Nick Carter Excerpts — The 13th Spy

Nick Carter #8, The 13th Spy,
Award Books A139, 1965
 
An icy spray of Arctic sea stung him in the face and dribbled bitingly down his naked body. He gulped water, choked and shivered, cried out for help against the storm or release from the nightmare. There was a low laugh from somewhere near him and then the bitter deluge engulfed him once again. He tried to run from it, but his body was spreadeagled, upright, against something that bit into his back, and his arms and legs were tied inexorably to unseen posts.
“Once more, Brother Georgi! One more time, and I think he will be with us.” It was a genial voice, and yet there was a thread of ice in it as chilling as the water.

The wave slapped at his face and drooled its cold slobber over his shoulders and down his chest and legs. Nick shuddered mightily and gasped for breath. The cold spray stung his languid eyelids into movement and he stared blindly into a scene that was nothing like the ocean tempest of his awful dream.
In a way it was worse, as he saw when his vision cleared and he hung there shivering and peering dazedly at his tormentors.
There were three of them. One of them had a bucket of water in his hands and a gleeful expression on his face. The second was tapping almost casually at a punching bag a couple of feet away. The third looked at him with a smile that reminded Nick of Little Red Riding Hood’s ersatz grandmother.
“Greetings, friend,” said the Wolf. “You do not mind if I call you—in the meantime—Brother Ivan?” The smile in the Mongoloid face widened hideously. “Let me introduce ourselves before we proceed further. On my right, Brother Georgi.” The man with the bucket bobbed his head in a travesty of welcome. “On my left, Brother Igor.” The punch bag whizzed to within inches of Nick’s body and twanged back like an outsized rubber band. “Myself, I am Brother Sergei. Now that you have recovered sufficiently to talk to us, I think we can dispense with the restoratives.” He waved a commanding hand at Brother Georgi with the bucket. Georgi put it down and picked up a rod that reminded Nick unpleasantly of a cattle prod. “Of course,” Brother Sergei added with a winning smile, “you may find the need of a little extra stimulus. Brother Georgi and Brother Igor will provide it as required.”
 
“May I ask you, my friend,” Brother Sergei was saying sweetly, “where you got this card?”
“I got it from my superiors, of course, you fool!” Nick grated harshly. “And you will get something from them too if you do not release me instantly! Who do you—”
Whack! The punching bag slammed into his gut and left him gasping wordlessly.
“Nice, Brother Igor,” the man who called himself Sergei said approvingly. “Impeccable timing, and such effective thrust.” He beamed at Nick. “But that is very foolish of you,
Brother Georgi,” the smooth voice said a little sadly, “I am afraid that we are boring our guest. A little awakener, if you please.”
Something like the sting of a giant ray lashed across his chest. It was unbelievable pain, and he yelped involuntarily at the sudden, vicious jolt of raw electricity. He opened his eyes and swore bitterly in fluent Russian. Brother Georgi grinned smugly and waved the rod tauntingly beneath his nose. It was a cattle prod—so highly charged that too much of it could easily kill a man.
“Very good, Georgi,” murmured Brother Sergei. “But not too much at once, you know. Question-time has only just begun. So!” The voice hardened into ice. “Who are you? Why have you been watching us?”
“You know who I am,” said Nick. “You’ve seen my card. But as for watching you, it was no more than a routine check-up. Now, of course, there will be others after you—”
“Ha! Georgi!” Voice and electric prod lashed out like twin whips. “I expect much better of you than that! Who are you that you should watch us?”
“I have nothing to say to you except that you will be shot when this is over,” Nick said calmly.
“Igor!” The soft voice rose suddenly to a piercing scream. “Let this animal see something of your skill. Perhaps then we will hear a different story!”
Igor bounded forward eagerly and touched the punching bag with a teasing stroke. Slowly, slowly, slowly, the hard resilient ball bobbed closer to Nick’s belly and _ bounced teasingly away. Then it began to hit him lightly. Igor grinned sardonically and tapped the bag with the controlled punches of an expert boxer. Suddenly, he unleashed a powerhouse that struck Nick’s taut body like a battering ram and came dancing back with a rain of pulverizing blows that made him want to vomit on the floor and turned the whole weird room into a mist of swirling blackness.
Out of the darkness he heard the mocking laugh. His head cleared and he spat contemptuously.
Igor began again.
Nick relaxed.
With every ounce of his lagging will power, he channeled his mind into the state of Yoga-like serenity that had seen him through the tortures of fire and water and the subtle agonies of prolonged hunger and thirst; and even though he knew that this erratic, viciously skillful pummeling could inflict internal damage that might never be repaired, he forced his body to absorb each blow as though his flesh were indestructible sponge and his nerves incapable of receiving or transmitting pain. Slowly, determinedly, he blanked out all sensation from his bound hands and feet; then the feeling of strain on his outstretched limbs from his own weight; then all thought of the punching-bag assault upon his helpless body.
He sagged like a rag doll, and felt nothing.
Brother Igor danced and feinted, feet shuffling lightly and big hands working at the bag as though it were sometimes lover and sometimes enemy. Now he would pretend to hit, and brush the bag lightly against Nick’s ribs. Then he would back away and suddenly unleash a machine-gun series of blows into the groin and abdomen. Nick watched abstractedly, feeling little but wondering how much longer he could hold out against this onslaught. The guard of his mind could slip as his body weakened; he knew that sooner or later he must either feel the pain or slide into unconsciousness.
“Ah! He rests! Georgi, awaken him!”
The shock of the prod penetrated his consciousness and trembled away into nothingness.
“Harder, Igor! Harder!”
Blows hammered at his gut.
The part of him that stayed awake saw and heard things through a murky haze. Three faces bobbed in front of him, all curiously alike except for the snarling smile of the one who was wielding neither prod nor punching bag. Gone, now, was all pretense of “Brother” this and “Brother” that; gone, too, all the false silkiness of that endless voice.
“Hit, Igor! Hurt him carefully—so that he will feel excruciating pain but not yet die. Tell me, you—tell me, or you will suffer a thousand tortures and pray for the deliverance of death—tell me who you are and why you
followed us!”
The faces blurred in front of him.
“—Speak, you spying pig! Harder, Igor! Hit! Talk! Hit!—”
 
As in a dream Nick saw a door open and a man glide silently into the room.
The gliding man came to a stop beside Brother Sergei and stood in silence for a moment, watching Nick and the thudding punching bag with a meditative eye.
“Stop a moment, Igor,” he said gently. The robed man looked on impassively.
“You blind fools!” Nick hissed angrily. Pain rushed through his body, and he groaned involuntarily. He drew a deep breath and made himself go on. ” But you—whoever you are—you will soon realize your criminal foolishness. No matter what happens to me—”
“And a great deal will happen, I assure you,” Brother Sergei said evenly, “unless you stop lying and tell me what I want to know. Namely: your true identity. Why you have been watching us. What you think you have found out. To whom you are reporting. And exactly what you have reported. Now. Answer me, or suffer the consequences.”
Nick answered with the filthiest Russian phrase he could think of, and it was a classic.
Brother Sergei’s face twisted into a mask of hatred.
Nick said contemptuously. “Your questions are without meaning, so I cannot answer them. But if I am not back at headquarters within—”
“Igor! A little reminder, if you please!”
The bag punched into his stomach.
“Brother Andrei will take over for you in a little while, Igor, so that you do not tire,” Sergei said solicitously. The punching bag hammered relentlessly at Nick’s sagging body.
 
Again there was a new man in the room. He had taken off his jacket and was rolling up his shirtsleeves neatly and deliberately to reveal the bulging muscles of the professional fighter. Nick eyed him languidly, feeling the bruising pain seep through his will and spread into every muscle of his body. It made very little difference who was going to hit him next. What was important was that he get his brain moving again to devise some cunning thing to say or do that would get him out of here.
The new man, he noted, was making a big business out of adjusting the punching bag to a different height. Brother Sergei was nodding sagely and contributing suggestions. Discussing techniques, Nick thought bitterly. In the brief moment of respite he had a chance to take mental inventory of his condition and his surroundings. He was aching horribly, and the strain of his weight against the cords at his wrists and ankles was numbing and agonizing by turns.
 
Then he turned back to Nick, rubbing his hands.”Go, Andrei!” Brother Sergei’s voice rapped out like a starter’s signal. The robed man looked on inscrutably.
The heightened punching bag slammed against Nick’s temple, whipped back against a ready fist, and thundered into his face like a volley of cannonballs.
Too much more of this, he knew, he couldn’t take. Already he was getting punch drunk. Soon he would pass out, be prodded into wakefulness, and go through the whole bit again. There was no way out. Not a hope in hell of getting loose. Or any way they could make him talk about the little that he knew.
 
He moaned once more and slumped. His head fell forward and his bruised body hung limply from the paral­lel bars, all its lead-weight suspended from his swollen hands. His feet were still as firmly tied as ever, but so suddenly and completely did his body sag that his knees bent beneath the load.
“Georgi! Georgi! The prod!”
The charge shivered through him. But still he hung like a dead man on the gallows.
“Again! Again! Hold it longer this time—make him feel it!”
The bolt should have galvanized his body. But it had no visible effect.
“Andrei, you fool! You have hit him too hard—I wanted him alive! You—Igor—bring Chiang-Soo here at once!”
 
Nick heard the muted sound of Chinese in his ears and felt the wet, cold floor beneath him. The icy water stung his body, and this time he was grateful for its bite. But still he lay as quiet as a dead or dying man. A hand felt for his pulse.
“Low,” the voice said in Chinese. “Very low. This is not good.” Fingers plucked at Nick’s right eyelid and drew it roughly back. “Not good, not good at all. The skin, too—you see the condition of it? No Chou Tso-Lin will not be pleased.”
“The needle, then, Chiang-Soo,” another voice said urgently. “Who could have known he was so close to dying, when he did not cry out or even speak? You must save him—you must—if only for a day!”
“I shall try,” the first voice said flatly. “But I promise nothing. He has been hit too much, too hard; too heavily about the head and stomach. You should have waited.”
A needle stung into the clammy arm that lay outflung from Nick’s sprawled, tormented body. He barely felt its sting….
 

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