Tiananmen Square - Wilipedia commons
HELL FOR LEATHER
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
Not a moment too soon. Rifle fire sounded, echoing.
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
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
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
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'Hell for leather' Previously published in The
New Coastal Press
Copyright Nik Morton, 2014.
Note: This story was originally written in response to the writers' circle theme 'leather'...