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Black Ice: Chapter 28

...There was no way of pushing through the crowd, so I did a few nifty turns around the town centre and pulled round the corner into Gardastraeti when I saw the mob advancing down the road.

In front of them was Palli with a roped prisoner.,,,

The prisoner is a Russian, thought to be a spy, and he has been badly beaten up. But is Palli the culprit?

Novelist Colin Dunne continues his brilliant Cold War spy thriller which is set in Iceland. To read earlier chapters please click on
http://www.openwriting.com/archives/black_ice/

I drove back into town alongside the Tjornin. I stopped and stared at it. You know how it is when you're sure something's wrong but you can't see what it is.

Then I realised. It was deserted. A bold band of ducks was leading a raiding party on the land and ransacking a paper-bag
of slices of bread, squabbling in their glee at putting one over on their patrons. Further along I saw a toy yacht beached on the side, and a coat and picnic bag beyond that. But no people. Then I saw where they'd all gone.

A crowd of thirty or so people were taking the road that led up the hillside among the smart villas. From somewhere up at the front, out of my sight, I could hear the sweet burble of a motor-bike. Only one machine on the island sounded like that.

There was no way of pushing through the crowd, so I did a few nifty turns around the town centre and pulled round the corner into Gardastraeti when I saw the mob advancing down the road.

In front of them was Palli with a roped prisoner.

Sitting back on his machine, his bare blue-stained arms were alive with muscles as he bent his wrists down, juggling throttle and clutch to hold it down to walking speed.

Beyond him, thirty yards or so distant, was the shuffling muttering crowd. They daren't come nearer; they couldn't go away.

And between them, secured to the bike by twelve-foot of orange nylon cord around his neck, was a young dark-haired man.

At first I didn't recognise him, but then, neither would his mother. His face was blood and bruises and not much else, and he was holding his head back in a queer sort of way. He stumbled and staggered along and it took me a minute to realise it was the Russian. The one in the photograph with Solrun. The one in the chamois jacket. Only now he looked about as elegant as a scarecrow. His jacket was ripped open and as he walked his knee poked through a tear in his trousers.

When he saw me, Palli gunned the bike and eased the clutch a fraction. It was beautifully judged. The bike jumped forward a yard, the rope tightened and Kirillina was jerked forward on his knees. I saw then that his hands were tied behind his back.

'Said I'd run you home - here y'are,' Palli called out. He didn't even bother to look round. He smiled at me all the time. 'Know who this lulu is?'

'I know.'

By this time I was out of the car and unfastening the cord
around his neck. At least it wasn't a noose. And the fastening on his hands fell away when I touched it. 'What the hell are you doing, Palli? The cops'll lynch you for this.'

He pulled an innocent face. 'Me? I was only giving the guy a lift home. I didn't touch him. Ask the bum.'

I knew I had to. Kirillina was mauling at his face and generally trying to bring himself round.

'No,' he said, when I put the question. 'Not him.'

'Who? Who did it? I'll get the police.'

'Police?' His eyes opened in alarm. 'No police.'

Close to, I could see the damage. His right eye had gone completely under a blue-black mound. The blood from his nose had soaked up the grime and grit of the road where he must've fallen, so that his face looked like a dropped lollipop.

He didn't seem to know he was outside the Soviet Embassy. It's a cream and grey building, which somehow manages to look thickset and heavy-shouldered, as though anxious to conform to its national stereotype. It was the sort of building where a Victorian might have kept his second-best mistress. Now it was bursting with life. Faces appeared at the basement windows behind the security bars, and higher up the building.

'He was playing around with Oscar's chick,' Palli said. He'd obviously decided to try to justify it. 'You gotta hand out a warning now and again.'

I didn't reply. Then I heard him say 'Hey, this could be fun,' and I looked up and saw the door to the embassy, on the side of the building, had opened. Three men were coming down the steps, two of them trying to restrain a third who was shouting and waving his one free arm. Down the road the crowd watched this loud incomprehensible drama.

As he burst free and rushed to the gate, I led Kirillina to him. He put his arm round him lovingly, and coaxed him up the stone steps and into the embassy.

One of the two remaining men pointed at Palli and bellowed a fierce threat. Then they all withdrew and closed the heavy green door behind them.

'Some show, huh?'

'You must be mad. Are you trying to start a war or something?'

He pushed two ringers down into the pocket of his sleeveless denimjacket and pulled out his cigarettes. As he lit one, he said: 'I told you, it wasn't me. But if it was I've got the perfect defence.' He drew on the cigarette and then leaned back on his bike to blow the smoke skywards. 'Yes, sir, that bastard was screwing my wife.'

'Your wife?'

'That's right. Solrun.'

Then I saw what he meant.

'Now leaving out what I know and what you know, on paper she is my wife and that guy - who is reckoned to be a smart-ass diplomat or something - has been taking advantage of her loving disposition. Now she's gone missing and he's got the nerve to come to my apartment looking for her. Shit, man, no one would convict me on that. They'll say I shoulda killed him.'

He pretended to get off his bike to go and find the Russian again, then sat back. He was fire-proof and he knew it.

'Did he really come to your apartment?' Somehow I had to try to salvage some truth from all this.

'That's right. A real foolish thing to do.'

'Why?'

He began to paddle the bike along with his feet. I walked with him. The crowd had almost all gone now, back to their boats and empty bags of bread.

'He said he was looking for Solrun. Friends of Oscar he ran into thought he might know that himself.'

'And did he?'

'Well, he didn't say, matter of fact.' He scrubbed his fingers in the ginger matting of his chest.

He stopped the bike and motioned me nearer with a movement of his head. The jeering triumph left his face.

'Look. After last night, some things I wanna say, okay?'

To him, a beating-up was all in a day's work. He obviously thought I was getting far too excited about it.

'All right. What?'

'I'm sorry I walked out on you. I don't know where you got the name, but yes, sure, Oscar Murphy was my buddy.'

'And he isn't here?'

He kept his hairless face directed towards me and his pale
blue eyes were steady enough. 'I told you that. He's working in a muffler shop in Jamaica New-York Jamaica that is, not the one down in the West Indies.'

He saw me glancing back anxiously at the embassy.

'Don't worry about it. They just roughed him up a little. He'll be okay. Sam,' he said, 'I wanted to tell you I was hearing you last night. You talked good sense to me. Better than I've heard for years. I'm going back. I'm going back to Chicago.'

'Great,' I said, and he managed to look quite hurt by the sardonic way I said it. For some reason he wanted my good opinion.

He halted the bike with his feet on the road again and held out his broad hands with their tufty golden hair. Then he turned them over, palms and padded muscles uppermost.

Whoever had beaten up the Russian would've had hands like a slaughterman. Palli's wouldn't have got a second glance at a needlework class. Not only were they unscratched, they were surprisingly clean.
c

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