Suspended Sentence

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
Some jobs have terrible consequences.

Submitted: February 13, 2015

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Submitted: February 13, 2015

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Mikhail peered over the steering wheel, trying to see beyond the few feet of road illuminated in the weak yellow beams of the headlights. The rain fell in thick, almost vertical sheets, flowing across the darkened windscreen in dense waves broken every few seconds by the wiper blades.

He edged the accelerator a little closer to the floor. ‘How much further is it?’ Nadia asked.

Mikhail glanced over at his wife. She looked pale and strained. Shadowy circles had gathered beneath her eyes.

‘Six, maybe seven miles,’ he told her. His eyes flicked to the rear-view mirror. He checked again for signs of pursuit but there was only darkness and the rain. He returned his attention to the road in front.

Shit!’ Mikhail slammed his foot on the brake as a roadblock loomed out of the night. He felt his weight shifting in his seat as the car decelerated. There was a hint of a skid as the car halted inches from the two trucks blocking the road. Powerful spotlights splashed the car. Mikhail and Nadia exchanged looks. He saw his own fear reflected in her eyes. He tried to smile at his wife to reassure her but found he could only manufacture a pained grimace.

The men wore no uniforms but each displayed an armband showing loyalty to the Revolutionary Party. One of them walked over. His face was half-hidden by the dripping hood of his rain cape. He tapped the window beside Mikhail’s head with the barrel of his gun. Mikhail wound the window down.

‘Where are you going?’ the man asked.

‘My wife,’ he said, gesturing at Nadia, ‘her sister is sick.’ He lowered his eyes. ‘She has cancer, it doesn’t look good.’

The man’s face remained impassive. ‘I see,’ he said. He shone his torch in their faces for a better look and then flicked it off again. ‘Your papers please,’ he snapped.

Mikhail fished in his jacket pockets for several moments before producing his identity card. Nadia did likewise. The man scrutinised the documents, looking from them to Mikhail and back again. Mikhail tried to remain calm and swallow the lump he felt lodged in his throat.

The man stepped back and raised his gun. ‘Step out of the car.’

‘Is there a problem?’

‘Step out of the car,’ the Militiaman repeated. This time he emphasised his request by pointing his gun in Mikhail’s face. The dead steel hole of the barrel looked enormous at close quarters. ‘Slowly,’ he added.

Mikhail realised he would have to comply. ‘I think we’d better do as he says,’ he told Nadia. He opened the door and stepped out onto the wet asphalt. He caught one last look at his wife before the bright lights engulfed him.

***

He woke to find himself staring up at a single bare light bulb. His head throbbed. He groaned and rolled over on his thin, straw stuffed mattress. The world had become a painful place since his arrest. Blows had rained down on him from all directions for hours at a time. Heavy boots had stamped on his fingers and kicked his ribs; coshes had thudded into his kidneys. His right eye had swollen shut and his jaw felt at least twice its usual size. He struggled to his feet and shuffled towards the rusty bucket in the corner. He winced at the effort it took to produce the thin stream of urine and noticed the pink tinge of blood as it splashed into the bucket.

***

Mikhail sat in a hard wooden chair with a small collapsible table in front of him. He found it took a great deal of effort to sit upright. A man stood across the table from him.

The new visitor was in his early thirties. He wore the cobbled together mixture of army surplus and civilian clothes that formed the standard Militia uniform. His eyes danced with a keen intelligence. He removed his helmet before sitting down to reveal short, wavy hair matted to his skull. Two guards stood behind him holding sub-machine guns. The visitor held out a cigarette to him.

‘Smoke?’ the man asked. Deep lines etched his cheeks forming brackets either side of his mouth as he spoke.

Mikhail had stopped five years ago but took the cigarette and stuck it in his mouth. His hands were shaking.

‘Thank you.’

The man produced a lighter from one of his pockets and leaned over to light Mikhail’s cigarette. As he inhaled the first acrid puff of smoke, his mouth filled uncontrollably with saliva. He felt light-headed as the tobacco was absorbed into his bloodstream. His second puff provoked a spasm of coughing which made his ribs throb. By the third puff, he felt some of the tension drain from his battered body as the muscles relaxed.

The visitor watched all of this with mild detachment and smoked his own cigarette. ‘Good, eh?’ he asked. Mikhail nodded, choking back another cough. The man showed him the pack. It was the familiar red and white of the Marlboro Company. ‘American,’ he said, ‘much better than the horse shit most people here smoke. Of course,’ he added, ‘an ordinary citizen like me could never afford to smoke these under normal circumstances.’

Mikhail gave a weak smile, ‘times have changed haven’t they?’ he said.

‘Indeed they have, now everyone can liberate the finer things in life from the stores which used to be reserved for the Party faithful. And you my friend – you are no ordinary citizen either.’ The man gave a harsh laugh as he exhaled his smoke.

Mikhail gave him a look. ‘What makes you say that?

‘I know exactly who you are Mr. Antonescu.’

‘Is that so? And who might you be?’ He held the man’s gaze for several seconds. Behind him he saw the network of pipes running around the tops of the walls, the light from the bare bulb cast them in sharp relief. Beads of condensed water hung like sweat from their corroded sides.

‘I am Captain Brodsky. Not that it matters. The President is dead you know, him and his bitch of a wife - but many of their lackeys still roam free. Sadly, many have already fled over the border.’ His thin lips formed a humourless grin. ‘Had you been an hour quicker you also might have escaped.’

Mikhail shifted in his seat. The pressure on his bruises was unbearable if he remained static for too long. He shrugged, ‘unlucky for me,’ he said.

‘Indeed, but entirely fortunate for us you swam into our net.’ He tapped out another cigarette and stuck it into the corner of his mouth.

There was a long moment of silence. Mikhail slumped back into his chair. He gestured absently at Brodsky. ‘Can I have another one of those?’ he asked.

Brodsky tossed the pack to him.

‘Do you know where you are?’ he asked.

Mikhail lit his cigarette and shrugged. ‘Should I?’

This is room six. It is one of over thirty rooms in this part of the building.’ Brodsky pointed to the ceiling. ‘Up there,’ he said, ‘is the Ministry of the Interior.’ The thin-lipped smile appeared again. ‘I’m sure you can appreciate the irony of being held in the cells where most of your victims were once kept.’

Mikhail’s head swam. He felt incredibly weary. He had known it might come to this one day. ‘It’s not like you think. I was only doing my job. Somebody had to do it,’ he added.

‘Ah, only following orders,’ said Brodsky. ‘Just like the Nazis eh?’

‘You can mock but you know what I’m saying is true. If it hadn’t been me, it would’ve been someone else. Who knows, if the situation had been different maybe even you might have found yourself in my place. Our leaders will always need someone to pull the trigger for them.’

Brodsky shot forward. His fist jabbed into Mikhail’s face mashing his lips into his teeth. He tumbled out of the chair and onto the floor. Hot blood filled his mouth. As he gathered his wits, he heard the sound of knocking from the other side of the door. It swung open to reveal another militiaman. Mikhail saw that man carried a large a large manila envelope that he handed to Brodsky.

‘Thank you Karl,’ Brodsky said, ‘help Mr. Antonescu back to his seat before you go.’ The militiaman dragged Mikhail back into a sitting position. Brodsky held the envelope with his left hand while delving into his pockets with his right. A flick of his wrist and a slender blade popped out of his closed fist. The steel glinted under the harsh lights. He slit the top of the envelope and spilled the contents onto the tabletop.

They were photographs, dozens of them. Brodsky began to spread the pictures out in front of Mikhail to give him a better look.

‘Recognise any of these?’ he asked.

The faces stared up at Mikhail. There were three pictures for each person. Each prisoner documented with a front and left/right profile. Most had bruises in evidence – no doubt collected during their arrests. The faces swam and danced before his eyes. He had seen most of these people before as Brodsky well knew. Some of them regularly haunted his sleep. He tried to turn his head away.

Brodsky’s hand slammed down onto the table. ‘Keep looking you bastard. Most of them passed through your hands. Take a look at their faces.’ He began selecting photos from the pile and throwing them at Mikhail as he read out their crimes.

‘This one,’ he said, ‘arrested for “allowing his home to be used for seditious purposes”, he flicked the photo away. ‘This one, caught in a swoop on “black marketeering”, this one, “producing and distributing anti-Party literature”, “sheltering a known fugitive from justice”; “organising a Trade Union”.’

‘You don’t get it do you?’ Mikhail said. His voice trembled with emotion. What choice did I have? My job was not to question the regime only to carry out its will. If I hadn’t done it, then they would have found some other poor bastard to take my place.’

‘Duty?’ Brodsky echoed. ‘That is a very high flown ideal for a hangman.’

‘When they approached me I was in no position to say no,’ Mikhail said, ‘It was a simple choice at the time. I was out of work, Irina, my daughter was sick and we couldn’t afford to pay for a doctor. I was desperate man, can’t you see that? We thought she was going to die,’ Mikhail told him, ‘they promised me no-one would know who I was. Do you have a family Brodsky? Can you honestly say you would not have done the same to save your family?’

‘Family you say – family?’ said Brodsky. He reached inside his coat pocket and flung something onto the table. ‘There’s my family you bastard.’

It was another photograph. Mikhail saw the resemblance. The young man in the picture had those same high cheekbones and those distinctive lines on either side of the mouth.

‘My brother,’ he said, ‘he was just one more innocent soul who ended up swinging from your rope.’ His voice dripped with contempt.

Mikhail bowed his head. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘It was nothing personal.’

Brodsky rose from his chair and shoved the table into Mikhail’s chest. The photos scattered and sprayed onto the cold stone floor. His fist caught Mikhail full in the face.

Stars exploded behind Mikhail’s eyes. He fell backwards over his chair and landed in a tangle of limbs. As he lay on the floor, he saw a cockroach scuttle in front of him. He tried to curl into a ball for protection but he was too slow. The blows rained down. Brodsky’s fists slammed into his head repeatedly before he slipped into unconsciousness.

***

The knock at the door startled Nadia. It had been a week since she had last seen her husband. She had left the children with her mother and spent a fruitless day being passed from person to person at the former Interior Ministry but no-one had been able to tell her where Mikhail was. She had thrown up her hands in frustration and gone home to wait for news.

The knock came again, louder this time. She slid back the chain to unhook the bolt and opened it. A man stood in the doorway. Deep lines marked either side of his face. He held a small box in his hands.

‘Yes?’ Nadia asked.

The man held out the box to Nadia. ‘For you,’ he said. Nadia recognised the box as a video cassette case. As soon as the tape had left his hands, he turned and walked away leaving Nadia to stand staring at the tape he had brought her.

***

Mikhail looked at her from the TV screen. His face was yellow and puffy with swelling but still recognisable. Mikhail cleared his throat and began to read from a piece of paper in a weary monotone.

‘My name is Mikhail Antonescu,’ he said, ‘I wish to confess to my crimes against this sovereign nation and its people.’

Nadia shook her head unsure what he meant. What crimes could they mean?

‘For the last eight years I have been responsible for the state sponsored murder of many hundreds of my countrymen. I carried out these crimes on the orders of the President.’ Mikhail paused and appeared to clear his throat again. He looked at the camera and blinked hard before continuing to speak.

‘The Revolutionary Council has decreed as a punishment for my crimes I must now suffer my own brand of justice.’ The sheet of paper fell from his fingers and out of sight of the camera. He tried to continue but his voice was breaking. An angry bark came from off-screen. ‘Please,’ he pleaded to the unseen men, ‘At least allow me this much.’ He looked at the camera again, ‘Nadia,’ he said through his tears, ‘I love you, never forget… the girls too, I did it for all of us. Please….’ His voice trailed off into sobbing. There were more raised voices from off screen. The camera image wobbled and shook briefly before turning to static.

Nadia pressed her fist to her mouth to stifle a cry. Her head spun. She felt sick.

When the picture reappeared, Mikhail was walking up some steps. A Militiaman placed a thick noose around his neck while an officer read off the list of charges. Nadia wanted to look away.

Her scream drowned out the clank of the trapdoor.


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