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'You should leave alone that which is not your business,' Ilyich said, his voice sounding like it was coming from the other end of a well.
Richard heard it and struggled to understand the words. They were distant and seemed to flow together slower than human speech could. Fog covered him. It permeated his very being, like an oozing mush. It soothed him until he almost didn't care. It was so hard to make his brain work, so easy to be soothed and not care any more.
He heard Philip's voice telling the older Russian that anything illegal was police business and all three of the Russians laughed. He oozed with the mush then, slipping deeper into himself.
'Should we shoot this one?' Yorstovitch voice asked, pulling Richard back to consciousness. He felt hands in his hair and his head being lifted from the table.
'Why?' Ilyich responded. 'He's already dead, but does not yet know it. Leave him, his heart will stop beating soon.' His face fell back onto the hard, cold table.
Dead? The thought of it percolated through the mush that was getting thicker in his brain. I don't want to die. Anger flared through the mush. He knew his mouth was gaping open and his tongue lolling, his eyes wide open and staring at nothing. He had to look so helpless!
Like Aled would have before he died. And they'd laugh at him, just as they were doing at Aled.
A strength he'd never known before rose inside him. I'm not going to let myself die, bastards! he thought at the men in the room with him. He'd have said it out loud, but he couldn't get his mouth to work properly.
You want me dead, you've got to kill me yourselves with something worse than a little heroin. I'm not some easy piece of arse you shag and then push out the door.
The core that was the real Richard Bell coalesced, pushing the mush away from the centre of his brain.
'Let's take Inspector Goodson upstairs to be with his boy,' Ilyich told the other Russians. 'We will have fun with our four spies before they join this one.'
Got to get up, the core in the centre of his brain that was still Richard Bell told himself. The thought remained just a thought, however; it didn't translate into action. They got Aled like this, the core told his body, trying to force it to respond. But I'm not Aled. I'm not going to die. I've got plans for myself, and they don't include being planted in the ground.
He concentrated on his arm, sending a command through the mush in his brain to the muscles in it to bend his elbow. It didn't move.
Bloody wanker! Bend! Bend! Bend! the core screamed at his arm, commanding it through the mush that was trying to set like concrete.
His elbow rose slowly. His fingers began to tell him that they had found the table under him. Infinitesimally slowly, the palm of his hand claimed the surface of the table.
About bloody time! Now the other one. Jesus! I've got to get up. I've got to move. It's just like being pissed -- work it off. Otherwise, it's going to take me.
He got his other hand under him and began to push his body up from the table. 'That's a good lad,' he mumbled, his mouth barely able to work around the words. He was amazed at how distant his voice sounded in his ears.
Finally, his arse rested on his heels. He was wobbly, but he was sitting up. 'I'm bloody naked, I am,' he groaned when he looked down at himself and saw his shrivelled cock hiding within its cowl of skin. 'And cold!'
Slowly, Richard worked his knees to the edge of the table. Now, I'm going to put my feet down on the floor, he told himself. Then I'm going to walk. Walking will warm me up. He put his weight on one hand and worked one leg out from under him.
He plopped on his backside and the sense of pinpricks of pain oozed through him from the leg still under him. He forced it over the side of the table. And grinned.
Did it, I did, he congratulated himself.
No bloody Russian heroin's going to send Richard Bell to his grave early, he added, rousing himself further. No fucking way! Dad's too young to be bringing flowers to my grave.
He began to inch his thighs towards the side of the table. His fingers gripped the metal lip of the tabletop to hold himself steady.
* * *
'Look, at what we've found -- an inspector from the famous Metropolitan Police,' Ilyich said loudly as he shoved me into the living room. The barrel of his revolver was still pressed against my spine.
Brett was rehearsing what looked to be a dance routine with Pyotr and Mick. Yorston and Patel were looking on.
Myransky and Yorstovitch pushed past us, pulling their guns as they moved towards the others.
Brett looked up and his eyes widened when he saw Yorstovitch's revolver. He looked to me fearfully.
'And these two are his young officers in training, I presume,' Ilyich added and laughed. 'Inspector Goodson does not look as if he would make a good advertisement for the great British police force, does he?' he asked.
'Go, Inspector...' he poked me in the back with his pistol. 'The sweet little Yankee damsel is in distress. Go to her.'
I looked to Yorston and Patel. I arched a brow in question and both men shrugged. Brett was staring from Ilyich to the two Russians and back with disbelief. I started towards him, taking measured steps.
There were four of us, possibly Pyotr and Mick as well, against the three drug suppliers -- only they all had revolvers. I decided it wasn't the moment to try anything.
'Are you all right?' I asked as I neared Brett.
I put my arm around his shoulder and drew him to me. 'It's going to be all right,' I told him and felt guilty at the lie.
'Jesus!' Brett groaned as realisation of our predicament finally struck him. He buried his face in my chest.
Pyotr stared from Brett and me to Yorston and Patel and our guards to Ilyich. His jaw gaping.
'How sweet!' Ilyich sniggered. 'The lovebirds caress.'
Brett took a deep breath, his body stiffening. He pulled back then and glared at Ilyich. 'You fucking piece of shit!' he growled. I tightened my hold on his shoulder.
The Russian looked over at Yorston and Patel. 'You do not love each other? Hug your boyfriend,' he told them. 'Show us how it is done, the police way,' he laughed. Behind the two officers, Yorstovitch and Myransky grinned.
'What do you think you're doing, Ilyich?' Mick demanded, finally finding his voice. His hands clinched into fists as he faced the older Russian.
Ilyich studied him for a moment and then chuckled. 'Our innocent little Englishman with the hungry arse,' he sneered.
He glanced to Pyotr, then to Yorstovitch and Myransky. 'Before the end of the day, you two shall show this boy how a Russian rides, yes? You will break him as we should have months ago. He will learn to be a Cossack pony.'
He turned back to face me. 'Gentleman -- and you too, Pyotr -- please be seated. It is easier to watch you if you are seated -- and bound.'
Myransky and Yorstovitch each took one of my team's arms and forced them into nearby chairs. 'And you, Inspector. You and your Amerikansky damsel too. We do not wish for surprises.'
His gaze returned to Pyotr as Brett and I sat next to Yorston and Patel. 'And you as well, Pyotr. I do not trust you at this moment.'
I did not like how this was developing. Bound, we would be defenceless. Yet, the three of us from the Met were no match for the three Russians with their revolvers.
Should I lead the two policemen into some show of resistance?
If so, I needed to do it now.
Ilyich had his revolver aimed at my midsection. And there was no way I would reach him before he could fire it. Three of them firing were likely to take all three of us out and, probably, kill Brett as well. Possibly even Pyotr. Clamping my jaw tight, I sat. And hoped that we would find a way out of this bloody mess.
Ilyich smiled as the five of us sat facing him. He glanced to Mick. 'Find our English lads and bring them here.' He looked back at Pyotr. 'I will explain everything then.'
Mick started for the door.
'Bring Maxim too,' Ilyich called after him. 'It is good that we have everyone here together. We will know our friends this afternoon, yes?'
Yorstovitch asked something in Russian and Ilyich nodded. 'Yes, tie them. No surprises.'
He moved behind me while the dark-haired Russian kept his revolver pointed at us. He pulled my hands behind the back of the chair.
'They're going to kill us, aren't they?' Brett whispered to me as the blond Russian began to tie my hands.
'We'll find a way out. Don't worry,' I told him and prayed my words were more than just bravado.
* * *
Trell sat behind the pilot, his eyes shut, as the helicopter flew across the East Anglian countryside. Shep Simon sat beside the pilot, watching their progress with interest.
'How much longer until we reach Chichester?' Trell groaned, his eyes still closed and his teeth clinched.
'Thirty minutes, Sergeant,' the pilot answered and Trell moaned.
Shep looked back at him. 'Ian, get a grip, man,' he growled, command implicit in his voice.
'That's easy for you to say," Trell grunted. "I don't like flying.'
'Okay, you're scared. That's pretty fucking normal. There are a lot of things that frighten you -- I can think of a few that can get my teeth chattering.'
Trell's eyes popped open. They focused immediately on the pilot. 'Shep...!' he hissed.
'He's a pilot, Ian. He's seen fear of flying a number of times. It's nothing to be ashamed of -- unless you give into it. Christ! You're a damned cop. You do stuff -- you take risks -- I'd be scared to death of taking. You take your life in your hands every day when you step out your front door.'
He glanced over at the pilot. 'Tell him what the odds are of dying in an air crash. I'll bet my left nut they're less than investigating a murder -- or of being a policeman and just doing what they do any day.'
Trell thought he was going to be sick. He was inside a small enclosed cabin shooting across the English countryside at more than a hundred miles an hour and Shep was exposing him to ridicule from another police officer. And he'd let the damned Yank shag him in the night too. 'Bastard!' he hissed under his breath.
'I was afraid of flying, Sergeant,' the pilot told him.
'You were?' It was incongruous to Ian Trell. The man flew a bloody heliocopter, he couldn't be afraid of them.
'I was. Didn't know it, either, when I signed up for helicopter training in the Navy. But what did I know? I was just a simple lad from a farm in Kent.'
Trell sat forward in his seat, drawn into the pilot's tale.
'That first time I went up, I nearly shit my pants, I did. They kept the bay door open and all I could see were trees moving and my mates were all laughing at me as I grabbed onto every strap I could find. I didn't know if I was going to shit or puke -- or die doing both.'
'What happened?' Shep asked, completely into the pilot's story in spite of himself.
'The trainer took me aside after we were back on the ground...' He chuckled. 'And my mates all had had a good laugh. He told me I had to put my mind on something other than the fear I was feeling. The trick is to concentrate on something else.'
Trell realised he'd somehow lost his fear when the pilot had started speaking. He looked out the windscreen and saw nothing but clouds. Shep was watching him, his brow arched in question. He was neither frightened or sick any more. He smiled.
'Chichester suggests we meet them on Selsey Bill, sir,' the pilot told him. 'They've got a team in place.'
Trell started to glance towards Shep but realised that from this point he was acting on his responsibility alone. Just as he'd been doing since he decided to try to save Goodson back in London. He was going to enter into Russian property. He was going to cause a diplomatic row. Even if he found Inspector Goodson in the house, the least he could hope for was that he'd be reprimanded.
If he could save the inspector and the others, though, it would be worth it.
* * *
Richard leant against the stone wall and stared at the steps, his gaze following their steep ascent up to the ground floor. His brain was working now. Thinking was more sluggish than he'd thought possible; but he could make it work. He could also get his muscles to do what they were supposed to do, after a fashion. But climbing steps? Climbing such steep steps?
He glanced back along the corridor of the cellar, towards the turn in the wall that led to the room where Myransky and Yorstovitch had taken him and held him prisoner.
I've made it this far, he told himself. I've come -- what? Twenty, thirty feet? He didn't even want to think of how long it had taken him to get this far.
He realised that he could feel the cold stone of the floor under his bare feet then and figured he was getting the upper hand on the heroin that had almost taken him out.
'Just like being pissed,' he chuckled. 'Exercise it out, and you'll be OK.'
His body was responding to his mental commands now and he could feel the cold. He nodded to himself. I bloody well am going to make it, I am.
He studied the stairs again, his gaze lifting to follow them to the landing. No fucking banister at all. Nothing to hold onto. If I fall, that'd be the end of this tale all right. Dad'd be planting posies at my grave for sure then.
I'll crawl up them on my hands and knees then -- like a baby. No danger there.
A smile touched his lips. Fucking Russians! I'm beating them at their own game. Leave me for dead, will they? Not this lad! There are way too many cocks I've not had yet, for me to let that happen.
He pushed off the stone wall and staggered to the stairs. Slowly, he knelt -- shivering as his knees touched the first step. Taking a deep breath, he leant forward until his hands were on the third step.
Now, he told himself, comes the exercise that works this bloody shit out of me. He looked up into the gathering gloom at the head of the stairs and began to pull himself towards it.
* * *
Maxim entered the room and stopped immediately when he'd stepped through the doorway, his eyes widening as he took in the five of us sitting with our arms behind our chairs. 'Eto?' he demanded, his gaze moving to Ilyich.
'What is what?' Ilyich answered. 'We have found spies among us, Maxim -- that's what this is.'
'They're from the police, Maxim,' Pyotr broke in. 'They're onto Ilyich's drug smuggling.'
'Drug...?' Maxim looked from Pyotr to Ilyich. He crossed the room to the older Russian. 'We are not crazy Columbians, Ilyich.'
I watched as two of Ilyich's English drug pushers entered the room.
'Ilyich, Myransky, and Yorstovitch are bringing heroin into the country, Maxim,' Pyotr continued and the young Russian turned back to him. 'They use our diplomatic pouch. Our English friends...' He nodded towards Mick and the others. 'They sell the drugs in gay clubs.'
Maxim turned to face Ilyich. 'This is so?' he demanded in English.
The older Russian frowned and stepped back from Maxim. 'You like living well, don't you? It would not happen if we depended on our salaries, Maxim. The fools in Moscow cannot even pay school teachers and coal miners, much less us. Your pay cheques have not come from Russia in more than six months. We supply what the decadent English want, that is all -- and we live like kings for doing so.'
'The Soviet Union is no more,' Maxim growled. 'Ours is a free country now, and it must behave as other free countries do. We have rejoined Europe, Ilyich. We no longer live without values as we did when the KGB spied on us and kept us all frightened, like mice. We are civilised men.'
'What's this all about, mates?' Mick demanded. I saw that the rest of the English contingent had arrived and that Myransky was shutting the door behind him.
I decided to see if anyone in the room could be swayed with reason. 'Ilyich, you've been found out. Your operation won't last a fortnight, no matter what you do to us.'
'Oh, Inspector?' Yorstovitch piped up from behind me, his voice silky. 'And why is that?'
'I'm a policeman. You're right about that. Patel and Yorston are too. We've tracked your distribution through the clubs, we know about you...'
'With you dead, no-one will know again, yes?'
'Wrong. Ask Ilyich. If he was KGB in the old days as Maxim said, he knows how policemen record everything they find out about a case. If I don't show up at my desk Monday morning, there will be trained policemen going through every note on my desk.'
I turned to see the blond Russian over my shoulder. 'You're going to feel like the entire Home Office has descended on you by mid-week. And, if something has happened to any of us, the Foreign Office is going to be demanding that Moscow waver your diplomatic immunity. Right now, the three of you can walk away and English law cannot touch you.'
'What about us, though?' Mick growled. 'We're English and we'll be sitting in gaol.'
I turned to face him. 'For drug distribution, yes; but not for murder.'
'Murder?' he gulped and turned to Ilyich. 'Me and the lads don't go for that shit, man!' One after the other, his mates nodded their agreement with him.
I heard Yorston sigh as he watched them too. I felt my own relief as I understood that these young Englishmen weren't psychopaths. We weren't out of danger by any means, but the three Russians were proving to have no allies in the room.
'Do you remember Richard Bell, the ginger-haired lad who came down with us?' I continued, my voice carrying through the room. 'He's in the cellar right now, dying from a heroin overdose that Myransky and Yorstovich gave him, because they found out about us. What do you think is going to happen to the four of us? Or you?'
'Richard?' Mick asked, looking around the room as if searching for the Irishman.
'Ah, Inspector,' Ilyich laughed. 'You would follow classic military strategy -- divide and conquer.' He glanced from one man to the next among his drug distributors. 'Nothing will happen to these men. They are too good at what they do to lose.'
'What about Philip and Brett?' Pyotr demanded and glanced at Patel and Yorston. 'And them?' He looked to Maxim. 'Or us?'
Ilyich studied Maxim for a moment. 'Bind him,' he told Myransky and Yorstovitch.
'Ilyich!' Maxim cried, looking directly at the older Russian. 'Don't be stupid. We can still salvage something for the trade commission. We keep the policemen here for a day or two and get our English out of the country. The trade commission makes abject apologies to the English government after we release these policemen. They are satisfied and mother Russia has open assess to English goods. No-one is hurt.'
Myransky had moved close to Maxim as he began to speak. His arm pulled back and I saw that his hand was balled into a fist. He punched Maxim in the kidney, and the big Russian bent over double.
'Tie the fool up,' Ilyich growled. 'Put a gag in his mouth too. I've grown sick of listening to him and his inane nonsense on how we should improve our relations with this country.'
I glanced towards the English contingent and saw that each of them were staring at this tableau in shock, their mouths agape. Myransky and Yorstovitch quickly had Maxim in the chair beside Pyotr and his arms behind his back, tying them.
I calculated. There were only the three of them. Their two compatriots -- Pyotr and Maxim -- were now firmly placed on our side. The lads who distributed for Ilyich had not yet come down on either side, but were disposed to join us.
Only, the four of us -- now six -- were bound; and Ilyich and his men had the weapons to control the situation. And to silence us.
The longer this continued with Ilyich holding the upper hand, the more likely it was that Mick and his lads would relax back into the control that the three Russians were wielding. I had no doubt that, once Ilyich again felt comfortable in his control, there would be six dead bodies that would have to be disposed of.
Our situation did not look pretty. Something had to be done to change the equation, and quickly.
A noise just beyond the doorway pulled everyone's attention towards the open door. I mentally counted the men in the room and couldn't think of anyone else who would be on the estate. I stared in curiosity at the door as everyone else did.
A hand moved slowly -- almost hesitantly -- from the left across the opening to grip the jamb opposite. At waist level. The arm that followed it was bare as was the shoulder that came into view.
I saw the dark red hair of the armpit then and thought of Richard Bell dying in the cellar. Had he managed to fight his way through the heroin fog to consciousness? Had he somehow forced himself up the stairs? I couldn't see how. He had been unconscious and well on his way to dying when Ilyich was shepherding me from the dungeon at the end of a nasty looking pistol.
Richard's face followed his arm as he suddenly peered into the room. He looked like hell. His hair was matted to his head with sweat. His cheeks looked as if they'd been caked with coal dust and his sweat had formed little rivulets through it. His eyes were sunken and wild looking.
But the bloody bastard was alive! Somehow he had escaped the death our Russian hosts had devised for him.
'Richard!' Brett cried from beside me. 'Somebody help him.'
Ilyich stared at the man he knew should be dead.
One of the English lads moved towards the door. 'Come on, mate,' he called to one of his friends.
Myransky pointed his revolver at them. 'Stay where you are,' he told them as he hurried to Richard.
'If you ever cross these three,' Pyotr said, his voice carrying around the room, 'if you ever want to get out of the drug trade, this is what will happen to you. Only, Ilyich and the others will make sure you can't get up. It's happened to others before you. They're dead. As you will be.'
'Is he telling the truth?' Mick demanded as he moved the last couple of feet that had separated him from Ilyich.
'He is a Petrograder; they lie,' Ilyich growled, glaring across at Pyotr.
'What's that got to do with it?' Mick demanded.
'It means he's lying, and that you will ignore what he says,' Yorstovitch told Mick, moving from Maxim to stand beside Ilyich. His revolver was pointed at the English lad's midriff.
'At least get poor Richard to a hospital,' Mick said to Ilyich, ignoring the blond Russian.
The older Russian shook his head slowly. 'Why would we do that? He's going to die -- just as the rest of them will.'
'You!' Richard groaned, the word an accusation that moved instantly to hang over the room. His gaze was on Yorstovitch. He worked his mouth several times, his lips moving soundlessly, before he took a deep breath. 'You filled me with that shit. Murderer!' He took another deep breath. 'Just like Aled, you said. Did you stick the syringe in him too?' Everyone in the room stared at him in silence, caught for the moment in the spell the of hearing a dead man speak.