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Black Ice: Chapter 38

...Like a leaf in a hurricane, I was tossed and tugged as the force of the water threatened to yank my arms from their sockets. I'd run out of rope. For the moment, I was at the end of my fall. Then the force of the falling water doubled and doubled again as I failed to move with it...

Colin Dunne continues his Cold War thriller. To read earlier chapters please click on

In my time, I've done my share of falling. I've fallen out of bed, I've fallen out of love, and I've fallen out of a few pubs with a little help from the landlord.

But this wasn't the sort of fall where you come off a ladder. I'd come off the whole damned earth. It was spinning away from me, leaving me behind, and I was left like a traveller in space who's missed the intergalactic bus.

I couldn't see. In a way, it didn't matter now. I could feel the echoing emptiness of the universe all around me. I was back to being a babe-in-arms with that first and most primitive of fears the fear of falling. There was a timeless moment when I hung out in space as though nothing had really happened, then the rush of air as I dropped. The thick spray of water that I'd ceased to notice suddenly turned into a torrent as I swung under the edge of the waterfall. The force of it caught the right-hand side of my body, then my head and chest, as it turned me more inwards, pummelling me down, down, down.

Like a leaf in a hurricane, I was tossed and tugged as the force of the water threatened to yank my arms from their sockets. I'd run out of rope. For the moment, I was at the end of my fall. Then the force of the falling water doubled and doubled again as I failed to move with it.

Somehow I'd set my arms ready for the brake of the rope, and my feet - acting on no instructions from me - had managed to find a protruding rock and instinctively kicked me out of the heaviest flow of the river. Even so, I was left hanging there, face up, feet against the rock, while the vast solid weight of the water avalanched down upon me. The rope burned across my hands. Every whisper of breath was battered from my body by the hammering waters, and there was no air, nothing to breathe. Only the water, crashing ceaselessly on to me.

Seconds. I only had seconds. Then I would be choked and swept away in the torrents. I bent my knees so that I sank further into the sheets of water, then sprung myself outwards. I felt the water spew from my lungs and sucked in streams of clean sweet air. And, blind as I was, I could've sworn I heard larks sing in the bright blue skies as I felt the relief, away from that pounding crushing power. Then, as quickly, I was back beneath the hammer of water again.

Knees bend, press, spew, breathe. Again. I don't know how many times I did it. To my surprise, I suddenly felt myself rising up through the edge of the cataract. I couldn't think why. I'd forgotten there was a world above me, and people on it. I hung on to the rope and rose through the water like a gaffed salmon.

Face down on the rock, I pumped up quite a few waterfalls of my own. Someone sat astride me, working my back. I didn't know who. It wasn't important.

'I think he'll be okay . . .'

'Sure he'll be okay, I told you . . .'

'Jesus, I thought he'd been blown off. . .'

'He's a cutie, you said so yourself. . .'

There was plenty more. I didn't listen. I couldn't take it in. But, between the eruptions of my own body, one tiny frail thought was beginning to take shape. I had to cling hard to it.

A hand turned my head sideways. 'Where the fuck is she?'

'For Christ's sake, he doesn't know, he said . . .'

'He knows. I can tell. So where is she?'

'He's damn near dead, Oscar. The guy can't even talk if he wants to. He's only just breathing.'

'He's in great shape. Anyway, I think I'll give him another shower. Shake him up a bit more.'

'Don't be dumb, Oscar. You said no more killing. He can't take any more. Look at him.'

'He looks fine. One last time, feller, then it's bath-time again. Come on, tell me all about it.'

'He can't even hear you. He doesn't know we're here. Let's drop him off at the nearest house we can find if we can find one at all in this goddam wilderness - and if they get a doctor right away maybe he won't die.'

Hands went under my arms and began lifting me. I was sitting up. Apparently.

'Let me try then, Osc. Let me talk to him.'

'Okay, but if he don't talk, he's over the edge.'

A hand slapped my face, both sides. 'Sam? It's Palli. Can you hear me? Shit, Oscar, I think he's dead already. Can you understand me? Try to open your eyes, Sam. Come on, open up. Where's Solrun? He's dying, Oscar, I know it. He's dying.'

In a last spasm I threw a gutful of water all over Palli.

As I sank back, the words came in a hollow rumble all the way up from my belly. It sounded like a belch, no more.

'What's he say? Bush something?'

'What was it? Once more. Tell me again. Where is she?'

I belched and groaned and spewed another bubble of water.

'The Pushkin? The trawler in the harbour?'

I groaned again.

I could hear them talking. Boat? What boat? Russian. Spy-boat. What'd I tell you. Said he knew. Knew he knew. Take him somewhere. Doctor. The hell. Live. Die. Out here, who cares? Let's go. Doc. No doc. Finished. Waste of time. If he gets back. Laughter. Nowhere. Going nowhere. He's going nowhere.

Peace covered me. Pleasure like I have never known filled me. If only they'd said what they wanted. Good old Palli. He knew all along. I lay there, going nowhere, finished, and the only sound was the hiss and crash of the falling water.


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