Cold Kill

Stephen Leather


The American folded his arms and watched without emotion as the electrodes were applied to the man’s genitals. ‘Tell us who gave you the satellite photographs,’ he said. ‘Tell us, and this will all be over.’ He was wearing a lightweight headset, a silver-grey earpiece with a small curved mouthpiece.

The torturers on the other side of the two-way mirror were wearing similar headsets. They were in their early thirties with hard eyes and close-cropped hair. They wore dark sweatshirts with the sleeves pulled up to the elbows, jeans and heavy workboots. The one attaching the electrodes had a broken nose; the other, standing by a table at the far end of the room, had a thick scar above his lip.

Broken Nose repeated the American’s words.

The man in the plastic chair was also in his thirties. He hadn’t shaved in three days and he had been fed infrequently with low-protein meals. His eyes were sunken, with dark patches beneath, and his black hair was matted and unkempt. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ he said.

Scarred Lip picked up a photograph from the table and waved it in front of the man’s face. It was one of several satellite pictures that had been found in his apartment. Photographs of RAF Mildenhall, a base for bombers and tanker aircraft of the United States Air Force and headquarters of the 352nd Special Operations Group. It was a prime target. There could be no justifiable reason for a civilian to have the high-definition satellite images in his possession. Especially a civilian who had circled with black ink all the CCTV cameras that covered the base perimeter.

‘Who gave you the pictures?’ said the American, quietly.

Broken Nose repeated the question, word for word, but in a staccato scream, his mouth just inches from the bound man’s ear.

‘You can’t do this!’ shouted the man. He had a Manchester accent. He had been wearing a Manch ester United shirt when he’d been dragged into the basement but he was naked now. He struggled, but the men who had tied him to the chair were professionals and the webbing straps held him tight.

‘Yes, we can,’ said Scarred Lip.

‘I’m a British citizen. I’ve got rights.’

‘Not here you haven’t,’ said Broken Nose. ‘This is American soil. You’ve got no rights here.’

‘I didn’t do anything!’ screamed the man, spittle spraying from his lips.

‘That’s a lie,’ said Broken Nose. ‘And you know what happens when you lie. Now, who gave you the photographs?’

‘We know what you were planning,’ said Scarred Lip. He threw the photograph back on to the table. ‘All we need you to tell us is who was helping you.’

The man closed his eyes and shuddered in anticipation of the pain to come.

The American sighed. ‘Do it,’ he said softly.

Behind the chair a foot pedal connected the electrodes to the high-voltage batteries that would provide the charge. Direct current was much more painful than the mains alternating current. The American knew that from experience. Broken Nose put his foot on the pedal and the man went into spasm. Broken Nose kept his foot down for a full two seconds, then released it. The man sagged in the chair, gasping for breath. His body was bathed in sweat.

‘Again,’ said the American.

Broken Nose stamped on the pedal. The man went rigid, back arched like a bow, mouth wide in a silent scream. Urine pooled round the chair.

This time the current stayed on for a full five seconds. When Broken Nose took his foot off the pedal, the man shuddered and was still.

Scarred Lip walked over and checked for a pulse in the neck. He nodded. The man was still alive. Unconscious, but alive.

‘Let’s take a break,’ said the American.

The torturers grinned. Scarred Lip flashed the American a thumbs-up.

The American removed the headset and placed it on the table. He left the room, passing two marines with loaded carbines, and took the stairs to the ground floor. He swiped his security card through the reader and tapped his entry code into the keyboard. The door led to a long corridor that took him past storerooms and shredding rooms to a second security door. He swiped his card again and tapped in another four-digit code. The door opened into the main staff entrance where two more armed marines stood guard. They looked straight ahead as the American walked by.

The American went out into the sunshine. It was eleven o’clock, a fresh winter’s day. He stood looking out over the square, enjoying the cool breeze that played across his face, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It felt good to be out of the basement, which stank of sweat, urine and fear. He had been born on a farm and had always hated confined spaces. He walked along the metal fence to the gatehouse and showed his ID to the armed policeman, who flashed him a bored smile, then opened the gate. Across the square, two more policemen, in flak jackets, cradling carbines, watched him go past the statue of General Eisenhower.

He walked away from the fortress-like building behind him, surrounded by the blocks of concrete and metal barriers that prevented terrorists getting car bombs close to their target. Americans had enemies around the world, enemies who would love to wreak havoc on a high-profile embassy. Embassies didn’t come more high profile than the one in London’s Grosvenor Square.

The American liked London. It was a civilised city with good restaurants, a vibrant theatre district and well- tended parks. He headed down Upper Brook Street, past two more armed policemen standing beside a white Land Rover. The British made a big deal about their police force not being armed, but it seemed to the American that every policeman he came across had a gun these days. He smiled and nodded as he walked by, but they stared at him stonily. Everyone was a potential threat now, even a middle-aged white male. It was his regular walk whenever he wanted to clear his head and lungs. Down Park Lane to Hyde Park Corner, then a stroll through the park to the Serpentine. He’d stop off for a coffee at the cafe there and watch the swans glide by, then read the features pages of the International Herald Tribune. But eventually it would be back to the basement. And back to work.

It was difficult to believe she was a man. Tall, leggy, with a model’s face, and breasts that were barely contained by the little black dress, she was dancing round a silver pole on a small podium in front of a beer bar packed with tourists, male and female. Alen sipped his mineral water and tried to avoid eye-contact. The Thai ladyboys were predatory and a simple sidelong glance would result in one sitting at his side, massaging his upper thigh and asking him for a drink or offering a quick trip to a short-time hotel. There were more than a dozen working the tourists, all of them tall and lovely. Several were wearing Father Christmas hats and had trimmed their dresses with tinsel. The tourists were mainly British and German, middle-aged and overweight, the single guys flirting with the ladyboys, the married ones sneaking furtive glances whenever they thought their wives’ attention was elsewhere. Every few minutes a ladyboy would leave with a customer, high heels clicking, her hips swinging, hair flicking in triumph. Alen wondered if the men knew they were going off for sex with a transsexual. Or if they cared.

The road throbbed with the beat of a dozen sound systems, all competing with each other. Tourists sat at roadside beer bars, knocking back bottles of Singha or Chang beer and fondling girls of half their age. Young Thai men in tight-fitting jeans lounged on gleaming motorcycles and smoked cigarettes as they watched their wives and girlfriends ply their trade.

Alen felt a tug at his shoulder. A small dark-skinned girl with impossibly large eyes thrust a handful of roses at him. Each flower had been carefully wrapped in polythene. ‘Twenty baht,’ she said. She couldn’t have been more than eight.

‘Where is your mother, child?’ asked Alen.

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