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Saturday, 29 November 2014

Saturday Story - 'Hell for Leather'

Tiananmen Square - Wilipedia commons



Nik Morton


China, 1977

Keith Tyson shivered although he was wearing full survival gear. At least the cave in this godforsaken cliff offered him shelter from the icy winds coming off the Yellow Sea. But it wasn’t the cold; he was suffering from the after-effects of the drugs they’d pumped into him barely ten hours ago. 

It had been a simple enough mission. Flown out of South Korea, they’d dipped over the wave crests and under the radar, avoiding any aircraft sorties from the bases at Yantai, Tianjin and Qingdao. Parachute drop at the rendezvous point outside Zuzhou. As planned, he’d been met by a group of seven activists. Their English was rudimentary, so he spoke in Mandarin. They helped him with his disguise, though they couldn’t do much about his height, abnormal for most Chinese men. To compensate, he adopted a subservient stoop.

His mission was simple enough. The death of Zhou Enlai and Mao Tse-tung the previous year, followed by the end of the Cultural Revolution and demonstrations, suggested that perhaps the country was ripe for a people’s revolution that might even lead to democracy. It was Tyson’s job to organise the popular uprising against the government, before anyone could be nominated as top leader of the nation.

But someone in the activist group - an idealist, a hater of the West, or perhaps someone who wanted position, power, money or all three - had betrayed them. At his second arranged meeting in a basement in Shanghai, the Chinese military organised a raid and his small group was arrested. The suicide pill would have worked but he and his contacts were quickly gassed and the false tooth removed before he regained consciousness.
They would have been justified in secretly executing him without a trial. Certainly, they had no intention of parading him in front of the world press. There was already talk of the proposed new leader, Deng Xiaoping approaching the West, and in particular the United States, in a push for economic reform. This promise of Western finance was too precious to jeopardise over one spy. 

The Central External Liaison Department got its way and Tyson was handed over to this espionage system. They wanted to brainwash him, to learn about his contacts and his secret organisation. For many years, ‘Interprises’ had managed to stay separate to MI6, since its creator swore that MI6 leaked like a sieve.
Tyson had studied the methods employed during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. In the first few hours, he realised that they were very good at inflicting pain and demolishing self-belief and faith. Yet he discovered depths of will and strength he never knew he possessed.

To begin with, they set about him with the so-called softening-up process. Physical trauma combined with drugs tended to bear the best results in the quickest time, or so the manuals stated. Fortunately, he’d read those manuals and he was able to employ mind-games of his own which enabled him, up to a point, to combat the drugs and retain a sense of self. It was like fighting the influence of alcohol, only ten times more difficult.
They discovered nothing, but Tyson knew that he had to escape within the first twenty-four hours, before his body clock and senses were thoroughly disoriented, before he was so tired and hungry and hurt that his meagre defences would crumble.

Five times in the first day, his hands were tied behind his back with a leather strap and then they ducked his head in a bath of icy cold water until his lungs were fit to burst. He gasped for air and floundered, his hearing muzzy. Normally, they untied him and threw him into his stinking dank cell; but this last time they forgot. 

It seemed to take Tyson an age to work loose that leather strap.

When his plate of maggot-riddled rice was brought, he sat unmoving, hardly looking at the guard in his fatigues. But he was poised, every aching muscle in readiness to spring.

The guard made his mistake and turned to the cell door, keys in his hand.

Tyson sprang, looping the leather strap round the man’s neck, cutting off any cry of distress. 

When he was done, he checked the cell door and the corridor. All clear.

He exchanged his stained and torn clothing for the guard’s. The trousers were tight and too short and the tunic threatened to pop its buttons, but it would have to do.  He locked the dead guard inside and strode hurriedly down the passage and passed the interrogation room but didn’t give it a second glance. If he ever got out of here, he guessed that he’d suffer many sleepless nights reliving his time in that room. He climbed up a flight of stone steps.
Luck is everything, Tyson knew. Some people are blessed with plenty of it. His held. He located the Commandant’s offices on the third floor. There was only the one guard and he didn’t suspect anything until it was too late. Now Tyson was armed with a revolver and cartridges. He slipped into the office and soon found the safe behind a painting of Mao. It was an old model and, after a few moments, he opened the safe door. Inside he found an assortment of documents, an automatic pistol and some money. He identified what he wanted, however, a list of names of those suspects who planned demonstrations against the State. Destroying them would not accomplish anything, he knew, since there were bound to be copies. He thrust them inside his jacket. The analysts at Fenner House would be interested. If any survived the inevitable clampdown, then they might be worth contacting in the future.
Along another passage he located a changing room filled with clothing - an assortment of gear, including that appropriate for survival at sea. He picked out the biggest sizes and donned as much as he could wear.
Clinging to shadows, he descended to the cells, surprised the guards and released twenty-two prisoners. The breakout was a distraction to the establishment’s sentries and gave him precious time to make his way over the wall and along a little-used coastal track. Behind, the siren blared and gunfire echoed, the sounds snatched away by the growing wind-howl. He hoped some dissidents would get away.
About two hours later, he found his cache of equipment, hidden in the cliffs where he’d left it. Tyson switched on the beacon and shoved it inside his rucksack. Weak from the beatings and the drugs, his stomach rumbling, he trudged along the goat track cut into the cliffs.
He found the cave and sat hunched against the rock wall, shuddering while he forced chocolate into his mouth. He couldn’t taste it. He was seeing double now too. His fingers were numb. Frostbite, gangrene – no, it was the after-effects of the drugs.
‘Charabanc approaching bus-stop.’ The radio set up in front of him crackled and the phrase was repeated. Thank God. They’d been constantly monitoring since he penetrated China. His beacon meant he needed extraction fast.
Easing his aching body upright, he sought purchase from the cave wall and stood. Shuffling to the entrance, he saw two dots – no, that was his double vision. The conning tower of a conventional diesel submarine, just surfacing: the charabanc. Risky, ploughing through the Yellow Sea.
He slithered down the ragged rocks in front of the cave mouth. Gulls called raucously as they fled their cliff-side nests. He triggered the orange flare. A bigger risk.
A red flare shot into the night sky, its source about a mile south. The Chinese were still hunting him. Now it was a race against time.
Bracing himself, he stumbled into the surf that beat against the rocks. Spume frothed everywhere. At last, he spotted the rigid raider and two dark shapes in it, the wake glinting in the faint moonlight as help headed towards him.
The buoyant craft veered next to him, Tyson grabbed a rope handhold and for the first time since his escape he really thought he might make it. He scrambled up and over the side of the bobbing craft. ‘Let’s go!’ shouted a sailor. Then they headed back to the black monolith, the conning tower.
Not a moment too soon. Rifle fire sounded, echoing. Ineffectual.
Tyson didn’t remember getting inside or the boat submerging. He regained consciousness in a bunk bed. The smell of stale air and oil filled his nostrils. A medic leaned over Tyson, checking his eyeballs. ‘I’ll give you a shot to combat the drugs, sir.’
Two faces loomed out of the shadows but with a bit of concentration Tyson recognised it was only one man. Swann.  ‘Did you get anything, Keith?’
‘Here.’ He fished the sheets out of his jacket and handed over the names, a list of brave souls who might one day create an historic upheaval.
It was twelve years later before the demonstrations erupted in earnest, the pictures televised and beamed around the world. The Tiananmen Square massacre, resulting in hundreds of deaths at the hands of the military, signified a tragic episode in China’s history. In 1992 Deng restarted economic reforms.


This story has been gleaned from certain manuscripts provided by several secret agents who served in International Enterprises, an adjunct to the British Intelligence Service, in the 1970s. Swann and others are featured in the full-length adventures of psychic spy Tana Standish, beginning with the e-book The Prague Papers (Crooked Cat Publishing).
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'Hell for leather' Previously published in The New Coastal Press, 2010.
Copyright Nik Morton, 2014.

Note: This story was originally written in response to the writers' circle theme 'leather'...

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