A matter of life and … what’s worse than death? – Episode 38

For a story that was conceived during those long boring hours flying in a steel cocoon, striving to keep away the thoughts that the plane and everyone in it could just simply disappear as planes have in the past, it has come a long way.

Whilst I have always had a fascination with what happened during the second world war, not the battles or fighting, but in the more obscure events that took place, I decided to pen my own little sidebar to what was a long and bitter war.

And, so, it continues…

It didn’t surprise Johannesen there were about twenty prisoners down in the dungeons, though he was surprised to find that the dungeon area was quite large, and in several sections. The fact they smelled of wine told him that once, the cells were used at storage areas for bottles of wine.

Several of the cells that were furthest from the downstairs entrance, and recently boarded over caused several overzealous resistance fighters of Leonardo’s to start smashing walls looking for it.

Johannsen tried not to think about Leonardo. He was the very worst of men, a pig even by German standards.

Martina had been put in a cell not far from Leonardo’s wine cache. There was purpose in that, he could get drunk and then take it out of the woman who had made him look stupid. Come to think of it, he thought, it wouldn’t be too hard for a ten-year-old to do that.

The cell door was locked, but Johannsen had a key. He had meticulously gone through all the keyrings and loose keys that had been found and those that didn’t have an immediate use had been stored in the dungeon guardroom.

Matching keys to locks had been one of his secret tasks, under the disguise of being given the job by Wallace to match keys to locks for them. There were a few short in the end, keys to rooms, and cells that seem to serve no purpose. One had become Johannessen’s hideaway.

It was part of a plan he had been formulating, one where he could take prisoners and hide them. Of course, it wouldn’t work for the moment because the prisoners had to be moved on as soon as possible, and staying in the castle, even if the others didn’t know where they were, would invite a microscopic search. It would need Atherton’s knowledge of the castle, and whether there was another escape route they could use.

It was another of his works in progress, one that was highly likely to fail.

He stood back from the door and looked at the crumpled heap on the floor that was once the leader of the resistance. Leonardo had interrogated her before bringing her back, half-dead, to the castle, and in doing so had made it impossible for anyone to interrogate her further. Had that been the reason why Leonardo had bashed her senseless?

He saw a hand move by her side, and a low groan.

He spoke quietly, in English, “Are you able to come closer to the door?” He knelt down, trying to get a better look at her injuries. Abrasions, and bruising. Swollen eyes, possible broken nose, blood spatter everywhere on her clothing which remarkably was relatively intact. He had suspected Leonardo of doing a lot worse and may still have.

She lifted her head slightly, “Who are you?”

“I could be a friend.”

She laughed, then coughed, and blood came out of her mouth. Broken ribs possibly, and a punctured lung. She might be too injured to move.

“There are no friends in this place, just Tedeschi.” She lowered her head and closed her eyes. Her breathing was irregular and shallow. Definitely broken ribs, he thought. And not likely to survive another interrogation. Not if Jackerby was going to conduct it.

“I’d like to help you if I can.”

“Everyone in here, we’re beyond help. You know that because you’re one of them.”

“Some of us care what happens to people.”

She pushed hard to move around slightly to face him, laying her head on the side to face him. “Which one are you?”

“Johannsen.”

“Yes, Johannesen. Atherton mentioned you. As untrustworthy as the rest. But for me, I’m all but dead, but I’ll humor you. Get me out of here and away from that bastardo Leonardo, and I might believe you.”

Atherton. This might be an opportunity to find out how he could get in contact with him, knowing of course, she wasn’t going to tell him where Atherton was.

“If you want to get away from here, we need Atherton. He’s the only one who knows this place inside out.”

He could see her shaking her head, as painful as that might be.

“He’s not.”

“Then is there anyone who does?”

“There is.”

“Who?”

Again she laughed and it sounded like the death rattle of her last breath. “You think I’m that far gone that I would tell you anything?”

“If you want to escape, I can only get you so far.”

“There is no escape. Believe me. If there was, I would be gone. Save your trickery and lies for someone who might be gullible enough to believe you. I’m quite prepared to die, the fact I’ve lived this long is what some would call a miracle.”

With that she turned away, coughed, and went silent. She wasn’t dead, but death wasn’t far away.

When Johannesen reluctantly left the cell, he only made it to the turn towards the steps up when he ran into Jackerby.

Had Jackerby been somewhere near and overheard their conversation.

“You have a rather interesting interrogation technique,” Jackerby said.

Johannesen groaned inwardly. He had heard.

“Sometimes it’s better to try and infuse hope in the subject rather than resignation. I was trying to get her to tell me where Atherton is.”

“And did she?”

“What do you think. After what Leonardo did, she’s not likely to tell us anything. I’m sure if we had taken a different approach…”

“Yes, softly softly. Doesn’t work. Just leave the heavy lifting to us, and don’t bother coming down to revisit the prisoners. Otherwise, I might believe you really are trying to help them escape.”

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

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