breath. Isn't that what she had told Steed, that everything would be fine? No, Steed had been right; that was just not always true.

Hal brought Purdey back to the room. "I've been giving him Arnica hourly; that's the remedy for injuries, bruises; remember how it helped you when you sprained your ankle?" Hal turned his head to Purdey and she nodded. He went back to studying his feet. "It should help him heal, take away some of the pain. They've given him just a little morphine, not much, because of his bronchial infection. I'm worried about that bronchial infection. He's had pneumonia four times in his life already, you know."

Purdey regarded Hal. How did he know so much about Steed? "I didn't know that," she admitted.
"Yes." He used his fingers to count. "Once as a child, once during the War, once after Nee San, and once when he was partnered with Mrs. Pe--uh, an earlier colleague." It was a habit that everyone had developed. Not mentioning Her name around Steed. Even if he was unconscious.

Purdey sighed. Everything was not fine. Everything was a horrible mess. She was tired and hungry. She was worried about the Colonel's veiled words of warning.
"Purdey, forgive me for saying so, but you look terrible yourself. Your elfish aura has been replaced by that of the cackling crone. It's all been a nightmare for you as well. Go home, eat something, go to bed. Come back tomorrow morning. Steed'll be alive, don't worry." He held up his vial of Arnica. "The magic potion shall do its duty."

Purdey had to reluctantly agree to Hal's words. She stood up, a little light-headed, which reinforced to herself the validity of her returning home for food and sleep. She would be back first thing tomorrow morning. Purdey leaned over and kissed Steed on his lips, and then waved to Hal and left the room. She was driven home by the clinic driver, and it was only when she had used her hidden key to open her flat that Tony came back into her mind, and she wondered what had happened to the youth. She resolved to check on him the next day. Turning on lights and flopping on her sofa, avoiding noticing the beaded curtain that lead to her bedroom where Steed had taken her to such high levels of bliss, Purdey yawned deeply though it was only 7:00 p.m. Then Purdey started shaking, which she stopped doing only after an ample dosing of wine had hit her empty stomach, and she fell asleep on her sofa, thankfully, mercifully, dreamless.

Tony was scared. Where was he? Where was Purdey? She said he'd be safe, be paid money. But instead he'd been taken away into a black sedan, blind-folded and taken to some building and put in some white room. There was a long, curved table in the room, with chairs for nine people, and then another chair in the middle facing the table.

Tony paced. He'd been brought some food and had been asked already by two blue suited men what were the names of the other three men that had gone to the mine on the false trail of microfilm. He had told them, Frankie Bingum, Allan Adams, and Albert Phillips. Lived in London. East End, of course. He gave their addresses and then the pub that they frequented. It had chilled Tony to see the men break into tiny smiles as he said his accomplices names, smiles that looked like sneers, and when the men left ignoring his question of what would happen to Frankie and the others, Tony's stomach had begun to ache.

It was about an hour later that two old men had come into the room, and sat down behind the long table. Tony stood watching them enter silently, filing in as if it was a state affair, rehearsed, solemnly and aristocratically performed. The men sat as one, and Tony might have snickered if her hadn't noticed two other burly men enter; the ones that had man-handled him to the car. They scared him a great deal.
One of the old men spoke, "Tony Miller, please sit down."
Tony sat.

"Mr. Miller, don't be afraid. We are merely here to ask you some questions, and when those are answered you shall be free to go. All right?"
That didn't sound so bad. "Okay," he nodded.

They asked him his full name, his address, and what he did in life. They asked him about his immediate family and how close were his ties to them. Did he have a girlfriend? They were odd inquiries but Tony answered them truthfully. They asked him when had he met Frankie and why had he fallen in with his gang. Tony admitted his problem with gambling.

"What day did you agree to go to Wales with Frankie?"
Tony paused. "I agreed on Tuesday, and we were up there Thursday morning, the whole lot of us, ten in all. Went in two Land Rovers. Nothing much happened Thursday, except Frankie and Mr. Smith spent a lot to time organizing things; we each got a gun. A real handgun. Well, Adams and Phillip got rifles."

The questions continued; asking for exact details of what had happened there. Tony told them as best he knew, and when he got to Mr. Steed not shooting him, several of the men got rather interested and leaned forward on their elbows.

"Mr. Steed had you in his sights and didn't shot you. Why was that?"
"Well, I raised my hands and yelled for him not to."
"What did you yell exactly?"
"Mr. Steed, please don't shoot me!"
"'Mr. Steed' is rather familiar. An odd way to address a man you've never met."
"But I had met him before. That's why he hesitated, because I think he tried to remember who I was. And then Frankie got up and hit him on the head. And he was captured."
"Where had you met him before?" Tony told the story of his cousin and the fire.

"Mr. Steed's a good bloke, that's why I helped him." Tony wanted to get to the part where he told about releasing Purdey so they could overcome the men there and save Mr. Steed. That would impress them. Then they'd pay him his money and let him go.
"So, you knew Mr. Steed before meeting him in Wales?"
"And he then hired you to infiltrate Mr. Smith's organization and go to Wales, to meet Steed when he arrived there later?"

Tony had heard the words, but they hadn't made any sense to him at all. "What?" he asked.
"When did Mr. Steed hire you to work for him?"
Things were getting all confused. "No, no he didn't. It was Purdey who hired me, later, in her cell. She said I'd get £5,000 if I helped her escape."
"And you did."
Finally. "Yes, I brought her a gun. And then we took care of the three men. And got Steed back to London."
"If you cared so much for Steed's life, why didn't you shoot Frankie when he was attacking Steed? You had a gun, didn't you?"
"Well, yes, but I've never shot anyone. I, I don't like violence."
"No one likes violence, Mr. Miller. Now, how did you inform Steed where you were in Wales?"
Tony shook his head. "I didn't. He came by himself with his brother."
"You knew the brother was coming?"
"Yes, George, that was the whole point. He'd come and give Frankie something and then Frankie would give it to Mr. Smith, and if it was okay, George Steed could go away."
"Why were ten men needed to help Frankie and Mr. Smith?"
"Well, they weren't. But, Frankie got Mr. Smith to agree just to help his mates. None of us got too much money, you know. Mr. Smith was kind of desperate and agreed to Frankie's terms."
"And you just happened to be included in that group."
"Any you just happened to know Mr. Steed. And just happened to be offered £5,000, and just happened to help him escape."

Suddenly the old man in the middle of the table, who had done most of the questioning, slammed his pencil down the papers he had in front of him. "I think you are lying, Mr. Miller. I think you were hired by Steed beforehand, for the very high fee of £5,000. I think you went to Wales under his direction to spy on Frankie and Mr. Smith as Steed used his brother to trap Mr. Smith into accepting vital information, and that's why he didn't shoot you and that's why you rescued him."
"But, that's not true!"
"I think Steed wanted the £100,000, and was willing to give over the information for it. Once his brother was shot, though, no doubt by one of your moronic associates, Steed tried to get away, but was caught. He hid the information somewhere near that house."
"But, he was arguing with his brother before he was shot. And Steed himself, not his brother was supposed to have been shot. Shooting George was a mistake."
"How do you know?"
"Phillips told me."
"Phillips could have lied to you."

Tony said silent. It was getting very warm in here, and he was very tired. He was starting to get confused and hazy; it was hard to think clearly.
"I, I guess he could have."
"Mr. Smith wanted to shoot George so that there would be no witnesses to Steed's traitorous act."

Tony began to perspire lightly. He felt a little nauseous. "But, Mr. Smith left Purdey alone."
"Temporarily. Perhaps if Steed had died he would have moved on next to Purdey."
"But…" Tony began but he lost his train of thought.

"So, let us go over things again, Mr. Miller." Tony was able to keep events straight in his head for two more rounds of questioning, but by the third time he really didn't feel so good. When he mentioned that to the men, they told him that he would be able to rest when the questions were answered satisfactorily. Tony decided that answering them satisfactorily was very important to him. So, when they began the third round, and he was groggy and fuzzy brained, and nauseous, Tony just answered questions in the easiest way he could, agreeing when it seemed the men wanted him to agree. He had already told the truth several times, whatever he answered now probably didn't even matter.

And when a piece of paper on a clipboard was put in front of Tony and a pen pushed into his hand, and he was assured that all he had to do was sign the paper, he did. Then he was led back to the black sedan, and was pricked with a needle full of cyanide. He died immediately and he was weighted down and thrown into the middle of the Thames.

Frankie, Adams and Phillips had returned to the house madder than the devil. They had spent two hours in the dark, damp mine searching for the bloody microfilm and not finding it had every intention of taking out their anger on Steed. They saw Witney's body as soon as they entered, yelled for Smith, and when no answer was forthcoming, they found Smith in his bedroom. Running downstairs, they had found Eddie in Purdey's cell, and Purdey, Steed, and Tony gone. A released Eddie told them about Tony's treachery.

"I'll kill that arsehole," Frankie swore.
They found spare spark plugs in the mechanic kit in the back of the Land Rover, and after installing them and pulling down the wires from the dash enabling them to jumpstart the ignition, the three men had driven back to London. They went to The Red King pub, their pub, and commandeering the far back wall, they drank a lot of beer and discussed what they would do next. Frankie had some money, he had made Mr. Smith give him an up front payment. The four men decided to collect their belongings, take the money and run to Liverpool for awhile where Adams had a brother who would let them hide out for a bit.

So agreed, one by one they scurried home, leaving the Land Rover at the bar, where they would all return.

But none of them ever returned, although the Land Rover was seen being driven away. It was complete mystery, really. Three young men just disappeared from the face of the earth; however, they weren't on earth any longer. If people had looked at the bottom of the Thames, they would have found their weighted bodies and slit throats bobbing about down there.

When all ten of Frankie's gang was never heard from again, an entire neighborhood and many policemen were delighted. A few relatives wept, but the police found no clues, if indeed they truly looked for any. The ten men were relegated to the missing person files, where their sorry lives began to grow dusty, and where they would stay missing forever.

Chapter 18

Ackroyd Delacourt Tunbridge, AKA Head of Espionage, sat drinking a scotch in his plush office at the Ministry, rereading the signed paper by Tony Miller and the doctor's report on Steed's state of health. It was very late and most people had gone home; only the light evening shift was on, and Tunbridge enjoyed sitting in his office, imagining that it was really the one at the end of the hall, the office of the Director. How long had he wished for that opportunity? Years. To be Director of the most secret and yet powerful security organization in the UK. Tunbridge's staid and conservative nerves tingled at the thought. But, just when he had had to resign himself to the fact that the Directorship, his Directorship, would never come to pass, that Steed, Steed the wonder agent, would inherit the position from the Colonel, that weak incompetent fool who couldn't see who was best qualified for the job, this situation had fallen into his cunning hands. It was almost nepotism, how the Colonel fawned over Steed as if he was a nephew. But, Tunbridge was no longer so hopeless, no not at all; it was coming together in pieces, ragged and unkempt, but still things were progressing nicely. If he could just manipulate things a little more Steed's chances of becoming Director were nil, and instead, Steed's chance of staying out of gaol were also rather nil.

That would suit Tunbridge fine. It was no real mystery to himself why he hated Steed so much, and it even had a definite beginning point. 1961, Steed had been assigned to bring back Martha Evans from Switzerland. Martha, a buxom, passionate, yet melancholic Ministry agent had been on assignment in France infiltrating a crime organization in France that was involved in drug distribution. For some reason Martha had given away the identity of Ministry's French contact, and that man had been murdered by the same criminal organization. Martha had then fled to Switzerland Steed had found her in Thun, and had taken her over the mountains to avoid men from the same criminal organization who were now bent on murdering Martha as well. There in the mountains, Steed had stated contritely, Martha had leapt to her death without a word on a narrow high pass as Steed walked ahead. Yet, Tunbridge knew how Steed hated agents who turned on the organization; and a lingering question remained in Tunbridge's mind as to the actual cause of her death. Yes, Martha was melancholic, but suicidal, he couldn't believe it. Why had she betrayed the French contact? The answer to that had died with her.

Even thinking about her now, ten years later, still brought a pang of remorse to Tunbridge. Martha Evans, his dear mistress, whom he had loved, whom no one had ever known about. He had never forgiven Steed for her death, especially as his own marriage had grown so stale and boring. Even if he hadn't overtly killed her, Steed should have paid more attention to her on the path.

Steed was cleared by the Ministry of any malfeasance, and proceeded over the years to accumulate enough successes that he was regarded as its best agent. And maybe he was. Probably he was, Tunbridge had to admit. Another sour point for Tunbridge was that while he languished in a marriage to a woman he could barely tolerate, yet who held the money for them to live the life of comfort Tunbridge had grown used to, Steed's monetary fortunes mysteriously increased on their own, until he was now a very wealthy man. Where had his money came from? No one knew, although hints of illegal activities before Steed's joining British Intelligence when in his mid-twenties were tossed about. Nothing that could be investigated or that had been of enough interest for them to have turned him away. Yes, Steed had been extremely well paid for his work since transferring to the Ministry, unbelievably well paid, yet it had not been enough to solely support his standard of living and his love of expensive cars, expensive suits, expensive champagne, expensive everything, to have accumulated into the bank roll Steed apparently had. It must have been his early investments that had done so well, and it irritated Tunbridge that Steed had become entirely financially stable when he had to depend on his wife for their upper class life. Going even further, Tunbridge was an honest enough fellow in his own way to acknowledge that Steed's looks, his charm, the ever present women who fairly flung themselves at him… it all grated on his male ego. He had been fat and greying and wrinkled by forty-nine.

Yet, all of that would not have darkened Tunbridge so handily against Steed if not for the Colonel's obvious desire to have Steed inherit the Directorship of the Ministry when The Colonel retired in another five to ten years. That Steed would accept the position was understood, although it had never been formally offered to him and Steed had never mentioned it himself. It was an honor that no one would turn down, and Steed did have his ego. Losing the Directorship had been what had grated on Tunbridge the most, and had set him to fantasize about ridding himself of Steed, perfect Steed, Director Steed, so that he could assume the mantle of this most powerful and important of security operations.

Then all of this had happened, and it was like a gift from God to Tunbridge. He had spent the last week putting all the stray facts and coincidences together and had, he felt, magnificently reasoned it out --Steed must have given his brother George a set of picks to have him spy on Freddy Sloan-Beck, whom Steed knew was the lover of Alfred Diddering, brother of Payton Diddering, whom Steed had suspected had stolen the M15 information, placing it on microfilm. Steed had told George to follow Freddy, and Payton, if he came across him. Then, on Hampstead Heath, Steed had watched the Russians fight and seen one kill the other, and then had killed Payton and given the parcel to George, whom he knew no one should suspect. He turned the £100,000 in to take any suspicion off of himself, but he had every intention of selling the information for twice that to the Russians, once he knew they would be so desperate to get their hands on the information. And then he stole the £100,000 pounds from the item storage lock-up area as extra income as well. After all, Steed's gambling debts at The Crystal Castle in Casablanca were extremely high, even for a wealthy man, though everyone knew Steed always played for high stakes. £300,000 would go a long way towards undoing those debts.
So, Steed had arranged for him, Purdey and his brother to meet a Russian in Wales, exchanging the film for £200,000. Only, his brother had panicked and run away, and was shot by the thugs hired by the Russian. Steed, angry, had fled with Purdey, hiding the parcel; eventually Purdey and Steed had been captured and he had been tortured to give away the parcel's hiding place. Only he hadn't spoken. Steed, ever meticulous in his preparations, had placed a youth, Tony Miller, in the Russian's organization to aid him and Purdey in escaping if things went wrong, and the lad, for £5000 had done so.

Tunbridge ran the story in his head a few more times; it was good enough, it would work. Already all the pieces were neatly being arranged; after all, he hadn't been Head of Espionage for eight years not to understand how to frame a person for a crime they hadn't committed. It was part of his job. He was excellent at it.

Tunbridge had paid the manager and accountant at The Crystal Castle to cook the books and create an exorbitant gambling debt for Steed for the last three times he had visited the casino. He had had his men immediately acquire Tony Miller from the clinic he had had them staking out, in case either Steed or Purdey returned there for medical care, and then before the other Heads were notified, even the Colonel, Tunbridge had drugged the lad so that he would grow confused and sign a paper avowing that he had been hired to work for Steed as a plant in the Russian's organization. He had interviewed Tony with Administration. Administration held some deep-seated peeves against Steed for years due to Steed's lackadaisical manner of filling out Administration's idolized paperwork; also, Administration went along with Tunbridge with the understanding that when Tunbridge was Director, Administration would be proclaimed his successor. With Tony mysteriously disappeared, there was no way the Colonel or the other more sympathetic Heads could disavow Tony's signed testimony. He had had the £100,000 stolen from the lock-up and hidden behind hay bales in Steed's stable, and then whispered in Operations ear to search Steed's estate. He had had Frankie and the other three hooligans murdered by the same men who had killed Tony--assassins from outside the Ministry--and their weighted bodies were also dropped into the middle of the Thames. The tapes of Tony's inquiry had been burned, but were listed as "misplaced." He knew how he would deal with Purdey's testimony, entirely invalidating it. The Russian agent, having admitted nothing to Research even under drugs, had been quickly deported. The only thing Tunbridge hadn't put together for evidence was the parcel. Even Tunbridge couldn't, and even if he could, he wouldn't steal such valuable information from M15. Tunbridge was a solid patriot, and would never put countrymen he held no grudge against at such a grave risk.

That would have to be the one weak link in the story. Steed had mentioned to the Colonel in one of the Colonel's daily visits that he didn't know where the parcel was. That he thought George had said he had posted it somewhere before he was killed. They had searched Steed's home and office post, and George's home and office post to no avail. Well, Tunbridge thought, it would only help him in his case against Steed to not have the parcel be discovered. He only hoped their side found it before their enemies did.

If Steed survived, he would find it impossible to clear himself of all suspicion. If he didn't wind up in gaol, he would certainly never be considered for the Directorship job. He would be forced to resign in disgrace at the very least. Good, serves the man right. Killing Martha. Being rich. Being successful. Being handsome. Being the next Director. It would all come crashing down on Steed, and Tunbridge would chuckle all the while. And if Steed didn't survive, well then many people had died unnecessarily, and many plans had been initiated unnecessarily. But that didn't bother Tunbridge; he had dealt with all manners of assignments and had fixed all manners of situations. He could arrange what needed to be arranged. He had not himself been a good field agent, true, but he was an excellent Head of Espionage, and knew his department well. And it was a very nasty department.

Chapter 19

Steed's level of awareness ebbed and flowed through-out the next week. Although not truly unconscious, he slept deeply and a great deal, twenty hours a day, although sometimes his rest was fitful with a great deal of tossing and turning. The first few days when Steed was awake he asked about George, about Amy, about Purdey, about the parcel, about the microfilm, asking what had happened to him, over and over, and it was clear from the repetitive nature of his inquiries that he was disoriented and confused at those times. By the fifth day, however, his clarity had returned enough for him to comprehend all that had happened, to acknowledge George really was dead, Amy was home and safe, the parcel was lost, the microfilm hidden in his leg had been recovered, and that he had been brutally tortured and was now recovering in London. Steed listened quietly and didn't say anything but he also didn't eat much after that and he continued losing weight. Hal began to use the kitchen area in the clinic to prepare special drinks for Steed with seaweed, vegetable and fruit juices, brewer's yeast, cod liver oil, and other such items, and forced Steed to drink the concoctions at least once a day. Steed protested, but felt sipping ghastly beverages gave him a modicum of energy and strength and so reluctantly imbibed them. Even through the health benefits of the liquid, Steed's bronchitis lingered and the coughing fits were agony to him, but to the satisfaction of Dr. Emmitt, Steed didn't seem to be worsening into pneumonia.

Hal and Purdey were with Steed as much as possible, and the Colonel dropped in daily as well. Steed's family had finally been notified of George's death, his body had been returned to the family for burial, and Steed's condition had been relayed to them--injured in the line of duty was what they had been told. Nothing more. No questions had been answered. His family had buried George quickly, and only Steed's Aunt Greta and his sister Elizabeth asked to visit him. They were granted their request by Dr. Emmitt, and under blindfold, the eighth day Steed had been hospitalized they were brought to see Steed.

They were aghast at his condition --he was casted and in bandages, and his bruises were a terrible mixture of blue and yellow. He still had a couple of tubes attached to his body. His face was thinner. Aunt Greta and Elizabeth sat patiently with Purdey and Hal, waiting some hours for Steed to awaken, while Purdey quietly related the torture Steed had been through. Aunt Greta pierced her lips tightly as Purdey spoke, and Elizabeth began to gently weep, which she maintained through-out the visit. Steed finally awoke around 4:00 p.m., opening his eyes, though his left only slightly. Purdey stood over him, while his relatives moved to the foot of his bed.

"Steed. Hi. How are you feeling?" Purdey asked.
"Tired," he mumbled.
"Would you like some water?" she asked, reaching for a glass on the table by Steed's bed.

Steed nodded once. He lifted his right hand to his forehead, rubbed it, and then let it fall down by his side again. As Purdey electrically raised the head of Steed's bed a little to elevate him into a drinking position, Steed's vision fell on his aunt and sister standing at the foot of his bed silently regarding him.

Steed narrowed his sight and leaned his head forward a little. "Aunt Greta?" he asked. "Elizabeth? Is that you?"
It was Aunt Greta who spoke. "It's us, Steed."
Steed closed his eye, and leaned back onto his pillow. "I'm sorry about George," he said. "Is Amy doing well? The children?"
"Amy is doing as well as can be expected after learning her barrister husband has been found in an outbuilding in Wales shot dead with a bullet through his forehead. The children are, of course, devastated."
Steed turned his head to the side. "I, I don't know what to say. I can't explain what happened."

The room was silent. He added, softly, "I really am extremely sorry."
"Well, one would imagine you should be," Aunt Greta said. "I fear you have lost not just a brother who doted on you, Steed, but an entire family, as well. We cannot understand your actions in this affair at all."

Steed kept his head to the side. He had just given his brother some picks…
"Have you nothing else to say?" Aunt Greta asked.
He stayed silent.
"John…" Elizabeth pleaded.

At her words, Steed looked at her, their raised brown eyebrows matched identically in anguish. "Elizabeth," Steed said, "Aunt Greta, tell them, I didn't cause George's death. It wasn't my fault."
"I'm afraid right now such words will fall on deaf ears, John," Aunt Greta said, harshly. Then her voice softened, and she came around the side of Steed's bed, touching his arm. "It is a dreadful time for them all."

And not for me, Steed wondered? But he choked back the words.
"Get well from this horror you have been through," she went on. "Perhaps after you get out of the hospital we can all meet civilly, and…work things out."
Steed had to ask. "Was George buried in the family plot? By the oak?"
His sister answered. "Yes, John, he was."

His aunt gave his arm a squeeze, and kissed his forehead, and then she collected her bag and walked to the door. Elizabeth came to her brother's side, kissed his forehead as well and then fell into line behind Aunt Greta. Aunt Greta stopped and as she held the door knob she said, "We shan't be coming back again to visit you, John, my poor dear nephew. And I'm afraid that no other family member shall come either. It is a very bad time for the Steeds, and unfortunately none of them are of a mind to rally round your flag." She glanced back at him, as Elizabeth hid her tears in her handkerchief. "Good-bye, John, and do be well."

And then they were out the door. Steed said nothing to Purdey or Hal, except to ask them to leave his room, that he preferred to be alone. Purdey asked him if he wanted to drink some water first, and he just shook his head. She put the glass down and they left the room.

Steed lay on his bed; the curtain was opened and he could see the blue ceiling of a lovely spring day, with a few wispy clouds dotting the sky. Nothing much had changed in the world outside his life, but his own personal world was irreversibly changed forever. George was dead and he hadn't even been able to go to the funeral. His family had, just about, disowned him. Little Marilyn and Paul, he wouldn't ever spin them around again. Wouldn't ever sit with George by his hearth. Eat Amy's delectable food. Steed looked at his casts, and lightly felt his left eye, slowly opening back up. Aunt Greta and Elizabeth, any of them, did they know what he had gone through? Did they understand what had happened? Did they care? Did they all really blame him for George's death? Did he blame himself for George's death? George's death. Steed wiped his face where he perceived a few wet areas, but nothing was on his hand.

As soon as I'm out of here, I'll convince them all, his family and the Ministry, that I'm guiltless of George's death. Yet Steed felt a despair creeping through his bones, and attached to it was a great deal of outrage. He wanted to cry out his anger at all that had happened, and demand that people listened to him, heard him, and acknowledged he was innocent, and had suffered appallingly as a result of that innocence. Did any of them have the slightest idea what it was like to be tied in a chair, beaten, interrogated… who were they to judge him? Who on earth were they? Any of them. All of them. Who were they to judge him?

But, Steed didn't yell. He was a gentleman after all. Had been one for many years. It was all he had now. And no matter how sick he felt inside, no matter how bad things appeared, he would try his hardest to stay a gentleman. He wouldn't lose that, because then, for real, he truly would be lost.

However, it didn't detract from being a gentleman to silently mourn the loss of one's brother, one's entire family, one's health, one's peace of mind. And if he felt like his intestines were made of rocks, and his bones were pure lead, and his blood had stopped flowing and lay stagnant in his body, well, that didn't detract from being a gentleman, either.

Hal returned later and neither he nor Steed brought up the visit.

Purdey walked into the large inquiry room at the Ministry the next day. She had been ordered to appear for an Inquiry Session panel regarding the events of the last three weeks. She had been expected it, and had dressed in a skirt, button down shirt and blazer. She knew appearances counted at times like this.

Purdey walked into the room and was faced with all seven Heads of the departments of the Ministry, and the Colonel, seated at a long, curved table. There was a chair in the room facing the middle of the table, and Purdey went to it and sat down. She had never been in an inquiry, but she was sure of her facts, and felt fully confident of her abilities to convince these men that there was no blame to be placed on her or Steed for the events that had occurred.

"Good afternoon, Purdey," the Colonel began. "Please state your full name for our records."
She did so, relaxing into the questions.
"Thank you. Now, in your own words, please tell us what exactly occurred during the last three weeks, since you and Steed were assigned to track down the traitor in M15."

Purdey took a deep breath and smiled the smile that she knew lit up her face. "Certainly," she said, spending the next forty minutes doing so, skipping certain of Steed and her activities that she didn't feel were necessary to relate. They let her speak uninterrupted. When Purdey was done, she sat back satisfied and waited for further questions.

Espionage spoke first. "So, you didn't see what occurred at Hampstead Heath personally?"
"No. Steed sent me to order back-up once he understood what was taking place."
"Wasn't it evident what was taking place upon arrival at Hampstead? Don't you think it would have made more sense to order in back-up then?"

Purdey maintained a cool face. She had never liked Espionage, and knew from his coldness to Steed that there was a rift between them as well, though Steed had never disparaged the man. "Actually, we didn't exactly know what was going to occur, or where something might occur. It is a rather large Heath. Steed felt we should find out exactly where Payton was going, and then be able to explicitly direct back-up."
"Of course," Espionage said.

The questions came mostly from Espionage and Administration, although other Heads tossed in queries occasionally. They asked her why Steed had given his brother picks. She hadn't known he had. Why had he involved his brother in the investigation? Steed hadn't, he was at a loss about that. Why hadn't Steed called in when he began following his brother to Wales? He wanted to speak to him privately at first. About what? About whatever George was doing. What had he been doing? Purdey wasn't sure.

Then things turned peculiar, surreal for Purdey.
When had Steed hired Tony to infiltrate the Russian's organization? Steed hadn't done any such thing. Purdey had offered the lad money in exchange for helping them. Really? Would she like to take a look at Tony's signed confession? She had and it amazed her.

"This is faked," she declared. " A lie. I know. I was there."
It unnerved her, the way they nodded their heads as one.
Did she know of Steed's gambling debts? Purdey was too stunned to answer. They showed her the debts from a casino in Morocco, an unbelievable debt.
"This is ludicrous," she scoffed, throwing the paper back on the table.

Did she know that the £100,000 Steed deposited the night of Payton's death had been stolen from the storage room, and found at Steed's manor. Purdey laughed out loud at that although she felt more anger than humor. It was obvious what was going on.

"Which one of you is setting Steed up?" she accused, looking each of them in the eye one at a time. She didn't flinch. It was a blunt question, spoken with a great deal of asperity. "Come on, which of you bloody manipulators have so masterfully undertaken to twist the evidence to your filthy designs?"
"Purdey, watch yourself," Subterfuge warned.
"Watch myself? Watch yourselves. Is this some kind of test? Do you people actually believing that Steed organized all that happened?"

Espionage slowly laid out to Purdey his story of what had happened referring to the proofs they had.
"I don't care about any stupid pieces of paper. I know. I was there," she stated.

There was a pause in the room. Suddenly Espionage asked, "What exactly is your relationship with John Steed?" It was asked so smoothly, so blandly, it took Purdey completely by surprise, as if she had just come across a snake in the grass. Which she realized she had. Immediately she felt a sinking feeling as she knew where this line of inquiry was heading.
"What kind of idiotic question is that? He's my partner, with Gambit. We've been a team for over a year."
"Can you define 'partner' for us, please?"
She would make them fight for it. "Colleague, associate. I'm sorry I didn't bring my OED along for the etiology of the word."
"Have you no other connection with him than through work?"
"We have dinner together, occasionally. Go to a play, the opera. We're friends, as partners, with whom you trust your life, should be."
"And has that friendship assumed a more… shall we say… intimate nature?"

So, there it was, the question of the inquiry. And she was bound to tell the truth to this organization, and to these men in particular. Affecting her most superior air, she answered, plainly, "Yes."
"Ah, it has, you say?"
"It has."
"Therefore one might be lead to believe that you consider yourself to be more than just a partner, a friend to Steed."
"Not more. Just a friend."
"A close friend."
Purdey shrugged. "As you wish."
"His lover?"
"At times."
"Do you love him?"
"I fail to see--"
"Please just answer the question, Purdey. Are you in love with Steed? May I remind you of your oath to be absolutely truthful to the Ministry at all times."
"I am very fond of him."
"Extremely fond?"
Purdey took a deep breath. "Yes."

Espionage stood up. "Gentlemen, I have heard enough. You have heard my evidence of Steed's actions and the proof I have is right in front of you. Now you have heard Purdey's story, which is in wide variance with my belief and proofs. Purdey has been a good agent, well-respected and trustworthy, with no demerits in her record file. Yet, she had blatantly admitted to being Steed's lover, to being extremely fond of him. Gentleman, I move that due to those extenuating factors, Purdey's testimony on Steed's behalf be erased and ignored as invalid evidence. I believe that Purdey would say anything to protect Steed. I am not necessarily implicating her in the theft of and sale of the parcel to the Russians, although that will certainly have to be considered, if, such a decree is upheld against Steed. In the meantime, I recommend Purdey be taken off active duty." The other men at the table lifted their pencils in agreement, aside from the Colonel. "Purdey," Espionage continued, "you may leave while we discuss this issue among ourselves. You are confined to stay in London, and are not allowed any more visits to or phone contacts with Steed."

Purdey realized her jaw had actually dropped as Espionage had been launching his tirade. She sat in the chair, wide-eyed and blinking, immovable.
"Purdey you may leave us at this time," Espionage repeated, more firmly.
"You bloody, ungrateful bastards!" she screamed, leaping out of her seat. "Steed goes through hell protecting the Ministry, protecting the country, trying to save the lives of fifty English men and women and you have the utter gall and stupidity to accuse him of orchestrating the whole fiasco? Are you people insane? What I have told you is the pure and honest truth. Just because Steed and I are sometimes lovers does not invalidate my words! What happened to Tony? Where did he disappear to? Where are Frankie and the others? Surely you've captured them by now. They will substantiate my story. Or have then unfortunately disappeared as well? Which one of you is the damned bastard who is framing Steed? And why? Why are you doing this to Steed? He's your best agent! He's England's best agent! I heard him screaming for hours and he never said a word. Not a word!! Could any of you do that? You fools, you don't know the size of the mistake you are making!!"

And at that Purdey ran out of words, and stood there enraged and shaking.
Colonel Dreyford stood up and said, "Purdey, you forget yourself."
"Go to hell, all of you," she answered and left, slamming the door behind her.
"Well, gentleman, after that little hysterical demonstration, the entire subject being her defending her lover, John Steed, tell me --should we disavow her words or not?" Espionage asked, sneering at her departure. He could not have asked for a better reaction from Purdey.

It was a reluctant vote --four voted to disavow, and three didn't. They disavowed her words. Now, they just had to hear from Steed.

Later that afternoon Colonel Dreyford went for a walk on Hampstead Heath, near the beginning place of this whole sad affair. There were couples, and families, and youngsters, all playing and frolicking in the delightful spring weather, caught up in the joy of their own lives. Normally such sights would have brought a great smile to the Colonel's face, but such was by far the case today. Colonel Dreyford's own mood was one of sadness. He was losing control of the Ministry to Espionage. The Colonel knew, but couldn't prove, that Espionage had arranged the disappearances, and, God Help Us, the deaths of the lad Tony Miller and the other men from London. He wondered about the £100,000, the money found at Steed's by men Operations had sent out on to investigate on Espionage's suggestion. The Colonel was perturbed and consternated at Steed's apparent debt to the casino in Morocco. The Colonel had called the casino and been reassured the debt was real. He had read Tony's signed confession thirty times, and had Research search the entire Ministry twice trying unsuccessfully to uncover Tony's interrogation tape. He had heard Espionage's story of what happened ten times, and had not believed it once.

It stank. The whole thing stank. A crude word, but so very descriptive of the situation. The Colonel had full faith in Steed, knew that the charges against him were ludicrous, as Purdey had stated that afternoon, yet, he had no way to disprove it. Espionage was cagey, that was certain. Damn good at his job, damn good. Too good. He could easily arrange five killings, could surreptitiously drug a scared youth and convince his addled mind that his memory was incorrect, could pull in favors from casino owners, could frame England's best agent. For what reason? The Colonel didn't know.

He wished that Russian agent he had deported had been more help, but the chap really didn't seem to know much, and so they had sent him back to try to ease some of the tensions between Russia and England now that another Russian death had occurred in Britain, although neither by British hands.

Colonel Dreyford would continue to fight for Steed. He did have some little authority over hearings and accusations like this, though it was not absolute. He sighed. He was worried about Steed. Everything was falling apart for the man, and it seemed to the Colonel that if Purdey's story was correct, and he believed it was, than Steed was having his life torn asunder through no real fault of his own. Being guilty and falling from on high was one thing; being innocent and falling, well, that was an incalculable nightmare.

The Colonel knew that Espionage and Administrations were the only two Heads that were viewed Steed with acrimonious attitudes; the other five Heads held no real antipathy towards Steed. But the word traitor, especially in a man so highly placed as Steed rang every alarm in the system and the system usually responded by being overly eager to convict. Much better to convict an innocent fellow than let a guilty one go. It was very frustrating to the Colonel. Steed was no doubt the most popular person in the Ministry; quite a hero for the younger set, and admired and respected by the older. And Steed deserved such adulation. He was that good an agent, that friendly a man, that exemplary an Englishman.

The Colonel would give it his all to protect Steed and defend him. But, there were strong forces against him, and they were armed and waiting. Waiting for Steed to appear before them.

First, though, Steed had to survive his injuries and chest condition.
It was bad for Steed, very bad indeed. If they could only find that parcel. Where could the damned thing be?

Steed drank a little water the next day, sipped on a little of the green drink and ate a bit of supper, and Hal hoped that Steed's health would not suffer too as a result of his being dissevered from his family. Steed barely spoke the whole day except to ask about Purdey's Inquiry Session to the Colonel, who had deftly avoided any clear answers, mumbling once more something about the Heads growing concerned over Steed's recent actions, and then leaving before Steed could get him to elucidate upon the subject. However, Steed knew, instinctively and by having spent most of his life in the field of intelligence, that some sort of net was closing around him, and that if a scapegoat was going to be created, Steed would be the one so designated. He hoped Purdey would not also be implicated in any irregular or treasonous charges. Steed was frustrated and angry. It's like being Cassandra, he thought. I can stand and scream the truth at the top of my wheezing lungs, and everyone is just passing by dismissing me.

Steed imagined himself out riding his horse, in the woods, by the river. But, this time, he couldn't get out of his mind that other horsemen were galloping his way, chasing him down…
By the day after, when Purdey didn't show up again, Steed realized she had probably been ordered to stay away from him, Steed's bronchitis suddenly begun to worsen--he developed a fever, his cough became productive. Dr. Emmitt grew worried. He changed the antibiotics to something stronger, and had two male respiratory therapists come into Steed's room twice a day to sit him up, rub and pat his back and make him cough up as much mucous as possible.

Steed dreaded their appearance. It hurt to sit up, it hurt having his back lightly hit by one of the men as the other kept him upright. Didn't they remember he had two fractured ribs? And, worse of all, having them there on either side of him bringing him pain brought him back in his mind to Wales, to the cell, to being hit much harder.

"Not now," he told them on the morning of his second week in the hospital. Two weeks, and it seemed he was making little progress in regaining his health. More pain, even under the precarious auspices of being helpful, was not what Steed needed.

"Sorry, Mr. Steed," one of them said, as they both lifted him up in bed, causing a groan to escape his lips. "Doctor's orders." They put a plastic column with a tube sticking out of it into his mouth and had him inhale deeply then exhale as forcefully as he could measuring the strength of his breath which they recorded in his chart.
Then the one on his left held him up as the one on Steed's right began to gently pound his back, exhorting him to cough as deeply as he could. Steed didn't want the man to pound. He didn't want to cough deeply. He wanted them to go, and he wanted to lay back down again. He wanted them to leave him alone; he wanted everyone to just leave him alone. Steed felt a rush of anger increase inside him.
It was odd, what happened. Before Steed was mentally aware of his actions, his right arm shot out and he grabbed the therapist on his right by the fellow's throat. And he clenched very tightly, as tightly as he was able, focusing all his mental and physical vigor on his hand. He held the therapist's throat in a death grip, his arm shaking in the intensity of the hold. The therapist gurgled and brought his hands to his neck, trying to pull Steed's hand away as his legs gave out and he sank to his knees on the floor by Steed's bed. Steed's grip did not waver an iota, and the therapist arms began floundering in the air.

"Jesus!" the other therapist said. He ran around the bed and joined the struggle, pushing Steed back down onto the bed and attempting to break Steed's iron clasp. "Let go of him, let go of him!"

Steed swung his cast over his body and solidly connected with the second therapist's head, knocking him to the floor. As the strangled man started turning purple, suddenly Steed became aware of what he was doing, as if a fit had just passed, and Steed released the first man, who collapsed on the floor, panting, his hands wrapped around his bruised neck.

"I said, 'Not now,'" Steed growled, still somewhat caught in the fading throes of his ire. "Get out."

The therapists staggered to their feet and left the room, running passed Hal who was entering it at that moment, and who had to duck beneath the plastic column which Steed threw at the departing therapists.

Hal picked up the column and stared at Steed wide-eyed as Steed sank back to his pillow and suffered through a long coughing spell. "Steed, what's going on?" Hal asked, as he heard a growing commotion in the hallway of the clinic. Suddenly Dr. Emmitt was in the room, the two therapists standing behind him rapidly complaining about what had happened as they pointed at the bandaged patient.
"All right, all right," Dr. Emmitt said, holding his hand up to silence the two men. He took a deep breath and strode to Steed's bed. "What on earth happened in here, Steed?" Dr. Emmitt asked.

Steed felt a pang of regret for what had just occurred, and it frankly worried him. He had lost control, that was evident, lost control to anger, rage, and had attacked the two men who were trying to help him. Not very gentlemanly behavior. Rather disturbing, actually. He hadn't lost control like that for a long time. Before he could attempt to explain his behavior, Steed had another paroxysm of coughing. Dr. Emmitt waited for him to settle down and then spoke again.

"Steed, these men were only doing their job on my orders," he said. "Why did you assail them?"
Steed's mind filled in the rest of what Dr. Emmitt held back. What was the rational reason for you to almost choke a therapist to death? That's not like you at all. I know you've been through a lot lately, but violently attacking innocent men doing their job is not helpful. Maybe not, Steed answered in his own voice, but he was an innocent man just doing his job as well. Tell the Ministry it wasn't helpful to attack him. Tell his family.

But those thoughts all sounded very childish to Steed, and he felt slightly ashamed of himself. As the whole room stood impatiently waiting for him to reply, he finally said, "I'm sorry. I'm very sorry. But I should rather not go through that procedure anymore."
Dr. Emmitt shook his head. "Don't worry about that. The therapists won't come near you now." He paused. "We're just trying to help you, Steed."

Some help. More pain. Yet to diffuse the situation, Steed fell back on his charm, and attempted a weak grin. "Yes, well, a bottle of champagne would help most, I think."
"With a brandy chaser, no doubt," Dr. Emmitt answered, shaking his head back and forth. Then he turned to the therapists and the couple of nurses who had also snuck in to the room to witness this unusual event. "Right, that's it. Everyone out." People filed out of the room, murmuring among themselves. Hal handed the plastic column to Dr. Emmitt, who was the last one to leave. "I'll talk to him, doctor," he said.
"Do that, Hal. Try to convince not to assault any other hospital worker. Myself included."

When they were alone Hal sat by Steed's side. As he opened up his mouth Steed, laying on his side with his eyes closed said, "Not now, Hal."
Weren't those the warning words Steed had used with the therapists? Hal shut his mouth and kept quiet.

Steed's ability to breath became more and more difficult over the next days, and his low-grade fever elevated, and he had headaches and muscle aches. Dr. Emmitt had an x-ray taken of his lungs and frowned when it clearly illustrated a developing pneumonia. The physician put Steed on stronger IV antibiotics, as a last ditch drug treatment, but they didn't seem to help. Steed's condition continued to worsen.
It took all Steed's strength to work his lungs, even with the oxygen line attached to his nose. He coughed frequently, and it felt that his lungs were full of mucous, preventing air flow.

Another bout of pneumonia, Steed thought. What is it, four, five times in my life? If I survive this I'll probably have a stroke next or lose my legs in a freak riding accident the first time I take Napoleon out… They had put a tube into him by his right shoulder to feed him through, but he was still losing weight. The perfect diet plan, he thought--first one is beaten and tortured, and then one develops pneumonia; guaranteed to rid one of those unsightly pounds. No pills to take!
Sarcasm was unbecoming to a gentleman.

Steed missed Purdey. Her soft eyes, her gentle hands, her caring heart. Her beauty--to see something beautiful in this ugly time gave Steed strength. The Colonel still came in daily, for very brief visits, and obliquely related how the Heads were anxious to see Steed, question Steed… That couldn't be good, Steed knew. He asked the Colonel, Had they accused Purdey of some error of procedure? Partially blamed her for this mess? Had she been termed an accomplice to Steed's misunderstood actions? Was she of all things, in gaol, under house arrest? Why wasn't she visiting him? But the Colonel had hemmed and hawed, said "No, she's not in gaol," and then excused himself. The next time he visited Steed had not bothered to launch any more inquiries about Purdey at him.

There was always Hal. Hal, who he had met in the country clinic after released from his hospitalization on his return from Nee San. Hal who had befriended him. Hal, who's last case Steed had been involved in with Mrs. Gale, and who had resigned from a career for which he was the most patently unqualified person Steed had ever met. Hal who wrote poetry. Hal, who had inherited his grandfather's estate, who lived mostly a recluse's life. Who arranged flowers. Who was in love with Steed.

Steed had known even through his mental haze in the country clinic of Hal's affection towards him, and it had become more obvious when, six years later, Steed had begun training at Hal's gymnasium not long after Hal's last case. Steed had been assigned to check up on Hal a couple of months after the end of the assignment, make sure he was doing well, that he was adjusting to civilian life without turning into any threat to the Ministry. It was then that Hal had shown Steed around the estate, and Steed's jaw had dropped at the sight of the training facilities there. Complete and private. Everything Steed needed now that he was back in England. Hal was most agreeable to the idea of Steed using the equipment. Certainly Hal never did.

It was unrequited love on Hal's behalf. Steed just wasn't that way, and one night after he had showered and was half dressed he had gently parried Hal's approach to him when Hal appeared, a bit timidly, with amour on his mind. It had not bothered Steed; he was too secure in his sexuality, and, frankly, it had not been the first or last time he had faced such an offer from another man. Steed had asked Hal if he didn't want him coming over anymore as a result, but Hal had shaken his head vigorously, and had assured Steed that his estate was still his to use freely. And so Hal had settled for friendship, although Steed knew it wasn't easy for him.
Steed worked out solo, self motivated to maintain his fitness to avoid injury and capture of himself and of whomever was the partner he had chosen or been assigned to work with. Steed would not have worked well under most trainers; he didn't take kindly to advice or directions.

Hal Anderson was an innately generous man. He showered his attention on Steed in many rather benign ways: he began concocting energy drinks for Steed to drink at the beginning of his exercising and sometimes during a break in a particularly strenuous training session; began mailing articles and books on the latest exercise concepts to Steed; began suggesting dietary changes to keep Steed's weight on track and to help decrease the stiffness his old injuries brought to him; began organizing visits to his estate by the best swordsmen in Europe to surreptitiously duel with Steed monthly; began bringing karate teachers there to fight with him; Hal brought in a yoga instructor once a week so Steed would remain limber; studied herbs and homeopathy to aid in Steed keeping healthy and expedite his recovery from injuries and illnesses; and found a trustworthy massage therapist to work out his sore muscles weekly, who could keep Steed's scars a secret. And what a massage therapist she had turned out to be, Steed sighed, willing to massage those areas that normally weren't really that tight or sore. But Steed hadn't told Hal that.

Hal had opened up his home to Steed, and made Steed's care the center of his life out of love, even though Steed spent little time with Hal aside from when he was in the gymnasium, or running around the track on the back lawn of the estate, or running up the stairs of the high situated next to the track. Hal was a nice, decent fellow, gentle and kind, but…well, he was not really Steed's type of chap in more ways than just the one. Steed thought Hal a friend, but had always felt it best to keep his distance from Hal, for Hal's sake mainly, he told himself. Besides, it was Steed's way to generally have an emotional wall up; generally keep a distance from others. Less pain all around that way. So Steed was charming with Hal, and convivial, as with everyone else; though for all he had grown to value Hal's presence in his life over these last thirteen years, Steed had never told the man so.

But, now, as Steed lay in his hospital bed, gasping for air, he had to admit that having Hal near him, someone who still saw him in good light and still cared about him and was willing to show it made him feel better, took some of the growing fear of his worsening condition away. At least one person would mourn his death, if Steed died. And that was better than no one. And Hal was better than most.

"Hal," Steed wheezed, breathless by that one word.
Hal put his thick homeopathic reference book down and leaned forward to Steed. "Yes, Steed?"
"Thanks," Steed said, his chest heaving. "For everything." When was the last time he had thanked Hal? Why was "thanks" the only sentiment he could utter?
Hal's eyes teared up a little. "You're welcome, Steed."

That afternoon, Steed grew disoriented and his respiratory functioning collapsed. Dr. Emmitt found it absolutely necessary to place him on a ventilator.
"It's not going well," Dr. Emmitt said to Hal, checking on Steed later that evening. "I don't understand why he's gone downhill so fast after he had been stable for almost two weeks."
"Well, maybe it's the fact that his whole life is falling apart and everyone he cares about is absent from his life."

The doctor blinked several times and sent a look of caring regard to a sleeping Steed. "What fools they all are at the Ministry, Hal," he said, shaking his head. He looked at Hal. "Hal, if you can help with the homeopathic remedies, get started. We have a very bad situation here. Steed could die from this, and die within one or several days."

Dr. Emmitt left, and Hal sat down, miserable and scared. He had been giving Steed homeopathics, but none had worked so far. He watched Steed's chest rise and fall in response to the tube stuck down into his chest. He would try again. He would keep trying. Damn his aunt and sister. Damn them all. And he studied again Steed's symptoms trying to find the right medicine that would stimulate his immune system to overcome the infection. The only thing that interrupted his intense concentration was hearing in his mind Steed say, over and over again, "Thanks. For everything."

Miss Emma Knight looked over her stacks of wedding invitations sitting on her coffee table. The calligrapher, an elderly lady from Bergerac, had done a beautiful job. The letters curved and flowed in masterful ways, legible yet so elegant in their design that the envelopes truly seemed to be individual pieces of art.

It was to be a rather grand affair; Jean-Luc had the typically large Catholic family, and a few friends and acquaintances, and for Emma it was the exact reverse. All told they expected two hundred to two hundred fifty people in three months, in August, and this for her second marriage. The invitations were going out today. She should be so excited, and she was, she was. But…

Emma held one invitation in her hand. She had had it written out as a matter of course, without much thought. But, now, Emma wondered if she should actually send it. She knew he would never attend, and that was a relief; she didn't want him to come. She didn't want to see him turn his head sideways as he looked at her hall paintings. To hear him mention an Auntie. To sit with him as he serenely murmured a long "Ahh…" when a falling star streaked across the sky.

But, after all they had been through and had once meant to each other, Emma felt that he deserved to know, at least, that she was remarrying. That it would be better coming from her, then just hearing it second-hand.

Emma bent over and wrote a little note and paper-clipped it to the invitation. Then she put the square card back in the stamped envelope, the one addressed to John Steed, Esq., and put it on top of one of the stacks. Jean-Luc entered the living room at that moment, a good man, Jean-Luc, and as he sat down beside Emma on the sofa he was surprised by her ardor as she kissed him as hard as she could.

Chapter 20

It was two days later when Steed's lungs were full of fluid, and Dr. Emmitt smacked his hand against the wall in frustration that Hal gave another remedy to Steed, dropping the liquid into his mouth, which stayed opened a bit by having a tube in it that went down into his chest. Dr. Emmitt had not expected Steed to last the morning and yet he did. Dr. Emmitt stared at Steed and then at Hal as Steed lasted through the afternoon, and with frequent dosings of the liquid, seemed to be breathing easier by nightfall.

"My God, Hal," Dr. Emmitt said. "I think you did it."
Hal had to agree, and he leaned back in his chair, completely exhausted by the last several days and his frantic attempts to help Steed one failed remedy at a time. Finally he had found the right one, as Steed hovered nearer death than he had in many years.

Dr. Emmitt arranged for a nurse to give Steed the drops hourly through-out the night so that Hal could get a bit of rest in one of the spare beds in the clinic. Dr. Emmitt knew of and respected homeopathy, but had never imagined the medicine had the power to reclaim someone so close to the precipice of death.
Hal slept fifteen hours and when he awoke and visited Steed in the early afternoon of the next day, Steed's breathing had continued to greatly improve and Dr. Emmitt thought he would be able to remove the ventilator later that day. Steed was still sleeping, and his fever had broken. By that evening the ventilator was gone, though Dr. Emmitt put the oxygen tube back in place on Steed's nose, and Steed was awake enough to swallow some water. Watched closely for any relapse, Steed slept through the night with no sign of renewed illness.

Dr. Emmitt had to considered him cured, and he shook Hal's hand heartily. Steed stayed in the hospital another month, until the first week of July, gaining strength back, and continuing the healing of his injuries. His bandages were all finally removed. Steed began leaving his bed a bit, just walking back and forth in his hospital room at first. Steed was irritated at his extreme weakness, at the stiffness in his limbs, and the soreness that seemed to pervade his body. This was what Steed had dreaded yet expected. Tortured in Wales for less than one day, and now months of hard and tiring recovery. Steed used a crutch under his right arm to compensate for his cast foot with the rubbed stump bottom. He had episodes of dizziness and perspired at the least effort. Yet Steed pushed himself to keep moving, so he could finally leave the hospital, and get on with his life, whatever that life would be. He wanted to see his horses. He wanted to be in the sun and fresh air of summer. He wanted to see Purdey. He wanted to connect with his family, and tell them what had happened. He wanted to convince the Heads of his innocence. He wanted out.

So Steed walked in his room until he was strong enough to move to the hallway, Hal or a nurse always be his side to catch him if he wavered. He ate regularly to try to put back on the twenty pounds he had lost. He spoke as little as possible, because when he did, his voice had an edge to it that he didn't like.
Steed was taken to a room far from his in a wheelchair and sat in a plush chair facing Harkin, a Ministry psychologist, who wanting to talk about Steed's recent experiences in Wales. Steed joked a bit, and answered monosyllabically the rest of the time. He was renown for his evasions with psychologists. One infamous time, several years ago, Steed had turned a whole session around and the psychologist had spent most of the hour speaking about his shy and lonely teen-age years. Since the hour was taped, it went very badly for the chap with his superiors in Analysis.

The second and third sessions Steed was no different and when Harkin bluntly asked Steed if he had any desire to get rid of his anger, the anger that had caused him to almost murder a respiratory therapist, Steed had affected his blandest countenance and had said "Oh, I've already turned that into gobs of jolliness and glee". When the psychologist then asked him about his dreams, which were actually very bad, very very bad, Steed told him they were full of "rainbows and lollipops and frolicking elves". Much scribbling was done by the psychologist, and then he asked Steed to talk about his anger some more.

Steed had reached his limit. He didn't want to talk about anything. He didn't want to be sitting in a chair, in a room without windows, once more being repeatedly questioned by someone with antagonistic tendencies regarding a subject he didn't wish to talk about.
"I think I should go now," Steed said curtly.
"No, not for another thirty minutes. Now, tell me, how do you usually deal with your anger?"

Steed could feel himself growing irritable and tense, anxious, and increasingly claustrophobic. "It's generally better for all involved if I don't get angry to begin with." He hoped the psychologist was astute enough to understand his warning, and just end the session.
The man wasn't. "Yes, but if you do, how do you generally process it?"

Enough. Steed pushed off from his chair and limped to the man's desk. The psychologist leaned back in his chair attempting to show his casual interest, but his eyes betrayed his fear. Steed, his stare never leaving the man's face, broke two pencils on Harkin's desk in half, and then lifted the pieces of paper the psychologist had been writing on about him and ripped them into tiny pieces, letting them drift slowly down to the floor.

"Think people," Steed said. He had the urge to sweep all the items on the man's desk off it; he had the urge to toss a chair across the room. To fight for his life. To escape. "I really should go now. For your sake."
The man's eyes widened briefly before his professional demeanor reasserted itself. "I shall have to report you as dangerous and unfit for work."

Steed smiled grimly. "Of course." He left the room and the wheelchair behind, and by the time Steed made his long way back to his room, everyone he passed noticing his slow unsteady progress but no one daring to approach him, Steed was so fatigued and sore he slept the whole afternoon away. Completely undisturbed by anyone. He did not return to Harkin's room anymore. He was not asked to.

Steed still coughed a little, but it was dry, and did not come in paroxysms. He went back to his uninterrupted walking though his stamina was very low, and he had to rest frequently during his walks. It angered him, the weakness, the rehabilitation, the starting from scratch all over again. He was older, it was harder, and it just frankly raised his ire.

Finally, almost two months after entering, Steed was granted release from the clinic by Dr. Emmitt. He had several more days until his foot cast came off, and probably one week until his wrist cast was removed because his wrist had suffered such terrible abuse after it had been broken. It had needed special surgery to realign the bones, and extra time to set properly. His ribs and bruises had all healed up. He was still ten pounds underweight. He became sore and stiff sitting still or after moving too much, and easily tired.

But, there he was, being driven home by Hal. Steed had bottles of pain killers and bottles of cough suppressants in a bag by his feet, to be taken as needed.
"Nice to finally be out, eh, Steed?" Hal asked as he traveled his slow deliberate way through traffic. "Should feel wonderful sleeping in your own bed. Still only early July; lots of summer left to enjoy."

Steed watched the buildings of London pass by, watched the people, an anxiety growing inside him. "Yes," he said.
"And to see your horses. You must be looking forward to that. Although Dr. Emmitt doesn't want you riding them for another five weeks."
A growing anxiety. "Yes, Hal, he told me so as well."

He was out of the hospital. The Ministry would give him a few days to settle in at home before calling him into the inquiry. What would happen there? Steed didn't know. He knew the parcel had still not been found, but that the networks had not yet been compromised; the Colonel had at least told him that, quietly, one day. Steed knew many of the Heads were against him, and knew who was the ringleader goading them on. Espionage. He was sure it was Espionage. Were they actually thinking of blaming him? Dismissing him? What would Steed do if he wasn't an agent? More of a concern --Who would he be?

Hal drove to Steed's house and parked the car in the driveway by the entrance.
For all his worries, it did feel good to be home. There had been a number of times since he had last left his manor that Steed had doubted he would ever have seen it again.

"Will you be okay on your own?" Hal asked as Steed opened up his door.
It was a question that if asked by anyone else would have had Steed giving them a completely withering look. With Hal, now, he simply said, "Yes."
"I'll check in later," Hal said, handing Steed his key. "There's food stocked in the refrigerator, and I've been watching your post. Paid the important bills. Paid the house-keeper, and the stable hand and grounds-keeper. Had a local lad ride your horses to keep them fit."

Steed turned to Hal. For a moment his ever-present latent anger died away and his heart swelled with gratitude. Awkwardly, Steed held out his hand to Hal who just as awkwardly gripped it. "Hal," Steed began, "Really, you… uh..." Steed choked on his words of appreciation, on his words of close friendship. Instead Steed shook Hal's hand a couple of times, and managed to say "Thanks for all you've done. I'll, uh, pay you back for expenses."

And before Hal could answer Steed stepped out of the car and using the cane he had advanced to hobbled to the door. Steed's lips pinched together at his verbal inadequacies. A passing image of George and picks came to Steed's head and Steed wondered if he had learned any lesson from all this horror at all.

Concluded in part four

©  Mona Morstein 1998
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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