Read 65 Below Online

Authors: Basil Sands

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Espionage

65 Below (25 page)

BOOK: 65 Below

“Who is this Soviet you mentioned?” Marcus asked. “The Russians aren’t called that anymore.”

“He is a former Spetsnatz advisor who got abandoned here during the collapse of the Soviet Union. His name, the only name I know for him, is Sergei. He runs a band of marauders, terrible criminals and murderers, who have taken advantage of the civil war to make themselves rich. Sergei and his animals have been ravaging this region for several months now, and will probably stay in the area for a while longer, as the Nigerians have stationed peacekeepers in the next province to search for him. I wish….”

Sambako tried to say more, but the words would not come. Silent tears flowed freely instead, giving true voice to his sorrow.

  1. Chapter 26

Marcus Johnson’s Cabin

Salt Jacket, Alaska

19 December

23:05 hours

Sergeant Choi sat immobile against the ropes that bound him tightly to a straight-backed wooden chair. Eighteen inches away, Marcus’s woodstove glowed red. Choi still wore his parka. Sweat rolled down his face as he baked in the visible heat waves that emanated from the black iron stove.

Forester sat on a wood bench in front of Choi. He put a hand on the man’s shoulder and said in Korean, “So, tell me my friend, what is in the vial?”

“What is in the vial? It is death to you and your countrymen.”

“Can you be more specific?”

Choi said nothing.
“Look, your friends are all dead—there’s no use in holding out.”

“They are not all dead. Some got away, and you will pay for what you have done.”

“So you say,” Forester replied, “but where did they go? What is your rendezvous point?”

No response.

Sergeant Choi was a fairly young man in his early twenties. He was physically fit, but the SEALs agreed that he did not impress them as a commando type. The high-tech gadgets they had found on him led them to the conclusion that he was probably brought on the mission for his technical knowledge rather than his military prowess.

Forester continued the interrogation. “You seem like a smart man. How old are you? Twenty-three? Twenty-four? You probably have a family back home, a mother and father, maybe even a wife or girlfriend, eh?”

Choi showed no reaction.

“You probably have little siblings at home. How can you live with yourself if this chemical you have stolen is used to kill little children? Innocent little children may die because of what you have done.”

Beads of sweat ran down Choi’s face and soaked through his clothing. His skin was red from the heat. “I am too hot,” he mumbled. “Please let me take off my coat.”

“Too hot?” Forester turned toward the others and said in Korean, “He says he is too hot!” Then switching to English, “He says he is too hot.”

Stingle, Andersen, and Forth came forward. Andersen slid a large knife from a leather sheath on his thigh. The razor-sharp blade came into view with an evil sound. The SEALs moved in close to Choi. “Let’s help the little man out of that coat, then,” Andersen said.

Choi’s eyes widened in horror as the giant American approached him with the knife. Stingle and Forth grabbed his shoulders and held him. Anderson extended the knife to the North Korean’s neck. Choi squeezed his eyes shut and prepared for the pain of the knife slicing into his flesh. A desperate, muffled cry whimpered from his throat.

Anderson slashed the knife across the shoulder of Choi’s parka and proceeded to shred the sleeves and the main part of the coat and the shirt underneath, except for the areas in contact with the ropes. Once he was done, strips of cloth and parka stuffing hung raggedly between the strands of rope that still held Choi tight against the chair, his naked flesh bared.

Stingle and Forth lifted the chair and carried the terrified and confused North Korean outside into the frozen night air. Anderson followed, the knife blade gleaming in the moonlight.

They set Choi down hard on the snow-covered parking area and turned to leave. As the trio walked back to the cabin, Forth looked at the thermometer next to the front door. The temperature had dropped considerably in the past hour. It was nearly thirty below zero.

“Ooh!” Forth called out. “That’ll shrink your manhood!”

When they came back in, Wasner asked, “Did you see the temperature out there?”

“Yep, thirty below. Talk about a nutcracker.”

Marcus spoke. “Frostbite won’t start for fifteen minutes on his bare skin, so leave him for about ten. After that, bring him back in and set him back down next to the fire.”

Ten minutes later they went out to Choi. The chair rattled on the icy gravel beneath his shivering body. The young soldier’s teeth chattered so loud, it sounded as if they would shatter from the impact.

The men brought him back in and sat the chair next to the stove. No one questioned Choi. They left him alone until the sweat was again rolling over his skin. Five minutes passed, then they took him back outside. The sequence was repeated three times.

At fifteen minutes till midnight, Choi was brought in and placed in front of and facing the stove. It had been stoked with several more pieces of wood. The iron door was left open, and its sides glowed cherry red. Yellow tongues of dancing flame licked upward. Shimmering red coals wavered hypnotically in the bottom of the stove. The room had grown so hot that the SEALs had opened several windows to vent the space. Most of the men went outside to stay cool. Next to the stove, even with the windows open, it was still like a furnace.

Choi’s gaze was fixed on the flames that burned brightly inside the black iron box. The glow illuminated everything around him with an eerie, quivering light. His skin stung from the intense heat. The fabric of his clothing was drawing near its flashpoint. It could erupt into flames at any moment

Marcus took a long, hooked metal poker from its rack against the wall and jammed it into the coals. No one talked or moved.

Choi squirmed in the chair. “What are you doing?” he cried out in Korean. “This is against the law! Against the Geneva Convention!”

“So is terrorism,” Forester replied flatly.

Marcus left the room for a moment and returned with a large white oven mitt on his right hand. He took the poker out of the flames and turned to Choi. The end of the poker glowed bright red. Heat waves wiggled into the air as the Marine slowly moved the long iron rod to within two inches of Choi’s thigh.

Choi’s breath came in short gasps. His eyes widened into a wild stare as he anticipated the searing agony of the poker being jabbed into his legs.

“Tell us where your comrades will meet with the rest of the team,” Forester said calmly.

I will not tell you!”

Marcus jabbed at his inner thigh with the red-hot iron.

Choi screamed.

The hot metal instantly singed the fabric of his pants. Heat coursed through the thick layers of snow pants and thermal underwear. The smell of burned cloth stung his nose. Choi panted uncontrollably. His nose crinkled and his lips curled on the verge of weeping. Marcus shoved the iron back in the fire. Sparks exploded from the glowing coals.

“Look!” Forester shouted. “You had better tell us where your friends are. I cannot control these men much longer. They are very upset and may kill you, but only after hurting you for a long time.”

Choi’s body shook with sobs. The exposed skin on his chest was red from the heat of the stove. Marcus took the iron back out and shouted in Korean. “Chigum, no gochu!”
“Now your penis!”

Forester made a show of pleading with Marcus for mercy. “Please, no!” he said.“Give him another chance. I know he will talk. Don’t hurt him yet.”

“He must talk now, or I will emasculate him,” Marcus said. Hatred and cruelty flashed in his eyes as he glared at the panic-stricken Choi.

Forester turned back to Choi, a desperate look in his face. “If you don’t tell us now, this man is going to burn your balls off, maybe even more!”

Choi grimaced in terror, his face tight with fear. He pleaded with Forester. “No! Please no!”

“Tell us where the others went!” said Forester

“No, I can’t! They will kill me!”

Forester pointed to Marcus and shouted, his voice full of exasperation. “That man will burn your balls off if you don’t talk now!”

At that, Marcus pushed Forester aside and moved in, jutting the poker into the chair inches from Choi’s crotch. Blue swirls of acrid smoke curled up from the wooden surface, drifting into Choi’s nose and eyes. An audible sizzle scratched the air.

“Tell me!” Marcus shouted in Korean. “Speak now!” He grabbed Choi by the hair of his head, raised the poker, and slammed it back into seat of the chair close enough that the North Korean could feel the heat on his private parts.

Choi let out a scream and shouted, “A house on Farmer’s Loop road! We were to meet at a house on Farmer’s Loop road!”

The door to the cabin burst open. Wyatt, Edwards, and Tomer walked in.

  1. Chapter 27

Marcus stood above the bound man in front of the fire. The red-hot iron still sizzled between Choi’s legs.

“What the hell is going on here?” Tomer shouted. “Jesus H. Christ! Are you torturing that man?”

The men turned to see who was speaking.

Choi was muttering in Korean. Forester knelt next to him, listening closely and writing the details on a notepad.

Marcus returned the poker to its rack. He stepped across the room toward the new people. He looked at Lonnie and said, “Who is he?”

Tomer pushed himself forward and confronted Marcus, hands on his hips. “Anthony Tomer, Special Agent, FBI. And if you have been torturing that man for information, I will have you...”

“Shut up,” Marcus interrupted.

The FBI agent was stunned by the blunt command. He glanced around the room into the stares of the cold-eyed men that surrounded him.

Forester stood up. “He said it is somewhere on Farmer’s Loop Road, north of town, but he doesn’t know where exactly.”

“Why wouldn’t he know?” Wasner asked.

“He just keeps saying Farmer’s Loop, and that they will kill him.”

“Does he know any more?”

“Probably, but it might take a while to get it out of him.”

Lonnie stepped forward. “You speak Korean?” she asked Forester.

“Yes, ma’am, do you?”

“Natively. Maybe I can get more out of him,” she said. “Let’s switch up.”

“Go for it.”

“Back him away from that fire first. Loosen the ropes on his chest a little.”

The men moved Choi away from the fire to a far corner of the room where Lonnie could speak to him in some privacy. She knelt down, made eye contact with him, and spoke softly.

“Sir. What is your name?”

“Choi Ki Pyun,” he said between tearful sobs.

“Are you a soldier?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I, too, am Korean. You can call me Nuna,” she said, referring to the respectful yet affectionate title given to a man’s older sister, or to a woman who is a few years older but on personal terms with the man.

He raised his eyes to look at her. She gave him a kind and gentle smile. After the trauma of the giant warrior’s methods, her soft familiar face and tender Korean voice broke him down completely. Sergeant Choi spilled his guts.

  1. Chapter 28

Interior Regions Remote Office of the State Evidence Center

Fairbanks, Alaska

19 December

23:26 hours

Franklin Eckert sat at the workbench in the computer lab. The facility in Fairbanks was primarily used for evidence storage until items were needed down at the state crime Lab in Anchorage. As small as it was, it did offer some diagnostic and testing equipment for minor jobs that needed to be done quickly.

Two metal boxes lay on the stainless steel work surface. Eckert studied them. Each one was just over one foot square and about two inches thick. The boxes had an electronic keypad, like one that would be used on a digital door lock, just to the left of center. A round indentation next to the keypad contained a metallic handle, folded over to one side and held down with a spring so it was flush with the surface.

Eckert picked up one of the boxes and inspected it on all sides. There were no markings or writing of any kind on the outside of the box. The top and sides were one piece of stamped metal, forming a box. Four pan head screws, set flush with the surface, fixed the bottom plate on.

“You sure these things have no explosives in them?” he asked officers Straub and Kelley of the state Explosive Ordinance Disposal Team, EOD.

“Well, if they do, it’s something newer than the latest detection technology,” replied Straub. He motioned to a device that looked very similar to a hand-held vacuum cleaner. “These are brand-new bomb sniffers, and they found nothing. Our x-ray only showed a bunch of circuits and chips in there.”

Franklin wiped the sweat from his forehead, some of which dripped onto the table in front of him. He turned the box upside down, picked up a screwdriver, and removed the screws that held the bottom of the case on.

Once he had all four out, the bottom of the box easily slid apart from the rest of the unit and Franklin stared at what lay before him. The contents consisted of a generic computer board, with several dozen EPROM chips, a handful of capacitors and resistors soldered into it. Wires ran from the board to the keypad and the handle. There were words on the board and the chips, both English and Chinese. The parts were generic and easily obtainable computer components that could have been acquired at any electronics store.

The bottom section of the box felt heavy for the amount of metal. Franklin held it up and looked at the space between the circuit board and the steel plate of the case. In the centimeter-thick space lay what appeared to be a wide, flat magnet.

Franklin set it back down and traced which wires went to what components. He ran his finger along the embedded circuits on the board, mumbling to himself as he studied the device. He set all of the parts down on the table, sat back and stared at it.

“Well?” asked Officer Straub. “What is it?”

“I’m not sure. I’ve seen stuff kinda like it before, but not exactly. This is interesting.”

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