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Desperate measures

A Kathryn Blake fragment . . .

The bar on the door could be lifted easily enough, if only she could find some item in the litter around her that was more than six inches long, less than one quarter inch wide and strong enough to take the weight. She would be walking straight into an armed and alerted guard if she did so, of course.

She knew the guard, too, had recognised his voice. A boy who might panic, she thought, those reactions could not be relied on. There was nothing for it, though. She must find a way to make him come to her.

She stood in one smooth movement, the cuffs clinking softly at her wrist. If the guard heard it, he gave no sign. The room was quite clear to her now in the moonlight that came through the one high window. She surveyed her options a little bleakly. If she had more time, and less respect for Pavel’s training, she might have tried irritating the boy into a little unofficial softening up of his own. She was quite sure that he would have been instructed to call for backup rather than come in after her. He must be persuaded that the situation was urgent. She doubted that any degree of physical injury would get a response, given that she was clearly intended to spend a miserably uncomfortable night. Anything short of her actual death would be likely to be seen as a distinct advantage, and even that . . . but no, the animal had been sent to play, and he had no use for cold meat.

She sat with the same smooth silence, knowing that if her little audio play were to work she must start from the proper mark. When she rose again she did so with a groan, dislodging coal from the pile as she stumbled to her feet. As the miniature avalanche died away she heard him shifting, but she had no way of knowing whether she had caught his attention, or perhaps wasted her performance on a man who was yawning too hugely to hear it. She made her way in a few short strides to the window, placing her feet with a little twist that dislodged fresh coal with every step. At the window she stooped to select a good sized coal from the pile, and returned her attention to the window. She made one swing at it and, remembering that her shoulder was supposed to be injured and her hands bound, gave a stifled cry as the coal struck the glass. The old pane gave way with a satisfying crack, and a muted challenge came from close behind her door. This was not the point, she told herself firmly, to be disappointed that Pavel had not trained him better.

“No good, chum. No comprendez.” She pitched her voice carefully, aiming for the careless tone of the defeated, of the suicide in all but deed. She wrenched a piece of the remaining glass from the frame, handling it with care, and her guard said slowly, picking language that he could expect her to understand

“Move away from window. You cannot get through.”

He had returned to his proper place, she noted. Still, the brief movement had been encouraging. She gave a short, sour laugh, and, knowing that her tone mattered more than her words said

“Who says I want to get through, chum? I’ve got what I need.”

She made her way back down the pile with the same feigned clumsiness; found and righted the bucket with a certain number of unnecessary curses, and sat heavily upon it.

Softly, she started to hum. She chose Molly Malone, hoping that he did not know the air well enough to wonder at the choice. The words did not concern her, only the cheerful little lilt of it, which she could sing with an undertow of sadness. It was as haunting as she hoped in the darkness. She gave the first chorus all the vigour she could muster. She would need the contrast, by and by. She let the energy carry her through to the second verse, breaking out into full song.

“ . . . fishmonger, and sure ‘twas no wonder, for so were her mo-ther and father before . . . ”

If he had any English he had never given any sign of it. Still it was easier, as well as safer, to let her voice break on one of the words that counted. She limped through to the end of the verse, rousing herself with apparent effort to give the chorus everything it deserved. She could almost feel him listening, and she heard the startled movement when she launched the final verse, not low and broken, but in its proper minor key, very sweet and sad, with all the pathos she could give the old words.

“She died of a fever, and no one could save her,” she let it trail away, her voice dropping, the words drawing out, “and that was . . . the end . . . of . . . ”

The music died away, and she whispered the last words bitterly into the night.

“ . . . sweet . . . Molly . . . Malone . . . ”

She shifted her feet, slightly. Let the chain of the cuffs jangle, faintly. Let out one long hissing moan of pain and horror. Gave it ten long seconds, and allowed herself to fall back heavily onto the coal.

Her head rang slightly, but she knew the boneless fall had been worth it as she heard him once more at the door.

“Katrya?”

The name jolted her, almost blew her nerve. But of course it was the only name that Pavel had given them for her. As an afterthought, she dropped the glass. Its fall was very loud in the echoing space, and it decided him completely.

He was fumbling with the bar in a moment, and she could hear that he was allowing it to occupy both his hands. She rose fluidly, confident that he was deafening himself with his own movements. By the time that he threw the door wide she was behind it, the cuffs slipped once more over both wrists. He took a step, unforgivably, into the room, his night vision still spoilt from the bright lights of the garage, but the room clearly empty before him. She punished the error without mercy. In a second the short chain was around his throat, and he was flailing helplessly against her. The struggle died quite suddenly . . .

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