THE PRICE OF FREEDOM
A TERRY STORY...
Dino Scarletti poured over the file in front of him, drinking in every detail, scrutinising it and digesting it before lifting his head and looking at Ian Havery. Havery looked back at him.
“He just disappeared from the bar? The hotel staff saw nothing at all?” Dino asked.
“Apparently not,” Havery confirmed. “There was no indication that anything was wrong until he didn’t arrive on the flight back here. The hotel was contacted and they confirmed that he had not checked out. The local police searched his room and found all his belongings still there, including his passport...”
Dino sat back, concluding, “This wasn’t opportunist. This was planned down to the last detail and executed like clockwork… They knew exactly who they were taking.”
“So,” Ian agreed, “it would appear…”
He steepled his fingers in front of him, his lips tightening into a thin line. It was a gesture Dino knew of old, a gesture that told Dino that Ian Havery had more information to give him and was uncomfortable about what he had to say.
“There is,” Ian went on after a moment, “another matter that may have some bearing on these events… A matter that was deemed too…” He paused as if searching for the right word, finally going on, “sensitive… to include in the other information…”
Dino lifted his eyebrows, saying nothing, waiting for Ian to continue.
Havery cleared his throat, obviously ill at ease, then went on, “About ten years ago, he took part in a surveillance mission, in an area just to the south of the capital city, in the mountains. The operation was compromised. He and another soldier were detained and interrogated...”
Stunned, Dino blinked, opened his mouth then shut again. Finally, dread washing threw him, he demanded softly, “Did you know that when you sent him back there?”
Havery’s silence told him everything he needed to know. Dino swore, surging to his feet. “You knew he had a history not just in the country, but in the area he was to operate and you still sent him in to negotiate?”
“It was almost ten years ago…” Havery countered. “We didn’t think…”
“That’s obvious!” Dino interrupted.
“Yes, well…” Ian countered, his tone dismissive, “obviously in hindsight it might not have been the wisest of decisions. However, the decision was made and now we can only do everything we can to get Terry out of there. Which is why you are here.”
Dino snorted in disgust, gathering the folder up, “Which is why I’m out of here!”
Ian sighed silently, watching Dino the head for the door. As the ex-Navy SEAL yanked the door open, Havery commented softly, “Bring him back to us, Dino…”
Dino stopped, turning slowly, fixing the Englishman with a flat, burning look. “You’d better hope that I bring Terry Thorne back … And bring him back in one piece…”
Ian quirked an eyebrow: the obvious, if unspoken, threat hanging heavily in the air between them. Then the American turned, not bothering to close the door behind him as he strode down the hall towards the lift.
They had moved him again, in the boot of a sedan. They’d used chloroform to sedate him again too. This time it hadn’t knocked him out, but it had left him queasy and disoriented enough not to be able to do much more than concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other to avoid falling flat on his face.
Now he was sitting on a metal-framed chair, wrists secured behind the backrest with a plastic tie, a bag made from thick cloth covering his head and face, isolating him in his own, dark world.
The effects of the chloroform were wearing off, giving him more control over his senses. The bag muffled sound, but he listened hard, trying to identify any noise that would give him an indication of where he was.
The first place he'd been held had been a house or a flat. He’d heard children running around in the rooms above and the occasional engine noise of a car going past. The second place had also been a home of some kind, closer to a main road than the last. This time it was somewhere totally different. There was a feeling of starkness about it and, when he’d moved his feet, the floor had sounded like bare concrete.
Behind him, he heard a door open. He concentrated hard, listening, gauging that at least two people had come in and were walking toward him. He heard the door being closed again then the bag was being pulled off his head.
He blinked in the sudden light, trying to focus, taking a deep breath of fresh air, sweet and clean after the mustiness of the bag. Still blinking, he squinted up at the figure that stepped into his view.
Startlingly blue eyes looked back at him.
His breath caught in his throat, dread washing through him, decade old memories snapping back into disturbing clarity, as if their last encounter had happened only yesterday…
…The cell door clunked open, throwing weak daylight into the cell. He lifted his head, squinting up at the figure silhouetted in the doorway.
“Out!” a voice barked at him.
He moved too slowly. The guards crowded into the cell and dragged him to his feet, hauling him out of the cell into the corridor. He put up no resistance. Trying to fight them would only end up in a beating. He’d already found that out to his cost.
They marched him down the corridor, back towards the same interrogation room, half dragging, half carrying him. He forced down the panic, compelling himself to remain calm and focused. If he lost it now, he was as good as dead. The other members of the team were as good as dead. Keep it together, mate… Hold it together… You’ve bought some time already…
They pulled him into the interrogation room, kicking his knees out from under him, forcing him to kneel on the concrete floor. He stayed down, not fighting, letting them manipulate him. Not fighting conserved his strength – strength he was going to need…
“Good morning, Lieutenant Thorne…”
The same voice… The same man who had questioned him yesterday…
“I trust you slept well?”
He kept his eyes on the floor, saying nothing. Don’t answer… Keep it together…
There was silence for a moment then the voice informed him, “I’ve brought a colleague to talk to you, Lieutenant…”
Terry forced himself to take even, calm breaths. His shoulder was still throbbing, his ribs uncomfortable, but that was from the beating the guards had given him when he’d first been captured. It wasn’t from the people in this room. No one in this room had touched him, yet. It was safe for him to remain silent for the moment.
A pair of regulation issue shoes appeared in his line of sight, walking towards him.
Woman’s shoes… Woman’s ankles…
“Good morning, Lieutenant Thorne…”
Soft voice… Calm… Compelling… Don’t let them fool you into trusting them…
“Look at me, Lieutenant!”
lifted his head, looking up the length of the shapely calves that disappeared
beneath the uniform skirt, up across the curve of her hips, the shiny buttons on
her jacket, the Captain’s insignia on her lapel, all the way up to her face.
She had blue eyes… Startlingly blue eyes…
She smiled at him, idly swinging his dog tags in front of his face. “We know who you are, Lieutenant,” she told him. “We know you are British Special Forces. We know a lot more about you than you think. It would be better for you if you simply answered our questions…”
Terry looked into the blue eyes, saying nothing.
Gaze never leaving his, the woman sank to her knees. Little wisps of hair had escaped around her temples from her pulled-back hair, softening the otherwise severe coiffure. She reached out, gently tracing his lips with her finger. He forced himself not to react, not to move.
She smiled, rising gracefully to her feet again. Terry forced himself to return his gaze to the floor. The guards stepped in, lifting him to his feet, manhandling him across to a table and stool positioned in the middle of the room.
“Sit down, Lieutenant,” the female officer invited.
Terry needed no second bidding. He moved round the stool, sitting down slowly. The woman lifted another chair away from the wall, placing it opposite him across the table. She sat down and opened a file, perusing it for a moment before asking, “What was your target, Lieutenant?”
Terry said nothing.
“We know you were discovered before you could complete your mission,” she told him. “What was your target?”
Terry said nothing, keeping his eyes fastened on the floor. They were throwing him bait, hoping they could reel him in. Keep it together, mate… Say nothing…
“Lieutenant!” the woman ordered. “Look at me!”
Terry lifted his eyes, doing as he was told. She smiled at him again, “Staying quiet isn’t helping anyone. One of your squad is injured.”
She checked the papers again, telling him, “Sergeant MacFadgeon. He has a bullet wound to the upper arm, his left arm. Give me the details I need and he can get medical attention…”
Terry swallowed. They were using Jim MacFadgeon’s injury against him and he wasn’t going to fall for it. If the positions had been reversed, Jim would be doing the same thing. Terry dropped his gaze to the floor, saying nothing.
The woman surged to her feet, slamming her hands on the table, yelling, “Look at me!”
Terry lifted his eyes again, doing as he was ordered.
The female officer smiled at him, her manner gentle and cajoling again. “Surely you want medical attention for your comrade? Give me the target, Lieutenant. That’s all I need. Just tell me what your target was and we will make sure a doctor visits your Sergeant.”
Terry looked at her for a long moment, but kept his mouth shut.
She rolled her eyes, giving a long-suffering sigh. “Very well. Let us make it easier, Lieutenant Thorne. What call sign was assigned to you? What call sign were you using?”
Terry remained silent, letting his gaze sink back towards the floor.
The woman considered him for a long moment. “It’s a simple question, Lieutenant Thorne. You and I both know that no unit goes into action without a call sign. All I want to know is that call sign…”
The door behind him opened again. The smell of coffee and fresh baked bread wafted toward him. Mouth watering, his stomach betrayed him, growling loudly.
The female officer smiled, pointing to the table. A soldier walked across the room, putting down a tray. Terry forced himself not to lift his gaze, not to look at the tray. Hold it together, mate… Hold it together…
The woman waited until the soldier left and the door had closed before she spoke again. “You were about to tell me your call sign, Lieutenant…”
Terry’s stomach growled again. He forced himself to concentrate on taking calm, even breaths.
“You disappoint me,” the woman told him softly. She nodded to the guards behind Terry and they moved in, dragging him back to his feet, kicking the stool away against the far wall. The woman stood up, ordering Terry’s hands to be unbound.
Her smile, this time, told Terry he was in deep trouble. She lifted her chair, carrying it round the table, placing it down in front of him.
“Pick it up!” she ordered.
Terry lifted it off the floor. The woman moved to stand behind him. Her breath tickled his ear. She ran her hands up from his hips, to take hold of his elbows, pushing his arms straight out in front of him. Then she stepped back, turning away. She gave an order to the guards in her own language, but Terry knew what she had said. If he put the chair down or even lowered it a little, the guards would make sure he lifted it again...
…Former army Captain and interrogation expert Ljiljana Bukuvecs dropped down into a crouch, looking into the face of the man they had snatched from the hotel bar and were now holding for ransom. Until now he had only been a name and a nationality in a hotel register, and that alone had been too tempting a possibility to pass up. Combined with his other supposed credentials – well-heeled, Western businessman – he had been an ideal target. Now emotion washed through her: a mix of anger, trepidation, contentment and excitement. The intervening years had begun to crease laughter lines around his eyes and he wore his hair a little longer, but he was still, unmistakably, the Australian SAS soldier she had encountered ten years before.
She smiled, “Dobra dan, Lieutenant Thorne…”
Terry looked back at her, trying to keep the emotion from reflecting on his face as he radically reassessed his situation. He had figured that he had been targeted and kidnapped simply as a hostage to ransom. Now, with the appearance of this woman, the situation had turned far more sinister. He could no longer play the out-of-his-depth businessman being held hostage. His captors knew exactly who he was, exactly what he was capable of, and he was going to have to tread very carefully.
Ljiljana studied him. “I was not sure,” she admitted softly, “that it was you...”
Then she reached out, gently tracing his lips with her finger, just as she had done ten years before, “We have unfinished business, you and I…”
She had expected him to flinch or to pull away, but, just as he had done all those years ago, he suffered her touch. She smiled, realising that she would have been disappointed in him if he reacted in any other way.
Rising to her feet, she told him, “We all accept that it is the duty of every soldier to attempt to escape when taken prisoner. We cannot allow you such opportunity, Lieutenant. You are Special Services… highly trained soldier… not to be under-estimated… So,” she warned, “the next few days will be uncomfortable for you. You understand?”
Terry said nothing, but he understood perfectly. He was being held captive by one of the few people who could actively counter any tactic he tried, before he even attempted it.
Ljiljana reached down, taking hold of his chin, gently tilting his head up. Terry lifted his eyes, looking at her.
“You understand?” she repeated.
He gave her a short nod of acknowledgement, confirming, “I understand.”
Arms shaking from the effort, muscles burning across his shoulders, back and arms, he forced himself not to let the chair drift any further towards the floor. He had failed only once since the female officer had left the room, and received a cudgel in the ribs for his negligence. It was only a matter of time, though, before he couldn’t hold the chair any longer and he was already mentally preparing himself for the beating that would follow.
He didn’t need to keep quiet forever… He just needed to hold on for a little longer then he could start giving them little bits of information. When things got too bad, he could start giving them bits of information.
The door opened behind him again.
“Enough…” the female Captain ordered.
A guard stepped in, taking the chair from Terry’s hands. Terry knew better than to let his arms fall to his side. He kept them up, out in front of him. The woman appeared from the corner of his eye, walking round to stand in front of him. She reached out taking his hands, rubbing a thumb gently across the back of one of his hands.
Terry forced himself to remain motionless, his face expressionless, his eyes focused on the wall behind her. She regarded him for a long moment, then she stepped closer, guiding his arms down to his side.
The muscles protested and he tried not to wince, but knew he had failed. The woman’s lips tugged into a brief, almost-smile then she turned away, indicating with a wave of her hand that the stool should be returned to where Terry stood.
“Sit down, Lieutenant.”
Terry sank down gratefully, keeping his expression neutral and his eyes on the floor.
“Look at me...”
Terry lifted his gaze, looking at her. The pain in his arms and shoulders was dulling to an uncomfortable, but bearable, ache.
“Sergeant MacFadgeon and you were cut off from the rest of your team. How many were in that team, Lieutenant?”
Terry said nothing.
The woman smiled, “You and I both know that the mission would have been aborted the moment they realised that we knew of your existence here. Your fellow soldiers have gone, leaving you and your Sergeant here with us. Your continued silence is helping neither of you…”
“So,” she continued, “make it easy for yourself. Tell me what call sign was assigned to you on the mission.”
Terry dropped his eyes. The cudgel slammed into his back again and he hissed in pain, lifting his gaze back to the Captain’s face as she barked, “Look at me, Lieutenant!”
She regarded him for a long moment then told him, “The eyes are the windows to the soul, Lieutenant. And it would be such a shame if anything were to damage those beautiful eyes of yours…”
She let the threat hang in the air, glancing back down at the file for a moment. “How long since you have eaten?”
When he still refused to answer, she laughed softly, shaking her head, “English stubbornness…”
Then she nodded to the guard standing behind him. Terry braced himself for another blow to the kidneys, but it didn’t come. Instead he heard the door open and close. She walked around, lifting the chair, placing it back on the opposite side of the table.
“How many were in your strike team, Lieutenant?”
“What was your target?”
“What call sign were you assigned?”
Terry kept his gaze on her face, but said nothing. She shrugged, moving away to lean up against the far wall, arms folded across her chest.
Behind him, the door opened again and Jim MacFadgeon was manhandled past him to the other side of the table. The Sergeant also kept his eyes on the floor, not looking at Terry as he was forced into the chair.
Terry kept his attention on the female Captain, knowing he would be punished if he even glanced towards the big Geordy soldier.
The Captain pushed herself off the wall, walking across to MacFadgeon. She ran her hand gently down his wounded arm and Terry saw him clench his jaw as he forced himself not to react to the wash of pain. She smiled, reaching out to draw the tray towards the Geordie.
“Eat, Sergeant,” she offered gently.
Terry looked back down at the floor as Jim picked up the loaf of bread with his good hand and started eating it. They had covered this in training. You ate what you were offered, as and when it was offered.
Jim MacFadgeon considered exactly the same thing as he wolfed down the bread, aware that it could be taken away from him at any second. He washed the bread down with mouthfuls of the cold coffee, draining the mug and clearing the plate.
The woman waited until the big soldier had finished eating, then she nodded to the men standing behind Thorne. The guards stepped in, dragging him to his feet. Terry swallowed, instinct telling him that this new turn of events didn’t bode well for him.
The Captain leaned up against the wall, regarding the two men. Then she asked, “Tell me, Sergeant, what was your target?”
MacFadgeon kept his head down, saying nothing.
The Captain shook her head, nodding to the guards who were holding Thorne.
Jim MacFadgeon forced himself not to look up when he heard the rasp of what he knew was a rope over a beam. He forced himself not to look up to confirm that the Lieutenant’s wrists where being bound to one end of the rope. He didn’t need to look up to confirm that Terry was being hoisted off the floor, because he could see the Lieutenant’s booted feet swinging gently only an inch above the floorboards.
“One more chance, Sergeant,” the woman told him. “What was your intended target?”
He stayed silent; clenching his jaw but otherwise not reacting throughout the beating his Lieutenant was given. As each blow fell with a sickening thud, MacFadgeon remembered his training: He would be doing neither of them any favours if he stopped the Lieutenant’s blows by answering the questions the female Captain was pushing at him, all the time Thorne was being bludgeoned...
They would have gained a foothold. They would use Thorne against him again and again to get the information they wanted. So he set his jaw, forcing himself to remain calm and clear-headed and not give in to the anger that was pushing at him.
Finally, the blows stopped and the Lieutenant was lowered to the floor. Then MacFadgeon was being dragged to his feet, crying out, despite his resolve, as pain shot through his arm and across his shoulder, the deep welt in his skin that the bullet had gouged tearing open again. He was dragged round the table and forced to his knees as they cut Thorne down and let him crumple to the floor.
Thorne lay curled on his side, his face pale and bathed in sweat. He was breathing in short, painful gasps, but he was conscious.
The woman’s shoes stepped into view and she asked again, “What was your target, Sergeant?”
MacFadgeon refused to answer her. He concentrated on the pain that burned through his arm with every heartbeat.
“Very well… I shall leave you to think about it for a time…”
MacFadgeon was hauled back to his feet and marched past Thorne, out the door, back to his cell. Behind him, he knew that Terry had also been pulled to his feet and was being half dragged, half carried down the corridor behind him. The cell door was opened at his approach and he was pushed inside, losing his balance and falling heavily on the floor.
The door clanged shut behind him, dropping him back into darkness…
ON TO PART 2
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