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Authors: Edward S. Aarons

Assignment Unicorn (18 page)

BOOK: Assignment Unicorn
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“Hello!” a pleasant voice called. “Looking for me?

Or just bird-watching?”

Durell had heard no one approach. Below him was the man who
had driven away in the Volvo, two other men in neat gray suits, and a small,
rotund, bald fellow in a shooting jacket. All four had shotguns and
rifles aimed upward at Durell.

“Mr. Sanderson?” Durell asked.

“Quite,” said the little bald man. “Come on down, old boy.
Forgive us, but we really do have to be careful around here. Shake a leg, eh?”




He was flying.

“Can you hear me, Durell?”

He could feel the vibration of the aircraft. He had the
worst headache he had ever experienced. His mouth and tongue felt numb. He was
paralyzed. He could move neither arms nor legs. Somehow, he felt a great
satisfaction in this.

“You can play doggo all you like, Durell. It will do you no
good. You will answer all our questions. You will cooperate, and gladly. Do you

Durell slid backward into silky blackness.

For how long?

“Mr. Durell, surely you can hear me now.”

He opened his eyes. He was blind.

“The possum is a strange little beast, Durell. He plays
deaf, dumb and blind until he is killed. Is that plain enough?”

Durell opened his mouth, closed it, took a deep breath. His
ribs ached. He wondered if any were broken. He heard a thundering in his ears,
and thought it was his heart, and then, listening carefully, with cunning, he thought
it might be the crash of surf on rock. The problem with orienting himself was
that he could not tell which end was up, literally, and he seemed to float on
the surges of sea sound all around him. He was also very cold. He shuddered
regularly, almost an echo of the crash of the sea. He raised an arm and put a
hand on his chest. He was naked.

“Ah,” the voice said. “Very good. Very good, indeed. You
hear me, then.”

The voice was not natural. It came with an electronic timbre,
a mechanized reconstruction. He opened his eyes. He was still blind. He
shivered. Something cold and very rough grated against his backside and
shoulders. He was lying on a stone floor. Very good. So far, so very
good. He was here, where he wanted to be.

“Durell, are you hungry?”

He spoke. “No.” It was a ghastly croaking sound.


“Are you Dr. MacLeod?” Durell asked.

“Are you cold?”

“Go to hell.”

His voice bounced back and forth in echoes off stone walls.

Someone laughed softly at him.

At one time or another—a long time passed, and he estimated
it was many hours—someone came near him out of the darkness and pushed a needle
into his arm before he could object. Then they threw what seemed to be clothes
at him, and left. He heard the clang of an iron door and the slam of a heavy
bolt, and footsteps walked away, heels thudding on a stone floor.

He yelled aloud.


His voice echoed. There was no answer.

“Hey, Dr. MacLeod!”

For a long time, he simply listened to the slow, steady thud
of his heart and the synchronized beat of surf against rocks. He felt something
move in his veins, circulating through his body. Pain went away. He felt
sleepy. He fought against the drowsiness, the feeling of well-being. He guessed
they had given him some kind of tranquilizer, a powerful shot that threatened
to suck him down into placid depths.

“Hey!” he yelled again.


“I want to make a deal,” he said.

“For what?”

“Information. I can give you what you want to know.”

“Do you think us so naive, Mr. Durell?”

“Listen,” Durell said. He had trouble breathing. “Do you
think I came here unwillingly? I flew to London alone, right? Nobody
knows where I am now. I don’t even know where I am myself. I walked into Stone
Circle deliberately. I’m glad you weren’t hasty. I’m glad you waited to talk to
me, before killing me. We can make a deal, all right.”

“I doubt that. Go to sleep, Mr. Durell.”

There was a click, and then silence. Durell tried to stay
awake. He grew panicky, because he could see nothing at all; the darkness was
absolute; he opened his eyes, shut them, squeezed them, rubbed them. Nothing
worked. Then, through a dreaminess and tranquility that slid over him, he began
to make out a glimmer of gray. He could not understand it. He waited, looking
upward. He put on the clothes-slacks and a heavy woolen shirt. Some of the shivering
eased, but the stone floor was like a tomb. He told himself to be patient.
Things were getting better.

Finally, the grayness became daylight, a small square of
light high in one wall, and he knew he had not been blinded, that the cell in
which he was a prisoner had simply been totally without light during the night.
He felt a cold, wet wind pour through the square little window. He got to his
hands and knees and crawled toward it. It took a great effort. He wanted only
to sleep. His arms and legs felt rubbery, but his heart was beating with great,
erratic poundings in his chest. Slowly, very painfully, he got to his knees and
then to his feet. The little stone cell swayed, the floor heaved, he fell
down. He climbed up again, reached for the stone ledge under the window. He could
not reach it. It was too high up in the wall. He wondered why there was no
direct sunlight. Then he guessed that the window faced west, and it was
morning, and the sun was shining on the other side of the building, whatever it
was, wherever it was.

The window was not the only thing beyond reach. High on the
opposite corner was a small television camera. The thing must have been
operated by heat sensors, or someone on duty at remote controls. Wherever he
moved, the eye of the TV camera followed him, from one corner of the cell to
another. Just next to the bracket that held the camera was another, which supported
a small speaker and what looked like an infrared light. The voice that had spoken
to him must have come from there, although someone had actually come into the
cell to give him the shirt and pants and the injection in his arm.

All at once, Durell fell asleep.

When he awoke, he saw a slant of pale-yellow sunlight almost
horizontally probing the cell. The tranquilizer, whatever it was, had kept him
out for most of the day. The sun was setting now in the west. It looked quite
weak. The cell was still cold, smelling of the sea, of moss. They had put a
bucket of water in one corner of the cell, and he used it, and then saw that
the rusty iron door to the cell had a smaller door set into it, at floor
level, and they had shoved in a tray containing a bowl of oatmeal, a plastic
jug of milk, another plastic bottle of water, some sugar in a cone of paper, a
plastic spoon, and a slice of darkish bread. The oatmeal was cold, but he ate
hungrily, ignoring the television eye that implacably swung to observe him.

He took the food as a hopeful sign. They didn’t intend to
kill him just yet.



DURELL’s hours settled into a routine that alternated between
light and darkness. Before the light faded for the first time, he tried
to jump for the high window ledge. His fingers clawed the rough stone,
came four or five inches short of his goal. He tried again and again, but
each succeeding jump was weaker. He couldn’t make it. At last he settled down,
exhausted, and studied the cell. He judged it to be about eight feet wide and
about twelve feet long. There was no cot or pallet to sleep on, and he had to settle
for the hard stone floor. The floors were old, worn smooth by
countless feet in an area near the iron doorway. The door was hinged on the
outside and presented only a smooth barrier to his inspection. He tried to peer
through a chink where the lock was situated, but his eye was greeted only by
darkness. Nothing to see. The stones of the floor and walls were very old, and
moss grew around the base of the window wall.

The television eye followed his every move.

He was awakened in the morning by the rattle of bolts and
bars, and moved back from the doorway to his cell. He felt stiff and cold; he
ached all over from sleeping on the hard floor.

Two men in gray jumpsuits came in. They wore unicorn
medallions. One was armed with an automatic rifle; the other carried out
his bucket and came back with a fresh one. Then he went out again and returned

another tray of oatmeal, sugar, the plastic jug of milk.

Exactly what he had been fed the evening before.

“Listen,” he said to the man with the gun, “how long am I
supposed to stay here?”

There was no answer.

“Why don’t you tell Dr. MacLeod that I came here to see

“He sees you,” the guard grunted.

“I want to talk to him.”

“Well, you can‘t.”

Durell moved toward the man. “Look, I’d like some shoes. I’d
like a bed to sleep on. And you can tell me where we are, can’t you?”

“Stand back in the corner,” the guard said.

Durell looked at the gun and the man’s strangely blank face
and did as he was told.

During the day, he tried jumping for the window again. This
time he came perhaps an inch higher and closer to the ledge. The sea sounds
were monotonous, a crashing on rocks below. There was no sunlight this time; the
day was obviously cloudy. And it was colder. He did not receive shoes or a cot.
By evening, he felt somewhat disoriented.

He was fed oatmeal again.

When he tried for the window once more, his fingertips
just barely reached the top of the ledge. He almost was able to hang on. He
jumped four more times, until he lost his balance and fell rather heavily on
his side, turning his ankle. While he lay on the hard, cold floor,
panting, the guards came in, and while the one with the gun covered him, the
other gave him an injection.

“What’s that for?” Durell yelled at the TV camera.

“It is a simple sedative,” came from the loudspeaker.

“Are you Dr. MacLeod?” he asked.

“You will sleep easier with the injection. How do you feel,
Mr. Durell?”


“Did you expect anything better?”

“I expected to be able to talk to someone of reasonable
intelligence,” Durell said. He pulled himself back into a corner, facing the TV
eye high in the opposite corner. “You ought to know by now that I’m here of my own
choice, really. I went to Sanderson’s place at Stone Circle deliberately,
hoping to contact you. Otherwise, why should I have gone there alone? I could
have come with a small army of police and taken your Mr. Sanderson then and
there. Think about that, Dr. MacLeod. Haven’t you checked back on my movements
since I flew to London?”

“Yes. You are very clever, Mr. Durell.”

“So let‘s talk about it,” Durell said.

“Are you claiming to be a detector? From K Section?”

“I want to make a deal.”

“At the moment,” the voice said from the speaker, “you have
nothing to offer.”

Oatmeal, darkness, sunlight, oatmeal.

By the fourth day, Durell was no longer sure how long he had
been here. He knew all about the techniques of disorientation. It was a common
enough procedure with the KGB in Russia and was often used as an interrogative
technique. But even though he knew what was happening, he also knew it was
working. It seemed to him that the hours of daylight were excessively short,
the nights excessively long. He had to assume he was somewhere in high northern
latitudes, since Dr. Alexander MacLeod had been presumed to be in Scotland
somewhere. He remembered vaguely the sensation of being in a plane, shortly after
he had been taken at Stone Circle near Tower Rising. Yes, they had flown
him north. It explained the cold, the shortness of the daylight hours at this
time of the year.

He turned to the small square window again, backed far off
to the opposite end of the stone cell, ran forward, and jumped. This time his
reaching hands caught the high ledge, clung there, shot upward and caught one
of the rusted bars. He drew himself upward, inch by inch. His body shook and
trembled. With a grip on the bars, he was able to raise his legs, flex
his knees, press his toes against the cold stone. His head came above the

He glimpsed gray sky, a sheet of gray ocean, a low-lying
island or point of land with a small stone tower on it. His shoulders began to
scream in pain from the effort of clinging there. He could not get up high
enough to see directly down. To the right was an inlet, and high combers crashed
against a ragged beach. Sea birds nested and clustered there. Duck, and gray
geese, whooper swans and small waders. He thought he saw a single
slanting on the wind against the ominous sky. Inland
from the shore was a series of stone fences bordering fields, a few shaggy
cattle. No houses. Far on the horizon, a steamer that looked rather like a
ferry made its way from right to left. Heading south.

His muscles screamed. He fell back to the floor, exhausted,
drenched in sudden sweat. His heart pounded. He drew up his knees and rested
his forehead on them.

“Very good, Mr. Durell,” came the speaker’s voice.

He no longer counted the days. He ate his oatmeal, used the
bucket, exercised by walking back and forth in the cell, did yoga, deep
breathing. He did not mind sleeping on the cold stone floor now. A light snow
tell one day. He sat cross-legged and meditated. Now and then he leaped for the
window ledge and clung there, looking out at the sky, the sea, the tiny strip
of coast across the inlet of water. It was easy to reach the window now. He
could hold on for a long time, as long as he cared to, and his muscles no longer
quaked and screamed in agony.

Nothing changed much in the scene outside. Once he spotted a
small fishing boat leaving the inlet and turning north, and another time
he thought he saw a man and a woman walking in the dry, sere fields
across the water, along one of the stone fences.

BOOK: Assignment Unicorn
8.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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