Friday, August 14, 2009

The Partner

The man followed the old geezer. The old man limped, probably from a bullet wound. It was hard to say, as most of his left leg was swathed in old bandages that looked like they hadn't been changed in years. They walked in silence. The path they trod did not seem oft visited. But it seemed that the old timer knew exactly where he was going. They kept good time regardless of his limping.

The man bowed his head and thought. It had been about two years ago that he had taken on this mission. His peers hadn’t wanted him to. They had more or less accepted that his captured partner would have been killed by now. And even if he wasn’t, the chances that he could be found, and if found, that he would still be sane were very slim at best. But the man couldn’t be persuaded against. He and his partner had always worked as a team. They were the best agents the company ever had. If there was any chance of rescuing the captive, he was their only shot.

The man had left no stone unturned. The capturers knew his comrade was very valuable. And his whereabouts had been kept very private. But years of doing what he did, finding people with information, and extracting it came as a second nature to him. But this time around though, it hadn’t been easy at all. He was one of the top in his line of work, and it had taken him this long to find this place.

He had found the old man in the smallish village at the foot of the small dense hillock, they were presently walking through. The old man was the only one who seemed to have some idea of where the building was, which through the fragments of information the man had obtained, was most probably where his friend was being held.

The old man turned sharply to the left and pushed through an overgrowth of vegetation, and in a clearing, hidden from the path, there was a creepy, medium sized building. It appeared self sufficient from the looks of it. There was a water pump, a generator, cut up wood. But it looked deserted and seemed out of use for months now.

Mostly by habit, the man circled the place once slowly. He found no signs of recent human activity anywhere around. He entered the building and quickly scanned all the rooms. It appeared there had been about three people, mostly guards.

This definitely felt like the right place.

He discovered the hidden door behind the wardrobe quite easily. He had noticed the faint scratch marks on the floor the moment he’d walked in. He shoved the wardrobe aside, picked the lock, and walked down the dark staircase that followed.

There was a very heavy iron door with a huge bar keeping it closed at the end. There was a small latched opening at the bottom which he assumed was for passing a tray of food and water.

He lifted the bar and pulled mightily at the door. It creaked and opened slowly. He stepped inside.

It was the gloomiest room he had ever seen. There was no source of light except a very small opening almost close to the ceiling. There were broken pieces of what might have been a table or a chair once. There were a few threadbare rags in a corner. The rough stone walls all around felt creepy and cold.

There were two things that drew his attention though. One was the faint blood stains on the floor and the wall. It seemed it had been hastily cleaned up after, but he knew where to look, and he found them without much difficulty. The other item of intrigue was a strange contraption that was made of pieces of wood and cloth. It was hanging from an out jutting in the stone wall. It looked like a pouch, with some sort of a lid.

He walked a couple of steps and looked inside it. It was empty save for some minute bread crumbs at the bottom. He shut the lid and looked around the stone walls once more, taking in everything. The he closed his eyes. He thought.

The pattern of the faint blood stains indicated a fight. A fight indicated that his partner had escaped, or at least tried to. But this was a perfect locked room mystery. There was only the iron door and no other points of entry or exit. This did not seem like a place of interrogation, and since it appeared that the prisoner was being held here the whole time, there was no need for any guard to enter the room. He opened his eyes. They rested on the pouch which was swinging back and forth gently

And then it hit him. He smiled for the first time in years.

He heard a sound and turned around and saw that the old man had followed him and was peering interestedly into the room.

The man asked the old geezer – ‘So, partner… what did you do for water?’

The old man gaped and stared at him wide eyed for a few seconds. Then he grinned hugely. He stood up straight and stretched his limbs. He took a cloth and rubbed his face clean. He cast his wig aside and ran a hand through his hair, grinning still. The change was astounding. No one would have believed that he had been a septuagenarian seconds ago.

He stared questioningly at the man, and shook his head in resignation when the man pointed in the direction of the faint blood stains.

‘And?’ he said.

‘And… this, here’- the man said, pointing to the pouch –‘There is no way that you would have been given so much bread every day, that you needed something of this sort to store it in. You ate only a part of the bread and stored the rest here for sometime, didn’t you? And when you had sufficient amount stored, you probably started eating less and less each day, and leaving the rest in the tray. And then, probably, you completely stopped eating the bread given to you. The guards then would have had to come in to investigate or throw your dead body out. That’s how you escaped, right?’

The look on his partner’s face confirmed his theory.

The man smiled again. ‘But water would not have lasted all that long. What did you do for that?’

His partner bent down and lifted a piece of broken wood, and went to the far side of the room, speaking as he went. ‘Knew I should have cleaned up the stains better, but I wanted to get out of this place pretty bad by then.’ He pushed the wood between two stones in the wall and slowly water began to flow along the length of the wood. ‘Slightly cracked a water pipe’, he said, cupping the water flowing in his hands. ‘Discovered it within the first month in this hole itself’

He turned around and faced the man- ‘By the way, how did you know it was me? I thought the disguise was perfect. Not one single guy in the whole village had the faintest idea.’

‘You can’t disguise a person’s eyes’, the man said.

‘... and also… you have been limping on the wrong leg ever since I met you, partner.’


Mathangi Raghuraman said...

Ah! A(not so) short story at last! :)

Reminded me of late 70s hollywood movie setting. Introduction of characters in the begining could have been more clearer.

The end twist has come out neat, as usual :)

Dha said...

I thought the same about the characters' descriptions too.. but the story was already too damn long as it was..

skhajone said...

Nice one man :)
Keep it up

Dha said...

Thanks, man