by Kristine Williams
As the door opened, he reached that hell within.
"Well, Jim, you'll be happy to know we can get this show on the road now." Robert stood a few feet away, looking down at Jim. "What, no raging? No threats? No promise to kill me if I harm your partner?"
Jim shrugged against the chains holding his hands painfully in place. "Why state the obvious?" Robert had already harmed Blair. He'd already let his men harm him. Jim's options were all too clear.
Robert flinched slightly before he turned and called through the door. Two men came into the room, guns aimed at Jim's head. "You're going to do me a favor. You're going to kill a man."
"And then you're going to let me and Sandburg go, I suppose?" The roar of his own blood through both ears blocked out any hint of Blair's breathing or movement down the hall. He couldn't hear the deep-voiced man talking to his friend, threatening him in both English and Hindi, promising more than just a beating. It had been quiet down the hall for more than ten minutes now. He couldn't hear any more cries of pain or shouts of anger, muffled as they were. Jim couldn't focus any farther than the man before him.
"I'm no fool, Ellison. I realize that, with no incentive, you'll just refuse, and let me kill you and your partner." Robert produced a key which he handed to one of the guards. "But naturally, you'll have to trust me."
Jim let his eyes reply for him, staring Robert down with all the distaste he could display. The chain pulling his wrists to the floor was removed, then the shackles locked together before he was roughly pushed to his feet, coming to stand in front of his enemy.
"I've got a problem, and you're going to eliminate it for me. Do it, and I'll let you rescue your friend and make a run for the border. Fail, and you both die." Robert stepped aside and motioned for Jim to precede him out the door while the guard kept both hands on the chain holding the manacles together. "I've gone to an awful lot of trouble to give you an out, Ellison."
Jim was pulled to a stop a few steps before the door at the end of the hallway. Inside the room beside him, he could finally hear Blair's breathing again, as well as another man's. One quick glance at the wall revealed a map, the paper-thin object he hadn't been able to see clearly before.
"Now, Jim, this couldn't be simpler." Robert turned, smiling. "I just need you on the roof tonight with a sniper's rifle. This building is in the middle of a parade route, and you're going to assassinate a visiting Congressman."
Jim stared at Robert for a full minute before replying. "Then you'll kill me, and be the hero? I don't think so."
"Not exactly. I'm giving you a sporting chance here, Jim." Robert moved to the door next to the map and pulled a key from his pocket. "Your friend here will be taken somewhere, away from here. Somewhere where you'll have a chance to save him and try to cross the border before you're caught." He unlocked the door, then rested a hand on the bar. "Mr. Sandburg will have until noon tomorrow, then he'll die. That should give you plenty of time to reach him and make a run for it. The local police and the Secret Service will be on your tail. You won't have time to worry about anything else."
"And if I refuse?"
Robert shrugged, then opened the door. He motioned another guard from the hallway to come inside, then had Jim brought to the entrance. Inside, Blair was on the floor, beginning to regain consciousness, bleeding from several cuts on forehead, cheek and nose.
Jim's body shook with the rage he couldn't express. He knew they'd been beating him, and from what he'd heard, attempting worse. But without being able to see into the room from his cell, Jim didn't know how far anyone had actually gone. The guard placed a gun against Blair's temple and Robert looked up.
"He'll live until noon tomorrow, unless you want to end it for him here and now."
"You're a dead man, Robert." Jim forced his eyes from his friend and sent them through the soul of his enemy. He felt as if he would shake apart, but his rage was held in check.
A large, ugly guard reached down and pulled Blair to a sitting position, shoving a gag into his mouth and securing it behind his hair. Blair struggled, and the guard wrapped one huge arm around his chest.
"Just remember, Ellison, I'm holding all the cards here! My friend has been keeping your partner company. Do what I want, and you'll both live. But try anything, and I can either kill him, or give him to Kareem." Robert gazed at Blair, then he looked back at Jim, smiling. With a wave of his hand, one of the guards produced a bottle and a white cloth.
Jim locked eyes with Robert. Without looking, he could smell the chloroform. He heard a moan, and turned quickly to look at Blair. The gun was pressed harder into Jim's neck, keeping him from stepping forward, but his eyes met his partner's, holding them until he passed out from the drug. During those few seconds, Jim could only pray he'd been able to convey some small bit of hope before his friend lost consciousness. Now he had to concentrate on maintaining his own rage long enough to get them out of this. He knew that would be the hardest thing he'd ever done.
The guard holding Jim's chained hands pulled him out of the doorway, then shoved him toward the exit. With Robert close behind, Jim was taken upstairs to the living room and pushed down onto the couch where he'd sat only hours ago, drinking a dark ale, going over old times.
"Enough of this covert shit, Robert. Just tell me what you want."
"You want facts?" Robert crossed the room, sitting in a chair opposite the couch. He waved to the guard, who backed a few feet away, keeping his gun aimed at Jim's head. "Fine. Congressman Shiffer is here. I want him dead; so do some very wealthy friends of mine. I'm a respected businessman here these days, but as an American, I'd be the first one suspected of this killing. However, as a loyal member of this community, should I happen to receive an unexpected visit from an old army friend the very same night of the parade, who just happened to be here for reasons I couldn't have guessed, I won't be a suspect. I'll be a victim." Robert shrugged innocently. "My friend betrayed me, and my former country. Naturally, I turned him in, I did my part. It wouldn't be my fault if he managed to escape the authorities, would it?"
"Where are they taking Blair?"
Robert shifted on his chair. "Once a year, like clockwork, the Old Delhi dam is opened, flooding the dry riverbeds. Your friend is being taken to the main river. There's a hole in the center where he'll be left, alive. At noon, the dam opens, and that dry bed becomes a river."
"So, what's to keep me from killing you now, and going after Blair?" Jim's voice was calm, asking a simple question with no concern for his situation. Robert flinched again.
"You don't know where he is, for one thing. The jeep outside will have a map, placed there right before you take your shot. The rifle will have one bullet, so you'd better be as good as you used to be."
Jim's jaw clenched and he forced it to relax while he calculated the facts and possibilities. He'd have to kill at least one guard, maybe two. Robert, he'd rather see arrested, but in this country that might not be easy. And the man in that cell with Blair needed to pay for what he was doing. And Robert would pay for letting it happen.
"Any questions?" Robert stood, then pointed to the liquor cabinet. "I have some time to go over this again. Wouldn't want you to be unclear on anything."
"How long have you been a double agent?" Jim watched the smaller man pour himself a drink and walk back to the chair. He had to force his mind off that image of Blair in the cell, with the guard doing whatever he wanted. If Blair wasn't alone right now...
"We don't say double agent anymore, Ellison. It's opportunist now. I've been in this for the money ever since I got the promotion into Intelligence." He raised the glass, toasting the air. "Eight years running and profiting nicely. And, may I add, I've only had to arrange three deaths in my short career. That's really quite good, if you know anything about this business."
Jim did know, but he wished he didn't. He'd never wanted to know that much about covert operations, or its operators. He only wished now he'd thought to talk to Jack Kelso about Robert before coming out here. If he'd ever suspected his former friend of anything like this, he would have. But of all their shared friends who were still in the business, Jim was glad it turned out to be him facing Robert. If only Blair wasn't involved.
"Shall we go over the details?"
Robert began explaining the motorcade route, Jim's positioning on the roof, his escape route to the jeep below. While he spoke, Jim calculated the distance between himself and the gun trained on his head from behind. He didn't know where they'd taken Blair, or what they might be doing to him right now. How far out of town was this river? Was he awake now, hurting and alone, waiting for Jim to rescue him? He considered the options, what few there were. Killing the Congressman wasn't one, any more than letting Blair die in that river. He could kill Robert with the single bullet, but then he'd have two guards to get past in order to get to the jeep. And the instant a shot was fired, Secret Service would be all over that building. He'd be arrested, and with no passport, his fingerprints all over a sniper's rifle, and anyone left alive telling them he'd planned to assassinate a United States Congressman. Even an assumed assassination would put him under India's jurisdiction. He'd die in prison waiting for the truth to be told.
While Robert continued, Jim searched the room behind him, focusing Sentinel vision on the desk at the far end of the room. There were maps and papers strewn about, most of them at an angle Jim couldn't see from where he sat. But one, a map, had fallen to the chair. From it, Jim could see what looked like a road, branching at the bottom of the map, but running to the top where it met with a large wall, then turned into a river. Halfway up the line, was a red check. Robert's riverbed.
"Well, it's nearly show time."
Jim focused again, realizing Robert was checking his watch. He'd have to make his move on the roof, after they took off the restraints and gave him a weapon. The map wouldn't be in the jeep yet, if any of that was true in the first place. He was Blair's only chance, his memory of that map downstairs would have to be enough.
"Shall we?" Robert stood, motioning to the guard to lift Jim to his feet and lead him to the roof. "We don't want to keep your friend alone in the dark too long. I'm afraid Kareem may have had a little too much fun with him in that cell."
Jim nearly choked on his rage and stumbled on the first step he was pushed onto. Recovering quickly, he ascended the narrow stairwell, then through a door to the roof of Robert's house. It was flat, with a sweeping view of New Delhi in all directions. Noise filled the streets below, sounds of people, cars, even music from somewhere farther down the route. It was dark, with a full moon illuminating the roof from a clear night sky. The street to the north was lit up brightly and lined by residents all waiting to catch a glimpse of the visiting dignitaries from other countries.
Jim's wrists were tugged down, and the shackles removed. He turned, facing Robert and a large, ugly man with a scar that ran across one eye. Jim recognized him as the one inside Blair's cell, the one who had been hunched over, holding his own crotch as if in pain. He still stood slightly bent, in obvious discomfort. If Blair had done that to him, then Jim felt pretty confident this scar-faced man had been incapable of doing to Blair what he feared. Robert snapped his fingers, and the large one handed over a sniper's rifle. Robert tossed the weapon to Jim.
"You'll have one shot, Jim, after I give you the bullet."
He pulled back the chamber and looked inside. It was empty, and perfectly oiled, ready for one killing shot. "Let's get this over with." Calmly, Jim held out one hand for a bullet, staring Robert in the eyes.
There was a moment's hesitation before Robert reached into his shirt pocket. At a nod from him, the guard standing behind Jim pressed the muzzle of his gun into Jim's back. Slowly, Robert pulled a single bullet from his pocket and held it out.
Jim took the metal cylinder, eased it into the chamber, and locked it in place with one shove of the chamber arm. Turning to gaze out over the street, he saw several black cars moving slowly toward the building. The road would turn left just two doors down from where he stood. The windows of each limo were rolled down and hands waved out occasionally.
"Do it, Jim, and your friend has a chance to live."
Robert's voice was to his side now, but several feet away. The gun still pressing into his back left only one man to find. One casual glance up showed the ugly scar-faced man next to Robert. Jim raised the rifle, looking down at the cars.
When the weapon was shoulder height, he shoved backwards, catching the armed guard in the face and knocking him to the ground. Robert turned and ducked instantly, leaving Jim open to shoot the scar-faced man beside him. At that close range, the power of the rifle lifted Scarface off his feet with the bullet's impact. His body jerked, then fell sideways, over the waist-high ledge to the streets below. Shouts from the motorcade distracted Jim for an instant, giving Robert just enough time to duck through the door, running back into the house. He heard a gun hammer click back behind him and turned, rifle already swinging at the guard again. The edge caught the man's head just as the gun went off.
Jim's left arm exploded in pain and blood. Instinct gave him the momentum needed to get through the door after Robert, but halfway down the stairs, the pain demanded attention. A wave of dizziness sent Jim into the wall of the narrow stairwell, but he didn't stop. Outside, the Indian police and Secret Service would be closing in, following the sound of gunfire and muzzle flashes. Robert was either going after them, or running away. Even that didn't matter. Jim had to find a jeep that probably wasn't there, and find Blair. He would have doubted even the story of drowning him in the river, if he hadn't seen the map himself.
Jim ran through the house to the back door, which led into an alley. The door was swinging shut, presumably behind Robert. A stab of excruciating pain caught him up short, threatening to make him pass out before he managed to breathe past it. Blood was running warm and fast down his sleeve, beginning to drip over Jim's left hand. He refused to look, there wasn't time. Out the back door, down three steps, and he found the jeep.
Robert was rounding the corner in it, speeding away from the shouts and police cars at the other side.
"Dammit!" He wanted to run back to the living room, to grab that map off the chair, but there wasn't time. Memory would have to serve. Memory and instinct.
Jim listened for a second, judging the best route away from the building. Once he found it, he was off, running through alleys, down dark streets, searching for a vehicle while constantly ducking into doorways and behind boxes to avoid the authorities. He had no passport, no ID, didn't speak the native language, he'd killed one man, and he was bleeding.
Halfway down an alley, Jim found some laundry hanging out in the hot evening air to dry. He helped himself to a long black length of cotton, tore several strips, and wrapped his arm as best he could. Wincing against the pain, he pulled the bandage tight with his teeth and right hand, then moved farther down, where he spotted an old jeep. Before he could pull the wires down to hot wire it, he saw the keys.
It took nearly an hour to drive safely out of the city, bypassing any police or patrols. Jim then had to get his bearings in the strange land using only the moonlight to find the few landmarks he'd seen on the map. How far out the river was, he didn't know. It looked to be miles long, if his memory wasn't failing him. Once he found the riverbed, he'd have to decide if he should drive up, or down. The red check was in the center, halfway between the dam and the branch where the river separated into three smaller rivers, but Jim didn't know what section of the river he'd find, if and when he found it.
A sharp right turn set Jim's arm on fire, nearly causing him to lose his grip on the wheel. He clenched his jaw and forced his hand back in place, steering the vehicle back onto the dirt road. Robert had been right about one thing: Jim would have to find Blair, then get him across the border before the police caught up. Without passports, they didn't stand a chance. India's prisons probably produced men like Scarface. Jim wasn't going to risk Blair being sent to one. He could always come back for Robert after Blair was safe.
If he could just find Blair. Continuing down the dirt road, Jim prayed he was going in the right direction. "Hang in there, buddy."
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