The Hell Within
Jim heard the door slam down the hall, then the footsteps came toward
his room. From the chair, he couldn't see through the small window in the door,
but he didn't have to look to know Robert was coming. He had to force his fists
to unclench, force his hatred down into the pit where it could be cooled into
hard resolve. Jim knew he had to clear that part of his mind in order to be open
for the chance when it came, but the rest of him had to be walled off, frozen
for the time being, to be used later in delivering the killing blow.
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.
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.
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."
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
"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
"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."
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.
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
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,
"Where are they taking Blair?"
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.
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."
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
"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."
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?"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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."