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Demise of a detective, will Percy Perish? Second Saturday Stories

I register the cannon she’s got aimed at my gut before she changes her mind and introduces the stock to my cheekbone. She connects and my legs decide they’ve carried me long enough. The world doesn’t gently swim away like in a whiskey drunk. Instead darkness falls as fast as lead and I’m in dreamland before I hit the ground.
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**Content Warning, the following chapter contains descriptions of captivity and torture reader discretion is advised**

I wait until the house is as silent as the grave before I slink through my bedroom door. I listened for a couple of hours but all I could hear was Roger having a one-sided conversation with that mute, Brent. 

I slide through the house by memory. The blackness swallows me and I stop every few inches so I don't bump an end table and bring the whole house running. I draw the Webley. 

Creeping along in the dark with my gun ready reminds me of being back there. skulking through the French countryside praying the squeal of our wheels, or the errant whinny of a horse, wouldn't give away our position. Roger and Joe called me glue crew, they weren’t far off the mark. Artillery earned the nickname from the front-line soldiers because of what we had to do if the horses towing the guns got stuck in the mud. Some would twist ankles, break legs, and some poor sap who felt sorry for them would get close enough to try to help. He’d either get walloped by a hoof or crushed in the chaos of the thing thrashing around. We preferred losing horses to men. As word spread, so did the nickname. 

Soldiers used it in a derogatory way, but I bet none of them had to listen to a dying man choke through mud and blood for his final breath while a shit-scared animal pummelled him to pulp. Put any of them in that position and see how they react. 

The house was quiet, but the hair on the back of my neck was still standing at attention. This place was too big to just be housing a group of ex-soldiers carrying a grudge. 

My head pounds, and darkness twists my temples making me cross-eyed. I reach the front door and feel the padlocks. I think of what I've learned since being here, of who Roger might be trying to keep out. Or worse, my mind whispers, who he might be trying to keep in.

 I turn to walk upstairs feeling like a trapeze artist about to tightrope across the big top. I stare through the darkness and the abyss keeps its eyes on mine. 

At the top of the stairs, there’s a hallway that runs the length of the house. Doors line either side, some with soft orange light spilling from underneath. The stench of gasoline hangs in the air up here in a haze that does nothing for my pounding temples. I listen for any signs of distress but can only hear the warble of a record playing somewhere far off. I can’t make out any words but the tune is oddly familiar. 

I play cat burglar as best as I can, keeping my weight on the balls of my feet and aiming away from the creaky floorboards. 

I catch a break and one doorknob finally yields against my weight. I use what little light spills in to find a small lamp on a table, and a box of matches beside it. 

Two matches burn down to my fingertips before I can light the thing.  The room is lined with bookshelves, all of them filled. Some books look like they were written when the pyramids were new. I reach a row of spiral-bound notebooks and open one up at random. I lean against a sagging armchair trying to read the scrawled handwriting. 

The journal was dated July 1913 and chronicled the actions and exercises of militia men leading up to the war. The entries were signed off by Emanual Carson and grew angrier as the dates counted down towards the early days of the war, eventually damning England for taking his boy when there were enemies within our own borders that needed dispatching. 

I replace the book and catch movement at the corner of my eye. I look at the doorway and lock eyes with a little boy. The kid can’t be more than ten and he’s looking at me like he peeked under his bed and saw the boogeyman glaring back at him. His chest heaves in fast rhythmic gasps and I can see the orange glow of the lamp reflected in the whites of his eyes. He's got a mop of brown hair that I recognize from earlier, he was the one spying on me from the top of the stairs. Now he stands in faded flannel pajamas with cowboys chasing Indians across the faded grey expanse. 

I got to thinking maybe this kid's in trouble, maybe he’s held here against his will. I think of the locks on the doors, the thought makes me call to him.  “Hey, kid.” I don’t know what I expect, but my words have the effect of a pail of ice water. The kid breaks his paralysis and bolts out of the library. “Shit” I whisper and then I’m pounding down the hallway runner after him. 

At the end of a hall, I see a door slam. 

I shoulder through it and the smell hits me over the head. I hear the kids' small footfalls retreat further into the shadows of the apartment. I let him go, forgotten for the moment because my head is trying to catch up to what my eyes are seeing. I’m in an apartment that would make a hermit crab feel cramped. There's a small living room to my left and a bedroom to my right, past a square kitchen of linoleum dominated by a wood stove. The walls are a faded peach colour and I can see some of the lath peeking through the crumbling plaster. 

The smell makes me wretch and I squint across the expanse of plaster and rat shit littered across the dirty floor to see a little blonde girl in an ash stained nightshirt filling liquor bottles. She’s got rows of them lined up in front of her like soldiers at attention. About half of them are filled with gas she's pouring from a metal can, a length of rag stuffed down their necks. Others are empty waiting for the same treatment. 

She’s stopped mid-pour, her arms starting to shake with the weight of the jerry can, I see an errant drop fall from the spout and miss the funnel completely. It drops to the floor in a small splash darkening the wood around her bare knees. She’s wearing the same look as the little boy and it’s impossible not to tell they’re brother and sister. That this is their home.

My eyes crawl around the room trying to make sense of the small cot shoved in the corner next to a chesterfield with exposed springs. The wood stove stands like a warden supervising a lifer bust stones. 

The girl and I mug each other for a second longer before I see her blue eyes flick to my right. I turn my head assuming it’s the boy about to bolt again and instead I’m treated to the sight of a heavyset with coal stains caked to the cracks of her fingers. Fingers that are wrapped around a double barrel shotgun. I register the cannon she’s got aimed at my gut before she changes her mind and introduces the stock to my cheekbone. She connects and my legs decide they’ve carried me long enough. The world doesn’t gently swim away like in a whiskey drunk. Instead darkness falls as fast as lead and I’m in dreamland before I hit the ground. 

When I wake up I taste blood from a cut in my cheek. I try to roll over and realize my hands are bound above my head. 

I feel the cold then, bone chilling cold crawling through my legs and stomach numbing them with the threat of pneumonia. I try to move my head and lightning flashes from my right cheek to my temple. I cry out and hear a familiar voice. The chatty socialite from the bar is gone, and so is the chummy comrade that asked me questions in the kitchen. Beneath it all I hear the same cold tone I read in Emanual’s journals, a spiteful resentment passed through blood to his son. 

“You couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you?” 

I crane my neck to see him through bars. Roger is dressed in a full length fur coat and I realize he’s been playing me since the morning. The pieces slide into place and I feel like an all day sucker. The room is taken up by a workbench that lines one wall, nothing more than a few doors propped on top of saw horses. My half of the room is divided into two cells, iron bars run from floor to ceiling. The Doc is no more than a few feet from me in the next cell and despite everything I feel relief. He’s sitting ramrod straight dressed to the nines looking like some asinine mirror of me, except his face doesn't look like he went nine rounds with a wood chipper. 

“What kind of freak show are you running here Roger? you got a little girl up there mass producing molotov cocktails, little rugrat looking to get my jaw wired shut.” 

Roger looks at me for a moment as if seeing me for the first time. His eyes hold the same dismissive pity I've been seeing since I got back from France. The realisation that I hate him comes quickly but not as a surprise. Finally he fills the silence as I try not to let the shivers take over. 

“You ever play snakes and ladders? We had this version when I was a kid. The ladder squares had words like virtue, honesty, values. The snakes said lying, blasphemy, ignorance. Let's just say you rode a snake all the way down here, and it’s my job to get you back on the ladder, one rung at a time.” 

“Is that what you did to him, how many rungs high is he?” I throw my head towards the doctor who watches us with dazed amusement. A small, cautionary smile playing across his lips. 

“Doctor Carruthers has tired of the constraints that come with physical medicine, he’s decided to explore the regions of mental fortitude. We are simply guiding him.” 

“Last time I checked, drugging someone and keeping them against their will was considered kidnapping, not guiding.” 

Roger’s smile is sad, his eyes looking at me the same way we’d look at those god damn horses when we heard that telltale snap in the mud. 

“He can leave whenever he wants, in fact-” Roger walks to the cell door and swings it open. “Carruthers. Go, run back home to your wife and her old man, leave the heavy lifting to the rest of the men.” My heart flutters to my throat at the thought of Carruthers leaving without me. I don’t want to be alone down here. But he just sits there looking at Roger. When he speaks, his voice is hoarse and heavy like he’s talking in his sleep. 

“I’ve got to stay. I’ve got to finish what we started. Slay the dragon in his lair. before he slays me.” 

My stomach drops. 

Roger closes the cell door. “you see?” His eyes dance with victory. 

“It's a trick. you’ve got him drugged or hypnotized or something.” I watch Roger’s face fall and a quiet anger spreads around his features. “You talk too much. Your mouth gets you in trouble, and no matter what happens to you here, it’s on you. You ran your mouth at the Chicago Club. Even when I walked into the bathroom you were jabbering on trying to back pedal your way out of it. It’s like a compulsion for you to say too much. 

You know what’s sad? I heard about the boozehound ex-soldier working for Colisetta weeks ago. We were getting set to do the job and I catalogued every cop he had in his pocket, every goon that ran security, anyone who could have been an issue for us. I figured you’d be the toughest of the lot, thought maybe we could turn you. I thought we could use you on the side of the allies again, but when I saw you I knew you were too far gone. So far up Collisetta’s ass you never stopped to consider he perverted a Canadian family’s livelihood to bleed the city dry.” 

”You take some of those meds too? Do you hear yourself?” I writhe against my constraints, willing one of the chain links to weaken. 

“you’ll see.” Roger mutters. “There a plenty more Collisettas in this city.” He turns and speaks to someone behind him and I hear a phonograph start. I hear the same ghostly wailing that permeated my dreams of Louise. I see her face in my memory, her real one, not the death’s head with a bullet hole. The rest is jarred from my memory as the volume spikes. Roger sits down in an armchair that looks only slightly less worn than the one from the library and Brent stalks toward my cell from the shadows. He doesn’t speak and he doesn’t have to, his intent is blazing in his eyes. 

I don’t know how much time passes. I get stripped to the waist and a bucket of ice water thrown on me. I can’t hold off anymore and give in to the shivers. Brent goes to work. Starting on the new bruises, exploring them with a ball peen hammer cautiously at first, then jamming the cold metal hard into the side of my face. He gives me a few whacks to remind the old bruises how to feel. 

A cold dread creeps up my spine as I realize I might die here. My vision blurs and when I refocus it’s Harry working me over. I should have just heard him out, maybe I did owe him for what happened. 

I should have said what I wanted when I had the chance, maybe then this foray into Hell could have been avoided. 

When the world bleeds back into focus I’m being dragged into a seating position, having my shoes removed and my feet submerged in water. They throw a hood over me and start with the electrical wire. My screams blend with the wailing coming from the record player. I don’t hear the sides switch after a while, the momentary silence blends with the sizzle of flesh and the smell of burning ozone. 

It stops all at once, just as the corners of my vision go black and I sag into the splintery embrace of the chair I'm tied to. I can see distorted light through the weave of burlap, and when they wrench it from my face it opens up sores that were scabbing over. My head lolls against my chest so someone lifts my chin until I can see Roger, sitting in that coat that looks like It weighs ten pounds. It looks like salvation to my frozen body. I start shivering again, or maybe I never stopped, and he starts speaking while I feel a sharp pain just above my elbow. I look down to see someone extracting a needle. 

“You’re going to go to sleep. You don’t wake up until I say. You Don’t Dream until I say. You don’t even breathe until I say. Nothing you do now matters, and nothing you’ve done in the past is relevant. You simply exist in this moment as a soldier honed to follow orders, and I am your commanding officer. Let me hear you say it.” 

“Go to hell.” I force the words out as red dots crawl over the grey cement floor in my vision. I feel a prod from behind me and electricity makes me dance like a marionette. Waves of white hot pain feel like an army of ants crawling over my skin and biting it at the same time. When my vision clears there are more spots on the ground and I realize it’s my blood littering the floor. 

Roger speaks in that velvet coated tone from the bar. I want to tell him to shut up, I want to grab the sides of my head and stab my fingers in my ears to shut out that honey soaked script he’s spouting, but all I can do is listen. 

“Speak, Percy. Believe the words as you say them. Speak them and the pain stops for today, believe them and the pain stops forever.” 

I bet the pain stops forever, but only because I’m not alive to feel it. I want to tell him to go to hell again, to spit in his face, to do anything besides repeat those god-awful words. But instead I feel my mouth contort and the words fall through my swollen lips. 

I need time to think, I need to get out, I need to get in touch with Harry, but above it all I just need the pain to stop. 

I can’t see him but I hear the smile in Roger’s voice. “Bravo.” I hear him get up and I’m left with my thoughts spinning. 

I don’t know how much time passes. I only know pain and rest. My body develops a permanent tremor from the cold and I can’t think much past my nose. The only break I got was from Roger. I knew if he was talking the pain was done. Pleading got me nowhere, and insults brought pain. As much as it made my skin crawl, I was starting to be relieved when he spoke. 

My head pounds, my body aches, and I don’t sleep. I begin to wonder if this is how the men in the mud felt, as the wet earth clung to them and sucked them below into darkness. Did they surrender in those final seconds? or did they fight until they couldn’t lift their arms anymore. I was still fighting, but brother were my arms sore? 

There was a sudden screeching quiet when I realised someone pulled the needle off the record. I cock my head to listen and hear footsteps approaching Doctor Carruthers. Then someone spoke softly. 

“John, I brought some grub, how are you doing down here.” 

“I’m absolutely perfect, thank you. I am about to attend a meeting.” 

I shook the cobwebs off. It was the first time I'd heard someone other than Roger and hope trickled through my veins as weak as my pulse. “whoos’ere?” I called out “Who is that?” “Are you real?” I’m met with a silence that feels like a cannonball to the gut. “Louise?” I breathe. 

Finally I hear a voice. It’s young and full of disdain. Simon. “I got nothing to say to you.” 

“How's that?” 

“You coulda got us all killed, or at the very least brought a bunch of gangsters here. You’re a liability.” 

“Is that you talking, or are those Roger’s words?” 

“I got my own voice.” 

“Well why don’t you think your own thoughts too and wonder why they got us chained up down here.” He doesn’t have a smartass comeback to that so I figure I got the kid thinking. I keep twisting the screw. 

“Hey Simon, you still with me.” 

“...yeah” I can hear it in his voice. He’s a smart kid. The wheels are turning and that drop of curiosity was a life preserver, and I was treading water. 

“They’re brainwashing him Simon, got your professor all twisted up thinking he’s someone else.” 

I hear him shift as he talks to the Doc. 

“Is that true John? how are they treating you down here?” 

“I feel absolutely perfect, thank you.” The doctor prattles. 

I shut my eyes. The Doc sounds convincing. my hope begins to wither so I go for broke. 

“Ask him, kid.” I lick my cracked lips “Simon, talk to him about something only you and him would know, something you did.” 

It takes Simon a minute but he comes up with a whopper. 

“What did you think of my thesis on bone density?” 

“It was perfect lad, I asked you for a meeting because of it.” 

The kid’s quiet and I hold my breath. When he speaks I jump because his voice is much closer. 

“He hated that thesis, I totally winged it and he called me out on it. we met but it was to talk about improving my grade and-” 

“And what Simon?” I can hear it in his voice, the drop of curiosity was spreading. My life preserver floating closer 

“And I told him about Roger and the guys. Alan’s my half brother, he convinced me to bomb the thesis so I could get him alone, said they wanted to talk to John about a job. They got him out of the university and brought him here, but I hardly see him, and he never eats with us. I’ve been bringing him food for a few days now.” 

“Where are they now, kid?” 

“They went for supplies.”

We didn’t have a lot of time, hell they could pull in any second “Get me clothes Simon, anything. Open the door.” I don’t hear him moving, the air is thick with his hesitation. 

“Move it Simon, you want to help the Doc or not?” 

“What about all that stuff Roger said? about you?” 

my pulse races faster than it has in a long time. “I don’t have time to give you the particulars Simon, but right now you’ve got to understand that I’m the only person in here you can trust. Now the Doc’s got a wife, and she’s looking for him. I can take him to her but I’ve got to get out of here and I’ve got to take the doctor with me. Now, please Simon, let me out of this god damned cell. 

After a couple of agonizing seconds I hear the cage door swing open. Simon winces when he rips the burlap off me. “You should see the other guy.” I wheezed. The kid gets an arm under me and helps me into my shirt. He gets The Doc who comes easily enough and we make our way to the door. A dark hunk of metal on the work table catches my eye and I grab my Webley, tucking it into the waistband of my trousers that don’t seem to fit anymore. Simon hustles us through the door and I’m back in the familiar basement hallway of Roger’s hell house. 

In four strides I’m walking through the cellar and up the three steps to the shuttered double doors. I strain as my muscles scream but I finally shoulder my way through the doors. The rush of cold clean air makes me gag. The forest around us is alive with greenery and the sound of water dripping off the leaves. The rain soaks through my shirt and my tremor returns but now it’s a marker of the life left in me rather than the ticking of a doomsday clock. The greenery feels like a wall in front of us but I make out a worn foot path to our left. 

We take two steps towards it before the silence is shattered by the sound of a car door slamming shut. I look across the yard and see the worn out delivery truck is back, Roger, Joe and Brent are climbing out carrying brown paper bags. I lock eyes with Joe. 

“Hey!” he barks

I hear the crackle of paper but I don’t stick around to see if one of them is carrying. I grab Carruthers by the sleeve and bolt towards the brush. He only manages a slow trot before I scream “run soldier that’s an order!” He picks up the pace and we disappear into the forest as a blast from a pistol shatters the afternoon calm.