You don’t know he’s gone until you look around and he’s not there.

More chapters from Night Side of Dark

A VG Serial: Night Side of Dark

Episode 13

The underground hallway seemed to stretch forever from the beginning of time until the final tick of a clock, and the clock had stopped ticking on Dark a long time ago. For some, it had been a lifetime. A narrow string of pale green lights, all encased in a glass tube, clung to the low metallic ceiling and their apologetic green glow failed to dissuade the darkness but did light the way for Caples Gusarov as he walked briskly toward the far end of the hallway.

The absolute silence of it all was broken only by the echoes of his boots on the floor. This was not the first time Gusarov had followed the hallway to the office of the General, and he doubted it would be the last. Moving from one door to the other took exactly one thousand, six-hundred, and forty four steps.

He knew.

He had counted them before.

He counted them still

He wanted to know how far he had to go in case he ever had to fight his way back down the hallway.

The General always frowned when he saw Gusarov walking in with a 9mm Luger stuffed into a ragged leather holster on his belt. The holster looked well used. So did the Luger.

The Russian did not flaunt it or had never tried to hide it. He simply regarded it as part of his clothing. Yet, carrying a weapon of any kind was in strict violation of the General’s law, yet he never asked Gusarov to leave the pistol elsewhere, nor did he ever give orders for anyone to remove it by force.

The General had long prided himself for being a sound reader of men.

He could tolerate Gusarov’s transgressions.

The Russian was loyal.

He was ruthless.

He could be trusted.

Gusarov had never been able to remember dying the first time.

He was not afraid to die again.

He should be, the General knew. The Russian had no idea where the second death would take him.

The General looked up from his desk as Gusarov was ushered formally into his office by a young, dark-skinned soldier holding tightly to a Mauser Karabiner 98k rifle he would never be able to fire in time if the Russian wanted to kill him.

Neither man smiled.

There was no reason for pleasantries.

No time to waste.

The General was a busy man, and Gusarov was growing older with every passing day provided the place of darkness had days lost or hidden somewhere in the nights and provided they ever passed.

He got right to the point.

“I have Number Eight,” he said.

The General nodded.

“It didn’t take long,” he said.

“It never does,” said Gusarov.

‘Does he know he is under surveillance?” the General wanted to know.

“He is suspicious of everyone.”

“And everything, I presume.”

“His mind lives on the edge of paranoia,” Gusarov said.

“His is a sad existence.”

“It keeps him going.”

The General stood and walked the twelve steps back to the rear window and gazed out upon the city through a glass the color of charcoal smoke.

Still dark.

Still somber.

Still asleep.

“Why is Number Eight among us now?” the General asked. “Did he tell you anything about the circumstances surrounding his departure from wherever he happened to be when his time ran down to zero.”

“A bomb.”

“He did not see it coming.”

“He knew the bombers were overhead, nothing else,” said Gusarov.

“Does he know what happened to him?” the General asked.

“He continues to search his mind for answers,” Gusarov said. “He has found a few fragments. But he has not put it all together yet.”

“He will”

“He already suspects he may have come to a place from where there is no escape.”

“He did it once.” The General turned back and stared hard at the Russian. His face was square and marked with a series of scars that could have only been made only by a great fire and a battery of surgeons. His hat was pulled low over his eyes. The black sunglasses prevented anyone from looking past the charred remains of his retinas. Without the dark, he would not be able to see anything at all. “Does he believe he do it again?’

“He hasn’t mentioned it,” Gusarov said.

“He wouldn’t.”

The General settled back in his chair and pulled his topcoat tighter around his shoulders. His office was colder than usual. He might as well be locked away in the world outside where a chilled rain continued to pound the streets as though it might never stop, and he sometimes believed when his mood turned disgruntled and sour that the rain would be his damnation for as long as he lived, and he had been promised eternal life. The General shivered slightly and glanced up quickly to see if the Russian had noticed.

Gusarov’s stone face had not changed.

A shiver might be confused with weakness, which was the General’s only concern. If Gusarov thought he was weak, the Chamber would be forced to banish the Russian to the other side to spend the rest of his cursed days beneath the eternal glow of the great red lights and exist among the nightmares of  mankind’s greatest fears. He would plead for his days to end, and there would be no end, not for the Russian nor for any of the condemned souls exiled on the night side of Dark.

“Does he trust you?” the General asked.

“He trusts no one.”

“I need you to earn his trust.”

“I tried to kill him,” Gusarov said.

“That was a long time ago,” the General said.

“He has a long memory.”

“Don’t lose or misplace him,” the General said.

“He is like the shadows,” Gusarov said. “You don’t know he is gone until you look around and he is not there. Number Eight is a risk. He will run when he gets the chance. I am, however, close enough to terminate him anytime I am ordered to do so.”

“It may not be necessary.”

Gusarov allowed himself a slow grin. “Sooner or later, it will be necessary,” he said.

“When the time is right, Number Eight will be executed,” the General said.

“And condemned to the Big Hole?”

“There is always room for one who insists on fighting a one-man war he knows he cannot win. And still he fights.”

“What shall I do until then?”

“Wait until he takes you to the place where he tore loose a seam in time.” The General’s voice trailed away. “Only he knows where it is.”

“Is that why you brought him back?”

“I didn’t have to bring him back.”

“Why not?”

“I knew that someday the Germans would do it for me.” The General spit out a dry and bitter laugh. “I had time,” he said. “Here, we have nothing but time.”

“Number Eight doesn’t.”

“No,” the General said softly. “Number Eight never did.”

Gusarov watched in silence until the General faded into the shadows, then strode quite confidently out of the office. He stood a little straighter now. He was no longer limping.

The hallway was always longer when he walked down it than when he left.

He knew that two guns were in play.

His would be aimed at Ambrose Lincoln.

The other, held by an unknown and unseen assassin, would be pointed at the back of his head. He would have shuddered. But, unlike the General, Caples Gusarov never showed any outward sign of weakness.

His heart might stop someday. But he vowed that his last breath would be as strong as his first. Take his life. He never expected to lose it on his own. His life was cheap anyway. But his dignity was a valuable commodity and not for sale.

Chapters of Night Side of Dark will be published on  Saturday and Sunday.

Please click the title, Night Side of Dark, to read more about Caleb Pirtle III and his novels on Amazon.

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