Authors: Unknown Author
He could neither stand nor sit nor lie down. The cage permitted him only to sit with his knees drawn up and his head bowed. There was no light. He strained his eyes to see, but he was wrapped in almost total darkness. He could see by his luminous watch dial that it was almost eight o’clock, and he estimated he had been here twenty-five hours.
The heat was incredible, and he was drenched in sweat. The air smelled foul, tinged with sewage from the nearby canals. He could hear only his own long, angry breaths gulped into his aching lungs. They had taken most of his senses away, except pain.
The concrete floor was wet, but he could not shift his weight to get out of the damp spot. He tried getting on his hands and knees, and banged his head on the low roof of the cell and scraped an elbow. He crouched, hunched like an animal in the blackness, swimming in his anger.
“Hey!” Durell called. His voice clanged and echoed in his ears. “Uncle Hu?”
He sounded strangled. There was no answer. He no longer expected any. Neither had he expected to fall into this trap. The fact that he was betrayed was no surprise. It was part of his business. He always walked with care and suspicion as his unhappy handmaidens. You grew accustomed to watchfulness, to being alone, to hidden motives like the dark currents of an infested stream.
My own fault
, he thought. He should have checked out every room in the teak-and-thatch house on the
, near the Watergate, where he had come looking for Uncle Hu. He should have seen the light of fear in the old Thai bargeman’s face.
They had come from behind, silently, when they hit him. Two of them he remembered vaguely. They must have been waiting. He shook his head, and waves of pain swallowed his thoughts. He let his head hang down and listened to the rasp of air in his throat.
In theory, no one knew that he had arrived in Bangkok from Saigon only yesterday afternoon, on a Thai Star flight. He had seen no familiar faces at the Don Muang airport. The taxi driver who took him along the fifteen-mile, four-lane boulevard into the city was garrulous and anonymous, as taxi drivers are the world over. He had ignored the reservation at his hotel and chosen another, on impulse, finding a smaller room on the riverside mostly used by Japanese, Indian, and German businessmen.
He had made only one phone call before going to look for Uncle Hu.
Since then, he had been a prisoner.
They had known. Someone had seen him. They had been waiting for him.
He swore softly in the fetid, cramped darkness.
For a time, he simply sat with knees drawn up under his chin, not thinking, trying not to feel anything. He’d had no water or food since being tumbled down into this cell yesterday. At first, he had shouted and tried to force the hatch up with his shoulders, but it was solidly weighted down by something above the heavy teak floor. The old wood was like non. Nobody answered him. Nobody seemed to know he was alive.
At first, he was afraid of suffocating. The place seemed solidly sealed and airtight. He had squirmed around in the tight confines of the area, exploring every inch with his fingertips. Along one wall there were a number of small holes as round as his thumb, but deeper than he could reach into with his index fingers. They had been bored or cast into the concrete wall of the cell. The structure reminded him of a square, boxlike septic tank, but it had never been used for waste. Through the holes came a seepage of warm air from the
in front of Uncle Hu’s house. When he put his face to the grid of holes, he could feel the faint current of air that kept him alive, but he could see nothing through them, and no sound came through them, either. One corner of the cell was filled with crushed ceramic debris, as if large pieces of pottery had been smashed and left there. For a time he occupied himself by awkwardly trying to piece them together, to pass the hours of his imprisonment. He decided eventually that the pottery had been old
jars, for water, and that his cage was an old cooling cellar for water storage, from a house that had once stood here in old Krongthep before Uncle Hu’s more modern Thai house, with its gracefully curved thatched roof, had been built.
At first, he expected momentary inquisition or torture. But as the hours dragged by, he felt as if he had been buried alive and forgotten. Nothing happened at all. Time passed in his solitary confinement with no footsteps, no voices, no sounds of any kind from above.
He remembered the savage speed of the attack, the quick rush of sweaty bodies, the face of Uncle Hu, frightened, and a scream from Hu’s wife, Aparsa. He remembered blinding pain, angry grunts, and then the sensation of falling, the pain of scraping his body against the rough concrete, the slam of the hatch above him.
They had not even bothered to search him. He still had his gun and wallet, his watch, his passport that described him as one of the U.S. economic mission to the MDU in Bangkok, vaguely affiliated with the Embassy. General McFee, at K Section’s headquarters in Washington, had arranged the cover for him before he flew to the Far East.
The boss of CIA’s troubleshooting division had been grim and earnest.
“It is not a question of sentiment, Samuel. It is urgent. We want Mike Slocum out of the hills. He knows what’s brewing there. The Chinese have come through Laos, from then military road out of Yunnan Province, and there’s been a strong increase in bombing, arson, terrorism, murders. The Thai Third Army security people think it’s heading for another split state, as in all of Indo-China.”
“But we’re getting out of there,” Durell said.
“True, but just the same, we have commitments.”
McFee’s gray eyes were harsh. “Yes, Samuel?”
“You say it’s not a matter of sentiment, about Mike.”
“Yes. But he’s an old friend of yours. You sent him in, Cajun. It’s up to you to get him out.” McFee sighed and sat back, although his narrow, ramrod shoulders did not relax. Durell had never seen him relaxed. Leaning on the desk was McFee’s lethal blackthorn walking stick, a portable arsenal devised by the gimmick boys in K Section’s lab. McFee said, “Whatever the moral or ideological arguments, Samuel, we are in the business of collecting information and data vital to the security of this country. That is our job. That is what we do. No soul-searching, no questions. We need the facts, the statistics, the evidence of enemy intentions in order to make reasonable decisions for our defense. Because we do have enemies, Cajun, however much we wish for peace, enemies who are relentless in their drive to dominate the world with their system. We live in very difficult times. But I want you to get Mike Slocum out of there. Bring him out any way you can.”
“Free hand, sir?”
McFee’s Ups twitched. “Be polite to Jimmy, in Bangkok, will you?” He was referring to K Section’s Central there. “And wake up Kem, that Buddhist monk you put in as a sleeper. You’ll need him. Jimmy will tell you why.”
Durell, hunched and cramped in the stifling darkness, thought bitterly that he hadn’t made the best of starts. On the other hand, someone had thought that his assignment was important enough to stop him immediately. He suspected there was more to the job than McFee had implied. And somewhere in Bangkok there was a traitor.
He had made only one phone call from his hotel, before going to Uncle Hu’s to pick up the sleeper agent, Kem. The woman who had answered his call had a light, pleasantly accented Thai voice. “This is Miss Ku Thu Thiet,” she said. “This is Mr. James’ residence.”
“Is Jimmy in?”
He was promptly annoyed. “Right. And you?”
“I work for Mr. James.” She sounded young, amused, intelligent. “Please wait for just one moment.”
He had waited almost five minutes.
Then: “Yo, Cajun. Glad you’re here.” Even in the few words, Durell could hear James D. James’ cultivated accent. “Come right over, please.”
“Have you had any word?”
“No, nothing from Mike.”
“You mean Alpha Five.”
“Ah, yes. You field people like the cloak and dagger game.”
“Jimmy, you talk too much. I’m on my way, after one stop.”
James, who was K Section’s Central in Bangkok, and nominally Durell’s superior in this area, spoke with a quickened interest. “No stops. I want to see you first. Briefing, and all that.” There was a small click on the line. “Come over at once, old man. Relax a bit, eh?”
“While Mike might be dying?”
“Oh, come, come.”
Again Durell heard the minute click. He said, “Your line is bugged, Jimmy.”
“Not at all. It’s Miss Ku. She tapes everything.”
“And knows everything?”
“Perfectly all right, old man. She’s a fine girl.”
“I’m sure,” Durell said.
He had hung up, angry and dissatisfied.
He sat with his chin on his knees, aware of his aching lungs in the dismal, warm air, feeling hunger and thirst and frustration. The hands of his wristwatch glowed in the dark. It was almost evening again. He drew in a deep breath and suddenly shouted: “Uncle Hu! Hu!”
He thought his head would come loose from the echoes in the tiny cell. He did not know if the cell was soundproof or not. He felt a sudden rage to escape, to do something. He squirmed around on his knees, got his shoulders under the hatch, and slapped upward, again and again, feeling his skin abrade, his coat tear, his spine jolt with the effort. He could not get enough leverage to loosen anything. The solid teak plank that plugged the entrance did not move a millimeter. He kept at it, panting and cursing. He sat back, slid down on his spine, and doubled his legs upward and tried kicking. It was a little better. Still not enough leverage, but it was easier on his shoes than on his shoulders. He drummed away, thrusting, sweating, grunting.
Then, in the middle of this, someone whispered, “
He did not believe it. He froze on his back like a trapped fly in the odorous cell. He listened.
“Durell? You hear me?”
He twisted about. The voice was not imagined. It was a woman, gentle and frightened. He groped for the series of airholes in the wall and put his ear to them.
“Yes. I am Hu’s wife.”
“Listen, please, I don’t know what happened, but you have to get me out of here.”
“Hush. You must hurry. They are eating now—the men who came into the house.”
“Is Uncle Hu all right?”
“They beat him, all the time. He lives.”
There was a pause. “I must go. You can get out. But you must dig. It will be very difficult. Dig, please.”
For the first time, he heard footsteps cross the hatchway above him. Aparsa’s voice ended. She was gone. He twisted about and sat down, hearing boots clump on the ironlike teak trapdoor. He thought he heard a man mutter in a Meo dialect.
After a moment, the footsteps went away. Silence was restored. This time, he welcomed it.
, she had said.
He felt around on the muddy floor. It had been packed hard by generations of careful Thais who stored their water jars down here. His fingers clawed in exploration. He found one of the shards of broken
jars in the corner and used its point to press down and scrape against the packed earth. Within three inches, the pottery shard broke against a hard floor. He felt it carefully, after scraping away more of the dirt. His hopes fell. It was only more concrete.
, she had said.
It was hot, awkward work. There was no room to move, cramped as he was on his hands and knees. He knew now that the men who had imprisoned him were not far off. He could not afford any noise. He did not know how long he kept at it. The floor seemed solid. He could not penetrate the concrete. Then, gasping in the foul air, he felt the pottery piece break again as it caught on something. He got another and scraped away more carefully. After a time, he had the outline of a square, about eighteen inches in dimension, formed by a deep groove in the concrete. It was a second hatchway, this time beneath him, not above. He sat back on his haunches and rested, wiping the sweat from his face with his forearms.
Suddenly, he felt as if time were essential, that he might be interrupted at the work before he could get out. He went back over the surface of the hatch. What he had thought was solid concrete was more hard-packed dirt, in the very center of the square. He dug the earth away carefully and slowly found the outline of an iron ring. He did not think he could go on much longer. When he tugged at the ring-bolt, nothing happened. The block under him did not stir or loosen.
There were no more sounds from above. He put his face to the air holes and breathed in the clammy draft that came from the nearby canal. After a while, he went back to work, scraping away at the outline of the hatch. Twenty minutes later, it suddenly yielded to his tug. He fell back, hanging onto the block, fearful that it might fall and give him away by the noise. Cool, damp air gushed up at him. He gulped it in with gratitude.
He could see nothing below. There was only a ledge of floor left for him in the cell. He sat on it and dangled his feet in the hole. He could not touch bottom. If it were an old well, and he dropped into it for twenty or thirty feet, he was truly finished.
He took a deep breath and dropped through the hole.
He landed only a few feet down, not quite chest high, and he sank into wet mud. Quickly, he ducked down and found himself in a brick-lined tunnel, not more than four feet high, extending ahead into the darkness. He paused to listen. There was no alarm. Crouching, he moved forward, hands extended to find any obstructions. He did not think the tunnel would be very long; but it seemed to go on forever. Rats scuttled ahead of him, and he listened to their squeaks and splashings in the ankle-deep water. He thought the tunnel must be quite ancient, going back to troubled times in old Krongthep. The tunnel and the
jar pit were probably all that remained of the original house where Uncle Hu’s place now stood.
The brick walls were slimy and cool. Now and then they curved, first left, then right. It sloped sharply, all at once, and water dripped on his head from the arched ceiling. He wondered if he was going under a canal. He went on, his back beginning to ache from his awkward progress in this eternal darkness. Finally the tunnel sloped upward. He knew he had gone five or six hundred feet, at the least. It was difficult to think of modern Bangkok above him, going about its normally hectic routine. It seemed unreal and unreachable.