Two-Fisted Tales

Tales of Mystery and Adventure

It's secret agent time here at the Mighty P&D, as we look back to the Cold War -- a time of secrets and licenses to kill, where loyalty could mean everything...or nothing...


For Old Times Sake

By Greg McCrain

1972 - Newfoundland, Canada
WAVES FLUNG THEMSELVES AGAINST THE COLD, impassive stones, exploding on impact and filling the air with a salty mist. Dead fish stretched forgotten and semi-decomposed on the rocky beach. Overhead, the steel-grey sky warned of coming rain to the fishermen who plied the ocean surface.

To the darkly garbed figure who crouched in the tall, yellowy grass that dominated the land just a few steps from the shore, rain was of no great significance. If it came, he would use it, if not, he would not. The rain would provide him with additional cover, but he was not relying on it. He was not even hoping for it.

Such matters were beyond his control, and so he ignored them.

Instinctively, he fingered the heavy, lifeless hunk of metal in its shoulder holster. He knew it was loaded so he did not bother to take it out.

Breathing in and out in regular breaths for exactly two minutes, he steadied his nerves. Then, down on his stomach, he quickly began to crawl through the tall grass.

He hardly disturbed the stalks at all, and what commotion he did cause was quickly covered over by the violent gusting of the wind.

To anyone observing, the field of grass was just that -- a field of grass. It contained no secrets and it certainly was not concealing a black-suited figure who was narrowing the distance between himself and a seemingly run-down and decrepit wood cabin.

And there was an observer. A tall, beefy man dressed warmly in a heavy, wool sweater to ward off the cool fall winds. He stood a good three metres from the cabin and scanned the field without interest. His companion had just gone around to check behind the little cabin and the tall, beefy man estimated that he would reappear in one minute.

Unfortunately for him, the stealthy figure had calculated the same time. Furthermore, the figure had decided to make use of those 60 seconds.

The beefy man heard a slight rustling at his feet just moments before he felt steely hands close upon his ankles and his feet were yanked out from under him. He hit the ground like a sack of cement powder, the air driven from his lungs with the impact. He sucked in more air through gritted teeth and made as if to call to his companion, but a heavy fist colliding with his mouth stopped him. A tooth snapped free and blood spurted into his throat. He coughed, unable to scream, and his eyes went blurry with the pain. Suddenly, a second blow, delivered to the carotid artery in his neck, sent him down into unconsciousness.

The dark-suited figure sat back on his haunches and ran powerful fingers through his coal black hair. His narrowed, verdant eyes swept over his erstwhile adversary. The beefy man had twisted slightly so that his face was turned toward the dirt. The blood trickling from his gums would not collect in his throat and suffocate him.

Whether the beefy man died or not was of little consequence to him. If all went as planned, he would be long gone before the man awoke -- if he had planned to be longer he would have finished the man off without mercy. Such was his nature. Such was his profession.

Getting quickly to his feet but still keeping low to make use of the grass cover, he scurried across the field, reaching the cabin in a matter of seconds. Careful to stay below the sights of the sole window, he moved to the right-hand corner of the structure. There he crouched and waited.

Time passed. Seconds became a minute. Where was the beefy man's companion? he wondered.

The cold barrel of a gun pressed against the back of his head gave the dark figure his answer. The second sentry, no doubt on a whim, a moment of happenstance, had doubled back instead of continuing all the way around the cabin as he had when the figure had first been reconnoitering.

The second sentry barked something in heavily accented English. His accent was too thick to make out the words, but the meaning was clear enough.

The figure narrowed his eyes to slits. The wind was muffling sounds. Those in the cabin were probably not aware of what was going on...yet. He decided to act.

Without warning he pitched forward, ducking his head below the gun's line of fire, and in the same lightning quick move he kicked out behind him with his foot, catching his opponent in the stomach.

The second sentry fell to his knees, gasping for a breath, his pistol momentarily forgotten in his hand. Rolling onto his back, the dark-suited man kicked out again, knocking the gun from the sentry's grasp. A third kick to the sentry's face sent him tumbling to the ground, dazed. Immediately, the figure was upon him, pressing iron hard fingers against his temples.

When the sentry was unconscious, his attacker released the pressure. Once again, nothing would have been served by a death.

For a moment, the dark figure crouched silently over the second sentry like some great beast of prey, as if ready to defend his "kill". Muscles like steel cables rippled under his dark sweater as he stood immobile. Expectant. Waiting. The wind sifted through his black hair, teasing the strands of silver at his temples. The overcast sky lent a grey pallor to his hard, weathered features.

Nothing happened. The door to the cabin remained closed, harmless.

Very much like a beast, he shook himself. Then, still hunched over, he moved to the cabin window. Cautiously, he looked up. The window was smeared with dirt and dust -- a nice touch he thought -- but not quite opaque. Inside he could make out two figures: one was a little man who sat quietly by a small fold-up table -- he was not the problem; the big, bearded man who paced back and forth so restlessly, was. He was big, all right, but moved with a curious gracefulness that belied his size.

There was, however, nothing to be done but proceed. Like a shadow, the figure slid over to the door and straightened up to his full height. He barked some words in perfect Russian. Get out here! he said, Now!

Almost immediately, the big man came barging through the doorway, gun in hand. The dark man swung out his leg, catching the third Russian savagely across the abdomen. He followed that up with a quick punch to the man's ear.

The big man stumbled, shocked by the attack, then threw himself blindly in the direction of his attacker. He collided with the figure and the two went down together. As they hit the ground, both men rolled away from each other, fearful of a knife attack, and jumped to their feet.

The big man had lost his gun in the first strike while the darkly suited figure still had his in its holster -- he did not reach for it, though. With a bellow, the big man charged, hoping to crush his opponent in a bear hug -- but his arms grabbed empty air. The figure had ducked and side-stepped and now delivered a quick jab to his opponent's kidney region.

Turning, the big man again swung wildly at his opponent, and again he was rewarded with a blow to the side. This time, however, it was followed up by kick to the knee which almost sent the big Russian down.

Stumbling, the Russian flailed his arms about and, in a lucky strike, collided with his opponent's head. Although in pain, the Russian was quick to take advantage of his good fortune and threw himself upon his foe, trusting to his greater weight to take them down. It did.

Once down though, the dark figure's knee crashed into his groin. An elbow in his ribs sent the Russian tumbling off his opponent. Then the lean man got to his feet and, with a rabbit punch, sent the big man down for the count.

Breathing hard, the man in black glanced over the third Russian just to make sure he was truly unconscious. Then he strode confidently to the cabin.

"Dimitri?" called the little man in perfect English. "Pavel?"

"No, Barnard," said the figure as he stepped through the doorway.

A look of melancholy washed across Barnard's face, but not surprise. "Marc," he said simply. "I thought it might be you. I guess I should be flattered."

"The Department doesn't want you to leave," said the man identified as Marc, a light Quebecois accent tracing his deep voice. "The felt it might be dangerous for some of our NATO allies if you turned -- with what you know."

"Not to mention embarrassing, eh?" he chuckled humourlessly.

Marc just shrugged. "They told me to stop you, one way or another. They'd prefer you alive, though, to find out what you told."

"Where's Henderson? I expected him to be the one to come after me."

"He's chasing his tail in New Brunswick."

"Your doing?" asked the little man.

Marc nodded. "I preferred to get you myself. For old time's sake," he said simply.

"Considerate of you," he said, only partly ironic. "How did you find me?"

"Henderson was convinced that the Soviets would have some big, elaborate plan to help you get out of the country. I knew better. You're a two-bit defector at best, Barnard -- no offense. More P.R., for them, than a true intelligence coup. I asked myself what would be the easiest, cheapest way to get you out?" He shrugged. "Were not too far from Gander here. Soviet flights touch down in Gander frequently for refuelling on their way to Cuba -- it'd be easy to get you on board one. No hassle."

"Except for you."

"Except for me."

"Why bother?" Barnard asked, almost pleading. "Like you said, we go back a long way. Let me go. What'll it hurt?"

"Ask the dead taxi driver in Montreal."

"I -- I didn't want him to die. Really. But he recognized me from the news. Dimitri said-"

"You killed a civilian, Barnard. Isn't that why we all do what we do? West, East, we're all trying to be make the world better for our populations. Right? Regardless of how divergent our views on 'better' might be?" The dark suited man's voice was cool and emotionless.

"You hypocrite! You bloody hypocrite! So it's old Marcel Corbeau and his precious little rule, is it? Wipe-out as many players as we like, eh? But touch a civilian and it's a no-no." He glared at Marc. "Everybody in the Dept. thinks your crazy, Marc. You scare the Hell out of them. You and your cold, shark eyes, ready to do anything to finish an assignment -- except ice a civie. But that's the game, Marc. Win at any cost. People are just chess pieces to them. You'd better learn that before one day they decide your morality is more of a liability than your skill is a plus. Then maybe it'll be you they send Henderson after."

Marc shrugged. "You're coming back with me," he said, not rising to the debate.

The little man bent over and buried his head in his hands. "I can't," he whispered hoarsely. "Please."

"You should have thought of that before."

"I can't take the humiliation. Prison. Please. For old time's sake. Remember Chile?"

Marc watched him stonily for almost a minute, then said, "You have an alternative -- I owe you that at least. I'll wait outside and you can decide whether to take it."

"I can't do that," his voice was strained. "I'm a Catholic."

"I think it's a little too late to worry about your soul, Barnard."

"Help me!" he begged desperately. "For old time's sake."

What went on behind Marcel's cool green eyes, Barnard could not tell. But finally the dark figure shrugged. "For old time's sake, then." He pulled out his pistol and coolly fired two shots into Barnard's head, sending the little man's brains all over the back wall.

Then the dark figure turned and strode to the door. It had started to rain and it was a long walk to his car.

The End


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