Genre: Spy Thriller
Type of Short Story: Short Story
Summary: When Justin Hall, a Canadian Intelligence Service agent, is captured by terrorists in Libya during a rescue operation, he is left with only his mind games to escape certain death.
Carved in Memory is the prequel to Arctic Wargame, a great Canadian suspense novel. The first two chapters of Arctic Wargame are included with this short story as bonus content.
“The infidel’s waking up,” a guard shouted in Arabic, a language the guards didn’t realize I knew.
He got up from his chair and left, slamming the iron door behind him.
It was strange for him to leave. Earlier, after throwing a bucket of cold water on my head to bring me back to my senses, the guards continued to interrogate me, punching me in between questions. Not this time.
I looked around the dungeon. A dim lamp on a small desk lit the area. The smell of urine and vomit overwhelmed my nose, summoning swelling nausea in my stomach. Pools of brownish liquid stained the floor. Whom did they torture here before me? How long had I been there? I remembered when they dragged me to this place, after the rescue operation to free the Canadian hostages went wrong. Was that last night? Two nights ago?
The door creaked. A small man walked in, followed by two large guards. He helped his limping leg by leaning on a walking stick. A metallic briefcase glinted in the hand of one of the guards, ominous. I remembered the pain he caused me with his knife and I clenched my teeth. And I remembered the guard’s name too. Tarek.
“Hello, Mister Unbreakable. Nice to meet you,” the small man said in English. “My name’s Ali.”
“The pleasure’s all yours; the pain’s all mine,” I managed to say between winces.
I hadn’t told them my name, Justin Hall, or that I worked for the Canadian Intelligence Service. I hadn’t given them anything. That’s why this man, Ali, was here.
I stared at his face, but in the dark cell I couldn’t discern any features. He stepped closer to the light, and Tarek placed Ali’s briefcase on the table. Ali’s hook nose became visible, along with his steep brow and thick, gray moustache. He looked older than in the photo in our office files. Ali Akbar Hassani, the leader of the Armed Islamic Front, an Algerian terrorist group, sat in the chair with a small sigh.
“How are they treating you here?” he asked.
I grinned. Ali was playing the good interrogator. The one that “cared” about you and wanted to gain your trust. His dogs told him torturing me was going nowhere. Still, I didn’t think they played the good cop, bad cop routine in Libya. In Afghanistan and Iran, two places where I had seen the inside of a jail cell, there were only torturers. And they were not bad; they were evil.
“Pull him down,” Ali barked at the guards. “Gently.”
They untied the rope and dropped me to the floor. My face stood inches from the brown stain. Blood. My own blood.
Four large hands lifted me up and placed me in a chair across from Ali.
“That’s better, isn’t it?” Ali asked.
“Na’am, shukran.” A “yes” and a “thank you” in Arabic. “Sheikh Hassani,” I added. It was the coveted title Ali had been seeking for years.
Ali’s eyebrows arched. His jaw dropped. They weren’t expecting me to speak Arabic, and Ali didn’t think I would recognize him. Always know your enemy.
“You’ve done your homework,” Ali said with a nod, his face as still as a corpse. His eyes peered through me, staring at my bloody chest, where Tarek had carved his initial with a sharp knife. “What’s your name?”
“You can call me ‘the Canadian,’“ I said in a soft voice. “And I have some intel for you.”
A self-righteous smile spread across Ali’s face. He looked at the guards to emphasize it was him getting the intelligence out of me. Perhaps he thought his presence had broken me. It hadn’t. I was willing to talk to stall the terrorists and give the rescue team time. The information I planned to give to Ali would cause no harm to my agency or any other intelligence agency. The intel might even do some good if Ali chose to act upon it.
“Go on,” he said. He gave the guards a smile and nodded at me.
“The intel’s very sensitive. For your ears only.”
“I trust my men completely.” Ali’s voice rose to a shout.
“I have no doubts you do. But you need to hear this first.”
Ali glanced at his walking stick, then at the guards.
“I’m handcuffed,” I said. “I can’t go anywhere.”
He snapped open his briefcase. It contained the tools of his trade and resembled a field surgeon’s case: scalpels, knives, pliers, and scissors. Instruments of pain. Ali picked up a knife with a long, serrated blade and held it tight in his hand. He pointed it at me, then barked at the guards, “Outside.”
I waited until the door was shut before saying, “Thank you, Sheik.”
“What are the Canadians going to do?”
I shook my head. “Honestly, I don’t know. I hope they’ll send a rescue mission. But I’m here, and I can’t be sure.”
Ali raised his knife an inch and leaned forward. “So, what is it you have to tell me? Will the Canadians negotiate the hostages’ release?”
“I wouldn’t count on it. We sent in a rescue team, which failed. The second one will not.”
“This isn’t real intelligence and is not worth my time.” He shook his head.
“I’m not finished. I want to tell you about Farook Abazza.”
Ali fell back in his seat. “How do you know that dog?”
Abazza was a powerful Algerian terrorist mastermind and Ali’s archenemy.
“I know about him. And I know what happened.” I pointed at Ali’s useless leg.
“What do you know?”
“How it happened and more importantly, who did it.”
“You’re going to tell me it’s that dog who ambushed me?”
“I’m gonna prove to you it was Abazza who organized it.”
“Your convoy was coming from Dellys to Algiers, when a bomb blew up the lead car. Your Mercedes wasn’t far enough away, so your leg was crushed. What you don’t know is that the bomb was placed under the car when the driver filled up at a gas station in Dellys. One of the men at the station worked for Abazza.”
“You want me to believe this?”
“No, not yet. I want you to check it first. The name of the station worker is Rafet. He’s Turkish. You’ll find him at one of Abazza’s safe houses in the suburbs of Algiers. The one with the swimming pool. He’ll tell you the exact same story, after a bit of persuasion.” I nodded toward his briefcase.
“OK. I’ll check it out,” Ali said. He didn’t sound very convinced.
“One more thing. Your new bodyguards, the Syrians. I would double-check their references. You’ll find out they worked for Abazza less than a year ago.”
“If this is true, how would you know all this about me and my enemies?”
“As you said earlier, I do my homework,” I said, keeping a patronizing tone out of my voice. “You deal in pain; I deal in intel.”
Ali nodded. “Guards,” he called.
The two guards barged in, ready for action. Tarek placed his large hand on my shoulder. I winced, so that Ali could see the distortion of my face, although I felt no new pain.
“No one lays a hand on him until I come back,” Ali ordered the guards as he climbed to his feet.
Tarek withdrew his hand and nodded with some reluctance. The other guard picked up Ali’s briefcase.
Ali nodded. “Clean him up, move him to a nicer cell, and get him some water.”
I smiled. Information is power. I thanked God for the files we received from our men in Algiers.
“He won’t protect you forever,” Tarek muttered as he closed the cell door.
* * *
The next time I saw Ali, he was in a bad mood. A very bad mood.
As soon as they entered my new cell, he shouted at the guards, “Tie him up.”
One of the guards punched me in the jaw. My head slammed against the wall and I fell into darkness.
* * *
My world was upside down when I came back to my senses. I was in the dungeon, but this time blood dripped from my nose. Tarek stood in front of me, his fists and chest blood-stained.
“What the hell happened?” I shouted. “Ali, what the hell—”