He woke up with a start. The room he was in had only one small dirty window, high up, which wasn’t letting in any light. Even without the window he could tell it was night time. What light there was came from a shaft from under the door that was the only entrance to the small room he was in. His eyes soon became accustomed to the glow this provided and he could see that he wasn’t alone here. Another body lay on the dirt floor. He could tell by the sounds of air entering and leaving the man’s nose that he was sleeping rather than being a corpse. A closer inspection showed him that this body was, in fact, P. Mendez. He shook him gently awake, holding a hand softly over the private’s mouth so that he wouldn’t make any noise when he awoke. P. Mendez seemed startled at first, then relaxed a little once he recognised his lieutenant beside him.
“Are you OK?” asked Andrew. The question seemed almost bizarre in the circumstances, but as good as any to begin with.
“Think so, sir,” Mendez replied. “I guess I must have been hit by a ricochet. I’ve got a hell of a headache but it’s only a scratch, best as I can make out.”
Andrew peered at the private in the darkness. He could see a red patch running vertically down the private’s cheek. He knew the private must be making light of the injury. It looked very painful.
“They’ve taken all of our things – our kits and our belts and that – but I’ve made a tourniquet for your leg from one of your trouser bottom draw strings. It seems to have stopped the worst of the bleeding.”
Now that P. Mendez had drawn his attention to it he could feel the string digging into his thigh. The sticky patch that was there before was dry now, indicating both that the wound had dried up and that they’d obviously been in the room for some time. He’d have to loosen the tourniquet soon so that a normal flow of blood could return to his leg. At least, he’d try. See if the wound opened up again.
“It feels good, private,” he thanked him. “You did well.”
“No problem, sir. Being a medic was my secondary training. I did well in that but I preferred my gadgets so I wanted to specialise in comms.”
Andrew nodded. Each of the privates got basic training in all of the specialisms of course, but then took on a primary and secondary role once it was seen what they and their colleagues were good at.
“Anyone else with us?” asked Andrew.
“Not that I’ve seen, sir, just you and me. I haven’t seen anyone else.” Mendez glanced at his watch. Andrew was surprised this hadn’t been taken along with all of the other equipment. Their captors had simply forgotten to look he supposed. “I woke up a couple of hours ago and found you in here with me. Saw the leg, so did the best I could with it. I didn’t want to wake you up straight away. Figured you needed the rest. Then I fell asleep again myself.
Andrew nodded his understanding, then voiced it realising the movement might not be seen in the gloomy surroundings. He wondered if this comment about not waking him had been a dig at his own actions. Still, that couldn’t be helped. Right now what he needed most was information and P. Mendez might have been able to supply that.
“Understood, private,” he said. “Try to get back to sleep. Doesn’t seem to be a lot else to do right now anyway.”
He’d been looking around the room and had seen it was pretty much a bare shell. Its earthen floor and wooden walls were unadorned. The opening above them that he’d thought was a small window was in fact just that, an opening. He could tell now that it wasn’t glazed. In the dim light though, he thought he could make out a frame surrounding it, so it had once been a proper window. Now, a soft breeze was blowing cooling air through it. He could feel this on his hands when he reached up, though it was too high above them to check properly. He’d be able to reach it with P. Mendez’s help, or could lift the Private up to it, but it wasn’t big enough for either himself, or the somewhat smaller frame of P. Mendez, to fit through.
“You’d better hide that watch too,” he told the private before he could return to sleeping. “Doesn’t seem anywhere to hide it here, so you’ll just have to keep it on you. Hopefully they won’t search us any further, so they might not find it.”
The private agreed and slipped his watch off over his wrist. The metal band that secured it was elasticated for the purpose. The private put the watch into his pocket then, changing his mind, drew it out again and slid it down one of his boots. Andrew wondered whether he should keep this one tool left to them himself but decided against it. He hoped that being only a private, with little information to offer, P. Mendez would be left alone so the watch safer with him. He doubted it of course, in his heart. There could only be two explanations as to why they’d been kept alive and taken back to wherever they were. Either their captors intended to try to get information out of them or they were going to be killed, retaliation for their ‘crimes’ against the drug lord’s people. Both, probably.
“What time is it, by the way,” he asked the now prone private.
“Nearly 0500 hours, sir. Dawn soon.”
So, Andrew calculated, either they’d both slept for more than thirty six hours, which was unlikely, or wherever they were being held it was close enough to the border for tem to have been transported back there in only a matter of hours. He felt in his shirt lapel for the small transmitter which would have indicated their position to any would-be rescuers. He wasn’t surprised to find that it had gone. He expected P. Mendez’s had too. Most people knew about the ruse now so it wasn’t very effective. He checked his shirt tails. The secondary device, carried only by officers, was gone too. That one was less well known so he’d hoped it might still be there. So, any rescue attempt would have to rely on the old fashioned methods of finding them.
Settling back down on the floor he loosened the string providing a tourniquet for his injured leg and was pleased to find that the wound didn’t start to bleed again. He felt carefully around the back of his trousers and soon found another tell-tale hole there. At least this meant the bullet that had hit him had passed right through – one thing less to worry about.
He kicked at the earth beneath the window frame with his good leg, trying to free it up. It was hard going. Many years of trampling, even at this out-of-the-way corner of the room, had compacted it and made the floor almost solid. Eventually the dirt began to crack and finally gave way in lumps which clung to his boot. He carried on digging with his foot and was at last rewarded with what he’d been hoping to find – a shard of glass, left there since the window had been broken. He returned this prize to the hole he’d created, covering it back over with the now loose soil. He bruised some dry dirt over it with his hand, hoping that in the dim light his captors wouldn’t notice the fresh marks when they came into the room. He was pleased that in so sort a time he’d managed to double their meagre stock of tools.
There wasn’t really a lot else to be done now, as he’d already told P. Mendez. He’d try to get some sleep himself. No doubt their captors would wake them soon enough once the morning wore on a bit. The earth floor to their ‘cell’ wasn’t comfortable but he had noting else so he stretched out on it and tried to sleep.
He wasn’t successful at this, as P. Mendez had been. He could hear the private’s slow breathing next to him, indicating that he had managed to drop off again. He watched as the dark opening high above him slowly became lighter , then suddenly lit up brightly as a beam from the rising sun fell directly on it.
A couple more hours had probably passed when a click from the door, and shadows flickering in the shaft of light coming under it, told him to expect company. The door swung outward, away from him, revealing an outline of a heavy set man in its frame. He’d thought the room he was in was quite light now but the glare that suddenly confronted him proved him wrong, and for now at least he could make out little of the man besides his basic shape. The man said something in Spanish then turned around and disappeared. He was replaced immediately by two other men who entered the room, both with pistols drawn. They pulled him roughly to his feet and tied his hands swiftly behind his back using a plastic tie which cut deeply into his wrists as it pulled them together.
Without ceremony they pulled him out of the room, leaving the private where he lay, shutting and bolting the door behind them. They’d stepped out into an open courtyard. It was tidy, well maintained, and he could make out the outline of a large solid looking stone building through the trees that surrounded, and effectively made up, the courtyard. He got the chance to see the room he’d been pulled from – an outhouse or shed constructed from logs – before being led away towards a larger building made from the same material.
It took no more than a few paces to reach the door to the building, a large wooden solid affair held closed by a metal clasp. One of the men held on to him while the other slid this back and opened the door. The other pushed him inside.
The room they entered was unadorned, like the one he’d been held in, its bare wooden walls old and splintering, though still solid looking. The walls were lined with cardboard boxes and wooden crates. Obviously it was being used as a store room. The centre was clear, or had been cleared ready for him, and contained a single wooden chair, straight backed and armless, a ‘carvery chair’ it would have been called if it had sat at the head of a large dining table as it seemed to have been originally made for.
He was made to sit at this, and the men busied themselves securing him to it. They first pulled his legs against the chair’s front ones, holding them in place with two more of the plastic ties they’d used when first securing him for his short trip across the courtyard. Then his arms loosened briefly as the cable holding them was cut, swiftly followed by each being pulled against the rear of the chair as more ties drew them to its back.
Once secured they turned and left him alone in the room, slamming the door shut as they left, though he realised from the lack of any follow-up sound they’d not rebolted it this time.
Even with the door shut again the room was less dingy than the one he’d been in before. A single window, at normal height this time and still retaining the glass it had first been fitted with, sat next to the door and let in plenty of light. It wasn’t direct, not facing the sun, but was more than sufficient to allow the room’s contents to be viewed easily.
There wasn’t much more to see than he’d originally noticed when they’d first entered. A single power cable entered the room near to the door but low down, then climbed to the wall to a switch. Its thin grey length had been clipped at first, held in place by small plastic tacks embedded into the wood with metal nails, but the cable had left most of these over the years and now hung mostly loosely, though still against the wall being held there as much by the dirt and cobwebs it was caked in as by anything else. The wire split off before the switch, running to a single outlet secured to the wall at waist height. From the switch another cable, or the same one maybe, ran on up the wall’s length then across the ceiling to a solitary light socket, complete with bulb, hanging from the middle of the room.
The door opened again and a new man stepped inside. He seemed to be more smartly dressed than the others though still casual, jeans and a tee-shirt but clean and fresh looking.
He started to speak to Andrew, talking quite slowly but in Spanish. He stopped speaking, perhaps waiting for a reply or some other sign that Andrew had understood him.
“Do you speak Werlderin?” Andrew asked in that tongue. “Or English?” he added, switching to that language. It was the first time he’d spoken to any of his captors. He was loathe to give away even this much information willingly, but had his reasons.
“A leetel,” came the reply.
“Well, the other guy you’ve got can translate,” Andrew volunteered. “He speaks Spanish and Werlderin. I don’t intend telling you much but what we do say to each other can be said through him. Better bring him over here too. More importantly, better make sure he’s treated well. If you lose him we won’t be able to communicate, so it’ll be the same as losing us both.”
There was a pause as his captor thought about this, probably needed as much to understand what Andrew had said as to decide if this was in fact the case. Andrew hoped that by highlighting his private’s usefulness he’d keep him spared from at least the harsher treatment they might expect during any questioning.
The man continued to look at him for a while then, abruptly, turned back to the door, opened it, and spoke quickly to someone on the other side. He hadn’t raised his voice, telling Andrew there was at least one person right outside the room he was now confined in.
They waited in silence as the procedure that had brought Andrew across was repeated for P. Mendez. A third man entered with the first two, carrying another chair much the same as Andrew sat in, though this one with arms too. It was placed near Andrew’s own, and P. Mendez seemed to it. All three men turned and left the room.
“Translate exactly what I say, OK?” instructed Andrew. “Don’t add or change anything yourself.”
The private nodded his understanding of this instruction, meanwhile Andrew was rewarded for this by a blow across his face from the back of the man’s hand. It wasn’t particularly hard, stinging rather than really hurting, but was no doubt a sign of how the interview was to be conducted.
At first Andrew gave the obligatory ‘name, rank and serial number’, although his captor obviously didn’t think of him as a P.O.W., and he wasn’t receiving the treatment he could have expected under the strictures of the Geneva Convention. After repeating this a few times, he tried to stay silent, successfully for the most part.
The methods used to try to get him to answer the questions being put to him got harsher as time progressed but were crude. His captor was not well equipped for such a task, nor experienced in carrying it out. It started with simply being hit when he didn’t respond. The man’s hands seemed to become as bloodied and bruised as Andrew’s own face felt. When this wasn’t effective he moved to inflicting jolts of current from the wall socket, choosing different points of Andrew’s body to hold the wires against each time he didn’t get a response. At least, as Andrew had hoped, P. Mendez was being spared this treatment, for the time being at least.
He dreaded the pain each of the questions brought, and knew that in the end he’d break. He’d lasted more than forty eight hours in this part of his training at the Academy and every minute he could hold out was another minute the two men would remain alive, as well as giving time for any rescue attempt that was being planned.
It was getting dark when they were returned to the first room they’d been held in. This time, instead of being of being left free inside their cell their feet were secured again using the same kind of plastic ties as before. Their hands remained tied from their short journey across the compound. This time though they were secured in front of them rather than behind, allowing them to eat the stale bread which was dropped in with them and to drink the tepid water from the canteen that accompanied it. The food and drink wasn’t appetising but was the first they’d had since being at the ambush site, so was very welcome.
Now that the questioning had stopped Andrew felt fine. He ached a little from the bruises he’d received but not as badly as he thought he might. He probably looked far worse than he felt, judging by the blood stains that now covered the front of his shirt and the sympathetic looks he was getting whenever he glanced at P. Mendez.
They finished the bread between them before Andrew uprooted the glass shard he’d found earlier. Having something inside them would help maintain their strength for whatever might follow. He soon found the glass once he started looking, relieved his earlier work hadn’t been spotted when the men had collected them or brought them back to the cell.
Although it had obviously been buried for a long time, the edges of this tool were still sharp enough to make quick work of cutting through the cables tying his hands. For now though he left everything secured, indicating to P. Mendez to remain quiet.
He tried pushing at the door. As he’d expected, it was bolted shut. He’d heard the sound of the metal clasp being pushed back into place when the men had first left them. It was old and probably would be easy to force, especially as the door opened outwards, but he didn’t know if their route out was guarded, nor if the noise this would undoubtedly make would attract attention even if there weren’t a guard placed there against such an eventuality.
On the other hand, bringing someone in to open the door had risks too. Whoever entered might be expecting an attack. Even if they weren’t there might be a second guard outside, ready to jump to the aid of the first should he need it.
This should be easy enough to check. He quietly whispered his plan to P. Mendez. Once he was sure the private had understood and had positioned himself correctly, Andrew hammered on the door to get some attention. His banging was quickly answered. The bolt was drawn, the door thrown open and a man stepped in, hesitant at first and pistol drawn. There was no light in the room to see by, and the other hand held a flashlight. Its beam was concentrated, lighting up Andrew’s face when it struck it but seeming to throw the rest of the room into more darkness than had been there before from the small amount of light managing to penetrate through the small opening above. He spoke to the man in Werlderin. From the darkness, P. Mendez translated.
“Is there any more bread?” he asked.
The man didn’t reply, just backing out of the door and closing – and bolting – it behind him.
“I didn’t see anyone else outside, sir,” P. Mendez confided quietly. “It looks like he’s the only guard.”
They waited a few minutes before Andrew hammered on the door again. Once again, there was a short pause followed by the sound of the bolt being drawn back. The door opened and the man stepped inside, pistol out again and flashlight on, finding P. Mendez first this time.
“My lieutenant wants to go to the toilet,” he said in Spanish. There was a muttered reply in the same melodious tongue and the man backed out again, as before, laughing to himself.
“He says to just use the floor you’re sitting on,” said P. Mendez. “He also called you a pig.” The private’s voice added this last comment almost apologetically, though he hadn’t said it himself.
They waited a few more minutes. Andrew used the time to get the shard of glass and free his wrists, followed swiftly by his feet, then P. Mendez’s bonds too. Both men readied themselves as he hammered on the door for a third time.
As before there was a pause before the bolt could be heard being drawn back. As the door started to open both he and P. Mendez pushed it hard and he jumped through the opening this afforded. Their captor had been knocked off balance by the action, and now sat a few feet from the door, somewhat dazed on the carpet of earth which covered the compound. Andrew grabbed the pistol, before a shot could alert anyone else to their escape, and a swift kick to the face floored the man completely. Andrew grabbed for the flashlight which had been knocked a few feet away. It wasn’t on yet so there was no beam to attract attention. The torch was too big to fit in a pocket. He’d have to just hold it, so he slipped the pistol in his pocket for the time being though he was somewhat loathe to give up the immediacy of holding it for protection.
He used his free hand to help P. Mendez drag the man back into their cell. The string which had been his tourniquet he now used to tie the man’s hands whilst Mendez did the same thing with his feet. Andrew couldn’t help chuckling silently to himself as he saw that P. Mendez was reinforcing this by tying the man’s shoe laces together too. His hastily removed tee-shirt provided a makeshift gag. Having bound the man as securely as they could, they crept out of the small cabin and secured the door behind them, then quickly and quietly made their way into the jungle surrounding the encampment. Progress through this would be slow, but once they’d reached the safety of it they could be sure not to be seen.
With luck it would be quite a time before their escape was discovered, even if the man woke up and managed to raise someone’s attention. They should have bound his hands and feet together to make it harder for him to bang on the door or walls. Andrew thought briefly about going back and doing this but decided the extra risk wasn’t worth it. Now that they’d reached the jungle it would take an expert tracker, and probably the benefits of daylight, to work out which way they’d gone.
They made their way as quickly as they could through the dense bush, frequently being slowed by the vines hanging down or tripped by the undergrowth and roots as they passed. He wasn’t too bothered about their direction for the time being, wanting more to put distance between themselves and their captors. He was convinced they’d be very difficult to find in this jungle but didn’t want to risk being recaptured now that they were free.
He might have steered a course from the stars overhead but under the solid growth around them they weren’t visible. Working out which way to go would mean stopping and trying to climb one of the sturdy trunks in the dark. He didn’t want to risk using the flashlight yet. Even this might prove fruitless anyway. Their efforts might not take them high enough to see through the canopy of leaves that stood above them. Better to wait until dawn helped them pinpoint the direction to travel in that would get them safely back over the border and bring them to safety.
They’d been travelling for several hours, though probably hadn’t actually covered much ground, when he finally felt it would be safe to stop and take some rest. The private offered him the canteen he’d brought with them from their prison. The water was a little cooler now, the night air helping to bring down the temperature of the container.
They slept fitfully for a few hours, taking it in turn to keep watch. He wasn’t really afraid their captors would find them, nor even of any large night time predators. Probably only a rare jaguar would offer a real threat and this he could overcome with the pistol they’d secured. They were much more at risk from the poisonous snakes, spiders and insects which filled the jungle. Still, a watch was ‘proper’ under the circumstances so they took one.
Once the sun started to come up getting a sense of direction was straight forward. It couldn’t penetrate down to them properly of course, its progress usually being blocked by the canopy overhead but the odd beam did make it through, meaning they could correct their course as necessary. Though they listened out for it carefully, there was no sound of pursuit. There was no sound other than the noises made by the creatures around them.
Progress became quicker when they chanced upon a small stream. It was shallow enough to let them walk down it, providing a clearer path than the surrounding undergrowth would, though it was often overgrown and frequently littered with rocks and large stones. It also provided relief whenever thirst took them. The water from their captors hadn’t lasted long. Hunger was now their main opponent. There were few animals to see, so no way of knowing what might or might not be safe to eat. They ate sparingly therefore, and Andrew always made sure that he and P. Mendez ate different things so that if one got ill, the other should still be OK.
He wasn’t expecting to find a trail following the border. They’d not found one in their initial survey after all, so he wasn’t disappointed not to find one now. While the stream they were following was faster than going directly through the jungle it was still much slower than a trail would have been. It was their third day of travelling when the trees around them suddenly stopped and they broke out onto the road that ran along the border.
It took a few seconds for him to become accustomed to the extra brightness being clear of the jungle afforded. Having been in it for so long, he’d become quite used to its dimness. Once they were able to take in their surroundings properly he was fairly sure this was the same stretch of road they’d used to reach the disaster struck town a few weeks earlier.
There were no real landmarks of course, and he’d only seen the road twice, first as a passenger when they’d driven across to the town, then as a driver himself when they’d returned. It had a familiar feel to it though. This thought agreed with P. Mendez’s recollections too. He’d been with Andrew for both legs of the journey, though had been sleeping for most of the return trip. They turned and headed down the road in the direction they both felt their base camp should lie in.
The last few miles of their journey were made in relative comfort. They’d managed to get themselves a ride on one of the vehicles which occasionally used this stretch of road. They sat in the cab, cooled by the air blowing in through the open windows and relaxed while the driver, an older man on his way back from a trip to barter some of his goods for a replacement plough shear as one of his own had broken, chatted to P. Mendez. Andrew sat with his own thoughts not needing, or really wanting, P. Mendez to translate what the old man was saying. The man was kind enough to take them all of the way back to the camp, turning up the road which led there when it arose and driving the few extra miles the detour would take.
They found their base now properly fenced off when they arrived, a guard of two armed men greeting them when they jumped down from the cab. There was delight and surprise at seeing them. News of their return seemed to travel swiftly before them and the compound in the middle of the camp was soon full of men welcoming them back.
He spied Hitu amongst them, relief and pleasure at seeing his friend evident on his face and could make out Captain Kergoat as he cut from his office through the crowd of men.
After an informal welcome, it was time for a more formal report. This was short and to the point.
“Get something to eat now, then some rest,” said the captain, “but I’d like a written report as soon as you’re up to it. I’ll let Command know to expect it.”
He realised, as he headed off with P. Mendez to their otherwise deserted billet, that no-one had mentioned the rest of his company and that none of them had been among the crowd of men welcoming them back.