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A Tangled Web Ch. 06

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Authors note:

This is chapter six of this story and, if you read it out of context it will not make much sense. In particular, you might well wonder why it is in the Lesbian Sex category. If you haven’t read the previous chapters, please do so first.

Vera stared at the blank sheet of paper before her, her mind a turmoil of mixed emotions. She was tired to the bone, having hardly slept, tossing and turning as she replayed the events from the previous evening, trying to make sense of them. She felt as if the whole world had turned against her. Her eyes blurred as, once again, they filled with tears. Why? That was the question she kept asking herself. What had happened to change Xui-Li so? She tried again and again to work out if she had done anything wrong; surely not, she had done everything she had been told to do, even as far as humiliating herself on her knees in the latrines. She had sacrificed her pride and her dignity just to be with Xui-Li; surely that counted for something?

In her mind she could still hear Xui-Li’s mocking words, making light of everything between them, adding to her hurt and confusion. Xui-Li had dismissed her as just an amusement; saying that any round eye girl would have been the same to her but this simply ignored Vera’s memories. When all the games had been over, when they were just lying in each others arms, surely there had been a closeness, a bond that they had both shared. Their kisses, their caresses, had been about more than just animal lust; there had been contact, one soul to another. Vera knew that she meant more to Xui-Li than just another girl. Why then could Xui-Li not acknowledge this; why did she have to debase and destroy everything that had been good between them?

And that, in turn, had led Vera to question what it was that she had felt, what it was that had taken her back again and again. Sure, it had all started with the espionage but if that was all it was then why did this rejection hurt so badly? Bitterly she told herself that she didn’t care, that Xui-Li’s disdain was matched by her own, but she knew she lied, it was obvious she lied for she had never, ever, felt anything like this before, never felt this aching emptiness, as if her whole life taking place in some sort of void where nothing seemed to matter any more and where it had taken a supreme effort of will just to get out of bed. Heaven knows she hadn’t had the energy to go down to the mess for breakfast.

And now, alone, friendless and utterly exhausted, she had to produce some sort of report for Major Strickland, something that would keep him satisfied. He’d made it quite clear that she was not going to get away with inventing stories about wrestling contests. Maybe it would be simpler if she were to admit the truth, admit that she had failed, failed in so many ways. In her mind she thought through the scene as she presented Major Strickland and Colonel Fortesque with her failures. She could imagine the expressions of pity mixed with contempt that she would get from both of them. She would be confirming their thinly-veiled low opinions of her abilities. She would be back in the typing pool before the day was over. She’d rather be back in the club scrubbing out the latrines!

Damn them! Damn them all! She’d had a taste of freedom and she’d do anything rather than return to the drudgery of the typing pool and the condescension of the officers. Most of all damn Xui-Li. She hated her, she hated her, she hated….

But, as her pain turned to anger, she finally knew what she had to do, the only thing she could do, she had to continue the charade, to produce a report that would satisfy both Colonel Fortesque and Major Strickland and give her breathing room whilst she worked out her next move. Sniffing back her tears, she reached for a map of the region and unfolded it across her desk.

***********

“Troop exercises in the Nan Tung region. Are you sure about this?” Major Strickland gave Vera a hard stare.

“Well, Sir, I couldn’t make it too obvious that I was listening but I was quite close to Madam Hong as they was discussing the plans,” Vera replied.

“This is excellent, first class,” enthused Colonel Fortesque, flicking back and forth through Vera’s report. “Don’t you agree, Major?”

“If this information is as it purports to be then, yes, it certainly is top hole. However, it has been known for certain agents to embellish things, to add a little spice to the mix. I do hope you haven’t been embellishing, young lady. That would be most unfortunate for all involved.” Major Strickland gave Vera a long hard stare.

“No, Sir. Not at all, Sir. It’s just as I heard it, Sir. Of course, I might have misheard certain details….”

“But the salient facts, of those you’re absolutely certain. If we sent troops all the way to the Nan Tung region on a wild goose chase then it wouldn’t look good for you at all, young lady, not good at all.” Major Strickland continued to stare at Vera, his eyes boring in to her as if he could read her inner secrets. As Vera piled lie upon lie she could feel herself being dragged deeper in but she illegal bahis saw no way out now that didn’t involve disgrace. She had no option but to brave it out.

“Well, we shall see,” Major Strickland said, putting his copy of the report down. “In the meanwhile I think it might be best if you confined yourself to barracks, just until we’ve got this thing sorted. Then we’ll know where we stand. Now, off you go.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Vera said, as she got up and headed for the door.

“I’m not sure I trust that young lady,” Major Strickland said to Colonel Fortesque once Vera had gone. “She’s a bit too glib.”

“But she’s brought in some superb stuff, unearthing that Crane woman for a start,” Colonel Fortesque protested.

“Hmm… As I said, we shall see. Will you be sending any troops to Nan Tung?”

“I’ll send ‘B’ company. Even if it is a wild goose chase it will do them good to get out and about. It’s been a while since young Higgins was on active patrol,” Colonel Fortesque replied after a moment’s thought.

“I await the outcome with interest. Make sure I’m copied in on any reports.”

********

“Ah, Huan-yue, is that Jun-Nui’s report?” Mei-Xing asked.

“But I must deliver it directly to Madam Hong,” Huan-yue replied. “She insisted that it must go straight to her and her only.”

“Nonsense, I’m her trusted deputy. Now, give me that report, I order it,” Mei-Xing insisted.

“But… but…” Huan-yue backed off but, quick as a flash Mei-Xing reached out and grabbed the file, slightly tearing one corner.

“You give that back!” Huan-yue shouted but too late, Mei-Xing turned and stormed off.

*********

“General Chang! General Chang! Fortune smiles; we have an advance on the round eye’s report,” Mei-Xing said excitedly as she entered his office.

“So? I thought that Madam Hong had ditched the little whore. She’s no use to us now, why should we be interested?” General Chang said, his annoyance showing clearly.

“But look, she’s made up all sorts of lies about Nan Tung. Surely we can use this.” Mei-Xing passed over the report and pointed out the relevant paragraph.

“This is all nonsense and if we show this to the council then all we’re showing is that the round eye is not leaking information but lies. Indeed, Madam Hong could possibly twist it to her advantage and say that she’s passing disinformation, that she’s working for us,” General Chang said once he had finished.

“But what if it’s not lies, what if it’s the truth?” Mei-Xing said slowly.

For a moment General Chang just stared at Mei-Xing but then her meaning started to make sense.

“You mean, what if there did happen to be troop movements in Nan Tung next week? If, for example, there was a brigade, one we could afford to lose, one of the ones recruited from one of her areas, one that just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time….”

“Exactly,” Mei-Xing said smugly. “She’d never talk her way out of that one.”

“But these reports, they have to be returned before they’re found to be missing. Where’s the evidence then?” General Chang queried.

“Oh, I’m sure we can provide the evidence. Listen, I have a plan….”

*********

“Miss Talisker, Miss Talisker! The Colonel wants you in his office at once.” The orderly who had been sent to fetch Vera was quite breathless.

Vera stood up from the desk in the temporary office assigned to her ever since she had been confined to barracks. Wondering what was up, and fearing the worst, she followed the orderly back across the parade ground to Colonel Fortesque’s office. When she was let in she found him waiting with Major Strickland.

“Ah, Talisker, there you are, come on in. I have some rather good news,” Colonel Fortesque said.

“Good news, Sir?”

“Yes. ‘B’ Company have just returned from up country. Thanks to your excellent intelligence they were able to ambush a rebel band and, in the ensuing fracas, over fifty were shot dead and we have a hundred or so in the stockades. Sterling work on your part leading to an excellent result. Well done.”

“Rebel band….” Vera said, amazed. After all, she’d made it up. There wasn’t supposed to be any rebels in Nan Tung and now they were talking of over fifty dead and one hundred in the stockade. How could this be, surely….

“You seem a little surprised,” Major Strickland commented. “I would have thought you would be delighted. Thanks to you we’ve put a definite spanner in their works, or maybe that’s not what you intended.”

“I’m… I’m just surprised it’s happened so fast,” Vera bluffed. “It seems only yesterday that I was listening in on Madam Hong’s conversation and now… Over fifty dead? Were any of the leaders killed?”

“No, as soon as they realised they had been ambushed the cowardly scum turned tail and ran like the rats they are and all the leaders escaped; they were the ones on horseback, after all. It’s still quite a coup for us. That’s one band of rebels that won’t be bothering us again.”

“That’s certainly very gratifying,” Vera said covering the illegal bahis siteleri turmoil inside her.

“Gratifying indeed. And now it looks like we will need your skills once again. The prisoners will need to be interrogated and, as you speak Mandarin we’d like you to assist,” Colonel Fortesque interjected.

“Interrogation? Of course I’d like to help but I’m not sure….”

“What are you not sure about? All we need is for you to do the basics; find out who knows anything and who doesn’t. I’ll be doing the real work. Anyway, it’s not a request, it’s an order,” Major Strickland said firmly.

“Of course, anything you need, Sir.”

“Quite. Well, get your things together and meet me in the parade ground. I’m heading out to the stockade in half an hour and I expect you to be ready.”

“Half an hour…. If you’ll excuse me then I’ll go and get my things together.” Vera stood up to leave and was dismissed by Major Strickland, who watched her out of the window as she walked away.

“There’s something not quite right here,” he said meditatively. “Our girl is hiding something.”

“Come now, Strickland, she’s helped us land the biggest coup in ages. Surely that’s something to her credit,” Colonel Fortesque protested.

“That’s as may be, but she’s still not telling us everything.” Major Strickland turned back to his desk. “We need to keep her close for a while.”

An hour later Vera and Major Strickland pulled up at the stockade. This consisted of a number of crude huts in a compound surrounded by a barbed wire fence. Bored sentries stood around and the area had an air of neglect; this was more of a dumping ground than a prison. As Vera got out of Major Strickland’s car she could see the prisoners standing around in the compound; all were filthy and beaten, many were injured but, above all, they were young, mere boys barely older than herself, who had been caught up in a grown-up’s war. As she and Major Strickland made their way through the gates the sentries lined up the prisoners in the yard. Major Strickland grabbed Vera by the elbow and led her before them.

“This will come better from you. Try and make it credible. Tell them that if they co-operate no one will get harmed. Tell them that if they answer our questions we’ll let them go,” Major Strickland ordered.

“Will we?” Vera asked, amazed.

“Of course not, but they don’t know that, do they. Now, get on with it.”

Vera felt physically ill as she translated Major Strickland’s words and called them out in Mandarin. She could see glimmers of hope in some of the faces and, if she could see it, then so could Major Strickland. As she spoke, Major Strickland was pointing out various faces to the guards and they were led away, mostly the very young or the very scared. Then Vera and Major Strickland went into the office and Major Strickland called for the first prisoner to be brought before them.

From there on Vera had to endure one of the hardest afternoons of her life. Time and time again frightened teenage boys were brought before them. Major Strickland would shout questions at them with Vera translating. Seeing their terror was bad enough, knowing that she was directly responsible was far, far worse. Furthermore it soon became apparent that none of them knew anything and Major Strickland’s temper was fast deteriorating. The verbal abuse became physical abuse and when Major Strickland raised his fist to a youngster who was screaming after being thrown across the room she couldn’t help herself but try and restrain him.

“What?” Major Strickland snarled. “Don’t feel any sympathy for these scum. They’d murder us all in our beds given half a chance. This is war, not a vicarage garden party.”

“But they’re just boys! They don’t know anything,” Vera protested.

“Boys or not, they’re enemy soldiers. They wore the uniform, now they have to suffer the consequences; they should be thankful they’re alive.” Major Strickland kicked the body of the boy as he lay on the ground before him. “But you’re right, they don’t know anything. I’ve had enough. Let’s go back to the barracks.”

********

Once they had returned Vera made up some story about a headache and, once she had been dismissed by Major Strickland, headed for her room and threw herself onto the bed. She was too exhausted even for tears; her life had become a living nightmare and now she had new horrors to bear, the knowledge that, because of her, these mere boys were suffering at Major Strickland’s brutal hands. In her torment her hands gripped her pillow and that was when she found the note, the slip of paper tucked beneath it. She pulled it out and read.

The club — tonight — after sundown X

Vera stared at the scrap of paper and her heart leapt. Here, in the depth of her despair there was suddenly a glimmer of hope. Whilst she was too proud to rush straight back into Xui-Li’s arms at least she could demand some sort of explanation and, if Xui-Li wanted her back, then, well, if she asked nicely enough, she might just consider… well, it depended on just how nicely Xui-Li asked, canlı bahis siteleri didn’t it.

With a sudden spring in her step Vera got up off the bed. First she had to dispose of the note. She reached for her matches and soon was flushing the crumbled ashes of the note down the drain of her washbasin. Suddenly she felt hungry and, with a shock, realised she hadn’t eaten all day, so she made her way to the mess. She found herself a quiet corner and, as she ate her meal, she thought over what she would say to Xui-Li, what recompense she would demand for her harsh treatment last time. Surely this would be her triumphant return.

“Ah, Miss Talisker. How’s the plum duff tonight?” Major Strickland broke into her reveries.

“Er… Fine, fine, Sir.”

“I haven’t said thank you for your help this afternoon. Perhaps you might spare me a dance or two at tonight’s entertainments.” Major Strickland was oily, obsequious but Vera was too taken aback to notice.

“Entertainments… I’m not sure… I’m a bit busy tonight…” Vera tried to make excuses.

“Nonsense. Since when did a pretty young thing like you put anything before the Regimental dances? All those dashing young officers to flirt with and, as you’re confined to barracks life must be awfully dull for you at the moment. Of course you’ll be there.”

“I’ll try but I have a bit of a headache coming on after all the palaver this afternoon. We girls aren’t as strong as you men and I’m feeling a little queasy.” Vera hoped that playing the weak and feeble woman would disarm Major Strickland’s demands and give her an out.

“Oh, that’s a shame. However, it doesn’t seem to have ruined your appetite so here’s hoping you’ll feel better later. I look forward to seeing you there,” and with that he left her reeling slightly.

In her excitement about the note, Vera had forgotten that she was confined to barracks however being gated had never stopped her at school and being confined to barracks wasn’t going to stop her now. She’d just have to take a little more care.

It was gone eight when Vera did her last checks around her room before leaving. She’d put cushions under her bedcovers so that, should anyone check, it would appear that she was fast asleep in bed. She realised that the chances were slim but it gave her something to do and added to the clandestine excitement of the evening. Then, wearing her darkest coat and with her hat pulled well down over her head, she slipped out and onto the playing fields searching out the gap in the fence that she had used before. Sticking to the shadows, she made her way down the darkened streets heading for town. A couple of times she had this sense of being followed but, whenever she turned to look, there was no one in the street behind her.

She was maybe a mile from the barracks and in a quiet part of town when a coach came rattling down the street behind her. As she turned to look the coach pulled up next to her, its door opened and from the darkness inside came an urgent whisper

“Quick, quick, Jun-Nui, get in the coach. I’ve come to pick you up; I’ve come from Madam Hong,” the voice called out.

Vera didn’t hesitate for a second but, with a quick glance up and down the street turned to the coach and started to climb inside. Strong hands gripped her arms pulling her in with, it seemed to her, excessive force and she was just about to protest when the blackjack landed at the base of her skull and it all went dark.

**********

“You have her, you really have her?” General Chang asked Mei-Xing when he arrived at the rebel’s headquarters.

“She’s downstairs in the cellar,” Mei-Xing replied. “I had her picked up off the streets so no one apart from us knows she’s here. Have you arranged a council meeting?”

“Yes, we have a few hours yet before they arrive so we had best put them to good use.”

“How do you mean?” Mei-Xing asked.

“Break her spirit. We need her to confess before the council and we need her to do it fast. She needs to be broken, to know she’s lost long before they get their hands on her. Take away her certainty and replace it with doubt, take away her dignity and replace it with fear and then she’ll confess to anything, anything at all. Just leave this one to me.” General Chang rubbed his hands together with glee.

“What, and let you have all the fun. Certainly not. We’re together on this one,” Mei-Xing protested.

“Well, take me to her then. We have no time to waste.” And with that they set off for the cellars.

*********

Vera lay huddled up in a corner. She hadn’t been out for long, she had still been in the coach when she had recovered consciousness, but when she had come too she had found that she had been gagged and hooded as well as heavily restrained and her captors had not been gentle. She had no idea where she was or even who had captured her although, as far as she was concerned, she had been responding to a note from Xui-Li; could she be behind all this? Vera couldn’t even say how far she had been taken; she could have been unconscious for five minutes or five hours so she had no idea how long the carriage ride had taken and now she was in this cell, bound, gagged, hooded and waiting nervously for whatever came next. At last she heard the door open and suddenly she was grabbed by her elbows and pulled roughly to her feet.

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