How’s that novel coming along? Forget what I said last time. This’ll be your masterpiece, so you should probably make it perfect. I mean, if you’re only going to publish one novel, it should be the BEST novel, right? But I’ll bet if you end up with the Pulitzer you’ll wanna try your luck on a few more. One thing I wonder about. Will yesterday’s Pulitzers speak to tomorrow’s readers? It’s hard to tell. I don’t read Pulitzer recipients. I read terrible stuff, Erik. It’s starting to psyche me wrongly.
Right now, it’s Halloween in Canada. This Halloween is dark. Dokdo compound is a mold-infested cement dungeon when it’s like this. Whatever. I don’t complain.
Anyway. I’m not writing to you about my physical discomfort. There’s something that is messing with me and I just needed to tell someone. It’s a story about a particular Kazakh civilian, no one notable, except that he possessed a peculiar piece of information that a Russian convoy waiting in Hungary had an interest in obtaining.
The problem for the passengers of the humble convoy on its way back to base was how difficult a time they had extracting the information. They’d set up shop in old Budapest Compound, you know the one. Two interrogators had committed suicide. One had his nose bitten clean off. Another, his neck gouged. The rest were tight-lipped about what had been said to them by the Kazakh, save that they would rather not return to his cell.
A guard doing his best not to betray his anxiety nominated himself as the convoy’s spokesperson by answering the Swede. “Snitski, Sir? We don’t have a Snitski.”
The Swede flashed a grin to make your eyes bleed. “I think you do. He is 180, twenty-four years, dark, lasts forty-five minutes to an hour and is waiting when I take bed in half an hour.”
The guard’s eyes widened. “Oh, that Snitski.” A raised hand sent four guards off to prepare as the Swede sat and drank alone before the fireplace. She finished meat and lit a pipe. The Swede was perched, satiated, and mesmerized in thought.
This Kazakh and his atavism would be hard to reach. Some former districts, stans and their surrounding territories, now loosed from the Soviet empire’s control, had no true civilians left. Even old Persia was to be part of New Rome’s economic plan. What went wrong?
“Now I need a Litovich!”
The guard began, “We have no…” and exhaled quickly, letting his shoulders fall. “Litovich, Sir?”
“You must be he. I need to know from you what the men say about the Kazakh and further on the information in the dossier. The cypher is as well as useless, the message no more informative decrypted.”
The guard cowered into his words. “It seemed as clear?”
“As it sounds, Sir. A ghost in words.”
“And Rus Prima wants it why?”
“A weapon, Sir.”
“But WHAT is it?”
“That’s what we’re trying to find out, Sir.”
Evening descended further as muffled conversation emanated from the corridor by the antechamber. At first pleading could be heard. Eventually, it was desperation. This information was not easily parted with.
All information can be extracted.
“On second thought, Litovich,” she began. The guard opened his eyes widely and held his breath. The Swede cleared her throat. “I’m weary from the day. Please keep these safe.” The guard pulled on the folder but the Swede kept a grip. He stopped pulling but kept his hold. “Litovich.”
“I review them 7 AM over thick black coffee and rye toast with pig meat. Eggs are nice also, but I’m sensitive to your conditions.”
“Sir.” The guard nodded and pulled lightly at the chocolate brown. The Swede did not relent. She just looked into his eyes. He took a quivering breath.
She grinned, “Thank you for your help, Litovich,” and gently let go.
The clump hastened to make a diaper of the white bed sheet it was shrouded in.
“Tell Litovich it’s 7 AM.”
“But it’s…” The Swede drew her lips together the same way she had last night when her entertainment said he couldn’t do a headstand. After a start, “…it’s 7 AM.”
“Why tell me? Tell Litovich!”
The diapered man hurry-scurried out the door. Soon breakfast came with the wafting smells of well-fried pork and fresh butter for rye bread.
The Swede finished scanning the reports as she pulled shells from boiled eggs. As she ate each part of each egg she pawed the Kazakh’s portfolio: a picture of him smiling with two children, a harsh typewritten profile, details, widower, children deceased, formerly a mechanic, now a derelict.
The Swede shook her head as she concluded her re-briefing and finished her egg. “Useless,” she barked. “Superstition, conjecture, fairytales, melodrama.”
She rose to her feet, gave a scratch and let out a satisfied belch. She threw on a comfortable suit and rejoined the men. “Litovich! How far down does this compound reach?”
“It is one of former NPA headquarters so… pretty damn far, Sir.”
“Mind the expletives. This isn’t a naval bar, it’s a military installation. We respect decorum.”
“Take me there.”
Funny place for a Russian convoy to keep a Kazakh, don’t you think, Erik? You were in that one, weren’t you? You know how deep it goes. Oil wells in Texas are shallower. Fracking doesn’t go as deep. Gotta keep hidden, right? I just wonder why we don’t have elevators.
“He is tortured now, Litovich?”
“Protocol is persuasion level only.”
“I know protocol. This is why I’m confused. Report states detention detail is five days for smuggling with interrogation at standard comfort, persuasion only. Release to embassy with report on our officers injured and concessions for reparation. So, why is he screaming?”
“Enough verbengeist! I want real answers!”
“I guess… I don’t know. You should see for yourself.
“Wait.” The Swede stopped right before the door to the room where the Kazakh’s bestial howling was a deafening, cacophonous gale.
“How long have I been here?”
“Eight hours, Sir.”
There the prisoner flailed away, screeching nervously between gasps. The Swede shrugged her shoulders and entered briskly. The prisoner stopped screeching as she passed his line of sight.
The Kazakh broke the silence with a muted croak of a voice. “Thynally, thomeone who lookth thomewhat wathonal. It theemth a mithtik hath been made… AAAAAHHHHHHHRRRGGGHHHHHH!!!!”
The Swede blinked inquisitively. The Kazakh burst into spasms, rocked back and forth, and screamed his voice raw. The Swede’s face did not change as she stood, peering at the restrained ape. “How would you like me to loosen those ties?”
“RRRRRRRRAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHH… No, ma’am, thank you fo the denereth otho…BWAAAAAAAHHHHHRRRRGGGGGHHH… but I highly doubt that’th a… GAAAAHHHHHHHHH… wythe idea.”
“I could easily restrain you.”
“I don’t doubt hit… GGGGGRRRRRAAAAAAAAA… a womim of your builb… UGGGGGGGGGHHHH… but thomething tellth me… YAAAAAAARGHHHHHHH… he woul want to figh ta tha death.”
“You know what? This thing drives me nuts. Let me help you.” The Swede pulled out the mouth restraint. The Kazach’s eyes widened.
“NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO….” His mouth clamped shut on his tongue like a bear trap on a careless hunter. He smiled and squealed with glee, regret, satisfaction and remorse. The Swede had to move to the left to avoid the blood spray.
Soon the Kazakh was banging his hand against the arm of the chair violently. He balled up a fist and scribbled furiously in the air.
He nooded and shook, refused and accepted. He leapt a bit. The chair came crashing to the floor, the Kazakh nose-first. The Swede calmly rose to her feet, walked to the other room and returned with stationery. She kicked the chair back to its original position and pulled up a desk. After a few broken pens, there was at least SOME result, though nothing very coherent.
The Swede read through the scribbles twice. She looked at the Kazakh tied to the chair and blinked twice quickly.
“So, the convoy picked up a crazy Kazakh. Great.
“Oh, for our former glory.”
She walked out of the room, her voice echoing through the hallway. “Don’t worry, you’ll be out in a few hours. I’ll tell them to sew you back up.”
“Well, if you want to thank me, send me a card.”
The Kazakh just sat in the room, listening to the Swede’s footsteps becoming gradually softer as she ascended the stairs. He ingested blood, which he felt becoming dry as soon as it made contact with the back of his throat. He thought about angling himself so he could choke to death on his own blood. Then he realized something and thought better of it.