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Black Ice: Chapter 37

...Panic rocked my mind and shook my soul. I was being buried alive in a black coffin which was pitching from side to side as it swung down into the earth. Fear ran like flames through veins shaking sanity out of my finger-ends and putting reason to flight. It was true. I was locked up in my own body and my soundless screams rang only in my own head. I was the last man on earth. Me and Johnny Cash...

Journalist-spy Sam Craven is in for a terrifying time.

Coline Dunne continues his thrilling Cold-War tale. To read earlier chapters please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/black_ice/

When I woke up, I was sealed inside my own body. Blind. Deaf. Dumb. And paralysed. Yet I was thinking so I must be alive buried alive inside myself.

It was a nightmare so instantly terrifying that I made a convulsive effort to throw it off, and then the nightmare doubled. This was no mad dream. This was real.

Panic rocked my mind and shook my soul. I was being buried alive in a black coffin which was pitching from side to side as it swung down into the earth. Fear ran like flames through veins shaking sanity out of my finger-ends and putting reason to flight. It was true. I was locked up in my own body and my soundless screams rang only in my own head. I was the last man on earth. Me and Johnny Cash.

Johnny Cash.

Somewhere, far far away, Johnny Cash was singing.

Now I know that the end of the world isn't going to be a lot of laughs for the likes of me, but even a vengeful God wouldn't hit me with Johnny Cash in my last moments.

Intently, I listened again. It was one of those prison dirges . . .

I could hear. Not much. Indistinctly. But I could hear.

At that moment the pitching to and fro stopped and the floor beneath me rose up, smashed me in the back and on the back of my head, so that I bounced upwards, and then fell back again. On cold metal. It hurt but it was worth it. I wasn't cut off from the rest of the world after all. For that relief, they could bounce me all day.

Consciously, I set about finding out what bits of me were still working and what they could find out about my surroundings. The cold metal was against my fingers. My arms were tied behind me, my fingers free. And I really could hear. All around me was a dull roar, partly vibration and partly sound. I could smell. Oil, petrol. Then I knew. I was trussed up in the boot of a car.

Right then we hit what must've been a pothole and I was thrown around again.

At least I could do something about that now. Hope surged through me, washing away the panic. I was lying on my side. All I had to do was to wriggle until my shoulders were against the wall of the boot, then stretch out my legs to the other side so that I was firmly wedged. Better, much better. No more bouncing.

And my legs were free. Free and working, what's more. Fingers, legs, at least ten per cent of my hearing - I could always be a disc jockey.

I started to work on that. It wasn't my hearing that was on the blink. My head was bound too. I stretched the muscles of my face to feel it. Eyes, ears and mouth were all tightly covered by some stretchy, sticky binding - probably that bandage they use to hold pulled muscles. My nose was flattened but I could still breathe.

Then I remembered meeting Palli and the stocking mask in the rear-view mirror. They'd trussed me up and hi-jacked me, and were now ferrying me over rough Icelandic roads, with accompaniment by Johnny Cash on the radio. Which meant it was the base radio because the Icelandic government would not risk corrupting their citizens with that rubbish, and for once I was right with them.

Where? Where were they taking me? And why? Was this how they'd hi-jacked the fake Oscar? Perhaps they wanted me for a fourth for bridge. Ouch. We hit a pothole four-foot deep and my head rang bells on the back of the boot.

That focused my attention on where I was. It doesn't matter where you live, one of our old Barnardo's aunties used to say, so long as it's home. For now, this was home. I braced myself again to get more comfortable. I tried again to work my hands and my jaw against the bindings, but always they slackened, then resumed their tight grip. Arm fastenings. Same there. I was tied so tightly at the wrists that I couldn't even work my fingers back to feel what they'd used. I tried to push my hands down to get my legs through. I couldn't get anywhere near, and every time I tried I got another bouncing round the boot. One thing was for sure - I'd never make a television cop.

Television. On television, bound victims back up against a saw-edged strip of metal and free themselves that way. All the time. Grunting and sweating, I manoeuvred myself around my metal tomb, feeling with my fingers for anything like a saw edge. I couldn't find any edge at all, saw or otherwise. I banged my head a few more times and that made me conscious of the pain in my arms and shoulders with being trussed so tightly.

I sagged back. Lie back and think of Iceland.

I ran through the who and why questions again. It had to be Solrun. They must still think that I knew where she was. 'They' being one enraged Oscar Murphy with a Colt .45. And my pal Palli had set me up for it beautifully.

Braced on my side again, my fingers were doubled up in the dirt in the bottom of the boot. Dirt and paper. Slowly I realised that my half-numb fingers were resting on a small sheet of paper - as far as I could tell, about the size of a pound note. A garage bill perhaps. A petrol receipt. A love letter. Who cared so long as it bore a name or an address. It took me about five minutes to force my arms up my back so that I could push it down the back of my trousers. But I did it. That made me feel useful. It wasn't an emotion I'd experienced for some time.

I must have faded away then. The next thing I knew was silence. After the bouncing and the drumming, it was quite eerie. Before I could begin to evaluate that, I felt a big hand lock around my upper arm and heave me to my knees. Another grabbed the front of my cord suit and I was hauled clear of the car boot. When they stood me on the ground, I was shaking so much I had to lean back against the car.

'He can't hear you.'

'Sure he can hear me. You can hear me okay, can't you?'

'There. I told you he couldn't.'

Powerful fingers tugged at the bandages round my head. He prised an opening over one ear and another so that part of my mouth was free.

'This is the guy, Palli. See where I got him on the head with the pan?'

All the time he was pulling at the bandages, I was trying to assess my new surroundings. The first thing I realised was that almost immediately I was covered in a fine drizzle, and the drumming of the car was now replaced by a great whooshing roar of sound that seemed to fill the background.

Together they meant something but, with my head still echoing from the journey, I couldn't quite piece it together.

'Evening, Oscar,' I said, as I managed to free my top lip from another layer of bandage. 'Nice to meet you after all this time.'

'Manners. All these Brits got such cute manners, Palli.'

'He's cute all right. I told you he was.'

'Is that why Solrun wanted him? I mean, Jesus, he don't look much.'

'It's because I'm nervous,' I said. 'It always upsets my complexion.'

Suddenly I could smell his gut breath as he came close to me, and feel the warmth of it on my lips.
'You gonna be nervous, don't you worry about that. You are gonna be very fucking nervous. Nervous and cute, eh? I never knew she went for nervous cute guys like you. To me you're just a man who played around with my wife and that means you don't have no future.'

'She wasn't your wife.' I said that because I wanted to give the conversation a push from my end. I had to try to work out what sort of man he was and what his reactions were likely to be and I only had my hearing to go on. Reaction was what I wanted reaction was what I got. I felt myself jolted forward as he grabbed my clothes again and I could sense his face an inch or two from my own.

'She was my wife,' he screamed. 'Palli was standing in for me. I asked him to. That was me she was marrying, not him. Tell him, Palli.'

'Like he says.'

He was still shaking me. 'She was going to get the money and come over and join me in the States. Then, Mister Goddam Smart-Ass, we were going to get properly married. With choirs and things like that. It was all fixed up. You understand that now, you cute little bastard?'

I did understand it. I understood a few more things, too.

'Then she upped and ran off with her Russian fancy-man, did she, Oscar?'

I was halfway into a flinch, waiting for the blow that would bring. Or at least another gale of stomach-stench and rage. I got neither. He even let go of my clothes. When he did speak, his voice was easy and pleasantly conversational.

'Maybe she did. Or maybe that's what she's planning to do. I asked her little Russian boyfriend about it and he wasn't too helpful. I coulda made him more helpful but Palli here said we didn't want to start no Third World War or nothing. Me, I don't mind.'

As he spoke, chuckling gently from time to time, he spun me round, holding my collar with one hand and sawing through the binding around my wrists with the other. Then he spun me back again, one-handed. In the jumble of new sounds and voices, I'd at last managed to work out where I was. The spray and the whooshing sound we must be close, very close, to one of the tumultuous waterfalls that you find in Iceland where the rivers, swollen with the melting snows, crash over the rocks. I rocked around for a minute, partly at the novelty of having my arms free and feeling the blood rush in them, and partly at the proximity of tons of cascading water.

'So now I'm gonna ask you. I'm gonna ask you where Solrun's hiding and you're gonna tell me and we'll all be friends. Palli here says you're a good guy and I believe him, so naturally I don't wanna hurt someone who's a friend of Palli's. It's reasonable, you gotta admit. She's my wife. I'm looking for my fucking wife. Nothing funny about that, is there? It's not crazy or anything, is it? So you tell us. Okay?'

That did worry me. The careful control in his voice, the way he had to rationalise what he was doing, the insistence that Solrun was his wife, the way he tried to hold a line of logic . . . he'd gone. He was mad.

'By the way, Palli,' I whispered, when I reckoned Oscar was out of earshot, 'just in case I don't get out of this alive, I'd like you to know I do appreciate your efforts on my behalf.'

'I had to get you out of the house,' he hissed back at me. 'He was going to come in and carve up the old lady, too.'

By this time we were actually doing that shouting-whispering up against each other's ears to be heard over the crash of the water. When I'd thought I was next to the water before, I was wrong. Oscar had walked me about thirty yards -I counted the steps - over rough rocks to what I now knew must be the edge of the waterfall. Here the spray streamed down my face and my clothes were drenched. He'd gone back to the car for something, which gave me my only chance to try to lay claim on the friendship I'd built with Palli.

'Anyway, you said you were going back to the States.'

'I was. I am. I just gotta get Oscar out of this hole.'

'He's in a hole? Oh that's great . . .'

'He's gone nuts, Sam, can't you see? They were working on him back home, phone calls and letters, drip, drip, drip, until his nerve went.' He held my arms hard to drive home the urgency of what he was saying. 'Do what he says . . .'

'Do I have a lot of options?'

'Listen. Do what he says, play along, I'll try to get you out from under . . . you'd better tell him, that's all. Hey Oscar, what's the rope for we're not having a lynching are we?'

His laugh was too sharp and too quick to be anything other than apprehensive. I didn't like the sound of that. Palli wasn't a man who apprehended easily.

'Your friend here's gonna tell me and we'll go straight up and see my wife. No problem. It's make-your-mind-up time, cutie. Where is she?'

'I don't know. I really don't.'

He was chuckling. Anywhere else you'd have taken it for good humour.

'Look, I didn't come up here for the air, you know. Solrun's got a summer-house up here. Hell, I've been there, man. But they all look the same to me, all this fucking country looks the same to me. I was gonna ask her ma but someone got to her first and did some asking. But you know. You've gotta know. Which one, cutie? Tell me which one.'

So that's why we were out here. He was right. She did have a cabin, somewhere near Thrastarskogur, which was near a lake on the road out to Gullfoss if I remembered correctly. It wouldn't have mattered anyway. There were dozens and dozens of the bright little cabins. I'd no idea which was hers.

I thought perhaps Oscar wasn't paying rewards for information like that.

'Why did you come back?' I asked, by way of an alternative.

'I told you.' He sounded stubborn and peevish, for some reason. 'I come back for my wife.'

'That didn't bother you when you left her.'

'I didn't know the truth then. They told me she was a tramp, even said she was some sort of spy and that she'd been twisting secrets out of me and making me into a traitor. That's a thing I'd never be, a traitor. Palli'll tell you that.'

'That's right,' Palli said.

'Sent me back and got me kicked out of the marines. Yessir, that's what they did to me.'

At least I'd got him talking, and while he was talking he wasn't doing any of the alternatives. 'So why did you come back then?'

'I got friends, see. Good friends. They told me what was really going on. Soon as I found out, I came out here right away.'

I was so soaked that my clothes were sticking to me and the shivers were almost making my limbs kick out. What I wanted most of all was to see what was going on, instead of this imprisoned feeling from the blindfold. But the minute my hands went up to the binding, Oscar's snapped warning was enough.

'Why worry?' I heard Palli say to him, quietly. 'Shit, he knows who we are.'

'Because he stays blind, that's why.'

If that was Palli's preparation for a getaway, it hadn't got very far. That made me think of Christopher. If he was Batty's man, I thought, where the hell was he now? And the thought that someone else out there might have some idea of my plight gave me a chance - remote, but a chance. I felt I had something left to play for.

'I don't get it.' Even to me, my voice sounded bold. 'You know about me and you know about Kirillina . . .'

'Who?' He sounded sharp.

'The Russian.'

'Oh.' He relapsed. For a moment he thought there was yet another man and he was all set to fire up again.

'You knew she wasn't a faithful little wifey waiting for you to come back. It doesn't make sense. Why come back?'

'Because of things.' He sounded like a petulant child.

'What things?'

'I told you. Things I was told by friends. Anyway, that's none of your business . . .'

'Why're you tying that to the car, Oscar?'

I was trying like mad to piece the scene together. Oscar's voice had strangled a little as though he was bending over. And Palli did sound alarmed this time.

'Don't worry, Palli. He'll tell me, then we'll be pals. Anyway, look at him, he's wet already.'

I knew then what he meant to do and I still didn't believe it. He was right in front of me again. His breath smelt like a stable at dawn. I held a cold nylon rope in my hand.

'Hang on to that, cutie, you're gonna need it.'

'Christ, Oscar!' Palli was up close too, now. 'You can't do that. No more killings. You promised no more killings.'

'He ain't dead.' He said it in the steady, reasonable tone of a man who is raving mad.

Then he gave me a push in the chest with his finger-tips. Any other time it wouldn't even have dented my shirt-front. Here, on the edge of an unseen cliff, soaked and frozen, with all my black terror trapped behind a blindfold, I rocked wildly. And all the time I was winding the stiff rope around my hands and wrists.

'Course you can always take a shower . . .'

'You don't have to do that to him. Let me push him around a bit. I know a few things . . .'

'One quick dip under there and he'll talk. If he comes up again.'

The two of them were talking in raised voices above the noise of the water and all I could do was listen. I bent towards their invisible figures and raged: T don't know. I tell you, I don't know.'
It silenced both of them. In a quiet tone, Oscar merely replied: 'Tell me that again in a couple of minutes.'

Then he pushed me backwards.

For a moment, I dreamed it was one of those kid's party games where you trick a blindfolded victim into thinking he's standing on a chair, and get him to jump. He's really on the floor, of course, so when he expects to fall two or three feet, he only falls an inch.

It's that old trick, I thought, as my foot went out backwards feeling for the ground. Only there wasn't any ground. I was falling.

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