18. Polly has to improvise to survive - Book Three - Fog on the Clyde by A.J. Hall
Polly curled around herself in a tight ball, trying to conserve heat as she lay on the hard bench-like bunk, huddling the thin blanket around her, feeling waves of nausea wash through her as whatever drugs they had been using on her these last few days started to ebb out of her system, leaving her purged, shaken and despairing.
She struggled to remember anything - anything at all - out of the chaotic jumble of images, drug-distorted into the horrors of delirium, which had filled the gap since her last clear memory, that of Dr Fischer’s eyes gleaming with pleasure, and his tongue flicking out to lick his thin lips as he pronounced - with a sinous, caressing pleasure - what he had decreed her fate to be: a brood mare for his and his cronies’ perverted brave new world.
And that thought brought her close to hysteria, so she was forced to sit up on the bench, clasping her arms around her bent knees, and repeat over and over, like a Coué exercise, “They aren’t going to win. You are stronger than they are. They aren’t going to win.”
The cell, while solid, had a make-shift look about it, although it had not originally been intended to hold captives at all, but had been converted from some secure storeroom or other. The bunk was roughly nailed together planks; the sanitary arrangements correspondingly primitive; there was a single bare light-bulb for illumination. No window, unfortunately. Working out where she was - the first step to a successful escape - was going to take ingenuity.
“Well, you’ve got plenty of that, Perkins,” she told herself roughly.
First things first; try to work out where she was.
Next, inventory anything she had which might aid her escape and subsequent survival.
Then, form a plan.
Finally, execute it.
“Simple, Perkins,” she told herself. “All done with logic.”
So: what could she remember?
For days she had been conscious - so far as the word could describe her state at all - of a throbbing pulse which had informed everything in her immediate environment. Now her brain was clearing, she started to associate it with memories since before the bad time. Engines - most recently, a plane engine. It had been - she felt a sudden sense of triumph at having worked it out - it had been a plane that had brought her here. That would have been after the face had leaned over her - the other face, not the soft one with the multiple chins, but the hard one with the enamelled red lips and the sable collar - she could remember, now the delirious drug-soaked nightmare had receded, the sense of angry resentment that had filled her on realising that the collar was indeed sable, though not now why that had struck her as the ultimate affront - the face had leant over her, the expression appraising, and a voice which seemed to come from somewhere else had said, “Well. She’ll do, certainly.”
But the soft face, before - she remembered that face hanging over her bed, inches away from her - the throbbing had had a different note, then - she could remember screaming on and on, and the soft throbbing going on all the while - and the ever present threat of the needle and the soft, evil-smelling cloth over her nostrils.
Again, it was almost a physical relief to clutch at fact, not surmise, to make connections, to start to relate to a physical universe from which she had been estranged, it seemed, forever.
A boat. The faint soft throbbing was something she remembered from previous ocean crossings. And it had gone on - even assuming the time distorting effects of the drugs - seemingly forever. It could hardly have been a Channel crossing, or one to the nearer parts of the Continent. But the International Brethren of the New Jacobite Order had close and influential connections in the States, perhaps even its genesis there. They would have taken her across the Atlantic if at all possible. And - another connection - the hard-faced woman had had an American accent.
“Well, Perkins,” she told herself, “that’s good. You now know exactly where you are. North America!”
The joke, feeble as it was, raised her spirits. She swung her legs down to the floor and stood up, shakily. The bare-boarded floor struck cold through the soles of her stockinged feet. A thought struck her, and she carefully removed the stockings. The bastards had taken her shoes away, but she’d covered enough sleazy crime stories from the back alleys and squalid parts of town in her days as a cub reporter to know just how lethal a silk stocking could be between the hands of a sufficiently determined killer.
After the last few days, and with the memory of the obscene promise in Fischer’s face spurring her desperation, she had little doubt that she could be determined enough.
She prowled round the cell, trying to find anything else she might use, but it was fruitless. The rough boards of the bunk were nailed down too firmly for her to lever any of them up. The light-bulb, smashed, would give her a sharp weapon, but how to aim it accurately in the dark?
She was worrying away at a raised nail in the floor of the remote corner of the cell when she heard a jangle from outside the door. She scrambled to her feet as it started to swing open. This might be her only chance. Her stockings were on the bunk - the only thing within reach was the stinking slop bucket -
“Lady, you gotta -” the guard began, before the flung contents of the bucket caught him full in the face. There was a loud explosion and a sharp whine as a bullet passed close enough to her cheek that she felt the breeze of its passing. Polly’s instincts had taken charge so quickly she hadn’t even noticed he’d been carrying a gun. As he reeled back, clutching at his stinging eyes, she dived forwards and brought the heavy galvanised bucket down on his head with all her strength. He went sprawling - the gun skidded across the floor of the cell. Polly grabbed it and approached the stricken guard with caution. He was, however, unconscious; that heavy snorting breathing wasn’t faked. Rapidly - that gunshot must have alerted everyone within earshot - she tied his hands behind his back with one of the stockings, and then tied his ankles with the other. For want of anything else to tie him to, she put the free end of the stocking binding his feet round the door-handle, and tied it tight, hoisting his legs eighteen inches or so in the air.
Just as she was finishing running footsteps echoed from the corridor outside. She grabbed the gun in both hands and swung to face the new intruder, trying to look as menacing as she could.
Dex Dearborn, his own hand gripping a snub-nosed weapon that looked like something a kid might save cereal box tops to send away for, skidded to a halt in the doorway. He took in the scene - the dripping, stinking, unconscious guard; the bucket rolled away into a corner; the gun which, Polly realised belatedly, she was still pointing straight at him. As she somewhat self-consciously lowered it his bright dark eyes narrowed in amusement, and his mouth split into a broad, relieved grin.
“Looks like I was spot on when I told the guys not to go bursting through any locked doors without checking what’s behind them. Nice work, Polly.”
She tried to process an overload of contradictory information but only managed a strangled squeak.
He gestured at the gun. “Er, safety-catch?”
She looked rather helplessly down at the unfamiliar weapon. Spotting her difficulty he reached across, took the gun from her unsteady hands, flicked the catch with his thumb, and solemnly handed it back.
“Don’t forget to take it off if you need to use it. Not that you should have to - the Legion has got the base secured by now.”
She gestured shakily at the guard (he had regained consciousness and was regarding then with hostility, though in a prudent silence).
“He said - something - I think he wanted to take me somewhere -“
“Much good that’d have done him. We took out the airstrip first thing.”
Something finally got through to her. “We? The Legion? Dex - is Joe here?”
She must stink - she looked like a slattern, her hair was hanging in rattails round her face - for Joe, who was always smooth, always polished, always controlled to see her like this was an abomination, insupportable -
There must have been some half-hysterical hint of all that in her voice - certainly Dex’s expression changed, became wary, shuttered.
“No, he’s - ” he saw the guard blinking up at them from the floor and obviously changed what he’d been going to say in a hurry. “He’s not been heard from for some time, actually. But I’m sure that he’s fine. He must be.” His tone spoke doubt; his eyes - hidden from the guard’s scrutiny as Dex leant over towards her - flashed a desperate warning. Going along with his unspoken plea she let the hysterical note in her voice become more overt - it was scary how easy that was, even if not for the reason she wanted the guard to perceive.
“Dex! God, Dex, you can’t mean Joe’s missing?”
“Ssh!” Dex’s finger went to his lips. “Morale.”
And at that moment, right on cue, came the sound of heavy boots from the corridor. Dex raised his voice. “Milo? That you? In here.”
The new arrival had swarthy skin, dark hair, a pronounced shadow of blue-black round chin and jowls, and a strong Bronx accent. His glance flashed around the cell.
“You found her? Good work, Dex, for pulling her out.”
Dex shrugged with an easy assurance. “I reckon I was a day late and a dollar short, actually. Polly was nine parts of the way through freeing herself when I showed up. I reckon it’s this guy we both rescued.” He gestured towards the prisoner, who appeared to find it his cue to let loose a torrent of abuse.
Milo - if that was his name - raised his eyebrows with an air of studied boredom.
“That so? Well, I suppose he looks like that kind of sap. I’ll take him to join the others, then.”
He disentangled Polly’s captive from the doorknob and dragged him off somewhere, gesturing violently with his gun. Polly looked ferociously across at Dex.
“Well,” she said. “Joe. Give. Did they shoot Joe down, then?”
Dex took a sharp in-drawn breath and drew back half a pace. She gave herself a mental shake. To be fair, she had never intended brutality, and felt a pang of guilt at his reaction. She had been angry, true, but Joe was golden - no, more, indestructible - no barbed words could shake him at least.
“I’m sorry,” she added.
Dex’s face was closed. “They thought they had. But they hadn’t. But he’ll be safer if they carry on thinking they have.”
She nodded. Of course. A deception. Joe was so good at them, and of course he would have enlisted Dex to play along.
“Anyway,” Dex said with formal courtesy, “would you assist us in cleaning out this base? We need to find out what we’re doing here. What the bad guys have been doing. And we could use an expert photographer, if you feel up to it.”